Oct 25 2012 4:45pm
“Charlie Cross, Necromancer”: Original Fiction
As part of H&H's 13 Days of Halloween celebration, we're showcasing original fiction of the chilling and thrilling variety written by authors, bloggers, and staffers! It's our treat to you, and it's available for a limited time only. Stories will be available for two weeks only, so read on, if you dare!
H&H staffer, newsletter guru, Gateway Experiment
guinea pig lord and master, and connoisseur of bromances the world of fiction over, Christopher Morgan is a man among women, many many women, at the H&H offices. And today we are thrilled to share with you a piece of original fiction by Chris. We give you “Charlie Cross, Necromancer”!
Cashing in on his “talent” for necromancy and landing a gig hosting his own reality TV show about things that go bump in the night isn’t proving to be all Charlie Cross dreamt it would be. Where was the fame? The fortune? The adoring
womenfans? But Charlie and his loyal, albeit unconventional, crew are about to catch a break. And her name is Elizabeth Naught.
Looking to prove fact from fiction, documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Naught never expected to be attracted to her subject. But from the moment she laid eyes on Charlie Cross, charmer and self-proclaimed ladies' man, she knew she was in trouble. But before she and Charlie can sort out their undeniable attraction, Elizabeth stumbles upon something neither she nor Necromancer-extraordinaire Charlie Cross are prepared for. Suddenly with Elizabeth and his crew’s lives at stake, Charlie must call upon the magics and rituals of old, the likes of which have never before been seen on primetime TV.
“Charlie Cross, Necromancer”
Hello, I'm Charlie Cross, and I'm a necromancer. I know, I know, you've probably seen the TV show. And, if you are anything like my critics, or the internet, you're pretty sure I'm just another ghost-hunting weirdo that is capitalizing on people's superstitions and beliefs. But I'm not. Honest. Well, that's not ALL that I'm doing. A fella has to make a living, right? Are you going to sit there and tell me that if you had studied various versions of Voodoo, Santeria, and a handful of other shamanistic cultures from indigenous North American tribes to be able to commune with the Here After, you wouldn't capitalize on it? Liar.
Yes, I had an idea for a TV show. It's not the most noble thing to do with one's gifts, but you show me a graduate student that isn't looking for a way to turn his Liberal Arts degree into a well-paying job and I will show you someone with a trust fund. So what if I host a basic cable reality show? At least I'm not faking any of it, unlike some folks out there. Besides, sometimes when you are running around the country scaring up ghosts you actually get to help a person or two. Which brings me to my point.
You see, I wanted to get this all out there just so you know what went down on my show’s recent trip to my home state of Mississippi. Things got hairy. Fast. I'm still not sure what exactly happened, but I am almost certain that it means that some bad stuff is heading our way pretty soon. It was just a coincidence that this even came up. I don't shake easily around the things that go bump and all that, but this one got to me. Wanted to put it out there, and if you run into something similar, please, try to get word to me as fast as possible.
It began like so many nights of my life, on an airplane, sitting next to one of the hairiest men I've ever known. I mean my team medic, of course—sorry, if you don't watch the show, you probably aren't familiar with him. OK, the team consists of me—who is the star, naturally—and then there is my right hand man and medic, Dan Williams. Dan and I met in our undergrad years. I went on to grad school and he went to the army, where he was a field medic for a couple of tours in Iraq. He is built a bit like a Hell's Angel, all tattoos and hair, but he is solid in a tight spot. And when things really start going wild, you want a man like Dan with you.
The other two members of my team are actually a husband and wife pair. The wife, Annie, works as the show’s producer/director. She makes sure things happen as they should and arranges everything before we arrive at a location. Her husband, Rick, is one of the best camera guys I know. We pulled him from one of those 24-hour news stations where he worked with embedded reporters who checked out “hostile” situations. Yeah, we might have used his wife to get him, and OK, so we promised him exotic, safe location shoots. But, we weren't going to get him with money, so nothing is wrong there, right? And besides, what's more exotic than Vardaman, Mississippi? Huh? Bet you've never heard of it, and it's even the Sweet Potato Capital of the World. Look it up.
We were going to Mississippi as part of this big Halloween promotion. You see, I'm originally from the Magnolia state, and anyplace that old and with that much…history has plenty of ghosts to chase around. And let's be honest, even if there wasn't a ghost to be seen, I'm familiar enough with the area that I could probably talk one or two into making an appearance. We were also working with a documentary team to film a special behind-the-scenes episode within the episode. You know, build up the credibility a little. The Network's thinking was that if I was able to have a neutral party come and film how we operate, it might make what we do a bit more legitimate.
Supposedly we were meeting the documentary person and camera guy in the Jackson airport, which is exactly where I was sandwiched between Dan and a window, not so patiently waiting for the plane to finish taxiing to the concourse. I love Dan like a brother, but the guy is a terrible travel buddy.
What seemed like an eternity later, we finally connected with the terminal and were allowed out of our seats. It wasn't so much that I was eager to get moving, as much as I was eager for Dan to get himself gone. I glanced up to make sure Annie and Rick were moving, which they were in their practiced, made-for-each-other way that those really good, really rare couples do. Kind of like a really well choreographed fight scene in a Kung Fu movie, but with less violence, and more…mushiness.
Now, I know that Dan is a crap seat buddy, but he makes for an excellent roadblock. The thing about having a best friend that did three years in the infantry and looks a bit like a biker in his day-to-day is people tend to give him space. And that is awfully beneficial when getting off what has been a 7-hour plane ride. Dan grabbed our bags and handed me mine, all four of us having quickly mastered the fine art of 1-bag travel. You'd be surprised at how comforting it is to always know you will have clean underwear in the morning. Or you wouldn't. You'd think, working for a cable show, you'd be more worried about all that very expensive equipment that you had to leave in the fickle hands of the travel gods, but no. Clean clothes can mean the difference between irate Charlie and easygoing Charlie. Like the wise man said, it's the little things in life.
Following in Dan's wake, we made our way to the front of the plane. As we got closer to the exit with all those lovely flight attendants seeing us off the plane, I couldn't help but hope for a little fawning. I mean, there have to be perks to being on TV right? Even if it's a reality show? I hear those kids from New Jersey get all kinds of attention, and they aren't even that relevant anymore. But no, nothing. Not even a “You look familiar.” Didn't even think they were all that good looking anyway.
Pride ever so slightly wounded, Dan and I made our way up to the terminal. I'm not sure how many of you travel regularly, but a well-designed, easy to navigate airport is something to be cherished. It's a rare treat to be enjoyed and savored, like getting a favorite food for dinner. Sure, Jackson isn't exactly known as one of America's great cities, but its airport is beautiful in its simplicity. Easy to get around, everything is clearly labeled, none of those odd trams that you see pop up in other major airports. Just get off the plane, follow the big signs till you get to baggage claim, leave. Easy peasy.
However, it was at baggage claim where things finally began to go uphill, or downhill, depending. Dan and I finally caught up to Rick and Annie, already being the responsible ones and waiting for the cameras and mics. I sometimes think that those two never had kids because they didn't think it would be fair to the cameras. Some people have dogs; these two have filmmaking.
That's when I saw her. She was about average height for a woman. Not too tall, not too short. She had short, red hair, cut in what I believe would be called a pixie cut, and was dressed in that comfortable way that people who travel a lot dress. But, even if the clothes were loose-fitting and comfortable, she wore them damn well. She had one of those bodies that loose clothing hung on very well. The kind of clothes that just hinted at all those wonderful curves that women tend to have. So, me being me, and still desperate to get some play out of this whole cable television thing (I'm a celebrity damn it! I am!), I decided that it wouldn't hurt to try.
“First time in Jackson?”
“Excited to be here, I take it?”
Strike two, folks.
That's fine. No problem, I had the trump card yet to play. “So, do you believe in…”
“I'm actually waiting for someone.”
And the mighty Casey has struck out. Again. Sigh. One of these days, being on TV will pay off, I just know it. But you see, my buddy Dan, he has no shame. None. Zero. Which is exactly why the first words out of his mouth when coming to stand next to me were “Who's the broad?” and “Nice ass.” You see, Dan watches those shows about those ad guys in the '60s and thinks that is a way of life worth bringing back. Words like “casual sexism” don't necessarily mean anything negative to Dan. But, the guy is golden. Trust me.
The casual observer wouldn't have noticed anything, but you see, I'm trained in the ways of the Tao of Dan, and I know his effect on the “modern woman.” You just got to watch for the slight tensing of the shoulders. The tension as it builds somewhere in the neck region, right around that little vein that will pulse if you get really pissed. It's not like I haven't tried to talk Dan out of his ways. We all have. His typical response is that he is playing a role. It's like the whole world is meant only for his amusement. The woman began to stiffly walk away, taking away any hopes of my having an actual date on this trip. I was resolving myself to another weekend spent filming in houses with a tattooed hairy man and my married production crew when Dan asked, “So where's this documentary square?”
Something interesting happened at that point. I noticed that Dan wasn't lying one bit about her ass. What? I'm an enlightened, modern man, not a eunuch. And the woman owning such a wonderful posterior stopped. Then she did this kind of slow turn that only women can do. That turn that lets any man, no matter the nationality, creed, or race know that he did something. No, he won't know what it was, but the lady is going to ask anyway, and it is never, ever, going to end pretty.
“Are you Charlie Cross?”
Of course, now I get the recognition. The one time a very sexy woman asks me my name, and I really, really want to answer “No.” I imagine this is what Baptists refer to as “The Lord.” On the plus side, her green eyes looked incredibly lovely, even if you could all but see the little cartoon fires burning in them.
“I would really like to be able to answer that question truthfully, but I fear for my well being…”
She kind of did this thing that's hard to describe. Kind of an eye-roll mixed with a shudder. As if she was disgusted and exasperated at the same time. She started back toward us and I wasn't too sure if it was to hit us or what. She stopped about an inch closer than what would be considered polite, forcing me to take a step back.
“I'm your documentary square,” she said with a particularly venom filled glare at Dan. Who, God bless him, just offered his hand with a,“Dan Williams.” I believe the effect was exactly what Dan wanted.
“Miss Naught, pleasure to meet you, sorry about before, no one told us exactly who to expect. Yes, I'm Charlie Cross, this is my right-hand man and on-site medic, Dan…”
“Just stop. It's been a long flight, and neither of us is that thrilled to be here.”
“I have no problem being here…”
“Well I do, OK. I don't want to be flying to the BFE Mississippi, to hunt ghosts with a Neanderthal and a two-bit cable TV show host that spent too many nights playing Dungeons and Dragons.”
“OK, I'll give you that Dan is a bit…old school…and that my show isn't exactly going to win any Emmys any time soon, but where do you get the Dungeons and Dragons thing?”
“Listen, I had a little brother. I know all about the whole necromancer thing. I guess it's a better angle than your typical Hot Topic Goth kid, but it's just as lame.”
I really didn't know whether or not I liked the woman at this point. On one hand, she knew D&D, which is a plus in my book; on the other hand, she just called me a Goth kid! “Listen lady, I don't know where you get off…”
“There a problem, Lizzie?”
I hadn't noticed that we were making a scene. Apparently, Dan had wandered away at some point and was looking at car rental brochures, Annie and Rick had all the equipment loaded onto a couple of carts, and now there was some guy walking up behind Elizabeth all alpha male-like with his muscles and glowing tan. Everyone else in the baggage claim was staring on with the kind of excitement one normally finds in the halls of a high school right before a fight.
I think that Lizzie got just as distracted with our exchange as I had, because it took her a beat or two to respond. “No, no problem, Aaron. Aaron, Charles Cross; Charles, this is my camera guy, Aaron Lucas.”
He put out his hand in that guy-challenge way. The one where you know that this handshake isn't really going to be a handshake between people who are going to work together as much as a test to see who could squeeze the hardest, thereby proving who has the biggest penis. I could play that game. I just want it known that if you ever run into someone that calls himself a necromancer, be sure and don't get into a show of strength with him. I took his hand and may have used a little bit of a curse meant to sap strength, but only enough to take the wind out of the little alpha-joke's sails. Hey, I wasn’t the one that brought up D&D.
Aaron eyed me. “Did you say something?”
“Just that I'm happy that we all finally get to meet,” I replied, with what I like to think was my most winning of smiles. “Let me introduce you to my crew.”
I introduced them to Rick and Annie, and being the good people they are, they managed to strike up small talk while I went to track down Dan, who was finishing up the paperwork for the car rental.
“You just can't say things like that, man. It gets you—and more importantly, sometimes me—into more trouble than not.”
“But it was true.”
He had a point.
“Besides, YOLO brother.”
“Now we both know that's not true. Come on, I have to introduce you to Aaron.”
“Maybe, or at least wants the job. Tried to beat me at a handshake,” I said with a grin.
“Do your little trick?”
“Had to, man, you have to assert your dominance and all that, right? Can't be having folks running all over you.”
Dan and I made our way back to the group who had migrated toward the exit.
“…I think we will be staying with Charlie's grandmother—,“ Annie was saying, “Oh, here they are.”
”Yep, that's right. Mawmaw Cross. She's a great woman. I think the car lot where we can pick up our rides is out this way. Hope everyone is OK with a walk.”
If you have never been to the Deep South, you're not really missing out on a ton. Well, except for some amazing cooking. Even at eleven o'clock at night in Mississippi, you don't so much walk as swim from place to place. The humidity is bad, even in October. Made worse by the mosquitoes, which incidentally is also the state bird. You also get an instant sense of who has been here before and who hasn't.
Now, me and mine? We are almost exclusively in the Deep South and on the east coast. So much history here, better for ghost hunting and all that. Dan and I grew up in these parts and Annie and Rick have been here so often for the show that we all have that Southern way of putting it all out of mind. But Elizabeth and Aaron, why, they just looked like they were wilting right then and there. It was a mighty fine sight.
We got to the rental lot and there were two cars and a very tired attendant who waited on us. “Really, Dan? A Dodge Astro and a Prius? I thought you hated 'them hippie cars'?“
“It's what was available, man. Besides, good gas mileage. I didn't buy the things, we just need to get there and back.”
Damn that man and his simple, problem-solving logic. But really, a mini-van and a hybrid? OK, imagine with me for a bit: You're a ghost-hunting necromancer who has a TV show. Would you want to drive around in something like, I don't know, a 1976 black Impala, or a soccer-mom van? Oh, well. “Ann, Rick, I guess you two want to take the van and load up the equipment. Dan, you're with me. Which leaves our new folks…”
“We're with you,” Elizabeth was quick to add. “Annie said that we still have another few hours before we get to where we’re sleeping. I'd like to take that opportunity to do some interview shots in the car.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Which it did. Not one that I would necessarily enjoy. But a plan nonetheless. After we got Annie and Rick’s equipment stowed, and then mics set up on Elizabeth and me as well as set up Aaron's camera, we were all set for the trip to my grandmother's. My new best friends waited till we were on the relatively smooth lanes of I-55 bound for Vardaman before they started in with the questions.
“So you're Charlie Cross, the ghost hunter who calls himself a necromancer?”
“That's right, Liz.”
“You'll have to excuse me, Mister Cross, but what exactly is a necromancer? Some kind of wizard?”
“Nothing quite like that—no hurling fireballs or helping of hobbits, at least that I've discovered. No, a necromancer is a kind of trained shaman—a medium that learns the skills as opposed to being born with a natural talent. They've always been around; even wise King Solomon was one to a degree. As a practice, necromancy is a kind of blending of beliefs, everything from Christianity to Hoodoo to Druidism. A necromancer kind of bridges the gap between the world of the living and that of the dead.”
“So you can do magic?”
I couldn't help but laugh a little at that. “Like I said, nothing quite that dramatic. A lot of what I do requires direct touch. For a necromancer to really be able to work, you have to be able to see what you want to do and be able to either touch it or have it hear you. I can't just bring out a crystal ball and start cursing people. It doesn't work that way. That's why a lot of what I do, I do through talismans, trinkets, and fetishes.”
“Yeah, voodoo dolls, not leather and whips. And if you can't touch someone or something, you need a bit of them, like blood or hair.”
“So, then, what exactly are the things you can do?”
“Well, I can call up spirits, which if you watch the show, you’ve probably seen me do a time or two. I can cure some minor burns and colds, and I can make things colder. Nothing too crazy.”
“So you can do magic?”
“If that's what you want to call it. This is all just stuff people have always been able to do. A kind of leveling force humans have against the stuff that goes bump in the night. People just stopped paying attention to these skills after a while.
“OK, I think that's enough, Aaron, Mister Cross—”
There was that eye-roll again, now that the camera wasn’t rolling.
“Charlie, you really think you can do all that stuff? Seriously? This isn't all just an act for the show?”
“Not at all. I'm many things, Ms. Naught, but a liar is not one of them.”
“I'm finding it all a little hard to believe.”
“He's just some weirdo, Lizzie. Let him have his stupid gimmick.”
“Gimmick?! I'll show you gimmick, you little art-school reject.”
“Boys, this is hardly the place.”
“Listen to the little lady. I will turn this car RIGHT around,” Dan said, always willing to pitch gas on the fire.
They wanted a trick, fine, no worries; I'd show them one. I faced forward, closed my eyes, and started to chant. I opened my eyes to frosted windows. Dan was bearing it because that is what Dan did. I looked back smugly behind me, hoping to say something witty and awesome about how great I am, but all I saw were two sets of very wide eyes. I jerked my head back to the front in just enough time to see a young girl, maybe fifteen, in the middle of the highway dressed all in white. The other great thing about Dan? He was rated for combat in a Humvee. The man could drive defensively. He once drove a team out of an ambush with a bullet in the arm. He could keep it cool. Which is exactly why we swerved in time and went off the road without actually dying.
We all got out of the car. Dan began asking if everyone was OK. And besides a little queasiness, I was doing fine.
“Where'd the girl go?” Aaron asked.
“She wasn't really there,” Dan replied, while kneeling beside a doubled over Elizabeth.
“She wasn't there,” I interjected. “Odds are she was a girl that died on this stretch of highway, and when I decided to be all flashy I must have called her up. It was careless of me.”
“No, she was there. I saw her!” Aaron insisted.
“Listen, it was an apparition, a memory—” The temperature was dropping. That's not always a good thing. “Dan, company incoming.”
I began looking around, looking for the witch light, the shadow, anything that would give a hint as to the apparition’s location. I should have known it was behind me. They are always behind you. It's kind of a thing with ghosts. She was young, but older than I initially thought. She might have been eighteen or twenty when she'd died; she had long, flat hair. Her dress was white, but not as white as I had thought. There were stains on it. And tears. She hadn't died easy. Out here on the highway, surrounded by woods and fields, I can only imagine what might have happened. I'm going to break it to you: It doesn't take a big city for really bad things to happen to good people.
I could feel eyes on me, but I wasn't ready to break contact with her. She was here for a reason. I could feel that. She just stood there staring at me. Then she did this thing where she tilted her head. Kind of like a dog or cat when they are puzzling something out. And then she stuck her hand in my chest.
Now, I walk the line between the living and the dead professionally. Life is heat. Everything alive is concerned about keeping warm. It's on the hierarchy of needs. Ghosts want it, too. They slurp it up like a milkshake. Most of the time it's the first thing to go right before you see a ghost. I can honestly say that I've never had it taken from me. That's not supposed to be possible. It hurt. It hurt something fierce. Then suddenly I was hit with an overwhelming sense of fear. Like a bone-deep, primal kind of fear. I heard someone screaming and didn't realize it was me until Dan had tackled me to the ground. Have I mentioned that he is a good man?
I came to my senses, and Dan helped me up and I looked around for the ghost. She was gone, and I was pretty sure that she wasn't coming back. Aaron and Elizabeth where staring. “See, not a gimmick,” I said, the implied “in your face” a little heavy in my tone. A van pulled up behind where Dan had managed to stop the car.
“Y'all all right?” Rick said in his lazy Texan way of speaking.
“Yeah, just a bit of a demonstration for our two new friends, nothing to worry over, Rick.”
He leveled a look at me. Maybe I had it wrong. Maybe Dan and I were their kids. “All right, we should probably get moving, then.”
Dan and Aaron were already heading toward the car. Elizabeth was just staring at where the ghost and I had tangled just moments before. The first time can be rough. Some people block it out, which is where I assume Aaron was at; others try to make it fit, but it takes a while to unlearn a lot of what you are certain you know. I decided to give her a hand.
“You OK?” I asked while walking over to her.
“That just happened, didn't it?”
“It certainly did.”
“Who was she?”
“I'm not even sure if she remembers. Based on her clothes, it looked like she might have died some point in the 1950s.”
“I don't know, and I'm certain that should I want to sleep tonight I do want to know.”
“What did she do to you?”
“Not sure about that either. But it wasn't pleasant.”
“But you're OK?”
“OK-ish. Come on, we need to get moving. The mosquitoes will have us for a midnight snack.” I offered my hand. Which to my surprise she took, and almost immediately let go.
“Heh, yeah, that happens when you do what I do. Good thing I like the cold, right? Come on.”
We started walking back to the car. I noticed that Aaron was giving me that stink eye of his. Ah, to hell with it. I was too tired to care at that point. And Elizabeth was legit freaked out. If Aaron couldn’t be bothered to comfort her, I sure as hell could. At least until I fell asleep, which happened pretty much as soon as Dan got the car rolling again.
The car stopped. Which was almost immediately followed by a slightly annoyed, slightly bemused, “We're here,” from Dan. I woke up and noticed that I wasn't the only one that had fallen asleep. It looked like Elizabeth was asleep as well, her head resting on my shoulder. Aaron wasn't. He was just looking at me. Which, had I been more awake, I probably would have been a tad creeped out by. But being in the state I was in, I just mumbled something incoherent and fumbled out of the car. Dan and I were stretching out the kinks of a long plane ride followed by a long car ride and a run-in with a ghost when the van pulled up with Annie and Rick. It looked like they had switched somewhere down the road because Annie was driving now. I'm not sure how they managed it, but like I said, they were that kind of well-oiled-machine type of married.
“My boys!” I turned to see Mawmaw Cross walking down her driveway to greet us. Dan was already on his way up to hug her around the neck. The guy didn't always say the “right” thing about women our age, but old ladies and grandparents loved him. He always said that he reminded them of a wayward kid from somewhere in the family tree, but I like to think that he is just a big old softy. “You didn't have to wait up, Mawmaw.”
“Oh, I know. The evening news kept me company.”
I always had this theory that after a certain age all you were allowed to watch were 24-hour news channels. I always thought it was a special discounted package with the cable company. “Well, thanks anyway. I think we are all pretty ready for bed.”
“Well, I got couches for you and Dan, and Rick and Annie can have the same bed that they always get. Who are the new people?” Mawmaw asked, glancing over at Elizabeth and Aaron, who were grabbing luggage out of the back of the van.
“That's Elizabeth and Aaron. They’re the documentary people I was telling you about.”
“I don't think so.”
“Oh, well, she's pretty.”
“I hadn't noticed.”
She gave me a side-eye. “I'm sure. She can take the back room. I guess I can get that old air mattress out for the boy and set it up in the living-room with you two.”
“Sounds awesome,” I said, trying a little too hard to fake it.
Mawmaw said all her hellos and I made the required introductions for everyone. We made our way to the house and some much-needed rest. Because the next day we had a haunted house to visit, and seeing how my weekend in Mississippi had started, it was going to be a blast!
I am of the opinion that there is no greater smell in this world to awaken to than that of bacon. Well, breakfast in general, but bacon most of all. The only thing better than breakfast is a country breakfast. Filled with all the hardy foods that will keep a man out in the field for the next 12-14 hours. My Mawmaw could make a country breakfast. Complete with red-eye gravy. What's that? It's horrible ambrosia-like alchemy that my grandfather swore by. Essentially it is a pot of black coffee, a cup of sugar, and a pan of bacon grease. I walked into the kitchen to find Annie and Rick already at the table, and Dan beating eggs while my Mawmaw worked the stove. He'd been all domesticated; it's kind of sweet.
“Where are the documentary folks?” I asked the room at large while being handed a cup of coffee by my Mawmaw, the dear, sweet woman. Dan eyed me and went back to egg beating.
“They went back to Lizzie's room to talk about the documentary. Why so curious?” Annie said in that way that married friends talk to single friends.
“No reason at all, I'll just go tell them about breakfast.”
I turned away before things got any more uncomfortable. Just trying to be a good host. I mean, where would I be if I didn't offer breakfast to people who were supposed to be making me look good? Just because one of those people happened to be a moderately, OK, a very attractive redhead, didn't mean I had ulterior motives.
My grandparents’ home is built all on the same story. Two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths. My Grandpa built the thing with his hands. These two were old school. My Mawmaw was the last of a very resilient, very hardy couple. She would have put Elizabeth in the room at the farthest end of the house to make her as comfortable as possible in a strange place. I was about to knock when I overheard talking.
“…a fake Lizzie. That's all he is. Let's just cut our losses and leave.”
“Fake? You saw what happened last night, Aaron, he isn't faking this. Besides, the documentary business isn't exactly booming. His network is actually paying us to do this. You know that, right?”
“Oh, please, I saw the way you were checking him out. He had us all fooled and capitalized on some girl being on the side of the road. And, what? You're just going to sell out just because you think some fake ghost-chaser is cute?”
“Grow up, Aaron! We aren't at Pratt anymore, and no one wants to finance another environmental documentary. We have to eat, and we have to be able to pay for our film.”
While I did love being defended by her, and really loved the idea that she had been checking me out, it wasn't right to keep eavesdropping on the conversation. I decided to rap the door a couple of times and announce that breakfast was ready. From the other side of the door I heard her shout back “Thanks” and then in a quieter voice say, “Oh, shit, do you think he heard us talking?”
“What does it matter? The guy only cares about taking advantage of people's superstitions and making a dollar. He's a snake oil salesman, Lizzie.”
I probably should have kept my mouth shut. It's what my brain wanted. It's just that my mouth and brain don't always agree with one another. “I'll have you know that I haven't sold one bottle of snake oil since undergrad, but if you're interested, I do have this bridge I'm looking to unload.” I waited for a couple of seconds. No response. Guess I got the last word after all. It's good to be the king.
After breakfast I decided that it might be wise to have a sit-down about the night's case with Elizabeth and Aaron. We've done our fair share of haunted houses on the show, and this one should be fairly routine, but it can still be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Which Elizabeth and Aaron most definitely did not. As non-believers, they were as far from prepared for what was to come as anyone could be. So it was pretty nice of me to fill them in on the details. Covered my own ass too, should something go awry.
We do everything we can when either a woman is pregnant or a kid is involved, mostly because they’re at the greatest risk of possession. You know how they say that people get set in their ways? It's true. As you age you get more and more cemented in who you are as a person. You figure yourself out. But kids? They are still open to it. Still sorting out school, let alone answering the hard questions about who they are as a person. The younger, the more at risk the kid is. Which is why pregnant women are at the greatest risk. A newborn is a blank slate. Open to anything and everything. It's why the doctor has you watch what you eat. It also means that you are at a huge risk for having a baby with “an old soul.” Which can get ugly considering some of the spirits out there in the world. Which is exactly why we came to my grandma's.
About a month ago I got a call from my Mawmaw. One of her friends' daughters was having her first baby and she and her husband were having a bunch of problems in their house. Typical haunting stuff—things moving, temperature shifts, that kind of thing. But then her husband started waking up with scratches. They called me when he had to be taken to the emergency room for stitches. There are only a couple of things that I can't stand; messing with kids and pregnant ladies is one of them.
I explained the situation to Elizabeth and Aaron, with Elizabeth nodding along, seemingly much more interested in all of this after the events of last night, and Aaron clearly not even trying to take any of it seriously. I wasn’t too worried, though. Really, this is kind of business as usual for us. In a lot of these situations it's just the wife having night terrors and being generally forgetful. It's not that hard for us to go in, debunk the haunting, reassure everyone, and call it a night. But you can never be too careful. I wouldn't be calling any spirits tonight. Didn't need to open any doors around the lady's house. And I didn't mention that the event with the girl on the highway last night had really shook me up.
We would go in with our standard gear, the stationary cameras, the voice recorders, and the electro-magnetic field detectors. Most of which was used by Dan to verify everything I felt or said was happening. But science can only do so much in this line of work. At some point it's going to come down to faith. My crew and I had it, having been through many similar situations.
Elizabeth had decided that filming our pre-filming meeting would be a nice touch. So while I was explaining what was going to happen tonight, Lizzie and the jerk were filming the behind-the-scenes part of the show. After we were finished going over the details, Aaron started to pack up his equipment, but Elizabeth had him hold off.
“You have a minute more for me, Charlie?” she asked.
“Sure, what you got, Liz?” She looked at me sideways. I wasn't sure if it was the Liz or not, but I'll be damned if I'm sharing a pet name with the asshole.
“Just thought maybe now would be a good time to continue our little interview from last night? Aaron’s all set up already. You game?”
Here we go again.
“So, Charlie Cross, what is a ghost?”
“See, that's a tough question. There are a few different kinds out there in the world. One is called an intelligent haunt. These are the kinds that interact with yo; a lot of times they are what's left of a close relative. Mostly benevolent. Then there is a memory haunt. Kind of like what you would find at a battlefield like Gettysburg. These are the haunts where you see people who have had such an emotional impact on an area that their memories remain. They aren't around anymore, but their memories are.”
“So, what about demons and angels and all that? If there's an afterlife, they have to be around, right?”
“I'm not sure about what they are in the biblical sense. But I have to think of certain haunts as being angelic or demonic.”
“Well, human emotion is a mighty powerful thing. You feel enough of something in the right environment, say near moving water or a particularly old object, and you can trap that emotion. If you are able to trap enough of it, eventually the emotion takes on a life of its own. Then it becomes something that we would think of as an angel or a demon.”
“This is stupid, Lizzie.”
And there went the shot. Ah, well. Not like I ever wanted this part of the show. This was some stupid executive’s idea of what the audience would want, so I let them know. “Tell ya what, you two figure this out, I'm going to be outside in the event you actually want to start treating this thing like it's, I don't know, a job or something.” And then I left, a little more offended than I felt I had a right to be. But I didn't leave in a huff. Charlie Cross, master spirit-caller and all-powerful necromancer, does not leave in huffs.
The thing I liked most about my grandparents’ place was the calm. Yeah, my granddad wasn't around any more, and my Mawmaw wasn't moving like she used to, but the place was tranquil. Quiet. The kind of place anyone would want to retire to. The only thing missing was an Andy and Opie walking down the road whistling. I heard the porch door open and close. So much for calm.
“Listen, I'm sorry about all that,“ Elizabeth started.
“What?” That's me, master charmer and orator.
“About Aaron. Normally he is a lot better at this.”
“What, interacting with adults?” Yeah, it was a cheap shot, but worth it. Besides, I got her to smile. It was this little half-smile that tugged the left side of her mouth up. It was a sight I could get used to.
“No, he just isn’t that thrilled about doing this.”
“Yeah, I know the type, and I'm sorry, too, about the airport. I didn't mean to…you know.”
“Hit on me?” She looked a little disappointed.
“Well, no, that I intended to do, but, it wasn't professional and then I just got on a tear with you guys and…”
“Charlie, it's fine. Besides, it's not every day a cute guy hits on me.”
“What?” Like I said, smooth operator. That's what they call old Charlie Cross.
“I'll be inside, if you’d be willing to finish the interview.”
And like that she was walking away. I caught one last glimpse of that little impish half-smile. And I could swear there was extra sway in her hips as she was walking back toward the house. But as she was going through the porch door, Dan was coming out.
He was in his jeans, his combat boots, and one of his Iron Maiden shirts featuring Eddie the Head. He walked my way, lighting a cigarette. When he got over to me he offered one. ”You know I don't smoke, Dan.”
“It's only polite to ask,” he said with a shrug. “What's the story on Red?”
“Still trying to figure that one out, man.”
“G'luck with that. What do you think about tonight?”
“I don't know. I want it to be nothing. But after last night I got a bad feeling. Feels like something’s in the air. It's too warm for October, even around here. Something bad is coming and I'm afraid this thing could go sideways on us.”
“I'll check on the kits, then. Maybe ask Mawmaw about your granddad's sawed-off.”
That's the thing I loved about Dan. He is a man of few words. And if you tell him that things probably aren't going to go well, he'll just shrug it off and still do what needs to be done. He's a good man, that Dan Williams. I wasn't even sure if a shotgun would do anything. But it felt good to have it with us.
We got to the haunted home a little after five. Dan and I did our thing with the couple on camera; the network had previously briefed them when we first scheduled the shoot. But it always helped to explain in person what all we had planned to do for the show and that we would do everything possible to make sure that their home was safe to live in. All while Annie and Rick did their magic thing with the cameras. After we saw them off, we set about setting up our stationary cameras around the house.
We were all finished and set to go about half an hour after the sun finally went down.
“So, why do you guys always do this at night?” Elizabeth asked, appearing beside me. Her and Aaron had been mostly scenery while Dan and I set everything up in the house and Annie and Rick filmed us.
“It's scarier? No reason, really, just that people expect you to hunt ghosts at night.”
“So it doesn't matter?”
“Nah, you can be just as spooked in a fully lit room as you can in a pitch black one.” I looked at her and she was nodding along, giving me a maybe-I'm-smarter-than-I–look look. Dan and I were in our official “Charlie Cross, Necromancer” gear. We both wore some loose-fitting jeans, he wore his combat boots, I wore my Converse All-Stars, we also had matching short-sleeved black button-ups on that bore the show’s logo on the back and left breast pocket. Got to brand everything, you know. We had all decided that instead of Dan and me going in together, he would go in by himself with Annie and Rick, do a preliminary sweep, and then I would take Elizabeth in for her first real ghost-hunting experience with Aaron doubling as our camera guy.
We were waiting for Dan to finish up a sweep that included testing electro-magnetic fields, just in case the mom-to-be or her husband were particularly sensitive. They say it can cause paranoia or hallucinations. But it is supposed to be rare. It also included a couple of 15-20 minute EVP sessions to see if he could pick a voice up in white noise. We walked the perimeter of the house checking for anything obvious, and just listening mostly. Ghost hunting is a lot like fishing that way. Mostly it's boring, but it can get very stressful from time to time.
I was about to go in and look for them when Dan's voice came on my walkie-talkie.
That's not good. That's never good. Elizabeth, Aaron, and myself all ran for the front of the house and got to the front door about the same time Dan was coming out carrying Rick. Rick was conscious, but was looking a little shaken.
“What happened, Dan?”
“You were right, man, something is scary in there. We were doing our EVP and then Rick’s camera went dead and it dropped about 10 degrees. Next thing we know, Rick is falling backwards down the stairs. I think he twisted his knee pretty bad.”
“All right, get him to the van. If he needs a doctor, get him down to Mawmaw's.” I turned to Elizabeth and Aaron, “You two ready?” Liz looked at me with a kind of grim determination; Aaron looked about ready to bolt. This was going to be great.
We walked into the house and it hit me pretty fast. You ever been around something that really doesn't want you around? Like maybe a pissed-off dog? It was kind of like that. You could feel the menace. “You guys feel that?”
“Yes…” Liz said with a slightly smaller voice than I would have expected.
“Feel what?” Aaron then replied, with a little bit more bravado than I thought necessary.
Amateur. At least Liz had the sense to admit she was scared. I was. Something was bad here. Real bad. We started walking up the stairs towards the nursery and master bedroom. The sense of menace and foreboding only got heavier. As we got closer to where the nursery was set up, the hairs on the back of my neck began standing up. Aaron maneuvered around us to get a better, more dramatic shot from the end of the hallway. About when he got even with the door of the nursery, something moved him. And it wasn't gently. He was there, then he was gone. Like he was tackled by an invisible line backer.
We heard him hit something solid in the bedroom. And then heard him say something not too polite. And then we saw him as he ran past us on his way out the door. Good riddance.
“Don't bother, he's been through too much. Dan will try to settle him down.”
“We need him for the show.”
“Don't think we will get much of a show out of this one…”
I sensed it building. I pushed Liz behind me, hoping she would get the hint and go downstairs. I stood my ground and decided to do my best impersonation of Gandalf the Grey. I also learned that whatever this thing was, it really wanted to get past us, and didn't really care what I had to say about it. Turns out that Ms. Naught is very good at reading non-verbal cues. I landed on an end table near the front door that she happened to be waiting by. It hurts to be a necromancer sometimes.
“Charlie, oh my god, are you OK?”
“Get out” is what I wanted to say, but I think it came out “Gighf ouss.” You try being thrown down stairs and into furniture and not come out of it with your thinking a little fuzzy. Liz got the gist of what I meant and helped me up and got us outside.
“Help, he's hurt.”
Who's hurt? I wasn't hurt. I just thought it would be gentlemanly to allow the lady to assist me, that's all. I could stand on my own. I swear. Dan ran up to me, asked how many fingers, what day it was, all that jazz. I was able to answer them more or less correctly. Just a little shaken up.
“What's going on in there, man?” Dan asked as soon as he got to me. I guess Annie was still with Rick.
“Demon. Big one. It's throwing a whole lot of hate at us. It doesn't want anyone in that house. Definitely not anything life-affirming.”
“How do you know that?”
“Well, it seemed to not like Rick, who is kind of fond of his wife. And whatever it is just took a massive run at me when I tried to protect Liz.”
“Yeah, but what about Aaron?” Elizabeth decided to join in.
“He was in the way. That's why he just got moved. Dan, I need the kit. Also, you might need that shotgun.”
My kit was an old leather box. It was about the size of a tackle box. Inside was a bunch of notebooks, a few jars of some rare ingredients, a few tea light candles and my kris, a kind of funny looking knife from the Philippines. I pulled out some of the candles, a jar of salt, and the knife.
Elizabeth looked at me. “What are you doing?”
“Well, we can't stop the thing the way it is now, so I'm going to give it a body.”
“Dan, I need you to hold down the area immediately around the house. Don't let anyone in, OK?”
“What are you doing Charlie?”
“Not right now, Liz. That thing in there, it isn't nice. It's not going to be OK once baby comes along. It's ready to tear into anyone that cares about anyone else. It's certainly not going to be OK with a new baby and all the love that comes with that. If I don't stop it now, bad stuff is going to happen.”
“You're going in there alone?” She paled.
“Yeah, this is what I do. Listen, just wait out here with Dan. When I bring this thing over onto our side of things, it might try to make a run for it. I need you guys out here to keep an eye out for it. Dan is good, but Annie and Rick are down. You can head out if you'd like. I'm pretty sure your boy Aaron is already halfway back to Jackson by now,” I wasn't exaggerating, the Prius was missing, “but I'm going in there and going to knock this thing out.”
Then she kissed me. Fast and sneaky like.
“Come back, OK?”
“Sure…” See, I know how to handle the ladies. I turned back toward the house. All doped up on that post-kiss-from-a-pretty-girl high. Got inside the house and felt all that hate even more. This thing was a bit of a buzz-kill.
I put the candles out in a star, forming a rough pentagram. I lit each candle starting with the right tip and moving through the star like any third-grader would, all the while chanting a phrase in German from one of my notebooks. At the end of the chant I took my knife and cut the palm of my hand, letting the blood drip down into the candles. It was a trick I learned from a Jewish Rabbi. Essentially I was creating a blood golem for the spirit to inhabit and have as a physical form. Ideally it shouldn't take that long.
“OK you big nasty, now we’ll find out if you’re the one that hides under the bed, or the one that hides under the stairs…”
I opened my palm and the temperature of the room dropped. The house went quiet. Too quiet. That's right, too quiet—want to make something of it? I heard footsteps moving through the upstairs. A slow, rhythmic thud moving above your head is hell on the nerves, believe me. I saw a shadow at the top of the stairs so I tied off the cut on my hand with my button-up and prepared to face down the demon in my jeans and a t-shirt featuring my personal favorite fedora-wearing cartoon platypus. When the thing came into the light, I wished I had rethought this whole lone-wolf shtick.
It was tall, about my height; I’m a comfortable 6'3”. But its arms were far too long. They were about twice as long as any normal person's, same for its fingers. But the worst part was its face, or lack thereof. Its head was smooth and featureless. Like an eggshell. Except for the thing’s mouth. It stretched too far across its head and was filled with far too many teeth. I think the worst thing of all was that the whole thing was the rusty red color of blood. This was a very bad idea.
“So I guess that would make you neither. Oggey Boogey, then?”
It smiled that toothy smile and cocked its head at me. It was a very disturbing, very human-like expression. Then it hit me. Sent me through the front door. I don't know if you have been knocked through many hardwood doors, but it smarts a bit. Somewhere between the air and the ground I lost my knife. I heard Liz shout something; I like to assume that it was my name. I hit the ground hard enough to knock the air out of me. I managed to get to a knee about the time the demon was walking down the steps of the front porch. I was winded, so another chant was out of the question. So I decided on the next best thing. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small silver coin with a Gaelic Cross engraved on it that I pressed as hard as I could into the ground. The grass all over the yard began to grow, but the best part was that the grass around the demon's feet began to wrap around its legs.
It looked down, I guess, hard to tell when a monster doesn't have eyes, and started to pull at the grass. It was about that time that Dan appeared about 5 feet away from the thing and gave it both barrels of my Papa's old side-by-side. The thing was cut off at the waist. But what kind of self-respecting demon stays down after getting cut in half by buckshot? It picked itself up on its too long arms and began hand walking its way toward me in a hurry.
I was still winded and my arm was just as entwined in the grass as his legs were, part of the price of magic. It looked like I was about to be cancelled. What? I'm allowed a bad TV pun.
The thing was about a foot from me. Dan was trying to reload the shotgun and I was weakly tearing at the grass wrapped around my arm. I could feel the demon’s breath when suddenly the tip of my kris was sticking through its mouth, stopping short just an inch from the bridge of my nose. The thing began to break apart into liquid. Behind it stood Elizabeth Naught, Demon Slayer.
I did the manliest thing I could think of. I fainted.
I woke up in the van. We were sitting in the car rental lot at the Jackson Airport. Dan was standing by the panel door smoking. He offered me one. “Nah, man, we drive all night?”
“Yep, got to be in Savanna before tomorrow. Something about a haunted bar.”
“Heh, at least there will be beer after that one. How's Rick?”
“He's fine, just a twisted knee, gave him a brace. He and Annie are checking the equipment and getting our tickets.”
“You guys call the lady and her husband?”
“Annie did. Your grandma is going to look after them, let us know if anything else pops up.”
“That Aaron guy?”
“Apparently returned the Prius. We're guessing he got on a plane and bugged out.”
He knew I didn't really care about the jerk; I was just dancing around asking about Liz. Which is exactly why he said, “She's over there, has a flight back to Cali in about an hour. She wanted to make sure you were up before she went through security.”
I moved away from the van and went to go find Liz. She was pacing a little bit away, just far enough to give Dan and me some privacy. “How's it feel downing your first demon?” I asked, trying really hard to be nonchalant.
“That was…intense. You do this every week?”
“Sometimes twice,” I said with a grin.
“Seriously? Nah, this was different. This was the worst any of us has seen it. Still has something to do with what happened on the highway. Not sure what yet.”
“Yeah. Oh. Where's Aaron?”
“Not sure, don't think I really care at this point.”
“So you two weren't…”
“Oh no,” she said with a kind of chuckle, “I think he always wanted it, but he was always a bit too jock for me. Always had a thing for the nerdy guys that played too much Dungeons and Dragons.”
“Yeah. Oh,” she said with a legitimate laugh this time.
“You know we could always use another member on the crew…” I said, with more than a little hope in my voice.
The laughter died, and I got another one of those half-smiles. “That sounds tempting, Cross, it does, but there's some stuff I’ve got to take care of. But, if you are ever out in California, give me a call. I'm sure we got ghosts out there, too,” she said, handing me her card and pulling me down for another kiss, this one not so quick and sneaky. And just like that she picked up her carry-on and headed into the airport. I felt a presence beside me. “She was a pretty cool chick.”
“Yes, she was.”
“Still has a great ass.”
That's the great thing about Dan Williams. He's as regular as the tide. “Come on, man,” I said to him, “We got ghosts to hunt.”
Copyright© 2012 by Christopher Morgan