Crimes of the Fay II, Chapter 3

Even though I felt sure it was wrong, I conjectured, “Wade passed on and we can all go home?”

“We can’t go home ‘til the damage is repaired,” Aidan pointed out.

“You’re right! Looks like we’re getting a hotel! Ooh, this would be a good excuse for a weekend trip!” My eyes sparkled at the concept of retreating somewhere relaxing after this strenuous ordeal!

Agent Hearne gingerly articulated, “Well, I’m glad you like traveling…”

Discerning a huge catch to his statement, I babbled, “I never used to enjoy going anywhere outside of Anaknock, I was always too afraid, but after meeting Aidan, I’ve learned to love it! Long journeys used to make me scared, but I realized I’m in control of the journey, so I got over my anxiety! I no longer mind becoming a bit lost ‘cause I know I can always come home again if things go wrong! Our house is rock solid! … Or it was! But still, once it’s fixed, we-.”

“Shannon, you can’t go back to your apartment for a long time!” Sandra blurted out. “It’s not safe!”

“It shouldn’t take the magian construction crew long to rebuild it!” I reasoned. “You could have Fays do it, it’d be a nice gesture, but we-!”

Chief Mazarine interrupted me, “You can’t return to your domicile as long as Wade remains at large! And don’t make a joke about his weight!” I had opened my mouth to do just that, but upon receiving that directive, I zipped my lips! Normally, I would never disparage someone for their appearance, but I sensed some truly ominous news in the works, so I got really nervous! Also, he did try to kill me, so of course I was a little salty about him!

Aidan queried, “So, we gotta stay in a secure location while we handle the case?”

“You two can’t working the case!” Agent Hearne revealed to us. That was disappointing enough, but we could have gotten over it if he hadn’t added, “You can’t even stay in the city!”

“What?” Aidan and I reacted incredulously. It sounded so outlandish to me that I was quite certain that I hadn’t gleaned that tidbit properly!

Agent Hearne broke it down for us, “Wade obtained a police officer’s cellphone, so he has access to our information system. That’s how he found your address! This means every second you spend in this… Yes?”

Aidan had raised his hand like a schoolboy, and once Agent Hearne acknowledged him, he asked, “How did he manage to steal something from an officer from his prison cell?”

“He wasn’t in a prison cell,” Sandra answered. “Well, he was ‘til they did a health screener and saw that his heart was failing. Officer Pálido got put in charge of escorting him to the hospital unit for tests, and apparently, she fell in love…”

“What?” Aidan and I cried out in unison again. 

Chief Mazarine assured us, “Don’t worry, she’s been fired! No one wants someone with judgment like that on the force!”

I puzzled, “Who would fall in love with someone so physically and personally vile?”

“Didn’t your mother marry him?” Agent Hearne probed.

“Yeah, but that relationship was more about dependance than romance!” I contended.

Agent Hearne went on, “Anyways… Today, as she cuffed him to the bed, he began stroking her back seductively…” Aidan and I gagged at the picture he painted, so he let us know, “Calm down! They didn’t go that far! If Wade did have any intention of doing sexual activities, he couldn’t have done much because his heart is weak and couldn’t get enough blood flow to his-.”

I cut him off, “Look, I’ve been through a lot tonight, and it sounds like I’m about to go through some more- don’t add the torture of that image haunting my dreams to the pile!”

“So, he used this, I’m assuming, desperate officer’s credentials to bypass security measures and escape?” Aidan surmised.

“Yes,” Sandra confirmed. “You wouldn’t think that dying man would be so dangerous, but within five minutes of him gaining freedom, he incinerated a building and nearly murdered ten people! It’s so bizarre! He has months to live, but he wants to make sure you go down first?”

I reckoned, “Maybe he still believes he’ll turn into a Fay! I wonder if he’ll try and destroy the world again! Like if he can’t live in it, no one can? Seriously, I doubt he broke out of prison simply to kill us! It’d be a pretty short-lived goal!”

Chief Mazarine put in “The Ploutonion is monitored internationally now, so if he did go for it again, he wouldn’t get very far.” His logic was sound, but somehow, I doubted that these measures would have stopped him if that was what he really wanted to do!

“A-hem!” Agent Hearne made a bid for our attention.

“Is your throat dry? We could get you some water,” Sandra offered.

Agent Hearne politely declined, “I’m not thirsty! Actually, I am, but we don’t have time to spare for that! And we don’t have time to analyze the case either! As long as these two are in Anaknock, everyone around them is in danger!” Chief Mazarine subtly distanced himself from us when he mentioned that, but Agent Hearne ignored that gesture as he handed Aidan and me a wallet. “Our labs have issued you new identities. We have to keep you hidden until Wade has been caught! Or he dies, whatever comes first.”

My face fell, and I lost all of the color from skin as the reality of the situation sunk in! Everything in my life was about to drastically change! “So, we might be gone for months? For months, I’ll be away from my home and my friends? For months, I’ll have to leave the job I’ve waited a lifetime to get? For months, I’ll have to go by Sophia Swetinbedde? Really?”

“I like it!” Aidan snickered at the naughty allusion attached to this moniker until he opened his wallet and saw his identity. “Oh, I’m a Swetinbedde too? Kennedy Swetinbedde, no thanks! Can’t I go by something classier like Kennedy Jagger or Kennedy Hendrix?”

“Babe, those rockstars are bad-ass, but they’re not…” Prior to me completing that sentence, I made an astute observation. “Wait, you gave us the same last name?”

Agent Hearne explained, “It makes more sense for a married couple to get a house big enough to accommodate their relatives.”

Aidan’s eyes grew wide. “Hold on, we gotta get married? I definitely want to someday, but not today! I mean, we can’t even have a true ceremony ‘cause Wade might off our entire guest list…”

“You don’t have to tie the knot, but if you do want to, I am qualified to wed people…” Agent Hearne apprised. 

“The FBI isn’t given that power!” Chief Mazarine objected.

Agent Hearne clarified, “That’s correct. My colleagues can’t do it, but I myself can since I got certified in order to perform at my buddy’s wedding.” He glimpsed our terrified expressions and concluded, “Okay, so you’re not on board with that proposal. Well, you still have to pretend to be a married couple ‘til this situation is resolved. We have some clothes ready to go, and you’ll have some food stocked when you arrive at your destination.” He viewed the tension we felt multiplying, so he tacked on to that, “I understand we made a lot of decisions about your life, and that’s probably pretty overwhelming…” Aidan and I nodded vigorously. “We’re willing to consider your wishes on where you’d like to go next. You can go anywhere, the only stipulation is it can’t be close to here or anywhere where your family or close friends live.” We remained apprehensive, so he added, “Your downstairs neighbors are set to do a nice holiday in Europe. This adventure could wind up being really romantic for you! Well, as romantic as it can get with your mom, sister, nieces, nephews, and cousin tagging along…”

Aidan inquired, “Cousin? Neither of us had any cousins at our house recently, so who… No! You can’t have Minna living with us! I have a restraining order against her!”

“Really? Shit! … Well, we can put a spell on her so that she can’t go within ten feet of you!” Agent Hearne strove to appease us, but we groaned at what a disaster this expedition threatened to become! He slid a couple of pieces of paper towards us as well as some pencils, and he instructed, “Get your thoughts off of the stressful aspects of everything by envisioning where you wanna go! Write down your top five choices, and i’ll send you all somewhere great! Oh, your family has their choices done already!” A group of documents suddenly appeared on the table in front of him, and we stared at them with appall. Clearly, neither Aidan nor I relished participating in this odyssey, and it shocked me that they were willing to partake so quickly! They didn’t even seem to take a moment to carefully consider the matter! It alarmed me how easily they were willing to leave their entire lives behind! I had no inkling to do the same! I strongly preferred to plant my roots further and defend my homestead against that monster! Was I alone in that? “…Unless you would rather rely on your family to make this decision…”

“No!” Aidan and I responded simultaneously. 

We grabbed our sheets, and Aidan began jotting something down immediately! I ached to see what he wrote, but somehow, I got the impression that Agent Hearne wouldn’t allow that to transpire. He didn’t express any rules, but he had the demeanor of a strict teacher administering an important test, so I refrained from conferring with my boyfriend about this subject! I mulled over where I would have been willing to go, and I came up blank! It would have been different if we were picking a vacation spot, but I couldn’t envision myself settling anywhere that didn’t have my loved ones close by! Plus, I had been hoping to informally investigate whatever Wade was up to. I knew he possessed an unyielding yen for vengeance against, well, mainly me since I prevented him from wiping out humanity, but did he really lose the desire to do the goal that landed him in lockup in the first place? Whatever he was up to, he would be keeping it a secret from Sandra, Chief Mazarine, or anyone else they assigned to the case! He would be lying low from the authorities… except for me! I was positive he would resurface wherever I ended up to complete at least one of his missions, so I stood the biggest chance of thwarting his efforts! I had to go where he stood the greatest chance of locating me! With that on my brain, I scrawled a few ideas down…

Agent Hearne took a minute to pore over our picks, and I could no longer tell whose document was whose! I kept my fingers crossed he would opt for a suggestion of mine, and my anticipation climbed higher the longer he took! Finally, he appeared to have settled on something! “Alright, Aidan! Hawaii it is!”

My jaw dropped! Hawaii? That was the furthest possible state from Maryland! I’m guessing, I never calculated the math on that geography! I gave him an incredulous stare, and he seemed equally baffled. When he espied my betrayed glare, he defended himself, “Babe, I put that down as a joke! My top pick was ‘Whatever Shannon wants.’ Show her! Please!”

“He’s right, he did put that!” Agent Hearne confirmed as he laid down Aidan’s paperwork.

“See!” Aidan indicated to the beginning of his sheet, and I recognized he was, indeed, telling the truth! He penciled down his preference to do as I desired first, and Hawaii had been number two! Number three was Tahiti, four was the Bahamas, and five was Cancun, Mexico! Aidan justified his actions, “I put down the rest to be funny! I didn’t seriously believe they would send us to any of them!”

I bickered, “Why not? The Anhulsyns are vacationing in Europe!”

Aidan countered, “But they’re from Europe!”

“They weren’t allowed to go near their family!” The reference to family brought up another issue I had with this plan. “Why can’t we all go separately? Send Laraleigh and the kids to Hawaii! Then Aidan and I can do one of my choices!”

“And Minna! Send her to the other side of the country too!” Aidan beseeched him.

Agent Hearne told us, “Virginia is within walking distance of Anaknock! West Virginia and Pennsylvania are short drives from here, Delaware is still too close, and Aidan has an uncle in Ohio.”

Aidan quarreled, “He lives in a trailer! He could just park his home somewhere else for a bit!”

“No, we’re not displacing anymore individuals,” Agent Hearne declined his proposition. “It was enough of a pain in the ass scrambling to file the reports needed to get you all new identities in a hurry! That’s why you’re stuck with Minna! At least for a while; I’ll work on moving her, but I can’t guarantee how long that’d take since it’s not considered an emergency.” Aidan and I grew very crestfallen at the finalization of this agenda, and Agent Hearne squirmed in guilt as he requested, “Please hand over your cellphones and wands.” I nearly fainted after he uttered that, and to prevent an outburst, he quickly went into further detail, “Wade has access to your GPS, and you can’t reveal that you’re with law enforcement by using police issued wands! Once this is over, you’ll get them back, but until he’s apprehended, we’ve issued you new ones.”

“We can’t even communicate with our loved ones?” A lump rose up in my throat. I spent years developing a social life, and suddenly, I had to throw it all away! And I couldn’t even check in with my family going forward! It was so surreal that I had to pinch myself to ensure that I wasn’t in the middle of a horrible nightmare! “Ow! This is all real!”

Agent Hearne apologized, “I’m sorry for what you’re going through! Your family will get my info, and I’ll keep them updated on your case. You have my number too, so if you have any questions, feel free to reach out! It’s listed as IRS in case anyone gets their hands on your device. No one will be tempted to call that contact!”

I gazed at the outdated phones and puny wands he passed out to us, and my stomach tied itself in knots! I dreamt of becoming a cop since I was a little kid, and it my dream career got taken from so unceremoniously! It wasn’t fair! I wanted to resist, but I knew that wasn’t an option! I slammed my cell and my wand onto the table and positioned myself to get them out of my sight! If I hadn’t peeled myself away right then, I knew I’d lose my nerve! Sandra threw her arms around my torso and consoled me, “Don’t despair! We’ll arrest Wade and get you back before you know it! And you’re going to freakin’ Hawaii! It’s gorgeous there! I’m sure you’ll have a ball during this stay!” As she said this goodbye, I couldn’t share any of her optimism for this hellish journey!

Crimes of the Fay II, Chapter 2

“Let’s save her life, and once this is all over, we can send her to jail!” I suggested to Aidan. He gave me a curt nod, and then I swung the entryway open…

“Oh, bless your heart!” Minna graciously conveyed to us as she wheeled herself in. Yes, wheeled! We don’t have an elevator, so it mystified me as to how she had access to our second story property! She also surprised me by dressing up nicely for her spying expedition! Usually, when I encountered criminals who aim to keep themselves hidden, they wear dark colors and keep their faces shielded, but that’s not what she did! She had a silver, sequined dress that gave her pudgy body a more flattering silhouette, glittery makeup that highlighted her dark-brown eyes, and a flashy barrette in her long, black, curly hair! I had no clue how we could have missed her in the parking lot as we came home! She also had a huge, Romanesque nose! That’s not relevant- I just noticed at that juncture! “I knew y’all wouldn’t-!”

Aidan slammed the door shut in the nick of time- someone crashed into our door pretty hard! “Ouch!” Wade’s muffled voice moaned. 

Mom queried, “Is that Wade? Wow, you guys have a really durable structure here!”

“Everyone into our bedroom, now!” I ordered them as I mentally prepared myself for this confrontation. “Don’t make a sound! And for the love of Pete, don’t ask any questions about what you see in there!” I cringed at the call I made; our room was the furthest point from the potential battlegrounds, but it pained me to envision the conversation we were bound to have about it later!

“Who’s Pete?” Willow posed to me.

Wade gently knocked on the door. “Don’t worry! I’m not here ‘cause I plotted revenge as my white-hot rage burned in that prison cell for years! I simply wanna talk!”

Jackson remarked, “That’s a relief!”

“Everyone do as she said!” Laraleigh ushered her children into the back of our abode. Minna and Mom followed suit, and I used my wand to shut the door. I considered doing extra protection spells for them, but I needed to save all of the energy I had for the inevitable foray! I hardly believed that Wade had broken out of his detention center only to have a friendly chat!

“Ooh! Strawberries!” Willow exclaimed.

Aidan glimpsed at me curiously. “Strawberries?”

I originally intended to privately reveal this gift to him later, but I highly doubted that we were going to get a chance to use them later, so I told him, “Yeah. There’s whipped cream and chocolate sauce too!”

“Dammit! Wade, I’ll kill you!” Aidan growled when he realized what he was missing out on.

“You could wait a few months and let it happen naturally!” As if he could see the puzzled expressions we bore upon hearing that pronouncement, Wade elucidated, “Something’s wrong with my ticker! The doctor says I’ll make it to Christmas, but I have a funny feeling I won’t even make it to Father’s Day! And don’t fret about getting me any presents- I’m sure it’s strange doing that for your stepdaddy!”

I inwardly noted that I needed to query my mother on the status of her divorce with him, and then I sardonically shot back to him, “Yeah, that’s why I don’t get you any presents! It has nothing to do with you trying to murder me or your attempt to destroy the world!”

Wade either didn’t catch on to my contempt or he ignored it as he went on, “Exactly! I knew the warden wouldn’t permit me to have any visitors, so that’s why I had to escape! I gotta make amends with you all before I kick the bucket!”

“How did you escape anyways?” Aidan pressed him.

“That’s not important! I’m sure your colleagues will arrive in a matter of minutes, so we gotta do this quickly! Invite me inside and I’ll show you precisely how sorry I am!” Wade requested.

I scoffed at that pathetic effort, “And I don’t suppose you’ll declare yourself not sorry at all and then proceed to attack us?”

Wade, who was clearly lying, fibbed, “I would never! They don’t call them correctional institutes for nothing!”

“That only counts if you’ve served your sentence!” Aidan pointed out.

“Basically, I did! I got life in prison, and I’m already at death’s door!” Wade argued.

I corrected him, “No, you’re at our door! We’re not letting you in, and we’re calling our colleagues to bring you back to lockup! I’d love to cuff you again, but you’re not worth removing our protective spells!”

Wade didn’t make any noise for a few seconds, but I could hear the wheels turning in his head as I initiated a nine-one-one call. Prior to me hitting the call button, Wade speculated, “So, you used protective magic, huh? I wonder if your neighbors did…” Before we could warn him not to, we felt the ground below us tremble, and the crackling of fire floated into our eardrums! “Oh, I guess they don’t!”

“Son of a bitch!” Aidan growled as he dashed out onto the balcony.

“Hey! Don’t bring that jezebel into this!” Wade spat.

As Aidan leaned over the ledge to do an extinguishing jinx, I recalled that the terrace could be seen from the stoop! I seriously didn’t want to risk any damage to our house or any of the innocent bystanders within its walls, but I wouldn’t have been able to bear it if anything serious befell on Aidan, so I had no choice but to bite the bullet and allow him access inside! I wasn’t about to let him get past the foyer though! I opened the door, and…

Wade had been leaning in a fashion that clearly indicated he intended to strike Aidan shortly! When he saw me, he hid his sausage fingers behind his back and acted very nonchalantly. I instantly raised my eyebrows at this sight! I mean, it’s hard to look sinless and pure-minded when you’re in a prison jumpsuit in the middle of a private sector! His sandy skin (both in the color and the dirt) didn’t paint the portrait of a man on his last leg, so I had difficulties buying his claims of a short mortality! He did appear smaller than when I first met him, but I reminded myself that he was wearing a fat suit to disguise his identity, so of course he had a slimmer frame in this instance! He did smell like he was dying, but he carried that stench even at his healthiest! I would’ve thought the caretakers in his cell block would’ve bathed that odor out of him! He twiddled his scraggly, white beard that melded perfectly with his unkempt hair, and he bumbled, “Oh, I’m so glad you opened up! We have so much to discuss!”

“Actually, at the moment, I’d like to advise you that you have the right to remain silent!” I quipped. I then aimed my wand’s trajectory in his direction, but he pulled his back out and deflected my projectile!

“Now, now! If you start a fight, you won’t get a chance to see my beautiful apology!” Wade sent something towards me, but I counteracted it. He repeated the process a couple more times, and I reverberated them all! He cursed me between words, “Why… don’t… you… let… me… make… everything… right?” He suddenly grew out of breath, so I took this opportunity to make another bid in detaining him. He dodged it by lunging forward, but then he fell through our living room floor!

Aidan ran over and assessed, “I snuffed out the blaze, but the construction is weak in certain areas… obviously!”

We overheard Wade politely address our neighbor, “Oh, pardon my intrusion, ma’am!”

“Durnyy cholovik! Scho ty zrobyv z moyim budynkom?” an elderly lady hollered.

“Freaking bohunk!” Wade muttered.

I directed Aidan, “Hold my hand!” He grabbed my palm as I bent down to peek inside of the quarters beneath us. I saw the Eastern European woman glancing around her apartment in complete confusion, but I didn’t spot Wade anywhere, so I inquired, “Hey, Missus Anhelsyn! Where’d he go?”

Missus Anelysun shrugged. “I do not know! He poofed and he gone! What is this word, bohunk?”

“Pay no attention to that! Slava Ukraini!” Under ordinary circumstances, I would have illuminated her on that derogatory term, but we didn’t have a second to spare! Wade was on the move, and we had to pursue him in order to prevent a more permanent disappearance! However, the odds of us accomplishing that seemed bleak since the ground crumbled beneath me as I stood up! As Aidan pulled me to safety, we stared at the front door longingly! How were we supposed to get out of there without damaging anyone or anything?

“I think my phone is ringing!” Aidan reached into his pocket, and sure enough, it had been vibrating from a call from the Slygow County police headquarters! Aidan held his mobile so that we could both hear the speaker and greeted the person on the other end, “Hello! You’re speaking to Officers Maddox and Vidette!”

A somewhat deep but still gentle voice responded, “Hi, this is Agent Evander Hearne with the FBI. Are you two sitting down?” 

Two chairs by our kitchen table fell into the hole, so after I shook my head, I urged him, “Just go ahead!”

“Okay… Well, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Wade Toonella has escaped from prison, and we suspect that he may be traveling to your proximity!” Agent Hearne dramatically revealed.

“Sigh! You’re a little late for that notification! He was already here!” Aidan let him know.

Agent Hearne stuttered, “He was… What?”

I advised him, “He escaped, so could you send a crime scene unit here asap?” The chasm expanded and sent the coat rack by the entryway tumbling into Missus Anhelsyn’s space, which made her cat screech with fright! Realizing we would have to find another way out of this building, I added, “And someone with a ladder!”

Walking into the Bull Pen in a non-work capacity felt so weird! In addition to being at my job when I wasn’t on the clock, I had family members with me! Scoping out the two long rows of cubicles, I didn’t see a single person typing up reports or communicating to potential leads, and that really threw me off! I hadn’t ever been in here when it was empty before, it was like stepping into an odd dream! When we got to the end of the row, Mason peered into the cubicle closest to our break room and excitedly observed, “Hey! Thai guys’ got a picture of us in it!”

“That’s my desk,” I corrected him as kindly as possible. I took a beat to forlornly survey the photos and various knick-knacks that I had collected over the last couple of years. A part of me wanted to console myself with the fact that I would be back at this seat on Monday, but another part of me got this inexplicable impression that I wouldn’t get the chance to view any of this again for a very long while!

“Are we getting arrested?” Harper asked as we came to the hallway that contained the bathrooms, observation rooms, interrogation rooms, and the chief’s office at the opposite side.

Aidan assured Harper, “Of course not! You’re witnesses, not criminals!”

Harper grimaced. “Darn it!”

We gave Harper a peculiar regard, but we didn’t have a minute to spare in order to broach the subject in more depth because a man in his sixties with russet skin, umber eyes, and a big beard met up with us… in his pajamas! We had a serious matter to deal with, and yet I couldn’t concentrate on anything else but his night wear! It was rare to catch him in anything casual, so to see him in this… He appeared to have beheld my focus and briefly explained, “What? It’s Friday night, I’m tired, and I wasn’t expecting to take on this mess tonight!”

“I’m sorry, sir!” I swiftly apologized. I had a lot to feel anxious about right then, I truly didn’t want to have to throw in angst over getting bad assignments too!

“There’s a team waiting to speak with you all in that room. You two…” He indicated to Aidan and me. “… come with me!”

We followed him into the interrogation room across the hall from the others. Chief Mazarine parked himself in a chair between a platinum blonde woman with sparkling blue eyes and a slightly older but very genial demeanor and a tawny-skinned man with a nearly shorn off head, honey eyes, and a strong jawline. The unknown man had a very sober expression, but the woman merrily waved to us! Aidan eyeballed her country-like costume and conversed, “You and the husband out square dancing?”

Sandra’s eyes darted around in a shifty manner. “Uh… yeah! That’s exactly what we were doing…”

“Hi! I’m the agent you talked to earlier.” Agent Hearne extended his hand for us to shake.

“I suppose you wanna get all of the details of this incident?” I guessed.

Agent Hearne relayed to us, “Actually, we have all we need from the crime scene reports. We have something more important to go over with you…”

Crimes of the Fay II, Chapter 1

Here we go again! It feels like just yesterday I was writing the prequel to this book! Well, in a way anyways! So much has changed since my last adventure that me at thirty-three seems so different from the version of me I know today! Before, I got a new job and a new home, and now, I have a new job and a new home… It’s complicated…

I’d say let’s start at the beginning, but really, to fully understand the craziness that became my life, we need to start at the end of the first installment, so if you haven’t read that yet… Why are you checking out this one? To those who have perused through the first novel, here’s a refresher: Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to work in law enforcement because they fought the Fay Folks and I wanted to be, like, a superhero by combating them! Thwarting this band of undead fiends causing all kinds of mayhem sounded like a dream! And it was since it didn’t work out like that in reality! To begin with, the Fays are just like regular humans! Well, not in looks! But their neon-colored skin, sharp claws, and pointy teeth aside, they behave in the manner most people do- except they can’t do magic like us and they have the memory of how they died! They got sent back to Earth so that Fate could decide whether they belong in Heaven or Hell, and at the end of the day, aren’t we all wrestling with that conundrum? Anyhow, being a detective wasn’t as glamorous as I pictured it. It rarely involves foiling the schemes of brilliant supervillains- mainly, it involves cleaning up the figurative messes that folks with faulty judgment set in motion! Rape, kidnapping, murder- those are rarities! Thank goodness! On an average day, I solve crimes like the mystery of why that dude was breaking into individuals’ homes to lounge in his French maid costume or the enigma of why a woman kept leaving pumpkins on people’s porches while singing a spooky song in April! There’s a lot of outlandish criminals out there, but we deal don’t deal with them on a normal basis, which is a blessing! I couldn’t handle my world getting turned upside down from constantly dealing with dastardly evildoers like Wade Toonella…

Yes, it’s a goofy sounding name, but that hillbilly was one of the most notorious lawbreakers the town of Anaknock has ever seen! … As well as my mother’s most rotten ex and the most ghastly roommate I ever had the misfortune to habituate with! About that… My former husband, Ben, apparently had an addiction to hookers, and I actually caught him red-handed while I was on the clock! To add insult to injury, he drained our financial accounts, and the bank was mere days away from foreclosing on our place! I was so involved with work that I had nowhere else to go but my mom and Wade’s mobile home in Brigid’s Garden, an establishment not known for its safety or serenity! It was a rookie working on a bicycle theft case, and it turned out it was used to make an ominous sign at a murder site! Wade apparently committed a string of murders so he could “liberate” them into Fay form! He really believed he was doing them a favor since he was going into the gateway between the living world and the beyond in order to destroy this dimension and evoke the apocalypse! It was a challenging experience, and a bit reckless due to the Ploutonion being out of Slygow county’s jurisdiction, but I was at least able to prove my worth to my boss, Chief Mazarine! And I made some friends from the experience too! Oh, additionally, it lead me to my truest love, Aidan…

Aidan Maddox is the most striking man I’ve ever met! He has gorgeous, slicked-back, blond hair, sparkling, light blue eyes, a broad, toothy grin, and a finely sculpted body! I still can’t believe a woman like me could land such a hunk! When I attained a plus-size figure, I never imagined that I could ever get dubbed as a trophy girlfriend to someone as swoon-worthy as him! But he says he loves my curves along with my golden-brown eyes, chestnut hair, and light-beige skin! I hadn’t considered those features as unique prior to him, but he says they are! How did Wade’s wickedness lead me to him? Um… so… he was my number one suspect in that spree I mentioned a minute ago! In fact, initially, I only agreed to go out with him so I could shell out more clues for my case! I guess you could say it was a meet-cute! Aidan eventually got proven innocent, and he helped me take Wade down! The only reason Aidan got involved with that fiasco was because he was trying to recruit Wade’s Fay sidekick into his “business” where he tricked bad guys out of their riches! But after this incident, he went from a modern Robin Hood to an undercover cop! He recently graduated from the police academy, and he adores his new and legal method of screwing over reprobates! We trade stories about our workday every night in our cozy little apartment, and everything is perfect! Well, it was until Aidan’s fortieth birthday…

“BUUUURRRRP!” Aidan let out a large belch as we walked up the staircase to our abode.

“Oh, that’s attractive!” I sarcastically responded to his eructation.

We reached the stoop, and Aidan kidded me, “You know you still have the hots for me!”

I admitted, “Somehow, regardless of how disgusting you act, you ARE still irresistible to me!”

“I don’t know why! You realize you can do so much better, right?” Aidan probed.

“I disagree!” I smiled warmly at him hoping to convey the sheer honesty of that statement.

Aidan grinned and then wrapped his arms around my waist. “Thank you for a fantastic celebration!”

With a wry expression, I informed him, “The evening’s not over yet! Just wait ‘til you see what I have in store for you in the bedroom!”

He lustfully told me, “What if I don’t wanna wait?”

I simpered, and we began kissing each other passionately! I took off his leather jacket, and he unzipped my dress, but before we went too far in public, Aidan reached into his pocket and used his exquisite, red alder wand to open the entryway. I joked with him, “Okay, but I get to dig into your pants next!” He chuckled as he shut the door, and I unzipped his jeans, but before I could pull them down…

“SURPRISE!” a cacophony of voices blurted out as several figures emerged from behind our furniture! Aidan and I screamed and instinctively brandished our wands at the direction of the noise! Once the initial shock wore off, I recognized the perpetrators were family members! A lady with short, poofy blond hair, thin limbs, and my golden-brown eyes instantly grew even paler than usual, and a young woman with features much like Aidan’s dropped her jaw at this sight! Five young children (two boys and three girls) were clearly frightened and appeared as though they wanted to cry. For a heavy moment, everyone froze in an awkward silence.

“Why was she taking off his pants?” the nine year old boy asked.

The five year old girl answered, “She was probably gonna give him a bath!”

Aidan and I rolled with that explanation and spouted, “Yes! Exactly what we were gonna do! Uh-huh!”

The eight year old seemed to know we had fibbed, but she couldn’t quite ascertain what we were covering up. I could tell the eleven year old boy and the fourteen year old girl weren’t fooled for a second, and suddenly, I felt incredibly embarrassed! I mean, if I had any idea they were there, I wouldn’t have attempted to romp with Aidan, but still, I felt bad for creating the discomfort of seeing their uncle in such a compromising position! My mom cleared her throat and strove to smooth things over, “Bathtime will have to come later- it’s party time now!” She chuckled, but only the youngest two laughed. Mom then directed the fourteen year old, “Kinsey, can you turn on the radio?” Kinsey seemed glad to have an excuse not to gaze at us any longer and bolted over to the stereo.

“Do you wanna give him your present first, Jackson?” Aidan’s sister queried the eleven year old.

“Uh…” Jackson averted his eyes and blushed.

The five year old girl volunteered, “I’ll go! I think I left it in here…”

She reached for the doorknob of my bedroom, and I shouted, “No, Willow! Don’t!” Willow got taken aback by my abruptness and halted her footsteps. It’s not as though my “present” to Aidan was that salacious, I just didn’t want to hear her question it out loud and have to cook up another whopper to account for it!

“We’ll do presents later!” Aidan’s sister asserted. She raised an eyebrow at us and then instructed the eight year old girl and the nine year old boy, “Harper, Mason, go ahead and bring out that cake!”

“Thanks for the visit, Laraleigh!” Aidan regarded his sister in a slightly bashful fashion.

Laraleigh shrugged. “I thought it’d be fun since the hubby is visiting his pappy. He’s not doing too well! He forgot how to speak English- all he speaks is French now! And we’re pretty sure it’s mainly swear words! I didn’t think the kids should hear that, so it seemed like the perfect weekend to do this!”

Aidan’s eyes bugged out upon hearing this. “Did you say weekend?”

“Oh no! Uncle Aidan is old now and going deaf!” Harper exclaimed.

“Hey! I’m not so old that I can’t hear!” Aidan rebuffed that slight.

Kinsey offered, “Did you want me to get that?”

Aidan puzzled, “Get what?”

“There was a knock on the front door. Didn’t you hear it?” Kinsey pressed him.

“That doesn’t mean anything!” Aidan contended to Harper, who appeared very much triumphant.

Another knock resounded across the apartment, and this time, we could all hear it! It had the level of volume that would suggest it was someone desperate, which I found strange until a foul odor wafted by my nostrils… “It’s Wade!” I declared. “He’s broken out of prison, and he’s out for revenge!”

Mom differed, “Sweetie, that’s impossible! He has all of the highest security surrounding him at that facility! Believe me, I did my research on that ‘cause I came to the same conclusion after passing an open sewer! There’s virtually nothing he could do to get out! Besides, even if did escape somehow, the warden would let us know immediately! Don’t worry about that ever happening!” Her logic was solid, and I knew my theory had the hallmarks of total lunacy, but my instincts indicated that I was totally correct! My stomach lurched at the very premise of that notion, and I held my wand at the ready in the eventuality that my hypothesis panned out…

“I’ll see who it is!” Aidan assured me after the rapping at the entryway intensified. As he peeked through the peephole, my heart pounded wildly! I fully expected Aidan to announce that the sinister scoundrel had, indeed, arrived at our doorstep, and that feeling only got exacerbated when Aidan fretfully reacted to what he saw, “Oh, shit!”

“Ooh! Uncle Aidan sweared!” Mason called out.

Aidan put all of his weight on the door and commanded, “Somebody call the police!” He shouted to the person on the other side of the entrance, “Get out of here, you psychopath!”

I advised everyone, “Get back to your hiding spots!” They heeded my word, and I prepared myself for a lengthy battle.. But then…

“Aidan! Please let me in!” a woman with a thick southern accent pleaded.

“You’re not welcome here! The restraining order should have made that perfectly clear!” Aidan angrily addressed her.

I didn’t recall Aidan ever mentioning having a restraining order against anyone! Oh sure, he screwed over a lot of crooks, but he always wore disguises, so it seemed unlikely that he would go through such a measure for them! I couldn’t fathom why he kept this from me, so I grilled him, “Aidan, who is this person?”

Aidan filled me in, “She’s my ex-girlfriend from high school. She didn’t handle our breakup well and started stalking me! I was positive I’d never see her again once I left Kentucky! Seriously, it’s been over a decade, I thought I lost her!” The knocking grew more erratic, so Kinsey made a bid to let her in, but Aidan stopped her from doing that. “Don’t invite her inside! She’s not stable!”

“Actually, I got much better after they put me on these meds!” the woman quarreled.

“Then what are you doing here, Minna?” Aidan challenged her.

Minna professed, “I followed your sister here! But I wasn’t gonna do anything! I only wanted to watch your windows and pretend that I belong here! If you mull it over a little, you’ll see that act as very romantic!”

Aidan retorted, “I see it as creepy! Do you really imagine I’d be cool with this lawlessness? I’m sure you already figured out that I’m a police officer now!”

“I did! Never mind how I knew that though! I need to get in there lickety-split!” Minna beseeched him. “Someone’s after me!”

“Yeah right!” Aidan shook his head. “How convenient!”

With that foul odor getting stronger, I wondered if her appeal had any merit. “Who’s after you?”

Minna reported, “I don’t know! He didn’t say his name! Plus, he had a hood covering his face like your neighbor here is… Uh oh! It’s him! He’s coming up!”

The Hessian, Chapter 5

“You’re asking me what to do in the future, and I’m still trying to comprehend what happened in the past!” Clarissa sunk into the bedside chair previously occupied by the doctor and relived the events from earlier that day. “I just can’t believe he came back! Once he was executed, I assumed that I would never see him again…”

            “Who is he?” Kenneth inquired. He suddenly recalled her prior nervousness upon the subject of his military adversaries, so he added, “Was that… Was he a Hessian?”

            Clarissa had to close her eyes and steel herself up in order to reply to him. After she had braced herself for this juncture, she revealed, “Colfrith had many merchants coming to purchase lumber from C.C. Asher Mill, but none of the regular clients ever became a part of the community except for Alastor Derstreich. He rubbed elbows with the town’s most elite members, and he charmed everyone he talked to. He became the most celebrated person in the village other than Cornelius Cole, the mill owner and governmental representative, or my late husband, Brenner! About a month ago, while Alastor was speaking to Brenner, a piece of paper slipped out of his pocket. It turned out to be an envelope that prominently displayed the Hessian seal! Everyone knew that no patriot would possess such a document, and he never denied the accusation that he was a spy! The hurt from this betrayal brought everyone’s vitriol to his hanging, and he vowed to unleash vengeance on us all from beyond the grave…”

            Kenneth asserted, “Well, that explains the motives behind that specter’s attack! But it doesn’t explain why that physician determined that my disclosure of this event signified that I had lost touch with reality! I couldn’t have been the Hessian’s first victim!”

            “No, you weren’t! After Alastor’s death, a lot of strange things started happening…” Clarissa narrated. “People heard music that wasn’t there. Random individuals would wander down Hallow’s Alley and have no recollection on how they got to that location. So much pain and so many ailments surfaced that no one could trace their origins to! Multiple neighbors got consumed by anger and hatred, and then a lot simply felt nothing whatsoever! Everyone could tell some abnormal force had taken over the area, but nobody believed that Alastor’s spirit was the culprit behind it all!”

            “Why not?” Kenneth puzzled. “He threatened to enact revenge after his demise, and then these inexplicable episodes began to frequently occur, so logically, wouldn’t the blame get cast on him?”

            Clarissa somewhat bitterly responded, “It would be if logic was the principal guiding most of their decisions! For one brief night, everybody was united by the outrage from a beloved figure’s double-crossing, but then some started to question the facts surrounding the incident. They no longer found it natural for somebody so well admired to suddenly turn on his allies like that. They were convinced that a supernatural commodity played a role in swaying his mind to commit such an atrocity! Then they treated that theory as truth when Brenner perished in a mysterious manner…”

            Kenneth cried out in disbelief, “They believe you cursed the region? How could they think you would benefit from damning the district that you rely on to function in your own life?”

            “I don’t know if they actually attached a valid reason other than pure evil and control. At least when it came to terrorizing them! They’re certain that I killed Brenner to gain control of the inn! They didn’t understand that I was always in control of The Leafy Taverne, just not on a legal basis! Once he passed, not a single soul could fathom why I didn’t pass the reins over to a man! We never had any children, so there were no sons to inherit it. And I refused to sell it to Oceanus Montgomery or Cornelius Cole or any other male with a large purse for that matter! Apparently, I’m skilamalink for not wanting to let this place go!” Clarissa looked away and sadly sighed.

            “Did you love him?” Kenneth probed.

            Clarissa’s head instantly whipped back towards him upon hearing that enquiry! “Who? Cornelius?”

            Trying his hardest not to make her feel foolish, Kenneth clarified, “I meant Brenner…”

            “Oh!” Clarissa blushed furiously from the topic he raised. “No one has ever brought that up before! Not even Brenner!”

            “I’m sorry for making you uncomfortable!” Brenner apologized. “I merely guessed that perhaps you held on to this establishment so ardently because you didn’t want to let him go. I know I had some difficulty getting rid of some of my wife’s possessions after she succumbed to her illness, but a year or so later, one of my daughters wondered why I never wore any of my pretty dresses in the closet, so out they went!”

            Clarissa giggled at his quip, which brought a smile to Kenneth’s face. She then grew curious and queried him, “How many kids do you have?”

            Kenneth gladly filled her in, “Five. My youngest is ten now, and the oldest is sixteen. They’re all living with my mother while I fight in this war, although my son is considering joining a militia. I don’t know if I’m ready for him to-.” Suddenly, another gust of wind blew by and shook the entire building once more! The echoes of irate whispers sounded throughout the entire space, and their brief instance of levity vanished! Kenneth recalled their more serious discussion and then articulated, “Alright, so we have the spirit of a Hessian spy haunting this borough. How do we stop him?”

            “Alastor abandoned his assault on you because of this.” She displayed her cross necklace for him to view it more clearly. “Most of the citizens belonging to this township are low-waged sawmill employees, so not everyone can afford this sort of protection. So, I’m not sure…”

            “Your cross saved me? How close were you to my body?” Kenneth petitioned her.

            With her cheeks flushing furiously again, Clarissa divulged, “I was shielding you from his dark magic. I couldn’t help it! I wouldn’t have been able to stand it if I had to witness your murder! You didn’t deserve to die like that!”

            Kenneth riposted, “Neither did you though!”

            “You risk sacrificing yourself each time you do battle for resistance against tyranny! Am I not allowed to do the same for a resistance against the paranormal?” Clarissa challenged.

            “That’s your choice to make; I just hope I never put you in a position to make that sort of decision again!” Kenneth had expressed that very seriously, but he gave Clarissa a meaningful smile. For a second, Clarissa pondered if he was going to kiss her… The howling draft returned and instantly shifted their mood straight away from anything remotely pleasurable like that! It hovered around their abode, and then it abruptly veered south! “We have to warn everyone!”

            Kenneth attempted to hop out of bed, but Clarissa kept him pinned down. “The doctor recommended that you rest! He may not know the true cause of our recent unrest, but he does know a lot about the human anatomy! Whatever Alastor put you through must have been tremendously taxing to your health!”

            Reflecting back on his arduous experience, Kenneth recalled, “He kept sending flashes of agony that would course throughout my veins as he condemned my troop’s purpose on the battlefield! He acted as if I deserved the torment that I got after committing this horrendous sin! When I went unconscious, I was so sure that he would bring about the end of me…” He shuddered as he relived this nightmare, but after the memory had elapsed, he made another bid for springing out bed. “We can’t allow anyone else to go through that! We must advise his intended targets of this impending calamity!”

            “They won’t listen to us!” Clarissa morosely disagreed with his suggestion. “No one trusts me, they’ll credit my claims to a pursuit of some sort of malicious spell that I want to spread! And as for you, well… Many people’s allegiance to the liberation front changed when Alastor was done away with. They started to believe his outrageous arguments that the fight for freedom was, in reality, a dangerous campaign to sow seeds of anarchy throughout the world! Some individuals had the audacity to blame the Continental soldiers for creating the circumstances that brought Alastor to his doom as if the message against tyranny gave birth to the madness that got him killed! I would dearly love to assist in the protection of Colfrith, but what good would it do to talk to those who won’t listen?”

            “Someone will listen to us!” Kenneth insisted. “Even if we only convince one person, it would be worth our efforts to save that one life!” Clarissa appeared doubtful still, so he further iterated his objective, “Hear me out! My military unit has received some of our finest officers from primarily loyalist towns! We may not be able to persuade them all, but if we can win over a few, we may find the allies we need to defeat this menace! We don’t have the ability or resources to take down this fiend, but somebody out there does! And it’s up to us to discover them! So, what do you say? Are you with me on this?”

            Once Clarissa’s mind had fully drunk in his words, she slightly grinned as she told him, “I can see why you were promoted to lieutenant! You could embolden anyone to charge into combat!” Kenneth beamed at her, and she concluded, “Let’s go!”

            Clarissa led Bailey by his reins as Kenneth rode on his steed and observed the bystanders around them. He spotted one man nearby and called out to him, “Excuse me, sir!” The man looked frightened to get addressed by him and scurried away as fast as possible. He took another shot with a woman walking with her youngsters, “Pardon me, madam! I-!” The woman scooped up her lot and glared at Kenneth prior to steering her little ones away from that area. Kenneth seemed rather put off by this behavior, but when he espied Clarissa’s skepticism resurfacing, he assured her, “The actions of a few do not dictate the rationale of the rest!”

            He could see her striving to dissuade her doubts, but before he could broach the issue any further, the wealthy coffeehouse owner emerged from his business and shouted, “You there!” Kenneth turned to him with a glimmer of hope in his eyes, but Clarissa grimaced. She sincerely mistrusted that Oceanus would have flagged them down on any amicable grounds! Oceanus scolded Kenneth, “You owe my daughter an apology for your blatant rudeness!”

            “Sir, I apologize if she construed any ill manners from my actions!” Kenneth graciously regarded him. “I truly didn’t mean to-.”

            “That hang in chains is yelling at Mister Montgomery!” one passerby infuriatedly noted.

            Clarissa defended him, “He didn’t even raise his voice! Just because they are having a disagreement doesn’t-.”

            Another onlooker decried, “Don’t give us this cockamamie story of civility on your part! You came here to cause trouble!”

            “No! We came to save you from it!” Kenneth retorted. “You see, an evil entity has besieged your village…”

            “Yes, we know! It’s standing right before us” a lady countered, which made the spectators around her titter.

            Clarissa exclaimed, “Abigail, you don’t have to like us, but if you don’t take heed of our information, something truly terrible will take place!”

            Abigail accosted her, “You dare to threaten us!”

            “We have no desire to harm you!” Clarissa contended. “But someone else does!”

            “You’re lying!” Abigail vehemently hollered. “You want to deceive us so we fall prey to your scheme!”

            Clarissa rebutted, “What motive would I have to do such a thing? The only maligner in these quarters is Alastor!”

            Abigail stepped within inches of Clarissa and growled, “Alastor was an honorable paragon to our society! How dare you besmirch his righteous name!”

            “He made plans to doom us all!” Clarissa feverishly disputed. “And he didn’t stop with spilling our secrets to the British!”

            “You’re a liar!” Abigail hysterically screeched.

            Clarissa went on, “His wickedness has overcome death! His wrath resumed in Colfrith by means of-!”

            With the speech of deeply timbred male, Abigail bellowed, “Silence, you snake!” She gutturally growled and then lunged her hands at Clarissa’s throat…!

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 35

“Are you serious?” Kaaron vociferated. “You could’ve magicked the key to your possession this whole time and you had us fight for it? I lost three men over this encounter! Why did you do that?”

            Babelsama emotionlessly shrugged. “Meh! Too lazy!” Kaaron folded his arms and bore a very vexed expression, but Babelsama paid him no mind at all as he savored his glorious prize. “Yes! It’s mine once more! Now I can reopen the tunnel and resume jinxing the world from afar! But before I do that, I need to take care of you five!”

            Blaise had to blink tremendously in order to fully comprehend what Babelsama had articulated. “Wait, you’re including me with your vengeance? But I didn’t do anything!”

            “That’s exactly the reason you’re getting it too!” Babelsama relayed to him. “If you had done something to help with this effort, you could’ve prevented needless delays! That’s several days of frustration! I got so stressed that I had to get a walk-in bathtub so my trembling knees wouldn’t cause me to slip in the shower! It looks so tacky, and it takes up so much space! And that’s entirely your fault!”

            “Aren’t you already dead?” Ellie wondered.

            Babelsama snapped, “You want me to fall into a pool of lava?” He could see that she was about to dish out a smart-alecky retort, so he blocked her retaliation by saying, “Don’t answer that!” She seemed disappointed to not have been able to sass him and pouted as he went on, “Anyways, as long as you’re alive, you’ll interfere with my work, so you have to go!”

            I beseeched him, “Hold on!” Guilt plagued me enough for allowing him to get the opportunity to take the key, I wasn’t about to enhance that sensation by letting him murder my blameless friends! And Blaise. I wracked my brain for a method of combating a potent Netherworld guardian as well as his demonic cronies, but I couldn’t unearth a sliver of a clue that might aid us in besting these adversaries! He watched me impatiently, and I knew I had to act fast or I’d lose three people I cared about exponentially! And Blaise… Honestly, this entire ordeal was his fault, so a part of me believed he deserved whatever Babelsama had in store for him, but it would’ve been wrong if I could have prevented his death and didn’t! Well, he already died, but he still had some form of life in his undead body… Anyhow, I kept picturing Damon’s ghostly terror taking over the land in wake of our absence, and I simply couldn’t permit that stupid specter to enjoy that kind of vile victory! The afternoon he unleashed several fear mongers simultaneously was bad enough, I couldn’t imagine how awful it would’ve been if that sort of stunt became the norm for society! To my bewilderment, the memory of that petulant phantom actually gave me an idea! I may not have figured out how to solve our dilemma, but I could delay that fatal fate enough to possibly come up with a better approach to saving us all! I directed the others, “Scatter!”

            “Hey!” Babelsama hollered as we swiftly strewed ourselves around the cavern. “You tricked me! Ugh, why did I think you would tell me a useful tidbit?” He conjured a ball of electricity, but we moved around the area too frequently for him to properly aim at us! After a minute of this gimmick, Babelsama irately addressed the three demonic men, “Uh, do you need an invitation to lend a hand?”

            Kaaron objected, “What are we supposed to do? If we pin them down, we might get caught in the crossfire!”

            Babelsama, who had grown more and more outraged the further our antics continued, lost his threshold of patience with his stooges and screamed, “Make them stay still or you’re next!”

            Kaaron lunged after Phoebe as she passed him, but she was able to avoid him. Unfortunately, her focus on eluding Kaaron made her fall victim to one of the other demon men! He pushed her down, which gave Babelsama a clear shot at her! I was so shocked by this sight that I lost track of my footing and crashed into Blaise! Blaise’s head fell off, and he lamentably exclaimed, “Dang it!” as his noggin rolled on the floor. If Phoebe hadn’t been in danger, I might’ve found his torso blindly trying to retrieve the rest of its ensemble comical, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything else but the woman I loved stumbling into mortal peril! She was striving to get up, but she wouldn’t have departed from his trajectory hastily enough to dodge the impact of his hex, so I had to act immediately! But how…?

            Blaise’s legs accidentally kicked his cranium, which lodged it right at my feet. Without giving the matter any thought, I picked up Blaise’s skull and hurled at Babelsama’s face! “Woahhh!” Blaise cried out as he flew through the air, which distracted Babelsama enough that he paused his curse! He glanced at the projectile, but he didn’t have the chance to escape its collision! He got smacked on his temples, and the force of the hit sent him tumbling to the ground! As he crashed, he lost his grip on the spoon, and it slipped out of his hand at top speed! “What’s happening?” Blaise queried as Babelsama rushed to rescue his sacred object.

            “I got it!” Babelsama declared preceding the event taking place. He nearly clasped onto it as it reached the magma, but not only was he too late, he burnt his fingers in the process! “Ow!” He pulled his paw out and sucked on his digits to nurse his wounds. As he espied the antique silver melting into the inferno, he bemoaned, “Noooo!”

            “Why do you even have that in here?” Kaaron questioned.

            Babelsama bolted up and raved, “Listen, Mister Know-It-All! Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and up until today, it’s been a useful tool against my enemies!”

            Ginger wiped her palms together and asserted, “Well, that’s that! You have no more business in Terra Belle, so we’ll just be on our way!” She surveyed the room and then enquired, “Oh, I forgot- we came in through the trap door! How do you get to lobby from here?”

            “You’re not going anywhere!” Babelsama bellowed. “I’ll have your heads for this!”

            “Uh, you already had mine!” Blaise pointed out as his anatomy rebuilt itself.

            Babelsama growled in annoyance, and then he roared, “Enough of this claptrap! You’re all going to perish for ruining my scheme, and nothing will stop me from completing this goal!”

            Instantly after he uttered that, a portion of the craggy walls opened up, and five people in all white suits entered into Babelsama’s chambers! The lady leading the pack ordered, “Stop right now!”

            “I’m so sorry, Vanina!” Babelsama put his hands down as though he was not about to unleash a deadly spell that would obliterate his entire domain. “I got a little emotional and let my temper take control of me. It won’t happen again!” It was somewhat amusing that he lost his volition so quickly like that, but the prospect of him getting off the hook after all of the atrocities he committed against us really burned me up! It just wasn’t fair, and I always believed that the afterlife maintained an accurate acumen for who merited punishment for their sins! I bitterly witnessed this interaction and pondered if he had frequently gotten away with these crimes by sniveling pathetically and manipulating his boss into pitying him instead of chastising him like he deserved, and I hoped that I would see some evidence contrary to that opinion to change my grim assessment!

            “Don’t apologize!” Vanina directed him. For a second, it did seem as though he would get off scot-free, but then she added, “Start explaining! Pierre reported to us that you authorized the release of a malevolent force!”

            Babelsama pretended to feel stumped by her accusation. “I sent out a being of pure evil? Huh! I had no idea that Damon wasn’t on the straight and narrow!”

            Vanina stared at him with startled eyes. “Damon? I was talking about Blaise!”

            “Ohhhh…” Babelsama’s face fell decidedly.

            “I’m a malevolent force?” Blaise repeated in a pleasantly surprised voice. “Wow! I fancied myself as a bit of a thorn in society’s side, but I never pictured that I could do real damage!”

            Babelsama tacked on to that concept, “Neither did I! Had I known, I never would’ve sent him to the surface! If you don’t deem as worthy of this post, I have no problem with using somebody else for my mission! Please, don’t’ hesitate to send him back to Hell!”

            Blaise griped, “What? After I go the key down here for you, you’re still gonna-?”

            “You had very little to do with its return!” Babelsama barked. “Plus, you let it get destroyed, so-.” He caught onto Vanina’s discerning expression, and then he nervously tittered, “We were simply playing a game of Keeper of the Keys!” He chuckled as he gazed at his five superiors to gauge their reaction to his claim, and when he could distinguish that they didn’t buy his story, he sighed and confessed, “I lost a key to the Terra Belle portal, so I sent him and Damon to retrieve it from a human that was holding it hostage. But I only did this to carry on with my important work of spreading necessary chaos throughout the planet, I swear!”

            “If your intentions were pure, you would’ve requested a replacement from us while we retrieved the key. The fact that you sent two Hellians to get it tells me that you weren’t acting with the selfless decency you took an oath to use for this position,” Vanina coldly stated to him.

            Babelsama slumped over shamefully upon hearing her verdict, but to prevent him from contriving another cockamamie narrative to spare himself from incurring a severe penalty, I jumped in, “He tried to kill me when I came to slay the vampire that was harming our students! That’s why I shut the portal, to protect innocent kids! We went down here tonight ‘cause he opened up a window into my home to demand the key back, and when I wouldn’t do it, he sent the ghost of that vampire to Earth with the power of fear mongers to harm those same children! He wasn’t unleashing typical trouble- obviously, he was doing it for selfish and evil motives!”

            With unmitigated spite, Babelsama spat at me, “You don’t get into Heaven by being a tattletale!”

            “Thank you for your insight, human,” Vanina gratefully regarded me. She then turned to her colleagues and commanded, “Ramiel, concoct a reversal potion for that window. Angela, recall Damon back to the Netherworld. Michael, close the channel from Guardian Three’s quarters. Seraphina, make me a drink! I’m going on an extended break after we clean up this mess!”

            “Yes, ma’am!” Ramiel, Angela, Michael, and Seraphina all chimed prior to initiating their tasks.

            As interesting as this all was to me, I began to become antsy by this extended stay! Since the debacle of the key to the Netherworld abated, I longed to go home and resume my paranormal-free routine! Ginger, Ellie, and Phoebe evidently shared my sentiments as we all looked to each other, but before we could discuss how to approach this issue with Vanina, Damon’s ghostly form appeared in our vicinity! He behaved with befuddlement until he spotted us, and then he seethed, “You guys foiled us again? Ugh! Why do you always have to be such a buzzkill?”

            Vanina told Angela, “Escort him, Blaise, and the demons back downstairs!”

            “We don’t need a chaperone! We’re not gonna try anything devious!” Kaaron protested.

            “Speak for yourself! I will have my revenge!” Damon avidly avowed.

            Kaaron complimented him, “I like your fire! You’d make a fantastic demon!”

            Vanina warned him, “You better not!” She then more gently spoke to us, “I’ll walk you out! No offense, but I hope I don’t see you until you’re ready to go upstairs!”

            Ginger rejoiced, “I’m getting into Heaven? Ha! My uncle was wrong about me!” We all chortled at her remark as we vacated the premises.

            When we re-entered that abandoned abode’s garage, Aleck and Fletcher jumped from this abrupt intrusion! I expected one of them to say something about their relief at our appearance, but then Miriam unexpectedly piped up, “Oh, thank goodness! You’re alright!”

            As she flung her arms around Phoebe and me, Fletcher explained, “She was searching for you, and your neighbor said we went in here.”

            “So, the Netherworld doesn’t have any cell towers, huh?” Aleck deduced. “If it did, you would’ve replied to us, right?”

            “I didn’t get any…” Ellie peered at her phone as it began to incessantly twitter. Ginger, Phoebe, and I had our cellphones blow up too as we received our missed communications, and Ellie retracted her original sentence, “Gosh! You guys were really worried! Oh, so was my husband! And Manuel! Hmm… I don’t know where to start!”

            Miriam espied Phoebe’s hand and excitedly suggested, “How about here? When did this happen?”

            Phoebe blushed as she responded, “Oh, yeah! I think we got engaged down there!”

            “We did! But if anybody asks, let’s tell them the flowers in the backyard thing worked!” I proposed. She agreed, and everyone delightedly discoursed over this development.

            “You’re back!” Rowan breathed in relief as we exited that vacant building. He denoted our disheveled and slightly singed clothing and then asked, “Um, is everything okay with you…?”

            With a completely straight face, I answered him, “Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?”

            He opened his mouth to react to my disposition, but then Richard and an elderly female walked out in sexy, leather garments, and he probed, “Hey, you all didn’t hear any strange noises last night, did you?”

            I had a million ripostes to impart to him, but then Rowan blurted out, “So, I’m the normal neighbor? Uh-huh… Not sure what to do with that! I’m gonna go meditate!”

            As he stormed off, Richard and I gave each other a shrug. I found his garb slightly disturbing, but I was too thrilled by our win to let that unsettling image haunt me too much. Besides, if he wasn’t going to interrogate our odd activity, I supposed that I ought to accept his quirk. As he and his companion drove off, another older couple came to my mind, and I revealed to Miriam, “Oh, Blaise died!”

            She complained about her husband a lot, but I anticipated a little grief after suffering the loss of someone she was married to for over a decade. It was rather astonishing that Miriam’s visage contorted into a pleased smile as she pronounced, “Finally! I can quit looking at stupid communes and go get a condo in Wilmington! Ooh, maybe I can be close to the beach!” It seemed a bit callous, but then I reasoned that the rest of us didn’t have a strong reaction to this revelation either, so I opted not to judge. As we celebrated together, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that if Babelsama hadn’t recruited her husband, she could’ve gone out on her own a long time ago!

            “Mister Fenmore? Are you alright?” Corvina nudged me.

            “Of course I am!” I uttered as I picked myself off of my desk. I quickly figured out that I had fallen asleep since I found that a puddle of drool made a piece of paper stick to my skin! I pulled it off and reassured her, “I spent all evening taking care of our spooky scrape. Everything’s gonna be fine from this point forward!”

            Corvina exhaled in relief. “Yay! So, Damon’s not coming back anymore?”

            I didn’t know how to reply to her! The agitating apparition saga was done, but the memory of Kaaron showing an interest in making him a demon seriously bothered me! Could he turn up in our lives again? Luckily, Peter popped in and announced, “Hey, Mister Fenmore! It’s time to pick out our courses for next year, and I decided to sign up for your class next year! Won’t that be fun?”

            “So fun!” I lied. The notion of having another school year of dealing with another airheaded adolescent didn’t exactly fill me with joy, but at least this one didn’t appear to have an affinity with a sociopath like Roxy did!

            “Have any of you seen Damon?” Roxy urgently inquired to us.

            Corvina let her know, “He’s never coming back, Roxy!”

            Roxy’s eyes widened in fear, “Did you…?” I nodded, and she maniacally howled, “You’re wrong! He’ll never be truly gone! He’ll come back one day! You’ll see!” She gave me an acrimonious stare and then stomped down the hallway.

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” Peter puzzled.

            “Who cares!” I refused to let that phase me! I needed to use the remainder of my lunch to return that spell book to the library, plan out an engagement party, and brainstorm inspiration for a graduation shindig that I volunteered to do for logic I couldn’t fathom! I reckoned I was trying to get on Manuel’s good side after coming in so late, but still! Yes, Fletcher’s girls were getting their diplomas as well as some other students I befriended, like Cricket and Colin, but why would I tackle this responsibility prior to my recovery from all this supernatural stuff? Oh well! That didn’t daunt me as much as Damon’s possible return did, but I deemed that I should set the proper example for these youths and not fixate on that too often! I cast it out of my thoughts and then advised Corvina and Peter, “Let’s just go enjoy our break!” I referred to a break from classes, but then I realized that I should view the haunted hijinks in the same manner! Whether or not the nightmare would return, I needed to savor the periods I had without that petrifying predicament!

The End

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 34

We landed on the rocky ground with a thud! As Phoebe, Ellie, Ginger, and I laid on the floor, I could feel something sharp digging into me, but my mind was still in too much shock to move anywhere else! I cried out,” They caught us! They figured out we were covering up for a criminal so we could infiltrate their private quarters and destroy their property, and they sent us to Hell for this infraction!”

            “We’re not in Hell!” Phoebe reassured me.

            “Then what do you call this?” I gestured to our surroundings, which had pools of lava and brimstone fountains that spouted fire. She searched for an alternative explanation but struggled to produce any comforting notions. The discomfort I felt from the pointed object prodding into my back became unbearable, so I grunted, “Ugh! What is poking me?”

            From a distance, Blaise let me know, “That would be my knee!”

            “Huh?” I puzzled. It made no sense to claim I had been laying on a part of him when his voice came from another section of this space… until I glanced over to where I heard him… I gasped when I saw his decapitated head!

            “Yeah, I lost my noggin!” Blaise confirmed when he saw my reaction.

            The three ladies and I freaked out and scrambled off of his corpse! As his headless body went to retrieve the rest of him, Ginger exclaimed, “Wow, you really are undead! I kinda thought you made that up to… Well, I don’t know why you would do that!”

            As Blaise put himself back together, Ellie petitioned him, “So, why did you become a zombie while Damon’s a ghost?”

            “Please don’t use the ‘z’ word around me!” Blaise grimaced and then responded to her query, “I don’t know why Babelsama went that path! You’ll have to ask him when you see him!”

            “And we’re in the right spot?” I posed to him. “It kinda seems like we got sent downstairs…”

            Blaise ensured us, “Nah, it ain’t that! That’s just how he decorates! He houses a lot of representatives from the underside, so he wants them to be comfortable during their time here. Personally, I never really cared for the décor! It could really use a plant or something to liven up the joint!”

            Phoebe observed, “Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be any Hellion reps visiting right now!” At that moment, half a dozen men with red skin and horns surrounded us! Phoebe muttered, “Figures!”

            “Listen, we don’t wanna hurt you…” the tallest one addressed us.

            “Yeah, well, we don’t wanna hurt you either!” Ginger retorted.

            The demonic man heartily laughed, “You can’t hurt the dead!”

            Ginger raised an eyebrow in skepticism of his assertion. “Oh really?” She grabbed a hefty rock and hurled it at the demonic man! He ducked, but it richoted off of the craggy wall behind him and hit one of the other demons in the circle! He fell backwards into a well of magma and writhed in agony as he disintegrated!

            “Huh! I guess you can hurt us…” the leader of the demon men stared at his fallen comrade in a somewhat startled manner, but when he espied our eyes brimming with hope, he renewed his bluster, “We still outnumber you, so you’d be better off meeting our demands! You see, we’re seeking-.”

            “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Ellie interrupted him. “You want the key! We already know!”

            She appeared to have taken some of the wind out of his sails as evidenced by his stammer, “Yes… which… uh… which means you should hand it over pronto!”

            I folded my arms and refused, “We’re not doing that! You don’t know where we’ve hidden it, so if you hurt us, you risk damaging it!” I thought I had gotten the upper hand for a minute, but then…

            “But did you put it in-?” Blaise started to question.

            “Shut up!” I hissed.

            The demonic man interrogated him, “Where’d he hide it?”

            I panicked! I was sure that Blaise was gonna spill the beans and blow everything! My heart raced as he opened his mouth and spoke to them, “Why should I tell you?”

            My jaw nearly hit the floor! Was this insufferable lout actually standing up for us? “Seriously, Blaise old buddy?” the demonic leader uttered. “Whose side are you on anyways?”

            “Mine!” Blaise shot back. “Do you think I would’ve got sent to Hell if I cared about anybody’s feelings besides my own? No, I mean it- why should I tell you? What’s in it for me? I got the portal open, so my job’s done! Now I’m gonna wait for the reward Babelsama promised me unless you can convince me I’d be better off doing anything else!”

            “You won’t get squat if you don’t cooperate with us!” the demonic man bellowed.

            Blaise snickered, “What? You reckon I’m gonna suffer ‘cause you can’t do your job, Kaaron?”

            As Kaaron and Blaise debated this issue, I decided to use their distraction to destroy the key with interference. I backed away from the crowd slowly to avoid detection, and for a few seconds, it seemed as though I was going to achieve success! Soon though, Kaaron beheld my movement from the corner of his eye and hollered, “Oh, he’s getting away! Don’t just stand there! Get him!”

            Prior to two of them reaching me, Ellie and Ginger grabbed their tails, and Ellie snidely conveyed to them, “Nice try! Except it wasn’t so much!”

            “Ooh, I’ll get you for this!” the demonic man growled. He attempted to twist around and attack her, but she moved too, which forced them both to go around in circles!

            “Should we help him?” one of the demonic men by Phoebe and I asked his comrade.

            He answered, “Nah! We should probably get this guy before he… Hey!”

            I made another bid for the molten lake, but I paused my endeavor as they ran towards us. As they barreled themselves in our direction, we stood still until they were inches from our stance. When we spun out of the way, they had to strive to hit the breaks soon enough to avoid falling in! We sped over to push them into it, but they regained their stamina and swooped in to grab us! We crouched low and lifted up their ankles, which made them lose their balance! They quickly perished, and we smirked at this site until…

            Kaaron grabbed me by the ankle and held me upside down over the fiery embankment! “Oh, right! There was five of you left!” The joy of garnering a numerical advantage swiftly vanished, but I rejected the concept of Kaaron growing confidence from his perceived victory, so I taunted him, “Fine, kill me! But you’ll never know whether or not I have the key if you do!”

            “Valid argument,” Kaaron acknowledged. He brought me over the land and informed me, “If you don’t have the key, I will kill you! Whoever has it better furnish it now or watch your friend perish!”

            “Don’t say anything!” I urged the others. As much has I didn’t want to lose my life, I truly had no desire to give the key back to these ghouls for their outrageous scheme! If they put me in the inferno, then the key would go too, and if I had to get sacrificed to keep the planet safe, then so be it!

            Kaaron shook me vigorously, and my keys fell out immediately. My wallet came out next, and the stake I stuffed in there just in case tumbled out too. Phoebe retrieved each item as it emerged, which didn’t raise any alarm bells for me until a soft ping emanated throughout the cavern space! To my horror, Phoebe picked up the engagement ring, and dread swept all over me! Okay, I was already fairly frightened at the prospect of dying at the hands of malevolent force, but somehow, a part of me remained hopeful that we would survive this venture! There were no second chances from this though! The jig was up, and the opportunity to propose to her in the romantic fashion that she deserved had vanished! Assuming I lived through this assault, I wouldn’t have much motivation to go home- I thoroughly convinced myself that she was going to leave me from this clumsy gesture!

            Phoebe peered at the piece of jewelry curiously, and she inquired, “What’s this?”

            “It’s a diamond!” Blaise blurted out as he lounged from the sidelines. “Golly, I thought you were smarter than that! Aren’t you a teacher?”

            “I’ve been bringing it with me wherever I go,” I confessed while regretting my decision to tote it along tonight in case this expedition went smoothly. “I knew from the instant I saw you that you were special, but I never thought I’d have the fortune to talk to you let alone spend so many happy hours together! You’ve made dull periods fun, and you’ve made difficult challenges more endurable! I’m ready to spend the rest of my days with you, so I keep that ring with me waiting for the perfect timing to ask you to become my wife! Sorry, that came out pretty dumbly! It’s a little hard to think with so much blood rushing to my skull! If we make it out of here intact, I’ll understand if you wanna pack your bags…”

            Phoebe insisted, “No, that came out perfectly! And my bags aren’t getting packed ‘til we go to Maui this summer!”

            I pondered, “We’re going to Maui?”

            “Yeah, for our honeymoon!” Phoebe beamed at me.

            “Hold on, you’re saying that…?” I couldn’t finish that sentence! Excitement flooded throughout my veins simply from image of her agreeing to get engaged to me, but this juncture seemed too wonderful to be true…

            Except for the whole being held hostage to a demon fiasco! Kaaron, who appeared irate that he had permitted us to carry on like that, shouted, “Enough of this drivel! Prepare to pay for your defiance!”

            Phoebe, Ginger, And Ellie watched in sheer terror as Kaaron lowered me closer and closer to the scorching reservoir, and I hated to see the pain that this was causing them! I wished there was another method of obliterating this infernal object, and all of a sudden, I got struck with a brilliant stroke of inspiration! “Put me down! I have the key!”

            “You do not!” Kaaron seethed. “I emptied all of the contents of your clothing, you haven nothing that’s of any interest to me!”

            “I figured you guys would search my pockets, so I hid it somewhere else! Put me down and I’ll tell you!” I requested.

            Kaaron eyeballed me suspiciously, but then he relented. He dropped me onto the stony surface quite unceremoniously, and after lingering for a bit, he grumpily probed, “Well…?”

            I snapped, “Give me a sec! I was upside down for a long time, you know!” He impatiently tapped his foot as I collected my senses, and once my ailments had somewhat ebbed, I stood up and conveyed to him, “I stashed it in my underwear. I’d rather dig it out myself unless you’d prefer to…”

            “Oh, screw that! I’m not going down there!” Kaaron rejected that suggestion with complete repulsion. “You may fetch it, but be warned, if you try anything funny, you’ll suffer the consequences!”

            “I wouldn’t dream of it!” I lied. “I’m gonna turn around for some privacy…” Kaaron motioned for me to do what I put forth with haste, so I swiveled around and unzipped my pants.

            Ginger remarked to Kaaron, “So, you’re willing to watch a man get brutally murdered, but you won’t touch his-?”

            He cut her off as he barked, “Shut up!”

            As I shuffled through my drawers, I slyly smiled. Not for any gross reasons! He was under the impression that I planned to hand the key over once I got it out, but I had no intentions of doing that! The blazing basin stretched before me unobstructed, and they couldn’t prevent me from “accidentally” tripping and losing my grasp…

            Kaaron snarled, “What is causing this delay?”

            I sincerely apologized, “Sorry! It seems to have roamed around this ordeal! I’ll move quicker, I promise!”

            “Come on, man! Go!” Kaaron hurried me as I frantically ferreted for the spoon. “Faster! Faster!”

            “What in the devil’s name is happening here?” Babelsama entered the scene and gazed at us in aghast.

            Kaaron surmised that his push for my speed to increase while I combed through my briefs projected a very provocative picture to him, so he emphatically contended against it, “No, no, no! We’re not doing anything sordid! He’s getting us the key!”

            Babelsama clearly didn’t believe him. “Getting the key? Is that what people are calling it nowadays?” I produced the key from my backside, and he astonishedly expressed, “Oh, you weren’t fibbing! Alright, in that case, good work, Kaaron! You deserve a raise!”

            “Don’t hand out that bonus too soon!” I commanded. “Instead, I think you’ll find that he should be… fired!” Ginger and Ellie groaned at my joke, but I ignored that as I tossed the key towards the embers! I assumed that we had won, but then everything went wrong…

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 33

“Welcome to the Other Side!” a friendly man in all white merrily greeted us as he sat behind a pearly desk. The marble floors and walls shimmered from a warmly-toned light source, and the glistening, gilded seats wrapped around a carpet so plush that they nearly resembled clouds! As the receptionist checked something on his clipboard, I turned to Phoebe, Ellie, and Ginger in confusion. They, too, seemed bewildered, but how could they not be? We had no clue what to expect when we entered into the Netherworld, but it certainly wasn’t this! I had prepared myself to contend with little, red sprites or perhaps even a large, vicious creature that guarded Babelsama’s domain, but not this! If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn that we stumbled into an office with so much prestige that it put my old marketing firm to shame! Would this gatekeeper even allow access to the fire we needed to destroy the key? Prior to me querying this gentleman about this, he announced, “I don’t see anyone on the schedule for this time slot! Can I get your name, please?”

            “Uh, I’m Connor. Connor Fenmore,” I relayed to him. As I studied the area further, I didn’t see anything that mirrored the brimstone and darkness in the portrait in my guest bathroom, which made me wonder whether or not we had gone to the right location! I don’t know where else we could have gone, but still! Then again, I distinctly recalled communicating with Babelsama directly through that passageway! He had conducted potent magic from this realm to our planet, and he desperately wanted this portal to remain open- how would that have been remotely advantageous to him? I couldn’t picture a faint sneeze let alone a deadly spell interrupting the tranquil ambiance of this room! I speculated that maybe our adversary was trying to trick us until…

            Phoebe exclaimed, “We died, didn’t we?” I hadn’t considered that possibility until right then! Did that vortex instantly kill us? I started to panic at all of the grim ramifications of this notion…

            Ellie ardently disputed that concept, “Oh, no! No way would I die and get sent to the same place as this creep!” She indicated to Blaise, who stood behind us with his head down low. She had a point, and while I felt alleviated, I couldn’t help but ponder… if we didn’t perish, where did we end up?

            “Oh, you’re livings!” the receptionist figured out. He gazed at us with great interest as he inquired, “What brings you here today?”

            “He did,” Ginger replied referring to me.

            The receptionist genially spoke to us, “Did you guys stumble into an entryway by accident? Don’t worry, it happens all the time! If you go out the way you came in, you’ll be back on Earth in a jiffy, no problem!”

            Blaise darted toward the exit, but Ginger and Ellie grabbed him by the arms and barred him from running from our reach as I addressed the receptionist, “Um, actually, we’re looking for the Netherworld…”

            “Sorry, we’re no longer allowing interdimensional visits,” the receptionist informed us. “You’ll have to wait until you’re deceased to reunite with any lost loved ones.”

            “We didn’t come here to… Wait, you used to let people do that?” I puzzled.

            He filled us in, “Yeah, but it got a little complicated, and our organization has no interest in creating chaos for any residents within our care! We strongly believe in ensuring that those who’ve passed on can rest here in peace! Unless they get sent back to Earth, but what happens on the surface isn’t our responsibility! They sign a waiver and know exactly what they’re getting themselves into!”

            Phoebe’s brows furrowed as she observed, “You make the Netherworld sound like a vacation resort!”

            “Well, the undead perform an essential function for us, and they go through enough torment on Earth, so we make sure their return is as stress-free as can be… unless they break the rules, then they get sent downstairs, if you know what I mean…” he expressed with a wink.

            “If they’re so miserable in our world, then why do they even bother to go to it?” Ginger queried.

            The receptionist simply stated, “It’s their job!” We stared at him in bafflement, so he clarified, “They’re recruited to create the pandemonium that keeps the natural order of things in check! You see, good wouldn’t exist without bad, so we provide a necessary service!”

            Ellie, who appeared somewhat miffed, posted to him, “So, evil-doers don’t get an eternity in Hell? They can return to our land and keep doing what they do?”

            “Certainly not! Only the souls who’ve sought forgiveness and seek to make amends for their crimes!” the receptionist educated us. “The souls who delight in wickedness are forbidden to come back up!”

            “Yeah, ‘cause only the ones who don’t want to cause trouble are allowed to do it!” I sarcastically muttered.

            The receptionist chirped, “Yes! Now you’re getting it!”

            I differed, “Not really! I’m stumped.”

            “Think of it as tough love,” the receptionist instructed.

            “No, I’m not gonna do that!” I responded bluntly. “We had a Netherworld guardian who definitely enjoyed the mayhem he caused us! One of his employees said he has a bunch of vengeful plans against us, and we didn’t even do anything wrong! Tell him, Blaise!”

            Blaise hissed, “Shh! Leave me out of this!”

            The receptionist craned his neck to get a second look at the person hiding behind us. “Blaise? As in Blaise Casimir?” We stepped aside to allow him to see Blaise in full view, and Blaise meekly waved at him. “Wow! I never would’ve pegged you as one to apologize for your actions!”

            “Oh, surely, I repented! I’m, like, totally sorry for what I’ve done! It was not completely worth it like I told you when I first arrived!” Blaise nervously chuckled as he eyeballed the receptionist’s reaction to his claim.

            “Hmm…” The receptionist stared at Blaise suspiciously, and for a minute, it seemed as thought he was about to get sent back to his torture chambers, but then the receptionist shrugged and amiably regarded us, “I’ll have to update your files then, I guess! In the meantime, if he’s inviting guests to his quarters, I suppose we can make an exception for your presence! Have fun, but please note, if you cause any disturbances, you’ll face some severe consequences!”

            A piece of the wall on the right rapidly opened up into a doorway, and while I wanted to correct his misconceptions on our journey, I didn’t want to risk losing our access to the innermost part of the Netherworld, so before the entryway closed, we rushed in! I felt kind of bad for it since I didn’t disclose the truth, and I fretted that I may have slightly tarnished my odds of going upstairs when my time came, but I reasoned that it wasn’t as though I intentionally deceived anyone! I reassured myself that the outcome would benefit society as a whole, so they were bound to forgive me later! As long as we were successful anyways! If we messed this up and doomed civilization… I crossed my fingers that they wouldn’t discover our plan until the proper moment as we, once again, trekked into the unknown!

            We stepped into a foyer area with sleek, black-lacquered walls and two hallways with trace of any movement and an expanse that seemed to stretch ceaselessly. As we soaked in our surroundings, Blaise bargained with me, “I won’t tell your secret if you don’t reveal mine!”

            I got annoyed that I had to cover up for this jerk who caused our conundrum to commence in the first place, but my ire ebbed a bit when it occurred to me that he could provide a valuable service for our efforts to bring this predicament to a finish! He had navigated this territory previously, so I decided to give him a chance to redeem himself by asking for directions, “Which way do we turn?”

            “I dunno.” Blaise shrugged. “Babelsama sent me out through a tunnel, so I never roamed this terrain!”

            “It’s alright, there’s a map!” Phoebe showed me a small podium underneath the corporate logo that was scrawled across the surface to avoid my eruption over his ineptness. “This’ll clear everything up!” The five of us glimpsed at the directory, and then Phoebe reversed her position, “Oh, never mind!”

            I couldn’t fathom how the designers of this structure thought this chart would provide any kind of relief to a lost individual! It had so many different zig-zagging lines tangled all over each other that even heir color coating didn’t make the details any less murky! Ellie read out loud, “You are here… Where is here? That can’t be right, there are too many aisles leading off of this spot! I think they mislabeled it!”

            Blaise let us know, “Most of those are tunnels. People around here use magic to make hidden channels to the outside since most folks in these stomping grounds prefer to keep to themselves.”

            I pondered, “Doesn’t that get lonely?”

            “Not really. If you’d seen the characters who lodge in these dwellings, you’d know why!” It was slightly tempting to interrogate him for examples of his claim, but I realized that I didn’t want to think about what lurked within the barriers as we went past them!

            “This heavy black line seems to represent the main artery of the complex,” Ginger deduced. “And each color corresponds with different inhabitants! But don’t worry, there’s public access to each of their domains!”

            Phoebe canvassed Ginger, “Which one is Babelsama’s room?”

            Ginger reported, “It doesn’t say! It just says Guardian One, Guardian Two, and Guardian Three.”

            Everyone turned to me for suggestions, but I couldn’t come up with anything other than, “We’ll have to knock on each one and pray that the occupant is friendly!” No one seemed confident about this idea, but nobody else furnished any alternatives, so we reluctantly headed to the right and hoped for the best.

            We traversed an array of solid, wooden doors, but instead of the usual office babble that most people would expect to hear in an environment like this, we heard odd noises emanating from nearly every chamber! One sounded like a fish tank, and another emitted the din of rocks rolling throughout their enclosure! The suite that radiated a melody of swamp clamor opened up, and an entity that appeared to have been comprised entirely of slime came out briefly. “Oh, you’re not the housekeepers!” it recognized as it retreated back into its sector. As hard as it was for us to forget it, we had to cast that image out of our brains so we concentrate and move on!

            At Guardian One’s entrance, I propositioned, “Let’s do this two at a time so if there’s any sort of trap, we all won’t get stuck at once!” The others agreed, and we all backed away in order to allow the others to go forward. When nobody did, I exhaled exasperatedly and went to the door. Phoebe joined me, and as much as that bolstered my spirits, I still trembled as I tapped the door…

            “What do you want?” a male with the body of a man and the head of a jackal bellowed at us.

            “I forgot!” I croaked as my thoughts went blank from terror.

            The jackal-man laughed, “I’m just messing with you! Would you like to come in? We’ve got a wile game of hand ball going on!”

            I politely declined, “We’ll get back to you on that! We’re… trying to say hello to everyone, so we gotta…”

            “Say no more! We’ll raincheck that! Hey, no cheating!” the jackal-man scurried towards his colleagues, and as the door closed, we gave each other a shrug and resumed our quest.

            “Ooh, is this my lunch?” A vampire who travelled in the opposite direction ogled us voraciously, but when he beheld the stern expressions we bore, he concluded, “Apparently not! Sorry!”

            Phoebe whispered, “Ugh! I am so sick of vampires!” We all nodded as we kept going.

            After we rounded another corner, Ginger and Ellie gave the door of Guardian Two a knock. It opened up to a luxurious lagoon, and an angry mermaid addressed us, “This better be important!”

            Ellie admitted, “It’s not!” The mermaid growled and slammed the door in their faces. Ellie then asserted, “They make them seems so sweet in those children’s movies!”

            We turned down a third corner, and a walking bush gave us a courteous nod as it bypassed us. This prompted me to comment, “The population here seems pretty friendly in general; maybe our interaction with Babelsama won’t be so bad!”

            “That’s right, my man! Ignore all that stuff I said about him plotting vengeance, he’s a great guy!” Blaise peered at me to see if I bought that bunk. I shook my head, but I proceeded as if I believed in the favorable outcome that he advertised.

“Here we go!” I proclaimed right before Phoebe and I knocked on door three, and we all watched with our anticipation rising high! We inwardly predicted a contentious confrontation, but instead, nothing at all transpired. “He could be busy? Should we leave a message or something?” I enquired to the others. They didn’t have a reply, and I frowned as I mulled it over. “I suppose he thought we would slip him the key under the mat! That coward! He doesn’t have the guts to face us!”

            Immediately following that statement, the floor beneath all of us vanished! “Oh, this ain’t good!” Blaise unhelpfully declared as we plummeted through the shadows…

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 32

As Ginger, Aleck, Ellie, Fletcher, Phoebe, and I stood beneath the hazy streetlight, I posed to everyone, “You guys ready?”

            “I’m ready for a nap!” Fletcher asserted. “Ready to go into a haunted house? Not so much!”

            “The only reason I’m feeling good about this crazy idea is I’m still relishing in the glow of victory!” Ellie proudly declared.

            Ginger grumbled, “Okay, okay! We get it! You were right about researching Damon’s history! You don’t have to gloat!”

            Ellie differed, “I’m not bragging about it! I’m just reminding everybody that we wouldn’t be at this juncture at all if we hadn’t done the homework! So, next time this happens-.”

            “Woah, woah, woah! Next time?” Aleck quibbled. “No, no! We’re only travelling to another dimension once! The only reason I got away with sneaking out of the house at the crack of dawn is that I was sleeping on couch since I left for groceries at ten a.m. and came home at two in in the morning with no food! If I have to go on anymore crazy adventures, my wife’ll probably have the locks changed by the time I get back!”

            “It’s gonna be okay, guys!” Phoebe attempted to buoy our spirits. “We’ll stop in real quick, destroy the key, and get to work early enough to get some coffee in the teachers’ lounge! Yup, we’re gonna fight some demons and then carry on with our jobs like nothing weird occurred! It’ll be fine…”

            I espied the dismal expressions my colleagues bore, and I knew that we would already have a disadvantage against our adversaries if we entered into their territory with this attitude, so I avidly addressed them all, “Listen, I know this is a strange experience to go through, but the sooner we get it done and over with, the sooner our lives can go back to normal! We’ll seal the portal, and then Damon will go back to Hell where he belongs! No more ghosts! No more monsters! Our biggest worry will be wondering how to deal with Roxy’s melodrama once she realizes her paranormal paramour isn’t coming back!”

            Fletcher tried to cut in, “Uh, Connor…”

            “I’m not done!” I assumed that he would aim to raise some sort of objection to our venture, and I wasn’t going to allow anymore doubts into our aura! “If we let this go another day, a bunch of innocent children will get subjected to this torment, and do you really want to-?” Since I had been ignoring Fletcher’s attempts to get my attention, he grabbed me by the head and craned my neck in the direction of what he was trying to allude to. I grew horrified to see Rowan behind us! He was in his yoga outfit and held a bag over his recycling bin, so clearly he was in the middle of a very typical routine when he overheard the not-so-typical nature of our conversation! He stared at us incredulously, and I grinned at him in a chagrined manner. “Oh hey, neighbor!”

            “Do I wanna know what’s going on…?” he somewhat nervously inquired.

            I replied, “Probably not.”

            Rowan accepted my response. “Alright, I’m gonna go inside and pretend I didn’t see anything! Good luck with… whatever you’re doing!”

            After he returned to his home, Phoebe commented, “That was awkward!”

            I suggested, “Let’s finish this before anyone else in the area comes out! All that confidence-building stuff is still true, ‘kay? Let’s get going!”

            Using the flashlights on our cellphones, we walked across the cul-de-sac and marched straight up to the driveway! As the plethora of pine needles that blanketed the yard crunched beneath our feet, Ginger asked me, “So, you’ve been in here before, right? What’s it like?”

            “It’s nothing special ‘til you get to the garage,” I answered with a shrug. “Even then, it’s pretty boring unless that door is open! Honestly, Ferneus’s mansion was creepier, and it didn’t have any mystical gateways in it! I don’t think… Nah, I doubt his ‘turtledove’ would stick around for that crap!”

            “Well, what I really wanna know is did I make a mistake wearing a skirt and high heels?” Ginger queried. The entire group gazed at her clothing, and she defended herself, “I was in a hurry and grabbed the first things I could find!”

            I got the sense that a few people had some strong opinions on her choice, but it got tabled as we all reached the threshold this abandoned abode! We all paused to steel ourselves up for what awaited us beyond these walls. Aleck took a deep breath, and then he muttered, “I am a man of science! There’s nothing in here that hasn’t’ been seen before! Except for the demons… But this is a chance to study some new elements! Yeah, I can do this! I can go on a field trip and learn some new facts! All I gotta do is-!”

            Ellie pushed past him and commanded, “Quit overthinking it! Let’s get this done and over with!” And with that, we all trickled inside of this building….

            As we traversed through the deserted hallway, we gazed at the peeling wallpaper and the slightly singed portraits with trepidation, and Fletcher pressed me, “Are you sure this joint isn’t possessed by any evil ghouls?”

            “Other than my ex’s clutches in the realty company that owns this property, nothing sinister has a presence here!” I assured him. Suddenly, a low, pitiful groan echoed throughout the space! The others all turned to me questioningly, and although it spooked me at first, I consoled them (and myself!), “Richard lives next door- maybe that was him getting lucky!” With much more frustration and hopelessness, another groan sounded, and a gnawing sensation formed at the pit of my stomach! Were we too late? Did Babelsama get the Netherworld entryway open without the key that I currently grasped in my pocket?

            “If that’s Richard, then I can guarantee you he ain’t getting any welcomed action right now!” Fletcher opined.

            I argued, “You don’t know that! Maybe he’s into really freaky stuff… I shuddered at the image that brought to my imagination, and then I directed our assemblage, “It doesn’t matter what’s causing that noise! We gotta deal with whatever’s there! Come on!”

            The groaning grew more an more voluminous the closer we got to the garage, and as much as I told myself that it was nothing threatening, I became more and more prepared to engage in an epic battle! As we set foot into the room of our destinated path, my adrenaline kicked into high gear, and I jumped into that territory with the full bravado of a warrior in combat! I didn’t know what sort of beast or entity we would encounter, but the last thing I expected was…

            “What in the blazes…?” Ellie exclaimed without realizing the irony of her statement.

            “Did someone say my name?” Blaise’s voice rang out throughout the vicinity.

            We all peered in disbelief as we beheld a pair of legs dangling out of a portion of the wall sectioned off by a door frame! To the untrained eye, the door currently ajar previously led to the outside and got sealed off with cement, and even though we knew what truly laid beyond that veil, it was still unnerving to see a person stuck in such a solid surface! Once I had gotten over my initial shock, I crept up to the struggling limbs and gasped, “Blaise?”

            Blaise grumped, “Didn’t we already establish that?”

            “What are you doing here?” I pondered in profound perplexed fashion. Out of all of the places on this planet for him to have resurfaced, I never would have predicted it would have been there! And definitely not in that position!

            “At the moment, not a whole lot!” Blaise shot back as he strove to wriggle free from his confinement.

            I was still too startled to offer him any assistance, but I got annoyed at his caginess, so I rephrased my enquiry, “Why are you here? I mean, one minute, you’re going outside to get your lighter, and the next thing I know, you’re trapped in… Why did you go into this hovel at all?”

            Blaise haggled, “I’ll explain everything, but could you pull me out first?”

            I sighed and relented to his request. I grabbed his shins and gave them a yank, but they wouldn’t budge! Fletcher and Ellie joined in, and we started to make headway. Everyone else lent a hand, and slowly, we got more and more of him out! AT last, his entire self popped out, but when I saw how singed his top half had become, I blurted, “How in the hell are you still alive?”

            “Actually, I’m not,” Blaise admitted. We gawked at him incomprehensively, so he forced himself to explain, “A few years ago, I was performing a complex ritual in order to raise the dead, but instead of using salt, I accidentally poured rat poison into my potion! You know how that’s easy to do…”

            “Not really!” Aleck responded as he eyeballed him peculiarly.

            Blaise ignored Aleck’s slight and continued, “Well, I got sent to Hell on account of all the ‘evil’ I committed in my lifetime, but then I got recruited by some dude in the Netherworld. He gave me two options: spend an eternity getting tortured or return to Earth to spread some mayhem, and after I thunk on it-.”

            Phoebe raised her eyebrows at that. “You had to think about it?”

            “After I realized that they weren’t gonna inflict the kinky kinda torture, the decision wasn’t so difficult,” Blaise stated. Phoebe winced at the vile picture he painted, and Blaise went on, “Initially, he had me return to the compound and keep growing my religious base, but then he tasked me with the effort to reopen this portal, so I purposely let the ranch go into foreclosure so my dear family in Terra Belle would take us in…”

            “You’re lucky that Connor was around when I took my mom’s call! I would’ve left you on the streets!” Phoebe spat.

            I canvassed him, “How did you know we lived across the street from the portal?”

            He filled me in, “I didn’t! My boss saw that I had a connection to the town where his gateway existed, so he sent me there to find you and get his key. It was a stroke of good fortune that only did I run into the keyholder immediately, I moved in right by my boss’s domain!”

            “Wait, this Babelsama guy is your boss?” Ginger deduced.

            “Yup!” Blaise confirmed. “He was tickled pink when my window revealed your close proximity! He figured you just followed Damon into this building before! Once he got the truth, he spazzed out! He has all sorts of plans for you when the gate is unlocked!”

            I sardonically articulated to him, “Gee, too bad you never got a hold of the key and opened it for him!”

            He didn’t detect the sarcasm in that sentence and concurred, “I know, right? I tried to get it open without it, but then, well, you seen what happened! I nearly got the key once when you were drunk and took your pants off, but then that damn cat peed on it! That’s the only substance that can make me sick!”

            “Aw! And I yelled at Jett for doing that!” I lamented.

            “So, you’re like a vampire or something?” Fletcher interrogated Blaise.

            Blaise enlightened him, “Nope! I’m simply undead!”

            I denoted, “Wow, I guess the FAUK club wasn’t far off with their zombie concept!”

            “Um, the term ‘zombie’ is offensive to my kind!” Blaise took offense to my depiction. “You see, we-!”

            “He’s gonna have to come with us,” I instructed the others. “If we let him stay behind, he’ll go to that portrait and warn Baelsama about our presence in his realm!”

            Ellie brought up, “What if Damon works out what’s going on and tips him off?”

            I mulled the matter over briefly. “Hmm… Maybe a couple of us should keep guard in here in case he tries to interfere.” Aleck, Fletcher, Ellie, and Ginger all vigorously volunteered, and after I gave the issue some consideration, I decreed, “Aleck and Fletcher should remain here.” Ellie and Ginger objected, so I reasoned, “They’re already in hot water with their wives- if they quit answering their messages, they’ll lose their relationships! We can’t have that! Unless there’s a cell tower down there…” I glimpsed at Blaise for clues, and he indicated that he had no inkling about that.

            “So, I’m hanging out with these guys while you’re down there?” Blaise gazed at me with substantial hope glimmering in his eyes.

            “Absolutely not! If it makes you that happy, it’s probably not a wise plan,” I ruled. He grew sullen, but I paid him no mind. I quizzed my other three companions, “You ready?”

            Ellie barked, “Will you drop that phrase from your vocabulary? We’re never gonna be ready, but we’re not gonna let that bar us from moving forward! Let’s do this!”

            I shut the old wooden door and drew out the spoon. I took a vigorous inhale, and after the exhale, I fitted the handle into the keyhole. I unlatched it, and once I reopened the doorway, an immense, rapidly moving vortex swirled before us! I gulped and debated whether or not I had the courage to seriously set foot in that terrifying whirl, but then Phoebe took my arm, and it reminded me of what I was doing this for! Ellie and Ginger braced each other behind us, and then we stepped into the abyss!

I anticipated that we would float around in a vast nothingness for a stretch, but to my bewilderment, we set foot on solid ground! Although we were spared from that ordeal, we weren’t out of the woods yet! What lurked beyond the void nearly made me faint! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the land of the departed would contain this…

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 31

“Yes, it’s me!” Her light-blue eyes glared at me with so much venom that if looks could kill, she would have poisoned me immediately! She flipped her blonde hair in a very nonchalant manner and rested her hand on one of her curvy hips in an attempt to convey indifference, but she clearly harbored too much bitterness over our history to pull that off! “What are you doing here, Connor?”

            “What am I doing here?” I echoed back to her. My mind was still in such a shock that I couldn’t even drum up something sarcastic to throw in her face! The possibility of running into her again never crossed my thoughts- I really believed that this chapter of my life had been closed, so my brain had to reprogram itself right then! It was like seeing a ghost! Uh, that is to say the sentiments that currently overtook my senses felt like how a normal person would feel upon seeing a specter- it was not what I went through each instance that Damon popped into the vicinity! “Last I heard, you were with that Lucas guy in Canada! Why are you here? Did he kick you out?”
            With a full force of fury aimed in my direction, she revealed, “No! Canada did! And it’s all your fault!”

            Her claim caught me slightly off-guard from its outrageous nature, but I quickly collected myself and queried, “How is that my fault? Oh, ‘cause I refused to take you back?”

            “Yes!” she roared. “When I drove back home, Lucas confronted me on why I had been gone so long, and when he figured out that I was with other guys, he-.”

            “Guys? As in multiple men?” I questioned her.

            She grew somewhat flustered at what she let slip out, and then she felt compelled to admit, “Well, when you rejected me, I got too upset to go home, so I went to this really classy bar to drink, and… Is it a crime to get wined and dined by a lonely billionaire?” I rolled my eyes, and she let out an angry exhale before continuing with her saga, “Anyways, Lucas tried to tell me who I could and couldn’t be friends with, so I stormed out. My new friend, and yes, we were just friends, let me stay with him for a while, but since I refused to return to Lucas, he reported me to immigration! I never filled out a visitor’s visa, so they deported me!”

            I started snickering at her misfortune, so she stared at me reproachfully. My first instinct was to apologize, “Sorry! I…” I contemplated this notion for a flash, and then I reversed courses, “No, that’s not true! After all you put me through, I deserve to laugh at how karma made you suffer the consequences of your actions!”

            “What I put you through?” she bellowed. “You’re responsible for all of this!  If you hadn’t neglected me at your old job-!”

            “The job you begged me to go back to ‘cause you wouldn’t accept me in my teaching position” I shot back.

            Aleck hesitantly jumped into the conversation, “So, this would be the ex-wife, Lilith?”

            Lilith confirmed that for him, “Uh-huh, that’s right! I see he’s been talking about me! Anything good?”

            “Uh…” Aleck trailed off. I imagined that if we had been in any other circumstance, he would have given her an honest response, but since we needed something important from the other occupant of this household, he tried not to hurt her feelings. Too late- his reluctance to speak on the subject gave her the reality of the situation, which prompted her to pout.

            “Listen, we didn’t drive all day to hear you gripe about your romantic drama!” Fletcher curtly addressed her. “We’ve come to see… Ferny something-or-other…”

            I picked up where he left off, “We need to speak to Ferneus G. Adramnelech. Does he still live here?”

            Lilith fibbed, “No, he doesn’t!”

            “Did someone say my name?” an elderly fellow’s voice rang out from another room.

            “No! Now sign those papers I gave you!” Lilith barked at him. When she caught on to the astonished expressions we all bore, she sheepishly relayed to us, “He’s my boss. I work for his realty company. He… needs a lot of assistance…”

            Her behavior struck me as suspicious, so I inquired, “You’re an admin now? Isn’t that kind of a pay cut for you?”

            The old gentleman piped up again, “Do we have visitors? I want to see them!”

            “They don’t wanna talk to you! Stay in the living room, lambkin!” Lilith ordered. Prior to anyone interrogating her on this outrageous display, she justified herself, “Okay, he’s here, but he isn’t really. He’s a hundred and seven years old and a smidgen senile, he needs a firm hand to keep him in line… You know, for his own safety…”

            “Well, lucid or not, we have an urgent matter to discuss with him,” I informed her. “Please act like a civilized human being and-.”

            Lilith refused, “Absolutely not! You have no business with our firm! He’s a helpless centenarian, what could you possibly need from him? How dare you try and take advantage of an innocent soul like that!”

            At that moment, the most ancient-appearing person I had ever seen shuffled over to the foyer. His purple, velvet robe didn’t have a blemish on it, and the few gray hairs that remained on his head seemed perfectly groomed. If I hadn’t known Lilith so well, I would’ve commended her for the level of caretaking she relinquished to him! However, I recollected that she didn’t have an ounce of domestic skills in her and would flinch at the slightest hint of dirt, so either he had other individuals tending to him or he handled his well-being by himself. Simultaneous to me wondering if we would legally need a nurse or something with us for this discourse, Ferneus stated, “I don’t understand those forms you gave me! Who are you giving me power of attorney over?”

            We all gawked at Lilith for her sheer audacity, and she hung her head low to hide her blushing cheeks. Ferneus took notice of the three men in his doorway, and he merrily greeted us, “Oh, we do have some callers! Welcome to our home! Won’t you please come in and have a seat?” Lilith looked horrified at the prospect, but she couldn’t stop what Ferneus had set in motion, so we brushed past her as we followed him inside.

            His living room looked like something staged for a museum exhibit! The couch and chairs seemed like furniture pieces that my grandparents would have said was too antique for their tastes! The only thing that didn’t convince me that they weren’t squatting in a vacant property was how dust and cobweb free the walls and fixtures were! I might have been persuaded that we had stepped backwards in time if it wasn’t for the mountain of paperwork with recent dates on them as well as Lilith’s cellphone charging in one of the outlets! Ferneus invited us, “Sit down, my hep guests!” the amenities appeared rather delicate, so we all hesitated, especially Fletcher, but in order to proceed, we knew we had to comply. Once we had carefully situated ourselves, we got surprised by the strength of our perches! Ferneus sat on the sofa across from us and posed, “How can I be of service to you chaps? Would you be the local draymen?”

            “Um, I’m not really sure what that is,” I responded honestly. During the lengthy car ride to this joint, I planned out a whole line of questions for this dude, but with Lilith in the perimeter, it all went out the window! Not that it would have mattered if her opinion of me got lowered, but I certainly didn’t want to endure any of her smugness from any sort of presentation of unsoundness on my part! Plus, if she had valuable insight on our recent endeavor, she could get put in danger by Damon and his allies, and even though I had an intense dislike of her nowadays, I couldn’t put her in peril! It wouldn’t have been right, but also, it would have been tortuous to rescue that tramp and have her owe a life debt to me… in addition to the financial ones that were significantly overdue! Despite my misgivings on the concept, I couldn’t allow my discomfort to affect our odds of success in this mission- countless lives were at stake! So, I gritted my teeth and accepted that she would have to be privy to our venture, at least some of it! “Actually, we were hoping to talk to you about one of your properties…”

            “Oh, splendid! Are you fixing to buy? You fellas seem like quite the darb! I’ll sell you whatever you like!” He began pilfering through the various forms on the coffee table.

            His avid willingness to unload one of his properties to us startled everyone! I don’t think any of us in the Ghost League ever anticipated this as a potentiality! Owning that abandoned abode could have been advantageous to us; once we destroyed the key to that Netherworld portal, we could have the structure destroyed and ensure that no other soul tried to open it ever again! I had no clue if anyone in our trio would have the money or credit score for that sort of purchase, but how much could that burnt down hovel have been worth? I briefed him, “We’re talking about a house on Dusk Lily Lane…”

            Ferneus’s mood swiftly soured, and he stopped rifling through his documents upon hearing that. “Anything but that one! It’s too… important to give away!”

            “Dusk Lily Lane?” Lilith puzzled. “Wait, that’s where you live!” She indicated to me, and then she addressed Ferneus, “Uh, lambkin, do you own that lot with the wrecked estate on it?”

            “It’s not completely mutilated, turtledove!” Ferneus disagreed with her. “It still has crucial elements remaining inside…”

            Fletcher, Aleck, and I all knew exactly what he was referring to, but Lilith got completely taken aback by his remark! She unwillingly sided with me, “I don’t blame you for wanting that eyesore gone! It’s totally bringing down your property value! I’ll try and convince him to-.”

            Ferneus insisted, “Turtledove, I can’t sell that one! Not to them! Not ever! It’s… special…”

            “It’s a dump!” she argued. “Don’t tell me you have sentimental ties to that disaster zone!”

            “Can you tell us about who used to live there?” Fletcher asked him before Lilith could prolong their bickering.

            Ferneus jogged his memory, “Hmm… First there was the sexton, then the milliners, then the steward…”

            Aleck groaned, “Ugh, I wish Ellie were here to translate this!”

            “Then the Widow Karro…” Ferneus rambled on entirely unaware that the surname he had just mentioned piqued our interest…

            “The Widow Karro? Was she related to anyone named Damon?” I inquired. I recalled that he had a sister, but we never found any marriage certificates in his records… unless he was lying to everyone about the status of one of his mistresses…

            Ferneus mulled that over for a minute. “Possibly. I knew she had a husband who died from diarrhea…”

            Lilith challenged that assertion, “Diarrhea? He died from diarrhea?”

            “It does happen,” I verified. “If you have too much of it, it can kill you! Dad’s had to operate on patients whose only symptoms were frequent diarrhea.” She obviously didn’t believe me and fold her arms as Ferneus resumed his account.

            “She relied on her brother for companionship,” Ferneus chronicled for us. “Then, one day, he disappeared, and no one ever knew what happened to the lad. Some say she went a little crazy after that! Apparently, she was even boasting that she had reached out to the beyond to locate him…”

            We all gazed at him in awe! My jaw hung wide as it sunk in that, during that very juncture, we had learned the origin of that portal! I had no inkling that it had any sort of connection beyond it serving as a source for his revenge against Martha! This realization was so bewildering that it took several seconds for us to absorb it! Once I did, I started to consider how to gingerly broach the topic of destroying that key, but then Lilith, who had grown quite miffed at how grossly we drank in his words, hollered, “Why are you engaging him with this crap? He’s clearly lost his marbles, you’re all making it worse!”

            Ferneus disputed, “What are you yammering about? I’m as on-the-level as I’ve ever been!” I pulled the spoon out of my pocket, and his eyes became as large as dinner plates! “You found the key?”

            “Oh my god! He’s totally bonkers!” Lilith exclaimed.

            “No, it genuinely does open a door!” I refuted her. I then faced Ferneus and probed, “To guarantee no one else can open that door, how do we permanently erase it from this earth?”

            Ferneus uttered, “If it could get eradicated from this earth, don’t you think I would have done it already?”

            He raised a possibility that I hadn’t envisaged until right then! “So, what you’re saying is we would have to go down to-?”

            Ferneus nodded as an ornate landline rang. Lilith picked up the receiver and politely regarded the individual on the other line, “FGA Realty!” After they gave her a reply, she reported to Ferneus, “It’s your accountant.”

            I got up and quickly commented to Ferneus, “We’ll see ourselves out. Thank you very much for your time, sir!” As Aleck and Fletcher tailed me to the exit, Lilith watched us leave with a rising wariness of our conduct.

            During our return to the truck, Fletcher pondered, “What should we do about the…?”

            “Don’t worry! While we were still inside, I already messaged a social worker about Lilith’s hideous scheme!” Aleck assured us.

            “Uh, I’m pretty sure he meant the new dilemma with the key,” I corrected him.

            His face fell at that acknowledgement. “Oh, right! Gosh! What do we do now?”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 30

“Is this really necessary?” I queried Fletcher as his truck pulled up in front of my house.

            “Listen, we need answers, and this old geezer doesn’t have an email!” Fletcher insisted. “He’s not returning our calls either, so if we wanna find out what this Forny Gramil Lock-.”

            I corrected him, “It’s Forneus G. Adrannelech. I memorized the first time I saw it- it was the most old-sounding name I’d ever heard!”

            Fletcher had no interest in attempting to spit out that unusual label again. “Yeah, whatever! If we wanna learn what this ancient codger is hiding, we’ve gotta go talk to him ourselves! Now, come on! It’s an eight hour drive to this rinky-dink town in New York, so we need to hit the road asap!”

            As I got into the passenger side, Aleck peered over from the backseat and inquired, “How did he get all of that to fit on an axe handle?”

            I buckled up and replied, “Large axe, small letters. The question is who in their right mind would put an inscription on a-?” I hadn’t realized that someone outside of the Ghost League was in the vehicle! A preteen boy who greatly resembled Aleck sat behind Fletcher playing a game on his cellphone, which completely flabbergasted me! Not the obsessional use of a device, I had seen a number of kids at Rosemary King High with that issue- so much so that I wondered if a fear monger could have released its mayhem simply by snatching away all of their electronics! No, what surprised me was the fact that Aleck brought a family member to go along on this potentially dangerous journey! If Damon had discovered that we unearthed a valuable lead, he may have created some perilous obstacles for us to overcome before we ever arrived in Summerland!

            “The missus made me take him.” Aleck must’ve surmised my thoughts based on my reaction to this presence! “I lied and said we were all going to get groceries together, and apparently, he only agreed to eat healthier snacks if he got to pick them out himself. So, we’re gonna have to stop at the store on the way back!” A brief stint of silence followed his statement, so he added, “She wouldn’t have let me come if I told her the truth!”

            “My wife told me to have a chat with our girls about some of their… shall we say… risqué behavior, and I told her I’d do it as soon as I got my phone out of the truck…” Fletcher shared with us.

            I canvassed him, “You left your phone in here? Then how have you been replying to our texts?”

            Fletcher mumbled, “I didn’t, I just wanted to avoid that… uncomfortableness!” I noticed several missed messages on his cellphone, so he asserted, “When we get Aleck’s groceries, I’ll pick her up some flowers!”

            After a couple of hours on the freeway, we ran out of subjects to discuss that didn’t involve that petulant phantom or his sinister plot. I mean, we probably could have gotten away with it since his boy hadn’t lifted his head up from his intense gaze on that screen once, but we didn’t take any chances in case he overheard some of the more pertinent details. I found it kind of a shame that we didn’t have the opportunity to go over the recent developments of our supernatural dilemma because we had a plethora of stuff to sort out, and with this latest setback, we wouldn’t get a window to do so until the middle of the night when we returned home! While I was lamenting the concept of not being able to sleep so quickly after getting our room to ourselves again, my cellphone pinged, and when I read what was on display, I groaned. Aleck immediately probed, “What’s wrong? Did Phoebe anything at the… you know where?”

            “Did Ellie report some bad news?” Fletcher guessed.

            “No, none of that. Our cat got sick on our bed,” I revealed to them in a very anti-climatic manner. “Hopefully there’s no trouble while she’s washing the sheets! Well, if there was, Ellie is still monitoring the situation! And Ginger… Hang on, why didn’t she wanna go with us?”

            Aleck let me know, “She didn’t wanna be cramped in a small space with a bunch of smelly men for such a long road trip.” I nearly took offense to that, but then I contemplated the length of our stint on the streets, and I couldn’t argue with her objection!

            At the mention of the phrase “road trip,” Aleck’s son finally craned his neck upward! He glanced around at our surroundings in confusion, and he posed to his father, “We’re not at the supermarket yet?”

            “Well, we’re going to a special one near Lake Erie…” Aleck somewhat nervously fibbed.

            “Oh! Okay!” He evidently bought that explanation and returned to his previous activity.

            Silence ensued once more, and if we didn’t so something more intellectually stimulating, I fretted that I’d end up hitting the hay! I stared at the picture of Phoebe that I used as the background for my home screen, and I smiled at the memory it brought back of us jamming out to our favorite musical genre. She didn’t particularly like the photo since she didn’t view it as very flattering, but I adored it due to the feeling I had when I took it. We were having a ball, and I remembered thinking that I could spend the rest of my life like this! This made me long to be at home dreaming up a new tactic of proposing to her! Suddenly, I got a stroke of inspiration for the bind currently on our hands… “Say, how did you guys propose to your wives?”

            “I went into the gas station she worked at and bought a bunch of things, then when she rang it all up, she found the ring I hid in the mix! I got on one knee and popped the question,” Fletcher happily reminisced. “I thought it was romantic ‘cause that’s where we first met. She loved it, but the people behind me were kinda ticked off… I didn’t mean to put them behind on their tight schedule!”

            “Mine was pretty cliché I suppose. I did it in a restaurant,” Aleck relayed to me.

            I asked him, “Did you have the chef put it in the food?”

            Aleck answered me, “What? No! She could’ve choked on it! What sort of idiot would do that?” I grew pretty embarrassed about his response to my original plan, which he didn’t know about since I never disclosed it to anyone after it flopped so furiously! I felt fairly foolish on my judgment now, but I was glad that I never revealed that story to them so I could play it cool with the guys right then… “Oh, was that something you were gonna do?” Aleck clearly caught on to my abashed mood and became overwrought with guilt from his previous criticism. “Dude, I’m sorry! I-!”

            “It was one of many ways I unsuccessfully tried to make her my wife!” I admitted. “I had no clue it’d be this difficult to get it done!”

            “It can be tough,” Aleck related. “I couldn’t fathom what to say in that moment, but then I found out that the place had lounge singers, so I convinced them to do a romantic song, and all I had to do was belt out one sentence when they were done!”

            Fletcher petitioned me, “Weren’t you married once?”

            I narrated, “Well, yeah, but I never actually proposed to her! After college, we were out spending our graduation money, and when we passed by this jewelry store, she led me inside. She picked out this huge diamond, and before I knew it, she was planning out a wedding! I went along with it ‘cause it seemed like that was the path we were heading down anyways. Thank god she didn’t require an elaborate show of it- that gold-digger wouldn’t’ have settled for anything cheap!”

            “How are you gonna do it now?” Fletcher pondered.

            “I dunno, my brain’s completely blank! Do you two have any suggestions?” I surveyed Fletcher and Aleck. “I know Phoebe wouldn’t expect anything too extravagant, but she’s important to me, so I want it to be special!”

            Aleck and Fletcher mulled it over for a minute, and then Aleck opined, “I would tell you to have her students help you do it, but who know when another one of Damon’s attacks will-.” He worriedly glanced over to his son, but he appeared to not be paying attention, so he breathed a sigh of relief.

            After a fruitless beat, Fletcher assured me, “If we can conjure up something, we’ll let you know!”

            “Thanks!” I gratefully regarded them. With that topic temporarily settled, the vehicle got silent again. I let a few seconds elapse, and then I propositioned, “How about some music?” Fletcher flicked on the radio, and some country crooner blasted throughout the vicinity! “Could we listen to something more… lively? Like classic rock?”

            “Oh no! After such a stressful week, we need to listen to something soothing like instrumental scores!”

            Without looking up from his device, Aleck’s son piped in, “Wow, Dad! I knew you were old, but I didn’t realize you’ve been around since Beethoven’s era! Play some pop!”

            I recommended, “What if we compromise and hear some eighties’ hits?”

            Aleck contented, “You’re compromising with my child but not with me?”

            Fletcher switched his stereo off and decreed, “No one’s listening to anything!” Quiet resumed once more.

            We ended up staying awake by initiating some vintage road trip games. We began with “I Spy,” but Aleck’s son kept cheating by searching for random items on the internet. We opted on “Sign Alphabet” and “License Plate Bingo,” both of which forced the kid to stare at something other than his phone! When we started seeing posts about Summerland, I lost even more interest than I already had in these inane time-killers! I never wanted to repeat this process at any point in the future, so I grew more and more anxious to gather information from that Forneus dude! I beseeched the universe that he held valuable material to render all of this effort as worth it!

            “This should be it!” I announced as the GPS indicated our arrival at the destination we programmed into it.

            “Are we sure we got the correct location” Fletcher checked with us as he parked.

            As he gazed at the building in front of us, Aleck verified for him, “Oh yeah! How could it not be?”

            When Fletcher beheld it for himself, he removed all of his skepticism! We stood before a structure that could only be described as what most people would imagine if they were to close their eyes and picture a haunted house! It was a large, three-story Victorian with dark paint and sharp towers on the roof! The entire joint was surrounded by a rusty, rod-iron fence, and the yard had decaying refuse strewed all over it! The sole reason we didn’t declare it as vacant and run back to Terra Belle was the decrepit wooden sign that read: FGA Realty!

            “Can I wait in the car?” Aleck’s son requisitioned as he frightfully eyeballed this strange abode.

            “Yeah,” Aleck obliged with a slight twinge of jealousy. “Keep the doors locked, and honk if anyone tries to murder you!”

            The kid responded to that, “Murderers like whatever’s possessing that mansion? Dad, are ghosts real?”

            The three of us gazed at each other quizzically- no one knew how to reply to that! Do we lie to him and keep his trepidation at bay, or do we startle him with the truth in case Damon did decide to crash our party? I had no inkling on how to act in this case, and neither did Aleck, but Fletcher eventually gave him an adamant affirmation, “There ain’t any spooks in my truck! That’s for damn sure!”

            After we saw that Aleck’s kid was placated, we turned and faced our newest predicament- Do we dare to enter onto such a creepy premises? Yes, I braved much worse conditions at that abandoned home across the street from me, but young lives were at stake from a villainous vampire! That specter was certainly annoying, but was it worth the risk of jeopardy just to collect a bit of data? I ultimately concluded, “Come on, boys! He has an actual, fully licensed business- they don’t give that to you unless you’re alive!” They didn’t seem so convinced, but they still followed me up the stone pathway anyhow.

            We expected a monstrous adversary to ambush us at every instance we took another step! It didn’t alleviate our nerves that the wind emitted a spooky howl! However, despite our apprehension, we made it to the porch without incident! We rang the antiquated doorbell, which echoed throughout the halls inside, and after a brief period of no discernable movement, we all felt tempted to flee. I stayed put through my determination to learn the truth and put a halt to our persistent nightmare, so I rang the doorbell again. At long last, the knob slowly turned! Anticipation flooded my veins, and as I ardently went over the issues we had to discuss, a person from the interior appeared in the doorway…

            I nearly had a heart attack when I realized that I recognized this individual! I bellowed, “You!”