This story was originally online at Avengers 2000 site.

This is the second story from the files of C.A.S.E. The focus this time is very much on Max Danielson as he is called upon by an old friend to investigate problems at his old university..

In addition it serves as an introduction to some of the other members of C.A.S.E and their reactions to the previous story - "Theatre of Blood". As you'll see as you read this story there is no real villain to combat this time which made the story very interesting to write and pace.

So, read on for a good, old fashioned, ghost story...

C.A.S.E. Files - Theatre of Blood

CHAPTER TWO

 

The small bulb in the old desk lamp struggled to push back the darkness that enveloped the room but the man sitting calmly in the chair by the desk did not seem to notice. Max Danielson's eyelids were closed and his chest rose and fell rhythmically. The slight rasp of his breathing was the only sound until the college bell tolled out the eight o'clock hour.

As if in response to an alarm clock Max's eyelids rolled open, he uncrossed his legs and pushed himself upright in the chair. He glanced around the room slowly taking in all the details revealed by the pool of light cast by the lamp. He sniffed once like a great hound scenting the air before the chase.

Ten minutes passed slowly with Max remaining in the chair idly twisting his wedding ring around his finger. “Patience old man,” he murmured softly to himself. Almost as soon as the last syllable died in the air Max felt the change in the room.

Carefully he leaned forward in the chair and focused closely on his surroundings. Again he sniffed the air but nothing had changed. He allowed himself a small smile as he imagined Michelle's words hanging in the air, “Why do you sniff like that? You know there's not really a smell in here.” Of course she was correct. He had even agreed with her on the point. However, the taint of evil came to him like a bad smell and he could not help his physical reaction to it.

Whatever was going on in the room that Marius had asked him to look at was not evil. A furrow crossed his brow as he shifted his focus and colors brightened the dark room. At first he thought that his initial assumption had been wrong as nothing appeared to have changed from the previous times he had checked the room over. Then the door seemed to open of its open accord and a tall man who appeared to be in his early twenties walked in and closed the door behind him.

The man's clothing, which consisted of a worn double-breasted suit, belonged to the period between the two World Wars. All the color seemed to have been washed out of the man as various shades of gray were the only ones present, down to the skin of his face, his hair and his eyes. The shade leaned back against the now closed door and seemed to look around the room with dark, haunted eyes. He crashed a fist into the door, which was made all the more eerie by the lack of noise that accompanied the action.

Pushing himself away from the door the figure walked further into the room. Each step seemed to hold the weight of the world as he dragged himself over to the bed and fell down upon it. Time slowed to a crawl as Max watched the figure clench and unclench his hands over and over again. His eyes changed rapidly from the wide-open look of a deer trapped in headlights to screwed-up tight with anger. Even without an empathic talent Max could feel the pain and despair rolling off the young man.

With agonizing slowness the man pushed himself to a sitting position on the edge of the bed and then he stood. With the first decisive steps he had taken since entering the room the young man strode to the closet and Max watched it appear to open and the man reach inside. When he stepped back he held in his hand a length of rope which he stared down at.

Dark, pain filled eyes looked from the rope to the raftered ceiling of the room and then slowly back to the rope. Taking hold of a chair that did not exist in the current version of the room the figure moved it underneath one of the rafters and stood on it. Max's mouth was drawn into a tight line and his brow was drawn down as he watched the young man loop the rope around the rafter and after securing it made a loop in the other end. The S.I.X. agent's hand involuntarily moved towards the young man before he pulled it back to its former position on his knee where it clenched the material of his trousers.

With infinite slowness the man passed the loop of the rope over his head and pulled it tight around his neck. Then, before he could change his mind, he kicked out at the back of the chair and sent it tumbling out from underneath him. As the rope snapped taut suspending the young man mere inches above the ground Max jumped in his chair even though he had known what was going to happen. The body jumped and twitched for long moments before finally going still.

Max passed a hand over his eyes forcing the tears that were welling there to pull back. As the ghostly scene began to fade Max watched a piece of paper drift from the figures now loose hand to the floor. He pushed himself out of the chair and with quick steps reached the place where the paper lay. Before he could kneel down and look at it, it too faded from view. To Max's altered perceptions the small spot where the paper had landed was colored a dark gray whereas the remainder of the floor was the dark wine color of the carpet.

He reached out a hand and covered the spot. Then with a sigh he released his concentration and the colors in the room snapped back to normal. With his free hand he massaged his temples trying to ease the ache that holding his focus for an extended period of time caused. Shaking his head he looked down at the spot his hand was covering. It now looked like the rest of the carpet. Closing his eyes once more he extended his focus down into the area underneath his hand.

With practiced ease his mind locked onto the patterns that lay around the floor and then he began to push through them. It was a process much like leafing backwards through the pages of a book or rewinding a video. Information rushed past his mind's eye in a torrent as he sought a single moment recorded in the patterns.

Bare feet. High heeled shoes. Paws… no, furry slippers. Doc Martens. Four feet. Two bodies. More shoes. Paper. Tennis shoes. Bare feet. Slippers.

Wait, backup.

Slippers. Bare feet. Tennis shoes.

Paper.

The information flow slowed and then stopped before zooming in on the crumpled piece of paper. Max could feel the dull ache building behind his eyes as he pushed his talent to the limit to make out the writing on the paper.

Ma a n leg Ex nat n Sc

It was clearly four separate words, and an official title of some sort, but the folds and creases in the paper made it impossible to decipher any further information. He balled his free hand into a fist in exasperation then with his waning strength tried to reach out and grasp the pattern specific to the paper that lay within all the patterns that were before him. At first it was like trying to pull a single thread from a pile of thousands but slowly Max untangled the individual one he needed. Patience Max, he cautioned himself, you can't afford to do this until you can see the exact pattern you need. With one final mental tug the pattern belonging to the paper coalesced into plain view and all the others faded away.

The pattern ended here on the floor, but there was a chance, that he might be able to push forward using the pattern to trace where the pattern, and therefore the paper, was today. It's been too long since I tried this, he thought as he marshaled his remaining strength and pushed himself into the pattern before him.

The initial strain was painful as Max's mind probed for the pattern. Suddenly his face broke in a grin as he felt the pattern grow stronger in his grasp and he felt himself propelled forward. Unlike the control he felt when moving backwards through a pattern's history, this was a wild ride that had his stomach heaving and lurching. The sudden stop in total darkness increased the disorientation and Max pitched forward before catching himself with an outstretched hand. The vision began to fade as his concentration faltered and he forced it back into view with an effort that brought beads of sweat to his forehead.

The darkness puzzled him. “Why can't I see what's here?” he murmured as he looked for a frame of reference. He tried zooming out of the scene but the darkness never changed. Finally as frustration began to gnaw at his concentration a name came to his mind - Kingsclere. Then the vision faded as his strength finally ebbed.

Max collapsed back onto his rear. He closed his eyes tightly and put his hands on the floor to steady himself. After several long deep breaths he slowly opened his eyes and reached into a trouser pocket to retrieve a white linen handkerchief which he used to mop the sweat from his face.

After pulling himself off the floor and back into the chair he sat with his eyes drawn down in concentration. His lips moved silently as he repeated everything he had seen. Taking a pen and pad from his jacket pocket he wrote out the sequence of letters he had seen on the crumpled paper and studied them.

Ma a n leg Ex nat n Sc

The meaning did not immediately jump out and as the college bell struck the ninth hour of the night he stood and after a final look around the room he left.

Once in the night air Max took a moment to breathe deeply before setting off with long strides towards the Dean's office. As he entered the building he could see the light pooling underneath the door to Marius' office. He knocked and pushed the door open.

Marius Taylor looked up from the papers he was working on. An old pipe was wedged between his teeth which he plucked out as he took in the identity of his late night visitor and asked, “Well?”

The smile that Max gave him was tight. “You have a ghost Marius, just as I suspected. I wasn't expecting the exact circumstances I found though.”

Max collapsed heavily into the old padded leather armchair and as the Professor came to join him he explained what he had seen and found. As he finished his story he pulled out his small notebook and passed it over to his old teacher. “This is all I could make out on the piece of paper I mentioned. The paper was just too creased to see anymore. Any idea what it could mean?”

Marius frowned as he regarded the letters on the pad. “Nothing immediately jumps out at me but let me make a copy and I'll keep thinking about it.” He looked up from the pad and regarded Max warily. “What exactly can be done about this 'ghost'?”

Max heard the skepticism over the last word but was too tired to rise to the challenge. “In most cases I'd call in a specialist we have on staff to handle this. However,” he continued forestalling Marius' interruption, “in an effort to keep this quiet, I'd like to find out more first. There's something here that puzzles me.”

“What's that?”

“Well,” Max began as he folded his hands into his lap, “hauntings based on suicides are not unheard of. However, they don't usually follow the pattern of repeating their final actions. Suicides are usually more regretful or angry, but in this case it felt more like the spirit was continuing to punish itself.” He paused for a moment before asking, “I need to find out who died in that room between the wars. Can we get into the records tonight or do we need to wait until the morning?”

Marius looked long and hard at Max before replying. “We can do so now. I have the keys to the record room. You know that these are all paper records don't you Max? And there's a good chance the school will have wanted to bury this particular piece of information. Are you sure you want to do this tonight? You look exhausted already.”

Max smiled disarmingly. “There's nothing like a good hunt to get the blood flowing and I want the information in hand as soon as I can so that I know what needs to be done once morning arrives.”

He pushed himself out of the armchair and stood looking down at the professor. “What are we waiting for?” he asked with a grin that was a little too forced.

Marius Taylor stood and moved around his desk where he rummaged in a drawer. With jangling key chain in hand he led Max out into the main office and over to the records room. The first key Marius tried turned out to be the wrong one, but the second clicked solidly in the lock and Marius pushed the door open and reached in to turn on the light.

Max stepped into a room that probably had duplicates in offices around the world. A single table with three chairs held position in the center of the room while tall filing cabinets lined the walls. Plain white walls gave the place a feeling of sterility which even the rich wooden floor did nothing to change. “The walls need a new coat of paint Marius,” Max said absently as he moved around the room examining the labels on the cabinet drawers.

Max acknowledged the harrumph from the other side of the room with a small smile but turned when he heard, “The files you're looking for are over here.”

As he crossed the room Max said, “Well I guess I'd better get started as there are likely to be quite a few files covering that twenty year period.”

“Well, if you start at the latest end, say around 1940, I'll start at the earliest point, say 1920 and we'll see who finds the information first.”

Max looked at Marius appraisingly. “You don't have to stay Marius. I can go through these. You could go home and get some sleep. I'm sure you have a busy day tomorrow.”

Marius stopped pulling files from the drawer labeled '1920 - 1922' and looked at Max. One eyebrow was raised and there was a challenge in his eyes. “I can still pull my own weight thank you youngster, so instead of talking up a storm why don't you grab some files and get to work.”

Max smiled broadly before turning to open a drawer. “Yes sir,” he said with respect which earned another harrumph from Marius as the two men went to work.

The clock in the main reception area had just rang midnight when Marius looked up from the file he was leafing through and said with excitement tinged with tiredness, “I think this is what you're looking for.”

Max took the proffered file and examined its content. He nodded his head vigorously when he reached the photograph attached to it. Unclipping it from the page he handed it to Marius. “This is the young man I saw commit suicide in the room. I notice his transcript doesn't make reference to that other than to say he passed away while at the college.”

“Not a surprise,” Marius replied as he examined the black and white photograph of a young man dressed in a worn wool suit. “Even today the University tries to cover them up as it believes they tarnish the reputation of the place.”

Marius tone said firmly that he thought it was a stupid policy. He looked over at Max who was busy reading through the file. “So what now?”

“Well I'm going to need to find out where Henry Glidersleeve was buried and where his belongings were sent. It says he was from,” Max looked up from the file with a big smile plastered to his face, “Kingsclere.”

“Which is the name you mentioned when we talked about what you had found. Isn't that over in Berkshire near Basingstoke?”

Max looked down at the paper again and answered, “Berkshire definitely, but I'll need a map to find out exactly where. Do you have one around?”

“Let's go back to my office. I think I have one in there.” Marius stood and the crack of bones popping echoed through the room. Rubbing his lower back he moved through the doorway muttering, “I'm getting too old for these late nights.”

Max rose and followed after with the records of Henry Glidersleeve held in his hand. “You're just out of practice,” he quipped. “Spend a few days with me and you'll soon be back into the swing of things.”

The banter between the two men continued as they covered the short distance back to the professor's office where he pulled an old map from the lower drawer in his desk. Laying it out on his desk the two men poured over it searching the county of Berkshire. Some minutes later Marius poked at a spot with this finger and said, “There it is.”

Max leaned closer to see the small village marked on the map between the larger cities of Newbury and Basingstoke. “It's about an hours drive from here,” he said thoughtfully.

“So what do you plan on doing now?” Marius asked sinking into one of the nearby armchairs with a sigh.

As he reached to the desk for his long discarded pipe Max gestured towards the computer that sat there. “May I?”

Marius indicated his assent by waving the stem of the pipe at the machine then began to pack it with tobacco taken from a pouch he pulled from his jacket pocket.

Max sat down and woke the computer by moving the mouse as he pulled the chair to the desk and sat down. Opening the web browser he sent it searching for the address he pulled from the file now open on the desk. Moments later the screen changed to a map of the village of Kingsclere with a small red star highlighting the house he was looking for. “OK, so it's still there,” he said quietly as he pulled a cell phone from his pocket and dialed.

When the number he called answered he said, “This is Max Danielson. I need to find out who lives at 28 Welbourne Court, Kingsclere, Berkshire.”

He waited impatiently for the answer to his question. When he received it the tightness left his eyes and he smiled. “Do you have a telephone number?” He copied the number onto the corner of the file, thanked the person on the other end and hung up.

In answer to Marius curiosity he said, “I called the office in London. They've got access to computers that can pull this information quickly and it saved me from hunting for it. It turns out that Olivia Glidersleeve lives at the address. Henry's mother's name was Olivia,” he said patting the file.

“So what are you going to do next?” Marius asked as he puffed his pipe to life.

Max grimaced at the smoke that rose into the room before answering. “Not much I can do until morning. I'm going home for now and get a few hours sleep. Then I'll hit the road first thing in the morning and visit Olivia in Kingsclere.” The smile left his face and the light in his eyes dimmed as he continued slowly, “This may not bring anything that I can use to resolve your problem. I may still need to bring an exorcist in.”

He forestalled Marius spluttered reply by adding, “As I said earlier, we have someone on staff so it'll be low key and we won't need to go the whole bell, book and candle route. Besides you may have trouble finding a priest willing to perform that rite. Let me try this first and we'll worry about other options only if this doesn't pan out.”

The two men looked at each other for long moment before Marius nodded once. “Do you want to stay the night?” he asked.

“No, I'm going to head home although I appreciate the offer. Let me help you clean things up first though.”

Marius shook his head empathically in the negative. “Leave it and I'll have Janice take care of things in the morning. I think I need to be off to bed too. Elizabeth will be sorry she missed you. You know she wants you to bring the family over.”

As Max and Marius stood from their respective chairs and headed for the door their conversation traveled towards the mundane of their families.


Eight hours later Max was passing Newbury and heading south towards the village of Kingsclere. He had called Olivia Glidersleeve at eight that morning and after a brief discussion she had agreed to see him. Max's mouth compressed to a thin line as he considered the details he had given her regarding his visit. How do you tell a mother that her son, who committed suicide sixty years ago, has been repeating the process as a ghost ever since?

Max continued to mull the question over in his mind as he raced down the A339. By the time he pulled up outside the old Victorian style house fifteen minutes later he was no nearer an answer. Stepping from the car he strode up to the door and knocked. He was surprised when the door was quickly opened by a young woman who Max guessed was in her late twenties. “May I help you?”

He immediately recognized the lilting tones particular to the area surrounding Edinburgh from the years he had spent at the University there. “I'm here to see Mrs. Glidersleeve,” he answered politely. “Dr. Marcus Maxwell Danielson.”

“Aye, the lady's expecting you. Please follow me.”

Max noted the concern in her voice as she held the door open and the tightness around her eyes. “Is Mrs. Glidersleeve alright?” he asked as he entered the hallway.

“Aye, but she's old and she doesn't get many visitors. Please be patient with her and you'll need to talk loudly as her hearing is not what it used to be.”

Max nodded thoughtfully and smiled his understanding. He waited as she closed the door and then moved past him, indicating that he should follow her. She was dressed in black stretch pants and a pale blue baggy sweater. Her blonde hair was cut short to the nape of her neck and Max noted that she did not appear to be wearing makeup. “Can I ask what your relationship to Mrs. Glidersleeve is?”

She stopped on the stair and turned before answering. “I'm her nurse. Mrs. Glidersleeve will be one hundred years old in May and she's not able to get about as well as she used to. I'll warn you now that her mind is still as sharp as a tack though and she doesn't miss a thing.”

Without waiting for a reply she turned and began moving up the stairs again. Max silently took in the information as he followed her upwards. At the top of the stairs the nurse turned and stepped through the first open doorway on her right. As Max entered he heard himself being introduced. “Olivia. Dr. Danielson is here to see you.”

Max took in the room with a glance and then focused on the woman sitting propped up on the large bed that took up much of the opposite wall. While she was in bed, she had dressed in an elegant emerald dress and her makeup had been applied. He was reminded of the Queen Mother as he looked on the lady he had come to see. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice,” he said with a smile as he stopped at the end of the bed.

“You'll need to speak a little louder doctor. I am afraid my hearing is not what it used to be.” Her voice was low pitched but very clear and there was no rebuke in it.

“My apologies Mrs. Glidersleeve,” he replied in a louder voice. “I said thank you for seeing me at such short notice.”

“It's not everyday I get a call from a stranger asking to visit with me as soon as possible. I may be old Doctor Danielson but I still retain a healthy curiosity. What is it I can help you with?” As she spoke she gestured with one hand towards the chair at the side of the bed and Max moved to it. The nurse continued to stand close to the bed.

“Mrs. Glidersleeve,” he began, “I've been trying to find a way to talk about the subject I need information on with causing you any distress and I find that I don't know how. So I hope you will forgive me for the questions that I need to ask you.”

The nurse uttered “Now just…” before the old lady reached over and tapped her gently on the hand. “It's alright Andi. Let's hear the doctor out before we throw him out.”

Max could not help but smile at the humor in her voice even though he avoided looking at Andi as he could feel the warning look she was sending his way.

“Mrs. Glidersleeve, I need to talk to you about your son Henry.”

There was an audible gasp from the bed at his statement and the nurse turned worriedly to regard her charge. Olivia Glidersleeve looked at her nurse and said, “I'm fine dear. I was just surprised to hear Henry's name.” Turning back to Max she continued, “What does Henry have to do with anything?”

“I am trying to track down what the University did with his belongings after his death. I believe there may be a clue in there that may help me solve a case that I am currently working on.”

“What government department did you say you worked for Doctor?”

“I'm the head of the U.K's S.I.X division of the European C.A.S.E agency. I'm looking at a problem in Oxford and this may help resolve it.”

Olivia looked at Max with clear blue eyes for long moments. “Henry's belongings were sent here after his death. I believe they are still in the attic. I know that we never unpacked them. Would an old woman be considered nosey if she asked what the case you are working in is?”

Max noted the new directness in the question which underlay the perfect civility she continued to offer him and wondered how to answer the question. With a deep breath he plunged into an answer. “What I'm about to tell you may seem ludicrous but I promise you it is the truth. An old professor of mine at Magdalen College asked me to take a look at a room that he has been unable to keep students in. Several people in the last two years have vacated the room citing cold spots and feelings of unease. When I investigated as a favor to my friend I discovered that the room was haunted.”

Before he could continue Olivia interrupted, “By my son?” Her voice cracked on the last word and Max winced visibly.

“I believe so, yes.”

Max went quiet and allowed the other two people in the room to take in everything that had been said. Minutes dragged by before Olivia Glidersleeve said quietly, “Why should I believe you? Why would Henry do this? And why now after all these years?”

Max's head dropped before he answered in an equally quiet voice, which he then raised so that she could hear. “I am sorry to tell you it's probably been going on since he died.” He looked up finally and into her pain filled face. Her makeup was tear-stained but she stared back at him demanding an explanation.

“I believe that Henry has no idea of what he is doing. He is, if you will, trapped in this state by his own shame and grief at what he did. The only reason we found out about it is that the college changed the policy they had for the type of students rooming at that dormitory. Before that, the people that left the room were spread over a large span of time and were dismissed as being a little odd. Now, with three people leaving in quick succession and the rumors of a haunted room, the college was forced to look into it.”

He paused for a moment to allow his words to penetrate the pain and shock the old lady had to be feeling. “I spent last night, and the trip here this morning, wondering how I could get the information I need to help him without telling you why. I couldn't think of a way to do it. There is a chance, with the right information, I may be able to release his shade from the loop and send it on to where it belongs.”

“If this,” her voice cracked before she managed to finish. Taking a shaking breath she tried again. “If this does not work, are you saying he will be trapped there for all time?”

Max had to struggle to understand the last few words as they were uttered around deep sobs. He shook his head before answering. “No. There is another way to break the loop but it will not be as clean and may result in his spirit being destroyed. If I didn't think it was important to save his spirit, or soul if you prefer, then I wouldn't have come to you and brought you this pain.”

Her sobs echoed through the silence of the room as he finished. He sat with shoulders slumped awaiting his host. He noted that she clung to the young nurse's hand like a lifeline and that she too was crying. The look of dislike she shot his way speared him and the guilt of disturbing the old lady dropped onto him like a shroud.

Minutes passed as she cried out her grief but finally she look back up at Max with eyes steely with determination.

“I do not know why Dr. Danielson but I believe you. There is no reason you would have brought this story to be otherwise. The box you are looking for is in the attic.”

She looked over at her nurse, “Andi would you show the doctor how to get to the attic?”

The shell shocked young woman nodded once and felt a firm squeeze of her hand. With an effort she smiled at Olivia before looking at Max. “This way doctor.”

Max stood and with a final look at Mrs. Glidersleeve he followed her to the door. He turned back as her firm voice addressed him. “Doctor I want you to promise me something.”

“If I can,” he answered.

“Tell me the truth of what happens.”

Max nodded slowly. “I'm sorry,” he said quietly as he turned and left.

In the hallway beyond Andi was waiting for him. As he joined her she turned and led him silently up another flight of stairs to the door to the attic. She pushed the door open and stepped inside.

“Whatever you are looking for will most likely be over in that area,” she said pointing to the right hand wall. “That seems to be the oldest stuff here.”

Max winced at the anger underlying the words that was barely covered by professional courtesy. Not knowing what else to say he said, “Thank you,” and moved towards the area she had indicated. He could feel her eyes on his back and he started to look through the things piled there.

Noting the amount of items in the area Max sighed and settled in for a long hunt.


Early evening found Max sitting alone once more in the dormitory room in the college. As he relaxed his mind in preparation for the things to come he thought back over his discoveries of the afternoon.

It had taken almost two hours to dig through the various boxes and shelves to find the pitifully small box containing the last belongings of Henry Glidersleeve. After opening the box carefully he began to carefully look through it. He kept his touch to the minimum possible in order to avoid leaving his own traces on the items. Near the bottom of the box he found a crumbled piece of paper that sparked his memories of the previous night. Unfolding it, the title he had only partially glimpsed became clear.

Magdalen College Examination Scores

Reading through the transcript the cause of the young man's depression started to become clearer. To Max's mind, the scores had not been that bad. However, at a college like Magdalen they would not have been high enough to allow Henry to have passed to the next year of study.

On sudden inspiration Max had gone back through the other material in the box and found an unopened letter that he had remembered from earlier. Carefully Max slid it onto another book from the box and put that and the transcript to one side. Once he had closed the box he took his finds and climbed back down the stairs to the second floor of the house and the old lady's bedroom.

The conversation he had had with her had brought fresh tears to her eyes as she finally realized the reasons behind her son's suicide. Max's throat tightened at the remember pain he had caused her and the courage she had received the news with. Now he sat here hoping that his plan would end the sixty years of torment that the Glidersleeve family had unknowingly gone through.

He continued to calm his mind as he waited for the eight o'clock hour. As on the previous night the college bell struck the hour and he sat up straighter in the chair. He looked around the room to make sure that it was set up the way he wanted it. With an emphatic nod of his head he focused on the door.

A now familiar change came over the room and the door appeared to open and the figure of Henry Glidersleeve entered. Once again the shade leaned back against the now closed door and seemed to look around the room with dark, haunted eyes. His fist crashed soundlessly into the door before he pushed himself away and walked further into the room.

Max found himself holding his breath as the figure dragged himself over to the bed. This time, instead of throwing himself onto the bed, Henry looked down and his brow wrinkled in confusion. His eyes were locked onto the envelope lying on the bed that was addressed to him. With a shaking hand he reached down to it but stopped with his hand mere inches away from it.

Before he could stop Max heard himself say, “Read it!”.

Immaterial fingers closed around the envelope and Max held his breath again as he hoped that his theory was going to work. As the hand drew back Max let the breath out as he saw an envelope in the ghosts hand while its physical counterpart remained lying on the bed.

For moments that seemed to crawl the ghost of Henry Glidersleeve simply looked at the envelope. Emotions ran rampant across his face in an apparent war over the opening of the letter. Finally, he slipped a finger under the edge of the envelope and roughly tore it open. He pulled a single sheet of white parchment paper from within and slowly scanned its contents.

As he began to read his features softened and the anger and pain flowed away. Tears began to rain down onto the paper as he neared the end. Max watched as his eyes reached the bottom of it and then jumped once more to the top to read it again.

Pulling his eyes away from the scene Max noted that the figure before him was changing. The gray tones were slowly swirling into a pale blue which grew brighter as he watched. As the intensity of the light increased Max forced himself to look away and close his eyes. When he turned back the room was empty once more but at the edge of his vision he could see sparkling blue motes vanishing into the air.

Looking around at the bed he reached over to pick up the envelope. He shook his head in amazement at the torn envelope he picked up and the water stained letter that it contained. Rising from the chair he returned to Marius' office where he dropped himself once more into the padded armchair.

Marius watched him in silence and then said, “Given the fact that you're smiling I'm going to assume that my 'ghost' is gone.”

“Yes, Henry has moved on,” Max replied with his eyes closed.

“Explain to me again exactly how an envelope helped you exorcise a ghost.”

Max looked over at the aging college professor and sat up straighter in the chair. “Well, it's all a matter of patterns and contagion. Basically everything retains a pattern or aura, and once something has been in contact with something else traces of that pattern remain. The letter was sent by his mother and father but arrived a day after his death. From what Mrs. Glidersleeve told me they had both realized that Henry was not cut out for college and told him that they wanted him to come home. Well, after Henry departed I read the letter and discovered it contained far more than that. It told Henry that they loved him and that they would always be proud of him no matter what happened. When he read that, it was enough to calm his tortured spirit and break him out of the cycle he was in.”

Max wound down and Marius looked thoughtfully at him. “How did you know it would be enough? Why didn't that just make him more upset that he had killed himself and let them down that way?”

Max's brow wrinkled up as he considered the question. Eventually he replied slowly, “I didn't know that it would be enough and you're quite right that he could have viewed things as you suggest. I guess I was lucky that he choose the other option. Of course,” he added with a twinkle in his eye, “we could also put it down to my accurate reading of his character.”

In response to Marius' snort Max sobered before saying, “May I use your telephone to let his mother know that he's now at rest?”

To Chapter One...