Let’s get back to a good old haunted house story. Strother could be a bit of a snob, and that’s putting it politely. Where we had to mutiny against him in the Anderson case, whenever he wanted to investigate something, we all had to go along. Such was the case with the McBride house.
Strother was already established in his career by the time of the IPP study, and like many academics before and after, he’d created his own network of like-minded individuals. What’s more surprising is that he kept in touch with them and was on amiable terms. The snobbery I’m referring to is that these friends of his appeared to only have attended universities with high reputations, like Oxford and Cambridge. That’s just how I saw things at the time, when I was young and prone to disliking him.
A prominent psychologist at Cambridge, and a close colleague of Strother, had sent us a report of a house in Stirling being haunted. And so, because it was one of Strother’s colleagues, we packed our bags and set off along the motorway to investigate.
The house itself, more like a cottage really, was owned by Dr and Dr McBride, retired academics themselves. Just like the Anderson house, this was detached, but was close to the local village shops – more like shop singular.
As had become my ritual I sat in the van on my tablet whilst we travelled, reading as much as I could about the haunting. The McBrides had moved in barely 12 months previously, and almost as soon as the new locks had been put in there had been strange occurrences, like cold spots, furniture moving, feeling as though they weren’t alone in a room when no one else was in the house. The usual haunted house stuff. Like every case of a haunting we’d come across, Strother had a grounded explanation on hand.
Rather than the hallucinations of a child, they were the imaginings of a couple with the first stages of Alzheimer’s or shared psychosis. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s what he implied. I thought it was quite strange that reports of a haunting had only started when the elderly couple moved in. The family who’d owned the house before had never had any trouble, or if they did it wasn’t reported. Strother blamed the idleness of the elderly, but if you’ve ever had retired grandparents you know there’s no such thing as idle retirement. But he was the epitome of logical explanations, it wasn’t his fault he didn’t know the truth.
To be fair to him he could’ve been right. Where he always assumed logic, I always assumed otherwise, because that was what our experience had taught us. I suppose for academics neither of us ever went into an investigation unbiased.
When we arrived, Mrs McBride was already at the door to greet us. She was a kindly old woman, her grey hair unusually long and tied back in a bun at the nape of her neck. She looked be in her late sixties, but I’m about as good as identifying the age of retirees as I am with teenagers. They just all look the same. Rather than set up immediately, she insisted we all have a cup of tea and some biscuits, and uncharacteristically Strother agreed.
We didn’t have long with our break because as soon as he’d gulped his down he was on his feet and halfway back to the van to begin unloading. We set up as normal, but because the reports were so scattered around the house, equipment was spread quite thin.
The house was probably just as you imagine it. There was a lot of furniture, like display cabinets, drawers, coffee tables, and even more trinkets and ornaments to adorn the fireplace and window sills. The wallpaper was busy, that floral pattern that makes you dizzy if you look at it too long. Everything was clean, there wasn’t a particle of dust to be seen anywhere. I find the older generations have a lot of house pride, something which I’ve always lacked.
I’ll admit I took a liking to Mrs McBride. I never met either of my grandmothers, both were gone before I even went to school, and I always felt like I was missing something. So, when a kindly old lady began to feed me more biscuits, promising not to tell anyone else, I was smitten. I think she took a liking to me too. I hadn’t failed to notice the graduation and family pictures of her own children, but as with many kids, when they turn into adults, they move away to live their own lives, often some distance away from their parents.
I was putting up cameras in the kitchen, chatting away with Mrs McBride. I noticed there were occasions when she seemed to check out, if you know what I mean. She’d get a glazed look in her eyes as if she was daydreaming or distracted. Then, after a few moments, she’d come right back and continue our conversation. Dementia did occur to me, but she was fine otherwise.
She asked me how someone with my background had become entangled in ghost hunting. By background she meant my degree, not my ability to see ghosts. In the 3 years of my PhD I never managed to hone an explanation about how the hell I’d ended up on the IPP study. I fumbled my way through a pittance of an excuse, anything but the disappointing truth in that I’d had nowhere else to go, and that I had psychopathic tendencies.
Then she asked me if I believed, and I knew she didn’t mean God. That question has plagued me all my life. For most people in this world it’s a matter of faith, not dissimilar to religion. There’s no definitive proof of either God or ghosts, not to average people. To me, it wasn’t a matter of belief, but fact, what I could see with my own eyes. The larger implication behind her question was if there was life after death, and I, unlike most human beings, was privy to that answer. Yes, there was, for a certain few unfortunate souls. Beyond that was a mystery, even to me.
My answer to that question changes depending on who’s asking. It’s better to play along with people when you know they don’t really want the truth. I observed Mrs McBride, and I observed the rest of her house. More importantly, the things that weren’t there. One towel drying on the radiator, one toothbrush in the bathroom, framed black and white picture in the centre of the mantelpiece, showing the heyday of a man who’s already gone. Mrs McBride was a widow, and none of us had known. The exchange between Strother and his colleague was at least six months old, and in that time Mr McBride had passed.
Grief has a lot to do with faith. People either find religion or the supernatural in the midst of theirs. Some turn away from one and find the other to be of more comfort. Faith also becomes more important during times of loss. That’s the reason why my answer changes depending on who’s asking. Regardless of fact, faith brings comfort during a time when everything else brings pain. I saw the way Mrs McBride was looking at me. It was important for her to have her own beliefs validated by someone else, to know she wasn’t the only sceptic turned believer in the face of death.
I answered that I did, and that gave her some relief. Here was a woman who’d surrounded her entire life with science, yet now it brought her no sense of stability, only emptiness. She’d also spent her entire life a sceptic, like her husband, but now was being forced to face that she might actually have been wrong. Whether she thought the disturbances in the house had something to do with her husband wasn’t something we discussed. She was certainly one of the calmer people I’ve ever met when faced with the existence of ghosts. She seemed to almost welcome it.
It wasn’t the ghosts, or lack of, that bothered me. It was the promise of an awkward conversation between all of us somewhere down the line when she’d be forced to tell us her husband had passed. I could see the grief was still raw, and I wasn’t looking forward to the full weight of it on her face as she told us the truth.
Strother came into the kitchen and asked Mrs McBride if he could start taking her statements about the strange occurrences in the house. She was more than happy to have someone else to listen. It was about ten minutes later when I began to hear a thumping on the ceiling, as if someone was dancing around up there. I assumed it was maybe Steph or Ken setting up, but when they walked past the kitchen door both Strother and I realised it wasn’t. Something came crashing down the stairs, skittering down every step until it finally broke at the bottom. It was a crystal bowl, the pieces of it lying everywhere, on every step. Strother hastily commanded me to set up the cameras up the stairs, and I did as I was told, avoiding the glass shards.
It was a deceptively large house, with at least 5 bedrooms and an attic. I’d grown nervous after the bowl incident. You’ll notice that my stories this far have involved pretty tame ghosts, with perhaps one exception. I suppose you could call the one in the McBride home a poltergeist. In my experience they tend to be stronger than the normal ghosts, and can move things freely. They’re also more dangerous, because if they throw things down the stairs, what’s stopping them from throwing a body?
I’d only ever met one before, but that’s another story for another recording. Once I was up the stairs, I realised that all the doors were closed, meaning I had very little idea of what was behind them. So far, we’d concentrated our efforts down the stairs, setting up the base, checking if equipment was working. The first floor had been neglected. The other difference was there was definitely a presence up there. I’d see something in the corner of my eye, a man, just a glimpse, but it wasn’t uncomfortable, in fact it was quite timorous, and after a while of flashes here and there I concluded it was possibly Mr McBride. It could’ve been my wishful thinking.
The first two rooms were bedrooms, probably for guests or family when they came to visit. The third room was one everyone’ll be familiar with. It’s the storage room where things which don’t have a place anywhere else are thrown so it’s out of mind. Children’s toys, old magazines, and a myriad of trinkets were on the floor and every available surface. Sets of drawers, a wardrobe or two, cardboard and plastic boxes alike, and unused chairs were strewn about. Some drawers were so full that they wouldn’t close. The largest piece of furniture was a grand old display cabinet with glass fronted panels, made of a dark mahogany wood that shimmered in the daylight from the window. It felt like it was at least a metre taller than I was, and contained even more trinkets, and some fancy china plates which I assumed might be a wedding set, notoriously unused.
I had an idea as I looked at it, since it was so high up I could easily place a camera on it. I then also realised cabinets that large and old had a tendency to topple over, so decided to look for somewhere else.
I went further into the room, stepping on pieces of carpet that didn’t have anything on them, over and in-between the collection of a married lifetime, but I stopped suddenly when I heard a shrill voice shoot through the air.
“Don’t look at her”, it said.
It was too loud to have come from downstairs. My eyes scanned around the room quickly, trying to see something, even if it was just a flash. I was too busy searching for something around the room that I didn’t see as the monster of a display cabinet began to shake precariously. I didn’t even realise it was moving until I sensed something about to fall on top of me.
Instinctively, I put my arms up to protect myself, and the pain I felt when the cabinet connected still resonates to this day. I’ve had my fare share of scrapes in my life, but that’s definitely in the top 5. It actually broke my arm, but I didn’t realise at the time because the breaking of the bone was drowned out by the almighty shattering of the glass panels on the door and everything inside. I crumpled to the floor and would’ve been crushed to death by that cabinet if it hadn’t caught on a set of drawers behind me. I was stuck underneath with little to no space to move.
It was difficult not to panic. My arm throbbed with pain, I was covered in glass as was the floor around me, and it was dark, as if someone had pulled the curtains over the window to block out the light. It’s what I imagined being buried alive is like. It felt like the longest time that I just lay there, still, battling with the rising panic and the pain that engulfed my left arm. I wanted to scream for help but wasn’t sure if anyone would hear me underneath the cabinet and up the stairs. My voice was also frozen with shock. I think I was just in shock. All I could do was inhale, and exhale.
I didn’t hear the footsteps storming up the stairs, and only barely heard the door to the room opening. It was Strother’s voice I heard through my panic, calling my name in a questioning, serious tone, but it was calm, level, and it pulled me back to my senses.
I replied that I was fine, which I wasn’t. I heard Ken say something about the cabinet looking heavy, then Steph’s voice replying she was unsure how they were going to move it, or even how it had fallen in the first place. All I wanted was someone to pull me out, but I was slowly realising that the academics were doing what they did best. Discussing a problem to death before actually doing anything about it.
I began to move my legs, which thankfully weren’t stuck, and managed to shimmy my way towards where I could hear their voices. After a few moments I felt two hands under my arms and someone pulled me the rest of the way out. It was Strother. He propped me up on one of the wardrobes, which I’ll admit I was afraid would also decide to fall on me, and asked if I was hurt. I could no longer feel my arm and glanced at it gingerly, hoping I wouldn’t see a bone protruding from my skin. Thankfully there was only blood from the many cuts and incisions the breaking glass and china had made. They were all over my face, hands, and arms as well, but I wouldn’t find that out until later, when the shards were being removed.
Strother began to examine my arm and as soon as he did the pain returned and I whimpered like a child. Mrs McBride bustled into the room at that point and began fussing me, asking if I were faint, if I’d been hurt, and as soon as she took a good look at me she announced she was going to call the doctor and disappeared.
Strother asked if I could stand and I nodded, pulling myself from the floor but as soon as I was nearly upright the room began to spin and my legs acted as though someone had pulled the bone out of them. Strother caught me before I could fall and eased me back down to the floor, telling me to breathe slowly and that it was just the shock. I’d be fine in a few moments. His voice was reassuring and calm, and I did as I was told until the dizziness was gone.
I managed to find the person working at Inverlewis. After a few probing emails they agreed to meet with me. Even before I arrived I could sense their reluctance. I’ll call this person Mary, not her real name.
Mary arranged to meet me at some services on the M74 in the early hours of the morning. For those outside of Scotland the M74 is the only motorway that connects the West side of Scotland with England. It runs from Glasgow to the border. Understandably at that time in the morning the road is quiet, as are the services. We’d arranged to meet in Starbucks, just by the window.
Mary, a woman in her mid-fifties, wore a black wig and glasses that didn’t have any lenses. Were things so bad that she had to wear a disguise before meeting me? I sat down opposite her, without ordering anything, and begged her to tell me the connection Inverlewis had with the study.
She told me that before she’d left the company she’d been strongly encouraged to sign a non-disclosure agreement. From her tone I felt like it was more coerced than gently persuaded. Due to this she couldn’t tell me any details. However, she did confirm that Inverlewis had funded the study, although it’d be almost impossible to find proof now, and that the director of Inverlewis showed a particular interest and had asked to see all of the reports that were sent by Strother.
She then warned me, a spark of genuine fear in her eyes, to stop. I often wonder why people bother, is it to absolve them of any guilt if something bad happens? Her being so enigmatic, and the existence of a non-disclosure agreement for a distribution company’s employs had just made me more curious. What do they have to hide? Why were they involved in the study, why did they fund it? And where were they when it all went down the pan?
We’ll have to find out, won’t we?