“What the fuck?! What the fuck?!”
Andy’s muffled yell hurtled up the stairs, gaining momentum with the howling wind. It was followed by the rattle of plastic against plastic and a BANG as something was set down hard on the flagstones.
Tony looked up at Dave and Jean, who were sitting against the wall on the other side of the old spare bedroom, and gave them a satisfied nod as if to say, ‘I told you he’d find the cameras’.
“He’s found them,” muttered Jean, getting up and leaving the room to answer Andy’s yelling. “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
After the discovery of Andy’s ruined cameras, the three of them had decided to put the box back in the kitchen and wait for Andy to discover it for himself. That way, they’d theorised, they could all pretend to know nothing about it.
However, as Tony and Dave listened to Andy’s furious ranting from upstairs, they realised that not all of them had been spared the blame.
“How the fuck did you melt twelve cameras, Jean?” he demanded.
At the sound of Andy’s words, Dave looked at Tony with an incredulous expression, but Tony just shrugged. He wasn’t surprised in the least that Andy had decided to throw the blame at someone else; the only thing that surprised him was the fact that he’d chosen Jean.
“How the fuck indeed!” they heard Jean reply. “How the hell could I have done this, you idiot? This box wasn’t even here earlier when we looked, remember?”
“Well, if you didn’t do it, then explain THIS!” Andy shouted triumphantly. Tony and Dave looked at each other in confusion as silence rushed in to replace Andy’s declaration; whatever he’d found had clearly rendered Jean speechless.
“Well,” Jean began unsteadily, “I didn’t do it.” She’d clearly run out of words, and her acting was as bad as ever.
“I swear I’ll... I’ll...” Andy was struggling to come up with a good threat. From upstairs, Tony and Dave were craning to listen; Dave’s facial expression made it clear that he was wondering whether it was socially acceptable to laugh, whereas Tony wasn’t suppressing much more than unease.
“You’ll what? What will you do?” Jean’s voice had a patronising edge to it, like a teacher addressing a child who was throwing a temper tantrum.
“I’ll... I swear I’ll... you’ll pay for this!”
Tony heard footsteps stomping away, getting gradually quieter, and then the scrunch of gravel outside the back door. Dave got up from the ground to look out of the window, which overlooked the rain-soaked lawn.
“Andy’s in the garden,” Dave said helpfully. He paused. “He just trod in a puddle and now his trouser legs are asymmetrical.”
From the doorway, Tony and Dave heard a soft laugh, like someone was choking very quietly on iron filings. Jean was back, and she had the box with her again.
“Andy’s really pissed off,” Jean announced.
“He thinks it was me.”
“We know. Sorry.”
Dave piped up. “What does he think happened? That you, like, blasted fire from your hands like the Human Torch?”
Jean stared straight at him in temporary confusion, adjusting the position of her hands on the sides of the box. “No,” she said quietly. “Well, maybe, but look at this.”
She sat down opposite Tony, placed the box on her lap, and then lifted her hands away slowly. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before.”
In the exact spots where Jean’s hands had been on the sides of the crate, two small slender handprints had been imprinted in the misshapen plastic. They were roughly the right size and shape for Jean’s hands, but she couldn’t have made them; they had to have been moulded into the box when the plastic was still hot. When Tony put his hand into the depression it was slightly too large to fit, but Jean’s hands fitted inside almost perfectly; he decided that the prints must have been made by a woman. There was no sense in doubting they were Jean’s, because she was the only woman for miles, but Tony didn’t necessarily pride himself on thinking sensibly.
Tony stared at Jean, but said nothing.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” she suddenly burst out, smacking the plastic crate hard with her hand so that it swung momentarily onto its edge. “Don’t just stare, you pair of idiots, what good’s that going to do any of us? All you ever do is glare at me, Tony! If I see a fucking ghost, you look at me like you’ve seen a ghost. I find... well... this shit”— she smacked the box again-- “and you two start treating me like I just fell out of the sky! And now...” she trailed off. “Well, I’m sorry, I’m just so confused about how this happened and what the fuck’s going on, and I’m getting pretty flipping scared to tell you the truth; that’s why I’m ranting, but...”
She placed her hand back into the perfectly-sized depression. Then, struck by a flame of frustration, she tore her ring off and flung it across the room. One of her false nails came off with it and she cursed in irritation, but the swear word dripped with tears instead of venom.
“Jean,” Tony said slowly. “We... we know you didn’t do this.”
Jean lay down on the cold floor and covered her face with her hands, drawing her knees up and breathing heavily like she’d just finished a race. Tony was definitely used to Jean’s hysterical fits of anger, seeing as he’d been her colleague for three years, but normally when Jean got angry she at least had someone to direct her anger towards; it was becoming obvious to Tony that unless he said something to reassure her, Jean’s self-indulgent tantrum would mutate into a full-blown nervous breakdown. Unfortunately, he had no idea what to say. He was useless.
That’s why you’ve never had a girlfriend, Tony thought to himself. Women are just so bloody confusing.
Tony watched as Dave rummaged in his backpack and brought out his PSP; he decided not to protest because his own technique of staring into empty space and ignoring the problem wasn’t being any more helpful. He stared nervously at Jean, who didn’t even move when Dave’s video game began emitting annoyingly loud bursts of music. Shooting a worried glance at Jean (who wasn’t paying attention) and then at Tony (who was), Dave turned the sound off.
A great thunder of footsteps could be heard approaching, probably from the back door, and clattering up the stairs. As they came into view around the corner, Tony saw the producer, flanked by a slightly damp and disgruntled Andy and all three cameramen. Two of the camera crew had their cameras down by their sides, which showed they weren’t recording, but the guy who was filming was pointing his camera directly at Jean as she lay on the floor. Dave scrambled out of the shot, and the crew member stopped recording and lowered his camera.
“Ok, that’s good,” said the producer. We’ll make out that she’s feeling dizzy because of the ghosts messing with her mind or some shit. Anything. We’ll think of something. David, make a note of that.” He chucked Dave a red biro.
As Dave pulled his notebook out of his soggy backpack, a bundle of white lace spilled out with it. Tony froze and turned to see if anybody else had noticed, but Dave calmly shuffled across the floor, whilst writing, to sit in front of the bag.
‘SOME BULLSHIT’ read the scarlet letters Dave was scrawling on his notepad.
Frowning stormily at his half-melted camera box (which Tony slowly slid behind his back to hide from the producer), Andy shoved both of his hands into his pockets and sauntered away down the hallway. Nobody moved to stop him from leaving; not even Jean, who was still horizontal on the ground.
“Right, you three,” began the producer, apparently unaware that one of the three had just wandered away from him. “The time’s ten-forty; we start all the investigating and stuff at eleven, once it’s totally dark. Jean’s going to wander around a bit with the thermal camera, taking every anomalous reading as proof of the paranormal. You know the drill by now. Kevin, you’ll be covering that bit.”
Kevin, the cameraman with the glasses and dark hair, nodded; he was the same guy who’d been filming Jean a moment ago, but he seemed to be looking at her with an uneasy expression that could have been interpreted as concern.
“After you’ve deliberately misinterpreted a few radiators and water pipes, you can go on to the voice recorder, Jean. Take it out to that tree where old Harry hung himself. I don’t think you’ll necessarily have to make any noise yourself- there’s plenty of wind around, so we can just interpret that as a ghostly whisper. Got that?”
“Mm,” said Jean through her parted fingers.
She sat upright and sighed.
“Ok, good. Tony, you’ll be with Gerry. We’re thinking this time we’ll get David to chuck some stuff at you, you know, poltergeist activity and the like. Oh, and when you’re in the kitchen remember to claim you smell burning and act really hot and bothered. We could also get David to do some screaming, you know, kind of like—“
He was interrupted by a scream from the next room. It wasn’t a female scream; it was more like a manly howl, but the sound still echoed shrilly through the corridor.
The producer turned around just as Andy hurtled back into view, swinging into the room with one hand on the edge of the door frame. A glimmer of something which could have been fear was rapidly dwindling in his eyes and his usually orange complexion had bleached to the hue of milky tea.
“Alright, who was it?” Andy demanded as some of the colour returned to his face. “You all know I’m too smart to believe in ghosts, so you may as well just tell me who it was.”
Nobody bothered to reply. The producer was too bored, Jean was too shocked, and Tony was beginning to feel a combination of both emotions. Tony glanced back over his shoulder and noticed that Dave’s confused expression was rapidly curling into a smirk.
“What’s wrong, Andy?” Jean asked with a condescending edge to her voice. Tony suppressed a grin.
“In there,” Andy said, pointing in the direction of the master bedroom with a shaking finger. “The lady with no head. White dress. Blood everywhere.” His voice wobbled slightly. “Ring any GODDAMN bells?”
Jean let loose a loud half-gasp, half-sob which rose higher into a whine before fading completely. The producer furrowed his brow and raised a hand, but luckily for him two of the cameramen were already filming. Tony raised one eyebrow at Dave, but Dave’s face was sincerely pale again as he reached behind him, grabbed his backpack, and yanked the cuff of the white dress back out through the open zip.
“Not you?” Tony mouthed in astonishment.
Dave shook his head slowly.
“Oi!” yelled Andy, clapping his hands together. “What are you two talking about? I fucking saw that! It was you, wasn’t it? Both of you! You tried to prank me, didn’t you, Tony?”
Tony shook his head, allowing a patronising grin to creep onto his face for extra effect.
Andy had paused like he was in a Sherlock Holmes movie, one hand placed mockingly on his chin, stroking an imaginary beard. Then, his attention turned to Jean.
“Or... maybe it was all three of you! I see that shit! Let’s all gang up on Andy! Let’s drive Andy crazy with pranks! Well, I swear to you right now, Tony.” Andy began walking backwards through the doorway, hands stuck firmly by his sides. “It’s not gonna work on me.”
“Ok, cut!” said the producer. “Great work, Andy! We’ll have to trim out all the swearing and the aggression directed at Tony and Jean- remember, you guys are all friends- but we could definitely use it!”
“Don’t censor my art!” Andy’s muffled yell came from the next room. “That creepy mannequin you guys set up is totally gone now- how’d you even do that? You clearly put a lot of energy into pissing me off!”
Everyone ignored him.
“Ok, places, people!” interrupted the producer, turning to the cameraman to his right. “Travis, go with Andy. Kevin and Jean, go down the hallway. Tony, Gerry”- he coughed- “David, get down to the kitchen. We start making ghosts happen at eleven sharp, people! Eleven sharp!”
Tony and Dave trailed downstairs after Gerry. On the bottom step, Tony paused- he could have sworn he’d just seen something bright white in the corner of his eye, moving past the back door, but he said nothing.
If there was one thing he was good at, it was saying nothing.