The Hauntings of

 Cold Creek Hollow

 

Chapter One

 

     April screamed as something furry rolled over her foot.  She set her coffee cup down and looked for the feared rodent.  Armed with a broom, she investigated and found a dust bunny being pushed by a draft.  It rolled along the mopboard of the remodeled kitchen.  A quick sweep of the broom into her dustpan and mystery solved.  She smiled as she tucked her cleaning supplies away in the pantry.

     It wasn’t like her to be jumpy, but the old house had been sounding a bit different in the last few days.  A faint creak of a stair or the groan of an old hinge wasn’t enough to put April off late nights alone in the house, but it did add to the discomfort of her new hours.

     She was on the midnight to six shift this week which was a pain, but it paid more.  April put her headset on and sat down at the computer, plugging into the network as she got ready for the next call.

     “Redwing Phone’s customer service, April speaking.  How can I help you?”

     April looked past the computer screen as the customer, Brian Sterling from Tacoma Washington, detailed his problem.  She gazed into her living room with pride.  She had never thought that she would own a home of her own, let alone a two story, one-hundred-and-thirty-year-old clapboard farmhouse.

     The house had been one of five offered by Restoration Realty.  They had come in and stripped out the bad, added the new and popped it on the market.  Unfortunately for them, the market crashed.  Fortunately for April, she was able to bargain a great price.  Sure the front door knob rattled in the middle of the night, and she heard what sounded like creaky footsteps on the porch, but everything could be explained in the light of day.

     “Yes sir, I understand.  Let me talk you through the setup procedure...” April keyed in the phone’s type, quickly found the page and started to patiently guide Brian through the email setup application for his phone.

     Brian was waiting to receive the email test she sent when the well-appointed room got chilly.  April reached around to put on her sweater that was hanging on the back of her chair.  “You should receive it...  Oh, you have, good,” she said through chattering teeth.  It was evident the farmhouse’s furnace needed some adjustments as she could now see her breath in front of her.  “Is there anything else Redwing can do for you?”

     Brian was satisfied and hung up.  As April waited for the next call, she buttoned up her sweater and cleaned her glasses to remove a smudge that was interfering with the long sight of the bifocals.  She held up the glasses to the light of the computer screen.  The smudge wasn’t there.  The glasses were sparkling clean.  She put them on and looked out into the living room.  The distortion was still there.  As she reached for her glasses, the distortion moved.

     As a bifocal wearer she was used to “image jump” or ghosts in the lenses.  Refusing to spend mega bucks on transitional lenses, April would just have to put up with it.  She took off her glasses again, this time staring at where the distortion was, expecting it to be gone.  It wasn’t.  And now it was moving towards her.

     April pushed her chair back and tried to get up, conscious that the computer was putting through the next call.  She regretted not purchasing the Bluetooth headset as she was tethered to the computer by the twelve foot cord.  The distortion thickened, and April could see a gray image three feet tall suspended between the wood floor and corniced ceiling.  It moved slowly past her towards the casement windows.

     “Hello...” a male voice broke through the haze of her fear.  “Is this customer service?”

     Jerked back into this world, April disconnected the call.  When she looked up again, the image had form.  It was a woman in her middle years, wearing a long printed gown.  April reared back.  The cord strained at first before it disconnected.  Freed, April was out of her seat and backing away from the image.

     Oblivious to April, the woman adjusted the drapes at the window, patted her hair, turned around and disappeared.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

     Mia leaned against the door of the F 150 and waited.  The weather was mild for March, so the hoodie she had on was warm enough as long as the sun continued to dance unfettered by the clouds.  Rose said that they would be driving a deep blue SUV.  She didn’t go in for details so Mia had to check out every Ford, GM and foreign model that passed the crossroads.

     “Note to self: no more favors,” Mia said as she pulled her well-worn Cubs baseball cap down over her eyes.  She tested her hearing.  She could tell an SUV from a sedan by the whine of the wheels on the black top.  “Who needs eyes?”

     She heard a sedan slow in front of her, and she pushed back her hat in time to see Deputy Whitney Martin, Whit to his friends, pull up and lower the window of the county sheriff’s patrol car.

     “Hey, Mia,” the dishwater blonde man greeted her with relaxed familiarity.

     “Whit.”

     “Whatcha doing on the side of the road?”

     “I’m manning a speed trap,” she said in mock seriousness.

     “How fast was I going?” Whit humored the young woman.

     “Real, real fast.”

     “Damn, there goes my insurance.  You broke down?”

     “Nope, everything’s fine,” Mia said, shuffling a bit from side to side.

     “Spill it.”

     “Rose is having me direct some... clients back to the old Murphy place.”

     “Since when do you work for Rose?”

     “Since I owed her a favor.”  Mia hadn’t really thought that Rose saving her place in line at the ice rink last winter would result in Mia now wasting half her day.

     “Well, you’re doing a good deed.  Folks get lost back there.”

     “They wouldn’t get lost if the county would replace the road signs.  Hell, me and the postman are the only folks that know our way around,” she complained.

     “I hear they’re waiting for the developers to do it.”  Whit winced at the thought of developers.  “The town is offering the Magnus Group big tax concessions.”

     “Nah, it ain’t gonna happen, not in this economy.  Rose’s group is barely hanging on, and they’re just fixing up the old crap.”

     “People got to live somewhere.”

     “But who wants to live back in Cold Creek Hollow?  Water’s rusty, no cable TV, no Seven-Eleven,” Mia counted off.

     “Water softeners and satellite TV.”

     “I see you’ve been thinking about it,” she accused.

     “Ah, you know, Sherry is tired of living in town, says it dulls her vibe.”

     Mia chuckled as she thought about Whit’s wife.  “Artists and their vibes.”

     “All I know is that there are three houses left, and they’re dirt cheap.  So if Sherry wants a new vibe then...”

     “Whit, you don’t want the kind of vibe that is out in the hollow.  It’s mean.”

     Whit appraised Mia’s stern face and knew better than to argue the point.  “I don’t know, she’s got it in her head...”

     “Okay, at least let me look the place over before you sign anything.  Promise me.”

     “Couldn’t hurt.  Fine,” Whit said and nodded down the road.  “I think this might be your people.”

     Mia followed his gaze, and sure enough, a blue SUV was signaling to pull over.

     “Better get back on the road.”  Whit pulled out into traffic and gave a friendly wave to the out-of-towners before he drove off.

 

~

 

     Burt nodded at the deputy as he pulled in behind the truck. “I think that’s our tour guide,” he told his partner who was busy on the cell phone.

     “I don’t know who we’re going to need yet.  I have to see how big a job this is.  One, two cameras at the most.  Yeah, yeah, probably a hoax, but we need this job to finish out the season...  Cross your fingers.  I gotta go.  Bye.”  Mike looked out the window.  “That her?  She’s a pretty little thing.”

     “Now, you be on your best manners.  Remember what happened in Cleveland,” Burt cautioned as he watched the petite blond scrutinize them.

     “Yeah, yeah,” he said as he opened his window.

     Mia approached the open window of the SUV.

     “You Rose?” Mike asked.

     Mia looked at the handsome male’s face adorned by expensive sunglasses and said, “Nope, name’s Mia.  Rose couldn’t make it.  You’re here about the old Murphy place?”

     “If that’s where April Johnston lives,” Mike said, lifting his glasses and looking at his notes.

     “I guess so, never met her. Follow me,” she instructed the driver.  “It’s easy to get lost in the hollow.”

     “Yes, Miss, Mrs?” Burt fished.

     “Mia’s fine.”  The woman turned on her heel, walked up to her truck and opened the door.  She stepped up, still keeping a watch on the SUV out of the corner of her eye.  The expensive vehicle with the Kansas plates seemed sturdy enough for the rough roads ahead, but were the occupants?  Mia filed her thoughts under “what if” as she started the motor.  Checking traffic, she signaled and pulled out.

     “Not too friendly.”

     “She’s not the one to impress,” Burt said as he followed Mia into traffic.

 

~

 

     Mia pulled off at Cold Creek and waited for the boys to catch up.  She rolled down her window and stuck her arm out to point to the road they would be taking and proceeded to turn into a wooded area.

     “What do these guys want with April?” Mia asked herself.  Looking back in the mirror, she made sure the boys were behind her before she proceeded.  “I wonder if Murphy is up to his old tricks.”

 

~

 

     “Six turns, two forks, one right, one left…  I think we took the left one?” Mike questioned his short hand.  “Man, I’ve never seen a place so lacking in road signs.”

     “I guess we know why we needed a guide,” Burt said as they pulled into a dirt track hedged by a pine woods barely wide enough for Mia’s truck.

     As they drove further, the woods receded and farmland cut into the hillside.  Nestled in the middle of the clearing was a beautiful, white clapboard house with two outbuildings, one a converted barn and the other a shed of some sort.  Mia pulled her truck over at the barn and motioned them to stop.  Hopping out of the truck, she met them halfway.

     “You think you can find your way back?”

     “No.”  Burt paled.

     “At least you’re honest.  I’ll cool my heels for a while.  If you’re going to be more than an hour, I’m sure the lady of the house will guide you back.”

     “Fair enough.”  He reached out and shook her hand.

     His skin was soft which surprised Mia.  He had the look of a laborer but had soft hands.  “Just give a holler.  I’ll be over by the woodpile.”

     Burt smiled at her retreat.  She was a good looking woman.  Five two at the most, lean but not too ropey.  He caught himself staring.  Lord, he was getting as bad as Mike.

 

~

 

     Mia walked slowly to a hewed-log picnic table adjacent to the woodpile and sat down.  She reached into her pocket and pulled out her Bluetooth and adjusted it to her ear.  She knew the reception was crap in the hollow, but it didn’t matter.  She wasn’t going to make a call.

     He came out of the barn carrying an axe.  His torn overalls were dirty with dust and time.  The farmer slowly approached her.

     “Hey, Murph.”

     Murphy didn’t say anything but acknowledged her with a tip of his hat.

     “Looks like you’re losing some weight,” Mia teased as the man came nearer.

 

~

 

     The men watched Mia from the front of the house.  She was having an animated conversation, apparently with herself.

     “Who’s she talking to?” Mike asked Burt who was standing on the porch waiting for April to answer the door.

     “She’s on the phone.  Got one of those ear thingies...”

     “Bluetooth,” Mike supplied.

     “Yes, why in god’s name do they call it...” he didn’t finish as the door opened and a woman dressed in a dark two-piece power suit stood there.

     “April Johnston?” Mike asked.

     “Yes, you’re...”

     “Mike Dupree and Burt Hicks from PEEPs.  We’re here to help.”

 

~

 

     Mia watched as the men went into the house.  The alpha male, Mike, was tall and dark and had spent some time in the gym.  The other was soft but not unpleasantly so.  Murphy hoisted himself up on the table and angled his head towards the house.

     “Don’t ask me.  I’m only the help.”

     Murphy pulled out his watch and stared at her.

     “I know it’s been a while.  I’m surprised you noticed.”

     Three fingers went up and he nodded upwards.

     “Three days?  Oh, sorry, three moons.  Yes, that’s about right.  Can’t get back here with the snow, and besides, April would be a bit put out to see me hanging around her house.  I hear she never leaves it.  Got some kind of computer job at home.”

     Murphy nodded as he examined the blade of his axe.

     Mia laughed.  “Like you know what a computer is, such a liar. Speaking of liars, ran into Whit a while ago.”

     Murphy slapped his thigh and soundlessly laughed.

     “Yeah, I remember when he tried to spend the night in the barn when we were kids.  You came in with your axe, and the little shit, well, peed himself.  That weren’t nice, but he did deserve it.  Claimed that the barn was haunted, imagine that.”

     Murphy slapped his thigh again.

     “Whit says that he and his missus are going to buy one of the three houses up yonder,” Mia said as she jerked her head west.

     The axe-wielding farmer jumped up and slammed his foot down.

     “I know, I told him bad stuff happened out there.  Why those reclamation folks had to mess around with those houses...  Lordy, gives me the shivers.”

     Murphy looked upset so Mia changed the subject.  “Seen old One Feather lately?”

     Murphy pointed to the hillside and mimicked horseback riding.

     “Ah, is he still riding that bay?  I know, of course he is, never stops.  I think he’s been doing that since...”  Mia looked over and smiled as Murphy put his hand down low.  “Since, you were a little shaver.  Speaking of shaving...”  She laughed as he shrugged his shoulders and rubbed his jaw.

 

~

 

     Burt watched Mia from the window.  That must be some conversation she was having, looked like fun.  Fun he could use about now.  April turned out to be an anal, house-proud client.  Yes, they could come in.  No, they couldn’t move the furniture.  No, they couldn’t attach anything to the furniture.  Yes, she expected results.  No, they couldn’t eat on the premises.  Yes, cameras were fine.  And no one uses her john.

     “Lady, what if we have to pee?” Mike asked.

     “Outside.”

     “We have two female investigators, and they are not going to pee outside,” Burt informed her.

     “Well, okay.”

     Mike was tired of being told things so he stood up.  “You realize that we’re here to help you out, free of charge.”

     “I understand that I’m not charging you to film my ghost.”

     Lord, what a bitch, Mike thought but said, “We understand your concerns and will do everything in our power to document your haunting.”

     “Get rid of it,” April ordered.

     “You understand that this may not be possible depending on what kind of a haunting it is.”

     “I don’t understand.”

     Mike put his hands up to steady his temper.  “There’s residual haunting.  That’s when something happens over and over again as if it’s a video in a loop.  There’s not much we can do about this kind of ghost.  It doesn’t interact so there’s no communication.  An active responsive ghost is another thing.  But if it’s an unnatural haunt, you will have to bring in the church.  We don’t do them.”

     “What kind of ghost do I have?”

     “We haven’t seen it yet,” Burt said calmly.

     “Come here at three am and you’ll see it.”

     “So we have a deal then, all we need is for you to sign here... and here,” he pointed out the places on the contract.

     April picked up the document and sat down to read it first.  Burt excused himself and went out on the porch.  Mike just fumed.

 

~

 

     Murphy pushed himself up off the picnic table and picked up his axe.  He nodded towards the house, and Mia saw that Burt had exited and was walking their way.

     Murphy waited until Burt passed him before hauling off and sinking his axe into a piece of firewood.  “Crack!”

     Burt jumped, confused by the sound, and looked warily around him.

     “You lose something?” Mia called.

     “Nope, just a bit jumpy that’s all.  You on the phone?” he asked, tapping his ear.

     “Not at the moment,” Mia said, unhooking the device and storing it in her pocket.  She patted the table beside her.  “Have a seat.  You look like you could use one.”

     Burt smiled and hauled his butt up on the table and, like Mia, used the seat for a footrest.  “What I could use is a drink, but I’m driving.”

     “Me too,” Mia commiserated.  “So, tell me what brings you out here.”

     “Fresh air, no cloying scent of Lysol.”

     “No, I meant here as in Cold Creek Hollow,” she explained.

     “I’m sure it will get out eventually, but if you could keep it under wraps I would appreciate it.”  He waited for her to nod before continuing, “April Johnston is convinced her house is haunted.”

     Mia caught Murphy out of the corner of her eye swinging his axe and prepared herself for the crack.

     “Really, I guess it’s possible.  Heard some funny things around here.”  Mia made a face in Murphy’s direction.

     The farmer raised his axe overhead and let the weight fall onto a long forgotten tree stump.  The crack reverberated off the neighboring trees and up over the hillside.

     “Did you hear that?”  Burt’s brown eyes opened wide enough for Mia to see his soul.

     “The chopping sound?”

     “Yes.”

     “Sounds like...”

     “Someone is cutting wood with an axe,” Burt supplied.

     “Is that what April is hearing?” Mia fished.

     “No, not to my knowledge.”

     “Oh.  Maybe she’s heard the hoof beats coming from the ghost horse that the Indian rides as he haunts the hillside?”  She raised her eyebrows to elicit a reaction.

     Mia waited for Burt to speak again.  He didn’t.

     “So what does a possible haunting have to do with you guys?”

     “Mike and I have an investigative paranormal show we hope to sell to the network.”

     “You’re not...”

     “No, not them.  We’re just starting out, but we have been involved in quite a few investigations, part-time of course.”

     “Doesn’t pay well?” she inquired.

     “Don’t get paid anything.  But if we get picked up then...”

     “Sponsors, payday,” Mia listed.

     “I hope so.  I’ve sunk my life’s savings into equipment.”

     “Cameras?”

     “Sure, cameras, digital recorders, full-spectrum cameras, infrared...”

     “All that equipment to do what?”

     “Document a haunting.  Like your lone Indian...  About what time-ish does he ride?”

     “Every day at four, rain or shine,” Mia said offhandedly.  “So, just saying a place is haunted ain’t enough?”

     “Nope, you need pictures, sound recordings and sometimes a priest.”

     “Priest?”  Mia looked nervous.  “What do you need a priest for?”

     “Mia, you may not believe this, but there are things out there that are evil.”

     “Oh, I believe you, but a priest sounds a bit drastic to me.  Hell, everyone around here is Lutheran, ’cept the Harrisons and they’re Baptist.”

     “Baptists with a demon become Roman Catholics instantly.”

     “You really believe that?”

     “Nah, just saying.”  Burt smiled, and Mia fought the urge to trace his laugh lines with her hands.

     Mia started laughing and jumped as Murphy whacked his axe for the Baptists.

     Burt looked over at her and accused, “You do hear that.  Do you know what’s making that sound?”

     “Can’t say,” she tap danced around the subject.  “There are a lot of unexplainable things here in the hollow.”

     “Well, in two weeks we’re going to try to explain what is going on in yonder house,” Burt said proudly.

     Mia got up and put on her Bluetooth.  “Well, good luck to you.  If you will excuse me, I have to take this call.”  She patted her pocket to indicate a cell phone, hopped down off the table and walked away towards the barn.

     Burt looked after her and was a bit concerned with the argument she was having with the voice on the other end of the line.