Tanim edged up the darkened stairwell, the wooden steps polished to a dangerous sheen by hundreds of years of passing feet. At the top of the stairs he stopped and drew in a slow, calming breath, allowed himself a moment to gather his thoughts. No sense going in with his nerves already wound tight; he needed to remain clear headed or he wouldn’t be able to trust his own experiences tonight. He didn’t want anyone to refute his conclusions based solely on human fallibility.

The gory legend surrounding the Hanged Man Inn began, or perhaps ended, with the suicide of the Reverend Aaron Smith in the late 1700s. An investigation launched upon discovery of his body hanging from the rafters of the Blackbird Inn revealed Smith as the perpetrator of a total of thirteen murders over half as many years. The reverend’s private journal, found hidden beneath a parish floorboard, uncovered a sordid tale of illicit affairs with young men conducted at the very inn where he had taken his life. Smith believed these men to be incubi sent by the Devil to tempt him to a life of sin and so destroyed them all as they wore out welcome or allure, each killing more horrific than the last. It was now popular belief that the ghosts of his victims haunted the inn, trapped at the place of their bloody demise. Thousands of paranormal enthusiasts flocked to the inn each year, hands clutching reprinted copies of Smith’s diary and suitcases full of investigative equipment. Tanim doubted most of the stories of incoherent screaming, headless specters, and invisible attacks were true, of course, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to prove that first hand.

Raising his digital voice recorder, habitually double checking the full battery life left in the device as he did, Tanim moved down the hallway. He trailed his free hand along the wall, counting each closed doorway as he passed by. He would return to these rooms later to take EVP recordings but his eagerness drove him to start at the heart of the haunting: the attic where Smith had ended so many lives, including his own. The current owners of the inn had transformed the attic room into a single suite reserved for those whose desire to stay a night in death’s chambers knew no monetary limit. Tanim spared a moment at the door for an appropriately dramatic pause, then crept inside. Moonlight filtered through rippled windows illuminated reproduction furniture and lovingly laundered white lace linen. The room looked nothing like it had when the reverend lured his victims to their deaths, of course, but the period décor still made one feel as if Smith’s victims might appear at any moment, alive and unaware of their impending doom.

“Is anyone in here? Can you hear me? Can you answer me?” Tanim left a long pause between each question, allowing time for the recorder to pick up sounds outside his own hearing range, and tried not to feel too silly carrying on a one sided conversation. “If there is someone in this room with me, please say something. Say anything.”

Silence. Of course. No investigator had ever recovered anything more from an EVP session at the Hanging Man than the sound of settling old wood and winter wind whistling beneath window cracks. Not exactly the stuff of horror movies. Tanim snorted and turned back to the door.

“Daren–”

He recognized the phantom on sight. The reverend’s diary described this particular young man in almost lurid detail, whole pages devoted to his angelic features, his piercing black eyes, the taste of his sweat and the heat of his flesh. Tanim hadn’t been able to read those passages through in one sitting, physically sickened by the reverend’s perverse obsession and violent fantasies. By the time authorities had found Daren’s body buried in the forest behind the parish, all that could be determined was that his jaw had been broken, his spine snapped, and his body dismembered; the more gruesome ghost tales preferred to presume the poor boy had been alive throughout. Of course, the lingering fragment standing before Tanim betrayed nothing of his horrific end. Neither blood nor bruises marred skin so pale it shone silver blue in the moonlight. The dark, flat eyes which stared back showed no rage or sorrow, fear or helplessness. Nothing remotely human at all, in fact, which somehow unnerved Tanim more than anything else about this moment.

Tanim swallowed, suddenly at a loss for what to do, to say, to think. He wanted to ask a thousand questions but each one died on his heavy tongue and he only managed to choke out, “you were his first…” Pale lips moved as if in reply but no sound emerged from the specter and as quickly as he had appeared, Daren vanished. Tanim rushed to review the EVP, desperate to discover what the lingering spirit had said, only to find his recorder’s batteries drained and useless.

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