This is an original work, all copyright reserved, 2008
I would rate this PG, maybe PG13.
Many thanks to Chris K. for being my wonderful beta person. This would not have turned out as well as it did without her help.
Author's Note: I'm neither a scientist nor a true historian. Wikipedia can be a writer's best friend when you're in need of a quick research fix. If mistakes were made, my apologies, and if it doesn't make sense, well... if you can explain cold fusion to me, I'll explain my theory to you.
Author's Note 2: Comments are more than appreciated. I may not respond to all of them, but I will try. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Chasing the Ghost Wave
Monday, 5:30 a.m.
I woke up to the shrill beeping of my cell phone. More than half asleep I stumbled towards the pair of jeans I had left just inside my bedroom door and wrestled the phone off its clip.
"Jarvis." I yawned as I identified myself.
"Samantha, it's Jason. Wake the hell up."
I was tempted to just say no and drop the phone and my professor in favor of going back to bed. Instead, I rubbed my eyes and yawned again. "What the hell time is it, Jason?"
I groaned. "Damn, I didn't mean to sleep the day away. I'll get dressed and come in as soon as I can."
"You didn't, and don't bother. It's five-thirty in the morning, and I need you on a plane at nine."
It was hard to comprehend exactly what he was saying. "Five -- in the morning?" I glanced over to the curtains and saw there was no light coming in. Just to make sure, I pulled the phone away from my ear and checked the time. Five-fucking-thirty. A.M.
"Jason, our flight didn't arrive at LAX till almost eleven. I didn't get home till past two. Why am I now awake three hours later?"
"Like I said, I need you on a plane at nine. The arrangements are made, and Rhonda and Kelly will be meeting you at the airport."
"Oh, hell no. Like I'm heading back down to LAX after just getting out of there? No. Uh-uh."
"Relax, I got you tickets through Burbank. And you can sleep on the plane."
I sighed. If he'd already purchased the tickets, there was no way of talking him out of this sudden trip, even if it meant I didn't give him a timely report on the previous case.
Not that there was anything to report on that anyway.
With a yawn, I headed toward the bathroom and the shower I hoped would wake me up. "Wanna tell me where I'm going?"
"San Francisco, city by the bay."
"Why am I going there?"
"Someone saw a ghost at Alcatraz."
I paused. "Jason, are you nuts? People are always seeing ghosts at Alcatraz."
"Yeah, but how often does someone come back with a picture of Al Capone in the shower?"
After I picked my jaw up off the floor I turned on the shower. "Give me an hour to wake up and then call me back, cause there's no way in hell I heard that right." With that, I turned the phone off and dropped it to the floor.
I had been so asleep I'd forgotten to turn on the hot water, but the plunge into the cold forced me fully awake and right back out of the shower.
"No fucking way did I hear that right," I muttered while I waited for the water to warm. "Al Capone indeed."
I don't know how well the mainstream public remembers the show Ghost Hunters. It started right after the turn of the century, about 2003, and featured a group of people using scientific means to either prove or disprove the existence of ghosts. What was unique about them was their unwillingness to simply call a place haunted because someone "felt" something, or someone saw something. They went in with an attitude to debunk hauntings and many times they succeeded.
Of course, there were times that their investigation pointed toward paranormal activity, i.e., ghosts, and the evidence they gathered sometimes had even experts shaking their head.
The breakthrough came in 2010, when a scientist studying electromagnetic waves at UCLA watched an episode of the show where an EMF detector was used. He was puzzled at the origin of the electro-magnetic field they found, and began to study the EMF detector and what it was detecting.
EMF stands for Electro Magnetic Field. These occur when an electrical field meets a magnetic field. This is normally a result of electrical energy from some observable phenomenon, or some kind of electrical device. There are several types of electro-magnetic waves, including radio, micro, ultra-violet, and gamma rays.
What our UCLA scientist found was that an EMF detector could pick up electro-magnetic waves, but couldn't tell you what kind they were. So, he combined a portable EMF detector with a portable wave reader, and then contacted a well-known parapsychologist. Together they'd taken the machine to the Whaley House in San Diego, which many experts agreed was one of the most haunted places on the west coast. To their shock, the EMF detector lit up, but the wave reader could not identify the type of electro-magnetic waves. They were longer and slower than radio waves, thought to be the bottom rung on the EM wave spectrum.
That was the key moment. With this knowledge in hand, and the new "Ghost" waves verified by other key scientists, parapsychology became a new science. Eight years later, while not yet fully accepted by the mainstream culture, and certainly not by mainstream scientists, there were newly created programs popping up at several universities, one of which was Antioch University, where I had just completed my Bachelor's degree and had been accepted into Graduate work under Professor Jason Taft.
Jason was thirty-two, the youngest full professor at Antioch. He was also a former student of Dennis Kincaid, the master-mind behind the discovery of "ghost" waves. He'd received his Ph.d from UCLA at the age of 26, and had spent another two years working with the newest EMF technology before moving to Antioch as the leader of the "technological" side of the new Parapsychology Department.
I'd been working with the man for over a year and I still didn't get him. Sometimes I didn't think Jason believed in ghosts, and at other times I thought he was a true believer. I supposed that made him human. Everyone wants to believe that we go on after our bodies die. Most research, however, was making this less and less certain.
Yes, there appeared to be something behind ghostly phenomena. However, the most recent acceptable theories said that human emotion, which had been scientifically proven to produce energy of its own, was the source of ghost waves. Released human emotions would imprint on a space and become electro-magnetic waves, creating a field that then played back the ghost waves at certain scientifically definable times. Scientists just tried to find the right times and triggers that created the ghost waves.
This theory left little room for the idea that ghosts were the souls of people who had passed on before us.
I didn't really know what to believe yet. My undergraduate degree was in Liberal Studies, but I was at heart a historian. While finishing up at Antioch I'd been introduced to Jason, who'd asked what I was going to do after college. I'd shrugged and told him with a smile that something would come up. He said something already had, and handed me the card for the parapsychology department with the instruction to be at his office at nine sharp the next morning. Having nothing better to do, I'd shown up. Within days I'd entered my application for graduate studies in his department.
It wasn't that I had a firm belief in ghosts. And it wasn't that I wanted to be on the cutting edge of the paranormal science, which is what Jason was all about. Heck, I didn't even understand the science half the time. Nor did I have a desperate need to discover where ghosts came from.
I just wanted to see one.
I was a history major. When Jason told me he'd open up a new world for me, I didn't care. When he told me that he'd open up a window to the past, I was intrigued.
Besides, at the very least, it was better than asking people if they wanted to supersize their food order, and I kept reminding myself of that while I took the bus over to the Burbank airport.
Monday, 7:15 a.m.
I called Jason back while on the bus, grateful that the vehicle was mostly empty.
"Are you awake?"
"Yeah, or as awake as you get me this morning. What flight am I on? What airline?"
"Southwest, flight 713. Rhonda and Kelly are already waiting. You're at Gate 12."
"Right. Now, tell me again why I'm flying to San Francisco after just getting back from Ohio?"
"How was the cemetery in Ohio?"
"Dead. What happened at Alcatraz?"
I heard him take a breath and rolled my eyes. He'd said he was quitting smoking, but it hadn't quite happened yet.
"There was a group of tourists on a tour. They went down to the shower room. You remember the legend of Al Capone playing his banjo or something down there?"
"Yeah, after the syphilis had started to affect his brain."
"Right. Well, one of the visitors, this guy from Chicago, thought he saw something, so he stayed behind for a minute when everyone else left. He went further into the showers and started to hear music. When he turned around, there was Al, grinning and strumming a guitar or banjo or something. The guy took a photo and ran."
"And the photo came out?" I was skeptical, but Jason was obviously hooked.
"Well enough that you can see the scar on Al's face."
"Have you actually seen it, or just heard about it?"
He took another breath, and for an instant I could almost smell cigarette smoke. "Frankie emailed me the picture."
I shook my head. "Frank Weston? Are you sure it's not just another stunt?" The man was a known purveyor of fraudulent ghost photos.
"No, which is why I'm sending you and Kelly. I figure if there's anything to the story, you'll find it, and if there isn't, well, you always wanted to go to Alcatraz anyway."
He had a point. "Did you have to send me right after I got back from Ohio?"
"Sorry. Wanna make sure we beat Leo and that damn girl he's been working with."
Leo was another protege of Dennis Kincaid who still worked at UCLA. I didn't know the full story behind it, but Leo and Jason had been rivals for a long time. That made UCLA our rivals in the field, and if Jason thought my early flight could put us a leg up over that program, I'd do what it took to make it happen.
But not without protest. "Nine o'clock?"
"Call me from San Fran, Sam."
With a sigh I hung up and watched the bus make the turn onto Hollywood Way. All I wanted to do was sleep.
Rhonda was the one to greet me as soon as I reached the gate. It was a very good thing that I'd stopped at the Starbucks just past security, or I might not have been able to produce anything resembling a smile.
"Sam! Hi! How was Ohio? Did you get to see Anna Hughes? Have you looked at the tapes yet? Was the new camera sensitive enough? How --"
"Rhonda, the woman's barely awake." Kelly took one of my bags. "Let's let her down some of that coffee before she passes out where she stands, eh?"
The half smile I'd managed to conjure had morphed into a grimace, but Kelly's intervention saved me. I managed a pained grin to her, then followed her over to the seats that held our gear. "Hey, Kelly."
Graduating from the University of Toronto two years ago, Kelly Moorman was an unassuming twenty-three year old work-a-holic who happened to be a technological marvel. Not only did she understand the various theories on electro-magnetic waves, she had a background in quantum theory and physics. She could also fix absolutely anything or create it from scratch. Her innovative techniques with both thermal and infra-red cameras had brought the program at Antioch national reknown. She had been behind the creation of the camera we now used, which was a modified version of the thermal. Her version was more sensitive and could see energies other than heat, but it wasn't yet accepted by the rest of the technical or academic establishment.
Maybe we'd get another picture of Al, and that would put the skeptics to rest for good.
"You get any sleep last night?"
I shrugged. "An hour on the plane, maybe three at home."
She shook her head. "I told Jason you could follow us up, but he said he wanted you as lead from the start." With a glance at Rhonda, she offered me a little smile. "I guess in one way I can see why."
I laughed, and took another gulp of coffee.
Rhonda Claremont was a psychic. With all of the modern day advances in paranormal research, we still had been unable to provide objective, repeatable results to show that psychic abilities truly existed. Jason told me that Rhonda had privately proved herself to him, but I had yet to be convinced that she truly could see spirits, communicate with the dead, or tell the future. She was a nice enough person, but prone to exaggeration and over-excitement. While she seemed zealous in her research on ghostly phenomena, she was still leery of technology and I'd often heard her say that she trusted her feelings more than any "confounded" machine.
She was also short, appropriately blond, and had this extremely sunny personality which just grated on my frazzled nerves when I was tired.
"So, have you seen the picture from Alcatraz?" The woman was practically vibrating in her seat. "Jason emailed me a copy. It's cool!" I rolled my eyes, but didn't say anything as she unzipped her laptop bag and pulled out her computer.
As we waited for the machine to boot up I turned to Kelly. "Have you seen this photo?"
She nodded and shrugged. "Until I get my hands on the camera, and see where it was taken, I can't tell you if it's faked or not. I can say that there's nothing immediate to say that it's bogus."
"And it shows Al Capone?"
"It shows someone. Maybe Al, maybe someone else. Maybe just a shadow with a smile."
"I hate it when you're so non-committal." Then Rhonda put the computer in front of me, and I looked at the picture. "Holy hell."
It was Al. Dressed in a prison uniform and holding something vaguely banjo-like in his hands. He wasn't looking at the camera, and he was turned slightly to the side. Even though the image looked faded and only half there, Jason was right. You could clearly see the scar on the side of his face.
"What do you think?"
I faced Kelly. "Nothing really. But I can't wait to get to Alcatraz."
She grinned. "There you go, being all non-committal like that."
Monday, 11:20 a.m.
Everyone always tells me that I can sleep on the plane, but a forty minute flight is hardly long enough to get more than a cat nap.
Not that I got one. I spent the entire ride imagining what it would be like to be on Alcatraz Island, in Alcatraz prison, the way Al Capone knew it back when he was first brought here.
Alcatraz had a varied life before becoming a landmark. Based on an island in San Francisco bay, it was first a military prison, and then became a federal prison, known as escape proof. While there had been three men who disappeared from the island after breaking out of the prison, they had never been found, and it was assumed that they drowned in the bay.
When it first opened, Alcatraz was the holding place for some of the worst felons in the country. Killers and counterfeiters, mobsters and bank robbers, they'd all been transferred from other prisons to the damp stone walls of Alcatraz. Al Capone, former mobster boss of Chicago, had been one of those transferred, on the very first boat that landed the prisoners on their new home. He was there for seven years, being released in 1939. He died in 1947 due to complications from syphilis.
There was a legend told about Capone. He wasn't a very popular person in Alcatraz, and he didn't have a lot of friends. During his free time he would sit in the showers and play his banjo, strumming and singing his own accompaniment.
From time to time, people had claimed to hear the sound of a banjo in the shower, but this was the first time anyone had actually seen who was playing, much less claimed that it was Al Capone.
As the plane descended into San Francisco, I spotted the tiny island that was our goal. Even in the bright sunshine, and so far off in the distance, Alcatraz looked foreboding and sinister.
I couldn't wait to get there.
Thankfully, Jason had booked us into the same hotel that the witness was staying at. Even more fortunate for me was the fact that they were gone down to Fisherman's Wharf for the day. It meant I could get a nap before having to do an interview.
First, however, there was the matter of Frank Weston. He met us in the lobby of the hotel and waited till we checked in. He seemed nervous, and he was carrying a box under his arm.
This case must have been of some importance to Jason because he'd actually booked the three of us into a suite at the new Fairmont Hotel. I had to grumble a bit at this; I'd spent the last five days in a Travelers Inn somewhere in southern Ohio. But I wasn't arguing with these accommodations. Our suite had two bedrooms and a fold out couch. I claimed a bedroom by simply dropping my bag inside it and closing the door while glaring at my travelmates. Kelly grinned and shook her head.
"I'll take the couch. You two soft Americans can have the nice comfy beds."
Rhonda looked like she wanted to argue, but she really wanted the bed, too. Finally, she just shrugged and moved off to drop her bags in her room.
Frankie was sitting on the couch, looking a little nervous. I knew I'd have to deal with him before getting some sleep.
"So, Frank, tell us the story as you know it."
He nodded and pushed his hair out of his eyes. Even though he was nearly fifty, and his hair was going gray, he still kept it slightly long and styled like a young man, with the front lock falling over his right eye. Every few minutes he would unconsciously flip his head to clear it from his vision.
"Well, I was out at Alcatraz. You know I have a booth there now, selling pictures and memorabilia."
"Fake pictures." If Rhonda hadn't said it I would have.
"Yeah, okay, they're fake, but the tourists don't know that. And I don't say that they're real anymore. They're just photos."
I wasn't in the mood to rehash the issue of the photo he'd tried to sell to our group. "Fine. What happened?"
"This guy came out of the prison, and he was white. He was with a group of people and they were all talking excitedly and I heard the word ghost. So, I asked him what he saw."
"What did he say?"
Frankie shrugged. "'Said he saw a ghost. He didn't know who it was, just that it was a guy with a guitar or something."
"Banjo," Kelly muttered.
"Yeah, whatever. He wasn't clear. Anyway, the guy's name is Matt Clement, and he's from somewhere in the midwest. Chicago, I think."
"And he's on vacation out here?"
As he looked at her I could see Frank's expression change a little. I knew why. Rhonda was not only blonde, she had these big soulful blue eyes. Most guys when they first meet her think that they have a chance. Most she lets down gently, but a few she shoots down with spectacular crash and burn effect. I wondered which she would do with Frankie.
"Yeah, him and his wife are on vacation."
"Back on topic. What did he tell you exactly, and what did you do?"
The man glared at me, but shrugged. "Like I said, he told me he'd seen a ghost. I asked him to describe it and he told me he'd heard a noise in the showers, then seen a shadow or something so he wandered in a little further after the tour moved on. And when he turned around, there was this heavy guy playing an instrument."
"And how did you get a hold of the picture?" Kelly raised an eyebrow.
"Clement said he'd taken one right before he high-tailed it out of there, and maybe one or two on the way out. I asked if it was digital, if it had a memory card. He said yes and yes and I said I had a computer and would he care to take a look. We went into the back of my stand and I plugged it into the laptop and when I saw what the hell was in the picture I emailed it to Taft. Clement stood right there and vouched for it when Jason called me back."
I shook my head. This wasn't sounding good. There were too many possibilities of tampering with the picture.
"Jason said he wanted the camera and the memory card examined so I bought it from Clement. Copied all his photos onto a new cd and gave it to him. I kept the in this box to give to you guys." He lifted it but set it back down. "I did what Jason said, I taped the box shut and signed and dated it. Had Clement do the same so you know no one has been messing with it."
"Good plan." Kelly reached to take the box from him, but Frankie stopped her.
"Uh-uh. Jason said he'd pay me back for the money I'm out."
I snorted. Frank would probably inflate what he'd paid for the camera.
"He gave me a check to give to you." Rhonda handed it over and Kelly took the box.
"Well, I guess that's it." I stood up. "Kelly, take your time looking over the camera. Rhonda, why don't you sit down with Frank and take his statement in long hand."
"Let me guess," Kelly grinned at me. "You're going to bed."
"I've spent the last three nights hanging out in an Ohio graveyard with little sleep only to come home and be told to hop another plane. Damn right I'm goin' to bed."
Kelly grinned, Rhonda laughed, and I closed the door on the sight of Frankie gazing at the blonde with lust in his eyes.
Monday, 1:30 p.m.
Matt Clement seemed to be a nice guy. Forty-four years old, a college professor at the University of Northern Chicago, Clement studied and taught environmental science. He had the beginning of a beer belly, and was starting to go bald. His wire rimmed glasses made him look more like an academic and I had to curb the instinct to trust everything he said without question.
"I didn't linger after I saw it. I snapped the picture and ran. I was scared."
"Why were you frightened, Mister Clement? Was it the atmosphere, or just the fact that you didn't know what you were seeing?"
His frown was pensive. "I think it was just that I didn't know what was going on. I'm a scientist, and even if they say that these things are made of energy and are playbacks of previous events it's still hard to believe until you actually see something." He shook his head. "Now that I've seen I'll be better able to deal with it next time."
"If there is one." Rhonda smiled. "I'm sensing good energy from you, though. I think there will be a next time."
I tried not to roll my eyes, the same as I tried every time Rhonda talked about what she sensed. As a scientist, Clement must have had the same problem. He glanced at Kelly and myself as if to confirm that we really were scientists.
I stood up and offered the man my hand. "Mr. Clement, I want to thank you for your time. Is there a number we can reach you at? Will you be staying here in San Francisco for long?"
"Oh, my wife and I are here for the next week. Her father is turning 75 and we're staying for his birthday party on Sunday. We'll be at the hotel, but I can give you a cell number in case we're out playing tourist."
"Great. Rhonda's going to get some other information from you and go over your sighting one more time. I'm going to check in with Kelly and find out if she's got an explanation for the picture."
"Explanation?" He was frowning.
"Yes, like a double exposure, or something that wasn't fully erased from the memory card, or . . . anything. Sometimes we find simple answers." I smiled at him. "Sometimes we don't. And even if the card was contaminated, it doesn't mean you didn't see anything, or that we don't believe you. But we need to check everything. Okay?"
He nodded. "Scientific research. I'd want nothing less if I was in your field."
"Exactly. Rhonda, will you take over? I'm going to check with Kelly."
She nodded and I retreated.
Monday, 2:00 p.m.
"What have you got?"
Kelly looked up from her computer and frowned. "Nothing. Not one little speck of anything."
"Well, you have the photograph, right?"
"I have a digital photo, with a time stamp. There's a figure in the photo that looks like Al Capone. I even looked up known photos of Al from the internet, and it's him, if a little thinner than when he entered prison."
"So. . . why do you seem upset?"
"Because it shouldn't be there. At all."
I frowned and sat down on the easy chair next to the desk. "What do you mean?"
"Look, there's absolutely no evidence that this was faked. We have the time stamp by the camera, it's on the memory card, the camera shows no sign of being tampered with, and the card was brand new when he took it out of the box three days ago."
"So that means the photo is real?" I had to raise an eyebrow. Kelly never accepted any photographic evidence unless she was the one behind the camera.
"No, but it does mean that the picture wasn't faked by double exposure, which is practically impossible on a digital camera anyway. It also wasn't digitally enhanced, nor was it produced by something on the lens of the camera itself."
"You're sure on that?"
"Yes. So, that means if it was faked, it was with the help of someone from Alcatraz, and faked in front of an unsuspecting tourist group who saw nothing."
I raised my eyebrows. "Any chance the picture was taken earlier and the time stamp adjusted?"
"Doubtful. The pictures are in sequence with a tour, and there are pictures before and after the photo in question. They also have other members of the tour in them. We could hunt those people down, but I'm doubtful they could tell us anything else important."
Sitting straight up, I raised my hand to her. "Wait. . . wait . . . are you telling me that you think the photo is real and Al fucking Capone is still playing his banjo in the showers at Alcatraz?"
She shrugged. "No. I'm just telling you I can't prove he's not."
Monday, 3:15 p.m.
The three of us agreed that it was time to go see for ourselves just what was in the shower room at Alcatraz. Jason had already been in contact with the National Park Service concerning our visit, and we were anticipating at least some cooperation in our efforts.
Rhonda seemed excited but said she was nervous about running into the spirits of so many murderers. Kelly and I, more worried about our cameras and tape recorders, both rolled our eyes.
Kelly was getting us all some drinks and I was fiddling with a camera when a shadow fell across me.
"Rhonda, you're in my light, can you move please?"
The shadow moved, but I froze. That wasn't Rhonda's voice. I looked up, squinting a little in the sunshine.
"Oh. It's you."
"And hello to you too."
It was Amanda Prescott. She was working at UCLA, our rivals. How they'd found out about this I didn't know. I didn't want to know.
"What are you doing here?"
"Heading out to Alcatraz. Same as you."
She sighed. "Frankie decided to take advantage of the rivalry between Leo and Jason. He called Leo right after he called you guys and offered him the photo for a better price than what Jason had offered. Leo said no to the camera but yes to the picture."
I shook my head. "Great. I'm not gonna get a moment's peace today, am I."
Amanda grinned. "Well, you might. Leo thinks the photo's a fake. He's not here."
"Then what are you doing here?"
She shrugged. "Let's just say we're having a difference of opinion. He says it's fake and took off for a week in Catalina. I think it just might be real and took the morning train up from L.A." Her smile widened just a little. "And finding you here? Makes me think you think it just might be real as well."
It was my turn to shrug. "Maybe, maybe not."
"Right. You had Kelly go over it with a fine tooth comb and she came up with nothing. Tell me that's not the truth."
I couldn't, but I wasn't going to tell her that.
"Look, you don't even have to admit it. I just have one favor to ask."
Folding my arms, I stood up and looked at her, no longer squinting from the sun. "What?"
"Let me hang with you guys. I'll try to keep quiet, I won't get in the way, and I won't report anything back to Leo."
That made me raise my eyebrows. "And why is that?"
The question made her frown. "Well, let's just say that he seems to be looking more for headlines and big stories than the truth. And I'm not appreciating that."
I tilted my head and regarded her steadily. "And you've just recently had this change of heart?"
"Mm, call it more an opening of the eyes." She sighed. "Sometimes you realize people just aren't what you thought they were."
Watching her standing humbly in front of me, I had to agree.
"Fine. But you have to surrender your cell phone, and you stay in the background."
She nodded, smiling, then reached down and unhooked the clip from her belt. "Just don't lose it. I need to call my mom tomorrow or she's liable to call out a search party."
Taking her phone, I dropped it into my own back pack. "Great. Come on."
She followed me, frowning. "Where are we going?"
"To tell Rhonda that you're coming with us. And that she's responsible for watching over you."
Amanda's face fell. "You're kidding, right?"
I just grinned. At least this would give Rhonda something to do, freeing Kelly and myself to truly investigate whatever was there.
The fact that it would keep Rhonda out of Kelly's hair might just be enough to keep Kelly from wanting to strangle me for saying Amanda could come with us.
Monday, 4:30 p.m.
It had taken us a while, but we'd finally gotten down to the showers and were setting up our equipment. Amanda pitched in and ran an electrical line from the only socket available, which was about halfway down the corridor. We had a small rolling table that folded, on which Kelly placed the computer. This wasn't a full investigation, so we weren't using all our equipment. All we had was the thermal camera, the computer, a couple of small digital cameras similar to the one Matt Clement had used, and two EMF detectors, one of which was attached to the wave reader.
“I think we're set. We just need to turn the cameras on and then have a seat.”
“Have a seat?” Amanda looked a little skeptical.
“Yeah. What do you guys normally do? Hold a séance?”
Rhonda glared at Kelly. “That was uncalled for.”
Kelly shrugged and I sighed. This wasn't going to be easy if the two of them started sniping.
“We don't hold seances, but we do usually have a little more to do. Leo has us go for EVP sessions and such.”
“Well, we'll try that, too.” I slid down the wall and tried to make myself comfortable. “But first I like to spend a few minutes just sitting still. It helps me get used to the environment, and gives us a chance to learn what it feels like and sounds like. That way, when we start an EVP session, we know what might be a fairly common sound, and what really is significant.”
She nodded. “Good point.” She chose a place against another wall and sat down cross-legged.
Rhonda stayed standing, but leaned against the wall behind Kelly. “Sitting still at first also gives me a chance to get a feeling for what spirits might be here and what kind of mood they're in.”
Amanda raised an eyebrow. “I'd heard you guys still used psychics. Leo doesn't agree with that.”
“Well, Leo's an ass.” There was a vehemence in Rhonda's voice that I was unused to. It almost sounded like she knew the guy.
“So, Rhonda . . . you feeling anything?”
Kelly's question was her way of apologizing for what she'd said earlier. I knew that, and Rhonda seemed to accept that as well. She offered Kelly a small smile, which was answered with a raised eyebrow.
> “Nothing really strong. There's a lot of lingering emotion, as you might expect. I'm not getting anyone actually here, just a lot of residuals.”
I looked at my watch. “Well, this is about the time that Matt Clement saw Al yesterday. So, maybe he'll be getting here shortly.”
“Maybe.” Rhonda seemed a little unsure.
“Then I think we should just settle down and wait.”
I seconded Amanda, and we all got comfortable.
And we waited.
Monday, 6:45 p.m. , Last Ferry to Leave Alcatraz
The wind was cold as it blew across the bay. I was on deck shivering and taking a turn at watching the equipment while everyone else got warm inside.
It hadn't gone well. There'd been a few equipment failures, and for some reason Kelly was constantly picking up some kind of interference on the wave reader. Rhonda had stated at some point that someone or something was there, like it was peeking through the doorway, but the 'presence' would leave almost as soon as it arrived.
What we got on the digital cameras I had no idea, but listening to the tapes of the short EVP sessions had given me nothing but a headache. There'd been a buzz of some kind in the background that completely covered any kind of sound, supernatural or otherwise. Kelly had said it probably was the same thing bothering her wave reader, but neither of us could find the source.
To top it all off, I felt like I'd failed in front of the enemy. Amanda had been with us and she'd seen us fumbling with equipment problems and resorting to asking our resident psychic if she was still feeling a 'presence'. All in all, not a particularly good way to represent our program.
I was staring off into the water when I felt someone beside me. I figured it was Kelly, so I didn't turn around. When I felt the jacket land on my shoulders, I had to glance, first at the coat, and then at the person.
“Don't even say you don't need it. I heard your teeth chattering from the door.” Amanda gave me a small smile.
I shrugged, but pulled the garment a little tighter around me. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” She sighed and looked up at the sky. “It's okay, you know. It was a good session.”
If she was being sarcastic, I couldn't tell. “Oh, really.” Now that was laden with sarcasm.
“Yeah, it was.” Amanda must have noticed the depressed look on my face, because she bumped me a little with her shoulder. “Seriously, Sam. It was good.”
“We found nothing.”
“You don't know that. So the EVP session didn't go over well. No big deal. There's still all the pictures on the digital, plus we – I mean, you haven't even checked the thermal imager. You've got a long way to go before you just say 'we found nothing.'”
I sighed. “Yeah, but . . . I don't know. I've never seen so many equipment malfunctions. I mean, I know there's the theory that batteries are drained by ghosts when they try to manifest, but this – there was nothing, no reason for these things to malfunction. Yet they did.”
“Which could be a clue in itself.” She turned her back to the waves and regarded the building clouds. “There was something in the wave reader that bothered me.”
“What was that?”
“Damned if I know. Some of the readings seemed almost familiar. I just can't figure out why.”
I bit my lip, then shrugged at myself. I was still tired, so I could always blame it on that. “If you'd like, why don't you come with us to the hotel and join Kelly as she's going over the readings?”
Amanda gaped at me. “Are you serious?”
“Sure. I'm also overtired, cranky, and probably will change my mind in a minute, so decide quickly.”
“Cool.” I peeled off the jacket as I saw Rhonda coming out the door. “You and Rhonda get the next shift at equipment guard.”
“You haven't spent enough time with her yet.”
She chuckled, and I headed inside, giving Rhonda a tired smile as I passed her.
As I got to the door, Amanda called my name. I turned to find her coming toward me.
“Do you know what Leo does when there's an equipment failiure?” I shook my head. “He blames us, pouts, then calls off the whole thing like a temperamental eight year old.”
I laughed and she patted my arm, then went back to join Rhonda.
I went inside, feeling warmer already.
Monday, 8:00 p.m.
We'd just begun to analyze the evidence when my cell phone rang. It was playing the ring tone reserved for Jason, and I was tempted to not answer it. Everyone was looking at me, however, so I sighed and flipped it open.
“Hey, Jason. Nothing interesting happened to us at Alcatraz, but we're still going over the evidence.”
“Well, stop. Get packed and get ready to travel.”
“What?” I think the volume of my voice got the attention of everyone in the room, and possibly everyone on the hotel floor. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Look, I didn't mean right now. But I need you on the first plane out in the morning.”
“Why? To where?”
“East coast. Boston. There's a person that claims to have seen a skirmish between British and American soldiers.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Let me guess. There was a re-enactment going on and someone saw one more person than they were expecting.” It happened all the time. Normally, the reason was that a newby had joined the group unexpectedly, so someone watching from afar thought they might be seeing a ghost.
“No. No re-enactment. And Sam . . . it appears there was interaction. One of the wounded soldiers staggered toward our witness and put a bloody hand on his shoulder before disappearing.”
My eyebrows raised at that. “How did you find out about this and where's the witness?”
“An old acquaintance called me. The witness is in Boston University Hospital. He had a heart attack after the sighting. Told the paramedics and everyone in the emergency room what happened. They all thought he'd been hallucinating. But my friend wasn't so sure.”
“There was blood on his shirt. In the shape of a handprint. Right where he said the soldier touched him.”
I know that I must have looked like a fish for a moment. When I finally got my voice back all I could say was, “I guess we're going to Boston.”
His answer was, “Yeah. I guess you are.”
The rest of the group was as stunned as I was. We all sat there and stared at each other for a few moments. Then Rhonda stood up.
“I guess I'll get started packing.”
Kelly nodded. “I'm gonna keep analyzing. Sam, why don't you book our flights? Or did Jason do that already?”
I shook my head. “Not yet. I think he was leaving it up to us as to time.”
“Well, get something early. We can all sleep on the plane.”
With a sigh, I reached for my laptop and lifted the lid. “Everyone's always telling me I can sleep on the plane, but they never let me actually sleep.”
There was the sound of a throat clearing, and I glanced up. Amanda was looking at me, and then the floor, and then Kelly, and back to me.
“If I pay you back for the ticket, can I invite myself along?”
Kelly's head lifted from her computer. She glanced at Rhonda, then both of them stared at me.
I just looked back at them. Nobody spoke for a minute, and I finally sighed. “Amanda, could you give us a moment? I think the three of us need to talk.”
She nodded and stood up. “I'll just . . . wander down the hall to the soda machine.”
“Oh, grab me a root beer while you're there, would you?”
She left the suite and I stood up and glared at my two crew members. “Okay, guys, I'm not making this decision on my own.”
“Call Jason.” That was Kelly's idea, and Rhonda and I winced as soon as she said it. After a moment, she shook her head. “Never mind. He couldn't get past the blue and yellow.” The colors of UCLA.
Rhonda snickered. Her face became serious as her gaze turned back to me. “I think you should let her come with.”
“Getting a feeling, Rhonda?” There was a hint of a smile in Kelly's voice.
“I'd say yes, but you'd laugh at me for that.” She folded her arms over her chest. “Look, I've been working with the two of you for nearly a year. I've helped, I've investigated, I've kept the same hours, I've gone over the same amount of tape and recordings. I love you guys. And yet I still can't go through a session without one of you rolling your eyes at something I said. I know I may not be as scientific as your instruments, or have a way to prove the things I say, like with a photograph, but I do see things that you can't. And all I get when I try to help is ridicule.” She pointed toward the door. “That woman has never worked with a psychic before but she offered me more respect this afternoon than either of you have in months.”
There was a knock on the door, but Kelly and I were too frozen to get up. We just stared at each other as Rhonda went to let Amanda in.
Before she did, she turned and glared at us. “I'll pay for her fucking ticket. Just let her come with so I have someone who has a little respect for me.” With that she allowed Amanda to enter before leaving, slamming the door behind her.
Carrying two sodas, Amanda stared after the psychic. “Did I do something wrong?”
I sighed. “No, we did.” I slid a pad of paper over to her. “Write down your name and address so I can book your flight, okay?”
“So – I can go with?”
Kelly snorted. “If you don't, I think Sam and I are gonna be in big trouble.”
Amanda looked confused, but she wrote down her name and information.
Tuesday, 6:15 a.m.
The airline only had one flight with four seats open, and it was obscenely early in the morning. Luckily, it was a non-stop trip from San Fran to Boston. I grumbled about the time, still overtired from my trip to Ohio, but Kelly told me to just book it. I did, then helped Rhonda get us all packed. Amanda met us in the lobby at two in the morning, and we all took the hotel shuttle out to the airport.
There may have been four seats, but unfortunately, they weren't all together. There were two singles in the back of the plane, and two together near the front. With my hatred of the back, Kelly and Rhonda both volunteered for the back seats, leaving Amanda and myself in the third row from the front. I immediately pulled out my head phones and neck pillow and asked the stewardess for a blanket. Amanda pulled out a bundle of papers.
"You're not really going to have the light on to read?"
We were crowded three to a row, with me against the window and Amanda in the middle. The third person in the row was a young man with an almost mohawk and a rock band t-shirt. I was overtired and whining, but couldn't really stop myself.
Amanda glanced up at me. "Sam, are you okay? You look exhausted."
I told her about the just getting back from Ohio before heading off to San Fran. "My flight arrived at LAX just about 27 hours ago. And now I'm headed to Boston."
She reached up and turned off the overhead light, then dug into her travel bag to pull out a tiny flashlight. "Get some sleep. This one shouldn't bother you."
"What are those, anyway?"
"The printouts from the wave reader. I asked Kelly to print them for me before we left the hotel."
"Ah, that's what you two were doing in the computer center. Right." I yawned. "Let me know if I snore too much."
"Do you? Tend to snore, I mean?"
With a shrug I closed my eyes. "Only when I'm tired." I heard her laugh for a moment, and then I was asleep.
Tuesday, 4:30 p.m.
Everyone knows about the Revolutionary War. If they paid any attention whatsoever in their junior high history classes, they know the important names of the day: John Hancock, Sam Adams, John Adams, Paul Revere, George Washington. If they were good students, they might even remember the name of Crispus Attucks.
Boston. Home of the revolution. The Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, Lexington, Concord, and 'The Shot Heard Round the World'. There were numerous sites in and around the city that remind us of the start of our nation. I'd been there before, first with my family, and then to investigate ghostly events, and it always seemed to me that these places were just waiting for us all to ignore them, to walk by so concerned with our own little life that we forgot just how important they were in that long ago time. Then they would jump out from around a corner and scare the pants off us.
Much like they had Miles Clark, a 56 year old from Boston out for an historical tour with his grandkids. He'd been out near Bunker Hill Monument that actually stands on Breed's Hill where the battle was fought. His grandchildren, Melani, 5, and Timothy, 7, had both been near him, but not by his side. They'd gone down the hill a short way and Miles was watching them when the experience occurred.
"I was watching them, not like a hawk, but kinda close because I didn't want them to get too far away from me. The sky went kinda dark, and I looked up at the clouds, wondering when they'd moved in, and then when I looked back down, the kids were gone, but I could see some men on their knees with these long rifles. I stepped forward, wondering what the hell was going on, when I heard the crack of the shots. That's when I noticed the other guys, the soldiers in the red coats, standing near the bottom of the hill. They were in lines, and were pointing weapons, and there was another crack and then some of the men up on the hill fell down. Then the rest of them got up and started to retreat, coming right towards me. I stepped back a little, but they kept coming, and suddenly they were all around me and one of them, he was bleeding from a shot in his arm, and he put a hand on my shoulder. I could feel him, I could feel the wet blood through my shirt and I got scared and screamed."
The older man leaned back on his bed and sighed. "Then suddenly the clouds were gone, the men were gone, but my chest was on fire and I couldn't breathe. My grandkids asked me why I was screaming, and I told Tim to go get his mom." He shrugged. "That's about it. Never saw anything like it, don't know how the hell it happened, but I know that it did."
Tuesday, 6:45 p.m.
We left the hospital and headed out to the location of the sighting. For being October in Boston, it was a nice evening; the breeze brought a slight chill, but the sky was clear and the air merely crisp, not bitter cold.
Jason had made us reservations at a local hotel (thankfully another suite), not as fancy as the Fairmont in San Fran, but supposedly a decent place. He'd also rented us a van so we could move easily about the city. Since we hadn't yet had time to even check in, our luggage was still hiding in the van, behind the equipment cases. Luckily, we had all learned to pack light.
Rhonda, Kelly, and myself still weren't talking very much. We'd listened to Miles Clark talk about his experience and each of us asked questions, but we hadn't discussed observations between ourselves yet. I figured later that night we'd all sit down and have it out. I didn't know about Kelly, but I thought Rhonda was right. We were so used to science that we'd begun to discount anything we had no proof for. For a scientist in our line of work, that was dangerous.
Amanda helped me run the wires again after Kelly set up the camera. She was quiet, but kept looking back and forth between the three of us.
“Hey, Sam. Is something going on?”
“I don't know. There's just something weird. Yesterday I felt like I was an outsider and today all of you are treating each other like I felt.” She shook her head. “It's confusing.”
I sighed. “Well, Rhonda kind of took us to task last night. She said we weren't respecting her talent and that you had shown her more acceptance in one night that we had.” I stopped and let my head drop a little. “I suppose in many ways she's right.” I looked up at her, a little confused. “I don't get it. You've never worked with a psychic because your boss doesn't believe in them, but you had no problem dealing with it.”
She shrugged. “What's to deal? I don't know that I believe everything she says, or everything she feels, but so what? She believes, and I can't disprove it.”
“Yeah, but you can't prove it, either.”
“No, but sometimes science takes longer than humans like. I think someday we'll understand why some people seem to have psychic powers. I mean, it took us how many years since the first breakthrough to even begin to understand paranormal sightings. Just because we don't understand doesn't mean we won't eventually.”
With one blow, Amanda dropped me to my proverbial knees. That was exactly what Kelly and I had done to Rhonda. And I needed to apologize.
“You'll work it out, Sam. I know you will.”
“You just joined us and you already know us?”
She smiled. “This may be the first time I've actually worked with you, but it's not the first time I've watched you work, nor is it the first time the four of us have had discussions. Remember the argument we got into at the Simpson symposium?”
The memory made me laugh. She and Kelly had argued on some detail of a theory, and I had jumped in to tell them they were both wrong even though I barely had a clue what they were talking about. Then Rhonda had joined us, taking yet another view and four of us had argued -- until Amanda had laughed at something I had said. I couldn't remember what I'd said, but I could remember the sound of her laughter, and how it had unnerved me, and how the two of us ended up yelling at each other from short distance while Kelly and Rhonda stood and watched.
Later, when I was half drunk after the reception, Kelly had asked me if Amanda and I had had a lover's spat, and I nearly decked her.
I clucked at myself and Amanda looked up.
"I just realized I have a bad habit of simply ignoring people who say things I'm not ready to deal with."
"Yeah. Guess I better stop doing, that, eh?" With a wink, I headed off to go talk to our resident psychic.
"Sam. All set?"
"Cables are run. I think all the prep is done."
She hadn't yet looked at me, and I winced inwardly. This was going to be harder than I thought.
"Did you, um, pick up any feelings when we were talking to Miles Clark this afternoon?"
That got her attention.
"A few. Why?"
"Can you tell me about them?"
She stopped fiddling with the camera in her hand. "Well, he's a very strong man. His family means everything to him. While he was intrigued about the experience, his main concern were his grandkids and how they had reacted to his heart attack."
I nodded. "Anything else?"
"He's an earth scientist, loves the environment."
"You got that from your feelings?"
"No, Sam, from the last part of the interview which you and Kelly always leave to me."She folded her arms and glared at me.
I felt my face go red when I realized how I sounded and how she had taken the comment. "I didn't mean anything by that, Rhon."
"So what did you mean?"
"I was just -- I was asking about your feelings, or what you had picked up, and I wasn't thinking about the interview." Sticking my hands in my pockets I turned around, then turned back. "Look, I'm sorry. You were right in what you said last night, and I'm trying to make things right. That's why I wanted to know what you saw, or felt, or -- whatever."
Her gaze softened a little and she nodded. "Okay. Fair enough. In the interview he mentioned he was in environmental science, but I already knew he was close to the earth, because it shows in his aura. He also wears a bracelet, did you notice? It has a bear tooth on it, and it's very important to him."
She shrugged. "Not really. But --" Rhonda bit her lip before taking a deep breath. "Actually, there was. It was something I noticed with Matt Clement as well."
"Their energy -- it was disconnected."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, like -- artificial." She tilted her head back in obvious frustration, looking for a way to explain. "It was like they had this energy, it just flowed around them. Psychic energy. But, it wasn't theirs."
I shook my head. "I'm confused."
"Okay, think of it in this way. When I look at another psychic, I can see their energy around them, just like I can see another sort of energy around you or Kelly. Are you with me on that?" I nodded. "Now, the energy from you and Kelly is kind of -- well, it doesn't really correspond to a color, it's not part of your aura, but it's got a certain feel to it. Kind of warm. The energy of another psychic is different, it's hotter, yet it's more welcoming, like an invitation. Do you follow?"
"I . . . think so."
"Okay, so, each person, no matter who it is, the energy around them, that's a part of them, is connected to them. Through the aura, though it's not really a part of the aura. Okay?" I nodded. "Now, Matt Clement and Miles Clark both had the energy patterns that I would say are similar to those of a psychic, if not as strong as a normal psychic, but there was no connection. The energy seemed to circle around them instead of being attached to them. Does that make sense?"
"Well, I'll admit, it's kind of hard to get my head around, but I think I got it. The energy showed they had psychic ability but it wasn't connected to them so it shouldn't have been there. Right?"
She smiled and nodded. "That's it."
"Huh. Okay. So, what does that mean?"
Her smile faded and she shook her head. "Not a clue. Just something I noticed about both of them."
"Did you put it in your notes?"
"Yeah, not that anyone but Jay will read them." She glanced at Kelly, who was showing something on the computer to Amanda.
Chagrined, and realizing this could be a clue that we might have missed, I put my hand on her shoulder. "From now on, I'll read them. It might take me a day or so, but I promise, I will read all of your reports from now on. Okay?"
She smiled and dropped her eyes, nodding.
"Then . . . am I forgiven?"
Another nod, and this time she looked at me, grinning.
"Good. Now. Why don't you grab a flashlight and Amanda and go search for some ghosts, hm?"
"And you and Kelly?"
"I'm sitting down with my recorder a little further up the hill. Kelly can watch her precious computer screen."
I sat for a while on the hill side by myself and just listened.
The sun had set almost forty minutes ago, but the last of the light was just now fading from the sky. It was getting colder, and darker by the minute, but I just sat there.
I felt like I was waiting for something. Something I'd been waiting for for a long time. And it was coming. I could feel it.
And then I thought that I was beginning to act like Rhonda, and I laughed at myself, killing the mood.
We left three hours later, without seeing any bloody soldiers.
Tuesday, 10:00 p.m.
This time I had Jason on speaker phone, and everyone heard the story.
I felt like I had gone back in time for a do-over, but everything was happening the exact same way.
Again, after a long night of not much happening at the site, we'd gone back to the hotel to examine the gathered evidence. Before we could get very deep into it, Jason called. There'd been another big case. In Washington D.C.
"At least you can take the train rather than fly."
I rolled my eyes.
The story went that two young graduate students from Georgetown had been passing by the Capitol that afternoon when suddenly they found themselves in a large silent crowd. They noticed a few people crying, and everyone dressed in black. They asked someone what was wrong, what had happened, and someone actually asked them if they hadn't heard the news, that President John Kennedy had been killed. Turning to the street, they saw the procession. People all dressed in black. The flag draped caisson, the honor guard following behind. And the riderless horse, symbolizing a fallen leader.
The detail that interested Jason, and that many people didn't know, was that there were boots in the stirrups. Boots that had been placed backwards.
"Okay, wait. Jason, I'm getting a little pissed off here." Kelly sat up and glared at the phone. "First Al Capone shows up, then the soldiers on Bunker Hill, and now JFK's funeral? What the hell is going on? Are you sending us on a wild goose chase or something?"
"Are you guys really getting nothing?"
"Well, it would help if I even had a chance to go over everything."
"That's true." I nodded at Kelly. "We've hit two locations in less than 24 hours. Now, granted, neither were very long, only a few hours to investigate at each. But we had cameras and audio tapes, not to mention thermal and EMF with the wave reader. It takes time to go over all of that, Jason." I raised my hands. "It's tough to figure out what's going on if we're constantly moving around the country."
There was a silence on the other end of the line. Jason must have been considering what we were saying.
"I hear you, Sam, and you, too, Kelly. You need some time for analysis. Maybe tomorrow would be a good time for that. I don't think you could set up an investigation on the street by the capitol anyway, so there's no real work there. I would like to send Rhonda and Sam down to talk to the witnesses. If they take the train they can be there tomorrow mid morning and back to Boston to help with the last of the analysis by evening. I know that leaves you with a whole lot of tape to go through by yourself, but . . ."
"That's fine, Amanda can help." Kelly slapped a hand over her mouth, and I winced.
"Who can help?"
"Um. Yeah. Jason. We kind of picked up a fourth investigator."
"Sam, take me off speaker and talk to me. Now."
I sighed, and Kelly mouthed an 'I'm sorry' to Amanda, who looked at the floor.
Surprisingly, it was Rhonda who picked up the phone. "Jason? Hi, it's Rhonda." She stood up and headed for the door. "We should talk." After winking at Amanda, she slipped outside.
"Well, that was interesting." Kelly leaned her head on the back of her chair. "I'm sorry, Amanda. You've been a big help in the last two days, and I've just been getting used to you being around. I didn't think."
"It's not a problem, Kelly." Amanda shrugged. "I just hope Jason won't flip out at you guys too much. I've really enjoyed getting to work with you, and learn from you." She sighed. "I just hope it's not over."
"Even if it is, you can take what you learned back to UCLA."
"Yeah." Amanda gave a small chuckle and a half smile. "Actually, there's a problem with that."
"What? Why?" I scooted forward to the edge of my seat. "What's wrong?"
"Well, after I got my phone back from you this morning, I got a phone call from Leo. He wanted to know what the hell I thought I was doing chasing around the country, and when I admitted I was with you guys, he -- well, he fired me."
"Fired you?" Kelly looked confused. "How can he fire you? I thought you were a grad student."
"I am. But remember, Leo has a slightly higher budget, so he can also actually hire people. Unlike you guys, I was getting a full salary. So, he can't throw me out of school, but he can fire me from the team, and I lose my salary." She sighed. "Of course, he's also my advisor, so I'm probably going to be screwed when I turn in my thesis anyway."
"Are you going to be okay without a job?" Amanda was right; Kelly, Rhonda and myself were all on a stipend as well as getting a discount on our tuition for working with Jason in the program. It wasn't much, because Jason would rather put funds into equipment and travel, but it was usually enough to pay for food and a couple utilities. To pay rent, Rhonda had three roommates and a part time job at the library. Kelly, lucky stiff that she was, had decently wealthy parents. My own small inheritance from my father's insurance kept me off the streets. Luckily, my apartment was cheap, or as cheap as you can find in Los Angeles without rats or other creatures sharing the place with you.
Amanda smiled at me. "I'll be okay. If I have to I can go to my dad and ask for some money. He won't be happy, but he'll do it. But I have some savings, so I can deal for a little while." She looked at me. "And don't worry about the money for the tickets, Sam. I can pay you back for those."
"Oh, I'm not worried. After all, it was on Jason's card." I winked at her.
Rhonda slipped back into the room and handed the phone to Amanda. "Here. Jason wants to talk to you. I think you should take it outside."
With a raised eyebrow, Amanda stood and accepted the phone. With a glance at Kelly and I she went to the door and stepped out.
"What's going on, Rhon?"
"Well, hopefully, we'll be working with Amanda a little more often. Like . . . permanently."
"You think Jason will hire her?" I was flabbergasted. Jason hadn't hired anyone since George, who was a part of the other investigative team. That had been just three weeks after he'd hired me. Since then, while volunteers had come and gone, there had just been six of us that took care of the investigations.
Kelly nodded. "It's a good plan. We're losing Matt at the end of the semester, so it could work."
"But if she takes Matt's place, she'll be on the other team. I wanted her to stay with us." The others both looked at me and I realized how whiny I just sounded. "Wow. Anyone want some cheese with that?" I rolled my eyes at myself.
Rhonda chuckled at the old joke. "Actually, since neither one of you tend to pay attention to these things, I'll let you in on a secret. Jason was able to secure a grant for the program. When the money gets here, he was planning on hiring two more people anyway." She shrugged. "We may even see a raise as well."
"Really?" Pictures of a new laptop flashed in my mind.
"Best idea I've heard in ages." With a laugh, Kelly sat up. "Think maybe he can get us a new wave reader, too?"
I frowned. "What's wrong with ours? It's almost brand new."
"Well, something's up. Amanda and I looked at some of the scans recently. Something's weird. There are energy signatures that shouldn't be there."
Rhonda and I looked at each other. "Energy?"
"What kind of energy and where was it?"
"It was in Alcatraz, and we picked it up tonight as well. Only a trace, but definitely there. It's kind of hard to describe." She shrugged. "Maybe Amanda can explain it."
At that moment, the fourth member of our team slipped in the door, a grin on her face. She handed the phone to me. "Jason wants you to put him back on speaker." Still smiling, she sat back down on the small sofa.
I pushed the speaker button and set the phone back on the coffee table. "Okay, Jase, we're all here. What's the what?"
"First, Amanda is officially one of you. Well . . . okay, not officially, because there's still paperwork to be signed, and she needs to put in for a transfer at the end of the semester, but still. Sam, we'll talk about you making a decision like that without me, but -- consider her a teammate. Any objections?" We said nothing, and he moved quickly onto the next topic. "Right. Tomorrow, I want Sam and Rhonda on the train to DC. Amanda and Kelly will go over all the tapes. Kelly, I'm told there's something odd going on with the wave reader. Since Amanda has a background in physics, I want you to let her go over those scans, and the thermal. Let's see if she can find a correlation."
"Sam, Rhonda, these two guys were pretty thrown when I talked to them yesterday. Seems they just got back into town after being at a conference in Illinois, and the whole thing has them spooked."
"I'll bet. Don't worry, we'll watch our step."
"Good. Now, the most interesting news. The other team was out today. Investigating a man who went to one of the old Spanish missions and met the ghost of a Spanish priest. Sound famliar?"
"Holy shit." Amanda muttered.
"What the hell is going on here?" Kelly threw up her hands. "Is this doomsday? The dead rising from their graves or something? I mean, there've always been ghosts around, but never like this. These sightings are incredible, and -- I mean, we saw the blood on Clark's shirt. Interaction? Photos? This is . . . weird."
"Jason, was the man local? Had he been to the missions before?"
"He's originally from Florida. Came out here to take a position at San Diego State University. It was his first trip to a mission."
"Can you send us the scans from the wave reader?" Amanda sat forward. "If this is part of the same wave of sightings, they might be the same as ours."
"I'll have Tony email them to Kelly, along with all the facts from the case. Now. Off to bed with you all. I want you all bright and alert and ready to interview and analyze. Capische?"
There was a chorus of "Yes, Jason," and moments later he had disconnected.
I retrieved my phone and had just enough time to slide it into its holster before Amanda hugged me. Then she hugged Rhonda.
"I don't know what you said, Rhon, but I'm so grateful. Jason said he'd even accept me in his graduate program. I'm psyched."
"Yeah, what did you say, Rhonda?" Kelly stood with her hands on her hips. "The last time Jason talked about the team from UCLA I thought he was going to bust a blood vessel. But after you talk to him he suddenly hires one of them? What gives?"
Rhonda crossed her arms and gave Kelly a mild glare. I realized Kelly probably hadn't yet apologized to the psychic and winced at the sign of another flare up between the two.
"Unlike you, Kelly, Jason trusts my 'feelings'. I told him Amanda would work well with us, and he took me at my word. Unlike other people." She picked up her empty soda can and walked toward her bedroom.
With a sigh, Kelly dropped back down onto her chair. "Don't say it, Sam. I know. I need to apologize."
"Yep." I headed for my own room. "You really do."
Wednesday, 10:45 a.m.
Morning came far too early for me, but I dragged myself out of bed and joined Rhonda on the train from Boston to D.C. We arrived at Union Station at ten after ten and I called the number that Jason had given me for the two young men who were roommates and graduate students at Georgetown University. They agreed to meet us at a coffee shop near Union Station. We walked over and grabbed at table to wait.
Both young men were black, and as promised, they were each wearing a university sweatshirt so we had no problems identifying them.
"Tom? Mel? Hi, I'm Sam Jarvis, nice to meet you."
"Same here. I'm Tom Harrison," the shorter one shook my hand and nodded to his friend. "This is Melvin Casting."
Rhonda stood and shook hands as well. "Rhonda Claremont. Good to meet you both. Have a seat."
After drinks were ordered, I pulled out my recorder. To my surprise, Rhonda pulled out an EMF detector and the wave reader. I raised an eyebrow at her but didn't say anything.
But Tom noticed. "Is that a portable energy wave reader? Like the kind electricians use?"
Rhonda smiled. "Yes, similar. It's connected to an Electro-magnetic Field detector, and reads energy patters below the radiowave frequency." Her grin grew wider. "Don't ask me to explain any further, because I'm so not the technical part of our crew. We left her in Boston."
Tom grinned back and Melvin leaned over to look at the equipment. "Nice. I've used similar ones to detect radioactive contamination at nuclear waste dumping sites, but I've never actually seen energy waves slower than radio. Will you use it at the Capitol when we go there?"
"Probably, yes." I glanced at Rhonda, wondering why she was using it now, but didn't say anything. "Speaking of the Capitol, can you two tell us what were you doing around there yesterday?"
They glanced at each other and then Tom took the lead. "Well, we'd just gotten back from a trip to a conference and we wanted to catch up with a couple of friends. They're pages in the House, so we were at a nearby restaurant with them, and had just started walking back toward home when it happened. We were just opposite the Capitol building, and it wasn't really crowded on the street, and then suddenly it was."
I held up a hand. "Okay, I don't want to hear about the sighting right now. Rhonda and I will each ask you separately what you saw and heard and felt, but right now let's talk about what you did afterwards. Where did you go? Who did you talk to?"
Melvin shrugged. "We didn't know who to go to, so we went to our Professor, James Kingsley. He listened to us, took some notes, then had us write everything down. After that, he called Jason Taft, who asked us to talk to you all."
With a glance at Rhonda, I offered to let her ask questions, but she was watching the wave reader intently. Something was up, and I'd have to ask her soon.
"Okay, I'm going to ask you some standard questions, and I don't want you to take offense at any of these, okay?" Normally I left these to Rhonda in the second half of the interview, but I figured I might as well get them out of the way, especially since Rhon seemed preoccupied. "When you were at lunch with your friends, did you have anything to drink? Alcohol?"
Tom shrugged and Mel nodded. "I had maybe three quarters of a beer, and I think Mel had a cocktail?"
"A whiskey and seven, light on the whiskey. Neither of us are heavy drinkers, but we like a drink with a meal now and then." Melvin smiled. "We are twenty-five and in college. Gotta keep up the image."
I grinned in understanding. "What about recreational drugs? Do either of you use?"
"I'll admit I've smoked a bit of marijuana, but not for a few months." Tom shook his head. "Can't keep up a graduate schedule when you're high. I don't think I've had more than a bowl since I graduated a year and a half ago."
"And I don't like the stuff," Mel chipped in. "Makes my asthma get worse."
"No other drugs besides the weed?" They both shook their heads. "Okay, remember, these are standard questions, no offense meant to either of you. Have you ever been hospitalized for emotional or psychological disorders?"
The rest of the meeting went well. There were no psychological disturbances in their history, nor in the family history of either one. Neither had ever seen a ghost before, though Mel said that his little sister swore she saw one in the window of an old light house they'd visited years ago. Neither of them were history buffs, nor had either studied John F. Kennedy, or watched video of his funeral.
The boots being backwards had confused them completely, even though this was standard practice in a military funeral for a fallen leader. Neither young man had been through military service, though Tom's older brother had gone through ROTC and was an officer in the Navy.
"Not for me. Too many rules and regulations. The first time some drill sargeant yelled at me, I'd probably want to deck him."
We all laughed and agreed with him.
"So what do the two of you do? What are you studying?"
Tom turned serious. "We're studying effects of climate change on the local fauna. This global warming situation is getting severe."
"And it's not looking like we've turned it around in time. Predictions are that the earth temperature will rise by at least three degrees in the next hundred years."
Rhonda had finally raised her eyes. "So, you're both in earth sciences?"
"Well, Mel's more into climatology while I'm in animal biology. We've been working together on this project for our thesis."
"That's right," Melvin agreed. "We just got back on Monday from the University of Northern Chicago, where there was this great seminar. Two hundred scientists from different fields all working on --"
"Wait, where?" Something had clicked in my mind, but I couldn't quite catch it.
"University of Northern Chicago."
Rhonda looked at me, her eyes questioning. I tried again to grab whatever had clicked over in my mind, but it was gone.
Shortly thereafter we headed out, with Tom leading the way. Melvin, interested in the equipment Rhonda was carrying, walked with her, asking general questions, most of which she knew, some of which she didn't.
We arrived at the spot around noon. There were several long black limousines pulled up near the Capitol steps, but no sign of the crowds, the caisson, or the riderless horse.
Rhonda took Mel for a walk across the street to the Capitol while Tom walked me through the scene he witnessed the day before. Then we switched, with Rhonda letting Mel explain what he saw while I listened to Tom tell me of the birds who lived near the Potomac and how they were dieing out and what this meant for mankind.
After walking us through their sighting, we all headed back to Union Station, where Rhonda and I boarded a train to take us back to Boston. We hadn't heard from Kelly all day, so we called her when once the train pulled out.
"How'd the interviews go?"
"Good. I have video footage of the area, and Rhonda says she's got something interesting on the wave reader but doesn't know what it is."
"Cool. Amanda's been going over those scans, and she thinks she's found something. She's at the University library at the moment, looking something up."
"Great. Will you be available to pick up up or should we get a cab?"
"I should be free. We'll plan to get dinner as soon as you guys get in."
"Sounds good. See you in a few hours."
Wednesday, 2:30 p.m.
We were half way back to Boston when Rhonda turned and looked at me.
I glanced up, finding her intent stare a little disturbing. "What?"
"Why these people?"
"Why these particular people? I mean, there have been hundreds of thousands of tourists who passed through Alcatraz, and yet only one got such a clear picture of Al Capone." She lifted a hand, index finger pointing up. "Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people have been to Bunker Hill, and the only one we know of to see this 're-enactment', if you will, is this one older man with his grandchildren, who, by the way, didn't see anything." A second finger went up. "And then these two young men walking past the Capitol see John F. Kennedy's funeral?" She lifted a third finger.
"Don't forget the guy in San Diego at the mission."
"Right." She lifted a fourth finger. "Four sightings, all in different places, and all of historical figures."
"Okay. So, what? You think there's something we're missing?"
"Well, why did these things happen to these people? And why now?" She patted the wave reader, now packed in its case. "I think this has part of the answer. That energy pattern Kelly and Amanda were looking at? I found it. But they've only seen it in trace amounts at the actual scene."
I sat up. "Did you find it in D.C.?"
"I did. But it wasn't at the scene."
"Remember how I was telling you that I was seeing strange psychic energy patterns around the first two men, Matt Clement and Miles Clark?" I nodded. "Well, I saw it with Melvin and Tom as well. That's why I pulled the wave reader out. And that pattern showed up, the one Amanda and Kelly have been looking for."
I frowned. "It was -- on the witnesses? Not at the scene?"
"Exactly. Which makes me wonder -- what if it's not the event that's the cause -- what if the people are?"
With a nod, I slumped down in my seat a little, biting my lip and trying to follow the logic. "Okay. So, it's the people. But what do they all have in common that's making them suddenly see ghosts? None of them had ever seen a ghost or anything before this week. So, what's the connection?"
"The energy pattern?"
"Sure, I get that." I nodded, tilting my head back against the window. "But if that's what's causing the sightings, then how did they pick up the energy?"
Rhonda sighed. "I don't know. That's where my idea falls apart. I mean, Boston and D.C. aren't too far apart, but California?"
"Yeah, it's a little far for energy to fly-- wait." I pulled out my notebook, flipping back through my notations on interviews with different people.
Then I saw it. "Matt Clement was in San Francisco because of his wife's father's birthday. He teaches Earth science at the University of Northern Chicago." Glancing up, I saw Rhonda's eyes go wide.
"That's where Melvin and Tom went to that conference."
"Yep." I checked back through my notes. "Miles Clark teaches Geophysics at Boston University."
"Was he --"
"I don't know. Hang on." Grabbing my phone, I dialed the number I had listed for the Clarks.
"Hi, Mrs. Clark? This is Samantha Jarvis. We met at the hospital yesterday?"
"Yes, I remember, you interviewed Miles about his experience." She paused, but asked the big question before I could jump in. "Do you really believe he saw the ghosts of soldiers from the Revolutionary War?"
"Well, I believe he saw something, Mrs. Clark."
"The doctors say it was probably a tiny stroke, one that caused him to hallucinate. They said the blood on his shirt could have come from a nose bleed, or anything."
"I suppose that's possible. Listen, I need to ask you a question, and it might sound a little strange, but it could have a bearing on the case. Where was your husband this past weekend?"
"Weekend? Oh, he was here on Saturday morning. We had breakfast together before he had to leave."
"Leave?" I looked up at Rhonda, who was crossing her fingers. "Leave for what?"
"There was a conference this last weekend. Fairly large one from what I understand. Even Al Gore was there. Miles flew out early Saturday and got back Sunday night."
"Mrs. Clark, where was the conference?"
"Chicago. He was presenting on geo-physical changes in the last fifty years at the Symposium on Earth Science at the University of Northern Chicago."
I raised a fist and nodded at Rhonda. "Thank you very much, Mrs. Clark. You've been a big help." Without waiting for a reply, I disconnected and leaned back in my seat. "We found it. The University of Northern Chicago is the connection."
"Yeah. But what does that mean?"
I didn't have a clue.
Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.
Kelly and Amanda picked us up together at the Amtrak station in Boston. To my utter surprise, Amanda wrapped her arms around me in a warm hug before turning to do the same to Rhonda.
"Well, that's a nice welcome. Did you miss me?"
"We figured out what the energy pattern is," she said excitedly.
Kelly nodded. "We can't yet tell you how it got there, but we figured out what it is."
Rhonda and l looked at each other and smiled.
"That's great. You tell us what it is, and we'll tell you how it got to where you found it."
Amanda's smile grew a little dimmer. Kelly whistled a little. "Sounds like you guys had a productive trip. Should I be glad I gave you the wave reader?"
Rhonda smiled at her. Apparently they had made up that morning before we left. "Yes, it helped. Gave me the key."
"Well, cool." Kelly was her usual non-excited self. Come on, we'll walk down to the restaurant and then head for the hotel."
Once we were all seated, Amanda placed a manila folder on the table in front of her and folded her hands.
"Okay, I'm going to try not to get too technical, but bear with me." Her brow wrinkled as she tried to find a starting point. "Do you remember back in 2012 when they finally found the breakthrough for cold fusion?"
"Yeah, but it isn't yet cost effective, so we're stilll about five or ten or even twenty years from it becoming an actual energy source." This much I remembered from my physics courses. I passed, but just barely.
"Right, but research continues.” She looked back and forth between Rhonda and I. “Do either of you understand the theory behind fusion and cold fusion?”
I opened my mouth to say yes, but saw Rhonda shaking her head.
“Sorry. Not a science geek. Can you break it down in simple terms?”
“I think so.” Amanda focused on Rhonda, but would flick her eyes over to me every once in a while. “Fusion is the process by which atomic nuclei with the same energy charge fuse together. These sub atomic particles, depending on their mass, either release or absorb energy. Now, traditional nuclear reactors depend on using a great deal of energy to force nuclei together, but the energy output is generally several times greater than the energy used, and, theoretically, can be self-sustaining. But it’s difficult to control and the result is radioactive waste which I’m sure you’ve both heard of.”
We nodded. Kelly took up the lesson.
“Cold fusion is different because it takes less of an energy input, which means it can be done at room temperature. Basically it’s chemical based, with low amounts of energy causing fusion to occur, which changes the sub-atomic make up of an element and turns it into another element, such as turning hydrogen into helium.”
“What does this have to do with ghosts?”
“I’m getting to that.” Amanda took a sip of her drink. “In the breakthrough in 2012, they managed to sustain a cold fusion reaction for more than three days. The energy output was nearly a hundred times the energy input, but like Sam says, there hasn’t been a cost-effective way to collect that energy. They were so focused on actually producing it, that they didn’t work on saving it. They’re trying to adapt a similar collection device as they use for nuclear energy, but they haven’t yet succeeded.”
Kelly held up a hand to forestall Rhonda’s interruption. “I know. What does this lesson have to do with our research. Well, get this. Part of the fusion process strips the electrons and nuclei from their atoms. In nuclear fusion this creates a kind of plasma, which is highly radioactive. In cold fusion, however, they’ve discovered a completely different type of plasma. Different because not only is it not radioactive, it is highly magnetic. Plus, the electrons have, for some reason, had their polarity changed. They’ve gone from a negative charge to a positive charge.”
Rhonda frowned. “Wait, you’re saying that these electrons exist outside of any atom, just floating around? I thought electrons and protons were only found as parts of atoms; they can’t exist on their own."
Amanda answered with a nod. "That's right. Until cold fusion happened. Most researchers agree that this electron soup is not found naturally. It is strictly a result of the cold fusion process. This soup has been given a new name: micro-proton plasma.”
Kelly jumped in. "Now, most scientists have ignored this type of plasma, expecting that it would dissipate, like some others do. Since it’s not radioactive, they consider it harmless. It’s like the plasma found in St. Elmo’s fire, or in ball lightning. But Amanda remembered an article that she'd read as an undergraduate about how this new plasma appeared to be causing strange energy readings and interfering in other radio wave experiments."
"Which is why I headed to the University of Boston, to find the article. Well, what I found was this." She opened the file folder to pull out a photo-copied packet. "This is by noted physicist Carl Rechlinberg. He did experiments that say this plasma doesn’t dissipate at all. In fact, micro-proton plasma is unique because it has enough of a magnetic charge to hold together and cling to things around it. It may not be noticeable, as with ball lightning, but it’s there."
Rhonda put a hand under her chin and propped her elbow on the table. "Okay, you're really beginning to lose me. Can we answer my question now, please?"
"Well," Amanda flipped to an internal page of the article. "This is a scan, using a much more sophisticated wave reader than we have, of what micro-proton plasma looks like." With a flip of her wrist she turned over the next sheet in the file. "This is a small portion of our scan from Alcatraz, computer enhanced. Do you notice anything?"
Rhonda and I leaned in and looked closely. I think we both saw it at the same time.
"They're pretty similar." I said hesitantly.
"Similar? They look the same, though ours are a little fuzzier." Rhonda reached out and traced part of the scan. "This part looks exactly the same as the one in the article."
"Exactly." Amanda was smiling and nodding. "What this tells me is that, somehow, in someway, there was micro-proton plasma in Alcatraz, and on Bunker Hill. Now, it was only in trace amounts, and I can't tell you how it got there, since this isn't supposed to exist outside the laboratory. But it’s there. And our scans prove it."
"Okay, but how does this coincide with the incidents of paranormal activity?"
Before anyone could answer me, the waiter brought out food and we were scrambling to move things and make room on the table. Once he left, I looked back at Amanda while she poured ketchup on her burger.
"Well, we're not positive. At this point, all we really have is speculation."
"So, this plasma might not have anything to do with this at all." I held up a hand to Rhonda. I wanted to see what else the other two had before we handed them the most recent scans.
Kelly swallowed a mouthful of her pasta. "Hell, do you think we would have gone down this road if we didn't have a little more for you?" Maneuvering carefully, she pulled the folder from under Amanda's seat and thumbed through the pages. When she found the one she wanted, she pulled it from out and handed it to me with a triumphant smile. "Take a gander at this."
"A gander?" Rhonda grinned. "Sometimes I forget you're Canadian, and then you have to remind me."
"Yeah, well, you'd be Chinese if it wasn't for the Canada bail out in 2011." They stuck their tongues out at each other and I was glad things were back to normal.
Did I mention I work with children?
Hiding a smile, I looked down at the page I held. It was a printout from the thermal camera, and you could see the partial outline of a person, as if they were peeking out around the corner.
"Where'd you take this?"
"Alcatraz." Kelly's smile widened. "He was hiding. I had to search for it and enhance it a little."
I showed the picture to Rhonda whose eyes went wide.
"I saw him. Remember? I told you I thought someone was peeking in the room?"
Kelly nodded. "I remember. And Amanda remembered. And when we found the picture, she bopped me on the head for not believing you." She bit her lip. "I really am sorry, Rhon."
Rhonda shrugged, still staring at the photo. "It's okay. But, damn, I'm glad you caught this."
"So, what does this prove?" I tried to bring things back to theory. "How does this connect to the micron stuff we've been talking about?"
"Micro-proton plasma. And I'll show you how." Amanda pulled her plate a little closer to her and pulled out the enhanced wave reader printout. "Notice anything about this scan? Look at the time stamp."
"It's the same as the thermal camera. So?"
Kelly rolled her eyes. "Sam, come on. Where did I have the wave reader pointed all night?"
"Um. At the door. You had set it up at the back of the shower and pointed it towards the door to cover the entire room." I nodded. "So this trace of plasma showed up at exactly the same time and place as we see the entity on the thermal camera. Right?"
"Exactly." Amanda took a big bite of her burger, then smiled at me in triumph.
Kelly sipped her beer, then grinned at me. "This could be big. This could prove that micro-proton plasma does exist in nature and that it’s part of the cause of paranormal activity."
I shook my head. "I don't know if that's true."
"Which part?" Amanda wasn't smiling at me anymore.
"Either. Both. You need to hear what Rhonda and I discovered today. Then we can go back to micro whatever." I nodded at our psychic. "Tell them what you saw, then about the wave reader."
She nodded. "Well, we met our two witnesses and I noticed the same thing I'd noticed with our other two witnesses, Matt Clement and Miles Clark."
Rhonda took a deep breath and looked right up at Kelly. "What would you say if I told you I can see your micro-proton plasma?"
Kelly's fork hit the plate and Amanda froze with her burger half-way to her mouth.
I knew this dinner was far from over.
The waiter had cleared our plates and brought us another round of drinks before Rhonda finished explaining how she'd recorded the same energy readings off our two subjects in Washington D.C. as she'd observed on the individuals in San Francisco and Boston. She'd even pulled out the wave reader to show them on it's tiny view screen. Amanda was sitting back in her chair saying, "Holy crap," every once in a while. Kelly looked stunned.
"So, on the train, Sam and I started talking about how this energy got to where it is, and what the connection between all these people might be. And we discovered something else."
"They're not all from the same place." Kelly argued. "Clement's from Chicago, Clark is from Boston--"
"Right," I nodded. "But they've all been in the same place. They were all at an all day conference on Monday at the University of Northern Chicago. I even called the Clarks to confirm it. There was an earth sciences symposium. Clement was part of the host committee, Clark was a presenter, and our two grad students flew in to rub elbows with the finest environmental minds in the country. For God's sake, Al freakin' Gore was there."
"So what does earth science have to do with micro-protons and cold fusion experiments?" Amanda looked confused.
"I don't know. But my guess is we're going to find our answer in Chicago."
Kelly groaned and dropped her head to the table. "Not another early morning flight."
I laughed. "Now you know how I felt."
Wednesday, 6:45 p.m.
The first thing we needed to do was call Jason. Again, I put him on speaker phone and we gathered around the middle of the table to talk. Kelly and Amanda took him through their analysis and research, and then Rhonda and I talked about our trip to D.C. Through it all he listened quietly, with just an occasional question of clarification.
When we'd finished, I heard him take a deep breath, and I knew he'd lit a cigarette.
"You need to quit smoking, Jason."
"Okay, listen up. I see only one problem with what you're suggesting." Kelly frowned and leaned forward. "Don't interrupt me yet, Kel, let me finish." She leaned back again, an embarrassed grin on her face. He did know us pretty well.
"We've done dozens of cases in the past, and we've got thermal hits on several. We've never picked up this plasma before. Rhonda said she's seen this energy before in other psychics, but we've never picked it up in scans with the wave reader before. Why now? Why are we suddenly getting it now and not then? What's changed?"
Amanda, who'd been quiet since we left the restaurant, suddenly lifted her head. "I don't think she has seen this energy before."
Rhonda started to protest, but Amanda help up her hand. "Hear me out."
"We're listening." Jason sounded interested but wary. "What are you thinking, Amanda?"
"I'm thinking that if the research is right, this plasma doesn't appear naturally. So she couldn't have seen it. The reason I say that is because it's never shown up on the scans before, not on the wave reader, not on the thermal." She stood up and began walking around the table.
"Yeah, we just went over that." Kelly sounded a little exasperated.
I just sat back and watched Amanda pace.
"Give me a few minutes while I try to understand what my brain is telling me." She kept moving. "Okay. So, normally on our scans, we get very low level readings. The frequency is right, but the power, the voltage if you will, isn't strong enough for us to see, sometimes it's not even enough for us to record, but it is strong enough for Rhonda to see. Maybe that's what psychics can do, they can see the very low levels of the energy spectrum, even in small increments that our machines can't pick up." She turned around behind me and walked the other way. "That was the first part of what I'm thinking. The second is this: For some reason we've got four or five people who have had these paranormal experiences. We think that before their experiences they were all exposed to micro-proton plasma. However, they didn't have those experiences immediately after the exposure. They first went to a place where there was a possibility, even probability, of encountering low-level EMF fields, or ghost waves. Now, other people have reported having paranormal incidents at these places, but most haven't been very intense. No one I can remember has ever seen soldiers at Bunker Hill, much less been touched by one."
Again, she turned around and began moving the other way.
"What if it's the combination of the two types of energy coming together that has given them the experience? Non-naturally occurring micro-proton plasma that acts as an amplifier for a low level EMF field."
"That's . . . quite a theory." Jason sounded slightly impressed, but still not certain. I had understood most of what she'd said, and I guessed that she was trying to tone down the pure science aspect so Rhonda and I would get it. "Can you offer any other proof than what you've stated? The connections are good, but . . ."
"Well, again, this is me thinking off the top of my head, but I think I can add a little proof if we turn the wave reader on right now and focus it on Rhonda and Sam."
I looked at Rhonda who stared back at me.
"Why them?" asked Jason.
"I get it." Kelly nodded. "If there are trace elements of the plasma on them then we'll have proven that the energy can be carried and shared between people, and our subjects could have carried them to our paranormal zone."
Rhonda leaned back. "Well, that's great, but I'm not seeing any energy coming off of Sam."
"Which would prove my third point. Hang on while Kelly sets this up."
Kelly had already reached for the wave reader and was anchoring it on the table, pointed toward Rhonda and I. "Can you two sit closer together? I want to get you both in the shot at the same time." With a sigh, I obliged and scooted my chair closer to Rhonda's. "Perfect."
With Amanda leaning over her shoulder, Kelly concentrated on the small screen, face scowling slightly as Amanda bit her lip. When both of them relaxed into smiles, I knew they'd seen what they wanted.
"We got it. Jason, while neither of them are coated with it, they both have it on them, especially on their hands."
"Then why can't Rhonda see it?"
It was Amanda who answered. "Because it's not the plasma that she can see. It's the combination of the two energies that amplifies the first. She can't see the particles until they've come into contact with a ghost wave."
"But I've been around ghost waves --"
"No, Sam, you haven't,not since you met our two witnesses in D.C. Even when you went back to the site, you know as well as anyone that ghost waves are unpredictable. They might be there three days in a row at the same time and the fourth day they won't show. Or they'll show up somewhere unexpected and never show up again."
I nodded. "So, for Rhonda to actually see this energy clinging to me we'd have to find a ghost wave."
"At which point, you would probably see a ghost." Amanda nodded. "I think that's our answer." She sighed. "Now we just have one problem."
"Only one?" Rhonda was a little stunned and it was coming out as sarcasm.
"Well, just one big one. What the hell happened at that conference that covered these people with a non-naturally occurring sub-atomic plasma?"
Kelly turned off the wave reader. "Well, the answer is in Chicago."
I leaned forward. "Jason? Can we go?"
"Go?" He laughed. "Hell, for a discovery like this, I'll fly out and meet you there."
Thursday, 2:30 p.m.
Since Jason had the longer flight, we got to sleep in a little. Instead of being out the door at five, we didn't get out of bed until six, and then we had a leisurely breakfast and made it to the airport by nine. Our flight still beat his into O'Hare by five minutes.
We met down at baggage claim, where Jason hugged all of us. I could tell he was as excited about this as we were. If we could prove what we had guessed, it would mean publication in many top-notch science journals as well as a host of other academic and research possibilities for all of us. I knew he was probably thinking of that, just as I knew it was in the back of Kelly's mind. That was okay. I would probably just stay in the field. I liked being an investigator.
After grabbing a bite at a fast food restaurant we arrived at the University about quarter to two in the afternoon. Jason had made arrangements for a Professor Kidwell to meet us. He took us on a tour of the building, explaining where the conference had been held; the large group had spread out into separate rooms for the smaller topics during the day, but had all been together in one of the seminar classrooms on the fourth floor for the opening and closing sessions.
"Were there any experiments or anything happening during any of these meetings?"
"Goodness, no. This was purely a presentational conference, Dr. Taft." Kidwell laughed. "All the experiments were completed long before this past week."
Jason frowned, but Kelly jumped in.
"Dr. Kidwell, what other kinds of science is taught here?"
"Oh, everything but math. There are lab facilities on the lower floors, classrooms in the middle, offices on either end of the building."
"And, since this was on a weekend, there wouldn't have been a significant number of students in the building, right?"
"Oh, no. We actually cancelled a number of classes even Friday due to the conference, so we finish organizing what panel would be in which room. Students could still come in and see their professors, or check on their experiments, of course, but very few classes on Friday and nothing over the weekend. Students were, however, encouraged to come for the open seminars."
"The labs are downstairs?" Amanda asked. "Could we see them?"
"Certainly. There are four labs on the first floor; one physics, two chemistry, and one for biology."
"I don't suppose there have been any explosions in those recently?" Jason asked.
Dr. Kidwell laughed. "No, thank goodness. No one this semester has mixed the wrong chemicals and blown anything up."
The rest of us glanced at each other. Something must have happened on Saturday or Sunday, but so far we were at a loss to explain what.
"Professor, do you know of any students working on an experiment concerning cold fusion?"
The older man looked at Amanda, his glasses slipping down slightly on his nose.
"That's not my area of expertise, but if they were, they might be working on it in the basement. There are six smaller labs, each of which is usually assigned out to a group of graduate students for a semester long experiment. That way they're not competing with underclassmen for lab time."
Kelly grinned. "That's a great idea. Something to think about, eh, Jason?"
"Right. You think about it, Kelly." Jason turned to the Professor. "Dr. Kidwell, could we see the labs in the basement?"
"I'm sorry, I don't have the authority for that." He turned and led the way toward an administrative center. "I can get you a list of what professors have assigned the labs, and what the projects are, but I can't let you in the labs; I don't even have the keys. Only the professors, the students involved, and the maintenance staff have keys."
"But you can tell us about the experiments?" Amanda wanted to be sure of this.
"I can tell you the general gist of the project, but nothing specific." Professor Kidwell led us to his academic office and sat down behind the desk. "This'll just be a moment, I need to find the file."
Looking a little impatient, Kelly tapped Jason on the shoulder and lifted the wave reader with a questioning look.
"Dr., would you mind if my student here scanned the lower levels of the building with our wave reader? We're looking for a kind of energy buildup."
"Hm?" The Professor glanced up. "I suppose that would be fine. Just please don't disturb any classes, and don't enter the labs."
"Right." Kelly nodded to Amanda and the two of them eagerly left.
I wanted to go with them, but wasn't sure what use I'd be; I barely understood the theory we were working under. I was the one with the liberal arts education, remember, so with the scientific theories flying fast and furious, I was feeling a little out of my league.
Rhonda nudged me. "Want to go find a soda machine?"
Looking back to Jason and Dr. Kidwell, I noticed they'd gotten into a discussion concerning some puzzle on the Professors desk. I nodded.
"Jason, we're getting a soda. Want one?"
Dr. Kidwell looked up at us. "You might have to go to the building next door. We have two soda machines, on the third floor and in the basement. The third floor one is empty, and the other one is only working sporadically."
I raised an eyebrow and glanced at Rhonda. "We'll check it out."
Jason waved us off and we were out the door.
I headed for the the elevator and pushed the button. "Interesting. We're looking for something that may have generated a lot of energy and an electronic device isn't functioning properly."
"It may mean nothing. Things short out all the time, you know."
"Look, Rhonda, don't burst my bubble when I just got it blown up, okay?"
"Wouldn't you rather I burst it when it's still small than wait till it's huge and you end up with gum in your eyebrows?"
She had a point, but the elevator dinged to let us know we were at the basement level. The doors opened, and I began looking for the soda machine. We found it in a small alcove near the far end of the building.
"Okay, where's the nearest lab?"
"Three doors down on the left."
"Think that's close enough to cause problems?" I was looking around the corridor when Rhonda sighed.
"I don't know, but your bubble is bursting." She pointed to the connection on the end of the machine's power cord. "This thing is frayed and starting to split. It looks like if you just have the cord in the wrong position, the machine will stop." Prodding it with her foot made the light turn off and the power die. "See?"
My shoulder sagged. "Damn. I was so hoping we'd found a clue." I dug into my pocket for a couple of dollars. "Kick the damn cord so we can get a drink, okay?"
The elevator opened, and we had to wait for a young man to step out before we could get in. He was short, with glasses and dark hair, and appeared to be Asian-American. I nodded at him and got into the elevator only to find that Rhonda was still standing in the hallway staring after the man.
“Sam, call Kelly.”
“Call Kelly and tell her to get her equipment and get down here.” Then she was gone back down the corridor.
I heard her call after someone.
“Excuse me. Hi. This will sound strange, but – have you seen a ghost lately?”
When he gave her a hesitant yes, I got it. Rhonda could see the energy – the same energy she saw on our four witnesses. This person had to have been around the experiment we were looking for.
Stepping back into the hall myself, I grabbed my phone and dialed Kelly. When she answered, I gave her a short sentence. “Get Jason, get your gear, and get your ass down to the basement.” Then I hung up and went to find out Rhonda and our new friend were talking about.
“-- so then I looked up, and there was this old car coming toward me with two guys hanging out the window, and they had guns.” He looked up at me and stopped.
“Steve, this is my friend Sam that I told you about. She's part of the group. Sam, this is Steve Marquez. He was in downtown Chicago last night and was nearly shot by mobsters from the twenties.”
“It's not a joke, man.”
I shook my head. “I don't think it is. Can you tell us a little more?”
“Well, like I said, they were hanging out the window of this car and then this guy in a real straw hat comes out of this doorway and they started firing at him. At first I thought it was a show or something, and then one of the bullets hit a lamp above me and it shattered. I ducked behind a car until the shooting stopped, and when I looked this guy that had come out of the shop was dead on the sidewalk.” His face was pale and he shook his head. “Man, there was so much blood.”
“What happened next?”
Steve shrugged. “Someone else came out of the coffee shop and when they did, the guy on the sidewalk disappeared.”
Rhonda frowned. “Steve, this is important. Did you notice the street light again?”
“Yeah, cause I stepped on the broken glass.”
“It was still broken?”
“Yeah, man, it was weird.”
I glanced at Rhonda and couldn't help but remember the blood on Miles Clark's shirt. Weird, indeed. Paranormal events that affect things in the real world were very rare and here we had two in just two days.
The bell on the elevator rang, and I heard the doors open. Kelly came out, a frown on her face as she held her wave reader in front of her. She hesitated for a moment, then turned in our direction. As she started down the hall, I noticed Amanda behind her, holding Kelly's phone to her ear. I hoped she was talking to Jason.
"Steve, I need you to tell me a little bit about the experiment you're running down here."
He looked at Rhonda quickly, then looked away. "I -- I don't know what you're talking about."
"Steve, please. It's very important." Rhonda put a hand on his shoulder. "Please."
Kelly finally arrived, her wave reader trained on the young man in front of us. "Geeze. This guy's just --glowing."
I edged around and glanced at the screen, noting the intensity of the energy waves she was picking up.
Amanda snapped the phone shut. "Jason's on his way with Dr. Kidwell." She turned to our new friend. "Hi. I'm Amanda."
"Hi. Uh, did you say Dr. Kidwell?" Suddenly, he looked nervous.
"Yeah, he's on his way down. Is that a problem?"
"He doesn't really like me." Steve gave us a sheepish grin and shrugged. "Last class I took with him we had an argument in the classroom and I won, so. . . he hasn't been happy with me."
"I can imagine not." I remembered arguing with Jason. "Let me give you a word of advice; never argue with a professor in front of someone else. Ambush him later in his office when he's alone."
"Right." Kelly nodded. "I'm Kelly."
"Hi. Steve. Can I ask what that is, and what this is all about?"
"I'll be glad to explain, . We're actually ghost hunters." I nodded at his incredulous look. "Really. All the way from Los Angeles. And this little machine is a wave reader, which has recently begun to pick up a unique energy that we can associate with either ghosts or paranormal phenomenon. And you just happened to be covered in that energy."
"You," Kelly confirmed. "Higher concentration than I've ever seen before."
"And we know that this energy contains micro-proton plasma, which is a by-product of cold fusion." Amanda folded her arms. "We know that someone in this basement has something going on with cold fusion, Steve. And since you're the only one we've seen with this kind of energy, it has to be you."
"It doesn't have anything to do with cold fusion. Really. It's harmless." He glanced toward the elevator as the bell sounded again. "Please. Don't tell Dr. Kidwell. I could get in big trouble."
"If it's so harmless, why would you be in trou-- oh, wait. This is a totally unauthorized experiment, isn't it."
Steve looked uncomfortable. "Well. Kind of."
Amanda sighed. "Steve, if you talk to us, maybe we can help keep you out of hot water."
"Hi. What's going on? Who's this?" Jason looked at each of eagerly. "What've we got?"
"Jason, this is Steve. He's seen a ghost recently." Rhonda edged over toward our fearless leader. "I think it best we talk to about it in a private room." Leaning over, she whispered in Jason's ear for several seconds.
"Steven Marquez, what are you doing down here?"
"I'm sorry, Dr. Kidwell, I was just dropping something off for a friend." He looked nervously at all of us.
I wasn't sure what Rhonda's plan was, but obviously she didn't want to blow 's secret out of the water if we didn't have to.
Kelly was looking annoyed; it was obvious she just wanted to find the experiment that was generating the plasma. Amanda looked curious, and slightly amused.
I was feeling a little out of my element. My degree was in Liberal Arts, and most of the pure science in our group went right over my head. Standing in a science building, with my professor looking over my shoulder wasn’t really a comfortable feeling.
Jason pulled back from Rhonda and seemed to consider what she'd told him. Then he nodded and turned to Dr. Kidwell. "Bob, I think we'll be fine on our own from here. We just need to talk to young . Would there be a conference room around here that we can adjourn to?"
"What? Oh, yes. Well, you can go to the small meeting room at the end of the hall." He pointed down the corridor in the direction that was headed before we stopped him. "As a matter of fact, that's where Matt Clement gave his last presentation on the day of the conference. I'd forgotten that."
He started down the hall, Steve but stopped him.
"I- I can show them, Professor. I know you have your late class to get ready for."
"Well," Kidwell glanced at all of us, then looked at Jason for confirmation. "Are you sure you won't be needing me, Dr. Taft? I do have some notes to prepare."
"I'm sure we'll be fine. I'll call if there are any problems or if we need further information."
Jason actually escorted the professor halfway down the hall toward the elevator while led the rest of us to the door of the conference room. We all filed in slowly. Jason followed us and closed the door behind him.
"All right, young man. We've all had some very long days recently, and we'd like to get some rest this evening. Start at the beginning and tell us about this illegal experiment of yours." Jason had folded his arms and was staring down at the shorter Steve.
"It's not illegal."
"It's just not authorized, is it."
He looked uncomfortable. "Well, it kinda is."
"Kind of?" Jason pulled out a chair and sat down. Steve sat across the table from him and we all took chairs around the table. "I'm guessing there's a professor who knows about it, but is simply turning a blind eye because you're, what, doing something --"
"It's not illegal. Really."
"Stop telling us what it's not and tell us what it is." Kelly was looking impatient. This was probably the most she'd been able to use her science skills on a case, ever, and she was excited. I think she could smell that this was a real breakthrough, and she wanted answers.
She wasn't the only one. Amanda had folded her hands so tightly her knuckles were white and Rhonda was chewing on a fingernail, something she'd stopped doing right after I met her.
Steve sighed. "Fine. There are four of us working on it and Dr. Lesley Donovan is kind of overseeing it." He sat back. "See, each Professor is allowed a set number of experiments that they can assign students to. Usually it's two each, because there's a set number of labs that people can use down here. Students usually apply at the end of the semester to work on their project the next semester, and of course grad students get more consideration." He rolled his eyes at that, and I decided not to remind him that he was sitting among four of them.
"Anyway, we, my friends and I, had this idea for this experiment, and we went to Dr. Donovan. She said to prepare the research and the thesis for it 'cause it sounded interesting. But there were two projects from a couple of PhD candidates that the board wanted her to oversee, which meant she didn't get to choose one of her own. And she didn't like that. So, she said she'd go to bat for it during the next semester. And then, once classes had begun, there was this big scandal that one of the other researchers had actually plagiarized his thesis paper, and he was suspended from the university. He'd already ordered his equipment, and it was just going to sit there, so Dr. Donovan said that if we kept it quiet and reported back to her on how we were doing, that she'd authorize it. But we had to keep it quiet, because Kidwell is a stickler for the rules and the rules say she can't oversee three experiments in one semester, and the basement labs are reserved for grad students."
"So it's not recognized by the university, but you're not, strictly speaking, acting without authorization. Fine. We'll do our best to keep it quiet. Now, tell me about the experiment itself."
Steve 's face lit up. It reminded me of Kelly when she got excited about some science article she was reading about.
"Well, it's not about cold fusion, but we were using by-products of an old cold fusion experiment."
"To do what?" Kelly was leaning forward eagerly.
Steve grinned. "How much do you know about quantum mechanics?"
Jason sighed. "We don't have a lot of time, so skip the theory and just tell us what you've been doing."
Kelly looked disappointed, but Rhonda looked relieved. I think I did to.
I was starting to miss that graveyard in Ohio.
"Okay. So, a year ago there was a cold fusion experiment by a couple of grad students. The micro-proton plasma generated by that experiment was collected and held in a small magnetic chamber. We got permission to use it in our experiment. We were very careful, the chamber we were working with was absolutely sealed, and the plasma was absolutely stable. For the first parts of our experiments we even had Dr. Donovan come in and observe.”
“What was your goal?” Amanda asked curiously.
“Well, everyone’s just kind of discounted the plasma as a waste product. But since it isn’t radioactive, Jerry wanted to know if we could actually change the plasma by direct energy infusion, so that we could then turn around and extract more energy from it.”
“He’s our leader. He’s gone this week, him and Clay.”
“They left you to clean everything up after the accident in the lab?”
“Oh, no, not at all. Everything’s already clean in there.” Steve looked more closely at Jason. “How did you know there –“
“The experiment.” Kelly tapped the table, trying to bring the focus back. “Tell us what you did.”
“Well, in phase one we bombarded the plasma with different types of energy. We started with a direct electrical current, which did nothing more than excite the protons by a couple of degrees. Then we tried indirect current, which did nothing, and then we used high powered radio waves, and then microwaves. None of which did anything.”
“What happened this weekend?”
Steve glanced at Amanda. “I’ll get to that, hang on.” He turned back to Kelly, who he seemed to have developed some strange rapport with. “Last week we began phase two. In phase two we mixed certain inert gases with the plasma and then added the energy. We were trying to –“
“Change the polarity of the protons and reconnect them with solid atoms so that you could generate energy through continual fusion and reinjection of the plasma. I got it. What did you do this weekend?”
For a moment Steve smiled at Kelly, looking glad that someone was following the theory he and his friends had worked out. Then he frowned.
“Well, by Sunday we had gone through hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. None of them seemed to have any effect. We couldn’t get more than a minimal reaction to any of them. So, we decided to try nitrogen.”
Amanda took a breath. “Tell me used it in a liquid form.”
“We tried. But the plasma wouldn’t mix with it at all. So, we hooked up a gas canister and filled the chamber with it.”
“And something happened?”
“Not at first. We tried running some electrical current, but that didn’t do anything, and then we tried radio waves.” He frowned again and looked at the table, rubbing his hands together. “Joy saw it first. She was monitoring the plasma and warned Jerry that it seemed to be expanding, so Jerry stopped the radio wave. Then Clay said that there were energy waves coming from the tank, and we were excited. But they were getting erratic and changing, lengthening and expanding in a way he’d never seen. I confirmed that what we had inside the tank weren’t radio waves, but whatever it was, they had a heavy density and they did seem to be the result of a fusion between the plasma and the gaseous nitrogen.”
Steve sat back and sighed. “Joy said that we needed to get the nitrogen out of the tank because even without the radio waves the plasma was still expanding. So Jerry said to evacuate the tank, and I was about to when there was this pop and then – light. And then the light bulbs blew out and it was dark, and all our equipment stopped working. Jerry had to go down the hall and flip the circuit breaker for the lab.” Another breath. “When we got a couple of flashlights, we saw that the container for the plasma had burst. Joy got the monitors back online and Clay and I sealed the container, but somehow nearly half of our original plasma had escaped.”
“Along with all the other plasma created by your experiment.” Jason’s voice was quiet, his eyes focused on the young student before us.
“Yeah. But it’s not dangerous. There’s no radioactivity, nothing dangerous at all. Hell, it didn’t even make any noise, or generate any heat.”
“How did the plasma get out of the room, Steve? We’ve got several people who weren’t in the lab that were contaminated with it.”
He looked up at Kelly. “I’m not sure. I know that when Jerry left the room to go down the hall, he left the door open and we heard people leaving from the conference, so maybe he tracked some of it with him or something.”
“Have you figured out the half life of this nitrogen-plasma mixture?” Kelly looked very serious.
“How can you do that when you can’t find it or capture it?” Now he was looking frustrated. “The plasma we do have is back to its original state, so far as we can tell, and we can’t locate any of the mixed. Until you guys showed up, we all thought that it just dissipated.”
“And now we know that it didn’t.” Jason rubbed his forehead. “All right, I want to see this lab. Kelly, get your reader ready –“ His phone rang and he glared at it. “You know what I want. I need to take this. Come get me if you need me for anything or if you find anything.” Then he stood, and left the room.
We followed him out, letting Steve lead the way to the lab two doors away. If Matt Clement and the other conference attendees had been in the conference room, they would have gone right past this door on their way to the elevator. If the door was open even a fraction, they would have come in contact with the expanding plasma on their way down the hall.
Steve unlocked the door. “We got most of everything cleaned up. Lights are fixed and all that. I had to talk to maintenance to get some new ones, but I put them in myself. Well, Joy helped, she held the ladder.”
The lab wasn’t large. There were several desks, all arranged in a circle, facing one large center podium on which rested a large cylinder, bigger around than my waist. I couldn’t have identified one piece of equipment in the room, but I walked around it, looking over the vast array of wires and tubes like I knew what the hell I was doing.
Amanda was examining the cylinder, which I guessed was the plasma chamber.
“Is it still sealed?”
“Yeah. The funny thing is, nothing broke. The seal just popped, like it was overfilled to the point of bursting.”
“I’ll bet.” She wandered to the other side, following the tubes and wires. “Power input and gas evacuation?”
“Yes. You’ll note the safety switches on the units to immediately turn everything off in case something went wrong.”
“Did you use them on Sunday?”
“I was reaching for the emergency vacuum switch when it popped.”
Kelly had stayed at the doorway, surveying the room with her wave reader. She drew everyone’s attention with her whistle.
“’Manda, come look at this.”
She did, moving around to stand behind Kelly. “Oh, my God. That’s incredible.”
“Lucky there aren’t any ghosts here, huh?”
“Yeah. We’d be in spook central if there were.”
“How does this have anything to do with ghosts?” Steve looked confused at all of us. “I mean, how did you even know something had happened? What’s going on?”
Rhonda, who was by the door, put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “I’m gonna let Kelly explain that. She’s our tech expert and –“ She stopped when Jason stepped into the room.
His face was white. I’d seen Jason drunk, happy, angry, even afraid one time when something hit him at a haunted house. But I’d never seen him go as ashen pale as he was right then.
“Jase?” I stepped forward, uncertain what to do.
“Steven, I noticed a television in the conference room. Does it work?”
“Well, yeah. It’s not supposed to get more than the local channels, but a couple of us rigged –“
“I figured. I need you to put on CNN. Now.” With that he was out the door and headed back the way we’d just come.
We all looked at each other, then Rhonda was out the door, followed by Amanda, Steve, and Kelly. I brought up the rear, afraid of what Jason had just found out.
With a couple of flicks to a hidden console under the tv, Steve had the news channel on the air. He stood back as we all watched and listened.
Thursday, 3:45 p.m.
The news was not good.
During a re-enactment of a civil war battle scene at Gettysburg, twelve people had been shot, three had died.
The whole event was shrouded in mystery. As two sets of re-enactors, one union and one confederate, faced each other across the field between Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. They raised their rifles and began firing at each other, with each shot being a blank.
Then a fog seemed to roll across the field, and the spectators said it smelled heavily of sulphur and gun powder. As it began to fade, the numbers of men on the field had tripled – and some of them were lying on the ground, bleeding. Screams could be heard, blood was flowing. One man’s head seemed to explode from his body, and the spectators, horrified at what they were seeing, rushed the field.
When they did, the last of the fog faded completely, along with the majority of the soldiers.
Estimates had the total number of actual re-enactors at about 75. Witnesses swore there hundreds of men, if not a thousand, gathered on that battleground in the fog.
“Early reports from nearby hospitals are also causing quite a stir. The wounded all appear to have been shot, but not with bullets. Instead, doctors in one emergency room removed a small round pellet from a man’s upper arm. A pellet very much like a civil war era bullet. Reporting live from Gettysburg battlefield, this is Tamara Martin.”
Jason reached out and turned off the television. He sank down into a chair and cupped his chin with one hand. His eyes were dazed and he looked like a lost little boy.
Amanda was staring at her hands, which she'd placed on the table in front of her. The only movement was from her thumbs, which slowly moved up and down in opposite directions, brushing each other as they went.
Kelly had her hands on the wave reader but I don't know that she was actually seeing the machine in front of her. Her gaze was more internal than external. Behind her, with a hand on Kelly's shoulder, Rhonda stood crying, her own gaze lifted to the ceiling as if hoping to find an answer from on high.
Steve was sitting near the television, frozen. His golden skin had gone pale. One hand was over his mouth, and he was crying.
Rhonda was the first to truly notice his distress. As tears poured down his face, she went to him, kneeling beside his chair and wrapping her arms around him.
Then she pulled back and looked at him. "Steve? What is it?"
He sniffled and wiped a hand across his face. "That's where they went."
"What?" Amanda had raised her head.
"That's where Jerry and Clay are. Jerry's parents are big in the re-enacting stuff, and he always took off when he could to go with them. Clay was joining him for the first time." He sniffled again. They would have been there, with their rifles. On the Confederate side. Jerry's family is from Alabama originally."
I think it hit all of us all at once. These two young men, covered in this new type of plasma energy, had entered one of the most haunted sites in the entire Northern hemisphere, a blood soaked battleground where thousands upon thousands had died in three long days of fighting.
And these two young men had relived it.
Nobody seemed to know what to do with that information. No one moved. Jason had a hand over his eyes, taking long slow breaths.
I knew what was affecting them all. But I also knew that we had a job to do. It was time to mobilize the troops.
"Okay." I stood, leaning forward and placing my hands on the table. "Jason. Call George and Matt. See if they can meet us in Gettysburg. Then get ready, cause you know the press will be looking for comments. Contact the University and let them know we're on it, and we'll be down on the battlefield as soon as possible.
"Kelly? You and Steve sit down together and go over every record from his experiment. Tell him what we think is happening and come up with some logical way of explaining this that Jason can give to the press. Use those brilliant heads of yours to figure out especially two things: first, is this plasma of yours still spreading? I mean, did it stop expanding when the nitrogen stopped, or is it still expanding because there is nitrogen in the atmosphere. Second -- will it fade? Will the protons or electrons or whatever eventually stop bonding with the nitrogen? Find out how long this effect will last, or at least get a time estimate on it."
I turned to Amanda and Rhonda. "I need you guys to pack. This shouldn't take long, but make sure everything is ready to go at a moment's notice. If I can, I'll get us on a plane tonight, but no guarantees. Amanda, when the two of you are finished, join Kel and Steve. Rhonda, I'm designating our suite as headquarters for the night, and I want you to get food in there for us, got it?"
She nodded. I looked around at all of them, then stood and headed for the door. When I got there, I held it open and looked back. "Okay, let's move, people!"
They were up in a shot. Jason was already reaching for his cell phone and Kelly had thrown an arm around . Amanda smiled at me as she followed Rhonda out the door.
Jason put his hand on my shoulder as he went past me. "Now I remember why I made you team leader."
So had I.
This could almost be fun.
Of course the airlines couldn't co-operate. The only flight out that night was very late and had only two seats left. The rest of the team would have to fly out the next day, leaving O'Hare International Airport just as the first two members were landing in Philadelphia.
That prompted a debate between everyone as to who would go. Everyone wanted to, and everyone seemed to have a good reason.
Leo, we discovered after he called Amanda, was already on a plane there, and his crew would follow him. He'd had the audacity to ask Amanda to come back to work, saying that if she met him in Gettysburg, all would be forgiven. She wanted to go so she could tell him in person to fuck off.
Since Leo was already on a plane in from Los Angeles, of course Jason wanted to be on that late night flight. If he couldn't beat his rival to the scene, he wanted to get there as quick as possible. His reason made sense, but I didn't believe it was as important as some of the other reasons.
Kelly just wanted to jump into the research. We had a theory, we had another event, we had images from the wave reader and images from the thermal. With a final piece of evidence, say, the image of the same energy strewn over the Gettysburg battlefield, we'd be able to put the picture together and lay out everything in one solid block. It meant recognition of her new thermal techniques, recognition for Jason, Antioch University, and all of us. She wanted this breakthrough. And I wanted to give it to her.
Rhonda, having finally gotten Kelly's respect by proving that she could see the micro-proton plasma, felt that she was on the edge of a breakthrough for the psychic profession. By seeing the area first, she could map out where the energy was, and her ability would be backed up by the solid evidence of our thermal camera and wave reader. I felt guilty that I had been a part of the reason she was so keen to prove herself anyway. In the last couple of days the sunny personality had dimmed a bit and I would have given anything to get her sunshine back.
Even Steve jumped up and said he had a right to be on that plane, even if he had to borrow money or sell textbooks to pay for the ticket. After all, it was his research that had started this and we would be making our breakthrough essentially on the heels of his and his classmates. Besides that, two of his best friends were down there, and according to reports on the web, one of them was dead. While no names were being officially released until notification of relatives, an unofficial list had been leaked. The name Clay Carson had been on it, and Steve had broken down in tears.
I think I was the only one that really didn't want to go down first. Oh, I wanted to see Gettysburg; as a history buff from long back, I wanted the time to explore. I wanted to feel the air and see the sites and know I was standing in the footsteps of thousands of men who had fought and bled and died there, defending what they thought was right. That was history. That was something I loved and cared about. But I could do that later, in the evening, after everone else had finished their scanning and surveying. Seeing the sun rise over the fields would have been nice, but I wanted time. Being first wasn't really necessary.
After the others had given their reasons, Jason looked at me and I shrugged.
"Send one of the others down. They're more necessary than I am."
He raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. Everyone watched him for several minutes.
Jason stood and moved over to get another piece of the Chicago style pizza Rhonda had ordered for us. When he sat back down, he looked at me, chewing slowly.
Everyone was getting antsy. The airlines were holding the tickets for us, but they needed names soon or they'd release them. And Jason was eating a piece of pizza.
Finally he looked up. "I think the team leader needs to make the decision."
That would be me.
I took a breath. Jason was testing me and I knew it. Sneaky bastard.
Jason wanted to go down because Leo was already on his way. But even this early flight wouldn't get him to Philly first. So, when he arrived, he would have to be more prepared, have more information for the press. He would need the full theory, be able to answer questions, have evidence to back up what he said. If he left on the first flight, he would have none of that.
Kelly wanted to collect the evidence, but we still had a mountain of evidence right here that needed going over. We'd gotten footage of the plasma in the lab, but Steve had had a point. How do you analyze something if you can't collect it? When Jason made his press conference, he needed to say that we were actively investigating this issue, and we weren't. Kelly and Amanda had the physics background to help Steve in this anaysis, since he was the only one of his group left on campus. While Jerry and Clay had headed down to meet Jerry's parents, Joy, an international student here on a visa, had gone home to Japan for her grandfather's funeral. She was currently on a flight for LAX. While Steve was definitely a certified genius, he couldn't do this alone. Kelly was needed to work on this part of the problem. Without some kind of answer to the two questions I'd asked earlier, Jason would be hung out to dry in the press conference.
Of course, if Kelly stayed to work on that question for another day, it meant Steve had to stay as well. That left me, Rhonda, and Amanda available for the flight.
I considered all the options. If I sent Amanda and Rhonda together then we had a psychic with a large chip on her shoulder trying to prove herself, with a brand new teammate who had reason to be angry at the rival program that had already beaten her to the site. This was a recipe for disaster.
With a sigh, I realized I would have to go down first. But who to take with me?
I suppose in some ways I made a selfish choice. Amanda and I had become friends. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the rival became a confidante. I trusted her. I believed in her. And she could run equipment as well as Kelly, where as Rhonda and I, while we understood and could use certain devices, would be hampered in the more technical aspects of the investigation.
Also, I kept remembering that moment two days earlier when Rhonda had said that Leo was an ass. The bitterness in her voice made me wary of getting the two of them into the same environment with only me as a referee.
That left me and Amanda.
Nobody was going to be happy with this decision.
They weren't happy, but they all understood my reasoning. We decided to go down in three three actual waves. First, Amanda and I, as the first investigative team. Jason would contact the media and declare his confidence and say he was busy working on answers from a new direction. He and Rhonda would be our second wave, taking the next flight down. That would leave Kelly and Steve, who would be our third wave, bringing everything they had on the experiment, the plasma energy, and the rest of our evidence.
In thanks for his assistance and co-operation, Steve was getting partial credit for any publications along with an expense paid trip to Gettysburg, as well as Jason stepping in to run interference for him at the college.
Amanda and I were taking every piece of equipment we could carry. Jason and Rhonda would play pack horse and bring down our duffel bags so we wouldn't need to worry about personal bags plus equipment. He was also springing for a new set of cameras, even though it might put him over the university's budget.
"Hell, I got the grant, and if they don't want to give me more money after this, then I'll just open a ghostbuster's shop."
So, there we were, Amanda and I, on a plane to Pennsylvania. I had lost track of how many flights I'd taken in the last several days.
"Let's see, you flew in from Ohio on late Sunday night, and this is Thursday. We've been to San Francisco, out to Boston, back to Chicago, now to Philly. Oh, and there was the train to D.C. That makes it five cities, four flights, and one train in four days."
I groaned. "If I was paying for this, I would have enough frequent flyer miles to go to the moon."
"Don't bother, the Hilton there isn't open yet."
"Give them another decade and it will be. And if Jason thinks it might be haunted, he'll send me there, too."
She just laughed.
Friday, 6:00 a.m.
The battle of Gettysburg took place over three days in July of 1863 in and around the city of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This was the northern most excursion of the Confederate Army into the Northern States, and the last large battle on northern soil. The rest of the fighting would occur in the Confederacy itself.
While it was considered a victory for the Union, it was costly for both armies. The battle of Antietam may have been the bloodiest day of the war, but Gettysburg left fifty thousand men dead on the field, more than the United States lost in the whole of the Vietnam War. Bodies filled the trenches and were sometimes stacked like cord wood.
Gettysburg had always been on my list of places I wanted to go, but hadn't had the chance. My family had planned to go there the summer before my senior year of high school, but my mother fell ill and died, and after that my father didn't go much of anywhere.
As Amanda and I made the two hour drive from Philadelphia to Gettysburg, I stared out the windows and watched the fields roll by. To my still tired eyes it seemed like the years were slowly being stripped away, like layers from an onion. We were driving deeper into history, and I just wanted to sink into, explore it, taste it and touch it.
"You awake over there?"
Amanda was behind the wheel of our rental car. Being more of a public transport kind of person I readily agreed that she could handle the driving duties. It left me more time to day dream out the window anyway.
"Yeah, I'm here." I rubbed my eyes a little. "Tired, but I got a little sleep on the plane, so I'm okay."
"I know you slept, I heard you snoring."
"I don't snore." I tried to sound indignant, but failed.
"You told me you did, but only when you were tired." She glanced at me with a grin. "And boy, you must have been tired, Sam."
"Oh, just drive the damn car." I turned toward the window, smiling for some unknown reason.
We were both silent, but I knew it wouldn't last. Amanda, as I'd learned over the last few days, needed mental stimulation. While city driving kept her attention on the road, these laze country highways weren't exactly good for keeping one's mind occupied.
"Can I ask you something?"
Still looking out the window my smile got a little wider. "Sure."
"Why do you work for Jason?"
"Cause he asked me to." I shrugged. "Why do you wanna work for him?"
"Because he's passionate about science, believes in the theories behind paranormal phenomena, and he obviously trusts his people." She said all this with a straight face and without even looking at me. "Leo likes the attention that working under Kendrick got for him, and he wants more of it, but he's not willing to work for it. Besides that, he micromanages, and won't allow people to stray from the very basics that Kendrick set down. He leaves little room for scientific advancement because he doesn't encourage people to think outside the box." She smirked. "I have heard that UCLA board of Trustees is getting fed up with his attitude. He may publish, but it's individual case studies that support what Kendrick already proved. There's nothing new. And after this? Hell, after this case, if we can prove we're right, then Jason could probably walk into UCLA and write his own ticket if he wanted to."
By this time I was staring at her. Wondering.
"Is that why you're here? To convince Jason to go back to UCLA?"
Her smile dropped as she realized what she'd just said. "Oh, wait, no, Sam, that's not what I meant. I said 'if he wanted to'. I don't think he does. And after talking to him the last couple of days I can't blame him. Antioch seems to be behind him, a hundred percent, and they give him a lot of freedom. So, no, I don't think he'd want to, and I wouldn't ever ask that." She looked over at me for a brief second. "That's not why I'm here, Sam, and it's not why I approached you on the ferry out to Alcatraz."
God, that day seemed forever ago.
"I'm not a spy, I'm not trying to take anybody's place, and until it happened, I never even thought of transferring to Antioch, or of working for Jason."
"Then why did you approach me on the ferry?"
She shrugged. "I wanted to be a part of it. I knew that if Kelly had already examined the camera and you guys were still heading out there, that it might not be a fraud. I knew that you guys were good, you'd done good work. Kelly's always been one of the top paranormal science theorists and a whiz with the tech side." Another shrug. "So, I thought I'd ask if I could hang around." Another glance, and she smiled again. "And besides, I thought hanging with you might be cool."
"Yeah." Another glance, another smile, this time mysterious. "Cool."
I went back to my window.
"So. You gonna tell me the truth?"
"Why you work for him? Cause I'm not buying that answer you just gave about it being because he asked you to."
My turn to shrug. "It's true. I met him about the time I graduated, and he invited me to the center to talk. I said it looked great, and he said he'd love to have me in the program." I rubbed at my eyes again. "So, since being a history major appeared to leave me little but teaching, I said sure."
"So you're actually in the grad program? What's your thesis?"
I laughed. "I haven't even submitted a planning paper. I just keep taking a few history classes, some theory classes, and Jason keeps me doing research on past historical haunts."
She nodded. "I read some of the stuff you and Kelly published. You blew away that legend in New York."
"Yeah, I'm pretty proud of that one. Big freakin' fraud."
"But why are you really here? Just because you haven't found anything else to do with a history degree?" Amanda shrugged. "Cause that just seems like a lousy reason for some of the things he makes you do."
With a big sigh, I turned my back to the door of the car, leaning my head against the window and trying to get comfortable.
"I don't know if what I'm going to say will make sense. I've never really tried to reason it out. But it's what I think about whenever anyone asks about what I want to do."
She nodded, her eyes on the road but her attention on me. "Okay."
"When I was a kid, my parents took us on vacations every summer. It was always fun, but educational and historical. I loved it. My brother hated it."
Smiling, Amanda flipped her visor a little lower and glanced at me. "Go on."
"Even though my dad was in retail, he always said he wished he'd gone to college so he could teach history. He loved it. I guess that's where I got it from.
"The summer I turned fourteen he and my mom decided to tour Massachusetts. We spent a week in Boston, and then another two weeks driving to different spots all over the state. And we ended up in Salem."
She nodded. "I've never been."
"I'll take you there sometime."
Another smile and she glanced at me. "I'd like that."
I couldn't help but smile myself.
"So, Salem." I closed my eyes trying to put myself back there. "I remember standing there on the green, on the very place where the gallows stood, where the women convicted of being witches were hung. It was quiet, kind of muffled. Like all the sound in the world was coming from a speaker, and someone had just put a board across it."
The car turned, and I shifted, keeping my eyes closed and allowing my body to absorb the momentum.
"I remember the sun was setting, and it was starting to get chilly. My father's hand was on my shoulder as we looked across this beautiful field where all these people met their deaths.
"And for a moment, for just a fraction of a moment, I was there. I could see it. I could see the gallows, the crowd, feel them all around me, hear their quiet comments and feel their breath as we all watched a woman climb the steps."
There was silence in the car and I took a deep breath, trying to hold onto the memory.
"And then it was gone. I was back in my body looking at an empty green field. But I could still feel my father's hand on my shoulder." I shivered. "Until I turned around, and my father was on the opposite side of the field with my mother and brother."
Amanda glanced at me, but didn't say anything.
"My mom died two years later, and my dad died just after I started college. I tried to get back to Michigan to see him, but he was already gone when I got there."
I wiped my eyes. "But every once in a while, if I'm really quiet, I can still feel that hand. And I wonder if it's my dad. Or if it's someone else."
For several minutes we were both quiet. I watched Amanda's face to see what she was thinking. I had never told that story to anyone, and wasn't really sure what she'd say. She seemed to be very deep in thought.
Then she reached over and took my hand from where I'd rested it on my knee. She glanced at me with a lopsided smile.
We kept driving through the morning sunshine in peaceful silence.
Friday, 7:30 a.m.
The town of Gettysburg, even as inundated as it had been in the last sixteen hours, was still a fairly sleepy town. There was almost no one around as we stopped at a small cafe for a quick breakfast of french toast and coffee.
We got directions out to the battlefield and drove down slowly, taking in the quiet morning, and looking out at the green fields. It was hard to imagine those days over a hundred and fifty years ago when the rivers were filled with blood and the stench of rotting corpses rolled over the fields.
As we drove along Baltimore Pike there were markers to tell what General led his troops where and what they did and how many of their men fell. There were also signs to remind a visitor that you are on a gravesite; men were buried all over the battlefield, Union and Confederate. While President Lincoln had many Union soldiers dug up and reburied in a special memorial graveyard, the bodies of Rebel soldiers sometimes rotted away above the ground, their bones finally sinking into the soil long after their flesh had been stripped by decay. Occasionally, some are still found.
After turning left onto Slocum road, we spotted a ranger's vehicle and parked close to it. He seemed surprised to see us, but greeted us with a smile and a tip of his hat. We asked him if it was okay to park there for a few hours, and let him know who we were and what we were doing there. He warned us to watch ourselves; no one yet had any idea what had really happened or if it could happen again.
"Were you there? Did you see it happen?"
He took off his hat and turned it in his hand a few times. "Yes, Ma'am, I sure did."
With slow words and hand gestures, he told us what he'd witnessed pointing out the direction in which everything happened. The fog, the sudden appearance of hundreds of men, the sound of guns firing, men screaming.
"Off in the distance I thought I could hear cannon."
"Yes, Ma'am. Heavy artillery."
"Where might that have come from?"
He cocked an eyebrow at Amanda. "Well, if you weren't here you might have said it came from thunder or an airplane over head or something else."
"And what do you say, Ranger Ewell?"
He put his hat back on his head and pointed. "I'd say it came from real close, here at Cemetery Hill, where the Union had set up a part of their artillery." He nodded to us. "I best be getting back. You two be careful out there today. We're trying to warn off all the tourists till one of you academics can tell us what happened, so if you see someone, you look to see if they've got a rifle, you understand?"
We nodded and assured him we'd be careful.
But as we headed back to our car for the our gear I could feel it, like a prickling on my skin. There was something here. I glanced at Amanda to see if she felt it, too, and she was frowning and rubbing a hand over her arm.
She nodded. "I just -- feel odd out here."
"Me, too. Let's get moving. Sooner we get set up the sooner we'll be done. And hey, maybe we'll get some good evidence."
With a sigh, she bit her lip. "As long as we don't become evidence." She took a deep breath and pulled her shoulders back. "Let's go."
It was already warming up well as we carried our gear out to where Ranger Ewell had pointed us. Cemetery Hill was on our left as we hiked into the natural gap between there and Culp's Hill. We decided to set up our equipment at the edge of the trees, just yards from where Ranger Ewell said the Union line had waited for the confederates. We had two cameras, pointing opposite directions, along with microphones and mini dvd recorders. The wave reader would stay with Amanda, who would sweep along the perimeter where the re-enactment had happened. I would make sweeps as well, with both a digital recorder and a mini dvd. One of us would remain at base while the other walked back and forth across the line.
We didn't talk a lot. There was no need. Everyonce in a while one of us would report a prickle on the back of our necks, but there was no sign of anything else. Not a gunshot, not a whiff of gunpowder, not a speck of fog.
After she'd come back from another sweep, Amanda suddenly stopped, seemingly frozen.
"What's up? Got something?"
"Energy." She was trying to sound calm, but her voice shook just a touch. "There's plasma here. On that tree." I glanced at the tree she was pointing to.
"There? You think there's a ghost there?"
"I didn't say that. I just said there's plasma there."
"I was just sitting under that tree. I was there when you left, remember? I moved over here because there's a knot that was poking me in the back."
Her eyes went wide and she lowered the reader, then trained it on me.
"What are you doing?"
"Oh, crap. Sam, you're covered in it."
She put the machine down for a minute. "Oh, Christ, fuck, why didn't I think of that?"
"Think of what?" I was on my feet now, wondering what was going on, what didn't she think of and was it going to come charging out of the woods towards us.
"Us. You and me. We went in the lab. We walked through the plasma residue. If it could leak out the door and coat Matt Clement, Miles Clark, as well as Mel and Tom with enough plasma to make them see their ghosts, then what's gonna happen to us, sitting on a damn battlefield we know is haunted, when we're literally covered in the stuff?" She slapped her forehead. "I'm such an idiot."
For a moment, I was genuinely scared. We'd seen the images on television last night of the injured and dead people on the ground when they'd just been acting a few moments before. There had been many people around to help them. There was no one here to help us if anything happened.
But nothing had yet, and we'd been there an hour. When I remembered that the fear faded, and I shrugged.
"Don't worry about it."
"What?" She was looking at me like I was nuts. "Don't worry?"
"Nope. We're already out here, nothing has happened yet, and if it does, we'll deal." I sat back down. "In a way, this is perfect. We've already documented that you and I are glowing with this stuff. So, if we don't have an experience, we might need to rethink our hypothesis. If we do, there's the proof to our theory."
I thought for a minute that she'd argue with me. Then she sighed and sat down.
"So this is why Jason made you team leader, isn't it?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Cause nothing ever phases you."
I chuckled. Then we went back to our quiet contemplation.
The sun was high and bright in the sky when we thought about packing up. We'd been there so long that Jason and Rhonda's plane would be landing in Philly by now. Also, Matt and George from California should have been in Gettysburg. We were supposed to meet them at a small hotel in Gettysburg, which Jason had declared home base for our team.
“Think we've given it enough time?”
Amanda shrugged at me. “Maybe. But maybe we're not in the right place, you know? Feel like wandering for a few minutes?”
I shrugged. “Tell you what, let's get most of the equipment into the car, and then we'll wander with just the wave reader and one camera. Sound okay?”
“Each of us should take a digital recorder as well.”
We gathered everything and lugged it all back to the car, packing it carefully in the trunk. Once I closed it I looked to Amanda.
“Where should we go?”
“You're the history major. Any suggestions?”
“Hm.” I took a breath and looked around, trying to figure out exactly where we were according to battle records. “Okay, right now we're inside the Union lines. Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill were both held by the Union army, and if I remember right they were never lost. So, we can either go through the gap and visit where the Confederates were, or we can go west, into the area around Cemetery Ridge, and the location of Pickett's Charge.”
After a moment of looking back and forth between the two, she nodded. “We go east. You can tell me what Pickett's Charge was as we walk.
“Sure.” We trekked back down Slocum Road the way we'd come, then crossed Baltimore Pike. As we hiked, we passed in and out of the trees, and I began the story of Pickett and his men.
"On the third and final day of battle, the Union held Cemetery Ridge. The Confederates,under Lee, were holding to the north of the ridge, facing troops under the command of General George Meade. Now, the plan was to soften the troops on Cemetery, the center of the union line, through an artillery bombardment, and then an infantry charge. General Lee ordered General Longstreet to take his men across three quarters of a mile of open territory, directly into the teeth of the enemy. Longsteet opposed this, predicting it would be disastrous, but Lee insisted. Longstreet passed the order to his own Generals, one of whom was George Picket. He got his men into position and waited for the signal to advance.” I gulped a bit of air. “I'll show you what happened when we get to the top of the hill.”
We had come the back way, through the union encampment, climbing the back side of the hill. As we reached the crest, I stopped her and pointed. “See that fence? In 1863 there were trees along there. So, Pickett's men had to come out of the shelter of the trees, cross all of that open space, and then charge up the hill, directly into Union fire. Now, remember, the plan was that the Union line would be soft because of the artillery. Problem was, the Confederate artillery was low on man-power and ammunition. They'd already lost an artillery group the day before. So their fire was lighter than expected and instead of being pinned back by cannon fire, the Union soldiers were right on the line and ready when Pickett led his men out of the trees.” I knelt. “The actual battle line was down the hill a little, by that stone wall there, but even if they'd been crouched up here, you can see where the Confederates would have come out out of the woods.” I looked up at her. “Twelve thousand, five hundred men crossed that fence. Over half of them never made it back. Six thousand casualties, in less than two hours.”
The two of us stood still for several minutes, just absorbing the environment around us. It was as silent as a field can get, and there was a sense of history that lingered. Maybe it was because of the story I'd just told, or maybe it was because we could still hear Ranger Ewell's voice telling us to be careful, but I was hesitant to go that final length down the hill.
Finally, Amanda turned to me.
“I don't wanna go down there.”
“Back the way we came?”
“You got it.”
Our wandering was finished.
Since the climb up the back of the hill had been a little rocky, I led the way down to our right, along the site of the Union lines. At the bottom, we turned back to head through the valley to our car.
It was suddenly getting even warmer. That was strange, because it was October, and we were in Pennsylvania, not Georgia. Indian summer may hold some nice warm days, this was just plain hot, like a summer's day.
“Man, why does it suddenly feel like July out here?”
Amanda said it as soon as I saw him.
He was dead, and lying on his back, his eyes staring up at the sky. He wore blue, and his rifle was at his side.
A gaping wound in his chest showed how he died.
I grabbed Amanda's arm and pointed. She put a hand over her mouth and tried to move backwards.
And then they were there, all around us. Union Troops by the look, coming out of the woods on either side, at least ten of them.
“Filthy fuckin' reb!” Something hit me on the side of the head and I went down, falling just a few feet from the dead soldier dressed in blue.
The air was filled with shouts now, and a few gun shots. There was a scream of pain and suddenly another dead man beside me, his hands falling away from his bleeding throat.
I rolled away from him and felt a rifle beside me. There was more screaming, and this time I could make out Amanda's voice. As I slowly stood, I dragged the weapon up with me, looking for my friend.
She was locked in a battle with a union soldier, her hands on his rifle, his bayonet coming dangerously close to her throat. I charged forward, ducking under another blow, to slam the rifle in my hands against her attacker's back.
He turned, swinging his weapon, and I reacted, slashing and stabbing my own weapon forward, not realizing I also had a blade on the end of my purloined rifle.
My bayonet entered between his ribs on the left side. He lurched forward, his weapon falling from his hands and dropping to the ground. Then he was falling against me, and I was falling. I rolled to my knees, frantically pulling his hands off me. Amanda was screaming, and I was pushing him away, looking down into his face as this dead soldier died.
Only this time at my hands.
And then he disappeared.
I could hear shouts in the background. It sounded like voices I recognized. Matt and George. They'd come to find us.
Amanda greeted them, then knelt beside me. I hadn't yet moved, still seeing a haggard and bloody face in my mind.
“Give us a couple minutes, guys, okay?”
Then we were alone again, on a dead battlefield that had seen new fighting.
“I think I'm gonna be sick.”
She put her arms around me. “I'm right here. We're both safe.”
“I just killed somebody.”
“You didn't. You couldn't have.”
I looked down, wishing I could believe her, but seeing blood covering my clothes.
Then I really was sick.
Friday, 12:00 noon
It turned out some of the blood was mine. Whatever hit my head had opened a small cut in my scalp, right by my temple. It had given me a bad bruise and a monster headache.
Amanda had her own battle wound; the man's bayonet had cut her hand as she fought to pull it out of his hands.
We were both silent all the way to the hotel Jason had gotten us rooms at. Matt and George got us checked in, and we headed up to our room, still not having said anything.
I stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom, looking at the bloodstains that covered my gray shirt.
Amanda leaned in the doorway, watching me.
“Yep. Need a shower.”
“We both do.”
We didn't move.
“Keep the door open while you shower, would you? I – I just don't want to be alone.”
I was glad she'd said it. I was already feeling like an idiot.
“Remind me to tell Jason that we should all wear neutral colors when going onto the battlefield.”
“You think they attacked because you were in a grey shirt?”
I shrugged. “Just a precaution.”
She hesitated but nodded. “Right. A precaution. Like making sure there's someone with us that hasn't been swimming in micro-proton plasma.”
“Yeah. Like that.” I folded my arms and turned to her. “Have we heard from Jason?”
“I called him a minute ago. They're just leaving Philly.”
“Good. I'm gonna shower now.”
“Okay. I'm next.”
For a long while I just stood in the shower and let the water flow over me.
Whatever Amanda said, I had killed a man. It didn't matter, in my mind, if he was a soldier from long ago, or if he had been attacking us and trying to kill us. It just mattered that my hand had held the weapon that ended his life.
His blood had stained my hands and my shirt. How did I say that it was in the past? How did I mark that down as just a paranormal experience?
Which led my mind on a round-about-course. I wasn't the first person, contaminated with this plasma, to actually come into physical contact with a person or object from the past. There had been blood on the shirt of Miles Clark. Mel had said he had reached out to touch someone in the street at JFK's funeral. And glass from a broken light had crunched under the feet of Steve Penoni after it had been shot by a figure from the 1920's.
Were these really ghosts? How did ghosts reach through the layers of the world and touch the living? Our research said that ghosts were merely a recording, a leftover image from a past event, inscribed on a location by the pen of human emotion.
How did that correspond to what we'd seen, felt, experienced?
Did we experience ghosts, or did we experience the past?
When I got out of the shower, I found Amanda sitting on the bed with Rhonda. Both of them were sitting against the headboard, with Amanda leaning over to rest in Rhonda's lap. Blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail, Rhonda had her arms around Amanda and was rocking her slowly.
She stopped when she saw me and her eyes went wide.
I put a hand up to my temple where I was bruised. "Does it look that bad?"
"No. I meant -- that energy. You and Amanda are both just covered in it."
"Oh. Yeah. We figured that out, thanks, Rhon."
Amanda sat up and looked at me. "You okay?"
"Better, actually. You should try it. A little cuddle session is good for the soul."
She opened her mouth, but then just nodded. "My turn to shower. Back soon." She smiled at Rhonda and whispered a thank you, then headed for the bathroom.
She'd never called me that before, and I was surprised that it felt nice to hear. "When you're done, I have an idea that I want to run by you."
"Okay. Just me?"
"Well, you and Kelly, really."
She nodded and entered the bathroom. The door closed, but then it opened up again. She let it stay cracked about four inches. After a minute I heard the shower start.
Rhonda patted the bed next to her. "Come here, Sam. You need a hug."
"Not yet. Where's Jason?"
"Crashing Leo's press conference. He has an early report from Kelly and Steve, along with a preliminary siting report from Matt and George about your experience. He said he'll wait until tomorrow to really put you guys up to an interview, but he said to say he's proud of you."
I nodded. It was nice to hear.
"Sam, how are you doing? Honestly. Are you handling things all right?"
With a sigh, I tried to nod, but stopped. With a hard swallow, I told her the truth.
"I killed someone."
Rhonda moved a little closer to me, reaching out to touch my knee. "I know."
"Amanda, she thinks it couldn't be true because it was just the past. It couldn't have been real." I looked at the floor. "But it was. I have his blood on my shirt. It was on my hands. He died because of me."
"And whether it was in the past or not you have to deal with it."
"Well, this is the thing, my friend." She reached out and lifted my chin, bringing my gaze up to hers. "Jason always told me that he chose you as team leader because you always seem to make the right decision."
I snorted and started to pull away.
"It was irresponsible to stay on the field after we figured out we were coated in the plasma. We should have left."
"And run away from an opportunity to see a ghost? You? Never." She leaned closer, still holding my chin. "Besides, as Amanda pointed out, without your experience, it would be harder for Jason to prove our theory to the press. You knew that. You're the one that pointed it out to her."
I nodded, but mumbled, "We still should have left."
"And you decided to, once you felt something was happening. Remember? You and Amanda decided not to go down the hill."
"Boy, she really told you the whole story, didn't she?"
"Yeah. And you know what she emphasized?"
"You saved her life. Her grip on the rifle was slipping. A moment more and he would have sliced her throat." She put both hands on the side of my face. "But you made the right decision. You stepped in and stopped him. You did the only thing you could do in the worst situation possible." With a small smile, she tilted her head. "Don't you think that's all a good soldier could do?"
Somehow, her words made it better. I nodded. For that time, whether I had met a ghost, stepped back into history or invited history forward to my time, I had been a soldier. And I had fought, and won.
I would deal with the death of another man later. For tonight the battle was over, and I had won.
And that was when I finally broke down and let myself cry in her arms.
There isn't much more to the story.
Amanda and I had dinner with the rest of the gang that night. Rhonda was careful to stay near us; she was the only one to know everything that had happened. Matt and George told their part, explaining that they had seen us, then watched in horror as the men appeared and attacked. It seemed to them that the rebel soldiers had actually appeared first, forming out of thin air around us, and that the Union soldiers had attacked all of us at once, not just Amanda and me. They all dutifully smiled at me when I mentioned not wearing blue or gray if they went to the battlefield., but promised me they wouldn't.
I told a hesitant version of what had happened, letting Amanda take over the tale as we got closer to the attack. When she glossed over the end where I had stabbed the soldier I gave her a small smile of thanks. That part wouldn't be for publication.
Later that night our original four gathered in mine and Amanda's room. We took a few minutes to just laugh at Leo's apoplectic fit from that afternoon, as it had been caught on tv. He'd gone absolutely red in the face when Jason stepped out of the crowd and said, yes, they had an explanation.
He'd been even angrier that evening when he caught up with Amanda and she told him that, not only wouldn't she come back to his program, but she was going to help make Antioch the top paranormal program in the world and would make it her mission to eventually take over his position.
That had even made me laugh, which was a rarity for that evening.
When we finally got serious, I asked Amanda and Kelly my question: Was there a possibility that we weren't dealing with ghosts but with living people of the past bleeding through into the present.
Amanda frowned and stared to say no, but Kelly stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
"Actually, I'm glad you brought that up." She looked a little uncomfortable. "You know, Steve really is a genius. He has an eidetic memory, and he's studied every book he could ever get his hands on about physics, fusion, quantum mechanics, and quantum physics. And when he brought up this same idea, I laughed at him for a moment. But he pointed out that by the theory of Einstein and many others, time is created by our perception of its passage. It's defined by events, and doesn't actually 'flow' as we tend to think it does."
We were all sitting on one of the full sized beds in the room, with Rhonda stretched out at the foot of the bed, Kelly against the wall, and Amanda and I at the head of the bed, sitting upright, our shoulders brushing each other.
"What does that mean?" Rhonda was sipping on a glass of wine; after the week we'd had we were all indulging.
"It means that time is less of a line, and more a collection of events." Amanda's hand was covering mine, and I don't think she'd noticed yet. "But those events are distinctly separate, Kelly."
"Yes, that's always been the theory. But if time is just a collection of events, then it is theoretically possible that these events are all happening at the same moment. We're just perceiving them separately."
"What does that have to do with our discovery?"
"Well, Steve put forward the idea that if events are all happening at the same time, then there must be some kind of barrier, at a quantum level, that keeps us from perceiving more than one event at a time. If that's true, then it could be theoretically possible that the combination of our two energies, the ghost wave and micro-proton plasma, actually erases, if only momentarily, the barrier between events in time. So, what we experience as reality overlaps with a previous reality. Therefore, what we've been experiencing as ghosts are really bleed overs from another time." Kelly took a long drink from her beer. "I told him he was full of it, but after what you've told me -- well, I'm not so sure." She pointed at Amanda. But don't tell him I said that."
"I won't." She finally realized where her hand was, and she stared to pull away. I turned my hand over and grabbed hers to keep it there. With a smile, she glanced at me.
When I looked up, Rhonda was smiling at me with her eyebrow raised. I gave her a small shrug and she nodded at me.
"Well, I'm beat, and Steve, with his twenty-one year old energy is going to want me up early to go over all the new stuff." Kelly yawned and stood. "The kid's like an eager puppy wanting to please everyone."
"Everyone meaning you and Jason." Rhonda sat up and finished her wine. "To have your name on a major research article when you're still an undergrad is a big thing, so he's making sure he earns it."
"Right. Which is why I have to get up earlier than him so I can think of all the things I want him to do."
We all laughed, and Kelly and Rhonda made their goodnights. Amanda walked them to the door, leaving me on the bed sipping the last of my whiskey and soda. Jason had limited me to one because of my head injury, so I was making it last.
After seeing our friends out, Amanda turned towards me and leaned against the now closed door. We just stared at each other for several minutes. There was a teasing smile on her face, and I think I was responding in kind.
"When this is all over, would you have dinner with me?"
"Yeah. Dinner." She started walking towards me slowly. "Me and you. A nice restaurant. A bottle of wine. She sat on the side of the bed, facing me. "No ghosts. No theories. Just dinner."
"If you want."
"Can I have the duck?"
I grinned. "We can talk."
She leaned toward me and I started to lean toward her. I think if there hadn't been a knock on the door, we would have kissed.
Instead, she sighed and flopped backwards on the bed in frustration. I threw back my head and growled then got up and charged to the door.
I flung it open to find Jason on the other side.
"Sam, I'm sorry, it's important."
"It always is, Jason."
"We haven't been able to get ahold of Steve's friend Joy. But we did find out where in Japan her family lives."
Something told me I wasn't going to like the answer. The name struck me and I said it at the same moment he did.
I could see another long plane ride in my near future.