Marie sat on the side of her hospital bed in her long, grey night robe, and looked through the window at the sunrise streaking the sky with red, orange and golden hues. There was a certainly pleasurable solitude in the sunrise every morning. The pleasant feeling lightens the heart and draws the mind towards the future. Yes, Marie required it all; she had just recovered from a deadly burn injury, which she received in her last adventure. It took almost a couple of months to recover fully and finally, and the day had come when detective Marie Claire would be released from the hospital.
Looking at the wall clock, Marie realized that she still had to wait for a couple of hours. Yesterday only, Jamie gave her the good news, “Finally, you’ll be back to your normal life.”
‘I have already spent more than sixty days in the hospital and can wait for a few more hours,’ Marie told herself.
She looked around and found a newspaper on her bedside table. No, it was not a daily newspaper, but the privately published periodical of a secret group named ‘Afterlife.’ Her assistant Tanya brought it yesterday, she wanted to say more about it, but Jamie scolded her. In spite of Jamie’s scolding, Tanya kept the paper on her bedside table.
With curiosity, she took the newspaper and tried to read it. The first page contained an obituary. The founding father of the group Mr. Harris Woolman had passed away recently. The group members had paid him tribute on the first page. According to his date of birth, he had just crossed his forty-sixth birthday. His photo indicated his excellent health, but the write up stated that sudden heart failure caused his untimely death. There were three names at the end, John Laurence, Orley Simon, and Rafael Sterner. The first two were other two founders of the group, and the last one was the editor of the periodical.
The other pages had interesting news regarding first-hand experiences of paranormal incidents across the world and scholarly articles on souls and afterlife. She could not read all the articles but got an idea that the secret society wished to establish the fact that ghosts and spirits do exist.
Marie could not understand why her assistant brought this thing into her cabin but assumed that she might have got a case in her absence. The knocking sound of the door broke her contemplation. Dr. Allen entered the cabin with his medical equipment. With a sweet smile, he asked her, “How are you, Miss Claire?”
Marie smiled back, “I am absolutely fine, doctor; and eagerly waiting for the discharge.”
“Yes, I am here for the final check-up and hope to issue a discharge letter soon.” He said, “Your friends are here already.” He informed.
Dr. Allen did not take much time to discharge her. She hurriedly changed her night garments into trousers and t-shirt and went to the hall, where Jamie and Tanya were impatiently waiting for her.
It took only a few minutes to complete all the paper works and finally, she was allowed to leave. As she stepped outside the hospital, she inhaled deeply and filled her lungs with fresh air. The golden sun rays fell on her face, and cool autumn breeze refreshed her mind.
“Ahhh, after a long time,” Marie said cheerfully. Tanya was helping Jamie to keep her luggage in the car.
“I hope that you have not left anything in your cabin?” Jamie asked thoughtfully.
“No, I don’t think so,” Marie replied. Suddenly, she remembered the newspaper and said, “Wait, I think, I have left a newspaper….”
Jamie grinned, “Only a newspaper? It must be old, leave it, dear.”
“No, not an old newspaper….” Marie contradicted.
“You can have another newspaper from the bookstall. Now come.” Jamie said.
“I am talking about Tanya’s newspaper, ‘Afterlife’;” Marie replied, “It is still in my cabin.”
“Don’t worry, Marie,” Tanya walked closer to her, “I am asking someone to collect it.” She walked towards the reception and Jamie shrugged his shoulders. “Really, the girl is a bit foolish.”
“What’s wrong with the newspaper, Jamie?” Marie sounded inquisitive, “I noticed that yesterday also Tanya tried to tell me something, but you stopped her.”
“Yes, I did,” Jamie sounded impatient, “She does not know which one is a real crime and which one is a fake.” Jamie’s reply did not please her.
Marie looked around and saw Tanya was walking briskly towards them, and she was holding the newspaper tightly in her right hand.
“So, can we move now?” Jamie asked.
They got into the car and fastened the seat belt. Jamie started the car towards her residence. Though Marie wanted to visit her office, Jamie scolded her, “Take rest, at least for a couple of days.”
“May I ask a question, Jamie?” Marie politely asked.
“Yes, why not?” Jamie replied.
“Why are you hiding Mr. Harris Woolman’s murder case from me?” Marie’s question surprised Jamie for a while. He got distracted from his driving and pushed the brake abruptly, which jerked them suddenly.
“Sorry, I am not hiding anything, but I believe that Mr. Harris Woolman passed away naturally. There is no mystery in his death.” Jamie sternly replied, “The case initially came to my department. His neighbors informed us that the man was neither collecting newspapers nor collecting milk bottles from his doorstep, even the morning walkers did not see him for the last three days. I sent the police and discovered his dead body from his drawing room. The man was probably watching the TV during his heart attack. So, people initially thought that there was someone inside the house.” Jamie sighed, “Doctor examined the body, and there is nothing odd. It is a normal case of heart attack.”
“Did he live alone?” Marie asked.
“Unfortunately, yes;” Jamie replied, “He was a widower.”
“So, Tanya, why do you want to consider the case as a murder mystery?” Marie noticed Tanya was not looking at Jamie.
“I am giving you the answer, Marie,” Jamie again said, “Two days later, when we finally arranged for his funeral, his friend and colleague John Laurence visited the Police Department. He tried to convince me that death has a paranormal connection.”
Marie said, “Yes, the newspaper says that he was one of the founding fathers of ‘Afterlife’; a secret society, which works on paranormal affairs and….”
“Spreads superstitions,” Jamie concluded.
“Marie, Mr. Woolman’s colleague John Laurence tried to say that it was not a normal death, but a mystery, but…..” Tanya tried to argue. But, Jamie interjected Tanya.
“But he has no solid evidence,” Jamie said, “We cannot waste our time on someone’s imagination.” He stopped the car before Marie’s house.
“Well, he may visit you again. I cannot stop you to entertain him, but my honest opinion says that it is a fake case of superstition. Please consider my advice before wasting your valuable time and energy.”
“Thanks, Jamie for your advice, I’ll remember it,” Marie nodded. She felt relief to see her own home again after a very long time.
It was almost half past seven in the evening when John Laurence arrived at Marie’s residence. The middle-aged man of mid-forties was looking fatigued, even in the cool autumn evening. He introduced himself as one of the members and founding father of ‘Afterlife’ and a bosom friend of the deceased, whom he knew well since his student life.
“I am curious to know more about your organization, Mr. Laurence.” Marie asked, “Why do you call it a secret society?”
Laurence sighed, “It is a group of people, who believe in ghosts and spirits. We like to prove it scientifically. And, not many people like our idea. So, we keep it secret.”
“Well, please carry on….”
“Last Tuesday, we had a special gathering. Our youngest and newest member Rafael had brought a planchette board and claimed that it was bewitched, and it really works. We gathered and started practicing. We started calling our deceased relatives and but we miserably failed. When we doubted in Rafael’s claim, Harris wanted to try. He wanted to call his deceased wife Hannah, but something wrong happens.” He paused.
“What actually happened?” Marie asked. She noticed curiosity on Tanya’s face.
“This time it works, but wrongly. A spirit called Rachel came.” He replied, “It changed the entire situation. The spirit started addressing Harris as her beloved husband, who abandoned her without any proper reason. Harris first denied, and then looked uneasy. Finally, he broke into tears and begged Rafael to stop. I switched on the light and ended the entire procedure abruptly. It is a bad thing.”
“What is a bad thing?” Marie sounded confused.
“Ending planchette abruptly,” He replied.
He again continued, “I offered Harris a lift. Otherwise, he could not drive. I asked Rafael to come later in Harris’s car.”
“Then?” Marie asked.
“We went to his apartment. I asked him to take rest and prepared a light meal for the night, and he ate it partially. Within an hour, Rafael came and garaged his car. Rafael also went upstairs, apologized for the event and said that the planchette board never went wrong before. My friend Harris remained silent for a while and replied, ‘Sin cannot be concealed forever. The Almighty will punish me.” He asked for water, Rafael offered his own water bottle and then Harris requested us to leave him alone. And, we did it.”
“Both of you left the apartment at the same time?” Marie asked.
“Almost together, Ma’am,” Laurence replied, “I dropped Rafael at his place.”
“Well, how long do you know Rafael?”
“He is our youngest and newest member. He is a psychiatrist; and an amateur filmmaker.” Laurence replied, “A good and humble fellow, joined only a couple of months ago.”
“Then, what happened?” Marie threw her question almost immediately.
“I tried to call Harris two days later, but no one replied. On the third day, I came to his house and found two newspapers were on the doorsteps, and two milk bottles. Neighbors also confirmed that he did not go for morning walk since the last three days.” Laurence described and added, “Then I called the police, broke the door and entered his apartment. He was on the sofa, already dead and cold and the TV was on.”
“Which channel he was watching?” Marie suddenly asked an odd question. Tanya thought that Laurence would find the information trivial, but he looked at Marie carefully.
“Probably he was watching a video. Actually, our group has a rule. Every night we have to watch a horror movie. It is our ritual. If anyone misses it, he can watch two movies the next day. We used to give reviews on horror films in our group blog, and it helps us to earn money.” He answered.
“Do you have any idea what movie he was watching?” Marie’s question made him uneasy. He said, “No”; very briskly.
“Light? What about the light? Were they on? ” Marie again asked.
“No, I did not notice.” Laurence honestly admitted.
“What do you think of his death? Murder or a normal heart attack?” Marie asked again.
“I think it has some mystery. His mouth was wide open, as he frightened to see something. I think it has a paranormal connection.” Laurence finally disclosed his feelings, “I am sure that the evil spirit will haunt us one by one, whoever sits at the planchette table. Please, please stop it.” Laurence broke into tears.
“Mr. Laurence, I do not believe in ghosts, I can solve the crime. As long as mortal beings are involved in it, I can handle your case. But, I am sorry; I cannot handle a poltergeist.” Marie sternly replied. “Now, answer my questions seriously and honestly.”
“May I know a bit more about the members of this group?” Marie asked.
“Do you believe in ghosts and spirits?” Laurence asked without answering her question.
“No, sorry, I have never seen them,” Marie discarded.
“Our mortal eyes have a limitation, ma’am;” Laurence sounded unhappy. “If you ever get time, please visit our office in Forest Hill; it is not too far from your place. We have enough evidence that there is a life beyond our mortal life and that is called the Afterlife. We try to prove it scientifically. We are not mere a cult or sects, but a group; yes, a closed group or secret group; otherwise, the nonbelievers mock us. My own wife ridiculed me once and resulted in divorce. I have sworn an oath of not marrying again……”
“So, you too live alone?” Marie asked curiously.
“Yes, ma’am;” Laurence sounded concerned. “It’s better to live alone, rather than living with a non-believer…..” his facial expression changed, Marie noticed it carefully.
“Marie,” it was Jamie in the early morning. He was looking exhausted as well as desperate. Marie walked slowly towards the door and opened it.
Jamie stormed into the room and sat on a wooden chair. He even forgot to ask about her health and started telling, “Again a similar kind of death. Thankfully, this time it was discovered early. The victim is no other than John Laurence, another member of Afterlife.”
Initially, she could not believe Jamie, “What? The man visited me last night and….”
“Today he is dead.” Jamie finished the sentence, “forgive me, dear. This incident has a real mystery. I too do not believe in ghost stories, but why on earth, members of a particular group are getting killed?” He politely asked,
“Please, get ready and visit the spot. I cannot convince NYPD that death has a mystery, but as a private detective, you may help me.”
Without wasting her time, Marie put her brown jacket on her shirt. The autumn mornings of New York were chilly enough to make her sick again. She followed Jamie and got into his car. Before fastening the seatbelt, Jamie informed her that Mr. Laurence’s house was not too far, but in Forest Hills, which was a half an hour’s drive from Kew Garden. The car crossed the Metropolitan Avenue and stopped before a multi-storied apartment, whose gate was crowded with NYPD vehicles and curious neighbors.
Without Jamie’s help, Marie could not enter the building. They took the elevator and reached the seventh floor. Every floor had four apartments; Mr. Laurence’s flat was at the end of the corridor. They stopped near a wooden door.
The door was wide open. They entered and found Mr. Laurence on his couch. His mouth was wide open, and the eyes bulged out; there was a clear expression of fright in his face.
“Again the TV was open,” Jamie said.
Marie looked at the TV. It was a Smart TV, fixed within the wall. Marie switched on the TV, “Did you notice exactly which channel was there?”
Jamie nodded, no he did not. Marie tried to find out the last watching channel, and finally discovered, “He was watching a video.” She tried to find out the video, but nothing was saved in the memory.
She examined the room but found no trace of intruders. She finally asked,
“The apartment must have CCTV cameras. I want to see its footage.”
Jamie smiled, “We also did the same,” he shrugged, “Let’s watch it again.”
Very soon Marie realized why he smiled. There was nothing odd in the recording. Mr. Laurence came back home at 10.30 pm. A young man met him outside the building, but his face was not visible, and their conversation was not recorded. Laurence opened the lock and entered his apartment. His neighbors too returned in their usual time, but none of them bothered to knock his door. It was the electrician, who noticed that Mr. Laurence was not responding.
“Actually, Laurence had called the electrician two days ago. His drawing room light was not working properly.” Jamie said.
There was nothing unusual in the room, Marie visited almost all the corners of the two bed-roomed flat and finally said, “Well, there is nothing odd.”
“So, can we move now?” Jamie asked.
Marie started walking toward the front door; suddenly, she felt something hard under her heels. She was almost going to stumble over the dead body, Jamie somehow caught her hands.
“Be careful,” He said.
“I…I felt something,” Marie knelt down before the body. The granite floor was covered with a soft brown carpet. She touched its woolly surface and discovered a red pen-drive, which was almost invisible within the long wool.
“What is it, Marie?” Jamie came closer.
Marie stood up from the floor and said, “A pen drive.” She looked at it, the device contained no maker’s name or logo but had Afterlife’s name written on it in white ink.
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