It was a bit too late to be having second thoughts, but I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if I’d really done the right thing in signing up for the study. I desperately needed the money, but I was already starting to get a bad feeling about the whole business, and my bad feelings were rarely wrong. The others didn’t seem nervous at all. I looked around and saw that the five other subjects were all either dozing or staring vacantly out the limo’s tinted windows. I couldn’t sit still, and the guy sitting next to me, I was pretty sure his name was Nate, kept letting his head fall on my shoulder as he slept. You’d think that they’d be a little bit more alert considering where we were being taken.

“What the hell am I doing?” I muttered to myself, shoving Nate’s head off of me. I tried to keep calm, but by the time an hour had passed, I had started shaking. Some part of me really didn’t want to go through with this, and it was trying to convince the rest of me to just open the limo door and jump out onto the side of the road. No, I thought. I need this too badly. Four thousand dollars. Four thousand dollars. Just keep thinking that. At the end of this, they’re going to pay you four thousand dollars.

I forced myself to ignore the shivers wracking my body. When I get a bad feeling about something, and then do it anyway, my body revolts. I start shaking and sometimes I get headaches or feel nauseas. I guess that’s why Doctor Andrew’s was so interested in putting me in the study. He was writing a book about the effect of haunting phenomena on psychics. I had never thought of myself as a psychic, but Andrews told me that my test results were incredible, said he’d never seen anything like it. He said the symptoms that accompany my bad feelings are indicative of a very high level of psychic sensitivity. I guess he’s the one with the degree, but I still have difficulty thinking of myself as a psychic.

Someone cleared their throat loudly in the sleepy stillness of the limo, and I almost jumped out of my seat. My shivering had gotten worse, and I had to clench my jaw to stop my teeth from chattering. I looked around and saw that the opaque glass which divided the front seats from the rest of the limo had opened up, and that Doctor Andrews was leaning through it, waiting to address us. I poked Nate a few times to wake him up, and eventually managed to get him to crack an eye open.

“Doctor Andrews wants to talk to us,” I said.

“Why?” he grunted.

“How should I know? He probably wants to brief us or something.”

Nate sat up in his seat and yawned, stretching his arms towards the ceiling. The rest of the limo’s occupants had already awoken, and were looking expectantly at Doctor Andrews.

After he was sure that he had everyone’s attention, Andrews cleared his throat again and began to speak. “First of all, I want to thank you all again for enrolling in this study. I know some of you may be a bit apprehensive about the nature of the experiment–”

From beside me, Nate snorted and rolled his eyes. I shot him a nasty look. Everyone else seemed to feel similar to Nate, though. Amused looks shot around the limo, and one of the women even giggled. I huddled in my corner and glared at them. Was I the only one taking this seriously?

Andrews cleared his throat for a third time, and I was tempted to offer him a cough drop. “As I was saying, I know some of you may be feeling a bit nervous.” He looked at me, and I tried to smile at him, but I couldn’t unclench my jaw. “That’s completely normal. We are, after all going to be spending the next four weeks in a ‘haunted house,’ if you will excuse the dreadful cliché.” He laughed, and looked around at us as if expecting we would join in. When no one did, he continued. “We will be arriving in about ten minutes, and I wanted to go over a few details beforehand. This is all in your informational packets, of course, but I want to make sure that everyone understands the procedures which we will be following.” He fumbled for a page of notes and looked down at it before continuing.

“As I’m sure you know, Carleton House is over two hundred years old. No known tragedies have ever occurred there, but almost as soon as it was built, the house began to gain a reputation as a haunted dwelling. Also, an inordinately large amount of people seemed to have died of natural causes within its walls. I have spoken to a few of the house’s previous occupants, but they were all unwilling to speak about their experiences with the house, so I am unsure as to what we should expect. As psychics—”

The woman who had giggled before released a peal of laughter which she quickly stifled with a hand over her mouth. Doctor Andrews ignored her.

“As psychics, I anticipate that you will all be more sensitive to any spiritual disturbances within the house. I ask that you record anything you see, hear, feel, or sense within the house in the journals which I’ve provided for you. I also ask that you keep a daily record of your activities and that you write down any dreams you might have during your stay. The goal of this study is to see if we can determine the nature of the haunting within this house as well as studying its effects on the psychic mind, so any visions or sensations you might experience must be recorded in detail. Anything might provide a clue as to the reasons behind the house’s rather intimidating reputation. Also, let me remind you that we will be operating on the buddy system. No one is to go wandering the house alone, so if you have not already selected a partner, please do so within the next few minutes. Any last minute questions?”

We all shook our heads, and Andrews nodded. “Alright then. We’ll be there shortly.” He settled back into his seat and the opaque divider slid closed once more, obscuring the front of the limo from view. Silence fell as we rounded a curve and got our first look at Carleton House.

My first glimpse of it was not at all encouraging. The house stood perched on a hill, seeming to brood over the town below. From far away, the building looked black, but I knew from photos which we had been given that it was really made of weathered dark gray stone. The windows were all shuttered and dark, and reminded me of eyes which have been closed in a facsimile of sleep. Suddenly, a searing pain shot through my temples, and I must have given a little squeak, because Nate turned to look at me curiously.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I said, massaging my forehead. The pain had settled into a dull, pulsing ache inside my skull. “Just a headache.” He looked at me for a moment longer and then shrugged before turning to look out the window.

“Ugly place, isn’t it?” He commented, staring up at Carleton House as we began our ascent up the hill. “Glad I don’t have to live here permanently.”

“Yeah,” I muttered, still rubbing my head.

“So, Penny, what kind of psychic are you pretending to be?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’m a telepath, and so are Leon and James. Susan and Linda are both clairvoyants. Or at least that’s what we told Andrews so we could get places in the study.” Nate grinned at me, and I stared back at him.

“You’re all just pretending?” I asked, inwardly wincing at how childish I sounded. The whole car burst into laughter.

“What, and you’re not? Come on Penny, don’t be bashful, everyone knows that we’re all just here for the money. Hell, I’d pretend to be a mutant from beyond the stars if I thought it would make me four thousand dollars.”

“None of you are psychic at all?” I asked. “What about those tests Andrews gave us?”

“Lucky guesswork, and some minor bribery. Andrews’ secretary has a fondness for designer clothes which she can’t afford on her normal salary.” He folded his arms over his chest, looking smug. “Are you saying that you didn’t cheat, Penny? Are you a real psychic?” he asked this with the mock intensity of one pretending to be deeply impressed. I scowled at him.

“No. Sometimes I just get these feelings about things, and some of the time they turn out to be right.” Most of the time, actually, but I wasn’t going to tell them that.

“Oh, look guys!” Nate crowed. “We’ve got a real psychic in our midst! Want to look into my future Penny?” He grabbed my hand and held it to his forehead.

I jerked away, and was on the verge of smacking him when the car rolled to a halt in the gravel driveway of Carleton House. I took advantage of the others’ fits of laughter to open the door and slip out of the limo. Another sharp flash of pain seared through my head, and black blotches obscured my vision. I was sure for a moment that I was going to collapse. My whole body was shaking, and I wrapped my arms around myself, closing my eyes tight, and willing the blackness to subside.

A few seconds later, it did, but when I opened my eyes, I was trembling worse than ever. I wanted nothing more than to get back in that limo and tell the driver to take me as far away from here as we could get, but I couldn’t. I needed the money too badly, and I didn’t have anywhere to go.

“Are you alright, Miss Morgan?” I jumped and turned around to see Doctor Andrews standing behind me.

“I’m fine. Just nervous.”

“Well don’t worry. We’re all here together. There is safety in numbers, my dear.”

“I suppose,” I mumbled, watching as he strode off to talk to the limo driver. I turned back to the house. The shuttered windows really did look uncannily like eyes…

“Hi Penny,” For the second time in as many minutes, I almost jumped out of my skin

“Jesus Christ! What?” Nate was standing next to me, a sly smile on his face.

“Ooh, touchy. Sensing any supernatural vibrations?”

“Very funny. What do you want?”

“Well, everyone else seems to have been paired up, so I was wondering if you wanted to be my buddy.”

I groaned inwardly. Great. Not only would I be spending the next month in a haunted house fighting off migraines, but I’d be spending it with this asshole.

“It doesn’t look as if I have much of a choice, does it Nate?”

“Nope,” he said. “You’re stuck with me.”

“Just what I always wanted.”

“Oh Penny, you’re too kind.”

“Look, could you stop talking for a minute? I have a god awful headache and you’re not making it any better.”

“Your wish is my command.” He closed his mouth and made a zipping motion across his lips. Then he walked off to go talk to the other subjects, who were all huddled in a circle next to the limo. I heard him say something, and they all laughed and looked over at me. I ignored them and closed my eyes again, trying to subdue the ache in my temples. A few moments passed, and then I heard Doctor Andrews’ voice. I opened my eyes and had to struggle for a few seconds before I could bring him completely into focus.

“I think that we’re ready to enter the house, now,” he was saying. “If you would all get your baggage from the trunk and then follow me, we can get this study underway.”

Fear ripped at me, and again I was seized with the urge to get back in the limo and command the driver to take me as far away from here as it was possible to get. Instead, I went around to the back of the limo with the others to collect my suitcase. Nate had made himself the designated bag handler, and when he handed my bag to me, he fumbled and his hand ‘accidentally’ brushed against my breasts. I stiffened, blushed, and then glared at him, fighting the urge to smack the self-satisfied smirk off of his face. I didn’t want to get into a confrontation when I had this bad of a headache, though, so I turned on my heel and walked back over towards the house, trying to look haughty and unruffled.

I joined the cluster that had formed behind Doctor Andrews, who, after making sure all of his subjects were present, led us up the porch steps. We stood in front of the vast black double doors, staring up at the enormous iron gargoyle’s head that served as a knocker, and even the others began to look apprehensive. Andrews pulled out a large antique key and used it to unlock the door, which opened without a sound on the darkness within. The Doctor took a deep breath and then stepped through the door. One by one, we followed him over the threshold of Carleton House. I was last in line, and I had to force my feet to move forward. The pain in my head got worse with every step, and by the time I reached the doorway the black dots had begun to collect at the edges of my vision again.

Stepping towards the threshold was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. My head was pounding as if someone was driving blunt nails into both of my temples, and I could barely see. Every limb shook, and my teeth clattered together uncontrollably. I took a long, deep breath, trying to steady myself, and then I walked through the doorway.



The next thing I remember, I was lying on a couch, propped up on several lumpy pillows. My head was pounding dully, and it felt as though someone had taken a large amount of cotton and shoved it down my throat. My hair was plastered all over my sweaty face, and I tried to whisk it away with my hand, but my limbs didn’t seem to want to move. I gave a soft groan, and suddenly a cluster of faces popped into my range of vision. It was Doctor Andrews and the subjects, most of whom wore expressions of concern, all except for Nate, in fact, who looked bored and condescending.

“Are you alright, Miss Morgan?” Doctor Andrews asked.

“I think so,” I said, speaking very slowly. “What happened?”

“You collapsed the moment you stepped into the house, Miss Morgan. Were you overcome by the psychic vibrations? Did you, by any chance, experience a vision?” Andrews sounded excited, but Nate gave a snort, and removed his head from my circle of vision.

“No. I just had a really bad headache. A migraine or something.”

“You told me when I interviewed you that you sometimes experience symptoms of physical distress when you have what you call, ‘bad feelings.’ Did you experience a premonition of some kind? Did you sense a malevolent presence in this house?”

“No Doctor Andrews, I didn’t. I think I just have a migraine. Does anyone have any aspirin?”

One of the other female subjects, Linda, I think it was, walked away and came back a second later with a small plastic bottle of generic pain killer. She handed me the bottle, but I couldn’t open it because my hands were still trembling. Eventually, Doctor Andrews did it for me, opening the bottle and shaking out three red pills onto his palm. I took them and swallowed them dry, coughing as one lodged itself in my throat for a moment before sliding the rest of the way down.

“I think,” said Doctor Andrews after a moment, “That I will show everyone to their bedrooms, Miss Morgan, but I want you to stay here and rest before you try to move around too much. Who is your buddy?”

“Nate,” I rasped, my throat still dry from the pills.

“Nate, please stay with Miss Morgan. I will show you both to your rooms once she has recovered.” With that, he gestured for the others to follow him, and they walked from the room.

I sat up slowly, my head still painful, but now down to a bearable dull throb. The room I was in fit perfectly with the impression I had gotten from the outside of the house. The floor was done in gleaming dark wood, and the walls were papered in deep scarlet. A huge stone fireplace protruded from the far wall, the mantle carved into the figures of imps and goblins. The couch I sat on was black velvet, and the room’s illumination stemmed from a massive crystal chandelier fixed to the ceiling. The molding around the ceiling had also been carved with the figures of demonic imps. They seemed to leer at me. I shuddered. Hopefully the bedrooms weren’t going to be this bad, or I’d never be able to get any sleep. Not with those imps staring down at me.

“What is the matter, Penelope Morgan?” Nate asked from across the room. Startled, I turned my head and saw him standing by the fireplace, staring at me. He looked different, somehow. Maybe it was the way the light was falling, but his eyes looked as though they had changed color. Outside they had been blue, but now they looked silvery gray.

“Nothing,” I said, giving my head a shake to clear it. I was seeing things. I looked back at him, but his eyes were still silver.

Nate stared into the empty fireplace for a moment, and then walked over to me, seating himself on the end of my couch. “I have never met a woman like you before, Penelope Morgan. So much power. I can feel it coming off of you like heat.” His voice was soft and cold and strangely accented by a language I couldn’t place.

He ran his eyes over me, and I became suddenly much more aware of the fact that we were the only ones in the room. His gaze made me feel naked, and my hand reached down all of its own accord to make sure that my skirt was covering my knees. This seemed to amuse him, because he smiled, although the gesture didn’t reach his eyes, which now held an almost predatory gleam. I was on the verge of trying to get to my feet and running to find the others, when my head gave a violent jolt of pain, and I fell back against the cushions with a pained yelp.

“Hush,” he murmured, “Let me help.” Before I could stop him, he laid a cool hand on my forehead. At first, the pain in my temples escalated until I thought my head would burst, and I cried out helplessly. Then he began massaging my forehead with both hands, and gradually, the pain began to fade away. I didn’t even think of trying to stop him. I felt frozen to the spot. A long minute passed before he removed his hands, but the moment he withdrew, my paralysis broke, and I took a long shaky breath. It took me a few seconds to realize that the pain was gone. I lay there for a minute, trying to put my mind back together, trying to figure out what exactly had just happened.

“Nate?” I asked in a voice I barely recognized as my own. He was standing by the fireplace again with his back to me, acting as if he hadn’t heard me. I struggle to my feet, and walked over to him. “Nate?” I reached out and tapped him on the shoulder. He jumped and spun around, almost knocking me to the floor.

“Jesus H. Christ Penny! Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

“Are you ok?” I asked, completely bewildered. The cold accent had gone from his voice, and he sounded now as he had before we entered the house. Had I imagined the change?

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine,” he mumbled, running a hand distractedly through his blond hair. His eyes looked blue again. “Just don’t come creeping up behind me like that. You scared the shit out of me.”

“What happened just now?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Just now. You went all strange, and you made my headache go away. How did you do that?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve been standing here the whole time. I thought you’d fallen asleep again. You must have been dreaming.”

“I don’t think I was dreaming,” I said, but doubt had crept into my voice. The whole incident had been so unreal. Maybe it had just been a dream. I supposed it was possible, but I had no memory of falling asleep again.

“Must have been. I think I would have noticed if I’d magically cured your headache.”

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, walking to sit on the couch again. “Maybe you’re right.” Silence fell. I fidgeted where I sat, raising my hand to my forehead every few minutes, wondering if the pain had gone away on its own. I would have been absolutely certain that I hadn’t been dreaming were it not for the fact that my dreams have gotten me into trouble in the past. A few times, I had dreamed things so real that I was certain they had actually happened. I once told a male co-worker that I’d had a wonderful time on our date last night, only to discover that this date had actually occurred only within my own head. Needless to say, the work environment got a bit uncomfortable after that. I had to leave that job a couple months later. Things had just gotten too embarrassing.