"You don't think there's a ghost here. The only reason you know about her sister is because I told you."
Curtis lit a cigarette; the tip glowed like a slitted eye. "So?"
"So...you can't lie to that woman just to make a few bucks and get her reaction on camera."
"All I'm doing is telling the O'Donnells what they want to hear. These people believe there's a ghost in this house. They want to believe there's a ghost in this house. Even if we're not getting much activity tonight, that doesn't mean a spirit isn't laying low with visitors around."
"This isn't just a ghost," Ross said, his voice shaking. "This was someone to her."
"I didn't peg you for such a purist. I figured after all these months, you'd know the routine."
Ross did not consider himself to be particularly gullible. He'd seen and done enough in his life to always be on the lookout for what was real, because he so often felt like he wasn't. "I know the routine. I just didn't know it was all fake."
Curtis whipped the cigarette to the ground. "I'm not a fake. The ghost of my grandfather appeared to me, Ross. I took a goddamned photo of him standing at the foot of my bed. You draw your own conclusions. Hell, remember that shot you got of a face rising out of the lake? You think I set that up? I wasn't even in the same state you were in at the time." Curtis took a deep breath, calming himself. "Look, I'm not taking the O'Donnells for a ride. I'm a businessman, Ross, and I know my clients."
Ross couldn't answer. For all he knew, Curtis had managed to slip the penny he'd found beneath the tripod, too. For all he knew, the past nine months of his life had been wasted. He was no better than the O'Donnells -- he'd seen only what he wanted to believe.
Maybe she was psychic, because at that moment Maylene stepped outside. "Curtis? What's going on?"
"It's Ross. He's trying to decide what road to take home -- I-81, or the Moral High Ground."
Ross stepped into the driving rain and started walking. Let them think what they wanted; they'd certainly encouraged Ross to do the same. He didn't bother to return for his digital camera or his knapsack; these were things he could replace, unlike his composure, which he was fast in danger of losing. In his car he turned the heater on full blast, trying to get rid of the chill that wouldn't let go. He drove a mile before he realized that his headlights weren't on. Then he pulled off to the side of the road and took great, gulping breaths, trying to start his heart again.
Ross knew how to scientifically record paranormal phenomena and how to interpret the results. He had filmed lights zipping over graveyards; he had taped voices in empty basements; he had felt cold in spots where there could be no draft. For nine months, Ross had thought he'd found an entrance to the world where Aimee was...and it turned out to be a painted door drawn on a wall.
Damn it, he was running out of ideas.
Az Thompson awoke with his mouth full of stones, small and smooth as olive pits. He spat fifteen into the corrugated leather of his palm before he trusted himself to breathe without choking. He swung his legs over the side of the army cot. He tried to shake the certainty that if buried in the packed earth beneath his bare feet, these rocks would grow into some cancerous black thicket, like the ones covering the castle in that White Man's fairy tale about a girl who couldn't wake up without being kissed.
He didn't mind camping out; for as long as he could remember he'd had one foot in nature and one foot in the yanqui world. Az stuck his head out the flap of the tent, where some of the others had already gathered for breakfast. Their signs -- placards to be worn around the neck, and picket posters tacked onto wood -- lay in a heap like ventriloquist's dummies, harmless without some spirit behind them. "Haw," he grunted, and walked toward the small campfire, knowing that a space would be made for him.
From Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. Copyright Jodi Picoult 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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