“Since we have Maryse in front of us though, shouldn’t we start with that?”
Her forehead scrunched. “I thought you just wanted to film the haunted house and get out of here.”
“I do,” I told her quickly, feeling like we were one bad joke away from turning into Scooby Doo. “Really. It’s just bugging me.”
“It’s bugging me too,” she said. “I’d like to poke around a bit more, though obviously Maryse doesn’t want anything to do with us.”
“Ambrosia could probably help,” I said, and got glared at. “What? She did say she’d help us with anything.”
Perry’s eyes narrowed even more. “What if Ambrosia’s the one behind all of this?”
I scoffed at her. “She’s an apprentice; she’s not even a priestess Mambo person. And does she look like she’d try and raise the dead?”
“Yes. She does.”
You’re just jealous, I thought, but I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want to start a fight, though I knew that’s why Perry was saying that stuff.
“Even if it were her,” I said, trying to placate Perry, “the question would be why?”
“To prove herself.”
“To show how powerful she is.”
“Kiddo,” I said deliberately, “I think you’re grasping at straws here.”
“Straws are all we ever have.” She shoved a forkful of chorizo in her mouth.
I reached over and put my hand on hers. “Not true. We’ve got this haunted house tonight. We’ll go there and film the shit out of it. Scare ourselves silly. Leave with a pretty fuckawesome show. Sound good?”
She exhaled sharply through her nose, then nodded and continued eating.
“Take a left down here,” Perry said to Maximus as she squinted at the Google Map on her phone.
He was behind the wheel, me in shotgun, Perry in the back. We were allowed to borrow Rose’s truck for the expedition, which was a lot cheaper than a rental car, while Rose had to work at her bar. I wished Rose were with us—not only did she know her way around the city better than Maximus, but she would have diffused the awkward tension between the three of us. Thank god Perry still had no idea what Maximus had warned me about, otherwise the whole thing would have probably been called off. I didn’t even know how I was managing with everything. The only thing that kept me from wanting to kill him was trying to remind myself that he was crazy jealous of us, and I had to just pity him instead.
The neighborhood we were driving in was creepy as fuck. Half the people looked like zombies already, just sitting on their porches in the dark, watching our truck rumble past. Every second house looked abandoned, with giant red X’s spray painted on them, a haunting reminder of the damage that Katrina had caused. Curiously, some of those houses had people in them, too scared or too stubborn to paint over the markings.
Just as I was about to suggest we head back to the safety of the touristy areas, Perry pointed up ahead at a large, looming house. “There,” she said, “that should be it.”
We pulled up in front of it and got out of the truck. Yeah. This place was definitely haunted.
I’d never been to Disneyland, but from the way Perry was eyeing it, mouth slightly agape, I had to assume it looked like it belonged there. It was too perfect. It was three-stories high with an attic on top, all grey with peeling layers of faded paint, maybe once yellow or cream. The porch wrapped around it completely, and cracked white pillars stood on either side of the wide stairs, supporting the iron-trimmed overhang. On the first floor, all the windows were boarded up while the ones on the rest of the floors were either cracked or broken. The house was completely dark, except for the attic window. I couldn’t tell if there was a little bit of light coming from there or the glass was reflecting the streetlights below.
I nodded up at it. “Do you see that?”
“Yeah,” said Perry, her voice quivering a bit. I guess this was already turning out to be more intense than we planned. “Maybe there are some squatters still inside. Are you sure this is safe?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I couldn’t tell you.” I looked to Maximus. “So what’s the plan, boss?” I asked derisively. The wind began to pick up, a hot breeze that rustled the live oak and weeping willows that lined the house’s yard, obscuring most of the place from the road. Shadowy shapes danced before us.
“The plan is we get set up right here,” he said, gesturing to the overgrown yard. Might be safer than doing it on the street or inside.”
I looked behind us. The street was totally empty, only a lone car parked further down it, by the only dwelling that looked inhabited. Still, considering we weren’t in a good neighborhood to begin with, it made sense to keep ourselves and our equipment away from roving eyes.
“This place is just…” Perry said absently while I fished my camera gear out of the back of the truck.
“Creepy?” I supplied.
“More than creepy,” she said with her eyes riveted to the attic window. “It feels both dead and alive. Not just this house, but this whole street, this whole area. How many people must have died here thinking they were going to survive? How many people must have clung to the hope before they realized that help was never coming? All the regret and death…it’s everywhere.”
“Easy now, kiddo, we’re just here to film this, not make a tribute to the tragedy.”
She looked at me with annoyance. “But people can’t just forget. No one really knows unless they’ve been here and looked around them and felt it. No one understands what was really lost.”
“Except New Orleanians,” Maximus spoke up gruffly. “They all know, every single one of them. And Dex is right. Let’s not make this more than it is. I know you’re feeling things right now, and hell, I am too. Everywhere I turn in this city, I feel like I’m picking up on one more lost soul…”
I turned to him. “You are? I’m not feeling anything.”
Okay, that wasn’t true. I did feel the supernatural layers were thinner in New Orleans, that there was this sick electricity in the air, that I could spot the dead around me if I really wanted to. But I didn’t want to. Because to spot them was to let them all in, especially the ones I wanted to keep out. Her.
“You need to keep your eyes open,” Maximus said after studying me for a few moments. “Retrain yourself. Then you’ll see. You can start with tonight.” He nodded at my camera. “Let’s get this going. I’d rather not be here very long.”
And, as if he’d been waiting such a long time to do this, Maximus launched into our plan of attack. I had to admit he was a lot more thorough than I usually was, and that only made me hate his plan even more. But, as Jimmy had said, he was the boss tonight and I had to bite my tongue until I made it bleed.
There would be no exploring first and filming later. We had only one chance and it had to be our first one. Spirits didn’t reappear twice for the sake of cameras. And there would be more than one camera as well, Maximus was manning the other. Perry would stay with either of us, and she would be silent for most of the filming. We could do a voiceover with her later, but Maximus didn’t want her talking for the sake of talking. He said it ruined the atmosphere for us and the ghosts. Instead, she would just react and use the new infrared device that Maximus had brought, one that not only showed the warmth of objects around us but the magnetic fields as well.
I was given an EVP, to keep it attached to my belt and running the whole time. I knew the shit worked and I even had one of my own that we recorded Pippa’s voice on, but Maximus said our own equipment was probably inferior and possibly warped due to all the data we’d captured on it. Whatever.
“Now are we ready to go hunt some ghosts?” he asked us like the douchiest substitute teacher, trying to sound commanding and relatable at the same time.
“Fuck you,” I said, while Perry sighed.
She reluctantly led the way up the weed-strewn path to the house, my camera on her, Maximus and his camera behind us. The tall grass waved in the wind and tickled my legs, scaring the crap out of me already. The porch swing swung back and forth, as did two rocking chairs. Surely the wind wasn’t strong enough to make those move on their own…
“Are you filming that?” Maximus said from behind me, once again nearly making me shit my pants.
“Yes, jackass,” I sneered. Man, listening to the playback of this was going to be fun.
We climbed up the steps and stopped. The two rockers chairs slowed, then stopped moving entirely.
“Are you getting anything on the reader, Perry?” Maximus roared over my shoulder.
“Jesus, man,” I said, glaring at him. “Do you have to be so loud?”
He gave me a half-smile. “Sorry, I’m excited.”
“Well go be excited somewhere else, and preferably not behind me where I can’t see what you’re doing.”
“I can see two cold spots on the reader,” Perry said, squinting at it, perplexed.
“Really?” Maximus yelped and basically pushed me aside to get to her. He looked down at it and grinned. “Well, I’ll be damned. It’s one thing to know there are two men sitting right there, it’s another to see it.”
“Wait…wait…wait,” I said, throwing my arms in the air. “What?”
“Yeah, what?” Perry asked. “You can see them?”
He nodded. “It’s a gift.”
“We have gifts too,” Perry said defensively. I think it’s the first time I ever heard her get defensive over it, like she was almost proud.
“Well, what are they doing?” I asked. To say it was unnerving that they were there and neither Perry nor I could see them was an understatement. Maybe Maximus was pulling our leg.
“They’re looking at us and shaking their heads,” he said. “They look old…overalls…grey hair.”
“Black or white?” Perry asked.
“Black. Probably from the 1940s. Must have lived here back then.”
“You are full of shit,” I said to him.
His smile dropped and he looked at me. “I can assure you, I am not. I can see things you guys obviously can’t.”
“Why are they shaking their heads?” Perry asked. “Are they warning us?”
“Could be,” he mused, studying them…or absolutely nothing. Or splintered old rocking chairs. “They don’t mean us any harm. If anything they’re trying to tell us something.”
I folded my arms but kept the camera rolling. “Hey, you’re the ghost whisperer, you fill us in.”
He frowned then jerked back. “They’re gone.”
Perry sucked in her breath. “He’s right. Look.” She showed me the gadget. The blue shapes were gone.
“Guess the dead don’t want to talk to you either,” I told him, slapping him hard on the shoulder.
He glared at me and then motioned for Perry to continue inside. The door to the house was boarded up with rotten wood in an X across the window, but the knob was still there. Perry tried to put her hand on it then snapped it away, shaking out her fingers.