Below you’ll find chapters 3 and 4 of my holiday novella, Paranormal Holiday. I’ve used the same characters in this as in Scenarios, and am considering making this a series. If so, they would be full-size books rather than novellas. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions. This is a first draft and hasn’t undergone any revisions.
Chapter 5, the final one, will be posted Tuesday.
Shivers tracked down every one of Randy’s spine when she heard Mrs. Sheldon tell about Gary and his father becoming one. Her throat closed up and she knew she should say something but it was impossible. She looked helplessly at Mark, who nodded.
“Can you give us a list of Jose’s friends?” he asked.
“Yes,” Mrs. Sheldon said and, taking a lined pad from her desk, she quickly wrote down four names and handed the paper to Mark.
“Thanks.” He put it in his pocket and Randy sensed he was about to leave. She couldn’t allow that to happen. There was more Mrs. Sheldon could tell them.
“Mrs. Sheldon,” Randy said, thinking how to word her question, “is there anything unusual about any of these friends?” She saw the emotions cross the teacher’s face, the confusion, fear, and then resignation, though the fear hadn’t quite left.
Mrs. Sheldon nodded. “Yes, I’m afraid so. Steve McManus and Jose have been friends since the beginning of the school year, but a month ago—I don’t know how to explain it—Steve backed away a bit. He began hanging out with someone else, not anyone on the list I gave you, but a boy he claimed lived next door to him. I was never able to get the kid’s name, and then Steve quit coming to school. I tried to follow up, but got nothing. The parents said he was with his uncle now and refused to answer any questions. I heard a young voice, maybe a girl’s, in the background, saying ‘tell about the doll,’ but the father made some kind of excuse and hung up.”
“I’ll check it out,” Mark said, and asked for their addresses and phone numbers.
After a few more questions, Mark and Randy left. “Are we going to see the McManus parents?” Randy asked as she buckled herself into the passenger seat of Mark’s vehicle.
“Yes, but first the PD. I want to check them out.” His expression was grim as he turned on the ignition, but he didn’t make a move to leave the parking lot.
“What?” Randy asked.
“The list is totally different from Mrs. Howland’s.” He sighed, and then drove from the lot, his expression closed. Randy wasn’t willing to shatter the silence. She followed him to his office and quietly waited while he accessed a program on his computer. Randy scooted her chair next to his so she could read the screen, surprised to see he was accessing records on the Carter family instead of McManus.
“I thought you’d be looking up McManus.”
He nodded and glanced at Randy. “That’s next.” They moved to Chicago two months ago. Hmm, that’s odd. They supposedly were from St. Louis. The father doesn’t have a record, no arrests, zip.” He picked up his phone, turned to Randy. “I’m calling a detective I know in St. Louis. Used to work with me.” He asked the detective to check on Terrence Carter and waited, drumming his fingers on the desk. “Okay, thanks,” he said, and hung up. “No record of a Terrence Carter ever living in St. Louis.”
“That’s strange,” Randy said, a sense of evil coming over her. She suddenly realized the Carters were the center of the problem and that they’d never find anything on them, no records anywhere.
She watched as he accessed records on the McManus family, Steven McManus, Sr., his wife Penny, Steven Jr. and Amy.
“Nothing unusual here. They’ve lived here for years. He’s a construction foreman. No record on him either,” Mark said.
:”What about a missing person’s report on Steve, Jr?” But Randy knew there’d be nothing and Mark confirmed that.
“Everything’s so okay it’s bothering me,” Mark said. “I’d better access ViCAP, see if there’ve been similar cases in St. Lou9is. Should’ve asked Clark, but this way I can get a wider area.”
The terrible feeling increased to gigantic proportions when the results showed similar events in almost every large city in the United States. Only Hawaii escaped. Mark let out a huge sigh and said, “I’ll have to follow up on this but first we visit the McManus family, then the skating rink this afternoon. But let’s go to lunch first.”
Randy was grateful for the respite, though the last ten minutes at the restaurant, a fast food place, were devoted to discussion about the missing child cases.
“What’s your impression?” Mark asked.
Randy hesitated, hating to put words to what she was thinking. She closed her eyes for a moment, steeled herself and said, “This Carter guy’s responsible for all or most of ‘em.”
“Every city?” Mark asked, his eyebrows raised, though Randy saw a flicker of acceptance in his eyes. She realized he didn’t want to, but agreed.
The McManus house was in a neighborhood of older homes three blocks from the school. It was near the end of a block, had an extra lot on either side, which Mark saw resembled the Adams family house too much to suit him. While the design of the home was entirely different, being a bungalow from the twenties, the atmosphere mimicked that of the TV family.
“Spooky,” Randy said and took Mark’s hand as they walked up the steps.
Mark’s gaze took in the peeling paint on the storm door, the ragged curtains on the windows of what had to be the living room, and cobwebs in the corners of the windows. Swinging around, he noted dead grass coming through the smaller piles of snow. The sidewalk leading to the house was unshoveled, only their footprints disturbing the latest snowfall. He turned back again. “Don’t think anybody’s living here,” he said, and rang the bell, then twice more, and then turned the knob and the door squeaked open.
“Jeez, Mark,” Rand7y said, “I don’t know if I want to go in there.”
“Stay with me.” Mark took Randy’s right hand, unholstered his weapon with his right and proceeded into the house.
The living room was bare, he saw. Well, except for spiders and the obvious occupancy of mice and such. “Looks older than it should,” he said, pointing with his gun hand at the wide plank floor. He shook his head, and then walked through the archway into a dining room. Unlike the empty living room, this room had a built in china cabinet at the far wall, but it was dusty and some of the knobs were missing and the mirror was cracked in many places.
He stopped in the middle of the kitchen, which had a stove so old Mark didn’t recognize it, and no fridge. “They couldn’t have lived here. It’s like this place was deserted in the eighteen hundreds, but from the design, it wasn’t built that long ago.”
“Should we go on?” Randy asked, and he noted her trembling.
“Come on, Randy. Look how great you did at Scenarios. This should be a piece of cake,” Mark said, wishing he believed it himself. That had been horrible and he’d nearly died. If it weren’t for Randy…he stopped the though and realized something.
“What now?” she asked. “You’ve got that uh oh look on your face.”
“I dunno, Randy. Do something for me. Take a look out the window and tell me what you see.”
“Not without you.” She headed for the lone kitchen window, tugging him along. He saw the pane coated with grease and dust, the white curtain shredded and gray. He didn’t want to look, but they both did. “What is that?”
Her gaze on him, she said, “You know damn well what that is. What else could a tiny shed like building with one door be other than an outhouse? This gets weirder and weirder.”
“All right then.” He led her to the front bedroom, which like the living room, was empty. When they stepped into the second bedroom, he froze to the spot. It wasn’t old like the rest of the house but had a captain’s bed of gleaming dark wood, a matching chest of drawers, even a matching toy chest at the foot of the bed. Like most children’s rooms, this one had clothes strewn about: jeans, Nike’s, a couple ball caps, one of the Cubs, the other the Sox. Brief were on the floor and blue sox lay across one of the shoes.
Randy pointed to the windowsill and he saw, between the slightly open drapes that depicted baseball paraphernalia, a boy doll.
“We should’ve gotten Steve’s description,” Randy said.
He nodded and, still holding her hand, quickly exited the room and then the house. “Should’ve gotten a warrant,” he said and shrugged, “but on what?”
It wasn’t time yet for the skating class, but Randy wasn’t ready for that anyway. “I’m not hungry,” she said, “but I want coffee. I don’t think I can stand another weird thing right now.”
Mark squeezed her hand as they went to his vehicle. “Me neither. My boss is going to get an earful.”
“You mean you’re gonna resign the spook squad?”
“Yep.” He opened the passenger door for her, and then got behind the wheel. She was glad when he laid rubber getting away from that horrid house.
“I wonder,” she began.
“If we were to go back after solving this case, would the house still be old?”
A muscle jumped by his mouth. “Never thought of that.”
She grinned but didn’t feel one bit cheerful. “Well, you’d better get used to it if you, as I suspect, get stuck with the spook squad.”
He chose a Perkins this time and took a booth at the rear. He leaned back and closed his eyes. Randy felt the same, wanting to be home and safe, to shut out the whole weird part of the universe. She could pretend it didn’t exist but that wouldn’t work. The psychic crap would just seek her out, “Seek and ye shall find,” she uttered.
“What’s that about?”
She told him what she’d just thought and he nodded.
“Okay, Mark, I think we’re on the way to proving my theory, but I’m at a loss to know our next step. What is it? You’re the detective.”
“Yeah, but they didn’t teach this at the Academy.” He rolled his eyes and she laughed.
“Maybe they should. You know, there’s more than one FBI series with agents dealing with that stuff. I wonder if there really are such departments.”
“I’ve read some of them too,” he admitted and, leaning forward, both hands on the edge of the table, said, “Don’t forget those groups are always secret. But I think our next step has to be the rink. I think it starts there.”
“Could be,” she said, “but what about tropical cities?”
Their waitress had arrived with their coffee and all to soon, they were finished.
Mark glanced at his watch. “The skating class should begin in about fifteen minutes. We might as well get this part over with.”
The rink wasn’t far, and Randy pictured to students eagerly following instructions, some falling, giggling or crying out. What she didn’t expect to see was the padlocked gate, the fence in disrepair, and the deserted and yes, spooky air about the place.
“I think I’d like to go back home, climb under the covers and not get up until New Year’s,” Randy said, speaking in a whisper as if loud talk would rouse ghosts of missing children. She reached out for Mark’s hand and clung to 9it. She needed some semblance of normalcy. Mark was it. Gazing at the unbelievable surroundings, she kept thinking that if she blinked, the padlocks were gone and the kids would begin to arrive, skates flung over their shoulders, their cheeks red with the cold.
Mark squeezed her hand. “Me too. I’ll be darned if I can figure this out. But I’ve got an idea.” He whipped out his cell phone, made a call and asked someone to check out the history of the park and its rink.
“Why did you do that?” she asked as he tugged her back to his vehicle.
“Tell you in a minute.” He clicked the lock open and when they were belted in, drove away, exceeding the speed limit by quite a bit.
“Good thing you’re a cop.” Randy grinned at him as she clung to the handle as he took a corner fast.
“Come in handy.” He reached the school, parked and turned in his seat to face her. “I can’t tell you why. Just got a feeling that park has a history.”
Randy considered what he’d just said and realized she’d witnessed a smidgeon of his psychic ability which, she guessed, he had no idea he possessed. He probably thought his solving of psychic cases was pure old fashioned police detective work and she wasn’t about to say a word to him about that. Let him have his illusions. “Good idea. Who’d you call?”
He grinned. “One of your rivals.” He named a well known reporter who wrote for the Chicago Tribune.
“Good guy. I’ve met him, but why are we here?”
“Remember when you wondered if the McManus house would return to normal when the case was closed?”
She nodded and he went on. “Got a hunch it changes back and forth. Got no idea why.” He scrubbed his face with his hand. “Shit, I’m going nuts here. Can’t believe what I’m saying. Anyway, though maybe if we followed Mrs. Sheldon we’d find the park back to normal.
Randy put a hand on his arm to stop him from getting out of the vehicle. “What if it did that because of us, get all deserted, I mean.”
“Hmm, that means we should stay out of sight when we get back there. Okay, let’s see of Mrs. Sheldon is still here and if she’s still holding a class today.”
Randy followed him to the school door, practically running to keep up with him. He might claim to hate this spook stuff, but to her, he sure seemed focused on getting answers. His boss was right to keep him on paranormal cases.
But what did that mean for her? She didn’t like it any better than he did.
The sound of children’s voices singing Christmas songs reached her as they strode down the hall to the office door. Halfway down the corridor a door was open and Randy wondered if it was the music room.
The same clerk they’d talked to earlier was just leaving the office as they entered.
“Do you know if Mrs. Sheldon is still here?” Mark asked.
The woman shook her head as she shrugged into her coat. “No, she left for the park about five minutes ago.”
“Thanks.” Mark swung around and he and Randy returned to the car. “We’re going to stay out of sight, and I’ve got binoculars. Should help.”
Shivers danced down Randy’s spine as she anticipated what they would see. Was this fear or was it another manifestation of her own psychic powers? Not for the first time she wished she could chuck this whole case. In fact, it would be best if she could live a normal un-spooky life. Even boring would be acceptable. In fact, her old job with the back in the fifties chauvinistic boss sounded awfully good to her.
“What are you thinking?” he asked, a questioning look on his face.
She told him and he laughed. “Can’t say I disagree.” He parked in a spot where the car would be sheltered by pines, behind a van and with a small black Toyota behind him. He peered through the binoculars he took from the glove compartment—his was an unmarked police car—then handed them to her.
Randy marveled at the change. Everything was so normal, as if they hadn’t seen the deserted rink, the rusty old padlocks, and the dried grass peeking through the snow. Boys and girls sat on benches, bent over, putting on their skates, laughing and talking. It was probably their last skating class before Christmas and spirits were high. As she saw them stand and move toward the ice, some easily, some hesitating, she wished she could join them and throw all her cares and worries away. As she viewed the various children trying to copy what the teacher showed them, her gaze fixed on one boy. There was something odd about him, as if he were really an old man in a young body. His eyes were ancient, all knowing and, she was convinced, inherently evil.
Without warning, a violent wind came, bringing with it what appeared to be a blizzard.
“Okay, they were disbanding.” Mark started the car, fo0llowed the odd boy’s progress, or so she surmised, with the binoculars, then pulled away from the curb.
“Somehow I’m not surprised,” Mark said as he parked a couple doors away from the house Gary and his dad entered. The house was next door to the McManus home which, Mark saw, was now back to normal. He would love to know if so-called normal people, unlike he and Randy, saw the McManus house as old, as he and Randy had. He voiced that question.\
“You could ask,” Randy said.
“Oh yeah, I think I’ll leave that to you.”
“Not a chance. What do we do now, Mark?”
“We pose as an engaged couple, thinking of buying that place.” He inclined his head to the McManus house, which now had a for sale sign on the front snow-covered yard. It looked to be in good shape, well kept up. “And oh, I have a six year old son who’ll be transferring to the school Gary goes to.”
“What’s his name?”
“Mark, Jr. Easy to remember.”
Randy rolled her eyes and they exited the car and trudged up the well shoveled walkway to the house occupied by the Carters. As they reached the porch, Mark saw a car emerge from a garage at the right and speed into the rod and away.
“Was that Carter?” Randy asked, staring after the taillights of the auto, now out of sight.
“I think so. Hope someone’s home. The boy didn’t go with him.”
“How could you tell? They might’ve been…”
For answer, he shrugged and rang the bell. A tall dark haired young woman answered the door. She looked scared, he thought, and put on his best welcoming smile, explaining that they were thinking of buying the house next door.
“Come in,” the woman said, opening the door wide to let them precede her. She gestured toward the living room to the right and Mark and Randy sat on a floral loveseat while the woman perched on a piano bench. Studying her as he smiled, Mark was convinced she wanted and needed some kind of help, though why she’d look to strangers, he couldn’t fathom. Maybe he and Randy looked nice and capable.
“So you’re looking at the house next door,” the woman said, inclining her head to the right in the direction of the McManus place. “It’s been on the market for only a short time.” She shook her head. “Can’t imagine why they left like that. It’s just you and your wife?”
Mark shook his head. “No, she’s my fiancé. I have a six year old boy, and wanted to be in this school district. Heard they were good.”
At the mention of the boy, the woman, who finally introduced herself as Brenda Carter, began visibly shaking and the color in her face leached out. Seeing that, Mark gave Randy the pre-arranged signal to snoop.
“Mrs. Carter,” Randy said, standing, “is it okay if I use the bathroom?”
“Certainly.” Mrs. Carter rose, walked to the hall and pointed to the right and the back. “The first door on your right,” she said, her eyes downcast. “There’s a loose tile in there. Be careful.”
Without understanding why, Mark’s nerves took a jolt as Randy left the room. Why was he so scared? It didn’t make sense. And why was Mrs. Carter terrified? Mark knew they’d found the source of the missing children. All he had to do now was to find out how, where, when and why.
“Sir,” Mrs. Carter began, jumping from the piano bench, “I want…” But she never finished what she was about to say as the front door burst open and a visibly angry Mr. Carter entered. Hoping he wasn’t the source of that, Mark walked to the entry, his hand out to shake the man’s hand. He noted Carter’s sudden switch to a welcoming host.
“This man and his fiancé are considering buying the house next door,” Mrs. Carter said.
“That’s a big place for just two people,” Mr. Carter said, frowning.
“Three,” Mark said. “I have a six your old son.”
Mr. Carter smiled. “Mine is a bit older but it’ll be nice to have a playmate on the block. Brenda, why don’t you get some coffee or tea for these…” He turned to Mark. “Your fiancé did come in with you, right?”
“Yes, she’s freshening up in the bathroom,” Mrs. Carter said, her eyes darting to the doorway.
Mark swung around to look, but caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye that made him want to run. Witnessing a boy emerge from the man’s body wasn’t anything he’d want to repeat.
When he turned back to speak to Mr. Carter, he spotted the boy doll on the mantel where before there’d been nothing. Fear like nothing he’d ever experienced took hold of him as he stepped toward the doorway, anxiety ridden for Randy’s safety.
The door to the bathroom was wide open and there was no sign of Randy.
Randy wasn’t far but she didn’t know that. All she knew was that, upon entering the small black and red powder room, she’d stepped on a loose tile, and was now in a dimly lit room that was cold and forbidding. There wasn’t a single piece of furniture in the room and the stone floor seemed to exude cold in waves. She wasn’t alone. Three young boys sat huddled together. Tears streaked the cheeks of two while the third seemed resigned to what fate awaited him.
Her gaze darted around the small room of the same dimensions as the powder room, Randy detected no means of exiting, but there had to be something.
Angry and scared, she squared her shoulders and prepared to enlist the help of the three boys.
“I’m Randy,” she said. “Who are you?” Her gaze went first to Jose, then the boy she surmised was Steve, and last to the one giving up. “We’re going to work together to get out, okay?”
“What’s your name?” she asked the especially sad boy.
“I don’t know what my name will be,” the boy said, his face now streaked with tears, his eyes brimming. He shuddered and put his hands over his face. “My time is almost up.”
What would happen to him? Randy had no choice. She had to get all three out of here, and fast.
Joan K. Maze