Authors: Karen Cantwell
s we made our way to the back entrance of the house, terrified tour patrons fled the scene. One man was so horrified and running so fast that he ran right into Cal. “Don’t go in there, man!” he shouted after regaining his balance. “That place really is haunted! She has fangs and everything!”
“She does not have fangs,” Marmi shouted at him. “That’s the love of my life. She is merely overcome with hormones.”
The ground shook again and the house lighting flickered once more.
Shane pleaded with Amy. “Come on, Amy, baby, this is no place for you. Especially not in your condition.”
She pulled her arm from his grasp. “I’m okay with this now, and I want to see it through. You’re a policeman for crying out loud. Are you going to let a little ghost scare you?”
“It has nothing to do with being afraid of ghosts. She’s been following me around for two days now, and I haven’t been afraid.”
“Face it,” Cal said. “You’re terrified.”
The ground rumbled again and Shane jumped.
A woman tore from the house screaming, “She’s electrocuting people!”
Cal stiffened, and he went white as a sheet. “Electrocuting people?”
A lady tour guide leaned around the doorway. “Tara! Thank goodness you’re here. We need your help.”
Tara waved Amy and me in. “Let’s go, ladies.”
“Are you coming?” I asked Cal.
“Do I have to? I’ve never been a fan of electrocution.”
“I’ve never been a fan of fangs,” Shane added.
“You are two of the biggest wusses I have ever met.” I shook my head.
“Besides,” Cal added, “he should stay here. Away from you. And who better to keep him here than me, the man who loves you.”
“Yeah,” said Shane. “What he said.”
I rolled my eyes.
“What did Cal mean by that? Why should Shane stay away from you?” Amy asked.
“I’ll, uh, explain later. Let’s go.”
She shook her head and followed me into the house. “When this is all over you owe me the whole story,” she said.
The whole story? Did I have to?
The door to the Red Room was open. From the hall we could see something inside flash brightly. A lamp maybe. It was hard to tell. Worse than the flashing was the unnerving animal-like snarls. Amy and I approached slowly. I wasn’t sure about her, but my hands were shaking. Mr. Haviland was backed against a wall, staring at the spectacle from afar. The tour guide stood closer, but didn’t appear ready to enter herself.
I inched forward and called out for Tara.
“She’s in there,” the woman pointed.
“Come on in, Sophie,” Tara yelled over the din. “She’s not dangerous.”
I craned my neck to peek inside. Myrtle had expanded to twice her normal size. She snarled and flew around the room, bouncing off the walls. With each bounce, she flashed so brightly I had to shield my eyes.
“What is she doing?” I asked.
Tara was unfazed. “Working through something.”
“I’ve never seen a ghost bounce off a wall before. Marmaduke floats through them.”
“I’ve seen something similar before with a spirit. My guess is if Myrtle has begun to remember her life and her death, this is her way of coming to terms with the events. She seems angry now. If we wait it out, she may come to acceptance.”
“It is most distressing to watch,” Marmaduke said. “I feel certain more should be done, but nothing I have said soothes her.”
Amy whispered to me from the door. “I think I’ll go back downstairs,” she said.
Immediately, Myrtle slowed her frantic flying. She floated in a wide circle and her snarling ceased.
Tara looked back at Amy and motioned her in. “Are you Shane’s fiancée?” Tara asked.
“Myrtle thinks Amy is her granddaughter.” I explained.
“She probably is then,” Tara said matter-of-factly. “Spirits know far more than we do. Stay here, Amy. You seem to have a calming effect.”
Back to her normal size now, Myrtle floated more peacefully.
“So Myrtle attached herself to Shane because subconsciously she knew he was Amy’s fiancé?”
Tara kept her eyes on Myrtle as she circled the room above us. “Possibly. Did Myrtle have a chance to come into contact in any way with Amy when Shane was here? Did he speak with Amy by phone maybe?”
I thought back to what Shane had said about the night he’d been called to Spencer House. “I don’t know. He didn’t mention a phone call, but it’s possible.” I remembered that Mr. Haviland and Shane talked about sharing engagement photos. “Shane and Mr. Haviland were in this room, and Shane showed him a picture with Amy in it.”
“That could do it,” Tara said nodding.
Myrtle slowed until she hovered over the floor just in front of the window. She floated slowly to the carpet, crumpled into a heap and began to sob quietly. “My baby, my baby, my baby,” she said. “She stole my baby.”
Tara knelt beside Myrtle. “Are you ready to talk about it, Myrtle?”
“She said she’d help me. I trusted her like she was my own sister. Then she stole my baby. My little baby girl. I was gonna name her Scarlett.”
“Who stole your baby?” Tara asked.
“Victoria. It was here in this room, only it looked different. Not so pretty as this. It was dingy and there were loose boards on the floor. You couldn’t walk barefoot on it without gettin’ splinters. There was a small bed there, a bureau with an electric burner on top. Victoria and me shared an icebox. It was all I could afford with the little amount of money I made. She kept tellin’ me I should give my baby away—adopt it out—‘cuz there was no way a girl like me with a baby was gonna get any work, much less be able to raise a child. But I didn’t want to give her away. I wanted my baby. So she said if I was gonna go through with it, at least she’d help me, ‘cuz I couldn’t afford no fancy doctor or hospital.
“So it happened right here. The pains started before bedtime and oh, they were so much worse than I ever imagined. She kept tellin’ me I had to be real quiet. I wanted to yell and cry out and scream. I think it hurt more ‘cuz I was holdin’ back expressin’ myself, you know? Then, it musta been four, five hours, she was born. Little Scarlett. Victoria wrapped her in a towel and put her in my arms. She was the most beautiful thing I ever saw even though she was purple and had goopy stuff all over her. And she wasn’t cryin’, just starin’ at me like she knew I was her mama and I was goin’ to take care of her for the rest of my life.
“I thanked Victoria over and over again for takin’ such good care of me and bringing my treasure into the world. She said, ‘Aw shucks, Myrtle, forget about it. Just forget about it.’”
“And you did,” Tara said.
Myrtle raised her head. “What?”
“You forgot about it. You took it literally as a command. I met a young spirit once unable to leave the bedroom where she died. When we walked through the events of her death, she remembered that her father, panicked, told her to stay where she was. She passed away while he was seeking help, but she followed his orders. She stayed where she was.”
Myrtle’s eyes flickered. “That’s why I couldn’t remember nothin’. She said forget about it and so I did.”
“What happened after that?” Tara prodded.
“I felt somethin’ over my nose. A pillow maybe. But Victoria was pressin’ it so hard I couldn’t breathe. And I didn’t want to drop my baby so it was hard to fight. And then I couldn’t fight. The next thing I knew I was standin’ here, outta my body, and the room was empty and I didn’t know nothin’ but my name.” Myrtle pointed to Amy. “Lookin’ into her eyes done somethin’ to shake it all loose. She’s my grandbaby. My Scarlett’s young’un.”
“Spirits often stay on this plane because they have unfinished business,” Tara said. “Myrtle, are you ready to move on? Do you see a light?”
“No ma’am,” she said. “I wanna see my baby. Amy’s mama.”
r. Haviland’s skepticism had been replaced with belief.
He and the tour guide saw the raging Myrtle with their own eyes as she bounced snarling off the walls. Apparently, the storminess of her grief had made her visible to everyone. In her soothed state now, however, her appearance wasn’t available to those less inclined to see ghosts in the first place.
Thankfully, the newly-reformed night manager was obliging. He offered our entire crew use of the small employee lounge to convene and regroup.
He opened the door and flipped on the light. “The refrigerator has bottled water,” he said. “Help yourself.”
“Thank you,” I said as we all filed in. “We won’t take long. I think we’re all pretty tired and ready to get home.”
Backing out, he stopped in the doorway briefly, touching his finger to his chin. “So, she is still here with you?”
Tara nodded. “She is.”
He shook his head. “Fascinating. Just fascinating.”
Shane helped himself to a bottle of water. “I still don’t see her. Do you, Amy?”
“I do,” she said from her seat on the couch. “She’s here beside me.”
“But you don’t see Marmaduke?”
Amy shook her head.
“I guess I don’t understand all of the rules of how this works then.” He took a big gulp of water, then wiped his mouth.
“There aren’t any rules,” Tara told him. “But I do need to go home sometime tonight. Two active boys will be waking me before dawn. I’d like to get in a couple hours of sleep at least.”
Myrtle crossed her arms defiantly. “I’m stayin’ with my grandbaby. I want to see my Scarlett.”
“Myrtle, I’m still not convinced that we’re related. My mother’s name isn’t Scarlett.”
Cal pulled me aside while Tara helped Myrtle recover any facts that might link her to Amy’s mother.
“Don’t you have another little problem to handle while you’re here?” he asked me. “Or do I need to say the words ‘lust spell’ one more time?”
“Right,” I said. This was the perfect time to try to get that spell reversed. “Come with me,” I told him, “I’ll show you The Witches’ Room.” I tipped my head toward the door, silently telling Shane to follow us.
Tiptoeing up the stairs, Cal was jittery, but supportive. “So I never actually asked you about these witches. Where do they lean on the scary scale? Wicked Witch of the West or more of a Glinda? That’s crazy, Glinda wouldn’t cast a lust spell on someone. I think I just answered my own question.”
“I can’t help you there, man,” Shane told him. “I don’t see ghosts.”
“You sound disappointed all of a sudden, Shane.”
“I have to say, I’m feeling a little left out of the club.” Shane blew out a frustrated breath and pulled Cal down a step. “You have to block my view or I get this urge to—”
“No need to get specific,” Cal stopped him. “I get it.”
The lights were still on in The Witches’ Room and the fire still burned in the fireplace. Cal and Shane filed in behind me.
The three of us stood awkwardly.
“Summon them, Soph,” Shane said.
“Summon them? How should I do that exactly?”
“Do what you did last time?”
“I didn’t do anything last time, you did.”
Cal narrowed his eyes at Shane. “This is all your fault? I should have guessed.”
“I just checked out those bottles on the shelf.” He strode to the potion rack and put a finger to it.
The rack rattled and Bettina and Paloma appeared in front of the door again.
“Is that them?” Cal whispered to me.
“They’re not at all Wicked Witch of the West. Ask them to reverse the spell. Maybe we better be nice about it.”
I wasn’t sure they deserved civility after what they did, but I supposed you did get more bees with honey than with vinegar. “Hi there,” I said. “Nice to see you again.”
My greeting wasn’t reciprocated. I pressed on. “So, remember that spell you cast on Shane and me?” I looked for Shane, who was still focused on the potion rack. “Shane, get over here! Remember the spell you cast on me and this man with the dark hair?”
No response still from the pretty ghosts.
“Keep talking,” Cal said.
“I’m sure it was well-intentioned,” I continued, “but see, this man here is my boyfriend, and that man is not, so we find ourselves in a terrible predicament.”
Before I could finish my plea, Bettina and Paloma broke into a fit of laughter, nearly doubling over they cackled so hard.
“It’s not funny,” I said, getting indignant. “You’re ruining my love life.”
Their laughter settled in unison, they sighed, and vanished before our eyes.
“Hey, wait!” I shouted. “Come back here!”
The nice tour guide poked her head in. “Oh, you scared me. I thought she was at it again. Boy, that was something, huh? I’ve seen a few strange things around here, but nothing like that. My tour will have a whole new flavor now.” She walked past me to the fireplace to turn off the gas. “I need to close this room down now, if that’s okay.”
“We were hoping to finish one last task,” I explained. But to my dismay, the sisters had vanished. We could hardly stay all night hoping they’d return. I felt defeated.
The guide crossed to a wall sconce and reached to dim its light. “I saw you here the other night. Let me guess, you’ve had a run-in with Bettina and Paloma.”
“Yes,” I said. “Do they show up often?”
“I’ve never seen them.” She pulled the window blind shut. “But a lot of people return here agitated. Is it a bad luck spell?”
“They do this to other people?” Cal asked.
“Lust spell,” I said, beginning to have a bad feeling that our problem wouldn’t be resolved any time soon.
“Oh.” Her eyes widened as she registered that there were two men with me in the room. “Ouch.”
“What have the other people done to escape the spell? Is there a way to reverse it?”
“Bettina and Paloma have a descendant living in town. I don’t know her name, but she has a website and caters to victims of the Artuso sisters’ games.”
What she described had scam written all over it. My dander was up. Way up. “You mean to tell me these two put spells on people and then some relative agrees to reverse the spells?”
“I’m not involved, I swear.” The woman raised her hand in defense. “But I’ve seen the website. Do a web search on unwanted spells, Stephens City or Spencer House. She comes right up.”
“Of course she does,” Cal said. “All witches in cahoots with their devious dead relatives have websites, don’t they?”
“I’m sorry. Hopefully she can help. I need to turn off this last light and close the door. I have two more rooms to shut down before I clock out.”
We filed out, our hopes of relief shattered.
“So what now?” Shane asked.
“We check out this website,” I said.
Tara, Amy, Myrtle, and Marmaduke were ready to leave when we returned to the employee lounge.
“Any luck?” Tara whispered to me.
“Not yet,” I whispered back, “but we have a lead.”
Tara proceeded to summarize her talk with Myrtle and Amy. Myrtle’s memory had come back soundly, in her opinion, and she was confident that she gave birth and died on April 3rd of 1958.
“And Amy verified that her mother, Jayne, learned in the last couple of years that she had been adopted,” Tara said. “Their birthdays don’t match. Amy says her mother Jayne was born on April 7th, 1958, but if Myrtle had been killed and the baby adopted, a doctor might have been paid off to sign a fake birth certificate.”
“She’s my Scarlett, I know it.” Myrtle nodded her head emphatically.
“And Myrtle wants to go home with Amy,” Tara added.
“I just don’t know.” Amy looked at Shane. “What do you think?”
Shane didn’t hesitate to add his two cents. “It’s a terrible idea.”
“Let me get used to the idea,” Amy suggested. “It’s kind of like seeing a puppy you like at an adoption event. The puppy is cute, and you know you’ll love the puppy, but are you ready for the accidents on the floor and the chewed shoes?”
Myrtle quirked an eyebrow. “Are you comparin’ me to a dog?”
“That came out wrong,” Amy said. “I’m awfully tired.”
“Can we take Myrtle? Can we? Can we?” Marmaduke jumped up and down like a little kid. “She can stay with us, Sophie, correct? You take home strays all of the time. I’m a perfect example. Oh please, please, please.”
“But, Marmadoodle, I wanna see my Scarlett.”
Tara lifted her car keys from her purse. “Listen, I have to go. I’m volunteering at the school in the morning. I’ll leave you all to work out sleeping arrangements.” She smiled. “I’ll call you in a day or two, Sophie.”
Amy was nearly falling asleep on Shane’s shoulder by the time we dropped them off at her place on our way home.
Myrtle came with us, sending Marmi over the moon. I sure hoped that ghosts didn’t do the bedroom tango. That would be too awkward. Especially since they didn’t have a bedroom.
Cal walked me up, but insisted on going back to his place for the night. He claimed it would be easier for him to get to work on time in the morning if he went back to his house. Really, I think he was still bothered by the lust spell. I could hardly blame him. And I didn’t have control over my dreams. Having another Shane dream with Cal sleeping next to me would be disastrous.
He stopped outside my door and kissed me sweetly. Not very passionately though.
“Is that the best you can do?”
“It is with two ghosts staring at us.”
“So sorry ol’ chap,” Marmaduke stammered, “we’ll slip away. Consider us gone. Out of sight. Imperceptible.”
I laid my best seductive kiss on him, hoping to change his mind about staying. Still, he held himself in reserve.
“You’re still bothered by the spell, aren’t you?”
“That. And other things.”
“What other things?”
“Tonight. We were supposed to have a romantic night alone. And it turned into some bizarre event that felt like a slapstick comedy television show. It was like Gilligan’s Island meets The Addams Family tonight. That’s all good for television. Not so much for real life.”
“I didn’t plan for Myrtle to go into false labor and remember that she was murdered.”
“I know you didn’t.”
“Go home and get some rest,” I told him. “We’ll both feel better when we’re not so tired. And I’ll check that witch’s website tomorrow first thing. I promise.”
He smirked. “See, this is what I mean. Usually, when a person says, ‘I’ll check that witch’s website,’ the person would mean a metaphorical witch—someone who isn’t nice. You mean a real witch who undoes magic spells.”
He leaned in for another goodbye kiss only to be thwarted by Marmaduke poking his head through the door. “Oh, you are still here. Yes, Myrtle my love, they are still out here! She was worried.”
Cal waved at me instead of bothering with the kiss. “See you tomorrow.” He looked at his watch. “I mean, see you later today.”
I went to bed hoping that later today would turn out better than yesterday.
I probably should have hoped harder.