"Watcha watching, guys?" Ross asked as he came through the door to Monica's apartment.
"The X-Files." Joey replied. Chandler and Phoebe made shushing noises.
Ross slid around the couch and over to Monica who was cooking in the kitchen. "How come the guys're watching it here instead of at their place?"
"Joey forgot to pay the cable bill, again." Monica shook her head when he indicated with his finger if he could sample one of the cookies.
"I guess it's kinda hard to pay what you don't have." Ross slipped a cookie under the palm of his hand and into his pocket as she turned her back. As he rejoined the group around the set, he brought the cookie out to snack on. Since the end credits were rolling, he asked. "Good show?" He took a bite out of the cookie.
"Yeah, Moulder was trying to track down a bunch of gypsies that do real seances." Joey said.
"But Scully didn't believe they were for real. I'm with her. Talking to the dead is just too unreal." Chandler gave Ross one of his mock-serious looks. "As unreal as that cookie in your hand by the way."
Ross looked at the cookie in perplexity. "It does taste a little funny. What's in it?"
"Monica's baking some treats for Mrs. Elsworth's cat. I think the main ingredients are flour and canned cat food."
Ross flung the cookie into the waste basket and spat the rest after it. Aw," Chandler chided him. "Now your coat won't be glossy and healthy in five different ways."
Rachel came out of the bedroom. "Hi, lover." She puckered up her lips. Ross quickly wiped his mouth off with his hankie and gave her a quick kiss. "Why did you do that?" She asked, indicating the piece of cloth still in his hand.
"It's a health thing. The Surgeon General reccommended it."
"Oh." She went on into the kitchen.
Chandler grinned at Ross. "Nice recovery." Ross continued to dig inside his mouth. He could still taste the thing.
Phoebe said. "I don't know why everyone thinks seances aren't possible. I've already had one experience with spirit possession."
"Hah." Chandler quipped. "By an eighty year old lady. If I want a spirit possession, I'll settle for Betty Jean Harlow."
"Who?" Asked Joey.
"Marylin Monroe, dummy. I thought you were up on names in show business."
"Not if they're dead. You can't make time with dead actrsses."
"Well, if she wasn't dead, then I'd really like to be possessed by her." Chandler declared.
Ross finished wiping out his mouth. He wished he had a breath mint or a Tic-Tac. "She'd be nearly as old as the lady that supposedly possessed Phoebe if she were still alive. You sure you want that?"
"I guess I'd settle for the Harlow from the fifties. But we aint going to get her."
Phoebe frowned. "Why not?"
"I think it's because she's dead. That makes it kinda difficult."
"No, I mean it. Why don't we have a seance? I'll prove to you that they're real."
Joey hooked a leg over a chair. "You mean actually talk to her. Maybe I could get some acting tips."
"Well, not someone as famous as her." Phoebe ammended. "The famous ones have so many people calling them that they just leave their spiritual phones off the hooks. I would just love to hear Elvis sing but so would a zillion other people. Can someone here suggest someone they'd like to talk to that's not so famous?"
"This is rediculous." Ross waved a hand depreciatingly. "It's been shown that seances are fakes."
"By Houdini for one. He spent all his life disproving them and when he died he left a message in his wife's possession that any medium who ever contacted her was going to have to repeat back. No one ever did."
"That doesn't prove anything. If Houdini spent all his life trying to disprove their existence, then he certainly wouldn't do anything to show that he'd been a fool if he found out later they were real." Ross started to retort and then a look of puzzlement came over his face.
"I think she's got you there." Joey grinned from the couch.
Rachel came back into the room and put her hands on Ross' shoulders. "If we're talking about doing a seance to see if they work why don't we use your great Aunt Gertrude that you were telling me about the other day?"
"That's not a bad choice." Monica joined them around the couch. "She's supposed to have hidden several thousand dollars in that old house of hers in Shrevesport and no one ever found it after she died."
"That's because she probably fed it to her cats." Ross shook his head. "I'd feel stupid suggesting her. Besides I don't even believe in this stuff."
That makes her the perfect choice." Phoebe declared. "Then if she tells you something you can verify, you'll believe it."
As the others chimed in, Ross finally caved in. "All right, all right. We'll use Old Nutty Gerty."
"Nutty Gerty?" Joey asked.
"Yeah. What else would you call an eighty year-old lady who liked to walk around naked in an old house filled with cats and parots?"
"If she had money, I think the term's eccentric." Chandler rejoined.
"Well, where'll we have the seance? Here?" Rachel asked.
Phoebe shook her head. "It should be some place which was dear to the the person we're trying to contact. It'll draw them closer."
"That means the animal shelter or Bellview." Ross ducked the pillow she threw at him.
"Her old house." Monica declared. "Ross, it's still tied up in litigation and has never been sold."
"I don't know."
"It'll be perfect." Phoebe said.
"Come on, honey." Rachel pleaded.
"I guess it'll be okay."
"All right." said Joey. "We're having a seance."
II. Hi Gerty, You there?
The old house had been loved once. But those days were long behind it. The grass had grown nearly two feet high and weeds hid what had once been beautiful rose and flower gardens which were now the play grounds of birds and crickets. It once could have been called a mansion. Now it was anything but. Decayed was the most charitable description for it.
Ross opened the front door and surveyed the cloth-covered furniture and layers of dust. "The House of Usher. The perfect place for a seance." He cocked his head. "You there, Aunt Gertrude?" Only echoes answered him.
"Don't do that." Phoebe hit him on the arm. "You'll scare her away."
Chandler lifted up one of the sheets and surveyed the antique furniture. "And if that didn't, the decore certainly will."
Joey grinned. "Looks like something out of Ghost Busters." He reached behind his back. "Charge up your proton packs and let's kick some ectoplasmic butt." Rolling echoes were his only answer.
Rachel shushed him and turned to Phoebe and Monica. "Where shall we set up?"
Monica replied. "The sitting room was always her favorite."
"That'll be perfect." Phoebe said.
Ross led the way down there and was surprised to find that the lights still worked. He sniffed. "Yep. I can still smell the cats. I can't stand cat odor."
Chandler said in soto voice to Joey. "And this from a man who still can't smell monkey odors in his own apartment?"
"Why do you think that Rachel insists that he see her over at her place? Not for privacy that's for sure."
The girls got the guys to drag a large card table over to the center of the room and scrounge up enough chairs. They all sat down. "All right. We're here. Now what do we do?" Ross demanded.
"Now we take hands and form a circle." Phoebe took Ross' hand and he reached over and got Rachel's and so on until the circle was formed. "Now, think of Aunt Gertrude and try to entice her to come. I'll act as the medium."
"Makes sense." Grumbled Ross. "The ghost always comes to the most vacant place." Rachel kicked him under the table.
"Aunt Gertrude. Aunt Gertrude." Phoebe called out. There was no answer. "Please honor us with your presence. Your nephew and niece have a question only you can answer." There was silence.
"Maybe she's out feeding the cats and the birdies." Ross griped.
"You have to close your eyes, Ross, or it's not going to work."
"It's just silliness." However, he did as he was told.
"Aunt Gertrude, Aunt Gertrude. Honor us with your presence."
Ross' nostrils flared. Was that cat he smelled? The table shook and with a loud 'clack' the lights went out. He looked up in disgust. "Blew another fuse." He started to get to his feet.
"Sit down, nephew." The voice coming from overhead was old and garulous.
"Phoebe, if this is a joke."
"I said sit down, nephew. I see that you didn't wipe your feet. You were always an obnoxious child. Tearing up my roses, climbing on my old sycamore and breaking its branches and then the kitties. You terrorized my little babies."
Ross let go of Rachel's hand. Like he was really going to believe this poor put on. "Well, if you're Aunt Gertrude tell me something only I would know."
"I know something you don't want me to talk about."
"So? Surprise me."
"When you were twelve I had to bleach out all your sheets after you slept here. You should've had more respect for an old lady's things."
Ross started. No, it couldn't be. "Any twelve year old male does that. Is there anything else?"
"Yes. I know you were the one who broke my yard statue of the thinker and blaimed it on his sister."
"Monica, could've told anyone about that."
"Did she also tell me that you hid those filthy Playboy magazines behind the wall in the closet in the upstairs guest room and that I caught you up there with that trashy Ema Lou and you were about to..."
"Aunt Gertrude?" Ross was finally becoming frightened. Phoebe's hand clutched his with terrible strength. "If it's really you, where did you hide the money?"
"Why should I tell you, you young whipper snapper? You scared the kitties."
"I appologize to the kitties. I was young."
"Very well, nephew. Turn around and open the closet door behind you. On the floor you'll find a loose board. Lift it up and there you'll find what you seek."
Phoebe released his hand. "She's gone."
Rachel produced a lighted candle. "Come on, Ross. Let's see if the money's there."
He took the candle and with the others behind him approached the closet. He opened the door and immediately spied the loose board. Handing the candle back to Rachel he knealt to open it.
"Come on, Ross. Hurry up."
"Yeah. We all want to see how much there is."
His hands trembling, Ross pulled back the board. There was indeed something under there. It was a box with a small padlock. He pulled it out and the others crowded around him as he returned to the table and placed it there.
"It's locked." He told them.
"Why don't we shoot it off, like they do in the movies?" Joey asked.
"Well, for one thing we don't have a gun and for another in real life bullets richochette and hurt people." Ross snapped.
"Here." Rachel leaned forward with a hair pin. "Let me try." A moment later there was a small click and the lock fell away. "I used to do that all the time with my mother's jewelry box." She explained.
Ross threw back the lid. Something in the box exploded outwards, long black arms reached out at him. Ross fell back with a scream as spring snakes and other magic parphanelia popped out at him.
"Surprise!" They all yelled at him. Chandler turned back on the lights. Joey was holding a remote sound mike in his hand. "This is Aunt Gertrude signing off." He doubled over with laughter.
Ross glared at them. "This was a trick. You set me up."
"Of course, big brother, and you fell for it. Where do you think 'Aunt Gertrude' got her information from? You never knew that I overheard her and Mom discussing what happened between you and Ema Lou, did you?"
"I can't believe I was so stupid."
"Yeah. But you got to admitt it was funny." Joey told him.
Ross turned towards Phoebe. "So you really don't believe in seances after all?"
"Don't be rediculous. Ghosts have better means of communicating." She paused and became spinning around as if she were being tugged in different directions. When she stopped with everyone straring at her, she announced. "Oh my gosh, there are several presences here with us and one's very disturbed." They all froze as there was a heavy thumping from beneath the floor at their feet.
III. A Night to Remember
"Will you kids keep the god-damned noise down up there." A very familar voice, one that they'd thought stilled forever, shouted from beneath their feet.
"All right, Joey, cut it out." Ross growled.
"Man, I haven't said anything." Joey pointed at the remote lying on the floor.
"Then, who?" The lights flickered and the thumping got louder.
"God-damn it. I've told you girls enough times to keep the noise down. Now I'm coming up there and turning it down myself." A mist began to rise through the floor boards.
Monica and Rachel clutched hands. "Mister Heckles." They whispered.
"Yes, Mister Heckles." The mist began to take on a manlike shape.
"Did you really want me to possess you?" A sweet voice whispered in Chandler's ear.
"Billy Jean?" He gasped as a tounge went in his ear. That did it. Chandler charged right through the still-forming Mister Heckles. His departure was a signal for a mass exodus by everybody except Ross and Phoebe.
"This is good, guys. But you're not going to catch me a second time."
"Ross, this is not a joke."
"What do you mean?" Ross stared at Phoebe.
"This is all happening. That is Mister Heckles." She waved in the direction of the misty figure.
"Damn straight it's me, lightbulb head." The ghost snapped, waving his broom in Ross face.
Phoebe shook her finger admonishingly. "You can go back to sleep, Mister Heckles. We're sorry we disturbed you. It won't happen again."
"It'd better not or I'll be back. I need my beauty sleep." The figure yawned and the mist dissipated.
"Hey Chandler, Joey. That's the best one yet. Where did you get the projector from to do that?" There was no answer to his question but echoes. "Come on, guys. Where are you?" The roar of a car tearing down the driveway was his only answer. As it raced past the window he glimpsed for a second his white-faced sister behind the wheel with Rachel, Joey, and Chandler staring out the car windows and then it was gone. Ross' heart began to beat wildly.
"Now we did it. We woke your Aunt up, too." Phoebe told him.
The sound of cats complaining and meowing filled the air as overhead shadows of parots flitted in and out of the darker shadows of the ceiling. As Ross froze a bird settled on his shoulder. He swatted at it in surprise and his hand went right through it. "Don't hurt my budgie bird, nephew." A very familiar voice chided him. The parot flew over and landed on the shoulder of a shimmering naked figure - Aunt Gertrude. Billy Jean chose that moment to give Ross a good grope. In two seconds Ross was outrunning the car even though Monica had the accelerator floored.
"Why aren't you scared, child?" Aunt Gertrude asked Phoebe.
"Because this is your house and your the strongest presence here. Ross and Monica told me how kind you were when you were alive. Why should you be any different now?"
"You're uncommonly wise. Do you want to know where the money is? Is that what this is all about?"
"No, not really. I don't need it and besides it wouldn't be mine. I could tell Ross about it if you want."
"No, it's not time for that. However, you're a good child. Money isn't everything. Why do you think I stayed up here with the kitties and the budgies? It got everyone who just wanted my money to stay away from me. Now is there something I can do for you since you don't want the money?"
"Well, do you know him? The King? I mean he's a spirit and all, but do you think you could persuade him to do one song for me? Do you think he'd do that?"
"Do you mean Der Bingal? That sweet Mister Crosby?"
"He'd be nice but I was thinking of the King of my generation."
The ghost considered for a minute before replying. "He's very busy with all the supermarket and shopping mall appearances and he's always walking around Memphis but I'll ask him." The ghost turned and listened for a moment. "You're in luck. It turns out he's a fan of yours. He just loves Smelly Cat. In fact they all do. Der Bingal, Sammy, Dino and all the others. They all want to jam with you and have you teach them that song."
Phoebe's guitar lifted off the table and the strings strummed as the air filled with soft refrains and then the deeply loved voice was singing "love me tender, love me true." Phoebe smiled as she sat down in a chair and saw the shades gathered around, the thin man with the fedora and the pipe, the young black man with his arm around the son of italian immigrants who was raising a champaigne glass in salute, and so many others. The King was holding court and it was going to be a night to remember.