Every Boy Should Face His Demons, Charlie Boone! - 7. Chapter 7
Charlie awoke to darkness. No...not total darkness. He could see the windows, still only illuminated by the porch lights below. It was still night, obviously.
His awareness firmed, and concentrated on what had pulled him from slumber. A sound...a buzzing sound, much like the one made by a bumble bee, or one of those huge horseflies. He sighed, not particularly thrilled at the idea of something landing on him in the middle of a dream. He raised his head then, trying to home in on the sound...
Something passed between Charlie and the first window, blotting it out. Something huge. It wasn't flying, it was walking across the floor. Underneath the buzzing sound now he heard the groan of floorboards, as they took the weight of something unusually heavy. A faint vibration came to him through the mattress beneath him. Charlie's breath caught. The windows were tall, almost to the high ceiling. For something to blot them out like that, it had to be very big.
His eyes moved to the other window, just as whatever it was passed in front of that one. Charlie's eyes, attuned to the darkness now, could just make out a large shape moving in the room. The bedroom was sizeable, just like all the rooms in the octagon house, and an easy twenty feet lay between the end of the bed and the windows. The shadowy figure turned, and started back the way it had come, occluding first one window, and then the other.
Charlie felt Kippy tense beside him, and then heard the whisper of his voice. "What is that?"
Again, the huge figure turned, and crossed the room once more, passing in front of the windows. Again, the floorboards creaked as if an elephant stood upon them. The figure passed the second window, and then Charlie was certain that it turned their way. And started to come closer.
"Charlie!" Kippy hissed.
Charlie sat bolt upright. The lamp was on his side of the bed, and he lunged for it, fumbled momentarily with the switch...and then light filled the room.
Nothing was there.
The buzzing sound vanished with the light, and only a faint tick-tick-tick from the radiators under the windows could be heard.
"What the hell...?" Charlie began.
A yell reached his ears from downstairs, and then the sound of Moped barking. Charlie turned and looked at his boyfriend, whose eyes were large with amazement. And then both of them were scrambling from the bed. Charlie grabbed his sweatpants off the chair by the bed and stepped into them on the run, even as Kip was doing the same thing. Kippy reached the bedroom door first, grabbed at the knob, realized it was locked, and frantically twisted the latch for the bolt.
Moped was still barking, and Charlie could hear voices downstairs. Kippy yanked the door open and the two of them raced for the stairs. These were never dark, having small foot lamps set into the wall every third step to keep the staircase lit, and the boys took them two at a time going down. They reached the next floor, and almost ran into Horace, who was standing by the door to the bedroom that Rick and Adrian had been using. Those two boys stood outside it, only partially dressed themselves. Moped was still excited, but quieted when Charlie and Kippy arrived, and ran to meet them, her tail wagging.
"What happened?" Kippy demanded, his eyes moving quickly between the three. "Is everyone okay?"
Horace put out a hand and pushed his fingertips against Kippy's arm. "Relax, young man. Everyone is fine."
Charlie took a deep breath and let it out slowly, waiting for his racing heart to slow down. "Holy crap! What was all the yelling about?"
Adrian and Ricky looked at each other, and then Adrian gave a little shrug. "I woke up, and thought something was in our room."
"Something was in our room," Ricky said, with much more assurance. "Something big, too."
Kippy's eyes widened. "Did you hear a sound like a big bee flying around?"
Adrian sucked in his breath, and then he and Rick exchanged glances. "How did you know? "Adrian asked.
"We had a visitor, too," Charlie said. "It must have been at the same time as yours." He looked at Horace. "How about you?"
The man was wearing an old flannel robe and leather moccasin slippers. Charlie briefly wondered at that, now imagining the bottom of the man's old carpet bag to be even deeper than he'd first suspected.
"I was asleep, I heard a yell, and I jumped up and came right down."
"You had time to put on your robe," Kippy observed. "You didn't hear any buzzing in your room?"
Horace barked out a laugh. "I had the robe on. I fell asleep reading, apparently."
"You didn't see anything in the dark of your room?" Charlie asked.
"My room wasn't dark. I was sitting in the chair by the bed, reading. The light was on, naturally. I simply heard the noise, and came right down."
Kippy let out an exaggerated sigh. "They like the dark, it seems."
Horace leaned closer, looking fascinated. "What did you experience?"
Charlie recounted being awakened by the buzzing sound, and then seeing the huge figure passing back and forth in front of the windows. He mentioned the floor creaking, as if under a great weight. And then how, when it seemed to be turning to come towards them, Charlie had turned on the light, causing the thing to vanish.
Adrian nodded that whole time, looking wide-eyed. "That's exactly how it was for us."
"I'll say," Ricky agreed. "What do you think is going on?"
As if by common consent, everyone turned to look at Horace. The older man blinked, and then smiled. "Oh, my, I have no idea what you saw."
Kippy snorted. "You're the ghost hunter."
"Yes, I am. But I've already mentioned that these sort of phenomena are rare. I've simply never experienced anything quite like this before."
Kippy turned and gently smacked Charlie's arm. "Don't lock the door again. For a moment I though we were trapped."
Charlie nodded apologetically. "Just making sure we had some privacy, is all."
Horace's head bobbed up and down. "Oh, my. It's never wise to close the door in a situation like this. I always leave mine open." He looked around at them with a knowing smile. "Not only that, but I place a doorstop under the edge of it to make sure it stays open. I have some extras, if you'd like to use them."
Charlie frowned at that. "You think that's really necessary?"
"Oh, Charlie," Kippy said testily, "you know how it is in the movies. The ghost slams the door and the people are trapped in the room with it. I should have thought of that one."
Horace nodded. "It would seem to be a recurring theme in many of the hauntings I've investigated."
"I thought you said real hauntings were rare?" Ricky reminded.
"They are. Quite so. And yet, that particular happening is one of the most frequently reported. Apparently, people are quite frightened by the idea of being trapped inside a room with a malevolent spirit."
Moped had come to stand beside Kippy, and now she nuzzled his hand for attention. Kippy smiled absently at the dog, and began to rub the top of her head.
Charlie felt an uncharacteristic aggravation at the idea that Horace had not experienced what they had. It seemed like the man went out of his way to avoid the very things he was supposed to be investigating. "Next you'll be telling me you sleep with the light on."
"I do. Anytime I am in a situation like this, I leave the lights on."
Charlie squinted at the older man. "How do you expect to experience anything if you avoid leaving any openings for them to occur?"
A patient look came onto the man's face. "A true haunting does not need a set up, Charlie. I have had some very sophisticated tricks played on me in the dark." He sighed. "I believe I have witnessed genuine paranormal phenomena just five times in thirty years of seeking them out. Every one of these instances have been in broad daylight. Darkness is the refuge of horror writers and B-movie thrillsters. True hauntings do not run by the clock."
Charlie and Kippy looked at each other. "So you think this is some elaborate trick?" Kippy asked.
Horace looked around at the boys, and then slowly shook his head. "No. I'll admit I was made immediately suspicious by Mrs. Viggerol's claim that she only saw things happening at night. Tricksters most often hide in darkness. But...the fact that all of you plainly have the sight, and the things I also feel inside this house...no, I don't think this is a trick."
"So you're saying that darkness is not a factor here," Ricky said. "So how come the whatsit disappeared the moment I turned the light on?"
"Did it?" Horace countered. "Or did turning the light on change the conditions by which your senses could interpret whatever it was you experienced? Or your mind, for that matter?"
Charlie narrowed his eyes at the idea. "You think we didn't actually see these things? Or hear them? That it all occurred somehow in our minds?"
"I do not discard the possibility." The ghost hunter smiled. "When I was a lad, and my mother would put me to bed at night, she would always remind me that there was nothing in the dark that was not there when the light was turned on. And I have found that to be true, for most times and most places." The man gently shook his head then. "But not all times, and not all places. Sometimes, there are things in the dark that were not there when the light was on. And sometimes, we only think there are, because we have been made to see or hear them."
Charlie thought that one over, not even sure it made sense to him. He opened his mouth to say so, when there was a sudden crash from downstairs, and then, immediately after, another note from the piano. For a second no one moved; and then they were all running for the first floor.
They found the source of the noise immediately. All the artwork hanging on the walls of the living room had fallen to the floor. Each framed piece had a wire that stretched across the back, which was hung over a hook on the wall. The hooks were undamaged, and the wires were still firmly connected. It looked as if each piece had been lifted from the hook and unceremoniously dropped to the floor.
Several of the frames had cracked on impact, and some must have had older glass in them, which had shattered on impact and now lay in hundreds of pieces strewn about the floor. Ricky swore when he saw that, and shook his fist at whatever invisible spirits might be lurking around the ceiling. "That's just crappy! Breaking other people's stuff is crappy!"
Adrian grabbed his boyfriend's arm and started hauling him back towards the archway. "The piano sounded again, remember? Let's go see!"
The five of them hurried around to the library, and found the keyboard cover still down on the grand piano, just as they had left it. Charlie frowned at that. "I want to see the guts of this thing."
Ricky helped him raise the lid, and they peered within. Charlie frowned at the shadows inside the case, and was just about to say he really couldn't see very well when Horace removed a small flashlight from the pocket of his robe, turned it on, and shined the beam into the soundboard case. "A good ghost hunter should always be prepared."
The boys all smiled at that, and then all eyes turned to examine the guts of the piano. Charlie couldn't claim great knowledge of the subject, but certainly felt he'd be able to spot any covert remote-control devices which might serve to activate the hammers. There were none. The soundboard was clean of any foreign attachments.
"Nothing," Kippy said at last. "It's just a piano, Charlie."
Charlie nodded. "The only weird thing is the way its attached to the floor. Maybe they had a problem with it rolling or something." He got down on his knees and examined the thick legs. Where most pianos had wheels under them, the legs of this piano seemed to fit into cups sunk directly into the boards of the floor. "That's kind of weird."
"Perhaps not," Horace offered then. "The position of a piano within a room is important. Perhaps this particular spot makes best use of the acoustics of this room. Very serious players are conscious of where they place their instruments, as it can drastically affect sound quality." He pointed to the windows. "Changes in both temperature and humidity can affect a piano's sound quality. Even seasonal changes in temperature and humidity can make a piano go out of tune. I suggest that this spot was possibly selected for its thermal constancy, and perhaps for its acoustical properties, too."
The boys all exchanged glances, and Kippy looked delighted. "I think we have just discovered the father of all Britannica Brains."
Ricky playfully patted Charlie's arm. "There, there. We still love you and hold you in high regard."
Charlie laughed. "Thanks."
Horace looked briefly confused. "Something I said?"
"No. You just keep surprising us," Charlie told him. "In a good way, so relax."
Horace nodded, still looking uncertain that he wasn't being kidded.
"So this thing will just keep playing the same note, over and over?" Adrian asked.
"But it was not the same note," Horace said then.
The four boys stared at him, and the man looked mildly taken aback. "Well, it wasn't."
Charlie smiled. "Can you explain?"
"Certainly." Horace dropped a hand on the piano. "This is a beautiful instrument. It was produced by Paul Mehlin and Sons, probably about 1895. The style is Victorian Empire. The cabinet is ribbon mahogany. The soundboard will reproduce notes across seven and a quarter octaves." He leaned down and raised the fall - the keyboard cover - and gently depressed a key. A clear note rang out from the soundboard. "This is the second C. It lies exactly one octave up from the first C note this instrument can reproduce. It has a frequency of slightly more than sixty-five Hertz."
He moved his finger to the right, and depressed another key. "This is the third C, another whole octave up from the note I just played. It has a frequency exactly twice that of the second C, or approximately 130 Hertz and some change. Notice how similar they sound?"
Charlie nodded. "Very."
Horace looked pleased. "The note we heard in the kitchen last night was the second C. The one we just heard a few minutes ago was the third C."
Kippy sighed. "I couldn't tell the difference."
Horace smiled at him. "I'm sure you would have noticed the difference had they been played consecutively."
"You have perfect pitch?" Charlie asked, by this point not surprised by anything this odd little man might know.
The ghost hunter looked slightly embarrassed. "Yes. I also love pianos. I've played since I was a boy."
"Perhaps not just you," Charlie returned.
Horace blinked at him. "I'm not sure I understand."
Charlie patted the piano. "If these two notes were actually an octave apart, as you say, wouldn't that imply that our ghost understands music, as well?"
Horace stared at him a long moment, and then slowly smiled. "You are refreshingly bright for a young man."
Ricky snickered. "Watch out. His head will get bigger."
Horace waved a hand at him. "Oh, go on. All you young men are cheerfully pleasant to be around." He made a face then. "My sister's grandchildren are teenagers, and they are simply difficult to get along with. The girl doesn't even speak English."
The boys laughed. "We know a few like that."
Horace frowned then. "You make an interesting point, Charlie. May I call you Charlie?"
The man smiled. "But it could be even simpler than an understanding of music." Horace looked at the piano as if considering it in a different light. "It may be more an understanding of frequencies."
Charlie thought he might know where the ghost hunter was heading with that, but didn't want to steal his thunder. "Meaning?"
Horace bit his lip a moment, and then nodded. "If you take a violin and play it near a piano, the strings of the piano that correspond to the frequency of the notes being played on the violin will vibrate, and produce a sound of their own. If I were a ghost with a knack for frequencies, and wished to cause a piano to play a note, all I would need do is cause the air around a piano string to vibrate at the frequency of the string, thus causing it to sound."
"Whoa," Ricky said, understanding appearing on his face. "So our spooky guy doesn't have to touch the keys at all. He can make the piano play just by vibrating the air."
"An interesting possibility, anyway," Horace confirmed. "My, my. This just keeps getting more and more fascinating."
It made sense to Charlie, too. Beings composed of energy might very well be able to manipulate some things like stringed instruments, simply by causing them to vibrate. One thing they had learned about magic users was that what they did was all firmly grounded in science. Weird science, maybe; but science nonetheless.
"Any suggestions about how all those pictures in the front room were made to fall?"
Horace scratched his head. "Not off the top of my head. Perhaps we can go back and examine them for clues."
"At least clean up the mess," Ricky fumed. "Annie will think we had a thumpin' party in her house!"
They returned to the living room, and were presented with a new puzzle.
"What the hell?" Ricky said, staring around at the walls.
The artwork, which had been on the floor only minutes ago, was once again hanging in place. There were no cracked frames, no broken glass to be seen. The frames where the glass had shattered had full, clean sheets of glass in them again.
Horace scratched his chin as he looked around. "Now I do suspect we have been made to see and hear things that are not real." He nodded at Charlie. "See what I mean?"
Charlie nodded. "It's a lot easier to think we were made to see this room a shambles than to believe it was all put back together again." He sighed in exasperation. "I'm not sure what to believe now."
Kippy made a grumbling sound. "I know I'm tired. Do you think it's safe to go back to bed?"
Horace steepled his hands before him, tapped his fingertips together a moment, and nodded. "I think so. But this time, I suggest you boys leave a light on in your room, and the door wide open. The first so that you actually get some sleep, and the second to prevent you being trapped should our...guest...become playful again."
Adrian shook his head. "Couldn't our spook friend just make the lights go out?"
"Possibly." Horace nodded. "Very possibly. Or, even make us think they had gone out. We are entering a very dangerous area here in supposing anything, however."
Ricky leaned toward the ghost hunter. "This all has something to do with that weird field you detected when we were out on the veranda earlier. I feel it."
Charlie nodded. "I'm beginning to suspect Horace was on the right track suggesting that there is some sort of hidden machine in this house." He turned to the man. "Do you think, if we used your EMF detector, we might better be able to track it down?"
"Possibly." Horace looked uncertain about the idea. "Although, if I am right about the structure of this house, the machine in question simply energizes the frame to perform its function. Tracking down the machine itself might be harder than you think."
"I was just thinking about how regular the pulses were, when we heard them on the detector. That thought refuses to go away."
"What would you do with the machine if you found it?" Ricky asked.
Charlie looked about the room, and shrugged. "If it's attracting whatever is here, maybe shutting it down would end all this spookiness."
Kippy gasped then, and Charlie felt a sudden bout of unease steal over him, as if a sudden chill breeze had blown across the room.
Adrian released a held breath. "That was pretty weird."
"For a moment, I felt quite ill at ease," Horace said, nodding in agreement. "Most unusual."
"It felt like a wave of fear to me," Kippy said. He looked around, but couldn't spy anything out of order. Still--
"Something has changed." Kippy frowned, and turned to Adrian. "What do you feel? Do you still get the sense that this is a happy home?"
Adrian closed his eyes, and then nodded. "Yes. But now...now I feel some fear here, too."
Kippy turned back to Charlie. "That came in direct response your suggestion that we turn off the machine."
Charlie nodded. He felt the same way. "Okay, we won't make any decision about turning anything off. But that response suggests we're right to assume that there is a hidden machine here."
Ricky released an irritated grunt. "I just want to know that my cousin is safe here. And that her investment is safe. If she suddenly starts having spirits playing tricks on her, and has to sell, I'm going to be more than a little mad."
Horace raised his hands then. "Please. Everyone calm down. Don't say anything else for a moment. Please."
Charlie nodded, and he and the others stood silently. The only sound was the ticking of an antique clock on the mantel, and a faint tick-tick-tick from the radiators. And Moped, who considered the sudden silence an invitation to speak. She barked, looking up at them as if to ask what was going on. The boys laughed, and Charlie took a deep breath, feeling a definite release of tension.
"Thank you," Horace said. He looked at them pointedly. "I feel it might be detrimental to our cause to continue to say things we have not clearly thought out. I suggest we get back to sleep, and talk again in the morning."
"Well, I'm leaving our door open," Ricky said. He grinned then, and put an arm around Adrian's shoulders. "Although I can think of a lot of things that are worse than being locked in a haunted house with you."
Adrian smiled, and let out a comfortable sigh. Kippy smiled at them, and then turned the smile on Charlie. "Door open, lights on?"
"I guess." Charlie sighed. "Hell of a world when you have to have the lights on and the door open just to get some rest."
Kippy nodded. "I was thinking, Charlie. Maybe we should talk to the one person that might know more about this than we do. Mrs. Ravishaw."
"There's an idea," Adrian agreed.
"It may assist our investigations greatly," Horace agreed.
"We'll talk about it in the morning," Charlie decided. "Now let's try to get some sleep, or we'll be too tired to do anything."
They returned to their rooms. Horace came by a few minutes later and gave Charlie a doorstop, which he wedged underneath the open door to keep it in place. Although he thought, even as he was doing it, that any force that could make them think the living room had been trashed could probably also make them think the door was closed and would not open. There was something weird about that whole incident with the artwork, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
Kippy welcomed him into bed, and snuggled up close to him. "I hate sleeping in the light, but I'm tired enough now to do it."
Charlie shook his head. "This whole thing is weird. It's not going at all like I'd expect a situation to go if we were dealing with spirits like Billy and Will. This is something totally different."
"I think so, too. My skwish has loosened up enough to tell me that much." Kippy smiled. "It seems also to have decided that this will all work out somehow."
Charlie was surprised to hear that, but found the notion comforting. "I don't suppose your skwish told you where we could find Mrs. Ravishaw, did it?"
His boyfriend smiled. "Annie said Mrs. Ravishaw went into a retirement community here in town. As small a place as this is, how many can there be?"
Charlie laughed. "Oh. Yeah, that's true." He made himself comfortable, and sighed. "Love you, Kip."
"I know, Charlie." Kippy sighed and snuggled closer. "I love you, too. I can't imagine anyplace I'd rather be than right here with you."
They kissed, and Charlie closed his eyes, and just savored the closeness to Kip. He lay still then, listening, as the house occasionally creaked, and the radiators occasionally ticked, and the wind outside kicked up softly against the side of the house. The sense of a happy home was still all around them; but now he could feel a small bit of darkness mixed with it, like an uncomfortable silence that had invaded an otherwise joyous conversation.
Whatever was going on here, it needed fixing. And tomorrow, they would get down to doing just that.
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