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JD's light snapped back on suddenly, startling him so badly he nearly dropped it. He turned the small flashlight over and over in his hands, heart pounding, studying it as if the reason it was extinguished might suddenly be apparent on the exterior casing. A half second later, he yelped in start and jumped again when Wendy ran up behind him and seized his arm hard.
"Wendy!" he complained.
"JD, what is going on? What was that??"
"Dude!" Dillon exclaimed racing up to the others. "DUDE! That was -- holy crap, dude! Holy CRAP!"
"I know, I know," JD said calmly, holding up his hands to simmer them down, "this is very strange, but we --"
"JD, we just watched a man get hurt! Maybe killed! We have to call the police!"
"Wendy, we can't --"
"JD, man, we gotta! Quit bein' a shit-licker man!"
"Dillon, we don't have any -- did ... did you just call me a shit-licker?"
"JD, we have to call someone! We can't just do nothing!" Wendy was close to panic, her breathing shallow, her entire body shaking violently.
"Wendy, we can't! Look!"
JD shone the light on the scene, revealing empty grass and an undisturbed yard in the red glow of the light.
Wendy reached into her pocket and pulled out a smaller version of his flashlight, and her white beam lit the yard as she panned it in the area.
"Oh my God," she whispered. "Oh my God."
"Yes," JD said to her softly, "I don't think we saw anything."
"Aww, naw," Dillon said shaking his head from side to side vehemently. "Naw you don', dude. We SO saw somethin'. Two dudes wastin' another dude. We SEEN it. All of us, man. You ain't gonna wiggle outta this, bro. No way."
"That isn't what I mean," JD said slowly.
"JD, if you're going to try and tell me there's a natural explanation for this, I'm going to smack you so hard your mother will feel it."
"No, no," JD said patiently, "just listen. That's not what I mean ... well, not exactly, anyway. What I mean is, what we witnessed weren't actual events -- at least, not recent ones."
"Dude, you're bein' a geek again, ain'tcha?"
"Well ... yes and no. There is a theory, held among some paranormal researchers, that events from the past can be recorded and under certain conditions those events can be played back. Like a recording, only the recording media isn't a magnetic tape or video. The mechanism is similar, but not manufactured."
"JD, what are you talking about?"
"Yeah, dude, you're gettin' all nerdy an' crap."
JD shook his head firmly. "Listen. It's possible that this lot, this area, the house, whatever -- something in this particular area recorded the events of some other time and just played them back. It normally takes some sort of release of some kind to make that happen, like a triggering event, but --"
"JD, you're not making any sense."
He sighed impatiently. "The things we just saw weren't live events, they were recorded ones that happened another time. Some time in the past. The energy of the events transmitted through the recording media -- that theory used to be called Stonetape Theory -- but that's gone by the wayside for the most part. But some others believe that it's recorded by water, and there is some research that suggests it may be possible for water to record events in the same way that a cassette tape does or a video tape does. In some circumstances, the location is disturbed -- like this house being restored, for instance -- and the water trapped inside the very material releases the recording and plays it back."
They were looking at him dubiously.
"I'm not making this up! Some paranormal researchers believe that ghost sightings can be directly related to materials in a particular area being disturbed sufficiently that the playback mechanism is activated and the residents in the area, or passersby, or whomever, will see what they believe are ghosts."
"JD, this 'recording' interacted with us."
"Dude, my DVDs don't talk t'me and tell me t'call the cops and pretend they're cops an' stuff, man."
"No, no ... we only think that person we saw was interacting with us. He wasn't. He was only a recording being played back. He probably spoke to someone in that time frame and we just happened to --"
"We just happened to be standing in JUST the the right spot at JUST the right time for the recording to LOOK like it was interacting with us, but actually wasn't? C'mon, Jaded, even YOU can't believe that drivel."
He shrugged. "It's plausible, Wen. Nothing else explains what ..."
"DUDE, IT WAS A FRIGGIN' GHOST!! That explains it!"
JD drew a deep breath, shutting his eyes. "Dillon, I know how badly you want this to be an apparition, but --"
"But nothing, Jaded," Wendy said very sternly. "It was a ghost. We all saw it. You're going to have to admit it."
He shook his head adamantly. "No. Not yet. When I have evidence to verify the veracity of that claim, I will affirm it. Not until."
"Dude, you're a weeny."
"Perhaps, but I'm not going to ascribe this to something supernatural until I have no other choice. If what we saw was an actual replay of events in the past, then the fog, the wet ground and mud, the warm and humid air -- all contain elements of water. The water could have recorded the events. The sudden and unseasonable cold snap may have caused the water to evaporate and release those recordings recently. I'm not ready to cry 'ghost' until I'm sure I've seen one, though."
"As far as I can see you're already past the point of no return on that, JD."
"Maybe, Wen ... maybe. I'm not the most sophisticated outfit around, either. And I'm sure that someone like Benjamin Radford could find a hundred different natural explanations for these events. I'm just not able to do that right now."
"Dude, y'want evidence? What 'bout them prints, man?"
Wendy and JD looked at each other, then whispered simultaneously, "The footprints!"
They raced back toward the corner of the house, rounding toward the parlor windows at a full sprint. JD held his light steadily on the area beneath the windows, in the exposed dirt between the bare, harsh shrub skeletons that jabbed and poked at them as they approached.
"It was here ... right over here ..."
"I can't believe Dillon thought of this first."
"Dude, why you gotta hurt me? I got a brain."
"Huh," JD said as though mystified.
"Ow, man. Just ... just ow, dude. You can so be a dick, man."
"It was right here ..."
"I thought it was more this direction."
They were clambering about in the rustling dead leaves, crawling on hands and knees, looking for the muddy footprint beneath the window of the parlor.
"Dude, it was, like, right by th' corner o' th' window, man, over there."
"Naw, man, more thataway."
"Yeah, but ... naw, naw, back th' other way, dude."
"Where?" JD crawled around in the dirt and leaves, shining his light in front of him and wincing as the twigs and rocks nipped at his flesh. "Do you mean this way?"
"Naw," Dillon said, "th' other way."
"I just was the other way, which way??"
"Back thataway, dude, over there more."
Wendy looked up at Dillon and trained her light directly on his face. "Dilly ... are you just making JD crawl around in the dirt?"
"Um ... nn-ooo ... well ... yeah."
"Dillon, we don't have time for your childish games," JD said irked.
"I know," Dillon grinned. "I'm sooooo sorry, dude. Seriously."
JD shook his head.
"No, I was right here," Wendy said finally. "I can see the depressions my hands left in the dirt where I was leaning over before. I remember commenting that I didn't have any dirt on my hands. This is the spot."
JD and Wendy both trained their lights steadily in the area.
There was no sign of any mud, no footprints, no indication of any kind that anyone had been through the area at all. It was as if nothing happened.
"You gotta be kiddin' me, man," Dillon said. "Whiskey tango foxtrot, dude?? This ghost's muckin' with us BIG time, man. An' it's all YOUR fault, JD."
"MY fault? How is it MY fault??"
"He's muckin' with us 'cause you won't believe in 'im, man. He so wants you to believe, dude. If you just say you believe, he'll, like, split an' stuff."
"Don't be ridiculous ... if that's even possible."
"There's nothing here, JD," Wendy said, standing up.
"Freakin' freaky, dude," Dillon said, and a shiver twisted down his spine, racking his wiry form from head to foot. "I'm hungry, too. Can we get a pizza now?"
JD scowled at him. "This is impossible. That was a physical trace of someone passing through, not some optical representation of the events of ... oh."
"What?" Wendy said, watching his face drop.
"It was all part of the replay, Wen. Every bit of it. Even the footprint. And the man you and Dillon saw in the house. And the assault we witnessed. All of it, from the beginning ... it was all part of the recording."
"No, I don't believe that," she said strongly. "That 'replay' interacted with us, JD. You can try and justify that with a huge series of coincidences if that makes you feel better, but that's nothing but a load of crap."
"Yeah, a load o' crap, you tell 'im, Wen."
"Wendy, we don't have any other --"
"Yep, loooooooad o' crap, dude."
"-- any other explanation for wh--"
"Yessirree, one big looooooooooooooooad o' crap, that's what we got there."
"Dillon, do you mind?"
"Mind what, bro?"
"Not interrupting me!"
"Oh, was you sayin' somethin', dude? All I heard was one big loooooooooad o' --"
"Thank you -- thank you, I understand the point. Please stop it."
"I will if you will, dude."
"So anything I say is now dismissed as a 'load of crap', is that it?"
"Pretty much, yeah," Dillon nodded.
"No, JD," Wendy said, cutting Dillon off, "of course not. But you have a ton of visual evidence and auditory evidence AND witnesses to the events here, and you're being very, very stubborn about this."
"And you're fulla crap."
"This coming from the biggest airbag balloon-head I've ever met."
"Knock it off," Wendy snapped parentally. "Jeez. I'm just saying that there's enough for you to move on the assumption that we have a paranormal event here and to look at it from that perspective."
"All right, Wendy," JD said, beginning to pace. "Let's move on that assumption. Now, what's the next thing we should do?"
"We should report what we've seen to the police."
"Duh, dude. Duh."
"Report what we've seen? Let's assume you're filing said police report. What will you tell them?"
"I'll tell ya what we say. We go, Dudes, we seen this ghost, man, an' he was whacked by these other ghosts in this yard, see, an' the two ghosts that whacked 'im, they split an' then the fog went away and we had nothin' to show you but we seen it an' this sounds like a load o' crap don' it?"
JD folded his arms across his chest.
"Damn it, Jaded," Wendy said through clenched jaw, "what do you suggest, then?"
"We have to have something we can show them. Some evidence. Until then, we can't do a single thing about this."
"Maybe that's all it wants."
JD knit his brows. "What do you mean?"
She cocked her head in thought. "I think ... I think maybe we're supposed to figure this out on our own."
"Duuuuuuudes," Dillon said slowly, "do you know what this could mean?"
JD looked at Dillon expectantly. "No, what?"
Dillon looked back quizzically. "How the hell should I know? I was asking, do you know what this could mean?"
"Oh, for the love of ... Listen, we have to collect evidence. I don't know if this replay is going to be a one-time event -- in which case we can't do anything, period -- or if it will be something that plays out over a few days or weeks, perhaps even months. But if we have any further opportunities, we need to record what we see, what we hear, what we find, and see if there's any way that we can figure out what's going on."
"So we can't do nothin', right? We're back t'doin' nothin' again?"
"No, we're back to waiting and observing."
"Like I said, doin' nothin'."
"Not nothing, Dillon," JD reiterated. "IF it's possible -- IF -- we can actually do something to demonstrate we're not suffering from mass hysteria, and have something documentable to show the police."
"Hmm. Lotta 'ifs' in there, dude."
"Just like life in general, Dillon. If what we saw recurs, we can be ready to record it."
"How long do you have in the house, JD?" Wendy said. "Won't the homeowners be coming back eventually?"
"Eventually," he said, "but they shouldn't be a problem for now. We should have plenty of time to do this. If the replay doesn't recur before the homeowners return, it's not likely to recur at all anyway."
"Dude, this sounds like it's gonna be a whole lot more boring comin' our way."
JD shrugged. "We'll see. We will see."
"Dude, is it cool if we do all that boring crap AFTER pizza? Seriously, dudes, I'ma die if I don' eat soon. And if I do, I'm so gonna haunt you."
Ready to go on to Part 8?