Friday, October 28, 2011

Hunt or Be Hunted
Rachel Lynne

Ray Henderson accepted his beer from the bartender and rolled his eyes at the tour guide’s spiel. What kind of moron bought that load of bull shit? He smirked as his gaze fell on Chrissie’s enthralled face. Apparently, morons like his wife, and, judging by the enthusiastic crowd, she wasn’t alone in her obsession with all things paranormal.

Ray shook his head. He was surrounded by a bunch of losers. What a great way to spend Halloween. He tuned out the tour guide and examined the bar. With its rough brick walls and scarred floors, the Crescent River Brewing Company delivered on the historic and slightly creepy atmosphere conducive to ghost tours. He took a sip of beer and grimaced. Too bad they couldn’t claim the same with their microbrews; though in fairness he hated even the regular stuff so one imbued with the essence of rosemary was probably not destined to change his opinion.

Chrissie caught his gaze and grinned, her face glowing with happiness. So much for trying to convince her that the tour was lame and they should go home. It was going to be a long night. Ray sighed and looked around for an empty seat. Judging by the capacity crowd, he was the only one who felt the beer left a lot to be desired and ghost hunting was a crock of crap. The joint was a sea of crazy costumes. The raucous crowd seemed to have been celebrating all day; in hindsight, taking a haunted pub tour on Halloween night was not such a great idea.

Ray shoved his way through the throng as a woman dressed like a happy hooker vacated a bar stool. He planted himself in front of the big screen and tried to tune out the bat shit crazy chatter of the ghost obsessed group.

Chrissie could take the tour without him. He snorted and took another swig of the swill masquerading as beer. Damn tour had cost him sixty big ones. She should be grateful he’d forked over the blunt because God knew he could have found a better way to spend his hard earned money.

The sweater he’d seen at Marc Jacobs flashed in his mind. He would look great in pumpkin colored cashmere; chic and successful. Not everyone could afford cashmere, especially from Marc Jacobs, and wearing something like that would surely get him noticed. He should be manager of the WFI telecom store. Hadn’t he gone to college? An associate degree from Savannah Business University should have counted for something.

He gritted his teeth. Damn Chrissie and her whining. He should have told her to get a job if she wanted to go on the damn tour. It wasn’t like he didn’t provide for her. Hell, she had a roof over her head, food on the table, and enough bus fare to get to the store once a week. She should be grateful.

He blinked as a bevy of camera flashes blinded him. Ah, what the hell … he turned to see a cluster of nut jobs, his wife prominent among them, madly snapping pictures of something behind him. He scowled at Chrissie and opened his mouth, but the tour guide’s words halted the rebuke forming on his lips.

“The area behind the bar has been the site of frequent visitations. Many of our servers and bar staff have experienced cold spots and several have reported items disappearing. One staff member, closing the bar for the night, saw a shadowy outline of a man smoking a pipe. When she moved closer to investigate, the shadow emitted a piercing scream and rushed toward her before evaporating.” The guide’s lips twisted into a faint smile. “I’m sorry to say that server gave notice that night and left the employ of Crescent River.”

Oohs, ahs, and nervous laughter erupted from the crowd. Chrissie sidled closer to Ray and squeezed his hand.

Ray snorted. “Ya’ll believe that and I’ve got ocean front property in Iowa with your name on it.” The guide and several tour members scowled at him. Ray sneered. Bunch of idiots and gullible fools.

He shook off his wife’s hand and tried to turn back toward the TV, but Chrissie grabbed his elbow and tugged. “Come on, Ray. They’re gonna take us upstairs!”
“Go on. I’m gonna watch the game.”

Chrissie’s lip trembled and tears welled in her big blue eyes. “But, you promised! It’s my birthday present …” Her voice rose with her distress, drawing the gaze of two well-dressed men sitting close by.

Ray gritted his teeth and slid off of the stool. He could have cared less about disappointing Chrissie, but the reproach he saw in the eyes of the business men – he couldn’t risk marring his public image. You never could tell who was watching or how they might be useful someday.

He joined the throng of ghost hunters, staying well to the back, but the guide’s words still reached his ears. “Crescent River Brewing Company is located in what used to be the City Hotel. The first place to offer rented rooms in Savannah, it also functioned as the city’s post office, bank, and bar.” The thin young man adjusted his Confederate cap and grinned. “A lot of interesting characters have called this place home, which explains the lively paranormal activity we see today.” He motioned for the group to follow and walked toward the pool table area.

Ray smirked and wondered what ‘activity’ would be produced for their benefit. From what he’d heard, the brewing company tour rarely failed to deliver thrills. A woman shrieked. Ray made his way to the front of the line in time to see a cue ball rolling back and forth across the green felt, apparently of its own volition.

“As you can imagine, the City Hotel was a popular place for Savannahians to imbibe and that was often accompanied by a desire to gamble. The hotel became a hangout for professional card sharps.” Their guide nodded toward the pool table. “On several occasions, people sensitive to paranormal entities have reported a ‘heavy’ or menacing presence in this area and even regular patrons have confessed to seeing the shadowy outline of a human head and torso near the stairs. We’re in luck tonight because our spirit seems to be offering us a game of pool,” he grinned. “Anyone care to take him up on the offer?”

Ray laughed. “Come on, that’s your idea of a ghost? More like an unbalanced table.” He scowled at Chrissie. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into wasting sixty bucks on this!”

“Hey man, some of us want to be here. Why don’t you shut up?”

Ray whirled around. “Why don’t you –“ The smart ass retort died on his lips in the face of his opponent’s size. Ray gulped. The guy could play defense for the Steelers! No fool, Ray backed down and slunk to the back of the group.

He grabbed Chrissie’s arm, squeezing the soft flesh until it turned white beneath his fingers. “This is all your fault and don’t think I won’t make you pay for it.”

Tears formed in Chrissie’s eyes. She mouthed ‘I’m sorry’, and hung her head.
Ray shoved her. “Get your camera out, dumb ass. If I have to be here, I want my money’s worth."

The woman in front of them gasped and turned around, glaring at Ray.

“What are you lookin’ at?”

The woman huffed and let her friends pull her away.

Ray snorted. “That’s what I thought.”

He pushed Chrissie toward the stairs as the guide suggested they move on to explore the upper levels. Bringing up the rear, Ray was still on the steps as the guide began to point out the places of reputed spiritual phenomenon. He paused on the last step to hear another tall tale being spun for the entertainment of the gullible masses.

“The upper floors remain unfinished after a fire in … death below—“ Ray frowned. The guide’s location, combined with the din from the bar made it impossible to make out more than a few disjointed sentences. He stepped onto the landing in time to hear the remainder of the tale.

“According to legend, a woman was ‘sold’ as part of a gambling debt. The card sharp who won her saw the potential to earn extra income and prostituted her. From all accounts, he was a bastard who beat and verbally abused the poor woman.” The guide met Ray’s eyes. “One day he went too far and the woman snapped and fought back. In the struggle, the man fell from the balcony, killing him instantly. Several members of the staff have had encounters--”

Ray rolled his eyes. “Great. I shelled out my hard earned dough for the ghost of a slut—“

“Ray, please, let the man talk!” Chrissie tugged on his arm as everyone on the tour stared at Ray, open mouthed.

“What? I’m just sayin’ what everyone else is thinking. Everyone with a brain that is!” He shouldered past his wife and the cluster of ghost hunters, coming to a stop in the darkened hallway that overlooked the bar. He smirked at the guide and motioned for him to continue. “Let me guess, employees claim to see the ghost of the dead bimbo –“

“Sir, I think you should choose your words more carefully –“

“Or what?” He threw his head back and laughed. “Let me guess, the so-called lady will take offen—oomph!”

Ray gasped as something struck him in the chest, knocking him back on his heels. He opened his mouth to complain, but the air around him turned frigid, turning his breaths into visible plumes and robbing him of speech.

He squinted as a blinding ball of light filled the hall. The hair on the back of his neck rose as the light slowly glided toward him. He swallowed around the lump that formed in his throat and found his voice. “Wha …what kind of trick is this?”

The whirl of camera motors was his only answer. His mind reeled, searching for an explanation. It was all a hoax. He’d complained about the tour being a rip-off. The staff was just getting even.

Ray attempted to move away; the response was immediate, and terrifying.
The freezing air began to churn, as if gale force winds were somehow whipping through the building though nothing, not even his hair, moved. Heart pounding, Ray looked across the room for help. His jaw dropped. The tour members clearly saw what was happening; and they were busy snapping pictures!

His limbs shook. His chest rose and fell as he panted for breath. A low moan filled his ears as the strange light encircled him. He shivered as a feeling of intense hate and rage rose within the cold air swirling around him. His teeth chattered and his stomach rolled.

The moan turned into a wail and out of the frosty fog emerged the hazy outline of a woman. She glared at him and then rushed forward, her arms extended, hands curled into fists.

Ray scrambled backwards, hands raised to protect himself. The backs of his legs slammed against the wooden balcony rail. The spindles vibrated and then gave way. Arms flaying, he struggled to regain his balance as his feet encountered nothing but air.

Exultant laughter filled his ears as he plummeted through the air. Eyes wide, Ray watched as his wife leaned over the rail, the bulb from her camera’s flash lighting up the night.

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