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there's a devil in this town, swear he's up to no good

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In Will’s dream, there’s mud. A lot of it.

He doesn’t quite know why he’s so certain that this is a dream. He just knows; he grips his dream rifle with such certainty that it’s not real it actually scares him a little bit.

Tom is there, too. They’re both in uniform. And the mud ; it’s suffocating. With every breath Will takes, his lungs fill up with more of it, sinking into every little crevice of his body it can find a spot for himself in, making him watch as the same happens to Tom.

‘Will.’

The mud starts to take form. It’s big, hulking, casting a shadow on both of their writhing bodies. It terrifies him to his very core.

‘Will.’

It weighs down on him, dragging him to the depths of this pit he finds himself stuck in. Distantly, he thinks he needs to untie his kit; free himself from the weight, to buy himself a couple more seconds of life, a couple more seconds to survive-

‘Will! William Schofield! Wake up!”

Will startles awake with a gasp, hands coming up to his chest, shaking with the need to feel himself breathing. Lauri is next to him, he notes almost as an afterthought; she’s kneeled by his bedside with a hand resting on his lower back, eyebrows furrowed and forehead creased with concern.

“You ok?” Her French accent is familiar, relaxing, soothing. Will finds himself taking another couple deep breaths before he trusts himself enough to nod an affirmative.

The hotel room they’re staying at has never felt so foreign to him, and they’ve only been in St Osyth for about three days. The curtains are still draped over the window next to his bed, so it’s still dark in their little base despite the sun shining bright outside. Lauri’s bed is neatly made besides his own, work laptop open with all their cameras strewn around it, which makes him wonder if she went to bed at all after last night.

God, last night . The memories come rushing back to him all at once. The frightening encounter at the Chester House had ruffled all three of them pretty badly; that certainly had to be the reason he had a nightmare so terrifying as that. Not to mention Tom was in it too.

Weirdly enough (or not), Will already misses Tom like a missing limb. After their late night entourage, he and Lauri had dropped him off at his house he shared with his mother and brother, saying their goodbyes oh so very quietly as to not wake up the slumbering residents, before heading back to their hotel in tense silence. However, Tom’s brilliant eyes and easy going grin were permanently engraved in his memory by now. Will groans quietly, dragging a hand down his face and hoping to wipe away all his hardships with it.

“We have a problem.” Lauri speaks up after giving Will a quiet few seconds of reprieve, standing up stiffly to go retrieve her laptop. Will gives her space to sit down properly besides him without her even having to ask for it. The both of them are quite used to this routine by now.

“Our footage is gone.”

That, Will is not ready for.

“Our- what?

“Well, not all of it.” Lauri mutters, almost to herself, quickly speeding up all of the accumulated footage of Will’s hand camera for him to see. It all seems normal until a certain point- as soon as he’s supposed to see that blasted stool flying towards him just like it happened the night before, the footage suddenly becomes garbled up and corrupted.

“What the fuck?” Will says almost in a whisper, taking the laptop from Lauri’s grasp so he can take a better look. Sure enough, nothing changes; up from the most crucial point and to the moment Will finally turned off his camera for good, all of the footage is completely ruined and unusable.

“This happened to all of the cameras, not just yours. As soon as- whatever that was -started attacking us, they all just… cut off.” Lauri runs her hands up and down her arms, curly hair shielding her face in a way Will had never seen her do before. Lauri looked positively frightened. “Will, I… I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”

“Well, what else would it be? A bloody demon?” He scoffs, but he can see Lauri visibly flinch. Despite the sudden crushing fear pushing down on his sternum, Will doesn’t relent. “It’s probably some issue we had with nerve or something.”

“We’ve had plenty issues with nerve before. And that has never happened.” Lauri protests, standing up and taking her laptop back to her own bed. She drops it down on the sheets almost like she wants it to dissipate before her own eyes, like she doesn’t want to deal with it anymore. To be fair, Will is quite fed up with this whole thing too.

“I need… I need to go out.” He pushes the covers off himself, feeling almost feverish with want to get out of this awful, cramped room. Lauri doesn’t stop him as he gets dressed way too fast for someone who just woke up, brushing his teeth and hair like he’s late for work. She simply stares at the screen, almost like she’s hoping for something, anything, to change, to give her a sign.

“We need to talk about this later.” Lauri finally sighs, just as Will is pushing the door open.

“We will. I promise.” Is all he says before he’s gone.

It’s almost like the elevator can’t go down fast enough. Will finds himself unable to still his hands, adjusting his scarf every other second or pushing them down as far as his coat’s pockets are willing to let them go. He barely even registers it when he sets a brisk pace down the street, feet carrying him in a set direction on their own. It’s just when they come to a stop that he realizes where he ended up.

He’s back at the cafe again.

Will flushes, frozen at the entrance of the bustling business. It’s like his body knew before even he did that he needed to see Tom, which is just all kinds of embarrassing. Since he didn’t have the decency to ask for his phone number, and showing up at his house unannounced was out of the question, Will simply has to hope that Tom will be working a shift once again today.

Discreetly, he checks his watch. 8:16am isn’t that bad, right?

After a couple extra seconds of internal debate, Will gives in to temptation and pushes the front door open, the little bell above the entrance completely drowned out by the boisterous shouts of other patrons, all crowded around the communal tables and having what looks suspiciously like beer, despite it being a week day, and a morning , more importantly. Will chuckles to himself at the scene, simply observing as the locals carry on with their conversation, all dressed to head to work as soon as their daily ritual is over.

“Will?” a familiar voice snaps him to attention; Will turns to see Tom standing next to him, decked out in his apron and name tag, bright grin illuminating his features. Will notices with a twinge of guilt that Tom seems slightly unkempt, curly hair a mess atop his head and heavy bags underneath his eyes, evidence he hadn’t slept well at all after coming back from the Chester House. That is, if he slept at all.

“Y’have no idea how happy I am t’see you here!” Tom barrels on, his words blending together, warm hand coming to rest on Will’s bicep. When Will hesitates to answer, simply too mesmerized by the view for his brain to catch up fast enough, Tom seems to become aware of himself, reigning his excitement back with red coating his cheeks. His smile, although subdued, remains. “Can I get you anything?”

Tom is already guiding him towards a hidden booth in the corner of the cafe before he can even say anything. “Just an espresso, please.” Will says, clearing his throat as soon as his brain manages to catch up. Tom gives him a fond smile over his shoulder, taking out a rag from the inside of his apron and wiping the table for good measure.

“Double shot, right?” Tom asks as he waits for him to get seated. Will laughs and smiles back.

“Yes.”

As he waits for Tom to return with his drink, Will takes a second to just sit there and breathe . The footage issue is still the forefront of his mind, though it has been pushed back just the slightest bit thanks to the enthusiasm he was greeted with. Will runs his thumb over his knuckles, crease forming once again between his eyebrows as he falls deep in thought. He and Lauri should probably go back to the house, but…

“Here you go.” Tom sets the cup of espresso down in front of Will delicately, and he can’t help but notice the small pastry that he’s pretty sure wasn’t included the last time he and Lauri were here. The morning light catches and shines on Tom’s rings, matching the bright grin on his face. And Will is whipped .

He can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t make him look like a complete fool, so Will simply nods and takes a sip of his coffee. Tom crosses his arms over his chest, looking around as he worries his bottom lip between his teeth.

“Listen,” he says rather quietly, leaning down with a worried glint in his eyes. “My shift ends at noon. I’d love to just sit down and talk to you, but…”

“I have time. Don’t worry.” Will laughs, taking a huge bite of the pastry before he could compliment Tom on his gorgeous eyes or his soft hair or something equally embarrassing like that. Tom sighs in quiet relief and smiles, before mouthing a small ‘ok’ and waving at Will. He weaves his way back to the kitchen, and Will is alone again.

Over the duration of Tom’s shift, he seems to be making excuses to go see Will at his booth. The first time, he comes around to pick up the empty cup and accompanying plate from the table. Then, he drops off a glass of water without comment, and comes back to take it away later. When Tom hands him the third slice of cake in two hours, Will stops him from leaving with a laugh.

“I don’t even want to look at my bill after all this.” Tom, who was setting down a fork and knife next on the table, blushes quite violently and refuses to make eye contact with Will.

“It’s on the house.” he says with a shrug, and leaves.

When noon finally rolls around, Tom comes to Will’s booth once again, this time dressed in everyday clothes, a brown, beat up messenger bag slung over his shoulder, and two cups of coffee in each hand. Tom sets them both down on the table before throwing himself on the seat with a groan, running a hand through his messy chestnut hair.

“My manager just gave me the talkin’ to of my life ,” he complains tiredly, gulping down half of the contents of his cup in one go. “I forgot to take my rings off today.”

Will chuckles as he takes a sip, but internally he feels a bit guilty, since he had noticed Tom had them on. But it really isn’t his fault that they look so good on his hands, so he gives himself a pass. “What a lousy waiter you are.”

Tom sticks his tongue out at Will, pushing the rest of his coffee away with a sigh. He crosses his arms over the table and uses them to pillow his chin, staring out the window they’re sitting next to. “So… last night, huh.”

“Last night.” Will sighs, looking down and taking a mighty sip of his drink as well. It was his third coffee in the 5-or-so hours he’s been at the cafe, and it’s starting to make him feel a little wired. But he’s in good company, so he can’t find it in himself to care. “You didn’t get much sleep, did you?”

Tom looks proper embarrassed then, like his mother had just caught him with his hand down the cookie jar. “So you’ve noticed, huh?” He chuckles, lifting his head up again and running his hands through his unruly curls in a sad attempt to tame them back. “Yeah, not really. I was thinkin’, what if that thing followed me home?” He sighs once more, shaking his head, defeated. “I know you said it wasn’t a demon or whatever, but you know, I watched your videos last night, and I reckon I should take what you say with a grain o’ salt. A ghost could push you out of a window and you’d say it was the wind!”

Will is too caught up on the fact that Tom actually went looking for his and Lauri’s channel to really stop his rambling. He hides his grin behind a closed fist, coughing as he feels a flush overtake his cheeks, going down to the base of his neck and up to the very tip of his ears. “You watched our videos?”

Tom cuts himself off, in the midst of a long-drawn tirade about something or other him and his brother got in trouble for when they were younger. Will missed how the story correlated back to ghost hunting, but he didn’t actually mind. Tom rubs his hands together slowly, as if trying to find something to distract himself with, cheeks alight as well.

“Well, yeah. I figured I might as well, since I went through all the trouble of following you into that bloody demon house.” He laughs, almost to himself, eyes focused on a specific groove in their table, instead of making eye contact with Will. “It’s… well, it’s silly, but it helped me sleep.”

As cute as that was, which Will does not have the time to unpack right now, Tom’s comment about the Chester House reminds him of what he came here to forget; their footage. Swallowing back a grimace, Will polishes off the rest of his coffee, bracing himself to be the bearer of bad news. With how superstitious Tom is (which actually isn’t that much, but in Will’s book, everyone who believes in ghosts or demons is the same when it comes to that), he’ll probably freak out when he hears this, and freak out bad . Will ignores the worried look Tom sends his way, adjusting his collar with a small cough.

“About the Chester House,” he begins, a bitter taste on his tongue as he says the name of that awful place, “I have something to tell you.”

“Yeah?” Tom’s head tilts to the side. He looks like a dog, almost. It would be quite amusing, if it weren’t for the goddamned house souring up every pleasant bit of this conversation so far. “Well, what is it? You’re making me nervous.”

“You have to promise not to freak out.” Before Tom can even say anything, Will takes a sharp intake of breath, and continues on. “It’s about our footage. It was working alright up until when we started getting furniture thrown at us… then it’s just corrupted. All of it. On all of our cameras. For the same time frame. So.”

Tom looks stunned for a second. His eyebrows furrow like he doesn’t quite understand what Will just told him; he takes his bottom lip between his teeth, something Will is starting to notice he does when he’s nervous. “Corrupted how? You mean you can’t use it?”

“None of it.” Will agrees, finding it difficult to look at Tom in the eyes. “It doesn’t mean it was a demon, or whatever. It’s just weird because… well, the handheld cameras aren’t connected to nerve. If it was just the static cameras it wouldn’t be that weird, but it was all of them-“

It’s then that Will notices Tom is shaking. His eyes look haunted, mouth pressed into a thin line and arms crossed over his chest. He swallows so loud, Will can hear it even with the shouting of the other patrons going on all around them. They almost seem like they’re part of a separate reality; like the center of the entire world is here, now, in this booth with him and Tom.

“I told you.” Tom says quietly, breaking the tense silence that had formed between them. “I told you there was something there. I bet it doesn’t want you two showin’ all that shit it did to the rest of the world.”

Will doesn’t respond for a second. Not knowing what to say, he simply shrugs, running his hand over the tabletop. “Demons don’t exist.” He says through his teeth. Tom scoffs, but doesn’t try to argue against it.

“You’re not going back, are you?” At Will’s hesitation, Tom leans over the table, propping himself up on his elbows so Will has no choice but to look at him. “You can’t. Alright? You just can’t. Y’know, you oughta just delete whatever footage you still do have and forget last night even happened.”

Will’s voice dies in his throat. Tom is looking at him with such soft, pleading eyes he almost relents. But he can’t not go back. There’s something in that bloody house, and not hell nor high water will stop him from finding out what it is.

Please , Will.” Tom takes Will’s right hand between both of his and squeezes. He has no choice but to nod.

“Ok.” He lies, swallowing down the lump forming in his throat.

Tom sighs, relief making his shoulders drop. He sits back down properly, and Will mourns the lack of warmth surrounding his hand. The air around them instantly feels lighter, though, and it’s like they’re back in the real world. The two of them.

“Good.” he says with a smile, fishing back his cup of coffee from where it sat on the middle of the table and finishing it off. Will cracks his knuckles, almost nervously, trying to distract himself from the predicament he put himself in. With any luck, Tom wouldn’t have to find out what he’s going to end up doing.

“So,” and once again, Tom is the one bringing Will back from the depths of his own mind. This time, he can actually look into the blue eyes across him, and finds nothing but friendliness shining in them. “I just realized I know next to nothin’ about you. That doesn’t seem very fair, I reckon.”

Will chuckles, but nods, agreeing easily. There’s also little he knows about Tom, other than he’s a local and is deathly afraid of all things supernatural. He knows he lives in a small, cozy little house with his mother and older brother, and that’s about it. “Well, what would you like to know then?”

“I dunno.” Tom shrugs, smiling like he’s proud of himself when his answer gets a laugh out of Will. “You’re from London, right?”

“Close, but not quite. Cookham.” Will clarifies, leaning back on his seat. “But I live in London nowadays.”

“Did you go to uni?”

“Attended Middlesex and got myself a shiny English degree that I’ll probably never use. You?”

Tom’s eyes avert Will’s as soon as the topic of his education is breached. Will is about to tell him he doesn’t have to answer, when Tom wets his lips with a quick dart of his tongue and continues.

“I don’t really have the means to go anywhere right now. My family’s pretty poor. We’ve been struggling to make ends meet since pops died.” Before Will can say anything, as he’s sure it’s obvious he wants to, Tom shakes his head with a small smile. “It’s ok, I’m used to it by now. He died when I was fourteen. Ever since then it’s just been me, mum n’ Joe. I’ve been workin’ here for awhile now, trying to save up enough money to move away as soon as I can.”

He looks around the cafe as if reminiscing a time Will was not privy to; and he doesn’t intend to breach that privacy. He simply nods, solemn, wishing he could do more but having no idea where to even begin.

“That sounds like it was hard.” He settles on that. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

Tom lets out a short laugh, though the tension Will expected to fill the empty space between them doesn’t seem to come. “Damn right it was. But I came out better at the end of it. Me, Joe, and mum. Shoulda seen us back then. A proper bunch of misfits, we was.”

His accent is so endearing, it’s enough to bring Will’s smile back around. “Your family sounds lovely.”

“They are lovely! They are.” With a pleased sigh, Tom’s gaze filters down to his lap, as if he’s recalling said memories of his family he just shared with Will. “Don’t know where I’d be without ‘em.”

The two of them are silent yet again, but it’s nowhere near uncomfortable. Will takes a look out the window. The sun is finally start to break through the clouds, a previously grey morning shifting into the warm hues of afternoon. Despite knowing he will inevitably break his promise to Tom, Will feels lighter on the inside, like his problems are all very far away from this little haven he found in St Osyth.

“What about your family?” Tom questions, bringing the conversation back around. Though he instantly seems to regret it, when something unpleasant passes through Will’s face.

“Shit, I guess it’s my turn to make it awkward, huh?” he mumbles through a frown, running his teeth over his lip without noticing. Which hasn’t stopped being endearing at all.

“I mean, you told me about yours. It’s only fair.” Will wraps his hands around his cup, despite it being empty, to give himself some time to collect his thoughts. “I don’t have the best relationship with my parents. Especially my mum. She thinks all this that I do,”- he makes a broad gesture around himself with his left hand -“is a waste of time. She insists it’s not a real job, and that I should do something in my actual area of expertise. I’d say I’m a pretty big expert on ghosts at this point.”

That gets a laugh out of Tom. Will smiles, a little crooked, a little pleased.

“That’s part of the reason why I moved to London, actually. I wanted to show her I could take care of myself just fine with the money I make from the show.” That brings up some memories he’d honestly rather forget. The image of his mum, in all of her pissed off glory, face red and eyes disapproving, takes the forefront of his mind. “It’s been working out so far, at least.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Stick it to the old people!” Tom raises his also empty cup, like he’s proposing a toast, before his cheeks flush red. “Uh. No offense, of course.”

“None taken. In fact, I agree!” Will’s eyes crinkle at the corners with pure mirth, so big is his smile. “But yeah, that’s that on my parents. There’s also my older sister. We’re pretty close. She’s pregnant with twins, in fact.”

“Really? Well, would you look at that! Uncle Will.” Tom says in an almost conspiratory tone, running his eyes over Will like he’s seeing him for the first time. “I think it fits you, actually.”

“It makes me feel old.” Will complains, hiding his pleased smile at Tom’s laughter behind the closed fist he uses to support his chin.

Conversation flows easily between the two of them for the remainder of time they stay at the cafe. Tom orders lunch for both of them, and dinner later on, using his employee discount. They talk well into the late afternoon, only leaving the cozy little booth they’d littered with empty plates and glasses when Tom’s coworker stops by to kick them out.

Will pays for his part and tries not to cringe at the amount on his receipt, crumbling it up and shoving it inside his pocket to be dealt with later. Tom insists his half of the bill be put on his tab, whining to his coworker and nearly getting on his knees to beg for it until he got his way.

When they finally leave, the sun has just started disappearing behind the horizon, sinking the town in the cold tones of the evening. Will breathes in the crisp, cold air of April, all of his problems suddenly so far away it’s laughable to think about the state he was in just a few hours ago. Distantly, he’s aware that this is simply momentary relief; considering his resolve to go back inside the Chester House and get to the bottom of his whole thing, even if he has to do it by himself. But he doesn’t need to think about that right now; right now he’s with Tom and everything is right in the world.

“Why is April always so goddamn cold?” Tom grumbles behind Will, zipping up his coat as far as it’ll go and shoving his hands inside his pockets in an attempt to keep himself warm. Will chuckles at the ruddy shade of his cheeks; they make Tom look so childish it’s quite hilarious.

“Bring a scarf next time.” Will supplies helpfully, pausing to adjust his own around his neck, purposefully ignoring it when Tom scoffs loudly next to him.

“Show off.”

The two of them walk down the street silently, just being in each other’s company being quite enough for now. It’s only when they reach a fork in a road that Will notices he forgot something.

“Wait!” Will exclaims just as Tom turns to say goodbye, his house in the opposite direction of Will’s hotel. “I don’t have your number.”

Although Will didn’t think it to be possible, Tom’s cheeks somehow get redder, spreading to the sliver of skin on his neck that isn’t covered by his coat. He steps closer to Will, fishing something out of his pocket; his phone. Will is taken aback by how much the small device just screams Tom ; the screen is cracked to hell and back, chunks of plastic missing from the bottom and exposing the wiring to the elements. There is no phone case- which is practically suicide at this point, Will thinks to himself -, but the back is covered in stickers, some clearly much older than others. Will holds his breath when he notices a rainbow flag sticker, instantly catching his eye even though it’s mostly covered by Tom’s hand.

Tom notices his staring, averting his gaze with something like shame in his eyes. “I can’t afford a new one.”

“But I like it.” Will protests without thinking, though it’s certainly worth it when Tom looks back with pure surprise, a small smile gracing his features. Will clears his throat and looks away himself, finding it hard to maintain eye contact.

Wordlessly, they exchange numbers, Tom holding Will’s phone almost like he’s afraid that even touching it would make it break. Will, on the other hand, runs his thumb over the cracks of Tom’s mobile like he can’t get enough of it, still blown away by how much personality this piece of junk holds.

“I should really get going now. I promised I’d help mum with dinner.” Tom says, almost apologetically, though he doesn’t seem to be in any rush to leave. “Text me, ok? I want to go out with you again before you go back to London.”

Will doesn’t want to think about when he has to go back to London. He doesn’t want to leave this thing, whatever it is that he has with Tom, behind; but he just gives Tom a smile and an easy nod, not wanting to burden him with such thoughts. “Of course I will.”

The hug Tom envelops him in is so fleeting Will almost misses it; one second they’re sharing the same space, breathing the same air, a warmth between the two of them he had never experienced before- and the next, Tom is stepping away, giving Will an almost shy wave of his hand, that brilliant grin of his nearly blinding him once again.

Tom’s quiet ‘see you soon’ is lost to Will in the evening air; he’s too busy touching his face with the back of his hands, worried that he has a fever.

 

-

 

“Nice of you to come back.” Lauri rolls her eyes at Will, who doesn’t even bother to take his coat or shoes off before he faceplants on his bed, burying his face in his pillow. “Ready to talk now?”

“No.” Will groans, still in another world, replaying the hug Tom had given him over and over in his head. Despite it being a first between them, there was something so familiar about it that Will simply could not pinpoint; it was weird, but also comforting, and he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“Well, you don’t really have a choice.” Lauri huffs, bringing Will back from his thoughts, pushing him to the side to make space for herself on the bed, much like they had done that same morning. Will twists his face against the pillow, finally taking a proper look at Lauri. She looks better, at least. Her long, curly hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and the bags underneath her eyes are less prominent than they were earlier in the day. “What are we doing about this?”

Will remains quiet. He doesn’t want to talk about the Chester House; he feels like his good mood will evaporate into thin air as soon as he does so. Instead, he closes his eyes and thinks back to the day he just had. “You know, I went to see Tom today.”

“Is that so.” Lauri humors him, sitting criss cross on the bed and waiting patiently (or not so patiently) until Will is ready to talk about it. She’s quite used to his deflecting by now; it’s hard not to, considering they had met all the way back in uni and had been inseparable ever since. “On a scale of one to ten, how much of a disaster were you?”

“Like… an eleven .” Will groans, but the smile tugging at his lips suggests otherwise. “I can’t help it, Lauri. He’s just-”

“I get it, I get it.” Lauri chuckles, knowing to stop Will before he goes into a tangent talking about Tom. “Did you tell him about the footage?”

And just like that, Will’s good mood is instantly sapped out of him with that phrase alone. He should’ve known better than to think Lauri would let him get away of this conversation; he smothers his face on the pillow once more, his answer almost entirely swallowed by the fabric. “Yes.”

Lauri sighs, running her fingers over Will’s hair in a placating gesture. “And he freaked out, I’m assuming.”

“He freaked out.” Will agrees, trying not to think back to the look in Tom’s face when he made him promise not to go back to the house. But that’s not a promise Will can keep; he has to go back, it’s simply not an option. “He told me to just forget about it. But, Lauri, I can’t -”

“I know. We need to go back.” Lauri shudders, as if the thought alone terrifies her. “We need to see this through.”

Slowly, Will props himself up on his elbows, nodding almost solemnly. The quicker they get this over with, the better; but the last thing he wants to do right now is think about heading back to that god-awful place.

“We should just go there tonight.” Lauri suggests hesitantly, looking out the window and into the dying light of the sun, the final rays of orange and blood red disappearing over the dark horizon. The lonely light coming from the lamp on top of the bedside table is the only thing keeping them from being absolutely swallowed into the darkness of the room. It feels like sealing their faith; like if they go back to the Chester House today, everything will change.

Will swallows. It sounds deafening to him, in the stillness of their hotel room. Lauri looks back down at him, her eyes glinting in the dark with resolve. He feels himself nodding, almost like his body is making the decision for him.

“Ok.”

As the setting sun finally disappears from view, Will wonders if this is perhaps the stupidest risk he’s ever taken in his life.

 

-

The house is no less intimidating than the first time; in fact, it’s gotten worse, like the everlasting darkness of the inside of it had bled to the outside, bleeding out on the front porch and dripping down the windows.

It’s also worse because Tom isn’t here. Despite that constant sense of foreboding from last night, it had been quelled considerably by Tom’s presence; he was a good distraction. Now, however, it’s just Will, Lauri and their cameras. Will swallows in dry, running his thumb over the side of his old, old Polaroid camera. If whatever is in this house doesn’t want to show up on digital footage, well that’s just fine; Will knows how to adapt. Film can’t get corrupted. He sends a quiet thank you to his past self for packing up the old thing, despite thinking he wouldn’t have any use for it. It certainly comes in handy now.

“You ready?” Lauri questions, standing next to Will in her best ghost hunting getup, the lack of bags and technical equipment a little jarring to see. Will is an old man at heart; he barely even knows how to work the hand cameras, let alone hook them up to cameras and the like. That had always been Lauri’s thing, but after the spectacular failure that was last night, the unanimous vote was that they should just forego the extra cameras and equipment. Will feels a little naked, going back inside the house with just a Polaroid and a digital camera, but even so he nods, stubbornly setting his jaw and ignoring the feeling that they were being watched.

Grimly, he nods, not trusting his voice to come out steady right now. Demon or not demon, something is living inside this place; something that’s carved out a little spot for itself inside Will’s mind, something that shouldn’t bother him as much as it does and yet it manages to do just so. It’s infuriating, really; he had gone through the scariest hauntings in the world, huge asylums and frigid prisons, all unable to unfaze him, just to end up stuck here of all places. This frankly unimpressive house, torn down and aged, was somehow able to accomplish what all those other ‘haunted’ locations hadn’t; it had frightened him.

Lauri is quiet this time as she steps through the threshold; no witty comment to make, only her somber wince as the front door creaks open once more, despite Will being very sure they had left the door open when they bolted from the place just last night. The foyer and living room remain much the same, with only a few new additions of broken furniture to be noted. Somehow, the physical reminder that they were attacked yesterday makes the pit in the bottom of Will’s stomach grow larger. It’s nearly impossible to look away, but Lauri is already heading up the stairs, two steps at a time, and Will doesn’t want to be left behind.

As soon as they reach the landing, Will feels sick. Since the door had caved in last night, the nursery, with its translucent curtains and minimal visibility, is the first thing that they see, just the way they had left it. Except the three toys that had caught Will’s eye before now lack heads, stuffing spilling out from the holes left in their necks.

“Fuck this.” He says through gritted teeth, trying to ignore the scene with all of his might. Lauri looks pale, taking in a shaky breath and following Will down the hallway. They don’t even stop at the master bedroom, heading straight for the open door of the final room they hadn’t gotten to see last night. They stop just before going in, trying to make out anything in the dreadful darkness.

Will raises his Polaroid and takes a picture.

As the camera spits out the picture, Will waits with bated breath, thinking on the image the quick flash of light had just supplied. Apart from a few cardboard boxes, he didn’t see much else of the room; taking his handheld camera from where it hangs at his side, he turns on night vision mode, watching Lauri do the same with hers.

“Should we take a look at the picture?” She whispers, as if to not disturb the quietness and stillness of the house.

Will purses his lips and shakes his head, sliding the small rectangle inside his pocket carefully. “Later.”

Finally, they step inside, sticking close to one another like they never had before. This room feels chillier than the rest of the house, but Will can feel a draft of wind coming from the back, so it’s probably not due to the unnatural cold that seemed to follow them around last night. As his eyes adjust to the darkness, almost too afraid to look into the viewfinder of his camera, Will notices a crawl space, just barely big enough to fit a child there, made up of an unpainted brick wall. The draft feels stronger the closer they come to it, so there’s probably a window on the other side of this thing.

“Weird.” Lauri says simply, crouching down to have a better look. “This doesn’t look like it was part of the house originally.”

“Yeah.” Will agrees, almost absentmindedly, trying to get a look at the other side of the room through the holes left between the bricks, clearly a sign of sloppiness. “Can you see anything?”

“There’s light at the end of it,” she responds, straining her eyes to see better, putting her camera to the side. “But it’s looking pretty empty-“

Lauri cuts herself off with a barely-there gasp, suddenly going very, very still. Will tries to ask her what’s wrong, but the bizarre chill has caught up with them yet again; only this time, it’s so strong Will feels paralyzed. Like ice is growing inside his lungs, almost suffocating him.

Lauri remains equally immobile, eyes wide and unblinking, staring into the crawl space like she’ll die if she looks away. Somewhere in his mind that’s not completely consumed by the cold , Will notices her breath is visible, much like Tom’s had been yesterday.

The seconds stretch on.

Finally, finally , Lauri breaks out of her trance, scrambling backwards until her back hits one of the piles of cardboard boxes left in the room. She points to the brick wall, mouth open but no sound coming out of it, her normally friendly and mischievous eyes looking haunted and unfocused with pure, mind numbing fear.

“Take a picture,” she finally manages to rasp out, too afraid to even avert her gaze from the hole. “Take a picture now !”

At the urgency in her tone, Will is quick to comply, not even registering the feeling of the cold leaving his body. He crouches by the crawl space much like Lauri had done, quickly snapping another Polaroid before standing up as fast as he could. He grabs Lauri’s camera, abandoned to the side, and rushes to where she’s still sitting, curling into herself as she shakes.

“Let’s leave.” Will commands, clipping both cameras to his belt and grabbing Lauri’s forearms, trying to pull her up despite her unwillingness to even move. “We have to leave -!”

It all comes to a head when the brick wall explodes behind them.

Lauri’s scream is drowned out by the noise of bricks flying everywhere, one of them hitting Will right on his lower back. He bites back a groan, sheltering Lauri’s body with his own, not even daring to look up in fear of being hit smack on the face.

Only when the bricks stop clattering does Will look up, swiveling his head wildly from side to side, trying to pinpoint whatever it was that had caused a whole wall to come crashing down on them , when he suddenly notices the back of the room had finally become visible.

A black mass stands right in front of the window, its eyes boring holes into Will’s soul.

Things suddenly get bit fuzzy; adrenaline takes over Will’s brain, his body going on autopilot with the instinct to survive . It’s like he’s watching himself move; watching himself pick up Lauri in his arms, an urgency to his actions he had never experienced before. Will isn’t even sure how he gets to the bottom of the staircase, even; all that he knows is that there’s something dragging across his arm, something sharp, something real.

He nearly drops Lauri when they’re finally outside; at least, she seems capable of running on her own now, taking hold of Will’s hand and pulling him along at breakneck speed. Blood runs down his left arm, dirtying his palm as well as hers, dripping from the three claw-like marks imprinted on his skin.

For the second night in a row, William Schofield is chased out of the Chester House, some part of his sanity broken and shattered beyond repair.