Cassadaga is a town filled with psychics who should have sensed trouble was coming. The town's residents are caught off guard when a ghost hunting team sets up business with plans to investigate the local cemetery with its infamous "Devil’s Chair."
Worried that the ghost hunters may fake results, everyone, living and dead, leaps into action to spy on the ghost hunters.
Patrick is drafted to attend the first investigation, but he's hiding a problem. He's being haunted by an unfriendly spirit and doesn't want to open himself to an attack.
But how does a psychic admit he's afraid of ghosts? And what will happen after he stumbles over a dead ghost hunter in the town's cemetery?
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Marie Dees is a Native Floridian and Central Florida author who enjoys writing about the quirky aspects of Florida that many don't see. She can sometimes be found hanging out at the actual Cassadaga Hotel where the hotel spirits may be whispering ideas for the next book.
Patrick shifted gears on the Jeep as he turned off the highway and onto the road that led to Cassadaga. He slowed down. Unlike most of Florida, this area had hills just high enough so he couldn’t see what was ahead of him on the road. He had to be careful since he never knew when a car or a kid on a bike would come flying out of one of a side road or drive way. Or when some lost tourist would stop in the middle of the road wondering where Cassadaga was. Sometimes even a horse— He felt a tickle on the back of his neck and swatted at it, feeling his neck to see if there was a bug crawling on it. He didn’t feel a bug, so the tickle was probably just his hair brushing against his neck.
He glanced in the rearview mirror, checking to see if a car was coming up behind him. The road was empty. He looked back out the front windshield, but the feeling that someone was behind him nagged him all the way up the next hill. He checked the mirror again and met a pair of blue eyes. Ambrose. He gripped the steering wheel. “Get the fuck out of my Jeep!”
Ambrose’s mouth moved, but Patrick couldn’t hear whatever he was saying. He moved his foot to the brake. He wasn’t driving all the way back to the inn with Ambrose haunting his Jeep. He looked back to the road just as he cleared the hill. Two guys were carrying a dining room table across it.
His foot slammed down on the brakes, and the tires squealed. Damn, he was too close. One of the guys, the one wearing black, dropped his end of the table and jumped into the grass on the side of the road. Great, now he couldn’t steer there. The second guy, a redhead, just stood there staring at the Jeep as it came to a stop less than a foot away from him.
Unclenching his hands from the steering wheel, Patrick took a deep breath, and tried to stop shaking. He looked in the rearview mirror again. No one looked back at him, but he knew Ambrose had been there. Sure, his own eyes were blue and his hair blond, but he was twenty years younger than Ambrose. Also his hair was longish, not the expensively clipped cut that Ambrose wore. Had worn. It wasn’t like ghosts made appointments at hair salons.
The two guys he’d almost hit were still staring at the Jeep, so he leaned out. “You okay?” When the red-head nodded, he turned to the guy dressed in black.. He lay sprawled in the weeds looking slightly dead, but that was kinda normal for a Goth. “Hey, Gothy, you still breathin’?”
The Goth sat up. “You nearly killed us.”
“Yeah.” He couldn’t really deny it. Besides Gothy sounded more petulant than angry. “Sorry ‘bout that.” Gothy glared at him, but didn’t climb out of the weeds.
Ambrose had meant this to happen. He was a ghost, and he’d known the guys would be there. Ghosts could do that, but why would Ambrose want him to hit a couple of guys? Or a table? Or...he looked at the trees growing just a few feet behind Gothy. If the guy hadn’t jumped into the grass, he’d have steered the Jeep that way to avoid hitting anyone. His Jeep didn’t have anti-lock brakes. Or an airbag. If he hit one of those trees, both he and the Jeep would be pretty busted up.
“Hey,” the red-head shifted his grip on the oval table. “One of you mind helping me get this thing out of the road before another car comes along?”
Gothy was still glaring from the weeds, and Patrick didn’t think he was going to move anytime soon. He backed the Jeep off the road and put the flashers on. He looked up the street, but he didn’t see anyone coming. Or hear an engine. On a weekday like this, Cassadaga was pretty quiet. He strode over to help Red, studying the guy as he lifted the other end of the table. Red was about his age, but all biceps and sweat. He looked like the kind of guy who should be outside playing football. His nose was even peeling a bit like he’d been out in the sun a lot. So what was he doing with pale, weedy Gothy?
“Put it down here,” Red said when they reached the sandy lawn. “Not sure where he wants it yet.”
Red wasn’t looking at Gothy, so someone else got to decide where the furniture went. Besides, Gothy and Red didn’t look like either of them could afford the Mercedes SUV parked in the driveway. He sat the table down and looked across the street where a blue pickup truck sat with chairs piled in its bed. “Why didn’t you just park on this side of the road?”
“He told us to keep the truck off the grass,” Red answered, ignoring that he’d just dropped a table onto the same grass. Not that the table would do much damage. The grass was just the usual mix of scraggly grass and sandy soil. It could survive a table sitting on it, or even a truck parked on it.
Again, a “he” that wasn’t Gothy. A “he” who drove a Mercedes and gave orders. Great, that sounded like someone as bossy as Ambrose had been. Though looking at Red, Patrick doubted the mysterious “he” shared all of Ambrose’s tastes. Red wasn’t gay. The guy radiated straight. He also didn’t look like the type of person who’d suddenly decide to move to a town filled with psychics and Spiritualists. So, what had he been doing standing in the road with a table?
Gothy slunk over, brushing bits of dirt and grass from his black-on-black outfit. “You live in town?”
Probably straight too, Patrick decided. The guy was doing his best to look dark and mysterious, but something was off. Like he wanted people to see the eyeliner and black clothes and not him. “Down the road. The Cassadaga Inn.”
Red scrunched his eyebrows. “You live in an inn? Isn’t that expensive?” No subtlety there. Red wasn’t faking anything.
“We own it. Rafe and I.”
Red scratched his cropped hair while he tried to figure that out. Patrick decided it would take a while. Red had more muscles than Gothy, but Gothy had the brains to get out of the way of a moving Jeep.
“You psychic?” Gothy demanded. Patrick nodded. “Prove it.”
He pulled his shoulders back. Yeah, Gothy would have to be that type. Since he lived in Cassadaga, some people liked to challenge him to prove he was a psychic. He didn’t mind much, except they didn’t expect to pay anything. Usually they just wanted him to get something wrong so they could say it proved he wasn’t psychic. But he’d almost run this guy down, so he couldn’t really just blow him off. Besides, some things were fairly obvious. Looking at Red and Gothy, he knew they wouldn’t be doing anything together unless someone paid them. Someone who owned that Mercedes SUV. He looked up at the big two-story house. Those two didn’t look like brothers, and the place was zoned for business. “You’re here as part of a business.”
Red’s eyes widened. Yeah, he’d be an easy one to read. Gothy kept his face stony, like people did when they were worried they’d give him clues.
He knew the business part was right. In Cassadaga a business meant psychic readers or stores selling books and stuff to the tourists visiting for psychic readings. Red wasn’t psychic. Gothy probably wanted to be, but he wasn’t picking up the right vibes from him.
“Ghosts.” The word came out before he knew he said it. At first he worried the impression was a left over thought from seeing Ambrose in the Jeep, but Red and Gothy glanced at each other, like they were surprised he got something right. A realization hit him. “Oh, no. Tell me you don’t think that’s a haunted house.” He jerked his head toward the Victorian. This time the look Red and Gothy exchanged told him what he needed to know. “It’s not you know.”
Gothy shrugged. “Doesn’t matter much if the house is haunted. Still leaves us plenty of places to investigate.”
“Investigate? You mean like ghost hunting?” People always wanted to find ghosts in town, but this was the wrong house for it. It wasn’t haunted. He looked after it for the Fosters. They would have told him if he needed to let someone in to investigate. Of course, they should have told him if someone had bought the place. They’d probably send a note with the check for the lawn mowing. Mail from the ashram in India always took a while.
“Not just ghost hunting,” Gothy said. “We’re going to offer readings, classes, and upscale ghost tours.”
So, they were moving into the house. He considered the cost of the house and the amount of money upscale ghost tours would have to bring in to pay the mortgage. It didn’t seem like a great business idea, but he doubted Gothy or Red were the ones who paid the bills. Still, the place was on the main road, so people would be able to find it easily. He took a couple of breaths. No, he wasn’t picking up anything else from Red. Whatever was going on, he thought he was here to give ghost tours. Gothy was also telling the truth, but there was a smugness that just felt wrong. “So, where do you plan to find the ghosts?”
“The cemetery?” Red made it a question.
Figured. That’s where everyone expected to find ghosts. “And people are going to pay you to go on ghost hunts?”
The Goth nodded. “That’s the plan. People love the ghost hunting shows on TV, and we offer more than that. We’re going to give them a personal experience.”
Patrick decided that if Gothy wanted a real personal experience with a ghost, he’d be glad to loan him Ambrose. In fact, he’d be glad to ship Ambrose off to the people on TV and let them figure him out. “And the ghosts are just gonna show up?”
Gothy shrugged, but his gaze shifted toward the house as the front door opened. Patrick looked up to see a man step out onto the porch. The guy was older than Red or Gothy. Somewhere in his fifties. Big and broad shouldered like Ambrose had been, but this guy’s hair was going gray. Ambrose would have dyed his to hide that. So, the guy wasn’t as vain as Ambrose. The crease down the pants told Patrick the man wasn’t expecting to have to move furniture. A chill ran down his spine, and he took a breath, trying to center himself. Ambrose was around somewhere. The man on the porch was sending out a few Ambrose vibes, but nothing that suggested he had any interest in Red or Gothy, except as potential furniture movers. He wasn’t like Ambrose that way.
The guy frowned at the table. “Damn it, Chris, why’s the table sitting on the grass? Do you want to ruin the wood?”
“Sorry, Mr. Donovan.” Red, who was apparently named Chris, tapped Patrick’s arm and grabbed one end of the table. Patrick grabbed the other end and lifted it off the grass. If Red was happy to have his help, he was going to take advantage of it. He wanted to see what they’d been up to inside the house.
Carrying his end of the table, Patrick worked his way backward up the porch steps. He made it to the top without tripping over anything, but as he and Chris rotated the table to get it into the house, they bumped into the door. The ornamental window in the center rattled in its frame.
“Be careful,” Donovan warned. “That’s an expensive Victorian door, and I don’t want to have to replace it.”
Patrick waited until he and Chris were in the house. “Victorian from thirty years ago,” he muttered.
“I thought this place was old. That’s what Donovan says.”
Yeah, Chris would believe the guy. He was too open. The kind of guy who didn’t lie so he didn’t expect others to lie. “Parts of the town are old. Our inn is from the nineteen-twenties.” He felt a little surge of pride at that. “But this house was built, like, thirty years ago. They just designed it to look Victorian.” The scent of expensive cologne hung in the room. Donovan’s, he thought. “Where are we going?”
Chris nodded down at the oval table. “It’s supposed to be a séance table. Where would you put one of those?”
“I’d put a table in the dining room.” He twisted, looking over his shoulders for signs that they’d turned something into a séance room. He wasn’t sure if the thought of Red, Gothy and Donovan giving séances was scary or funny. The ghosts would probably die of laughter. He felt that tickle on his neck again. Ambrose was still hanging around. Maybe he was waiting for the séances to start.
“Don’t just stand there.” Donovan stepped through the front door and pointed to the dining room. “Put it in there, and then go and unload the chairs. Damn it, we’re taking too long to set up.”
Patrick saw Chris’s muscles tighten. The jock didn’t like being ordered around. He wanted to ask him why he worked for a guy like Donovan, but the man followed them as they carried the table into the dining room. When they set it down, Donovan bent close and scrutinized it.
“Why is that leg scratched?” He was looking at the leg that probably hit the ground first when Gothy dropped the table. “Damn it, Chris. I thought I told you guys to be careful. I don’t need the expense of replacing a table.”
Patrick watched Donovan warily. Ambrose had had his own way of dealing with issues, but Donovan wasn’t sending any of those signals. He also didn’t think the table cost that much. It looked like it was made from solid wood, but he and Chris hadn’t strained any muscles carrying it. Donovan might spend when it came to cars, clothes and cologne, but he’d deliberately bought a cheap table.
“Sorry. We had a little problem.” Chris stopped there. Not blaming Patrick or Gothy for the damage.
Patrick stuck one hand under the edge of the table, lifted it, and dropped it with a bang. “Kinda light for a séance table.”
Donovan turned from Chris to him. “What do you mean?”
“I mean this table is light enough to pick up with one hand. That means someone could do tricks with it, like shaking it and letting people think a ghost is doing it.” He picked his end of the table up and dropped it again. He’d found the Ambrose connection. It wasn’t sex. It was just manipulating people, and Donovan wasn’t even as good at that as Ambrose had been.
“It’s heavy enough to work.” Donovan jiggled the table. It didn’t wobble. At least the legs were even. “Don’t want to make things too difficult for the ghosts.”
Patrick shrugged. He’d seen enough and didn’t need to put up with the jerk. He made his way around the table, past Chris and out of the room. He could hear Donovan’s shoes clack against the wooden floor as the man followed him. He strode down the porch steps and toward his Jeep, glad to be back in the fresh air and away from whatever energy he was picking up from Donovan.
Gothy was busy pulling a chair out of the back of the pickup truck. The rest of the chairs were still in the truck, so Patrick suspected he’d run over to start unloading as soon as he heard Donovan walking toward the front door. Not that it was his problem. He reached his Jeep and climbed in.
“Son,” Donovan called from the front yard, “you leave now, and you’re fired.”
Patrick cranked the engine. “You can’t fire me.”
Chris stood just behind Donovan, and Patrick could see a grin spread across the jock’s face. Good. He’d almost run the guy down, so he owed him. He might as well make this worth it.
Donovan moved to the edge of the road and crossed his arms. “Perhaps you’d like to tell me why not?”
“Because I don’t work for you.” He threw the Jeep into gear.
“So, you’re quitting?”
Patrick kept his foot on the brake and stared at the man. Didn’t he even know who he’d hired? “Can’t quit. Never started. I don’t work for you. I live here. In Cassadaga, where we don’t use tricks during séances because that would be unethical. You might want to think about that.”
“He’s a psychic,” Gothy called out. He left the chair he’d unloaded sitting beside the road and headed over to watch the action. “From the town.”
“Wait.” Donovan stepped into the road and put a hand on the Jeep’s window. “What if I offer you a job? I’ll pay you ten dollars an hour.”
Patrick raised his chin. “My rate for an hour reading is a hundred dollars. It’s the standard in town. You can ask Myra at the bookstore. She sets the rates.” Sometimes he thought she set them too high, but today he was glad of it.
“Sure kid, but how much of that do you keep?”
“All of it.” He let the Jeep drift forward. Donovan got out of the way. He shifted gear and pulled away. He wondered what Myra would say when she heard about this. She couldn’t know yet. The entire town would have heard the fireworks. The house was outside the limits of the town and out of her control. She was going to explode.