"To think, we could have it all," grumbled the man as he looked out over the deserted fairground. "If my father could see this he would cry," he added as he adjusted the lapels on his suit jacket before letting out a sigh.
"My friend, my friend," came a voice from inside a small hut, "Do not wet your eyes. The show may end momentarily, but the curtain always rises again, yes?"
"But, this place was my show," replied the man as he leaned against the wall of the hut. "It was our show."
"And it will still be our show. Even if it isn't here," said the woman as the hut's door swung open and she stepped out. She was dressed in a bright clown's outfit, complete with a white painted face and a bright red nose, something that contrasted heavily with the worn-down park around her. "Soon we will be in Paris, together. All we need to do is sign this place over and we can start fresh!"
"Of course, yes," the man nodded as he embraced the woman. "But, it is still a lot to take in. So much history. So many mixed feelings."
"My sweet sugar plum, fear not!" chuckled the woman as she kissed the man's cheek, "I will be with you every step of the way. They're coming to sign the permits today, are they not?"
"No," replied the man as she looked down at his feet for a brief moment. "That's not today."
"But the board, in the office. It says we have guests arriving!" replied the woman, a look of confusion forming on her face. "Who else could possibly be arriving?"
"I'm sorry," began the man as he pulled back, "I...I couldn't end this without giving it one more shot."
"Darling? Sugar Plum! What are you rambling about? What could you possibly mean? We've tried everything!"
"Well," started the man, but before a word could leave his lips an old tattered van sped through the park's gates, quickly making its way towards the main square. "They're here!" shouted the man as he quickly ran towards the van.
"Here? Who? What!" demanded the woman as she quickly started to chase the man.
The van screeched to a halt in the main square before the engine spluttered and cut out. After a moment of silence, the doors swung open and four people stepped out.
"You said you got that fixed!" shouted Belle as she jumped out.
"Well, I thought I did! I replaced the belt and everything," grumbled Eric as he walked to the front of the van and lifted the bonnet, causing a massive cloud of smoke to go up into the air.
"I said we should have got a professional to do it," tutted Veronica as she adjusted her glasses. "You know they say that 70% of vehicle faults are caused by shoddy workmanship."
"You do realize how hard it is to get parts for this van, right?" replied Eric as he looked around in the engine bay.
"Relax, I'm sure it's fine. We need to eat soon, anyhow," interjected Ziggy as he stretched. Before the group's argument could continue, the man arrived.
He dashed straight over to Eric and furiously shook his hand. "Oh, I'm so glad you arrived! Thank you for responding to my letters!" exclaimed the man as Eric grinned.
"Don't worry Mr. Vanderblast, we'll fix your problem!" assured Eric as the woman arrived, her hand clutching her hat in a futile bid to prevent it from escaping.
"Who are these people? What is going on, Anderson?" asked the woman as she looked at the group of people who had just come out of the van.
"Oh, right," sighed Anderson as he turned to face the woman. "Cosette, I would like you to meet the Mystery Society."
"Hello!" chimed Eric, Ziggy, Belle, and Veronica in unison.
"T-the mystery what?" stuttered Cosette, the clown makeup making her confused expression look almost comical.
"Mystery Society!" repeated Belle. "You must have heard of us, we've been in the papers! I was the cover star for Just-Star magazine!"
"No, I'm afraid I don't read that," sighed Cosette.
"They solve supernatural problems," explained Anderson, "Ghosts, monsters, the works. They find the cause and help get rid of them."
"I see," mumbled Cosette.
"I thought they could help us with our problem."
"But everyone else has failed," Cosette argued. "Why will these people be any different?"
"We always get results!" Eric said, his chest puffed confidently outward. "There has been no case we've not solved. We even solved the unsolvable case of Montgomery Manor!"
"I promise," insisted Anderson, "If they can't do it, then I'll sign the place over and sell it. But, my family built this place. I just need answers."
"Of course toffee apple," replied Cosette, slowly nodding her head. "If you think it is for the best, then we'll let them do their work," she continued as she turned to face Eric, "But I feel you may be out of your depth here."
"Don't worry, we can swim!" replied Ziggy, entirely missing the idiom. "But, we also have to eat! It's been a long drive."
"Because someone got lost," added Veronica sarcastically, causing Eric to glare at her.
"We have plenty of food!" reassured Anderson. "Cosette, could you get Rich to grill up some of our world-famous hotdogs for our esteemed guests?"
"Of course," Cosette nodded in response as she turned on her heel and walked back into the park.
"Remember the relish!" called Ziggy as Eric moved towards Anderson.
"So, what exactly is your problem?" asked Eric, "You didn't say much in your letters."
"Ah, right," began Anderson, "Well, I didn't want the press to get ahold of it. The rumors alone have decimated the park, so an official confirmation would be the last nail in the coffin."
"Of course, but you can trust us!" Belle smiled at him as she fluffed her hair.
"Well, we've got a very aggressive spirit roaming the park, and it’s, well, it’s scaring people and causing others to do a lot of...well. Less than savory things."
"What do you mean?" asked Eric.
"Yes, details could be crucial," added Veronica.
"People who encounter the spirit start acting odd. We've had everything from running around naked to acting like animals. It seems quite random."
"Possession," surmised Veronica, "Decently rare but not uncommon with certain ghosts."
"Is one way to put it," Anderson agreed as his cheeks flushed red, "But it isn't good press and it's driven people away from the park. And if we don't turn it around soon, we're going to have to sell to a real estate developer. And then, Cosette and I can take the money and start anew in Paris"
"Right," mumbled Eric, taking it all in. "Do you know what this spirit could be? Why would it be here?"
"I might," sighed Anderson. "From what people have told me, it sounds to be the ghost of one of our old performers. Very old, from the days when my grandfather ran the business as a touring circus."
"Right," Belle said, offering a warm smile, trying to comfort Anderson.
"She was very popular, but her caravan caught fire one night and burnt right down to ash. Police said it was an accident, but no one believed them. Heck, the body wasn't even found. And well, when her assistant vanished into thin air a few days later, people presumed the worst. My grandfather said she was lovely, but made enemies easily."
Belle gasped. "Such a sad story! That is terrible! It is enough to make anyone haunt the place."
"What was the name of this person?" asked Veronica. "It might be useful."
"Well, I don't know her actual name," replied Anderson. "Her stage name was Mesmerizing Maddy."
"A magician!" shouted Belle.
"Hypnotist, yes," Anderson answered as Eric and Belle turned to face each other, their eyes going wide.
"A hypnotist?!" shouted Eric, Belle, Ziggy, and Veronica in unison.
"Yes. Is that an issue?" asked Anderson.
"I'll get the rope," sighed Belle as she quickly jumped into the back of the van.
"A hypnotist," mumbled Veronica, her eyes still wide.
"Excuse me a second," said Eric as he walked up to Veronica and grabbed her collar before dragging her to the van's back door. Just as he reached the door, Eric turned to Ziggy. "Ziggy, got a moment?"
"Oh!" replied Ziggy, "Sure!" He said as Eric dragged Veronica into the van.
Once Veronica was inside the van, Belle dived on her, quickly wrapping her up in some rope. As Ziggy closed the van door, Veronica started to squirm and struggle, trying to get out of the bonds.
"What are you doing?" demanded Veronica.
"We're not having this happen again," Eric said sternly.
"Having what happen again?" asked Veronica as she continued to squirm.
"We know what you're into! I've seen your internet history!" shouted Belle.
"Yeah, we all know about your weird thing for hypnotists!" added Ziggy as he crossed his arms.
"I do not!" huffed Veronica, her cheeks flushing red.
"Oh, so it's just a coincidence that whenever we encounter something with hypnotic powers, you end up finding a way for us all to get hypnotized? Is it?"
"Look," mumbled Veronica as she stopped squirming and tried to sit up. "Some creatures are too powerful," she started, only to get cut off by Belle.
"Turncoat!" screamed Belle, pointing accusingly at Veronica.
"I still remember Montgomery Manor," shuddered Ziggy. "Those two weirdos had me stealing candy all night!"
"They made me dance around in an ill-fitting Halloween costume!" added Belle as Ziggy looked at her with confusion.
"I nearly ended up with a criminal record, man!" shouted Ziggy. "That isn't comparable!"
"You don't already have a criminal record?" Belle blinked, her confusion snapping her out of her anger for a moment.
"Yeah, why?" asked Ziggy.
"I just presumed we all did," Belle shrugged before looking back down at Veronica. "Could you imagine just how it would harm my reputation if pictures of that outfit got out? And, remember the other hypnotist who made me act like a tiger?"
"Right!" shouted Eric. "I thought I was an elephant for a week!"
"I think you're all overreacting," mumbled Veronica. "I think you're suffering from a bout of confirmation bias," she said, tripping over her words.
"Get her phone Ziggy!" shouted Belle. Ziggy nodded and reached into Veronica's pocket and pulled out her phone before handing it to Belle.
"Hey! Get off that!" demanded Veronica as Belle tapped on the screen a few times before turning the phone to face Veronica. The screen showed her web browsing history, including all of the adult sites she had visited.
"How do you know my password?" mumbled Veronica.
"We all do. It is too obvious," interjected Eric.
"Look at this! It is all porn about people getting hypnotized!" Belle said as she pushed the phone against Veronica's nose. "And some of the stories sound suspiciously similar to some of our cases!"
"You can't prove that," replied Veronica, the flush of her cheeks giving away her lie.
"I'm not getting hypnotized by Mesmerizing Maddy, ghost, phantom, or whatever. It is not happening." huffed Eric.
"Okay! Okay!" nodded Veronica. "I promise, I won't get you hypnotized."
"All of us?" asked Ziggy.
"Yes. No one gets hypnotized this time. I promise!" Veronica pleaded, giving her best smile.
"And why should we believe you?" Belle asked, scanning Veronica’s face for subtleties.
"Because, I super-promise this time! Really! I'll do anything you want if you end up hypnotized!" reassured Veronica.
"Maybe," mumbled Eric. "Gang, we need to have a meeting outside the van."
"Right," nodded Ziggy as he opened the door. As the group formed a huddle outside the van, Anderson looked on with confusion.
"Is everything okay?" he asked.
"Oh sure, just having a strategy meeting!" replied Eric as he and the others started to talk. After several minutes of heated debate, they all came to the same conclusion.
"No Veronica means no traps," sighed Belle, "So, I guess we have to trust her."
"Yeah," nodded Eric.
"But boys," interjected Belle, "Keep her on a short leash. Don't let her wander off and if that hypnotist ghost tries anything, get her out, okay?"
"Okay!" echoed the boys as they all climbed back into the van. Belle instantly started to untie the still-wiggling Veronica.
"Okay," said Belle as she yanked at a knot. "We've agreed you can come out, but if you go back on your promise, you'll be in big trouble!"
"I won't, promise!" insisted Veronica.
Once Veronica was untied, the gang left the van. Anderson was still stood outside, looking totally confused by the situation. "Are you sure everything is okay?" he asked.
"Yes! We'll solve your mystery!" replied Eric.
"Excellent news!" replied Anderson. Just as he replied, Cosette's voice echoed through the plaza.
"I've got your hotdogs!" She called as she approached with a massive tray.
"Well, that makes me happy, ghost or not!" cheered Ziggy as he ran towards the tray and grabbed a hotdog. The rest soon followed Ziggy, all of them hungry after the long drive.
"So, where has this ghost been seen the most?" asked Eric. "That seems like the best place to start."
"Ghost Train," replied Anderson. "Seems to pester people who ride it late at night."
"Then we'll go there right after dinner," smiled Belle. "You are both more than welcome to come with us!"
"Alas, no," replied Cosette. "I have work to be doing this evening and will require quiet. The poet's work is never done, yes?"
"Of course," Eric said with a nod, continuing to eat. "We'll go alone, it will be easier to pull the ghost out that way."
After dinner, the gang prepared for their visit to the ghost train. While they were still unsure about the situation, they were quickly falling back into their usual routine. In fact, if it wasn't for Veronica's history, this would have been any other case.
Just as the sun went down, the group grabbed their flashlights and headed towards the ghost train, watching as Anderson walked to a different part of the park to finish his work.
"Alright, keep your wits about you," said Eric as his flashlight lit up the front of the building. From the outside, it looked like any other cheap fairground ghost train. It was just a big square building with the facade of an old house stuck over the front and the front of the ride was decorated with various plastic skeletons and cheap animatronics.
"Veronica," said Belle as she glared at the girl, "Turn the ride off."
"Right!" agreed Veronica as she moved ahead of the group and walked up to the ride's control panel.
"Man, she seems to be quiet tonight," mumbled Ziggy. "Maybe we were too harsh on her."
"She's always like that when you learn her secrets," replied Belle. "She might act like miss nerdy pants, but she's into some weird stuff."
"What?" started Ziggy, only for Belle to cut him off.
"Trust me, you don't want to know."
Veronica fiddled with the control panel for a few seconds. As she did, a soft whirring sound echoed from the ghost train as the lights slowly turned off.
"Okay, safe for entry," Veronica reported with a smile as she opened the gate that led to the tracks.
The rest of the gang quickly made their way through the gate, moving their flashlights around as they did. "Okay," said Eric. "Keep your eyes peeled, we still have no idea what this ghost looks like."
"Right," answered Belle as she walked forward and through the crash doors and entered the building. The inside of the ghost train was like many others the group had explored, just a small dark room full of lights and deactivated animatronics.
"I've likely seen this skeleton more often than I've seen my own mother," mumbled Eric as he looked at a cheap animatronic skeleton prop.
"This place gives me the shudders," added Ziggy as he started to shiver.
"Really?" grumbled Belle. "We've seen way worse than this." She walked deeper into the building, waving her flashlight around to try and see if she could spot any signs of the ghost. While the building was spooky, the more the gang ventured into it, the more generic it became. In fact, they wouldn't be able to tell this place apart from the hundreds of other Ghost Trains they had wandered through over the years.
"Glad I got my tetanus shot, man," mumbled Ziggy as he peered into a fenced-off area. "We need better insurance, I'm telling you."
"Don't get distracted," interrupted Eric as she moved closer to Belle and helped her scout the area. "So far the place seems pretty quiet."
"Yeah," nodded Belle as she looked back at Veronica, only to see the girl moping at the back of the group. Belle looked at Eric and let out a soft sigh, suddenly starting to feel a little bit bad about her actions. "Veronica?" asked Belle softly.
"What?" replied Veronica.
"Did you see anything about other entrances for this place?"
"Not really, the panel wasn't well labeled. Older ride," answered Veronica as Ziggy inspected another prop. The gang continued to venture deeper into the ghost train. However, they found nothing unusual at all, there were no signs of a disturbance or even a struggle.
In fact, as the group moved past the halfway point of the ride, they had given up on finding anything of interest. They just slowly walked across the tracks, half-heartedly moving their flashlights back and forth. After a few moments of walking, the group made their way into an area that was arranged like a formal ball, with several skeletons posed as dancers.
"We'd have to see this eventually," groaned Eric as he rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, what's a party with no food anyhow?" pondered Ziggy as the gang slowly made their way through the scene. However, just as they turned a corner, a large flash of light filled the room.
"My eyes!" cried Belle as she stumbled back. Suddenly, a figure appeared at the far end of the room, standing in front of the fireplace. They were dressed as an old-timey magician, but their outfit was dusty and ripped.
"You will leave this place!" commanded the figure as the group tried to pull themselves together.
"Maddy!" shouted Eric, "We're going to get rid of you!"
"Maybe look into my eyes and say that," cackled Maddy as she leaned forward, a strange glow appearing around the outside of her eyes as she did.
"Her eyes," mumbled Veronica.
"Not again!" shouted Eric as he quickly turned and charged at Veronica, tackling her to the floor. However, as the pair fell to the floor, they crashed into several props, causing them to spark and crackle as several motors and fuses popped.
The lights in the room flickered as Maddy, Belle, and Ziggy looked around. "What's going on, man?" asked Ziggy as he ran to Belle. However, just as she got there, a light in the ceiling exploded, showering the area in glass. Ziggy, Belle, Eric, and Veronica all covered their faces, keen to avoid the falling shrapnel.
After a few moments of noise and panic, the group uncovered their eyes and looked around, only to find that Maddy had vanished. "What just happened?"
"I can't believe you did that!" shouted Veronica as she pushed Eric off her. "That hurt!"
"Look, I wasn't going to let Maddy," started Eric, only to get interrupted.
"What? You don't trust me? I promised that I wouldn't do anything! Why don't you trust me, I've risked my butt for you on numerous occasions!" she yelled, her voice echoing around the ride.
"Look, Veronica calm down," started Belle, only for Veronica to glare daggers into her.
"I will not calm down! We all have to sit and listen when you complain about your dress getting messy! You can put up with me being upset that you don't trust me!" screamed Veronica.
"Like, hey," stuttered Ziggy, only for Veronica to turn her ire onto him.
"Like no!" shouted Veronica. "You're on your own. Sort your own problems. If you want me, I'll be in the van," huffed Veronica as she turned and started to walk back the way they came.
Ziggy went to say something, but Belle held her hand up. "Let her go," she said firmly. "She'll cool off after a break. It will be fine. Let's clean this mess up."
"Sure, man. Bad vibes are all," grumbled Ziggy as he started to kick the glass into a pile.
Veronica grumbled to herself as she walked back through the ghost train. "I can't believe he did that," she moaned. "I could have gotten hurt, I nearly got electrocuted," she said as her eyes went wide. "Electrocuted."
Veronica quickly started to run through the building, keen to get the entrance as fast as possible. Once she burst out of the front doors, Veronica sprinted around the outside of the building. "Electricity, I turned it off," she mumbled as she sprinted. "Someone must have rewired the place to allow that scene to have power!"
After a quick sprint, Veronica ended up at the back of the building and quickly saw exactly what she was looking for. There was a small service entrance hidden at the back of the building. Veronica grabbed the door and pulled it open before quickly venturing inside. The area was small and dingy, but that was to her advantage as it meant there were fewer places to hide.
Veronica quickly moved her flashlight around, trying to see if she could find a clue. The place was a mess, almost like someone had recently run through here without paying attention. Like they were fleeing. Suddenly, Veronica spotted something on the far wall. Someone had made a hole and had connected both a battery and a homemade control box to a part of the ride's circuitry.
"So that explains it," mumbled Veronica as she grabbed the stuff and quickly made her way back to the van. Once she reached the plaza, she saw the others milling around.
"Veronica! Dude, we thought you had gotten lost!" cried Ziggy.
"Yeah, where have you been?" asked Belle, her voice dripping with suspicion.
"Well," smirked Veronica as she put the battery and panel into the back of the van. "I had an epiphany when walking back here. See, when Eric pushed me, we found that the props had power, right?"
"Right," nodded Eric, looking slightly ashamed.
"Well, that shouldn't be possible. I activated the emergency shutdown before we went in," replied Veronica.
"Right, but this place is crumbling," said Belle.
"Yes, but if the whole place had power, then why didn't the other lights go pop when I hit the floor and caused a power surge? Why didn't the alarms go off, why didn't the main breaker go off?"
"Huh," began Eric, "Why didn't it?"
"Because someone had altered the place!" answered Veronica. "I found a service entrance at the back and found this. Someone had rewired part of the building, letting them power part of the ride with this battery and then control a few props with the control panel. But," continued Veronica as she pointed at Ziggy, "By doing this, they've bypassed the fusebox, hence why everything went bang!"
"Right!" Ziggy gave a nod. "Man, Veronica you're always in the know!"
"So, what does this tell us?" asked Belle.
"Simple," replied Veronica, "Maddy isn't a ghost, for one. A ghost wouldn't need to do this. And, whoever is posing as her must work here. This isn't something a random person could do."
"Right! So tomorrow we'll interview all of the staff."
Veronica grinned. "Exactly!"
"But first some sleep," interjected Ziggy. "I'm worn down, man."
"I need my beauty sleep," nodded Belle as she climbed into the van with Ziggy only a few steps behind.
"Hey, Veronica," called Eric.
"What?" asked Veronica.
"I just wanted to say I'm sorry about earlier. I overreacted."
"It's fine, I get it,” she sighed as she climbed into the front of the van.
The next morning, the group made their way to the main office, keen to see Anderson and Cosette. The tension between the group was still strong, but the small discovery was enough to help blunt it slightly.
As they walked into the office, they found Cosette and Anderson sat around a table sipping coffee. Cosette was in a different clown outfit while Anderson was in the same outfit he had been in the previous night. As the group entered, Anderson's face lit up.
He jumped from the table. "How was your exploration last night? Find anything?"
"Well," started Eric, doing his best to shift into his customer service voice, "We have some good news and some bad news."
"I see," sighed Anderson as he sat back down.
"The good news is we don't think Maddy is a ghost," began Belle. "We encountered her last night and her reaction to several events lead us to believe she's a fake."
"Events?" sputtered Anderson.
"However," interjected Eric, "This means that we think one of your employees is responsible. What we found would require access to the staff areas and a decent amount of time."
"My employees?" gasped Anderson.
"This is. How do you say it? Preposterous!" shouted Cosette as she put down her cup. "Our employees are like family to us."
"I'm sorry," replied Eric, "But we can only share what we found. We would like to interview all of them, see if they can shine some light on this whole situation."
"Of course. I'll arrange it." Anderson gave a nod as he rose from the table and walked out of the office.
"I hope you are not wrong," grumbled Cosette. "That man has given everything for this park. These people are his family."
"I'm sorry," sighed Belle. "We can only investigate what we find."
"Unlike my husband, who has child-like faith in you, know I do not," huffed Cosette as she rose from her chair and grabbed her mug. However, just before she could reach the door, Veronica spoke up.
"Cosette?" she asked softly.
"What?" growled Cosette.
"Can I have a moment with you?" asked Veronica. "I would like to clarify something about the park."
"Of course, if you must," sighed Cosette as she left the room with Veronica close behind her. Once they were out of the room, Veronica started to speak again.
"Do you have a medical kit?" asked Veronica with a smile. "I had a small accident last night, cut myself on my nail clippers," she chuckled. "Our first aid kit isn't very good so I was hoping I could buy some stuff from you, rather than having to trek back into town."
"And you had to ask me this in private?" asked Cosette.
"The others are hypochondriacs. It looks pretty nasty, but it's just a cut. If Ziggy sees he'll be trying to get the hand amputated," chuckled Veronica.
"Of course," sighed Cosette before putting on a fake giggle. "I'll show you to our staff room."
"Thanks," nodded Veronica as she followed behind Cosette. "So, how are you feeling?" She asked.
"I'm fine. Why?" asked Cosette, obviously not looking to talk.
"This must be stressful for both of you, having your park under assault by a spirit. It isn't easy, and I understand the urge to take that anger out on us," started Veronica, only for Cosette to interrupt her.
"I'm not taking it out on you. I just feel that you are out of your depth," she said firmly.
"Okay," nodded Veronica. "Then I'll ask you my other question."
"Does anyone in the park know how to perform hypnotism?" asked Veronica, her voice fluttering a little on the last word.
"Why do you ask?" groaned Cosette as she led Veronica across the park.
"Well, it seems to be what Maddy is using. She attempted it on us when she jumped us last night," explained Veronica. "So, it would narrow down options if we knew who could do that. I mean, it isn't a common skill set."
"No," replied Cosette as she opened the door and led Veronica to a box. "There is the medical kit, take whatever you want. But, we have never had a hypnotist on staff. I'm afraid your wacky theory doesn't hold water."
"Oh well, worth a shot I guess. Thanks," Veronica bid as she looked around the room.
"Take what you need, the staff will not be on break for at least two hours," replied Cosette as she walked out of the room and closed the door behind her.
Veronica shrugged and made her way over to the medical case. However, when she opened it, she realized that the contests were a mess. It was clear whoever had been in here last had been in a rush and hadn't bothered to put things back. Veronica decided to use this time to steal some supplies she could keep in the van, not that they needed them, but she needed to do something to make Cosette believe she actually needed these supplies.
However, as Veronica pulled out a bundle of bandages, she spotted some very fresh blood stains on several bandaids at the bottom of the box. "Weird," mumbled Veronica as she closed the box. However, as the box clicked shut Veronica balled up her hands a few times. "Ewww," she mumbled to herself as she realized that her hands felt weirdly sticky and dusty. Thankfully, she spotted a sink in the corner of the room that she could use.
After spending a few minutes washing her hands, Veronica left the room and started wandering the park, hoping she would find where the rest of the group was. As she walked, she thought over what she had seen previously. Something about this case was bugging her, but she couldn't put her finger on it.
Eventually, she found the rest of the group. They had made an improvised interview station near the hotdog van and, while Ziggy consumed a hotdog the size of his head, Belle and Eric talked to the staff who had formed a line. Veronica waited for the current interview to end before walking over to the group.
"Anything?" she asked as she sat down next to Ziggy.
"Nothing," mumbled Eric. "This place is mostly teenagers who work part-time during the season and none of them work on the rides."
"And no motive, man," added Ziggy, "If you want to get one over on the man, you steal stationery. Not pose as a ghost."
"Right," agreed Eric. "This plan wouldn't benefit any of them."
"We still have a few more to do though, so who knows," supposed Belle as she waved the next person over. The next few hours were spent interviewing the rest of the staff, but it was the same pattern over and over. All of them were seasonal workers who seemed to hold no grudge against Anderson or the park and most of them had rock-solid alibis for their whereabouts.
Once everyone had been interviewed, the group went back to the van to discuss their next plan of action. Eric flopped limply into the one seat. "I'm stuck. I can't make heads or tails of this case."
"It makes no sense," sighed Belle.
"That Maddy gives me the creeps anyhow, man," Ziggy complained.
"I have an idea," interjected Veronica. "I've got a theory, but I need to test it."
"And what theory is that?" asked Belle, raising an eyebrow.
"I need more evidence," mumbled Veronica as she adjusted her glasses, "So we're going to have a stakeout."
"A stakeout?" gasped Belle.
"We need to make a big deal of us searching the Ghost Train again," began Veronica. "One of us will go in a few hours early. But the rest of us will hide nearby and keep track of anyone who comes in. If Maddy wants to try something again, she'll need to fix her circuitry. Hopefully, we can spot her and follow her."
"Right," Belle responded in agreement.
"B..B...But," started Ziggy, his teeth chattering. "Which one of us goes in?"
"I will," offered Belle. "Then Ziggy and Veronica can take the front of the building and Eric the back."
"Me and Ziggy?" huffed Veronica. "You still don't trust me?"
"Look," started Belle, only for Veronica to instantly cut her off.
"No, it's fine. I know how it is," she added as she crossed her arms.
"Sure, whatever," mumbled Belle.
"Alright! Let's put this plan into action!" shouted Eric, obviously trying to defuse the situation. The group piled out of the van and quickly made their way around the fairground, spreading the news about their plan. Then, as the sun started to fall, several hours before their announced return to the ghost train, the group got into their stakeout position. Veronica and Ziggy hid inside a popcorn stand while Eric hid in a storage cupboard, all of them training their eyes on the ghost train. Then, just as it became dark, Belle moved inside the ghost train.
However, in the small popcorn stand, the mood was icy cold. "Look," started Ziggy. "I'm sorry about you and Belle. I can't help thinking that we ruined the vibes, man."
"It's fine Ziggy," huffed Veronica. "It doesn't matter. Keep your eyes peeled." She continued to watch the entrance to the ghost train. They stayed like this for several hours until suddenly, a loud whistle echoed around the area.
"The signal!" shouted Veronica as she jumped out of the stand and ran towards the back. However, as she and Ziggy went around the building they saw that Belle walking away from the ghost train, her arms outstretched.
"What is she doing?" shouted Ziggy.
"I don't know!" replied Eric as he grabbed Belle's shoulder, only for her to pull away from him and keep walking.
"I will do as you command," said Belle softly, her voice a dull monotone. "I will do as you command," she continued as she walked.
"Belle! Snap out of it dude!" shouted Ziggy as he attempted to get in Belle's way, only for the girl to walk around him.
"I will do as you command," continued Belle.
"Wait," gasped Veronica. "She's double-crossing us!"
"What?" shouted Eric as he continued to follow Belle.
"Shock her! Throw water on her! I'll stop her!" shouted Veronica as she turned and ran into the ghost train. However, as Veronica got into the ghost train, she realized that no one was around.
She ran through the building looking left and right, trying to find any hint of someone being there. As she looked around, she spotted something on a prop and smiled to herself. "Good move," she smirked before quickly running back out of the building, only to find Eric and Ziggy standing with a soaking wet Belle.
"What did you do to me?" shouted Belle.
"You got hypnotized, man!" replied Ziggy.
"Yeah, you were acting weird," nodded Eric.
"But, I wasn't," said Belle. "I was on the phone to my agent and then I zoned out for a moment and now I'm here."
"What?" replied Ziggy and Eric in unison.
"Yeah, I was in the ghost train and my agent called. We talked about a Just-Star cover shoot in Paris and then the next thing I know you're throwing water over me!"
"No, you were in the ghost train and got attacked by Maddy, we found you walking around out here," said Eric.
"Stop," interjected Veronica. "Hypnotically implanted false memory."
"Creepy," mumbled Ziggy.
"Yeah, but not hard to pull off with someone like Belle," nodded Veronica.
"What do you mean by that?" huffed Belle.
"You're creative and have big dreams. The memory was just building off that," continued Veronica as she gasped.
"What?" asked Ziggy and Eric.
"Nothing," smiled Veronica. "I'm just, having some thoughts about our next plan of action."
"Oh?" asked Eric.
"I need to think it over. I realize you don't trust me still, so I want to make sure this plan is perfect," continued Veronica.
Ziggy and Eric cringed, both of them realizing that Veronica was still not over their earlier doubt of her. However, before they could think of what to say, Belle let out a loud whine.
"I need to go back to the van and change! This dress was expensive!" she shouted as she stormed off back towards the van. Eric, Ziggy, and Veronica followed her, keen to not anger her further. But as they walked back, thoughts spun around Veronica's head. The mystery was all coming together.
Back at the van, Belle dried her hair as Ziggy and Eric got ready to sleep. Veronica, however, had other plans. She did her best to act natural, making several notes in her journal as she feigned preparing for bed. And, once everyone else was asleep, she crept out of the van and made her way back into the park.
The whole place was deserted, but that didn't bother Veronica. She was too focused on her goal to care about anything. After several minutes of walking, Veronica arrived at a small building. Despite the late hour, this building still had its light on, a fact that made Veronica extremely happy.
She marched to the building's door and pushed it open, strutting inside with a cocky swagger. "Good evening Cosette," chuckled Veronica as Cosette jumped up from the small desk she had been sat at.
"Leave me alone!" she screamed before letting out a loud gasp. "You! What are you doing, scaring me like that? Do you not know how to knock?"
"Well, I wanted this to be private," replied Veronica as she leaned up against the wall.
"Can't this wait until the morning? I'm very busy, my poetry needs to be finished." huffed Cosette as she took a few deep breaths.
"Oh right," nodded Veronica, coyly wiggling her fingers. "You know, they say that poetry is very hypnotic."
"What are you talking about?" huffed Cosette. "You better have not disturbed me to talk nonsense!"
Veronica smirked. "I know."
"You know what?" Cosette demanded with a glare.
"Nonsense! You've lost your mind!" chuckled Cosette. "You are worse than I thought."
"Don't lie to me. I know."
"What, your little friends think you can just pin crimes on any random person? Step carefully blaireau, I have a lawyer on retainer," growled Cosette.
"It is really an ingenious plan," began Veronica. "Let me guess, Anderson wants to keep the park and you want to sell?" She continued to look around the little hut. "That is why you didn't know about us until we arrived, because he was too scared to tell you."
"Nonsense," started Cosette, only to get cut off by Veronica.
"The Maddy plan needed someone who understood the park inside out. Even the bits that are falling apart. Someone who knew how to operate and rewire the rides and sneak around without being noticed. Now, none of your teen employees have that knowledge. So that just leaves Anderson and you. And well, Anderson won't destroy the business he clearly loves so dearly."
Cosette glared holes in Veronica, her hands gripping the desk tightly as she opened her mouth to interject, but once again, Veronica cut her off before she could even get a word out.
"Of course, you thought you could hypnotize us on that first night. Likely make us humiliate ourselves so that Anderson would fire us and give up on the park. But that went wrong when Eric's attempt to save me caused the place to short circuit," continued Veronica. "Ghosts don't need to worry about broken glass. But, humans do."
"Preposterous, that isn't evidence!" shouted Cosette.
"When everything exploded, you ran out through the back of the ghost train, knocking stuff over in the process. I bet you were scared that a fire was going to break out due to your shoddy override of the power system. If that happened, we would have to call Anderson, who would inevitably call you. And if he found you were not here or in bed, well, that would incriminate you. But on the way out, you realized something. One of the shards had cut you."
"What?" stuttered Cosette.
"Your medical kit had drops of fresh blood in it. They couldn't have been more than a few hours old. None of the staff mentioned there being an accident that day, so none of them would have used the kit."
"Workers. How do you say? Knick themselves, all the time! It is not an accident if you get a paper cut, but you may still use a bandaid!"
"The workers wear greasepaint, do they?" Asked Veronica as she pointed to Cosette's clown face. "As some residue got on my hands, it is an unmistakable sensation. And pretty fresh, meaning that someone quickly had to bandage themselves up. And I found similar paint marks in the Ghost Train tonight, so you've obviously been in there."
"Ah, yes." chuckled Cosette, her body language softening as she did. "Using the facilities in my own amusement park. Obviously a criminal act."
"Ah, but you made one more big mistake, my dear Cosette," Veronica said with a smirk, "Just-Star magazine."
"I remember when we arrived, Belle bragged to you about being on the cover. You clearly said you've not read that magazine."
"And I have not. I have little time for that sort of fluff," huffed Cosette.
"I don't blame you. It is rubbish," laughed Veronica, "But reading it would let you know that Just-Star is both very American and very cheap."
"You're talking nonsense," huffed Cosette.
"Why would Maddy hypnotize Belle into thinking she was on a call about a cover shoot in Paris?" asked Veronica, "I know the real Just-Star would never have the money to fly a D-lister like Belle to Paris. That, and it would go against their All-American ethos," explained Veronica as she gently pushed herself off the wall.
"I don't follow your logic," said Cosette softly.
"Well, it's an interesting chain of logic don't you think?" asked Veronica. "First, why would they give Belle a false memory rather than just having her lead us off?"
"I don't know," replied Cosette firmly.
"I think it's because Maddy wasn't Maddy yet. She hadn't had a chance to put her costume on as we started to search the ghost train over an hour before we said we would. But, when she saw Belle on her own, she realized that it was a trap and that we were likely covering the exits, so she had to do something to get us to move away from the building while also making sure Belle couldn't point the finger later."
"You're talking a lot," grumbled Cosette.
"Now, she's a talented hypnotist, I'll give her that. But, even a talented hypnotist would be wary of trying full hypnotic amnesia on someone they've just met. Especially if they're panicking. So a false memory, especially one built from real memories, is much easier to pull off. Maddy presumed that Belle's ego would make her easily accept a memory about her getting praised and fawned over, so she reached for the first thing she could think of, a magazine photoshoot, using the title she heard Belle mention earlier."
"Again, nonsense," huffed Cosette.
"Now, why Paris? You could argue they thought that a prestigious location would work well with Belle's inflated ego. But obviously, an error in the memory's logic would break the illusion, and may even cause her to reject the memory. But to someone who fancies themselves as a classical artist, a poet let's say, Paris is a natural choice."
"This is all conjecture!" shouted Cosette, growing increasingly frustrated with Veronica.
"Maybe she had Paris on her mind, considering you want to move there," deduced Veronica. "That's your idea, not Anderson's. His heart clearly isn't in it. So, I think you blurted out the first city that came to mind."
"You can't prove this," said Cosette firmly.
"Maybe I don't want to," replied Veronica.
"I know you're behind this, Cosette. You have the motive, method, and opportunity. I'm sure within a few days I could collect enough evidence to make a slam dunk legal case."
"Then, why don't you?" huffed Cosette. "If you think you're so good?"
"Because I think we can come to an arrangement," offered Veronica.
"Are you trying to blackmail me?" asked Cosette.
"Yes," giggled Veronica. "Yes, I am." Cosette glared at Veronica for a few moments, obviously debating her options. After a few moments of awkward silence, Cosette let out a sigh.
"Name your terms," she grumbled.
"Well," Veronica began with a twisted grin, "I like hypnotists. I mean, I really like hypnotists. And it seems you have a talent for it. So, I want you to hypnotize me."
"Really?" stuttered Cosette. "You just want me to hypnotize you? Well, if you insist," she said as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a coin on a string.
"Hey!" shouted Veronica. "You don't get to just do it. Magician costume or the deal is off."
"What? Really?" replied Cosette, caught off guard.
"Magician costume and clown makeup. I'm not budging," insisted Veronica. "It's not my fault you're cute."
"What am I getting for all this effort?" complained Cosette.
"I'll help you get rid of us. Without us, Anderson will give up and you can sell the park," chuckled Veronica.
Cosette gasped. "Really? You would betray him like that?"
Veronica stifled a laugh. "You think I care about a random amusement park? Either way, we can solve the case, but have the details leak to the press. It will ruin this place by the end of the week."
"You're evil," muttered Cosette.
"A bit rich coming from you," quipped Veronica as she adjusted her glasses. "Anyway, unlike you, I'm at least clever with my evil."
"Then tell me your plan," sighed Cosette.
"Well, I'm presuming you don't have the heart or the confidence to hypnotize Anderson. I think you do love him, even if you don't see eye to eye about this place," started Veronica.
"Maybe," sighed Cosette.
"So, once you're nice and dressed up, have Maddy come and meet me in the ghost train," smiled Veronica as she turned and walked out of the hut, leaving Cosette confused.
Veronica made her way to the ghost train with a skip in her step and a warm pool between her legs. She couldn't believe this situation had worked out so well for her. Once she arrived at the ghost train, Veronica pushed one of the carts through the ride until she reached the place where Maddy first appeared. She then put a few things in a small bag and placed the bag on the floor of the ride before sitting in the car and waiting.
Veronica waited in the car for the best part of an hour before Cosette walked in through the hidden door she had used previously. She looked like a strange fusion of Maddy and her usual self as, while she was wearing Maddy's tattered magician costume, she was also wearing her usual clown facepaint.
"Well, I'm here," sighed Cosette. "I can't believe I'm doing this."
"On the floor is a bundle containing my plan. But, I'm all yours!" cheered Veronica. "Or should I say, I'm in your power!"
"You really are insufferable," groaned Cosette as she looked through the things in the bag. "But this plan makes sense at least."
"Right, so drop me!" demanded Veronica. "Put me under! Crush me! Dominate me! Turn my mind to pudding!"
"Sure," sighed Cosette as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a coin on a string.
"But, high effort! I want the full Maddy experience!" Veronica continued her demands.
"God, you're unbearable!" growled Cosette as she took a deep breath and posed for a brief moment. "Now detective, you don't stand a ghost of a chance!" shouted Cosette, returning to the Maddy voice she had used earlier.
"Yes!" giggled Veronica as Maddy stepped towards the car and dangled the coin in front of Veronica's eyes, letting it sway gently in front of her.
"Just watch the coin detective, watch it as it swings. You know your dumb detective mind can't fight against the intoxicating swing of the coin, yes?"
"Yes," moaned Veronica, her eyes already following the coin's swing. "I feel it."
"Yes, and you can't look away, you can't pull your eyes away from the coin, it is like a magnet holding them in place, forcing them to follow as it swings left and right, left and right. Totally helpless, unable to stop watching the coin at all."
"Left and right," moaned Veronica as Cosette rolled her eyes at Veronica's enthusiasm.
"You can feel your mind slipping away, you can feel yourself sinking and giving in. Every swing of the coin makes your eyes and mind heavier and heavier. You can hardly contain your thoughts. Every swing of the coin sends them further and further away. The coin is so shiny and your thoughts are so dull, so it is so natural to be drawn to it. To be absorbed by it."
"Yes," groaned Veronica, her fingers gripped the side of the cart tightly, her eyes starting to roll up into her head. "Yes, I can feel it," she groaned softly.
"Yes, you can. I know you can," replied Cosette, her voice wavering slightly as she tried to maintain her cool. "And with every swing, you realize you are about to fall into a deep obedient trance. And, the second your hands leave that cart, they'll go totally limp, and you will fall helplessly under my control. Won't you?"
"Yes, Mistress Cosette." moaned Veronica.
"Mistress?" coughed Cosette.
"Yes, Mistress Cosette. I hear and I obey," Veronica continued to moan as Cosette shook her head and sighed, utterly taken aback by how desperate Veronica was.
"Of course. Yes. Right," nodded Cosette as she reached forward and slowly started to pull Veronica's fingers off of the cart. As every finger slipped off, Veronica let out another loud moan. "Yes, feeling yourself wobbling on the edge of a deep and helpless trance. A trance you can't escape from, one where you must obey. One where you must do exactly as you are told. One where you obey without thought or question."
Veronica's moaning got louder as Cosette gently removed her fingers from the cart until only one remained. Cosette smiled and cooed softly as she nodded at Veronica. "Feeling so close, as you prepare to fall as your finger slips off in three, two, one. Down." purred Cosette as she removed the last finger.
Veronica groaned and flopped back into the cart, her eyes rolling up into her head as her arms hung limply by the side of her body. She felt herself falling down as waves of warm tingly trance crashed over her, filling her body with a mixture of warmth and numbness. Her mouth dropped open as she let out a low groan, her entire body trembling with warm, delicious trance.
"Right," chuckled Cosette as she looked at Veronica's body. "Now you just sink deeper and deeper. Just focus on your own blankness, and let that pull you deeper into trance with each breath."
"Yes, Mistress Cosette. I hear and I obey," groaned Veronica.
"Or just repeat that," chuckled Cosette.
"Yes, Mistress Cosette. I hear and I obey. Yes, Mistress Cosette. I hear and I obey. Yes, Mistress Cosette. I hear and I obey," chanted Veronica, her voice getting more breathless as she remained slumped in the car.
"That girl needs to get laid," mumbled Cosette as she picked up the bag and started to read through the information she had been left. To her surprise, the plan was extremely detailed. In fact, there were over ten pages of information for her to read, detailing both the plan and several contingencies.
After several minutes of reading, Cosette nodded to herself and walked back across to Veronica. "Okay, Veronica, listen closely. It's time for you to hold up your end of the bargain."
"Yes, Mistress Cosette. I hear and I obey," moaned Veronica as Cosette started to speak.
The rest of the gang were asleep in the van, oblivious to what was going on across the park. That was until they heard a loud banging on the van's metal walls.
Ziggy instantly sat up, his eyes wide. "Jeepers! Ghost! You can take my stuff! Even my food! Just please leave me alone!"
"What is that noise?" groaned Belle. "How can someone be so inconsiderate?"
"I don't know," mumbled Eric, covering his head with the pillow. However, a few seconds after the last bang, a loud squawking noise echoed around the plaza.
"What in the world?" spat Eric as he rolled out of bed and opened the van's doors only to be met with the strangest sight. Veronica was running around outside. But she was squatting down, her fists pushed into her armpits, and she was waving her arms wildly. She was acting like a chicken. "Um, Veronica?" asked Eric, only for Veronica to reply with a squawk.
Ziggy looked over Eric's shoulders, only to scream and duck straight back down. "Jeepers! She's naked!" Eric looked again and realized what Ziggy meant; Veronica was only wearing her glasses. Other than that, she was totally nude.
"Ugh, it's like being roommates all over again," sighed Belle.
"Quick, Ziggy get me a blanket!" shouted Eric as he dived out of the van and ran over to Veronica, desperate to preserve the girl's modesty. However, as he got close, Veronica froze mid squawk and looked up at Eric with cold, blank eyes.
"I am under Mesmerising Maddy's power. I will not wake up until you all leave," she moaned before running off into the park.
"Got the blanket!" shouted Ziggy as he dived out of the van.
"Too late! We need to chase her!" shouted Eric as he sprinted after Veronica.
"Right!" Ziggy threw the blanket back as Belle exited the van and joined in the chase. However, Veronica's head start meant that the group struggled to catch up with her, only being able to catch fleeting glimpses of the girl as she zig-zagged through the park.
"How dare she get herself hypnotized!" huffed Belle as she ran. "She promised! She promised!"
"This might not be her fault," replied Ziggy.
"Yeah right. If you believe that you're an idiot," growled Belle.
"Hey, no need to be so mean, dude," replied Ziggy, only for Eric to interrupt.
"Less talk! More running!" gasped Eric as they turned another corner only to see Veronica run into the ghost train's back door.
"Great," sighed Belle.
"J...J...J...Jeepers" stuttered Ziggy. "Maybe we don't go in?"
"We don't have a choice," replied Eric as he marched towards the door. "Maddy might be in there and we need to bring her to justice!"
"Why is it always us," grumbled Ziggy as he followed Eric and Belle through the back door. As the gang entered into the main part of the ghost train, they could hear Veronica's continued squawking. They slowly moved towards the noise, presuming that Maddy would be where Veronica was.
Eventually, after taking a few turns, they found Veronica stood in the middle of a scene, happily dancing. Her whole body was still on display and the puddle of drool at her feet made soft sticky noises whenever she ran her foot through it.
"Veronica," called Eric as he and Ziggy covered their eyes.
"Yeah man, this isn't good," echoed Ziggy, only for Belle to sigh.
"I'll get her," said Belle. "Not like I've not seen it all before." However, as she took a few steps forward, Maddy stepped out from behind a prop, holding the coin in front of her.
"But it is so late," chuckled Maddy as she leaned forward, swinging the coin in front of the group. "Why don't you go back to sleep while I finish off here?"
"That's not going to work on me," mumbled Belle. "I'm not weak-minded..."
"Belle, sleep," chuckled Maddy as Belle's head instantly slumped forward, her eyes slamming shut.
"Belle!" shouted Eric. However, rather than moving to help her, his eyes remained in place, his eyes glued to the coin as it swung back and forth.
"You're not going to help her, you're going to join her," giggled Cosette as she slowly returned to her normal voice. "You're getting so tired, you can already feel it, this night has been so long. So stressful. You just want to watch the shiny coin and sleep. To fall into a deep sleep. It feels like you've not slept in days."
"What?" mumbled Eric as he continued to watch the coin. Ziggy was already slipping down. His eyes were glazed and drool was dripping from his mouth as he silently watched the coin, hanging off of every word that fell from Cosette's lips.
"Yes, it is too late for you. You're already feeling it. You're already realizing it. You know with each swing of the coin that you get closer and closer to submitting to me totally. It is almost like lead weights are tied around your wrists. And these weights grow heavier and heavier. And soon, you'll be pulled to the floor, and just like hitting an off switch, the second your hands touch the floor, you'll fall into a deep sleep," continued Cosette.
"Sleep," mumbled Eric, his eyes starting to flutter as both he and Ziggy started to slump forward, their arms hanging straight down due to the imagined weights pulling on them.
"Yes, you can't control yourselves. Your minds are mine!" cackled Cosette as she grabbed Eric and Ziggy's arms and yanked them down. "Sleep!" she boomed as the pair crumpled to the floor, their eyes slamming shut as they did.
Once this was done, Cosette moved to Belle and pushed her over, causing her to land on the sleeping boys. She spent a few moments watching them sleep before turning back to Veronica.
"Veronica, dance some more. The rest of you, listen closely," she commanded.
"Yes, Mistress Cosette. I hear and I obey," replied Veronica as she started to dance again.
Eric let out a groan as a voice echoed through his head. "What is going on? I feel like I got hit by a truck," he groaned as he opened his eyes.
"How dare you make a mockery of our institution like this?" screamed Cosette. As Eric opened his eyes he realized that he was on the floor and both Cosette and Anderson were stood above him. "What has gotten into you?"
The fog in Eric's brain slowly cleared as he realized that he was on the floor of the plaza and he was completely naked. "Wait, what happened?" He said as he sat up and looked around, only to realize that Belle and Ziggy were in the same situation.
"Last night you ran rampant around my park! It was disgusting!" shouted Anderson as he threw a load of paper at the group. All three of them quickly grabbed the sheets, only to see that they were blurry phone photos of the gang doing various things around the park.
"I don't remember this!" gasped Belle. "I wouldn't get naked like that!"
"Like, the same, dude. I'm all about being clothed," added Ziggy. Eric continued to look through the pictures, only to find that they got worse and worse. There were images of them dancing naked, acting like animals, and trashing various stands around the park.
"Explain yourself!" shouted Cosette. "Explain yourself this instant!"
"I don't know!" replied Eric as the group continued to look at the pictures. "I don't remember any of this. Belle got wet and we came back to the van and then it's all blank. I don't remember anything!"
"Yes! We came to change my wet dress," gasped Belle as she tried to cover herself. "But I remember nothing after that! I certainly don't remember dancing around naked!"
"Same man! All a blank!" Ziggy chimed in.
"Disgusting! Utterly disgusting!" shouted Cosette.
"I'm sorry darling," sighed Anderson. "I should have listened."
"Mr. Vanderblast, please," begged Eric. "This wasn't us. I don't know what happened."
"We have photographs!" shouted Anderson. "Even Maddy's victims haven't been this disgusting. I refuse to sully my printer with some of the pictures!"
"I'm sorry, man," mumbled Ziggy. "I don't have any answers."
"I do!" shouted a voice from across the plaza. Everyone turned to see Veronica running towards the van. And, unlike the others, she was fully clothed.
Once she got close she walked up to Anderson and passed him a folder. "I've solved your mystery!" she said with a grin.
"I don't care about that right now," began Anderson. "Your friends have made a mockery..."
"It also explains them," interrupted Veronica. "Something has been bugging me about the information you gave us. About how people start acting strangely after encountering your ghost?"
"What about it?" asked Anderson.
"Well, she seemed oddly localized, so last night I took it upon myself to do some swabbing. It took all night, but thanks to a few cabs I was able to get them to a lab. I got the results this morning and got back here as quick as I could!"
"Why didn't you ask us?" mumbled Eric.
"It was a wild hunch," shrugged Veronica. "I didn't want to bother you. But I'm guessing you went into the ghost train to look for me."
"Get to the point," interrupted Cosette.
"Oh yes!" continued Veronica as she opened the file and pointed to the form inside. "Turns out your ghost train has a problem with ergot fungi, most likely the rye ergot fungus."
"What do you mean?" asked Anderson.
"Ergot is a type of fungus that can grow on several different substances. When ingested by humans, it can cause irrational behavior and hallucinations."
"Like what your friends did last night?" asked Cosette.
"Exactly. I likely released some into the atmosphere when I swabbed. And when they went in, they inhaled it, which is likely what kept happening. The warm moist interior of the ghost train allowed the fungus to grow, and the movement of the props caused it to release spores. If these spores mixed in with smoke from a smoke machine, then they could easily turn the whole scene into an infection chamber!"
"Oh my god," gasped Anderson as he looked over the forms. "But, what about the tampering you found? The employees?"
"Irrational behavior. They likely thought they were doing normal maintenance at the time. But due to the fungus, they were not thinking straight."
"I see. And how do we solve this?" asked Anderson.
"Bad news," sighed Veronica. "You only get hallucinations this intense when there is a large buildup of the fungus. Getting it out is near impossible without salting the earth. You would need to knock half the park down and rebuild totally. It spreads quickly, so to be sure the entire west side would need to be demolished."
"I see," sighed Anderson before turning to Cosette. "Then it seems you're right."
Cosette dived forward and hugged Anderson. "Oh my little Circus Peanut, I'm so sorry. But at least we have the answers now, yes? Nothing you could have done."
"Yes. And in Paris, we can make sure that everything is fungus-proof," Anderson surrendered as he turned to face Veronica again. "Thank you so much for your help. You've really taken a weight off my soul."
"Anytime! The Mystery Society never fails!" cheered Veronica.
"And thank you to the rest of you," nodded Anderson to the rest of the team. "I'm sorry about earlier."
"It is okay," reassured Eric.
"Can I please go put some clothes on?" stuttered Belle. "It's cold out here!"
"Oh right! Yes! Go change!" laughed Anderson. "I shall go and have the chef prepare a celebratory meal before you go. But, I'll make sure there are no mushrooms!" With a laugh, he walked off.
"Oh candy corn, you are so witty!" laughed Cosette as Ziggy, Belle, and Eric ran into the van, leaving only Cosette and Veronica in the plaza.
"Impressive," whispered Cosette.
"It pays to keep random samples and forms on hand," smirked Veronica. "But hey, you've got my number. If we ever end up in the same city again, I wouldn't mind watching your coin a little more."
"Right," sighed Cosette as she rolled her eyes. "We will see. Who knows how the universe turns?"
"I know your hypnosis turned me. Turned me on!" giggled Veronica, only for Cosette to sigh.
"I am going to go help with the food," she mumbled before walking off. Veronica skipped to the back of the van before quickly pulling the door open and climbing inside.
The others were still nude, and they were all climbing over each other to find clothes in the messy van. However, as Veronica sat at the back, Eric turned to her and smiled.
"You did well! That was fantastic detective work! I would have never guessed."
"Yeah," interjected Ziggy. "You saved our butts out there. I've never been on a bad trip like that before!"
"And hey," said Belle as she pulled a dress on, "Veronica, I'm sorry I didn't trust you. I should have been better. You're a friend and ally. I was rude and I shouldn't have doubted you."
"Oh it's all water under the bridge now," said Veronica with a smile as she waved her hand. "I don't mind. I just hope I've proved myself to all of you."
"You have!" cheered the rest in unison before they started to get dressed once more. However, while the others were distracted by their clothes, Veronica reached into her pocket and gently gripped the coin that sat in there.
"You can totally trust me," she whispered, smirking to herself.