The Hessian, Chapter 7

The whispers of the wind wafted by her eardrums and drowned out her footsteps as she traversed through the street. Clarissa knew that Alastor was attempting to spook her so that she would turn back and go home, but she would do nothing of the sort! Originally, yes, she had intended on skipping the funeral because yesterday was so emotionally taxing and she didn’t esteem that she contained the fortitude to withstand their intense negativity, but she thought about what Kenneth would have advised her to do if he had been able to stay, and she reckoned that he would persuade her to ignore the contentious lot in order to do the right thing. Saying goodbye to a neighbor was an incredibly courteous act of service to do, but she recognized a more urgent reason to attend this ceremony- she felt quite sure that if the majority of the town was all congregated in one spot, trouble was sure to follow! She didn’t believe that this evil specter could step foot inside of a holy site, but she had no way to verify this hunch! Plus, she feared what may come once everyone left the church! Clarissa anticipated that his letters would question the activities regarding the protection of Colfrith, and she wouldn’t have been able to stand it if she had to write anything that would show she did not try her hardest to keep them all safe! Her initial hesitation caused her to be late, but she became resolute in not allowing anything to prevent her from acting with righteousness in pursuit of their critical mission!

            As she grew closer to the chapel, she saw no other activity in the town square but a few carpenters fixing some slate shingles on a cottage next to the parish. When she passed them, they glared at her in a reproachful manner. She grimaced from the assumption that this would was a portent of her experience in this venture, but she reminded herself that she made this visit for motives far more vital than making friends! Still, she did not relish having to go through this ugly process! It would all be worth it one day, but not that day- this morning was bound to prove rough! While she stared at the heavy wooden doors of her destination, she crossed her fingers that an uncomfortable social situation would t urn out to be the worst issue she dealt with indefinitely, but she had a feeling it would never fare that way for her! She took a deep breath, and as she entered the building, she hoped her prediction would emerge as unfounded…

            “Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to-,” Pastor Absalom ceased his speech as he detected the congregates’ attention waiver. He heard the tardy entrant, but he thought nothing of it until the crowd had evidently deemed it as noteworthy, and when he espied that the source of the disruption had been Clarissa, he could comprehend why their focus had swayed!

            “I’m shocked that she had the nerve to attend this!” one person quietly opined to the individual beside them. With the silence of the room coupled with the acoustic nature of the sanctuary’s walls, that remark clearly resounded throughout the space!

            The masses began to murmur in agreement of the previously stated comment, and Clarissa’s neck craned low in discomfort. She had guessed that no one there was likely to enjoy her company, but now she fretted that her presence would incite a ruckus that would ultimately have her kicked out of there! Pastor Absalom gazed at her piteously, and then he cleared his throat. When nobody’s awareness shifted back to the altar that he stood upon, he repeated that gesture more audibly and then sternly reminded his flock, “Remember, all are welcomed in the Lord’s house! Everyone, please have a seat so we can proceed…” The attendees obviously didn’t think highly of his decree, but they unwillingly obeyed and swiveled back to a more forward position. Clarissa gratefully smiled at Pastor Absalom, and he gave her a quick grin before returning to his sermon.

            Clarissa proceeded toward the front where she had normally sat, but each pew that she went by had people shifting so that it appeared completely full. Not a single person made eye contact with her, but their faces hardened as she neared them. Clarissa sighed and decided to watch the commemoration while standing in the rearmost section of the structure. She felt odd to get placed amongst the servants, but she strove to ignore her awkward inklings and channel all of her care into watching out for signs of Alastor.

            “Hmm! You don’t look like you’ve burst into flames!” Gabrielle, a laborer she had previously seen working at the coffeehouse, softly spoke to Clarissa.

            “Huh?” Clarissa responded with slight confusion.

            Gabrielle clarified, “Everyone is saying that you’re a witch, but from my understanding, a wicked soul cannot set foot onto sacred grounds, so you must be alright! Would you like to sit?”

            Clarissa was completely taken aback by somebody actually showing her some kindness, she almost didn’t know how to react to it! When Gabrielle scooted over and created a space for her, she was so touched that she simply had to accept her offer in order to avoid hurting this generous woman’s feelings! As Pastor Absalom narrated the details of the deceased’s life, Clarissa grew curious about Gabrielle’s knowledge. If she had that bit of information regarding sorceresses, then she deduced that perhaps she had more lore on the occult that she could share! She hoped that after the gathering disbanded, she could press her for recommendations on how to defeat a vengeful ghost…

            “Roger worked hard to provide for his family, but he also put considerable effort into assisting his community.” Pastor Absalom glanced around the area and peered into specific men and women’s eyes to really emphasis his point. “Whenever he could, he would stop what he was doing to lend a hand! He truly exemplified the spirit of giving, and it meant a lot to him to play a part in his community’s well-being! If Roger could communicate anything to us right now, he would plead with his neighbors to follow his example and do all they can to make the village, the entire village, thrive…” Most of the assembly seemed reluctant to adhere to this message, but before he could move on, an earsplitting scream reverberated from outside!

            “Nigel, what did you do?” a woman cried out hysterically. Everyone in the church glimpsed towards the root of the unrest with alarm, but Clarissa was the first to get up and see what was going on. Her foresight had already prepared her for a contentious battle, but she prayed that this conflict would not develop into a deadly dilemma in this instance…

            “Good heavens! Is that man dead?” Elmira gasped as she stood with her father on the stairs of the chapel. As the parishioners exited the establishment, they immediately beheld a man laying facedown on the ground, but they soon learned that the blood trickling out of his skull was the least of their worries…

            A small boy crouched on the rooftop with completely dilated pupils and his lips seething profusely! His mother frightfully commanded him, “Nigel, get down from there!” Nigel stood up and stretched out his foot as though he planned on casually walking off, so his mother urgently requested, “No, not like that!” The child let out a devilishly delightful laugh as he crouched back down again!

            Clarissa emerged from the place of worship with a wooden goblet and raced towards the scene! As Nigel’s mother struggled to convince her son to get off of his dangerous perch, one of the two remaining carpenters mutedly queried to the other, “Do we really want him down here while he’s still… in this condition?”

            Prior to the other carpenter getting a chance to respond, Clarissa pushed past them and darted to their ladder. She clasped the cup using her teeth as she ascended the rungs, and as she heard the astonished buzz emanating from the spectators below, it occurred to her that she had put herself into a potentially perilous position- no one was holding the base of the rail, so the evil inside of Nigel could have propelled him to push her so she would meet her doom! She opted to cast that ominous possibility from her mind! This had to be done, there were no alternatives around it! She told herself that if he charged after her, it would actually work out to her advantage since it would give her a window to strike! When she reached the pinnacle, all she could do was refuse to entertain the notion of any outcome where she didn’t escape unscathed!

            The air grew eerily quiet as Clarissa made eye contact with the besieged boy. Clarissa held on to the ledge with one arm as she took the chalice out of her mouth and clutched it in a fashion that would permit her to move it at the proper moment, and Nigel gawked at the contents of that vessel warily. She waited for a few seconds to see if he would grow inquisitive and approach it on his own, but when he didn’t, she beckoned him, “That’s for you, Nigel! Come over and get it!” Nigel turned to her and bristled, but Clarissa still went on, “It’s a gift! You’ll love it!” Nigel started to gutterly growl at her, but she continued, “Don’t you want to see it?” His snarling intensified, but he didn’t budge an inch, so she discerned that mere baiting wouldn’t suffice! “If you don’t want to retrieve it, I’ll bring it to you!”

            For a brief beat, Clarissa got the impression that he would grant her access to his perimeter, but before she could do that, he lunged towards her! He rapidly crawled like a spider in her direction, and Clarissa readied herself to hurl the essence of the basin at the afflicted youth, but the Nigel abruptly veered off of the side! His mother as well as the rest of the witnesses present screamed as he crawled down the walls of the abode like an insect! Clarissa clung onto the roof fully expecting to lose her solid footing, and it stunned her when he headed straight into the throng instead!

            Everyone tried to flee, but Nigel managed to pounce on one man and knock him to the floor! The man hid his visage, which prompted Nigel to bite his arm! As he tore apart his clothing, Clarissa grabbed the goblet and descended the ladder with as much haste as she could generate! Pastor Absalom reached the pair preceding the finish of her endeavor, and he swiftly propped open his Bible. Nigel gnarled at him, but despite that, Pastor Absalom read out loud, “And forthwith, Jesus gave them leave! And the unclean spirits went out, and-!”

            Nigel shoved Pastor Absalom with enough exertion to make him smack against the cobblestone surface! Clarissa was horrified at this sight, but thankfully, he landed on his limbs and did not seem gravely injured! She then viewed Nigel chasing more bystanders. Her earliest instinct had been to tail him so she could catch him and subdue him enough to endure her impact, but his movements were too fast to pull that off! Fortunately, she dreamt up another idea…

            “Nigel, no!” the kid’s mother desperately pled with him, but he ignored her as he terrorized the multitudes! He stumbled into an elderly fellow on a cane, and sensing his feebleness, he made a beeline for his body! The old gentleman sought to scurry, but he could hardly maneuver with nimbleness! Nigel roared as he reared his dentition, but prior to him sinking his fangs into his flesh, Clarissa popped out and put the chalice in his trajectory! Nigel attempted to free himself, but it was too late! Clarissa forced him to swallow it, and after a bit of writhing, Nigel’s alter-ego let out one last hideous howl! After that, Nigel’s pupils returned to normal, and he passed out! “Nigel!” his mother screeched.

            “Mama!” Nigel wailed as she cradled him. She sobbed uncontrollably as she held him, and he croaked out, “Mama! I feel ill! What happened?”

            No one had the heart to explain it to him! Clarissa surveyed the square, and several individuals were aiding one another in arising after their tumble. A few people nursed the wounds and abrasions that they got during the fracas, and Doctor Cuthbart examined Pastor Absalom. “It looks as though you’ve sustained a humerus fracture.”

            Pastor Absalom winced as he asserted, “I’ll be fine! Please, check on my flock!”

            “You attacked a child! Have you no shame?” Elmira hollered to Clarissa.

            “Is there nothing I could say to convince you that I bear no guilt in this crime?” Clarissa challenged Elmira. Elmira simply persisted in her cold stance, and Clarissa was in no mood to argue, so she shook her head in disgust and marched out of the vicinity. As she aimed to return to the inn, she totally disregarded the snickering that the bitter breeze brought her as it passed…

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 Hessian, Chapter 4

“Do I dare?” Kenneth queried himself as he peeked his head out into the long, narrow hallway. The door he had seen Clarissa go into last night was still closed, and he assumed that she was still sleeping, so he reckoned that he would probably have been safe in venturing back downstairs without getting seen in pajamas, but probably was not a certainty! He would hate to repay her kindness towards him by performing a rather offensive act of indecency! He considered simply waiting in his room until she woke up, but he was ready to leave now and who knew when she might get out of bed! He already had an exhaustive night with very little sleep, so he couldn’t stand the idea of doing nothing for even an hour more! He did see a few books in there, but the titles all depicted narratives about running a business, and he doubted that they would add much to his entertainment value! He would have loved to have said goodbye to her, but he esteemed that perhaps it was better that he left before he saw her again because if he had run into her once more, he imagined that she would insist on making him breakfast, they would have a very stimulating conversation, and he would become too enamored to ever leave! His troops needed him, so he had to do what was best for them and their fight for freedom, no matter what personal needs he may have had to sacrifice! So, he took a deep breath and crossed his fingers that she wouldn’t emerge from her chambers until after he was gone!

            He found his garments laid out so nicely in front of the gently burning flame in the fireplace, and a pang of guilt surged through him! She had done so much for his care, and he hadn’t even intended to say thank you or farewell! As he hid behind a large, supportive beam and changed back into his uniform, he wished that he had a way of leaving her a note prior to his departure! Suddenly, he spotted a guestbook, and he became relieved! As soon as he was fully dressed, he dashed over to the ledger and jotted a quick message about how grateful he was for her help and that he would never forget her thoughtfulness! He then slipped out of the door before she had a chance to discover him there, and while he trudged over to the livery to get Bailey, he privately thought that he would never be able to disremember her and wondered if the hurt he felt now would ever pass!

            Kenneth glumly steered his horse through the pathway through the northern woods, which he found sort of odd seeing that he had only known that woman for one day! And yet it had been the lightest span of his life since his wife’s demise! After his bride had passed on, he truly believed that no other lady could sway his interest, and after meeting one that did, it seemed like a shame that he had to let her go! He noticed that his steed appeared fairly morose as well, so he pat him comfortingly and sympathized, “I know, boy! I miss her too!”

            Quite abruptly, Bailey’s gait came to a screeching halt! “We’re not going back, young man! Come on!” Kenneth attempted to coax him into moving ahead, but Bailey refused to go beyond that point! “Look, we have a war to fight! We have to-!” Bailey neighed in a worried tone and fidgeted with total apprehension, so Kenneth probed, “What’s gotten into you?” He observed that something on the ground was frightening him, so he gazed at the floor to determine the cause of his distress. He saw a small stream of a strange, brown substance below them, and he puzzled, “What is that?” He dismounted and gave it a closer examination. It had the texture of oil, but he could see that it was bleeding out of a parched log in a small clearing to their left side. He couldn’t espy anything that would logically create this effect, so he concluded, “This can’t be good!” He stepped towards the log, and Bailey vehemently objected! “I have to investigate this! What if it’s something dangerous?” Bailey’s cries magnified as he got closer to the log, and he couldn’t comprehend why until he was right next to it… His eyes widened and he let out a voluminous scream!

            Clarissa bolted up from her slumber! She thought she had heard a cry of anguish from afar, but then she recalled that this had become a frequent occurrence in Colfrith lately. She didn’t think it was something that she should ever get used to it, but with the rate it was happening, she supposed that it was something she would have to come to terms with. That was difficult though- the afflicted endured unbelievable pain, and none of the medical procedures that they had their disposal could alleviate their symptoms! It was hard to fathom that she harbored such empathy for individuals who acted especially cruel towards her, but she found it impossible not to care when they were going through something so atrocious!

            After Clarissa slipped on a robe, she went across the hall to check on the handsome soldier that she had temporarily housed. To her dismay, his room was empty! “He went away already?” she enquired out loud to herself. He seemed like such a benevolent fellow that it surprised her he would do her this discourtesy, but then she concocted an alternative theory, “Maybe he’s waiting for me downstairs!”

            She hurriedly descended the staircase and fully expected to see his beautiful smile beaming at her as he awaited her entrance, but the tavern was empty! Same as always ever since Brenner died a month ago! It stung her to have lost someone that she had developed a genuine connection with! Her neighbors had turned on her, and her husband’s illness rendered him incapable of any true closeness, so Kenneth had really provided a spark of hope for happiness in her future! She knew he wouldn’t have been able to stay in her life permanently until the Revolutionary battles had ceased, but she dared to feel optimistic that he may have wanted to keep in touch with her! She hung her head low as she grieved for this loss, but then she forced herself to collect her wits and move on! She couldn’t lament this matter forever! She decided to clean up the place in case any visitors finally decided to come to this establishment, and as she retrieved her broom by the doorway, she spotted some handwriting that hadn’t been in the guestbook previously! She read it and broke out into a broad grin! It altered her mood completely, and she found it so much easier to go about the drudgeries of her day knowing that someone out there sincerely held her dear!

            The sun started to poke out of the clouds a little, and just when Clarissa began to speculate if she should put on a proper wardrobe to prepare for prospective patrons, she heard a horse whinnying outside! Clarissa initially grew alarmed by the notion of getting seen in wear unsuitable for public viewing, but when she denoted the distressed intonation in its voice, her alarm began to stem from something else… She glanced out of the window, and she observed that this animal truly behaved as though it were in an urgent state of panic! She went out to her porch and visually scanned the perimeter to discern whether or not a nearby rider was experiencing an emergency, but she saw no one around them, so she realized someone somewhere else must have been in trouble! It definitely wasn’t a wild creature, it had a saddle! When she got a closer look at that saddle, her face fell in total terror…

            The horse bore an emblem of The Continental Army, and as far as she knew, there was only one soldier in this region… “Is your master Kenneth?” The steed calmed its movements at the mention of that name, and he gave Clarissa a very meaningful stare! At that juncture, Clarissa didn’t fret about anything else- she had to recover him immediately! She swiftly mounted Kenneth’s colt and commanded him, “Take me to him!” He did so without hesitation!

            Minutes into their trek, the sky above them darkened, and somehow, Clarissa knew that this signified that they were getting within range of Kenneth’s location! All of a sudden, Clarissa and the horse sighted a bizarre green glow ahead of them! Her ride declined to go any further, so Clarissa quickly slid off of the horse and ran towards the peculiar phenomenon! When she got within feet of the haze, she was aghast to learn that Kenneth was inside of this mist with a tortured expression on his face! But to her horror, he wasn’t alone…

            “Alastor?” Clarissa uttered in sheer shock. She gawked at a nearly translucent silhouette of the man whose hanging she witnessed firsthand! Seeing any version of him ever again never crossed her mind, and now that she had, her brain couldn’t process it! She had to be hallucinating!

            “I told you death wouldn’t stop me!” Alastor leered. He kept one hand aimed at Kenneth and directed another to target Clarissa! She instinctively dove out of his trajectory, and whatever spell he meant for her missed! She hid behind a log, and Alastor cackled, “Fine! Go ahead and hide! I’ll catch up with you after I finish this traitor off!”

            Clarissa’s blood boiled at that pronouncement! She ardently vowed not to let that scoundrel harm that brave and noble man, so she sprang up and charged forward! She recognized that she couldn’t combat this version of Alastor, so she concentrated on protecting Kenneth! Alastor raised his arm to eject another attack, but Clarissa tackled Kenneth and lowered him below Alastor’s projectile! Alastor maniacally laughed at this display, “It’s permissible by me if you want to perish together!”

            As she turned over and shielded an unconscious Kenneth, Clarissa bellowed, “Leave him alone!”

            “You are in no position to give orders, you patriotic snake!” Alastor sneered. He postured himself to execute another strike, and Clarissa didn’t know what to do other than to brace herself for impact! Right as his malevolence reached its pinnacle…

            “No!” Alastor roared in a red-hot fury after eyeballing her chest. He instantly disappeared, and while Clarissa studied her cross necklace in confusion, Alastor’s words rang out into the atmosphere, “You can’t save them all!” Bailey trotted over to them and stooped down to their level. “My powers reach farther than you can imagine!” Clarissa heaved Kenneth’s body onto Bailey’s back, and Alastor went on, “I am limitless, and you are not!” Clarissa climbed onto the steed, and as they took off, Alastor cried out, “You can’t escape! I will get you! I’ll get you all!”

            Kenneth’s lids opened extensively, and he violently struck his periphery as if he were in a struggle! Doctor Cuthbart placidly addressed him, “Woah, woah, woah! It’s alright! You’re safe here!”

            Clarissa peered over Doctor Cuthbart’s shoulder, and having her in his vision ensured his jangled nerves that he was now longer in peril! But he was not convinced the same for everyone else! “We have to put a halt to his scheme before it’s too late!”

            “Lie down!” Doctor Cuthbart delicately ordered. “You’re in no state to contend with anyone!”

            “But the threat is imminent!” Kenneth protested. “We have to take action!”

            Doctor Cuthbart denied him access to do that. “You have very little strength in you at this moment! You couldn’t lay one finger on an adversary without collapsing! You must-.”

            Kenneth contemplated out loud, “Hand-to-hand combat wouldn’t do us any favors anyways! You can’t physically assault a ghost! But then how do we bar him from going forth with his wickedness?”

            Doctor Cuthbart reached into his satchel and asserted, “I’m afraid his trauma has made him delirious, so I’m going to-.”

            “I’m not delirious!” Kenneth refuted that claim. “I was tormented and besieged by a specter!”

            “Take a drought of this elixir!” Doctor Cuthbart poured a light brown liquid onto a spoon and tried to serve it to him.

            Kenneth flung the spoon across the room! “I’m not unbalanced! The ghost is real!”

            Doctor Cuthbart assured him, “It’s simply a calming mixture!” Kenneth’s visage stayed steadfastly defiant, so Doctor Cuthbart placed the solution in Clarissa’s palms. “Have him drink a spoonful every eight hours or so and see that he rests for a few days. Don’t fret, he’ll be back in fair health soon!”

            When Doctor Cuthbart turned to make his exit, Clarissa exclaimed to him, “For the record, he’s telling the truth- there is an unfriendly spirit out there!” Doctor Cuthbart gave her a smile that didn’t exactly cover up his discomfort over the magnitude of her statement prior to his hasty withdrawal. Clarissa realized that her charge must have made him doubt her sanity as well, but she wasn’t bothered by that! The entire village already believed she was a spiteful sorceress, so she would have gained nothing by withholding her honesty! Besides, there was one benefit to the deed she performed…

            She swiveled to face Kenneth, who beamed at her for her vote of confidence They savored this sentiment for a brief instance, but before either of them could initiate a discussion on their ordeal, a howling wind flew by the window and reverberated its sound throughout the entire structure! They were silent for a minute, and then Kenneth brought up, “So, now what?”

The Hessian, Chapter 2

“No, no, no!’ a soldier in a blue jacket, red shirt, and white pants cried out in frustration as he watched the ink from his map bleed from the large raindrops that slipped through the lush leaves of the ash trees that covered his head. He gazed up at the sky and frowned, he was certain that he had chosen a safe spot! He took off his tri-corner hat and shielded his map from the obtuse droplets, but it was no use- the information he needed had vanished! He groaned, “Oh, dodgast it! We’re lost!” His white furred, gray-maned horse sensed his distress and whinnied in alarm, so the solider pat his neck and reassured his steed, “There, there, Bailey! We’ll be fine so long as we don’t run into any British camps! Or Hessian fighters…” The solider bit his lip at the prospect of that notion, but he shook that grim possibility out of his mind and took out his compass. “Hmm… We traveled southwest, so if we head northeast, we should be able to find Philadelphia eventually, right?” Bailey neighed impatiently as the solider doubted his own premise, so he cast his misgivings aside and concluded, “Yes, I know! It’s a security risk ot stand still in unknown quarters for too long! Let’s go!” He used the stallion’s reins to signal to him to move forward, and he inwardly prayed that his enemies would get too daunted by the poor weather to launch any attacks!

            Just minutes down the road, the soldier espied a strange sight ahead… All of the leaves of the trees bordering the path in the foreground were barren! He wouldn’t have found that odd if it had been close to winter, but it was merely October! The rest of the foliage in the area brimmed with orange and yellow hues, but not this thicket! He couldn’t fathom the reasoning behind it, and his confusion only heightened when he reached this peculiar perimeter… The deadened effect seemed to go across a straight line! Some of the trees even had half of themselves adorned with vibrant botany while the other half had nothing but lifeless limbs! Bailey paused and seemed reluctant to cross into the eerie territory, and the soldier nearly had him turn around out of an abundance of caution, but then he saw a waterwheel churning against a rectangular building. He changed his line of thought and instructed Bailey, “Come on, boy! Maybe somebody there can give us directions!” Bailey didn’t appear confident on the soldier’s idea, but he obeyed his command nonetheless.

            When they neared their destination, the soldier observed that the trail next to the mill lead to an alleyway adorned with several brick buildings, and he told Bailey, “Ah, we’ve come to an entire town! Surely, it won’t be too difficult for us to get assistance…” Bailey continued to plough ahead, but his expression bore quite a bit of apprehension when he regarded this expedition! The downpour had stopped, but the dark clouds threatened to resume the storm as evidenced by the walls of the domiciles exuding a grayish hue. The people he saw in the distance didn’t act especially pleased to traverse this murky terrain, but the soldier couldn’t blame them since a cold wind perpetually penetrated through the stitches of his clothing and chilled him practically to the bone! As they trotted closer to these denizens, he crossed his fingers that they could find help right away and escape to warm lodgings!

            Usually, the soldier got a chorus of accolades from citizens who occupied private sectors, but no one in this district made eye contact with him let alone delved out any sort of admirable welcome! Everyone he passed gazed him with utter disdain, and as the icy breeze flew by, he could hear echoes of angry whispers! He had previously encountered small patches of loyalist hubs, but it puzzled him to have every individual that he encountered shun him like that! He refused to let their abrasiveness cause him to give up though! Certainly, somebody was bound to display a friendly face! Right when he came across the town square and wondered whether or not any of the merchants would lend him a hand…

            A loud scream pierced through the entire sphere! The soldier veered Bailey towards the source of the sound, and to his horror, he saw a man on the ground writhing in agony! He moaned, “My bones! My bones! They’re all broken!”

            “Someone, please! Do something!” a woman frantically called out.

            “Perhaps I can be of service!” the soldier proffered. He dismounted and began to explain, “My men and I have gotten rudimentary training on treating maladies in case the battlefield does not-.”

            The woman scornfully spat, “No, thank you! You and your kind have done enough!”

            Before the soldier could even start to process this malice, one man shouted, “Doctor Cuthbart! Thank the heavens, get over here immediately!”

            As an aging but spry fellow burst through the crowd around the plagued person, the soldier surveyed the scene with particular interest. The hostility wasn’t even the strangest part of this incident! The man kept repeating his claim that all of his bones had broken, but the soldier couldn’t comprehend how that could be so when he had full use of his extremities! Doctor Cuthbart had obviously come to the same verdict because he attempted to persuade him, “Everything is intact! You’re alright!”

            “No! My bones! They’re all broken!” the man insisted. Doctor Cuthbart struggled to calm his patient while the spectators viewed this event helplessly, and the soldier shook his head in disappointment. He had no clue what was ailing the man, but he felt sure that he could have played a significant role in his rescue if the townsfolk had let him! He found it a shame that their prejudice prolonged someone’s suffering!

            “Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!” a lady behind him lamented. She clearly had gotten on the same page as him in this matter, and it raised his hopes of finally finding an ally! He whipped himself around, and he saw a lovely, dark-skinned woman and a genial blonde girl had emerged from a coffeeshop. They noticed his movements, and they didn’t glare at him like the others! They peered at him curiously, and the young girl told her female companion, “Oh look, Gabby! We have a visitor!”

            Given the brusque demeanor of their neighbors, it threw him off to see their coquettish smiles aimed his way! It definitely flattered him, but it hardly seemed appropriate given the tragic circumstance that befell the gent in their proximity! The soldier peeked back at the afflicted, and he beheld that his brethren were now carrying him off in the midst of his ceaseless flailing! Since the issue had come to a resolution, he supposed that it was permissible to engage in a bit of lightheartedness- not that his readiness to support would have been accepted anyways, but he felt dutybound to display preparedness to volunteer when needed! He was used to women complimenting his bright blue eyes or admiring his chiseled jawline, but not when something so serious was occurring! That led him to wonder how often atrocities like that took place to normalize this behavior in these girls’ minds!

            Once the moment had fully processed for him, he recalled that he was still lost, and because the two misses appeared to have a winsome affinity for him, he esteemed that hey were his best chance of finding a route back home! That haunting occurrence only perpetuated his desire to flee as swiftly as possible, so he decided to really pour on the charm with this pair. He took off his hat and gave them a bow, but as he was bent over, he remembered that his hair had gotten soaked in the rainfall and cringed! He didn’t believe that this gesture carried an aura of impressiveness any longer, but when he arose, he could see that their coy grins had only been enhanced by this move, which was a relief! He reckoned his sable, ponytailed locks hid its damp qualities, so he breathed a sigh of alleviation and pressed on with this venture by gracefully greeting them, “Good evening, ladies! I’m Lieutenant Kenneth Harvey, very pleased to make your acquaintance!”

            “Oh, you say that as though you visited Colfrith simply to meet us!” the teen bashfully responded. “You must be here to meet with my father, Mister Cole. I’m afraid he’s a bit preoccupied right now…”

            “Actually, I didn’t intend to happen upon this town at all! Colfrith, you say…?” Kenneth rubbed his chin contemplatively. “I’m not sure I remember seeing that on the map… Forgive my intrusion on your village! I was on a reconnaissance mission for The Continental Army and went a little off course…”

            Miss Cole delightfully noted that to Gabby, “Oh, this unfortunate gentleman needs to get back to camp immediately! We need him out there fighting for our freedom!”

            Gabby derisively sniffed at that concept. “Our freedom? Is that a fact?” She faced Kenneth and probed, “Are you fighting for my liberty too?”

            “I sincerely hope so, my lady!” Kenneth kneeled and kissed her hand. Honestly, he didn’t have much optimism on that possibility coming to fruition, but he earnestly wanted to get proven wrong on that assessment! He aspired to get on her good side so she and Miss Cole would gladly guide him on how to return to his troops, and it looked like his plan was effective… until…

            “Get your hands off my property!” an irate, red-haired woman hollered as she marched out of the establishment behind where the two other women stationed themselves. Kenneth jerked himself back into standing, and he felt a tad flustered by her insinuation of his wrongdoing! With the manner in which Miss Cole treated her associate coupled with her noble carriage, he just inferred that he had been chatting with a free person! She yanked Gabby out of her pathway, which made him grimace! That kind soul didn’t deserve that malevolent treatment! Before he could even consider voicing his view on this, the red-haired woman perched her hands on her hips and confronted Kenneth, “How dare you disrespect the Montgomery family with your brash antics!”

            Kenneth apologized, “I’m sorry, madam! I didn’t mean to give you any unrest! I merely wanted-!”

            She ignored his bid for reconciliation and ranted, “Your rebellion already incited enough turmoil for us, must you deepen our wounds?”

            “What are you talking about?” Kenneth questioned her. “Our revolution will improve the lives of everyone in this land!”

            “You’re lying!” she hissed. “You cursed us all!”

            A passerby disagreed, “No, that witch at the end of Hallow’s Alley is the one cursing us all!”

            Kenneth folded his arms and firmly stated, “There’s no such thing as witches! My god, I thought that sort of hysteria had vanished a hundred years ago!”

            “Oh, now he’s mocking us!” another individual furiously exclaimed.

            “Why can’t you leave us alone?” a livid child accosted him, and everybody around him avidly shared his sentiment.

            Kenneth retorted, “I’d love to! Can someone tell me how to get to Philadelphia?”

            Miss Cole advise him, “You can go to The Leafy Taverne. Miss Harbin is accustomed to dealing with travelers, so she can give you proper guidance on that!”

            “Yeah, let that wagtail off him like she did her husband!” a surly bloke snidely jested, which made those around him snicker. Miss Cole didn’t join their rude rancor until Miss Montgomery glimpsed at her, and even then, she did so for only a second before darting into the coffeehouse.

            “Thank you very much!” Kenneth yelled so that she could hear him. He quickly mounted his horse, but that didn’t prevent the townspeople from taunting him! He strove to block out their insults, but some of the most voluminous were difficult to feign deafness to!

            Most notably, he heard Miss Montgomery bellow, “You’ll regret darkening our doorstep, you rakefire!”

            Kenneth didn’t acknowledge her jab as he rode away from that contemptuous cluster. It solaced him to have successfully withdrew from that cataclysm, but as Bailey’s clip-clops echoed into the fog and the gusting howled, he had to ponder what exactly he had gotten himself into!

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!”