The Guidance
Author:Marley Gibson

The Guidance - By Marley Gibson

Chapter One

Only two months in to being a ghost huntress, and I do believe this current case takes the freakin' cake.

I'm sitting in the living room of one Mrs. Millicent Lockhart of 859 Crow Lane here in Radisson, Georgia. Mrs. Lockhart called my team and me in to help find her deceased husband. And I don't mean, like, to connect with him spiritually—although, as a still budding psychic, I'm able to do that—she wants us to physically find his missing body. Literally. I'm not exactly sure how she lost him, but anyway, here we sit in the very prim and proper living room of an old carriage house on the grounds of a sprawling mansion.

Talk about it being the best of investigating times and the worst of investigating times ... No, no, no, Dickens already used that line. We'll have to figure this one out on our own.

"More lemon tea bars?" Mrs. Lockhart asks, nudging the crystal serving plate toward me. Even with a deceased and misplaced husband, she's still a Southern lady and the quintessential hostess with the mostest.

"No, thank you, ma'am," I say politely. My friend, neighbor, and fellow ghost huntress Celia Nichols rolls her eyes, but then she reaches out for another one of the tart treats. It's her third. This isn't a tea party, though. It's a ghost investigation. Or at least it's supposed to be.

"These are delicious," Taylor Tillson says. She sits daintily with her ankles crossed and her long golden tresses perfectly in place. Taylor always looks like she just walked off the pages of a magazine, even when we're in full ghost-hunt mode. She wipes her hands on the starched linen napkin and continues. "I just have to make sure I don't get any of the bonté délicieuse on my camera when I start taking pictures."

Two years of French. What are you gonna do with her?

Rebecca "Becca" Asiaf lets out a long sigh and taps her foot impatiently. Her digital recorder is poised in her left palm, and I can tell she's ready to get this puppy going. Her silverringed thumb, with its black nail polish, waits to hit Record. Obviously, she's as eager to get on with this investigation as I am. Niceties with our hostess aside, we've got work to do.

But this feels more like a social obligation with a great-aunt or something. The four of us are seated on Mrs. Lockhart's crushed-velvet Victorian sofa like perfect little debutantes, sipping our tea and hoping to get more details of her tale of woe. It's important to get as many facts about the dearly departed as possible before we fully begin examining the case at hand, which, in this instance, is File GH-0018—Delaney Lockhart.

Yeah, we're up to eighteen cases!

See, a couple of months ago, my family—Mom, Dad, and little sis, Kaitlin—moved here from our beloved Chicago when dear old Dad took the job of city planner for Radisson. A town that I feel is out where God lost his shoes. The closest metropolis, Atlanta, is an hour's drive. As if leaving behind everything you've ever known in your life isn't hard enough, I am also going through my "psychic awakening." That's according to Loreen Woods, my friend, mentor, and the owner of Divining Woman, a metaphysical store on the Square.

Yep, I can see, hear, and talk to spirits ... ghosts, the recently and not-so-recently deceased.

Let me tell you what: it's been a busy couple of months for me, Kendall Moorehead. Once word got out about how my team of ghost huntresses had helped a 150-year-old spirit that was trapped in city hall pass into the light, well, everyone and his brother has stopped us with a ghost story or two to tell. Being official ghost huntresses has made me and my friends—Celia, Taylor, and Becca—the talk of the town, and we've garnered a ton of attention. (Not all of it is positive, especially the dirty looks and ill treatment from school beeyotch Courtney Langdon and her flock of followers. However, I think that has more to do with the fact that I'm now dating her ex-boyfriend—and Taylor's twin brother—Jason Tillson.)

It's sort of hard to have a boyfriend when all of your weekends are filled with visits to Radisson's most historic—and often haunted—locations, the mustiest and dustiest of basements, and the homes of some lonely and weird townspeople. Like the one we're in right now.

I shift on the antique couch and clear my throat to ease the tension in my tight chest. I don't think that Mrs. Lockhart is one of those weirdoes we've been running into lately—the kind who wear tinfoil hats and sleep in their bathtubs for fear that things are watching them—because she was a kindergarten teacher in Radisson for years and schooled all three of my friends. However, the woman is definitely broken-hearted and forlorn. The sadness radiating from her is palpable, and I can feel it in the depths of my being like the heat from a well-stoked fire.

I nudge Celia in her ribs with my elbow, and she knows that I'm ready to get down to business.

"So, Mrs. Lockhart, can you tell us again everything that happened with your husband?" Celia says in a very grown-up, professional manner. She flips open her notepad and twirls her Bic between her long fingers.

Becca clicks on the digital recorder and places it on the marble coffee table. She's our sound expert on the team, trying to capture EVPs, electronic voice phenomena. EVPs are the coolest thing ever. I mean, I can hear the spirits' voices in my head, but the digital recorder can actually pick up disembodied voices that answer questions or make statements during our investigations. What we capture can totally back up what I've said. Taylor nods at me and then moves over to where she has the video recorder set up. She's a whiz-bang at anything photography related. That's why she's on the team. Some of the pictures she's captured with the infrared camera and the night vision are a-freakin'-mazing!

Sitting forward, I fold my hands together and listen as Mrs. Lockhart explains why we're here. The older woman dabs her wrinkled eyes with the corner of a lace handkerchief. She sniffs hard and then takes a deep breath.

"Delaney and I went out to Scottsdale last week to visit with our younger daughter, Veronica—our older girl, Evelyn, lives in the main house—and her boys. They're such good boys, those grandsons of mine. Derrick is on the soccer team and Spencer has learned to ride his bike—"

"Yes, ma'am. Now, about Mr. Lockhart, please," I say, trying not to be rude.

"Certainly. As I was saying, we were having a ball at Veronica's. Even to the point where Delaney said he would consider moving out there. I never thought he'd want to leave Georgia. But the weather out in Arizona is simply amazing." Mrs. Lockhart moves behind her ear a stray lock of salt-and-pepper hair that has escaped the tight bun at the base of her neck. I feel a tension at the back of my own neck and wonder if it's empathy with what she's going through or if I slept wrong last night.

She continues. "Delaney loved the putting greens and courses out there and was spending most afternoons golfing and relaxing. He'd been so stressed lately, what with the economy and all and watching our retirement accounts dwindling. But on Saturday he didn't come back from his golf game, and Veronica and I got worried. Someone from the country club called and told us that he'd had a ... a ..." She trails off and then begins to cry. My heart goes out to her, knowing she lost the love of her life. I mean, literally lost him.

"It's okay, Mrs. Lockhart," I say, hoping it sounds soothing. It would probably be a good thing for me to get up and go sit with her. Taylor nods at me from across the room as if she's reading my mind. I slide off the couch and move to our client's side, taking her frail hand. Immediately at the connection of skin to skin, I'm stung with grief and pain and a deep, deep loneliness. In my mind's eye, I see Millicent and Delaney as a young couple, walking hand in hand down by the Spry River here in Radisson. So much in love, with the rest of their lives ahead of them. Children ... two girls. Years flash past me like cards shuffling until I see her weeping in her daughter's arms. "Can you finish the story you told Celia on the phone?"

Mrs. Lockhart fists her free hand against her mouth and nods. "He ... he had a h-h-heart attack on the eleventh hole and was more than likely taken straight to Jesus with no pain or suffering." She blots under her eye to catch a wayward tear. "The man he was playing with said he'd just gotten a hole in one," she adds with a slight laugh.

"Man, golf's a rough sport," Becca mutters. Taylor gives her a nasty look.

Celia jumps in to cover Becca's comment. "Tell Kendall the part with the airlines, Mrs. L." Celia looks at me. "This is the most important part."

The woman keeps going."Oh, very well. It seems that Southeastern Airlines kind of—well, how do I say this—misplaced my Delaney."

"They what?" I ask incredulously.

She tugs a piece of paper out of the pocket of her house-dress and passes it over to me. It's got a bar code with a number and is marked ATL, the airline code for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"Is this a claim ticket?"

"For his coffin," she says.

Holy crap!

"Just a second. You're telling me—" I begin.

Celia finishes, "That she checked him into Baggage in Phoenix, but when Mrs. Lockhart landed in Atlanta and went to claim him, Delaney was missing."

Mrs. Lockhart sniffs into her handkerchief. "I was so distraught; I didn't know what to do. Evelyn had to drive over and talk to the supervisor. Poor child was grief-stricken herself, losing her father, and she had to go through all of the airport's bureaucratic red tape."

"What can we do, though, Celia?" I raise my eyebrows and bite my bottom lip as I consider what it is exactly that I—that we—can do to help locate the body. Not really the type of investigation we're used to.

Mrs. Lockhart grips my hand tightly in hers. "You've got to use your powers to find him."

"I don't really have powers." I'm not a comic-book or movie character like Superman, Iron Man, or Wonder Woman. "I locate spirits of the deceased, not the deceased themselves."

"Have you talked to the local coroner?" Becca asks.

"He was no help. But y'all will be, right?"

"I-I-I don't know—what exactly can I do?"

Her eyes light up. "Oh, but that's just it. I feel Delaney here in the house. Evelyn said she's sure he's around too. She's even felt him over at her house. Surely you can try to contact him. He would know where his body is, wouldn't he?"

Celia shrugs. "I suppose."

Taylor lets out a long sigh and says, " Une telle tragédie. Such a tragedy."

So, let me get this straight. I'm to make contact here in the house with Delaney, and he's going to tell me where we can find his body so Mrs. Lockhart can get him home for the funeral he deserves to have. A final resting place. As ludicrous as it sounds, I guess we can help out with that. Honestly, I don't think the guys on Ghost Hunters have ever had a case like this one.

I release the older woman's hand and drag my palms down the sides of my jeans as I stand up, not sure which one of us is responsible for the nervous sweat. "I'll give it a try."

She's on her feet too. Gratitude paints her wrinkled face.

"I'm going to need assistance though," I say to my posse.

"We're here, Kendall," Taylor pipes up.

"Ditto" from Becca.

Celia nods and smiles.

I push my wavy brown hair behind my ears and then rub my hands together. "I appreciate that you guys are here, but I'm going to need even more help."

"Emily?" Celia asks.

My turn to nod.

And just like that, my spirit guide, Emily—who first came to me as a voice in the white-noise machine in my new bedroom—is with me, ready to give assistance. She's only visible to me at certain times, and I mostly just talk to her in my head. Yeah, I know ... throw a net over me. That's what my mom's threatening to do anyway.

I walk through the old carriage house, trying to get a sense of who Delaney Lockhart was before he passed. Since I've only lived in Radisson a couple of months, I don't know everyone's business, like most people in town seem to. Taylor told me that Mr. Lockhart had worked at the First National Bank, and Celia knew him to be an avid lake fisherman who always shared his catch of the day with people down at the Methodist church. Now, as I sit in the worn Barcalounger in the den, I'm seeing a slide show of images in my head. Delaney was tall. He'd lost his hair. He cut his fingernails in this spot while watching TV (Eww!) He was a stern father but loved to spoil his grandchildren. For the last twenty years, he snuck Swisher Sweets cigars out in the backyard. I'm sure that had something to do with his heart problems.

Focus your energies to the right, Kendall ...

Emily directs my attention toward a door. "Where does this go?" I ask.

"To the basement," Mrs. Lockhart answers. "The laundry room is down there. Other than that, we mostly use it to store extra belongings from the main house. When Evelyn got married, we moved out and let them have it."

"That's okay. We're not here to rifle through your things," I assure her.

"It's a mess. I don't think you girls should go down there. Especially if you have allergies."

Hmmm ... and me without my Claritin.

I hear Emily whisper, Goooo ...

If she says so, then I must.

"I have to go down there." I turn the handle, and immediately the smell of dust and mold and dampness attacks my nostrils. Celia flicks the light cord that's dangling in the doorway.

"This doesn't look very good," Taylor says.

Becca snickers. "Don't be such a girl, Tillson." And then she passes all of us and heads downstairs.

"I'll stay up here," our hostess says.

It's probably better that way.

Emily whispers to me: Laundry room.

The four of us pick our way through boxes of Christmas ornaments, winter clothes, and toys for the grandchildren, back to where the washer and dryer sit. My chest begins to tighten in a deep ache. The atmosphere is dense in this section, and I'm finding it hard to get a good breath of air. It's like I want to pant but there's nothing to suck into my lungs.

"Are there any spirits here with us?" Becca asks as she holds her digital recorder out in front of her. "Is the spirit of Delaney Lockhart present? I have a recording device in my hand that is able to pick up your voice if you have the energy to speak to us. We can play it back and see what you had to say and try to help out."

While Becca's doing her EVP work, my chest continues to throb. My heartbeat accelerates to Speed Racer levels and I try to tell myself that this isn't really happening to me, per se—it's just that I'm empathetic and can often feel what the spirit might have experienced.

I hear Emily plainly in my head. He's here ...

"Play back your recorder, Becca," Celia says before I can.

After a quick rewind, we hear Becca's question and then a garbled swooshing turning into a voice that says, "Leeeeeeeeeeefffffffff behind."

"Did you hear that?" Becca says with excitement. "Score!" She loves getting EVPs, and I must admit I get a real rush out of it as well.

Then, a little further into the recording, we hear, "Miiiillllllie."

He called her that, Emily tells me.

I take out my rose quartz pendulum that I use for dowsing. It's really cool because I can ask it yes-or-no questions and have a two-way conversation with a spirit. I'm absolutely sensing a presence here in this basement. However, I have to make sure it's Delaney Lockhart. We've run into so many street ghosts in our investigations lately—random spirits that inhabit Radisson, people who lived a long time ago, before the interstate to Atlanta cut through or the town was wired for cable.

As I hear Taylor clicking away in the background with her digital camera, I'm still experiencing the emotional choke of extreme heart pain. Is this from Delaney's cardiac? It feels more like a broken heart than blocked arteries. Not that I'm a doctor or anything. There just isn't that sense of blood stopping and not filling the chambers of the heart. I'm picking up something much more forlorn.

"Are you Delaney Lockhart?"

I watch as the pendulum dangling from my thumb and forefinger swings back and forth, from left to right. This is how I get the answer no.

Hmm. "Are you a female spirit?"

The pendulum confirms another no.

"Are you a male spirit?"

"Duh," Becca says with a snicker.

"You know we have to explore all options," Celia snaps.

My pendulum begins to swing in a circle, clockwise, which signifies a yes answer.

"Check this out!" Taylor shouts. "I just took a series of pictures of that corner."

Sure enough, there's a mist in the bottom right corner that gets larger in each frame until it takes on a shape. A very distinct human shape.

Taylor points. "That looks like a soldier's cap. Like someone from the Civil War."

We do have a lot of Civil War history in this town. Local legend has it that General Sherman visited Radisson on his infamous March to the Sea. He and his men were so enamored of a townswoman here that they didn't burn the place and left many historic antebellum houses in their original condition, like the mansion that Celia and her parents live in on the street behind my house.

Turning to Celia, I ask, "Did Mrs. Lockhart say anything about a ghost in her house before Delaney's death?"

She shakes her head, tossing her short black bob back and forth. "Never before, although she claims her daughter Evelyn's house is haunted. That was one of the reasons she and Mr. Lockhart gave it to her and moved out here into the carriage house."

"You're some kind of street ghost, aren't you?" I call out. "You sensed what was going on here, that we were looking for a spirit, and you butted in. If that's what you are, you need to leave, please. You don't belong here. Go back to where you were or let me help you cross into the light."

Before I can say another word, I feel a piercing pain so bad that I have to clamp my hands over my ears to stop it. All I hear reverberating through my head is this wicked, evil laughter, sinister almost, echoing off my cerebral matter. I scream inside, telling him to bugger off. He's not wanted. I clutch my chest and then I feel an insane twinge in my head.

He's trouble ...

Like I need Emily to tell me that.

I fall to my knees from the intense throbbing in my temples. Taylor drops next to me. "Jason should have come with us tonight," she says. "He's going to be inconsolable if anything happens to you."

Yeah, my boyfriend still doesn't exactly like that I do this on a regular basis.

You'll be fine. Ride it out, Kendall.

I reach for Taylor's hand and hold on tightly as the pain begins to subside. I just wish the soldier would stop it with the evil laugh, like he's taking pleasure in seeing me this way.

Suddenly, a man appears before me in plaid shorts, a white Titleist shirt, and a Nike visor. Oh, this has got to be Delaney Lockhart. He glances down at me and smiles. Then he tosses a glower to the corner where the soldier is standing. Inside my head, I hear him tell the other man to be gone and leave me alone, to "go back to Evelyn's." Great, we're going to have to come back and clean out her house as well.

The soldier disappears, just like that.

Celia and Taylor help me up. I cock my head to the left. Celia's EMF detector flashes like the lights on a state trooper's car. EMF stands for "electromagnetic field," and the detector reads levels of energies. It's widely thought in the paranormal community—yes, we're a community—that spirits use energy to manifest. And since everything in the world is basically made of energy, you never know where a ghost may appear or how it'll do it. Let me tell you: I've got a manifestation, all right.

"Mr. Lockhart?" I ask out loud.

Celia and Taylor spin in the direction my voice is aimed. Becca follows along behind me.

I hear him plain as day, as if he's really standing before me. Well, he is standing before me, only no one but me can see him.

Mr. Lockhart smiles. "I'm sorry about that soldier. He's been nosing around here trying to get attention and cause trouble. Are you okay, dear?"

"Yes, sir," I say, catching my breath. All of my physical symptoms have eased. "You know why I'm here, right?"

Becca lifts a dark brow at me and then positions the digital recorder toward where I'm speaking. Taylor snaps away on the camera, and Celia stands by, taking all sorts of measurements. They've all seen this before and know to go with the flow and not freak out that I'm seeing an entity ... and having a conversation with it.

"They left me behind," he says. "Those idiots at the airline. I sat on a conveyor belt for at least two days. Good thing I was embalmed before they put me in the casket. Otherwise"—he waves his hand in front of his nose—"that would be a horrific smell, don'tcha think?"

I snicker at the ghost's joke about his own demise. I have to be serious though, since I don't know how long Delaney will be able to manipulate the energy for me to see and hear him. "Where are you?"

He takes off his visor and scratches his head. "I don't rightly know."

My body sags and I exhale noisily. "You have to remember something. A detail? A sound? A smell?"

"Nope. The formaldehyde sort of masks everything else."

"Ask him about the airplane," Celia instructs. "Is there anything he can remember about it? Particularly the color?"

"Sure, sure," he says, hearing Celia's question. "I remember going into this big ol' gold plane."

"Gold," I say to Celia. "He says it was gold."

She runs her hands through the top of her hair and I can almost hear the wheels of thought turning. "Mrs. Lockhart said she was on Southeastern Airlines. Their planes are blue and silver. The luggage handlers must have loaded him onto the wrong flight."

"Who has gold planes?" Becca asks.

Of course, Celia, knower of all things trivial and seemingly unimportant—seriously, the girl could win the adult Jeopardy! tournament—snaps her fingers. "Journey Airlines has gold planes. I've seen their ads on television."

"Do they fly into Atlanta?" Taylor asks.

Celia shakes her head no. "Their hub is Memphis."

The energy shifts in the room and becomes almost staticky. My own oomph is starting to fade; I know Delaney's been pulling off my psychic abilities to talk to me. He smiles and waves and blows a kiss. We'll get you home, I say in my head.

You did well, Emily notes to me.

We rush upstairs to tell Mrs. Lockhart. Well, I don't. Becca has to help me up the stairs and over to a couch to regain my strength. Man, connecting with spirits like that just wears me the hell out. I need a massive nap now.

Celia dials up Journey's toll-free number on her cell phone and gets the proper customer service person to help out. We listen to the one-sided conversation as she relays the information. Mrs. Lockhart stands holding Taylor's hand as she awaits the verdict.

"Yes, she's right here and can give you all of the information." Celia breaks into a wide grin. She passes her cell phone to Mrs. Lockhart. "They have your husband."

"Thank you, Jesus!" she sings out. "And you girls! Thank you, thank you! This wouldn't have happened without you. Now my Delaney can come home for a proper burial. Evelyn and Veronica will be so relieved." She puts the phone to her ear and begins giving her personal information.

"Yep, just another typical day for the ghost huntresses," I say with a contented sigh. Taylor and Becca high-five and Celia leans over for a fist bump.

Why am I still feeling a bit kerfuffled though?

You haven't seen the last of that soldier ...

And along with Emily's sweet voice, the sinister laugh is back.

Yeah, I have a feeling our paths will cross again.