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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! - 3. Chapter 3

There were no power lines or poles around back, either. The forest grew almost up to the back of the house, but had seemed to falter several feet away, almost as if it was afraid to come any closer. There was no landscaping here, either - nothing to indicate that the house had reached an accommodation with the rural property it now inhabited. And, the limbs of the larger trees near the home were bent at odd angles, again seeming to have been forced to get out of the way of the house.

The garage behind the house was both a disappointment and an enigma. Its condition, close up, could be best described as tumbledown. The roof had sagged and broken towards the rear, and was open to the sky. The door, when they pulled one open, grunted horrendously, and threatened to fall from its hinges without so much as a single additional warning.

The interior of the garage was empty, save for branches and leaves that had accumulated beneath the shattered portion of roof. Stalls along one wall looked to Charlie to have once been home to horses. The place smelled of the forest, and looked of the forest, and, for all intents and purposes, was now a part of the forest. It had been reclaimed by the world, and was on its way back to nature.

"This was not built when the house was built," Rick stated flatly. "I'd say it predates the house by several decades, at the very least."

"Don't go in," Kippy admonished. "It looks like it would fall on us if we breathed on it."

"We're not going in," Charlie agreed. "The questions I had about the garage have been answered. It's not contemporary with the house, and looks like it was here long before the house was even built." He looked around the very small open area of the backyard. "And it seems that Mildred doesn't own a car."

Browbeat, who had moved off to look around, came whirring back again. "You should see this!"

They followed the little flyer back the way he had come, and came to a line of stones, a low wall, hidden in the undergrowth. It extended away a dozen or more feet in both directions, then turned through ninety-degree corners and proceeded back into the weeds.

"A foundation," Horace said, looking surprised. "See how - there, and there - the stones are mortared, one atop the other? This is the foundation of a building."

"Is it the barn we were talking about?" Kip asked. "To keep horses for the carriage?"

Rick shook his head. "Didn't you see the stalls inside the carriage garage? The horses were kept there."

"It was a house, I would guess," Charlie said, nodding his head. "This is starting to make some sense to me now." He turned, and pointed at the garage. "This is the house that actually belongs with that outbuilding, I would say."

They walked along the wall, pushing aside the underbrush, and came to a place where the stones were blackened.

"Fire, maybe," Horace offered, shaking his head. "Hard to say."

"It's old," Browbeat declared, moving to the inside of the low wall. "And there's other things back there in the brush."

But, no one made a move to cross the wall and wade through the gloomy underbrush within.

"What kind of things?" Horace asked, curious despite his own reluctance to enter such a wild space. "I'll bet there are wasps in there. Maybe even snakes!"

"Looks like timbers, more stones, and things I don't recognize." Browbeat buzzed back to their side of the low wall. "Sorry. I just don't have names for everything I can see."

"I'd say it's just more of the house," Rick decided. "Still where it fell when the place came down."

"It's been gone a long time," Kippy affirmed. "I can sense that much. The house is gone, and only the carriage garage has remained." He looked over at the partially collapsed outbuilding. "And that won't be around much longer!"

"That building wasn't designed with cars in mind," Adrian said.

"I agree." Charlie patted his chest, where he could feel Castor's alert interest within the dragon necklace. The spirit only communicated by mental pictures, but Charlie was used to little flashes of those now and then as the spirit offered its opinion on something happening around them. These observations had been strangely absent of late.

But even as he touched the necklace through his shirt, a picture appeared in his mind. He saw the tumbledown garage, and then the picture slowly revolved, until Charlie was looking down the rutted drive that led up to the house. But he only got a glimpse of it before the image was gone. But the meaning seemed clear: go have a look.

"Castor?" Kip asked, coming closer to Charlie and laying a hand on his chest.

"Yeah. I think he wants us to go back to the garage and look back along the driveway."

Rick snorted. "Pig track, you mean! That's never been more than ancient wagon ruts in the dried mud, I'll bet."

Charlie agreed, but led the group back to the carriage garage, and turned to look back down the long drive to Ripley Road.

He saw it immediately. So did the others.

"Holy shit!" Rick said softly.

"That's just wrong!" Adrian said.

"What am I missing?" Browbeat called, as he flew up to land on Charlie's shoulder.

Charlie simply pointed down the rutted drive, which ran from the two doors of the carriage barn all the way back to Ripley Road.

Almost.

The path was not unbroken. One corner of Mildred Tull's house sat squarely atop the rut, which appeared from beneath the side wall and made its way towards them. It was just a front corner of the house, though; and by leaning to one side, they could catch a glimpse of Rick's Yukon, and the rut again, winding away through the woods back to the road.

"The house is on top of the drive," Kippy whispered.

Charlie felt a tingle run up his spine as the information sank in. His senses had been telling him, all along, that it looked like the house had been recently delivered into its current spot in the woods. And now, it seemed clear that was actually so, for there was no other way the house could actually sit atop the drive. If the house had been built later, the drive would have been obscured. But it clearly ran right up to the wall of the house at a front corner, beneath the house there, and reappeared beyond.

The house had been set atop the driveway.

"I think it's time we go and have another talk with Mildred," Charlie said. "Come on."

 

* * * * * * *

 

Mildred listened to what they had to say, and then smiled. "I just knew you were the right people for the job!"

Charlie and Kip exchanged glances. It was clear that Charlie's boyfriend found this whole experience thrilling and fun, but also a bit spooky, and more than a little odd. Charlie was pretty much there, himself!

"So the house was placed here recently?" Rick asked, with an expression that suggested he thought Mildred had been intending to deny it.

"Back in the spring, like I said. I inherited the house from my brother. But that didn't mean I had to keep it where it was!"

"And where was that?" Kippy asked boldly.

Mildred gave a small shudder. "It was located near Rocky Head, Alabama. Dreadful summer weather." She smiled again. "I'm a cold-weather person, myself."

It took a moment for that to sink in. Alabama! There was no way that Mildred's house could have been moved so far. Not in one piece, anyway!

Charlie looked around the very tidy parlor. If it had been disassembled and put back together, there was no way to tell!

"How was it moved?" he asked quietly.

Mildred gave a small shrug." Oh, teleportation, of some kind. I don't know the particulars. I just told the house where I wanted it to go, and it did the rest."

Adrian let out a small laugh, and turned to Charlie. "And she means what she says, too!"

"Of course, I do." The old woman leaned back in her chair to appraise them. "I could have moved it myself, but I'm getting on in years now. Why make such an effort, when the house is perfectly capable of doing the work?"

Charlie scratched his chin, and then waved a hand around to indicate the lot beyond the walls. "And this land you're on?"

"I bought it, of course." Mildred gave them a slightly annoyed look. "Think I'm a property pirate, or something?"

Charlie stifled a laugh at the expression. "No. I was just wondering...so you bought this lot, and then just told the house to move here?"

"Yes. I found the lot online for a very good price, and it was very rural, which I like, and so I bought it."

"You'd never been here in person before you moved the house?"

Mildred shook her head. "No. Why waste the time coming all the way to New York just to look, and then having to turn around and go back to get the house? There were plenty of nice pictures with the online ad, and it looked like just the quiet place I could relax and be comfortable."

"Uh huh." Charlie leaned closer. "What is it about this house that allows it to move around on its own?"

Mildred smiled at him. "Oh, it's haunted, of course. Always has been, always will be."

"Hah!" Rick ejected. "I knew it!"

Charlie immediately turned a questioning look on Horace.

"It's not haunted by ghosts," Horace said, sounding positive. "At least, not the human variety. And there are no earth spirits present that I can detect."

"No, it's not anything like that," Mildred agreed. "This house has a will of its own. How that works, exactly, I just don't know."

"It isn't able to do anything about your leaf-man visitor?" Horace asked.

Mildred looked unhappy about that. "It seems to not see my tormentor as a problem."

"Maybe that means this leaf-guy isn't dangerous," Kippy theorized.

"It may not be dangerous, but it's certainly an annoyance! Its persistent attempts to get inside are tiresome."

Horace frowned at that. "Are you certain it's actually trying to get inside? I mean, pounding on a solid door is one thing, but if your windows are just made of glass, surely it could break one and enter that way."

Mildred shook her head. "You don't understand. It cannot force its way inside. It must be invited. The house will not let it in unless I do just that." She held up a hand then. "Or, if I am remiss, and allow it to slip inside, because I left a door unlocked. But that will not happen."

For a moment everyone was quiet. The boys and Horace looked at Mildred Tull, and Mildred Tull looked back at them. Finally, the old woman's smile returned. "I just want this leafy gentleman to leave me alone. Is that too much to ask?"

Kippy glanced at Charlie, and then smiled again at Mildred. "You said you could have moved the house yourself? That implies the use of magic, of some sort. Are you a witch?"

Mildred let out a cackle that would have done any Hollywood witch proud. Her eyes studied them in amusement for a moment before she settled down again. "Oh, I do like you people. And to think, you even advertise online!"

Kippy shook his head. "That's not an answer. I can detect skwish, which is the force that underlies magic. And you don't seem to have any."

"I said I didn't, didn't I?" It was Mildred's turn to lean forward to gaze at them. "You understand the concept of force and counter-force, don't you?"

Kippy's eyebrows raised, and he turned to Charlie.

"Yes," Charlie replied. "You're referring to the way that some forces balance others in nature."

"Exactly. Well, that beautiful, radiant energy that I detect from all of you - skwish, you called it - is just one pole of that particular magical magnet. The other pole is something else. I call it itch, because that's what I get, and I have that power. But it is every bit as potent, in its own way, as the forces you might employ."

Kippy looked askance at the woman. "You are not suggesting that you possess some...some evil counterpart to skwish, I hope!"

Mildred sighed. "Ah, the young." But she shook her head then. "Your skwish is not just a force for good, young man, and neither is my itch a force for evil. Either power is subject to the personality that guides it."

"We've already learned that," Charlie said, patting Kip's arm. He smiled at Mildred. "We're just far more used to knowing people that use their powers for productive things."

"Then we are in good company." Mildred looked happy. "For I scarcely use my abilities at all, and only then to make my life easier. But never at the expense of another."

Kippy leaned forward. "But...what are you, then?"

Mildred's looked like she was having fun. "I am a magical person, just as you are. And a nice one, I would like to think!"

Charlie let that sink in, and felt the right of the woman's words immediately. And, if that wasn't enough, Castor warmed the dragon at Charlie's breast, which he took to be an endorsement of Mildred's character.

Charlie looked up at the chandelier above their head. "You have electric lights." He let his eyes drop back to touch Mildred's. "But no power line."

Mildred smiled. "And water, with no well or pipes. And heat in the winter, and cooling in the summer. The house provides all those things."

"How?"

One of Mildred's eyebrows rose slowly. "Why...I didn't ask. And, the house has never told me."

"It talks to you?" Adrian asked, looking amazed.

"Oh, not in words. It occasionally passes feelings of a sort to me. I am then required to make of them what I will."

Charlie smiled at that. "Sounds like complex conversations are out."

"Yes." Mildred sighed. "So I know that the house does not feel threatened by my leafy visitor, but not why it feels that way."

Rick waved a hand towards the curtained window. "You know there was once a house on this property? There's a foundation out back, near the carriage garage."

"Yes. The ad mentioned that. It is of no concern to me, as there was more than ample room to place my own home here."

"You don't own a car?" Rick asked. "Bit far for you to walk to town."

"I don't go to town. The house supplies all of my needs. The pantry is always full of dry goods, the refrigerator always full of fresh foods and meats, and most every need I have taken care of for me. Just as it was for my brother before."

It almost sounded too good to be true!

Kippy seemed to think so, too. "Why? Why would the house do all these things for you?"

Mildred Tull pursed her lips. "At some time in the past, an ancestor of ours did something for the house. Or, rather, for the entity that motivates the house. This is its way of repaying the kindness."

Horace raised a hand at that. "It could not have been very far in the past, if this house was built in 1899."

Mildred laughed. "It wasn't." But then she nodded in understanding. "Oh, you saw my property ad online."

Something clicked in Charlie's head. "The real estate sites?"

"Yes. If you submit property information to one of them, they all seem to pick it up. I needed to legitimize my presence here, in a way. If someone looked up this property, as you did, they must find something here. My experience with those in officialdom is that they don't take kindly to surprises."

"You think just listing your house on this property in real estate ads will keep the bureaucrats at bay?" Rick asked. "What about property taxes?"

Mildred looked surprised. "Why, if someone asks me to pay some, I will!"

Rick threw a helpless look Charlie's way.

Charlie gave a little shake to his head, to clear it. "You're not worried that some official will come along and wonder how a house came to be here, when there wasn't one here before?"

"Oh, not at all." Mildred laughed. "If someone does show up, they'll think I simply slipped through the cracks somehow. No one will think the house appeared here" -- she winked -- "as if by magic. I'll play the slightly batty old lady, say I had no idea, but that I will pay whatever they say is due. That will make everyone happy." She leaned forward, her attitude now that she was passing on a confidence. "But I think it will be years before they notice me, if at all. That's why I picked such a rural location." Her nose crinkled in distaste. "I have little patience for officious types."

Charlie backed up a mental step then. "You're saying this house was built before the 1899 date your real estate ad suggests?"

"Oh, my, most definitely." Mildred closed one eye, thinking. "I do believe it was originally presented to my ancestors just after the start of the common era, if memory serves."

Charlie simply stared, along with all the others.

"Is that old?" Browbeat asked, taking in the shocked expressions on the human faces around him.

"Somewhat more than 2000 years," Horace said softly.

Browbeat's frown only deepened. "Is that old?"

Charlie finally had to laugh. "It's very old, Browbeat."

The flyer looked around the room, and tittered happily. "It sure has held up well!"

Charlie nodded in agreement. "So, I can assume from what you've told us that the current design is not the original design?" he asked Mildred.

"Oh, no." The old woman shook her head. "When my brother had the house in Alabama, it was one of those southern-style plantation mansions. I dislike all those columns and pretenses. I always liked this era of home building, so I had the house assume this design."

Kippy looked around the room. "So, then what was the original design?"

Mildred also looked around the room. "Why, I believe it was a stone fort of some sort, originally."

Horace gently cleared his throat. "May I ask...what is this house constructed of?"

Mildred sat back in her chair and sighed. "Not what you think, of course. This house was not originally constructed of wood, nor stone, nor any of the things you might consider. It has the ability to assume those properties, to become like those things." She pointed at one of the curtain-covered windows. "The glass in the windows will break if you force your hand through it. You can splinter the wood of the walls with an axe, and you can break the stones of the hearth with a hammer." She shook her head. "But none of that damage is permanent. Simply instruct the house to take it back to the way it was, and it will."

"So, what is it made of?" Rick asked.

Mildred leaned forward in her chair to smile at them. "Why, magic, of course."

"Of course," Kippy repeated. He turned to stare at Charlie. "She's telling the truth."

Charlie had already sensed that, himself. "So, can't you simply instruct the house not to let this man of leaves come near?"

"No. It doesn't work that way." Mildred patted her fingers against the arms of her chair. "The house assumes the actual dimensions it inhabits to be its own, but that all the surrounding land is technically the property of nature. The house can defend itself, if I tell it to do that. But it must first sense that there is danger to it or me, and in this case" -- she sighed dramatically - "it simply doesn't sense a threat to either of us. The man of leaves simply wants to come inside, not to harm me or the house."

Adrian shrugged. "Maybe there's a good reason to let it in?"

Mildred looked unhappy at the idea. "I don't know what, or who, this...this visitor is, or what it wants from me. Would you simply let a stranger into your home, just because he appeared at your door?"

Rick grunted. "The woman has a point."

"My intent in hiring you was for you to determine what my visitor is, and what it wants." Mildred gave a little shrug. "Can you?"

Kippy looked surprised, and turned to Charlie. "Can we?"

Charlie emitted a quick whistle at the size of the job, because he really had no idea where to start. He was still trying to assess this mass of new information, what it might mean, and what they could do about any of it, if anything. "Well--"

All eyes turned to him. Mildred leaned closer, her own gaze intent. Browbeat moved over to land on Charlie's shoulder. "Can we?"

Charlie turned his head, took in the hopeful look in the little flyer's eyes, and read the message there: I want to help!

He smiled. "We'll do our best, Ms. Tull."

"Yay!" Browbeat took to the air and swooped excitedly around the room.

Their new client leaned forward in her chair and smiled. "Oh, please call me Mildred. All my friends and enemies do!"

 

* * * * * * *

 

"Why, you simply must stay after dark, if you even hope to encounter the leafy man," Mildred protested, as the dinner hour approached. "He sometimes doesn't show up until the wee hours of the morning, even!"

Rick scratched his head, and then held out his hands to Charlie in a helpless manner. "Maybe it wasn't a good idea to leave our bags at my cousin's house?"

"We left our clothing and equipment at Rick's cousin's house over in Norwich," Charlie explained to Mildred. "We couldn't count on being able to stay here overnight."

"I could run over and get our bags," Rick said. "That's no problem."

The old woman waved a hand in dismissal. "The house can provide anything you need. And I have more than enough extra rooms to quarter you all for the night."

"Uh--" Charlie looked at the others. "What do you guys think?"

"I brought my bag of detection gear," Horace reminded. "It's out in Rick's truck. Clothing isn't really a worry, just for one night."

Mildred smiled at them. "I have already given the house instructions. When you arrive at your rooms, there will be a complete change of clothing for each of you. Each room has its own bath and seating area. There will be room for you all to meet and talk and plan your strategies."

Kippy laughed at that. "Sounds like a council of war."

The old woman nodded. "That's exactly what this is, in my opinion. I don't want to hover over you and be a problem, but I would like to know what you're doing. If for no other reason than I am fascinated by all this, myself!"

"That makes two of us!" Browbeat called, settling onto the back of the chair Charlie was sitting in. "This place has a great feel to it! Like almost anything can happen!"

Kippy sighed, and looked happy. "I can think of worse ways to spend a Halloween, definitely."

Adrian nodded at that. "I'm kind of interested to see this leaf man now, myself."

"I do hope you'll join me for dinner first," Mildred invited."The house is a rather wonderful cook, if I do say so myself."

They had spent much of the afternoon looking around Mildred's house. She had shown them about like an enthusiastic tour guide in a museum, obviously delighting in sharing her special place. The house was large - Charlie had almost had the impression that the house was bigger on the inside than its outer dimensions would allow. But there was nothing to suggest that their new client's home was anything but a nice old house built in the Queen Anne style popular in 1899.

"The craftsmanship that went into your home is magnificent," Horace said dreamily, again staring at the fan patterns in the plaster of the ceiling of the parlor. "Truly a showplace of the builder's art."

Mildred looked pleased at the compliment. "I spent a week online looking at homes of the period, to get enough pictures in my head for the house to work from. What you see is an amalgam of the best that this design has to offer."

Charlie frowned at that. "But no turrets."

"No. I almost did those, but then changed my mind. I figured we could always add them later."

Kippy's eyes widened. "You can change it whenever you want?"

"Yes." Mildred gave a little shrug, and looked satisfied. "But I rather like what I have now. At least, I like it today!"

So, they were given rooms for the night, each one large enough to have a sitting area with a sofa and chairs by the window, and each of which had its own bath. Charlie and the others had each known immediately which room was theirs, as each room had fresh, clean copies of the clothing they were wearing then, laid out on the beds! What amazed Charlie was that the first room with a large double bed had clothing for him and Kippy, the second room had clothing for Rick and Adrian, and the third room had clothing for Horace, alone!

Mildred made no comment on that, nor did she seem surprised in any way that four of her young guests would be sharing two of the bedrooms.

They had dinner in the dining room, at a large table made of a dark wood like cherry, but which was exceptionally pleasingly patterned, and looked hand-rubbed to a fine shine. The house and its contents were simply gorgeous, and Charlie could see why someone like Mildred, surrounded by everything she wanted in life, would be upset at having her peace intruded upon by a less than benevolent visitor after dark.

The food was also darn good. Mildred simply walked through a double door into the house's kitchen, and returned almost immediately pushing a gleaming stainless steel cart laden with steaming plates. The boys had kept it simple, just asking for hamburgers and fries, but the burgers they received were large, and laid on giant potato rolls, along with tomatoes, lettuce, and onions. The fries were large chips, done to a turn, with a ketchup glaze that had Kippy rolling his eyes and groaning in pleasure with each bite.

"This is a wonderful meal!" he told Mildred, for at least the fourth or fifth time.

"The house has a great deal of experience with the world," Mildred told him, with great satisfaction. "Even more so now that we have the Internet."

"How is that done?" Charlie asked, after a sip of his iced tea. "No power connections, and no Internet connections that I can see, either."

Mildred glanced side to side as if there might be eavesdroppers, and then leaned forward with a conspiratorial air. "Lugh piggybacks off one of the satellites, I do believe. Shh! I don't pay for the privilege!"

Charlie blinked at that. First, at the notion that the house could pirate a little Internet off the satellite network, then at the name Mildred had used in reference to the house. "Did you say Lou?"

The old woman frowned, but then nodded. "I did, didn't I?"

"That's the name of the house?" Kippy asked.

"The spirit that possesses it, I suspect," Horace said, watching Mildred with curiosity. "Would that be Lugh, perhaps?" He spelled the name, to be certain.

Mildred suddenly smiled at her guests. "I see no harm in you knowing. Yes. The house was a gift to an ancestor of my family by Lugh, of the Tuatha Dé Danann."

Something clicked in Charlie's memory then. Something he had read --

"Isn't that Irish folklore?"

Mildred's eyes widened, but then she looked pleased. "Yes! How wonderful that you are familiar with this!"

Charlie laughed. "I won't say I am at all familiar with this subject, but I have read on it once before."

"Britannica Brain," Rick said softly, smiling at Charlie.

Charlie couldn't resist making a small face at his friend before going on, to which Rick only smiled happily.

"If I remember correctly, the Tuatha Dé Danann were a race of supernatural beings in Irish mythology," Charlie continued. "Lugh was a warrior king, I believe."

"Among other things," Horace added quickly. He indicated the fine dining room with a wave of his hand, and the house itself, by implication. "He was also considered one of the finest of craftsman. Other names he was known by are Samildánach, which means 'skilled in the many arts', and Lámfada, or 'long arm', which referred to his ability to act upon things over great distances and time."

"How fascinating," Mildred said then. "Lugh seems quite pleased that you know of him." To their surprised looks, she added, "I can sense his pleasure, of course."

Adrian patted the tabletop. "This is that actual guy...um, spirit, that inhabits this house?"

Mildred shook her head. "No. While I do call the house by his name, it is actually an extension of Lugh, created by him, and not the actual spirit, himself. This home is a gift from him to my family. It is his way of honoring a debt of some sort, incurred in the very distant past."

"But you don't know what debt that was?" Rick asked.

"No. And, it doesn't matter. The debt is eternal - síoraí, as they say."

All of this was totally new to Charlie. He had come to understand that the world was full of the mysterious and the unknown, and that there was more in the way of things traditionally called the supernatural going on than most people understood. He was dying to talk to Max about this now. Too many times they had learned something and found that the elves already knew about it, but that as the subject had never come up, no one had mentioned it. To think there was a polar counterpoint to skwish was a wholly new idea. He had long known that the sorts of people that could use that power ran from one end to the other of the spectrum that could be called good and evil. But that there might be a whole class of people - and perhaps other lifeforms - that could use a form of magic he didn't understand at all was a little bit frightening.

Just when we think we are getting to know the world, it throws a new surprise at us!

Horace placed his chin in the vee formed by his thumb and forefinger, and closed his eyes a moment. Then he opened them, and smiled. "I sense the spirit of this house now."

"I thought you didn't sense any earth spirits here?" Rick reminded.

"Oh, this isn't an earth spirit. And I didn't know it was here before now." The older man smiled. "But once I know something should be here, it is a bit easier to find it among the earth noise."

Charlie smiled at the term. "And that is?"

Horace turned his smile on him. "Earth noise is the general background field that the planet generates. It is a very noticeable energetic field, and though it surges and recedes like something alive, it is not alive as we know life. But it can mask the presence of things that are alive, or the presence of things that are a part of or were created by something that is alive. This Lugh would seem to fall into that category."

"Wonderful!" Mildred said softly, smiling. "I think we are going to get to the bottom of this mystery, after all!"

"That's what we're here for," Kippy said brightly. He paused a moment, french fry in-hand, to frown at their host. "How long after you moved the house here was it before your leafy visitor appeared?"

Mildred looked surprised by the question. "Why, it was the very first night."

"Immediately," Horace repeated, nodding. "That tells me something important."

Adrian smiled. "What?"

"That the initial visitation was a reaction to the house appearing here."

"Wouldn't that have happened right away?"

"Not necessarily." The ghost hunter shook his head. "This appears to be a nighttime manifestation. You have to understand that there is a real difference between day and night, other than just the fact that one is light and the other dark. The energetic influence of the sun on our daytime world is substantial. By contrast, the nighttime world is quite peaceful. Some forces in nature require this less-energetic environment in order to manifest themselves properly. Our visitor may be such a force."

"This is why most ghostly appearances seem to be at night?" Kip asked.

"Yes. Rather than wishing to hide in the darkness, ghostly manifestations mostly appear at night simply because it is easier for them to do so. You have to understand that many such entities are not very powerful in and of themselves. Competing with the sun's energy is difficult for them."

Rick frowned at that. "We've encountered some pretty powerful spooky things in our time, though."

Horace nodded. "The ability of ghostly entities to manifest themselves is a different matter than the things they can do when they are present. Just as, say, Kip here, is not so strong on his own that he could lift a car into the air, but his skwish talents could easily perform that very task for him. Ghostly manifestations are the same. The powers they can utilize are separate from their own abilities to manifest themselves in our world."

"They need help, like I have!" Browbeat said, tittering. "Maybe ghosts need to get to know the Madracorn!"

Kippy gasped. "That would be all we need, is to have millions of ghosts parading around our planet in indestructible biomachines!"

Charlie and the others laughed. "That's not going to happen," Charlie said, giving his boyfriend a gentle poke. "Relax!"

Mildred shook her head, her eyes moving among them delightedly. "I've always been aware that there were other magical folk about, but the things you people speak of are intriguing!" She looked happily from one face to the next. "What do you plan to do now?"

"I should go out to Rick's truck and get my gear," Horace said. "It may give us a leg up on detecting when our visitor is coming."

"It will be dark in a half-hour," Mildred reminded. "There is the chance that the leaf man could appear at dusk. That time is getting close, even now."

Horace pushed back his chair and got to his feet. "A magnificent meal, Mildred, and thank you." He paused a moment to look around the room. "And thanks to Lugh, as well. Rick? Could you let me get my gear from your Yukon?"

Rick also stood. He grabbed a last french fry from his plate and stuffed it into his mouth before waving a hand for Horace to follow him.

Mildred quickly got to her feet, too. "I have to let you out, and then let you back in again." She followed the other two, while Charlie, Kip, and Adrian ate the last bits off their plates.

"What do you think?" Kip asked, watching Charlie with interested eyes.

"It seems like a fascinating case, so far. I just don't know quite what to make of what we've learned, though." He looked around the pleasant dining room. "This house intrigues me. I can't get past the feeling that its move here to this land triggered this whole chain of events somehow."

Adrian frowned. "Was it possible this land was already haunted before Mildred brought her house here?"

"I'm starting to think so," Charlie agreed. "The leafy man appearing and doing this nightly circuit of the house is a new event, but only to Mildred. We have no idea what was happening here before the house arrived."

Kippy patted his hand. "You'll figure it out, with our help!" He and Adrian smiled.

"Don't forget me!" Browbeat called, from atop the back of an empty chair. "Boy, this sure is fun!"

Mildred returned then, and beckoned to them.

Charlie pushed back his chair and stood, and indicated the table then. "Mildred, can we help you clean up?"

"I don't think Lugh will mind doing it this once," their host said. "I almost always prepare my own meals - I like to cook - and I clean up afterward. But I think on this occasion, Lugh will whisk all of this away as soon as we leave the room." Mildred beckoned them again. "Shall we go to the living room? It will be easier to hear the approach of the leafy man in the front of the house."

They did that, moving back to the center foyer and then to a room to one side. It was another large room like the parlor, just as pleasantly furnished, and with another fireplace with crackling logs ablaze within. Horace and Rick were already there, and Horace's flower-decorated carpet bag of gear sat on the floor by the coffee table.

Charlie stared at the fire a moment, and then smiled at their host. "I don't recall seeing any chimneys on your house, either."

Mildred gave a little shrug. "Lugh doesn't need them to make a nice fire, so why bother?"

"They give a house charm, if done right," Adrian said, smiling. "Maybe you should go back and look at those old houses online again. The roof line doesn't look quite right without a chimney or two sticking up above."

Mildred looked to consider that, and then nodded. "Maybe I should. Character is important to a home."

Horace unlocked his flowered carpetbag and began laying out devices on the doilies atop the big oak coffee table. "Let's see. We'll want to monitor changes in the e-m radiation here, and detect any changes to the ambient temperature. I'll want my video camera with the night vision, my static discharge detector, and maybe the radio frequency monitor, just in case our leaf man is a broadcaster." He frowned a moment, and then nodded to himself. "And the sound recorder, and the motion and vibration detectors. That should do it, I think."

Kippy smiled. "I do love to watch a professional at work!"

Horace laughed. "Now, now, be kind. Never belittle things you don't understand, young man."

Kip emitted a surprised laugh. "I would never do that, unless it was something Rick said!"

Rick scrunched up his face in an evil look, and Charlie immediately held up a hand. "Now, children!"

Everyone laughed. Kippy gave Horace a gentle poke with a finger. "I'm serious. I love to watch you on the hunt!"

Horace smiled, and began turning on his devices. Some ran a self-check, and then presented a green light when they were ready for use. Others simply showed a small light to indicate they were active, while others beeped. One device emitted a gentle chirping sound about once every ten seconds. "Everything's ready," Horace declared.

Charlie got up and went to the curtains in the front window, and found the cord that opened and closed them. He turned to look at Mildred. "Do you mind? It will be easier to monitor the level of darkness outside."

"Go right ahead."

Charlie opened the curtains, and then walked around the room, turning off lights, until only the glow from the fireplace lit the room.

Outside, it already looked dark. Charlie went back to the window and peered out, and could still see some light above. The trees around the house accentuated the darkness, but here, in this rural area, with no other houses around and no lights along Ripley Road, once it did get dark, it would be very dark.

Charlie went back to the sofa and sat beside Kippy, and took his hand in the wan light and gave it an encouraging squeeze. "We're getting there," he said softly.

Kippy sighed, and leaned against him. "I love being with you, Charlie," he whispered. "Our lives are so fun!"

"I'll say," Browbeat replied, from the coffee table. "You guys are a friggin' blast!"

"Where does he learn to talk that way?" Horace asked, smiling.

Charlie and Kippy both turned and pointed. "Rick!"

"I hope you're not saying I'm a bad influence," Rick responded, looking scarcely offended by the accusation. "Browbeat and I like movies, is all. He gets that stuff from them, not from me."

"He picks up a lot of weird speech from those movies," Adrian acknowledged. "But it's harmless, I think."

Kippy sighed. "It's like listening to my dad talk, sometimes."

Browbeat exploded into a round of tiny laughter, which caused everyone to smile.

Charlie was about to say something else, when the chirping of one of the detectors suddenly picked up in its beat. The little chirps started coming more quickly now, and the conversation died out as if turned off by a switch.

Horace leaned over the table to look at the detector. "Some spikes in the emf readings," he announced. "Most peculiar."

"How so?" Charlie asked.

"These sorts of spikes usually go along with large-scale releases of electrical energy, like during a thunderstorm."

"Maybe there's a storm off in the distance we can't hear?" Adrian asked.

"No. These pulses would have to be nearby to register like this. And they are too regular for a natural storm to produce."

Just then, they heard a small sound, and Charlie realized it was the wind outside the window. For a full minute as they listened, it seemed weak, almost hesitant, as it caressed the shutters outside; and then it seemed to increase in power, creating a soft, humming tone as it first vibrated the slats in the shutters, and then rattled the shutters, themselves.

"It's coming," Mildred said, with certainty. "It's early tonight, too. By its pattern the last few nights, I figured it would be late tonight before it arrived."

"Maybe it knows something is different tonight," Browbeat offered. "Maybe it knows we're here!"

A glow came to them then, from the side of the window towards the front door. At first it was barely noticeable, a simple lightening of the darkness outside; but then it increased in intensity, became a white, misty light. The sound of the wind increased as the light brightened, and rose in pitch, until it was making almost a howling sound. In the glow from the porch they could see leaves whipping through the air, dancing on the twirling currents as they passed the window.

Charlie turned to Mildred. "You didn't say it was luminous!"

The woman looked amazed. "It never has been, before now!"

And then, quite suddenly, they heard a bang; a slow, heavy, almost ponderous sound, as of a massive fist striking wood. Charlie knew what it was right away, though it was about as far from what he had imagined as possible.

Someone was at the front door, wanting to come in.

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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