Disclaimer: Remember WENN and its characters belong to Rupert Holmes, Howard Meltzer Productions, and that station that used to run it. All original characters and the story itself belong to me. The song "Once Upon a Time in Your Wildest Dreams" belongs to the Moody Blues.
Italics stands for thoughts and ghostly speech
July 8th, 2000
Kathleen Rossan straightened her suit for the fifth time. The man in front of her didn't seem to notice. He was a middle-aged man, complete with thinning red-brown hair and lined brown eyes. "So," she said, "do we have a deal?"
"I don't see what choice I have," he sighed. "I can't afford to keep WENN anymore. My parents wanted it to stay in the family, but they're both gone now, and it's doing nothing." He smiled at her. "What WENN needs are young, fresh faces like yours, Miss Rossan. I heard that you did wonders for that radio station in New Jersey."
"Thank you," she said simply. She wasn't here for compliments, however. "I'll keep the staff on. It's cheaper, and I could use people with experience." She gazed into his troubled eyes. She'd become interested in radio station WENN when she first heard that it's owner and head manager, John Comstock, was putting it up for sale. She had her degree in communications and had worked in radio for several years. The people she talked to claimed that the tiny station had few buyers and fewer listeners, and that it had always struggled, even in the past.
"You know, of course, that my parents owned WENN for years," John explained. "It was left to them by the former owner, who appreciated all they'd done for it. They left it to my older brother originally, but he was more interested in the theater, so it fell to me." He stood. "And now, it will be yours."
Kathleen had heard this story from Comstock several times. She knew his and WENN's entire history by now. She itched to get on with the deal. History bored her. Who cared about the dim, dark past? The future was on the line now.
"May we sign now?" she asked. "I have several matters that must be put to rest before the station can become operational again."
"Oh," Comstock nodded absently. "Yes, well, my head technician should be coming around in a day or two to show you the ropes." He signed his name to the papers and she signed hers.
"Oh, by the way, you do know about the ghost?"Comstock added offhandedly after they'd finished the negotiations.
"I don't believe in ghosts," Kathleen said firmly. Ghosts were for people who actually had faith in superstitious nonsense.
"Well, we do have one here. WENN's been around for a while. There's a bit of a tragic history behind him, in fact. He was killed during World War II, according to my parents."
She waved this away. World War II was eons ago and she had no time for tragic stories. She had a radio station to run. "That's very interesting, Mr. Comstock. I'll be around tomorrow to clear everything out and set up the new equipment."
She tried to keep a professional demeanor as she left the building. That lasted for about fifteen seconds, until she made it to the elevator. When she got in, she jumped up and down and screamed and sang along with the muzak. "Once upon a time, once when you were mineÖ" she squealed with the Moody Blues. "Thank God!" she added in a quieter voice when she finally came to the first floor. "I did it."
She'd always wanted to run a radio station, or at least work for one. Six years of graveyard shift DJ jobs, internships, and hoarding whatever money she could, finally led to this. She couldn't wait to make WENN into the biggest thing to hit AM radio since the all-news format was invented. She had some wonderful ideas for the station.
She shivered and grabbed her umbrella. Darn this constant rain!, she thought. Some summer! Won't it ever get warm? She felt a hand on her shoulder as she left the elevator. "Who's there?" she asked. She turned quickly, but there was no one behind her. There was no one in the hallway. The building mostly housed offices, but they were all quiet. She gulped and remembered what John said about WENN's resident ghoul.
But that's silly, she told herself. There are no such things as ghosts!
Kathleen shrugged and headed out the door to catch a taxi. She felt like treating herself to lunch. She was so intent on trying to get a ride that she didn't notice the laughter that echoed in the hallwayÖor see the shadowy form that watched her from the cracked front window.
John, who came down the stairs a few moments later, heard the laughter and knew exactly what was going on. He rolled his eyes. "Oh, knock it off!" he snapped to the room in general. "I don't need you scaring that girl half to death, like you did all the other prospective buyers. Leave her alone. I'm selling WENN, and that's all there is to it." With a last annoyed look at the empty room, he opened his own umbrella and walked down the street, whistling cheerfully to himself.
July 9th, 2000
"Hello?" Kathleen switched on the lights and looked around. The small radio station was quiet. She hoped that the technician that Mr. Comstock mentioned would show up soon. She had a lot she wanted to talk to him about. There were old, yellowed pictures on the walls, showing WENNís history. There was a computer on the desk, but it was ancient, as was the phone. She sighed and started taking them down, replacing them with pretty postcards of far-away places and sensible modern art. We really need to update this facility, she thought, starting with the reception area.
One of the photos fell off of the wall. It landed with a crack on a box of old microphones. Kathleen gathered the photo and was about to place it in a carton with the others when the light went on in the storage room. She groaned and went to turn it off. "Ok, whoís there?"
There was no one there. The room was filled with ancient radio equipment and boxes of papers and two small desks. Dust and cobwebs covered everything but a few newer-seeming cartons. The desks surprised Kathleen. Mr. Comstock told her that this room had been used for storage for decades, since WENN switched over to its current easy listening format in the mid-50s. What did he say it was before that? Oh, yeah, the writerís room. That would explain the desks.
She brushed the cobwebs off one of the chairs and blew the dust off of a manual typewriter. Despite the machineís age, there was still paper in it. She pulled a web away from the yellowed, faded manuscript. The young station owner leaned over the typed letters. They formed a single sentence. Please, I need help.
Kathleen raised her eyebrows. Who needed help? According to Mr. Comstock, people rarely went in this room. It wasnít even really a room, more like a glorified closet. She put her hand down on something papery and brittle. It looked like it may have been a daisy or a black-eyed Susan at one time, but now it was crumbling in her hands.
A crash sent her flying out of the chair. She nearly had a heart attack! Oh, good grief, she thought, disgusted, it was only thunder. Iím getting paranoid. She was about to pick up the typewriter and remove the paper when she realized that she still clutched the photo in her other hand, the one that fell off the wall.
The photo was a group shot. Several people were gathered in one room, probably the main studio. It was in color, but the color had badly faded and now seemed washed-out. The hair and clothes styles dated way back to at least the thirties or forties. Almost everyone in the picture was smiling, except for the little fellow with the pencil-thin mustache. There were two redheads, one older woman and one in a flashy floral dress. Kathleen liked her instantly. An elderly man beamed benevolently behind them. A sweet, plump woman sat at a piano. The tall, balding man who straddled on the stool looked a lot like John Comstock. What little hair the man had left was blondish-brown instead of reddish-brown, though. Kathleen frowned when she saw that the glass had cracked over the beaming faces of a handsome fortyish man with black hair and a pretty young woman in a simple red suit. They stood behind old-time microphones, along with another couple, a tall, cute young man and a woman in a fancy blue suit with matching hat.
There was another crash of thunder. Kathleen could have sworn that someone else was in the room. She felt their presence. "Hello?" she called nervously. "Is anyone there? Mr. Comstock?"
The door blew open and Kathleen nearly jumped over the desks. She cautiously peeked out of the room. There was no one there. The hallway was empty. She checked the rest of the station. No one was anywhere. She was alone. All the lights but the one in reception and theone in the storage room were off. She shook her head and felt foolish. This is crazy. Iím nervous about buying the station and Iím hearing things. Thatís all. There is NOBODY here!
Convinced that she was by herself, she walked back to the storage room to start packing boxes. A radio and TV museum in Pittsburgh was interested in the old radio equipment and photographs and sheíd said that she would donate whatever they could use. It would put her in good standing with the community. She pulled the photo out of its broken frame, promising that sheíd buy a new one for it tomorrow.
She studied the picture again, especially that couple. They certainly seemed happy together. She wondered when this photo was taken, if the man went to war, if they ever got married, if they even dated. Did she give him a peck on his cheek? Did he take her to see "Casablanca" and tell her that the war would never separate them?
She sighed and put the picture aside. Enough of that romantic silliness, it was time to work. She started to pull out aging microphones and boxes full of papers and shove them into cartons. As she worked, she found herself reading some of the scripts. "The Hands of Time" seemed to be a soap opera about a couple that just could not get together, no matter how hard the woman, Elizabeth, tried. "Amazon Andy" was an Indiana Jones-style adventure series. "Tell it to the Judge" was a "Peopleís Court"-type law program, and "Rance Shiloh, US Marshal" was a western drama. There were crazy comedies, World War II-era commentary shows (all of it US propaganda, of course), and variety specials. Some of them seemed really interesting. A few might even work in 2000.
She was trying to free a box of scripts that just wouldnít budge when, all of a sudden, the lights went out. Oh, great, now I canít see. She stumbled over to the desks, hoping that flashlights were invented in the 40s and that they had one that worked. He hand closed over something that felt like human flesh. It was skin-like, but...cold. "Hello?" she whispered into the darkness. "If thereís anyone here, please say something, because itís pitch black and I canít see you."
She felt a breath in her ear. Please, someone begged, help me. They killed me. Iíll never see her again.
Kathleen thought she was going to die. "See who? Who are you? What are you talking about? Who killed you?"
Whatever it was melted away, and Kathleen felt solid metal in her grip. "A flashlight," she exclaimed in relief, "thank goodness!" It even worked. She turned it on and swung it around the room. There was no one there, only boxes and cartons and scripts and dust and her. Oh, this is too much!
She was about to head back to reception to check the phone when she bumped a shelf that was tipping to begin with. She swung her arm and the flashlight over her face to shield herself from the falling debris and was somehow flung to the floor in the confusion. She stood up to brush the mess away when she almost stepped on a carton. It was smaller than the others, and not quite as heavy. She shined the flashlight on the cartonís flaps. There was faded writing on the top flap. "Momís things Ė private," she read. Mom? Whoís Mom? John Comstockís mother, maybe? He did say yesterday that she worked here for years, until she retired in 1993. The box wasnít sealed. She carefully opened the top to reveal a large, tattered photo album and many thin, brittle envelopes gathered together with cracked rubber bands. Several photos were also in dusty, dirty frames. One was a larger, black and white version of the couple in the color group shot. She gingerly removed the picture so she could get a better look.
The woman was beautiful. She had thick, dark hair, and wore another simple but stylish suit. Her male friend was much larger, but he was equally handsome. His eyes twinkled, even in the picture. He had large, round cheeks, and a big smile. She was almost smug. Well, I would be, too, if I were dating a guy who looked that hot, Kathleen admitted.
She pulled out the photo album. It creaked and groaned as she flipped the pages. It was actually a scrapbook. It contained photos and other memorabilia of life Ė more pressed flowers, old-fashioned Christmas cards, postcards of beautiful cities, souvenirs from other lands. She noticed ads for wedding gowns and floral shops, and more letters. There were lots more letters as well. He must have written her every day. She grinned at one faded ad that was captioned "my future wedding dress".
The letters were next. She had to handle them with extreme caution. She placed each one on the box and held the flashlight on them. Some of them were barely legible and she found herself squinting.
December 23rd, 1941
My dearest Betty;
Donít worry about me. Iím fine. You should have seen the poker game I played with the other guys. They never knew what hit them. I won $5.83! The food is awful. Give me Hildyís spaghetti and ketchup any day! We started basic training yesterday. I know, youíd think theyíd find something better to do with a lieutenant than send him to trample dust with a bunch of college rejects. Ok, so there are some nice guys here, too. Theyíre all homesick, especially at this time of year. I canít blame them. All I want is to be back home. Iíll even do "The Hands of Time" without referring to politics!
I hope you got to go home to Elkheart for Christmas this year. Itís probably hard with all the restrictions theyíve placed on travel. You said that Hilary went to Maine. How did Jeff take her having another husband, anyway? Iím almost sorry that I missed the fireworks between those two. "Bedside Manor" must have been very exciting for a while. Howís Victor? Is he really going to London? Whenís he leaving? (No, I donít mean anything by that! I was just asking!)
Weíre being called to the mess hall, so Iíd better go.
With all my heart,
Scott, she thought. I wonder if thatís the man in the picture? The one with the black hair? The very first photo in the scrapbook answered her question. It was a simple shot of a man in uniform, but it nearly brought tears to Kathleenís eyes. The name "Lieutenant Scott Sherwood" was printed under it in the same script that dreamily spoke of wedding gowns. It is Scott. He did go to war. He did leave her. She wiped her eyes. What would others think if they walked in and saw her crying over people she didnít know whoíd been dead for years?
The letters went on in this fashion for nearly a year, with Scott joking about his life on the front and Betty commenting on her life in the US and the daily ups and downs of managing a radio station in the 40s. They stopped coming for three months. It was February of 1943 when Scott finally wrote that he was coming home. And that wasnít all...
February 12th, 1943
I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I was shot twice in the chest and once in the arm. I hurt in places I didnít know could hurt and my arm wasnít moving too well for a while, but they saved it. God bless doctors! It feels fine enough now that I can write this letter and actually read my writing. Not that my writing was great to begin with, but itís improved. The good news is that Iíve been declared unable to fight and can come home to you!
Iíll be home in less than a monthís time. I canít wait to work with you again, to tease you again, to watch you type, to watch you think, to go on a date with you. I canít wait to meet Eugenia and Mr. Foleyís new child and chat with that new actor you hired to replace Jeff when he left for the correspondent job in Europe.
Betty, this might be too late. I know you love Victor, and that heís upstanding and moral and everything Iím not. I know Iím no good for a girl like you, but Iíll do my best to change. Iíll give up conning people (well, most people). Iím going to work for the W.E.N.N after I rest a bit. Iíll have a steady job with steady pay.
Most important, Betty, is that I want you to be my wife. I love you. I love you more than Victor, more than anyone. I swear to you that I will never leave you again. Iíll protect you and the station from Nazis and Pruitts and Pavlas and anyone else that tries to harm WENN or the staff or us. I know this isnít a fancy love scene, like in your soaps, but Iím not Leonard Manley or Brent Marlowe. Iím Scott Sherwood, and I care about you. If thatís not enough, then Iíll go somewhere else. There are many, many places I could go. I can get a job just about anywhere.
To be honest (donít keel over, I know how to be honest once in a while!), I donít really want to go anywhere else. WENN is as much my home as yours. If you donít want me there, though, Iíll leave forever.
I love you,
Kathleen didnít realize until she opened her mouth that sheíd held her breath throughout the entire letter. She searched for the response and found it next to a slightly moldy carnation.
March 10th, 1943
Everyone is fine. Hilary wasnít happy when Jeff took off. I wish heíd give us more notice when he gets these patriotic impulses of his. Victor is worse! Heís taken up permanent residence in Washington "for the duration of the war", he says. Iíve received one letter from him since then, and that was in January and all of five sentences. I love him, but I canít marry a man who refuses to make room for me in his schedule. Little Bobby Foley is adorable and we all adore him, especially his parents. Mapleís been subbing at the organ a lot so Eugenia can take better care of him.
Our new actorís name is Andy Milton. Heís a very sweet boy. Heís a college student whoís interested in learning all aspects of the radio biz, even writing (though, I admit, his ventures into that quarter have been less than dramatically satisfying). Heís good looking enough, with golden hair and blue eyes, and rather short. Like Mr. Foley, he has flat feet, which is why heís not in the military. Hilary hates him because he replaced Jeff and has given him a terrible time. I donít think Mackieís crazy about him either. He says that thereís something wrong with a kid that knows everything.
As for the last issue...yes, Scott, Iíll marry you. Iím not sure if what I feel is love, but Iíll take it. I know that Iím happy when youíre around and that we work well together. I miss you horribly and almost literally worried myself sick when you didnít write those three months. I canít wait for you to come home, so we can start planning the wedding!
I love you and miss you badly!
Kathleen sighed. How romantic! They must have known each other for years! This is better than the movies! She went through the rest of the scrapbook. There were pictures of Scott and Betty with other WENN staff members. There were pictures of them together, laughing, and pictures of them separate. A scrap of yellowed, frayed silk fabric was displayed next to the wedding dress ad. She grinned at a picture of them dancing together in what looked like the main studio. The tall woman in the garish floral dress played the piano (and still wore garish floral dresses). They held each other close and looked like they were very, very much in love. What happened to them? What happened to him? He was so handsome. Betty was a lucky woman to have a man who was so dedicated to her.
There were more letters, written even after Scott came home. Some were as trivial as reminders to bring home a half a pound of burger meat from Kemperís. Others were longer and much more complicated. In fact, some were downright frightening. Apparently, the war followed Scott back to Pittsburgh.
May 1st, 1943
Thereís another leak at the station. I donít know where it is this time, if itís in the shows or the commercials or something else. Thereís something wrong, terribly wrong. You canít tell anyone. The last time we got the entire staff involved with an international incident, it almost got the lot of us killed. I know Iíll be able to find the problem soon. I just need all of the scripts and commercial recordings for the past two months.
I love you,
Kathleen shook her head in disbelief. Again? You mean that this wasnít the first time WENN leaked information? Did National Security know about this?
The next letter was from Betty, and it was understandably confused.
Whatís going on? What do you mean, another leak? Is it something we can discuss outside of work, or even in public? Can we talk about this during lunch? Can I do anything, or is it more code breaking?
The next letter was the last one from Scott, and it was desperate.
May 6th, 1943
Itís not in your scripts, so donít worry about being a Nazi. Itís not in the commercials, either. Itís one of our actors improvising on the air. Iím calling the FBI as soon as I finish decoding this program. Iím going to hide the notebooks before the spy finds out that Iím onto them. I canít tell you who it is. I think theyíre after me, Betty, and I donít want them going after you or anyone else. Iím going to meet the spy in the office after work. Donít wait up for me. In fact, pray very hard for me. Our wedding is in less than a week and I want to slide that ring on your finger. I want to have a family and run WENN with you, but Iím scared. They want to kill me. I know too much. Just like the American spies in Germany and Russia who "disappeared" two months ago. Iím afraid Iím just going to "disappear", too.
I love you forever,
Bettyís response was the last letter, and it was short and to the point.
WHERE ARE YOU!!!!!!???? What in the heck is going on? Who wants to kill you? Where are the notebooks?
That was the last letter. After that, there were no memos, no letters, no daily reminders, no flowers, no photos, and no talk of weddings. The last entries in the book were newspaper articles. One was an obituary, simple and concise, for a Scott Alexander Sherwood, age 42, who died on May 6th, 1943. Another was for Scott Sherwoodís funeral and burial, and it was also short and concise. The third, however, was longer and far more lurid. The headline blazed in once-bold letters RADIO STATION MANAGER MURDERED; FOUND IN OFFICE BY FIANCEE.
MURDERED!!!!??? She dropped the scrapbook in shock. Well, maybe shouldnít have been shocked. John Comstock did mention that the ghost who haunted WENN had a tragic past. Wow, murdered days before his wedding, Kathleen thought. Thatís awful! And all because he knew something, something war-related, if what he was saying was any indication. And it happed to at least three other people, too. Poor Scott! He worshipped Betty, and he never got her. Poor Betty, too. It canít be fun to find your own fiancť dead right before youíre supposed to get married!
She thought she felt the breath on her neck again. Something cold gently touched her shoulder. You know now, it whispered. You know what happened. Please help me. Iíll lose her again.
She swung the flashlight behind her, but all she saw was boxes. "Look, I normally donít believe in spirits of any kind, but something strange is going on!" She sighed. "All right, Iíll help you, just show me where you are! I can't do anything for you if I can't see you!"
Iím right here, it breathed. She slowly turned to the right, near the rusted file cabinets.
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