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Confessions from the Grave: The Secret Files of Edie Black
Edie is asked to attend a Halloween party given by an eccentric relative and gets more than she bargained for when a vengeful ghost appears.
First of all, let me start by saying that my aunt Carol is a real nutcase.
I like Halloween just as much as the next person. But aunt Carol? She decorates for Halloween like most people decorate for Christmas. Her yearly haunted house for charity is always a big hit, and this year, she decided to make it an even bigger hit by inviting her famous psychic niece. Normally, I try to avoid aunt Carol, but over the phone she promised food and drink and lots of friends, not to mention a large assortment of handsome bachelors. When that failed, she tried the old guilt trip, but it still wasn't enough. I finally relented when she threatened to call my mother and tell her who really put that dent in the fender of her new car.
"Now, Edie, don't be so anti-social," Carol scolded me. "It won't kill you to come out and visit for a while, now will it?"
"It might," I mumbled to myself, then remembered that she could probably hear me. "Of course not, aunt Carol," I said to her through a forced smile. "I'll be happy to be there."
Okay, so it's not nice to lie to your elders, but after the threat she made, I couldn't exactly tell the truth. Aunt Carol would have roasted me on a spit and fed the leftovers to her cat. Aunt Carol was my dad's sister, but I always wondered if maybe she was switched at the hospital for someone more - abnormal. Dad said that he often wondered that himself. Aunt Carol wasn't just eccentric. She was from another planet.
You see, aunt Carol lived in a haunted house. Not only did she live there, but she liked living there. In fact, she enjoyed her ghosts' company so much that she started, uhm, collecting them - ghosts, I mean. At last count, aunt Carol claimed to have her house haunted by four separate spirits. Her favorite was a victorian woman called Annabelle who haunted the drawing room and kitchen. Aunt Carol even claimed that Annabelle saved her life once by shoving her away from a falling light fixture during some remodeling last spring. And, reportedly, Annabelle wasn't shy about showing her ghostly self to visitors. More than once, she had scared the daylights out of the exterminator, the mailman, and a number of door to door salesmen. The maids, however, had learned to ignore her. Annabelle was harmless, more concerned with gazing at her pretty reflection than doing any real haunting. You just had to be careful that you didn't stare into the hallway mirror for too long. That was Annabelle's special, private mirror, and she could be kind of selfish. Her favorite trick was substituting her own reflection for that of the person looking into the mirror - a real "scream" at parties.
Another ghost haunting aunt Carol's house was Jeb, a dapper-looking gentleman in a stovepipe hat and long coat. Jeb tended to be reclusive, hiding out in the carriage house and root cellar rather than joining his fellow spirits inside the main house. He seemed to have a thing for poker - the ultimate cause of his untimely demise. Jeb had been a gambler, and one bad debt too many had landed him on the wrong end of a gun. He still seemed to feel the need to hide from the debt collectors, and aunt Carol was happy to let him. His dark, mysterious presence haunting the grounds kept the burglars at bay.
Then there was Inga. Inga had been a big, hulking figure of a woman with a mannish voice and a club foot. At one time, she had been a maid in some of the finest hotels of Europe, and her obsession with clean still followed her. Inga haunted the upstairs hallway outside the guest rooms, reportedly turning down beds for the guests and rearranging the linens in the closets. If Inga found something in her domain out of place, the whole house knew about it. Doors in the upstairs hall would slam repeatedly until someone addressed the problem. But, Inga, too, was harmless, more heard than seen, and again, the maids ignored her. They just made sure that they put away the linens properly and kept the rugs clean.
And then there was Minnie. Minnie had the capacity to make a real nuisance of herself, and she did so every chance she got. Whether it was hiding keys or stealing shoes, Minnie was usually at the source of it. She had a child-like nature that was only interested in its own amusement, which included smearing freshly cleaned glass, knocking over the potted plants, and tormenting aunt Carol's cat, Fester. Her favorite hide-out was a small bathroom at the back of the house, where she constantly flushed the toilet and turned the water on and off. It took the staff a while to get used to Minnie's behavior, and one or two of them actually quit because they were tired of being pranked. Though Minnie's pranks and tricks were mostly just annoying, they had the potential to be dangerous. Aunt Carol's house was an old, rambling victorian with lots of narrow stairs and creaky bannisters, so you had to be careful of pratfalls left behind by Minnie - that is, unless you liked falling down the stairs.
Aunt Carol lived in this secluded little private village called Glenhaven. It was a mystical place, an entire city lost in time. Cars were banned from Glenhaven's main streets due to the horse-drawn carriages that still made the daily circuit to the farmer's market over on Providence. The town's main throughfare, Independence Street, was lined with quaint old barbershops, curiosity stores, and coffee shops. The street ended in front of Glenhaven's turn-of-the-century courthouse, a sprawling gothic monster that looked more like a prison than a civic building, where local residents in period costumes picknicked on the green to the sound of ragtime music.
By day, Glenhaven was a gleaming jewel of simplicity and quiet living among the foothills, where smiling, suntanned tourists ate ice cream in front of Robinson's 10 cent Store and took haywagon tours of Maple Street and the east end. Aunt Carol lived on Maple Street, and her victorian "white elephant" fit right in with the other houses known affectionately as "painted ladies". Tourists would go down one side of the street, listening to stories about the history of Glenhaven as they took pictures of Doctor Martin's 1818 bed and breakfast or Mrs. Wilder's beautiful tea cottage. At the end of the street, the road made a wide circle before turning back toward Independence.
Aunt Carol's house sat "on the circle". In fact, it was the only house on the circle, and visitors peered through the high iron fence with a mixture of awe and fear. The house was a massive testament to victorian gothic architecture complete with art nuveau stained glass and granite gargoyles. The house was aunt Carol's pride and joy, the only thing she loved more than her cat.
At night, however, Glenhaven became an entirely different place, like something out of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Shops closed at dark, and most people retired to their homes behind locked doors, leaving the wide, tree-lined streets empty and silent. Period gaslights flickered in the darkness, casting sinister shadows on the cobbled lanes.
On this particular night, a long line of bicycles and coaches meandered down the street toward aunt Carol's house. She had instructed me to leave my car at the community's outer gate, saying that she would sent her butler down to fetch me in a special coach. I had been standing around for just a few minutes when a squarish man in a black butler's coat approached me through the light fog.
"Madam Black?" he began in a low, creepy voice.
"Unfortunately for me, yes," I replied. "You must be Ronald, Carol's butler."
"Yes madam," the man nodded slowly. "If you would follow me, please. Your aunt is anxiously expecting you."
"Yippee," I mumbled sarcastically. "Let's go, then."
When aunt Carol said that she would send a special coach to get me, I had no idea that she meant a hearse. It was actually kind of beautiful, in a morbid sort of way. Four black horses in glossy carriage halters and black feather headpieces stood at the head of a low-slung carriage made of ebony and glass. I had only seen one other like it, on display in a funerary museum in Mississippi. (I'm into "novelty" vacations.)
I started laughing when Ronald open the coach's glass door for me. "She wants me to sit in the back?"
"Yes madam," Ronald nodded. "You will find your party invitation inside the casket." He smirked a little. "Shall we go?"
Aunt Carol's house was ablaze with lights and resounded with the sounds of a string quartet playing a rather haunting minuet. Party guests in elaborate get-ups meandered around the grounds where Carol's staff served cocktails in Edwardian costumes. Carol herself met me at the door dressed as a bayou witch, complete with a squawking crow on her shoulder.
"Really, aunt Carol," I laughed when I saw her. "Aren't you a little old for trick-or-treat?"
"You're a scoundrel," she giggled. "But, where's your costume?"
"This is my costume," I replied. I had picked up a Slipknot military uniform and mask at a specialty costume store in Atlanta, and I had to admit, it was actually pretty comfortable. "Don't you like it?"
"But, you look like that every day," she sighed. "Well, I certainly won't be able to lose you in the crowd. Come in and meet the other guests."
Aunt Carol's guest list was a who's who of Glenhaven high society. The mayor was there, dressed as a velvet-clad dracula, and two members of the city council came as siamese twins. Most of the rest of the guests were Carol's neighbors, all except Mrs. Van Peeler, who traveled all the way from Jasper in her rented limo just to be seen in her Elizabethan gown and coronet. Mrs. Van Peeler was Glenhaven's most distinguished former resident and Carol's good friend. Her husband had been the chairman of the local railroad until he died from a heart attack at 82, and her son Duncan had been the star of a number of television commercials and sitcoms. When her husband died, Mrs. Van Peeler sold her house in Glenhaven to another former resident, Emily Bronson, and moved to Jasper to be closer to her sister. Still, she never failed to put in an appearance at Carol's party.
"And who are you supposed to be?" Mrs. Van Peeler said to me as she squinted at me through her opera glasses. "My word, these young people and their strange fashion sense. You must be Carol's niece, that psychic lady."
I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or insulted. "Yes, I am. And you must be Cornelia Van Peeler. Aunt Carol talks about you all the time."
"All bad, I'm sure," Cornelia smiled. "Will you be staying for the grand unveiling of Carol's new trinket?"
"New trinket?" I questioned. "She never mentioned it."
"You know your aunt, always out galavanting around, looking for items to fill up this tomb," Cornelia replied with a wave of her fan. "When she was in London a while back, she bought something that she said would fit right in with the rest." She chuckled. "I'll bet it's a coffin. That's the only graveyard accessory she doesn't have."
When I finally found aunt Carol again, I asked her about the unveiling that Cornelia had mentioned. "Oh, that's right. I almost forgot to tell you about it. I bought something in London that I'm just dying to show you." She glanced around. "Want a sneak peek?"
Carol led me into the drawing room that had been converted into a victorian spiritualist seance parlor. In the far corner behind a velvet rope sat a large shape under a black cloth. "I got this from a wax museum in the High Street District," Carol explained as she tugged at the cloth. "I thought it was just a prop until I had it shipped back here. It turned out to be the real thing."
The cloth fell away suddenly, revealing a full-sized, authentic guillotine. I cringed a little. "Does it work?"
"Sure does," Carol nodded. "The man at the museum gave me a demonstration on how to operate it." She giggled. "It cuts watermelons like a dream."
My mind went back to the slice of ripe melon I had eaten a few minutes before. "Gee, that's - great," I managed to say. "But, aren't you worried about someone getting hurt?"
"Well, of course I can't allow the guests to actually touch it," Carol replied. "But can you imagine the looks on their faces when I pull back this cover? It'll be a scream!"
I leaned over the rope for a closer look at a number of dark stains on the wood. "Has this thing actually been - used?"
"That I'm not sure about," Carol explained. "It is possible though. Beheading used to be the favorite method of executing nobility, both in the UK and in France, where the guillotine was made."
"I have to say, this is probably your most gruesome purchase yet," I told her. "Why on earth would you want something like this in your house?"
"Oh, I don't intend to keep it in my house," Carol laughed. "After Halloween, it'll be put on display in a museum in Knoxville. Really, Edie. I'm not that disturbed."
One of the butlers appeared at the door calling for aunt Carol. The bar in the rose garden was out of selzer and he wanted permission to take the carriage to the drugstore for more. Aunt Carol waved to me as she tottered away.
"Go on, make yourself at home, dear," she said. "Just mind Annabelle. For some reason, she's been in a rather foul mood lately."
The moment Carol left the room, an awful feeling of dread swept over me. I didn't have to look to know that it was radiating from the murder machine in front of me. Slowly, I backed away until I bumped into the seance table, knocking over the crystal ball. Fumbling, I set it upright and was scared out of my wits to find Annabelle standing over me.
"At last, you've come," Annabelle said in a ghostly whisper. "Help us..."
I was still holding on to my chest to stop my heart from leaping out of it. As far as ghosts went, Annabelle wasn't really all that scary - apart from being semi-transparent. She looked like a normal person in a Gibson dress and bustle, her porcelain face surrounded by flirty curls. I had seen her plenty of times in the past, mostly in front of the hallway mirror, and she usually ignored me. This was the first time that Annabelle had spoken directly to anyone other than a seance medium. "A-Annabelle," I managed to stutter. "H-Help you? How?"
"That awful thing," Annabelle replied, her ruffled umbrella pointing to the guillotine. "It has to leave..."
"A-And it will," I said hesitantly. "Aunt Carol promised to send it to a museum in Knoxville right after Halloween, and -"
"Not good enough," Annabelle said flatly, stomping her tiny foot. "It must leave now..."
I was a bit startled by Annabelle's strange show of forcefulness. "Why?"
"It brought something into our house," Annabelle told me, "Something bad...Caroline can not see it, but we can..."
"We?" I said in a squeaky voice. "You mean, you and - the other ghosts?"
"No," Annabelle replied. "I mean you and I...we can see it..." Again, she pointed at the guillotine. "It is evil..."
I wasn't really sure what Annabelle was trying to say, but I had gotten a creepy feeling when I was standing next to that thing, like someone was sneaking up on me. "Are you saying that the guillotine is haunted?" I waited for Annabelle to answer, but when I turned around, she was gone. It took me a moment to realize that she wasn't going to suddenly appear again. A few seconds later, aunt Carol returned.
"Oh, here you are," she said to me, taking me by the arm. "Come along and mingle with me. My friends are just dying to meet you."
"I wish you wouldn't say that, aunt Carol," I mumbled, casting a quick glance back at the guillotine as Ronald replaced the shroud.
I spent an hour or so being dragged around the rose garden by my giddy aunt and met all sorts of weird and bizarre fiends - the costumes, I mean. I was trying to slip away when Carol turned me around abruptly.
"...And this is Gracie Hodges. You remember Gracie? She went to school for a while in Murfreesboro while you were there. You know, the theater major?"
I was spun around and almost laughed when I saw what Gracie was wearing. She had on my costume.
"You know, when Carol said that you were coming, I had a feeling you would show up dressed like that," Gracie giggled. "I wanted you to be able to recognize me, so..."
"Great costume," I snickered. "I liked it, too."
"It was either this, or that chick from Underworld, but I didn't think Carol's friends would appreciate the costume's, uhmm, artistic value," Gracie laughed. "So, the old witch finally dragged you up here, huh? You know, believe it or not, she actually misses you coming up here at Christmas. Most of the family's moved away, so she gets pretty lonely."
"Let's not ruin the mood with guilt," I scolded her jokingly. "And speaking of lonely, have you been inside the house yet? I think something might be - amiss."
I led Gracie back to the drawing room and pointed at Carol's surprise. "I was in here a little while ago, and do you know who decided to show herself? Annabelle."
"Oh, don't tell me you believe that ghost really exists," Gracie laughed. "Everybody knows that Carol's a little prone to exaggeration."
I frowned. "I am not making this up." I pointed to the seance table. "She appeared to me right over there and demanded that this thing leave the house - right now."
"Taken to writing ghost stories lately?" Gracie giggled. "That's the most ludicris thing I ever heard." She waved over her shoulder as she returned to the party. "If you asked me, I'd say the both of you have had too much to drink."
I scowled as she disappeared. "But, I don't drink."
Frustrated and angry, I waited in the upstairs hall for a few wandering guests to leave before approaching the tall, golden mirror. "Annabelle," I whispered to the mirror cautiously. "Where are you?"
A nearby door popped open slightly. It was the door to the nursery. Kicking myself for what I was about to do, I went in. The room was empty except for a few toys that Carol had collected at antique stores.
"I tried to tell someone what you told me," I said to the empty air. "They wouldn't listen." I waited expectantly, but nothing happened. "You said that it brought something evil into the house. What did you mean by that?" I continued to wait, but still, no reply. "Annabelle, I believe you, and I want to help, but I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong."
Footsteps passed by the door, followed by the sound of laughter. Another door opened and closed somewhere down the hall. "Annabelle," I whispered to avoid being overheard. "Why won't you talk to me?"
"Edie? Edie!" Carol's voice called from the hallway. "Come on, we're about to do the unveiling!"
"Ladies and gentlemen," Carol announced to the watching crowd. "As you all know, I consider myself to be the consummate Halloweenist." Her statement was met with chuckles and nods. "Last summer, I visited the Tower of London with a ghost hunter's excursion group and took many of the pictures on display in the galleria." There was a moment of applause. "Though I did not get to see the headless ghost of Queen Anne, I did manage to find the most glorious souvenir."
At Carol's signal, Ronald yanked back the shroud to a chorus of awed gasps and a few faint screams. Carol was laughing as she picked up the wax dummy head from the basket at the base of the guillotine. "No need to be alarmed, friends. It's all in fiendish fun." She tossed the head to Ronald, who tucked it under his arm. "Now, shall we adjourn to the garden for some entertainment? I understand that Madame LeBlanc, the spiritualist, has promised us quite a show."
I lingered in the drawing room as the other guests departed. Finally, only Ronald was left. He chuckled when he saw me staring at Queen Anne's head.
"Ghoulishly realistic, isn't it?" he said, holding the head up by its powdered wig. "It came with the guillotine. Your aunt bought the entire exhibit, wax models and all. The wax caster who made these dummies was a genius in his craft. You would almost expect them to breathe."
"That's - really creepy," I replied. "And, speaking of creepy, have you noticed anything strange happening inside the house since aunt Carol brought that thing home?"
"Not myself personally," Ronald said, returning the head to its basket. "But the maids say that the upstairs ghost has been unusually agitated." He smiled. "I am a skeptic, myself - although I have noticed that madam's cat has been curiously absent these past few days."
"You mean Fester?" I looked around. "Where could he have gone?"
Ronald shrugged. "I would surmise that one of the servants left the kitchen door adjar and he escaped the property. It has happened before. I tried to reassure madam that he would return in his own time, but she seemed convinced that something had happened to him."
"Why would she think that?" I asked.
"I am not certain," Ronald replied. "She claimed that it was because of something that the ghosts had told her." He chuckled. "If you will excuse me, I have guests to attend. Will you be needing anything else?"
"Uhm, no, I guess not," I sighed. "Thanks anyway."
So, not only was Annabelle bothered by Carol's newest collectable, but so was Inga. Maybe it was time to have a talk with aunt Carol.
I found Carol sitting in the back parlor fanning herself with her pointed hat. She seemed out of breath. "My word, all those stairs," she puffed. "It's enough to make a body put in an elevator."
I glanced around to see if anyone else was listening. "Aunt Carol, I need to talk to you - about your ghosts."
Carol giggled a little. "I thought you didn't believe in ghosts."
"I never said that," I frowned. "I just said that most reported ghosts had a logical explanation. There are some that that are for real - just not all of them."
Carol was giving me that funny little sideways look. "And what about my ghosts?"
I was starting to get annoyed, although I couldn't really figure out why. "Look, when I was in the front parlor a while ago, Annabelle appeared to me. She had something to say about your, uhm, decoration. She kept demanding that the guillotine leave the house immediately. Not only that, but Ronald told me that Inga had been unusually agitated. It has to do with what Annabelle said - that your souvenir brought something evil into your house."
Carol looked suddenly pale, her mouth hanging open slightly. "She spoke to you directly?" Carol seemed confused when I nodded. "She's never done that before. Are you sure that you weren't just imagining things? Maybe it was a guest in a costume?"
I took a deep breath and held it for a second or two. "Aunt Carol," I began slowly. "I'm a paranormalist. Talking to spirits is what I do - or exposing them as frauds, as the case may be. But this was no fraud. This was a full-bodied, semi-solid apparition that actually interacted with me. That's almost unheard of." I got Carol by the arm and started pulling her toward the front parlor. "Carol, this is your house, and I think someone may be trying to warn you that you're in danger."
Carol was still befuddled and maybe even a little scared as I closed the parlor doors behind us. "I'm not sure why the other spirits in this house would have such an aversion to this thing," she said of the guillotine. "It's just a prop, like in the movies." She was standing in front of it when she noticed that someone had put a paper cup on the bench. As she reached through the frame to get the cup, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye and heard a soft clank. I grabbed Carol by the back of her robe and yanked her away, sparing her the horror of losing a hand as the guillotine's sinister blade crashed down with a hollow clomping sound.
"Just a prop, huh?" I said to Carol's look of utter shock.
"It - it came down by itself," Carol gasped, holding her arm to her chest possessively. "That thing could have cut off my hand."
Carol agreed to lock the doors to the front parlor and post Ronald outside to steer the party guests in another direction while I tried to figure out what had caused the blade's locking mechanism to release. As near as I could tell with my minimal mechanical skills, the blade ran up and down in a groove that was cut into two upright posts and was held at the top by a chain which ran down the outside of the frame through a series of clockwork wheels. The blade was raised by turning a hand crank, and once it was in the ready position, it was held in place by a metal pin that ran through a link in the chain to a hole in the heavy post. Removing the pin required a fair amount of hand strength and coordination because with one hand you had to pull down on the chain slightly to release the pressure and then pull out the pin with the other hand. It took almost a full minute of trying before I was able to yank the pin free, yet the pin had nearly flown across the room when it had "come out on its own".
Frowning, I located my phone among my plethera of pockets and called my research assistant back home. "I've heard of objects being possessed," I told him, "But this one's something else. It's a guillotine, and it just tried to cut off somebody's hand."
"Oooh, bad sign," Alan replied through the receiver. "Was anybody hurt?"
"No, not yet," I said slowly. "See if you can find me any information about a wax museum in London that recently went out of business. One of its exhibits was an authentic French guillotine, complete with Tudor wax dummies." I paused, that same creepy feeling from before slowly closing around my feet. "I believe it was in the High Street district? A place called Masdormer's."
"Masdormer?" Alan asked. "The german guy?"
I was more than a little surprised. "You've heard of it?"
"I've heard of the guy that place might have been named after," Alan replied. "Heinrich Masdormer - he was a famous serial killer along the Rhine River in the 1800's. He was caught and sentenced to death in 1830."
I was starting to shake already. "H-How did he die?"
Alan laughed. "He was beheaded."
Alan's comment may have started out as a joke, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that this Heinrich Masdormer might have something to do with the guillotine's strange behavior. I left the drawing room to find Ronald perched on a chair in the hallway, a package of light bulbs in his hand.
"Strangest thing," Ronald chuckled in his creepy butler's voice when he saw me staring at him. "All of the lights in the hallway suddenly went out. Must have been a power surge. I'll have to check the fuse box in the cellar."
I had heard enough. Ghost or not, Annabelle seemed to be right about one thing. There was something evil in Carol's house. "Where's aunt Carol?"
"Out in the rose garden enjoying the spiritualist demonstration," Ronald replied. He paused. "Did the lights go out in the drawing room?"
"No," I said flatly.
Ronald shook his head. "Perhaps the mice have chewed through the wiring somewhere," he shrugged. "I'll contact an exterminator in the morning."
I tried to look casual as I pushed my way to the front of the crowd that was watching Madame LeBlanc attempt to summon a spirit through her crystal ball. I always found mediums like that to be kind of hokey, like that Miss Cleo on the television. If you were a real medium, you wouldn't need a crystal ball to talk to spirits.
"Aunt Carol," I began when I finally reached her. "You have to get Ronald and the other servants to move that guillotine out of the house tonight."
"Just a moment dear," Carol whispered, patting my arm. "Madame LeBlanc is about to make contact."
"Denizens of the great beyond," Madame LeBlanc continued melodramatically. "We ask that you come forth to speak with the living on this, the most powerful of all nights. Appear before us to share your otherworldly wisdom...now..."
Suddenly, the gaslights around the garden began to flicker and die out to the impressed murmurs of the other guests. A rush of icy cold air spread across the space, causing some of the lesser-dressed guests to shiver convulsively.
Aunt Carol was clapping her hands with childish glee. "This is fantastic," she said to me. "It's the first time one of these seances has actually worked."
I wasn't so excited. There were two kinds of ghosts - harmless ones, and not-so-harmless ones. I had a feeling that Carol's seance had produced something other than harmless. "Carol, this needs to stop. Someone's going to get hurt."
"Nonsense, dear," Carol smiled. "It's all in fun, like performance art. It's not for real."
A moment later, Carol was eating her words when a ghostly apparition appeared on the stage in front of the spiritualist's crystal ball. The crowd fell into a stunned and frightened silence. Even Madame LeBlanc seemed to be at a loss as to what to do.
"Benevolent spirit," Madame LeBlanc began uneasily. "Speak your wisdom to our ears so that we may learn and understand your ghostly ways."
The silence was split by the sound of maniacal laughter as the spirit reached up and removed its head before turning to sling its detached cranium into the crowd. The guests shrieked and ran as the spirit began upending tables and flinging chairs around the garden, laughing all the while.
"Free," it cackled as napkins and cups swirled around the space like a cyclone. "At last, I am free - free to kill..."
Aunt Carol was hiding under a table. "You have to do something," she said to me in a panic. "This wasn't supposed to happen."
Gathering my courage, I approached the stage as the other guests watched from the safety of the porch. "Heinrich Masdormer!" I shouted at the entity that was wrecking Carol's party.
I was stunned when the ghost turned toward me abruptly, its missing head appearing in its hand. "Who dares to defy the Reichtag Devil?"
I cleared my throat. "I do," I said slowly, putting on my most serious and threatening face. "Your presence is not welcome here. Return to your rest before I am forced to exorcise you."
The apparition laughed evilly, its disembodied head gnashing its teeth. "Another head for my collection..."
"Not today," I said with an angry scowl. "Or any other day, for that matter." I watched out of the corner of my eye as Carol ran into the house. "Be gone, evil."
The ghost gave a blood-curdling shriek before suddenly flying at me, its arms flailing in a manner most unpleasant. Though ghosts can move furniture and manipulate objects, they themselves can cause no real harm. I kept telling myself this as the ghost circled me repeatedly, screaming and wailing like a banshee. And then I remembered something that my grandfather had told me once.
My grandpa was one of the few people in my family besides Carol who actually belived that ghosts existed. As a priest, he made his living dealing with unhappy spirits who had lost their way. He had told me that most ghosts were ghosts because they were tied to this plane by something they left unfinished, but a few were trapped here simply because they were too bad to get into heaven. The bad ones couldn't go on to their reward because of the things they had done, but they refused to go to where they did belong, a place he had called limbo. The only way to get rid of a ghost like that was to make it leave, and to do that, I needed some holy water. But, where was I going to find holy water at a Halloween party? That was when I noticed the local pastor, Joseph Franks, cowering behind an overturned table.
Grabbing him by his frock, I turned him to face me as the ghost continued to cause mayhem around the garden. "I need some holy water!"
"That's - not something I carry around," he stuttered in fright.
I snatched a paper cup from another table, shoving it into his hands. "Then here, bless this!"
A moment later, armed with a dixie cup of freshly blessed holy water, I stood up and called to Masdormer again. "This is your final warning," I said as the ghost ignored me. "Leave this place or suffer the consequences."
The apparition gave a horrifying screech as it rushed toward me, but I was not about to be intimidated again. Right before it reached me, I slung the cup of holy water in its face. "In the name of the All-Father, the Great Creator who fashioned you in His own image, I command you to depart this plane. Leave this place and never return."
The ghost was wailing and flailing as if it were trying to rub off the holy water before streaking toward the house like a bottle rocket. I followed, well aware of where it was probably going.
As it turned out, I was right. Masdormer's ghost made a beeline for the guillotine, but there was something that he hadn't counted on - aunt Carol. She was in the drawing room with a saw and a hammer in her hand, hurriedly taking the guillotine apart and handing the pieces to Ronald, who was throwing them into the fireplace. Masdormer shrieked when he saw what she was doing.
"I'll show you what I do to homewreckers," Carol ranted through her tears of terror. "You won't be able to stay here if I destroy your refuge..."
"Then I will make you stop!"
"No one hurts my Caroline..."
The next thing I knew, the drawing room was literally filled with ghosts, all of them intent on tearing Masdormer limb from limb. I ran to help aunt Carol, who was struggling to move the heavy guillotine off its podium.
"We have to destroy it," she said to me, choking back her fear. "Otherwise, that awful thing will never leave."
For the next few minutes, it was total chaos. Carol and I both assaulted the guillotine with whatever we could find as Ronald used the broken pieces to stoke the fire. The whole time, Masdormer was screaming like a lunatic from underneath the weight of Carol's other ghosts. Finally, all that remained of the guillotine were the metal pieces, which Carol tossed into the fire for good measure. As the last piece hit the flames, Masdormer began groaning and wailing, his essence pulled toward the fire as if he were being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. In a few seconds, the unfriendly ghost was gone.
Carol and I were both still staring into the fireplace as we began to hear clapping from behind us. Turning around, I found Carol's party guests lined up around the room, cheerfully applauding our performance.
"All - part of the act," Carol managed to say as she bowed gracefully. She paused, wiping the sweat from her forehead. "Who's up for refreshments?"
Carol's guests were still talking about her "entertainment" as they departed the following morning. Of course, none of them had believed that any of what they saw was real. Most of them were accustomed to Carol's wild and morbid sense of humor and assumed that the ghosts had been nothing more than holograms projected by a hidden camera. It had been an event that they would talk about for years to come.
As for me, I think it will be a long time before I attend any more of Carol's Halloween parties, although I did make another trip to Carol's house the following week to drop off a gift. I watched with satisfaction as the servants took down the tarnished old mirror from the hall and replaced it with a brand new, baroque style floor mirror I had bought at an estate sale.
"It's just lovely," Carol smiled when she saw her new addition. "Annabelle will love it." She patted the other two bundles I had brought; an old deck of poker cards and an ebony-handled feather duster. "I'll be sure to put these two where they belong."
As I was leaving, a ghostly shape followed me outside. Though it was hard to discern who it might have been in the dark, I could sense a familiar presence all around me as I got into the carriage behind Ronald. A moment later, something small dropped onto the seat beside me. It was a tiny crystal ball about the size of a ping-pong ball.
I smiled, tucking the crystal into my pocket. "You're welcome..."
Maybe next year, I'll have my own party - just not at my house. the ghost shouted, his anger aimed at Carol's back. He had hardly gotten within feet of Carol before a second shape appeared his way. It was Annabelle, and she looked angry. the ghost demanded angrily, but even though she was scared to death, Carol refused to stop.