I stopped in the middle of the room and sighed, the camera feeling extra heavy on my shoul-der. A migraine tickled my temples and I pinched the bridge of my nose, hard. I hated feeling like a fuck-up failure. I couldn’t go back to Jimmy empty-handed. I suppose I could, seeing as the Nazi didn’t really know what I was up to, but it didn’t matter. He’d sniff it off of me like some fucking dog. He’d know I was down here, trying to find something better for myself.
Then there was Jenn. She was worse. She said she was sad when I left the show, but I could see through those tears of her. I knew what they meant. She was secretly pleased I took off with the tail between my legs, like she won yet another battle or something. Three years with someone and you get to know their tactics pretty well. You can see that smug smile beneath the “But I’ll miss you.” The one that says I’ll be nothing without her, that I’ll fail on my own.
I didn’t want Jenn to be right. But looking around this disgusting, dark relic with the kelp and the crashing waves outside, waves that seemed to laugh at me, well, fuck, she probably was right. Again.
I chewed on my lip absently and looked above. I had more of this place to see. I wasn’t going to give up yet. After all, I was here. And even though the monsters were hidden behind veils of prescription, I was still the same boy as I was back in New York. They still wanted me, even if I couldn’t see them.
My pride would be the death of me one day.
A loud clatter sounded out from the floor below. It sounded hard, like something had toppled over from a great height.
I froze, feeling just a little spooked. I walked across the room and paused near the staircase, waiting for more.
From downstairs came a scurrying noise, like a very large rat was poking around. I carefully turned off the camera light and waited. My ears listened hard, trying to figure out just what the hell it was. From what I remembered, ghosts didn’t usually make much noise. They didn’t move around like they were trying to be quiet and failing at it. Rats didn’t move like that either, especially not on the West Coast.
I picked up another sound now. Footsteps. Then a metallic jangling.
It was definitely a person.
I was definitely fucked.
I took in a deep breath and ignored all the possible scenarios that waited for me below. What was the point in figuring out who it was, or what was going to happen? If I got out of there without them seeing me, then worrying was fruitless.
I made my way down the stairs, pausing every other step to keep track, until I reached the bottom floor. I could hear tiny gasps of ragged breath coupled with a whimpering sound. I could see only darkness, except for weak light that spilled in through one of the rooms. There was a window where there hadn’t been a window before.
You need move your ass now, I thought to myself. But before I could do anything, I felt this…this…I don’t know what the hell it was, like a magnetic pull, like the air before a thunder-storm. An energy rolled toward me like a freight train. It made me stop, stunned and still.
There was another whimper, almost like a sigh, then feet slapping the damp ground.
Before I had chance to process that the footsteps were coming toward me, something collided straight into my chest. There was a scream, a girlish shriek (not my own), and I was shoved backward by something small and solid. The ground smashed into my shoulder, then my head, but it didn’t matter. The CRASH of my camera was the most painful thing of all.
I groaned and rolled over, feeling for the machine.
Oh please, please, please, please, please, I thought in a panic. I can’t afford this, I can’t afford this!
I heard the other person, the beast that hit me, stirring and moaning, then they hit the ground again with a thump that sounded painful. Part of me didn’t give two shits about the asshole that might have ruined the most important thing in my life. The other part of me felt kind of bad, especially when it became apparent that the asshole was some fucking chick. She was making little terrified squeaks.
Then she made no noise at all.
Motherfucker. Now I had a broken camera and some trespassing broad who was either dead or unconscious.
I hoped she wasn’t a cop.
My hand made contact with the camera, and from the initial feel I was copping, it didn’t seem like much damage was done to the outside. My fingers instinctively found the light and switched it on. I let out a breath of relief as the darkness was violently illuminated.
As was the girl, lying on the ground beside me. Her eyes were closed and she wasn’t moving.
Shit, shit, shit.
I got on my knees and placed my hand on her neck, feeling for a pulse. She stirred a little and moaned, which meant she was at least partially alive. Not dead. I hadn’t killed her. So I had that going for me.
I couldn’t see her properly in the competing darkness and blinding glare, but she seemed damn young. She was small, with a round face that glowed ghostly pale. A camera hung from her neck and onto the floor. Without thinking, I reached up and brushed a strand of black hair off of her forehead. She was warm, almost feverish. Still not dead.
At my touched she moved a little and tried to open her eyes, raising her arm up to block out the light.
“Don’t move,” I said, my voice coming out broken and hoarse. The last thing I needed was for her to wreck herself even further. Just because she was alive, didn’t mean she was well.
She dropped her hand reluctantly and I took the light away from her face, placing the camera down on the ground beside her head. It created crazy shadows along the planes of her face. Her pert nose turned into a beak. If I let my imagination run away with me, there were a million things she could have morphed into. I was lucky I hadn’t skipped my pills earlier, like I had been thinking about doing.
I touched her face again, just to make sure she was still a person. She was. She was still soft, and warm, and alive.
Was I being creepy?
Her eyes fluttered open and I could barely make out a shade of blue in them before panic tore them wider and she tried to jerk away.
I pressed her shoulder down to the ground to keep her still.
“Seriously,” I told her. “You might be really hurt. Please don’t move.”
She obeyed and lay back down.
“I’m OK,” she said through dry lips. Her voice was light and scared. But she didn’t sound like she was in any trauma. Her eyes searched my face without really seeing me.
I still had one hand on her shoulder and the other on her face.
I was definitely being creepy.
I took my hands away and inched back a bit to give her space to breathe — and me space to run. She looked no older than 20, so she obviously wasn’t a cop but she was here, in a place I had no right to be. I eyed the hall in the darkness, wondering if getting out of the building was going to be as hard as getting in. I hoped she wasn’t about to call for help. Or press charges.
She eased herself up and looked warily around the darkness, her eyes focusing on the cam-era. I could see the wheels turning behind those shadowed eyes, wondering what the fuck was going on.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. Even though she technically ran into me, I had to placate things before they escalated.
“I was upstairs and I heard this crazy clatter from down here,” I explained, my voice speeding up as my heart raced. There was too much adrenaline in my system and the medication was screwing around with it. “And I thought maybe it was the cops or something. I didn’t know what the fuck to do. I thought I could get out of the way I came in, but I saw you there, and then I saw the window probably at the same time you saw the window and I’m…I’m so sorry if…well, you’re obviously OK.”
There was a pause. She didn’t seem to buy any of that.
“Who are you?”
The million dollar question. What would my answer be today?
“That depends on who you are,” I said honestly.
In the shadows I saw her cock her brow.
“I asked you first.”
Why did I have to run into the most questioning people? I exhaled and reached back into my pocket. My new business cards were printed just last week – she’d be the first person to have one.
Whoever she was.
She took it from her hands, hesitant, like I was handing her poison. So suspicious. Tsk, tsk.
I picked up the camera and aimed it at the card. It gleamed under the light. So did the chipped polish on her gothy-looking fingernails.
She read it out loud and flipped it over, then looked up at me, somehow even more confused. The light lit up her face better.
“Are you from West Coast Living or something?”
I let out a small laugh. “Fuck no.”
I started to rock back on forth on my feet, needing an outlet for the energy that was rumbling inside my bones. She was a curious little thing, but something about her made me nervous. Wary. Like she could be even more dubious than I was. Like she had a million secrets to tell and I would never hear any of them.
Whoever she was.
“Well, Dex Foray, I have a feeling that whatever you guys are doing here tonight, you’re doing so without the permission of my uncle, who owns the lighthouse.”
Shit. Fuck. Shit.
Her uncle owned the lighthouse. I felt the routes in my brain rewire as they prepared for the extra adrenaline, the gallop of my heart.
“There’s no one else here,” I said. “It’s just me.”
She laughed, clearly not believing me.
“Look, I don’t care,” she said and there was just enough ease in her voice to make it true. “I’m not going to report you. I shouldn’t even be here myself. Just get your crew together or whatever and get out of here before you do get in trouble.”
I stopped rocking. What the hell was she going on about? My crew?
“It’s just me,” I told her again. “Did you see someone else here?”
She frowned but kept her gaze on mine. “Yes. I heard you upstairs, and I was going to go out the window, but I saw the shadow of someone pass by. Outside.”
A shudder ran down my spine and roll of nausea waved through me. I skid a bit closer to her, my pants dragging on the damp ground.
“Are you sure you saw something?”
If she had seen something, and it obviously was not me, then I was hooped up the ass. Maybe she was too, but I just couldn’t get a proper reading on her. That weird energy slinked off of her in bursts and messed with my head a little bit.
“Yes, I saw someone,” she said with a tinge of doubt. “Someone walked past the window, swear to God.”
I wasn’t sure if her God was one I could hold truth to.
“Where did you come from? Did anyone come with you?”
Like your uncle…or the cops…or your 250-pound MMA boyfriend.
She shook her head. I placed the light closer to her face, feeling like I needed to do a bit of interrogating to get to the bottom of this. She winced at the glare.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I…well, nevermind.”
“Nevermind?” she spat out. Her eyes narrowed and not from the light. “You just broke into my uncle’s lighthouse. Don’t you tell me to nevermind.”
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