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Proof

by TL Demmons 12 months ago

Proof of life...and afterlife

Proof
Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

Eight thirty PM. No calls, no texts, no sign of Antonio. I swipe angrily at the screen of my phone and stuff it into the back pocket of my jeans. “This is great,” I mutter. “My first ghost hunt as an actual team member and I'm the only one here.”

My ringtone jangles cheerfully and I quickly answer. “Antonio? You better say you're almost here-,”

“Sorry, K, it's Devon. Antonio's not there yet?”

Devon is the leader of Paranormal Times, the ghost hunting group and online community I joined six months ago. I've known him since junior high, and he's more like a big brother than my unofficial boss.

“Sure,” I reply, rolling my eyes. “He's right here. We just like to call each other on the phone when we're in the same room together. It's more fun that way.” I sigh and look skyward for patience. “So you haven't heard from him either?”

“No, and he's not answering his cell.”

“That doesn't surprise me. Half the time he forgets it at home.”

“Listen. I don't like the idea of you in that abandoned house all by yourself. You know the rules. No investigating alone. It's too dangerous.”

“Devon, please. You know Antonio is chronically late. I'm sure that by the time I'm done setting up he'll come strolling in chewing on a taco or something and swearing we said nine o'clock and not eight.”

“But I-,”

“I promise. If he's not here by then I'll call you. Bye!” I hang up on Devon's protest and grab my duffle bag from the back seat of my dented orange SUV. The gravel crunches under my feet as I head up the front walk. No time like the present to investigate the past!

Cahill Cottage was built in the 1930’s, and abandoned in the 1950’s. Whoever owns it has used it over the years as a hunting cabin, so it has all the basics, electricity, heat, plumbing, but there the charm ends. I step into the kitchen and flip a switch. Sickly yellow light flicker to life, illuminating cracked and peeling wallpaper that may have been colorful before it was covered in fifty years of neglect. The wood floors are stained and broken in places.

I carefully step over one board that juts up like a booby trap and walk to the round wooden table in the center of the room. It is surrounded by several square back chairs, two of which are broken, all of which are dusty. There is nothing of life in this old place, no lived-in, homey feel. There is only the empty cold and a curious feeling of being watched by something that isn't supposed to be here. Or is that just me? My heart is already beating faster, but Devon always says that if rule number one is no solo investigating, number two is definitely don’t expect to find a ghost, because your imagination will never let you down. This place is definitely spooky, but that doesn’t make it haunted. Only time and science will tell.

I set my bag on the table and unzip it, pull out my equipment. I've spent the last six months following the Paranormal Times team around at various locations, learning all the rules, and how the equipment works. I can set up remote cameras and motion-activated LED mats with the best of them. But for this, my first official ghost hunt as an actual investigator, I am only allowed to use the very basics: my ears and eyes, a small maglite flashlight, and a voice recorder for recording EVP's- disembodied voices of ghosts which may not be audible to the naked ear, but will record digitally so we can hear it later.

Devon always says that the best paranormal experience is the one that is personal to you, so I'm here to experience it. This is the last hurdle before I become an actual member of the Paranormal Times team. I have to do a solo investigation- which, in this case, means me moving around the building with a team member watching me from a remote location. Alone, but not completely. Help is there if I need it. My job is to prove that I can face down the dark without freaking out.

The slam of a door makes me jump as it echoes up into the rafters above. Antonio is short and wide with kind eyes and a perpetual smile. I bite my lip to keep from giggling as he shoves the last of a taco into his mouth and waves.

“You’re early,” he says around the ground beef and lettuce. “We said nine, right?”

I shrug and grin. He slouches into one of the ancient chairs and pulls a laptop and small clip-on portable camera from his worn messenger bag. He fiddles with the camera and attaches it to me through a buttonhole in my denim jacket. “Okay. I can see what you see. Are you ready to prove yourself?”

My heart thumps hard in my chest. I give him a thumbs up. “Let’s do this!”

He gestures grandly towards the decrepit living room. “Have at it. Good luck, newbie!”

Thirty minutes later I have yet to experience the paranormal. I have discovered a dripping bathroom faucet, an old coat rack that looks surprisingly like a shadow figure in the dark, and a nest of mice in the walls that scurry around louder than a herd of elephants. Frustrated, but trying not to let it get to me, I am leaning against the staircase banister when I hear it.

Knock-knock. Knock-knock.

I sneak up the stairs and to the right, following the sound. It’s coming from a room at the end of the hall. I use my flashlight and find what looks like an empty bedroom with flowery wallpaper and a broken-down old wardrobe. One of the doors is hanging open, one of the hinges snapped. The butterflies in my stomach whirl as I realize this is the source of the knocking. It is swaying back and forth, hitting up against the other door in a gentle rhythm.

“Hello?” Oh, please be a ghost! Pleasepleaseplease! “Is someone here?” I swing my flashlight around the room, and wilt in disappointment. The circle of light illuminates an open window, its curtains billowing with the breeze coming in. Not paranormal, then.

“Crap.” Even so, I turn on the voice recorder and spend five minutes asking questions, just in case the ghost is hiding in the corner watching me.

As I turn to leave, I feel a prickle of unease slide up my spine to pinch the back of my neck. A feeling like someone is staring. I step out into the hallway, where the air suddenly feels thick and close.

“Who's in here with me?” I stop in the dark hall and listen. Silence is humming in my ears, disrupted only by the rhythmic thump of boots coming down the hall towards me.

Don't run. Ghost hunters are brave. Investigate. It's amazing how the desire to find proof of ghosts and the desire to run can burn equally bright. Shaking, I swing my flashlight up. The footsteps stop. There is no one there. You'd think that would be a relief. A ghost? Probably! But the butterflies erupt in a panic as I try to breathe, slow and deep.

Where did they go? I estimate that the sound ended about five feet in front of me, and sure enough, I can see another doorway about that distance away. So, I investigate. I turn into the new room. The air is thick, and that feeling grows stronger. There is a bare window on the opposite wall. Moonlight filters through, causing patterns to shift across the floor. I click off my light, and that is when I see the shadow in the corner. It moves, unfolding and rising into the figure of a man. I bite my lip and ignore the butterflies that beat on my stomach wall.

Run! Run!

But then, a moonbeam illuminates the face of the figure. I gasp.

“Devon?” It is, right? I recognize the shape of him: Tall and thin, but slightly hunched at the shoulders like he is trying to make himself smaller, the ever present Red Sox cap sitting backwards on his head. I shake my head and step closer. “When did you get here? I thought I told you not to come!”

He grins and shrugs. I laugh, and with it goes all the tension I was holding inside. “Did you see Antonio? He got here a few minutes after I talked to you. Well, since you're here, why don't you help? Let's do an EVP session.” I click on my recorder and start to ask a question, but he holds up a hand to stop me.

“Don't worry, K,” he says. “I got this.”

“Oh, well sure, I just thought-” A scream from somewhere cuts me off and the adrenaline rush is back. “Whoa! Did you hear that? Come on! First floor!”

I take off running carefully through the darkness, back down the hall, down the stairs and into the kitchen- to find the whole Paranormal Times team waiting for me with the lights on, laughing and pointing as I skid to an unsteady halt.

“Gotcha!”

“I'm sorry, I don't-,” It takes me a minute to catch my breath, and to register that somehow, a joke has been played on me.

Antonio gives me a friendly pat on the back and pushes a navy blue Paranormal Times T shirt into my arms. “Welcome to the team!”

“What?

“It was a test, newbie! Cahill Cottage isn't really haunted, it's just something we set up. Devon came up with the idea a couple years back. Before you can become a full-fledged investigator, we bring you here and see if you pass the test. You found and debunked all the fake hauntings in the place.”

“But- how do you know?”

“This place is completely wired with hidden cameras and sound.”

I look around at the team, and they smile back. There is no malice, no one making fun of me. Just a group of friends waiting for me to accept the humor of the situation. “You all took this test?”

“All but Devon. He designed it,” Antonio says. “Pretty cool, huh?”

“Yeah,” someone added. “You were pretty fearless up there!”

I grin, ready to laugh along. “Okay,” I glance around. “So where is Devon? Get him in here so I can bust his chops for this!”

Antonio shrugs. “Sorry, K, he couldn't make it tonight. He had a family thing down in Portland.”

I laugh. “Yeah, right. What, is he waiting outside the door to scare me some more? Devon! Come on out!”

Antonio laughed. “Kerri, he's not here.”

I make a face. Boy, are they taking this far! “I just saw him. He was upstairs doing the footsteps down the hall thing.” My voice gets louder. “I just talked to him!”

Antonio's phone begins to ring. His puzzled gaze studies my face as he answers, but whoever is on the line grabs his full attention. As he listens, he seems to age, the color draining from his face, the smile fading from his dark eyes. He puts a hand on the counter as if he needs the help to stay standing. After he hangs up he pulls something up on his phone, then looks around at all of us. “Guys. You need to see this.”

We all crowd around, trying to get a good view of the website on the screen. It is the local news website, and the title, written in bold letters, reads, “Fatal car crash on I-295 kills Portland man.” The picture above is of a light blue Prius, overturned on the side of the road and smashed almost flat. The license plate is visible. GHSTBSTR, it reads. Above it is a retro bumper sticker that says “I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghosts!” We all know that car, because we have all teased Devon about that bumper sticker and reminded him of the time he ran out of a warehouse screaming at his very first ghost hunt.

Silence. We are shocked. In the back, someone starts crying.

“I don't understand...that can't be him.” I grab Antonio's hand. “I saw him upstairs! This place is wired? Did you record it?”

The crowd shifts to the table where the monitor shows all the video angles. Antonio sits and fusses with the keyboard until he has the right footage. There I am, walking into that strange-feeling bedroom with the moonlight. I move to the center. I'm talking- to myself, it appears.

“There's no one there.”

“He was there! I- Wait!” I pull my voice recorder from my pocket and hit rewind. The room is silent as I press play.

“Devon? When did you get here!” Everyone listens to my voice, grainy on the recording, until suddenly, quietly, as with most EVP's, there is Devon's voice. “Don't worry, K- I got this.” I keep rewinding it and playing it, the voice of my honorary big brother, until Antonio gently removes the recorder from my hand.

TL Demmons

Writer of YA and grade fantasy and paranormal fiction. Coffee addict, spiritual seeker, lover of all things witchy.

Read next: 'Werewolf Rising'

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