Josh put the car in park and set the emergency brake. Not that it would roll anywhere, but it was a good habit to get into. His mom had drilled that into his head the moment she started giving him driving lessons last year.
"Did you see the sign?" Zach asked as they stepped out onto the deserted driveway of the abandoned farm.
"Yeah, who do you think changes it? There's nobody here."
"I don't know, dude. But 'Welcome, picture enthusiasts?' That's creepy. It's like they knew we were coming with our cell phone cameras."
Josh nodded. This place was weird. Just a few steps away from the main road and it looked as if they were in the middle of nowhere. You never would guess this was Citrus Valley, the heart of suburbia, population: too many. Heck, a few blocks down the street stood a huge shopping center with stores that catered to anything anyone could ever want. And all around, though not visible from here, were miles of houses filled with yuppie families who commuted to the major cities all around Orange County and Los Angeles.
"What do you make of it?" Zach asked.
"The sign? I don't know. Maybe there was a photography club here last weekend."
"No, the farm. Pretty creepy, huh? Maybe it really is haunted."
Josh nodded. Not at the haunted part--ghosts didn't exist--but at the creepy feelings. His neighbor, Mr. Brisco, had lived in Citrus Valley for thirty years, and he said this place had been abandoned even before he moved here. How could it look so clean? There was no litter, no graffiti, nor any other sort of vandalism. This would seem to be a primo party spot, but he never heard about any. Not that he and Zach ever went to parties, but the guys on the football team would have mentioned something. Maybe there was a private security force that chased people away. Or maybe the ghost stories did the job.
Zach rounded the corner to the main field first. "Whoa, it's like another world back here."
Josh caught up and gasped. It seemed like it went on forever. How had the city or whoever owned it not sold off this land? It had to be worth a fortune.
Zach had the same thought. "They could turn this into a football stadium and have plenty of room for parking."
They stared out at the dusty pastures filled with overgrown weeds. Dead trees, which he guessed once bore fruit, lined the various fields, though thriving giants ran the perimeter, keeping the property more private than any man-made wall could. Out in the middle of everything stood a decrepit red barn. Josh didn't know why, but he wanted nothing to do with that.
Zach motioned to the buildings that looked like old farmhouses Josh had seen in history books. "Do you suppose it's the house that's haunted?"
"I don't know. The whole place feels weird."
"I'm not getting that. I did at first when we couldn't see anything, but now it just looks ancient and empty." Zach chuckled. "I'm disappointed."
Something flashed in the corner of Josh's vision. He turned, but found nothing. "Maybe we should leave."
"What are you talking about?" Zach pulled out his phone. "We came to take some pictures, so let's do it. Remember, the ghost book says that sometimes we can't see the ghosts, but cameras can." Zach had found a ghost hunting book in the school library last week. He read it cover to cover in a couple of days, much quicker than he normally read anything. That was why they were here now.
"Okay. Let's get this over with." Josh pulled out his own phone.
Two flickers of light flashed to Josh's left, but he again didn't see any reason for them. "You didn't see that?" he asked Zach. "Out of the corner of your eye?"
"And here I thought you didn't believe in ghosts," Zach said with a snicker.
"I don't," Josh said with more conviction than he felt. "But maybe there are people around who could make trouble for us."
"You're being paranoid, dude. We're all alone."
They wandered into the closest field, and Zach clicked off a few shots. Josh followed suit. They reviewed each picture, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Zach readied his phone for more, while Josh erased his pictures. The book suggested they view their digital photos on a bigger screen, but while Zach's phone could hold hundreds of pictures, Josh's only had enough memory for a couple dozen. So as much as they wanted to keep them all, they decided earlier that Josh should erase any that looked ordinary.
The two took turns snapping pictures, and scrutinized each together. Though they got nothing in their first batch, Josh felt the air grew heavy. He could swear there was energy flickering through the air. He asked Zach about it, and was answered with a laugh and something that sounded like "scared."
They continued deeper into the farm towards the barn. Josh continued seeing flecks of light that danced just out of view. He didn't mention these.
"Wait, dude, look at this." Zach stopped and showed Josh his phone. A blurry ball of light floated in the bottom left of the screen. "What is it?"
Josh frowned and looked closer. With the tiny screen, it was hard to make out any sort of detail. It looked like a small ball of energy. "I don't know. Save that one so you can look at it on your computer later."
"Yeah. Make sure you're taking pictures, too, dude."
Josh nodded and snapped a couple. Both held exactly the same sort of thing as Zach's. They marveled at the screen, not sure what to make of it. If the camera was malfunctioning, why didn't any of the prior pictures have those anomalies? Neither had noticed any bugs flying around, and though there was plenty of dirt on the ground, the air didn't feel gritty. Josh remembered visiting a working farm on a field trip when he was in sixth grade. The thing that still stuck out most was the dust that got everywhere. He could still taste the dirty air if he thought hard enough.
They continued towards the red barn in the middle of the fields, but Josh only went because of Zach. Given a choice, he'd have dashed back to his car. The air felt dense out here, both to breathe and move through. He even passed through a few cold spots that reminded him of winter trips up to Big Bear Mountain. And as if those occurrences weren't strange enough, a low light kept flashing in the corner of his eye where he couldn't get a good look. The strange balls showed up in more and more pictures, though they were never there when the picture was snapped.
"Look at this one." Zach held his phone up for Josh to see. "Do you see it?"
A ghostly arm protruded out of a ball of light. That wasn't just some weird anomaly; that was really there. "This is getting spooky."
Zach nodded and smiled. "Yeah. And awesome. Dude, you can't say you don't believe in ghosts now."
Josh weighed the words for his reply, but before he had an answer, a shrill scream sounded from the barn. It had to be some sort of bird or animal, right? This wasn't happening.
They took more pictures, no longer checking the screen before taking the next. Zach charged ahead to the barn but pulled up short. He turned to Josh, his face pale.
"Did you see that? Someone's up there." He pointed up to one of the second story windows.
Josh scanned the barn, and the air swirled around inside of it, like colored mist and lasers. "Do you see those lights?"
"Lights? No, looks pretty dark in there. I saw a farmer. Or at least a guy who looked like a farmer. He was only there for half a second."
Josh snapped a few more pictures until his phone couldn't hold any more. He didn't bother to check them. There'd be plenty of time to do so at home. Besides, with his phone's memory full, maybe he could persuade Zach to leave. This whole place was a creep factory. Before he could announce that he couldn't take any more pictures, ear-piercing screams erupted from the barn. No way those came from an animal.
The boys both jumped, spun, and raced towards the car. Josh could have sworn he saw a headless figure wander out the barn door. Now he wished he still had some memory left in his phone.
As they reached the car, Josh gasped for breath, and it sounded like Zach was having a fit. A quick glance over showed him laughing. "That was intense. You have to admit it. After we see the pictures, even you'll believe in ghosts."
"Something weird is happening out there, that's for sure." He couldn't bring himself say more than that. Now that they were away from the fields, he'd have to see hard evidence on his computer monitor. Maybe they'd shared a hallucination. After all, it seemed like they both saw weird things, but not the same weird things. It could be the stories freaking them out.
Zach rattled the car door handle. "Hurry up and unlock the car, dude. I want to get home and check these out. Something's there and I want to know what."
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