Chapter 2

 


Author: “Rhonnie Fordham”


Working Out The Deal

The inside of Amanda’s home was clean and well-furnished, but Bridget noted how it seemed to be lifeless. From what she understood, Amanda was supposed to have had a husband, a young daughter, and a young son less than a month ago. A nuclear family. So the question wasn’t so much as where were they, but why was there no trace of them left?

There were no obnoxious family photos, no toys strewn about, no outward signs of a child making a mess in the house via scribbling and drawing on the walls. In fact, there were no photos anyway. Just clean chairs and couch, a perfect flatscreen, and an antique mirror in the corner. Again, this was so clean considering the recent atrocity.

The staircase nearby looked regal enough. Its wooden steps led up to a dark hallway. Who knew how many times Amy and Michael had stumbled up those steps? Or ran up it for that matter.

In addition to the stoic white walls, the inclusion of a discreet security camera gave the room and house a clinical feel. To Bridget, the house didn’t feel inhabited, much less haunted. It felt a relatively new building. Not a home.

With everyone huddled around the flatscreen, Amanda made the group watch her so-called proof: different security videos. As the footage played, Amanda looked anxious and worried. She fit the part of the manic victim quite well. A personification of PTSD.

Bridget thought Amanda looked to be trying too hard, but maybe Bridget was being too harsh. After all, this woman did just lose her entire family.

The videos themselves were all impressive. Amanda showed them one after the other. Each one more chilling and convincing than the last.

There it was on screen. This very living room. In the nighttime footage, the living room’s camera had caught Amanda’s front door creaking wide open on its own, the loud creak slicing through the midnight silence like an efficient blade. Then came the footsteps. Heavy footsteps that lumbered through the room. They came to a sudden. All seemed calm for a moment. Like the invisible intruder had disappeared. Until a shelf toppled to the ground and was pushed across the floor in a rough slide. A scathing sound accompanied the shelf sliding against the floor. But no one was in the room, no one was seen pushing it.

Another video was in Amanda’s kitchen. This one in broad daylight and filmed by Amanda herself. Through a window, she pointed her camera at the beautiful garden. A perfect view save for a mysterious figure lurking near the garden. A tall figure that just stood there, their face guarded by shadows. As the wind ripped through their torn clothes, the figure turned and looked right on at the camera, right toward Amanda.

In the clip, her terrified screams blared over the footage. Almost instantly, cracks appeared all throughout the window, running along the glass like cryptic spiderwebs.

Jumping back, the horrified Amanda lowered the camera. She breathed heavy and staggered further back away from the window’s new eerie design.

Everyone watching the video was captivated. And silent. Even Bridget.

On screen, Amanda took a moment to recover and regain her composure. She pointed the camera back out the kitchen window and got a clear view through the cracked glass. But the figure wasn’t there. It was gone. The garden and shed stood all alone.

Amanda started to relax. She coaxed herself back to a more calm state of mind. Maybe she was just seeing things.

Then a harsh voice shattered those soothing thoughts with two cold words. “Die, Amanda!”

Full of fear, the frantic Amanda screamed as she waved the camera all around the kitchen. She pointed it at the fridge, the counters, the wooden table, everything. She expected to see the creepy figure lurking right behind her. But she was alone.

Amanda stopped screaming, but before she could relax, she noticed a long butcher knife lodged straight into the wooden table. The handle stuck straight out, as if challenging Amanda to grab it.

Amanda let out another blood-curdling scream and shut off the camera in a panic. In a startling transition, another video played on screen.

The video was taped off a camera from the upstairs hallway. It featured Amanda dressed in only a towel as she walked through the hallway, going toward the bathroom.

Like she could sense someone watching her, Amanda stopped and turned around. Her worried eyes scanned the scene. Her face said it all. This wasn’t the expression of someone mad at herself for imagining things. This was the face of a person convinced someone was inside their house. However, no one was there. Amanda was alone. But she didn’t believe it.

Fueled by anxiety, Amanda hurried into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. She was heard stumbling inside as she turned on the shower. The running water was heard through the quiet hallway.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Until a quick glimpse appeared: the figure from outside. They were transparent and nothing more than a blur. Their legs couldn’t even be seen. But even their quick movement couldn’t hide its glowering male face and tattered shirt. Or its seemingly-singular focus on the bathroom. He resembled an Angel without wings or promises of solace. A stalking specter.

In the living room, Kevin jumped back and yelled, feigning his over-the-top fright. Tony wasn’t feigning his.

Annoyed, Bridget ignored Kevin and stayed focused on the video.

“Just keep watching,” Amanda stated.

In the video, the creepy man disappeared just a few feet away from the bathroom door. His apparition had made a quick appearance. Quick enough to be frightening yet quick enough to not seem staged. Honestly, the footage wouldn’t look out of place on a ghost video feed… but it looked so much more authentic. The man was simultaneously abstract and haunting.

The area was now silent save for the shower’s onslaught of running water. Its incessant rhythm was reminiscent of pouring rain. It was soothing and pretty. But it seemed too safe. Like the man was waiting for the right moment to reappear for a brilliant jump scare.

In the bathroom, Amanda was heard turning the shower off. The running water stopped. Cutting through those few moments of silence, an invisible force snatched the bathroom doorknob and shook it rapidly, desperate to get inside. The unnerving noise replaced the running water, but it definitely wasn’t as soothing. It had the same harrowing intensity of heavy footsteps following you in the dark or heavy breathing from a mysterious caller.

The whole time, no one was seen turning the knob. Not the man or anything that could be physically seen. Just the invisible force, a force of potent strength that kept rattling the knob. Amanda screamed and screamed in the bathroom. As if responding to her cries, the force banged against the door in rapid succession, making it rattle with each ferocious hit. Amanda’s cries grew louder. So did the force’s hits. Someone wanted in to that room. Someone wanted Amanda. Right before the latest slam against the door, the video paused.

In the living room, Amanda’s bony hand placed the remote control on top of a shelf. “It still scares me,” she said to herself. Her voice was loud enough to make sure the others heard though.

Everyone else looked at the flatscreen, impressed by this catalog of horror. Even Bridget didn’t say anything, making sure to keep a stoic expression so as not to give Amanda too much confidence.

Needless to say, Tony didn’t like this one bit. His face equivalent to a five-year-old experiencing their first haunted house ride.

The giddy Kevin smiled at the guests. “Well. What’d you think?” he asked in a told-you-so manner.

“It seems real,” Linda replied. She glanced back at the paused video. “Very possible at least.”

“You fooled me,” Tony commented. He nodded toward the stairs. “I sure as Hell ain’t going up there.”

Full of passion, Amanda stood up, almost defensive of the Christy house mythos. “It’s not just there, it’s everywhere,” she pleaded. “It’s all over this house!”

Everyone kept their eyes on her. Unlike the others, Bridget wasn’t so much mesmerized by Amanda’s neurosis as she was studious of Amanda’s quirks. Bridget considered her thorough inspections to rival those of the great analytical minds.

“All along, I knew it was here,” Amanda went on, visibly shaken by her memories. “The minute I walked in this place, I told John, but he just shrugged it off like always. He was always the tough guy.”

“Sounds like my ex-husband,” Linda joked. Only Kevin laughed. His laugh way too enthusiastic.

Amanda struggled to continue. With everyone’s attention on her, she didn’t know how to explain this most extraordinary situation. “I knew it in my heart though,” she said. “And it’s only gotten stronger ever since. Whatever’s here is evil, pure evil.” Sensing Bridget’s suspicions, she made direct eye contact with Bridget. “And it’s after me.”

As Amanda looked away to avoid eye contact, the excited Kevin leaned in closer toward Linda. “I’m telling you, Ms. Kane, this place is a goldmine!” he proclaimed. “Bona fide haunted!”

He laid his groomed hand on Linda’s leg. She took note with a smile. “This is exactly what you were looking for,” Kevin said. “The history, the spirits. It’s all right here, and it’s all real!”

“A little too real,” mused Tony as he browsed through Facebook on his phone. Anything to get his mind off this fucking house.

“This is the real deal, Ms. Kane,” Kevin pleaded.

“Yes, well,” Linda started. She leaned in closer toward Kevin. Now he was really getting excited. Linda could tell by how much harder he squeezed onto her well-preserved leg. “The videos were pretty frightening.”

“I’ve seen better,” Bridget quipped.

Standing in the corner, Amanda glared at Bridget. Everyone except Kevin was intrigued by the comment, not offended like Amanda.

Tony gave Bridget a funny look. “Better?” he asked.

“That’s outrageous!” Kevin interjected.

Facing the curious Linda, Bridget went on with confidence. “Come on, Linda, we’ve seen better from all the other crazy assholes. The Tomberlin farm in Iowa!” She looked at Tony. “You even thought those floating skeleton holograms were real, remember?”

“They were good,” Tony stated, a little embarrassed to be called out.

Like a lawyer pleading her case, Bridget continued with Linda. “The Howards mansion in Burbank was great too. All the yells and screams from the speakers fooled everyone the first night.”

“Hey, those were good too,” Tony added.

Linda smiled with pride. This is why she loved Bridget.

“My point is the vast majority of these hauntings can be explained,” Bridget finished. She gave the nervous Amanda a cold look. “And this one’s no different.”

Defending Amanda, Kevin swooped in. “Mrs. Baker’s not the kind of person to-”

“Bullshit!” Bridget interrupted. “Anyone desperate to sell a house or make a dollar will say anything for the attention. Bullshit paranormal fakers are a dime a dozen, Mr. Riley.” She looked to Linda. “Ms. Kane should know that as well as anybody.”

Grinning, Linda faced Kevin. “She’s got a point.”

Bridget confronted Amanda. “So go on and tell us,” Bridget began, her eyes piercing straight into Amanda’s vulnerability. “How did you pull these off? Some new filter or app maybe?”

Amanda took an angry step toward them. “I’m not lying!” she yelled.

Bridget cracked a confident smile. “Sure you are.”

Taking up for Amanda, Kevin pointed at Bridget. “Now you listen to me! Mrs. Baker has been through enough these past few weeks without you-”

Bridget waved him off. “Yeah, yeah, I know.” She lost the lethargic smugness as she looked at Amanda with sympathy. “I get it. It’s horrible what happened to you, Mrs. Baker, and I don’t blame you for leaving this house.”

“Thank you,” Amanda replied, not sure how to react to Bridget’s change of mood.

“But I’m not letting Ms. Linda buy a house that’s about as haunted as the haunted mansion or haunted castle at Miracle Strip,” Bridget continued. The harsh cynic was back, the Bridget Linda loved. Bridget motioned toward the T.V. “Hell, I’ve seen better videos than this on YouTube.”

A loud and obnoxious HA! from Kevin served as his rebuttal.

“You sure?” Tony asked Bridget.

Ignoring Tony, Bridget confronted Amanda. “Either way, it’s gonna take a Hell of a lot more than this to bring in one-hundred k.”

“One-hundred-and-fifty,” Kevin adamantly corrected.

“Jesus, really…” Bridget groaned.

Linda beamed with a smile.

Angry, Amanda pointed right at Bridget. “You don’t know shit!”

“Oh, I don’t?” Bridget responded.

“You don’t know what I’ve been through!” Amanda yelled back.

“You’re right,” Bridget replied. “I don’t.” She leaned back in her seat, keeping her Zen coolness even in the face of Amanda’s unstable rage. “But I can tell you now, that I don’t see anything and I don’t feel anything.” She locked eyes with Amanda. “I feel nothing in here.”

A little reassured, Tony looked up from his mindless app.

Rage boiled up in Amanda. She looked like a Southern Belle on the rampage as she approached Bridget.

“Mrs. Baker,” Kevin said as he reached toward Amanda in a weak attempt to calm her.

Amanda shoved his hand away and stopped in front of Bridget. “You know nothing about this house! What happened here, or the evil that fucking lives here!”

Bridget just stared at Amanda, not backing down one bit.

“There’s a long history of evil here, I promise!” Amanda yelled.

“I’m aware,” Bridget said calmly.

“What?” Amanda asked.

“Yes,” Linda chimed in. She nudged Tony. “We’ve done quite a bit of research on the Christy place.”

Kevin gave Linda a nervous look. “You have?”

Clumsy, Tony dropped his phone as he grabbed a briefcase. An old leather suitcase with ancient brass latches. The thing was practically a relic itself.

“Yes,” Linda replied to Kevin. She looked over at the smug Bridget. “One thing Bridget has taught me is that you can never be too careful,” Linda continued.

“I see,” said Kevin as foreign worry started to show through his overzealous arroagnce.

Amidst the conversation, Tony struggled to open the briefcase.

“You got it, Tony?” Linda asked.

“Just gimme a sec,” he replied. He could feel all the amused eyes on him. Straining, he used all his might to force the latches open. But he just couldn’t do it. “Goddammit,” he exclaimed.

“Here, don’t worry,” Linda said as she snagged the briefcase from him.

Desperate to prove himself, Tony reached toward her. “No, let me try.”

Linda held him back. “I got this, Tony.”

“But Ms. Kane-”

Playing the role of gentle mother, Linda patted him on the shoulder. “I know you’re tough, Tony. But you don’t have to feel the need to prove it to us.”

“She’s right,” Bridget reassured him.

Kevin nodded toward the briefcase. “Do you want me to try?” he asked Linda.

“Oh no,” Linda stated as she placed the suitcase in her lap. Her fingers ran all along its smooth surface, savoring the leather encasing. “I know this baby all too well.”

“Does it have any kind of special significance?” Kevin asked out of curiosity.

“It holds a special place in our hearts,” Bridget responded.

Kevin gave Bridget a confused look. “Excuse me?”

With calm precision, Linda popped open the latches.

“The briefcase belonged to a businessman by the name of Donald Bostick out in Tallahassee,” Bridget started.

Linda opened the briefcase. A wealth of files greeted her nonchalant eyes.

“One day Donald goes postal and shoots up his office,” Bridget continued. She nodded toward the suitcase. “Of course, he kept the weapons in that bad boy right over there.”

“Oh,” Kevin said.

“After killing about ten of his co-workers, he put the rifle to his mouth then blew his brains out all over the third floor,” Bridget said with detachment.

Threatened by Bridget’s headstrong personality, Amanda just listened in disgust.

“As luck would have it, this here briefcase has exchanged hands for well over fifty years now,” Bridget said.

Linda pulled out a large file.

“So what does that have to do with anything?” the impatient Kevin asked.

Savoring the moment, Bridget looked right at him. “Every person who’s ever had it has claimed to suffer bad vibes from it. Just this general sense of unease.”

Scared, Tony looked down at his hands, inspecting them for signs of possession or otherworldly marks. No wonder he probably couldn’t open the damn thing.

Kevin scoffed as Linda skimmed through the file. “Is that it?” Kevin asked Bridget. “I thought y’all were into more intense items. You know, like this house.”

“Oh, we understand,” Bridget replied, her voice retaining that same calmness that veered from professional to patronizing. “But the suitcase has different effects on different people.”

“So what makes it so damn special then?” Amanda inquired.

Bridget hesitated. “Well, two people who worked in office jobs like Mr. Bostick have owned it since. Both of them went on killing sprees just like him.” She faced the uneasy Kevin. “One killed eleven, the other twelve.”

A loud SNAP ended their conversation. Linda had shut the suitcase. She placed it back on the ground. “Thank God, I retired from the office before getting the Bostick bag,” she joked.

Kevin fabricated a smirk.

Smiling, Linda held up the file. “Anyway, here’s what I could find on the Christy home.” She opened the file where nothing but papers and newspaper articles crammed inside it. “The research me and Bridget did was extensive, but it did turn up a lot of fascinating accounts.”

“Well, I can assure you, that most of it is unexplainable,” Kevin pleaded. “These are real mysteries we’re talking.”

Linda gazed through all the snippets. “Oh, no worries, Mr. Riley,” Linda commented as she faced Kevin. “I assure you, none of our information has discouraged me from buying the house.”

“That’s good,” a relieved Kevin said.

Like a schoolteacher showing off an artifact, Linda held the file out to everyone else. “I must say this house has had quite the tragic history.”

All of the bold-print headlines screamed at Amanda, disturbing her further. The headlines were the perfect combination of exploitation and horror: Local Family Missing. Police Search For Baker Children While Mother Grieves. John Baker Suspected Of Murder!

“Especially considering it’s not all that old,” Linda continued.

“See, she wasn’t lying,” Kevin interjected.

“Oh, I know,” Linda responded. She kept her focus on Amanda. “I know Mrs. Baker was telling us the truth.”

“So far at least,” said Bridget.

Linda pulled out another article. “But I had a few more questions,” Linda stated. She held the article out, letting the bold headlines face Amanda again: Police Declare Baker Case Murder-Suicide. Candlelight Vigil For Young Son And Daughter Planned Downtown.

“No…,” Amanda muttered, horrified. She turned away, ravaged by her emotions, breaking down before everyone’s eyes.

“Is this really necessary, Ms. Kane?” Kevin asked.

Intrigued, Linda held her hand up, silencing Kevin’s concerns. “We just wanted to hear her side first,” Linda said.

The skeptical Bridget watched Amanda wipe her tears away on her jacket sleeve. Amanda still refused to face anyone. Whether it was out of genuine fear or by overacting the role of grieving mother, Bridget wasn’t sure.

“But she’s a wreck, come on,” Kevin pleaded with Linda.

“I have to hear the whole story,” Linda replied sternly.

“I told you everything!” Amanda yelled out at everyone. Tears slid down her face, her voice a conglomeration of fear and frustration. “John went crazy, he wasn’t the same! He hadn’t been the fucking same ever since we got here!”

Tony looked at her, disturbed by the sight. Amanda resembled a shrill actress from a mental ward’s acting troupe.

“He hit me,” Amanda went on. “He never hit me before, but he did when we moved into this Goddamn house. He started blaming me for everything, but then he got worse.” Avoiding eye contact, she looked down and muttered, “God…”

The uncomfortable confession made everyone silent. Finally, Linda asked another question, “What happened, Mrs. Baker?”

Amanda wiped away her tears and faced them. Her delivery more sharp and brutal than the words themselves: “He blamed the kids.” She snatched the article out of Linda’s hand. “He said they were demons!” She waved the article at everyone and said,”That the house’s evil was inside them!”

Her melancholy eyes looked down at the article’s photos. The pictures of John, Amy, and Michael. John’s black hair and greasy features. Amy’s mischievous grin. Michael’s shy expression. This was the one time a family didn’t want their family pictures printed in the newspaper. This wasn’t a glorious celebration or a great achievement, but a terrible tragedy.

Through tears, Amanda looked at everyone else. “He just wasn’t the same,” she began. “And it wasn’t gradual, it was fast. John was different.” Her words came out fast and furious, at an uncontrollable speed. “The house had consumed him. Whatever’s here, it made him that way. It made him crazy!”

Kevin stood up and tried to calm her. “Amanda–”

One shove from Amanda sent Kevin’s ass back in his seat.

Bridget took note of Amanda’s raw strength. Rather than being possessed by powerful spirits, Bridget thought Amanda seemed possessed by her own erratic emotions.

“He took them away!” Amanda yelled. “Our own Goddamn children! Amy and Michael… oh God!” Conquered by grief, she looked back at the newspaper article’s photo. “I don’t know what he did to them, I don’t know where they are! And I don’t wanna know!”

Bridget stood up and grabbed Amanda’s arm in one firm grasp. Amanda nearly gasped.

Concerned, Kevin glared at Bridget. “What are you doing?”

Linda patted Kevin’s leg, calming him down. “It’s alright,” she said, her pretty eyes and face reassuring Kevin.

Bridget stared right into Amanda’s eyes. “Are you okay?” Bridget asked.

Amanda yanked her arm back. “I’m fine!” she yelled. She glared at Bridget, her overbearing sadness morphing to outright hate. “What are you trying to do, huh? You want any more proof of what I’ve been through!”

Bridget kept her cool. “I’m not saying anything.”

Amanda pulled on her overlarge jacket sleeves. “I bet you’re wondering why I’m wearing this, huh,” she exclaimed.

“I kinda was,” Tony mumbled.

“Ninety-degree weather in hot-as-fuck Georgia,” Amanda went on. She stepped closer toward Bridget, getting in her face. “Well, I’ll show you why!”

“You don’t have to-,” Bridget began.

With ferocity, Amanda lifted up her sleeves. “Is this what you wanted! Huh!” she yelled. Deep slices ran up and down her arms like grisly track marks. Dark bruises accompanied the vicious scarring.

Bridget and everyone else stared at the marks, unsure how to react to the morbid revelation. Even Bridget looked queasy by the sight.

“He did this to me!” Amanda said. She held her arms up to Bridget’s face. “Is this good enough for you!” she yelled.

Disturbed, Bridget turned away. The others remained speechless. Like observers to the most captivating yet unsettling one-woman show.

“What he did to me was bad enough,” Amanda said, her voice changing from a shrill yell to a somber softness. “But I don’t wanna think about what he did to them.” Turning away, she burst into tears. Wild, uncontrollable sobs. “I’m sorry,” she stated. “Amy and Michael. I’m sorry.”

Bridget caressed Amanda’s shoulder. There was nothing false or facetious about it either. Amanda looked at Bridget, surprised to see her show heart for the first time during this entire meeting. Even Linda and Tony were shocked. “It’s alright,” Bridget told Amanda, her tone full of warmth rather than snark.

Calmed by Bridget, Amanda turned away. “I just want someone to believe me,” she muttered. “That’s all. That’s all I want.”

Bridget squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she said to Amanda. And Bridget meant it. She flashed Amanda a gentle smile.

Unsure whether to trust Bridget’s sincerity, Amanda looked into her eyes. She didn’t say anything. Just gave a silent nod.

Kevin stood and walked toward them. “I got you,” he said as he guided Amanda back to her seat. “It’s alright, Mrs. Baker.”

Wiping away her tears, Amanda stole a look back at Bridget. Their eye contact was brief yet intense.

Back to business, Linda sifted through the other papers in that bizarre briefcase. She settled on another couple of newspaper clippings. Clippings that were so faded and yellow with age.

Standing alone, Bridget watched Amanda take a seat. For the first time in ages, Amanda seemed more calm. She might could even fool Bridget into thinking she was the stable mother of two she once was.

“I believe you mentioned the Christys,” Linda began.

Holding the article on Amanda’s family, Kevin sat down next to her. “Oh, uh. Yeah.” He felt the suspicious gaze of Bridget. “They owned this house for a few years.”

“In the nineties?” Bridget asked.

“Yes,” Kevin answered nervously. “Steven and Mallory Christy. My father sold them the house back in ninety-four.”

“The same thing happened to them,” Bridget commented.

Kevin didn’t like Bridget interrogating him. “Well, yes, it’s just terrible-”

“I did some more research on my own,” Linda interrupted. She handed the articles out to the others.

They scanned the articles, horrified by the accounts. The headlines were just as vivid as the ones covering the Baker family incident. Hell, they were practically the same, just a different family and a different era. The bold print screamed: Local Handyman Slaughters Family. Police Rule It Murder-Suicide.

The Stanwyck Review had been having a field day with this house, Bridget thought with morbid humor.

“It was the same M.O.,” Linda exclaimed. “The father killed his children then killed himself.”

Pictures were in all the articles. Christy family photos. An All-American family gone too soon. Steven and Mallory, the hard-working parents. Shelley and Alice, their two young identical-twin daughters. The photos showed a happy family.



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