“Is it cold?” Maximus asked.
She shook her head and shot us an embarrassed look. “Spider webs. Ugh.”
I didn’t know if she ever saw the day coming where she reacted more strongly to a spider web than she did to some old dead guys, but here it was.
I leaned over and turned the knob, tempted to sneak a kiss on her neck. Then I remembered Maximus was filming us for the show. Then I remembered I didn’t care and kissed her anyway.
She smiled, her eyes twinkling as she gazed up at me, and Maximus was clearing his throat in no time.
“Come on, let’s act professional here,” he drawled.
Yes, because the three of us were such old pros. The only reason we couldn’t compete in the ghost hunter Olympics.
I smiled to myself at my own little joke, but it didn’t take long before my smile faded. The moment we stepped into that house, everything changed. Whatever was on the porch, the old men, whether they did or didn’t exist, that was harmless. That was benevolent energy. Inside, in the dark, coffin-like air, the absence of sound, the house felt like it was holding a hundred ugly secrets, and the moment we walked through the door, through that threshold, it had already begun conspiring to hold us a secret as well.
“Uh, guys,” I said, looking around me, trying to take the house all in. “Are you feeling this?”
Perry’s dark head bobbed up and down in front of me. Maximus fiddled with his camera. “I’m putting this on night vision, can’t see a thing in here like this.”
That didn’t really help me. There was little light coming in off the streets since the windows were all boarded up, and I couldn’t find the flashlight I’d packed. The one on my camera was piss-poor but it would do. I could see a white glow in front of me though as Perry brought out her iPhone and put it to the flashlight application—just like old times. I did the same, and though the room wasn’t illuminated, with both our lights going we could at least see what was in front of us.
First of all, it was apparent that no one had been inside for a very, very long time. The creaking floorboards were covered in a thick layer of dust that only our footprints seemed to have disturbed. There was some furniture scattered about, stained, old, and with holes in it, although not as dusty as the floor. Beside the furniture were the plastic covers, discarded once squatters found their way into the old house and decided to make it their home.
I could see from the way her phone’s light jerked that Perry was scared. I’d learned to recognize those subtle movements, episode after episode. She was always so afraid to let me know how she was really feeling, how vulnerable she really felt. Here, I couldn’t help but feel the same way. It wasn’t that there was anything menacing in the corners, or that we were being watched by unseen forces (although, if I really let myself think about it, I would have felt that too), but that we were somewhere we really weren’t supposed to be, yet somewhere that…knew we were coming. The house felt like it was expecting us. I was seconds away from saying that, but didn’t want to make myself look like a chump in front of Maximus.
We continued to walk into the inky abyss, across the ragged old rug that went across the living room floor to the stately stained glass windows that must have looked out to the backyard, except those windows too were boarded up. I felt like we were in a house-sized coffin and every step we took forward was a step into the ground.
Maximus was now in front of us, relying on his night vision through the camera. I could see the faint shapes of things over his shoulder and knew we were about to walk into the kitchen and pantry. For a split-second I thought I saw someone standing over a cutting board, giant knife in hand, slicing something gruesome. But once I shone my phone in that direction, I saw it was just the refrigerator, its chrome trim gleaming against the blackness.
“Are you guys picking up on anything?” I asked. The EVP recorder wouldn’t tell me any of its secrets until we were done and had uploaded it to the computer.
“It’s cold in here,” Perry said softly. “Everything is cold. But nothing like it was with the two men outside.”
“I’m getting nothing,” Maximus said. “Are you getting the magnetic readings too?”
“I don’t think so,” Perry said.
“Why don’t you aim it at the ceiling,” I told her. I could barely see her turn around in the dark to give me a look but she did as I suggested.
“There’s…” she trailed off. “There’s heat upstairs. I can’t tell what though. And the magnetic fields look a bit warped. What does purple mean?”
Maximus made a noise of agreement and cleared his throat. “Purple means something. Next stop, second floor?”
I knew we’d all be going up there even if we said no. Part of me wanted to play chicken—be a chicken—and hightail it the fuck out of there. We’d been in haunted lighthouses, hotels, islands, and mental asylums before. All of those places had given me the same heebie jeebies as I was feeling now. But this place felt different. This house felt like it was a mixture of dead and alive, old and new, bad and…worse. There was something more than the dead at play here, but the feelings, the vibes, they were so abstract that I couldn’t put my finger on it. I felt like I was in one of my nightmares, unsure if it was real or not, but certain that it meant something for somebody somewhere.
“Dex,” I heard Maximus say, and I turned my head to follow his voice. He and Perry were lit by the glow of her phone, standing underneath the doorway out of the kitchen. Somehow they had gone past me, back the way we all came, and I hadn’t even noticed.
“I’m here,” I told them, feeling shaky. I wondered how long I had been in my head like that. I followed them out of the kitchen and back into the main room. There was a grand staircase that led up to the second floor and together we climbed it. Maximus was leading the way now, Perry behind him, and me at the end. I guess the laws of our show dynamics were changing now that we were inside. I hoped Perry felt at least a little bit comforted about being between the two of us, because I was freaking out by being at the end, feeling like something dark and heavy and horrible was following up the stairs behind me as we went, nipping at my heels.
My mind wanted to imagine my mother, her lithe, snake-like form, her torment, her terrible words. I could almost feel her, her wide black mouth and sharp teeth, her sharper tongue, her blacker heart, wanting me to suffer.
But I couldn’t let my mind go that way. I couldn’t let my own demons get in the way of everyone else’s.
The second floor was a little bit easier than the first. For one, half the floor was divided into rooms with closed doors while the other half, the half facing the street, held a couple of chairs that must have had quite the view over the streets and gardens. The windows weren’t boarded up here. They were open and broken, with the hot breeze flowing through the jagged holes, stirring up little clouds of dust that rose from the various chairs and coffee tables. If this was a boarding house once, this must have been the breakfast area or a lounge, a place for people to relax and get some sunshine. Now the only light was the one coming off the street, and though it was eerie in its own way, it still let us see what we needed to.
“Should we go into each room?” Perry asked, and I was surprised by her tenacity. And a little impressed. I had assumed everyone was as scared and eager to run away from this place as I was, but that didn’t seem to be the case now. Maybe it really was in my head, feeling that the whole house was against us, that living and dead forces were at work. The thoughts about my mother should have been the first sign that I was alone in feeling this way.
Take it easy, I told myself, inhaling deeply through my nose. So you’ve had a few bad dreams, you’re doing okay. You’re doing okay.
“Yeah, why don’t you try the first door?” Maximus said, and it struck me how much he sounded like me when Perry and I were doing the show together. There was a brief time when Perry and I had stopped doing the show and Maximus had gone to Portland—with Jimmy’s blessing I might add—with hopes that he’d be able to convince Perry to do the show with him as the cameraman. It hadn’t worked out, because my poor woman got fucking possessed and Maximus plead allegiance to the nation that is Palomino. But I had to wonder how long he’d been waiting to take over this role.
“Okay,” Perry said uneasily, stepping toward the first door. Now that I wasn’t the one ordering her around, now that I wasn’t the one who was in charge and worried as shit as to whether or not we were going to get a show worth showing, I could see how demanding the job was. I had a glimpse of it when we switched roles up in Canada, but Sasquatch was an entirely different ballgame and now I was even further removed.
Perry placed her hand on the knob and the door swung open, creaking loudly. The room was entirely empty, except for an open window and a woman who stood beside it.
“Shit!” I exclaimed, my heart attempting to leapfrog out of my throat.
“What?” Perry asked, swinging her head toward me. Her eyes were wide and white in the light of my phone and I adjusted my camera so it would pick it up.
“Didn’t you see that?” I said, trying to tame the panic in my voice. “The…the woman?”
Maximus and Perry exchanged a look—fuck I hated that—and then looked back at the room and at their gadgets.
“The temperature didn’t change,” she said, peering at the device. “But I thought I saw that purple glow, just for a bit.”
I didn’t know if she was trying to make me feel better or not. I appreciated it, but it didn’t work. I just nodded and said, “Never mind.”
We went to the next room and the next room and the next, Perry opening them all as if they held some hidden prize we’d won on the spinning wheel. But there was nothing inside, nothing that they saw or that I saw.
“Next floor,” Maximus said in a deadpan voice, as if he was that droopy-faced dog in that cartoon that always said “going down.” I could have smirked over that at any other time, but both Perry and I just nodded, tensing up and preparing for the next level.
Together we walked around the corner and made our way up the next set of stairs. Dust and cobwebs covered the railing, and we all tried not to touch it as we walked up the stairs, each one groaning as we went.
We were halfway up when one of the groans turned into a crack. Perry cried out, her legs falling through the stair, the wood splintering around her. I yelled and made a move to grab her, getting her arm hooked underneath mine as the entire stair disintegrated beneath her feet, sucking her body under until her lower half was dangling into the unknown.
“My Lord,” said Maximus, turning around at the top of the staircase and coming back down toward us to help. He was only two steps away when the stair beneath him broke as well, splitting under his weight. He yelped and fell, holding his camera high in the air. Luckily his chest and arms were too big to slip through, though I was starting to think the whole staircase might collapse beneath us at any minute.