That bad feeling lasted all the way through the short drive through town in the rental car; but it couldn’t survive my first sight of the farmhouse.
The house sat back from the road. It was a pretty little two-storey with yellow siding and white trim. If the paint was flaking a bit, that was only because it was well-loved.
Behind the house was a small kitchen garden, and past that the rolling fields stretched out to the distant tree line. Once it had been a working farm — the barn still stood, tough it had been converted into a combined office/library/armory/storage shed — but now the fields were left to their own devices. Instead of a wide sea of corn or wheat, there was an ocean of tall grass spotted with wildflowers.
I pulled into the driveway, gravel crunching under the tires. My parents’ refusal to pave wasn’t just about aesthetics — gravel was loud. It gave anyone home fair warning of visitors.
Sure enough, I had barely killed the engine when the front door opened and my mother stepped out.
Margaret Bell was a highly respected university professor of folklore. She’d written several books, done the speaker circuit, taught sold out classes. In paranormal circles, she was a celebrity; the Kennedy case had seen to that, even if she hadn’t come from a well-respected hex-eye family.
To me, though, she was just Mom. I got out of the car and gave her a hug.
“You’re skinny,” she said in my ear. I buried my face in her shoulder and breathed in the scent of her jasmine perfume. “You’re not eating enough.”
“Missed you too.”
We went inside. “Leave your bag in the hall and come help with dinner,” my mother called over her shoulder, as she disappeared into the back of the house. I dropped my duffel by the stairs and followed.
The kitchen felt small with five people (Mom, Dad, Aunt Eliza, Eliza’s long-suffering husband Daniel) in it. But it smelled heavenly, the scents of turkey and cranberry and sweet potato mingling into one mouth-watering autumn cocktail. Aunt Eliza glanced up, saw me, and yanked open the silverware drawer.
“You’re just in time to set the table.”
Some things never change.
Dinner was surprisingly pleasant, even though we had to fit the five of us and Eliza’s two kids around the table. Devon showed up late — as usual — citing urgent show business, but he played nicely and didn’t dominate the conversation.
Any more than usual, that is.
“So the next episode was an old Civil War fort down in Pennsylvania,you know, phantom soldiers recreating the battle and all that jazz.”
Those were real, but they weren’t really ghosts; more like fading echoes of particularly traumatic past events. Eventually they faded away.
“So we set up EMF and heat sensors,” Devon explained, his mouth full of sweet potato.
“Devon, dear,” said my mother, “don’t talk while you’re chewing please.”
“What about you, Lizzie?” My dad moved into the pause. “Why don’t you tell us what’s new in New York.” He grinned at that, proud of his little joke.
I shook my head wryly. “Not much.” I didn’t want to bring up the case now, over Thanksgiving dinner. I needed to ask my parents for advice, but I wanted to do it privately, where my Aunt and cousins wouldn’t stick their noses in. And I really didn’t want Devon involved any more than he actually was. I’d tried to team up with him, back when he was just starting out and I was younger and more naive. He had a tendency to railroad his ‘partners’, and while I wasn’t totally sure how far down this rabbit hole I wanted to go, I certainly didn’t want Devon along for the ride. “Just the usual school stuff. Had my last bio lab exam, so now I’m studying for the final. And I thought I might —”
“Come on, Lizard, why are you bothering with minutia? No one cares about your bio test.” Devon interrupted, brash and loud. “What about that ghost in the movie theater?”
“What’s this?” my Mother said sharply. She and Aunt Eliza traded looks.
“Nothing,” I said. “One of Henry’s friends haunts a movie theater on Broadway, and we went to go talk to him. Devon was there filming an episode of his show. We had a little run-in with an unfriendly spirit.”
“It was more than a ‘little run-in’,” Devon said, frowning. “That thing shorted my lights, completely scrambled the EMF, kept Henry from manifesting -”
“What?” Mom again.
“Lizzie, this sounds very serious,” Dad said. Mom sounded shocked; he sounded disappointed. I wasn’t sure which was worse.
“Was it super scary?” Max, my little cousin, broke in eagerly. His father leaned over to shush him.
“I thought you guys knew about this?” Devon asked. “Lizzie said she’d call you.”
Immediately my parents both fixed their gazes on me.
“I did!” I said.
I wasn’t lying, just stretching the truth. I had called them, to get their opinion on why someone would kidnap a ghost or steal their anchor. I’d told them about the disappearances, and about Tony’s anchor being missing, and about how it all might be related to a series of serial possessions in the city.
What I hadn’t mentioned was that I’d performed an exorcism, or that Emily’s ghost — the ghost at the movie theater — had seemed particularly interested in me.
I knew what sort of reaction that would get.
“Why didn’t you mention this?”
“Were you using the proper precautions?”
“Did Corinna know about this?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve stumbled onto some greater spirit—”
The questions and recriminations came quick and fast, till I hardly knew who was berating me for what. I shoved my chair back from the table — it screeched against the floor, shocking everyone into silence– and stood.
“I’m going out for a walk.”
I left before anyone could reply.