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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. 

We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes, Charlie Boone! - 1. Chapter 1

The monster shoved its way down the broad street, brushing the facades off buildings with each sweep of its massive tail. Faces in the seventh-floor windows gaped and contorted and screamed as the baleful black eyes looked in at them in passing. Any movement caught the creature's attention, bringing huge claws tipped with sharp talons to bear, which ripped their way into the buildings and seized the unfortunate souls, who screamed again, struggled, and then died as massive jaws closed around them.

Low-flying helicopter gunships flitted above the monster like gnats over a raging bull, loosing short bursts of gunfire that seemed too aware of the people on the ground below to be really effective. Soldiers, hiding behind trucks lined up across the street, offered up a continuous rattle of automatic weapons fire, while in the distance, the bulky forms of tanks ground their way towards the scene of the battle. Even should they arrive in time, and dispatch the frightful creature, it was with the knowledge that a hundred more just like it had arrived within the besieged city--

And then the intercom broke in, and Amy's voice reached them from the front desk: "Charlie? Are you guys busy?"

Charlie Boone raised the remote and paused the movie playing on the large flat-panel monitor, and then smiled that he had happened to freeze the picture on a close-up of the monster's face. It was a first-class Hollywood special effect all the way, with all the right gruesome touches to guarantee that the audience would cringe at every appearance of the horrifying countenance. It was almost too well-done, in fact. In the years they had been roaming other dimensions and other worlds, they had never once encountered anything quite as ugly or scary as this!

"Aw, man!" Rick Travers called, a handful of popcorn halfway to his mouth. He tossed an annoyed look Charlie's way. "Come on! We're at the good part!"

"No, we're not busy," Charlie answered into the air, grinning at Rick, and knowing that Big Irv, the AI that controlled the intercom, would filter out his friend's comments as not pertinent to the conversation. "Just doing a little Halloween research, is all."

Browbeat, happily squatting in the center of the coffee table where he'd had a prime view of the TV, emitted a tiny laugh. "That big fella was doing some damage!" The little flyer's face was filled with glee, causing Charlie to smile. Everything seemed to delight their alien visitor, and attract his curious devotion. They had watched Godzilla the other evening, and the little flyer had been mesmerized. Browbeat had asked for more, and he and Rick had been going through their movie catalog of giant-monster-on-the-loose films with obvious delight for the past few days. Charlie and the others had been along for the ride, mostly enjoying the films, but getting the best part of their of their pleasure from watching Browbeat and Rick yelling excitedly at the monsters.

"Halloween research?" Charlie was certain that Amy wasn't fooled in the least, but her voice gave nothing away. "Oh. Well, do you think you could come out here a moment? I've just had a very interesting phone call."

Kippy Lawson, Charlie's boyfriend, let out a happy sigh and leaned up against Charlie's shoulder. "Ooh, maybe it's a creepy new client! And just in time for the holiday, too!"

"Yeah, maybe it will be something fun," Adrian Whitaker mused, his face lighting with interest. He gave his own boyfriend a gentle poke. "That would be great, huh?"

Rick stared in disgust a last moment at the frozen picture on the large monitor, and then raised and dropped his shoulders in a quick shrug. "I suppose. I'd just as soon have seen the end of the movie, though."

Kip rolled his eyes at the very idea. "Aw, come on, Ricky-tick. Things have been slow lately! We could use a good, scary client for Halloween!"

Browbeat propelled himself into the air and circled the room quickly, looking like a very large, very merry bumblebee, before coming back to hover before Charlie. "Friends! Another adventure? You guys sure are fun!"

"We know," Kippy said, grinning and patting his fingertips together in anticipation. "And now we might have a scary new client!"

Rick made a dismissive sound at the idea. "What if it's not a scary client? Maybe someone just lost their dog."

"Nobody calls us for that," Kippy argued, plainly not liking Rick spoiling his moment. "A lost werewolf, maybe. Be reasonable!"

"We'll never know unless I go and see," Charlie pointed out quickly. "And let me remind you that we get our share of crank calls. Advertising that we investigate the things we do seems to appeal to the juvenile humor in some people."

Kippy pouted at that. "We need something to do, Charlie. What good is having a business that inquires, if no one is inquiring?"

Charlie gaped at his boyfriend a moment. "It's only been three days since we finished up the Janifer case," he pointed out, smiling. "We did a heck of a lot inquiring on that one!"

"And found out where all that water was going," Rick reminded, nodding. The thought of their recent adventure made him smile. "Who would have thought a bunch of renegade beavers could build a damn that would steal an entire river and pump it into the past?"

"They were some pretty good engineers," Browbeat offered. "They had the temporal rift down pat. You couldn't see what they were doing, even when you looked close!"

"At least they admitted it when we asked them," Adrian said. "I kind of liked them, actually."

"They were not your normal beavers," Charlie agreed. He turned to smile at his boyfriend again. "That job took more than a little investigation."

Kippy blew out a frustrated breath. "That's beside the point! That job is done. We need something to do now, for the holiday!"

"Charlie?" Amy asked, unable to hear the back and forth between the guys, because Big Irv had muted it.

Charlie waved his hand again for silence. "I'll be right out, Amy." He looked around at his friends, and then gave Kip a reassuring pat on the arm. "Just relax, will you? We don't even know what this is about yet!"

Charlie stood, and Kippy jumped to his feet next to him. "Well, I'm going, too!" His eyes flashed his new delight. "My skwish tells me this is going to be interesting!"

With that Rick sighed, dropped his handful of popcorn back into the bowl in his lap, and set that aside as he got up. "Oh, well, if Kip's skwish is talking to him, we might as well go along. Come on, Ad."

Adrian laughed silently, and also stood up.

"I'm going, too!" Browbeat called, winging his way towards the door.

Charlie blinked at his friends, and then sighed patiently. "Okay, we'll all go."

From habit, he glanced up at the ceiling again, as if the AI that operated the electronics in the room would somehow be floating around above them. That unit, along with the compact, custom-made interstellar communicator they had acquired on the dark world of Engris, was actually located in a hidden safe cabinet built into one of the walls. But Big Irv's sense of presence was such that it always seemed to fill the room like he was somehow there, personally.

"Big Irv? Would you remember where we were in the movie, and then turn it off, please? We'll get back to it later."

"Yes, Charlie. I've already marked the spot as 'the good part', for future reference."

"See?" Rick said, looking exasperated. "Even Big Irv knows what I'm missing!"

Kippy waved a hand at him, as if shooing away a fly. "Big Irv hears everything we say in here, and acts like it's all important. Even stuff from you!"

Rick made a goofy face at Charlie's boyfriend, and Kip stuck out his tongue in return.

Charlie closed his eyes a moment, and sighed. We're all adults, he thought. Every one of us. Even if we sometimes don't act like it!

But he opened his eyes again as Kip took him by the arm. "Come on, Charlie. You're holding up the show!"

Rick and Adrian laughed; and then they were all pushing Charlie along to the door into the hallway.

They exited the bored room and made their way to the reception area of Third Planet Inquiries. It was a large and well-appointed waiting area, watched over by their office manager, Amy Brandt. Amy was also a skwish person, and had been a perfect match for the boy's activities. Charlie knew they had Max to thank for that, who had moonlighted at the employment office one day, just long enough to find Amy for the open position. She had proven herself to be a wonderful addition to their group, and especially appealing to Horace Wingspanner, their ghost hunter, who had fallen for their new office manager in record time. And the feeling seemed to be mutual!

Charlie smiled at the thought, and glanced at his watch. Horace should be along any minute, as a matter of fact.

Amy was leaned forward on her desktop, her chin propped on one hand, looking at the office phone a little oddly, as if waiting. She glanced up at them and gave a little shake of her head, as if telling them that they needed to wait, too.

"What's up?" Charlie asked, sitting on a corner of the desk. "You said someone called?" He leaned his head to one side as Browbeat settled onto his shoulder, and then held up a finger and waved it, asking the flyer to be quiet and listen.

Amy frowned, and nodded at them. "Yes. A woman named Mildred Tull. She sounded old, but that can be hard to tell on the phone."

Kippy leaned against Charlie's shoulder. "She has a job for us?"

Amy's frown deepened. "Well...she was just starting to tell me why she was calling when I heard a couple of sharp banging sounds in the background. Ms. Tull gasped, said she needed to make sure the front door was locked, and that she'd call me back. And then she hung up."

Charlie stared at the office manager a moment, until Kippy squeezed his arm. "She sounds like she was in trouble!"

Charlie stood and leaned over the desk carefully, so as to not dislodge Browbeat, and looked first at the phone, and then at Amy. "Did the phone get her caller ID?"

"Yes. But she said she would call back." The woman gave a little shake of her head. "I feel we should wait, and not try to call her."

Kippy's grip on Charlie's arm tightened.. "A skwish feeling?" he asked Amy.

"Well...some sort of strong feeling. Like I should just be patient."

Just then, Charlie felt a curious sensation of warmth from his chest beneath his shirt as the tiny, carved wooden dragon, which was suspended from a leather lanyard around his neck, seemed to come to life. A gift from Ian Lewellyn and the spirits of the island of Mnidoo Mnis in the land of fire at the tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego, the small dragon also served as transportation for one of their own to accompany Charlie in his travels. Castor, the spirit within, had suddenly displayed a new interest in what was happening just now. That suggested to Charlie that Castor expected some unusual events to be coming their way.

Browbeat took a small, excited breath next to Charlie's ear as he seemed to sense the new interest from the spirit, too. "Here we go!" the flyer whispered in delight.

Charlie automatically placed a hand on his shirt over the dragon, but no visions arrived to suggest to him what might be the cause of Castor's new interest.

Kip immediately squinted at him for the move. "Castor?"

"Yes. He's woken up. Or, become interested, I should say. That tells me he thinks something of note is about to happen."

Kippy rubbed at his chin, looking unsure. "Well, that's what we want, isn't it? I mean, it's almost Halloween!"

Adrian nodded. "Something always happens at Halloween, doesn't it? Something fun?"

Rick offered a dissenting grunt. "Or something dangerous! But as long as it doesn't kill us, I guess something to do for the holiday would be, um, fun."

"But if she's in trouble--" Charlie began.

The phone rang.

Amy leaned forward to look at it, and then quickly nodded. "It's her."

"Put her on the speaker phone so we all can hear," Charlie instructed. He turned to look at his friends. "Everyone stay quiet until we know what's going on."

Amy answered the phone.

"It's just me again, Mildred Tull," the speaker declared. Her voice did sound like that of an older woman to Charlie's ear; but Amy was right, that such things could be deceiving. "I'm sorry to have hung up on you. But I had to make sure nothing could get into the house while we were talking."

"Someone was trying to get into your house?" Amy asked, a hint of alarm in her voice now.

"No. It was just a branch or something, hitting the porch roof. I thought it was too early in the day for visitors."

"I see," Amy replied, her eyebrows raising slightly. "How can we help you today?"

"Well...I saw your web page online. It says you investigate unusual things."

"That's what we do. You have something unusual that needs investigating?"

"I think I do. I'm just not sure what it is."

Amy looked up at Charlie a moment. "Um, Ms. Tull, I'm going to bring one of our investigators, Charlie Boone, into the conversation. Is that okay with you?"

"That's fine. But I won't be able to tell him anything more than I can tell you. Something keeps trying to get into my house, is all. But I have no idea what it is."

"Hello, Ms. Tull," Charlie said then. "Can you tell me first where you're located?"

"I live outside of Preston, downstate from you. A couple of miles outside of town, actually. It's rather rural in nature."

Charlie looked over at Kip and shrugged. He'd never heard of the place, and couldn't picture its location on his mental map of the state.

Rick waved at him then, looking excited, and Charlie nodded and held up a hand for him to wait. "Ms. Tull, some of our other people are here. Do you mind if they comment on this?"

"Oh, not at all. The more help I can get, the better."

Charlie gave Rick an expectant look.

"That's only a few miles from Norwich," the other boy said softly.

Norwich was where Rick's cousin, Annie, lived in her octagon house, with her dog, Moped, and members of a lost race of inter-dimensional refugees allowed sanctuary in the house by way of the secret Tesla device hidden in the cellar. The rub was that Annie didn't know about her invisible guests, even though she could feel their happiness at being there. She mostly loved the house on her own, but being immersed in the joy of thousands of unseen boarders didn't hurt the experience in the least.

Charlie blinked at the unexpectedness of that fact, but then smiled. "That's near Norwich?" he asked their caller.

"Yes, it is. About a five-minute drive, I would say. You know the town?"

Charlie nodded. "Yes, we do. That's not far from here!"

"I know. It's one reason I called you." The phone emitted a short laugh. "You're local folks, and less likely to think I'm a nutcase."

Charlie smiled at that. "Believe me, Ms. Tull, we have seen our share of odd things."

"Then you'll love what's happening at my house. Will you consider coming to talk to me?"

"About an hour's drive," Kip mused, his eyes bright with interest. "We could be there today!"

"Do you think you could?" the voice on the phone asked, sounding eager now. "It would be nice to be able to get some sleep tonight!"

Charlie frowned at that, remembering then what they were discussing. An attempt to break and enter was a crime. "You say that someone has been trying to get into your house? Have you called the police?"

There was a moment of silence before the woman answered. "No, I didn't say that. I don't think people are involved at all. I said that 'something', as in some 'thing', has been trying to get into my house. At night, mostly, but there have been a few instances during the early evening. That's why I know no people are involved. I, well...I got a glimpse of it once."

A chill of surprise wound its way up Charlie's spine. "You don't mean an animal, either, I take it?"

"No. I have no idea what it is. Just that it's persistent, and that it's ruining my sleep. And, that I don't want the police involved."

Kippy leaned forward then. "My name is Kip Lawson, Ms. Tull. Can I ask you how long you've lived in your home?"

"I inherited the house from my brother back in the spring. He lived in it for forty years before that."

"And he never mentioned anything odd?" Charlie asked.

"No. But, my brother was, well...a little odd, himself. The fact that he didn't mention anything strange about the house in years past means nothing. Anything might have happened, and he would never have mentioned it to me."

Charlie felt the warmth upon his chest again, and a brief image came to him from Castor: a large old house with a broad front porch, Victorian-era in design, certainly, framed in a wooded setting, with low mountains rolling just beyond the treetops.

And then the image was gone.

But Charlie understood what Castor was telling him: we should go.

"We don't charge to hear your story," Charlie said. "Would it be convenient for you if we drove down tomorrow to talk to you?"

"I thought you were coming today?"

Charlie leaned closer to the phone, almost as if that would allow him to see the woman's face. "Well, no. I think it better if we prepare to take on the job immediately. It won't do any good to come right down there today and then decide to take the job, and have to come back here to supply ourselves. Well just take today to get ready, and come tomorrow."

"Oh. Well, that's better than nothing, I guess. Yes, come tomorrow, then."

Kippy gave an almost silent gasp, and smiled excitedly at Charlie. Charlie looked around at the others, who nodded. "There will be a number of us coming," he continued. "Is that good with you?"

"That's fine. Bring whomever and whatever you need."

Charlie nodded. "Would around lunchtime suit you? About noon?"

"Yes. Thank you so much! This has really been bothering me!"

Charlie digested that with a small frown. "I'm going to hand you back to Ms. Brandt. She'll get your address and any other information you wish to pass along. Thank you, Ms. Tull. We'll see you tomorrow, around noon."

"Thank you, Mr. Boone."

Charlie nodded to Amy, and the woman went back to talking to Mildred Tull, while Charlie silently ushered the others away from the desk and back to the bored room. Browbeat leaped into the air and fled down the hallway, to hover before the door to the activity room. "Are we going?" he asked in a hushed voice, his small face alight with anticipation. "It sounds interesting!"

Charlie opened the door, and the flyer wheeled on his aerial axis and flitted into the room.

"Wasn't that kind of strange?" Adrian asked, as soon as the door to the hallway was closed. "That women seemed more annoyed than scared."

"That was the impression I got, too," Rick agreed. He turned to frown at Charlie. "What's with the need to supply? We could have easily gone today."

"I wanted to gauge Ms. Tull's feelings on this matter. I needed to know how desperate she was for help." He squinted at the idea. "She wasn't in any hurry, obviously."

They moved towards the sofas and sat down.

Kippy looked around at the others in surprise. "She didn't seem unusual to me. What I got was that she was happy to have someone to help her!"

"It was peculiar," Charlie pointed out. "Kip, that women didn't strike me as scared at all. Don't you think the average person, when faced with something unknown trying to enter their house at night, would be just a little more frantic about it? Especially if they thought it was something inhuman?"

"Yeah," Rick agreed. "She acted like we were coming down to trim the hedges, or something!"

Kippy looked uncertain then. "Well, what I felt was that she was happy we were coming. But...it does seem a little weird, now that I think about it."

"Uh huh." Charlie smiled at his boyfriend. "What's your skwish say now?"

Kippy shrugged. "That we should go. Nothing else, except that it will be interesting."

Charlie nodded. "I trust your instincts, Kip." He patted the front of his shirt. "Castor also feels we should go. I got a picture from him of a big old house in the woods. Whether it was actually Mildred Tull's house, or just a representation, we won't know until we get there." Charlie turned to Adrian. "How about you? What's your skwish saying?"

"That there's something odd about this whole thing. But I do feel we should go."

Kip looked thoughtful a moment more; but then a happy smile filled his face. "It's a mystery, and I love mysteries! And, this one is just in time for Halloween!"

"I'm ready now!" Browbeat offered, looking hopeful. "I get to go, too, right?"

Charlie nodded. "I don't see why not. You know the rules. You'll just have to lie low, if or when the need arises."

"You can trust me!"

There was a knock at the hallway door then, and it opened enough for Horace Wingspanner to peer in through the crack. "Everybody decent?"

There was a little gasp behind him, and Amy pushed open the door, favoring Horace with an admonishing look. "Oh, you guys are all the same!"

Charlie joined his friends in laughing. Having a woman around did sometimes require more attention to the rules!

Horace turned and smiled at her. "I was just kidding, my sweet. The boys know that."

"Come on in, both of you," Charlie invited.

Amy gave Horace a little push, and they both entered the room. Horace closed the door, and the two of them came over to where the boys were seated.

"That was a very unusual conversation," Amy offered then. "Ms.Tull hardly struck me as frightened about the idea of something possibly monstrous trying to get into her house."

"We were just talking about that," Kippy agreed, now totally on board with the idea that Mildred Tull had seemed unusual. "We had the same impression."

"You don't think this is a scam of some kind, do you?" Horace asked. "I don't know all the details yet, but from what Amy told me, it sounds a little off to me."

"Castor doesn't seem to think so," Charlie answered. "And Kip and Adrian both feel we should take this case." Charlie looked up at Amy. "What were your impressions? Do you want to go?"

Amy narrowed her eyes in thought. "I had no feeling that I wanted to go. It was nothing like the time we took the job at Oshtàpày House for Arno Coldat. I felt like I should go that time."

Horace looked disappointed. "You don't want to go along?"

Amy turned to look at him, noted his disappointment, and smiled comfortingly. "No. At least, not now. That could change at some point."

"What about you, Horace?" Charlie asked. "You want to go along?"

Everyone laughed at the look of anticipation that came onto the ghost hunter's face.

"That would be a yes!" Kippy said, grinning.

Horace couldn't help smiling. "You know I love these adventures, Charlie. Of course I want to go. And, I have my bag of investigative equipment out in the car."

Charlie smiled at that. Horace never went anywhere in his old Buick woodie without his carpetbag of electronic gear, that could measure everything imaginable, from unheard sounds and odd vibrations to strange electromagnetic fields and rapid changes in temperature. All the goodies one would need to go a-hunting ghosts!

He leaned closer to the man. "Have any premonitions about spirit activity in this case?"

"Not a one. Or, not so far, would be the better answer."

Kippy sighed then, and gave Charlie a look. "You should have told her we'd come right away. Now I have to wait a whole day to see what the mystery is!"

Charlie smiled at that. "You'll live, Kip. This delay gives me time to do a little checking on both Ms. Tull, and her property."

Rick scratched at his chin in thought. "Kinda weird, this being so close to my cousin's house. You don't think it's related, do you?"

Charlie shook his head. "I don't see how. The range of the Tesla device in your cousin's hidden cellar doesn't extend beyond the confines of the house by much. Certainly, not miles down the road."

Rick nodded. "Yeah. But...hey! Should I call Annie and ask if she could put us up for a night or two? Ms.Tull didn't say we could stay at her place, and I really don't want to drive an hour each way every day while we're looking into this thing."

"I'd love to see Moped again!" Kippy said in delight.

Charlie nodded. "That might be a good back-up option. That'd be great, if she could do that."

"I doubt she'll mind," Rick returned, grinning. "All that space she has in that house? She'll never even know we're there!"

"You won't know unless you try," Adrian said, rubbing Rick's arm.

"Should we take anyone else along?" Kippy asked.

Charlie considered that, and then shook his head. "Let's keep this small for now. We don't even know for certain that we're taking this case yet. No need to bring a crowd, and then find out it's nothing. We can get extra help later if we need it."

Kippy looked around at the others, and then held up a finger. "Wait a sec. Let's see what our furry cat-friend has to say about this."

He got up, and went to where the fortune-telling machine stood against the wall. A gift from Frit and Pip one Christmas past, it was a wooden case, resembling a piece of furniture, about as tall and wide as a refrigerator. The case was mildly ornate, the wood beautifully finished, and yet just as obviously quite old. The lower half of the cabinet was entirely enclosed in the rose-colored wood, with a large red pull handle that protruded from the right side. The upper half of the cabinet had framed corners, with large sheets of glass fitted into the front and sides, while the top was again more ornate, a squared wooden cap with finials at the corners.

Behind the glass, basking beneath a tiny spotlight, the figure of a cat easily three feet in height sat on a small hassock. But it was a cat with a human body, with the booted feet planted firmly on the floor in front of the hassock. The cat wore brown velvet trousers above the golden boots, and a golden tunic above the trousers, with a wide, old-fashioned belt with a large buckle around its middle. The collar of the tunic was the same brown as the trousers, with a gold trim at the bottom, and a black bow tie in the front.

Perched upon the cat's head was a brown tricorn hat, with a golden feather tucked into the silver hatband, that just fit snugly between the upright ears. The cat's face was animated in a smile, mouth open, teeth exposed, which immediately reminded Charlie of the grin of the Cheshire cat from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The cat's whiskers were elegantly long, as were its eyebrows, and the face furred in a pattern that suggested a Tabby.The yellow eyes were wide and focused directly at anyone standing in front of the case, and the effect was eerily realistic.

The cat held what looked very much like a magic wand in one hand, and a small golden tray in the other. Just beneath the tray was a small wooden box with a hinged top, and beneath that, on the wooden front of the lower cabinet, a golden slot large enough to put a hand into.

Kippy smiled over his shoulder at the others, and pulled the handle, and the cabinet immediately hummed as if to the sound of some large clockwork mechanism inside.

The cat's hand holding the wand moved then, came around and used the tip of the wand to lift the lid of the small box set in front of the cat's booted feet. The other hand, the one holding the small tray, swung on its arm to the back of the cabinet and paused briefly before a slot in one corner. As it did so a card dropped out of the slot onto the tray. The motion of the arm was scarcely broken by the pause, and it swung directly back to the front of the cabinet, paused over the now open box, and the hand turned so that the card slid off the tray and into the box, dropping into the slot in the front of the cabinet below. The tip of the wand then flipped the box's lid shut again, and the cat resumed its original position.

Kippy bent, and retrieved the card, and held it up to look at it. He frowned a moment, and then returned, holding the card out before him. Charlie bent forward with the others to examine it.

 

It's not what you think!

 

"What the heck does that mean?" Rick asked.

"That's pretty vague," Horace agreed.

"Seems obvious to me," Adrian decided. "Whatever we see or suspect is happening at Mildred Tull's house, it might be something else."

Charlie absently scratched his cheek as he re-read the card, not certain the message was so obvious. The fortunetelling machine could be absolutely blunt in its predictions, but there had been more than one message where the meaning had been positively cryptic.

"I guess we won't know until we get there," Charlie offered. He turned to Rick then. "Can we take your Yukon? It has a little more space for cargo than my 4Runner."

The other boy bobbed his head, and looked pleased. "Sure. I don't mind driving."

Charlie smiled. Rick was proud of his new SUV, and they had yet to take it on any assignments as yet.

"So, it's decided?" Kippy asked, anxiously.

 

"Sure." Charlie grabbed up one of the laptops from the coffee table and opened it on his knees. "I want to look up Mildred Tull and her home. Amy? Do you happen to have Ms. Tull's address with you?"

Amy extended a hand to Kip, and passed a piece of paper to him. "Give that to Charlie."

Kippy looked delighted. "This is how you tell when you have good people in your group!"

Amy tried to hide a smile, but Charlie just grinned at her. "We already knew that!"

Charlie accepted the paper, and entered the address into his search engine. Just about every real estate company in existence kept online records of the properties in their covered areas, whether for sale, rent, or not on the market at all. It was easy to look up almost any home, and get pictures of, and the particulars about, the house and the property it occupied.

29 Ripley Road, Preston, NY.

The house that came up was the very one that Castor had already showed him a vision of earlier. Charlie was hardly surprised, but now he was certain that Castor meant for them to take this case.

The house had been built in 1899, in the Queen Anne style, yet, curiously, lacked the turrets that were common to that form. But in every other respect, it seemed a fine example of that school of design. The house was large - 5000 square feet - three stories, and ornately trimmed, and looked very well-maintained. A broad porch across the front of the house seemed to welcome visitors to the large front door, which was capped by a seashell-type scalloped panel, above which a small, round stained-glass window could be seen. The windows of the house were tall and narrow, with those on the second and third floors having rounded, cathedral crowns. There were dark green shutters to either side of each window, and Charlie bet they were functional, and could be closed if necessary. They built homes to respect the weather in those times.

The house was elegant, and looked well cared-for. Not exactly what he had expected.

The huddled, indistinct form of a separate, possibly two-car garage structure could just be seen to one side and in back of the house, at the end of the long drive.The lot was large, six acres, and heavily-wooded, almost gloomily so. The exterior pictures had the look of having been taken on a zoom setting, from the road, and not close up. That, or a Google street view, was the most common form of real estate photo for homes that were not on the market.

The house itself looked fine, but there was something just a little intimidating about its insistent stance among the trees. At the same time, there was a brooding look to the place, as if it wished to be elsewhere and had been thwarted in that aspiration for far too long now for good humor to remain. It was still a couple of steps away from being grim, but that something strange could be happening at a house like this one did not seem unusual to consider.

"That's it?" Kippy asked, leaning against Charlie to look at the screen. "Kind of dark, isn't it?"

"Oh, it's probably very pretty now, with the leaves coming down," Charlie commented, not really wanting to admit just yet that the house had a slightly sinister cast to it. Setting was everything in the woods. The nicest looking homes could seem dark and creepy if the woods encroached too closely, as these woods did to Mildred Tull's home. The judicious removal of a few of the trees, letting more sunlight reach the ground, and the property could be a showplace.

Amy and Horace came around the couch behind Charlie and looked over his shoulder at the house.

"Wow," Amy said softly. "That's quite a place."

Horace laughed. "It looks like if you rang the bell, Herman Munster would answer the door."

Kippy laughed. "You're showing your age, Horace!"

The older man rolled his eyes. "Hey, reruns on cable, when I was a child. That show was even before my time!"

"It's a pretty house," Amy said, with a bit of a frown. "But it somehow has a sad look to it."

Charlie re-examined the information on the screen. "It was last on the market in 1981. I guess that's when Mildred Tull's brother bought it."

Rick leaned over from Charlie's other side to look, and immediately sniffed at the picture. "Clearly, the joint is haunted!"

Adrian leaned over Rick's lap to look, and then gave his boyfriend a gentle slap on the wrist. "You're mean. I think the house is lovely."

Charlie nodded. "The house looks nice. It's the setting that gives it that slightly off look."

"That's a garage in back, to the side there?" Rick asked, squinting at the screen. "Bet it was added later. No cars in 1899. Or, at least, not many."

Charlie shook his head, leaning closer to the image. "No, it's hard to say. See how large the doors look to be on that garage? It was probably meant to house carriages, not cars."

"So there may be a barn out back, too?" Kippy asked. "Or a stable of some sort? Carriages would mean horses, right?"

"Possibly," Horace interjected. "But, not certainly. While a carriage garage could easily be used to store cars, a stable or barn might be torn down if no longer needed."

Rick grunted. "Doesn't look like there's room behind that place for an outhouse, let alone a barn. The trees are all over this house!"

"They do seem rather abundant," Horace agreed.

"We'll have to wait until we get there," Charlie said, pointedly. "We can't make judgments from one picture!"

"Perhaps another of the real estate sites?" Horace asked.

Charlie checked a couple more of the real estate pages, but they either showed the same picture, or none at all.

"One last thing," Charlie said, nodding to himself. He brought up Goggle, the elf search engine, and typed in the same address.

And was surprised at the results.

There's nothing there! was the response.

"Whoa." Rick gave Charlie's shoulder a gentle jab with his elbow. "Told ya the place was haunted."

Charlie entered Mildred Tull's name, and was provided with an extremely brief bio of the woman:

Born: Albany, New York

DOB: September 16, 1940.

Current address: 29 Ripley Road, Oxford NY 13830.

Kippy gave a little gasp of surprise. "She's eighty-three! That's pretty old!"

Charlie nodded his head. "I see that, but that's not what surprises me. That is absolutely the briefest bio I have ever seen Goggle produce. And, it lists her address as being at the place it just said nothing was there!"

"No, it doesn't," Horace said, leaning over Charlie to point. "Note it says Oxford, not Preston."

"Huh?" Charlie quickly looked up the town of Preston, and found that it was too small to have its own post office. The mailing district was Oxford, instead.

"Oh." He re-entered the address into Goggle, changing the town to Oxford, expecting it to now show the home's location.

But instead, the response was the same! There's nothing there!

"What do you suppose that means?" Kippy asked.

"It means the place is haunted," Rick insisted. "Ghosts don't like their addresses listed, anymore than they like their phone numbers listed!"

"Shh!" Adrian warned.

"I don't know," Charlie admitted.

Browbeat whirred into the air and landed on Horace's shoulder, to peer at the screen. "The place is pretty! Look at all those fancy growths around it!"

"Trees," Kip reminded.

"Those, too!"

That seemed to break some of the tension, and everyone smiled.

Charlie sighed, and closed the tab with the elf search engine on it. There was an even better site that Frit had showed him, that really could produce some astonishing lost history. But Charlie had a feeling that, if queried, that site would simply respond with the same 'not just yet!' that they had been given when making queries in some of their previous cases. The elves believed there was a time for everything, even the learning of some knowledge.

And...somehow, Charlie wanted to wait and see what Mildred Tull had to say, and what the property looked like in person. It wouldn't do to get too many preconceived notions before they even met the woman or saw her home.

"I guess we go with what we know for now," Charlie decided. "Despite Goggle saying there's nothing there, we can see there is a house at this address. So, that's where we'll go."

He turned to Rick then. "Call your cousin, and ask her if we can stay at her place if we need to do that."

"I will."

Charlie nodded, and looked back at the laptop. "Might as well check the routes we can go to get there. I'd like to see as much of the sights as we can along the way."

"Getting late for the fall colors," Rick reminded. "We're past the peak. The trees here are getting barren now."

Charlie shrugged. "There's still trees with color. But, it wasn't just the colors I had in mind."

Kippy sighed, and rubbed his fingertips together excitedly. "I knew this was going to be interesting. I can feel it!"

Browbeat launched himself into the air and circled the group at a breakneck pace. "Friends! Another adventure! You guys are so fun!"

"We know!" everyone said, laughing.

Rick sighed hugely, went back to his seat, and picked up his bowl of popcorn. "Big Irv? Can you start that movie where we left off? At the good part?" He turned and beamed at Charlie. "Might as well catch the end, while you're working!"

Browbeat laughed, and settled to the coffee table again, his eyes on the TV as it lit with the frozen face of one of the monsters terrorizing the city. "Here we go again!"

Copyright © 2023 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.
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. 
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