Haunting in Disguise


Elizabeth Liatsos, Staff Writer

The dimly lit aisle looked almost exactly as it had for the past one hundred years: rows of old dusty machines that no longer functioned, creaky wooden floorboards that made visitors nervous to walk on, and chipped white paint on the far wall. The only real differences between now and a hundred years ago were the ropes and colorful signs all around that had been set up when the factory was turned into a museum. They prevented visitors from getting too close to the machines and informed them what each used to be used for. Some signs talked about the poor conditions that workers in this and other factories had to endure, which was why Virginia was in the factory in the first place.

And why she didn’t ever leave.

Virginia Clarke had worked in this factory over one hundred years ago. She had died because of the terrible conditions written on the signs plastered around the room. Now, she haunted this factory. Virginia had no idea why she was stuck here. Her dying wish was never to haunt her place of work, but here she stayed. 

She had hated this building when she was alive, but after being stuck here for a century, she’s grown to love it. It was the only place she could truly call home.

Virginia’s love for this building meant she knew everything about it. She knew who was on guard duty each night of the week, and what their routine was. Tonight was a Thursday night, meaning Joseph was in charge. She had always had a fondness for Joseph. He didn’t blare loud music like Sean did, and he didn’t chew with his mouth open like Lisa. Instead, Joseph sat himself at his desk and pulled out a book. Oftentimes Virginia would stand behind him and read along. He had marvelous taste in literature, she thought.

Tonight’s selection was a book he had brought in before. It was Harry Potter, and it was about a boy who possessed magic. Something like that would never have been published in Virginia’s day, but she enjoyed it greatly. 

Joseph had just turned the page when there was a creaking in the distance. Both their heads shot up immediately, and they both went to investigate.

“Who’s there?” Joseph called out. “I can have the police here with the push of a button so reveal yourself!”

A figure emerged from behind a shelf.

“Joseph! It’s just me,” the man said. Joseph let out an exhale of relief. It was Richard Ross, the stout, balding owner of the museum. His gaze flickered from Joseph’s face to the far wall briefly, then back to Joseph. His hands were in the pockets of his jacket.

“What are you doing here, Mr. Ross?” Joseph asked, brows furrowed. Virginia knew what was running through his head. No one should be here at this hour except for Joseph. If Mr. Ross was expected, Joseph would have been informed of it. And he barely visited during daylight, why would the owner of the museum be here in the dark hours after close?

Ross looked around once more, then pulled his hand out of his pocket. Before Virginia knew what was happening, there was a bang and Joseph lay on the floor, blood seeping into his uniform from a wound on his chest.

Virginia would have screamed if she could have. She would have run to Mr. Ross and fought back against him, would have avenged Joseph. 

But she was just a gust of wind, a chill breeze. She could only stand and watch as Richard Ross stepped over Joseph’s body, a look of disgust plastered on his face, and raised a gloved hand to a shelf. Realizing his pistol was still in his hand, he discarded it like it was nothing. Then, he grabbed a diamond necklace off the shelf.

Alarms blared. Apparently, Ross had forgotten about the new security system. His face paled, and in flash, he had grabbed as many trinkets off different shelves as he could, knocking many onto the floor, and ran out the back door. It slammed shut.

Virginia stood in the middle of it all. The blood streaked on the floor, the broken objects cluttering the hardwood floors, and the red lights flashing and sirens blaring.

It took a while before anyone responded to the alarms. Virginia had overheard conversations about them. If they weren’t turned off after 2 minutes, they would immediately call the police. But the museum wasn’t very close to any precincts, so the police didn’t get there fast enough.

Virginia didn’t pay much attention to what happened after. The next hours were filled with body bags, little yellow cones, and caution tape. But there wasn’t much else to be done until the lead detective got there in the morning.

And as the sky outside the frosted windows slowly turned from black to pink to blue, more detectives flooded into the museum. Among them stood a woman who introduced herself as Detective Robyn Ashford, as if that was supposed to mean anything. Virginia thought she was full of herself. But when she told everyone else she was the primary detective on the case, Virginia supposed she’d have to do. 

The secondary detective was a small man named Elliot Webber. He was timid, and between his reserve and Ashford’s arrogance, Virginia knew she, as the only witness, would be needed. The small problem with that was that she was dead. She’d have to get creative.

Detective Ashford did the logical thing first, much to Virginia’s surprise, and checked the security footage. Unfortunately, Ross knew all the blind spots of the cameras and wasn’t caught on any of them. 

“How is it possible that this guy wasn’t caught on any of the cameras?” Webber asked.

Ashford paused for a moment, considering, then answered, “It must mean he knew the layout. Either he’s visited here a ton recently, or he works here.” She looked around with disdain on her face. “I’m guessing the latter option.”

Despite having insulted her place of haunting, Virginia was grateful Detective Ashford had already gotten this far. She knew they would need more to go on than simply the list of employees, so Virginia figured this was her time to shine.

Virginia got down on her hands and knees and searched. She knew Ross had thrown his pistol on the floor, and there hadn’t been time for him to retrieve it after the alarms went off, so it had to still be here. It took a few minutes of crawling under and around shelves to find it, but when she did, it was like a weight lifted off her shoulders. 

Now was the difficult part. She had to get the pistol insight of the detectives. Since she wasn’t inhabiting a body, this was challenging. It took a lot of concentration and energy to move objects in a ghostly form. Virginia took a deep breath and relaxed. She slipped her hand behind the pistol, squinted, and pushed, releasing a long exhale as she did. It moved. 

The pistol, not only had slid to the middle of the room, but it had made a noise across the floor too. Detective Webber looked at it, then all around, trying to find who could have moved it. But to his eyes, no one was there. 

Webber put on gloves and picked up the pistol, bagging it as he brought it to Ashford. Together, they dusted it for fingerprints.

“Nothing,” Ashford said, defeated. “He must have been wearing gloves or something.” 

Without fingerprints, the detectives had little to go off other than the little information they knew about the killer. Detective Ashford said the crime scene looked like it was intended as a burglary, and Joseph was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Detective Webber suggested that they bring in the owner of the museum to help them narrow down suspects. This caught Virginia’s attention. They were so close, even her undead hands could feel the answer.

Once Richard Ross had arrived, the detectives started asking him questions. He didn’t look the least bit sorrowful of the burglary, or the murder. He appeared to be very detached from it all. He asked only one question: whether or not he would get an insurance payout on the stolen objects. 

So that’s why he did it, thought Virginia. For the insurance money.

Detective Ashford scribbled down notes from her discussion with Ross. She looked very suspicious of him, but Virginia knew she couldn’t arrest him based on a feeling. They needed more evidence. 

Virginia thought back to the previous night. If Ross had forgotten about the security system, what else could he have missed?

So, she snooped around again. Not entirely sure what she was looking for, Virginia walked up and down the aisles of shelves and displays. She had almost given up hope when something shiny caught her eye from under the nearest bookshelf that was stacked with vintage magazines and a set of porcelain dolls that were a century old.

Virginia crouched down and examined the object. It was a wallet. The flash she saw was the light reflecting on the golden clasp that had the letters RFR etched into the metal. If this wasn’t enough to pin the crime on Ross, the sticky scarlet blood caked on the leather of the wallet would surely find him guilty.

Similar to how she moved the pistol, Virginia focused all her energy on the wallet. When it skirted across the floor, it left a streak of blood in its wake. This time, it wasn’t one of the detectives that found the evidence. It was Ross. His face paled as he saw the bloodied wallet. His eyes quickly flickered between Detective Ashford, who was still asking him questions, and the evidence that could easily get him locked up for murder. He tried to slowly slip away from Ashford, but she caught on to what was happening quickly. She may be arrogant, thought Virginia, But at least she’s bright.

 “Mr. Ross, where are you going?” she asked, a slight crease forming on her forehead. She had placed her hands on her hips and seemed to tower over him, despite being shorter.

Ashford never got her answer, for as Ross tried to snake his way out of the mess he had been too careless to clean, she saw the wallet behind him. Ashford dove to the ground and picked it up with one gloved hand.

“R. F. R.” she read off the inscription. “As in Richard Francis Ross?” Her icy gaze shifted to Ross. 

“I- it’s not- I don’t-” Ross sputtered over the words, trying and failing to make an excuse for himself.

“Webber!” Ashford shouted over her shoulder. “Bring me an evidence bag and then send this to the lab to see if the blood matches with Joseph Burke’s.” Detective Webber did as she requested, and drove off to the lab.

Virginia could tell the wheels spinning in Ross’s head were getting him nowhere. He was trapped. There was nothing for him to do but give up. He put his hands above his head and stood there as they waited for the results on the blood.

The clock on the far wall ticked for what felt like hours before Detective Ashford’s phone rang. Everyone in the room froze, anxiously anticipating the results.

“Webber? What have you got for me?” Ashford asked, and put Detective Webber on speakerphone.

“The blood is Joseph Burke’s. And it is undoubtedly Richard Ross’s, his license was inside.”

A wide grin spread from one of Detective Ashford’s ears to the other. Virginia recognized the feeling of satisfaction, as she had the very same one.

“Richard Ross, you are under arrest for the murder of Joseph Burke and for attempted insurance fraud.” Detective Ashford grabbed her handcuffs and cuffed Ross. Virginia almost expected him to try to run, but she supposed he knew there was no use. 

Ashford walked him out of the museum, reciting the Miranda Rights. Slowly but surely, the officers left, and the museum stilled again. Virginia once more roamed the aisles in solitude, but unlike the century before, there was a new purpose for her existence. Virginia hadn’t known why she was chosen to haunt this building, but it didn’t matter much now. She had been here when it mattered most. Perhaps the haunting that she had hated for years had truly been a blessing in disguise.