The sliver of moon had just struggled over the roofs of the town below, and lay like spilt milk on the path and the dead garden around us.
“Do you think there’s anything in there?” I asked.
Mitron’s face was unreadable as he stood looking up at the house. “Dust, mice, a cockroach or two, and probably termites in the woodwork, I’m sure.”
“You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Mitron turned to me. “Mr Idom, let me remind you that you haven’t really given me any details to go on. I have no idea what I’m looking for...yet.”
“How could I give you details?” I protested. “I don’t know any myself. This house...”
“...was in your family for a century, and was left to you by your uncle. Yes, you told me that. And you told me it’s been unoccupied for almost fifteen years.”
“Because everyone said it’s haunted!” I snapped. “I told you this.”
“But you don’t know anything about the haunting, as you put it. You haven’t experienced it for yourself, have you?
“And so? Aren’t you the expert on the paranormal? Weren’t you recommended by every single source I researched? Why have I...” I broke off abruptly.
“Why have you hired me?” Mitron grinned, his teeth glinting briefly. “I don’t know. When you called me, you just gave me the barest bones of your story. You haven’t told me why you want me, though. It’s your business anyway, not mine.”
“Well, I want to sell this place.” The dust in the air, which had been rubbing my throat raw, finally made me break out coughing. “I can’t do that until there’s no question of it being haunted,” I said when I could breathe again. Mitron didn’t seem to be affected, and was watching me impassively. “Everyone knows you’re the best paranormal investigator in the country, if not the world. If you say there is no ghost, people will believe it.”
“Will they?” Mitron laughed, like a dog barking. “What if there is a ghost, then?”
I shrugged. “I’ll have to ask you to get rid of it, that’s all.”
Mitron nodded. “We will see. Do you have the key?”
I held it out, but he motioned me to keep it. “I still don’t understand why you wanted me to come here. I could have come to your office and given it to you.”
A brief frown of irritation flashed across his face. “I need you, in the house. That’s why I asked you to come and meet me here. I thought that was obvious.”
“But...I’ve never visited this house before. I can’t guide you around. What do you want me for?”
Mitron didn’t seem to hear the question. “Unlock the door, please.”
The lock was as large as a fist, and the key turned in it slowly and reluctantly. The door sighed wearily open.
Inside was a small hall, empty except for a thick coating of dust. A window on the wall to the right was a pale glimmer of moonlight.
“You told me, Mr Idom,” Mitron said, “that everyone says the house is haunted. What do they say about it?”
“I don’t know it all,” I replied. “All I’ve heard is that the people who tried to stay here felt...and saw...things. Nobody wanted to stay on afterwards.”
“Felt and saw things?” Mitron walked past the pale square of window to the rectangular black maw of the door on the other side of the hall, and looked over his shoulder at me expectantly. “What things?”
I shrugged. “You know what imagination and rumour can do, I suppose. They all said different things. Things that had nothing in common. One letter I found in my uncle’s effects was from a tenant who rented the place seventeen years ago. He took a three year lease. He lasted three hours.”
“Oh? What did he say?”
The passage through the door was almost pitch dark. It didn’t seem to bother Mitron too much. “He said that he saw someone here from a long time ago, someone he’d blocked from his mind, in this house. And this person was not...he said something about the lights being strange. It wasn’t a very coherent letter. That reminds me, shouldn’t we have some lights in here?”
“Why?” Mitron turned a doorknob I hadn’t even seen in the darkness, and opened a second door. It was a large room with a row of windows along one side. Walking to the nearest, I saw the dead garden, and, beyond it, the empty street. “As you can see,” Mitron went on, “there’s enough light for our purposes. And, besides, if your uncle’s tenant was correct, and there are ghosts here, lights wouldn’t make a difference, would they?”
“Well, then,” I said. “What should we do now? Go upstairs?”
“No, this room will do fine.”
“And what do we do?”
“Just wait?” I asked. He didn’t say anything, but his silence was eloquent. “I still don’t understand your reason for bringing me here,” I said eventually.
“Your house, your business, and you don’t want to be here?” Mitron’s voice was expressionless. “Besides which, I need you, to act as an attractant.”
“Attractant?” The word sounded ominous. “Have you found anything?” I asked eventually.
“I told you, we have to wait.”
“Wait for what?”
He sighed. “For something to happen, Mr Idom. Three hours, did you say your uncle’s tenant lasted?”
I nodded, and, because there was nothing else to do, went back to the window. Through the grimy glass the garden and street were blurred and misty-looking. Here, above the main town, there was no traffic. Except for a twitch of shadow that might have been a cat, nothing moved. Total silence fell.
Standing there, I wondered once again if I really wanted to do this, and whether the money I might get from the house was quite that important. Mitron, at least, was not someone I would have normally searched out. His face was even more like that of a bird of prey than his photographs suggested, his voice like a knife. Each time he looked at me I felt as though his eyes were stripping my skin and flesh and bones away and staring into the depths of what was left. He would have been intimidating even at high noon, in the middle of a bustling city. Here, in the deserted house and the wan moonlight, he was terrifying.
I could walk away from this, I told myself. I could tell him now that I’d changed my mind, that he could keep his fee, and we could leave. But could I really? Could I go away now without knowing, without being sure?
I would wait just a little longer, I thought. Just a little more.
When something happened it was so sudden that I almost jumped. It was also laughably simple and familiar; the ringing of my mobile phone. I fished it out of my pocket, almost dropping it in my fumbling haste, and put it to my ear. “Yes.”
“Mr Idom?” The voice was terrifyingly familiar. “I’ve been trying to call you for a while. I’m still waiting for you to meet me, Mr Idom.”
The phone did finally fall from my fingers, thumping on the floor. “Mr Idom?” I heard the voice coming from the darkness at my feet, tinny and idiotic. “Mr Idom?”
“Mr Idom?” the voice echoed from behind me, ancient and mocking. “Mr Idom?”
My mouth must have made a sound. I do not know what it said. I tried to turn around, and my body would not obey me.
“I told you we were waiting for something to happen, Mr Idom,” the voice said, and there was breathless laughter in the words.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2017