“Got enough cameras there, Andy?” Tony asked sarcastically as he fiddled listlessly with the strap on his headlamp. Surprisingly, Andy only seemed to have two cameras today; one was swinging from his belt loop and the other he clutched in his hand. Andy looked up from taking endless photos of the wall to scowl at Tony.
“Yeah, why?” he retorted. “My box with all the other cameras in it went missing while we were filming the tour.” Andy looked accusingly to the right, past Tony. “Jean, what the hell’s the matter with you?”
Jean had been trying for the last ten minutes to fix her headphones to her lanyard, but her fingers were shaking so badly that the clasp kept snapping shut on empty air. Tony couldn’t help feeling worried for her; she hadn’t spoken to anyone since her talk with the producer on the driveway, and he was pretty sure she hadn’t said much then either. Earlier, Dave had approached her and shown her the burn on his arm, apparently with the intention of reassuring her, but upon seeing it she’d sat down hard on the floor and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block him out.
“You can be tactless at times, Dave,” Tony had said after his friend had sloped back, defeated.
“Tell me about it,” he’d replied.
Jean had now been sitting in the same spot for almost two hours.
“Oi, Jean!” Andy clicked his fingers at the back of her head. Jean continued to stare straight ahead and gave a stiff smile to the blank wall in front of her. Without focusing her eyes properly, she raised the headphones to her face and thrust the clasp through the keyhole slot with an angry SNAP.
“There, told you she’d pull herself together,” said Andy triumphantly. He raised his camera and pointed it towards Jean’s back. “Smile for the camera, Jean!”
When still no response came, he took another photo of the wall.
From where Tony was standing, he saw a single tear, like a glass bead, escape Jean’s clamped eyelid and fall into the gap between her crossed legs. She still hadn’t moved a muscle.
Tony looked at Andy.
“What are you staring at?” Andy said. Tony broke eye contact, tossed his headlamp back into the corner, and walked to join Dave at the window. It had started to spit with rain, and a thin film of water sat on the bottom of the derelict fountain on the lawn.
Looking at the reflection in the grimy glass instead of turning round, Tony watched as Andy walked around Jean’s motionless, cross-legged form until he could see her face. Andy bent down to brush Jean’s hair from her eyes, and when he spoke the mocking edge was almost completely gone from his voice.
“Jean? You OK?”
“Should we go?” Dave asked Tony. Tony made no effort to reply.
“Jean, what’s wrong, babe?”
He reached up to touch her cheek, but Jean’s hand shot out like a flash and seized his wrist.
“Don’t. touch me. you asshole.”
She manoeuvred his hand back down to the ground and stood, letting her hair fall back in front of her face.
Andy stayed seated for a minute, staring at the floor, but then he stood up too and turned to face her. On any other day he’d be taller than her, but today Jean had the edge in her high heels.
“Andy, I’m not about to have a bloody lovers’ quarrel in front of the peanut gallery.” She gestured to Tony and Dave, who stared desperately out of the window doing their very best impersonations of deaf people.
“We could go,” offered Dave after a long silence. He began to gather up his equipment without turning to face them.
“Yeah, you should go,” retorted Andy.
“No, it’s all right!” interrupted Jean. “I told you, Andy, I’m not having a lovers’ tiff with you now. I’m going downstairs.”
“A lovers’ tiff?” scoffed Andy. “You think we’re lovers? Don’t flatter yourself, Jean! I don’t really care about you that much!”
“You sounded pretty concerned just now,” muttered Tony against the windowpane. Jean glared at him.
“Yeah, and you literally called her babe, like, literally just now,” added Dave in a slightly louder voice, earning glares from both Jean and Andy. Tony, meanwhile, was struggling to keep a straight face.
“Sorry, I’ll go now,” said Dave, hurrying out of the door and down the stairs so quickly that he almost tripped and fell headlong into the hallway on the ground floor. Tony followed as far as the corridor, but he lingered outside the door. It wasn’t that he was worried about Jean; rather, he was just shamefully curious about what she’d tell Andy. He pretended to suddenly find his glasses intensely fascinating, but kept his closest ear trained on the doorway.
“I don’t have time for your bullshit ego tonight, Andy,” said Jean. Her voice was resilient but thick with tears; she sounded exhausted, like she just wanted to lie down and cry.
“I didn’t start it, you did!” replied Andy. “Look, I’m sorry I pretended we weren’t together, I really am, but I do care about you. I shouldn’t have to prove it every ten seconds.”
Jean laughed somewhat hysterically. “Yes, that’s exactly what you do have to do! If you really gave a crap about me then you’d actually ask me what was wrong when I was upset!”
“Alright then, fair enough. Tell me, what’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing much, Andy. I just saw a fucking ghost two hours ago!”
Tony froze outside the door. Andy didn’t say anything either, and Tony began to wonder how he’d react. Then, he heard Andy spluttering with laughter before being abruptly silenced by a short, sharp slap.
“Ow, Jean, your crazy witch nails fucking hurt!”
“Good. You deserved it.”
Jean turned away from Andy and walked towards the door, stopping just as she came into Tony’s view.
“Jean, you know ghosts aren’t real, right? Is this all this is, a fucking joke? Or are you just going stir-crazy from being cooped up with Tony the wacko and his boyfriend Dave? I swear-”
“I KNOW! I know I don’t believe in ghosts, Andy, but you know I’m not a total idiot, right? I mean, what are you going to tell me, that someone pranked me? What would be the point? I know what I saw!”
“Jean, you’re just tired-”
She whipped around in a circle, grabbing the sides of the doorframe to stop herself once she was facing Andy again.
“I know what I saw. And fuck you for saying that stuff about Tony and Dave. They’re total weirdos, I grant you, but at least they’re not dickheads like you.”
She turned back again and strode out of the room, pausing only briefly when she caught sight of Tony standing outside. Flicking her hair over her shoulder, she continued down the stairs and disappeared from view; Andy followed her out of the room, but he clearly had no intention of following any further. He spotted Tony, furrowed his brow for a second, and then smirked, as if the two of them were friends.
“Women, eh?” he said.
For once, Tony didn’t have a good comeback.
“Not that I’d know.”
He stuck his middle finger up at Andy and left.
He found Dave out in the driveway, getting rained on. His friend was holding a chunk of gravel in each hand and trying to juggle them, but then one piece flew up too far and struck the burn on his arm on its way down.
“Ow! Shit!” he said through his teeth, wincing in pain.
Tony sat down on the step next to him, pulling his hood up to fend off some of the rain.
“Well, that was awkward,” said Tony. “Jean was really upset, saying stuff about how she knew she wasn’t hoaxed and just wanted Andy to believe her, and he was still being a total asshole, telling her she was stupid, and then as soon as Jean left he still didn’t seem even slightly worried about her.”
Dave didn’t say anything. He was awkwardly playing with the stones on the driveway, picking up a handful and then letting them all fall through his fingers back onto the ground.
“What if... what if she was hoaxed?” asked Dave without looking up.
There was a long pause. Tony was starting to get pretty sick of long pauses.
“Dave. What do you mean?”
“Nothing. I’ll be right back.” Dave got up and walked back into the house.
He returned two minutes later carrying a drawstring duffel bag that Tony remembered seeing among his stuff on the bus. When Dave came back with the bag, Tony was standing up on the steps, waiting with his arms folded.
Dave gave him an embarrassed half-smile, which Tony didn’t return.
“Dave, what happened? Do you know something? Did you do something?”
Wordlessly, Dave opened the bag and brought out a white piece of cloth, which unfolded in his hands and became a lace dress with a brownish-red smear around the neckline. He held it up without making eye contact, and Tony frowned at him in confusion.
“The heck are you doing with a...” he stopped for a second before the truth dawned. “Oh, no. Tell me you didn’t.”
“I thought it’d be funny! Don’t you think it was kind of funny? I just kind of hung it up in the doorway when you guys were filming and then I went to go and get it while you were with Jean right here. Did you seriously not find her reaction funny at all?” Dave sounded like he was starting to doubt himself.
“Dave, poor Jean’s scared half to death!”
“But you hate Jean! Anyway, we got her to believe in ghosts too; don’t you think that’s kind of a good thing?”
Tony frowned, poking the stale white lace with a fingertip. The stain around the neck was probably chocolate.
“How the hell did she even fall for this shit?” The corner of his mouth was starting to twitch.
“Um... because she’s kind of stupid?” Dave looked sheepishly at the floor.
Tony looked at the ridiculous prop, then remembered seeing Jean legging it down the driveway and falling flat on her face in her platform heels. He remembered how Jean had always laughed at him with Andy; how she’d always chosen to take his side even though she never seemed to enjoy being a bully as much as he did. He looked back up at Dave, whom he’d never have suspected of doing something as hilariously cruel as this. Then, slowly, a smile began to creep across his face. The laughter started as splutters in his throat, but it didn’t stay there for very long. Dave, who’d obviously been reassured, began to laugh as well and soon they both exploded into fits of undignified giggles.
“You’re such an asshole,” Tony gasped, holding one hand to his face as he struggled to control the laughter. His parents had always taught him that laughing at other people’s misfortunes was wrong, but he couldn’t help himself. It just felt so... liberating.
“Oh no! A ghost! Run!” Dave exclaimed through tears, picking up the damp dress and throwing it at Tony. Tony clawed it from his face, still spluttering with laughter, but as soon as he could see again the grin fell from his face and he stuffed the dress behind his back as quickly as he could.
Jean was standing framed in the doorway behind Dave, holding a plastic crate in her arms. In a panic, Tony began to wonder how much she’d heard of their conversation, but he was sure she’d only just arrived.
“Guys?” she asked quietly. Her voice upheld none of the contempt that Tony was used to being addressed with.
Dave looked over his shoulder and noticed her before turning back to Tony.
“Don’t say anything,” he mouthed, wiping his eyes determinedly. Tony shook his head.
“Yeah?” Tony replied. He could feel his cheeks burning, and wondered whether it was just because he’d been laughing or whether he was ashamed of himself now that Jean had come back.
“Well,” began Jean. “You know how Andy said that all his cameras went missing? And that they, um...” She cleared her throat. “They were in this box?”
As she knelt down to place the crate on the ground, Tony saw that her jeans and grey hoodie were finely dusted with soot. What was more, the plastic of the box was irregular and misshapen, as if it had been crushed but somehow not broken.
Jean plucked the lid off, which took some effort due to her long nails and the mutilated state of the box. Tony and Dave peered inside and gasped.
Inside the box was what Tony could only assume had once been Andy’s cameras, but what looked like a horribly mangled swamp of black partially-melted plastic. Some of the destroyed cameras had fused to the sides of the box and several had melded together, but none of them were even still vaguely recognisable as what they had once been; it would have taken a massively high temperature to reduce them to this state of ruin. Tony could smell the stench of burning plastic, but when he reached a hand into the crate the contents were ice-cold. He stared at Jean; so did Dave.
“Did you do this?” asked Tony, incredulous.
“You know, to get back at Andy.”
Jean frowned at him and shook her head, then put the lid back on the ruined box.
“I found them in the kitchen just now,” she said. “He made me help him look for them earlier and I swear they weren’t there the first time I looked.”
Her voice became thick with apparent fear, and she had to stop talking for a moment to take a deep breath.
“I’m not saying I suddenly believe in... you know, all of that crap you believe in, Tony,” Jean added, “and even if I do, or did, or whatever, I still think you’re a total idiot for liking this stuff. If ghosts are actually real, then they’re fucking terrifying, and if I didn’t have a job to do I swear I’d run straight back down that field and never come back. I just want to get away. Away from Andy, and you two weirdos, and away from all this stupid weird stuff that’s happening.”
Jean got up and walked back inside. Once she was gone, Tony looked at Dave quizzically.
Dave returned the quizzical look. “No. I’ve been here all this time.”
An indigo gloom was settling on the hillside, and to Tony, even the slivers of cloud on the horizon seemed menacing. The rain had stopped and the air was laced with silence, save for the wind howling softly through the corridors of the house. Behind them, in the woods, Tony could hear the repetitive drone of an owl hooting. He nearly screamed at it to shut up, but the silence remained unbroken.
“Well,” Tony said to Dave, getting to his feet. “Let’s get ready to spend the night.”
He kicked the soggy white dress off the step as he walked back inside.