Esmeralda Auricle

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Quill 157 Esmeralda Auricle Image 1 Final Alt“Your alibi checks out, Ms. Cavellero, so you’re free to go for now.  Give us a call if you remember anything.”

“I will.”  She caught her breath.  She almost asked the detective to do the same if the police found anything further in the case, but of course that wasn’t the way it worked.  She wasn’t family.

She hadn’t killed that poor young couple, but she felt responsible for their deaths.  And she knew more people would die if she didn’t help the police.  She hadn’t killed that young couple, and she didn’t know exactly who or what had.

But she knew where he lived.

***

It had been almost a year since she’d been fired from her job as a real estate agent with Tall Pine Realtors.  She hadn’t forgotten about what happened.  Sometimes the memory surfaced, so strongly, that she was compelled to examine it, as if her conscience was trying to tell her, “You didn’t do enough before.  Do something now!”

But it was easy to ignore her own inner voice especially when no harm had come to anyone except herself.  It started the way all such troubles had started for her, her whole life.  She heard something that no one else heard.  Something that no one else could have heard even if there had been anyone else there.  But there hadn’t been.  There had only been her, and the voice.

***

She had told the police, of course.  But she hadn’t told them the whole truth.  They wouldn’t have believed her if she did.  They wouldn’t have filed the police report that she hoped would scare people away from buying the house after she discovered that something sinister had already claimed it.

Perhaps if she’d known that some detectives were open to ideas so out of the box, they were out of the reality in which that box existed, she would have tried to work with such a detective.  Maybe that couple would still be alive.

But she didn’t know how unorthodox the methods and sources that some detectives consulted could be until she was brought in for a second round of questioning.  There was a handsome, dark-haired man in a stylish navy suit having an animated conversation with the lead detective in the murder case.  She wasn’t led to the interrogation room that day as she had been when she was first brought in.  She was led to a waiting room with a couch and a coffee table, on which sat a pitcher of iced water and a glass.

Before the officer who led her into the room shut the door, she heard the voices of the detective and the man in the nice suit.

“—that kind of case, Al. Not all of them are.  I’m still looking into the natural facts.  I’ll call you if anything seems uncanny.”

“But it bears looking into, given the spectral residue your M.E. found on—“

The door shut and as it did, Esmeralda’s gut did a somersault at what she had just heard.

Spectral residue?  Found by the M.E.?  The medical examiner?

Spectral.  It meant “ghostly.”

She resolved to find out who that man was.  Maybe he was someone she could trust with the whole truth.  She thought about it all during her brief follow-up interview.  She almost asked the detective about his colleague in the nice suit, but she didn’t want to seem creepy and suspicious.  She didn’t want to give the police any reason to reconsider her as a suspect.

As it turned out, all her agonizing was for nothing.  The man in the nice suit was still waiting outside after she was done.  He was holding a full cup of coffee like a far too obvious prop while he waited for the detective, who promptly blew him off as he rushed out of the station to follow a lead.

“Excuse me,” Esmeralda said to the back of the nice suit.

The man turned around.  He beamed at her.  “You want to talk to me, don’t you?”  He reached out his arm to a nearby trash can and dropped the coffee cup inside.  “Let’s go get coffee.”

***

“When I was a kid,” Esme said, warming her hands around a dark green ceramic mug, “I used to get earaches…like a lot of kids.  But this one time…”

Alastair, the man in the nice suit, leaned forward, his eyes narrowing just slightly.

“Let me guess,” he said.  “You got a bad infection.  So bad it almost killed you.  Or maybe it did but you came back.  And ever since then, you’ve been able to hear things that other people can’t hear.”

Esme’s eyes widened.  She had never met anyone who had accepted that she could hear what they couldn’t hear, much less anyone who was so matter-of-fact about it.  She’d seen movies where people came back from being resuscitated with psychic or otherworldly powers.  It was always so dramatic.  The stakes were always so high, not just for the person, but for everyone around that person.

For Esme, it had seemed as if she was the one made most miserable by her newfound “power.”

“At first I thought I was imagining things,” she said.  “Then I thought—and I wasn’t the only one—that I was crazy.  I tried recording the things I heard.  I’ve heard that people have some success with that stuff, electronic voice phenomena and all, but I never got anything.”  Esme laughed.  “I must have been the only kid in the world who wanted to go to the dentist, so I could get fillings, after I heard that some people could hear radio stations and stuff through their fillings.  I just wanted there to be a logical explanation.”

Alastair smiled faintly.  He’d given her his card, with the name and address of his agency.  Under his name was the theatrically vague title, “Paranormal Consultant.”

“I saw a movie about an exorcism and was terrified my parents would try to do that,” she said  “They wouldn’t have.  I knew that even back then.  But I was just so out of my mind about it.  So I stopped telling them about the things I heard.  The voices and sounds, sometimes music.  It was hard to fake it, to figure out what to tune out.  I’d always look around for the source of a sound.  I kept my eyes on my teachers in class so I knew if I heard a question, it was coming from them, not from the corner of the classroom.”

“You learned to live with it, adapt.”

Esme nodded.  “There were a few times I tried to figure it out on my own, or with the help of an open-minded friend.  I had a roommate in college who went through all the possibilities with me of what those voices and sounds could be: ghosts, people from another dimension, people from another time, a glitch in the part of my brain that processes sound, some weird kind of allergy.”

“Allergy?”

Esme shrugged.  “I think she meant ‘hypersensitivity.’  She even wrote a paper on me for a class.”

“Have you ever gone in for a brain scan?”

“Yes, I volunteered for a research thing.  But I’ve never had my brain scanned when I’m hearing what other people aren’t hearing.  It’s not exactly predictable.”

Alastair nodded.

She smiled sheepishly, glancing at his business card.  “I even tried to find psychics and people who claimed to have seen ghosts.  I thought, maybe if they see the ghosts and I can hear the ghosts, we would corroborate each other’s abilities.  I knew I wasn’t crazy.  All I wanted was proof that I wasn’t crazy.  Then after a while all I wanted was to stop hearing what I was hearing.  But…I learned to live with it in the same way we all learn to live with sounds we don’t want to hear.  Your upstairs neighbors stomping around in the middle of the night.  Microphone feedback.  The weird noises your fridge makes all day.  I just learned to tune it out.”

“The sounds didn’t scare you anymore.”

Esme shook her head.  “I know it sounds strange. Pun…intended.”

Alastair smiled.  “I can’t exactly imagine it, but we’re capable of getting used to a lot, even horrors.  So why not get used to a minor annoyance?  The sounds weren’t hurting you.”

“They never had before.”

“Before the house?”

She knew he was leading her into sharing the account of what happened, but she didn’t need to be prompted.  Though she had just met him and he might be a charlatan despite his association with a respected detective, she wanted to tell him, to tell someone the whole truth as she knew it, without filtering, without caution.

***

After a few years of being a real estate agent, during which she encountered a whole slew of sound phenomena, from phantom cat mewling to heavy boots across wooden planks, Esme had started weaving the sounds into her sell stories.  The sounds gave her unique insight that other agents didn’t have.  The boots, as example, belonged to an author who once owned the house she was showing.

“He used to pace back and forth up in the attic wearing these heavy boots, clomping so loudly in the middle of the night that his wife could hardly sleep,” she would say even as she was hearing the clomping of the boots herself.

“Before this stone column was restored, a previous owner’s beloved cat used it as her scratching post.”

“He used to stand below her window, like in all the movies about forbidden teenage love, and he’d throw pebbles at her window and whisper far too loudly for her to come out.”

The prospective buyers were usually charmed with such details, especially if they were the type to question the neighbors and confirm Esme’s stories.  After a lifetime of being haunted and hounded by the sounds that only she could hear, then pretending not to hear them, Esme had found a way to make peace with them, even benefit from them.

Then one day, she was given a house to see that was haunted by a sound she’d never quite heard before.  It wasn’t a long-abandoned manse built in a past century.  It wasn’t a property with a scandalous history.  It was a newly built house, a cookie-cutter two-story, in a growing neighborhood.  None of the other houses she had sold on the same block emitted any unusual noises.  She didn’t expect them to.

The voices she had been hearing all her life seemed unaware of her for the most part.  The only time she remembered interacting with any of them was when she was young, before puberty.

The night before she was scheduled to start showing the house, she went in to do a final sweep and lock it up.  She walked around the floors and up and down the stairs, checking for squeaks and groans.  A voice spoke, startling her.  She froze, fearing an intruder.  But her ears were sharp, and after years of training herself, she could tell the difference between the voice of a person and the voice of an apparition.  But that’s what had startled her.  That voice sounded different from any of the others she had heard, weightier.  Yet it was only a voice, no footsteps, no sweep of clothing.  At first, it sounded like muttering and while Esme was puzzled and alert, she was also curious.  She stayed still a few moments and listened.

“Pacing.  I pace the halls of my house.  My own house.  I’m pacing.”  The voice was male and it crackled like that of an old miser.  “My own house.  And none are welcome here.  None at all.  Get out, all trespassers.  I’ll stand no trespass.”

Esme began to creep out.  She didn’t think the voice knew she was there and yet she moved as quietly as she could.

“Yes, leave, trespasser.  I’ll show mercy if you leave now.  I can be merciful.  Don’t test me.  Don’t defile my house.  My own house.”

Esme didn’t feel menace in the voice.  She was certain the voice could not hear her, yet she addressed it anyway as she headed to the front door.  “Sorry, friend, but you didn’t buy this house, and you’ll have to pace around all the folks coming to see it tomorrow.”

“Then I’ll kill them.”

Esme froze.

“I’ll kill you too if you come back.”

She was struck by something from behind, from the side.  She was knocked down so suddenly and felt so shocked, she didn’t cry out.  She couldn’t.  She glanced around.  She was at once afraid that there was another person in the house and hopeful that there was.  She crawled backward to the front door as the muttering continued.  She fumbled for the doorknob and when she got outside, she ran to her car, glancing back, and drove all the way home, errands forgotten.

The next morning, she woke from nightmares, and was nevertheless ready to admit she had imagined her encounter, or at least the last part of it.  She’d heard the voice.  But she must have fallen on her own.  She’d been wearing a higher heel than she was used to.  She must have tripped, fallen over her own feet.  She must have banged her shoulder on something.  It felt tender, her shoulder.  It even throbbed slightly.  She could raise her arm all right, so she hadn’t cracked bone.

She shook her head at herself and resolved to wear more sensible footwear.  Then she undressed for the shower and saw the bruise.  It was black with dark blue streaks spreading out from it.  But what took the breath out of her was the shape of the bruise.  It looked like a hand with long, clinging fingers.

***

She was afraid to go back, and afraid for anyone else to go in.  She spent the morning making calls to her office, to the caterer who was going to bring refreshments, to prospective buyers who had scheduled viewings.  She had learned, in fudging explanations for hearing un-hearable things, that she should mostly stick to the truth.  It was easier to be consistent that way.  She told her boss she had taken a bad spill when locking down the house the previous night, and it was worse than she thought when she checked herself in the morning.  Her boss was understanding.  Esme was a reliable and trustworthy employee after all.

She took a sick day.  She felt sick enough every time she looked at the bruise.  If it had just been a blob, like from a fist or even a weapon, she wouldn’t have felt so disturbed.  The hand.  As if the apparition had marked her, claimed her as he had claimed the house.  She left the house without any purpose as first, just wanting to get away from the bathroom mirror, from the sight of that bruise.  Before she knew where she was going, she ended up at the city archives.

She began to look into the house.  The blueprints were normal.  The company contracted to build it was the same used for other houses on the block.  The employee rosters were similar—no indications of any strange mystical wayfarer passing through and cursing the crossbeams as he left town.  Or any other suspicious characters.  There didn’t seem to be anything special about the land either, at least on public record.  The neighborhood wasn’t built atop a graveyard or the temple of an ancient god.

***

She came up with a plausible story for her boss.  A non-supernatural cause.  She admitted that she lied about falling, that she was attacked.  She didn’t see her assailant, but heard a voice.  She speculated that someone might be squatting in the house and that someone warned her that he would kill her and whomever moved in.  Her boss believed her.  She showed her bruise as proof.  She filed a police report.

But of course, the search of the house turned up nothing.  No fingerprints.  No weapons.  No evidence of squatting.  There were no other reports of prowlers or anything in the neighborhood.   As the days went by and Esme stalled, her boss began to lose patience.  It was one of the last unsold houses left in the neighborhood.   Her boss didn’t want her spreading a story that could have been her imagination or a one-time incident, in case word got around that the growing but still-fragile neighborhood might be dangerous.

Esme tried to pretend that she didn’t have buyers.  She was doing well selling other houses.  She tried to buy time so she could figure something out.  She hadn’t returned to the house, but she had decided the safest thing to do was to destroy the house, so no one could go back in.  She thought about burning it down, but aside from not knowing how to do it, she couldn’t bear the thought of having to go inside.

She dared herself one day to just open the door and peak inside.  She got as far as the front door when she heard the voice inside.  It was frantic, manic now.  Repeating the same words she’d heard before.  But now she heard malice in them.  Or maybe the malice had always been there and she just hadn’t recognized it before.  It didn’t speak to her then.  She didn’t know if it saw her, but she never made it to the front door.  She turned and fled.

***

Her boss didn’t accept that the house couldn’t be sold.  She gave it to another agent, who sold it within the month.  Esme learned about the sale.  She contacted the couple who bought the haunted house and tried to get them to choose another.  She pressed them, told them about her ordeal in exaggerated detail.  They didn’t cave.  Instead, they called her company and complained.

Esme was fired for scaring the couple, almost losing the company the sale, sabotaging her colleague, and starting rumors around the neighborhood.  Some months later, the young couple moved in to the house.  Within a year, they were found dead inside.  The police ruled their deaths as murder.

Esme was a suspect given the way she was fired and that her complaint about the threat to herself was still on file.  But her building had security cameras at all entrances.  She was seen leaving to get a pizza on the night of the murders, and after she returned, she didn’t leave again until the next day when she headed to her job as a file clerk at the city archives.

***

“I don’t ever want to step foot in that house again,” Esme said to the paranormal consultant in the nice suit.  “And I’m not too proud to admit that.  But I…I have to do something.  I can’t let it go.  I feel responsible.  After I was fired, I had started looking into the house again, and trying to figure out who or what that voice was.  But after a while, I stopped.  I went back to my life.  Back to tuning out the sounds.  They didn’t bother me anymore.  I was just glad that none of them were sinister.  It became easy, with my old job and that house out of sight, to put it out of my mind.”

“Until the cops came knocking.”

Esme nodded and took a sip of her lukewarm coffee.

“Some, maybe most, of the voices and sounds you’ve heard have likely been made by things and beings other than ghosts.  Contrary to the popular portrayal of wailing and chains and all, real ghosts aren’t all that noisy.  They find it very difficult to manifest in any form that is detectable by us living, natural beings.”

Esme shook her head.  “Why did I go it alone?  If I’d come to someone like you sooner…”

“Don’t blame yourself for what happened to those poor people.  You did the best you could at the time and the people you did reach out to didn’t believe you.  But it wasn’t their fault either.”

“I agree.  It’s the fault of whoever decided that the existence of such things shouldn’t be common knowledge.  If we’d known what we were up against.  If everyone knew, then I could have reported it the way I tried to report that it was a squatter or a vagabond.  And instead of looking for evidence of squatting, the police would have looked for evidence of an apparition or a goblin or whatever it was.”

“The information is out there.  I’m openly running an agency based on investigating the paranormal and the supernatural.  It’s like anything else in the world.  Some believe.  Some don’t.  And many more just don’t know.”

“I probably wouldn’t believe,” Esme admitted, “if it didn’t hear it with my own ears.”  She shivered unconsciously.

“Most of what you describe sounds like echoes to me,” Alastair said, “sounds of the past that linger still.  I’d need for you to tell me about all the things you’ve heard in your life to suss out what else your ears might be able to pick up.  This thing in the house, I have a few notions of what it might be.  I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”

“You don’t want to scare me, you mean?”

“No, you should be scared.  We all should be.  Whatever is in that house has killed people.  I need to know more about what the victims knew and believed.”

“What does their belief have to do with it?”

“Sometimes belief gives protection.  Sometimes knowledge does.  Sometimes, and this is unfortunate, it is ignorance that protects us.”

Esme frowned in confusion.

“The human imagination is so powerful that if it imagines these things don’t exist, then they can’t be hurt by many of them.”

“That sounds convenient.”

“Notice I said ‘many,’ not all.”

“So, what next?”

“I have a colleague who can see the types of things that I think you can hear.  She might be able to see this ghost or creature that threatened you and killed that couple.  Unfortunately she’s out of the country at the moment, and may be unreachable.  I’ll try.  We’ll have a much better chance of having a go at this thing with both of you coming at it.  That is, if you’d be up for returning to the house.”

Esme hesitated.

“We can check it out first,” Alastair said.  “We can go in and you can wait outside at a far distance in our van.  You can leave any time you want.  Or, you can stay out of it.  We do this kind of thing all the time.  So I’ll just get all the information you’ve gathered so far.  I’ll give you a call once it’s done.”

***

Esme walked toward the black van, keeping the house in her line of sight the whole time.  She felt her heart thumping in her chest.  But she couldn’t have stayed home if there was something she could do, or listen for, at the house.  The side door of the van slid open and a technician hopped out and greeted her.  Behind him, Alastair sat on a chair before a console.  There were headsets.  There was surveillance gear.  There was all manner of technology, and most of it interestingly was marked with ornate symbols and pictographs.  But aside from the three of them, there didn’t seem to be any more people there.  Alastair’s colleague, the one who might be able to see what Esme could only hear, was unavailable.  But Alastair seemed confident that they had the matter at hand.

“Okay, so based on what we know,” he said, “I figure this is one of three things.  It could be a poltergeist, but they usually latch on to people not properties.  And they’re not actually all that evil.  Neither are imps, which is the second possibility.  My money is on it being an apparition known as a ‘mors demens,’ the ‘mad death.’  From the way you described it, the voice sounded unhinged.  We go in and confirm, and once we do, we’ll deal with it.  If it’s not one of these three, then it’s something new and we’ll need to keep an eye on the place while I call in some help to figure it out.”

Esme glanced at the house.  “What if we destroy the house?  Burn it down?  I thought about doing that a year ago.  I chickened out.”

He shook his head again.  “Depending on what he is, he might survive that.  He would just go looking for another house and we wouldn’t know where he is.  Other people might die before we figure it out.  Also, it’s illegal.  We have to keep him here in this house.  Luckily, we have time.  With the murders being recent, the house is undesirable.  No one is moving in here any time soon.  Do you hear anything, by the way?”

Esme shook her head.  She almost wished she did hear the voice, so she would know where he was.

“So, let’s deal with it.”

Esme started.  The voice that had spoken was a woman.  She gestured for Alastair and the technician to be quiet.  Two voices began to speak, intermittently, cut off, fading.  But as it always did, a story emerged as Esme listened.

“…cleansing…sage….”

“My co-worker knows a guy.”

“Should we stay in a hotel?”

“I hate seeing bruises on you, honey.”

“Scratches on my back, my thighs.”

“I didn’t do that to you.”

“I know.”

“Stings, but it’ll heal.”

Esme clapped a hand to her mouth.  It was them.  It was echoes of their voices.  The young couple.  Marlena and…Freddie.  She heard barking.  She’d been hearing it since she arrived and had thought it was a neighbor’s dog.  The police hadn’t found any dogs in the house.

“Foster care?  For dogs?  Why don’t we just commit and get a dog?”

“It’s a big commitment.”

“It’s a dog.  We love dogs.  Let’s rescue all the dogs.”

“I hate you.”

“You did that on purpose.”

“Did we make a mistake?”

“They say ‘a house is a wanting thing.’”

Esme had never known the voices of the apparitions she’d heard in her life.  Had never spoken to them, recognized their voices.  She blinked back tears and tried to catch her breath.  She heard another sound, another voice over the echoes of the young couple.

It came crackling over the radio in the van.

“Boss, are you there?  It’s Beth.”

Alastair explained that he had a few people scouting the neighborhood.  He turned and answered the radio.

“I’m a few blocks down from where you are,” Beth said.  “There’s an ambulance here for an elderly man who just had a heart attack.  The paramedics called the police though.”

“Why?”

There were a few seconds of silence.  “They said they saw some bruising on his chest.”

“Oh my god,” Esme whispered.

“This is our house.”

“This is our street.”

The voices of the couple sounded defiant.  Were they still there?

“Alastair, how would I know if I’m hearing an echo or an actual spirit or ghost?”

He swept her into the van.  “You hear him?  Where?”

Esme shook his head.  “No, I think I hear them, the victims.  The couple he killed.  I heard echoes of their past conversations.  But then I heard them say ‘This is our house.  This is our street.’  It’s like the stuff that, like the stuff their killer was saying.  Are they here?  Are they fighting back?  Is it like…unfinished business?”

Alastair’s eyes widened.  “Oh no.  I think I know what this is.  Territorial.  Violent.  It’s an arduous explanation.  But think of what’s happening as a contagion.  I think you’re right, that couple is still here.  If we don’t stop this contagion, they’re going to become what their killer became.  He was probably harmless too once upon a time.  You were right, Esme, about burning down the house.  But not with fire.”  He turned to the technician.  “We have to get everyone out of this neighborhood now, before any more people die.”  He glanced as Esme.  “You’ll have to get out of here.”

“What are you going to do?”

Alastair pressed a button on his phone and brought it to his ear.  “We’re going to have to use a lot of toxic chemicals, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll have to use something…hot.”

“Hot?  What do you mean?  Hotter than fire?”  Esme turned to the technician as Alastair started speaking to whoever was on the other end of the line.

She heard him say the word “isotopes.”  He hung up.

She glanced between Alastair and the technician.  “Radiation?  Wait, a few minutes ago, we thought this was a ghost.  Now you’re going to nuke the neighborhood?”

Alastair shook his head.  “We’re going to soak the whole house in an acid bath.  There’s something in there.  Something we can’t detect with our instruments.  If we could find it, we wouldn’t have to wreck the house or the neighborhood.”

“This something.  What does it sound like?”

“Nothing.  I told you.  We can’t detect it in any way.  We can’t see it, hear it, smell it, touch it.”

“I hear a crackling sound.  I heard it when I first heard the voice.  I heard it in his voice.  Now I don’t hear him, but I hear the crackling.  I’ve never heard anything like it.  It sounds like, like a root pushing through the earth as it grows.  What is that?”

Alastair’s eyes widened again.  “Can you tell where it’s coming from?”

***

Esme sucked in a breath as she stepped past the threshold of the house.  She didn’t hear any voices in there, but the tearing and cracking sound persisted.

“It can’t hurt us,” Alastair said.  “So long as we’re alive.”

She followed the sound, up the stairs, up into the attic.

“Sounds like groaning now, like a low humming.”  She pointed to a corner of the attic, to nothing.  “There.”

“A rift in the very fabric of reality.”  Alastair stared ahead.  “This is far beyond the scope of my experience to handle.”  He turned to look at Esme.  “I called the people who can, but they might be too late.  These kinds of things tend to get out of hand quicker than you can blink.”

“What do we do?”

“You will leave.  I will stay here and uselessly spray the wall down with bleach while I wait for Steve to bring me a very dangerous artifact that might stop this.  Might.   So when you leave, you’ll want to get as far away from here as possible.”

“How did this happen?  Did I do it?”

“Sometimes things just happen.  You probably didn’t.”

Esme hesitated a few seconds, then she ran down the stairs and into the kitchen.  Below the sink, there were all manner of household chemicals.  Not knowing what she was doing, she grabbed a few bottles and went back up to the attic.

Alastair accepted some of the bottles and directed her to splash them wherever she heard the sounds she was hearing and report to him if anything changed.  But there was no change in that low humming and groaning.

She made a few more trips around the house looking for anything that seemed toxic.  She even brought up some cosmetics.  But it felt as if they were just making up a nonsense response while they waited.

Then finally, Steve radioed Alastair that the package he was awaiting had arrived.  It was delivered by Beth, the field assistant who had told them about the old man who had died with the ghostly bruise on his chest.  Alastair insisted then that Esme leave.

“It’s okay.  I’ve done this before.”  He gave her a reassuring smile.  She could tell he was lying by the sound of his voice.  But she respected his wishes and headed downstairs and out of the house while Alastair and Beth did whatever they were doing with the tiny box that Steve had delivered.  She waited in the van with Steve.  He drove it farther down the street, the quiet street.  There were no voices, not just of the apparitions, but of the people who lived there.  They had all been evacuated.  Esme listened for the couple.  She listened for that miserly voice of the ghost who had killed three people and marked her with a still-fading bruise.  But she heard nothing for hours, save for the crackling and the groaning coming from the house.  At some point, she dozed off.  She woke to the gentle shaking of her shoulder.

It was Steve, the technician.  “Sorry, he wants to know if you still hear anything.”

Esme narrowed her eyes and listened.  She heard Steve’s breathing, the clicking and whirring of the machines and instruments in the van.  And nothing else.

“Alastair, I don’t hear anything,” she said over the radio.  “What did you do?”

“I think we might have done it.  It’ll take better experts than us to confirm.”

“How?”

But her question was ignored.

“We’ll need to stay in here for now, Steve,” Alastair said.  “And we’ll need a clean-up crew.”

Steve made a single call.  Before five minutes had passed, the street was swarming with dark sedans and vans, and men and women in hazard suits, business suits, and lab coats.  Those must have been the experts Alastair had spoken of.

Esme looked at Steve and raised her brows.

“Clean-up crew,” he replied.

***

A few weeks later, Esme cupped her hands around a black mug full of green tea.  She and Alastair were back at the diner where they had first spoken of otherworldly matters.  She had requested the meeting, but wasn’t sure what she had hoped to gain from it.

“You think you might go back into real estate?” Alastair asked, sawing a fork through his cheese omelet.  “Sounds like you were getting good at it.”

“I actually like my job at the city archives.  There are some soothing sounds going on there.  And I come across interesting documents.”

Esme had wanted to return to the house to listen for the voices of the couple, Marlena and Freddie.  But the whole block had been cordoned off as an incident zone by some federal agency.  Alastair assured her that when the house had been dealt with, the two spirits would have moved on.  As for the apparition that had killed them, since that night no one else had died with mysterious hand-shaped bruises on their bodies.

Alastair seemed reluctant to speak plainly about what happened at the house, at least for the time being.  He told her she had a lot to learn before she could understand.  He had referred her to someone who was helping her to learn about all the different kinds of sounds she could hear.  She was learning, but she still didn’t know how to make use of it.  She had sold houses.  She had tried to help the police solve a murder.  But she didn’t know how best she could use her special ability, both for herself and others.

They settled their bill.  Alastair excused himself.  He had an appointment.  He rose and turned to leave.

“Alastair, I would like to do it again, use my ears to help, that is.  If I can be of any help.”

He turned to her.  “That you can.  You and your ears.  I’ll keep in touch.  Will you do likewise?”

“I will.”

 

Copyright © 2016 Nila L. Patel

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