I’d been dreaming about it for a few weeks.
A guy I went to high school with told me about the place, I don’t know, maybe 11 years ago? I didn’t know him very well but I was the girl who liked spooky shit so Sean pulled me aside during chemistry class and told me there was an abandoned field down by the old industrial complex.
“It’s totally haunted,” he said earnestly. “A long time ago, right before the factories were built, there was a little school there. The field was its playground. Supposedly, something really bad happened and all the kids died during playtime. Right there, in that field.”
“What happened?” I asked, hooked from the get-go.
“There’s a lot of different stories.” Sean was keeping a wary eye on our elderly professor, who might figure out we weren’t exactly filling out our periodic table worksheets. “Some people say it was a psychopath, just went through the playground and blew them away one by one. Others say there was an explosion at one of the factories—”
“Wait, I thought you said it was before the factories were built?”
He waved me off, the way you’d shoo a fly.
“So what goes on down there?” Periodic table be damned, I had to find out more about this place.
“I don’t know, haunted shit,” he said vaguely. “I heard people who go down there lose their minds, my older brother told me about it and I knew you’d want to hear.”
I did. I did want to hear. More importantly I wanted to go there. But I didn’t have a car yet and there was no way my parents would let me go somewhere like that, especially at night. Which, of course, was the only way to go to places where “haunted shit” goes down.
But before Sean could continue, crotchety Mr. Christopher caught us in the act and we had to return to our stupid old worksheets in silence.
I don’t know what happened between then and now. Maybe a boy caught my attention or I had to buckle down and study after failing the test on the periodic table or, more than likely, I was a dumb scatterbrained teenager and I just forgot about it.
I graduated, moved away to college, did the whole grow-up-and-get-a-real-job thing. It sucked. I bobbed along on the sea of life, marginally succeeding at my desk job until one day deciding I’d had enough, I couldn’t sit through one more meeting that could’ve been an email.
So I quit. I went to a Starbucks and sat there with my rapidly cooling latte and wondered just what the fuck I was going to do with myself. I was 27, young enough to change the course of everything but at the same time not getting any younger. It was my moment, I knew, my one chance to do what I wanted. And what DID I want to do?
What had I always wanted to do? If I was really honest with myself, I wanted to be a paranormal investigator. Don’t laugh, it’s a real thing. I’ve always been fascinated by the darkness, the so-called “other side”, but I’d never had an actual… experience. I wanted that experience.
That was my moment.
I had enough saved up in the bank to invest in some decent equipment — digital recorders, EMF reader, thermal camera, Spirit Box — and I put an ad on Craigslist looking for a partner. Anne responded right away and we started Girls Gone Ghostly Paranormal Investigation. (Don’t blame me, the name was Anne’s idea.)
Over the last two years we built up a reputation for ourselves. We went all over the country, once even to a Scottish castle, in search of paranormal proof. And you know what?
But that’s just it. The money is great; people pay exorbitant amounts of cash to have us come out with our equipment and figure out what’s been going bump in the night. And Girls Gone Ghostly, well, we won’t lie to you. We won’t sugarcoat it. The wailing you hear in your basement is a faulty water heater. When you catch the fleeting scent of old tobacco, it’s your neighbor smoking a cigar on his front porch. Those cabinets that keep popping open? They’re shitty fucking cabinets. Your house is 100 years old, get new cabinets, you idiot.
That’s why we make them pay up front.
But then, a few weeks ago, the dreams started. Nothing much happened in them; I was just standing alone at the top of a hill, dry bleached grass under my feet, staring down at a little patch of fenced-off land. A little field. All around me towered ancient monstrous factories.
That was it. Just me, staring at this field. And then I’d wake up.
I found myself thinking about it more and more, wondering what the dream could mean, when out of nowhere I remembered that afternoon with Sean in Mr. Christopher’s chemistry class. It was the haunted field — the one Sean had told me about. It had to be.
I blew off some whiny old lady who was convinced that her childhood doll was possessed — because yeah, sure it is — and scheduled a trip to my hometown. I told Anne we had a freelance project, went vague on the details, and asked her to pack up our gear in her little PT Cruiser.
It took us a few days to get there and every night, I dreamt of the field.
When we arrived at the industrial complex, Anne realized she forgot her Spirit Box. It’s this little thing, kind of looks like a handheld radio, and it’s got all sorts of words in an electronic bank inside. Spirits are supposed to use their energy to pull out the words they want to communicate. Like I said, this is all bullshit, but it’s my favorite because sometimes it says the most random stuff and it makes me laugh.
“We need the Spirit Box,” I said, hauling the rest of our shit out of the car. “I don’t do sessions without it. That thing is hilarious, especially when I’m bored.”
“You’re always bored,” Anne fired back, not missing a beat.
“So true. Go back to the hotel and grab it. I’ll just get started alone.”
Anne chanced a quick look around the place. It was almost midnight.
I flashed her the mini can of mace on my keychain.
“I’ll be fine. Just get the Spirit Box and come back.” I paused, then added, “We might actually get something this time.”
“Because of your dreams?”
Anne turned the key, starting the car up, and looked at me again.
“Does it look like you dreamt it?”
I glanced down the hill. The factories, the bleached grass, the little fenced-off section. The field.
“Yeah,” I said, then waved her away. “Go, hurry up, you don’t want to miss anything good.”
I sat down on the grass on the top of the hill and started unpacking my gear. It really did look exactly like I’d dreamt it but I was unfazed. For all I knew, I’d seen a picture of it somewhere. On the internet, maybe. In this line of work you learn pretty quickly that most things people chalk up to miracles or paranormal activity are just coincidences. Boring old coincidences, nothing more.
Quickly, I aimed the thermal cam towards the spot I had seen the movement. The screen remained dark, no spots of heat in sight.
“Fuck,” I said, then waved my hand in front of it. My fingers glowed red hot, orange and yellow at the edges. The camera was working.
“Probably a plastic bag or something,” I muttered.
Then I saw the movement again. Much too big to be a plastic bag. I waved the camera over the spot — nothing.
I got to my feet, shouldering the bag of gear, and began walking down the hill. Don’t worry, I didn’t yell out ‘hello’ or anything because I’m not an idiot in a horror movie. I’m a very different kind of idiot.
As I got closer to the fence, my heart began to pound. Was this it? Was I finally going to have the experience that I’d always wanted? Wash away my cynicism with a real brush with the paranormal?
You can imagine my disappointment when I got close enough to see it wasn’t what I’d hoped — it was Sean. Sean from chemistry class, the one who’d told me about this place to begin with. He was standing there, staring at me with a slack, blank face. Right away, something felt… wrong.
“Oh, hey Margot,” he said dully.
I put the thermal cam in my bag.
“What the fuck are you doing here, man?” I asked, threading my fingers through the chainlink fence that separated us. I couldn’t really see how he’d gotten in; the whole area was sectioned off and there didn’t seem to be a gate. “I haven’t seen you since high school.”
“I told you about this place, didn’t I?” His freckled brow furrowed slightly. “I think you were the last one I told.”
“Yeah, you told me, that’s why I’m here. I do paranormal investigations now, I thought—”
“You’ve been dreaming about it,” he said.
How did he know that?
“What are you doing in there, Sean?” I asked. “How’d you get in there?”
“I went after graduation,” he said in that same dull tone, one that sounded like he was hypnotized or something. “I got drunk and wanted to go but no one wanted to go with me so I came here by myself. I’d been dreaming about it. Felt like I had to.”
“Do you want me to get someone?” I felt around in my bag for my cell phone. “I can call someone for help—”
“No, no help,” he said, and seemed to pause to think. “That’s right, you WERE the one I told last about this place. That makes sense. That makes a lot of sense.” Sean started to walk towards me.
I stopped digging and put my fingers lightly on the mini can of mace.
“Are you drunk now, Sean?” I asked, trying to keep my voice calm. Why the fuck had I sent Anne to leave me by myself?
“No,” he answered, still walking towards me with a slow measured gait, “haven’t been drunk in a long time. Long time. What took you so long, Margot? What took you so long to get here?” He pressed his face up against the chainlink fence between us; I took a panicked step backwards.
And suddenly I realized what was wrong — I had recognized Sean because he looked exactly like he did in high school. Same mess of red hair, same gap in his front teeth, same pudgy face that hadn’t lost its baby fat yet. But that wasn’t right because it had been 11 years since I’d seen him — right?
“What’s going on here?” I said, rapidly losing my fight to appear unafraid.
I began backing away slowly. I pulled the mace out of my bag and held it in front of me.
“Don’t come any closer,” I said, but that was unnecessary because he was behind the fence and I wasn’t.
“It only took me two weeks.” Sean went on like I hadn’t even spoken. “Two weeks and every night the dreams got a little worse. Then it wasn’t even when I was dreaming, it was when I was awake.”
I glanced over my shoulder to look for Anne’s blue PT Cruiser and when I looked back Sean was standing right in front of me.
I was taken so off guard I tripped over my own numb feet and fell onto the prickly bleached grass. My bag overturned and gear scattered everywhere. Sean just stood there.
“They tore down the schoolhouse after,” he continued. “I don’t know who put up the fence. But the schoolhouse, it was right over there.” He pointed to an empty square of land adjacent to the fenced-off field. “Margot, they screamed. They screamed when he did it. He shot their legs first so they couldn’t get away. Then he went around, one by one, and picked them off. They were easy, like drowning a bag of puppies, but they screamed, and I kept hearing them scream until one day…”
Sean’s lips finally split into a smile, showing me that gap between his teeth. It wasn’t a nice smile.
“I got the pills from my mom’s room. She took lots of pills, see, and never threw them away even if she didn’t need them. I swallowed as many as I could and just… slipped away.” He made a flowing motion with his hand, a boat bobbing on the ocean.
What he was saying, it didn’t make any sense. I tried scrambling backwards, not wanting to take my eyes off him, but he just followed me.
“I thought that was how I could make it stop,” he said, “but instead I ended up here. That’s what it wants, you know, the field wants more. He didn’t get enough the first time. But you’re here now, so I think… I think I can go.” He stopped, grimacing, and looked just past me at the hill I’d descended. “Can I go now, please?”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I whispered.
“Him,” Sean said, and pointed.
“Sure,” a gravelly voice said from behind me. “Always preferred girlies. Much prettier. Get out of here, you little freckled fuck. Seen enough of your face anyway.”
Sean closed his eyes. And then he was gone.
I began to turn towards the sound of the voice and suddenly there was a flicker of darkness right in front of my face; a weight descended on me and all at once I couldn’t breathe, there was someone on top of me and I couldn’t breathe.
My vision went hazy for a moment, then cleared as the pressure let up a little.
“Sorry, get excited when there’s fresh meat,” said the man on top of me.
It was a man, probably late 30s if I had to guess, with wild dark hair. Stubble was spread unevenly across his chin and upper lip; one eye was black, the other an odd milky white. His shirt was a ragged, ancient-looking thing, like he’d stepped out of a yellowed mugshot. He was grinning.
“Get the fuck off of me,” I gasped, grabbing wildly for my can of mace. The man seized me by the wrists and pinned my arms above my head.
“Funny,” he grunted. “Usually can’t get this far inside their heads ’til some time has passed. Definitely don’t get to talk to ‘em ’til they’re on the other side. You gone lookin’ for trouble, princess, that it?”
“Get the fuck off of me,” I repeated, tears of hysteria prickling at my eyes.
I began screaming for help and his grin just got wider; he shook his head a little like he was witnessing a naughty child with their hand in the cookie jar.
“Oh no, princess, no one can hear you. We’s alone out here. Now that freckleface is gone, you’re here to play. Won’t that be fun? Have yourself a real good time in the playground.” He paused, then added, “But that’s once you’re behind the fence, a’course.”
I inhaled deeply to scream again and he placed a grimy palm over my mouth. I could smell something on his skin, something old and smoky. Like gunpowder.
“I’m gonna let you go,” he said, and I felt my limbs go limp with relief. “But not really. Freckleface told it right.” He tapped my forehead with the tip of his index finger. “I’m in here now, real deep, deeper than I’ve ever been before I’d reckon. ‘Cause you’s lookin’, lookin’ harder than the others.”
I stared at him, unable to do anything else.
“You wanted this bad, didn’t you, princess?” the man wondered aloud, then leaned his nose into my hair and inhaled deeply. “Oh yeah, you wanted this real bad. I can smell it waftin’ off you.”
I shook my head. The movement was restricted slightly by his palm. After a moment of thought, he took it off my mouth.
“Please let me go,” I begged softly.
“Princess, I already told you I’s gonna let you go.” He smiled again, revealing rows of blackened teeth. “Just not really. You’ll go home, you’ll leave the field but not ever, not really. Won’t be long til you hear the screams. You know why?”
I stared at him, heart thudding thick in my throat. He leaned close to me until we were almost touching noses and said,
“Because the screams were my favorite part.”
The tears welling up in my eyes finally gave way and slid down my cheeks. He nodded, still smiling.
“What the hell are you doing on your back, Margot?” I twisted to look for the source of Anne’s voice; she was standing in front of her PT Cruiser, Spirit Box in hand.
When I turned back, the man was gone.
“Anne,” I choked, because that’s all I could think of to say.
“Looking at the stars or something, you big weirdo?” she demanded, and I knew she hadn’t seen him. Anne clicked the Spirit Box on.
Immediately it began to spit out the same word in its tinny electronic voice, over and over:
“Screams. Screams. Screams. Screams.”
“Turn it off!” I barked, and she did, an alarmed look on her face.
“Okay, Jesus, what’s your problem?”
I got slowly to my feet, brushing the dry grass off my ass, and began gathering the gear into the bag. My hands were shaking.
“Nothing,” I said quietly. “It’s… probably broken. Don’t worry about it. Let’s go back to the hotel.”
“Back to the hotel?” she echoed, incredulous. “We just fucking got here!”
“Stay if you want. I’m going.” I marched back to the car, head high, trying not to let her see how terrified I was. Well, Anne always does what I tell her to, so she followed me, even though she was pissed.
I’m so glad I didn’t let her go down to the field.
Sean and the man were right. It’s only been three days since I got back from the field and I’m already hearing the screams. At night, I see how it all went down: he just marched right down to the schoolhouse and began shooting.
Teacher got it first, dead center in the middle of her forehead. Authority figure gone, he went after the children. Shot as many as he could in the legs first but that required a lot of accuracy so some of them got it in the back and neck instead. Once the faster ones were down he took his time. Made the survivors watch until they weren’t survivors anymore.
He talks to me during. I’m leaning on the fence that wasn’t there, forced to watch the massacre as it unfolds, and he tells me things. How the kick of the gun felt so good. How watching the light go out of their eyes was better than sex. How he couldn’t wait for me to be there with him and maybe, just maybe, he’d let me do it a few times. To see what it was like.
He won’t tell me why he did it.
Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay. The last person I told about the field was Anne and after I blow my brains out with the handgun I keep in my nightstand she’ll go back to it. She’ll have to. Then he can have her and I can go.
Except, of course, I suppose I told you too.
Maybe you’re safe because you’ve never seen it. Maybe not. Maybe the description is enough. I don’t really know how it works. I don’t know how long it will take.
All I know is you better hope Anne gets to the field before you do.