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To see Tom's face, you would think that he was trying to comprehend an astonishingly complex mathematical equation. He scrunched up his forehead and nose as he tried to understand what he was seeing. The reason for his distress was that, before him, floating about in the middle of the hall, was the candelabra that he had seen from way back at the door to Leota's room.

 

 

Tom walked in a full circle around the lights, staring in disbelief. How could this be possible? he asked himself. The candelabra seemed to follow him as well. When he moved to the right, it did the same thing at the exact same time. Trying to keep his distance, he stepped to the left. It moved to the left at the same time as well.

 

 

"What the...?" thought Tom. "This has to be some kind of a trick. It must be operated by strings or something." He stood directly in front of it and waved his hands wildly around the candlestick.

 

 

It seemed to move back a little bit when he did this, the flames flickering from the sudden movement of air around it. He tried waving his arms around it again. Again it moved back from him.

 

 

"Hmmm. No strings, " he said, scratching his head in dismay.

 

 

"Excuse me, but would ya mind gettin' the hell out of my way?" came a woman's voice very near to the candelabra. "Every time I try to pass ya on one side, ya block my path. When I go to the other side, ya do it again! And stop wavin' yur damn arms around in my face! Haven't ya got any manners? What's wrong with you?!"

 

 

Tom's jaw dropped as he watched the form of a woman materialize before him. "Hellooo!!" she yelled. "Are ya deaf or somethin'?"

 

 

"Um...hey, you're Prudence, aren't you? The one who brought Carol and I our drinks in the dying room."

 

 

"Yeah, what of it?" she replied, irritated.

 

 

"What did you put in our drinks?!" he demanded to know.

 

 

"Well, what ever it was, obviously I didn't put enough of it in! Now will ya git out of my way, or do I have to whack ya with this here lamp stand?"

 

 

As she passed him and began to fade, Tom reached out to stop her from leaving. Maybe she might know something about Carol. "Hey, wait a second," he said, trying to take her by the arm. His hand passed straight through it.

 

 

"Do not ever try to touch me again," she said. "Now what do ya want from me, sonny?"

 

 

Tom realized that this woman was not at all interested in him and did not see him as a threat. She didn't even seem concerned that this mortal was wandering about the halls, and she certainly didn't give any indication that she was going to announce his presence to anyone else in the house. She was merely going about her duties, whatever that may be.

 

 

"Please, Prudence, please tell me what they've done with Carol. Where is she?"

 

 

"How should I know? What do I look like, an F.B.I. agent?"

 

 

"Please, you've got to help me. I don't know where I am, Leota is after me, and I can't find Carol. I don't even know how to get out of this house. Please, Prudence."

 

 

"Leota is after you, ya say? Well, now there's a bargainin' chip. I've been lookin' for a chance to get back at her for a long time after that nasty trick she played on me." After a moment of thought, she said, "Okay, I'll help ya - but not for yur sake. I've got an old score to settle."

 

 

"Thank you!" said Tom, relieved that there might be a chance of getting out alive, and with Carol. "So where do we look for Carol?"

 

 

"I don't rightly know. She was taken to the Corridor of Doors, and I was to help prepare her for dinner (Mrs. Gracey has a dinner party planned in the Ball Room to celebrate our new feast). But last I heard she had escaped from her guards. Ya know, I keep tellin' them not to send a werewolf to do a ghost's job; but do they ever listen to me? Noooo!"

 

 

"So then, now what do we do?" asked Tom with concern.



"Well, we could go down to the Ball Room. Guests from the local cemeteries will have already begun to arrive. Maybe we will hear somethin' (they are all such gossipers!). How does that sound?"

 

 

"Great! Let's go!" said Tom.

 

 

"Yes, let's go. Leota might be back for ya soon, and we surely don't want to get caught out here in the hall! It's right this way. Follow me." Prudence turned toward one of the closed doors and walked straight through it, her candelabra vanishing with her. Tom almost followed her example but stopped when he realized that he would not be able to walk through a solid door. He tried the door knob but it did not open.

 

 

Now, we all know that, when no one else is looking, we might just try something in an emergency that we would never do ordinarily. Tom was no different. Looking at the door, he took a deep breath, braced himself, and walked into the door.

 

 

A moment later he found himself lying sprawled out on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, and rubbing his sore nose. "You idiot!" he yelled at himself. "You are not a ghost! What were you thinking!?"

 

 

Just then Prudence popped her head through the wall and looked about for Tom. Seeing him on the floor, she said. "Well what in Sam Hill are ya waitin' for? Come on!"

 

 

"Um...Prudence, how am I supposed to get through this door?"

 

 

"Oh, yeah; sorry about that. I've been a ghost for so long, I forgot about those little inconveniences of life."

 

 

"Should I try to break through the door?" asked Tom.

 

 

"That won't work. No mortal can break through these doors. The only other idea I can think of is to get the skeleton keys from Dick, the caretaker. But I hardly think that he will just hand them over to ya. I doubt he would even do it for me."

 

 

"Wait a minute!" said Tom excitedly as he rummaged through his pockets. He pulled out a set of keys. "I got these off of Dick earlier. Are these the ones you were talking about?"

 

 

"Clever boy!" laughed Prudence. "Now quickly! It's the key with the funny lookin' man on it."

 

 

Tom looked at the keys and found one with the image of a slim man engraved on it. He had bulging eyes and a wide grin. "I think I found it. Who is this character, anyway?" he asked as he closed the door behind him and began walking down a new corridor beside Prudence.

 

 

"I think his name was 'Maynard', or somethin'-or-other. Use to be the original caretaker of this Mansion. Now I hear he's livin' in southern California where he works at a haunted house in some amusement park or somethin'. Ha! If he wanted a haunted house, he should have just stayed right here."

 

 

"So, what is this trick you mentioned? The one that Leota played on you."

 

 

"Well, many years ago I was once Leota's personal maid (I prefer the term "assistant" if you don't mind). I was always afraid of this creepy house, and at night I would lock my door and hide under my blanket. One night Leota called me to her room, sayin' that she heard a strange noise out in the corridor and that she wanted me to go find out what it was. I went - with my knees knockin', I can tell ya that! In the middle of the night, with only the light of my candlestick, its rather hard to see in this old house, if you hadnt noticed already. Well, Leota must have used the passages between rooms to come around ahead of me, but suddenly a door swung open and out jumped Leota. She screamed somethin, I don't know what. Make a long story short... she frightened me sbad that I had  cardiac arrest and dropped to the ground deader than a coffin nail. After a while of getting use to the place, I have really come to enjoy it. Doesn't scare me as it use to. To pass the time, I keep myself busy with chores and other duties."

 

 

Tom gave an off-handed grunt to acknowledge that she'd finished speaking, but he was too deep in thought about Carol to pay attention. Prudence noticed this and shook her head. "Sheesh, you men are all alike. Dead or alive, ya just never listen." They passed through several hallways, each as long as the last. How big is this place? he wondered. After a while of silence, Prudence struck up another chat.

 

 

"So tell me somethin'....You don't seem to be very frightened about being in this house with all these spooks. If I were alive, it would scare me to death! Oh, well, I guess it done did that, didn't it? Haha. But what about you. Why ain't you scared?"

 

 

"Because it's just a dream. I don't believe in ghosts. You, and everyone else in this house - the house itself - is just a dream. A figment of my imagination. I know that any moment I will wake up in my bed, and all of this will have just been a bad dream."

 

 

"Really? My my. Well then, tell me this, Mr. Valliant. If all of this is just a dream, and if all of this is just a figment of your imagination....then why are ya tryin' so hard to find Carol?"

 

 

Tom gave a bitter glance in Prudence's direction. "Let's just keep looking, alright?!" he said.

 

 

*******************************************

 

 

Carol left Madame Leota's room without a clue as to where she was going. She had left through the door at the far side of the room, which took her into a new corridor. The walls of this hall were made of stone, and the air was stale and colder here than in the other parts of the house that she had been in so far. It was completely dark at the far end.

 

 

Portraits of grizzly looking creatures hung on the walls, and there were several small tables down the length of the hall on either side. Each table had a dead plant of some kind on it, and a lamp stand - with each candle lit. She came across a water canister on the floor. Picking it up, she could feel by its weight that it was quite full. Why would all of the plants be dead if they are watered? she wondered. Maybe no sun light? She looked at the canister more closely and discovered her answer. A skull and crossbones was embossed in the metal on both sides. The universal symbol for Poison. Considering Poison's recent music CD, she could hardly blame the plants for withering away.

 

 

Below the Jolly Roger, it also had the words inscribed, "Drink Me and follow the White Rabbit". What on earth does that mean? thought Carol. As she read the words again, this time out loud, the canister began to vibrate and she could hear a faint buzzing noise coming from inside. The eyes of the skull lit up with a bright red glow, and its mouth moved as it said in a creepy voice, "Dead men tell no tales! Return, Leota! Return to your friends of the Caribbean!"

 

 

Startled, Carol dropped the canister on the ground, spilling its contents on the stone floor. The liquid spread out; but just as Carol was about to step back from it, it suddenly retracted itself into a small ball and solidified. Bending down to it, Carol squinted her eyes, trying to see it in the bad light of this hall. It began to crumble and turn to dust. "How odd," said Carol. But the oddity of it had not yet finished revealing itself. Each particle of dust began to roll around and change shape, and in a moment the dust had become hundreds of little insects running about on the floor, their legs making clicking sounds on the stone.

 

 

"Ugh!!" Carol screamed. Running passed them, one of the disgusting little creatures jumped onto her bare leg and scurried onto her skirt.

 

 

Carol grabbed a candle from its holder and jabbed the creepy crawly with the flame. It let out a shrill squeak and fell dead to the ground.

 

 

The bugs began to swarm and move in her direction. Running as fast as her feet would carry her, she dashed to the other end of the hall, outrunning the insects. She paused for a moment to catch her breath. The stale air burned her nostrils.

 

 

At this end of the hall there was a spiral stone staircase leading up to the next level of the House. There were no doors in this corridor, except the one she had come through, and this left her no choice but to take the steps up. She took the first two steps hesitantly, looking up to see if she could get a glimpse of the room upstairs; but the curve of the stairwell blocked her view.

 

 

It got darker the higher she went, until finally she was in total darkness. She was about to turn back when she suddenly bumped into a wooden door. Carol didn't like this. Up until now, every door she had passed through was already open and she could see into the next room. But now she would have to open a door, not knowing at all what was behind it.

 

 

She took a few deep breaths to calm herself. She felt around for the door knob, but there was none. Only a latch, which she gently unhooked. Ever so slowly, she pushed the door open just enough to peek inside. She saw no one, but she could hear something which sounded like someone crying in the distance. Pushing the door a bit further, she was able to squeeze herself through without causing the hinges to make a sound.

 

 

Now inside the room, she looked around. The walls were steeply slanted down from the center, indicating that she had found the attic. The room was littered with wooden boxes and crates. There was an old fashioned rocking horse, and lots of antique furniture. In the middle of the room was a very large trunk or chest. The lock was smashed and laying in pieces on the floor nearby. There was only one candle in the room, and it sat on a large window ledge, though it was blocked from her viewing angle by a very large armoire.

 

 

Carol took a step around the armoire and stopped suddenly, nearly choking on her own breath. There before her stood a woman wearing a very beautiful silk wedding gown and veil. Or so it seemed. Upon closer inspection, Carol realized that it was merely a mannequin wearing the dress, obviously to keep it from getting spoiled. In fact, it was so clean that it looked brand new. Was this the dress that Mdm. Leota had ordered her to fetch?

 

 

Once again she could hear the sound of crying, and as she stepped further around the tall armoire her heart jumped into her throat.

 

 

There, sitting side-saddle in the corner of the window ledge, was a young woman, looking out of the window into the night. She wore a very old style of under garments, which were white and covered her from her shoulders to mid-calf on her legs. Her slip skirt fluttered in a breeze which Carol did not feel, and her hair was long and tied back in a single ponytail. She seemed to pay no notice of Carol, wrapping her arms around her shoulders and rocking herself as she wept quietly.

 

 

Carol could tell that she was a ghost by the woman's shimmering luminescence. She thought that, in spite of being extremely pale, the young lady was actually quite pretty. The woman looked innocent enough, and so Carol ventured to approach her. She sat down opposite to her on the window ledge. Carol's curiosity and natural affection for someone in tears pushed her fears aside temporarily.

 

 

There was a flash of lightning, and the woman sat up quickly, placing her hands to the glass and looking about wildly. After a moment the lightning stopped, and she returned to her weeping once more.

 

 

"What.....what's wrong?" Carol asked her in a hushed tone, feeling concern and sorrow for the poor ghost. "Why are you crying?"

 

 

But the ghost said nothing, nor did she so much as turn her head in Carol's direction, but instead continued her weeping. Carol felt that her heart would break if she sat there much longer watching the woman cry. "Please, oh please, tell me what's wrong," Carol said rather desperately. But the woman put her face into her hands and wept all the more. Not knowing what to do, Carol stood up to leave the woman in peace.

 

 

Again there was a flash of lightning, and again the woman quickly began to search for something outside the window. Carol shook her head sadly and began to walk away.

 

 

"She took him away from me," said the woman between her sobs, looking up yet again at the window as the night was momentarily lit up by the lightning.

 

 

Sitting back down, relieved that the woman had finally spoken, Carol asked, "What do you mean? Who was taken from you?"

 

 

"My husband, George."

 

 

"George?"

 

 

"George Gracey, the master of this house. She took him away from me on the very night we were married," she said, beginning her sobs once more.

 

 

"Who took him away? Who would do such a thing?"

 

 

"Her," she replied, glancing up at Carol, tears streaming down her ghostly white cheeks. "The one who always takes everything."

 

 

"But, who? Who took him? Oh please tell me."

 

 

"Madame Leota," she said with utter disdain.

 

 

"Oh, HER," said Carol, nodding her head in understanding. "Tell me....what happened to you?"

 

 

"On the night we were married, we played a game of hide and seek. Oh, I know it's old fashioned; but we were in love and giddy as school children. Once he had found me, he was to take me to our wedding chambers. I hid in that trunk over there," she said, pointing to the chest in the middle of the room. "Madame Leota discovered my hiding place and locked me in."

 

 

"Are you sure it was Madame Leota?" asked Carol. "How did you know it was her?"

 

 

"Her laugh. Her hideous, snarling laugh. I'd know it anywhere. After a time, I knew that George would never find me there. At least, not in time."

 

"In time? In time for what?" Carol asked, shivering at her story.

 

 

"In time to save me before I ran out of air. Before long, I began to lose consciousness. Then I gasped for my last breath and expired. Leaving my body behind, I went in search for him. But by the time I found him, he had already discovered my body, and, in his grief, he could neither see nor hear me."

 

 

"How absolutely horrible!" said Carol, tears running down her own cheeks now.

 

 

Lightning flashed once more, and the woman strained to look outside with such effort that Carol feared the woman would jump right through the window. The lightning ended, and the woman slumped down on the ledge again. She continued her story.

 

 

"The next day, I stood among the flowers in the garden as I watched the horses pull the glass hearse containing my coffin. There was a great procession of people behind the hearse, with George leading them. There was also a terrible storm that day, and lightning frightened the horses. They bucked up and my casket slid out. Before George could reach it, my body was thrown from the coffin, and my wedding band flew off my finger into the mud. The horses trampled it into the ground, and it is there to this day. That is why I stay here in this attic. It is the only place in the house from where I can see my ring and remember our love."

 

 

Carol was now weeping. The woman looked on her with a teary smile for showing the sympathy. "How..." began Carol with a sniffle, "...how did Master Gracey die?"

 

 

Looking back toward the window, her eyes widening with sadness, the woman said, "That night, George hung himself from the rafters of this house in despair. But his death was also Madame Leota's."

 

 

"I don't understand," said Carol.

 

 

"Well, you see, Madame Leota was becoming very powerful through contact with the spirit world. She wanted this house, to use it as the center of spirit contact - a doorway to the other side. George was very much against this, and it made her very angry. Now, I don't know all of the details about what happened after my death, as I was having a hard time dealing with my own passing; but, according to The Ghost Gallery, apparently Madame Leota contrived a great spell to trap George within her crystal ball, giving her control over the Mansion. But at the moment she cast her spell, George had died at the end of a rope. This caused Madame Leota's spell to reverse upon her, and she herself became trapped in her crystal ball."

 

 

Not knowing how she would respond to the news, Carol gently asked her, "Do you know that George is still within this house?"

 

 

"Oh yes, but he does not know that I am here. He refuses to come up here to the attic because of what happened here; and, for some reason, I have not been able to leave this attic. It is probably due to another one of Madame Leota's spells. I wish there was some way I could reach him."

 

 

The two women sat quietly for a moment, thinking on all of this. Then the woman looked over at Carol curiously. "I apologize for not asking sooner, but, what is your name?"

 

 

"Oh, that's alright. My name's Carol. What's yours?"

 

 

"Emily." Then, with an air of pride, she said, "Mrs. Emily Gracey." She smiled cheerfully, and both women giggled at this. If it were possible, Carol would have taken her hand at that moment in reassurance.

 

 

"Are you married, Carol?" asked Emily. "Have you chosen a husband yet?"

 

 

"I am not married yet, but I have chosen a husband. His name is Thomas. We are engaged to be married. And one day we will be....if ever we leave this house," she said dejectedly.

 

 

"Please, tell me...what will your wedding dress be like?" asked Emily. Her face seemed to glow with joy at the thought of a wedding.

 

 

"Well, actually," answered Carol, "I haven't selected one yet. But I would like for it to be a classic...like that one over there." Both women looked in the direction of the elegant gown hanging from the mannequin. Emily looked at Carol, and then back towards the dress.

 

 

"You know, this dress just might fit you," she said, jumping up excitedly from her seat at the window and floating over to the dress. "Let me see now... we both look to be about the same size a 7?"

 

 

"Yes," replied Carol. Then with an embarrassed smile, she said, "Well, no....a 9."

 

 

They laughed at this until their sides ached. It wasn't quite that funny, but they had both been through so much, the smallest amount of humor went a long way at this point. Emily took the dress off of the mannequin and held it up to Carol for sizing.

 

 

"Yes! I think it will fit you perfectly! Besides, you tend to lose a lot of body weight when you're dead, so you can't go by my looks today!" Again the two burst into laughter at Emily's little pun.

 

 

"Oh my...haha...I haven't had a good laugh like that in so very long!" said Emily.

 

 

"Same here!" said Carol. "Thank you very much for this lovely gift! I have never had a sweeter present. And I know that Thomas will just love it!"

 

 

Oh, Tom! she thought to herself, Where are you? Suddenly Carol's heart sank at the thought that she would never have the chance to wear this dress.

 

 

"I truly hate to leave you, Emily, I really do; but I MUST find Tom. Thank you again for this lovely dress. I wish there was some way that I could repay you."

 

 

"Do me this one favor," replied Emily. "If you should see my Sweet George before you leave, would you please tell him that I am here?"

 

 

Carol smiled at the kindly ghost. "I give you my promise."

 

 

"Oh thank you, Carol!" she said as Carol left through the door. "And please... remember me."

 

 

"I will," said Carol, holding tightly to the dress. "I will." As the door closed, Mrs. Emily Gracey returned to her window, looking out into the night for a glimpse of her wedding band.

 

 

***************************

 

 

Tom and Prudence came to an intersection in the hallway.

 

 

"NOW where do we go?" said Tom, a little impatient and tired from this incredibly long "tour" of the Mansion's halls.

 

 

"Um...This way, I believe" said Prudence as she turned down the right hand side of the hallway.

 

 

"You believe? You mean you don't know?!"

 

 

"Are ya kiddin' me? When I was alive, I never wandered around this house! I helped Leota as her assistant, but that was it. When I wasn't workin', I stayed in my room. And now that I'm dead, well, there's simply no need for me to use the corridors down here. I just pass from room to room, or pop in and out of places at will."

 

 

"Then how do you know that this is the right way?"

 

 

"Woman's intuition."

 

 

Tom stopped walking and looked at her in disbelief. "You're not serious?!" he said.

 

 

"No, I'm not serious."

 

 

"So, then how do you know?" he said as he began trudging down the hall again.

 

 

"I can sense the vibrations emanatin' from the large gatherin' of spirits in the Ball Room. We're quite close now."

 

 

At the end of this hall was a "T" intersection, with another hall crossing this one. But this new hall was different from the one they were standing in. It was three times as wide, and it was lavishly decorated - even more so than the Endless Hallway was. A great purple carpet ran the length of this hall. Several huge chandeliers hung from the ceiling, yet with all of those candles Tom still had to strain his eyes to see anything in any great detail. Directly in front of them, across the hall, were two massive glass doors with redwood frames. The glass was frosted and etched with intricate and exotic floral patterns. Prudence put her arm out to keep Tom from stepping into the hall as she poked her head around the corner, looking back and forth.

 

 

"All clear," she said. "Follow me." Instead of heading left to the big doors which led into the Ball Room, Prudence turned around the corner to the right.

 

 

"Where are we going?" asked Tom in a loud whisper.

 

 

"Well we can't just waltz in through the front door! But I know a side entrance."

 

 

After a brief distance, the hall abruptly stopped in a dead end. To the left, on the same wall as the main Ball Room entrance, was a plain, wooden service door.

 

 

At the other end of the hallway came the voices of arriving guests. "Someone's comin'. Quickly now, use the large gray key," said Prudence.



"They're all gray!" he nearly shouted, frantically searching the key ring.

 

 

"That one, there. Hurry!"

 

 

Opening the door as fast as he could, Tom stepped through the door, and Prudence stepped through the wall. They were now standing in a very dark corner of the Ball Room. It was a very large, rectangular two-story room, as dramatically decorated as the hall outside. A long banqueting table sat at the center of the room surrounded by various spooks. There were so many things that were happening in the room that Tom didn't know what to look at first. But there was something that caught his attention right away.

 

 

"What is that god-awful noise?!" he said, covering his ears.

 

 

"Oh, that's the pipe organ, over there on the far wall," said Prudence.

 

 

Tom looked in that direction, and he could see a man seated before the organ, wearing a double frock cape. "He should learn to play that thing before he gives a performance!"

 

 

"That is Wolfgang Elias Furlong. One of the greatest musicians who ever lived."

 

 

"Greatest, huh?" Tom mocked. "Then what do you call a bad musician? How'd he die, anyway? By getting beat to death by a bunch of Yanni fans?"

 

 

"Who?"

 

 

"Forget it."

 

 

"It's a long story, but, from what I heard, he had his hands crushed in a piano or somethin' like that. He'll never be what he once was, but the guests still like to hear him play. Oh, and that one over there is Madame Tangerine, the one seated at the head of the table. She does loves parties, that one does!"

 

 

"Madame Tangerine?" Tom chuckled.

 

 

"Well, her real name is Vicky Boufont; but we just call her Tangerine 'cuz of her bright orange hair."

 

 

"And who are they?" Tom pointed to the wall opposite from the main doors.

 

Two large portraits hung there. There was a man with a pistol in each picture, and both men had their backs turned to each other. Every few minutes or so, the two men would suddenly turn and fire upon one another. Tom swallowed hard when he noticed several bullet holes on the far wall, the bullets having passed straight through the man for whom it was intended. Tom realized for the first time just how much the spirit world can effect the physical one. Had one of those ghostly bullets hit him, it would have had the same effect as a real metal one.

 

 

"That would be Antoine and Etienne," said Prudence. "There they stay for all time, duelin' with each other, and neither one ever becomin' the victor. By the look of it, you'd never guess that they were once the closest of friends."

 

 

"Really? What happened to them?" asked Tom.

 

 

"Little Leota happened to them. Need I say more?"

 

 

"No, not really," said Tom as he recalled his encounter with Leota in her room.

 

 

"Damn fool girl. Always messin' with a fella's heart," Prudence said with disgust. "No matter how much ya love a woman, Tom, never let her come between you and yur best friends."

 

 

"That's a rather unusual point of view coming from a woman," Tom said with a bit of astonishment.



"Yes, well, I've been around the block a few times myself, ya know. And I've come to the understandin' that, when a woman chooses her man, she also chooses everythin' else that comes with him, like it or not."

 

 

Tom smiled big at that. "You know, you're alright, Prudence! My kind of girl!"

 

 

She smiled back at him. "Yeah? Well Id marry ya maself, if ya weren't so darn rascally."

 

 

"Hmmm," he said, pointing at the chaos in the room. "But how could I compete with all of THIS!" They both laughed quietly together in the dark.

 

 

Suddenly there was a loud crash, and even Prudence jumped at this with a fright.

 

 

"What in tarnasions....?" she said, looking on as a hearse came smashing through the end of the right side wall ahead of them. Two smartly dressed ghosts floated from the caskets that fell from the hearse.

 

 

"Hello all!" said one of them to group. The room was suddenly filled with roars of laughter. One large ghost who was hanging from the chandelier in the middle of the room shouted down with a laugh, "What's wrong, Kenny? Forget the simple art of passing through a wall to enter a room?" The crowd burst out with laughter again.

 

 

Looking back at the hole that his hearse had just made, Kenny replied, "Well, if that's not passing through a wall, I don't know what is!" Again the room burst into booms of laughter. "So where's this great feast we're having?" he asked. "I was promised...let me see here...." The ghost looked at a piece of paper which must have been an invitation to the party. "...'A swinging wake, complete with a good, home cooked, hot-blooded-human meal specially prepared by our master chef Mayhem'. So, who's the lucky victim?"

 

 

"A delicate flower, plucked right here in the Gracey Mansion," answered the elderly Mrs. Gracey as she entered through the main doors of the room.

 

 

"My dear Mrs. Gracey! How lovely to see through you again!" remarked Kenny gleefully as he levitated from his coffin down to the floor. "So where's dinner? I'm famished! I haven't had a good mortal in ages. Oh, and tell Chef Mayhem that I'm rather partial to thighs."



"Actually," said Mrs. Gracey with a tone of sadness, "it seems the dinner in question has gotten away from us." Howls of protest went up all over the room. "Now, now; calm down. She is still in the house; don't worry. I have assurances from Madame Leota that our dinner will in fact make her way to the table in due time. The Madame apparently has the girl occupied at the moment."

 

 

"Did I hear somebody say my name?" said Little Leota with a seductive grin as she passed through the doors, pulling off her long silk gloves and promptly throwing them over her shoulder. She was dressed to the nines in her most glamorous black funeral gown.

 

 

"Not you, my dear. I was referring to your mother. And I understand that you've been speaking with my son. Will he be joining us soon?"

 

 

"You mean Master Gracey?" Leota said as she approached the new arrivals who came through the wall. She extended her hand to a handsome young ghost, who kissed it as she looked back over her shoulder to Mrs. Gracey. "Well, I'm afraid that Master Gracey will be unable to attend tonight's festivities. There is some...business...afoot in the house which he must attend to."

 

 

More grumbling of disappointment came from the guests. Hoping to change the mood, Leota told them all, "He extends his coldest welcome to you all, and hopes that you have a most frightful evening. Out of regret for not playing the proper host, Master Gracey has planned a special treat for you. Later tonight, the Grim Grinning Ghosts Quintet will be performing for you out in the Graveyard concourse."

 

 

There were oooo's and aaaaah's of excitement coming from the guests. "Yes, yes," continued Leota. "As you all know, the Quintet had retired. But Master Gracey was able to convince them to put on a special performance for tonight's affair."

 

 

Thunderous applause went up all around the room.

 

 

"Well," said Tom to Prudence, "at least we know that Carol is still alive."

 

 

"Yes....for now, anyway. We had better find her quickly."

 

 

"But where? She could be anywhere in this giant house. Do you think this 'Madame Leota' woman they mentioned would tell us?"

 

 

"She'd rather kill ya first," said Prudence. "But I think there's someone else who just might be able to help us."

 

 

"Who?"

 

 

"The Master."

 

 

"Master Gracey? That dude that Leota was just taking about?"

 

 

"Yes, that's him. I've never dared enter his presence without first bein' called; but desperate times call for desperate measures. Come with me."

 

 

Prudence led the way as they walked in the shadows, heading for the hearse.

 

 

"Prudence! Is that you, dear?" came the voice of Mrs. Gracey, raising her glass to her as she floated across the floor. Tom and Prudence froze.

 

 

"Yes, mum" she replied. Turning to Mrs. Gracey, Prudence put her hand behind her back and shewed Tom into the corner. He ducked down behind the hearse and a piece of wall plaster that had collapsed.

 

 

"There you are! I've been wondering where...." Mrs. Gracey suddenly stopped and sniffed the air. "Why do I smell life? You stink with it. Have you been in contact with one of the mortals?" she asked sternly.

 

 

"Why, no, mum," Prudence lied. "I've just finished cleanin' Leota's room, where the young man was kept. Maybe his stench has clung to my clothes."

 

 

"Is that where you've been? No matter. I need you to serve some tea to our distinguished British guests out in the cemetery."

 

 

"Right away, mum," she answered.

 

 

"And use the good tea from the alligator swamp," said Mrs. Gracey as she wandered off to mingle with the guests.

 

 

"Yes, Mrs. Gracey."

 

 

When she was sure that no one was watching, Prudence made her way to Tom's hiding place, and then began climbing through the hole in the wall. Whispering to Tom, she said, "This way. We can make it to the stairwell on the other side of the house from outside....less likely to be seen that way."

 

 

"Hey, Prudence, what in the world is that?" asked Tom, pointing to the wall above the main doors of the room. There was a long window which stretched along the entire length of the room, and from just above the doors all the way up to the ceiling. It was rather dark beyond the window, but Tom could see several things moving in single file from one end to the other. They appeared to be very large, very odd, black chairs. They faced the window as they passed, and they also appeared to have people sitting in them.

 

 

"A portal," said Prudence, looking up at it. "Many years ago, an acquaintance of Madame Leota - a Mr. Wed Enterprise, I believe - contacted her about a thrill ride he was creatin' in a park. The ride was some sort of haunted house or somethin', and he obtained permission to place a portal up there so that his guests could look into a real haunted house and see real ghosts as they passed through the portal on his end."



"That's unbelievable," said Tom in awe. "And the ghosts don't bother them?"

 

 

"No. They can't. There's somethin' special about that glass. Ghosts cannot pass through it, for some reason or other. I've forgotten why. But come; we haven't much time!"

 

 

Tom and Prudence stepped out into the cold and stormy night outside the Mansion. Tom spoke as they walked around to the front side of the house.

 

 

"So, this haunted house ride you mentioned. Is that the same one you had spoken of earlier, where the old caretaker now works? What's his name.......Maynard?"

 

 

"My, what a good memory you have! Actually, I'm not sure; but it would certainly make sense if that were true, wouldn't it?" Tom nodded in agreement.

 

 

They came upon a dirt path which led around the house. The ground here was so hard that it was very much like stone. They came very close to the Mansion gates, and Tom stopped to look at it.

 

 

"My freedom is just beyond this gate," he said. "All it would take is a few more steps and I would be done with this house. But I can't go. I can't leave Carol in here."

 

 

"You truly love her, don't ya?" asked Prudence with sympathy.

 

 

"Yes, I do," he answered. Then he said, "Prudence, I really do appreciate your help, even if it IS just to get back at Leota. I've been thinking. I really don't want to leave you here either. You could come with us. Please...would you come?"

 

 

"Dearie! That is the kindest thing that anyone has ever said to me. Yur so sweet." Prudence went to the tall fence and looked out between the bars. "But, unfortunately, I can never go beyond this gate. Ya see, while most spirits can travel about, and even take up residence in this house, Madame Leota has placed a powerful spell along the border of the mansion grounds so that no one who actually dies here can ever leave."

 

 

Turning around, she looked up at the Mansion. "And besides, this is my home now. Oh, it's true I don't like some of the nonsense that goes on around here, but, I've gotten use to it, like a person who's become accustomed to wearin' a pair of eye glasses. It's become a part of me. Or, at the very least, I've become a part of IT."

 

 

The two walked along the path, their heads down in contemplation, and even a bit of sorrow. Suddenly, Tom stopped and bent down to the ground.

 

 

"What's this?" he asked, rubbing a spot on the sun-baked soil.

 

 

Stooping down, Prudence' eyes widened in surprise. "Well I'll be!" she gasped. "Why, it's the lost weddin' band of Master Gracey's late bride, Emily! Well, not so lost now. I had heard stories of it being somewhere out here, but none of us took it seriously."

 

 

"Hmmmm, it seems to be embedded pretty deep in the ground. I wonder if it would be alright if I tried to get it out."



"I don't see why not. But we don't have anythin' to pry it out with."

 

 

"I do!" said Tom, digging in his pockets. He pulled out the set of skeleton keys and began chipping away at the dirt around the ring with one of them. It took some time, but at last it was freed from its earthly grave. Tom held it up to see it more clearly.

 

 

"I think there's some writing here. "I...am...my..." something. I can't make it out. It's too dark out here."



"If only I had brought my candelabra with me," said Prudence, looking in wonder at the ring in Tom's hand.

 

 

Tom looked up at Prudence and held out the ring to her. "Here, you should keep it."



"No, actually, I think you should," Prudence said to him. "You'll be needin' that ring for that lovely girl of yurs. I think Emily would want it that way, knowin' that someone would cherish it as she did."

 

 

Tom smiled at her. Suddenly he wished that it were possible to hug her, but instead, he put the ring in his pocket, and the mortal and the ghost walked on in the dark.



*******************************

 

 

As Carol left her new friend in the attic and closed the door behind her, she braced herself for the climb back down the dark staircase. Oddly, however, there was no staircase. Neither was it dark. In fact, nothing was familiar at all.

 

 

What she saw instead was a candle-lit and very narrow corridor. The walls were covered with dark, wooden paneling, and several small flag poles jutted out from the walls, each with a banner dangling from it. On the banners were the coat-of-arms and crests of families bearing strange names which Carol had never heard before. "Cohstanandra" "Meegalistran" "Trystralynar"

 

 

"That's strange," she said to herself. "I must have gone out of the wrong door. But, no, that's not possible. I distinctly remember that this was the only door in the attic."

 

 

Carol decided to go back to the attic again. Maybe there actually was another door and she had just taken the wrong one. Maybe she just didn't notice it in the darkly lit room.

 

 

Turning around again to open the door, Carol gasped with a shock which nearly made her faint. There was no door to be found. Only wood paneling like the rest of the hall. She felt around on the wall to see if there were any knobs or latches. But there was nothing. It was just an ordinary wall. Carol put the delicate wedding dress over her shoulder and began to beat upon the wall.

 

 

"Emily?! Can you hear me?! Pleaseit's CarolI can't get in! Emily!!"

 

 

When no answer came, she became hysterical, pounding on the wall and screaming and pleading for someone to open the door which didn't exist.

 

 

"Please! Please! Somebody help me!" she shouted in vain. Then finally, overcome with fear, frustration, and exhaustion, Carol leaned back against a wall, slumped to the floor, and cried as she had never done before.

 

 

When she had wept out all of her tears, no longer having the strength to cry anymore even if she could, she looked down the hall wondering to herself how long she had now been in that house. Hours? Days? The night never seemed to come to an end. She sighed heavily. Where were the glorious rays of the morning light, and the mighty sun which chases away the darkness? Had night completely engulfed the world? she asked herself. Thomas! Thomas! Where are you?

 

 

Carol shivered from the cold. Tucking her hands into her skirt pockets to keep them warm, her finger tips brushed against the little book she had taken from the Conservatory. Pulling the tiny Bible out of her pocket, she ran her hand across the cover. She remembered when her mother use to read the family Bible to her when she was a little girl. She had always loved the fascinating stories....David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale, Noah and the Ark, the miracles of Jesus.

 

 

Well, she didn't know if she really believed in any of it, but holding this book right now gave her great comfort. Gently opening the old book, she selected a passage at random and read it softly.

 

 

"...Thou art my Rock and my High Place; my Strength in times of trouble...."

 

 

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," came a raspy, high pitched voice. Carol looked up so quickly that she slammed her head against the wall. "Not unless you wish to draw the attention and wrath of every ghoul in this Mansion."

 

 

"Richard!" she said with excitement and rubbing the back of her head.



"AWK! KAW-KAW!" replied the raven. The black bird was perched atop a flag pole and was looking down upon her; and, although Carol was a bit suspicious of him, she was nevertheless overjoyed to have company at that moment.

 

 

"Well, Richard," said Carol, "I'm lost. I mean REALLY lost. Where am I?"

 

 

"Kaw! Herald's Corridor. Squawk! Secret passage. Kaw!"

 

 

"A secret passage? Really? Well, I suppose a big old house like this WOULD have secret passages. Where does it lead?"

 

 

"Kaw! Mausoleum."

 

 

"Oh no!" gasped Carol. "No, I CAN'T go into a mausoleum! Please don't make me go in there!"

 

 

"SQUAWK!!! Mausoleum is only way out. KAW! Stay then and die." The Raven took flight down the corridor. Just before it was out of sight, it screeched to Carol, "Or find Master's rope and live! Kaw-Kaw-Kaw!"

 

 

Once again Carol found herself alone. She was shaking violently with fear and from the cold. Returning the little Bible to her pocket, she slowly walked down the corridor, ducking behind a banner here and there. Who knows WHAT horrible thing she might find in a mausoleum! Dead and rotting corpses. Skeletons. Definitely coffins. The thought of all of these nearly made her vomit.

 

 

At the end of the hall Carol found no door. The hall merely ended at the entrance to a stone room. There were large stone coffins with a raised image of a person's body on top of each, and smaller chambers across the room, undoubtedly holding caskets. Too afraid to move yet, Carol glanced around the room, moving only her eyes. There was nothing but hard rock floors and walls. She could feel the damp air penetrating her clothes.

 

 

Just as she was about to step into the room, she decided to take two steps back as an odd looking man slowly glided down to the floor from above her. He had a chain attached to his ankle and a large metal ball attached to the end of the chain. More oddly than that, the ball wasn't pulling him down to the floor, but rather, it floated above him like a balloon. He held on to the chain as though it were a balloon string. In his other hand he carried a cat, tucked under his arm.

 

 

Touching down on the ground, the metal ball fell to the floor with a loud thud. The man was very short, and Carol could see through him the same way that she could see through Emily. He had a long and shaggy white beard, and he stood before Carol smiling as though he were about to tell a juicy piece of gossip. Carol's skin began to crawl as he stood there staring at her. The man blinked his blood-shot eyes at her.

 

 

Without looking away from Carol, he began to pet the head of his cat. Each stroke was so rough that it pulled the feline's scalp, making its eyes bulge out. Taking a step towards her, he leaned his dwarfed body forward and whispered, "What'ssssss you're name, little girl? Pretty little girl. Hehehe."

 

 

Carol moved her mouth but nothing came out. "What'ssssss wrong?" he said to her. "Cat got your tongue? Hehe hehe hehe."

 

 

"Umm-m-my name.I'm C-c-carlI mean, C-c-carol. Who-who-who are you?"

 

 

"Gus," he said flatly, though still smiling and staring eerily at her. "Wanna play a game with me?"

 

 

'Well, actually I"

 

 

"It'sss lotsss of fun. Hehe hehehe."

 

 

"What KIND of a game?" Carol asked cautiously.

 

 

"Oh, just a little game of cat-and-mousssse. Hehehehe. But in thisss game, the mousssse winsssss. Hehehe."



Carol took the wedding gown off of her shoulder and held it tightly to her. Clearing her throat, she said, "Um, howhow do you play?"

 

 

"Do you have your pusssssycat with you?"

 

 

"Well, uh, I don't own a cat," she replied.

 

 

"Of coursssse you don't OWN a cat! No one OWNSssss a cat. Who would OWN a cat?!"

 

 

"UmI"

 

 

"Here'sss how to play," he said, walking over to a large stone coffin in the corner.

 

 

"You take the pusssssycat and you placcccce him here," said Gus, putting the cat on top of the coffin. "Then you take a ssstep back, take aim, and go THWAK!" With that last word Gus swung his chain around, bringing the ball crashing down on the coffin just as the cat jumped out of the way. A chunk of the coffin fell to the ground.

 

 

"Dagnabbit! Misssssed him!" said the little ghost. He began to chase the terrified animal around the room. Gus laughed at the cat as he swung his ball-n-chain, just missing its tail. The cat ran about frantically trying to miss Gus' projectile. "Ssscaredy cat! Sssscaredy cat!" he heckled.

 

 

"Stop it! Stop it!" screamed Carol. "Leave that poor thing alone!" The man ignored her as he slammed down the ball again, missing the exhausted cat by an inch. The cat ran behind a coffin and Gus went after it. Cornered, the cat hissed at Gus as he took aim to strike the small creature. Carol ran towards the cat and threw her arms about and shouted in order to scare the cat away. The cat took off across the room, around the corner and out of sight just as Gus' ball landed with a thunderous blast.

 

 

"Look what you did!" yelled Gus at her. "My pussssycat is gone now! It took four full moonsss for me to catch him! Now there is no more kitty cat to play with!" Gus began to storm out of the room toward a hall at the far end, where the cat had escaped through.

 

 

Gus stopped and turned around. Once again he stared at Carol menacingly. "Correction. I have a new pusssssycat to play with!"

 

 

Carol stepped back from the man, matching his advancing steps, until she was backed against the wall. Gus held the ball behind his back as he motioned with his finger, "Heeeere kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty!" Suddenly he brought the ball around as fast as lightning trying to smash Carol with it. She dodged the ball as it blew a hole through the mausoleum wall. "Hold still, pusssssumssss, I won't hurt you!" he said, swinging the ball at her again. This time the ball demolished a candelabra sticking from the wall.

 

 

Carol made her way around the room to the other hallway, jumping and dancing to avoid Gus' volleys. Once she arrived at the mouth of the hall, she ran for her life.

 

 

She quickly out-ran the ghost, who hobbled along due to the chain on his leg. "Come back my new pusssssycat!" he shouted after her. "Lovely pretty pusssssycat! Come back! Pusssycat!!!!!...."

 

 

Gasping for breath, yet not stopping to catch it, Carol ran through several passages within the immense mausoleum. Gus was still following her; she could hear his voice calling after her, "HEEEEERE kitty kitty kitty kitty! My little pussssycat! Why have you run away? Pusspusspusspusssssy! "

 

 

As she came around a corner in the passage, Carol passed through a large room. There were several things to see here, but with a crazed, cat-killing, prison-ball-slinging, psycho ghost chasing her, she wasn't about to stop to take pictures. No matter. The objects in the room decided to travel with her to save her the trouble of stopping.

 

 

On either side of Carol two phantoms floated beside her, leisurely matching her running speed. One was tall and thin, while the other was shorter and more plump.



"Yo, babe," said the skinny one on her right, chewing on hopefully - a piece of gum. He laid himself horizontally in the air as though he were lounging on a bed. "What's yur rush, doll?"

 

 

"Get away from me!" Carol screamed at the top of her lungs.

 

 

"Jeez!" he said. "THAT'S not very nice, lady. Did I offend you in a past life or something?"

 

 

"Just go away and leave me alone!" said Carol in between gulps of air.

 

 

"We just had a little favor to ask, that's all," he said. "Isn't that right, Phineas?"

 

 

"Uh, yeah, Ezra, " said the squat man who had sat himself in the air facing Carol with his legs crossed. A large ugly carpet bag was resting in his lap. "That's right; we just have a question to ask. Uhwhat's the question?"

 

 

"We were about to ask the lady for a ride, dummy" replied Ezra.

 

 

"We were? Oooooh yes, that's right, we were."

 

 

Ezra shook his head in pity. And then, to Carol he said, "You see, sugar, we noticed that you are in a bit of a hurry, and I've no doubt that you are trying to get out of this mausoleum (that look on your face just gives it away). Well, my comrade and I have been dying to get out of here for quite some time now and.(hey, Phineas; watch it my friend; you're arm is about to fall off) and we were just wondering if we could hitch a lift with you. We need a living host to get out. Please help us, lady. I'm sick to death of playing cards with this dunce day in and day out."

 

 

"Forget it! " shouted Carol. She saw the steps leading up to the main doors of the mausoleum and she ran straight for them. Phineas and Ezra also noticed them.

 

 

"Ya know, Phineas," said Ezra. "I didn't have to ask nicely. In fact, I didn't even have to ask at all. But I thought I'd show a little respect for the living and ask first.

 

 

"People just don't care about the dead like they use to," answered Phineas. "So, I guess you know what we have to do."

 

 

Both ghosts suddenly jumped into a piggy back position on Carol's back, with Ezra riding Carol's back and Phineas riding Ezra's back. Phineas grabbed Carol's long hair into two ponytails, one in each hand, and shook them. "Git along little dawgie! Yeehaw!"

 

 

"Great! First I'm a pussycat and now I'm a dawgie!" said Carol with dismay. She started thrashing about, trying to dislodge her two hitch-hikers. "Get off!"

 

 

"Stop dat, mama! Wuz wrong wich you!" hollered Ezra. 

 

 

At that moment, several things happened at the same time. Just as Carol burst through the doors of the mausoleum and screamed, "I said GET OFF!!!!!", she also tripped on a small tombstone in her path.

 

 

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

 

 

Phineas and Ezra were catapulted from her back and through the graveyard, which was filled with Mrs. Gracey's party guests, all of which turned just in time to see the sight of Carol falling on her face and two spirits whizzing by them.

 

 

"Look OOOOOOUUUUUUTTTTT!" hollered Ezra.

 

 

"What in hell was THAT?" said an elderly ghost seated upon a grave marker as Ezra flew right through him and crashed into one of the Grim Ginning Ghost Quintet singers. All five singers were merely busts upon pedestals, and Ezra's crash had toppled the lead singer, breaking his neck. "Oh, sorry 'bout that, Thurl!" said Ezra to the piece that had the singer's face on it. "Hey, man! When did you guys get back together again?"

 

 

An upper-crust British ghost guest took one look at Carol and screamed, dropping her cup of tea. Phineas, his rotund figure acting as ballast, landed in the lap of a ghost who was in the "up" position on a teeter-totter seesaw, causing his end to suddenly drop with a slam to the ground and tossing the other rider up into the air where she promptly became lodged in a tree's branches.

 

 

All of the commotion stirred up the dead as they all chatted amongst themselves. Seconds later, Gus came charging out of the mausoleum doors swinging his ball-n-chain like a lasso.  "Pusssssssy! PussPussPuss!! Kitty Kitty Kitty! Where's my little pretty kitty cat?"

 

 

Seeing Carol sprawled on the ground, he made his way towards her as the crowd watched, totally confused.

 

 

"There's my little pussssyycat. Come along, kitty! Gus won't hurt you! Come along now!" Carol screamed as she struggle to get up.

 

 

Mrs. Gracey, watching the chaos unfolding from the ballroom doors, stood in shock with her jaw dropped. A thin ghost standing next to her in tight blue jeans, tee shirt and black vest, snapped his fingers towards her and said, "Ms. Thang sure knows how to throw a party! You go girl!"

 

 

Gus threw his prison ball at Carol, but his aim was off and he hit a large tombstone instead. It crumbled to the ground, causing the ghost seated atop it to come crashing down. In the ensuing madness, no one was paying attention to Carol who was peeking out from behind a massive cross in the yard.

 

 

No one, that is, except Mrs. Gracey, who watched as Carol ran in among the trees and out of sight around the side of the Mansion.

 

 

Mrs. Gracey summoned two of the Mansion's henchmen, Emmett and Felicia, and ordered them to search the entire Mansion and grounds until they had found Carol.

 

 

"I've had about enough of this!" said the enraged lady ghost. "I don't care WHAT the Madame is doing with that girl. I will not have my dinner party disrupted any further! Find her and bring her to me at once!"

 

 

"We obey!" said the specters, which promptly took their leave of her and began their search.

 

 

Carol hide around a corner of the house, still clutching tightly to Emily's dress. She glanced around to see if anyone was following her, but she saw no one. Seeing that the coast was clear Carol began to look for an entrance back into the Mansion. She came upon a plain door and, finding the door unlocked, she quickly stepped inside. Before her was a very small corridor with a door at the far end. She saw a small sign above the door which thoroughly confused her. "Full of Fear Exit" it said. On the wall hung several old skeleton keys which looked too rusted to be of any use. A few portraits also hung on the wall, and Carol recognized one as that of Mrs. Gracey.

 

 

She entered through the door at the end of the hall and found herself in what appeared to be a library. She stepped back against a book case and held her breath, watching as a book on the desk floated up into the air and set itself on a shelf across from her. Another book moved from its place on a shelf and landed on the desk. The cover opened and the pages slowly turned. Carol presumed that there must be an invisible ghost sitting at the desk and reading the book. She didn't want to stick around to find out. Slipping quietly through the library doors, she entered the main hallway of the Mansion.

 

 

Now here was something interesting, thought Carol to herself. On the walls of this hallway hung a curious collection of large portraits. One of the pictures was that of a majestic sailing ship. Looking closely at it, Carol wished that she could be on such a beautiful boat, sailing far away in the bright sunlight. Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning in the skies within the portrait.

 

 

"Must be a reflection of the lightning flashing through those windows over there across the hall," she comforted herself. "My, what pretty blue water. The waves look so real, it's almost as if they are really moving."

 

 

Carol rubbed her eyes. Must be the lighting in here, she thought. But, no, the BOAT now seems to be moving also. She watched the ship, almost hypnotized by it. Its bow began to point skyward as a large wave lifted it, and then it dropped down into the valley that formed as the wave passed. A larger wave came next, and the whole ship momentarily disappeared behind a massive wall of water which came crashing down with such gusto that Carol was soaked from the splash which shot out of the picture. Carol was so shocked by the ice-cold spray that she could only stand there and stare at the little ship bobbing up and down. The wind in the ship's world began to pick up and Carol felt the salty breeze on her face. The skies grew dark, lightning flashed and rain poured down like a hurricane. The poor boat was tossed to and fro by the storm until its elegant sails began to shred and the mast began to topple. Looking closer still, Carol's eyes widened as she watched very small people run around on the deck of the ship, attempting to secure the riggings. Two people were washed overboard, and the others ran to the edge of the boat to rescue them. As they threw ropes out to the helpless and drowning people in the waters below, a tidal wave blew across the deck of the ship and washed the remaining people out to sea and out of view beyond the picture frame. After another moment, the storm cleared and the sea calmed itself; and just as suddenly, the ship looked again as it did when Carol first approached it - peaceful and serene.



***********************************

 

Tom and Prudence reached the outside staircase which lead to the second floor. Tom paused before ascending the steps.

 

 

"Well, here I go again; back into that house."

 

 

Prudence gave him a look of understanding, which was also a look of sorrow. For, if the ghosts of this house wanted to hurt him, there was very little in her power to stop them.

 

 

"Oh, by the way," said Tom, pulling the golden dog whistle out of his pocket. "What's this?"

 

 

"Now where did you find that?" asked Prudence with surprise.

 

 

"In the caretaker's pocket, along with the skeleton keys. So, what does it do? What's it for?"

 

 

"That is a dog whistle. The caretaker, Dick, uses it to control his dog, Boney. But it's not just any old dog whistle. This one was commissioned by Madame Leota."

 

 

"Commissioned?" asked Tom. "Commissioned for what? Why would someone special-order a dog whistle?"

 

 

"Madame Leota had this whistle made for Dick - who is the only living person residing here at the Mansion - in order for him to have some powers over his dog, as I said. That way he can have a little help around the place. The whistle itself was made in a haunted gold mine in South Africa by a Voodoo priestess. Besides the usual ability of the whistle to summon a dog, THIS whistle also gives the user the ability to communicate with the dog that has been called. The dog cannot reply, but he will understand basic words and obey them."

 

 

"Wow. That's quite a gift for someone like Madame Leota to give to a mortal," said Tom. "Considering how much she hates mortals."

 

 

"Yes, well, Dick had threatened to have the Mansion demolished for some reason or other, so the Madame agreed to allow him to communicate with his dog if he abandoned his demolition project. He agreed, and, well, there's the whistle."

 

 

"Can I try it?" asked Tom a little excitedly.

 

 

"If you want to. I don't think it'll hurt none to give it a try."

 

 

Tom put the shiny whistle to his lips and blew with all of his might. Of course, being a dog whistle, there was no audible noise whatsoever - which is always a trouble, because one never knows whether or not the whistle actually works until you've waited awhile to see if a dog ever shows up.

 

 

Looking out over the Mansion grounds for any sign of Boney, and then back at each other with looks of "I hope this worked", Tom and Prudence waited quietly in the shadows of the staircase.



"Prudence!" came a voice. "What in the after-world are you doing out here with this mortal!" Tom was so started that he nearly peed his pants. The two turned in the direction of the voice and saw Dick the Caretaker standing there, holding up a rake in a defensive posture.

 

 

"If the Master finds out that you've been fraternizing with..."

 

 

"The Master ain't gonna find out nothin', ya old fool," said Prudence. "Now put down that damn rake before ya hurt yurself!"

 

 

"That boy has an appointment to keep with Leota, and it's my job to make sure he keeps it," replied Dick, stepping closer to Tom.

 

 

Before Prudence could respond, all three heads turned suddenly at the sound of dog-yapping coming from around the side of the house. Boney the dog, as boney as his name, came running up to the trio, barking and wagging his tail energetically.

 

 

"Boney!" said Dick in surprise. "What are you dong here? Go on! Git! Shew!"

 

 

The dog ignored Dick, sitting himself down at Tom's feet. He looked up at Tom and gave an "arf! arf!", as though it was trying to tell him something.

 

 

Tom looked in wonder at the dog. Would it really work? Would he really be able to communicate with Boney? Now would be as good a time as any to find out. Tom pointed at Dick.

 

 

"Get him, Boney! Get him!" Tom ordered the dog. Boney looked up at the caretaker, confused. Attack his master? He looked back at Tom again for confirmation. Tom tooted on the whistle again. Boney jumped to attention.

 

 

"Go on, boy! Get him! Get him!"

 

 

Boney slowly turned and walked towards Dick, putting his ears back and growling.

 

 

"Now, now! Boney, it's me! Dick!" said the frightened caretaker, laying down his rake to show he was unarmed. "You wouldn't hurt ME now, would you? Boney, stop!" The dog continued to advance, saliva dripping from its mouth.

 

 

"Come on now, Boney! How could you do this to me? I'm the one that always takes care of you. Boney! You would attack the man that feeds you?" Looking at Boney's very skinny body, his rib cage showing against his fur, Dick felt a twinge of guilt. "Alright! I promise I'll feed you better! Stop! STOP!"

 

 

Backing away from the dog, the caretaker suddenly turned and fled. Boney was fast on his heals, barking and growling.

 

 

"BONEYYYYYYYYY!" came Dick's voice as he disappeared out of sight into the bog surrounding the grounds, with Boney close behind him.

 

 

"Hahaha! Well, at least ya know it works!" Prudence said laughing.

 

 

Tom was laughing too. "Yeah. Served the old coot right, I think. What was he going to do to me? RAKE me to death?"

 

 

The two friends began their way up the stairs, laughing and joking at Dick's expense.

 

 

******************************************

 

 

Carol stepped away from the picture of the sailing ship and continued on down the hall. She passed more portraits of people and things, all of which either followed her with their eyes or morphed like the ship had done. After the ugly affair in the mausoleum, Carol cringed at the sight of a woman who transformed into a feline. If that woman is now a ghost somewhere in this house, then Carol had no doubt that Gus had something to do with it. She decided to keep her gaze straight ahead. They could look at her all they wanted, but if they moved from off of the wall, Carol was ready to run like hell.

 

 

She came to a cross section in the hall, with the Grand Staircase leading upward on her left and another hall leading off to her right.

 

 

"I'm certainly NOT going up those stairs!" she thought to herself. "I already know what's up there." The thought of walking through the Corridor of Doors again, with its screams and poundings, gave Carol the chills. She knew that she would eventually have to go that way, when she brings the dress and the rope to Madame Leota; but she didn't want to pass through there any more often than she needed to.

 

 

She did notice something this time that she hadn't when she was at the top of the stairs. There was a small balcony in this room, with a smaller staircase leading up to it, branching off from the main staircase.

 

 

She was curious about what might be up there, but at the moment she wasn't curious enough to find out. She chose instead to follow the hall leading to the right.

 

 

The hall led her to a dead end. There were no doors or stairs at all in this hallway. Carol had no choice but to return to the staircase again.

 

 

"NOW what?" said Carol, looking around for some options. She looked up at the balcony above her, biting her lower lip. "Emily DID say that Master Gracey was hanging from the rafters," she said to herself. "I suppose I'll have to go up there eventually to look, so I might as well go now." Carol put her hand into her pocket to feel the little Book she had there, just for courage.

 

 

She tried to creep quietly up the staircase, but it was no use. Each step brought a loud creaking noise. Carol reached the little stairway and proceeded up to the balcony. There was nothing at all to decorate this balcony - no pictures, no knick-knacks, not even a carpet. There was nothing but the wall, the railing, and the hard wooden floor.

 

 

Walking around the length of the balcony she came upon a door marked "tower attic". Opening the door she saw that it led only to another staircase. This one was very steep and extended about three stories up. At the top landing was another door. It had no markings at all, but Carol assumed it was the tower attic. Maybe this was another way into Emily's room, she thought. She sure would like to see her again right now.

 

 

Carol slowly opened the door and peered in. There was no light in this room, but the several windows in the room let the slightest of moonlight in. She could see that the room was almost empty, except for two things at the center which she could not make out. All she could see were dark shapes.

 

 

Lightning flashed outside and filled the room with light for only a moment. When Carol saw two bodies standing in the middle of the room, her subconscious decided at that moment that stifling her screams was no longer an option, and she belted out a scream rivaling any heard in a good horror movie.

 

 

"Carol!" Is that you?!" said Tom in astonishment.

 

 

"Tom?! Oh my god, Tom, is that you!?" Carol shouted hysterically. "Oh please let this be real!! Please don't let it be a delusional mirage!"

 

 

Tom ran to her quickly and held her tightly in his arms. Carol broke down in tears again, hugging him back. "I thought I would never see you again!"

 

 

"It's okay, sweetheart," said Tom, trying to console and calm her. "I'm here, darling, I'm here. It's alright now." Through wild kisses they each told of their love for the other.



After they had both calmed down, they quickly explained the events of the evening to each other since their separation in the dying room. Tom explained that he and Prudence had come to this room, where Master Gracey's body was hanging (this was the other form that Carol had seen in the dark), to see if they could summon the Master for help, but that it was too dark and Prudence had gone off to get her candelabra.

 

 

"Tom, Madame Leota told me that she would let us leave together if I bring her this dress and that rope around Gracey's neck, " Carol said. "You've got to help me get this rope down from the ceiling. A dead body is just too heavy for me to lift alone."

 

 

"I don't know if I like that idea," said Tom. "I think we should wait till Prudence gets back so we can summon Master Gracey for help."

 

 

"It won't work," said Carol. "Madame Leota has all sorts of spells going on in this house. If she says that we won't get out of here alive without getting these things for her, then I believe her at this point. I also heard the werewolf - the one who took me up to the Corridor of Doors - tell some other spook that Leota is still far more powerful than Gracey is. I don't know which Leota he meant exactly, but I don't want to risk it being either one. I think we should just get the rope, take it and this dress to Madame Leota, and then get the hell out of this house."

 

 

"Yeah, I think you're right," said Tom thoughtfully. "Come on, then; let's get it over and done with."

 

 

The chair, with which Master Gracey had used to step up to the rafter beam and hang his noose, was still in the room, though it was lying on its side. Carol stood the chair up and climbed onto it.

 

 

"I'll hold up the body and you try to undo the noose," said Tom as he wrapped his arms around Master Gracey's legs and hoisted him up.

 

 

"Be careful with him, Tom, please. I don't want to have him desecrated any more than necessary."

 

 

"I'll try my best," Tom said sarcastically.

 

 

As Carol struggled to untie the noose from the ceiling, Master Gracey's body bumped into her several times as Tom tried to balance the weight. "EWW! Tom! Be careful! It's bad enough I have to touch his neck to get this rope off!"

 

 

"You think you've got it bad?!" grunted Tom. "Try having a dead guy's butt in your face! Now hurry up!"

 

 

"I'm trying! The knot...is..so..tight...." said Carol, pulling at the rope. "There! I got it! You can let him down now, Tom." Tom slowly let Master Gracey's body down to the ground and propped him against a wall.

 

 

"Do you have the rope now?" asked Tom.

 

 

"No, I dropped it on the floor when I was trying to get down. It's too dark in here. I can't see it."

 

 

"Here it is. I've got it. Let's just wait for Prudence and then we can get out of here."

 

 

"Tom, let's go NOW. I don't want to wait another second."

 

 

"I am not leaving without saying goodbye to her, Carol. She at least deserves that much after all the help she's given me." Carol put her arms around Tom and they stood that way in the dark waiting for Prudence to return.

 

 

"No matter what happens now, Tom, I want you to know that I love you with all of my heart."

 

 

"Don't worry. We WILL get out of here. And, Carol....I love you so much. I AM going to marry you! You'll see. Everything will work out fine. I'm so sorry I got us into this mess. I should have listened to you. Will you forgive me?"

 

 

"Forgive you? I love you, Thomas. Love IS forgiveness." Tom and Carol kissed one another again in the dark.

 

 

"Awwww! Isn't that just sooo sweet!" came a woman's voice. But it wasn't the voice of Prudence.

 

 

"Boil and toil of man's desire, bring forth a fire to light this room!" chanted the woman.

 

 

Nothing happened.

 

 

"That didn't even rhyme, Felicia," came a second voice, this time from a male.

 

 

"I KNOW it didn't rhyme, stupid!" she yelled. "Just shut up, Emmett! You're distracting me!" She tried her spell again.

 

 

"Pins and needles, hammers and saws, give us a light...from...what was that line again?...........from....uh? Oh to heck with this crap! Get them!!!"

 

 

Carol and Tom screamed as they were pulled out of the room by their unseen attackers. Bumbling as they were, Felicia and Emmett were still strong enough to overcome two mortals. The door slammed behind them, leaving the body of Master Gracey alone again in the attic.

 

 

Suddenly a light filled the room as Prudence materialized with her lamp. Looking about her, she saw Master Gracey on the floor, and the chair standing upright. Thomas was nowhere to be seen.

 

 

"Hello?" said Prudence. "Hellooooo……?"



******************************************

 

 

A powerful, multi-dimensional explosion rocked the Mansion with such force that it could be felt clear out in the graveyard. The partiers in the Ball Room stopped their revelry and glanced about at one another as their ghostly bodies rippled with the shock wave. 'What kind of explosion was strong enough that it could be felt in the spirit world!' they thought amongst themselves. Something serious has happened. Something big. Big enough to effect every one of them. Mrs. Gracey stood with her hands clasped together, looking about with both dismay and indignation.

 

 

"Could...could that have been the oven being fired up?" asked a surprised phantom to Mrs. Gracey, hoping to convince himself that the shutter they had felt was inconsequential. Then, with a nervous laugh, he added, "I know every time my wife tries to light the gas she nearly blows the roof off our haunt!"

 

 

"That was no oven," replied Mrs. Gracey, looking all around her, attempting to sense the ectoplasmic vibrations of the disturbance in order to locate its source. She eyed the portal window above the Grand Entrance for a moment with suspicion, watching the doom buggies pass silently by. From the looks on their faces, she could tell that the passengers of the buggies had also felt the explosion. Mrs. Gracey, content that it had not been the portal that had ruptured, looked up toward the ceiling.

 

 

"It was something far more powerful than an oven," she said. "And it came from upstairs, too."

 

 

As the entire room of guests looked upward, Little Leota silently made her way out of the room unnoticed, passing through the nearest wall.



******************************************


Tom and Carol, their hands pinned behind them by Emmett and Felicia, stood in a dark corner of the sance room, looking on in horror at the scene before them.

 

 

Thunder and lightning crashed repeatedly outside, lighting the room like a strobe light. A thick and suffocating mist had filled the air as hundreds of ghosts and specters circled above, their ghastly and haunting sounds echoing throughout the room.

 

 

Sprawled on the floor in the middle of the room was Emily's beautiful wedding gown, with Master Gracey's rope dumped carelessly in a pile on top of it. Weird glows gleamed from within the dress and the rope, the source unknown. Toppled over beside them was the little table which had held the crystal ball. The ball itself, having fallen from its stand, had rolled onto the floor.

 

 

High in the air and floating above the room was a sight of great terror. Madame Leota, her head attached to a new body, chanted spells in an unknown language. With each chant, several phantoms materialized in the room. Electrical spikes of energy arched from her body and struck randomly around her. Her white hair and scarlet dress whipped wildly in a hurricane-like wind that blew about her.

 

 

"Poromunsis tor van! Eptos senarca cremtin sane!" she shouted with a hideous laugh. "Come, spirits! Bring to me the power! Ecto sacra tremaldis besbahn!" Several ghosts broke away from the rest and flew right into Madame Leota, giving her greater powers. The entire Mansion shook from the power being unleashed as though it were being rocked by a massive earthquake. The walls began to crack and floor boards snapped in two. Sealed doors throughout the house began to pop open as door frames were twisted. Spirits long held within those rooms were instantly sucked away to Leota's sance as though pulled by a giant magnet. But the Mansion itself, having a mysterious power of its own, maintained structural integrity as it withstood Leota's magical onslaught.

 

 

Just then, Little Leota flew into the room. Seeing her mother freed from the ball and the dress and rope lying at her feet, Leota put on a wry smirk that implied that her mother was quite the amateur. With all the sarcasm and arrogance she could muster, she strolled to the center of the room with her hands on her hips.

 

 

"Well, glad to see you out and about. Need a little help there, mommy dearest?" Leota polished her nails on her dress and then blew on them. "I'd be glad to offer my powers to jump start this little sance you've got going here."

 

 

Madame Leota turned toward her daughter, her face twisting with hatred and rage as she glared at her. Waves of electricity ran up and down her body and her eyes flashed with the look of Death. Little Leota's smirk quickly vanished and was replaced with a grimace of true fear.

 

 

"SILENCE, HARLOT!" bellowed Madame Leota. "DO YOU DARE TO COMPARE YOUR FEEBLE POWERS WITH MY OWN?! YOUR POWERS ARE BUT AN AMUSING TOY! YOU ARE A FOOLISH CHILD, AND I WILL NO LONGER TOLERATE YOUR IMPUDENCE!"

 

 

Little Leota backed away from her mother, who suddenly seemed to have increased in stature. Madame Leota moved closer to her daughter and held up her hand toward her. Each finger sizzled with blue sparks.

 

 

"AND NOW I WILL TEACH YOU YOUR PLACE, LITTLE GIRL! A CHILD'S GAME YOU WISH TO PLAY, THEREFORE A CHILD YOU SHALL BE!!"

 

 

"No, mother! Please! NOOOO!"

 

 

"CALTOR REEFPAN TOMAR AFT!!!"

 

 

A bright red ball of fire leaped from Madame Leota's hand and struck her daughter with such force that it blew her through the wall behind her. Little Leota writhed in agony on the floor of the next room. The fire ball completely engulfed her, draining her of all of her powers. She screamed for mercy as her ghostly body withered until she was no more than the size of a child's doll.



Madame Leota put out her hand again and retrieved the ball of fire. It absorbed into her new body and strengthened her all the more. She quickly turned to Tom and Carol, pointing a gnarled finger at them.

 

 

"And for you, my sweets, your time has come! Once I have attained enough power from the spirit world, your living essence will fuel the spell that will forever banish the "Master" and his blushing bride to the dark pit of the Crystal Ball where I have been imprisoned all these years. Your pathetic love for one another will stand in proxy for theirs; a veritable re-enactment of the originals. My spell failed the first time because that damn fool Gracey went and hung himself in grief over his wife's death. But now I have the two of you to stand in their place. And when they are gone, I shall be Mistress of this Mansion, with power over all of the spirits. When I shall finally have them all under my control, I will wage war on the mortal world until I sit as Queen of all realms!"

 

 

With that, Madame Leota returned to her sance, calling up spirits from around the world. The more she chanted, the more the spirits filled the room. Sparkles of light emanated from the dress and the rope as their powers fed Madame Leota's spells.

 

 

Tom, turning to Carol with tears streaming down his face, looked at her with utter devotion. "I love you, Carol. I'm sorry that we will never have that wedding you dreamed of. I'm sorry for everything. You are my life."

 

 

Carol wept so hard she could barely speak. "I have never loved anyone as I love you, Thomas. I will love you as long as we live, and then I will go on loving you throughout eternity."

 

 

As they both hung their heads in sorrow and cried, Tom suddenly felt his hands being released, and at the same time he heard a rather strange THWAK sound. Turning around to see what happened, Tom saw Emmett lying on the ground and Prudence standing over him, her candelabra in her hand and a big smile on her face.

 

 

Felicia spun around to find Emmett, and she suddenly let out a scream as a bright beam of light hit her square in the face. "AAAHHHHHHHHHH! LIGHT!!!! GET IT AWAY FROM ME!" shouted Felicia as she ran from the room.

 

 

"What on earth.?" said Carol as she turned herself around . There before her stood Eddy, all aglow in his spotlight which shined down on them from overhead. Eddy quickly extinguished the light to avoid detection.

 

 

"Whuwhat.what's going on? Prudence? How did you." said Tom in awe.

 

 

"Eddy here has volunteered to help," said Prudence. "It's a long story, but let's just say that he has his own axe to grind. I filled him in on what's happenin', and he has formulated a great plan. Now, first things first. Tom, get out yur little dog whistle and blow on it immediately."

 

 

Tom looked at her oddly. "Go on, now! Quickly!" she said. Tom didn't understand why he had to do this, but at the moment he wasn't prepared to start asking question. He removed the little golden whistle from his pocket and blew on it until his lungs were void of all air.

 

 

"Excellent!" said Prudence. "Now, gather around. Here's the plan…………"



*****************************

 

Madame Leota continued her chanting, stressing each word as she felt herself becoming more powerful. There were so many spirits now, surrounding her and spinning about, that they became a jumbled blur. Screams and the wailing of banshees filled the air.

 

 

"BALPON UPSOOL TREVARTUS CARFOR UT NARE!" she shouted, falling into a deep trance. Ghosts and phantasms of every type entered her body, and she gasped with delight at the sensation and swayed to a music which only she could hear.



The Mansion rumbled as its foundation bucked at the increasing levels of powerful haunts that were suddenly taking up residence within its walls. A ceiling collapsed in a room that no one ever entered. Spiders scurried from their webs, looking for safe territory in which to hide. In her sorcerous ecstasy, oblivious to everything around her, Madame Leota did not take notice of the thin little animal that crept up below her and quickly made off with the dress and the rope between its teeth.

 

 

Pulling herself to her full height, the Madame could finally feel that she had reached the pinnacle of her power, attaining all that she would need for her great spell. Slowly opening her eyes, she inhaled the magical air about her and exhaled with a terrible cackling laugh of victory.

 

 

"AT LAST! THE TIME HAS COME TO BANISH MY HATED ENEMIES! HOW I HAVE WAITED FOR THIS NIGHT! AT LAST! AT LAST! HAHAHAHA!"

 

 

Focusing all her powers, Leota threw her hands up into the air above her. Once again she closed her eyes as she began to weave her summoning spell.

 

 

"BY SORROW AND BY PAIN,

BY THE ATTIC'S DESPAIR,

BY DEATH AND BY GRIEF

AND THE GRIM REAPER'S STARE;

BY THE WIDOW'S MOURNING

AND THE HANGMAN'S PRIDE,

BEFORE ME I SUMMON

THE LORD GRACEY'S BRIDE!!!!!"

 

 

Lightning struck with fury and balls of St. Elmo's Fire danced frantically all around the room. Sparkles of light, like thousands of tiny fire flies, swirled around in tight circles at the center of the room as Emily materialized within it, hovering several feet above the floor. Covering her mouth with her hand, Emily's eyes widened with fear as she looked upon her murderer.

 

 

"GARMETS TROUS!" Leota shrieked as a purple band of plasma sprayed from her hands and formed a cage around Emily. Trapped in her ghostly prison, Emily was now totally at the mercy of the deranged witch. Leota had taken her life from her, and now she would take her after-life as well.

 

 

"Stick around, my little dove," said Leota to her. "It's time for a family reunion! Hahaha!"

 

 

Satisfied that Emily was quite secure in her cage, Leota prepared herself for the next summons. Placing her fingertips to her temples, she called out in a booming voice that could be heard throughout the spirit world.

 

 

"IN HIDING YOU'VE BEEN,

BUT HIDDEN NO LONGER,

YOUR POWER ONCE GREAT,

NOW I AM THE STRONGER;

THE SPIRITS COMPEL,

YOU MUST LEAVE FROM YOUR PLACE,

STAND IN OUR PRESENCE

AND SHOW US YOUR FACE;

THE CRYSTAL AWAITS YOU,

IT OPENS THE DOOR,

NOW COME FORTH GEORGE GRACEY,

A MASTER NO MORE!!!

 

 

There was a blinding flash of light as the air was ripped apart next to Emily's cage. The Master stepped out through the gaping hole, which snapped closed behind him with the thunder of an exploding bomb. He did not so much as flinch at the sight of Leota floating before him, nor at the smile of pure evil spreading across her face. It was the image of his lovely bride in the cage which broke his fearless demeanor.

 

 

"Emily!" he shouted in dismay. It was the first time he had seen her since that stormy day when he held her lifeless body after it had fallen from her casket in the funeral procession.



"Leota! What have you done?! Let her out of there!"

 

 

"I GIVE THE ORDERS NOW!" raged the Madame, power rippling all around her. "BUT DO NOT FEAR, MY LITTLE MAN. VERY SHORTLY YOU AND YOUR BRIDE SHALL BEING SPENDING AN INTIMATE ETERNTY TOGETHER IN A VERY SMALL SPACE!"

 

 

Master Gracey charged toward the cage to free Emily, but when he touched the bars he was suddenly thrown back from a magical jolt.

 

 

"Why have you summoned me here?!" he roared at Leota. "What diseased fantasy are you acting out now?!"

 

 

"You, sir, will speak to me with the respect due to the Mistress of this Mansion," she said calmly to him. "Submit yourself to my power and I may be merciful."

 

 

"I will do no such thing! Now answer me! Why have you summoned me?"

 

 

"If you will not speak to me with the respect I deserve, then you shall not speak at all!" Leota threw her hands out in his direction as though she were throwing a basketball to him. A gold rope of energy began to wind itself tightly around Master Gracey until he was held fast. A gag appeared in his mouth, tied back behind his head.

 

 

Stretching out her hand in front of her in a stirring motion, her crystal ball rose from the floor and levitated up to her fingers. Following the ball came its golden stand, and finally the little table.

 

 

The ball fell into the stand, and the two situated themselves at the center of the floating table, hovering between the Master and the Madame.

 

 

"And now, Master Gracey, I will consign you and your wretched wife to the hell in which you left me for so long!"

 

 

"Leota, STOP!!" came the angry voice of the elderly Mrs. Gracey as she entered the room. "What is the meaning of this?! Release my son AT ONCE!!"

 

 

Madame Leota sighed heavily. "Why must there always be interruptions?" she said under her breath. Without so much as looking in the direction of the old ghost, Leota thrust out her hand and flung a magical bolt of destruction at her. But to her great astonishment, Mrs. Gracey merely swatted the bolt with a simple backhand as though she were swatting at a fly. The bolt of energy bounced off of her hand and ricocheted against the walls. It returned like a boomerang, slamming into Leota and knocking her back a step. Recovering quickly, Leota turned toward the Master's mother.

 

 

"Well, well, well," said Leota to her, rather impressed. "The Lady knows a thing or two of the arts, I see. You've certainly kept THAT well hidden."

 

 

"I'm full of surprises, Leota - as my late husband also discovered."

 

 

"Yes. He was quite the fool to cross you, Mary." Leota glanced angrily up at George and said quietly, "Men are always toying with a woman's affections." Emily looked questioningly at George, who avoided her gaze by looking at the floor. Leota noticed this and laughed.

 

 

"Such a handsome charmer your husband is, Emily. Like father like son." Leota rubbed her crystal ball and smiled at the thought of George and Emily trapped within it. "But don't worry about all that right now. You two will have all eternity to discuss it!"

 

 

"I cannot allow you to do this, Leota," replied Mrs. Gracey.

 

 

"And you think you have the power to stop me?"

 

 

Mary Gracey remained calm and controlled before the challenge. "I learned a thing or two during my stay in Europe after my husband passed. I was taught by some of the greatest druids and Wiccans of Britannia, Prussia and Spain. Even the Vatican had a few secrets to offer."



Feeling that the conversation was becoming a bit too chummy, Leota addressed Mrs. Gracey with a grave tone. "I have no quarrel with you. You and I are actually more alike than either one of us would care to think about. But I warn you, Lady Gracey; your skills are no match against all of the powers at my disposal. You will NEVER defeat me. You would have been better off staying in Europe."

 

 

"Maybe so," said Mrs. Gracey. "But I would hardly be a lady if I stood by and watched as you torment my son."

 

 

"Very well. Then let the games begin!"

 

 

The two women began to slowly circle each other like boxers in a ring. Leota threw the first punch with a massive blast of ethereal power. Like a comet with a flaming tail it sailed though the air toward Mrs. Gracey. She passed her hand in front of her, creating an invisible shield which easily deflected it. Leota laughed at her.

 

 

"Did you study with the Jedi Knights as well?! Hahahahaha!" Without missing a beat, Leota cast her next spell at her. A blue beam of light came from her hand and wrapped around Mrs. Gracey like a fist. Waving her hand around, she threw the old ghost against several walls and then let her drop to the floor.

 

 

Mrs. Gracey staggered to her feet, the bun on her head falling out in long wispy strands of hair. She removed her rose, which was pinned like a corsage to her dress, and with one hand she plucked off all of the pedals. Diving into the air, she passed Leota and threw the pedals at her. While in flight, each pedal transformed itself into a small dragon, with scalding fire shooting from their mouths. They circled Leota, trying to set her ablaze with their fiery breath.

 

 

Trying to dodge the magical reptiles, Leota swung her arms about, knocking one out of commission. She then stood tall before the dragons and chanted a few strange words. Suddenly, several of the ghosts possessing Leota sprang forth from her body, each one grabbing a dragon and swallowing it whole.

 

 

Mary Gracey was very disappointed at this. It had been her favorite - and best - conjuration. She knew at that moment that Leota was correct. She would never beat her with her simple abilities. She frantically searched her thoughts for something that might work, but before she could think of something, Leota sent a volley of spells at her that quickly brought this battle to an end.

 

 

"NAFRA CONTONA EPORU!" shouted Leota as a wave of power gripped Mrs. Gracey, hauled her up into the air, and slammed her back against the center of the wall. The two women glared at one another, both of them knowing who the victor would be.

 

 

"THE NINE OF SWORDS!" said Leota.

 

 

Nine large swords flew from her hands and stuck themselves violently into the wall in a circle around Mrs. Gracey. "Hhmmmm. I think I'd like to frame that one," Leota said as a tarot card rose from the floor, increased itself ten fold in size, and plastered itself against the poor ghost like fly paper.

 

 

Mrs. Gracey let out a scream as the card turned itself around, revealing that she had been sucked right into the card itself. She looked with fright at the nine swords which accompanied her into the card and circled her as though they might strike any moment.

 

 

"Poor Mary," said Leota tauntingly at Mrs. Gracey. "What a mother won't do for her child. So very touching."

 

 

Having won that battle, Madame Leota turned her attentions once more to Master Gracey and Emily. George's eyes widened and he struggled to speak through his gag, but nothing came out except loud mumblings.

 

 

"You horrible monster!" screamed Emily at her. Leota locked her gaze on Emily and slowly approached her cage. Her hair stood out all around her head like an Indian headdress; the look on her face and the wildness of her eyes clearly showed that she had finally gone quite mad. Looking in through the bars at Emily, Leota gave the ghostly bride a grin that would have fit better on a pouncing hyena.

 

 

"Your flatteries will get you nowhere, my sweet. But watch closely. You are about to find out how much of a monster I can truly be!" She floated over to George who was wriggling about, trying to break free from the golden rope of energy that bound him.

 

 

"How I love to see you writhe like a worm on a hook!" she said to him. "Come on, Mr. Big Shot! Show us that you are the Master of this Mansion. Let us see how great you truly are. Where are your powers now? Where are your devotees and servants who blindly obey you?" Leota looked at him in disgust, almost thinking that he wasn't even worth all of this effort.

 

 

"You are not even master of dirt! You are powerless and gutless; a shadowy reflection of a once great man. George Gracey was man of power, a man to be admired and respected and feared. But now - look at you! - you are nothing."

 

 

Madame Leota turned her back to him and moved towards the center of the room. "Oh, and by the way…….I thought you might like to know that it was I who arranged the death of your first wife. What a nuisance THAT one was! But I'm sure that the alligators had a wonderful meal. Well, it served her right. Any PROFESSIONAL tight-rope walker would check the quality of her rope before setting out across it!"

 

 

George was breathing heavily with rage as he stared at the witch with pure hatred. She saw this and laughed. Now that she had him in pain, she decided to twist the screws a little more.

 

 

"And I also took great pleasure in killing your little bride here. It was so easy. One should never hide in a box that can be locked from the outside. And, silly me, I just can't resist playing a good trick on someone so dumb. And I have to tell you, I felt the most incredible rush as I listened to her last gasps for air."

 

 

George was now boiling with anger. He wanted to place his hands around her throat and throttle the old hag. He fought hard to get free, but he was not strong enough. The more he pushed against the rope, the tighter it held him, like a boa constrictor tightening its coils with every breath of its victim.

 

 

"But if it's of any consolation," she said. "I think I may have heard her mention your name as she breathed her last breath. Can't be sure though. Her words were kind of.garbled at that point."

 

 

George looked over at Emily for a hint from her that Leota's last statement was true. She was crying, but she gave him a little smile and nodded her head slightly in confirmation. He could see her mouthing the words "I love you" to him, and for the first time since he was a young boy, tears rolled down his face. Tears of both love and of sorrow. Looking at her, George wished with all of his heart that the two of them could have had at least the joy of one night together. One night in each other's arms. The night that was theirs by right. That night of love that was sanctioned and lawful both in heaven and on earth. Their wedding night. But Leota had stolen that away from them, too; though it was a victory which Leota did not know she had achieved.

 

 

"The time has come to rid myself of you forever. I am weary with the sight of you." Madame Leota looked into her crystal ball with a perverted gleam in her eye, and she rubbed it with both of her hands. "Shall I tell you your future? I can see it so clearly. With the force of the life and love of the two mortals I have brought to this Mansion, I will now seal your fate for eternity within this ball. Never again will you infest this realm. Her wedding dress and your rope are now mine. Together with the blood of your mortal counterparts, I will banish you both to the prison in which your love for each other has kept me for half a century! And now."

 

 

Leota looked about on the floor for the dress and the rope, but she could not find them. She began to panic, looking frantically around and shoving the table with the crystal ball aside.

 

 

The dress and the rope were gone.

 

 

"WHERE……….?! WHERE ARE THEY?!!!!!!!!!!!!!" she screamed, arches of lightning flashing from her body. Without the dress and rope which gave her the power to summon so many spirits, Leota's power began to diminish as the spirits within her discovered that the channel for her spell was gone. Leota became furious, searching every area of the room for her prizes. "WHERE ARE THEY!!!!!" she howled again.



The spirits became rebellious and began to leave her one by one. "NO!!! YOU CANNOT LEAVE ME!!!" she said to them, trying in vain to catch them and hold them in place. This was a battle she was not winning.

 

 

"Are you looking for these?" said Tom as he and Carol walked boldly into the room.

 

 

The witch screamed as she turned to see Tom with the noose dangling from around his neck, and Carol with Emily's dress on. Each of them held a small crystal wine glass containing a steaming purple liquid.

 

 

"TAKE THOSE OFF AT ONCE OR I WILL DESTROY YOU!!!!

 

 

In defiance, Tom and Carol stood closer to one another and took each other by the hand. The Mansion shook from Leota's wrath as she cursed them and let out a bolt of power that was meant to annihilate them. A blazing ball of blue fire flew from her hands and roared like a jet engine towards them.

 

 

Showing no fear whatsoever Carol bravely stepped in front of Tom, dropped the veil over her face, and took the full brunt of Leota's sorcery. The dress glowed with incredibly warm light as it repelled the blast completely.

 

 

"WHAT IS THIS?!?!?!?" screeched Leota, nearly hopping about with rage.

 

 

"It's called a loophole," said Tom. "A little something which you forgot to cover in your computations, or whatever scum like you call it in your brand of filthy magic."

 

 

"HOW DO YOU DARE TO SPEAK TO ME IN SUCH A FASHION?!!! Caplor at Zebolok Reen!!!!" Leota's spell sent another bolt of power at them, which was just as easily thwarted by the dress as the first.

 

 

"As I was saying" continued Tom in a casual tone. "You seem to have forgotten to take into account that the Master and his bride are not yet lawfully married."

 

 

"WHAT?!! WHAT ARE YOU BABBLING ABOUT?!" shouted Leota with a confused look. George and Emily also looked at them rather confused.

 

 

"Well, you see," said Carol, "you killed Emily before they had a chance to consummate their marriage. No marriage is binding until it is consummated. Therefore they are not lawfully married. This dress is the dress of a virgin, as pure as the day it was sewn together. By choosing to create your banishment spell under the false assumption that they are lawfully married - hence your choice of the wedding gown as the channel - your entire spell is faulty."

 

 

Suddenly Prudence stepped forward from the shadows, her hands behind her back and no expression on her face. Leota looked at her with scorn, remembering that Prudence was once merely the servant of her daughter.

 

 

"Here is the point, Leota. You have abused the spirits with your lies and your ignorance. And while such an act is nothin' new, there is a severe penalty for this crime. I have just reviewed the Ghost Gallery, and there is already a new entry for you. But as you yourself know, no ghost may read his own entry. Therefore you will have to wait and see what awaits you."

 

 

"THIS IS NONSENSE!! I WILL DESTROY ALL OF YOU!!" ranted the deranged woman.

 

 

"Oh, and there's just one more thing," said Prudence. "Your spell will not work on George and Emily as you wish it to. According to the Gallery, part of your penalty is that you will also have to banish Tom and Carol WITH Master Gracey and Emily, since you had actually chosen THEM as the real channel for your spell. Did you not specifically say that they would stand in proxy for the Master and Emily? No single person can conduct enough power from the spirit world to banish FOUR people. The great Madame Leota has FAILED!"

 

 

"NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!" screamed Leota as her madness took over her senses. Her body began to warp and twist as the spirits within her became effected by her anger. She would not accept defeat. Her entire being began to grow as the air crackled with magical charges. Tom and Carol - and even Prudence - stepped back from her as she filled the room, her head nearly touching the high ceiling.



"I WILL SHOW YOU THE POWER OF MADAME LEOTA!!" She reached down and snatched the crystal ball from its stand and began chanting her dreaded banishment spell.

 

 

"TUCH PRELESTRAN RIZPOOL ERWANA SOL.!"

 

 

As Leota continued her chanting, Tom and Carol faced each other and smiled. "This is it, baby," said Tom.

 

 

"Yes, it is," Carol said to him. "I am ready to spend eternity with you."

 

 

".BORSAN TRISBAYN WEZALTU KRISJUMINAY!!!"

 

 

The first part of Leota's spell was let loose upon the Master and his bride. The cage and the rope that held them bound instantly melted away around them as they were violently pulled towards the ball. They began to lose their familiar appearances, forced into the typical form of a white misty ghost by the magic of Leota's spell. They were now totally unrecognizable as they swirled around the crystal in Leota's outstretched hand, apparently waiting for Tom and Carol to join them before they could enter. Leota let out a horrendous grunt of laughter as she put out her other hand in the direction of Tom and Carol.

 

 

"FOOLS!!!!! WE SHALL SEE IF I DON'T HAVE THE POWER TO TAKE YOU ALL!!!!! YOU SHALL CRY OUT FOR MERCY, BUT YOU SHALL RECEIVE NONE!!!" Then Leota began the spell that would take them all into the crystal realm.

 

 

"BORNAIS ZIXTHAN TRAMORLIS WESTRA……" she began to weave.

 

 

"Carol," said Tom, shaking slightly. "Will you marry me?"

 

 

Carol looked deeply into his eyes. "Yes, Thomas. I will marry you. Forsaking all others till death does part us, I take you as my husband."

 

 

"..TORNAN FELDOMAR SUPTANTO YERSO.." continued Leota as she tapped into the spirit world for power that has never been taken before. The rumbling of the house became deafening, and parts of the ceiling began to crumble and fall. From somewhere down the corridors of the Mansion came the crashing sounds of glass and metal and wood.

 

 

".MESTBO RELPADROKMAN GELDOFAR HUSINATRAK……"

 

 

Tom took Emily's wedding band from his pocket and placed it on Carol's finger. "To have and to hold, I take you as my wife, and with this ring I thee wed."

 

 

Lifting Carol's veil, Tom gave his new bride a kiss. The ground shook so violently that they both nearly fell, but they caught their footing and continued their private ceremony.

 

 

".AND NOW, YOU SHALL DIE!!" Leota wailed as she finished the last stands of her spell.

 

 

Tom and Carol, ignoring Leota completely, linked arm in arm and drank from their glasses until they were emptied.

 

 

"Mmmm," said Thomas with a smile. "Has a bit of an almond flavor to it."

 

 

Smiling back at him, Carol said, "Why, yes, it does."

 

 

And with that, Tom and Carol fell to the floor as the full force of Leota's spell reached them.



*************************

 

 

George and Emily's spin around the crystal ball slowed to a full stop as they once again returned to their proper forms. On the floor below them, Leota's spell swirled about Tom and Carol's bodies in vibrant rainbow colors. Carol's dress began to glow brightly, and then in a flash it vanished from her body completely. In another moment, the shining dress rematerialized on Emily with great showers of sparks pouring out from it in a spectacular display of pyrotechnics. Stunned, the two ghosts looked at one another with astonishment. George reached out and took Emily's hands, and they both turned to look at Leota.

 

 

The Madame was just as shocked, and for the first time she found herself speechless. Moments later, Leota let out a shriek of terror as she watched her spell rise from Tom and Carol, and, turning itself around, it headed right for her. George and Emily backed away as Leota's spell, infused with all of the powers of the spirit world, slammed into her. The ghosts and spirits became enraged and started to rip her body apart. Her dress hung in shreds.

 

 

"NOOO! This can't be!!! she screamed, realizing that her spell had once again backfired when it approached a dead target. "They can't be dead! They CAN'T be dead!!! NOOO!!!!!"

 

 

Thousands of spirits, screaming and wailing with an ear-splitting din, flew from Leota as her returned spell began to melt away her new body. The rope around Thomas's neck leaped from him and tied itself around Leota's throat, pulling until it had separated her head from her body. The power of the spell began to whirl around her head, causing her to spin so fast that she became an ugly blur.

 

 

The crystal ball illuminated itself from within as it began to suck Leota into it. "THIS IS NOT OVER, GRACEY!!!" she shouted as she descended lower and lower towards the ball. "I AM MADAME LEOTA! I DO NOT FAIL! YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS! I GUARENTEE IT! YOU WILL!!! AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!"

 

 

And then she was gone, trapped again in her own crystal ball, by her own spell.

 

 

**********************************

 

 

The Mansion was completely dark.

 

 

There was total silence.

 

 

No one moved.

 

 

Then, out in the Corridor of Doors, the grandfather clock struck 13.

 

 

Prudence lit her candelabra with a wave of her hand. Beside her stood Eddy, Master Gracey, Emily, and Mrs. Gracey, released from her tarot card by Leota's demise. On the floor before them lay the bodies of Tom and Carol.

 

 

Emily broke the silence. "I don't understand. What happened?"

 

 

"We set you free, Mistress Gracey," came the voice of Tom as he and Carol sat up from the floor.

 

 

"I...I thought you were dead!"

 

 

"We were," said Carol.

 

 

'Could someone please explain this?" asked Master Gracey.

 

 

"Yes, sir," said Prudence. "We lied."

 

 

"What do you mean?"

 

 

"There was no penalty against Leota. Neither was there any new entry about her in the Ghost Gallery. We made it up. Well, actually, Eddy made it up."

 

 

Eddy took a brief bow by momentarily turning on his spot light.

 

 

"We convinced that lunatic that she would have to banish all four of us," said Carol. "And then we provoked her ego by making her think that she would never have the power to do it. Actually, she did have the power to do it; but since Tom and I were not married even though we were meant to stand in proxy for you, Leota's spell would have killed us instead of banishing us. As Leota performed her spell, Tom and I conducted our own ceremony in time so that her spell could not kill us, and then Emily's dress shielded our bodies from being destroyed."

 

 

"But, weren't you already dead?" asked Emily.

 

 

"Technically, yes, mum, they were," replied Prudence. "I placed a double amount of my potion in their drinks, which stopped there hearts temporarily. When Leota's spell finally hit them, they were already "dead", and so the spell reversed upon her again, as it did when Master Gracey died. But the potion, as I said, was only temporary; so here they are, alive again. The potion wore off."

 

 

"Well, this is truly amazing," said the Master. "Thank you. Thank you all. Is there anything I can do for you in return?"

 

 

"May we be permitted to leave this Mansion in peace?" asked Tom.

 

 

"You have our word. You will not be molested in any way for the remainder of your stay here, and I will escort you personally to the gates." George Gracey then turned to his bride. "But for now, my precious, we have a marriage to make."legal". Shall we?"

 

 

"I have waited a long time, my love. I never believed this night would come to us," said Emily. Then, with a look of concern, she addressed Tom and Carol "Thank you for making this possible. But what I don't understand is, Why did you risk your lives for us? You could have been killed. If you had let Leota banish us, she might have let you go."

 

 

Carol smiled at Emily and pulled out the little Book from her pocket. "I had suddenly remembered something I had heard from this Book when I was a little girl," said Carol. "A greater love hath no man than this: That he lay down his life for his friends."

 

 

And they lived hauntingly ever after.

 

 

THE BEGINNING

 

 

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