“How did you… oh, I get it. You’re a fan.” Topher treated to a big, wide grin that would have looked ridiculously fake on anyone with an ounce less sincerity. “You’re a dedicated one at that. We’ve had people track us down on shoots before, but this was a real trek.”
“I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about,” Velt said.
“Sure sure, you don’t watch Spectre Quest at all. That’s how you knew our names. Don’t be shy, I think we’ve got some posters or something I can autograph.”
“Is he always like this?” Velt asked Auggie.
“Unwaveringly so.” The longer Auggie stood there, with neither co-worker acknowledging his presence, the more uncomfortable he felt. The truth of the matter was that Topher was a shitty liar, and Kay rarely cared enough to invest this much effort into anything besides cameras and cocktails. They’re behavior, more than the floating and transparency was shaking the foundation of Auggie’s denial.
“Who is she talking to?” Kay asked. Unlike Topher, she was readily aware of the fact that a viewer and crazy person who loved stabbing were not mutually exclusive.
“I’m talking your co-worker, August Parrish. Evidently you call him Auggie, which to me just seems cruel. He’s a spirit now, and right beside me.”
Topher’s smile vanished as a storm rippled across his face. Kay tensed up as well, that nagging worry in her stomach flaring, as though it were celebrating being proven right.
“That’s not funny,” Topher told her. “I think maybe we should let the police know we’re got a trespasser on set. Kay, be a friend and give them a call. I’ll keep an eye on Miss...” He realized he hadn’t even gotten this strange woman’s name.
“Velt. My name is Velt, and calling the cops won’t make my words untrue. I thought you were here to investigator spirits; it’s surprising to me how closed-minded you are to their existence.
“Except that we saw Auggie alive and fine less than an hour ago,” Kay told her.
“Is it your experience that tragedies are always convenient and scheduled? I wish you two would get with the program already. Honestly, the fact that your friend is a spirit is probably one of the least impossible things I have to tell you.”
Topher crossed his thick arms across his massive chest and stared at this intruder, mind no longer fraught with admiration for her beauty. Now he was just trying to figure out how to get this woman off the property without causing damage or a scene. Even if they were in the legal right, a wrong move could cause bad press for them.
“Alright then, Velt. We are ghost investigators, and as such we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the possibility of an afterlife. You say Auggie is right there with you? Well we set up code phrases back in our first year doing this, to prove if a medium had really established contact. I’ll give you one-shot to tell me what his was. If you fail, you leave this camp peacefully. Deal?”
Velt held up a finger and turned to Auggie. “Is that actually true or is he trying to bluff me?”
“Why does it matter? We both know he can hear and see me perfectly well. This little stunt isn’t fooling anyone.”
“Humor me; just assume for a minute that maybe this is actually happening. Do you want to blow your one chance to speak with your friends? If it’s a prank then it’s you stubbornly proved to be inflexible, but if its actually happening then think about the loss. You’re a logical guy, calculate the risk versus reward.” Velt glanced back over to Topher and Kay. “Give me a moment; he’s convinced himself that this whole thing is a practical joke, because somehow that makes more sense than being a spirit.”
“That does sound like Auggie,” Kay muttered.
Auggie was shocked as he noticed the weary concern creasing Kay’s face. In two and a half years working together, he’d never seen her so worried about something. Not even when her favorite bar had been in danger of shutting down. He wasn’t convinced about this whole spirit and afterlife nonsense yet, but he realized Velt was right. If he missed a chance to talk to his friends, he’d always regret it.
“It’s true,” Auggie told her, giving a slight nod of his head. “He pestered me about it for three weeks until I finally relented and made one.”
“Well?” Topher asked, not buying her act.
“Well?” Velt echoed, eager to move past this issue and get down to work.
“Well…” Auggie said, currently wishing he’d selected a different phrase than the one he had. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but then again he’d been significantly more skeptical at that point. With a more bashful look than he’d worn in life, Auggie told Velt his code phrase.
“This person is a charlatan and a fake. I can’t believe you’re visiting a medium, Topher, you big blonde idiot,” Velt said, expression perfectly neutral despite the words she was uttering.
“Holy shit.” The expression of barely suppressed anger and doubt melted off Topher’s face, revealing a new one consisting entirely of surprise. “That was it. I’d even forgotten the blonde part, but we did make the pact when I had bleached hair.”
“Does that mean… Auggie… oh god no.” Kay put a hand to her mouth, not sure if she was going to be sick or let out a wail, only knowing that she wanted to keep down whatever was trying to rise.
“Buddy, are you really here? What… what happened? Was it the noise, did something fall on you?” Topher scanned the room, desperately trying to make eye-contact with a best friend he could no longer see.
“Actually, I’m still not certain what happened,” Auggie said, even though he was finally beginning to realize that Topher and Kay were deaf to his words.
“Don’t worry, I’ll explain it to them,” Velt assured him. “Listen up, everyone about to cry or break down, cut that shit out right now. I’ve got good news and bad news, and the good news is that while your friend is a spirit, he isn’t actually dead yet.”
“Wait, what?” Topher looked at her with a renewed hope that all but radiated from his face, still slightly damp quiet tears.
“Auggie wasn’t killed, technically. A very powerful, very evil spirit took control of his physical body, forcing his soul out like it was a hobo in a bus station. At the moment, that body is still alive. If we can get Auggie’s soul back into it then he’ll be fine. Maybe a little more attuned to the supernatural, but overall no worse for the wear.”
“You were not joking about how much impossible stuff you were going to ask us to swallow.” As though her last word had reminded her of the supplies she possessed, Kay pulled out the flask from her right boot and took a long draw of its content. She then passed it to Topher, who accepted and drank a smaller nip himself.
“Actually, we haven’t even gotten to the really weird stuff yet,” Velt corrected. “So like I said, the good news is that your friend’s body is still alive-”
“And the bad news is that an evil ghost hijacked it, we heard you,” Topher said.
“No, that was still part of the good news. The bad news is that said evil-spirit is going to use that body to finish a ceremony that will summon a god of the undead, casting the entire world into a nightmarish hell of living death for several millennia. Oh, and we have to find a way to stop him.”
Kay and Topher stared silently as her for a moment, then Kay went over to her backpack and pulled out a fresh bottle of clear liquor, unscrewed the cap, and took a mighty kick.
“I’m only going to warn you once: if you’re fucking with us, telling us our friend is dead as part of some horrible joke for video or personal amusement, I will break off every bottle I have in a different part of your body. And I have a lot of fucking bottles. So if you want to back out and get scarce, now is the time.”
“Warning heard and understood,” Velt said without hesitation. While she wasn’t particularly intimidated by the other woman, she did find suddenly more fond of her.
“Wait, a lot of bottles? How many bottles of alcohol did she bring along on a one-night shoot!” Auggie didn’t seem to notice that he was rising off the ground in his fit of frustration.
“Auggie seems pissed about all the booze,” Velt relayed.
Kay’s face softened and she set her current bottle down on the table. “Alright, either you’re telling the truth or you’ve done a ridiculous amount of research and somehow convinced Auggie to play along. Between the two, a kicked-out spirit seems less impossible. Tells us what’s going on.”
“Pass me the flask and a bottle of water, then grab a seat,” Velt told them. “This is going to take a while.”
* * *
“Should we be listening to this?” Irwin whispered.
“Clinton and I been here decades without knowing what bound us here. You’re damn right we’re gonna listen in.”
“Besides, have you looked outside?” Clinton asked. “I don’t want to go near those other ghosts. They look… unfriendly.”
The three spirits had been in one of the back rooms, looking for a prop to use in hopes of making contact, when Velt and Auggie walked through the door. After watching her carry on with the seemingly-newly dead investigator, it was clear this woman really had the gift. Normally that would have sent them running toward her, desperate to ask for help or messages to loved ones, but her declaration that they were at the epicenter of an apocalypse had cowed the three spirits. Her words matched up with the scene they could see through the windows, so they decided to lay-low and see what else she had to say.
They were currently piled up in a broom closet that had the door open. Normally the three could have never crammed in, but the upside to being incorporeal was that walls were more suggestions than firm boundaries.
“You think there’s any chance she might know a way out of here?” Irwin asked.
“I think it’s worth finding out,” Clinton said. “So let’s all shut up so we can hear.”
Outside the broom closet, Velt was keenly aware of the three spirits stuffed into the small space. People who can’t be overheard quickly lose their sense of what a quiet voice was. She paid them no mind as she began her story, though. If there was time, she’d give them a hand crossing over. If not… well that would probably be because she was dead or there was no more over to cross to.
Either way, their fate was as much bound to her success as the rest of the world’s.
-Next scene with this group will be another long-one as Velt conveys the backstory. Break it up by going to the POV for The Emissary for a bit.
-Auggie needs to be visible soon, running all his dialogue through Velt will get real old, real fast. Start the wheels turning on that.
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