Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Franklin Castle - Chapter 5

Table of Contents
Floor Plan 

The group walked into the large octagon-shaped dining room dominated by a long Chippendale table.
“I’ve seen this kind of table in old movies,” Ashley said.
“Yeah, it’s called a Chippendale. Rich couples sit at each end for fancy romantic dinners,” the stranger said.
“How is that romantic?” Ashley asked. “It seems like kind of a sad date to me.”
“It’s not romantic to me, either, but what do I know? I eat at a small table in the kitchen, even when I have a date at home,” the stranger said.
Two large chandeliers hung above the table, set apart even to the proportion of the table. Each ornamental light contained twenty bulbs and more than a hundred crystals. Each crystal projected a unique prism of light on the wall in geometric designs as the light shone through.
Wainscoting of dark wood reached chair level on all sides. Dark green wallpaper adorned the walls and peeled in spots. To the left of the door a gas-powered log blazed in a large fireplace.
“Does every room in this house contain a fireplace?” Ashley joked.
On the east walls of the octagon, three large windows shed the light across the table. Ashley walked to the windows and peered outside. She scanned the small overgrown side yard that led to the carriage house. The courtyard contained scrub plants, dying grass, and waist level weeds.
The chairs around the long table filled up as people rustled for seats. Ashley turned to see no empty chairs. Ashley and Keith sat in two chairs in the corner against the windows.
Dr. Fran stood at the end of the table with his back to Ashley and the windows. “Welcome, my friends,” he said. Ashley knew he loved to act like chairman of the board. Every investigation started with introductions, even though nearly everyone knew each another. He walked over to the redheaded man that let them in the house.
“I’d like to introduce and thank our gracious host Archer Ryan. Archer recently bought the Franklin Castle after it sat empty for several years. Archer founded SearchNet.Com out in Silicon Valley ten years ago. A month ago, he finalized the sale of the company for a huge profit. In this retirement, he has returned to his hometown of Cleveland,” Dr. Fran said.
He shook Archer’s hand. Dr. Fran pointed to the corner of the room at the ceiling. “Please notice we have setup cameras in every room. We are going to record this investigation with intent to produce it as a television show. Let’s be on our best behavior and make the Ghost Hunters look bad.”
“Archer, I’d first like to introduce my scientific team from Georgia Tech,” Dr. Fran said as he stood behind a bearded man. “This is Dr. Bronson Baer. I won’t try to list or explain all the degrees Dr. Baer has earned. He’s been a part of this team since the beginning ten years ago.”
“So, you two must have seen a lot of ghosts together?” Archer asked.
Dr. Baer shook his head, furrowed his brow, and looked intellectually pompous. He stroked his grey beard and squinted his eyes beneath thick glasses. “We’ve never seen a ghost,” Dr. Baer spoke in a controlled steady stream of words. “There are no such things as ghosts, as we prove over and over again.”
Archer stepped back at Dr. Baer’s response, his eyes widened. He looked to Dr. Fran with his hands raised.
“I don’t understand,” Archer said. “I thought you were here to find the ghosts?”
“Not everyone on my team is convinced in the existence of ghosts,” Dr. Fran said. “And sometimes we need to be willing to accept natural explanations for events.”
Archer pursed his lips before he spoke. “Isn’t that like asking someone who doesn’t believe in God or religion to prove the validity of the gospel? If you don’t believe in ghosts, how can you find them?”
“Dr. Baer heads up my technical team, and since our investigations are scientific in nature, his role is perhaps the most important,” Dr. Fran said. “But, we’ll get into the process in a bit.”
“Next, my graduate assistant at Georgia Tech, Dylan Edens. Dylan has one of the finest minds in abstract physics I’ve ever taught,” Dr. Fran said.
Dylan waved his frail hand to the group, only he did not raise his eyes to meet the people at the table. At twenty-five years old, Dylan entered the final year of graduate work still acting like a puppy dog that followed Dr. Fran everywhere to perform chores. The whiskers on his face already showed a five o’clock shadow.
“Thank you, Dr. Fran,” Dylan said. “Coming from you, that really is a—umm,” Dylan spoke in choppy manner and trailed off before he finished his thought. He looked at Dr. Fran, lowered his eyes, and tugged at his yellow t-shirt that advertised a concert held at the Tabernacle.
“We include scientists on our investigations, and that makes us a unique team,” Dr. Fran said. “We not only bring in valid scientific equipment, but our personnel understand the operation of the equipment and the output. Too often on television, unskilled personnel mishandle even the most basic equipment. Our equipment analyzes everything that happens in the house. We detect changes in temperature, detect motion, analyze analog and digital sound, we detect radiation and gases, and other analysis. This weekend we’re excited to have a prototype device that is supposed to detect ectoplasm residue. Paranormal supporters claim ghosts leave ectoplasm behind as a fingerprint. I don’t really know if this machine works or if that concept is true, but we are willing to try anything. A great deal of unfounded equipment hits the market everyday and consumed by the public due to legitimization by phony television ghost hunters.”
“Another aspect of our investigations includes extra-sensitive people,” Dr. Fran said. “I don’t like to use the term psychic, as anyone I’ve ever tested who claims to be a professional psychic is a fraud. The people I bring choose not to advertise and I believe are more sensitive and observant. I suppose certain people can learn to use more of their brain to perceive the environment, just as only certain people can learn to dunk a basketball. I don’t subscribe to mind reads or fortune tellers and that lot.”
“At Georgia Tech, I test psychics or people who declare this ability. I want to see if they can reproduce under lab conditions what they claim to do as professionals,” Dr. Fran said. “I started a long time ago by looking in the yellow pages to contact fortunetellers, mediums, and psychics who advertised their abilities as a business. We invited them in and setup up controlled experiments, which differed depending on the ability they claimed. I wanted to weed out the typical tricks charlatans used to fool people to believe they are psychics.”
“I’ll provide some examples of these experiments,” Dr. Fran said. “One woman claimed the gift of sight. If that were true, it meant she could see things beyond the range of her eyes. I setup a test where my assistant held up a playing card. She would identify the card, and I also guessed at the card. Pretty simple, eh? However, she didn’t get a single card right. I, on the other hand, actually answered a few correctly. So, according to her credentials, I am a psychic.”
Laughter rolled through the room.
“Another woman advertised herself as a fortuneteller. She claimed to see the future just by holding someone’s hand,” Dr Fran said. “I brought in ten people. We told her to hold each person’s hand and write down observations and predictions for each subject, pertaining only to events that would happen that day. Other than obvious guesses, she couldn’t tell me anything about the subjects.”
“We interviewed another man who claimed to read auras around people. He said each person has an aura and the color indicates what kind of an individual they are,” Dr. Fran said. He wiped his glasses with his tie and perched them back on the bridge of his nose. “He said he could determine the astrological sign of a person based on their aura. When the experiment completed, he didn’t guess a single one correct.”
“We tested a man who taught classes on psychic relaxation to create a beta state of mind. That means the person would have the state of mind of someone asleep, but actually is awake,” he said. “An easy claim to test, we can monitor the brain state with a simple test. In the end, the man could not lower his brain waves into a beta state, so therefore, how could he teach someone how to do it?”
“My conclusion is simple following our tests: People who claim psychic abilities and market that service, never have the ability.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” Archer said.
“You could even say that no one is capable of these abilities,” Dr. Lyman snorted in disgust.
“Think about it, if you could see the future, would you sell that ability at ten dollars an hour and live in a dumpy house in the bad part of town?” Dr. Fran said. “Or would you use that ability to play the stock market and live in a mansion? If you could read minds, would you play parlor tricks for small change? I don’t think so. Would you use the information gained to further yourself or humanity and keep quiet so that you could continue to operate under the radar? That seems logical to me.”
“With this I changed the target of my tests,” Dr. Fran said. “I searched to find people by reputation and through referrals. A most difficult task, as they did not want to anyone to find them. Their goal did not appear to make a buck or a name for themselves. Many of them were reluctant to participate. Not all of them considered themselves psychic. Many of them are just observant sensitive people able to come to conclusions about people and events.”
Dr. Fran waved his arm towards the left side of the table. “The people here are the few that stood out above the others,” he said. “I’d like to introduce our sensitive team members.”
“John Silver is an amazing man who tested off the charts in our laboratory. We call him Long John Silver, but as you can see, he’s more a corporate pirate than a swashbuckler.”
John sat with his arms across his chest and a leg perched over top the other. He stood out in contrast to the dusty surroundings in a pressed black suit with a red tie and handkerchief. His dark hair and a goatee beard reminded Ashley of the devil.
“John appears to predict the future, as his amazing run on Wall Street displays,” Dr. Fran said. “His specialties also include cold reads.”
“I read minds,” John corrected.
Dr. Lyman shuffled in her seat and made a disapproving cluck under her breath.
“As evident, we are a team divided on what we believe,” Dr. Fran said. “I will hedge this by saying some individuals have a gift above normal perception. That does not mean they are psychic, telekinetic, or precognitive.”
“John made his fortune in the stock market. Legend in the community says he used his ability to see the future to pick stocks and has never been wrong,” Dr. Fran said. “The Securities and Exchange Commission, who polices the stock market, investigated his success rate. No one has the track record in the stock market John has, and the SEC doesn’t believe in psychic ability, so they think he has friends on the inside of companies feeding him information about what a company does before the public knows. When someone uses that information to profit, they call it insider trading. I think John is honest.”
“John did not openly advertise his ability. No one in this group has a doubt about how special is John,” Dr. Fran said.
“John used to play cards with us, and he told us what cards we held without looking at them,” Ashley said. “We used to play hide-and-seek and he could find us with his eyes closed.”
“I can no longer go to Las Vegas and gamble,” John said. “They barred me from the casinos for winning too much money. They thought I was counting cards. If they only knew how I really did it, they never would have let me inside in the first place.”
“Next, Norma Maeder,” Dr. Fran said. “Norma seems to have the ability to communicate with beings we can’t see, feel, touch, or sometimes believe.”
Norma Maeder stood up and waved, her flowered dress swirled around her as her large figure moved. She removed her large church hat from her gray hair and set the floppy bonnet on the table.
Norma and John appeared as polar opposites seated next to one another. Where John appeared stiff and formal, Norma was at ease and relaxed. She fished through her purse and, after several moments, removed a bright colored pack of chewing gum, which she offered to the people at the table with a wide generous smile. She wadded up several pieces and plopped them in her mouth. As she chewed, she sipped on a glass of iced tea she managed to obtain from the kitchen.
“In her tests, Norma identified an abnormal high number of cards. What surprised me was she when she talked to our staff about departed members of their families,” Dr. Fran said. “I found that to be spooky at first, because she knew so much about them. I can’t fully explain this. Referring to her as extremely perceptive doesn’t fully cover the anomaly her ability creates. Maybe she has the capacity to understand people. Perhaps she can interpret the slightest signal, a flutter of the eyes, the tensing of a finger. Even if the extent of her gifts is a comprehension of the human psyche, she still presents a valuable addition to this team. I discovered psychics are simply people knowledgeable about human nature. And I don’t like to call them psychics.”
“Does it bother you to hear someone say you aren’t really psychic, just perceptive?” Archer asked Norma.
“I don’t care if they believe me or not,” Norma said. “I’m not trying to impress them. I love helping, especially the police. I am sometimes able to follow a trail associated with a crime by listening to the emotions left behind. I’ve solved three crimes in conjunction with the Savannah Police Department.”
“We are proud of the work Norma does, not only for us, but all around,” Dr. Fran said and patted Norma on the shoulder.
“Yvette Richter was the third psychic on our team. As we all saw, she left a bit ago,” Norma said. “She’s different from John and me. In fact, we all have very different styles and abilities. Whereas I can listen to emotions and events left behind, and John is pre-cognitive and can see into the future, Yvette is quite singular. She wasn’t able to turn her abilities on and off like we can.”
Norma shifted in her seat. “Yvette called herself a receiver. It was as if someone was sending messages to her, and she couldn’t control when they came. Similar to what we witnessed on the front doorstep, the messages often come as an assault. The experiences frightened her and left her shaken physically. She was in a constant state of torture. It was easy to label her a hypochondriac. She once said she was the kind of person spirits and supernatural liked to contact.”
“Next, I’d like to introduce the clinical psychological portion of our team,” Dr. Fran said. “Dr. Darrin Dunbar is a professor of Psychology at Georgia Tech and he’s been hunting with me from the beginning. Dr. Joyce Lyman is a clinical psychiatrist in private practice with an incredible reputation.”
“What do they offer?” Archer asked.
“Many hauntings are only psychological in nature,” Dr. Fran said. “Having psychiatric professionals is of utmost importance.”
“Are you suggesting this is all in my head?” Archer asked. His eyebrows raised in concern.
Dr. Fran looked down at the surface of the table. “Yes, that is a possibility.”
Not a person spoke for several moments.
Dr. Fran cleared his throat. “The stranger at the end of the table is the newest member of our team. His name is Terry,” Dr. Fran said as he pointed towards a tall man with sandy brown hair. Terry stood up and waved to everyone. “My assistant said he looks like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. I think he looks more like Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Some of you have already talked to him.” Dr. Fran looked at Ashley. “He likes to argue points with me. He looks rather rascally and his personality is consistent with that. Terry will observe and offer observations, perhaps outside our normal scope of familiarity. Terry is an agent with the federal government, and has seen and experienced a great many things in his career.”
“What interest does the government have in all this?” Dr. Dunbar asked.
Terry smiled and shook his head, making eye contact. “To my knowledge, none. I’m just on holiday.”
“It was my pleasure to work with Terry during one of his investigations. Without going into much detail, the odd case required my expertise in science,” Dr. Fran said. “He impressed me with his deductive skills. In addition, he is not easily frightened. Terry seemed interested in our research, though skeptical of our results. He and I immersed ourselves into several spirited debates about how we proceeded here, and he has some serious opinions about how we should operate. When this project came up, I asked him to join us and offer insight. He’s been through some hair-raising experiences in his fieldwork, and I thought he could be helpful.”
“In what ways do you disapprove?” Dr. Lyman asked, not masking her displeasure with the stranger. “I think we do things exactly they way they should be done here.”
“If this were a lab experiment or a controlled clinical study, I would agree with you,” Terry said. “But, from what I’ve already observed, we are far from a clinical environment. And I think you’re missing the biggest factor in any type of investigation.”
“And what is that?” Dr. Lyman snorted, not appreciating the lecture.
“The human factor,” Terry said.
“What branch of the government are you a part of?” Dunbar asked. “The FBI?”
“Secret Service?”
“Not even close.”
“The Treasury?”
“No,” Terry said. “Who do you think I am, Elliott Ness?”
“All right, I give up.”
“I’m in a very obscure organization. I doubt you’ve ever heard of us.”
“What do you do?”
Terry smiled. “We investigate.”
“Oh, I get it. You’re in a covert group?”
“That’s right, I would love to tell stories, but I’m allowed to share few of them.”
“Are you carrying a gun?” Keith asked.
Dr. Lyman shot Keith a daggered look. “Keith, don’t ask questions like that. It’s not nice. It’s none of our business.”
“It’s all right, Dr. Lyman, I don’t mind,” Terry said. “No, Keith, I’m not carrying a gun.”
“Why not?” Keith asked, disappointed.
“Well, Keith, from what I understand about our work this weekend, anything we meet is not liable to be human, at least not anymore. And if a ghost is dangerous, a gun won’t help me, will it?” Terry said.
“The only thing dangerous about ghosts is the people who believe in them,” Dr. Dunbar said.
“That could be, Doctor, or it could be the people that doubt them,” Terry said. “And Keith, I’m far more dangerous than anything you’ll ever likely meet. So, don’t worry about it. I’ll watch your back.” Terry smiled at Keith and winked.
A wide toothy grin spread across Keith’s face.

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