Just joining us? You might want to start from the beginning.
They were clearly panicked.
JD remembered his flashlight and pulled it out of his pocket, and when he turned it on the other two ceased their clamoring and clutched one another more closely. He panned the red beam around the room starting from the right, where the others indicated the silhouette vanished. He continued slowly in the cold silence of the ancient house, and ended when he reached the wall adjacent to the doorway.
There was no one there.
He turned to Wendy and Dillon.
"See? There's nothing."
They broke out in unison again.
"Aww, man, there WAS somethin', JD! I saw it!"
"It WAS there, JD! It was a man, a shadow ..."
"He was all movin' and shit!"
"He crossed the room and disappeared into the shadows ..."
"He was FLOATIN', I think! I think he was ..."
"I saw it clearly, JD! I know what I saw!"
"Dude had glowin' eyes and shit! I could see it!"
JD shot Dillon a look, and he fell silent.
"Well ... maybe not that part. But I seen 'im! We both did, man! It was there, a guy was there walkin' across the room!"
"Well you were obviously mistaken," JD said calmly.
"No, I wasn't," Wendy snapped angrily. "Damn it, Jaded, we both saw it. Just because you didn't doesn't mean it didn't happen."
He looked at her, and her sincerity disturbed him.
"I know you saw something, Wendy," he said with measured deliberation, "but it couldn't have been in the house. That's all I'm saying."
"The drop in temperature, the silhouette in the room, and the fact that the homeowners called about something doesn't give you ANY inkling that maybe, just maybe, something weird's going on around here, Jaded??"
JD shook his head. "I think you saw a silhouette, okay? I believe you saw it, but --"
"Damn straight," Dillon said with a single affirming nod.
"-- BUT, I don't think it was inside the house."
"It WAS, JD!" Dillon protested. "He was right in front o' the windows! We seen it! Dude, if he was outside we'd've seen 'em through the curtains an' shit. We saw 'im clear, man!!"
"I still think we need to eliminate the possibility that it was outside first."
"You gotta be kiddin' me," Dillon said, his whole body sagging suddenly.
"You can stay inside if you'd like, Dillon," JD shrugged. "You both can. I'll go check outside to see if I can find any evidence that someone was walking around out there."
"So you don't believe us?" Wendy said, her face a mixture of anger and pain.
"No, I absolutely do believe you, Wendy," JD said softly, cupping her face in his hands. "That's why I'm going out there in the freezing cold to check this out. If I didn't, I wouldn't do that." He smiled and kissed her softly on the nose.
"But you don't believe what I say."
"I do too. I just said I do."
"No, you believe I saw something. But you don't believe me when I say it was in the house."
"That's so not cool, JD."
"Dillon, do you mind?"
"Not at all, m'man."
"BUTT OUT, Dillon."
"Oh ... sorry."
"I believe you, Wendy. I do. I just can see, on the monitors and with my own eyes, there's no one there."
"I know that, JD. I believe I saw a ghost. Do you believe me?"
Her eyes challenged him, and her hands on her hips told him she was defying him as much as she was convinced. He eyed her carefully.
"I believe you saw someone. I believe that you believe it was a ghost. I don't know if I believe that yet. We're going to have to agree to disagree on this one."
She shook her head. "Fine. I'm going out with you. I don't want you to come in here and tell me you found 'evidence' of someone outside when there isn't any."
He sighed. "Why would I lie to you?"
"Because you need to be right, JD."
"You so do that, bro."
"I do not need to be right, Wendy. I believe there is no supernatural mystery here, that's all."
"You want a mystery, JD? You want an honest-to-God mystery?? Figure out why I love you so much, because I sure as hell can't."
As she stormed toward the front door, JD's jaw dropped.
Dillon was watching his stunned face. "What? Oh, don't tell me you didn't know, genius-boy. It's as plain as a ghost in this house."
JD looked at him, still shocked. "I ... I didn't think she was ..."
"What? Serious about you? Don'tcha think a chick like her can have any guy, dude? But she only goes out with you. Why's that?"
JD was contemplating his shoes very intently.
"Oh, I get it -- you're a dumbass and don't know shit like that, right? Well, here's a clue, brainiac ... she loves you. She's been in love with you for a while. I figgered you were jus' stupid not askin' her to marry you an' crap. But that's just me. I guess you figger there's plenty of 'em where she came from or somethin'."
JD looked at Dillon harshly. "Don't be ridiculous. I've never even dreamed of someone like her."
"Then you better start showin' it, jackass," Dillon said heavily, "or she's gonna split for someone that will."
Dillon darted as quickly as he could, snatched his jacket from the back of one of the chairs and yanked his body out of the parlor as if his rump were being nipped at by lions. He disappeared after Wendy into the main hall, leaving JD with his thoughts for a moment. He finally drew a deep breath and went to grab his jacket from the other chair.
"Jaded, are you coming or not??" Wendy harangued from the hallway.
"Yes," he said, shaking his head. "Yes, I'm coming."
They were standing at the front door waiting while JD pulled on his jacket, then opened the door. The bite of the cold from outside seemed worse since they were outside last, even though the heat wasn't on inside. As they stepped onto the porch, Wendy seated her watch cap lower on her head.
"Wow, it's cold," she chattered, hugging herself and shivering violently as she adjusted to the temperature. "We're going to have snow soon."
"Yeah! Then we can go sleddin'! Boardin', skiin', all that stuff! That's awesome!!"
"Shh, Dillon, please," JD chided quietly. "It's night time. Most people sleep at night. Try to lower your voice."
"Oh, right. Sorry. And don't EVEN think 'bout scarin' me this time, Wen."
She giggled and hugged Dillon's arm tightly. "No problem. We want to make sure nothing skews JD's 'evidence'."
JD shook his head as they stood on the wide, railed porch, the hard, frozen boards ringing under their feet.
"Okay, the parlor is to the right of us. We should start that way, and circle the house."
"What're we lookin' for?"
"Things that indicate someone was out here. Or the someone."
"Do you think they're still out here?"
"Man, dude, what if it's like, some psycho dude like Jason or somethin'? What if he's got, like, saws and axes and big knives and shit?"
"Dillon, try, for once, to control your imagination."
"JD, if you think there's someone here we should call the police."
"No, it's fine. I think there was someone out here though. Let's go."
"This is frickin' stupid, dude."
"Yeah, we need the cops JD."
"There is no serial killer, people. Can we go please? Or shall I do it alone?"
"Alone," Dillon said quickly.
"No one's going anywhere alone until we know it's safe," Wendy said, swatting Dillon on the shoulder.
"Then follow me, please," JD said professionally, and he strode down the stairs to the yard.
The others followed closely behind as he shone the red flashlight around them. The shadows danced and played like nightmare images as they walked slowly past the face of the house, bushes and trees stretching claws and talons down into the dark toward them. The crunching grass betrayed their every step as they moved, heads swiveling to follow the round red patch of illumination about the large, dark yard that refused to reveal its farthest depths to them. It seemed to shift and retreat, keeping a shadowy shield between it and their light.
"See anything yet?" Dillon whispered huskily.
"No, but we're not anywhere near the parlor yet."
"Too bad we don't have snow already," Wendy lamented. "At least we'd have footprints if someone was out here."
"The ground isn't frozen yet," JD said brightly, "maybe we'll have some if we look closely enough."
"Who're you, CSI:Miami? You can get footprints outta the dirt, in the dark, with a red flashlight?" Dillon scoffed, snorting and sniffing in the cold.
JD shrugged. "We'll have to see."
The light continued to pan about, scanning slowly. JD was careful to move the light gradually, and they crept along following it, looking carefully into the dimness. They rounded the corner of the house. Above them, the huge Maple and Oak trees in the yard menaced, their canopy refusing to let the light in and soaking it up to trap it behind their labyrinth limbs.
The wind skittered leaves about the street and sidewalk, and across the grass, making them dance and tease and taunt the seekers as they moved slowly through the tinkling, crisp, frigid night.
"Dude, this is so a waste of time."
"No it's not. It's the only way to eliminate the obvious."
"Well, okay then, this is so creepy."
"It is a little spooky, huh Dilly?" He nodded in the dark, eyes darting about.
"I keep waitin' fer, like, a werewolf to howl or somethin'."
"Come on, keep your eyes open," JD said firmly. "We're nearly to the parlor windows, so look sharp."
"Aye-aye, cap'n," Wendy said her best pirate voice. "Look sharp, Mr. Dillon! Avast me hardies, we be on the look out for Blackbeard's den."
"Arr!" Dillon teased.
"Keep it down, you two. You're like a couple of second graders."
They giggled but were quieter as they pushed forward. JD lowered the light, shining it down toward the bushes and shrubs and the beds of dirt and leaves under them as he approached the parlor windows. The soft red light illuminated the ground as he began the slow, methodical search for some sign of someone having been there.
"JD, look," Wendy said, gesturing at the perimeter of the shrub bed with her arms as though drawing the boundaries with her hands. "Look at the size of this area. There is no way Dillon and I saw someone from way out here."
JD nodded slowly in agreement. "No, that's not possible. He must've been beside the house, inside the shrubs."
"HEY! Look over there!" Dillon was leaning forward, pointing at the ground near the edge of the light's beam.
JD followed with the flashlight.
A series of muddy footprints were filled with water in a sloppy mush of dirt just beside the window of the parlor. The soft material had been pressed hard, and the footprints left filled with brown, opaque liquid that reflected the red light back at them.
"I'll be damned," Dillon said softly. "He was right. The jackass was right. Someone was screwin' around out here. Man, I HATE it when he's right."
JD held the light steadily on the mud for them to see, taking a step closer.
"See? They move toward the window. Whoever was here went behind the shrubs, right alongside the windows. I'm certain that's what you saw."
"Wow, dude. I hate it when you're right."
"JD, something's not right with this," Wendy said slowly.
"What's wrong? What's not right?"
"I ... I dunno. There's something ... off here."
"Dude, I can't believe you were right. That sucks."
JD shot a scowl at Dillon. "What do you mean, Wen?"
"I ... I can't put my finger on it," she said uneasily, hunkering down beside the muddy slop, leaning forward on her hands. "There's something not right about these prints, though. I can't ... I don't know, I can't seem to nail it. I have the feeling something's wrong here, though."
"Dude, you bein' right is like kissin' your old fat aunt at Christmas. It hasta happen sometimes, but it's never good."
"What are you talking about??"
"You bein' right. Ain'tcha listenin'?"
"Not really, no."
"Something's just not right ..."
"Why is my being right a problem?"
"It's not a problem, dude, it jus' sucks is all."
"Well ... 'cause then me 'n Wen are ... not right."
"You mean you wanted there to be someone out here? Just so you could be right?"
"Well, no, but I didn't want you t'be right, either."
"So what did you want?"
"A ghost, numbnuts, what else?!"
"You? YOU wanted a ghost?"
"Hellz yeah, dude. That's why I came with ya inna first place. Dumbass."
"You're scared of WENDY, Dillon," JD said snidely, "how were you going to cope with an apparition?"
"Something's not right, JD, that's all I can say."
"Well ... that's not much for me to go on, Wendy. Would you like to continue looking around? Maybe something else will help you form your thoughts."
She sighed and stood up. The wind brushed over them, scattering leaves that rustled over the yard, making leafless branches and twigs rattle slightly like the bones of a skeleton rising from its grave.
"Yeah, let's keep looking. Maybe I'll find something to help me put my finger on it."
"All right," JD said, stepping forward to help her up.
She stopped then, a quizzical look on her face, examining her hands. JD noticed and shone the red beam directly on them.
"What is it?" he said quietly.
"My hands. They're clean."
"You got good hygiene an' stuff. You smell nice, too."
"No, no -- but thanks, Dilly. I mean, there's no mud on my hands."
"Okay. Is that a problem?" JD said skeptically.
"Well, look at the footprints. They're soft and gooey and mucky. It's like mud at the bottom of a puddle, it's so soft.
"But I was leaning over right next to it, and there was no mud at all. In fact, the ground was firm. It's like ... it's like the mud is only right here."
She slowly, deliberately, reached forward with her shoe, moving toward the middle of the swampy puddle of mud water just in front of her. She moved gingerly, as though the puddles and prints were vipers.
A brilliant flash from behind them made them all yelp in start. Whirling around, JD brandished the beam like a sword, trying to steady it on the target.
"Who're you? What are you doing out here?" the voice said from behind the beam.
It was a powerful flashlight, held beside the head of a man. His commanding voice carried to them and made them freeze in their tracks, huddled together like three mice in a corner. JD's light sputtered out, and he stared into the lens and swatted it with the side of his hand.
"Uh ... we're --" JD began.
"I'm officer Brown," the voice continued. "Are you the homeowners?"
"No," JD said, steadying himself, "we're ... uh ... we're ..."
"House-sitting for them," Wendy finished. "They asked us to be here."
"We got a call about a disturbance of some kind in the area," the voice intoned at them.
"Yeah, dude, that'd be me ... sorry. I was scared."
"You should go back home now. It may not be safe here."
"Uh ... okay. But I have some equipment inside that I need to gather first so --"
"Go inside now. I'm going to have a look around. If you see anyone you don't recognize call the police."
JD knit his brows, then shrugged. "Uh ... fine."
"Hey, dude, thanks for helpin' us out here --"
"Go back home now. Police orders."
The officer turned and strode off into the dimness of the yard, and his light vanished around the corner of the house ahead of them.
"Well ... I guess he told us," Wendy sniped. "What a jerk."
"Yes. There must be something strange going on besides Dillon screaming though. He didn't even ask us any questions. He didn't even ask us for ID."
"When was the last time a cop caught you snooping around with a flashlight and didn't ask for an ID?"
"Dude, I'm just glad he's gone. Cops freak me."
JD watched the yard beyond the house, and noticed for the first time that a very fast, very dense fog was rolling in from behind the house. From the river.