Saturday, June 25, 2016
“We’re a popular show and we make a lot of money for cable television, Lee, but we’re not that popular that we can just go around destroying video equipment at random! You’re not a Nine Inch Nails show in the early nineties. Our show isn’t something that the fans just expect the stage and instruments trashed at for the end of the episode.”
Lee Johnson’s hand was still visibly shaking as he tried to grasp the donut shop’s coffee mug. It was almost twelve hours after the cast of Demon Hunters of Dodge County had abandoned their first ever episode in the six seasons that they had been on the air. Through the discussion, the lead investigator of the four men and two women team was trying to hold his composure while debriefing with his producer, Tim Hobson. Failing at this, his producer was very irate at all of the actions that had occurred before and during the incident where his team abandoned the Standall Brothers’ Saloon taping.
“So you think we staged it? That Gilly just threw his video camera on the ground? Do you think he’s the kind of person to just spike a camera because he needs to perform on cue? He’s not the Broncos’ DeMaryius Thomas after a touchdown, you know.”
“That’s not what I’m saying, but we both know that the nature of this television ghost investigation game is to accentuate the ‘action’ when you have something on the hook and to make mountains out of molehills when you don’t necessarily have beyond a shadow of a doubt evidence. Whether the activity is there or not, the show must go on, and we need our equipment in one piece to do that.”
“I know that’s how it’s been played by the industry and even by us from time to time, but I assure you that this time was for real. Honest to God. Besides, we’ve always tried to keep it one hundred, even when the editing and direction called for something else.”
“You’ve always been Hollywood, Lee. Sell that ‘I didn’t do it’ shit somewhere else.”
The muscular, shaved-headed man of thirty years of age continued to defend himself despite his producer’s protests, saying, “You know that we were in a real active hot spot. This isn’t chicken shit nonsense or families looking for airtime when they come up with a good enough story to get a team into their house to make some spare change. This is more than just smoke. We have raging fire to go with it.”
At these words, the producer nodded appropriately that he knew that this situation had the potential to be different, but he was not completely buying it.
“Besides, no other team has lasted the night in that place, and there have been many who tried. Most people are out soon after dark. We made it until 3:15AM before we had to abandon the shoot. To you, that may be quitting, but to us, it’s a record with all of the banging, clanging, screeching, and attacks we suffered before Steve smashed out the back door to get out of a situation we were literally locked into.”
“I personally left that door unlocked, Lee. Don’t tell me you didn’t have the option to just walk out any time you felt the urge.”
“That door was barred shut, Tim!”
“Then who locked it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well whoever did it is going to pony up for a new one since that’s another thing we’re going to have to pay for since you and I both know the Standalls’ insurance won’t touch it or any damage caused by so-called ghost hunting incidents.”
“The hell with that. I’ll put a door up myself.”
“And what’s this about a record before running out? Call it something else, will you? You’ve done nights at Bobby Mackey’s, Pennhurst, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, and Lizzie Borden’s house plus various other residential poltergeist hauntings in your 68 episodes. What was here that wasn’t anywhere else?”
“Something really nasty,” Lee said, staring down his boss. “Whatever was there wasn’t going to let us stay there until dawn at 6:11AM, much less to come back for another night of investigation tonight. There was an actual physical manifestation present, not just some kind of an eerie presence. I saw it with my own eyes. It talked to me. It attacked me, and I’ll tell you, for something without substance, that shit hurts when it smacks a person up.”
“So where’s my evidence other than scars that could have come from your own team? That shit was played out perfectly on Adventures with Spirits when the Smith Brothers got caught faking their investigation. Why no videos and pictures?”
“Because the creature only appeared when we lost the handheld.”
“What about the GoPros?”
“The batteries went dead.”
“Just like that?”
“You know as well as anyone in the game that spirits and other evil entities have a way of doing that to battery-operated electronics.”
“And what did this evil force tell you that only your crew heard?”
“It said, ‘I have come to the world again to join forces with the twins, and together, we will reign in darkness for all of eternity.’”
“That’s kind of vague and weird.”
“It doesn’t seem scary enough to drop a video camera or kick out a back door.”
“Words and phrases are all in presentation, and in the presentation, the demon materialized and threatened to kill us while it talked about some crazy stuff with twins.”
“I’m almost willing to believe that because even your dumb ass couldn’t make that nonsense up, but c’mon; there’s no context to it. What the hell, Lee?”
“I’m being honest with you. It was a demon speaking to me.”
“Not Ralph? A demon threatened to kill you?”
“Yes. There was no mention of Ralph at all from this creature.”
“And you’re sure it wasn’t Ralph?”
“I saw both of them materialize last night, and this wasn’t Ralph.”
“And you have no video or audio proof?”
“Sounds like Occam’s Razor to me.”
“Screw you, Tim. I’ve never seen or felt anything like what happened in there last night. I never experienced that kind of an attack before. The EVP we had earlier said the name ‘Kaldac.’ If I remember Steve’s story correctly, that’s the name of some bad ass demon, and we do have proof of that.”
“It said something, but we don’t know what it said. It was a growl of static-y noise.”
And with that, the ghost hunter just stared at his producer. Inside his thick black goatee, his lips seemed to pause in the open position as he held himself back from threatening to kill the executive.
“Lee, c’mon. Demons from the ancient Wild West? Are you sure that American Paranormal’s spooky backstory isn’t just scaring you? I’ll accept angry ghosts, but I’m not ready to call this a demon just yet.”
“You’re producing a show about demon hunters, and you’re telling me you don’t personally believe in what you’re selling?’
“I believe in whatever video can tell me, and I believe in good television. If you capture it digitally for all to see, I’ll believe in mermaids, a Minotaur, pixies, and the Easter Bunny. Let’s just focus on what really happened in there, Lee. You ran off, and you left the set a wreck. Now, I have to clean up your mess.”
“We’ve been to a lot of places, Tim. You’ve said so yourself in the last minute. I’ve been taunted, scratched, punched, and shoved, but I’ve never had all four things happen to me at once as I’m also getting bitten up by some invisible creature. Look at them! Look at this trio of scratches! That thing was mocking God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.”
Hobson looked at Lee’s muscular, tattooed arms. Up and down his arms to include near his shoulders, there were bite marks and those three deep scratches. They all just couldn’t have been self-inflicted, could they?
“So you and Margaret weren’t getting frisky, were you?”
“The bites happened while we were filming on camera, Tim. We do have images of that.”
“But not the scratches?”
“Yes. I mean, no, they didn’t happen on camera.”
“It appears that some of them had to have been caused by someone other than you, but the video images are grainy, and it goes dark quickly, so I don’t know what to think, especially without the rest of your group’s dental records to make sure that things aren’t too identical. Besides, nothing was physically around you while it was happening, and you were filmed from a distance by Ernie’s GoPro.”
Lee looked back at him, visibly disturbed and ready to punch the man in the head.
“So tell me, what did this demonic physical manifestation look like if you have nothing to show me from its presence?”
“Like I said, I can tell you that it didn’t resemble the pictures I’ve seen of Ralph Richards. Richards was a big, ugly dude with a beard that touched his chest, but this was a dark, monstrous beast that came out of the shadows.”
“With horns and claws and fangs?” Tim asked, trying to maintain his seriousness.
“Claws and fangs, but more sleek of flesh and burly in his appearance. I didn’t see horns. He was also a hell of a lot bigger than a man. I would say that the monster had to be at least ten feet tall and imposing over me. Standing under his shadow, I felt like I was being crushed under rocks.”
“So how did he protect himself against the heat of the light bulbs when he took them out? Those things get pretty hot. Did he have oven mitts on?”
As Tim finished saying that, he was laughing a little bit to Lee’s obvious irritation.
“That’s another thing. We had no way to squeeze or cause four light bulbs to implode at one time to leave the room in blackness. You can check those light sockets and where the glass crashed. There’s no explosive residue from setups like some teams have been known to use when they’re staging special effects. You’ll just find four different crash sites.”
“At least you got that moment on camera before the darkness came. The shattered glass and shock on all of your faces were awesome moments. They will be great for commercials, and we can milk that for viewership.”
“I’m glad you approve of at least some of what we’ve given you.”
“I do, but I know that you’re the best in the game we’re playing, and I should have a hell of a lot more quantifiable evidence than what you’ve given me. Because you ran like little bitches, I don’t. Now, we have to go back and shoot more historical footage around town and perform post-investigation interviews to get 42 minutes out of this mess of a show.”
“That’s easy enough. There are a lot of interviews with the people in town and our crew, and there is stuff from a lot of the other local teams. Besides, you can film the scene’s aftermath and get all of that on tape.”
“You’ll go in and do that? You aren’t too afraid?”
“I’ll go in during the daylight with a lot of people around. I’m afraid, but not too afraid to do that.”
“Lee, why don’t we just cut the crap and go back next weekend if you’re too scared to do it tonight? The property owners are still willing to let us in; in fact, they’re desperate for Allison to do her take on an exorcism or to use her white witch magic on camera. We can give the fans more. We’ll make it a two-part episode and milk your fear as a rematch against evil for the end of the season.”
“Next week is Daylight Savings Time. An extra hour of darkness after the Witching Hour isn’t exactly my idea of fun. That’s more time to get really messed up by whatever this beastly thing was. Richards, we can handle, but not this Kaldac demon.”
“If you agree to this, Lee, The Paranormal Network is going to let us go live, extra cameras and additional people. Maybe we can convince some other groups that ran out to join you. I’ve already been on the phone with Arlen Hooper. This could be the big time for all of you. Even Allison has never been involved in something as intense as this, and she’s banished some nasty ghostly things. We can be kings of the hill in the ghost hunter business.”
“Well, that sure sounds like great television, but let me tell you from an insider’s perspective that it’s either that or we could be dead. Then it doesn’t matter how rich I am. Like Tolstoy said, in the end, all I really need is about six feet of ground to make my home. I want to be alive for my fame when I’m living the good life of riches and all that goes with them. I don’t want these moments of notoriety to be posthumous.”
“The door is open either way, Lee, but just remember that you assholes owe me a video camera. You also need to get the Standalls a back door regardless of your decision. That comes out of your paycheck. They’re not looking for a cheap screen door either.”
“We may owe you a video camera and have to secure the rear entry of the saloon, but we can get the money by doing a show somewhere else. Maybe we can shoot the Calhoun Plantation in North Carolina again. That was very active, and the Calhouns will happily have us back, too.”
“We’re not in the business of advertising haunted house amusement parks for Podunk towns in the middle of nowhere.”
“We would be if they paid or were close enough to a town of size.”
“Yeah, but they’re not willing to pay enough to cover our travel expenses. Besides, the site was only active with static-y EVPs and unexplained noises. There weren’t even good growls there, let alone clear words from beyond. What’s more, other groups are in and out of there all the time. Nobody who is anyone gets chased out of there. Girl Scout troops go there for fun. You guys need to up the game. There’s only so long any show will last if it’s not treading new and ‘dangerous’ ground.”
“I don’t know, Tim. I just don’t know. There’s gotta be ‘safer’ dangerous ground.”
“Quit being a bitch about this, Lee. Take some time to get yourself together, and we’ll talk about this Tuesday when Maggie gives you your man card back.”
“Two days isn’t going to change my mind, asshole.”
“A lot can happen in two days. Meet me here on Tuesday at noon with your team. Until then, you can stay in the motel and relax. It’s on me, even after your disrespect.”
“I’m a realist. Think about it. Talk to your team. I’ll see you then,” Tim stated and walked out to Lee’s hostility and still shaking hands consuming him from within.
Every episode of Demon Hunters of Dodge County began the same way. The loud metal music performed specially as a favor by King Diamond expressed exactly what the fans were going to get. The appearance of the six crew members one by one until their picture came across as a group presented them as a mix of pro wrestling combined with the paranormal as a grudge match between good and evil.
The first face on the screen was Lee Johnson, the lead investigator. He was a burly dude, but something inside him always seemed to betray a certain fear when the scare factor jumped up to the next level. He was known to scream threats at ghosts to taunt them, but when he seemed to be retaliated on, he was the first one out of the room. Tim knew about this, and he directed the editors to create an almost comedic presence with his team leader’s video presence because of it. Nevertheless, something in Lee wanted to prove his mettle when the chips were down. He wanted to be brave, but he just never had his shot. For this, he felt like a man on a mission balanced with a tiger trying to deny his own stripes. Stuck between Hollywood’s version of good television and his own fear to confront deeper challenges, he came off more as a wimp than a warrior. This was something that always nagged him to the core.
Next was Margaret “Maggie” Constantine, the co-lead investigator and girlfriend of Lee. She was a beautiful raven-haired expert in the world of the paranormal; however, she never smiled much, and she definitely took every situation as being far more serious than it usually was. Often accused of having resting bitch face, the industry blogs referred to her as a “handful” and a “ballbreaker,” but at the same point, they expressed how she was the most talented ghost-hunter member of the group other than Allison Hoffman. For this, many people felt she should be the team’s true leader. As compared to the rest of the team, she seemed to be able to identify and relate many other groups’ scenarios that mirrored what they were getting into, and for this, she was definitely more than capable of helping the group to get out of trouble before they got into it. However, as the team never really got into deep trouble, she, too, was waiting for her real chance at fighting the real dark entities of the world.
As for the rest of the crew, Hoffman didn’t want to serve as the leader due to her independent nature, nor was she wasn’t trying to be a leader with her suggestions. Her job was to fight the demons head on with borderline exorcism techniques and full-on white magic. Nobody else in the group understood how to do this. As to her exorcism techniques, she was quick to note that the only reason it was described as “borderline” was because she wasn’t sanctioned by the Catholic Church. Thus, for both of these “powers,” the most intense attacking / defensive skills that the Demon Hunters employed came from her. As a result of these skills, she served as the team’s demonologist and resident medium. Allison was also the oldest member of the group at 64. Despite the fact that she was going gray, everybody knew not to mess with her because they weren’t as tough as the demons and poltergeists that she had stared down and grappled with on other shows she had been on. From Ghostly Intruders to Poltergeists of Texas, she had been on at least twenty different shows as a cast member, guest, or an assistant. She had also toured the country on the lecture circuit, so when Hobson hired her on as part of the group, it was quite the coup. It also cut into a big chunk of the additional funds that they earned when they got six extra episodes for Season Three. Nevertheless, she did bring in the viewers and the sponsors, so she pretty much paid for herself. Since being involved with The Demon Hunters of Dodge County, she never really got the chance to shine in the same way she did when she was in Poltergeists of Texas. The events on her final episode of that show happened at a haunt in San Marcos, Texas. There, a particularly angry specter left her in the hospital for the better part of a week, but she rebounded and moved on to the Demon Hunters’ show as tough as ever. You can’t keep a good woman down, even when a poltergeist hurls her over a second floor railing and onto a coffee table in the living room.
Steve Sanford appeared next on the credits. Billed as the technology specialist, the burly African American man knew how to use the tools of the ghost hunting trade. Whether measuring room temperature, collecting EMFs & EVPs, or utilizing night vision, he was a pro with all of the routine gear that the crew would need, and he was known to always have interest in the new stuff, too. Sanford also dictated computer and photographic protocols for how he wanted the group to be seen by the audience. Despite his “do this; do that” approach, he was very gracious, and the team and audience loved him. In fact, when his scenes played back for the television audience, he was the most popular member of the core group, as much for his handsome looks as for his knowledge of technology and ghost hunting. Other teams had requested him to drop ship and come across to them as a key member, but Sanford’s childhood friendship with Lee kept him from betraying his commitment to the Demon Hunters, even for a huge salary increase.
Guillermo Rivera was the only smiling member of the group during the opening credits. Affectionately known as “Gilly,” this Puerto Rican man was shown laughing as he brandished his movie camera as the video specialist and constant recorder of the group’s actions. While all of the members of the team had GoPro cameras mounted to their helmets, Gilly was the man who filmed the routine on the spot actions of the group with a handheld camera. He also sat in with The Paranormal Network’s editors and Steve Sanford when they were discussing the best footage to use for the actual on the air episodes that would be played out for their hundreds of thousands of routine viewers. His filming was always first rate, and the storyboarding / editing process was slick and easy when he took over the computer to bring an episode to The Paranormal Network. This skill combined well with his being second to Steve Sanford in technical equipment and electrical troubleshooting. His quick grasp at understanding new tasks made him very useful on a lot of the group’s investigations.
Finally, the last member of the team, Ernie Lackey, was the historian and junior investigator. He was also the only non-American member of the group, as he hailed from Bury St. Edmunds in England. As the newest member of the team, he replaced Tracey Lynn Slater when she left at the beginning of the current season to have her first child. He had worked with the team on earlier episodes, but he was never a consistent member until the necessity to fill in her vacated spot came to be. There was no point endangering babies that weren’t yet born, and it seemed like Hobson was pushing Lee to move toward more difficult assignments that yielded more results than garbled EVPs and historical information that never played out well on screen. Prior to this show, Lackey did have some experience with a show called Those Who Bring Fear to Ghosts, which was a hardcore approach to ghost hunting. This team reckoned themselves as a crew filled with men who were willing to wrestle or exorcize spirits, so they did a lot of taunting while coming out with a lot of “bruises.” Their leader was a former priest named Dante Lassard, who had also studied exorcism for years. However, he had never been able to perform it until he got on the show. Just like Hoffman, he was also disavowed by the Catholic Church. After his first ritual, he seemed to average an exorcism every other week. Sometimes, this got a little much for the team and the audience, so Lackey was ready to jump ship when the opportunity came. Nevertheless, he did like some of the more challenging haunts that his former team went on as opposed to the routine, safe stuff that the Demon Hunters were drifting toward.
From their beginning, the group had always worked well together, and when the opportunity came to investigate the Standall Brothers’ Saloon in Eureka, Nevada, the crew felt that they had to jump at the chance. Just like having the same opportunity as a bull rider would get when he went to take on Bodacious, the Standall Brothers’ Saloon represented a serious opportunity to get in on some real poltergeist action. Besides, Tim made sure to hint how the crew of Those Who Bring Fear to Ghosts was looking to get in on this site’s action as well. This just couldn’t be allowed to be, so he called a meeting with the men and women to discuss the proposal.
The bar itself had been built in the early 2010s, which led to some early questioning as to why it was so plagued, but as the crew of American Paranormal found out, it was built on the land that a brothel and saloon named For the Love of Silver stood on. The name, it turned out, had a double meaning. Silver was the last name of the madam who ran the saloon and it was also the main occupation that brought 10,000 people to this town in the middle of the Nevada desert when it first grew out of desert rock. However, for all of the possibility that the town once had, only 600 or so people remained when the ghost investigators started to come out to interview the current proprietors, ghost enthusiasts, and historians.
In recent years, the Standall Brothers’ Saloon ideally represented an opportunity for travelers on the Loneliest Road in America to stop and get gas or food or lodging on their way to California or Denver. This road, Highway 50, had many small towns like Austin and Fallon, as well as a slightly bigger town in Ely, but it was the Loneliest Town on the Loneliest Road, which needed a reason to bring back the glory days of 125 years ago. Five years ago, that was what caused Tyler and John Standall to take a chance at building a mega entertainment facility and casino in the middle of a dried up desert. For a state looking to promote tourism across areas not named Las Vegas and Reno, they were all too happy to publicize this restaurant and the small casino that operated inside of it.
“What could go wrong?” the town’s mayor, Stewart Compson, once said in what became the most ironic statement in the town’s history.
But who could fault him for his excitement? Nobody “sensible” believed in historic ghost stories, and the land that the saloon was situated on wasn’t doing anything for anyone, so why not turn it into a fifty-television screen bar and entertainment complex to encourage people to stay in town overnight? With that possibility would come more gas stations, restaurants, and even a motel right across the street at what would become an opportunity for truckers and tourists to take a load off for the evening and walk across the road to enjoy their evenings with one-armed bandits and two-armed women. It was a win-win situation for everyone until it seemed to be attracting a reputation of fear and spookiness, which came right out of its historic past and into the town’s politically apprehensive present.
When the town and the complex appeared on American Paranormal, the Standall Brothers’ Saloon’s status as a place for ghost hunters and fright seekers alike to visit was cemented, much to the chagrin of Compson and many of the other Nevada tourism and elected powers that be. This reputation just wouldn’t bring in the tax dollars that they hoped for despite the fact that some officials were showing numbers associated with the Extraterrestrial Highway in the south. On another sad note, it wasn’t what the Standalls had hoped for when they put up seven figures of their own money to open this entertainment mecca, and they were desperate for Compson and others to make things happen.
But they did nothing to help out. Nevertheless, the Standalls’ pleas did bring in ghost hunters.
American Paranormal was the best fright information show on television since it represented an oft-watched documentary effort to explain in fifteen minutes or so of a one-hour show exactly what left this or any other place as haunted as it was. The story they told of the Standall Brother’s Saloon was incredibly eerie and horrific, but it was in no way as complete or as dark as it actually happened to be when the fear was being implanted live from this stretch of dirt. Nevertheless, it was told well with dramatic music to back it up, so it represented a chance for Tim Hobson to bring his crew the offer to go into the most sought after video experience in town. What’s more, they were going to get this opportunity before the other television ghost teams might have a chance to bag this experience for themselves.
“Guys, this is the big time. We have to do this,” was the e-mail all of them received, so they quickly assembled together with their stuffed suit of a producer to talk about the opportunity.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you cinematic gold,” Tim said.
They stared at him, and he smiled back.
“Welcome to the next level,” he said as the group drowned out his theatrical attempts in lots of local microbrewery IPA and lager.
“It’s going to be a long one,” Steve whispered to Gilly.
“It always is with him,” the Latino man whispered back.
“You know that if you don’t take this, both the Those Who Bring Fear to Ghosts team and the Spectral Assassin crew will be up there, and you know they’ve been kicking our ass in the ratings all season.”
“I know, Tim, but you have to admit that this is something we should prep and be ready for,” Sanford stated. “Besides, the Spectral Assassins are only enjoying a bump in the ratings because they’re new. They have no real skills or personality. They’ll be history in a year.”
Lee looked toward Tim, and he echoed Sanford’s hesitance by stating, “We could use more people and at least a few days to be on site during the day to figure out exactly what we’re going in for. This isn’t as easy as the Jones house was when we went in and found the spirit of the woman who had Alzheimer’s disease. All we had to do there was move her to the light and sage the place.”
“Guys. Guys. American Paranormal has done the hard work. They’re going to lend us extra footage that they took. That’s the great thing about being on the same network. We’ll just use better music when we re-edit it and add in some takes of people running out with their tails between their legs,” Tim replied on command.
“But how much footage did they record of the actual site?” Steve asked.
“It doesn’t matter; the Standalls filmed everything and even sent me blueprints and photographs. We’re 100% ready.”
“So tell me. What is the complete story on this? I know bits and pieces, but,” Margaret started to say.
Gilly looked at her and spoke instinctively.
“It’s a long one, Margaret, so you all want to sit back and listen.”
They followed his advice and listened attentively to all of his words as he started from the beginning of the tale.
“In 1878, the Ford Silver Mine was making quite the profit on silver in the area, and then by 1879, it wasn’t. The men at the company couldn’t figure out what was going on to cause this. They were still finding lots of ore with silver in it, but somehow between the smelting and the selling of the end product, there was never as much as there once had been, let alone was expected to be.”
From there, the story left everyone in the room riveted as it played out to a captive audience and a producer who loved the entertainment value and the dollars that it would bring.