Red Fox (Experiment in Terror #2) by Karina Halle
The parched air swarmed furiously with sky-seeking embers that spanned the spectrum of orange and yellow. They emerged from flames of the fire with the vibrating sound of cracking bones and formed abstract waves in the space above my head before drifting off into the darkness.
The campfire was mesmerizing. It swallowed up all of my concentration. I needed to think, to draw in some underlying message that was hidden in the dark corners of my surroundings.
I closed my eyes and shut out the dancing light. With the cessation of my sight, the crackles grew louder and the hollow sound of drumming began in the distance. I felt the air reverberate with each solid blow and let the noises flow throughout my body until they nestled somewhere at the base of my skull.
I needed information. I searched internally for something, anything. I noticed myself taking a deep breath through no conscious effort of my own and felt the threads of my mind reaching out blindly. I didn’t know what I was looking for exactly but I would know when I found it.
An uneasy, nauseous feeling came over my senses like a heavy cloak. My eyes flew open. The silhouette of a small woman stood before me. She had bright yellow eyes that peered at me malevolently, increasing my urge to vomit.
“Something has been unearthed here,” I said in an uneasy voice that wasn’t my own. Like shots from a seizure-inducing video game, images of destroyed tombstones, shovels and dirt, bones lying scattered across a desert land, high-soaring birds against an endless blue sky, four-legged beasts dancing to the tune of a drum, all flowed in rapid succession across my mind’s eye.
The woman smiled at me with canine fangs.
“That’s all you’ll be finding,” she said. “There is no death here.”
“Not yet,” I found myself saying. I slowly turned to the sound of the drumming. A black figure with no face was banging away on a native drum. The edges of the fire were suddenly alive with the slinking figures of wolves. They advanced towards me, each step timed with the pound of the drum until I was completely surrounded.
The wolves leaned back in unison and straightened up until they all stood on their hind legs. They walked awkwardly, unpredictably, like some sort of disturbing canine zombie and within seconds they were within striking distance.
The last thing I remember was looking into their eyes and seeing the eyes of my sister, my mother, even Dex, these horribly human eyes, before they started to tear me apart, limb from bloody limb.
“Are you nervous, Perry?”
I barely heard my own name. My mind still tried to process the remaining fragments from the dream I had the previous night. It took me a few seconds to realize that my sister, Ada, was speaking to me.
“What? Yes, of course I’m nervous,” I told her.
“Well, you look a little green,” she said.
I felt a little green. Not only did I have this overall icky feeling from the dream, I had my internet debut to worry about.
It was a Sunday night and Ada and I were sitting anxiously on my bed, the wide screen of my computer facing us with an impersonal glow. In a few moments my parents would join us, hopefully with a bag of popcorn and lowered expectations, and we would watch a webisode that would make or break my life.
Four weeks ago my life was a lot different. I was just a lowly receptionist at an advertising agency, living at home with my parents and floundering in an uneventful existence. Then one night, while visiting my Uncle Al’s estate on the Oregon coast, I became involved in something that can only be described as “supernatural.” I still don’t have an explanation, but I knew it was worth telling everyone about. I recounted the incident on my sister’s blog, posted a few videos I’d shot on YouTube, and suddenly everyone wanted to know what happened to Perry Palomino that night (which, in hindsight, was really nothing, but with my shaky camera work, it looked like something).
One thing did happen though, while I explored my Uncle Al’s haunted lighthouse; I stumbled across someone else who shouldn’t have been there. His name was Dex Foray, a Seattle-based filmmaker who was scouting locations for a potential ghost hunting show on the website he worked for, Shownet. OK, maybe the term filmmaker is a bit grandiose. Shownet specializes in low-budget, mildly entertaining shows broadcasted primarily on the web. Their current repertoire included Wine Babes, a show that was apparently more popular than I had thought, at least among the men. It consisted of Dex’s girlfriend, the uber-hot and annoyingly exotic Jennifer Rodriguez, who hosted the show that taught hapless men how to pair cheap wines with cheap meals. And when I say cheap, I mean Burger King. Anyway, adding to the highbrow mix was our show (of which, at this point, I didn’t even know the name of).
See, after our run-in, and after I got quasi-famous on YouTube, Dex contacted me in hopes of producing the ghost hunter/ghost whisperer/ghost seeker show with me as the host. I said yes, because, well, what else did I have to do. Before I knew it, we returned to Uncle Al’s estate, investigated the abandoned lighthouse where everything originally went down and attempted to get it all on film.
I’m still not sure what we ended up capturing. Over the last three weeks, I’d only been in sporadic contact with Dex and the most I’d seen of the final footage took place on his laptop during the drive to Shownet’s office in downtown Seattle. The only thing that I really had any control over was writing the blog piece that would accompany the webisode. We hoped that if tonight’s episode did well (it was just a demo, after all), we could branch the show into its own website and have my blog piece run alongside the footage; this way people would get a greater sense of what actually happened versus what we managed to catch on film. In the future we could also have little bios, maybe a Twitter feed about what we were investigating and other interactive components. Of course, if tonight flopped, we would have nothing.
Part of me believed things would work out and that Dex was gifted enough to make something compelling out of nothing, but the other part was certain we were doomed. I mean, for one, neither of us had any idea what we were doing. Although strange things have happened to me in my lifetime (things I was becoming more and more aware of), I didn’t consider myself a ghost whisperer. I didn’t know jack shit about the supernatural, how to communicate with them, how to conjure them, or anything like that. There are tons of people out there who deal with the paranormal (did you know you can get a degree in Demonology? I mean how f*cked up of a major is that?), tons of TV shows and blogs that involve psychics and ESP and EPGs and infrared cameras and whatnot. But me? I knew nothing. I was pretty sure Dex didn’t have the slightest clue when it came to the supernatural, either. Other than the fact that he’s quite supernatural himself. In other words, the dude’s crazy.
I’ll admit, up until recently, I had been pining for Dex. Not in some lovey-dovey way but I certainly felt myself grow more attracted to him over the three days we spent together. I guess there’s a lot to be said for those situations where epic circumstances bring complete strangers together. That’s pretty much what happened to us, well to me, anyway. But after some time and distance between us, he didn’t occupy my thoughts in quite the same way.
That’s probably because I had more important things on my mind. When Dex’s boss/partner at Shownet, Jimmy Kwan, agreed to let us have our show, he made it very clear that I would have to be available for shooting between Thursday and Monday night, the pay wouldn’t be very good, and I most likely needed a job on the side.
The thing is, I had a job. In fact, I had been promoted recently, which actually excited me (I had worked at the advertising agency for over a year and there was nary a hint that I would ever move up from receptionist). However, with the new shooting schedule, I would have to get the agency to let me work part-time.
I was cautiously optimistic that not only would they let me work Tuesday to Thursday, but that they would allow me to keep my promotion. That said, I didn’t end up saying a word to my boss about this whole scenario until Friday.
It didn’t go down very well. I got fired.
Apparently, my boss took my request as a form of ungratefulness. That wasn’t the case, of course, but what else was I supposed to do? Well, I guess I could have said no to the low-paying gamble of an internet show and yes to a proper career and money. Leave it to me to the do the most selfish and irresponsible thing.
So yeah, that’s what I’ve been dealing with lately. I spent the whole weekend in a state of catatonic shock, barely getting out of bed. It’s ironic because I had dreamt about the day I could say goodbye to my job and now that it actually happened, I was completely horrified. Granted, I had always prayed that I would be let go in some massive layoff so I could spend my days in total freedom while receiving unemployment pay. But instead I got myself fired. It was humiliating, devastating and 100% my fault, which made it that much harder.
Thankfully, the only person who knew about my predicament was my sister Ada. My parents would eventually find out but I wanted to keep that from happening for as long as possible.
All of this made tonight’s show even more important. I hoped it would be just good enough so my parents would have some faith in the project and faith in me. That way when it came time to tell them about how I got fired they wouldn’t see me as such a hopeless case. Maybe they would both magically think that this show held the key to my future success and financial independence. I knew that was asking a lot, especially since I didn’t really believe it myself. In three weeks I went from thinking my life was finally going somewhere, to cursing myself for gambling on something so…silly.
“Things will be fine,” Ada said, placing her hand on my shoulder. I jumped out of my daydream (again) and looked down at her small hands, her nails impeccably manicured for a 15-year old. I appreciated the irony that a high school student was telling her older sister that everything would be OK. Of course she would think that. Ada was a gorgeous, skinny, popular 10th grader with a successful fashion blog and the world on a platter. I was her 22-year old loser sister who just lost her job due to her own immaturity.
I swallowed hard, trying to hide the bitterness somewhere deep inside, and gave her a meek smile. “You promise?”
She nodded confidently just as my parents entered the room.
As predicted, my father produced a giant bowl of popcorn.
“Did we miss anything?” he asked, peering at the computer screen through his thick glasses.
I shook my head, the nervousness threatening to swallow me whole. Normally I got nervous about the smallest things (like calling to order pizza), which I blamed on some unchecked anxiety problem. Now that I actually had reason to be nervous, I started getting dizzy. I could feel the suffocating reaches of a mild panic attack slinking around at the corners of my mind.
My dad pulled out my desk chair and my mother awkwardly sat down on my bean bag chair. She smiled at me wearily. I could tell she didn’t have as much stock in the show as I had originally hoped.
My dad passed the bowl of popcorn to me.
“Eat, you look like you’re going to pass out,” he ordered.
I reluctantly popped a handful into my mouth and glanced at the clock on the computer. The big hand ticked over to 7PM. It was go time.
I took a deep breath, almost chocked on a leftover popcorn kernel, leaned over and pressed refresh on my browser. I quickly sat back and covered my eyes with my hand.
“Oh my God, I can’t watch this,” I muttered, peeking out through my fingers, as if that was going to shield me from possible embarrassment.
“That’s why we’re here honey, to watch it for you,” my mother said from down on the floor.
I peered at the screen. It was all black with creepy keyboard and guitar sounds coming faintly from the speakers. The words “Experiment in Terror” flashed across the screen.
I laughed. “Experiment in Terror? That’s an old Blake Edwards movie.”
I shook my head at the lack of originality even though it actually was quite fitting. It figured Dex would come up with a hokey name like that.
“Hope you’re not going to get sued now,” my father said.
“You can’t copyright titles dad,” I hushed him.
Beneath the title, the words “The Darkhouse” appeared.
“Darkhorse?” asked my mom, squinting.
“Darkhouse. Like the opposite of a lighthouse,” I offered, though again, this was all Dex’s doing.
The words faded from view and a wavering, hazy image of the lighthouse appeared. A growling, rough voice came through. It took me a few seconds to realize it was Dex’s voice, albeit a bit lower than usual. I had only heard his voice once in the last few weeks. It still took me by surprise that it belonged to a somewhat short, thin, scruffy man instead of a tall, hulking behemoth.
“At the turn of the century the Oregon Coast was a busy cornucopia of merchant vessels, ships and boats which plied the waters heading for lands both near and far,” Dex narrated. I cringed at the sloppy writing and wondered why I hadn’t been asked to whip something up. If I had known he was going to narrate the episode I would have insisted.
“Did you find some old sailor to do the voiceover?” my mother asked.
“No. Actually, that’s all Dex.”
My mother didn’t look too impressed. She exchanged a vague glance with my father and looked back at the screen.
Dex’s voice went on, giving a short and rather sinister history lesson before the stock footage of old ships and wild storms ceased and suddenly my big fat face filled the screen.
“Oh, Jesus.” I put my hand over my eyes again.
“Perry,” my dad warned, his religious side irked by my choice of words.
Ada reached over and pulled my hand off my face.
“Oh come on, you look great,” she said excitedly. I cautiously peered at the screen again. >
I definitely did not look great. I had enough problems dealing with my body and face on a daily basis, just looking into the mirror often sent me off into a tizzy. So obviously with the camera (which, really does add ten pounds) zoomed in it wasn’t doing me any favors.
I remembered the scene like it was yesterday (or a few weeks ago). Dex and I were on the beach near the lighthouse, battling the ferocious wind and attempting to get a few good setup shots. I got nervous with the camera in my face and Dex’s rather brusque way of directing, so I suddenly started spouting off all this knowledge about the lighthouse and its morbid history. It sounds crazy, but somehow I knew everything there was to know about it. For a while there it was like I was living it, moving through and witnessing its past like a ghostly observer. And for some strange reason, Dex chose those scenes to put in the show. I watched my round, blank face stare stupidly at the ocean with my black hair flying all over the place.
“You look haunted,” Ada said quietly.
“I don’t get it,” said my mother. “Are you having a seizure?”
The camera froze on my face as Dex’s narration explained how the host, me, felt something dark and horrible about the lighthouse.
“An internal warning or a message from the grave?” Dex said dramatically.
My dad snorted in laughter. “I think she just forgot her lines.”
I glared at him and sank back into the bed. This was not starting out well at all.
Thankfully my face faded from view and the story began to move in a more linear fashion. A lot of the shots that I wouldn’t have thought were useable worked great at creating atmosphere, and the music that Dex used (or composed) added to the creepiness.
We had watched the show for about ten minutes when I realized that although the video thoroughly intrigued and scared me, it didn’t have the same effect on my parents. I had actually lived through everything – I knew the end to the story, which was more horrifying than anything captured on film. But did your average person, who didn’t know the things that I knew, get anything from it?
I looked over at my mother. She was staring at her fingernails. At least my dad watched, though I could see an impatient look in his eyes. Even during the part where Dex filmed (shakily) the hallway flooding and the fire creeping up the walls of the lighthouse, and me, their daughter, getting dragged underwater, neither of my parents seemed moved or concerned. Even when the screen went blank as Dex chucked the camera out of the window. Nothing.
Ada, on the other hand, bit her lip hard, fully engrossed. That would have been a great sign, had she not already known the real danger involved.
Needless to say, an uncomfortable silence filled my room as the show ended.
“Well, Perry,” said my dad. He got up and didn’t finish his sentence.
My mother got up too. “That was interesting. You looked good.”
Ada gave our parents an annoyed look and turned to me. “That was fantastic.”
It wasn’t fantastic. I don’t even know if it was interesting. And I definitely didn’t look good.
“So,” my dad cleared his throat. “Do you really think people are going to buy that?”
He chuckled. “Perry, you’ve based a whole show on a lie.”
“It’s not a lie,” I said incredulously.
“So you’re telling me that a ghost set the lighthouse on fire? Because the last time I checked, you, Al, and the police were blaming the explosion on faulty wiring or something of that matter.”
“The police said it must have been faulty wiring,” I told him.
“And now you’re saying it’s the ghost of the lighthouse.”
“I’m not saying that now, I’ve always said that. I just didn’t tell you guys that because you wouldn’t believe me.” I felt my cheeks flush and gave Ada a helpless look. She shrugged, not wanting to get dragged into a senseless argument with our dad.
“You’re right about that,” he sighed. “Look, pumpkin, I don’t care what you do in your spare time, so as long as it doesn’t interfere with your job. Your career.”
“But don’t get your hopes up on…this. I honestly don’t see it going anywhere. I’m not saying that to be mean sweetie. I’m just being your dad. This was…fun.”
“Uh-huh,” I mumbled and looked over at my mom who edged silently towards the door. She caught me looking at her and pasted on a sympathetic smile.
“You know your parents…we’re too old for this kind of stuff. You know ghosts and the internet and things aren’t really made for us. But your writing was good. And you looked good. And that’s what’s important.”
Of course my mother, being an ex-model from Sweden and all, would say that.
“You didn’t even read my writing!” I never saw her glance once at the blog I had written, which was posted beside the video in plain sight.
She looked embarrassed. “No, not yet but I know it would be good anyway. Stick to your writing and your job Perry and good things will happen.”
“We’re going to go watch Desperate Housewives.” My dad waved and shut the door behind them.
“F*ck,” I moaned and flopped back on the bed.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Ada chided.
My eyes flew open. “Excuse me?”
She got up and walked over to the computer.
“It wasn’t bad at all, Perry. Seriously, my friends would find this shit scary.”
“Well they would. They are your demographic, aren’t they? Little tweens and teens?”
“I was kind of hoping everyone would find it scary.”
“And I’m sure they do. But come on, it’s just a demo like you said. It’s not going to be perfect your first time out. Besides, you almost f*cking died making this. That’s insane.”
She had a point but it didn’t help with what my parents said about keeping my day job.
“Anyway,” she continued, “I think it’s awesome and I’m gonna get everyone else to think it’s awesome. You’ll get a million likes on YouTube. And the next time you do this, it’ll be even better. You guys just need practice.”
“No, I need practice. Dex is fine.”
She laughed. “He at least needs to practice his narration.”
“It was a little Vincent Price, wasn’t it?” I mused.
“Who’s Vincent Price?”
Oh, for crying out loud.
“Nevermind, nevermind.” I covered my face with my hands again. I knew if I got more comfortable being on camera, and if we had a better script and an actual game plan, the next time would work a lot better. The thing that bothered me though was if there wouldn’t be a next time.
What did Dex think of it? What did his boss? I eyed my cell and contemplated calling Dex but decided I was too afraid to hear what he had to say. I couldn’t handle brutal honesty at the moment and I knew if I couldn’t make a go of this show then I didn’t have anything else left.
I moaned and rolled over.
Ada hit my leg with her hand. “Snap out of it. I don’t want to see you go into another depression.”
“I’m not depressed,” I mumbled face down into the bedding. “I’m screwed.”
“No you’re not. You hated your job anyway, right? So go get a new job. Stop being so emo.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. That said a lot coming from Queen Emo herself.
“Ada, when you’re my age you’ll understand what a big deal it is to be without a job.”
“Oh shut up. Spare me your dramatics. You’re in your early twenties and you live at home, you loser. Half of the country is out of work right now and they actually have real problems, such as mouths to feed and mortgages to pay and whatever.”
“It’s a terrifying world when you are the voice of reason,” I admitted.
“And it’s a terrifying world when you have to tell your older sister that everything will be all right. Just…promise me you won’t lock yourself in your room and mope all week. Go out and get another job. I’ll keep your secret safe from mom and dad. You’re going to have to do something between nine and five anyway and like hell I’d want you following me around at school.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”