“Well,” Dex said slowly, “what do you think?”
“I find it hard to talk to you when you’re naked, Dex,” Rebecca said.
I kept my mouth shut, biting my lip hard. I looked over at Davenport. “Will Carl be staying to clean up?”
“No,” she said with that patented brand of disdain. “He’s being sent home as well, which is why I need to know now what your plans are. The generator will be going on for the fridges and freezers but he needs to know if it will go to the heat and lights in the cafeteria as well.”
I looked over my shoulder and up at Dex. “It’s up to you.”
I didn’t quite feel like staying in that place with the power all out, and I definitely didn’t like the idea of the cafeteria. But it was our last show and it was our last night. No doubt we could stay at a motel tonight and come back tomorrow to film, but I knew once I was out of here, I wasn’t coming back.
He nodded as if he understood what I was thinking. He looked to Rebecca. “How about it? Give it a shot?”
You could see she was less than thrilled as well and probably not for the paranormal reasons. Dex and I had very obviously made up, but things between her and me and her and Dex were still strained, leading to one awkward night.
Still, she was a trooper. Either that or terribly stubborn. Probably both. She smiled tightly. “I’m game if you are.”
Davenport made an unimpressed noise. “Suit yourself.” She walked over to the counter where we had made a mess and put down her flashlight. “You might need this to find your pants, Mr. Foray.” She pivoted on her heel and left the room.
“I’ll give you a moment,” Rebecca said as she followed Davenport out into the hall. I shut the door then propped the flashlight up so it lit the room, putting my jeans and my Master of Puppets sweatshirt back on while Dex quickly slipped on his clothes.
“So how are you feeling about this?” he asked as he slipped into his jacket.
“About the hot sex?” I asked as I gathered my hair back into a ponytail.
He smiled. “About staying the night. You sure that’s what you want?”
I nodded and rubbed my lips together. “Yeah. But I mean, if one thing goes wrong, I’m leaving and I’m not coming back. We’re done here. Once I set foot outside, I never want to return to this place ever again.”
“Right with ya, baby. And you won’t ever have to do this show again.”
My face fell slightly. I couldn’t help it. “You know, I will miss it.”
“So will I,” he said, coming over to me and wrapping me into his arms. “But you’re the best part of it. As long as I have you, I don’t care what I’m doing.”
“Same.” I pulled away and looked at him carefully. “Except amateur porn.”
“Aww,” he said. “You’re killing all my dreams here.”
I punched him in the chest then quickly kissed him. “We should go see the ruckus.”
We gathered up the flashlight and went out into the hall. There were only a handful of teachers loitering in the marble-tiled foyer and a few kids holding hands and being led by a teacher out onto the front lawn. Brenna was there on the front steps, typing something into her phone, Jody hanging by her side, while the wind blew violently, shaking the pine trees. Once Jody spotted us, her eyes lit up and she ran back inside.
“The power went out!” Jody exclaimed.
“We know,” I said. “Were you scared?”
She shook her head. “Nah. It’s just nature.”
“Hey,” Brenna said as she came over. “I just talked to Rebecca,” she said, motioning that Rebecca was somewhere out in the parking lot. “She said you guys are actually staying the night.”
“Squatting in the cafeteria,” Dex told her. “At least we will have an endless supply of those really tiny ice cream cups. The ones with the tiny wooden spoon.” He made the spoon motion with his hand.
“Nice try,” Brenna said gleefully. “Our school has a gluten-free, non-dairy menu. Hope you like frozen soy milk.”
He made a face. “Soy milk. Ugh. Tastes like jizz.”
I gave him a curious look. “And how do you know that?”
“I have bad aim sometimes,” he said. He looked back to Brenna and smiled lightly. “We might be gone by morning so we just wanted to say good luck and thank you for showing us around.”
Brenna was still blushing red at Dex’s bad aim comment but she smiled. “Thank you. And good luck to both of you. I’m sorry I couldn’t be as much help as I wanted. When Rebecca and I figured you weren’t coming back, the only thing we captured was the rubber ball moving slightly, but I think it was the wind. That’s what she thinks anyway. Sorry the tour was a dud.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, and thanked her. She gave us a wave and headed out the door, holding out her hand for Jody. “Come on, Jody.”
Jody looked back at Dex and I. “Bye.” Then she looked at Dex and raised her little arms for a hug. Dex crouched down, smiling broad enough that his dimples stuck out, and let Jody put her arms around him.
God damn it if my uterus didn’t swoon. I’m sorry, but I needed to have that man’s babies.
Then as Jody pulled away, I could have sworn she whispered something in Dex’s ear, enough to make him frown momentarily. Then she grinned up at me and waved. “Bye, Perry. Bye, Elliot!” I followed her gaze which shifted to a spot behind me. Elliot was standing at the foot of the stairs, hat in hand, staring at us meekly. “Take care of them,” Jody added before she turned and skipped away, joining Brenna.
Brenna gave us a wary look to say that she had seen Elliot too, then she turned and they both disappeared out into the storm.
I looked back behind me at Elliot, but he was gone.
“Did you see him?” I asked Dex.
He nodded. “Yep.”
“What did Jody say to you?”
His expression became darker. “She said watch out for the ones that look like you.”
A teacher walked past us and both Dex and I smiled politely and moved ourselves away from the front door. He leaned into me, lowering his voice. “I think she might mean doppelgängers, even though she doesn’t really know what they are.”
“Doppelgängers?” I whispered back. “Why would there be doppelgängers here?”
He shrugged, eyes still dark. “Why not? This is a genuine house of horror, Perry. There are ghost kids and demons and who knows what else. Doppelgängers make sense. This amount of sadness and death and pain is going to bring in a lot of very bad things.”
“I think I saw one last night,” I admitted.
He shot me a sharp look. “When? Who?”
“When I left the break room and came back to you guys. I saw Rebecca in the hallway, heading to the bathroom. She even turned and looked at me. But when I got in the room, I saw Rebecca in bed.”
“Are you sure it was the real Rebecca in bed?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t think you could interact with doppelgängers. You just see them.”
“Did she talk to you? The one in bed?”
“Yes. She said she was sorry. You were awake. Didn’t you hear her?”
“Yeah.” He scratched his head. “She was probably legit.”
I almost laughed at how blasé he sounded. “How else can you tell though?”
“I have no idea,” he said. “I suppose the doppelgänger wouldn’t know the real you, wouldn’t know your thoughts. They’re an imposter as much as they’re a double. Funny that it took us this long to encounter one, don’t you think?”
“Better never than late,” I said just as Rebecca came back in the building, her normally coiffed hair in a mess around her face, the camera light in her hand.
“Stormy,” Dex commented, pointing out the obvious.
Woo boy. The awkward evening had already begun.
Rebecca pushed her hair away from her eyes. “It’s a real ripper. Maybe we should start moving everything into the cafeteria now. In fact, perhaps we should start filming as soon as possible. It’s still light outside, which means there’s at least some light coming in through all the windows. It’ll be easier to see that way.”
And less scary, I added to myself. With the last of the staff heading out of the building and into the storm, we headed down the hall to move our belongings and prepare for one last night.
Our new headquarters were just as creepy as I imagined. Seriously, school cafeterias are unsettling in the daytime when students are beating each other up under bad fluorescent lighting, and disgruntled lunch ladies are throwing down sloppy joes. Although in this school it was apparently wild salmon filets with quinoa. Whatever. Give me sloppy joes any day.
We picked three tables near the far end of the cafeteria, ensuring we had a full view of the door in case anyone (or anything) came in. Of course, there were the windows just above us that were enduring the wrath of the wind, rain, and flying pine needles, and I knew that if anything really wanted us in here, it would get us. But it was the little things that made you feel safe, even if you weren’t.
Once we got everything sorted and Dex passed around the last of the bottle of Jack Daniels—no shock as to why Rebecca wasn’t partaking—we took our pre-EIT shots for the last time. If I wasn’t so damn freaked out, I would have shed a tear.
“Raise your cup and let’s propose a toast.” He sang a line from one of our favorite Faith No More songs.
I raised my plastic cup. “To the thing that hurts you most. To the paranormal and to never being normal.”
He winked at me. “To us.”
Then we gathered up the equipment and set off on our last shoot. Though the late afternoon light was coming in through the windows, there was a sense of urgency and dread with every step we took. It didn’t help that we were starting with the fourth floor.
The worst floor.
The floor where they used to have a gate to keep out the terminally and mentally ill.
I understood why Dex and Rebecca thought it was a good idea to go up there. In the dim light of day, it was easier to stomach. Daylight had this way of making things less scary, though we all knew that monsters didn’t care what time of day it was. I was all too aware of that.
We didn’t need to use the flashlights much, which was a relief, since the windows that lined the staircase and the ones on the floors were letting in just enough gray light. I was nervous and on edge as we climbed the stairs, passing the second floor and the third until we rounded the corner where Gary Oldman had stopped. Everything after that was unknown territory for me.
I took in a deep breath and walked in front of Dex and Rebecca. Even though they were the last two to visit the floor, there was no sign they had ever been up there. The shattered windows had blown away the dust and covered the floor with pine needles and leaves. Up here, it was about ten degrees colder, and the difference hit you like a sledgehammer.
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