The clocks struck eleven.
Andy only knew what time it was because his eleven-o’-clock alarm had just gone off; he always ‘forgot’ to turn it off while he was at work. Pressing ‘snooze’ instead of ‘dismiss’ to subdue the psychedelic techno music, Andy grinned at his camera operator before shoving the phone back into his jacket pocket.
“Workout alarm,” he said casually to the cameraman, smiling as if to say ‘aren’t I silly for forgetting again?’
“Yeah, I gathered.” The cameraman didn’t look up.
Andy frowned in slight annoyance. This guy was obviously new to the team and Andy didn’t even know his name. Then again, he did make a point of not bothering with the names of people he considered less important than himself. This included pretty much everybody.
Turning away from his irritating companion, Andy lifted a hand to adjust his head camera before remembering he didn’t have it anymore, because it had been wrecked by Jean. Cursing under his breath, he tightened the hastily-made strap holding his digital camera up before running a hand absent-mindedly through his hair.
It was completely dark outside, save for the torch the cameraman had placed upright on the ground, and there was a defined lukewarm breeze that rustled the leaves of the living trees and stirred the bare branches of the dead one. Andy shivered a little, but didn’t regret not bringing a jacket with him. The shirt he was wearing made his arms look pretty good.
“Ok,” said the cameraman; “I was given a prompt sheet, so...anyway...”
Who the hell even are you? Andy thought as the cameraman continued to babble. As he fiddled listlessly with the end of his fringe, a name suddenly sprung to the front of Andy’s mind: Trevor.
“Oh, fuck it, who cares?” he mumbled, looking off in another direction. The sky was completely black, and the royal-blue glow of the dusk was slowly leaking away.
“...so, yeah, that’s basically it,” Trevor/ Travis finished.
“Right. Whatever.” Andy hated his cameraman.
“Ok, and we’re rolling in 3, 2, 1...”
Rolling? What kind of a stupid expression even is that? Is his camera going to grow wheels and trundle away down the hill?
Andy knew he was extremely irritable today, but he felt he was justified for a variety of reasons. Firstly, he’d well and truly broken up with his girlfriend. The couple had been on-and-off for a year or two now, but normally they fell out over ridiculously insignificant things, like how Andy apparently ‘didn’t pay enough attention’ or ‘only cared about himself’. Although he’d never admit it to anyone, these accusations had really hurt Andy’s feelings; he’d started dating Jean with absolutely no intentions of keeping her for long, but he’d truly grown to care about her during the time they’d been together.
How long’s it been now? Five years, right?
No, six years. Jesus Christ, that’s a long time.
Even though he wanted to, Andy had never treated Jean with as much care as she’d probably deserved; this was because he was worried about what everyone else would think about him if he started acting desperate. He’d never even told Jean he loved her because he was scared she might laugh at him.
Then, that bloody Kevin came along.
Jean and Andy probably weren’t the most harmonious couple, but they’d managed to stay together for three years without any major problems. Andy would never have admitted it to anybody, but he was always scared that Jean would dump him, which was why he always forgave her immediately after they fell out. Then, she struck up a friendship with the new cameraman, and when Andy watched them chatting to one another he saw how much they had in common and how well they got along. Kevin was everything Andy wasn’t; he was quiet, he was modest, he was gentle, and he was (if Andy was allowed his own opinion) excruciatingly boring. Jean had never shown any signs of wanting to leave Andy for Kevin, but he was scared, and she could tell. Jean was probably the only person in the world who knew how terribly insecure Andy was, and he’d be damned if he ever admitted it to anyone else. He’d only seen one solution, and that was to cut himself off from her as well.
Now, Jean had revealed herself to be so spiteful that she’d even rather hang out with Tony and Dave than with him; Andy had experienced all manner of strange things while he’d been at Lansfield Hall and he was convinced that they were pulling pranks on him. He felt furious with Tony, whom he’d hated from the very moment they’d met, but he just felt sad whenever he thought of Jean.
“Andy! Talk!” The irritating guy whose name began with a T interrupted his train of thought. He was using polite words, but his facial expression behind the camera screamed ‘open your fucking mouth!’
“All right! All RIGHT!”
Andy gave one last fruitless tug at his makeshift head camera and slipped seamlessly into character.
“Hey. I’m out in the garden of the mansion, right next to the tree where- OW! Mother of fuck!” Andy suddenly yelled, tearing his hand out of the freezing grasp of whoever- wait.
Who IS behind me?
Andy turned round, cradling his throbbing hand, but saw nobody in the darkness of the barren orchard. Before he could get too confused, though, he spotted the producer coming into view around the corner of the house.
“How’s everything going, Andy?” the newcomer bellowed in a commanding voice that seemed to ripple from all corners of the garden. Andy had had his job here longer than Tony or Jean, and he liked to think that because of this, the producer appreciated him a little more. In reality, though, the only person that either man seemed to appreciate was himself.
Rubbing the back of his left hand, Andy replied, “Yeah, great.” He continued to ignore the annoyingly concerned look on Trevor/ Travis’ face; the expression had probably manifested at around the time Andy had ruined the take by swearing, but he hadn’t really been paying attention because he didn’t care.
“Good, good,” said the producer, stepping backwards onto a paving slab that wobbled significantly under his weight, as if it had been yanked from under his foot.
“Right, I have to go check on David.” The producer’s voice always seemed tinted with resentment when he talked about Dave, which Andy could understand completely. The producer left the door open behind him, but after he’d stepped inside it slammed with a sudden velocity that shook the wall. From inside, Andy heard the producer’s muffled shout, “Travis, follow the prompt sheet!”
Ah, so it IS Travis.
“We’re rolling in, er, 3,2...”
“No. No, not now. Give us a second.”
“Travis sighed in frustration, but didn’t stop Andy from wandering away from him. Andy walked closer to the dead tree, shaking out his throbbing hand at every second step.
The bloody Hanging Tree’s a lot creepier at night, he thought absent-mindedly.
If Andy looked forwards, he could see thin yellow tendrils of torchlight illuminating the small workstation Travis had set up. If he looked to the side, he could see the grey hulking silhouettes of the woods that blended into the Lansfield orchard. If he looked upwards, he could see the soft silver glittering of stars in the fragments of sky he could see between the tree’s branches.
Andy stayed leaning against the trunk of the tree for about five minutes. Every time Travis nervously called his name, Andy was reminded of how much he hated every production member except from himself. Tony was an aloof snob who acted like he was better than everybody else, and Andy had never actually talked to Dave but he always talked and acted like an idiot. Two of the cameramen were nosy and bossy, the third had tried to steal his girlfriend, the producer didn’t give Andy enough credit, and Jean... no, Andy had to try not to think about Jean. If he did, he might start crying, and Andy looked fucking ugly when he’d been crying. All he wanted to do for a while was lose himself in silence and darkness; if a hole had opened up in the ground next to him, he would gladly have jumped in.
“Andy? Um... Andy?”
Travis was still a jittery little twit, but his voice had a little edge to it now, almost as if he was trying to act stern. Andy had been planning to get back to work then, but he decided to wait a while longer to find out if he’d get any angrier. Today, just like most days, Andy really felt that pissing somebody off was the only thing that could cheer him up.
The back of his left hand suddenly bristled, and Andy writhed his wrist uncomfortably in an attempt to subdue the pain. When he touched a finger lightly to the skin, it stung as if he were touching a raw burn, but there wasn’t a mark visible, especially in the dimming torchlight.
Travis left his camera and walked over. “Andy, I don’t want to be fired because... are you all right?” He was now staring down at Andy’s hand, which Andy hurriedly stuffed into his pocket despite the pain of his raw skin grating on the fabric.
‘Why did I do that? What is there to hide?’
“Should I get the medical kit or something?”
Travis’ question remained unanswered.
Andy would have liked to recount that when the torch lifted vertically from the ground behind Travis, with nobody touching it, he’d been staring in surprise. In reality, stuck on his face was a perpetually gormless expression which he found impossible to wipe, despite the fact that he rubbed his eyes twice. Travis was facing away from the torch, but the movement of the shadows against the trees obviously confused him. By the time Travis had turned to follow Andy’s gaze, however, the torch had fallen back to the ground and was now lying on its side. Andy ignored the half-concerned, half-scared look he received and walked back over to the camera station.
“Where the hell is the invisible thread?” Andy muttered as he waved his arms around the torch. He gave up and sat down on the ground, feeling his heartbeat beginning to quicken. “Never mind,” he added for Travis’ benefit.
He couldn’t stand the idiot regarding him with such pity, so he yelled, “Never MIND!”
Andy felt compelled to give the torch a slap, just because it had made him feel stupid. Just as he was raising his hand, though, the light was snuffed out without so much as a splutter and he was steeped in darkness.
The bulb blew. That’s all.
Andy’s skin prickled with goosebumps. It suddenly seemed much colder where he was standing, and in the diluted light of the moon he could see his breaths condensing in the black air. Just moments ago, he’d been almost comfortable in just his vest, but now he was really regretting not bringing a jacket.
‘Well, so what? This is Britain. The weather’s like this in Britain. Isn’t it?’
The torch reignited. Andy opened his mouth; maybe he was going to say something smart, or sigh in relief. He never got to do either before the light died again, just as the words died in his throat.
“Fuck this shit,” Andy said to the darkness, trying to conceal the tremble in his voice. Somehow, hearing his own fear out loud made his blood turn to ice; it was like he’d forgotten what it felt like to be scared, but at that moment he realised he’d been scared all along. He strode towards the door, expecting to hear shouts of protest from Travis but hearing nothing. Andy turned around and, when the sickly torchlight pulsed on and off again, was shocked to see no sign of the cameraman in the garden.
Hurrying blindly inside with a sickening feeling rising in his throat, Andy left the door ajar and gave somewhat of a shocked whimper when it crashed shut behind him, causing a sudden throb of sound in the still air. He leaned against the door and would probably have slid right down to the ground had he not heard a commotion on the stairs. Andy looked up just in time to see Jean tumbling into view; his eyes were still adjusting to the light indoors so it took him a moment to realise she was falling. When she lurched to a stop and lay shaking on the bottom step, Andy became aware of a feeling of faithful concern for her, even though he’d broken her heart. He forgot that he was supposed to hate her now and ran to help.
He remembered that she’d dumped him at around the time Jean pushed him away, but he didn’t care.
Maybe if I act like I’ve forgotten we broke up, she won’t remember either.
It didn’t work. Jean was calling him an asshole.
Right. That’s it.
Something inside him snapped; the fear in his mind hurdled the line into blind anger and he felt all affection he still had for her beginning to dissolve. Before Andy knew what he was doing he was yelling at Jean, blaming her for everything that had gone wrong tonight, even though he didn’t really believe it himself any more. Andy wasn’t even listening to his own words, but Jean was clearly hearing him, flinching at every word.
When Jean said something about seeing a ghost as well, Andy’s temper deteriorated along with his sympathy. He left Jean on the ground, unsure of where he was going to go or what he should do. He supposed he would have to go back into the garden, even though the thought of it made something inside him scream in protest. Luckily, just as he was reaching for the door handle, a sudden crash from the kitchen gave him the excuse he needed. Andy changed course and went to investigate the noise, even though all he wanted to do was go home. In fact, he’d just have liked to be anywhere but here.
Andy’s heart was punching him in the chest with every step he took towards the kitchen door. Half an hour ago, he’d been a complete sceptic, ignoring every strange thing that he saw, but now his stupid brain seemed to be taking every little blip as proof.
Andy’s brain didn’t seem to comprehend the word ‘ghosts’ when it sprung to the front of his mind.
The tension was running so high that when Andy broke through the kitchen door and saw the wall and floors spattered with blood, he didn’t even give a shit whose it was, or how it got there (although he did register a certain level of disappointment when he saw Tony still standing). All he knew, right then and there, was the same truth he’d been trying to hide from all his life. That he was a coward.
And since he was a coward, he might as well act like one.
Andy ran back through the door, leaving all of the people he didn’t care about to sort their problem out for themselves. He slowed down when he ran past Jean, but he didn’t stop; he shot out through the front door onto the driveway. Desperately searching for a way to wake up from his nightmare, Andy’s eyes fell upon the producer’s pristine silver car, sat in the middle of the rubble-strewn driveway.
I always liked that car.
From somewhere in his bewildered mind, Andy recalled an image of the kitchen and mentally recognised the body that had been on the floor, which he’d barely even noticed when he’d been standing there.
Besides, it’s not like the owner will be needing it again.
Andy knew that the producer always left the keys in the ignition. He got in, started the engine, and pressed down on the accelerator with full force, noticing that the digital clock on the dashboard read 11:32.
Just half an hour ago he’d been an idiot, totally at ease with his surroundings. Now he was a fucking terrified idiot.
The car lurched forwards into the overgrown field and six-foot weeds lashed at the windscreen, but they couldn’t reach Andy. Nothing could, not even the stupid ghosts. He was safe inside his silver cocoon.
There was no road, no path, and no landmark to guide him, except from the bloody Lansfield house in the wing mirror. Luckily, he still seemed to be heading away from it, which was all that mattered.
He didn’t know where he was going, and he didn’t care.