“The house doesn’t look haunted,” the realtor said, pointing at the twenty year old split-foyer home.
That’s because it’s not, thought the man in the dark suit, though he said, “When I’ve finished, it won’t be.”
“That’s what the last three ‘experts’ said.”
“I have a unique understanding of the case, Mister Hemphill. Will you please review the situation for me?”
Hemphill nodded. “Sure. The new tenants, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Louis, moved in about a month ago. Almost immediately, they began hearing strange noises.”
“Human voices whispering and speaking, correct?”
Hemphill nodded again. “Then they started seeing things, blurry figures out of the corner of the eye.”
“As time passed,” Hemphill said. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, Mister Hemphill. You were saying...”
“Oh, right. As time passed, these figures became more distinct. Occasionally people see a woman in an antique dress with an apron. Others have seen a fellow in a U.S. Army Air Corps uniform. Some see children.”
“Someone saw the previous owner,” said the man in the dark suit, glancing at a small handheld device. “A Dr. Roger Graves? Is Dr. Graves dead, then?”
Hemphill shrugged. “He disappeared some time ago. His niece had some sort of legal papers that provided her with power over his estate. My lawyer said it was something like having him declared dead, without the long wait. ”
The man in the dark suit sighed. “She may be in for a surprise.”
Hemphill’s eyebrows raised. “If Jackson and Louis are seeing his ghost, doesn’t that mean he’s dead?”
“We’ll see. What sort of doctor was Graves?”
Hemphill shrugged. “Not a medical doctor. Some sort of researcher, I think. Wrote a few books, did some lecturing.”
The man in the dark suit tapped on his handheld unit. He read the information, then nodded.
“Do the other ‘ghosts’ mean anything to anyone?”
Hemphill shrugged. “Before this house stood here, there was a small government residence, one of those post-WWII houses that veterans could get. Before that, when this area was undeveloped—”
“Before the city encroached,” said the man in the dark suit.
Hemphill coughed, and said, “Before it fell within the city limits, it was a farm house on a small acreage.”
The man in the dark suit nodded. “Very well. Give me a few hours, and I should have the house cleared up for you.”
“I’d appreciate it. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Louis were quite upset. The ghosts seem to have started wandering further afield. Some neighbors have begun complaining, and I’m afraid they might try to sue.”
The man in the dark suit scowled at the realtor, then said, “I’ll contact you when I’m done.”
Hemphill reddened at the dismissal, but got into his Lexus and drove away.
The man in the dark suit walked up the sidewalk to 7982 Hammond. When he reached the front door, he waved his handheld device around the perimeter of the doorframe.
Frowning, he keyed some information into the unit. He read the display, then walked around behind the house.
A small tool shed stood at the back of the property, near the picket fence. The man in the dark suit strode to the shed and opened it.
Lawn care and gardening tools lined the walls, along with the usual clutter that fills garages and sheds. The man in the dark suit keyed his device again, then stuck it in his jacket pocket.
With a grunt, he rolled the riding mower out of the shed. He scanned the floor, then moved a few other items.
Withdrawing the handheld, he waved it in a square, and read its display. Then he flipped a disconnected wall switch three times.
A panel raised from the floor, revealing a small staircase that disappeared into the darkness below.
The man in the dark suit started down the steps, activating another switch on the stairway. The panel above lowered and closed, and lights hummed to life in the room below.
The man in the dark suit surveyed the hidden lab. The chicken scratches on the chalkboard, combined with the scattered texts and disassociated machined parts, made it clear that Dr. Graves had been fiddling about with time.
This came as no surprise. After all, it was why the man had been sent here. But, it was always troublesome.
The man in the dark suit withdrew another device from a different jacket pocket, plugged it into the handheld, and activated the connection.
A flare of light erupted in front of him, and things began to move backward.
A paper drifted up onto the table, then another, then several more. Then a circle of blue light began to shrink, becoming Dr. Graves seated on a contraption resembling a sleigh with a fan on the back.
The man in the dark suit sighed.
“Why do they always make it look like the machine in that movie?”
* * *
The man in the dark suit sat at a café table across from a man in a grey suit.
“Graves built a time machine,” said the man in grey.
The other man nodded. “And activated it, and got stuck in times, creating an isolated time storm. The ‘ghosts’ were images from earlier periods at that location.”
The man in the grey suit said, “Their increasing visibility and range of movement?”
“A side effect of the continuous leakage of energy through the time rupture Graves had created,” said the man in the dark suit. “Had it continued, all the houses in the neighborhood would have begun to seem ‘haunted’.”
The man in the dark suit nodded. “I retrieved him. He’ll regain consciousness in a hospital soon.
“With no memory of what happened to him?”
“None,” said the man in the dark suit. “And, I’ve destroyed his notes and equipment.”
“Well done,” said the man in grey. He shook his head, then added, “Why must they always muck about with things they don’t understand?”
The man in the grey suit made a face. “Humans.”
Copyright © 2006 by Bewildering Stories
on behalf of the author