Andy Paxton was a little shorter than he looked on television. Mason tried to pay attention to what Andy was telling them, but he already knew all of it from watching Andy’s show. Ghost Grabbers was his favorite show. He recorded it on DVR so he could watch repeatedly.
When he won the contest to be on the show, he screamed after his name was announced. His roommate almost called 911. Now here he was, one of ten lucky viewers to explore Bentley Manor. It was Maine’s most notoriously haunted mansion. The location of the television shoot was kept a surprise. Mason couldn’t have been happier about the choice.
He shook himself out of his thoughts. Andy pointed to a little electronic unit, saying, “This is an EMF device. You’ll each carry one. When it lights up, it’s possible there’s paranormal activity. Pay close attention for cold spots in the area. That usually means a ghost is present.” Yadda yadda. How could Mason’s television idol be so boring? Get on with it already!
Finally, they were led up the crumbling pathway to the old building. A girl screamed as a bat passed overhead. Nervous laughter rippled through the group. Night vision equipped cameras followed them, catching reactions. As directed, Mason tried not to look at them. At the top of the path, Andy paused. It probably would look like dramatic tension on television, but it was just so cameras could get into place.
“Bentley Manor, a home first and then a hotel before it was abandoned in 1930. Local lore says spirits roam freely. Stay together and stay safe.” Andy looked solemnly at the small crowd before pushing on the doorknobs. The doors groaned open obligingly. “Remember your EMF devices and watch out for cold spots.”
Cold spots? The whole place was freezing! Somehow it was much colder inside than out. A dozen flashlight beams made the foyer into a light show. Mason shined his across the room. There was something about the fireplace on the far wall. Mason felt a tug in his gut. His curiosity overpowered sensibility. No longer was he self-conscious before George, the following cameraman.
Colder here, so much colder. George gasped. “The EMF is going nuts!” The guy’s voice was a dim hum beyond Mason’s awareness. Reaching out a hand, he brushed dust and cobwebs away from the vast mirror above the marble mantle. He leaned in. Frost billowed from his mouth and left a patch of dew on the mirror. An unseen finger wrote in the patch, “Too late.” He felt more than heard the bubbling laughter, crazed and hungry.
Fear cut through the spell. “Where are they?” He spun around, spitting his question to the cameraman. George could only point, anxious to get his shot of the mirror and Mason’s response. Good enough for me, thought Mason, and he hightailed it through an open doorway across the foyer. His rubbery legs carried him through the dark as they followed the beam of light from his flash. Wait, did he hear voices? He stopped, cocking his head. It was Andy’s voice. Mason breathed a sigh of relief.
Settling himself so he looked cool, he turned the corner into the room to meet up with the group. It was empty. Just a library covered in cobwebs and filled with silence. No footprints marred the layer of dust on the Persian carpet. Big house, he told himself. His mind was playing tricks. They must be waiting in a room nearby. Listening, he tried to ignore how his flashlight trembled its light.
“Do you hear that?” he burst out, looking at George, who shook his head.
“Don’t hear nothing, dude. Let’s just go, just get out. A PA will find us and we’ll be fine.” Sensible words in a quavering voice. Mason gave him a sharp look and headed toward the voices.
No matter how far they went, the voices seemed to be just out of reach. Mason hardly noticed the cold spots, blundering through them in his hurry. Ahead, the voices, Andy’s strong and assured, the rest of them a mumbling, incoherent noise. Finally! Mason grabbed hold of the knobs on the double doors and swung them wide open.
It was a ballroom. Huge, empty fireplaces were against each wall. Tall windows let in the moonlight, which skittered over the freshly polished floor. Cut glass chandeliers were prisms of candlelight. This room was by far the coldest. Mason gasped at the sight, hardly noticing for a moment that the room was empty.
Oh, but was it? Shadows seemed to swirl around the dance floor to music he could nearly hear. He backed out of their way. The soft burbling of voices, caught in timeless conversation, nudged at his awareness. The room was one large cold spot dotted with spots even colder than the last.
When he bumped into the hearth of the fireplace, he sighed with relief. The cold was gone. He gave a shaky laugh and looked for George. He was there, pointing the lens of his camera at the EMF device Mason forgot he was gripping. The lights danced crazily. “Dude,” whispered George, “Never seen one do that before.”
A gentle warmth rustled Mason’s jacket, ruffling the hem of his t-shirt. His hair danced in the flow of air. He savored being out of those frigid spots with the ghosts. The breeze became stronger. Heat unfurled from the ballroom floor, encircling him, raising a dew of perspiration on his face. Pressure on his legs caught his attention. Withered arms reached up for him, grasping at his jeans and feet. He screamed and stamped at them, but there were too many.
A dark vortex swirled ever larger below him. As the hands gained purchase on his sleeves, Mason’s last sight of his world was George running away, screaming like a girl.
© 2011 JC Rosen
No contest winners were harmed in the production of this story. This is a work of fiction and probably doesn’t depict any real person, living or dead.