“This is going to be fun,” Chrys Alcrest did a double step. Her Steve Madden boots clicked on the asphalt outside the tourist center.
Spencer Alcrest shoved his hands in the pockets of his cashmere coat. “How much is this costing me?”
“I’m paying for it.”
His eyebrows popped up. “You’re paying for the whole crew to go on this bus thing? Since when do you have money?” His foster-sister had been putting in less hours at the restaurant, but was always there to get food. He was starting to understand why.
“You’re a downer.”
“I can leave if you want.”
“No you can’t.” Chrys stepped in front of him to block his path. The two of them considered each other blood-related siblings, however over the past few months she had started to wonder why. He was becoming a real tyrant asshole. “I’m paying for this. I teach at the dance studio, I’ve been putting in hours for Hoyt at the locksmiths and,” Chrys stopped herself before she said anything else to her brother. She realized half of the staff from The Alcrest Gastropub was right there pretending not to listen. She didn’t need everyone knowing what other side jobs she had and wasn’t ready yet to tell her brother. He was going to be pissed. “I have more money than you know, Spence.”
“Then why don’t you pay some of the bills at home?” He turned away from her and joined the others, still with his hands in his pockets.
It was almost midnight on a chilly April night. Chrys had convinced most of the restaurant’s evening shift to come to this. All of the servers came – well, there had only been two on, Hanni and Wylie. Wylie seemed excited about the ride and even called his girlfriend-at-the-moment to come down. Hanni looked less enthusiastic. Chrys really didn’t want the slooty bitch there, but she had been working and said she would. All of the cooks came. Gordie was off somewhere probably smoking something of a questionable nature, Ranger and Morgan were by the door of the bus with shoulders slouched not talking to each other. Or anyone else. There were other people hanging around waiting for the tour.
After a minute of deep breaths she tucked her long chestnut hair, in the dim light it looked black, inside her jacket and stepped beside her brother. “Why didn’t Jessie come?”
“She was tired.” Spencer’s voice was absent as if it was just a stock response.
Chrys stomped her feet on the ground to get some feeling in them. “What’s going on with you two?”
Spencer looked up, but didn’t look at his sister. His eyes caught the gaze of Hanni. “Nothing,” he said.
“Come on.” Chrys was fearless and often seemed to lack that little voice that said, shut up. “I don’t know when she last stayed over. I may not be her fan, but I thought you guys were something. What’s going on?”
“Nothing, I said. Why don’t you talk about your own life and leave mine alone?” Spencer and Jessie, the front-of-house manager at the restaurant, had been an item for years. For almost a year now their relationship had been extremely strained. Strained enough that for the past few weeks they had only spoke during work hours. Spencer didn’t know what would happen. He was pretty sure things had gone too far for anything to be fixed.
“You are such a dick.” Chrys wrapped her arms around her body.
The Midnight in Middleton Ghost Tour had been a draw for locals and tourists for almost ten years. The motor coach (the sides of which were painted with a woman in a ghostly white gown walking on a stormy shore) left the tourist center at midnight and zig-zagged through the streets as a tour guide told the haunting stories of the cities past. For some it could get spooky, but it was all in good fun. Near the end the driver pretended the bus broke down in the wooded park that everyone knows is haunted. Chrys and her friends tried camping out there for one night and couldn’t do it. The driver of the tour flicked the light, pumped the breaks, pretended like the engine shut down and scared the crap out of everyone. Chrys had been on the ride three times in the last week and it frightened her every time. The coach tour season had just started with some new stories added onto the tour. That was why she made everyone come out.
Chrys took a breath and let it out slow. She stepped beside a man with a round belly pushing out his City of Middleton jacket. She put her shoulders back, chest out, chin up. “Could I have everyone’s attention please? My name is Chrys and I’ll be tonight’s guide into the ghostly stories of Middleton’s past. As you come on board please show me your souvenir ticket and take a seat. You will see a few reserved seats for a group from The Alcrest Gastropub in the front. You’ll hear more about that later. And nobody sit directly behind the bus driver unless you want me to sit in your lap.”
There was a snort from a man who afterward got an elbow from his wife.
Tonight’s customers were a good assortment of people. A couple of families with different aged children, couples on dates, some friends out for a different sort of evening. This was just the first of things Chrys has been up to that she didn’t tell her big brother.
After the last guest went in the bus Chrys climbed up the steps. Her eyes fell on the second seat. Hanni was beside the window and Spencer right beside her. The two women didn’t get along all the time even though they had each saved the others life. Chrys didn’t like the way she was around her brother. Hanni served at the restaurant and would flirt with anything to get bigger tips from her push-up gel bras to tight skirts that barely hid anything. Chrys was sure the woman was high on something most of the time. She liked doing what she could to make Spencer, the chef and owner of The Alcrest Gastropub, as nervous and uncomfortable as she could. Even if it meant grabbing his ass in front of his girlfriend who was also her direct supervisor.
Chrys shook her head. She didn’t get her brother lately. It was his life. If he wanted to ruin it with sluts then that was up to him. She put a microphone headset on and flicked the on switch. “Can everyone hear me?” There were some responses. “You sir, in the back, can you hear me?”
“Yes, I…I can.”
“Okay, welcome everyone to the Midnight in Middleton Ghost Tour. As I said, I’m Chrys. Your driver tonight is Jerry. Say hi, Jerry.” She waited for him to wave. “Tonight we are going to tour the city as I tell you tales of ghosts, spirits, strange occurrences, dastardly crimes and cases of murder. The City of Middleton has a long and colourful past. Some of these stories are from before Canada was even a country, some are from the last century and a couple are as recent as last year’s news headlines.”
Spencer’s head popped up. His aquamarine eyes blasted fire at his Aboriginal foster-sister. He was going to kill her.
Chrys wouldn’t look down at him. As the bus started to move again she was still standing holding onto a metal bar. Even though she couldn’t see all the way to the back she looked there. She felt her brother’s eyes burning into her. “I may tell you things that will shock you. I may tell you things that will frighten you. Please note, that every story I do tell you is absolutely, one hundred percent true no matter how outlandish it may seem. Sit back as we go into the world of the macabre.”
Spencer had gone on the tour a couple of years ago with Jessie. It started off the same way as then at the Aeronautics Museum. Chrys talked about the World War Two pilot, whose plane was inside, and how he had been spotted walking the floors. Also about Wendell the janitor who died there from a heart attack and still can be heard sweeping the foyer.
Spencer sat with his arms crossed in front of him. He had things he could be doing instead of sitting on a bus listening to his sister tell ghost stories. The restaurant wasn’t in a good place. They had been losing customers over the past year. As far as cutting corners to pay bills, he didn’t know what else he could do. He loved the fact that he made a new menu all the time depending on what was at the butchers, farmer’s or fish markets, however if customers didn’t want what he had planned all of that went to waste. He didn’t want to be one of those places with the same menu day after day. He wondered if his dad went through the same thing all the years that he ran The Alcrest. Too bad he was gone. Spencer also wondered if his dad was as angry as he had become. He remembered his father yelling, but for him it was becoming overwhelming. Being on this ride wasn’t helping.
Spencer felt Hanni’s French tipped nails running up and down his thigh. Even that wasn’t helping with his mood. She had a way of getting him excited to the point of feeling uncomfortable. Only lately it wasn’t uncomfortable that he was feeling. Not with her anyway.
As the bus slowed Chrys stood and turned around. She wrapped an arm around the metal support pole before glared down at her brother for a few seconds. “Okay everyone, the area of town we are coming into was, at the turn of the twentieth century, China Town. It is of course now known as Old China Town. So creative right? In 1908 opium became illegal and as the story goes the opium and gambling dens moved to tunnels under Old China Town. The story is that …” as she spoke her eyes continued to drop down to her brother. Hanni was now whispering in his ear. He smiled and nodded. What did that mean? “… As the myth goes that is why this street is called Butcher’s Alley. The truth is probably that an important politician at the time was John H. Butcher, however. We are now going to head to a brand new addition to the tour and this one is no myth.”
As soon as Chrys was down in her seat she turned off the microphone and twisted around the back to see what was happening in her brother’s seat. Even in the dim light she saw the blond woman was pressed up against Spencer. “What the hell are you doing?”
“What?” Spencer acted all surprised.
Hanni took the moment to put her hand on-top of his thigh and gave it a squeeze. “Leave us alone, Chrys.”
“Do you mind? I’m talking to my brother.” Chrys stared at her until she turned to the window with a flourish of her long hair. Chrys noticed Hanni’s fingers never left her brother’s leg. “Cut it out, Spence.”
His arms were still crossed over his chest. “Don’t tell me what to do, Chrys. And where are we going?”
“A new spot on the tour.”
“Wait and see.” Chrys turned back to face the front. She didn’t have quite the flourish in her locks. Hearing Hanni and Spencer laugh behind her made her entire body shiver.
Spencer knew exactly where they were going. They had already crossed into the part of Middleton called Fontana. It was mainly a residential area. There were a lot of smaller, family owned businesses. Pretty soon they’d be heading up Pearson Street. He was pretty sure the address they were going to was 3231 Pearson between Gillies and Scoble. He was going to throttle his sister.
Hanni screeched. She leapt away from the window almost climbing over Spencer’s lap. Morgan screamed. Chrys let out a little yelp. Others in the bus yelled and flinched away from the left side windows.
It took half a block before Chrys had her microphone back on. She chose not to stand. Her knees felt week. “Everyone have a little scare there? That has become the latest Middleton Mystery. Two or three nights a week people have reported seeing a mysterious clown on random street corners.” Tonight he had been standing on the opposite side of the street almost staring at the bus as it went by. He was dressed in a baggy suit of yellow, blue and white with large red puff-balls down the front. His face was all white except a painted on smile, red nose and blue around the eyes. In the street light his wild hair looked orange. For Chrys the creepiest part was that the three balloons he held in one hand didn’t move in the wind. She continued, “Some of the younger crowd have now made it a game trying to find the clown so they can get their picture with him. Nobody knows why he is out there or where he came from.”
“Who the hell would do that?” Hanni was much louder than she needed to be. Her entire body trembled. She had always been terrified of clowns. She never said why.
“There are a few theories floating around social media,” Chrys said over the loud speakers. “Lunatic escaped from a mental hospital. A college student trying to prove something. A demonic creature. Some have even said that it may be more than one person and that is why he is so hard to catch on film.
“Here we are at our next stop. A favorite meal spot in Middleton, The Alcrest Gastropub, has now become more well-known because a brutal murder which had one of its cooks headless body burned to a crisp in the restaurants very own oven just last year.”
The only thing that had changed to the front of the faded brick building since back in the day when it was a pub was the large bay window with the restaurant’s name etched on it. It had to be replaced last summer. Beside the front door, imbedded in the wall, was a polished rectangle of black granite with Alcrest carved in script. Above that was a protruding white lion head. The lion was picked as the family crest because nobody knew what the actual crest was. This lion was either snarling or smiling depending on how you looked at it.
Spencer thought about getting up and demanding to be let out. He and his sister shared the apartment above the restaurant. If his truck wasn’t half-way across the city he would have done it. Instead he stared up at her with distain.
Chrys wouldn’t look down at him. “Some of the employees at The Alcrest swear they have felt or seen a ghostly presence late at night.” All of the people in the first few seats looked at each other. They were all the staff and none of them knew what she was talking about. The truthful parts of this tour were questionable. “Now, sit back and relax as we head to more places of horror.” She sat down as the bus started again.
Spencer leaned around the seat. “What the hell was that?”
“By telling people about the body in the oven? You missed where we found her head. This is going to drive people away, not bring them in.”
“You underestimate the power of a spooky story. What if they want to see a ghost?”
“They’ll be disappointed.” This was ridiculous. Why was his sister always doing crazy things? Why was he always picking up the pieces? Spencer couldn’t hold his thoughts any longer. “From now on keep your hands and schemes away from my restaurant. I’m barely surviving as it is.”
Chrys moved back a moment. “I thought it was The Alcrest restaurant, not Spencer Alcrest’s restaurant.”
“This is all I’ve got, Chrys.”
“And what do I have, Spence? This is my future too. I’m trying to help.”
Spencer felt his staff watching and listening. He didn’t want to be the center of attention. What he should have said was that Chrys had her dancing and modelling and that she was going to go places. She didn’t need the restaurant. That was what he should have said. What he actually said was, “You’re not an Alcrest.”
Chrys stared at his eyes. When she was three her mother didn’t pick her up from daycare. She disappeared. Chrys went to live with the Alcrest family. She became part of them. She was an Alcrest. She thought her foster-brother felt the same. Chrys flicked on her microphone and said, “Fuck you!” Her words came out of all of the speakers inside the bus. She turned back to face the front.
She didn’t want to cry. Screw Spencer. She didn’t know what was going on with him. He had never said anything like that to her before. They had always treated each other like a real brother and sister would. They fought now and then, but were always there for each other. Chrys didn’t know if it was like that anymore. She wiped a tear from her cheek.
She knew people had always looked at them with strange expressions when the family was out. Here was this white Caucasian family with a little girl the colour of creamy coffee. Three blond people and a girl with chestnut hair, right. She knew people always saw her as a special case. She didn’t think her own brother thought that way. The next tear she let run down her face and fall from her jaw line.
Spencer stared at the back of her head. How dare she do this? She never thought about what she was doing. He ignored Hanni’s hand gripping his inner thigh.
As Chrys stood and faced the back of the tour bus she focused on the black shadows of people farther back. The light which spotlighted her showed a glistening on her cheeks. As she started to speak her voice cracked. After a pause she started again. “In 1922, Leigh Park was the site for one of Middleton’s most infamous mysteries. Even today, almost one hundred years later, the police still consider this an open case. It is the case of the twin boys found murdered in woods. Their killer remains at large. Their identities are still unknown.”
The bus drove below a rot-iron archway with, Leigh Park, spelled out above the road. It was a provincial park in the North-west corner of the city. It was almost completely surrounded by water – the Pacific on one side and Winchester Bay on two others. To protect the park from the changing tide the Middleton Seawall had been built around the outer edges almost around the same time as the twin boys had been found. Thousands of people visited it to run, walk or bike every day. Most of the 1000-acre park was made of dense West Coast rainforest that was hundreds of years old. Every once in a while a wind storm ravaged parts of the park, but the resilience of nature always came back. There are hiking trails, beaches, a small par 3 golf course and an aquarium. The Alcrest family had gone there every Canada Day to listen to live music and watch the fireworks get set off in the bay. The aquarium was still one of Chrys’ favorite places to spend a day. She had been taken to different parts of the park many times on dates.
“It was a rainy August day when one of the men working on the Seawall walked into the woods to do his business.” Chrys paused for the usual chuckle. “It was then that he came upon the most terrifying thing he had ever seen in his entire life. Two boys, almost identical lay beneath a giant redwood holding hands. Their bodies were half covered by dead leaves and branches in an attempt to hide them.” The bus continued driving into the towering forest as she spoke. “It was reported later that one had been beaten with a rock and the other stabbed in the heart. They were dressed in their Sunday best. Each one’s hair was cut nicely, nails trimmed. Except for the dirt and blood on their clothes they were dressed like high society children. Their pictures and descriptions were printed in every newspaper from Anchorage down to Seattle and as Far East as Calgary, yet nobody ever came forward to claim their identities. They became known as the Leigh Twins.”
The bus lurched to one side. The light focused on Chrys flickered off and on. The thin road they were on had towering dark trees on either side. Looking out the windows the tour customers only saw black and shadow. Someone near the back gasped.
Chrys let out a nervous laugh. “It looks like even the driver is getting afraid. Everything alright, Jerry?”
He gave her a nod.
“There were no other clues besides the boy’s bodies and soon the mystery was forgotten as it faded into myth. Night hikers in the woods have reported many strange things. Children’s laughter in the wind. Dancing lights amongst the trees. The ghostly-white image of two boys walking through the forest holding hands. Whatever happened to their killer? Why did this happen to them? Will the Leigh Twins ever get to rest?” She glared down at Hanni. “Was the killer the clown that now wanders our streets?”
The bus reeled forward. Chrys was ready for it. One hand held onto the metal pole as she lunged toward the dashboard then pulled herself back. The bus bounced from one side to the other as if something was terribly wrong. It was all part of the ride. They were going to pretend the bus broke down. Jerry would get off to fix it and everyone would sit in the dark waiting. After a few minutes people usually began to question where he was. Meanwhile outside Jerry would play the sound of children laughing. A couple more minutes and he’d run on the bus startling everyone.
The light on Chrys flashed off and on again. The bus bounced. Hanni let out a little noise. Fucking whimp, Chrys thought. Jerry played with the headlights so they were flickering. He’d come to a stop right on the corner. The bus started the turn. He turned the headlights off. His foot pushed the brake pedal hard. He turned the lights back on.
Hanni let out a banshee wail. Spencer flinched back from her.
It was up until that moment that she had been having fun. Her hand was on Spencer’s leg. She was whispering things in his ear that obviously made him uncomfortable. She had been playing this game for a couple years and was getting close to the end. She was never satisfied once she got what she wanted. She was about to move her hand again, then she looked out the front window.
“Hanni?” Spencer stared at the woman beside him. Her nails dug into his leg. Her blue eyes were wide as saucers. “Hanni, what is it?”
Another scream erupted from near the back of the bus. Jerry swore. Morgan screamed. Chrys turned and looked out the windshield. She suddenly stumbled back. Spencer reached out and caught her.
The headlights had fallen on objects hanging from a tree. All of them had once belonged to a human. As the head spun its dead eyes fell on the bus. Arms and legs swayed in the wind around it as if they were just floating there. This was not part of the tour.