Waking Up Dead

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Chapter 10

“Please explain to me,” Alistair Croft said as he entered their office without knocking, “how an NHD Agent, a supposed expert in the field, winds up down the gullet of a shadow creature?” He leveled his gaze at both Riley and Snow.

“We were just discussing that actually. The truth is we’re not sure,” Snow answered.

“It was supposed to come after me,” Cadence said as she showed off her bandaged arm. “It just suddenly switched tracks and grabbed her before she could get the net over it.”

“I tried stabbing it with the spear she had supplied me with, to get it to let her go. That weapon, however, as well as the net, seemed to have practically no effect. The creature made sounds as if it was injured, and smoke rose where these items touched it. However, they seemed to do little else to it other than cause it mild discomfort. They certainly did not stop it.”

“So it would seem,” Croft replied gravely. “Well, it turns out that Agent Banks was something of a rogue agent.”

“Come again?” Snow asked sharply.

“The NHD is having something of a troubling time coming up with free agents for training their rookies. Agent Banks was as new as your partner here,” Alistair said, indicating Cadence. “Younger I think by a day or two. They hadn’t assigned her to an Agent for partnership yet, so they had her inventorying their arsenal. Apparently she grabbed your case request off of a secretary’s desk and ran it herself, without dispensation to do so.”

“Seriously?” Cadence asked. Alistair nodded.

“I knew some of her speech was too modern,” Cadence said and shook her head. “There she was all high and mighty, giving me hell about being a rookie? What a fucking hypocrite.”

“Was she? Well, it would seem she was more the rookie, and paid dearly for her inexperience. In any case, you two have been cleared of wrong-doing in this unfortunate business.”

“Thank you, Alistair,” Osmond said. He stood and shook his old mentor’s hand.

“You’re welcome Osmond. You, as well, Riley. I hear you had a moment out there… last night.”

“A moment of stupidity,” she said with a chuckle.

“If that were true I wouldn’t have recommendations from two of Lexington Hill’s residents sitting on my desk.” Cadence blinked, and he chuckled at her surprise. “Well, you two try to have a less eventful day, yes?”

“Yes, Sir,” they both replied in stereo.

“Well,” Osmond said, retaking his seat after Croft left, “I would hazard a guess one is from Ramon and one is from Miss Jones.”

“Just surprises me that they would go to such trouble.”

“Not too surprising. Miss Jones seems to have really taken a liking to you, Cadence. And I think your selflessness last night made quite the impression on both her and Mr. Suarez.”

“I guess,” she said as her shoulders lifted in a nonchalant shrug. “Still, going to the lengths of writing up compliments or recommendations? I don’t know… so few people take time out of their day to do nice things for people anymore, I guess it just surprises me when they do.”

“Ah yes, the pessimistic cynicism of the modern day rears its ugly head.”

“It’s not pessimistic, Ozzie. It’s just how the world works anymore. People are so caught up by their schedules that they just don’t have time to think outside of their little bubbles.”

“Were you like that?” he asked as he looked over to her.

“Probably,” she conceded after a moment’s thought. “I mean I tried not to be. There was this old lady in my building and I tried to look in on her when I could. She was nice, but she was alone. Her husband had died; her kids had moved away. She had friends and would go out and meet up with them, but I always liked to check in on her. So I would go out of my way for that. However, if I called the cable company about my bill I wouldn’t do the survey they ask you to take about their service. I don’t know that I ever gave a waiter or waitress a compliment beyond a good tip.”

“At least, you made efforts not to be so self-absorbed. Plus, you need to remember that both Mr. Suarez and Miss Jones come from a time when people weren’t so caught up in their day to day lives. Most people had time for their neighbors or to pause and compliment others. These were very deserved given what happened last night.”

Cadence shrugged, feeling uncomfortable under the praise. She resettled herself in her seat and went about changing the topic. “So, no NHD agent. What are we going to do?”

“We’ll figure out a way. Maybe you were on to something before.”

“Before what? When? Which idea?”

“You had previously suggested an effort in concert with the breathers, using the ghost hunting group. Perhaps we should work a bit more on pursuing that?”

“Well, maybe, but if Banks was spouting nonsense, how do we know anything she had to say was the truth. We could go working on the assumption that it’s some generic shake and bake monster, but instead it’s some form of old demon that has to be handled a particular way. Without an agent, one that truly is an agent, we have no way of determining the truth.”

“Perhaps we can get a few moments of an agent’s time for research purposes if we promise to take care of it ourselves.” He paused and pulled his phone from his pocket, dialing. “Yes, Officers Snow and Riley requesting research information only.” He hung up, pocketing his phone once more.

“I guess we’ll find out then, huh?”

“Yes, they’ll be in touch soon I’m sure. Perhaps we should use this time to try and construct a plan of attack.”

“I don’t see how we can do that yet. I mean I know I’m supposed to be the one that’s all guts, and you’re the brains, but without knowing if what Banks told us was true or not we can’t move forward yet. It sucks, but until we get confirmation, we’re back at square one.”

Snow sighed. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”

“To which part?” She chuckled.

He made a slight face and rolled his eyes. “To not being able to move forward until we get confirmation about the particulars of the shadow. You should stop putting yourself down, you know. You’ve had some brilliant plans.”


“What’s on your mind?” he asked as he noted both the hesitance and preoccupation of his partner.

“Last night… I don’t recall that much after leaving Ruby’s room. I know you said that we don’t have adrenaline, we simply use energy to compensate for the fight or flight instinct. And I know you said that between the wound and the energy I used up last night, you weren’t surprised I was out of it. But seriously, how obnoxious was I?”

Snow chuckled softly. “Don’t make yourself uneasy. You were fine if not amusing.”

“Amusing? Oh God, that’s probably not good,” she said with a frown.

“It’s as if you were simply drunk, Cadence. You even said you felt as if you were. It’s not uncommon in new spirits who use that much energy in such a short time.”

“Yeah but I’ve never really been a good drunk.”

“What do you mean?” Snow asked.

“I always tended to be a mopey or depressed drunk. I was never one of those happy drunks like you say I was last night. Unless you find mopey amusing, I suppose.”

“No, you were funny. Alcohol is a depressant, so it’s not a huge surprise it would affect you in that way. But since alcohol wasn’t involved last night, it’s natural that your reaction would be different. Relax. You didn’t embarrass yourself. I brought you home, and you fell asleep. It’s as simple as that.”

“If it was that simple why did you say I was amusing?”

“Suspicion really is part of your make up isn’t it? You were simply laughing about things you thought were funny, like my saying the phrase Right as rain.”

“That’s all?” she asked, a suspicious eyebrow rose.

“I swear,” he said, his voice solemn. They were interrupted by a knock on the door. “Come in,” he called.

A somewhat harried looking middle aged man entered the office. He wore navy blue slacks and a white-button down shirt with a navy blue sweater vest over it and had short but wild ginger hair. “Officers Snow and Riley?” he asked, unnecessarily. They both nodded in response. “I’m Agent Whitfield from the NHD. I’m here to take a look at the research Agent Banks brought you, and to retrieve the tools she checked out for you.”

Snow gestured to the wall where they had pinned up all of the pictures and notes Agent Banks had gone over with them. “Here is the research. You can see the pictures, and then the tags for what we were told the runes meant.” He paused, giving Whitfield time to look over the notes.

Whitfield walked over and immediately began perusing them in depth. Cadence said nothing but arched an eyebrow at Snow, who shrugged. The silence went on for a time as the Agent made his way along the wall, reading and looking at everything. Once done, he turned to look at them.

“Just so you know I’ve been with the NHD for five years. I’m not a rookie.”

“We didn’t think you were,” Snow replied calmly.

“Just… I’d heard what Banks pulled. I didn’t want you guys thinking I was another one.”

“Not at all,” Snow said. He wanted to dismiss the idea to ease the somewhat nervous looking Agent. “Now please, can you tell us if she was right?”

“Well, that depends.”

“On what?” Cadence asked.

“On what she told you to begin with. I have no idea what she said.”

“Ah, right,” Snow said and nodded, “she told us that this was some old, long lost ritual, not used or found since the 1700’s, to create a shadow creature. That this did not summon an already existing non-human spirit, but created one from scratch.”

“Too bad she’s gone, she was right,” Whitfield said, impressed. “I don’t know about the circle or the ritual becoming lost, I would have to look that up, but I know the runes and the way they were cast. Yes, it’s a recipe to make something that isn’t very nice.”

“Do you know the best way to get rid of it?” Cadence asked.

“Dealing with these things in the field is not my area of expertise. I’m strictly doing the research. But I can tell you that you may have trouble.”

“Why?” they asked in unison.

“This one, right here,” he said. He pointed to one of the rune drawings. “It was at the top of the circle it looks like, which means it is the most dominant trait. Chaos. That means it might not always react the way you think it will, or the way you want it to. It’s going to be chaotic, unpredictable, and possibly not play by the rules. Whoever threw this together was definitely trying to summon something that was going to be a challenge to get rid of.”

“Do you think it is possible the group came up with this on their own, a kind of trial and error thing?” Cadence asked. “Because when they summoned this thing, it freaked them out enough that they ran. It didn’t look to me like they were expecting anything from it.”

“It’s possible, but one of them had to have seen the circle in a book or something. It’s too detailed and too correct to be something haphazardly thrown together or guessed. Maybe one of them remembered seeing it once and just didn’t know what it did?”

“Maybe,” Cadence said.

Snow set out the spear, the net, and the dagger on his desk while Whitfield and Cadence were talking. “Could you perhaps do the research to find out the origin of the circle and the ritual? If it is as old as Agent Banks first told us and if it was removed from breather circulation? And if it was removed, why and who ordered it?” he asked.

“Yeah, I guess. The whole department is inundated right now. Since I’m research and not field, I should be able to get a little bit of time to look into this for you.”

“I don’t suppose you could leave the dagger?” Cadence asked. “I’m not real keen on going up against this thing without a weapon.”

“I’m sorry…” He said. “I wish I could. But I have to make sure all of this gets checked back in.”

“It’s alright, Agent Whitfield. You have your job to do, we understand,” Snow said and reassured the obviously stressed man.

“I’ll see what I can come up with on the ritual. Can I take a couple of the pictures?”

“Sure,” they both replied. He nodded and grabbed the drawing of the circle that Agent Banks had done as well as the drawings of the individual runes.

“I’ll call you as soon as I have something.”

“Thank you, Agent Whitfield.” The NHD Agent nodded and scurried out of the office, drawings and weaponry in hand.

“I’d forgotten about the net,” Cadence said after the door had closed.

“Mmm…” Snow nodded. “I recalled Agent Banks having it, so when the noise from the creature began to subside, indicating it was leaving, I went back down to the lobby to see if the net had been left behind. I didn’t think the creature would consume it since obviously the thing did have some small effect on the creature. It was on the floor, and I grabbed it right about the time Miss Jones started screaming for us to get you.”

Cadence chuckled and shook her head. “Still can’t quite believe the old lady would voluntarily call you guys into her room.”

“She was concerned for you. Apparently you made quite the impression on her.”

“So it would seem,” Cadence said. Snow chuckled a bit then pulled his phone from his pocket after it began to ring. “That was fast, Whitfield,” she said.

“It’s not Whitfield,” Snow replied gravely. He frowned, answering the call. “Snow.” He paused as the other person spoke. “We’ll be right there Mr. Suarez.” The two of them were on their feet and out the door before Snow had even hung up the call.


The lobby of Lexington Hills was dark, save for the flashlight beams sweeping the place as Dan and Aiden entered the building. Osmond and Cadence stopped inside the lobby at the stairwell just as Ramon stepped over to them. They surveyed the situation silently for a moment as the two other members of the paranormal group came in with cases of equipment.

“Woah,” said Aiden as the flashlight beam cut across the area of the dusty lobby where the ritual had taken place. “What the hell is that?”

“What?” Dan asked as he turned around suddenly, seeming a little jumpy tonight. But then, given the tension that all the spirits in the building were feeling, Cadence wasn’t surprised that maybe the ghost hunters would be picking up on it too.

“Look at this,” Aiden said. He hunkered down and touched the groove of the circle. “Dude… I think this is blood.”

“Blood?” Lauren asked sharply as she and Derrick brought in some cases of equipment. “We were here just a couple of weeks ago. Are you telling me that in between our investigations someone got in here and got hurt?” she asked, then moved over to see what they were looking at on the floor. “Or got creepy with the witchy stuff,” she said. She found herself more than a little discomfited by the new decoration in the lobby.

“Whoever did this, they’re gone now,” Dan said brusquely, barely paying attention to them. “Let’s just set up.”

Lauren and Aiden exchanged glances then began setting up the equipment. Cadence, Snow, and Ramon watched, waiting to see if they talked about a plan of attack.

“I’m betting they go for the downstairs areas,” Ramon murmured. “They did patient rooms last time.”

“So Ruby might be safe,” Cadence said. “Good.”

“Or they might be heartened by the evidence they got upstairs the last time and be chomping at the bit to try for more,” Snow said.

“Yeah, okay Mr. Party Pooper,” Cadence said quietly teasing.

“Derrick, you got good stuff upstairs last time. You want to try again, or do want to go with us to the medical suites?” Dan asked.

“We can always come back to redo hot spots,” Derrick said and pocketed a digital voice recorder while picking up a camcorder. “I’d like to go with you guys.”

“Man you just don’t want to get scratched by cranky ass ghosts again,” Aiden teased.

“Don’t see you running upstairs to volunteer,” Derrick jeered back.

“Enough.” Dan snapped at them, his voice harsh. He shook his head and went back out to the van to get the rest of the equipment.

Aiden quieted and, frowning, began to set up his monitoring station. Derrick joined him, and Cadence crossed the room to listen in while Snow began quizzing Ramon about spirits that might be haunting the medical suites.

“Is it me or has he been on edge lately?” Aiden asked Derrick under his breath.

“It’s not just you,” the youngest member of the group said.

“What’s up his ass, do you know?”

“He doesn’t really talk to me that much. I dunno man. I’m the new guy remember?”

Aiden nodded a bit and shrugged. “Don’t take it personally kid. I wish I knew what’s got him so wound up lately; he is usually laid back.”

Cadence made her way back over to Ramon and Snow. “Game plan?” she asked quietly.

“None yet,” Snow replied. “They may not be able to get down to the medical suites.”

“How come?” Cadence asked.

“My fault,” Ramon said. “When we were dealing with the shadow creature I locked the door to the basement to try and protect Carl, in case the creature decided to add him to the menu as a side dish. It turns out the lock is so old it’s now stuck like that.”

“Which means if they can’t get down, they’ll go up,” Cadence said.

“For one of two reasons,” Snow said to explain. “One, in giving up they will go back upstairs to investigate the patient rooms. Or two, there is an old elevator that goes down to the medical suite. It’s how the doctors would take the patients up and down. Mr. Suarez says that the elevator itself crashed about eight years ago. However, if they are feeling particularly reckless, they could try climbing down the shaft.”

Dan came back in with spools of cords then went back outside with Derrick to get the last couple of cases from the van. Aiden moved over to Lauren, who happened to be over near the staircase.

“Hey, Lauren, you have any idea why Dan is so edgy?” he asked,

She made a face and shrugged. “I don’t think I should talk about it,” she said.

“Come one, we’re all friends here. What’s up?”

“He thinks something followed him home from here last time. Please don’t tell him I told you! He doesn’t want any of us getting scared off.”

Cadence glanced over to Ramon, who shook his head. “Everyone here is accounted for. No one left to follow anyone.” Snow and Cadence frowned at each other.

“Why on earth would we get scared off?” Aiden asked her. “If something did follow him we could try to help him. Did you do your clairvoyant thing for him? See if there is anything?”

“No, he won’t let me. He also suggested I stay shut down here tonight so that nothing can try to come at me,” Lauren said, but she looked doubtful.

“Lauren…” Aiden started then paused as he thought. “When we were here last, it was Derrick who got scratched. If anything here was going to follow anyone on the team home, don’t you think it would have been the kid? After all, it had marked him,” he said, using air quotes as he said the word marked.

Lauren was at a loss and just shrugged. “Weird.” Aiden muttered to himself as he turned and headed back to finish setting up his equipment. Dan and Derrick came back inside a moment later. Within a few minutes, everything was up and running, and the group was ready to go hunting.

The three spirits followed the three hunters, and Aiden stayed behind as usual, to monitor the video feeds that the team would set up as they went. All three had their camcorders going and their flashlights on, sweeping the floor for any dangers. They crept through the back double doors, crossing over to where the ghost Maggie had been consumed. Snow shuddered a bit as they crossed that bit of floor.

“Hey weren’t both doors here last time?” Derrick asked as they approached the double door entry way to the dining room that was now lacking one of its doors.

“I guess the floor in the lobby wasn’t the only thing those vandals defaced,” Lauren said.

“Dining hall,” Dan commented in a terse voice as they entered the large room. Their flashlight beams passed over the few dust covered tables and cobweb laced chairs.

“EVP?” Lauren asked.

“Yeah, I think I recall another local group got something in here,” Dan said.

“Yeah, there is a story that one of the hospital’s housekeepers was killed by a deranged patient in here,” Derrick said.

The three spirits exchanged looks, knowing that they were referring to Maggie. “Well, guess we don’t have to worry about them catching too much on that count,” Cadence muttered.

“Sadly no,” Snow replied.

Ramon nodded and frowned, standing next to Cadence. “They have the story wrong. She had a heart attack. She wasn’t killed by a patient.”

“Gotta love urban legends,” Cadence said with a shrug. “People look at this place and see creepy. Therefore, they’re going to make up shit up about it.”

“Shhh,” Snow admonished. He pointed to Lauren, who had her digital recorder out. Cadence and Ramon both mouthed ’sorry’ to him.

“Is there anyone here who would like to speak to us?” she asked. She paused for a few moments before continuing. “We’re here to help you, but we can’t help you unless you give us a sign of your presence.”

A few minutes passed with the three living beings and the three spirits standing around in the dining hall, the living ones asking for answers from a spirit who wasn’t there, and getting nothing from the spirits who were. Finally, they decided to move on and made their way into the kitchen.

Two old stoves remained in the kitchen, but those seemed to be the only appliances that had remained. Stained pieces of the wall were gaping reminders of where the refrigerators should have been. A dark cavernous hole beneath the counter on the wall opposite the stoves stood as a silent reminder of a dishwasher. The sinks were large, deep, and rusted. One of them was beneath a boarded window, and the other was next to the hole where the dishwasher should have been. The boarded window still boasted the tattered remnants of a checkered curtain, though the colors were too far gone to tell what they had initially been.

The group of investigators made their way over to the door down to the basement. “This is our best way over to the medical suites,” Dan said.

“Does something smell bad in here to you guys?” Lauren asked, making a face. The other two ignored her for the moment as they were fixated on the door.

“Locked,” Derrick said after trying the doorknob.

“Let me try,” Dan said, setting his camera down on the counter, facing the door. He bent down swiftly to take a knife from his boot. Cadence’s mouth dropped open and she and Snow looked sharply at one another.

“What’s wrong?” Ramon asked, as he caught the look between them.

“If it follows him, where is it?” Cadence asked urgently, ignoring Ramon for the moment.

“It might not be following. Or we may be jumping to conclusions.” Snow tried to reassure her, but he too was on edge now.

“Bullshit. You know we’re both thinking the same thing, and that we’re both right.”

“Right about what?” Ramon asked, lost in the conversation.

“The cultist who sacrificed the cat,” Cadence said as she gestured to Dan’s boots. “He was overweight and pulled a knife out of his boot. The boots Dan is wearing look an awful lot like the boots of the cat killer.”

“You think he is the cultist?” Ramon asked while Dan wiggled the knife in the lock.

“I suppose it would explain why he feels something or someone followed him home from here. It also explains why he doesn’t want the psychic on his team communicating with that something, and why he was so short with the others about the summoning circle,” Snow said.

“Ramon, warn the others,” Cadence whispered. “That shadow creature might come back tonight. If it is following him around, like we were told it might, it could come back here again if only to harass the one who summoned it.” Ramon nodded curtly and disappeared. Cadence and Snow shared another look and went back to watching Dan trying to jimmy the lock with his knife.

“I think… I got it…” he said, and the knife slid out suddenly, slicing his thumb. “Fuck!”

“Shit, are you okay?” Lauren asked even as the door began to swing open. Cadence could hear the weak cries of help from Carl at the bottom of the stairs.

“I thought he was louder,” Cadence said. She remembered being able to hear him from the dining room last time.

“I’m sorry, what?” Snow asked, but then both of their eyes widened in sudden comprehension. It wasn’t that Carl’s cries were weaker, nor was it that Cadence was mumbling too much. The level of ambient noise was rising, like a howling wind or an oncoming train, and it was rising fast. It could only mean one thing.

“Shit, sometimes I hate being right,” Cadence said.

Ramon reappeared in the kitchen and looked wide eyed as he too recognized the noise that signified the creature’s presence. The noise became deafening, wind in the room rising as all three spirits began wildly looking around for the violently churning mass of shadows that composed the creature. Then suddenly, from the basement, a shadow tentacle reached up and threw the door open wider, causing the door to pass through part of Cadence.

“Cade!” Ramon yelled. He grabbed her, pulling her out of the way as the shadow creature began to emerge from the stair well.

“Drain their batteries,” Snow yelled. He reached into Derrick’s camcorder and began to pull the energy from it. Ramon followed suit, reaching into Lauren’s camcorder. Cadence watched the other two to see how they did it. She then proceeded to follow suit, reaching into Dan’s camera and trying to suck the energy from the battery into herself. Unlike the exercise with the television, she could easily feel where the power source was in the camera.

“My camera just went dead,” Derrick said.

“Mine too,” Lauren said.

There was a vicious wind in the kitchen now, even though the night outside was still. A strong acrid stench was rising as well, causing the breathers to cover their noses in revulsion. Dan had gone pale and sweaty, staring wide-eyed at the stairwell door, his bleeding, throbbing thumb all but forgotten. Since he had summoned the creature, he had the best sensitivity to it. He could see it.

“Run,” he yelled to the others, dropping his camera to the floor, which let it fall from Cadence’s hand. “Get out of here, run!” He had his knife in hand and, without waiting for his fellow team mates, he turned and fled.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” Derrick asked, and Lauren looked after him, each unaware that a swirling mass of chaotic evil was looming behind them. They were aware that something was going on, as Lauren had pinched her nose shut from the stench, and the wind of the creature was assaulting them. They became aware that something dangerous was near them when the shadowy creature ripped the door to the stairwell off of its hinges, threw it over their heads, and across the room. The amputated door landed with a loud clatter on the stoves across the room.

Even in the wan light of Lauren’s flashlight, the spirits could see the color drain from the breathers’ faces. Derrick and Lauren ran out of the kitchen, high-tailing it away from the bad smell and weird wind. The creature behind Lauren and Derrick screamed and lunged, but not for the two breathers. It went for Cadence. The move was so sudden that Cadence wasn’t expecting it, as she had been more worried about it attacking the living ghost hunters.

She felt Ramon’s grip on her wounded arm tighten as he tried to pull her away, but the creature already had a tentacle tightly entwined around her leg. She cried out as she fell, and it felt like a thousand needles shot through her where the shadow touched her.

“Teleport!” Snow screamed at her. She closed her eyes, envisioning the lobby where Aiden was, but the pain searing through her leg and arm from the creature and Ramon each pulling on her like she was the rope in a tug of war contest was too distracting.

“I can’t!” she yelled back, gritting her teeth against the pain.

“Use the energy you took from the battery, make a weapon!” her partner yelled, as he began throwing things at the creature, trying, unsuccessfully, to get its attention.

“Pull from me too,” Ramon said, and she felt a rush of energy as he poured the excess he took from the battery into her.

She could easily have imagined a gun or a myriad of other weapons, but what sprang to mind was the dagger. Simple, no moving parts or extra bullets needed. She could almost feel the weight of it in her good hand, the smooth feel of the hilt against her palm. That was when she realized she could feel it. She looked down and sure enough the blade was there.

Her leg lifted, and another tentacle snaked around her waist as the creature started to draw her into the dark. She cried out in pain, her eyes closing as the feeling of a thousand hot needles went through her mid-section. She slashed with the knife, and was close enough to the creature to cut off the tentacle around her waist from where it was coming out of on its body. The creature screamed in pain and anger as the tentacle fell to nothingness.

Despite the searing pain in her middle, she kept going, knowing it was the only way to save herself. Another few slashes with her hastily created knife, and it released her leg. She landed in a heap on the floor and lashed out again, cutting off another tentacle as it tried to come after her again. Scooting across the floor away from the shadow, she hefted the blade and threw it.

The creature howled in agony and anger as the spirit-made blade hit home, lodging in the center of its mass. Ramon and Snow pulled Cadence through the doors and back out into the lobby. It was chaos there too as the ghost hunters were quickly packing up to leave.

“Lauren, I need your digital voice recorder,” Aiden called, putting equipment swiftly away in cases as Derrick and Lauren coiled up cords as fast as they could. Dan was nowhere to be seen.

“Shit, I left it in the kitchen.”

“I’ll go,” Aiden said. “Dan probably left his camera back there too, since I don’t have it and didn’t see it in his hand as he hauled ass out of here. You guys finish packing.” Aiden did not look happy at all.

“I’ll be right back,” Ramon said as they got Cadence settled on the bottom-most step.

Cadence looked to Snow as Ramon disappeared. “Oh God, Snow, the tape. What if they caught —”

“It doesn’t matter.” Snow shook his head, concern creasing his brow. “I’m not worried about what they did or didn’t catch right now. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now I’m worried about you.”

“That thing has a hell of a bite,” she said, looking down and seeing both her pant leg and the bottom half of her shirt silver with whatever passed for her blood.

“So I see,” he said. His voice was quiet, and she recognized his worried tone.

“Does this mean I’m going to be drunk again tonight?” she asked, trying to lighten up the mood.

“I don’t know. I hope so. I prefer that to the alternative.”

“You don’t like me sober, Ozzie?” she asked. She winced as she tried to shift into a position that might hurt less.

“I like you here as opposed to not,” he said. “Don’t move.”

Ramon reappeared with gauze and a medical kit. “Cadence, I need you to just close your eyes for me, alright?” He then looked to Snow. “We need to get her upstairs. Now.”

Cadence winced and momentarily debated being a deliberate pain in the ass for them, but decided just to do as she was asked. She closed her eyes almost immediately slipped into unconsciousness.

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