The sound of laughter echoed throughout the large living room as both Lucas and Danica struggled to control their giggles.
“No way!” The little girl gasped out through her laughter. “Did that really happen, Auntie Ev?”
“Well, it was a really, really long time ago…” Evelyn admitted. “So maybe I added a couple of details, but…” She shrugged, smirking playfully.
It was a story Lucas had already heard more than once before, but something about hearing Evelyn tell it now – and seeing Danica hear it for the first time – made him feel like it was his first time too. He wiped away a few tears of laughter from his eyes before speaking.
“Alright, sweetie… That’s gotta be the last story for tonight, okay?” He told Danica gently as his laughter subsided.
“Aw, come on… Just one more?” His granddaughter begged.
Lucas shook his head. “It’s already past your bedtime.” He explained. “Nana’s gonna come down here any minute to help you get ready for bed.”
“Okay…” Danica sighed softly, then was silent for a few moments, thinking. “But Papa…” She began uncertainly. “I don’t get it.”
“Get what, honey?” Lucas looked down at her curiously.
“Why isn’t Nana already here?” Danica asked. “Every time we’re talkin’ or playin’ with Auntie Ev, Nana’s busy with something else… But when it’s just you and me, she always wants to play…”
Lucas cleared his throat softly. “You know how much Nana likes to have some quiet time…” Her grandfather began.
“But it’s always when we’re with Auntie Ev.” Danica looked at him skeptically.
“Uh, w-well…” Lucas stammered nervously. He had no idea what to say.
Mel and Evelyn had finally come face-to-face with one another for the first time a little over a year before – and the brief meeting had gone better than Lucas had been expecting, all things considered. But, aside from the occasional awkward greeting when their paths happened to cross, they’d barely spoken a word to each other ever since. Melanie simply had no interest in getting to know Evelyn, it seemed. And, much as it pained him, it was an issue Lucas chose not to push.
“Your nana’s a really nice lady.” Evelyn cut in suddenly. “And she knows that I don’t get to see you for very long when you come over to visit… So she’s just trying to make sure your Auntie Ev gets as much quality time with her favorite little girl as possible.” She smiled. “All to myself… No distractions or anything, y’know?”
Her voice was warm and genuine as she spoke, and her color and facial expression did nothing to expose the lie. The look on Danica’s face made it clear that she’d believed every word, and at the sight of it, Lucas released a breath he didn’t even realize he’d been holding.
“Ohhh…” The little girl smiled widely. “I guess I kinda get it. But I don’t really think Nana’s a destruction.”
“Distraction.” Evelyn chuckled softly. “And you’re right. She isn’t, really… She’s just trying to be nice.”
Before Danica could reply or Lucas could chime-in, they were interrupted by a sweet voice calling from the doorway. “Knock, knock.”
Lucas peered over his shoulder at his wife, smiling. “Aha, right on time!”
Did she hear what Evelyn said? He wondered beneath his smile, panicking slightly. Thankfully however, her expression showed no sign of confusion or dismay.
Danica rose to her feet somewhat reluctantly, but without complaint. Lucas quickly followed suit. “Sweet dreams.” He said with a smile, bending down to kiss his granddaughter’s cheek. “Pancakes tomorrow morning?”
“Hmm…” She thought for a moment. “Whaddabout french toast?”
Her grandfather laughed heartily. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Are you goin’ to sleep too?”
Lucas shook his head. “Not yet… But soon.” He peered over at his wife as he spoke, and she gave him a tiny nod of approval.
Evelyn had floated up from her seat as well to say her goodbyes. “Come back and visit real soon, okay?” The ghost smiled as she pulled the little girl in for a hug.
“I’ll try.” Danica promised sadly. “I love you, Auntie Ev.”
“You too, kiddo.”
Danica smiled and joined her grandmother by the doorway.
“Have a nice night, Melanie.” Evelyn said kindly, waving to the woman.
Mel stared back uncomfortably. “Thanks… You too.” She muttered flatly before following her granddaughter through the open archway and out of sight.
Lucas said nothing for a few moments until he was sure that both Melanie and Danica would be out of earshot. “Thanks, Ev.” He said at last. “For covering for Mel, I mean… I guess I kinda panicked.”
“I noticed.” Evelyn replied with a smile. “Don’t worry about it, okay? It was nothing.” She shrugged slightly as she spoke, and paused for a moment. “So…” The ghost glanced over her shoulder, as though making sure they were truly alone. “Now that Dani’s gone to bed… Care to elaborate on this ‘secret mission’ Krysti and Mitch are supposed to be on in Granite Falls?”
The man shook his head. “Sorry… Sworn to secrecy.” He teased.
Lucas studied her face for a few moments. It was difficult to describe Evelyn’s expression – Curious, hopeful, and skeptical all rolled into one. Ev’s smart… She’s probably put two and two together. He realized. “But… Whatever it is you’re thinking is probably right.” He admitted.
Evelyn raised an eyebrow. “Even if it’s completely insane and impossible?”
“You mean like talking to Death and trying to bring a ghost back to life?” Lucas asked sarcastically.
“Ha-ha. Very funny.” She replied with a laugh.
Lucas heard the muffled sound of voices from behind him and glanced over his shoulder curiously. “Something tells me you’re about to get your answer…”
Krysti and Mitch weren’t due to arrive home until late the next morning. This is either really good, or really bad… He thought warily.
“Dad, Ev!” Krystina was practically shouting as she burst through the front door and into the living room.
“Shhhhh!” Lucas warned gently. “Your mother’s trying to get Danica to bed.”
“Sorry…” She lowered her volume slightly as her smiling husband took a seat on the other sofa. “We didn’t mean to just barge in like this… But we decided to come home a little early.”
She’s so excited. Lucas realized. That means it must be good news! He felt a wave of relief wash over him.
“But you had a nice time?” He asked politely. In truth, Lucas really just wanted to know more about what happened with the angelfish… But he tried his best to control his eagerness.
His son-in-law nodded. “We did.” The young man replied happily. “But Krysti didn’t wanna have to wait until tomorrow night to show Ev what we found.” Mitch laughed.
“You’ll never believe it!”
“And she gave me this old map!” Krystina gestured to the yellowed scroll of parchment on the table in front of her. “It was so weird, dad… But I really think it was her – the same woman. I mean, she even knew your name!”
Lucas smiled excitedly as he listened to his daughter’s story. How many years had he and Evelyn been waiting for a breakthrough like this? It almost seemed too good to be real. This is incredible! We’re so close…
“And you said she mentioned the angelfish?” He asked. “By name?”
Krystina nodded eagerly. “She did. And I never told her anything except that we’re looking for a fish. So she’s gotta know what she’s talking about, right?” She smiled. “Isn’t this amazing?”
“It is.” Evelyn spoke at last. “Krysti, this is incredible.” She said seriously. “I don’t even know what to say…”
Lucas almost laughed. “Me neither.” He agreed.
“Well…” Mitch said with a smile. “Since no one seems to know what to say anymore, why don’t we finally open the damn thing?” He laughed. “We wanted to wait until we could look at it with you guys.” He explained. “So who knows what’s actually in there?”
“Well, whatever it is, it’s more than what we had before.” Lucas said happily. “And it’s one step closer to finally finishing this thing.” He turned to Evelyn, and they smiled excitedly at one another.
Krystina took a deep breath. “Alright.” She said. “Let’s see what’s in this thing.”
She reached carefully for the ancient map, untied it gently, and smoothed it out over the cool glass of the dining room table.
Four pairs of eyes peered down at the faded black lines that covered the worn page. There were crudely drawn symbols in small clusters all over the parchment, each one more bizarre and unrecognizable than the last. A series of lines looped and swirled between these symbols, intertwining with one another and crossing from one cluster of strange shapes to the next. Some lines were dotted, some were solid, and some even had tiny arrows at each end. There was no writing, or key, or anything even remotely familiar to provide a point of reference. It was meaningless.
In that moment, Lucas, Evelyn, Krysti, and Mitch all shared the same thought: What the hell is this?!
“I-I don’t understand.” Krystina stammered at last. “She told me this would help! But this is… gibberish!” She turned and looked at her husband hopelessly.
Evelyn simply stared blankly ahead, saying nothing while Lucas shook his head in disbelief. “Wow… This, uh… definitely isn’t what I was expecting…” He mumbled, trying to remain as calm as he could.
They were all silent for several long moments as they continued staring down at the indecipherable map. To the others’ surprise, it was Evelyn who finally recovered from her shock and broke the silence.
“What are we going to do?” She asked softly. “I thought this would be our chance…” The ghost turned to the man beside her. “But Lucas, this is impossible.”
He turned away, unable to meet her gaze. “I know.” Lucas replied with a sigh, still not looking at her.
“I’m sorry, dad.” Krystina said in almost a whisper. “I thought… I thought we finally had something…”
“We do.” Her father replied softly.
“And what’s that?”
Lucas took a deep breath. “A hell of a lot of work to do…”