Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

There's A Devil in the Dark, Charlie Boone! - Chapter 2

"The town is called Kinniston," Horace Wingspanner said, his expression looking thoughtful. "About an hour's drive from here. I was called in to investigate the town's phantom."

They were in the large front room at Horace's house, comfortably settled in a group on the two sofas facing each other across the ornate teak coffee table, which held their glasses on porcelain coasters, and a pitcher of iced tea on a porcelain tray. The walls were lined with bookcases, which held an amazing selection of volumes on the paranormal, as well as a fairly fantastic collection of items obtained during Horace's lifelong pursuit of spooks, specters, and ghosts of all kinds. The boys had oohed and aahed over everything earlier, before settling down to hear of Horace's latest adventure.

"They have their own phantom?" Kippy asked, looking delighted. His eyes twinkled at Charlie. "And all we have here are a couple of creepy drunks down by the YMCA."

Charlie rolled his eyes at his boyfriend. "Be nice."

Kippy sighed, and nodded. "I'm sorry." He returned his gaze to Horace. "Was it a real phantom?"

Horace cocked his head to one side and narrowed his eyes, looking like he had to consider that idea in some depth. He had stopped wearing his deerstalker hat unless he was actually investigating ghosts, having absorbed somehow from the boys that it was a bit much for polite company. His two-sizes-too-big khaki suits, which were something of his trademark in his business, had also been hung in the closet in favor of jeans and a flannel shirt, at least for his visits with his new friends. So when he looked thoughtful these days, it was much easier to observe with a straight face.

Charlie sighed and smiled anyway, his liking for their new friend making it a natural response. In the year they'd known him, he had become an irreplaceable part of their group. Horace was good people, and Charlie had warmed to the little man even more quickly than was his norm. Horace radiated good will, and a feeling that he said what he meant, and meant what he said. His curiosity about the world around him was both intense and infectious, and his knowledge about things arcane both broad and deep. Having Horace join their little band had yielded nothing but good returns.

"I think I have to say that I don't know what to call the phenomenon that I detected there," the man finally admitted. "There is something paranormal manifesting in Kinniston, of that I am certain. And I caught glimpses of that something, more than once. Out of the sides of my eyes, you know?" He nodded. "Whatever was happening, it made some of my electronic sensing gear go a little crazy. The E-M detector, especially. I encountered more than enough evidence of a presence in Kinniston to place my senses on full alert." He sighed then. "But did I actually ever confront the town phantom? Did I see the thing? No. The presence remained elusive. I'm sorry to say that I paused my investigation with a fairly neutral statement in my report to the town council. It was really all I could do, without properly identifying the source of these occurrences."

"How did that go over?" Charlie asked.

"They didn't seem surprised at all. From the outset they had said that the phantom was only known indirectly, by its actions rather than by any actual sightings. These actions include countless years of things being moved around the town, strange noises and lights at night, and people seeing things out of the sides of their eyes, but never directly." He gave a little sigh. "I felt something was there, but I just couldn't get it to come out and play."

Ricky laughed at that. "A shy phantom, maybe?"

"Maybe." Good humor returned to Horace's gaze. "But one I am convinced is a real instance of the paranormal. My every sense suggested it was so."

Ricky nodded at Charlie. "See?"

Horace looked from one boy to the other. "See what?"

Charlie smiled at him. "Rick has been developing his own sensory apparatus for skwish. It's been showing him that many humans have innate abilities. Including you."

The ghost hunter blinked at that, but then his eyes brightened noticeably. "If you mean my sense for the paranormal, you are undoubtedly correct. I have felt since I was a lad even younger than the age of you boys that the world we see around us is only a part of the whole picture. That there are things we can not normally see, or even sense, that are just as much a part of the normal world as we are, ourselves. Nothing in my experience since that time has changed my thinking one bit." The smile became a grin, and then he laughed. "If anything, knowing you and your friends has certainly heightened that awareness, considerably."

"Thank you, thank you," Kippy said, smiling and giving a small bow. "We do try."

Horace nodded. "I wish I'd had you boys along on this latest investigation. I'd be willing to bet your fascinating array of talents would have offered further insight into this mysterious phantom. Perhaps even drawn it out into the light where it could be seen."

"Maybe we can go there sometime?" Kippy asked, looking at Charlie. "It might be fun."

"It might," Charlie agreed. He smiled brightly at his boyfriend. "You don't mean now, of course?"

Kippy made a good show of looking doubtful. "Oh...I don't know. Do you think this is what we're supposed to be doing for the holiday?"

Everyone smiled.

"Relax, Kip." Charlie returned his gaze to the ghost hunter. "It might be interesting to go down there with you some weekend, though."

Horace looked pleased. "I would enjoy that greatly."

"It would be a lot of fun," Adrian put in. "Looking for ghosts is fascinating work."

"That has always been my feeling, as well." Horace bestowed a gleaming smile on Adrian. "You're an inquisitive lad, quite after my own heart."

"He's after my heart, too." Ricky gave his boyfriend a fond poke, but managed to resist adding to that comment.

Kippy waved a hand at Horace. "So what stuff was getting moved around in the town?"

"Most perplexing," the older man returned, steepling his fingers and laying the tips of them against his nose. "There were a variety of things happening."

"For instance?" Ricky prodded, after a moment of silence. He smiled knowingly at Charlie. Horace could easily lapse into thought right in the middle of a conversation.

"Hmm? Oh. Well, the residents of a street would place their garbage cans out at their mailboxes the night before the day of pick up, and at the first light of dawn, they could all be seen lined up along one side of the street, rather than by each individual mailbox on both sides."

"That could be kids doing that," Kippy offered. "Unless someone camped out to watch, that is."

"Someone did. Many someones, over the years. Inevitably, at some point during the night, the watcher fell asleep, even for just a few moments. When he or she awakened, the cans had been moved."

"That's interesting," Charlie observed. "No one has succeeded in staying awake all night?"

"No one. Even those that slept during the day in preparation. Even groups of people who all watched together, to keep each other awake. At some point during their vigil, they all fell asleep to the last man." Horace smiled. "Or woman."

"That's spooky all by itself," Adrian decided. "Like something made them fall asleep!"

"That was my conclusion," Horace agreed. "However, the garbage collectors loved having the cans lined up like that. One stop for the whole street. So people simply left the cans all lined up, and went back for them after the garbage had been collected."

"Maybe it's the ghost of a dead garbage man we're dealing with here," Kippy theorized, trying not to smile. "Making life easier for his old pals?"

Horace did smile. "I tend not to think that. But don't let me deter any original thinking on this subject!"

"What else has been moved?" Ricky asked, wrinkling his nose at Kip.

The ghost collector chuckled. "An amazing variety of items. Cars. Trucks. Sometimes to the other side of the street, sometimes to other driveways. Lawn ornaments, lawn furniture, bird baths, bird houses, sheds and their entire contents; a large variety of people's personal possessions that have been left outdoors. Sometimes these things have all been collected in the night from the length of an entire street and piled together in one yard. Sometimes it's several yards. Sometimes items in the backyards of houses have been exchanged for items in the front yards. There is no rhyme or reason to it, really. And no one has ever seen the perpetrator."

"What about inside people's houses?" Charlie asked. "Is stuff being moved there, as well?"

"No, never. The phantom seems to respect boundaries, or is in some way unable to enter individual dwellings. Its activities have been confined to the outdoors."

"Moving somebody's car or truck is pretty impressive, though," Ricky decided. "Why bother with bending forks in the kitchen when you can move a couple of tons of metal down the street?"

"Yeah," Kippy agreed, frowning. "The garbage cans are one thing. But moving something the size of a car is beyond what a bunch of kids could do."

"Even strong kids," Adrian added, smiling. Kippy laughed, and nodded.

"It also sounds like something we'd have heard about," Ricky put in. "Why isn't this on the news, or online?"

"Yeah," Adrian agreed, nodding. "It would go viral on YouTube!"

"Oh," Horace raised a hand adamantly. "The town does not want any publicity. They are well aware of the hordes that would descend on the place, all looking to catch a glimpse of the phantom. They don't want that. Nor do they wish to be made fun of in the media." Horace leaned forward. "This is not something new. Kinniston has been dealing with this phantom for more than the past century. They feel it is their affair, and not to be made a spectacle of. I was required to sign a privacy agreement along with my contract, strictly forbidding me from talking to the media or anyone else about this subject."

"KInda broke that deal, didn't you?" Ricky asked, smiling toothily.

Horace laughed. "You are not the media, nor any other source of trouble for the town of Kinniston. The clause covered my business, not just me personally. It said that neither I, nor anyone in my employ or confidence, would speak to the media or release information on this subject." Horace gave a little, self-satisfied shrug. "And you boys certainly have earned my confidence!"

Charlie frowned. "Still, a story like that sure would be good for town businesses. Seems an odd position for them to take, to keep it so quiet."

"Not at all. These people have grown up with their phantom, Charlie. They view it a member of the town. One of their own. They are protective of it, not looking to get rid of it." Horace patted his chin with a fingertip. "They simply want to know who...or what...this phantom is."

Kippy gaped at that. "Really? They want to keep it? After all the mischief it gets up to?"

"No one has ever been harmed," Horace returned patiently. "There is not a drop of malevolence in anything this phantom has supposedly done. The things it moves are not harmed in any way. It's simply annoying for people to have to go about reclaiming their property. But they seem to do it with an uncharacteristic good humor."

"Hmm." Charlie considered that. "That seems odd to me. Makes me wonder if their position is a natural one, or one maybe induced by their guest."

Horace looked blank a moment, but then stunned. "I never thought of that. You think they are being induced protect their phantom?"

"Who knows? But this gets more interesting by the minute. Too many things don't add up to me."

Kippy reached for his glass, and took a sip of tea. "Anything else this phantom has been doing?"

"Yes." Horace nodded, and his smile returned. "There is the matter of the statue of Fenster Wolfbridge."

Charlie grinned at the name. "Who the heck is that?"

Horace visibly tried to contain his own smile. "He is one of the founding fathers of Kinniston, who, along with Brewster Kinniston, gave most of the land grants on which the town is built."

"But just one guy got the town named after him?" Ricky asked, sitting back. "That doesn't seem fair."

"The town is called Kinniston, but many of the public works within are named after Wolfbridge. For instance, the library before which the statue of Fenster Wolfbridge normally stands is called The Wolfbridge Memorial Library."

"Normally stands?" Kippy repeated, with emphasis, his eyes darting to catch Charlie's. This sounds like fun!

Horace laughed softly. "Yes. But the statue seems not inclined to stay on its plinth. It has been found all over town, including once found inverted, with its head and shoulders buried in the ground, in front of the Wolfbridge Middle School."

The boys laughed.

"Someone has a sense of humor," Kippy decided. "Making that statue stand on its head."

"Aren't poltergeists supposed to have a sense of humor?" Adrian asked, his curiosity evident in his eyes. "Seems I read somewhere that they do all sorts of crazy stuff."

Horace frowned. "Poltergeists are normally bound to one person, rather than any one place. They seem also to express in the presence of a child in the household. Their playful behavior is often somehow linked to this child, and, in some cases, to be caused by the child in question, even." He shook his head. "The Kinniston Phantom roams about the entire town."

"What do you call a spirit that haunts a whole town?" Ricky asked.

Kippy laughed. "Ambitious?"

Charlie patted his boyfriend's hand. "You're in a good mood today, aren't you?"

"Of course. It's nearly Halloween, some of my favorite people are here, and it looks like there's a mystery coming along."

"We're not going to Kinniston before the holiday," Charlie reminded.

Kippy's eyes were bright. "Maybe not. My skwish is telling me interesting things may happen right here at home."

Adrian nodded. "Something is going to come along. I feel that, too."

Charlie wasn't sure what to make of that. He looked over at Rick, who just shrugged. "They're way more sensitive to this stuff than I am." He reached over and patted his boyfriend's arm. "But if Adrian says it's so, then it is."

Kippy beamed at the pair, and then at Charlie. "Skwish!"

Charlie thought of something then, and turned back to Horace. "Any statues of this Brewster Kinniston in town?"

"Why, yes. In front of the town hall, in fact."

Charlie nodded. "Has it ever been moved?"

The ghost hunter's eyes narrowed. "No one in town ever mentioned that it had. You think this is important?"

"Maybe. Seems odd to me that some phantom would be continually moving old Wolfbridge around town, but pay no attention at all to Kinniston."

"I hadn't thought of it." Horace smiled then. "See? You boys could have made the difference in my investigation!"

Charlie nodded. "And we would like to go there with you some weekend to look around." He sighed then, smiling at Kippy. "After Halloween, of course."

"Of course." Horace pulled out his pocket watch, looked at it closely, and then replaced it into his pocket. "Well, it's almost evening. Are you boys hungry?."

Kippy immediately raised a hand. "I am! I am!"

The older man smiled. "We could go out for food, order in, or I could even whip up something in the kitchen. I have just the thing, too."

Kippy's eyebrows went up. "You cook?"

"Well, I like to eat, so yes."

Kippy got to his feet. "Adrian and I can help. We both enjoy cooking."

Adrian also stood up. "That would be fun!"

"Well, what about us?" Ricky asked, looking as if he felt left out.

"You and Charlie can set the table," Kippy said. But then he immediately turned back to Horace. "You have a table, don't you?"

"Of course. The dining room is through there, across from the kitchen."

Charlie also climbed to his feet, grabbing up his glass from the coffee table and finishing off his iced tea, all in one smooth motion. "We can do that. Can't we, Rick?"

"Sure. Just point us at the tableware, if you would, Horace."

The older man chuckled. "There is a china closet right next to the table."

Charlie felt surprised at that. "We don't need to use your good stuff. Don't you just have some daily plates in the kitchen?"

"I'm afraid I don't. I keep everything in the china closet. I'm usually the only one here eating, so it's not that hard to keep things washed and put away. I never really saw a need for a second set of tableware kept in the kitchen."

"Just go with it, Charlie," Kippy said, smiling. "Come on, Adrian."

Horace laughed, and led the way around the beautifully adorned center staircase towards the kitchen. The house was an American Foursquare, at least one hundred years old, and was large and comfortable, and wonderfully fitted out with period woodwork in the Craftsman style. There were splendid wooden panels beneath the wainscoting, and carved wooden inlays in the plaster ceiling, and machined crown moldings where each eight-foot wall met the ceiling. Horace had kept the place up beautifully, enough so that Charlie had wondered if ghost hunting didn't actually pay very well, or if maybe Horace might come from a monied past. He wasn't going to ask, though, certainly.

Charlie and Ricky followed the others, until Horace pointed through a double-wide open doorway on the left side of the hallway, across from another one that obviously framed a kitchen beyond. Charlie glanced into the kitchen, taking in the modern appliances fitted in with the period glass-doored cabinetry painted a sparkling white, and smiled to himself once again. Horace had a very nice house, indeed.

The doorway into the dining room had pocket doors to each side, presently pushed back into the walls. Beyond was a large space dominated by a dark wooden table in the center of the hardwood floor, with a massive center column and base beneath it, around which were placed eight elaborately-finished chairs with upholstered seats a regal burgundy in color. The walls above the wainscoting were covered in a delightful wallpaper that mimicked the burgundy color of the chair cushions, but which also held some accents in blue, red, and gold. The dark wooden panels that circled the room below the wainscoting were each carved with a lion's head at rest, the eyes of each animal so intensely presented that they looked as if they could see. Large, double-hung windows with a line of small stained glass panels across the top let in the late-day sun, the many hues filtering through the stained glass playing fascinating color games on the tabletop. Spaced around the walls were antique pieces in a slightly lighter wood, each unit also richly carved, and comprising a large china closet with glass doors, several buffet servers, and a taller sideboard, also with glass doors.

"Wow," Ricky said, softly. "Looks like a king would eat here, or something."

Charlie had to agree. "This place certainly speaks of a different period in home building, I'll say that."

Ricky leaned closer and lowered his voice. "You think Horace is rich?"

"Does it matter?"

Ricky smiled. "Not to me. I just want to be careful not to break anything expensive."

Charlie laughed at that. "Just don't break anything, and you'll be fine."

They set about investigating the china closet, and Charlie immediately decided against using the plates in the center section of the cabinet. They were crystal, had fluted edges, and each held a gold figure in the center who he was pretty certain was Queen Victoria. An ornate pattern of roses among leaves circled the rim, and impressed at the top was the year 1897, and the words Diamond Jubilee. Some of the platters and smaller plates were of pressed glass, and equally ornate. Each held a side view of a woman wearing a crown in the center, the royal coat of arms and roses around the outside, and the date 1837 at the bottom. Also relating to Queen Victoria, Charlie was certain, but items from her coronation instead.

"These are old," Ricky said. He'd been about to pick up one of the dishes when he spied the date, and had instead cautiously withdrawn his hands. "We can't use these."

Charlie was in agreement. "Look here."

To one side was a stack of white, glazed ceramic plates in an octagonal shape, which immediately reminded Charlie of Ricky's cousin's house. Somehow, that seemed a good sign. The plates were otherwise unadorned, and while they were in excellent condition, had obviously been used. "These look okay."

He carefully withdrew five of the plates, handed them to Rick, and then closed the glass door. Next he opened one of the silverware drawers, again decided against using the genuine silver he found there, and hunted around until he located some obviously stainless steel spoons, knives, and forks, and gathered five sets of each, and laid them on the top of the stack of plates that Ricky held. "Take them to the table."

While Rick was doing that, Charlie closed up the cabinet. They could use the same glasses they'd used for their iced tea earlier. He had no desire to select from the crystal ware on the other side of the china closet. All of it looked heavy, and somehow very old.

By now there were some delightful aromas coming their way from the kitchen, and as they laid out the place settings, Ricky was all grins. "Sure makes me hungry!"

"Most things do," Charlie said, smiling. "But whatever it is, it does smell good."

"It smells Italian," Ricky decided, closing his eyes. "Meat...cheese...pasta....onions...mmm."

Charlie laughed. "You get all that from one sniff? Seems like magic to me!"

Adrian came in then, carrying a fresh pitcher of iced tea, which he placed on the marble top of one of the servers. "Horace said there's a table cloth in the drawer here." He opened one drawer, immediately made a pleased sound, and pulled out a heavy folded white linen. They helped him to spread it over the wooden tabletop, and then to lay out the woven place mats also found in the server's drawer. These were followed by thin porcelain mats with raised rims, upon which hot dishes could be set, or cold ones that tended to perspire. Adrian placed the pitcher on one of them, and then looked happy at the way the table presented. "Nice! You two want to help me collect the glasses from the front room?"

They did that, Charlie retrieving both his own and Kippy's, and they set them on the place mats, thus marking in their minds where everyone would sit. Rick and Adrian on one side, Charlie and Kip on the other, and Horace at the end near them.

Adrian clasped his hands before himself, looking pleased with the results. "Good. Now for the food."

He turned and left the room. Charlie shrugged at Rick, waved a hand, and they followed Adrian across the hall and into the kitchen. There, Kippy was just closing the oven door, after obviously having peeked within. Horace was standing beside the big stove, oven mitts on his hands, smiling at Adrian.

"I made it last night," he was saying. "I was hoping I wouldn't have to eat it alone."

"Made what?" Ricky asked, pulling up beside his boyfriend and leaning casually against his shoulder. "It smells Italian."

Adrian smiled at him, and pointed to Horace.

The older man looked pleased with himself. "I found the recipe online. It's a kind of a casserole."

"A kind of one?" Charlie repeated, pausing beside Kip. "What's in it?"

Horace closed his eyes. "Well, you brown a pound or so of ground beef in a frying pan, drain it, then add a jar of spaghetti sauce and a can of diced tomatoes, and let it simmer briefly to blend. That becomes your beef sauce. You take a large baking dish, and you spread about a third of your sauce in the bottom, and cover that with a layer of frozen cheese ravioli. You sprinkle that layer with Mozzarella cheese and Monterey Jack cheese, and then you cover it with more beef sauce. You repeat the layer of cheese ravioli, then you put the rest of the meat sauce on top, and a little more Monterey Jack, if you like. Then you cover the pan with aluminum foil, and bake it in the oven for thirty minutes at four-hundred-seventy-five degrees. When it's done, you sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top, and it's ready." Horace opened his eyes and pointed at the oven. "I made this last night and put it in the fridge. So all I had to do was bake it. I've adjusted the cooking time a little, as the ravioli has certainly had time to thaw."

Kip offered Charlie an intrigued smile. "It sounds pretty good, doesn't it?"

Charlie smiled. "It does, actually."

"Oh, it's very good," the ghost hunter said, laughing. "Italian on a budget."

"You don't eat stuff like this all the time, do you?" Ricky asked. "I mean, it sounds a little fattening." He held up his hand, with his thumb and forefinger separated by a quarter-inch of air. "A wee bit?"

Horace shook his head. "Alas, no, I don't eat this sort of food often. This is an occasional extravagance, a bit of faux baking - a recipe from the bachelor's cookbook, if ever there was one. There are probably a zillion calories in it, which make it a guilty pleasure, at best. Still, one learns to be creative in the kitchen when living alone, or one winds up spending a ton of money at the finer restaurants in town when the urge for something different strikes."

There was just a wisp of sadness, even loneliness in that statement, that touched Charlie's heart. He reached out and patted the ghost hunter on the shoulder, and smiled. "No one's ever alone, when they have friends."

Horace's eyes twinkled. "Isn't that the truth of it? Thank you for that, Charlie."

Kippy leaned up against Charlie's shoulder and sighed. "Oh, Charlie. You say the sweetest things."

The oven timer went off then, and Horace patted his oven mitts together and then turned to open the oven door. The mild aroma Charlie had been sensing until now suddenly bloomed, and he felt his mouth watering. "Wow. That does smell good!"

Horace removed the baking pan and turned and placed it on a ceramic tray set on the cutting board by the oven. He peeled back the aluminum foil, picked up a fork, and carefully pushed it down into the casserole in several places before nodding. "It's ready. We need to wait a moment before cutting it. But there should be more than enough for everyone."

Ricky immediately rubbed his hands together, his eyes fastened on the pan. "I hope so!"

"Oh - wait." Horace turned and pulled his mitts off, headed to the refrigerator, and returned with a package of grated Parmesan cheese. He opened that, and sprinkled the contents lightly over the top of the casserole. "The final touch!"

The resulting aroma was enticing, no doubt about it.

"Shall we?" Horace asked, looking happy. He pointed to Adrian. "If you'd just get us a metal serving spatula from that drawer there? We can head to the dining room to eat."

Adrian went to the indicated drawer, and found several metal implements of varying size - he thought of them as turners, because he used them to flip burgers and such at home - and selected one that looked a good size for a serving of the casserole. Then he joined the others as Horace carried the tray holding their dinner across the hall, where he placed it on the table.

They found their seats, and passed their plates so that Horace could fill them, and settled down to eat.

"Oh, wow!" Ricky exclaimed, after his first bite. "That's some kinda good!"

"There's plenty," Horace returned, beaming. "Eat up!"

They settled back into conversation as they ate, the Kinniston phantom once again the topic.

"I can't believe these people have been dealing with this thing for a century and no one else knows about it." Kippy said.

Horace paused in his eating, and nodded. "I think you would be astonished to learn how many places in the world have these sorts of secrets, Kip. And a reluctance to discuss them with outsiders is quite common. No one likes to be laughed at."

"You think people would laugh at this?" Ricky asked. "I would have thought they'd be fascinated!"

"They'd think they were being fooled in some way," Charlie decided. "A lot of people will tell you that they don't discount the idea of ghosts and other paranormal activity, but when you try to show them an instance of it and say it's real, they'll be sure you're trying to put one over on them. The complete lack of such events in most people's lives doesn't really prepare them to be genuinely receptive to them."

Horace smiled at Charlie."That's actually quite accurate, I'd say. A great many people that follow the paranormal do so as a hobby, or something that's fun to do. Thrilling. They go to the movies, they read the fiction, and they love being scared. But take them to a haunted house and present them with genuine instances of the paranormal, and they will be the first ones to say it's a hoax. It takes someone with a...a feel for the paranormal, to actually be able to accept its possibility without irrefutable proof in hand."

"That would be us," Adrian said, smiling.

"I'll say." Ricky's head bobbed up and down. "Although, most of the paranormal things we have experienced really haven't been ghosts. I know...not the spirits of dead people."

"Billy and Will," Adrian reminded, smiling.

"Eseffa and Jorli," Kippy added, his eyes bright.

Ricky immediately waved his hands in placation. "I know, I know! I just mean, there's a lot more strange stuff out there than just people that have passed still hanging around."

"I agree," Horace confirmed. "A great many of the most unusual manifestations have nothing human about them. They're natural forces, of some sort. I call them planetary forces, even."

"Meaning natural to the planet itself?" Charlie asked. "An interesting concept."

"Yes. Human lore is full of these sorts of tales, and I have found many to have some basis in fact." Horace looked around the room and smiled, but didn't say anything more on the subject.

Adrian looked fascinated by the idea. "So this phantom could be something that was never human at all?"

"Oh, definitely. "The ghost hunter nodded. "Consider the forces at work in your cousin's house, Rick. Those beings are extradimensional, in my opinion. Not born of our earth at all, and maybe not even of our universe. And Eseffa and Jorli were aliens in life, too. A paranormal manifestation need not be of human origin at all."

"That's creepy," Ricky decided, remembering the strange, but somehow charming humanoid life that lived in his cousin's house, quite unseen and unknown by her. For those blocky-looking beings, the octagonal house was a refuge, a safe haven away from the ills of their own world. Wherever that was. Charlie had caught a glimpse of it, using his second presence. They all had. But that the place was not earth or any place they knew was also very clear.

Charlie nodded at that. "It does kind of stand to reason that if paranormal activity actually exists, it not be confined to humans. The galaxy is bursting with life. And we already know that many races have their own versions of our ghost lore." He grinned. "So earth isn't the only haunted planet out there."

"Here's a thought," Ricky put in, looking a little caught up in the idea. "Could ghosts...or paranormal, um, beings...come here from some other planet?"

"I don't see why not," Charlie offered. But he turned to Horace for the final word. "What do you think?"

The ghost hunter nodded. "I would say there is no reason at all to expect that every instance of the paranormal found on our world originated here. Such forces could originate anywhere in the universe where the physical laws are the same as in our local area of space."

Adrian's eyebrows went up at that. "That's a scary idea. Some of the living aliens we've met have been pretty creepy. To think there might be dead ones roaming around makes me want to get under the bed!"

Everyone laughed. Ricky leaned sideways in his chair and wrapped his arm around his boyfriend's shoulders. "There, there. It's okay."

Adrian turned his head and grinned at Rick. "Oh, I'm not really scared. But thanks for the comfort!"

Kippy closed his eyes a moment, and then looked over at Horace. "So your phantom could really be just about anything, couldn't it?"

"Yes. Just about anything."

There was silence at the table for a moment, before Ricky blew a short burst of air between his lips. "Wow. Maybe we really should check this out." He grinned. "Depending on who shows up for our Halloween invitation, we might even get to the bottom of this!"

Horace nodded, interest now showing in he eyes. "Who'd you invite?"

"Frit and Pip," Adrian responded. He smiled at Kippy. "And Keerby."

"And Max, of course," Charlie added. "And Pacha and Mike and Bobby and Kontus. And Ragal and Casper and Sefton. Whether they can all make it or not, we don't know yet."

"Pacha and his bunch are all off looking for lost worlds somewhere, as usual," Rick explained. "But they said they'd try swing by for the evening. Ragal and Casper and Sefton just need a ride to get here."

Adrian sighed. "Murcha and Onglet keep Lollipop hired out, pretty much. They're making a lot of money, but it often means the ship isn't readily available."

Kippy frowned. "What about no-time? They're on Engris. They can leave anytime and get here for the holiday."

Charlie smiled. "Yeah, but Murcha and Onglet and Lollipop have to operate in real-time, at least partly. Transporting means dealing with time getting to a planet after returning to normal space, landing, offloaded cargo, taking on a new cargo, waiting for clearance, and all that stuff. It does take some actual time."

"I forgot that," Kippy said, smiling. "Time is so complicated!"

"Pacha said they could swing by Engris and pick up the others, if need be," Charlie continued, patting his boyfriend's hand. "But that's contingent upon them being able to make it in the first place."

"Ragal said he might be able to hire Captain Neema and his Rootar crew to bring them here, but he wasn't certain the last time we talked," Ricky finished

Horace looked from one face to the next, and then sighed. "It's such a convoluted scenario, with everyone flitting around the galaxy like they do, or living on dark planets in no time. It's enough to make your head spin a little!" He followed that with a frown. "You didn't invite Durapar?"

"Oh! He's off Engris right now," Kippy said quickly. "He went back to Andaleesia on business. But Sefton said they'd bring him if he got back in time and wanted to come along."

Again, Horace looked quickly around the room. "Um...they won't be staying at your house, will they, Charlie?"

Charlie hooted. "Uh, no. My parents like my friends, but they haven't met all of them. And I don't think they're ready to, either! I'm assuming they'll stay on whatever ship brings them."

Horace smiled. "If they arrive anytime before the holiday, I'd be pleased to put them up at my house. I certainly have the room. And my home has the advantage of being private, too."

"There's an idea!" Kip said, grinning. "Think of what a party that would be!"

"I have plenty of room," Horace continued. "I'd love to have them." He showed his teeth in a smile. "You boys are welcome to stay here, too."

"We'll make the offer," Charlie returned, nodding. "I'm sure they'd love your house."

Horace laughed, his eyes full of light. "Well...I'm sure my house will love them, too!"

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