Once in the lab, Tara shrugged off her overcoat and scarf, and hung them on a hook inside the door. While Steven was hanging up his jacket, she pulled on a white lab coat.
“You can sit there,” she said, gesturing toward a cluttered desk. Steven sat and pushed aside an odd mixture of magazines: Neuroscience, The Chicago Literary Review, People, Cosmopolitan.
Tara disappeared into a back room, then reappeared, carrying a small black tray that held maybe 20 slides. Steven noticed a bit of mist curling up from the black plastic into the warm room. Tara set the tray down, sat, and picked up a clipboard. She took out a slide, positioned it in the microscope, flipped a light switch, and leaned forward to peer through the eyepiece.
Steven took the Laceys' number out of his left pocket, his cell phone out of his right, and dialed. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Four rings. He started to wonder if they were home; what he would say if he had to leave a message on a machine. Five rings. Six –
“Hello, may I please speak to Mr. Lacey?”
“You’re speaking to him, son. What can I do you for?”
“My name is Steven Trent, and I’m a member of my university's Society of Paranormal Researchers.”
Tara turned her head over her shoulder and grinned at him.
He grinned back.
Mr. Lacey chuckled. “This is about that article in the Register, isn’t it?”
“It is, yes.”
“Thought so. My wife warned me about this; she said that if we had the story published in the paper, chances were we’d attract more than just potential buyers. I wasn’t too concerned about it, though – figured any publicity would be good publicity at this point.” He chuckled again. “You wouldn’t want to buy the house, would you? It’s really a spectacularly good bargain.”
Steven smiled. “As a college student, I’m afraid I’m not in the market.”
“Ah, well; I had to ask. So, Mr.…what did you say your name was again?”
“Trent. Steven Trent.”
“Mr. Trent. You haven’t called to buy my house…unfortunately…so, what can I help you with?”
“Well, we here at the Society were wondering if you might be willing to allow us to investigate the property. Usually, when we get reports of ongoing hauntings, the houses are occupied, which limits what we can do; most people don’t want us tramping through their house at all hours.”
“I can imagine. What sorts of things are involved in these investigations? You’re not going to break windows, are you? Scratch up the wood floors? Tear down the vintage wallpaper? Or otherwise lower the value of our property?”
“No, no worries," Steven answered, amused. "We won’t damage anything. Basically, we spend some time in the house – ideally overnight. We have cameras that take regular pictures, as well as some that take infrared shots; we take a number of pictures throughout the house. Then, we use instruments that measure electromagnetic waves and temperature changes. And that’s pretty much it.” Steven didn’t mention Paul. Even though the Laceys believed in ghosts, he figured they might balk at the idea of using a psychic in their house. Bringing up the subject had the tendency to make people’s opinion of the Society of Paranormal Researchers go from “odd but credible” to “who the heck are these wackos, and how did they get my number?”
“Well…” Mr. Lacey said, “I’ll have to run it by the wife, of course, but I don’t see why not. The house is just sitting there empty anyway. It would be interesting to know a bit more about the scientific side of the things we heard and saw for 20 years. Say,” he said, his voice becoming more serious, “what do you do with all this information? You won’t publish it in the paper or anything like that, will you?”
“Not unless you want us to – more publicity, right? We'll write up a report with everything that we find, including copies of all the photographs. We’ll keep one copy of it for our files, and we’ll give you a copy to do with as you wish. Heck, if you wanted to, you could give it to anyone who asks about the haunting when they come to see the house.”
“That’s a great idea,” Mr. Lacey said.
“We’ll even make you a few copies, if that helps. And if we ever want to use it for any future publication of any kind…an article for a journal, a book, whatever…we will get your permission in writing first, and you can have your names changed and the actual location of the house obscured, if you wish.”
“Sounds pretty good. Tell you what: let me go ask the missus. Can I call you at this number?”
“Great. Let me go talk to Susan; she’s right out back. I’ll give you a ring in a moment.”
“Great; talk to you then.”
Steven hung up and turned toward Tara.
She was bent over the microscope. “So,” she said without looking up, “that sounded like it went well.”
“He’s clearing it with his wife as we speak. I definitely think he's up for the idea.”
“Certainly sounded that way.” She sat up, made a few notes on her clipboard, then looked back into the microscope, adjusting the focus knob. Steven's phone buzzed. Tara smiled. “You’re on, Mr. Trent.”
“Cute,” he smirked, then answered the call.
A few minutes later, Steven had the name and number of the Laceys' realtor, as well as some more information about the haunting. Aside from the moving furniture, Mr. Lacey and his wife had seen lights moving up and down the stairs and had heard scratching on their bedroom door. They knew nothing of the origin of the haunt, however, and had learned to live with it, even coming to regard it, in a strange way, as their child.
Steven noted all of this, thanked Mr. Lacey, and flipped the cell shut. “Well, there you go: we have permission to investigate.”
Tara lifted her head. “Good job.”
"Thanks. How’s the research going?”
“Slowly. I’m on slide number five, and I have to get through all 22 now, since I can’t refreeze them. Would you mind hanging out while I finish up? It might take an hour or two, but after that we can go to the library.”
“Luckily, I have some Plato with me…” He pulled a beaten-up copy of The Republic from his bag. “And if I want to sound at all intelligent in class, I should probably actually read it. Because, y'know that whole learning-by-osmosis thing? Doesn’t work.”
“Don’t I know it.” Tara turned back to her microscope and put the next slide in place.
Steven sat and looked at her for a long moment, noticing how her red locks fell down her back over the white lab coat. Then he shook his head and opened his book.
As Tara went through her slides, Steven read about political theory in ancient Greece – looking up every once in a while to glimpse her cascading hair.
Tara Martin – exceptionally accomplished neurobiology major with a troubled past. Steven Trent – confident political science major with an irresistible attraction to Tara. Paul Stratton – history major who is able to hear spirits. Together, they make up the Society for Paranormal Researchers at their prestigious New England University. When they’re not in class or writing papers, the three friends are chasing their passion….ghosts.
When the group learns of a local retired couple trying to sell a house they claim is haunted, they decide to investigate. As the clues unfold, a familiar spirit interrupts their investigation and Tara finds her life in danger. Can her friends save her before it’s too late?
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Genre – YA paranormal, NA paranormal
Rating – PG-13
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