"All rise!" A voice shouted. And the room rose. Like the Red Sea, the crowd suddenly parted. Things were pushed inward out of the way; people were silent as if someone had died. Or were about to.
"The honorable Judge Marin." The same voice called out as a robed man walked out from a side door and took a seat at the raised podium.
The precession went on for hours. Neither side quite knowing what to do, nor overconfident. The suspense could be felt throughout the courtroom.
Finally, the judgment came. The court was in hushed spirits as the Judge was handed the final decision as voted by the jury.
"The court against Julian Toperson, the jury finds the defendant-"
No one dared move.
Half the court wept with tears of joy. The other, sadness. It was a grim day and a triumphant day. but for the main sitting in the front with the battered prison dress, it was neither grim or triumphant. It was just opportunistic.
Those condemned to death were always the most cheerful, Ana thought. They walked gaily as if they weren't prisoners, nor were they about to die. Some of them acted as if they were taking a leisurely stroll in the park, occasionally stopping to admire a blooming flower.
Those were the ones who were the sickest. The ones who didn't care even for their own lives enough to care for anyone else. These were the murderers. They don't execute someone for thievery. They don't kill someone for a hit and run. They don't execute Aaron for fraud. It wasn't fair. They did, however, execute those who had appalled an entire nation. The ones who sought to murder anyone and everyone as if they were set upon a "divine path." They were the ones who deserved to be murdered.
But they're also the ones that didn't care. The ones that didn't have anything to live for, but to carry out their orders that they receive from the skies above, claiming that god himself had told them what to do….
It wasn't a deed of God. It was never a deed of God. God would never do such a thing. It was their own sick temptation coupled with blame that drove mass murderers to their actions and ultimately their demise.
And Ana hadn't reached that point.
But she was determined to.
Derek and Jason walked down the halls of the dank prison. Derek glanced at the printed blueprint he had. They were approaching the door that led to the execution chambers. If not for Jason, as well as his camera, he would feel completely like he was a prisoner being hauled to his death.
Beside him, Jason's eyes were wide. He tried not to look at the prison cells and the lack of windows. He tried to stop his mind from emphasizing the cold concrete floors and the heavy bars.
James Odell could never be more comfortable. He was the curator of the historical prison, and it was his workplace. He couldn't say the same for the two young men that followed him. He often thought with wry irony at the "historical" part of the prison. To think that in this country, something could be famous for so much death and murder…
Derek hoped that the camera couldn't catch his breathing. For a human being, he didn't breathe particularly loud, but he was slightly on edge. After all, it was a prison. What was it about prisons that petrified people?
As they approached the end of the long corridor, Jason breathed a sigh of relief. Derek nodded at Jason to tell him that he felt the same.
"Well, here we are." Odell said, smiling like he was a tour guide in an art museum. "This is what you're looking for."
Suddenly a shrill beep filled the air. Derek almost dropped the camera.
"Ah, it's the office. You boys feel free to look inside. I'll be right back." He smiled and left, glancing at his pager. As the last of him disappeared around the corner, Jason turned to Derek.
"D, I admit. This is the most insane thing you've thought up so far." Jason shook his head. He grinned.
"You notice the air? It's really-"
"Thick?" Jason supplied. Derek nodded. He waved a hand through the air as if he was trying to feel it.
"It's suffocating." He muttered. "I guess they don't use the air conditioning that much." He gave Jason his camera. "Okay, I guess we should film the execution room."
"That's creepy. People died there." Jason whistled. "You think they still have the noose in hanging from the ceiling?"
As he pointed the camera at Derek, who stood with his back to the closed door, Derek took time to check his hair, as he always did. One experience without proper grooming before filming had taught him a lesson.
"Okay. We're ready." Jason said, zooming in a bit.
"Hey. Derek Barnes with Jason Tatum here in Eastpoint State Penitentiary in Leon County, Florida. The Freaky Links Team has uncovered what appears to be an article in a local newspaper back in 1922, documenting that seconds after Eastpoint inmate Julian Toperson was hung, several eyewitnesses heard what is said to be the words 'To those who stand silent, purgatory will not rest-'"
Jason blinked for a moment and took one hand off the camera to rub his eyes. He opened them again and his eyes stopped.
"D." He whispered as silent as he could. Derek was still going on.
"-Now, the odd thing about this part is that everyone was watching Toperson as he was being tied up for the big heave ho. Eyewitnesses claim that that phrase, 'To those who stand silent, purgatory will not rest', was said after he was hung. It was confirmed as his voice, and exactly one year later, to the day he died, the prison suffered a massive fire-"
"D!" Jason whispered. His eyes were glued to the LCD screen.
Derek stopped mid-sentence and looked at his partner, a bit irritated.
Jason looked up. His eyes went wide.
"I can't believe this!" Lan said, staring at the computer screen.
"Believe it." Jason said. "I saw him right there."
The video footage was playing out. Derek's narration was loud and clear. But no one was paying attention to that. Everyone was paying attention to the figure in the left corner.
"This is creepy." Lan said, pausing the footage.
"It is. I mean you barely see him." Derek said. "And then you don't."
"I saw him on the camera. And then he was gone when I looked up." Jason shook his head.
"The prison curator, uh… Odell. He said there was no one in the building. All maintenance staff was off duty during those hours." Derek said, rubbing his eyes.
"And those are definitely not maintenance uniform." Lan said, noting the man's distinct mode of dress. It was reminiscent of the classic 1920's.
"So what do we do now?" Jason asked, looking at Derek.
Derek ran a hand through his thick hair. He shook his head. "I think we should find out who this guy is."
"I would love to say that the face 'doesn't ring a bell'." Odell said, his expression grim. "But I can't."
"So you know who this is?" Derek asked. Lan had printed out a still of the mysterious visitor, which was in Odell's hands.
"Of course I do." Odell said, sighing. "That's Aaron Parkinson. He was Julian Toperson's partner."
"What did he do?" Derek asked him.
Jeremy Odell took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. "Nothing, by all accounts. He was cleared of charges."
"When did he die?" Jason asked.
Odell squinted. "If memory serves, I think he died in the 50's. The library in the main hall has more information."
For a moment, silence lingered in the air, no one knowing what to say to the other. Lan decided to speak at that moment. The shrill ring interrupted their silent thoughts and Derek pulled out his cell phone.
"Hello?" Derek said.
Lan sat at the computer, one hand on the keyboard, the other on the mouse, and the phone scrunched between her shoulder and her neck.
"I looked at the video footage." Lan said, tapping on the keyboard.
Derek sat up, suddenly more attentive. "What did you find?"
"Well, there's no shadow. Which is really weird because you know that anything that has mass has to cause a shadow when there's light. And there was plenty of light."
"That's creepy." Derek said, looking at Jason, who desperately wanted to know what Lan was saying.
"It is. That's not all. I pulled up some information on Aaron Parkinson like you asked, and it turns out that he died in 1952, and he was a suspect in Toperson's murders. This guy Toperson was one nut job. He murdered at least 6 people. Parkinson was brought in as a suspect, but was later thought to be an accomplice in Toperson's murders. He was acquitted of the charges eventually and Toperson was left with all the blame." Lan scrolled down a page of information.
"Thanks, Lan." Derek said.
"You're welcome." Lan smiled. "And hey, I checked the prison record. Check Cellblock E. That's where Toperson stayed during his prison sentence."
Derek smiled. "How could I ever live without you, Lan?" He said.
"I don't know, but you better start being more careful with the computers, or you are going to be living without me." Lan said playfully. She was joking of course; she'd never leave Derek and Jason. It was for the sake of the computers that she chose to stick around. And besides, who'd offer the rational voice behind Derek's insane enthusiasm? "Face it, you'd be nuts without me around."
"You know it." Derek said, laughing. They exchanged a few more words and Derek hung up.
A few minutes later, Derek and Jason were retracing their steps.
Derek held the camera and tried as best he could not to steer his eyes away from it too much.
"The execution chambers are to the left. Cellblock E is to your right, through those doors and up the stairs." Odell said. "Every cell is marked with a letter so you'll know which one to look for."
"Thanks." Derek said as Odell stepped aside. They went up the creaky stairs that had been refitted with steel years ago.
"I thought these stairs were new." Jason said, glancing at the corrosion the wood suffered.
"Not really. The wood is original. It's over 80 years old. When they declared this place historical a decade ago, they put metal beams under the staircase." Derek was barely audible. His eyes were focused solely on the camera's screen.
"I thought they executed people out in the open." Jason muttered. "You know, have a hanging and then a buffet. Buy one get one free."
"It was the 1920's…it was slightly more reformed then. Anyways, Eastpoint was one of the only prisons that held the worst criminals. Most of them were killed as soon as possible, without a sentence."
Derek and Jason reached the top of the staircase. Jason opened the door slowly and they stepped inside. The lights were dim, but bright enough for both of them to see clearly.
"Creepy." Jason remarked.
"Very." Derek said, swinging the camera across the room to show the long stretch of cells, one after another, bland and dry.
Abruptly, they heard a loud clanging. Jason and Derek turned around swiftly.
"Probably just a rat or something." Jason mumbled. Derek nodded, even though Jason wasn't looking.
They turned back around and kept on filming.
"Hey." Jason said, smiling into one of the prison's security cameras. He knew Odell was watching them. Otherwise, they wouldn't be walking around the place alone.
"Cellblock E." Derek said, as he stopped in front of one cell. It was the only one that wasn't marked in various graffiti from other inmates.
"Is it open?" Jason asked.
"I don't know." Derek said. They glanced at each other and Jason went to open the large gate.
To his surprise, it opened easier than he had thought. "It works pretty well for being 80 years old." He said, pushing the gate open.
"Check another one." Derek said, looking at the cells next to E.
"Why?" Jason asked. After all, wasn't E the one they were looking for?
"Just do it." Derek said, motioning towards the previous cell.
Jason shrugged and went to push the gate. He frowned when it didn't open.
"Are you psychic now?" Jason asked Derek.
"No, I'm just suspicious."
"Rather ye should be, boy." A raspy voice called.
Derek scrambled for his tape recorder without even thinking of it. His camera recorded sound well enough, but he wanted to be sure.
"Come on, speak again." He said, trying not to show the fear in his voice.
"Derek, what are you doing?" Jason said, confused. "Who are you talking to?"
"I'm talking to you, boy!" The voice said again. Derek spun around.
He couldn't do anything but stare at the man sitting in the cell, concealed by the shadows.
"Remember this. To those who stand silent, purgatory will not rest."
"I don't know what you saw." Jason said. "But I didn't see anything."
They were in the car on their way back home. Derek was wearily watching his taped footage from the cell. There was no trace of the man who he saw sitting in cellblock E.
"He was there, Jason." Derek said. "I saw him. I turned on the tape recorder and everything."
"But he's not on there, is he?" Jason said. He shook his head. "I believe you, trust me D, I do. But he's not on there. He's just not. I believe you when you say you heard something and you saw someone in the cell, but the camera was working and we didn't see anyone."
"I know." Derek said. He closed his eyes for a second. Then it hit him…..
"Derek, I'm worried about you sometimes." Jason said, his eyes scrolling down a document.
"Too bad he isn't worried about himself." Lan said. Derek turned around, grinning. His eyes were shining. But they weren't the shine that a child got when they entered the candy store. They were the shine of someone who had just found a new adventure. Someone who had just discovered something more exciting than anything that had happened before. Derek shined a lot.
"Come on!" Derek followed Jason into the kitchen. Jason pulled a soda out of the fridge and perched on the counter.
"No! This is insane! Seattle I could handle. New Orleans with the freaky vampires I could handle. A trip in the woods with a flying pterodactyl I could handle. This is just insane."
"It's all for the sake of the world." Derek said.
"Isn't it remotely disturbing to you?" Lan asked. "I mean, what you're even suggesting."
"It's imperative." Derek said.
"Food is imperative. Water is imperative. Caffeine is imperative. Staying the night in a prison is not imperative!" Jason said, pointing a finger at Derek.
"Rather I go alone?" Derek said, picking his jacket off a chair.
He shrugged and started to the door, retrieving his camera on the way out.
The door shut with a silent click.
Jason and Lan looked at each other. She sighed and he muttered to himself.
"Ah hell." He said, and set his soda down. Putting on his jacket, he opened the door.
Smiling blue eyes looked at him from the doormat.
"You just knew, didn't you?" Jason said, shaking his head and pushing past.
"The guilt trip always works." Derek said, laughing.
"I'm telling you, this is insane." Lan said, shaking her head. "And I don't know how I got into this either."
"I recall you wanting to go out into the field more, Lan." Derek said, smiling.
"I guess I should've thought more before I said anything." Lan said.
"We remembered all the equipment right?" Jason asked. "We don't want a repeat of last time." He looked at Derek, who shrugged and cast a 'who me?' look at Lan and Jason.
"Yeah, we remembered it all." Lan said, pulling out the laptop.
Soon they arrived. The three of them were greeted by no one.
"I guess I shouldn't be expecting that fruit basket." Lan said as she got out of the car.
Jason took a look at the sky. "It's going to rain soon." He said.
"This place is pretty well built. We won't have to worry about leaks or anything." Derek said, and started to unload some equipment.
"Hello?" Lan shouted once they were inside.
Jeremy Odell hurried out, his arms full of papers.
"Oh hello." He said. And then he frowned. "We've never had overnight visitors before." He shook his head. "No worries. Uh, we have a lounge down the hall and the prison is, as you know, through that door back there. There's two security guards every night. Al and Jim. Nice guys, really. If you need anything or if you have any questions, they're the people to go to."
He dumped the stack of papers on a desk.
"Here's your access card." He said, giving it to Derek. "The main entrance to the prison can only be opened from the inside. You'll need a card if you go in from here. You can stay in the lounge. The couches in there are pretty comfortable."
He looked at his watch, and then out the window.
Derek, Lan, and Jason looked quizzically at each other.
"My wife has a dinner party tonight." He explained. "She'd kill me if I wasn't there on time."
Derek nodded. He pocketed the card and started to lift some bags. Lan and Jason took the cue and did the same.
They waved goodbye to Odell, who was shifting stealthily towards the door.
"He's a bit off kilter." Lan remarked.
Derek grinned as he pushed the lounge door open.
The walls were drab, the furniture was probably from a yard sale, and the refrigerator didn't seem to refrigerate anything, but it was okay. They had been in worse.
"You know, I'll be lucky if I don't get hurt this time." Derek muttered. He set the luggage down beside the television and opened the refrigerator. He smiled when he saw a full 24 pack of coke. He pulled one out and rolled it in his hands.
"I guess the refrigerator doesn't refrigerate very well." He grinned and tossed two more cans to his partners.
They sat in silence for a few moments, each of them pondering and sipping their drinks.
Chloe tapped her foot against the plush carpet. She figured they were probably lost somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Thank God for cell phones.
"Hey Chloe." Derek said.
"Where are you guys?" She could hear the faint talking of two people in the background.
"Eastpoint Penitentiary." Derek said. He grinned and managed to start taking out the equipment with one hand while holding the phone with the other hand. Lan and Jason both took a cue from this and started doing the same.
Chloe felt the same urge to ask him the big three. Why was he there? What was he doing? And what exactly would she have to bring or wear to wherever he was because inevitably, he'd call in the middle of the night asking for her assistance.
"Well, the Eastpoint Penitentiary is haunted." Derek said simply. "Or so we suspect."
"Tell her about the creepy guy on the tape." Jason whispered.
"Jason says hi." Derek smiled at his friend. "And he wanted to tell you about this really weird thing we found on the tape."
"Well, tell him I'll see it when you call me in the middle of the night." Chloe said.
Derek put a hand over the phone.
"She thinks I'll call her in the middle of the night asking for help." Derek said.
"It's like calling in the middle of a dinner, or a meeting, only with darkness and sleep involved." Lan said. "She'll get used to it. I know I have."
"So really, why are you at a prison at-" Chloe checked her watch. "10:45 pm."
"Well, as I said, we think that Eastpoint is possibly haunted. And since we are the Freaky Links team, we're kind of obligated to finding out whether it is or not." Derek sat down and turned on the laptop.
Chloe drummed silently on her coffee table. She closed her eyes for a minute while Derek talked about the history of his current abode.
She noticed her briefcase lying on the floor next to the door. She frowned as she remembered a report she had forgotten to do.
"Chloe?" Derek said as he stopped for breath. Before she said anything, he went on.
"So after the fire, they rebuilt sections of it-"
"Chloe?" Derek said again.
She snapped back into consciousness.
"What?" She said, realizing she still had a phone.
Derek was about to say something when a thudding interrupted the tranquil air.
Lan stood up and Jason stopped fiddling with the cameras.
"What was that?" Lan asked.
"Probably a guard." Derek muttered. But he picked up the second camera while Jason hefted the first and he felt around for the blueprints without taking his eyes off the door.
"Chloe I have to call you back." He said absently.
"What? Derek?" Chloe said into the phone. She wasn't listening at full attention but if she wasn't mistaken, he was about to hang up and that would lead to much trouble.
But there was a dial tone. And Chloe sighed and dropped the phone onto the couch.
"Wait." Lan whispered. "There it is again."
Indeed there was. A small thudding, barely audible, tracing from the hall. They could all hear it. It was almost a tapping, but dull enough that it sounded like it was made using a hard object with a cloth or a fabric wrapped around it.
"Well are we going to-" Derek said, gesturing to the closed door.
"I don't know. Should we?" Jason asked.
"It's probably nothing." Lan said. Her eyes went down to the flashlights they had laid out on the beaten coffee table. She picked one up.
"If it's nothing, why are we standing here with cameras and flashlights?" Jason asked.
No one said anything.
"Got the blueprint?' Lan asked, not taking her eyes off the door. The thudding continued.
"Yep." Derek said.
They all silently moved to the door.
Derek put a hand on the handle and gripped it tightly.
He breathed in.
The thudding continued.
He breathed out.
The thudding got closer.
He blinked a few times.
And the thudding got louder.
And Derek opened the door.