“This is ridiculous.” Matt said, thumping his head on the table. “We’ve been here for hours and nothing happened.” That sentence came out slightly wrong, he realised, but no one seemed to notice. They were all in various states of all-over-the-floor-and-chairs. “Not one blip on the EMF metre.”
“We can’t give up hope.” Ryan said, mouth full and chewing. He was sprawled in an armchair, eating freely from the Haribo packet Sonam had brought with her. “We’ve got to stay the whole night.”
“Yeah.” Ellie piped up from where she was lying across the entire moth-eaten sofa. “Who ever heard of a ghost that came out before midnight, anyway? That’s just stupid.”
Dan shook his head, frowning, his brows crinkling inwards. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why should a ghost not appear before midnight?”
“Because, dummy, ghosts have rules.” Ellie said, as though her word was the be-all end-all on the matter. She draped her arm over the side of the sofa to nudge Sonam to get her approval, probably. Sonam, however, looked fast asleep. “Fat use she is.” Ellie huffed.
Matt hummed and got out of his chair. “I’m not going to wait all night to see ghosts here. I’m going to look for ghosts around.” No, that wasn’t right. “Look around for ghosts.” There, that sounded better. “You want to come?” He asked Dan.
Dan pushed his glasses up his nose and bit his cheek a moment. “All right.” He agreed thoughtfully, and stood. “Who’s going to keep an eye on the EMF?”
“We should wake Sonam?” Matt suggested. “Ellie?”
Ellie gave him a thumbs up and swung her legs off the sofa, giving Sonam a swift kick up the derrière.
“Let’s leave them to it.” Dan said, and headed out of the room into the hall. Matt followed.
The hall was exactly as it had been when Matt saw it last. Moonlight filtered in through the grimy window above the door, lighting a single patch of black-and-white checkered tile. Dust hung in the air, so thick it was hard to breathe, suspending the moonlight so it seemed actually tangible. Almost everything else in the hall was impossible to see, just a silhouette in the dark.
“You have a torch?” He looked over to Dan, his profile stark against the light.
Dan shook his head. “No. I have my phone, though.” Matt, couldn’t see, but he sensed Dan fishing for his phone in his back pocket, then the room was suddenly full of light. “Better?” Dan asked, smiling and pushing his glasses up again.
“Yes. Upstairs?” Matt pointed to the huge staircase at the back of the hallway. It was vast, carpeted, leading up to the next floor’s landing. He started towards it, and heard Dan follow in his footsteps. He put would have held to the banister if it wasn't so covered in dust that it turned his hand black the instant he touched it. "You have a camera?" He asked, hoping they wouldn't have to go back into the living room.
Thankfully, Dan nodded. “I picked it up from the table before we came out.”
“Good.” Matt said, and carried on.
When they reached the top of the stairs, it was clear why the hallway was so dark. There was a grand window at the top of the stairs, that should have spanned the entirety of the space from the landing to the high ceiling, but was now boarded up so tightly that not even a single finger of light could make it through that gaps between planks. The green and thick curtains still hung in place, making it seem as though it had just been shut up for the winter, and not however many years.
“Where you want to start?” Dan asked, shining his phone-light down two opposite corridors. They both looked the same in terms or eeriness, the dark so penetrating that you could barely see three metres down them.
“That way.” Matt pointed down the right-hand corridor and started off down it. Dan stepped quickly to catch up to him and shine the light ahead.
A broken chair lay across the floor a little way ahead, covered in dust, thick and yellow. Probably undisturbed since it had fallen, years ago. Dan took the lead, and they walked single file around it, for some reason afraid to touch it. Afraid to touch anything but the floor, as if they were thieves in this place, hoping to leave no traces. Or perhaps it was the sick feeling in Matt’s gut, that they were only permitted to be here, and if they disturbed the careful balance of the house, something vengeful would wake from its rest.
Even the silence seemed fragile enough not to dare breaking.
They passed maybe four or five doors before Matt tugged at Dan’s shirt and jerked it head at one, trying to indicate they go in. Dan seemed to understand, because he stopped and waited. Matt clasped the doorknob - filthy, black with it and covered in cobwebs - and turned, pushing the door open.
Inside was a bedroom, perhaps. A child’s. Lit by the single window at the far side, it looked black and silver in the night. Matt couldn’t see a bed, though it could have been under the large dust sheet in the corner. He didn’t want to find out. Stepping into the room, Dan following, he took it in. The rocking horse beneath the window. The dolls house nearby, miniature furniture scattered around. The noughts-and-crosses rug that covered most of the floor.
“Makes you wonder,” Dan said, shattering the quiet as though with a hammer. “Who used to live here. And why they left all of this behind.”
He was right. It was all very… very Mary Celeste. As though a child had been playing with their toys and suddenly vanished without a trace. Except. Except for the dust sheet. If the house’s inhabitants had vanished, who had covered up the bed?
“We can keep moving.” Matt said, turning back to the door, then thinking twice. “Should. We should keep moving.”
They went through to the room next door. Another bedroom, in almost exactly the same state. This was clearly a woman’s room, makeup and perfume bottles on the chest of draws, a long-faded dress draped over a chair. The bed, covered in a dust sheet.
Another room. Simpler. Guest bedroom. A piano in one corner, sheets of music spread all around as if in the middle of being studied. Sheet-covered bed.
Dan was staring at it. “Should we look?”
Matt looked at him. Dan wasn’t, he wasn’t afraid. But he wasn’t curious. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what his face was trying to say. Just. Nervousness.
“Okay.” Matt agreed, then hesitated. “But I will not touch it.”
“Alright.” Dan said, and handed him the phone and the camera. At the top of the screen, the time read midnight. Matt stepped a little closer, and shone the light on the bed, right in the centre. With his other hand, he aimed the camera.
Dan leaned forward, gripped the dust sheet tight between his fingers, and unveiled the bed with a flourish.