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M.I.T.: Muggle Interface Team - Haunted House: Dead

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‘That is such an obvious a fake, Archie,’ Valerie Mallory sneered dismissively. Beads of perspiration glistened on the top of her colleague’s bald head as he frantically fiddled with the perspex bubble.

‘It’s a translucent globe with a built-in smoke and light generator. I bought it from a magic shop, and when I get it working, it will look better than the real thing,’ Archie Dark announced agitatedly. ‘But I can’t get it to switch on. I think that the batteries must be flat!’

‘What size batteries do you need?’ Simon Ryman asked. As he spoke, the fair-haired young man reached around his EMF meter, under the legs of the movement sensor, and into the bottom of his equipment bag.

‘The little ones: triple-A’s,’ said Archie, hopefully. He gave the sound man a desperate look, which turned to relief when the younger man produced the batteries he required. ‘Thanks, Simon; you’re a lifesaver.’

Archie hastily replaced the batteries and switched on the globe. It emitted a green glow, and smoke swirled within it. Sighing with relief, he covered the sphere with a green cloth and sat down at the small table in the centre of the library.

‘I’m ready, Jim,’ Archie told his boss.

Jim Sidney, who was the show’s producer/director, looked despairingly at his team of “fearless ghost-hunters” and sighed. ‘No you’re not, Archie. Ruby, dust his head, the lights are reflecting off it. We don’t want our viewers to be blinded, do we?’

The moment Jim barked out his order the lanky young make-up girl dashed over to the show’s elderly psychic, and dusted the top of Archie’s bald pate.

‘Quickly, Ruby, this is a live show remember?’ Jim raised his voice. ‘We’ve got four bloody minutes before we go live, and not one of you is actually ready. I wish I’d never agreed to the network’s request that we do live shows! You’re useless prats, all of you! Jesus Christ, Archie, what the hell is the point of you having a “fortune-telling method of the week” spot, if the thing runs on batteries and they’re flat!’ The producer rolled his eyes in disbelief.

‘Sorry, Jim,’ said Archie.

‘Never mind the bloody “sorry Jim’s”, Archie! Why is everything always last-minute with you?’ Jim asked. ‘I suppose that at least, if you knock the bloody thing onto the floor, it won’t take Ruby as long to pick up as those flaming Tarot cards you used last week! And where the hell is Helena!’ Jim glared at each member of his team in turn. She sent me a text saying that she was going for a walk, but she hasn’t left the hotel. I’ve checked with reception. The silly little tart is supposed to be doing the intro! You haven’t locked her in her room and nicked her mobile, have you, Valerie? I wouldn’t put it past you!’

‘She’s probably found some new bloke to get off with, darling,’ Valerie told her husband, venom dripping from her final word. Jim looked scornfully at his wife before angrily turning to address his tiny crew. When he did, Bill Kenny almost dropped his camera.

‘For Christ’s sake, Bill, what’s the matter with you? I expect Archie to drop things, and generally make a complete bollocks of everything, but you’re my rock. If you drop that hand-held, we’re buggered.’ Jim looked at his cameraman, and the sound recordist. ‘Have either of you seen Helena?’

‘I knocked for her. She’s not in her room, Jim, unless she’s ignoring me,’ the sound recordist, Hattie Coates, announced. ‘Perhaps she’s gone back up into the tower.’

‘Back up?’ asked Jim. ‘When did she first go up there?’

‘Not long after we’d finished the run-through. I’d left my bag in the library and when I went to get it I saw her going upstairs.’ Hattie indicated the door to the haunted tower.

‘Fer Chrissakes! That’s more than three hours ago, why didn’t you tell me?’

‘Sorry, Jim, I forgot,’ Hattie apologised nervously. She was getting distressed and Jim knew he neeed to calm her down. Although Archie Dark worked better when he was anxious and sweating, Hattie didn’t, she needed the gentle touch.

‘That’s okay, Hattie,’ Jim said apologetically. ‘I’m sorry, luv, you know how stressed I get before a show. You didn’t tell me, but I didn’t ask you. My fault! Sixty seconds before we’re live!’ He looked hopefully at the door, but there was no sign of his lead presenter. His wife smirked, and Hattie continued to flap her hands worriedly.

Jim swore. ‘Keep calm and carry on, Hattie. Ready, Archie? Positions, everyone! Valerie, as there’s still no sign of Helena, you’ll have to do the intro, okay? If I find out that she’s flat on her back underneath someone I’ll bloody kill her! Ready, Valerie?’

‘Of course, Jim, darling. I can manage an introduction, after all, I have done for every episode until today. Unlike your little floozy, I am a professional,’ Valerie told him smugly.

‘Ruby, be a love and nip into the tower. See if you can find Helena,’ Jim ordered.

Ruby Lipscombe looked as though she was going to protest, but when Jim angrily waved her away she gave a hesitant nod and scampered towards the door to the South Tower.

‘Credits are rolling,’ Jim announced. Silence fell as Ruby left the library for the tower.

The make-up girl was out of shot with seconds to spare. Jim checked his monitors. He didn’t have time to be annoyed, but Helena Anncart would certainly pay for this later. His new young presenter/psychic had pleaded with him, begged to be allowed to do the introduction. He’d said yes, seriously annoying his wife in the process. But now the newest member of their little team had vanished. She needed a few lessons in professionalism.

‘Ten seconds,’ Jim announced. As the music in his ear faded, he raised a finger, and his team swung into action. He gave his wife the thumbs up. He knew that he could rely on Valerie to hold the show together, no matter what. She turned and smiled at into Bill’s camera.

‘Hello, and welcome to this week’s Haunted House: Live. I’m Valerie Mallory, and tonight, my friends and I are in Cumbria, at Owlglass Hall,’ Valerie began the show. ‘This magnificent old building is now a hotel and wedding venue. It is also the third most haunted house in England. In a few minutes the owner, Mr Oswald Striggiday, will join us and tell us all about the fascinating history of this place. The hall has belonged to Mr Striggiday’s family since the original keep was built in the twelfth century. You join us in the magnificent private library. The door behind me leads to the South Tower, where three of the seven ghosts of Owlglass Hall are reputed to appear. Are your temperature gauges picking up anything yet, Simon?’

Jim flicked a switch and the broadcast image moved to the fixed camera trained on their technical expert, Simon Ryman.

‘There’s a definite temperature drop on the third floor of the tower, Valerie,’ said Simon excitedly, as he always did.

Jim switched back to Bill’s steady-cam.

‘Thanks, Simon. That sounds very interesting, but before we investigate the haunted tower, we’ll turn to our resident psychic, Archie Dark, who will tell us what we’re likely to encounter today,’ said Valerie smoothly. ‘What’s under the cloth, Archie?’

‘Well, Valerie, I’m sure that our viewers will immediately recognise this week’s fortune-telling device, the crystal ball.’ Archie Dark carefully pulled the green cloth from the globe. Thankfully, it was still working.

As he watched Archie through the monitors, Jim was impressed. Considering it was little more than a cheap perspex bowl standing on a black plastic base, it looked surprisingly effective. The internal light and smoke generators were doing their job, creating an impressive swirling mist. Archie ostentatiously waved his hands over the globe, gazing intently into its glowing and foggy depths.

‘If you shake it, does it look like it’s snowing inside?’ Valerie asked Archie, a wicked grin on her face. The team’s psychic panicked for a moment before giving her a false grin.

Jim frowned at his wife. She was bloody good. She could ad lib, she could fill, but she was the only truly professional broadcaster there. Valerie’s biggest problem was that she liked to let the others know how good she was by occasionally putting them off their stride.

‘Um, Er, of course not, Valerie,’ said Archie. He immediately moved straight back onto the script.

‘I can see several ethereal presences within the fog.’ Archie began to excitedly move his head from side as he peered into the globe, and cameraman Bill Kenny was forced to zoom out in order to keep Archie’s head in shot. ‘Mad Tam the jester, the oldest ghost in Owlglass Hall will, I’m certain, be paying us a visit. There are others hovering about us too, watching and waiting. The Headless Monk is here, though I don’t suppose he’ll speak to us, unless he finally finds his head.’ Pause for a laugh from the viewers, Archie, thought Jim, but Archie, put off his stride by Valerie’s comment, simply ploughed on with the script. ‘And finally, I see the Green Lady, a fifteenth century resident of the tower and the last person to touch the cursed Green Pearl: Valerie.’

Valerie Mallory took over seamlessly; Bill turned his camera on her and zoomed in for a close up.

‘The Green Pearl, the cursed pearl, has been owned by the Striggiday family since the twelfth century,’ Valerie explained. She smiled into the camera and continued, carefully putting just the right amount of awe into her voice.

‘Striggiday Family legends say that if the pearl ever leaves Owlglass Hall, then doom will fall on the family. For this reason the pearl is kept locked in a secret vault in the topmost room of the South Tower. Four hundred years ago the Green Lady, Lady Caroline Striggiday, foolishly decided that the legend of the curse was just that: a legend. She removed the pearl from its hiding place, intending to wear it for her lover. She died instantly, killed by the cursed pearl!’ Valerie paused for dramatic effect. ‘This promises to be an exciting evening as, later in the show, Mr Striggiday will be showing us the cursed pearl. But now, what more can you divine for us, Archie?’

‘I foresee that tonight, Valerie, our viewers will be faced with ghosts, mysteries, and the story of the tragic death of a beautiful young woman.’

Before Valerie could respond, the door to the South Tower clattered open. Ruby Lipscombe burst into the room; she was white-faced and shaking.

‘Helena’s dead!’ she screamed, and then she fainted.