71. Strategy & Schedule
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Me and Nina spent the rest of the day Sunday just hanging out together. We played video games and ate some junk food and mostly just took it easy. Which meant homework got ignored and assignments weren't done, but we both needed the break after the heavy emotions and stuff.

It was nice though, having a quiet day together for just the two of us. And we both agreed to keep the painful stuff between us. Neither of us wanted to burden our parents or any of our friends with all that heavy stuff.

There was some activity on the group chat through the day but the two of us ignored it. Mostly it was Kaylee posting Sunday morning about everything we learned at the restaurant Saturday night, so Brooke and Paige would know what we'd found out.

And later Sunday evening Paige posted an update, explaining that she and Brooke visited the tea shop in the afternoon. "We tried to talk to Mrs. Holmes about it, she was one of the ladies working there while we visited. She denied there was anything ghostly or supernatural happening, no unexplained phenomena. She acted kind of suspicious though? I think maybe they've had some stuff happen there and they've decided to keep quiet about it."

Brooke added, "It's not uncommon. Some folks won't talk about those experiences because they're scared of being judged, they think people will call them crazy? The other reason is shop owners might be worried of scaring away their customers. People might not want to visit the funky little tea room if word got out it was haunted."

Our former leader continued, "That was the vibe I got from her anyways. There were other folks there having tea & sandwiches when we were there, I think Mrs. Holmes was more concerned with people overhearing us talking about 'nonsense' like that."

That was it for the club chat on Sunday, and Monday morning started out like any other boring school day.

Nina and I walked to school together, Kaylee joined us, then the three of us parted ways again once we got there. I had to deal with a couple 'disappointed' teachers since I hadn't finished my homework, but fortunately they didn't get too upset with me.

I was pretty sure all the teachers had it in their heads that I had 'problems' and while they hadn't exactly given up on me, I got the feeling they weren't going to make a fuss if I didn't get stuff done on time. Or at all. Which was nice that they didn't yell at me, but I had a feeling they'd still flunk me at the end of the year if I didn't deliver the assignments. And I'd still need to study for the exams and stuff.

At lunch I spotted the others all sitting together by the time I wandered into the cafeteria, and both Kaylee and Nina waved me over to join them. As usual I ended up between my sister and the cute redhead, while Paige Melanie and Cerys sat across from us.

As I got my sandwich and a bottle of water out of my backpack I noticed something was up with Cerys. Friday she was all excited and eager, Saturday at the restaurant she was happy and active, but today she seemed kind of anxious and withdrawn. Her face looked a little pale too, like maybe she was starting to come down with something.

I was about to ask, when I remembered we were less than forty-eight hours away from the full moon. I wasn't sure if she was just nervous about what was coming, or if this was a side-effect of being bitten or whatever. Either way though, she didn't seem so happy anymore. I was worried for her, but I didn't want to say anything incase that upset her.

Nobody else mentioned it either, instead the conversation was all about the haunting we were investigating. Kaylee and Melanie talked about our dinner at the restaurant Saturday night, then Paige told us a little more about her and Brooke's visit to the tea place Sunday afternoon.

"If they really are having similar experiences at the tea shop that probably rules out our poltergeist theory," Kaylee said with a frown.

Melanie asked, "How so?"

"I don't actually know much about these things," she added. "Like ghost, spirit, poltergeist, haunting. Are they all the same thing, or are they different supernatural creatures?"

The cute redhead adjusted her glasses, which I realized she tended to do whenever she was about to get serious. Like either she was going to info-dump or deliver a lecture or something.

She explained quietly, "A poltergeist isn't actually a haunting. It usually doesn't even involve dead people. Poltergeists are more commonly associated with a person rather than a place. It's more like a manifestation of subconscious telekinetic energy, from someone who's troubled or under a lot of emotional stress."

"And frequently that person is someone who's normally unable to vent their stress or emotions directly," she continued. "So it gets bottled up inside them, and comes out through random inexplicable events around them. Like dishes breaking, objects moving, electronics acting up, and even small fires starting."

Cerys added softly, "That's why we thought poltergeist, after what the waitress said? It could be centred around one of the staff, or even a regular customer. Like someone who goes there to drown their sorrows or something? That could be the trigger, like closing time when they have to leave the sanctuary of their favourite bar."

"Same with staff," Kaylee pointed out. "Maybe they have money trouble, or problems at home. Or problems at work? Whatever, being at the restaurant or having to leave the restaurant at closing time could be what sets off the phenomena."

Paige sighed, "But if it's happening to other businesses in that building, that kind of rules out a poltergeist. The businesses are so dissimilar, it feels unlikely there's much overlap between them. Definitely not between a tea house that caters to grannies and a tavern who's client base is college students and young adults, anyways."

"So we're back to thinking haunting," the cute redhead stated. "And in that case, it's a problem. Breaking things and starting fires means if this is a ghost, they're dangerous and violent. We definitely need to address this. Luckily nobody's gotten hurt yet, and if the events are mostly happening after closing it means odds are we're not dealing with a direct threat to public safety."

Cerys sighed, "There's another possibility. Not a traditional haunting, but we could be dealing with a malevolent entity."

Kaylee grimaced, "I really hope that's not it."

"What is it?" Melanie asked as she looked back and forth between the redhead and her girlfriend.

Kaylee explained, "It's a dark or maligned spirit. Sometimes they're ghosts of particularly terrible or evil people, but they can also form directly from pure malevolent energy. They can either attach themselves to a person or a place. Though usually if they're connected to a place it's because of something terrible happening there. Usually not just a one-off occurrence either."

She grimaced and lowered her voice, "Like um, one murder wouldn't do it, but dozens happening in the same spot over the course of years could cause enough dark energy for such an entity to form."

"The ones that latch on to a person are harder to pin down," Cerys added. "Like it's almost impossible to figure out where they came from or why they've picked their victim? But it can be a living nightmare for whoever they've decided to torment."

Melanie grimaced, "Crud. That sounds bad."

"Yeah. I really hope we're not dealing with something like that," Kaylee said with a slight shudder.

Paige suggested, "Considering most of the events seem to happen near or after closing, it'd be nice if we could get in there late. Like around midnight until closing? Maybe this Friday or Saturday. I know they won't let us stay after they close the doors, but if we could be there when it gets quiet that might give us a chance to see something."

Melanie pointed out, "If you want quiet then don't go Friday or Saturday. Go Sunday night, or next Monday. I'd suggest tonight but me and Cerys can't make it, we're busy from tonight through at least Thursday."

"I don't think I could convince my parents to let me out that late on a school night," Kaylee grimaced. "Eleven o'clock curfew when there's school the next day."

Paige shrugged, "Tonight's too early anyways. We have to do more research first. We need to check the other two businesses in that building, and we should check the recent history? See if anything's happened in or around the building in the last two and a half years. Especially the last few months."

"Me and Cerys can swing by on our way home this afternoon," Melanie volunteered. "We'll visit the other two shops, the games place and the jewelry store. Hopefully we can get some straight answers out of the folks there."

She looked at her girlfriend and added, "If that's ok with you?"

Cerys grimaced but nodded and mumbled, "Sure. Sounds fine."

"Me and Cass could probably do the late night visit to the tavern," Nina suggested. "Our mom and mum have been really supportive of us doing club stuff."

She blushed slightly as she added, "And um, they both know there's almost nothing mortals can do to harm either of us, so it's not like there's any danger for us being out late."

That made me blush as well. I still had really mixed feelings about the whole 'part demon' thing, and I really didn't like to think about it. It almost felt weird that our parents and friends were more or less ok with it.

And it definitely felt weird to think of normal people as 'mortals', and the fact that they wouldn't be able to hurt me even if they tried. Not that I wanted to test it, but I couldn't help wondering what would happen if someone did try to hurt me.

Meanwhile Paige smiled, "Thanks Nina. Let's tentatively aim for another visit to Potter's Tavern next Sunday night around midnight? Depending on how the research goes between now and then. And Kaylee, I get that you probably can't make it. I honestly don't know if I can either, but that's ok. It doesn't need to be everyone, just whoever's available."

"I'll post about this on group chat," she added. "So Brooke and Melody are in the loop, and maybe they can make it for Sunday night too."

After that was some more talk about the haunting and our plans, like Kaylee was going to start doing research as usual. Paige would help with that too, they'd both be going through the town's weekly newspaper for the past two years or so, and Paige would use her technomancy stuff to scour the internet for anything related to that building or the businesses in it.

It was the sort of thing Cerys might have helped research too, before. Or actually she'd probably have already known about the haunting before Melody mentioned it, but I realized all that stuff she used to do before probably ended when she went to hospital. That made me feel sad for her, but I hoped after the full moon she'd be feeling better again.

Before we all left to go back to class Melanie reminded us, "Me and Cerys will be off tomorrow and Wednesday. Maybe even Thursday too, it depends. We might not respond to texts or whatever, so don't freak out if you can't get ahold of us. I'll try and keep in touch when I get time."

Paige and Kaylee both wished the young blonde good luck, then Nina gave her a hug. And after my little sister let go I pulled Cerys into a hug and whispered, "Good luck. We'll be thinking of you, and wishing you well."

"Thanks Cass," she replied quietly. "And thanks Nina, Paige, Kaylee. See you all in a couple days I guess."

My afternoon classes went about the same as the morning ones, and at the end of the day Nina and Kaylee and I all walked home together.

There were a couple more messages on the club's group chat that evening, Paige posted about the stuff we discussed at lunch and Melody responded that she'd be up for a midnight visit to the bar on Sunday. Brooke said she'd look into it but wasn't sure yet.

Then Cerys wrote, "The jewelry store was closed so we couldn't get anything there. Talked to a guy named Danny working the register in the games shop. He hadn't experienced anything himself, but said his manager mentioned some weird stuff. Lights turning on & off by themselves. Register was messed with one night, same with the manager's computer in the back."

"I'm assuming ghosts don't have any particular scent," Melanie added to the chat, "But just for the record, I didn't detect anything supernatural in the games place or around the building. The only supernatural scent at the restaurant Saturday was from Mitch & James, but it was about a week old."

Things were mostly quiet after that, in terms of club stuff. Our parents had me focusing on homework and stuff like that for the rest of the evening.

Then on Tuesday it was the usual sort of thing at school, except for Cerys and Melanie not being there. Me and Nina had lunch together, while Kaylee and Paige did their own thing together. I also noticed Kenzie and Kirstie giving me some looks again, but I still didn't feel comfortable trying to apologize to them. Not until I could remember what I did to upset the demi-human sisters.

That night it was more homework, and things were quiet on the group chat. I texted the two wolfgirls and wished them good luck and stuff, let them know I was thinking of them. Then Wednesday at school was more of the same, Melanie and Cerys were still absent and none of us had heard anything from either of them. We tried not to worry yet, since the moon wouldn't actually reach its peak until almost eleven in the morning.

At lunch the four of us sat together, me and Nina were across from Paige and Kaylee, and we'd all just started eating when everyone's phone buzzed with a group text message. It was just a short note from Melanie, but it seemed like good news.

"We survived," the wolfgirl wrote. "Cerys is sleeping now, I'm gonna crash soon too. Maybe see you all at school tomorrow."

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