Bump in the Night

They’ve built their careers on camera trickery and false advertising, but they’ve gotten so used to faking it, none of them have even considered the possibility that something real might be lurking just beyond the reaches of the camera lens. Until tonight, that is. Tonight, they realise that they’ve been playing with fire all along.
They’ve never been real ghost hunters, but that doesn’t matter any more, because these ghosts don’t want to be hunted.

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3. Stupidly Lazy

“Tonight, on Bump in the Night,” exclaimed the overenthusiastic narrator with a heavily edited and completely unnecessary American accent, “the team get more than they bargained for on a chilling trip to Essex’s Ledgely Infirmary!”

“You got that right, mate,” Tony said, dumping himself onto his sofa with all the elegance of a pillow hitting a brick wall and stuffing a handful of crisps into his mouth. The TV was currently showing a scroll of ridiculously fake footage from their most recent supposed ghost hunt. It was, as always, an eclectic combination of Andy trying to look like a sex god, Jean trying to look like a scientific professional, and Tony trying to look like someone who actually wanted to be there. All of this was spliced with insanely dramatic establishing shots of something which was, in essence, a hospital with a few broken windows. He could have sworn he’d seen six fake bolts of lightning before the opening credits had even finished.

Eventually, the montage changed to show the three of them giving their interviews, or, rather, the two of them. Tony normally bullshitted his way through his interviews with so little effort that they never ended up being used. He winced from a combination of the awful acting and the fact that the colour tone on his TV was turned up so high it made Andy’s orange face look fluorescent.

“So basically,” Andy said, flashing a shock of his white teeth to the camera, “we wanna talk to that one guy, uh... Tim. With the EVPs and stuff. Should be easy.”

A blue banner unfurled at the bottom of the screen, containing Andy’s name and his fake job description. Tony snorted.

Andy Pride, paranormal expert my arse,” he muttered.

Andy managed to squeeze one last hair-flip and arm-flex in before the program switched to a shot of the three of them standing outside the hospital.

It had been a freezing cold day when they’d arrived at Ledgely Infirmary, but, as normal, Tony was the only one who’d been allowed to keep his jacket on while the cameras were rolling. Andy was standing as close to Jean as he’d been able to get away with, one hand on his hip, posing like he was in a photoshoot to model his ridiculously tight t-shirt and designer jeans. His expression was twice as gormless as any model’s, and even Jean, who was the best actor by a country mile and had otherwise been acting just as well as usual, kept shooting him sideways glances and nudging him when she thought the cameras were off. Tony tried not to laugh as a solo shot of her slowly started slipping downwards, making it obvious that Travis had been the one holding the camera at that point.

“Pull your fucking shirt up, Jean,” Tony murmured to himself, cracking open a can of beer. She always wore insanely skimpy vest tops; she’d never complained, because they let her show off the black-and-red tattoos crawling up and down her arms, but the people who’d told her how to dress were obviously intent on showing off something different.

“Okay,” Andy said, “you know the plan, guys.”

“Yep,” Jean said, so much tiredness strung into her voice it was blatantly obvious she’d been forced to say her rehearsed line twelve times already, “I’ll go into the garden and start the EVP sessions. My recording machine should be able to map the voices of any ghosts who might want to speak to me.”

As Andy started talking again, Tony spotted Jean flicking a finger up to her eyes and shooting the cameraman a look which said “My eyes are up here, you fucking pervert.” He was crap at reading people; the only reason he’d figured that out was that seconds after that particular shot had cut out, she’d said it out loud. Travis had told her he was only doing his job, Andy had threatened to hit Travis so hard he’d forget his own name, and Tony had laughed, just as he always did. Just as he was laughing now.

Actually, yeah. It was no wonder he didn’t have any friends.

When the TV version of Tony turned, looked right at the camera lens and said “Well, let’s get started then!” with a cocky smile and jaunty thumbs-up, the real version of Tony snorted so hard with laughter that beer came out of his nose.

“Oh, for- fuck’s- sake,” he gasped between giggles, leaning back to watch the three people on TV going about their staged ghost-hunt with varying levels of acting talent and enthusiasm. “This show is getting stupidly lazy.”

By the fifteenth minute, Andy had communicated with ten ghosts who didn’t even exist and visibly grabbed Jean’s arse twice. Jean had got her headphones tangled in her half-dozen earrings twice and glared daggers at a myriad different people, including Andy, the cameramen, someone beyond the cameraman who was most likely Philip, and the ‘ghostly’ shadow on the wall that Tony vaguely suspected was Dave with a sheet over his head. It was just another run-of-the-mill episode, really. The fake version of Tony had said the word ‘paranormal’ in almost every sentence, sighed and rolled his eyes so many times even he’d lost count, and basically explained the entire history of the hospital to the audience without even being told to. Tony often wondered whether he’d be better suited to the narration job than the ridiculous guy the studio had hired.

“Now,” the narrator said, “it’s time for the team to regroup and discuss their findings.”

“I’ve found,” said Tony, grabbing the remote from the arm of the sofa, “that this is the biggest steaming pile of bullshit on the air.”

Yep. 100% accurate narration right there.

He prodded the buttons on his broken remote for several more minutes of painfully bad acting, only managing to turn the TV off after getting up and dragging himself to the other side of the room. Once he’d half-sat, half-fallen back onto the sofa, he leant his head back and closed his eyes, tuning into the faint groaning of a car alarm outside his window.

“And if we don’t start doing something real soon, I am going to lose my goddamn mind.”

His thoughts fluttered around for a while before settling on the expedition six months ago. He remembered the fake EVPs, he remembered the fake ghostly knocking, and, of course, he remembered the real ghostly knocking and Philip’s mug getting pushed over by nothing. As usual, none of that had been put in the episode. Nothing real ever was, even though there was plenty of it to be found if you bothered to look. Tony reckoned Philip just didn’t find it dramatic enough, but Philip had a severely misguided sense of drama if he thought the public would fall for even a second of Bump in the Night’s bullshit.

The problem was that they all did fall for it. Week after week after week, they fell for every last scrap of bullshit.

Tony thumped his head against the back of the sofa again, letting the premature hangover make him dizzy as he scraped his hand across the greasy bottom of the bowl for the leftover crisp crumbs. He dumped the bowl onto the coffee-table, which was already groaning with dirty crockery, and suppressed another yawn. The clock on the wall told him it was midnight, but instead of going to bed he snatched up his laptop from where it lay face-down on the ratty carpet and loaded up a webpage.

Lansfield Hall, he typed into the search bar.

He already knew everything he needed to know about Lansfield Hall. The damn place had been his obsession since the age of ten, and he’d already heard every story, seen every photograph, and fallen for every last crazy rumour and legend at least twenty times. He just wanted to make sure he hadn’t missed anything.

10,800 results found for ‘Lansfield Hall’

Tony scrolled past all the redundant websites that had been advertising ghost tours before the house was closed to the public. Eventually, after about five or six pages of search results, he managed to find a link he hadn’t already clicked in the last twenty-four hours and loaded it up. The webpage was clearly an amateur job, with bright scarlet font on a black background of gnarled branches and advertising banners bedecking every corner. This account of the Lansfield Hall disasters looked to have slightly different wording to the one he’d read earlier, which was a good enough excuse to waste his time reading it.

Britain’s infamous Lansfield Hall is often called the most violently haunted location in the country, and sometimes even the world, with good reason. The story behind the residents of this once-idyllic mansion in the middle of an abandoned countryside is one of the most terrifying pieces of paranormal lore out there.’

Tony had heard the story, but he loved it. Every scrap of it ached of an age-old cliché, but he loved it. How much of it was true? Well, the producers of Bump in the Night wouldn’t give a crap, so why should he? Reading the supposedly true backstories of haunted places around the world was his equivalent of bedtime reading. No wonder he had so many fucked-up nightmares.

‘Construction of the house began in late 1801, and it was met with a lot of adversity due to some paranormal events which had led many to believe the land was cursed. There were rumours that its foundations were laid very close to a mass graveyard for victims of the Black Death in the sixteenth century, but this was never confirmed.’

‘Henry and Alice Lansfield moved into the house with their teenage daughter Mary-Ann and adult son John in early 1811. John moved out after just four months for unconfirmed reasons, eventually getting married and having children of his own. Letters he wrote to his family during this time urged them to move, claiming the house was cursed and that it wouldn’t be long before something terrible happened. These warnings were brushed off until one night in mid 1817, when Mary-Ann Lansfield burned to death in a mysterious fire that started in the house’s kitchen. After that, Henry’s memoirs complained of nightly hauntings and visits from the ghost of his daughter; they weren’t the benevolent kind and eventually he started imploring his wife to leave. Alice’s family’s fortune had been entirely spent on the construction of the house and she refused.’

Tony yawned as he carried on scrolling down. Boring, he thought. Get to the murder already.

‘Finally, in 1819, Henry was supposedly driven mad by what he claimed was nightly torment from his daughter’s ghost. He murdered his wife in their bed by severing her head with an axe kept in the pantry for chopping wood. Then, horrified by what he’d done, he hung himself from the tree in the garden.

Tony tried not to grin as he carried on scrolling down. It was a juicy story all right; he wanted to laugh just thinking how much Bump in the Night would be able to milk it for maximum drama.

The article was succeeded by a parade of photographs, all of which Tony had seen a thousand times before and some of which were stashed in his filing cabinet. He liked to think of himself as a collector of paranormal information, but he was really just a maniac with a printer and a fuckton of spare time.

He clicked back to the search results and scrolled down, exhaustion blurring purple titles into blue ones, until he finally found another article he hadn’t read before.

‘BERNARD FITZGERALD AND THOMAS PARKS: MALICIOUS MURDER OR PARANORMAL POSSESSION?’

Tony frowned as he clicked on the headline, partly due to the cringeworthy alliteration and partly due to the fact he’d never heard of this murder case before. He yawned, ignoring the fluorescent glow of his watch as two o’clock rolled around.

‘In 1915, two men, Bernard Fitzgerald and Thomas Parks, visited Lansfield Hall in Suffolk with plans to renovate the derelict building into a war hospital. The state had been reluctant to grant permission on the basis of a supposed curse, but they reportedly persisted, dubbing all allegations of paranormal activity ‘overblown poppycock’, and went there anyway.

Tony was shocked he’d never heard of these men before, and once he’d started reading an article, no matter how full of shit it seemed, he could never stop.

‘Ideas of what exactly happened that day are unclear, for the obvious reason that Fitzgerald’s account was seen by many to be unreliable. What is clear is that it ended with Fitzgerald’s arrest for the offenses of first-degree murder and arson.’

Ignoring the thin shiver trickling down his spine, Tony adjusted the boiling hot computer on his lap and carried on reading. His radiator was obviously broken, since the room suddenly felt a lot colder.

‘The fire department were called to Lansfield Hall later that day and official reports state that the house was ravaged by an enormous fire that began in the kitchen. Parks’ partially burnt body was discovered in the remains of Alice Lansfield’s bedroom, strangled to death, and Fitzgerald was found in the garden in a state of hysteria.’

Holy shit, Tony thought to himself. He’d known there had been a fire a century after the last Lansfield had died his violent death, but he’d never found out how it started. Now, he knew.

Obviously a cover-up for a murder. Nothing to do with ghosts.

Obviously.

And his radiator was broken.

‘After being arrested, Bernard Fitzgerald swore to the police that he didn’t remember any of the murder; that he’d passed out and woken up to find the body on the floor.’

Nothing weird about that, Tony thought. They wouldn’t be letting us go there if there was a possibility we’d get hurt.

Then, he remembered Philip Bodmin was another guy who might refer to allegations of paranormal activity as overblown poppycock. Or, in his words, retarded bullshit.

Just a rumour, Tony.

Tony took a break from his laptop to punch himself in the chest, since he was fairly sure his heart was trying to break out of his ribcage. All those crisps must be giving him a stroke. Nothing to do with ghosts at all. Nope.

His heart sank as he realised there was more to the article.

‘In his trial, Fitzgerald told the judge that he and Parks had seen many things at the house that day that reeked of paranormal activity. He reported the classics: disembodied voices, shadows on the walls, things moving on their own, et cetera. Fitzgerald also claimed that he didn’t start the fire; that he’d been upstairs when it started, despite arson records confirming the fire started in the kitchen. Coincidentally, Mary-Ann Lansfield had died in a blaze in the kitchen over a century beforehand. He also claimed the flames were pure white and that no smoke could be seen, which matched an official coroner’s statement that no smoke particles could be detected in the air despite the smell still being strong.’

Tony’s reading was suddenly interrupted by a massive advert for online bingo which ballooned up to fill the screen; he swore, chasing it with his cursor, but it kept skipping out of view until he accidentally clicked on it. Then, the display on the screen flipped, the pixels started dancing spastically, and after another half-minute of swearing and clicking, the colours bled to black.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” he said for the second time that night, slamming the lid of his diseased computer shut and tossing it carelessly onto the carpet. The entire floor of his living-room was strewn with empty takeaway containers, receipts, bank statements and half-finished books. He didn’t know where Jean and Andy found the money for all their bloody designer clothes, but on the same salary, he could barely afford to eat. Then again, it was entirely possible Jean and Andy didn’t eat. He’d only ever seen her sipping coffee from paper cups and him swigging wacky protein shakes, or possibly stronger stuff than that. He wondered if he should try doing the same; he didn’t want to end up self-obsessed, but maybe just a little bit of self-worth would be nice after all this time. As he yanked a sofa cushion out of the way of his head, he heard the metallic plink of two more empty beer cans dumping themselves onto the floor. His head was aching; his drunkenness was leaking into a hangover already and it hadn’t even been slightly worth it.

Tony glanced at the clock as one in the morning came and went, rolling over on the sofa to stare up at the ceiling and readying himself for another existential crisis. He was a twenty-four-year-old, single, moderately attractive television star, living the life of a forty-year-old unemployed high school dropout on benefits. He deserved better than this. He wanted better than this. But he couldn’t be arsed to do anything about it. This was as good as it was ever going to get.

He fell asleep on the sofa, the first whispers of tomorrow’s hangover scratching at the inside of his skull. Maybe, if he just waited long enough, his life would get better on its own.

Or maybe, most likely, it was all downhill from here.

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