“Not quite as old as I was hoping, we have records that go
back to the founding of Phoenix in here.” Andrew hmmed under his breath
and started moving; Vex followed at his heels. “Twenty, twenty, where is the
Andrew hmmed again and slid behind the welcoming
desk, the computer screen displayed stars flying past like a sci-fi movie
flying through space. He ignored the computer completely and pulled out a thick
logbook; prying it open, he flipped around and held his hand out to Vex. In his
hand, she deposited the card that Blake had given her earlier and Andrew looked
“That’s an old district,” he said, scanning the lines of
the book while flipping through pages. “Haunted?”
“Would you expect any less?”
A smile crept across his lips. “Excellent,” he said. “Record,
record, record, no. Deed, no. Titles, no.” He frowned and turned over a few
more pages while glancing back and forth between the logbook and the address.
He reached under the desk again and withdrew another large
binder, dust flurried up from the counter when he dropped it down. The pages,
while laden with dust, were completely laminated and exhibited indelicate
handwriting in various colors of pen and varieties of penmanship.
“I see,” he said after a few moments of rumination,
stroking his manicured and spare beard as he did so.
“What is it?”
“It burned down about twenty years ago, destroyed in a
fire, but there’s still a deed on file—that’s really strange. Ordinarily there
would only be a title for the land.” He closed the dusty binder with a whap
and glanced up. “Wait here, I’ll get you what you need.”
Without another word, he rose, trod away into the
deepening gloom of the archive shelves, and left Vex to wait.
The clock on the far wall ticked. The sounds of muted
voices and motion filtered down from the library level above. Somewhere a light
buzzed. By the time Andrew returned, Vex had grown weary and settled herself
down in his chair. There she discovered that while the computer was on, and
worked, he had never touched it—the keyboard was covered with a very fine,
undisturbed layer of dust.
“Here you go.” Andrew set a bound folder on the table and
atop it two microfiche plates. “I included some extra reference material that
you should probably look at before you decide how to proceed.” He yawned. “It’s
getting time to close up, so I’m going to head home. You still have your key?”
“You go ahead and lock up, then.” He pressed a hat onto
his head and tucked a set of folders under one arm; then turned back and
addressed her again while through pushing the door to the elevator antechamber.
“You should take the back way out so that you don’t irritate security.”
“Thanks for your help.”
“Anytime... And good luck.”
Straightaway, Vex headed to the microfiche room—the
lighting in there appeared much brighter and better than even in the welcome
area. One of the tables, which had naturally become hers from constant use. A
carefully etched sigil on the underside caused people to pass it by and seek a
different station if one was open; this made certain she always had an
available microfiche machine if she arrived during a busy time.
Inside of the folder were almost a dozen sheets of paper,
all of them photocopies. Several of them were transfers of ownership, and two
deeds of ownership. The dates on them were quite old and some of the signatures
were invisible in the copies. Though, at long discernment, there were two
stranger documents in the mix: one of them was an affidavit of insurance pay
out for fire damage, the other an inspection notice by a Fire Chief Inspector
which deemed the house habitable and safe. The inspection notice had been
submitted two years after the affidavit, which attested that indeed the house
had been utterly destroyed by the fire—the very words on the
The microfiche glittered in the buzzing fluorescent lights
as Vex lifted each plate and examined the markings curiously. Each of them was
labeled The Phoenix Gazette and listed dates from the early 1970s. A
sticky note on top of the first offered a date: July 12th, 1973. The day after the insurance affidavit had marked the house having been destroyed in
With practiced fingers, Vex took the plate out of its
cover and slid it onto the machine. The index page appeared glowing on the
frosted screen. After picking up the proper region to check, she slid the plate
around until a front page article loomed on the screen: Tragedy strikes neighborhood; fire destroys twelve houses.
The accompanying image displayed the smoldering remains of
many houses, and the text mentioned the region where the house Blake had shown
her. Except, judging by the photograph, that same house would have been smack
dab in the middle of the destruction. That area of the photograph was almost
entirely obscured by boiling smoke. The article went on to say the origin of
the fire had never been determined and that arson was not suspected, but that
those twelve families were displaced. No mention of any deaths, in fact, the
article rejoiced that even with all the destruction no lives were lost.
This factor felt strange to Vex; most haunting emanated
from the loss of life, the ghosts of the deceased, or other powerful spirits. Somebody
died in that house when it burned down. Perhaps Andrew had thought to provide a
hint with the next microfiche slide. There was no sticky-note on it, so Vex
simply placed it into the machine and scanned the index.
On the screen, a perfect replication of the haunted house
glimmered in degraded sepia—the microfiche film for this one seemed to not just
be old itself, but the newspaper in it was even older, and not entirely intact.
Entire pages were missing, some were damaged, worn-out, or torn and
disheveled. It wasn’t a standard edition of the Gazette, but instead a
real estate news supplement.
Vex scraped through her pockets for the brochure she’d
received from Blake. The image on the glowing screen and the picture matched
with perfect symmetry.
Von Appeldorn Estate
titled the article, a small blurb about prices blurred into unreadability but
mentioned the wealth of the family and their welcome to the community.
After a moment of gazing, Vex hit the print button.