She was the sweetest thing he had ever seen. Her fall of long sandy blonde hair looked lush and gorgeous. She had a face as delicate as an angel with eyes as blue as the sky on a bright cloudless day. The night dress she wore was a silky white and came to the tip of her tiny pink feet.
But C.J. knew this child was not with the living, despite her appearance.
“Who might you be?” he inquired, the cigarette he had placed in the ashtray long forgotten.
Lifting her tiny arm, she crooked her finger in a gesture for C.J. to follow her.
“Okay, where are we going?” But as he took his first step towards her, she suddenly spun, facing the entrance to the kitchen, then vanished. “Wait. Damn it.” He knew from feel that she was no longer with him.
“Talking to yourself again, Dowling?” Stepping into the room, Jessie was nearly knocked off her feet when C.J. ran past her. “An excuse me would have been polite.”
He came back into the room, moments later and ran directly to the camcorder sitting on the counter. Hitting rewind, C.J. let it run while he checked the EMF. There had been a significant spike in the reading and the digital thermometer had read a drop in temperature. Jotting it down in his note pad, he heard the tape stop. Setting the pad down, he turned back to the tape and pressed play, angling the screen to get a better view. “Damn.”
“Problem?” she asked comically, as she sat idly swinging her foot.
“The tape is scrambled.” Typical, it was rare that a poltergeist showed up on tape, but it was worth a try. The fact that it had recorded perfectly fine up until the moment she had appeared indicated it wasn’t the system.
“What a shame.”
His eyes lifted to her, anger registering in the deepening brown. He slipped a cigarette from his package as he responded. “Was there a reason you came back into the room, or do you just like to annoy me?” If she hadn't come back into the kitchen, he might have been able to get some answers out of the tiny apparition.
“Testy. I wanted a drink. Why do you smoke? It’s such a filthy habit.”
“Everyone has some sort of vice, this is mine,” he snapped at her, rewinding the tape for a double check.
“What's the big hub bub anyway? Did you see a ghost, Dowling?” she mocked with a chuckle.
Letting out a deep breath, he lit the cigarette, drawing in a deep breath, then releasing a cloud of smoke in the air. “Yes, Jessica, I did see a ghost, but you scared her off. Doesn’t surprise me, you give off that sort of ‘vibe’,” he countered in his usual calm manner, the insult no less potent.
“Ha ha. Do tell, what did this ‘ghost’ look like?”
Resigned to the fact that she was a diehard skeptic, he decided to let it be, for now. “What do you know about this house?”
“I know it’s not haunted,” she replied snidely.
“Not much. I was hired to come in, scope out the place and report back with my findings.”
“Such as, your belief that it’s not haunted.”
“Bulls-eye.” She tapped her nose.
“So, you never researched it at all?”
“Why should I?”
“Well, it might be nice to know some history before passing judgment.”
“I don’t need to know the history to decide if it’s haunted or not.”
Her attitude was typical of most people. “So how do you determine if the claims are factual or not?”
“I spend the night.”
“That’s it?” She shrugged. “So one night in a house is all the proof you need. No equipment, nothing?”
“I’m not a paranormal investigator, Dowling,” she said mockingly.
“Unbelievable. So there are no facts in your findings? You do know that’s not exactly scientifically sound?”
“I’m not a scientist. I do only what I’m told to do and nothing more. What can I say, I hate my job.”
Shaking his head, C.J. drew on his cigarette before speaking. “What if I told you that, in , the upper floor was ravaged by a fire that claimed six lives, four of which were children?”
“I would say that was pretty awful.”
“And after that fire, it was bought by the city, repaired and put on the market. I have documented accounts of people claiming the house was haunted as far back as nineteen sixty five.”
“What about the fifty two years between that? No one claimed anything then?”
“If it was claimed, it wasn’t documented.”
“So, what are you trying to say?”
“That perhaps this house is haunted by the spirits that died so tragically in that fire, back in .”
She snorted. “What proof do you have to validate that claim?”
“The little girl that visited me right before you showed up.”
“Little girl, huh, and what did she have to say to you?”
“As I said earlier, you scared her off.” With quick tapping motions he put the cigarette out in the ashtray. “But I believe she might be one of those children that died here all those years ago.”
“You believe, but what proof do you have, Dowling? Nothing, because there are no such things as ghosts.” She pushed from the table, leaving her glass behind. “I’ve chosen the room next to the washroom on the left. See you in the morning.”
He watched as she left the room, disappointed by her reaction, but prepared for it. It was hard to convince a skeptic, and most times he simply ignored them. He wasn’t sure why this time he felt the need to convince her.
Pushing from the table, he went back to his notes.
The room she had chosen had obviously once belonged to a female child. The décor was pink and frilly and so not like her. But, it was either this room, or the one with mirrors on the ceiling, which she figured had belonged to the parents, or a room with model airplanes floating from the ceiling and a race car for a bed. She could handle the frilliness for two nights, she supposed.
The room was absolutely stifling, even with the window open. Stripped down to her bare essentials—a white silk and lace matching bra and panties—Jessica climbed into the silky pink bed with her notes. In the years since she had been investigating supposedly haunted houses, she had never once found any validity to the claim, and this house was no different. She made her notes, documenting the time and date and what she had done throughout the day, then set the file aside and stretched out in the bed.
Three more days and she would be off to her vacation and the job interview she hadn't mentioned to anyone. Over the past three years she had come to realize she wanted more in life than just investigating houses, debunking cases of fraud and writing a small excerpt in a small magazine. She wanted more.
Clicking the smiling Cinderella lamp off beside her, Jessie slid beneath the covers and told her mind to shut down. She did what she did every night to relax, and imagined laying on a beach, under a blanket of twinkling stars, the ocean waves soothing her mind. When she felt the sudden chilly breeze, she didn’t think anything of it and pulled the blankets higher.
Turning her back to the door, she tried to get comfortable. The faint creaking was heard vaguely over the crashing waves in her mind. Breathing deeply, sleep beginning to capture her, she didn’t notice the bed give beside her. Uncomfortable, she rolled onto her back, stretching her legs out, shifting the blankets with her movement.
Kicking the blankets below her thighs, trying to cool down, comfortable now, Jessie frowned at the sensation of something moving along her leg. She kicked out lightly, and went back to sleep. When the sensation tickled her belly, she swiped at it with her hand. When it moved to her breast, pinching the nipple, her eyes shot open. Jolting upright, flicking the light on, she couldn’t see anything that might have been responsible. Pursing her lips, she clicked the light off, then laid back down, trying to get back to sleep.
Rolling onto her side, facing the door, she released a long breath and closed her eyes. She felt it again, sliding up her thigh, over her hip and along her side. Bolting out of bed, she shrieked, swiping wildly at the bugs crawling over her flesh.
The light flicked on, she turned and screamed.