Journey of Souls

First Pages

 

Prologue

May 1975

 

 

 

 

            "I'm going to kill him." His controlled voice defied his swift walk. She ran up to him and grabbed his arm, yanking him back, turning him to face her.

            "No!" Her voice came out in a strangled hiss. "I told you, it's not worth it, he's not worth it. He's gone now, everything is okay." Ethan stomped and walked away from the woman, then stopped and turned to look back at her.

            "Why?" His eyes were incredulous, "Tell me why?"

            Lila stared at him, loving him, understanding his reasons and hating her fear of them.

            "Because it would do nothing but cause a lot of grief. Because then he would win. I'm fine, so what, he smacked me. I don't care. I am okay. I still have my son. Why should you care?"

            He turned and placed his hands firmly on her shoulders and glared into her eyes, hating that she didn't understand him, hating that she didn't know how much he loved her,

            "Because, damn it, I love you and I love the baby! Because that man hurt you, hit you, touched you! Because, damn it, he deserves to be destroyed."

            She shoved his hands off of her, and glared just as furiously back at him.

            "As long as I have my son, I don't care. I love you, and you love me, why make matters worse? Why can't you just let it be?"

            "Fine. You let me know when you care enough, because I don't think you really do. He's harmed what I consider mine, and yet you tie my hands. Why?" He stared at her, the hurt flooding his eyes, reflecting the hurt in her own eyes.

            "Ethan you need to learn to pick your battles. This is one neither of us will win. What's been done is already done. There is nothing either of us can change about that."

            "You let me know when I can be your man, when I can take care of you and the baby, when it's okay." Ethan knew his words didn't make sense, his anger seemed to be controlling his words, overwhelming his emotions for her.

            Lila again stared at him, knowing that he could feel her, knowing how much he was hurting. He paused putting his hands on his hips as though he wanted to say more while staring straight into her heart and then turned to walk away.

            "Ethan?" Her voice nearly pleaded as he walked toward the large gathering of people sitting around the bonfire. She watched him snatch up a beer as the pretty young woman smiled up at him, invitingly. She saw what she dreaded the most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

May 2004

 

 

 

 

            Justine ran down the wooden steps of the outdoor stage with a paper copy of her hard earned Masters Degree tightly gripped in her hand. Her eyes glowed with pride, her smile seemed to encompass the world. After shaking her favorite professor's hand, she ran directly to her mother, with her arms held wide open expectantly. Alice gave her a short hug that was more indulging than affectionate.

            "So now you have a degree to go run around like crazy chasing sounds that go bump in the night, just like your father wanted to,” she sighed,  ," she signed, ," she signed,“but at least he was wise enough to do it only as a hobby." Alice paused, and seeing the crushed look in Justine's eyes, she offered a weak smile and said,” I just hope you don't regret this a few years down the road as much as I think you will. That should be a degree in music in your hand."

            "Mother, this degree is important to me, and as you know, I already have a job to start on Monday." Justine tried hard not to whine, but her mother's words, as always, knew exactly how to cut her the deepest.

            "This is just nonsense Justine!" Alice Ramsey snapped at Justine, who had started to walk toward her car. Alice walked quickly, to keep up with her daughter. Justine turned her head and stared at her,

            "Mother, I never thought on the day of my graduation you would be disappointed in me."  Justine's green eyes dipped in sadness. "I'd think you'd be proud." Daddy would have, she wanted to include but didn't.

             Justine turned her back to her mother and stomping away angrily, continued across the field. It shouldn't surprise her she told herself, that her mother could easily manage to cast a shadow on a beautiful day. Despite her mother's harsh words, Justine forced herself to keep her head high and be proud of herself.

            For a moment her mother just stood still, watching Justine march off. Her retreating back only revealed her light burgundy graduation robe which was a lovely contrast to her chestnut hair.  Alice could not detect the dashed hopes she had seen in her daughter’s eyes.

            Sadly, Alice turned away, knowing that once again her words hadn't been right, once again she had hurt her only daughter. She decided she would just go home and have some wine.  She would make it all better the next time she talked to Justine. 

 

 

            The next morning Justine was almost too busy to sulk over her mother's lack of support and happiness over her degree.  She was starting her new job today. Her new boss was Conroy Pekins, not exactly renowned, but still a very experienced Parapsychologist expected her to be there at noon. Briefings started at noon everyday unless otherwise notified, Conroy had told her, while advising her not to be late.

            Justine was both excited and terrified. Today she would meet the team and go out on her first case with them. She would finally be able to use the degree she had worked so hard and given up so much for.  For the time being, she had entirely forgotten about her mother’s opinion on her degree of choice.

            For a moment, Justine panicked.  She had absolutely no idea of what to wear. She had, of course, worn a professional suit for the interview.  But what was the normal attire while one was chasing ghosts, she wondered. At that thought, the giggle sprang to her eyes as she carried her coffee along and looked through her tediously organized closet.

            Justine was lost in thought when the ringing of the phone brought her out of it.

            "Hello?" She asked, even though she had read the Caller I.D. and knew it was Sheryl Rollins, her favorite pain in the butt and best friend.

            "So, you get to go chase ghosts and get paid for it now! I'm so jealous!"

Both women laughed for a moment. "Sheryl, I have no idea what to wear."

            "Hmm…well it’s field work, right?" Sheryl asked.

            "Yes, I guess so." Justine replied uncertainly.

            "Wear slacks then, and a nice blouse."

            "Yeah, that'll it work, but what about shoes? What if I have to run?"

            Sheryl couldn't contain the giggle in her voice.

            "You mean, in case you get chased by a ghost, right?" both women could no longer suppress their laughter.  By now, Sheryl’s call of support had bolstered Justine’s confidence.    

            Two hours later she slowly walked into the entrance of Spectrum Industries. The outside of the building was a tired non-descript brown. But the second Justine entered the front doors it was all shining glass, tropical plants and skylights.  There were brass sculptures that would likely not be considered mainstream art, but were so mysterious and inspiring that they held their own captivating allure. 

            As Justine passed a tall, striking, dark haired man on her way to Conroy's office, she exchanged a shy smile with him. Conroy looked up as Justine pushed open the door, his glasses perched on his round nose. Conroy Pekins had a keen intelligence that was blatantly deceptive under his dull brown eyes, round face, and sluggish body.  He was standing with a piece of paper in his hand that he appeared to be reading.

            "Justine, come in."  He gestured to one of the empty seats across from his mahogany desk. Self-consciously, Justine sat while Conroy continued to flip through the file in his hand. Finally, just when she thought he might have forgotten she was there, he sat down and gave her a quick smile.

            "Sorry, we got two new cases in today and one of them is quite bizarre." Justine simply smiled back, not sure how to respond.           

            Conroy came around from his desk and quickly looked Justine up and down.

            "Tomorrow and everyday after, you wear jeans and comfortable sneakers to work. We don't need any broken ankles," he said, pointedly staring at Justine's two inch high black suede boots. Justine blushed nervously.

             "It's okay, Justine, I should have told you about our dress policy when I hired you," Conroy smiled compassionately, perching his large hips on the edge of his desk.

            "Are you familiar with the old Timberbrook Train Depot?"

 Justine had to think for a moment before replying.  "The one off of Interstate 10, downtown?" she said, hoping to sound more confident than she actually felt.

            "Yep, that's the one. We have received several reports about strange noises and lights." Conroy turned to a bulging filing cabinet, extracted a thin file and handed it to Justine.

            "Tonight around five, I want you to go down there to the depot with your handheld equipment, and document what happens for me." He stared at her intently, noticing her agitation, as he waited for her acknowledgment.

            "Will I be working with the team?" she asked, trying hard to keep the anxiety out of her voice.

            "Nope, this one is all for you, kiddo. I like to send my new P.I.'s out on their own for their first case. No violence of any kind has been reported at Timberbrook.  Just remember to have your cell phone with you, but leave it turned off while you're not using it. Good luck."

            Conroy gave Justine a dismissive look.  She quickly stood up and started to exit the room, not sure how to proceed.  Five o’clock was a long time from now. Justine turned back to look at Conroy.

             "Anything I should be doing until then?"

            He glanced up at her in irritation.

            "Enjoying your day." His voice was stern until he noticed the confusion in her eyes.

            "Justine, you're a salaried employee, there will be days when you work long hours, when you are called in at 3:00 in the morning, and days like this. Enjoy them while you can. Just report back to me at ten tomorrow morning unless you hear from me before then. Have a nice day."

 

 

            At ten minutes to five, she pulled into a field in front of the old Timberbrook Depot. Letting the Chevy idle with the air conditioner rattling quietly, Justine grabbed her equipment bag, which was actually a high quality backpack, and made sure for probably the hundredth time that she had everything she needed. Three flashlights, various sized extra batteries, the Spectrum-issued cell phone, a 35 mm camera loaded with infrared film, a digital camera, compass, magnetic detector, note pad, handheld digital audio recorder also known as an EVP recorder, EVP’s are electronic voice phenomena that can not be heard by human ears, a digital thermometer and an EMF meter, which reads electro magnetic fields and can decipher when they are higher than they should be which can be an indication of the paranormal.

            Justine was both excited and more nervous than she was willing to admit. She slowly stepped out of the brand new Chevrolet Malibu that she had spoiled herself with as a treat for earning her Masters Degree. It was metallic teal in color and handled like a dream.

            Justine stretched to her full height and looked around, not sure if she was delaying the investigation purposely or not. It was early May in northeastern Florida, dusk was still about two hours away, but the heat was dissipating a bit.  It was still too early in the season for the humidity to be too overwhelming. Justine put her equipment backpack on her shoulder, keeping a few tools out and easily accessible by hanging them around her wrists or neck. She took several digital photos of the outside perimeter of the building. When she glanced at her thermometer, it was still 82 degrees. Justine gathered herself and took a deep breath as she entered the wide, arching entrance of what must have been a beautiful train station in its high time. 

            The coolness of the building was both inviting and alarming as she stopped at the entrance to look to the right and then to the left. Instantly, she knew she was being watched, and quite curiously so, for she could feel the penetrating weight of the stare. Justine raised her eyes up to the rotting wooden rafters and couldn't help wondering, which was more frightening: the chance of a ghost appearing or the fact that the unstable, decaying building could collapse at any moment.

            A gust of cold wind suddenly took Justine's breath away; the moment was so abruptly intense that it was almost physically painful. Grasping her chest, and reaching for her camera, she knelt to one knee.  Quickly her eyes darted around the room desperately searching. Justine fumbled for her magnetic detector, which was spinning wildly out of control.

            "The strength of the entity is extremely strong, but still no visual confirmation," Justine spoke quietly trying to sound calm as she dictated into the recorder she had clicked on with her other hand.

            A cold wind snapped Justine out of her thoughts.  She shivered against it, suddenly feeling overwhelmed with the sorrow that commonly accompanied ghosts who have passed too soon. Once again, she thought of how simple it was to sit and play the violin in comparison to hunting down ghosts.

            Timberbrook had been shut down for over thirty years and yet Justine strongly sensed that she was surrounded by a whirl of activity, almost as if people hurriedly headed off and on the trains either commuting home or heading out for a day in the city.

            The dilapidated building stood mammoth and empty, excluding the cobwebs that danced with the spring breeze as it rushed in through broken windows. Justine willed herself to gather her courage and do what she had come to do. It was her job, and an honorable one, to find out if the place was indeed haunted, as it had been reported by several people from the surrounding neighborhood.

            Justine grabbed her camera, pulling it up to her eyes as she spun around slowly trying to find something, see something, anything really, so she could take note of it and leave.

            The shutter of the camera lens jammed when Justine tried to click it open. In frustration, she shook the camera roughly, exclaiming words that would have sent her mother's heart into a panic.

            Suddenly, she stopped short in her angst. Eyes.  She felt them.  There were eyes on her, the vivid blue of the sky, and unsettling with their unmistakable age and wisdom. Justine jumped back in panic, scrambling for a wall to butt herself up against.  At the moment any type of defense seemed acceptable. A loud click shattered the silence of the building, echoing off the walls as Justine's camera lens finally popped open. Justine jumped, gasping in pure fear as panic rolled over her in waves.

            Then her ears picked up at the free, jubilant laughter of a child. Looking up from her camera, Justine stared into the pretty, but very pale face of a deceased young girl. The little girl simply smiled at her, her eyes dancing with a light that should be reserved for the living.

            A white light that emanated from the girl was the only sure sign that she was actually a ghost.  She looked so alive, so human. The light from the entity radiated around her, growing and extending until it included Justine in its icy embrace. Justine simply stared as the smile died on the little girl’s face, and her eyes, once ripe with life, grew serious and deep.

            The girl raised a small, pale hand to Justine.

            "Follow me, I will show you."

            For a moment Justine simply stared at the ghost, not sure if she was simply losing her mind from all of her recent stress, or if she had landed in some warped world where anything goes.  She was, however, surprised to realize that she was not afraid of the girl.

            Justine stared at the thin, small hand in front of her. It wasn't quite solid, yet it wasn't transparent either. It looked like water, a stream of crystal clear water that was self contained in the shape of a hand but it didn't drip or run. Throughout her life, Justine had the 'gift', as some called it, to see 'things' that most did not understand or were skeptical of. She had seen ghosts, more than she wanted to remember, really. But she had never seen such a realistic ghost, and she had never been spoken to by one either.

            Justine found it ironic that the ghost of a young child was reassuring her, and not the other way around.

            "I will not hurt you. I just want to show you." The little girl's sweet, yet solemn, voice touched Justine's heart, but she wasn't sure if her reactions would be considered Spectrum procedure. On the other hand, wouldn't it be great to have this much information on her first solo case?

            With her heart pumping rapidly from the adrenaline rush, Justine slowly reached out to touch the small hand. She jumped back, surprisingly startled when her hand simply fell through the air, smacking loudly against her own thigh.

            "Silly!" The little girl laughed playfully. "You can't really touch me!" The child smiled up into Justine's confused face. "I just want you to follow me. I want to show you."

            As the child started quickly off without another word, Justine had to will herself to follow. She couldn't help but think it was absurd that she could hear her own pounding footsteps but the ghost's were totally silent.

            Suddenly, Justine felt like she may have gotten in over her head with this assignment, and maybe even with this job.

            Finally after running half the length of the large, empty train station, the girl stopped before a heavy metal door. Breathlessly Justine caught up to her, leaning forward to catch her breath and, for the first time noting how heavy her backpack had become.     

            When Justine looked into the pale, small face, gone was the innocent mirth dancing in the child's glowing eyes, replaced with a somberness that was uncanny for a young child.

            "In there," she pointed at a closed door, her blonde hair blowing with an invisible wind. The child's vivid blue eyes seemed to shine cat-like, holding all of the mysteries of youth and humility, while also knowing the terrors of a demented world that a child should never have to know.

            "What is behind that door?" Justine asked, feeling slightly ridiculous asking for direction from a ghost.

            "You have to open it. It will not harm you." Justine glanced back and forth between the ghost and the door that surely was hiding something nefarious.  Then it finally dawned on her that it had gone completely dark outside with the onset of night, but she could still see clearly because of the bright light emanating from the little girl.

            Justine sized up the door which appeared to be sturdier than anything else in the building. The door was a burnt orange color with a turning wheel lock. Taking one last look at the child, Justine stepped up to the door and tried to turn the lock. Only it wouldn't budge and not surprisingly, as upon closer inspection, it appeared to be rusted shut. Putting more force into it, she tried again but it still wouldn't budge. She turned to look at the little girl, as if seeking direction.

            Without meeting Justine's glance, the ghost child raised one shaking hand and pointed at the door without actually touching it. The lock groaned for a moment but then suddenly began to rotate rapidly until the click of the mechanism could be heard echoing like a gun shot through the empty train station.

            Justine took a moment to take stock of the situation, attempting to keep her panic at bay. Most normal people, sane people, would have run out by now. However, here she was talking to a ghost that she couldn't physically touch, but who could unlock doors without touching them.

            Nervously, Justine ran her hands over her hair and down her tight pony tail before looking at the child one last time.

            "Go." There was an earnest almost desperate quality in the girl's voice now, and a sadness that was both compelling and staggering with its depth.

            Justine took a deep breath and grabbed the large wheel lock. To her surprise the door easily and noiselessly yawned open. Unlike the lit hallway of the train station, the small chamber, which was the best word Justine could think of to describe it, was totally dark. It had a stagnant, stale smell to it that was strong but not overwhelming. She grabbed her large Mag flashlight from the side pocket of her backpack, but hesitated before turning on the beam.

            When she finally found the resolve to turn on the flashlight, Justine was surprised to see that the room appeared to be empty. Puzzled, she turned to look at the young girl, thinking maybe the child was playing a prank on her, as she had learned many ghosts are known to do.

            The child appeared to read Justine's thoughts when she said, "You have to go into the room, it's the coal supply closet. Inside is a small cubby hole meant for a shovel. Find it."

            Justine felt herself growing frustrated at the absurdity of the situation, but she sensed her “red light”, or her “instinct detector” (as she referred to it) flashing and urging her that there was indeed something there worth discovering. Gingerly, she stepped into the small chamber. Like the rest of the building it was dusty and full of cobwebs--and who knew what else, Justine thought grimly to herself.

            Staying close to the door, prepared for a quick retreat, Justine shined the light around the room until she saw a hole that was about two feet wide in diameter. She felt a heavy doom weigh down her heart as she slowly advanced towards it, somehow knowing that the truth it held would be alarming.

            She had to kneel down to shine the light directly into the opening and felt both rewarded but terrified when the light bounced off of something shoved fairly far back into the hole. In an effort to maintain some sort of rationality, she gingerly tapped around the edge of the hole with the heavy flashlight, trying to avoid being bitten by anything that claimed the cubby hole as its home. After the sound of metal on metal resonated, and then faded, the room was once again reassuringly silent.  Justine paused for a moment, shined the light directly into the hole and was satisfied when nothing alive and menacing had appeared.

            Justine's mouth filled up with saliva and the strong taste of copper as she poked then her head into the hole with the flashlight held right under her chin. She noticed something white and long in the hole. Thinking quickly Justine, reached into her backpack and ripped off a sheet of paper from her note pad. Cupping the paper in her hand, she reached into the hole and grabbed the object carefully, fearfully pulling it closer.

            Her eyes grew large, and even though she had never fainted in her life, Justine was afraid she was about to do just that. She felt the perspiration collecting on her forehead and had to pause to consciously keep her breathing level. She gulped back her fear and shined the light on the object again, already knowing what it would be once she could see it up close.

            A long, white human bone had rested in the small hole, and was now in her hand. Shining the light further into the hole, Justine saw that the bone was not alone, there was also a small skull and several other scattered bones in varying sizes. Although she was not an expert in Forensics, she guessed the bones belonged to a small child.

            Abruptly jerking her arm out of the hole, Justine turned to the little girl, wanting to confirm her most dreaded thoughts. A new kind of fear welled up within Justine's heart when she realized that she was now alone, and the little girl-along with her abundant light-was nowhere to be seen.

            Losing what little of her courage that had remained, Justine slid to the floor, her knees limp like cooked spaghetti.  She put her face in her hands, as the tears and sorrow overwhelmed her.

            Uncertain of how many minutes she had sat there and cried, Justine knew, as a trained professional, she had to regain control of the situation. She stood up on rubbery legs and looked back into the hole. She then pointed her camera into the opening, taking pictures from the few different angles she could manage in the small space it allowed.

            Justine walked out of the chamber and breathed in deeply, needing the open oxygen to steady her mind and trembling hands. Her attention was immediately drawn to the far wall from the door, where Justine saw what appeared to be words that glowed as if being displayed in neon lights. But the glow was more like the shock blue of open electricity.  She was certain the words had been put there for her benefit. There were three words that simply spelled, “Madeleine La Rue.”

            The little girl's name, Justine was almost certain of it. Thinking quickly, she pulled the digital camera back out of her backpack and took a picture of it. She glanced into the small view finder after she had snapped the photo, nearly praying that the camera had been able to pick up the spectral words. They were there, as clear as sunshine, giving Justine the little boost of encouragement that she needed!

            Without any independent direction of how to proceed at this point, Justine pulled out her cell phone and dialed the after hours number for Spectrum, that Conroy had given her to use in case of emergency.  Thankfully, she had made herself memorize the number.

            While she listened to the phone ring and waited impatiently for someone to pick up, Justine took a glance at her watch and was shocked to realize that it was already 7:30.

            Spectrum's after hours answering service finally picked up.  Justine was asked her name and was told the message would immediately be relayed to Conroy. In frustration, Justine clicked off the phone and stomped out her impatience. The sound of her feet echoed off the rafters bringing them to life with noise which in turn, startled her even further.

            Anxious to get out of the building, Justine slung her backpack onto her shoulder and quickly walked back toward the exit of the train station. The broad archway of the entrance couldn't have been a more welcoming site as Justine approached it. When she stepped out into the night air, she noticed that it had finally gotten cooler outside. Usually the heavy night sounds of the south, a chorus of insects and frogs, were comforting to Justine, but suddenly she couldn't decide which was more frightening: the chamber of terror inside the abandoned train station?  Or the dark, empty night?

            The ringing of Justine's cell phone sent her jumping, startling her in the oppressive blackness.

            Conroy's voice was surly, as if he'd been interrupted from something important. He had found through years of experience that often his brand new Parapsychologist Investigators had called him on their first solo investigation, purely out of being overwhelmed by fear.

            "Justine, what seems to be the problem?"

            Taking a deep breath, Justine tried to settle her nerves so she could speak calmly, or at least sound that way.

            "Sir, I did find a positive ghost." She paused, uncertain of how to word it. "I also found human bones."

            Justine could hear the sharp intake of Conroy's breath.        

            "You found bones? Are you sure they are human?" His voice sounded both alarmed and amazed as well.

            "Yes, sir, I am sure." She proceeded to give him an account of her evening along with her findings.

            Twenty minutes later a very hurried Conroy arrived at the depot, flushed with agitation. When his eyes met Justine's own large frightened ones, he instantly felt a warm kindness for her. He quickly hurried over to her.

            "Are you okay, Justine?" His voice was full of concern and compassion.

            Justine swallowed back a lump in her throat.

            "Yes, I am now anyway." Conroy gently patted her back and walked her over to a small stoop where they could both sit.

            "I've notified the Sheriff's Office, they said they would be on scene right away. They will need to take a statement from you. I know that you're frightened and a bit shaken, but I do expect you to act in a professional manner." Although his words seemed harsh, his voice was not.

            For several minutes the two of them sat silently, Conroy smoking on his fragrant pipe while Justine stared out past the large, empty field overgrown with grass and litter from the surrounding neighborhood. She forced herself to remain calm and relaxed.  Both of them stood up too quickly, revealing their impatience when they saw a pair of headlights slowly heading their way.

            Conroy placed his hand on Justine's shoulder encouragingly,

            "Let me explain everything to them first, and then you can give your statement and go home." Justine simply nodded silently, feeling out of sorts with the situation.        

            The patrol car finally rolled up, the tires loudly crunching on small gravel stones beneath them. Once parked, the officer took his time getting out of the patrol car, making Justine wonder if he was just going to remain in it. Conroy stood, waiting patiently, having dealt with the local law enforcement often in the past.

            Finally the tall officer, who Conroy knew as James Wilcox, got out of the cruiser, placing his hat on his head as he slowly walked toward Justine and Conroy, his thumbs tucked into the belt loops of his pants.

            "Mr. Pekins," he finally said with a reluctant tug at his hat. His eyes swept over Justine with an avid interest. 

            "Officer Wilcox, this is one of my P.I.'s, Justine Ramsey." Wilcox simply nodded at Justine before turning his attention back to Conroy.

            "You say you found some bones? Human remains?" Wilcox asked suspiciously.

            "Yes, Justine did." Conroy focused on Wilcox confidently, almost challengingly. Justine could feel strong tension between the two men and wondered silently about it.

            "You're sure they're human?" Wilcox asked, barely sparing a glance at Justine.

            "Yes, sir, I'm pretty sure." Her voice was controlled and Conroy liked that. Wilcox jerked his head in a smug nod while sizing Justine up again. The look on his face clearly indicated that he thought the funny farm might be the proper place for her.

            "They're probably just dog bones or something." the officer chuckled sarcastically. "Conroy, I hope for your sake, that they are human because we have an entire Crime Scene Unit team on its way."

            "Well, Officer Wilcox, I figure it's there job to make sure of it." Conroy stood his ground against the sneering cop, purposely not returning the sneer but smiling boldly instead.           

            Wilcox slowly walked closer to the arch way of the train station and leaned forward sticking only the upper half of his body across the threshold. Justine couldn't help but wonder if the gesture was meant to be sarcastic or if even he was afraid of the possibility of seeing a ghost.  Not that he would ever admit to it, she thought.

            "Find any ghosts?" His eyes lit up with amusement before his arrogant scowl returned. Justine had been warned to expect to find this type of ignorant skeptism from many people, and even while acknowledging that, she couldn't help keep her anger from rising.

            Feeling put out, she stood straight up, and said,

            "Yes, I did, and I believe the bones probably belong to her." Justine knew that her voice shook with both anger and residual fear, but at the moment she didn't care, she just wanted to wipe the smirk off his face.

            "A girl ghost, eh?" Wilcox chuckled, before sauntering back over to his patrol car to wait.

            The CSU team finally arrived and immediately created a whirl of activity the train station hadn't been privy to in many years. A kind-eyed female officer asked Justine to sit in her car with her while she took Justine's statement.          

            While the officer jotted down notes, Justine recounted her story about the bones in the coal chamber. The officer finally spoke,

            "Did you touch the bones?" Her eyes were earnest.

            "No, I used a piece of paper to pull them closer to me, I didn't know what they would be."

            "Huh." The officer said, thinking to herself that the girl had brains as well as grit, while she jotted down another note. Justine took a deep breath, bracing herself for the blast of laughter that she was sure she would receive when she mentioned the name that had appeared in lights.

            "There is one other thing that I think you should know." Her eyes were eager with seriousness, as she met the other woman’s gaze.

            "Anything you can tell us may be of help," The officer softly assured her.

            "This is going to sound nuts, I know, but after I found the bones and left the chamber, a name appeared on the wall directly in front of me. . . Madeleine La Rue. I think that may be the name of the girl whose bones are there." Justine stumbled over her words, feeling both awkward and unconvincing.     

            "The name was written on the wall? Like spay painted or something? You're sure it wasn't there before you went into the chamber?" The officer's eyes had finally grown a bit suspicious, just as Justine had assumed they would from the start.

            "That name couldn't have been there before I went in." She paused, collecting herself again before she proceeded.

            "It was written on the wall in lights, like a neon sign sort of, blue electricity." Justine quickly glanced down at her hands that were folded together in her lap, feeling inept with her explanation.    

            "In lights?" The officer stared at her incredulously, but there was an underlying thrill of curiosity in her voice.

            "Yes I'm sorry, I know that it doesn't make sense, but that's the best way that I can describe it." Justine paused, considered for a moment and pushed herself to add, "I do have a picture of it on my digital camera. Would you like to see it?"

            The officer glanced at Justine.  Suddenly she appeared to be as nervous as Justine felt. She bit her lip self consciously, and glanced around before replying

            "Yes, I would actually."         

            Justine eagerly pulled out the digital camera and found the picture quickly since it was the last one that she had taken.  She offered the camera to the officer who hesitated for just an instant before grabbing it.

            Shaking her head, the officer stared into the camera in amazement, wondering if this was a hoax, but all the while deeply feeling that it was not and asked,

            "What is that name again?" She asked, squinting at the small image.

            "Madeleine La Rue," Justine replied evenly.  A bit of her confidence had come back to her voice, She was happy to notice that.

            "Would you like a copy of the photo? I can email it to you."

            Officer O'Connell paused, wanting to say yes, but imagining the razzing she would get from her fellow officers if she even brought it up.

            "No, thanks, what you have shown me is proof enough."

            Justine nodded silently, almost sadly realizing that O'Connell must have a pretty tough job working in a male dominated field.

            "Okay, well, thank you for your time and statement, Miss Ramsey." The officer started to get out of her car and Justine followed suit.         

            "Officer O'Connell?" Justine asked nervously. The officer slowly turned back to look at her.

            "Yes?"

            "Will I be informed of any findings?" Justine's green eyes were large and emphasized her need to know the answer to the little girl’s riddle. O'Connell leaned against the front of her cruiser for a moment as if considering it.

            "I'll call you," she said finally, without sounding very convincing, before walking away.  

            Once the police interview was over, Justine noticed that Conroy was standing next to his car with his arms folded across his chest, waiting for her. He walked her to her car, patiently waiting while she put her gear in and then climbed in herself. Once Justine was settled, Conroy leaned his head through the open driver’s side window of the car.

            "Justine, I wanted to apologize to you." His soft brown eyes were intent with concern as he spoke kindly. "I would have never sent you out here on your first case if I had known it was going to turn out like this." Justine simply smiled softly.

            "It's okay, Conroy, how could you have known that I would find human remains?"

            Conroy slowly nodded his head

            "True, true, but still, I am sorry." The soft look in his eyes quickly passed and once again became serious.

            "I want you to report at 10:00 A.M. tomorrow." Justine nodded in acknowledgement.

            "The bizarre case I mentioned this morning?" He paused "Well, it appears we have a haunted house in Riverside to investigate, some pretty nasty stuff happening to the new owners there." Conroy chuckled boyishly, his eyes lighting up with passion.

            Justine felt a surge of excitement rush through her body, and once again understood why she had given up the violin and chosen this job.

            "One more thing,” Conroy added, as he moved away from the car. “You will be working with the team tomorrow." He smiled softly again,

            "Go home and get some rest, Justine, you're going to need it.  We have a long day tomorrow."

 

 

            Justine decided that she was too edgy to go home to her empty apartment and contemplated stopping by to see her mother, but she couldn't deal with her mother's nitpicking tonight. She decided instead to head over to best friend’s place, needing some companionship as well as a compassionate ear.

            Sheryl opened the door, looking worn out with her pony tail half falling out, laying in blonde strands on her thin shoulders. She smiled warmly at Justine before stepping aside to let her in.

            "Justine! It's so good to see you. Have you found any ghosts yet?" Justine knew that her friend’s interest in her job was genuine. The two of them had spent many hours in cemeteries in their youth, amateurishly trying to get pictures of ghosts.

            "I found more than the ghost, I also found her bones." The gravity of the words and the severity of Justine's voice caused Sheryl to pause and turn back to look at Justine who had been following her into the small, cluttered apartment.

            "You found bones? As in human bones?" Her blue eyes danced in amusement. "You're kidding, right?"

            "Oh, Sheryl, it was so awful!" And again Justine recounted the story to her old friend while Toby, Sheryl's two-year-old son, squirmed on her lap just happy to see her.

            "Wow! Were you scared?" Sheryl asked hungrily.  She had been devouring Justine's every word. Justine contemplated the question quietly before answering.

            "Of Madeleine, the ghost, no. The bones scared the hell out of me, though." She laughed before pausing again

            "I felt sorry for her, she was such a pretty little girl and so young. And I can't help but wonder why she chose me to show the bones to." Justine hugged Toby tightly against her chest and kissed the top of his golden head, more for her benefit than his, as a cold chill ran up her back.

            "Well, come on, Justine, you've always attracted things like that, you know that." Sheryl said, neatly folding and unfolding a dish towel in her hands.

            "Yeah, I know, but why?" Both women were suddenly silent with nervousness. Sheryl stood up and poured Justine a glass of Merlot. Justine accepted it silently, taking a delicate sip before setting it down.  Looking up into Sheryl's eyes, she watched as her friend nervously ran the dish towel in between her hands.

            "I know, you've already told me, but how old were you the first time you saw one? The first time you saw a ghost?" Justine simply laughed at Sheryl's question for a moment, and then decided it wouldn't hurt to indulge her.

            "Ever since I can remember I've been seeing ghosts, among other things." Justine took a hearty sip of her wine this time before saying, "The first time I remember I was about four, I guess. I was looking in the old mahogany oval mirror in my mother's bedroom and then there was a face staring back at me, a man's face."

            "And you were sure it wasn't just your imagination, you know, your own image blurred or something," Sheryl asked logically. Justine smiled softly, shaking her head.

            "That's what my parents told me it was, but I knew then--and I still know--it was the face of a man. I couldn't hear what he was saying but he was trying to talk to me, and he mouthed the word help." Sheryl quickly jumped up trying to busy herself with the dishes in the sink.

            "Oh wow! What did you do?"

            "You already know this story, Sheryl!” Justine laughed humoring her, “I ran off crying," she smiled easily.

            "I know, but I love to hear it!” She looked down for a moment, “Yeah, I bet you ran off, I would have, too!" Sheryl said trying to push away the seriousness.

            Justine stood up slowly and stretched

            "Well Sheryl, I have to get home," she said, sighing loudly.

            "Are you sure you don't want to stay the night? We could have some more wine, watch a chick flick, you don't have to be in until 10 tomorrow." Justine knew that her friend’s concern came not only from loneliness but from an innate knowledge that only the closest of friends can share. Sheryl knew that Justine was afraid to go home alone.

            "No, I can't. This is my job now, and if I can't face going home to an empty house the first day, I might not ever be able to." Sheryl nodded and pulled Justine into her arms for a warm hug.

            "You'll be okay," her voice was soft and reassuring. "I'm so proud of you, and, well, yeah a little jealous too," Sheryl said before backing away.

            Justine ran her hand over Toby's silky soft hair.

            "I may have a cool job, at least I hope it will be cool, but I don't have this." She motioned to Toby, kissing and giving him a big hug.

            When Justine arrived home she felt the dull ache of exhaustion nagging at her after the long night. She numbly stepped into the hot shower before crawling into bed. The last thing she saw when she turned out the lights were two glowing blue eyes that seemed to be staring straight into her heart.  She didn't know if they were real or a part of her vivid imagination, but found to her surprise that at the moment, she was too tired to care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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