Authors: Evan Ronan
Eddie shook his head. “Giles, as much as I love you, you always were a pompous windbag.”
The footage from Gracie’s sting switched to a montage of Giles running around the house, making outrageous claims, and invading the client’s personal space several more times. Eddie watched in horror. Giles was completely oblivious to his impending demise, about to be hoisted by his own oversized petard.
Throughout the montage, Giles made one ridiculous claim after another. A noise in the basement was the former owner yelling at his wife to keep it down during the ball game. The mysterious orbs of light captured on a photo were the essence of the neighbor’s teenaged daughter who’d “probably always liked the color gold.” The fuzzy, electrical feeling the missus got standing near the washing machine had nothing to do with the fuse box that was only ten feet away—this was the work of “some perhaps malevolent force, trying to make her uncomfortable.”
Giles went on. And on. He offered little proof. It was conjecture without qualification. All style without the CYA boilerplate. At one point, he told the woman that the spirits might be trying to activate the homeowner’s heretofore latent medium-abilities.
Eddie shook his head. Without anyone like Tim to keep the guy in check, Giles broke just about every rule of investigation. And he probably would have hit on the client if he’d gotten the opportunity.
“Giles, Giles, Giles …”
Eddie would have done everything differently. And yet, until this doomed voyage, Giles had enjoyed success and had somehow fostered a good reputation. He was well-known and well-liked by the national paranormal community, and he did a business.
When Giles finally stopped talking, the lights came on in the dark house and Gracie Barbitok was there, mike in hand and camera crew already filming.
Giles had the look of an animal that knows it’s just been trapped.
Gracie Barbitok revealed to the unusually quiet Giles that it was all a set-up and he’d been filmed the entire time. With a dramatic pause, she let that sink in. Her studio audience cheered.
Then Gracie motioned toward the front door. “You can leave now, Mr. Tyson. No one’s forcing you to stay. Or you can sit down and talk to me. Tell us your side of the story.”
Giles looked at the empty chair in the living room, then at the front door. He was forked. If he ran, he was a fraud. If he told the truth, he was a fraud.
Giles faced Gracie, straightened his tie and re-messed his stylish hair, and walked like Charles II on his way to the guillotine. Chin up, proud, stubborn.
And Gracie ruined him.
It was a hatchet job. Sure, Giles had exaggerated but he’d been set-up from the start. All of Gracie’s tricks were good enough that a cursory investigation wouldn’t expose them. Giles had no time to look at wiring or find hidden speakers or do any one of a million things. Not that he necessarily would have, but still.
And, even worse, Giles didn’t help himself during the interview.
“Clients call me for many reasons. But they all want the same thing, Ms. Barbitok. They want to feel special. They want to think wondrous things are happening in their otherwise quotidian existence. They want me to say yes. They want to believe. I give them what they want.”
“So you lie to them and take their money?”
“Lie is too strong a word. We know so little of our universe. We don’t know what happens beyond death. My job is to open their minds to the possibilities.”
Eddie said, “Giles, buddy, you always did speak in italics too much.”
After the episode had originally aired, Eddie had sent Giles a heartfelt email long on condolences and short on criticisms. The guy had helped Eddie out of a jam before, so Eddie figured it was the least he could do to repay the old debt.
Giles had never responded.
Alice Ketcher could still hear her husband upstairs. She was waiting for him to pass out before she turned in. It had been three months since he’d been drunk but you never knew with men. Anson had a mean streak. They’d been in couples counseling at church for the last year. She’d thought that Anson had shown genuine remorse and a desire to change, but here he was back on the bottle.
No matter how much she prayed and tried to forgive him, she couldn’t forget the times he’d scared her. He’d put his hands on her twice. Never hit her, just grabbed her shoulders to shake some sense into her. Murder in his eyes.
The last time had been over a year ago but you didn’t forget a thing like that. He’d been boozed up that night. Alcohol and her husband were a dangerous mix.
Not to mention they hadn’t spoken more than five words to each other in the last two weeks.
“ … seen … shirt?” he yelled from upstairs.
Alice pretended not to hear him. She went into the laundry room. The washer was running and making a lot of noise. She could always lie and say she hadn’t heard him over the sound of the washer.
She jumped at the sound of his voice. He’d poked his head into the doorway. Looking at him, you’d never know about his mean streak. He had a kind, soft face and sympathetic eyes.
“I …” Anson took a deep breath. “I know my drinking makes you uncomfortable. I’m sorry.”
She kept her distance. “That’s okay.”
The cycle was predictable. Falling down drunk followed by scenes of absolute terror then remorse and pathetic, weeping apologies. It was way past getting old.
Anson stepped into the tiny laundry room, blocking the door. She felt how very alone they were in this house. Nearest neighbor was half a mile away. It was times like these she grew furious with the church and her God for frowning on divorce. For pressuring her into staying with a man who frightened her.
Anson studied her, his kind eyes searching for something. She hoped it was for forgiveness. She fought herself not to look past his shoulder and give away how uncomfortable she was. That could send him into a rage.
“No really.” He shook his head. “I just … there’s no excuse.”
She realized he was crying. She closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around his neck. Suddenly, not scared of him at all.
Had he turned the corner finally?
He spoke into her shoulder. “I want to keep with the counseling. I don’t think we should stop.”
“Okay, Anson. Okay.”
She rubbed his back till he collected himself. “I’m trying, hon.”
“I know.” She just wondered if people were actually capable of change. The fairy tales all said they did. But life was no fairy tale. “I just want this thing gone. I’m not comfortable in this house …”
“I know, baby. I want it gone too. Why don’t we ask Giles to come back out?”
“I don’t trust him.”
“Because he’s my friend, right?”
His eyes changed. The soft sadness vanished and a hardness took its place.
“Anson, he’s a fraud. That lady proved it on national TV.”
Anson just stared at her. It was like he was deciding how to react. She wondered what the options were.
“It’s actually gotten worse since he came out,” she said.
Anson frowned. Not believing her.
“It’s more … aggressive now. Before it just used to visit.”
Anger filling his eyes. “You’re just saying that.”
“I’m not a liar, Anson.”
Then she felt it.
The shift in the air pressure. A tingly current of electricity that bubbled over her body. It was here.
“What?” Anson asked.
Alice was a strong woman who had endured a lot in her short thirty years. Still the hackles on her neck rose every time this happened.
He looked up. “It’s here?”
Alice instinctively reached for the cross that nested in the hollow of her neck. “Yeah.”
Since they’d moved in six months ago, they’d received increasingly frequent visits from something. Alice still didn’t know what to call it. She just wanted it to go away.
“Where?” Anson asked.
“It was here, but not anymore.”
“Kitchen,” Anson said.
“I want to get out of here.”
“Come on, it’ll be okay.”
“I mean it. It’s getting worse.”
“No, it’s not. It just feels that way because it’s around more often.”
“Anson, yesterday it started moving the furniture.”
“I left the dining room for a moment. When I came back, two of the seats were moved out.”
Anson shook his head. “You probably moved them and forgot about it.”
“I was home alone. Why would I have moved two chairs?”
“Just come on. You need to face this.”
“I face it every day. I want the night off.”
“Come on.” He grabbed her wrist.
Reluctantly, she followed him into the kitchen. It was the spirit’s most frequent haunt.
Anson disconnected the camcorder from its charger, then made a face. “Did you forget to plug this thing in?”
She ignored him. She could just feel something … right there on the edge of her senses.
Anson was fussing with the camcorder. “Damnit, this thing’s dead.”
She closed her eyes. Felt. Tried to place the ghost.
The sound of her husband’s breathing, made heavy by drink. The hum of the dishwasher.
“Alice, are you sure it was here?” Anson right next to her.
“Anson, let’s just leave.”
“We need answers.”
“I don’t care what they might be anymore.”
Alice looked into his eyes and saw he wasn’t going to drop this. She wanted to leave. Run away. She could stay with her father. Or her cousin, Billy. She could just go. She wouldn’t miss Anson much.
But she couldn’t leave. She wasn’t supposed to. She was supposed to stay and make the best of things and pray.
Fuck it. It wasn’t often that Alice cursed.
She closed her eyes. She’d never channeled in front of him before. But now she wanted him to see how far this ghost had pushed her. What lengths she was prepared to go to.
Alice folded in on herself. Tried to shut down and open up. Like closing doors but opening windows at the same time.
“Alice, what’re you doing?”
Anson huffed and she ignored him, reached out as far as she could …
“It’s close,” Alice said.
Anson cursed his luck. The first time in a couple weeks—not three months like Alice thought—he’d decided to bark at the moon with the fellas at the watering hole and the spirit had decided to drop by tonight of all nights. Disinhibited by the booze, he’d reached out to Alice and she’d responded. Maybe she still did care for him. But then the ghost. Its visits had been driving them apart, Alice terrified and questioning her own sanity.
“Where is it, Alice?”
But Alice was off in Wonderland. He had no idea what she was doing. Her eyes were squeezed shut. Her body tensed. Hands fisted. At first he thought she was praying but then he took a second look at her.
Her mouth moved but no words came out.
“What the hell are you doing?”
He put his hand on her shoulder. Through the shirt, her skin was icy. The cold made him jump.
Alice’s eyelids opened and revealed only milky whiteness.
Anson grabbed her, afraid she was going to faint, but Alice stayed vertical. Her body was as hard and cold as a block of ice. He shook her because he didn’t know what else to do.
Suddenly her eyes rolled back down like sevens on a slot machine and her knees buckled. She collapsed against him, still icy cold like she’d spent ten minutes locked in a freezer.
“Anson…” Her voice was groggy, faraway. “She’s here.”
Anson got a better grip on his wife and propped her up. “You okay, honey?”
Anson didn’t like the way his wife looked. Her skin was flushed, she looked about to lose consciousness, and she was unnaturally cold. Was it possible to get spontaneous hypothermia? Anson didn’t think so but he was no doctor.
“Okay, honey, we need to call the ambu—”
Something pushed him from behind. Anson toppled forward and he lost hold of his wife. She spilled onto the floor, almost as lifeless as a corpse.
Anson fell into the kitchen counter, sent the dishes flying. They hit the floor and shattered.
Anson wheeled around, fists ready. Somebody had pushed him. He didn’t know who, and he didn’t know how, but whoever it was the son of a bitch was going to get it.
But there was no one there.
Anson checked the floor where he’d been standing but it was clear. He hadn’t tripped on anything.
On the floor, Alice started moving. He kneeled, gripped her arm. “Slow down, honey. Just stay like that a moment.”
Her eyes were clenched shut and she gripped her stomach like she was about to vomit and she moaned.
Something knocked into Anson’s shoulder and he fell away from his wife. Okay, this time he knew he’d been pushed.
But there was no one or no thing in the room with them.
A chill ran down Anson’s spine. There was nobody else in the house. But that left one explanation, and that explanation terrified him.
The spirit had pushed him.
Alice was right. It was becoming more aggressive.
His wife opened her eyes and the color returned to her face. “I’m going to throw up.”
“Honey, I think it’s—”
Another shove. Anson slipped, kept his balance, then got pushed again. His ass hit the handle on the cupboard.
Another shove, this time from the side. He almost cartwheeled into the kitchen table. His wife screaming. Him yelling.
He was flung off the kitchen table through the threshold. Landed in the living room. The blows weren’t that powerful. If he could see where they were coming from he could have easily braced for them but he was fighting blind.
Then the invisible hand got stronger.
It forced him backwards. The back of his legs hit the couch and he flipped. His feet crashed into the coffee table as he fell off the couch.
His wife hurrying into the room. Despite how lousy he’d been to her, she was rushing to help him. Her love shamed him. He didn’t deserve it. Like all the men she’d ever given herself to, he’d been a no-good son of a bitch.
But that would stop. From now on, he’d be the man she deserved. No more drinking. No more anger. No more intimidating her. He could be better than all that. He could listen. He could provide. He could be a better man. He just had to try.
“Anson, are you okay?”
“Honey, I love you. I’m sorry.”
“I know.” She closed her eyes. “Hold on.”
“What are you doing?”
Alice didn’t answer. Her mouth started flapping again. Her eyes became white slits. Her skin translucent.
Anson felt a pressure on his arm, like the spirit was trying to pick him up. He readied for the next blow but it never came. The pressure on his arm suddenly gone. He looked to his wife.
Alice’s eyes fluttered, like they were trying to unroll. Her arm was cold to the touch again but he held fast.
“Alice, honey, I love you. Alice…”
Her eyes unrolled and she looked at him like she didn’t know him.
He cupped her shoulders.
“Honey, are you okay?”
Alice’s mouth slid open and issued an unintelligible,
When she spoke it was with a voice not her own. “It’s. Not. Me.”
Anson felt a chilly breath on the nape of his neck and he didn’t know if it was the spirit or his own body working against him. His wife rose on unsteady legs and swayed back and forth.
Anson pushed off the couch and got to his feet.
“Not me,” his wife said.
Alice screamed like a banshee and flung herself away from him. She stutter-stepped back into the sliding door. The glass spider-webbed.
She doubled over and gasped like someone had slammed her in the stomach and knocked the wind out of her.
Anson ran to his wife, but he was stopped by a shot to his jaw. The blow rang his bell but he managed to stay on his feet.
“Anson, I think it’s—” she started to say.
Alice was thrown violently and knocked the flat screen TV over. She got to her feet and screamed at him to run and was tripped by some invisible foot. She face-planted in the carpet and then her head snapped up like someone had grabbed her by the hair.
Anson raced to his wife, but then the invisible hand thumped him in the chest and he went down. But it was distraction enough for Alice. She got up and took off for the front door.
Anson didn’t know what else to do. He had his cell phone in his pocket. The reception in his house was awful. He prayed the cell would work as he frantically dialed 911.
Before he could say anything, the phone was knocked out of his hand and went under the sofa.