Scott grunted as he sat down at lunch, tearing open a ketchup packet and viciously stirring it into his mashed potatoes while Amber watched, bemused. He had been irritable and cranky all day.
“But Mom, I’m still sick, really. Cough.” he’d said that morning, trying to convince his mother. She’d looked him up and down. Besides the bags under his eyes, which wasn’t unusual, he seemed fine.
“You know sick people don’t actually say ‘cough’, right?”
“Dammit. Worth a shot.” Defeated, they’d set off this morning.
“Calm down, Scott. The mashed potatoes never did anything to you. It wasn’t their fault you had to come to school today.” she said.
“It’s not the fact that I had to come today!” he said quietly, irritated. He paused. “Well, not entirely,” he amended. “It’s the fact that I have to work with the-ugh-police now. We shouldn’t have tried to break into the morgue last night.”
“Why? You said yourself that if it came down to it, you’d rather have the police on your side than not, right?” she asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Hrn. That’s only if worst came to worst, which it did. It was never my first choice. For example, that Cross woman. Did it seem like she was welcoming of the magical and…less savory aspects of this case?”
“Not really.” Amber said, frowning.
“Exactly. The police have all sorts of rules and regulations that they have to follow. And as I seem to need to remind you, necromancy isn’t exactly neat and tidy and regulated. It’s quite the ghoulish art. Effective, yes, but there’s no law enforcement can approve of the way I go about business, and court on Earth that’ll admit any evidence I gather. You certainly can’t testify.” he said. Amber looked introspective.
“Then what would’ve you done if we hadn’t gotten caught, then? How would you’ve found my heart without Detective Cross’s help?” she asked.
“I’m fully capable of conducting an investigation without police interference.” he said crossly. “At least to find what we need. It would just be in my own style. In my original scenario, we would’ve found the killer’s hideout, snuck in, got your heart and left without confrontation. That’s what I’d hoped.”
“You didn’t answer me. How would you have found it.” Amber asked, starting to get irked herself. Scott waved his hand dismissively.
“A simple manhunt I can handle. I can animate anything that’s dead, and the woods are full of squirrels, birds, and mice. I could just raise up an army of them and instruct them to reconnoiter for anyone or anything suspicious. They can get practically anywhere unseen, and as zombies they wouldn’t tire or rest until they found something.” he said. Amber lit up.
“Wow. That’s actually pretty amazing.”
“Yeah, except I can’t do that anymore.” he said ruefully.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I told you, I have to work with the police now. Such evidence is inadmissible.” he said, frowning. “What do you think Cross’ll say when asked how they found the killer? ‘Oh, an army of zombie squirrels found his hideout and we just followed them?’”
“Ah, I see what you mean.” She looked at him nervously. “Then…if you’re right about the murderer killing girls for their hearts to sacrifice, then…what would you do if we actually found him?”
“Kill him either by forcing necrotic energy into his body or ripping him apart with zombies, reanimate the body, then have it perform ‘suicide’ in public, preferably by immolation in a parking lot or something.” Scott said coldly and without hesitation. Amber blinked.
“That’s…oddly specific. You, uh, didn’t come up with that on the spur of the moment, did you.” It wasn’t a question. Scott nodded.
“Necromancy isn’t very nice. It’s the best way I could come up with to both eliminate the threat and ensure eyes didn’t point in my direction.” Scott said, shrugging. “Which’ll make Cross suspicious as hell if it happens, and I’m not going to use dark magic on good people.” He sighed. “The threat is that serious. But involving the law, even tangentially, limits what I can do.” Amber shifted uncomfortably.
“Err, yeah, I guess.” she outwardly admitted, but inside she was secretly a little relieved Scott was tethered by the police’s restraints. Even if she knew that the threat was dire, she still didn’t want Scott to kill anyone. “I just think that-”
“Hey, man.” A short, chubby, dark-haired boy in a garish dragon t-shirt placed his tray on the table and slid into the seat Amber was currently occupying. She looked down in consternation, and Scott had to suppress a snicker.
“Hey Brian. Long time no see.” he said, mildly surprised. Amber floated to the seat next to him.
“Who’s he?” Amber asked.
“Yeah, I was sick Tuesday, and you were out yesterday. What happened? Were you sick too? Didn’t get it from me, I know that.” Brian asked, understandably heedless of Amber’s curiosity.
“You could say that. I was dead tired, that’s for sure.” Scott said amicably, with a grin. Brian raised an eyebrow, but shrugged it off.
“Yeah, I’ve had those days too. So anything interesting going on lately?” he asked.
“In the last two days I’ve bound my soul to another’s, busted a ghost, snuck into the city morgue, got caught by the police, and managed to finagle a consultant job with them out of that fiasco.” Scott said, entirely straight-faced. Amber scowled at him, but Brian burst out laughing.
“Yeah, you are the weirdest person I’ve ever met. So what’d you do yesterday?”
“Mostly slept and played videogames, nothing much.” he said wryly, with a shrug. “Nothing exciting, at any rate.”
Amber watched Scott and Brian talk as they dug into their lunches. She smiled; it seemed he did have at least one friend to talk to. That was good. Her thoughts and eyes drifted over to the table where hers usually sat. Stephanie was bringing her food over now, bobbing her head as she softly mumbles song lyrics. Amber considered joining to listen in on them, but she noticed someone’s elbow knock a milk carton over and Stephanie step onto it unawares, slipping.
“Waaahh!” Her tray and arms whirled through the air. Amber jumped up, but there was no need for whatever help she could give. The person behind her caught her before she hit the ground. Stephanie found herself in well-muscled arms, staring at the piercing blue eyes and immaculately-styled blonde hair of Leo Manning, captain of the football team.
“Um, h-hi t-there.” she said, blushing and stammering.
“Are you all right?” he asked, putting her back on her feet.
“Y-Yeah.” Stephanie managed.
“That’s good. I do hate to see girls get hurt. Glad I could help.” He knelt down to pick up her tray and the remains of her ruined food. “I’m sure they’d give you another if you explained.” He took her tray to dispose of it. “Please, allow me to get this.” Every female within a fifty-foot radius’s heart melted, including Amber. And she was missing hers. Scott gagged.
“Hey, wait a sec.” Stephanie said. “Um…if, y’know, it wouldn’t be any trouble…would you, um, like to hang out sometime?” she said hopefully, blushing.
“C’mon, go for it! She’s cute! Say yes!” Amber cheered. She knew Stephanie had a crush on him for the longest time, and had encouraged her as much as possible to ask him out. Leo rubbed the back of his neck and gave her a bashful but winning smile.
“Gee, I’m sorry, but I’ve got practice through Saturday, and I’m taking my sister to her piano lessons next week. My schedule’s packed, doesn’t look like I can do it any time soon. Thanks for the invite, though.” he said mournfully.
“Oh. O-Okay.” Stephanie said, crestfallen.
“I really am sorry. I’ll see you around. I hope you have a good day.” Brushing his hair out of his face with a gesture that made every girl’s heart skip a beat, he smiled and left. Stephanie went to her table and slumped over, feeling dejected but elated that he’d spoken to her. Brian sighed.
“That total bastard.” He shook his head. “Yeah, he’s got it made. I don’t get it. What’s he got that I don’t?”
“Athleticism, good looks, straight A’s since sixth grade, impeccable manners, a winning personality, a metric ton of self-confidence, a red convertible and perfect hair. I wonder why he’s popular.” Scott deadpanned without hesitation or mercy. Brian sighed again, and the bell rang.
“You don’t hold back, do you? I’ve gotta get going, I’ll see you later.” Brian said, dumping his tray.
“Later, man.” Scott did the same, and was about to leave when he noticed Amber still at the table, staring dreamily at Leo’s disappearing wake with more than a few other girls. “You coming, or just want to stare at Prince Charming’s trail all day?” he said dryly.
“Mmmm? You say something?” she said, not looking away. Sighing, Scott grabbed the chain attached to his chest and shook it, making her jump and bringing her back to reality. “Huh? What? I’m here! Huh?”
“Clearly.” he said, rolling his eyes.
Bright sunlight shone in from the window, cold and high. Despite being obscured by clouds. Birds chirped and flew by, making shadows dance on the bed and the wall. Neither the light nor the movement bothered the woman on the bed. She didn’t awake until her cell phone started incessantly ringing. Her hand fumbled to pick it up from her nightstand. Not even glancing at the caller ID, she held it to her head on the pillow with her eyes closed.
“I thought I said I wasn’t to be disturbed this morning. I had a very late night working on the case. Who is this?” Detective Cross said testily. The person on the other end gulped.
“I-I’m officer Pryce, ma’am. I know you sent a memo out that you’d be late today, but-”
“There is no ‘but’ here, officer Pryce.” she cut him off. “I specifically requested that no one was to disturb me while I caught up on my sleep. You are exactly two minutes from turning in your badge. When I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed.”
“But, ma’am…we’ve found another victim.” he said, desperately. Her eyes snapped open, and she immediately recalled how many hearts Scott said were required for the sacrifice.
“How long ago?” she barked.
“Um, we won’t know for certain until the reports get back from forensics, but the rough estimate is around one a.m.”
“Damn.” That was the time she’d finally gotten home. If she’d stayed out a little bit later… “Where’s the scene?”
“41 Pennywise Lane. The parents are still in shock. We’ve got a crew already here, but the senior officers decided it was best you knew right away, and they kind of volunteered me, so…” Pryce said.
“Well then. I’m up now, so I’ll be there in…” She checked the time. 9:03. “An hour-no, forty-five minutes. Wait for me. And I want a copy of every single report personally, understand?” she snapped.
“Yes ma’am!” She could practically hear him and the thought of it was the first good one she’d had in a week.
“Good.” Cross hung up, stretched, and then got up to brush her teeth, muttering obscenities on the way.
Exactly forty-four minutes and eleven seconds later, she stepped underneath the yellow tape around the open door. Cross took in the scene; cops everywhere, more tape over past the top of the stairs, sobbing coming from the living room, and a general aura of sullen despair. She spied a young man talking to one of the senior detectives, and scanned his nametag.
“Pryce, wasn’t it?” she said, coming up from behind. He turned and immediately shot ramrod straight, the detective standing up more as well.
“Y-Yes ma’am!” he said hesitantly.
“Good. Come with me and debrief me.” With a face that was rapidly turning chalk white, he followed her to the stairs.
“W-Well, ma’am, honestly there’s not much to go on. Around one a.m. the perpetrator entered the domicile, presumably went up the stairs, found one Monica Palencia, and, well, chloroformed her and removed her heart, same as the other ones. Leaving no evidence.” he explained.
“That’s a load of crap and you know it. Of course there’s evidence, there always is. This kind of sloppy investigating is why I’m here in the first place.” Cross growled. Pryce merely held up his hands helplessly. “Like the point of entry. Was it locked or unlocked?”
“Mr. Palencia insists it’s always locked at night, and it was when they found it this morning, wide open.”
“What, really? And another thing. Her parents were twenty feet from her and they didn’t see or hear anything?” Cross asked. Pryce shook his head.
“They insist that nothing was wrong throughout the night. June Palencia apparently has trouble sleeping, but she says she didn’t hear a peep all night and I’m inclined to believe her.” They came to Monica’s room, where her feet were sticking out of the door. The rest of her body was inside, covered by a sheet.
“And let me guess. No prints, no DNA, no murder weapon, and no…motive.” Cross said, reaching down to lift the sheet up, grimacing at the sight. “Look at this.”
“Ugh.” he muttered, but she ignored him.
“Her heart’s been completely removed from her body. There’s blood everywhere. But notice something strange?”
“Huh?” He examined the body. “Um….no. I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything.”
“Not around the body, I won’t have my officers acting stupid. Look around, at the room.” He scanned the room. Posters, a dresser, desk, closet, bed, some clothes scattered on the floor, a bookshelf, nothing out of the ordinary.
“I don’t see anything.” he admitted.
“Right. And remember the hall and the stairs? Nothing unusual there, correct?”
“Yeah?” Pryce said, mystified. Cross raised an eyebrow.
“Really? Nothing wrong with the picture? A serial killer rips out a girls’ heart, and the blood only pools around the girl’s body?” Realization dawned on him as he examined the spotless walls again.
“There’s no blood stains.” he said breathlessly.
“None in the hall, either. We should be seeing a dripping trial, splatter on the door and wall, definitely in the hallway at least, if the girl’s door was open.”
“Yeah, it’s only in one puddle.”
“Even if the perpetrator carried it in something, we should still see more than we are. Mr. and Mrs. Palencia haven’t touched anything? Moved anything? Seen any blood elsewhere since before we arrived?” Cross asked.
“No, they checked the body, yeah, but they called 911 right away. I’ll ask ‘em again, but I don’t think they’ve been up around here too much.” Pryce said, shaking his head.
“I wouldn’t think so.” she said dryly.
“But detective, how could this’ve happened? How could the killer have removed the heart without it gushing everywhere?” he asked, looking at her like he was lost.
“I have no idea, but that’s what we’re going to find out. Double check with the Palencia’s, then call forensics to test for residue and possible spray projection. I don’ think the perp went to the trouble of cleaning up the remains around the room while leaving the body so obvious, but I want every possibility ruled out. But even more than that I’m concerned that the killer seems to have no problem getting into homes and taking targets that way.” She looked down in introspection, but noticed him staring at her, a worried look on his face. “Get to it.” she snapped.
“Yes ma’am!” He saluted and left. Cross sighed as she left the room, making way for the photographer.
“Of course, the real question isn’t how the killer did it. I hate to admit it, but looks like the kid really was right.” She checked her phone and leaned against a flimsy table near the top of the stairs. It was only going on eleven. Cross mentally cursed; she was tempted, but she wasn’t going to pull him out of class. She wanted Scott’s role in this investigation a secret, at least for now. She glanced at the officers milling around. The real question was how the blatant evidence, or lack thereof, could escape the notice of so many trained professionals.
“Finally.” Scott yawned and stretched as he and Amber made their way home. The clouds, lighter during the day, were growing darker and more ominous, threatening rain. “Looks like I won’t be able to go to the cemetery tonight. Eh, no point anyway.”
“So, Scott. Who was that at lunch today? He seemed nice.” Amber chirped happily. He raised his eyebrow at her.
“Yeah! Who is he?” she asked. Scott shook his head.
“I’ve known him for a couple of years now. We usually eat lunch together. I guess you could call us friends, but we don’t really hang out that much, usually at school. Just why are you so, I dunno, happy anyway? He’s not your friend.”
“I know, I know. It’s just…I want everyone to have at least one friend.” She smiled at him, softly and sadly. As she walked, her feet unknowingly sank an inch into the ground. “You know my dad’s kind of rich, right?” Scott nodded. “Well, it wasn’t always like that. It was a really long time ago, when I was like four or five. I remember we had an apartment. We were happy there, a loving family. Poor, but happy. My dad wasn’t satisfied, though. He wanted better for us, for me. So he got a loan and started a heating and ventilation store. It did really well, and we could’ve moved to a house, but dad was worried that the store might fail and we would be stuck. So he gathered up some more capitol and started a carpeting supply store too.
“But managing two stores essentially by himself was too much. Mom pitched in, and through all their hard work they could expand. Home furnishings, appliances, gym equipment, they could expand fast. It was all thanks to their dedication and desire for a better life for all of us. We were able to move out of the tiny little apartment and into a brand new house.” Amber tilted her head back, and stared into the sky. She sighed.
“I think we were there for about a year. Then we moved out of town for a while. I had to transfer schools. But the commute proved to be too much. I think on average, they were only home about five hours a day. We moved back soon after, but they opened two more stores and were constantly moving back and forth between all of them. We were in the Craven Falls suburbs, at that point yet, but they thought it would be better to move to the city in a penthouse to be closer to the stores and spend more time at home. I had to change schools again. But that was really expensive, so they opened another business to try and cover extra costs, but it was too much work for too little money so we moved back to Craven Falls proper. I started going to our middle school that January.” They were crossing the bridge over the river, and Scott motioned her to join him looking over the side, so he could pay attention better without looking strange in public.
“Yeah?” he asked.
“Before then, I was basically alone. My parents tended to work in shifts, one of them either out or working on paperwork while the other slept. They traded back and forth, and I kind of got lost in the shuffle. They were around, don’t get me wrong, I was shown love and attention, but it tended to come in short bursts. And by the time we moved back for real, I never had any friends. I had a lot of cool stuff, but no one to talk to, really. I remember sometimes on weekends when they were extra busy, I didn’t actually speak from Friday night until Monday morning. There was no one to talk to, so…I didn’t.”
“Wow.” Scott said, and amber chuckled ruefully.
“Trust me, there were good times, I wasn’t traumatized or anything. But I had trouble making friends. I couldn’t really connect with anyone, not if I didn’t know when I’d actually see the kids around me again. I tried the first couple of times, but it was too painful when we had to move again. By the time I got to middle school, I was surrounded by strangers despite it being my hometown. But that changed when I met Stephanie.
“We were assigned a group project, and she was in mine. It turned out we both had a crush on the same singer of a boy band, we got to talking, and we ate lunch together. Turns out I’d forgotten my sandwich, so she gave me half of hers. I wanted to thank her, so I asked if she wanted to listen to their new album at my house after school. I can still remember how hard my heart was beating when I managed to screw up my courage to ask her. She said yes, and we listened to it all afternoon, singing and dancing badly. We hit it off, arranged to meet after school some more, and that was that. She’s been my best friend since then. We’ve had sleepovers, gone to the beach, camping, told each other everything. I was loved before, yeah. But I wasn’t alone anymore. Eventually we moved to our house on Crystal Lake Boulevard, which is like only four blocks down from her house, and we were the happiest girls in the world.” Amber smiled and shook her head, remembering. “Do you know what I did on the night I met Stephanie?”
“What’d you do?” Scott asked, leaning on the railing.
“I cried. I was so happy, I actually cried. I’d never really noticed before, but my loneliness started to turn me numb. Too many boring nights with no one to talk to kind of made me, I don’t know, too used to solitude. But I felt so good after having Stephanie around for a while. I know it sounds silly, but you know how seriously kids can take stuff. It’s just, I know how painful loneliness can be, and I don’t want that for anyone. And, y’know, you’re not exactly Mr. Popular at school…” she trailed off, embarrassed to come out and say it. Scott waved her off.
“Hmmm,” he muttered, pensive. “Well, everyone gets lonely sometimes. But I never really felt like that, I guess. I had a brother growing up, and he’s annoying so I’ve always craved solitude more. I guess it’s just different strokes for different folks. And yes, I do have friends.” he said, mildly irked. She giggled.
“Well now that I know, I’m happy.” she said, smirking.
“Whatever. Just because-” His phone buzzed. “Huh?” Taking it out, he read the text message he’d received. His eyes widened with horror, then narrowed as he swore loudly.
“What? What’s wrong?” Amber said.
“There’s been another victim. That brings it to six.”
“What!?” she exclaimed. He started pacing back and forth on the bridge, cursing.
“She wants me to meet her tonight. Rrrg! This is not good.” He stopped pacing, considering his options. He nodded. “Nothing for it. Hope they’re around. C’mon.” He started walking away.
“What? What’s going on? Where are we going?” Amber asked.
“You’ll see.” was his reply, and he marched on in determined silence. He turned right on the road he normally turned left, and Amber was confused. They were headed to the old district of town, where there were plots of land that had held homes since colonial times. Ten minutes later, they stopped in front of a large, decrepit old mansion that had been abandoned since the sixties.
“Here we are. You’ll like this place.” Scott said, grinning.
“And where is here, exactly?” Amber asked, looking at the ancient manse with a disapproving eye.
“Blackwell Manor. It’s been here since the nineteenth century, and it’s a minor historical landmark. Not officially or anything, but it’s considered kind of a tourist trap for history buffs. Unfortunately, it’s been abandoned since 1961, and with no one caring for it it’s become decrepit and dangerous.” Scott explained.
“And we’re going in.” Amber said glumly, seeing which way the wind was blowing.
“Yup.” He went to an innocuous seeming portion of the wooden fence and surreptitiously nudged a toe under a hole in the board and pulled. With a creak the board slid up, and he darted inside before anyone could see him. Amber just walked through the fence. “Showoff.” he muttered.
The yard was overgrown, with tall grass, dead bushes, and cracked pavement leading up to the foreboding porch. The grounds were littered with broken bottles, abandoned Frisbees and forgotten baseballs. Thunder rumbled as the sky darkened even more, giving the whole house an ominous and forbidding aura.
“I don’t think I like this place. It’s creepy.” Amber said, growing nervous.
“Hate to break it to you, but creepy’s what you’re stuck with for now. Being a ghost around a necromancer, and all.”
“But it looks like one of those haunted houses that used to scare me in movies when I was a kid!” she protested. Scott merely stared at her. And stared. “Well, anyone would be nervous going in there.” She said looking down, glad once again ectoplasmic bodies couldn’t blush.
“Yyyyyyeahhhh.” Scott said, getting back on track. “We should go in. It’s starting to rain.” He strode fearlessly up to the door, glanced around to make sure no one was looking, then used his shoulder to force the door open. They walked inside, the lightning making the shadows dance as the storm began to break. Scott closed the door with a drawn out squeak, making Amber glance around nervously. There was illumination from the windows, but the only thing Amber could make out was the furniture covered in white sheets and the twisted, demonic shadows that the lighting offered, making the house seem even more treacherous.
“Float a little higher, try to spread out your glow as much as possible. There’s some holes in the floor, and I’d rather not break my leg.” Scott said. Amber did, but at best she could only throw her light about three feet in front of them.
“Scott, I don’t like this place. Why are we here?” Amber whimpered quietly, scanning the room for any sign of movement. She shuddered as she saw a spider climb up its’ web.
“Why are you whispering?” he asked. “We’re here to meet someone. Hello, there!” he called.
“Scott! What are you doing? Someone could hear you!” she whispered harshly.
“That’s the point.” he said, eyebrow raised. “Hellooo!” He started walking up the stairs, each board creaking under his weight. He stared to use the railing, buy immediately took his hand off as he was reminded of how much dust there was. “Hello!”
“Scott! Please come back! This place is really creepy, it really reminds me of a haunted house!” Scott paused and turned back to her incredulously.
“What? Of course-” He was cut off by a wailing from upstairs, rapidly becoming louder as it drew closer. Amber glanced around nervously. A bright blue light shot form the hall upstairs, barreled down the steps, and circled around the room.
“Eeeeeaaahh!” Amber shrieked. The bellowing grew louder, the ball bursting near the ceiling.
It revealed a large, transparently blue old man, obviously not of the current time period. Dressed in a British Navy officer’s uniform circa 1897, the buttons straining under his generous stomach, he had an enormous walrus-like mustache and a hand on his chest passionately, singing a note as loudly (and apparently as off-key) as he could. He held it as he floated down to ground level, where he took a bow to the stunned ghost and grinning necromancer.
“Nice volume, Captain.” Scott said.
“Indeed, harrumph! Some L’etoile tonight, what what. Been far too long since I’ve seen some proper Chabrier. Too long, I say!” He finally noticed Amber. “What ho! Enchanté, my dear!” In one motion, he swept his hat off, bowed on one knee, and took her hand to his mouth for a kiss. “A pleasure, a divine pleasure to meet you. Jolly good, I say! Such a lovely young lass!” He turned back to Scott. “Young master, I had no idea you were courting! Where did you come across this lovely flower of maidenhood?”
“Scott…” Amber gave Scott a sideways look, awaiting an explanation. Scott was having trouble holding back his laughter.
“Amber, I present to you Captain Phineas T. Blackwell.” he said, chuckling.
“Ho! Where are my manners!” Phineas burst out, bowing to Amber once again. “As the lad has summarized, I am Captain Phineas Thaddeus Blackwell of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy 1st class, at your humble service, what what!” he proclaimed, gesturing to himself grandly. “And who might you be, lass?”
“I’m Amber Harris, sir. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” she said, gently shaking his hand.
“Ho ho! Such a civil and demure beauty! Welcome to Blackwell Manor! Forgive the look of the place, haven’t been able to touch a broom since I became deceased!” He floated over to Scott, leaned on his shoulder, and in what he thought was a whisper said “Good show, lad. Haven’t seen one like that since the courtesans of China or the beauties of Paris! Certainly more than my late Eunice, God rest her soul.” He briefly put his hat over his heart. “But good to see a young lad in his prime getting down to brass tacks for some courting, eh, what what?” Phineas cuffed Scott’s shoulder and gave him a wink. Amber felt like dying again.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but we’re not ‘courting’.” Scott dismissed, rubbing his shoulder. “Besides, there’s currently the small factor of her being deceased as well that’s a more pressing concern. Remember? How you could touch her?”
“Oh my word! Forgive me, Miss Harris! I had no idea as to your incorporeal condition!” Phineas said, bowing once more to her.
“Err, yeah.” she said hesitantly, overwhelmed by his sincere forthrightness and sheer volume. “Being murdered sucked, but-”
“WHAT!” Phineas roared, drawing the saber at his side. “Where is the repugnant rapscallion who has the audacity to lay his hand on a woman! I’ll show him what for, I say! Tally ho!” He shot up through the ceiling. Amber blinked.
“Wow. He’s certainly…energetic.” she said, and Scott sighed.
“The Captain’s a great guy, to be sure. But I rarely have the energy to deal with him. And as you’ve seen maybe not the quickest on the uptake. He doesn’t know who killed you, either.” he explained, exasperated.
“So, uh, is he coming back?” Amber wondered.
“Yeah, he can’t go too far. He died in this house in 1913, been haunting the place ever since. He’s a bound spirit, can’t go more than thirty feet from the premises, but he’ll last as long as the house does.” Phineas came floating dejectedly back down, a blue chain stretching out to somewhere deeper in the house connected to his heart.
“Forgive me, lass. In the heat of battle, I forgot my soul cannot leave these grounds. I cannot be the one to avenge you.” He sighed, his mustache flumphing out. Amber smiled.
“That’s all right, Captain. Just knowing that you would if you could is a great comfort. Thank you.” she said, and the old ghost puffed up again.
“Actually, that’s why we’re here today. Captain, have you seen the Simmons around? I have business with them.” Scott said. Phineas scratched his head.
“Hmm? I shouldn’t think so. It appears as though that horrid Witch has gone to ground again, finally. They’ve stepped out.”
“Who are the Simmons?” Amber asked.
“Some of the ghosts around here that Edith wasn’t able to get. When she came out, they sought shelter with the Captain here. As a ghost bound to the house, he has some leeway deciding on which spiritual entities get in or out. Not even she was strong enough to get through that.” Scott answered.
“Indeed! No monstrous Witch shall lay a finger on any of those in this house! I shall see to it!” he proclaimed. “Miss Harris, should you ever need shelter from that harridan, I shall be happy to oblige you.”
“Oh, thank you, Captain.” she said gratefully. “But that won’t be necessary. You see, Scott and I actually managed to seal her up in her tombstone the other day. She won’t be bugging you anymore.” Phineas’ eyes went wide and he spent a moment just staring at her in shock and wonder. He turned to Scott for confirmation, and he nodded.
“WHAT? By JOVE!” he shouted at last, jumping into the air. “You mean to tell me that a slip of a girl such as yourself met that witch in battle? And PREVAILED!?” Behind him, Scott had his hands to his ears.
“Y-Yeah. But I didn’t do all that much, it was Scott who did the actual sealing.” Amber said, wincing at the volume. Phineas turned around and gave Scott a hearty clap to the back, practically bowling him forward.
“What ho, lad! Bravo! Jolly good work I say, jolly good! I never thought you had it in you! I guess there’s something to that voodoo you go on about after all, what what! Bwa ha ha-ha ha!” he guffawed uproariously. Scott rubbed his shoulder.
“Yeah well, she decided to press the issue. I just pressed back harder. Anyway, do you think the Simmons will be back soon? I really gotta speak with them.” he said.
“Ah, of course. Tell you what lad, I’ll see if I can’t bring ‘em back meself. After all, it’s the least I can do for a hero who’s freed us from that Witch’s curse. If you’ll excuse me, young master and miss. I’ll be back before the kettle starts to blow!” He bowed again, and floated up through the ceiling and beyond. Scott gasped as he realized what Phineas was doing.
“Quick, cover your ears!” he said, stuffing his fingers into his. Amber hurriedly followed suit.
Outside, heedless of the crackling lightning and pouring rain, Phineas surveyed the land and floated to the apex of the chain’s length. Taking a deep breath that expanded his extensive stomach, mostly out of habit, he prepared his lungs, honed from years of commanding ships in the Navy.
“MR. AND MRS. SIMMONS! YOU ARE HEARBY SUMMONED TO BLACKWELL MANOR IMMEDIATELY! HURRY I SAY, WHAT WHAT!” he bellowed, putting the thunder to shame. He listened to the echoes bouncing around the town, audible only to a select few with satisfaction.
“Is he always this loud?” Amber said, swearing she could hear ringing. Scott rolled his eyes.
“You have no idea.”
A few minutes later, Phineas floated back down.
“They have arrived. Miss Harris, I present to you the magnanimous Mr. and Mrs. Simmons!”
Two ghosts hurriedly phased through the door, looking flustered. They looked to be in their thirties, but just stepping off the Leave It to Beaver set. The woman wore a long floral print dress with white gloves, and the man was in an old-fashioned suit with a handkerchief and a pipe.
“What’s going on here? Why did the Captain call us back so soon?” Mr. Simmons demanded.
“Scott, you’re here! We heard Phineas shouting at the top of his lungs, but you know where our graves are if you need to talk to us, I thought that horrible Witch had returned early-” Mrs. Simmons started, but Phineas interjected.
“Fret not, my dear! Rejoice! Rejoice, I say! These stalwart young heroes have managed to do the unthinkable and drive her off for good!”
“She’s just sealed up. I couldn’t exorcise her.” Scott said dourly. Mr. Simmons jaw dropped, but Mrs. Simmons was aghast.
“Scott! How many times have I told you not to get mixed up with her? She’s too dangerous!” she scolded. He shifted uncomfortably.
“I know, I know. But it was either that or let the client get eaten.” He pointed to Amber, and they finally noticed the fourth ghost.
“Oh! How do you do. I’m Judith, it’s nice to meet you. This is my husband, Alfred.” She said, shaking her hand.
“A pleasure, though considering the state you’re in, one I regret having.” Alfred said gravely.
“Uh, yeah. A pleasure to meet you too. I’m Amber. Scott’s working with me to help bring me back to life.”
“Ha! I never thought it possible, but if the lad can banish that woman than maybe he’s not all talk! Perhaps I should consider making a comeback, what what?” Phineas said.
“Actually Captain, I have something for you to do too. Could you give Amber the grand tour of the manor? She’s a fresh set of ears for tales from your seafaring days, too. I bet she’d like to hear all about your time in Borneo.” Scott said smoothly. Amber frantically signaled no from behind Phineas, and Scott pointedly looked away from her.
“Capitol idea, lad! Come miss, the parlour is this way. And he’s right, Borneo is a fascinating place! Why, I was once there leading a tiger hunting expedition, fearsome beasts, what…” he rambled on as he took her gently but firmly by the hand. She smiled and nodded, but shot Scott a dirty look behind the Captain’s back as she was led off. He sighed and mentally apologized to his sacrifice.
“There. Now we can have a conversation at normal decibel levels, and we won’t be interrupted.” he said, turning back to the Simmons.
“Scott, what’s going on? Why did you want to see us so badly?” Judith asked.
“It’s because of Amber, and you’re some of the only ghosts around the area that can move around. Have you seen anything in the news about the serial killer that’s been running around town?” he said.
“A little. Nothing much, though. Only what we’ve been able to glean from the occasional television report, and we don’t like to invade people’s privacy too much.” Alfred admitted, taking a seat on a chair. He noticed he was still an inch above the surface, and surreptitiously sank down accordingly.
“Good heavens! Don’t tell me you’re going to get involved with this too!” Judith said, then gasped. “Oh dear! Is…that why that poor girl is…”
“Yeah.” Scott said grimly. “More to the point, he’s got her heart. We need to find him and stop him if we want a chance of reversing the situation. He’s killed six girls now, and the attacks started in August. You’re out at all hours, have you seen anything strange? Anybody skulking around, looking shifty, out way past most?” The Simmons shared a worried glance.
“Well, no, we haven’t seen anyone like that on our nightly constitutionals…” Judith trailed off, worried. Scott raised an eyebrow.
“While we were out enjoying the town since the Witch was gone, we did come across someone suspicious.” Alfred explained. “We were passing a gym when we noticed someone staring at the window. He seemed to be fixated on a woman using one of the machines. I thought it was strange because he was standing outside, in the rain. But he was staring so intently at her he didn’t seem to notice he was getting wet. We left soon after to answer the Captain’s call, so he might still be there for all I know.” Scott’s heart, upon hearing that, started racing, thundering the blood through his veins.
“Still there?” he cracked out. Alfred nodded.
“Oh no, you’re going to go after him. If he is this horrible killer, then if you go to confront him he’s sure to do something terrible to you as well! Please, just let the police handle it!” Judith pleaded, but Scott shook his head.
“No good, I don’t have proof for a claim this serious, and there’s no time. Amber! Captain, I need Amber! It’s urgent!” he yelled, and the ghosts floated in from the kitchen.
“…of course, tigers are masters of camouflage. And this one was fast enough to slip away every time we cornered it! But he was a glutton, and couldn’t resist a pit filled with fish, with some stakes at the bottom for dessert! Jolly good time!” Phineas laughed, dragging a tired looking Amber behind him.
“Sorry Captain, but we’ve got a lead on our own tiger to catch. We’ll stop by sometime later.” Scott said.
“Understand completely, lad! Fair fortunes to you!” Phineas said, saluting.
“Oh, do be careful.” Judith implored, wringing her hands.
“He had his hood up, so I didn’t get a good look at his face. He was a big guy with blonde hair.” Alfred supplied, and Scott nodded as they raced out the door.
“What’s going on?” Amber asked.
“I’ll explain on the way. But we finally might be able to catch your killer.” he said, sprinting as fast as he could.