The Barrier: Case One- Chapter Four

Riley went through all the information that both the bookstore and she personally had on the library to help prepare for that night. She made sure she dug out her copies of Abigail’s journals as well as anything written on the subject that might be a bit harder for outsiders to get their hands on. While Ethan didn’t want them to make assumptions, Riley knew that most of the people in town were fairly confident that if there was a ghost in the old library, it was Abigail. At the very least connected to her.

The day was slow enough that she did not need to help too many people, which Riley was both grateful for and not. She was glad for the extra time to review books and notes, but it did nothing to help with the anticipation. At six, Riley flipped the sign and went back to talk to Jack.

“You are sure you will be okay for the next few days?” She asked again.

Jack chuckled and guided Riley back to the front to wait for Ethan. “I had somebody call before I could even get around to it.”

“How on Earth?”

“People saw the two of you at the cafe, put two and two together with your strange man and the group here investigating the library, and decided to take a chance.”

“Small towns,” Riley groaned.

“You take the bad with the good. But to answer your question, yes, I will be fine. You worry about helping Ethan. And speak of the devil.” Jack smiled, seeing the man looking in the store.

Riley opened the door and greeted him with a wry smile. “You are going to be exceedingly punctual now, aren’t you?”

“Only long enough to fool you into thinking it is a skill I can master.”

Riley laughed at the comment. “Let me grab a few things, then we can go?” she asked, looking at the men.

“Get out of here already,” Jack replied with a wink.

Riley double-checked that she had the books and notes she intended to take then lifted her bag over her shoulder. “Off we go.”

As they walked along, Ethan seemed a little uncomfortable to Riley.

“Everything okay?” Riley said, noticing the unease. She was a bit surprised at how easily she could read the taciturn man without the aid of feeling like she was actually experiencing his emotions.

Ethan paused for a moment, then answered, “I did not consider how difficult tonight might be for you after working all day.”

“It probably will be, but I am far too excited to care,” Riley answered with a grin.

Ethan found her enthusiasm infectious and fought back his own smile. “I would have thought living in this town, you would have had enough experiences to dampen your excitement for tonight.”

“In all honesty, this town is mostly talk. I would say that a lot of the experiences people have are little more than imagination fueled by superstition. People here were already believers before The Event and have been primed since to see everything as an experience. I will grant there is likely some truth to many of the hauntings, but I am more skeptical than not.”

“I would think most people would assume the opposite considering your relationship with Jack, and the work you do for the shop.”

“They’d be wrong.”

“Oh?”

“Knowing the science behind it is why I am so skeptical. Isn’t it why you are? Why you go into cases with as much intention of debunking as proving? I may not be as directly involved as you, but our work is related enough that I would consider us colleagues.”

“I would as well, but you will find a startling number of our colleagues are still easily swayed. The Event seemed to only spur them further into silliness, not less.”

“That’s unfortunate.”

“Or they just want a quick buck.”

“Also unfortunate.”

“Indeed.”

When they arrived at the library, Riley felt her excitement rising. It wasn’t often that she came to this part of town, and it had been a while since she actually paid much attention to this location. Riley spent most of her time caught up in the store, her own books and research, and taking care of Jack. The part of her that loved the paranormal outside of books had been a bit neglected. She was happy she would get to do this, at least.

The building was two stories, although Riley knew that it only had one floor currently. The height was to compensate for the large bookshelves she heard occupied the inside still. It was made of old faded red bricks. The windows on the first story had been boarded up so long ago that much of the wood had fallen off and what was left was faded and moldy from the years of neglect. The higher windows were so covered in dirt and grime that Riley had to assume that they were as effectively darkened as the ones with actual boarding.

The building had been closed off so long that the path to it was overgrown and neglected. Trees were overgrown on the path blocking out much of the light, giving an ominous feel to it. The whole thing looked a bit out of time.

“It almost makes me wonder if it is just rumors,” Riley said.

“What do you mean?” Ethan asked, following her eyes to the building.

“I mean, it looks like a haunted building.”

Ethan smirked a bit. “I suppose it does.”

“I know it wasn’t always like this, but looking at it now, yeah, it is the exact type of place people would assume was haunted, even without reason.”

When they got inside, the grim feeling only increased. Between the boarding, dust, and grime, and the fading light outside the inside of the building was dark. They would need flashlights as the night went on, Riley realized quickly. The upper windows and the moon would add a little, but Riley knew the darkness would persist. The entire building was covered in a thick layer of dust, and even though she could see that some of it had been kicked up by the team, the intrusion was not enough to overcome time and neglect.

Riley walked up to one of the shelves and lightly touched the books. She had always heard when they boarded it up, most of the books had remained, but she was sad to see it confirmed. “I wonder if the mayor would let us come and collect these?” she said softly.

Ethan was amused to see how quickly she had sought out the books. He had to admit his thoughts had been along the same lines when he first saw them too. He made a note to remind her about the idea later.

Riley coughed a little and flushed when she realized that she had spoken out loud. “Sorry,” she said quietly.

Ethan shook his head, but motioned for her to keep following. She could see a light on in a room in the back. “How?” She asked, turning to Ethan.

“Generators. We try not to take too many cases where we will have to use them as they are not easy to transport and end up increasing our rates, but it can be necessary.”

“And considering they never finished wiring the place when they closed it for the final time so it is not as though the mayor can turn the lights back on.”

When they arrived at the office, Riley hesitated a moment, so Ethan passed to enter first. Though many did not believe it because of his professional and closed-off persona, he certainly understood being uncomfortable and nervous around others. Only a few got to see him when he was relaxed and showing his full personality, nerves being part of it.

“Welcome back, boss!” a cheery voice called out. Riley entered and saw an Asian woman who appeared to be a few years younger than Riley. She had a bright smile, green eyes, and dark hair. “And you must be the famous Riley,” she said when Riley followed Ethan.

“Famous?”

“Sure! We were all really excited when Ethan told us you agreed to help out. We’ve emailed a few times. I am Emily.”

“Oh, Emily! It’s nice to meet you and put more faces to names,” Riley said with a smile.

“I am Josh.” An equally friendly-looking man stepped forward. He had darker skin and dark thick hair, and Riley could tell he was at least part Native American. He was a bit taller and younger than Ethan, and certainly more toned and muscled. His style and friendly demeanor reminded Riley a great deal of Jack. “Our nervous friend over there is Mike.”

Mike was a younger man, looking closer in age to Emily, and he did truly look nervous. He had short brown hair and brown eyes. He was shifting back and forth from foot to foot, and barely managed a wave before he went back to whatever he had been fiddling with when they had entered. Riley looked more closely and could see it was recording equipment.

“And I am Caroline Miller,” a severe-looking woman said. She was tall, had dark blonde hair in a tight bun, and a deep frown on her face. “You may call me Ms. Miller or simply Miller if you must,” she sneered and turned to Ethan. “Why exactly is she here?” Riley guessed that meant she hadn’t been around when Ethan explained she would be joining.

Emily rolled her eyes, and Josh tried to school his features though Riley saw a bit of his kindness slip. Ethan coughed a little. “She works for Jack Simmons. I thought she could give us some advice.”

“Why? We are professionals, we don’t need the help of some shop girl.”

Riley chuckled a little at the insult while Ethan stiffened. She was happy to note that Ethan did seem ashamed that they had both chosen a similar line of attack. It helped strengthen the idea that his apology had been sincere.

“As I have told others who have attempted to shame me in a similar way,” Riley started while avoiding looking at Ethan, hoping he would understand she wasn’t still bitter. “I am more than merely a shop girl. Jack is incredibly knowledgeable in the field and is my teacher. But even if I were, it would not be something to be ashamed of.”

Miller sniffed at her but turned away.

Ethan cleared his throat. “I thought she could advise us on certain aspects of the case and the town, having both knowledge of it and the paranormal. It is not often we find someone who can provide us this help.”

“I’m happy to be here, and thank you for letting me join,” Riley said with a smile ignoring the scoff from Miller.

“Your town is kind of wild,” Emily said, returning Riley’s smile. “Small but with so many suspected hauntings. Also, I think it’s the largest population of believers I have ever seen in one small town, even after The Event.”

“Yes, you said you had a theory about that,” Ethan added.

“Oh! Well, I think it has more to do with the history and isolation of the town. This place has always been pretty filled with believers. We have a lot of old legends, myths, the standard that you often hear, but more people who truly believe it. The town is also filled with a lot of old families. Most people don’t leave, and hardly any new people come in. So when you have a bunch of believers marrying other believers, you sort of get a generational cycle. The end result was after generations it was pretty ingrained in our local consciousness, then The Event happened.”

“And you and Jack?” Josh asked.

“We are both outsiders, so we were less inclined to believe from the get-go. But given Jack’s passion, naturally, he fits in better than the average outsider. We are both believers, just skeptical about the number of suspected hauntings. The research seems to imply that it is not possible to have that many spirits in such a small area. Or at the very least, it would drive them all to be more obvious with their presence.”

“What about the library?” Mike asked, perking up. Riley assumed he was hoping she would say that she didn’t think it was haunted.

“It’s always been one of the ones that Jack and I think is the most likely,” Riley said apologetically.

“Oh?” Ethan asked, one eyebrow going up.

“A lot of our legends are sketchy at best. Stories passed down generation after generation that, while they might have started with a kernel of truth, are now so crazy that who knows what they really mean. There are a few that have a solid story and a bit of evidence. The library is more recent, a more consistent story, and there were attempts to reopen the building a few times with the same results.”

“When was the last time exactly? We are having issues finding a date,” Emily asked.

“You probably need to find our local papers,” Riley said, walking over to her. “May I?” She pointed at the computer. Emily moved out of the way, and Riley opened a local website and signed in. “The town is a bit paranoid; we like to try to keep as much as we can private, so a lot of our news stories don’t get out, or if they do just a shortened version of them. You have to be local to get a log-in to this site.”

“That is kind of crazy,” Mike said.

“Not kind of, just is,” Riley replied. “It was the 1950s if I recall correctly, but either way, you’ll find more papers and sources here.”

“I have never heard of another town keeping their old papers and such from getting out,” Josh said.

“Really isolated and lots of superstition,” Riley reminded him. “It’s mostly the details about our hauntings that we try to keep from getting out. Before The Event, I guess there were times when people suspected the town of sharing mass delusions. Now we are just cautious. Again decades of learned behavior.”

“This site is amazing!” Emily said, scrolling through the older articles. “But yeah, there are a lot of reports here. It does kind of make the town look crazy,” she said, then looked a little guilty.

“It’s fine. I know how it looks to outsiders, and so does the rest of the town, hence why the site was made. We aren’t all that bad. It is not the most welcoming place or the best mindset, but we could be worse.”

“You were right,” Emily replied. “It seems like in the mid-1950s they tried to reopen the library one final time. After several weeks of hearing things and things moving around, a worker’s ladder was pushed, and he fell. He was mostly unharmed, but it was enough to end further pursuit of opening it.”

Ethan walked over and skimmed the article that Emily had found.

“So why now?” Emily asked.

“The mayor is in a more comfortable position. I was friends with his daughter for a while, so I got to know him personally. He always believed the town needed to be cleansed of both real and imaginary hauntings. That we need to move forward more. He doesn’t want to lose that part of our identity completely, but believes we are too stuck in it to our own detriment. He needed to be a more popular mayor before making those moves, though.”

“Interesting,” Emily replied.

“But not important,” Miller snapped.

“Of course,” Riley admitted, she really couldn’t think of a reason it would have any impact on the case. “What can I do to help?”

Ethan gave Miller a look; he knew she was right, but did not appreciate her continued rudeness. He also knew there was value in the team getting to know Riley more, as long as it didn’t become a distraction. “I think now would be a good time to gather some readings if you would like to help Josh?”

“I would love to,” Riley said with a bright smile.

Josh grabbed both a temperature gauge and an EMF reader. He then handed a clipboard to Riley and held out his arm dramatically for her to exit the office. She chuckled, and the two of them made their way back into the main part of the library.

“Now our cameras do actually take similar readings, but it is not as accurate or reliable as doing it ourselves. We have the library separated off into different quadrants, so we will go through them, take readings, and markdown what we get. We do this every couple of hours, unless there is activity then, of course, we try to do it right then.”

Josh and Riley made their way through the building. Josh used the tools and read the results to Riley, who marked them down. He showed her how to use them herself for the future as well. Riley was disappointed but not surprised that they didn’t get any interesting readings.

“The first few days can be a little boring,” Josh admitted as they walked back. “Spirits, in general, tend to be shy. Only the really curious or malevolent ones make their presence known quickly. Other than that, the only way to speed up the process is just to be the right person.”

“What do you mean, right person?” Riley asked.

“Spirits will sometimes be drawn to a person. Someone compassionate, someone who reminds them of a loved one, an actual loved one themselves. It really all depends, and is not something you can plan for. Certain mediums and the like do have an easier time bringing spirits out, but it’s not guaranteed.” Riley made a face at that, and Josh chuckled. “No, Miller is not the type to bring them out.” Riley smiled, but didn’t comment further.

When they got back to the base, Riley handed Emily the clipboard and then sat by her. Emily added their readings to what the cameras were recording.

“Now is the hurry up and wait part of the job,” Emily said with a slight groan.

“Or the hurry up and realize there is no spirit here part,” Miller countered with a sneer.

“Still not sensing anything?” Ethan pressed.

“No, because I don’t think there is anything to sense. She said so herself, the town is full of crazies.”

“Not exactly what I said,” Riley said quietly and more than a little insulted.

Ethan and Miller ignored her for the moment and faced off. “Do one more walk around the library, then you and Mike can leave and go to the hotel.”

“Thank you,” Mike said nervously, causing Emily and Riley to give him reassuring smiles.

“If a spirit does show after you leave,” Ethan continued, “You know I will not just let it slide, though.”

Everyone stiffened and watched Miller, the wording of the threat may have been vague, but the intent was clear.

“Whatever,” Miller huffed, grabbing her bag and walking out.

Mike hesitated, looking at them, then at Miller slowly walking through the main library. He wanted Miller to be wrong, but also didn’t want to be here if she was.

“Mike, you are fine to leave. If we have issues with the equipment beyond our capabilities, I can bring you back. It is different for her,” Ethan said, trying to reassure the young man. It was rare for Mike to actually be able to leave a case, so Ethan tried to make sure he felt comfortable to do so when the opportunity arose. He was here to run their equipment, not hunt ghosts.

Mike paused a moment longer before following Miller. The remaining group watched the woman slowly pace around the library before leaving.

“Can’t help but feel I am partially responsible for that,” Riley admitted.

“If you were, can you join us on more cases?” Emily huffed. She apologized, though, when she saw Ethan’s glare, but with no small amount of sarcasm.

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