"Well sometimes I go out by myself. And I look across the water. And I think of all the things, what you're doing. And in my head I paint a picture.
"'Cause since I've come on home, well my body's been a mess. And I've missed your ginger hair, and the way you like to dress. Won't you come on over? Stop making a fool out of me. Why don't you come on over, Valerie?"
"Ah, Dave McCabe. Thank you for writing a song ALL about me!" Valerie Saint hopped up onto her oak desk and lifted her right leg over her left. "So kind of you."
The poster of The Zutons on her wall, surprisingly, didn't speak back to her.
Valerie reached over and turned off the radio, plunging her small office into complete silence. Valerie didn't mind silence; it gave her the opportunity to think deeply. That was useful when she had a case, but today, she didn't. Her "string board", as she called it, where she put up photos and tied them together with string to help her solve a case, was completely empty.
She had only had once case since opening her office four months ago, and that had been solved very quickly. She was slowly running out of money, but luckily, her wealthy parents were paying the bills for her until she got a new case.
Unfortunately, work was scarce for two reasons:
One, Valerie was a twenty-year-old girl with barely any experience in solving mysteries.
And two, she was a paranormal investigator.
It was an unusual line of work, but the town where she lived, Cliffordstown, used to be known as the most haunted town in Britain. Paranormal cases fizzled out several years before Valerie was born, but Valerie herself had experienced the paranormal when she was a child, which had inspired her to open this office.
However, work was VERY slow.
She peeked out her window and watched as a brunette girl of about her own age tossed a newspaper onto the front doorstep of the house opposite. She sighed wistfully. Even delivering newspapers seemed more fun right now than sitting around doing nothing.
A sudden crash made her spin round in fright. The stack of newspapers on her desk had fallen to the floor. They had been far enough on the desk that they couldn't have fallen off on their own.
Valerie just chuckled. "Love you too, Lynn."
As usual, nobody answered.
Valerie had been "haunted" by the ghost of her sister for the last few months, ever since she had opened the office. She had never actually seen the ghost, but she knew Lynn was there: inexplicable things like the newspapers falling kept happening. The first incident had been a flying pen writing Lynn's name on a piece of paper, back on the day Valerie opened the office. That was how Valerie knew it was her sister's spirit with her.
As Valerie was picking up the newspapers, the television suddenly flickered to life. She peeked over the desk and froze as she saw the headline on the news:
TOWN HALL HAUNTED BY MALEVOLENT GHOSTS.
Barely hesitating, Valerie dropped the newspapers and grabbed her bag, which was sat by the door with everything she would need for a paranormal case, just in case. She darted out of the office and locked the door with her key. As she was turning, she bumped into the brunette whom she had seen delivering newspapers.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" the girl apologised, taking a newspaper out of her satchel. "Here's your-."
Valerie interrupted her by snatching the paper and tossing it onto the grass outside her office. Then she shoved one of her machines into the arms of the girl, who looked very startled. "W-What's this?"
"Come this way, quickly," Valerie urged her, beckoning as she took off down the road.
"Hey, wait!" the girl called after her.
But Valerie didn't wait, and eventually, the girl caught up with her.
"Th-This is heavy," she panted. "W-What's going on?!"
"There's been some paranormal activity at the town hall," replied Valerie, keeping her eye trained on where she was going. "What's your name?"
"I…" The girl paused. "Antonia Addams. Now who are you and what is this thing I'm carrying and why am I coming with you?"
"Valerie Saint, a thermodetector, and because I need help."
Antonia blinked, staring over at this strange girl who had just pulled her out of her newspaper round like she did this all the time. "Help with what?"
"Getting rid of the ghosts," Valerie laughed. "Try and keep up."
But why ME? Antonia wanted to demand. Don't you have your own assistants?
But clearly she didn't, otherwise she wouldn't have grabbed Antonia off the street.
"I really need to get back to my newspaper round," Antonia said lamely.
The two of them continued running. Antonia felt as if she was supposed to be trying to give this…this "thermodetector" back, but she stayed silent and just continued following Valerie down the road, dodging cars that began to honk their horns at them.
"Can't we move to the pavement?" Antonia panted.
"I thought you had to get back to your paper round," Valerie responded.
Antonia didn't have anything to say to that so she fell silent, focusing on keeping her grip on the heavy equipment. She wondered what this "thermodetector" was for.
Soon, they reached the town hall. Police were cordoning off the area from a large crowd gathered outside the building, and Valerie could see an ambulance and two fire trucks on the other side of the road. There were at least half a dozen police cars, possibly more.
"What happened here?" Antonia breathed, feeling cold fear trickle down her spine at the sight of so many emergency services in one place.
Valerie skidded to a halt before she hit the crowd, digging around in her bag. She pulled out a small metal cuboid with two small aerials attached to the top of it. The device was emitting a very low noise, only just loud enough for Valerie and Antonia to hear it.
"What is THAT?" Antonia demanded.
"A paranormal sensor," replied Valerie steadily. "The pitch of the noise it emits tells us what the concentration of ghosts is here."
"Is this noise good or bad?" Antonia asked nervously.
"The higher the noise, the more ghosts are in a place," Valerie explained. "The fact that it's making a noise at all means there are around two or three in there. A lot of ghosts go undetected because the sensor only makes a noise when there are at least two in a place. For some reason, it can't tell when there's only one."
Wait, why am I BELIEVING this? Antonia thought suddenly. Though she was open-minded about the existence of ghosts, there was absolutely no proof that any of this was paranormal related.
She voiced these doubts to Valerie, who just gave a tinkling laugh. "How about we go see?" she suggested slyly.
Antonia blinked. "What, go inside town hall?"
"Yeah, why not?" Valerie put her sensor back in her bag and gazed up at the building over the heads of the crowd, searching for a way in. "Do you think you'd fit through that vent up there?"
"No way!" Antonia burst out.
"I think you would," Valerie argued mildly.
"I-I mean yeah, I…I would, but I won't!" Antonia firmly shook her head. "I won't break into a building, and certainly not town hall!"
"Okay. Give me my thermodetector back, then."
Antonia hesitated, for some reason. She bit her lip and held it out towards Valerie, who reluctantly took it and shrugged. "I'm sorry for literally dragging you into this. You can go home now."
Antonia watched Valerie stuff the device into her bag and take off round the side of the building, clearly looking for a way in. Antonia was surprised that such an intelligence girl like Valerie obviously was hadn't figured out who she was from her surname. Antonia wouldn't have to sneak into the building, for one very specific reason.
Dropping her newspaper bag onto the grass behind a bush, she crossed the road, pushed her way to the front of the crowd, and addressed one of the police officers there: "Excuse me, is Mayor Addams inside?"
"He is," replied the policewoman, glancing down at her. "Oh, Miss Addams. I don't recommend you going inside; there's been some strange events happening in the last couple of hours."
"I'd like to see my dad," Antonia said. "If you could let me in, that would be great."
The policewoman hesitated, before nodding sharply and talking into her radio: "Mayor Addams's daughter is going inside the building."
Immediately, there was a flurry of yells and questions from the front line of the crowd, most of which, Antonia noticed now, were reporters and journalists. The gist of the questions was, "Why is she allowed inside when there have been reports that the building is haunted?"
But none of the cops answered the questions. Instead, they lifted the barrier and let Antonia duck under it. She ran as fast as she could up the stairs, hiding her face with her hands. She didn't want any photos of her in the newspapers; there had been far too many of those already.
When she got inside, she heard a clanking sound, and then a body fell from the ceiling and hit the ground in front of her. She almost screamed, but when she heard the low beeping and saw the person's face, she did practically the opposite: she burst out laughing.
"Nice entrance," she snorted.
Valerie frowned up at her. "How'd you get in here?"
"Through the front door," Antonia replied amusedly. "I'm the mayor's daughter; they let me straight through. I'm sure they'd have let a plus one through as well."
"Oh, well." Valerie shrugged and got to her feet, rubbing her hip with one hand and holding the sensor aloft with the other. "Could've been a softer landing, but honestly, that was fun."
"Fun?" Antonia raised her eyebrow in disbelief, but the noise coming from the sensor abruptly got noticeably higher.
"Now we're up to about four or five ghosts," Valerie said, fiddling with the buttons on the sensor. "Want that thermodetector back?"
"May as well, since I'm in here."
Valerie passed the device to her. She looked down at it and searched for a power button. "How does it work?"
Valerie showed her the power button, which switched on the display. She unhooked a small device from the side that looked like a camera on top of a stick, which was attached to the main part with a wire.
"Aim the camera at me," she instructed.
Antonia did so, and was surprised to see an orange and yellow image of Valerie's outline appear on the screen.
"That's a thermal image," Valerie explained. "White is fire hot; red, orange, and yellow are warmer, like the body temperature of a human; blue and purple are cold, like a fridge or just below; and black is completely cold, no heat at all."
"Got it." Antonia nodded. "I think. So why is this useful?"
"Ghosts will always show up black," Valerie replied. "Nothing else will, not even a freezer. Nothing else in this country, anyway. Even ice would probably be around a dark blue-ish. If you see anything black, tell me straight away. Oh, and," she added, pressing another button on the side of the device, "don't press that button again. Now it's recording the screen, so we can look back at the tape later."
Antonia exhaled slowly, puffing her cheeks out as she did. "This is a LOT of information. And now I'm scared on top of everything else. What if there are more ghosts here than we can handle?"
Valerie shrugged, a mischievous grin on her face, as she began to walk away. "Maybe we'll find out."
Grimacing and half-wishing she had just gone back to her newspaper round, Antonia followed her towards the ghosts.