The wind is loud in this one. That's frustrating, and it makes Phil's job a lot harder, but he can't control the weather. Be cool if he could. He does his best to level out his voice and the background noise of Mother Nature before he settles in with his good headphones and really cranks the volume.
It's even more annoying to listen to the alternating crackle and whistle right in his ears. Phil has dealt with worse during this whole process, though, so he finds the strength to power through it. He listens to the full thing three times, scribbling a few timestamps down on a Post-It pad as he does. He takes a break after that, does some stretches around his tiny bedroom and tiptoes out to get a snack without waking the whole damn house, and then he's right back in his apparently ergonomic office chair to subject his ears to more of this nonsense.
Wind, wind, and more wind. And sometimes just Phil's own voice. Nothing of note.
Phil is about to give this video up as a loss altogether when he hits one of the final timestamps and... can't figure out what that noise is.
For the first time since he opened this file, Phil grins. He exports the clip and plays around with it in Audacity. Some videos are always more fun than others, and Phil had felt like he was slogging through this one until now.
"Do you hear that, Theodore?" Phil murmurs. The tiny cactus on his desk, thankfully, does not respond.
It sounds like a person. It sounds like a person, whispering, and it definitely isn't the wind, and it isn't Phil's own voice, because he's in the middle of a question in this clip.
Phil might just be going crazy from sleep deprivation or wishful thinking, though. He pulls out his phone and texts the only group chat that doesn't cause him anxiety, which is comprised of the housemates that he actually gets along with. Anyone up? he asks, adding a single eye emoji for good measure.
Even though it's gone two in the morning, he gets immediate responses from all of them. A string of vaguely dirty emojis from Chris, a simple yeah from Sophie, and a cheerfully morbid did you know that insomnia leads to an early death? from PJ.
Wanna listen to a noise for me?
Within three minutes, Phil's bedroom is full of people in various states of sleepiness. All of them are in ridiculous pyjamas - including Phil - and PJ's hair in particular has taken on a mind of its own. Phil's room isn't really big enough for all of them, so there's some awkward shuffling before PJ claims the office chair. Phil sits at the foot of his bed with Sophie and Chris on either side of him, pressed close against each other's shoulders. It's a good thing he likes these people.
"I mean, it isn't the wind," is PJ's confident opinion. "Did you have anyone with you?"
"No, it's just me and my camera against the world," says Phil.
"No need to be a twat," Chris informs him. He taps at PJ's upper arm, impatient. "Let me have a go, then, if there's something there."
Chris is famously bad at hearing things in white noise, but PJ acquiesces the seat easily enough. Phil laughs, watching them do a weird step dance around each other in the small space between Phil's bed and desk.
"I can't hear any specific words," PJ says as he flops down across Phil's pillows, making himself comfortable. Phil just nods, because neither can he.
"How d'you know it's a person, then?" Sophie asks. Her voice is probably the only one soft enough for the hour. Their other housemates hate them for their frequent all-nighters, but Sophie is kind and quiet enough that she slips under the radar.
"You'll see for yourself."
When Sophie goes to respond, Chris interrupts in a hilariously loud voice, as if he's forgotten that having headphones on doesn't mean they can't hear him. "It's some kind of ghoulie or ghostie! I can barely fucking hear it, Philly, why didn't you mic it?"
"Why didn't I mic the ghost?" Phil asks, bewildered. Naturally, Chris doesn't hear him.
Sophie taps Chris on the shoulder and stands, leaning over his shoulder as she takes her turn listening to the sound clip over and over. Chris spins in the chair a few times and gives Phil an unhinged sort of grin.
"You got something this time," says Chris. He sounds like he's having just as much fun as Phil is, now that there's actually a thing to listen to besides his own voice and the loud, loud wind.
"I think so," says Phil. "Why didn't I mic the ghost?"
"I'm saying it would make your job a lot easier if you mic the ghost, yes."
"If I could mic a ghost, I'd be a millionaire."
"Then you better get on it, eh?" Chris laughs, spinning a bit faster. Phil has never seen the man sleep. It's a little bit worrying.
"Sure," Phil says, giving up on trying to teach any logic to someone who's clearly long lost their hold on it. "Next time I spend all night in a graveyard, I'll mic any spirits that might be hanging out."
"Shut up," Sophie tells them, mild.
Chris mimes zipping his lips, wrapping an easy arm around her waist, and PJ laughs.
For the first few months they all lived together, Phil had struggled to keep up with whatever dynamics were going on between the three of them, but he's long since given it up as something he's not going to understand.
After a moment of quiet, Sophie nods. "I hear it," she tells them. Even with the headphones on, she's quiet. "It's not words, I wouldn't put any subtitles over it."
"Yeah," PJ agrees. "Just let your audience duke it out in the comments like they always do."
"Thanks, guys," Phil says, feeling a sort of warmth sink into his shoulders. He notices that Chris is pulling up another application and half-heartedly protests. "Chris, you don't need to edit this one for me. I still haven't paid you for the last video." Or the one before that. Or the three or four previous. Phil has it written down somewhere.
"Don't be stupid," Chris hums, already clicking around erratically. It makes the editor in Phil want to scream, but he has to admit that Chris manages to find more weird visual stuff to isolate than he could on his own.
"I feel bad," says Phil, chewing his lip.
"I've told you," says Chris, "you can pay me back in chores and sexual favours."
PJ's slippered foot knocks against Phil's hip, and he grins brightly when Phil turns to him. "You know, I do have a bit of a laundry backlog."
"Funny thing, that," says Sophie.
Biting back a laugh, Phil shakes his head. "Alright, alright. Everybody leave their laundry in front of my door tomorrow."
"That's a no on the beej, then?" Chris asks, raising a single eyebrow and pointing dramatically at Phil. It has been near two years of this, and Phil is still too afraid to ask if it's a joke.
It's not as if Phil's answer would change if it wasn't a joke, because he's not interested in Chris, and he's especially not interested in becoming entangled in whatever nonsense his housemates have gotten themselves into. But, still, he might be kinder about letting Chris down if he were being genuine.
"That is a no," Phil confirms. "But I will wash your pants."
"Kinky," says Chris. He turns back to the screen and makes an incomprehensible hand gesture. "This is pretty shit. You know that, right?"
Yeah. Phil does know that. It's getting harder and harder to have the same optimism in every video that he'd had when he first started recording his wanderings around the supposedly-haunted places of Rossendale. He'd brought the camera with him when he left, but might have left that optimism behind. Phil only kind of believes in supernatural things - the way he only kind of believes in giraffes or true love - but it's been more fun than anything else to pick up a camera and try to find some evidence.
He's been doing this since he was nineteen, though, and he's getting a little bored by the formula of it all. Go into a haunted place, try to communicate with the spirits, pick up some garbled words or creepy noises, highlight visual oddities like orbs, and let the internet tear it all to shreds. Honestly, he'd have more fun making proper horror at this point in his life.
Phil shrugs and pulls his knees up to his chest. He wants to hide away from the sympathy in Sophie's eyes, from Chris' blunt words. "Yeah. I'm getting kind of... I don't know. Restless."
"Maybe you should ask people to submit things again," PJ suggests. "That went well last time."
It had, actually. Phil had needed to sort through a lot more ridiculous stories and obvious hoaxes than usual, but he'd found some nuggets of gold in all that hay. Or however that saying goes.
"People did like having their stories read out," Phil says slowly. "I'd just need to be extra sure that nobody's, like..."
"Ripping off r/NoSleep," says PJ.
"We can help," Sophie says, and Phil could cry at how easily PJ and Chris agree with her.
He really doesn't deserve to have such great people around him. They've got work and lives of their own, but they're always happy to spend time crowded around Phil's computer listening to weird noises together. Phil sometimes wonders what they get out of it. Do they just like helping him, the way he has fun holding the boom for PJ's films or testing Sophie's concoctions? Or are they just as fascinated as Phil by the weirdness of it all? Do they want to see the cool instances of paranormal activity, too? At this point it feels nearly impossible to ask.
"That's going to be a lot of washing pants for me," Phil sighs. He doesn't know how to thank them, not when they always just wave it off.
"Sure is," says PJ. "But you should... ask the audience!"
"Your Chris Tarrant is pretty good," says Phil, only a little surprised by it. PJ's voice is as much of a tool to him as the rest of his body, and it's one he's always been skilled with. The impressions still tend to catch Phil off guard sometimes.
PJ tips an invisible hat. "Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week."
At his friends' not so gentle encouragement, Phil makes a few posts on his socials to ask his followers for new creepy things to explore. It might be the middle of the night in Brighton, but he has a feeling that Chris isn't leaving his desk until he's found every instance of an orb or strange shadow in the fifty minutes of currently uncut footage.
It seems like Sophie is on the same page, because she excuses herself to make tea for everyone. PJ leans over Chris' shoulder and watches the clips without sound, his lips moving as if he's murmuring to himself.
Sometimes this feels more like a group effort than Phil is comfortable with. He's never been very good at asking for help. As grateful as he is, he still itches with the need to take back control of the situation. He uses the slow trickle of fan submissions to distract him from that feeling, because all three of them do make his videos better when he stops being so possessive over his footage. Phil flops onto his back and scrolls through the incoming emails, tweets, and Tumblr messages to see if there's anything promising.
For the most part, the answer is a resounding no. Some things are blatant lies - there are countless ripoffs of films or novels that Phil happens to be familiar with, a few things swiped from creepypasta or subreddits, and his usual amount of conspiracy theorist fans insisting that some high profile person or other is a lizard - but most of it, to Phil's dismay, just doesn't grab his attention the way he wants it to.
Sophie comes back with tea and snacks. She leans her head against Phil's shoulder and watches him cycle through his apps, fact-checking idly and sighing every time something easily proves to be a hoax. Her hair smells like coconut and she makes a soft humming noise every time she lifts the mug to her lips. Her presence alone, small and warm and supportive, is enough to keep Phil from throwing his phone across the room and having a right sulk about how his career is in a tailspin because nobody makes ghosts like they used to. At some point in the night, Sophie's breathing evens out to the point that Phil thinks she's asleep, but then she reaches out to tap a tiny finger to his screen.
"What's this, then?" she murmurs.
Phil has been zoned out entirely for at least fifteen, and he blinks back into reality. There's a new message in his Tumblr inbox, one that seems like it must be over the character limit for asks. He must have submissions turned on or something, that's the only possible explanation for an actual essay being sent to him. It's barely broken into paragraphs with very little punctuation and no capitalization, and Phil has been staring at screens for far too long to try and parse this on his own.
"Can you please make sure this isn't, like, the entire Bee Movie," Phil asks, handing Sophie his phone with only a slight twinge of anxiety. He trusts her not to go snooping, but. Still. "I need to pee."
"Mhm," Sophie hums, already apparently lost in whatever stream-of-consciousness has been dropped into Phil's inbox.
The floorboards in this old Brighton house creak, and Phil has always envied some of his housemates for being able to sidestep the noises. It doesn't seem to matter how long he lives here, how much he tries to avoid making any noise, it's like the floorboards are determined to creak under Phil's weight. He winces as he passes two bedrooms whose occupants surely don't appreciate creaking outside their doors at such an ungodly hour.
At least he doesn't run into any walls this time. The nightlight in the bathroom at the end of the hall is the only thing lighting Phil's way, and he tends to stub his toes on absolutely nothing in this kind of semi-darkness.
When he makes his - very, very creaky - way back to his own room, he's bewildered by the scene that greets him. PJ and Chris have joined Sophie on his bed, and all three of them are poring over Phil's phone as though they're looking at a map to the Holy Grail.
"Hello," Phil says slowly, closing the door behind him. It creaks, too. "You aren't going through my pictures, are you?"
"No," Sophie and PJ chorus without looking up.
"You got nudes on here or something?" Chris asks with a mild sort of interest, clearly also too engaged in Phil's phone to put his all into the flirting.
"I don't," says Phil. It doesn't sound convincing, even though it's true, and he waits for Chris to tease him about it some more. When he doesn't, Phil has to admit that he's curious. "So I guess it isn't a meme or something?"
That makes them look up, in almost comedic synchronicity. Sophie blinks a few times, as if she's coming back to herself. She holds out Phil's phone and shakes her head.
"It's not a meme," she says. "And near as we can tell, it's genuine."
Phil joins them and takes his phone back, adjusting his glasses. His bed really wasn't made for four people, but his housemates have never had any personal space amongst themselves, and Phil isn't one to say no to human contact when he isn't getting it anywhere else.
The message is just as hard to read as it was at first glance, but Phil puts his brain to work. If his friends are reacting like this, it usually means he's in for something good.
hi ok so the thing is that this is completely ridiculous and i dont think its what youre looking for at all but theres a building near my uni thats got a ton of stories around it and it only started happening like this year like it isnt an old obviously haunted type of place but theres a lot of weird shit that goes down there so i found all the references to it online that i could and ive summarized them here (w/ sources ofc im not a dick) and its all just this side of strange so it seems like the sort of thing you might be interested in ok here we go SO
And it goes on like that. Phil feels his eyebrows raising as he clicks the provided links in the following walls of text, which are exactly what they're advertised as. Not a single rickroll in there. Just a handful of posts on Reddit and Facebook and independent blogs about various experiences people have had with a particular abandoned building in -
"I know this place," Phil says, surprised. He looks up at PJ's grin, Sophie's wide eyes, Chris' palms rubbing together in exaggerated interest. "I've been to parties here. Well, okay," he corrects himself before his friends can do it for him, "I've gone with Martyn to parties here and left early."
"Yeah, it isn't far out of Manchester," PJ hums. He bounces in place a bit, like he's suddenly energized enough to go jump on the soonest train up north.
"It didn't seem that weird," says Phil. "It's been a few years, I guess, but it wasn't even that scary."
"Sounds like it's only just started, though," Chris pipes up.
Phil isn't sure how much he likes that. The idea of a place he's been a few times, half an hour from his childhood home, being so suddenly full of haunted activity feels... weird. Still, it's catching his interest in a way that nothing else has in months, so.
"I'll look into it some more tomorrow," he decides, glancing at the time. His brother is probably still awake, to be honest, but Phil doesn't want to be that guy asking 'hey, do you remember the Wilkins place?' before dawn has even broken. Again. He has definitely done that sort of thing in the past. "I'll have plenty of time while I do, what, seventeen loads of laundry?"
"Something like that," PJ laughs. "Want us to clear out?"
As nice as the company and help has been, Phil still feels a rush of relief at the concept of being left alone again. He nods, still scrolling idly through the Wilkins place submission.
It hits him, very literally, too close to home to ignore. He wonders if his fan knows that, if this is somehow an elaborate prank that will end up just wasting Phil's time, but he's too curious to leave it alone. He'll just have to ask around, see if anyone else has heard these murmurings.
Til then, maybe he ought to try and get some sleep. Phil's computer, still open on the editing software, tempts him.
Well. What's another couple hours at this point?