A bolt of lightning streaked across the night sky, overpowering the street lights with a blinding flash of white. The old two story American Gothic Revival house stood amidst the torrential downpour. The steeply pitched central roof loomed over the street as a well-travelled black Range Rover drifted to the curb, towing behind it a trailer tent.
Thunder rolled from miles away, the ground almost shaking, as Scott Heiland stepped down from the car under the cover of an umbrella. He stood for a moment, observing the house before him. The typical setting for my next paranormal investigation, he mused as a chilling breeze stole the warmth from his windbreaker. Or maybe it was the chill of excitement he used to get at the start of a new case. He ran his fingers through his overgrown dark blond hair, smoothing it back out of his face as he stepped towards the wooden gate at the front of the property.
Preston Knutford watched Scott head up the pathway that cut the front lawn in two. He wasn’t coming back with the umbrella. Preston held the collar of his coat up against the overwhelming barrage of rain as he slipped out into the road. Hurrying to limit his exposure to the elements, he grabbed his leather satchel and chased Scott up the cobbled path to the house. He made sure to close the gate behind him.
Scott strolled along the cobbles, ignoring the out-of-place plastic flamingo protruding from the neatly kept garden. He stopped, tightening his grip on the umbrella as another gust of wind swirled around him. It was settings such as this that encouraged Scott to forget the last three years of investigations—the years prior, dedicated to research and study—that all pointed to the same conclusion: There is no such thing as ghosts. But as he stood peering at the eerie house through the heavy streaking of rain, he was a child again, sat by the fire in his Nan and Grandad’s house in Wigan in the North West of England.
Preston stopped beside Scott on the path and almost as if planned, Scott was on the move again, a faint grin almost suppressed. “I hope they’re not like the last couple who claimed they were being haunted.” His Northern English accent usually left the H’s and G’s to fend for themselves.
Preston caught up once again and leaned in close to him for the protection of the umbrella. “You mean the couple who hid their inclination to throw things at one another by telling the neighbours it was a poltergeist?” Born and raised in Wabash, Indiana, he’d lived his life behind a desk and hated every second of it. Everything changed a year ago, when Scott offered him a job.
The cast-iron porch light flicked on, bathing them in a yellow glow as they stepped up into the shelter of the deep veranda. Preston shook his head of excess rain and tutted to himself as his freshly grown ponytail came loose. He’d began growing his hair as an act of rebellion to go with his abrupt career change, but the going was slow. It was just about long enough to be tied back yet not quite long enough to stay, but he’d bought a pack of bobbles in anticipation and he was never very patient. He retrieved his brand new bobble from the decking and raked back his dark hair, his untrained fingers clumsily trying to apply it. He threw one elbow to the sky in an attempt to keep his satchel from slipping from his shoulder.
Scott stood by the heavy door watching Preston dance. The door was a rich mahogany dotted with iron rivets, surrounded by glass and set in the centre of a thick arch. He lowered the umbrella, resting the ferrule on the decking and pushed the doorbell.
“Take this, will you?” Scott guided the handle of the umbrella towards Preston. Now finished with his hair, he secured the satchel on his shoulder and begrudgingly obliged. The pair stood side-by-side on the veranda observing the door wearily as a shadow broke through the glow from the hallway.
“They’re going to say it’s witches,” muttered Preston.
Scott closed his eyes. If he thought hard enough; concentrated, Preston and his annoying closed-minded git attitude would melt away and leave him in peace. “Let’s get the facts before we pass judgement, shall we?”
The door creaked, opening to reveal a grey-haired old lady clad in a muted pink sweater and matching flannel slippers. Her reading glasses hung loosely around her neck, once again placing Scott back by his nan’s feet in Wigan. She peered out cautiously at the two gentlemen on her veranda. “Can I help you?”
Scott smiled professionally. “Mrs Sandford? My name is Scott Heiland. We spoke on the phone?” Mirah Sandford’s face loosened, her eyes brightening as she remembered the phone call she’d made a little over a week ago. “This is my associate, Preston Knutford.” Scott tipped his head at Preston, who raised a hand in greeting—his face expressionless.
“Please, come in,” smiled Mirah, opening the door further to allow the visitors entry. “We were beginning to think you weren’t coming.”
Scott flashed his most business-like smile as he stepped through into the entryway. It stretched towards the back of the house alongside a stairwell up to the first floor. The wall to the right was decorated with a line of family portraits full of smiling faces, interrupted by an opening that led to the living room. “Sorry it took us so long, we were in the middle of a case in Nebraska, and we got a little, um …” Scott’s train of thought wavered as the dum-dum-dum of a bass line tapped at his brain. He tilted his head, peering up the stairwell as a familiar but irritating tune pushed its way down towards him. “Is that … Drake Reid?”
Mirah rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’m afraid so, our granddaughter idolises him. Kevin and I can’t stand it, but she plays it all hours of the day.” She leaned in front of Scott, directing her voice up the stairs: “Suzie. Sweetie? Can you turn that down, please?” After a moment—and some frustrated, adolescent stomping—the volume diminished. The dum-dum-dum receded into the floorboards above. Mirah turned her attention back to the visitors with a smile. “Let me take your coats.”
Preston finished shaking out the umbrella on the veranda and moved up into the doorway. “Drake Reid is a poor choice for an idol,” he said as Mirah took Scott’s coat. She examined Preston slowly, before motioning for the pair to follow her to the living room.
Preston hung up his own coat.