Aaliyah, Brenna, Emma, Jarod, and I slowly walked through the first floor while Jarod told us what he knew of the house’s history. Mila was searching articles and displaying various information on the mirrors we passed until Aaliyah told her that she might scare the ghosts. Jarod didn’t help at all by suggesting that we kill the lighting and use flashlights. Aaliyah then took things a step farther and led us to the “emergency supply closet”, which was through another secret subterranean passage. I was shocked to find the crazy number of provisions neatly arranged on countless metal shelves, but I couldn’t help wondering why someone would bother with such a stash, especially the MREs. Aaliyah claimed that she had ordered the meals ready-to-eat with a five year shelf-life in case of a zombie apocalypse. Sure, there were therianthropes, witches, and even fey, but why would someone make a corpse get up and move, assuming that was even possible? Beyond the smell and risk of disease, there were so many easier ways of defeating enemies than to send a mass of zombies after them. “Lamps with oil? Really, Aaliyah? Why would we need those?” I asked, creating a small light that floated just above my hand.
I heard a gasp and turned to find Brenna extending her hand toward the light. I hadn’t considered that she might not know much about magic, despite what her and her brother could do. “This is safe, but you really shouldn’t interact with magical effects without first knowing what they are.” I told her. Aaliyah piped up and informed me “Not everyone here can use magic like that, boss-man, sir, and fire is WAAAY more suited to ghost hunting.” I smiled, stopped my light spell, and created a small fire above my palm. Then I looked over at Brenna and said, “This one will burn, just to warn you.” She nodded with her gaze locked on the fire. Aaliyah set down the lamp with a huff, and then stated “Okay, boss-man, sir, but it’s your fault if something catches on fire!” Jarod, who was still holding a lamp, asked “That’s not really that much light. Are you sure this is a good idea?” Though much of the past month was covered in a haze, there were things I learned well in my training. I carefully made slightly larger fire spells above each person’s head along with a barrier to hold the heat. I used a variation of a seeking spell to keep the flame above each person’s head, and, as a final touch, I tied all of the flames into an energy harness, so I could feed them all with little focus.
“James… where did you learn all of that?” inquired Emma, who was gaping slightly as she looked at the flames. “What,” I asked, “You know I’ve been training more often than not. I’ve primarily been practicing with fire for when we find Alma.” Emma simply nodded, but she was still gaping and staring. “So what level in the training course is magic,” asked Brenna, perfectly serious. I replied “I suppose I can see if you or Brandon have the knack for it sometime soon, and then ask my secretary” ― I smiled at Aaliyah who looked to be on the verge of saying something. ― “if she can schedule us training times. I, unfortunately, am still a beginner myself, but Ai and Mai might be willing to help you two as well.” Instead of saying what she had on her mind, Aaliyah moved past me, grabbing my arm and pulling. Then she said, “Mila, get the lights! Come on, boss-man, sir. There’s only so much night for us to hunt ghosts!” Following right behind me, Brenna asked “Do you always let girls pull you around however they want?” I felt a bit confused and said, “Well, I do my best to keep Aaliyah entertained when I’m babysitting her, although she usually doesn’t stay up this late even.”
“Yeah. I can’t imagine her dad will be thrilled by her staying up all night chasing ghosts.” claimed Brenna. Emma jumped in, saying, “Actually, Chad would probably be joining us on this in a heartbeat from what Aaliyah’s told me. If you want to hear horror stories in babysitting, you’ll have to ask Alpy after she moves in.” Aaliyah glanced back and grinned when her father was mentioned. Brenna then asked who Alpy was, so I told her “The entire west wing is being rented and renovated by the cousin of Ai and Mai. I have no clue when she’ll be moving here, but I can’t wait to meet her. She’s supposedly even more skilled at magic than Ai or Mai from what they’ve said.” Emma laughed and said, “Don’t let her hear you say ‘supposedly’ when it comes to that.” Genuinely curious, I asked “Why not?” to which she replied “Alpy will gladly demonstrate, and the twins will take it out on you for a month, if you’re lucky.” I vaguely remembered someone saying that Alpy would laugh at the twins for not being able to figure out why my body absorbed residual energy, but I had to wonder at what type of person she was if she so casually would flaunt her abilities.
After wandering the entire first floor by the light of my fires, I found that the sky wasn’t dark merely from nightfall; lightning flashed through the windows as we headed up the stairs. The walls of my home were very well insulated, for I heard neither thunder, rain, nor wind; the only sounds were of my small party’s movements. I never realized how eerie my home could appear without proper lighting, and I wondered at what the original inhabitants were like. Jarod had told us that the house was built in the mid-eighteen hundreds, designed by an unknown architect who mixed baroque architecture with a style I didn’t quite catch. Three different families had lived here before the house sat abandoned for over sixty years. Each family was said to have noticed strange occurrences within the house and surrounding lands which eventually drove them away. The bad reputation of the house and land was so great that the road out front wasn’t even modernized until the past year, when a petition against the “eyesore” state of the street led to action. Even after the street was updated with a modern road and street lights, no one was willing to bid on the house till Aaliyah did in my name.
Three rooms down the first hall I felt a cold breeze pass by me and jumped when Brenna bumped into me. “Did you feel that?” she asked, looking up at me. I nodded. No one claimed there was a window open somewhere. I never even checked if there were windows that could open in this house. “Ghosts!” exclaimed Aaliyah, making Brenna jump again. “More like a phantom breeze,” said Jarod in obvious excitement. “We’re probably just by one of the vents for the AC.” stated Emma, who didn’t look remotely certain about her claim. The air conditioning in the house worked brilliantly, but I never had noticed a draft like that before. Neither Aaliyah nor Jarod seemed to even consider Emma’s idea as they excitedly exchanged possibilities of what else might happen, most of which seemed like they came from horror movies to me. As we journeyed through the next few rooms, nothing more seemed to happen, but Brenna was pressing against me, shivering slightly. The slight pressure of her body made me feel uncomfortable for many reasons, least of all was her being my employee.
Having a girl so close made me think of Regina and of all the things she did to stay by my side. I never knew that I could miss someone so very much, but who would have dreamed that such a healthy, talented girl could die so very young. Graduation was just over a month ago. This was supposed to be a summer of fun before college. If I would have just taken a normal job, Regina and I would probably be hanging out, not that I would have been completely willing. Her advances always made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t help how aware I became when she pressed against me, and I knew I would regret letting things go too far. If Regina hadn’t been so very beautiful, just being friends would have been so much easier for me. I looked over at Emma and remembered kissing her just after the twins left for their brief stay in Japan. Though she was a relatively recent addition to my life, I couldn’t say that I cared for her any less than Regina. How could I date anyone when I felt just as much from one to the next? I sat thinking about how calm Regina had been when she left with Death’s daughter in my last dream.
I yelled in surprise and jumped backward. I hadn’t just been thinking about my lost friend. There was a tall, pale girl at the edge of my light, a light which I had lost with my concentration. Jarod, Emma, and Brenna looked just as startled as I felt when I made a bright globe of light near the ceiling. I quickly grabbed Aaliyah as she started to move forward with a huge grin. I made more globes and moved them around the room, but I didn’t see anything. “You guys saw that, right?” I asked. “That was so cool!” exclaimed Aaliyah in a loud whisper. “Yeah, buddy. Who was she?” inquired Jarod. Brenna and Emma were both hugging my sides as I held Aaliyah in one arm. “Whoever she was, I seemed to have startled her when she startled me.” I stated, still in shock that there was something there. “I really, really want to say that was just an odd reflection in one of the mirrors,” said Emma, “but none of the mirrors in here go to the floor. All I saw were her feet. She was barefoot.” I was already disbelieving my own memory. She seemed so impossibly pale in my mind.
Aaliyah complained when I suggested we have Mila turn the lights back on. She was certain we wouldn’t see the ghost again if the place was too bright. “Mila, were you able to detect anything in the room with us?” I asked. She hadn’t. The next hour passed incredibly slowly as we wandered through more of the second floor. When Brenna screamed, I was sure she had spotted the apparition again. Then Jarod started laughing. He had apparently grabbed her shoulder just to see if he could scare her. Even if she didn’t hit very hard, I was sure Jarod would be feeling it in the morning just from the multitude of blows she gave him as he laughed. Brenna, Emma, and Jarod kept trying to scare one another for the rest of that floor. Having Aaliyah fall asleep, drooling on my shoulder, apparently left me safe in their eyes. She didn’t even see any of the last hall, not that the rest of us found anything more anyways. I told the others I was going to put her to bed, and then asked Mila to turn the lights back on when they were finished. When at last I lay down, I drifted off into a dreamless sleep with hardly any time to think. I had a very long day.