[Author’s Note: This is the last of three parts of a story that was cut into parts for convenience. This ending will not make much sense without reading the other parts linked here: Crabtree – Ghost Light – Part 1, Crabtree – Ghost Light – Part 2. Thanks]
The next morning, Arun struggled down the stairs. Raymond, Lisa and Billy sat at the kitchen table. He tried to scratch his fuzzy brain through is tussled hair. “Uh, Hi.”
Raymond smiled with his face, but his eyes searched the young man. “Hrm. Yes, Hi. Danish?”
He sat next to Lisa and squinted out a smile. “Yeah, thanks.” With his mouth full he asked, “Got any coffee?”
Lisa pointed to a coffee maker on the counter. “So how’s the hangover?”
Pouring some coffee Arun asked, “Good! Fine, thanks for asking. It’s all grown up and healthy.” He turned around and leaned against the counter. “How’d you know?”
“You were particularly loud at three this morning.”
Billy said, “Ah, we were just having fun. He was drinking extra for me.”
“Yeah.” Arun jestured to the chair Billy sat in. “What he said.”
Raymond perked up. “You will have to tell us what he said.”
“Yes, please, do grace us with your gift.” Sarcasm seeped from Lisa’s pores.
“He said you look really sexy in that preppy L.L. Bean getup, but that sour face sorta spoils the look.”
Lisa smirked back and him and pulled apart her pastry.
“You know, that doesn’t sound like him.” All trace of a smile evaporated from Raymond’s face. “Maybe I’ve been impulsive in my hiring practices.”
“Yeah. After all, you hired little miss ‘I get a vibe’ over here. Bill said you’re a cute one but that you’re no Ines.”
“Hey! I’ve tried to hone and refine my talent. I bet you never had the intellectual curiosity to follow up on anything ever!”
“Yeah well, I been seeing people and things that no one else sees my whole life. People hanging out in strange places, lights and shit. Never really thought much of it except to keep my trap shut and move on. Seeing weird shit that doesn’t concern me doesn’t pay the rent.”
“Well it does now.” They both looked at Raymond. “If you two are done, I’d like to get working. Arun, you will need to go over the specs on the listening equipment we will continue to set up once we get back on site today. Lisa, can you get a copy of the psycho-activity and traumatic even history for Arun.”
“Please. Thanks.” Raymond was calm but firm.
She stomped out of the room, shooting a side glance at Arun.
The very tan young man snorted then turned to face Raymond. “Chicks, I tell ya.”
“You aren’t getting started well here. Being friendly with Billy will only get you so far.”
“Dude, Relax.” Billy talked to his brother, though only Arun could hear. “Lisa was a mistake. All she can do is research stuff.”
“You and I are going to be finishing the sensor setups. We had some acute phenomenon the last time we were there and I think we’ll do better on that score in bright daylight. Spirits are weaker then.”
“So maybe I can beat Billy at football now?”
Raymond gave a half grin. “Don’t bet on it. We play a very high-level game here. Lots of practice. Anyway, I hope this is the last I’ll have to talk to you about this. This is an old house and we’ve got the guest wing on the one side and our rooms over here. I’m not giving you a guest room so you have to be cognizant that other people are very close by. And Lisa didn’t have a very good first day to boot. You really stepped in it, Arun, and maybe you should apologize to her. I need a team here.”
Arun grimaced. “Yeah, Ok. But you know, it wasn’t all fun and games last night, it was a working happy hour. Billy had a few friends over and I got the rundown of some of this spirit world stuff. I think I got the gist of it. Spirits are souls that turn away from the light, etc.”
“So why is Billy still with us?”
Billy shrugged his shoulders and Arun interpreted. “He’s getting around to it I guess?”
“Hm. Now that sounds like him.”
Dusk fell over the converted barn of a theater. The white cargo van crunched over the gravel parking lot and parked outside of the large front doors and fell silent, the dual cones of light from the headlights blinking out to let the shadows take over.
Unseen in the darkness, WiFi signals zipped through the air between the van and the theater, creating a pathway for data. And through that pathway, a video feed streamed in.
In the back of the van, a monitor setup played the live feed from inside the theater. Raymond and Lisa took the two chairs, leaving Arun to look from between their shoulders. At first the movement was subtle, but eventually ropes began to wiggle in mid-air across the center of the stage. This was a highlight until two hatchets appeared from back stage and flew through the air down the center isle of the theater. Before they could strike anything, they were pulled back and began bobbing and weaving on the stage with the ropes.
“Man that is jacked up,” Arun whispered.
Lisa made a note in the thick binder she held in her lap. “The physical manifestations are increasing even since we were here last. What do you make of it, Raymond?”
Arun was nonplussed. “What, you aren’t going to ask me? I thought I was the Spookinator.”
“Well, for one thing,” Lisa said, not looking up from her binder. “Raymond has a brain, Mr. ‘Nator.”
“I’ve got brains enough to know that this thing is showing off for us and the cameras.”
Raymond nodded. “I think I’d agree with Arun on this. It looks like we have stirred the hornets’ nest and they are putting on a show for us.”
“Well, it IS a theater.”
“Hey, little Miss. Turtleneck has a sense of humor after all.” He turned to Raymond. “So Boss, how we gonna play it? Do we all go in or just me?”
Raymond looked at Lisa. At the mention of going inside, her posture stiffened. “Why don’t you and I go. Lisa will monitor us from here.”
With her hand on her notes about this case, she saw them enter the back of the theater. Instantly, Arun stopped. “Hey, you! Playing with the ropes! What’s your name? Luigi? Hey Luigi, why don’t you put those things down before you hurt somebody and let’s talk about how you are going to go away and leave these folks alone.”
As Arun walked down the isle with his chest out, leading Raymond. Lisa had a bad feeling about this.
The small kitchen at the back of the store had only enough room for a small table and two chairs. Marta set down the warmed up pie slice and turned to the refrigerator. A lean gray tabby rubbed at her ankles and purred.
“Hello Mrs. Kitty. No, No pie for you I’m afraid. A touch too sweet for you,” She grabbed the vanilla ice cream from the freezer and added, “but I bet you’d like some alamode.”
Suddenly the cat hissed.
“What’s the matter?” She asked, then stiffened.
Seated at the other chair of her table was a dark haired pale woman dressed in a dark, gossamer dress. “Good Evening Marta.”
“Oh!” Marta started, then willed herself calm. She retrieved a spoon and said “Oh, hello Winifred.”
The woman smiled with teeth. “It’s been a while.”
“Yes… yes-well, I wouldn’t suppose you would like some pie.” She scooped some ice cream over her plate and made a show of it to Winifred. “It-really-is-to-die-for.”
“Cute. You know why I’m here.”
Marta put away the ice cream, still deliberately avoiding the woman’s gaze. “Haven’t-the-foggiest.”
“The Farmer…” Winifred fumed. “The Baker…”
“…The-apple-wine-maker!” Marta sat and grinned. “I can play this game t…”
“Crabtree!” she shouted, her anger making the room seem darker. “You helped him!”
“I plied my trade. I suppose you and yours would have me starve then? Am I no longer useful to you?”
“The Farmer foolishly tampers with things that are not his.”
“But you would claim to own them? Do you believe yourselves so powerful that you hold dominion over this world and all others?”
Winifred scoffed. “Yes.”
“Then tell me, Winnie,” Marta paused to take a bite of pie then asked, “why are you here? Because if such is the scope of your reach, surely you don’t think that the broken toy I threw Raymond’s way would be any obstacle to you and yours. Besides, don’t you think it would have been a touch suspicious if I had given him nothing?”
“Your tongue’s edge has two sides, old woman. You’d be wise not to wag it so much. You might cut yourself.” Winifred sighed, “However, I see the wisdom of your actions.”
“You may belittle him as ‘the farmer’ but you do so at your peril. Raymond is resourceful, intelligent and motivated. After all, he did find Ines all on his own.”
“And lost her the same way. Our plans are too delicate to have another such interloper in the highlands.”
“But it is the nature of people to be curious. Had I not introduced him to the girl he would have continued to search. Besides, what your church is proposing, the side effects…”
“Do not concern you. This is a courtesy call, Marta, not a discussion or a debate about things long settled. Do not interfere with the church.”
“And again, I don’t work for you. I don’t work for Raymond either. Keep me out of your affairs and I will stay out of yours, but do not presume to rob me of my birthright or deny me my livelihood.”
“You are week old woman. We are strong and many.” Winifred gathered herself and walked towards the shop’s front door muttering. “You would be wise to watch your step.”
A few moments later, Miss Kitty jumped up onto the small table and licked at the puddle of melted icecream with enthusiasm. She avoided the fork, which was still in Marta’s hand, unmoving. Her face, once flippant, with rosy cheeks and a knowing smile sat frozen in fear, her complexion the color of ash.
“Tea,” she said, finally. “Mustn’t have pie without tea.”
Raymond passed behind Arun, going left to right. “You know, you aren’t very smart, are you?”
“I’ve got it all under control.” He stared into the face of the exasperated and now ticked off Luigi.
“Where’s that big mouth now, tough guy?”
Approaching now from the right, Raymond said, “Hrm. That means I can go and wait in the car, if you have it under control, and all.”
The sprit raised an eyebrow. “What, you came all this way, and now your friend doesn’t want to hang out?” Before Arun’s astonished eyes, Luigi’s face turned clockwise and the rest of his body swept like a giant clock hand to match. “How about you, Arun? Are you comfortable hanging around?”
Coming once again from the left, Raymond said, “I’m going to take your frozen silence as a bad sign. He’s doing something scary, right?”
As the sweeping figure of Luigi passed nine, Arun cleared his throat. “Um, he’s sorta freaking me out here.”
“I’d just like to entertain.” The spirit stared directly into his eyes, even as his body rotated around the axis of his nose. “God only knows there is so little around here that is entertaining. It’s horrible, but I believe the age of good live performances on the stage is dead.”
Luigi was now totally inverted at high noon to Arun. His ghostly work boots touched the stage. The spirit walked over to Raymond, who, like Arun, was tied up, upside down. Unlike the young medium, Raymond was swinging like a pendulum at the end of his rope. Unseen by the middle-aged man, the spirit came over and gave him a new push, sending him higher.
“You know, they used to have good comedy here, Burns and Allen, Bob Hope type stuff. They had vaudeville with lots of piano. That was before my time, understand, but I did see some of it as a kid. That’s what got me into this racket.”
“So, you know, when I died here, and just sorta got stuck in the playhouse, I really didn’t mind. They had all sorts of shows, through the war years, and through the post war years and right up until the seventies, I guess. Then stuff changed.”
“Everyone had to be a damned artist all of a sudden. You couldn’t just put on a play without it being more clever or having some catch that the more you thought of it, the more dumb it was. But really, it was the idea that the gimmick sold the show, not the performance.” He walked the stage, the creaking footsteps betraying his motion. “I’ve been watching for years as these arty pants have made theater just no fun anymore. Since I can’t leave, I can try to scare people so they don’t continue to bore me to death and beyond.” He lifted the hatchet. “And since you all don’t seem convinced, let’s see how scary a killer ghost is.”
Arun looked at him and sobbed. “We are so dead.”
Luigi lifted the hatchet high in the sky, and had a fiendish look in his eye when a soft voice called out from the back of the theater. “Actually, you aren’t dead.”
The ghost’s spectral head whipped around. “Excuse me?”
“What did you find, Lisa?” Raymond said, still swinging.
She fumbled with the papers and “It says here that a Luigi Romano was critically injured by a fall, stage left.” She pointed to her right and walked down the center isle of the theater. “He experienced almost total amnesia and lost a lot of blood but did not die. Luigi Romano is still alive in a nursing home outside of Latrobe. Having never regained his memories, he adopted a new name Simon West. He gave up being a stage hand and went into carpentry.”
Raymond swayed at the end of his rope. “So what keeps him here?”
Searching through her memory, Lisa paced. “Memory and trauma. Blood. These are all potentially very powerful information flows and substances according to my alchemical and paranormal studies.”
“Oh Jeez, Really!?” Arun said
“Shut up” both Raymond and Luigi said at about the same time.
“Go on,” Raymond urged.
“Well, it’s impossible to know the precise interaction but what amounted to a powerful spontaneous binding spell happened in the midst of the accident. Sort of like a car crash cleanly severing a limb or … well whatever. You get the drift. In any event, this is where his memory ended … and why his memory ended … even though the body lived. Combined with the special mystical properties of his blood seeping into the cracks in the floor … Oh! I’m not explaining this well … his energy… it remains trapped here.” She pointed to a specific spot. “Right there, to be precise.”
The ropes slackened, sending both men to the floor. The spirit disappeared and reappeared next to Lisa. “Yes, the place where my life ended.”
Her jump was sudden, but Arun could see that the ghost paid it no mind. Lisa looked for the spirit with her heart. “I know you feel sad. I’m sorry to bring it up, but we want…” She swallowed. “I need to help you get through this.”
“I wondered why they took me away, why there was no light, why I couldn’t leave the theater.”
Arun dusted himself off. “Dude, there’s no light because you didn’t die.”
“Well there must be some way to gain peace. I can’t stand another season of ‘Our Town’ by Mrs. Mumbles and the barely on cue players.”
“He says he wants to gain peace. There must be some way we can put a lid on this case.”
Raymond straightened his sweater vest. “It’s a good thing that we have the name of a carpenter, then,” They all looked at him. He dusted his clothes off and added, “Though I understand Mr. West is retired.”
“So you say these boards hold a part of my spirit?” The old man eyed Raymond and the pile of wide floor boards.
Raymond was resolute. “Yes sir.”
“And you realize how nuts that sounds?”
“Absolutely, but if I let that bother me I wouldn’t leave the house.”
The old man eyed up Raymond. He smiled. “Fair enough. You want some Iced Tea?”
Leaving the boards on the front porch, Raymond went inside. Arun could already see Luigi sitting in the porch’s rocking chair. Seeing his small smile, Lisa asked him, “So, what do you see?”
“Well, Luigi has taken to streaking.” He put his hands up in horror. “Now he’s retying his shoes. Ugh! God!”
“You are such a jerk. That’s not even a good joke.”
“Everyone’s a critic.”
“But he’s here isn’t he?” Her face relaxed and the nit in her brow loosened. “Bringing the boards worked just like I said, didn’t it?”
“Maybe he’s just haunting you now?”
She scrunched up her nose. “Well now that’s just dumb.”
“Did you just call me stupid?”
“I properly labeled something as dumb. At the time I was referring to your comment, but if you’d like to take that label onto yourself, I will not stop you.”
“So you did just call me stupid!”
The old man saw the two young adults bicker in the driveway and chuckled. “Nice crew. Reminds me of my kids.”
Raymond nodded. “So, sir, you don’t seem surprised about the story I told you.”
“I’ve worked with wood for decades. I know it has a soul.” He smoothed his hand over the back of a chair. “Honestly, I always felt that I was missing a part ever since the accident. It’s not too far a stretch for me to think it’s here.”
Raymond nodded. “So what are you going to make out of them?”
“A coffin.” The man looked up. Raymond couldn’t hide his shock. “Cancer is a real bastard, but at least it’s reliable. Something was bound to get me.”
The old man gestured to the two. Arun was gesturing with his hands while Lisa stood on one hip pointing solidly at the ground. Their words were lost in the distance, but the interaction was clear. “So, now that you’ve solved this issue, what are you going to do with those two?”
“I don’t know. This is a sideline. I’m a chief at heart, you see. I can keep them on for a bit. Stabilize things with the farm and all.” He blew out. “It’s a management thing, though. Resources to need and all. Thing is, between the one being super-sensitive and the other being super-studious and sensitive in other ways … empathic, I’ve got the perfect team.” They heard a high-pitched scream. “If I can keep them from killing each other.”
“Yeah, well, that’s always a challenge when you have family, and you seem like a man who would do a lot for family, am I right?”
Raymond Crabtree looked at the man and said, “You would not believe what I’d do for family. We’ll work this out somehow.” The two older men and the spirit watched the two young people fight over nothing as the morning sun burned the last of the dew from the shadowy places. Over the treetops could be heard young voices shouting.