Here’s the fifth and final chapter of Paranormal Holiday. I would appreciate any comments regarding the possibility of making this a series with these two protagonists. I found writing about the paranormal fun and, since I love mysteries, make that doubly enjoyable. Thanks for reading.
Also, keep in mind this is a first, unedited draft.
“That’s odd,” Mark said, his gaze still on the open bathroom door. “Where can she be?” He hoped Randy hadn’t gone too far with her snooping. Carter wasn’t someone to fool with. “Maybe she went back to the car.” He had to appear unworried; he didn’t want to alert Carter. But the man seemed focused on something other than Mark and Randy. Carter had his attention on Brenda, who stood next to him, her entire attitude submissive, though Mark detected some trembling still there.
“I have an appointment,” Carter said, signaling his wife with his eyes. “If there’s nothing else…”
“No, that’s fine. Thanks for your hospitality.” Mark exited the house, went to his vehicle, but of course Randy wasn’t there. He grabbed the binoculars and trained them on the living room window, just in time to see the doll morph into the boy, join Carter and then Carter took Brenda’s hand and they both faded into nothingness. Mark sensed the Carters wouldn’t need a car and that this would be the final episode in Chicago, at least for now.
“Got to get a team here,” he said, and contacted Roy.
“What’re you on?” Roy asked, a cross between humor and disbelief in his voice.
“Nothing, but I sure wish I was. Remember the kind of cases we’re on. Get on this, Roy. Everything’s about to blow wide open.” He hung up and minutes later several squad cars screamed onto the block, screeching to a stop.
Not too long later, Mark had to admit defeat. He’d distinctly heard Mrs. Carter warn Randy about the loose tiles. Yet, all were fine and showed no evidence of anything like that. He pushed back the panic rising in his chest. Then he got a feeling or the sense of something he’d never experienced before. Randy. As if she was trying to reach him. He also received another message, though he had no idea of its source, that the tiles were crucial to her, or their escape. An image of four huddled bodies came to him and he told her in his mind, “Stay strong and look for the loose tile.”
Randy leaned against the cold and damp stone wall, shivering, both in body and mind. She didn’t know what to do next. She’d concentrated on the third boy, talking, cajoling, and finally getting his real first name. Glen. Although he’d not admitted it, he was the one Roy and Mark investigated first, the seven year old. She’d caught a glimmer of hope in him, but now, unsuccessful at locating a way out, had nearly lost hope herself.
“The tile, tiles,” Mark’s voice appeared in her head. “Find it. Do not give up.” Then there was silence for a moment and the words, “I love you.”
“Okay guy, listen to me. It’s important.” She got to her feet and pulled them up, one by one. “We’re going to look for a loose tile.” Seeing the doubt on their faces, she said, “I know you don’t believe me, but remember, none of this is normal anyway. We’re going to find the loose tile. Maybe look for a spot on the floor that’s a little different.”
She assigned a different section for each of them, including herself. “While we’re looking, I’m going to continue asking questions. We can do this, guys.”
Buoyed by Mark’s words, and the eager faces of the boys, she began testing her area, using the grid pattern the cops did at a crime scene.
“Glen,” she said, “do you remember the last name of your foster parents?”
“Foster parents?” he asked, his eyes wide. Then, before she could say anything, he bobbed his head up and down. “Yeah, uh, Street, no, Streeter.” He frowned. “They were weird.”
“Weird how?” She stepped on the next spot and tested it with her foot. Nothing.
“Uh, they were, uh, like wooden. Didn’t think they were real at first.”
Randy realized things were coming back to him and didn’t want him to lose his concentration. “Where and when did you first see them?”
He frowned, and then scrunched up his forehead as he thought about that. “The park,” he said, “but not her, just him.” He began trembling and wrapped his arms around himself. “It was awful. I saw him at a grave.” He looked up at Randy, his eyes wide. “He…he was coming out of it and then he disappeared.” He swallowed hard, the Adam’s apple in his thin throat obvious. “It was at the park, at the edge of the skating part. It disappeared. Poof.”
Randy was happy to see the animation, though she shuddered at the reason. Then, she realized Mark needed this information.
“Mark,” she said silently, “The park and a grave. Edge of the rink.” She repeated this several times, actually heard Mark repeating it, and then she settled down to her search.
Mark and Roy raced back to headquarters, anxious to access records before the City Hall employees left for the day. They needed to learn about any old graveyards in the vicinity. Roy, who had a memory for phone numbers, called a woman he figured could get that information for them. Having ridden with Mark, he jumped out of the car and ran into the building while Mark parked. By the time Mark reached the proper department, Roy was exiting the room, waving a paper at him.
“Got it,” he said. “There was a Baptist church on the site. Not there now, of course, but they moved two blocks away in 1911. Let’s go.”
As was often the case back then, the pastor and his family lived in a bungalow next door to the church. Lights were on, a lit Christmas tree was in the window, and the smell of baking bread was in the air as a middle-aged man opened the door. Roy identified himself and Mark, and then said, “We need some information and it’s urgent.”
The pastor hesitated, and then let them in. “What do you need?”
“Anything about graves, or a cemetery that might have been on the old site,” Mark said.
“That information would be next door. I’ll get my jacket.”
A few minutes later, they had the location of the few graves and they were about to leave when the pastor stopped them.
“You may want to know this as well. It’s a sad story.” He shrugged. “Back in 1885 a man was accused of poisoning his son’s mind against his schoolmates. Actually, from what I’ve learned through research—it’s a hobby of mine—it was the other way around. They bulled his son, Gary, who killed himself. When they buried him, the father placed a boy doll on his chest, put it in his hands. When the old man died, for some odd reason he was buried in the same coffin. And oh, he uttered some kind of curse before he died.”
“Musta been a tight squeeze,” Roy said.
“No, because the dad insisted on a bigger coffin.”
They thanked the pastor and, armed with the information they needed, set about getting an exhumation order. Roy pulled some strings and after some very anxious moments, they were at the park, waiting for the people who would raise the coffin.
Continuing to get encourages messages from Mark, Randy encouraged and praised the boys. They responded, their faces brighter by far, their doubts dissipated. Even Glen chased away his gloom. Randy kept on talking, getting descriptions from each of the boys about foster parents. Jose’s home before the Howlands had included a father and mother who described exactly like Carter. She’d forgotten by now the progression of each boy from home to foster parents, and then here. Except, and she knew this was important, that each set of parents were in some way replaced by a Carter clone, though with different last names. All three were diligent about finding the loose tile, and none had, as far as she could tell, lost hope.
“Here!” Glen’s excitement showed in his voice and actions. He wiggled as he pointed down at his feet, his voice rising in volume and pitch as he repeatedly said “here.”
The other two boys and Randy crowded around Glen, staring down at the floor.
“Move aside for a minute,” Randy said, and when Glen did that, she saw the grayish square. It wasn’t immediately evident, but when she examined it, the edges of the square were clear.
“I believe we need to step hard on it,” she said. “I’m bigger. Let me do it, but stay close. In fact, we’ll hold hands in a circle.”
A rumble startled them and Randy, convinced time was of the essence, pressed hard on the exact center of the square. Her heart pounded and her pulse raced and she prayed to beat Carter. That increasing rumble had to be him.
The loudest squeak she’d ever heard had all of them jumping back as the square opened to a staircase.
“Come on,” she said, “before it closes again. Glen, you go first and each hang onto the hand of the boy behind you. Jose, you take my hand.”
They raced down what seemed to be an incredibly long series of winding steps until they came, not to a trap door, but an actual opening. Blue sky was above them and voices, along with the clank of chains. They stepped out into the park grounds and Randy found herself right next to Mark. Still handing onto Jose’s hand, while each boy clung to another hand, they watched as the coffin lid was raised. Randy moved closer, her other hand in Mark’s.
She looked up at Mark after spotting the doll on top of a skeleton.
“We need to burn that,” she said, and pointed to a barrel nearby.
The team with Mark and Roy moved fast, lighting the already present wood in the barrel. Randy, Mark and Roy, along with the team and the boys, all had their gazes on the conflagration as the doll burned. The Carters appeared in the fire, but so briefly Randy wondered if she’d really seen them.
A sense of peace settled over the park afterward. It would be closed for a while and would reopen once all the graves were relocated.
“What’s next for you?” Mark asked. They were in his living room, his Christmas tree in front of the window, lit with colorful lights and decorated with old-fashioned ornaments, and wrappings scattered below on the floor. Mark had put on the red sweater from her, while the gold cross he’d given her was around her neck on an exquisite gold chain.
“I don’t know,” she said, snuggling next to him on the couch. “I’m so glad the boys are all back with their parents. I can’t think of anything but that. But what is that odd look on your face?”
He grinned and hugged her. “Roy and I have been getting reports from all across the country of boys suddenly reappearing in their homes.” He paused, then said, “They were all descendants of the original bullies.”
“It was a horrible case,” she said, “but that makes it all worthwhile.”
He gave her a long searching look, nodded, and then kissed her.