(Tomorrow is my last Halloween Short devoted to Samhain. I hope you enjoy today's. It was a subject that's been on my mind a lot lately, and I think it needs expressing.)
Those moments when a person thinks, “this probably isn’t a good idea,” should be heeded.
Ray wasn’t a particularly uptight man, nor was he a loudly aggressive no-neck with a braggart tendency. Unfortunately, the latter is exactly what made up the Eastern West Virginia Ghost Chasing Team. This bunch of yahoo’s came complete with matching t-shirts, large beer guts, booming voices, and goatees that somehow were supposed to make up for the fact they shaved their balding middle-aged heads.
The team was thrilled to have him along. He’d certainly made a name for himself in Philly and had written several books that were well received, and more often than not was called up on for lectures and conventions to talk about ghost hunting. If he didn’t want so much to go to this untouched location, he would never have normally associated with these types.
“What are your usual methods?” Ray asked, perhaps too late as they whizzed past the countryside in one of their two vans owned by members.
“We rile `em up and then we get them pissed.” One of the older middle-aged men whooped.
“You instigate?” Ray cringed inwardly.
“Sure as hell!” Another added.
Jesus! Hunters that think they’re hunting big game, all brave and taunting, pumped up and thinking they’re hot shit.
This new breed of ghost hunters were irritating beyond belief. In the old days, there were spiritualists and mediums, possession and séances. Nowadays, there were men with equipment, too much time on their hands, and egos that wanted results at any price.
“I read your books.” The older man told him. “You get results?”
Ray nodded. He’d been in the field long enough to know the in’s and out’s. His number one priority was to find a place with a fairly rich geology, perhaps a building made of stone, it was helpful to have nearby waterways, as well. Those were the best physical qualities. The history had to include pain and death and mental anguish, but preferably not a one-time event. Places like Amityville were disinteresting. The victims were killed in a mass murder, but all were in their beds. There was in most likelihood not even trauma recognition. As for the timing of a ghost hunt, Ray had found that 100% of the times he had good evidence, it occurred on a night of a geomagnetic storm. He had some loose theories on why this was, but his statistics showed it was vital. Tonight was such a night. He never left timing to chance any longer. It wasted his time.
“This place has quite a history.” Ray probed.
“Hell ya!” The youngest one of perhaps 35 called out. “It was a TB clinic for 20 years and they say about 490 people died there.”
“From what I’ve seen of the photos, it’s not that big of a building.” Ray commented.
The Toby, the leader and driver of the van called out, “It was originally a mansion built for the wealthiest mine owner in West Virginia back around 1910. His wife and kids all passed on of the influenza in 1918. Then, he left the house and went on the road. The abandoned place was picked up in the 20s and used as a TB clinic. It ran until about 1950 when they found a relative who was the official owner, some descendant of the original owner. Well, it happens to be the brother-in-law of one of our members. So, he’s letting us have access. It’s going to be awesome. No one’s ever investigated it. He said that when the clinic abandoned it, they left everything. Tables, beds, cabinets, even the files.” He howled.
“Sweet!” The older man high-fived his younger buddy.
Ray remained quiet, trying to force his eyes to take in the beautiful autumn colors as they passed by a rustic farmhouse. How to manage his own investigation without it being corrupted by the Nascar team of ghost hunters was the dilemma.
As they pulled down a gravel road between neon-colored trees that scraped the side of the van, Ray decided to take his chance. The light was fading fast and he wanted to be assured that he got the first run before the bullies stirred things up.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to set up my cameras and recorders and take a cursory walk through the place alone. I need to try the technique where I’m vulnerable and alone. See how that goes.”
“Hey, I like the way this guy thinks. We can send him in like bait.” The younger man snorted.
Toby put the car into park as they stopped before a slender three-story stone building with vines climbing up, yanking on the windows, appearing to try to turn the place inside out with its tug-of-war.
“How much time you think we should leave you in there?” Toby asked.
All night, please. Just turn and go home, boys!
“If you help me set up the equipment and then leave, I could use maybe two hours in there?” He considered their ability to sit still for two hours. He would have shot for three, but he knew that was pushing it. Perhaps he could throw them a bone.
“You can stay in the van and study the monitors.” He offered.
“We get to watch him in action, huh?” The younger man asked.
The men from the other van came forward. When Toby got them all up to date on the plan, they spread out with the equipment and followed general instructions pretty well. He was pleased for that much. Many of these guys had technical jobs already and this hobby just let them play with more equipment. At least, Ray tried to think kindly of those who didn’t have his point of view. He’d only come by his through study, experience, and lots of curiosity. Maybe some day these guys could mature a bit in the field, or hopefully just grow bored with it and move on to duck hunting. He often had to deal with the psychics and those who wanted to bless every house they entered. He could certainly handle some locals who needed an adrenalin rush.
Ray left them outside bragging about past expeditions while he clicked on the tiny flashlight mounted on a finger ring. The little halo of blue light did just enough to keep him from tripping as he studied the main hallway. The place was remarkably intact. Except for dust and one broken window letting autumn leaves scurry across the floor, there were still faded curtains and furnishings. The first few rooms were offices with desks, chairs, and even lamps. He flicked the switch to be certain the site had no electricity to interfere with his EMF meter.
The first walk through the three stories only provided a mild temperature change, but as it plunged into complete darkness, Ray sat on the top of the third story stairs. He looked down the stairwell and turned off his flashlight, turning on his digital recorder.
“My name is Ray. Is anyone here with me? Can you join me?” He called out.
A distant sound in the house caught his attention. He’d locked the inside of the front and back doors when he came in just to be certain the yahoo’s wouldn’t decide to see what was taking him so long. He could hear their muffled voices outside and that angered him. How could he possibly trust anything with them yakking? They didn’t seem to understand even the most basic etiquette for the hunt. Ray got up and leaned out the open window.
“Could you try and not talk?”
Toby aimed his flashlight into Ray’s face. “Sure.” He shrugged.
Ray closed the window and then walked down the stairs into the second story where most of the beds remained in the rooms, lined up in neat rows. He stopped in one room and set down his recorder and sat on the edge of a bed.
“Would you like some company?” He asked. He could tell by the stuffed animals lined up along a dresser and a changing table, that this was the children's room. He cleared his throat and softly began to sing a lullaby or two that had been around a very long time. His Irish mother had taught him a great deal of Celtic love songs and he tried his trembling voice in a few of those classics.
A sound at the end of the room made him stop. A few little whimpers like a child about to cry. He got up and wandered over there, setting his recorder on the bed there and stood there finishing his song. When he was done, he clicked off a few pictures and thanked the children for their company.
As he stepped into the hall, the door rushed closed behind him, nearly knocking him forward. Ray turned and clicked the sticking knob and shoved it open. The windows were all shut. He knew there was no air-conditioning or heating, as the building had no electricity. He had a camera in the room, so he held out hope. He called into the room that he’d close the door for them, and did so respectfully.
Finishing off each room in his quiet introspective style, Ray moved on to the offices downstairs. He sat behind one desk and pulled open the files, studying the names and the ultimate deaths of many of the TB patients. He set his recorder on the desk. “It must have been very hard to work here and not have the medicines to heal the people.” He commented. “I have the highest respect for what you did. You provided all the comfort you could.” He waited a moment. “You know, we now have a medicine that cures consumption. I hope you feel more comfort knowing that.” He offered.
The men outside pounded on the door and jiggled the knob. Ray sighed and got up, letting them in. When the trampling bunch of hunters rushed past him, he went out to the van and sat back to study the screens. This would, at least, be entertaining to watch.
The men went off on their own which completely corrupted the investigation. There was a man in nearly every room. The noise was ridiculous. They held up their recorders and spoke to the ceiling angrily, taunting the patients who had been sick and had died in the facility.
Ray cringed and climbed from the van for a stroll down the gravel drive. He just couldn’t stomach their invasive aggressive techniques. He took a deep relaxing breath, capturing the scent of sweet rotting autumn leaves, moist earth, and wild mushrooms in a heady forest floor scent that made him feel peaceful and content. He pivoted at the end of the drive and began his walk back to see the team's lights shining occasionally in the windows of the three-story building. The buffoons were ruining all the filming with their lights.
So much for big brave men not afraid of the dark.
Ray shook his head in disgust and sat down on a tree stump. He could hear their voices inside from where he sat. All of a sudden a flashlight banged against a window and Ray looked up to the second story to see the older man’s face, contorted in fear, the flashlight showing his pained expression. Ray jumped to his feet. The man seemed to be pressed against the window, but then he realized the man was trying to open it. Someone pounded loudly on the front door.
Ray walked over, puzzled that they were knocking from the inside. It locked inside, not outside. He grasped the doorknob. The man on the other side was hollering and coughing. He sounded like he was having an asthma attack as Ray struggled to help him open the door. Someone up above was banging on a window, as well. He heard the window finally give way and the man was coughing and choking.
A gas leak?
The front door rattled and he called out. “Try the back door.” He told the man.
Ray rushed around the building, stumbling over some bushes as he found the back door and tried the knob. It too felt locked. The man soon pounded wildly and coughed desperately.
“Unlock the door!” Ray screamed.
“It is.“ Followed by a paroxysm of barking coughs.
They wrestled from both sides when he heard more men enter the kitchen and try the door. They pounded wildly, more of them coughing. Ray grunted as the door swung into him and the men nearly trampled him to get out onto the grounds. The three of them that opened the door were bent over, coughing, and swaying on their legs. One of them sat down in the grass and put his hand on his chest as he coughed.
“Gas leak?” Ray asked.
The men were wheezing, unable to speak. They were bent over. The rest of the men found the open back door and stumbled weakly from the building and fell against the porch railing where they too where wheezing and coughing. They looked weak and ashen.
Ray stepped inside the kitchen cautiously and looked around. He sniffed. Natural gas should have given off the scent added to it so people could be warned of leaks. The nasty odor wasn’t present. Carbon Monoxide? He looked at the men. They were calming down now, still weak and wheezing, but the coughing had lessened.
“Don’t go in there man!” One of the men called out.
“I have to get my equipment. I’ll just open the windows and let the gas leak out.” He told them.
“That wasn’t a gas leak.” Toby wheezed.
“What was it?” Ray wondered.
“One of the guys laid on a bed and coughed like a patient to see what would happen. I don’t know, all of a sudden we all went ice cold, weak as kittens, and were coughing out lungs up.” He shook his head and coughed a few more times. “The door to the room slammed shut and we were too weak to open it. Holy shit!" He wheezed.
Cautiously, Ray stepped inside and looked around. He went to the front office and unhooked his camera. He grabbed up the extension cord and wrapped it up, walking up the stairs to the second story. He felt fine so far. Just in case, he stopped on the second floor in the hallway and called out. “I’m sorry about those men. They’re gone now. We’re leaving. No one will bother you again, I promise. You can rest.”
As he gathered up the last camera and extension cord, Ray heard a very distinct sound of coughing at the end of the hall in one of the rooms. He listened to the troubled wheezing and the paroxysms. It was exactly like what the men had been doing.
He smiled to himself at the divine justice of the universe.
The hunters became the hunted. The taunters became the taunted.