Fiction Friday: World of Darkness: Ghost Hunters part 1

World of Darkness

This week, for Fiction Friday, we’re pleased to offer Part One of Catherine Lundoff’s story for the upcoming World of Darkness: Ghost Hunters, A Cry in the Night. Catherine also wrote a story for the V20 Dark Ages anthology The Cainite Conspiracies, and we are thrilled to have her back for a new supplement.

“It doesn’t look haunted,” Bethany scowled out the smudged car window of Al’s junker at what passed for downtown Cobb’s Center. It didn’t even look that interesting, just stores and bars and houses, a lot like Lakeside, where they lived, only with less people on the streets. A lot less people. That might be interesting if she didn’t think that it was because there was nothing to do.

“You always say that.” Al scowled back, then made a face at her until she broke into a reluctant laugh.

“That’s because I’m always right.”

“Not this time. This time, I’ve got a feeling. Specter Detectors are gonna score big, maybe get our own cable show.” He turned down the main street, then pulled into a convenience store parking lot and parked. “You want coffee?”

“Don’t I always? Let me look at the map again just in case we need to ask for directions.” Bethany pulled her phone out of her bag and squinted at the broken screen. Making it big by finding a real ghost would be a nice change, especially if it came with a cash payoff. She sighed loudly, then navigated to the website with the video on it.

This time, she muted the sound so they wouldn’t hear the noise again. She shivered at the memory of the first time that Al played the video. It had been pretty much the usual ‘kids running around the supposedly haunted woods with a handheld camera’ set up until the woods started howling and screaming around them. Just remembering that made her want to cover her ears and hide…but she knew she was just being silly. It was staged or made up, just like all the other ‘hauntings’ they’d been to, it had to be.

It sure looked fake if she just watched it without that horrible noise and that made her feel better. The way the teens dropped their camera on the ground and turned it off suddenly after the noise started made it seem like more of a setup. Bethany rolled her eyes at the muted video and found the location she was looking for in the comments: the woods were out by Cobb’s Center City Park, about a mile away. All they had to do was turn right off the main street a few blocks down and they were practically there.     

“C’mon, Bethany! The truth is out there!” Al rapped his knuckles on her window, making her jump. Asshole. She rolled her eyes and climbed out of the car to trail after him across the parking lot.

“What is up with you, my Bethany? I sense that you are not feeling this ghost hunt. Are you burning out on me? Say it isn’t so! You are my number one ghost hunting pal!” Al waved his long thin arms dramatically and dropped to one knee.

I’m your only ghost-hunting pal. Bethany didn’t say that out loud. And we gotta do something about that. She didn’t say that out loud either. Instead, she went with, “It does feel like we’ve been doing this forever.” She paused and sighed. “But that’s not it. At least not right now. This time, it’s different. I’ve got a weird feeling about these stupid woods.”

“Because–” Al drew back dramatically as he swung the store door open, “the woods are filled with ghosts! Oooooo!”

She smacked his arm. “Not that kind of weird. Just off or something. Like a premonition.” Al rolled his eyes, but didn’t respond and she grabbed the bathroom key from the counter and went to the back of the store to use the bathroom.

When she got back, she stopped to check out the candy bars while Al got them two coffees. She walked up to the counter just as Al told the clerk that they were headed for the woods by the park to “do some filming.” One minute, the convenience store clerk was just like any other night clerk at a thousand different convenience stores: middle-aged, dark circles under her eyes, bored and sleepy. But when Al mentioned the woods, she woke up fast.  

Eyes wide, expression frantic, she started yelling at them, “Are you kids nuts? There’s something in those woods, something bad, and you don’t want to be going anywhere near it!” She reached across the counter and grabbed Bethany’s arm. “You got nothing to prove, little girl. You take your boyfriend home and don’t worry about none of this filming nonsense. I don’t want to see your faces up there!” She gestured at a bulletin board by the door. Words jumped out at Bethany: MISSING. Call if you have any information. Names. Photos.

There were at least five of them, all about the same age as Al and Bethany. One of them even looked like one of their classmates from high school, but Bethany didn’t try to step any closer to confirm that. She could feel her arm start to shake in the woman’s grip and tried to break free. “They didn’t listen to me either and they haven’t found any of them yet.” The woman’s voice dropped to a sinister whisper and Al blanched.

That was enough to give Bethany a moment of ferocious clarity and she yanked her arm free. “He’s not my boyfriend! Stop trying to scare us!” She reached down and grabbed Al’s hand, felt his fingers tremble in hers. “We know what we’re doing. And we don’t believe that there’s anything out there. I bet those other people just left this town because they got bored and you cooked up this crazy story about them going missing so it wouldn’t drive off the tourists or something.” She was breathing hard and the more she felt Al shake, the madder she got. Who did this woman think she was?

The clerk stared at them, eyes narrowed, lips tight. “Fine. See if I care about you or your poor families. At least I tried to warn you. My conscience is clear.” She glared at them as they backed slowly out of the store.

They got outside and ran to the car. Bethany let go of Al’s hand as she threw her door open and he ran around the other side. They slammed the doors shut and stared at each other. “What now?” Al’s voice still shook a little bit. “Crap. I forgot the coffees.”

Bethany smacked the dashboard, then collapsed in her seat. “Dammit! I still don’t want to do this, but now I want to show her. That had to be part of this whole setup! This stupid town must be in on it.”

“Yep? I dunno, I think she really believed what she was saying. Which doesn’t mean it’s true. Somebody else might be tricking her into thinking the woods are dangerous.” Al scowled and looked thoughtful. “What if there is somebody up in the woods, someone with something to hide?”

“You mean like, I dunno, drug dealers or serial killers or something?” This was sounding worse and worse by the minute. Maybe they could just tell people they went to the woods but didn’t find anything. After all, the only people who knew they were here at all were Al’s housemates and her sister. And her friend Anna. Then she glanced at the store where the clerk was still staring at them through the window and got angry all over again.

Al obviously felt the same way. He took a deep breath. ”Let’s go now, before I lose my nerve. It’s 9 PM, so let’s go out to the edge of the woods and set up the equipment and wait for a couple of hours. Nothing happens by then, we head home. If we hear anything weird and non-ghostly, we run. If we can’t run, we turn off everything and hide until it stops, then we leave. Okay?” He looked over at her, his lips thin with determination.

Bethany grimaced. This was Al, after all. Her bestie forever, or at least since elementary school. She couldn’t let him go into the woods alone. She just couldn’t. Besides, they were prepared. Her phone was charged, they had flashlights and if they had to, they could outrun any drug dealers or other scumbags hanging out in the woods.

In the end, what mattered was that they stick together. Three years of running around deserted beaches and abandoned houses and they’d been just fine so far. This wasn’t going to be any different. “Okay, let’s do this.”

To be continued!