Author's note: Hi, all! After taking a nearly two-month break from posting, I'm ready for another story. I hope you like it!
This story is just Nancy. The Hardy Boys will not be making an appearance. I feel like it's about time I give Nancy & Co. the love they deserve. As you can tell from the title, this is a ghost mystery. I realized that I haven't yet written a ghost story, and right around Halloween is as good a time as any, even though it takes place in December rather than October. I'm trying to make this feel more like one of the classic Nancy Drew Mysteries, so Nancy, Bess, and George are all eighteen, and Ned, Burt, and Dave are nineteen, or thereabouts. When I was writing Shadow Ranch, having a regular posting schedule worked well, so I think I will follow the same schedule here: a chapter every Tuesday and Friday.
I try not to beg for reviews as an author, since that usually annoys me when I'm a reader, but I will say that I do appreciate any and all reviews very, very much and I would love to hear what you think. Enjoy!
The Ghost of Jack Delance
A Ghost Story
Most of the drivers on the road between River Heights and Emerson that day were regretting that they hadn't the Weather Service's storm warning that day. The blizzard that they had predicted was here in all its predicted fury, and then some. Perhaps the only ones bold enough (or, it may be, young and foolish enough) not to regret making the trek today were the three girls in the blue convertible that were making their way along cheerfully, if very, very slowly.
"One good thing about driving in snow is that all the potholes are filled in," George Fayne observed as she leaned comfortably back against the heated seat. She was eighteen with short, brown hair and an easy-going nature.
"Just so long as we don't hit black ice," her cousin, Bess Marvin, said. She was blonde and tended to be more nervous and cautious than George. Even so, she had been just as intent on this trip as her two companions.
"We'll be fine, Bess," the third girl in the party spoke up. She was Nancy Drew, a titian-haired girl who tended to be the leader of the trio, and on this occasion, like on many others, the girls were riding in her car. "We'll be late, but we'll be fine."
"Should we call the boys again and let them know we're still all right?" Bess asked.
George rolled her eyes good naturedly. "It's only been, what? Fifteen minutes? Anyway, even on these roads, we're bound to get to Emerson in a half hour or so."
"If you say so," Bess replied, but she was unconvinced.
George, thinking it would be better to change the subject, turned to Nancy. "So, how about these ghost sightings the guys told us about? Any theories yet?"
Nancy laughed. She spent most of her time solving mysteries as an amateur detective, and so when her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, had mentioned that a ghost had been making appearances in the woods near Emerson college, where Ned went to school, Nancy had immediately made up her mind to investigate when she, Bess, and George went up to Emerson for a visit. They had been planning on visiting, anyway. Bess's boyfriend, Dave Evans, and George's boyfriend, Burt Eddleton, were also students at Emerson, and the boys had invited them for the annual Winter Festival, which took place a couple of weeks before finals and gave the students a chance to relax and blow off some steam before buckling down on their studies.
"It's a little soon to start formulating theories," Nancy told her. "I'd like to have a few more facts first. I got the feeling that Ned was purposely holding back some details."
"He probably wanted to tell you about them in person," Bess said. She leaned forward to be closer to the other two, since she had lost the "rock, paper, scissors" bout that she and George had used to decide who got to sit in front. "Dave told me that there's a really sad legend about the ghost, but then he refused to say another word about it."
"Typical." George shook her head.
"I don't suppose Burt was any more loose-lipped?" Nancy asked her.
George made a wry face. "Not even as much as usual. I think he was about to say something more, but Dave was in the same room and grabbed the phone away from him before he could."
The other girls chuckled, as they could easily imagine the scene. It turned the conversation to more cheerful topics, and the rest of the drive went by pleasantly and safely enough. Even so, Nancy couldn't help continuing to wonder about the ghost and she wished that the boys hadn't been so secretive about it.
Once they reached the Omega Chi Epsilon House at Emerson College, Nancy found a parking space and the girls made a dash for the door, leaving their bags in the car. They stopped in the foyer to stamp the snow from their boots and shake it out of their hair.
The door from the foyer to the big common area of the fraternity was locked, but it was glass and a young man standing on the other side of it opened the door for them.
"How did you get here through all that snow?" he asked. "When Ned, Burt, and Dave told me you were still coming, I thought you were crazy."
"Thanks for the compliment, Liam," George replied wryly. The girls had met Liam Rodgers, along with most of the other Omega Chi Epsilon men on other visits.
At that moment, Ned, Burt, and Dave came down the stairs and enthusiastically greeted the girls. Ned was the tallest of three with brown hair and eyes and a friendly smile. Dave was blond and a great jokester, while dark-haired Burt was short but proficient at sports.
"I'm glad you girls got through okay," Ned said after the greetings were over. He looked out the window. "This is one of the worst storms I've seen up here."
"I hope it isn't going to ruin the Winter Festival," Bess commented.
"I doubt it," Dave assured her. "It's supposed to blow over by tonight. I think it's already letting up a little. All the more it will do is make sure we have plenty of snow for the festival, which is always a good thing."
"Yeah, well, if you guys were hoping that the storm was going to let you break the rules about overnight guests, I guess it quashes that hope," Liam said with a mischievous grin.
Nancy and Bess blushed, although George's cheeks reddened more with annoyance than embarrassment.
"Why don't you just go mind your own business, Liam?" she asked.
Liam slunk off, still snickering.
"Sorry about that, girls," Dave said. "Some of the guys around here really need to grow up. Anyway, we do have a hotel room booked for you for the weekend. It's at the nicest hotel in town, but, uh, I hope you don't mind that we booked a suite rather individual rooms. College budgets and all, you know."
"We don't mind at all," Nancy assured him. "And we know all about college budgets. That's why we're paying you back for the room. No arguments. We're not about to stand around and watch you three have to drop out of college because you've spent all your money on us."
"We're going to have to talk about that a little more," Ned replied. "Anyway, I think Dave's right and the storm is letting up. What do you say to a dinner at a real restaurant instead of the caf'?"
"And we're paying for it no matter what it costs. No arguments there," Burt added.
George nodded. "We pay for the room and you pay for the dinner. Sounds fair to me."
They waited a little longer, and within the next half hour, the storm had died down completely and snow plows were out. Nancy and Ned drove Nancy's car downtown, while Bess, Dave, George, and Burt followed them in Dave's car. They stopped at a cozy, little restaurant, not far from the hotel where the girls would be staying, which was on the outskirts of town. Because of the conditions, it wasn't busy, and so they were seated immediately and a waitress came to give them their menus.
Nancy didn't pick hers up right away, though. "Okay, guys, you know we're dying of curiosity. Why don't you tell us about this ghost?"
"Well…" Ned grinned at the other two boys. "It's more of a story for a campfire than a restaurant, but I guess we might as well tell you about it. The ghost is the Ghost of Jack Delance."
"Is that name supposed to mean something to us?" George asked.
"Probably not," Ned admitted. "The story's pretty popular with the locals up here, and Burt and Dave and I have heard it from working as summer camp counselors down on the lake."
"You see," Burt took up the story, "it happened in the river just below Pine Hill. Of course, you already know that the river runs right through the town of Emerson before it empties into the lake. It's the town's one ghost story, so it's pretty much a staple of campfire stories at the camp."
"Anyway," Ned went on, "the story goes that there was a family of settlers named Delance who lived just at the base of Pine Hill. If it was daylight, you'd be able to see the spot from here. They had several children, including a fifteen-year-old son named Jack. The winter that year kept switching between being harsh and not, and even though the river froze over, everyone knew that it wasn't very solid."
"All the kids were warned to stay off the ice." Dave took up the story. "But the Delance children wanted to ice skate, so they kept sneaking out when their parents weren't around or even after dark to ice skate. As you know, the river's pretty wide there, so they kept close to the shore, and they were always fine."
"Until, one night when there was a full moon and they snuck out of the house," Burt said. "It had been an especially cold day, and so the kids were feeling a little bolder. One of Jack's younger brothers skated right out into the middle of the river, and then they all heard an ominous crack. The other kids yelled to the one who had skated out into the middle to come back, but he was too afraid to move. Finally, Jack skated out to rescue him. He managed to push his brother to safety, but before he could get there himself, the ice cracked again. This time, it cracked right underneath Jack's feet and he fell through. The other kids screamed for help and tried to rescue him, but the current must have carried him under the ice and trapped him there immediately, because he never surfaced again."
Bess shivered. "That's a terrible story."
"I warned you that it was sad," Dave reminded her.
"So Jack is now a ghost?" George asked.
"Mm-hmm," Ned replied. "It wasn't very long before people started reporting seeing him in the woods or skating on the river. A few people claimed to have gotten close to him. They said that he was covered in ice and no matter what time of year it was, you could see his breath like it was a cold day."
"Hold on," George objected. "A ghost doesn't breathe. That's part of the point."
Ned shrugged. "I'm just telling you what I've been told. I'm sure there wasn't anything in those early ghost sightings. They certainly didn't last all that long. As far as I've heard, it's been more than seventy years since anyone has reported seeing Jack's ghost, until now, anyway. All the sudden, several people are claiming to have seen him, or at least, to have seen an eerie light or a vague figure or something that they claim is ghostly."
"It's most likely a few imaginations running away with people and a few other people trying to get in on the fun," Nancy said.
"Probably," Ned agreed, "but if I know you, you're going to look into it anyway."
Nancy grinned and nodded. "You do know me pretty well."
The conversation for the rest of dinner revolved around theories of what other explanations there could be for the so-called ghostly activity. If it was manmade, the only motive any of them could think of that began to make sense was that it was a prank.
"It could always be a real ghost," Dave suggested with a grin.
Burt playfully swatted at him. "Yeah, and it could also be Bigfoot."
The others laughed. When the meal was over and they were walking back out to the cars, Nancy paused for a moment to take in the scene. Even the clouds had rolled away now, and a pale moon, a few nights away from being full, was reflecting off the snow and giving the world a dreamy, magical sort of look.
The restaurant was on a hill, and the river was down below it. Nancy looked down that way toward the base of Pine Hill and the scene of the tragedy many years before. Then she took a step back. A figure, glowing with a pale blue light, was moving along the frozen river.