I froze, Craig’s words echoing in my head.
Maybe your compass is acting like that because there’s a ghost in your room.
The phone crackled. “Riley?” Craig’s voice floated out. “Are you there?”
I licked my suddenly dry lip as I desperately searched the room. Everything appeared to be normal.
Except for my compass. Which was still weirdly pointed to the west no matter which way I turned it.
“Riley?” Craig said again.
“I’m here,” I said, forcing the words out of my numb mouth. “I can’t see …”
There it was again.
The scratching noise.
I gasped and scrambled backwards., knocking the chair over in the process.
It was coming from the closet!
“Riley, what is going on?” Craig demanded, his voice growing louder.
“Craig, it’s coming from the closet,” I said as quietly as I could.
“What’s coming from the closet?”
“The noise! The scratching noise.”
“There’s something in your closet?”
I backed up a couple more steps. “I think so.”
“Riley,” Craig sounded panicked. “You need to get out of your room. Now!”
Along with the scratching, I heard the jingling of a bell again. Almost like … a dog collar.
Or … maybe a cat collar.
“I don’t think it’s a person,” I said. “I think it’s Noble.”
“Who is Noble?”
“The cat.” Now that I was remembering the story, I could feel myself start to calm down. “After Abby’s husband left, Abby locked herself in this room, and she locked the cat in the closet … until they both starved to death. People have said they heard scratching and bells jingling from the closet before.”
“So you think there’s a ghost cat in the closet?” Craig sounded more than a little skeptical. “What if you’re wrong?”
“Well, I suppose it could be Abby as well, but I don’t remember anyone reporting any sightings of her in the closet.”
“I didn’t mean Abby.” Craig sounded like he was trying very hard to remain patient. “I mean, what if it’s an actual person? You know, someone who is still living?”
“But, what about the compass?” I argued. “You were the one who said the compass not working right was a sign that a ghost was here.”
“Or, maybe you broke it when you dropped it.”
“I didn’t drop it. It just ended up on the floor … somehow.”
“Uh huh. Point being that I wouldn’t rule out a person being in your closet based on a compass.”
I stared at the compass. It still stubbornly refused to shift in any direction other than west. “Well, there’s one way to find out,” I said. “I can go open the closet.”
“No!” Craig shouted. “What if you’re wrong? At least go get someone.”
“I’m a ghost hunter,” I said, sounding far more confident than I felt. “This is what ghost hunters do. They investigate.” I wiped my sweaty hands on my shorts.
“You can still investigate with someone with you,” Craig argued.
“Yes, but what if I come back and Noble is gone?” I asked. “I can’t miss this chance.”
“Riley, you’re going to get yourself killed,” Craig moaned.
“Noble won’t hurt me,” I said. “No one has reported any aggression from either Noble or Abby. They’re friendly ghosts.”
“I’m not worried about the ghosts,” Craig said.
I stood up, wiping my hands again on my shorts. I could still hear the scratching and the jangling of the bell. Slowly, I started to inch my way toward the closet.
“I’m almost at the closet,” I whispered. “Once I’m there, then …”
At that moment, a cold draft of air brushed against me and I shivered.
“What just happened?” Craig asked.
“Nothing, I just stepped into a cold draft,” I said. “At least, I think it was just a draft.”
“What else could it have been?”
I shivered again, although this time, not because of the draft. “That’s part of how you know if there’s a ghost around,” I said. “The temperature drops.”
“Or it could just actually be a draft,” Craig said. “You said the hotel is old, right? Old hotels have drafts.”
“Maybe,” I said. “My compass is still not working.”
The noise was soft but unmistakable. Something had fallen to the floor.
Something behind me.
I spun around, nearly dropping the phone.
My ghost-hunting kit, which I had put back on the table after rescuing my compass from the floor, had fallen.
What on earth was going on?
“Riley?” Craig’s voice came out of the phone. “Are you still there?”
“Yes, it’s just …” I tentatively took a few steps toward the kit on the floor. “My ghost-hunting kit fell off the table again.”
“Did you knock it over?”
“No. I was nowhere near it. I was by the closet and …”
The scratching noise again. In the closet. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck start to stand on end. Maybe Craig was right, and I ought to just get out of here.
“Maybe you just didn’t set it on the table right,” Craig said.
The scratching noise was getting louder. “Maybe,” I said. “But, what if that wasn’t it? What if it’s … Abby?”
“Abby is knocking your ghost-hunting kit on the floor? I thought you said she was friendly.”
“Well, she is, but … maybe she’s playing a little game. Or something.” I started edging toward the door. “I think you’re right and I need to get some help.”
“Finally,” Craig’s voice sounded relieved. “Yes. Get out of there. Be safe. It’s probably someone playing a trick on you.”
Someone playing a trick.
I thought of Hal popping out of his room like a bald jack-in-the-box. He was watching me pretty closely.
Could Hal be doing all of this? So I would get out of the room so he could swoop in and do the investigation?
Was I going to allow him to chase me out of my first real ghost-hunting investigation?
I straightened my shoulders. Hell no!
Besides, wasn’t that my job as a ghost hunter? To debunk hauntings that aren’t real?
If someone was in here playing a trick, I owed it to ghost hunters everywhere to get to the bottom of it and expose it.
“I have to check the closet first,” I said to Craig.
“Wait. What? Riley, no! What if it’s dangerous?”
“Too bad,” I said firmly, marching over to the closet door. I could still hear the scratching. “I’m a ghost hunter, Craig. I investigate. That’s what I’m doing now. Whether it’s a person or Noble or Abby, it’s my job to get to the bottom of what’s going on here.”
“Oh God,” Craig said.
I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and gripped the doorknob of the closet door firmly. I took a deep breath and flung it open.
Riley Longhill is a fictional alter ego of Michele Pariza Wacek. The Adventures of Riley Longhill, Ghost Hunter, is a fiction account loosely based on real life ghost and haunted places. Yes, the Hotel Vendome in Prescott, Arizona is a real place and Abby and Noel are and do haunt the hotel to this day.