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."

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