by C. L. Hernandez
“I think I need an exorcism,” the woman at the counter said.
Deegie looked up from her gardening catalogue and into a pair of frightened-looking green eyes. Since she owned the only magical supply shop in Fiddlehead Creek, she often had odd requests from her customers – silver bullets, love spells, graveyard dirt – but this appeal was definitely a first.
“Sorry,” Deegie said, “I don’t do exorcisms. You might want to contact the Catholic Church about that.”
The woman dipped her head and ran a hand over her perfectly coiffed white hair. “No, no, I mean a ghost-busting.” She fumbled for a pair of wire-rimmed glasses that hung from a chain around her neck, put them on, and peered myopically at Deegie. “You do those, don’t you?”
“I sell candles, herbs, tea, and essential oils,” Deegie said, as kindly as she could. “But I might be able to offer you some advice, or…something.”
While Deegie was used to the occasional crack-pot showing up in her shop, this lady didn’t fit the usual description; she looked like someone’s kindly old grandma, and a very frightened one at that. Deegie came out from behind the counter and led the old woman to the reading nook at the front of the shop. “Have a seat,” she said. “Would you like some tea?”
The woman clutched her vinyl purse and shook her head. “No thank you. I’ll just tell you my story and hope you believe me.” She glanced around the shop, as if making sure there was no one else around before she continued.
“I’m Loretta Scott, by the way. I’m opening—am hoping to open a used book store on High Street.”
Deegie introduced herself and was mildly surprised that Loretta offered no comment on her rather unusual name. “Do you mean the old Martin building?” she asked. She had seen a fair amount of activity around the old place lately on her way to work. Just yesterday, a moving truck had been parked in front and men in coveralls had been unloading tape-wrapped cardboard boxes and shelving units.
“Yes, that’s the one.” Loretta nodded, that deer-in-the-headlights look still prominent on her face. “I wish I’d known its history before I decided to do this, but it’s too late now. I’ve already put so much money into it. I really don’t know what to do now, and—”
“What exactly is the problem?” Deegie cut in. “Do you think it’s haunted?”
“Yes! I know it’s haunted! I heard them last night. I heard the ghosts. Can you…can you tell me how to make them go away? I’ll pay you well, believe me.”
It came as no surprise that Loretta suspected ghosts haunted the Martin building. Once the site of Fiddlehead Creek’s City Hall, it was turned into a second hospital during the flu epidemic of 1918-19 after the main hospital had been packed full of flu victims. It had sat unused and neglected since then. One could only imagine the lives that were lost there, and ghosts certainly had a way of hanging around the site of great tragedy.
“Are you sure it wasn’t the wind you heard? Maybe just the building settling? Old buildings will do that, you know.”
Loretta shook her head hard enough to make her white curls wobble. “No. It wasn’t the wind. I know what the wind sounds like, and it wasn’t the building. I heard...I heard babies crying.” Her voice lowered to just barely above a whisper. “It was coming from somewhere behind me, but when I turned around, there was nothing there. It happened three times before I picked up my purse and got the hell out of there.”
Deegie had to admit that Loretta’s experience sounded more than a little unsettling. The woman sounded so sincere and looked utterly horrified. There was every chance the sounds had a logical explanation, but suppose it really was the ghost of a long-deceased child? There was only one way to find out. Ghosts were naturally attracted to Deegie; all it would take was one visit, and she would know for sure.
“Look,” said Deegie, “this isn’t something I normally do, but I can come by and take a look around. If there are any ghosts in there, I’ll know.”
Loretta seemed to collapse from relief; her rigid posture softened, and she smiled. “Thank you so much, Ms. Tibbs. I can meet you there later this evening to let you in, but you’ll have to forgive me for not going inside with you.”
“I understand,” said Deegie. “I will meet you in front of your bookstore this evening around seven. Will that work for you?”
Loretta agreed, and she wore her look of supreme relief all the way out to her car.
Deegie arrived at the Martin building, perhaps a little too early, and she stood next to the door as she waited for Loretta in the gray and purple gloom. A single light had been left on in the soon-to-be-bookstore, and when she wiped a clean spot on the dusty window and looked inside, she saw a jumble of boxes and unassembled shelving units. A chair lay on its side, and what looked like a handful of mail lay scattered on the floor. Clearly Loretta had left in a hurry, unless, of course, it was the work of the supposed ghosts.
Deegie closed her eyes and opened her mind, waiting for the familiar tingling sensation she got whenever a ghost was near. All she felt was the evening breeze combing her wild black hair. I think Loretta has mistaken the quirky sounds of an old building for a wee ghostie, she thought. I’ll investigate anyway, just to make her feel better, but I really don’t think there’s anything supernatural going on here.
Headlights cut across the parking lot, signaling Loretta’s arrival. She parked her car next to Deegie’s and rolled down the window, just far enough to allow her hand to slip through. She clutched a ring of keys in her fingers, and she jingled them at Deegie. “Here you are, dear. Do you mind going in by yourself? I had such a fright earlier; I don’t think I’m ready to go back in just yet.”
Deegie couldn’t help but chuckle at the look on the older woman’s face. “I don’t mind,” she said, taking the keys. “And I really don’t think you have anything to worry about. Hauntings are really quite rare.”
Loretta, however, did not look convinced. “Just be careful in there. And don’t mind the dust. The last donation of books must have been sitting in someone’s shed for years.”
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry,” Deegie said. “I won’t be long.”
She unlocked the door and stepped into the delightful dust-and-vanilla smell of old books. The scent always reminded her of her late father’s book collection. The wooden floor creaked under her feet, and vintage cobwebs decorated the corners; the place certainly looked creepy enough. Deegie searched with her mind again, just in case she missed something earlier. The results were the same: she detected no spirit energy of any kind. In a way, she was disappointed. Interacting with the spirit world was as natural as breathing for her; she would have been thrilled for yet another chance to do so. She took another long whiff of the book-scented air, then headed towards the door, ready to give Loretta the all-clear.
A thin, feeble wail rose up from a shadowy corner. Deegie spun around. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. It certainly did sound like the cry of a tiny baby—a very sick tiny baby. Loretta hadn’t been hearing things after all.
I didn’t feel any spirit energy at all. There are no ghosts here, so what IS that? She advanced a few cautious steps towards the corner where the cry had come from. Another whimper, this one rising to a pitch that no human voice could possibly reach, then sinking back down to a barely discernible whisper.
Something thumped against the side of one of the boxes, like a tiny hand slapping weakly against the cardboard. Deegie jumped back, surprising herself. “H-hello?” Her voice wavered, almost as much as the voice of the crying thing in the corner. “Can you hear me? Can you talk to me?”
Her response was another eerie cry, sharp and loud. A second voice joined in, and the two of them wailed together in a piteous duet. More weak thumps sounded against the side of the box, then silence. “Hello?” she called out softly. “Are you still here?”
It was troubling enough to imagine gravely ill infants, but to think of them as delicate, wispy ghosts haunting an old building was even worse. This was definitely a first for Deegie. The sad little voices whimpered again; she had never heard a baby cry like that before. It reminded her of last winter, when she had helped her boyfriend move a stack of firewood around to the back of her house. She’s heard a similar sound then: high and reedy, like the cry of a sick newborn. She’d moved aside a few lengths of wood to discover--
Standing in the pale crescent of light cast by the single bulb, Deegie laughed. “Okay, my little ghosties,” she said, “let’s get you out of there.”
Still chuckling to herself, she went to the box tucked into the cobwebby corner. A ragged hole about the size of a golf ball had been chewed into the side facing the wall. She peeled off the ancient tape, and opened the flaps. Inside, lying in a nest of shredded book pages, was a litter of baby squirrels.
“Aww, poor little guys,” she crooned to the wee orphans. “What happened to your mama, huh?” Taking out her cell phone, she made a quick call to the Fiddlehead Creek Wildlife Rescue Center, then went back outside to tell Loretta the news.
Two weeks later, a new business opened in Fiddlehead Creek. The grand opening was a lively one, with free punch and cookies, and 50% off on all used paperbacks. Deegie stopped by on her lunch break to peruse the stacks, have a cookie, and wish her new friend the best of luck. The new sign in front of the store made her smile: The Squirrel’s Nest – Vintage Books
I hope you enjoyed this Deegie Tibbs story. You can read more about Deegie and her crazy adventures in my series, The Complicated life of Deegie Tibbs. Ordering info can be found on my Amazon author's page (see link below)