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Chapter 4: "The Journey"

June 10, 2008|By EVA NIESSNER / Pulse Correspondent

The cop snored. Loudly. Aurora Benjamin opened a window in the back seat with the hopes that the rush of the forests beside the highway would drown out Officer Giovanni Fesano. Icarus Shortfuse was at the wheel, concentrating on the dawn-illuminated road ahead, squinting occasionally through his glasses.

"Are we almost there?" Aurora asked. Her bobbed blond hair was tossed out in messy licks, and she had only woken up ten minutes earlier, so she hadn't yet put in her lavender contacts. It was the first time Icarus had seen their natural color, which was blue, a dark Arctic Ocean-blue.

"Almost."

Twelve hours earlier, the three of them had "borrowed" (or stole, as Aurora bluntly put it) one of the blue-box prototypes that had previously been used to capture Badenne, the ghost whose escape from the Gemini Institute lab prompted this all-night trip to Western Maryland. Icarus said the blue box should work again.

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Icarus further pointed out that as interns of the Gemini Institute, they used Gemini equipment all the time and this was a work-related project. Aurora retorted that if it really was that simple, why did they have to get Fesano to distract Dr. King-Brightsly, the lab director, while the two interns snuck into the high-secutiry CCQ lab and took a blue-box cage?

She had a point.

They turned onto the exit and entered Badenne's old haunt - Hagerstown, a quiet, small city with a few shopping centers, a few nice new suburbs built by the dozen out of white picket fences and huge windows, a few old neighborhoods with packed, tenement-like apartments in random colors, and more open space than Fesano had ever seen in his life. Upon waking, he proceeded to gape at all the lawns and golf courses like a fish just let into the ocean. Born and raised in a concrete jungle, the thought had never occurred to him that cornfields and McDonald's could exist in the same 10-mile stretch.

The house that Badenne haunted was a large, mint green farmhouse on the edge of town. The original white paint showed itself in cracks, reminding Icarus of a lady's stocking starting to run. Faded, yellow POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS tape wound its way around the building.

The three of them got out of the car and stared up at the house. Half a dozen sparrows chirped in a nearby tree. The three New Yorkers were suddenly unsure of what to do next.

"Maybe we should ask some questions," Fesano said finally. "Maybe neighbors knew about what happened four years ago."

"That's good. Maybe " Icarus pointed towards a house about a hundred yards to the left of the haunted one. "Think they know anything?"

Aurora started walking. "It's worth a shot!" she called back to the men as she picked up speed. The other two jogged to catch up.

The porch proved to be cramped. The railing was sturdy but the nails were rusted, with an evil, tetanus-y look about them. Icarus rang the cracked doorbell. The resulting ding-dong was much louder than any of them had expected.

A moment later, a woman in her mid-30s opened the door, a baby boy in the crook of her shoulder and a second child sitting on the floor with his hand in his mouth. She seemed fairly astonished to see the dark-angel Icarus, prim Aurora and tough-guy Fesano all assembled on her porch.

"Oh," she said. "Hello." She glanced out at their car, presumably to see if they had a flat tire.

"Sorry to intrude, ma'am," Icarus told her, "But we're paranormal specialists from New York City and we need to know about the haunting of that house over there."

"I see," the woman said slowly after a moment. Her hair was long, down to her waist, and a dull shade of brown. She sighed. "Come on in. I can tell you about it. But for heaven's sake, you need to be out of here before my husband gets home."

To be continued

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