The three went inside, and Riley picked a corner of the room where she would have space from the group but still be close enough to properly participate.
“Riley made contact,” Ethan informed the group, and Riley tried not to be too annoyed with Miller’s outward display of disbelief.
“We know,” Josh said.
Ethan nodded at Josh to explain.
“When Emily noticed that Riley had separated, we tried to get to her and couldn’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“There was a barrier around her,” Emily said.
“What?” Gabrielle perked up instantly.
“We thought you heard us over the walkie. She was surrounded by a barrier.”
“Could you see spirits inside?” Miller asked.
“No, but I trust Riley to know it was them,” Josh answered.
“Spirits and shades pretend to be children sometimes,” Miller countered.
“Yes, but given what we all believe happened, I highly doubt that,” Josh answered.
“We need to pressure the police to look more closely at the details in the cause of death,” Ethan said.
“Your pet has a feeling, and that determines the direction of the case?” Miller scoffed.
“What part of barrier do you not understand?” Emily snapped, standing up.
“Silence!” Ethan yelled. The group was immediately cowed. “What Riley says happened goes in line with the theory I already had and was using to determine the direction of the case. The barrier is important information, but we do not know what it all means yet. So in the meantime, this group will stop with the petty fighting because, as I will remind you, we are investigating the deaths of two children, damn it!”
Everyone nodded and was silent. When Ethan was certain he had them under control again, he turned to Emily. “You took minicam footage?”
“Yes, and it’s ready,” Emily said, bringing it up on her laptop. “You can’t see who she is talking to, but we got the barrier.”
“Can the spirits of kids make a barrier like that?” Mike asked. He was still the least knowledgeable and didn’t realize children were capable of something like that.
“Yes,” Gabrielle replied, “Although it’s unlikely they would even realize they were doing it. Kids tend to do, with little thinking and intent, and that remains the case if they turn into spirits.”
“We can work it out later,” Ethan interrupted. “Riley, you need to get some rest and come back to relieve someone in five hours,” Ethan said sharply.
Riley was taken aback. Maybe he didn’t believe her at all? Is that why he was dismissing her so harshly? She felt a stab of disappointment but did as he said anyway. She needed a shower and was tired.
“A little harsh boss,” Emily said softly.
“She must be exhausted,” Ethan defended.
“So try talking to her instead of just dismissing her,” Gabrielle said. “Especially after we just established that you are hiding things from her. I know you aren’t the best with people, but you aren’t generally this inept, Ethan.”
Ethan glared at her but didn’t say anything as he turned back to the footage to watch it again. He felt that twinge of guilt again and the question of why he was being such an ass. Then Sarah’s face would flash in his mind. He would need to talk to someone, and soon. Probably Timm.
Riley had a restless sleep. She kept seeing the children both in their spirit forms as well as their dead bodies. The lingering feeling from the contact was there but also the regret and hurt at their deaths. She woke up about half an hour before her alarm was set to go off and turned it off so it wouldn’t wake the others. She quickly got ready for the day and grabbed a cup of coffee before joining Ethan in the base. It was early enough that it was still dark outside and would be for several more hours.
Ethan was stiff and looking at the monitors with a frown. There must not have been activity while she was sleeping, Riley realized. She had honestly hoped that the kids reaching out was a sign that there would be and that they’d try again.
“You can get some sleep,” Riley said softly.
“I assure you that will not be happening,” Ethan snapped. The weight of the case was draining him rapidly.
“I am sorry there was nothing, but I don’t mind taking over.”
“I am worried about leaving you alone. To be honest, I had not even considered it last night. I was so caught up in making sure you go some sleep after what I am sure was a trying experience.”
“Oh,” Riley said, relieved that she had been wrong when she thought it was callously dismissing her. “Why worried?”
“Something put you behind a barrier and reached out. I am less than thrilled at the prospect of that happening again.”
“Jose and Jennifer would not hurt me; like Gabrielle said, they probably didn’t even realize they did it,” Riley replied with a shrug.
Ethan sighed heavily but stopped himself from snapping this time. “And if it is not them? Or what if it is, but they are being used because you trust them so implicitly? I appreciate your effort, but there is still so much you do not know.”
“Fair,” Riley said, realizing she was bringing up the circular fight they had already discussed. It wasn’t worth upsetting either of them. “Miller went to bed earlier than everyone else.”
“You want to sit with her?” Ethan asked, raising one brow.
“Of course not,” Riley answered with a chuckle. “But I would,” she added more seriously.
Ethan gave a small smirk at her honesty. “I would never ask anyone to wake her up. I would not do it, so I will not ask you to.”
Riley laughed at that. “Okay, Josh?”
“No, I will stay. I will not be able to sleep, so if I can give the rest of the team a chance, then I wish to do so.”
Riley did not like the answer but shrugged and handed him her coffee so he could take a drink.
“We will talk when this is over,” Ethan said. “I am sorry if I have been distant or upset you. I have a lot on my mind, but I need it to all be on this case.”
“That’s fine. I meant what I said last night, right now, it is about Jose and Jennifer.”
Ethan watched her for a moment and seemed like he wanted to say something when they both saw movement out of the corner of their eye.
“In the morning?” Riley whispered, leaning closer to watch the monitors. She caught someone moving just beyond where the kids had been found and jumped up.
“Riley!” Ethan called after her as she moved out of the base. “Stick together!” he called, trying to catch up.
Riley made it to the spot well ahead of Ethan and felt something shove her hard into the ditch. She landed roughly on the same side as the library case and let out a painful yelp.
“Riley?” Ethan called for her as he got closer.
“It went right, go!” She yelled out. She watched him disappear as she attempted to stretch the soreness out of her. She would be hurting badly soon. She also realized she was not getting out of the ditch on her own. She pulled out her cellphone and quickly called someone.
“Hello?” Mike’s groggy voice answered.
“Mike, wake up, Josh we need help out here now! Wake everyone!” she yelled, then hung up.
Mike took a second to process then jerked up. “Josh! Josh, wake up Riley needs help!” he yelled as he scrambled out of his sleeping bag. He tripped and nearly fell into the wall in front of him but steadied himself. He moved quickly to the women’s room and banged on the door. “Wake up, Riley needs help!” he yelled before going to the base. Ethan was gone too.
Gabrielle shot up when she heard the knocking and got moving quickly. “Emily, Riley is in trouble.”
Emily blinked, and it took her a moment but then quickly got moving.
As everyone entered the base, Gabrielle took charge. “What’s the situation, she asked?” Watching Mike go over the video.
“Riley was pushed or fell into the ditch, and Ethan ran to the right,” he answered quickly then got the video back up to live to make sure Riley was okay.
“Emily and Josh, I need you to take the equipment out to get readings but also get one of our portable ladders. Once you reach where she is, Josh I need you to go after Ethan, and Emily you stay by Riley to make sure she is safe or see if she can get out. I will be along shortly with some of my cleansing equipment. Josh,” she began.
“I have what I need to at least keep us safe,” he interrupted and began grabbing stuff.
“Good, Mike, you stay here and be ready to call the police if we need it. Let’s move, people!”
However, right as they were about to move, the monitors filled with static, and when they came back, they could no longer see Riley.
“What does that mean?” Emily asked quietly, dread curling in her stomach.
“Nothing good,” Gabrielle said softly, then came back to herself. “Quickly!”
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