Episode 9 – Family

Now, where were we with the Anderson case? I think Strother and I had just been interrupted from fighting by Mr Anderson. I began to feel more unwell by the second, until I decided I needed to be sick. There’s always something humiliating about being sick, even more so in front of strangers, but it’s not like you can help it. The sink was in front of the window, and as I began to regain my senses I glanced up at the reflection in the glass. Right behind my head, in the doorway, I saw the black mass writhing and jumping like a lava lamp. My throat burned and a shiver swept over my entire body as I locked eyes with its reflection. Then as soon as I blinked, it was gone, leaving only an empty space.

Mr Anderson was at my side, frantically asking if I was alright. He blamed the time of year and that there were a lot of viruses going around. I didn’t know what it was but it certainly wasn’t something like the flu. I was tired, having kept a semi-vigil over Anna’s bedroom all night. But it was like a sickness, suddenly come over me. My entire body felt heavy, every muscle aching for no reason. Although my stomach had settled, the rest of me was acting up. It took a considerable amount of strength just to keep myself upright. Mr Anderson said I could sleep in one of the guest bedrooms. Gladly I took his offer, but noticing how unsteady I’d become Strother had to help me up the stairs. He chided me for not admitting I was unwell, but I had no strength to respond.

I slept until lunchtime and when I awoke, completely fine, I became convinced that my sudden illness wasn’t bacterial in nature. It was news to me that ghosts could affect the living like that. I mean I wasn’t a complete beginner when it came to these things, and it made me afraid. Why had it made me ill and no one else, including Anna who could see it? Had it taken a dislike to our midnight staring contest?

I awoke to the smells of Sunday roast, and thankfully for me I was starving. I’d missed the actual mealtime by a few hours, but warmed up is better than none at all. Anna had gone on a walk with her father, leaving Lorraine Anderson alone with the rest of us. Whilst I was eating in the kitchen Strother took the opportunity to bulldoze Mrs Anderson with what he thought was reason. He began to suggest other psychological problems that Anna could have to explain what she was seeing. The tests which I’d become afraid of were suggested in the next sentence. Strother offered them an appointment to use the university equipment, or he had the numbers of child phycologists he could recommend. Lorraine looked overwhelmed, as if she hadn’t thought the problem was that serious.

It reminded me of my own parents. I was younger than Anna when I was tested. About six years old. Schizophrenia, tumours, eye problems, even cancer at one point. Thinking back my Mum and Dad must have been worried in case there was something serious wrong with me. I don’t know who gave up first, my parents or me. I either began to realise that the more I mentioned ghosts the more hospitals I ended up at, or they realised that there was no diagnosis for me. I can’t say that time has made me understand their persistence, but I do understand where they were coming from. For all they knew I could’ve had a tumour that made me hallucinate.

It still affected me, and my relationship with them, growing up. And even now I’m an adult, I rarely see or speak to them. I don’t suppose I’ve ever forgiven them for not believing me. I knew I didn’t want that happening to the Andersons.

Lorraine told us she’d have to discuss it with her husband before any decisions were made, and that seemed to satisfy Strother. Thankfully, I managed to have some time alone in the kitchen with Lorraine as I was finishing my lunch. I told her she didn’t look as though she were entirely convinced by Strother’s opinion. She paled visibly and I could see she was immediately uncomfortable talking about it, refusing to meet my gaze as she busied with the pots and pans. When she did catch my eye, I recognised the look immediately, because I’d seen it many times before. It’s the look adults get when their belief system is about to breakdown. Doubts begin to surround things they’ve known their entire life. It’s the look I’d one day see on Strother’s face.

I asked her if she’d seen what Anna could. She nodded and said that sometimes, when she was alone in the house, she would catch it in the corner of her eye. I could tell by her tone she didn’t want to believe it, desperately wished her mind was impressionable and she was imagining things. She’d never got a look at it, unlike her daughter, but she described it as a shadow, cold and fleeting. One, even though she couldn’t see it properly, she knew was there. Her husband was a firm sceptic and had never seen anything. She asked me what it was, desperate for answers that she thought I could give. I don’t think I’d be able to give them now let alone back then, but I felt bad.

So, I told her that it probably didn’t mean any harm. I explained all I knew. That it was human, that it was old, that it had forgotten who it was. I also pleaded with her not to tell my team. She asked me what she could do. We were due to leave the Anderson home later that day, and her husband would want Anna to go through the tests.

Suddenly a scream ripped through the house. Not from a child but from an adult woman. I jumped in fright, and Lorraine dropped a serving plate so it smashed on their tiled floor with an equally piercing crash. Ken and Strother were at the door instantly, assuming it was one of us. When they realised it wasn’t, Ken ran up the stairs to where I presume Steph had let out the scream.

Whilst we waited, I began to help Lorraine clean up the mess, but Strother snapped that I wasn’t a maid. When I opened my mouth to protest, he cut me down viciously, more so than usual. I was stunned into silence. Stepping in to defend me was Lorraine Anderson, and the two began a vicious argument, not dissimilar to him and I the previous day, in the same room. The worst thing about it was that they were fighting over me.

I stared at Strother, hoping he’d take the hint and stop, but I began to notice something strange. I was looking at Strother, the sharp jawline, the even sharper eyes, but there was a different essence to him, not dissimilar to uncanny valley. His confrontational behaviour, the strength of his rage, they were all far from the Strother I’d come to know. I said before that he was never one to start an argument he couldn’t win, but here he was fighting with anyone. I’d felt the same the day before, but I blamed my fatigue.

Knowing he wasn’t himself, I pushed him forcefully from the room and into another one, away from Lorraine. He was so angry I thought he might hit the wall, or even me. Mrs Anderson was so angry I thought she’d follow us just to continue their fight, so I shut the door behind us. Before I could turn around I heard a thump and watched as Strother crumpled to the floor like puppet with its strings cut. At his back was the shadowy mass I’d seen at Anna’s bed the night before.

I ran to see if the fall had done any damage to Strother, keeping my eye on the ghost. Perhaps my reassurances to Lorraine of it not meaning any harm were wrong. It didn’t linger, and I was glad it didn’t show me anything like the other ghosts in these statements have. I had a feeling I wouldn’t come back the same.

Strother woke up confused and I fed him some lie that I can’t remember. The scream we’d heard had come from Steph up the stairs, who refused to admit she’d seen anything, but wouldn’t stop shaking for at least an hour afterwards. She had the same look that Lorraine Anderson had when she’d spoken about the shadow.

Due to the strange occurrences during our time in the house, Strother suggested we keep the equipment running for longer. Rather than concentrate them around Anna’s room, he decided to spread them out until every room was being recorded. He never shared his thoughts or reasons, and if Steph told him what I think she saw then I never found out.

Craig Anderson came back with Anna an hour or two later after we’d finished setting up and dinner went by without a hiccup. Craig and Anna went into the living room after dinner to watch a show together, leaving the rest of us to help tidy up and write some quick notes about the case. Strother was watching the cameras in the room where we’d set up whilst I was in the kitchen with Steph and Lorraine. It must have been an hour or two later when he shuffled into the kitchen, a look on his face that I hate to admit gave me joy. It was disappointment, the look someone wears when they realise they’re wrong. I immediately thought he must’ve seen the ghost and had come to tell us, tail between his legs.

To this day I’m embarrassed of how I acted in those few seconds between him appearing and telling us what happened. I was practically giddy. He’d finally have to admit that Anna wasn’t hallucinating, there was nothing wrong with her, and the house was genuinely haunted. It took a lot not to break into a triumphant smile. Then he opened his mouth.

Rather than telling us what he’d seen he invited Lorraine into the room with the screens, and Steph and I followed. I think Ken was on the phone to his wife, or daughter, so he was upstairs. Strother began to rewind one the recordings of the living room. We’d only just set them up that afternoon, and I’d never seen the ghost in there, so I was surprised. He began to play it.

Already something was off. Craig and Anna were sat on the sofa, but she was squeezed to one arm, sitting pertly, stiff almost. Not like bairns usually relax in their own home. Craig sat on the other end of the sofa, both were watching the TV. Anna kept fiddling with her hands, pulling her fingers, tying them in impossible knots, I worried she’d dislocate one the way she was going. Craig began to say something to her, I think he asked her if she could see the ghost, but the recording was quite quiet. Anna, to my surprise, shook her head. He demanded to know why she hadn’t told the rest of us that, and why she’d made such a scene the night before. His tone became angrier until he was standing up, towering over where Anna cowered, shouting at her. How we hadn’t heard him was beyond me, but it was a big house, and the door was closed. Then he raised his hand and began to hit her, across the face, on her back, her legs. I couldn’t stomach more than that and looked away from the screen. Lorraine Anderson was already halfway to the living room where she flung open the door and began screaming at her husband. Steph went and closed the door to the room we were in but we could still hear the muffled curses.

That has to be one of the most awkward hours of my life to date. None of us knew what to do. Lord knows what Ken did during that time. We all stayed out of the way. Their fight culminated in the police being called and Craig being taken to the station. He ended up being charged with child abuse and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

Steph filled us in as we driving back to the city. Anna was Lorraine’s daughter by an ex-partner, and she had taken Craig’s name when they were married. Not that a lack of blood relation is an excuse for beating a bairn. Some people are just arseholes, and Craig Anderson was one of them.

We were all a bit shaken, none more so than Lorraine who I’m sure went onto blame herself for what happened. For my part I’d never seen any wounds, or anything that would’ve indicated Anna was being beaten, but apparently she’d had a few trips to the hospital after her afternoons out with Craig, and he’d just said she was being clumsy and had fallen. The only unfortunate thing was that because Anna was being abused, Strother assumed it was the reason why she’d claimed to see the ghost. Rather than a plea for attention it was a cry for help. The shadow was a manifestation of her fear of Craig and what he’d do to her.

Obviously, that wasn’t true and there were a few hours when I assumed I’d never get answers to this case. We were clearing the equipment from the rooms, unplugging cameras and deactivating motion sensors when I glimpsed the shadow again. Rather than at the foot of Anna’s bed, it lingered at a door I’d never been through. I caught it twice, and deciding I’d nothing to lose I discreetly went to the door and opened it. There were stairs that led down to what I assumed would be a basement, not unusual for old buildings.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s only the idiot in scary films who goes down to the basement. It’s just as well my life isn’t a horror. There was a light switch, and it worked, so I descended the stairs. Apart from the dust, spiders’ webs, and ghostly shadows, it wasn’t a particularly eerie room. There were only empty boxes and discarded children’s toys down there. The ghost remained in one spot, like it was stuck there, and I felt like it was staring at me, despite having no visible eyes. We were locked in a staring match that I had no hope of winning, but after a few minutes it faded until there was nothing left.

Hoping more than knowing there might be some significance, I crossed the basement to where the ghost had stood, and stepped on a loose slab where it had been. The concrete around it had flaked away over the years until the slab acted like a see-saw. I managed to find a metal file which I used more like a chisel to break away the remaining vein of concrete that kept the slab in its place. I then used the file to pry it off the floor. It was heavy but I managed to flip it over and expose the soil underneath.

It wasn’t just worms and woodlice under there, but slithers of textured, white bone. They were the tops of two skulls, one smaller than the other, both lying close to one another, not dissimilar to the Lovers of Valdaro. You know, the skeletons they found in Italy who were thought to be buried embracing each other. As you’ve heard those poor souls weren’t my first skeletons, but the sight still struck me. I actually prefer ghosts to their bones, there’s a certain distance you can keep, but when you’re faced with the remnants of someone’s body, it’s a lot harder to digest.

I was faced with a problem. What was I supposed to do now? The only reason I’d found the skeletons was because the ghost had showed me. What excuse was I supposed to make for being down here, for vandalising their house, prying up floor slabs, that didn’t sound as though I was looking for the remains? But I knew if I put everything back to where it was before I’d interfered, then the ghost, whichever skeleton it was, would continue to bother Anna because she was the only who could see it. I’d told Strother I was helping Anna by listening to her, yet when the time came when I could actually help, I was contemplating looking out for myself first.

I wish I could tell these stories of mine and paint myself to be a hero, one who always does the right thing and never doubts, or questions, or hesitates. I’m afraid if you’re looking for someone like that then you’re in the wrong place. I’m only human, despite the extra sense. There have been many times when I haven’t done the right thing, some I regret. In Anna’s case, I went up the stairs and told everyone what I’d found. My excuse for being down there seemed to be generally accepted. I told everyone I thought I’d put a camera down there and when I’d went to get it had dropped something that had got stuck in the slab, forcing me to remove it. It sounded incredulous to me, but perhaps everyone was just reeling from the fact there was human remains in the basement.

The police were called again. It’s probably just as well Lorraine and Anna moved away soon after, because I’m sure they’d have got a reputation after that night. I wish I could tell you who the skeletons were, and why they were under there. All I can tell you is that the larger skeleton was a woman in her late twenties, and the smaller one was her daughter. They’d both died of various physical trauma, most likely beaten to death by someone. Unfortunately, the records of the house only go back a few decades or so, when it was converted from a barn. Whatever happened in there before is lost to time.

My hypothesis, for what it’s worth, is that the ghost I saw, the writhing shadow, was the mother keeping vigil over Anna’s bed. In its own way trying to protect her where it had failed with its own child. I could be wrong of course, but we’ll never know.

The rest of the team took everything at face value, something I never had the luxury of. There are many events in history we don’t know. You can probably dig underneath anyone’s house and eventually come across a skeleton, or some other sign of life. There was no way anyone in the present was going to solve the murder of the mother and child in the basement. After various tests were ran on the remains, they were both interred in the same plot in the local parish graveyard. You can visit if you like, the community, along with a few other donations, paid for a headstone. I was one of those donations, and I later found out Strother was as well.

Present day

It turns out I’m willing to go pretty far to get answers. I’m not proud of what I’m about to tell you and there’s no excuse for how I acted, but desperation makes monsters of us all.

I ended up ambushing Katherine Phillips in her office 2 days ago. I found her office hours and just went there. She didn’t recognise me, and to be honest I didn’t recognise her either. She thought I was a student and when I told her my name she looked as though I’d told her the world was about to end. She ordered me to get out and I refused, blurting everything I already knew, or could surmise, about her relationship with Strother.

There was a brief moment when I thought she was going to call the police, or campus security. I swear I saw her eyes flick to the phone, but she ended up asking me to close the door and take a seat.

Then it was my turn to be taken aback. Katherine Phillips told me everything. She’d been seeing Strother for a year before the study began and then all the way through until the scandal. The reason none of us had ever been introduced, or he’d never mentioned her, is because she was married, and still is. I was shocked at the news, not because I thought Strother was a saint, but because it made me doubt whether I’d known him at all. Even if it was an affair, it was also an important relationship, yet he’d never mentioned her, never introduced us, I mean we’d hardly have known she was married, would we? I think the thing that shocked me most was that Strother could be considerate.

I’m not judging their relationship, at least I’m trying not to. I’ll admit that I don’t understand why she’s still married, especially considering how long the relationship between her and Strother lasted. But what do I know?

I asked her if he’d ever mentioned the study, spoken to her about it. In my mind she was the most likely person he’d have unburdened to. Unfortunately, she told me he rarely spoke about it, except some comments in passing that were general, or that she’d forgotten, but nothing important. She told me she’d kept his laptop. This puzzled me since I’d already looked through his laptop at his family home. Turns out he had another one, and that he used it solely for study related things. I’ll admit, it got my hopes up. A secret laptop that could hold all the answers I want. What’s not to get excited about?

Graciously she told me she’d give it to me because she recognised my name. According to Katherine, Strother had mentioned me a few times over the years, enough for her to remember anyway. The last time my name had come up had been when he was trying to find the results of the tests I’d taken for the study as one of the first control subjects. I’ll get to that later.

I returned to her office yesterday to collect the laptop. When we opened it we found it was password protected. Neither of us had any idea what it would be. This left me with the job of finding someone who could crack the password on a 15-year-old laptop.

Before I left Katherine’s office I asked her where she’d been during the scandal. She told me that a week before the news had hit the headlines and Strother’s career had gone up in flames he’d asked to meet up with her. During that meeting he’d ended their relationship and told her to stay far away, to pretend like she didn’t know him. When she asked why he’d said that he didn’t want to take her down with him. A week later she saw the reports and articles. He’d known what was going to happen, but he’d done nothing to stop it, or if he had tried something then he failed. But how did he know? What had he done or said to someone to make them ruin his career, and why hadn’t he done anything to stop it or clear his name afterwards? I hope whatever’s on his laptop will finally answer those questions.

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