Jill Rose opens the door before I’m up the stairs to the front porch. She’s younger than I expected. Short and cute in her faded cutoffs and bright white sweatshirt, she’s probably around thirty.
“Thanks for coming,” she says.
“Of course,” I say.
“We’re waiting for you.”
We, it turns out, are her husband, Eddie, their seven-year-old daughter, Anna, her sister, Carol, and Carol’s husband, Bob. Jill introduces me to them like I’ve shown up to take her to the prom.
“Just sat down for some chili. Join us?” Eddie asks. He is seated at the dining room table across from Carol, a big, verbose woman with a smile that won’t quit.
I pass on the chili.
“Sit here and join us anyway,” Jill says, leading me toward the table.
“You gonna tell him about the ghost?” Carol says to Jill after a couple minutes of small talk.
“That’s why he’s here, Carol,” Jill says. “But can I say hello first?”
Anna starts jumping up and down next to Eddie. She’s wearing a cute yellow sundress, and her long brown hair is bouncing off her shoulders.
“The ghost, mom. Tell him about the ghost.”
The TV is on in the background and is apparently just a cover for Bob, who is sitting in the living room watching football, to eavesdrop without having to participate. Bob is a burly man with the air of retired military. He doesn’t say much.
Jill is now sitting directly across the round dining room table from me. Eddie is on my right eating chili. He sports a dirty blond crew cut and red flannel shirt. He is handsome and kind of reminds me of Kevin Bacon. Carol is on my left.
Jill picks up where her little girl left off. “There’s a woman in the attic.”
“A woman?” I say.
“The ghost. It’s a woman.”
“Of course it is,” Carol insists.
“I think she’s a woman, too,” Anna says, now standing next to Jill.
Jill and Carol continue with talk about the ghost. Eddie seems content to let them bring me up to speed.
The ghost is no recent addition. For several years, long before the Roses ever thought of contacting someone like me, they were convinced the seventy-year-old house was haunted.
“I began to feel it shortly after we moved in. That was about three years ago,” Jill says.
Carol explains that children appear to be the most sensitive to it. Her own kids and others who have visited the house often felt spooked and were afraid to go upstairs. Jill and Anna refuse to sleep on the second floor. Jill won’t even go up there at all unless Eddie is with her, and she doesn’t like to be home alone in general.
Hearing this, I decide it’s time for a tour of the attic.
Dutch suddenly demonstrates she doesn’t think so. Yes, she. Dutch is the Rose’s white female Doberman named Dutch, short for Duchess. Dutch has strangely remained silent until this point. I am obviously not much frightened by the notion of a dead lady in the house or I chose the wrong line of work a long time ago, but this bitch scares the life out of me. My fear is obvious to all.
“Dutch,” Eddie says in a smooth voice, immediately calming her down and getting her to stop barking. Dutch,” he repeats. “It’s OK. Everything’s OK.”
With Dutch subdued by Eddie, Eddie motions me past her and points to the stairs leading up to the attic. I go up first. Carol is right on my heels. Anna is a step behind Carol with Jill’s hand on her shoulder bringing up the rear. Eddie is still talking to Dutch when I make my way into what appears to be a spare bedroom.
Jill shows me one of the two unfinished rooms they use for storage. Eddie is now upstairs and in an adjacent storage room directly across the hall hunting for a flashlight. When Jill turns toward the door to tell him where to look, she screams and shouts out his name. Carol freezes, as do I, anticipating trouble.
“Eddie! Anna’s presents!”
The little girl starts to giggle as if she’s sitting on Santa’s lap at the mall. In his haste to join us, Eddie opened the door to the room where they were hiding a new softball bat and glove, gifts for Anna’s upcoming eighth birthday.
Eddie is soon advising me to watch my step as he leads me into the corner of the attic. Pink insulation covers the ceiling and walls like cotton candy. Eddie says he plans on finishing this part of the upstairs before selling the house. Jill, Carol, and Anna watch us poking around. Old newspapers are littered between the narrow beams we’re standing on.
Five minutes later we’re all seated back around the table downstairs. Dutch does not take her eyes off me as I sit listening to everyone continue to talk about the ghost. I bill by the visit, not the hour, so after letting enough time pass to ensure these folks feel like they at least got an ear, if not their monies worth, I state, as politely as possible, and to the best of my professional ability, that I do not deem them to be in any immediate danger.
“Takes a while,” Carol says. “Not everyone can feel it right away.”
Jill smiles stiffly. She obviously agrees with her sister, but doesn’t want to hurt my feelings. I sense she’s still annoyed with Eddie over screwing up Anna’s birthday.
“Yeah,” Eddie says, gently petting Dutch on the top of her head, presumably to keep her restrained until I’m safely off the property. “Tell you what, Jill here makes one mean pot of chili.”
Bob, if I had to bet, doesn’t believe me either.