The night is young and cloudy, soft rays of moonlight highlighting the gable roof and old exterior walls of the Victorian mansion. The quiet night was accompanied by the faint cacophony of crickets, and the muttered curses and rustling outside the gate.
A series of clicks, adjustments, and head-scratching commenced before Jordan stood up and shouldered his backpack.
“Hey guys, amateur ghost hunter Jordan Schwarz here. I’m back at the Montgomery House to try and talk to the ghost of Ambrose Montgomery again. Our previous visit didn’t go so well because, uh, my best friends Rachel and Stephen, and Mr. Grotch got scared. And being the great friend that I am, I followed them out to make sure they’re okay, so…yeah…”
Jordan switched the view of the camera to take a panning shot of the residence from his position outside the gate. After that, he took a deep breath and clutched his crucifix necklace. “Come on Jordan, you can do this. He’s just a ghost, he can’t harm you. Just finish the documentary and your followers will skyrocket,” he whispered to himself.
He usually has his camera crew with him, but they refused to go back after Jordan ran away screaming and left them there. So, for tonight, he’s going in solo.
The screech of rusty metal rubbing together pierced his ears as he opened the gates. The walk to the front door was short, but the surroundings are still creepy nonetheless.
Okay Jordan, it’s showtime!
He turned on his camera and flashlight before opening the front door. He could feel his heart beating out of his chest as he tried to remember where the Master’s bedroom was.
It was when he found the staircase that he heard the creak of floorboards behind him. Jordan laughed nervously, “Must be a rat or something, he he…”
Then, he heard it again, and again, and again, as if the sound was going towards him. He bolted upstairs in record time and went inside the nearest room.
“What was that?” he panted.
“I don’t know. What did you hear?”
“It sounded like footsteps –“ Jordan’s blood went cold and his palms started to sweat. He looked up slowly and saw the familiar form of Ambrose, dusty gray and translucent, smiling at him.
If it was possible for the heart to drop down to your ass, Jordan now knows how it would feel. An inhumane scream came out of his throat as he dropped his equipment while hysterically trying to open the door.
“Calm down, kid. I’m just a friendly ghost.” Ambrose opened his arms in a friendly gesture, “See?”
However, Jordan continued to screech and ran through Ambrose’s form to get away, but he tripped on his flashlight and got knocked out when he hit the floor.
Jordan didn’t know how long he was out when he finally woke up. He hissed when his hand brushed on the forming bump at the back of his head. Ghost hunting tutorials should probably include first aid kits in their starter packs.
“Are you all right, kid?” Ambrose’s ghostly form materialized, crouching on his level.
Jordan couldn’t help but screech again and Ambrose let out an exasperated sigh, “It was amusing the first time, but this is getting old.” With a snap of his fingers, the lamps and chandeliers glowed dimly and bathed the room a muted yellow.
Jordan blinked at the sudden light and finally stopped screeching, “Woah…That’s so cool…”
“Why thank you, I’m much attached to this house after all,” Ambrose tipped his hat.
Noticing the flashlight near his feet, Jordan quickly grabbed it and pointed the light at Ambrose while brandishing his crucifix pendant. “Uh…uh…don’t come near me, I have the power of God and the Force on my side!”
The ghost stared at him for a second before bursting into laughter, hands clutching his stomach. “Oh my, you are a delight! As I said before, I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Y-you’re not going to drag me into a TV and kill me?”
“You’re not going to haunt the next generation of my family?”
“Why would I even do that?”
Jordan stopped shaking and put down his hands, “Huh, so you’re like Casper then?”
“Ah yes, I am – whoever that is…”
Jordan stood up and patted off the dust on his clothes, he saw the glint of lens by the door. “My camera!” he rushed over and checked the state of his equipment. Besides the dust, a few minor scratches, and the slightly dislodged microphone, it was still working fine.
“You’re Ambrose Montgomery, right?”
“Indeed, I am.” Ambrose sat and leaned forward, resting his elbows on nothing and resting his chin on his intertwined fingers. His smile is soft and dark eyes oddly conveying a sense of fondness.
“I’m Jordan Schwarz, dank meme lord and amateur ghost hunter.” Jordan puffed out his chest and cleared his throat to slightly deepen his voice, “I came here last week with my best friends and crew.”
“Ah yes, I remember. No wonder your, um, vocals sounded familiar.” Ambrose smiled wider, “What brings you back to my home?”
Jordan idly fiddled with the camera strap, “So, my crew said they managed to film you. But while I was editing, the files were either corrupted – basically destroyed – or you weren’t in them. I was wondering, can I record you again for my documentary?”
“That is quite…unfortunate,” a strange glint entered his eyes. “And sure, I’ve literally got nothing else to do. What do you want to know, Jordan?”
A shudder passed through Jordan’s whole body when Ambrose said his name. It was not even because of the echo-ey quality of the voice similar to speaking through a long tunnel, but more of the weird inflection put into it.
“Hold on,” he turned on his camera and pointed it to himself. “What’s up guys, guess who this ghost hunter found?” Jordan shifted the view to focus the viewfinder on Ambrose who was smiling and waving at the camera.
“That’s right, I found the ghost of the late Ambrose Montgomery once again.”
“Holler at your boy! Or should I say,” Ambrose touched the corners of his popped out collars, “Collar at your boy!”
Jordan laughed awkwardly, a part of him dying inside at the overused joke. “Mr. Montgomery –”
“Just call me Ambrose.”
“Ok, Ambrose, during our last correspondence –”
“Didn’t you run away?”
Jordan groaned, “Can you please just go along with it?”
Ambrose held up his hands in mock surrender, “All right, all right. So, what do you want to know?”
“As I was saying, during our last correspondence, you said that you "never knew the touch of a woman" and that your children are actually actors. Can you elaborate on that?”
The dim lights flickered as Ambrose chuckled. The ghost straightened into a standing position, the tip of his black boots a few inches above the ground. “Follow me. I find it better to show and tell.”
Jordan followed Ambrose outside the Master’s bedroom, pocketing his flashlight and camera steadily recording in his hand. They walked back down to the first floor.
“My late wife, Victoria, was the oldest daughter of another high class family close to the Montgomery, the Wards. My wife, Victoria Ward, and her siblings were my childhood friends. During the course of our marriage, we were blessed with three beautiful children.”
“Wait,” Jordan halted in his steps, “so you lied during the first interview?”
Ambrose merely looked back and smiled. “You remind me so much of someone.” Jordan was confused when the previously open ghost suddenly decided to be all cryptic with his answers.
Ambrose stopped in front of a door at the far end of the mansion. The door swung open to reveal a narrow staircase going down.
“Oh no, no, no, no! Where are you taking me? I ain’t going on no second location!” Jordan stepped back, remembering the horror movies and slasher films with secret stairs and basements he used to watch.
Another snap of fingers and the staircase was lit. “I told you, I mean no harm. I simply want to share my story. Based on what I heard from you lot, the Montgomery official records seem to be inaccurate.”
Jordan was still hesitant, lightly bouncing on his heels and running his fingers through his hair.
“You want this documentary, don’t you?”
Torn between intense curiosity and nervousness, the question made him remember why he’s doing this in the first place. Ah screw this, why the heck not? He let out a defeated sigh, “Uh, all right. Lead the way, I guess…” When Ambrose turned around, he quickly sent a text to Rachel.
Bck @ Montgmry Haus, pck me up in 20 min, hav a bad feelng, no cgnal dwn
The stairs led down into another door, wooden and decorated with the Greek infinity pattern and gothic flourish carvings. The ornate knocker and door handle have a faded bronze shimmer, as if it was frequented during its active use.
“Welcome to my paradise.”
The door opened to reveal a spacious room lit by a small crystal chandelier, a small fireplace, sea foam blue walls with gold details, burnished oak furniture, and mostly eggshell white upholstering. A four-poster king-sized bed stood at the corner, two full large bookshelves rested against the wall, and a sea green love seat faced the fireplace with a coffee table in front of it.
Jordan turned around, holding the camera with two hands to get a steady 360 degrees shot of the room. In his amazement, he didn’t hear the faint click of a lock.
He ended the shot in front of the fireplace. When he looked up, he couldn’t help but let out a gasp of surprise. On the wall is a large framed painting of two men, one seated on a chair and the other – who looked like Ambrose – standing behind, hand resting on the other man’s shoulder.
The seated man is in a white shirt, topped by an embroidered waistcoat and a white ascot. Fair-skinned, a mop of wavy golden locks at the top of his head, aquamarine eyes, and a faint stubble – he looked uncannily like a grown-up version of Jordan.
“Gorgeous, isn’t he?” Ambrose appeared at his side, quirking a smile and expression softening at the sight of the portrait. “That is Severn Ward, dear Victoria’s younger brother and my lover.”
“O-kay, hold on, hold on…” Jordan took a deep breath through his nose. “You cheated on your wife? With her brother?!”
The outburst earned a wide-eyed look that morphed into an amused smile, “Marriage-wise that is true, however Severn already had my heart since the beginning.” Ambrose looked straight at the camera, “You see, society was very strict during my time, you had to maintain an image, and a single scandal can ruin you for life.”
“Okay, I get that you had to hide, but why did you have to marry his sister?”
Ambrose raised an eyebrow, “What do you think people would think when they notice the same gentleman frequently visiting an unmarried man’s house, staying overnight or even longer than that? Also, it was not like I neglected Victoria, I provided her with everything she needed and treated her with respect.”
“Oh okay, that’s actually sounds better, but my god,” Jordan ran his fingers through his hair again, “that’s still so messed up I don’t know where to begin!” At the back of his mind, he noted the slowly dimming lights.
Endless amusement practically oozed out of Ambrose, “You truly are so amusing, so different from the ones before you.” He floated closer to the fireplace, “So much like him.”
A cold chill went up Jordan’s spine. Despite his self-proclaimed meme lord status, he still had some common sense. If Ambrose appeared and told his story to others, why are the records still the same? Historians and professional ghost hunters have probably visited here for years, they would have had the power to revise it.
Jordan tried to appear casual as he turned off his camera and put it in his bag. He backed up to the door slowly.
“Any more questions?” his tone was light but it made Jordan’s hair stand on end.
“Oh, uh, it’s cool. I-I got enough footage and my, uh, my camera battery died. So, thank you for the tour, b-but…” Jordan is getting closer to the door, “I got to go, m-my mom might be looking for me.” His hand reached the handle, but it won’t budge.
“Do you know why I brought you here?”
Instead on answering, Jordan tried his best to move the door handle. Cold sweat dripped down his forehead and his hands started to slip due to the sweat. He chanced a look at Ambrose and froze in his place.
Ambrose wore a serene smile as his form changed. Holes, grime, and signs of wear and tear appeared on his immaculate suit, hands shriveled into a bony husk, cheeks and eyes sunk, lips dried, teeth fell off, and one eye popped out of its socket. His ghostly form glowed an eerie faint blue.
Now Jordan is beyond scared, knees shaking and jaw wide open in a silent scream caught at the back of his throat. He could feel every hair standing on end as he struggled with the handle.
Everything sharp and pointy in the room – knives, forks, the poker, pins – floated behind Ambrose. “It’s astounding how unbelievably alike you and my beloved Severn are,” the once smooth baritone turned hoarse and gained more echo. “Perhaps you might be his reincarnation in this life.”
Jordan had a bad feeling where this is going to, the rush of adrenaline jolted him out of his paralyzed state and gave him the energy to keep budging the handle, moving it a little. “Let me out! Help! Help!” he hoped Rachel was waiting outside.
“No one can hear you here, I made sure of that when I was still alive.” Dark manic eyes glowed blue, with a gesture of his hands, the projectiles behind pointed at Jordan’s direction.
“Stay still and it will be quick. I shall free you Severn and we’ll be together again!”
The projectiles moved. They were less than a meter away from turning Jordan into a human pin cushion when he managed to miraculously pry the door open with a sudden burst of strength.
Jordan closed the door behind him, and in no time, ran outside while screaming bloody murder. In his haste, he dropped his flashlight downstairs. He didn’t stop running and screaming until he was finally outside and spotted a familiar car outside the gate. Without looking back, he kept running, struggled to open and close the gate, and hurriedly tapped the window of the car.
Rachel was soundly sleeping on the steering wheel when a series of taps forced her to blearily open her eyes. There was someone outside her car, she waited for her vision to clear and Jordan’s panicked face finally came into focus. She unlocked the back door and Jordan clambered in.
“Jordan? What’s happening?”
“I’ll explain later, just drive! Hurry!”
She quickly started the car and drove away from the mansion and into the main road. Jordan was panting heavily, sweat dripping from his forehead.
“Jordan, what is going on?”
He held out a hand and took a deep breath, “A ghost…tried…to kill me…”
She snorted, “Why, did you tell one of your lame-ass jokes?”
“This…isn’t…a joke…I was almost shish kebab, Rachel!” He sighed, “Sorry, I…uh, I was really terrified. I thought…I was gonna die. Also…it was Ambrose who had the…lame jokes.”
From the rearview mirror, she saw his furrowed brows and paler than usual complexion. She could see his hands shaking on top of his knees. Oh shit, he might actually be serious. Now I feel kinda bad.
Rachel composed herself before asking, “Why did he want to kill you?”
“Because I look like his boyfriend.”
The car lurched into a sudden stop. She was lucky that tonight was not a busy night or they were going to be in so much trouble.
“You look like his what?!”
Jordan blinked, “Ambrose’s boyfriend. His wife’s brother.”
Rachel waited for a punchline, a stupid joke, anything – but he just looked straight at her. She took a deep breath through her nose.
“You know what, let’s go to Stephen’s house. His parents aren’t home and you can tell us there about what you saw,” she resumed driving.
“Okay? Let me just text my mom.”
Rachel actually wanted to invite him to her house, but no, it would be too suspicious. Besides, Stephen really wanted to know more about Ambrose. Also…
“Jordan, did you actually wet your pants?” she bit her lip to contain her laughter.
He looked down confused, then went “Uhhh…”
She couldn’t help but laugh at his dumb expression, “I’m sure Stephen has some pants you can borrow. Make sure clean that up later, dad’s going to use this tomorrow.”
Back at the mansion, just as Jordan went out of the room screaming his head off, the projectiles disappeared and Ambrose went back to his normal form. When he sensed the kid going out the gates, he started to giggle behind his hand. The sound of a familiar boisterous laugh caused him to fling his head back in laughter. If he was alive, his spleen would have probably hurt the whole day.
A shorter man materialized beside Ambrose, “That was a wonderful plot twist.”
“I think we might have overdone it, Severn.”
“He’ll be fine. Just a bit of fear and embarrassment won’t hurt him.” He turned to Ambrose, “I’m surprised, you usually come up with outrageous stories for these ‘explorers.’ Did you already use the ‘I picked up a peasant’ story?”
“How about the ‘witch hunt’ story?”
Spending the afterlife haunting an empty mansion isn’t exactly all fun. It was all right when people still lived there, but when it was abandoned, they made do with pranking ghost hunters and investigators instead. As the previous master of the house, Ambrose would be the one scaring from the front and the lesser known Severn, would scare from behind.
Severn sat on the loveseat and pulled his knees close to himself, “But really, why did you tell that kid almost the whole truth about us? We’ve been doing this for several decades, and this is the first time you showed our room.”
“Hmmm, he just looked so much like you,” Ambrose sat beside Severn and wrapped an arm around him. “You know I can’t lie to you. Even the first time they came here, I didn’t outright lie. My children actually did grow up to become actors!”
Both of them didn’t actually care if anyone found out about the truth of their relationship. However, the mystery is their main source of entertainment, so they always make sure that no one would change the official records. So far, lots of people are still attracted to the haunted house.
“Wait,” Ambrose said. “Did you remember to tamper with his camera?”
Severn snorted, “Am I a ghost? Of course.”
“Did you see how he reacted to my story? It’s amazing how society has become more tolerant over the years!” Ambrose gushed, treading his fingers on wavy locks and pulling his lover closer.
Severn shifted to rest his head on the taller ghost’s shoulder, “Indeed. If only he knew that my sister knew and supported everything.”
“Ah yes, Victoria was unlike any woman,” Ambrose reminisced. “You were both so different from your peers, you fell in love with me and she just wanted children and a stable home. And I loved you both for that.” He directed a tender gaze at Severn and pulled him into a kiss.
Even after more than a century had gone by, every kiss still feels like the first time and every touch still causes butterflies in their stomachs – even though technically they don’t have a working nor a corporeal one. Then again, perhaps it was caused by a long lifetime of pining, hiding in fear, and secrets. They treasured the freedom that the afterlife has ironically granted.
“Oh yeah, I forgot,” Severn pulled out a flashlight out of nowhere. “The kid dropped this, he might come back in the morning to get it.”
Ambrose stroked his chin and grinned mischievously, “I have an idea.”
Early next morning, Jordan did go back to the Montgomery house, although reluctantly and accompanied by Rachel and Stephen.
“I still can’t believe the video was corrupted again! I almost died for nothing,” Jordan sulked.
“HEY, AT LEAST YOU’RE ALIVE!” Stephen countered, still wide-eyed despite waking up at an ungodly hour.
Rachel nodded, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure a lost video is not more important than your life.”
They went inside the house and Jordan tried his best to retrace his steps and remember where the door downstairs is. After twenty minutes of exploring, they finally went to the right direction.
Jordan saw his flashlight at the end of the corridor. His eyes widened and he stopped short, causing Rachel to bump into his back.
“Why’d you suddenly stop?”
Jordan mumbled something too soft to hear.
“JORDAN, YOU GOTTA SPEAK UP!”
“Th-there’s supposed to be a door there,” he pointed at the doorway at the end. There was no door, but instead a crisscross of ‘DANGER’ tapes blocking the entrance. He gulped and picked up his flashlight to shine a light inside.
The walls and stairs were heavily damaged and covered in a thick layer of soot.
Rachel tapped his back, “Are you sure you went down here?”
“Yes! I’m sure!” he turned off his flashlight and gestured at it. “I dropped this downstairs, how did it end up here? It’s perfectly positioned just outside where the door is supposed to be!”
Stephen backed away, “YO, IT’S NOT EVEN NIGHT TIME AND I’M GETTING THE CREEPS! ALSO, DID YOU REALLY WRAP A NAMETAG AROUND YOUR FLASHLIGHT?!”
“What nametag –” Jordan noticed a strip of brown paper wrapped at the base of his flashlight. He carefully removed it and unraveled the surprisingly thick paper. He stiffened at the message inside.
“Does it say anything?”
Still wearing an expression of shock, he just flipped the paper to show its contents.
Two names were signed below in elegant script. Ambrose and Severn.