The Sensation of Pain

by Hieronymus Hawkes

THE FBI AGENT stood silhouetted in the doorway of Tom Babbage’s tiny office. The dark blue windbreaker with bright yellow letters gave him away. The thirty-something black man wore his hair short, with a close-trimmed beard, grey slacks, and an orange polo shirt peaking just above the zippered jacket. He knocked on the frame. “Dr. Babbage?”

Seeing an FBI agent standing in your doorway is one of those moments that most people would think would never happen to them. Tom counted himself in that list, so to say it was surprising would be an understatement. He hoped the guy was simply lost. “I think you’re a little confused. Dr. Babbage would be my mother.” Tom’s mother had been a fixture at Harrowgate Valley University for decades—until recently. Her disappearance six months ago was still whispered about.

“I’m sorry. Professor Babbage?”

Tom didn’t think of himself as professor. He was only an adjunct and hadn’t even taught a class yet. “Just Tom. And you are?”

The man stepped to Tom’s desk and pulled out a small wallet and opened it toward him. The ID had FBI in large blue letters with a picture of the man and a gold badge. “Special Agent John Rath. Do you have a few moments to spare?”

What would the FBI want with Tom? He hadn’t done anything. “What can I do for you, Agent Rath?” He gestured to the chair on the other side of his desk.

Tom had moved in a few days ago and found a few chairs in a storage room along with a bookshelf. That was about all the room could hold. He had brought a few boxes, to add a personal touch. He had set a bottle of cinnamon apple reed diffuser on the corner of his desk to combat the decay that permeated the room. The outcome of that battle was still in doubt.

Rath tucked his badge back into his pocket and then sat. He remained quiet for a few seconds, as if he wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. “Are you familiar with the supernatural?”

Was this guy for real? Tom stifled a laugh. “I’m familiar with the term, but I don’t know what you’re getting at.”

“So, you don’t know of anything strange going on here on campus?”

What the hell was this guy trying to say? “No. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Unless you mean the ghost stories.” Tom chuckled. Those were just stories to scare kids.

Rath leaned forward. “That’s exactly what I mean.”

“You can’t be serious. You came all the way out here to ask me about ghost stories?” The idea was ludicrous. “It’s just silly superstition.”

“Is it?”

“You would be better suited to ask someone else. I just started a few days ago.”

“We know all about you, Captain Babbage.”

He hadn’t heard that title in months. It sounded like a lifetime ago. If Rath knew about his military service, why did he call him Dr. Babbage? To put him off stride? It had worked. “What do you want with me?”

“Before she disappeared, your mother had been working with us. We want you to help us find her…or take her place.”

She worked with the FBI? What the hell was this guy talking about? “Take her place? As what? This is ridiculous. Did someone put you up to this? Is this one of those pranks for the new guy? Like the pool on the fifth-floor gag?”

Rath sat stoically, no humor on his placid face at all. “I assure you; we are quite serious. Your top-secret clearance is still valid, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Tom didn’t know what to think. He didn’t know about any supernatural stuff. Yes, his mother had disappeared mysteriously, but that hardly implied a supernatural cause. More likely she had an accident. Worst case, something nefarious had happened to her. But supernatural? It was ridiculous. “I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t believe in this supernatural crap. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing.”

“Please reconsider working with us. We could really use your help.” Agent Rath stood and pulled a card out of his pocket. “If you change your mind, call me. I’m available twenty-four seven.”

The agent departed and the unsettling conversation left its mark. It brought everything back. It was the reason he was in Munson Hall on the campus of Harrowgate Valley University now instead of flying jets. A year earlier he had a promising career in the U.S. Air Force. Then a series of strange medical issues began to pop up. They eventually led to his grounding—and his decision to end his service early. In the process, he wound up divorced, so he had returned to his childhood home of Newtown, Pennsylvania. He was still working through those feelings of failure and anger. He lost custody of his son, and his ex had taken Parker and moved back to Seattle to be near her parents. He hoped to address that problem once he got his life back in order.

The GI Bill paid for his master’s degree in English Literature while in the service, and he realized he might qualify for the job here at the university. It certainly hadn’t hurt that he shared a name with a teaching legend. And with his mom’s disappearance there was a vacancy in the English department. The new boss, Dean Ogrodowski, had been gracious and sympathetic to Tom, especially given he had replaced Tom’s mother.

Replaced his mother. The thought made him want to laugh and cry at the same time.

Dean Ogrodowski had elected to hire Tom into an adjunct position. The dean had left the possibility open that it might turn into a full-time slot later on. That was fine with Tom. He didn’t know if teaching was his future or not.

For the past six months he had been drifting with no purpose. He needed something to fill the void.

Tom eyed his huge, dark wood desk that might have actually been older than him. Circular stains from glasses or mugs marked the surface. He placed his hands on the desktop. It was smooth to the touch, worn with time and years of use. He could make out letters that had stained the wood, leaked through the thousands of papers that had done penance on the desktop. That this old desk was still being put to use gave Tom hope that he too might be useful.

The Reynolds Library was about as different from Munson Hall as two university buildings could be.

Reynolds was high-tech. Even the interior walls were mostly glass, trimmed in silvery metal. The floor was carpeted in deep blue instead of hardwood. The library had an ozone smell, clean and crisp, no hint of mildew. They had completed the renovation a few months ago.

When one of the admin folks went into labor early, Tom had gotten wrangled into assisting with the MFA program’s summer residency. It would be over before his class started, so he didn’t have any excuses not to help.

He sat behind the table with the names tags and helped check people in as they arrived for the opening reception. Once everyone had taken their seats, the program director, Dr. Cathleen Cosgrove, spoke to the group. She introduced all the instructors and the program administrators, including Tom.

Near the end of her opening she added one thing. “For those of you who might be interested, we will be hosting a ghost walk on Friday.”

Ghost walk? Was it a coincidence that Agent Rath talked about the supernatural? Something in Tom’s core responded to the idea of the ghost walk.

From the time he was a young boy, ghost stories had spread almost as if by osmosis around the campus, especially about the nun on the fifth floor of the admin building. The university had been around for a long time and it was said to be haunted.

Tom had asked his mother and she had laughed it off as silly superstition. So, he’d done the same whenever he heard one of his friends mention ghosts, laughed it off.

The walk was scheduled for Friday evening after sundown. If you’d asked him why, he wouldn’t have been able to explain, but he needed to go. He pulled out his phone and added the walk to his calendar.

A couple of the students introduced themselves, but most mingled amongst themselves. There were a few who looked lost, but they were soon wrangled in by someone in the group. The energy was palpable. Tom had never been on campus when the MFA program had their residency, but the program had only begun a few years before he’d left for the U. S. Air Force Academy. The residency was held during weeks where most of the other students and staff were off on either winter or summer break.

The rest of Tom’s tasks were focused on the MFA graduation and spread out over several days, which allowed him plenty of time to prepare for his English Lit class. Wanting to get the syllabus online right away, he wandered back to his office.

Munson Hall hadn’t been upgraded since its inception almost a hundred years ago and stood apart as one of the oldest on campus. As soon as he turned down the corridor toward his office, the atmosphere shifted. It was as if the builders had added on this part of the building a long time ago and then forgot about it for decades. When they needed more office space, someone remembered these floors were here and carved out puny rooms.

The low ceiling, narrow passageway, and creaky wooden floor gave the impression that he’d entered a secret hallway by mistake. Rumor had it that the walls sometimes moved of their own accord.

He reached his office and turned on the light. He fought disappointment with the tiny office and his lack of status. Such a contrast to where his life was only a year ago.

Status wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Most of the adjunct professors had small offices, if they had an office at all.

He sat in his chair and ran his hands across the desktop. The smoothness and age of the old desk seemed to hold a reservoir of magic. How many teachers had sat here, doing this very same motion?

He reached for one of the bags he’d left earlier and pulled out notebooks and office supplies to arrange them when a sharp pain erupted in the center of his chest.

He knew this pain. It was the catalyst for his grounding from pilot status. His heart, on occasion, had developed a strange arrhythmia. The accompanying pain was debilitating to the point where he couldn’t function. He’d tried to hide it for months, but when it happened on a flight, his charade came to an end. Months of tests had revealed nothing, but the Air Force doctors prohibited him from flying.

He rode out the pain, and after a minute of torment, the pain receded slightly.

Was that a groaning sound? It was muffled, but something was in the corridor. As far as he knew, he was the only person in this part of the building.

Could it be a janitor? He got up and moved toward the door, but the light in the room seemed to fade.

The hallway itself was pitch black, impenetrable, and held a feeling of thickness, hard to breathe. He continued through the doorway into the claustrophobic corridor. The darkness had a dimensionality, like he was moving through water.

Time seemed to fracture, his senses unable to decipher what was happening. Bits of time jerked.

In spurts he could perceive his own movement. To his left, only a dense back void, but to his right, for just a sliver of a moment he could have sworn he saw a person. A sudden coldness struck at his core.

Was he actually seeing this?

The apparition appeared to be floating a foot above the floor. It seemed to reach out to him. But it only registered as a flash in his vision before disappearing. In that instant he was convinced it had called his name. Barely a whisper. A flush of adrenaline tingled through his body. In the minutes that followed he wasn’t certain of anything.

As quickly as it came on, the pain in his chest subsided. The darkness oozed away like a receding tide. The dim light of the hallway returned.

He must have hallucinated the whole thing. He should get a bite to eat. His blood sugar must be low.

It was Friday night almost before Tom knew it. The visit from the FBI agent and the nagging feeling that he had to go on the ghost walk worked him up.

When he arrived at the main admin building, several people stood waiting. He recognized a few faces from the orientation. One older gentleman, maybe mid-forties, wore a baseball cap with a familiar logo.

“Air Force?” Tom felt foolish asking such an obvious question.

“Yes. Reserves currently.” The man didn’t elaborate.

Tom wanted to say more, but at the same time, the wound of leaving the Air Force hadn’t quite healed. Revisiting his Air Force experience only made him feel more out of place. He nodded to the man and tried to step away.

“Didn’t I see you at the orientation, giving out nametags?”

Tom turned back to the man. “Yes. I just joined the faculty here this week. Tom Babbage.” He reached out his hand.

They shook. “Very nice. I’m Jim Nichols. You teach English?”

“I got my master’s while in the Air Force.”

“Really? What did you do in the service?”

“I flew the KC-135, refueler.”

A big grin bloomed on the man’s face. “That’s what I fly. Been flying it for a little over twenty years, last ten in the reserves. Where were you stationed?”

“Fairchild and McConnell.” Tom wished he had kept his mouth shut. It hurt more than he thought it would. He missed flying. Even the mundane chore of doing the preflight sounded enjoyable. Nothing could compare with breaking out on top when it was a gray stormy day, the glory of the sun looming over the cloud deck. He wanted to change the subject. “How’s your residency going?”

“So much better than I even thought it would. Everyone here is so amazing.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.”

While they had chatted, a few more people had arrived. Then an older man with a long white beard joined them. He looked familiar, but Tom couldn’t put a name to his face.

“Hello, everyone. I’m Brian, the university archivist. I’ll be leading you around tonight.” He spread his arms wide. “I’ve been working here for more than twenty years, and it’s been a bit of a hobby of mine to collect the stories about this place. Not just the academic history, but all the tales and rumors about ghosts that inhabit Harrowgate Valley University.”

The name snapped into place. Brian Brunet. He was married to a faculty member. Tom’s mother had talked about the local news teams and even a couple of paranormal groups who had come to investigate the ghost stories. Brian had been the resident expert who they had interviewed. Even so, Tom was surprised to see him here. He figured someone from the MFA program would lead the tour. A few stragglers arrived. Brian welcomed them and repeated his spiel, obviously enjoying the attention.

The admin building had been a dormitory for the Sisters of Beneficence a long time ago, before the campus had been converted into a school. Brian said the tour would start upstairs with the oldest story of a haunting. He led them to the wide stairway.

As they climbed, Tom’s chest tightened. He had to stop to catch his breath and grabbed the handrail.

The pain was bad. He gritted his teeth to wait it out, but it didn’t recede. It wasn’t traveling down his arm or anything, just a dull ache in the center of his chest.

The crowd turned the corner, out of sight. He slowly soldiered on up the stairs. After passing several floors and not spotting anyone, he left the stairwell on the fifth floor to see if they had exited there.

Nobody, but he thought he heard a creaking sound, like something was moving back and forth.

He shuffled down the hallway. When he reached the corner, the hallway opened up to a sort of antechamber to the left. An old woman dressed all in black, hooded in the robes of a nun, rocked back and forth in a wooden chair. She didn’t seem to notice him; she just kept rocking—the creak of the chair created a rhythmic pattern. It reminded him of visiting his grandfather when he was young.

Grandpa used to sit next to the radio in the dark and listen to baseball games while he rocked in his chair.

The sound was very similar. A shiver ran up his spine.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Did you happen to see a crowd of people?”

Nothing. No recognition that he had even spoken to her.

He stepped closer, and she vanished. The rocking sound went with her. Gone, chair and all.

His pulse hammered. He needed to get away.

Right now.

He ran back to the stairwell, not sure which way to go. He climbed up in hopes of finding some real people. They had to be above him.

He popped out of the stairwell, breathing hard and chest throbbing, but relieved to see the crowd of people gathered around Mr. Brunet.

As Tom got closer, he could hear the last bit of the story Brian was relating.

“…Some people claim to have heard her rocking in her chair on the fifth floor.”

Tom’s stomach lurched.

He looked for the pilot he had met earlier. He found Jim at the far edge of the group and went over and grabbed his arm. “I missed part of that. Who was he talking about?”

Jim turned to him. “He didn’t give a name, just a sister who had died up here when the building was a dormitory.”

The puzzled look on Jim’s face told Tom he had been staring blankly for too long. He excused himself and moved to the back of the group.

Stunned didn’t quite cover it. What the hell was going on?

He hung back for the rest of the tour, but it wasn’t as uneventful as he had expected.

Everywhere Brian pointed out activity, Tom saw ghosts.

They were all over the place. They weren’t gruesome. They were all normal looking women, clothed in the style of a nun.

The spirits didn’t appear to notice the group, and nobody in the group seemed to notice them. If they had, they kept it to themselves, just like he was doing. He wanted to get out of there, but leaving the safety of the group didn’t appeal to him either.

Reluctantly he stayed with the tour.

Brian led them to the bottom floor and past the mail room into a section of the building that was basically a walkway for maintenance. Odds and ends lay scattered in unusual places, an open box on the ledge where some pipes went through, bits from a lamp and some random metal parts, old vacuum cleaners or broken chairs or stacks of closed boxes.

Obviously, not a lot of attention had been paid to this part of the building. Broken fragments were scattered on the edges, like someone had made a half-hearted attempt to sweep, but only down the middle of the floor. A musty smell pervaded the corridor, not quite the smell of dead things but very close.

They reached a section that had once been a delivery port for carriages or something. The ceiling opened into a much larger space. The huge wooden doors at the end of the corridor were locked with heavy chains. The room was full of old broken furniture, small desks and chests and old lamps. Even an old rotary phone.

This space wasn’t like the rest of the places on the tour. Here the impression was especially visceral. Tom broke out in a cold sweat. Nausea joined the sensation of pain. His heart began to race. A putrid sulfur smell pervaded this end of the enclosure. Tom was certain he was about to see something he really didn’t want to. But strangely, he saw nothing. Was someone watching him? Someone not in their group?

Others bundled their arms tightly across their chests. Wide eyes. Darting looks. Fidgeting. Being on a ghost tour brought its own expectations, and maybe they were imaging they could see something.

Even for those who were unaware, the tension was palpable.

Brian did not dally. He led them through an access door, and soon they were outside in the night air.

Relief, but the tightness in Tom’s chest had not subsided.

The sky was crystal clear, but the air was muggy and a fog was beginning to rise. The moon loomed above them in all its fullness. Brian led the group up the hill to the old cemetery. By this point, Tom had had his fill of the weirdness. He stopped far back from the edge of the hill, outside of the old wrought-iron fence that outlined the graveyard.

Several apparitions in the robes of nuns wandered about the misty burial ground.

Tom put his back to the vision and hurried to his car. He drove down the hill away from the campus.

Once he reached the bottom of the curving slope, the tightness in his chest abated. An overwhelming tiredness replaced the pain.


Tom lay in bed, drenched in sweat, his heart pounding. He hadn’t slept well. Nightmares had woken him several times throughout the night. All he could remember from the dreams was the terror.

He rolled over to read the clock—a few minutes after noon. Since it was Saturday, he had planned to sleep late.

He threw back the sheet and forced himself to get up. He rubbed the lack of sleep from his eyes and wandered into the kitchen to start the coffee and then took a shower, determined to drive the melancholy away. After twenty minutes under the steaming hot water, he gave up on making his dream-induced anxiety dissipate.

A lawn mower whirred from the backyard as he toweled off. His father usually mowed on Saturday.

At least something was normal. And pleasant. Something Tom associated with summer and the promise of a beautiful day ahead. Living with his father for the last few months had been good. He had been able to cook for his dad and help with chores around the house, and even put up new curtains, which he absolutely abhorred, because his mother had intended this before she had disappeared.

His dad had been a bit lost. Tom wasn’t sure how he felt about destiny, but it had been a way to make a silver lining out of his so-called disability. It gave him time with his dad when he needed it most. But not having his own space was starting to get old.

There simply wasn’t much alone time at home, and it definitely cramped the idea of dating. The new job would allow Tom to find a place of his own.

After a lunch of bagels and peanut butter, Tom left a note for his dad and then headed to campus to close up a few loose ends before the first day of the summer school classes, only two days away.

After reviewing his lesson plan, Tom decided to head over to the library to do some research. It wasn’t normally open on Saturday, but one of the admin folks would be there today preparing for the MFA graduation. She had told him earlier that she would let him in if he wanted to do some work.

The sun lit the place up, glaring off the metallic trim. Tom found sanctuary in the shadows of the book aisles. He combed through them, searching for reference material. He passed the newspaper archives, and something pulled at him. A dusty leather-bound tome lay open on the table. It was an archive of the Newtown Daily News. The volume was turned to the front page of a paper dated November 1, 1919. The headline read: Local Priest Accused of Murder. Tom read the article. The priest, Alistair Smith, had been accused of killing several nuns right here on the grounds, in what was now the admin building. The details were gruesome, involving dismemberment and Satanic symbology.

There was very little on Smith himself. Tom searched the archives for additional details. He found a few more articles about the murders in papers from all over the region. He searched the news for follow-up accounts of the trial.

After what seemed like only a few minutes, Tom had run through everything he could find. The realization that it was dark outside finally reached him. Hours must have passed. He returned the papers to their proper places.

The details of the murders filled his mind. Surprisingly little was available on the background of the priest. He had been moved around a lot.

Some investigators had speculated that he might have been involved with some other unsolved cases in other states, but from what Tom could find, they could never tie anything else to him. Smith was executed by the electric chair in 1921.

The thing that kept nagging at Tom was the location of the murders. It was in the basement of Admin. He felt compelled to go back down there. He had to see it again for himself.

He gathered up his things and then crossed the short distance to Munson Hall and used his key to get in. The Munson wing was connected to the main admin building. After dropping off his things in his office, he searched around until he found his small flashlight. Then he made his way back to the admin part of the complex and down the stairs, past the mailroom and down the hall into what he thought of as the catacombs. He didn’t know how else to classify the area. Nothing in his experience related to anything like the bottom floor. About the closest he could imagine was an old video game he had played about demons coming to earth to kill everyone and take over the world. All it needed was a creepy soundtrack.

As he got closer, the pain began again in his chest. He reached the last corner before entering the section where the murders had taken place. He felt the malevolence here earlier. He rubbed his sweaty palms on his pant legs. His heartrate spiked.

He steeled himself, but the emotions running through him were on par with taking a checkride in the KC-135 after being out of the cockpit for a year. Certain doom.

Maybe he should turn back. It wasn’t too late.

Did he really want to go down this path? But not knowing would nag at him. Could he live with that?

And really, what else was he going to do? He had wanted something to give him purpose. Was this the universe’s way of answering him?

He turned the corner and scanned the area with his flashlight. Nothing nefarious, just the high ceiling, a stale, faintly sour smell, and garbage strewn all over the room. Disappointment. He had been so certain he would find something here.

Uncertain as to what, but not this, this nothing. He moved forward, sweeping the room from side to side slowly with the beam. The room widened out closer to the end. Suddenly, the pain in his chest bore down on him. He sucked in air. The same effect he had experienced earlier repeated.

The air thickened with that underwater quality. He reached for something to stabilize himself and found the edge of a broken desk. Then he felt the presence of another. A shimmering began to coalesce in front of him. He thought maybe he should run, but the pain in his chest was so great that he didn’t dare. A white form took shape and seemed to grow. Then it was floating toward him, becoming more and more solid. It took on the form of a woman. One of the dead nuns?

But no. There was a familiarity to it. She was not in the robes of a nun but a normal blouse and long skirt. He could make out facial features. Tears came to his eyes.

“Mom? Is that you?”

“You can see me? Wonderful!”

The longing to embrace her reminded him of POWs being reunited with their families after years of captivity. His separation had only been half a year, and yet the need was so startlingly urgent.

Seeing her again nearly took his breath away. But could it be real?

Tom stretched out for her.

She retreated. “No, Tom. Never reach for someone on this side. That’s partly how I ended up here.”

“Are you dead?” None of this made any sense. How could he be seeing her?

“Not in the way you’re thinking. I’ve crossed over, but I’m still alive. At least I think I am.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, I’m not like the other things on this side. Most of them are remnants or trapped into a cycle. I can go wherever I want. I can’t always interact with the living, though. I’m still learning.”

“You said most.”

“There are things over here that are more than merely ghosts. The ghosts are generally harmless. The others are . . . malevolent. Fortunately, they seem to be few, and I’ve been able to avoid them. I saw that you found the newspaper archive I left open for you.”

“What? I don’t understand any of this.” Seeing her now, living with the pain and doubt and having her reveal herself this way was too much to take in.

Betrayal, elation, anger, and joy all fought for dominance.

“I’m sorry, honey. I wasn’t sure the power would manifest with you. Part of me was glad you stopped flying, but I realize how much that meant to you. This ability is a legacy, a gift. Some in our line can interact with the dead, or spirits if you will. Not everything over here used to be human.”

So many questions. Where to start? “Are you okay?”

“I’m actually fine. By the way, thank you for taking care of your father. I’ve tried to reach him, but he can’t feel me. Tell him I love him and that I’ve been around. I try to keep an eye on him. I’ve been watching both of you. It’s so wonderful that you can see me now.”

Tom’s dad was devastated. He wouldn’t understand this. “I’m happy to see you, too, but what am I supposed to tell him? That I can see the dead, and I spoke with you, but you aren’t actually dead? You know how crazy that sounds?”

His mother turned away and floated up a few feet. “Yes. I’m sorry.” She started to fade from view.

“Come back, Mom.”

She moved closer. “I’m sorry. I forget myself. I’m still learning how things work here.”

“Can you return to this side?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure. I’m still working on that. But we aren’t safe here. The demon could return at any time.”

“What demon?” Had he felt it earlier? Impossible to be sure.

“There is an evil that lurks here. It is probably why the veil is so thin here and we are able to communicate. Terrible things happened in this room. I’m working on a way to stop this thing from spreading its evil, so even if I wanted to, I need to stay over here for now.”

“But Dad needs you. He’s all torn up. I can’t tell him any of this. He will never understand.”

“You’re right, of course. I’m sorry. I can’t help your father for the time being.” She turned and seemed to pace. She rubbed her hands together, like she was trying to warm them.

He wasn’t sure he bought her explanation. It certainly didn’t help him deal with his father. But that still left why now? “Why can I see you now? Why did you wait this long?”

“Believe me. I’ve been trying to contact you for months. Seeing me here isn’t just because of your lineage. Part of it was my lack of knowledge. Partly it’s because of the location. Harrowgate is actually a very old name for this place and predates the university by hundreds of years. The fabric of your plane is thinner here. There is actually a portal of sorts. It’s not exactly a doorway, but if the conditions are right, we can pass through to the other side. I think the demon priest created a rift here.”

“So, you can come back.” Hope swelled. Maybe they could get her back.

“Maybe. I’m learning more all the time. But I crossed over here for a reason. There’s a lot of activity centered on the campus. Not all of it good. I know you were visited by John Rath. He’s okay. You can trust him. Go talk to him. Tell him about me. I can do the thing we were planning.” She paused for a moment with a tender look on her face.

“I have to go. I’m sorry.”

“Mom! You can’t leave. I have a thousand questions.”

She faded away and took the murky blackness along with her. The pain in his chest subsided, leaving him with the distinct feeling that none of it was real. He had imagined the whole thing. But here he was in the basement of Harrowgate Valley admin.

The junk littered all about, abandoned, like he and his father.

This new ability, this legacy as his mother put it, had opened up a whole new world to explore. He wasn’t sure he believed in destiny, but he had a choice to make.

Mom said he could trust Agent Rath. So here Tom was in the basement of the FBI building in Pittsburgh. The office resembled his own in size and décor, minus the air freshener, which it could’ve used to combat the stale air. Nothing decorated the walls or Rath’s desktop. “I can see the FBI puts a high priority on their supernatural investigations.”

Rath laughed. His half-zip sweater, knit pants, and ankle-high Sorel boots clashed with the mundane style of the lower level of the building. It was obvious that Rath didn’t let the setting define his personal groove. “Let’s just say that some people in the organization don’t share my belief in the importance of this department. Please sit down.”

Tom took the old metal folding chair in front of the agent’s desk. His heart was racing. He couldn’t wait to tell someone what he had seen, and Rath might be the only person who would believe him. “I saw my mother last night.”

Rath leaned forward, eyes wide. “You saw her? Where?”

“In the basement of the admin building at Harrowgate Valley. It’s hard to describe, but she was in a ghostly form. On the other side. Does that make sense to you?”

Rath clapped. “She did it! She had a theory about crossing over. I didn’t believe her, but she was adamant she could do it.”

“How exactly does this program work?”

Rath sat back. “We are just getting started. The implications for spycraft are obvious, but the real substance, in my mind, is fighting evil. We can attack it right at the root. I believe that malevolent spirits and demons create evil in men and we can stop them in their tracks. Were you able to communicate with her?”

“She told me I could trust you.”

The agent couldn’t keep the toothy grin from emerging. “Your mother is a brilliant woman. We are going to do some amazing things together.”

“Are we?”

“You have a gift, Tom. How can you ignore it?”

How could he ignore it? The agony that came when the ability manifested was scary, but deciding not to act on it wouldn’t make it go away. He would have to ask his mother how she managed the pain.

Did she even feel pain now? So many questions, but no way could he simply overlook everything that was happening.

“Okay, say I’m in. What happens next?”

“You keep your job. Harrowgate Valley appears to be some sort of nexus that we can use. It will give you an excuse to be on campus. Then we need to set up some protocols with your mother. Your missions will all be classified for now.” He rubbed his head. “The prospects are very exciting.”

The man’s exuberance was contagious. This was exactly what Tom needed. The secret of the Harrowgate Valley gateway had been revealed, and he would use that knowledge to help in whatever way he could. He’d wanted a new purpose, and now he had an opportunity to be on a team again.

Banishing evil seemed as important as anything he would have done in the Air Force. It felt right.

A chill ran down his spine. Was his mother watching? He hoped so.

There are a lot more cool stories in the anthology this is in. The Secrets of Harrowgate Valley.