Charlie Boone

by Geron Kees

Here Be Dragons, Charlie Boone! - Chapter 2

The Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania were much like the Catskills mountains of New York. The northeastern region of the country shared a similar geography and a similar biosphere, making their trip south a pleasurable and familiar one. The town of Jim Thorpe was not quite as far south as the drive to Allentown had been, but because the smaller town was well off the Interstate and they had to use a back road to get there, it took almost the same four hours to drive.

"Now that we've become used to teleporting places, this driving stuff seems to take so long," Rick commented from the back seat. He smiled at Charlie in the rear-view mirror. "Are we there yet?"

Charlie glanced at his GPS screen, and nodded. "Actually, we are." They were entering the town on Route 903, which became North Street, the town's main access.

"Did you know there's a haunted inn here?" Kippy asked. looking up from his phone.

Horace, in the seat behind, leaned forward to look over Kip's shoulder. "Really? Most places reputed to be haunted that are in tourist settings, really aren't."

Kippy nodded. "This place was built in 1833 as The White Swan Hotel, but it burned down in 1849, and was rebuilt and renamed The New American Hotel. It has a reputation, because over the years a lot of famous people stayed there. Ulysses S. Grant, Buffalo Bill Cody, Thomas Edison, and William Howard Taft. Today the place is known as The Inn at Jim Thorpe. And this article says it's haunted."

Horace sighed, and smiled at Amy, seated next to him. "I guess we won't have time to look into that."

"Isn't one ghost enough for now?" she asked, smiling back. She patted Horace's hand. "Maybe we can come back another time, on vacation, or something, and stay there."

Horace's eyebrows stood up, and he looked surprised at the suggestion. Kippy simply grinned, and Charlie, watching Horace in the mirror, cleared his throat noisily to cover the man's apparently frozen moment. "Have you found any mention of our own ghost, Kip?"

His boyfriend shook his head. "No. There are apparently several big old mansions around this town. At one time, several millionaires lived here."

Ricky made a surprised sound. "In this little place?"

Kippy shrugged. "Coal mining and railroads. This was once a busy little town." He smiled then. "They also had the first roller coaster in America here."

Charlie frowned at that. "Wasn't that the one on Coney Island?"

"Uh uh. Apparently, a gravity railway here once used to move coal was rented out and made into a tourist ride ten years before the roller coaster at Coney Island opened."

"Live and learn," Adrian said, giving Rick a fond nudge with his elbow. "Close your mouth. You're gawking."

Ricky laughed at that. "This place is so cool! It looks like a town in some other country!"

"It's called America's Switzerland, for that very reason," Kip offered.

Charlie looked around at the buildings they passed. The speed limit was low and the traffic slow, and it gave him ample time to rubberneck. Architecture was an interest of his, and he was amazed at the variety of styles they passed. Second Empire, Federalist, Queen Anne, Greek Revival, and several types of Romanesque. All amazingly well-preserved, and obviously lovingly cared-for. The town was gorgeous, for its architecture alone.

He glanced at the GPS map on the SUV's dash screen again. They wanted to continue on North Street, cross the Lehigh River, and go left on 209, and down to the bend in the river, where Osteppi House was located. The mountain backdrops here were omnipresent, this town about as securely nestled among them as a town could get. It was a beautiful place, so alike, yet so different from, similar small towns Charlie had seen in his own New York. He smiled then. I guess we don't have a total lock on beauty there!

It was perhaps a mile through town to the river, and the bridge that crossed it.

"Are we leaving?" Kippy asked, looking up as the bridge came into view.

"No." Charlie pointed at the map on the SUV's screen. "The town is partly on this side of the river, and partly on the other. I read that they were once considered to be separate boroughs, but they came together when they renamed the place."

"What about that?" Robin asked. "I hate to advertise my ignorance of local history, but I don't know much about this Jim Thorpe, save what I read about him when he was alive."

That made Charlie smile, and wonder how many other famous people Robin must have 'read about' in his 800 years of life.

"He was born in Oklahoma," Kippy supplied. "He came east to Carlisle, in this state, to go to school. There he played football, and became known as a top athlete."

"He was an Olympian, as I recall," Robin offered, smiling. "Quite a good one, too."

"Yes," Kippy nodded, swiping at the screen of his phone. " it is. He won two gold medals in the 1912 Summer Olympics, for pentathlon and decathlon. He was the first Native American to win any gold medals."

Ricky smiled. "Way to go!"

"But they took them from him," Kippy continued, sighing. "At that time, Olympic competitors were required to be amateurs. It came out that Thorpe had been paid for two seasons of semi-pro baseball, so they took his medals."

Ricky pouted. "Well, that sucks!"

"But they gave them back," Kippy continued, throwing a smile over his shoulder, and obviously enjoying leading Rick on a little. "In 1983, a review of the case revealed that the Olympic Commission of the time had ruled after the thirty-day limit on these sorts of changes, so they returned the medals to Thorpe's family."

Ricky smiled. "So, a happy ending!"

"But Thorpe, himself, never saw them again. He died in 1953, in California."

"Aw!" Ricky actually hissed at that.

Adrian laughed. "Come on, Kip. Stop toying with my guy's emotions!"

Kippy nodded. "Okay." He turned to grin past Horace and Amy to where Rick, Adrian, and Robin sat in the third-row-seats. "I'm sorry, Rick."

Ricky waved a hand. "So how did this Mauch Chunk place come to be called after Thorpe, if he wasn't born here or died here?"

"He's buried here," Charlie supplied. "I read about that, myself. After Thorpe died, he was supposed to get a memorial in Oklahoma and be buried there. But the fund-raising fell short, and the local government refused to help, and Thorpe's wife was afraid Thorpe would wind up in a potter's field. She somehow learned that Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, as the two boroughs that make up this town now were called then, were looking for a tourist attraction. Coal mining was dying in the area, and the town was, too. They wanted something that might bring in the tourists. So, they arranged to erect a memorial for Thorpe and merge the two boroughs into one town, and rename it after Thorpe, if his wife would bring him here for burial."

"So, he's here?" Adrian asked, looking out the window.

"He's here," Charlie confirmed. "One of Thorpe's sons later brought a lawsuit against the town, demanding his father's remains so that they could be buried on Native American land. The case wound its way through the various courts, because it was filed under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which covers returning Native American artifacts and remains to tribal lands. But the Court of Appeals for this area finally overturned the verdict originally in favor of the son, citing the fact that Thorpe's wife had legal custody of his remains at the time of his death, and her wish as to his place of burial took precedence over other laws. The US Supreme Court refused to hear the case, so Jim Thorpe is still here today."

Kippy sighed at that, but then smiled around at the town as the bridge loomed ahead. "He could have done a lot worse. It's beautiful here."

Charlie had to agree with that. "Yes, it is."

Browbeat, perched atop the center seat beside Amy, where he could watch the passing countryside, sighed happily. "I love new worlds. And this one is so strange and appealing!"

Amy laughed. "We kind of like it."

"It fits you guys," the little flyer decided. "I can tell it's going to be fun!"

That brought forth smiles from everyone. Charlie had to agree with Browbeat. Their own planet was an amazing place, and the mysteries it held only now becoming fully apparent.

They crossed the bridge and turned left, and followed the river south to where a noticeable bend appeared. Charlie slowed the SUV, his eyes moving back and forth between the GPS screen and the roadside. "There should be a driveway somewhere along...there it is!"

This was definitely 'outside of town', though not all that far, really, from the center of things. It had taken them three minutes to get here after passing the post office on Lehigh Avenue. The town was effectively out of sight here, and the setting almost park-like. The mountains reared all around them, the river wound away among the peaks, and the driveway they turned into was wide, recently paved, and not at all uninviting.

It was actually a very nice place for a bed-and-breakfast, Charlie decided, applauding Arno Coldat's vision.

"I like it," Kip said, nodding in approval. "I get a good feel for this place."

"I do, too," Adrian agreed.

But Charlie was watching Horace in the mirror as the SUV climbed the gentle grade through the trees. "Feel anything?" he asked the man.

Horace had his eyes closed, and he moved his head slowly side to side, like a radar dish searching for a target. "I...think so."

Amy frowned beside him. "Something here is lost."

Charlie slowed the SUV, and looked at her in the rear-view mirror. "Lost?" He knew that Amy was a finder, able to locate things that had gone missing.

"Yes. I get a sense of...well, something is lost."

"I sense something, too," Horace agreed. "I think we're right about this location, Charlie. There's an earth spirit presence here, of some sort. But--"

"A genius loci?" Robin asked. "Like your Gretchen?"

Horace frowned. "An earth spirit, yes. But...not like Gretchen."

"It's different?" Charlie asked. "How so?"

Horace shook his head. "I don't know yet. Let's get to the house. Maybe I can sense more close up."

Charlie nodded, and turned back to the drive ahead. The SUV climbed the gentle grade, wending its way among the trees, which gradually thinned but did not go away completely. The house, when it appeared, was in a wooded setting, fronted, sided, and backed by tall oaks and maple trees, with some birch and hemlock thrown in for good measure. The mansion added to rather than dominated the woods, which had been carefully tended around the house to allow enough sunlight to reach the ground to support a fine lawn that had retreated a little in the colder weather, but looked otherwise quite healthy.

Very probably, the land had been cleared completely when the house had been built 156 years earlier; but generations of occupants had allowed the forest to retake some of the land, carefully managing where and what sort of trees had been allowed to grow, resulting in a very pleasant grounds now that framed the old mansion in a very flattering matter. The trees were barren in winter sleep, but it was easy enough to imagine the place in the summer, when the trees were green and the leaves moved in the gentle breezes the mountains liked so much. It was a grand setting, to say the least!

"Wow," Rick said, nodding approvingly. "Talk about pretty as a picture!"

Adrian nodded. "It's even prettier than the picture!"

Charlie stopped the 4Runner so they could all gawk a little. The restoration work to the outside of the house, which had not been interfered with, was mostly complete. The house shined under a new coat of white paint, the fancy trim standing out in bright yellows and greens. Whoever had managed the work had done a superb job. The house looked new, its elderly heritage apparent by its design, but the makeup on its face so artfully applied that scarcely a single wrinkle showed through.

"I'll take it," Robin said, laughing. "Let me call my banker."

Charlie chuckled at that along with the others. He drove the SUV the rest of the way up the drive and stopped it before the large veranda. A wide brick staircase topped with treads made of native Pennsylvania bluestone led up to the wooden deck, and the two wide front doors of the mansion. There was a small parking area beyond, but since they were the only ones there, Charlie saw no reason to use it. They had expected to stay a few days, and their equipment would be easier to carry in from here.

"All out," Charlie said cheerfully, as he opened his own door and slid out.

Arno Coldat's office manager had told them that several rooms of the house still contained furniture, mostly moved from other rooms, and that there would be enough sofas, settees, and loveseats there to sleep a small army. Nevertheless, they had brought sleeping bags, on the theory of better safe than sorry. The rear of the 4Runner had been filled, and Charlie walked around back, unlocking the rear door with his key fob. Something buzzed past his head then, and Browbeat soared up among the trees, hooting and laughing gleefully at his release from the confining interior of the Toyota.

Kippy came around to help, and smiled at Charlie as the flyer circled up among the trees. "Hard to keep someone meant to fly inside for very long."

"I can imagine this is Browbeat's equivalent of stretching his legs," Charlie returned, laughing.

The others joined them, and they hauled out their equipment and piled it on the drive. They had a large ice chest, several boxes of food, a case of bottled water, and the town was just a few minutes away, if they needed more.

"I'd better unlock the door, first thing," Charlie said, climbing the steps and pulling the key ring Arno Coldat had given them out of the pocket of his coat. He paused before the front doors, looking at the keys in his hand. A curious feeling touched him then, one he sensed as curiosity and...interest. It was odd, but a little stirring, as he sensed it came from somewhere within the house.

Horace joined him on the veranda then. "Whatever is here has taken notice of us."

Charlie nodded. "I felt it, myself." He turned to face the man. "Do you sense any sort of hostility?"

"No. I feel its curiosity about us, but I also sense it will not be quick to engage with us. I also feel caution, I think."

Charlie found the key marked for the front door, and used it to point at the house. "Can you sense where inside the house our new friend might be?"

Horace closed his eyes a moment, before reopening them and shaking his head. "No. This spirit will have the power to hide from us, I suspect, should it so desire. Amy may be able to more easily track it down than I, as her location senses seems more precise than my own." He gave another little shake of his head. "But we will not simply be able to walk inside and immediately confront our new friend." He frowned, and looked around at the trees. "I'm a little surprised to find the sense that this spirit is located entirely inside the house. I was expecting a spirit of the land, based all around the house. Finding out that it seems to be inside is a little weird."

Charlie shrugged. "Maybe the house was built atop land the spirit lived in?"

Horace squinted at the idea, plainly not liking it. "I don't think so. The house has too small a footprint, for one thing. I mean, it's a big house, way bigger even than mine. But Gretchen pervades not just my house, but the land around it, too. This spirit should be able to do the same. Remember Maddy, at Rance Tallfield's place? She was protective of that entire place, many acres of land. Gretchen has power over my entire lot, and once had more. She has receded to the bounds of my property, simply because she feels safer that way. I would think this spirit would be the same here."

Charlie remembered something at the mention of Horace's own genius loci. "Didn't you say once that Gretchen had kept your house from aging?"

"Yes. But not all genius loci have that ability, and even some that do will not apply it to man-made things."

Charlie nodded. "But what she does for your house isn't just an illusion?"

"No. She has actually preserved it in some strange way." He indicated Osteppi House with a wave of his hand. "This place is in really nice shape for its age. But if this spirit could preserve the place, it would be even better."

The others climbed the steps now, carrying their equipment. Charlie nodded to himself a last time, and unlocked the front door and pushed it inwards. Again, he felt a pulse of curiosity and interest, but now he also felt the caution that Horace had mentioned. Whatever lived within, it was not yet ready to come out and play.

They found a large front parlor into which several rooms of furniture had been stowed, and enough sofas in the one spot for all seven of them to sleep upon. It was a little crowded, but the room was large, and pathways had been left between the furniture so that all of it could be reached easily enough. Browbeat fluttered around the room, examining things, and finally settled himself atop a high-backed chair, where he faintly resembled a colorful little king seated upon a throne. "I like this place. It could use an interior decorator, though."

Kippy hooted at that. "All this furniture wouldn't normally be in this one room. I think they just stored it here while they worked on the other rooms."

"That makes sense," the little flyer returned, tittering. "Though why your kind needs such a huge variety of seating beats me. A perch is a perch is a perch, my people like to say."

Amy smiled at that. "That sounds like a distinctly male point of view." She smiled around at everyone then. "No offense meant." She then let her gaze and smile go back to Browbeat. "The women of your kind don't like pretty things?"

Charlie and the others laughed at the look that came onto the little flyer's face. "Well...yes."

"I rest my case," Amy answered, waving a hand airily and smiling.

Browbeat took in the grins aimed his way, and erupted into laughter. "Okay! So some perches are nicer than others!"

Horace patted Charlie's shoulder. "I'm kind of anxious to examine the five bedrooms in question."

"So am I," Charlie admitted. He turned to the double-door opening of the parlor, through which could be seen the ornate grand staircase leading to the second floor. "Shall we go on up?"

Browbeat took to the air and headed for the stairs, tossing a happy titter to those behind him. "I'll scout ahead!"

Kippy took Charlie's arm as they made their way among the stored furniture. "Having Browbeat around is sort of like babysitting my cousin, Henry. Every time I turn around, he's flown away to some new adventure to explore."

Charlie smiled at that. "I find Browbeat's excitement over everything enchanting. He reminds me that the universe is just the most mysterious of places!"

Kippy sighed happily and hugged Charlie's arm, and the two of them made their way to the parlor doorway, followed by the others. The parlor could be closed off by two pocket doors, presently pushed back into the walls. The grand foyer of Osteppi House was an ornate showcase for the amazingly detailed grand staircase that led to the second and third floors of the old mansion. The craftsmanship of the place was just phenomenal, and it made Charlie wonder why present-day people had become content with just painted rooms of unadorned wall boards. Fine detailing really made a place feel special.

"This staircase is beautiful," Amy said, as they started upwards. "It reminds me a little of your house, Horace."

The ghost hunter laughed. "This is a couple of cuts above my place. But I know what you mean. Something has definitely been lost in the art of house-building these days."

"It's still there," Robin commented, "if you can pay for it. This sort of detailing can only be had with money these days."

Charlie took the small printed floor plan that had come with the material Arno Coldat had given them on the house and turned to the second page. "At the top of the steps we turn right. The five changed bedrooms are that way."

"There's seven bedrooms, right?" Adrian asked.

"Yes. The other two are to the left. One's the master suite, and the other is across from that."

"What's on the third floor?" Ricky asked. "I would have thought the bedrooms would be at the top."

Charlie turned to the third page, though he had already looked at the floor plan before. "Um...let's wait and see personally, okay?"

Rick grinned. "Something special?"

"I think so," Charlie acknowledged. "I won't spoil the surprise."

They reached the second floor, and turned right. Kippy stopped then, pulling Charlie to a halt, too. "Oh, I sure can feel that." He turned to Adrian. "Do you?"

The other nodded. "Yeah. Feels sort of like a strong vibration, but in my skwish."

Charlie could feel it, too, though he was sure he didn't sense it like Kip or Adrian did. Had he been walking along a street and preoccupied with thought, he might not have noticed it at all. A sort of tingling, at the edge of his awareness. "Exactly what is it we're sensing?"

"It's the power you're feeling," Rick answered first. "The skwish involved in creating the illusions in the rooms ahead."

"It is," Kip confirmed. "It's very strong." He smiled. "Very orderly, too. Whatever did this has a very clean mind."

Adrian chuckled at that. "Knows their stuff, that's for sure!"

Robin came to stand beside Charlie and Kip. "I feel something, too. Very unusual."

Charlie turned to Horace. "What about the earth spirit, itself? Can you tell where it is?"

"Not precisely." The man looked at Amy. "What about you?"

"No, I can't get a directional sense. It's like it's all around us."

"Is it?" Charlie asked.

"I don't think so," Horace answered. "It's simply very good at not being pinpointed. But I'm simply not certain at this time."

"Maybe it's shy, like Maddy," Adrian suggested. "Maybe it needs to get a feel for us before we can make contact."

"Maybe." The ghost hunter smiled. "I've certainly been sending out friendly thoughts. I sense they are being received, too. Just, so far, not commented upon."

Charlie nodded, and proceeded down the wide hallway. The floor was covered with drop cloths, and there were a number of sawhorses present. Wood, wallboard, and other supplies were neatly stacked along one wall.

The doors were all open, and the first one he came to presented them with a large bedroom, empty of furniture, but looking otherwise untouched in its decor for the better part of a century. Browbeat was hovering in the middle of the room, his body slowly turning, as if to take everything in. "This feels really strange, guys!"

It did to Charlie, too, as if there was some sort of invisible barrier at the door that somehow suggested it would be unwise to enter. Something that buzzed around his sense of awareness, not exactly threatening, but intimidating, nonetheless. But they needed to examine what was going on here close up, and they couldn't do that from the hallway. Charlie stepped into the room, and the others followed. They moved to the center of the bedroom, near Browbeat, and formed a circle around him. Here, the buzzing Charlie had felt at the edge of his awareness was stronger. He turned to Robin then. "What do you feel?"

The man smiled. "That some serious trickery is happening with my eyes." He turned slowly. "I can almost see through the illusion...almost, but not quite."

Charlie turned to Horace. "What about it? Is there a way to see around what's been done to the room?"

The ghost hunter bit at his lip. "Not without negating the effect, which I would be hesitant about doing just now. Our new friend might see that as a threat."

Charlie turned to Ricky. "What do you think?"

The other boy nodded. "I can sense how this is being done. Every surface in this room is covered with a layer of skwish that reflects a very certain pattern of light. Not what the room actually looks like, but what someone would prefer it to look like, I feel."

"I sense worry," Amy said then. "This spirit is aware we can detect the illusion."

"I think we should move back to the hallway," Horace said quietly. "I'd like to put our friend at ease."

Charlie's eyebrows went up at that. "Are we in any danger?"

"I don't know." Horace frowned at him. "I don't get any feeling of malevolence directed towards us. I do sense a willingness to defend, which is a different thing. We can mitigate that by moving to a place that currently does not need defending. The hallway, for instance."

Charlie nodded. "Come on, then. Everybody back in the hallway. You, too, Browbeat."

The flyer whizzed past them and was the first out the door. He hovered in the hallway, looking unusually happy. "This is fun!" he whispered. "I can feel this guy, this whatever it is. It feels big and strong, but it also feels kind. I don't think it will hurt us, if we don't hurt it."

"I don't plan to hurt it," Charlie said.

"You'd better not!" Kippy whispered, but through a smile. "I like what I feel here. I think all we need to do is get it to trust us."

Charlie laughed. "But how do we do that?"

Kippy placed a hand on his arm. "The first thing we can do is relax. I can tell you now, we're going to be here for a couple of days. So we don't need to jump right into figuring out what's going on here. So, for now, what we need to do is get ourselves situated in the parlor, and get ready for the night. It will be dark in an hour or so."

"I'm hungry, I know that!" Ricky said.

"I am, too," Amy admitted. "That sandwich I had before we left seems such a fond memory now."

Charlie nodded. "Okay. I want to look into each one of these bedrooms, but we won't go inside." He nodded to himself then. "Now I know why all of Coldat's after photos were taken from doorways. Even an average person with no real skwish ability could feel that weird sense at the door, that going into the rooms would not be welcomed."

They looked into the other bedrooms along this end of the hallway. They were all very large by modern standards, with ten-foot ceilings and a private bath, and each room had the same sense of illusion within as the first had had. The end of the hallway terminated in a side hallway that ran back along the outside wall to a pair of nine-paned glass doors in the back of the house. But Charlie turned them around then without investigating that, his ideas on symmetry suggesting there would be an identical hallway at the other end. They went back to the staircase and down the other way in the main hallway, to where the master bedroom suite was located, and the last large bedroom directly across the hallway. Both looked just as untouched as the first five, but the sense of illusion was totally absent here. These rooms had simply not been remodeled yet, so there was nothing to hide.

Beyond these bedrooms were three other rooms, one of which looked like a nursery or playroom for children, with the other two being guest suites of some kind, with a sitting room, a bedroom, and a bath in each.

"Hmm. There's nine bedrooms here, if you count the guest suites," Charlie decided. "I can see where this place might make some money if all the rooms are rented out."

"I'd love to see the place open," Amy said. "I'm sure it would be a lovely place to stay."

At the end of the hallway was a window, but, more importantly, the hallway turned and followed the outer wall of the house to a second set of glass-paned doors, identical to those at the other end of the house. This time they walked back, and found that the doors let out onto a marvelous covered second-floor porch that ran the length of the back of the house and then around the sides to the front balcony. It was a good fifteen feet from the door to the railing, a porch large enough for tables and chairs, and deep enough to be enjoyed in the rain without getting wet. The view off the porch was of the forested mountain behind the house, the trees largely barren at this time of the year, but with enough conifers in the mix to keep things colorful and cheery.

"Nice," Robin said, nodding appreciatively. "Not a castle view, but it would certainly do."

Charlie smiled at that. The view from the great room of Robin's castle in Bavaria was no less than stunning. His approval of this view was high praise, indeed.

They retraced their steps to the staircase, and looked up towards the third floor.

"Are we going up now?" Rick asked. "You have me anxious to see what's up there!"

Charlie smiled at him. "No. I think you'll enjoy it more in the morning sunlight. Trust me?"

Rick rolled his eyes, and sighed. "That's right, appeal to my heart."

"He trusts you," Adrian said, taking Rick's arm and leading him to the staircase down to the main floor. "You're hungry, remember?"

Ricky brightened. "Oh, yeah. Lead on, McGruff."

They returned to the main floor and the parlor, Browbeat happily circling the room again and examining things as if for the first time, before settling atop the back of a chair. "This place is amazing!"

That brought smiles, and Charlie looked around at his friends, realizing then how nice it was to be able to do these sorts of things with this group of people.

Ricky clapped his hands together. "How about that dinner? I could set up the cook stove on the front veranda, and heat something. There are hot dogs in the ice chest."

The old mansion's utility electricity was on, and there was some heat, though only one of the two huge new furnaces was yet operational. It was enough to keep the house from being cold, but only just barely. But the kitchen had no appliances as yet, not even a refrigerator. They had left the ice chest out on the veranda, where the nighttime temps would certainly keep it happy.

"Or, we could run into town and just buy something hot," Kip suggested. "I seem to remember from the map a couple of places to eat on this side of the bridge."

Charlie pulled out his cell, and brought up the map of the town he'd bookmarked in his browser. He smiled. "There's a pizza place on Broadway."

"Sold!" Ricky called, laughing.

Charlie looked around at the others. "Anyone that doesn't want pizza? I'm sure they have other things."

It was decided that pizza would suffice. It had come to be the signature celebratory meal of Third Planet Inquiries, anyway, and all of them were in a cheery sort of mood, viewing this latest enterprise as almost like some sort of camp-out in the nether-nether.

Charlie took orders, and called them in. "About fifteen minutes," he told the group.

Ricky nodded. "Um, Adrian and I can get the paper plates and stuff ready. There's plenty of drinks in the ice chest."

"We can pick up some drinks at the pizza place," Kip said. "And save ours for later."

Adrian smiled at his boyfriend. "You think that ice chest will be okay out on the veranda all night? What if a bear comes along?"

Ricky smiled. "If he can work the lock on that thing, he's welcome to the food."

Charlie laughed at that. The ice chest was one they had special-ordered for extreme conditions. It was large, durable, and took two people to lift when it was full of goodies. It was designed to keep its ice packs solidly frozen for five days, and its aluminum sheathing was supposed to be animal-proof. "I guess we'll find out."

He looked around at the group. "Who wants to go?"

Kippy came to Charlie's side and leaned up against him. "A job like this only needs two of us."

Horace smiled at them, and nodded. "You two go. We'll get things ready here."

Browbeat sailed over to them then. "Can I go? I'll stay in the car."

Kippy nodded. "Sure. Come along. We're just getting pizza."

"Oh, boy! Pizza!" The flyer turned a small, happy circle in the air, and then stopped in front of Kip. "What's pizza?"

The part of town where the pizza place was located was just as charming as had been the part of Jim Thorpe located across the bridge. The parking places before the shop were only half taken, and they could see a few people inside, eating at tables. But the place was by no means crowded, let alone busy. Charlie figured it was probably fairly hard for any business to do really well in a small town like this. Tourist traffic surely accounted for some of their income.

"You stay here," he told Browbeat, after he'd shut of the engine. "And if anyone comes along and looks in the car, just don't move. Okay?"

The flyer tittered happily. "I won't scare anyone, I promise!"

Charlie and Kip, both, laughed at that. That Browbeat might actually scare someone was the farthest thing from their minds.

They got out and headed inside. A few of the people seated at tables briefly examined them as they came in, but no one really paid any attention to them at all. Everyone was too busy eating, and talking, and enjoying themselves.

Kippy took a sniff of the air, and smiled. "Mmm! A little different than Irving's, but not bad at all!"

It did smell very appetizing, and Charlie realized now that he really was pretty hungry.

The guy at the counter was young, maybe even younger than they were. He smiled at them as they came up, and nodded. "What can I get you, guys?"

"I called in an order," Charlie told him. "Boone."

"Oh, sure. Two large, extra cheese, one a meat lovers, the other half broccoli and onion, and half pepperoni."

"That's it."

The boy smiled. "Let me check, but it should be about ready."

He turned to where another man was working the ovens and the prep counter, and waved. "Got that order for Boone, George?

"Just boxing it now. Be right up."

Kippy pointed to a large, glass-fronted cooler full of drinks by the wall. "I'll get some drinks."

There was a large crash behind them then, and Charlie turned to see a splatter of broken dinnerware and pizza on the floor beside one of the tables. A woman was scolding a little boy, who looked to be about eight, who seemed much more upset by the mess on the floor than his mother's annoyed words.

"Uh oh," the guy behind the counter said. He smiled at them. "Disaster time." He turned and called to the man in back. "Bring the pizzas when you're ready, George. I have a mop job out front."

The older man waved. "I got it covered."

The young fellow turned and disappeared in back a moment, to reappear almost immediately pushing a steel mop bucket on wheels by the handle of the mop. He waved at the people by the table. "On my way!"

Kippy returned with the drinks, and set them on the counter. "Once again, danger rears its ugly head in the fast-paced world of pizza!"

Charlie laughed. "I think the kid is way more upset than the mom."

The man from the back of the store brought two large pizza boxes forward and set them on the counter. His complexion and hair suggested Native American, and Charlie briefly examined his face, seeing a lot of character there. He was maybe forty, and the lines of his face suggested that he smiled a great deal when he was not making pizza. And, maybe even then.

The man turned that smile on them now. "Let's see...two large, extra cheese, extra drinks..." He turned to the register and entered a few things, and then smiled at Charlie. "That's fifty, eighty-eight."

Charlie nodded. A little more expensive than Irvings, but not so you'd complain. This was a tourist town, too. Charlie handed over his credit card, while Kip lifted the lid of the top box and took a deep breath. "Oh, man! Osteppi House is going to be smelling fine tonight!"

"Oshtàpày," the cashier said absently, swiping Charlie's card.

Charlie turned to look at him. "What was that?"

The man looked up at them then. "Oh...I'm sorry. I was just saying that it's oshtàpày. Your friend said oh-step-ee."

Kippy closed the box. "You know what we're talking about?"

The man looked like he thought he might have overstepped his bounds then. "Um...I didn't mean to pry."

Charlie smiled. "No, no, we're just interested. You know what we're talking about?"

The man nodded then. "I think so. The old house at the bend in the river?"

Charlie nodded encouragingly. "That's it. Why oshtàpày?"

The man handed Charlie's card back to him. "It's the way it's pronounced. It's the old language."

Charlie made the mental leap then. "Lenape?"

The man smiled. "Yes. Oshtàpày is related to luwànàn'tu, the winter spirit."

Kippy leaned forward, just as fascinated as Charlie. "Oshtàpày is a spirit? A Lenape spirit?"

The man shook his head. "A spirit, yes. But not of the Lenape. Oshtàpày was said to have come from afar, to visit his cousin luwànàn'tu."

"When was this?" Charlie asked.

The man laughed. "It's just one of the old stories. No one believes that stuff today." But he frowned then, seeing Charlie's interest. "I guess it was about a century and a half ago. Maybe more." He smiled. "That's why it's just a tale for the kids. Pretty late in the game for new spirits to be showing up."

Kippy looked at Charlie, then back at the man. "Does it have a meaning?"

The fellow blinked. "A meaning?"

Kip nodded. "Yes. Like, you said that luwànàn'tu was the spirit of winter. Does Oshtàpày have a similar meaning? Like visitor spirit, or something?"

"Oh." The man laughed. "No. Well, not exactly. Actually, I think it means spirit of wood."

Charlie and Kip looked at each other. "Spirit of the woods?" Charlie asked.

"No. Oshtàpày was said to have been a manëtu, an individual spirit. A life force." He looked from Charlie to Kip, and back again. "Different manëtu had different abodes, different substances they called home. The spirit of Oshtàpày was said to have lived within wood."

And then Charlie understood. With variations, this type of spirit was known among many of the Iroquois peoples, as an all-pervading life force that inhabited all living things, and even some inanimate ones. The pronunciation was different than the Algonquian term he had read of before, but now he understood what he was being told.

Whether by a poor translation, or simply a misunderstanding of the word, Osteppi House had been the name of the property given to Arno Coldat. Now that he thought of it, he had only seen the name handwritten in the paperwork Coldat had given them. That suggested a name Coldat had been told, and written down

But now Charlie understood. It was Oshtàpày House, or The House of Oshtàpày. And Oshtàpày, himself, was a spirit known by the Lenape, and termed a manëtu, a word pronounced slightly differently in the texts he had read before.

"I get you now," Charlie said, nodding. "This Oshtàpày is a manitou."

"That's what I said," the pizza guy said, smiling. "But don't take it to heart. It's just an old story."

They collected their pizzas and their drinks, tipped their new teacher ten bucks, and left the store.

Browbeat flapped his wings happily as they got back into the 4Runner. "No one tried to come inside!"

Kippy smiled, "It was your fearsome looks, I'm sure."

Browbeat tittered happily. "I'm sure!"

Kippy turned to Charlie. "This doesn't change anything, does it?"

"No. The spirits of the Native American cultures in this area have always intrigued me. They seem to have been far more in tune with the concept of skwish than were the European settlers."

Kippy nodded. "But? I can see it in your eyes."

Charlie nodded. "I'm a little more intrigued by the idea of this Oshtàpày supposedly being a visiting spirit. Where did it come from?"

Kippy frowned. "Yeah. And, what does it want?"

Charlie sighed. "Mysteries, all. But I think the most important question is" --he started the car's engine, and looked again at his boyfriend as he prepared to drive off-- "why is it still here?"

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