Percy is his usual annoying self. Puckett sleeps all day. Tess nearly tore the car apart driving home on Sunday, and Willow peed on the floor. The story continues from last week.
“What are you doing here?” Eric asked, stepping into the room and sweeping his light around.
“Don't do that!” the kid snapped.
“Who are you?” Eric asked, shining the light back on the kid's face.
“My name's Sam.” The kid shoved his hands in his pockets, and Eric noticed that tattoos plastered his forearms from wrist to elbow. He wore several silver rings in his ears, though no piercings on his face.
Eric swallowed his distaste and stepped into the room. “Dr. Eric Hanson.”
Sam pulled a mock impressed face. “Well, then, doctor.”
“What are you doing here?” Eric asked again. “Is this some kind of stupid dare your dumbass friends made you do?
Sam cocked his head and regarded Eric with his bright green eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“It's a bit weird, don't you think? You sitting here in a dark room in the middle of an insane asylum rumored to be haunted?”
Sam shrugged. “So what’s your excuse?”
“You don't want to know,” Eric said.
Sam glanced around. “Fine, then, I’ll go first. Dr. Goodenough asked me to talk to the spooks and help them cross to the other side.”
That took Eric by surprised. “You believe in ghosts?”
“Sure, don't you?” Sam shot back. “I mean, why the hell are you here? With your...” he looked Eric up and down and gestured vaguely. “Snappy suit and tie. Do you do commercials too?”
Eric raised his eyebrows. “You should leave this kind of thing to the professionals.”
“And that's you?” Sam asked.
“Trust me, kid. You have no idea.”
“Ever sleep with a ghost?” Sam asked, looking around the room.
Sam leveled his glare at Eric. “You ever fuck a ghost?”
Eric thought of Alejandro. “Uh, no.” But I have slept with a vampire. He kept that thought to himself.
“Then I think I might be more professional than you.” Sam picked up the candle that had fallen over and relit it.
Rude, little bastard, Eric thought.
“Besides,” Sam continued. “The doctor called me specifically. I work on referral. Someone referred him to me and he thought I could help. How do you know about this place?”
“My organization tracks supernatural activity,” Eric said. “This one's on our radar.”
“And they sent you?”
Eric bristled at his tone. “No one sent me. I’m the one who sends people, so I sent myself.”
“Hey, that's cool,” Sam said. “So you’re, like, in management.”
They surveyed the room in silence.
“So what do you think is going on here?” Eric asked. “Since you’ve obviously been here longer than me.”
“Shhh,” Sam said. “Do you hear that?”
Eric cocked his head and strained his ears. A swirl of incoherent whispers scattered across the room like cockroaches frightened by a sudden burst of light. The voices flowed and ebbed in volume and intensity, the words indistinguishable.
“I can’t understand what they’re saying,” Eric said.
“You can hear that?” Sam asked.
“Of course. Can’t you?”
“Most people can’t feel or hear ghosts unless the ghosts have a lot of energy. Like moving air and you feel a breeze, or a brief bit of laughter. Moving objects, banging on walls, cell phone texts.”
“Cell phone texts?” Eric had seen and heard a lot of ghosts, but he’d never gotten text messages before. Once he’d received a greeting on the steam of a hotel bathroom mirror, but that had been at the Sheridan Inn in Sheridan, Wyoming, and he was pretty sure Miss Kate was just being friendly.
“My first ghost liked to text,” Sam said.
Eric started to feel his age. “So you’re some kind of ghost whisperer?”
Sam nodded, sweeping his gaze around the room as if he could spot the source of the whispers by looking hard enough. “Something like that. What’s your job title?”
“Moonlighter,” Eric said, following Sam’s eyes with his own. “What's with the music?”
“Helps the ghosts manifest sometimes,” Sam said. “Anything tangible that affects the senses anchors them to this plane. What's a Moonlighter?”
“We work for the Organization Against Evil Paranormal Phenomena. We fight malevolent supernatural activity.”
The ease of which Sam accepted this announcement surprised Eric, but he didn't dwell on it for long. He was distracted by a shimmer of air in the corner of the room, almost imperceptible like the flashes of an ocular migraine. Leached colors blurred together, swirling faintly before fading away. When Eric blinked and shook his head, the shimmer disappeared, only to arrest his attention from another corner.
Sam looked at Eric with a slight smile. “You see them, don't you?”
Eric glanced at him, confused.
“You see the spirits,” Sam said. “They flicker between this plane and the next. Most people can't see them because they don't believe.” He turned his head to give Eric a knowing look. “Why do you believe?”
“I believe in things you can't even imagine,” Eric said just as all the candles went out. For a moment the two of them were plunged in complete darkness and the silence pressed heavily on Eric's ears.
The sound of a click broke the silence, and a beam of light appeared across the room. Sam moved his flashlight around the room until it landed on the candles he'd left on the floor. He strode over and quickly relit them, then sat on the floor and pulled on his discarded cowboy boots. He picked up two candles and handed one to Eric.
“Let's get out of here,” he said. “This room isn't giving me anything.”
Eric scanned the room. “You want to pick up your trash?”
Sam gave him a look. “Why?” He moved towards the door as if that settled the matter.
“Where are we going?” Eric asked, moving a little more quickly than he felt comfortable. He was more than twice this kid's age, and he didn't want to be left alone in the dark. The whispers increased around them again, flowing into a crescendo and ebbing in a rhythmic pattern. Sam scurried to a stop and cocked his head, listening. Eric stopped beside him and opened his messenger bag, pulling out a book of matches. He quickly lit the bundle still clenched in his hand. The sweet, pungent smell of sage and sweetgrass surrounded them, masking the decaying smell of abandonment and death overpowering the building.
“What is that?” Sam snapped, recoiling.
“Sage,” Eric told him. “It keeps the spirits at bay.”
Eric gave him a look. “What kind of ghost hunter are you? Sage keeps the evil spirits at bay. Salt purifies. To exorcise a ghost, one smudges a room with sage. For a poltergeist, one burns sage and creates a pentagram or a ring with salt.”
“Mentally?” Eric asked. What a weird kid.
“We're trying to help them move on, right?” Sam asked as he began moving down the hall again. Eric hurried after him.
“Of course. But we're also trying to prevent them from causing any more damage. Poltergeists are dangerous and vengeful. Often they no longer know why they are so angry, they just want revenge.”
“I know,” Sam said. “But once we help them move on, they can no longer hurt anyone.”
Eric couldn't argue with that.
Sam stopped at a doorway and looked inside the room. A twin bed stood angled across the far corner of the room, the mattress askew on the frame. Rumpled, dirty bedclothes dripped over the sides. The rest of the furniture lay haphazardly around the room, tossed about by some angry spirit. Holes in the ceiling and the walls showed where objects had been violently thrown. Sam scanned the room quickly, then closed his eyes, breathing deeply. Eric watched him curiously. For a moment, everything fell still and silent. Even the whispers ceased.
The door slammed shut, rattling the walls and sending Sam staggering backwards, having nearly lost some fingers.
“Fuck!” Sam hollered at the door. He slammed his fist into it.
“Sam!” Eric snapped.
A series of slamming doors echoed the first door, each slam louder than the last, rattling the walls harder. The cacophony of whispers escalated once more, and Eric and Sam both clapped their hands over their ears trying to block out the noise. The overhead lights beamed on, burning brightly throughout the lonesome corridor, illuminating the row of tightly latched doors. Sam gripped a doorknob, testing the door and finding it wouldn't budge
A cloud of mist roiled down the corridor towards them, undulating slowly. Rough, faint features morphed and materialized as the cloud swirled towards them. The cloud seemed to increase in size with translucent hair fluttering around in constant motion.
Eric stepped back.