I was called to the church. So I drove right over. I was met at a side door by a kindly minister with darting eyes and a furrowed brow. "You're from Footprints?" he whispered, looking past my shoulder. I nodded and he urged me to slip inside. I asked if I should take off my shoes, but he didn't seem to hear.
"I'd like to keep this quiet," he said suddenly, turning around and startling me. "I'd rather people not be able to guess which particular church the issue concerns." When I pressed him to describe the "issue" he bade me to follow him to his office where he locked the door behind me before taking a seat. "The thing is," he said, licking his lips nervously, "the thing is, Mr. Brown, there've been some sightings."
"Sightings? Of UFOs?"
"No," he said seriously; "of spirits."
I frowned. "Forgive me, but isn't that rather the point in a church?"
"Not the Holy Spirit, my son. Occult spirits! Dark phantasms from damnation and beyond."
"So this is sort of like a pest control issue?"
He nodded. "But the town won't lift a finger."
I scratched my head with my pencil. "Can I ask whatever gave you the idea that journalists catch ghosts?"
"Television," he replied.
I've watched television too, and thus informed by the work of the finest scientists in the scriptwriting business I decided we should probably use some sort of magnet-based technology to trap the spirit. To that end I enlisted the help of my hi-tech go-to guy, Gary from Barrie, to secure the equipment we would need during our overnight mission at the church. Plus, Gary has an extra sleeping bag.
Churches can be a bit eerie come night – dignified architectural heights become somber pools of shadow, the air of contemplation turns to lonely silence. The stained-glass faces of the saints no longer shine through with sunlight, but rather skulk half-seen, hooded by the dim. The floors creak. The quietest noise echoes.
I unrolled a blueprint, sightings noted in chalk. "We'll start here, in the north transept."
"Then can we make s'mores?" asked Gary. "It's not a real sleepover until you have s'mores, you know."
I rolled my eyes. "We'll see."
Gary's sister's best-friend's night-vision camcorder was perched at the mouth of the transept; it was connected to a laptop PC running a home security application that recorded any instances of motion. I crouched down in the middle of the darkened hall and sprinkled a handful of iron filing on a sheet of bond paper to see if their arrangement would indicate the presence of an unusual magnetic field. Gary leaned over my shoulder, crunching on a Rice Krispies square. "What's that?" he mumbled with his mouth full, then sneezed.
While Gary swept up the iron filings from all over the floor I checked the PC. It had logged two instances of motion in the last hour: the most recent was me walking into the transept with my iron filings, but the prior event was a mystery. The captured video showed only a blur rising briefly in a darkened corner, a few frames of an ill-defined new shadow. It wasn't compelling footage but it still gave me the shivers. "Holy smokes," said Gary, who crossed himself quickly and then started unwrapping another Rice Krispies square. "What is that?"
"Might just be a night-vision artifact," I said unconvincingly. "A glitch in the video."
Gary chewed his square thoughtfully, eyes cow-like in contemplation.
We proceeded through the apse to a narrow vestry where the minister himself had reported the feeling of a "malevolent presence." Surrounded by cabinets of church accoutrements stood a rust-lipped sacrarium pipe leading deep into the Earth; its lid was ill-fitting and we could hear the vaguely ominous motions of air within the long pipe. Gary grabbed my arm. "It's whispering."
I cocked my ear close to the rim, then shook my head. "It's just air pressure changing as the evening cools." I straightened, smirking. "Nothing to worry about."
A tremendous boom sounded from the nave. Eyes wide, Gary and I looked at one another and then dashed out of the vestry. I skidded to a stop in the aisle, flashlight beam frantically roving the pews. I yelped when Gary crashed into me. We both dropped our flashlights, plunging the nave into gloom.
Something rushed past us. Gary squealed. A second later a door slammed shut. My head spun, trying to seek out the direction of the sound's source. I grabbed Gary's arm and pulled him after me, my other arm searching the blackness ahead so I wouldn't hit a wall. What I found, instead, was the door to the basement.
"Oh great, it would have to be the basement," Gary moaned. "It's totally dark down there!"
"It's totally dark in here, Gary."
We moved cautiously down the darkened steps, using the displays from our cellular telephones to light the way. Gary stopped before the last turn, breath hitching in his throat. "Do you hear that?" he hissed.
"No," I lied. My hands shook as I held out my phone, the fuzzy indigo shadows it cast jiggling. I screwed up my courage and pushed ahead, rounding the final corner into the pitch black basement.
There was a sudden flurry of movement. I was knocked off my feet and my phone bounced away, the display cracking loudly. I heard Gary screech again and then found myself beside him as we barreled back up the stairs. We spilled through the door and scampered back to our base camp, hearts pounding. Once there we both cowered behind our sleeping bags for a moment panting and heaving for air. "What was that?" I gasped when I was able. "Did you see anything?"
Gary nodded feebly. "Little…creatures. Some kind of…evil gnomes."
I blinked. "Evil gnomes?"
"They made some kind of hex sign at me," he whispered, curling his index and middle fingers to show me. "Like this, chanting."
I frowned, then did the sign back to him as I recited, "Sharing, sharing, sharing."
Gary's eyes bugged out. "They got inside your head!"
When I'd persuaded him to stop hitting me with a bag of chips I was able to explain that that was the motto of the Beavers, a community-service and outdoorsman's organization for children. Before Gary could even ask I clarified that these were human children, not talking beavers from C.S. Lewis' Narnia. "So the Narnians have just possessed the children, is that it? Does Aslan the talking lion know about this?"
Just then we were ambushed. Cries of, "Die, zombies!" reverberated through the nave as a hoard of children in little brown vests pushed us down and rolled us up into a big net. Flashlights shaped like Iron Man and blue Avatar aliens were pointed in our eyes. "We're not zombies!" I shouted. "I'm a journalist! I work for Footprints!"
"What are you doing here at night?" demanded one of the children, his face lost to the glare of the Lightning McQueen flashlight he held.
I told them we had been hunting ghosts. "Yeah," piped in Gary, "and we would've gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids!"
The Beavers admitted that they, too, were hunting ghosts. Their base was the Scout lodge in the basement of the church where they held their regular meetings. They released Gary and me from the net and apologized for scaring us. Everyone seemed chagrined to find themselves face to face with mere human beings, so we commiserated together over hot s'mores.
There were no further frightening encounters that night, but the time spent wasn't a total loss as we made new friends and Gary earned his videography badge. We swept our crumbs from the nave and took the Beavers' pledge at sunrise.
I reached the minister by telephone. Convinced of something sinister, he was disappointed at our result. "No phantasms at all? Not even any of that goo they leave behind? I've seen all about it on the documentary channel. Ecto-puddings?"
"No ectoplasm," I assured him. "Just marshmallow."
"Well, no matter," he replied, cheerful again. "I'm sure your luck with be better tonight."
||IF YOU HAVE ENJOYED READING THIS STORY, PLEASE CONSIDER LEAVING A SMALL TIP. A PAYPAL ACCOUNT IS NOT REQUIRED. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. YOURS TRULY, C. BROWN.