Paranormal Research Club Ch. 01byGPLockwood©
I wondered briefly why Diane or someone else hadn't called me like they normally would have, but then I realized that if I had somehow slept through two alarms going off then I probably would have slept right through my phone ringing as well. How had this happened? I'm usually a very light sleeper.
I pulled into the gravel driveway, stirring up a cloud of gray dust and startling a large flock of boisterous black birds that had congregated around a crooked old pecan tree in the front lawn. There were only two other cars in the driveway aside from those that belonged to Steve and Frank. The battered white van was still parked in its customary place beneath a gnarled old oak tree, so I knew with some relief that I hadn't missed the trip. I recognized one of the parked cars as Erin's. The other car belonged to Diana.
Diana was tall, with short black hair and piercing sapphire-blue eyes. She was one of those people that looked a bit chubby at first glance, but she moved with a grace that spoke of natural strength and athleticism that stemmed from a lifetime of martial arts training and other competitive sports. Most of her extra mass was truly muscle, not fat. Her sturdy limbs had earned her a softball scholarship for her first two years of college before she had injured her shoulder in a motorcycle accident and had to stop playing. She was a staff sergeant in a local National Guard military police unit, and had served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. As a fellow veteran of those wars, I was one of the few friends that she would discuss them with, but neither of us liked the topic and we usually tried to avoid it unless one or both of us was extremely drunk. Yes, we have both had to shoot and kill people. I'm not trying to be rude or unfriendly, but neither of us wish to discuss it with anyone.
Twice a week, when she could spare the time, Diana served as an assistant instructor at a local martial arts school that taught traditional aikido, a Japanese martial art that focuses on throwing and joint locks. Despite the fact that she talked less than most girls her age and she spoke with a maturity and an air of authority that marked her as a natural leader, she was friendly, well-liked, and had numerous tasteful but brilliantly executed tattoos that she had drawn herself. I had never gotten to see all of them, which I regarded as very unfortunate. Some of Diana's tattoos were, if I were to believe her playful hints, in some very interesting locations on her body. Like me, Diana didn't like crowds or enjoy socializing much, and I think that the paranormal club gave her a good social outlet that didn't make her feel too uncomfortable or demand excessive interaction with people that she didn't know well. Even when we weren't ghost hunting, it wasn't unusual for Diana or I to be spending time together. We were always over at each others' house for one reason or another, and we meant the world to each other. But, despite the fact that some people thought we were dating or thought that we should start dating, our close friendship combined with the fact that both she and I had a tendency towards romantic relationships that ended disastrously had long ago caused us to agree to never risk our friendship by becoming romantically entangled together.
I parked my car, shouldered my rucksack, and walked rapidly across the gravel driveway towards the battered wooden door that served as the side entrance to Steve and Frank's house. On the way, I glanced through the back windows of the van, and noticed that it hadn't yet even been loaded with suitcases or gear. I knocked as I pressed through the white wooden door with its loose old doorknob, and I strode into the familiar old farmhouse kitchen which served as our unofficial meeting room and headquarters. On the ancient, cracked, and stained black-and-white tiled floor stood a large old-fashioned kitchen table, made of well-worn oak and suitable for dinner with a huge 19th century farming family. Erin and Diana were sitting at the table quietly sipping coffee. While I was relieved that there would still be time for my morning caffeine kick, I immediately picked up on the aura of disappointment that emanated from the two young ladies.
"Sorry I'm late. Would you believe that neither of my two alarm clocks went off? So, where is everyone?" I asked Erin and Diana as I dropped my rucksack in a corner beside Erin's suitcase and Diana's duffel bag.
Erin stared at her cold coffee in glum silence, and made small clinking sounds as she absently stirred it with a spoon. I hadn't seen her look that sad since her dog had died the previous summer.
Diana smiled tightly as she looked up at me. "Thanks for coming, John, but we're everyone. Steve and Frank tried the new Mexican place over by the park last night, and now they're both sick with food poisoning. Mark woke up this morning with his basement flooded from a broken water pipe. I would have called you earlier, but he was pretty upset and I've been on the phone with him. Apparently a lot of his stuff has been ruined, including most of his books and art supplies, and most of his thesis project has been destroyed. I finally got off the phone with him and I was just about to call you to tell you not to bother coming when we looked out the window and saw your car approaching down the road. Sorry, but I don't think we'll be able to do it this year."
Erin sighed, but didn't respond. She was graduating in a few months, and moving away to take a job back in Vermont. This was likely to be the last chance she would have to coordinate an investigation at her parents' church. She had really been looking forward to this, and she really hated to disappoint her parents. More than once she had talked about how much our willingness to research the old church and document what we found there would mean to her father.
"Hey, how about this: we can put off leaving until tomorrow so we can spend today seeing if we can scrape together anyone to fill the empty slots, then head up there a day late?" I offered. "For now, how about breakfast at that little hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop place that Erin likes over by Main street? I don't know about you two, but I skipped breakfast this morning."
Diana smiled at me. "That's a great thought, but I don't know if we'll have enough time for a good investigation if we loose a day. Mark has to stick around until his landlord can get a plumber out to his place, and even then he said that he has to re-do most of his thesis project on top of getting everything squared away with his renter's insurance. And based on the noises that I've heard come out of the bathroom this morning, I don't know if Steve and Frank are going to be up to a long car trip for a good long while. Most of the other regular members either have to work or are out of town for Spring Break. If Erin's parents are going to pay for us to drive that gas-guzzling behemoth halfway across the country and then take care of us all while we're there, we owe them a good, professional-quality investigation. So, barring a miracle, the trip isn't happening." She looked at Erin. "So, how does some nice artery-clogging breakfast food sound? Come on, it will cheer you up."
Erin smiled at her friends and smiled thinly. "Sure! Let's go."
We took Diana's car over to the restaurant, and sat in our customary booth in the back. Feeling gallant, I offered to pay for the two ladies.
"Hey, John!" cried a familiar voice from across the room.
I looked over to a table by the window, and saw my sister, Kim, sitting with my cousins Heather and Sarah. They had just been served breakfast, and looked like they were all just sitting down to eat. Across the table from them was my mother, Alice. She had met my friends in the club before, and she smiled and waved at us.
While etiquette would normally require that we join them, since they were here first and already had their food, the booth where we were sitting was more than spacious enough to accommodate 7 people if my mother sat at a chair on the end of the table, and the table that my family sat at would barely accommodate the four trays that already crowded it.
"Hey, y'all! Why don't you come over and join us?" I offered. I felt a bit awkward facing my relatives after such a vivid, realistic dream about them the previous night, but I determined to simply get over it. It was just a dream, right?
"So why aren't you guys halfway to Vermont by now? I thought that you were pretty excited to be doing this." My mother asked the group as she approached us. Maybe it was my imagination, but were my mother and Kim avoiding eye contact with me? Heather looked happier and healthier than normal, and she smiled me with even more than her usual warmth. Sarah leered at me like a tiger eying a steak. Kim seemed to be walking in a way that was almost imperceptibly unusual. I put the thought of her loosing her virginity in last night's dream out of my mind.
Erin smiled sadly and answered for the group of us. "It clearly just wasn't meant to be. We're three people short, and that means that we don't have enough people to do a good job investigating my dad's church."
Kim looked at me, then back to Erin. Kim had occasionally tagged along on our ghost-hunting excursions, and she and Erin had developed a pretty close friendship on their own. "I was just over there talking to my Mom and cousins about this awesome trip that John was going to get to go on, and that I didn't get to go because you already had everyone you needed! If I can go, count me in! Not to mention, Heather and Sarah thought it sounded awesome. I could totally throw my stuff in a bag and be ready to go in an hour!" Kim glanced at Heather and Sarah. "If you come, we'll have just as many people as they were originally planning to have, and I can explain everything you need to know about what to do on the way there. Come on! You were both just talking about how you didn't have any major plans for Spring Break, and this is going to be awesome!"
Sarah was short and slender, with a cute pixie-cut that was somewhere between blonde and light brown, tanned skin, and adorable little freckles on her nose and cheeks. Upon hearing Kim's offer, she immediately squealed an excited "Hell yeah!" and then looked at her sister, Heather, expectantly.
After the dream last night, I saw Heather differently than I previously had. She really was a very pretty woman, and her pale complexion and light blond hair all made her even more beautiful in my eyes. I briefly reminisced about how she had looked and felt in my dream from the previous night as I looked admiringly at her face, remembering how it had felt to kiss her, to touch her, and to make love to her. I looked at her and felt my breathing quicken. I could almost feel myself inside of her again. For a long moment, Heather met my gaze. Then she blushed a deep crimson then shyly averted the sky-blue eyes that peeked out from behind her thick glasses. That was definitely abnormal behavior on her part, but I suppose that the way I had been looking at her might have been unusual as well.
While Heather didn't usually volunteer for this sort of crazy adventure, she was the sort of person that never liked to disappoint anyone. If her sister and cousins needed her for this, then she was going to Vermont. Still, she glanced at my mother before making a decision.
My mother, Alice, smiled sweetly at Heather. "You run on with your sister and cousin. I love you all, but from what John and Kim have been saying this sounds like you're going to have a lot of fun, and, frankly I think it will be nice to have the house to myself for a few days!"
"I love you too, Mom!" Kim said with such saccharine sweetness and playfully feigned rejection.
Heather smiled, and her sweet round face lit up as she displayed a pretty row of clean, white, evenly spaced teeth. "I'm in." She looked at me, as though looking forward to spending time together, then she looked at Alice. "Are you sure you won't be lonely until Mom gets back from that business trip to Seattle?"
My mother, Alice, looked at her with a sweet smile. "I'm sure. It will be nice to get caught up on my writing. As a matter of fact, if you guys come back with some good scary experiences, tell me about them and they might give me some ideas for my next book!" She winked at us, giving the impression that she was joking. But despite being a moderately successful author that would never lack for money due to the success of her first several books, she had been having a hard time producing the same quality of material since my father had died. He had been a healthy 50-year-old man with a body that most men would have envied when they were 20. He had been out running early in the morning before work when a drunk driver, who had only then been leaving the bar, swerved across the road and struck my father from behind despite the bright yellow reflective vest that Dad always wore when running before it was light. Shortly after the tragedy, we had moved here to be closer to my maternal Aunt Cindy and her daughters. When Aunt Cindy's husband left her, they had moved into our large house with us while the courts got everything settled from the divorce, and then they just stayed on as permanent roommates. I half-jokingly complained that I was surrounded by an unhealthy level of estrogen, but it was still nice to have so much family around.
I briefly considered what it would mean for Kim, Heather, and Sarah to tag along on this investigation. Kim had been on a few of our excursions, but nothing quite like this before. This was definitely not an ideal investigation to take beginners on, both because Erin's family was counting on a professional investigation and because the particulars of what Erin and her family had told us about the site sounded like this was a very active intelligent haunting that might be very frightening even for seasoned investigators, and it might possibly even be dangerous for beginners. Our discussions with Professor Morrison had us very interested in the site, but also a bit frightened of it. We couldn't categorize the haunting except to say that there were most definitely several very active intelligent entities involved, but there were also several very unusual features of this haunting that made it almost impossible to categorize.
My family sounded excited about coming, and I hated to disappoint them. I told myself that everything would probably be fine if we put each less experienced person with a more experienced person, and it sounded like my family had already made the decision to come with us anyway. To forbid them from coming would probably disappoint everyone here, and hauntings that are physically dangerous to people are rare enough that I could probably get away with taking a chance on a site just this once. After all, Erin and her family were all just fine, right?
Sarah got up from the table and walked towards the restroom, still smiling. "Be right back. I'm so excited that we're going to get to go!" She giggled excitedly and did a little dance as she walked to the door into the ladies' room.
"So the three of you can come? Great!" Diana beamed towards Kim. "After we eat, why don't you three go home, pack your bags, and then meet us at Steve and Frank's house as soon as you can get ready! Kim, you know how to get there, right? Good! Be sure to pack sleeping bags, since we'll be camping tonight on the way there. Also, pack warmer clothes than you usually would for this time of year, and a small flashlight or two if you've got one. Preferably something that runs off of double or triple A batteries, and if not then bring lots of extra batteries to make sure you don't run out. If you need sleeping bags, flashlights, or anything else, tell us and we'll bring extras."
The directions we had printed off from the internet said that the trip to the parsonage where Erin's parents' lived, and the haunted church directly beside it, would be about thirteen and a half hours away from our hometown. That said, the internet doesn't have to stop to eat, use the restroom, or refill the constantly draining gas tank. The big van was as comfortable as a large boat on the ocean, gently creaking and rocking as it sped down the interstate. We were getting a late start, so Diana had wisely decided to make the trip over the course of the next two days and get into Erin's parents' place at a reasonable hour tomorrow. That way there would be plenty of time for Erin and her family to give us a tour of the place, point out areas where things frequently happened and tell us what to expect, and we would have time to set up our equipment before it got dark. As we headed down the road, Diana at the wheel and Erin in the front passenger seat, Erin explained to Kim, Heather, and Sarah what the rest of us already knew about the old church where her father preached.
"The original structure that stood where my father's church now sits was a Roman Catholic church that was built by the French some time about 1743. Like a lot of churches in the area at that time, it was also one of the sturdier log buildings in town, and it doubled as something like a little fort when the community was threatened. During the French and Indian War, a company of British Rangers attacked the settlement while on their way to raid a larger French trading post to the north. When the French settlers barricaded themselves in the church, the British left a squad of their best riflemen behind to watch the church and ensure that nobody escaped alive to warn the trading post that British troops were coming. For the next two days the British riflemen watched the place like hawks, and their snipers picked off anyone that showed themselves. A total of five men and two women are said to have been killed in or near the church by the British. The French couldn't leave the church, so they chose to bury their dead beneath its earthen floor. On the third day, the main body of the British returned through the town laden with scalps and trade goods they had recovered from the trading post. The riflemen rejoined the main body, and they disappeared into the forest as a unit."
"At the end of the French and Indian War, the land was ceded to Great Britain. The small church became Anglican, and it's still Episcopalian to this day. In 1782 the original structure was badly damaged during a skirmish between American patriots and British loyalists. Remembering the fate of the Frenchmen that had died defending the church, the Americans buried the dead Tories beneath what had been the earthen floor of the humble old church, disturbing the bones of several long-dead French settlers in the process. And so the church lay desecrated and in disrepair for over thirty years. In 1813, immediately following the War of 1812, the church was rebuilt out of locally made bricks by a wealthy local gentleman. I suppose, more realistically, it was rebuilt by his slaves. When constructing what is currently the basement of the church, the bones of the Frenchmen and British loyalists were, of necessity, disinterred. Disdain for the British was running high at that time, and the locals refused to have the bones buried in the same churchyard where their friends and family lay. The first pastor of the rebuilt church was afraid that burying the bones outside of the graveyard would result in the graves being desecrated by angry locals, so remembering the charnel houses of old Europe, he consolidated the bones into neat piles in a small room in the back of the basement. He was an elderly veteran of the French and Indian War and the Revolution, and while he apparently approved of his old enemies' bones being artfully arranged behind closed doors as a sufficiently respectful alternative to traditional burial, he adamantly refused to ever go into the basement himself, and he would not even go near the church at night. The pages of his diary that have survived are the first written documents that imply that the church is haunted."