In my line of work, not sleeping is a normal thing. I sleep better than anyone else here, but I still have trouble falling asleep sometimes. I can feel the fears and pains of the others seeping through the walls. When I’m awake, I can control what I feel from others. Sleeping means I lose that control. I feel every emotion that anyone within about 20 feet of me feels.
I’m an empath. My line of work involves reading or manipulating emotions. Not just the emotions of the living, either. No, I also hunt ghosts. I go to the location that I am called to and read the energy of whatever entity we are there to dispose of. Sometimes, the spirits are so weak that I can’t sense them at all, or other emotions from humans and animals interfere with my ability to read them. That’s when one of the others take over. Maria can sense a spirit, but not it’s emotions. She can tell if there is a spirit in the general vicinity. Toby can see auras. This comes in handy for knowing when a spirit is attached to a certain object. The object will have the same aura as the spirit and will change in time with it. The only problem with Toby and Maria’s abilities is that they aren’t abilities that are always “on”. They have to concentrate to be able to use their abilities. It’s the opposite of how it is for me. I have to concentrate to keep mine “off”.
Then there’s Jude. No one really knows what to call his ability. It’s more like several abilities, and he can’t control any of them. Like my ability, his are always on, but he can’t turn them off. He can see spirits, as well as communicate with them, as if they are normal living people. Not all spirits are strong enough to actually speak, though. That’s when his psychometry comes in handy. When he touches an object that has emotion attached to it, he sees and feels things that are linked with that object. For example, if someone were to be murdered while wearing a necklace, touching the necklace would allow him to see what the victim saw in the last moments before their death, even feel their emotions. Essentially, he temporarily, at least in his own mind, becomes the person who owned the object.
His other abilities don’t happen every day. Sometimes he can use astral projection. As far as we can tell, there is no real use for this, especially since he refuses to leave his bedroom when it happens. He says that when he leaves his body, he sees inhuman shadows moving around outside. I suppose if it were to happen to me, I would probably be too afraid to leave as well. His last ability is one that has only happened twice. He can foresee a person’s death, if he is touching that person. Since it doesn’t happen every time he touches someone, and both times the person died shortly after, we figure it must only work if the person is going to die very soon.
Living with these uncontrollable abilities his entire life, Jude has seen, heard, and felt things that would have driven anyone else insane by now. He seems close to losing it sometimes, but when he does, I step in. I use my ability to channel calming emotions to him.
I am currently lying in bed, sleep evading me once again. I reach out around me, trying to feel the others. Toby is sleeping soundly. Maria is awake, probably reading an adventure book based on her excitement. Jude is having a nightmare. Sighing, I kick off my covers and tiptoe out into the hallway. As I get closer to his room, the fear starts to become overwhelming. I switch off whatever it is in my mind that allows me to feel others emotions, and gently open his door. Careful not to wake him, I lay my hand on his arm and try to calm him. His breathing slows, and his fear subsides. With that taken care of, I start to head back to my room. When I reach my door, I realize there’s no way that I’m going to sleep tonight. Instead, I go into our shared office and pull out the file for tomorrows job.
Flipping through the pages, I look at the pictures of the house. It looks like a regular house, maybe a little run down. No one would ever suspect its bloody history. An entire family found murdered in their living room in 1986. The murderer was never caught, due to lack of any evidence. There were several suspects, but all of them had verifiable alibis. I refused to look at the pictures of the murder scene. I didn’t need to see it to do my job. Get in, dispose of the spirits, get out. Done. Toby had glanced at them but had regretted it immediately.
I turned to the information page. A family of three, mother, father, and 15-year-old daughter, had moved in about three months ago and began seeing and hearing things. At first, they wrote it off as the house settling. Illusions due to the stress of moving into a new house. Things worsened quickly, objects flying across the room, seeing shadowy figures move across the house, and eventually, physical harm. The 15-year-old started waking up with scratches on her arms and legs, the mother was pushed down the stairs when no one else was in the house. They vacated the house and are currently staying at a hotel in a nearby city.
This would be a difficult case. In the case of murder, there are usually only two options to get rid of the entity without resorting to a priest intervening to bless the house. We avoid that option, since it can become dangerous quickly for anyone involved. So, short of that, we have two options; finding the murderer and hoping vengeance gets rid of the entity, or destroying whatever object the entity is attached to. In this case, the object would most likely be the house itself. Burning an entire house to the ground isn’t the best idea. If the house is the object, then our best bet is to find the murderer. Not an impossible feat if we utilize Jude’s abilities, but he won’t like it.
I run my hands through my hair in frustration. I just want to be able to sleep, but I’m too stressed. Instead, I decide to distract myself by preparing for the long day ahead. I pack lunches and snacks for everyone, pack all our equipment into the van, make myself presentable, and print out directions to our destination. By the time I’m finished, it’s almost time for everyone to wake up, so I make breakfast. Toby is the first to make his way to the kitchen, the smell of food drawing him out of sleep. His black hair sticks out in different directions and, as always, he has to make sure he is not properly clothed. All he is wearing is boxers.
“Seriously? Put some clothes on!” I chase him out of the kitchen with a frying pan, and he runs away laughing. Maria opens her door just in time to see Toby’s backside disappearing into his room. She obviously spent her night getting ready. She’s already dressed and showered, and has her hair and makeup done.
“You couldn’t sleep either, huh?” she observes. I shrug. It’s not unusual for any of us to lose sleep the night before a job. “Well, at least we can leave quickly and hopefully get this over with fast.”
Toby finally comes out of his room, this time fully dressed, and hair fixed. Guys have it easy. All they need to worry about is clothes and hair. Girls need to do their hair, clothes, makeup, and make sure their purse is packed with the essentials.
In the time that it takes for us to finish eating and getting ready, Jude still hasn’t come out of his room. I knock on his door, but he doesn’t answer. I wonder if he’s still asleep and reach out. I can tell that he’s awake, but he’s anxious about something. I knock again, then open his door. He’s sitting on the edge of his bed, spacing out and staring at the wall.
“Jude?” I say quietly, so I don’t startle him. He continues staring. “Jude.” I say it louder this time, and he jumps at the sound.
“What?” he asks dazedly.
“Are you ready?” He looks back at the wall, then nods. I wonder if there is a spirit there that is just too weak for me to sense. I reach out in that direction. I think maybe I feel something, but the feeling disappears just as quickly as it came. “You ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he lies. I lift my eyebrows at him, and he smiles reassuringly “Really, I’m fine.” He always covers his emotions with fake smiles and jokes. I’m the only one who can really see through it, so I don’t know why he even tries to lie to me. I pretend that I can’t feel his anxieties and smile back.
“Let’s just hurry and get this over with,” I say. He follows me out into the living room, where Toby and Maria are waiting. Toby looks at Jude in amusement.
“You seem to have a little friend following you around, Jude,” Toby snickers. So, I was right. He was looking at a spirit.
“Shut up,” Jude says sullenly. “It probably died last night somewhere near the house. It probably smelled your massive amounts of cologne and had a stroke.”
“What is it this time?” Maria asks. “Last time it was a raccoon, wasn’t it?”
“It’s just a cat,” he sighs. He tends to be a target, since he can see the spirits. The spirits can tell he can see them and follow him around for attention. Most spirits will hang around for a day or two after their physical body passes away, until they feel comfortable enough to move on. The one’s who don’t feel comfortable, for whatever reason, hang around longer. The longer they stay here without a physical body, the more they deteriorate mentally. That’s when poltergeists and angry spirits are born. They lose all sense of the humanity that they once had. Some spirits, however, are angry to begin with. Psychopaths, or people who were murdered brutally, for example.
“Is it going to follow us all the way to the job site?” Maria asks.
“No, I think it’ll pass pretty soon. But it won’t stop meowing at me.” He turns and glares at the floor, then rolls his eyes and stomps out to the van. I toss the keys to Toby.
“You’re driving. Neither of us slept last night,” I tell him.
“What? Why can’t Jude drive?” he whines. We both look at him outside by the van, kicking at the cat spirit that we can’t see. “Fine. I suppose I don’t feel like dying today.” Jude very rarely drives. The spirits that he sees are too distracting.
We all pile into the car, me and Maria in the back, Jude in the front. The van lurches out of the driveway, and soon I’m falling asleep. I must have dozed off, because the next thing I know, I’m waking up to Maria shaking me awake. “Hazel, wake up. Jude’s, like, freaking out or something.” I jerk awake and look around. We’re pulled over on the side of the road near the woods and Jude and Toby are gone.
“Where are they?” I ask, pulling open the van door. “What happened?”
Maria follows me outside and leads me toward the trees. “Jude freaked out all of a sudden and told Toby to pull over. When we pulled over, he just took off into the woods! He looked, like, really out of it. So, Toby followed him. They can’t be that far.” It doesn’t take long to find them. They are stopped in a clearing, Toby standing a few feet away from Jude, concentrating. Jude is sketching frantically in his sketchbook. One good thing came out of him being forced into a mental hospital is that his doctor suggested he draw the people he was seeing. He learned how to sketch faces quickly over the years.
I allow my ability to take over and try to feel the entity. I can’t feel anything. I turn to Maria to see if she can feel a presence. She looks just as confused as me. Toby is looking back at us, shrugging. After a few more seconds, Jude stops sketching and turns around. “What is it?” I ask.
Jude just stares at the drawing, confused. “I don’t know…” He turns it for use to see. Unlike the spirits he normally sees, this isn’t human. Or maybe it is, but some sort of very deformed human. It has long skinny legs and arms, and looks almost like a disproportioned, starving human. But its eyes are sunken and hollow, its nose is flat against its face, and its mouth is open wide as if the jaw is broken. It sits in a crouch, but its legs are bent in the opposite direction of a normal crouch. In its disturbingly long and skinny fingers, it’s holding an unidentifiable object. To top it all off, it’s not wearing any clothes. If it does have any private parts, Jude didn’t decide to include them in his sketch.
“What. The actual fuck. Is that,” Toby asks, voicing all our thoughts. “And why the hell can’t I see its aura?” Jude gives Maria a questioning look, but she shakes her head. I do the same. “Have you finally gone completely batshit? Are you just seeing things now?”
Jude throws the drawing at Toby. “Shut up! I don’t think my mind could make up something as creepy as that, okay?” He turns back to where he had been looking before and leaps back with a yelp, then holds completely still. From the terror on his face, and the way his eyes are nearly crossing, whatever the thing is must be standing directly in front of him. His breaths are shallow and fast. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this much fear coming from him before. None of us move a muscle. I try to reach out again, try to feel this things emotion. I think maybe I feel… something… but I can’t figure out what. Just when I think I might have it, the feeling disappears. I hear a twig snap and Jude twists in that direction. Finally, he turns back to us, his face pale.
“Well… that was… interesting,” he says breathlessly. Everyone lets out a breath of relief at once. Whatever it was must be gone now.
“Did it… say anything? Or, like, growl or anything?” I ask. I’m not sure if something like that could possibly speak or communicate in any way that a human could understand. Jude shakes his head and goes to retrieve his drawing from the ground. Toby speechlessly picks it up and hands it to him. When Toby is silent, everyone is worried. Toby always has some smart-ass comment, but not this time.
“Let’s just get outta here before it decides to come back,” Jude says, walking quickly towards the van. We follow, none of us wanting to be stuck in the woods with something that inhuman. Once back in the van, I try to go to sleep again, but Toby and Jude decide to fight over what music to play. Maria joins in on the fight when Toby tries to play some evil sounding scream crap. Jude wants dance music, Maria wants country, and Toby wants anything that Jude hates because he just wants to piss him off.
Finally annoyed beyond my limit, I reach up front and jab a button on the radio. Everyone goes silent when some annoying pop girl band song comes on, then they all start freaking out at once, trying to change it. “If you can’t agree on the music, turn it off! I am not putting up with this any longer!” Jude slowly reaches for the dial and changes it to some dubstep song. Apparently, Toby is ok with it because he doesn’t try to change it. In fact, he turns it up super loud. I’m definitely not getting any sleep during this drive.
Three hours, four rest areas, and two fast food joints later we arrive at our destination; the Colton house. At least, that’s what we call it. Right now, the current owners last name is Harrisburg, but the family who was murdered here were the Colton’s.
The house seems larger in real life and looks like it’s had a few improvements since pictures that we saw. It has a fresh coat of white paint, new shingles on the roof, and the porch is spotless. The yard has been freshly made over, new grass, a few trees removed, and a flower garden added. It really is a nice house. You would never guess that it was haunted, or that an entire family had been brutally murdered here. Toby and Jude start to get our equipment from the back of the van, and we carry it inside.
The inside of the house seems less new. It has a slightly musty smell, and in the shafts of light that stream in through the windows, I can see dust particles floating around. The wooden floor is slightly worn and creaks under our feet. Even though its old, it seems welcoming to me. Like the house has been waiting for someone to come and care for it. Toby sets his equipment on the kitchen table and looks around the house in awe. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels like the house is giving us a warm welcome. Maria looks like she’s about to cry from happiness. Only Jude looks unhappy. He feels unhappy, too. I wonder why? Shouldn’t he be happy like the rest of us?
As I stand there staring around the house in bliss, Jude grabs my arm harshly and squeezes. Shocked by the pain, I wrench my arm away. And just like that, the illusion is broken. The house is just as new on the inside as it is the outside. What just happened.
“I said, get out! What is wrong with all of you?!” Jude yells. He shoves me toward the door and grabs for Maria and Toby, pulling them out of their hallucinations. Once outside of the house, my mind feels clearer. The house no longer feels inviting. In fact, I can feel the anger emanating from within. Someone (or something) is very angry with our presence. Toby and Maria finally come out of their daze. Jude is looking at something inside the doorway. The side of his forehead is bleeding.
“What the hell just happened?” Maria asks.
“You tell me! I walked in and was thrown against the staircase by some… thing hiding behind the door, and you all just stood there smiling like idiots while it tried to attack me!” Jude touches his forehead and winces.
“I’ve never felt something like that before. It was like… I was seeing the house like it was years and years ago, and it felt so inviting!” I shake my head to clear away the rest of the fog. “Are you okay?” I run to the van and get the first aid kit, and everyone else follows, not wanting to be anywhere near that house. After bandaging Jude’s forehead, we try to figure out a plan of action.
“Well, none of you are going in there. You would die without even realizing it,” Jude says with disdain. “And I can’t go in without being attacked. So how is this going to work?”
We sit silently for a minute, deciding what to do. “Jude, you can see the spirits outside of the house, right? And they didn’t try to attack you outside. So… can you try talking to them? Like, explain why we’re here?”
“The thing tossed me around like a ragdoll, and you want me to negotiate with it?” Jude asks incredulously. I shrug. Unless someone else comes up with a better idea, this is all we have. He sighs. “Fine. I’ll try.” We wait by the van while he goes up to the door and starts talking. We can’t hear what he’s saying, but the spirit must be listening. He stops while the spirit talks, then says something in reply. This goes on for a couple more minutes, and then a large object flies out of the house and nails Jude in the shoulder. He stumbles backwards as more objects start flying at him, and he sprints toward us. We hear the door slam shut as he gets closer to us.
“So…. I guess it was a no then?” Toby asks. Jude smacks the back of his head. “Jackass! No wonder that thing hates you!”
“You want to try? You can go all retard again and pretend you’re in la la land while she murders your stupid ass?” Jude yells back. Toby rubs the back of his head, looking away in shame.
“She?” Maria asks.
“Yeah. It’s… it was a little girl,” Jude says.
Olivia Colton. Seven years old when she was murdered. Police found her body in a closet. Just the body. The head was in her bed, covered by blood-soaked blankets. I shudder. What kind of person would do such a thing?
“Wait. You got thrown around by a little girl?” Toby says with a smirk.
“And you got mind-fucked by a ghost,” Jude retorts. Toby’s smirk vanishes as he processes this information.
“Stop fighting, children. The adults are trying to think,” Maria says. “As far as I can tell, she just doesn’t like Jude. She never actually tried to hurt the rest of us, right?” Everyone shakes their heads. “So, we can go in the house, and Jude can stay in the van with a walkie talkie in case anything goes wrong.”
“And you all go crazy?” Jude asks.
“Spirits can’t use that much power for very long. Eventually, she has to drop the illusion, right?” Toby says. “I can already see her aura weakening.”
Maria and Toby look to me for confirmation. I don’t like the idea of leaving Jude alone in the van all night, but he definitely can’t go inside with the spirit so angry with him. For whatever weird reason. “I think that’s our only choice right now,” I say.
Jude snorts. “Good luck.” He rolls his eyes and grabs a walkie talkie. “Don’t die. Seriously. And give me the keys. If you do die, I want to be able to leave.”
Toby chucks the keys at Jude’s face and he barely dodges them. “Have fun being all alone out here in the dark, you pussy.” He flips him off and takes off toward the house.
“Can you two get along just once?” Maria asks in exasperation.
“NO,” they both say simultaneously.