***Short story, please enjoy! OC
Last Chance Paranormal
Chase tumbled out of the car and onto the ground, throwing up a cloud of dust as he landed. Troy climbed out after him with a wrinkled nose.
“Next time you let loose in the car I won’t wait until it’s stopped to throw you out,” threatened Troy.
What should have been a three hour car ride had turned into a five hour ordeal of misdirection and too many bathroom stops. Simon had insisted on driving and they had all squashed into his beat up Honda Civic, luggage in tow, for their trip to Cripple Creek. He had gotten turned around, even using his GPS. Troy had caused most of the problems, leaning up from the back seat to ask “how damn hard was it” to follow the “freakin’ purple line”. The only one in the party who seemed undisturbed by their lot was Effie, who cheerfully insisted on playing “I Spy” for the duration of the trip.
Jensen got out of the car and stretched. The tight fit and the increasing tension had given her a literal pain in her neck. Now that they were there, parked in front of the Fairley Bros. & Lamoman Building, she wasn’t sure the trip had been such a good idea. Each summer she returned home to the small roadside town of her youth and met up with her high school friends. And after each summer she considered never coming back.
Last Chance, named as such because it had been the last pit stop available for miles around before the county became more settled, was about as far from civilization as you could get. Jensen had left the minute she had graduated, citing sanity as the reason and only came back at all to see her mother. At first, she had found the extra time to spend with her friends an opportunity, but after a few years of college, she had come to appreciate that she didn’t have much left in common with any of them.
Simon came around the side of the car and moved onto the sidewalk. He stood next to Jensen as they looked at the building. A crumbling brick edifice rose three stories into the air. Narrow in the front, it extended back a hundred yards or so. The building seemed derelict, though there were obvious signs of upkeep. As opposed to other businesses, a derelict building with minor renovation was a good sign for ghost hunters. Renovation was thought to agitate the spirits.
Last Chance Paranormal Society had been started by Simon when they were in high school. To five teenagers, the idea of seeking out ghosts in the dark of night without any supervision seemed to be an excellent idea. Jensen had joined out of a lack of anything else interesting to do, but had never put much stock in the paranormal. It had merely been the diversion, the time with her friends that had kept her coming back while she had lived there. Now, however, she only returned to the group out of obligation. Responsibility demanded she see her friends, invariably they would be hunting for ghosts, and therefore, so would she.
Jensen glanced at the sidewalk and saw weeds growing from the cracks. In fact, looking around, she saw that most of the little town was in various states of disrepair, save for the Fairley Building. While not the prettiest building she had ever seen, it looked far more solid than those on either side.
There were other, more haunted locations, to be investigated in Cripple Creek. Ones they had not secured permission to investigate. So they were stuck with the Fairley Building. All Jensen had managed to dig up from her online research indicated that there might be a ghost who prowled the halls, ostensibly her name was Maggie, but no one knew who had reported that sighting. There weren’t even any deaths recorded on the property. She might not believe in ghosts, but she was methodical in any type of research. It came from being a biologist.
Simon nudged her with his elbow and she turned to face him. “Well, we’d best go introduce ourselves,” he said and moved off toward the entrance. Jensen steeled herself a moment before walking up the steps. Troy and Chase began to follow, but Jensen waved them off. All she needed was Simon and Troy in the same room with a client.
Simon held the door for her, smiling. He had always had a thing for her and she found it irritating that he still hadn’t grown out of it. She walked through without a word and into a small foyer. At the end of the small entrance area was a long hallway with doors staggered on either side. She supposed that the other two floors were the same. The foyer was a small space with stairs off to one side, an old elevator on the other, and a glass-cased listing of offices directly in front of them.
They stood there, looking around, unsure of where to go when a small, pudgy man with a bowtie and jacket appeared in front of them. “Hello, I don’t suppose you are with that ghost hunting group?” He asked.
Simon stepped forward with his hand outstretched. “Yes, we’re with the Last Chance Paranormal Society.”
The little man looked down at Simon’s hand with distaste and ignored it. “Well, Mr. Thompson sent me here to help you with anything you might need.” Simon put his proffered hand down.
“Mr. Thompson?” Simon asked.
“The building’s owner,” the little man said. “You must have spoken to him.”
“No we spoke to a Marie,” Jensen said.
The man nodded. “That lovely woman is Mr. Thompson’s wife.”
“And you are?” asked Jensen.
“Oh, of course, how silly of me. My name is Hart, Gregory Hart, and I have an office on the third floor. Mr. Thompson usually isn’t around and we only do business from nine to five on the weekdays. And seeing how it is Saturday, he asked me to help.”
“We were hoping to get a tour of the building and then maybe you could show us the spots where there have been paranormal sightings,” said Simon.
The man looked confused. “I can show you around the building of course, but I don’t know of any sightings.”
Simon’s eyes narrowed. “But that’s why we’re here, to investigate paranormal claims.”
“Can’t say that I’ve heard of any.”
“Have you ever experienced anything Mr. Hart?” asked Jensen.
“Gregory, please,” responded the little man, “and no I haven’t. I thought it was a little strange when Mr. Thompson told me you ghost hunters were coming, but when he asked for me help I obliged. Now how about that tour.” The man turned away and waddled down the hall. Simon glanced at Jensen and they began to follow.
Night had fallen before all five society members gathered in the foyer of the Fairley Building. Without any specific information as to the haunted locations within the building, Troy had set up as many cameras as they could to cast a wide net.
Simon outlined their plan to investigate in groups of two. The fifth person was to stay at the “command center”, a term taken from his favorite show, Ghost Hunters. The rest of the team knew Simon harbored a dream that they would someday get picked up by a TV network and offered a contract for their own reality show. Against this future happenstance Simon insisted on filming the group members as if they were explaining things to an audience.
Jensen decided to start off the night with Effie; she didn’t think she could take another uninterrupted hour with Simon. They started on the third floor while Simon and Chase began on the first. Troy, their best technician, stayed at command to look after the cameras.
Jensen held a digital recorder. Effie had a camera in one hand and the sole remaining EMF detector in the other. The others had been destroyed in an accident the previous summer when Chase had backed over a bag of equipment. The sound of the tire smashing the tiny circuit boards had caused Simon to faint. For lack of anything else, Jensen decided they should sit in the middle of the long hallway and conduct and EVP session.
“Say it to the camera,” Effie insisted.
“Say what?” Jensen asked.
“What we’re doing.”
“We know what we’re doing.”
Effie smiled. “No, explain it to the audience.”
Effie’s camera caught Jensen rolling her eyes. “Fine,” she turned and looked at the camera, “Since we have no god damned clue what we’re looking for, Effie and I are going to do an EVP session.” Effie gestured for her to continue. “I am holding a recorder that can pick up Electronic Voice Phenomena, voices that we can’t hear audibly.”
Effie turned the camera on herself. “We’re going to ask questions and see if anyone answers us.” She pointed the lens back at Jensen.
“Right, so here we go,” said Jensen. She sat with her back to the wall on one side and Effie sat across from her. Jensen turned off the flashlight as they settled in. It was pitch dark, but there wasn’t much to see anyway. The long hallway stretched out on either side of them. Closed doorways were staggered along both walls like rows of teeth. Troy had set up infrared cameras at both ends of the hall to catch any movement, but with all the doors closed, unless a spirit opened one or decided to manifest, there was nothing catch.
Jensen was about to speak when the radio on her belt went off. She jumped in the darkness. “Where are you guys?” squawked Simon’s voice.
Effie giggled as Jensen’s face turned dark. She ripped the radio off her belt. “Where we said we would be when we left ten minutes ago.”
There was no response. Effie took the radio, handing the camera to Jensen. “We’re on the third floor Simon, over.” Effie loved radio procedures.
“Copy that,” said Simon’s voice, causing Effie to grin, “There’s nothing going on down here. Troy says one of the cameras on your floor went out. He’s going to come up and fix it. Chase and I will come with. Why don’t we trade places?”
Effie held the radio for a moment before Simon’s voice came again. “Did you hear me?”
“You didn’t say over, over,” Effie said into the radio.
“What?” asked Simon, obviously confused.
Jensen snatched back the radio. “Never mind. We’ll see you up here.”
“Over,” Effie whispered in her ear.
“Over,” Jensen said before she put the radio back on her belt. She handed the camera back to Effie and looked at the recorder in her hand. She brought it up to her mouth. “End of EVP session, Jensen and Effie, third floor, Fairley Building.” She hit the end button and put the recorder in her pocket.
Effie looked upset. “But we didn’t even get to ask any questions.” Effie had always believed in anything supernatural or paranormal. She currently believed gnomes lived under her porch and kept her awake at night singing drinking songs. Much to Jensen’s chagrin, nothing she said could convince Effie that they didn’t exist. She wanted to believe.
“Do you think we could get anything remotely resembling a good EVP session with all of us up here?” Jensen asked, then turned away and walked toward the elevator at the end of the hall. The rickety, screeching sound came and the doors opened. Simon, Chase and Troy exited the elevator and looked down the hallway.
“All quiet on the home front,” reported Effie, with her camera trained on all of them.
“Did you guys get anything?” Simon asked as Troy walked to the static camera next to the elevator and reloaded the tape.
Jensen gave him a withering look. “We were up here all of ten minutes before you guys interrupted us. How much do you think?”
“Nothing was happening down there either,” Chase said, looking into Effie’s camera and waving.
“We were about to do an EVP session when you radioed,” Effie said. She zoomed in on Chase. “What does EVP stand for?”
“Electronic Voice Phenomena,” Chase answered dutifully, then gave her a winning smile, his blonde hair falling over his eyes.
“That’s a good idea,” Simon said. “Since there’s only one EMF detector-”
Chase turned back to the camera. “Electro-Magnetic Field,” he intoned.
Simon threw him a look. “-we should probably all stay up here for the time being. We can do a group EVP session and see what we get.”
Jensen clenched her jaw and walked away from them. There were shrugs all around and they followed her. They sat in a circle with two people sitting on each wall and Chase in the middle of the hallway. Effie had the video camera pointing at Simon and Troy, while Troy had one pointed at the girls. Jensen placed the recorder in the middle of the circle along with the flashlight and sat back, content to let the others handle the investigation. It was nearly three in the morning and she was usually asleep by now. Gone were the days when she could stay up all night and still function the next day.
“EVP session one, Simon, Chase, Troy, Jensen and Effie, third floor, Fairley Bros. & Lamoman Building,” Simon said solemnly.
A few moments passed before Troy spoke. “Is there anyone here with us tonight?”
“This device with the blinking red light can hear you,” Simon continued.
“Is there a woman named Maggie here?” Effie asked after a moment.
There was a knocking sound as soon as Effie was finished with her question. “Did you hear that?” she asked the others. Troy nodded.
“Can you knock for us again like this?” Troy made three even knocks on a doorframe.
There was the sound of two knocks and then a moment later a third. Troy looked excitedly at Effie.
“I think someone’s knocking back at you,” Chase said, looking one way than another like a cartoon.
“No shit,” Troy grinned. “Zoinks, Scooby!”
“Shhh,” Simon hushed them. Effie panned around with her camera.
Chase looked at the ceiling. “Can you tell where it’s coming from?”
“No,” Effie said. “It’s not from above though. There’s nothing above us but the roof.”
“Maybe we should ask for it to happen again,” Simon said. Effie nodded and looked around. “If you’re here, can you knock for us three times again.”
The knocking repeated twice, then stopped. “I think it’s coming from over there.” Troy pointed down the hallway.
“Let’s ask some more questions,” Effie said, excited.
Jensen stood up and looked down the hallway, certain the sound came from a branch hitting a window or something just as obvious. The group had been looking for ghosts for so long, Jensen thought, that instead of debunking, they tended to see spirits at every turn. “I can’t see anything,” she muttered and grabbed the camera from Effie. Hitting a button, she put it on night vision. “Turn off the flashlight Effie,” she said and they were plunged into darkness.
“Is your name Maggie?” asked Simon. “Why do you haunt this place?”
Jensen started walking down the hallway, listening hard for the knocking noise. She knew the sooner she got to the bottom of the mystery, the sooner she would be back at the hotel and in her bed. The voices of the others grew fainter as she moved away from them. She placed her feet carefully as she moved along, panning from one side to the other. The knocking seemed to have disappeared the minute she had left the group. She sighed and turned around to head back when suddenly a figure appeared in her view finder and crashed into her.
She shrieked as she went down, almost dropping the camera.
“Oww, shit, that hurt,” said the voice as Jensen got to her knees . She righted the camera and pointed it toward the downed figure. Simon lay sprawled on the floor, holding his head.
The flashlight came on and the others rushed over to the pair. “What happened,” demanded Effie, pointing the light at them as Chase knelt down by Simon.
Jensen got to her feet. “The jackass snuck up behind me,” she said as she rubbed her hip.
“ I didn’t sneak,” Simon moaned from the floor. “I just came to see what you were doing.”
“Well you scared the living crap out of me.” She retorted.
Chase levered Simon up into a sitting position. Jensen could see from the beam of the flashlight that he was bleeding. She cursed under her breath and knelt down next to him, handing her camera to Troy.
“Shine the light over here, would you Eff,” she asked and leaned in to examine the wound. There was a gash right at his hairline bleeding freely. Seeing the blood, Chase paled and leaned away. “It’s okay,” Jensen said to him. She motioned for Troy to help. He handed the cameras off to Effie and took Chase’s place.
“We should get him back to command,” Troy said. “We’ve got a first aid kit there.” Jensen nodded and they hoisted Simon to his feet. He wobbled and they each put one of his arms over their shoulders and began moving down the hall. Chase and Effie followed, filming.
Hobbling down the hall with an injured friend, being video tapped by two others, Jensen realized she had finally had it.
She stopped moving, causing Simon and Troy to jerk to a halt. “We’ve got to stop doing this,” she almost yelled, disentangling herself from the others.
“What?” asked Chase, lowering his camera.
“This,” Jensen said, gesturing around to the dark, deserted hall, “everything, all of it. We’re not kids anymore. We can’t just go gallivanting around looking for ghosts.”
They all stared at her, open mouthed. Even Simon looked alert.
“This isn’t a game. What if Simon had gotten really hurt? We’ve all got responsibilities and spending our summers on something as pointless as this has got to stop.” She came to the end of her rant, breathing hard and looking at all of them. Effie had tears in her eyes. Simon looked upset.
“It’s just a little cut, Jen,” Troy said, confused. “Yeah, its stopped bleeding,” added Simon.
“That’s not the point,” Jensen said, shaking her head. “We’re holding on too tight to this thing we started as kids, like we can’t let go of the past. But we’ve got to. I can’t keep coming back to places like this with all of you and pretending nothing’s changed, because it has.”
Effie moved toward her and touched Jensen’s arm. “I don’t understand,” she said.
Jensen looked at her friend and shrugged. “I can’t pretend to be sixteen anymore. I don’t want to.” Jensen leaned against the wall and allowed the momentum to carry her down into a sitting position. She stretched her legs out in front of her.
Effie sat next to her and put the camera on the floor. One by one, the other members sat down. Chase pulled a bandanna out of his pocket and handed it to Simon who put it to his head. They all looked at each other and realized that they had come back to the same spot, the digital recorder was still on the ground. Jensen picked it up and handed it to Simon. “For old times’ sake?” she asked. He nodded.
“End EVP session, Simon, Chase, Effie, Troy and Jensen, Fairley Building,” he said and he turned the recorder off.
“We really didn’t even get to do a proper EVP session,” Effie said, her voice wavering.
They sat for a moment in the dark before Troy got up and grabbed one of the cameras off the ground. He offered an arm to Simon who took it. Chase stood and helped Effie up while Jensen grabbed the camera and walked herself up the wall. They started back for the elevator. Troy began filming.
“What are you doing?” Jensen asked.
“We have a lot of film to use up, might as well,” he said. Jensen shrugged and began filming too. As they neared the elevator, somebody whispered.
“What did you say?” Chase asked Effie.
“Nothing,” she said, confused.
Simon stopped and looked around. The whisper came again and he froze. “Everybody quiet,” he demanded.
They held their breath for a single moment. A soft voice echoed around them and then the flashlight went out. The tableau held for a second and then everybody spoke at one. “My camera’s dead,” Jensen announced, followed by Troy’s “Mine too.” Someone hit a wall and cursed. Effie’s excited voice spoke from the dark, “Did you hear that?”
“Effie, the flashlight,” Jensen hissed. There was a click and they were again bathed in a soft light. Effie held the flashlight pointed at the ceiling. Jensen and Troy checked the cameras.
“The battery’s done,” Troy said. “Something drained it.” He looked to Simon.
For the first time in an investigation, none of them knew what to do. Jensen looked between them and then took charge. If this was their last investigation then they could at least go out with as much data as possible.“If something drained the energy, then maybe it’s trying to manifest.” She may not believe, but she knew the theory. No one seemed to disagree. “If these cameras are out than it’s a good bet the others are too. We need something to document with and we don’t have time to run down to command.”
Simon whipped out his cell phone. “I have video on this.”
“That’ll have to do,” Jensen said. “What did everyone hear?”
“It was a voice,” suggested Chase. Troy rolled his eyes. “Really?”
“It was a woman’s voice,” Effie whispered. Everyone looked around. Effie moved the flashlight down the hall. Jensen took a few steps forward as Simon followed her with his phone.
“Are you a woman?” Simon asked.
“Obviously,” a woman’s voice said from behind them. As one they all turned and froze. In front of them floated a woman. She was young, with dark hair and white skin. She wore a skirt and blouse and looked normal except for the fact that she was transparent. Her hands were on her hips, her head titled to one side. “Figured it out did you?” she asked. “I hate to repeat myself.”
Simon let out a high pitched scream and dropped the phone. The screen went dead. Everybody turned toward the sound. Jensen took in the pieces of the phone on the ground then turned back to the woman. She was gone. “You saw that right?” she asked Troy.
He was white. “Yeah.”
Chase was nowhere to be found. “Chase!” Jensen called. He ducked out of a doorway and moved toward them. “That wasn’t any voice,” he said. Jensen nodded, “I know.”
Simon was kneeling by his broken phone. “I can’t believe it,” he said.
“I know man,” Troy said, but Simon shook his head. “No. I finally see a ghost and I have absolutely no evidence.”
“And you screamed like a little girl,” Troy added. Jensen rolled her eyes. Effie laughed and something echoed her. A giggling laugh rolled down the hallway. Simon yelped.
“Was that her?” Effie asked.
“I think so,” Jensen answered. The giggling came again. “Maggie?”
Suddenly the overhead lights came on and blinded them. They all cried out, Troy swore loudly. The sound of the elevator registered and they turned toward it. The doors opened and Mr. Hart stepped out and waddled to them.
“How is the investigation coming along friends,” He asked.
They all exchanged glances. “You wouldn’t believe us if we told you,” Jensen said.
Mr. Hart looked around. He seemed to sense something. “Maggie,” he said with a shake of his head. He turned back to them and a smile split his face. “I believe I would,” he declared and then disappeared into thin air as a disembodied giggle cut the silence.
As one, they turned and looked at each other, their faces mirrors of the same disbelief.
Then Effie laughed. “The gnomes aren’t such a stretch now, huh?”
Jensen shook her head. Troy stood up and looked at the rest of them. “But he showed us around the entire building. How…” he trailed off as the others had no answers.
With the lights on, Jensen glanced at her watch. It was almost dawn. “We’ve got to be out of here soon.” She started walking toward the elevator and the others fell into step.
At command, they quickly broke down the equipment and packed it into the car. Troy saw to the electronics, while Simon and Chase played Tetris with the bags. Jensen watched the sunrise from a bench on the sidewalk.
Effie walked up and sat down next to her. The two were silent for a time. Eventually Jensen’s voice cut the silence.
“I don’t know how I feel about any of this.”
“We all know what we saw. We’ve been searching for it long enough.”
“But I never really believed.”
Effie was silent. Jensen turned to look at her. “I meant what I said earlier.”
“I know you did,” Effie said, “but this changes things.”
Jensen looked unconvinced. “Does it.”
Effie shrugged, then stood and began to move toward the car. Halfway there, she stopped and turned back to look at Jensen. “We were never really looking for ghosts you know,” she said as she walked backward.
“Then what were we doing?” Jensen shouted after her, but Effie just smiled and turned around again.
When the car was packed, Simon decided just to make sure the door was closed. There was no means to lock it, Mr. Hart was supposed to be their contact and he was gone, so they were at a loss. Jensen wrote a quick note of thanks and slid it under the door. Then they piled back into the car and Simon pulled away from the curb.
There was a trumpeting sound and a foul smell filled the car. Jensen turned in her seat to see Troy holding Chase in a headlock and Effie furiously rolling down the window. Simon groaned, but kept his eyes on the road. She laughed and turned back in her seat, leaning her head against the window. They were on their way home, she thought, and the summers there were hers, special. They were her last chances at childhood. She settled in for the drive, wondering what life would throw at her next.