At two o’clock, they were still in the master bedroom.
Tony remained awkwardly still and silent as Jean, whose voice never seemed to waver when she was being filmed, described everything that had happened that evening. The first thing she told the camera about was, naturally, the event that had forced her to believe in ghosts: her first sighting of the ghost in the bedroom. Tony fidgeted guiltily at that point, still feeling painfully unsure about admitting the prank to her. Now that he was keeping a secret from Jean, Tony felt as if he had an equal share in the blame, but for the moment he decided to keep his mouth shut. He was good at that.
Next, Jean told the camera all about Andy’s melted box of cameras, and as soon as she’d begun talking Tony hurried to the spare bedroom to fetch the crate. It was heavier than he would have thought; his arms were already weak with misery and as soon as the box was in the room with them, he had to dump it back down on the ground.
My God, you’re weedy. Even Jean could carry this box perfectly well.
Gerry, on the other hand, looked completely confused and shocked at the sight of the box’s contents as he zoomed in on them with his camera; it was then that Tony realised that this was the first time he’d seen it. He pulled an ‘I know, right?’ face at the cameraman when he thought he was out of frame. Whilst the box was in the room, the smell of charred plastic was still as offensive as ever, so after they’d finished with that particular part of the narrative Jean helped Tony heave the entire thing out of the first-floor window.
“Suck on that, Andy,” Tony muttered as the plastic mess exploded on the ground below them. Jean giggled, but without smiling.
After that, Tony took over from Jean. He told the camera all about his and Dave’s experience at the hanging tree (although his voice snagged in his throat whenever he said his friend’s name) and held his branded arm up to the camera for everyone to see.
“Dave had one of these as well,” Tony said once he’d finished.
“So did Andy,” interrupted Jean, much to Tony’s surprise. “I saw it on his hand when I was with him on the stairs. He was filming near the tree, so I guess that’s where it came from. To be honest, I’m not even sure he’d noticed it.”
Tony wondered how inappropriate it was that he felt amused. “Andy’s in for a nasty shock then.”
“Not to mention the shock he’s going to get when I get my hands on him,” muttered Jean into her fingers.
She looked up and hurriedly lowered her hand. “Nothing.”
“Now,” continued Tony to the camera as his voice picked up a little more strength. “Let’s make a start on the shit-show that began at eleven.”
Halfway through the story, Jean was forced to take over from Tony when he dissolved into unruly tears, but he had to pick it up again after exactly the same happened to her. By the time the entire story had been told, all three of them were red-eyed and sniffing, but Jean was the first to pull herself back together. She took a deep breath, let go of Tony’s hand, which she’d been holding since he’d finished recounting the fire, and finished the dialogue.
“There was nothing we could have done to save our friends, but what we’re doing now is trying to document some of the stuff we’ve experienced, so that maybe, maybe, a few people in the world will believe the truth about what happened to them.”
“So now,” added Tony, who for some reason felt stronger behind a defensive barrier of sarcasm, “It’s time to do a proper ghost hunt.”
Jean gave Tony a look that was partly one of frustration and partly one of concern, but neither of them continued talking to the camera. After about half a minute of exchanging glances with the two of them, Gerry asked, “Do you want me to stop?”
Jean shook her head and started speaking again.
“Anyway, the master bedroom, which is where we are now, is where I saw the ghost of Martha Lansfield not once, but twice earlier today.”
Tony looked down in embarrassment, worried that she or Gerry would read the truth on his face.
“Andy saw it too,” he added, “before he ran away.”
“Oh yeah, we forgot to mention,” said Jean in response. “In case you’re wondering where the intrepid Andy is, he ran the fuck away to his mummy in the dead producer’s car and left us stranded. It’s that asshole’s fault that three of the four of them are dead. Anyway, back to the point. We—“
“The fuck even is a Field Expert anyway?” muttered Tony. He didn’t mean it to be overheard, but Jean looked at him and replied.
“I have no fucking idea whatsoever. Moving on. We’ve been in the master bedroom for close on an hour now and as far as I’m aware, nothing has happened, so I think we ought to move on.”
She drew the side of her hand horizontally across her throat, and Gerry took the hint to stop recording.
“Can I borrow that for a second, Gerry? There’s something you guys ought to see.”
Taking the camera from Gerry, Jean began to search through the scroll of pre-recorded footage until she found what she was looking for: the video that she’d recorded with Kevin at eleven.
“Look,” Jean said, holding the camera at arm’s length as Tony and Gerry crowded in to watch. Tony watched the camera screen in horrified fascination, holding his breath when he saw the ghost on the thermal camera and gasping aloud when he saw it in the room. Jean had to look away from the film when the ghost appeared, however, and Tony could see tears forming in her eyes as she screwed her mouth shut and furrowed her brow in bitterness. He, on the other hand, was transfixed on the screen; he could barely believe what he was seeing, and yet at the same time, this was the genuine video he’d been waiting to see for his entire life. Just like everybody else, of course, Tony had been on YouTube; he’d watched nearly all of the ‘ghost caught on camera’ videos there were to see, but Jean’s footage was the most realistic of them all.
Jean was now sobbing silently; Tony could feel her shoulders shaking, but he couldn’t see any tears on her cheeks. It was obvious that she was dangerously close to falling apart.
“Jean,” said Tony as they were walking back down the staircase a few minutes later. “There’s something I need to tell you. I’m not sure if, um... if Dave would want me to tell you, but you deserve to know.”
Jean glanced back at him, raising one eyebrow sceptically.
“The, um.... the ghost you saw earlier this afternoon? Yeah, well... it wasn’t real. You were pranked.”
“Really?” Jean’s tone of voice was doubtful, and she didn’t sound nearly as upset or surprised as Tony had expected. “And how do you know that, I wonder?”
“Well, because... give me a minute, would you? Wait here.” Tony ran back upstairs and returned half a minute later with Dave’s backpack. As Jean watched with raised eyebrows, Tony reached inside and pulled out the white dress; the sight of it made him want to laugh and cry at the same time, and the fact that it might encourage Jean to beat him to death wasn’t helping either.
“Oh,” said Jean. “Well, that’s fair enough, I guess. Your Dave did seem the type. Well, I guess I’ll beat you up over it later if I can be bothered.”
As she turned her back on him and continued to limp down the stairs, Tony thought that her eyes looked a little brighter than before, and her mouth a little less sullen. Maybe it was his imagination.
At three o’clock, they were at the foot of the stairs, outside the kitchen door. Tony fancied he could still hear desperate shouts ricocheting from the silent walls, and see the glow of the fire surrounding the darkened doorway.
You’re too late.
Tony was expecting (and hoping) that the door would still be locked, but it swung open at the lightest shove. One glance at the blackened, charred carnage inside was enough to make him reel with nausea; he slammed the door again and backed away, shaking his head in resentment.
Jean looked at Tony with a mixture of sympathy and frustration before opening the door a crack and beckoning Gerry over. Gerry looked just as ill as Tony felt and instead of filming, he shook his head briefly, closing his eyes and dragging his mouth into a straight line. Jean sighed, grabbed Gerry’s right wrist and thrust his hand and the camera through the gap in the door.
Gerry held the camera inside the kitchen for about twenty seconds before bringing it back through and walking to join Jean and Tony by the stairs. When neither of them made a move to speak, though, he turned the camera on himself.
“I was the only survivor of that fire,” said Gerry. “Three other people died. The flames weren’t orange at all, they were pure white, and they came out of nowhere, without making a sound. I’m just the cameraman, so I’m not paid to act like Jean and Tony are. I’m not acting, and neither are they. You have to believe that all of this is real.”
“Remember what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Tony quietly. “Gerry, stick the camera on the ground over there, facing into the kitchen. None of us have to look.”
Gerry did as he was asked.
Tony raised his voice. He wasn’t shouting, but the enormous, hollow hallway still gave him a guttural echo.
“Mary-Ann,” he said in the direction of the kitchen. “We know you’re there. We’re not coming in because you murdered four of us, you little asshole, and—“
“Anyway,” interjected Jean. “Could you give us any signs of your presence?”
“Short of starting another fire?” Added Tony.
The three of them left the camera recording the kitchen for a while and sat down on the bottom step. Jean rotated her injured ankle round in circles, even though every revolution made her grit her teeth in pain; she twirled a lock of black hair in her fingers to distract herself.
“Why did you dye your hair?” Tony asked Jean as they got up to leave.
Jean looked at him in confusion for a minute and then sighed. “Actually, it was Andy’s idea. He told me it looked really boring in its natural colour, so I should dye it.”
“What an asshole,” said Tony. “Why did you do as he said?”
“Well,” she replied. “I didn’t. I asked him what colour I should dye it, and he told me I could pick any colour except black.”
Jean smiled crookedly, and Tony smiled back. He was far too exhausted to laugh, and he guessed she felt the same.
At four o’clock, they were out on the driveway, underneath the hanging tree.
“So,” said Tony, “This was the final resting place of Henry Lansfield, who gave me this”— he rolled up his sleeve— “earlier today. Now, if we’re lucky, we might be able to, um....” His words trailed into silence. “Shit. I’m out of words. Will somebody help me out?”
“Yeah, what are we doing here?” Asked Gerry behind the camera.
Jean paused in thought for a moment before taking a small grey box, with her headphones attached, out of her pocket. It was the EVP recorder. She stepped forwards, holding it out to the camera as she turned to face Gerry.
“We can try to communicate with Henry through the EVP recorder,” suggested Jean. “We can all take turns asking questions, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get a response.”
“Jean,” said Tony slowly and doubtfully, “When has that thing ever actually worked?”
“It’s worked lots of times, I think,” she protested. “The producer just often cuts out the genuine stuff because he doesn’t think it’s dramatic enough, that’s all.”
Oh, that figures, thought Tony.
“Anyway,” she whispered next to his ear, “Do you have a better idea?”
“Sorry,” he said, watching as Jean switched the device on and paused before unplugging her headphones. The two of them looked at each other for a moment, and Tony frowned as he felt his mind going completely blank. Jean obviously had nothing useful to say either.
“If you can hear us, give us a sign!” Said Gerry loudly from behind the camera. Tony and Jean looked at him in confusion.
“What?” Gerry whispered. “I’ve been watching you guys do this for ten years. It’s not exactly hard!”
They allowed a ten-second pause before Jean said, “Who am I speaking to?”
Tony looked at her, wondering why she always asked such boring, generic questions. Then again, she was the technology expert, not him.
When it was his turn to ask a question, he thought for a moment before shrugging and saying, “Do you condone your daughter’s habits of murdering innocent people?”
Jean thumped him with the back of her hand and Gerry rolled his eyes, clearly trying hard to keep a straight face. Tony shrugged again and shook his head, but he was fighting the first signs of a cruel smile.
“Ok, that should do it,” said Jean, picking up the voice recorder and stopping the recording. When her long false thumbnail got in the way of the buttons, she swore and yanked at it until it came off, then tossed it over her shoulder. She pressed the ‘PLAYBACK’ button and the three of them held their breath, listening intently for any sounds that shouldn’t have been there.
“If you can hear us, give us a sign,” said Gerry’s voice.
“Who am I speaking to?”
“Do you condone your daughter’s habits of murdering innocent people?”
“...YES.” The man’s voice was loud and unmistakeable.
Jean gasped in fury at the sound, holding one hand to her mouth, and Gerry pointed his camera at her face with a stilted grip. Upon hearing the response to his question, Tony’s default response had obviously been fear, but as he remembered everything that had happened that night the fear began to leak away, displaced by anger. Slowly, a flame of rage began to burn inside him and the sensation boiled and churned, rising in pitch and threatening to overflow until he knew he couldn’t contain it any more.
Tony’s hands clenched into fists at his sides; he used all of his energy to crush his own fingers until his lip curled and his knuckles turned the colour of ivory. His breathing stayed the same, but his heart began to hammer harder and harder in his head, intensifying the throbbing pain behind his eyes into an acidic sting. Finally, his fury took over completely and he shouted out loud.
“You... you ASSHOLE!” Tony screamed. Jean and Gerry jumped in surprise.
“Tony,” said Jean in a steely voice, putting a hand on his arm. “It’s no fucking use. Nobody can hear you.”
They killed the producer.
“I’ll MAKE him hear me!”
They killed Travis.
“YEAH!” Yelled Gerry. “Hey, listen up! The whole world’s going to know what happened here, whether you like it or NOT!”
They killed Kevin.
“Oh man, I fucking HATE ghosts!” Yelled Jean.
They killed Dave.
“SHOW YOURSELF, YOU STUPID FUCK!” Screamed Tony, pointing an accusing finger at nowhere in particular as hot tears of rage began to spill from his eyes. He saw Jean and Gerry exchanging worried glances, but he ignored them. He didn’t give a shit if they thought he was crazy any more, but then again, he never had.
The air in front of Tony suddenly shimmered and a pearl-grey mist began to swirl in a tumultuous cloud directly under the tree. The cloud was illuminated by a stormy glow that gave it the appearance of having knife-sharp, serrated edges and a much more treacherous appearance than the ghost Jean had seen inside. The mist pulsated in the air, morphing in shape and shifting between shades of grey, each one angrier than the last. As Jean and Gerry watched the manifestation taking shape, they clung to each other and took a step away, but Tony stood his ground. If he wasn’t already standing right in front of it, he might even have taken a step forwards.
“Do you realise what’s happening?” Said Gerry quietly. “We’re seeing something that nobody else has ever seen before.”
“Yeah,” replied Jean sarcastically. “Lucky us.”
“Call that a ghost?” Yelled Tony. “That’s pathetic! I can’t believe I was ever scared of you! You couldn’t even stay alive, you weak fuck!”
Tony was so furious that he felt drunk; his words were beginning to slur and become clumsier, but he didn’t care.
“I bet you couldn’t even kill me if you tried, stupid! Not that I even care about my life any more, now that you lot have taken away nearly everything I gave a shit about! Go on, KILL ME! I’ll see you in HELL, asshole!”
Really, Tony? Was Dave really the only thing you gave a shit about?
Yeah, pretty much.
“Tony, cut it out!” Shouted Jean, digging her fingers into the back of his shirt to drag him away. “You might have a bloody death wish, but I sure as hell don’t!”
Tony turned around to see that Gerry was still filming in the direction of the tree, but behind him, the first lilac shreds of dawn had become visible beyond the hills. The harsh black night sky now had a soft edge.
“Come on, Tony!” Gerry added, walking up behind him. “We’ve only got an hour left until morning! We can make it out of here!”
He raised his camera towards the ghost for one final shot before shutting down the power. Already, the dark grey mist was beginning to soften and melt back into the air. Just as they thought it was about to disappear altogether, though, the cloud hardened again until it was almost a solid form.
“FUCK OFF!” Jean and Tony screamed together in the general direction of the tree.
Unbelievably, the ghost fucked off.
At five o’clock, they were alone.