1. This turned out to be much longer than I expected.
2. I discovered that I really hate present tense, and that it just about kills me to write in it. I’m never going to do this again.
It’s bright and cloudy at the same time. The clouds are dark and cover most of the sky, but the sun is uncovered and bathes everything in light. Together the clouds and light create an oppressive atmosphere. Everything is uncomfortable and tinted yellow.
The light and dark contrast makes the town look dead.
Anna knows there are no people here. There haven’t been any for years. Jill knows this, too, but that does nothing to make her feel better.
“Is this the right place, Anna?” Jill asks. “It really doesn’t look right.”
“I’m not entirely sure what you mean by that,” Anna replies. “It doesn’t look like the right place or it looks like there’s something not right about it?”
“The second one,” says Jill. “There’s no one here but there’s something wrong.”
“Good,” says Anna. “It’s always good to have a second opinion on these things. I don’t want to spend hours searching the wrong place and not find anything.”
“Does that happen often enough for it to be a problem?” Jill asks as they start walking down the street.
“Fortunately, no,” replies Anna.
They pass a sign that reads “Welcome to Holub”. Suddenly, the atmosphere of the town changes. The light gets brighter and the shadows get darker, making the contrast much harsher. The air feels different and far more oppressive. Everything is even more uncomfortably yellow.
“So what exactly are we looking for?” Jill asks suddenly. As well as being oppressive, the air is also still, and Anna flinches slightly when she hears Jill’s voice.
“I don’t know,” she replies. “It’ll be some sort of small object, hopefully. It could be a mug or it could be a car. We’ll have to look around the whole town, probably.”
Jill scans the buildings in front of them. “This is going to take a very long time,” she says. “Hours. Days, even. We don’t have that many hours before it gets dark, Anna. We’re going to have to come back tomorrow, aren’t we?”
“Probably not,” says Anna. Jill stops walking and stares at her. Anna stops a few feet in front of her and looks back. “Jill, I’ve done this a thousand times before. It should only take two hours at maximum. This town isn’t that big.”
Jill doesn’t look convinced. “Are you sure about that?” she asks. “There are two of us, not a group.”
“The lack of people will make our work a bit harder, but don’t let that get to you,” says Anna. Her tone turns more serious. “If you concentrate on that, it will make it harder to concentrate on searching. This town is going to mess with you.”
“Should we split up?” Jill asks after they start walking again.
“That would make searching a lot easier,” says Anna. She points to the houses on the right side of the street. “You search that part of the neighborhood. I’ll go through this one.”
Anna takes her phone out of her pocket as she steps onto the sidewalk. As she gets closer to the object that causes the town to seem dead, her phone’s display will be overcome with snow and it will start to emit a hiss. It’s the only way to find the objects.
She walks around the houses, listening carefully for any sounds of static. She can’t hear any, so she heads deeper into the neighborhood and away from the main road. The air isn’t so still anymore, and there is a breeze that moves dead leaves across the street, a little bit at a time. Despite this, the air still feels dead.
The shadows from the trees and lamps stretch across the street, connecting with the shadows on the other side and creating what looks like bars. A feeling of unease comes over her, and she takes a few more steps forward to see what will happen. The wind changes direction and pushes against her, the dead leaves curling around her shoes.
Anna has been tracking down anomalous objects for years at this point, and she had rarely felt afraid. This is something she hasn’t seen for a long time. The object has a greater influence on the town than most objects do – the majority of them only affect a small radius around them, not a large area.
Her phone isn’t producing any static, which means the object isn’t in this part of the town. Anna turns around and heads the other way, not even bothering to look back. She doesn’t need to know if the shadows go back to normal.
She walks through the neighborhood and back to the main street, where she sees Jill standing. Jill looks nervous and is fidgeting, shifting from foot to foot.
“I didn’t find anything,” she says.
“Neither did I,” says Anna.
Jill frowns and bites her lip. “But…I started feeling really uneasy when I walked past a certain house. Nothing happened, but…” she trails off.
“Did you phone act up?” Anna asks.
Jill shakes her head. “No, there wasn’t anything there. I didn’t get any sort of static.”
“Did you see anything weird?” asks Anna. “Did anything move? Did you see any shadows move?”
Jill looks confused. “No, nothing like that,” she says. “I didn’t see anything weird. It just didn’t feel right.”
Anna thinks this over for a moment. “I think you were just nervous,” she says. “This sort of atmosphere does distort reality to an extent, but it also makes us uneasy.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” says Jill. “Any leads, Anna?”
Anna shakes her head. “No. We’re just going to have to go through this place until we find this thing.”
They split up again and continue walking through the town. An hour passes, and by this time Anna’s feet are getting sore. She glances at her phone to check the time, and realizes that the sun should be setting at this time. It still looks the same as it did when they first arrived in the town.
Just when she starts thinking that they’re going to be looking around for a few more hours, her phone squeaks. Anna looks at it and sees that the screen is partially covered in snow. She takes a few steps forward, and the phone emits more static. This is the right direction.
She walks far away enough from the area so that her phone is clear, and then texts Jill. I’ve found it. Meet me in front of the school. As Anna waits for Jill to get there, she looks over the school. It’s the elementary school, and looks slightly more run-down than the other buildings.
When Jill gets there, Anna is standing in front of the building again. She holds up her phone so Jill can see the static and hear the noise it’s giving off. “Looks like this is it,” she says.
Jill looks at the school. “An abandoned, haunted school – isn’t that stereotypical?” she says.
“It’s not actually haunted. There are no ghosts here,” Anna says automatically. “We won’t be running into anything. Things might end up looking weird, but that’s it.”
When they walk up to the front office, the door slams open, making both of them jump. Anna’s phone emits more noise, and she steps toward the now-open door. The static becomes more consistent.
“Are you sure we won’t be running into anything?” asks Jill. “That sure looked like something to me.”
“Yes,” says Anna. “There’s nothing actually here. What you saw is literally the worst thing that can happen.”
Jill doesn’t look convinced, and Anna doesn’t blame here. Anna had assumed for a long time that the anomalous objects would create things capable of harming her. Nothing had ever happened, of course, but it had taken her a very long time to realize that she would always be safe in these areas.
The building is dark enough that they both have to take out their flashlights. “I really hope it’s not in the dark somewhere,” says Jill. “That’s going to take forever to find.”
Anna keeps on walking, listening to the variations in the static that her phone produces. After wandering around the building for a while, she and Jill end up standing in front of a large, broken window which leads to a courtyard.
“This is it?” asks Jill.
Anna nods. “It’s definitely out here.” She looks down at her phone, which is emitting squeaks and whines along with static. The display is completely covered in noise.
She steps carefully through the broken window and stands there for a moment. The wind picks up slightly when she starts walking, making the leaves swirl around. The very air in this place is oppressive, and it gets stronger when she approaches the center of the courtyard.
“This is normal, right?” Jill asks, sounding very worried.
“Yes,” says Anna softly. “Don’t be surprised when the static stops. That’ll mean we’re right on top of it.”
She walks around the courtyard, waiting for the noise to stop. When she reaches one of the benches, it does, and she looks down to see a baseball partially embedded in the dirt. Anna pulls it out of the ground and looks at it.
“This is what’s been causing this ‘haunting’, huh?” says Jill as she looks at the baseball. “I was expecting something more ominous.”
Anna smirks. “Yeah, it rarely turns out to be that way.” She takes a small bag out of her backpack and puts the baseball into it.
The change is immediate. The ominous feeling goes away, their phones’ displays go back to looking normal, and the sky gets darker and looks less yellow.
Jill looks up at the sky. “It’s gotten dark extremely quickly,” she says. “Is that because of the object, too?”
“Probably,” says Anna. “I’ve noticed that sometimes the objects freeze the sky when I go into a place like this. I don’t know why. It’s probably related to all the other weird things it causes.”
She and Jill start walking back to the entrance of the town. On the way there, Anna notices that there are no more random gusts of wind, and that the shadows no longer move. The only thing making the town look creepy now is the lack of light in the sky.
“It still looks a bit dead, doesn’t it?” says Jill.
“Well, it’s night. That always makes things look dead,” says Anna. She turns to Jill. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Jill shakes her head. “Yeah, it was a lot more uneventful than I thought it would be.”
“That’s a good way to describe this job,” says Anna. “Once you get past the traveling and the weird illusions, it’s really quite boring.”
“I really hope so,” says Jill.