Saturday, November 11
Dawn was very disappointed that her friends had managed to actually get Alice’s full story without her present. When Roe managed to get in touch with Otis Atkins, she insisted that they all had to be there when Alice got to speak to him. Link had given Otis Roe’s phone number, and Roe had given Otis the basics of the situation, but they needed him to talk to Alice himself. Between his schedule, Lin’s, and everyone’s classes, it had taken them a few weeks to schedule something.
Finally, though, they all crowded into Annie’s room one more time and watched Lin sit in the chair and brace herself. She waited a moment, then frowned, her eyebrows drawing together quizzically. Dawn would have thought it was Alice who was confused, except this still seemed to be Lin’s expression. Was Alice somehow failing to show up?
Lin’s eyebrows lifted. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “I came here today to help you. I won’t come into this building unless it’s to help you.”
Then she gasped, closing her eyes, and when they opened again it was Alice who looked through them. She looked around. “Is it time? Really?”
“It’s time,” Annie said, smiling.
Roe took out her phone and dialed, setting it to speaker so they could all hear it ring. Then a male voice on the other side said, “Hello? Roe?”
“Hi, Mr. Atkins,” Roe said. “We have someone who wants to talk to you. Will you identify yourself?”
“Yes, of course. My name is Otis Atkins. I’m named after my grandfather, who was named after his father. I have an aunt named Alice Norburn. She was named after her great-aunt, Alice Atkins, who died while she was attending Chatoyant College.”
Alice gave another gasp and began to cry. “I’m Alice Atkins.”
“I know,” Otis said. “It’s amazing to be able to speak to you. I wish my grandfather could be here to witness this.”
“Your father is my brother Otis’s son?”
“Yes. He never knew you, of course, but he grew up hearing stories of his brilliant aunt.”
Alice cried harder. “I’m not brilliant. If I was, I wouldn’t have… I would have found a way to learn the spell I needed, instead of having it blow up in my face. I would have returned to help my family.”
Dawn felt sorry for Alice in her obvious difficulty of thinking of herself as dead. It made sense—she was here and talking to them, wasn’t she? And yet, of course, if she weren’t dead, she wouldn’t be a ghost forced to possess a medium in order to communicate. From what Dawn had learned about attitudes toward death in her sociology class, she couldn’t be sure that she wouldn’t feel the same way as Alice after she died. Though, of course, she hoped she wouldn’t be forced to become a ghost.
“But from what my grandfather told me, Otis was very proud of you,” Otis said. “He was so impressed that you had worked hard enough to be able to go to college, and to not even have to pay for it. He never went to college himself, but you inspired him to work hard. Do you remember where he was working when you went to college?”
“Yes, of course. He was an assistant at Nickelson’s Shoe Store.”
“Well, that store went on to be the Atkins Shoe Store.” Otis’s voice was warm.
Alice swallowed hard. “Really?”
“Yes. My great-grandfather owned that store. My grandfather turned it into a franchise—seven stores throughout the state. My father inherited the franchise and ran it well, but decided to send me to college. To the same college you attended. I learned so much here, but I never imagined that the ghost I heard about, haunting the girls’ dorm—Mary Thomas was all girls then—was actually my great-aunt.”
“So my family… they did all right without me?”
“Yes, from what I know. Otis worked hard all his life, but his children never wanted for anything. I don’t know exactly what happened with your sister Grace, but she married and had seven children, so I assume she was happy, too.”
Alice gave a watery chuckle, but her tears seemed to have stopped. “Grace always doted on children. I’m glad she got what she wanted. What about my father?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know. My grandfather never spoke about his own grandfather. But the family didn’t fall into ruin. All his descendants have happy lives.”
“Your life is happy?”
“Very much so. I retired a few years ago from my job as a lawyer. My father sold the shoe stores, and the money was divided between my three daughters. I have two grandchildren now and another on the way. Maybe if it’s a girl, I’ll ask them to name her Alice.”
“Oh, no, you don’t have to do that,” Alice said quickly. “I’m so happy to hear you’re all doing well. It’s… it’s all I could ever ask for.”
“Would you like me to come visit you?” Otis asked. “Perhaps when the students here are on a break?”
“I… no. You don’t have to do that.” It was plain from Alice’s face that she didn’t like the idea of her great-grandnephew visiting her. Dawn agreed that it was a strange thought. If she had lived, they would have never met unless she had lived a very long time indeed. “You won’t be able to see me, after all, and I can’t ask for any more of this medium’s time.”
“Oh. Yes, that makes sense. Still, it’s good to know that you’re there.”
“Thank you so much for speaking to me, Otis,” Alice said.
“Thank you for speaking to me,” he said.
“Can I ask a question?” Corrie put in.
“Certainly,” Otis said politely.
“When you went here, you heard stories about the ghost, right? How come you never investigated?”
“I, well—“ He gave a little cough. “I did, once. A friend and I, along with our girlfriends, who were living in Mary Thomas, tried to have a little seance. But the ghost tipped over our candles. Nearly set Mary Lou’s dress aflame.”
Alice’s hands flew to her mouth. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“No worries. I didn’t think much of it, really. I didn’t know who you were, and you obviously didn’t know who I was.”
“No, I… suppose not.”
There was a moment of silence. Then Roe spoke. “Mr. Atkins, do you have anything else to say to Alice?”
“Ah, just that she should feel free to get in touch with me at any time. You have my phone number?”
“Yes, I do. And Alice knows how to get in touch with me. Thank you.”
“Goodbye, Otis,” Alice whispered. She covered her face with her hands for a moment, then when the hands lowered, it was Lin’s face looking out at them once more.