And it really felt damn good.
“It doesn’t matter what he thinks,” I said. I lowered my voice, even though I knew Rebecca was just as involved with our conversation as we were. “Your opinion is all that matters. And Becs, of course.”
“Thanks,” she said. “Who knew Uncle Al was such a stickler? Guess you’re having second thoughts about seeing your parents now.”
I let out a laugh. “You could say that. I’ll still see them though and deal with that shit when we come to it. Until then…I guess we have ghost kids to film.”
“Not that I want to put a damper on your attitude,” Dex cut in. “But you do remember the last time we had, well, hell sent rugrats around us, don’t you?”
D’Arcy Island. Between the ghost of the murdered Madeline and the leper baby, we had enough nightmare fodder from just that episode alone.
I suppressed a shudder. “I remember. What’s your point?”
“My point is, for the last few days you’ve been so preoccupied with your family and whatever else in that sexy head of yours that you’re coming across as, oh, I don’t know, insanely blasé about the whole situation.”
He was right about that. “I guess I haven’t really thought about it.”
Except in your dreams, a voice deep inside said. I pushed it away, not ready to think about it.
Dex turned around briefly to look at Rebecca. “Are you prepared for this?”
“That’s a ridiculous question,” she answered with a smart wave of her hand. “You’re acting like I’m not your production manager or anything.”
“But are you prepared for, you know…the children of the damned? Toddlers from hell? Art kids without Ritalin?”
She folded her arms and sat back in her seat. “I’m prepared for the usual—both of you freaking out over things that I can’t really see. Then I retreat and let you handle the rest. I’m prepared for that. Whether ghosts come into the equation or not, I don’t really care as long as you guys see them. And if you don’t see them, as long as you guys film something that can pass for it.”
I twisted around and gave her a steady look. “You do know that whatever we film, we see. We aren’t bullshitting.”
“Perry, I know that,” she told me. “But from a business point of view, it doesn’t matter. Make a masterpiece out of a floating paper bag if you can. Put a sheet on me. I don’t care. Just so we get the shots.”
I looked at Dex. “Boy, she’s starting to sound a lot like you.”
He smiled and rubbed at his scruffy chin. “What can I say, we both know what makes a good show and we both love to eat pie.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Oh, Dex,” Rebecca said wryly. “Please don’t ever change.”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
As we drove down the coast, I put the window down and let the ocean breeze mess up my hair. The water was a moving metallic sheet and the sun was shining, flooding me with shallow happiness, though by the time we reached the one-street town of Rockaway Beach, wisps of fog began to float in. When we rounded a corner and passed the nondescript sign that said “Gary,” population 779, we were totally enclosed in a massive grey cloud.
“Not the nicest welcome,” I noted as I stared out the window. I could barely see beyond the road’s guardrail—I knew the ocean was still out there, right at our side, but the thick fog obscured everything.
“No, it’s not,” Rebecca said. She tapped me on the shoulder and then placed the small handheld camcorder in my hand. “But it makes for a perfect intro on film. Perry, film this. Dex, find a place to do a U-turn and drive through again.”
Dex and I exchanged a look at Rebecca’s leap into production manager mode.
“It has begun,” he joked in a low, ominous voice.
He yanked the Highlander into a U-turn, cutting off a Griswald-ish family in a minivan, and when I was finished holding on for dear life, I switched on the digital camcorder and filmed out the open window as we drove through again.
“Behold, the town of Gary,” I said in lieu of narration. Rebecca had me doing voiceovers after the fact. “It looks like it kind of sucks.”
I could feel her glaring at me but she couldn’t argue. Gary did look like it sucked. Even though it was almost summer, the pines that covered the sloping mountainside were a faded green, bordering on brown. The houses looked weathered and were simple, most of them one story and either shuttered into darkness by the trees or fronting a small yard with a chain-link fence and cement walkway. All the curtains were sealed shut and I didn’t see many gardens or the usual signs of habitation, such as kid’s toys in the driveways or hummingbird feeders.
The town itself wasn’t much better. I couldn’t make out where the marina was or if there even was a waterfront area (though I assumed there was since we were in Tillamook Bay), so there wasn’t really a focal point to it except for the main drag. There was a motel with a lighthouse motif, a few woodcarving and fish shops, a smattering of diners, and a corner store. Those were the only places that didn’t have a For Lease sign across them or boarded up windows.
We’d just got there and already the place was making me kind of sad.
“So are we staying at the lighthouse motel back there?” Dex asked Rebecca.
She hummed. “I haven’t made a reservation. The principal said we were welcome to stay on site if we wanted to. Apparently the school nurse now is set up where the old nurses’ quarters used to be, so there’s a few beds.”
I nearly stopped filming. “You think we should sleep where the nurses slept decades ago?”
“Don’t tell me you’re scared,” she said teasingly. “I think it would be good for the show. Don’t you think, Dex?”
I could tell he was looking at me but I kept my focus on the camera. In the past, Dex would have been the first one to jump into something risky and stupid, but nowadays he was very careful and protective of me. He used to want me to be scared—now he just wanted to keep me safe.
“We’ll see,” he said, and from the tone of his voice I knew that if I didn’t want to stay there, I wouldn’t have to. It wasn’t so much that I was scared, but the idea of really old beds and mattresses gave me the heebie jeebies. I’d take a tacky hotel over that any day.
“Oh, that must be the smoke stack from the old mill,” Rebecca said excitedly as we neared the thing Dex once described as an “ancient dildo.” “You’ll want to take your next left after we pass it and follow the road up into the hills for four miles.”
Dex wheeled the SUV away from the coast and we headed up along a long, winding road that disappeared into the cover of trees. “Not exactly in the neighborhood, is it?”
“Apparently the TB patients had to be higher up to get the best benefits. Anyway, from what I gather it seems like all the children are from Tillamook anyway. I’d be surprised if this town had many families left in it after the mills all closed down.” She nudged me gently. “Keep filming as we pull up.”
Dex made a clicking noise with his tongue. “Hey, Becs, let’s not try and take over my role completely. I know I was joking about the pie comment but Perry is off limits. Only I get to boss her around. Well, attempt to, anyway.”
“Sorry,” she apologized. “I guess I’m a bit nervous.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked, keeping the camera aimed at the road and the rows and rows of trees that passed by. Dex was going to have a lot of editing to do after this.
“Yes, it’s peculiar,” she said, her voice less chipper. “I don’t know why. It kind of started as soon as I saw the fog. Perhaps it makes me feel claustrophobic.”
I had to admit, I was feeling a bit like she was. Though I knew it had nothing to do with the blanket of fog and more to do with the slightly sinister, totally apprehensive vibe that the area was giving me.
“You think you’d be used to fog, coming from jolly fucking England and all,” Dex said.
She ignored that, and a few minutes later we were pulling through a pair of massive wrought-iron gates that were battle scarred with rust from the relentless ocean air. On either side of the gates was a crumbling stone wall about seven-feet high that stretched off into the dark trees.
Before us was the long, wide gravel driveway that led to an enormous white building. It was slightly reminiscent of the mental institution that Dex and I filmed at in Seattle but much longer and two wings and five floors. With its pointed apex, it looked a bit like a European castle or chalet hidden in the mountains.
The only thing about it that reminded you it was a school was a colorful rainbow mural that stretched along the outside wall of the first floor. Every floor above that, however, showed peeling paint and decay.
“We’re here,” Dex said slowly. “And I’m suddenly grateful for the ghetto school I ended up going to.”
“No kidding,” I said. We parked the car in the lot beside a private school bus that said Oceanside Arts Academy and got out.
The first thing I noticed was a change in the temperature and air quality. It was about five degrees colder up here and pierced your lungs. The fog was lighter too and you could see faint patches of blue sky if you looked above your head. I reached back into the car and quickly grabbed my Kyuss hoodie. Not very professional, but it was warm.
I looked at Dex and Rebecca as they stood beside me, staring up at the towering building. “Are we filming first or bothering with that later?” I looked at both of them to ensure I wasn’t leaving one of them out. I knew Dex was feeling a bit slighted when it came to filming now.
“Well, if it were up to me,” he said pointedly, “we would go in and look around first before we start with the cameras. But Miss Sims here made all the plans…”
She gave him a tight smile. “And Miss Sims agrees with you.”
She turned and headed up the driveway to the front doors. Dex and I walked a few paces behind her, watching as she sashayed in her capri pants and striped boat neck top, like she was about to board a friggin’ yacht in 1955.
I pulled at Dex’s elbow and leaned into him. “Do you believe her spiel about claustrophobia, or are you getting the weirds too?”
“The weirds? Kiddo, I have the weirds in spades.” He looked up again at the building, at the broken windows and moldy curtains of the upper floors. “This place is something else.”
“You think it’s going to be a good show?” I asked quietly.
His mouth twisted. “I’m not sure what good is anymore. I think—I know—that this place is definitely haunted as fuck. I’m just hoping we can get in and get out with our lives and sanity intact.”
“If I knew better, I’d say you were being paranoid.”
He frowned. “You know there is no such thing as paranoid when it comes to us.”
“You two coming?” Rebecca called out. When we both turned to face her, we noticed a pale, heavyset woman standing at the top of the stairs leading to the giant oak doors. Rebecca looked back, jumping slightly as if she had a fright.
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