The call on Stefan Roland’s supernatural tip line describes the Willow Lane trailer park as haunted and terrifying.
It’s possibly the only opportunity for Stefan to revitalize his Dead Things series of films.
The whole gang comes back for one more shot at filming dead things before the Inquisition sweeps in to cover it all up.
Assuming they can get out alive!
The call on Stefan Roland’s supernatural tip line described the Willow Lane trailer park as haunted and terrifying. Leaning forward to look out the van window, Stefan agreed, but probably not for the same reasons as the caller.
Out of habit he pulled back and checked himself in the side mirror. At fifty-three he still managed to look good for the camera. Or good enough. He had that sort of Peter Jenkins look these days with his hair mostly gray, but he stayed in shape. When you had a reputation for filming zombies the last thing you wanted was to be huffing and wheezing on camera when you tried to get away. He straightened his bright red tie and straightened up in time to see his driver and cameraman, Craig Marshal grinning at him.
“What?” Stefan asked. “I have to look good when we shoot this.”
Behind his sunglasses Craig raised an eyebrow but remained silent as he steered the van around a child’s bike abandoned in the road. Roan Collins stuck her head up between the seats, still sporting the same spiky blond hair she had back in the days when they’d gone to Afghanistan to film War of the Dead Things. She looked more or less the same, actually more tanned with a few lines around her eyes but he wouldn’t dare mess with the petite sound wizard.
“Shoot what?” she asked. “This place is a dump. I can’t even believe that we’re doing this.”
Stefan shrugged. “I thought we all agreed that we needed another film. We can’t ride on the royalties from the first three forever. People want something new.”
“But this?” Roan grabbed the seat backs as Craig stopped the van in front of one of the trailers. A hand-painted sign out front read ‘Manager’. “We haven’t gotten anything better from the tip line?”
“No. These days the Inquisition swoops in too fast. They’ve usually got the witch in custody before we ever hear about it.” Which was part of the reason he hadn’t put out a new documentary in twenty years. That and after Afghanistan he had needed years of therapy. Not to mention the book deals, talk circuit and merchandising.
Craig spoke in his deep voice. “Then why aren’t they here? If there’s anything to this, shouldn’t they be all over it?”
“When I talked to the manager he said that they did send out a team and nothing happened while they were around, but he said it has started up again since then.” Stefan popped open his door. “Come on, grab your gear and let’s go talk to him.”
Craig and Roan exchanged a look before she disappeared into the back. Craig climbed out of the driver’s seat to follow. Stefan got out of the van and shut the door behind him. It felt good to have the team back together, out in the field. A cool breeze blew dry leaves around his feet that sounded like whispers and smelled like rain. He looked up at dark clouds massing overhead. Hopefully it’d hold off on the rain until they got set up, but it would make for some good atmospheric shots later.
The Willow Lane trailer park looked run down and worn out, but not really haunted. None of the trailers looked new and some looked dangerous. The one to the right of the manager’s had cardboard duct taped up over a broken window with big pointy shards of glass still dangling from the frame. More glass reflected light up from the weeds around the trailer. Moss and branches from the willow trees littered the roofs of the trailers. Garbage bags, boxes, kids toys and cars crowded around the trailers. He heard the van door open and walked around the front of the van, barely missing a pile of dog crap on the tiny patch of weedy grass around the manager’s sign. At least he hoped the crap was from a dog, it was fresh enough to smell, but he couldn’t shake the disturbing thought of some dirty child crouching to dump beside the sign as a prank.
Craig and Roan had their gear sorted when he reached the other side. These days Craig still had his height but he had put on more weight over the years. Like Stefan his hair was mostly gray now, but he wore it longer.
“Let’s do a quick intro,” Stefan suggested. “Do we have the wireless recording set up?”
Roan gave him that look that said he had dared to question her abilities. “Everything is transmitted back to the van and recorded. The system checks out.”
“Okay.” Stefan grinned. “You know me and new technology. Ready?”
Craig adjusted the camera. “Sure, any time you’re ready.”
Stefan glanced back and positioned himself in front of the willow tree leaning over the manager’s trailer. “How does it look?”
Craig gave him a thumbs up.
“Okay, on three, two, one.” He smiled for the camera. “Welcome to Willow Lane, a simple trailer park home to hard-working people just trying to get by, and just possibly, a witch. I’m Stefan Roland and I’ve made it my life’s work to document instances of witches waking dead things. From our rural countryside, to our malls, all the way to the deserts of Afghanistan, my team and I have traveled the globe to bring you the true stories of the behind these horrible events that the Inquisition doesn’t want you to see.”
Stefan walked a few steps closer to the trailer’s front door. “We’ve received tips that this seemingly peaceful trailer park is haunted by a dark force unlike any we’ve seen before. We’re here to uncover the truth.”
The front door opened and a man stepped out. At least he thought it was a man. There was enough white hairs on his chin to suggest a beard, but he was also fat and wore bright purple sweat pants and a stained pink sweat shirt. White hair stuck out in all directions on his head like pictures of Einstein. Stefan couldn’t have timed it better. He walked quickly toward the small porch.
“Hello? I’m Stefan Roland. Are you Pete Larson, the manager?”
“Yep, that’s me.” Pete grinned and pointed a finger at Craig and Roan. “Are you filming this?”
“Don’t worry about the camera,” Stefan said smoothly. “We film everything. Most of it never ends up in the actual movie. When we’re done we have to go back and edit it all together to make the documentary. Do you mind if we come inside, so you can tell us what’s been happening?”
“Sure, sure.” Pete turned back to the door and pulled it open, hinges creaking. “Come on in.”
Stefan looked back at the camera. “Let’s go find out about the haunting of Willow Lane.”
The porch steps sagged beneath Stefan’s feet when he stepped up to join Pete on the small porch. When Stefan got up close to the manager he smelled like dirty gym socks and fried chicken. It wasn’t only stains on the front of Pete’s sweat shirt but also bits of breading. Stefan breathed through his mouth and stepped on into the trailer. Given Pete’s appearance he expected a mess but it wasn’t all that bad. He went right into the small living room, which held furniture that would have looked at home on the curb with a cardboard ‘free’ sign. A kitchenette occupied one corner of the room but there weren’t even dishes piled in the sink. A small mini-fridge was tucked away beneath the counter. A big bucket of KFC sat on the battered and stained coffee table and the smell of fried chicken was even stronger. Stefan’s stomach growled, but the thought of eating held little appeal at the moment. Still, the place wasn’t actually messy. The lack of some sort of disarray made Stefan wonder if Pete hadn’t cleaned up specially for their visit. He turned back around as Craig came in with the camera, followed by Roan.
Pete let the door bang shut and shuffled in behind Roan. Stefan noticed Pete watching Roan’s backside and hoped, for the manager’s sake, that she didn’t catch him checking her out.
“Thank you so much for talking to us,” Stefan said. “How about we sit on the couch?”
“Sure, sure.” Pete brushed the front of his sweat shirt. “Should I change? Sorry, everything was dirty. Today’s laundry day but I haven’t had a chance yet.”
“It’s fine,” Stefan said. “We want to capture real life, here. I want you to feel comfortable.”
Pete beamed and dropped down onto one end of the couch. Stefan went over and sat on the other side, his arm along the back, and tried to project an air of relaxed interest. “Okay, Pete, whenever you’re ready, can you tell us about what has been happening in Willow Lane?”
Stefan heard a low groan. At first he thought it came from Pete, but the manager’s head turned and looked toward the hallway. Stefan leaned forward. “What was that? Is there someone back there?”
Pete wrung his hands in front of his chest. “No. I live alone.”
The moan came again, low and drawn out, like someone in pain. Or possibly pleasure. Stefan motioned for Craig to turn the camera. Craig did, filming Roan as she moved into the hallway entrance. She held up her mic, her head turned slightly to the right. Her left hand adjusted the controls on the equipment.
“What have you got?” Stefan asked.
“Someone’s in the bedroom,” she said flatly.
“Not ‘un,” Pete said. “See, that’s what’s going on! Stuff like that!”
Stefan stood up motioning for Pete to stay on the couch. He went around the coffee table to stand behind Roan so he could see down the hallway. With the light off it was dim, the room at the end darkened with closed curtains.
Another moan. The hairs on his arms and neck rose up. His mouth seemed dry. He swallowed. “Well, let’s take a look. That’s why we’re here.” He held his hand out to Craig. “Flashlight?”
Craig pulled a small Maglite out of his pocket and handed it over. Stefan twisted it on. The tiny dot of light danced along the walls.
Roan reached over and flicked a light switch. The light in the hall above the front door came on. “You get to go first.”
“Thanks.” Stefan turned the flashlight off and slipped past Roan.
“Don’t mention it. You’re the on-screen personality.”
He took a step forward and another moan rose out of the bedroom. It sounded like someone in pain. He made himself walk down the short hall, past a bathroom, to the bedroom.
“What is it?” Pete called out.
Stefan didn’t answer. From the hall light he couldn’t see anything. He slid his hand in along the wall and found the bedroom light switch. He flicked it up. Nobody there. A queen-sized bed with a dark blue bedspread covered the mattress. Other than a dark wood dresser beside a closet with mirrored doors, there wasn’t anything in the room. He turned back around to face the hallway and the camera.
“I don’t see anything in the room. Pete, do you mind if we look around?”
Stefan went in and walked over to the closet. He really didn’t want to pull that open and see what was inside, but the camera was watching. He slid the door open. No zombies jumped out. Mostly the closet held empty clothes hangers, and a closet organizer with multiple pairs of shoes ranging from worn out sneakers to black dress shoes. Nothing that could have created the moaning noise.
“There’s nothing here.” Stefan closed the closet and moved over to the dresser. It felt wrong to dig through Pete’s stuff, but if the manager wasn’t going to complain, he wanted to rule out a prank.
It didn’t take long to pull out each drawer. Socks, underwear that Stefan wasn’t going to touch, some sweaters and in the bottom drawer stacks of Penthouse magazines. Stefan looked up at Craig after he closed that drawer. “Cut that when we edit.”
He went over to the bed and got down on his hands and knees. He grabbed the bedspread and suddenly froze. He really didn’t want to lift it up and find someone staring back at him from beneath the bed. What if Pete had tied up someone and hid them under the bed?
Stefan chuckled. “I hope there’s nothing under here.”
“Wait, let me shoot it,” Craig said.
Stefan waited until Craig got the camera down in position and gave him the nod, then he lifted the bedspread. Nothing. Not unless dust bunnies had started moaning. Stefan saw Roan’s sneakers over on the other side of the bed. As he dropped the bedspread she started walking back around the bed. He climbed up.
“What were you doing over ther—”
“What?” Roan asked behind him.
“Holy fuck!” Stefan jerked back from the petite sound technician. She was standing over by the closet. “No way.”
Craig brought the camera up. “What?”
There wasn’t anyone else in the room.
“We’ve got to play that back,” Stefan said. “Did you see the feet on the other side of the bed?”
“Yeah, I thought it was Roan.”
Roan grinned. “I haven’t been over on the other side of the bed, guys.”
“What’s going on?” Pete called from the other room.
Stefan shook his head. “Okay, I’m convinced there’s something going on. Let’s go finish talking to Pete, he’s got a vacant trailer for us. I want to play back that footage and see if we caught anything on tape.”
They all went back out the living room. Pete looked up from the bucket of KFC he cradled on his lap. “Want some chicken?”
“No thanks.” Stefan went back to the couch and sat back down.
“What’d you see?” Pete asked. “Was there something there?”
“We don’t know. We’ll have to review the footage. Pete, tell us what’s been happening in Willow Lane.”
Pete’s big shoulders rolled. “Weird stuff like that, noises, things happening. One time last week I heard my trailer door open. I always lock it. I’m like compulsive about it, you know? But I heard the door open and someone went into the bathroom. I heard that door close. I got up and asked who was there, but they didn’t answer. When I turned on the lights I went into the hall and I was so scared I thought I might pee my pants, but there wasn’t anyone there. Then I really had to pee but I didn’t want to go into the bathroom but I didn’t have any choice.”
“Is it only here, in your trailer?”
“No! I’m getting pestered all the time by people with weird shit happening. I don’t know what they think I can do about it, but I’m the manager so they think I have to do something. People tell me that stuff has moved around. Pets have disappeared. Things have gotten broken. I think it’s because of the cemetery.”
“Yeah, it’s on the other side of the trailer park, been there for a long time. I think that’s why we’re getting haunted. Some of the dead folks are restless, coming over here and making trouble. That’s what I told the inquisitors that came. They said they’d look into it but nothing strange happened while they were here.” Pete looked back at the hallway. “I don’t know if I want to sleep back there with something strange going on.”
“Whatever it was, it seems to have stopped,” Stefan said. “On the phone you said that you had a trailer that we could use during our investigation?”
“Yeah, old Mrs. Kunkle’s trailer. They carted her off to hospice two months ago but no family showed up to take care of the place. I cleared out the fridge, just so things didn’t spoil in there, but all the furniture and stuff is still there. There’s soups and stuff in the cupboards. I don’t know who is going to take care of it, so I don’t think anyone would mind if you use it. Plus she was a real nice lady so I don’t think she would haunt it or anything.”
“Okay.” Stefan turned and smiled for the camera. “It looks like we have a haunting to investigate. Thank you Pete Larson, manager of Willow Lane trailer park.”
“You’re welcome,” Pete said.
Mrs. Kunkle’s trailer smelled of lilac, medicine and dust with just a hint of mold. She obviously enjoyed collecting dog figurines since the dusty ceramic figures filled shelves in each room of the single-wide trailer. Her trailer was larger than Pete Larson’s with a full kitchen, larger living room and a much bigger bathroom. Craig moved from room to room working on setting up cameras, just in case whatever was going on came back to this trailer too.
Stefan and Roan sat in the living room. Looking around at Mrs. Kunkle’s living room, the dozens of ceramic dogs, and the dried up spider planet on the window sill, it made him sad that no family had come forward to take care of the place. Who would turn out if he died? Would Craig and Roan clear out his studio apartment? They were the closest he had to family. He had the die-hard fans, of course, but that wasn’t the same thing.
“When did we become ghost hunters?” Roan asked.
Stefan shrugged. “Ghosts, zombies, what’s the difference? They’re all dead things.”
“Yeah, but ghosts don’t do us any good if we can’t catch them on film.”
That still bothered him. The first thing Craig did when they got back to the van was use the portable player to take a look at the bedroom recording. The video they’d shot under the bed didn’t show any sneakers on the other side of the bed. But both he and Craig had seen it, he was sure of that. Without it on camera he looked like an idiot reacting to something that wasn’t there. Likewise Roan’s playback of the audio didn’t show any of the moaning that they had all heard. She thought she might have more luck when she got the recording back to the studio and could really take a look at it, but playing it straight back they only heard their own voices. Once again making it look like they were trying to stage the whole thing.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and the witch will wake the zombies in the graveyard next door.”
Roan swatted at his arm. “Don’t even joke.”
Stefan laughed. “Who said I was joking? If we can’t record ghosts, we need something else.”
Craig came back into the room. “Cameras are set up. If anything moves during the night it’ll trigger the motion sensors and turn on the cameras.”
“Good job.” Stefan gestured to the recliner at the end of Mrs. Kunkle’s glass-topped coffee table. “Have a seat. I’ve ordered a pizza.”
Craig dropped into the chair. “Excellent. Better than Afghanistan, at least.”
“Yeah,” Roan said dryly. “I haven’t gotten shot yet.”
“What’s the plan?” Craig asked.
“We see if anything happens tonight, and tomorrow we start interviewing the residents. I want as many stories as we can get. Let’s keep our eyes out for anyone that might turn out to be the witch behind this.”
“You think there is a witch behind this?” Roan asked.
There was a knock at the door. Stefan glanced at his watch. “Under thirty minutes. Not bad.” He got up and looked down at Roan. “And yes, I do think there’s a witch involved.”
He went to get the food.
A loud crash woke Stefan. He sat up in the dark, his heart hammering in his chest. Had he —
It sounded like something hit a wall and shattered. He threw aside the covers and sat up. On the other side of the bed Roan stirred.
“What the hell?” She sat up too.
“I don’t know.” Stefan reached over for the lamp and felt rather than saw something fly past his head. He flinched as whatever it was smashed into the wall right in front of him. Tiny sharp fragments peppered his face as he dove back onto the bed.
Roan yelled in alarm.
From the other room Stefan heard Craig call out. More crashes, in rapid fire. Something hit his shoulder! He grabbed the object, recognizing by feel one of Mrs. Kunkle’s ceramic dogs. “Under the covers!”
He lifted the blankets and dived beneath. On the other side Roan copied him and from somewhere produced a small Maglite which she turned on. They looked at each other in the light while above the blankets more ceramic dogs shattered on the walls. Roan started giggling. A second later Stefan joined her. He held out the ceramic dog that had hit his shoulder. An English bulldog about the size of a baseball. His shoulder still throbbed.
“Not hardly a bullet it, but it still hurt,” he complained.
Roan laughed harder.
Stefan reached out and took her hand. “Thanks for coming.”
She grinned. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
The barrage slowed. A few more crashes and then nothing. Roan sat up more beneath the blanket. The flashlight pointed up at her face like she was about to tell a spooky story. Except they were in the middle of a ghost story right now.
“Do you think it’s over?” she asked.
“Only one way to find out.” Stefan pulled back the blanket, ready to duck back beneath. Nothing flew out of the dark at him.
Roan shown the flashlight around. “Holy shit!”
Even though he expected it, there was something horrible about the dozens of ceramic dogs lying shattered to pieces on the floor. Pieces marred the walls where they had been hit. No wall was left unmarked and the entire floor was covered in sharp shards of broken canines.
There was movement and a shape in the doorway. Stefan’s breath caught in his throat and Roan let out a little squeak as she pointed the flashlight at the shape.
Craig shielded his eyes. He was wearing nothing but boxer shorts and sneakers. A few scratches on his chest beaded with blood. “Are you guys okay?”
“I think so.” Stefan moved his arm. “One of them hit me.”
Craig looked at the bedroom. “I guess she didn’t like sharing her trailer after all.”
Stefan reached over the side of the bed to find his shoes. He shook out pieces of the dogs and pulled them on. “Let’s check the cameras. I hope it caught this!”
It did. Fortunately the cameras survived the incident, although one had gotten knocked over by a flying poodle. The three of them sat around the portable monitor watching the replay from the camera facing the bedroom. Stefan bit his knuckle watching the scene. Even unedited the night vision footage was chilling. The dogs shot across the room as if shot from a gun to explode on impact.
Roan made a disgusted snort and flopped back on the couch. He couldn’t believe it.
“That!” She shook her hand at the screen. “Who is going to believe that? With the night vision and everything they’re going to say it was all rigged.”
“We can prove the video wasn’t tampered with,” Craig said.
She shook her head. “Anyone with a brain watching that will assume you used filaments to pull the figurines across the room!”
Stefan shook his head. “There are dozens of figurines in that shot, plus the ones out here. It wouldn’t be easy to rig that.”
“I’m telling you it won’t matter.”
It was a sobering thought. Craig stopped the playback. “I think you’ll change your mind when we get this back to the studio. It’ll look better.”
“Not good enough.”
Craig’s jaw tightened. “I’m not offering you advice on sound recording.”
Roan got up. “I’m going to find a broom and get some of this mess cleaned up. Unless you want to take more pictures?”
“No, I’ve already got it.”
She left and Stefan looked over at his cameraman. He trusted Craig’s opinion, but he couldn’t discount what Roan said. “You could both turn out right.”
Craig surprised him by nodding. “Yep.”
“It’ll work out,” Stefan said. “We just move ahead with the plan. Get the interviews, see what else we can record. When we have enough footage then we call the Inquisition and turn over copies. We film them in action and then we’ve got another movie. Everything documented and verified.”
It had to work. They all needed another successful documentary in the series. This was his retirement plan.
Craig stood up. “Sounds good to me, man. I’ll give Roan a hand.”
While Craig went into the other room, bits of ceramic dogs crunching under his sneakers, Stefan hit the play button on the camera. There wasn’t any sound on the playback. He watched the blankets moved as he and Roan took shelter. She’d been scared, that’s why she was acting all pissed. The ghost or whatever force was here scared her. He rubbed his jaw, feeling the rough beginnings of a beard. He was already up, might as well get started figuring out what he was going to ask the residents today.
Willow Lane held twenty trailers and so far Stefan hadn’t found any really credible witness. They had great footage of half-literate types saying that they’d seen stuff move around in their trailer. A window or door opened or closed. One lady had a boxer that kept barking at a particular corner in her trailer, but he wouldn’t do it on camera.
Trailer eighteen, a double-wide trailer with flowered curtains and rose bushes growing in a small flower bed beside the porch. It almost looked out of place among the other trailers in Willow Lane. Stefan consulted the list that Pete Larson gave them this morning of resident names.
“Helen Richardson, lives alone. Pete said she gets lots of guests.”
“You know what she does,” Roan said, grinning. She was in a better mood since breakfast.
Stefan got the nod from Craig and walked up the three steps to the porch. He rang the doorbell and heard it ding dong inside. A dog barked somewhere inside, its voice deep and raspy. There were footsteps and then a woman opened the door, leaning out to look at him. She was something. Long legs that ended in a small blue jeans miniskirt, and a fuzzy white tube top that showed off her bare midriff. She wore way too much blue eye-shadow and her hair rose up in sculpted waves. Stefan’s eyes stung from the cloying scent she wore. Big red lips parted into a man-eating smile.
“Hey handsome, what’re you doing here?” She looked at Craig and Roan standing at the bottom of the porch with her equipment. “Hey! Are you like from publisher’s clearinghouse or something? Did I win a ton of money or something?”
“Helen Richardson?” Stefan asked.
She looked him up and down then reached out and ran one hideously purple fingernail down his tie. He resisted the urge to swat her hand away. “That’s me, honey. So what’s the story?”
“I’m Stefan Roland, the filmmaker? Farm of the Dead Things?”
Helen laughed and clapped her hands together. “So you are! Shit, I’ve seen that movie! That was really good. I’ve watched them all! I didn’t know you were still making movies!”
Stefan tried not to wince. “I’m here because of reports of strange things happening here in Willow Lane. Have you noticed anything odd happening? Things moving on their own? Doors or cupboards opening and closing? Anything like that?”
“Honey, are you going to put me in a movie?”
“It’s possible,” Stefan said, although at the moment that was the last thing he wanted to do.
Helen pressed closer to him and it was a struggle not to hold his breath. “Heck, if you’re going to put me in one of your movies then we’d better get a lot better acquainted. Why don’t you all come inside and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Really? So you have seen things?”
Helen winked at him then tugged on his tie. “Honey, I’ve seen everything. You can’t surprise me, and heck yeah, I’ve seen some weird shit around here.” She covered her mouth. “Oops. Can you say shit in your movie?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Stefan said. “We’ll take care of all of that sort of thing.”
She laughed. “I’ll bet you will. Probably put in a beep or something, am I right?”
“Come on.” Helen held the door open. “Inside with you.”
Stefan walked into the trailer. Craig and Roan followed him up the steps and inside. They came into a linoleum section between a living room on the left and a dining room on the right off the kitchen. An arched entry on one side of the living room must lead on down to the bedrooms and a bathroom. Beneath the over-powering scent of Helen’s perfume he smelled something else that stunk, a hint of rot or decay. The whole place was a disaster area. Clothes were scattered around the room, draped over furniture and piles of newspapers. Everywhere he looked there were more newspapers in stacks. Half of the dining room table was covered with more papers, and just trashed all piled up on the table. From where he stood he could see dirty dishes in stacks on the counter, and piled high in the sink. This was what he had expected when he first went into Pete’s place, but that was spotless compared to this trailer. And it had looked so nice on the outside.
Helen headed back to the kitchen, her red pumps clicking against the floor.
“Can I get you anything?” She called over her shoulder. “I’ve got beer or wine, if you want.”
“No thanks,” Stefan said. “We only have a few quick questions.”
“I’ll get you a beer.”
Roan handed the equipment over to Stefan. He took it as her hand went to her mouth. Her eyes watered. “Sorry, got to go. I’ll, uh, check the equipment in the van.”
She bolted before Helen came back. As the door banged shut behind her Stefan heard retching noises outside. He slung the strap over his shoulder as Helen walked back holding a couple beers in her hands.
“Did someone leave? Or was that just the door banging on its own again?” She held out a beer to Stefan.
“Thanks.” He took it, and set it immediately down in a tiny clear patch on the coffee table. A fly buzzed up away. “She needed to check on our gear.”
Helen shrugged and smiled at him. She raised her beer can and took a drink without ever taking her eyes off his. “So you came all this way about some little noises out here?”
“We thought we’d check it out. Do you think the place is haunted?”
She laughed. “Honey, what place isn’t haunted? Plus we got that big ‘ole cemetery out back. Seems to me there’s bound to be a few things going bump in the night.” She grinned. “If you know what I mean.”
That wasn’t a thought he even wanted in his brain. “What can you tell us about the —”
The dog started barking again, its voice scratchy and harsh, somewhere back in one of the other rooms. Stefan heard nails scratching and then the clear sound of a door opening. Claws rattled on the hard floor of the hall and the dog ran out right at him. Craig moved smoothly out of the way, still filming the whole thing.
The dog skidded to stop a few feet away and lowered its head. Stefan’s gut tightened up at the sight of the dog. Some sort of mutt, maybe a Rottweiler mix. It was mostly black with brown on the paws and muzzle, but its fur looked greasy and unkempt. It barred yellowed teeth at him. Worse of all was the look in its flat eyes, almost like it had cataracts and couldn’t quite see him. A deep growl rumbled out of its throat.
Helen came to his rescue, stepping in front of it. She stamped a foot down and pointed. “Get back there! Get! How dare you fucking come out here and growl at my guests! Go on! Get!”
The dog’s heavy head turned her direction and its lips raised higher. The dog’s tongue vibrated in front of its teeth.
Helen cocked her head to the side and stared back at the dog. Stefan couldn’t believe it. He felt frozen, expecting the monster to leap on her any second. And what was he going to do?
The dog staggered, its growl cut off. A whimper crawled out of its throat. Just like that the tail dropped and it turned quickly around, feet slipping on the floor, and ran back into the hallway. Helen looked over at Stefan and smiled.
“Just a sec, honey. I’ll lock him back up. I swear sometimes I think he stands up and turns the knob himself. That door never wants to stay shut!”
Her heels tapped on the floor as she went back to the other room.
“Stay the fuck in there!” She yelled.
Stefan heard a door slam. Craig looked at him, eyebrow raised. The stink in the place was giving him a headache. He started thinking of an excuse to leave when Helen came back, taking a swig from her beer.
“Okay, sorry about that. I think Chuckles is upset today.”
“Do you need to take him to a vet or something? We could come back another time.”
Helen waved her hand. “No, hon. Don’t worry about that dog. He hasn’t been himself lately, that’s all. It’ll pass.”
Not himself? Stefan decided to try again. “Let’s start at the beginning. We’re talking to folks in the park about strange things that some people have noticed. How about you? Anything happen here?”
“Honey, I specialize in strange. Just ask my daughter!” Helen laughed. “I need a cigarette. Why don’t we go in the dining room? We can have a seat and I’ll tell you what’s going on.”
The idea of sitting around that filthy table disgusted him but Stefan forced a smile onto his face. It couldn’t get any worse than it already was. Actually, if she started smoking the cigarette smoke might help cover up some of the other stink. He could already feel the headache coming on.
“Okay.” Stefan motioned to Craig to follow. “Let’s go sit down.”
Helen didn’t move until he got gloss and then she pressed herself up against him, intertwining her arm around his. She leaned close. “You’re even better looking in person.”
He smelled the beer on her breath, even through her perfume. He was totally going to shower after this interview. No way he was going through the rest of the day smelling like this woman. In the dining room he pulled out the chair at the less cluttered end of the table for her.
“Such a gentleman,” she said and laughed. She picked up a pack of cigarettes and tapped one out. She extended it to him. “Want one?”
He raised a hand. “No thanks.”
Helen shrugged and pulled one out. She slid it slowly between her red lips and used a lighter on the table to light up.
Craig moved around by the kitchen counter to get them both in the shot. Helen blew out a cloud of smoke at Stefan. He struggled not to cough. She pointed the cigarette at Craig. “Do we have to have that camera on? I thought maybe you and I could have a private chat, off the record, you know?”
That was interesting. Stefan looked at Craig. They’d worked together long enough that Craig understood what he wanted when he said, “No problem. Why don’t you put that down and take a break?”
“Sure, boss,” Craig said. He put the camera on the counter, shoving some glasses out of the way.
The shot wouldn’t be quite as good, but it’d work.
Stefan leaned forward. “Okay, Helen, whenever you’re ready?”
“Yes,” Stefan lied.
Craig pointed his thumb at the door. “I’m going to go check on Roan, make sure she’s okay.”
“Sure,” Roland said, keeping his eyes Helen.
Her smiled widened, a predatory, chilling grin. He smiled back. Craig left quickly. When the door banged shut the dog started barking again back in the bedroom.
“We’re alone now,” Helen said. “I like that. It gives us a chance to get better acquainted.”
“How about we start with what’s going on? I get the feeling that you’ve been avoiding the question, you know what’s happening don’t you?”
Helen took a long drag from her cigarette and glanced into the kitchen. She looked back at him. “Sure I know. I know all about it. Seems to me we can help each other out.”
“You’ve got connections. Seems to me that if you make a movie about me, I should get something out of it. That’s only fair isn’t it?”
Stefan interlaced his fingers. “Is this movie about you? Are you saying that you’re behind what’s been happening here?”
A fly landed on the table near his elbow, a big fat black fly. It jerked and toppled over. The legs twitched one and stopped. Helen lowered her cigarette and pressed the ash and glowing tip into the fly’s fat body. Stefan smelled a sharp stink and a thin column of smoke rose into the air. She lifted her cigarette off the charred body and took another drag.
“I don’t mind flies,” she said, smoke pouring from her mouth. “A lot of people don’t like them, but they’re just doing their thing, you know?”
The fly twitched. Its wings buzzed against the table. Stefan jerked away in surprise. After a couple attempts the fly righted itself and took off buzzing into the air. It circled his head. He swatted at it and missed.
More flies rose up from the dishes in the sink and took to the air.
Stefan looked at Helen watching him coolly. “You’re doing that? You brought that fly back to life?”
“That’s right honey, I can wake dead things. Sometimes it happens all on its own. It’s like I’m full of static electricity or something and they just start doing their thing again like someone put new batteries in them.”
He heard a glass move in the kitchen, sliding across the counter, but when he looked he didn’t see which of the dirty glasses had moved. “Was that you too?”
He let that go for the moment, but he was glad that Craig and Roan could watch what was happening from the van. “So what are you going to do with this ability? Aren’t you afraid of the Inquisition?”
Helen shook her head. “That’s where you come in, honey. I’m gonna raise me a whole big flock of dead things. More than anyone, more than that big woman you filmed. And I’m not gonna be stupid about it either. I’ll raise ‘em up and people are going to have to start paying attention to me. The Inquisition won’t do nothing.”
“They’re pretty effective at what they do. I don’t know if you’d want them showing up.” Stefan didn’t dare look at the camera but he hoped that Craig and Roan were paying attention. “At least not until we have everything ready.”
Helen’s smile broadened. “See, that’s what I’m talking about!”
More dishes clinked together in the kitchen. The dog barked back in the bedroom. The air felt charged and the flies flew in faster circles around the table.
Helen leaned forward. “Honey, we’re going to make a fortune together! Just wait and see. Once I get started they aren’t ever gonna stop me. You can put me on TV, can’t you? Get me on the news?”
A dish fell off the counter and shattered on the floor. Stefan tried not to looked startled. He forced a chuckle. “But maybe we’d better dial back until we’re ready?”
Helen took another long drag on her cigarette and blew out the smoke. “What’s wrong? You’re scared?”
“I’m just wondering what’s going on?”
“Nothing but some itty bitty little ghost in a tizzy.” Helen glared at the kitchen. She caught him looking too and laughed. “You’re not gonna see him. Not unless you’ve got the gift too.”
“I don’t see anyone.”
She waved the cigarette, tracing smoke circles in the air. “There you go. That’s why you need me. See, what I figure is we stir things up around here. I know some people that have been a pain in my ass, I wouldn’t mind scaring them in the process, and then we bargain with the Inquisition.”
“Bargain about what?”
“Whatever I want! It’s about time that people like me got the respect we deserve. Instead we’ve got the Inquisition running around burning out people’s brains! It isn’t right.”
He wasn’t going to argue the relative merits of the Inquisition. As far as he was concerned, since it shed its religious affiliation a long time ago to become a secular, international police force designed to protect people from those with paranormal abilities, he didn’t have a problem with it.
She wouldn’t want to hear that. “I don’t think they’ll listen me.”
“What choice do they have? If we’ve got hostages they won’t have any option.”
“Hostages? Helen, maybe you should rethink that plan.”
She waved her hand. “I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry about it. You put us on TV and they aren’t going to do anything that might get the poor people of Willow Lane killed. That’s all you have to do. Then we’ll be the ones in control.”
Stefan decided to try again to convince her to cooperate before this thing blew up. “Helen, don’t you think that taking hostages and making demands just reinforces the Inquisitions’ mandate? People aren’t going to cheer for you if I put it on TV, they’re going to be cheering for the inquisitors to put a bullet in your brain!”
Helen took a long drag on the cigarette. Her hand shook. She just sat there looking at him. The combined odors from her kitchen, her perfume and the cigarette smoke was making his head pound. Back in the bedroom the dog started barking again. Helen turned her head and looked at something he couldn’t see, then her eyes slid back and fixed on him. It was the same look he’d seen in the dog.
“You lied to me.” Her words came out flat and cold.
Stefan stood up fast enough that the chair tumbled back with a crash to the floor. The dog’s barking took on a new level of ferocity. Then he heard it chewing on the wood of the door. The camera moved and Stefan lunged without thinking. He grabbed it and hung on. It felt very cold to the touch. Some unseen force pulled it but he clung to it and when whatever had a grip on it let go he stumbled back. He tried to keep it turned toward Helen. Flies buzzed around his head but he ignored them.
She started panting.
Stefan hoisted the camera up, but backed up. He tried to distract her. “What are you talking about?”
Helen grinned and at him, her face taking on a skull-like appearance. With her eyes open wide she lowered the cigarette to the pale underside of her arm and pressed it to her skin.
She screamed at him. Stefan nearly jumped backward but held his ground. The smell of her singed flesh mingled with the rest of the odors in the place. She clawed at her own arms, her purple nails leaving long welts of bloodied flesh as she panted and screamed. There was a loud thud in the bed room, and the crack of wood breaking.
Stefan backed quickly to the front door. Helen screamed over and over in quick succession, clawing at her neck, and ripping at her hair. There was another thud from the bedroom and a louder crack of wood followed by the sound of teeth ripping and cracking the wood further. He turned the camera down the hall and saw the dog’s head burst through the door. It looked at him with maddened eyes and struggled to pull itself free.
He moved faster, getting the hell out of there, but unwilling to stop filming. Helen reached down and clawed at her inner thighs, screaming all the while, but her cries were changing, turning to deep moans.
Stefan grabbed the door and yanked it open. He almost tripped stepping out and the strap of the recording equipment slid down his arm. He caught it and hurried down the steps. His heart pounded so hard in his chest that he worried about a heart attack. Wouldn’t that be perfect? Dying right outside of the witches’ trailer?
A long yowl of protest on his right made him jump. It came from a trailer beside Helen’s where a decaying leg pushed through a hole in the siding around the base of the trailer. Claws extended from the bony paw.
She was waking dead things. The air seemed thick with flying specks. Bugs, he realized. All of the dead flies, bees, moths, mosquitoes, gnats and nits were up and moving again. The air was filled with their buzzing as they flew around him. He ran through the park to their van outside Mrs. Kunkle’s’ trailer. Craig and Roan jumped out as he got close and ran out to meet him.
“Holy shit!” Roan reached him first and took the recording equipment. “That was intense! You’ve got a way of pissing people off, you know that?”
Craig accepted the camera back. “Thanks for grabbing it.”
Stefan tried to catch his breath and looked back the way he’d come. Beside all of the bugs flying around the place he saw bigger things too. Dead birds had joined the party. The whole mass of them swirled around the trailer park in a sort of funnel that reached into the sky.
“I think she’s a bit upset. Did you call the Inquisition?”
“Hell yes,” Craig said. “She’s as crazy as they come.”
Stefan heard a motor revving and a small four-door Volvo sped into the parking lot. It blasted past their van and went on around the loop away from Helen’s trailer.
“They’re in a hurry,” Craig said. “I wonder why?”
Roan swatted at bugs flying around her face. “Can we take this inside? I don’t like bugs, and I really don’t like dead bugs still moving around.”
“Good idea,” Stefan said.
They all piled into the van. Stefan got into the driver’s seat so he could keep an eye on what was happening outside. Craig went around and got into the passenger’s side with the camera while Roan got in the back and shut the door. A few bugs managed to get inside. Roan pulled out a fly swatter.
“I’ll get ‘em,” she said grimly.
“I already got the gear out of the trailer,” Craig said. “We’re good to go if we need to get out of here.”
Thwack! Stefan glanced in the back. Roan grinned. “Got one.”
A fly buzzed past Stefan and landed on the dash. It sat there cleaning its head for a second until Roan lunged forward between the seats and smacked it with the fly swatter. Another one gone. She flicked it off to the floor.
“Don’t worry, I’ll clean them up later.”
“We need to warn these people,” Stefan said. “If she wakes the cemetery this place is going to turn into ground zero with zombies.”
“It sounds like that’s her plan,” Craig said.
“So we’d better move.” Stefan dug the keys out of his pocket. “Stay alert. If you see anything zombies, shoot them.”
“Too bad we don’t have guns,” Roan said in the back.
“Funny.” He looked in the back. “You still got that loud speaker back there? Can you give the warnings?”
Roan grabbed a box of equipment and started pulling out components. “Sure. Go, I’ll have it patched in a second.”
Stefan started the van and pulled out, moving slowly forward to the next trailer. “Roan?”
“I’m good, keep going.” He heard a noise and glanced back and saw her wedging the loud speaker in the side window. She grabbed a mic and thumbed it on. “Evacuate. Attention, please evacuate the trailer park.”
Stefan kept the speed down under ten miles per hour while Roan repeated her warning. He saw people coming out of their trailers. Then he saw something that chilled him to the core. Past the trailers, through a broken and falling down fence, a crowd of people staggered toward the trailer park. Even from here he could see that they weren’t really people but zombies, dead things woken by Helen. Even after all these years he recognized the dead and they were coming. Now the people coming out of the trailers saw them too. A muscled guy with tattoos and a shaved head jumped on a Harley and gunned it out into the road right in front of the van, swerved and kept going.
“Evacuate now! The dead are coming. Attention, evacuate the trailer park!”
More cars pulled out ahead of them. A woman in a blue bathrobe came out of her trailer rubbing her eyes and holding a coffee cup. She squinted at the van.
“Yes you!” Roan shouted. “Look the fuck behind you! Get out now!”
The woman turned around in time to see several zombies crash through the fence not ten feet from her trailer. The coffee cup tumbled from her fingers and shattered on the porch. Then she darted back inside, slamming the door behind her. Stefan braked.
“What are you doing?” Roan asked.
Craig had the camera out the passenger window, filming the dead things converging on the trailer. Stefan heard their moans again and felt ill. More zombies followed the first three and soon there were at least seven dead things dressed in their funeral finery pounding on the side of the trailer. A window in the side of the trailer slid open and a shotgun barrel poked out.
Blam! The head of one of the zombies exploded in a spray of gore. The others continued pounding on the wall. The gun shifted to the side and with another loud crack a second zombie toppled to the ground.
“Yeah! You go girl!” Roan shouted in the loud speaker.
Several pairs of dead eyes turned to look at the van. Roan clicked off the loud speaker. “Uh, boss, maybe we’d better move.”
She got back on the loud speaker. “Evacuate! The dead are coming! Evacuate the trailer park!”
Blam! A third zombie fell.
Stefan gave the van gas and picked up speed around the driveway. Around the next corner was Helen’s trailer and he tensed up approaching it. Other cars were moving now. People were running away from the cemetery end of the trailer park. He saw Helen’s trailer and she was actually standing right there on the porch with her arms spread and her head thrown back. She’d ripped off her top and stood bare-chested, with more welts crisscrossing her front. Her tits sagged without support but she had what looked like teeth marks on both. Self-inflicted? Stefan gave the van more gas and it picked up speed.
The idea of ramming her with it flitted through his mind. No more witch, no more dead things walking around.
He rejected the idea. Let the Inquisition deal with her. They’d do what they could for the people in the park. Zombies gathered near Helen’s trailer, looking up at her with dead gazes. The whole time Craig filmed the scene.
Stefan drove the rest of the way around Willow Lane and joined the stream of cars, pedestrians and cyclists getting the hell out of the park. It looked like most of the residents had opted to flee. He hit the street and drove north a half-mile before pulling over when he saw sirens and lights approaching.
“We’ve got to go back and get this on film,” he said. “Or we don’t have an ending.”
Craig grinned. “Just like old times.”
“You’re both crazy.” Roan grinned. “Count me in.”
Police cars blasted past them, heading to the trailer park. And right behind the police came several black SUVs with the red pin stripe that identified them as Inquisition vehicles. Stefan got out and hurried around the van to the sidewalk. The others joined him.
His mouth felt dry as he started back. Inside he felt sick, like it was all his fault. Was it? Had he goaded her into doing this? He pushed the thought away. Helen was crazy. Whether her ability made her that way, or she became crazy after it he didn’t know. Sooner or later she would have lost it, if not today than some other time.
Down the road was chaos, but the police and the Inquisitors were already getting the situation under control. Stefan waved to the others and picked up his pace. They made it back as the police started putting up barricades. Zombies staggered out of the trailer park into the street.
One of the zombies, who looked like a forty-something guy in a suit, stepped right out in front of an old green Volkswagen Beetle pulling over to the side of the road in between the police vehicles. The driver obviously didn’t see the zombie in time and hit it. The dead thing tumbled down to the road.
The passenger side opened and a young man got out. He looked back at the police cars and then down at the fallen zombie. Cries rang out from the trailer park evacuees watching but he didn’t listen.
Stefan willed the man to stop. He could see the confusion on the guy’s face. They’re driving along and suddenly there’s all these people and police and they’ve hit someone. He tried to do the right thing and ran over to the fallen zombie.
It felt like time stopped. People were crying out, no! Sirens still rang out. Over by the barricades Stefan saw men in deep red suits with black ties, inquisitors, moving past the barricades with weapons in their hands.
No one could reach the guy in time.
The passenger bent down over the zombie, not realizing that the zombie was already dead.
The zombie grabbed the passenger and yanked him down, going for his throat. Stefan was too far away, there was nothing he can do to help. He couldn’t hear the sounds but in his head he imagined the meaty tear as the zombie tore skin and flesh, chewing and eating its way into the guy’s throat in a spray of hot blood.
A crowd of zombies shuffled out of the trailer park. Stefan heard screams. There was movement in the Beetle as the driver leaned across the car and yanked the passenger door closed.
Stefan looked at Craig and Roan. Their faces were set as they recorded the scene. Right now there wasn’t anything he could do. Later there’d be things for him to say, interviews to record. For the moment he couldn’t do anything except watch.
The inquisitors moved forward, eight of them, shooting zombies in the head with deadly accuracy.
Stefan stood in front of the barricades facing the camera when they brought out Helen. The inquisitors had her in cuffs, wrapped in a blanket. A bloody bandage was wrapped around her leg.
“They’re bringing her out now, Helen Richardson, the witch of Willow Lane. It appears she’s been injured, we’re told that she was shot attempting to flee the scene. According to the laws regarding individuals with paranormal abilities the Inquisition will evaluate her and determine whether or not her abilities can be safely removed. Until such a time she will remain in their custody.”
Stefan turned and watched as they bundled her into the back of one of their vehicles. No ambulance, no trial. Most likely they’d burn out the part of her brain responsible and, if it was determined that she was no longer a threat, she’d end up released but likely with significant brain damage. He couldn’t really say that he felt bad about that either.
He noticed the others looking at him. “That’s it. I’m done. This is my last one. I’m retiring.”
Craig nodded. Roan came over and slipped an arm around his waist and gave him a squeeze. Stefan felt better, lighter somehow. Maybe now he could rest.
This story is the 21st weekly short story release and the fourth in the Filming Dead Things series. I’d originally published these as written by my pen name Tennessee Hicks along with the rest of the Dead Things series. Stefan Roland returns to the series in Killing Dead Things.
I’m releasing each of these stories, one per week, here on my website. Eventually I’ll do standard e-book releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the books. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next week for another story. Next up is Attack of the Sand Gnomes, a fantasy set in a different world.