M.I.T.: Muggle Interface Team
Haunted House: Dead
Prologue: Break in Transmission
'That is so obviously a fake, Archie,' Valerie Mallory sneered dismissively as she watched her colleague frantically fiddling with the perspex bubble.
'It's a translucent globe, with a built-in smoke and light generator. When I get it working, it will look better than the real thing,' Archie Dark announced agitatedly. 'But I think that the batteries must be flat!'
'What size batteries do you need?' Simon Ryman asked, reaching past his EMF meter and movement sensors and into the bottom of his equipment bag.
'The little ones: triple-A's,' said Archie. 'Thanks, Simon; you're a lifesaver.'
Archie hastily replaced the batteries and switched on the globe. It emitted a green glow, and smoke swirled within it. Covering the sphere with a green cloth, he sat down at the small table.
'I'm ready, Jim,' said Archie.
Jim Sidney looked despairingly at his team of "fearless ghost-hunters" and sighed. 'No you're not, Archie. Ruby, dust his head the lights are reflecting off it,' Jim Sidney ordered. The lanky young make-up girl did as she was told, dusting the top of Archie's bald pate.
'Quickly, Ruby, this is a live show remember?' Jim raised his voice. 'We've got four bloody minutes before we go live, and not one of you is actually ready. I wish I'd never agreed to do live shows! You're useless prats, all of you! What use is our resident psychic's "fortune-telling method of the week" spot, Archie, if the thing runs on batteries and they're flat!' Jim Sidney rolled his eyes in disbelief. 'Why is everything always last-minute with you? I suppose that at least, if you knock the bloody thing onto the floor, it won't take as long to pick up as those flaming Tarot cards you used last week. And where the hell is Helena! She texted me to say that she was going for a walk, but she hasn't left the hotel. I've checked with reception. She's supposed to be doing the intro! You haven't locked her in her room and nicked her mobile, have you, Valerie?'
'She's probably found some new bloke to get off with, darling,' Valerie told her husband, venom dripping from her final word. Producer/director Jim Sidney looked scornfully at his wife before angrily turning to address his tiny crew. Then Bill Kenny almost dropped his camera.
'For Christ's sake, Bill, what's the matter with you? I expect Archie to drop stuff, but you're my rock. If you drop the hand-held, we're buggered. Have either of you seen Helena?'
'She's not in her room, Jim, unless she's ignoring me,' sound recordist Hattie Coates announced. 'Perhaps she's still in the tower.'
'Still? When did she go up there?'
'Not long after we'd finished the run-through. I'd left my bag in the library and when I went to get it I saw her going upstairs.'
'That's more than three hours ago, why didn't you tell me?'
'Sorry, Jim, I forgot,' Hattie apologised nervously. She was getting distressed; Jim recognised the signs, Archie worked better when he was anxious and sweating, but Hattie didn't! She needed the gentle touch.
'That's okay, Hattie. I'm sorry, you know how stressed I get before a show. You didn't tell me, but I didn't ask you,' said Jim hastily mollifying her. 'Sixty seconds!' he announced. 'Keep calm and carry on, Hattie. Ready, Jim? Positions, everyone! There's no sign of Helena, if she's flat on her back somewhere I'll bloody kill her. You'll have to do the intro, okay, Valerie?'
'Of course. I can manage that easily, after all, I am a professional,' said Valerie smugly.
'Ruby, be a love and nip into the tower. See if you can find Helena,' Jim ordered.
Ruby Lipscombe looked as though she was going to protest, but she nodded and scampered towards the door to the South Tower. She was out of shot with seconds to spare.
'Credits are rolling,' Jim announced. Silence fell.
Jim checked his monitors. He didn't have time to be annoyed, but Helena Anncart would certainly pay for this later. His new young presenter/psychic had pleaded with him, begged to be allowed to do the introduction. He'd said yes, seriously annoying his wife in the process. But now the newest member of their little team had vanished. She needed a lesson in professionalism.
'Ten seconds,' Jim announced, and his team swung into action. He gave his wife the thumbs up. He knew that he could rely on Valerie to hold the show together, no matter what. She turned and smiled at the camera.
'Hello, and welcome to this week's Haunted House: Live. I'm Valerie Mallory, and tonight, my friends and I are in Cumbria, at Owlglass Hall,' Valerie began the show. 'This magnificent old building is now a hotel and wedding venue. It is also the third most haunted house in England. We'll be meeting the owner, Mr Oswald Striggiday, soon. The hall has belonged to his family since the original keep was built in the twelfth century. You join us in Mr Striggiday's magnificent private library. Through the door behind me lies the South Tower, where three of the seven ghosts of Owlglass Hall are reputed to appear. Are your temperature gauges picking up anything yet, Simon?'
Jim flicked a switch and the broadcast image moved to the fixed camera trained on their technical expert, Simon Ryman.
'There's a definite temperature drop on the third floor of the tower, Valerie,' said Simon excitedly, as he always did.
Jim switched back to Bill's steady-cam.
'Thanks, Simon. That sounds very interesting, but before we investigate the haunted tower, we'll turn to our resident psychic, Archie Dark, who will tell us what we're likely to encounter today,' said Valerie smoothly. 'What's under the cloth, Archie?'
'Well, Valerie, I'm sure that our viewers will immediately recognise this week's fortune-telling device.' Archie Dark carefully pulled the green cloth from the globe. Thankfully, it was working.
As he watched Archie through the monitors, Jim thought that, considering it was little more than a cheap perspex bowl standing on a black plastic base, it looked surprisingly effective. The internal light and smoke generators were doing their job, creating an impressive swirling mist. Archie ostentatiously waved his hands over the globe, gazing intently into its glowing and foggy depths.
'If you shake it, does it look like it's snowing inside?' Valerie asked Archie. The team's psychic panicked for a moment before giving her a false grin.
Jim frowned at his wife. She was good. She could ad lib, she could fill, but she was the only truly professional broadcaster there. She liked to let the others know it by putting them off their stride.
'Er, of course not, Valerie,' said Archie. He immediately moved straight back onto the script.
'I can see several ethereal presences within the fog.' Archie began to excitedly move his head from side as he peered into the globe, and cameraman Bill Kenny was forced to zoom out in order to keep Archie's head in shot. 'Mad Tam the jester, the oldest ghost in Owlglass Hall will, I'm certain, be paying us a visit. There are others hovering about us too, watching and waiting. The Headless Monk is here, though I don't suppose he'll speak to us, unless he finally finds his head.' Pause for a laugh from the viewers, Archie, thought Jim, but Archie simply ploughed on with the script. 'And finally, I see the Green Lady, a fifteenth century resident of the tower and the last person to touch the cursed Green Pearl, Valerie.'
Valerie Mallory took over seamlessly; Bill turned his camera on her and zoomed in for a closeup.
'The Green Pearl, the cursed pearl, has been owned by the Striggiday family since the twelfth century,' Valerie explained. She smiled into the camera and continued, carefully putting just the right amount of awe into her voice.
'Striggiday Family legends say that if the pearl ever leaves Owlglass Hall, then doom will fall on the family. The pearl is still kept in the topmost room of the South Tower. Four hundred years ago the Green Lady, Lady Caroline Striggiday, foolishly decided that the legend of the curse was just that: a legend. She removed the pearl from its hiding place, intending to wear it for her lover. She died instantly, killed by the cursed pearl!' Valerie paused for dramatic effect. 'This promises to be an exciting evening as, later in the show, Mr Striggiday will be showing us the cursed pearl. But now, what more can you divine for us, Archie?'
'I foresee that tonight, Valerie, our viewers will be faced with ghosts, mysteries, and the story of the tragic death of a beautiful young woman.'
Before Valerie could respond, the door to the South Tower clattered open. Ruby Lipscombe burst into the room; she was white-faced and shaking.
'Helena's dead!' she screamed, and then she fainted.