"Karen, get me my pendulum. I'm going to need it for the next TV appearance." David said as he made his tie slightly disheveled-looking and added a smidge of messiness to his hair. Professional psychic medium, David Serafina, was getting ready for his next big interview to promote some of his upcoming projects. In the last decade, he and his wife had risen to popularity after years just getting by through shady hotlines, party events, and ghost hunting groups. Business was starting to slow down again. He hadn't jumped on the angel craze nor the quantum mechanics nonsense, finding the former too saccharine for his tastes and the latter too kooky for someone like him. He had his standards. Money was money. He knew he would need to choose one or the other, as he'd always done as the New Age and paranormal audience changed their tastes. "Oh, sure. When I'm Karen, get me this, get me that, but when I'm Ravenna Love, I'm your equal, spiritual partner." Karen, David's wife, rolled her eyes and threw the pendulum across the room at him. He caught it and put it in his pocket for later. "Can it. If we get this special turned into a series, we'll finally be able to get out from under Wheat bitch. Spirits and ghosts don't sell like they used to. Everything's fucking angels and pseudo-physics now, and she's the goddamn queen of control at the Barn. We gotta branch out now before we're stepped over." Most of David and Karen's money came from their books and TV ventures. Their publisher was Wheat Barn Publishing, run by Leanna Wellington. She was a sickly sweet woman in person, but a viper when the cameras were off. They managed to stay as popular as they were by doing what she wanted, but she tossed people aside whenever it suited her. The years they worked under her, they'd been lucky. David wasn't interested in testing his luck any further. "Yeah, yeah. How'd that interview go with Tim Webb? Did you get anything usable for the new book?" Karen fixed up her hair. She had her own business to attend to. David sighed. Tim Webb had been a waste of his time. Years back, Webb was a relatively popular ghost hunter, but had been getting out of the business. He was very open about being a skeptic now. David had only contacted him hoping to get something to use for the manuscript he was currently working on about skeptics and ghosts. "No. He was bullshitting me the whole time. I think he just wanted to get back at me about us making more money than him and his boy toy." "Boy toy? Wait, he's gay?" "Apparently. Like I wanted to know. Bet he's been checking me out this whole time." David grimaced at the thought. "With those extra thirty pounds you've gained in the last two years, I doubt it." Karen sneered. She never missed an opportunity to point out his weight gain. "That look is in for men in our trade. Makes me seem more worldly." David patted his big belly, then pinched Karen's waist. "As for you, you could do with losing a few pounds yourself." Karen slapped his hand away. "I'm average weight." "And sagging more every day." "Asshole. That Ariel slut of yours will look like me in five years, you know." Karen snapped at him. Ariel was David's current girlfriend of two months, in a long list of many other short lived relationships. "And the supply of young women will never end." He smirked at her. "Stupid bitches always fall for that wise old man routine." "Pig." "I'm off." David said. Karen didn't respond to him. David got in his car. He was promptly prepared for his appearance on the talk show. As this show was filmed locally, he'd been a special guest on it many times before. He knew well how to work this crowd, but most crowds were the same. At this point, he didn't need to mentally prepare himself. Scamming was near instinctual in him. There were only three types of people he needed to worry about: skeptics coming to start trouble, previous clients who were dissatisfied with his work, and missing kids' moms. The first was easy to deal with. He simply had to discredit them as being a non-believer. Dissatisfied customers could be swayed by him feigning confusion, in that he either didn't recall them or that he mixed up their messages with someone else's. The last was the most worrying. No one wanted to be the psychic who said someone's child was the opposite of whatever their fate was. That was the biggest mark that would be carried with them across their career. He'd been lucky in that he always managed to maneuver through those situations well enough, unlike some others who were more flippant with their responses to crowds. He was always amazed when one of those mediums did that and still managed to sell out everywhere they went. Humans, he realized, largely don't care about facts. They care about their world view being supported, no matter what it is. Still, he wasn't going to let anyone get dirt on him. The show started. The host introduced him to the audience. "Tonight, we have a special guest with us. Psychic medium David Serafina is here to answer all your questions about the afterlife." He met the host many years ago at a fairy convention in Maryland where he was doing tarot readings and dream interpretations at a booth. The woman was nuts, he thought, but very attractive. He invited her back to his hotel room that night, and the next day she set him up with his first TV appearance. She wasn't his type anymore. One too many wrinkles and a few too many grays. He never turned down her offers to come on, nor did he turn her down backstage after the show. Business is business. The host began the interview. "David has a new special coming up soon, Through Their Eyes, a deep look into the world of child mediums. David, you and your wife, Ravenna Love, have been in the spotlight quite a lot lately. Your wife recently got her own talk show hour on Wheat Barn's online radio, Calling All Guides, you've both been frequent guests on The Southern Ghost Hunt, and your latest book, Receiving Answers From the Other Side was a best seller. Up until now, you and your wife have primarily been focusing on cases involving adults. Why the shift to children?" "It's a controversial topic, to say the least. Many skeptics out there who don't believe in our line of work claim we're manipulating children and preying on the mentally ill for fame. With my special, I want people to really understand what it is we do. These children I work with aren't manipulated in anyway. They are all special children with a beautiful gift." He gave the audience a warm, loving smile. That was another talent he'd honed over the years. Any expression can be faked with practice. The interview went smoothly. He promoted his upcoming special and talked a little about the book he was working on. The crowd, he noticed, was a mix of some regulars in the area and many young, pretty faces. He kept up his perfect, wise and warm teacher appearance as he laughed inside at how easy he knew they would be to work. "Why don't you do some readings for our audience today?" When the interview portion was over, the host switched to the next phase. It was often like this when he went on TV. First, interview, then crowd readings. "Of course. There's plenty of spirits here today." He started off with one of his go to letters. There was no point in fishing with an X or a Q lure, no matter how more impressive a catch with that may look. Safety served him better than boldness. "I'm getting an S. Is there anyone who's father, uncle, a much older brother...I'm getting an older male figure with an S name, who died recently of something...something with the heart...Yes, this was something to do with the heart. He keeps pointing to the heart." A young woman raised her hand. A staff member walked over to her and handed her a microphone. She said, "My father passed away last year of a heart attack." "And what was his name?" David asked. "Simon." Now, the next part. He needed another vague statement to wow the crowd with. There was no reason to go bold here either. The average crowd didn't need an extremely specific claim to be swayed into believing. Most of them were already primed to believe anyway. Anything would do, so better to not risk a miss with an overly specific detail when he could get a hit with something much simpler. "And what was the thing about with the box? He left you something in a box." "He kept my mother's old jewelry in a safe after she died. I inherited all of them." The woman provided him the details he needed. He was almost ready to piece together a story, but he needed a little more information. So, he fished again by betting on a likely truth. "Yes, they were worth a lot, weren't they? They really helped you recently." "Yes...I had to pawn some of them to deal with some of the expenses afterward. Money's been really tight for me the last few years." There it was. Everything he needed. He pieced together what she wanted to hear. "And you felt bad about it, guilty. But he wants you to know it's alright. Your mother wouldn't want you hanging on to that jewelry if it meant you had to give away everything else. They want you to be happy. He says you did the right thing." "Thank you..." It was time to start a new story. He began with a new spirit. If he was lucky, he'd stay with the same woman. The more spirits he was able to successfully "match" with a person, the more impressive he looked. But, it didn't matter either way. He prepared something that was bound to match with someone in the crowd. "I'm getting someone else. Is there an older woman...this is more like a grandmother or a great-aunt...She had an M name...And she was always very stern. I can see her wagging her finger at people all the time in her big sun hat." "I don't know who that would be." And a miss. Within seconds of her statement, another hand went up. "Wait, we've got someone with their hand raised over there. Do you know this person?" He pointed to her for staff to give her a microphone. Another young woman spoke. She said, "I think so...it might be my great-aunt. She went by Nora to most people, but we always called by her middle name, Minnie." "And she's got something to do with her arm...something happened to it." He led with another vague statement. "She did break her arm as a child, I think." The woman scratched her chin. "I'm pretty sure it was her or Aunt Jenna." He didn't worry over that. He continued on, moving quickly to make sure her thoughts were onto something else. "You broke something too, didn't you? She was really worried about you, and she lectured you about it. You weren't being careful." "Yeah, I broke my leg falling out of a tree house when I was ten. She yelled at my parents too." The breaking something was a classic easy lure. There were a number of ways to interpret it from the way he said it. It could have meant an item or a bone, and both were safe bests for something that a large portion of the population would have experienced. He found his crowds always gave him leeway, interpreting his already vague words as loosely as possible to make something fit. Now, he wanted to be a bit more risky. He tried his next trick, the wild card. As he typically had a huge success rate with this, he went with an embarrassing one. He started it off vague. "I'm seeing something about a drawer. Something that wasn't supposed to be seen in a drawer." "Hmm...I don't know." She shook her head. He kept going and pretended to be embarrassed. "Something...this is really embarrassing. I'm not sure if I can say what it is on TV." "I don't think she had anything like that! Goodness!" The woman blushed. "Haha, well, you might have to ask someone else about that. Wait...we have someone over there, up in the back." The microphone was handed to another lady. She meekly said, "I think that might be for me..." "Oh, looks like I must be picking up on two different spirits right now. Fighting old ladies. They were both so stubborn I was having a hard time telling them apart. So, you're the one that found it then." An easy cover. For some reason, confusing one spirit for another seemed to be something his crowds presumed was possible. "Hahaha...yeah...that was quite the surprise." The woman laughed. "You weren't supposed to see that. She's really embarrassed about it. She didn't want anyone to find out." He kept avoided saying a specific item. The more he didn't say, the more the crowd would fill in the blanks in their own mind. "I mean, who would want anyone to find that after their death?" "My mom put it in her will to have the whole drawer removed so no one had to touch anything." The woman admitted. "She was so relieved about that. It's not something you want to have your children clean up!" Another hit. He went on like that for another fifteen minutes. After that time, the host opened up the floor for people to come forward and ask specific questions. Most were the usual, "what do you see in my future" or "should I take this job" and "will the man I'm crushing on who doesn't know I exist finally leave his wife to be with me forever". For the last question, he got exactly what he wanted to avoid. He knew exactly what she was going to ask before she opened her mouth. She wasn't the usual age range of his clients, and the sad look on her face said everything. He internally groaned. The woman said into the mic. "Excuse me, I have a question...Is there any spirit here for me? My son went missing three months ago and we still haven't found him. Is he still with us?" "Let me see..." He pretended to be searching for her son's spirit for a long, then went through the script he came up with for these types of situations. "I'm not sensing him here. That doesn't mean he can't have moved on, but he is not here right now. I'm afraid I can't give you more than that. But look at it this way. He isn't here right now, which means I can't say he's definitely gone. There's still hope. You have to hold onto that." That was enough to satisfy the woman. "Thank you." With that, the host wrapped up the show. He gave her some personal time in her dressing room before heading out. His next stop was at a lodge in the woods where his special was being filmed. As the focus was predominantly on children, most of the filming was done on them, with him and Karen only needing to make a few appearances. He checked on the crew's progress. The set-up for the special would be in the first quarter, they introduced the children and their "histories" with the paranormal. All the children were local actors, not yet big enough for the average viewer outside their area to recognize them. Plenty of footage had already been gotten for that. The last quarter of the two-hour special would focus on what the children "learned" from their experiences at the lodge and meeting each other. That was already done. It was the middle that needed being done. He was originally going to have the kids go to a local place to ghost hunt with some planted "evidence", but they needed the angel slant added to the show. That was stalling their progress on completing the special. He needed something new to stand out. They filmed some stock reactions and cutaway interviews that could be used in editing later. He drove home afterwards. He called his wife on the way back. "Karen, I'm on my way home. How's it going with the radio show?" "Awful. Our special guest still isn't here yet. Damn flaky shamans, I swear to god. Every time." Karen sounded like she was completely exhausted. "And you know who is coming down here tonight. God, I can't wait until we get that TV series. How are the kid actors? Are they any good?" "They're decent enough. No one expects kids to do well in front of cameras, so it's fine." "How was that shitty daytime show?" She asked. "Same as all the others. Got another missing kid moron. Goddamn it, your kid's dead. I'm not a detective. Bug their asses about it." His words were cold. All that woman was to him was an annoyance. "What about the the rest of the special? Any ideas for the place? And what about that 'skeptic' book you're working on? Isn't the deadline for that coming up soon?" He rubbed his brow. "I've got it mostly done at this point. I just need something to finish it off with, a really big story, you know? I was thinking of something really out there and using that as the basis for the special. Gotta bridge from ghosts to angels." "What about that address Tim left you with? Anything worth looking into there?" Karen suggested. "The ghost bride nonsense? That came straight out of a campfire story. I need something I can spend an entire night on. Something with more mystery." "What'd he give you that address for then?" Karen asked. "I told you. He's just bullshitting and seeing if I fall for it. Everyone knows he's trying to get out of the business and he's made a lot of enemies. The guy couldn't have been more smug during my interview with him." David thought back on his meeting with Webb. He'd only met the man a few times before, at conventions and once during a TV special. He was always competition, and the man seemed dead set on burning everything he could down with him as he left the business. He regretted ever contact him. "You still got jack shit though. You better come up with something fast. Just give him a call. Even if he's full of shit, maybe we can turn it into something anyway." Karen wasn't having any of that. "Fine. I'll call that fag later." "That's better. Damn, I gotta go. The big boss is here, and no shaman in sight." Karen hung up the phone. David sighed and dialed up Webb's phone. The phone rang several times, then clicked. He said, "Hello?" "This is the residence of Tim Webb and John Spellmeyer. Please leave a message after the beep. -BEEP-" 'Damn it.' David left a quick message for him. "Hey, Tim, this is David Serafina. We spoke two weeks ago. I'd like to do some follow up questions about that other location you mentioned, the one where you lived as a child. Call me back when you can." Once he arrived at home, he went back to working. He took some phone calls from clients as a medium and did a few over the phone "healing" sessions. Around ten, Webb called him back. "Hello?" David answered the phone. "Hey, this is Tim. You called?" Webb said on the other end. "Yes, I wanted to ask you some more questions about where you grew up." David said. "You wanna go ghost hunting in Rome? What for? Run out of ideas?" "Halloween's coming up and I need a haunted location to shoot at for a special. Georgia's known for a lot of spiritual hotspots." Webb snorted. "More like gullible rednecks and hillbillies." David was getting more annoyed the longer he talked to Webb. "Listen, I know you've got animosity for this line of work. I just need some more insider info, that's all. Any places, local legends, people to talk to..." "Look, I haven't really been back there much since I left. I did make it my business to know all about local legends at the time, but I can't guarantee anyone still cares about those these days." Webb said. "That's fine. I just need some leads." "Alright, let me think. Up in the mountain area, that's where you'll want to look for this stuff. I told you the one already about the serial killer. There was one about a ghost girl who steals hearts. One of my relatives swears she saw the girl when she moved into the area. I can probably get her number if you want." Webb's offering wasn't too impressive. David saw it as nothing more than another campfire story. He didn't reveal his true feelings on the matter. He kept up his positive persona in hopes of getting something better. "Yes, I would appreciate that." Webb rambled on about whatever popped into his head. "There's an old neighborhood up there that people used to say some sort of government experiment took place at, but that's probably too kooky for your kind of program. Um, what else...oh, right. Three kids disappeared up in the mountains once on a camping trip. One of them was found dead. The other two were never found. Rumor went around that they were murdered, but the police determined the boy they found died from a fall. It's presumed it was an accident and the other bodies were dragged off by scavengers in pieces. Do you want me to think of more?" "Anything you can think of." "Um...well, there was that weird murder that happened when I was a kid. Really brutal one involving a little girl found in one of those houses in that abandoned neighborhood. The guy mutilated her and strung her up from a ceiling fan. She was raped too, I think? I might be getting that detail wrong. I remember a few rapes happened up there, but they weren't really covered by the news much." "I see, I see. I'll check into that. Anything else?" Webb was out of ideas and clearly tired. "Just your typical ghost stuff. People flipping their shit at three in the morning in bars because a train passing through in the distance made something move slightly, supposedly haunted houses because they're old and creaky, demons in the woods, you know. The typical bullshit. Every now and then, someone would claim some kind of demonic possession going on, but that's not really worth a special." David let some of his annoyance slip through in his voice. "Thanks for the info. I really appreciate it. You sure you want to get out of this business? This is your hometown we're talking about. We could spin it that..." "I'm not interested. Sorry, that life isn't for me anymore. Actually, John and I are moving out of country soon." "Oh. Well, good luck to you then." "Sorry. And thanks for not um...going to that address. I can assure you there's nothing dangerous up on that mountain. I mean, other than some weirdos, but the city's cleared out most of the old houses people used to squat in." 'That again? You're not going to waste my time with that.' David hung up the phone. He called up a local tarot reader he met through the business and invited her over for some fun. She was a lot prettier than Ariel. He was considering breaking up with Ariel in the near future and dating the tarot reader. At midnight, Karen hobbled in, haggard and half-asleep, as the tarot reader left. She didn't bother acknowledging the woman at all and collapsed on the sofa. She smelled strongly of whiskey. David paid her no mind. He showered and got ready for bed. He checked his email before turning in for the night. Webb sent him the phone number, email, and address of one of his relatives, the woman who claimed to have met the ghost girl. He typed up a quick message to send to her. He didn't know why he was bothering except from sheer desperation. The heart-stealing ghost girl story wouldn't be useful for anything. If he was lucky, she might at least tell him more about the area and he might find something he could use elsewhere. By noon the next day, he received a response from the woman. Her name was Tallulah Weaver. She was a school teacher in Rome, Georgia, and several years older than Webb. She was free on the weekend. He set up an interview with her at her home for Saturday. He drove out to her home, getting lost twice on the way there. Her house was off of an old, dirt road. He wondered if Webb set him up. Cautiously, he approached the house and knocked on the door. A woman greeted him. "Hello, how may I help you?" "Are you Tallulah Weaver? I'm John. Tim told me to contact you." He said. "Yes, come in." Miss Weaver invited him into her house. She offered him a seat at the sofa and sat across from him in a big chair. David turned on the recorder hidden on him. Some people didn't like being recorded, so hiding the fact that he was recording at all avoided uncomfortable situations for him. He opened up a notepad and took out a pen to pretend he wasn't recording her. "Miss Tallulah Weaver, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I heard from your relative Tim Webb that you know about this ghost girl who steals hearts." "Alice? Yes, I met her several times as a child." Miss Weaver poured a cup of coffee and pushed it towards him across the table in the living room. "Alice, that's her name?" David wanted to shake his head. Alice was a common name for "ghosts". He ranked the name alongside "Anne" and "Mary" as dead giveaways that something was entirely fabricated from start to finish. It was up there with other signs like missing body parts, lack of any logical police procedures, and video footage that was somehow "lost" or intentionally deleted before anyone could see the evidence. "Yes." "Now, how did you meet this ghost?" He asked. "She used to play up on the hill behind my house. I always thought she was someone who lived on the other side of the hill. I learned later no one's lived up there for years and she died before I was born. Her parents abandoned her and she died in a fall. Children used to pass around the story that she would steal your heart if you ran into her because she died by having her heart pierced though. There was one boy who was found dead at some point killed by an injury to his heart." "Do you remember this boy's name?" "Mm...I can't remember now. It was a long time ago. I was in my freshman year of college, so I wasn't here when it happened. I heard about it all when I came home long after it happened. I remember his eyes were missing too." Miss Weaver rested her head in her palm. "Hmm...I wish I could remember his name. I could probably point him out in a picture, but I don't have any of my old yearbooks. I threw those out a long time ago. You might be able to get more information from the police about it." David expected such a response, as he already didn't believe a single word she was saying. He wasn't there for the ghost girl. He wanted to know what else she had to offer him. "Thank you. Now, you've lived here most of your life, right?" "Yes." "Tim mentioned some other murders that happened around here. Do you mind if I ask you some questions about those too?" He asked. "That's fine. I'll tell you what I can, but I don't have the best of memories." 'Of course you don't.' He asked for more details about something Webb mentioned. "What do you know about the girl who was murder here in 2000 at the abandoned Bridge Gate Hollow subdivision?" "She wasn't the only victim." Weaver said. She lowered her voice. "You won't hear this from the police. They've been covering up everything about it after the renovation started." David leaned in closer. "Renovation?" "They tore down a bunch of houses up on the mountain to get rid of squatters. When they were doing it, more bodies were found. At first, they thought there were only three victims." "Wait, three?" "There were two more in 2002. At that point, we thought we had a serial killer on our hands, but no more victims turned up for years and there was no usable evidence left at the crime scenes. The case went cold. By the end of the renovation process, they found at least ten more children." Weaver said. "Ten?! And they hid this from the public? How do you know about this?" He suspected she was lying. 'Did Webb set this up for you to screw with me?' "My uncle was on the case. He wasn't allowed to talk about it, but he told me later about someone from higher up giving the whole department orders to not look any deeper into it. There was a gag on the media too. He wouldn't tell me who exactly shut them up." Weaver drank from her cup. She glanced out the window. "Why did he tell you this info?" David asked. "One of the girls found used to be a friend of mine." Weaver kept her gaze out the window. "Linda Augustine. She was never exactly a well-behaved child. She had a lot of problems. We all thought she ran away. She was the fourth child of the ten found after the renovation started, and is presumed to be the eighth victim out of thirteen known victims." "Do you know who the first one they found is?" "Hannah Clearwater. She wasn't someone anyone really knew. Her parents homeschooled her or sent her to private school or something, and they mostly kept to themselves. I only remember her from the news report and my uncle talking about her. She was determined to be the tenth victim." Weaver put the cup back down on the table. She refilled her cup. "The second two found where...what were their names? Elizabeth Downs...Amy Henderson...? Oh, there's a couple of websites you'll want to see." "Websites?" "Yes, both of those girls kept personal websites. The originals aren't up anymore, but there's archived versions. I can probably find them again. I'll send you a list of the URLs later. When those two were found, those websites actually led to Elizabeth's parents being investigated for child abuse. I believe they both served a couple of years, but they were cleared of any murder suspicions." Weaver spoke in a calm manner. It unnerved David. "Did they ever have a suspect?" He asked. "The girls both mentioned a man who went by the nickname 'Jaybird'. He was suspected to be their killer, and a potential copycat of the original serial killer." "Wait, a copycat?" "The oldest victims and most recent victims found were too far apart in time to have been committed by the same person." She said. "There was also a strange gap at some point, I can't remember when. That was just the initial idea. They dropped the serial killer idea before they found all the bodies." "Why's that?" Weaver explained in depth about the victims. "There was no connection between any of the victims, no pattern, nothing. Victims ranged from age eight to sixteen, male and female. Some of them appeared to be by the same person, like the Jaybird guy. They were pretty certain he was some creep looking for little girls to kidnap. Elizabeth, Amy, Hannah, and Linda were all killed and found in a similar way. They couldn't confirm the exact details on Linda, since her body was found so long after her death, but it appeared she was strung up like the other girls. There were two other girls, but I don't remember their names, also found and likely were killed in a similar way. Those six are the only ones that seem to have a pattern. They were all close in age, ten to thirteen, all white girls who were socially isolated and had dysfunctional families, all brunettes. The other seven had no pattern amongst each other nor any overlap with those outside of being found in that abandoned neighborhood. My uncle suspected there were more." "Seems like the place was being used as a dumping ground for all sorts of murders. I'm guessing this was a very isolated location." He said. "Yes. I bet there's something about it on his old website." Weaver raised her hand and snapped her fingers. "What website?" David asked. "That one I know you can find archived. We've looked it up before to laugh at. Tim used to run a silly site about local legends and paranormal activity. Mostly, he'd try to hoax people, but he also recorded a lot of local folklore there. I'll send you that link too. But you know, if you really want details on old cases, you should try my uncle. He knows way more about this stuff than I do. I can give you his number." Weaver opened up her phone to look through her contacts. "I would really appreciate that. Thank you." David took the number. He didn't get much more out of Weaver as far as leads. He called it a day after another hour of chatting and headed back home. He considered getting a hotel, but didn't want to pay the cost. Gas was cheaper. He called Weaver's uncle to set up an interview for the following day. Later, Weaver emailed him the URLs. He opened up the links to the archived sites to look into the girls and Webb's old site. The designs were gaudy and bright, and near unreadable. He was never a fan of computers or technology in general. Early websites had a certain aesthetic about them that made him glad he did most of his work in person or over the phone during that time period. For all the suffering his eyes endured looking at the pages, he wasn't finding anything useful that Weaver didn't already tell him. "Jesus Christ, early websites. I can barely read this shit." He said, clicking through to another page. A spinning pentagram and an alien head greeted him in the corner. Karen came into the living room with a carton of ice cream. She sat at the far end of the couch and flicked on the TV. "What the hell are you looking at?" "It's for this case I'm looking into. A string of child murders on a mountain, decades apart with at least two potential killers. This is the old blog of one of the girls who was murdered." He titled his laptop to give her a better view of one of the girl's websites. "Whoah, that's kinda creepy." "I'm going to talk to a police officer tomorrow to get more info about this. Seems there was some shady shit going on with the investigation. Someone high up had the investigation stopped." "A conspiracy? That doesn't seem right for our program." Karen raised an eyebrow. "Could be to cover for a rich family up to no good. We can still use this. The special is about children, so a string of unsolved child murders will go well with what we're doing. I just have to spin some angel bullshit into this and we'll have all our pieces together." David cracked his knuckles and jotted some notes down for the special. "I'll leave all that shit to you. I've got some 'healings' to do over the phone in thirty minutes. God, these people want me on call at the most asinine of hours." Karen spooned chocolate chip ice cream into her mouth and absentmindedly watched the TV. Heavy bags hung under her eyes. David noticed, and winced in disgust at her appearance. He noted she smelled like alcohol again. When he was done investigating the websites, he put that aside to work on his book, Unbelievable Truths: When a Skeptic Meets a Ghost. He planned out for seventeen chapters. An introduction chapter, a chapter on skeptics in general, fourteen stories of "unexplainable" happenings that skeptics witnessed, and a final chapter summarizing everything. The book had an audio theme to it, as if each story was recorded in a private interview and being shared to the public. This was roughly how he acquired most of the stories. Each story was titled with the format "Track #: (Entity and Location)". All he was missing was Track 14, the final story. He wanted to end on a big one, and he couldn't simply make one up on the fly. Part of the appeal of the book was that the name and photo of the skeptic was included at the beginning of each tale. David debated with himself about gutting the chapter all together, but the book felt incomplete. It needed something more. He put the manuscript away for the time being and watched TV until he received some phone calls for readings. The next day, he headed back out to Rome. He met with an old man in another old house. The man greeted him at the door, constantly looking at everything around them as he let David inside. The man locked the door. "Now, uh, you are going to keep me as an anonymous source, right? I can't have it getting out that I was the one who told you this. If anyone asks me about you, I'm gonna tell them I've never heard of you." The old man said. He closed the blinds in the living room. "That's understandable. If you feel you need to protect yourself, do what you must." David said. 'What's with this paranoid old coot?' "No recordings either. You can take notes, but if you whip out a camera or recorder, I'm throwing you out." The man narrowed his eyes at David. David kept his cool. He'd been through this many times. If he didn't remain neutral, the man would catch on to him. "Got it. Now, about the thirteen child victims found in Bridge Gate Hollow...your niece said you were personally involved on this case?" "Yes, I was. I've long since retired from the force now, but I still...I still keep records on what happened there. I'm not supposed to have them, but they were going to throw them out. I'll go get them." The old man left the room for a moment and came back with a box of folders. "Why would they want to throw everything out?" David asked. The old man spoke barely above a whisper. "Because he wanted them to." "Who is this he? Is he the person Tallulah told me wanted the investigation stopped and put a gag on the media?" "Yeah, it was him. He came up there saying he was from the Moone & Wolfe Corp, and within days everything was shut down." David had never heard of the company. "What is this Moone & Wolfe Corp? What do they do?" "They've been around forever. They set up the place here in the 50s, but they're older than that. They do some kind of medical research. They still employ a lot of the people here in low paying jobs, but I couldn't tell you what they're actually studying." The man looked through one of the files. "Dr. Thomas Summerfield, that's who it was." "Who is Thomas Summerfield?" "He runs the company right now. Used to be his daddy, Alexander Summerfield, back in the day. He took over in the mid-90s, I think." The man froze. His eyes widened. He stared out at something behind David. David turned around. The only thing behind him was the kitchen and the back door. He didn't see anything in the kitchen nor at the door or windows. "Is something wrong, sir?" "You need to go. I remembered I need to be somewhere." The man said, his entire body completely still and his eyes focused on that space behind David. "Uh...okay. Can we continue this another time?" "Tomorrow. We can talk tomorrow." The man stayed in that same spot. "Okay, I'll call you later." David excused himself. He left the house and went out to his car. He looked around and didn't see anything outside. 'He's either loony or they're all playing me. Ugh, I'm wasting time.' David drove back home. Karen was on the phone when he came in the house. She said, "Your stupid bitch is on the phone." "Give me the phone, Karen." David took the house phone from Karen, not sure why his girlfriend called that number instead of his cell. "Ariel?" "David, hey! I haven't heard from you in a while and my calls kept going to your voicemail. Busy with work?" Ariel asked in her too perky voice. "Yeah, this investigation is getting really crazy." David said. He took the phone into another room while Karen sat slouched on the couch in front of the TV. "Really? Find some good leads?" "You could say that...it's just...I don't know. I'm starting to get a bad feeling about this." David said. 'Yeah, that I'm probably being fucked with.' "What's up? Don't tell me you think you've found real ghosts and goblins out there? The Devil went down to Georgia, looking for David's soul to steal..." Ariel giggled. "Very funny. No, this is something different. I think I may be onto something...a little more blue in nature." David said. "Blue? Wait, you mean like cops?" "Looks like evidence points to some kind of local cover up about a string of murders, possibly something going back even further." David sat down on the bed in his room. "So, some X-Files shit then? Hey, do your special on that. They'll just assume you're still kooky. Besides, ain't conspiracies in again?" Ariel said. "I don't know. I might do better doing the special on that damn ghost bride instead." "Wow, you're really spooked about this, huh?" Ariel changed her tone to a more suggestive one. "Hey babe, why don't I come visit you tomorrow? You're probably just stressed about the special. We can have a little relaxation time together. Is Ravin' Hate still with you?" David liked the sound of that. "I'll ditch her first thing in the morning. How's it going with Wheat bitch?" "Leanna just set me up with another deck deal. This one's theme is rainbows and dolphins. We're literally calling it the Rainbow Dolphin deck. The shit these people buy..." Ariel laughed loudly. "Fucking rainbow dolphins. I didn't think we'd ever reach that point." David laughed and shook his head. He couldn't think of a more ridiculous idea. "I'm sure there will be crystal fairies with an E or some bullshit like that next." Ariel changed the subject. "Hey, but about Karen...are you ever going to go through with that divorce?" "Can't. It's not a good time right now. We'll be eaten alive. You know Karen sells our relationship off as some grand divine intervention and how we need each other and all that jazz." David nearly gagged at how absurd what he was saying was. "Guess dated for two months then broke up, accidentally got her pregnant and immediately hitched, but then gave custody of the kid to grandma doesn't really sound as romantic. Why didn't you divorce her after that?" Ariel asked. "Divorce is expensive. And then we got into this business and it's just hell now." David turned on his laptop and opened up his manuscript draft. "How is your son by the way?" Ariel asked. "Joseph? He started college last year. I haven't really talked to him. Karen's mother sent us an email about him getting in." David hadn't personally spoken to Joseph since he was fourteen, when he entered high school, and they only met a handful of times before that. He looked more like Karen than David, and the boy was more embarrassed by their line of work than anything. He never talked to them on the phone or exchanged any sort messages with them. Joseph was a stranger who he sometimes pretended to care about. As far as his fans knew, Joseph didn't exist. David got up early the next day to head back out to Rome. He stopped by Ariel's apartment on the way to relieve some stress. She decided to tag along with him on the trip. She was always on the nosy side. Ariel spent the car ride reading through everything David collected. "Wow, you really weren't kidding about this whole cover-up thing. So, who are you seeing today? The uncle? Family members of the girls?" She flipped through his notes. She was listening to one of his recording as she read. "We're gonna see the uncle first. See what else we can get out of him." David said. Since the man was clearly unhinged and very paranoid, or excellent at pretending to be so, David had Ariel stay in the car while he went in. Once again, the man met him with caution. He noticed Ariel right away. "Who's that?" The old man asked. "Oh, that's my girlfriend. I'm taking her to a movie after this. I hope you don't mind if we keep this interview on the short side." David made up a lie. The old man was suspicious, but allowed David to enter. Like the previous day, he closed the blinds. This time he closed the blinds in the kitchen as well and locked both the front and back doors. The box was not brought out this time. David thought to ask about it, but assumed the man didn't intend to show it to him. He suspected he was being conned. "Let's pick up where we left off yesterday. About the renovation and the case being shut down..." David started to say. "There's been a few missing people in this area over the years who we've had to keep quiet about. I've heard from people in other counties about this happening too, other officers being shut up. It's not something you can talk about in public, but it happens all the time. What happened at Bridge Gate Hollow was a regular occurrence for us." The old man stood while David sat down. He didn't seem interested anymore in talking about the murders on the mountain. "As far as I know, there was one case that got widespread media attention. Do you know about the disappearance of Pamela Archer?" "The name sounds familiar, but I can't really recall anything about it." David said. "She was a young scientist, came here from Atlanta. She was dating the lead singer of Hounding Rain, Kathy Beaumont." The old man said. "Hounding Rain, really? Aren't they still pretty popular with the kids these days? I didn't know the lead singer was a lesbian." David's years in the business made him very cynical. 'She's black too. A black lesbian singer, I bet she's popular right now with entitled little brats. I wonder what she really does when the cameras aren't in her face.' "She's a nice girl. I've met her a couple of times before, back when they were just another local band." The old man turned away from David and checked that the front door was locked. "Kathy's had a lot of misfortune in her life. She wasn't about to stay quiet this time around." "What happened to her before?" "Kathy's father disappeared. A few hours later, her mama was killed in a car accident." The man walked around the room, peeking out of the blinds and checking that each window was locked. "Kathy didn't think it was an accident. She told me this all happened the day after her father quit his job." "Are you saying she thinks her father killed her mother and then skipped town?" David asked. "No, Kathy's father worshiped the ground her mother walked on. She was his angel, his shining light. No, she reckoned what really happened is her father knew too much, and they couldn't let someone with that knowledge go. Kathy's father was a scientist at Moone & Wolfe." The old man turned around at such a slow pace it seemed unnatural. Watching the man move spooked him, but he couldn't place why. "Them again?" The old man spoke very quietly. "There's more. You won't find this in most reports, but before Pam disappeared, there was someone trying to recruit her to work for ole Moone & Wolfe, someone going by the name of Tom." "So, he paid off the media again?" "That's what it looks like." The old man checked the back door. "Why leave Kathy alive though? Prior to the late nineties, she was a nobody." David said. He was sure that part was right, though he knew very little about the band Kathy fronted. "I don't know. Kathy would tell me she thought it was because most people already thought she was weird and off, so they'd never care what she had to say." "About this Thomas Summerfield, do you know how I might go about contacting him?" David asked. "You wanna see him? Boy, you're crazy. I can give you his address, but if I were you, I wouldn't go there." The old man warned him. He returned to the front of the house. "I can handle myself, thanks. What's the address?" David ignored that warning. He didn't really believe any of this cover-up was real. More than ever, he suspected Webb had set up an elaborate prank to make a fool of him on his next special. He was going to get to the bottom of this, to prove he wasn't anybody's fool. "It's your funeral." The old man scribbled down an address for him. He shoved the paper into David's hand and opened the front door. "Please, don't contact me again." "Ah, thank you for your time." David said as he walked out. The old man said nothing back. He simply shut the door and locked it. David went back to the car. Ariel was watching videos on her phone, already bored of the investigation. He started up the car. She turned the video off. "How'd it go? Get anything good?" "There's one more place I need to go." David said. "Ah, how far is it? I've been sitting here forever." Ariel drooped her shoulders. "It's not far from here. I need to see one more person." David backed out of the driveway. "Ariel, I need you to do something for me. Look up Pamela Archer." "Isn't that the scientist lady who disappeared way back? Did they ever find her?" Ariel asked. "I don't know. That's why I'm telling you to look her up." David spoke in a rude tone to her. "Okay, okay." Ariel searched for information about Pamela Archer on her phone. She showed David a picture of her. "Here she is. She's kinda plain, huh? Says they still haven't found her. She was last seen at her apartment, and then nearly all of her things disappeared along with her. Police officially ruled that Archer simply left the residence for some reason or another, and does not wish to be found. What? What's that about?" David thought back on what Webb's relatives told him. He was starting to question his original assumption. Perhaps, there was something to this cover-up nonsense, he thought. David drove out to a half deserted neighborhood. Every other house had a "for sale" or "foreclosed" sign on it. Some read "condemned". He suspected the neighborhood fell victim to the recession and never recovered, like many old neighborhoods farther out from Atlanta. Down a long, winding driveway, he found the house. Woods kept it hidden away. At the end of the driveway, there was a small, single story house. The design was simple and the house was in good condition compared to the other houses nearby. David had Ariel wait in the car again. She complained, but stayed put. David knocked on the door several times. The door opened. A man stood in the doorway. "Hello, may I help you?" David composed himself and said, "Yes. Does a Dr. Thomas Summerfield live here?" He started to close the door. "I'm afraid you're mistaken. There isn't anyone by that name here." "I was given this address. Is this not this house?" David showed him the paper the old man wrote on with the address. David couldn't believe what he saw next. A woman walked up behind the man. Though she appeared older, he was positive the woman was Pamela Archer. His eyes widened at seeing her. She asked, "Honey, who's at the door?" "It's just a lost person, Pixie. Nothing to worry about." He pushed her out of view, closing the door almost entirely. "As I was saying, you have the wrong address. That is not this house and I don't know anyone by that name." "But..." Before David could ask anything else, the man shut the door and locked it. David stood in front of the doorway in complete confusion. He was certain the woman was Pamela Archer. That wasn't something Webb could have set up as a prank. His gut was telling him to get away from that place, but he didn't want to leave empty-handed. He walked around the back of the house to see if anyone was outside. The backyard was a big, open field of tall grass and wild flowers. Toward the horizon stood a single oak tree. A little boy was playing underneath the tree. David knew he should walk away, but he wanted answers. He went over to the boy. The little boy noticed him, but said nothing to him. He continued to play with some stones on the ground. David approached the boy, keeping a bit of distance between them. "Excuse me, little boy. Do you live in that house?" "Yes." The boy said. "What is your name?" David asked. "Sky." "What's your last name?" "Summerfield." That was the confirmation David wanted. He asked for further proof. "Is your father's name Tom?" "Yes." Sky stood up and looked directly at David. "Father has cameras everywhere, but there's a blind spot here." David's body went cold. He looked around. He was too far from the house to see any cameras around it. He made a mental note to look when he went back to the car. "Thank you for telling me that. Could we keep this a secret?" "I never tell anyone's secrets." Sky said. "Does your father know about this blind spot?" David asked. "No, he thinks he knows everything. This is my secret. Don't tell." Sky put a finger to his lips. "I won't." David asked another question. "What is your mother's name?" "Pixie." 'Could she be a relative? She looks so much like Pamela...Or is something else going on?' David doubted the boy was lying about his mother's name. He appeared to be preschool aged, and children are terrible liars. If the boy was lying, it would be obvious to anyone, and especially him with his years of reading body language. "Why are your parents lying about who they are?" "That's a secret." Sky sat back down on the ground. "You should go. My dad can make you disappear." David was done with his questioning. He walked away from the boy, then ran. As he passed the house, he noticed a camera on the outside pointed directly at where his car was parked. He got in and immediately started the car. Ariel was alarmed by his behavior, but he didn't say anything to her until they were off that driveway and back on the road. "What was that about?" Ariel asked. "Something strange is going on here. Did you see the woman who came to the door?" David asked. "I didn't get a clear look at her." Ariel said. "That woman Thomas Summerfield called Pixie...that was clearly Pamela Archer." David sped through the nearly empty neighborhood without any regard for the speed limit. "He lied to me about who he was. His son confirmed it. The boy said something really unsettling. 'Father has cameras everywhere'. Why would he need cameras everywhere?" "Because he's clearly hiding something." Ariel looked back to see if anyone was following them. "Did you see any cameras?" "Yes, at least one was right on the car. They're definitely up to something. The boy told me his father could make me disappear." He didn't want to know what that meant. "Why is Pamela Archer answering to Pixie?" Ariel searched on her phone. "I don't know. I couldn't find anything about her ever going by that as a nickname. All her old friends called her Pam." He didn't know where to go from there. He dialed up a number he wished he never called. He reached the voicemail again. "Hey Tim, this is David. Call me back when you can. There's something I wanted to talk to you about." David slowed his speed down once they were on a bigger road. He dropped Ariel off at her apartment. Karen wasn't home when he arrived. He waited for Webb to return his call. Webb rang two hours later. "You called?" "Yeah. I have some follow up questions I want to ask you. Do you mind if we meet somewhere tomorrow?" David asked. His heart was racing from the strange encounter earlier. "Tomorrow? Sorry, I'm in Tuscaloosa right now doing some work. I won't be back home until Friday, and I don't think I can see you until Saturday the earliest. I have some other work to do." Webb said. David wanted to yell at him, but kept his cool. "That's fine. How about Saturday at three?" Saturday couldn't come soon enough. David was on edge the entire week. Ariel tried to calm him down, but the more anxious he was, the angrier he was around others. She eventually stopped trying after three days. While he waited, he did more research into Webb himself. He discovered something unexpected. When Saturday finally rolled around, David drove out to Webb's apartment. He hadn't been there since the interview he did with him for the book. "You've led me on quite the chase," David said. "You said there was nothing on those mountains. You lied." "What are you talking about?" Webb looked at him strangely. "What is this Moone & Wolfe Corp?" David glared at him. "I did some digging myself. You work for them as a lab technician. What is that place?" Webb's string of reactions at hearing the company's name told David he knew very well what David was referring to. Webb looked away and did not ask why David was questioning him about that. "It's only a temp job until John and I move to Australia." "What do they research? I can't find anything about them. They have hundreds of locations and no website. The head of the company lives here and pretends he isn't who he is when I go to his house. What the fuck is going on?" David slammed his fist down. That last part caught Webb's attention. He laughed and shook his head. "You met Tom Summerfield? You're a crazy man." "So, you do know something." "Not really. I was told not to get too involved with anything and not to ask questions. One of my coworkers told me he saw something...strange that he wouldn't elaborate on and told me not to snoop. I've had enough with getting involved in bullshit, so I didn't." Webb shrugged. "Where can I contact this coworker?" David asked. "You can't. He never showed up for work after that." Webb gave David a serious look. "I didn't mention that place because no one does. You don't talk about it. You take your money and you leave. People who don't ask questions get their paycheck." "You're not the least bit worried?" Webb laughed again. "I am absolutely terrified, but I've kept my head down and my mouth shut like everyone else with sense. Moon & Wolfe Corp employs, in some fashion, 30% of the entire area. Not all the jobs are at the main building and hospitals. They have many sub-companies. I'll be leaving quietly and be on a plane to Australia by the end of the month." "You have to give me more than that." David demanded. "Okay, look, some of my other relatives used to work there. Serena and Kyle Thomas, they live in Hiram now with their son, Eric. They got me this job. All they told me is that they worked on some kind of virus-related research when they were there, but generally the company claims it focuses on treatments for mental illness. I don't know any more than that. They might know more, but they haven't worked for the company in several years now. When they moved, they both got new jobs." Webb said. "I know I've been asking a lot of you and your family lately, but I need to talk to them. I have to have answers. This can't be real...I have to know I'm not losing my mind." David leaned forward. "Forget about it and you won't have to worry about that." Webb glanced away from him. "I can't." "This is the last time I will help you. Do not contact me again." Webb wrote down some information on a piece of paper. He handed it to David. "Here's their number and address. Don't call it. Don't go there. I can't stop you, but I am telling you, don't do this." "Tim, I need to know. Is everything you've told me up to this point the absolute truth?" David asked. Webb went quiet. "Tim?" He laughed nervously. "Haha, well, I may have fudged some details during that interview. Yeah, or mixed up some years. Probably. You need to leave." "Thanks for everything, but I have to do this." David sensed something was wrong, but he knew Webb wasn't going to explain anything further. He accepted that was the limit of what he could get out of him. He got up and left. David suspected Webb likely did alter a few details, if not completely make up nearly everything from the original interview. There was no ghost bride, and he suspected many of the things in his past that he described were likely nonsense as well. That was obvious. There was no reason to bring that up. David was clearly referring to everything since then. What was he hiding, David wondered. When he returned home, David decided to do some digging on the two relatives Webb told him about. Kyle Thomas didn't keep any social media accounts, but his wife did. She listed the company as a previous place of employment. From what she posted, he confirmed she had a son named Eric, and he appeared to be the only child she mentioned. He could tell from simply glancing at her accounts that she was a very fake person. Being a conman, it was easy for him to spot others who were always putting on a show. He searched through her friends to see if she was still in contact with anyone else who worked for Moone & Wolfe. A husband and wife pair came up by the last name of Winter. They were still working for the company. They didn't have any children, and the wife of the pair was a member of many "child-free" groups. He didn't find anyone else interesting. He wrote down the names of the couple and paid for a more thorough search to be done on all four of the individuals. While he waited for his results, he decided to look more into Pamela Archer. Kathy Beaumont had spoken publicly many times about her former girlfriend's mysterious disappearance. According to Beaumont, Archer was splitting the rent with Beaumont and the two other members of Hounding Rain. She wasn't the type of person to abandon responsibilities on short notice and had stable income. More than that, her relationship with Beaumont was getting more serious. Her abruptly leaving didn't make any sense. Beaumont wrote many songs for Archer over the years, but what he was interested in is that one of them was written prior to Archer disappearing. According to the singer, it was written about a man stalking Archer. She hadn't finished the lyrics yet when Archer vanished. The song was their lead single and the album title for their second album, The Moon and the Emperor. It was the fourteenth track on the album. He blinked and read over that again. Track 14. He shook it off as a coincidence and looked up the lyrics for anything interesting. He found them on a website. The lyrics read: "The moon and the emperor sitting in the night Emperor says call me, I gotta plenty of starlight Come down to my tower, I'll show you Venus, Mars Put you in my mobile, my pretty work of art Come on, I ain't got no other motives Got these cuffs just in case, nothin' It ain't nothin', it ain't nothin' Took this photo when you weren't lookin' It ain't nothin', it ain't nothin' Took your photo when you weren't lookin' She said, don't wanna see your little tower Ain't no tower ever lasted forever And gravity knows the name of man Better stop before you upset him He said, no one's built it like mine I'll pull you down, take your shine Just need another brick or two I'll pierce your heart right through Come on, I ain't got no other motives Got these chains just in case, nothin' Said it's nothin', said it's nothin' I do what I want and I ain't stoppin' Said it's nothin', said it's nothin' I do what I want and I ain't stoppin' He pulled the moon down from the sky Tainted the night and blocked out the day With his great tower high, collecting up Every celestial beauty, every nameless star Never saw the moon again, but I'm here At the edge of the emperor's great walls Kicking away, stone by stone, shaking Daring gravity to take us both I said, I know your every motive, Got these thorns just in case, nothin' Said there's nothing, said there's nothin' Nothin' gonna stop me from draggin' you down Said there's nothing, said there's nothin' I'll drag you down until we can't stop fallin'" He didn't find anything interesting about the lyrics. The imagery was very on the nose, and he found it amateurish. The one detail he did take note of was the implication of the moon being collected. Supposedly, Archer was being harassed by someone named Tom who worked for Moone & Wolfe prior to disappearing. She was a scientist. 'Were they wanting some skill of hers? What made her valuable?' He had one more angle to try. He doubted it would get him anywhere. He searched for Kathy Beaumont's online accounts. He found her email and sent her a message asking her about Archer and Moone & Wolfe. He wasn't expecting much. Thirty minutes later, he received a reply. The message read, "Do you work for them? I haven't forgotten anything." At the end of the email were two attachments. They were both images of tarot cards. One was the Hanged Man and the other was the Moon card. Each had some text written on the bottom of the card. The handwriting on the cards were different from each other. The message on the Hanged Man appeared to be written by a man, and the one on the Moon looked more feminine in appearance. The Hanged Man's message read: "so I bury it and forget" On the Moon, it said: "you're making rain and you're just in reach when you and sleep escape me" The words sounded familiar. He suspected they were song lyrics. He did another search on them, and found he was correct. It wasn't from one of Beaumont's songs, but an older artist. He had no clue what he was supposed to make of the images. They were both tarot cards, both with messages but written by two different people, and both contained lyrics from the same song. He gave up on guessing what she was telling him and emailed her back that he did not work for the company and was investigating them. He waited on Kathy to reply, but she didn't send him another message that night. He waited to visit the Thomas and Winter families until after he received the paperwork he paid for. For the most part, everything was as it should be. Both couples were married, they had no criminal history, and they all did work for the company. There were two unexplained oddities that came up in the paperwork. For the Thomas family, there were two birth certificates; one for Eric Thomas, as there should have been, and one for a much older sibling named Idris Thomas. He recalled Webb claiming they only had one son, but the older sibling would have long been old enough to live on his own. He wouldn't have thought anything of it if not for the fact that Serena Thomas herself referred to Eric as her only child on her social media accounts. He wondered if the boy had been ostracized from the family at first, but he questioned that when he found a similar abnormality in the Winter family's records. There was another birth certificate that shouldn't have been there. One for a daughter named Sarah born roughly around the same time period as Idris Thomas. The girl's mother was claiming to have never had children online. There were no death certificates for either Sarah or Idris, nor any records on them at all. He tried doing an online search about the two of them, but came up with nothing. There were no school related documents, no marriage certificates, nothing. He didn't know what to make of this. That was another thing he would need to ask the Thomas family about when he went to see them. Rather than call ahead, he decided to go out to their home in Hiram unannounced on a weekend. The Thomas family lived in a very nice neighborhood, a rarity for an area like Paulding county. He made a mental note to look into the demographic of the county later. With the large number of churches and small homes and mobile home parks, though he doubted most could afford his private services, the locals in the area might buy his books or watch his TV programs more than some other areas. Superstition and lack of money always went hand in hand, and made it all too easy to get those with little to part with more. How unsettled he was about the investigation did not deter him from his main goal--money. He snickered as he passed sixteen churches on a single road. He pulled into the driveway at the address Webb gave him. There were two cars parked in the driveway already. He took that as a sign at least one of them must be home. David took a moment to prepare himself, then went up to the front door and knocked. A woman answered the door. He greeted her. "Hello, are you Serena Thomas?" "Yes, how may I help you?" She asked. "Hello, I'm a friend of Tim Webb. I'm doing a TV special about this area, and he gave me your contact information. See, part of the segment is on a specific company around here. You previously worked at Moone & Wolfe Corp, correct?" David tried to make his intentions there as vague as possible. "Uh...yes, I did, but I haven't worked there in a very long time. I don't know why Tim gave you my address. He's the one currently working there." The woman started to close the door. She opened it and moved aside as a teenage boy passed her. She said to the boy, "Leaving again?" "I'm staying over at Alex's tonight." The boy said and ran off before waiting for her to reply. "Your son, Eric, right?" David asked. "Yes." The woman said. She started to close the door back. "I know you came a long way, but I don't really want to talk about this anymore." David put his hand on the door. He dropped his pretenses. "Do you know who Idris Thomas is?" She pushed on the door from the other side. "I don't know that name." "Are you sure? It doesn't in anyway sound familiar?" David pressed harder against the door to keep it open. He pushed some papers from his bag out and showed them to her. One of them was Idris's birth certificate. He pretended to have been given the papers by a stranger instead of admitting to having someone look into them. "Someone sent me these. Care to explain?" She looked down at the top paper. She pushed back even harder against the door to shut it. "I don't understand...this must be a mistake. Eric is our only child." "That's a long gap to not have any children in considering how many years you and your husband have been married." David said. He wouldn't let her shut it. "It wasn't a good time. That's why we waited." She was using all of her strength to try and close the door, but David was much stronger than her. "I don't know what you're trying to pull, but this isn't funny. We don't have any other children. Please, leave me alone." "Ma'am, I have been through a lot of bullshit, and a lot of people lying about who they are. Where is your older son at right now?" David asked in a stern voice. "I don't have another son! I told you, Eric is an only child!" She shouted as she started to cry. "You have no idea who Sarah Winter is either, I suppose?" David asked. "I don't know what you're talking about." She backed away from the door and clutched her head. She appeared to be in pain. "I don't know..." A man came up from behind her. He slammed the door open wide and yelled at David. "What's going on? What did you do to her?" "I didn't do anything. I simply asked a few questions. I'm trying to collect some information on the Moone & Wolfe Co..." David started to say. The man shoved him away and said, "Leave. I want you off my property right now. I have every right to shoot you." The man might have been bluffing about being willing to shoot him, but David wasn't going to take any chances. He ran back to his car. He drove away and stopped in a parking lot of a strip mall. He called Webb, wanting to know more. Webb wouldn't answer. The phone didn't ring. It went straight to voicemail. He tried again, and got the same results. He presumed Webb blocked his number. He sighed and drove home. Something strange was going on, but all he was doing was wasting his time. He tried emailing Beaumont again. She didn't reply. He checked her social media accounts. She was on a plane traveling out of country to where she had a concert scheduled. He doubted she would respond to him right now. He wasn't about to give up yet. The company may not have a website, but they did show up on Google Maps. He drove out to the main building to get some answers. At the front desk, he pretended he was doing a documentary on mental health treatments and wanted to interview whoever was in charge of the building. He was told by the woman at the front desk that the actual person in charge was out of town at the moment, but she would let the person temporarily in charge know he was there. He waited at the front of the building for half an hour before the woman at the front desk called him back over. She told him some directions to follow to go to a specific office. He followed the woman's direction's to an office at the end of a hallway. The walk there was unsettling. Nothing in the entire building had any color. Everything was black, white, or gray. Even the employees were dressed in those same colors. He noticed there were no windows past the waiting room either, and most of the hallways looked identical. He moved as quickly as he could through that place. David knocked on the door. "You may enter." A woman said. He opened the door. The office inside was as dull as the rest of the building. Sitting behind a desk was a young-looking woman with dark, straight hair cut in a short bob. She wore a plain black dress and sat with perfect posture. He questioned her age. She looked too young for him to date, and he had no qualms chasing eighteen year olds. 'This child is in charge?' David thought to himself. He would ask her about that later. He cleared his throat. "Excuse me, I am David Se...David Oglethorpe. I'm making a documentary about mental health treatments and I was wondering if I could interview you about this place." The young-looking woman motioned to the chair in front of the desk she sat at. "I see. Please, have a seat." "Thank you." David sat down. "I take it this means you're interested?" "Of course. I am quite proud of our facilities." She said. "Ah, may I start with your name and who you are in the company? I was informed that you are not normally the person in charge here." David was already recording in secret since he entered the building, but he took out a pen and paper for show. "That is true, but I do work here. My name is Heather Smith. I'm what you would call third in command here." Smith said. "And who are numbers one and two?" David asked. "The siblings, my dear friends, Tom and Edith Summerfield. Tom is currently in charge, but Edith will be taking his place soon and I will become second." 'There's Tom again. I expected that. Edith, that's a new person to look into.' David pretended to write something down. "So, before we get into what you do here, could you tell me a little about the company itself? I was having a difficult time locating information about the founder and..." "Oh, you won't find anything about that. There was a falling out with the original founder, and he didn't want his name attached to us. That was a very long time ago. Forrest Blackwell was his name. Edith tells me it split the family in two-those who left with Forrest and kept the family name of Blackwell, and those who stayed here and changed their name to Summerfield. The company went to Thomas Summerfield, the current Tom's great-grandfather." "Then this company has been directly tied to the same family from the beginning?" David asked. "Yes, but the Blackwell family had been helping people in this area for hundreds of years. They came into prominence in 1692 and the family eventually came down here to Georgia in the late 18th century. They came to the Blue Ridge area first, then moved down into the Piedmont area. The Summerfield family has been here ever since." Smith explained. "What happened to family members who left with Forrest Blackwell? And what was the family doing here prior to starting this company?" David asked. "They didn't become much of anything. Last anyone kept track of those who split away, they disappeared somewhere up in the hills and no one heard from them after that. As to why they moved here, well, that's not something I can talk about. You'll have to ask one of the siblings if they want to tell you that story." Smith laced her hands and rested them on the desk. She smiled. "But that's not really important. You came here for an interview about our work, did you not? What did you want to know?" 'What was all that about? I'll look into that later. Stay focused.' David composed himself. "Right, yes. Actually, there was something else I wanted to ask you before getting to that. The other day, I ran into Tom Summerfield and his wife. Does she also work here as well?" "Pixie? Yes, she does, but she's not our best worker. She seems to lose more of her mind every year. Quite ironic, given her field of research." Smith said. "What does Pixie Summerfield study?" "She studies memory and how it can be altered. She was a brilliant woman when she was young, but she's practically senile now and she's not even very old. It's unfortunate. Tom will probably have her quit soon." David took note of that. He would look into what Pamela studied prior to disappearing later. "I see. Thank you for indulging my questions." He spent the rest of the interview asking Smith questions about the building and research. She didn't give him anything useful. At the end of the interview, he circled back around and asked some more personal questions. "Thank you for everything, Ms. Smith. If you don't mind, could I ask you about why you work for the company?" "Oh, me? Well, I've always been here. I was orphaned when I was an infant and I had severe behavioral problems. I spent a lot of my early childhood being moved from foster home to foster home, and eventually they put me in here. I spent the majority of my childhood and all my teenage years here, gradually getting better. Now, I work here, as my own way of paying them back for everything they've done for me." Smith said. The expression on her face never once changed during the interview after that time she smiled early on. Her face was blank and her words were borderline robotic in tone. "Never thought of working somewhere else?" David asked. "What for?" "You know, get out and see places. What are your hobbies?" "I have no need for trivial things. Work is my life, and I live to work." Smith barely moved her body at all when she spoke, David noticed. 'What is with this girl?' David asked, "Ah, and please, I don't mean to offend, but how old are you? You look so young to be in such a high position." She put one hand to her mouth and playfully laughed. Like her smile earlier on, it came off as completely fake. "Mr. Oglethorpe, you cannot ask a woman her age." "Ah, please excuse me. Well, I'll be on my way soon. Would it be alright if I contacted you again if I need any further information?" David asked. "If I am available. I am a very busy woman. Now, we must conclude the interview here. I have someone else I need to meet with soon." Smith rushed him out of the room, still keeping that same blank expression the whole time. "Yes, ah, thank you again." David saw himself out. David didn't go straight home after that. He headed back out to Rome in hopes of finding where Bridge Gate Hpllow once stood. He asked around if any locals knew where the neighborhood used to be, but no one would give him a straight answer. He gave up and went home. There, he looked into Pamela Archer. Like 'Pixie', Pamela also was studying memory alteration prior to disappearing. He was more convinced than ever that the two women were the same person. He tried searching information on the Blackwell and Summerfield families, but that led him nowhere. Looking into Heather Smith didn't get him very far either, but he did find one account belonging to her. Her sole social media account was predominantly of her in a lab coat and that same black dress standing in front of various places with strange captions beneath the pictures. Some were typical affirmation nonsense popular with businesses, like "work smarter, not harder" or general productivity themed messages, like "procrastination doesn't lead to accomplishments", "plan and organize", and various bullet journal spreads for "maximum productivity". All photos were in black and white, and the odder ones showed Smith outside in isolated, run-down locations. The messages on those were odder; "I wait and wait for the day when all is well", "my memories are in red, but I stay in white", "the princess wears the crown, no matter how tight". Smith had a decent size following, and her followers nicknamed her their "Monochrome Princess". Occasionally, he would find a photo entirely in red. These had one word captions like "dreaming", "singing", "dying", and "flying". "I see why they never let you out, weirdo." David read through some of the comments on her more recent uploads, mostly out of boredom. Most comments were compliments on her style or her messages. A few he didn't understand what they meant. Many asked variations on "are you Delilah" or left comments like "bad bears get cooked". He suspected she got hit with some random spam gibberish that simply hadn't been deleted yet. A couple asked if she was another person. "Are you Tina Tiffany?" That name sounded familiar. He did a quick search to see she was a once popular musician and actress who abruptly quit both businesses after her first album. Tina Tiffany's real name was unknown, and he did see a very strong resemblance to Tina in Smith. They could have been twins, but he reminded himself the photos of Tina were taken over two decades ago. He wondered if they might be related. He went back to look through the comments to see if anyone responded to that. The comments referencing Tina were gone, as were the spam comments. Curious, he created an account at the site and sent her a message asking about Tina as well. While he waited on a response, he scrolled through her comments on several different posts. Then, a few minutes after he sent the message, he couldn't view her content anymore. "She blocked me? What the hell?" David created a new account and repeated the same process. He was blocked again within a few minutes of sending another message. He tried three more times, and got the same results. David gave up on that and made one more new account to follow her with. She uploaded a new photo. Smith was standing in front of a psychic reading business sign holding a copy of one of his books. She was ripping the book in half. Under the photo, it read "liars and thieves--rip them from your lives, piece by piece". David froze. "She...she knew who I was...no, even if she recognized me earlier today, she couldn't have known who was sending her messages. It's a coincidence..." 'But why is she even posting this?' David wondered. Smith uploaded another picture. This one was of her holding a cut phone up to her ear. The text underneath read "did you know recording someone without their consent is illegal in many states". David's body went cold. Somehow, Smith knew he recorded her. He wondered if Tom Summerfield tipped her off about him. Smith uploaded one last image. This one was a red photo. Smith was burning a photo of an angel. The caption read, "burning". David deleted his account and turned off his computer. That was enough for him. He went to the bathroom to wash his face off. David looked at himself in the mirror. His eyes were heavy and his skin pale. He didn't know why he was chasing this story so much. It wasn't leading to anything he could use. Webb was right. He should have forgot about it. That still left Track 14 to deal with. With no other options left, he would have to do it on the story Webb gave him about the ghost bride, and he'd have to use that for the special as well. There was no time to find anything else for either project. He was so far behind on both projects because of that one chapter. David sighed and got a bottle of vodka from the kitchen. He drank until he was falling asleep. Tomorrow, he'd go out with Ariel to see the location Webb originally gave him of where the ghost bride lived. Then, after checking it out, he'd bring the kids there with him for filming. Karen slept on the couch that night, huddled together with a throw rug they told people was made by indigenous people that they got from Target and a carton of melting rocky road. In the morning, he felt terrible, but he called up Ariel anyway. He picked her up and drove them out to the location Webb gave him during the original interview. "So, we're really going with the ghost bride story after all?" Ariel asked. "We've got nothing. None of that investigating led me anywhere. It was all a waste of time. Tim never got back to me. I don't know what to do." David sped down the highway. "Well, we'll make it work somehow. I'm still going to be a special guest on the show, right?" "Of course, of course." David was barely listening to her. 'After I get this special turned into a series, I'm dropping both your asses and finding me some new psychic to 'complete' me.' David found the location relatively easily. The yard of the house was overgrown with weeds. He found a for sale sign abandoned and turned over in the front yard. There was no other information at the house. The windows were broken in, and half finished graffiti was all over the house. Ariel grimaced as she got out of the car. "Ick, what is this place? Looks like a place for druggies and rapists to hang out together." "We'll have to paint it some before we film it, and get some police to keep any squatters out of here, but it'll do." David sighed. "Track 14, gotta get that done, and finish this project...then we're set." David and Ariel explored the area for several hours. They had some fun in the car once they got tired of that. Then, David made calls in the car. Ariel grew bored of waiting on him to finish with business and got out of the car to walk around some. It was getting late by then, and the sun was going down. She wandered around the property for a while, making her way gradually out of David's sight. David wasn't paying attention to her. He was busy with work. Once the sun set, he finished up his calls and finally noticed Ariel wasn't in the car. "God damn it, that stupid bitch. Where did she go?" David got out of the car and slammed the door. "Ariel, we're leaving. Let's go!" No one responded to him. He called out to her again, and got nothing. David stomped over to the back of the property. He turned on the flashlight on his phone. "Ariel! Where are you?!" He found her a few feet from the house, in pieces here and there. David dropped his phone and slowly backed up. His heart pounded. David listened closely for any footsteps or rustling nearby. 'What the fuck...I should have never come to this place...' Something tightened around his neck, digging deep into his flesh. He wanted to scream but whatever grabbed him was choking him. He reached for his neck to pull away whatever or whoever it was, but his hands met with nothing. He struggled but could not break free as he could not grab hold of anything. David glanced back to see what was behind him. There she was, the ghost woman. Her veil was soiled, as was her dress. Parts of her body were either missing or rotting away. He felt her touch but he could not touch her in return. "Please, let me go. I am a medium. I can help you pass on..." He pleaded with the ghost. 'This can't be real. It can't be. Ghosts aren't real. This has to be a hologram.' The see through woman dug deeper into him, and slit his throat open. She then cut him up, again and again, as he struggling against what he could not capture and drowned in his own blood. What remained of David lay scattered in a mess of red puddles. In the front yard, a car door slammed shut, then a second one. Two people walked around the house. One of the people, Tom Summerfield, approached the violent ghost. She stopped clawing at the remains of David and crawled across the ground toward Tom. He was not afraid of her. Tom shined a flashlight in her face. She stared at him and climbed up the front of his shirt, moaning incomprehensible words at him. "Aunt Maria, it's your nephew, Tom. I'm not the man you're looking for." Tom kept the light shining in her eyes as he opened up a tablet. He initiated something on the device. "You're such a pest. Dad should have pushed you in front of that train instead of letting it only take your legs. What would you do then?" The woman who came with him, Heather Smith, momentarily collapsed. She stood back up and on her face was an expression far more terrifying than the ghost. Tom was not frightened of her either. He focused on the ghost woman clinging to him. "You're quite the strange phenomenon. You're not quite a broken record nor a free spirit. I grow bored of dealing with your mess. We've concluded any research we can do on your state, and frankly, we already have better, more well-behaved subjects to use." He detailed some information on his tablet that was emailed as soon as he was finished. "Time to get rid of you like Jason." The ghost woman's moaning turned to sobbing cries, as if she knew what Tom's words meant in spite of her broken sanity.Tom walked backwards away from her. The ghost woman drifted back down to the ground. She crawled along the grass, crying and reaching for him. He moved farther away from her. "Now, now, we wouldn't have to do this if you hadn't volunteered yourself to die in the first place by trying to marry that man. You knew what you were doing." When Tom was a good distance from the ghost, he motioned Heather over to him. "AA93, come here." Heather walked with a strange gait over to him. Her arms hung unnaturally at her side. "Yes, Doctor." "Eliminate her entirely." Tom pointed at the remains of Ariel and David. "Then get rid of the mess over there. I have someone I need to call about arranging an accident for the lovely wife. It's fortunate for us he happened upon this place. Saves me the trouble of having to kill him." "When I go back to the room, may I listen to Tina Tiffany's CD again?" Heather's voice was almost child-like when she spoke. "Only one song," He said. Tom looked over at the remains and turned away, not out of disgusting but annoyance. "It's so hard finding competent people. Webb warned you not to come here, he warned you not to investigate, they all warned you. Didn't listen once. Time to run the next program. This will be messier than I prefer. Fortunately, you were already in a bullshit field. Time to make some calls." Heather's hands and eyes dripped with red, then red rained down above them. The ghost woman shrieked in fear and tried to cower underground. Some invisible force ripped her from the earth and held her spirit in the air. She sobbed as she screamed louder. With her, what remained of Ariel and David rose up. Heather raised her open palms and balled her fists. The ghost woman let out one last scream as her spirit was ripped apart and disappeared. The remains of David and Ariel burst into splashes of red that mixed in with all the red rain falling on them. "And with that, you disappeared." Tom had already opened up an umbrella in advanced. He started to walk back to the car. To Heather, he said, "AA93, get in the car." "Don't forget about my song." Heather followed behind him. "One song. Pick it out quick." Tom opened his door and got in the car. Heather hopped into the front passenger seat. She was soaked in blood. "Samson and Delilah, that one's my favorite." "Not that one. I hate it. You're listening to Dreaming of Me." Tom send a message to someone and started the car. "That's the only song I don't like! Please!" Heather begged him. "Fine. You can pick any song, except Samson and Delilah. I don't need you running wild too." Tom put in the CD. "Gravity, that's what I'm picking." Heather clicked forward to the song she wanted. "Ugh, that song." Tom rolled his eyes as he backed out of the driveway. "But Tina looked so cute in that armor with all the frills and her hair up! Rescuing a prince in a tower! I love the video!" Heather played with her hair. "I wish I could grow my hair out like that and sing on a stage." "You can't. Monsters can't sing. All you're good for is murder." Tom noticed the rain was clear now. He smirked. "Good. They got that going already. That should clean up most of the mess you left behind." Heather, drenched in red, happily danced to the music playing in the car. She wanted to sing, but she kept that inside, knowing Tom would stop her. Her happy display alone was enough to upset Tom. He glared at her. "I'm going to need to reprogram you when we get back, or switch you over for a while. We can't have this sort of nonsense. It serves no productive purpose." "But Tom, I like dancing. Isn't a little okay?" Heather pouted at him. "Ugh, stop that right now. I've had enough of your nonsense." Tom said. Heather immediately stopped and went quiet. This didn't satisfy Tom enough. He opened his tablet and hit something on it. Heather fell asleep for most of the ride. Tom made phone calls in the car to arrange for how to deal with tying up every little loose end in regards to David's investigation. Someone was already on the way to tow David's car and confiscate any personal belongings left in it. When they were almost back to the main building in Rome, Heather woke. She fixed her hair and looked over at Tom. Her voice was even more robotic and emotionless than when she spoke to David. Heather looked at David, turning only her head. "Doctor, is it time to make another educational video?" "No, Delilah, not today. I simply didn't want to deal with AA93 or Heather. Be a good girl for me, and write an appropriate obituary for the following individuals..." Tom said. The rain washed away everything. Karen Smith, better known by her professional name, Ravenna Love, was killed in a car accident an hour later. It was presumed as suicide by the police. David Oglethorpe and Jane Hopkins, known by most as David Serafina and Ariel Moonstone, were deemed missing and no clues were ever found to their whereabouts. The rumors of the ghost bride faded away into nearly forgot local lore at an unnaturally quick pace. The old house was condemned and a large house built over it shortly after. David's son, Joseph, was put in charge of his father's accounts, including his email account, but the last few emails from a certain singer were deleted before he could read them. David's last special was canceled. His final book was published posthumously in an incomplete form, missing its last story, Track 14.
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