There had been three men in the interrogation room. Two sitting, one leaning up against the wall. Officer Alvarez - Tab, as he’d been introduced to Austin - hadn’t acknowledged the third person in the room at any point during the interrogation. Neither had Monty, who had been watching the interrogation from the other side of the two-way mirror with Austin. But Landis Holliday had. He had jumped when the person leaning against the wall had spoken, had looked towards them and spoken back.
Austin hadn’t figured out what was going on until he’d thought to close his left eye while looking at the third person, who instantly blurred and shifted out of focus. The person with Landis was a ghost. And a more surprising revelation - Landis Holliday can see ghosts. Like it or not, that shifts the case more firmly into Austin’s area of specialty, regardless of how much (if any) of it is just a misunderstanding.
It’s also the first time Austin’s seen anyone who can do what he can do. Austin has always known that he probably isn’t the only medium out there, but he never expected to meet another, especially not under these circumstances. A medium who’s a criminal could be dangerous. Landis doesn’t seem dangerous. From what Austin saw in the interrogation room, Landis is squirrely and underfed, someone who clearly isn’t capable of overpowering a teenaged girl a head shorter than him. Although, Austin’s learned that what someone looks like on the outside isn’t necessarily a gauge for how much they’re capable of.
It’s probably nothing, Austin thinks as his motorbike putters up outside of the lakehouse. He checks the metal numbers on the mailbox post to make sure he’s got the right place, but there doesn’t seem to be any other house for at least a mile around, and this place reeks of spectral activity. There’s a thin mist rolling across the porch, and as Austin heads up the steps to the front door, the hairs prickle on the back of his neck. Something is here. More than one something, maybe. It’s freezing cold, but at least he brought a coat this time.
Austin sets his motorcycle helmet (a present from Otter, “so our next date isn’t in the ER”) down on a rickety old chair on the front porch. He tries the door, expecting it to be locked, but it swings open with very little give, the surprise and momentum of it making Austin stumble inside.
“Hello?” Austin calls out. No answer. Landis said he had a dog. Was he lying?
He fumbles along the wall in search of a light switch, and bangs against a coat hook, a small table, and a standing lamp before he finds it. The foyer lights up, and manages to look warm and cozy for all of ten seconds before Austin sees the dark figure standing in the kitchen down the hall. There are whispers coming from its direction that only get louder as Austin walks towards it.
“Hello?” Austin says again, more tentatively this time.
The dark figure doesn’t move, or respond. The whispers get louder, still, and Austin pauses in the door frame of the kitchen, his eyes suddenly able to pick out that there isn’t just one figure in the room, but three. Three shadow people standing in a loose circle, two tall and skinny, one short and stocky. None of them acknowledge Austin, or even turn in his direction.
“I can see you,” Austin says, a little frustrated. The figure closest to the door - one of the tall, skinny ones, pivots towards him, their body language very clearly showing surprise.
“He’s lying,” the short shadow person says softly. “Only Landis can see us.”
“Only as far as we know,” the one closest to the door says.
“Can you really see us?” the other tall one asks, a lilt of excitement in their voice.
“Yeah,” Austin says. “You’re ghosts, right? And another of you is with Landis.”
“Oh, shit.” The shadow person closest to the door sounds kind of impressed. “He can see us.”
Austin finds the light switch in the kitchen more easily than the one in the foyer. As the room floods with light, he watches the shadow people gain more definition, until they look like three regular, albeit slightly transparent, people standing around having a conversation. The shortest one is pale, with wisps of white-blond hair that float around his face in an invisible wind. The ghost closest to the door has curly, dark hair pulled back into a tiny ponytail at the nape of his neck, and the third is dark-skinned with a big grin and black hair that flips wildly around his face. They all look vaguely familiar, even though Austin could swear he’s never seen them before in his life. It’s the same vibe he got from Landis and the ghost in the interrogation room.
“Did something happen to Landis?” the short, blond ghost asks. His mouth is twisted nervously, and he’s fidgeting with the sleeves of his sweatshirt.
Austin shucks off his winter coat and tosses it onto one of the chairs sitting around the kitchen table. There’s no use lying to them. Maybe they’ll help.
“Yeah,” he says, leaning against the breakfast bar. “He got caught trying to abduct a girl and he’s at the police station right now being questioned. I think another one of you is there with him.”
“Mal,” the ghost with the ponytail says flatly.
“He’s the only one of us who actually leaves the house,” the tall, grinning one chimes in helpfully. “He’s been dead the longest.”
The short one looks at Austin with wide eyes. “Landis got caught…?”
“Bound to happen eventually.” Ponytail Ghost snorts. “Good riddance, really.”
“But he was supposed to feed the lake tonight!”
“Feed the lake?” Austin cuts in. All three ghosts turn to look at him.
“Trust me,” Ponytail Ghost says, “you don’t want to know.”
Austin scowls. “Actually, I need to know. Police investigation and all.”
The three ghosts turn away from him again, closing their circle and talking amongst themselves in whispers and titters. Austin can’t tell if they’re arguing or agreeing with each other. There’s clearly something more going on here than Landis trying to abduct a stranger - this is the second time that feeding the lake has been mentioned, and the ghosts seem just as unwilling as Landis was to explain what it means.
How long have they been here? Austin looks at the ghosts, trying to gauge when they might have died. Their clothes are generic - jeans, sweatshirts, and t-shirts. They could have only been dead a few weeks, or since the 1970s. Ponytail Ghost’s shirt has the words PAPER MUSEUM written on it, which gives Austin an intense feeling of deja vu. Where have I seen that before? Do I know these people?
The ghosts scatter suddenly, the short one going to peer out of the kitchen’s sliding glass door while the other two move in opposite directions, Ponytail Ghost towards the kitchen table and the grinning one towards the breakfast bar where Austin still stands.
“I’m Danton.” The one at the breakfast bar says. “That’s Jeremy,” he points to the blond ghost, then to Ponytail Ghost, “and that’s Wes. Who are you? You don’t look like a cop.”
“I’m not.” Austin looks around at the three ghosts. “I just work with them to handle stuff like this.”
“So you’re, what, a Ghostbuster?” Wes snorts again.
Austin shrugs. “I’m Austin. And I don’t get rid of ghosts, unless they’re hurting people.”
“Landis is the only one of us who hurts people.” Jeremy turns away from the sliding glass door, towards Austin. He’s still fidgeting with his sweatshirt, and he looks at Austin for only a second before his eyes slide down to the floor. “And he doesn’t really mean to-”
“Well, yes he does-” Wes interrupts.
“-but he has to,” Danton says at roughly the same time. The other ghosts fall silent, and Danton blinks around at them before continuing, like he’s trying to make sure no one else will start talking first. “Because of the lake, you know.”
“Can I ask…” Austin starts, a pit in his stomach opening up as he gets a feeling he already knows what the answer will be. “Why are you all here? Haunting this place?”
“Oh, we’re Landis’s friends.” Danton smiles. “He killed us to feed the lake. Our bodies are probably still down there.”
Austin smiles weakly back at Danton. “Does Landis have a phone I can use?”