The advertisement read: Calling All Ghostbusters—Non-Believers Need Not Apply.
That phrase ran through my mind over and over again in the wake of the strangest job interview I’d ever had. I’d certainly never encountered one, wasn’t even sure I believed in the concept of them, but when I’d seen the ad promising—praise God—a paying job, I’d been only all-too-willing to answer in the affirmative.
Now that I held said job, and had even been immediately given a cubicle in the dingy, poorly lit sub-basement of a grubby high-rise in one of the more questionable areas of the city, I wondered what I was doing here.
Besides earning a paycheck, I meant.
“Nick!” called an unkempt, bearded guy from over my cubicle wall. It was Ogilvie, the “Team Leader” and my boss. “We got one already. I’m sending you out with Gutierrez.”
He grinned. “Better than okay! Show some excitement, alright? Briefing in the conference room in five minutes.”
I looked around my cubicle after he disappeared. “Haven’t even been in the job five minutes,” I muttered.
“What was that?” said a female voice behind the wall to my right.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Riiiight.” A tall woman with gaunt face and much-too-red-to-be-natural frizzy hair stood up. “Ready for your first? Oh, I’m Mona.”
“Nick,” I said. “Um, what should I expect, Mona?”
She laughed. “To have your world rocked, Nick. You probably aren’t even sure you believe in ghosts, right?”
“Well, remember what I said. World. Rocked.” She flashed a smile with too many teeth. “Have fun out there, rookie.” She dropped down behind the partition wall like she’d dropped down a chute in the floor.
This was just the most surreal situation I’d ever been in, I thought. I got up and went to the “conference room,” which was more of a lounge area next to a green-linoleum kitchenette, and set up with mismatched ottomans that had all seen better days back in the seventies.
I got what turned out to be an especially awful cup of coffee and sat down on a tiger-print seat that was threadbare in places. I was distracted from the simultaneously bitter-and-burned taste by the arrival of a guy who looked vaguely like that lead actor from Machete. By which I meant he was strongly built, had a brutal face, and was basically as scary as all hell.
“Gutierrez,” he said in a kindly voice, and held out his hand.
I stood and shook it. “Nick Scoletti,” I said, and we both sat back down as Ogilvie joined us. He sat on a zebra-print ottoman that had a fluorescent pink stain at its far right corner.
“Alright,” Ogilvie said. “Here’s the scoop. We’ve been hired to investigate an abandoned warehouse which is condemned and due to be destroyed. The property was purchased by Advanced Entertainments; their plan is to build a casino.”
“We’ve worked for them before,” Gutierrez said to me.
“Right,” Ogilvie agreed. “Their CEO is a ‘believer,’ but he pays solid, whether we find a haunt or more mundane causes. He just doesn’t want any bad mojo by not doing his occult due-diligence.”
Occult due-diligence? Sounded like this CEO guy was a few eggs shy of a dozen, but… “Okay,” I said.
“Location?” asked Machete-man–I mean, Gutierrez.
“West Eastwood Avenue, between North Sheridan and Uplift Community High.”
“Let’s go, Scoletti,” Gutierrez said.
We all got up, and Gutierrez and I got our coats and went out. I’d walked from the train station and didn’t know my way around Uptown Chicago on the west of the lake, and said so.
“We’ll take my car,” he said. We went out to a brown 1988 Pontiac Sunbird with its insides covered with black plastic Hefty bags. I didn’t want to ask why, and he didn’t seem to want to explain, so I let it go and got in.
We pulled up in front of the grim-looking warehouse about twenty minutes later, and it was even shabbier and seedier than the “Team’s” office. “Do we get some kind of ghostbusting equipment or something?” I asked before we got out.
He leaned over and untaped the glove compartment, reached in, and brought out a vaguely gun-looking device. “Taser,” he said. At my raised eyebrow, he said, “Hey, could be squatters, and it’s non-lethal.”
We got out.
“And…” Gutierrez added. I looked at him over the hood of the car. “If it’s electronic hoax stuff, this thing will scramble it.”
“What if it’s a ghost?” I asked.
“You really believe that crap?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “If not, why did Mona say my world was going to be rocked?”
“All that fucking hair coloring went straight to her brain. Don’t pay any attention to her, she’s a whack-job.”
“So, let’s go in and check it out, okay, Scoletti?”
We went to the door, and Gutierrez took out a key that unlocked the padlock on it. He had to yank the door open, its rusty bottom grating against the concrete of the warped frame. He took out a flashlight and handed it to me. “Rookie takes point. Gunnery,” he hefted the taser, “brings up the rear.”
I switched on the flashlight and went in, if somewhat reluctantly.
We explored the ground level carefully and found nothing but grime, broken glass, and some scurrying things that were probably rats, but seemed the size of raccoons.
“Shh!” Gutierrez suddenly said.
I stopped and listened, but wasn’t sure I heard anything.
“There!” Gutierrez whispered, pointing at a rusty ladder that lay askew over a panel in the floor, which had hinges along one side and a ring set in it. We moved over to it, and carefully and slowly moved the ladder off. Standing next to it, I could hear something below, something that sounded like vague murmuring.
The hinges looked like they weren’t too rusty, so we pried up the trapdoor and heard the murmuring more clearly. There were steps leading downwards. We opened the panel fully and Gutierrez pointed down the stairs, then held a finger up over his lips. I nodded, even though I didn’t want to investigate at all.
“Shit, man, don’t be such a pussy!” Gutierrez whispered over the taser’s barrel, and grinned like he was having a fine old time.
I took in a deep breath, blew it out, and started down. I felt, rather than heard, Gutierrez close the trapdoor above/behind us.
It was dark except for the flashlight, and the stairs descended along the back wall of the warehouse, turning back on themselves several times. The murmuring sound grew louder below as we got closer to the bottom. At the landing, just above where the stairs ended and the darkness opened up, I stopped and shut off the light. A dim glow came from around the corner below us.
Gutierrez and I went to the bottom and peered around the wall.
There was a group of figures standing around a set of flickering red and black candles set on the floor, and the murmuring came from them.
“Hey!” Gutierrez shouted, so suddenly and shockingly loud that I felt my heart stutter in my chest.
To my horror, the figures swiveled towards us. I turned to race back up the stairs, but I felt Gutierrez’s powerful hand grab me by the back of my shirt and toss me backwards down to the bottom, where the breath whoomfed out of me.
“I brought the sacrifice,” he boomed out with seeming good cheer.
I tried to move then as my eyes searched desperately for his, but they got lost in the muzzle-view of the taser in the instant before it flashed like the Sun. I felt a searing pain in my chest and my teeth clacked together hard, and then I had lost control of my muscles as they jerked and spasmed from the current running through them.
Then, amidst the wracking agony, everything went dark.
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