VOLUME INDEX



A tribute to artists and the homesick everywhere. Projects like Vexations wouldn't be anything without artists.



 
 
 




“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 property?”

“Mesa.”

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 at it.

“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. “Odd.”

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?”

Vex nodded.

“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 affidavit.

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 the fire.

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.


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