Tony’s eyes ached from the fluorescent brightness of the walls, ceiling and floor of the green-screen room, whose colour nicely matched the neon green t-shirt Dave was wearing. The two of them had been waiting in the studio for at least ten minutes; they were supposed to have begun filming interviews at nine, but Andy, Jean and the producer were late again.
Dave was holding a stack of prompt sheets and the producer’s signature ‘I’M THE EFFING BOSS’ mug, and when Tony had caught sight of it the two had grinned at each other, remembering what they’d both seen at the hospital a week earlier. For some odd reason, Tony wasn’t feeling the same sense of miserable dread that he normally felt on interview day, and as a result he was willing to return Dave’s cheerful kindness.
By the time fifteen more minutes had been wasted, Andy and Jean had arrived. Andy had had another spray tan, so today he looked more like a tomato than a pumpkin. An enormous new Rolex watch flashed gold on his wrist, matching the several spiked gold earrings on Jean’s left ear; Tony supposed these flashy new trinkets had been purchased with last week’s salary. Jean and Andy always dressed up a little too much on interview day, whereas Tony never wore anything other than yesterday’s t-shirt, yesterday’s jeans, mismatched socks and a sullen expression. Today, unusually, the sullen expression had disappeared as soon as he’d seen Dave.
“Ok, ok, positions, you bunch of layabouts!” The producer shouted, crashing through the door and swiping the mug of coffee from Dave with even more overexcited energy than normal. Tony supposed he’d had rather too much caffeine already.
“Come on, get a shift-on, we’re fucking late!” He added, knocking back the drink like he was sinking shots at a bar. He didn’t mention who exactly was late, because obviously he thought himself too important to be late.
“Andy, you’re up first! Remember to try and make it sound scientific. Yes, I know you’re not really a scientist; nobody watching is going to know that, are they? Ok, everyone out except Andy and Gerry on camera.”
He slammed the mug down on the windowsill and marched out. Jean sauntered behind him, thumbs hooked in the pockets of her expensive jeans, and Tony and Dave shuffled out last.
The majority of Andy’s absence passed in awkward silence.
Half an hour later, though, as they sat in the production booth watching Jean recording her interview (which apparently involved a lot of high-pitched giggling and hair-twirling), Dave sidled up to sit on the edge of the chair next to Tony’s.
“Did you hear?” Dave whispered, so Andy wouldn’t overhear him.
Tony looked up from doodling on his prompt sheet.
“That guy who went to Lansfield died on Tuesday. You know, the guy you said was a paranormal researcher?”
“Yeah, I heard.”
“He killed himself.”
“Do you think it’s related to the ghosts?”
Tony considered his answer for a moment before responding. He cleared his throat, ready to say something intelligent that would impress and reassure his new friend.
“Mmm,” he said instead.
“Huh?” persisted Dave. “Sorry, what did you say?”
“Yeah, I do. I do think it’s to do with the ghosts.”
Dave paled. “You sure?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, obviously I didn’t know the guy, Dave, but it seems like a bit of a coincidence, don’t you think?”
“Oh.” Dave paused. “You think the same thing’s going to happen to us?”
They looked at each other for a second. Tony opened his mouth, but before he could decide what he was going to say, the producer burst into the room to interrupt.
“Tony, you’re up. Act interested for once. Dave, I need you to post these.” He dumped a stack of brown envelopes on the glass table.
“I’m not a personal assistant,” Dave muttered under his breath, but he stood up anyway.
“What are you then?” Tony asked quietly as Jean barged past him into the room.
Dave reddened. “I’m the assistant producer.”
Tony grinned and raised one eyebrow. “Right.”
“Tony! In!” Bellowed the producer.
Tony sat fidgeting on a stool in a sea of electric green; he wasn’t allowed a chair because apparently it would show up in post-production. Normally, the effects team replaced the green background with a CGI graveyard or haunted castle, which made it look like the interviewees were lost inside a 1980s tween horror film.
Gerry, the cameraman, was still setting up, so Tony continued to doodle on his prompt sheet. He scribbled a long row of blue biro ghosts along the top, and at the bottom he drew a very thickset stick man with a floppy fringe, fleeing the ghosts in terror. Tony smirked to himself and printed a label with an arrow pointing to the man: ANDY.
The cameraman’s sudden throat-clearing made Tony jump, and he quickly turned the sheet over in his lap to hide the drawing. Gerry probably saw it anyway, though, because when he turned back to fiddle with the tripod, he was struggling to conceal a smile. Tony was lucky he was with Gerry, because neither one of the other two cameramen had nearly as much patience with him.
“Right, uh... Tony, if you could just, um, read the words on the prompt. Give the paper here; you can’t be holding it on camera.”
Gerry signalled to the production booth, and the next minute the door opened and Dave walked in.
“We just need you to hold up Tony’s prompt sheet for him as he reads it. Tony?”
Tony handed Dave the prompt sheet, with the drawing face-down. Dave immediately turned the paper over and spluttered with laughter, clapping his hand over his mouth. Gerry gave him a frustrated look, and Tony clamped his lips together and shut his eyes, trying to keep his composure.
“Ok, let’s go, guys!” Said Gerry.
Dave looked determinedly off to one side as he turned the drawing back towards Tony.
“Three, two, one, action!”
Tony cleared his throat and began to recite the prompt sheet.
“I’m super-excited to be going to Lansfield because... really? super-excited?” He asked, breaking character. “Who the hell am I, Mary Poppins?”
Gerry sighed, and Dave raised one eyebrow at Tony.
“Please just read it.”
“I’m really excited to be going to Lansfield because of the site’s incredibly rich paranormal history. I’m hoping that, if we’re really lucky, we’ll get some interaction from Mary-Jane or... Ok, do you know what? I’ll say whatever you want with as jolly a disposition as you like. Heck, I’ll even get up and do a bloody dance for joy.” Tony got up and began skipping round his stool. “Oh, goody, we’re off to have ourselves some jolly fun with a bunch of crazy-ass ghosts!” Gerry sighed again, and Tony stopped dancing and dumped himself back down onto his stool. “But can I please, I mean, do I have your official permission, to get the bloody names right?”
“Fine. Whatever. Can we please just get on with it before I get fired? Action!”
Tony took a deep breath.
“I’m really excited to be going to Lansfield because of the site’s incredibly rich paranormal history.”
He broke character again, but this time he didn’t stop. He started using his own words instead.
“This mansion was built on a burial ground from medieval times, and that’s why it’s said that the moment the Lansfield family laid the foundations of their house they were forever cursed to a slew of bad luck. At the age of just seventeen, the daughter, Mary-Ann Lansfield, died in a mysterious kitchen fire, and it’s said that you can still smell the smoke, feel the heat of the flames, and even hear her screams there today.”
Tony paused for breath, but nobody was telling him to stop and Dave’s facial expression even made him look like he was waiting for more.
Oh well, Tony thought. I’ve started the nerd rant. I may as well finish it.
“Just three years after the daughter’s death, the wife and husband both died in an absolutely gruesome murder-suicide, so it’s generally believed that there are at least three ghosts at the property. What’s more, the house caught fire that very night in extremely mysterious circumstances, which is why paranormal enthusiasts frequently refer to our destination as the most dangerous haunted location in the world.”
“Incorrect!” Dave said, grinning. “Your line was, ‘It’s so cool that Jean and Andy and I get to experience the awesome paranormal activity there, I’m so super-duper pumped.’”
“Shit. Am I fired now?”
“No, Tony, that’ll be fine,” said Gerry.
“It’s not going to, you know, contradict anything Jean or Andy said?”
“Nah, Jean just babbled on about all this random technical stuff that was barely relevant and Andy just referred to the ghosts as ‘that little girl and the headless lady’,” replied Dave. Gerry rolled his eyes, but he didn’t object.
“Ok, clear off, both of you,” he said. “I’ve got to pack up.”
As soon as Dave and Tony were back outside in the hallway, Dave held Tony’s defaced prompt sheet up and looked at it again.
“This is so brilliant, Tony! Well, I mean, the drawing’s not that great—no offence—, but can you imagine Andy’s face if he saw it?”
Tony imagined Andy punching the living daylights out of him. He said nothing.
“You got a colouring pencil?”
“Huh?” Tony dug out the contents of his trouser pocket. Out came a million shreds of paper, probably from his last prompt sheet that had been through the wash, and two highlighters: one orange, one green.
“Perfect,” said Dave, seizing the neon orange highlighter. He scribbled all over the little biro-man until it looked, well, like a genetically mutated pumpkin.
“Nailed it.” There was a short pause.
“You were really good, you know, with the interview. I hope they use it.”
Tony smiled half-heartedly. He wished he still had the capability to be optimistic like Dave. “Me too, but they hardly ever use my ones. I’m surprised they haven’t fired me yet and hired some photogenic actor fresh out of theatre school to replace me.”
Dave didn’t reply.
As the silence wore on, Tony couldn’t help himself. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
“What?” Dave said. “Because you were the only person here who seemed like they’d be a half-decent friend, that’s why. I was right. I’m really crappy at making friends, but you’re really easy to talk to.”
“Well...” said Tony. “Thanks. You too. And I guess, well, having a friend who also believes in ghosts couldn’t hurt. You know, maybe I won’t feel so stupid when the ghosts start murdering people.”
There was another long pause. Both Tony and Dave stared at the neon orange stick-man, fleeing the row of ghosts. Tony started to get a horrible feeling of sympathy for the shoddily drawn character, even if it did now bear a striking resemblance to his least favourite co-worker.
Dave whipped out his own biro and drew a house behind Andy, and then took back the orange pen and drew flames engulfing it. He added his own label to the house: LANSFIELD. Then, he stuffed the sheet into his back pocket and looked worriedly back at Tony.
“We’re all going to fucking die, aren’t we?”
Tony gave a shaky laugh. “Probably.”