The show had to go on.
Even with falling lighting fixtures and a glass whirlwind, the stage techs were back at work within a few minutes of the “technical malfunction”. The next performance wasn’t till the following day but cleanup and prep was better done sooner than later. No one asked how Tam had pulled a globe of light too bright to look at from between the palms of her hands. She was a magician, and magicians didn’t tell you how they did their tricks.
“So, what was that, exactly?” Val asked, as the tech who’d passed out was taken away by the ambulance crew that showed up in response to the accident.
“That was a spirit of some kind,” Tam said. Her attention was focused on the tube of water that featured in the final effect of her performance. It hadn’t been hit by the whirling debris but she was probing it’s circuit board with a voltage meter anyways.
“An unhappy one it would appear,” Anna said. She dabbed her suit with a piece of duct tape, drawing off a few small flecks of glass dust that had landed on her.
“Unfortunately many spirits are,” James said. He had borrowed Val and Anna’s cell phone, loaded an app on them and then set the two phones plus his own up to form a triangle around the area where the storm had raged. Val and Anna watched as he adjusted the settings on one of the phones and then checked the readings on the other two, moving in a circle around the phones and repeating the process several times.
“It’d be nice to have some info on what we’re facing here,” Val said. “I haven’t punched many dead people in the face but I’m guessing there’s going to be a trick to it that I’ll need to look into.”
“I’m afraid answering that question will require a great deal of research,” James said.
“The phone arrangement you have there will not tell you?” Anna asked.
“This will tell us if the spirit is still present,” James said. “It may lack a physical form, but it’s quite possible for for an unseen force to remain active in a locale without manifesting in any tangible manner.”
“I spoke with the stage manager,” Anna said. “This is the first time an inexplicable incident has happened in this building since it was built five years ago.”
“Is today the anniversary of the date they started excavating? Or of the first day they opened up?” Val asked.
“No,” Anna said. “From the building’s history that Aly, the manager, could recall, there’s nothing noteworthy about this date. There were no warnings or threats that lead up to it either.”
“So we have no idea what we’re dealing with?” Val asked, wandering around the circle James had drawn to connect the three phones.
“It was a Haunt,” Tam said, stepping away from her death trap. “And I need a new control board by tomorrow night.”
“You found evidence of ectoplasmic residue?” James asked. He turned away from his phone array went over to look at the circuit board in Tam’s hands.
“Very faint, and only on the charged leads,” she said. She held the board out for all of them to see and indicated a few spots on it. At first, they looked no different to Val than any of the other part of the green board but when she leaned in she saw tiny bits of ash around the miniature components which was generally a bad sign.
“And that tells us what was responsible for what we saw?” Val asked.
“Not directly,” Tam said. “A Haunt is basically a type of ghost. They’re what’s left over when someone passes but can’t stop doing the job they were trying to finish in life.”
“And they are the one sort of spirit which leaves the residue you see on your device?” Anna asked.
“Most ghosts can leave a residue behind,” Tam said. “A Haunt is so focused though that they tend to manifest more precisely than other types of supernatural entities. So the clue is less that there’s ectoplasm around and more that there is very little of it.”
“Other sorts of spirits would not leave such residue I presume?” Anna asked.
“Not generally,” Tam said, “I’m not that good in the spirit arts, but from what I understand spirits of the natural world tend to form bodies, if they need them, from the elements they are more familiar with.”
“So we’d be looking for, what, mud if we were hunting a spirit of the earth?” Val asked.
“That, or roots and branches, or stones,” Tam said. “Unless I’m forgetting a class of spirits, I think the rule is that spirits which derive from animals and places generally use aspects of the world for their bodies, while humans and other sapient beings conjure their own spirit matter, or ectoplasm, directly.”
“You are a quick study,” James said. “That is precisely correct.”
“It leaves us with a more pressing concern though,” Anna said. “If this is the work of a deceased human’s spirit, then what did they want on the stage?”
“Also, who killed them?” Val asked.
“No idea on the second question, but I’m willing to bet the first is something we can ask Derrick about,” Tam said.
“Derrick? The guy who passed out?” Val asked.
“Yeah,” Tam said. “He’s one of the regulars here. Nice guy. Fairly quite. A little odd, but then that’s theater for you.”
“Nice, quiet, and odd? So, he’s a serial killer then?” Val asked.
“I do not think so,” Anna said. “Consider the words our ghost chose.”
“It was ‘come back to me’, wasn’t it?” Val asked.
“Yes,” James said. “Which would be an odd message for the victim of a serial killer to choose to convey.”
“Let us see if this Mr. Derrick can recall anyone who passed and had unfinished business with him,” Anna said.
Derrick had recovered by the time Tam and the rest found him, or at least he had recovered in the sense of being conscious and relatively coherent. Looking into his eyes, Tam could see hard walls shut down around his emotions in a desperate attempt to hold in the fear that had overwhelmed him and the shame that lingered from losing control.
“Hey Derrick, how are you feeling?” Tam asked.
“I’m ok Ms. Le,” Derrick said. He was sipping from a small bottle of apple juice, the third one since he’d brought into the theater’s office by the paramedics.
“Low blood sugar sucks doesn’t it?” Val asked, nodding at the empty apple juice containers on the counter beside Derrick.
“Yeah,” he forced out a laugh.
“If you need a bit of time, that’s ok,” Tam said. “If you’re up for it though, we’ve got a few questions we were hoping you could help us with.”
“Oh, uh, sure,” Derrick said, taking in the unfamiliar people who were with Tam.
“We’ll get the obvious one out first,” Anna said. “Do you know who that was on the stage?”
“Who? What do you mean?” Derrick asked.
“You saw the words on the curtain, right?” Tam asked. Derrick nodded. “Do you have any idea who could have written them?”
Derrick’s gaze flickered around the room, focusing on the empty spaces rather than the people in front of him.
“I don’t know,” he said, his shoulders scrunched in and both hands clasped on the tiny juice bottle. “It was really weird.”
“You are not wrong about that,” Val said, dropping into one of the seats around the wall of the office waiting area.
“Have you heard that phrase before?” James asked.
“No, I mean not exactly,” Derrick said. “Listen, I’m sorry for losing it like that. I don’t know what happened.”
“It’s not your fault,” Tam said and at his frown of self recrimination and disbelief added, “Anyone mind if I show him some proof?”
Anna nodded at the idea, her expression indicating her acceptance, while Val simply shrugged.
“What do you mean proof?” Derrick asked, concern written all over his face.
“What you saw on the stage curtain wasn’t normal writing,” Tam said. “It was a manifestation of something that shouldn’t have been able to appear here.”
“What does that mean?” Derrick asked.
“Well, there’s magic,” Tam said and reached over to pull a silver dollar from Derrick’s ear. “And then there’s magic”.
In her hands the silver dollar began to glow with a warm, yellow radiance.
“Wow,” Derrick said, entranced by the glowing coin.
“Take this coin,” Tam said. “The glow will fade pretty soon, but it will come back if you need it to.”
“Why would I need it to?” Derrick asked, taking the coin without waiting for the answer.
“I think you passed out because a spirit of the dark was reaching out for you, and the human mind can kind of short circuit when things outside our world start screaming for our attention,” Tam said.
“Oh my god, I’m possessed?” Derrick asked.
“No,” Tam said. “You wouldn’t be able to hold the coin if you were, and I don’t think the spirit we saw is interested in possessing anyone.”
“So what? It wants to drag me to hell or something? Oh my god that’s what happened to Kyle and Rackeem!”
“No, I don’t think this spirit is evil either,” Tam said.
“But you said it was a spirit of the dark?” Derrick said.
“Yeah, sorry, it’s a technical term I guess,” Tam said. “A spirit of the dark is just one whose natural state is to be hidden from sight, rather than disguised, or bound as a part of something like a river or a mountain or a fox. It’s not necessarily bad. For some things ‘dark’ is really good.”
“Our internal organs, for example, sort of enjoy being in the dark,” Val said. “Expose your spleen to the light and it get all kinds of cranky.”
“You mentioned a Kevin and a Rakeem?” Anna asked.
“Yeah,” Derrick said. “They’re some people I know, but they went missing and nobody knows where to find them.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Val said. “Have you talked to the cops?”
“No, we’ve had enough trouble with them,” Derrick said.
“I understand,” Anna said. “If Kevin and Rakeem are related to this, we will try to find them for you.”
“And if they’re not related to this, we’ll still try to find them just to make sure they’re ok,” Val said.
“Thanks, they’re good guys,” Derrick said, looking up from the coin to show a small, grateful smile.
“Where did you meet you them?” Anna asked.
“We were in a program together when we were kids,” Derrick said. “Some of us kept in touch after it was done.”
“What kind of program?” Tam asked.
“A medical thing,” Derrick said. “It was for kids who had problems. You know, like behavior problems.”
“A drug study? Or were they focused on therapy sessions?” Val asked.
“Drugs, and tests,” Derrick said. “It didn’t go anywhere though. Just ran for a while and then got shut down, so we were back out on our own.”
“You mentioned that you hadn’t heard words exactly like the ones on the curtain,” Tam said. “Have you run across anything close to that? Especially with Kevin and Rakeem?”
“Not with those guys, no,” Derrick said. “I did get a card at my house though. It just had an address on it and it said ‘Come back’ written in kind of sloppy handwriting. But not blood or anything weird though.”
“Do you still have the card?” Tam asked.
“Yeah, it’s back at my apartment,” Derrick said. “Is that why I’m being haunted?”
“I don’t think it’s the reason, but it could be related,” Tam said. “What was the address on the card?”
“Well, that’s the thing,” Derrick said. “I didn’t recognize it, but I was kind of curious so I looked it up online and it’s just a house. I tried taking a ride by it on the bus and the place is old. Like broken down and empty old. I don’t think anyone lives there. I don’t even know if anyone ever lived there.”
“There may be no one alive there, but I bet if we drop by, there’ll be someone to greet us once we walk in the door,” Tam said.