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PEEPs Lite 9.1

Checking Out

A Haunted Series novella

by Alexie Aaron

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I dedicate this book to the fans of urban legends. We all have spent a minute or two pondering if saying Bloody Mary three times in the mirror will bring the fabled girl, and we may actually have looked for the ghosts that walk the haunted highways. For those who spend more than a minute, that reach out and explore the legends, this book is for you.

Also by Alexie Aaron

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in order

The Hauntings of Cold Creek Hollow 

Ghostly Attachments 

Sand Trap 

Darker than Dark 

The Garden 


Old Bones 

Things that Go Bump in the Night 

Something Old 


Eternal Maze 3.1 

Homecoming 3.2 

Checking Out 9.1 

Coming in February 2014: Ice and Steel 9.2 



Death by Saxophone 


Dew Drop Inn

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Burt pulled on the door to no avail. It was stuck fast. He ran over to the nearest window where he tore the curtains off the rod in his haste, exposing the green shutters. He raised the window and pushed at the shutters. They refused to open. Fact was, they didn’t budge at all. They were as fixed in place as the china representation of the Dew Drop Inn that he had admired on the mantle of the parlor upon his arrival yesterday.

“It’s a waste of energy,” the sweet voice said behind him. “Why don’t you relax and have another muffin? Millie has outdone herself with these cranberry orange confections.”

Burt turned and faced Mrs. Amelia Brewster, the owner of the inn. Today she wore a tweed business suit with a beige ruffled blouse, taupe hose and sensible shoes on her stout but fit body. Her salt and pepper hair was pulled into a French twist, her brows darkened dramatically, highlighting her large blue eyes. She gave Burt a pursed-lipped smile, inviting him to converse with her.

“What is going on here? This can’t be happening. Everyone else was able to leave here after a night’s stay,” Burt blurted out.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Mrs. Brewster asked, “Leave here? Why would anyone want to leave here? The Dew Drop has all your needs taken care of, Mr. Hicks. You have a warm comfy bedroom, en suite, and breakfast served twenty-four hours a day,” she listed. “Cooked and served by my daughter. You know she went to culinary school in Chicago, first in her confection class. Wait until you taste her croissants. Come,” she urged, “sit by the fire, and I’ll bring you a hot cup of coffee.”

“Are you crazy?” Burt asked. “Why are you keeping me prisoner here?”

“I am not. The inn is. Whatever the Dew Drop’s reasons are, you’re to be our guest for another day. May I recommend the pecan waffles?”

Burt backed away from the woman and turned back to the window. To his surprise, the draperies were back in place. He touched the material, and it felt real to him. Burt drew the curtains aside, and the shutters were now open. The sunny day that greeted him was incongruous to the January climate of southern Wisconsin.

“Why don’t you go out on the porch, and I’ll bring you another cup of coffee,” Mrs. Brewster suggested, opening the front door. “Or perhaps an ice cold glass of hand-squeezed lemonade?”

Burt walked over, puzzled by the ease in which the door moved in her hand.

“This was locked,” he claimed.

“Nonsense, it may stick a little in this balmy weather, but we never keep it locked. It wouldn’t be hospitable would it? After all, the Dew Drop Inn has the best reputation six years running. Better Homes and Gardens had a three page photo spread on the inn in their May 1970 edition.”

Burt walked out the door, but before his foot hit the wooden steps he was cautioned.

“Careful, Mr. Hicks, that second step could kill you.”

Burt looked down horrified to see the second step was now hundreds of feet below the inn. He felt the strong hand of the hostess on his shoulder.

“Why don’t you just sit over here and enjoy the sunshine.”

Dazed, he let her guide him to the Adirondack rocker. He sat down, and despite Mrs. Brewster’s insistence it was a balmy day, Burt was cold.

“I hope you saved room for muffins,” she said entering the inn. “You certainly enjoyed packing away all those pancakes this morning.”

Burt looked at the empty threshold and listened to the retreating steps of the owner of the B&B. Burt’s stomach rumbled, and he suspected he was starving. He didn’t feel the warmth of the sun as it fell across his lap. Burt looked at his hands and saw that they were red and chapped. His eyes assured him that he was sitting on the porch of an inn in summer. His body told him another story.

“What the hell is going on here?”

Chapter One

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Mia fought to release herself from the hold of the white stuff that surrounded her body. She lay on her back floundering. She sank deeper and deeper until all she could see was white above and around her. Mia twisted her body around and struggled until her feet made contact with solid ground. She stood up, shaking off the clinging snow as she formed a snowball. She threw it hard at her target, and before it landed she had formed another one.

“Ouch! You have to be freaking kidding me!” Ted complained as he retreated behind the PEEPs truck. Digging out the snow from the collar of his coat, he called, “I surrender!”

His plea was answered by a snowball skidding over the hood of the truck two inches from his head.

Cid looked down from his window. He had witnessed the whole fight. Mia and Ted were clearing a path through the drifted snow to the woodpile when Ted tossed a shovel full of snow on top of her. She retaliated with a barrage of curses, followed by the rapid fire of quickly formed snowballs. Ted charged forward, picked her up and deposited her in a snowdrift, claiming that would cool her off. At first Mia looked like defenseless turtle laying there on her back as she sank into the deep snow. But Mia wasn’t a turtle and hardly defenseless. She sprang up out of the snow, throwing an arsenal of snowballs. She had Ted cornered behind the Paranormal Entity Exposure Partners command center crying uncle.

“I think, Maggie, Uncle Cid better put some hot chocolate on the stove. Those two are going to be frozen by the time they reach an accord.”

The young mixed breed dog sniffed in agreement. Anything that got the cooking man to the kitchen was a good idea. She followed him through the tiny apartment over the PEEPs office and out onto the deck.

“Hot cocoa in five minutes,” Cid called down to the couple. “Mia, it isn’t ladylike to make Ted eat snow…. I don’t care what he put down your pants… I can’t believe I just said that,” Cid mumbled, turning red.

Maggie barked.

Distracted, Mia let go of Ted’s arm, and he wiggled away. He grabbed a handful of snow and shoved it up under Mia’s parka. She screamed as she danced around getting rid of the remaining snow. She tackled Ted, and the two of them landed in a drift of snow, inches shy from a stand of young maple trees.

“You two better stop before someone loses an eye!” Cid warned. “Come on in, and leave your boots outside,” he instructed. “First one here gets gingerbread biscotti.”

Mia looked up at their good friend and fellow paranormal investigator. She climbed off Ted, shaking off the snow she had gathered when she slid over the truck before landing on a very surprised Ted. They had wrestled in the snow between the company vehicles for a while. Mia had just gained an advantage on her tall thin husband when Cid came out.

“Come on, Mia, get off me. Cid said gingerbread. You love gingerbread,” Ted reminded her.

“I do, almost as much as you,” she said and leaned down.

Ted closed his eyes and puckered his lips.

Mia picked up a handful of snow and washed his face with it. She jumped up and ran towards the barn.

Ted laughed as he wiped his face with his scarf. By the time he got to his feet, Mia had already managed the stairs and had one boot off.

Mia watched her husband as he strode over to the stairs, cleaning off the snow he could reach as he walked. Ted was a good sport. In their play fights, she didn’t have to hold back to maintain his ego. He knew that she respected him, and she knew he was letting her win. His six-foot four inches of lean muscle could have easily outmaneuvered her petite frame. But he didn’t. In doing so he suffered all the joys a few f

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eet of freshly fallen snow could bring. Mia giggled and greeted Ted with a long hot kiss.

“What, no snow?” he growled.

“I think you’ve learned your lesson,” Mia said.

Ted stepped out of his boots, picked up Mia’s discarded ones and said, “Let’s get in there. My tootsies are cold.”

Mia looked down at the mismatched socks he had on. She frowned at the hole in one of them. Ted’s big toe was red from the cold. “You have a lousy wife.”

“I don’t think so,” he said as they walked in the door.

“What don’t you think?” Cid asked from the kitchenette.

“I don’t think I have a lousy wife,” Ted answered, setting the boots down on the rag rug by the door. He helped Mia off with her coat before taking his off.

“Yes, he does,” Mia answered. “The poor waif is wearing mismatched holey socks.”

Cid walked out and looked at Ted’s feet. “Holy Socks, Batman!” he joked. Turning to Mia he said, “Mia, Ted probably put on the first thing he found.”

Ted wiggled his toes. “What’s the big deal? I had on boots. Who was going to see my feet?”

“That’s not the point. If you were in an accident, the ER nurses would think I was a lousy wife,” Mia said and plopped down on the couch. Maggie trotted over and put her head in Mia’s lap. She rewarded the dog with a hug and proceeded to scratch her behind the left ear.

“It’s not your job to make sure I have a matched pair of socks,” Ted said. “Speaking of jobs, we have the hotel episode to finalize. Anyone hear from Burt?”

Cid shook his head. “I put in a few calls and forwarded some email to him, but I haven’t heard from our illustrious leader in a few days.”

“That’s odd,” Mia said frowning. “He’s usually good about returning calls.”

“He could be shacked up with Audrey,” Ted suggested.

“Audrey is out of town visiting relatives with her parents. She’s due back today or is it tomorrow?” Mia asked herself.

“Mike?” Cid asked.

“Why would Burt be shacked up with Mike?” Ted asked.

“No, idiot, maybe… Hang on,” Cid said. He brought over the hot drinks and the promised biscotti on a tray.

“You’re going to make someone an excellent wife,” Ted said. He ignored the go-to-hell look Cid gave him.

“Leave him alone, dear,” Mia said. “He’s our wife and a damned good one too.”

Cid picked up his phone and dialed Mike’s number. “Good morning to you too,” he said into the phone. “We’re just wondering if you heard from Burt? You haven’t. No, we were just curious. Yes, he does that. Okay. Later.” Cid looked over at them and said, “He suggested that Burt’s probably turned his phone off and forgot to turn it on.”

“Perhaps we should drop by,” Mia suggested. “Bring him some of those biscotti.”

“Ah, and tell him we were just in the neighborhood, kind of thing,” Ted said.

“No, tell him the truth. I always think the direct approach saves so much time,” Mia said, snagging another biscotti. “Honestly, you ought to sell these to Mary’s B&B.”

“That’s it,” Cid said excitedly. “I bet he’s holed up compiling his sightings on the mysterious Bed and Breakfast, his Fata Morgana.”

“Why not do it here? We have more equipment than he has. All he has is that old laptop,” Ted mentioned.

“Burt likes to go old school. It helps him to think. You know, I actually saw him write something on a piece of paper once,” Mia said sarcastically.

“Save the trees, type on keys,” Ted said. He received a high five from Cid and disdain from Mia.

“Returning to the B&B, why is he so obsessed with that thing?” Cid asked. “I think he’s gone positively Ahab over it.”

It took Mia a moment to tie Ahab into the investigation of the phantom bed and breakfast. “So the B&B is his white whale.”

“Yes, Pumpkin,” Ted said and patted her on the head.

Mia responded by slugging him hard on the arm.


Mia ignored him and asked Cid, “Do you want to go over and check out his place with me? If he’s there, we can see if we can talk some sense into him.”

“What if he isn’t there?” Ted asked.

“We’ll look through his stuff and see if we can figure out where he is,” Mia answered.

“I’ll hang here at the office with Mags,” Ted said. “Maybe he left something on the calendar but neglected to forward it to the rest of us.”

* * *

“Rule number one, don’t investigate alone,” Burt said out loud as he entered his room after fleeing the porch. He shut and locked the door behind him. What had possessed him to venture out alone? He was sure of his findings, and it wouldn’t have taken much time to get one of the PEEPs to join him. True, there may have been a lifted eyebrow or two. When he brought up the subject before, all but Mia mocked the idea. Her exposure to the paranormal gave her an open mind. He bet he could arrive on her doorstep with sharpened stakes for a vampire hunt, and she’d be game — after stopping for strings of garlic of course. The scientific males of the group made this phantom hotel a hard sell.

He looked around him at the soft furnishings and tasteful décor. Most B&Bs tended to be decked out in floral draperies and prints. They also seemed to have an abundance of rocking chairs and fragrant soaps. This one was different. The moment he pulled into the parking lot, he got the feeling that he had arrived back in time. There wasn’t the obligatory blacktopped lot with orange striped spaces. Here, the gravel-topped hard-packed earth served as the surface for the cars. He remembered seeing other parked cars, but he never saw the other guests. Had he taken a closer look, he would have realized they were all older models kept in showroom condition.

His room contained a four-poster queen size bed. The fabrics were solids and paisleys in blue and yellow hues. The paintings hung on the wall were real oils depicting landscapes of southern Wisconsin. The bath was small, but the porcelain shone with cleanliness. Big soft towels hung from racks. The shower tub setup reminded him of his grandmother’s house. That should have been the first warning to an unsuspecting guest. Most Bed and Breakfast owners remodeled the bathrooms, trying to combine colonial décor with millennial efficiency.

A light tap on his door disturbed his investigation. He walked over and opened the door to find the daughter of the house standing there with a tray laden with cookies and a pot of coffee.

“Thought you might be hungry,” she said, breezing past him and setting the tray on the small table by the window. “Brrrr, it’s cold in here. Let’s get that fire started and warm your bones.”

“It doesn’t do any good,” Burt said. “The fire isn’t real, those cookies aren’t real and neither are you.”

The woman looked hurt. “I assure you, sir, that I am real, and I just baked the cookies. Your rudeness is appalling.”

“What do you expect of your prisoners, cordiality?”

“I think you’ve outstayed your welcome. I’ll have your bill waiting for you at the front desk,” she said, pushing past him and walking out the door.

Burt stepped out into the hall and watched her retreat down the corridor towards the stairs. “Well, it’s worth a try,” he said, gathering his overnight bag. His investigative backpack and computer bag had long ago disappeared. He lost track of them right after he arrived. He was sure he placed both bags on the chair in the corner, but when he went looking for them, he found them missing. When he had brought this up to the hostess, she raised her hands and mentioned that a man his age ought to take better care of his things.

He walked down the stairs and into the foyer that served as the inn’s lobby. He looked around and didn’t see anyone at the massive oak desk. The front door opened behind him, and he felt the cold breeze of winter snake along the floor, chilling his ankles. He turned around to see the hostess brushing off a few snowflakes from her shoulders.

“Sorry, for the wait. I thought I would clear the snow from the porch. Can I help you?” she asked sweetly.

“I was told my bill would be waiting for me at the desk.”

The woman looked puzzled, walked over, sat down, and moved through the papers looking for said bill. “Your name?”

“Burt Hicks,” he supplied, surprised by her not seeming to know him.

“Oh yes, here it is. I have a reservation for Burt Hicks. I believe you asked for a queen size bed with an attached bathroom. I’m Mrs. Brewster, if you have any questions…”

“I have plenty of questions,” Burt began. “But let me get something I forgot from the car.” Burt ran over to the door, and it opened with ease. A blast of sunshine greeted him as he headed for the steps.

“Careful, Mr. Hicks, that second step could kill you,” Mrs. Brewster said from behind him.

Burt looked down horrified to see the second step was now hundreds of feet below the inn, again. The cold he felt upon her entering the inn was gone. Instead, he faced a summer landscape of fields of wheat. He felt the strong hand of the hostess on his shoulder. The creepy feeling of déjà vu filled him. He could almost chorus Mrs. Brewster’s next words.

“Why don’t you just sit over here and enjoy the sunshine.”

* * *

Mia navigated her truck slowly down the country lane. She had plowed the road earlier in the morning, but an inch of snow had fallen since, making the track slippery. Living in the isolated hollow had its disadvantages in the winter time. It was a dangerous route for a mail truck to manage. The county rarely entered the area to plow its maze of roads. Ted had arranged to have their mail held at the Big Bear Lake post office for the winter. They would pick up their personal correspondence and anything addressed to PEEPs when they were in town.

The only vehicles they encountered after the snow fell in the hollow were snowmobiles. They kept mostly to the

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tracts of land east of the farm where the trees were sparse and the land level.

“I don’t blame Burt for not attempting this drive in that old beater of his,” Cid commented.

“He really should take the van and use it during the winter,” Mia said as she navigated the turn onto the county road.

“He’s stubborn. Thinks it’s taking advantage or something.”

“It’s not like PEEPs is a publicly traded company.”

“Not yet,” Cid said. “When it is, I’m going to retire.”

This brought fits of giggles from Mia. “The day a ghost hunting group makes enough money to interest Wall Street investors is the day I have Murphy’s name tattooed on my butt.”

“Ted wouldn’t like that.”

“I know. That’s how sure I am that you better look into other ways of reaching your goal of retiring early.”

They stopped at the post office, and Cid ran in while Mia kept the truck running. He was back within minutes with two rubber-banded stacks of mail. He began to sort through them as Mia drove, skirting the perimeter of the town.

He held up a large envelope, scrutinizing the return address. “Looks like Ted’s got a contract of some kind.”

“Do you always read other people’s mail?” Mia asked dryly.

“Only if it’s interesting. You’ve got one from Arizona.”

“Really? I wonder who I know out there.”

“Want me to open it?”

“No. Read your own mail.”

“I don’t have any.”

“Aren’t you occupant?”

“That’s cruel. I’ll look through…” he stopped talking as Mia pulled up to what used to be her home. The gates were shut, and the drive hadn’t been plowed. Her sanctuary looked deserted. She opened the window, reached for the intercom and pressed the buzzer. “I wonder if he’s ill?” After receiving no reply, she opened the gate remotely, commenting, “Being the landlord has its privileges.” She pulled the truck in and accessed the garage door. It rose, exposing an empty space where Burt’s car should have been parked. “Well, that answers that. He’s gone.”

“By the amount of unmoved snow, I’d say at least twenty-four hours,” Cid said.

“Why don’t you hop inside and exercise your investigative skills to find out where he went, while I’ll clear his drive,” Mia suggested. She detached the key to the house from her key ring. “Security code is on the key.”

“Does Burt know you have this?”

“It’s my house. He’s renting it. I have landlord privilege,” Mia said smugly.

“Do you have a key to my place?”

“Ted does.”

“Oh,” Cid said, sliding out of the truck. He slogged his way to the door, thinking about the rights of renters until he realized he had yet to pay Ted any rent. “There must be a loophole,” he said aloud as he unlocked Burt’s door.

Mia cleared the drive and raised the plow before she took a hand shovel and cleared her way to Burt’s door. She walked inside and smelled coffee brewing. “Talk about making yourself at home,” she called as she took off her boots and outer clothing.

“I thought you may want a cup before you see this,” Cid answered, walking out of Burt’s guestroom.

Mia headed for the room. Cid blocked her way and pointed to Burt’s antique Mr. Coffee. “Brew first,” he insisted.

Mia knew that she may as well do as he instructed. When Cid got a bee in his bonnet, there wasn’t much that you could do to sway him. Mia accepted the rich black coffee and sipped it. She looked around at the changes Burt had made to her former home. It definitely looked and smelled like a bachelor pad. The only difference was that it was immaculate. Ever since she had known Burt, she marveled at how neat he was. There may be books everywhere, but they were in neat stacks. The kitchen was clean and shone from top to bottom. Even the carpet bore marks of a recent vacuuming. The only clues to his bachelor existence were the fast food wrappers bulging from the waste basket and the air which held the odor of bacon grease.

Mia set her empty cup down. “Now take me to your mystery, Poirot.”

“Follow me. I didn’t see it at first,” Cid said, walking into the room. He waited for Mia before asking, “Follow me into the closet?”

Mia lifted an eyebrow. If she didn’t know Cid as well as she did, she would have protested. Instead, she followed him into the walk-in closet.

Cid flipped on the light.

Before her, covering one wall was a giant map of Wisconsin. Dozens of red Post-it note arrows with dates written on them were attached to the map.

“They’re B&B sightings,” Cid explained. “Remember the Fata Morgana Burt was so hot to find? It seems that his interest kind of turned into an obsession.”

Mia nodded mutely. She walked over and moved her hand along the diagonal line the red arrow points fell into. She walked backwards a few feet and stared at the map. “This looks familiar.”

“It’s Wisconsin,” Cid said.

Mia glared at him a moment. “I know it’s Wisconsin, but see this line?” She walked forward and ran her hand down the map. “It’s not a road but…”

“Au contraire, every flag is on a road.”

Mia took in each flag, and yes, there was a road intersecting the diagonal at each place the B&B was sighted. “I can see that, but step back here a minute,” she requested.

Cid did so and looked. “Oh, I see it. The flags also fall on a diagonal. It’s not a road. What is it?”

“Unless I’m mistaken, it’s a ley line or part of one.”

Cid looked at Mia’s face and saw concern. “What?” he asked.

“I’m not an expert on the North American ley line system, that would be Bev’s area. But see how the sightings fall in date order until here,” she pointed to the southernmost flag. “Then they start up again here and move upwards, ah, northwest.”

Cid studied the map and nodded. “It’s as if the line stops, and the B&B moves backwards like a train.”

“Ley lines have definite destinations. Like the one that brought me to Cahokia. They lead to areas of religious significance for the ancient peoples. They are powered by the magnetism of the earth. This one is disrupted here,” Mia pointed at the bottom Post-it. “And here,” she stood on tiptoes and touched the top tag. “Granted, he may not have all the sightings mapped, but I can say that Burt may have seen the progression of the B&B and may have predicted its next appearance. But I doubt he would have seen the ley line.”

“So he’s up in Wisconsin… Give me a minute… Here!” Cid said proudly, pointing to an area near the town of Ashville. “If he finds the place and manages to enter the building, it — if true to the legend — will spit him out after one night.”

“But it hasn’t or he’d be calling us.”

“Maybe he missed it.”

“Then he’d be here calculating the next appearance,” Mia said. “It’s the ley line I’m worried about. How long can power like that be trapped? What happens to it when it doesn’t reach its destination and has no way to release the pent up energy?”



“It explodes.”

Chapter Two

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Ted had all the computers up and active a few minutes after Mia’s initial call. Cid had taken pictures of the wall with his smart phone and sent them to Ted.

“What I need you to look into is what other kinds of things may have happened along this line historically,” Mia requested.

“If it is recorded, I or Audrey will find it. I called her, and she’s heading back now. Mike’s on his way. Are you sure that’s what he’s doing, hunting the FM?”

“FM? Oh we’re shortening it are we?”

“Fata Morgana is a mouthful,” Ted defended.

“It’s not a Fata Morgana, dear, not according to science,” Mia said as she walked out of Burt’s bedroom.

“You wound me with my own words, Cruella.”

“Back to your question. He’s packed a bag. Gone are his lucky shorts, bathroom supplies and…”

“Wait, go back. How do you know about his lucky shorts?”

“I plead the fifth,” Mia said, wincing. “I really must think before I speak. Anyway, he packed a bag.”

Cid walked out of the guestroom and shook his head.

“Cid didn’t find his laptop,” Mia reported. “We’re just about finished here. Be home in twenty.”

“Drive safe,” Ted said and hung up.

Mia looked at Cid. Her face told him more than her words ever would voluntarily.

“Tell me.”

“If he has somehow got caught up in this FM — for want of a better acronym — and it’s traveling a ley line…”

“Go on,” Cid encouraged.

He’s a flesh and blood human, not an oober, not a ghost. If we don’t get to him soon, I fear, he’ll perish.”

* * *

Mike navigated the turn into the driveway with the skill of a NASCAR driver. The Audi S7 wasn’t built for this kind of terrain, but it handled the road beautifully just the same. He backed the car in next to Ted’s. He got out, careful to avoid some icy patches. He was so intent on looking at the ground that he walked smack into Cid. The collision unsettled both their footing and brought them to the ground.

Mia looked out the window at the spectacle and asked her husband, “How’s our insurance?”

“We’re fully covered. Why?”

“Are we covered by act of Laurel and Hardy?” she asked, watching both men trying to help the other up and falling down again.

Ted looked out the window and grinned. “Maybe we should salt.”

“Maybe. I’ll take care of it,” Mia said, grabbing her coat.

Ted went back to the console and sat down. “I’m lucky to have you,” he called.

Mia smiled and enjoyed the warm feeling that came over her when Ted appreciated her independent ways. She walked out and helped the men to their feet. She waited until they had entered the building bef

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ore salting.

“Coffee me, Jeeves,” Mike said as Cid helped him off with his coat.

Cid brushed off the snow and pointed to the pot. “Serve yourself.”

Mike walked over and stopped as he caught his reflection in the glass of a picture frame. “Mother of static, what happened to my hair?”

“I think you answered yourself. Careful, ground yourself before touching any of the computers,” Ted warned. “We really need to try to find a better humidity balance in this room.”

“Uh huh,” Mike answered, pouring milk into his mug. “So, Burt’s gone solo again, gentlemen?”

“It appears so. Funny, I always thought it would be you headed for a solo career,” Ted said, staring at the monitor.

“Me too. Alas, I have fallen into complacency. My maverick days are behind me. I now live to be part of this team,” he exaggerated. “Plus, it’s a cold world out there. No one understands me.”

Ted laughed. Cid opened his mouth to say something but shut it again.

The phone rang.

“PEEPs,” Ted said, putting the call on speaker.

“It’s Audrey. I’m five minutes from Big Bear. Do you need me to pick up anything on my way in?”

“Nope, Mia and Cid went shopping yesterday. Watch the ice on the apron of the driveway.”

“Will do.”

Mia walked in and stomped the snow off her boots. “Did I hear the phone?”

“How could you?” Ted asked.

“You have the ringer broadcasting from the sound system outside,” she said, walking over and turning off a switch by the handset. “Oh, Mike, I found this on the drive.” She handed him a shiny brass button with an anchor embossed on it.

“Not one of mine,” Mike said. “Cid?”


“That’s odd,” Mia said. “I wonder where it came from?”

“It’s a mystery,” Cid said. “We could have picked it up in a tire tread.”

“Or the plow. I don’t remember plowing any sailors?” Mia said.

“Or being plowed by one?” Mike asked. “Must be the drink.”

Mia laughed and flipped him off.

Ted looked at the two and decided not to say anything. Mia didn’t need defending, and Mike was just teasing her.

“Where’s Maggie?” Mia asked, looking around.

“She’s out with Murphy,” Ted said. “He promised to wear her out so she’ll sleep while we’re working here.”

“Nice to have your own doggy sitter,” Mike said.

“Don’t let Murphy hear you say that,” Mia warned. “He already has it in for you.”

“I know, but you and I know that he’s still going to pick on me, so I may as well get a few shots into that enormous ego of his,” Mike countered.

“It’s your funeral.” Mia went into the kitchenette and started a fresh pot of coffee. She knew Audrey would appreciate her efforts after driving all day.

Audrey pulled into the drive, minding Ted’s warning. The back tires slid a bit, but soon she was advancing up the drive. She saw, to her right, Maggie bounding down the hillside. The dog had grown so much in the last few months. Gone were the papers that lined the farmhouse floor. The furniture had survived but was a bit scarred by the gnawing she had done bringing in her adult teeth. She wasn’t the best behaved dog, but she was a sweetheart all the same. Audrey always brought her a treat.

Maggie barked as she spotted Audrey’s car. Murphy looked down and nodded. He watched as Maggie jumped through the drifts until she found the path she had made on the way up the hill.

He laughed as she skidded when she hit an icy patch and her bottom slid sideways. Ghosts didn’t have a problem with ice. Weather didn’t seem to bother them at all. Sure, lightning fouled up the senses at times, but all-in-all, Murphy was impervious to the elements.

“There you are!” Audrey said, greeting the snow covered, wet fur ball masquerading as a dog. She opened her purse and pulled out a rawhide bone. Maggie sat down as Cid had trained her and waited until Audrey placed it near her mouth before taking it. “You are such a good girl,” Audrey said in a voice she reserved for dogs and small children.

Maggie shook off the clinging snow and looked over her shoulder at someone Audrey couldn’t see.

Audrey smiled. “Hello, Stephen, how are your trees handling the snow?”


Audrey was pleased that the ghost made the effort to push through the ether and talk to her. A one word answer was as appreciated as if it was a full conversation.

“My dad mentioned that the wee ones may need some watching if we get an ice rain.”

Murphy didn’t say anything further. He was pleased that Audrey’s father had taken an interest in his trees, but what did a city boy know about growing seedlings? Mia said, if you didn’t have anything good to say, say nothing. Nothing it was. He followed her into the office where she was greeted warmly. He tapped a warning that he was there, and Cid responded with a hello.

Maggie took her bone and headed under the conference table to gnaw on it.

“So any news from our wayward boy?” Audrey asked.

“No. He didn’t tell you anything?” Mike asked.

“Nope, I knew he was working on the Fata em something, but I thought, as you did, it was an urban legend and not worth pursuing.”

“Ted’s calling it an FM,” Mia informed her. “We need your research skills badly, m’dear.”

Audrey smiled. It was good to be needed by this diverse and talented group of investigators. Mia’s disinterest in slogging through the net and Ted’s impatience had created a spot for her. Although, Mia insisted it was her deductive ability that the group badly needed. She said that anyone could research a haunt, but it took a detective’s mind to sort out what was just history and what was important. Audrey appreciated her confidence in her.

“Coffee me, and I’ll get started,” she said happily.

Mia did just that. She added a few of Cid’s biscotti that she had palmed when he wasn’t looking.

The group worked together and came up with the same conclusion that Cid had. Burt’s target was in Wisconsin not far from Ashville.

“Ashville, wait, something’s coming to me,” Audrey said, typing furiously on her laptop. “Ted, can you pull up information on meteorite hits in southern Wisconsin?”

“As you speak,” he answered and tapped the big screen.

“I remembered my parents talking about a summer meteor shower that impacted Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Several meteorites landed near Ashville, which used to be called Summerville. One of the meteorites hit the gas station. It exploded. The town caught fire and burned quickly. There was nothing left in Summerville after that but ash. When they rebuilt, they changed the name to Ashville.”

“How about overlaying the strikes on the FM map?” Mia asked.

With another session of furious keystrokes, Ted produced a transparency and moved it over the map.

Mia wandered over and stared at the monitor. “Look for anything that may have landed on or near this line.”

“Some of them are still in the ground according to this article,” Mike said, turning his laptop to Audrey.

She leaned in and scanned the article. “1973, that must be it.”

Ted whistled. “Will you look at this?” He rolled the cursor over the hit, and the information of the size came up.

“Whoa,” Cid said looking over her shoulder.

“What’s whoa?” Mia asked.

“The size and weight of that monster must have done some damage.”

“I agree about the damage, but it didn’t land on the ley line,” Mia said disappointed.

“Remember, these are recorded hits,” Mike said from the table. “What exactly are you looking for?”

“I don’t know exactly. I guess I’m looking for something powerful enough to disrupt a ley line. Something with a power source that feeds the FM that Burt may or may not have found. And a reason why it’s pinballing back and forth between these two points,” Mia said, moving her hand along the line. “I could oob there…”

“NO!” The investigators chorused.

CRACK! Murphy added.

Mia put her hands up. “I have skills here. I will no doubt get stuck on this side of it,” she said, tapping Ashville. “Perhaps I will pick up some chatter on the line…”

“It’s too dangerous,” Mike said. “That’s a long way from here. Anything could go wrong. I suggest if you want to bilocate, that we relocate to Ashville first. Perhaps we’ll come up with another idea once we get there. If not, I say, the girl has skills, people. Let her use them but at a closer proximity. After all, it’s for Burt.”

Mia looked at the others and then down at Ted, and he sighed. “The man’s right, my girl’s got skills.” He reached an arm around her waist and hugged her.

“Okay, for the rest of us, what’s going to happen?” Audrey asked.

“I suggest that we take the PEEPs vehicles to Wisconsin. Cid, map out where the most likely places that the FM will appear next. I think that if Burt entered the FM here, too much time has passed, and it has moved on from the Ashville location. Murphy, I would appreciate if you would join us. I don’t want Mia walking a ley line alone,” Mike insisted.


Mia looked over at him and mouthed a thank you.

“Let’s pack up. May as well take the dog too. Who knows, she may come in handy. Anyone teach her to track yet?” Mike asked. “We should take along Burt’s hoodie. If she gets a whiff of that…”

“She’ll faint; he never washes it,” Mia complained. The others nodded, holding their noses.

“It has his scent,” Mike reminded them. “Audrey, we need to interview anyone that was in the area when the meteorites hit.”

She nodded. “I need to borrow a parka or a warm hoodie,” she said.

“What’s wrong with your coat?” Mike asked.

Mia walked over to the coatrack and turned the coat around so they could see the back. “This is a Chicago Bears coat, and we are headed into cheesehead country. You boys better leave your Chiefs jerseys home to

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o,” she advised. “They take their football pretty serious up there,” Mia warned. “Come on, Audrey, Bev left a coat of hers here that may fit you.”

The boys waited until Mia left with Audrey before talking.

“If she wants to oob, I say let her oob,” Ted said. “How else is anyone of us going to be able to enter that ley line segment to rescue Burt?”

“Mia has no defenses when she is in that state. She can only observe,” Cid reminded him.

“Murphy will be with her. There is no one I trust more with my wife than Murphy,” Ted insisted. He made eye contact with the ghost. “You’ll keep her safe, right?”

Murphy, touched by the sentiment, nodded. He raised his axe and smiled.

“What the hell was he thinking?” Mike said in reference to Burt. “How dare he investigate alone? Fuck, he broke his own rule. I am so mad at him right now.”

“Let’s table the anger for a moment and go into this with a clear head. No preconceived notions or nonsense as my wife likes to put it. We have to look at this with different eyes. Think magically and scientifically. Murphy, I’ll bring along a shitload of energon cubes. We need you to communicate with us verbally. Your insights are too valuable to chance a misunderstanding,” Ted said.

“You want to take lead on this?” Mike asked Ted.

Ted shook his head. “Mike, if you don’t want the lead, I suggest giving it to Cid. After all, he brought us the haunt.”

“Me? No, I’ll fuck it up,” Cid said.

“No. You won’t,” Mike said. “I trust your instincts. Plus Mia listens to you. She wouldn’t if she thought you were a bozo. I’d like you to corral the wagons and get us up and running as soon as possible.”

Murphy reached out and willed his hand solid and patted Cid on the back.

“Thanks, bud,” Cid said. “Okay, Mike, start packing up the truck. I’ll open the barn up to pull your car in. It’s too pretty to be sitting out here unprotected. Ted, call Tom and let him know what we’re up to. Murphy, get Maggie’s things. Put her car carrier in the back of the van. I’d like you to ride with Mia and Ted in the big truck. The rest of us will take the van. As soon as Audrey is outfitted, we’ll have her looking for lodgings for us. It’s cold up there, and we won’t be able to camp out for too long. Ted, I’ll help you with the equipment. Let’s bring along the two big gasoline generators. We have to be able to be totally functioning even if we are away from an electrical source.”

“It’s fur! I can’t wear fur!” Audrey whined.

“You didn’t kill it or buy it, but it’s warm,” Mia said, slipping the offending garment on Audrey.

“But what will people… Ooh it is warm. What is it?” she asked as she looked at herself in the hall mirror. “What if they throw red paint or worse on me?” She petted the arms as if they were Maggie.

Mia raised the hood, and as the warmth enveloped Audrey, she stopped protesting. “Well, it’s a shame to waste such a nice coat.”

Chapter Three

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Burt, determined to keep sane, decided to put himself in full investigative mode. He started on the ground floor of the inn. He tapped walls and opened cupboards. A couple of times Mrs. Brewster stopped and asked him what he was doing.

“I’m investigating an urban legend,” he replied.

Seemingly satisfied by this, she continued on her way. Her daughter, however, was not amused when his investigation moved into the kitchen. It was a large room with a walk in freezer — uncommon in today’s inns, but very common in restaurants in the seventies — just off the service area. A large working surface covered with muffin pans was centered in the room. Two large ovens anchored spots on either side of the fireplace. “What are you doing in here? Don’t touch the work surfaces. Health codes, Mr. Hicks!”

“Excuse me, but when was the last time you saw a health inspector, or a specter for that matter?” he asked. “And what is your name? I hate to call you the young Ms. Brewster.”

“I would hate that too since it’s Millie Swanson, Mrs. Millie Swanson,” she spat.

Burt felt sorry for Mr. Swanson but held his tongue. “Are you aware what is going on here?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Evidently not,” Burt said. “When did you leave the inn last, Millie?”

“I don’t know, I assume last night,” she said puzzled. “I always set up for the morning before I go home to supper with my husband. I arrived just before dawn today to put the muffins in the oven…” her voice trailed off.

“What was the weather like when you arrived?”

“A little cool, but that’s normal for summer mornings in these parts,” she answered.

“What year is it?”


“There’s the problem. Millie, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s 2014.”



“Mother!” Millie called, exiting the kitchen. “That lunatic says that…”

The swinging doors closed leaving Burt alone in the kitchen, not privy to what he thought would be an interesting conversation between the two women.

He moved quickly to the back door. It opened with ease. Outside, the sun was setting, and the fireflies were buzzing around the small herb garden. He stepped out onto the porch and proceeded down the back steps when he heard. “Careful, Mr. Hicks, that second step could kill you.”

He turned around and saw that Mrs. Brewster had made an appearance. He turned back, and the garden and the second step had disappeared. A chasm of darkness filled the area below the first step.

Burt stepped back onto the porch. The hostess cleared her throat, nodded towards the inside of the inn and held the door open for him. He walked through the door while she admonished, “You have riled up the cook! I doubt we will see a croissant today. I will have to ask you to confine your wanderings above stairs from now on.”

“Why not let me go? I’m no use to you here. Perhaps I can save you from this Groundhog Day  fiasco you have going on here.”

“You’re talking gibberish. Up the stairs, and be quick about it,” she ordered.

If she was just a woman, Burt could have easily ignored her and continued to investigate the first floor. But the look in her eyes told him that it was the inn and not a person he was talking to.

“I’ll head up and take a nap. Is that permissible?” he asked with an acid tongue.

“What a wonderful idea,” she said, the corners of her mouth rising, giving a semblance of a smile.

Burt walked out of the kitchen towards a very irate Millie who hissed, “Lunatic,” as he passed her on the way to the stairs. He climbed the stairs slowly, taking in the noticeable differences in the foyer. The desk had been neatened, and there was no longer a front door.

* * *

Ashville turned out to be a nice little town. The only surviving building of the fire of 1973 was, ironically, the firehouse. It bore a keystone that read 1929. Its red brick and green shingles gave the place a Christmassy look to it. That combined with the drifting snow made Audrey want to jump out and take next year’s Christmas pictures for PEEPs. She stifled the urge, realizing that Burt wouldn’t be in the shot. She was ashamed that for three minutes of joyous Christmas contemplation she had forgotten the missing investigator.

“There’s the library. Mike, text Ted and tell him we are going to drop Audrey off there and meet them at the motel later,” Cid instructed.

Mike did as asked, thinking of how quickly Cid donned the hat of power, and how surprisingly well he looked in it.

“They’re going to drop Audrey off at the library before it closes. We’re to meet at the motel out on Route Six later.”

“I’d like to drive out to where Burt was headed before checking in,” Mia said.

“I’m all for it. Murphy?” Ted asked the ghost beside him.

Murphy pulled out an ear bud and waited for Ted to tell him what they were doing. He nodded in agreement before putting the bud back in his ear. Briefly they were serenaded by Patsy Cline as Murphy adjusted his solidity to house the sound.

“Turn right at Mason Street, head north until the first paved road, and then head west,” Ted instructed.

Mia looked at the snow covered landscape and wondered how she was going to tell a paved road from an unpaved one but held her tongue. Rule number one of traveling was that no one argued with the navigator. Rule number two was that the driver could choose to ignore the navigator if it was going to bring harm to the occupants and vehicle. She and Ted made up these rules as needed. It helped to amuse them on long truck trips. Murphy didn’t need such amusements as long as the charge held on his Walkman and he could listen to the angelic voice of Patsy.

They would lose light in another few hours. The sky was overcast, adding to the sense of immediacy.

Mia turned left and headed west.

“By the GPS, the intersection of the line and road is coming up in a half mile.”

Mia slowed the truck and patted the seat next to her, getting Murphy’s attention. “Keep your eyes peeled for Burt’s car,” she instructed.

The terrain was flat. The wind whipped up the snow and sent it moving in southeastern waves.

“It looks so cold out there.” Mia shivered.

“It looks like they plowed this stretch after the initial snowfall,” Ted observed.

Mia nodded as she drove through the drifts that edged their way onto the pavement. They passed a large pile of snow on the right verge. Mia stopped the truck and pulled over. “That might be Burt’s car under that snow.”

Ted hopped out of the truck and ran back to the mound and began digging. It wasn’t long before the green of B

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urt’s Ford greeted him. He worked his way to the driver’s side door and found the latch. He was amazed to find the door unlocked. He pulled on the door and looked inside. Empty. No Burt. He trotted back.

“It’s Burt’s car but no Burt. Let’s check out the field on either side. Mia, you better button up, the wind’s freezing my nards already.”

“I suggest you cover them, Teddy Bear. We do intend on having children one day,” Mia teased.

Murphy looked at Mia in disgust.

“Come on, what’s with the prudish behavior?” she complained as she pulled on her snow shoveling gloves and zipped up her LL Bean parka. Mia reached back behind her seat, pulled out two snow shoes and stepped into them, tightening the straps before heading into the field.

Murphy moved over the snow, Mia on top of it, and Ted through it. They did a quick grid around the car and were rewarded by finding Burt’s computer bag. Ted looked through it and found the laptop cold but sound. There wasn’t anything in it to tell them where the owner of the bag was. “I hope he’s got his investigating backpack with him,” Ted said.

“Murphy, look under the snow. We want to make sure Burt’s not lying under it somewhere,” Mia requested.

He nodded and disappeared.

Mia and Ted worked their way back to the truck to warm up. It wasn’t long before Murphy returned. “No Burt.”

“I don’t know whether to be relieved or not?” Mia said.

“Look,” Murphy pointed a few yards from where they had been standing. The evening air shimmered.

“He sees the ley line,” Mia explained. “I can’t tell if it is the segment or not. If Burt parked the car here then the inn must have been close by, so I’m going to assume that is the segment.”

“You don’t sound happy about it.”

“If Burt happened upon the active line and for some reason was pulled into it, he would have been taken to Cape Hatteras before being tossed out. At least he would have been in a lot better climate than this, I assure you. If he is stuck on this side, he’s dealing with the climate of the ley line. Since it’s porous, the temperature would be close to the surrounding ambient temperature which right now is a little over freezing. Fortunately, he doesn’t have this wind to contend with.”

“So you’re telling me that even if he is in the building, he is still facing the weather,” Ted said, scratching his head.

“Ted, there is no B&B. At least I don’t think there is. A FM is nothing more than an illusion. It’s a ghost ship in the Caribbean, an oasis in the desert. If it has form, then it’s something else.”

“Mia, what I’m asking is, could Burt have survived last night?”

“Maybe if he kept his clothes on and kept moving,” she answered. “Eventually, he will need water and food, otherwise the cold will kill him.”

Ted’s phone rang. He looked at it a moment as if he didn’t recognize the number. He picked it up and answered. “Ted Martin.”

“Ted, it’s Audrey. I got some great news. I’ve found an old timer that wouldn’t mind talking about the 1973 disaster at Summerfield.”


“Your voice sounds funny,” Audrey said.

“Audrey, we found Burt’s car and computer bag, but no Burt.”

“Oh. Ted, no body means there still is a chance. Turn the truck around and head east and take a left at Mason Street, head north. You’ll see the van parked on the right hand side in front of a bar called Tear Drop Tavern. “Hurry. Old John’s on his second whisky…”

“We’re on our way.”

Mia started up the truck and proceeded to do an eight-point turn. “What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Did Audrey get a new phone?”

“Not to my knowledge, why?” Mia said as she finished her turn and headed back towards Mason Street.

“I could have sworn the caller ID said, “Last Chance.”

“Whoa, maybe she’s using someone else’s phone. They’re able to program whatever they want to these days instead of the identifying exchange number. I picked up a call just the other day. The caller ID read Chicago, Illinois, but it was Mumbai, India I was connected to.”

“What did they want?”

“They wanted to sell me a technical support contract for one of our PCs. I told them I had all the technical support I could handle, thank you very much,” Mia said, winking at Ted.

Mia made the turn north and was pleased to find the tavern on the first try. Mia hopped out and invited Murphy to join them, but she made him promise that if there was a jukebox, he would leave it alone. He wrinkled his nose and agreed.

They entered the warm dark bar and looked into the gloom, waiting for their eyes to adjust. Cid was almost in front of them before they saw him.

“I waved at you. You looked right at me.”

“We can’t see anything. It’s dark in here, dude,” Ted complained.

“Ambiance. Get your rear in gear; Old John is going to tell us all about the 1973 disaster. We’ve ordered cheese fries,” he added as he led the way to the table.

Mia moved awkwardly through the tables. The bar was infested with three male spirits, two of which seemed very interested in the newly arrived blonde. Murphy stepped in front of her. He nodded towards the bar, and the trio of ghosts followed him. Mia sighed. Murphy may be a pain sometimes, but he was her protector, first and foremost.

Mike got up when she approached. Audrey sat beside an octogenarian dressed in flannel and denim. He started to smile but stopped. He dug into the pocket of his flannel shirt and came up with a pair of dentures. He popped them in his mouth and then gave her a dazzling smile.

Mia returned his smile, uncomfortably showing her full set of teeth in the process.

Ted wondered if this was a cultural thing, this wide-tooth-baring smile. He nodded his greeting, keeping his long incisors to himself.

“John and I met in the library,” Audrey explained. “I couldn’t believe my luck.”

“First time for me too,” Old John explained. “I usually pick up girls in the Krogers.”

“Anyway, I promised him a few drinks in exchange for some information.”

“She could have saved her money. All I wanted was…”

“John! We talked about that. I’m a good girl from a good family,” Audrey said beet red.

Mike leaned over and whispered, “Old John’s been hitting on her since we arrived. He’s my hero.”

Mia cleared her voice, but it still came out squeaky, “Excuse me, John, I don’t mean to pressure you, but a friend of ours is missing, and I think you can help us out.”

“Yes, miss, I will do my best.”

“Tell us your story.”

“I was at work when the storm hit. We all ran out to see…”

Mia sensed the man was lying, but why? She slid off a glove and reached over and grabbed his hand before Mike and Ted could stop her.

The warm summer breeze seemed to push John along as he walked towards the Tear Drop Tavern. He waved at Mrs. Brewster as she swept off the steps of the Dew Drop Inn across the road. She shook her finger at him, calling out, “Isn’t it a bit early?” 

“It’s after twelve,” he called back. 

“Maybe in Rhode Island!” she admonished before she walked back into the inn. 

He shook his head, imagining the refreshing, icy cold beer that awaited him. He was a hard worker; didn’t he deserve a little tipple now and again? 

A strange whistling sound disturbed his thoughts. He looked down the road expecting to see some G Damn hot-rodder racing up Mason Street, but the road was clear. The sound became louder as a cacophony of other strange sounds joined it. He heard a crash and an explosion before he saw a fireball sail over the roof of the Dew Drop Inn. It was followed by two other fireballs. His first thought was Russians! His second was meteorites. Didn’t they say the whatchamacallit asteroid field was passing by earth on the news last night? Another screamed overhead. He didn’t know whether it was safer in the bar or in the inn. He weighed the prospect of weathering the storm with a pot of tea at the inn in the company of Mrs. Brewster against sharing a pitcher of beer with a bar fly, and ran towards the bar. He had his hand on the door when he stopped to look back at the inn. The roar from an impacting meteorite shook the panes of glass in the tavern’s door. Dust billowed down the road. When it cleared, the inn was gone. 

Mia was ready to pull out of his mind when she thought she would try something. “Slower, give me your memories slower,” she projected into John’s mind.

She watched as a rock no larger than a basketball landed. The ground shook and a shockwave pushed towards the inn, it moved the building off its foundation several yards. The building skidded along the freshly mowed lawn and disappeared into a shimmer. Another meteorite landed extinguishing the shimmer. Through Old John’s memories, Mia saw the inn and the ley line disappear. 

She unclasped her hand and pulled on her glove.

“And there I was battling the flames. I pulled all the orphans to safety,” Old John said triumphantly.

Audrey got up and patted John on the back, looking at Mia apologetically. “That was some story, John. If you will excuse me, nature calls. Mia?”

“Me too,” Mia said, getting the hint that Audrey wanted to talk to her.

“Those gals, got to pee in packs,” Old John crowed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know he was a liar,” Audrey began.

Mia grabbed her hand and stopped her. “He was a witness, Audrey, but the truth was harder to tell. I think I have to apologize to Ted and talk to the others. Burt may just be in a Fata Morgana, created by the 1973 meteor shower.”

* * *

Burt left his room and walked along the upper hall, keeping an eye out for the reemergence of the front door. He had on his coat, gloves and two pairs of socks. His mind may not be accepting the cold, but his body was

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showing signs of hypothermia. Fortunately, Mia made every member of the team carry a bottle of water with them since her adventures in Sentinel Woods. He sipped the water and began to feel better. He was less irritable and his mind sharpened.

If he was in a building, and it was traveling around and about southern Wisconsin in the winter, there would be no fireflies of summer. There would be no herbs growing in the garden. All that, like the food, was a mirage. It stood to reason that the next step off the porch wouldn’t be the death of him. It would just be a step. The reality was that the inn wasn’t moving fifty yards in the air, it was moving along the ground. It only wanted him to think it was a death leap instead of a step. Why did it waffle between winter and summer? Was that important? Were the occupants in the inn spirits or mirages? He suspected the formidable Mrs. Brewster was more than your garden variety ghost, but Millie was another matter.

Why did the inn keep him but let the others go?

“Can I help you, Mr. Hicks?” Mrs. Brewster said from behind him.

He turned around. His eyes saw a kindly older woman, but his instincts told him that he was dealing with something that wasn’t female or male. What it was… was another matter.

“Why me?”

“Why you, what?” the woman asked.

“Why have you detained me, when you let the others go?”

“Others?” The woman seemed puzzled, but realization soon came over her. “They needed help, and we helped them. You, you came to make trouble and…”

“What if I apologize?”

Mrs. Brewster thought a moment. “I’ll consider it. You’ll have to apologize to Millie. She is in a snit.”

“Is Millie like you or like me?”

“You’re a clever creature, Mr. Hicks. Millie is and isn’t. Figure that out.”

“What exactly is happening here?”

“I don’t exactly know myself. All I know is that I run an inn. I provide a service to those lost and have nowhere to sleep at night. I take no payment. We leave, and it all repeats. Like the shampoo bottle. Rinse and repeat,” she laughed.

Burt found he liked the sound of her laughter.

“How long have you been doing this?”

“I don’t know. It’s all the repeating, makes one forget time.”

“This is so much like a Doctor Who …”

“Doctor who?”


“What’s his name?”

“Who.” He stopped and explained, “It’s a television show called Doctor Who .”

“Television, we have one in the corner of the parlor, but it doesn’t work.”

Burt, fearing that his hostess was losing her concentration, changed the subject. “If I apologize to you and to Millie and promise never to return, will you let me go?”

“I’ll consider it. I’ve grown to like you, Mr. Hicks. You’d make an excellent addition to the inn…”

Burt put his hands, palms out, between them. “Please let me go. I’m a grumpy moody bastard. You’ll tire of me.”

“So you say. Give me time to mull this over. In the meantime, Millie has prepared crepes.” Mrs. Brewster walked past him and down the stairs. She looked back and said, “Come along, I believe you have an apology to make.”

Burt followed her down the stairs, disappointed to see the front door had not returned.

Chapter Four

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Murphy didn’t frequent drinking establishments when he was living. His mother, who had a strong dislike of liquor, ruled the roost until he married, and then it just didn’t seem like a good use of his time. Sure, he had imbibed from time to time, but being in the company of other drinkers was a new experience. The trio of spirits he had drawn away from Mia hadn’t all died at the same time. Each had slipped away under the influence and seemed happy to stay within the confines of the Tear Drop Tavern. Two of the men seemed too young to have experienced an alcohol related death; the other had the rheumy eyes and broken capillaries that bespoke of a life tied to the bottle.

“Why call this place Tear Drop?” he asked the men.

“Don’t rightly know. Every place around here had Drop in it at one time. The inn across the way was called the Dew Drop Inn, that’s D E W not D O. The stuff on the grass in the morning,” the older man explained.

Murphy nodded that he understood.

“We used to have a market called the Cash Drop, but that went bust long ago,” added the sports-attired man. Murphy was interested in the strange hat the man wore. It was a plastic representation of a wedge of cheese. He itched to know why anyone would walk around with a piece a cheese on their head but considered it rude to ask. The last of the trio was dressed in a black mourning suit.

“Tell me about the Dew Drop Inn,” Murphy requested.

“Ah, that place was run by the Brewsters. He died, but the widow carried on with the place. I believe they served breakfast and light lunches to their guests.”

“They all do that now,” offered the cheese-wearing spirit. He pushed back his sleeve and Murphy spotted a Green Bay Packers tattoo on his upper arm. “They call them Bed and Breakfasts. Took the wife to one in Appleton once. It was all flowery and smelled like Grandma’s linen cupboard.”

The black-suit-wearing spirit stayed silent. Murphy sensed that talking about the inn brought up a lot of pain. He knew better than to force communication. If the man wanted to talk, he would do so in his own time.

“They sent the daughter to Chicagee to learn how to make all those fancy pastries. What was her name?” the old man wondered aloud.

“Millie,” the suited man broke his silence. “She was the most beautiful creature I had ever met.”

“Oh that’s right, she married Herb Swanson’s eldest, Peter, no, P something…”

“Paul,” the suited man corrected.

“Yes, Paul. He was captain of the football team. We all thought he was going all the way. He got himself one of them scholarships to Northwestern. But instead of bringing home a pro contract, he brought home Millie.”

“We met by accident on Michigan Avenue. I bumped into her. She dropped her things. I was so taken by her beauty that I mistakenly trod on her lunch bag. I offered to buy her lunch, and she accepted.”

The older spirit turned and took a long look at the man. “Paul? Damn, you look different.”

Murphy reached out a hand to Paul. “Stephen Murphy.”

“Paul Swanson.”

They shook hands.

“Did you really have a pro contract?” the cheese-wearing man asked.

“No, not then, but I was on first string at Northwestern,” he explained.

“You gave it all up for a woman?”

“Not just any woman. The woman,” Paul answered. “Of course the meteorite shower took that all away.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not from around here. Can you tell me what happened?” Murphy prodded and motioned for Mia to come over.

Mia left Audrey’s side and walked up to the bar and sat down. She sensed when Murphy didn’t introduce her that she was there to listen. She ordered a whisky to sip and did just that.

“It was a morning much like all the rest of them that summer. Millie left early to go to the Dew Drop to start the day’s baking, and I headed out to the south field to start the irrigation pump. We’d been having some hot dry days, and the corn was reaching out for moisture.”

“Reaching out, what the fuck does that mean?” the fan asked.

“Allow me,” the older man offered. “The leaves of the corn move out like this.” He demonstrated by pushing his arms to the side, still angled upwards but well away from his body. “That’s so the plant can get as must moisture from that air that it can.”

“Oh, I get it. Never noticed that before. Sorry, Paul, go on.”

Mia was impressed that the cheesehead had manners. Perhaps it was that this part of the country held to the kinder ways even though most of the world had moved on.

“I had just turned on the pump when I heard a whistling type of sound. I turned off the pump, worried that the pipe had a break in it, when a piece of fire flew over my head and landed an acre behind me. The impact flattened the corn and tossed me twenty yards. I got to my feet, ran to the truck and started back to the farmhouse. I had just pulled out of the field onto the road when I heard an explosion. That’s when the Sunoco went up in flames,” he explained. “The warning siren on top of the fire station sounded, calling all us volunteer firemen to arms. I changed direction and headed into town. I regret that. If I hadn’t answered the call, I’d be with Millie right now.”

“You were a volunteer fireman; it was your duty to respond,” the older man said, trying to pat Paul on the back but lacking the solidity to do so. Mia watched as his hand moved through Paul a couple of times before he quit.

“My duty was to protect my wife. We couldn’t stop the fire. We did get most everybody to safety though. After, I drove to the inn to tell Millie all about it, but there was no inn.”

“Was it destroyed?” Murphy asked.

“No, it was just gone. We searched for it. You know, sometimes a tornado will pick something up and drop it a few counties away. So I assumed that the large meteorite had done something like that.”

Mia watched as the cheesehead moved his hands in the air, trying to figure out the science of what Paul was saying, and shook his head.

“All that was left was the cellar and the sign.”

The group was silent. The cheesehead took off his trident of plastic cheese and set it on the counter in respect.

“I waited two weeks for news that someone found Millie or parts of the inn, but no one had. I took down the sign and put it in the barn. My family convinced me to have a memorial servic

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e for Millie and her ma. It was a nice affair, although, people didn’t know what to say to comfort me. Many of them had lost their homes in the fire, but still they took out time from rebuilding to come. After the service, I walked over to where the inn once stood and cried. It started to rain, so I took cover here. I sat down at the bar and took my first drink, and I never left.”

“Acute alcohol poisoning,” the old man said. “I saw it a time or two. Usually it’s a teen that doesn’t know when to stop. I’m surprised an athlete like you would be so damn stupid.”

“He lost his wife, old man. He had the right to drink,” the cheesehead argued.

“And how did you die?” the old man challenged.

“An argument broke out while we were watching the Green Bay/Vikings game. I believe a pitcher of beer was involved,” he said, patting the back of his head. He picked up the hat and put it on.

“It seems to me that yellow hat of yours would have saved you from the pitcher breaking your skull,” Murphy observed.

“It did, and it didn’t. I was sitting at the bar minding my own business. I said something rude about Vikings really being Vi-queens, and some purple-wearing monster hit me on the back of the cheese slice with a glass pitcher which pushed my head forward hard, the front of the slice hitting the edge of the bar. The impact snapped my head back fast, and that was that, broken neck.”

“Ouch!” Paul said.

“Didn’t feel it. Death by cheese hat. But I died a fan,” he said proudly.

“Why didn’t you move on?” Mia asked quietly from beside them.

The three turned, amazed that the flesh and blood blonde was talking to them.

“You can hear us?” the old man asked.

“And see you. Why didn’t you move on?” Mia asked the cheesehead.

“I died before the 2011 Super Bowl. I didn’t get to see the game. I’m going to stick around until they win another one.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Mia said, winking at a confused Murphy. “Paul, why didn’t you move on?”

“I’m waiting for Millie.”

“Seems to me, she’d be waiting for you at the pearly gates,” the old man said.

“She wasn’t there so I came back.”

Mia had never heard of such a thing before. Someone coming back? “How far did you get?” she asked.

“I remember the light and hearing my mother’s aunt Gloria calling for me. I asked if she had seen Millie, and she said, ‘No, and her mother’s missing too,’ so I turned around, and here I am, waiting.”

“You had a nice funeral. Did you go?” the old man asked.

“No. I’ve been here waiting for the Dew Drop Inn to return and with it Millie.”

“I wish you luck, son. That inn is gone,” the old man said.

“Maybe yes, maybe no,” Mia said. She felt Ted’s hand move gently on her back as he slipped onto the barstool next to her. She knew he was saving her the embarrassment of the appearance of talking to herself in front of the live patrons of the tavern, not to mention a very confused bartender. She reached over and squeezed his hand.

Paul looked over at Mia. He looked different to her. Could it be that his newly found hope had invigorated him enough to flesh out his features?

“We’ve heard rumors of an inn that appears to lost travelers at night and disappears the next day. We’re here to find it. You want in?” she asked.

“Why are you looking for the Dew Drop?” Paul asked suspiciously.

“We think it swallowed up our friend, and we want him back,” Mia replied honestly.

“You’re sure it’s the Dew Drop?” the old man asked.

“It’s the only inn we’ve found that has disappeared in a meteorite shower so far,” Mia said confidently.

“I’m in,” Paul said.

“How about you?” Mia asked the old man.

“I’m here waiting for Old John over there. He’s due to kick the bucket any day now. Thought we’d go up to Ely and do some fishing before the Lord takes us in.”

“I hope you get that adventure,” Mia said. “But if you change your mind, the light will be by now and again when you’re ready.”

“I appreciate the info. Now, I better go and see what shenanigans the codger is up to now. Always been a ladies man. Ladies and lying go hand-in-hand with Old John.”

* * *

Mia related her and Murphy’s conversation with the rest of the PEEPs team in the privacy of the pool hall they had commandeered. Mike handed the bartender a hundred dollar bill for the privilege.

“Paul and the old man’s story coincide with the vision I got from Old John’s memory. What they didn’t see, and what John doesn’t realize he saw, was that the ley line was active when the house was pulled into it. I don’t have a physics degree, but I’m sure it had something to do with the energy sources attracted each other, and the inn got in between. The second hit severed the artery, and the ley line disappeared at this point. Murphy and I saw a segment of it where Burt’s car and backpack were found.”

“You keep talking segment,” Audrey interrupted. “How do you know the line is cut off?”

“From what I can gather, the original line went from Cape Hatteras to Itasca Minnesota. Burt didn’t find any sightings in Minnesota. The Itasca line is blocked somewhere northwest of here. I think it happened very close to the time the Dew Drop disappeared.”

“What do we do now?” Audrey asked.

Mia looked over at Cid. “It’s your call.”

“We’re going to lose light soon. I think we need to position ourselves close to where the next predicted occurrence is scheduled. Burt’s calculations were right on the money for the Ashville occurrence. Let’s go up the line and stake out the next place the line intersects a road. Mia, do you think you can oob into the line safely?”

“If it behaves like any other line, then yes. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to find the inn though. It depends how fast it’s moving. If it is too far ahead of me, I’ll have to follow the line until the house rebounds back towards me. And that may just kick me out. A large mass moving takes precedence in the line. If I may suggest, let me enter prior to the next predicted stop. This way Murph and I can move towards it before it rebounds.”

“How do we know it’s going to stop,” Mike asked.

Paul moved towards Mia. She raised her hand, silencing conversation, and gave the ghost her full attention.

“The Brewsters never let a stranded traveler go without a good night’s rest and belly full of grub in the morning,” he told her.

“Paul has told me that the owners of the inn never let a stranded  traveler spend the night out in the cold. May I recommend some play acting?”

“I’ll do it,” Mike volunteered. “Audrey, you’d make a great missus.”

Audrey blushed. “I’m game.”

“Ted and I’ll take Maggie in the truck with us. You two, take the van. Mia, do the com links work in the line?” Cid asked.

“Nope. Murph and I can barely hear each other. Even if I could physically hang on to the com, we will be moving too fast for you to hear us. My goal is to find Burt and extract him from the line if I can. I’ll need a fully charged Murphy and time.”

“We better leave now,” Cid said.

* * *

Burt faced Millie the cook again. This time Mrs. Brewster stood behind him.

“I’d like to apologize for any rudeness on my behalf. I’m a grumpy bear at times, especially when I’m preoccupied with an investigation.”

“What exactly are you investigating, Mr. Hicks?”

“If you would indulge me, I’d like to tell you both a story,” Burt requested.

Millie took out a mound of bread dough and began to kneed it. “Go ahead,” she urged. “Hopefully, it will amuse me.”

Burt curbed his temper and began, “For some time now, there has been a legend of an inn much like yours that has sheltered people for the night, fed them extraordinary breakfasts and then simply disappeared, never to be found again by the guests it had served. There were only a few reports of it throughout the last forty years until six months ago when the occurrences of the mystery inn’s hospitality increased. I hunt down paranormal things for a living. I’m just trying to discover if the stories of the inn are true. Does a charming little hotel appear to the weary traveler and then disappear? And if it does, why? Is there a reason? What is it made of? And if someone in the inn needs my help, I’ll do my best to give it.”

“Why would they need your help, Mr. Hicks?” Mrs. Brewster asked.

“In my business, I encounter people, or spirits of people, that are trapped in situations they can’t escape from. I, with the help of my associates, work hard to free them. Now and again we find souls that are happy being caught between worlds. We let them be, as long as they aren’t hurting the flesh and blood people around them.”

“Sounds like hogwash to me,” Millie spat. “Mind your own business is a better policy.”

“Millie! When did you become so jaded?” Mrs. Brewster asked.

Burt turned to look at the woman and then back at her daughter. He felt the spirit of the hostess was breaking away from the hold of the inn for a brief moment.

“Not everyone gets what they want.”

“True. What didn’t you get?” her mother asked her.


“I don’t understand.”

“My life has been planned out for me since I was born. I was born in this inn, and I’m not sure I haven’t died in this inn. The only freedom I’ve had was culinary school, and that was just so I could come back here and bake muffins in this inn.”

“Nonsense, you have a husband,” Mrs. Brewster said.

“Who I have to leave every morning to serve breakfast to others!” she pointed out. “I can’t tell you the last time I was able to cook Paul a decent meal. He doesn’t complain…”

“Millie,” Burt interrupted. “What do you mean, you’re not sure you haven’t died in this inn?”

“I’ve been thinking ever since you told me what year it is. It doesn’t

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add up. Where did the time go? I assumed I left this place after lunch service and had gone home, but I don’t remember actually leaving.” Millie pounded on the dough. “All I know is baking…”

Burt turned around and addressed Mrs. Brewster, “How about you? What do you remember?”

“I remember fireflies and putting my feet up after the guests have retired for the night. I remember a gin and tonic. I remember summer…”

Burt watched as a change came over her. Her face went from soft remembrances to a model of efficiency.

“Time to get the wash in. If you’ll excuse me, Mr. Hicks, I have linen to change. Millie, don’t forget to use up the apples before they go soft,” she said and turned on her heel and pushed her way through the kitchen doors.

Burt turned back to Millie. She had abandoned her bread and was now peeling apples. She looked up from her task. “Is there anything I can help you with, Mr. Hicks?”

“I… You… No, I’ll just continue to stretch my legs. Mind if I use the back door?”

She looked around puzzled. “We don’t have a back door.”

Burt walked through the kitchen, and sure enough, there was no longer a back door. He rushed through the kitchen, through the dining room and into the foyer. The front door had not reappeared.

“Hello, can I help you?” Mrs. Brewster asked, appearing behind the desk.

“I was looking for a door. I wanted to get some fresh air.”

“Fresh air is overrated, Mr. Hicks. I suggest you go back into your room, and I’ll bring you up some fresh coffee.”

Burt walked up the stairs dutifully. He didn’t seem to have any other choice in the matter. He reached the landing and turned around to address the hostess but found she had vacated her post. He saw to his amazement the front door was open. He decided to leave his stuff and make a run for it. He took a step, and the staircase fell away from under him. He clung to the banister and managed to climb back to safety. He pushed his back against the wall of the hallway, panting from the exertion.

“Careful, Mr. Hicks, that second step could kill you,” Mrs. Brewster’s voice echoed through the inn.

Chapter Five

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Mia smiled as she prepared to oob. The days of double socks on her hands and feet were gone. Ted had bartered with a mountain climbing company for a state of the art artic survival bag and gloves. He in turn gave them access to his GPS heart monitoring equipment to try out. Mia pulled on a special balaclava over her head. Its soft but dense fibers clung to her face. Ted felt that this added layer of protection would keep Mia out of danger of frostbite should they lose power in the truck.

“I feel like I’m being prepared for an Egyptian burial,” she said as she lay in the bag suspiciously resembling a hooded coffin.

“Nah, I haven’t extracted your brain yet,” Ted said.

“He couldn’t find it,” Cid joked.

“That’s because half of it went missing, and the other half’s out looking for it,” Ted teased.

Mia was going to join in the good-hearted joking but remembered that time wasn’t on their side and prepared herself. She pulled on the gloves and let Ted zip her in. The last thing she waited for was for him to kiss her. His warm lips would be the last earthly thing she would feel for some time.

“What persona are you bilocating in?” Ted asked, bending over her.

“My normal cargos and hoodie,” she answered. I want Burt to be able to recognize us. It’s been a while since he’s seen Murphy.”

“Good thinking. Good luck and good hunting,” Ted said. He bent down and said, “I love you, Mia Martin. Come back to me.”

“I will,” she promised.

Ted kissed her. Mia closed her eyes and was soon up and out of her body. She found Murphy just outside the truck, soaking up some energy from the second of the two cubes Cid had activated for him.

“You’re looking dapper this evening,” Mia said, admiring the subtle change in his attire. “I thought you couldn’t change your appearance.”

Stephen Murphy blushed. He had used some of his energy to put on the appearance that he was wearing company clothes. He was pleased that Mia noticed, but his intention in the change of appearance had more to do with not being turned away from the inn as some poor dirt farmer than impressing Mia.

“I approve. Let’s get moving,” she said.

Murphy did his best to stay with Mia. In a bilocated state, she could move six times his speed. She was careful and slowed down for him, but sometimes she forgot in her excitement and left Murphy in the dust.

Paul stood at the edge of the frozen field. He looked at the shimmering line and back at Mia and Murphy several times. “Are you sure this is a safe thing?”

“No, and what if it isn’t? You’re already dead,” Mia pointed out. “Just stand close. I’ll go in and pull you and Murphy in after me. The line has an intelligence to it. If you concentrate and think ‘Bring me to Millie,’ it will. But if you panic and think you’re going to hell, well…”

“I understand.”

Mia looked at Murphy. “Are you ready?”

He nodded.

They walked closer to the shimmer. Mia backed inside and reached out with both hands, grabbing a ghost with each and pulling them towards her.

This line was different. There was a two way flow. Mia worried that they may waste time going the wrong direction.

Paul Swanson said something that was swallowed up in the spectral wind. Mia smiled at she read his lips. He said Millie,  and the line began to pull him forward. Mia grabbed ahold of him, and Murphy clasped his arms around Mia. They shot forward. Mia tried to calculate the direction in which they were moving but couldn’t be sure. She prayed that they would encounter the house before it reached the next stop.

* * *

Cid pulled the command truck over and watched Mike and Audrey pass by them in the van. The plan was that Mike and Audrey would drive around pretending to be lost and periodically stop at the crossroads where Burt had predicted the inn would stop. Cid and Ted would monitor them via the long range ear coms. When they entered the inn, they would reposition the truck behind the van.

Cid shook off his feeling of being inadequate for the leader position. He knew Ted had his back and would guide him if he fell into a fit of indecision. Cid wasn’t the newest member of the group, Audrey was, but he had never worn the mantle of leader before.

He pulled up the back door and looked over at Ted who was adjusting Mia’s body.

“How is she?”

“According to the computer, she’s bilocating, and that’s all I can say. Her body temperature is maintaining that of a normal resting person.”

“Good,” Cid said. “Have you ever thought to learn to do that oobing stuff?”

“I’m not sure I can.”

“Mia seems to think that anything is possible if you try hard enough,” Cid said as he activated his com link with Mike and Audrey.

Ted nodded his head and thought about it a while. “I think that it wouldn’t be bad to learn as a safety measure, but I think my talents are more technical than oobical.”

“Hey, that’s a new word. Ten points Ravenclaw.”

Ted laughed and took another look at Mia before getting up and taking over the console from Cid. “We haven’t put Audrey in a house yet,” he said, bringing the GPS system up online. Mike and Audrey had been outfitted with tracking devices that Ted had added an experimental power cell to. He hoped to be able to penetrate the veil of the ley line and track them if the inn took off with them in it.

Maggie whined from her travel cage.

“I’ve got her,” Cid said getting up. “Do you need to take a walk, girl?”

Maggie responded with a sharp bark.

He opened the cage, and she bounded out. She took time to lick Ted behind the ear before pouncing on top of Mia, washing her face with flicks of her tongue.

Cid quickly pulled her off of Mia. “I’ll let you explain that to Mia,” Cid said.

“Coward,” Ted responded. “Maybe we should attach the lead before opening the cage.”

“Good hindsight advice.”

Ted watched Cid and Maggie exit the trailer before he rolled over to where Mia was resting. He sponged off the dog drool from the balaclava. “There, now you’ll be just fine. I wonder where you are, my little star?”

* * *

Mia held on to Paul with all her might. If she didn’t know any better, Mia would have sworn that they were being pulled in by a tractor beam. She noticed that the ley line had started to expand. Paul shouted a warning that was lost in the turbulence. Before she and Murphy could prepare themselves, they collided with a solid mass. Paul tumbled onto the front porch of the Dew Drop Inn, while Mia and Murphy had to inch their way along the clapboards towards the porch.

“If I wasn’t oobing, I’d suspect I just broke my nose,” Mia commented as she touched her face. Murphy was silent, but Mia wondered if he hadn’t connected with more sensitive areas of his ghostly anatomy. He walked funny, all hunched over.

Paul got to his feet. “This is it. This is the Dew Drop!” He ran to the door and tried to pull it open. “Millie! It’s Paul, let me in!” he said, pounding on the door. “I don’t understand it,” he said, looking over at Mia. “The door has never been locked before.”

“Perhaps it’s not locked to keep us out — as no one would have suspected we’d be here. It could be locked to keep something or someone in. You continue knocking while Murph and I try to find another way in,” Mia suggested.

Murphy grabbed Mia’s arm and pointed. She turned and looked out over the porch and saw fields of grain mo

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ving in sunlight. “It’s a mirage. There’s nothing there but energy,” she told him. “I don’t know what is real, but I’d suspect, that since it’s winter in Wisconsin, that isn’t wheat. The house however feels real.” Mia patted the side of the building. “Let’s see if we can find a way in. Check all the windows.”

Murphy and Mia walked the large porch, pulling on windows and were disappointed to find all openings locked to the travelers, even the ghostly ones.

Murphy raised his axe and tapped the ceiling of the porch.

“You’re right. We should climb up there and check the second story. I do hope that we don’t have to come down the chimney like Santa.”

Murphy rose and moved through the ceiling while Mia waited at the edge of the porch. She knew he probably could have entered the house himself but did not want to leave Mia alone and unprotected. Instead he lowered his axe over the side of the porch. Mia grabbed hold of the handle, and he pulled her up and over the side of the house.

She got to her feet and walked across the top of the porch to the second story windows. She cupped her hands and looked inside.

Burt gasped as a face appeared at his window. His first inclination was to run, but there was something familiar about the nose that was pushed up against the panes. Mia! He rushed over and prayed the window would be unlocked. It was. He opened it with a mighty heave. Mia, who wasn’t prepared for this, fell in head over heels, landing at his feet. Murphy moved into the room after her.

“How is it that I can see you, sir?” Burt asked. “Am I dead?”

“Don’t know?” Murphy answered.

“Hello,” Mia said from the floor. “Any of you gentlemen want to give a lady a hand.”

Burt squatted down and pushed the hood off Mia and looked at her face. “Mrs. Martin, I never thought I’d see you again.” He drew her up off the ground and hugged her before releasing the surprised investigator.

“Rule number one is…” Mia said, trying to push the wave of emotion away.

“Never to investigate alone,” Burt said smiling. “How are you here?”

Mia quickly explained while Murphy stood watch half in and out of the room’s closed door. “This is all so new to me,” Mia confessed. “I don’t know if you can survive the ley line if we try to extract you now. I think the inn protects you in some way. Although, I’m worried that you are headed for hypothermia. The average temperature of the ley line in wintery conditions is in the low forties.”

“I can see my body is cold, but I can’t feel it,” Burt told her. “I’ve been through so much.”

“Bring us up to speed,” Mia requested as she closed the window behind her.

Burt described the welcoming façade the inn had the first night he encountered it and how he seemed to be caught in a time loop of some kind. “It waffles between summer and winter. The two ladies here seem to accept that it can be winter and summer at the same time.”

“From our research, they’ve been here for some time. If they survived the push into the ley line, they would have starved to death long ago,” Mia said. “You’re dealing with ghosts. It’s common for those folks to be confused, if not crazy.”

“Hey,” Murphy said from the door. “Not all of us.”

“Sorry, Murph,” Mia apologized. “There’s no one saner than you,” she said, giving Burt a covert wink and a nod.

“Paul,” Murphy reminded her.

“Fuck me and leave me a rose, I forgot about Paul. Murph, see if you can locate him and bring him up here,” Mia requested.

“Who’s Paul?” Burt asked.

“Millie’s husband,” Mia answered.

“He’d be so old by now. How’d he survive the ley line?”

“Oh, he’s dead, a ghost that has been haunting the Tear Drop Tavern since the Dew Drop Inn disappeared,” Mia said and enlightened him on the bar and the empty lot it faced.

Burt watched through the window as two forms floated up through the roof over the porch. Murphy, who was dressed in a clean suit of clothes, seemed shabby next to the Wisconsin farmer dressed in his black suit of mourning. The time differences between these gentlemen’s deaths was over a hundred years, yet, aside from Murphy’s bowler hat, there wasn’t that much difference in fashion. The difference was money. He raised the window and invited the spirits in.

Paul moved through the window and headed for the door.

“Careful,” Mia warned. “I’m not sure what you’re going to find out there.”

He stopped and weighed her words. “Millie, I must see her.”

“I’m supposed to have coffee brought up,” Burt said. “She, usually, is the one tasked with that chore.”

True to his word, there was a light tap on the door. “Just a minute,” Burt called. He motioned for the others to hide in the bathroom. Burt walked over to the door and opened it. Millie stood there balancing what appeared to be a tray heaped with cookies and a pot of coffee.

“Come on in. Please set it over there.” He pointed to the table across the room.

Millie moved to the table, and Burt closed the door.

She looked back at him oddly. “You’re pretty chipper. Where has Mr. Grumpy gone?” she asked, setting down the tray.

“Millie?” Paul’s soft voice came from behind her.

She turned around and said, “Paul, I didn’t know you knew Mr. Hicks.”

He rushed to her and was pleased to be able to hold his wife in his arms again. To Millie, it had only been a few hours since they last parted. To Paul, it had been a lifetime. Mia and Murphy moved around the embracing couple and stood with Burt by the door.

“Perhaps we should leave them to become reacquainted,” Mia suggested.

Burt opened the door to his room and looked up and down the hall before stepping out. Mia and Murphy followed him, and the three of them ventured down the hall towards the stairs.

“Millie seems to be a ghost, but the other one is something else,” Burt warned. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see her toss the two of you out, so be careful.”

Burt stopped at the upper landing of the stairs. “Last time I tried to descend, the stairs disappeared.”

Mia nodded to Murphy who started down the stairs first, stopped and turned around.

“Go ahead. If the stairs disappear, he’ll catch you,” Mia promised.

Burt tentatively touched the tread with one foot, and it held. He proceeded down the steps one at a time with Mia watching his back.

They successfully navigated the stairs when Mrs. Brewster appeared.

“Can I help you?”

“My wife and I were hoping you would have a vacancy for this evening,” Murphy said quickly.

Burt moved into the parlor, hoping against hope that Mrs. Brewster did not see him.

Mia pushed back her hood which morphed into a cloak and smiled as she patted her hair into place.

Mrs. Brewster looked them up and down and asked, “Where is your luggage? I’ll not have any of that hanky-panky in my inn!”

“We left it on the porch,” Mia said sweetly. “After all, it would be bad manners to assume you had a vacancy this late in the day.”

Mia could see the innkeeper fighting with the inn itself for understanding of how the couple appeared in her lobby when the door had been locked.

“A young woman, Millie I believe, met us on the porch. She didn’t think you had an empty room but suggested that we check with you. You are Mrs. Brewster?” Mia asked, letting her words draw out a little, giving them an air of snobbery.

“Yes, I’m Amelia Brewster. Let me check the calendar.”

Mia ever so subtly morphed her clothing to a dress of quality. She chose Chanel as it was in fashion no matter when it was made or worn. She mentally thanked her godfather Ralph for his constant chatter about fashion. Some of it sunk in.

“I don’t understand what you’re telling me!” Millie said, bursting into tears. “I’m not dead. You’re not dead. That Mr. Hicks has used hypnotism on you! Mother said he was a person to be wary of. He is always lying.”

“Millie, the Dew Drop Inn disappeared over forty years ago. I died not long after you did. We’re dead. I’ve come to collect you so we can meet our maker together.”

“What about mother?”

“She can come too. We have to leave the Dew Drop together. You and I don’t belong here. We have to also help Mr. Hicks to his freedom. He’s of flesh and blood, and staying here is killing him.”

Millie paled and confessed, “I have noticed that he seems rather cold, and he is hungry right after I feed him.”

“Humans can’t live on pure energy. They need to ingest it and turn it into something they can live on,” he explained. “Mia explained it to me. Their friend, Burt… Mr. Hicks is dying, and they need our help.”

“This is so much to take in,” Millie said, pushing her hands through her hair again and again in nervous frustration.

Paul caught her by the wrists and gently pulled them away from her. “Can you please take a leap of faith and believe me?”

She looked at her handsome husband standing there with five o’clock shadow in his funeral suit and considered the tale he told her. She nodded her head and let herself be pulled into his arms. She laid her head on his strong shoulder and listened to the plan the PEEPs team had come up with.

* * *

Mike tested out his mic several times for Cid. Audrey filled the outer pockets of the fur with water and granola bars. The deep inner pockets held mini cameras and other recording devices. They would carry a valise into the B&B that was filled with food, water and blankets to keep them and Burt alive if they too became prisoners of the Fata Morgana.

“It’s funny how real bits of the paranormal are exposed through fiction,” Audrey commented. “For example there’s a lot of information to be gleaned from Walter Moers’s character Professor Abdullah Nightingale and his writings about Fata Morganas. Even though it’s fiction, the writer must have pulled th

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e information from something real.”

Mike looked over at her. “I’m not following you.”

“It’s as if the writer is connected to the ether in some way,” she explained. “The explanation of these mirages varies from culture to culture, but the fact that many seem to have similar stories of FMs is telling. There are other things too. Take salt and ghosts for instance; how’d we figure that one out?”

“Salt?” Mike questioned and then answered himself, “Ah, like how we know about ghosts being hurt by salt. I’m sure somewhere it was used successfully, and it was recorded. Perhaps a writer picked up on it. Either the writer read about it somewhere or had a memory of it being mentioned by someone.”

“You, sir, are a realist, like Ted and Cid,” Audrey claimed.

“And for a good Catholic, you are awfully happy with superstition.”

Audrey gave him a wry look. “Superstition goes hand-in-hand with most religions. We have to suspend belief and have faith. I’m comfortable with my faith and believing in magic.”

“You’re a unique woman, Audrey,” Mike said. “Now, let’s get out there and rescue Burt. Cid, we are ready when you are.”

Cid, who had been listening in on their conversation, responded. “According to Burt’s calculations, the inn should appear within a fifty foot radius on the north side of the road any time now.”

Mike put the van into gear and began driving slowly.

Audrey gazed out of the window. “I see a light up ahead.” She pointed. “There!”

The light became many lights, and as they approached, a beautifully painted sign on the edge of the road declared, Dew Drop Inn. 

Mike pulled into a gravel lot and parked his car beside a 1970 Chevrolet Impala. Playing the role of the attentive husband, he got out and walked around to open the door for Audrey. The two of them took a moment and looked at the two story clapboard inn. Yellow light poured from the windows on both stories. As they approached, the front door opened.

Chapter Six

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Maggie’s head lifted, and she sniffed the air. Cid looked at her and asked, “What is it? Tell me, what do you smell?”

“If that dog talks, I’m going to look for accommodations at Belleview,” Ted announced.

“She does talk. You just have to be smart enough to interpret it,” Cid argued.

The speakers crackled, bringing the two techs back to task. Mike reported, “The door is open. We’re going in. Wish us luck.”

“Go ahead, but don’t break your cover whatever you do,” Cid warned. “If this thing swallowed Burt, it wasn’t for his good looks. It was because it smelled a rat.”

“Understood,” Mike said.

Maggie got up and lifted her head and sniffed the air again. It was just at the edges of her scent cone, but she smelled the chubby man they called Burt. She also smelled bacon. The truck had driven past several farmhouses before they stopped, and her nose told her that someone inside of one of them was having a late night snack of bacon. Given her choice, Maggie would rather smell bacon than Burt, but the cooking man and the tinkering man were insistent.

Mike grabbed Audrey’s hand. She squeezed his to tell him that she was ready. They climbed the stairs together. The wooden steps were free of snow, and they radiated an unexpected warmth. It was as if they had been bathed in sunlight. Audrey admired the sparkling panes of glass that reflected their images as they passed by the windows on the way to the open door. She saw snatches of a beautiful, if not dated, interior. The inn emitted an air of comfort and welcome that she found appealing.

Mrs. Brewster looked up from her calendar to the open door. “Excuse me, it seems like we have more guests,” she said, moving around the desk. “Wait here, and I’ll see if I can find you a suitable room Mr. and Mrs.…”

“Murphy. Stephen and Mia Murphy,” Murphy filled in.

“Murphy, are you related to the Murphys from Appleton?” Mrs. Brewster asked.

“Could be, my family tree is quite large,” Murphy informed her.

Mrs. Brewster nodded absently as she walked to greet the couple that had entered the lobby through the front door.

Burt witnessed the exchange from his hiding spot in the front parlor. He hoped that the distraction was enough to take the hostess’s watchful eye off of him and his desire to leave. He marveled at how Mia was able to change her image so quickly. He did feel a bit put off by how well Stephen Murphy cleaned up. His fleeting memories of the farmer were more of dust and axe. He never really noticed the handsome face and striking eyes of the ghost. Murphy still had his axe, but he cleverly moved it behind him, always keeping it out of Mrs. Brewster’s direct line of sight.

The woman’s heels clicked on the polished wood floor as she walked forward to greet her unexpected guests.

“Welcome to the Dew Drop Inn,” she said. “How can I be of service to you?”

Mike took off his hat as he crossed the threshold. “We seem to be lost. I had reservations at an establishment in Hillside, but we seem to have taken a wrong turn.”

“Hillside? I’m not sure I can help you with directions, but I can offer you a room for the night. Maybe after a good night’s rest and a filling breakfast you’ll be able to resume your journey,” she suggested.

Mike turned and asked Audrey, “What do you think, dear?”

Audrey pushed the hood of the fur jacket off her head. Her auburn curls bounced around before settling. “I’m tired, darling. I’m sure our room has been given away by now. We should have been there hours ago,” she said, irritated.

“Remember it was you that was in charge of directions,” Mike’s voice had an edge to it.

Mrs. Brewster clapped her hands. “Now, now, we all get lost. How about a nice cup of tea?”

Audrey smiled at the woman. “That and a room would be wonderful.”

“So then it’s agreed,” she confirmed, looking at Mike.

He nodded.

“Follow me,” she instructed. “I have another couple to finish checking in. It won’t take me but a few moments.”

Mike and Audrey looked around the entry hall as they followed the stout well-dressed hostess to where a young couple stood waiting. The sight of Mia and Murphy took both of them by surprise. This was the first time either of them had seen Murphy, and Mia in her posh attire was intimidating. Both of them dropped their jaws and had their mouths hanging open.

Mia moved quickly towards the couple. “Mia Murphy,” she said, drawing out the syllables. “So nice to meet you,” she said, holding out her hand. With the other hand she was motioning that now was the time for Burt to make his exit.

Burt rushed out from behind the greenery and ran as fast as he could toward the open door.

Mrs. Brewster, seated at the desk, looked up from her registration card with irritation at the noise Burt’s pounding feet made as he passed the group assembled at the desk. She started to rise when Murphy set his axe on the desk with a thump. Startled by the weapon, she stammered, “I don’t allow… whatchamacallits… Axes! I don’t allow axes inside my inn!”

Burt stood once again on the top step of the inn. A few snowflakes danced as they whirled in the cold night breeze. Two lights of an approaching truck blinded him a moment, and he took another step and fell.

“It’s a family heirloom,” Mia said dryly. “Surely you could make an exception?”

“Family heirloom?” Mrs. Brewster questioned. “An axe?” She looked at the age of the thing and pursed her lips. After a short while she answered, “Fine, just don’t set it on any of the antiques.” She rose. “Excuse me a moment.”

They watched as the woman walked quickly toward the door and out onto the porch. She looked around with a puzzled expression and smiled as she saw Audrey’s valise setting by one of the Adirondack chairs. She picked it up and walked back into the entry hall, closing the door behind her. “Whose is this?”

“Mine,” Audrey said sweetly. “Dear, take that from the woman. It must weigh a ton. Shoes,” she said as if that would explain the weight.

“One can never have enough shoes,” Mia agreed in her adopted nasal tone.

Maggie barked excitedly. They were pulling into the lot of what appeared to be a Bed and Breakfast. It disappeared in a flash of light, blinding Cid who was at the wheel. He braked as quickly as he could, taking into consideration that Ted was hanging on for dear life in the back of the truck while he kept Mia’s body safe.

“Cid to Ted, over.”

“Ted here, barely,” Ted commented as he got to his feet.

“The Dew Drop has disappeared, but I saw it with my own two eyes,” Cid said, opening his door. “Shit!”

“Explain shit,” Ted asked.

“Maggie just jumped over me and out of the truck. She’s running out into the field. I’ve got the truck’s lights on, but aside from hearing her bark, I can’t see her.

Maggie caught the scent before Cid had turned the engine off. She knew the cuddly man was out there; she could smell him. She took her opportunity when the door was opened and jumped past the cooking man. She stopped a moment and put her nose to the air and sniffed. She moved right, and the scent fell off. She took a few tentative steps to the left, and the air was filled the scent of sweat and fear. She took off running, ignoring calls for her to return.

Burt gulped air trying to breath. He fell hard. It wasn’t 50 yards, but it was a few feet until he hit the ground, the fall pushing the air out of his lungs. He hurt and was cold, so very cold. He opened his eyes, but aside from two beams of lights in

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the distance, he couldn’t see anything. He heard a steady crunch of small footfalls headed his way. He tried to raise an arm, but both were trapped under his exhausted body. “Here,” he managed to croak.

Maggie found the cuddly man and barked, and then she let out a long howl before pushing her nose into the face of the near frozen man. She laid down and pushed her long body alongside the man, hoping to keep him warm. She howled again.

“Maggie’s found something,” Cid said, raising the back of the truck to let Ted out.

“I’ve got a tracker on her collar. Here,” Ted said, shoving a small box with a LED display on it to Cid. “Follow this. I’ll grab some blankets and follow you.”

Cid did as instructed. He couldn’t help calling Maggie’s name even though he could see that she had stopped and settled a few acres from the truck. His booted feet broke through the crust of the snow and found solid ground a few inches below. He maintained a steady pace, watching the display.

Ted caught up to him, holding an emergency backpack bulging with supplies. He flung it over one arm while trying to put his coat on the other.

“Whose idea was the GPS in her collar?”

“Mine. I’d have all of you wired if I could get away with it,” Ted said, sighing as he achieved the last sleeve of his coat and was zipping up. “I’d shoot a small chip…”

“Listen, Big Brother, you’ll do no such thing,” Cid warned. “Flashes of dystopia and a world in grayscale just filled my mind.”

Ted just sniffed.

Maggie heard the tall men approach and barked. The cuddly man wasn’t breathing too well. She tried to lick his face, but half of it was buried in the snow, and the other half was very cold.

“Good girl,” Cid said as he saw the protective stance Maggie had taken up.

Ted ran over and knelt beside Burt. “Burt, wake up. Now’s not the time for a nap. Come on, old boy, the night’s still young.”

Burt murmured something unintelligible.

“Spit out the snow and speak-a-da English,” Ted ordered.

“Asshole,” Burt managed.

“Cid, you can stop fretting. Burt’s spoken the universal word for Ted.”

Cid reached into the pack on Ted’s back and pulled out a blanket, along with some hot packs that he activated and began applying to the fallen man’s body.

“As soon as you can walk, we need to get you into the truck and into some warm dry clothing,” Ted said, urging the man from his prone position to a seated one.

Burt started to feel pinpricks in his extremities as the warm packs and blanket did their job. “Thank God you found me. The others, where are they?”

“I expect they are continuing the investigation,” Cid said. “Plan was to get you out and continue with the job.”

“Are you freakin’ crazy?” Burt asked. “I almost died in there, several times.”

“But here you are, safe and frozen,” Ted said as he lifted the investigator to his feet. “Never investigate alone.”

“We have four PEEPs on the job. And I believe a volunteer from the Tear Drop Tavern. Five of us. How many ghosts are we dealing with?” Cid asked.

“Two and a house. The house is an entity in itself,” Burt said, stomping life back into his feet. He bent down and stroked Maggie’s head. “Thank you, you saved my life.”

Maggie looked up at the cuddly man and noted the change of tone in his voice. She knew that her efforts had earned her some bacon. She didn’t smell bacon. Where was the bacon?

* * *

“Let’s see, I have two large rooms ready,” Mrs. Brewster said efficiently. She led the two couples up the stairs. She wasn’t sure why she suddenly had two sets of people to care for, but the inn seemed fine with it, and so she would do her damned best to be a good hostess. Mr. Hicks, with all his wanderings and questions, sure had tried her patience. “I can only put you up for the night,” she warned as she waited for them on the landing.

“That suits Stephen and me just fine,” Mia said, looping her arm through Murphy’s. “We have to be on the road early. Is that going to present a problem?”

Mrs. Brewster shook her head after a moment. Mia watched her hostess, observing that the woman seemed to be listening to a silent partner before she spoke.

“Would eight be soon enough?” she asked.

“Eight sounds fine,” Mia assured her.

Audrey watched how smoothly Mia dealt with the formidable woman before her. She didn’t fall out of character, nor did her voice have the nervous tone Audrey’s had. Mike too seemed confident with role-playing. Was it their experience that stilled their shaking hands, or were both of them natural born liars?

“Here we are,” Mrs. Brewster announced. “I have put you Murphys in the front blue room. Across the hall, Mr. and Mrs. Dupree will have the floral suite.” She swung open the door to the blue room, turned heel and walked across the hall, leading Audrey and Mike into the floral suite.

Audrey looked around at the tasteful floral décor and said, “This is so beautiful!”

Mrs. Brewster flushed with pride. “This is my favorite room. I can send someone up to start a fire in the fireplace for you.”

Mike waved a hand. “No thank you, I’m an old boy scout. I think I can manage, but I’m dying for a cup of tea.”

“How about you two coming down in fifteen minutes to the dining room,” she invited. “I’ll have Millie set out a table of pastries for you to enjoy too.”

“You’re a dear,” Mike said and grasped the woman’s hand a brief moment. Realizing he was touching the hand of someone that was long dead, his stomach did a flip-flop and tears flooded his eyes.

Mrs. Brewster thought the tears that sprang to his eyes were from his honest appreciation of her hospitality and was pleased. She turned and all but danced out into the hall, closing the door after her.

Mike sunk to his knees.

Alarmed, Audrey asked, “What is it? What can I do?”

“Give me a moment,” he said. He got up and grasped her shoulder as she led him to one of a set of wingback chairs framing the fireplace. “If I can trust my stomach as a barometer of paranormal weirdness, that Mrs. Brewster, beneath her hospitable demeanor, is a contradictory blend of hostess and warden. She, basically, freaks me out.”

A light tap on the door preceded Mia and Murphy walking into their room. “Excuse me, but you wouldn’t happen to have an aspirin? My hubby is sporting a hell of a headache,” Mia said. She pointed to her chest where she had morphed a tee shirt with something written on it.

Warning: the house is listening!  And below it flashed, But it can’t read. 

Mike smiled as he read Mia’s message. He pulled out his notebook and began scribbling. He encouraged the three to look at what he had written.

Mrs. Brewster is very protective of the inn. 

Did Burt get out? 

Nice tits, Mrs. Murphy-Martin. 

“Very funny,” Mia said. “Yes, I hope so, and Ted likes them.”

Murphy looked up from the notebook and shook his head at the last entry. He pulled out his watch and tapped it.

The other three nodded as they were reminded that there wasn’t much time.

* * *

Millie moved quickly down the back stairs to the kitchen. Paul followed on her heels. She wasn’t sure how she was going to explain his presence but knew that she needed him next to her or she was going to lose her nerve.

“There you are! We have two couples. One, a delightful pair, I’ve put them in the floral suite. Dupree’s the name. In the blue room I put the Murphys. I suspect they aren’t married. The way he looks at her gives me a hot flash. Anyway, I’ve promised them a snack in the dining room before bedtime. Hello, Paul.”

“Good evening, Mother Brewster. I’m just waiting for Millie to finish. I promised her a meal and a movie. It’s our anniversary.”

“Really? My, how time flies,” Mrs. Brewster said. “Congratulations.”

Millie let the tension ease out of her shoulders. Her mother, or what was masquerading as her mother, had accepted Paul’s being there as just a daily occurrence at the Dew Drop Inn.

Mia and Murphy moved out onto the top of the porch. Mia held an energon cube Mike had secreted away in Audrey’s valise. Mia, worried that the cube could generate a problem with the house, had decided to sprout wings. She flew off the top of the porch and held the cube as far away from the building as possible but still close enough for Murphy to connect to it with the axe. The farther away from the inn Mia moved, the stronger she felt. The power of the ley line segment was different than the other lines she had traveled, but it did seem to nourish her all the same.

Murphy felt the power flow into him. He was able to feel, along with his strength increasing, the aches and pains of a normal man. His shoulder ached, and his lower back was stiff from years of planting. This he didn’t miss about being human again. With the cube extinguished, Mia moved back onto the porch and teetered on the edge. Murphy caught her and felt the thrill of being touched. This he did miss.

“Are you alright?” she asked him tenderly.

“Difficult to explain,” he said. “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”

“K. You say the word and we’ll bail. You’re more important than getting readings on this place. There are, according to fiction, hundreds of Fata Morganas, but there is only one Stephen Murphy.”

Murphy stepped back amused and endeared by her statement. “Thank you, Mia. Let’s see if we can free Paul’s wife from this place and get the hell out of here.”

“Your language is appalling,” Mia sniffed.

Murphy opened his mouth to say something but caught the twinkle in her eye and just nodded.

“Hey, you two, stop messing around,” Mike hissed from the window. “We’re to be at tea in five minutes.”

“I believe you and

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Audrey were invited and not us,” Mia reminded him. “We’ll explore while you keep Battle-axe Brewster occupied.”

Mike and Audrey left the blue room and headed for the front stairs.

“I see you’ve become acquainted with the Murphys,” Mrs. Brewster said from behind them.

Mike whirled around and smiled. “You gave me a start Mrs….”

“Amelia,” she supplied with a girlish giggle.

“Amelia it is then. Amelia, in my line of work I find it valuable to get to know my neighbors. You never know when you’ll make a good connection.”

“Didn’t you find them an odd couple? She’s so snooty and he, well, so common,” she said, linking her arm with Mike’s, causing Audrey to let go and fall into step behind them.

“Amelia,” Mike said, suppressing another bout of queasiness. “I think you’d be surprised just how uncommon Stephen Murphy is.”

Chapter Seven

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Burt finished his report. Ted typed the account out while Cid plied the investigator with hot drinks and sugary snack cakes. Maggie was curled up under Mia’s lounge chair and was chewing on the rawhide bone Ted had produced from one of his many file drawers. This came from file drawer R, for reward.

“I’m out a backpack full of equipment, my computer bag with my laptop in it, and all the spare clothes I brought with me, including…”

“Your lucky shorts?” Ted asked.

“No I have them on. How’d you know I… never mind,” Burt said.

“We found your laptop, but it’s going to need some TLC before you’ll be able to use it,” Ted told him. “We found it abandoned in the snow,” he explained, “not far from your car. That’s where Murphy first saw the ley line segment. Mia and he would have taken a trip in it right away, but we all decided we needed more information before she chanced a trip in the disrupted line.”

“Mia shouldn’t be risking herself this way. Neither, come to think of it, should Mike and Audrey be in that place. I’m telling you, the Dew Drop Inn is a living thing.”

“If all goes according to plan,” Cid started, “Mike and Audrey will leave in the morning just like all the other lost travelers have, with the exception of you. Mia and Murphy will abandon the inn as soon as Paul Swanson can convince his wife to leave the inn with him.”

“Millie, Paul’s wife, does seem to be puzzled by the constant morning’s chores and flip flop weather,” Burt admitted.

“Let’s address that for a moment,” Ted requested. “You’re telling us that it is winter and summer at the same time?”

“No, but within minutes of each other.”

“It’s as if the place is trying to maintain the integrity of how it was when the meteorite struck,” Ted reasoned.

“What meteorite?” Burt asked.

“OMG, dude, you don’t know. We figured out what turned the Dew Drop Inn into a Fata Morgana,” Ted said and brought Burt up to speed on what they had discovered.

“So, if it’s bouncing between two ley lines happily, why did it turn on me when I challenged it?” Burt asked.

“Paul mentioned to Mia that the Brewster family made it their policy that no traveler would go without a bed for the night. Many times the family bunked out in the kitchen so any last minute guests could sleep comfortably in their rooms,” Ted said.


“I know you’ve been in places, houses, stores, restaurants, where the personality of the owners seeped into the very walls of the place.”

“Are we talking atmosphere?” Burt scoffed.

“No, we are talking about a building evolving into a living entity, taking on the character of the people within,” Cid said. “Ted, Mia and I believe that the reason the inn stops to cater to lost travelers is because that’s what the owners of the inn would have wanted it to do. Somehow when lost and depleted travelers cross the ley line, their worry, and perhaps exhaustion, summons the inn. We took your calculations and used them to call the Dew Drop to us.”

Burt, who was just now getting a buzz from the coffee and sugar the boys had plied him with, lit up. “Eureka, Holmes, Watson, I think you’ve got it! All this time I was thinking that it was just my math that would predict when and where the inn would materialize.”

“You didn’t factor in that it doesn’t stop every time,” Ted said yawning.

“Are we keeping you up, Watson?” Cid asked.

“No, just experiencing suggestibility,” Ted answered. “You mentioned exhaustion, and I became tired. How about talking about something upbeat and dramatic?”

“Like your imminent death if we don’t get back on target?” Cid warned.

“That’ll do it,” Ted said, sitting up in his chair.

“How is it that I could survive or even enter a ley line?” Burt asked. “According to Mia, a flesh and blood human can’t see ley lines. How could a person walk through the line and not even get a tingle, let alone be pulled along in it.”

“We don’t know exactly how the inn is able to do all the things it does. We’re hoping Mike and Audrey will be able to bring back readings on the place. One thesis is that when the meteorite hit the ground, it sent an energy wave into the ley line along with the inn. This energy has maintained the inn’s integrity…”

“Just like it was on that fateful summer day,” Burt added. “But there’s more. The inn thinks. It expresses itself through Mrs. Brewster. She waffles between being a good hostess and a strict warden. She didn’t like me much.”

“Could be, the inn sensed that all wasn’t kosher with you. You used the inn’s hospitality and in return questioned its existence,” Ted deduced.

“So what’ll we do?” Burt asked. “Do we let it continue drawing in guests, performing its function?”

“You tell us. The test will be whether it lets Mike and Audrey leave in the morning. If not, it’s a sign that it has evolved into something besides the oasis it has been for the last few decades,” Cid said.

“Do you think I caused this change?” Burt asked.

“I don’t really know. Every guest that stayed probably left a part of themselves there. Not that they were aware they were doing so. We fear that the FM will build up too much energy and explode,” Cid said.

“It’s been stable for decades,” Burt argued.

So was Mount St. Helens…” Ted said, getting up to check on his wife’s resting body. “Energy can’t continue to build without a release mechanism.”

“What happens to something that explodes in a magnetic gridlock?” Burt asked.

“What do you think happens?” Ted inquired.

“You’re the science guys; you tell me,” Burt insisted.

“It implodes, sucks in everything around it first then explodes outward. It may shoot downward into the earth or upward into space. All I know is that it will impact this area,” Ted answered him.


“We have no idea. Soon. In the next few years. Without readings we have no clue.”

“How do we stop it?” Burt asked.

“Now that’s up for debate. Mia says we need to locate what is blocking the ley line. We pretty much assumed it was a meteorite on the Ashville end. But we can’t be positive what is stopping it on the other end,” Cid informed him.

“So if we dig up the meteorite…”

“That’s not advisable without removing the dam on the other side of the segment at the same time. If by a miracle we are able to dig in this frozen ground and locate the meteorite and remove it, the force of the pent up energy would shoot the FM into the existing line, probably killing any oobers on it. That part of the ley line extends to Cape Hatteras and is actively used,” Ted explained. “The same thing would happen if we remove the northern block. Itasca would take a hit, although it is a shorter segment. But there is a small possibility that it could still rebound.”

“Why did I get us into this?” Burt moaned. “I should have just left well enough alone.”

“Actually, I think you were meant to do this,” Cid said. “I don’t mean to get all Doctor Who  on you, but the universe called to you and you responded.”

Burt lifted an eyebrow. “That’s a load of shit.”

“Is it?” Cid scoffed.

Ted walked over and sat down and flipped through the report Burt gave. He tapped on the monitor screen and asked, “You said that the inn seemed to rest fifty yards above the ground.”

“I thought it was an illusion meant to keep me there,” Burt explained.

“Could be, but if it isn’t, it explains how the inn can stay in one spot for a night,” Ted pondered.

“When I left the porch and took the second step, I should have only been around nine inches off the ground. Instead I fell quite a few feet. Not fifty yards, or I’d be dead,” Burt informed them.

“It may move up and down in the bubble it created. It’s there right now, above us, cloaked by the top of the ley line,” Ted described.

“What if it could move out of the segment then…” Cid started.

“It may be able to stay here permanently. Whether it could exist out here is another matter,” Ted added.

“How do we get it to do that? How do you reason with a building?” Burt asked but knew the answer the minute he vocalized the question. “Mia. Mia could talk to the house.”

“But how do we tell her?” Cid asked.

“Tell me what?” Mia asked groggily.

Ted moved quickly to her side and began to undo the restraints he left on when they were moving the truck.

“If this is your idea of bondage…” Mia started.

“Hush up,” Ted ordered. “We aren’t alone.”

Mia looked over at Cid and Burt and said, “Glad to see you in one piece, Mr. Hicks.”

“Stop that. I can still hear that old broad in your voice. I’m thinking of changing my name,” Burt told her. “How and why are you here?”

“That’s a long sto

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ry, which I would be happy to tell you later. What we do need is to exchange information. And I need some caffeine. Anyone see Murphy?” Mia craned her neck looking for the ghost as she tried to sit up.

A light scratch was heard on the outside of the truck. Cid moved to the door and pulled it open, letting in the cold night air. Mia saw her friend standing there, garbed once again in his work attire, smiling slyly.

“Yeah, go ahead and smile. You got us tossed out of there with your antics,” Mia claimed.

Ted looked over at the ghost and saw him trying to explain himself, but he gave in to Mia and put his head down, trying unsuccessfully to look contrite.

“Maybe you two ought to tell us what happened first,” Ted advised.

“Coffee first, then story,” Mia said.

“Coffee the lady,” Burt demanded.

Chapter Eight

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“We waited until we heard Mike head towards the stairs. He was using that charm of his, oozing charisma. Mrs. Brewster seemed quite taken with him. Audrey was green at the gills,” Mia reported.

Burt seemed to be relieved. Mia watched him, noting that, with the exception of extreme exhaustion, he seemed well enough and didn’t need a visit to the ER.

“Murph and I left our room and quietly examined the other rooms on the second floor. We saw where you were staying. Your dirty laundry folded neatly, waiting to be packed. Why do you fold your dirty laundry?”

Burt frowned.

Mia didn’t expect an answer and continued, “Your room held no clues so we left. There was a locked door at the end of the hall, just before the servant stairs. Murphy moved through the door and unlocked it for me. It’s very handy having a ghost as an investigative partner. Inside, we found an austere cell of some kind. It reminded me of the punishment room in the Gruber mansion. The walls had grey, fading wallpaper of a geometric design. The furniture was made of a metal similar to what you would find in an asylum. The room was clean and smelled of Windex and Spic and Span. Murphy pointed out the clothing arranged neatly in the open closet. There were suits and dresses, the kind our hostess wore. Sturdy, comfortable shoes were lined up on the floor of the closet. I knelt down to examine them. I reached out, and my hand went right through the shoe.”

“Mirage,” Cid said.

“Quite possibly. Anyway, my interference with the shoes caused the room’s façade to crumble. It started at the outside corner of the house and fell away in strips. As each strip fell from the wall, another façade appeared. This time the room was full of summer flowers, and the bed was covered in a hand embroidered coverlet. I turned around, and the closet was full of clothes. Quite a few dresses were falling off the hangers. The shoes looked as if they were kicked off in a hurry. It was a happy room.”

“Two Mrs. Brewsters,” Murphy said from the corner of the truck. He stood well away from Ted’s computers, not wanting to fry anymore monitors with his magnetic chemistry.

“What he means is, two sides to the same woman. We all have a dark side,” Mia explained. “Mine is full of insecurities,” she admitted. Brushing away the negative thought as if it were an errant lock of hair, Mia continued, “The more we thought about it, the more the room was telling us something. Mrs. Brewster’s mercurial personality, austere-cold one moment and warm-inviting the next, had infested the inn itself.”

“The winter and summer landscapes. I thought it may be fighting between the time it was created and the present time,” Burt admitted.

“You still could be right,” Mia said. “But we didn’t know enough at that time.”

“How long did it take you to pick up that the inn itself was alive?” Ted asked.

Mia smiled, pleased that the science boys  had come to the same conclusion she and Murphy had. “It’s not exactly alive,” she corrected. “It exists and thrives in the structure of the ley line, but the inn is dead, as are the two women serving in it.”

“So the building…”

“Is a ghost,” Mia said simply. “A thinking and very powerful ghost, but a ghost just the same.”

“Like the ghost ships?” Cid asked.

“I’ve not been on a ghost ship, but I expect they have similar characteristics,” Mia said evenly. “They travel, are seen by travelers and can provide minimal shelter. They can’t, however, sustain life. If you found yourself on the famed Flying Dutchman,  you wouldn’t drown, but you would starve. Your body would still show signs of sun, sea and salt, but you wouldn’t feel that you were dying,” she explained. “This is what was happening to you, Burt.”

“The other guests…”

“They only stayed the night. No doubt, if we were to interview them, we would find that they were strangely hungry as they continued their journey, despite the sumptuous breakfast they ate before leaving the inn. How are you feeling by the way?” Mia asked Burt.

“Tired and cold. The guys fed me, but I’d really like to have a steak.”

“Did you check in Ted’s drawer marked rewards ?” Mia asked.

“That’s where he keeps Maggie’s bones,” Burt said glumly. “I looked.”

Mia laughed. “We’ll get you your steak as soon as we get this mess straightened out.”

“What happened in the room?” Cid prodded.

“Oh, yes, of course, the room,” Mia said, thinking a moment. “Not much else. We left the room and sought out the back stairs.”

“I didn’t know there was another set of stairs,” Burt admitted.

“In a house that size and age there would be servant stairs,” Mia informed him. “They are hidden, but they are there. We found the inn’s set across the hall from Mrs. Brewster’s room. We walked through a doorway to find ourselves on a landing that joined two sets of staircases. We didn’t want to invade the first floor just yet so we climbed the attic stairs. There we found a semi-floored attic that ran the width of the inn. Old furniture and cedar chests and trunks lined the walls. It was clean, free of rodents and insects. The trunks were unlocked, and I opened a few. I found old clothing and a lot of lace doilies. I was just about ready to abandon my snooping when Murphy opened the next chest. Inside we found your backpack, Burt. I pulled it out, and underneath there were bits and bobs from other guests, I imagine. Nothing valuable like jewelry, but the hostess seems to have a penchant for looting the bags of the guests, extracting sharp things like knitting needles, nail files, penknives and even a seam ripper.”

“Why?” Burt asked.

“I don’t know, but I would hazard a guess that she took away anything that could hurt the inn? Scratch the furniture or poke holes in the surly hostess?” Mia mused, looking at Murphy for his reaction. He held firmly to his axe. “Oh, that reminds me, she wasn’t too thrilled about Murphy’s axe until I told her it was a family heirloom.”

“Self-preservation,” Ted said. He handed Mia a refill of his special brew of coffee and chemicals. “If the hostess and the inn think they are alive then perhaps they don’t want to be hurt in any way. Perhaps they thought Burt and his gear bag of cameras and devices could destroy the mirage, lift the curtain, so to speak, and perhaps damage the reputation of the inn. Instead of being seen as a godsend…”

“It could be seen as a prison. A trap,” Burt said, rubbing his arms. “I don’t know when I ceased to be a guest and became a prisoner, but it wasn’t a pleasant feeling,” he admitted.

“I wonder if it tried to keep anyone else?” Cid asked.

“There weren’t any other spirits that Murphy or I could detect. But it doesn’t mean the inn didn’t try and was unsuccessful. We may find a charnel house of bones when the mask is whisked away,” Mia said.

“Ten points Slytherin and a Bella Lugosi award!” Ted announced. “You may be my love, but you’re creeping me out,” he complained.

“And you call yourself a ghost hunter,” Mia scoffed. She looked at Burt and at Cid. She saw their pale complexions and thought she may have gone a bit too far.

Murphy mouthed, “Wimps.”

“What happened next?” Cid asked.

“We decided to venture down the stairs which brought us just outside the kitchen. We faced an exterior door, a prep room of some kind. There were deep sinks and herbs hanging from a clothesline. We heard two people talking in the kitchen and stayed out of sight until we determined that they were Millie and Paul. We walked in. Paul seemed happy to see us there. Millie was put out and told us, ‘No guests in the kitchen!’ We nodded and walked through and exited into the dining room where we found Mike having a spirited conversation with Mrs. Brewster while Audrey took covert photos and readings of the room.”

“Our Mike’s a charmer,” Cid said. “He could charm a sheet off a ghost.”


“Sorry, dude, just a saying. No offence intended.”

Murphy seemed appeased so Mia continued, “We moved quietly through the room and almost made it, had my partner in crime not stopped to admire the Birdseye Maple paneling. ‘What are you two doing out of your room?’ Mrs. Brewster bellowed. I told her, ‘We aren’t errant children. We are guests of this establishment and should be treated as such.’ She countered that since she owned the establishment  she would determine how we were treated and whether we would continue to enjoy her hospitality. That’s when Murphy got us kicked out.”

“How?” Ted asked surprised.

“He took his axe and dragged it along the cherry dining table, cutting a deep gash into the wood.”

“You didn’t!” Burt gasped.

Murphy smiled wide, showing how proud he was of his action

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“He not only did that but cleaved an end table in two for good measure,” Mia reported. “Mrs. Brewster picked up a chair and threw it at us, nearly decapitating Audrey in the process. ‘Get out, get out!’ she screamed. The floor of the inn started buckling under us as we ran for the front door. It flew open, and we escaped by diving off the porch before the witch made the lobby. The funny thing was, we landed in a field of summer wheat. I was so surprised that I got up and backed out of the ley line, pulling Murphy after me.”

The three investigators looked from Mia to Murphy and back again speechless.

“We did, however, bring you back a souvenir. Show them Murphy,” Mia instructed.

Murphy walked to the end of the truck and jumped off. He returned quickly, pushing Burt’s backpack before him. Burt and Cid only saw the backpack float out of the darkness of the night, land on the truck bed and move towards them.

Burt walked over and tried to pick it up. “Either I’ve lost a lot of muscle or the pack is much heavier than I remembered,” he said as he struggled to get it to the console table. Ted managed to move the keyboard just in time as Burt lost hold and the pack fell on the table, spilling the contents out on the surface.

“We brought back the other items in the cedar chest. Figured that perhaps we could locate a few of the owners…” Mia led.

“And perhaps they would tell their story on camera,” Burt murmured. He looked over at Mia happily. “Bravo! You two are A number one investigators.” He walked over and hugged Mia and requested, “Point me to that rascal.” Mia did, and Burt held out his hand to Murphy. “A job well done, sir.”

Murphy reached out with a solid hand and shook Burt’s.

“Of course some of the booty could belong to corpses,” Mia hissed in Ted’s ear as she passed by him.

He turned around and shook his finger at her.

Chapter Nine

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Mike and Audrey followed Mrs. Brewster into the lobby. They were amazed by the rage their hostess displayed. Sure, they understood it, but the depth of the hatred was unnerving.

“Never in all my years of inn keeping have I had an incident like this,” Mrs. Brewster claimed, shutting the door firmly, but not before Audrey caught sight of fireflies.

Audrey walked towards the windows of the parlor but found the curtains had been closed to the night. To open them to look out could possibly alert Mrs. Brewster that they weren’t just guests to be entertained.

“I’m sure, Amelia, that’s the last we’ll see of those two,” Mike said, trying to calm the woman before she turned on them.

“It’s been such an unsettling few days,” their hostess admitted. “First Mr. Hicks and all his snooping around, and then the Murphys…”

“Mr. Hicks?” Audrey asked. “I don’t believe we’ve met this gentleman yet.”

“He’s been asked to stay in his room. Can’t have him stealing the silver while we sleep now can we?” Mrs. Brewster said crisply.

“Speaking of sleep, I think I’ll head upstairs. Coming, dear?” Audrey asked Mike.

“I’ll follow you up soon. I think I should wait down here a few minutes just to make sure we’ve seen the last of the Murphys.”

This brought a softening of Mrs. Brewster. Audrey was amazed to see the stout battle-axe once again become Amelia. Mike sure had a way with women, alive and dead.

“Okay, but don’t be too long. We have to make an early start,” Audrey said. “Mrs. Brewster, thank you for your hospitality. Would it cause an inconvenience if we left at eight?”

“Oh no, dear, we’re prepared for early risers.”

“Good night,” Audrey said. She walked to the stairs, and as her back was to them, she turned on the mini camera she had concealed in the clutch purse she brought with her. She would continue to film until the battery ran out.

Mike took a seat just inside the front parlor. “Amelia, you wouldn’t have a little tipple around would you?”

“I’m normally a teetotaler, but I do keep some cherry cordial for medicinal purposes. Calms the nerves,” she said blushing.

“I’d love some, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” Mike said, his words as sweet and potent as the aforementioned beverage.

Upstairs, Audrey went about the business of investigating. She took readings of the room she and Mike were assigned. She noticed that the closer she got to the outside walls of the room, the stronger the magnetic field was. She pulled on a flannel gown over the long underwear Mia insisted she bring and went about the masquerade of getting ready for bed. Audrey pulled on a warm housecoat and slid her stocking feet into the warm fuzzy slippers her mother gave her for Christmas. She left their suite and did a sweep of the hall, taking readings. She had taken the precaution of having a hot water bottle to hand if anyone asked why she was walking around. She would claim she didn’t want to bother anyone and was looking for a less than public way down to the kitchen. Inside the pockets of her robe she had a small arsenal of recording devices.

The hall was quiet. Audrey moved in and out of the rooms gathering evidence. She found only one door locked to her. Not having the ability to unlock it quickly, she left that room for later. Instead, she took the back stairs. She wanted to go into the attic but felt explaining why she had gone up instead of down to Mrs. Brewster was beyond her acting abilities. Perhaps, on the way back to her room she would pass by the second floor landing in error…

“I can’t just leave her,” Millie insisted. “She’ll be all alone and…”

“You’re my wife, and I want us to be together. If you loved your job, then I would spend eternity here with you, but it’s plain to see that you hate it here,” Paul said.

“I do hate it here,” Millie admitted. “It was only supposed to be temporary until mother retired or took on a partner.”

“That never happened. She’s too used to depending on you. Look at tonight, it was supposed to be our anniversary celebration, and she asked you to stay the night because she’s got a few guests. It’s time for her to retire or learn to stand on her own.”

“If what you say is true about the Dew Drop Inn being a ghost hotel and we are all dead, then it really doesn’t matter if I stay or not,” Millie said sadly.

“It matters to me!” Mrs. Brewster bellowed from the doorway. “How can you desert me, you ungrateful child. After all the money your father and I spent on educating you.”

“Mother Brewster,” Paul started to say.

“Don’t you Mother Brewster me, you disruptor. Get out!”

“I’m not leaving without Millie,” Paul insisted. “She and I are leaving in the morning after your guests have been fed. You’ll have plenty of time to find someone else to take her place.”

Audrey, who had been listening to the conversation from the back steps, pondered whether Paul remembered why he was there and that he, Millie and her mother were dead. Mia warned Audrey a time or two about how ghosts had no idea of time passing and would repeat history over and over again without knowing it. She didn’t need him to suddenly remember the plan and give up the game. That would put her and Mike in danger. She backed up a few steps and noisily stomped down the last few treads humming a tune. She turned the corner to see all three ghosts staring at her.

“Excuse me, could one of you get me some hot water? The taps in the bathroom aren’t hot enough, and our room is so cold,” she explained sweetly.

Mrs. Brewster dropped her glare and pasted a smile on her face. “Dear, that will be no problem. She walked over and grabbed the bottle and shoved it at Millie. “My daughter will heat the water and bring it up to you shortly. Why don’t you go back to your room? I’ll make sure the fire’s lit.”

“Thank you, that would be wonderful,” Audrey said. “You’re so kind. I’m so glad we stayed.” She retreated up the stairs, making sure her retreating footsteps were loud enough to be heard in the kitchen. She did look behind her and could have sworn that Mrs. Brewster had followed her up a few steps. Fearing she was being followed by the woman, Audrey cancelled her trip to the attic. She instead rushed to her room where she found it empty, and the fire had already been lit.

Millie put the kettle on and waited for it to warm. She watched her mother as she returned from the stairs. She had seemed to have forgotten the previous argument. Instead, she started up a conversation with Paul about the dry weather they had been having. Millie looked out the kitchen window and saw snow. The realization hit her. All the nonsense that Mr. Hicks and Paul were spouting was true. She was stuck in the inn for eternity unless she found a way to escape. Paul had come for her, but the spell of the inn was causing him to lose focus. It was plain to see that she would have to step up and save both of them.

She filled the bottle and put it on a tray with some herbal tea and a few cookies. “I’ll take this up. Mother, you rest and enjoy the rest of the evening. Paul, could you help me with laying the fire?”

Mrs. Brewster was about to tell them that the fire had been set but stopped. If she could encourage Paul to abandon the farm and stay on as a handyman, then Millie would be forced to stay, and she wouldn’t have to look for another woman to fill her shoes. She spied the cherry cordial bottle and remembered she had left that nice Mr. Dupree in the parlor. She put the bottle on a round serving tray with two cordial glasses and left the kitchen.

* * *

“I never quite got a grip on Mrs. Brewster,” Burt said.

Ted refrained from addi

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ng an inappropriate comment.

“One minute she was all nicey-nicey, the next she was Attila’s role model.”

“Mercurial people often don’t realize what they are doing,” Cid mentioned.

“No, this was almost a dual personality thing going on,” Burt argued. He was about to say more when Mia interrupted.

“How was the inn to you? I mean, did the atmosphere change when Mrs. Brewster did?”

“Aside from the fifty yard drop to the ground, no. It still wanted to be hospitable. At one point it seemed as if it wanted to keep me. Does this make any sense?” he asked.

Mia thought for a moment. “It seemed to me the brief time I was there that the building responded to Mrs. Brewster’s needs or she to its. But I never felt threatened until Mr. Chop started bisecting the furniture. Then it became dangerous. The self-preservation mode went into effect. The floor felt like it would digest us if we slipped between the boards.”

“We did want you to go back and talk to the inn itself,” Cid began, “but after hearing your story, I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”

“That’s what you were talking about when I arrived. Talk to the Dew Drop, now that’s novel,” Mia said. She pushed her hand through her hair as she thought.

Ted looked over at his wife and was mesmerized by her. It wasn’t her Nordic blonde hair and soft green eyes that made her so beautiful to him, it was her mind and her heart. He could tell that she was thinking through the situation before speaking. She was examining all the data she had stored in her head on haunted houses, ghosts and ley lines. He caught Cid looking at him looking at his wife and winked. “Quiet, computer is processing.”

“You’re asking me to make an appeal to the inn for what reason?”

“We think that you could convince it to step out of the ley line.”

Mia walked her fingers in the air. “Walk out?”

“Move out. We don’t think it’s trapped,” Cid clarified.

“It stands to reason that if it can leave, why didn’t it?” Burt asked.

“Self-preservation,” Mia said quietly.

“There’s that word again,” Ted said.

“Actually it’s two words hyphenated,” Cid corrected.

“Really, you’re going to get all pedantic right now?” Ted accused.

Mia smacked the console table lightly. “Remind me why the inn has to leave the ley line segment again?”

Ted took her through the scenario of the built up energy and the difficulty of releasing the energy from the ley line without disastrous consequences. “Millie and Mrs. Brewster will cease to be. Them going on to their reward isn’t probable. Mia, there is also the possibility that the destruction of this ley line segment could affect the earth. Minimally, the town of Ashville will be gone. Quite possibly it will start a chain of earthquakes…”

“Stop! I think you’ve made your point. Talk about scary,” Mia complained. She looked over at Murphy a moment. “What do you think? Is it possible to talk to the building?”

“Through Brewster,” Murphy said for all to hear.

“Yeah, I feared that. She’s not exactly a fan of mine right now,” Mia said.

“Your oobed self,” Murphy reminded her.

“But how much different am I?”

“You’re flesh and blood,” Ted reminded her. “Not a persona.”

“Of course, this means you’ll have to wait for the Dew Drop to reappear,” Cid reminded her.

“Hopefully Audrey informed our hostess that they need to leave by eight in the morning, which is ten hours from now,” Mia said absently.

Cid wanted to correct her and tell her that it was nine hours and fifty-three minutes, but he held his tongue.

“Did we ever find out what’s stopping it from moving on to Itasca?” Mia asked as she walked over to the monitor and placed her hand on her seated husband’s shoulder.

“We’re guessing another meteorite,” he said, pulling up the data he had worked on. He turned and looked up at her. “Even if we are able to find it and release it, I worry that it may cause the same kind of difficulty that releasing it from the Ashville end will. What do you think?” Ted asked.

“Not too many oobers travel to northern Minnesota this time of year,” Mia said. “But if we release the dam while the inn is holding here, I’m betting there will be a lot less disruption of the remaining northern segment. I think I could make a case for the inn to travel to Itasca and leave the line there, more than I could convince it to leave it here.”

“Explain it to us first,” Cid coaxed.

“To stay on the line means that it will explode and cease to be. To exit here may put the inn in jeopardy, depending on what it becomes when it leaves. If it is still a building, what happens when it suddenly shows up on someone else’s property? In Itasca, the line exits in the wilderness. And if the inn should be discovered by lost hikers, perhaps it can provide the hospitality it was once so famous for.”

“What if it’s no longer a building?”

“Then it would be energy. Aside from blowing a few feet of snow and cracking some ice, I think it would be best sent in that direction. From what Paul told us, a tiny meteorite flattened several acres of corn when it hit.”

“Most of that could be from the impact, not dissipating energy,” Ted said. “You look like you’ve formed a plan. Care to share it with us?”

Mia took a moment to make sure she was up to following through with the idea that came to mind. She looked at her husband, Cid, Burt and then over to Murphy who this plan would impact the most. “I’m proposing to bilocate and travel with Murphy north of the inn and enter the ley line there. We’ll take it to the end, exit and look around and see what we find there.”

“Aren’t you exhausted?” Ted questioned. “You need to recharge.”

Mia looked down at Ted, her eyes shining with pleasure at his protectiveness. “I do, but I think that I can manage a saunter up the line. Murphy will need some recharging though. Me, I’m going to lie back and have a snooze just like Maggie.” She pointed to the sleeping dog under her lounge chair. “Before I go, Burt, can you show me where the furthermost reported sighting of the inn was? It will give Murph and me an indication of what we may have to deal with.”

Cid walked over to the file box labeled T for Transformers  and pulled out two energon cubes. He activated them one at a time just outside the truck. Murphy pulled all the energy out of the cubes and began to sharpen his axe for the journey.

Ted brought up Burt’s research figures along with a photo of his wall.

Burt looked sheepish and said, “Kind of looks obsessive, doesn’t it?”

“When I saw it, dude, I was thinking serial killer,” Cid admitted. “You stalked the Dew Drop. No wonder the two of you didn’t get along.”

Burt ignored him and looked over the material. “There, the Dew Drop Inn stopped on Bushey Road north of Devils Lake. Ted, pull up a topographical map of the area.”

Ted did as instructed.

“Please overlay the ley line map,” Mia asked. She took a look at the series of lakes the original line went through on its way to Itasca. “Murph, how are you at swimming?”

Murphy tilted his hand back and forth.

“This time of year, doll, he can walk on that water,” Ted said.

Mia let the doll  comment go and stored it for another time. Instead, she said, “I propose going up there, taking it as far as we can and picking up the other segment to take it south. We should be able to pinpoint the disruption within a few yards. There won’t be much time to get this done. Hopefully the inn will stay in place, if not…”

“Smasharoo!” Murphy said.

“He sounds too happy,” Mia observed. “It’s your call, Cid. This is your investigation. I’ll abide by your decision.”

Ted snaked an arm around Mia’s waist, drawing her to him. Pleased as he was that she was supporting Cid’s leadership, he didn’t want her to put herself in any more danger. He knew when they had married that he would face many an anxious moment when they were doing their jobs. Mia herself mentioned how difficult it was when she couldn’t hear his voice in her ear, that she too worried about losing him. But they had a job to do and people to save. The life of superheroes wasn’t for the weak. Batman would have to wait in the bat cave while Wonder Woman flew off with the Axeman.

Cid started to speak. Ted pushed away his fanciful thoughts and concentrated on what he was saying.

“We may not get another chance at this. I worry about Mike and Audrey. What happens if the inn takes off with them in it?” Cid pondered.

“There’s that,” Mia agreed.

“I think if they don’t break cover, the inn will stay put until eight in the morning,” Burt said.

“Are you sure?” Cid asked.

Burt knew that if he was wrong, he was putting his best friend and new girlfriend in danger. But he also knew that they were paranormal investigators at heart. They both knew the risks, although, he was sure they didn’t anticipate smasharoo  when they went in to save him from his stupidity. “My gut says that it’s going to stay. Mia, can you do all this in the time left?”

“Don’t know unless I try,” Mia said. “We can’t get you guys up there in time. I’m sure most of the route is under several feet of snow. Murphy and I will have to see what’s causing the disruption and then improvise a solution. We’ll do our best.”

“I say let’s give it a go,” Cid said.

Mia bent down and kissed her husband goodbye. “I promise to tell you all about it when I get back.”

“Details, remember the details,” Ted said, his eyes watering. “No smasharoo.”

“I’ll put it on my don’t list,” Mia said, pulling on the thermal gloves before getting settled into her cocoon on the lounge chair. She sat down and wiggled into the sleeping bag. She took a look at the men in the truck one last time before closing her eyes.

Ted was about to ask

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Mia what would happen if she couldn’t get back in time to talk to the house, but she had already bilocated.

“You married a gutsy broad,” Burt said.

“I know. She’s lucky to have me,” Ted said and sat down at the console. He brought up her vitals and briefly put his hand on them as if he could connect with her that way.

Burt looked at Cid. “Find me something to do. This waiting is going to make me nuts,” he said.

“Maggie needs a walk…”

Upon hearing her name, Maggie raised her head. Her eyes were alert, and she scrambled out from under Mia.

“Come on, Maggie, Uncle Burt’s going to take you for a walk.”

“Ah, Burt,” Cid said, getting his attention.


“Walk her on the other side of the road. I wouldn’t want the inn to grab you when you weren’t looking.”

Burt shook his head. “I never thought of that. Good thinking, boss.”

Cid smiled and waited until Burt left before sitting down. He looked over at Ted who was avoiding looking at him.

“You’re not mad at me are you?” he asked.

“No. I think you made the right call. It’s just tough. The wait, I mean. I realized that Mia was hell-bent on doing this. I’ve learned to support her efforts, but I still worry,” Ted admitted.

“She’s lucky to have you, dude, and she knows it. Don’t worry, she’ll be back with a story that will curl all of our toes, but she will be back,” Cid said with growing confidence.

“She has just under nine and a half hours to do it in.”

“Nine hours twenty-six minutes and thirty-four seconds,” Cid corrected.

Ted looked over at his pedantic friend, knowing that every second that Mia was gone was being counted by Cid too.

Chapter Ten

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Entering the ley line wasn’t difficult but working against the pull of the inn was. Mia and Murphy held on tight to each other as they trudged the first hundred yards. Mia thought it felt like wading through flood waters. Murphy imagined it was what salmon must be feeling as they worked their way upstream to their spawning spot. After they pulled away from the gravitational pull of the house, the line shot them forward at a comfortable pace. Mia didn’t know what the end of the disrupted line would be like, so she had taken the time before they entered to work out gestures of communication with Murphy. One squeeze meant to stay put; two, jump to the right; three, the left.

Traveling ley lines at night was scary. Unless you had the benefit of the iridescent lights from a city or a moonlit sky, you traveled in darkness, except for the eerie greenish glow that seemed to permeate the energy stream. Mia didn’t have time to think much about why the energy was always green because soon they were experiencing turbulence. Murphy squeezed her arm once. They clung to each other as the line pulled them around and around as if they were looping. As soon as they straightened, Mia felt they were moving southeast instead of northwest. She squeezed Murphy’s arm twice, and they jumped free of the line.

Mia found herself in snow. This was expected. The depth, however, was surprising. She moved upward and looked for Murphy. He stood studying the ley line. He pointed out the loop of energy. They moved past the loop and saw another loop start up, heading northwest through the tall trees.

“The disruption has to be here somewhere,” she said, wading through the deep snow of the small clearing between the line segments. She mentally marked off the area, not having the ability to even move a flake of snow in her bilocated state. She pondered whether or not she could use telekinesis but reasoned now was not the time to experiment.

Murphy found a large piece of bark and began shoveling down to the ground. He smiled, waved at her and started to sink through the frozen ground.

“Show off,” she said. Mia wasn’t jealous, but she envied the things a ghost could do. Physics professors could argue all they wanted about how it was impossible to do what Mia had seen ghosts do with her own eyes. And a ghost powered up like Murphy was amazing. Good thing he was a friendly ghost. She started humming the theme from Casper the Friendly Ghost  to herself, partly in fun, partly to keep her sanity in the dark woods.

She was looking up when an arm pushed out of the snow and grabbed her leg. She didn’t have time to protest as she was pulled under the snow through three feet of soil and tree roots until she landed on top of Murphy in a cave of some kind.

“Damn it to hell, Murph, you could have warned me,” Mia said, getting up.

“Which one?” Murphy asked, tapping his axe on top of a pile of rocks.

Mia thought back to the display of meteorites the Field Museum had assembled over time. “It isn’t going to be pretty. It will be very heavy. She bypassed the large rocks Murphy was looking at and knelt on the ground. Bilocation had is benefits, but it also left her without the ability to feel, taste and smell outside of the ley line. She had to depend on the light Murphy was able to generate in order to navigate around the small cave. She took a moment to study the structure they were in. It was conical in shape. The roots of the trees joined above her, giving a ceiling to what would have been an open pit at one time. She closed her eyes and envisioned meteorites hitting the earth and the craters they left. She opened her eyes and moved to the middle of the western wall of the cave and pointed. “Here, dig here. It shouldn’t be far,” she instructed.

Murphy motioned her away and took a swing of his axe and cut into the hard, frozen ground. Slabs of soil fell away and slid to the ground. He swung again, and the axe almost bisected him as it bounced back with such force. Murphy scrambled to retrieve the axe while Mia examined the wall as the earth fell free. There, resting in what Mia assumed was the core of the former ley line, was a rock that resembled a large slice of burnt pizza. “Such a small thing. Iron, oh crap, no wonder you couldn’t touch it. It’s probably mostly iron and perhaps nickel?” Mia guessed. “Anyways, we’re fucked.”

“Mouth,” Murphy warned Mia. Even underground he didn’t appreciate her use of swear words.

“Sorry, but who the ef is going to hear us down here? Give me a moment to think this through. It’s in the heart of the line. The iron deflected the magnetic flow. But it’s so small?” Mia got up and backed away. “I wish Ted was here. He’s so smart. Wait!” she exclaimed, rushing to the wall. “You could dig a channel on an angle under the rock and take another swipe at it. If we’re lucky, the rock will tumble away from the heart of the line,” Mia presumed. “Do you have enough power to do this?”

He studied the wall and asked, “Which way?”

“That would be up to you, Paul Bunyan. You know trees and how they fall. Perhaps the physics is the same. Just make sure the rock moves at least a few feet in either direction.”

“What happens when it falls?” Murphy asked.

“Good question. I don’t know. I think we should beat feet away from here just to be safe. I have no idea… The line may simply be reconnected. There could be fireworks. Perhaps a small explosion when the normal line tries to blend with the meteorite-enhanced segment. Or it’s quite possible, it’s been too long, and the segments will no longer join. In that case, it’s back to plan A. I’ll have to talk to the house.”

“Stand behind me, Mia.”

She walked over and stood. Murphy shook his head and pushed her back a few feet. “I need room,” he cautioned.

Mia nodded. She watched as Murphy undercut the ground three feet from the meteorite. He worked his way upwards inches at a time until he had made a large angled shaft. “Hold on,” he said as he raised his axe once more.

Mia couldn’t hang on to anything but did appreciate the warning. She watched as the cast iron of the ghostly axe came into contact with the earth just below the meteorite. As the ground began to crumble from the weight of the rock, it began to slide. It got hung up for a brief moment, its smooth angled surface catching on the edge of the shaft. But gravity and weight won out, and it fell into the shaft and slid away from its forty year resting place. Sparks and green light filled the chamber.

Murphy ran to Mia, grabbed her and pushed his way upwards out of the ground and once more into the clearing. The two of them ran backwards and watched as the ends of the line twisted wildly in the air. Mia had seen electric lines do this after being snapped from their moorings during a storm. The lines whipped around. The southeast line flew a few feet over their heads. Mia and Murphy hugged the ground until the dangerous, powered segment had passed over them.

No sooner had they escaped the southeast segment when the northwest part of the line moved quickly towards them. They tried to evade the pull of it, but it was too strong for them. Mia pulled Murphy hard to her as the segment dragged them in. Mia and Murphy tumbled uncontrollably as a rush of energy pushed them northwards with uncontrollable speed.

* * *

Mike thanked his hostess for the cherry cordial and the company. “I fear I must retire. Audrey and I need to make an early start tomorrow. I have important business to attend to in Hillside. Thank you so much for the good company and hospitality,” he said as he climbed the stairs.

There was a momentary shudder that caused Mike to grab for the handrail. “What was that?” he asked.

“I don’t honestly know,” she said. “I haven’t felt anything like that since…”

Mike could see she fought for the memory but gave up after a few moments. “I’ll

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make sure breakfast is served at six am promptly. This will give you time to enjoy Millie’s confections and coffee before you hit the road. Pleasant dreams, Mr. Dupree.”

Mike turned back and continued his climb to the second floor. He walked down the corridor and was greeted by Audrey who was standing wild-eyed in the hall. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Come look outside!” She grabbed him and pulled him into their room and over to the casement window.

Mike peered out into what looked to be a laser light show. Streaks of green filled the air around the inn. Pulses of orange moved along at a slower rate and popped open, their insides oozing down what he could now see as a wall of some kind. The inn shook again.

“What’s happening?” Audrey asked.

“I don’t know. Get dressed and gather all our equipment. I think the inn is losing its ability to stand still. See how the ground is getting closer. Is that wheat? No, it’s snow, and it’s spiking upwards.”

* * *

Burt and Maggie ran to the PEEPs truck. From where they estimated the ley line was, the brief ground tremor folded the snow back as if it was flayed skin. The overhead sky was lit with orange orbs and green lightning.

Cid had jumped out of the truck with a camera and was filming the phenomena. Burt traded the leash for the camera. Cid took Maggie to the safety of the truck before joining Burt. He held an infrared camcorder and scanned the area. The cold blue of the snow was a sharp contrast to the heat of the ballooning ley line over them. The line moved nine and a half inches off the ground according to the sensitive measuring device he held in the other hand. It extended ten feet in the air, except for the area in which they assumed the Dew Drop Inn rested. There it shot fifty, sixty yards into the air. Through the viewer, it looked like a python that must have swallowed a rhino, a very angry rhino by the heat that was coming off the uppermost part of the bulge.

“What’s happening?” Burt asked, not expecting an answer.

“I suppose Mia and Murphy have reconnected the line. Do you realize we are actually filming a ley line? How great is that!” Cid said, losing his composure and jumping up and down.

Burt, who was filled with worry, looked over at the young man briefly and said, “I hope it’s worth it.”

The realization that Mike and Audrey were stuck in that bulge and that Murphy and Mia had not appeared dawned on Cid. He struggled to come up with the right words and failed to say anything but, “Crap.”

* * *

Mia and Murphy tumbled out of the end of the line into another clearing. The sky overhead was clear. The winter sky was full of stars. Mia lay on her back and reached upwards, “Murph, the stars are so close…”

Stephen Murphy, who had landed facedown, didn’t appreciate her star gazing. He struggled to his knees. His axe was gone. He frantically searched for it and found it fifteen feet from him. “Where are we?” he asked, righting himself.

Mia, who was consumed with the night sky, didn’t hear him at first.

“Where the hell are we?” he asked again.

She still didn’t answer.

He walked and stood over her, blocking her view.

“Hello, Murph, whatcha doing?” she asked sweetly.

“Where are we?” he growled.

Mia sat up and looked around. “I suppose if we are at the end of the northern line, we would be in Itasca. This used to be a place of pilgrimage for the ancient peoples. I can see the draw. It’s beautiful.”

Murphy looked around and appreciated the magnificent trees that surrounded the clearing they rested in. He saw the ley line sparking a few feet away. “Time to go,” he said, reaching his hand down to help her up.

Mia shook her head. She knew his energy was too depleted for them to connect outside of the ley line. She got to her feet unassisted. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. You must be exhausted,” she apologized.


“I am too. Part of me doesn’t want to go back. It’s as if part of me is meant to stay here where it’s safe and…”

“You can’t stay here. No body, no Mia.”

“I know that but…”

“Your eggs are scrambled from the trip,” Murphy said, pointing to her head. “You have to go back to your body, Mia. Back to Ted. Back to save Mike and Audrey,” Murphy insisted.

Mia rolled her neck and took one last look around her. “K. Time to save the world. Murphy and Mia go once again into the ley line,” she grumbled. “I’d like to come back here when it’s all over.”

“Come back with Ted. Come back in the summer. This is no place to be right now,” he advised.

Mia, still a bit dazed, took a moment to organize her thoughts. “Sorry, Murph. I don’t know what came over me. Let’s go. This time, let’s walk and surf the line upright.”

“Good plan,” Murph said and waited for Mia to walk into the line and pull him in after her.

* * *

“My wife’s not feeling well. I think we’d better leave now,” Mike explained to Mrs. Brewster who met them at the bottom of the stairs.

“If she’s ill, she should get some sleep. I can’t have you two wandering lost in the night. It isn’t hospitable!” she exclaimed.

“I’m sorry. Please make up our bill. We’d like to leave now,” Mike insisted.

Mrs. Brewster was about to argue the point when Millie and Paul came into the lobby. “Let him leave, Mother,” Millie requested. “You can’t keep them here.”

“We’ve never had a guest leave in the middle of the night. What will people say?”

“Mrs. Dupree is ill. They need to leave to get her some help,” Millie said. “People get ill. To hell with what people will think.”

“Don’t you swear at me, young lady,” Mrs. Brewster said.

The house shuddered again. Audrey lost her footing and stumbled down the last few stairs. “Please, Mrs. Brewster, let us go,” Audrey pleaded, hanging on to the rail. “We’ve had a wonderful stay. The inn is beautiful and so accommodating, but I feel bad and need medical attention,” Audrey said, forcing tears to well in her eyes.

There was a loud banging on the front door. Paul walked over and opened it.

“Not you two!” Mrs. Brewster shouted, seeing Mia and Murphy standing on the porch. “I have no room nor time to deal with you!”

“Mike, Audrey, leave now,” Mia said calmly.

Mrs. Brewster moved to block the door, but Murphy pushed her back, holding his axe in a menacing way.

Mike grabbed Audrey’s hand, ran by the protesting woman and out onto the porch.

He took a moment to look back before heading down the steps and over to the van. He opened the door for Audrey, and she jumped in. He circled the car and got in, watching the porch of the inn for any sign of trouble. He started the van and drove away from the building. He passed the PEEPs truck and pulled off the road a few yards from where Cid and Burt stood filming.

Audrey got out of the van and ran to Burt and hugged him so hard that he had a hard time breathing. He put the camera down, facing the light show, and asked, “Are you alright? I was worried. What are you wearing?” he asked, looking at the long-john-wearing, flannel-gowned, fur-coat-topped redhead.

“Layers,” was all Audrey got out before Burt kissed her. “I missed you. Did you have a good time with your parents?”

“Excuse me, but could all of this wait? We have a bit of a crisis here,” Cid said, backing away. The bulge on the infrared was red hot and shrinking.

Mike ran over and picked up the discarded camera. “Go on, Burt, take care of Audrey. She’s had a time of it.”

“How is it in there?” Cid asked.

“The inn is shuddering, trying to maintain its position, but the ley line is too powerful. Mia and Murphy showed up in the nick of time and got us out of there.” Mike lowered the camera and looked at Cid. “Hey, it just dawned on me that I saw Murphy,” he said.

“You can tell us all about it later. Film,” Cid ordered.

Mike set the camera on his shoulder and refocused as the inn wavered before them.

* * *

“It’s my inn! Get out of my inn!” Mrs. Brewster shouted over and over as Murphy backed her up behind the desk.

“Millie, Paul, we have to leave now. I’m not sure what’s going to happen here. Mrs. Brewster, you too. Come with us. Leave the Dew Drop,” Mia urged.

“I’m not leaving my inn! Get out. You too, Millie. You’re a traitor. You get out of here and take your farmer husband with you.”

“But, Mother, it’s over. You don’t have to stay imprisoned here anymore. Let go of the inn, let it go!” Millie pleaded.

Paul drew his distraught wife away towards the door. “Come home with me, Millie. She won’t be alone. She has the inn to keep her company,” he explained.

Murphy waited until the couple left the porch and were walking out into the night before releasing Mrs. Brewster. He nodded to Mia and walked towards the door. “It’s time.”

“Mrs. Brewster, since you won’t leave, please listen to me. The Dew Drop is going to move on. Whether it stays intact or not is a mystery to me. You could end up in limbo forever if you stay here,” she warned. “Come with us. The inn doesn’t need you anymore. It will travel to the end of the line, and then it will be free. Let it go, come with us,” Mia urged.

“Nonsense. The Dew Drop Inn will always be a place of class and hospitality. We will serve the lost travelers, giving them a safe harbor for the night, and they will leave the next morning with a stomach full of…” Mrs. Brewster stopped speaking. “Who will cook the breakfast?”

“Don’t look at me. I turn perfectly good sausages into doorstops,” Mia admitted. “Please come with us. Your daughter and son-in-law are waiting for you. Your husband waits at the doorway to the great beyond. Come, let the inn go,” Mia asked for the last time.

“No. Now get out of here. I have guests to prepare for,” Mrs. Brewster

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said and pointed to the door. “And take that axe-wielding hooligan with you!”

“You heard her, Murph, let’s go.”

Mia ran out the door with Murphy on her heels. They jumped off the porch, landing on the frozen ground of the field.

Cid caught a flash of heat exiting the shrinking ley line that cooled to a deep blue as it moved towards him. “Murphy?” he asked.


Ted spun around, hearing Murphy’s call sign and looked at Mia who was just opening her eyes.

“Whatcha doing?” she asked.

“Researching tropical holiday destinations,” Ted said as he gathered his wife up in his arms. “Don’t you ever…”

“Move a meteorite without an exit strategy?” she asked.

“Well, yes.”

“Done and done,” she said. “Murph needs some joy juice, Teddy Bear.”

Ted got up and pulled out the T drawer and gathered up two of the battery cubes. He activated them and tossed them out. He had to grab hold of Maggie who thought the cubes were toys to be chased. He pulled her back inside and over to where Mia was struggling to get out of the artic sleeping bag. “What’s the hurry?” he asked.

“First, I want to kiss you long and hard. Then, I’ve got two ghosts to see to. Mrs. Brewster decided not to join us on this side of reality.”

Ted gathered her into his arms and gave her the asked for kiss.

Ted’s kiss cleared the cobwebs from her mind. The strange effect the explosive tumble had on her faded the moment her soul connected with his. She drew strength from the love that surrounded her. “I love you, Ted. You are my home, my life and my love.”

“And your barista,” he said, fighting his emotions. “How about a cup of coffee before you venture out into the cold again?” he asked.

“I’ve got your love to keep me warm. But I’d like one once I make sure Millie and Paul are headed in the right direction.”

“It’ll be waiting for you. Now scoot, I’ve got important readings to download.”

Mia jumped off the truck, letting Maggie follow her. She nodded to Murphy who wanted nothing to do with what she was going to supervise next. “Watch Maggie, will you? She may get a bit excited.”

Murphy nodded nonchalantly. He got to his knees and enjoyed the attention the dog gave him. Evidently he was missed by someone.

Mia walked up behind Cid and Mike. “You see any spirits around here?”

“Lady, you’re asking the wrong people,” Mike said.

“Where are Burt and Audrey?” Mia asked, looking around.

“If my hearing is as good as it was, then they’re in the van making out,” Cid said as he widened the focus of the infrared on the fluctuating line. “You should see this — oh, you can see it.”

“Maybe not in the same way.”

“I see a brilliant green and orange python digesting a meal. You?” he asked.

“I see a big pile of crap being forced down a sewer pipe,” Mia said, eyes dancing.

“Oh gross,” Cid complained.

Mike shook with laughter. He had a hard time keeping focus and had to set the camera down for a moment. “Now look what you did,” he said. “Burt’s going to have a hard time editing my Blair Witch  technique out of the film.”

“Ted should really come out and see this,” Mia said.

“Ted is seeing it,” Cid started to explain, “but he prefers computer language to…”

“Crap moving down a sewer pipe,” she finished.

Chapter Eleven

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Millie and Paul stood watching the Dew Drop Inn as it fought to hold its position with the pull of the ley line. Mia approached them quietly, listening to their conversation.

“I don’t know why she is so stubborn,” Millie ruminated. “It’s not like she particularly likes playing hostess.”

“I don’t understand. You said the inn was her life,” Paul asked.

“It is, and it isn’t. She likes her place in society: the innkeeper, the hostess, the savior of the lost. But in reality, she doesn’t like the guests at all. She puts on a pleasant face, and I think she’s quite good at masking her feelings. It’s my father that loved the inn and the catering to the guests. When he died, she just kept on with the job. I don’t know why. It wasn’t like we needed the money. I think she didn’t know what else to do,” Millie realized.

“Would you like me to try to convince her to leave?” Mia asked.

Millie turned to look at who was speaking. “You look different.”

“This is what I look like when I’m in my own skin,” she explained. “When I came up here to rescue Burt, I was convinced that the Dew Drop Inn was a bad place, but I don’t think it is. It’s more of a determination than an evil that permeates the walls. I think it means to carry on its mission at all costs.”

“To be there for the lost traveler,” Millie said sadly.

“If you want to go back, I’ll go with you,” Paul said, putting his arm around his wife’s shoulders.

“No, I don’t want to spend eternity there. I want to go with you to whatever reward we are due,” Millie said. “When mother is ready, I’ll come back for her and show her the way.”

“So you’re certain?” Mia asked.

“Yes. Yes I am,” Millie said happily.

“Good because it was you that was holding the Dew Drop here. Watch,” Mia urged.

Millie and Paul did just that. The inn’s image wavered a bit and then disappeared into the early morning light. Just a faint glimmer of the snow moving through the ley line could be seen by the ghosts.

Millie put up her hand. “The sun is so bright.”

Mia looked around. The sun hadn’t cleared the trees yet. Millie and Paul were facing north. “That’s not the sun,” Mia explained. “It’s your light. May peace and joy follow you.”

Millie turned back and looked at Mia a moment. “Thank Mr. Hicks for me. Without him, I wouldn’t have understood that I was trapped.”

“I will. He’ll be pleased that he helped you. Now go and be with your loved ones,” Mia said.

Millie took Paul’s hand, and the two walked into a light Mia could not see but could still feel the warmth it cast. She turned away and walked back towards the truck. As she passed Mike and Cid, she mentioned, “Show’s over. Millie and Paul have gone into the light, and the Dew Drop Inn has disappeared with Mrs. Brewster.”

“So that’s it?” Mike asked. “Are we done here?”

Mia stopped and answered, “I think we have done all we can at the moment. I’ll contact Bernard and see if he knows anyone who would be interested in digging up the Ashville meteorite. What do you think, boss?” Mia asked Cid.

“Yes, follow through on that. What about the one you and Murphy moved up north?”

“I’m not sure I could locate it. It’s underground in a clearing. I’m not confident we could find it again,” Mia admitted. “Murph isn’t keen on traveling this particular line again anyway.”

“Well, then let’s pack up and find some place that serves steak and eggs. I promised Burt a steak, and by golly, he’s going to get one,” Cid said.

“Did someone say steak?” Burt asked, approaching the trio of investigators. “I’m starving. I could eat a whole cow.”

“Remember that, next time I complain that I’m hungry. Investigating is hard work,” Mia said.

“Mia, you’re always hungry,” Burt said. “I’m surprised your and Ted’s food budget isn’t astronomical. How can someone so little eat so much?”

Mia scrunched up her face and balled her fists, ready to do battle with Burt. She stopped herself from spouting off the expected barrage of abusive words and took a deep breath. She said instead, “I’m just lucky that way,” and walked off. She greeted Maggie and took time to thank Murphy before jumping in the truck and into the arms of her waiting husband.

* * *

The glade was quiet. The early morning light brought birds from their shelter out into the cool air in search of seeds to fill their stomachs. A doe and her fawn pushed their noses deep in the snow, rooting up some tasty young seedlings to eat. A hawk circled the clearing, looking for a rabbit or a fat mouse for its morning meal.

A tremor caused the snow to shudder, which frightened the deer that ran for the shelter of the trees. The birds abandoned their hunt when sparks appeared at the center of the dell. A roar preceded a mass of lumber and brick that skidded across the snow before settling just inside the edge of the forest. Curious, the woodland creatures looked out from their cover to see what had invaded their space.

Mrs. Brewster walked out of the inn, a broom in hand, and began to sweep away the snow that had accumulated on the porch. She looked out over the cleared expanse of ground and wondered why the inn had decided to stop in such a remote place. Surely no traveler would venture this far into the woods in search of shelter? She shook herself from her pondering and went back to the task at hand. The Dew Drop Inn would be ready, cook or no cook, to cater to the needs of the next guest.

Alexie Aaron

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After traveling the world, Alexie Aaron, a Midwestern native, returned to her roots where she’s been haunting for years. She now lives in a village outside of Chicago with her husband and family.

Her popular Haunted Series  was born from her memories of fleeting shapes rushing around doorways, an heirloom chair that rocked itself, cold feelings of mysterious dread, and warm feelings from the traces of lo

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ved ones long gone.

Alexie also writes the Cin Fin-Lathen Mysteries . These cozies set in England and south Florida combine action and intrigue with a liberal dose of humor.

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