Episode 5 – The Teacher’s Truth

So, where did we leave St Mary’s? Ah yes, all of the equipment on the ground floor had been deactivated. I was just thankful they hadn’t been destroyed. After looking around again, hoping no one would jump out at me, I reset the equipment and was just about to leave when I swore I saw a pair of eyes staring at me through the darkness from the bottom of the stairs. I could barely make out a silhouette, or any other features, but the eyes were clear, distinct across the distance. I dared not breathe or blink in case it was my imagination. I began to doubt it was a ghost, but when it faded back into the darkness my suspicions were confirmed. Because I’d reset the equipment I couldn’t walk back to investigate, but did note that none of the sensors had gone off at its appearance. I had no choice but to return to the van.

When I arrived I began to rewind the cameras that had been on, but nothing had ascended the stairs to the first or second floor. Without the recordings of the ground floor, it was impossible to tell who’d been there. And I was sure it was a who and not a what. Perhaps the explanation of teenagers breaking in was closer to the truth than I’d given credit for. But then again, why would teenagers take the time to switch the equipment off rather than just steal it? The scream had been so loud that it’d been picked up on the recorders on the second floor. Turning the volume up I listened to the minutes before in the hopes of hearing something that would offer an explanation. It was difficult to make out, but I thought I heard a door opening somewhere, the faint shuffling of footsteps, more like someone dragging their feet, and then the scream. Afterwards there was muttering, indistinct, but definitely human. A few minutes later I heard the door again.

It could’ve been teenagers, but there is someone who makes more sense. There was a back door which used to be a fire exit, but we’d been told it was bolted and practically welded shut. Can you guess who told us that? If Mr Huntingdon hadn’t given me enough reason to be suspicious of him before, then the recording certainly had. But I wasn’t about to storm over and interrogate him.

I sat and waited for our shift to finish, thinking about the scream. It sounded to me like a woman’s, but it was hard to tell. You’d be surprised at some men’s vocal range. I also didn’t know anything about the door whoever it was had used, only that it led to the back of the building, where the Huntingdon’s house was. It would certainly fit that the caretaker had something to do with it. It explained his reluctance to have us there. He also described his wife as highly strung, which to me at the time was just a polite way of saying crazy. Did Mrs Huntingdon have anything to do with the scream?

What was perhaps more important was that I hadn’t seen a ghost, not in the normal way. Yet, the feeling I’d experienced on the stairs lingered, as did the pair of eyes I’d seen staring at me through the gloom. Was it vertigo, or was I missing something? These thoughts kept me awake until Strother and Steph returned to relieve us. I was desperate to go to sleep so when Strother asked Ken if anything had happened, I didn’t pipe in. It was spiteful of me, but he treated me like an incompetent child, assuming I’d be the one to fall asleep, so I wasn’t going to make his life easier.

I got my comeuppance when I returned a few hours later to check-in. Strother had listened to the recordings and viewed the footage, and demanded to know why I hadn’t said anything. For my sins, I told him he hadn’t asked me. I still get a kick from remembering how irritated he was at my petulant answer. It led him to commanding me to tell him everything in future. Something I never did. I also told him that some of the equipment had been disconnected and hadn’t recorded whatever had gone on during the night. He wasn’t happy, but knew we had another night to record.

We spent the rest of the day filing through the documents that Steph had procured from the city council about St Mary’s, the ones which hadn’t been digitised. It was as I was looking through that I came across a small newspaper article about a teacher who’d gone missing in the 80s. She’d worked at the school for a few years, and one morning didn’t appear for work. The poignant detail about the article was the face that stared up at me, possessing the same set of eyes I’d peered through the darkness the night before. Armed with her name, a Lucy Rodgers, I did a quick Google search which came up with very little. I didn’t need to see an obituary to know she was dead. I was convinced that whatever I’d seen the night before was her. The big question now was what happened to her? How was she connected to the scream everyone heard from inside the building?

I had a feeling Mr Huntingdon may provide the answers I wanted, whether about the scream or Lucy Rodgers, I wasn’t sure, but he was hiding something. As if reading my mind, the man himself appeared outside the classroom we were in. His wife had sent him to ask if we wanted anything to eat. The tension between the caretaker and Strother was palpable and made the rest of us deeply uncomfortable. Strother threw some more insults and a firm dismissal. Before Mr Huntingdon could leave, I asked if I could use his bathroom. By the look I received from Strother you’d have thought I suggested we burn the building down. The caretaker begrudgingly gave me his permission and I walked with him to his house.

It was a nice place, if not a little unusual considering the surroundings. It was a bungalow, painted white, with lace curtains covering the windows. Small figurines of Victorian ladies and ballerinas graced the windowsills. Just as the school was, the cottage was stuck in a different time. There was a rough brown welcome mat in front of the door, company for the hedgehog shoe cleaner. As soon as Mr Huntingdon opened the door the smell of fresh baking assaulted me, scrambling up my nose and down my throat. It was pleasant, if not overpowering. The warm air that greeted me was a welcome change from the chill that lingered in St Mary’s.

I followed him past closed doors and into an open plan kitchen where a petite white-haired woman stood in a floral apron rolling out some pastry. I presumed she was his wife. Her husband muttered something about academics not having any manners, to which she replied neither did he making me stand there. He eventually grunted in the direction of the bathroom.

I’ve met a lot of highly-strung people in my life, and Mrs Huntingdon never struck me as one. There was something about the atmosphere that I couldn’t put my finger on. The sweet smell wasn’t inviting, but sickly, as though it were masking something else, something less pleasant. I could’ve been moulding my opinion around what Mr Huntingdon had said about his wife, it’s hard to remain impartial sometimes.

When I returned to the kitchen, I made polite chitchat with the couple, but soon dove straight into the reason I’d actually come to their house. I asked about Lucy Rodgers, more specifically if they’d known her. It happened again, the hesitation I’d observed when I asked Mr Huntingdon if he’d seen anything. Where he looked pained, it was his wife’s turn to stutter and stumble over her words. I swore she’d gone several shades paler, but began to shake her head and frown, as though she were confused. Her husband was visibly unhappy I’d asked. She answered that there had been a lot of teachers through the years, and because they’d been living there for more than twenty, they couldn’t remember every face. What was more interesting was that she added that she didn’t remember one ever going missing. I’d never mentioned anything about that, only her name. Mr Huntingdon caught onto his wife’s blunder and shooed me out of the house rather quickly.

Once we were outside, he confessed to me that his wife had Alzheimers and that her memory was erratic and strange at times. I didn’t know if it was true, or if he was lying to cover something up. I asked him if he’d known Lucy Rodgers, or remembered her, and he nodded solemnly. I felt pity when faced with the look in his eye, melancholic and brimming with regret. He took a deep breath and then admitted to me that he’d been having an affair with Lucy Rodgers before she’d left St Mary’s. His wife had found out and it’d nearly ended their marriage. Not wanting to lose her, he ended his relationship with the young teacher, and she’d disappeared soon after. He surmised she’d been upset by the way she’d been treated and simply vanished so she could start a new life.

Of course, he had no idea I knew she was dead, or that I’d seen her ghost the night before just after the screaming. I was beginning to think the caretaker and his wife were entangled in the fate of Lucy Rodgers in a more sinister way than I’d imagined. Had she killed herself after Mr Huntingdon had ended the relationship? Had his wife killed his mistress out of hatred for stealing her husband? If it was possible, my conversation with the caretaker had only given me more questions and no answers.

I didn’t have long to wait. Secretly, I’d moved one of the cameras so it was facing the Huntingdon’s house. During my watch with Ken, who again snoozed, I saw Mrs Huntingdon stumble from the front door and make her way to the back entrance of the school. I quietly slipped out and went inside after her, ensuring to hide in a classroom at the end of the corridor where she couldn’t see me. I had a clear view of the bottom of the stairs and just as she arrived, I saw the rippling in the air, and the ghostly eyes appear out of the darkness.

The form was blurry, not fully opaque, but as black as coal. The eyes were distinct, the part of her that was most in focus, as though it were in 4K. Mrs Huntingdon stumbled along the corridor and for a moment, I thought she’d stop at the bottom of the stairs and acknowledge the ghost. Instead she spent a few seconds staring up to the landing, before she ascended, out of sight. The ghost of Lucy Rodgers then turned to me, piercing me with a stare that was hollow. A chill ran up my back, and when the blackness where her body should be started to move towards where I hid, I could hear my heartbeat thrumming in my ears. It was the first time I’d been afraid of a ghost, the first time I’d seen one that wasn’t distinct, that was a shell of the person who it used to be. I’d never been harmed by a ghost before, but there’s a first time for everything.

Frozen in fear, I couldn’t move, even when the blackness enveloped me, blocking out my vision. After a few seconds, and a few blinks, my vision cleared, but the scene around me had changed. The classrooms were filled with desks, small lockers, pieces of paper and books in neat piles. Everything was discoloured, as though I were looking through a filter or lens. Glancing back to the bottom of the stairs I saw Lucy Rodgers as she had been in life. She stood with her arms crossed, biting her fingernails viciously, constantly staring at the back door. It was only when Mr Huntingdon, a younger version, opened the door that I realised she was waiting for him.

He approached her looking concerned. Their conversation was indistinct to me, like I was listening underwater. I used their facial expressions and hand gestures to glean the topic of discussion. Lucy kept shaking her head and looking away sadly, whilst the caretaker forced the young woman to look at him, as if he was begging her to do something. Many times, she wriggled from his arms and went to walk away up the stairs, but he caught her and pulled her back. I began to assume this was the break-up that Mr Huntingdon had mentioned earlier. I continued to think that until the caretaker’s actions began to become violent, until he was jerking her rather than pulling her back. The pleading gave way to anger, their voices were raised and I could hear snippets of their conversation.

He’s not good enough for you. How could you do this to me, I loved you. I was going to leave my wife for you.

Lucy Rodgers became more adamant, shaking her head profusely and eventually managed to break free of him and run up the stairs. He followed her, but the glint I saw in his eye before he did sent more chills across my arms. I heard their voices getting louder, words crashing into each other.

Let go of me, let go of me.

I heard the thuds as something bounced down the stairs, cracking as something hard hit the edge of the steps. It felt like it took longer than it no doubt did, but eventually the body of Lucy Rodgers arrived at the bottom. Her neck was twisted in impossible ways until her glassy eyes stared directly at me. I gasped and covered my mouth to stop the sound from escaping. I heard more steps, heavy, lazy, and deliberately slow. Mr Huntingdon stared down at the teacher’s corpse and made no move to help her, to see if she was alive, or to do anything. The man I stared at was a world away from the one I’d spoken to earlier who’d confessed with shallow regret about his affair.

He’d made it seem as though his wife had cause to do something to Lucy Rodgers. And I’d been stupid enough to believe him. He stood there for a long time, glaring down, as if she deserved it. After he’d gathered himself, he grabbed her roughly by the ankles and began to drag her towards the back entrance. Before he reached it, his wife appeared and began to scream.

 I stumbled backwards, taking a camera with me. I was further jolted from the past when the scream stabbed straight through me and I realised it originated in the present. Mrs Huntingdon stood at the top of the stairs, screaming so loudly I thought I’d go deaf. Barely audible over the sound was the clunk of the back door opening and her husband rushing in to silence her. I had an awful thought he’d do the same to her as he had done to Lucy Rodgers. Instead he rushed up to her and began to coax her back down, shuffling slowly until they were out of the building.

I’d begun to shake and couldn’t bring myself to get up off the ground. Thankfully he hadn’t seen me, but I’m sure the cameras had seen him and his wife. I only wished they’d been able to record what I’d witnessed. I don’t know how long I sat there, but I remember feeling the chill settle on my skin like oil. When I gathered my senses, I noticed the shadow that was Lucy Rodgers, the eyes trained on me warily. She didn’t approach me but began to drift in the direction of the door.

Reluctantly, still shivering, either with cold or fear, I followed. She took the same path as the Huntingdons and waited at the end for me to catch up. The door opened with ease and I emerged outside. The caretaker’s house wasn’t far up the path, facing the school. I couldn’t see the couple and assumed they’d already gone back inside. When I glanced to my side, I noticed that Lucy wasn’t there. Her shadowy figure moved around the side of the school. In front of her I began to catch glimpses of the past, as if someone was swiping through photos on their phone. One of her body being dragged along the cobbled path, head bouncing from every stone, of being let go as Mr Huntingdon went to find something and returned with a shovel. At the side of the school, underneath a window to a classroom, he dug a shallow grave and rolled her inside.

In the present there was a rose bush flourishing in the same spot, gorged on the remains of Lucy Rodgers.

I know I’ve made it seem like I’m some sort of saviour of souls, releasing ghosts from their existence by finding their body. But that time I hesitated. It had been easy to call the police in the case of Abigail Greyson because no one had ever seen me go to the field where she was buried. But here, at St Mary’s, if I phoned in a similar anonymous tip then the research team would become suspicious. Lucy Rodger’s life was over, but I still had to live mine. So, I did nothing that night. I returned to the van and rewound the cameras to find that they’d manage to capture Mrs Huntingdon and her husband. Through the grainy image you could see the moment she began to scream. It turned out that the screaming did have a normal explanation, which would please Strother.

It took me a few weeks to return to St Mary’s in the middle of the night, shovel in hand. It was dangerous, I know, if someone had seen me I’d have spent a lot of time at the police station myself. I dug just enough of the soil away to expose the bones. After taking a few pictures I went to an internet café and sent them with all of the information I knew to the police. I hoped rather than believed they’d find anything connecting Lucy to her killer.

I wish I could tell you that every ghost story ends with justice. There wasn’t enough evidence after nearly thirty years to arrest someone for her death, and despite popular supernatural TV dramas, my witness statement wouldn’t be accepted in court. Mr Huntingdon got away with his crime and yet has been forced to watch his wife relive his worst moments. Perhaps it is a justice of sorts, but it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

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