Well, NYC Midnight exceeded expectations yet again! Confirmation emails have been sent out, so I can officially post this story (that I’m positive now is not perfect! re: this post.
As advised previously, this round’s prompts were
Genre: Ghost Story // Location: A Brewery // Object: A hairbrush
Synopsis: Natalie Holiday has been tasked with selling the Grossman Brewery, but the agency hasn’t told her the truth about the history of the property. Can she survive her first sell, or will the ghosts have the final say?
The Lager Merger
As the sunlight dimmed past the hop plants, Natalie crossed her arms, checking her watch in the process. The temperature inside the brewery had gone cold, and with only partial lighting, the shadows cast by the lauter tuns, tanks, and barrels, left her feeling alone and anxious. She now just stood in the doorway, clipboard against her chest, waiting for lights to appear along the stretch of road in front of her. She tried to push aside any trepidation.
Headlights beamed through the plants as far down as 500m. Natalie sighed, loosening her arms.
“Hi, Mr. Edwards, my name is Natalie Holiday,” Natalie said with a Cheshire grin on her face. Shaking her head, Natalie coughed, “No. no. Too excited sounding.”
She shifted her feet as the headlights made their way closer.
She could not understand why the agency had asked her to do this as her first sell. Was there more to this place than they were telling her? It certainly seemed so.
The car parked, and Natalie stepped forward to greet her potential buyer.
“Good evening, Mr. Edwards,” Natalie said, smiling broadly.
“What’s so good about it?” he growled. The tall, dominating form of Philip Edwards towered over Natalie as he straightened himself. “I’ve just gotten off a ten-hour flight, so you better make this snappy, Missss…?”
“Mrs. Holiday, sir. Natalie.”
“Right. Well, show me this… place.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, turning towards the doorway. “Right this way.”
Natalie ushered the businessman into the brewery.
“Mr. Edwards, what we have here is one of the oldest breweries in the state of – “
Before she could finish her sentence, the door slammed shut. Her head jerked in the direction of the noise, as it echoed through the brewery, awakening any fears Natalie had pushed aside earlier.
“What the fuck was that?” Philip said, eyes narrowed as he looked at Natalie.
“Wind, sir,” she said, standing tall. “The windows at the top of the brewery are always open. It helps with the fermentation of the beer.”
Natalie’s eyes locked with Philip’s. For a moment, she sounded like she knew what she was talking about. If he could have seen it, though, none of the windows were open. Her lie was as much for his benefit as it was for hers.
“How long since it was closed down?” he asked.
As they passed the first of five large tanks, Natalie’s focus fell on a shadow that seemed to pass by them. Her head moved to follow it, but when it went behind a tank, she lost sight.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Holiday,” Philip said, arms crossed. “I asked you a question.”
“Sorry, Mr. Edwards,” she said, shaking her head. “What happened to the previous owners?”
“How is that supposed to make me want to purchase this property?”
“Well, I probably shouldn’t tell you this… but the owner’s wife had a brain tumor. She had extensive medical bills-“
“Hah… I heard it was ghosts that killed her,” Philip jeered.
“I know nothing about that,” Natalie declared. “At any rate, before that, they were very profitable.”
Looking down at her clipboard, she started to read the yearly earnings of the brewery.
Philip’s head nodded as she continued to explain of the wealth of the industry and the potential of the property, until his focus turned.
“Who the hell is that?” he asked. He glowered, eyes fixed on a spot behind her.
She turned to see a small girl facing the wall. Her tiny arms were wrapped around her legs; the ends of her yellow dress were covered in dirt.
“I don’t know,” Natalie muttered. “I thought I saw something before.”
Natalie stalked forward, but just before she was within arm’s length of the girl, she jumped up and ran off.
Natalie turned back to Philip and shrugged. “Did you want me to call the police?”
“You’d best do that, Mrs. Holiday.”
Natalie nodded and pulled out her phone. As she unlocked the screen, the photo she took before the sun went down was still open. At the far end of the image, she could see a woman standing behind the barrels.
“I think there may be more than just the girl in here,” Natalie confessed, trying to hide her trembling. “We’d better be leaving.”
Philip scowled and turned to walk back to the door.
The lights flickered in the brewery.
Natalie gasped – her breath vaporizing as it escaped her mouth.
As she stepped forward, the lights went out completely. Natalie turned the flashlight app on her phone.
With a lump in her throat, she tried to steady herself as she stepped forward. Her light touched the back of a little girl. The illumination lurched as Natalie flinched at the sight. The girl was carrying a hairbrush at her side; tints of red streamed her amber hair and the edges of the brush. Natalie reached for her. As she touched the girl’s shoulder, she turned to her and screamed, blood streaming down her face.
Natalie screamed and ran, her light bouncing with every step.
Philip pulled desperately on the door as a woman reached out towards him.
The brewery lights flickered back on. The door swung open, and Philip ran outside.
Natalie ran as fast as she could, but as she saw Philip’s car drive away, she tripped and fell forward. The door was just outside her reach.
Natalie whimpered. She tried to push herself up but could not. Something held her down. Turning her head, she saw the feet of women and children surrounding her. One child squatted down to look at her. His face contorted into a scream as his black eyes bore into hers.
Natalie felt a piercing pain in her head and chest. Death clutched at her.
“No!” she howled as she let out a guttural roar. Desperation fueled her as she released herself from her captors.
She ran, never looking back, even after she heard the door slam shut behind her.