It hadn’t even been five minutes, and Jackson already felt like he was going to throw up.
And he could tell by the way his dinner bulged its way up his throat that this wasn’t going to be an innocent splash of spittle, hiccuped out like a baby rejecting its new split pea baby food. This was going to be full on Linda Blair from The Exorcist vomit. Though he greatly enjoyed the chicken Parmesan sandwich he had for supper, he wasn’t exactly looking forward to tasting it again.
Jackson felt the cold sweat that often heralded the arrival of vomit and he knew that he was already past the point of no return. His head snapped around the boat to see where he could deposit the vomit that was now racing up his throat.
He looked to his girlfriend, Kara, who was blissfully ignorant as she softly smiled, looking out across the water. Puke on her? Nah, probably not be a good idea, unless he was looking to get broken up with.
He decided the best option was the most obvious. He ran to the side of the boat and, hoping no environmentalists were watching, poked his head over the railing and vomited into the water.
He watched as the stream of vomit hung in the air, as if it was taunting him and saying, “Seriously, dude? You’re going to throw up now? In front of everybody? Okaaaay, here I go.” It fell maddeningly slow before crashing into the water with an irritatingly loud splash.
Jackson heard the hurried tap tap tap of Kara rushing to his side.
“Baby,” she said, putting her arm around him, “are you okay?”
Jackson grunted and gave a half-hearted nod before more of his treasured chicken parm dinner came spewing out and into the lake.
“Aww,” Kara mewed, “I didn’t know you got sea sick. I would have bought some motion sickness pills!”
Jackson gagged a few times and managed to shrug. He didn’t want to tell her that he had already taken three Motrin before they had gotten on the boat, as it would reveal just how bad his motion sickness was while giving her an opportunity to chide at him for taking a whole two pills over the recommended dose.
“I’m good, Kara,” Jackson insisted, “Really. Just a little dizzy, some sea sickness. I’ll be fine once we land.”
Kara frowned and rubbed Jackson’s shoulder.
“I hope so,” she said with a tinge of concern in her voice, “I want you to enjoy this!”
Jackson gave a reassuring smile, or at least it would have been reassuring had there not be excess drops of vomit clinging to his cheek and chin. Kara made a brushing gesture on her own face to subtly notify Jackson of the straggling bile.
Jackson sheepishly wiped it off and dug in his pocket for the mini bottle of hand sanitizer he always carried with him.
“Listen,” he said, squirting a drop into his opened palm, “I am fine. I just get a little sea sick. I didn’t want to tell you beforehand because I didn’t want it to worry you, or may you think twice about booking this tour. Go off and have fun with the rest of the group. I’m gonna stand over here in case…well, you know. Vomit.”
Kara smiled, kissed Jackson on the cheek (the one that didn’t just have vomit on it), and walked back over to the rest of the group on the boat.
Jackson sighed and looked out across the water, his head still feeling a little scrambled. His surveyed the lake in all its glory.
Joyce Lake. Underneath the cloudy, steel gray sky, its dark water stretched for two miles, nestled in a valley of trees and mountains. Jackson looked to the right, towards the front of the ship (Bow? Jackson thought. Stern? Whatever. Fuck boats.) where their final destination lay ahead.
Half a mile away from the boat, The Patricia, stood Arrowhead Island, colloquially known as Ghost Island. Arrowhead Island/Ghost Island was officially abandoned, but it was supposedly host to a wide assortment of haunting and specters, left over from its violent, sordid past. With this being America, Arrowhead Island/Ghost Island was turned into a tourist attraction for profit.
Jackson could still see in his head the brochure that Kara had brought him, saying excitedly that they should book a spot on the tour for a weekend in Halloween. The brochure featured a black and white photo of a group on the island, their mouths cupped over their mouths in fear, pointing off in the distance, most likely at the shoot director who was telling them, “Hey, point at me, it’ll look scary on the brochure.”
Despite the artificial feeling of the photo, Jackson found no humor in what the rest of the brochure had to say. The brochure detailed that, even though Arrowhead Island was abandoned, it was still populated with a large number of various ghosts, left over by the island’s violent, sordid past.
Brave guests will be able to visit the sites of various crimes and suspicious deaths, the brochure read, allowing themselves to become immersed in the rich history of the island. Then, after the tour, we invite you to spend the night, sleeping among the ghosts and spirits as they are free to roam their haunting grounds. After your fright filled night, enjoy breakfast over a campfire on the beaches near the main dock.
IF you survive the night, that is! Muhahahaha!
The brochure made Jackson shiver, and not just for the use of a cheesy, evil laugh at the end. Jackson was admittedly not a fan of horror themed things. Ghosts and anything paranormal scared the shit out of him and he would rather spend the night in a lion’s cage at the zoo with T-bone steaks strapped to his body than on Ghost Island.
What was troublesome was that Kara was quite the opposite. In the short two and a half months that Jackson and Kara had been together, Jackson had discovered that she loved paranormal things, often recounting ‘experiences’ she’s had with the other side and often suggesting horror movies and documentaries to watch.
Being at this early a stage in the relationship, Jackson was still too afraid to say no to anything Kara suggested, no matter how ghost themed it was. He didn’t want to reject her ideas, fear that she would bristle at his lack of fun and adventure. The idea of her being disappointed in him was worst than any possible encounter with a spirit on some ghost tour.
She also gave really good blow jobs and Jackson didn’t want to risk losing them.
So despite himself, Jackson grinned at the brochure, said, “Sounds great!” and gave Kara a hug as his insides screamed.
And now there he was. On a rickety fishing boat with a small group of others, throwing up over its side as they approached the one place on Earth he didn’t want to be. Jackson sighed and heard the shuffling of someone approaching him. He turned to see the ship’s captain limping towards him.
Captain Galloway was a scraggly looking thin man in his late fifties, stringy gray hair hanging from his balding scalp like stubborn strands of spaghetti. His bird like face was riddled with pale scars and if you caught him in a rare smile you would see a grand total of five yellowing teeth peering pack at you.
“Got the ol’ landlovers’ sickness, have ye?” Galloway asked Jackson with his thick Irish accent.
“Not used to boats,” Jackson admitted.
“No harm, sea’s not for everyone,” Galloway said, gesturing out across the water.
Sea? Jackson thought.
Galloway breathed in a big whiff of the damp air and nodded approvingly. He then reached down and grabbed a flask from his hip. “I got just the medicine, for ye,” he said with a gummy grin.
“What is it?” Jackson asked, actually thinking a hard drink wouldn’t be that bad an idea.
“This here’s a bit o’ my own creation. Go on, take a sniff.”
Galloway extended the flask to Jackson’s nose and Jackson breathed in the drink’s aroma (though stench would have been a more fitting word for the drink). It’s hideous odor smelled like a cross between paint thinner, gasoline and more paint thinner.
Galloway twisted his smile into a conspiratorial look. “Take a sip, if ya like,” he offered.
Jackson didn’t know how to politely turn down the offer without lots of cursing and sweating, so he merely forced a grin and took the flask from Galloway’s hand. Jackson tipped it back and the moment the opening touched his lips, he could already feel his stomach protest at what it was about to be subjected to. The drink didn’t have as much a taste as it did a feeling and that feeling was “OUCH.”
Jackson coughed heavily as the fiery drink ran down his throat. It burned away the lingering taste of vomit, which Jackson would have appreciated had it not felt like the drink had also burned away his taste buds. Jackson couldn’t hold back the series of heavy coughs that began to rock his body.
Galloway gave a hearty laugh, clearly enjoying the scene. He gave a reassuring pat on Jackson’s back. Jackson started to hand back the flask, but Galloway pushed it back towards him.
“That’s on me, boy-oh,” he said, “you’ll need it where you’re going.”
Jackson raised an eyebrow and Galloway looked towards the dark mass of Arrowhead Island that was slowly getting bigger and bigger as they got closer.
“That place,” he whispered ominously, “is not a place to make fun with. It is not a place for mortal souls. It is a blight upon this beautiful lake and I only hope that God hisself will lean down from the Heavens and shit on it to oblivion.”
Jackson felt his burning stomach drop down in despair and he could only imagine how pale he looked. They didn’t mention any part of God needing to take a cleansing shit of the place in the brochure.
“But this place has been open for years,” Jackson reasoned, “it’s not like people actually die there.”
Galloway gave a solemn nod.
“Aye, you’re right,” he said, though his eyes gave a pitying look, “but it’s only a matter o’ time. I’m not trying to take the piss outta ye, that place is bad news and I don’t envy ye in the slightest.”
“Well, thanks,” Jackson bit, suddenly angry at Galloway for making him feel even worse than he already did, “Do the people who run the tour know what a great advertising agent you are? Seems a shame to waste you on just running the ship.”
“I’m sure ye mean no offense,” Galloway said with a curt laugh, “so I won’t hold that against ye. Just be careful on that island, is all I is saying.”
A little embarrassed, Jackson nodded.
“Right. Sorry. Uh, thanks for the…” Jackson held up the flask, unsure what to call it as it certainly wasn’t a drink fit for human consumption.
“My pleasure. I better get back to it, then.” Galloway limped off and towards the ship’s cabin. As he disappeared inside, Jackson’s eyes drifted by towards Arrowhead/Ghost Island. He felt goosebumps rush across his entire body and the back of his hair stood up. A gust of chilly air blew through, making Jackson feel even more uneasy. Jackson stuffed the flask in his back pocket, zipped up his hoodie nice and tight and walked over to Kara who was with the rest of the tour group.
It was a small group, only five other people besides Kara and Jackson: two couples and a girl on her own.
The one couple was a middle aged British couple who introduced themselves as Reginald and Emma, which Jackson thought were the most Britishy names for a British couple ever. Reginald was tall, thin and wiry, sporting a classy pair of round spectacles. Emma was much shorter with a sweet, perpetual smile and curly blonde locks underneath a black sun hat. They seemed nice enough.
The other was a younger couple named Tara and Chad. They did not seem nice enough.
The first thing that got under Jackson’s skin was when everyone had introduced themselves. Kara told the group her name only for Tara to shout “OH MY GOD, MY NAME IS TARA, OUR NAMES RHYME!” Tara then grabbed Kara, took a selfie and went on for five minutes about how she was going to Instagram it and how she was going to “blow the fuck up” her Instagram tonight with all the pictures she was going to take, and that she hoped she would be able to take pictures on the island, did anybody know if you could take pictures on the island, but anyway, back to Instagram, she didn’t care if anybody was going to “throw her shade” for it, that she was going to do it anyway and that she was hungry, oh my God, wasn’t anybody else hungry?
Chad stood by during this lengthy monologue, a dumb, proud grin plastered on his chiseled face. Jackson was annoyed by the smile, as well as each and every rippling muscle that protruded from the form fitting Under Armor that he was wearing (Who the fuck wears Under Armor to a ghost tour? Jackson thought. Is he going to play a pick up game of football with the ghosts?). As far as first impressions went, Jackson felt like Tara and Chad could probably do for a better, second one (and a third and a fourth and a tenth, maybe).
Jackson stood next to Kara, gently putting his arm around her to show a sign that he was okay, even though he was still nauseous and anxious. Kara looked up at him, smiled, and snuggled closer.
“This is our…third? Yes, third stop on our American ghost tour,” Reginald was saying, obviously in the middle of a conversation that had started before Jackson had arrived.
“Third indeed,” Emma confirmed, nodding to the rest of the group.
“We thought, you know what would simply be a capital idea for our twentieth anniversary? Going across the pond and experiencing the frights and scares that America has to offer.”
“Wouldn’t that be lovely, I had said,” Emma once again agreed.
“So of course we had to take a look and decide what exactly we were going to see.”
“I suggested we simply go to an American McDonalds!”
The couple laughed in unison, as if it were a rehearsed sketch.
“I said, dear,” Reginald continued, still chuckling, “I’m looking to give myself a few harmless scares, not drive myself to bloody suicide.”
“So we decided to do start in Pennsylvania and work our way all the way up to New England, spending all October in northeast of the country! First was Eastern State Penitentiary.”
“Then we went to Pennhurst Asylum! Oh, that was a great deal of fun, it was.”
“And now,” Reginald concluded, giving a theatrical gesture to the surrounding area, “Arrowhead Island of Joyce Lake. I hear it has a nickname?
“Ghost Island!” Tara said, jumping up and down, clearly happy to show that she knew something outside the field of social media.
“You yanks are quite the creative bunch,” Reginald teased with a playful smirk.
“We are quite excited for this one!” Emma exclaimed. “None of the other tours actually allow you to stay on the property for the night!”
“I know, right!” Tara jumped in. “Like, this is going to be soooo creepy and stuff!”
“Yeah,” Chad chimed in, “real creepy. Though I don’t know how much sleeping we’ll be doing, eh babe?”
“Chad!” Tara gasped and gave fake slap to Chad’s chest, then leaned in for a kiss.
“Lovely,” Reginald commented, dryly.
Jackson stifled a groan and a laugh. He looked over at the girl who had come to the tour alone. What was her name? Allison? No, Abigail. He looked over at Abigail, who stood off by the edge of the boat by her lonesome, a notebook in hand. She was thoughtfully staring off across the water, blindly scribbling onto the notebook.
Jackson saw Kara looking over at her and he could tell that she was considering going over to her to start a conversation. She wouldn’t get the opportunity however, as the fog horn on the boat blew, signaling that they were shortly about to make landfall on the island.
Galloway poked his head out of the cabin and shouted, “Land ho!”
“Ah, wonderful!” Emma excitedly squealed, clapping her hands.
Jackson looked towards the island and saw it was merely a couple hundred feet away. It was full of twisting, gnarled trees creating a landscape that looked like something Dr. Seuss would draw while listening to The Cure. It was dense and uninviting and Jackson couldn’t make out any sort of hopeful symbol amidst the curling fists of Mother Nature. The only other discernable feature of the island that Jackson could see was a large, crooked mountain peak that jutted from the island’s center, like a gigantic middle finger telling the boat, “Fuck off, go away.”
All Jackson could manage was a gulp.
The boat was slowly lurching towards a dock, bouncing up and down among the choppy waves. On the pier stood a thin, African American man, his hands in his pockets as he awaited the boat’s arrival. He had a small afro the color of salt and pepper and he carried a serious, mournful expression that did nothing to allay Jackson’s fears of the island.
All too soon, the boat sidled up next to the pier where the man’s sad gaze continued to follow the arrivals, as if he pitied their situation. The boat came to an unsteady stop and Galloway went to the side of the boat to drop the ramp onto the dock.
Everyone in the boat grabbed their belongings, whether they were in overnight bags or backpacks, and made their way towards the ramp to exit the boat. Jackson slung his backpack over his shoulders and looked at Kara who looked positively giddy.
“Here we go, baby!” she said, giving Jackson a quick peck on the cheek. Despite being a small gesture, Jackson found the kiss extremely comforting and steeled himself for the experience to begin.
They filed down off the boat and onto the rickety pier, which sagged and jostled with each step. The solemn man was still standing there, hands in pockets, his eyes shifting back and forth between each member of the tour group.
“Welcome to Arrowhead Island,” the man finally spoke, his voice deep and monotone, “I am Mr. Coleman. I will be your tour guide.”
A few murmurs came from the group, saying hello but Mr. Coleman held up a forceful hand.
“Please,” he interjected, “no introductions. I do not wish to know your names. It makes it easier.”
Makes what easier, Jackson thought, his mind now beginning to race with panic. Kara made a playful nudge into Jackson’s ribs, which made Jackson assume that Kara believed Mr. Coleman’s demeanor was part of the act and ambience of the tour. Jackson tried to force himself to agree with this.
“Here is the plan,” Mr. Coleman continued, “we will take our belongings to The Bow and Quiver, the inn where we will be staying for the night. After we get everything settled in, the tour will begin at 7:30, sharp. If you are not with the group, we will leave you behind. It must be this way.”
Nothing Mr. Coleman said or the way he said it was giving Jackson confidence that this was all an act. Jackson looked at Kara and saw no shred of fear or doubt in her eyes. In fact, she looked more excited than ever about the night ahead.
“A couple rules I expect you to follow. No photography of any sort.”
Jackson heard a sharp intake of breath from Tara. He hoped the news wouldn’t cause her to have a stroke.
“Stay with the group at all times. Do not linger in any spots you are not supposed to linger in. Do not wander off without asking permission. You will be left behind and forced to find your own way back.”
Yep, Jackson thought, I am going to die here tonight
“And one, final, very important thing.” Mr. Coleman glared at the group, his eyes narrowing into focused slits.
“Absolutely, under any circumstances, can you eat anything with peanuts while I am near you. I am very allergic.”
Motherfucker! Jackson thought, the granola and nut bar he had smuggled in his pocket now going to have to wait till after the tour.
“Are any of these rules going to be a problem?” Mr. Coleman asked, looking from person to person.
A series of nods and soft “No”s flowed throughout the group.
“Good,” Mr. Coleman nodded, “then follow me, please.”
The group followed behind Mr. Coleman as they marched off the pier, its unstable foundation proving worrisome to Jackson. He felt like the pier would collapse at any moment, drowning the group.
Maybe that would be for the best, Jackson thought dryly.
Jackson heard Galloway reel the ramp back into the boat and he yelled towards the group, “Best o’ luck tonight! May the good Lord be with ye!”
Jackson gave a longing glance back to the boat, watching with despair as Galloway was heading back to the cabin, presumably to head back to the mainland.
Point of no return, Jackson grieved.
They were now on the soggy land of Arrowhead Island, the soft mud sucking in Jackson’s feet as they trudged towards the thicket of trees. Jackson saw a narrow path slicing through the tree line, leading into pure and utter darkness.
Jackson wanted to laugh and say, “Uhh, we’re not going in there are we?” but the lack of disapproval from the rest of the group kept him silent. They passed into the dark forest and Jackson’s entire body stiffened like a frozen rubber band. The mud transformed into a hazardous minefield of jagged rocks and contorted tree roots. The small dirt path was barely four feet wide, forcing the group to move single file.
Jackson stumbled and staggered his way through, occasionally holding onto Kara for support. His eyes were slowly adjusting to the darkness, although Mr. Coleman had brandished a lantern out of nowhere which provided a halo of dull yellow light to guide them. Jackson did his best to keep his eyes locked on the lantern as it snaked ahead.
Finally, and mercifully, the path ended in a hole through the treeline and the group came out on the other side. They found themselves in a gigantic clearing where the island’s small town stood. It was completely empty, of course, the sense of abandonment almost overwhelming to Jackson. Though it was dead silent, the hollowness of the lonely buildings spoke volumes and seemed to carry their own sounds throughout the darkening evening.
“Welcome to Albright’s Rest,” Mr. Coleman said, using the lantern to gesture to the town, “the settlement that once thrived here on Arrowhead Island.”
It was like stepping back in time to Jackson, old fashioned buildings made of cobblestone dotting the landscape. A long dirt road seemed to act as a main street, running along the length of a clearing. It was lined on both sides with buildings, adorned with hanging signs that displayed them as a doctor’s office, a grocer, a dentist’s, among other things. In spaces between these buildings, the road branched off into smaller roads, lined with smaller buildings of their own. Their lack of signs and tinier size made Jackson to assume they were houses.
At the very end of the main street was a large building, larger than any in the town. Jackson figured it was either a city hall or a court house, though maybe it was both. Jackson didn’t claim to be an expert of Quaker history. It could have been a strip club, for all Jackson knew.
Towards the end of the street, near the town hall/courthouse/strip club, a squat building had a sign hanging from it that sported a bow and arrow, drawn back to fire. Using basic 3rd grade logic, Jackson assumed that was the tavern named The Bow and Quiver, the place where they would be sleeping, according to Mr. Coleman. From afar it didn’t look too imposing, but to be fair, Jackson was too far away to notice if the building was covered with blood stains.
They made their way down the lonely street, nobody saying a word. Mr. Coleman led straight ahead, hands still in pockets, head bowed down as if in solemn reverence of the surroundings. Out of the corner of Jackson’s eye, he saw Tara trying to surreptitiously take a selfie as Chad walked beside her.
They arrived at The Bow and Quiver, Mr. Coleman stepping up to the wooden door and pushing it open. It protested with a loud, sustained creak, but it swung open, revealing a dusty, abandoned tap room. The room was a mess, with stools toppled over, tables reduced to splinters, and various bits of debris strewn about the floor.
Homey, Jackson thought dryly.
“Like with all the buildings here on Arrowhead Island,” Mr. Coleman explained, gesturing to the trashed tap room, “they have been kept in the state that they were when the island was first abandoned. We have, however, renovated the guest rooms so that they are mostly safe for overnight stay.”
Jackson nervously looked around the group to see if anybody else had caught the word mostly. If they had, they didn’t care. They were all looking in wide eyed excitement at the state of disrepair of the tap room.
“Allow me to lead you them,” Mr. Coleman continued, turning towards a set of stairs at the end of the tap room, by the bar, “so that you can drop off your belongings.”
The group filed through the narrow staircase, the wooden steps croaking and moaning with each step. They made it up to the second floor of the inn, a long hallway with doorways lining either side of it.
“You have all been assigned a room,” Mr. Coleman said, holding a clipboard which had seemingly materialized out of thin air, “listen for your names, please.”
His eyes glued to the clipboard, Mr. Coleman pointed to the first room to his right and said, “Reginald and Emma Spencer. Room 1.”
Pointing to the room across from it: “Jackson Murdock and Kara Howard. Room 2.”
The room down the hallway, adjacent to Reginald and Emma’s: “Chad Simpson and Tara Flowers. Room 3.”
And finally, the room across from Chad and Tara’s: “Abigail Grau. Room 4.”
“I invite you to drop off your belongings and set up your room for the night,” Mr. Coleman said, his eyes finally leaving the clipboard. In exactly ten minutes, meet in the room below us for the beginning of the tour. Thank you.”
Mr. Coleman walked past the group as it began to disperse to the various rooms. Jackson watched Abigail as she silently went off towards her room, alone. She hadn’t said a word the entire trip. Jackson wasn’t sure if he should be impressed or nervous.
She had disappeared into Room 4, the door slamming behind her. Kara nudged Jackson and smiled.
“Ready?” she said, gesturing with her overnight bag to Room 2’s door.
Jackson nodded and feigned a smile as he went to the door. He opened it up, afraid of what he would see inside.
Luckily, the room wasn’t in nearly as bad of shape as the downstairs tap room was but it still didn’t inspire confidence The hardwood floor was not as moldy as the downstairs, but it was still spotted with stains of something that Jackson was perfectly well not knowing what of. The furniture in the room (a desk, two chairs and a queen bed) may not have been just piles of broken wood, but they were still old and weathered. And rather than reeking of mold and dust in the way the downstairs tap room did, it only slightly smelled like mold and dust. Jackson remembered the word “renovated” coming from Mr. Coleman’s mouth and decided their ‘renovation’ budget must have been roughly $25.
Kara dropped her overnight bag, gave an excited sigh, and plopped down onto the bed, completely unfazed by the way the room looked. In fact, she seemed to relish its homeliness.
“Oh baby,” she said, opening her arms for Jackson to come into them, “thanks so much for doing this. This is going to be so much fun!”
Jackson dropped his backpack and looked at the bed skeptically.
“You’re cool being on there? Do you know the last time you got your vaccination? We probably should have looked into that before coming here.”
Kara rolled her eyes.
“Oh, stop. It’s not that bad. It’s kinda comfy!” She patted the surrounding bed. Jackson
continued to eye it with trepidation. “Oh come on. Where were you planning on sleeping tonight?”
“I was thinking maybe just pulling a Dracula and just hanging from the rafters. Looks cozier and less VD filled up there.”
“And who’s going to keep me warm then? Hmmm?” Kara opened her arms, inviting to
embrace her. Jackson wrapped himself up into her and they dropped onto their backs on the bed.
“So what are the chances we can just stay in here all night?” Jackson said trying to muster up a hopeful, persuasive smile.
Kara laughed and playfully slapped Jackson’s shoulder, not realizing Jackson was 100% serious.
It was worth a shot, Jackson thought.
Kara leaned over and gave Jackson a kiss on the lips, her lips warm and comforting. The feeling of her lips spread a warmth throughout Jackson, as if he had just taken a shot of whiskey. In that split second, he felt that maybe he could indeed get through his ghost tour, as long as she was by his side. Jackson, captured by a sense of gratitude and affection for Kara, did what he thought was best to give her thanks for being there.
His hand slowly creeped up towards her boobs and he grasped it with a firm determination.
Kara slapped it away, laughing.
“Jackson, what the hell are you doing?”
Jackson released Kara’s boob and shook his head clear, the sudden ignition of his sex drive clouding his thoughts.
“Sorry,” he said, “it’s just that this place is so romantic, I thought we could fit in a quickie.”
“Maybe later,” she said with a flirtatious wink. “For now, we need to get downstairs!”
Jackson nodded, his stomach filling with a swarm of frenzied butterflies. Kara took Jackson’s arm, gave a wide grin, and they left the room, locked together.
They made it downstairs and found Reginald and Emma already present, talking excitedly to Mr. Coleman, although he didn’t seem quite as enthusiastic. He simply stared out into space, unblinking, as Reginald and Emma gushed about how exciting this whole place was.
They waited a few more minutes and Abigail came down the steps, still as silent as ever. She looked around the room with a mild curiosity, her eyes probing the detritus that covered the place. Jackson once again noticed that Kara was itching to start a conversation with her. Abigail stood over by the par, peering over it to see what lurked behind it. Kara released Jackson’s arm and began to subtly walk over to Abigail, as if she too were going to check the bar and that it was going to be a complete accident when they met. However, her progress was interrupted by a loud clomping come down the steps.
The source of the sound was Chad and Tara, who were storming down the stairwell in a parade of laughter. Jackson noticed Chad was fastening the belt on his pants, a smug look of triumph on his face as he did.
“Ohmygod, I am soooo ready for this!” Tara said, zipping her pants back up.
The group all congregated together, looking at Mr. Coleman expectantly. Mr. Coleman continued to stare off into the distance, his glazed over eyes inattentive to the group around him. Reginald cleared his throat.
“Excuse me,” he said as politely as he could, “but it appears we are all present. Perhaps we could get the tour started?”
Mr. Coleman simply fished out a pocket watch from his pants, flipped it open, and gave a quick shake of his head.
“Not 7:30 yet. Tour starts at 7:30, sharp.”
“But we are all-“
Reginald stopped short and gave a defeated nod. Jackson took a quick look at his cell phone. 7:29.
An awkward, silent minute began to pass between the group. Tara could be heard whispering something to Chad who mischievously laughed and said, “Ohh, babe! Not here, babe, not here.”
Mr. Coleman paid them no mind. He took another look at his pocket watch and gave a serious nod to himself. He turned to a chair at his side where a long black robe hung over. Grumbling to himself, he took the robe and draped it over himself. The ridiculous black robe was a slight juxtaposition to the business like stance Mr. Coleman had adopted in front of the group. Jackson heard a snigger come from Chad, something Mr. Coleman either ignored or didn’t hear.
“Okay. Time to begin the tour.” He turned to a crate that sat on the table next to him and carried it around the group. Inside the crate were candles, inside of Mason jars, which Mr. Coleman told each tour member to take one of.
Jackson took his candle, the Mason jar heavy and cool in his hand. He saw the unlit wick of the candle and got nervous. With a fear of fire, Jackson was hoping that the candle wouldn’t be lit for the tour. He was hoping that it was just handed out to bludgeon any monsters or demons that popped out at them.
It didn’t take long before Jackson found out that candles, which in general are meant to be lit and not used as blunt objects to fight monsters and demons, were in fact going to be lit and not used as blunt objects to fight monsters and demons. Mr. Coleman was going through the group with a lighter, lighting each candle. The soft glow was probably meant to be peaceful and pleasant, but to Jackson, he could practically hear it screaming at him, shouting and hollering that it was going to burn the shit out of him and catch everything on fire.
When Mr. Coleman came up to Jackson with the lighter, he began to politely protest.
“Actually, I’m totally good not having my candle lit, it’s fine I okay you’re lighting it anyway, cool.”
Mr. Coleman finished lighting the candle and began to walk away. The orange flame was no bigger than a thimble, but it might as well have been an out of control forest fire to Jackson. Panicking, he quickly and surreptitiously blew it out. He hoped no one would notice.
Unfortunately, Mr. Coleman apparently had the ears of a bat and he snapped around when the flame was extinguished. “Let me get that for you again,” he offered, coming back over with the lighter.
Jackson grimaced as Mr. Coleman reignited the candle. Afterwards, he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a book of matches.
“Here,” he said, handing them over to Jackson who reluctantly took them, “in case it happens again.”
Jackson looked at the matches and saw they were from some place called “Mistress Hoo-hah’s Gentlemen’s Club” and wondered why he couldn’t be there instead. He pocketed the book of matches with a barely audible groan.
Mr. Coleman was now in front of the luminous tour group, brandishing a lit candle of his own. “It is time for the tour to begin,” he said in his now familiar monotone, “I ask that you remember the rules I stated earlier and that you follow them to the best of your ability. Now. If you’ll follow me, we can start the tour.”
Mr. Coleman turned on his heel and, without another word, led the group outside. Jackson took a deep breath, and keeping his candle a safe distance away from him, he followed the group out into the cold October night.