“So, you’re saying some developer is destroying Cedar Rest to make way for a casino?” Sandra crossed her arms brightening to a dazzle. John shielded his eyes. Susan shined like a spotlight when she grew irritated.
The other three spirits sat downcast. John Peterson rubbed his brows. Explaining the material world to Susan was like talking to a … wall. “It’s a matter of money. I need to come up with a quarter million dollars to beat the developer’s offer to buy this old house. I’m just a renter. I came here to work on my music. I haven’t got that kind of cash.”
“It’s we, John. We’re all in this together. And we appreciate you help us to save our home. Most humans would have simply moved, leaving us homeless when our home becomes rubble. Even when you first moved in, we thought you were different. Quiet, yet intense. We liked the guitar playing. You didn’t even flinch when we showed ourselves to you.”
“I was working on lyrics to a love song wishing I had an audience. Then you three showed up. Now, I’ve gotten used to the idea of a house with built in critics.”
“Anyway,” said Sandra, “Thanks.”
Bernadette nodded. “We couldn’t do this ourselves.”
Patrick nodded, “We’re attached to the place. This is our home.”
“So we need a plan for lots of cash. Or else bulldozers will be knocking down this old rest home in three months.” John peered at the spirits. “Got any ideas?”
“How’s this?” Bern shimmered with excitement, “Cedar Rest could be a haunted bed-and-breakfast.”
Maybe we could host a murder-mystery parties. We could even act out the murder.” Patrick drew a finger across his translucent arm. Red ectoplasm dripped, hitting the floor in sparkles.”
John rolled his eyes. “Great ideas. The problem is money. You’re proposing a business. We need a slam-dunk. An event. We need a hook to reel in the big fish for big cash. It’s got to be legit. Or at least close.”
“I’ve got it!” The table jumped. Lights flared. Susan flashed back and forth across the room barely touching the floor.
“So let’s hear it.” Patrick said.
“Remember that movie with Vincent Price? He offered a prize to people who managed to stay overnight in a haunted house. That’s what we can do. People pay to stay overnight. We scare them. Make them run. We keep the money and save the house.”
John rubbed his chin. “It’s got potential. This is an old house and has a reputation for being haunted. But you guys aren’t scary. You’re like that bunch on Friends. Any of you seen that show?”
The three ghosts looked blank.
“Never mind. Past your time. You’ll need to work on being terrifying. Way too chatty. The less you say, the scarier you’ll be.”
Sandra asked, “So, are you saying our ideas are a little dated?”
“Some. You need to crank-up the chills. You can’t imagine the horror movies out there now” John paused, thinking, “And the entry fee will need to be high. We can encourage our dare takers to bring their recording devices and smartphones if they want to.”
“As long as they pay to play,” said Susan. “We don’t care what they do.”
“You have to understand,” John said. “Times have changed. People are skeptical about everything, including ghosts. Ghosts are not scary. They don’t interact. There’s no threat to life and limb that a zombie can deliver. I have some horror movies. They might help.”
“We’re ghosts, We’re naturals at this” said Susan.
“Let’s see those movies,” said Bernadette. “Are they in color?”
“I wonder if we’ll photograph.” Patrick broke out his steel pocket comb and touched up his crew cut.”
Five hours later, John turned off the DVD player. “That last one was called The Evil Dead. What do you think?”
Susan uncovered her eyes. “We haven’t got a chance.”
Patrick uncovered his ears. “We are so dead.”
Bernadette uncovered her mouth. “Can I see that last one again?”
Later that day, John hired a twelve year old to do social networking. The kid worked for peanuts. Actually, it was frozen Twinkies, John’s private stash. The kid thought he would make a killing on Ebay. Good luck, John thought, the dates were expired.
While the word went out to every ghost hunter, urban adventurer, and nut case, John made other arrangements. He hired a carpenter to mount cameras throughout the rooms. He set the stay-over entry fee at fifty thousand dollars. If someone walked out next morning, they would get one hundred grand. John wanted fifteen takers just in case someone managed to get through the night. As he answered e-mails from prospects, he listened to the ghosts practicing their routines. They’ll be lucky to break even.
Someone knocked at the door.
It was the property owner. “Say, John, I just got word that you’re trying to raise money to buy this dump. There’s just one thing I’ve got to say to you.”
He stuck out his hand. “Thanks a heap. I’ve just doubled my asking my price. The casino people are getting back with me tomorrow. I think they’ll bite. That means this place is worth half a million bucks. Thanks a lot, buddy. Couldn’t have done it without you.”
Finally, the big night arrived. Twelve people took the dare; ten guys and two women. Social media called them “The Demon Dozen.” It looked like they were moving in. John had never seen so much junk before. There were floodlights, cameras, laptops, cables, generators, microphones, and a menagerie of scientific equipment. He wished he could call the whole thing off. The gang was in way over their heads. It was like lambs to the slaughter. They just tapped into the reality show version of Ghostbusters.
John was right. It was like lambs to the slaughter.
The next morning, robins sang and mockingbirds trilled and warbled. The last police cruiser left just after dawn. Sunlight flooded the eastern windows of the limestone rest home. Susan, Patrick, and Bernadette sat morosely around the battered kitchen table. John closed his cell phone. Around them broken cameras and burned out equipment lay everywhere. It looked like the day after a frat party, except for no beer cans. It was 7:30. John was the only soul in the house. Living, that is.
“The good news is they’re all alive,” he said. “Two are actually lucid. The rest are in ‘acute psychosis due to trauma.’ With drugs and long-term therapy, most should be OK.”
“I don’t get it,” said Susan. “We did our scariest stuff right at first. By eleven o’clock we were all played out.” Both Patrick and Bernadette nodded.
“I know. I recorded it.” John smiled ruefully. “Patrick, you came bursting out of the wall, completely engulfed in flames, screaming bloody murder. Everyone was spellbound. The flames died. Your skeleton shattered. Then your skull came up and you said, ‘What’d you think?’ You should have stayed in character.”
“They clapped. It felt great.” Patrick said.
John turned to Susan. “Yours had nice touches; chainsaws for arms, cutting hunks of flesh off yourself. Great stuff. You should have gone after the audience.”
“I couldn’t do that. I’m not that kind of person.” She looked offended.
“You’re not a person. You’re a ghost. You should have gone after them. What you did was just a show. And speaking of shows.” John turned to Bernadette. “You could have been part of a bachelor party. You rose up out of the floor … naked? Let’s see … eyes bleeding … dripping fangs … tongue action was a bit questionable … but, really, snakes? … down there? Were you trying to scare them or turn them on?”
“One guy gave me his card. I took it as a complement.” Bernadette beamed.
“So, let’s cut to the chase.” Susan said, “We were in different parts of the house like you told us to be. We did our bit. We failed miserably. After awhile everyone took out their little phone boxes and started talking to each other. Other people fiddled with their cameras and machines. They got more interested in their little toys then us. We were supposed to be the main attraction, and they weren’t paying attention.”
“What did you do?” John leaned forward.
“It ticked me off. I got into one of their little boxes and called him. At first, he laughed at me. Then he hung up on me.”
“Go on,” John said. “What did you do then?”
“I called him back. He didn’t like that. He did something to turn his box off completely.
“And I turned it back on again. I yelled at him. Told him not to ignore me. It must have been a cheap phone. It melted in his hand. Then he started screaming. I hate wimpy men. Of course, using that Exorcist voice may have had something to do with it.”
“That’s when I joined in the fun. I decided to call the guys too, but I was a lot nicer about it then Sue.” Bernadette shrugged, batting innocent eyes.
“Guys don’t talk to guys,” said Patrick. “So I checked out the equipment. I had no idea it would blow up so easily. It was like a chain reaction.”
Susan sighed, “That’s about the time the panic started.”
Bernadette shook her head. “I know. Things were going so well. I was having a wonderful conversation with a really cute guy. It’s too bad the phone melted into his head. I wonder if the hospital will let me visit him.”
Somebody knocked. “Disappear guys,” said John. He went to answer.
“Hello, John Peterson? I represent the casino development group. We have an offer for you to consider. You and your friends.”
“My friends? I live here alone.”
“We can be grown ups, Mr. Peterson. I’m referring to the ghosts.” The man looked up. “Come out. This concerns you as well.”
Slowly Susan, Patrick and Bernadette appeared behind John.
The lawyer withdrew a contract from his briefcase. “First of all, the bad news. You must return all the money you acquired from last night’s enterprise, or you will be sued. Our firm will offer to work pro bono on any civil cases filed against you. You will be in court for years. Or … you can work for us.”
He pointed to the contract. “The casino assumes you will be haunting the facility once operations are underway. Therefore, we would like to employ your services on retainer. Mr. Peterson, you will act as contratee. We will designate what guestrooms your crew is to ‘occupy’, and the duration. I leave the severity of the ‘occupation’ to you. Sign now and there will be a lucrative bonus.”
“I don’t know,” John said, “I’d feel better thinking about it.”
Susan read the contract as the men talked. “Sign it,” she whispered.
The lawyer held out his pen. “That’s the spirit.”
With the lawyer gone, John turned to Susan. “I never thought you’d cave for something like that. What gives?”
“I got a new scheme. We can have the casinno move the house somewhere else. Tell them to add that to the contract. Saving the house was the whole idea in the first place.”
“And the scheme?” John asked.
“We’re robbing the casino. I saw this movie, see, when I was alive. It had Frank Sinatra. All we need are eleven bodies. Real bodies. Like zombies.”
John’s jaw dropped. “OK. We save the house. We don’t need another crazy plan. Besides, where are you going to find zombies?”
Sandra smiled. “Good point.”
“I’m glad that’s settled. Now, I need some sleep.”
John made it as far as the kitchen door before Susan jumped up pacing. “I’ve got it. We’ll have eleven ghosts dressed like zombies. John? John? Where’d he go?”
“He ran to his room,” Patrick said.