Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chekhov's Vampire (Act 1 Scene 1)

                I am strolling down a dusty drive way in the high plains of Wyoming. The tall, dry switch grass waves in a warm breeze as the unbearably warm sun sinks below the mountain peaks in the west in a glorious blaze of vibrant purples, reds, yellows and oranges. We had parked the car at the beginning of the drive and proceeded in on foot.
                "Why are we walking?" I asked Laura as we sauntered in.
                "The man we're coming to see is a bit paranoid." She answered and after a pause continued, "Well, he's a lot paranoid actually, believes the end of the world is coming any day now."
                "Okay, so he's afraid of people driving up why?" The two idea's did not connect for me.
                She shrugged, "Because, sometimes it's best not to think to much about what goes on in someone else's head."
                "But he is the world expert on vampires?" I wondered if a paranoid old man would really have the most accurate information.
                "Oh yes," Laura replied, "Or at least the most knowledgeable that will talk to us."
                "Why does he talk to us?"
                "I'm not sure about that either. I think he might think it helps him keep a low profile to be compliant. That the likes of us won't bother him if he aids us every once in a while, but then I don't really try to think like him so I'm not sure. It could all be an elaborate scheme to do something I've never thought of, I wouldn't put much past him." She shrugged.
                "Anything else I should know about him?" I liked to give her this question to bait out any details she might have with held until the right moment.
                She chewed the inside of her check, a habit she had while thinking. "Yeah, if he tries to goad you don't rise to him, and he doesn't see many people so don't expect too much from his conversation."
                Great, I thought a crazy confrontational old man, that's just who I want to spend my Saturday night with. We continued on in silence for another half mile, we passed some cows out to graze and closer to the house came upon a row of solar panels, between those and the windmills in the distance, I figured the place sold excess energy back to the power plant, between the money from that, the cows and the ample vegetable garden I saw the old man probably never had to leave his house.
                "Were's the water?" I asked, realizing he must have water access on the land.
                Laura nodded towards a green place off to the northwest "There I think. I think they share it." At least I thought it was greener, another ranch house was just visible past the water, aglow with electricity the distinct flashing of a television came from the windows facing towards us.
                The house in front of us was small, likely no more than three rooms, we mounted the two decaying front steps and Laura knocked just as the sun slipped behind the mountains. I monitored the stars while we waited, guessing at which was the north star. I was really beginning to wonder if the old man had taken today as his once in a decade day out when the door cracked open.
                I wondered how a man that lived surrounded by so much sunlight could be pale as death. His skin hung loosely at all his joints and his eyes sunk deep into his face.
                "Laura." His eyes slide onto me and held mine, I deemed it unwise to avoid the challenge.
                "Butch. This is David."
                I inclined my head ever so slightly as to be demure, but not break eye contact. I do not think I impressed him however.
                He turned and went inside leaving the door ajar so we could follow, I watched the back of his neck poking out above his T-shirt, counted every vertebra, and saw were his collar bone had once been broken. The room we entered had an old television, a couch and little else, a hot plate and sink marked the kitchen space, the entire area was eerily spotless. We followed the skeleton into the bedroom, he reached down and grabbed the bottom of the bed, some complex had gesture followed and the whole bed swung forward and up revealing a six-inch concrete slab covering a set of stairs into the basement.
                He entered and we continued along. Our little trio walked down the stairs for five or so minutes before the man commented, "I suppose you'll be wanting diner."
                "We ate in town, so we're not over hungry, some coffee or something would be nice though."
                The back of his head nodded and I noticed the wispy bald batches covering his head. We came into a large open concrete bunker, the harsh overhead lights shining down on us, the first room appeared to be a tea room for entertaining guests a long table with ten chairs, at the head of the table lay several papers and the man gestured for us to sit there. We took the places on either side of the head and the man continued through a door to the right of where we entered, peering through the door I observed several computer servers and with a shock realized, this old man might be crazy, but he might be a genius too.
                Laura and I sat at the table reading the file headings on the papers upside down, but not daring to search through them. Everything was detailed with a date, a website or IP address (or both,) at least one location, and several other notes that appeared to pertain to the man's filling system.
                I considered asking questions about our location, but ascertained by Laura's silence that she either did not know or did not desire to speak on the matter. After several minutes of silence, the man returned bearing a wood tray with three steaming cups and a plate of cookies. I accepted a cup and found it to be filled with coffee so thick you could stand a spoon up in it.
                "Thanks," I said anyway resolving to take very tiny sips to appear to drink, but not have to taste the bitter brew.
                The man did not acknowledge me, but sat down and began addressing Laura, "I was beginning to wonder why you're lot hadn't come to me about this bunch." He motioned to the files in front of him.
                "We hadn't thought they were dangerous, rather obvious but nothing criminal until now." She responded.
                "Oh," he raised his eyebrows at this, or gave the impression that he raised his eyebrows, either he had never had much for eyebrows or they had been included in his male pattern baldness part of the reason his face gave the illusion of being a skull was a distinct lack of any human hair on his face.
                "Not that we knew of anyway," Laura lied, ITG had known the group operating in a remote region of New Mexico had criminal contacts if not actions, but had not been able to find appropriate cover placements in the area. "We're not interested in covering up the paranormal, you know that, Butch. Just documenting and dealing with any systemic issues." She continued.
                The man's eyes were hostile and dead as he whispered with an implicit yell, "Of course, I know that."
                The staring contest dragged on a few moments before he added "I don't see why your lot doesn't go public with all the data you have."
                Laura shrugged, "Because half of the people wouldn't believe us at all and the other half would believe us way too well. Sure these things happen, but some people would see them around every corner and down every dark ally, and they're not. The events we chronicle are actually quite rare."
                "Why don't you go public?" I addressed the man for the first time.
                His gaze swung to me and he looked me evenly in the eye throughout his answer, "No benefit. I do this for me, just give the information to you lot so you'll leave me to it. Plus vampires are not exactly what fiction authors would tell you, they're just corpses that forgot to die." He paused and seemed to think about his own words, "I suppose it's like she says, some people wouldn't believe you and some would believe too much."
                I let those comments go. I had been on the job with ITG for about two years now, only about one and a half years as a paranormal investigator. Already I saw that half the cases I was sent to investigate came back as nonsense from someone's over active imagination.
                "Anyway, this group is a bad lot." The man directed his voice at the files as he flipped through some of them. "I'm not sure how they got started; they have a lot of manpower and a large online presence, which of course I can mine for information quite well. I think they've converted the entire town they're holed up in, I wouldn't go in their unannounced anyway."
                "How are they surviving?" I asked I figured the vampires would eventually run themselves out of victims and therefor food.
                "Livestock, it was quite a ranching area. I'm not sure who's doing the daylight work for them, or maybe they're just getting by without it."
                "You don't think they have prisoners or chattels?" Laura inquired.
                He shook his head, "No they don't have the resources to hold a large living population, and I've had no mentions of prisons or anything related. Mind you they probably killed a good many innocent people."
                "What's it for?" Laura asked.
                "The communications suggest the original lot were international smugglers, I'm not sure if they've gone rouge or just expanded the base of operation."
                "Smuggling what?" I wondered.
                "Drugs I assume. A vampire is not using his body cavities so you can shove as much product in their as you want. You don't have to worry about it crossing into the blood and killing them and to get it out you just open one up and sew them back together, but it could have been other things too, diamonds, electronics to embargoed countries, maybe guns for all I know, it's all the same basic idea." He was calm and matter of fact about the situation.
                "Um wouldn't it hurt to get opened back up?" I wondered why even the undead would go along with this idea.
                "Apparently not, if you starve yourself of blood the nerve endings stop functioning and allow for easy recovery. So I've been told anyway, I haven't exactly tried it myself." The man smiled either amused by his statement or by my discomfort at it.
                "Look at it this way," Laura addressed me her hands on the table motioning as she talked. "When vampires drink blood, they become more like the living. The blood restores some bodily function and makes them more human like, but if starved of blood they lose most bodily function and become more corpse like. You starve them to make them corpses, cut them open take out what's inside and sew them back up, then you give a transfusion with synthetic human factors that will trick the body into increasing the rate of regeneration."
                I drew upon my anatomy knowledge learned while training to become a nurse, "Um, that doesn't seem like it would work too well."
                The man cackled shaking his whole skeletal body, "I'm not sure that it does either, but they think it does and maybe that's all that matters. Most vampires will also except payment of hopped up blood transfusions, these guys certainly seem to be doing so." he tapped the files in front of him neatly bringing us back on topic.
                "So who are the live ones they're working with then?" Laura asked.
                "That I'm not actually sure about," the man shook his head. "They only communicate with a minor Mexican drug cartel, but I looked into the cartel, and there's no way they can finance this. Especially not the blood transfusions. I've found where they're coming from by the way, so perhaps one of you medical lot can get in their and poison the supply." He opened a file and slide out a sheet of paper which Laura looked over.
                "Hmph, are you sure this is the blood supply?" She furrowed her brow.
                "Yeah," he nodded.
                "Well, I don't think we'll be going after this location, but thanks for the info." She handed back the sheet a troubled look swept across her face.
                "No problem," the man growled looking pleases. I began to suspect that every piece of information he gave us was intended to illicit a reaction. Maybe he was not really a vampire hunter maybe he was hunting us. I shed this train of thought, not even two years in the field and I was already becoming paranoid.
                "The rest of the files come at a price, now what have you got for me?" The man asked, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms, the sharp points of his elbows jutting out of his T-shirt sleeves.
                "What do you need?" Laura asked, "We can give you more computer parts anytime. Cement if you want it too." She gestured at the room we sat in.
                I knew the negotiations would not involve me and went back to studying the room. It was a perfect square cement box. At least one hundred feet under ground with four identical wooden doors leading out of each wall. After considering for a moment, I was pretty sure of which door I came in from, but realized it would be hard to tell without the table in the middle. This was probably some how a part of the man's doomsday defense, or defense against whatever he thought might be storming his house, apparently not us since he let us in, but I doubted he would have man qualms about shooting Laura and myself if it came down to it.
                "Fine that will do," the man and Laura agreed to their terms and I was glad it had not taken too long.
                He began spinning folders around to face us. "I total their number at 274, but that could change between now and then. Their knowledge of vampiric abilities and life are based solely on Hollywood movies," The man's face stretched into a demented sort of smile and he either wheezed or giggled, "They will be sorely disappointed I'm sure. They spend a lot of time trying to unlock their untapped physical strength and psychic abilities. They're impatient and impulsive," His face turned sour like curdled milk, "But whoever made them knows, and they know they know. Not the drug cartel, but whoever made the first one, they're not even sure of that anymore they seem to be self perpetuating at this point."
                "Tell me what you know about the incident we mentioned," Laura said.
                "Ah yes," He pulled one of the lower folders and nudged it over in front of her, "Apparently the drug cartel doesn't know anything useful about them either. They sent one to assassinate a police chief across the border who had been giving them trouble. He succeeded, but was shot several times, brought to a hospital and declared dead. After being brought down for autopsy, he decided it would be a good idea to get up and walk away. It wasn't he sustained several more life ending injuries, if he held his consciousness to the body after that it was his choice and a poor one, they cremated him after autopsy."
                "Cremations seem off the books for a murder," I put in.
                "Yeah well people are superstitious, and if a dead body gets up and starts walking around you want to try and make sure it's dead the next time, even if you don't know why." Butch glanced side long at me, I was not sure if this was meant to be a comment on them or a warning to me.
                                "Yeah well people are superstitious, and if a dead body gets up and starts walking around you want to try and make sure it's dead the next time, even if you don't know why." Butch glanced side long at me, I was not sure if this was meant to be a comment on them or a warning to me.
                "What do you mean it's his choice to hold onto his body?" I asked.
                "Well it is his choice. Look vampires are just corpses that forgot they should be corpses. But if a vampire wants to remember he's a corpse at any point in time he's free to do so. Any vampire can just lie down and die. If I had sustained multiple fatal gun shoot wounds and was being held in a hostile environment I'd probably do that, but then some people are more afraid of death than others. Anyway I don't think his conscious survived the cremation." The man rattled these things off without emotion, but I pondered the horror of being burned alive.
                "So basically what you're telling me is this lot should be push overs, relatively?" Laura asked.
                The man wobbled his head back and forth, "Basically, assuming you can avoid the cartel lot. They have a good stash of guns from what I gather. But are not on sight much, they kind of just send in orders and goods their likely afraid of the dead ones."
                "Right, which files can I take?" Laura asked shuffling some of the papers together. The two of them ordered the materials, about three-quarters of which were coming back with us.
                "How long did it take you to build all this?" I blurted out, I had been wondering it so long I could not contain the question.
                The man smiled his deathly smile, "I'm still building it. You can never be too prepared for the end."
                "Why are you tracking vampires if you're so concerned with the end of the world?" I had been contemplating this too.
                "Heehee, they'll be the only ones left. I'd like to know my future neighbors."
                Laura pulled all the papers together, "This one?" She pointed at a door.
                The man nodded, "Until the end." He said as a good-bye.
                "Until the end." Laura answered and we exited the bunker, he did not come with us.
                Once outside I pondered aloud to Laura, "How much stuff has he got stashed away down there, I mean, how much food can one man eat?" I motioned to the garden we were walking past.
                Laura faced me with astonishment written on her face, "One man I don't know, but he does." She jabbed a finger back at the house. "But one vampire can't eat any of this," she motioned back at the garden, "Let me give you a piece of advice, if the world ever does end. Stay the hell away from here."

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Eagels (Part 2)

            The next day, David decided not to stray too far afield just in case he did get called in to work. Even though he now had internet, he went back to the bank cafe, to have a chat with Elena and get a good cup of coffee, besides it really was a cool location. He caught up on his log book for ITG over the past couple of days detailing his locations, unfortunately his times were not spot on since he had been too busy to do this every day. He had never really garnered any help from the log book to paranormal detector comparison and did not entirely see the point. After he went home and read a book. The next day passed very much the same.
            The following week crawled by day by day, nursing could be a very rewarding job, however work in the nursing home was one of his more depressing assignments. David keenly felt the battle he was losing to death each day as he cared for his patients. It made him glad for his mother who had died without having to experience this phase of her life, but sad for his grandmother who was just starting to enter it. On Tuesday he ran into Piea and reminded her of their agreement, he gave her his address.
            On Thursday night there was a knock on the door, David opened it, "Hey." He greeted Piea, grabbing his spring coat which held the EE in one of the pockets.
            "Hey, ready to go, I grabbed the key earlier." She added pulling a key ring from her pocket.
            "Cool," he answered and set off with her. They walked up Main Street and cut through the forests by the nursing home into a little wooded park area between the buildings chatting as they went.
            "Why did you want to go on a ghost hunt?" he asked her.
            She shrugged, "Eh, why not? Plus Pheme didn't like the idea so it was fun to tease her."
            "Do you think we'll see any ghosts then?"
            "Of course, I remember going into that building while it still had residents, there was always something moving out of the corner of your eye."
            "How do you mean?"
            "It always looked to me like there was a person dressed in all white walking next to me, but I'd only see flashes of them and if I turned my head to look at them no one would be there."
            "Hm," David mused that did not sound like other ghosts he had experienced but then, "I suppose it's all in how your mind interprets it."
            "I guess," She answered, "What about you?"
            "Me? I like this kind of stuff, every town has their haunted places and ghost stories." David had found answering questions like this as near too honest as possible was the best choice. "I've been to tons of haunted houses over the years."
            Piea snorted, "I hope our little house doesn't disappoint you then."
            "Maybe it will, maybe it won't. It's diffidently the most widely agreed upon haunted house I've ever visited."
            "Eh, how’s that?" Piea frowned in confusion.
            "Most places have a few people that totally think they’re haunted. They saw something there personally or know someone that saw something there, but there are always so people that think it's just made up or for attention. Here though even people I'd think would be skeptics agree the place is haunted."
            Piea laughed, "It's kind of hard to ignore this one."
            They were coming up on the back of the building now and David studied it. It was really a massive structure to have been built a hundred years ago, and in the middle of nowhere no less. The back facade was less elegant then the front, but four stories of uniform red brick was always majestic in its own way. The glass was slowly melting and warping with age giving each window a unique winking characteristic as nearby light reflected off them. Ruselling wind made the panes rattle and old wood creak even at this distance. A noticeable difference from this angle was the ground floor, the doorways now stood at about five feet tall and even Jessi would have had to duck to get in the building. They moved to the center back of the building where newer brick and unsunken doorways made the building look less decrepit.
            "This is the kitchen entrance," Piea motioned the door while taking out the key ring and sorting for the correct one, "It was added on in the 70's so they could put air conditioning in a a bunch of these rooms." She found the key and opened the door.
            David was not given to jitters in such moments, but the hairs on the back of his neck rose all the same and he had the distinct impression of being watched. The feeling was not like a sudden plunging but a greater awareness and he realized he had felt that way the entire walk across the park.
            Moving into the dark inside, Piea pulled out a flash light and switched it on the small beam illuminating a set of wooden stairs descending two feet to a prat of the original building which had sunk bellow the addition. The air temperature dropped about ten degrees and the both shrugged on jackets.
            Piea nodded down the wooden stairs, "That's the butchery and the creamery. The old bakery was over there" she flashed the light off towards their right. "The easiest thing to do is to go upstairs by the elevator."
            The elevator was in between the two doors off the entryway, and David slid over and pressed the call button.  As he did so he noticed the fine layer of dust on everything, there was a bit of a path to the two rooms off the entryway from the most recent activity, but near the elevator was a healthy dusting. The elevator clanked into place and David properly looked upon it for the first time.
            "Um... is it original?" David asked with a sidelong glance at Piea, she looked deeply concerned.
            "I don't know if it's original, but it is really old. Probably the most dangerous part of this trip is this stupid elevator. It caught fire once you know."
            David looked somewhat quizzically at the elevator as he pushed up the wooden gate and proceeded into the cab. He thought he could see scorch marks on the back of the wooden chaise. It began to move, as arthritically as the elder who used to live in the building.
            The second floor was tiled in a style that could only be 70's and stood in contrast to what he had seen of the building so far. They turned left and entered into the kitchen which had evidently been renovated about the same time. A few holes in the counter tops stood out eerily were large machines had been moved out when the building was abandoned.
            "Through here is the dining room," Piea said, "There's some furniture and stuff left all over the building." She gestured broadly to the counters with the flashlight.
            "Hey!" David exclaimed as the light swung wildly. He followed Piea into a room about half the size of the first which had been the kitchen before the expansion. He switched moods on his watched and nearly gasped aloud, the needle was pointing firmly in the red, the largest amount of paranormal energy he had ever seen. Such a large amount of energy suggested multiple strong paranormal events, some of the ghosts here could likely influence the physically world, David wondered if any of them had become violent in their years of seclusion.
            They entered into the dining room a vast room, David could imagine an old school ball being through in this room, several tables and chairs still congregated evidently not valuebale enough to carry off one even had a table cloth. Out of the corner of his eye, David saw a group of gentlemen dressed all in white gathered around a table intent upon a game of some kind, but when he turned to look at them directly nothing was there.
            Glancing at Piea he saw her looking at the same table, she waved at the table, "This is David. He's nurse." She stood a few seconds and when nothing happened she took it as acceptance and moved to the other side of the dining room. The door was locked and she fumbled about looking for the key, after finding it they proceeded into a long hallway. Very few windows shone onto the hallway leaving the flashlight as the only cone of light. David could not see either end of the hallway.
            "This is pretty much the middle of the house." Piea said although she did not whisper her voice both muffled and echoed slightly in the large abandoned building, "We'll walk past the entryway because it's pretty and then head upstairs to the Masonic Lodge room, that's kind of cool too. I'm going to leave this door open so you can find it in case we get separated."
            "I don't know how we'd get separated, you're the one with the light, and I don't plan to wander off." He responded his own voice sounding distant and strange, but left the door open anyway.
            The walked to the right, ahead slightly on the left was the entrance hall to the building. The reverse side of the beautiful front facade, held Greecian style columns and two exqusiatley carved granite lions which looked out the front windows guarding the house. The entire floor was tiled with granite and a huge old chandelier hung from the ceiling.
            "I'm surprised they didn't try to sell any of this." David muttered, "Especially that chandelier."
            "No one could move it," Piea answered, "The lions obviously way a ton, and the chandelier is attached very sturdily somehow, you'd have to demolish the building to get either of them out."
            "Why didn't they demolish the building?" David asked.
            "The basement and attic are full of asbestos." Piea answered, "The management don't like to talk about it, but it's more costly to demolish the building and have it removed safely then to hold it all in place and not let anyone in."
            "So the building will just rot here?" This answer seem strange to David.
            Piea shrugged, "I guess that's the plan."
            They turned to move on and David again thought he saw people dressed in white out of the corner of his eye. Dust motes hung in the air, the hallway was covered in a thread bear carpet and the walls had been redone with inexpensive wood paneling at some point in their history. There were several doors leading off the hallway, most were thrown open showing what had once been the rooms of residents though all were now empty. Behind them at the opposite end of the hall David heard a door slam and jumped about a foot in the air.
            Piea laughed at him and the sound filled the house, strangely the merriment did not seem unnatural or unwanted, "I guess someone's not happy to see us." Piea smiled.
            David was not so happy at the prospect of ghosts that could interact with the physical world as he walked past an open door he saw a man dressed in white, but again when he turned his head to look the man was not there.
            Piea had turned her head simultaneously, "There never old. Did you notice?"
            David shook his head, "I can't really tell, they don't look young though."
            They had stopped in front of the door as Piea regarded it thoughtfully, "No, but most of them were on wheel chairs or in walkers when they lived here, and you never see any. Everyone seems to walk upright and tall, and they remember things and people."
            "How do you know they remember people?" David asked as a trickle of cold ran down his back.
            Piea nodded to the door, "That was Mister Alister's room. He was the last person to live here. He didn't want to move out and anyways he was probably too sick to move safely. Me and two other CNAs basically took care of him for a month after everyone else had been moved, up until he died. He was a nice man, he intended to leave us a lot of money, but of course that's not allowed."
            David raised an eyebrow and followed Piea as she shifted into the room. It was empty, but as they turned to leave David saw the man out of the corner of his eye again, standing by the window and looking down at the steps outside the house which lead to the entryway. They continued down the hallway in the same direction and eventually came to a set of stairs on the right. These stairs were diffidently original to the building, a skinny stretch of wood which David figured would have been impossible to navigate for the elderly residents of the building.
            At the top of the stair case they found themselves in a roughly identical hallway. After about ten yards another hallway opened out on the left and Piea turned down it. A short ramp bought them up into a perfectly square room at the back left corner of the house. Two of the walls had large banks of windows that let in a haunting light from the three quarters moon as it meandered through the heavily dust filled old glass panes illuminating the room quite well with a shifting light. Two rows of wooden pews held an ail between them which lead to a raised dais at the front of the room with an elegantly carved mahogany chair. At the back of the room was a lower dais with a smaller, but similar chair. Several display cases in the room still held Masonic paraphernalia.
            "Why didn't they take any of this?" David asked many of the items were likely both very valuable monetarily and to the current resident population as about a half of the men were members of the Free Masons.
            "They weren't allowed." Piea answered noncommittally she had gone to look out the east facing windows at were the river meandered near the house. She started humming a bit and turned the light off. David's eyes adjusted to the gloom readily and he ascended the dais to look at the carving on the great chair.
            As he passed down the ail he noticed several white clad figures sitting in the rough wooden pews. Strangely many of them seemed to be women in fabulous white dresses, David knew the Free Masons did not allow women, but figured Piea would not know the answer to this mystery and did not ask.
            Arriving at the mahogany chair he traced his fingers through the groves of the carving, seeing the smooth, polished old wood and sharp edges through his hands. David sat in the chair and rubbed his palms on two patches of well-worn wood, as a hundred years of men had done before him. He raised his eyes and the swirl of dust in the distorted moon light made the room seem like a dream world or an underwater ship wreck.
            The air felt thick with tension and David was sure he could see the ghostly figures in the pews through the hazy light. Piea's soft singing drifted through the room and his eyes locked onto hers, an ancient goddess stood before him, tall and statuesque, with her long dark hair wrapped around her face and shoulders, her entrancing eyes looking through his body into the essence of his being.
            Piea began to sing in earnest. David did not know what song she sang or even what language it was in, but it was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard. He forgot his surroundings and sat in rapture as her voice drifted around him and filled the long empty house. As she sang Piea advanced down the ail slowly towards him moving on the natural air currents that permeated the room. The hints of white figures all turned to watch her, the image enraptured David, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
            At the foot of the dais she stopped and the song entered into an upbeat portion, as the tempo increased David's blood warmed and rose. Piea was less than two feet away from him and he greatly desired to reach out and touch her, to kiss her, but his body felt heavy and locked in place. He gave in to the heaviness and watched with a growing passion as her song climaxed and ended.
            After the last notes floated away he spoke, "Don't stop." His voice sounded harsh and unworthy after hers.
            She smiled up at him innocently, "Maybe another time, but we should start heading back it's after one in the morning."
            David shook himself mentally, and flexed his limbs which felt like he had slept a night outside on the concrete, he had no idea so much time had passed and looked down at his watch to confirm.
            "Alright, but promise to sing to me again."
            Her smile changed, and David perceived it as sinister for just a moment, "I promise," she answered, "you can hear my sister sometime too if you'd like."
            He beamed up at her.
            They retraced their steps to leave the house, as they did so David came to a peace and understanding with the place. He realized the collection of the departed here were not a violent lot, these were men and women who chose to linger on in the remembrance of lives well lived, not out of spite for those who remained alive. With this knowledge it became a strangely peaceful place, and any tension or animosity he had held for it washed away.
            Upon returning to the dining room, David saw two people sitting at the table still covered by a table cloth. Over the past hours he had become accustomed to seeing these figures out of the corner of his eye and thought nothing of it until he looked straight at them. With a jolt that shattered the peace of the place he perceived one of them was alive, it was Ella. The old woman sat demurely at the table in her white nightgown, her hands placed in front of her on the table as if she clasped the hand of her partner.
            Piea put an arm out to stop him and they stood across the room, Ella acted as if she had not noticed them, she was saying something David could not quite hear to the apparition seated next to her. The form of the being had disappeared when David's eyes fell upon it, but the table cloth was distinctly swept away as if someone sat in the chair. Ella finished her conversation with the other and stood, she acted as if she received a kiss on the forehead before turning and addressing them.
            "I'm ready to go back now, the nurses will be missing me."
            They moved across the floor towards her and David saw lucidness in her eyes that had never been there before.
            "Thank you, for letting me come here." Ella said to Piea, and David looked at her quizzically.
            "I didn't, you must have followed us out somehow." Piea answered.
            "Oh yes," Ella perked up as if she remembered something, and then pulled out a key and handed it to Piea.
            "I suppose this is the master key?" Piea asked.
            Ella nodded, "Are you ready to go?"
            The three of them proceeded out of the building.

            Ella spook no more after that. Even when David pressed her to see what she had been doing there and who the ghost she had visited was. They took her back to the Memory Ward, were the night nurse was shocked to learn of Ella's newest escape.
            As they walked home Piea answered one of his earlier questions, "It was her husband, Alfred. He died about ten years ago, I am sure it was him."
            "Huh, you don't think that was what she meant all this time? Home to Alfred?" David wondered aloud.
            "I think it was." Piea mused, "She used to live there and that's where he died. I wonder what she'll do now that she's found him."
            David shrugged, he wished Piea a good night shortly after that and went home to bed himself.
            The next morning he wrote a detailed account of his time in the old Home, focusing on the encounter with Ella, he glossed over Piea's singing. He felt that incident was more personal then business. He sent the account in immediately detailing his new view on the paranormal situation. The building likely had one of the largest known persistent hauntings, his evolving view on how the paranormal energy spread ubiquitously through the town was the close connection several of the dead had with current residents. The Home was a fixture of the place and almost everyone knew someone that had died there, they kept these memories and brought the dead into their lives in a way that had not been observed anywhere else.
            It was midafternoon by the time David finished with his account, he did chores and ran errands for the rest of the day. In the past when David had written up such an account it had filled him with a purpose and pride, but this evening he felt empty and hallow. Would anyone remember him when he died? Would his memory be carried on by anyone? The depths of his mortality and the consequences of his itinerate lifestyle sunk in on him like a rock in quicksand.
            Saturday was his second day off in a row, and he could barely take it. He had the nice long chat he had promised himself he would have with Mrs Donaldson, went to the coffee shop and chatted with Elena, and finally went to the bar to talk with Pheme, who was not working that day. He meet some more townies and chatted with them instead before heading home to bed.

            David arrived at work on the Memory Ward the next day to find Ella dead,hHer small form still and peaceful upon the mattress. The cause of death would be a massive stroke in her sleep, but David knew in his soul that being with her husband’s ghost was the real cause. He added it to his report to IGT, but did not believe it represented an increase in hostility on the part of the residents of the old Home, but rather Ella's desire to go back to her husband.
            The week passed slowly after that. The bright spot was his growing relationship with Piea, they ate lunch, or perhaps breakfast for her he was not sure, every day. Others joined them and they talked of trivial thing, and which residents were their favorites. David had never really delighted in the death that was his job, but after the encounter with Ella, he began to realize that the people around him were not walking corpses, but walking histories, walking life stories to be recorded.
            The next week, the third week of his assignment, his relationship with Piea grew more, she began coming to his apartment each night and singing to him. He enjoyed her company more than anything else and it quickly developed into the happiest and most peaceful time in his life.
            The fourth week, IGT sent him an email, things in his reports did not add up. His paranormal readings were off the charts, especially at times when he said he was at home, he needed to investigate the situation further. He responded that he disagreed, the incident with Ella had marked him forever and he now brought her ghost home with him each night, he promised to look into the paranormal of the area further, but did not. The case was closed in his mind.
            More weeks slipped away and he came to dread leaving little Dousman behind. He planned with the retirement home to be hired full time and stay on; he planned with Piea and Pheme to move into their house, and tendered his resignation from ITG. He began to listen to the resident's life stories and to copy them down; he planned to publish them as a collection of autobiographies, a snap shot of a time gone by.
            The first week in July brought an unexpected visitor. She came to the bar one night, he was the only customer and Pheme was working, or rather chatting with him. Her name was Laura, she was another agent of ITG one of the best and the oldest.
            "Hello David, Pheme." She said as she took the bar stool next to him.
            "Hello." David answered puzzled by her appearance; she had mentored him for a time when he had first joined ITG.
            "I thought ITG had accepted my resignation." He said after the silence stretched on he noticed Pheme did not move to get Laura a drink.
            "We have, but I'd like to ask you a few personal questions about your departure and to speak with your friend here, I hope neither of you minds."
            Pheme kept a poker face an avoidance of showing emotion David had never observed in her.
            "I don't mind anyway." He told her.
            "Good I'll start with you then. Why have you decided to stay?" She asked levelly.
            "Because I'm happy here." David knew that most travelers found a place they were happy and stayed, this was not unusual.
            "When you joined paranormal investigations, what reason did you give for participating?" Laura asked without the slightest hesitation. This was odd although David had told Pheme and Piea about his extra job at ITG Laura had no way of knowing that and normal this was kept in the strictest confidence, he glanced at Pheme who betrayed nothing.
            "In my mother's memory I wanted to do some good in the world, I've always wanted to act in a way my mother would be proud."
            Laura nodded, "In your file at ITG this is the reason given. Would it surprise you to know however, that under this is written, 'Real reason, to find his mother.'"
            "No, I suppose they're about the same thing really."
            "Do you feel like you have finished what you set out to do?" Laura inquired.
            "Oh yes," David smiled, "I'm writing a book about the lives of the residents here, many of the women are," he flattered he turned and looked Laura in the eyes deep dark brown eyes that looked right through him. "Many of the women are just like my mother; it helps me to write they're stories." After a moment he added, "And some of the men are like my father, it helps me to absolve them of their sins."
            "Are you happy here?" The question was bland, not an accusal not an encouragement, just a question.
            "Yes, happier than I've ever been."
            Laura turned to Pheme who stared her down coldly. Laura maintained solid eye contact and the silence stretched on.
            "He can always check out." Pheme stated clearly into the silence, the statement seemed odd to David.
            "Ah, but he can never leave." Laura answered, and Pheme inclined her head as if agreeing.
            David felt confused and left out of the conversation, "I don't want to leave" he said to break the silence sounding like a small child whining after a long day playing at the park.
            The two women did not move for what seemed ages before finally Laura spoke, "Say hi to your sister Thelxiepeia for me, Aglaopheme."
            "I will," Pheme answered. As Laura spun on her bar stole and left.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting an Undergraduate Research Position

In science, especially life sciences, research experience is often a must for graduating seniors. It will help you get a job if you decide to go into industry, look good on resumes for medical, dental, etc school, and is required when applying to graduate school. As a result, labs like mine, receive offers of servitude from hopeful undergraduates year round. Unfortunately for the undergrads, most of the grad students and post-docs, who would be directly mentoring you in the lab, aren't open to having minions. In my first three years of graduate school, I have taken on two undergraduate researchers, and had one high school student volunteer, and eight other undergraduates have worked in the lab for other mentors. Both of my undergraduates have done quite well, one will be attending grad school herself in the fall, and the other works as a lab tech for a biotechnology firm. Here are some of the things I look for and my considerations when taking on a new student.

1. Honesty:
I really cannot stress this one enough. When I first talk to a student some of my questions are: "How much time would you like to spend in lab?" "When do you have classes?" "What are your career goals?" "What do you want to accomplish here?" Now there's no perfect answer to any of these, but if you tell me you plan to work 30 hours a week in lab, and I see your class schedule will not allow that, then we are getting off on the wrong foot. The main reason for me asking these questions is not to see if you are a super science all-star that's willing to dedicate every extra second to the lab, it is to come up with a reasonable research project for you. If you want to go to med school, the only reason you're doing this is to get a good letter of recommendation, and you plan to maybe work twice a week for six hours, then I want to know that. I have plenty of jobs to give you that will only take up six hours a week, it won't be the most glamours side of science, but will both be happier then if spend our first encounter trying to sell me on how great you are and prove yourself wrong every week.

2. Communication:
This ties in to number 1. I don't expect you to have questions about everything, but if you do have a question, ask! A big stumbling block I've seen others encounter is not being able to ask for help, and believe me you will get no points for this and the problem will not magically disappear on its own.

3. Realistic Expectations and Dealing with Failure:
Everybody starts off doing lab work and thinks they will cure cancer like tomorrow (I did too.) And everybody is wrong. Real science is not like the movies, it's a long hard slog of repetitive procedures that often don't work. A major reason graduate students and post-docs do not want to take on an undergraduate is that after experiencing this sensation once or for several months the undergraduate just stops showing up to lab and now I've just wasted all the time I invested in training that person. Now there's frequently no way that you can show me you have this ability before hand, but I will be understand if it's hard and going back to numbers 1 and 2, let me know and we can try and improve your situation together.

4. Not Grades:
The professor who's lab you want to join will always ask you for your grades, but I do not care. Earning an A in a course does not mean you know how to do things in the lab.

And really that's about it. Starting a career in science can be extremely difficult, but also rewarding, I hope you find a place that you fit and that fits you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Eagles (Part 1)

            David was a paranormal investigator, and also a nurse. An employee of ITG Nursing, an above the board firm which placed nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists in temporary positions at hospitals, hospices, and retirement homes throughout the United States. Below the board, the CEO and owner of the company, James Montegue, was obsessed with chasing demons, angels, dragons, ghosts, and every other mythical and magical creature known to man. The profession combination was undeniable strange, but it worked weirdly well, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with Fritos stuck in. Nursing was the PB&J, the staple of the business. Everywhere needed nurses, they were welcomed into communities and easily integrated with a bevy of new co-workers, but really the sandwich was just a transportation vehicle for the Fritos, and similarly, the paranormal nurses of ITG used this inside track to group acceptance to allow them time to sniff around and verify or debunk the mythical madness of the world.
            This was how David came to find himself cruising down I-94 in southeastern Wisconsin one day in late May. He took the exit for Oconomowoc/Dousman and headed south towards Dousman. Passing the edges of Oconomowoc in the process, with a tract of new strip males and housing developments finally spying a huge state of the art hospital surrounded by cornfields with three cars in the parking lot, before the view opened into picturesque Wisconsin countryside, he smiled. The rolling green hills dotted with trees, barns, and the occasional house was very relaxing. Such places made David great full to God for providing the simple wonders of the natural world and allowing man to live in harmony with it.
Several miles later David pulled up to a stop light where he first glimpsed the Three Pillars Mosanic Home, his new workplace. The campus consisted of three major buildings, the first rose out of an empty field across from him, a massive four story, brick building which housed more residents then the nearby town had people. After turning right brought a view of the second building, nestled into a bend of the Bark River, lay the original house built on the property. Almost 100 years old the Home had served as a care facility for invalid Masons it's entire existence, and was of course, rumored to be haunted. It was still a dominating old brick building; although smaller than the more modern building on the corner (the newer building had clearly tried to emulate the majesty of the original Masonic Home, and failed.) The facade of the old building was decorated with columns, graceful arches, and complex stone work, however a patina and cracked bricks suggested the building was sliding into disrepair.
            Taking the next left, David looked down the main street of Dousman. On his right sat a bank with a display that flashed 2:06 and 65 alternately, probably over ten years old, it was still the newest looking building in town. The left gave way to the final building of the Three Pillars complex, a sprawling one story building made of nondescript brick it looked like it was trying to hide in the woods and be forgotten. A few houses which were slowly returning to the woods around them, a gas station, post office, and he turned right onto a side street with a small two story apartment building on the left. Turning in, parking, going up to apartment 101, a middle aged woman a little on the plump side with blond hair and blue eyes walked up and extended her hand.
            "Hiya, you must be David." She cheeped.
            "Yes," He replied accepting her hand, "Are you Mrs. Donaldson?"
            "Yep, and I've got your keys right here, you're 210," she extended a manila envelope "It's also got the lease and copy of your recites showing you paid for the whole three months upfront, some contact information for the utility, cable, and phone companies so you can get that all set up for yourself."
            "Well thank you," he smiled and turned to go up to apartment 210, but his new landlady bubbled on.
            "I didn't have any furnished places, not to many temporary folks around here, but there's a couple places back in Oconomowoc where you can buy stuff, that's where the newest grocery store is too. Not much in town I'm afraid, oh but if you want the internet this afternoon there's a coffee place with wifi, built in the old bank down on Main Street there. They have food too, but so does the place next door if you want a big meal go there, and the bars there too if you'd rather a beer." she paused for a breath as she grinned up at him.
            "Thanks for the information," he blurted quickly to forestall a description of all ten businesses in town, "I do have to check in with work in an hour though to tell them I'm here and get everything straightened out."
            "Oh, oh, of course you do, I'll show you up to your apartment then."
            "Ah, no need, I can see it from here, I doubt I'll get lost."
            "Alright then, I'll see you around I'm sure." Mrs. Donaldson shuffled off and her dejected look forced David to promise himself he'd have a nice long chat with her one day to make up for it.
            Not today, he did not have to check in with the Retirement Home about his nursing position until Monday, but he did have to check in with his real employer for final details on his paranormal assignment and experience told him if he did not purchase a bed today he would not bother getting one in the next three months. Returning to his rental car, David grab a large suitcase, duffel bag, and swung his backpack over his shoulder the sum total of his worldly possessions fit inside these three containers.
            Up the stairs in apartment 210, he opened the door on room with enough light not to be depressing, but drab enough to be soul-suckingly dull. David dropped his things in a corner on the left, just inside the door. They took up about one twentieth of the space a wave of loneliness broke upon him as a materialistic eighteen year old version of himself regarded his abysmal assets. In his mind, David placed this feeling aside, besides after working for ITG six years he had plenty of money in the bank, if little reason to spend it on personal effects.
            David flipped over the large suitcase and opened it, one half held the bulk of his clothing while the other contained the tools of his paranormal investigation. He lifted the hard plastic cover to revel a set of electronic instruments protected by foam pockets molded to fit their shape. For his part, David had absolutely no idea how any of them worked, he happy that they did work like a car or a computer he was not interested in what made them tick only in what they could do for him, and if they broke there was someone at ITG that fixed them like a mechanic or computer technician.
            Taking out one of the wireless paranormal sensors, David set it on the windowsill on the far side of the living room. A small black box with a circular display which gradated from black, to purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red to indicate the level of paranormal activity in the area. Currently it was settled in purple, an indication that something was happening, possibly within a mile or so. David switched the mode on his watch, which was equipped with a miniature version of the detector, and confirmed the reading. The detectors constantly sent information back to ITG were it was analyzed to identify any patterns that David might miss, as it was synced up with his own detailed personal account of his daily activities.
            Going back to the suitcase, he lifted out another item, the EE, essentially a very powerful Taser it emitted a bright electrical spark. Although he had never discharged his personally, he had seen one of the investigators he had shadowed early in his career effectively utilize an EE against a not so friendly ghost. Apparently, the electrical discharge disrupted incorporeal beings more than physical attacks could and most insubstantial beings would not be able to recover from the damage. Pocketing it, he swung his back pack on and left the apartment walking back toward Main Street.
            Unfortunately, there was no side walk, snow melt and April rains had made the shoulder of the road the color and consistence of chocolate ice cream. The newly acquired mud on his shoes and jeans made him happy to see the town had a laundry mate. After that was a restaurant, some houses, a place that possible sold car parts or was an auto mechanic (there was a stack of car parts and rundown vehicles in the front yard anyway,) a liqueur store, a converted home which sold the odd combination of knitting supplies, knick-knacks, and ice cream, two other converted homes which were now a bar and a restaurant, a barber shop, and the coffee shop which had once been a bank. After that was a park, the fire station, a bicycle parts and convince store (conveniently located next to a bike trail,) a closed hardware store, and an elementary school converted to a bank, but now sat abandoned. That was it, the town of Dousman with its whole 1,500 people.
            David crossed the street and went into the coffee shop, even though it was the middle of a fine May afternoon, no other costumers appeared. He went up to the counter where a woman well into her forties sat reading a book.
            "Hello," he said.
            "Oh hi," she acknowledged looking up from her book, "What can I get for you?"
            "Um a coffee I guess," he studied the menu some, "And which of the sandwiches is good?"
            "I like the ham."
            "I'll have that then, what's your wifi password by the way?" She rang up his order, he paid, sat at a table by the big open windows that lined the front of the shop, and took out his computer to begin work.
            After logging in, he opened up his company email address and scanned the twenty emails he received that day while traveling. Picking the one from Amy McAdams, one of the paranormal data crunchers with whom he commonly communicated:

Hey Dave,
In your dropbox under Dousman, WI is all the info we have on the case. We picked up the local on a driving recon mission last year, so I don't have to many details for you. The driver picked up yellow and red activity levels  around the area. The presence of a hundred year old nursing home is likely to blame, the original Masonic Home building is on several haunted house registries, but I've included other reportedly haunted locations in your reading materials. While we expect this to be a straightforward documentation study as no violent occurrences linked to the paranormal have been reported, the unusually high detection levels warrant caution, as other entities might use this area to mask their presence.
Good Luck,
Amy McAdams

            The cafe employee brought over his food, "Where is everybody?" he asked with a smile.
            "Eh, you know," she shrugged, "not to many people here abouts. Most people prefer to drive up to the freeway and get their coffee at a chain, although I can't see why."
            "Me neither, you can't beat this location." motioning around the room, which still retained distinctive aspects of a restored bank, "Are you the owner?"
            "I am actually, Elena." she added her hand to her introduction.
            "Nice to meet you Elena, I'm David. I just moved into the apartments over their I'm a temporary nurse at the nursing home, you'll probably be seeing a lot of me."
            "I hope so," Elena replied.
            Returning to his computer screen as Elena returned to her book, David skimmed the rest of his emails (most were not very important anyway,) and glanced over the documents in the dropbox Amy had set up for him. Unhelpful, he decided, he would have to look around himself and try to ask people discreetly about anything other worldly. Switching modes on his watch, he raised an eyebrow at the needle now in the green region, a sizable jump from back at his apartment. This reminded him to record his daily log which he did, on Sunday he sent his weekly logs back to ITG were Amy would compare them with his activities and note any paranormal spikes he missed.
            The unimportant chores of setting up a new life in a new place followed, and before long David planned out his afternoon of creating his new life in Dousman. Before leaving the cafe he logged into his social media accounts. Having traveled the country for the last six years he had acquired a vast number of acquantences who's lives and socio-political views did not particularly interest him, but felt obligated to keep track of. In addition to being invited to several parties in other states, he had three friend requests, one from an old co-worker, one from a pretty, little, brunette he had meet at his last going away party, and one from his dad.
            After accepting the other two, he paused over his dad. David Williams Senior, how had he found him? In retrospect over the last year, several of his cousins and finally his aunt had connected with him online; likely she had suggested the move to his father. David thought about it, looked to check that his address was not current, phone number was hidden, had no email listed, and almost accepted, before he closed the computer, packed up and walked out of the coffee shop.
            "Good bye" Elena called after him.
            He waved over his shoulder.

            11:50 the new alarm clock flashed when David woke up Saturday morning, he immediately found his watch to confirm he had over slept so badly. After getting dressed and realizing he still had no food and no internet (until the cable company came to install the router on Tuesday,) he decided to head back to the local cafe.
            The place was packed to the gills, compared to yesterday which meant although patrons filtered in and out throughout the day, the number sitting at tables stayed consistently about ten.
            "Hello, I'll have a coffee and try the turkey today," he said to Elena.
            "Welcome back, I'll have that right out for you," she replied. When giving him change his eye was drawn to an engagement ring with a sizable diamond above her wedding band. He concluded that her wealthy husband helped keep the business a float, as he doubted, even with the weekend surge, if she would break even by the end of the month.
            David spent the afternoon being unproductive, he chatted with friends in different places, played a flash game, and looked at funny pictures of cute animals. Around 5 he figured he ought to go to the grocery store and after returning to his apartment decided to check out the town bar. He was not a big fan of drinking or drunkenness, but realized the social importance of making new friends over a beer, especially in a small town were he seemed to stick out like a sore thumb.
            The bar was a converted ranch style house, what had once been bedrooms held overflow seating, darts, and pinball, the dinning room had a pool table, the living room had the bar and bar stools, and the bathrooms were bathrooms. David wondered when the last time anyone had sat in the overflow seating was, currently the bar had seven customers, four people playing pool, and three men at the bar ranging in age from twenty to seventy judging by their exact height, hair, and eye color matches, they were likely three generations of the same family. Upon further inspection they all had various degrees of the same receding hair line and beer belly, cementing his assessment of their genetic lineage. Each had a beer glass sitting in front of them and the middle aged man appeared to be quite drunk already. David wondered if he would go home and beat his wife.
            He took a seat about half way down the bar from the three men and noticed the bartender for the first time. She was a beautiful woman, with long dark hair that curled gently down her back, and an angular face with only the barest hints of enhancing make-up. Her dark eyes fixed on him.
            "Hello, what would you like?" She smiled at him and it warmed his heart and froze his mind.
            "Miller is on special, two for one until nine."
            "Sounds good," he blurted coming back to himself.
            "I haven't seen you before," she commented as she got his beer and a free drink token floating around the bar like a bird.
            "Yeah, I just moved here, I'm working as a temp nurse at the Home. Thanks."
            She nodded and grinned up at him, "I see. I'm Pheme, my sister works over at the Home too as a CNA, Piea is her name, she looks just like me, I'm sure you've met her."
            David's heart did a little flip at the idea of Pheme's twin, "Actually I just got here yesterday, I don't start until Monday, but I'll be sure to say hi when I meet her." He took a sip of his beer trying not to seem too interested in her, "Those are interesting names, by the way."
            She tilted her head and gave him an indifferent sort of look like she had heard that a million times before, "Yeah, they’re from old Greek names or words I guess."
            "Oh are you Greek then," he figured her coloring might be Mediterranean.
            "Eh," she shrugged and waved a dismissive hand, "somewhere along the line." Pheme leaned in towards him and he found himself leaning with her, she whispered, "Don't mind the townies. They're harmless, just curious about strangers and don't know how to show it." Her eyes darted to the men at the end of the bar.
            David followed her eyes as Pheme relaxed against the bar. The three men had shifted their attention from the baseball game playing on the TV behind the bar to David. They were all clearly staring, but trying to act like they were not staring, like a shy five year old that just met someone new.
            "Hi," The drunkest pipped, "I'm Jerry and this is my dad Al and my son Jeffery." He grinned stupidly and stuck out his hand even though David was too far away to take it.
            "Nice to meet you all," David responded with a wave.
            "Couldn't help, but over hearing," The man beamed, "So you're new in town? Well we've been living here for years and years so if you've got any questions just ask."
            "That's very kind of you." David doubted he would ask.
            "So were are you from originally?" He asked.
            "Near St Louis."
            "Oh, St Louis, I have a cousin down in Litchfeild. Which I guess isn't too near St Louis, but still nearer then here anyways."
            "Where'd you go to college," the son put in.
            "U Penn."
            "Oh, yeah," The son said wide-eyed, "I always wanted to go to Philly, that's where it is right? I went over here to UW-Whitewater for a semester, but it wasn't for me."
            "Haha," his grandfather laughed a big belly laugh, "Jeffery here almost didn't graduate high school, it's a wonder he made it into college at all."
            "Yeah, I wasn't very good at school." The son said looking down at his beer.
            "Well, it's not for everyone. I didn't do too well myself until high school, never saw much of a point to it all." David replied hoping to be sympathetic.
            "Where else did you live?" the drunk man asked, "I mean, you don't look to be straight out of college."
            " I've been a traveler for a long time now so I've been all over, I lived in Decater, Ann-Arbor," David tick them all off on his fingers, where had he lived all these years? "Dayton, outside DC, Albany, I just came from Pasadena and Los Angeles."
            "Oh Los Angeles, maybe you meet some music folks there. Pheme here," he gestured to the lounging bartender, "Sings like an angle, you could introduce her."
            "Now Jerry, don't go starting that. I'm perfectly happy here, and so is my sister." Pheme put in before walking over to talk to a new customer, but as she certainly wasn't out of ear shot, there was not a place in the whole bar out of earshot, the drunk man kept going.
            "Bah, a couple of pretty and talented girls like you could never really be happy in a place like this." He said, "you got to get out, and see the big city like David here."
            David smiled, "Well I don't know anybody in the music industry, but I'd love to hear you sing sometime."
            "I can't do that" Pheme stated baldly, "wouldn't be specially if I sang for every guy that walked in the bar."
            David could not tell if this was sarcasm or not, but decided to laugh like it was, the other men snorted a bit too. "Y'all promised to answer any questions I had about town."
            "Oh yeah," the grandfather jumped in, "I been here long as anyone can answer whatever you'd like."
            "I can't help but notice things seem a little empty, and the bank and hardware store went out of business."
            The grandfather nodded sadly, "Yep, everything's moving up by the freeway. Ain't no point in having a business like that down here. It weren't never a big town, but it's still died a little bit in the last ten years."
            "Not really," put in the son, "eventually the suburbs and stuff will make it down here, then it will be even bigger."
            "But not the same," the grandfather countered, "and no less dead." His eyes flashed anger and sadness at the same time, and David realized he may have unwittingly stumbled on a touch subject.
            "I guess only time will tell. What about the old building?" he changed the subject and jerked his thumb back over his shoulder to where he thought the Home was.
            "Eh, what old building? You mean the Home?" Asked the drunk man.
            "Of course he does." Said his son, "Been there forever."
            "Yeah it's closed now, no one lives there, I expect you know." The drunk man added.
            "Well no one living." the grandfather laughed, having quickly recovered his good humor.
            "That's what I mean, it's supposed to be like a famous haunted building right, do they do tours or anything?" David asked.
            "Not really famous so much as local landmark." Pheme contributed, she had returned to lounging directly in front of David.
            "No, no one goes in." The son answered, "It's structurally unsound, you can tell if you look at the foundations or try to go in on the ground floor, the built it on a swamp and it's sinking in."
            "Haha," the old man laughed, "A hundred years ago there weren't nothing here, and they just had to go build on the swamp. I guess the land surveyor wasn't too bright."
            "It is haunted though." Said the son, "I used to work there in the kitchen in high school, if any place in the world is haunted it's that place. Not unfriendly mind you, but a hundred years of old people dying there will make anyplace haunted. I was there by myself at a few times, once the chairs in the dining room started moving themselves around and another time I kept seeing people dressed in white out of the corner of my eye, but when I looked no one was there. I also got locked in the walk in cooler once, but I think that was a joke by one of my friends not a ghost."
            "If you're interested in haunted houses, there's an old haunted farm house down by Palmyra. Farmer got up dead a hundred years ago and just kept going on with his life, I think they give tours." The drunk man said.
            "I guess I am a little interested, I think I read about that one online too. But anyway, what else is interesting around here?" David asked.
            "Oh, not a whole lot. Drinking." Quipped the son. "They got Battleship behind the bar. Do you play pool or darts or anything."
            "Not well." Answered David, it was a good thing he would only be here for three months or he might start going stir crazy. Although he had lived in other out of the way places and survived.
            A few other people came in and out of the bar, and David decided to call it quits around eleven. The townies lacked useful information and once his two beers were done he felt unwanted. He had noticed Pheme watching him as he left, so the night wasn't completely wasted.
            Sunday passed in monotony. David attended church, ate, filed his logs for ITG, bought a used car off craigslist, returned the rental, and did a drive around starting with the town as the epicenter and moving out about five miles in either direction. The paranormal detector he had placed in his car confirmed the previous assay of the area.
            Strong paranormal active centered in the town itself. The signature was a bit strange, he realized, while the Masonic Home's spike was sizable, it seemed to maintain it's influence over the entire five miles to the south, but tapered off after two miles in the other directions. The large spike at the Masonic Home implied a multiple haunting event, not unexpected, however the two mile radius for paranormal energy was text book, the five mile drag was not. David first considered that another location might be haunted, but a second multiple haunting within five miles should have been a part of local lore. The signature dragged down Main Street so he alternatively hypothesized that the haunting at the Masonic Home was sufficiently large that the ghosts had just decided to inhabit the entire town. His final explanation, which he came up with much later, was that a more sentient paranormal creature had taken up residence nearby and relied on the reputation of the Home to disguise any unworldly disturbances they might cause. This last one seemed a bit fantastical to him, as he had never heard of such a thing occurring, but he also did not know of any locations with two major hauntings within five miles of each other either.
            This left the literal ghost town hypothesis which he currently favored. In part because it was the most elegant explanation for the paranormal readings, and because of the sentiments he had heard about the town from the townies at the bar last night. An economically dying town actually inhabited by a hundred years’ worth of ghosts seemed solid.

            On Monday morning, David woke up at 8 am to prepare for his first day at work. He walked to the offices of the nursing home, and signed in with the receptionist. The first day, as expected, was an orientation. Two other new hires attended, one would be a janitor and the other a part time driver who would take the more independent residents to the grocery store and shopping mall in the company bus on the weekends. The woman who would be the driver looked nearly old enough to be in the home herself, but was either too energetic or too poor to be permenately retired.
            The material presented in the first half of the day was all the hulaballu such institution were required to teach employees to avoid getting their pants sued off should a problem ever arise. About HIPPA and whatnot, David had heard it all before at previous jobs.
            For the second part of the day he began shadowing a very nice middle aged nurse named Mary who worked in the altmerze ward. While he had been hired strictly to work in the 24-hours skilled nursing facility he quickly realized they anticipated him picking up one or two shifts a week in the memory ward. At another post David had worked exclusively in such a ward and was not particularly happy to be doing it again. Aged and broken bodies he could handle, but broken minds were an altogether different kind of disturbing. However, he doubted his contract stipulated against this and saw little reason to complain.
            There were only eight residents six women and two men in the ward, all with advanced stages of neural degeneration. The ward's supplies were completely self-contained and the wing was locked off from the rest of the building most of the time. Mary started by showing him were the physical tools of the trade, medicine, bed linen, etc. were located, before introducing him to every patient and taking him through their daily routines and medication. There were two RNs and two CNAs on this wing at all times and he met a few of them as well.
            Both of the men and one of the women were in such advanced stages of Alzheimer’s as to be basically catatonic. Most of the day they sat in wheel chairs and drooled, while the nurses feed them food and life prolonging medications periodically. David reminded himself to include provisions in a living will which would make it impossible for him to end up in such a state. Two of the women, who were both relatively young, had restraints holding them to the chair, and one despite the restraints and being in a locked ward had an ankle bracelet that would light up and flash if she left the building unattended. Runners. David inspected the restraints and saw they were tight enough to be prohibitive, but not damaging.
            He gestured to the woman with the ankle bracelet, "Has she gotten out?"
            Mary nodded, "Twice already this year, once last month. I have no idea how she does it, and neither does anyone else so don't ask. Last time she managed to nab a master key off one of the nurses and we still don't know where she hid it. She doesn't talk much anymore either, except to ask people to take her home, poor thing. I think both her daughter and son would be willing, but she doesn't recognize them anymore and would likely just try and run from them too."
            A further two women were sisters, one 100 the other 104, and knew the nursing staff and could hold a semblance of a conversation, but apparently no longer recognized their relatives who seldom visited. The last women was one of the tiniest people David had seen, she was likely under five foot as an adult and had shrunk as an elderly woman both in height and weight.
            "It was a curse from God." She said fervently when he was introduced to her.
            "What was ma'am?" he asked gently.
            "The syphilis, it had to have been an act of God," she insisted looking him in the eye with an intensity he had never seen. "I was faithful to my husband. I was struck down for my unworthiness, don't make the same mistake as me." She reached out and clasped his hand before her eyes slipped out of focus and she lapsed back into her chair.
            "Um," David glanced sideways at Mary, they retreated a safe distance before she answered his implicate question.
            "She was diagnosed a year ago with latent late neurosyphilis. He died over twenty years ago now, at the time it was ruled something else, but a doctor in the family got the records and looked at his symptoms it was almost certainly syphilis too. I think they tried to tell her, but the idea of immaculately conceiving syphilis is less painful to her then having a filandering husband, so..." she gestured back at the woman weekly, "Anyway, she was treated for it, but you still need to be on the lookout for seizures with her and she doesn’t talk about much else."
            After that David began helping Mary to administer to her daily duties and learned he would be working on the Memory Ward first shift on Sundays and Mondays. Nursing was a mix of being very routine and straightforward and completely critical to maintaining the health and life of a patient. David found this made it an interesting combination of relaxing and incredible stressful, and to that the physical strain of being on his feet all day, and he was worn out even by the end of his half day.
            Once at home, he made dinner, and thought about going for a run before playing games on his smart phone instead and passing out around ten.

            The next day he shadowed a male RN through the main 24-hour skilled nursing facility. There were 127 residents in this building, all were incapable of taking care of themselves, most due to physical degeneration or serious illness, there were also several with memory conditions, but these still knew what a spoon was for eating even if they'd forgotten which end was most effective. He would be on firsts here too and started his day at 6 am he discovered he would work Tuesdays through Wednesday, be on call Friday and have Saturday legitimately off. The schedule was flexible though so some week to week variation was to be expected.
            The day was an uneventful sort of first day. He had had plenty of those in his life and moving through the motions and acquiring the procedural knowledge which made this job unique from other jobs was not difficult for him anymore.
            Later in the day he caught of glimpse of Piea, Pheme's sister, they were not twins. Piea's face was not as sculptural and beautiful as her sisters, but she held the advantage of striking deep blue eyes framed by her dark hair. Her bearing was just as ephemeral as her sisters and she glided through her duties making every job (even collecting bed pans) seem elegant. David guessed she worked seconds and did not have a chance to introduce himself as their shifts only briefly overlapped.
            The rest of the week passed much the same and David fell into a work routine, he did not have much of a chance to follow up on any paranormal leads, but he did make several helpful friends who answered any questions put to them.
            One such person was Jessica, a tall, thirtyish blond woman who David considered the poster child for white trash. She worked in the kitchen and ran a little kiosk which sold hot food to the rest of the staff during the day. David was buying some chicken fingures and fries off of her that Thursday.
            "So how long have you worked here?" He asked her.
            "Since I was fourteen, I used to work over in the Home before they closed it down, then I got reassigned to here instead of the new building like most people." Jessica replied.
            "Why not get another job?"
            Jessica shrugged, "This one pays, and I've got my kids to worry about." David supposed from the amount of partying Jessica bragged about doing she did not worry about her kids too much.
            "Why'd they close the Home anyway?"
            "Got money to build the new building and it wasn't designed to good neither."
            "Anyone go over there now?"
            "People in the kitchen used to. The ground floor had an old butchery, bakery, and creamery, and we used them for dry good storage up until two years ago or so. Still got the key over there." Jessica nodded towards the kitchen office door, next to the door was a key rack with three sets of spare keys, David examined them from this distance trying to decide which one was the one to the Home.
            "It's the one on the right," said a musical voice behind him.
            David side stepped and looked over his shoulder to see Piea standing behind him.
            "Hey Piea, you want some nice fried food," Jessica teased.
            "Of course," Piea responded as Jessica grabbed a pre-made salad and handed it to her in exchange for money. "Thanks" she added.
            Then turned to David, "But you don't really want to go over there, there's no electricity anymore, the building is structurally unsound, there's a ton of asbestos in the walls, and it's haunted."
            "It's not haunted in an interesting way either," Added Jessica, "I mean don't get me wrong, it's the creepiest place you'll ever visit, but I'd guess three quarters of those old people are happier dead then they were living and none of them are violent."
            "I'd heard stuff moves, that seems interesting." Said David.
            "Sure," replied Jessica, "but not any knives or heavy objects, they're not trying to kill you or anything, they're just boring and dead."
            "Hi Ella." Piea said unexpectedly a note of terror in her voice.
            Jessica turned sharply to look out into the hallway and David pivoted too.
            "Will you take me home?" The old woman from the Memory Ward who had a pension for enacting escape plans had done it again.
            "How did she get here?" David asked in bewilderment.
            "It's best not to question Ella the Escape Artist." Jessica stated in tense monotone.
            David glanced at Jessica and Piea, realizing that they were staring down little old Ella as if they so much as blinked she would magically disappear.
            "You two keep an eye on her I'll go get Mary." Piea said, slowly moving into the hall were Ella was standing gazing back at the three of them. Piea moved as if she were stalking a skittish animal that would bolt at the least provocation, she added "her bracelet’s gone too."
            David glanced at Ella's ankles and saw they were bare "How...?"
            "Don't question," Jessica answered, "The mysteries of Ella are known only to Ella." She nodded towards the hall. "Go get between her and the outside door, and be careful. She probably won't run now that she knows we've seen her, but she might."
            David moved slowly into the hall and blocked Ella from running a hundred yards down the hall to the freedom of the outside door.  While he doubted very much if she could actually run, he had also doubted her ability to get out of a restraining chair, a locked ward, and a tracking bracelet and concluded it was best not to underestimate her.
            "Haha," an old man on a walker laughed as he came slowly down the hall from the dining room back to his room, "Good for you Ella," he chortled, "got to keep 'em on their toes."
            Ella stared at David the entire time, "Will you take me home," she pleaded again.
            "This is your home Ella" David answered trying to sound sympathetic and comforting.
            She held his gaze, blinked twice, "No."
            Shortly after Mary came with a wheel chair equipped with restraints and a new tracking bracelet. Ella meekly sat in the chair without prompting and allowed herself to be taken back to the memory ward.
            "She timed it well too." Piea noted. "Most of the residents are eating lunch right now and the nurses are either in their or on break. The hallways are about as empty as they ever are."
            "Maybe she's has more going on then people give her credit for." David added tapping his head to indicate his meaning.
            "No." Piea replied firmly, "You didn't know her five years ago, I did. Trust me, she's mostly gone."
            David shrugged, the idea of Ella as a primal animal trying to escape the confines of old age and mental loss popped into his head and infinitely depressed him.
            "Anyways," Piea said blatantly attempting to lighten the mood, "I was going to get a drink later tonight, my sister is working, do you want to come?"
            "Sure," David answered, this line of conversation brightened his spirits, "I'm done in about an hour, when do you get off?"
            "Not until eight, I can meet you there at about nine."
            "Sounds like a plan."

            After work, David went home, showered and napped for a bit. Then he went out to the town bar, walking down the right lane of the road as he was tired of getting mud on his pants and no one was going to be out driving around anyway. He arrived around eight thirty, only one other patron was in the bar and David vaguely wondered if she was underage. She had a young fresh face and although she was sitting he guessed she was about five foot even.
            "Hello again," Pheme greeted him.
            "Hello for the first time." Said the girl. "I'm Jessi. How do you come to know Pheme her? Oh and don't let my pretty face fool you, just because I look like a pixie doesn't mean I am one." She extended her hand and David felt obligated to walk nearer to take it and then sat one bar stool away, since retreating further would just be awkward.
            "David," he responded to Jessi, "I just meet her last week coming her."
            "Oh, a new comer to our little Dousman then, eh? I expect you'll be wanting to get away as soon as possible, but just wait another month this place is like a black hole, it sucks you in. What are you here for anyway?" She rambled off.
            "I work over at the Home as an RN. What do you do?" He asked back before turning to Pheme, "I'd like a beer."
            "Sure thing," Pheme acquiesced getting the beer for him before leaning back behind the bar.
            "I work at the Middle School with the special needs kids, and I write children's stories." Jessi answered, David had seen the Middle School as he drove around town the previous Sunday, it was a large, long, low building built in what must have been a farm field well away from anything else.
            "How long are you here for? Forever?" Jessi pressed.
            David shook his head, "I'm a traveler, only three months, maybe longer if I renew the contract, but not to long most likely."
            "Oh I had a cousin who was a traveling physical therapist for a year. She lives down in one of the Chicago suburbs now, I forget which one. How long have you been at it?"
            "About six years now." David replied thinking nothing of it, he liked the traveling.
            "Six years!" Jessi's jaw dropped, "Man that's like forever, aren't you sick of it by now."
            "No, I like it quite a bit. It's rewarding, but not to long for any place to get dull." he answered earnestly.
            "What about settling down, starting a family. I doubt you've got a girlfriend you've been long distance with this whole time?" Jessi pushed.
            "No, I haven't had a long term girlfriend since college," I haven't had a long term girlfriend ever David amended in his head, glancing at Pheme.
            "But what about your parents, what do they think?"
            Typical small town reaction, thinking only about family David mused before responding. "My mom died in an accident when I was fourteen and I don't talk with my dad much."
            "Well that's unfortunate what if he died tomorrow wouldn't you regret it?" Jessi voiced an old cliche.
            Not at all, David answered in his head, but out loud he knew better, "Maybe, but I'm not sure he cares all that much. After my mom died he kind of went off the deep end, I lived with my grandma in high school, and her I still call once a week."
            Off the deep end was a bit of an understatement for his dad. Before his mother's death he had been the kind of alcoholic who could drink every night and still keep his job, after his mother's death, his dad was the kind of alcoholic who just drank every night. It was a wonder he was still alive at all.
            "But I bet your grandma would like it if you came back to live near her." Pheme chimed in.
            "Probably," David saw no point in fighting them, "but I think she understands too. Besides I will eventually get sick of all this."
            Jessi snorted, "If by all this you mean the big city and the bright lights then you've come to the right place."
            Pheme rolled her eyes and shock her head, "Always got to be down on our little town, haven't you?"
            "Not really, it's not like you see me leaving," Jessi shrugged, "Besides you're not even from here."
            "Oh whatever," Pheme huffed, "I'm from Palmyra, ten miles down the road, a big difference that makes."
                        "Outsider, outsider!" Jessi waggled her finger at Pheme with what David assumed was an attempt at a menacing look, but like a kitten trying to puff himself up to look bigger she just looked kind of cute and silly, David chuckled at the exchange.
            Pheme sighed, "You just got to wind everybody up haven't you."
            "Of course it's my job, and I can get away with it because no one wants to hit a cute innocent little girl." She clasped her hands in front of her and looked up at Pheme doe-eyed in a fairly accurate little girl impression.
            The front door creaked and a draft of cool evening air slid into the room with Piea.
            "You left the door unlocked again and didn't take out the trash like I asked." She nagged Pheme as she took a seat at the bar stool between Jessi and David. Jessi snickered at this comment.
            Pheme started making a drink for Piea without being asked, "I just had this one lay into me," she gestured to Jessi, "Now I have to get it from you too."
            Piea smiled, "It's okay you can make it up to me by paying for the drink."
            Jessi leaned back and mock whispered to David, "They always do this. That one nags and this one bribers her off with alcohol."
            The sisters ignored her and continued with their preset exchange, "Of course, I'll buy you one for the door and one for the trash." Pheme said complacently.
            "Deal," answered Piea quickly, "So how's life?"
            "Oh you know, same day same shit." Pheme replied before sliding off to deal with a few other customers, David thought he recognized some of the people that were playing pool last time he was here.
            "Ella escaped again," Piea said to Jessi, "David and I trapped her over by the kitchens."
            "Is that right?" Jessi asked her face jumping to shock. "I wonder how she managed." Again going around Pheme's back to address David, "I picked that old woman up about a year ago, she was wondering down the highway in her night gown at one am. Right by the old Home too, I really thought she was her own specter for a second."
            "That was before she was moved to the memory ward," Piea hastily added, "believe it or not she gets out much less now."
            "I don't think it's actually hard to get out of there," Jessi mused, "most of the old folks just aren't trying, maybe anyone could get out if they tried hard enough."
            "Or maybe she is her own ghost and walks through walls, ooooohhh!" Pheme waved her hands to imitate a spokey ghost upon returning to the conversation.
            "David's interested in ghosts aren't you," she teased elbowing David in the ribs.
            "Yeah well, it seems like the most interesting thing around, the ghost stories. Unless y'all want to set up a club out here in the middle of nowhere." David responded.
            "Oh now there's two good ideas for the Dousman tourism board!" Jessi replied enthusiastically, "Ghost tours and the cornfield club. Or better yet, one idea, come party at the haunted house, people would do it. And we could convert the old rooms into a hotel, yeah."
            Piea raised an eyebrow at her, "If you want to buy the building off the nursing home and have the asbestos removed then by all means, go right ahead. I'll show up."
            "Why would I want to remove the asbestos, that's part of the fun," Jessi said with a laugh, David shock his head.
            "Is there a Dousman tourism board?" he asked.
            "No" replied Pheme and Piea.
            "Yes" declared Jessi at the same time. "And I'm the chair, got any more ideas?"
            "Anyways" Piea said, "if you want to go into the Home you can just grab the key out of the kitchen, nobody would care."
            "Oh are you going ghost busting?" Pheme asked and began to hum the theme song from an eighties movie.
            "Sure why not," Piea answered defiantly, "It's really not like I've got much better to do on my Thursday nights."
            Pheme pouted, "You come visit me here on Thursdays."
            "I visit you at home every night!" Piea exhaled.
            David cut in "We could all go ghost hunting."
            "Not me," answered Jessi without further explanation.
            Pheme shrugged, "Better just go with Piea next week and get it out of your system. She's been wanting to go in there and have a séance or some nonsense since they closed the place down."
            "Ah, I see my interest is just a convenient excuse then." David teased.
            "Yep," Piea beamed up at him, "don't take it personally."
            "Why are you interested in ghosts anyway? Hoping to find your mothers?" Jessi inquired bluntly (or sarcastically David could not tell.) David had never thought of it that way, but he expected at some level she was right. He had become a nurse like his mother to help him feel closer to her and his interest in the paranomral might stem from the same desire.
            "Maybe," he answered, "But I'd rather think of her as peacefully dead in heaven, over haunting the world as a ghost."
            "How did you're mother die?" Piea asked a note of worry in her voice.
            "Head trauma from an accident," David answered solomely, then realizing the conversation was headed to a very dark place he changed the topic, "What about your parents were are they?" he inquired gesturing to Piea and Pheme.
            "Oh they died a while back too. Left us money and the farm, which we sold and bought a place at the end of town here instead." Pheme answered jerking her thumb over her shoulder to indicate the side of town opposite from where the Home was.
            "Yeah, we like it here, didn't want to leave the boonies too far behind," Piea said with a glare at Jessi.
            "What's not to like?" Jessi asked with a chuckle, the sisters had clearly expected her to challenge them.
            David finished up his beer, "If you'll excuse me ladies. I'm on call tomorrow so I shouldn't do too much drinking."
            "Understandable." Nodded Piea.
            David shoved off from the bar stool and addressed Piea before he left, "You let me know about next week though, I would like to go ghost hunting."
            She smiled up at him, "Oh most defiantly. I'm sure I'll see you before then, we can iron out the details later."