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Excerpt for The Depot, Book 2 in Haunted Depot: The Ghost Curse by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Depot
Book 2 in Haunted Depot: The Ghost Curse



Kristy K. James
(originally as J.J. Belding)





Copyright © 2017 Kristy K. James (aka J.J. Belding)

All rights reserved.





I would like to dedicate this book to Kathie who, once again, has spent countless hours helping me to make another story the best it can be.





Dear Friend,

Consider this your welcome to Hemisphere. You might think your presence here is an accident. Maybe you believe you just stumbled onto our website, liked what you saw, and decided to check us out. Or that you simply found yourself here while on a leisurely drive.

Well, you'd be wrong.

It was fate.

Yes, you're here because fate led you here. Because you are meant to be here. Why? That remains to be seen. Maybe you'll wind up calling Hemisphere your home. Maybe we're just a stop in the road on your way to somewhere else. Maybe you'll remember your time with us. Most do not.

One thing is for sure though, you’ll never find another place like Hemisphere. It's one-of-a-kind.

Hemisphere is a unique location, steeped in mysticism. All are welcome within our boundaries. We'd like to tell you there's a simple explanation for the things you may see or experience during your stay. A little theatrical drama, if you will. But it wouldn't be true. Here in Hemisphere, the things that go bump in the night are very real.

If you decide to stay past sundown, we encourage you to read the Visitors Orientation Packet. The warning about "calamity or death by misadventure?" It's not a joke.

It would behoove you to follow the advice inside. We also suggest traveling in groups, or hiring a local “guide” to show you around our beautiful town.

Common sense should tell you to use caution when hiking in any unfamiliar area. The forests and cliffs surrounding Hemisphere are beautiful. They are also home to a variety of wild creatures found nowhere else on earth. Don’t be caught unaware. It should go without saying – stay out of the woods and off the cliffs after dark.

Again, welcome to Hemisphere. Fate has led you to our area. What happens next is up to you. Choose wisely.















Chapter 1

The first thing that went through Kate Proctor's sleep-fogged mind was that this was the first time she'd woken up in this room and didn't smell coffee. Or bacon. Or something that meant someone she loved was up and around and stirring about in the kitchen. Stirring about and waiting for her to come down.

No one would ever be waiting for her again. Not here.

The second thing that went through her mind was that she'd signed a two year contract for the phone that was currently beeping loudly on the night stand. A contract that was costing her more than fifty dollars a month – just for the phone. And she would continue to be billed for it for the next year and a half – whether she threw it against the wall or not.

Sighing, she grabbed it anyway but instead of smashing it to a million bits, she slid the option that would allow her to snooze for another five minutes. And then she closed her eyes, willing herself to doze back off.

She wasn't ready to get up yet. She didn't want to deal with the responsibilities that awaited her once she was dressed and ready for the day.

Except she never dozed back off. She always set the alarm to go off precisely when she wanted to get up. Except today. She didn't want to start going through her grandparent's things. She didn't want to pay a visit to the police station. And she didn't want to start making decisions she couldn't undo. Like visiting the depot and trying to figure out whether she was finally ready to sell it or not.

She was ninety-nine percent certain she would sell it. But it was that teeny, tiny little one percent that had kept her tossing and turning most of the night. It was her grandfather's favorite place in the whole world and there were so many special memories she associated with it. Memories marred by the fact that he was murdered there but still, most were good.

Another sigh and she was flinging back the quilt Grandma Clara had made for her fifteenth birthday. Back then, Kate hadn't appreciated the patience, love, and time that had gone in to creating such a beautiful masterpiece. She did now though and as she pushed herself to a sitting position, she ran a finger over the even rows of perfect stitches.

She'd have to take it home with her this time. Because if she did what she'd come here to do, she wouldn't be returning to Hemisphere again. The thought made her heart ache and so she shoved it to a hidden corner of her mind. It would have to stay there until she was ready to deal with it.

"You've only got two weeks so you'd better be ready soon," she reminded herself, swinging her legs over the edge of the mattress and sliding her feet into the warm, fuzzy bunny slippers waiting for her. It shouldn't have surprised her to find them sitting on the foot of her bed, washed and closed safely in a clear plastic shoe box. Grandpa would have been the last one to handle them after she'd gone home last Thanksgiving.

She swallowed the lump that formed in her throat, blinked back tears that filled her eyes, and padded off to the bathroom down the hall.

Someone had thoughtfully covered all of the furniture with sheets and tarps following Merle Proctor's funeral. She hadn't thought about it at the time and was grateful someone else had. Now she only had to deal with the sinks and countertops, both in the bathroom and the kitchen. They were covered with more than nine months' worth of dust.

She added a thorough cleaning to a rapidly growing mental list. It was getting long enough, she knew she'd have to make a list on her phone. There wasn't enough time to risk forgetting anything.

After she dressed, Kate made a pot of coffee, pouring a cup to drink at the house, then filling a thermos to carry with her in the car as she set about trying to deal with things she couldn't ignore anymore.

First on today's agenda was a trip to the Hemisphere Police Department. But the thought of demanding answers as to why Merle's killer hadn't been found yet quickly moved that chore down a spot on her to-do list. Maybe she'd swing by Big Ed's. She hadn't been there since she'd come back for the funeral. This might be her last chance to have one of the best breakfasts she'd ever eat.


***


"Hey, sweetheart," Gloria, a slender woman with short, graying hair said softly, wrapping strong arms around her in a tight hug. "We weren't sure we'd ever see you around here after the funeral."

"I wasn't sure you would either," Kate whispered, blinking back tears that filled her eyes again.

Even as she said the words though, she knew they were a lie. No matter how much it hurt to come back, she'd always known she would. That she had to. As the sole beneficiary, she had an obligation to deal with her grandparents estate, ordinary as it was. Besides, there were some special things she'd never entrust to the care of strangers.

"You want the usual?" Gloria asked, clearing her throat, then linking arms with Kate and leading her to her stool at the counter.

"What else would I get?" she asked, hoping she managed to sound at least a little cheerful even though it was hard to talk past the lump in her throat. As she sat down, Big Ed looked up, smiled sadly, and winked at her.

"She's having the usual," Gloria told him, pouring Kate a cup of coffee.

"I know. I started it as soon as I saw her walk through the door."

He smiled again and lifted a partially cooked piece of french toast. There would be two more on the grill too, along with three slices of bacon. When it was finished, he'd top the toast with fresh, real butter, and a thick sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Her grandpa had introduced her to the delicious combination when she'd been a girl and she'd fallen in love with it after the first bite. Try as she might though, she'd never been able to replicate the exact taste, not in the kitchen at her apartment and certainly not at the restaurant she managed.

"Mind if I join you?" Ed asked, nodding at an empty stool beside her. "Things have slowed down and I could do with a break."

"Be my guest," Kate said, glad for the company. He'd always been one of her favorite people though when he set his soft brown eyes on her, like he was doing now, she'd have sworn he could see things no one else had ever seen.

"Are you holding up okay?" he finally asked when she was about half finished with the food. It wasn't unusual for him to just sit quietly with the object of his attention. It also wasn't uncommon for him to talk their ear off. Usually, he managed to hit a happy medium.

Today, she wished he'd just stayed quiet because she wasn't sure how to answer him. If he were anyone else, she'd have just told him what he wanted to hear. That she was okay. That she'd moved on and remembered Merle and Cora with fondness but life was fine. Except it wasn't and she knew if she tried to get away with telling him that, he'd just level her with the look and ask again. So she told him the truth.

"I miss him," she whispered, not meeting his eyes. "I miss them both."

"So do I, Katie, so do I" he said sadly, laying an open hand, palm up on the counter.

When she laid hers on top, his dark fingers closed around hers and she was struck by how pale her skin was. Of course, she hadn't been outside much this year. All she'd done was work and go home so she hadn't been exposed too much sun.

"Why would anyone want to hurt him?" she asked, resting her head against his shoulder. "He never harmed anyone in his life."

"I know. I've asked myself the same question a thousand times. Your grandfather was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I've ever known. And if I find his killer before the police do…"

He didn't finish the thought but Kate knew what he'd been going to say. She'd probably said the same thing, or something very much like it, many times herself. Each time she'd phoned the police to see if there were any new leads and each person she asked always said no.


***


"I wish I could tell you that we had more, Ms. Proctor," Sergeant Daniel Corgan was saying as he walked her to the main door. "But there were no witnesses, no fingerprints, no murder weapon. Not even a foot or tire print to give us a clue."

"Maybe you missed something?"

Even as she asked the question, she knew it was a waste of time. The officer seemed very competent. She didn't think he'd have overlooked anything. It was just so hard to accept that whoever had killed her grandfather was going to get away with it. That someone could take the life of that sweet, generous man and walk away without so much as a slap on the wrist, much less the life in prison – or death penalty – he deserved was wrong. So very wrong.

"I'm sorry. I wish I had better news. Believe me, no one would like to solve this case more than me." He sounded sincere. When Kate glanced at him, she could see he was almost as frustrated as she was. "I haven't been here long but I did meet your grandfather a few times. He was a nice man. He didn't deserve this."

"Thank you. I appreciate you saying it."

"I'm not just saying it."

"I know. I – uh – guess I should get going. I wanted to stop by the depot. Have a look around. And then I should pick up a few groceries."

Eating in the local restaurants brought back wonderful memories but it wouldn't take long for her to start putting on extra pounds if she didn't start preparing her own meals. Of course, if she wanted to be honest with herself, she'd admit that the more time she spent with people she'd come to care about through the years, the harder it would be to say goodbye forever.

"You … visited here often when you were a kid?" For the first time, Daniel Corgan seemed a bit uncomfortable.

"Yes. Every summer and most holidays. Why?"

"You know it's … a good idea to be in before dark?"

"Yes. I know."

"All right then. If I can be of further assistance, you know where I am."

With that, he held the door open and Kate headed out into the chilly gray drizzle that had been falling since the night before.

Hemisphere was a strange town, she thought, unlocking the door of her silver Mazda. She'd never seen anything happen, or heard anything specific that might happen, but her grandparents had been adamant about staying safely locked in the house between the hours of dusk and dawn. And since they'd seemed genuinely concerned, she'd always made a point to do so. Just in case, it was a habit she didn't intend to start breaking now.

Not quite ready to face the next item on her list, Kate made a right on Oak Street and headed for Stoller's Point. In under two minutes, she'd pulled to a stop alongside the overlook, grabbed her umbrella from the backseat, and was standing next to the balustrade beside the cliffs and water in Stoller's Channel and Sleeping Bear Harbor.

Her grandparents had brought her here often. It had been one of her favorite places. Today, it just brought to mind more bittersweet memories. She didn't have any bread to feed the gulls that screeched and circled overhead. When they figured out they were wasting their time with her, they headed back out to the beach, searching the whitecaps for their lunch.

The lightweight fall jacket she'd grabbed on the way out of the house wasn't heavy enough to protect her from the bitter wind blowing across the water. She wouldn't be able to stay long but since she'd likely never set eyes on this place again, she wanted to see it one last time.

Just the thought of never coming back was breaking her heart but there was nothing here for her anymore. Sure, there were a handful of acquaintances who could turn into friendships if she had more time but they weren't enough to keep drawing her back. Not like Grandma and Grandpa had been. Without them here, what was the point?

With more determination than she'd felt since crawling out of bed a few hours ago, Kate headed back to the car. It was time.


***


Her grandpa had only ever referred to it as 'The Depot' but it was so much more than that. Sure, the huge main building was still there, still covered in half a century's worth of dust. Spooky cobwebs still hung from the corners and rafters, casting eerie shadows against the wall when the sun hit the skylight just right.

An ancient thirteen room hotel sat just to its southwest, along with three broken down sheds that were scattered around the grounds. A ramshackle overhang housing an eighty year old, broken down steam engine, box car, and passenger car sat beside the long unused tracks.

So technically, it was a bit more than a depot, covering a full city block. It was located at the southernmost edge of town, near the intersection of Old Stoney Point Road and County Road 13.

There were mature trees here and there, along with knee high weeds, cracked and broken pavement. And sometimes frightening shadows.

Today, a man in a suit was also there, standing several yards away from a bright red sports car. Kate parked on the other side of the lot and pulled a can of pepper spray and a small jackknife from her purse before getting out. She pocketed the knife but kept the spray in her right hand and her cell phone in her left.

"You're trespassing," she called out, holding the can out when he made to approach her. "Don't come any closer."

"Oh, hey!" he said, coming to an abrupt halt and holding his hands out in a gesture of peace. "I'm sorry. I've been coming here for years. Merle Proctor, the last owner, knew and was okay with it. He knew I was a lover of history."

"Well, I'm the new owner and I'm not comfortable with you being here." She knew she sounded rude but between being nervous about his presence and the fact that this was her and her grandfather's special place, she wanted him gone.

"Kate Proctor?" he asked, taking a step backward when she raised the can at face level. "Wait! You have to remember me. Brad Jones? You know, 'Jones'ing for a new home? Give me a call at Jones Realty?' I've been sending you letters for the past few months because I have a client who's interested in buying the property. That Brad Jones?"

The top of the Brad Jones Realty stationary had both the cheesy jingle and a head shot of his perfectly chiseled, handsome face. Still, she just wanted to be left alone. She wanted to remember when life was better. When there were two people who truly loved and wanted her. Two people who were gone now, leaving her pretty much alone in the world.

"Look, Mr. Jones. I'm sorry. I've got a lot on my mind right now. I haven't even decided whether I want to sell or not. So please, just leave. I'd really like some time to think."

"I understand. If you do decided to sell though, the buyer is ready to sign the contract without delay," he said after an uncomfortable silence. For a moment, she thought he might have something to add but all he did was smile, offer a quick wave, then he climbed into his car and drove away. She didn't relax her stance until he was well out of sight.

She started to wonder how he knew she was here but then shook her head. It was Hemisphere. Her grandparents had lived here all their lives and school vacations and summers, she'd spent a third of her life here as well. Anyone she'd seen this morning could have mentioned she was in town.

Wandering around the grounds, she kept her hand wrapped firmly around the pepper spray. Maybe it was the overcast day, or that the nearest building with people in it was a block and a half down the road, but she was just the tiniest bit creeped out. Still, there was the feeling that she'd come home and she spent a little time peering in windows that had long since had the glass broken out by vandals.

The stories Grandpa had spun as they'd sat inside on sunny days, sipping sodas and munching on candy bars brought a sad smile to her face. He'd made the depot seem exciting, talking about the old days when it had been bustling with activity. Trains chugging through town twice a day. Passengers getting off because they'd reached their destination, or just to have a soda or ice cream at the counter in the far corner.

He'd paint a word picture so vivid, she could see it all unfolding around her. The dirt, the shadows, the gloom, all of it disappeared as men, women, and children – all dressed in colorful period clothing milled about the pristine white tile floor. She could almost smell the popcorn a vendor in the corner sold in red and white bags and hear the clink of spoons against the glass sundae dishes.

But Grandpa wasn't here anymore and the visions she'd been enjoying disappeared as abruptly as they'd come. Wiping away a tear that was sliding down her cheek, Kate turned and headed back to her car.

She had one more stop to make before heading back to the house. She'd come back here tomorrow. It was supposed to be clear and sunny. Maybe then, she'd be able to figure out what she wanted to do with everything. In the back of her mind though, she knew there was only one thing to do. She just didn't want to actually make that decision.


***


The grass was wet from the drizzle so Kate just knelt beside the double width headstone. She traced the letters of their names with one finger. Merle Thomas Proctor and Clara Marie Proctor.

"I miss you both so much," she whispered, afraid if she spoke out loud, she might start to cry. "I don't have anyone anymore. After Mom and Dad found out you left everything to me, well, they won't even call to ask for money anymore. Not that I'd been giving them any for the past few years."

No, her co-workers finally made her see that she was just enabling them and she had just stopped one day. Still, they came around near holidays and their birthdays in hopes she'd change her mind. She never did but they never gave up hope that she would.

"Dad was so sure you'd give it all to them. I mean, it's not like it's a big loss or anything but at least I could say I had some sort of family left. Now I don't even have them. When he found out all you left him was that box of books… He was furious. Said he didn't want any 'stupid old books' and if I didn't give them half of the inheritance, I was dead to them."

They'd never been big on the whole parenting thing. Sometimes though, they'd pretend. When they wanted something. Money, usually, so they could buy more pot or beer. That's all they really cared about. That and partying.

Never her though. She hadn't heard from them since that day. Sometimes, it hurt so bad she wanted to cry. Other times, she had to smile. Within the pages of the books, her grandparents had hidden ten-thousand dollars.

"I don't know what to do, Grandpa. I've made a life for myself. I've got a good job, a nice apartment." An apartment that never really felt like home, a quiet part of her brain whispered. "What am I supposed to do? Give it all up and move to this weird little town? A place where you both acted like there were things that went bump in the night?"


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