Mart 24, 2021

The Ghost of Mary Stevens

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Against the better advice of their friends, Kevin and Rachel had entered into a workplace romance that became a flourishing relationship. The romance then turned into an even more successful working relationship—their marriage coincided with their first of what would be several successful docu-reality series. Their work was a rare success: commercially popular, but critically celebrated and strangely high-brow. To their friends, family, and the world, Kevin and Rachel had it all.

And they looked the part too. Kevin with a slight musculature and defined jaw, close cut salt-and-pepper hair and a soft tan. He was California cool with an east coast pedigree; a businessman’s acumen with a surfer’s body. Rachel had a naughty librarian vibe: heavy black frames adorned her face, but everything else about her said boardroom dom. She was tall and wore heels, dressed in sleek wrap dresses that showed off her long, thin neck like Nefertiti and peach-like breasts, and a gorgeous slim frame, defined by long legs. She was stunning in everyway: women wanted to be with her, men wanted to be with her. But she had a certain quality that made her not at all intimidating. Just amazing.

Kevin, raised in Santa Monica, and Rachel, a product of New England boarding schools, had world views that suited their upbringing: he was proudly open, Rachel sought a real order to things. So when he introduced the idea of a threesome or even an open relationship, she promptly shot it down. Despite co-habitating and working together, Kevin and Rachel were so busy running their production company, they seldom saw one another. The long days and tired nights made the lack of sex fine to a certain point. That was until Kevin, bored with his success and self-satisfied with his good looks, took it upon himself to begin an affair with a younger associate producer, Lydia Carmichael. This carried on quietly for a good year before Rachel caught on to the affair.

They tried to keep it quiet as best they could; run the business and discretely file for divorce, figuring out a way to keep what they had built without destroying it, or getting rid of all their successful television series and the jobs that provided. It was important to Rachel especially to enjoy some semblance of sanity, to prove that despite the unrestrained ego and libido of her husband, she could still have it all in Hollywood. And that’s why she made a deal: he would keep his stake in the company, but cease all day-to-day activities. They would tell their closest friends and employees when it was all said and done. They just had to make it through one last production shoot first.

Rachel had zero interest in the project: it was something Kevin’s mistress had brought to them, a haunted house documentary. She could get on board with the actual history of the house, but it seemed to be a shallow plea for the assistant producer to build her CV, not to actually add something to the world. But because she wasn’t willing to soil the name of her brand, Rachel had agreed to go on the shoot to keep it up to task: this meant one night with her ex, his mistress, and a single camera operator. In a haunted house, on Halloween. A night of true horror that no supernatural encounter could top.

Fortunately for Rachel, the camera operator was an old friend and someone who had taken her side in all of these events. She would at least have Alex to rely on in this horror.

+++

30 October

10 a.m. — Final Pre-Shoot Meeting

“So this handout has a quick refresher,” Lydia told the group as she handed them the schedule for the next day’s shoot. “Jerome Stevens built the house on the outskirts of Los Angeles in 1907 and filled it with several children. But ten years later, all of the family members except his wife suddenly disappeared and it has been the subject of lore ever since, many believe it to be haunted. That’s what we’re after tomorrow. We’ve got all of the archival evidence that suggests his wife, Catherine Stevens, killed the whole family as a protest of motherhood.”

“So Lydia,” Alex piped in. “How exactly do we record a haunting. This whole genre is built on cheap effects and vases flying across the room. But we all know that’s fake.”

“Look, I know it sounds ridiculous, but I grew up in this neighbourhood. In tenth grade, my friends and I spent Halloween night in there and it has stayedd with me since. It is the most terrifying night of my life. This documentary is why I got into the business. It’s a real passion project.”

“Can someone reminded me how we funded this shoot,” Rachel asked.

“Private backer,” Lydia replied.

Alex’s phone beeped again. From Rachel: “Must mean her parents.”

Alex snickered. She caught Lydia and Kevin’s glaring eye.

“I know there is a lot that has happened between all of us, but I think we can make this into a really great product,” Kevin said. “The material is so, so strong, and I really believe in us all.”

Lydia’s phone buzzed. It was from Kevin. “Can’t wait til this is over and we can kartal escort have our own celebration.” Eggplant emoji.

+++

30 October

10 p.m.

Rachel got home about the time she normally did.

She didn’t have much time for herself in her marriage and had no idea how she was going to have another relationship with her job. But she also didn’t think she needed a man when she was married to her job. But she was going to make it through tomorrow, and tonight, she had wine and would do the work to get ready for the shoot.

Fortunately, she had modestly luxurious Hollywood Hills home, replete with mid-century modern furniture to retreat to. After the long day at work, Rachel came home to pour herself a voluminous glass of pinot noir that would surely take the edge off. She slipped out of her white slip DVF dress into her lacy bra and panties and slid onto the Alvar Aalto day bed she had wanted since she learned about mid-century design. This was a sign of her success. It was only soiled by the fact that she was reading production notes for a project she desperately did not want to work on. But being in your underwear with red wine on expensive furniture: that was the sign of adulthood.

Her phone rang as she took a first look at the notes. It was Alex.

“Do you understand the nature of the haunting?” Alex asked on the other line.

“It’s something about a murderous wife, forced to submit to a woman’s role. Rape revenge type thing. There’s a feminist edge, right?”

“Umm, you need to see what’s in these notes. She clearly did not give you the right pitch.”

“I’m just sitting down to look at it,” Rachel replied.

“The gist is much more complicated them some feminist subplot. Jerome Stevens, the homeowner, had an affair with a younger woman. But the wife, Mary Stevens, she was the one believed to have been pulling the strings of his business—the brains. He wanted to disgrace her somehow but knew he needed her so moved his mistress into the home and forced Millie to live with the affair, knowing she needed him to be the face of their business.”

“What an asshole,” Rachel mumbled. “Men.”

“I hear you,” Alex said—a not thinly veiled statement of lesbian misandry. “But that’s not the end of it. The mistress began to torment Mary, make demands of her. It was a giant mockery basically. She could never have the man she wanted, so she had to torment his wife. The children caught on quickly and eventually the mistress became pregnant, which through everything into chaos. Mary became sick of everything and demanded the mistress sent away, and Jerome refused. He threatened to take everything away from Mary.”

“So is Lydia just making a fool out of me?” Rachel asked.

“I’m telling you, there’s more. This isn’t in the package she sent, it’s online.” Alex said. “Eventually, Mary gets sick of it and goes into a rage and poisons all of them.”

“But if they were upper class, how would she have gotten into the kitchen, they must have had servants, right?”

“That’s the thing,” Alex said. “Mary had renounced men entirely and her children, disgusted by their father, and begun an affair with the housekeeper. It was torrid. There’s all this lesbian fan fiction online about ripping through Victorian clothes to find Mary’s gorgeous pale breasts and pert nipples, and the ravishing cunnilingus she gave the housemaid, as if her pussy was the best meal she could ever be served. It’s really hot.”

“So it’s a lesbian triumph?” Rachel asked, feeling a little bit of energy in her underpants for the first time in a while.

“Well, not quite. You see, the thing is, all of the children died and Mary was convicted of murder. But no one knows what happened to Jerome and the mistress. Their bodies weren’t found. And some people think they knew Mary was going to poison them, so they faked things, and while the two women were celebrating the mass killing, Jerome escaped and reported her to the police and entered proto-witness protection. You see, Mary has become a lesbian cult figure of injustice. It’s a tale of a man-snatching bitch winning. Patriarchy triumphs.”

“But I also think Lydia is trying to get you. She’s trying to say the mistress wins.”

“What a cunt,” Rachel said. She took a big gulp of her red wine. “Well thanks Al. I’m glad to know what we’re being set up to do. I feel like that bitch is going to try to kill me tomorrow now.”

“I just wanted you to know. Get some sleep, okay. We’ll get through this together. You’ve got a mean dyke on your side.”

Rachel hung up her phone and took another swig of her wine. She felt a little buzzed from all this, amped up but also loopy from wine on an empty stomach. She didn’t really know what to do with all of this anxious energy she had, and certainly she couldn’t fall asleep after this, but a thought struck her. It was the thing that ended her crying after learning of the affair, a gift from Alex.

Rachel peeled herself off the couch in an elegant kurtköy escort gesture, and strutted through her home on full display, her soft skin and long legs, her buxom breasts perky in her bra, toward her bedroom. She hadn’t used it in a while, but when she opened the drawer, she saw exactly what she wanted, and there it was: her rabbit.

“This will be a good outlet for all of my energy,” she whispered to herself with a smile and a feeling of excitement between her legs. Rachel lied down on her bed and clicked her vibrator on. Just at its sound she felt herself get wet and knew this was going to be a good decision that would knock her right now and make for a more relaxed tomorrow.

She was right about one thing.

+++

31 October

4 p.m.

“You look well-rested,” Alex, camera slung over her should, said to Rachel as she exited her BMW coup into the bright sun.

“It wasn’t such a bad night,” Rachel said with a wink. “It’s so hot and sunny. How the hell are we going to some kind of spooky vibe here tonight?”

“Maybe the project will be a total dud and never see the light of day. That would be a good way to take revenge on Lydia,” Alex said, smirking.

“Wouldn’t it though? Too bad I can’t afford for it to flop.”

The two women turned around to face the house. For something that had been abandoned for close to a century, it was in remarkably good shape. Derelict yes, but strong Victorian bones. If they had been on the east coast, an autumn crisp would give it the requisite spooky horror. But the nearby well kept homes and the beaming late October sun rendered this more a Hollywood effect out of context than a proper haunted house. It was more akin to seeing the Bates Motel on the Universal backlot tour than the effect of seeing the house on film. Though a domed turret in a Queen Anne Tower house always bore some signs of horror.

“I really don’t know about this, Alex. I really don’t.”

With that, a group of tweens sped by on their skateboards, decked out in bloody makeup, and the one towing the tail of the group nearly hit the two women.

“Hey!” they shouted.

“What the hell are you two doing here! Don’t you know that place is haunted and Halloween is the fuckin’ night to be there!”

“We know. We’re making a documentary about it,” Alex said. “And we’ve got permits too.”

“No city permit is gonna help you in there,” the kid sassed back. “My brother tried to spend the night in there last night and he ran out screaming by nine o’clock, said some dyke ghost tried to cut off his cock. He hasn’t been on a date in years, says he feels all this shame toward women.”

“That’s probably just his awakening to the dangers of rape culture,” Rachel said with a smirk.

“No way, ma’am. My brother is gay and dates a transman. All they do is talk about the violence of the patriarchy,” he said. “He said this ghost would go after anyone.”

“Come on, is there really a murderous ghost in their?”

“Hell yes, woman. Two years ago Tina Jones and Carter Ford tried to spend the night in there and they both had to a therapy camp after the things they saw. She was supposed to go to Harvard but she’s still processing her feelings from it. Shit changes you in there. But proceed at your own risk,” he said with a shrug, skating away.

Rachel turned to Alex. “Do you really think we’re getting set up to be murdered or something? Kevin is going to take over the company?”

“Speak of the devil,” Alex replied, seeing the traitorous lovers pull up to the curb in their Land Rover. They stepped out of the car together, glowing from the pleasure of a fresh romance.

Rachel couldn’t help but notice how happy Kevin looked. He was always handsome in a sort of young George Clooney by way of Yale way, but those Clooney looks meant he was going to age even better. That bitch Lydia was going to get his best years. Maybe even his best sperm. And the way he smiled with her, the relaxed posture he took, Rachel hadn’t seen that in years. He had been so buttoned up around her. But with Lydia, he failed to button up his polo shirts, his wisps of chest hair poked through. His shoulders looked broader, more muscular, his body was tanner, more V-shaped like a soccer player at his peak. And he kept a five o’clock shadow. Forty never looked so good.

Alex eyed Lydia. For all of the hate she harboured for this woman, she had to admit that she was beautiful in that Cosmo girl way. Casual jeans, a blouse, no make-up, free-flowing shoulder length blonde hair. Not a wrinkle in sight. A relaxed California beauty. And bold, going to work without a bra and a see-through white blouse, especially on an all-night shoot. Maybe naïve more than bold. But the way the sun hit her and revealed her breasts, that was something Alex could sign on for. The way the gently sloped down and back up into her luscious Hershey’s kiss nipples was scintillating. But this was work, and Lydia was a home wrecker. Tit fantasies would have to wait maltepe escort for at-home masturbation.

“Glad you could join us,” Rachel gruffed.

“Sorry we’re late,” Kevin replied. “Lydia wanted to pick up some supplies.”

She gestured to two canvas grocery bags in Kevin’s hands. “Salt she said. Some other essentials in case things get really dangerous in there.”

“What do you mean, dangerous?” Alex queried. “I don’t think our insurance rider covers supernatural activity. This is all a hoax isn’t it.”

Alex peered in the bag.

“Besides. Don’t you know salt is to protect from witches, not ghosts.”

“What about ghost witches,” Lydia said.

The others, even Kevin, stared at her blankly.

“Honey,” he said. “I can only indulge so much.”

“Look, I know I’m the junior person here, but I know what I saw when I was a teenager. And I know the lore. I grew up two blocks from here. People had their lives ruined by spending the night in this house. You all read my primer. No one knows what we’re dealing with, but my research team suggests actual haunting. The EMF meters are off the charts in this place. Scientists know it, that’s what they won’t go near it.”

“So why did you bring us here then,” Rachel asked.

“Because we are strong and can handle it. It’s good to have a mostly female team anyway. We can stand up to the ghosts, Kevin can bait them,” she replied.

“Alright, let’s get on with it. We’ve only got an hour for coverage with natural light.”

The unlikely group of four trudged their way up the cement walkway into the rickety Victorian, Alex just lagging behind to get footage of the dramatic entry.

“Alright, flashlights for everyone. Keep your headsets on, stay with each other. This will be great.” Lydia said. “Alex, get the entry. This is essential. And keep the camera on me.”

Alex focused the camera onto the door, and Lydia popped in the frame with a look of glee. “This is it!” She turned her back and turned the door handle, pushing the grand Victorian double doors open to reveal a vast interior. An intricate arts and crafts-style staircase rain up the side of the foyer, stairs missing every few steps, and ornate mouldings laying in ruin across the ceiling beams. It was apparent this was once a grand house, but time and disaster had laid waste to the home. Beer cans and condom wrappers were strewn across the floor, all variety of misogynist ghost graffiti lined the wall, and the traces of once fine furnishings were hollowed out by years of disuse or neglect. Vermin had made this their home.

Kevin, Lydia and Rachel all proceeded into the space, casting their flashlights on the mess before them while Alex shone the light from her camera onto the ruins of a house.

“What a dump,” Alex said.

“Oh hush,” Lydia interjected. “Focus on me and let’s get this intro done while the light is still going outside. We can then tour around and start capturing the spooky stuff.”

Alex brought Lydia into the frame of the camera again, and Kevin and Rachel walked away, knowing they did not need to hear this schpiel. This of course meant that they were walking around a derelict house together, which was a situation neither of them had interest in. But it was better than facing a haunting alone. They peeled into the parlour, casting lights on the wreckage of teenage delinquents who had played haunted house here for decades before them.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but she did do a lot of research on this. It is an interesting story. A feminist story even, and Lydia did her research,” Kevin piped in, cutting through the tense silence. “Mary Stevens deserves to be known as a businesswoman and a wronged convict.”

Rachel shot him a glare. She knew the whole story. “Look, this is just a task for me. I’m sure she did due to the research, but I’m just not certain why I’m third-wheeling your Halloween horror date. I’ll do the work and get out.”

Kevin withheld any further commentary and began to inspect a wall of leftover books. He knew when he shouldn’t talk.

Rachel kept her eyes peeled on a collection of family photographs. It was almost a Freudian pull, recognizing the thing her career and her marriage to Kevin would never manifest.

“It is amazing though, that they would have this collection of photographs so early in the twentieth century. That they would be intact too. I mean, how is the wreckage still here. This is historically significant material.”

Rachel hadn’t realized it, but Lydia and Alex had crept into the room. “It’s such a good point, Rachel,” Lydia said, walking toward her with Alex’s camera focused on her. “The Stevens ran the first and largest photographic studio on the West Coast. That’s the source of their fortune, but as images these have a special quality, so lovingly framed and developed.”

Alex’s camera glided around the remaining framed images, some on the floor, some still hung on the wall. Her eye caught one photograph of two women, in a broken frame, sitting on the floor. “Is that Mary and the housemaid.”

Lydia squealed with glee. “This is amazing. Look at it. It must be!” She picked up the photograph to inspect it, and Rachel and Kevin took her. “Look at them. It’s so unusual to see a smile. Maybe we can catch her on a good night.”

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