“We are in what I call a pocket universe. It’s something like a hiccup in time and space.” Lance was sitting up, drinking more hot tea that Sergio had brewed. “I’d heard of such things before, though I didn’t really put the pieces together until after you three showed up.”
“So what exactly is a pocket universe?” Kat probed. “What does it do?”
“Well each one is slightly different, but from what I gather it creates a sort of time loop until whatever is causing the problem is corrected, which could be tomorrow or it could be never. I heard there was a big one that’s been going on since the Renaissance, and the loop consumes whole generations. People die, and are reborn every few hundred years or so to restart the loop. Not sure if anyone’s resolved that one yet. Ours is much smaller, but no less dangerous. It only started when the war ended, three years ago, and appears to repeat itself every month.”
Sergio was leaning in, fully entranced with the story. “So you’re saying, we’re repeating the same thing over and over.”
“Well, not exactly. See you’ve probably noticed that each month doesn’t happen exactly the same way, just that there are tonal similarities, am I right?”
They nodded, and Sergio asked another question. “But I saw a man die several times, and then he would be back the next month.”
“Yes, every month resets the loop, see. People that died are suddenly alive again, with no recollection of what happened to them. But it’s not an exact replay of events. That would mean we don’t have free will, and there’d be no hope of fixing things. But we do have free will, and that means we have a chance.”
“So what are the ghosts?” Kat asked.
Lance shook his head. “I honestly don’t know. My best theory is that a pocket universe like this creates an enormous amount of…I don’t know, cosmic energy or something like that, and the ghosts are attracted to that. So far, I’ve only learned how to hold them off, nothing more. And after tonight, that might not be enough.”
“What happens if you don’t drive them off?”
“They enter the city, and kill everyone inside, like that one almost killed me tonight. Happened once or twice in the beginning. I was the only survivor the first time it happened. But everyone just came back to life the next day, like nothing was wrong. I could see a difference though. They had become…docile. I don’t want to know what happens to them when they die and come back to life, but something is lost in the transition.”
“We’ve noticed,” Sergio said with a grimace. Kat nodded. There had been something weird about some of the mothers that she met in the park. Sergio had seen the same sort of zombie-like quality among the workers he’d associated with.
“Yes, I suspect there’s some larger force at work, but I can’t prove it. And until you two came, nothing really changed.”
“You think we have something to do with the red eyed ghost?” Kat asked.
“All I know is that there’s something about one or more of you that is special, and there’s someone that doesn’t like it. You’ve rattled a cage.”
Kat glanced at Sergio. They never had told Lance about Alice, about being a future Founder. The question passed silently between them. Sergio shrugged, his way of saying ‘go for it.’
“We, ah, haven’t told you everything about us. Well, more specifically, we haven’t told you everything about Alice.”
So she started again from the beginning, telling Lance everything about Invergence and the pursuit that led them here. She didn’t leave out anything this time, explaining why Invergence wanted their hands on the little girl. Alice was a future Founder, one of the most important people in Argo Force’s organization, and Invergence wanted her for themselves, if for nothing more than to raise her as their own.
“Crumbs,” Lance said when she finished. “A Founder! I had no idea. Never thought I’d ever meet one to be honest.” He was staring at Alice’s room where the girl lay sleeping. “Well, that explains the ghost’s interest in her.”
“How exactly does it explain that? Alice isn’t a Founder yet, and the ghost presumably has no knowledge of her future.”
“Presumably, yes. But I suspect there’s something more about the girl than meets the eye, see.”
“You’re saying she has superpowers or something?”
“No, not per se, but there’s an…energy that surrounds people like the Founders. Influencers on a galactica scale, you know. Crumbs, a real Founder.” He turned again to stare at Alice’s door. “Maybe the ghost detected something in her.”
Kat decided to bring the conversation back on topic. “Okay that explains why it’s interested in Alice, so how do we drive it off for good, and the rest of the ghosts too? How do we end the loop?”
“Well, I have a few theories, but nothing concrete to go on yet. My guess is that something horribly wrong happened here, or happened to someone here, and that trauma somehow tore a rift in time and space. Either that, or aliens, and I’m inclined to think the former.”
“Probably a safe assumption.”
“Anyway, if we can find out what happened and somehow correct it, or compensate for it, we may be able to stop the loop. Trouble is, I have no idea where to even start looking.”
Kat tapped a finger to her lips. “I may have something. There’s a boy I’ve seen a few times now, Norma’s child. I think he might have something to do with this.”
“Yes, I’ve seen the child. What makes you think he’s important?”
“I don’t know, just a hunch. Norma might also be involved. I saw her eyes flash red the last time we argued. Might even have something to do with the ghost we saw tonight. She seems different from the others, more…assertive. I don’t know, it’s just a thought.”
“Well, we certainly don’t have much else to go on.” Sergio stood and took Lance’s tea cup. “What’s our strategy.”
“We follow them.” Kat said, and both Lance and Sergio turned their heads to look at her. “We need more evidence. Without more information we’ll have no idea how to solve the problem, so we start with observation. Then we move on from there.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Lance said cheerfully. “Always enjoyed a good stake out. Though there’s only three of us, and I doubt we can keep an eye on Norma and the boy all the time.”
“That’s okay, we can just start by doing what we can.” Kat was feeling a rush of determination. If they were going to fix this, they were going to do it right.
The ghosts had bitten off more than they could chew by threatening Alice.
Unfortunately, following Norma around was easier said than done. For the next few weeks, they did their best to try and find Simon, but the boy was nowhere to be found. On the days that Lance or Sergio watched the home, they could see no sign of the child. Kat hadn’t seen him either, not since more than a month past when they had met in the park. She sure hoped nothing had happened to the boy. She wouldn’t put it past Norma to hurt him somehow.
Days passed and Kat was growing increasingly frustrated. The real estate agent appeared to be just that. She went to work, showed off some houses to local townspeople interested in upgrading their home, and did nothing else out of the ordinary.
In the end, she, Sergio, and Lance decided that their best shot would be on the second Friday of the month, the day when the number of supernatural oddities seemed to be at their highest.
Kat awoke on that second Friday with an idea. Sergio had already left to join Lance in watching Norma’s home. So after giving Alice her morning food and changing her, Kat found herself in the kitchen. She had never been the best cook, but today needed to be different. She rolled up her sleeves, opened up a book on baking, and got to work.
An hour later, she proudly laid out a dozen cookies. They were a little dry, but not all that bad for what Kat was used to. She had followed the recipe to exactness, and it turned out alright. Placing them on a plate, she wrapped it with a foil sheet, and prepared to join her husband and Lance.
Not long after, she pulled the stroller up alongside the car where Lance and Sergio sat. It was parked on the opposite side of the road and further down the street from Norma’s house. But it still held a clear view, so if Norma left, they would see it.
“Hey boys.” she said as Sergio rolled down the window.
“Careful,” Sergio glanced around. “We don’t want all three of us to be seen at once, it’s risky.”
“We agreed that today was the day that we were most likely to learn something. Plus, I had an idea.”
Lance spotted, or rather smelled, the cookies in Kat’s hand. “Well it was sure nice of you to bring something for us to munch on!”
“These aren’t for you.” she said absently.
“Say what now?”
Kat sighed, “Look, we haven’t seen anything for the past few weeks, which means we need to change up our strategy. And today of all days, I’m not just going to wait around. I made these cookies for Norma, and I’m going to deliver them to her.”
“Are you sure that’s a wise—”
But Kat was already pushing the stroller ahead. She pulled alongside the house and stopped to take a few deep breaths. The place didn’t exactly fit the haunted house vibe, but it was one of those older homes, well…older by Kat’s standards, that would be a bit creepy if it weren’t in such good condition. Norma obviously liked things to be perfect in her home.
She reached the door, the plate of cookies held in one hand, steeled herself, and knocked.
Someone was definitely home, she heard some sounds from inside. It sounded like Norma was talking to someone, though the sound was too muffled for Kat to make anything of it. Kat waited for a few seconds before she heard a latch at the door. Norma’s face appeared through the opening, though she didn’t open the door wide enough for Kat to see inside.
“Hi!” Kat said, putting on her most cheerful voice. “Listen, I thought we got on the wrong foot the other day, and I’ve been feeling so badly about it every since. I wanted to make it up to you.” She offered the plate of cookies.
Norma paused considering what to do, before that fake smile touched her lips. “Very kind of you dearie. A nice gesture, if somewhat late in arriving.”
Kat forced herself to keep smiling. “Are you busy? I thought I heard voices inside.”
Norma’s eyes flashed, though not with red this time. “Oh, that’s just my cat.”
“Well I was hoping maybe I could come in for a bit, maybe we could talk and try to patch things up. Resolve our misunderstandings.”
Norma grew more stern. “I’m afraid not, dearie. I’ve got to go meet with a client about a house. I’m sure you’ll understand.”
Kat felt her heart sink. This was getting her nowhere. She couldn’t see anything inside the house, and Norma was giving her nothing to go on. Should she try to push further?
Maybe they could get a glimpse inside once Norma left. They had never tried to get in the house before, but this time they had a guarantee that Norma would be gone for a while. Yes, that was a good plan. Kat kept the smile on her face. “Of course, I’m sorry to disturb you. Another time perhaps.”
“Yes, that would be lovely. You’ll understand that today is a very busy day for me.”
“Yes, naturally. Perhaps we’ll see each other around.”
She handed the cookies to Norma, who promptly shut the door in her face. Kat didn’t walk back to Sergio and Lance in their car, in case Norma was watching. Instead, she pushed the stroller in the opposite direction until she turned around a corner out of sight. Alice was beginning to babble, saying a few words, naming the familiar objects around her. She had been unexpectedly quiet while they were at Norma’s door.
She peeked around the corner, hoping that none of the neighbors were watching too closely. After a few moments, Norma exited her house, locked it, and left in a small automobile. As Kat had guessed, she was driving towards the row of new houses that Kat and Sergio lived on, the opposite direction from Kat’s hiding place.
Once she was sure that Norma really was gone, she turned around and walked the stroller back down the street, eventually arriving at Lance’s car. Sergio rolled down the window.
“Did you learn anything?” he asked eagerly.
“Not much. She didn’t open her door all the way. Though I swear I could hear voices before she answered the door. She claimed she was talking to her cat, but I’m not so sure.”
“You think there could be someone still in the house?”
“I think we should check to find out.”
“What?” said Lance. “Just go inside her house? That’s breaking and entering.”
Kat rolled her eyes, “I think the circumstances justify that much at least.”
Lance looked like he was about to say something, then he closed his mouth and remained quiet. Sergio grabbed Kat’s hands. “What if it’s not Simon in there? What if Norma has some sort of co-conspirator, or someone dangerous inside?”
“If you want to protect me, you can come with me. But I’m going into that house, one way or another.”
Sergio pursed his lips, but reached a decision. Unbuckling he exited the car. Lance followed suit right behind.
“Okay,” said Sergio as he stood. “We’re really doing this.”
“There’s no better day to try,” said Kat. “It’s the second Friday of the month, if we don’t learn something today, we’ll have to wait even longer, and who knows what could happen in that time.”
Both Sergio and Lance seemed to be onboard by now, so Kat led them back to Norma’s home. She knocked, and listened hard. Was that a rustling she heard? She tried the handle, but it was locked. So she turned around and began walking to the back of the house.
“Can’t believe we’re doing this in broad daylight.” Lance glanced around nervously. “What if someone sees us?”
“It can’t be worse than what that ghost did to you.” Kat pointed out.
Lance considered that and eventually shrugged. “Crumbs, if my mother could see me now.”
Kat didn’t bother to consider what his mother would do. Instead, she located the back door and gave it a small shove. Nothing. Darn, maybe she could…
This time she definitely heard it, a muffled sound coming from inside. It was coming from one of the basement windows at the base of the house. Getting on her knees, she crouched down and shielded her vision to try and get a glimpse of what was in the dark room.
She could make out something. A small form on a chair, though the darkness made it difficult to see any details. The muffled sound came again. There was definitely someone in there. Could it be Simon?
The window was one of those permanent fixtures, so she couldn’t open it. But by now, she had lost all sense of stealth. She would get in the house if she had to break down the door to do it. Standing up from looking in the window, she faced Lance. “Can you get in the door?”
Lance rubbed the back of his neck. “I…um, I’m not sure that’s wise.”
“There is someone in the basement, someone small. I think it’s Simon and I think he might be in trouble. We need to get in there, now!” Her tone did not inspire argument. Lance fished in his pockets and brought out a few metal sticks, obviously made for lock picking. “The guys at the office would not like me having these, but I figured it was a good skill to have.”
He walked up to the back door while Kat and Sergio watched, enraptured. It took a while, longer than Kat felt comfortable waiting. Lance told them several times that they needed to be patient, that unlocking a door took precision. Kat was about to question Lance’s skill at lock picking when finally, something caught and the door swung open.
“There, see. I told you I’d get it eventually.” Lance said. Kat didn’t have the heart to tell him that most doors didn’t take twenty minutes to unlock for a professional. But she lost that thought as soon as she entered. It took only seconds to locate the door to the basement.
She readied herself for what she might find there and stepped down the stairs. Unfortunately, her fears were completely founded. Tied to a chair, in the middle of the room was Simon. The boy’s face was pale and he had tears in his eyes. His head remained slumped to one side, but his eyes were open, and they found Kat’s.
“Oh my goodness, Simon.” She rushed to him, finding the cords that held his hands to the armrests of the chair. “What has she been doing to you?”
“Hurts,” was all Simon could manage.
“Something fishy is definitely going on here.” Lance said as he looked from the boy to the rest of the house.
“Yeah,” said Sergio. “I’ve noticed it too. There’s hardly anything in this house. Norma must be some minimalist.”
“Or, her needs are not the same as ours.” Lance speculated.
“Will you two shut up and help me free this boy?” Kat was trying and failing to undo the cords tying Simon.
“Oh yes, of course.” Lance produced a small pocket knife from his pocket. The man sure made a good Boy Scout. He seemed prepared for everything.
Lance used the knife to slice cleanly through the cords. Simon took his hands and lifted them, as if disbelieving that he was really free.
Then he shot to his feet faster than Kat would have thought possible for a boy in his condition. He had seemed so weak a moment before.
“Go!” He indicated the door, taking a few steps himself.
Kat felt no need to argue. They had the boy, and there was no way she was going to let Norma have him again. They needed to get out.
They climbed the stairs and emerged into the kitchen and dining room above. The others had been right, Kat realized. There was nothing here. A few candy wrappers littered the floor. Had Norma been feeding Simon only candy? There was no fridge, nothing to indicate there was extra food in the house. Though Kat’s cookies lay untouched on the counter.
“I knew you couldn’t possibly be here because you felt sorry.”
The three of them whirled to face the speaker, and Kat felt a familiar fight or flight sensation take over her body. She hadn’t felt that since they first arrived in Greenfield. It was Norma, hands on hips, smiling and looking like she had just caught someone digging into the cookie jar. Simon stood behind Kat, and she could feel him shivering. She just wasn’t sure if it was the cold from being stranded in the basement for so long, or fear of Norma.
“Well, well, well. What have I caught?”
Lance was the first to make a move. He stepped forward, producing a badge from his jacket. “I’m afraid it’s not us who are caught, ma’am. We’ve seen this here abuse of your child and I simply will not stand for it. You’re under arrest.”
Norma’s smile widened, unnerving Kat even more, which she had not thought possible. “Oh, I don’t think so young man. I am this town, all are under my control.”
“Not all,” Kat said, trying to keep a brave face, but still fighting that unexplainable dread that threatened to overtake her.
Norma faced her. “All.” she emphasised the word. “But go ahead, take the boy. He means very little to me now anyway.”
“What kind of a monster are you?” Sergio was staring at the woman. “What kind of mother keeps her son locked up, starved and without anyone to love him?”
Lance produced a pair of handcuffs from his belt, and cautiously approached the woman. Norma regarded him without fear. Staring from him to the others.
“What kind of monster am I? I think you already have an idea.”
Kat swallowed. Norma was right. She did have an idea. And she had been hoping until now that she was wrong.
Norma’s eyes flashed a fiery red, and then the rest of her began to change. Lance jumped back as Norma turned translucent, her hair darkened, and her eyes glowed even brighter. There was no mistaking it. Norma was the red-eyed ghost from the foothills.
Simon screamed. It was far greater volume than Kat would have expected from him, weak as he was. Alice began to cry.
A terrible laughter filled the room. Like multiple voices laughing in unison. Some a deep rumble, others a high-pitched cackle.
“Still think you’re in charge here?” The voice came from Norma, now in full ghost form. “I could kill all of you without a thought.”
“So why don’t you?” Kat said, sounding braver than she felt. She was clutching Alice so hard, the girl was squirming.
The ghost looked…thoughtful, if that was an expression ghosts were capable of. “I may have uses for you. Go ahead and take the boy. He’s served me as much as I needed.”
“I won’t let you ever lay a finger on him again.” Kat growled.
“Oh I very much doubt that…dearie.” Norma said the last word with what looked like a smile.
And with a loud rush of air, she was gone.
Kat found that all three of them were breathing heavily, Alice was crying, and Simon looked like he was about to hyperventilate. It was Sergio who broke the silence.
“Do you…do you think that she’s right? Are we really as powerless as that…whatever that was, suggests?”
“Son, no enemy has ever admitted his weaknesses before today, and I don’t expect that to change, even from a ghost. She has a weakness or I’m a gopher.” The detective seemed decidedly calm for having just met the ghost that nearly killed him a few weeks earlier. He could have been talking about the weather.
“But the way she just let us take the boy…”
“I think she was telling the truth,” Kat interjected. “At least in part. I think she really doesn’t care about the boy anymore. Before, when I confronted her about Simon, she got all upset. I didn’t see any of that this time.”
Sergio leaned close and spoke in a low voice to keep Simon from hearing. “Yeah, about that. What are we going to do with him. Take him in ourselves?”
Kat nodded. “At least until we figure this out. He’s the only lead we have on what’s going on here. He might help us learn something. Besides, would you trust anyone else with him, in this town?”
Sergio shook his head. “Not a one. Okay then, let’s get him home. He looks half starved, and the other half frozen.”
“I’ll see what I can dig up about these two in our archives.” said Lance, rubbing his stubble. “I know the station has a few records, and I know a few others places I could check. Should at least be able to find the boy’s birth certificate and other such documents.”
Kat turned to the boy, who still shook in terror. “Simon. We’re going to let you come to our house for a little bit. You can play with Alice and we’ll make sure you have a lot of good food and a warm place to sleep. Would you like that?”
Simon nodded vigorously. “Yes, please.”
Kat smiled. “Well it’s decided then! Alice would love to have a friend.” Alice picked the perfect time to coo.
They left Norma’s house out the back door and returned to the car. They all piled in, filling the vehicle.
That night, Kat found herself unable to sleep. She was acutely aware of the creaks and groans in the house. Each one made her want to prop herself up and look at Simon and Alice, who slept in the same room now, so they could keep a close eye on them.
Kat still had no idea how they were going to handle this situation. How could you fight ghosts? Truly fight them. Was it even possible? And what did Simon have to do with it?
These questions kept her up all night. What she didn’t notice was that she wasn’t the only one watching Simon. A pale red light kept appearing from time to time outside the window, unbeknownst to all.
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