After the obligatory signing of papers, Bill handed the keys to Ira and left. She jammed them into the lock and, after figuring out a very specific pattern of pushes, pulls, jiggles, and pounding the rotting wood, she actually managed to open the doors. They swung forwards and revealed the darkness beyond. Ira flipped on her phone's flashlight and headed in.
Swinging it back and forth revealed the walls and she realized that she was walking through a narrow entrance hallway. Her eyes hadn't adjusted to the gloom yet so what the light shined on was all that she could see. Pointing it behind her, Ira could see her tracks left in the dust on the floor. Of course, she had seen the cliché images of a perfect footprint in sand or dust or whatever, but it didn't work like that in real life. Or so she had thought. Apparently, she had just never been anywhere dusty enough. No one had been here in here since her uncle Frank disappeared and Ira couldn't blame them. Instead of doing something about the condition of the building, everyone had probably just hoped that the building would rot into the ground by itself.
As she continued, she passed a few closed doors. The handles only bounced uselessly when she pulled them and Bill had only given her the one key. Either they were stuck or the keys had disappeared over the years, which was great because there's nothing like owning a building and not being able to actually get into any of the rooms. But Ira continued on and now that she had been in the dark for a while, she thought she could make out a large set of double doors just in front of her. The flashlight soon confirmed this.
But as she pushed against them, Ira found out that these ones wouldn't budge either. She stepped back. There was no way this stupid building was going to lock her out of this room too. Ira had had a very bad week and an even worse twenty-four hours and to say she was a bit upset was the biggest understatement anyone could ever make. She was tired, sleeping in a car, hours away from anywhere remotely hospitable, and she had been shafted by her uncle post-mortem. Someone had to pay.
And it was going to be these doors.
Ira screeched like someone who had lost everything would screech into the void of the night sky at three a.m., desperately seeking answers. Every overflowing emotion erupted out in an assault on the ears bad enough to make them bleed. She propelled herself at the doors, ramming her shoulder into them, and heard them crack as they gave way. By an inch. But Ira wasn't done yet. Again and again, she threw herself into the doors, the rage she radiated masked any pain she might have been feeling. Budge by budge Ira fought the doors until it was open enough for her to squeeze through sideways.
She had to shove her phone in her pocket to climb over a heap of something on the other side. When she took it out again, the light revealed that someone had piled cabinets, cases, and any other heavy and vaguely large objects they could get their hands on against the double doors. Which meant that if someone had barricaded the inside, there had to be another way out that Ira could have used instead of adding severe physical injury to the list of things she hated about her life right now. Figures.
As Ira took a few steps, she heard an echo bounce back. She shone her flashlight around, trying to get a fix on the room.
It was the main gallery of the museum.
The room wasn't wide but made up for it in height. When she turned her phone upwards, the beam faded away before it hit the ceiling. So she turned it to her surroundings instead. Ira had never actually been to church but she sure knew what one looked like. This room had been where people gathered in the pews to listen to services; the nave it was called, as Ira found out after a quick Google search. And, setting aside the cobwebs and dust, it was so untouched that Ira was worried that a priest might walk out any second and start preaching. And that they had heard her torrent of cusses when she attacked the door. Her uncle had barely changed a thing when he converted this room. Moulding pews lined the room, a boarded-up faded stained glass window took up most of the back wall, and there was even a small towering pipe organ stowed away in one corner. The only thing that had been changed was the addition of glass display cases scattered among the wreckage that was everything else.
Ira took a closer look at them, moving along and angling the light in a way so that she could see inside. But she wished she couldn't. The things inside were creepy as hell. The cases were filled with dusty, rotting artifacts; clouded bottles stained with whatever they had once held, porcelains doll in rags with cracked faces, and embroidered circlets of what Ira hoped wasn't really human hair. All this stuff was going in the garbage the first chance she got.
She approached another row of cases and when her flashlight hit the first one, Ira saw a face staring back at her.
And then Ira let out a string of expletives too sensitive to be written down on paper.
The case held a dead body.
The skin was leathery; cracked, flaking, and faded. It had shrunken and was stretched tight across whatever bones were left. There were holes where you'd expect and also ones in places they shouldn't be, and each one was pushed out of proportion by the sharp angle of Ira's flashlight. Fingers and toes were missing, but those that remained had long, broken nails. And everything was topped off with a nest of surprisingly vividly coloured brittle hair that looked more like dyed straw than anything natural. The body was held upright by brackets and seemed to be the only thing keeping it from collapsing and crumbling into dust.
Once Ira realized that this person had been long dead, she stopped her swearing but was still just as upset. What was wrong with her uncle? Why did he have this? Who just owns a dead body in a glass display case? Nobody normal did that! Ira felt like she had learned more about her uncle in the last five minutes than she ever had when he was alive. She had learned that her dear uncle Frank was a creep, a sicko, and possibly a serial killer. Though if he had killed this person, he must have done it a long time ago; whoever it was had been dead for ages.
Ira then noticed a small card stuck to the inside of the glass. She leaned forward to read it.
Rebecca Morris, 1823 – approx. 1855
The main figure behind Charlotte Country's only murder trial. Stories claim that she had a fight with her fiancé, Harold Downs, about the dowry her family had promised him upon their marriage. When the argument got out of hand, he supposedly killed her and hid her body. A trial was held at the local courthouse where, despite the authorities being able to find her body, Downs was convicted and hanged. To date, this remains the only hanging carried out in the local area. Harold Downs is buried outside in the church's graveyard. Morris' body was discovered in 1997 in a wetland along Fisher Rd when it was drained to build the Greener Places Golf Course. The mix of water, soil, and plants effectively mummified Morris, making her a prime example of a bog mummy.
So apparently her uncle hadn't murdered her. But someone else had, and Ira wanted nothing to do with any of it. Dear old "Rebecca" had to go. She turned her flashlight, looking for a drop cloth she had seen lying on the floor earlier. When she found it, she threw one end of it high over the glass case so that the other end draped down over the front, covering the contents. It would have to do for now.
Ira had decided that this stupid darkness wasn't making this place any less creepy and that this wasn't the set of a horror movie so realistically, there had to be a light switch somewhere. She made her way to one wall and followed it with her hand, occasionally tripping over the garbage that her uncle had left everywhere on the floor. After making her way around most of the room, she found it, flipped it, waited, waited some more, and then gave up. Apparently, they don't keep the power on in buildings that haven't had anyone inside for twelve years. She turned her attention instead to the tall windows lining the room and wondered how easy it would be to pry off the boards covering them by hand.
But Ira never got the chance to find out because her thoughts were interrupted by a light knocking.
The voice had echoed in from the direction of the front doors, which Ira just now remembered that she had left wide open. She crammed herself back out of the gap in between the double doors, cursing. Who just wanders into a building like that? And especially one like this?
Her question was answered when she was met by three imposing people. Standing near the door was a man so large that he could've crushed a bodybuilder's skull in one hand, his bulging muscles so well defined that they looked like they had been outlined in permanent marker. There was another man beside him, about half his size, which was still rather impressive considering the first man could have been four men posing as one in a trench coat. The other man, however, was much thinner, but still looked stronger than average. Instead of crushing a bodybuilder's skull, he was probably capable of just breaking their nose with one punch. But there was something unsettling about how he never stopped twitching; it gave the impression that he had made a hobby out of sticking forks in electrical sockets. And standing in front of the two men was a woman, who looked relatively normal compared to the other two. "Relatively" being the keyword; she looked like instead of skull-crushing or nose breaking, she'd just shank the bodybuilder and be done with it.
Normally Ira would give them hell for entering without permission seeing as this was her property, but the way they looked and even the way they carried themselves, straight, still, with the kind of posture you only saw on statues, made her wary.
"Uh… Hi?" Ira decided to venture back.
As soon as Ira got close enough to them, the woman shot out her hand. Ira flinched backwards and had to do a double-take just to make sure there wasn't a knife in it. The woman smiled at her, or at least that's what Ira thought she did. She showed her teeth and the corners of her mouth went up, but nothing else on her face moved.
"We heard this old building got a new owner. It's nice to meet you."
Ira realized that the extended hand was supposed to be an offer of a handshake. She took it but tried to keep contact with this woman at a minimum.
"Yeah, it was my uncle's but-"
"We know all about it. There's not a lot of breaking news out here, so when a body is found, it's all anyone talks about. Especially since Mr. Oaks was a local."
"…Sorry, who are you? And how do you know my uncle Frank?"
The woman lightly slapped her forehead; more of a way to make her point than a genuine reaction.
"I forgot to introduce us! I'm Tanya," she gestured to herself, then to the large and skinny men behind her, "and that's Jad and Coop."
The hulking figure of Jad gave a nod while Coop only twitched.
"And actually, it's kind of a funny story how we knew Mr. Oaks. See, we're a local group interested in historical sites and any abnormal anomalies that occur there. We want to rectify these anomalies so that they don't happen again."
"You're like… I'm sorry, what? What do you do?"
Tanya opened her mouth to try and explain again, but Jad's rumbling voice beat her to it.
"We hunt for paranormal entities."
"So you're… ghost hunters?"
Tanya's nose wrinkled as she flicked her narrow eyes back towards Jad. Ira had the feeling he wasn't supposed to have talked.
"That's a bit of a crude term, isn't it?" Tanya said, cocking her head.
"Your right-hand man there just used the word 'hunt'."
"We don't want to associate ourselves with those people you see on TV and the internet that walk around old houses at night with beeping equipment and jump at every noise they hear. Our organization is a professional one. In fact…"
In a movement too fast to see, Tanya raised her hand and snapped her fingers. On cue, Coop reached into his breast pocket and took out a card. He handed it out to Ira and she was baffled as to how he didn't drop it. Ira looked down and studied the card. It was black with jagged text printed over the image of a snake biting a skull. This thing was more middle school emo than professional. She read the card.
Officers of Paranormal Prosecution
Tanya Hale • Jadev Tarret • Scott Cooper
"Isn't that acronym already taken? Like by the police?"
Tanya chose not to hear her. "When we were just starting out, we were always trying to convince your uncle to let us take a look around the place. It would have given his little museum here some good exposure, but he always refused. I never could figure out why."
Ira looked back to Tanya as she continued.
"But now that the place is under new management, maybe you'll let us do some observations here sometime?"
"Well, actually, I'm going to sell it, so that'll probably be a no." She tried to offer the card back to them, but no one moved to take it.
"You might end up keeping this place longer than you think," said Tanya. "I'm guessing those bodies out there in the graveyard will be somewhat of a legal hassle. Nobody wants to buy a property with corpses on it."
Damn. She was right.
"We'll let you get back to your work. But… keep us in mind, and call us if you see anything strange."
"Any abnormalities you mean."
Tanya smiled again, just like she had before, but this time Ira noticed that her eyes twitched ever so slightly.
"That's right," she said through her toothy smile. Then, with a nod of her head, all three spun on their heels and practically marched out of the front door in sync.
God, what psychos. At this point, Ira would prefer moving back in with her parents than staying in this place. At least that was a nightmare she could predict. Charlotte County quickly seemed to be becoming the dumping ground for weirdos and horrors rejected by everywhere else. Who knows who or what else could be lurking around this place, waiting to cause her misery?
She needed to get out of here. She needed to get rid of this building. And to do that, she needed to get rid of those bodies in the graveyard.