Grave Matters

"Could you give us a brief recap of the events that have happened in your home?"

Lila Graves leaned in closer to Elizabeth Knass, casting a quick glance aside to her partner sitting next to her on the couch, Kole Graves, before looking back to Elizabeth with a look of concern. She and her husband were a pair of paranormal investigators, the best in the country. They had dealt with hundreds of cases in their time on the job, dealing with each with proficient knowledge of the occult. They had made talk show appearances, published books, and were practically a household name.

What few knew was that they were in fact agents of the Foundation. The role they occupied was unusual - it wasn't quite a cover story, as they often dealt with the paranormal themselves and genuinely helped those terrorized with hauntings. But at the same time, they were well-versed in the Foundation's rigid, clinical guidelines for the proper ways to refer to the anomalous. The word "ghost" was only partly in their vocabulary.

Elizabeth, on a couch opposite to the duo, wiped the tears from her eyes and began to speak.

"It all started after we moved into this house. I had to move somewhere new after my wife died and… It was affordable! I thought it was too good to be true at the time! It was!"

Kole nodded. "It's always the case. People can't deal with the ghosts, so they just sell the house and move on. You did the right thing coming to us: we can help solve this problem."

"A few days after me and the kids moved in, we started hearing footsteps wandering around the house, from all over. We'd be downstairs, hear walking upstairs. Be upstairs, hear it below. Sometimes, we'd hear it from the room over. It's an old, creaky house, and you can hear everybody that's in it. There's always more than there should be.

"That went on for a few weeks, perhaps about two months or so. Then, it started to get worse. One day, we got home and there were piles of dirt in the middle of the floor in a couple of rooms. All neat and tidy - no dirt anywhere else in the house. It couldn't have been any of us, we had all been out. But the doors were locked, and the windows shut.

"There's a spot in the fields where no grass grows. It's all withered and dry. There's nothing different about that part of the field, but the dogs won't go there. I once tossed a ball in that way, Paxton charged out to fetch it and then … just stopped, right in front of the patch. Wouldn't go any further, refused to go through.

"The latest thing that happened was we woke up one morning and all the windows were fogged up. But there were handprints on all the windows. Every single one. Even the ones on the second floor, fogged up and filled with handprints. The cars, the shed? Nothing. Not even a drip of mist on any of them."

All of these were likely symptoms of a haunting, but the Graves needed more information if they wanted to be certain of what was going on. There were too many cases in which something that seemed like an obvious haunting turned out to be nothing more than a false alarm: the paranormal fanatics saw ghosts when there was nothing, unrelated anomalous phenomena were confused for a haunting or some simply lied.

Lili nodded. "We'd like to ask a few questions, just to establish the type of haunting we're dealing with here. Is that alright?"

"Yes, of course. Anything."

"Did anyone die in this house, or nearby?" This was a standard question, to establish a possible source of any hauntings. It wasn't necessary, but three out of every five actual hauntings the Graves had dealt with had been in homes with previous deaths in them. Vengeful spirits tended to linger when there was negative energy.

The homeowner gulped. "Well… the previous owner of the house died a few weeks before we moved in. He didn't have any close friends or family, we bought the house from a distant cousin in Florida."

"How'd he die?"

"Heart attack. Very sudden, out of nowhere."

"Have all of your clocks been functioning correctly since this all started?" Temporal resonance, a phenomenon in which two time periods become linked, is often mistaken by a layperson for a haunting but is drastically different in origin and treatment. One easy indicator that is temporal in origin is interference in any time-keeping devices, which often become unsynced.

"Well, yes, they have."

"Have any objects of yours disappeared from the house?" Kole jumped in. "Or have you found any objects you didn't recognize?" Interdimensional overlap also has effects similar to hauntings, with sounds and effects being carried between two similar areas in different dimensions. Unlike a haunting, objects would tend to crossover between planes as well.

"Nothing other than the dirt."

"Have you been having intrusive thoughts, that are not your own?" Certain memetic lifeforms - noncorporeal beings made up entirely of thoughts and emotions - could be mistaken for a ghost, taking up residence in an individual's mind. Any perceptions would be unable to be trusted, having been faked or made up by the memetic entity.

"I haven't, I don't know about the rest of my family…"

"Have you been waking up at night, unable to move?" The final false positive that the Graves looked for was purely mundane. Neither thought that sleep paralysis was the cause of the phenomena the [homeowner's] had been dealing with, but it was the most common explanation for supposed supernatural occurrences. Many simply were unaware of the truth.

"No, we've been wide awake for everything."

At once, the relative quiet was shattered by the loud ringing of a phone, from across the room. It was an old landline, attached into the wall, the kind that was added to the home decades ago and never removed, simply out of a lack of need.

Elizabeth looked across the room, at the phone.

"I think you should get that."

Cassandra stood and quickly walked to the phone, inspecting it for a second before glancing back to Elizabeth.

"We get calls from it. Only from that phone. The lines disconnected. Pulled it a few days after we moved in."

Cassandra slowly raised the headpiece to her ear.

On the other end, there was breathing. Loud. Seemingly, constantly into the receiver. There was something off about it at first, that Cassandra couldn't place. But as she continued, it became clear: it was more than one breath. She couldn't make out how many, but it was a crowd, into the receiver.

The headpiece was slammed into the wall piece with a large thunk.

"How often does that happen?"

"Every day."

Lila turned back to Elizabeth. "I think you shouldn't sleep here tonight. We have some friends nearby you can stay with for a few days. We're going to call the rest of our team in and find out what's happening. Hold a seance, try to get visual confirmation of the ghost, and then likely perform an exorcism. How fast can you pack an overnight bag? It might be a few days."

"Give me an hour."

No more than ten minutes after the Knass family was out of the home, a black van — simply labeled with "Skeptics of Conspiracy and the Paranormal" — pulled into the driveway. Inside were the Graves' apprentices: Drew Whitlow and Rosalee Lawrence. Drew had been recruited from the scene of a previous haunting, ready to work with the Graves and their methods. Rosalee came from the pits of a Foundation blacksite, read up on clinical tone, and despising Graves' casual regard to the paranormal.

Some of what was unloaded from the trunk of the van could be expected from any group of amateur paranormal investigators: cameras and heat-detectors, things that could be found in any tech store. But there was more in the trunk, equipment that only the Foundation could provide. Devices that could detect traces of ectoplasm, automated exorcists and even a few ritual books — ones that actually work. The last was something the Graves only had through kicking and screaming, and even then the books they had were only somewhat effective.

Lila hugged Drew when the two apprentices as they arrived, and lead them into the house, recounting the story of that Elizabeth had told her. Her version was altered, couched in the clinical tone of the Foundation (which satisfied Rosalee enough). Ghosts became spectral entities, hauntings became repeated anomalous phenomena, and undead became postmortem vectors.

"We've already scouted out the house. We have a few good locations for cameras, and the kitchen is centrally located enough that we can use it as an operating base."

"Standard plan of action for the night?"

"Same as ever, that's the plan. Stay in pairs as much as we can. Ghost seems relatively non-hostile, so that won't be as much of a problem tonight, I hope."

"Are the phenomena more frequent at night?"

"Some are — the hands and footsteps were, from what they told us. The calls come at any hour."

As if on cue, the landline began to ring throughout the house. Kole, standing next to it, pulled it off the receiver. Immediately, he winced in pain and slammed the phone back down onto the receiver.

"Lila, you said it just breathed, right?"

"Yeah, what happened with you?"

"Screaming. Louder than it should have."

The four gathered in the kitchen that night, with their equipment set up through the kitchen. One set of monitors for the video streams, and a second for the heat detectors. Another monitor displayed ectoplasm levels throughout the house, and so on. From their war-room, the Graves could keep tabs on the entire house.

Rosalee was sitting at the table, pontificating. "My former team still doesn't support you. I know you get some of the best results, which satisfies my doubts, but they don't like this new assignment.."

Lila twirled a fire axe in her hands — a standard piece of equipment for her. "They don't appreciate how we do things. Lock it in a box, they say, no matter the circumstances. Regardless of the lack of need."

Kole nodded, looking off into space. "People already accept ghosts. Having a few sightings out there won't hurt anybody. In fact, it means the Foundation doesn't have to respond to all of them, all the time."

"And if the average person has a ghost, a real one, what would they do about it if not for us? They call the paranormal experts so devoted to their craft they changed their last name, and their ghost problem is dealt with swiftly and surely. Don't think they can call the Foundation anytime they want."

One of the monitors crackled with static. The four turned toward and leaned in. On one of the monitors, the one in the parent's bedroom, a ghostly figure stood, cloaked in shadow. In the dim light of the night vision cameras, they could only just make out the outline of the figure, one that was certainly inhuman. It shifted, giving hints of too many arms, before the feed cut out again.

"Looks like we've got our first sign of a ghostie."

"Should we go check it out?"

"Is it there anymore?"

As if to answer, the floorboards above the kitchen began to groan. It didn't have the gait of someone crawling, but a slower and louder walk.

Drew looked up at the ceiling, unsteadily. "Do you think it's coming for us? It's right above."

"If anything, it's probably just curious as to who we are and what we're doing in the house. No reason to assume anything hostile yet - especially given that it never did anything to hurt the Knass family. Just log these events for the moment."

For the next few hours, the pattern continued: nothing more than a few disturbances, a few errant sounds and camera appearances. A little after midnight, however, one of the cameras cut out: an act of sabotage.

Kole slowly rose from his seat at the table, swiping a crucifix and a camera that had been sitting next to him as he did. He nodded to Lila, a customary acknowledgment of what was happening. This wasn't anything out of the ordinary for them, and no cause for alarm.

He left the room in silence. The quiet hung in the air for a few seconds, before the radio crackled to life. The three remaining in the kitchen all moved gently - Drew and Rosalee flinched, but Lila only leaned closer.

"Entering the kid's bedroom now."


"Looks like the camera was ripped from the wall. And, the battery's been-"

The radio feed cut out without warning, replaced with the sound of panting. An animalistic, growling pant, one that almost sounded like a mob. Lila grabbed the radio from the table almost immediately and began to fiddle with it to no results. The panting was everywhere - on every channel, on every frequency.

Without wasting any time, she leaped to her feet and waved her assistants to follow. They hurried through the house — which wasn't very large — and assembled in front of the bedroom door. The door was closed, and the door bolted. Drew tried to turn the handle for a few seconds before Rosalee urged them to the side.

Lila battered the door with her fire axe, splitting the wood into pieces. The handle came loose easily, and she kicked the door open.

The room inside did not hold trace of Kole.

Lila wheeled out of the room immediately, without even bothering to look for her husband. Rosalee and Drew turned to follow her after a moment of hesitation, following her back to the kitchen. They found Lila in the kitchen, rooting through one of her supply kits - one of the occult kits.

"Ma'am, what are you doing? A Foundation agent has just vanished in the middle of active anomalous zone, and you are getting out candles and holy water?"

"They're ritual supplies, Drew. We need to perform an emergency seance to contact the ghost."

"Why didn't we do that earlier?"

"You really think that's going to work?"

"The situation has drastically changed. We need new methods, and to try something new. And yes, it will."

Lila led Rosalee and Drew into the living room, and began to draw a double-ringed circle on the floor in chalk, sliding the candles to Drew.

"Normally, a seance requires a mouth-piece, a voice. How do you get something like that? Well, in the ancient world, that's possession. But our ghost has already given us a mouthpiece - the landline. Rosalee, grab it and put it in the center."

Drew silently lit the candles and arranged them between the rings of the circle as Rosalee ran and pulled the landline out of the wall. Lila arranged a small collection of objects within the circles - coins, a water pouch, a salt shaker. With the ritual circle complete, the women kneeled down before the circle and clutched hands.

"O grave, dead spirit, I beckon you forth. Take on a mortal voice before us, and speak to us: what keeps you from your rest? Why do you deny salvation? Why do you inflict such torment upon the residents of this household?

"With salt, with holy water, with silver, I call you, I channel you, I summon you. These are pure materials, ready to accept your essence. Speak to me."

In an instant, power to the house shut off, plunging the room into darkness dimly lit by candlelight.

Immediately, the phone began to ring.

Lila picked up the phone and held it an inch away from her face.

"Tell me where my husband is."

The voice on the other side was a choir, a dozen voices whispering in near-unison.

"We have him."

"You will let him go. I will make you."

"Justice! Justice! Justice! Avenge us! We avenge us!"

Lila looked straight at Rosalee, and then pointed to the fire axe that had been left on the floor. She mouthed "Get ready." in silence.

"You're not a single ghost. That's become obvious after a day dealing with you. The voices on the line, the hand-prints on the windows, the thumping hands. You're legion, you're collective. Not a single ghost, but several."

There wasn't any response at first.

"Now, let me ask you a simple question, one that ghosts can never resist talking about. It's why they're still with us most of the time, after all. How did you die?"

The whispers began coherently and then splintered, each trying to talk over the others. The line on the end became static, the voices uncoordinated. Nothing was intelligible, just a dozen voices talking at once.

There was a bang in the basement.

The voices stopped, all at once, then began to talk in unison again.

"He killed us. He. Him. Killed me. Killed her. Killed us."

"It seems you can only hold yourselves together when the topic is about certain things, can you? What's your religion? What do all of you believe?"

There wasn't any response on the other line, just collective breathing. But the breathing was just so slightly out of sync with itself, with the ghosts being unable to keep themselves together.

The bangs in the basement started again. Lila began to walk to the basement door, carrying the phone with her, stepping out of the ritual circle. The connection had already been made, and she had the undead's attention: no need to stay in the circle. Drew and Rosalee followed.

"Not going to answer, I see. That's a good idea, all things considered. No need to collectively decide on a response, which keeps your conflict down and you coherent."


"But you're still thinking differently, and that's enough."

Lila opened the door to the basement and began to walk down the steps. The banging was louder and clearer to hear downstairs - a repeating thud, like a heavy object being consistently thrown against a wall.

"How old were you when you died? When he took you?"

For the most part, it was silent. But then, a single voice broke out. "Sixteen." More joined after, talking over each other. "Twenty-three." "Forty-one." "Twenty-six." "Thirty." With each voice that spoke, the bangs grew heavier.

Drew whispered behind Lila. "Are we walking to the ghost? What's that banging?"

"How'd he meet you, the killer? How'd it happen?"

The voices were all speaking out of sync now. Nothing was intelligible, just the quiet whispers of a ghost. The banging was consistent now, but there was no sign of anything in the basement.

Rosalee walked along the walls, feeling them. She turned back to Lila, and pointed at a small patch in the walls. It was barely visible as different from the rest of the brick, but it looked like it could be a secret passage.

Drew and Lila walked over, and could hear the bangs coming from inside. Steadily, consistently.

"What's your name?"

More incoherency.

Holding the fire axe, Rosalee rubbed the wall, looking for a seam. She found it, wedged the blade in, and then pushed. The door popped open a little, then slammed open with one of the bangs. Kole fell out, crashing onto the ground.

The whispers on the other end started screaming.

"Trick! Tricked us!"

Lila slammed the phone back down into the receiver and dropped the land-line. Kole steadily rose to his feet, then collapsed into Lila's outstretched arms. She helped him to his feet, the phone hissing at their feet.

Rosalee looked through the hole in the wall. On the other side was room, filled with weapons and other implements. A torture room of seems, it looked seemed. Blood splattered the walls — mostly cleaned up, but some remained. A table in the center with broken restraints. Nothing Rosalee hadn't seen before.

The cellar doors slammed shut at the top of the stairs.

"It's not safe in the house anymore. Good thing there's another way out"

Lila pointed to the cellar doors, those that led outside. Drew and Rosalee nodded, and ran over to break the doors open as Lila and Kole limped over. With the help of the axe, it didn't take long. The chain on the door broke easily, and the four soon found themselves standing outside the house.

"Rosalee, Drew, get the shovels from the van. Meet us by the patch of dirt in the lawn."

As the assistants ran, Kole turned to his wife.

"I trust you figured it out?"

"Sure did. The previous owner was a serial killer, I presume. Rather prolific, it seems. Not sure where he got his victims yet, but he would bring them back here, lock them in that room and torture them. Got enough they were able to come back as an undead gestalt entity."

"A gestalt? Those are rare."

"Quite. It seems one of their first actions was to kill the previous owner. Possibly by accident, maybe they just didn't realize he was prone to a heart accident. Either way, he ends up dead, the Knass family moves in, and our ghosts are still angry."

"And I was the first man to enter the house for an extended period of time. They thought the previous owner had finally come back, and took their anger out on me. Took me to the torture chamber for revenge."

The Graves limped out to the mass grave in the middle of the backyard, lit up by the headlights of the van. Their assistants weren't far behind them, carrying enough shovels for everyone. Lila got to work immediately. Kole leaned on his, barely able to stand.

"Vengeance. Murder. Death. Kill. Kill. Kill!"

They could hear the howling ghosts but didn't care. Working together, three diggers in unison, it was short work to dig a hole. Out here, the effects the gestalt could manifest were limited. The wind was picking up, and the temperature was dropping, but that wasn't anything near enough to slow the Graves down.

And then, they uncovered a limb. Lila reached down and touched it.

"By all powers above and below, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, upon the River Styx, by my life and honor, I swear that I shall take your soiled corpse and bury you as you should have been, with proper respect. I stake my name itself upon this promise."

There were powers that could be invoked to bind a user to a promise. Unbreakable bonds and oaths. This wasn't one of those; none of it was in any true way binding. But Elizabeth did mean it, and what truly mattered was convincing the victims of that intent. It was a calculated promise, designed to get the most response from the dead.

The howling cut to a close. It wasn't that the promise had worked entirely - no, it was rather that doubt was preventing collective action. They only had so long to keep digging before the doubt drifted away and the gestalt was able to take action once again. But they didn't need much time. The bodies hadn't been buried that deep.

The Knass family car drove up in the afternoon, and Elizabeth exited. The Graves were sitting on the front step of the porch, drinking coffee. They were a bit weary — no sleep during the night — but perked up when Elizabeth walked up, waving to her.

Drew and Rosalee had left, taking the recovered bodies off to a nearby site for inspection, before they would be turned over to the FBI UIU to secure the cover story. It was always best to keep as much of the facts the same, so all that would need to be removed from the official story was the ghost.

"Hey there, Elizabeth. We uh, found out that the house was indeed haunted. The old owner was a serial killer, and he brought all the bodies back here, buried them out back. You've been haunted by the ghosts of his victims, who didn't realize they had killed him before you moved in. But don't worry. We've gotten them rest, and we're taking care of them. Their spirits have passed on. They won't bother you any longer."

"Oh my god. Are you sure?"

"We've been at this a long time. We are. You're safe now."

"I don't know how to thank you, we didn't even discuss payment-"

"Ms. Knass, don't worry about the money. We do this for free. We just want to help people, no ulterior motive."

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