Jacob and Connie pack up their Subaru and back out of the driveway to their house, better known as the Most Haunted House in Drexel Hill. So consumed are they with checking their packing list one more time and choosing the right true crime podcast to listen to on the three-hour drive that they don’t see the ghost in the stairwell window with his knapsack. To be honest, they never see him and never read his (many) messages. The ghost doesn’t know how to reach them, but that’s another story. Jacob and Connie finally settle on a podcast called The Ghosts Are Back in Town, unaware of the ghost now sitting in the backseat of their midsize SUV.
Jacob and Connie ooh and ah as they listen to a podcast episode about a feminist cult in Upstate New York that sacrificed teenagers to the Corn Mother while the ghost snacks on some cheddar kettle corn Connie packed in a ziplock baggie. This is the ghost’s first time in a car since 1911, the year he died of tuberculosis. He finds that cars are now about comfort instead of practicality. Don’t get him wrong though, he thinks it’s amazing. He stretches his invisible legs across the plush leather, his invisible fingers coated in cheesy dust. Jacob and Connie don’t notice him, of course. Jacob and Connie have been living in the ghost’s house for thirteen months, eight days, and four hours. The ghost has left them messages on the mirror after they showered, switched on and off the power at random intervals, and hidden away keys, cellphone chargers, and even their cat, Charlie, for a week to no avail.
Jacob and Connie love true crime—the blood, the conniving, the legend. They host their own true crime podcast, The Haunting of Drexel Hill. The ghost knows it’s not the most original title, clearly being a rift on the famous Shirley Jackson novel, which the ghost borrowed from the previous owner of 807 Mason Avenue. He heard Jacob and Connie talk about how this title will elicit familiarity and intrigue for their listeners. The ghost thinks Jacob and Connie don’t know very much about their listeners or marketing or ghosts, for that matter. The podcasters are running out of phony stories to tell. Their 1,426 followers have noticed too, with the podcast’s engagement down by 30%. Sometimes the ghost logs onto their Podbean account and checks their engagement levels. There isn’t much to do when you’re the ghost of an eleven-year-old boy who’s been stuck in the same house for 112 years.
Two weeks ago, Jacob and Connie decided they needed fresh scenery. As they put it, “We need to get the fuck out of here. Take a break and come back with new ideas.” They booked a room on an app with a confusing name, Air BnB, in the Catskills. The ghost still isn’t sure whether this place is overrun with cats. He tried to ask Charlie the cat, but Charlie hissed in response and ran away from the ghost.
Jacob, Connie, and the ghost drive over a steel bridge, crossing from Pennsylvania into New York. The car zigzags around curves and forgotten pizza shops and smoke shops until they arrive in the town of Milford. New England-style homes line the narrow two-lane street dolled up like the Painted Ladies in San Francisco. The ghost has always wanted to visit San Francisco since he learned about the 1906 earthquake that destroyed nearly 500 city blocks. As a 123-year-old, the ghost has a deep appreciation for how some Victorian homes in that city have been maintained. The car passes an old school, ice cream parlor, visitor’s center, law firm, and real estate office. It’s then that Connie says, “Where is everyone?”
The ghost looks around. The buildings are cared for, yes, but there aren’t any people on the streets or cars in sight. Jacob tells Connie she consumes too many ghost stories, a running joke between the two. Connie forces a laugh, the tone false and grating. The ghost does not laugh, nor find ghost jokes to be humorous. The three of them pull into their destination, the Hotel Fauchard.
A weathered gentleman in a moth-eaten suit greets all three of them at the reception desk. Jacob, a fan of his own voice, makes a comment about it feeling like a ghost town out there. He adds an obnoxious chuckle, the kind that white privileged men have used for centuries. The ghost and the gentleman are very familiar with men like these. The gentleman stares at Jacob for a beat past comfort. He replies, “I promise you’ll see folks around.”
Jacob and Connie think nothing of this comment, but later, after, Connie will curse herself and her partner for not seeing the signs. The ghost won’t do anything to help them then. For now, he grins, excited about the prospect of meeting others like himself.
As soon as Connie thinks they’re out of earshot of the man at the front desk, she says, “He looks like Lurch from the Addams Family, don’t you think?” She wrinkles her nose in the way she does when she tastes something she doesn’t like, such as cilantro. The ghost is familiar with every iteration of the fictional family and their macabre lifestyle. He thinks about trying to tell Connie that the gentleman is much more than he appears, but thinks better of it. She never hears him anyway.
In oblivion, Jacob and Connie settle into their hotel room, pulling out their mics, laptop, soundboard. The ghost settles in as well, hanging his knapsack on the hooks by the door. Jacob and Connie plan to record a few new episodes of The Haunting of Drexel Hill over the course of their stay. As usual, they prefer to ad-lib horror into their episodes instead of doing actual research. After an evening spent snacking on Cheetos and watching Ghost Hunters, the couple gets ready to record.
“We’re here at the beautiful and haunted Hotel Fauchard, where seances used to be held in the dining room directly below our feet,” Jacob says into the mic, his podcaster voice ringing.
The couple doesn’t even know where the dining room is in the hotel, having gone straight up to their room without looking around. If they would listen, the ghost would tell them the dining room is at the front of the hotel, across from the parlor. The ghost knows this doesn’t matter to them though. Jacob and Connie’s podcast is all about the story.
“Connie, why don’t we tell our listeners what happened last night?”
Connie, putting her one semester of acting class to use, makes her voice shaky and a little breathless. The ghost yawns and settles himself on the lumpy hotel mattress. “Last night I woke up at the beginning of the witching hour, you know the hour after midnight when the veil is thin and demons and spirits are most powerful. I was sweating like crazy and felt like I was being watched. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get back to sleep until the witching hour had ended.”
None of this happened, of course. Connie took an Ativan and snored like a baby pig. The ghost found it to be very distracting.
“The gothic style carriage home at the back of the property was the site of butchery. Legend says that the cook lived there and his favorite meat was human. Guests started going missing and one husband, searching for his bride, peeked inside to find her detached hand still wearing her wedding band.”
“No wonder the meat’s tasted a little strange,” Connie quips. “I’ll be sticking to the vegetarian options from here on out.”
The ghost wants to tell them that a butcher did live in the gothic-style carriage home at the back of the hotel’s property, but he didn’t kidnap, murder, or serve people to other guests. The ghost met the butcher last night while Jacob and Connie slept, hogging the bed as always. The ghost wishes the couple would tell the truth, for once, but he knows the truth is the last thing they’re interested in.
On their last day in Milford, Jacob, Connie, and the ghost walk around the tiny ghost town, oblivious, as usual, to paranormal activity. “Another dud,” Jacob says.
The ghost rolls his eyes.
“Hey, how were we supposed to know? Lore says tourists disappeared from this town. At least we got away for a few days and found some fresh new material.”
“We’re tourists and we’re still here.”
This time Connie rolls her eyes.
“Maybe we’ll disappear,” he teases. “Maybe we already have and we just don’t know it.”
The ghost stops, hovering mid-air. He watches Connie start to tell Jacob to shut up. He knows she’s tired and ready to go home. Connie gets as far as “Shut—” when she sees it, the second half of the sentence left in the void of forgotten words. She taps her partner’s arm, her hand already clammy.
He knows she’ll never see the colonial house on Mason Avenue again.
“What?” Jacob barks.
“Ghosts,” Connie manages before hundreds of spectral hands are upon them.
The ghost hangs back, deciding not to join his new friends as they descend on Jacob and Connie. He’s thinking about whether or not he should stay in Milford, in this town full of ghosts. Maybe Harold, the gentleman who works the reception desk, knows how to drive and the two of them can set off on a road trip adventure together. Maybe the ghost will finally have a ghoulish friend to share his home on Mason Avenue with.
Even though they never listened to him, the ghost wants to give Jacob and Connie’s story a proper ending. The couple came to Milford and the Hotel Fauchard to breathe new life into their disappointing “ghostless” true crime podcast. They came here for the story. The ghost shrugs. They certainly got that. After Jacob and Connie are gone, Harold and the ghost go into their room and publish the episodes Jacob and Connie had been recording. The third one is unfinished, which the ghosts think will provide intrigue. Maybe it’ll bring more folks to Milford. In particular, more souls.