Photographers and journalists from every tabloid newspaper had continued to burden Jean and Andy since they’d both lost their jobs, but nobody had been able to track down Tony. That was because he’d spent the last six weeks indoors with the curtains closed, reading their articles on his computer. The days turned to weeks which turned to months, and he didn’t notice that the hours of solitude and darkness and loneliness were slowly destroying his will to live.
On the floor of Tony’s bedroom, the contents of his old filing cabinet had been spread out in a carpet of photographs and black square type. Joining the old material, which visually and verbally depicted every paranormal event and place under the Sun, were scores and scores of brand-new newspapers and printouts. After a month, Tony had read so many different accounts of the four deaths at Lansfield Hall that it would have been hard for him to remember he’d been there at all, had it not been for the tight feeling he got in his chest every time he read the name “David Jarvis”. He wasn’t sure whether the prevalent feeling was sadness or anger, but he was beginning to think it might have been fear, because every time he thought of Dave he couldn’t quite remember his face or his voice.
Maybe you never actually had a friend, Tony’s mind would often tell him. Maybe you’re just fucking crazy.
Hell, he was beginning to wonder if he’d ever even left his house at all.
The problem was, though, that he had known Dave, and yet now he was dead, Tony was starting to forget about him. All that filled his mind whenever he thought of his friend now was an overwhelming sensation of the colour orange. A psychiatrist would probably have told him this was because orange was the colour of happiness and it was symbolic of the way being with Dave made him feel or some shit like that. In reality, it was probably just because orange had been Dave’s favourite colour, and he’d been wearing orange when he and Tony became friends.
He was wearing orange when he died too.
During the month he spent alone, Tony had taken to telling himself to shut up several times a day,; those were the only times he ever spoke. He would spend all day and every day tirelessly reading and copying and pasting and printing and spreading new pieces of paper out on the floor. Even though he barely ate anything and slept for less than four or five hours each night, he never felt tired, or hungry, or even lonely. The only things he ever felt as he wasted hours creating his depressing collages all over the walls and floor were anger and fear.
Tony had already known how much he hated his own life, but it had got just a little bit less awful when he’d met Dave and besides, he’d always thought his misery was mainly because of his job. Now he’d quit the programme, though, his newfound sense of freedom was tainted with an overwhelming emptiness.
What the hell are you supposed to do with your life now?
The reason for his fear was that, as he read more and more articles and the online comments they’d generated, Tony began to realise that the truth about ghosts was dawning on more and more people every hour. This, among the growing pile of new information (or rather lack thereof) about what had caused the deaths was absolutely terrifying all of the idiots who could find the time to read about it. Tony had always wished that he wasn’t the only one who believed in ghosts, but he hadn’t wanted the entire world on his side. Maybe, in a way, he’d liked being the odd one out. Maybe sharing that label with Dave had made it even better. Maybe, or rather probably, Tony had actually been completely happy with the way things were. Now, to his utter dismay, a tidal wave of paranormal intrigue was sweeping the country and spreading an epidemic of fear and panic. Tony couldn’t bear the thought that he’d helped to cause the problem, but even as he whiled away the weeks trying to convince himself of his own guilt, he knew he wasn’t to blame.
The ghosts were to blame. Lansfield Hall may have been a broken home, but in Tony’s opinion it still wasn’t broken enough.
That was why, on the fifth week of his solitary confinement, Tony tore down every scrap of paper he’d pinned to his walls and floor and emerged into a world tainted red by determination.
That was why, on the sixth week of Lansfield Hall’s gleeful emptiness, the silence was finally broken by the arrival of an old Jeep that looked as if it had been dragged backwards through a desert. It may not have been a cherry-red Ferrari, or a silver Mercedes, but it was good enough for him. He had unfinished business at Lansfield Hall and was determined to finish it before the grim grey cycle of his daily routine finally drove him insane.
He pulled right up to the front door, despite the numerous PRIVATE PROPERTY signs that had filled the area for the previous few miles. As far as Tony was concerned, the Lansfields had lost their right to privacy the minute they’d murdered his friend.
He felt an involuntary shiver wracking him as he got out of his car and surveyed the miserable wreck of the place where his life had been ruined, but refused to let it faze him. He was sick of being quiet and passive and weak and useless, and today he was going to prove, to himself more than anyone else, that he wasn’t afraid any more.
The July sky was a fluorescent blanket of piercing blue, with only a single cloud that reflected the sunlight above the Hanging Tree and glimmered the colour of mildew. The air was pure, the sky was clear and the scene was, for want of a better word, peaceful.
Well, thought Tony as he went to the boot of his car and opened it, staring with concealed satisfaction at what he’d brought with him. That’s about to change.
He strode away from his car and flung open the front door, which was sufficiently heavy to hit the wall behind him with a rotten, exhausted-sounding CRASH. After stopping for a moment to ponder the location of Andy’s melted crate, he left again by the side door and retrieved it from where it had hit the ground next to the window and cracked into two halves. The box was still heavy, but its burden didn’t slow Tony down any more. He only had to take it to the kitchen, after all.
He took care to gently set the two pieces of plastic right in the centre of the kitchen floor; one half rested in the untouched part and the other in the burnt part, with both edges neatly aligned with the line that divided black from white.
Once he’d left the kitchen, Tony went back to his car and began to empty the boot of all the other things he wanted to rid himself of. Gerry’s camera was surprisingly light for all the incriminating evidence it contained, and Jean’s EVP recorder was nothing more than a tiny plastic square but if it was ever discovered by the public nobody would ever sleep again. Tony threw both items down onto the ground for extra emphasis.
It took him at least half an hour to transfer every single article and photograph he’d ever collected since the age of eight into the kitchen, but when he’d finished he felt the emptiness beginning to leak out of his sense of freedom. Eventually the car had been emptied of every last scrap of obsession, and the newest newspapers with headlines concerning the events of the last month topped off a pile of papers nearly three feet high.
God, you were a fucking fanatic.
The final item on Tony’s list was the hardest to find. He looked around in the downstairs hallway and then ran all the way upstairs to check the bedrooms before remembering where he’d left it: on the staircase, hidden behind the rail of the banister. Dave’s backpack.
The white lace edge of his friend’s final joke was still visible through the open zip of the bag and Tony felt tears beginning to form at the sight of it, but he refused to give in to sentimentality and allowed himself nothing more than a small smile, right before tossing the backpack onto the pile.
Then, something else caught his eye.
Something was crumpled lifelessly on the ground below the steps: something that gleamed with a dull greyish-purple tone in the dwindling sunlight. When Tony walked to stand over it, he realised it was his discarded jacket; it was cardboard-stiff after being left out in the rain and he could see half a dirty shoeprint on the sleeve where he himself had trodden on it. He’d done so because he’d been outraged that anyone could think he’d want it back. He’d left it behind after watching the death of his only friend, and yet here it still lay after six weeks of abandonment.
Even though it was his jacket and not Dave’s, the sight of it stirred Tony’s emotions around far more than the sight of the backpack had.
It’s because it’s connected to his death, not just to him.
That’s all he is to you now. Your dead friend.
“Shut UP!” He’d been talking to himself all month, and now he was having an argument with himself. Tony was pretty sure he’d reached the third stage of insanity.
He’s dead. It’s your fault. You can do this if you want, but it won’t bring him back.
As if his subconscious mind was trying to prove something to him, Tony’s throat began to tighten and he felt his eyes starting to smart again.
He hadn’t cried for six weeks. He hadn’t cried since he’d been standing with Julianne in this very spot. Now, everything he’d been suppressing for all that time was threatening to overflow and spill out like a fucking volcano of vulnerability.
Oh, fuck. Don’t cry again. Hold it in. Hold it in.
Tony let it out.
As if it would put a stopper in the half-hearted tears, Tony stopped biting his lip, bent over with his hands on his knees, and screamed. He never even sensed the tears beginning to fall; the shock and grief overwhelmed him so suddenly that anyone would have thought his friend had only just died. Tony was perfectly used to crying, but he’d never cried like this before; the wave of emotion was so intense that it shocked even him. For some reason, though, letting all his grief out was the only thing he’d done since Dave died that felt right. Besides from kicking the shit out of Andy, that was.
Oh well. You’re alone. Nobody can hear you.
As he stopped screaming to pause for breath and wipe his eyes, Tony became aware of somebody putting their hand on his back.
His mind told him it was Henry; he wasn’t even shocked or afraid until he realised that he was still over two hundred feet away from the dead tree. Besides, the hand hadn’t felt freezing or threatening; it had almost soothed him until he realised it made no sense. The most logical explanation was that he’d imagined it. Tony had never prided himself on thinking logically. He didn’t even bother turning to look behind him; he got the strange feeling that he’d be bitterly disappointed if he saw someone there.
His sudden hysterical fit, and whatever had just stopped it, had made him feel a lot better. With new strength and determination beginning to surface, he straightened up, allowing it to fill him completely and tightening his grip on his old jacket. He knew what he had to do.
It won’t bring Dave back.
It might bring you back, though.
He became even more worried for his mental state when he found himself almost skipping to the kitchen to throw the jacket onto the pile. He took care to lay it out neatly, so that all of the fabric fell with no creases and both sleeves spread out to the sides. It draped on the top of the lopsided pile like the icing on a really odd-looking cake.
There, that’s perfect.
Now all it needs is fire.
Feeling his fingers shaking with a combination of eagerness and apprehension, Tony reached into the pocket of his jeans and plucked out a red cigarette lighter. He couldn’t remember exactly where it had been when he’d found it, but just the sight of it had given him a wonderfully wayward idea. Since last month, he’d constantly dreamed about setting Lansfield Hall on fire, but he’d never thought he’d actually dare to do it. Then, he’d realised it was the only thing that could possibly break the cycle of boredom and misery he was stuck in and give him a sense of fulfilment.
Tony spent at least fifteen minutes walking almost casually around the heap of junk, holding the tiny pointed flame up to the edges of papers to set them alight. As the yellow smears began to grow into golden flames, he realised that a slight spring had entered his step, and the only explanation was that he didn’t hate fire quite as much as he’d thought he did.
Those stupid white wispy things weren’t proper fire. THIS is proper fire.
The flames were now an electrifying shade of fluorescent orange, the exact shade that Dave had loved so much, and the heat oozing from the blaze was comforting rather than sickening. The smoke that was beginning to seep from between them had a choking stench, but Tony could still feel the afternoon breeze on his face and the smell was full and solid, not cloying and bittersweet.
Tony was jerked savagely back into reality when the kitchen’s ceiling caught fire.
Shit. You should probably get out of here before you go down with the house.
He had to dodge a falling wooden beam, but he managed to wriggle out of the smashed window before the first of many explosions rocked the room.
Leaning back on the bonnet of his car, he watched with silent satisfaction as the early evening stars were swallowed by flickering orange light.
By the time the visible shreds of sky had turned from blue to indigo to lilac, the entire roof of the house had collapsed inwards. Tony thought he laughed then; at least, he heard somebody laughing. He didn’t remember opening his mouth.
Finally, after weeks of gathering his courage, Lansfield Hall and all of the bad memories Tony associated with it lay in smouldering ruins before him. The violet sky was blocked by black smoke and the hanging tree was shredded and glowing with orange embers. Tony was the reason all this had happened, and he knew, despite what the police may have told him, that he’d done the right thing.
Tony had destroyed the house for Jean and Gerry, who’d been every bit as affected by it as him. He’d done it for Julianne, whose life had been torn apart. He’d done it for the producer, even though they’d never liked each other, and he’d done it for Travis and Kevin, who’d deserved their untimely deaths even less. He’d done it for Dave, of course, but more than anything else he’d done it for himself, because nobody else would. The police would doubtlessly suspect him, and Tony would gladly own up; nothing could have made him ashamed of what he’d done. Besides, he was fairly sure that prison uniforms were orange.
Tony had been obsessively busy for the last month; he shouldn’t have had time to feel lonely, but in a way, the crushing emptiness that all his work had failed to replace had made him feel completely isolated. Now, by contrast, he had every right to feel lonely. He was standing on the edge of oblivion; the only sign of civilisation for miles had been reduced to an ashen junk-heap and he should have felt like the only person on earth. Yet, he couldn’t shake the confusing feeling that somebody was standing beside him, watching the house burn with him, sharing his joy with him. The feeling should have been unnerving, but Tony had become so sick of solitude during the last six weeks that he found himself welcoming the possibility of any kind of company.
You’re really going insane, he thought. You’ve destroyed all the ghosts, but you’re still convinced that there’s one right next to you.
Then, Tony felt a hand on his arm; he flinched, but only because he felt like that was the natural reaction. In reality, though, he hadn’t felt even the slightest bit threatened. The hand was resting lightly on his forearm in a comforting way, rather than snatching at him like Henry’s hand had done under the tree, and even as the sensation melted away into the air Tony knew he recognised it. He’d felt it before, in the kitchen, just before Mary-Ann had killed the producer. Dave had been standing next to him.
Tony would have turned around if he’d thought there was even the slightest chance he’d see somebody.
The pillars of smoke emanating from the end of the driveway had diffused; now a thin silk of fog clung to the ground, softening the harsh edges of the destroyed house and diluting the bright scarlet of the livid embers to a soft orange glow. The smoke that billowed in the night sky was finally pierced by a few ethereal rays of moonlight, outlining the edges of the house with solid ribbons of white. Tony knew there was no point in staying any longer; the fire had burnt out hours ago and there was nothing left for him to see.
He was finally ready to move on.
Out of the corner of his eye, Tony noticed a faint flickering of pearlescent light. By the time he’d turned round, though, the darkness had closed in again and the faint sensation of somebody’s hand closing onto his shoulder could just as easily have been the wind.
“Stupid fucking ghosts,” he said contentedly to himself, realising as he did so that he hadn’t spoken in months and his throat was still raw from screaming away the pain.
With the only genuine smile he’d experienced since Dave was alive beginning to spread across his face, Tony walked back to his car and took one last look at the delicious destruction he’d caused before opening the door.
“Till death do us part,” he muttered zealously, raising his middle finger towards the end of the driveway.
He’d been holding his breath, and when he finally exhaled he felt six weeks of guilt and six years of misery leaving him behind. The white smudge of mist seemingly came out of nowhere, spiralling upwards to join the black cloud of revenge he’d flung into the sky.