Laura was dead.
Ryan Buell, face stern with resolve, slid the somewhat unwieldy straps of the Shakti Helmet over his head. He clipped the buckle under his chin and sat back, making sure not to get tangled in the wires that ran down and into a machine on the small table next to him.
The room was lit by just one lamp that stood in the corner and the chair that Ryan was situated in was faced opposite to it. This meant couldn’t see much.
“Are you ready?” The voice belonged to Sergey Poberezhny, who, besides Ryan, was the only one in the room. In fact, he was the only one accompanying Ryan on this particular trip.
“Yeah. Let’s do this.” Ryan’s voice was slightly husky, perhaps to compensate for the nervousness that he always felt when on a case that dealt with particularly nasty entities. Ryan wasn’t really the type that scared easily, per se, but to those who really knew him well, those like Sergey who had spent nearly all of private and working life together with Ryan, it was obvious this wasn’t natural.
Then again, Sergey mused, the whole situation was strange. Why should Ryan be expected to act naturally? They had been called out by Laura’s parents after being given the news that she had passed. The circumstances surrounding her death were rather morbid and despite their request that Ryan come investigate, Laura’s parents had been less than willing to come forward with the details surrounding their daughter’s last days.
The two young men knew that they might not have a complete idea of how things had happened, but they also knew that his job this time around was to learn not why Laura had died, but rather if she had at last been Saved. If possible, they should also try and figure out just where whatever thing it was that had inhabited her body had gone.
Sergey glanced around the room as he switched on the machine. This was Laura’s room, but it was much different from what he had remembered it to be in visits prior. In fact, the furniture had been taken out except for the chair, the table, the floor lamp and the little stool that he was using so that he could monitor the machine properly. Most of the personal effects on the walls-- posters, pictures, trinkets-- had been removed so that the room seemed very eerily unused.
He thought it was strange, but then again he had never been a grieving parent himself.
Ryan sat still, hands at his sides. For someone with such a high level of EMF flowing into him, he was certainly calm.
They waited. It was the only thing they could do.
The hotel room was a mess with clothes and equipment. Ryan was lying on his stomach on one of the double beds, troubled look on his face. Just like the couple hours before when they had been at Laura’s house, Sergey was right at his side. He sat on top of the mattress directly next to Ryan, his hand on his friend’s back, trying to be consoling.
“Maybe we have to consider that perhaps she was doing it for attention.”
“But I saw her myself. We all saw her. She was possessed. We can have a Catholic priest attest to it for god’s sake. She was the real deal.” Ryan supported his chin with a fist as he spoke. His expression was one of disbelief.
“Or just really, really good at faking it.” Sergey’s voice was soft, soothing.
There was a pause as Ryan considered what was being said. Was his judgment really so poor? Had he been unable to tell a real victim from a con? His eyes narrowed. “Or maybe now that she’s gone, all the demon’s energy, everything bad that she carried with her, maybe it all just disappeared with her.”
“That could be…” Sergey didn’t sound convinced. Though he still spoke in the same even tone, his expression had changed just a little. Ryan wasn’t looking at him, so he didn’t feel the need to hide the doubt he had started to feel. “But do you think that it could be that we read her wrong from the beginning?”
“If that’s the truth, then that means her parents, it means that, you know, that they were in on the whole thing with her.”
Ryan hated being wrong about anything. Having worked in the field of paranormal research for so long, he considered himself an expert. He liked to believe that he had a sense of when something was real or faked. Laura’s demonic possessions, both of the times she and her family had called out for help, had seemed to be so genuine.
After a few moments when Ryan didn’t make a move to answer, Sergey spoke again. “Eilfie did say she had a feeling.”
It was true. Though originally all of the members of PRS had been called upon to come out to look into Laura’s death, there had been a real issue of ethics that had broken its members in two. Eilfie Music, second generation pagan, lead the opposition movement. She had been adamant that Laura’s condition had been mental illness, an opinion which Josh Light and a few of the other team members had agreed with.
Sergey didn’t know which side to take, but he was loyal to Ryan. His only stipulation was that, due to the sensitivity of the situation, there should be no film crews, not even one single camera, to document the situation. This had come as a surprise to Laura’s parents, who looked almost disappointed when Ryan and Sergey had shown up at their doorstep with only a few bags of research goodies and their own bodies.
Chad Calek, of course, had butted heads there, as had Katrina, which came as a surprise to Ryan. While Sergey had always felt that perhaps Chad was a bit of an opportunist, or perhaps a purist when it came to wanting to report all activity at any cost, Katrina’s reaction had come as a complete shock.
“Eilfie doesn’t even believe in the same god as us,” Ryan was a bit bitter. In any other situation, he would never have made such a comment, but he was feeling betrayed by his long-time friend and PRS co-founder. “Of course she wouldn’t believed that Laura is being possessed.”
“Her parents called us just a day after her death,” Sergey countered. “And when we showed up, they were, I don’t know, they were a little pissed that A&E wasn’t with us. And her room? Where was all her stuff?”
“Everyone handles death differently. You of all people should know. They wanted answers, and after supposedly helping to cure her not once, but twice, I would have demanded answers from me, too.”
Turning away, Ryan knocked Sergey’s hand off of his back. He shook his head and let out a long sigh. The hotel room, one of hundreds he had made a temporary home in the years since he and his crew had really gotten serious about ghost hunting, seemed to be crawling. Ryan felt itchy, dirty, betrayed by everyone including Laura, her family, and even Sergey.
Of course, Sergey realized this. He stood up, fishing a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He had tried to give up smoking so many times but so far hadn’t been able to kick the habit. He knew logically that tobacco killed, but his nerves were also taking a beating. Lighting up, he went over to the window and opened it. A chill drifted in but both young men ignored it.
“I’m just saying…” Sergey held his cigarette between his fingers and exhaled, “sometimes mental illness and demonic possession have been known to seem very similar. Maybe she really did believe that she was being taken over by something evil. What did she experience? Voices? Black outs in consciousness? Those are both signs of schizophrenia. The psychologist that diagnosed her did say that he couldn’t be one hundred percent sure she wasn’t sick.”
“No.” Ryan was clearly finished hearing what Sergey was trying to tell him.
Sergey sat down on the window sill and pretended like he wasn’t looking out of the corner of his eye to check his best friend’s reaction. Ryan didn’t move, he just lay there, back tense, body frozen. He had already tilted his head so that Sergey wasn’t able to see his face.
“Ryan, look…” Sergey tried after a moment.
“Don’t talk to me, Serge. Just leave me alone. You never did really understand.”
Ryan was pulling out all the stops. They’d gone through this before, about a year after they had first met, and Sergey had thought that they’d moved past this point. He scratched his head and then took another drag. This was going to take a while to fix.
Laura was dead.
Sergey couldn’t help but feel that part of their innocence had gone with her.