***AUTHOR'S NOTE: I do not own the rights to the Travel Channel or to Ghost Adventures. Zak, Nick, and Aaron, or any other real-life characters, are NOT owned by me, however the interactions with these characters in this chapter ARE mine. All other characters in this chapter are owned by me. Real life references to locations, brands, and musicians/artists are not owned by me, and the characters' interactions with them are purely fictional.***
FYI EVERYONE - It will be at least two weeks before I get the next chapter up. I was laid off at work yesterday (/cries) and in the hustle and bustle of getting out of the building, I was not able to save and email to myself the next two chapters, or the 60-page document that I had been peeling chapters off of. That's more than three months of work GONE. I'm going to take a few days to lick my wounds, then I'll start retyping from memory as much as I can. Thank you for your support!
Chapter XXXIII – Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
After over an hour of shivering and crying, I saw the sky to the east begin to show hints of pink and purple.
I waited until the dawn was light enough for me to see beyond my car's windows, then got out. I stretched my legs and went to the gas station to use their restroom.
When I returned to the car, I checked my phone. I had a message from Brianna. Scowling and feeling a wave of fresh tears, I opened it.
[Hey, I just heard what happened. I'm so sorry! Trent would never act like such a pig, sober. I wish you had woken me up when he started acting a creep. :(]
I groaned and pounded out a seething response. [Trent can go fuck himself, I don't care what he was on. And I wouldn't have made it to your bedroom.]
[Are you okay, though? I mean are you safe? And that's what Isaac said, right before he kicked Trent's ass. Added a broken nose to the busted lip you already gave him. I feel so bad that I let this happen.]
[I'm fine now, and it's not your fault. No hard feelings, girl. =) …I do need my coat back, though.] I turned off the screen and set my phone in the passenger seat. No, I wasn't mad at Brianna for last night's cluster-fuck – well, maybe a little, but it was unwarranted. It is unrealistic to expect someone who does drugs to act rationally and responsibly – it's just a setup for disappointment.
But beyond that, my self-confidence was rocked to its core. As if I didn't already have enough trust issues… last night didn't help any. I rested my forehead on the steering wheel, taking slow breaths. After a moment I looked up to process my surroundings. I was in the downtown district, the streets lined with neon signs and parking meters.
My jaw dropped as I recognized where I was. Across the street from me was a four-story building, a familiar green awning and storefront windows with pool balls and cues painted on them.
I was parked across the street from Red's Billiards.
Jerry is gonna kill me.
Just then, Barbara's giant red Dodge pickup pulled into one of the parking spots in front of the bar. I pretended that I was small enough to hide behind my steering wheel as she clambered out of her truck and approached the front door.
I began running through imaginary scenarios and excuses that I could deliver to my great aunt and uncle. They would automatically assume I tried to go into the bar to participate in the lockdown. However, there was no way I could tell them the truth about why my night had ended with me sleeping in my car at a gas station.
The authorities would never find Trent's body.
Barbara unlocked the front door and the steam of the warm indoor air billowed out onto the street. I saw Nick in the doorway, shaking her hand as Zak and Aaron came out carrying black cases to a white van parked at the corner. Zak set the cases at the back door of the van and turned to return inside, but froze when he saw my car.
My superpowers of willing myself and my car invisible continue to fail me.
Zak broke into a run, nearly getting creamed by an old Chevy pickup as he crossed the street. He arrived at my car and pounded a hand on the roof. I pretended to be startled, and leaned to the side to look up at him. His eyes were laced with anger.
I cracked the window. "Good morning," I mumbled.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" he yelled, slamming his fist on the roof of my car again.
I groaned, unbuckled my seatbelt, and turned off the car. She let out a relieved backfire from idling for so long. I barely had the door unlocked when he yanked it open and wrenched me out onto the pavement.
"Are you out of your goddamned mind?!"
"Zak, stop. I can explain."
He gathered me up in his arms, squeezing me until I could hardly breathe. "Jesus Christ, Desiree, what the hell were you thinking?"
I hesitated. He was obviously more than a little pissed off at me, but he still pulled me into a hug. It didn't make any sense. What made it even weirder was that he was refusing to make eye contact with me.
"I went out with a girlfriend last night and… long story short, I… I wanted to b-be here to greet you guys when y-you finished your investigation," I stammered, trying to sound convincing.
He furrowed his brow and looked at the sky, still avoiding my gaze. "It's a good thing you're cute, Dumbass."
"I'll say," said Barbara. She, Nick, and Aaron had joined us in the parking lot. "Your uncle is going to tear you a new one."
"I didn't go inside, though," I pleaded, wrenching away from Zak and turning to face her.
She shrugged and motioned me to her. "I'll do the damage control, sweetie, but now you need to come home with me. These boys need their rest." She wrapped an arm around my shoulders and kissed my forehead.
Zak raised a hand. "Can she come with us while we get something to eat? I need to talk to her about some things."
Barbara grinned. "Sure, honey."
"Don't move." Zak left me and went to talk with Nick and Aaron as Barbara returned to her truck. I leaned against my car, stunned. Zak was acting… strange. Distant, yet overly protective.
As soon as the Dodge was out of sight, Zak waved for me to join him and the guys by the van. His eyes were still focused straight forward, and his voice was still saturated with aggravation. "Come here."
I slowly walked over to him, shivering. Noticing my bare arms, Zak rolled his eyes and shed his coat. Without hesitation he wrapped it around me. "Do I want to know why you're not wearing a jacket?"
"It's a long story."
He folded his arms across his chest. "So you wanna tell me what's really going on?"
"Maybe if you turn off your asshole attitude." I was cold, tired, and had zero patience for being bitched at. I had already bitten back several fuck you's.
Sleeping in a cramped sports car in the middle of December will have that effect.
Zak faced Nick, taking a deep breath. Nick just shrugged at him and opened the back of the van. Almost reluctantly Zak deflated as he turned back to me. "You shouldn't have come out here. It's a dangerous neighborhood, and you may have contaminated our investigation."
"Even though I wasn't in the building?" I refused to acknowledge the "helpless girl in a bad part of town" comment.
He sighed and stepped up onto the curb to lean on a parking meter. "You were nearby."
Aaron stopped loading the van and put a hand on my back. "What time did you show up?"
"A little after four, maybe. Why?"
His eyes grew wide and he looked at Zak. Zak's pissy attitude evaporated. His eyes grew wide. "Oh, man…"
I've had quite enough of this vague bullshit, thank you very much. I put my hands on my hips. "What?"
Zak looked visibly shaken. His face was white and he reeked of fear. "We caught your voice on our spirit-box."
I felt my heart drop into my stomach. "That's impossible."
Zak finally locked his eyes on mine. No more anger, just worry and compassion. "It happened at almost five a.m."
There's no way. "It probably just sounded similar to my voice."
"No, Des," said Nick, putting the last case in the van. "It was your voice. It called Zak's name… and said some other things."
Zak toed at a piece of gravel on the sidewalk. "Well… we still have to go back over everything."
"Okay, let's go."
"I don't think I want you to hear any of it," Zak said, putting a hand on my shoulder.
I frowned at him. "Why the hell not?"
"Let's go get something to eat," he grumbled, taking my elbow and steering me towards my car. I started to balk against his grip, but I was just too weary to put up a fight.
Twenty minutes later the four of us met up with Billy at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. We got lucky and were seated in a tucked away corner of the building, where we could have a little privacy. Billy had brought in his laptop and headphones, and set them up on a toddler seat at the end of the table. He smiled at me as I collapsed in my chair.
Zak gave him a look that said drop it. Shrugging, Billy began to plug in assorted memory drives to upload the investigation files. I avoided Zak's stare and began piddling around with the peg game set at the table. Aaron tried to lighten the mood by making jokes about the kid's menu. We all managed to laugh along half-heartedly, but the air between us was still buzzing with tension.
The waiter came over and took everyone's order. Obviously the guys were starving… but I wasn't. My gut was tied so tightly in a knot that even the idea of food sounded gross. I just ordered a coffee. Zak raised an eyebrow at me, but said nothing.
Billy and Nick were still absorbed in the laptop. Nick pointed at the screen. "Look at this one, first." Zak and Aaron pointedly began an off-topic conversation, almost like they were trying to distract me, as Billy hit play.
Five minutes in, Billy's head jerked up. "Whoa, what?!" He hit pause and jerked his headphones off of his head. "I thought you said she—"
Nick cut him off. "We got that just as we were about to start packing up. Keep listening, man."
Billy shot a quick look at me and then returned his attention to his laptop. After a while, the waiter brought us our food and Billy removed his headphones.
Billy reached out a hand to get my attention. "Desiree, did you—"
"Billy, no," growled Zak. "Don't drag her into this."
"No, dude, I can't call this evidence until I hear all factors, myself."
I set down my coffee. "Spill it. What the hell happened?"
Billy shook his head. "I just need to know if you ever went in the building, or if you ever called any of the guys while they were locked down."
"Of course not!"
Instead of looking relieved, Billy's jaw dropped and he slowly looked to Zak. "So this is legit?"
Zak avoided my glare, picking at his eggs. "I'm afraid so, man."
I folded my arms across my chest and put on my best bitchy pout face. "Somebody better fill me the fuck in. Now."
Nick sighed. "Show her this clip, bro." He picked up Billy's headphones and handed them to me across the table. He handed the laptop to Zak to pass across to me, but Zak recoiled.
"I don't want her to see this."
Nick pointed. "It's just this one, dude, not the other thing."
Zak mumbled under his breath, disgusted, and passed the laptop to me. I set it on my thighs and put the headphones on. Aaron leaned over my shoulder. "Just hit that button and it will play."
Zak was walking around on the fourth floor, holding a digital recorder and a spirit box. He wasn't asking any questions, he was just wandering aimlessly through the dark. Nick was in the far corner where I had seen the Shadow a couple days earlier, and Aaron was following Zak around with a hand-held nightvision camera.
Without warning, a voice cut through the static coming from the spirit box.
"…Zak… Help me…"
Zak whirled around to face Aaron. "Did you hear that, bro?"
"…Don't let it hurt me…"
Zak's face visibly paled, even under the infrared beam. "There's no way. There is noWAY." He turned to shout into the darkness. "So you're gonna come out and play now, huh?"
"…No, it's me… Please…"
Zak bent over, his hands resting heavily on his knees, his shoulders heaving.
Aaron's voice wavered over the camera's microphone. "Should I stop rolling, dude?"
"No. No way, man. Hey Nick! Get over here!"
There were loud, banging footsteps as Nick rushed to join Zak and Aaron. "What's wrong?"
"Turn on your Mel-Meter, Nick."
Nick stepped into frame and produced a bulky satellite-phone looking device. Immediately it began to emit a small alarm and began to light up.
"Shit," he whispered, holding it up towards Zak. The screeching alarm's pitch raised dramatically.
Zak finally stood up, his face etched with fury. "Who are you?!" He shouted into the dark. Almost in response, a creepy voice began chattering out of the spirit box, in what sounded like a foreign language.
I peeked over the laptop at Zak. He was hunched over his plate, staring blankly at his plate.
Zak slapped at the back of his neck. "Dude, I just felt a hand on my back." He whirled around . "Don't you fucking touch me! Tell me who you are!"
"…Desiree…" A small child's voice sang over the foreign babbling.
"You're shitting me," mumbled Nick, his camera still trained on the Mel-Meter in his hand. "What do you want?" he called, his tone less aggressive than Zak's.
I felt my stomach do a flip. I really did fuck this up for them, I kept thinking. My face was hot and my legs were trembling uncontrollably.
Zak had already lost control. "You try'na play games with us? You leave her out of this!"
A deep, mocking laugh – straight out of the old horror films – dominated the audio. Aaron's camera blipped, causing a couple frames to warp on the screen, and in those frames there was a tall black figure between Zak and Nick.
"What the fuck is that?" I hit pause and pointed at the figure, now resembling a picture taken in front of a fun-house mirror.
Aaron leaned over my shoulder and followed my hand. "Wow. Hey Billy, give me the pad." Billy handed him a worn out steno-pad and a pen. Aaron wrote down the timestamp on the screen. "We'll need to clean this up and check it out when we get back home."
I looked at him. "You didn't notice that when you were filming?"
Zak reached across the table and closed the laptop in my face. "That's enough for now."
I gave him the best bitchy look I could come up with, but it fell short when I saw the look in his eyes. He was mad, but there was a more prevalent emotion.
Why is he afraid?
Billy took his headphones and laptop and put them away, and we ate in silence.
Zak finally spoke up. "Des, I do not believe you just happened to be outside Red's because you wanted to greet us when we ended the investigation. You feel like telling the truth, yet?"
I felt my cheeks go warm again. I hate lying, and I hate it even more when I get called on it. "I didn't tell you the whole story, because I didn't want to cause a scene with my aunt there."
"Okay, fair enough. So what really happened?"
I sighed. Here we go…