Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Gray House Ghost, Part 5 (New Short Story)

Here is Part 5 of The Gray House Ghost. If you haven't read Part 4 yet, you can find it here.

The Gray House Ghost

By Catherine Mesick

Mike ran down the hall, and Rachel ran after him.
The two of them reached the back staircase and hurried up it in the eerie green air.
Mike continued to pound up the stairs, and Rachel followed him all the way up to the attic. Mike threw the door open, and once again, the two of them found a lantern sitting on the floor of an otherwise empty room.
Mike stalked into the room. “I know you’re in here!”
Rachel stepped into the room and glanced around. “Who are you talking to?”
“I’m talking to the phony caretaker,” Mike said. “Only, this time I know who he is!”
“Mike, you’re not making any sense,” Rachel said.
Mike’s eyes darted to the lantern. “That ought to bring him out.”
He kneeled down by the lantern and put his hands right on the metal top.
“Come out and manifest yourself! You can use my energy!”
“What are you doing?” Rachel said in alarm. “You’re going to burn yourself.”
“I know who it is now!” Mike said. “I remembered that he had a birthmark. And this is no ordinary lantern—it’s what’s known as a channel object. You can use it to concentrate energy and feed it into the spirit realm.”
“Mike, you—” Rachel began and then stopped.
The air in front of them began to shimmer, and then slowly a man’s form appeared.
It was the caretaker—but his appearance had changed radically from the first time Rachel had seen him.
He still had white hair and a red birthmark that started on his chin and ran down onto his neck. But now his hair stood out from his head as if it was being supported by a breeze, and his eyes glowed with a wild, maniacal light. His skin glowed, too, as if he were lit from within, and he floated several inches off the ground.
Rachel look a step back. “But you can’t be a ghost. We saw you only a few hours ago. And you were a regular person then.”
Mike took his hands off the lantern and sat back on his heels breathing heavily. Remarkably, his hands were unburned.
“He is a ghost, Rachel,” Mike said. “In life his name was Robert Green. There’s no mistaking that birthmark.”
The ghost floated up several more feet in the air and hovered by the ceiling.
“Get out!” the spirit rasped. “Get out of this house now!”
Mike stood up. “Knock off the theatrics. We know who you are and why you’re here. We just want our friend back now.”
The spirit glared at Mike and then slowly floated back down toward the floor. He remained above it, floating just a few inches off the floor.
“How can you be a ghost?” Rachel asked. “You could open doors and carry a lantern. You were solid.”
The spirit opened his mouth as if he would speak, but Mike jumped in first.
“He used the channel object,” Mike said. “He used it to gain enough strength to manifest himself and to give himself the ability to operate in this house. That’s what the fireball was that knocked us out. It was his drawing energy into himself so he could enter the party and interact with it.”
“Yes, that is true—” the ghost began.
“And that’s also why he’s been luring people here,” Mike said. “He’s been stealing energy from them. He needs it for his fiendish plan.”
Mike then raised both of his hands in the air. “Spirit of Robert Green, I command you to leave this place. I command you to release your prisoners and leave this house in peace!”
“Now who’s being dramatic?” A smile quirked at the corners of the ghost’s mouth.
“Robert Green—”
“Yes, yes, I’m Robert Green,” the ghost said. “But I can’t leave—not yet. Maybe not ever.”
“Did you really take people prisoner?” Rachel demanded.
“Yes, mortal girl, I did,” Robert replied. “But I need them. And they are unharmed.”
“Did you take my brother?” Rachel asked.
The ghost eyed her. “It’s possible. I don’t know any of their names.”
“You don’t know!” Rachel said. “Let my brother go!”
“I can’t.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“For Emily,” Robert replied. “She is trapped here.”
“For Emily—” Rachel’s voice trailed off suddenly. She turned to Mike. “The birthmark—that’s why it’s so important. I see what you were getting at now.”
She looked back up at the ghost.
“That was you,” Rachel said. “You said ‘Turn around!’ You were trying to get that man in the blue at the party to turn around—because he wasn’t you.”
“I try every year,” Robert said. “This time I had so much power. This time I could make myself solid. I thought I could make her see that she and the whole town had mistaken me for someone else.”
The ghost sighed and seemed to grow a little fainter.
“Poor Emily. She always was a sensitive girl.”
“So that was your blue coat?” Rachel asked.
“Yes,” Robert said. “But that wasn’t me in it. If he would only turn around! Even with the mask Emily would see that the birthmark your friend so helpfully pointed out wasn’t there.”
“Why was some other guy wearing your coat?” Rachel said.
A look like shame spread over the ghost’s face.
“Because by that point it was one of the few things I had left to give away. I gambled away my money, I gambled away my horses, and I even gambled away the gold signet ring my father had given me. And in the end, I even gambled away Emily’s life.”
The ghost of Robert Green closed his eyes, and a spasm ran through him.
“I’d put up the coat in a bet several weeks before,” Robert said. “And I’d lost it. It really was quite a fine coat. My mother bought it for me in New York, and no one else had one like it. Emily was really taken with it—she said she loved it on me. When she had her dress made for the Halloween party, she wanted it to be blue just like my coat.”
“So you lost the jacket,” Rachel said. “And this other guy wore it. And when he went around town in it, people thought he was you.”
“Yes,” Robert said. “And he was in love with one of the maids at our house. People thought I was secretly meeting up with her in town.”
“Why didn’t you just tell people what was going on?” Rachel asked.
“I couldn’t!” Robert cried. “The shame was too great. I’d lost a fortune—and the potential dishonor to my family name haunted me day and night.”
“You could have told Emily,” Rachel said.
“No!” Robert wailed. “Emily was the last person I could have told. I feared she would leave me. And, like many a gambler, I believed I could get it all back. I just needed one lucky streak. Then I would get back my money and my possessions, and no one need know what I’d done.”
Robert shook his head sadly.
“And then, of course, I’d give up gambling. And that night, I had my plan for redemption all set up. I managed to get credit, put up a hefty IOU, and then bet it all. I would have won big if the cards had gone in my favor. But I lost, and I ended up with a crushing debt I had no hope of ever being able to pay.”
“And that’s why you weren’t at the Halloween party.” Rachel said.
“Yes,” Robert replied. “I was slumped over by the well in town when Eli and Henry found me—I was busy feeling sorry for myself. Then they dragged me back to the house and sat me down in the kitchen. I sat there, just staring at the lantern on the table. It was that lantern there, actually.”
The ghost nodded at the lantern on the floor.
“And I continued to sit there,” Robert said, “just staring while Emily’s life ebbed away. They carried Emily upstairs to Mary’s room and called for the doctor. But nobody told me. And then eventually, the sound of crying broke through my selfish haze. I went out to find out what was going on, and when I heard the news I ran straight up to Mary’s room—but by then it was too late. They tried to stop me from seeing her. But Emily lay there in death as beautiful as she had been in life. And now her spirit is trapped here in this empty house.”
“But Emily isn’t trapped,” Mike’s voice broke in. “I’ve listened to your story, and it’s a sad one. But there’s a reason why you can’t influence what happened at the party. This isn’t an intelligent haunt. Well—except for you. It’s a residual one. It’s just trapped energy and emotion—it can never change. Emily’s not here.”
“Emily is here,” Robert said. “It’s true that that event never seems to change. But that’s not the only event here. There’s also the spirit portal, which my own sad travels created, and then there is the presence in Mary’s room.”
“That’s just the other end of the spirit portal,” Mike said.
“No!” Robert said sharply. “The portal does end in that room—but Emily is still there, too. She’s never been able to leave Mary’s bedroom, and so the room is still there, just as it was in the moment when poor Emily’s mortal eyes closed on it for the last time.”
“She’s not—”
“She is!” Robert shouted. “Her presence is there. I just don’t know how to reach her.”
The ghost crumpled and sat on the floor.
“So you’ve kidnapped all these people,” Rachel said, “and you’re using their energy to try to contact Emily.”
“Yes,” Robert said. “It all collects in this lantern. Using it creates all the wind and the energy surges—they look like fireballs. It gets rid of the dust, too. This is probably the cleanest haunted house in the world.”
“But using their energy didn’t work for you,” Rachel said. “So why not just let them go?”
“I can’t,” Robert said.
“And by ‘can’t’ you mean you won’t?” Mike said.
“I can’t,” Robert said. “Not yet. I know I failed at the party. But I have to keep trying to contact her tonight. This night—the night on which she died—is the one on which her suffering is the greatest.”
“And yet you don’t mind making others suffer,” Mike said. “Those people you’ve imprisoned haven’t done anything wrong.”
“They aren’t suffering.” The ghost looked around at Mike. “They are well cared for. When I am in my physical form I look after them, and this house is in good condition.”
“They’re still prisoners,” Mike said. “They’re still trapped. That’s bad enough.”
“They are unaware of their surroundings,” Robert said. “It all seems like a dream to them. And their discomfort is of a short duration. It is nothing compared to the years of torment that Emily has suffered.”
Mike turned to Rachel. “I say we free them ourselves.”
“I won’t let them go,” Robert replied, “and you’ll never find them without my help.”
“What do you want from this anyway?” Rachel asked. “Do you want forgiveness?”
The ghost rose up again and floated close to Rachel.
“No—I don’t ask for that. I just want Emily to be free. I want to break her spirit out of its cycle of torment. I did not cheat on her, but I did a great wrong to her nonetheless. I couldn’t control my gambling, and I let it take over my life. I just want to let her know that she is loved, that she always was loved and that she doesn’t have to spend eternity in the darkness. I want her to know that she can move on.”
“And you’ve stayed here all this time,” Rachel said quietly. “Just trying to get that message to her?”
“Yes,” the ghost said.
“You aren’t seriously listening to this, are you?” Mike said.
Rachel turned to look at him. “Maybe we could help.”
“Help?” Mike snorted.
Rachel turned back to the ghost. “If Emily is free, will you let everyone go?”
“Of course,” Robert said. “If Emily leaves, then I will leave, too. And my power over my—guests—will be broken. They will wake up and can leave as they wish.”
“It’ll never work,” Mike said. “There’s nothing we can do. We’ll never be able to contact Emily.”
“I fear your friend is right,” Robert said. “The two of you know nothing about the spirit world. There’s no way you can help.”
“I know plenty about the spirit world,” Mike said.
The ghost shot a glance over at Mike. “You cannot do what I have failed to do.”
“What do you need?” Rachel asked. “More power? It occurs to me that you didn’t kidnap me or Mike. Does that mean that you don’t need any more energy?”
The ghost shook his head in what looked like weariness, and Rachel noticed that he had begun to fade a little more. “No. I figured that the energy expenditure required to trap the two of you was not worth it. I would spend more to trap you than I would gain once you were added.”
“Well, that’s good to know,” Rachel said. “What if I volunteered?”
The ghost shook his head. “At this point one—or even—two—people would not make much of a difference.”
The ghost grew dimmer still—as if in despair. “I don’t know what I need exactly—a power surge, perhaps. But I don’t think even a hundred people would be enough. I need an extraordinary amount of energy to break through to where Emily is.”
Rachel glanced down at the lantern. “What happened to bring you here?”
“Your friend brought me here,” Robert said. “When he touched the channel object directly. All the energy the object drew from him allowed me to manifest myself again after I’d expended most of mine trying to contact Emily.”
“What if I did that, too?” Emily asked. “Would that give you another surge?”
The ghost blinked and something like fear spread over its face. “No—you can’t do that. It’s dangerous—even life threatening. You must have noticed how your friend—”
“Mike,” Mike interjected.
“You must have noticed how exhausted Mike looked after he touched the lantern,” the ghost said. “Touching the channel object directly actually drained him of his life force—the energy that keeps him alive. My—my guests are not doing that. The channel object is absorbing their radiant energy—it’s the energy they already give off and lose every day of their lives. They aren’t losing anything. The channel just works with their natural processes.”
“So you draw the line there,” Mike said. “You don’t mind taking people prisoner. But you won’t actually steal their life force away. Glad to hear it.”
“But would it work?” Rachel asked. “If you drew directly on my energy would it be enough for you to contact Emily?”
“You can’t actually be considering this,” Mike said.
“I am,” Rachel replied.
“Are you crazy?” Mike asked.
“No,” Rachel said. “I’m trying to save my brother.”
She turned to the ghost, “Would it work?”
Robert looked grim. “I don’t know. It would certainly drain you of a lot of energy. There’s a very good chance you wouldn’t survive.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Mike said.
“He’s my brother!” Rachel said. “I’m not leaving him behind!”
Rachel’s shout echoed in the empty house. All three—the living and the dead—were silent.
“It might not work,” the ghost said quietly. “One person might not be enough. The energy I need—”
“What about two?” Mike said quickly.
The ghost looked at him. “What was that?”
“Would two people be enough to get you what you want?” Mike asked.
The ghost bowed his head. “With two people, it might just be enough. But it would be a terrible risk to you both.”
“Mike, you don’t need to get involved,” Rachel said.
“Yes, I do,” Mike replied stubbornly.
“Justin’s my brother,” Rachel said. “I have to do this—we’re family.”
“And he’s my best friend,” Mike said. “He’s like family to me, too.”
The two of them looked at the ghost.
“Do you want to do this now?” Rachel said.
The ghost looked sadly at them both. “Are you sure about this?”
“We’re sure,” Mike said.
“Then all you have to do is step forward and reach your hands out to the lantern,” Robert said. “I thank you from the bottom of my soul. And I hope your sacrifice won’t be in vain.”
Rachel and Mike glanced at each other and then kneeled down and placed their hands on the lantern.
As Rachel’s fingertips touched the warm metal, she felt a tingle run through her, and then all at once the world went completely silent, as if she had suddenly lost her hearing. A deep chill ran through her and spread all the way through her fingers and toes and up into her scalp. Rachel had a feeling then that her hair was standing on end, and the chill seemed to run all the way through it and out into the air.
Rachel turned her head in the terrifying silence, and everywhere she looked, all she could see was bright, blazing light. She squinted her eyes against the glare, and she thought she could make out a dark form, human in shape, to her left. In front of her was a luminous, silver shape, also human in form, that was floating in the air. The silver shape seemed to be at war with the bright, golden light all around it. The silver shape fought to grow brighter, and the glow fought to keep it dim.
Rachel found that her breathing was becoming ragged, and she tried to draw in a deep breath, but a heavy weight on her chest made it impossible. She continued to struggle to breathe.
Then, as if at a great distance, came a faint cry.
The silver shape began to grow brighter and brighter, and Rachel felt the chill in her body deepening.
“Emily!” cried the voice again, and it was louder this time. “I am here! Listen to me, Emily! I know you know my voice. I am your own true love, and whatever else I have done, I would never forsake you!”
The voice rose in intensity. “Emily! Hear me!”
Rachel felt herself sinking, and she began to grow dizzy. She thought she had slipped to the floor, but she couldn’t be sure, and as she gazed upward, she thought she saw a wisp of blue, like a silky ribbon, wind its way into the glow.
“Emily!” cried the voice, and it was even louder than it had been before.
“Robert?” This was a new voice, and it was shaky and thin—as if it hadn’t been used in a long time.
“Yes, yes, it’s Robert!” cried the stronger voice eagerly. “It’s me! Please listen, Emily. I love you!”
“I love you, Emily, and I never stopped loving you. Not even for a moment.”
“You never—you never—” The voice wavered. “Then why did you—”
“I didn’t, Emily, I didn’t,” Robert said quickly. “That wasn’t me.”
“It wasn’t me!” Robert said. “But this is me now. I love you, Emily!”
“Oh, Robert,” Emily said.
“Emily, I love you,” Robert said. “I always have loved you, and I always will love you.”
The whole world seemed to stop then, and Rachel found that she couldn’t breathe at all.
She reached for something to grab onto, but her hands met only empty air.
The silver light glowed brighter suddenly and then began to dim. The golden light began to dim, too, and Rachel was left in darkness.
Then suddenly, the weight lifted from her chest, and Rachel could breathe again. She took in several gasping breaths and welcomed the feel of the cold, clear air. The oppressive silence was also lifted, and Rachel was grateful for the return of her hearing.
But the darkness remained. Rachel realized she was lying on the floor, and she pushed herself to a sitting position.
She could hear creaks and groans and breathing—people were moving in the dark.
“Who’s there?” Rachel asked.
“Rachel, is that you?” said a voice.
“Mike?” Rachel said.
“Yeah. Just a minute. I think I’ve still got my flashlight.”
There was a click, and then a beam of light appeared in the darkness. The light moved across the floor, picking out a dark, broken lantern, and then it landed on Rachel and travelled up to her face.
“Mike,” Rachel said in protest.
“Oh, sorry,” he said. He lowered the flashlight.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said a man’s voice from out of the darkness. “What’s going on here?”
Mike turned his flashlight toward the sound, and the light revealed a cluster of people either lying on the ground or struggling to sit up. The light also revealed that the room was much bigger than it had appeared to be at first, and wherever Mike turned his flashlight, he picked out more people.
“But this room was empty,” Rachel said.
“Apparently not,” Mike replied.
“There’s way more than ten people here,” Rachel said.
“I guess more people went missing than we realized,” Mike said.
“So, what? Robert used some kind of ghost magic to hide everybody?”
“Ghost magic?” Mike smirked a little.
“Then, what was it?” Rachel asked. “Why didn’t we know they were in here?”
Mike glanced around. “Maybe there’s another channel object in here. That’s the only thing I can think of—whatever it is, its power has been broken.”
“So is it over?” Rachel asked.
“I think so,” Mike said. “I think we’re all free.”
“Hey, turn on the lights!” someone cried.
“There’s no electricity in here, dummy,” came the response.
Mike continued to pan his flashlight over the crowd, and against one wall, he lit up a big pile of equipment. Sitting by the equipment, blinking in the light was a boy with a familiar face.
“Justin!” Rachel cried.
She hurried over to him and gave him a hug.
Mike followed her and kneeled down, setting his flashlight on the ground so that it pointed up, sending out a shaft of light.
“Rachel, Mike,” Justin said. “What are you guys doing here?”
“We came to find you,” Rachel said.
Justin glanced around at the dark room full of people.
“Have I been missing for a while?” he asked.
“Not too long,” Mike said. “But long enough that it was obvious something was wrong.”
“So, what happened?” Justin asked.
“We’ll explain everything soon,” Rachel said. “But first, I think we should get everyone out of here.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Mike said.
While Rachel helped Justin to his feet, Mike turned and addressed the group.
“Okay, ladies and gentlemen, something unusual has happened here tonight. This will be a little hard to explain, but since you’re all paranormal investigators, it should be a little easier to explain to you than it would be to normal people. But explanations should probably wait until we’re all out of here.”
Mike turned to Rachel, who had come up to stand beside him.
“How do you want to do this?” he asked.
“Let’s get everyone out in one long line,” Rachel said. “You can lead them at the front, and I’ll bring up the back and make sure everyone is out.”
She switched on her flashlight. “Luckily, I found this in the corner.”
“Okay,” Mike said. “Works for me.”
It was Rachel’s turn to address the crowd.
“All right, everyone, let’s get everybody standing, and help anyone who needs help getting up. Some of you have been in here longer than others. This is Mike. You’ll be following him out of the house to safety. I suggest you leave your equipment here. You can come back for it in the daytime.”
People began to shuffle to their feet, and there was a chorus of groans and much stretching of bodies. Soon Mike stood at the head of a line, and the people kidnapped by the spirit of Robert Green began to file down the stairs—some of them being supported by their friends.
Once the last person had left the room, Rachel swung her flashlight in an arc around the room to make sure that they hadn’t missed anybody. As she did so, the light picked out a small object that glittered.
Rachel walked over and picked it up, and she saw that she held a little glass music box—its inner workings plainly visible through its clear sides.
She turned it over and found a tiny metal plaque next to its winding mechanism. The plaque read: From Robert to Emily.
Rachel considered winding the music box up for just a moment. Then she quickly thought better of it and set the music box back down on the floor.
She cast one look over the room and then stepped outside and closed the door.
Mike and Rachel led the group slowly down the stairs and out through the front door. Once everyone was safely outside, Mike and Rachel warned everyone against going inside again and then began to ferry everyone back to town in their cars.
By the time all the prisoners were returned to the safety of civilization, dawn was just beginning to show its first light.
Rachel and Mike stood by their cars in front of a hotel. They had just taken the last group of people inside, and their work was finally done. Mike’s car was empty, and Rachel’s held only her brother.
“It’s good to see the sunrise,” Mike said.
“Do you think Emily moved on?” Rachel asked. “Do you think she’s really free now?”
“I think so,” Mike replied. “But I do wonder about Robert.”
“You think he’s still there?”
“No, I think he moved on with Emily,” Mike said. “But I wonder about what he told us.”
“Which part?” Rachel asked.
“Well, kind of the whole setup,” Mike said. “With us. Not trapping us and letting us see the Halloween party. He said he didn’t grab us because it wasn’t worth the effort at that point. But I’m not sure that’s true. I think he wanted us to see everything—I think he was hoping if we did, we’d volunteer to help him. Just like we did.”
“You think he tricked us?” Rachel asked.
“Maybe. I don’t know—if he did, it was a heck of a gamble.”
“Well, he was a gambler,” Rachel said.
“But not a good one,” Mike said.
“Maybe this was a last-ditch effort,” Rachel said. “Sort of double-or-nothing. And even a bad gambler gets lucky sometimes.”
“Yeah, I suppose that’s true,” Mike said.
He looked around.
“I guess we should be getting home.”
Mike seemed oddly reluctant to move, and he glanced over at Rachel several times.
“So, see you around?” he said at last.
Rachel stepped up to him and kissed him on the cheek.
“Why did you do that?” Mike asked.
“Thanks for helping me save my brother,” she said.
Mike looked down and then laughed sheepishly, and his blush was as rosy as the dawn.
Thanks very much for reading!

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