“You’re insane,” Ryan says.
He lets the words fall like they aren’t meant for him and tries his best to angle them at Shane, “This is insanity.”
Ryan watches out of the corner of his eye as a spirit brush against Shane’s arm, but doesn’t let himself stare. He keeps his eyes on the castle ahead of them, surveys the haunting architecture, intimidating height, and hears the voices echoing around. It feels like they’re calling his name.
The fear’s still there, cold blending with dread and filling in the cracks around his stomach, but so is a dull sense of normality. The kind that comes with seeing beyond the veil, hearing the voices, and talking to spirits for as long as he can remember.
“Come on, scaredy cat,” Shane says, brushing over where the spirit touched him absentmindedly, and taking a few steps forward. The castle looks as if it’s looming over them.
“It’s cold as fuck out here.”
Ryan adjusts his camera, and in the distance he can hear the sound of Shane locking the car. It’s funny, almost: locking a car with no one else around for miles. It’s less funny when he thinks about how there are still things around, just not the kind who would find a car useful.
“Okay, okay,” Ryan hears himself say, feels something cold on brush across his neck but doesn’t look back, and takes a breath.
When Ryan’s five he meets a boy named Andy on the playground next to his school. Andy has bright red hair, freckles, and the widest smile Ryan’s ever seen.
Andy says he’s six, a whole year older than Ryan and therefore in charge, and he likes it when Ryan helps push him on the swing.
“You’re fun to play with,” Andy says one day, mid-push, suspended in the air but not high enough where Ryan can’t see the smile that stretches across his face.
“You are too.” Ryan says back, pushes the swing again, and Andy huffs.
“Yeah, well, no one else thinks so. The other kids don’t like to play with me!”
Andy’s frowning, and his eyes start to glaze over, “Everyone else ignores me.”
“I like playing with you,” Ryan says earnestly, because he does. Andy’s funny, can push Ryan higher than he can push himself, and his hair is the brightest shade of red Ryan’s ever seen.
Andy grins, “Okay yeah, that’s cool. You don’t ignore me.”
One day, Ryan asks his Mom if Andy can come over for a play date. He points to Andy when she asks, who’s swinging on their swing and smiling: showing off his two missing front teeth.
His mom laughs, and shifts to talk to the other moms again.
“Baby,” she says, when Ryan whines and pulls at her jeans until she tells him why Andy can’t come over to play. “There’s no one there.”
Ryan huffs, doesn’t understand his mother’s smile or the game she’s playing, but turns and walks back towards Andy to keep playing.
They move to California a few weeks later. Ryan doesn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
The castle is cold because they’re in Britain in the Winter and the walls of the castle hold in the freezing air like they’re starving for it. Something breaths on Ryan’s back, and he doesn’t look back: just flinches carefully away. Shane notices, of course, because Shane always notices.
“Your imagination, Jesus,” Shane laughs, leaning further against the wall, voice almost overshadowed by the changing channels of the spirit box.
Ryan hears himself laugh along, but he doesn’t adding anything else: too preoccupied by the corpse across the room from them trying to stitch its flesh back onto its bones. Pieces are wrapped around a rib like thread as the spirit tries to weave their body back into being. Ryan forces his eyes away before he’s noticed.
“Sure,” Ryan echos back, knowing better than to try and argue with Shane about it. The reply comes about two minutes too late but that’s nothing editing can’t fix, and he doesn’t bother trying to compete with the static sounds of the spirit box, “imagination.”
When Ryan’s ten, and his parents finally implement computers into the house for him and his brother, one of the first thing he searches is the address of his old park. He’s curious, maybe a bit nostalgic, and petty enough to bring up an old argument with his mom. Ryan types the address in by memory, and adds the name Andy to the end of the search bar out of mild interest.
The first thing that comes up is an article. It’s been digitally transferred from an old newspaper that was printed a few years before Ryan was even born. He clicks it.
The article is an announcement of a local tragedy, though it doesn’t say too much about the victim and focuses more on future prevention, but it’s linked to an obituary.
Ryan clicks it. He has to read over the lines a few times to finally comprehend anything more than tragic accident and head injury and six-years-old. The room drops ten degrees.
Ryan scrolls down for a picture.
He’s there. Andy, in all his six-year-old glory, smiling and missing the same teeth Ryan remembers him missing. The picture’s black and white, but that isn’t what has Ryan slamming the tab shut and turning off the computer. That’s not what has him backing away and covering his mouth as bile rises in his throat.
The picture is black and white, dulls Andy’s freckles and the mischievous edge to his smile, but one thing is still incredibly clear.
Andy’s hair is blonde.
“You're delusional,” Shane tells him, after they’ve moved from the small room and wall. Shane’s flashlight shines down the hall and reflects off Ryan’s camera, an incredulous smile pulls at his lips.
Ryan laughs, doesn’t say you are so close to right, but he thinks it, and that’s worth something, probably. A half-visible spirit cries in his ear.
“Jokes on you then,” Ryan returns, motions to the door with his arms, and waits for Shane to lead the way down the hallway.
Ryan’s mom comes looking for him an hour later and finds him curled up in the bathtub muttering something into his knees. She tries to touch him, but he screams: ice shoots through his veins and the fear doesn’t stop rushing.
It takes ten minutes and his father’s help to pull him up and place him in his bed where he still doesn’t respond.
The next morning, when Ryan wakes up dazed and forcibly forgetful he wonders downstairs to ask about what happened. His mom looks at him with worry creasing her forehead.
“Ryan, baby,” she says, “you just kept whispering ‘ you were right, you were right ’ over again. Are you okay?”
He forces a laugh, feels the cool still flowing in his veins, feels it settle and knows it will never truly go away. He tries to play it off as a bad prank.
She doesn’t look like she believes him, but she accepts it.
Ryan doesn’t sleep for weeks and it’s much longer before he learns how to tune things out.
“Why the ever-loving fuck.”
“It’s for the show,” Shane says, shrugging like he hasn’t just proposed locking themselves inside of a room at one of the most haunted locations in Britain. He smiles and then, “It’s not like there’s anything to be afraid of.”
Ryan sighs, his neck falling back eyes squinting shut like he can will the idea away.
“Nothing to be afraid of.” Ryan echoes, and wonders if Shane can feel the child’s hand playing around the edge of his smile, or feel its giggle when his hand slips to his nose, “right.”
In the beginning he thinks maybe it’s schizophrenia.
Ryan hears about his first year of high school, and by then he’s gotten better at ignoring the things he can’t stop seeing- gets used to seeing bones and bloodied bodies at every turn. He remembers not to stare too long at the trails spirits leave in their wake.
Ryan thinks it’s schizophrenia because it encompasses his symptoms: a disease that collapses pieces of the mind and can trick you into seeing things that aren’t there. A fragmentation of what was. There’s also a paranoid aspect to the disease, but Ryan thinks that's a pretty normal reaction to seeing things no one else seems to.
He asks his teacher so many questions about it that one day the woman smiles and asks, “Are you interested in being a Psychologist, Ryan?”
Ryan wants to say, no, actually, I’m interested in not seeing ghost anymore and I think I’m insane. But he bites his tongue instead and nods.
She answers some of his questions, and the ones she can’t he looks up on the internet.
It’s the first time he sees the term psychic. It’s in bold cursive lettering and something feels- right, about it.
He clicks the link.
They can’t get out of the castle soon enough in Ryan’s opinion, but once they are out he’s breaking into a run for the car: calling over his shoulder like he’s trying to race and not running the fuck away.
Shane lets him have this, though. He plays along and walks a bit faster, and blames their rush on the cold.
Ryan nods, and lets Shane pick the music on their way back to the hotel as a silent thank you .
He never uses the term psychic on himself. He’s still hesitant, almost afraid of what will happen if he was to adopt the title.
Names have power, it’s one of the first things he learns when conducting the initial research on magic and spirits, and you don’t use them lightly.
When they meet the Voodoo queen in New Orleans, Ryan’s heart skips a few beats and all he can thinks of when he enters her house is, this is it.
It felt like coming home, in a way. Something electric flowing under his skin, and he couldn’t stop smiling.
The voodoo queen winked at him once they started exploring the house, and the buzz under his skin erupted and started to spread a new kind of terrifying euphoria through his veins. It was horrible and beautiful, and every time he saw a spirit it would spike. She claimed she saw them too.
Ryan still doesn’t know if he believes her but he’d really like to.
They leave for home in the morning: back to America and friends and family. But for now it’s their last night, and instead of spending it in another haunted location they settle for a night bar in the middle of the city.
“You think too much,” Shane says, but he’s laughing and his cheeks are tinged a light pink from the booze. Shane shakes his head, and says, “You’re imagination is unparalleled, really.”
The party is loud around them and the voices of the dead merge with the living and the drinks blend the lines of each reality a little further. The world is both realms colliding and Ryan feels high off the buzz of their latest city.
Ryan cackles, his grip on his beer slipping as he places it on the table, and lets his head fall back. They both pretend Shane isn’t watching his throat.
“You have no fucking idea,” Ryan says back, but the bar’s so loud he doesn’t think Shane hears him.
They stumble back to their hotel room, and Ryan doesn’t take a second glance at any of the shadows he knows are following him. Shane is grinning grinning grinning and Ryan’s whole body feels like it’s floating: caught somewhere between the here and now, and the tentative future.
They collapse onto the hotel bed, falling over each other and bouncing between each other’s wheezes. They’re a pile of messy limbs and laughter and reeks of booze, but it’s fun and Ryan slips off his coat of fear.
For the first time in awhile, Ryan doesn’t count the shadows before he sleeps.
Sometimes, Shane looks at him like he understands. Like he gets why Ryan jumps and knows why he’s so quick to scream at shadows.
Sometimes, Shane looks directly at the same spirit Ryan’s been trying to avoid, and stares like he sees them. But he doesn’t do anything else about it.
Ryan used to wonder if Shane knew. If Shane saw what Ryan did and just thought it was funny to mock him for it. It’s a dumb theory but he’s posed dumber.
He’ll ask Shane, every once in a while, about the spirits. He tries to slip him up and catch Shane in the act, asks things like, “Dude, did you see that?” or shout, “Holy fuck!” in the wrong direction hoping Shane will correct him: will cast a side glance to where the real spirit is and let Ryan know he’s not completely insane.
It never works, though. Shane either rolls his eyes and humors him, or he just laughs.
Some days Ryan wants to scream until the world finally sees what he can and believes him when he tells them the truth. It’s not likely, but he’s always been a dreamer.
The office is slow and boring, and Ryan wishes the editing for their latest video was done an hour ago. Memories from England play through his mind like a slideshow, from the bar, the hotel room after, and Ryan clenches his eyes shut to will away the oncoming headache.
Shane rolls his chair next to Ryan’s like he can read his thoughts about absolute boredom. Ryan raises an eyebrow but sticks to his computer.
Shane leans back and stares at him before asking, “For as much as you talk about it, do you really believe in the things you ‘hear’ or ‘see’ in the places we visit?”
“Of course I do.” Ryan says, eyes sliding from the project on his computer and moving to Shane’s face.
Ryan grins, pushes his chair back and closer to Shane’s, says, “The truth is out there, and I’m gonna find it.”
Shane rolls his eyes and shakes his head, but he’s laughing: thoughtfulness replaced by incredulous humor.
“Okay, Mulder,” Shane scoffs, but then his face lights up like he’s just had an epiphany. “Wait. If you’re Mulder, then that would make me Scully.”
“Oh shit,” Ryan says, and then he’s wheezing at the look of delight that overtakes Shane’s face, “I guess you are.”
Shane whistles, and a few people in the office look over at them, “I’m the hot cynic, baby!”
“And a doctor.” Ryan adds.
“And a doctor!” Shane shouts. Suddenly they’re both laughing, projects abandon for a much needed break until Brent walks over to ask what the hell’s so funny.
Brent proposes lunch a little while after, sensing the extremely tired nature of surrounding many of the Buzzfeed employees on their floor. Everyone’s too restless for catering, so they settle for carpooling to the nearest restaurant, which just so happens to be a burger and shakes place.
Shane rides with Ryan because Shane driving is almost a taboo at this point. A few other people pile into the car, and Ryan turns on the radio.
When they get to the restaurant they place their orders and grab a booth. Brent’s debating something with a girl who has dark blue hair, and the whole table seems to be watching. That is, until Ryan turns and to Shane across from him and finds him already staring.
Shane looks at him, really looks at him: like he’s trying to find something.
“So you really do believe it?” Shane asks, the curiosity of his voice balancing with the intensity of the question.
“All the ghost stories and conspiracy theories? Every loony thread out there talking about the veil and what’s behind it?”
The others don’t seem to hear their conversation, overshadowed by Brent’s and blue haired girl, or if they do no one shows any signs.
“There’s a lot out there.” Ryan shrugs. He plays with the paper wrapping of his straw to give his hands something to do. He doesn’t count the shadows swarming the corners of the restaurant, and he doesn’t second glance at the one grasping on tight to blue haired girl. “Who am I to limit it?”
Shane opens his mouth a fraction and looks like he’s about to say something, but then the food arrives. Ryan takes his milkshake with greedy hands.
Jokes become jokes again, and Ryan avoids Shane’s gaze and blue haired girl’s shadow, and laughs. Soon after they clean up and Ryan drives them all back to work.
He doesn’t meet Shane’s eye in the front mirror.
The funny things about the Britain trip is that Ryan didn’t realize just how far his sight could reach until they took it.
America’s big but it’s not as old as Europe- doesn’t have the same level of history. America’s got plenty of blood on its back, but Europe’s had it for longer.
His senses felt heightened the entire time with the same cold rush spilling through his veins, and a stronger sense of what he’d felt in New Orleans flooding through him continuously.
The feeling followed him everywhere: the railroads, Ripper street, the castle. He felt like he could see everything and then what he couldn’t he could hear. Electricity was running through him, and it was terrifying but made a sick sort of sense.
Ryan tunes back in when he sees Shane open his mouth. He starts to say something about their next filming location.
“So, what do you think?” Shane asks, flipping through the papers on his desk, casting Ryan a sideways glance.
Ryan nods tries to smile, and says, “Yeah, dude. It sounds good,” and doesn’t think about the taste of electricity still lingering on his tongue.
When Ryan’s seventeen he he gets a bunch of friends together to explore a haunted boat.
They chose the Queen Mary ‘cause they’ve done they’re reading and it’s the closest location nearby.
Ryan’s bored. He can see too many things, and is so tired of no one believing him about any of it.
They pack as many cameras as they can afford between the three of them, even purchase some low class ghost equipment, and supplies to last them a few days.
When they first step foot on the ship they’re brimming with excitement and laughter, cameras already ready and waiting.
Ryan sets foot on the Queen Mary and something sparks.