|Erin Ptah (ptahrrific) wrote,|
@ 2006-07-20 10:42 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||story: the robert report|
Warnings: Creepy imagery; M. Night Shaaaaaahmalan ending.
Disclaimer: The Colbert Report and its characters are the creation of Stephen Colbert, Eric Drysdale, and the other writers. Characters used without permission - but with love (and, more importantly from a legal standpoint, without profit).
Notes: In which the studio is haunted.
Refers to this interview. For best results, I recommend not watching until you've gotten to the point in the fic where it happens.
Veronica the intern is named after Veronica Corningstone from Anchorman. (In my Report cosmology, all the fake newspeople are real.) Table of contents is here.
The Robert Report, part 5: The Interview
It's Veronica's first day on the job, and she spends half an hour in the bathroom touching up her makeup. Of course, she's only an intern—it isn't as if she'll actually appear on-camera—but she wants to make a good impression anyway.
At last she forces herself to wash her hands and drag herself away from the mirror. She gets as far as the paper towel dispenser, where she nervously twists some towels in her hands. (Stephen Colbert doesn't hold with environment-huging, eco-gestapo ideas like hot-air dryers.)
She's facing the stain on the wall, but she's too nervous to focus, so she stares at it for a few seconds without processing it. Besides, it's so out-of-context that she doesn't realize what it is.
Then her brain works it out, and she screams.
Tad, the building manager, has been in all of the rooms after hours, but he's clearly not comfortable being in the ladies' room when there are actual ladies in it.
"If the walls are going to bleed," he remarks to nobody in particular, "couldn't they at least do it in the men's?"
Bobby isn't too keen on being in the ladies' room either; but Allison informs him curtly that the intern is too traumatized to come out. So he sucks it up, goes in, and ends up standing across from Tad with the paralyzed Veronica.
"Don't panic," he begins, because that's always a good phrase to start with. "You're probably imagining a lot of worst-case scenarios right now, but trust me, they're not true. Nobody was murdered in here; nobody has a fatal disease; this is not a twisted threat by a psychopath. There's nothing to panic about. Do you understand?"
Veronica nods slowly. In the background, Tad calls a janitor.
"Look at me," says Bobby calmly.
Slowly, Veronica does. There's eye contact. Good.
"Nobody's been hurt," he continues. "This is weird, I know, but it's not dangerous."
"If nobody's hurt," begins Veronica, and then stops.
Bobby waits patiently.
"Well," she finally manages, "where did it come from?"
"We don't know. But it's happened before, and we've caught it on camera a couple of times. It just sort of happens."
He can see that Veronica's thinking now, so he doesn't interrupt. Then she takes a deep breath. "This," she tells him, "is really creepy."
Bobby smiles, relieved. She's going to be okay. "Yeah. Yeah, it is. But we work with it."
A spark appears in the formerly fear-deadened eyes: the ember of the fire Bobby's seen before in every great correspondent. It's the determination to carry on, no matter what falls in your path, because by golly there's a story to report. Veronica, he realizes, has a Future.
"Right, then," says she. "If you can work with it, I can work with it too." Then she looks nervous again, but for a completely different reason. "Oh no . . . I'm late . . . ."
"Don't worry about it," Bobby assures her. "I'm the stage manager, and I know you have a legitimate excuse."
"Ah!" exclaims Veronica, eyes lighting up. "I knew you looked familiar."
They're in rehearsal the next day when the spotlight on Stephen goes out.
This is a minor catastrophe, and Peter, the lighting operator, is on it instantly. He looks over the equipment, rapidly running down a mental list of possible mechanical failures. Bobby, for his part, is quickly circling the studio, checking every list of cues.
When he reaches the end of his circle and realizes that they all match, he looks up at Peter, who shoots him an equally baffled look. Then the rest of the lights start flickering.
When the teleprompter shorts out, Bobby makes a quick decision. "All right, everyone, take a break," he directs. "Technicians, stay here . . . everyone else, be back in, let's see, half an hour."
"Peter, what's going on?" demands Stephen. "What happened to my spotlight?"
"It looks like a technical malfunction," calls Peter in reply. Peter is a solid, stable, down-to-earth kind of guy; he has a nice wife and a couple of sweet kids, and he's very good at what he does. He's not very good at handling Stephen.
"Well, fix it and get a light back on me!" orders the host. "I'm in the dark over here!"
Peter, who's in the middle of booting the systems, starts to look irritated. Bobby quickly intercedes before Peter can say something dangerous. "I'll take care of it," he tells the operator quietly. "You should just concentrate on those lights."
Bobby sits on Stephen's desk, holding a flashlight, while Stephen taps away at his laptop. The flashlight actually makes a glare on the laptop screen, but Stephen won't hear of moving it. It's the closest thing he has to a spotlight.
"No storms in the area," he says, half to himself, as he peruses Yahoo! Weather. "No power shortages reported . . . unless . . . if it's affecting my studio, of course the liberal, East Coast, mainstream media won't report it."
"Is it on Fox?" puts in Bobby, partly because he's curious, partly because he has nothing else to do while holding the light.
Stephen checks. "Not a peep," he reports. "The MSM's reach must be spreading."
His voice is picking up, and Bobby can feel a rant gaining steam, when the laptop screen flickers and goes black.
The host swears. "I just lost my best game of Hearts ever!" he exclaims. "I was over two hundred points ahead!"
Sean is the first person to say it out loud: "I think the studio's haunted."
The intern has been treading carefully around Stephen ever since the coffee incident, but when the boss isn't around he talks freely. After he breaks the ice on this issue, all the other interns start repeating it, and then all the technicians. Tad starts searching the building's documentation from years past, looking for similar problems. For his part, Bobby doesn't remember anything unusual from the studio's Daily Show days, but of course the building's been around longer than that.
Besides, it's been getting worse recently.
The most terrifying incident to date comes a week after the biggest power outage, on a dark (but not stormy) night. Bobby has stayed overtime to look over some résumés. (Three interns and a sound guy have quit in the past week. They need hirees, and fast.)
Everyone else has gone home, or so Bobby thinks; the building is dark and quiet. Outside is the noise of New York, but extremely muffled. And then there's another noise—like the wind through the trees, except this is NYC, and they don't have trees.
The intercom on Bobby's desk buzzes, and he jumps halfway out of his seat.
He steadies himself quickly. Why should he be so tense? He's been here late before. And if there's a (don't say "ghost") mysterious presence around, it wouldn't be using the intercom system.
He switches it on. "Hello?"
"Bobby? It's Stephen."
"Hi, Stephen," says Bobby, completely failing to mask his relief. "I didn't realize you were still here."
"Could you come down to my office, please?"
Bobby's thrown for a moment by the "please"—this is Stephen, after all—but the voice sounds legit, if a little softer than usual, and he realizes he likes it when his boss is polite. "Sure. I'll be right there."
Stephen's office is brightly lit: there are spotlights on his Peabodys, his Emmys, his portraits, and his own chair. The effect is a bit garish, but Bobby's privately glad the room is so well lit. It takes the edge off the creepy.
"So," says Stephen as Bobby walks in. "How are you?"
"Me? Fine," Bobby replies, somewhat confused. "Fine . . . Can't complain, I suppose." (This probably isn't the time to bring up health insurance.)
"How, how are those applications looking?" ventures Stephen.
"Oh—not bad. Not bad. There are some promising candidates." Bobby nods.
(He's horrible at small talk. Or rather, he's good at touching base with the Report staff to see how they're doing; but he can't talk to Stephen that casually. The man is in a conversational league all his own. He tries anyway.)
"And, ah, how are you?—Stephen?"
"Doing okay, doing okay."
So much for that idea. There's no getting over the awkwardness of trying to have a normal conversation with attack-dog Stephen. So the room goes silent again, except for the wind—
Both Stephen and Bobby jump as the air around them wails with what sounds like nothing less than a crowd of tortured souls howling in agony, or possibly a sack of cats set on fire.
Stephen looks hard at Bobby.
He probably thinks he's being subtle, but in a flash Bobby sees it all: Stephen's hoping that Bobby will confirm that the scream actually happened, that it's not all in Stephen's head. But if Stephen mentions the screams and they are just in his head, he'll look crazy, so he's waiting for Bobby to bring it up.
So he does: "Did you hear that?"
Even though there might easily be a direct feed from the eighth circle of Hell outside their window, the pundit looks relieved.
(Now, this is how you deal with Stephen.)
"Of course I heard it," snaps Stephen. "You'd have to be all deaf to miss a sound like that." His eyes flick around the office. "Think it's the wind?"
"Probably," lies Bobby.
After they've shared a moment of mutual denial, Stephen slaps his desk and stands up. "Let's go to the break room. I feel the need for a crispy toasted BLT."
"Do you really need me for that?" begins Bobby, who, after all, has work to do.
"Well, I can't leave you alone with the wind like that, can I? Way too creepy. You'd get too scared to work." He walks around the desk and opens the door, then looks back at Bobby and grins that disarming Colbert grin. "Come on."
Bobby follows. What else can he do?
Besides, he really is glad for the company.
They turn on every light in the hallways on the way down from the office. Bobby tries to say something about saving energy, but Stephen tells him not to be sucked in by the "conservationistas," and launches into a rant that holds the silence at bay until they reach the break room.
Stephen busies himself with geting out the microwave bacon and toasting the bread; Bobby sits down at the table, pulls out his clipboard, and starts looking over the next application.
The host hums something that might be "America the Beautiful" and might be "Charlene, I'm Right Behind You". The microwave hums with no tune at all—which also might be "Charlene, I'm Right Behind You," come to think of it.
The toaster goes ding, and Stephen lifts the two browned slices and puts them on a plate. He turns to get the lettuce, still humming; turns back to the bread; and freezes.
Bobby looks up when the humming stops, just in time to see Stephen stumble backwards and land in a trembling heap against the break table.
The stage manager is kneeling by his side in an instant. "Stephen! Are you okay?"
With an inarticulate shudder, Stephen points to the plate. Bobby gets up, swallows, and nervously approaches the counter.
Burned onto the toast, like the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, is the unmistakable visage of White House Press Correspondent Helen Thomas.
The wind, or chorus of souls, screams.
"Let's get out of here," says Bobby, and he helps Stephen up, and the two of them hoof it out to their cars (hybrid for Bobby, SUV for Stephen), and Bobby doesn't even care that all the lights are still on.
"Let's have a seance," suggests Jimmy.
It's the next day, and the whole Report staff is gathered in the break room. Thankfully, the weather is calm and sunny.
Bobby has told the story of the night before, a concise version, mildly edited to keep Stephen from looking bad. He would hardly believe it himself if he hadn't found the toast, unchanged, on the counter that morning.
"I say we just have an exorcism," Stephen puts in. "Let's get those ectoplastards."
Peter, the down-to-earth lighting operator, is practical. "If we don't have a seance, we might not know who we're getting," he points out.
"Oh, they know who they are," counters Stephen.
"We can still do the exorcism after the seance," puts in Veronica, and Sean nods agreement.
Stephen looks like he's about to disagree, but then Killer gets up and walks silently over to stand behind the interns.
"Well, then, it's settled," says Stephen. "We'll have a seance."
It doesn't take them long to find a woman who's written a book about the topic, and would love to be on the show.
Stephen talks with her for a bit, and then comes to the point: "You know something about the afterlife—maybe you could help me with something. Do you believe in ghosts?"
"Actually . . . mmm, not sure," says Mary Roach, waving her hand indecisively.
"Well, okay—help me out with something," repeats Stephen. "Ever since we moved to this studio, about three months ago, there have been all kinds of crazy goin'-ons." He ticks them off on his fingers. "We've had technical malfunctions, the computers go out, the lights flicker . . . and sometimes, at night, when it's quiet, you can hear the souls of the damned scream."
The audience laughs; but Stephen holds his hands out to the interviewee. "I just want to call on the spirits of the past, and see if they'll explain."
They clasp hands.
"Just concentrate," murmurs Stephen. "Concentrate."
The lights start to flicker.
"Concentrate!" repeats Stephen, then pulls back abruptly, because he feels it—they all feel it—a Presence.
"Spirit?" asks Stephen nervously.
"ooooOOOOOOooooooOOoo," says a voice, and the head of Jon Stewart appears above the table.
Jimmy, thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster, has the presence of mind to keep directing; the camera operators follow his directions automatically, and so the broadcast continues naturally. Everyone else on the staff gapes, openmouthed, at the stage.
"OOOOOooooOOOOoOOooOooo!" continues Jon's head. "HoW'S THe new . . . stUUUUUDiO?"
"Jon!" exclaims Stephen, letting out the breath he'd been holding. "Jon, thank God you're here! We've been having all kinds of problems with the studio—ssometimes the walls bleed!"
"mAYbe it's a pROBLeM with the MAASOnrYYYYY?!" speculates the head.
"Well, it's gotta be something more than that," Stephen protests. "I mean—when you were here, was there anything strange about this place? When this was your studio?"
"We did, ah, kind of build it over an Indian burial ground," admits the spirit. "We moved the tombstones, but we left the bodies."
"Okay." Stephen nods. "That's, that's probably it, then. Yeah. Thanks."
"SeE you aT ThE . . . ChrIIIIIStmAAS parTYYyyY!" wails the spirit.
"Right! Right, I'll see you there."
"I'm yOur secREt . . . SANtaaaAAAAAaa!"
Stephen nods—"That's great"—and checks his watch. "Listen, we are, ah, we kinda gotta finish the show."
"See you," says the head with a smile, and winks out.
"Well, tahnk you so much for joining us, Mary," says Stephen, leaning in for a handshake. "Mary Roach, everybody! We'll be right back!"
When the audience has filed out, Stephen pulls his shell-shocked crew together and exclaims, "That was great, guys! The audience loved it! How'd you pull it off?"
It's Bobby who speaks up. "We . . . didn't, Stephen."
"Oh, I see. Jon put you up to it, didn't he?" asks the host, still grinning. "I'll call him and tell him what a hit it was."
He whips out a cell phone and hits one button. Just one. Jon is evidently on extra-speed-dial.
"That's not what I mean, Stephen," presses Bobby. Usually when he contradicts Stephen he's by himself in a dark corner; but right now the entire studio is standing in a kind of sloppy semicircle around him, and a strange sense of confidence is bearing him up. "I mean, that wasn't a special effect, or the tech guys on green screens, or a projector, or anything like it . . . We didn't know it was going to happen."
Stephen's face is melting from enthusiastic to confused when the phone in his hand stops ringing and Jon picks up. "Stephen!" comes his affable voice through the speaker. "What's up, my friend?"
The silence hangs for a moment.
"Stephen, are you there?"
The host catches himself. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm here. Uh, Jon . . ." He pauses. "Are you by any chance my Secret Santa?"
Now it's Jon's turn to pause. "Stephen," he says at last, "if I were, and I told you, it wouldn't be a secret."
"So . . . you wouldn't tell me, then?"
Jon's voice has the puzzled air of someone who's starting to realize that there's more going on here than meets the ear. "No, I wouldn't. Why do you ask? Is everything okay?"
"Fine, fine," Stephen says slowly. "I'll . . . call you back." He snaps the phone closed and looks down, eyes focused on something far away.
"The spirits of the past," he says quietly. "We're being haunted by the ghost of Jon Stewart's time here."
The crew barely breathes.
Stephen looks up at them, and there's something in his eyes that Bobby would not have noticed or understood a year ago, but now recognizes as (viciously suppressed) pain.
When he speaks, though, his voice is all bluster and fighting spirit and determination. "Now," he announces, "we are calling an exorcist."