The hotel manager of the Glimmerbrook Grand had confirmed that the mystery man in their sketch was the man she remembered attacking her. Ralf had requested the CCTV and Jessica had been keen to get him back in the patrol car and on their way to Joe’s.
But, Ralf insisted that they needed to swing by the station ‘for five minutes’ which had turned into five hours and before Jessica knew it, her shift was over and she was no closer to finding out if her hunch was correct.
She had convinced Ralf to go to Joe’s first thing; it was so early that the sun had yet to rise and Jessica had giddily run towards the building from the car, sketchbook in hand, before Ralf caught up and gently pried the cheap pad from her grasp.
“Jess, I know you’re keen,” he began, walking towards the tavern. “But perhaps let me lead here.”
Jessica blinked at him in surprise, but was quick to concede to his authority, even if it aggrieved her. “OK. What do you want me to do, Boss?”
“You can— what the heck?!”
It took a few seconds for Jessica’s eyes to adjust to the dark bar, and then a few more to establish what was going on, by which point the lights had flickered to life above them and she saw Joe, giving her a cheeky smile.
“Morning, Joe!” Jessica called. “Check out the new wallpaper! I like what you’ve done with the place.”
“Wallpaper?!” Ralf whispered. “You are seeing the women near the fireplace, right?”
“Them? Oh, yeah. Judging by their head gear they’re GliTS.” At Ralf’s blank look, Jessica explained, “Members of the Glimmerbrook Truth Society. I considered joining once, but then I realised that they’re all—“
“Batshit crazy?” Fred uttered. “You’re telling me! Can’t enjoy a single beer in peace! They’re always freaking out over old Joe here and his naughty tricks.”
“Why Fred!” Joe gasped. “I have no idea what you’re talking about! It’s all paranormal activity of course!”
“Right,” Ralf said, looking uneasy. “Hey Jess, why don’t you go over and talk to those girls while I handle things here? See what you can glean from them.”
“Oh. OK, Boss. Sure, I guess.” Jessica smiled and headed towards the rear of the bar, but she suddenly felt like she’d forgotten to put clothes on. Why would Ralf ask her to chat to the GliTS? What on earth could she glean from them?
Maybe this was some sort of test. Oh no, had she missed something? Did Ralf know something that she didn’t? Or was she simply so inept that this was his polite way of excusing her from the case?
“Calm, girls. Calm!” One of the ladies near the fireplace said to her two tinfoil-hatted companions. “It was probably just an electrical fault! It’s OK! Look, the lights are back on! It’s OK! Panic over. It’s OK.”
“Oh my gosh, Morag! I can’t take much more of this!” The one in the brown jumper said as she took a seat at a nearby table. “I’m too young to die!”
“You’re not going to die, Yibbo!” Morag said. “Ghosts don’t want to hurt us. Right, Pixie?”
“I don’t know!” Pixie said. “I just talk to them! They don’t usually respond!”
The women didn’t notice Jessica when she cleared her throat or said hello, so she plonked herself on the vacant seat at their table and inserted herself into their conversation. “It depends on a lot on the ghost. Some of them do intend harm, but one who is messing with electrical equipment is probably just trying to communicate with you, or maybe out to frighten you.” At the silence, Jessica continued. “That’s what it said in your recent newsletter, anyway.”
“I knew that! Of course I knew that, I wrote that article,” Pixie snarled. “Who are you anyway? Bit suspicious of you to turn up just as the lights go out, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes!” Yibbo gasped, her eyes shining. “That reeks of witchcraft!”
“I’m Jessica. And I don’t think I’m a witch, but maybe I am and maybe I did make the lights go out. Or come back on, as I assume they went off before I entered, but they definitely came back on once I was inside.”
“Hmm,” Morag mused. “I’m not convinced you’re a witch, but I do have a theory. Tell me, Jessica; have you ever had anything unexplainable happen to you before? Anything involving electricity?”
Jessica tapped her chin, thinking. “Oh! Yes! When I was a teenager, I was listening to the radio in the shower and it fell off the wall and mildly electrocuted me. Since then, I’ve heard voices. Mother said it was simply coincidence, but I always wondered; was it coincidence? Or was it some kind of awakening?”
The three metallic-headed women looked at each other, four raised eyebrows between them. Morag gave an almost imperceptible nod, which Yibbo reciprocated. Pixie looked between her two companions before she whispered, “Fine, I guess she can know.”
“Know what?” Jessica asked, holding her breath. Was this it? Did Ralf send her over here because he knew that she could infiltrate this group, decipher their codes and find all the answers to every mystery?
“There’s no such thing as coincidence,” Pixie murmured in a sinister fashion. “That’s what they want you to think.”
Jessica was still holding her breath. “What who wants me to think?” she asked, using up her residual oxygen.
Pixie leaned in so the men at the bar wouldn’t hear her. “The government doesn’t want you to know about the ghosts…”
“…the SBI try to cover up the witches…” Morag added in a whisper.
“…and the Wangshafts will take their knowledge of vampires to the grave,” Yibbo concluded.
Jessica sucked in a fresh breath. “You think there’s some sort of witch and vampire cover up?”
“And ghosts,” Pixie added. “Don’t forget the ghosts. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.”
“I can tell you’re sceptical, but think about it,” Yibbo whispered conspiratorially. “If it was coincidental, some events would be different, right? Left to chance, the outcome would, inevitably, vary. Yet, every missing person case is the same. They arrive here and they vanish without a trace. Your predecessors have never found a thing, although we have a theory about that, too.”
“Do you think the missing people cases have been covered up?” Jessica asked, her heart racing, thinking of Rose Smalley’s incomplete file.
“We don’t think it, Jessica,” Morag said, tapping her hat. “We know it. They say there’s a serial killer, that it’s a suicide hotspot or prone to weather anomalies. They say it’s all coincidence. But that’s not what the evidence says.”
“What does the evidence say?” Jessica said, barely louder than a breath.
Yibbo leaned in towards Jessica, as if entrusting her with a huge secret. “Witnesses have shadow memory of a monster who savages his victims. They have described a green-eyed succubus who lures men to madness and a little witch child who can turn into a cat. These woods are alive with supernatural activity, Jessica. Activity that seems to centre on this very bar.”
Jessica stared at Yibbo’s face, looking for any hint of irony. There was none.
“Where do the ghosts fit in?” she asked.
“Everywhere and nowhere,” Pixie said. “They are the souls of the victims of these beasts, doomed to roam the forests of Forgotten Hollow until the truth is brought to light. And we, the Glimmerbrook Truth Society, endeavour to uncover the truth, to free them.”
“Is that was this is about?” Jessica asked, pointing to the large, plastic ball on the table. “Were you holding a séance?”
“Is there a better way of figuring out how someone died other than asking them?” Morag enquired.
“Huh,” Jessica said. “I guess not. You know, I held a séance at college with my roommates. We were convinced that our dorm was haunted by a former student who would sneak into the kitchen at night and eat the cocoa powder straight from the jar. Nothing happened during the séance, but later on that night, my roommate was hanging out in the kitchen when the cocoa-eating fiend appeared.”
The three GliTS were hanging on her every word. “Who was it?” Yibbo asked, her eyes wide and curious. “What did she want?”
“It was me. Turns out that I was sleepwalking,” Jessica replied. “And I guess I just really wanted to eat cocoa powder.”
The women whispered between themselves for a while, exchanging more eyebrow raises and nods.
Pixie smiled. “My fellow GliTS and I would like to hold another séance with you present, Jessica. We feel that it’s likely that you are very receptive to spirits. However, this carries some risks. Morag?”
Morag sat upright, cleared her throat and reeled off her disclaimer. “Participation in communication efforts with the dead may result symptoms that include, but are not limited to, feelings of dread and/or fear, heart palpitations, possession of body, out of body experiences, mind control, insomnia, drowsiness, incontinence, kidney failure and death.”
“I see, ” Jessica replied, pressing her palm to her chest and tilting her chin up with pride. “For the souls of the mispers of Forgotten Hollow, I’ll risk it.”
Pixie nodded solemnly and Yibbo swiftly reached underneath the ‘crystal’ ball to press a button that caused it to light up. Pixie lifted her arms, closed her eyes and began swaying, like those inflatables outside car dealerships, while humming a little ditty that sounded remarkably like the Ghostbusters theme tune.
“Isn’t she amazing?” Yibbo whispered, excitedly.
“Oh, forlorn spirits!” Pixie called. “We seek once again to communicate with your kind! If you can hear me, give me a sign!”
The lights flickered. Jessica cast her eye over at the bar, but Joe had both hands occupied, pouring Fred another beer. He shrugged.
“I sense a disturbance!” Pixie called. “I can see… a young man. No! A young woman! She’s… running. No! Not running! Lying on the floor! She’s scared! No, not scared, she’s… she’s—“
“Angry!” Jessica suddenly growled, snapping her head to her shoulder and lifting her arms in disjointed fashion. “Ugh! Ack! What is your reason for summoning me, poorly-knitted-jumper human?”
“What the hell?” Pixie gasped. “I mean, h- hello spirit! I’m Pixie. We wish to learn about you, to help you. Wh- who are you?!”
Jessica snarled and clawed at the air. “I am a powerful witch! I was killed by the one I loved and I am doomed to wander the earth until I find him!”
“Oh my gosh, Pixie!” Yibbo shrieked. “This is freaking me the heck out! Do something!”
“I… I don’t know what to do!” Pixie cried.
“Do anything!” Morag screeched. “Jessica! Can you hear me? Fight her, Jessica!”
Jessica continued to hiss and claw, vaguely aware of the digital beep across the bar that she recognised as Ralf’s phone.
“Oops! You know what? I never liked him that much anyway. Always leaving the loo seat up. I’ll be on my way now. Farewell!”
Jessica stuttered dramatically and threw herself on to the table top. As the GliTS watched in frozen horror, Jessica took a sharp intake of breath and pulled herself upright.
“So, shall we start this séance, then?”
Ralf approached her, warily. “Um, Jess? Sorry to break up… whatever this is. A word. Outside?”
Jessica followed Ralf from the bar, keeping a straight face until the door had closed behind her. “Sorry Boss, I know I was making a scene. I couldn’t resist. All that nonsense about—“
“Jessica, they’ve found a body in the river.”
Jessica’s face lit up. “Wow, really? A dead one?”
“My first dead body,” Jessica said. “What are we thinking? Accident? Homicide?”
Ralf sighed heavily. “They found him near the cinema, Jessica,” he whispered, watching her face as the penny slowly dropped. “They think it’s Chase.”
“Then we need to go straight there!” she pleaded. “Look for clues!”
“We can’t do anything, Jessica, but especially not you,” Ralf said with uncharacteristic delicacy. “You may have been the last one to see him alive, you’d had a fight and you’re now doing his job. Look, I know you didn’t do anything but—“
Ralf continued to talk, his words drifting into her ears and merging with the inner voices who were all saying the same thing.
This is bad.