Haunts for Sale Book 1: First Contact
Sloane Osborne desperately needed to find a haunted house.
Exactly two hours and thirty-three minutes to make contact before he would be gone forever.
Pausing on the rickety wooden steps of a house whose chipped and faded paint didn’t quite match with the rest of the houses on the street, she sighed before opening the lock box and retrieving the key. As one of the only paranormal real estate agents in the United States, it was part of her job. Search out haunted homes for people to purchase. An acquisition, of sorts, so they can say they own a haunted house.
What her clients didn’t know was she was the one searching, for one particular ghost.
And tonight was her last chance.
This wasn’t where she would have chosen to see him again. Why couldn’t it have been a romantic bedroom in a classic Cape Cod style house lost in the windswept sands of coastal Maine? Instead, she was in Wisconsin of all places.
And it was hot. Wasn’t Wisconsin supposed to be cold? July did that to the Midwest though.
Even this late at night, sweat dripped from her forehead, soaking her bangs and stinging her eyes. She brushed it away with a tired hand. She was already late. Her plane from Denver delayed because of a storm. Tonight was not a night to be running behind. Still so much to do.
The house didn’t look like much. It was an average two-story gable front with an enclosed front porch and two dormer windows peeking out off the roof. It strongly resembled the rest of the houses crammed onto the street. Only here, unlike the other houses, there were signs of wear and neglect. The gray paint was faded and cracked, the white trim peeling around the front door and windows. No, it wasn’t much, but it was her last hope.
This ordinary house in nowhere Wisconsin was her last chance to make contact with Michael.
She knew it.
Michael Bain had been her fiancé.
As in, they’d been driving to get their marriage license, just weeks before the wedding when a drunk driver smashed into them. She lived, he hadn’t.
He’d always told her to be patient. If things weren’t working, give it a year and a day to come out right. “Try this job, but give it a year and a day. Let’s move here, but just for a year and a day.” It had always driven her crazy, but now it was her mantra.
Just before the squealing tires and crunching metal changed her life forever, he joked with her. Said if they didn’t get their license today, they’d have to postpone the wedding. Call all their friends and family and tell them to save the date for a year and a day.
She hadn’t had time to laugh.
And now she’d been waiting three hundred sixty five days, twenty-one hours and—she paused to glance at her half of the set of matching watches they’d given each other as engagement gifts—thirty-six minutes. Less than three hours left for him to come back and haunt her or to make contact. She smiled to herself. She’d always known he’d take a year and a day to do it. It was just like him to make her wait.
Sloane’s paranormal research partner, Jonah Prescott, thought she needed help—psychiatric help— but he just didn’t agree with her chosen profession. Michael and Jonah may have been best friends, the three of them doing everything together like some kind of bad sitcom, but his death was different for her. She didn’t have any family to fall back on since her parents had died years before. Michael had been her family, best friend, and lover all rolled into one.
She still wore the engagement ring Michael had given her two years ago on Halloween. Couldn’t take it off. That would mean admitting defeat and letting go completely and she wasn’t ready for that. His spirit was out there somewhere. She knew it. He was waiting for her. She just needed to find him.
When Michael died, she was completely destroyed. It took a month for her to stop crying. Jonah had even staged an intervention. All he wanted was for her to get out of bed and take a shower. Instead he motivated her into a decision. She decided to stop waiting for Michael to come to her and to find him instead. She combined her recently acquired real estate license with the knowledge she gained in her paranormal group.
Jonah had informed her no one would pay to verify if a house was haunted before they purchased it. Boy, was he wrong. There were people out there who wanted to own haunted houses. Lots of people. They didn’t always want to live there. One couple had actually called and said they wanted the prestige of being able to say “my summer home in Nantucket Bay, oh, it’s haunted.”
Since she started the website promoting herself as a paranormal real estate agent, she had more hits than she expected, but was waiting for a first sale. She needed to build up a reputation as a polite, respectful agent who just happens to talk to ghosts before she got any real deals where they’d pay for her flight, accommodations, and an enormous commission, of course.
He may not have believed in her but, as a good friend, Jonah helped. Sending her leads whenever he came across them. She usually followed his leads because he was everything she dreamed of being. He was a sensitive, which meant he could see ghosts. He first saw a ghost just after his grandfather passed away. Jonah had come home from the funeral and found Grandpappy sitting on the front porch in his old rocker. He’d been able to see spirits ever since. He was seven at the time.
Sloane was still waiting for that first contact.
But she knew it would happen.
She found this job on her own, without Jonah’s
help. The contract came from a Mr. G.M. Spencer who was interested in purchasing this property as soon as possible, whether the house was haunted or not. It had thrown her when she got the email from the man, completely out of the blue. At first she didn’t want to accept. For some reason, maybe it was how the email was worded, but goose pimples crawled across her skin every time she read the short request for her expertise. But she really hadn’t had a choice. She’d already blown through all of her savings and most of the wedding money she and Michael had saved.
The balance in her account was surprising, even to her, especially since she didn’t do anything fun. She didn’t date. She didn’t go out. In fact, she was what was classically termed as someone with “delayed sleep phase disorder,” which in English meant she was up at night and slept all day. Luckily that was her only vampiric tendency. But in her line of work, sleeping all day and working all night worked out perfectly.
That was one of the reasons she agreed to have him fly her halfway across the country. But mostly, it was timing.
Her year and a day were up so Michael had better be there.
There had been conflicting beliefs on whether or not this house was haunted. From the research Sloane had done, she knew no one was reported to have died in the structure. Up until six months ago, the place had been the residence of the original owner, for over fifty years. An old man who had just moved into a nursing home across town. Sloane had already spoken with the nurses but had yet to meet the man. From what she heard, he kept to himself, was never married, and purchased the house just after a tour in Vietnam.
Not exactly the history she expected in her profession. There was usually a lot more murder and bloodshed with a haunted house.
Dumping her overnight bag and knock-off Coach purse just inside the door, she flipped the switch next to the door. The dim, yellowy lights crackled to life with
an audible hum. At least they worked and she wouldn’t have to set up in the dark.
It didn’t take long to walk through the house. It had a standard setup. The first floor consisted of a kitchen with a breakfast nook, a living area, a tiny den, and a half bath. The walls in every room were the same boring eggshell white. It made Sloane itch for a paintbrush and a splash of color.
The den was empty save for the deep gouges on the worn wood floor where furniture had been removed. The other rooms were sparsely furnished: a small wooden table with two rickety chairs in the breakfast nook, a faded brown corduroy couch straight out of the seventies, and an outdated console television in the living room.
She couldn’t resist stopping to switch on the old TV. Her parents had one when she was little but she hadn’t seen one since they upgraded when she was seven. The set sputtered and a small circle of light appeared in the center of the screen, but no picture appeared. Flipping it off again, she headed upstairs.
There were two bedrooms and a full bath on the second floor. A square wooden door hid the attic entrance. Pulling the attached frayed cord released a set of creaky wooden stairs. She peeked into the attic, but it was empty. Nothing but dust, dirt, and eerie quiet.
Nothing about the house caused her anxiety. She wanted her heart rate to spike or chills down her spine but was disappointed.
The first bedroom wasn’t much, just a desk in a corner and some books on a shelf. The bathroom was cramped with a claw-foot tub and pedestal sink.
The second bedroom had a brass bed, the scrollwork chipped and dented. It was made up in a faded flowered quilt, obviously handmade years before.
Sloane went back out into the hot evening air, pausing on the front porch to gaze out at the night. The moon was stark in the darkness and she stopped a moment to stare at the Cheshire cat smile it painted in the sky.
Turning to her rented Civic parked in the driveway, she was astonished—and admittedly a little put out—to see a man in a dark blue police uniform illuminated by the harsh streetlight peering into her vehicle. Why couldn’t people just leave her alone? She only had one hour and forty minutes until midnight.
Still, it never hurt to be nice.
“Hello, officer. How are you tonight?” She asked as she came down the stairs.
Faded gray eyes and a flash of yellowed, crooked teeth in a cocky grin greeted her as the man turned. He looked to be around fifty with a thinning hairline and a body likely developed through years of drinking instead of time at a gym.
“My apologies, ma’am.” His eyes perused her as he spoke. She knew what he saw. A pale faced twenty- something girl who was thin, but didn’t work out. Long dark hair dropped half way down her back and what she liked to think of as her rock star bangs, stopped above her too big, bright blue eyes. She wasn’t used to being checked out—not anymore, at least since she was a hermit for the last year—but it was obvious he was enjoying the view.
“That’s a lot of stuff you have back there,” he continued.
“It’s equipment.” Refusing to be delayed, she moved past him to unlock the car.
“What kind of equipment?”
She reached around him to pull out the heavy case containing her electromagnetic field, or EMF, detector off the passenger seat.
“You moving in here then?” he asked.
“I’m sorry. I should introduce myself.” Reaching
into the back pocket of her jeans, she pulled out a worn, slightly bent business card. Not very professional but it was all she had. “I’m Sloane Osborne, Paranormal Real Estate Agent.”
“I’m the sheriff in town. Name’s Glen. Live right back there.” He pointed to the house directly behind the one Sloane was investigating. “I was on my way home and I saw you out there on the porch.” He smiled, reaching into the car for another bag. “The badge allows me to be nosey, I guess.”
“Oh, so you’re a neighbor as well as the sheriff?”
“Sure. Do you have a buyer? I’ve always been interested in this house, or at least my wife was. My Lily has been gone awhile now, but her dream was to tear down this house and have a fairy garden in our backyard. A place with lots of butterflies and a fountain and twinkling lights at night. When I saw the house was for sale I thought it was time to make her dream come true whether she was here or not. Guess I missed my chance.”
“That would have been very noble of you.” Sloane sighed. It was obvious the sheriff had really loved his wife. “I’m here working for a potential buyer but have to verify it’s haunted but safe for residents before I can authorize the sale.”
“Really? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.” He stared up at the house as though waiting for an apparition to appear in a window. “My Lily, she always said there was something strange about the house. Gave her the chills just to look at it.”
“Well, that’s what I’m hoping for, Sheriff. If it’s haunted, I get paid so I’m hoping there are lots of ghosts tonight.”
“Call me Glen.” He smiled again, leaning over to pick up the heaviest of her bags. “Now, I’m not one to complain, but don’t you have a partner or something to help you carry all this stuff?”
“I’d love a partner,” she laughed. “I just haven’t found the right person yet. You know, one who works for free.”
“Then the least I can do is help you inside,” he said.
“Well, Glen, if you can help me stack my things on the porch, you’d be a lifesaver. I can get them into the house.”
They made quick work of her load, piling the boxes and bags on the front porch.
She thanked him for his help, then checked her watch as he left. She still had time.
She set up her equipment on the kitchen table, getting everything ready so she could grab it at a moment’s notice.
Leaving the cases against the far wall under the only window in the breakfast nook, she set a static full- spectrum infrared video camera on a tripod and connected it to a separate digital video recorder, which would record and monitor the video on an external monitor. She angled it so she could see the living room, the doorway to the den, and the stairs. She left an audio recorder next to the ugly brown couch on top of the console and dropped a temperature sensor in the center of the room to record any drastic dips toward freezing that might indicate paranormal activity.
Once that equipment was setup, it was time to really get to work. Flipping off the lights, Sloane did another walk through in the dark, using the infrared image on her video recorder as her eyes. She placed temperature sensors and audio recorders throughout the rest of the house. She would have liked another static video camera on the top floor but since she didn’t have funds for a third device, she had to be content with keeping her handheld, along with her reliable K2 meter and SB7 ghost box with her at all times.
The K2 meter lit up in the presence both natural and paranormal sources of electromagnetic energy. If a number of lights came on steady and did not flicker, that usually indicated a natural source like an appliance, wiring, or a microwave. A paranormal source would usually cause two or more of the LED lights to flicker on and off. The more lights the stronger the magnetic field. When it pegged to red it signified a hot source. Her ghost box provided background white noise that spirits could manipulate to form words and sentences.
Hidden in the back of the kitchen pantry, she found a door she hadn’t seen on her first walk through and realized there was a basement she hadn’t searched yet.
She ventured down the stairs. At the bottom of the steps, a thin string caressed her cheek and she pulled the cord. A single light bulb crackled to life, giving dim illumination to the room.
It was at least ten degrees cooler than the rest of the house, lending a welcome chill to the surroundings. Somewhere there was a leak and Sloane could hear the steady drip of water though she couldn’t find the source. Odd but not uncommon.
The floor was a dull gray poured cement and the matching stone cement block walls were bare save for one small framed picture hanging on the far wall. Across from the picture was an incinerator. It looked homemade, constructed of dark red fireplace brick squared until it stood just a bit taller than her. The circular pipe vented from the top of the cube through a metal tube fit into the wall at the base of the foundation.
Out of curiosity, Sloane pulled the door to the incinerator. Even with her experience, she hadn’t seen an incinerator like this before. It opened easily, sliding on well-oiled hinges. Inside was big enough for her to crawl inside. It would have been a tight fit, but possible. A strange thought, but it gave her an idea of how large it was and how much heat it would create. The inside chamber was pristine, as though recently cleaned. She could even see the shiny green finish on the heat- resistant tiling.
A lone mustard yellow recliner lounged under the picture. It was flush against the wall facing the incinerator with a round end table next to it. A small shot glass sat beside a half-full bottle of Hendricks Gin as though someone had set it there after taking a final sip.
The room smelled musty with a crisp charred scent that gave Sloane pause. The incinerator looked too clean to be of use but perhaps the gentleman had taken extremely good care of it. With heating costs, she couldn’t blame him.
She left some motion sensors and an audio monitor on the small table, careful not to touch the glass or the bottle. For a moment, she considered staying in the basement to get some readings, but decided to do another walk through. Glancing at her watch, she headed upstairs. Seventeen minutes until midnight.
Her EMF readings were still between zero to zero point two around the house, spiking around electrical outlets, just like normal. Boring, in fact, and she was glad the coffee in her thermos was still piping hot when she got back to the kitchen.
She walked the house again with her EMF and camera, looking for something—anything—that was different from before.
Not a blip out of place.
Deciding to try another tactic, she returned upstairs to the digital audio recorder and thermometer.
Sadly, another walk through proved just as unsuccessful as the first.
Downstairs, she stopped in the center of the den and checked her watch again before sighing in defeat. It was almost midnight and Michael hadn’t appeared.
What if he didn’t come? What would she do then? Could she continue this kind of work knowing it was all in vain? That she might never see him again no matter what she did.
Would she even want to?
Then she heard it.
Like a thousand hands knocking on the walls all around her.
Sloane’s heart caught in her throat.
She glanced at her thermometer. The readings were the same. Nothing.
What was going on here?
Sloane’s heart threatened to thump out of her chest. The knocking sounds echoed around her and she pivoted to figure out the direction the sound originated.
Had she finally made contact?
And if she had, where was Michael?
When she worked with her friend Jonah in the past, they’d been on excursions where ghosts had been sighted by members of her paranormal team. But if this was the real deal, it’d be the first time for her. According to Jonah, once a person managed to open a door to the spirit world and became a sensitive, that door couldn’t be shut.
Jonah had never told her whether he considered it a curse or a blessing. Maybe she should have asked.
Pounding seemed to come from everywhere. Knock-knock. Knock-knock.
The sound reminded her of desperate people
pounding on the inside of their coffins after being buried alive. Like dozens of people were trying to break through the walls.
The first sliver of fear hit her and she pushed the sensation firmly down into the pit of her stomach. No time to be scared. The rapping grew louder and more violent until her head pounded with the pain of ten migraines. She covered her ears and sank to the floor but not before she managed to switch on the Olympus digital audio recorder stashed in her front pocket. As soon as she hit the record button, the sound, which had started so violently, faded and became faint and rhythmic.
Well that sucked. It was as if the spirits knew she was about to expose them.
But there was no doubt as to what she heard. After so many failures, could she at long last be in a real haunted house? “Hello?” she called. From the small den where she stood, she closed her eyes to concentrate. “Is there someone here who wants to talk to me?”
Or listen to it now by purchasing on audible.com