No plan survives contact with the enemy — and Mom’s suggestion that we ‘start fresh in the morning’ was no exception. I was up early after a night of uneasy dreams; I decided to take a walk out to the barn and see if I could get a little research done. Our former-hayloft-turned-library was probably the single largest and most comprehensive collection of paranormal literature in the country — not to mention the years of Bell journals and field notes we had, going back generations.
I paused, my eyes drawn upward to the very top of the first bookshelf, where the copies of Adelaide’s journals were stored. Not the originals, of course — most of those were lost or destroyed, though we had a few of the manuscripts stored with a professional archival service. But what had caught my eye was the fact that several of the copies were missing.
Frowning, I reached up toward the gap. Sure enough, it was freezing cold. Not the cold of a chilly November morning, but the cold of the spirit world. Adelaide had been here, no doubt. She really didn’t want me to know what her connection to Malphas was.
I put my hands on my hips. Now that’s just irritating, I thought. Disappearing on me the other day, that I could ascribe to panic. I’d hoped that after she had some time to calm down, Adelaide would talk to me again. This, though…deliberate interference. That worried me.
Worry about it later, Lizzie. For now, I could try to do some research on my own, before the rest of my family —
My train of thought was interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing — the red handset, sitting on the desk in the center of the converted hayloft. It was linked to the red handset that hung on the kitchen wall beside the normal landline. If you called the number written on our business cards — Bell & Bell, paranormal investigations — it would ring.
The ‘ghost phone’, we’d called it as kids.
Almost before I realized what I was doing I’d plucked the handset from the cradle. “You’ve reached Bell & Bell, paranormal investigations, Lizzie Bell speaking. How can I help?”
The man on the other end of the phone sounded embarrassed to be calling. A common reaction among those who didn’t quite believe in ghosts. The edge of desperation under his words told me we were his last resort, his Hail Mary solution. They also told me he was probably in serious need of our help, not a crank call. We get a lot of those. Not usually from adults, but sometimes.
I took down his details and his description of the haunting, scribbling on the notepad left beside the phone for just that purpose. “And has there been any escalation in the past…mhm…yes, I understand why that would be concerning. We’ll send someone over to your house today. The…yes, they’ll bring a contract for you to review; we’ll do an inspection and give you a price quote at that point, and — sure. As soon as possible. Can you give me a phone number where I could reach you?”
I copied that down too. “Thank you, sir. I understand this is very disturbing,” I assured him, gentling my tone, “but we’ve dealt with plenty of cases like yours before. All right. Goodbye.”
I hung up the phone.
“Just like old times, hmm?”
I turned. My dad was standing in the doorway, a steaming mug of coffee in his hand. “Went into the kitchen to make a pot, heard the phone ring. When it stopped ringing, I thought someone might be out here,” he said, answering my unasked question.
“It’s not that I don’t understand that what we do is important,” I said, returning the favor. “I do. And as someone with my abilities, I do feel some responsibility to help when I can.” I stopped. How to phrase this…”But there are other hex-eyes, and other Bells. And other ways to help people.”
My dad said nothing, just sipped his coffee.
“I’m just asking you not to devalue what I do,” I finished, shrugging helplessly. Dad had a normal career before he married my Mom, but he was a hex-eye from birth and did his own ghost hunting on the side. Mom taught at university, but folklore wasn’t exactly separate from ghost hunting. No one in my family had managed to escape the spirit world entirely.
I could feel its cold fingers wrapping around my life, pulling me close, keeping me tethered. I couldn’t stand it.
“That’s fair, Lizzie-bear,” my father said.
And yet, somehow,when my Dad left for Robinson — my caller’s town, just a couple exits down the highway from Darlington — I was the one in the passenger seat of the car.