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"Dad, I'm an adult, now. I should be able to stay at the house by myself."
"I'm worried about you, Mike. All you do is stay in your room and you never talk to anyone. I trust you to stay home alone, but I'm convinced that it'll do you good to get out of the house and do something different."
"I think that between the two of us, you're the one with the bigger problem. I mean, out of nowhere, all of a sudden you've started believing in ghosts."
Kerry laughed at the declaration, then responded, "Fair enough. But I'm not asking you to believe in anything. Just enjoy the change of scenery and the chance to meet some new people and do something different."
"There's Malika!" Toni exclaimed as they pulled into the train station.
"Don't go running off just yet. We need to get our luggage out of the back of the cab." Kerry reminded her.
"Look! There's Alana!" Lorra said happily.
Kerry shook his head, then looked to his son and asked, "Would you mind helping me, Mike? I don't think the girls are going to be able to focus on much of anything for a while."
Mike gave his father a withering look, but rather than complain aloud, he just went to work.
* * * * *
"Kerry! I'm glad that all of you could make it. Is this your son?"
"Yes. Dr. Alana Travago, may I present my son, Mike."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mike. Your father's had some very good things to say about you." Alana said warmly.
"Um, yeah. Hi." Mike said uncomfortably.
Alana grinned at his response, then went on to say, "This is Marsha Gold. She's an investigator, researcher and an occult specialist who works with us."
"Hi." Mike said obligatorily.
"Derek! Come over here and meet Mike." Alana called suddenly.
Mike's expression made it clear that he would be just as happy to crawl under something to hide away from all the attention.
Derek looked up from his tablet computer, then hurried over to stand at Alana's side.
"Mike, I'd like for you to meet Derek Seaver. He's an investigator, and he's also in charge of all our technical needs." Alana said seriously.
"He's also a college student, like you are." Kerry added quietly.
Mike glanced at Derek for an instant, making brief eye contact.
"Van and Hunter are around here somewhere. I'm expecting everyone else to arrive in the next few minutes." Alana explained to Kerry seriously.
"Is there anything you can tell me about what to expect when we get there?" Kerry asked cautiously.
"I was able to get a few details from Mrs. Whitlow and I plan on covering all of that with you while we're travelling."
"Okay. But can you tell me if it's going to be safe for Teresa and Zoe to be there?" Kerry asked anxiously.
"By everything that I've been told, they should be fine. It's mostly auditory phenomena and the occasional visual manifestation. A few people have been scared, but no one's been hurt." Alana explained.
"Good. After deciding to do it, I began to have second thoughts, worrying that I might be taking my family into danger." Kerry said honestly as he looked at his wife and son, who were both listening.
"We'll all do our best to keep your family safe." Alana assured Kerry, then looked past him at two people who were approaching.
"Mike and Teresa, I'd like for you to meet Jack and Kyla Kane. They're members of Kane Paranormal Investigations and they're going to be helping us, this weekend." Alana said pleasantly.
"I was afraid that we were going to be late. Is everyone here?" Kyla asked curiously.
"We're waiting on Max and Charity, but we've still got a few minutes." Alana assured her.
"We shipped our equipment, just like you said. Are you sure it's going to get there in time?" Jack asked seriously.
Alana looked toward Derek with question.
"The app says that it's out for delivery. I'll be notified as soon as it's been signed for." Derek said professionally.
"Charity's here." Kyla said suddenly.
Alana looked around, then back at Kyla uncertainly.
"Wait for it." Jack said with a loving grin at his wife.
Alana realized what he meant, then turned to Teresa and Mike and explained, "Kyla's psychic."
Teresa seemed to accept the answer, but Mike's expression easily conveyed his skepticism.
Before either could say anything, Charity and Max approached the group with matching wide smiles.
"I'm so glad you could make it. How are you?" Alana asked as she broke ranks and ran to Charity to give her a firm hug.
"I'm doing fine. I miss you guys so much!" Charity said as she returned the hug.
"You know that you can come back any time." Alana asked as she pulled back to look Charity in the eyes.
"I know. But I need to do this. Even though we're just starting out, Max and I have already been able to collect some good evidence." Charity explained.
"I know. I looked over what you sent me. That was some good solid work." Alana said proudly.
Everyone turned at the sound of the train approaching.
"Is everyone ready?" Kerry asked as he looked around to account for his family.
"Let's do this!" Alana announced as she picked up her luggage.
* * * * *
Once everyone was aboard and they were underway, Derek settled into the seat beside Mike and said, "Kerry said that you're going to college. What's your major?"
"I just finished my first semester. I haven't declared a major, yet." Mike quietly responded.
"I'm working on my master's degree now, so I've already had to face a lot of decisions. If you need any help sorting things out, just let me know." Derek said pleasantly.
"Yeah. That might help. Thanks." Mike said in nearly a whisper.
Derek waited for a moment to see if Mike were going to continue their conversation. When he didn't, Derek turned on his tablet to see if their equipment had been delivered to the hotel yet.
* * * * *
Teresa and Kerry shared a smile as they watched Toni, Lorra, Malika and Zoe all chattering together happily.
"You know, back before we left Minnesota, I never would have imagined us doing something like this." Kerry said quietly.
"For as scary as it's been, I think it's also helped us to come closer together as a family." Teresa said thoughtfully.
"Except for Mike. I just don't know what else we can do for him." Kerry said as he shifted his gaze toward their son.
"He needs to know that we're there when he wants to talk. I think the rest is up to him." Teresa said quietly.
"Kerry, if you've got a few minutes, I'm ready to fill you in on what I've been told about the Winchell Hotel." Alana said as she paused in the aisle.
"I'll be right there." Kerry said with a grateful smile.
He leaned in and gave Teresa a quick kiss and hug of assurance before hurrying away.
* * * * *
"Before we begin, I've done as much investigation as I could about the Winchell Hotel." Marsha said as the group gathered around and settled into seats.
"Go ahead, then I'll fill in what Mrs. Whitlow told me." Alana said as she took a spiral bound notebook out of the messenger bag that she was carrying.
"Construction on the hotel began in 1793 and it was completed in 1808. The hotel had great success as a tourist destination during its early days. However, tourism waned in time due to the availability of other, even more grand, destinations being available. I wasn't able to find much of anything regarding the Winchell Hotel in the past hundred years other than the fact that it exists." Marsha said professionally.
"Did you come across any accounts of paranormal events?" Alana asked curiously.
"Yes. There were a few obscure references, but they were what you'd expect to hear about any structure of that age. Mostly creaking floors and the like." Marsha said seriously.
"I think that the remote location of the hotel has helped to keep the rumors of haunting from spreading. That should work in our favor. When a location is known for being haunted, it can interfere with the objectivity of the investigation since paranoia about the haunting causes the reports to become increasingly exaggerated." Alana said as she looked around the group.
"So, what are we looking at?" Jack asked cautiously.
"I'm just going to go through what Mrs. Whitlow told me briefly so that you can get an idea of the range of activity before we delve too deeply into the individual occurrences."
The others in the group nodded their agreement to the plan.
"It appears that they have an apparition that likes to appear on the main floor, near the reception area. It's one of those things that people see for an instant out of the corner of their eye. Most of the other events tend to occur on the upper floors."
"How many floors are there?" Charity asked cautiously.
"Six. But from what I've heard, each floor seems almost like a world unto itself. The building has five different wings that branch off from the main structure in different directions." Alana answered.
"It sounds massive." Kerry said quietly.
"That's why I called all of you in. If we're going to have any hope of covering all this area, we're going to need a lot of feet on the ground." Alana said as she looked around to see that everyone got the message.
"Okay. It's big. What else have we got as far as paranormal events?" Charity asked seriously.
"In one of the rooms, guests complain that they hear a woman's voice whispering to them. In another area, they've reported a disturbing 'presence'. We've got a hallway where the visual manifestation of a little girl has been reported. In another area they've reported hearing the sounds of crying." Alana said as she read down her list.
"It sounds like pretty standard stuff, and not a lot to document." Jack said absently.
"Although everyone is going to have handheld DVRs, I think that the audio recorders are probably going to be our most valuable tools on this one." Alana responded.
"Is that it?" Charity asked cautiously.
"There are a few other things, cold spots and thumps and bumps, but there is one thing that I'm saving especially for Jack and Kyla." Alana finished with a smile at Jack.
"What's that?" Jack asked cautiously.
"A painting that seems to change every time you look at it. Since it's a physical, quantifiable thing, I thought that you might be able to do the most thorough investigation of it." Alana said seriously.
"That sounds like something that I can work with."
"Kerry, I was thinking that when we break into groups, that I'll keep you and Teresa in a central location so that you'll be close by if any of the girls need you."
"What about Van and Hunter?" Kerry asked cautiously.
"I'm going to give them their own area to investigate, just like any of the other teams. Everyone's going to have a walkie-talkie, so no one will be completely on their own, but with as big as this place is, there's no way we can be following behind the kids and watching over them every step of the way. We're going to have to trust them."
"How are you going to split us up?" Kerry asked cautiously.
"I thought that we could split into teams of two and then the members of those teams can decide if they're going to stay together or split their area between them." Alana answered, then turned to Derek and continued, "Once the remote cameras are set up and recording, I'm going to need for you to take on an area to investigate."
"Awesome! I can't wait!" Derek said happily.
Alana smiled at his reaction, then continued, "This may change once we're actually there and able to personally survey the situation, but I thought that we could divide the groups so that Marsha and I would investigate an area. Jack and Kyla will get that painting. I was thinking that initially I could have Malika and Lorra take one area. Toni and Zoe could take another, and Kerry and Teresa could take an area between them so as to be close by if any of them need immediate help."
"Toni and Zoe? Are you sure that's a good idea?" Kerry asked uncertainly.
"Yes. At least, to start out. I thought that if Zoe gets scared or starts getting tired, then Toni could bring her back to you and they could join your team." Alana said seriously.
"That works. And if Zoe's tired, then Teresa can take her to our room while Toni and I continue the investigation." Kerry said with a nod.
"What about Mike?" Derek asked cautiously.
"From what Kerry's said, he's not really interested in investigating, so I thought that I could put him in Tech with you, and when it comes time for you to leave to do your own investigation, you could either take him with you or leave him in Tech to watch the remote video feeds." Alana said frankly.
"Yeah. He'll have a walkie-talkie if he spots anything, so that should be fine." Derek said consideringly.
"Just be careful about depending on him. Mike doesn't seem to do responsibility very well." Kerry said reluctantly.
Derek looked at Kerry with surprise, and responded with a slight nod.
"Well, that's all I've got. Does anyone have any questions?" Alana asked as she looked around.
"With this place being six stories tall with five wings, how much of it do you think we're actually going to be able to cover?" Charity asked thoughtfully.
"We're just going to focus on the reported hot spots. As it is, we won't be able to investigate all of them, but I think that we'll be able to cover the ones with the best potential." Alana said seriously.
"So, on the second night, we're going to go back and investigate the same areas again?" Charity asked to confirm.
"We'll just have to wait and see what happens. But for right now, that's the plan."
"I think you mentioned that this is their off-season. Are we going to have to worry about disturbing their guests?" Jack asked curiously.
"Mrs. Whitlow mentioned that the only guest that they're expecting this weekend is more of a full-time resident and that she's already aware that we're coming. Of course, it's always possible that someone will book a room at the last moment, but most likely we'll be able to do our investigation without having to worry about disturbing anyone." Alana said carefully.
"The equipment's arrived." Derek said suddenly.
Everyone looked at him inquisitively.
"I just got the confirmation that all our equipment has been delivered." Derek said as he held up his tablet computer.
"Good. Then all that's left is for us to arrive so that we can get started." Alana said with a smile.
"How long do you think it will take us to get there?" Charity asked curiously.
"We should arrive at the train station in about two hours. From looking at the map, I couldn't really get a sense of how long it would take to get to the hotel from the station. Mrs. Whitlow said that she'd send someone to pick us up." Alana said seriously.
"The hotel is remote and I don't know what the road conditions are like at this time of year. It could take us a few hours to get there." Marsha interjected soberly.
"Well, unless anyone has any more questions, that's it." Alana said frankly.
"Is it okay if I go ahead and tell the kids about what we're planning? I think we might all have a more enjoyable trip if they have a chance to plan and scheme." Kerry asked with a smile.
"That sounds like a good idea. Just be sure to let them know that all plans are subject to change at a moment's notice. I've been making decisions based on what I've been told." Alana warned him.
"I'll be sure to let them know."
* * * * *
As Kerry approached the group of giggling girls, they suddenly went silent and looked at him expectantly.
"I've just been filled in on what to expect when we arrive." Kerry said seriously.
"Did Alana say what we're going to be able to do to help?" Lorra asked hopefully.
"Yes. She's going to split us into teams of two, and give each team a different area to cover. Lorra, you and Malika are going to be a team."
"Just the two of us?" Lorra asked in amazement.
"That's right. You're going to be given your own area to investigate and you two will have to decide how you're going to conduct your investigation." Kerry said with a smile.
"What about me?" Toni asked her father cautiously.
"Alana decided that you and Zoe would be a team." Kerry said simply.
"Me and Zoe?" Toni asked with surprise.
"Yes. And I'll be teamed with your mother. Alana said that our areas are going to be beside each other, so you'll be able to call on us if you run into any trouble."
"But you're going to leave me and Zoe to do an investigation all by ourselves?" Toni asked to confirm.
"That's the plan."
"Do you know what we're going to be investigating?" Lorra asked excitedly.
"No. Alana didn't go into who was investigating what. All I know is that most of it is auditory, so be ready to use your voice recorders." Kerry said with a smile at her.
"How long is it until we get there?" Toni quickly asked.
"Just a few hours." Kerry said with a grin before walking away, leaving frantically chattering girls in his wake.
* * * * *
"How are you guys doing?" Kerry asked as he approached.
"Hunter was just telling me about his school. It sounds like it sucks." Van said frankly.
"He's sixteen, he won't have to put up with it for very much longer." Kerry said warmly, then added, "Alana just had a meeting to fill us in on our plan."
Both boys looked at Kerry with anticipation.
"From what she said, the hotel is enormous. She's going to need every investigator she has so that she can cover all the 'hot spots' that have been identified. She said that you two are going to be a team and that she's going to treat you just the same as any of the other teams. That means that she's going to be trusting you to gather good evidence and that she's not going to have anyone following behind you to see that you're doing your jobs." Kerry said seriously.
"What are we going to have to do?" Van asked cautiously.
"You'll each be outfitted with the standard equipment. All you're going to have to do is go to the 'hot spots' that have been identified and investigate, keeping in mind that you're trying to collect 'evidence'. Be careful and be professional." Kerry said seriously.
"So we'll be doing like you and I did, back at my house?" Van asked cautiously.
"Maybe a little more professional than that. By all accounts, there's nothing really scary or demonic at the hotel. Most likely we're looking at some residual hauntings, which isn't uncommon in a place as old as this one." Kerry said frankly.
"If we don't know what we're doing or if we get stuck on something, will we be able to call you?" Van asked curiously.
"Sure. Everyone will have a walkie-talkie, so you'll have all the help that you'll need at the push of a button." Kerry assured him.
"This is gonna be great." Hunter said with a big grin.
"Yeah." Van agreed with an emerging smile.
* * * * *
"How are you doing, Mike?" Kerry asked as he approached his son.
"Derek said that I'm going to be working in 'Tech' with him." Mike announced.
"That's right. Alana thought that it would be a place where you could help out, if you wanted to, but it wouldn't derail our plans if you didn't. You and Derek can work it out." Kerry said simply.
"I can't believe you're making me do this." Mike grumbled.
"Think about trying to make the best of the situation. I mean, I have no doubt that you're capable of being completely miserable the entire weekend. But maybe if you just give it a chance, it might turn out to be not so bad." Kerry urged his son to understand.
Mike glared at his father, but didn't verbally respond.
* * * * *
"Do we have everyone?" Kerry asked as he looked around. Not only did he have to account for his own family, but also Van, Hunter, Lorra and Malika.
"I think we're all here." Alana said uncertainly as she did a quick head count.
As the train pulled away, they were left in the relative quiet of the train station.
"Would one of you be Doctor Travago?" A stout man with a noticeable Scottish accent asked as he approached the group. His expectant gaze seemed to be shifting between Kerry and Jack.
"I am. But you can call me Alana, if you like." She said as she stood forward.
"I'm Oliphant. My boy will be here in a minute with a cart for your luggage, then we can be on our way."
"We can carry our own luggage if you'll just tell us where we need to go."
"Nonsense. No guest of the Winchell Hotel has ever had to carry their own luggage, and as long as I have anything to say about it, none of them ever will. Here's Norville. Leave your luggage with him and I'll show you to the bus."
Alana glanced at the younger man and was surprised to see that he was nothing less than the younger image of his father. They had identical physiques and coloring.
As the group began to follow, Oliphant loudly said, "I'll be driving you to Ballard, where we'll stop for a wee bit to refuel. While we're doing that, you'll be free to look at the shops or stop in to get a bite to eat before we set off on the long part of our journey."
"How long do you think it will take us to get to the hotel?" Jack asked curiously.
"Two to three hours, depending on how long we decide to stay in Ballard." Oliphant answered simply as he boarded the bus.
"The kids are going to need to eat before then." Kerry said as he stood by the door and waited for the others to board.
"Let's plan on having a meal in Ballard. There's no reason for us to make this more uncomfortable than necessary for anyone." Alana said decisively.
Mike happened to be passing at that moment. He flashed his father a dark look before stepping onto the bus.
After a moment for Mike to make his way on board, Alana quietly asked, "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Kerry shook his head and said, "Everything's been done. It's up to him, now."
"If you think of anything, let me know." Alana said quietly before stepping onto the bus.
Kerry followed her, then did another quick head count to be sure that no one was left behind.
* * * * *
Although the scenery passing by outside the bus was beautiful, the children quickly became bored with it and turned their attention back to planning for their upcoming investigations.
The adults were mostly quiet as they each pondered what was before them.
By the time they drove into Ballard, the sun was setting, casting long shadows throughout the quaint New England town.
While Oliphant and his son were attending to the bus, Kerry and the other adults herded the children toward the nearby restaurant.
Although no one would call it a 'fine dining' establishment, it appeared to be clean and the wait staff were pleasant enough. The food wasn't remarkable, but it was decent and everyone had the opportunity to eat their fill.
Once their meal was out of the way, the entire group made their way out of the restaurant to find the bus waiting for them.
While they had been eating, afternoon had given way to evening.
As soon as everyone was aboard, Alana stood near the front of the bus and said, "When we get to the hotel, I'm planning on us getting the investigation started as quickly as possible. So, if you're able to sleep while we're travelling, I'd recommend it. Otherwise, this could turn out to be a very long night for you."
Kerry looked around the bus and determined that everyone seemed to be settled in reasonably well. Mike was sitting silently in the seat beside Derek, but didn't seem to be any more unhappy than was typical for him, of late.
"Do you think Zoe's going to be alright, staying up all night?" Teresa asked uncertainly.
"I think it will do her some good to do something completely out of the ordinary for a change." Kerry assured her.
"I don't know how you ever talked me into doing this." Teresa said more quietly.
Kerry chuckled, then said, "Actually, I'm not sure about that, myself. But you know what they say, variety is the spice of life. I honestly believe that this is something that will be good for all of us."
"Even Mike?" Teresa asked cautiously.
"I think it has that potential. If he'll just open himself to the possibility that this could be fun, he might find something to enjoy about the experience." Kerry said thoughtfully.
"I just don't know what happened to him. What did we do to make him so... miserable?" Teresa asked quietly.
"You have to stop making yourself responsible for his feelings. He's eighteen. He's his own man, now. It's up to him to decide things for himself. If he's not happy, it's up to him to fix it." Kerry said frankly.
"Isn't there anything we can do to help?" Teresa asked as she glanced toward the back of the bus to check on her children.
"We can provide him opportunities to meet different people and do different things... which is what we're doing right now. Everything else is up to him."
* * * * *
"Are you awake?" Derek asked in a whisper.
"Yes. Did you need something?" Kerry asked as he turned in his seat.
"I haven't had cell service for about an hour and I'm starting to get a little nervous about it." Derek quietly admitted.
"What has you worried?" Kerry asked curiously.
"I've been watching. We haven't seen another town or even another vehicle on the road since right after we left Ballard."
"Alana said that the hotel was remote." Kerry said frankly.
"Listen. Since I've been working with you, I've seen how you've been able to reason things out with very few clues. I just wanted to talk to you about this so that you would be aware that there might be something weird going on." Derek said anxiously.
"What do you think is happening?" Kerry asked curiously.
"I don't know. But since I've been studying the paranormal, I've come across a few stories that started out just about like this. It's possible that there might be something bigger going on. Just keep your eyes open for it." Derek said seriously.
"I'll keep watch." Kerry assured him, then thought to ask, "How are you getting along with Mike?"
"He hasn't said much to me, but he seems alright." Derek said honestly.
"I don't know what's bothering him. He hasn't talked to me about it. I wouldn't ask you to betray his trust, but if you think of anything that I can do to help him, please let me know." Kerry said seriously.
"He reminds me of a roommate I had back in my first year of college. It nearly drove me crazy. He probably didn't say five words to me the entire first semester. Later on, he worked things out in his own head and we ended up being pretty good friends. But the thing is, there wasn't anything that I did or could have done to make one bit of difference. He had to do it himself." Derek said frankly.
"I guess I knew that. I just feel like, since I'm his father, that there should be something that I can do to help." Kerry said plaintively.
"Nope. Just let him know that you're there when he needs you. Until then, it's up to him."
"Thanks, Derek. I knew that, but I guess that I just needed to hear it." Kerry said gratefully.
"Why don't you try and get some sleep. I've got a feeling that this is going to be a really long night."
"Yeah. I'll do that."
Well isn't that interesting, so maybe things aren't exactly the way they seem. That never happens in a story.
I have a feeling Mike is going to have a few things pop up that will shake him up a bit. I'm not sure what kind of things will happen, but I certainly suspect it won't be dull by any stretch of the imagination.
It certainly has drawn my interest.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher