Disclaimer: This story is a work of erotic fiction. In real life, it is important to respect people’s sense of personal safety and consent.
“Goddamnit, Rochelle!” Brandy had put her legs up on the dash and hadn’t been wearing her seatbelt, so now the tiny tomboy struggled to right herself. She glared at Rochelle – tall, dark, and professional-looking – who had strapped herself in behind the wheel. “The rental deposit is on my card!’
“Yes, thank you.” Rochelle replied, self-satisfied and calm. She took a moment to think over what she just said. “It will be fine, I mean. It was merely a small bump. You should sit properly.”
“Yeah, yeah, ‘sit properly,’” Brandy mimicked Rochelle in response. She pulled her leg off the dash and straightened her body up, turning her attention to the scenery. As Brandy watched, weathered buildings and half-sacked sheds came into view. Brandy reached into the backseat and found a handycam. She filmed as the main street of a sand-blasted ghost town coalesced around them.
Brandy turned the camera around to Rochelle. “Alright, Ms. Monae, tell the people where we’ve just arrived.”
Rochelle didn’t acknowledge the camera. “This used to be the town of Basin Junction. It begun in 1884 as a depot where one would get off the railroad running from Dallas to Los Angeles and transfer to a stagecoach for all points Southwest. The hospitality industry took root with the introduction of a hotel and bathhouse in 1887 and expanded at a steady pace until peaking in 1894. The town began to die out in 1902, when new rail lines were introduced-“
“Hospitality. Tell the people what you mean by hospitality.”
“Lodging and bathing, obviously, and also bars, music halls, casinos, bordellos-“
“That’s right! Bor-del-los!” Brandy scanned the passing buildings with her handycam. “Saddle up, everybody. This is the real wild, wild west.”
“We’ve arrived.” Rochelle stopped the car outside of a three-story brick building with a collapsed façade and four-sides of poorly maintained chain-link fence. The two women got out and surveyed the scene. Neither looked particular suited for the desert. Brandy had on sneakers, leggings, and a jersey that hung from her pixie frame. At least she had a baseball cap over her shaven head. A head taller than Brandy, Rochelle looked she had come out for a job interview – dress shirt, pressed slacks, shined shoes, clean glasses, and immaculate locs hanging down to her neck. Her bolo tie and olive green, broad-shouldered overcoat added a touch of academic eccentricity.
“What’s this placed called again?” Brandy walked around the car and popped the trunk. She took out a full-sized camera and inspected it.
“The Singapore Flats.”
“Huh. Why’s it called that?”
“Most likely, deeply racist associations.” Rochelle took her phone out and snapped some pictures of the façade. “Nobody from Singapore was ever associated with it. The original name was the Blue Agave. The owner, Magdellin Whitner, was an emancipated slave and widow from Texas. The original Singapore Flats was a boarding house further out from Main Street, where Whitner operated as a pimp. She was successful enough that she sold the original house and bought the hotel after it’s first owner died of alcoholism in 1892. Under Whitner, the hotel operated successfully until 1901.”
“What happened in oh-one?”
Brandy held up her hand for Rochelle to stop soliloquizing for a moment. Hoisting the camera up her shoulder, Brandy took a proper longshot of Basin Junction’s Main Street. Then she panned over the Singapore Flat’s broken façade, stepping over a broken piece of fence. She waved for Rochelle to stand in front of her.
“Okay, now lead me inside and say everything you just said.”
Rochelle, annoyed, said nothing.
After much coaxing, Rochelle gave an on-camera recitation of the rise of the Widow Whitner, as she and Brandy navigated the fallen brickwork. They entered a two-story hall with a bar at one end and a bandstand and stage to the side, covered in collapsed ceiling beams. Even over a hundred years later, char covered the floors, walls, and broken tables.
“Whitner continued to work as a vice lord after taking over the larger hotel. At any given time, she employed an estimated staff of two dozen women who alternatingly worked as housekeepers, errand girls, entertainers, and prostitutes. When the fire broke out in 1901, fifty people were trapped inside the hotel and died, including Whitner and most of the staff. The hotel had no rear entrance.”
Rochelle found a clear patch of floor and turned to face the camera. Brandy realized the camera had been trained on Rochelle’s back end and mentally kicked herself when the other woman’s crotch came into frame.
“What caused the fire?” Brandy hurried panned over one of the sagging balconies. “No, no, wait… go over to the bar… yeah, like that, put your hand on it, okay look at the camera… one, two, three… What caused the fire?”
“The cause was Magdellin Whitner’s own sixtieth birthday party. Witness testimony say that Whitner planned to set off fireworks at midnight right in front of the hotel, but when other business’ owners became aware, the sheriff intervened. The irate – and quite drunk – Whitner then set fireworks off inside of the main hall to spite the sheriff.”
“Damn…” Brandy’s appreciation was interrupted by the pulse of a police siren. “Damn it!”
“The police? Let me explain things to them and they’ll understand-“
“Get over here!” Brandy hissed, motioning with her head for Rochelle to join her by the door. Brandy flailed about, trying to figure out if she wanted to hold onto the camera or put it down. She finally settled at holding it one-handed at her waist, while sticking her free hand in the air.
A woman called from outside. “Alright, folks, I know you’re in there. C’mon out.”
“Right away, officer.” Brandy strained to make her voice sugar sweet. She glared at Rochelle, who was standing next to Brandy with her arms folded. Brandy kicked Rochelle in the shoe. Begrudgingly, Rochelle put her hands above her head. Brandy yelled out to the officer again. “We’re coming out now. We’ve got a camera with us.”
The two of them made their way back over the rubble. Outside, a smirking officer leaned against their rental car. She waved for Rochelle and Brandy to join her outside the fence.
“Now, before you make any excuses for yourself, I know you don’t have a permit to be in there, because that’s a condemned structure and there’s supposed to be a county engineer escorting you if you’re signed off to be inside. And since you didn’t bother with that, I’m gonna guess you also don’t have a permit to film from the county, either.”
“Oh? Oh! I’m so sorry, officer.” Brandy feigned surprised. “The website was really confusing and parts of it didn’t load-“
“Uh-huh. IDs, please.”
After indicating that their wallets were in their bags, Brandy and Rochelle ceded authority to the officer to go through their belongings. The officer found their driver licenses and compared them to their faces. “Seattle, huh? Where are you staying?”
“Best West, on north 764.”
“I see. Well, Ms. Thompson, Ms. Monae, you should know that Mrs. Chavez lives between here and there, and she is a very concerned citizen who lets me know when strangers go poking around in our little ghost town.” She handed the IDs back. “So I suggest you have your paperwork in order the next time I catch you here. We get enough wannabe horror movie makers around here.”
“Horror movie? I’m sorry, officer, there’s been a misunderstanding.” Rochelle smiled with relief. “I understand your concerns, but we’re here doing scientific research.”
Brandy’s face fell. The officer crooked an eyebrow. She peered into the backseat of the rental car.
“Science, huh? This your equipment?”
“Yes. I’d be glad to show you-“
“Whatcha packing there…? A couple thermal cams? Handheld EMF? In fact, it looks like you’ve got yourself a proper ghost box.”
Rochelle lit up. “Actually, I designed it myself, it works on an interesting principle-“
The cop bellowed with laughter. “We’ve got a couple of real freaks here. Kiddo, here’s the deal. We’re gonna go back to your hotel. You’re gonna get a good night’s rest. And then, you’re gonna head east to Crossview, where the haunted mine tours are. Because that ghost hunter crap ain’t welcome here. Don’t waste your time getting those permits.”
The officer gestured for Rochelle to zip it. “Now get in your car. I’ll follow you out of here.”
Brandy and Rochelle, heads low, got in their car. The siren and lights blared behind them. The two of them shared a look of resentment and silently agreed on their next course of action.
“Are you sure that’s where Mrs. Chavez lives?”
“Did you see any other trailers on the side of this goddamn highway?” Brandy hissed through her clenched teeth. Fingers tight on the wheel, Brandy tried to drive with no headlights. The car seemed to drift through a primordial sea of darkness that stretched out to every horizon, except for when it hit the rumble strips and Brandy would scream bloody murder. Rochelle leaned over the passenger seat to keep an eye on the tiny string of fairy lights adorning a tin foil trailer. She tried to judge if they were still close enough for car lights to be spotted from the windows.
“I believe we must be out of sight.”
“I’m certain of it.
Brandy switched on the headlights. She cursed when the reflection of the road immediately blinded her, and she lost control of the car. Brandy, blinking, wrenched the car out of its swerve. “Stupid goddamn cops and stupid goddamn paperwork, can’t let us film in a goddamn old building like it’s such a goddamn big deal-“
Out of the corner of her eye, Brandy saw Rochelle was smiling. She couldn’t help but chuckle herself.
The pulled off onto the dirt road from this morning and headed into the heart of Basin’s Junction yet again. They parked in front of the Singapore Flats. Rochelle strapped a jogger’s light to her forehead and handed one to Brandy.
“We should move the equipment in before you start filming. I’ll need your help with it.”
They got out and opened the back of the car, proceeding to unload the cases of electronics onto the sand. Brandy grimaced at the weight of the ‘ghost box.’ “I’ve been wondering, why do you need all this junk? People have this kind of stuff all on their phone now.”
“This is specialized equipment.”
“No, seriously, look at this.” Brandy put down the case and pulled out her smartphone. It bathed the desert in sterile light as she turned it on. “I downloaded this ghost box app. Says it lets you hear ghosts, the same way.”
“Turn that off!” Rochelle growled. She snatched the phone from Brandy’s hands and killed the power herself. “EVP is a low-power, low-frequency phenomena. It’s barely detectable over geomagnetic white noise. Smartphones practically vomit EMF! The idea that they can be used for any kind of sensitive signal detection is sophistry.”
“Okay, okay,” Brandy yanked her phone back. “Sorry for asking.”
“Sites like Singapore Flats are precious because they’re so far from EMF pollution.” Rochelle gestured wildly at the starry sky, as if that was an explanation in itself. “An eye-witness-confirmed, high-activity site, and there’s nothing to contend with except natural geo-magnetism.”
“And Mrs. Chavez.”
“And brainwashing, yes.” The two of them laughed together.
They moved Rochelle’s equipment into the hotel’s burnt-out saloon. Rochelle conceded on not unpacking things until Brandy got her camera. Part of it was cameras and electronic thermometers, Rochelle explained, so she could track where and when temperature changed in the building. With them came a small EMF meter, to get a similar map of magnetic fields. But those would be in service of Rochelle’s centerpiece – what she called her ‘ghost box’, which was nothing like the tiny radios Brandy had seen in her cursory web-searches and more like a stereo with an aerial antenna.
“The hypothesis behind this is, if what we call ghosts are electro-magnetic phenomena, that means there’s some kind of physical circuit producing them. It’s all part of physics 101. A current produces a magnetic field and conversely, a magnetic field induces a current.” Rochelle looked into the camera with the most genuinely pretty smile Brandy had seen on the woman. “A random paranormal encounter would require local electro-magnetism to activate the circuit, exactly when somebody’s around, and exactly under conditions where whatever happened could be seen. So this broadcasts a square RF wave-“
“Think of it as radio white noise. I bath the area in the radio noise, this activates any latent circuits, and those produce their own radio noise that I record. We don’t wait for a paranormal encounter. We-“
Brandy found the smile contagious. “We wake up the dead?”
“We induce the phenomenon. Repeatably.” Rochelle’s smile wavered. Her tone cooled. “The equipment will require some tuning. Since you need to get shots of the hotel, please set up the meters and cameras.”
Brandy realized she had ruined the moment. She nodded, a little downtrodden, and grabbed the monitoring equipment. There were a dozen go-cams, with small tripods to mount on the floor, along with thermometers and EMF readers paired off in plastic bags. Brandy heaved the overloaded bag onto her shoulder, nearly tipping herself over. She grabbed her handy-cam and set off to the explore the hotel.
In her head, Brandy kicked herself for saying anything. She and Rochelle hadn’t known each other for that long, being vaguely connected through the friends of friends, but Brandy had found her fascinating enough to make vague promises to collaborate on documentary about hauntology and Rochelle took that seriously enough to book a trip. Although Brandy didn’t buy into parapsychology, she thought Rochelle made for great-… well, Rochelle’s passion made for great material. But the two of them were always out of step, out of sync, and constantly stepping on each other’s toes. Rochelle took this stuff seriously, Brandy reminded herself. She wanted other people to take it seriously, too.
Brandy proceeded down the hallway connected to the saloon, filming the moonlit scene as she considered where to put the first go-cam. Photographs on the wall caught her attention. She marveled at the untouched pictures, still hanging from the blackened wall, and wondered how they were spared from the fire. She focused on one in particular – an older woman in a fine dress, with voluminous hair piled high on her head, her hands folded politely under an impressive bust, and a mischievous smile on her plump face. Brandy let the camera linger on that face.
“The Widow Whitner, I presume? Lady, you sound like you were one crazy bitch. You available for a quick interview? Five minutes? Three minutes? Come on, at least give us a sound bite.”
The picture stayed quiet. Grinning at her own joke, Brandy set the bag down, took out two of the cameras, and set them up in the corner of the hallway to catch both directions. The portrait of Widow Whitner watched Brandy work without changing expression.
"Eleven forty-one, turned on receiver." Rochelle scribbled her notes on a paper pad. Squatting down, she listened carefully to the static. She adjusted the gain by millimeters until it sounded right to her ears. She wondered if Brandy would find her silly right now. Rochelle put it out of her mind and moved on to the next piece of equipment. "Eleven forty-three, turned on signal generator."
A bright green oscilloscope wiggled in the dark. Rochelle let it go back down to a smooth line. She plugged in the aerial and tested a series of frequencies, making sure they showed up on the receiver at the expected position. Satisfied, she unplugged the aerial again and tested the preset on the generator for the square wave. The oscilloscope jumped and dropped sharply. Rochelle made a careful note and reconnected the aerial.
Rochelle leaned back on her heels. She had completed her preparations. Now she had to wait for Brandy to report back that all the cameras and sensors were in place. There was little sense is trying without all the equipment ready. She looked around the fallen saloon. Rochelle thought there was a certain romance to the darkness and the silence - the promise that the world was a wide-open place. And now, the only thing standing between Rochelle and an experiment she had spent years brainstorming was patience. Nobody would assume that reserved, proper Rochelle lacked patience.
She licked her lips and looked at the aerial. It was normal, she rationalized, to poke and prod a little before you formally recorded data. You had to get a feel for the art before you focused on the science.
Rochelle turned on the receive and punched the generator for another wave. She counted a few seconds, then turned up the sound just enough to hear the static. Static and something else, a steady tune amid the garble. Rochelle told herself that she could be imagining it. The static faded. Rochelle sent out the signal again and then it was… louder this time? Unmistakable music, a tinny and distant burlesque tune. Rochelle held her breath. She was terrified and furious at the possibility that she had tuned into a local radio station. But sitting in silence for five minutes, she watched the meters lie perfectly flat.
Rochelle exhaled and gave it another try. This time the music came through clearly, although mingled with static. No, Rochelle realized, mingled with some kind of organic murmur. She had to keep herself from jamming on the generator to produce another signal. Her heart raced. She had to write this down. Rochelle reached for her paper pad. Her hand brushed against another woman’s hand.
“More.” A breathy voice whispered in Rochelle’s ear.
Rochelle gasped. A hand, cold and gaunt, grabbed hers and thrust it against the generator unit, hitting the button for the preset so hard that it knocked the box over. Rochelle cradled her hand and tried to compose herself.
The ghost box murmured in the dark. At a distance, Rochelle could hear singing and clapping, whistling and the clink of bottles. It hung in the air longer than before, before tailing away. A single voice followed at the end, so quiet that Rochelle stopped breathing to hear it.
“So close, sweetie. So close.”
“Shit shit shit shit-“ Rochelle dropped to her knees and righted her transmitter. She jammed on the button over and over. The spirit box screeched. Rochelle called out to the darkness. “Brandy! Can you hear me?! I need a camera!”
Rochelle’s heart thudded. She strained to hear anything through the fading static. What came through was giggles. Someone lightly kissed Rochelle on the cheek. She spun around and found no one. Her cheek felt feverish.
The only response was a kiss from the other side. The feverish heat spread over Rochelle’s whole face. She stumbled as she spun. Hands caught Rochelle – two, four, six, eight… Slender hands wrapped around Rochelle amid a swirl of petticoats. Kisses rained. They kissed her face, her neck, her scalp, her hands, and her arms. Each kiss made the floor drop out from below Rochelle’s mind and every time she tried to get control of herself, a little more of the slippery slope fell away and it felt as good good good as after-orgasm haze. Rochelle felt hot and weak, like a sugar cube dissolving in hot coffee. Her mind’s eye went cross. She felt enveloped by female bodies and lace. Rochelle tried to look at her assailants and couldn’t find faces, even as one of them cupped her face and placed lips on her own. Rochelle moaned with burning want. She couldn’t think. She felt sick with pleasure.
The circle of kissing ladies lowered Rochelle to her knees. Rochelle mewled with protest and reached out for anyone of them. The hand that took Rochelle’s was weathered and firm. Rochelle looked at the kindly smile of an old woman in a pretty dress and prettier pearls. She knelt down in front of Rochelle and lifted her face up.
“I’m… I’m…” Rochelle struggled to form words. She grinned drunkenly. “I’m so happy to meet you.”
“I’m happy to meet you, too, sweetie.”
The Widow Whitner kissed Rochelle on the forehead, and Rochelle dropped.
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