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    Geron Kees
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

It's Just a Matter of Time, Charlie Boone! - 2. Chapter 2


The cab was a Checker Aerobus, a large, boxy vehicle with four doors down each side, and enough seating for twelve. Originally designed to transport people to the airport in an urban setting, the car looked like it had been driven straight out of an old movie featuring prop-driven airliners and chiseled-faced pilots with toothpaste ad grins. Charlie remembered from his reading that Checker had once dominated the market for cabs, and the car had been ubiquitous on the streets of American cities. The Aerobus version had been built in much smaller numbers than the standard cab, and finding one here in the middle of the Missouri outback had been more than a little startling.

The Checker Company hadn't produced new cabs since the early eighties, had lingered on as a parts-maker for a few more decades, and had finally gone belly up when Charlie was still in the second grade. So this cab had to be at least forty-five years old, if not older, despite the fact that the paint the old car wore looked to have been applied the day before. For such a middle-aged machine, it was in astonishingly good shape. There were a few patches on the bench seats, lovingly applied, and the headliner had been 're-secured' to its fiberboard backing with chrome screws in a neat pattern that suggested an artistic bent on the part of someone. But the jury-rigging one might expect in such a well-used machine was surprisingly absent here. The interior was clean and neat, the seats wide and comfortable, and there was more than enough elbow room for the seven of them.

They hadn't all been able to come to Missouri, of course. Absent an elf to cloak them in faux human forms, Ragal and Casper had remained at the office with Amy. Auggie, too, was not a critter that one could take along on a visit with strangers, despite his impatience and eagerness to go. Charlie, Kip, Rick, Adrian, Robin, Horace, and Uncle Bob had made the journey, with Robin teleporting them to a place in Missouri he had been before: Branson, a small town just north of the border with Arkansas, famed for its 76 Country Boulevard, lined with entertainment theaters of all kinds. They had appeared within the dim confines of an empty storage unit, one of those little six-by-nine rooms in a building full of such rooms, that people rent to store the overflow from their attics and basements. The unit was just one of many that Robin had on perpetual lease around the world, safe landing sites for exactly such jauntings about that they were doing now. It just wouldn't do at all to appear in front of witnesses, especially witnesses with cameras in their cells!

And Branson was only about 45 miles from where they wanted to go, the town of Holdover, lying south of, and midway between, Joplin and Springfield.

Charlie had smiled at the idea that Robin had been to Branson before. "I had no idea you liked American country music."

The man had grinned at him. "I've picked up all sorts of interests in my 800 years, Charlie. As a matter of fact, I was first attracted to this town by Andy Williams, not exactly a country music star. His Moon River Theater in Branson has hosted a Christmas show every year for the past thirty years." Robin had chuckled at that. "And you do know how much I enjoy Christmas!"

"Especially when you can steal part of it," Kippy had said dryly, but with a smile that Robin didn't fail to see.

Robin had laughed. "All proceeds benefit charity, m'boy!"

So there they were, only a short distance now from the address that Rance Tallfield had given them on the phone. The old cab seemed to run fine, too, chugging up the mountain road with little glamor but lots of heart, its driver, one Jeremiah Hawkins, talking at least a mile for every minute of the journey.

"Yessir, you won't find yourself another cabbie for thirty miles around, you won't. Holdover's a far cry from Joplin or Springfield, you know. Truth be told, I spend more time bringing groceries to the old folks along these back roads than I do transportin' real fares to real places. You fellas are my first passengers in pret' near three weeks. Took Jeff Pruitt to Joplin then to see his chiropractor on that Monday. Musta worked, too, 'cause he looked a little stormy-faced on the way in, but was all smiles on the way back." The man chuckled then. "Durn if I'd let some fella walk on my back like that!"

Kippy turned to grin at Charlie, but didn't say anything. He didn't need to. Charlie could feel the warmth and good cheer radiating from their driver, all by himself.

"Do you ever bring groceries to the Tallfield residence?" Charlie asked, partly out of curiosity, and partly just making conversation.

"Residence?" Jeremiah looked at them in the rear-view mirror, and Charlie could see the man shake his head. "No, sir. I've only been by the place on the road, myself."

Charlie could sense the reserve in the man's words. "Something wrong with the Tallfield place?"

The driver's eyes inspected them in the rear-view mirror again. "You know Rance Tallfield?"

Charlie smiled. "Never met the man. This will be our first, and probably only, time here."

Jeremiah nodded. "Well, then, no, there's nothing wrong with the Tallfield place that I know of, myself."

Kippy prodded Charlie gently with his elbow. Charlie grunted, also sensing what had been left unsaid. "Something other people have mentioned?"

"I'm not one to talk," Jeremiah replied, sounding evasive.

"Please," Charlie prodded gently. "If we're walking into something difficult, we should know about it, don't you think?"

"Maybe." Once again the driver's eyes examined them in the rear view mirror. "You fellows believe in ghosts?"

"Only the ones we can meet face-to-face," Horace said quickly, before Charlie could reply. That made everyone smile, save for Jeremiah Hawkins, who frowned at them in the mirror. "I'm being serious, fella."

"So am I," Horace returned, his smile vanishing. "If I meet one face-to-face, I'll believe it exists."

Jeremiah seemed to think about that, then to find it funny, and snorted out a laugh before smiling at them over his shoulder. "Fair 'nuff. Well, then, there are a few stories about the Tallfield place, and the Tallfield family, and the history of that family. I've been hearin' these tales since I was tad, and I never paid that much mind to them. There's more'n enough gossip stories to go around 'bout everyone in these parts, for me to focus on any one family."

"But?" Charlie prompted, when the silence had grown long.

"Well..." Their driver seemed to think about it. "There's stories, and then there's stories."

"You place some sort of added credibility to stories about the Tallfields?" Horace asked carefully.

Their driver grunted. "Never did before, but maybe I do lately. Sometimes a story goes on the strength of who tells it, you know? A lot of local legends, they get spread by the people you'd expect to spread that stuff. Mable Harper, down to the general store, who just likes to gab at anyone that comes through the door; old Mister Pompfrey, at the post office, who thinks it's fun to spread stories like it's the mail; and Drake Coburn, at the garage, who just talks him a blue streak while he works on your car, to anyone who will listen. Gossip, most of it is."

"These people never mention the Tallfields?" Robin asked.

"No, they do. But they're just repeatin' things they heard. Gossip, like I say, and all of it old stuff." The driver's eyes touched theirs again via the rear-view mirror. "But I've heard a tale or two recently that don't come from the regular sources."

Charlie nodded, but wondered at the man's sudden willingness to share. "And you're telling us this...why?"

The driver shrugged, then leaned to the right along with his passengers as the car rounded a sharper than usual bend in the road. "Got a feeling about you folks, is all."

Kippy squeezed Charlie's wrist, and Charlie glanced at his boyfriend. Kippy nodded, and that was all it took.

"We're listening," Charlie said.

Hawkins glanced at Charlie a last time in the rear-view mirror, and then pulled the car over to the shoulder of the road. There was no traffic in either direction, and the woods to either side of them - even though the trees were largely bereft of leaves - seemed dark and a little gloomy. Lonely. That's what Charlie felt about the place they had stopped. A lack of people presence, for some miles around them.

"We're close to the Tallfield place now," Hawkins told them, as if to contradict that feeling of emptiness. "Gotta stop if I want time 'nuf to tell you what I know."

Kippy must have felt the loneliness of the road, too. "This is an out of the way place, isn't it?"

Hawkins cut off the engine and hitched himself around to look at them. "It is that. Ain't no one lives up this way but Rance Tallfield. The road's a county road, but the mountain on either side mostly belongs to the Tallfields."

"Money?" Robin asked, his curiosity evident.

"Once," Hawkins agreed. "Probably still, though the family don't have the influence in these parts it once had. Tallfields been leaving this area for other parts for several generations now. Rance is the last one to hang onto the house and property. He and the missus."

The emphasis that the man placed on the last word caught Charlie's attention. "Tallfield is married?"

"Yeah." Hawkins winced. "Now...'bout the stories I heard..."

"We're listening," Robin said, smiling. "Please proceed."

Hawkins returned the smile, and nodded. "Like I said before, I've been hearing tales of the Tallfields my entire life. Some families are just like that, you know? Just seem bigger and bolder, somehow, than other folk. Got their hands into more things than other folk, too. Holdover's a small town, and most of the families with any money have always owned spreads outside of town. Just us normal folk on Main Street, you know?" Hawkins seemed to find that particularly funny, and the smile he wore seemed directed at himself now. "Anyhow, it's only been recently that I heard a couple of tales that gave me some pause, because of who was doin' the tellin'."

Kippy gave a faint sigh, and Charlie could see now that they were going to have to continue to prod the driver if they wanted to get what he knew out of him in any reasonable amount of time. "Who told you the tales?" Charlie asked, taking the direct approach.

Hawkins smiled. "Thought you'd never ask. The first thing I heard was from Pat Hendry. He's got the hardware store on main street, in case you didn't know."

"We didn't," Charlie offered, smiling. "He's, um, not prone to exaggeration?"

Hawkins chuckled. "Pat's one of those fellas that sees everythin' like a blueprint. Measured, laid out, and every spec there to see. He doesn't like things that aren't in the plan. That's why I put some stock in what he said. Pat's not a gossip, never was, never will be."

"Please continue," Horace urged, obviously aware, too, that a prompt needed to be offered now and then.

"We play poker on Saturday nights here, usually at my place. That we is Pat, Ned Scott over to the drug store, Joe Wilson at the diner, and Cal Meachum, who has the landscape business hereabouts." Hawkins frowned. "All of us are the levelheaded type, I think. That's what made that one card game so durn eerie."

Uncle Bob spoke up. "You heard this story at one of your poker games?" He gently cleared his throat. "You play a drinking man's game?"

Hawkins smiled. "Fair question. All of us have a beer or two while we play, but we're sippers, mister, not guzzlers. Two beers each lasts us all evening."

"Go on," Rick prodded, now in on the rules of the conversation. "You heard this story at a poker game."

"I heard both stories at that one game, actually. One from Pat Hendry, and one from Cal Meachum. I think that's what made them have such an impact on me, you know?"

"What did this guy Hendry say?" Kippy asked.

"Well, you know how a card game goes. The chatter is half the fun. Little bit of kiddin', some jokes, and some gossip. Of course, it's mostly the sort of gossip you hear at church, after the sermon and during the coffee, when some of the ladies are standing around, talking. Can't help but to hear some of that." Hawkins chuckled then. "And, the men ain't no better. They just stand in a different group, is all. Lots of lip flappin' goin' on on every side, really. It's 'nuf to make a man think another sermon's in order!"

Robin smiled, not at all deterred by the driver's lengthy discourse. "So, this was gossip you heard at the game? What was it? Specifically?"

The driver's eyes twinkled at them, as if he was enjoying the back and forth. "Well, like I said, Pat's no gossip. Joe and I were kiddin' around about ghosts and stuff, is what started it."

Charlie frowned at that. "Ghosts are a normal part of your conversations?"

"Oh, no. But that Saturday night was the one just 'fore Halloween. Joe was sayin' how his kids were plannin' on goin' out that night. The little girl wanted to be a black cat, and the boy wanted to be a vampire. Joe was sayin' that when he was a kid, he went as a cowboy and his brother went as a pirate, but that kids these days wanted to be ghosts and werewolves and stuff."

Adrian emitted a soft sigh. "Please, go on."

"Well, Joe and me are tradin' ghost jokes, and Pat suddenly leans towards us and says how it's not that funny. Pat doin' something like that is out of the ordinary, I have to tell ya. So, me and Joe right away asked what was buggin' him. He said he didn't want to talk about it, and you know, that's like pourin' kerosene on a fire at a card game, to hint you know somethin' and then not say what it is. So me'n Joe wouldn't take another hand until Pat cleared up what was at him. He finally did, and what he told us was downright spooky."

"And that would be?" Kippy put in, maybe sounding a little sharp now.

Hawkins sighed happily, like a fisherman with a big flathead catfish on the line. "He said he heard a ghost, for real, up at the Tallfield place." The driver's eyes moved among them, gauging their responses. "Said he saw it, too!"

Horace harumphed mightily. "You're being difficult about this, sir."

Hawkins laughed. "There's an art to tellin' a story, mister." He nodded then. "But I see I got y'all hooked, so now I'll come clean." He laid his arms atop the back of the seat and leaned on them, making himself comfortable.

"Pat was up at the Tallfield place the afternoon before the card game, that Friday. Rance Tallfield called the store and ordered six bags of fertilizer for the lawn around the house, and Pat drove the order up in his pickup. That afternoon was cloudy, and it was already darker up on the mountain than it had any right to be for two hours before sunset. Pat said that made goin' to the Tallfield house even creepier than normal."

Charlie blinked in surprise at that. "The Tallfield home is creepy?"

Their driver grinned, and nodded. "You'll see when we get there. Anyway, Tallfield had just told Pat on the phone to pile the bags on the side porch, and that's what he did. He was throwin' the last one on the pile when he said he heard a shriek that made his hair stand on end. He was so startled he dropped the last bag on his own foot. He bent down to get it, and suddenly heard this loud man's voice, yellin' about how some so-and-so was to blame for everything, and that he sure was goin' ta get even!"

"Where was the voice coming from?" Robin asked.

"Inside the house. The side porch there is outside the big parlor, and there's windows that run along the wall. But there's curtains in 'em, and Pat said he couldn't see inside."

"Was it Rance Tallfield doing the yelling?" Charlie asked.

"No, sir. Pat knows the sound of Rance Tallfield's voice. Pat said this voice was deeper, and louder than it had any right to be, like it was comin' off the stereo, or somethin'."

Ricky made a sound of dismissal. "Maybe the Tallfields were just watching a movie."

Hawkins shook his head. "No. Pat said the voice had this strange sound to it, like it was someone yellin' from far off. But it was too loud for that. Pat said it made his skin crawl, it was so outlandish. He said it gave him a damn fierce urge to leave, and fast. But before he could turn to go, the curtain in the window right in front of him moved, and someone looked out." Hawkins licked his lips, and lowered his voice. "Pat said it was a big man in a Stetson, and that he just glowed all over, like he was on fire."

Kippy took a startled breath, and Charlie felt a tingle of anticipation run down his backbone. That sounded very much like Lane Tallfield!

"What happened then?" Horace asked softly.

Hawkins blew out an are you kiddin'? breath, and raised himself up on the back of the seat, his eyes wide now. "Pat run like blazes, that's what! Straight to his truck, and then out of there, as fast as he could! And he said that was all she wrote, and that if Rance Tallfield wanted any more fertilizer, well, he could just come to town and get it, himself!"

"Kind of late in the year for fertilizer, isn't it?" Adrian asked. It felt out of sequence somehow, and Charlie turned to look at his friend, but Adrian just canted his head at Hawkins.

The driver seemed startled by the question. He gave a little shake of his head, and settled back into the seat, and took a deep breath, himself. "Well...um, no. You put down some fertilizer at the end of the year, and it makes the grass take off real nice in the spring." He frowned then. "Where was I?"

"You were about to tell us what Cal Meachum told you," Adrian responded.

"Oh?" Hawkins frowned again, but nodded. "Well, after Pat said his piece, Cal was just starin' with his mouth hangin' open, like he couldn't believe his ears. A look like that, and you know somethin's touched a nerve in someone. Me'n Joe, both, took an eye to that, and we told Cal if he had something to add to what Pat had just said, he'd better cough it up fast!"

"And did he?" Adrian asked, almost as if he was pressuring the man.

Hawkins blinked, and then smiled at the boy. "Knew I had a sense about you fellas. Got some witchin' in ya, don't ya?"

Adrian emitted a short, surprised laugh at that, and then smiled, too. "So do you, it seems."

"Little bit," their driver agreed. "Off my momma's side. Her momma was a healer in these parts, way back, 'fore the first doctor hung his shingle out for business."

"So, you've been playing with us?" Kippy asked, sounding like he didn't like the idea one bit.

"Naw. I was just soundin' you fellas out. Gettin' a feel for your craft. I sensed you were witches back in town when you hired me on. I just needed to know what kind you were, before I said too much!"

"And so now you know what sort of witches we are?" Uncle Bob asked.

"Said I had a good feelin' about y'all, didn't I?"

"You're not afraid to tell us this?" Horace questioned, sounding surprised. "That you're a witch?"

"Nope. There's a strong strain of witchin' in this area. One of the nice things about it is that, if ya got it, you can feel who you can trust to talk about it with. I get that you fellas are pretty much a group that knows all about witchin'."

Kippy sat forward in his seat. "We received a call from Rance Tallfield, asking us to visit him. We had never heard of the man before then."

Hawkins nodded. "Not a surprise. Some of the oldest tales about Rance and his missus say they both come from a strong line of witchin' folk."

Charlie stared at the man. "You didn't mention this before!"

"Didn't know about you fellas for sure before, did I?" Hawkins answered, his smile returning. He nodded at Adrian. "Felt this fella here pushin' me to hurry, and knew he was just doin' it to see if I felt him doin' it!"

Adrian smiled. "And you did!"

"Sure. And that's what's settled me on talkin' to you fellas. You're good witchin' folk, for sure. Feelin's one thing, knowin's another!"

"Remember Kiernan and his mom," Kippy reminded. "These are very closed-mouth societies."

Hawkins cocked his head at Adrian. "So, no need to push me, fella. I'll go ahead and say what I know."

Adrian sighed, though his smile remained. "We were just taking the long way around on this one."

Hawkins seemed to like that. "Hey that's part of the fun of storytellin', ta make your listeners wait a bit. But seein' as how you're kin in the witchin', and in a terrible hurry, let me finish up now."

"Please, do," Horace said, smiling.

"Well, first of all, Pat Hendry and Call Meachum don't come from witchin' folk. Not directly, anyway. They know enough to not talk about it, but that's about it. So Joe and me, who do come from witchin' families, could read that they was upset. Once we heard Pat's story, we pushed Cal until he told his. Seems he was supposed to go to Tallfield's that Saturday after Pat delivered the fertilizer, and clean the leaves out of the garden and put the fertilizer down."

"Six bags is a lot of fertilizer," Robin pointed out.

"Big yard, so I hear," Hawkins returned. "And landscaped, you know? Flowers and shrubs? Cal was there early, and it was still cloudy at the Tallfield place, even though he'd had sun most of the way up the mountain. Gloomy, Cal called it. Anyway, he found the fertilizer on the side porch, and started movin' some of it to the back of the house. He was just finishin' up when he noticed a funny light inside the back windows, dancin' up and down behind the curtains like somethin' was on fire inside. He thought he'd better see what was happenin', and went up on the back porch and pounded on the door there. He said he couldn't smell smoke, and that everything in the house was quiet. Just the funny light dancin' behind the curtains. Then, all of a sudden, the door was yanked open, and Rance was there, looking out. Cal said...well, he said Rance looked really strange, like he was scared of somethin', and kept lookin' over his shoulder. Cal said he could see the funny lights on the wall behind Rance, like they were in the room with him somewhere. He told Rance then that he'd seen the lights behind the curtains, and thought there might be a fire, and just wanted to make sure everythin' was okay in the house. Rance said, no everythin' was fine, and thanked Cal, and went ta shut the door. Cal was turnin' away then, but at the last second, before the door had closed, he caught sight of somethin' out of the side of his eye, goin' past the door behind Rance."

Kippy nodded. "A tall man in a Stetson, glowing like he was on fire?"

Hawkins nodded. "Cal said the door shut then, and for a minute he just stood there, not sure what he had seen. The funny light continued to bounce around behind the curtains, and then it just slowly went away. Cal said he went to puttin' the fertilizer down, and didn't hear or see anythin' else from the house the rest of the time he was there. He had pretty much decided he'd just seen wrong through the door there, until Pat told his story about the man in the hat that looked like he was afire."

No one said anything as Hawkins went quiet, watching them. Finally, Robin pointed at the man. "What do you think was happening at the Tallfield house?"

Hawkins whistled. "Well, stories I've heard about Rance's missus is that she's a seeress of some kind. What's the word? Uh..clair..."

"Clairvoyant," Robin supplied.

"That's it. I can never remember how to say it. Stories say Miz Tallfield talks to ghosts."

"You believe that?" Rick asked.

Hawkins gave an uncomfortable-sounding laugh. "That woman has always given me the willies."

"Why?" Horace asked, watching Hawkins carefully. "If she's witchin' folk, as you say, you should be comfortable with her."

"Yeah, you'd think that. T'aint true, though. And there isn't just one reason I can say. I've only seen her, in town, maybe a half-dozen times. It's not the way she looks...she's a handsome older woman. It's just something that comes off her, kinda, if she gets near to ya. You can feel it. Kinda like a chill, maybe. It's witchin' stuff, but like no kind I've ever felt before."

Charlie rubbed his chin. "Your witch community here isn't close?"

"No, it is, pretty much. Just, people like the Tallfields have always been outside of it, of their own accord." Hawkins shrugged. "Well-off folk are like that."

"You say you feel a chill from her," Horace said. "You don't mean a real sense of coldness, do you? Is it more like something you feel inside your mind?"

"That's it!" Hawkins nodded. "I always thought I felt that chill in my heart. But you got it right. Ain't a real sense of cold, like on your skin. It's down deep, somewhere, inside."

"What do you make of that?" Charlie asked the ghost hunter.

"I don't exactly know." Horace frowned in thought. "I've heard this exact same description before about some people said to be able to communicate with the dead."

"You think it's Lane Tallfield, that was there, somehow?" Kippy asked Charlie.

Charlie didn't answer, seeing a look of shock appear on their driver's face. "Lane Tallfield! There's a name from the old days!"

"That's right," Charlie agreed. "I see you've heard of him."

Hawkins gave a little whistle. "Sure have!" He shook his head in amazement. "Never would have considered it might be him there, visitin' his kin."

Robin's eyes shone with interest. "What do you know about the man?"

Hawkins squinted, thinking. "He was sheriff up in Stockdale, 'bout fifty miles north of here, as I recall. Got himself gunned down on Christmas day back in 1910, so the story goes."

Charlie took a breath of surprise, along with the others. "What happened?"

"Well, couple of fellas rode into town on Christmas, when everythin' was shut down and peaceful. They jimmied a window in the back of the bank and got inside. Guess they figured the whole town would be making merry for the holiday, and no one would see. Someone did, I guess, and went to get the sheriff. Lane Tallfield got the bank manager, Fred Evans, and the two of 'em headed up to the bank, where they caught the two thieves dead to rights, just after they'd busted open the safe. Lane was takin' 'em to the jail at gunpoint when he got shot, himself."

Robin's eyes narrowed. "How?"

Hawkins shrugged. "Don't know. The sheriff was shot in the back, right through the heart. The doc said he died instantly, and never knew what hit him. Folks figured the two bandits had a third partner, posted outside as a watch. Fella got the drop on Sheriff Tallfield and shot him. Smacked Fred Evans pretty good in the back of the head and laid him out, too. When he woke, he couldn't remember a thing."

"Money?" Robin asked.

Hawkins nodded. "They went back into the bank and got away with over $16,000. Pretty near ruined the town."

Robin turned to look at Charlie. Everyone turned to look at Charlie.

"This may explain a few things," Horace said quietly.

Charlie nodded, shifting his gaze back to Hawkins. "Any stories about what this Lane Tallfield was like as a man?"

Their driver scratched at his chin and shrugged. "Never heard anythin' bad about him. Supposed to have been a fine sheriff, actually. All the Tallfields have been pretty decent people. " He smiled then. "For rich folk, anyway."

"How is he related to Rance Tallfield?" Charlie asked.

Hawkins' eyes widened. "Oh..." He frowned in thought. "Seems to me that Lane's son, Jefferson, was Rance's granddaddy. That'd make Lane Rance's great-granddaddy."

"Direct line," Horace said, nodding. "This may prove interesting."

Jeremiah Hawkins looked from face to face. "I told you boys what I know. You gonna fill me in on what you're doing here?"

Charlie turned to Kippy, his gaze questioning. His boyfriend smiled, and then turned it into a grin. "I like our new friend here. Seems the trustworthy type, to me."

"Anythin' you tell me, won't go no farther," Hawkins said, raising a hand as if he were taking an oath. But then he laughed. "We'll, I won't promise that somethin' you say won't go into a tall tale I share with Joe Wilson, or any other of my witchin' friends. But no names will be mentioned. You got my word on that."

Adrian laughed, and Ricky joined in. "How can you not like this guy?" Rick asked.

Charlie smiled. "I do like him. But that doesn't mean I'm going to tell him my life story."

"No need for that," Hawkins put in hastily. "I'm just interested in what this all has to do with the Tallfields. Your personal business is your own."

"Fair enough." Charlie pointed to Horace. "This man's a ghost hunter. We've been investigating sightings of Lane Tallfield's ghost. Up to now, the impression we've had of Lane Tallfield is that he's not a particularly nice character. That doesn't seem to jibe with what you've told us."

Hawkins nodded. "Some folk don't take kindly to bein' dead, from what little I know on the subject."

Horace cleared his throat. "What seems interesting about this case is that Mr. Tallfield seems not to believe he's dead."

"Great Saint Joseph! That sure would make it hard!"

Charlie had to smile at the man's outburst. "We think so, too."

"So, you're gonna drop in on Rance now and see what's goin' on." It was a statement, not a question.

Kippy nodded. "He called us. We don't even know how he knew to call us!"

Hawkins rubbed at his jaw in thought. "Sounds like we're on the right track. If you folk been investigating Lane Tallfield, and he's in communication with Rance...seems to me to be the only way Rance could know about you. Lane told him."

"Maybe we should go and see," Robin said pleasantly. "Now that we're all friends here."

Charlie laughed at that, but nodded. "Sure. Jeremiah...can I call you Jeremiah?"

"Be my pleasure, young fella."

Charlie nodded, and introduced everyone by their first names. Their driver grinned and nodded at each of Charlie's crew, and then turned around in his seat to face the dashboard. "Ready to go?"

"Lead on, McGruff!," Ricky said, settling back in his seat and patting Adrian's hand.

"It's McDuff," Kippy corrected gently, smiling at his friend.

Ricky grinned. "No, it's McGruff, like the crime dog. We're detectives, right?"

"Ghost detectives," Horace said, laughing. "I like it!"

Adrian sighed happily, took Rick's hand, and interlaced their fingers, and Kippy, taking note of that, sighed and leaned against Charlie.

Jeremiah started the Checker's engine, and then pulled away from the shoulder and headed down the road. "Be there in about two minutes, gents."

The wintery gloom of the forest to each side of the road remained unabated, only finally breaking when a wide drive appeared to the right side of the road. Jeremiah slowed the car, and then turned into the gravel lane past the rural mailbox, which looked new on the weathered post it was mounted upon. The stones of the drive crackled under the car's tires as they slowly made their way into a tunnel among the trees.

"This is some forest here," Uncle Bob noted, staring at the passing trees through his window.

"Most of the mountain is still forested," Jeremiah told him, nodding. "But it's cleared around the house - well, you'll see."

The drive wound among the trees, conforming to the edge of a natural rise to the passenger side of the vehicle, where the trees climbed a hill a short distance to what appeared to be the top. The drive turned, following the rise, and Charlie realized they were climbing it at the same time. He was just about to say so when the Checker broke out of the trees into a large cleared area that was covered with grass, shrubbery to either side of the drive, and smaller trees placed in what could only be landscaped positions.

And at the top of the rise sat the house. Jeremiah brought the cab to a stop so they all could see.

It wasn't quite a mansion, but it was probably as close to it as these parts offered. The house was built of brick with stone trim, and Charlie immediately pinned it as an Edwardian design at the root of it, though the Tallfield home was adorned with front and side covered porches in the local country fashion, each outlined in brick and embellished at the base with smoothed stonework made of small ashlars. The front windows were large, consisting of rows of single-pane glass with a row of smaller panes above, and identical on the first and second floors in outwardly set off sections beneath pediments, with the stone porch between them on the first floor, and what looked like a balcony between them on the second. Tall chimneys rose from the roof at each end of the house, and a brick-framed bay with multipaned windows curved across the left end of the home.

At first glance the house was quite appealing, gracefully executed and marvelously detailed in the arts and crafts fashion, and Charlie couldn't understand why Jeremiah had referred to it as creepy. But as his eyes roved over the details of the architecture, he noted that all of the windows were covered inside with shades or curtains, giving the place a subtly unwelcoming air. The outline of the roof and chimneys against the gray sky had a foreboding aspect to it that was a little intimidating, and the grounds of the house, while landscaped in a fairly orderly manner, had a sterile aspect to them that seemed to clearly speak of disuse.

And then Charlie could see what Jeremiah meant about creepy, his imagination filling in details that his eyes had not noticed in his first appraisal.

The Tallfield home was a house looking inward. The world lay within its walls, not upon the land around it. No one walked these grounds and enjoyed the views. No one looked from the windows at the passing seasons, nor enjoyed the travels of the sun or the moon above. The house occupied its setting, dominated it, even; but it somehow seemed not to live there.

"Pretty place," Robin noted, his eyes doing the same search that Charlie's had done. The man frowned then. "Something unsettling about the entire setting, however."

"It's spooky, you mean", Adrian said, shaking his head. "I get a weird sense of presence from this place."

"Is it actually the place, though?" Horace asked. "I sense it's what lives here on the grounds that is unusual, more than the home itself."

Charlie turned to look at the man. "You sense something more than a people presence?"

"Yes. I suspect this place has a genius loci of its own, much like my Gretchen."

"You mean the land is spirited?" Jeremiah asked. He gave a grunt. "Known that for a long time." He pointed to a gap in the forest to one side of the house. "You can see this house from the road through there, if we had driven further on 'round the bend. I've been by here on the road at night, when the full moon is out, and the house just glows, like it's sucking up all the moonlight it can find. The grounds look misty then, like something livin' is crawling over them. Every time I've seen that, I just go faster 'til I'm passed by. There's a witchin' life of some kind here."

Horace's eyebrows went up. "There are genius loci that seem to be energized by the light of the moon, just as others are energized by the light of the sun, or the life that shares their special places with them."

Jeremiah turned to squint at Horace over the back of his seat. "By genius loci, you mean place spirits? We call those witchin' life. Ain't witchin' from people at all, but something of the land." He cocked his head at the house. "One reason I've never been up here before."

Robin smiled at that. "Any other reasons you've never been up here before?"

Their driver laughed. "Never been invited, neither!"

"Well, you have a reason now," Charlie said. He pointed at the drive ahead of them. "It would be easier if you took us to the door."

Jeremiah gave a little huff, but smiled, put the cab in gear, and proceeded up the drive to the house. Charlie simply watched their progress, letting out his mental senses as the car approached the wide front porch. At first, he felt none of the things that Horace seemed to be feeling. The man had his eyes closed, a small smile on his face, but didn't look alarmed in the least. Rather, he looked charmed, and it was an expression Charlie had seen Horace wear before. Mostly at his own home, when Gretchen was about.

Horace sighed softly. "Come out, come out, wherever you are!"

And with those words, Charlie felt something new. It was as if the house, the land, the forest and the sky, all turned to suddenly look at them. Jeremiah let off the gas, and the car slowed to a creep, still approaching the porch, but at no more than walking pace. "Somethin's noticed us," the man breathed, his eyes wide in the rear-view mirror.

Horace smiled. "It's fine. Despite the power of the presence, it is not malevolent in any way. Just curious about us."

"This is a good one?" Rick asked. "Not one to watch out for, like that Pyewacket?"

"Pyewacket was only defending his people when he sent us to that alternate reality," Horace said. "Genius loci are watchful of their territories and everything that lives within them, but boojums like Pyewacket have no bounds. If they bond with someone like Pyewacket has with Kiernan Wilman, you had better not become a threat to that lad. Even though we were not a threat, Pyewacket perceived us as one. With the results we all remember."

"And this one?" Kippy asked. "I feel it's more like Gretchen than Pyewacket."

"It is," the man agreed.

Jeremiah chuckled, just a little nervously, and examined Horace in the rear-view mirror again. "Thought you was a ghost hunter?"

"I am. Ghosts, spirits of the land, spirits of time and space. They have more in common than you know."

Jeremiah nodded at that, and returned his eyes to the drive, speeding up again until they finally drew up before the porch. "It's all witchin' to me. I gotta good sense of you fellas, so I'll go along until somethin' grabs me!"

Charlie and the others laughed at that.

They got out of the car, and Charlie looked up at the house. For a second he thought he saw one of the curtains in a window near the front door move; but then the sense was gone.

But not forgotten, apparently.

"They know we're here," Adrian said, nodding.

Jeremiah was standing outside the driver's door, watching Charlie expectantly, and Charlie had to smile at what he felt the man wanted now. "You're coming inside with us, of course?"

The driver's eyes lit up, and an eager smile flashed across his features. He leaned on the roof of the car and whispered across the top of it, "Lived here 46 years and never been on the property, let alone inside the house. Are you kiddin', am I comin'? Yes sir!"

Charlie exchanged looks with Kippy, who was smiling, too, and they proceeded around the car to join the others, who had all gotten out that side.

"What do you think?" Charlie asked Robin, as the two of them looked up at the wide front door.

The world's favorite thief smiled. "I think we should go in."

To accent his words, he turned and led the way up the stone steps. They massed before the door, and Robin rang the doorbell.

Ricky leaned close to Charlie's ear, and whispered from behind, "If Lurch answers the door, I'm leaving!"

Charlie gently elbowed his friend into silence, and he could hear Adrian sighing in exasperation. "Shh!"

Charlie turned and smiled at Rick, who simply adopted an innocent look, and nodded at the broad oak door. Which opened just then.

It was not Lurch who answered, but a tall, broad-shouldered oldster with thick gray hair and a mustache, whose equally gray eyes moved quickly among the faces and then came back to Charlie's. "I'm Rance Tallfield."

Charlie nodded, and introduced his group. Tallfield nodded at each of them, until his eyes landed on Jeremiah Hawkins. "I know you. You live in town."

"He drove us out here," Charlie explained. "He's with us."

Tallfield looked like he'd argue that, but Charlie just settled his eyes on the man as if waiting to be asked in. A brief flash of humor passed through Tallfield's gaze, and he stepped back from the door and motioned for them to come in.

The entry hall was beautiful, with hardwood floors and carved panels on the walls. A large crystal chandelier hung above, throwing a twinkling, cheery light into every corner.

"If you'll come around through here, we can all sit," Rance said, turning and leading them into a short side hallway. It opened into a two-story library, with bookcases circling the room, and a balcony above with an intricate latticed railing, with each carved newel post topped with what looked like a bird with its wings spread in flight. There was a large desk before the tall, curtained window, and three long sofas sheathed in brown leather set in a 'U' shape before it. In a way, it reminded Charlie of their own set up back at the office.

Tallfield went to seat himself at the desk, and used a hand to indicate the sofas. "Please. Make yourselves comfortable."

Charlie and his group sat down. The leather of the sofas was cool to the touch, but soft and accommodating. The room itself was cheerful, and Charlie felt it was a good indicator of the man who sat before them. One thing Charlie could appreciate, was a man who loved libraries.

"I'm sure you're wondering why I called you here?" Rance began. "I know I was a little short with you on the phone. I'm happy you decided to come."

"We figured it was about your great-grandfather, Lane Tallfield," Charlie said boldly. "So naturally, we came."

Rance's composure was good. He only briefly allowed some surprise to creep through. "So you know."

Charlie nodded.

Tallfield frowned at that, and gave a little shake of his head. "You seem a far cry from the demonical beings that my great-grandfather spoke of. I get a good sense of all of you, in fact."

"They're in the witchin' community, like us," Jeremiah spoke up.

Rance's frown deepened, and he slowly nodded. "Yes."

"We're not here to cause trouble," Robin said quickly. "We are hoping to avoid it, actually."

A faint smile touched their host's lips. "My great-grandfather is not a man one wants to get on the bad side of," he said. The smile vanished, and was replaced with a more troubled look. "His venom has surprised us, though. He is...unlike the family stories I grew up with."

"He's dead," Charlie said, holding up his hands to accent the simple point of it. "He's not the same man he was when he was alive."

"I feel that may be true. His visits of late have, um, unsettled my wife and I, both."

"Your wife speaks with the dead?" Horace asked.

Rance looked faintly surprised by that. "She channels them, yes."

Kippy sat forward. "That's different than simply speaking with them, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. My wife, Eleanora, is able to give herself over to the spirits of the deceased. They inhabit her for a time, but they are not actually here."

Charlie turned to Horace. "I'm not familiar with this ability."

The ghost hunter nodded. "It's actually the most common form of communication with the dead, Charlie. Someone with this sort of talent can allow for one of those that have crossed to merge with them, and speak through them to others here among the living."

"Sounds dangerous to me," Adrian offered.

"It's not, really," Rance said. He frowned then. "Or, we never considered it dangerous before. Usually, the channel has complete control, and can end the session at will. It's only with my great-grandfather that Eleanora has had some trouble disengaging. He seems to be a very potent spirit." Rance leaned forward then, his curiosity intense. "My great-grandfather speaks of you as if you were there, with him."

Charlie didn't see any way around the truth. "We were."

"But...you clearly are not dead!"

"No. It's a long story. All I can say now is that we have a method of visiting what we call the lower level, which is the abode of those who have passed."

Rance watched him a moment, until it was clear he knew he would not get more just now. "That explains some things."

It was Charlie's turn to lean forward to satisfy his curiosity. "Can you tell me how you knew to call me?"

Their host smiled. "Another of my wife's talents is that she's a people finder. After my great-grandfather raged about you a few times, she seemed to know exactly where to call."

Kippy bumped his elbow against Charlie's ribs. "Sort of like Amy," he whispered.

Charlie understood then. "Ah. The mystery is explained."

Rance sighed through closed lips. "My wife and I feel...we seem to think...the evidence seems clear to us, that my great-grandfather doesn't seem to understand he has passed."

"We thought that, too," Kippy said. "He seems to be intent on coming back here."

Their host nodded, and indicated the room with a wave of the hand. "In Lane's day, this was his father's house. The family house. Lane was a boy here. He would consider this house as his home."

"He lived in Stockdale, didn't he?" Robin asked. "He was the sheriff there, we were told."

Rance's gaze briefly moved to Jeremiah Hawkins before it returned to Robin. "He was. He was murdered there on Christmas day, in 1910. He left behind a wife and three children who loved him dearly. It's the saddest moment in our family's history, in fact."

"And the murder was never solved," Uncle Bob said. "The robbers got away with the bank's money."

"Yes. The sum was just sort of $17,000, an enormous amount of money at the time. The entire town's savings, in fact. It could have ruined Stockdale, and many lives, had not Lane's father, my twice great-grandfather, stepped in."

Jeremiah Hawkins leaned forward. "I never heard this part!"

Rance nodded. "It was kept very private. Lane's father reimbursed the bank for the lost amount, in addition to offering a $10,000 reward for the capture of his son's murderers. That bounty has, unfortunately, never been claimed."

"The case was never solved," Uncle Bob repeated.

"No." Rance Tallfield looked unhappy. "It never was."

"And even with the money reimbursed to the bank, lives were still ruined," said a new voice. A feminine voice.

They turned to the library's entrance to find a woman standing there, watching them. She appeared to be in her late sixties, just as Rance Tallfield was. She had a pleasant face, one that had been born to smile, and so looked slightly haggard just now, tight around the eyes, as if stress had been a recent factor in determining expressions. But she smiled now, and her true warmth shone through.

"Which of you is Charlie Boone?"

Charlie stood, and nodded. "That would be me."

She came forward then, her hand outstretched, and took Charlie's hand when he offered it, and held it warmly a moment. "It's my pleasure to finally meet you."

Charlie nodded and smiled, touched by the woman's intensity. He introduced his friends, and she nodded to each and repeated their names. When Charlie got to Jeremiah, Eleanora Tallfield held up a hand. "I know Jeremiah." She smiled at the man. "It's so nice to see you again."

Jeremiah seemed not to know what to do with the compliment. But he managed a nice smile, and nodded. "Same here, ma'am."

"Please." The woman smiled around at everyone. "Call me Eleanora."

She moved then to take the vacant chair by the desk - one someone meeting with the desks' owner might inhabit - and turned it their way before sitting herself down. "Please, go on."

Robin managed to speak first. "You said as you came in that lives were still ruined in Stockdale, even though Lane's father reimbursed the bank?"

"Yes. Of course, the lives of Lane's wife and children were horribly wounded by his death. They came back to this very house for a time, before resettling up north."

"And others?" Robin prompted.

"The bank manager, Fred Evans, was ruined. The fact that the sheriff was killed while he lived haunted him. The robbers got away with the money while he lay sprawled in the mud right out front of the bank. You know how people can be? Judgmental? People seemed to no longer trust him, and he resigned his position at the bank and left town."

"He had a family, too?" Charlie asked.

"Not that I know of," Eleanora returned. "And a good thing. More lives that would have been harmed."

"Anyone else?" Robin asked.

"The entire town was wounded," the woman told him. "Sheriff Tallfield was an admired and respected man there. He had many friends. His loss was felt deeply." She shook her head. "A place is never the same after a killing. People cannot easily forget."

For a moment no one said anything. Finally, Charlie cleared his throat. "Your description of Lane Tallfield seems...seems not to be the man we have met."

Eleanora Tallfield nodded, a hint of sadness in her eyes. "I know. The last casualty of that Christmas day was Lane, himself. He is no longer the man he was in life. He is driven now, in a way I don't quite understand, to return home."

Charlie indicated the room around them. "You mean here? This house?"

Eleanora bit at her lip. "Yes...and no. I think he thinks he is trying to make his way home, to this house. He seems not to understand he is dead, but thinks he is somehow trapped on the road to hell, and that if he tries very hard - hard enough - he will awaken, and it will all be over."

"It won't," Horace said, sighing in sympathy.

"I know." Eleanora nodded. "I have tried to make him understand where he is, but he seems not to hear my words. They have no power to sway him. He is convinced that he can come home, if he can only best those that are trying to stop him." She nodded at Charlie. "That would seem to be you." Her gaze moved around the group. "All of you."

Charlie nodded. "We aren't trying to stop him from coming home. We have been trying to avert damage in the lower layer from what he has been doing in trying to come home. There are other people involved. Well, other dead people."

"I know. I sense this. I understand that Lane is troubled and misguided. I know what he wants, and I know he cannot have it. But what to do about it...I have no idea."

Horace sat forward. "Your husband says you can channel Lane Tallfield."

"That's true. But unlike past experiences, where I have sought out the spirits I wished to communicate with, Lane came to me first. His initial appearance was frightening for both, Rance and I, and while his later appearances have been less violent, his anger is almost overwhelming." She licked her lips. "His power is greater than any spirit I have ever channeled before, by many orders of magnitude."

"We don't want these appearances to keep happening," Rance said slowly. "Even though Lane is family...he seems no longer one of us. His appearances here are disrupting our lives." He nodded. "It's why I took a chance and called you." He leaned forward in his seat. "We don't want Lane harmed, if such a thing can even happen. We want to help him, if possible, but we don't know how. But we want his...his takeovers of my wife to cease."

Horace blinked at that, and shook his head slowly at Eleanora. "He initiates communications with you, and channels to you without your permission? I've never heard of such a thing."

The woman nodded. "I can call to him, but he also seems to have the ability to simply come and go as he wishes. It isn't pleasant for me at all."

"I can imagine," Charlie said. "Um...when Lane comes here, how much of this world can he...interpret?"

"Almost none," Eleanora replied. "He can see through my eyes, and hear through my ears, and speak through my mouth...but he is completely limited to where I happen to be."

"Has he any control over your movements?" Horace asked.

"No."

The ghost hunter nodded. "I only ask because we heard that Lane looked out a window while a man was working on the side porch."

Eleanora smiled. "That was me."

Horace shook his head. "The man in question clearly said he saw a tall man in a Stetson looking out the window at him."

Eleanora nodded. "It was me. Any spirit that is channeled through me appears as a sort of overlay around me. It was me that Mr. Hendry saw that day. I was channeling Lane at the moment, and I heard the sounds on the porch, and I looked out the window to see what it was. It wasn't Lane that prompted me to do that. I did it on my own."

"But Mr. Hendry didn't see you," Horace argued.

"He would have, if he had looked deeply enough. I was there, within the image of Lane Tallfield. Mr. Hendry took one look and ran, so he never had time to look deeper."

"You weren't worried he would tell people?" Kippy asked.

"This is a witch community," Rance said, smiling at Jeremiah. "Even those not in the craft know enough of what goes on here to keep their mouths closed about their odd experiences."

"I kind of had to drag the story out of Pat," Jeremiah acknowledged. He nodded at Rance. "And it won't go no farther."

Charlie closed his eyes a moment, thinking, and then opened them again and fixed his gaze on Eleanora. "So...if Lane Tallfield came back to you, and you had your back to us, he wouldn't know we were here?"

"As long as you made no sound, and stayed out of my sight, he wouldn't," Eleanora agreed.

"You have something in mind?" Robin asked Charlie.

"Maybe." He smiled at Rance. "If I gave you a few questions to ask Lane, could you do it without giving away that we're listening?'

The man's eyes narrowed slightly. "Just one thing, first. You don't have the power to harm Lane, do you?"

Charlie shook his head. "No. Even if we did, we don't want that." He leaned forward, himself. "But where Lane is now, in the lower layer, there are those that do have the power to harm him, if he keeps trying to do what he has been trying to do. We'd rather not see that happen."

"We won't go along with Lane being harmed," Eleanora agreed. "But questions? That seems easy enough. What do you have in mind?"

All eyes came to Charlie then. He smiled, and shook his head. "I'm still trying to figure it all out, but...gather around, and I'll tell you!"

Copyright © 2022 Geron Kees; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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3 hours ago, Geron Kees said:

The sheriff was gun-in-hand, the bank manger empty-handed. Expediency dictates you get rid of the most dangerous adversary first and in the quickest way, and perhaps be less direct with the second.

Or, it could have been something else. :)

 

Committing murder and leaving an eyewitness behind doesn't add up.

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Jeremiah is an interesting guy whose storytelling style was enjoyable. I did kind of suspect that Holdover might have some magic either in the house, land or people, but not another seer.  Rance and Eleanora are nice people and want to protect Lane.  Lane was a much different person while alive.  I do wonder how our gang are going to convince Lane that he is dead and needs to move forward.  His skills developed in life could be an asset in death in the lower level.    

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On 12/25/2022 at 1:29 PM, drpaladin said:

Committing murder and leaving an eyewitness behind doesn't add up.

Then maybe it didn't happen that way! :)

 

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On 12/25/2022 at 10:55 PM, ReaderPaul said:

By the way, @Geron Kees, Branson is just north of the ARKANSAS border, not Tennessee.  Missouri is west of Tennessee.

Arkansas? ARKANSAS? Never heard of the place!

Ohhhhhh. You mean TENNESSEE WEST! Yeah, I see that now, on the map.

Sorry. I guess I should fix that, huh? :)

 

 

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12 hours ago, raven1 said:

Jeremiah is an interesting guy whose storytelling style was enjoyable. I did kind of suspect that Holdover might have some magic either in the house, land or people, but not another seer.  Rance and Eleanora are nice people and want to protect Lane.  Lane was a much different person while alive.  I do wonder how our gang are going to convince Lane that he is dead and needs to move forward.  His skills developed in life could be an asset in death in the lower level.    

In a story with magic as a base, it appears in some of the dangest places! :)

It would be nice if Lane could be salvaged. :)

 

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