Chapter 1 – Here on Earth
Charles and Sharron Hawkins
Sharron and Charles Hawkins are lying face-to-face, asleep in their comfy bed. The alarm clock goes off at 7:00 a.m. They wake at the same time. Sharron takes off her sleeping mask. Through heavy eyes, they stare at each other without saying anything. Their eyes then get wide as they both say at the same time, "We're late!"
A few minutes later, Sharron is all dressed and getting her shoes on while balancing herself against her bureau. She is thin, but not too skinny, has slightly graying red hair and is moderately attractive.
"I can't believe that we're late for our first vacation in years," she says to her husband, Charles.
Charles, a retired forty-seven-year-old real estate agent, had made great money until the market bottomed out a few years back. Although he mostly stayed in New York City, where he grew his business, he always wanted his children to grow up in his hometown of Cold Creek, New Hampshire. He would work long hours, staying in the city for sometimes days on end without seeing his kids.
Due to a few nervous breakdowns, Charles, a workaholic with a keen greed for money, had to force himself into retirement. After retirement, he now completely resides in Cold Creek as the city life doesn't help his shot nerves. He's plump, but not too overweight, looks kind and nice, but is nervous most of the time.
"Do you think Sam will be all right taking care of Luke?" he asks with concern.
Sharron wryly replies, "Yeah, right. By the time we get back she probably will have gagged him, put him in a straitjacket and stashed him in the closet."
Charles thinks for a moment about that one. He then nods, shrugs and says, "Well, at least they'll be spending some quality time together."
Sharron leaves the room, goes down a hallway and knocks on the doorframe of her son's room. His door is already opened. The first thing anyone would see is his room is flooded with posters of his favorite metal bands and scantily clad, gothic women. She walks over next to Luke's bed, who is lying on his stomach with his mouth wide open and snoring louder than any other eighteen-year-old ever could. No blankets over him either, as if he just flopped down on the bed, and passed out the previous night. She can also see he's wearing the same clothes from the day before yesterday.
"Luke, you've got to get up and get ready to leave. We're running late." She speaks as sweet as she can, but Luke brushes her off with a swipe of his hand.
She grimaces with agitation and says, "Luke!" Luke grunts and rolls over, turning his back to her. Angry now, she bends down and screams right into his ear, "Get your butt moving!"
Luke turns his head. In a sleepy daze, he says, "I was just having the most wonderful dream, Mom. I was being chased by a savage lion."
"What?" She says with agitation, not wanting to take any of Luke's weird taste of sarcasm already because they'll probably have to deal with it for the long ride. "That's your version of a 'wonderful dream'?"
"Oh, the lion was terrifying, but you and Dad weren't in it." Luke puts on the fakest wide mouth grin he can and flops back down on his pillow.
"Luke, we need to leave. Besides, you'll get to know your older sister a little better. Wouldn't that be nice? She's as weird as you are, so it should be a blast!"
"Yeah. One that even when she did live here, I barely ever saw her and when I did, let's just say I felt better when she was gone."
"Well, too bad. You're staying with her for a week."
"Mother, I'm eighteen years old. I'm not a serial killer like you and Dad think I am. I'm just socially awkward and a lot of women say that's adorable. It's one of my many positives. Don't worry, I'll be fine."
"You have positives that I was unaware of? Let me give you a list of your negatives: you're eighteen and still live at home."
"What can I say? Your love keeps me home," he says with sarcasm.
"You don't have a job."
"Dad doesn't either and he's almost fifty. Why don't you get on his back?"
"I call it telling harsh truths."
"Luke, you're a harsh truth."
"Ooh, good comeback. Was that the one that was supposed to open my eyes? It almost did. Almost."
"Get in the shower and get ready. I already have your stuff packed, because I know you're too lazy to do it yourself."
Luke sits up. "Fine. But only because you asked so nicely."
He walks to his bathroom without saying another word. Sharron then leaves the room with a grunt of satisfaction. Once she's gone, Luke slinks into the bedroom and falls back on the bed.
Sharron returns to her room to find Charles in the bathroom, brushing his teeth with his finger. She looks at him in disgust. "Oh, come on, Charles. Use a toothbrush!"
"I can't find it!" he says with a mouth full of toothpaste.
She rolls her eyes, reaches into Charles' personal traveling bag and pulls a plastic bag out with his toothbrush in it. She throws it at him. He barely catches it.
"What's got your panties in a knot?" he says, going to the bathroom to spit out the toothpaste.
"Luke. He's so unmotivated and he's driving me crazy with his music, his laziness, his constant sleeping, video gaming, and …"
Charles finishes for her, "Just existing?"
She snaps her fingers. "Yes, that's it!"
As she leaves the room, Charles says, "Don't worry about it, honey. While we're on our vacation, I'm sure we'll miss him ... a little."
She sighs. "We better be gone for more than a week then."
All Luke knows about his older sister, Samantha, is what he's heard from his parents. "She's odd," they constantly say. Luke has no fond memories of Sam. He was only nine when she left home and before that she kept herself isolated in her room.
Before Luke was born, Samantha lived a happy, normal life, until tragedy struck when she was six years old. That was when her biological mother died. The dimpled, light-hearted, tow-headed child turned into a dark figure of her former self.
Since those days of turmoil, she hasn't been the same. As soon as she finished high school, she went to college, seeking a degree in journalism. She then moved to New York City where she now resides.
She lies on her bed with her arms spread apart. Her skin is pale, her views on life are pretty black in most areas, and she nearly despises the sun.
Her phone rings. Still lying with her eyes closed, she picks it up. "City morgue," she says with a mundane tone.
Sharron is on the other line. "Ha-ha, Sam. You ready?"
"Oh, let's see, maybe the Grim Reaper, because you act like you are a part of the Night of the Living Dead all the time. Don't act stupid with me. You know what I'm talking about."
"What Sharron?" She has never called her stepmom, Mom.
"Good God woman, has that ghost hunting business made you loopy? Your little brother that you haven't seen in a very long time is coming over for a visit. Does the name Luke ring a bell?"
Sam lies back with the phone away from her ear as she lets out a huge sigh. She puts the phone back up to her ear. "Yes, now that you mention it, I do remember. But unfortunately, I made other commitments." She actually doesn't. She doesn't want to deal with Sharon or anyone. Sam prefers to be alone.
"Like what?" Sharron snaps. "Stay in the darkness and drown yourself in self-pity? Be all dark and depressed like you've been for the past, hmmm, twenty-seven years?"
Sam sighs. She thinks to herself, 'Why did Sharron and Dad have to ask me to take care of him? How old was he now anyway? He had to be at least twelve ... or whatever. Who cares?'
"No, actually. I was happy until I was six and then I met you," she retorts back to her stepmother.
"With an attitude like that, you and Luke will get along just fine. Samantha, we don't see eye to eye, that much is clear, but how about doing it for your father? At least be nice to him."
Sharron assures her, "You won't even have to really watch him. Luke will just play a video game and sleep all day. You know about your father's recent episode, which is your brother's fault. Let him have his time alone with me. Let him clear the clutter in his head for just a week."
"Okay, as much as it kills me to say this—"
Sharron interrupts, "Killed? I thought with the way you acted, you were already dead."
Sam rolls her eyes. "You get your own way. I'll let him stay."
Hanging up, Sam took a deep breath. Soon she would have to face the stepmother from Hell and her servant named "You," the only way she addressed Charles.
After Sharron hangs up the phone with Sam, she goes back to her room and finds Charles in the most stereotypical vacation clothes ever. A hat that proudly signifies that he is a tourist; a camera hanging from his neck that is probably twenty years old and the film hasn't been in circulation for years; a button up shirt with a design of a beach with a setting sun in the background; a fanny pack; shorts with too many pockets, even for a vacation; and he's wearing sandals … with socks on.
He spreads out his arms, "Florida! Here we come!"
Sharron has a smug look on her face. She then calms herself, takes a deep breath and says, "Charles Hawkins. I love you. I always will."
"But you don't like the clothes?"
Sharron puts up her finger to tell him to wait a moment. "The clothes are fine … if you don't mind a searing hot flame to burn them into ashes because that's exactly what's going to happen if you don't take that ridiculous outfit off."
He walks to the bathroom, but before he enters he asks, "Can I keep the fanny pack?"
She points sternly to the bathroom. He closes the door. "And hurry it up. I want to be out of here in five minutes!"
They left in about twenty, because Sharron found Luke back in bed, and it took him a little more coaxing to finally get into the shower. They packed up the trunk of Charles' SUV and left the small, quiet town of Cold Creek for the busy, alive New York City.
A few hours later, they arrive outside at Sam's apartment building. They park, Charles retrieves Luke's bag from the back and shoves it into him.
"Charles," Sharron begins, "You better have those tickets ready to board the flight. We have absolutely no time for your short attention span when we get there."
"Yes, honey. In no time, we will be soaking up those warm rays."
As they walk to Sam's door, Luke asks his parents, "When's the last time you guys saw Sam?"
Sharron is ahead of them, speed walking. She answers, "Not too long ago. What's it been, Charles? Six months?"
Charles corrects her. "Six years and we only stayed for a few minutes."
"Wow. Has it been that long?" Sharron says with really no surprise in her voice.
Luke says to his father, "Now, Dad. I know I'm the black sheep of the family, but compared to me, Sam is like the ultra-black sheep. Even though she's definitely weirder than me, six years without seeing your daughter is a little long, don't you think?"
"When did you become a parent?"
"I'm just saying."
Charles sighs. "No. You're right. I mean, we'll see her for ten minutes right now and maybe a little more when we come to pick you up."
"Nope," Sharron says reaching Sam's door. "Make it three."
"Three? Sharron, she's our daughter."
"Your daughter, Charles. That girl has never given me any respect and I raised her since she was a child." She looks at Luke, "Kind of reminds me of someone whom of which is my actual child."
"Mom, you're not exactly a peach yourself. I mean, you have your days … or day is it? I think you held me once at the hospital when I was born. That's a sign of love, right?"
Sharron throws her arms up in the air in frustration. "That's exactly what I mean."
"Show some respect for your mother, Luke," Charles says.
"I'm just kidding … kind of."
Sharron is getting impatient as she pounds on the door. "Wake up, Sam! Mommy's here!"
"I wonder if she's still into that gothic stuff?" Charles asks.
Sharron shrugs. "With Sam, it's a mystery. She can drink lamb's blood for all I care. As long as we get him out of our hair." Luke gives her a bland look and looks away as if he expected her to say something like that. "Oh, you know mommy loves you. There. Is that love?"
"Careful, I don't want to suffer an affection overload," Luke says.
Sharron looks around the shabby industrial neighborhood.
"Whatever gave you the idea that apartments would work here when you bought this old warehouse?" She snipes at Charles.
"It has actually been profitable," Charles says through gritted teeth. "And it made it possible for me to give Sam the apartment complex, so if her journalist career doesn't pan out, she at least has something to fall back on."
"You spoil her," Sharron muttered.
"Not really. I'm part owner."
"Whatever. I still wouldn't want to live in one of these big old drafty places anyway. You could park a car in her living room."
As the door opens, Sharron and Charles plaster on their best plastic smiles. Luke turns his head in embarrassment. Sam stands there, dressed in a Lacuna Coil t-shirt - a metal band she likes, and loose, black sweat pants.
"Why hello there, Count Dracula. Do you remember your brother?" Sharron asks.
Sam looks at Luke really quick, back to her parents, and shakes her head. Sharron and Charles look at each other with resignation, and then they look back at Sam. Their smiles fade.
"Just get to know one another. Okay?" Sharron pushes Luke inside.
Charles puts a hand on Luke's shoulder. "Luke, we'll call and let you know when we get there."
Luke looks up at the ceiling as if in divine supplication. "Please crash onto a deserted island."
Sharron, clearly ready to go, claps her hands gently and says, "Hope you guys have fun. Sorry, we can't chat, but we got to go."
Charles says to Sam, "We'll try to chat more when we pick up Luke."
He turns, seeing Sharron speed walking to the car. "Hold on, Sharron." He runs after her. "Don't you dare get in the driver's seat! You'll kill us!"
Charles and Sharron get in the car and drive away speedily.
Sam walks into the living room. "Close the door behind you."
Luke walks in and does what he was asked. Sam flops down onto a black leather recliner. Dreadfully tired, she closes her eyes. Luke sits down on the matching black leather couch.
"So," Luke says, feeling awkward, "you're my sister?"
Sam doesn't open her eyes but does give him a response. "Wow. What a brilliant ice breaker."
"Sorry. Just a question."
She barely opens her eyes and speaks while looking up at the ceiling. "Do you have another? Maybe you'd like to know if money grows on trees, or if the White House is really white, or—"
"I get it," Luke interrupts, obviously frustrated. This will probably be the worst week of his life. "Sorry."
"I'm just waiting for, 'How are babies made? Do they really come from a stork?'" Sam chuckles irritatingly while shaking her head. She is really annoyed by her parent's decision.
Luke smirks. "Nah, I'm all set on that. I do have the internet."
"Okay, we didn't have to cross that boundary on our first meeting … or ever, actually."
After a few seconds of silence, Luke says, "I got a question."
She looks over at Luke through squinted eyelids. "What?"
"You got anything to do here? Video games? Movies? I mean, by the looks of it, I'm at Tim Burton's vacation house." He looks around at the dark decor and then back at her.
"You know what you could do?"
She leans toward him and says with a calm, cold tone, "Keep your distance from me or you'll find yourself a head minus a body the next morning. Got it? I haven't had a good week and I am truly sorry that Sharron and Dad have forcibly left me to babysit a teenager. But keep your distance and you won't get hurt." She smiles sardonically. "Okay?"
"K," Luke stammers. He wouldn't be so intimidated if she hadn't said all that with such contempt.
Before long, Sam fell asleep ... or so Luke hopes. He sits back on the couch as he looks over to the glass coffee table and picks up a random magazine. The magazine is titled Para-X Magazine. He looks at the cover, seeing the enticing stories that this issue offers. He flips through the pages, getting to the index, and eagerly reads the descriptions of each article. His eyes freeze on one that intrigues him. Real Ghost Photos, see page 29. Luke flips to the page, taking an immediate interest in it.
He sees pictures of real ghosts, or what the magazine is calling real ghosts at least. After that, he checks out the multiple articles on various paranormal subjects: Electronic Voice Phenomena, Electromagnetic Fields and Their Effect on the Spiritual Realm, just to name the two that makes Luke pretty excited for finding this magazine. He then looks at the bottom of the last page to see that the photographer and writer for a few of the pictures and articles is by Sam Hawkins - his sister.
He looks around the room and sees other pictures she took and articles she wrote hung up all over the walls in nice frames. All of them are on spirits. One catches his attention out of them all. It's a picture of a human translucent figure standing on the staircase at Luke's house. There is a sticky note at the corner that says, "Mom?" Next to the Sam's spirit photo, is a photo of a woman Luke has never seen, but she looks remarkably like Sam.
Luke thinks, 'Must be Sam's mom.'
He's never seen any pictures of Sam's mother, mostly because Sharron doesn't allow Charles to keep any photos of her on display. Once, when Luke was little, he saw Charles looking at a photo album while crying. Sharron walked into the room and told Charles that he needs to let go. He can't live in the past without it killing him on the inside. That she's here for Charles now. Aside from his mother's normal attitude, which is bitchy, to say the least, Luke has never heard his mother be as soothing as she was that night.
He hears a noise in back of him that makes him turn and realizes it was only Sam moving in her chair. She's still asleep. Luke still has the magazine in his hand and gazes at it. He's pretty amazed that his sister is into the paranormal and that it's her profession. He puts the magazine back and studies Sam's work on the wall with obvious interest. Sam picks up her head and watches. Smiling to herself, she gets up and walks behind Luke.
"Well, looks to me that we both, at least, have some interest in the same things. I took those pictures. You like them?"
He turns to her and smiles. "They're great! I love this stuff, but how did you get them?"
"I'm a paranormal investigator who writes articles for various magazines. My main one I was with for a few years was Para-X Magazine."
"I saw. I've heard of them. They're like one of the biggest magazines around for the paranormal."
"Yeah. Wait. Sharron and Dad never told you that?"
Luke shakes his head. "No. We're not always on speaking terms. If you want to put it that way."
She is sad. She sent them her articles. Did they ever read them? Then again, knowing them, they probably never bothered.
"Got any more?" Luke asks.
Sam is pleasantly surprised at his interest. "Sure. I have some more upstairs."
"Maybe this won't be as boring as I thought it would be."
"Luke?" A question has been particularly bothering her. He has to be older than she originally thought.
"How old are you?"
"You're eighteen and you need a babysitter?"
"Yeah, I didn't quite get that either. Mom and Dad think I'm some sort of a psycho, I guess. I got no friends and I kind of scare people away."
"I understand that. I mean, I live in New York City and I've barely ever left my apartment. But why do they think you're a psycho?"
"Well, aside from being a social outcast, an introvert, a fan of reading up on serial killers, and having a fascination in mental hospitals …"
Sam interrupts him. "Luke, that kind of stuff doesn't make you a psycho."
"This one time, I lit the staircase on fire."
"Really? How old were you then?"
"It was about two weeks ago."
"Oh." Even though she would never light a staircase on fire, she understands the impulse. Maybe he's doing it for attention and knowing their parents, that's not an easy task.
"I can be your friend, Luke."
"But you're my sister."
"So?" She punches Luke across the shoulder jokingly. Luke grins as they go upstairs to look at more of her work.