Phantom in the Sky

The Paranormal Investigator Book 5

by Christopher Carrolli

Dylan Rasche is among the first to see something strange streak across the sky. Soon, there are others. After two witnesses are exposed to radiation from the strange object, Dylan and Susan begin to realize that a UFO mystery is looming before them. All of it makes Dylan remember his father...

Dr. Geoffrey Rasche was an astronomer and professor with a secret passion—investigating UFOs. That is, until a fatal accident occurred. Dylan never believed it was an accident, and now he’s discovered proof. Now, the investigators must learn who killed Dylan’s father and unravel the mystery of the phantom in the sky.


Chapter One

~ Something Strange in the Sky ~


Dylan Rasche removed his eye from the high-powered telescope lens he’d been looking through. A fast flash of green engulfed his view, obstructing his focus. The large, refracting telescope had been his late father’s—that, and the observatory he now sat in, gazing up at the billions of stars in the night sky. He was searching for the aurora borealis, commonly referred to as the “northern lights.” It was to be visible in the eastern sky tonight, a rare sight of an infrequent occurrence. He hadn’t located the celestial event, but as he searched, something had moved within his projected focal point.

Whatever it was had been fast, flashing a bright flare of green as it moved. Then, it was gone. It couldn’t have been the auroras; he hadn’t yet fixed the scope into the position he’d carefully calculated earlier. He focused his eye back over the lens.

Now there was nothing; only the constellations he’d noticed when searching for the right position. In his frustration, he began to question whether or not he’d seen anything at all. What could be there and then gone in an instant? It couldn’t have been a slight movement of the telescope; it was in its original position. It hadn’t moved. Maybe it was his tiring eyes. Still, the quick incident seemed strange.

Taking a moment to look around him, he thought of his father. Dr. Geoffrey Rasche had been an accredited astronomer and professor at the university where Dylan now served as Chief Investigator of the Paranormal Research and Investigative Society. His father had built this private observatory on the property of his vast, stately home after the university declined the commission of such a structure in favor of a new theater. The observatory on the Rasche estate was a small, square building with a set of stairs that led all the way up into the large, bubble-shaped dome that crowned it. The dome sported several openings through which different high-powered telescopes protruded, offering separate views of the nighttime sky. Here, in his private observatory, his father would devote his time to researching, and then teach at the observatory up on Eagle Rock Mountain.

It was from his father that Dylan had inherited his love of astronomy; an infatuation he shared with his fellow investigator, Brett Taylor. He and Brett would often meet here to study the sky, the constellations, and the moon. Here, they’d seen Mars, Venus, and the icy, crystalline rings of Saturn up close. He began repositioning the telescope, and once again, he lost his focus.

Damn it!

He knew he should have used the large, reflecting telescope, yet the far more advanced and higher-powered instrument hadn’t seemed necessary for the given occurrence. He’d paid for that enormous reflecting telescope with a healthy chunk of the wealth his father had left him. In addition to being a successful astronomer and a highly regarded professor, his father had also been an author who’d amassed quite a fortune writing books on astronomy. But the wealth wasn’t the only thing Dylan had acquired. He and his older sister, Denise, had inherited the entire estate. A few years later, Denise had married and moved to Philadelphia, leaving Dylan behind in the mansion he modestly called home. It had been his home throughout his childhood and teen years. Now, alone with his memories, Dylan recalled his father’s clandestine activity, one his students had whispered about outside of the classroom—the fact that Dr. Rasche was a UFO researcher and investigator.

What had made him think of that fact at this moment? What had brought that subconscious knowledge to the forefront of his mind? Was it just memories of his father, or was it because of what he’d just seen, or technically, didn’t see? Obviously, Dylan had also inherited his father’s fascination with the paranormal. Sometimes, he allowed his fascination to run away with him, and he supposed that now might be one of those times.

He sat in the seat behind the reflecting telescope, the size of which dwarfed all others in the small observatory. He gazed back into the black vastness of space, where nothing stirred, or moved, or caught his eye. Only the twinkling stars shimmered back at him. He sighed in frustration, seeing nothing at all of what he’d hoped to see. Finding the auroras tonight was next to impossible.

He should have asked Brett to be here tonight. Between the two of them, they may have seen something. Dylan hadn’t even thought to call his old friend and invite him over to try and catch the rare sight. Brett had been through so much during the past year with Uncle Jack’s illness; not to mention that the secret he’d kept from the rest of the world his entire life had exploded like a keg of dynamite. Brett’s existence as a shape-shifter had been revealed when the strange ability had overwhelmed him to the breaking point, eclipsing his identity, and splitting his soul in two. Throughout his life, Brett had coexisted with this strange phenomenon, and the revelation of it had placed him in the same company with Sidney Pratt and Leah Leeds.

It had all reached a terrifying climax at Uncle Jack’s farm during the heat of the past summer. Then, Uncle Jack died, and Brett had nearly shifted into the shape of a murderer. In many ways, Dylan remained thunderstruck by Brett’s revelation. He was still amazed at how it all had ended. Lost in thought, he looked down, almost seeing the blood on his own hands. They’d buried a dead body in the woods adjacent to the farmhouse. It was a secret that Dylan would carry to his grave.

Dylan thought of the irony of how he and Brett were now in somewhat of a similar situation; both of them were left to inherit the vastness of a big house—alone. Dylan remained cautious of gold-diggers in his personal life. It was one reason he hadn’t married. Yet, Dylan had family. Denise was only across the state. And while his parents had divorced when he was ten, his mother was remarried and living in San Diego. They had always been in close contact. Outside of the team, Brett had no one.

He wondered if Brett was searching the sky tonight, looking for the auroras with his own telescope. Certainly, he hadn’t the advantage that Dylan had here in his own observatory with the copious range of modern and updated equipment, but Brett did have the benefit of the vast and open starry sky that loomed above the land unhindered. The backyard at the farmhouse made a superb location for stargazing. Dylan thought to call Brett and ask if he’d been searching for the auroras, but the question would be a mere front for what he really wanted to know: had Brett seen anything in the sky tonight?

He glanced at his watch. It was shortly after midnight, but not too late to call. Brett was notorious for his late hours. The phone rang three times before his old pal answered.

“Well, well, you’re up late,” Brett said. “Nightmares or ghost hunting?”

“Stargazing,” Dylan replied.

“I see.”

“I’m searching for the auroras. They’re supposed to appear in the eastern sky tonight.”

“Yes, I heard,” Brett said.

“You’ve been searching also?”

Brett said he hadn’t. He’d been watching the weekly Saturday-night Horrorfest. “Also, I kind of forgot.”

Dylan went on to apologize for not inviting him over. He hadn’t been sure the search would’ve been successful, and it wasn’t. At least, he didn’t think so.

“I couldn’t see a damn thing,” Dylan said. “The conditions were just right, and I know I calculated correctly. I may’ve seen something, but I don’t know, maybe I just bumped the scope.”

“That’s a bummer, man. Sorry to hear it.”

Brett’s tone sounded leery, suspicious of him. Dylan was losing his thread. Obviously, Brett had been inside. But Dylan wondered if he’d been outside for even just a moment, though he would’ve mentioned seeing anything if he had been.

“You didn’t happen to see anything at all tonight, did you?”

He bit his lip. The question was too obvious. His attempt at discretion had been blown.

* * * *

Brett pressed the red button on his phone, ending the call and thinking of how strange Dylan had sounded. While it was not unusual for Dylan to be calling at this hour, the occasions were sparse, usually limited to last minute, pertinent details of emergency meetings in room 208. Simply put, Dylan’s late-night calls were usually alerts that something was going down. Although, Dylan had called this late recently, checking up on him in the wake of Uncle Jack’s death and everything that happened last summer. But that was over now. The late night calls from Dylan and the rest of the team had gradually ceased, until tonight.

Only moments ago, Dylan sounded distracted, mumbling about possibly bumping a telescope. “You didn’t happen to see anything at all tonight, did you?”

It didn’t make sense. Why would he ask him if he’d seen anything after he’d just told him that he’d been inside, watching TV? Then, Dylan had whimsically changed the subject, segueing into the issue of updating various forms of equipment for the team’s future investigations. For a moment, Brett imagined that Dylan sounded as strangely as he had last summer. He felt a slight sense of relief, knowing that the spotlight he’d been immersed in this past year had finally dimmed and died away.

Brett hissed in quiet laughter. Dylan had probably looked at the stars until his eyeballs were dancing. They both had done it several times already, looking up at the sky in Dylan’s observatory and studying the splendid array of constellations for hours on end. Who knows how long Dylan had been fooling around in the observatory tonight? His mind was probably playing tricks on him, making him see God knows what out of the corners of his weakened eyes. Brett continued to laugh as he pictured the scenario in his head.

He went back to the sofa and his movie, mindlessly watching it as thoughts of the past year popped back into his head. It was moments like these when he would look around the room at the walls, and at the house itself, realizing that he was here alone. He pressed the mute button on the TV remote. Nothing stirred, no one moved, and no one spoke. Only the emptiness greeted his searching eyes, and silence responded to listening ears. Uncle Jack and Aunt Viv were both gone. A chapter in his life was now a memorable history. Empty chairs where they once sat stared mockingly back at him.

Everything seemed to be gone now, even the inner chaos that had overcome him and induced the climax of his shape-shifting ability. The overwhelming tension of his lifelong secret had nearly destroyed him last summer. Every time it had enveloped him, he became either a willing or unwilling victim of its rapture. The shifting had become uncontrollable. He had almost killed Herb Haller. He had killed Claudia, though it was either him or her. The events of that day had led to another secret that he and the team would endure for the rest of their lives.

But now, he felt like his soul was his own, no longer a divided entity between him and the shape that had taken over. Before he died, Uncle Jack had told him everything he needed to know. It was his parting gift, a tale that had led to the end of a mystery, and to the peace he felt right at this moment. In the hours following Claudia’s death, calmness had subdued him, permeating through every physical fiber of his being. That tranquility had remained, and he sat in it now, idly staring at the TV screen. Tahoe had told him that he would most likely overcome the cursed side of his strange ability, and he’d been right.

But he had shifted since that night. Tahoe had predicted that the wolf would run again, and it had. Although, the furious upwind of emotions, the unbearable tension that eventually stole his identity were no longer factors. The chaos was no more. Now, only the urges to run as the wolf and soar like the mighty hawk remained. They were random, private moments that Brett Taylor secretly enjoyed in the dark remoteness of his rural haven.

For just a moment, he remembered the glossy madness in Claudia’s eyes, the crazed inflexion of her tone. He saw himself washing her blood from his body with the hose. He recalled the taste of her blood in his mouth.

He shook himself out of the dark reverie. There was no need to think about it any longer. It was now in the past.

* * * *

It was shortly after midnight when Ursula Masters stepped out onto the balcony of her second-story apartment. She needed a smoke, and smoking wasn’t permitted inside of the newly renovated, refurnished apartment she’d been lucky enough to acquire at a fixed price. When at home, it was how she smoked nowadays, slipping out onto the balcony at all hours for a quick nicotine fix. Even in the late evening and wee morning hours, she fired up out here just beneath the treetops and way under the spacious sky, wearing only her sleepwear and puffing smoke into the fresh nightly air. Tonight had been no different.

She stood smoking and basking in the late April breeze that swayed the treetops above her. The aroma from her Marlboro was merely a minor assault, unsuccessfully slicing through the wafting scent of spring. She’d been marveling at the serenity of moments like these, alone in the darkness while the rest of the world slept soundly in their beds. She stood comfortably enjoying the light coolness as it caressed her, and then it happened.

A flood of green light suddenly surrounded her. She let out a gasp, dropping her cigarette to the ground below. She turned her head up toward the bright green light in the sky. The light was rotating, changing from green, to blue, to red, and then green again. It illuminated the strange shape from which it emanated.

"Phantom in the Sky" - Christopher Carrolli


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