Bump in the Night

Bump in the Night is a ghost-hunting programme that’s different from all the others. That’s because none of it’s real.

Tony has always wanted to be a real paranormal investigator. His co-workers are perfectly happy to build their careers on falsehoods and cheap tricks, but Tony’s always wanted something more. Something real. Unfortunately, he’s about to get his wish.

When the crew set up in the infamous Lansfield Hall, it soon becomes clear that this won’t just be another normal day. One by one, the crew start to realise there’s more to those spooky ghost stories than they first thought. Subtly spooky antics turn into all-out carnage, bottled-up tensions rise to the surface, and a simple job turns into a fight for survival. If they want to live to see the sunrise, they’ll have to abandon the script.

They aren’t real ghost hunters, but that doesn’t matter any more, because these ghosts don’t want to be hunted.

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8. The Gathering Gloom

“Well, go on, then, Dave. You gonna ask him or not?”

“No, Tony, you’ve got to do it!”

“It was your fucking idea!”

“Yeah, but he won’t listen to me. He said I’ve got one more strike before I’m fired.”

Tony looked at Dave. “Yeah, but even if you’re fired, you’re stuck here for the night. It won’t make any difference in the end.”

“Yeah, but then I lose my job.”

“You hate your job.”

Dave hung his head and didn’t look Tony in the eye. “Not all of it. I don’t hate you.”

Tony sighed, deciding to ignore the comment. “Okay, fine. I’ll ask him.”

When they walked into the kitchen, Philip was alone. He was leaning against the burnt wall of the kitchen, downing coffee from the flask he’d brought with him.

“What do you two want?” Philip stood up straight and finished his drink, dumping the flask on the ground.

“Uh…” Tony glanced back as Dave urged him forwards with his eyes. “We wanted to tell you something.”

“What is it?”

“Well-”

“What is it that’s so important it’s more important than my coffee break?”

“Um-”

“Go on, spit it out, Tony! I love listening to your suggestions.” Dregs of sarcasm were floating in Philip’s voice. “What is it this time? You want to abandon the script again? You want a pay rise again? You want me to go fuck myself again?”

Tony shrugged and Dave nudged him. “You really asked for all that once?”

“Yeah.” Tony turned back to Philip. “Yeah, um. We wanted to, uh… suggest something. We think we should try something different, uh… with the filming. Just this once.”

“Just this once? Why? Why should I listen to you?”

“This time, uh… this house, it’s different from all the other jobs.”

Philip raised his eyebrows. “It is, is it? How’s it different? How’s it special? Give me a good reason.”

“Well, because, um… here, the paranormal, um… activity’s really obvious. Are you really not seeing it?”

“No, Tony, because I’m not fucking delusional. I know ghosts aren’t real, which is why I don’t see them every fucking time the wind blows, do I?”

“Maybe not, but trust us. We think we could make so much more, um…” Tony closed his eyes. “We could get better ratings if we’re actually real with this case, you know? Instead of faking everything. I get that sometimes some stuff’s not interesting enough-”

“You’re damned right it’s not interesting enough!” Philip said. “I don’t employ the ghosts and the demons and the bloody poltergeists; I can’t make them do what I want, when I want it, can I?”

“But we don’t need to fake anymore!” Tony said. “Don’t you get it? All we have to do here’s set up a damn camera in every room and we’ll see everything!”

“Tony, stop it.”

“You don’t even want to try it? Just as an experiment? What if I’m right?”

“What if you’re wrong, Tony? What if, just for once, your fucking high-and-mighty conspiracist mind is wrong? What then? I lose my fucking job’s what happens. No going off-script. No coaxing out ghosts that aren’t there.”

“But they are there!” Tony said. “Jean doesn’t believe in ghosts for shit, and she saw one half a goddamn hour ago!”

“Jean’s overemotional,” Philip said with a wave of his hand.

“Just coz she’s a woman doesn’t make her overemotional.”

“She’s harder than you, Tony, for Christ’s sake! In that case, she either imagined it, made it up for attention, or she’s fucking high as a kite. She’ll snap out of it.”

Tony shrugged. “Well, fine. Forget that, but look at Dave’s neck, for Heaven’s sake!”

“You told me it didn’t look that bad!” Dave insisted, tugging his hood down to show Philip.

“No I didn’t,” Tony said, cringing again at the sight of the yellowing, bluish ring of bruises around Dave’s neck. “Philip, look! Tell me that was the wind!”

“David, you had that bruise when we got here.” Philip said, his eyes a little wider than before.

“Like fuck I did!” Dave yelled. “Oh, I’m sorry. Like fuck I did, sir!”

Philip pointed at Dave. “I’m warning you. I need Tony; he’s the bloody face of the show, but you don’t mean shit to anyone here, so you’d better watch your mouth or you’re fired.”

“Right.” Tony frowned back at Dave as his anger deflated. “Sorry.”

Dave turned and walked out of the room.

“Look,” Tony said.

“No, Tony. End of discussion.” Philip held up his hand.

“But-”

“End! We’re not filming without an agenda. It’d be suicide.”

“But we don’t need to fake here! We have the chance to film something really unique and interesting if we just give them a chance to-”

“Give them a chance?” Philip laughed. “Give them a chance? Who’s them, might I ask? The ghosts?”

“Well…” Tony shuffled his feet. “Yeah.”

Philip laughed again, more cruelly, like he was torturing something small and helpless. “Well, doesn’t that just prove my point and wrap it up with a nice fucking bow? Get out.”

“But we-”

“Tony, as long as I’m here, you don’t get to make any of the decisions, you got that? Get it through your thick head! Ghosts aren’t real, but I wouldn’t give a shit if they were biting me on the arse right now, because it doesn’t make good TV. You see all the other bloody ghost hunting TV shows out there?” Philip put on a falsetto voice. “Oh no, this room feels colder than normal! Oh, shit! I saw a shadow on the wall! Wow! The wind sounded kind of like someone breathing on the EVP! Bullshit. Utter bullshit. The only reason we’re getting anywhere in the world, the only reason you get a bloody salary every month, Tony, is because we’re bloody frauds. Okay?”

“I don’t give a shit about my salary,” Tony mumbled. “I don’t even care about making good TV. I just want-”

“What?” Philip said. “I’m sorry, what did you say? You don’t care? What a fucking news flash! What the hell are you doing here, then, Tony?”

“I’ve wanted to come here since I was eight.”

“Right. Excellent. You’re here. You’re here because of me. You’re welcome. And now, you’ll do as I say. If you don’t care about the programme, why won’t you just do as I say?”

Philip’s patronising serration was grinding the gears in his head till they screamed. With that, Tony snapped.

Because,” he said slowly, picking over his words like they were barbed wire. “If we fucking die tonight, if we all end up like Bernard and Thomas and Alan fucking Enfield, I want someone to know the truth about what the fuck happened to us. That so much to ask?”

He left without another word.

* * * * *

Tony found Dave on the front steps of the driveway, getting rained on. He put up his hood to fend off the stagnant spitting, noticing as he did so that Dave hadn’t even bothered to put his jacket back on. Dave had his hand on his throat and was nervously rubbing the tips of his fingers across the bruise when Tony interrupted him.

“Hey.”

Dave jumped about a foot into the air. “Woah, what?”

“Relax. Just me.”

“Oh.” Dave visibly relaxed. “Cool. You okay?”

“Yeah. You?”

Dave paused, his hand frozen on the side of his neck, and he gave a short sharp cough before responding. “Oh. I guess so.”

“What’s that on your hand?”

Dave looked down at the hand he’d managed to stuff halfway into his jeans pocket before Tony spotted it. “Oh, this? Nothing. Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

The scab was visible, as were the brown tufts of dried blood clinging to the back of Dave’s fingers. Dave covered it with his other hand.

“You sure?”

Dave coughed again. “Yep. What’s going on?”

“Oh, you know, the usual. He yelled at me for slowing down the schedule.”

“Well, the fuck was he doing making a cup of coffee if he had a bloody timetable to stick to?”

“Like I know. Biggest fucking hypocrite on the damn planet, Philip is.”

Dave stuffed his injured hand deeper into his pocket and stood up to untie his sodden jacket from his waist. Tony watched, saying nothing as usual, as Dave raised his head and looked right into the sky, squeezing his eyes shut against the rain. When he had his jacket, striped with scuffs of muddy water, back on again, Dave sat down and didn’t say anything for a few seconds.

“I think we should do it.”

Tony looked up. “What?”

Dave looked right at him for the first time since coming outside. His black eyes looked blacker than ever in the sulking violet gloom of the winter evening.

“We should do it.”

“Do what?”

“You know what. Film.”

He had his phone in his hand, a crappy Nokia model with a spider’s web of cracks in the tiny screen. Then again, Tony didn’t know what else he’d been expecting from the guy who’d brought a PSP.

All he could think to say was “But Philip said-”

“Not for the programme, Tony. Do you give a shit about the programme?”

Tony stuttered. “Well, uh, no, I guess not. It’d be nice if it was something less than awful, but I guess I don’t really care. I just want-”

“You just want some evidence. Yeah. Me too.” Dave switched on his phone and used his blood-dampened cuff to wipe the screen dry. “So we should do it ourselves.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah. The only cameraman who’s convinced there are ghosts here is Gerry, and he’s too bloody terrified of Philip to go behind his back. I vote we take our phones and try to film this bullshit ourselves. Who knows?” Dave grinned. “Maybe we could stick it on YouTube and get YouTube-famous.”

“Remember what happened to the last guy who tried to do that.”

“Oh.” Dave’s face fell but his eyes didn’t fall from Tony’s. “Then I guess we can watch the commenters go to war on how we faked it.”

“Well.” Tony stuck out a finger and pulled Dave’s hood down to see his bruise again. Dave didn’t move. “Makeup, for one thing.”

“Yep.” Dave turned and looked over his shoulder at Tony, wincing from obvious pain. “And a fuckton of invisible string, right?”

Tony grinned. “Right. But if we could get that ghost again, that’d be harder to explain.”

Dave frowned. “What ghost?”

“Uh, Jean’s. You know, Jean saw a ghost, like, half an hour ago? Dave?”

Dave frowned, then forced his eyebrows back up again. He blinked and turned back to Tony. “Oh, uh, sure. Yeah, that.”

“So…”

“So,” Dave said. “Are we going to do this or what?”

“Where?”

“What?”

“Where should we go to, uh… film?”

“I’m not sure.” Dave said. “How about-”

“Upstairs?” Tony said.

“Why upstairs?”

“Because, uh, you know. That’s where Jean saw the ghost earlier.”

Dave scrunched his face up more as he got up, but Tony guessed it was just the pain from the bruise. Glancing down at the sickly blue mottle made him feel a little dizzy.

“Oh, uh. Sure. Let’s go upstairs.”

Even before they’d made it halfway up the stairs, the shouting was audible. Andy’s Essex drawl was raised to a massive volume, and Jean’s squeaking sobs weren’t that much quieter.

 “Like fuck I am!” she yelled, her tear-thickened words bouncing off the ruined wood panelling of the walls. Tony and Dave looked at each other and Tony raised one eyebrow.

“You so are!”

“Shut up, you jealous twat!” Something clattered on the ground and her voice rose a couple of notes. “We’re just friends! I’m not a fucking two-timer!”

Tony was less than surprised to hear Jean and Andy arguing. It happened every damned day they went to film somewhere, and more often than not, it’d be immediately succeeded by some extremely physical apology. The crew had just learnt to stay out of their way and let it run its course.

“Maybe we should go back downstairs,” Dave whispered.

Tony turned around. “Yeah. Maybe.”

At the bottom of the stairs, they bumped into Gerry and Kevin.

“Don’t go up there,” Tony said, making a face. “Lovers’ quarrel.”

“Right.” Gerry turned and started walking back across the hallway, raising his eyebrows at the racket, but Kevin gave a nervous glance towards the door of the master bedroom before deciding to leave it alone. Tony and Dave looked at him, then at each other, and Dave did something odd with his eyebrows that came dangerously close to making Tony laugh.

The two of them decided they’d rather brave the onslaught of rain outside than listen to another word of Jean and Andy’s bullshit. Tony shoved open the front door and before long, they were both back outside on the steps. The lilac gloom on the horizon had become a sullen sprawl of indigo clouds, and the moon was draped in a couple of trickles of blood-red. It definitely looked ominous enough.

“So,” Tony said. “You want to film the damage?”

Dave looked up at him and tried to smile, coughing a bit and bundling his cuff harder over his right hand. He just shook his head.

“Nah, not… not now. We can film later.”

“You want to, uh… see the damage?”

Dave looked at him. “The damage?”

“Yeah. I can take pictures and stuff…” He saw Dave’s expression. “Sorry, never mind. That’s the insensitive part of me talking.”

Dave looked up at the sky and laughed. “Is there a sensitive part?”

“Well, uh, not really.”

There was silence for a while, but eventually Dave turned his head away from the blackening clouds and looked back at Tony.

“Does it really look that bad?”

“Does what look that bad?”

Dave pointed to his neck.

“Nah.”

“It does, doesn’t it?”

“Not when you’ve got your jacket on. You can’t see it.”

“Yeah, but what about when I haven’t got my jacket on?”

“Dave, it looks fine, honestly. Why are you so obsessed with how it looks?”

“I’m sorry.” Dave laughed a little more bitterly. “Men aren’t allowed to be worried about how they look? I mean, look at Andy.”

“Andy’s a self-absorbed twat.”

“And look at Jean.”

Tony squinted. “Jean’s a woman.”

“Yeah. I guess so. I just don’t want to look like shit. I look like shit, don’t I?”

Tony looked back at Dave’s neck. The bruises were darkening, and the scuff of skin at the edges of the ring was starting to turn yellow. He narrowed his eyes, and noticed Dave was looking at him again, watching with a little fleck of amusement in his eyes.

“No,” Tony said. “You look fine. In time it’ll go away. Trust me.”

“Cheers, Tony.”

There was silence for a minute before Dave spoke again.

“You know, Tony, I thought you were a bit of an asshole the first time I met you.”

He looked up. “Really?”

Dave laughed. “Yeah. But I was wrong. Don’t want to be soppy and stuff, but I’m really sorry you’re this depressed by your job.”

Tony looked down at the ground and said nothing.

“Because you deserve a lot better than this bullshit, you know. You could be a proper investigator if you wanted to.”

Tony looked up. “You think so?”

“I know so. You know who convinced me Bump in the Night was real? It wasn’t Jean, even though she’s easily the best actor considering it’s all fake. It was you.”

Tony spluttered. “Me?”

“Yeah, you. You always seemed like you cared so much about what you were doing. In some ways, you didn’t need to act. I could kind of tell you were a bit of a ghost nut in real life, and it was awesome. I guess I related to you.”

“Wow.” Tony looked up at the sky. “Thanks, I guess.”

“Yeah.”

Tony paused for a moment, then decided he wanted to say something else. He was sick of being quiet all the time, and if anyone deserved his attention, it was Dave. He was the only person who’d made Tony feel like he mattered in quite a long time.

“But, you know, I’m sorry too.”

Dave looked up. “About what?”

Tony swallowed. “I’m sorry the job’s so shit for you too. I’d say you deserve better, but honestly, anyone deserves better than the fucking assholery you have to put up with from Philip. Calling you a fairy, for fuck’s sake. It’s awful.”

“Yeah, he’s a bit of a prejudiced asshole, isn’t he?” Dave laughed. “The stuff he says about Jean. You wouldn’t believe it.”

“Yeah, but…” Tony paused. “I’m sorry nobody ever defends you. I’m sorry I never defend you. I should.”

Dave laughed. “Thanks, Tony. That means a lot. But I sort of love it here anyway. I don’t know why, but I do.”

When Tony turned, he saw that Dave had been looking at him as he spoke.

“You ever thought about quitting?” Dave said, locking eyes with him.

“Yeah, of course I have.”

“Why not?”

“The money’s good, I guess. And I’m scared of change.” Tony blinked. “That’s the first time I’ve ever said that out loud.”

“If you quit, I’ll quit with you.” Dave laughed, and so did Tony. “We can go be real paranormal investigators. Or something.”

He was joking. He had to be. Tony laughed again.

“Sure, sure. But if we’re investigators, we’d better start with that ghost, right?”

Dave narrowed his eyes, the smirk dropping slightly. “The ghost?”

“Yeah.” Tony tried to grin. “The ghost Jean saw. That shit was really, uh…” He paused, noticing Dave had broken eye contact and was wringing his hands. “You okay?”

Dave’s face had fallen a mile. Tony watched him sneak his fingers up his oversized sleeve, probably scratching his scab, and wondered if he should ask how he got it again. He decided not to bother, and instead focus on the fact that Dave was suddenly looking very, very guilty. His eyes had started darting and he was fidgeting even more than usual.

“Dave?”

Dave’s head jerked back up. “Uh, yeah?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Um, the, uh… the ghost? Jean’s?”

“What about it?”

“Um, well, Philip was right.”

Tony leant further forwards, something suddenly slowing his adrenaline-soaked heartbeat. He asked again.

“Dave? What do you mean? Philip was right about what?”

Dave covered his face with his hands, then took it out, then made a move to stand up. Tony stood up with him.

“Dave.”

“Just wait here.”

“What do you-”

“Just wait.” Dave shoved open the door of the house and disappeared inside. Tony sighed, taking his rain-smeared glasses off to rub a scratchy speck of dirt from his eye. It actually felt nice, taking his hood down, looking up at the sky, and letting freezing gobs of rainwater wash the hot dust off his face. He put his glasses back on, wiped the invisible mess across his face with his sleeve, pulled his hood back up, and folded his arms.

Dave came back a few minutes later, holding one of his backpacks. His sleeve had slipped off the brown scuff on the back of his right hand and his face, as he looked up at Tony and shot him a nervous smile, was chock-full of guilt and nerves.

“Oh, Dave, what the hell’d you do?”

Dave said nothing. Instead, he yanked the zip of his bag open and pulled out a slip of white cloth. The cloth unfolded in his hands, bits of it trailing onto the sodden stone pavement, and became a weird-looking white dress with a brownish stain around the collar.

Dave looked up and still didn’t say anything. His expression said it all.

For a moment, Tony was confused. “The hell are you doing with a…” He trailed off and looked at Dave. “Oh, no. Please tell me you didn’t.”

Dave winced guiltily. “I can’t. Coz I did it.”

Tony opened his mouth, then closed it again. Random words were fluttering out of his mouth, and none of them sounded like the appropriate reaction. “Wait- but- you- she- You just kind of… wait. I don’t understand.”

“What’s there not to get?” Dave smiled and shook his head. “I just kind of, you know, hung this up in the doorway. While you guys were on the tour.”

“Dave, that thing Jean saw… that was you?”

His smile plummeted. “Uh, yeah.”

“Jean’s scared shitless, Dave! You asshole!”

“I’m sorry! I thought it’d be funny, you know! Don’t you think it was kind of funny? Even, you know, a little bit? Come on.”

“How the hell’d she even fall for this shit?”

“Uh…” Dave looked up at him. “Coz she’s kind of thick?”

Tony squeezed his eyes shut and forced the corners of his mouth back down again. He shook his head. No, it’s not funny. It’s not funny. He tried to remember her face. Tried to remember the tears on her cheeks without laughing. Not funny. Not funny.

“It wasn’t a real ghost.” Tony took the damp white dress out of Dave’s lap and held it up. When he lowered it, Dave was smiling again, looking down at the ground.

Dave shook his head. “Not a real ghost.”

He couldn’t help feeling relieved.

Tony looked back at the dress and remembered Jean’s face. The crazy look in her eyes. Her immaculate black caked-on makeup going everywhere. Her high-pitched sobs that sounded a little like a dying cat. The way she’d tripped in the ridiculous shoes she claimed she could walk in, and the way she’d refused his help getting up. The way she’d always laughed at him with Andy. The way Dave had finally knocked her down a few pegs.

He didn’t want to say she deserved it, but in a way, she kind of did.

Slowly, painfully, Tony started to laugh. He couldn’t help it; the grin forced its way onto his face and the giggles clawed their way out of his throat as he remembered her screaming like she’d been stung by a bloody hornet. He heard Dave laughing too. Tony covered his face with his hands, trying to muffle the laughter, but it was no use.

Dave grabbed the dress off the floor next to Tony and screwed it up into a ball, still laughing his arse off. “Oh, shit! It’s a ghost!” he yelled a bit too loudly, throwing it at Tony. Still laughing, Tony clawed it off his face and froze. He bundled it up and shoved it back into the bag.

Dave watched him and immediately sobered up. Jean had appeared in the doorway behind him, the charcoal-tinted tears drying on her cheeks, a scarily sober, scarily nervous expression on her face.

“Uh, guys?” she said, without a sliver of contempt in her voice. The laces on the front of her jumper were tangled and disgruntled, her hair was madder than ever, and the grey denim of her jeans was streaked with black ashes and white dust. She was holding a white plastic box in her arms.

“Yeah?” Tony quickly dragged his hand across his face to clear away the tears of laughter.

“What’s wrong?” Dave said. His voice still had a bit of a condescending edge to it, but Tony was too busy looking at the box, wondering what the hell could be inside. Whatever it was, it had wiped all traces of attitude from Jean Valentown’s face, and that was no small feat.

Jean just rolled her eyes and looked back down at the box, her voice dampening and curling at the edges like wet paper.

“Don’t ask any questions, please. Don’t make me feel like an idiot for getting scared. Just look at this.”

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