I’ve been working on this novel for so long now that going back to it feels stale – I still love the idea, and I love reading what I’ve done, but the motivation is lacking considering how many other creative things I do. So I’ve been wondering about turning the story into a series on Youtube instead, perhaps?
Below is a 3,000 word excerpt from the beginning. I’d love to know your thoughts!
This was the place. An old house, supposedly one time residence to a family struggling with a demonic presence, which tore them apart and possessed their young daughter. A vivid and colourful history for a building that was today the scene of a triple murder-suicide: a husband shot and killed by an armed intruder, and then the gun turned on the wife and oldest son before taking his own life. The tragedy had shaken – and enthralled – the city to its core but the saddest part of it was that the two remaining children of the Peterson family were to be put into the system and due to the nature of their trauma, would probably stay there until they were old enough to leave of their own accord.
Sebastian knew the system, and he knew how little help would be offered to them; Emma and Mikey Peterson would have to find their own ways to cope with what they’d been through. The chance of those coping mechanisms being healthy was slim to none.
“Seb, are you ready for the first shots?”
He grumbled at the nickname. “Don’t call me that.”
Lifting his camera rig to his shoulder, he took his time adjusting a few settings before he got into position.
Miles ignored his protest entirely. Pacing in front of the house, he held his microphone proudly and muttered his introduction speech to himself over and over. The mud squelched beneath his feet, churning under the sole of his utility boots and trampling the bare lawn even further into the earth. It was a shame, for the place looked as though it was once a nice plot of land.
Sebastian rolled the camera for a while, aiming first at the overgrown and sadly forgotten yard, focusing on the swing and sandbox that would never be played in by the Peterson children again. The September wind blew a gust through the willow tree, rocking the swing ever so slightly.
Tired of that tragic scene, he moved his focus onto the house. The house didn’t scream ‘demonic’ – it was whitewashed cobble over two storeys, with sweet country shutters on every window and a climbing plant framing one edge all the way from the porch to the roof, sporting tiny white flowers at brief intervals. It looked like the sort of house you’d settle down in forever, raise a family and grow old in. The paint was chipped in places on the outside but the front door seemed freshly finished, and Sebastian pictured Mark Peterson outside with a paintbrush fixing it up on a Sunday afternoon whilst the kids played in the yard. Georgia Peterson could be outside too, perhaps tending to the window boxes that were now sad and wilting from lack of love, or maybe just inside baking something sweet for lunch, the smell wafting through the open windows…
“Seb, come on.”
Miles sounded more frustrated now. Sebastian didn’t flinch, camera still trained on the window as he waved Miles off with his free hand.
“Just a sec, I’m getting good cutaway footage here.”
“You can do that when we’re prepping for the next scene. I need to do my opening.”
Turning his head away from the camera, Sebastian glared at Miles. He looked every bit the smarmy, TV asshole he was in his tight jeans, self-advertising t-shirt and suit jacket with his brown hair fluffed up into a perfect bedheaded coif that probably took hours of tweaking.
“You’ve got mud on your pants,” Sebastian said, immediately turning back to the camera with a playful smirk on his face, which grew as he heard Miles’ disgusted realisation behind him.
More feet approached, squelching through the recently rained upon ground. Sebastian moved to the next window across, concentrating on the paint flakes and cobwebs for aesthetic cutaway clips. He could see the shadow of someone further inside, hoping they’d stay put and not ruin his shot. They seemed to be lingering just outside the room he could see into, unmoving. What were they doing?
Using the camera’s automatic zoom, he tried to get a closer look through the viewfinder but they were shadowed and wouldn’t come into focus no matter how much he tried. They simply stood there like a pillar, body turned out into the hall.
The figure was too tall to be Olivia or Sara, yet too slim to be Nico. He would have said Miles had he not known the prick was out here with him, which only left –
“Sebastian, are you ready to shoot? I hate to say it, but we’re on a time schedule here. The cops don’t want us hanging around any longer than absolutely necessary.”
He whipped his head around again, heart thudding a heavy rhythm against his chest. He hadn’t realised he was holding his breath until he caught it, looking manic with his camera clutched in both hands, panting for breath.
Their production manager Spencer Chambers stood behind him, towering over Sebastian with his hands on his hips, one clutching a clipboard.
“Sorry, I was just- were you-” Sebastian fumbled. “Were you just inside?”
“No?” Spencer’s face twisted in confusion. “No one’s been inside yet. We’re not doing that until we’re rolling.”
“There was-” Sebastian didn’t bother finishing his sentence, turning back to the window. He checked first through the glass and then through his viewfinder. No one was stood in the doorway. A cold shiver ran up his neck, like a spider crawling unseen across his skin. “There’s someone in there.”
“What are you talking about?” Sara joined them, clapping a hand on Spencer’s arm. It looked almost possessive and Sebastian wondered, not for the first time, if there was something going on between them.
“Inside,” He repeated, gaze drifting up to her pretty face and dark eyes. “I saw someone through the window.”
Sara laughed, and his statement even earned a chuckle out of Spencer. He wished he could do that when he was being intentionally funny.
“Good one, Seb. Trying to scare us already?” she said, nudging him in the shoulder. “Every time we come to a supposedly haunted location, I swear… You’re worse than Miles.”
“Ouch, that hurts.”
“Come on, roll the shot for him before the poor guy implodes, would you?”
The chill ran down his neck as he stepped away from the window and back down off the porch, risking one last glance inside. Still no one there. Gross. He didn’t want to think about it.
Miles stood at the front of the weathered lawn, microphone raised like he was ready to break into song.
“1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3. Oil soils doilies. Oil soils doilies. Maimed animals become mean. Sheep shears should be sharp. Are we ready?”
“Rolling,” Sebastian said, training the camera up at the house. “Action in 3, 2… And we’re on.”
He panned down past the Peterson’s home, avoiding looking in any window through the viewfinder, until he landed on Miles who launched straight into his introductory speech.
“Welcome back to another episode of Paranormal Evidence. Today’s mystery takes us the home of Mark and Georgia Peterson and their three children, Benjamin, Michael and Emma. You may know the house from national news as the location of three grisly murders and a subsequent suicide back in August, but we’re here to investigate what the authorities never will… About the house’s dark, demonic past and how an evil entity that once terrorised the house’s original owners may just be responsible for this tragic crime. Welcome to… the Hell House.”
“Are we going with Hell House?” Sara interrupted, leaving a few beats for the take to finish. “I thought we’d all agreed that sounded awful.”
“I thought we’d agreed not to name it until the end of the investigation?” Olivia said, standing behind Miles with her folder of paperwork. “In case a better name came to mind.”
Olivia was their researcher, site assistant and public liaison. She’d secured the shoot for them. She was also Miles’ other half, for reasons Sebastian would never understand – the initial distaste on his face at being interrupted soon dissipated at her reasoning.
Nico, their lighting technician, lowered his handheld lights and pitched in with his heavy accent. “I like Hell House. Sounds tacky.”
“Let’s just roll it again,” Miles said, waving off the debate. “I’ll do it without and we’ll have both.”
They were inside the house twenty minutes later after three more takes. Sebastian lingered outside to collect more pickup shots of the door creaking open and the wind shaking leaves from the trees as the others debated their next scenes. Mostly he didn’t want to head immediately inside; his heart had stopped hammering but his mind was still racing over the shape he’d seen through the window. He was so sure it was a person – especially as it had gone on second glance. But perhaps… perhaps it was just some strange shadow. The light could play tricks like that sometimes. An intruder in a house where they’d arranged to film a story about a home intruder was just too unlikely to think about.
It wasn’t the first time he’d seen something he couldn’t explain. Sebastian had what his parents had called a ‘creative mind’, but he knew it to mean an overactive imagination. Since he was young he’d played pretend with imaginary friends, described impossible situations and sworn upon his mother’s life that he’d seen things there was no way he could have seen. Since he’d gotten older – since he’d left home – there had been less of it as he’d suppressed it more, become immune to his mind’s little tricks.
Not today, apparently.
With a deep breath, he stepped over the threshold into the Peterson House.
The camera’s weight was heavy on his shoulder. He was more than used to carrying it, sometimes for days at a time on shoots longer than this one, but today it felt like a burden. He was tired too. Sharing a motel room with Nico the night before hadn’t helped, seeing as the technician suffered some sort of sleep apnea that had Sebastian on edge for hours. He’d been caught between frustration at the constant noise and concern that the man might stop breathing all together and suffocate, and had lay awake in the dark, staring at the tiny green light on the emergency exit sign, running through everything he knew about giving CPR, which wasn’t a lot.
Inside the house was quiet. Too quiet considering his production team were supposed to be in here discussing scenes and they were generally incapable of discussing anything without arguing about it. Spencer called it banter and said it was good for team morale. Sharing ideas and all that. Sebastian just found it agitating.
He hated how his voice seemed to carry through the empty corridor, thick with dust particles floating in the air; not an echo, but instead simply drifting between the walls into the rooms beyond. To his immediate left was a doorway into the front room, the doorway he’d seen the figure standing in earlier. His skin prickled at the thought of passing it. To his right was the staircase and a coat stand still host to some of the Peterson’s belongings. A long black coat hung over it and a man’s hat sat on top giving the stand a human silhouette. He was too alert for it to scare him in the moment but he still felt a punch to his chest at the sight of it. Maybe that was what he’d seen through the window – it wasn’t at the right angle to have seen it directly, but perhaps some sort of shadow, some light refraction. It made sense. Probably. At the bottom of the coat rack sat two tiny pink wellington boots adorned with simple white flowers, squeaky clean, with a pair of socks tucked in the ankles.
Sebastian’s heart ached a little at the sight of them. Emma Peterson would probably never wear them again. Emma and her surviving brother were three years apart in age, the same as Sebastian and his sister Chloe. The acknowledgment of the fact was more upsetting than anything. He hoped they never watched this show his crew was making. He hoped they didn’t hate him for it, either, or take anything seriously. They were angling the episode to suggest demons already residing in the house were behind the Peterson’s murder-suicide but the truth of it was far more tragic, the work of a very ill individual, and it was horrible.
The coat stand stood where Sebastian had imagined the door to the kitchen on the opposite side of the house would be, at the bottom of the staircase but there was no door, just a section of faded wallpaper and two picture frames of the family in happier times. The next scene they were shooting was supposed to be in the kitchen, so he passed the door frame where he’d seen the shadow and continued down the corridor. At the end was three more doors; a sun room directly opposite the front door of the house which the Peterson’s used as a dining room, a door directly into the back of the staircase, presumably to a broom closet or basement, and a door to the right, to the kitchen. Only the sun room door was open so he poked his head in quickly but found it empty, besides the dusty belongings of the family, waiting in melancholic stillness for their owners to return them to life.
He next tried the doorknob to the kitchen. It was loose in the setting and turned all the way around when he twisted it, but the door didn’t budge. Sebastian stared down at it in disappointment. This was a joke – the team were probably in there, holding it shut and laughing at him, even though they knew how much he hated practical jokes. He lowered the camera to his side and tried nudging it with his shoulder to loosen it, but it wouldn’t give at all. It was as if the door was completely nailed shut on the inside.
“Is someone in there?” He called through the door. “This isn’t funny.”
Perhaps they were upstairs instead.
Backing away from the kitchen door, he ignored the nausea and lump in his throat trying to tell him he was nervous about this situation. Overactive imagination. There was nothing wrong with the kitchen. Just because two of the three murders had happened in there – just because their script had suggested the kitchen was the hub of demonic activity in this evil house – Christ, this was all so stupid.
The dusty staircase creaked under his weight, groaning like an old man stretching after a long rest. On the third step, he thought he heard something and froze, straining to listen. No voices came from upstairs; the silence was uncomfortable, as though the house was holding its breath in anticipation. Grumbling, he took another step but as the floor creaked once more he could swear he’d heard someone.
His eyesight blurred a little. He didn’t like this place at all.
There it was again, only this time it was as clear as the sound of his own voice. It beckoned him, a sing-song call from back down the corridor.
“Oh, fuck you,” he muttered, closing his eyes for a moment to steel himself. That had to be Sara, or maybe Olivia. He knew they were messing with him – it wouldn’t be the first time they’d pulled a stunt like this on set. He stomped back down to the ground floor and around to the end of the corridor, expecting to see the kitchen door open for him.
But the door beneath the stairs was open, just a crack.
His heart leapt into his throat. Clutching the camera at his side, his hands clammy, Sebastian reached for the handle to open the door further and was immediately met with a clunking sound. It churned and slammed and stopped, then repeated after a few moments. Like a washing machine, or maybe a boiler.
The house hadn’t been occupied for months.
“Come on guys, you’ve had your fun.” He said, hoping his voice would come out more demanding and less anxious than it did. “You got me.”
Silence once again, except for the slamming. He was staring down into pitch black and he thought he was going to vomit. They certainly had got him, got him good. His tongue felt thick in his mouth as his sweaty fingers clamoured for the chain dangling inside the basement entrance to turn the light on. Wrapping it around his hand, he pulled hard and the chain made a triumphant click but nothing happened.
Muttering encouragement to himself, eyes transfixed in the darkness below, he tried it again. Still nothing.
Like hell was he going down there with no visibility. His ears were ringing so loud, he thought for a moment the sound was coming from somewhere around him but it was still as quiet as it had ever been, the slamming of machinery cutting the thick atmosphere like an executioner’s axe. He could abandon this all together, walk away from their stupid prank and wait outside until someone came to get him, but he knew the teasing for doing so back at the office would be unbearable.
Instead, he hoisted the heavy camera back onto his shoulder, sweeping his dark curls out of his face to look through the viewfinder again. His forehead was sticky with sweat. Fumbling with the settings, Sebastian switched on the night vision feature and looked once again into the darkness. Even with the setting on, he couldn’t see far – the camera was dated and the feature low quality – but at least he could see a few feet ahead of him. He might even catch a glimpse of his teammates before they got the jump on him. He could turn this whole prank around and scare them instead.
He kept the camera pointed down, enough to see his sneakers landing firmly on each step. They creaked much like the stairs above him, but quieter, as though they’d seen less footfall over the many years the house had been occupied. The stairs seemed to go on and on, the camera wobbling with his shaky breathing as his chest heaved.
Clunk. Slam. Silence. Clunk, Slam, Silence. The creaking stairs. The ringing in his ears. He felt nauseous.
Then, he caught a glimpse of something. Sebastian froze on the spot, one foot down on the next step, as he raised the camera. Someone was sat on the bottom step, facing out into the basement. Their head was bowed, but from the dark hair and small frame, it had to be Sara.
He could get the drop on her, and scare her.
Clunk. Slam. Silence.
That would make him just as bad as they were, but he was dying to get his own back for their creepy pranks. It wasn’t as if this was the first time they’d messed with him. But Sara was as much of a wimp as he was and he knew he’d feel terrible about it.
Clunk, Slam, Silence. Sob.
Sebastian felt his heart crawling up his throat as he realised the sobbing was coming from the woman. He took one step closer, the bowing stairs crying out under his weight.
“Sara?” His voice was barely a whisper as it left his lips. He tried to wet them but his mouth was sticky and dry as well, his saliva souring on his tongue as he failed to encourage his voice louder. “Sara, it’s Sebastian. Are you okay?”
The woman’s head snapped around and stared at him. His heart thundered; it wasn’t Sara, not at all. Twisted and obscured by dark locks, the pale, gaunt face belonged to someone else, someone who shouldn’t have been there, couldn’t be there.
Let me know your thoughts on it – specifically, should I give up on the long prose format and convert this story into a video series script? Or should I keep writing prose? What stood out to you? What didn’t you like?