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I held my breath for a moment. Here it was again, the apparition that had stalked me for nearly a decade and it was less than six feet from me. This ghost, demon, whatever it was, loomed over Joyce’s shoulder, threatening to tear my soul apart and suck me into the madness of it’s black, soulless eyes.
My instinct was to run screaming, or shove Joyce out the way and put that monster’s head into the wall and keep bashing until it was just gone. I looked to Simmons for confirmation, but he looked at the image as if he knew it, was annoyed by it but was also comfortable around it. Joyce too seemed to react to its presence, like she knew someone or something was standing right behind her. I realized I hadn’t blinked, my eyes locked open in a state of shock. I shut them, rubbing the tiredness away from my face and opened them again. It was Detective Washington standing behind her.
That bastard ghost, that’s how he’s claimed victims in the past, he incites them to suicide. I still didn’t know what this thing was, if it had more than one ghost as part of a whole or just used many different faces, but my rational mind was winning out and I had a cold comforting feeling that at the very least I knew that this thing had a methodology. “It’s fishing.” I said more to myself than to anyone present.
Joyce looked understandably confused, as did Washington, but Simmons was getting it. “Detective…” I said to Washington “Off the record, off the books, just the four of us here…where are you on believing in ghosts?”
Washington and Joyce sat side by side on the couch, and I was starting to understand some of his animosity towards me. This was not a big city, not small town mind you, but certainly not as big as San Antonio, Houston, or even Corpus Christi. No, word traveled fast here and no doubt he knew I had been summoned here by Elda about the events that happen to Joyce and her father. The way she snuggled into his side I knew they were a couple. Factoring in the fact that I was investigating something painfully tragic to her life, and the deaths that happened after I hit town, I couldn’t blame him for wanting me locked up and then driven out of town on a rail.
“What is all of this about?” Washington asked bluntly.
I opened up, rather than letting Simmons tell a co-worker about ghosts in jails and what not. “Years ago I was in jail for driving while intoxicated. While there I came across…something that I cannot explain but that terrorized a fellow inmate, Taylor. That event changed the trajectory of my career forever and I started hunting ghosts for articles. Anyway, Elda, your neighbor, sent me a letter not too long about what happened when your dad was attacked by something no one can explain.”
Joyce squirmed. “The investigation said that my dad cut his own throat.”
“After what I found with Taylor, and then more recent evidence, I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think your dad was attacked. Absolutely, 100 percent attacked, and he got hurt trying to defend himself.”
I turned my attention to Washington. “I’m going to make an educated guess…Teresa caused her own death. Right? That’s why the judge told you to let me go, because she did something that killed herself.”
Washington didn’t speak at first. Then, staring straight ahead he let it go “Yes. The security video showed that she did in fact cause her own death.”
“Now…” I said raising my hands and then looking at Simmons and back to Washington “Think about what you saw, but then place someone there in the middle. Like, take what you saw in Taylor’s video, but imagine someone standing right in front of him.”
Simmons ran his hands over his face. “It makes sense. Taylor was screaming at something. I thought he was yelling at us, but if he saw something we can’t see…”
“Elda can see them.” I blurted out.
“The crazy blind lady next door?” Joyce asked with extreme skepticism.
“Yes. I played the security footage Teresa gave me when I went by the shop. Elda couldn’t see the video, but she could see ghosts that were present at the event. She saw the inmate, and a few others.”
“So let me get this straight…” Washington leaned forward, but I cut him off;
“Yes, a blind woman saw ghosts on digital CCTV footage and the ghosts are trying to get us to kill ourselves by dealing with them physically.”
“That doesn’t make any goddamn sense.” He said.
Simmons nodded “No, the method makes sense. Let’s say you are intangible, you can’t touch anyone, but can be seen. You want to kill someone but all you can do is try to make them try to kill you.”
“Or go after you until you walk off a balcony.” I added. Simmons nodded “Now we have no idea why, but we at least know the how.”
“That makes the two suicide murders now.” Washington added.
“And it means your father…” I said to Joyce “Didn’t try to kill commit suicide. That was his attempt to fend off a threat.”
Joyce got up and went to the kitchen, more from frustration, I think, rather than needing anything. Washington was up close behind her but she shooed him away. “No…this…I SAW what attacked my dad. It looked like my mom.”
“Did it have black eyes?” I asked. Joyce and Washington stopped in their tracks and looked at me like my head just caught fire.
“What did you say?” Joyce asked.
“I said ‘did it have black eyes’?”
Washington looked to Joyce, then to Simmons. “I never saw her eyes when I came on the scene.”
Joyce was just staring straight at my head. “Yes…” she whimpered. Tears started edging their way down her face.
Washington was up to her and she held him. “I…I never told anyone about the eyes. I thought I was crazy…”
Simmons got up and motioned for me to follow. “I have an idea, we need information. We need records, but everything from before I started working at the jail is in storage in the old courthouse. It's off limits, but it’s the only place I can think of to go for more information on Cell 48, maybe the black eyed inmate.”
Washington was still holding Joyce, and guided her to the couch. He picked up his phone, speed dialing someone. “Decker? Hey, it’s Washington. I need a favor…you’re the on-call tonight, right? Yeah, do me a solid, any calls you get from patrol about the old court house, send them my way, alright? No your ass will be fine. Remember when I covered for…yeah. Thanks.”
He click off his phone “You two go. Gate code is 24601. Just don’t trash the place, please.”
“Don’t worry…” Simmons said. “We’ll be in and out, no problems.” Now it was my turn to look at him like he grew a second head.
We stared up at the three story court house, with its concrete dome and spire. It has fallen into severe disrepair over the years but apparently was at least good enough for storage. But it wasn’t the condition of the building that sent a chill down my spine. It was the dilapidated, charred structure next to it. When this was the courthouse, the neighboring building was the jail. There was still a concrete catwalk connecting the two buildings. After the new courthouse was built, maybe twenty years ago, a new jail went up with it, and this husk of a building became the annex. About two years ago it was closed down when it caught fire.
“How many died in there?” I asked Simmons.
“Peachy.” I said and moved forward.
“What? They can’t all be ghosts. I mean, some of them had to move on, right?” he asked, looking at me.
“How the hell should I know?”
“You investigate this stuff for a living. Shouldn’t you be an expert by now?”
“NO! Look, of the stuff you think is associated with ghosts; EVP’s, weird images in photos and videos, banging noises, cold spots, stuff like that, about 90 percent of it can be explained away. The other ten percent defies explanation. Anything anyone has ever written about “hard science of ghosts” is hand wavy bullshit that they are just guessing at. The real deal…well you know, is…” I stopped and looked at the annex where part of the wall had broken away. It was dark, but there was someone there looking at us.
“Let’s get this over with. I get the feeling we aren’t welcomed here by the locals.”
We got to the second floor of the courthouse. “Lucky the guy on call owes Washington a favor.” I pointed out. It was less about conversation and more about keeping human noise up, making sure we didn’t lose track of ourselves in the darkness. Our flashlights danced about the piles of mildewed boxes and rusted filing cabinets that lined the halls, casting thick blocks of jet black shadows in contrast to our white lights.
“Luck has little to do with it.” Simmons advised, his voice echoing off the walls. “Everyone in our line of work owes a favor of some kind or another. And if you don’t, you will so better to do the favor and have one in the bank then not do it and have nothing to stand on when you need it.”
“That makes sense. When I worked at the South Texas Report that’s how the operation worked. Take stories for each other; give a little get a little.”
“What ever happened to the South Texas Report. It wasn’t a bad paper.”
“It got bought out by an online news magazine, chopped up and sold off.”
“That’s a shame. The sports coverage was pretty good, but the city beat kinda sucked.” Simmons said looking at box labels.
“I worked the city beat.” I said defensively.
“Yep.” He said.
“You suck.” I said, looking at filing cabinet labels.
“Yep.” He said.
After half an hour of I finally asked, “What the hell are we looking for here?”
“The organization of the files out here was spotty at best. When it came to inmates that died in units, however, they grouped the files by unit, and then by name. The first death in B-Pod was in 1989, so I’m looking for B-Pod, years covering that range.”
“Seems like an ass-backwards way of filing. Why not put all inmate records by last name? That would make it easier to find.”
“Exactly why they didn’t do that…” he said moving on to the next stack of boxes. “Back in the day, this county had no problem covering up a death in custody. I mean the Rangers came out, did their thing but the news never got wind. If they did, they’d have to go digging for the records. Law said they had to keep records, didn’t say they had to be easy to find.”
“That’s some shady stuff there.”
A thunderous bang down a hallway made us both jump. Of course the hall it came out of was pitch black. I shined my light down there, Simmons followed suit. At first there was a shape, then it was gone. I looked back at Simmons and saw the filing cabinet we were looking for. I tugged on the drawer but it was stuck fast by rust. Simmons freed the drawer with a yank “So we are not running down the dark hallway after the loud bang?” he asked flipping through tabs.
“Hell no.” I said.
The tabs were cell numbers, and it took freeing the third drawer to find the cell we needed. “Do you smell smoke?” I asked Simmons.
We stood up and looked down the hall. Shining our light we counted five human forms, charcoal black with red glowing splits in their skin that gave off the smell of burnt meat. “Grab the whole thing.” I said. He did. “Now get the hell out of here.” I said as the skin on the faces of the burning corpses started to crack apart, revealing charred bone.