“How do you think it managed to throw a chair?”
Emmett piped up from across the room: “These spirits, when they die, become pure mind. You know what we could do if we had access to even eighty percent of our brain?”
“You talking about telekinesis?
“Have to say, I’m surprised by the lack of equipment you guys brought. I did some research before I flew out, expected to see you using thermal scanners and—”
“Geiger counters, ion detectors, an EMF alarm. Let me tell you something,” Emmett said. “That’s a bunch of garbage. All you need is a camera and film, because if you can’t walk into a room and feel it in your bones, you’re in the wrong business, wasting your time.”
When Emmett turned on his headlamp, Abigail noticed that June had been drawn over to one of the windows, where she stared at something across the street.
“Lawrence,” June whispered. “What happened up there?” They all walked over, peered up to where June pointed. Without light, they could barely make out a bay window on the second floor of a building across the street. “Did something happen in that room?”
“Not that I know of. It was just one of the nicer rooms in the hotel. Why?”
“Someone’s watching me from that window.” Even though she knew it wasn’t real, a subtle chill moved down through the vertebrae of Abigail’s spine.
“Can you get us up there?” Emmett asked.
“Never been, but we can certainly try.”
One hundred and nineteen years of rain, snow, and high-altitude sun had bleached the block letters on the side of the building, so all that could be seen by the light of the headlamps was a faint OTEL. Excluding Bartholomew Packer’s mansion, it was the largest, most resilient structure in the ghost town, a two-story brick building with what had once been a lavish dining room on the ground level and seven suites on the second floor. The middle of the three rooms that faced the street was the “Presidential Suite,” identifiable by the large bay window that loomed over the entrance to the hotel.
Lawrence walked through the tall door frame, the others following, and soon the party had gathered in the lobby, a long but narrow room with two archways opposite each other, a front desk, and a wide staircase that ascended into darkness.
“This was the only brick building in Abandon,” Lawrence said, “built when the mine was still producing and people thought this town was going to last.” Abigail stepped through the archway on her left, her headlamp sweeping over the shambles of a lounge strewn with Victorian-style furniture and a long-dormant hearth. Draperies hung in shreds from the windows, and a billiard table stood at a severe slant, one of its legs having snapped off.
Abigail drew in a quick shot of oxygen.
Eyes shone back at her, illumined in the beam—the head and rack of an enormous elk, fallen from its mount above the fireplace, stared at her, mottled with mold and decay.
She returned to the lobby, where everyone had gathered at the other archway, this one opening into the dining room. It might have been the best restaurant in Abandon in the early 1890s, but tonight it lay before them in a mass of mangled tables and broken chairs. The three chandeliers had pulled out from their fixtures in the ceiling and shattered on the black-and-white-striped hardwood floor, the tiny shards of glass and crystal glittering under the lamps, as if the party had stumbled into an ice cave.
“Anyone care for a glass of hundred-year-old bourbon?” The headlamps converged on Scott, who stood behind the mahogany bar, a dusty bottle in one hand.
They made their way back through the carnage of furniture into the lobby.
“Here’s the deal,” Lawrence said. “I’ve never explored the second floor, so we’re gonna take these stairs one person at a time. Be alert, be careful, and walk softly if you can.”
His right hand glided up the rickety banister as he climbed. The first four steps were fine, but they grew progressively creakier the higher he went. The last three made no sound at all, and then he stood at the top, just a moon of yellow light fifteen feet above.
June went up, followed by Emmett. Abigail took the path Emmett had chosen, straight up the middle, her headlamp trained on each step.
“You’re doing great,” June called out as the fifth step creaked loudly and she felt the wood give beneath her. The next three were even worse. She could feel her pulse accelerating and a shortness of breath brought on by the first stage of panic. Abigail climbed the final steps faster than she should have, but as she neared the top, Lawrence and Emmett reached down, each taking an arm, and pulled her to safety.
“That was sort of terrifying,” she said.
Abigail stood with Lawrence at the edge of the steps, watching their guide ascend. He climbed toward them, a model of patience and confidence, a man at home on dangerous terrain, even when he crossed the noisiest steps.
He was almost to the top now, and Abigail could see him grinning. He winked at her as he put his weight onto the last step. Then came a dry crack, and he simply disappeared.
The staircase collapsed in a fanfare of splitting wood, dust everywhere, people shouting in the darkness. Coughing, Abigail aimed her headlamp down toward the lobby, half-expecting to see Scott sprawled across the wreckage.
At first, she mistook it for a cry of pain, but then she saw the gloved fingers gripping the edge of the second floor and realized that Scott was laughing, even as his feet dangled seven feet above the fallen staircase.
“He’s right here!” she yelled. “Help him up!”
Lawrence and Emmett dropped to their knees, grabbed Scott’s arms above the elbows.
“Maybe I should just drop,” Scott said. “It’s not that far.”
“Bad idea,” Abigail said. “I see nails sticking out of the boards underneath you.”
“Abigail,” Lawrence said, “my grip’s slipping! Get him under this arm!” They strained to lift him, inch by inch, sweating, groaning, swearing. Finally, Scott’s knees cleared the ledge where the staircase had broken away and they all fell back into the corridor.
Jerrod yelled up to them, “Everybody in one piece?”
“Yeah, we’re cool,” Scott said. “Why don’t you come stand underneath us. I’ve got rope in my pack. We’ll hoist you up.”
“I think I’ll just wait down here.”
Lawrence helped Abigail and June onto their feet, and soon they were all moving down the second-floor corridor, testing with each step the fidelity of the floor. At last, Lawrence stopped at a closed door with a tarnished number 6 hanging upside down from a rusty nail.