Episode 8 – Child’s Play

I’ve had a song stuck in my head for the last few days. They were doing a throwback segment on the radio and it came on. It’s quite special to me because I used to listen to it whilst doing my work. It was the heavy rock of my teenage years still lingering into my twenties. I don’t suppose I ever really listened to it so much as tuned it out when I was working.

The Anderson case started on a day where my colleagues caught me listening to it. Steph had asked us all to gather around the office table because she had something she wanted to discuss. Someone had emailed her with a case that may be relevant to the study. She gave a copy of the email thread to Strother and he dismissed it within seconds. A wee girl, the daughter of the person who’d written to Steph, claimed to see ghosts. Immediately Strother thought something else may be wrong with her and that she was hallucinating, especially considering her parents had never witnessed what she was claiming.

Steph pleaded with Strother to reconsider, stating that she owed the father, Craig Anderson, a favour. Strother was unsympathetic. When I began to read the emails, I noticed a few more details. I asked Steph why Mrs Anderson hadn’t been sleeping well, a point that Mr Anderson had commented on in passing. Apparently, she found it too cold, even when the heating was on. Strother wasn’t happy about my line of inquiry and asked me what I was “trying to get at”.

I answered that their daughter said she saw ghosts in the house, but nowhere else. If they were hallucinations wouldn’t she see them everywhere? I pointed out that cold spots were a commonly reported phenomena in the cases of hauntings. I should’ve stopped there. I wish I’d stopped there. I added that the research wasn’t a dictatorship, and that if we ignored the report and it turned out to be true then the only ones losing anything was ourselves. What can I say? I was young and confrontational.

Thankfully Steph agreed with my points, lending me some credibility instead of just mindless rebellion. When Ken jumped on the bandwagon Strother had no choice but to give in. But he was never one for letting things go and what I’m sure was out of spite he announced that we’d visit the Anderson home at the weekend.

So, early on a Saturday morning we all piled into the van and set off into the countryside where their house was. I think it was one of the nicest journeys I’ve ever been on, road quality and company aside. The further we travelled outside of the city the narrower the roads became until it was single track. There were many times I saw Strother’s knuckles turn white he was holding the steering wheel so tight, fearful something may come from the opposite direction and force us into a ditch. Since I’m being as honest as possible, I liked watching him fret. It sounds sadistic, but I hadn’t warmed to him much by this point.

The Andersons owned an old farmhouse in the middle of the countryside, with enviable views and a private driveway that led straight from the road. It sat halfway up the hill, looking down upon the valley, which wasn’t very visible due to a light mist because it was Scotland. I’ll admit there was a brief moment where I doubted they had electricity, it was just that secluded.

On the journey I’d been reading up on the Andersons and their home. The family had moved into the old farmhouse two years before and it hadn’t been long until their daughter, Anna, had reported seeing a shadow in the house. Not the normal kind, if there is such a thing, but one that moved as though it were breathing. She felt like it stared at her, and constantly followed her around the house. I was no stranger to this, and that’s probably why I’d opposed Strother’s dismissal of the case so forcefully. The girl was reluctant to go to bed on her own, frightened to death of her shadowy companion, which she claimed was always somewhere in her bedroom.

This case was a wee bit close to the bone for me, so impartiality in retelling it’s probably impossible. I’d been seeing ghosts, of every shape and form you can imagine, since I was a wee bairn. I’d also visited every kind of doctor you can imagine, and no matter what they say those tests take a toll, just not a physical one. I wanted to believe that Anna Anderson really saw something, and if that were the case to protect her from my own experiences. In case you’re curious none of the tests they did found anything wrong with me…at least that’s what they told my parents.

It was cold when we arrived, colder than I remembered it being in the city. Where it was overcast and threatening to rain, there in the country it was frosty, everything turning a beautiful white. Steph went into the house first to greet the Andersons whilst the rest of us began to sort out the equipment.

Inside the house was just as nice as outside, although it seemed a wee bit big for a family of just three. Perhaps that’s why there was a chill in the air when we went in to set up. It was also quite dark inside due to the outdated wooden panels that consumed most of the natural light. The Andersons were slowly modernising it but with such a large house it’d no doubt take some time. When we arrived, it was only Mrs Anderson inside, Anna was over at a friend’s house and Craig, her husband, was still at work.

We concentrated our efforts in every room Anna had reported seeing her shadowy friend, mostly in her bedroom. Cameras, thermometers, audio recorders and more laser grids were placed strategically, and I ensured I knew where they were. It gave me a chance to find the ghost myself, but there was nothing unusual about the home. There were no cold spots, no pieces of fractured air like there had been at St Mary’s, and no sudden waves of unease. It felt very…normal. I began to feel a twinge of disappointment. Usually there’s always something that spirits emanate, like a certain smell that you can just taste on the air before it disappears. All I could smell was Febreeze. What I disliked about the house was how clean it was. Not in the ordinary way, the quick run round when you have guests coming over, but the extremely clean, like a showroom. It gave me the sense that I shouldn’t really be there.

When we were finished, Lorraine Anderson sat us all down to make some tea and have a quick chat about her daughter and the house itself. Strother asked if Anna also saw the apparition when she was at someone else’s home, to which her mother replied she didn’t. Lorraine Anderson was a sharply dressed woman who looked as though she never had a hair out of place even during her down time. Her hair was smooth, her makeup perfect and professional, there wasn’t a chipped nail on her hand. Steph had said she had quite a high-powered job but I forget what it was.

Strother made the mistake of telling Mrs Anderson that the most common reason for children pretending to see things like ghosts was attention seeking, especially when their parents were busy or away most of the time. She was considerably taken aback and adamantly protested that she didn’t neglect her daughter. In all the years we met family members and friends Strother always displayed the finesse of a fish. Even that might be too kind a comparison.

Mr Anderson picked Anna up on his way back from work. Saying that she looked normal isn’t really telling you anything. I don’t think I look particularly strange and yet here I am talking about ghosts. Anna was about 7 or 8 years old and during dinner and before bed she was a model bairn. If she was seeking attention, like Strother implied, then surely she’d play up more with an audience? That was my logic at the time anyway, but I was desperate for Anna to be telling the truth, even though I hadn’t seen anything myself.

It was an hour or two after she’d gone to bed when we heard her scream. Immediately, we all ran to the screens where the camera feeds were. Anna was sitting up, clutching her covers so tightly I thought she’d put her fingers through them, staring intently at the foot of her bed. I saw it there, black and grey, moving like it was lava fresh from a volcano. There were no eyes, no discernible limbs, it was just a shape, and it never took a recognisable form. All it did was linger there at the bottom of her bed but I could tell why Anna thought it was staring at her. Those things, which I’ve never found a name for, still frighten me even to this day, I can only imagine the fear a seven-year-old would have.

Lorraine Anderson was about to go up and see her daughter when I stepped in and offered instead. Seeing it through the screen wasn’t as helpful as seeing it in person, and I wasn’t that familiar with them back then. I also presumed that my colleagues would need a few moments to process what they were seeing. Instead, Strother pointed at the screen and stated there was nothing there. I was just about to point it out when both Ken and Steph began to shake their heads, also unable to see it. To this day I still don’t know how it was possible. I saw it as clear as day on that screen, and yet no one else could. It wouldn’t be the last of such occurrences.

Regardless Mrs Anderson agreed to let me go up and see Anna. Strother wasn’t too happy about it as he thought I’d just be enabling the girl, but I went up anyway. I swung the door to Anna’s bedroom open a little too forcefully and only succeeded in frightening her more. The ghost, if it could be called that, remained at the foot of her bed. The door was a blind spot for the camera but as soon as I stepped towards the bed I’d be in full view. I was paranoid that the ghost would start to be picked up by the cameras the longer it remained there, and if I was caught looking at it then the game would be up. Anna, for her part, couldn’t take her eyes away, as if staring at it would keep it away from her. I called out to her and she looked at me pleadingly.

“It’s there”, she uttered so quietly I almost didn’t hear.

She was terrified and I wished I could explain everything I knew, which to be fair wasn’t much then. Aware that the recorders were still running I mouthed that I knew. When she checked if I could see it, I simply nodded, before crossing the room to sit on the side of her bed, facing the shadowy mass.

It was grotesque to look at, always shifting and moving, but because it was dark sometimes it felt like there were screaming faces on the surface. Rather than smoke or mist it felt as though it was made of viscous liquid, like black treacle. If you reached out and touched it your hand would get stuck. But it never shifted from its position at the foot of the bed, like a dog almost, wanting to stay close to its owner.

Anna confessed to me that it wouldn’t leave her alone. I pointed out that not everything meant harm, hoping more than knowing it to be true. She said it looked evil, like a monster under the bed come out to play at night. I had to be mindful of my words since I was sure Strother and the rest would be listening intently. Any reference to its appearance, or even confirming its presence, would get me in trouble. I told her that since she could see it then perhaps it wanted her to do something, which I thought was the most likely reason. Anna admitted she was scared but before I could reassure her Strother barged in and summoned me through gritted teeth.

Anna refused to let me go and clung onto my arm to stop me. Strother, at the end of his very little patience, told her that nothing was there and that ghosts didn’t exist. I don’t know what he thought it’d accomplish. I told him he wasn’t helping, to which he accused me of encouraging her. I replied that I saw it as helping a frightened young girl. He grumbled that it was a waste of time before storming off. I’d won, I just hoped I wouldn’t come to regret it.

I remained with Anna all night, and she soon went to sleep with me as protection or comfort, it was hard to tell. I wondered what her mother did during such episodes. For its part, the shadow remained, but I couldn’t risk looking at it for too long. Any ounce of humanity it’d once possessed was gone, it took no face, no shape, no anything that would discern it as human. These ghosts, because they are ghosts, have been gone for so long that they’ve forgotten who they were. It was my first time seeing one so decayed, but it wasn’t my last. I still don’t like them, they’re the worst kind, and the most difficult. They’re called different things depending on who you talk to, but I’ve never given them a name because it seems more appropriate not to. All I knew at the time was that I needed to find out who it was, or who it had been.

It disappeared at about 3 in the morning, but by that point I was drifting in and out of sleep myself. At least I’d confirmed that Anna wasn’t hallucinating, that she was genuinely seeing a ghost, and I could only hope that she’d grow out of it. Otherwise her life would always partially belong to the dead.

I woke up just after 6 in the morning feeling like I was hungover. Somehow, as soon as I left Anna’s room, Strother was there to ambush me, looking as bad as I felt. I followed him solemnly down to the kitchen where he demanded to know what I’d been thinking. He proceeded to point out, in no uncertain terms, that I’d made things worse because if Anna thought someone believed her then she’d keep claiming she could see things. A vicious fight then ensued. It was of character for me. I mean I threw Strother subtle digs here and there, but I’d never had a flat-out argument with him. Granted, we’d not been working together long, but he was still one of my supervisors. It’s like having a screaming match with your line manager. Unfortunately, I put it down to fatigue making me lose my patience. That was, of course, until the room began to spin, like I had drunk too much the night before.

I felt weird, simultaneously hot and cold, my heartbeat noticeably elevated, and the walls around me moved like a theatre set. Mr Anderson came in bleary eyed and interrupted our bickering before we could start shouting at each other. He said something to me but it was distorted, as though I were listening with ear plugs in. The room was beginning to look stranger by the minute, spinning like a carousel. I’m unsure if I began to have a panic attack, or it was something else, but I began to have trouble breathing and ended up on the floor somehow. Then the nausea came and I panicked more. I got to the sink just in time.

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