Chapter 24: The conservatory
Searching as they went, Alex followed Aaron to the front door. “Dude, I’m sorry. I don’t know where she went,” Alex pleaded. Aaron waved him off irritably. With one hand on the doorknob, Aaron turned to tell his younger brother off. Alex waited, but Aaron didn’t move or speak, his mouth still starting to form the first words of a tirade. Alex stared at his brother. Aaron’s gaze went past Alex’s head toward the stairs. Alex slowly turned. Cold dread filled his stomach as he dared to look at what had distracted Aaron.
Alex’s legs turned to jelly as relief washed over him. “Chloe, what happened? Where did you go?”
She was also looking past Alex. “Is he OK?”
“Yeah, he’s just a dork,” Alex assured.
“Dork?” she asked as she approached, slowly descending the stairs. Alex’s eyes rolled along with a slight shake of his head when he heard the unmistakable sound of Aaron backing into the closed front door. Chloe stuttered to a stop, slightly backing away. Aaron’s eyes were the size of dinner plates. Cold fear enveloped her. She was ready to disappear. “What is it?” she cried back up close to Alex. Aaron whimpered. Behind her was nothing except an empty stair. “Oh…” She realized, floating forward, head down in embarrassment. “It’s me.” She turned to face them.
The sadness crossing her face tugged at Alex’s heart. “Damn it, Aaron,” he exclaimed, punching his brother in the shoulder. “That’s Chloe. She’s great. Now stop being a douche.” He turned to face her. “I was worried when I couldn’t find you.”
“Can we return to the conservatory? There is something I need to tell you,” she asked, a slight pink showing through her pallor. Alex followed down the hall. She turned but continued to float backward. “I’m great?” she whispered through a smile as he followed. Aaron made a noise somewhere between a whimper and a gag. Alex had turned to inspect a painting. He was oblivious to Chloe’s statement. He turned to his brother questioningly.
“Just keep going.” Aaron waved, trepidation etched on his face as he watched the specter lead the way. Reaching the safety of her conservatory, Chloe explained what had happened. As Alex questioned if Chloe was OK, Aaron sank to the floor.
“Too much, man—too much,” he muttered. “I mean, shit, it is bad enough the house is haunted…no offense.” He nodded to Chloe.
“None taken,” she replied.
He continued as if he hadn’t even heard her. “Now I hear we have a demon and some kind of über-angry killer ghost!” Aaron was back on his feet. “I mean, fantastic! What the hell are we gonna tell Dad?”
“Kerlvin assured me he would keep Edgar in the back bedroom—” Chloe began.
“Oh, well, that’s fine then. I feel so much better the demon made assurances!” Aaron shouted.
Alex jumped between his brother and the rapidly vanishing Chloe. “Whoa, whoa! Chill out, man! Chloe, don’t go, please. Aaron, relax!” Alex began to pace. Chloe had become more visible, but her eyes told him she was a breath away from leaving. Aaron, on the other hand, was breathing like an angry bull. “OK, first things first.” Alex inhaled. “Aaron, apologize to Chloe.”
Aaron looked like he’d been slapped. Chloe immediately came to his defense. “No, he is right.” She sighed. “I am trusting a demon to keep a murdering spirit at bay.” The silence stretched on.
“Right, well, it is better than nothing, I guess…” Aaron conceded feebly.
“OK, um…great,” Alex replied. He thought for a moment, aware that the others were watching him. “Let’s take this Kerlvin at his word and assume we can get some work done.” Alex chewed his bottom lip. “And while we do that, we look for these tokens. I think the demon will keep his end of things if he thinks it will get him home.”
“If he isn’t lying,” Aaron muttered.
“I might finally get to leave as well,” Chloe replied. The effect was not what any of them expected. Alex found his excitement to find the tokens immediately calmed. Aaron looked torn, while Chloe seemed confused.
“Well, great, then,” Aaron said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’ll tell Dad we can start to work soon.” His hands fell to his sides; he shrugged. “Yeah, let’s do that.” Aaron turned, making his way out of the conservatory. Moments later, they heard the echo of the front door shutting.
Alex faced Chloe. Smiling, he placed his hands as best as he could on her upper arms. “Thanks for helping us out. I really appreciate it.” Letting his hands fall, he could not meet her eyes as he said, “And if you would like”—he swallowed nervously—“we can, um, move your…body to a…I mean, give you a proper buri—”
She was quickly waving away his statement before he could finish. “We found my earring here. Maybe…” She closed her eyes in concentration, thinking hard. “Maybe…” She paused. “Since this is the newest part of the house, they would be here. You know, the tokens or whatever.” She was already turning, looking around like it would be in a box sitting in the middle of the floor.
Alex reached out, touching her hand. “According to Dad, there was another addition added in the forties and several renovations.” She turned to face him. The pale blue of her eyes stared into his heart. Looking away, he replied, “I just don’t want you to get your hopes up too much.” Again he couldn’t face her. “I mean, it is possible they have already been discovered and thrown out.” He felt a pressure on his arm. Turning back, he was struck by the infectious enthusiastic smile on her face.
“If that were true”—she laughed—“then there would be no need for a little demon to be hanging around, would there?” Smiling as well, he agreed, spending the next several hours clearing out old flowerbeds and dirty alcoves. As Alex pulled out weeds and plants, Chloe dove through the dirt and into the walls. Several families of insects and rodents were disturbed, but little else was found.