As the Warburtons' field researcher, Ross had been sent to libraries and newspaper archives to locate documents about the property -- and hopefully the bonus information that a murder or a suicide might have occurred there. His inquiry had turned up nothing, but that never stopped Curtis. After all, a ghost could haunt a person as well as a place. History could hover, like a faint perfume or a memory stamped on the back of one's eyelids.
"Whatever it takes," Eve O'Donnell said. "This isn't about money."
"Of course not." Curtis smiled and slapped his palms on his knees. "Well, then. We've got some work to do."
That was Ross's cue. During the investigation, he was responsible for setting up and monitoring the electromagnetic equipment, the digital video cameras, the infrared thermometer. He worked for minimum wage, in spite of the money that came in from the TV show and from cases like this one. Ross had begged the Warburtons for a job nine months ago after reading about them in the L.A. Times on Halloween. Unlike Curtis and Maylene, he had never seen a spirit -- but he wanted to, badly. He was hoping that sensitivity to ghosts might be something you could catch from close contact, like chicken pox -- and, like chicken pox, might be something that would mark you forever.
"I thought I'd check the attic," Ross said.
He stood in the doorway for a moment, waiting for Eve O'Donnell to lead the way upstairs. "I feel foolish," she confided, although Ross had not asked. "At my age, seeing Casper."
Ross smiled. "A ghost can shake you up a little, and make you think you're nuts, but it's not going to hurt you."
"Oh, I don't think she'd hurt me."
Eve hesitated. "Harlan said I shouldn't volunteer any information. That way if you see what we do, then we'd know." She shivered, glanced up the narrow stairs. "My little sister died when I was seven. Sometimes I wonder...can a ghost find you, if she wants to?"
Ross looked away. "I don't know," he said, wishing he could have offered her more -- a concrete answer, a personal experience. His eyes lit on the small door at the top of the stairs. "Is that it?"
She nodded, letting him pass in front of her to unlatch it. The video camera Ross had mounted outside watched them from the window, a cyclops. Eve hugged herself tightly. "Being here gives me the chills."
Ross moved some boxes, so that no shadows would be caught on tape that could be explained away. "Curtis says that's how you know where to find them. You go with what your senses are telling you." A wink on the floor caught his eye; kneeling, he picked up a handful of pennies. "Six cents." He smiled. "Ironic."
"She does that sometimes." Eve was edging toward the door, her arms wrapped around herself. "Leaves us change."
"The ghost?" Ross asked, turning, but Eve had already fled down the stairs.
Taking a deep breath, he closed the door to the attic and shut the light, plunging the small room into blackness. He stepped off to the side where he would not be in range of the video camera, and activated it with a remote control. Then he fixed his attention on the darkness around him, letting it press in at his chest and the backs of his knees, as Curtis Warburton had taught him. Ross cracked open his senses until the lip of disbelief thinned, until the space around him bloomed. Maybe this is it, he thought. Maybe the coming of ghosts feels like a sob at the back of your throat.
Somewhere off to the left was the sound of a footfall, and the unmistakable chime of coins striking the floor. Switching on a flashlight, Ross swung the beam until it illuminated his boot, and the three new pennies beside it. "Aimee?" he whispered to the empty air. "Is that you?"
Comtosook, Vermont, was a town marked by boundaries: the dip where it slipped into Lake Champlain, the cliffs that bordered the granite quarry where half the residents worked, the invisible demarcation where the rolling Vermont countryside became, with one more step, the city of Burlington. On the Congregational church in the center of town hung a plaque from Vermont Life magazine, dated 1994, the year that Comtosook was lauded as the most picture-perfect hamlet in the state. And it was -- there were days Eli Rochert looked at the leaves turning, rubies and amber and emeralds, and he simply had to stop for a moment and catch his breath.
From Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. Copyright Jodi Picoult 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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