The clocks struck eleven-thirty, but Dave couldn’t hear the chiming over the deafening sound of blood pounding in his head. He’d always imagined that witnessing a horrific death resulted in obvious and potent terror, but what he was feeling now was more akin to stunned tranquillity. He could hear screaming, but neither Tony nor Gerry’s mouths were open. Obviously, the screaming wasn’t coming from the producer, because he was dead.
Calmly (perhaps more calmly than he’d ever done anything before) Dave deduced that the screaming must be coming from the other guy in the room. Who was that again?
Oh, yeah. It’s me.
Dave was so silently stunned that he imagined he was floating outside his body, looking upon horrendous carnage from somewhere completely different. Perhaps he was watching from behind a TV screen. Undoubtedly, the scene he was seeing was horrendous, but it couldn’t be real. Of course it couldn’t.
Dave reached out an unusually still hand, feeling as if he was pulling the strings on a marionette, to touch the wall. His fingers brushed against cold stone, and the sensation seemed to inject him with animosity again. As soon as he felt the wall beside him, he felt the ground beneath his feet again and the icy kiss of the wind blowing around him. With a painful jolt, he was sucked directly back into active consciousness, and all of a sudden the world around him felt more real and more horrible than it ever had before.
He’d been holding Tony’s arm, but had to let go after Tony fell to the floor. He would have looked downwards to check that his friend was still awake, but he could already feel the room beginning to tilt sideways and didn’t want to threaten his coordination any more. He felt as if he was on a roller-coaster with broken restraints; any minute now, he was bound to fall.
Dave could see the blood on the wall, he could see the blood on the floor, and he could see the body on the floor too, with one arm extended unnaturally forwards and the other pinned against the ground. Less than ten seconds ago, the producer had been alive and very, very loud; now, he was dead and very, very quiet. In his current emotionally bewildered state, Dave was struggling to decide which was worst.
He’d screamed himself hoarse and no more sounds were coming out of his open mouth; all of the airborne stones had fallen back to earth, along with the neon china fragments. At least, some of them were still neon; most were stained scarlet. The silence was hanging so thickly in the air that Dave felt smothered by it, and neither of the others in the room dared to meet his eyes. Well, one of them couldn’t, because he was dead. Dave was pretty sure, based upon the extensive experience he’d gained from watching movies, that the next thing to do was to approach the guy who’d just been injured and check for a pulse.
Somehow, Dave knew the producer was dead. He knew that everyone else knew the producer was dead as well.
If an angry ghost wants to kill you, there’s probably no way of surviving.
Just as Dave felt ready to drift back into blissful ignorance, or possibly unconsciousness, the door crashed open for the second time in half an hour, startling him out of his stupor. Dave began to wonder who had arrived to save the day, and then Andy burst in.
Oh. Never mind.
Gerry now looked as if he was struggling to decide between trying to revive the dead man and bolting out of the door, and Tony was sitting back on his heels, possibly struggling to decide between crying and vomiting. Dave’s mind was doing backflips and he knew he was about to faint, so he gripped Tony’s shoulder for support.
Why did you grab him? There’s literally a windowsill right behind you.
He didn’t let go.
His eyes fell back onto the door, where Andy had been standing less than a few seconds ago. Now, he was gone, and the door was swinging slowly shut.
Maybe he’s gone to get help, Dave thought, but that hope was dashed when he heard running footsteps scrunching on gravel, a car door opening and shutting, and an engine starting. Three of the four men in the room turned to look out of the window as white light flooded the room, harshly highlighting the blood-flecked ceiling and carving harsh shadows into the walls.
“No, no, no, no, NO!” Gerry cried, his voice rising higher in panic as the headlights swept across the ceiling and then dissolved. The growl of the car’s engine receded into a low grumble which faded into silence.
“That was our only way out!” said Gerry, wringing his hands.
“What about the police? Call the police!” suggested Tony, shrugging Dave’s hand off his shoulder as he stood up. There was a short silence before he added, “and an ambulance.” Dave stared doubtfully and pitifully at the obviously dead man on the floor.
“Right! Yes, of course!” Gerry fumbled in his camera bag before producing his phone. He then stared in despair and horror at the screen. “No, no signal. No!”
Tony brought out his phone as well, casting his eyes downwards in defeat as soon as he’d switched it on. Sighing raggedly, he shoved it back into the pocket of his jeans before turning to Dave.
“Dave, try your phone. Maybe we can get through—“
“No, Tony, this place is a dead zone!” Dave felt like punching himself when he realised the irony of the statement. “The battery’s almost dead too- I mean, anyway.” Dave checked himself again. “For fuck’s sake!”
Tony was the only proper friend he’d had since his sister had stopped talking to him. Dave wished more than anything else that he had some words of comfort for his friend because frankly, the way Tony was looking at him now made him wish he’d never said anything at all.
He’d always cursed himself for his awful social skills, but never regretted treating situations with brutal honesty. That was, until now. Being painfully bad at talking to people wasn’t a good enough excuse anymore; he’d just turned twenty-seven and needed to learn how to behave like an adult.
This, thought Dave, is why you don’t have any friends. Now you’ve gone and lost Tony as well.
Dave wished he could take back what he’d just said, but Tony had already heard him, so it was too late. He bit his lip.
Why can’t you just keep your bloody mouth shut?
“Tony, I’m sorry, but there’s no way of getting hold of anyone. Nobody even knows we’re here.”
Tony slowly shook his head. “We’re trapped, then. For the whole night. We can’t walk back through that field in the dark; we’d get hopelessly lost.”
Dave had known that Tony was the cynical type, but at the same time, he couldn’t bear to hear someone he trusted sounding so lost and hopeless.
“Anyway,” added Gerry, “We can’t leave him.” He gestured to the producer. “He needs help.”
“He’s DEAD, you idiot!” Tony and Gerry turned to stare at him.
Dave may have been the least responsible of the three, but right now he felt he was seeing and thinking more clearly than he ever had before, and as such he was probably the only one of them that could be of any use. He knew that the producer was dead. He knew there was no way to save him. Unfortunately for himself and everyone else, one thing he didn’t know was what the hell to do next.
There was a long silence, during which time he swore he could hear somebody quietly sobbing. Maybe it was him.
Tony suddenly took his head out of his hands and looked towards the door as the crying intensified and reached a higher note. Dave realised the sounds were coming from the other side of the door, but he was tripping over his own thoughts and couldn’t have begun to decipher who was making them.
“Jean,” Tony said, getting to his feet and disappearing into the hallway. Dave wanted nothing more than to follow him, but somehow he couldn’t force his feet to move in the right direction.
It was then that he realised how helpless he felt without Tony.
As the door swung shut behind Tony, Dave and Gerry stared at each other. Dave was trying desperately hard to be strong, but all he wanted to do was burst into tears and he was sure that it showed on his face. He hadn’t cried since the age of fifteen, and he wanted to keep it that way.
Be brave. You’re not smart enough to think of a solution, but crying definitely isn’t going to help. Hold it together. Hold it together.
“Help! Somebody help!” Gerry suddenly yelled, raising both hands slightly as if cupping them to his mouth would help amplify the sound. The shout came out as a feeble moan, but it still rang out loudly and clearly. Dave gave Gerry a withering look and began to say, “Gerry, nobody’s com—“
Someone appeared in the garden, on the other side of the gaping hole in the wall. As he came closer, the figure’s face was illuminated only by thin fingers of moonlight that slid across one feature at a time, so Dave didn’t immediately recognise Travis, one of the cameramen. Travis was the first calm and collected person Dave had seen for nearly an hour, but the calmness deteriorated dramatically as soon as he stepped inside the room.
“What’s going- oh! Oh! Oh my GOD!” Travis put a hand over his mouth and turned away as if to vomit, but he managed to keep everything in place for the moment and stepped closer to Gerry, staring him straight in the face whilst ignoring Dave completely. Dave had seen Gerry and Travis together at the studio several times and knew that they were quite good friends, but he wasn’t sure whether their friendship would be strong enough to survive the night. He felt exactly the same way about himself and Tony.
“Holy shit- the blood- the, the... who did this? What did this? What... what happened?”
Neither Gerry nor Dave had any idea how to answer the barrage of questions, so the former stuttered and shrugged, and the latter didn’t bother saying anything. Travis was still yammering, and Dave became aware that Gerry wasn’t in any position to silence him, so he took matters into his own hands.
“He’s dead. He was murdered by the ghost.”
For some reason, Dave’s retort shut Travis up immediately.
Travis stared from Dave to Gerry to the dead body to Dave again, and then he stared to the left, beyond Gerry’s shoulder, and said, “Kevin.”
Staring through the window next to and behind Gerry was a man with a face so pale that Dave forgot for a minute that he was looking at a living human. As he looked with a mixture of pity and perplexity at the second newcomer, Dave realised he had no idea how long Kevin had been watching them from the window; if he’d actually been watching as the producer died, that would explain his facial expression.
Then again, peering through a window only to be greeted by a blood-soaked wall and a dead body was known to have similar effects.
Kevin sidestepped the wreckage of the upstairs bedroom as he walked into the kitchen without saying a word. Travis walked briskly towards him, planted both hands on his shoulders, and shook him vigorously. Kevin blinked several times, but after that he didn’t look any more alert. He looked, well, like he’d seen a ghost. Dave rolled his eyes at the pair of them and Gerry looked nervously from one to the other. Finally, after a few seconds of silence, Kevin spoke.
“Where’s... where’s Jean?”
His priorities surprised everyone.
“Outside,” Dave said, and Kevin made a move towards the door, but Travis stopped him.
“Kevin, we have to stay together. Someone’s out there with her, right?”
Tony and Jean were just on the other side of the door. Dave wanted to leave the kitchen and join them; the presence of the three cameramen was beginning to overwhelm him slightly, but he got the feeling that if he even took one step to his right somebody might throw something at his head.
Travis turned to Gerry and Dave, keeping one hand clamped firmly on Kevin’s shoulder like a vice.
“Have you called the police?” he asked.
“No signal,” replied Gerry.
“Phone’s dead,” added Dave.
“Could we take the car?”
“No, Andy took it.”
“Andy?” Travis sighed in anger, and Dave recalled that he’d been the cameraman stationed with Andy that evening. “FUCK Andy!”
“Fuck Andy,” Dave agreed sadly. Gerry gave him a warning look.
A quiet but articulated CLICK from the kitchen door made the group turn to look. Cautiously, Dave went to try the handle and found it wouldn’t open.
“What the hell?” he muttered, tugging harder. “It was open just a second ago!”
“That door doesn’t even have a lock!” Gerry agreed, pointing to the rusted handle.
“Tony? TONY!” Dave immediately started panicking and called his friend, who was on the other side of the door with Jean.
“Dave? What’s going on?” came the muffled reply. Tony tried the door from the other side and still, nothing happened.
“Jean!” Kevin yelled, still restrained by Travis.
“Kevin, are you OK? Don’t worry about me, I’m fine!” Jean promised him, but her voice sounded weak. Dave heard Kevin sigh with relief at the sound of his friend’s voice, but now was not the time to relax.
What’s going to happen now?
The four of them turned, with Travis leading Kevin, towards the opening in the wall which led to the darkened garden. In a downpour of dust, a torrent of bricks and rubble suddenly slid from the top of the haphazard pile and tumbled towards the hole; as if blocked by an invisible barrier, the debris settled higher and higher in a vertically flat formation until the gap was completely sealed by a brand-new wall. When the last of the dust had settled, Gerry walked back over, nervously prodding the makeshift brickwork. It wouldn’t move at all. Dave followed Gerry, reaching out a hand and yanking at one of the bricks, but it stuck fast. They were trapped.
The tears that, just a second ago, had been threatening to spill from Dave’s eyes had retreated. He wasn’t even conscious of any fear; his insides were full of nothing more than a sickening, hollow emptiness.
He was empty. Nothing could hurt him now.
The four of them were glaring at each other in fear and apprehension when the flames sprung to life all around them, twisting suddenly upwards out of cold, damp air.
The tongues of fire weren’t orange; they were an ethereal yellow so pale that it was almost white. Aside from the gasps of surprise and horror from the room’s occupants, nothing was audible at all; the flames were completely silent as they worked their way up through the dusty brickwork in a solid sheet of writhing energy. The wall of fire separated Dave and Gerry from Travis and Kevin, and Dave squinted against the thickly bright light, unable to make out anything beyond their half of the room.
Dave wondered if he was about to die.
Well, at least burning is better than killing yourself during a driving test.
Something fell out of Dave’s jacket pocket as he took a step backwards, and without thinking he bent to pick it up. Uncrumpling the piece of paper and looking at the orange and blue scribbles on Tony’s defaced prompt sheet, Dave laughed so hysterically that he frightened himself as well as Gerry. He felt like he probably ought to be screaming by now, but he just didn’t have the energy.
The flames seemed to drink the moonlight and spit it out again without its warmth, but Dave could still feel a stifling blanket of miserable heat squeezing his flesh. He couldn’t see any smoke at all in the crisp night air, but he was rapidly beginning to choke on something. The smell was as stale as smoke, but as chemical and cloying as gasoline. The heat and the bitter stench of the fire filled Dave’s head and made his vision pulse and blur, and he could feel his consciousness beginning to slip away from him. Before he passed out, more from pure exhaustion than heatstroke or suffocation, his last thought was of Tony, his only remaining friend, saying, “Now I know how that poor girl felt in 1819.”
The clocks struck midnight.
“Stupid fucking ghosts,” Dave whispered through acid tears as the darkness ate him alive.