Episode 11 – Amen

People frighten me more than ghosts. It’s not ghosts who kill people or who hurt others. They’re usually the victim, the one in need of help. At least, that’s what my experience had been before the MacQueenie possession.

Heather had spoken to me in someone else’s voice, I’d seen someone else’s face on hers. I was so afraid of what I’d seen that I desperately tried to explain it away with logic. I would’ve said she’d faked the whole thing if I hadn’t had a physical reaction to it. Reason was the only thing that I could hold onto to keep the fear at bay.

Heather had said, in someone else’s voice, that they knew I could see them, and they knew what I was. Then proceeded to call me a witch. The phrase that struck a resonating chord in my memory was that witches should burn. The other poignant detail was that the face I’d seen overlapping Heather’s was definitely human. I don’t claim to know what demons look like, if they exist, but I can’t imagine it would be anything as mundane as our own faces.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the witch trials in Scotland. If you think the epidemic in Salem was bad, you’re in for a shock. I said before, Scotland and its people are superstitious, even in this world of science and fact. It’s no surprise that back in the throes of the witch trial pandemic that thousands of innocent men and women were burned alive after being accused of using witchcraft. If it was a demon possessing Heather, why would it call me a witch, and why would it care that I should be burned?

No, this didn’t sound like a demon, this sounded like a priest of the 17th century. Had we been half right? Rather than a demon possession, was this a ghost possession? Could this level of control even be possible from a spirit? Considering the evidence had looked me straight in the eye and told me I couldn’t help made me more inclined to believe it was.

Unfortunately, the entire episode had occurred with no witnesses, and as soon as Strother had come back it had disappeared. Heather herself didn’t seem to realise what had happened, and if it weren’t for my racing heart and fearful shock, I would’ve thought I’d imagined the entire thing.

The bottom line was I knew ghosts, I knew how to deal with them. I didn’t know anything about demons. It was easier for me to convince myself this was a bad case of spirit possession. Either way, I didn’t know what to do.

I could tell Strother, but at that stage he was being so enigmatic himself that I wasn’t sure it’d do much good to tell him. If Heather herself denied it, then I’d be the person so caught up in demon fever that I imagined her threatening me and calling me a witch.

So, I said nothing and tried to calm myself down as I watched Strother conduct his tests on Heather. If anything was out of the ordinary, he never said. Nothing else happened, Heather never lapsed into the other voice, or the other face, and I sat there beginning to think I had developed some kind of paranoia.

Unbeknownst to me, Ken and Steph were downstairs with the MacQueenies and Father Alan watching recordings of the exorcisms that were performed on Heather. Strother and I were shown them after we’d finished conducting the tests. It’s not what you’d expect, or even think. Heather wasn’t strapped to a bed, or tied up, she sat in a chair in the middle of the living room, facing what I presumed to be the trained exorcist who was reciting something in Latin. All throughout his dialogue she never did anything, much like what had happened during her tests with Strother. Through both exorcisms she sat there calmly, sometimes closing her eyes, occasionally looking out of frame, even at the camera. It was during one of those instances that I glimpsed the same smile on her features as I had done when we were alone in the room. It was just a brief second where her face was masked by someone else’s, but it was too quick for me, or anyone else, to see any details. I don’t even think anyone noticed apart from me because they never asked to pause the recording, or for a closer look. Not wanting to draw attention, I kept quiet.

Looking back, I probably should’ve said something. That was the first piece of evidence we ever found of paranormal activity. It would be quite a while before we found anything similar. But I was so afraid of Heather, of whatever was inside her, that I thought by keeping quiet it wouldn’t threaten me again.

This didn’t pan out as I was hoping. During the hours we spent at the MacQueenie’s home none of the reported phenomena happened. This was as much a shock to us as it was to her family. Strother kept his silence and agreed that we would return the next day.

Whilst packing away the equipment from the MacQueenie’s room Heather once again cornered me when I was alone. My first thought was that her slender figure was blocking the only safe exit from the room. As my gaze roamed quickly I couldn’t find anything that could kill me if thrown in my direction from an invisible force.

“Witch,” she whispered again in another voice.

“What are you?” I managed to stutter but I could hear the fear in my voice.

“Your saviour. I can save your soul from eternal damnation, just as I can save this girl’s.”

It all sounded very familiar. Not personally, but we’ve all heard similar lines written in the annals of history. Saving souls, eternal damnation, my earlier theory that it was more human than demonic was beginning to look promising.

“Who are you?” I demanded, braver this time.

“You know who she is,” Strother’s voice interrupted our brief conversation as he passed Heather at the door.

She gave him a quick glance, just a small look, but whatever I’d seen on her face Strother also saw. It was a split second, but I saw his features crumple in doubt, some colour draining from his face. He saw what I saw. Not Heather, but something else. She came around after that and asked us why she was in the room. Strother used her question as a lifeline, applying logic in a situation where there was none to be found, much like I’d done after my first encounter. He queried if she blacked out a lot, couldn’t remember why she’d done something or gone somewhere. She said yes, frequently.

He simply nodded his head pensively before collecting some equipment and leaving. I was quick to follow.

That evening, in the hotel, I researched local history, concentrating on religious houses and priests or similar who had been murdered or had been related to the witch trials. Understandably, I couldn’t find anything. Deflated, and dreading the thought of returning to the MacQueenie’s the next day, I tried to sleep.

The next day Strother sat down with Heather and asked her questions about events in her life, if she’d had any accidents or had surgery. Heather said she hadn’t. He then asked if she’d ever taken recreational drugs like marijuana. She displayed the hesitation that many people do when asked a question like that. The hesitation that means they have but are too embarrassed to admit it. Predictably she denied it. After a few more questions Strother excused himself and left the two of us alone, again.

This time, though, Heather remained herself. She exhaled deeply and then asked me if I thought Strother had believed her about the drugs. I told her I didn’t know as he was a hard person to read. In an attempt to justify her actions, she stated that everyone took drugs at university, it was a way to blow off steam. I agreed and told her I’d done the same thing, which I had when I was a fresher.

This seemed to build a rapport between us and she began to confess to me that her parents had been worried about her before she began acting strangely. She’d started to miss classes and fall behind on her coursework, meaning her results had dropped and she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to graduate the following year. Her parents blamed the people Heather had become friends with, saying they were the wrong sort. Heather hadn’t believed them until she’d come home.

She then told me a story that had been passed around this group of friends one night. The area where the university was had a reputation for witches and had one of the highest number of women being killed as a result of the trials. Their souls were said to haunt one specific graveyard. On a drug high, the group had gone to the cemetery to see if they could see the tormented souls of the victims, but once there things had escalated. Heather confessed to me that she liked one of the other girls in the group and was desperate to impress her, so when that girl voiced a dare that she would buy whoever stole a skull from the cemetery a drink Heather was eager to please.

Most of the others went in but were too spooked to do anything else. Heather, fuelled by desire and alcohol, managed to find her way into a stone crypt that hadn’t been locked and had stolen one of the skulls. At first the girl had been ecstatic, they’d spent a night together, but when sobriety set in the next morning Heather was commanded to return the skull.

She paused after the confession and a haunted look passed across her face. It was like she couldn’t understand the next set of events. As if she was trying desperately to remember something that had happened when she’d blacked out.

Heather admitted that when she’d gone back to the crypt she hadn’t wanted to put the skull back, she’d wanted to keep it. Convincing herself it was a memento of a good night she had bagged the remains and taken them back to her room, and subsequently when she’d returned to her parents for the summer.

Did this skull have anything to do with Heather’s behaviour? Because the skull was in her possession did this allow the spirit to control her? These events were all new to me. As far as I’d experienced ghosts had never possessed anyone, even me. Was this how it worked? And if that were the case then how could it be stopped? Usually ghosts found peace when their remains were discovered and laid to rest, but according to Heather this spirit’s remains were already in the grave. Was all of this because she’d disturbed them?

I asked her if her episodes had started not long after she’d kept the skull and slowly, she nodded. I needed to find those remains, but before I could pose the question Heather’s face contorted, her voice deepened, and I was no longer speaking to her.

“You’ll never find me. I told you, you can’t help me.”

“Who said I was here to help you?” I replied.

Strother returned and stated that he wished to take Heather to the hospital to have some scans, but unsurprisingly by the time the door opened Heather was back to normal.

This caused me to think back to everything I’d seen, or rather what no one else had. In the tapes of the exorcisms the spirit possessing Heather hadn’t said a word, it hadn’t done anything, in the sessions with Strother and I it’d been the same. It knew that both were trying to help, attempting to loosen its hold over Heather, but they couldn’t do that if they thought that nothing was wrong. All anyone had to go on was the witness statements from Heather’s family and catholic priests. The spirit obviously thought Strother wouldn’t find anything at the hospital either because it let Heather agree to go.

I managed to avoid going with them both, stating that I wanted to get some work done back in my hotel room. Instead of going there with Ken I remained at the MacQueenie’s home and tracked down Eilidh, Heather’s younger sister. I quizzed her about the skull, hoping she would know where it was kept. She said she didn’t, but then asked a question that caught me off guard.

“Is that’s what causing it?”

If you’ve learned anything form these statements, it’s that I’m always surprised when I have a frank conversation with someone about the supernatural. Most people cling to their beliefs, to logic, and refuse to acknowledge anything outside of those bounds. So it’s refreshing not to have to walk on egg shells during a conversation. I told her I thought it might be, and she agreed to help me look.

Carefully we scoured every inch of Heather’s room. Eventually, we found it at the bottom of her wardrobe in an empty backpack. Understandably Eilidh kept her distance, but by this point finding remains was a weekly occurrence for me so I scrutinised it in my hands.

There was nothing special about the skull, it looked just as you’d expect it to. A few teeth were missing, there was a chip here and there probably from where it had been jostled on the journey from the cemetery. It was a lot less frightening than the spirit attached to it.

Eilidh asked me what we should do with it, and I didn’t have an answer. I was in unknown territory. How did you release a person possessed by a spirit? So, I did what any sane person would do. I stole the skull.

Stole might be an exaggeration. Looking back, it was also quite dangerous. I had no guarantee what was happening to Heather wouldn’t also happen to me. But I took the skull anyway and pondered on what I should or could do with it.

With the skull on the bedside table, facing away from me, I researched the graveyard Heather had told me about. As well as being a graveyard reportedly haunted by the souls of witches, it was also where a lot of the perpetrators were buried. The people who tried victims accused of witchcraft were usually prominent citizens, the people who could afford to build mausoleums for themselves and their family.

How many innocent people had this spirit killed in its lifetime? How many men and women had it sent to their deaths? My initial thought had been to return the skull to the same cemetery, but the more I read and the more I remembered, the less inclined I was to go to such lengths.

In what I can only call a streak of vindictiveness, I took the skull, shoved it in my bag and left the hotel. I bought a portable barbecue and some accelerant, lit it, and watched the flames lick around the curves of the bone. It takes a lot to burn bones to ash, a hotter flame than a disposable barbecue. I watched for hours, occasionally throwing on more accelerant. The bones became discoloured, blackened on the edges, but didn’t disintegrate.

Eventually I let the fire die out, removed the skull, and crushed it under my foot. The fire had managed to break the bones down enough so that I could grind them to ashes myself. I didn’t pick them up, I didn’t scatter them, I just left them on the ground to be washed away.

It was the first ghost I didn’t want to help, didn’t want to save. I know I’m not judge and jury, but I’m not a saint either. After everything it had done, why did it deserve my help? No one had ever said to me that it was my duty to help spirits. There was no rule book I had to follow. I was born with this ability, and no one to guide me in using it. Was what I did wrong? Possibly, depending on what side of the line you are. I may not have helped the spirits, but I did help Heather MacQueenie.

We all returned to the MacQueenie’s home for the final time the next day. This time Heather looked tired. We all sat down in their living room whilst Strother finally broke his silence. He’d gone to the hospital early to collect the results of the scans he’d taken on Heather. He showed them one or two and then pronounced that Heather had a small tumour pressing on her frontal lobe. He thought it was benign but suggested seeking further advice from a specialist doctor at the hospital. His explanation was that the tumour has slowly become bigger over time until it had started pressing on the part of the brain that controls the personality. This caused mood swings, sudden bursts of anger, and occasionally a change in way of speaking. His explanation for the Latin was that being a catholic she was more familiar with the language than most other people. As for the objects moving of their own accord he listed mundane causes but said he couldn’t be sure as he’d never witnessed anything like it.

And just like that, there was a normal, logical, explanation.

Strother was so convincing that I began to doubt. We’ve all heard stories about people’s personalities suddenly changing because they’ve hit their head or a tumour’s been found. As I remembered every detail I realised that I hadn’t seen anything paranormal. Had I really seen someone else’s face on Heathers, or had it just been a change of expression that made her face appear different? She would also be familiar with the witch trials. Was it just a coincidence that she had chosen me to level the accusation at? Had she really been possessed at all? Had that skull just been a skull, with no malignancy or ill intent?

Heather yawned a few times during Strother’s reveal and apologised, stating that she hadn’t had a lot of sleep the night before, and admitted that she had woken up screaming in the middle of the night from a nightmare that she was being burned alive. Was the timing a coincidence? Heather hadn’t known I’d taken the skull, and even if her sister had told her she couldn’t have known what I’d done to it.

To this day I’m still not convinced either way. I’ve since learned it is possible for a ghost to possess a living person, I’ve witnessed it a few times, and all are different to one another, let alone comparing them to Heather. I also know that Heather had surgery to reduce the size of the tumour and has led a normal life ever since.

Was it all just a coincidence, or was she possessed by a ghost? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

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