The White Night, page 1
THE WHITE NIGHT
West Ramsey Asylum
Years before the fall of Graveyard: Classified
At a quarter past one in the morning, I feel something slide its finger across the back of my neck. It’s light, like a dandelion seed caught in a puff of wind, tracing over my skin—ever so soft—but it’s there.
I swipe at the trespasser, exploring an inch or two below my collar, finding nothing. I turn and look for the source, seeing only blackness, hearing the rustle of my partner’s clothing.
Inside this room, where it’s alleged that a former mental patient died after swallowing a bucket of nails, the darkened hour is cloaked in the deepest shadows.
The stench of rotting wood and damp, rusty metal pollutes my nostrils.
Our flashlight batteries were drained of energy hours ago, the first time our ghostly companion tried to manifest. Mike Long and I have yet to learn that we need to always, always, bring backups.
Mike says, “Did you feel that?”
“Yeah. It got you, too?”
“I am freaking the hell out, man. Can we go now, please?”
“You want to leave? Are you kidding me?”
“Catching an apparition once does not make us paranormal investigators, chief. We’re two dudes with a camera and a bit of luck. Do you even have any idea what you’re doing? Because I sure as hell don’t. What if we, like… what if we get possessed? I can’t go home with devil horns or some shit.”
“You worried about Toni?”
The decaying floorboards creak at the far side of the room. Neither one of us moved, so we didn’t cause it. The flooring groans again, and this time, it’s accompanied by what sounds like the clunk-thunk of a cowboy boot.
This is our eleventh investigation, and I thought we were having fun with it. I’m charged by the adrenaline rush. Clearly, Mike isn’t.
“Damn right, I’m worried,” he says. “I’ve only taken her on, like, three dates. You think she wants me passing a ghost on to her like some demonic STD?”
I scoff and blindly focus on the sound’s origin. I think it was in the northeastern corner, but I’m not entirely sure. The sound plays funny in this room—dull, hollow echoes—and it’s so pitch black, it’s like we’ve been buried alive. That imagery in my mind tightens my lungs and I take a deep breath. “There’s no demon here. You know that. They said—”
“I don’t care what they said,” Mike whines. “We’re out of our league.”
“Speaking of leagues, you’d step up to the majors with me if we got the call, wouldn’t you?”
“The call? I don’t even know what that means.”
“You’ve seen the insane amount of hits we’ve been getting.”
One of our friends watched our original video capture about three months ago—the one with the full body apparition—and was so amazed that he said we’d be famous if we posted it online. It took a few weeks, but he was right—we’re Internet famous, at least. So far, a few hundred thousand people have watched the evidence we’ve captured, and some nights I sit in front of my laptop refreshing the screen simply to watch the view count go higher. It’s incredible that people are so into this stuff.
Mike says, “Are you still posting those?”
“Why wouldn’t I? People love them. Shit, man, I keep getting messages from total strangers, asking when we’re going to post the next one.”
“Huh. No kidding?”
Mike thought we’d get a couple of views from friends and then disappear into the grave of long dead videos, the same videos where a baby’s trick isn’t that impressive and cats that aren’t cute enough go to die a digital death.
“Really, man. We might have something here.”
I wish he could see my teasing smirk in the dark. I bend down in front of his night vision camera, the last piece of equipment with working batteries, and wink. “I hope you’re cool with it.”
“Whenever you’re tired of hoarding information, I’ll be here trying to paranormally investigate.” Mike yelps, and in the total darkness, I can hear his hands flailing at his face and neck. “Whoever’s doing that,” he says, “stop it.”
We’re still pretty new to all of this, but from the research I’ve done, a lot of the respected paranormal investigators say that passing through spiritual energy can feel like walking into a spider’s web. I remind Mike of this and tell him to relax, that maybe it’s just trying to communicate.
Mike shudders and says, “God, that’s creepy.” He tries to ask something else about my news, but gets interrupted. Behind us, a doorknob jiggles and screeches as if something is trying to sneak out of the empty closet.
“Who’s there?” I shout.
“Who’s in here with us?” Mike asks.
It’s a natural reaction. We both know that we’re alone—or, at least, unaccompanied by people who are alive, because outside, a chain link fence that’s twelve feet high, topped with razor wire, borders this abandoned asylum, and we have a handful of volunteer guards patrolling the exterior in return for a pizza and a six-pack.
When the state board of regulations shut the asylum down back when Jimmy Carter was in office, the fence was left intact to keep out the homeless and other trespassers. A friend of mine, Jake Dunne, bought the place not too long after the events of September 11th, 2001, about a year and a half ago. Really, he got it for pennies on the dollar because the former owners panicked that the States were going to be overrun by terrorists, so they sold everything they had and moved to the Caribbean. Jake bought it because he thought it would be a good place to hide out once Osama bin Laden got prepared to invade the outskirts of Portland, Oregon here in the Pacific Northwest.
Don’t laugh. There are some incredible craft breweries back in the city. It would be a great place to set up your Terrorist HQ.
The fence didn’t keep out the homeless or the hooligans, but Mike and I know we’re in the clear tonight because Jake is outside with two of his buddies patrolling the perimeter, ensuring we get a clean investigation. After we showed him the tape of the apparition we caught, he begged us to come investigate his property.
All he needed to say was, “There’s some freaky stuff going on, Ford. I guarantee you’ll catch something. You keep that shit up, you two are gonna be on TV.”
This, ultimately, was what led me to post the video online where we captured a full-bodied apparition of a woman in a white nightgown, pleading for help. Plain as day, you can see her cautiously approach us and hold out her hands for a total of five seconds before her transparent body vanishes.
Mike and I wait in silence for a few moments, scanning the room, giving our visitor a chance to communicate again. Mike finally breaks the quiet and says, “The silence commands you to speak, Ford Atticus Ford. Out with the news.”
“Yes, your majesty.” I can’t see it coming, but I feel a light punch on the shoulder. “Two days ago, I got this cryptic email from a woman named Carla. She said she’d seen our videos and wanted to talk to me. I figured she was just a reporter, maybe looking for a local story, you know? Anyway, she sets up a phone meeting and we talked earlier today. Turns out, and you’re not going to believe this, but she’s a producer with The Paranormal Channel.”
“What? Seriously?” Mike’s voice breaks in the middle of seriously, which makes him sound like he hit puberty yesterday.
The closet’s doorknob rattles violently. So aggressively, in fact, that it falls off and slams against the floor, sending us both retreating by a few feet.
The room goes quiet.
It’s almost… normal in here now. Just two guys hanging out in the dark.
No otherworldly company. Did it burn itself out?
I’ve noticed this behavior before. Spirit, demon, supernatural entity, it doesn’t matter what it is—it takes energy to manifest, and whomever was with us just now has used all that he had, and has left us behind for the time being, slipping back into his hazy limbo, caught in the netherworld until something comes along with enough juice to recharge him. Seems like this guy hasn’t quite figured out yet that he can use the energy in our bodies after the batteries have been depleted. Which is entirely possible given that he was in an institution. He might not have the mental acuity to process the possibilities available to him.
Mike says, “You feel it, the emptiness? That thing’s gone, yeah?”
“For now. And don’t call him a thing. He had a body, same way we do.”
“Except for the fact that I’ve never eaten a bucket of nails like it was a three-piece from KFC.”
“You know what I mean.”
Again, we go silent for a moment, waiting, watching, confirming that our ghostly pal had indeed gone back to the other side.
We’re in the clear and Mike says, “So you’re not full of shit? She’s really from The Paranormal Channel? I thought all they showed was a bunch of crap about aliens and Sasquatch?”
“True, but they’re branching out. She was telling me that they had this idea for a show that would be an hour-long collection of home videos—you know, evidence submitted by their viewers.”
“I’d watch that. And they wanna use ours?”
“More than that, amigo. They want to use us.”
“Like for an interview or what?”
“Way, way more. Check this out: the producer’s name is Carla Hancock. I looked her up on the Internet thinking somebody was screwing with me. Anyway, she’s legit and has a list of credits a mile long. Totally, absolutely, completely loved the evidence we captured, said it was some of the best she’d ever seen, and get this… She said the video was fantastic, but what she dug more than anything was how we interacted, talking about how we had great chemistry, good banter.”
“And she got all of that from a two minute video?”
“I asked the same thing. Actually, the smell is really getting to me in here. Let’s go take a breather.”
Entering the empty hall, we step out into the somewhat fresher air of the dilapidated asylum where there’s more ambient light provided by the moon. Our feet crunch on broken glass, shattered tile, and the remnants of fallen sheetrock. Out the broken window and a couple of stories below, in the courtyard, I can see Jake sweeping a flashlight across his path. I tell Mike, “Carla said she used to be in casting before she moved over to TPC and always had an excellent eye for a real connection between people. Sounds like she saw something in us that caught her attention. Whatever. Long story short, she loved the clip, and she wants us to dig up the scariest place we can find for an investigation—”
“Like your bedroom?”
“Hardy har har, but no. We come up with the scariest place we can find and she’ll bring a film crew up here for a test run. She’s got some room in her budget to film a cheap pilot, and from what she says, she wants to blow it on us. Reality shows have low production costs, so it’s perfect.”
“Wow.” It’s not an excited sound. Mike crosses his arms, turns his eyes toward the moon. The way the window frames his silhouette, he looks like a single-pane drawing from a comic book. “I don’t know, man. That’s a big commitment, but…”
I knew he would be hesitant—timid, even—because Mike is a creature of habit. He likes things to stay the way they are. The right shoe always goes on first, that kind of thing.
“You don’t have to answer now. Just take some time to think—”
“No, I’m in.”
I pause, staring at him to make sure he’s not screwing with me. “Really? Just like that?”
“Yeah. At least the pilot. I’ve never been on TV before, so, sure.”
“Awesome! I thought I’d have to beg you for weeks, dude, what made you—” I pause mid-sentence, knowing exactly what the reason is. “Toni, huh?”
“I got zero game with her. Maybe being a TV star will help.”
I can’t help chuckling. “So you’ll practically catapult yourself out of your comfort zone for a woman you’ve known for two weeks, but not me?”
“She’s prettier. And a knockout ten to my five.”
“Fair enough.” I clap him on the back, squeeze his shoulder. “This could lead to something big, Mikey Mike. I’m getting good vibes already.”
I feel a knock against my thigh, glancing down in time to see a rock skittering across the cracked tiles. Something threw it at me, definitely. The hair on my arms prickles and stands at attention like trees in a haunted forest.
A disembodied voice, deep and distant, says, “You will fall.”
Over a decade later, I have no doubt that something was trying to warn us, even back then.
But how could we have known?
Blindsight becomes hindsight.
Ford Atticus Ford
It’s early in the morning—too early for normal, sane humans—when there’s just enough light to see the world emerging. Born from night once again. Rubbing the sleep from its eyes.
I’m sitting out on the balcony of my rented condo here in Newport, Oregon. It’s a coastal town roughly two and half hours southwest from my home in Portland, and the cool thing is, it’s far enough away that I actually feel like I’m on vacation, yet close enough that I don’t have to spend all day traveling to get somewhere. It’s a distantly removed staycation, even though that term makes me gag a little.
I like it here on the coast. It’s where I come to pretend like I have a normal life that doesn’t involve ghosts, demonic entities, lawsuits, cranky detectives, lawyers who may as well be demons, and responsibility. Here, the misty, rainy grays of the day feel like a comforting blanket to me. It’s good napping weather. It smells like salt air and moss. Life feels slower, more measured. Other than sex and pizza, there’s nothing better than wrapping a thick, fluffy blanket around your shoulders, plopping down into a cozy chair on a deck overlooking the mighty Pacific, and enjoying a lukewarm cup of coffee while the waves roll in.
But I don’t get to do that right now because I just finished reading an email from Jesse, my assistant in dry, sunny Albuquerque, with a subject line that reads, in all caps: OMG! FORD! COOLEST NEWS EVER!
Except it’s not.
Not to me, anyway.
The email, which contains the details of a press release from some company called Spirit World Productions, Inc., sits open on my screen. Apparently, I’ve agreed to participate in the filming of a controversial documentary—without signing anything official, and especially without giving them my permission.
If I could, I’d burn holes through the press release with giant, fiery bolts of white-hot flame from my eyeballs. Instead, I slam my laptop closed, stand up, and twist sideways like a discus-slinging Olympian, ready to hurl the damn thing off the balcony and down the cliff, all the way to the soaking wet sand below. Better judgment prevails because I have important stuff on here and my therapist has suggested in the past that destroying inanimate objects is one of the least productive ways to manage difficult emotions.
The biggest problem is, I don’t know whom to blame first.
Should I blame myself for even hinting to my friend and former co-lead investigator, Mike Long, that I may even be slightly interested in doing a documentary about the case of little Chelsea Hopper when we were together last, after the Craghorn case in Hampton Roads?
I said maybe. I absolutely did not agree to it. Not yet. Not in full.
Or should I blame Mike himself, because as sure as the sky is blue, he has to be the one who passed word along that I was inte
I don’t… I just don’t know. I can’t believe that Mike would do that to me. He knew I needed to think about it. He understood that I was on the fence, that my feelings about Chelsea, her family, and the former Graveyard: Classified producer, Carla Hancock—who is mostly to blame for ruining the show’s future—were difficult ones to reconcile. That whole situation is heavy, shadowy, and pregnant with nasty possibilities. We’re talking, like, a moss green, covered-in-warts imp baby of nastiness.
After Chelsea Hopper, who was five years old at the time, was attacked by a demon on our show, on live television, Halloween night 2012, my world crumbled like a pack of Ramen noodles under the heel of God. Although forgiving Carla would be mentally healthy, because there’s already enough darkness swimming around in my head, I don’t think I’ll ever find the strength, or desire, to absolve her for forcing that situation onto such a sweet, smiling, innocent girl.
Nor myself for allowing it to happen while chasing glory and fame.
So, yeah. I digress. You can see that, in my life, guilt and blame fly around like glowing tracer bullets over ‘Nam, but I’ll need to make a few phone calls to find out where I should adjust my crosshairs for this particular occasion.
Can you force someone to redact a press release? Probably.
Should be simple enough to issue a correction, right? But the damage will be done. Even hinting at something like this will cause a hurricane of excitement on social media, which normally would be a good thing—except for the subject matter.
After that shit in Norfolk, I’m worried about Chelsea and what might be coming if that demon is to be believed. It’s the kind of thing that should be handled in private. Then again, Mike needs this to help his life heal just as much as I do, though for extremely different reasons.
I blurt out a handful of curses, stopping short of shaking my fist at the sky like a crotchety old man and carefully sit my laptop down on the balcony’s small glass table. Behind me, I hear the tic-tic-tic of dog claws on concrete and turn to see my beloved canine buddy.