Everyone was in a hurry to leave the Bed and Breakfast. The case had been a strange one, and made the group feel slightly off-kilter. Normally when they ended debunking a case, it didn’t end with a haunting attached to it. Riley was concerned for Dorothy and Tracy, but was hopeful that the training would help them. Ethan wanted to distance himself from Tracy. He usually had more patience with people with powers, but he couldn’t shake how he felt about her playing with her grandmother to get her way. Riley and the rest couldn’t blame him.
When they had packed up the vans, Daniel approached Ethan. “I meant what I said, I would love to consult with you in the future,” he said, holding out his card.
It wasn’t an agreement, but both Riley and Daniel smiled when Ethan actually took it. When Riley got into the van, she could see Ethan slowly breathing in and out.
“Still not feeling well? I can drive,” she offered.
“No, I just needed a moment. Our new case seems interesting but difficult. It is up in a mountain lodge and hopefully will not be as confusing as this one.” With that, Ethan started the van, and they got on the road.
Riley and Emily started to go over the case notes while on the road, and both made faces. “Do we ever start a case with a decent amount of information?” Riley asked.
“Sometimes, although it seems like you might bring a bit of bad luck,” Emily said with a smile.
“Well, it is about to get worse,” Ethan said.
Emily stiffened at this. “What?”
“I need Riley to focus on the post-case wrap-up.”
“Ethan, I have no information, I need help,” Emily protested.
“I know, and I am sure Riley will work quickly, but we need to get everything in so that the company can work on getting Tracy her trainer.”
Emily sighed but knew Ethan was right. The sooner they got their paperwork in, the sooner Tracy would get into a program, which was better for everybody. Still, she couldn’t help but give Ethan a bit of snark. “I hate you boss.”
“Love you too Emily,” Ethan quipped back.
Riley smiled but got to work. She wanted to get this done quickly to make sure she could help Emily. She didn’t want the team going into yet another case with almost no information, especially as this one was likely real considering how long the lodge had been abandoned.
Riley was glad when they stopped at the motel for the night that she had managed to get the post case wrap-up done. It meant she was free to help Emily the next day. However, her happiness was dampened by Emily’s clear distress.
“This is pointless,” Emily snapped when they got into their room. She flung herself on her bed and let out a frustrated noise into her pillow.
“Didn’t go well, I take it?”
“There is nothing about the lodge. I don’t mean very little, I mean nothing.”
“So not the lodge?”
“Of course, that means it’s not the lodge, but those woods are massive. There is basically no way I can think of to truly research them, and for all we know it’s a wandering spirit that attached to the lodge. I can deal with it being difficult, but I hate sending the team in blind.”
“Well, you’ll have my help tomorrow.”
“Riley, I like you so, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think you can.”
Riley nodded, not bothering to be offended. Emily did have better research skills and had been working in the field much longer. The two went through their night routines and then fell into a restless sleep. Emily’s stress was so strong that Riley couldn’t help but pick up on it.
The next morning when they met in the lobby, Riley saw that Caroline was waiting for them. She walked over to her. “Welcome back, it’s been a bit since we worked together.”
“I don’t need your false politeness,” Miller huffed and walked away.
“Good to see you too, yes I am fine. We should totally do dinner sometime,” Riley said while rolling her eyes.
“Why do you try?” Emily asked.
“She is part of the team. I think you all are a little hard on her. But then it’s hard to ignore her doing things like that in return.”
Everybody followed the prickly Miller out to the vans to load up. Emily sighed as she opened up her laptop to continue to research while Riley also prepared next to her. Miller was in the front seat with Ethan again, and Riley couldn’t help but feel a little displaced. She was still new to the team but had started to think of her spot as being next to Ethan. She had to admit it had also started to feel like her spot personally.
“I think we need to give up on the lodge for the time being and focus on the woods,” Emily said after a few hours had passed. “If what I suspect is true, the lodge itself doesn’t mean anything to the spirit, and it is just the best location for it. There has to be something about the area around it.”
“And if you are wrong?” Miller asked.
“Well then, the people who own the lodge are hiding something, or there is nothing for me to find out by the means I have available. I spent the whole day yesterday researching and found nothing. The house is a dead end,” Emily snapped, then added, “Shockingly enough, I know how to do my job.”
“I didn’t mean to imply that you didn’t.”
“Sure,” Emily said sarcastically.
“Emily,” Riley said quietly. Emily was quickly losing control of her emotions, and Riley didn’t want the situation to get out of hand.
“I just honestly wanted to know why you were choosing to stop researching the lodge,” Miller defended.
“Then you should have worded it that way,” Emily replied. “Instead of insinuating that I might be wrong. I get what happens when I am wrong, Miller. I get the stakes, and that you need information, and for that information to be correct. I get the danger that we are all in every time we take a case, and that I have to give us the best foundation to build from. I also get that now we have an empath again, so I have to be especially good at my job.”
“I see our teamwork skills improved in my absence,” Miller said with a biting voice.
“Not now Miller,” Ethan jumped in.
“What exactly is your problem with me?” Miller snapped, ignoring him.
“What is your problem with me? Or the rest of the team, for that matter?” Emily replied, her voice rising. “You have made it clear you don’t see yourself as part of the team, but somehow I am wrong to treat you like an outsider?”
“I don’t think now is the time to have it out,” Riley interrupted. “It probably needs to happen, but not now, after the case.”
“Yes,” Ethan agreed. “Although I will add that if you two do not drop it, this may be your last case with me.”
Everyone was quiet after that, with Emily and Riley going back to their research. Each hour that passed with no progress, Riley could feel Emily losing more control. She was growing morose, and the stress seemed to be pouring out of her. Riley and Miller, though the latter would never admit it out loud, were also getting nervous. Walking into a situation with no clue what they were dealing with scared them both. Still, it would do no good to voice this and put extra pressure on Emily. Riley knew that Emily was aware of the need for information.
“The people that gave us this case really didn’t have any other information to share?” Emily said, almost pleading.
“Unfortunately, no. They just bought the lodge, and every time they have tried to enter, they experience activity, so they gave up,” Ethan replied. “Is there really that little?”
“It’s a mixture of too little and too much,” Riley answered. “We have so little on the activity at the lodge itself, but the woods have so many possibilities. It’s impossible to narrow down which story might be connected with the lodge without some other clues. It’s also hard to even determine what stories are true or false.”
“Not only that, but we know that wooded areas call to wandering spirits. We need to know something about the spirit itself.”
“Maybe when we get there, I will be able to sense something that can help,” Miller offered.
“Sadly, it’s looking like our only option. I really don’t like giving you nothing to go on,” Emily answered and then leaned back.
Miller felt a bit guilty about the earlier fight. She really hadn’t meant to imply that Emily might be wrong, she knew how seriously Emily took her job.
“It is also my job to help the team, Emily. Your research is important, but if you are unable to give it, it’s through no fault of your own. When we arrive, I will do my best to get you something,” Miller said. Emily and Riley looked at her stunned, and Ethan’s grip tightened on the steering wheel, nervous about how Emily might respond. It was the closest that Miller had ever gotten to apologizing to the group. Emily nodded, and it was clear the moment was over when Miller went back to her phone.
The car trip continued in uncomfortable silence. Emily and Riley kept trying to dig up something, but they knew it was all for naught. They would not be finding anything else until they got to the location. Eventually, they gave up; they were getting frustrated, which wouldn’t help them. Riley and Emily both pulled out their own books, but Emily could tell Riley was distracted. She tried not to, but most of Riley’s focus was on the conversation that Miller and Ethan were sharing. It wasn’t over anything important, but the two had an easier rapport than Riley was used to seeing from either. When Miller squeezed Ethan’s arm and let it linger, Riley had to quickly look out her window. She knew she was being jealous and, worse, irrational, but she was struggling to keep it down.
“Don’t worry,” Emily whispered.
Riley shrugged and kept her thoughts to herself. She was fairly confident that there would always be a gap between her and Ethan that kept their relationship from developing further. It broke her heart a little, but she could learn to deal with it, hopefully. Although she wouldn’t be thrilled if he started to date Caroline Miller, of all people.
They both felt the car slow, and realized they were on a narrow road leading up into the mountains. Riley’s body stiffened as she leaned forward to look out the front window.
“I don’t like this, Ethan,” Emily shifted in her seat.
“You are fine, you are letting the difficulty of the case make you nervous,” he replied.
As they drove, more and more trees were around, blocking out the sun. They followed the road up to a medium-sized lodge. It was the perfect size for a small hotel for groups to use to get away to, but the years had not been kind. The potential was there, but neglect had taken over. It was not nearly as bad as the library had been, but not so much better. Windows were broken, boards were falling off, the roof needed to be repaired. The path was also starting to get overgrown. While there was enough of a clearing for the two vans, if the lodge was ever to open again, they would have to do a lot of work to make room for more parking.
The trees were also crowding it, blocking out even more of the sun than they had on the path. When Riley got out, she found that the air smelled wet and heavy. She also thought the area felt oppressive. She knew that some people could feel like that when surrounded by trees, but given where she had lived most of her life, it wasn’t that. No, she was fairly confident it was the lodge itself.
“We have full run of the lodge. Water, gas, and electricity have all been turned on for us. However, I want us to stay close together. We will use the main entrance room for our base and the rooms closest to stay in,” Ethan said as everyone got out of the vans. “And no going off into the forest. That is asking for trouble and someone to be lost,” he added in a sharp tone.
Riley was only half listening as she moved closer to the building. Miller lightly grabbed her arm, causing Riley to start and look at her. “We shouldn’t go in there,” Miller said softly.
“No, we shouldn’t,” Riley agreed, her words nearly silent.
Both women looked at the house with fierce intensity and fear. Neither of them noticed that the group had stopped their activity and were watching them. As Gabrielle moved closer, the same feeling began to overtake her. Ethan moved closer and lightly touched Riley’s shoulder, causing her to jump and spin.
“Are you okay?” he asked gently.
Miller and Riley shared a look; they had both admitted they didn’t think they should be here, but knew they had to be. Riley took a deep breath and nodded to Ethan. Miller nodded at her in approval. Ethan, however, was more concerned by the trepidation in her eyes and the silent conversation she had had with Miller. He wanted to press but saw both women had steeled their courage already.
The group was curious too but got to work on unloading the van. Whatever was happening wouldn’t be solved by standing outside. Riley grabbed some equipment and started to slowly make her way up the stairs to the porch leading into the lodge. The second she made contact with the building, the feeling of dread grew. However, so did the overwhelming feeling of sadness. This is what she had signed up for, there were spirits in there in clear need of help.
When Miller and Riley finally got inside, they both seemed to get consumed. Riley could feel spirits attaching to her over and over, desperate to make a connection. The equipment in her hands dropped as she hugged her middle, hunching over. It felt like her body was being invaded and as though there were fingers crawling under her skin. It was overwhelming and extremely uncomfortable.
Riley dropped to her knees, and Miller and Gabrielle quickly ran over. “How many have connected Riley?”
“I can’t tell, they keep trying to reconnect,” she choked out.
“Miller, how many do you sense?” Ethan asked.
“I think it’s seven.”
“I really shouldn’t be here,” Riley groaned before passing out.