Sam was not excited about going up to the resort.

Sitting in the back of the van, Sam fidgeted and half-listened to the banter between Shooter and Ange. The bright afternoon sunshine shimmering among the trees to either side of the road should have made it easy to dismiss the memory of the dark creature from the café, the worried expressions of Herb and Alex, the sadness of Casey, and be calmed by the incomprehensible optimism of Tommy. But knowing that there were forces at play beyond anything Sam had experienced made it impossible to completely relax.

Shooter was not excited about going up to the resort.

As he maintained a banter with Ange along the way, he couldn’t shake the discomfort of feeling like he was lying to her by not telling her how he felt. When she’d asked him to make up stuff about the motel for the show, it made him uncomfortable and he was coming to realize that perhaps internet fame for something he wasn’t excited about was probably a bad idea. He couldn’t be sure that she was excited about it either, but so many people tuned in to learn about terrible things, likely because if it had happened, they were glad it hadn’t happened to them. It didn’t seem very fun. Knowing that he was going to have to tell her the truth about wanting to go back and train with Coach Sprocket made it impossible to completely relax.

Angelié was totally excited about going up to the resort.

She had the whole afternoon planned. Sam would do all the filming, a short segment at the entrance, another couple once they’d reached it, and a final one up in the woods above the resort where it was rumored that the psycho who started it all used to live. She would make a point of talking about how accessible the site was, how countless people had already visited so folks should get there soon if they didn’t want to feel left out. She could bill it as the next Paris catacombs or Camp Crystal Lake, maybe even get it on the list of the most haunted places in the world. Which it might end up being with every soul, every drop of blood spilled, every pitiless cry for mercy echoing in the surrounding hills. Just the thought of it, coupled with the fact that she had to pretend like she wasn’t planning to kill her boyfriend and videographer later today made it impossible to completely relax.

It might have seemed foolish to kill off her team, but what a twist! Brave camfluencer being abandoned in the forest would make for good copy, but sole survivor of a brutal attack by unknown foes was likely to push her over the monotenization threshold. Everyone knew that followers were great, and the more people she could get interested in the lore and the lure of exploring the dark places to the extent they made themselves available to be devoured was all well and good, but the benefits of monotenization were nothing to sneeze at.

As she was making small talk with Shooter, Angelié spotted something out of the corner of her eye. A hitchhiker, wearing a black leather jacket and bearing a strong resemblance to the man she’d murdered earlier that day. She let out a gasp as she realized it was him standing in exactly the same spot she’d picked him up. What the hell?

“What? Did you see something? Is there an animal?” Shooter took his foot off the gas, casting his gaze to either side of the road. “Is it a bunny?”

Angelié smiled, the picture of patience, her tone dripping with reassurance.
“No, baby. You’re fine. There’s no bunny. I thought I saw something but it was just a shadow in the trees. Keep your eyes peeled for a turnoff coming up on the left, you don’t want to miss it.”

Crisis averted, Shooter returned his focus to the road ahead while Angelié stole a quick look in the rearview mirror. The hitchhiker was gone, it was probably just her imagination, or maybe a ghost. How weirdly inconvenient it was that she could see ghosts now. She was just glad that Shooter and Sam couldn’t.

Sam found it very curious that Ange had reacted to the hitchhiking ghost as they passed him. She’d never shown any tendency before, regardless of the fact that she’d somehow stumbled onto Tommy. But she had definitely seen that hitchhiker and she was not happy about it. Any further musings would have to be postponed because “We’re here!” erupted from the front of the van. Shooter pulled up to the side of the road, which hadn’t been maintained in some time, making it easy to spot Angelié’s tire tracks from earlier. Pulling to the right of a wooden archway, he put the van in park and cut the engine. It was apparent a sign used to hang from the entrance, as two large eye bolts were still pushed deep into the wood. Shooter and Ange were already pulling gear from the back of the van, getting set up for a segment. Sam gathered the necessary equipment for shooting and joined them.

“So this is our establishing shot, right? Where we set the stage, showing where all the hopeful vacationers entered, only to meet their doom.” Angelié’s voice dropped in register, as though she was sitting around a campfire telling a ghost story rather than standing on the side of the road wearing screaming green leopard print on a vivid summer day.

“Wasn’t she dressed as a different coloured cat earlier?” Sam thought, but dismissed it as Angelié continued to dictate how she wanted to progress. Once they were set up, and she’d touched up her makeup, she took her place at centre stage.

“Are you gonna be in this shot with me, babe?” She gestured to Shooter to join her.

“How about you take this one, and I’ll make sure to hold the mic so everyone can hear your beautiful voice perfectly.” This was amenable to Angelié because she nodded and blew him a kiss, then turned to Sam.

“Are you ready?” Sam nodded and counted out loud from five, switching to just fingers at two. Angelié posed, a serious look on her face until she heard one. A second later, she blasted the camera with a big smile.

“HI everyone, and welcome back to my channel.” Sam gave Shooter a sideways glance, wondering if he was bothered by her proprietary statement but his broad smile suggested not. “Today I’ve got a special treat for you. We’re out at the site of a real doozy of a massacre. That’s the rumour anyway, because none of the bodies were ever found! But there have been reports of all kinds of people disappearing in these woods over the years, potentially thousands.” Shooter was uncomfortable with her blatant lie, adjusting his grip on the mic to hide it. “Most people would be too afraid to explore such a place. Lucky for all you faithful followers that I care more about getting ghosts than my safety or the safety of my crew!” She paused, turning her shoulder to the camera, her mouth fixed in a moue, as though to indicate her displeasure that anyone might accuse her of having consideration for safety over story. Within an instant, her million watt smile was back. “This is the entrance, where hopeful holiday makers passed by on their way to what should have been a dream, only to descend into their worst nightmare. Which is ironic because it’s all up hill from here.”

It continued like this for some time, and Sam started to wonder if the reason why Ange hadn’t been disappointed they’d never made it to the museum was because she didn’t want truth to get in the way of her obviously made up story. Even not knowing much more than what Herb and the gang at the diner had shared, Sam knew that the majority of what Angelié said was completely untrue.

When she’d finished they packed up and headed up the hill toward the resort, the road curving and winding through trees which grew denser around them. Though it was still early afternoon, it felt as though the shadows were thicker, the air heavy with a reminder that something dark and menacing was out here somewhere, and had a bone to pick. The interior of the van grew brighter as the sky opened up when they turned a corner and found themselves perched on a rise, the resort just below them. The road to the main building snaked to the left but Shooter paused so they could take in the aerial view.

“I didn’t expect it to be so beautiful.” There was a touch of awe in Shooter’s voice.

“Well, you don’t think they’d invest in something this out of the way if it wasn’t a good spot, do you?”

“Well no, but it just didn’t really occur to me to think of a place where people died as someplace nice. I’m sure the Overlook hotel is really majestic and stuff, but it’s hard to see past the hallways flooded with blood, you know?”

“You know the Overlook hotel isn’t real, right, babe? But this place is, and it could be the next big thing, attracting all manner of souls if we market it right.”

Sam was confused.
“Souls? And what do you mean, market it right? First of all, I don’t think whoever owns this place would want a bunch of strangers coming out here. I’m not even sure we should be here. And second, even if they did, look at the place. It’s obviously fallen into disrepair, the parts that were finished anyway. I heard something about the people funding it backed out suddenly for some reason, so it was never meant to be lived in. Why do you want to market this place, Ange? Aren’t we just here to film a segment and then move on to the next creepy place?”

“First of all, Sam.” Her tone was ice. “It’s pronounced Angelié, thank you very much. And second, I don’t recall asking for your opinion on how our business should progress. The episodes we’ve already filmed have done alright, but the promo I cut earlier about the filming we’ll be doing at this site has already generated hundreds more likes and subscribes than any before. So if we decide to do a longer segment at this spot, that’s up to us.” With a huff she turned to face the front of the van, her body language declaring the conversation at an end. Shooter gave Sam an apologetic half smile and put the van in gear, heading toward the resort.

As soon as they parked, Angelié was out of the van and angrily heading toward the dock just below the main house, hopefully to walk off her frustration. A number of half built cabins could be spied in the tree line, their empty windows giving the impression of desolate spirits devoid of purpose. For all its beauty, there was nothing here which felt welcoming or peaceful.

Sam started to feel a familiar prickling sensation, as though their group was being watched. Except for a town they had visited for a brief segment wherein the majority of the populace had been wiped out by a flash flood in the late 19th century and were none to happy about it, the awareness of so many dead had never felt as overwhelming as it did now. Briefly wondering if they were in any sort of danger, given the proximity to all the weirdness this place encompassed, Sam gripped the hagstone tightly, whispering a silent plea for protection. The hagstone grew warm, which was new and unexpected, but caused an instant feeling of ease. Sam relaxed a bit and took a look around. What had seemed like empty houses now appeared rife with activity, some more visible than others. Some watched the trio, but most just existed, if that was an apt word to describe what they were doing. Sam couldn’t help but wonder how so many ghosts had ended up here when there were some which obviously died far from this place and even this time, such as the guy on skates with a broken neck near the shoreline who was more likely to be found at a roller disco than a lake in the middle of nowhere. Or the hunter in the pith helmet carrying an elephant gun with what looked like a tusk sized hole through his chest. Sam silently cheered for the elephant.

Among the group were two men strolling toward them, both dressed in black, though only one of them made it look cool. The other looked slightly unhinged, as though he’d been taken apart and put back together by someone who was careless about it. The cool guy was gesturing, pointing out different spots around the resort, and Sam wondered for a moment if they were goth tourists on an adventure of death sites. Then the uncool one turned and Sam could see multiple stab wounds through holes in his shirt. Sam had often wondered why some ghosts still wore their wounds and others appeared as they had in life, but thus far had no answers. Even mum wasn’t sure, though she speculated that some people carry their trauma as a touchstone to the extent that it defines them and becomes their whole identity. A legacy of pain, she called it, suggesting that it stemmed from a fear of being remembered as the thing which happened to them, rather than the person they’d been. They were longing for their loved ones because the people who care for us tether us to the knowledge that we’re seen, appreciated, cherished. She tried to help as many as she could find their way back to self before making the leap into the next iteration.

Still chatting, the two men were heading straight for Angelié, still standing on the dock looking out over the water, though her back was to them. Sam watched, curious to know if she would react to their presence, but also wary given that there was no way to know what was possible as they got closer to the source of the magnet. And even without calling mum and asking, it was obvious they were. If the sheer amount of revenants wasn’t a good indication, the incessant vibration of their presence was. Shooter came and stood next to Sam, clapping a meaty hand to shoulder in heavily solid reassurance.

“Don’t worry, Sam, she never stays mad for too long. When she changed her name it took me forever to pronounce it correctly. Honestly, I’m still not sure I do sometimes. Heck, I think sometimes even she says it wrong.”

“Wait, Angelié isn’t her name? When did she change it?”

“When she settled on being a ghost hunter, she decided she needed rebranding and wanted a name that made people think of something dead but pretty, like an angel.”

“Angels were never de-you know what, it doesn’t matter. What’s going on with you, Shooter? Why didn’t you want to be in the segment earlier? Is something up?”

Shooter let out a sigh.
“Well, I was talking to this tiny lady near the store earlier, and she kinda put a bug in my ear-oh not literally, that’s just an expression!” Sure he’d allayed any concerns Sam might have had about genuine bugs in ears, Shooter continued. “Anyhow, between what you said this morning and what she said, I’ve been thinking I really miss my bulk buddies and the regular training schedule. Being on the road was interesting for the first few places, and this place is really cool, but it’s all kinda sad, you know? I don’t want to focus on places that are sad because it makes me think there aren’t any happy ones left.”

“I’m guessing by the way she isn’t screaming that you haven’t told her you want to go home and start training for Mr Wellington.”

Shooter shook his head.
“I was thinking that once we finish here and head back to the motel tonight, I’ll tell her then. It’ll make the drive home real uncomfortable and I’m sorry for that, but I can’t lie to her anymore about wanting to do this. It’s her dream, not mine, thought sometimes I’m not sure it’s hers either.”

Sam smiled at the large man.
“That’s awesome, Shooter. It’s important to advocate for yourself. I’ll stand by you. We’ll weather the storm together.”

“Thanks Sam.” Shooter turned and walked back to the van to unload the gear they’d need for filming. Sam turned back to the lake. The two men were nearly at the dock, their voices carrying easily over the water.

“And this dock is where my friend Toby was standing when I got him with an arrow from just over there. He definitely didn’t see it coming, which is funny because it went right through his eye.” He laughed, the sound of it making Sam instantly nauseous. “I’m pretty good with a bow and arrow, just ask your little stoner friend.”

The disjointed one turned to him.
“You killed Casey? Did you kill Cassie too?” There was a hesitation in his voice, as though he didn’t really want the answer.

The other shook his head.
“No, that stupid dog jumped me before I had a chance. Hey look,” he deftly changed the subject. “It’s our friend from earlier. Hey girlie, what’s up? Did you bring more meat for the beast?”

Sam’s blood ran cold.

Photo by Simon Wijers on Unsplash