(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)
JD was shaking, holding the camera loosely in his hand, his breathing shallow and slightly rasping. The others were equally shaken, staring wide-eyed at the yard around them and the house behind them. It stood dark and solemn, like a harbinger of evil as the silence of the night swept over them. Even the leaves ceased their restless rustling along the ground and the tiny street lamp on its lonely vigil stared tearlessly at them.
JD cleared his throat. "Uh ... this is weird."
The others just looked at him. He saw their faces dimly in the dark.
"That's it?? That's ALL you have to say?? 'This is weird'?"
"We-ll ... yeah. It is. Don't you think?"
Wendy barked a harsh laugh of disbelief. "JD, what the hell is going on??"
"Dude, you gotta do better than 'weird', man. Like, a lot better."
"I ... I don't know what to tell you. I can't -- I mean, I don't ... I don't know what's going on. I really don't. That was ... weird."
"Duh, dude," Dillon said sardonically. "That much we know. Tell us what we don't know, dude."
"With you, that can take a considerable amount of time."
"How can you tell?"
"I just can."
"What about Wen?"
"You sayin' she's smarter 'n me?"
"But you don't know what's goin' on here?"
"So maybe you ain't so smart either, then."
"Well, I'm certainly ahead of you."
"Can you guys put a damned sock in it??"
They both looked at Wendy, shocked. Her eyes flashed like lightning in the dark.
"We don't have time for this. What happened, JD? Where's the rest of the play back?"
"I ... I don't know. I'm going to assume it's still coming."
"We don't have much time then. This didn't happen last night."
"Damn straight it didn't. These spooks're onto us, man, and the dudes ain't happy. They're gonna jack with our minds 'n stuff and make us eat each other an' crap like that."
"You watch WAY too many zombie movies."
"Dilly, you're going to have to buck up a bit unless you want to wait in the house, okay? We need to get ready for more of this now."
"You ain't mad at me are ya, Wen?"
"No, but ... well, let's just focus on what we're doing here, okay?"
"Uh ... yeah, okay Wen. I ... I'm cool. Yeah. Cool."
"JD, you're going to have to get a little more serious here."
"Sorry, Wendy, but I still don't have any answers. I'm as lost in this situation as you are. Remember I don't know any more about this situation than you do."
"Are you still going to presume this isn't supernatural? That there's a logical explanation for what just happened to us?"
"Well, we were disoriented by the fog. It's entirely possible that we simply walked in circles. Stranger things have happened."
"In so limited an area?"
"Dude, what she said."
JD rolled his eyes. "Yes, in so small an area. In deserts and things like that, the scenery can be misleading because it's all so similar. But generally the visibility is better, so you go farther and make bigger circles. Here, we were walking carefully, slowly, trying to fight being lost in the fog and ..."
"Do you honestly believe the words coming out of your mouth, Jaded? Are you seriously telling me we just walked around in circles when we were deliberately trying to make progress?"
JD hung his head. "Wendy, you asked what I think. I think it's entirely possible we could've been disoriented in that thick fog enough to not have done much of anything."
"That's ridiculous, JD."
"Dude ... what she said."
"What are you, a parrot?"
"Dilly wanna cracker, dude. And to not get lost."
"JD, that's silly. Something beyond logical explanation is happening here."
"Wendy, we can't say that yet." JD was firm. "We need to remember that just because our senses are fooled doesn't mean that reality and physics have been. We aren't going to be able to settle this right now. We have to analyze the data."
"The data?" she snapped. "You mean those great gray frames you recorded? Yeah, that'll be real helpful for analysis. We couldn't even find a damned distinguishing feature in the display."
"Not yet," JD said more softly. "We'll have the tape professionally analyzed and see what turns up. For now, let's not assume that some angry apparition is trying to kill us, okay?"
She looked up at him. She cocked her head to one side, and put her hand on his cheek. "There are things beyond your ability to explain, love."
"I know. And I'm willing to accept that. But right now, let's just get ready to collect data, okay?"
She drew a heavy sigh. "Yeah. What else can we do?"
"Dudes, I think we oughta get somewhere so it ain't so easy t'get lost pretty quick."
"Good idea," JD agreed quickly. "Come on ... while we can see, let's get over by the gate. I'm certain that's where Brown entered the yard. Hopefully the playback will resume."
"So -- today, dudes, while we're young, y'know?"
They followed JD as he hastily moved toward the gate, and stood within a few feet of the opening between the dense skeletal shrubs. He checked the camera again, making sure that he could see through the viewfinder, then opening the LCD screen to see if it worked.
It did. He closed it, and drew a deep breath.
"Well ... I guess we wait here."
"Uh ... where -- where should I stand, dude? I don't wanna be too close t'the ... you know."
JD tipped his head, his brows knit in confusion. "Um ... no, I don't think I do."
"You know -- I don' wanna get to close t'the ... spirits an' stuff."
"Oh, for Pete's sake, Dillon."
"DUDE! You stand next to 'em! I don't wanna!"
"Fine ... uh ... here, stand behind Wendy. She'll protect you from the mean, bad ghosts, okay?"
"Aw, dude -- puttin' your lady in harm's way, man? SO not good, dude."
"Never mind, you two jack asses!" Wendy was irked. "Look, things are stressful and creepy enough without the bickering. Knock it off already!"
Dillon hung his head like a dog. "Sorry, Wen."
JD cleared his throat and blushed. "Um ... this is where the playback should start. At least if we get to see what we saw last night. I'm not certain about that at this point."
"You don't even know what's gonna happen, dude?"
"Well, we didn't have that last part last night. That's new. We might have more new stuff happen. I just can't say."
"The ghosts're makin' ya look bad, JD."
"Oh, be quiet. There are no ghosts."
"I'm only going to tell you guys one more time to shut up and quit the bickering. Then I'm going to put both of you over my knee in a way you WON'T like. Dilly."
"Uh ... how d'ya know I won't like it?"
"I'll make sure you don't."
"How? Give details."
She swatted him and chuckled in spite of herself. "Seriously, JD, what now? Do we even have a clue how long we're going to be waiting for it?"
"No, I'm afraid not. We don't even know if the playback's going to resume. Or if it ever did. That last thing might've been something completely different. We just can't know. This is part of the reason the Stone or Water Tape theory isn't widely accepted."
She threw her hands up and let them fall, slapping on her thighs. "Well, we can just stand here for a while, I guess, but when do we know to give it up?"
JD shrugged helplessly.
"Dude, you so aren't very good at this."
"I ... hey, I haven't heard much of anything out of you either ... except your school girl screams of terror, of course."
"Ouch, dude. I'm just sayin' is all."
"Yeah. Me too."
"JD, here it comes."
"The fog ... it's ... it's coming again!"
They looked quickly up and watched as the white blanket returned, washing like foam over the top of the house and from around its girth. It came rushing like pryoclastic floes, crashing silently and forcefully over them as it pushed beyond the gate.
And they were suddenly submerged in the mist that ran into position and stopped, the whole world still and calm around them.
"Dude, that's just scary."
"Shh. Let's keep an ear out for any sound. Are you ready with the recorder?"
"DUDE, you shushed me! I can't talk and be quiet!"
JD shook his head invisibly in the fog and gloom, and asked again. "Be quiet after you answer me -- do you have the recorder? Are you ready to use it?"
"Yeah, an' yeah, jerk."
"Wait -- JD, look!!" Wendy was clutching his arm hard, and he winced a bit under her grasp. "LOOK."
They huddled closely together in the mist, straining their eyes into the sheet of gray wisps that floated eerily by.
JD started to ask her what she saw, when it caught his attention too.
A light. A flashlight, smudged and dim in the thick cloud. The beam was obscured as though through smoke, then came clear to them again, then grew stronger as it approached.
They jumped when the beam blinked out and then back on, closer to them. The light showed the faintest trace of a figure, hard to see, indistinct in the fog and dark, as it grew nearer. Then it was clear that the legs and waist of the shadowy figure were behind the shrubs opposite them, on the sidewalk beyond, as the beam reflected from the tops of the jagged twigs and limbs.
Then the beam leveled at them. JD raised the camera and turned it on.
The light began to approach them.
JD checked that he could see the glowing disk approaching through the LCD viewer.
It came straight for them.
"Shh. It's okay. It's just a recording."
"Shh," JD repeated softly. The light continued toward them.
It stopped just a few feet away, and they jumped when the gate suddenly opened, squealing in the night. The figure slowed the motion, trying to stifle the sound, and JD swatted Dillon lightly.
Dillon yelped quietly in the mist. "Dude!" he whispered, barely audible, "Don't do that!"
"Record the sounds!"
"I already am, studly!"
The gate slowly and carefully closed, creaking and groaning softly in the cemetery stillness. The light panned away from them, and they could see the figure backlit by the ethereal glow from the beam ahead of it, and then it swung back around, and leveled right at them again.
JD was switching his eyes back and forth between the light in front of him and the display viewer. The beam shone steadily at them, then began to approach. In a second it was on them, directly in front of them, held high, next to the where the shadow's head would be, and quickly snapped from one of their faces to the other, making them shield their eyes.
"Who are you?" a commanding voice said from behind the light.
Wendy turned quickly to JD. "This ... this is different."
"I said, who are you?" the voice repeated more forcefully.
"Uh ... dude? I think ... I think he's talkin' to us."
"It's a recording, Dillon. Don't forget that."
"I'm going to ask you three one more time -- who are you?"
JD realized then that this was no recording.
The figure was speaking to them ... directly.