"Everyone has clothes, food and water enough to be comfortable for the weekend?" Heero asked, reading from a list he'd printed out at the computer lab. Wufei rolled his eyes, and Quatre flopped back onto his bed, staring up at the posters that decorated his half of the dorm room he and Heero shared. Heero's part of the room was austere and perfectly neat, but Quatre's had more of a... lived-in quality. Zechs, Quatre's favorite rock star, smiled down at him from a dozen full-color pictures. Quatre sighed. Deep blue eyes, golden skin, long, pale hair... and oh, could that man ever sing!
"Ahem. Clothes, food and water?" Heero repeated.
"Check," Wufei and Quatre both intoned reluctantly.
"I have a watch," Heero said, nodding as he checked another item off the list.
"And I have a stop watch," Wufei offered.
"I have the cameras," Quatre said in a tone of exaggerated patience, which was completely ignored by Heero. "One with high-speed film and one with high-speed black-and-white film."
"35 millimeter?" Heero asked.
"You know it is."
"Speed 400ASA or better?"
"Good." Another check for the list.
"And I have the video camera--*with* gyroscopic correction," Wufei said quickly before Heero could interrupt. "Not that it should matter much, because I have a tripod for it."
"I have the audio recorder, microphone, and high-grade metal tape," Heero said, checking off the items with an unmistakable air of satisfaction.
"And I have my tape recorder, too," Quatre said. "As a backup... not that we'll need it, of course..."
"Still. Backup's a good idea. Enough film and tapes to spare? To last a whole weekend?"
"OH, yeah," Wufei answered, gazing over the mound of video and audio tapes and film cartridges, all still sealed in their original packaging.
"We each have a flashlight and a spare... set of candles, matches, kerosene lantern, batteries..."
"I got the first-aid kit, too," Quatre interrupted, and after a brief pause to check the item off, Heero resumed.
"Cellphones, notebooks, sketch book, pencils, pens, plastic containers and bags, chalk, compass... and thermometers," Heero finished.
"Check, check, check, check, and checkitty-check," Wufei chirped. "Heero, we've been over the list three times!"
"We're all just excited about it," Quatre said. "I don't know about you two, but I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight!"
"You have to; there's an Economics exam tomorrow morning," Heero said, frowning because Quatre had included him in the 'excited' group. He *was* excited, but that didn't mean he wanted anyone else to know about it.
"I know," Wufei said mournfully.
"It'll be easy." Quatre's smile was reassuring, but they all knew the test would be anything but simple.
"For you, maybe," Wufei answered, smiling to show there were no hard feelings. "You learned all that from your family."
"Ugh. Knowing it and *liking* it are two different things," Quatre pointed out, pulling a face to emphasize his own lack of enthusiasm. "The only good thing about the family wealth is that I can use it to buy our equipment."
"Regardless, we have a test in the morning before our first paranormal investigation," Heero said. "I suggest you both try to get a good night's sleep."
"Is Duo coming with us?" Quatre asked, sitting up in order to look at his two friends.
*THUMP THUMP* The door to Quatre and Heero's room rattled with a quick pounding before abruptly flinging itself open so fast that none of the occupants had time to react. "Yo, Heero! Quatre--you around? Either of you see my roomie?" called a cheerful if rather harried voice.
"Duo!" Quatre cried, his face brightening with a glad smile.
"Speak of the devil," Heero muttered darkly.
"Duo," Wufei said, shaking his head and laughing softly. Heero did protest overmuch, in Wufei's opinion. "Why are you looking for me?"
A slim figure in black jeans and T-shirt stepped forward. Taking a stand in the doorway, Duo gave the room and its contents a bright-eyed once over. His smile widened to a grin as he gave his head a little shake that sent his chestnut braid bobbing. His buddies were still pursuing that silly ghost-hunting stuff. For a moment he was tempted to re-start his teasing, but opted instead to answer his roommate's question. "Oh hey, man, 'cause I know how you worry. Last time I didn't come in 'til dawn you were ready to call the campus police. If I had a mother I'm sure you would be worse."
"And your point is?" Heero asked harshly, his scowl deepening at the knowing smile Wufei tossed in his direction. He didn't care what Wufei said, he did *not* like that skinny, amoral goofball!
"That I'll be out all night," Duo's eyebrows waggled as his expression grew playfully salacious. "Prof. Bloom is willing to give me some private tutoring. Has any guy ever been luckier? Did you see her the other day? She had on a skirt so short and so tight it might as well have sprayed on! And those legs! They go all the way up to here!" Duo dropped his heavy back pack as he made a descriptive hand gesture. "Man, oh man!" Duo heaved a delighted sigh as he flopped back to lean against the doorjamb. "The key that fits that lock is gonna be mighty lucky."
"Duo!" Quatre protested, blushing madly.
Suddenly Duo straightened. "Oh hey, that reminds me. Sorry, Wufei, lost my keys again. Don't worry, they're probably in the room under my laundry. I'll find them when I wash this weekend, but just in case don't empty the trash, Ok?"
"Aren't you coming with us to Khushrenada House?" Quatre asked.
"When's that? Can't be tonight, we all got that economics exam tomorrow. Thought you said it was gonna be tomorrow." Duo cocked his head questioningly.
"It *is* going to be tomorrow," Heero said sourly. "After the test."
"Oh, umm that's what I thought," Duo said giving his back a vigorous scratch against the door frame with an undulating wiggle. "Sorry, Q, no can do. Don't wanna disappoint the ladies, you know." He winked and added with a suggestive drawl, "Dr. Po is giving me a *ha~and* with a grant application. If I get it, I go from working my way through school washing dishes to working my way through school schmoozing coeds. Guess you intrepid Ghostbusters are on your own!" He laughed and picked up his pack, giving his head one last "oh brother" shake as his glance slid again over the mound of ghost-hunting equipment. "See ya!" he called as he headed down the hall. Through the open door, they could clearly hear his baritone voice singing, "If there's something strange, in the neighborhood... who ya gonna call--Ghostbusters!" Heero scowled down the hallway after him and then slammed the door shut before returning to brood over his checklist.
"Well, shoot," Quatre said, flopping back on his bed with a slightly pouty air. "I was hoping he'd come with us. It won't be the same without Duo."
"We'll be much more efficient without him," Heero replied gruffly, his frown deepening as the refrain of Duo's song echoed through the closed door.
"Yeah, but it won't be as much fun."
"Oh, it'll be all right," Wufei said reassuringly. "We'll be so busy, we won't even have time to miss him!"
Heero snorted. "Some of us wouldn't miss him, regardless."
"And just think, we may actually get to *witness* the Grey Lady of Khushrenada House!"
"You think so?" Quatre asked, brightening. "That'd be so cool!"
"We have a lot to look forward to tomorrow," Heero said. "Time for bed."
"Oh, but I don't think I could sleep!" Quatre protested.
"You could study."
"I can't concentrate on any of that stuff," Wufei said, grimacing.
"Then we should go over the checklist one more time," Heero said firmly. "Everyone has clothes, food and water enough for the weekend, right?"
Quatre and Wufei groaned.
Khushrenada House wasn't nearly as imposing as Heero would've expected, but he already knew that many haunted places didn't appear at all mysterious in the daylight. With a sigh, he carefully slid his heavy pack to the dusty floor and went back for another armload.
"It's a lucky thing you were able to get us permission to stay overnight," Quatre was saying as he strained to lift his pack out of the trunk of the car. Heero snorted and pulled it out, shouldering it before Quatre could protest.
"Gee, Heero, thank-"
"You take care of the cameras," Heero interrupted gruffly, wondering what the hell Quatre had packed, for his bag to be so heavy.
"I didn't have as much trouble as you'd expect," Wufei replied with a smile. "I just played it up as a cute college-kid sort of thing, and let Miss Bloom grin at me like I didn't have two brain cells to rub together. She even sent a man out here to be sure the floors were structurally sound. We should be safe... from physical threats, anyway," he finished in a low, spooky voice.
"Oh, ha, ha," Quatre said. He didn't want to admit that just the sight of Khushrenada House was... unsettling, to him.
"Not that there's anything to protect us from The Lady..." Wufei intoned, continuing in his spooky voice as he stepped closer to Quatre.
"Stop it," Quatre said uneasily, then grabbed up his cameras and followed after Heero.
"I'm sorry," Wufei said. "I was only kidding."
"I just... don't think we should talk about her that way," Quatre said, giving Wufei a hesitant smile.
"Ok, then we won't," Wufei said.
"We'll set up the tape recorder right here," Heero said, indicating a spot on the floor next to a dust-covered rocking chair. The whole house seemed to be covered in a thick layer of dust, which had only been disturbed by the footprints of the inspector who'd come out that morning to ensure that the house was still structurally sound. The woman who now owned the place had intended to preserve it as a museum, but lack of funds and a series of unfortunate coincidences that occurred during the preservation process had resulted in the house being left to rot; Miss Bloom referred to it as the albatross around her neck.
"You want to fill us in on the history?" Quatre asked as he bent over to help set up the tape recorder. "Just to refresh our memories?" There was a soft pat on his behind, and he wheeled to give Wufei a poisonous glare. The Chinese boy was apparently absorbed in unwinding a recalcitrant microphone cord.
"There's not that much in the books," Heero said. "The house was built in 1852 by Treize Khushrenada, III. At the time, Khushrenada was one of the big men in town--friends with the mayor, attended dinners with the town council members, the judge, and so on. Most of them were involved in his allegedly shady business practices; Khushrenada was the richest man in town when he died. The only man Khushrenada hadn't been able to cultivate a friendship with was Parson Barton."
"Oh, I remember hearing about that!" Wufei said. "There was a feud between them, according to local gossip. Old Mr. Khushrenada caused all kinds of trouble for the Parson; he even used his ties with the town council to get the lot the church was built on marked for the site of the new Town Hall."
"The town council must've been more afraid of Mr. Khushrenada than of God," Quatre mused quietly.
"That Town Hall is the very same building which is still standing today," Wufei finished.
"I guess it's safe to assume the Parson wasn't pleased," Quatre added. "But he never retaliated; according to the journal of Harold Mueller, Barton ended up moving in with him and his family shortly before his death, and he was praying for the soul of Khushrenada right up until the very end. Ironically, when Khushrenada died intestate the following year, Parson Barton's son, Dekim, bought Khushrenada House for a song--the current owner, Miss Bloom, is a descendent of the his. Dekim claimed that he would sell off items from Khushrenada House and use the proceeds for charity, but a series of unexplained phenomena drove him away."
"Khushrenada wasn't just supposedly a shady businessman," Heero continued. "He also had a reputation for infidelity; even his friends were supposedly careful never to leave him alone in a room with their wives or daughters."
"That's all?" Quatre asked. "I mean, that's all the information we have on the house?"
"Officially, yes," Heero replied.
"Unofficially, there are rumors that might explain how the house came to be haunted," Wufei said. "Rumor has it that Khushrenada took advantage of his governess. The woman, whose name was Lucretia Noin, often sat in this very rocking chair, rocking and telling stories to Khushrenada's three young children. It's said that she loved them all dearly, which makes what she did all the more horrible. Khushrenada's wife, Anne, found out about the affair and insisted that Lucretia be removed from her household. Khushrenada told Lucretia she'd be sent packing in the morning. Lucretia went mad and drowned the three Khushrenada children in the bathtub, then hanged herself. Khushrenada, his wife Anne and some friend of the family were also found dead the next morning, of mysterious causes."
"Back then, they didn't have a lot of the forensic techniques we have now," Heero commented.
"Right. Poison was suspected, but there was no concrete proof, and it wasn't clear whether Khushrenada had poisoned the others and himself deliberately, or if there was some other cause. The entire Khushrenada household was laid to rest in the family plot out back, except for the disgraced governess, who was buried in an unmarked grave at the town cemetery. And ever since then, according to legend, anyone who sits in Lucretia's chair dies miserably within a year. The ghost of a lady, presumed to be Lucretia, walks the halls of Khushrenada House at night, looking for the children. Other paranormal activity, such as cold spots and strange noises, have been attributed to Khushrenada himself."
Quatre felt a chill travel down his spine, and he shivered.
"*Officially,*" Heero said, "there have been reported incidents of paranormal phenomena, including an apparition resembling a woman in a long grey dress."
"There's a grain of truth in most rumors," Wufei said, unruffled by Heero's apparent rejection of his contribution.
"We deal in hard facts, not rumors."
"Yes, General Heero!" Wufei snapped a salute, grinning broadly. Well, someone had to lighten things up, with Duo absent. Quatre had been looking positively green, but the moment of levity seemed to have snapped him out of it.
"You don't have to call me 'General Heero.' 'O, Exalted Heero' will do."
"Where do you want the backup recorder, O Exalted Heero?" Quatre asked, laughing. It was a rare, rare thing to see Heero actually clowning around... or, well, as close to it as Heero ever came. He was clearly in high spirits; Quatre wondered if it was because they were finally ready for their first investigation, or because Duo wasn't there. Unlike Wufei, Quatre wasn't so sure that Heero harbored a crush for the outspoken boy; if he did, Quatre pitied him. Duo was so *blatantly* straight.
Several hours later, Wufei yawned and chewed another marshmallow. The excitement had worn off; they had set up the equipment and assumed their stations, and then there was nothing to do but sit and wait. Heero was as intensely focused as he had been three hours ago, scribbling notations in his notebook, presumably about floating dust-motes and the noises the house made as it settled. Periodically he got up and checked the readings on the wall thermometers he'd placed at various spots around the room.
Quatre also seemed alert; his blue eyes were fixed on the infamous rocking chair, which he was sketching in the fading afternoon light. Every now and then, one of the cameras or tape recorders would run out of tape, and the boy nearest to it would switch out the tape with a new one, and carefully note the time and day of the recording on the label.
But, for the most part... Wufei had to admit to himself that ghost-hunting was really, really boring. He fished another marshmallow out of the bag, looked at it with distaste, and put it back.
His weary sigh drew a sharp glance from Heero, who noted it down so that the sound Wufei had made wouldn't be mistaken for a supernatural entity, when they listened to the audio recording after the hunt was over. Wufei gave an apologetic shrug and settled back down.
Quatre shivered as the sunset cast blood-red fingers across the sky, and he quietly gripped his flashlight, taking small comfort in the solid weight of it. The others didn't seem to think anything of it, but Quatre felt increasingly uneasy and, now that they were really in a haunted house after dark, he began to feel the first stirrings of real fear.
It wasn't too long after darkness had settled that Wufei first saw it--a pale, ghostly figure, walking with steady, measured pace towards them. He gasped, and quickly aimed the video camera in that direction, heart pounding as he looked directly at his very first ghost. Behind him he heard the sound of a brief struggle, and then Quatre's camera flashed.
Wufei turned his head enough to see that Heero was now manning the camera; Quatre had completely frozen. He quickly turned back to his filming of the spectral figure as it made its painstaking way towards the rocking chair.
"HEY!" Wufei cried, noticing the telltale end of a long braid poking out under the wrappings covering the ghost's head.
"Maxwell!" Heero gasped, and grabbed the "ghost" by one slender wrist, his eyes blazing with fury. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
The "ghost" doubled over, laughing hysterically. "You should've seen your *faces*!" he gasped between giggles.
"I'm going to *kill* you," Heero growled.
"And then we can study your ghost," Wufei added helpfully.
Behind them, seemingly oblivious, Quatre slowly walked over to the rocking chair; Wufei caught sight of the motion out of the corner of his eye, but it was too late.
"Quatre, no!" Wufei yelled, just as the blond sat down and began slowly rocking, humming to himself.
But his voice...
His voice was... different. The hair stood up on the back of Wufei's neck. "Quatre?" he asked.
"Get the camera!" Heero hissed, shoving Duo out of his way.
"Quatre?" Wufei asked again.
"...no," Quatre said, softly, rocking and holding his arms out as though he were cradling a baby.
"It's Lucretia," Heero whispered.
"...yes," Quatre sighed, and he looked up. In the dim light, his eyes were a deep, dark shade of blue, and the shadows fell over his hair, darkening it until it looked almost black. "You have... your story wrong."
Duo moved beside him, and Heero cut him off with a sharp, angry gesture before he could speak.
"How is it wrong?" Heero asked.
"Those children...," Quatre's voice said, sounding eerie and mournful, "William and Henry and Elizabeth... they were never Anne's babies, they were *mine*."
"But-" Wufei began.
"How?" Duo asked.
"It all started when Anne first married Treize," Quatre said dreamily. "Until that moment, I had thought... that Treize and I might... but, well, a man of his stature can't really marry a maid from his household. People would have talked. But I knew... I knew I was the one Treize really loved, the one he belonged with. He promised me I would always have a future at Khushrenada House... and you see, Treize was always a man of his word.
"I still remember that day he brought her home. Anne. He never said anything, because he would never have dishonored himself that way, but I knew that it was only a marriage of convenience. I knew that he'd only married that... that *harridan* at the insistence of his family.
"I loved him, you see? I truly loved him."
"What happened then, Miss Lucretia?" Heero whispered; Duo crouched beside him, uncharacteristically quiet.
"Why then, William came into our lives," Quatre said. "He was such a fine, strong, healthy baby, from the very first. He never wanted to nurse from me, but it was obvious that we shared that very special bond, which only exists between a woman and her son. I would rock him in this very chair, for hours and hours...." Quatre's voice trailed off, and he rocked in the chair slowly, still holding his arms as though cradling an infant, and humming softly.
"And after William came Henry and Elizabeth, right?" Wufei asked softly after several minutes.
"My beautiful babies...," Quatre said. "I loved them all so dearly. I rocked them, and made sure they were fed and clean, and I sang to them and told them stories. Mine was the first face they recognized, and mine was the voice that calmed them when they cried. Oh, my children!" Quatre bent over suddenly, still clutching his invisible bundle, and sobbed.
"Quatre...," Duo whispered.
"Forgive me, oh, my children, oh, forgive me for what I've done!" Quatre sobbed, and he pitched forward out of the rocking chair, and would have landed face-first on the hard wooden floor if Heero hadn't caught him.
"Forgive me!" Quatre moaned, and clutched Heero's shirt, burying his face against Heero's chest. Heero, stunned, patted his back awkwardly.
"Mnh?" Quatre mumbled, and then sat up abruptly, blinking. "What's going on? Why is everyone staring at me?"
"Quatre? Do you... remember anything of what just happened?" Wufei asked, still filming; behind Quatre, Lucretia's chair was still rocking.
"I think... I think we'd better leave," Quatre said, and then gasped and grew wide-eyed as a sudden chill filled the room. "I think we need to leave *right now!*"
"But our investigation..." Heero began. The rocking chair started to rock faster, and in time to the agitated rocking, heavy footsteps sounded upstairs, heading down the hall.
"Please!" Quatre cried. "We have to go NOW! Now, Heero!"
The footsteps started coming down the stairs.
"Right now!" Quatre insisted, frantic. Heero nodded, and everyone scrambled to grab what they could and run out of the house. They all piled into the car and burned rubber getting away, and didn't stop driving until they'd reached the inter-denominational chapel on the other side of town. It was the one safe place the three ghost hunters had agreed on, mostly because the chapel was open 24 hours a day. They shuffled quietly into a pew in the back row, waiting while their heart rates slowly evened back out.
"What the hell was all that?" Duo demanded, grabbing Quatre's shoulder.
"I don't know," Quatre said. "It just... it was something bad."
"Some ghost hunters we are," Heero said morosely. "Things get a little spooky and we run for it."
"Smart ghost hunters live to hunt ghosts another day," Wufei said. "We agreed before we went there that if it got too intense, we'd come here. I think possession is pretty damned intense."
"Possession?" Quatre asked. "Why, what happened? Did you feel something trying to possess you?"
"Quatre..." Duo said, gaping at him. "You don't remember any of it?"
His three friends explained what had happened... and Quatre didn't believe a word of it.
"For one thing," he said, "I would never sit in that chair, just in case there really *was* a curse."
"I thought you didn't believe in curses," Duo said.
"Yes, but just in case, I'd hate to be the one to prove me wrong," Quatre replied. "Also, if I was going to channel a spirit, it should've been one that could give historical details--verifiable details that would help us make our case. Me announcing I'm Miss Lucretia is hardly scientific data."
"What the hell ever," Duo said. "I saw what I saw. It was your body, but it was not the hell *you* we were talkin' to. I might not sleep for a few years!"
"Well, if we've made a believer out of you, it wasn't a wasted effort," Heero said quietly, not looking at Duo.
"Not that *I* believe any of what you people are telling me," Quatre said, "but what I felt just before we left... would you guys mind if we just stayed here 'til daybreak?"
"Fine by me," Wufei said. "I hate to leave all our stuff unattended--but it'll be easier to get it in daylight."
"We'd better write down our accounts of what happened," Heero said, "while it's fresh in our minds. Here, Duo. I... happened to grab an extra notebook on my way out."
"Nuts," Duo said after a few moments' contemplation. "This means I can't rag on you guys about being ghostbusters any more, doesn't it?"
"Yes," Heero answered, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "That's what it means."
The next day, the four of them returned to the haunted house and quickly packed up their equipment; other than the disturbed dust, there was no evidence left behind of their visit. As they left, Wufei muttered a quick invocation, asking the spirits in the house to remain there in peace.
As soon as they got back to the campus, the first thing they did was watch the videotape footage from the night before. Quatre gaped at himself on film, amazed and more than a little frightened; Wufei and Heero were also watching intently.
"Well, fuck me!" Duo exclaimed suddenly, and the other three boys jumped. "He's lying! I mean, she's lying! Look at that!"
"Look at what?" Heero asked, puzzled.
"Watch," Duo said, rewinding the tape a bit. "When Quatre fibs, he always looks down and to the left. Sorry, Q, but you do. And he bites his lip a little. Watch this."
On the screen, they watched as Lucretia said, "I knew I was the one Treize really loved, the one he belonged with." Sure enough, Quatre's eyes turned downward, and he bit his lip.
"You're right," Quatre said, blinking in surprise. "She was lying...."
"She wasn't just lying, she was full of shit," Duo said. "Look, she was bullshitting us the whole time."
"But her... uh, grief over the children seemed genuine," Wufei said.
"Yeah," Quatre added. "I think that part was real. The grief, and the guilt." Everyone was quiet for a few minutes, watching as Lucretia finished telling her story through Quatre's mouth, then the camera jumped and went black.
"There's still a lot more to do," Heero said; the others jumped a little at the sudden break in the silence. "How about we get cleaned up and get some breakfast, and then we can work on developing the still shots."
"Can't we have a nap or something first?" Duo asked with a yawn. "Now that it's daylight and the spooks aren't coming to get us?"
"No rest for the wicked," Quatre said, grinning. "That means especially you, Duo."
"I'm curious to see what showed up on the film," Heero said. "There'll be plenty of coffee...." There was a little half-hearted grumbling, but eventually the ghost-hunting crew got moving; having the chance to wash off the dust and get a decent breakfast put them all in a better mood. Wufei and Duo set up the tape recorder and started playing back the tapes, to see if the machine had picked up anything unusual, while Quatre and Heero headed to the school's photography lab to use the darkroom.
Duo and Wufei had gotten to the third cassette of white noise (interrupted by the occasional bored sigh) when Heero and Quatre raced back into the room, all but bursting in excitement. "Guys! Look at this!" Quatre crowed, waving a photograph; in his own quiet way, Heero was just as enthusiastic.
"We caught another ghost on film!"
Sure enough, in the background behind Lucretia's rocking chair stood a second ghost. It appeared blurry in all of the photos, but they could make out a gloved hand in one picture, a buttoned waistcoat in another, a sorrowful face in a third.
"It's got to be Khushrenada," Wufei said, eyes round with awe.
"He looks miserable," Quatre said.
"What's he doing?" Heero asked. "Look, he's pointing...."
"Guys," Duo said, "I never thought I'd say this... but I think we ought to go back to that house one more time."
Somehow, after the night's events, Khushrenada House managed to look menacing even in the bright afternoon light. The four teenagers stayed close together as they crept indoors; the house was still, and utterly quiet. Despite the fact that sunlight was pouring through the windows, they all felt a chill as they stepped into the spot where the ghostly image had appeared, behind the rocking chair.
"He was pointing this way," Wufei said in a hoarse whisper. A small table stood there; Duo reached out to touch it and discovered that it was rich, glossy mahogany under the thick layer of gray dust. While the others watched, Duo slowly pulled open the single drawer... which was empty.
"Nothing," Duo said, his shoulders sagging; the sound of his voice seemed unnaturally loud in the waiting silence.
"He was pointing *down*," Heero said, and nudged Duo out of his way to kneel down in front of the table and rap on the floor. One section made a hollow sound, and Heero glanced up at his friends to give them a rare grin. "I think Khushrenada was trying to tell us something," he said.
"Wait," Quatre said, putting a hand on Heero's shoulder. "We don't have permission to pull up floorboards...."
"Q, are you for real?" Duo asked, gaping at him.
"He's right," Heero said, and stood up... and his feet went straight through the floor with a loud cracking noise. He yelped, and jumped back, leaving a shower of wooden chips and splinters pattering across the dusty floor.
"So much for the building being structurally sound," Wufei said sourly, but Heero was already on his knees, peering into the hole he'd made in the rotten floorboard.
"I think it's a book!" he cried. Duo squatted down and reached toward the hole, but Heero caught his hand. "Wait. We'd better call the house owner before we do anything else," he said. "It's one thing to have an accident, but another thing entirely to steal from the house."
Wufei ran out to the car to get his cell phone, and Quatre watched through the window as the Chinese boy talked into the phone for several minutes, pacing and gesticulating wildly. Eventually, Wufei returned to the house, looking dejected.
"We've been ordered to leave the premises immediately, and not touch anything else," he announced. "We may be in trouble for coming back to the place... and for causing property damage."
"Damn," Heero muttered.
"Shit!" Duo said. "This is nuts! You just gonna leave the book here?"
"What are we supposed to do?" Heero asked, frowning and looking decidedly pouty. "We can't just steal it, and we don't have permission to stay here."
"He wanted us to find it," Quatre said, eyes closed. "He wanted us to read it. He's trying to tell us something."
"Let's go," Heero said, "before they get here. We don't want legal trouble."
"Man..." Duo said, as everyone glumly followed Heero back to the car. "This *sucks*."
"Still," Quatre replied. "Our first ghost-hunting expedition was a huge success. I mean, think about it! We were contacted by two spirits! And the ghost of Khushrenada pointed us to real evidence!"
"There's still lots to do," Heero commented, without his prior enthusiasm. "We have more film to develop, and we need to record everything that's happened today."
"I still want to know what's in that book," Duo said stubbornly, glaring out of the car window with his arms crossed. "I'm sorry I let you guys drag me into this."
Heero's expression didn't change; he focused his attention on his driving, and after a few minutes of silence he pulled into the parking lot. His team looked tired and discouraged as they clambered out of the car and started the walk to campus.v "Buck up," he said. "We'll just contact the paper and let them know the scoop. The publicity will be good for Khushrenada House, and they may even print the contents of that book."
"You know... that's not a bad idea," Duo said.
"Miss Bloom might be glad of the publicity," Wufei added. "And maybe she'll be able to make enough money out of this to preserve the house, after all."
"It'll probably be a while before we get to know what's in there, though," Duo said. "The curiosity's gonna *kill* me."
"Like a cat," Heero said. "Sadly, you probably have eight more lives after this one."
"Ha, well you know what they say, He-man," Duo said, grinning lazily. "Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back." Heero blinked, nonplussed and completely at a loss as to how to answer that.
"In the meantime," Quatre said, "I guess we should wrap up this investigation, right?"
"Uh, yes," Heero said, grateful to Quatre for getting them back on track. "Once we're done, we can start getting ready for next time. I want to investigate the site of the New Hope Chapel."
"Oooh!" Quatre and Wufei both got wide-eyed with excitement.
"Isn't that the church that burned down while the people were still inside it?" Duo asked dubiously.
"Yes," Heero replied. "Rumor has it that the site is completely haunted--everything from cold spots and will-o'-the-wisps to mild poltergeist activity."
"You people are nuts, you know that?" Duo asked; he still hadn't forgotten how frightened they'd all been during the night--even Heero had huddled in the pew of the sanctuary looking spooked.
"You mean you don't want to come with us?" Quatre asked, disappointed. "It'd be so cool!"
All three of his ghost-hunting friends were looking at him. Duo paused for a long moment, and then said, "Nah, I wouldn't miss it--which means I'm probably as nuts as the rest of you. C'mon, guys, let's get some lunch before we finish with the spooky stuff."
With that, he headed toward the cafeteria, singing, "If there's something strange, in the neighborhood... Who you gonna call?"
"I'm gonna have to kill him," Heero growled, as the team followed Duo.
"Well, if you do, I'm sure we'd get some good data on his ghost," Wufei said, giving Heero a pat on the shoulder. Heero snorted, and lagged behind a bit, letting the others go on ahead of him. In the bright sunlight and sweet, warm Indian-summer breeze, it was hard to stay irritated for long. They'd finish up their investigation of the Grey Lady of Khushrenada House, which Heero considered an outstanding success despite the loss of the mysterious book. And then... then they'd get ready for New Hope, which promised to be a fascinating study. Maybe he'd even be able to convince his friends to go to the site on Halloween!
Heero was grinning as he caught up to his friends.
"Who you gonna call?"
Author's note: It's probably obvious that there's more story to tell, here. If all goes well, I plan to have a second Ghost Hunters story for Gundam Legends 2004. ^_^v I hope you enjoyed the story--and Happy Halloween!