Horner Paranormal

by

SashaGonzaga

Book 1: Enter the Witch - Chapter 1 (Margot)

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“So, another classic haunting then?”

Margot saw Danny nod in the rearview mirror, scrolling on Jake’s laptop at the dinette and typing something every few minutes. “Looks like it,” he said. “Won’t know for sure until we do some digging–”

“Probably won’t even need to dig very far,” Jake chimed in, sitting on the floor near the back and tinkering with one of his machines.

“–but yes, probably. Hopefully. It shouldn’t be a difficult case.”

“What’s wrong with difficult cases?” Margot asked, smirking at the boys from the driver’s seat. “They’re the best kind.”

“You just want an excuse to swing that fire poker around,” Jake mumbled.

“Oh, as if you aren’t exactly the same with all your stupid ecto-gear.”

“It’s not ecto-gear!” he said indignantly. “My gadgets have a wide variety of uses, thank you very much, and only some of them are used for ghosts, and not every ghost produces ectoplasm, which you know, and also, only two of them are weapons!”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Margot rolled her eyes and focused back on the road, trying not to smile at Jake’s adorable annoyance. Dummy, she thought. “You build, I bash. Nothing wrong with me wanting some more bash-heavy cases lately. All I’ve been doing is driving the van.”

“And that’s a very valuable job,” Danny replied. “Exit fourteen.”

“I know, I know!”

Margot slid onto the exit ramp a minute later, and Danny continued to rattle off directions until they finally arrived at their destination: Wolfden, Montana, a classic small town hidden in the tall pine forest. According to the email Danny had received, there was an old mansion just north of town that a new family had moved into, and soon after, there’d been a slew of paranormal activity. No deaths or serious injuries, thankfully, so if they were dealing with a poltergeist, it probably wasn’t too vengeful or anything. But still, a ghost making a ruckus usually meant the ghost was upset in some way, and as paranormal investigators, it was their responsibility to take care of it.

Plus, the family had been willing to pay in full to get the place exorcised, and Margot and the boys really needed the money. If they didn’t fuel up soon, her van would be running on fumes, and thanks to all the fast food they’d been eating, one of them was likely to contract scurvy.

Margot drove the van to the town’s small inn, where the spooked family was staying for the time being. She parked outside, and the three of them headed in. It was a nice hotel, with a dash of Victorian and just a hint of quaint, the concierge throwing them suspicious looks as Danny asked them to call the family down. Margot and Jake waited in the lobby, shifting from foot to foot nervously, until Danny came to join them with his hands in his vest pockets.

“What’re their names again?” Jake asked.

“Farmer,” Danny said. “Jill and Terrance Farmer. And they’ve got two kids.”

“Ah, Margot’s specialty,” Jake said with a lopsided grin. Margot gave him a squinty look, and Jake laughed. “Relax, Queens, I meant you’re good with kids. It was a compliment. Rare for you to get one, I know, but it can happen.”

“How many times have I saved your life again?” Margot asked. “Thirty? Thirty-five?”

“I’ve saved yours too, you know.”

“Yeah, like twice.”

“Three times!”

“The incubus in Wisconsin doesn’t count.”

“How am I the youngest person here?” Danny asked, pointedly trying to ignore the pair of them. Margot would’ve replied, but then she heard the elevator doors ding open, and both Margot and Jake shut their mouths for the sake of looking professional.

A younger couple appeared in the lobby, plain looking and nervous, the husband in a polo shirt and khakis, the wife in a sundress. Their kids followed behind, a boy and girl–the boy was younger and wearing light-up sneakers, and the girl had her hair tied back in pigtails with red ribbons.

A classic, picture-perfect, horror-film American family, Margot thought. Right down to the blond hair and perfect teeth.

They felt… off to her, in a way she couldn’t quite put her finger on. But then they turned and caught sight of Danny, and the expression of relief on their faces forced her to drop the thought.

Not everyone had a screwed-up childhood like you did, Margot, she scolded herself. Stop being paranoid.

“Mr. and Mrs. Farmer?” Danny asked, putting on a smile. Margot knew he hated it, but he really was the best of them when it came to customer service stuff. Jake tended to ramble excitedly about things most people found disturbing, and Margot, well… She’d been told more than once that she had an “overly aggressive personality.” But she was good with kids, for some reason. Always had been. The little girl met her gaze, eyes wide and afraid and clutching her father’s hand, and Margot smiled and gave her a small wave. She smiled timidly back.

“Yes,” Mr. Farmer said, walking forward, “that’s us. I assume you’re the, uh…?”

“Horner Paranormal Private Investigators, yes.” Danny shook the man’s hand. “I’m Danny Rye. These are my associates, Margot Queensbury and Jake Tassel-Chastain. We hoped we could ask you some questions before we headed to the estate. Is there a place we could sit down?”

Mr. Farmer nodded and brought them to a small area of the lobby with a few overstuffed chairs and couches. They all sat down, the family together on the large couch, Danny in an armchair, and Jake and Margot on a lounge. Jake took out his notebook, clicked a pen, and nodded at Danny.

“Alright,” Danny said, “I know you sent most of this information in your email, but I’d like to hear it from you again. Let’s go over everything, one step at a time.”

Margot straightened up a little, eyes darting between the Farmers as she, well… she didn’t like to call it “opening her mind,” but that was kind of what it felt like, even if it was a phrase ripped straight out of Star Wars. They all had their paranormal talents–it was why they did this job, why they stuck together. Danny was a spirit medium. Could see and talk to ghosts and everything. Jake had some weird stuff going on they didn’t fully understand yet, but he was a genius at combining technology with what little magic they could manage. Margot? She was psychic. Weird dreams of the future, strange visions when she touched certain objects, moving things with her mind, the whole nine yards. Right now, she was using what she liked to call her “human lie detector ability.” Subset of empathy, if the Internet was to be believed, but all Margot cared about was if her stomach twinged at all while one of the Farmers was talking.

“Well,” Mr. Farmer said slowly, “our first night there, there was no storm, no wind, but the lights would flicker on and off constantly. We thought it was old wiring at first, but the place had just been refurbished… and then we kept hearing strange noises coming from the basement.”

Margot tilted her head as Mr. Farmer continued, her hand next to Jake’s leg on the lounge so she could subtly tap him if she felt a lie. That “off” feeling was back as she watched the family, and she suddenly realized what it was. She couldn’t feel anything. Emotionally, at least. A family like this, spooked enough to move out of their own house? Even if they weren’t lying, Margot would’ve felt a slew of strong emotions from them. Fear, suspicion, desperation. She felt nothing. It was like something was blocking her psychic senses, and that wasn’t something she’d ever felt before.

Without shifting her gaze, Margot began to tap on Jake’s leg in Morse Code. Don’t feel anything. At first, he started to scribble, thinking she was indicating a lie, but then his brain picked up on the code, and he stilled next to her.

“…window slammed shut so hard it shattered, and that’s when we emailed you. And moved out to the inn.” Mr. Farmer finished speaking, his eyes flicking over to Margot for a moment, and Margot sucked in a breath as quietly as she could. Sensing emotion was always easier with eye contact. Whoever had invented the phrase “eyes are windows to the soul” had definitely been an empath. When she met his eyes, it was like Margot peeked through a crack in the barrier hiding Mr. Farmer’s emotions from her, and in that moment, she only felt one thing from him.

Hunger.

Something wrong, she tapped out on Jake’s thigh. Something very wrong.

“Alright, that sounds like a pretty standard haunting,” Danny said, oblivious to Margot’s insight. “There’s probably a ghost or two on the premises that you angered when you moved in. We’ll check it out, clear out anything we find, and once the problem’s dealt with, we can discuss the rest of your payment.”

“Payment?” Mr. Farmer asked. “I thought we already paid.”

“The advance was the money it took to get us here,” Danny explained. “Food, gas, stuff like that. And to make sure you were serious about hiring us. This sounds like a pretty routine situation, though, so there probably won’t be many additional expenses.”

“Oh,” Mr. Farmer said. “Alright.”

“Either way, I’m sure we’d all love a discussion about where your money is going.” Danny stood up, and Jake and Margot did too, Jake shutting his notebook with a soft snap. Danny also reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a business card, handing it to Mr. Farmer. “If there’s anything else you forgot to mention, you can reach us at that number. In the meantime, we’ll do our best to sort everything out.”

The three of them turned to leave, headed for the lobby doors, Margot trying to still the nerves in her stomach. And then…

“But, wait, what about the witch?” the little girl asked. “Daddy, you didn’t tell them about the witch.”

Margot felt a jolt of fear from Danny as they stopped.

“That’s because she’s not a real witch, honey,” Mrs. Farmer said with a soft smile. “She’s just a… unique individual, okay?”

“But you said she cursed–”

“Sweetheart,” Mrs. Farmer said firmly, and the girl went quiet with a pout as her mom turned towards the three of them. “I’m sorry, her imagination–”

“It’s alright,” Danny said. There was tension running through his entire frame. His voice was a little more detached than it had been before, and instead of meeting Margot’s gaze, which was screaming we need to leave and talk privately, right now, he instead turned to face the Farmers again. “Actually, I’d just like to make sure we’ve covered all our bases. Could you talk to me about this witch?”

The parents looked at each other, both a little surprised. “Well, sure,” Mrs. Farmer said. “She’s just some bohemian young woman that lives on the edge of town. She’s not… actually a witch, is she?”

“Well, you believe in ghosts, don’t you?” Danny said, not too sympathetically. His patience was starting to wear thin; Margot didn’t need to be an empath to know that. “Look, I just need to know if you… angered this woman in any way.”

“We…” The parents glanced at each other again, and Mr. Farmer sighed. “I, yes, I might have upset her a few weeks ago. We’d just moved in, wanted to explore the town a bit, and we ended up bumping into her in the park–”

“She was very strange, mind you,” Mrs. Farmer interjected. “Very strange. She apologized, of course, but she kept staring at us, I can’t really describe how, it was just… unsettling.”

Danny nodded and glanced back at Jake and Margot, and Margot jerked her head a little towards the front door. “Well,” Danny said, turning back to the Farmers with a smile, “thank you so much for the information. We’ll see what we can do.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Farmer said, reaching out to shake Danny’s hand. Danny obliged, and with a few nods and waves, the three Horner PIs walked through the lobby and back outside towards the van.

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About the author

SashaGonzaga

Bio: Hi! I'm a YA/new adult fantasy fiction writer. My main stories are urban fantasy, sci-fi-esque superhero, and space western. I also love cats, tea, chocolate, and both playing and designing TTRPGs!

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