Of the eight that had arrived that afternoon, only three remained by the time the clocks struck one.
Tony was falling. He was falling. Despite the fact that he was sitting still on a solid surface, the sky and trees and ground around him were blurring and morphing and whirling; even when he closed his eyes he still saw a vortex of throbbing colours spinning in all corners of his vision.
Tony was inhaling and exhaling air insanely quickly, but he still felt like he couldn’t breathe. His fingers were drumming furiously on the ground and each fingertip pulsed with livid energy, but at the same time, his body was devoid of all feeling. Every time one of his fingers struck the stone, the tap would turn into a monosyllabic word: a name, to be precise. His mind was racing with percussive repetitions of Dave Dave Dave Dave and yet, that name meant nothing to him; his mind heard the words, but refused to put meaning to them. His thoughts remained blank, his emotions remained blanker, and his eyes remained dry. Tony could have been sitting in the garden for fifteen seconds or fifteen hours; he had no idea because all ability to think logically had abandoned him.
His cheeks felt wet, but he didn’t remember shedding a single tear.
Nobody else was speaking. As far as Tony was aware, every scrap of the emotional whirlwind he was experiencing had been successfully internalised. If he was reacting physically in any way, nobody had decided to let him know.
To his left, Gerry cleared his throat. “Tony—“
“I know that—“
And so, they sat for twenty more minutes in silence. The pulsing lights inside Tony’s head gradually dimmed and subsided, and all of his thoughts turned grey and brittle one by one. He found himself dredging up the most ridiculously irrelevant memories to play in a scroll before his eyes, but all of them involved the same person. Through the foggy grey veil of confusion that swamped his mind, he saw himself and Dave chatting in the hallway of the studio, and then in the greenscreen room, and then on the minibus. He remembered standing next to Dave at the end of the driveway and then below the dead tree; when he took his head out of his hands he could see exactly where they’d stood and couldn’t believe that less than six hours had passed since he and Dave had been there, together. They’d been together in the garden, and then in the master bedroom, and then in the kitchen. Finally, of course, he remembered pulling his friend from the ruins of the kitchen and holding his hand on the driveway; after that memory had come and gone there was nowhere else to go but forwards. One thought stood out among the others as clearly as a knife slicing clean through the fog.
Tony heard his mouth forming the words “He’s dead. He’s fucking dead...”
Suddenly, the words had meaning again. Tony remembered every single tear now.
“He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead.” He was mumbling into his hands now; his words were slurring so much that he doubted anyone else would hear him.
Gerry opened his mouth but then decided against whatever he was about to say and went back to trying to get a signal on his phone. He wasn’t having any luck, and eventually he gave up.
Time brushed past them as passively as the breeze that stirred the fog over the woods. Nobody was daring to speak in case they heard a reply they didn’t want to hear; Tony had all but given up any hope of getting out alive, and he wasn’t nearly as upset about it as he was two hours ago.
“Right, I’ve had enough of this shit,” Jean said without warning, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand and standing up. The vertical streaks of eyeliner on her cheeks had smudged and blurred into a solid smear of grey which covered her nose and forehead, but if she’d noticed, she didn't seem to care.
“Where are you going?” Asked Tony. “What do you mean, you’ve had enough?”
“I mean, I’ve had enough of sitting here feeling sorry for myself,” she said. “Four people are... are dead, and one total bastard’s buggered off to God knows where, but it’s over now. There’s nothing we can do to change the past, but there must be something we can do that’s more useful than this!”
Gerry, who’d finished crying a while ago but had otherwise been despondent up to this point, sat up and removed his head from his hands.
“Ok, Jean,” he said. “So what exactly do you propose we do?”
“I don’t bloody know!” Jean burst out, “but I don’t want to stay sitting here any more! I mean, we’re supposed to be a fucking intrepid paranormal team! We’re letting bloody ghosts get the better of us!”
Jean’s tone was angry and determined, but despite what she’d said earlier she still sounded tearful.
“Those bloody ghosts killed four of us, Jean!” Gerry interjected. “Going back in there would be bloody suicide!”
“It was bloody suicide coming here in the first place,” said Tony. “If Andy’s great escape was any indication, there was some pretty freaky shit happening outside as well, so really we’re not safe anywhere on this property at all!”
There was a long silence.
“Thanks for that, Tony,” said Gerry without looking up.
“I’m going inside,” said Jean, turning on her heel, but Gerry grabbed her arm.
“No. Jean, no!” he said. “We have to stay together! That’s what the...“ He stopped himself. “I mean, that’s what we ought to do!”
“Oh yeah?” Retorted Tony. “I suppose you think we ought to carry on with the programme as well? The producer’s fucking dead, Gerry. I’m sure that’s a good enough excuse for a break from filming!”
“Actually,” he added after a pause, “Never mind. If the producer could talk to us from beyond the grave, he’d probably tell us to get back to work. Let’s get back to work, everyone!”
Tony stretched out his legs on the driveway and leaned back onto his elbows, unsure if his sarcasm had been a little too harsh. He looked at Gerry for confirmation, but Gerry wasn’t looking back at him; he was looking at Jean. Jean’s eyes were upturned and her mouth was a straight line; she looked to be deep in thought.
“You know...” she said. “That’s actually not a bad idea.”
“What?” Tony and Gerry said together.
“Well, think about it,” she said. “Our TV programme is full of ridiculously fake bullshit. Hell, I’ve always thought so; I’ve been providing a good half of the bullshit for six years!”
Tony looked at her with mixed emotions, but let her continue.
“Anyway, what if we go back inside and film some of the stuff that’s happening? We could kind of make, you know, like a video diary. And- “
“Maybe if we live to see the next sunrise, we could take this footage back to the studio and turn our show into something real!” Finished Tony, jumping to his feet with enough excitable energy to make him wobble and almost fall over. He was pretty sure that since one o’clock, he’d experienced the full spectrum of emotions in rapid succession and now he had no idea which way round they were supposed to go.
“Well, I was thinking more along the lines of taking the footage to the press, but yeah,” Jean said. “Well, I guess at any rate, it’s something to occupy ourselves with. Gerry, you in?”
Gerry was still sitting down with his head in his hands and his elbows braced against his knees. He’d been staring at the ground for the last five minutes but now, he slowly raised his head. The cameraman’s face wore an equally balanced mixture of worry and contempt; his complexion had turned to ash and the dark shadow of stubble on his jawline suddenly made him look ten years older.
“You guys are total idiots,” he said with a sigh. “But if you’re going to put yourselves in danger then I’m coming with you. There’s just one issue I’m having with your genius plan.”
“What?” Said Jean.
“Yeah, aside from the fact that we might get murdered, what’s the problem?” Added Tony.
Gerry stood up. He was a good three inches taller than Tony.
“We haven’t got a camera,” he said. “Mine was smashed against the kitchen wall and then wrecked in the bloody fire. I’m pretty sure Travis had his on him as well when he— when he died.”
“Oh,” said Tony. “Never mind then.”
He sat back down on the cold stone step and Jean went to join him, but then she stopped.
“Wait,” she said, holding up a hand. “I have an idea.”
She pushed open the front door, which protested in the form of a wet-sounding CREAK, and disappeared inside the house. Tony and Gerry looked at each other in a moment of doubtfulness, but saw no option other than to follow her. Gerry grabbed the door before it closed, but paused to let Tony go first. He took a deep breath before stepping through, but felt no regret.
You’ve got nothing left to lose.
Tony wasn’t sure exactly what he’d been expecting to see upon re-entering Lansfield Hall after everything that had happened. Perhaps he’d been expecting to be greeted by a bombardment of flying objects or a second full-scale inferno right in the hallway. Perhaps he’d been expecting to open the door to a fleet of ghosts parading the house, uttering a chorus of ghostly howls or whatever the hell it was that ghosts did with their time when they weren’t murdering people. Whatever Tony had been expecting, with all possibilities (serious or otherwise) aside, he’d been totally and completely wrong. The hallway was empty, with not so much as a ghostly whisper.
Once the door had closed behind them and blocked out the diluted rays of the moon, the only light source in the main hall was an upright torch which leaked tendrils of wan yellow light onto the ground. The prevalent shadows, which were blacker than black velvet, made every gap in a wall or ceiling look like a yawning chasm. Jean, Tony and Gerry were bathed in a hundred shades of bloodless grey as they crossed the porch and started to climb the stairs, and the silence sucked the air so dry of life that it was excruciating to the ears.
Tony’s eyes and nose still stung from the caustic bite of the smoke, but the cold winds indoors didn’t betray any other sign of the fire that had been raging less than an hour ago. Tony might have doubted that there had been a fire at all, had he not been watching as the flames claimed the lives of two colleagues and the smoke claimed the life of his only friend.
You held his hand. You probably could have saved him.
Actually, Tony didn’t think the watering in his eyes was anything to do with the smell.
In a moment of weakness, he blinked and allowed a single droplet to escape his eyelid. The tear felt warm on his cheek and when the remnants reached his lip he tasted the salt. Bundling the cuff of his sleeve into his fist, Tony scrubbed his eye and cheek raw and refused to flinch at the grating pain of the sandpaper-like fabric.
No more crying, he thought as he lowered his arm. Save it for the morning.
Tony knew he wasn't strong enough to promise himself that he wouldn't cry, but he was determined to try his best. He'd always been weak-willed; he cried at the stupidest things and he'd never had to deal with a bereavement before. Especially....
No. No more. Just don't think about it.
Tony wasn't as smart as Gerry, but he wasn't as stupid as the producer.
He wasn't as brave as Dave, but he wasn't as spineless as Andy.
Tony definitely wasn't as strong as Jean, but he'd been strong enough to make it this far and he was sure as hell going to keep fighting.
He took in another mouthful of cold air to neutralise the lump in his throat and continued to climb the stairs.
“Tony?” Said Gerry from behind his shoulder.
“I’m fine,” was the abrupt response.
Jean stopped climbing the stairs and turned to look at Tony. “Is—“
“I SAID I’m fine!” Said Tony, curling his hands into fists.
No more crying.
Jean faced the landing again, wobbling slightly as her weight was transferred to her bad ankle, and carried on. She was walking very slowly, which was partly due to her ankle and partly due to her lack of shoes; for all of her black and grey clothing, she was wearing bright orange socks.
As they reached the first floor, Jean turned left and began to walk, tentatively, towards the end of the corridor. Tony placed his forearms against the wall and his head in his arms, staring furiously at the blackness in front of him until sparks began to dance in his vision. His mouth began to curl downwards and the sting returned to his eyes, so he slammed his forehead repeatedly into the wooden panelling until the ringing in his ears drowned out his thoughts.
No more crying.
Jean had come back, and the sound of her clearing her throat startled Tony away from the wall. His ears were still ringing and he felt dizzy from a throbbing pain behind his eyes, but he barely noticed. As he straightened up, Tony realised that Gerry’s hand was resting on his shoulder; he didn’t bother shoving it away.
“Here it is,” Jean said, holding up the camera with both hands. The front lens was bent out of shape and the back screen was separated into two halves by a vertical crack, but when she smacked it with the heel of her hand it lit up with an electric white light.
“This is... this was Kevin’s,” she said. “He dropped it earlier when we were running— just before I fell down the stairs.”
Neither Tony nor Gerry bothered to ask why the pair of them had been running. Tony had a decently good idea already, and Gerry was too busy examining the damage. Taking the camera from Jean’s hands, Gerry held it up to his face and squinted.
“There’s some minor damage to the casing and the lens,” he said, “but it seems functional.”
“Well,” said Jean in reply, “there’s only one way to find out.”
Meanwhile, Tony was staring blankly towards the end of the corridor. The small square window opposite the bedroom door perfectly framed the circular full moon, but the imperfections on the glass warped its glow into a web of illuminated ribbons.
Tony rolled up the sleeve of his t-shirt and examined the wound on his forearm for what must have been the fifth time that evening. The area which had, less than two hours ago, been raw and red was now beige and brittle; he could sense the tightness of the skin when he flexed his wrist, but all pain— in fact, all feeling— had disappeared altogether.
Tony felt a pang in his chest as he remembered that Dave had—
No, USED to have—
an identical wound. He felt as if he wanted to start tearing at his own flesh in anger, but he forced himself to remain calm as he rolled his sleeve back down to cover the mark.
No more crying. Stop thinking if that’s what it takes.
Tony heard a succession of sharp TAPs and turned to see Jean and Gerry trying to reason with the temperamental camera. Gerry fiddled with a dial on the top and pressed a button next to the screen before smacking it one last time, and the screen sprung to life.
“Ok, where shall we start?” Said Gerry. His attempt at sounding upbeat may have been deliberately sarcastic, but all he’d succeeded in conveying was uneasiness.
Tony walked back to join them, feeling unwilling to be left alone again. Jean and Gerry looked up at him as if they’d forgotten he existed, but he ignored their concerned expressions and stared determinedly at a spot on the wall instead.
When it became clear to everyone that Tony had no answers to Gerry’s question, Jean made a suggestion instead.
“I know where.”
Tony followed Jean down the hallway, feeling the floorboards groaning underneath his every step as the group of three drew closer to the door of the master bedroom. This time, Jean didn’t hesitate at the end of the walk; her arm movements were stilted but resolute as she shoved open the door and continued inside. Sighing, Tony let the pool of darkness swallow him as well, and Gerry followed, closing the door behind them.
Gerry’s camera screen was the only light source apart from the clouds outside the window, which were reflecting the light of the moon but shrouding the stars from view. Tony shut his eyes and took a deep breath of cold silence before turning towards Gerry; he felt Jean’s shoulder brushing against his as she turned as well.
“Who wants to start?” Said Gerry. “I’ll start recording... now.”
Tony couldn’t open his mouth without feeling warm tears beginning to pool behind his eyes. He said nothing.
No more crying.
No more crying.
No more crying.
"Hello, um... whoever may be watching," Jean said clearly and resiliently. "This is Jean Dartfield and Tony White, and to be honest with you, we're in deep shit."