* * *
From a quarter of a mile away, concealed by brush and shadows, another person watched as Topher and Kay headed toward the main hall. This one didn’t just look at them, however, it also kept an eye on the ghost of a former counselor. A heavy purple coat rested on the ground, mere inches away from her feet. The sun warmed the late-winter air so much that the garment was too heavy during the day, yet the bitter winds under the moon necessitate wrapping it closely around her body. This made it a burden and a life-saving blessing all at once.
She licked her lips once, wishing she’d thought to bring chapstick along on this trip. Rations, weapons, books of magical rites, flashlights, bug-spray, holy water, lighters, and a homemade concoction she called “burn juice” had all been stuffed into her duffel bag along with a few other odds and ends, but it had never occurred to her that the chilly dry-climate would leave her lips cracking within the first few hours. For all her knowledge and power, she was still a city-girl, and wild environments had dangers she wasn’t prepared for.
The new intruders were a complication she hadn’t expected. Part of her wondered what the odds were that some idiots would come along on this day of all days, but then she thought better of it. Coincidence like this seemed to happen more often than not. Fate denied any hand in it when she pressed him, but with that slippery bastard one could never be sure what to trust. Her pet theory was that shitstorms, like magnets, exerted a pull in all directions across space and time, gathering as many witnesses as possible to the show that would be put on. Based on what she knew, tonight was going to be a hell of a spectacle, so it wasn’t surprising that a few yokels had gotten sucked in.
The downside of this was that she was going to have to put in at least a cursory effort to keep them safe when the shit hit the fan. The upside, though, was that these definitely looked like the sort of people who would have brought chapstick. So it wasn’t a total bust.
Moving carefully, she picked up her purple coat and began sneaking around toward the main hall. Hiding from the humans would be easy, most were willfully deaf to the world around them. Staying concealed from the spirits was a trickier task, but she’d had plenty of practice. After several days none of them had clued to her presence, which was how she liked it. If anything went according to plan, she could stay in the shadows, do her job, and slip away before anyone ever knew she’d been there.
* * *
Unlike many of the cabins, the camp’s main hall had weather neglect with some semblance of dignity. True, there were creaks and groans enough to match a retirement home in the morning with every step one took, but the walls were sturdy and the maintenance staff had kept the greater bulk of dust and bugs from overtaking the building’s interior. Additionally, the power outlets still worked, which Topher had been promised during negotiations yet Auggie refused to believe until he saw. This made setting up their homebase much easier, since they didn’t have to rig up the portable generator stowed in the back of the SUV.
In the central room, once a dining hall, sat a dozen or so wooden tables, two of which had formerly been bare but now hosted an impressive array of gadgetry connected to various charging cables. These were clustered tightly together, bound by the logistics of running power strips rather than by any sense of space conservation. Nearby, a different was loaded down with monitors, remote receivers, and other observation equipment.
This was the hub, where Auggie would sit while Kay and Topher tromped about, coordinating their various endeavors in order to maximize time, safety, and usable footage. He’d also keep an eye on the camera set up to record theoretical hot-spots, letting Topher know if a surge in activity warranted further investigation. From Auggie’s perspective, a “surge in activity” was defined as one of Topher’s devices going off, or literally anything slightly visual occurring. He’d learned after years of practice that either of those events would get Topher excited, and an excited Topher always made for entertaining film.
Two tables away from Auggie’s hub was a small laptop and a portable video camera. Kay liked to keep her space minimalistic, she said all any artist needed was their tools. Of course, the backpack lying next to the table contained a myriad of various glass and plastic bottles, but one could theoretically make the argument that such supplies were likenable as paints to the brush of her camera wielding: they weren’t the tool, but still enabled the art. One could also make arguments about high-functioning alcoholism.
This three-sectioned area constituted home-base, the same set-up they’d fashioned together in nearly every location the three investigators had worked. Sometimes they had more space, sometimes less, sometimes barely enough power to keep the monitors going, but they always fell into a similar way of situating themselves. Topher’s toys, Auggie’s hub, and Kay’s laptop, each separate yet equally vital to the process of producing Spectre Quest. This did not mean they were the only components, however.
“Topher, could you please turn off your mic while doing that, I keep hearing you grunting in my ear,” Auggie complained.
“Sorry,” Topher said, reaching around the small box attached to his hip and flicking off a switch. That done, he turned his attention back to his current pre-shooting ritual, doing bicep curls. Despite what many would think, this wasn’t about getting pumped to look big on camera. Topher just liked to burn off his excess energy in the hours before shooting. He loved investigating, loved being out there, in the thick of it, and searching for proof of a paranormal afterlife. All of that was well and good when it was actually go time, but in the hours leading up to filming his growing excitement would get in the way of all the prep work, so he’d taken to lifting weights as a way to keep himself grounded.
Auggie flipped a few more switches, then took off the earphones he’d been wearing. “Sound checks out, I’m about ready to go place the remote cameras. Did you two finish picking positions?”
“We picked four spots,” Kay told him, bringing over a small map. “One by the gate, one overlooking the cabins, one at the path into the woods, and one at the dock looking out over the lake.”
“Why the lake? With the wind and water movement it will be nearly impossible to quantify any movement as unnatural,” Auggie pointed out. “And the island is too far away to get any good images.
“I know, but when I took pictures earlier I noticed something.” Kay pulled out her phone and opened the camera function, swiping to the photos she’d taken earlier in the day. “See, everything comes out clear, except for the island. No matter what angle you’re looking at, it always seems blurry.”
“What does that mean?” Topher asked, perking up at the conversation.
“Fuck all if I know. It’s just weird, so I thought we could put a camera on it. We’ve got six of them anyway, why not stick it out there and see what it gets.”
“Could we go out and look at the island firsthand?” Topher set the large free-weight on the ground and walked over to look at the small aerial map of the camp.
“Absolutely not,” Auggie said. “We don’t have any boats, and I wouldn’t trust the equipment here to cross a bathtub in. The camera is fine, but we’re not putting in the time and risk to cross a lake on the basis of blurry pictures.”
“If we had more time, we could also set one up here,” Kay pointed out. Her finger rested on the side of the map, gesturing to a hiking trail that ended on a cliff over-looking the island. “Bird’s-eye would be awesome, but if we want to be back and shooting at a decent time there’s no chance.”
“We could take the SUV,” Topher suggested.
“Up an overgrown trail that may or may not be blocked with trees and debris? No chance.”
“Come on, the dock is already far from the island, once night hits I doubt we’ll see anything good,” Topher pleaded. “It won’t take too long.”
“That’s what you said about those tunnels under the old museum. Remind me, which of us got lost and spent half the night walking around the same corridor?” Auggie asked.
“It just the one-”
“Cliffs over the haunted burial grounds, fields around the haunted plantation, and the stacks at the haunted library. I can keep going,” Auggie said.
“Yeah, you really are pretty shit with directions,” Kay agreed.
“Kay could do it,” Topher said weakly.
Auggie snorted and shook his head. “Look, I think I packed an extra telescopic zoom for Kay’s camera. If I can rig it onto one of the remotes instead and put it on the deck, will that be good enough for you?”
“I guess that would give us some good shots,” Topher agreed.
“Wonderful. You said this place had a garage, right?”
“Sure, past the offices and through the last door on the left.”
“Let’s hope there are tools still around, it will take some finagling to get that lens equipped in time.” Auggie headed off in the direction Topher had pointed, his measured steps echoing off the wooden floors, walls, and general interior of the building. He was gone for less than a minute when Topher and Kay heard his voice rebound toward them from across the building.
“What the- …oh hell no.”
After exchanging a quick look of shared curiosity, Kay and Topher wordlessly dashed down the hallway, emerging in the garage to find the source of Auggie’s surprise and indignation.
“Holy shit, someone left a car here.” With a gift of encapsulating honesty usually only possessed by toddlers and idiots, Kay perfectly summarized what rest on the bare concrete slab before them. Though dirt and time had dulled the sheen of the once-bright orange paint-job, the color still leapt out at them, demanding their attention. As did the rebel flag emblazoned across the roof.
“That is really not okay.” Auggie said, taking in the spectacle with an expression somewhere between shock, anger, and disbelief.
“It’s the General Lee,” Topher said, walking around the charger slowly, taking in the sight as a whole.
“The generally what? Racist?”
“No, the General Lee, the car from Dukes of Hazard,” Topher explained. “I mean, it’s not the real one, obviously. Someone who worked here just loved the show enough to copy it.” Topher kicked one of the tires, surprised to find it still held. “Wonder why they left it.”
“Or why none of the maintenance people stole it,” Kay added in.
Auggie made a beeline for the front of the car and popped the hood in a single motion. “I can answer that easily. It’s because this thing is more shell than automobile. It would take thousands of dollars to get this engine fixed, and that’s assuming one can find parts for a car that I’m assuming is older than me.”
“I guess this place isn’t really tow-truck friendly, either,” Topher added, recalling the thin, weaving roads Auggie had been forced to navigate.
“Should we get some shots of it?” Kay asked. “Abandoned car is sort of creepy.”
“I’d rather you didn’t. Even if it’s a reproduction, the image is likely still trademarked and that means a lot more paperwork for me,” Auggie said.
“Let’s plant a static camera in here, just to see if there’s activity,” Topher said. “If not, then we won’t use any footage with the car. If there is, well, we can try to edit around it.”
“I suppose that’s reasonable,” Auggie agreed. “I’ll set one up, then go tend to the rest of them.”
“You better hurry, the sun will be setting soon. One it goes down walking all these trails is going to be more dangerous.”
Topher had no clue just how correct his statement was.
-End the chapter here. The next one needs shorter scenes, more rapid transitions building up to the sunset. This is going to be the first major shift in the story, so the style needs to reflect the growing anticipation.
-At this point, I’m calling Wyatt officially abandoned. While he had a few interesting plot-points that could have worked, shoe-horning him in now would throw off the dynamic that these characters have established. Also, I feel like Topher and Kay have been written as too perceptive to be fooled by a charlatan. Since Auggie was supposed to doubt him from the beginning, it’s too much of a stretch.
-Next scene will open on the ghosts, showing a dynamic shift in the behavior of the cloud. They need to be worried, demonstrating how strange and unpredictable the situation has become.
Daily WordCount: 2060. Total WordCount: 9576