Episode 13 – Battle of Wills

We’d left the MacBride case at me being crushed by a display cabinet. It left me in a bit of a state – physically anyway. The shock wore off before the doctor arrived. We would’ve gone to the hospital if there’d been one near enough, but as it was the doctor wrapped my arm as best as he could and advised me to go to a hospital as soon as possible. I was absolutely covered in scratches, and some of the glass had embedded itself into my skin. Thankfully, I didn’t need stitches, but that didn’t make it any less painful.

Whilst I was being seen to by the doctor downstairs, Strother and Ken had remained in the room to try and clean up, or find a reason why the cabinet had fallen over in the first place. I adamantly denied touching it, or even going near it, ironically in the fear it’d crush me. Whilst the doctor bandaged me up, and Mrs McBride fussed and fretted, I thought back to the moments before the cabinet had come down. I’d heard a voice, distinct, as if it were in the same room as me, yet I hadn’t seen anything.

Could it have been the presence I sensed up the stairs? Was I wrong in thinking it had been Mr MacBride? Given that the strange occurrences had predated his death, it meant that there were multiple ghosts. All I knew for certain was that cabinets that big don’t fall over by themselves. I also didn’t think it was coincidence that the crystal bowl had been flung down the stairs minutes before the cabinet had fallen on me. The voice I’d heard, or thought I’d heard, was angry, to the point of shrill. My first instinct was that it was a woman’s, and it had said don’t look at her, as if it were talking to someone else?

Mr MacBride? Another bloody ghost? Unfortunately, we only had the information of the previous owner, the family, but before that was murky, and would require a trip to the local council.

I’ll admit waiting for Strother to come down and give his logical explanation about what had caused the cabinet to fall made the pain duller. He concluded that the cabinet had been top heavy, and my moving around had caused it to sway back and forth until its own weight pulled it down on top of me. To be fair to him he could’ve been right, but I just knew he wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like in these statements I’m always right and Strother’s always wrong. I’ll need to get to a story soon where I was the one in the wrong.

Mrs MacBride expressed her regret that she hadn’t bothered to attach the cabinet to the wall, as is recommended with things like that. I told her not to worry. In all honesty, if the alternative was it crushing her, I’m glad it was me.

Ken and Steph finished setting up the cameras, even in the storage room, whilst I sat in front of the screens checking if everything was alright. I had no energy by that point, and my body ached from where I’d fallen, not to mention the sling which now adorned my shoulder and arm. I felt a bit useless, but at the same time knew that my being injured and having to rest actually gave me the freedom I needed to investigate whatever was inside the house.

Unfortunately, Mrs MacBride was eager to follow the doctor’s instructions for me and ordered me to go to bed. To be honest my wee ordeal had sapped the energy from me. Looking at the screens was like listening to a lullaby and my eyes became heavier until someone coming in jolted me from semi-consciousness.

We were all due to stay at the MacBride house that night, so I was shown to one of the spare bedrooms and fell asleep pretty quickly. That does mean that if anything went on, or anymore furniture decided to become homicidal, I missed it.

But there was something I didn’t miss. I woke up in the middle of the night and heard people arguing outside in the hall. It was dark, and because the house was in the middle of nowhere it was true dark, the kind where you can’t even see your own hand in front of your face. Groggily, I fumbled around for my phone and used it as a torch. As I stumbled my way across the foreign room I listened as intently as I could to what was being said outside.

It was an argument – at least I was 80% sure it was an argument. At first, I thought it was Strother and Steph, but the more I heard the more I doubted it was either of them. Carefully I opened the door and slinked into the hall. At the end I could see the silhouettes of two people, one taller than the other, possibly a man and woman. I blinked a few times, rubbed the sleep from my eyes, but nothing would make them come into focus, not even training the light on them. It was like they were in a place where light couldn’t reach. No matter what I did or how hard I tried, they never came into focus, almost as if they were pixelated in some way. They flickered and flashed like a film reel from the early 20th century, before there was technicolour and even sound.

I couldn’t hear what they were saying, it sounded like someone speaking in their sleep, words strung together in a meaningless sentence. The only reason I thought they were arguing is because of the shrill tones of the woman and the barking grunts of the man.

I began to move closer, not really knowing what it’d accomplish, but then I heard a noise that was closer. It came from the bathroom, whose ajar door I’d just passed. The light wasn’t on, but I could hear the familiar sounds of retching coming from inside. If you’ve ever been a teenager eager to get alcohol poisoning, you’ll be familiar with the sound.

It distracted me for a moment, and when I looked back down the corridor the scene was gone, as was the sound of their arguing. Unsure if I’d imagined it, or experienced some strange variation on sleep walking, I decided to check if whatever was in the bathroom was real. Gingerly I pushed open the door and shone the light inside to reveal someone crumpled on the floor with their head in the toilet. I asked them if they were alright, and Ken replied, in a raspy voice, that he must’ve caught whatever his wife had brought back from her school. Ken’s wife was a primary school teacher, and as you can imagine had a very abused immune system.

He told me to leave him as he didn’t think he was done for the night, so I did, hoping that we wouldn’t meet each other on runs to the bathroom. I managed to get back to sleep, although when I woke up the next morning to daylight streaming in, I had my doubts whether any of it was real. As I joined the rest down the stairs for breakfast, I noticed that Ken was absent. Strother explained that he’d been ill during the night and had awoken with a headache, so was having to stay in bed.

Mrs MacBride apologised, as if my injuries and Ken’s illness was her fault. We assured her it wasn’t, but I was curious about what I’d seen during the night. Not being able to mention it I waited the entire morning for someone else to bring it up. Surely if I’d heard it then someone else had. It appeared Ken was the only person able to corroborate my story, and he was in a viral coma and hadn’t moved all morning. Understandably, we were all a bit reluctant to go near him.

Due to my arm I was once again relegated to watching the screens as Strother went over the footage from the night before, and Steph spoke to our hostess and continued her research of the house and previous inhabitants. The further we got into the afternoon the paler she became. It was as if someone had bleached her skin. I asked if she was alright, and she said she had a headache and took some pills. I know I haven’t spoken about Steph in detail, but I’d never heard her complain about a migraine or headache, and this was obvious when she had to ask Mrs MacBride if she had any painkillers as she didn’t carry them herself.

I’m sure Strother and I were counting down the minutes until she ran to the bathroom, having obviously caught whatever Ken had brought with him. To her credit she managed to power through the rest of the afternoon, although her complexion never returned to normal until she had more resemblance to a corpse.

During her conversations with Mrs MacBride I noticed a few poignant details about the haunting. The older woman admitted to having seen something out of the corner of her eye on a few occasions. She described it as a presence, one she could never see clearly but knew was there. This had been similar to my experience the previous day, before the cabinet had fallen on me. She mentioned sometimes thinking it was two people but could never get a clear look at them. This must be the couple I’d seen the night before. The presence she’d felt was still a mystery but could easily be her husband.

Out of nowhere Strother asked if she’d ever heard anything from these presences, and after a few moments of pensive silence, she shook her head, admitting all she heard was the creaks and groans of an old house. The reasoning behind his question became clear when Mrs MacBride went to take a glass of water up to Ken, leaving the three of us alone.

He declared quietly that he thought she was suffering from Charles Bonnet syndrome. Steph acknowledged it was a possibility. What I’ve failed to mention in these statements is that whenever they all talked technical about psychology or neurology, I always had to be the lemon that asked. My PhD helped me develop a relatively thick skin.

Charles Bonnet syndrome is a condition that causes hallucinations. I know there are many other illnesses that cause the same effect such as schizophrenia, or other psychosis, but the difference here is that it’s more ocular than neurological. It usually occurs in people with some form of visual impairment, and the difference is that the hallucinations of Charles Bonne syndrome don’t usually have any sound. This was why Strother had asked Mrs MacBride whether she’d ever heard anything from the presences she’d seen. They both reasoned that it was normal for someone of her age to have some kind of visual complaint, whether it be cataracts or something more serious. The hallucinations are the brain’s way of dealing with the sudden change in vision.

Alzheimers was also bandied about again, but without further tests and a visit to the doctor all they could do was speculate. I felt guilty sitting listening to them speak about such a kind old woman as if she was a walking, talking illness. She wasn’t having hallucinations because I’d seen what she’d seen, and I didn’t have Charles Bonnet syndrome, or Alzheimers.

None of us witnessed anything during the day and the house was relatively quiet. None of the cameras had captured what I’d seen during the previous night. We had one more night in the MacBride house, and I was no closer to having answers, because, like the cameras, I hadn’t seen anything either.

We all went to bed, although Ken hadn’t been out of his, and just like the previous night I was awoken by the sounds of arguing. Grabbing my phone I rushed from the room and again saw the couple at the end of the hall. This time it was clearer, more silent movie era than anything previous. I still couldn’t make out what they were saying to each other, but by their hand gestures and facial expressions it was definitely an argument.

The closer I got to the scene the further I was pulled in until I was surrounded by their world. Everything was coloured like a lens filter, everything a different shade of brown, like Victorian photographs. The entire house was different, the stairs were in a different place, there were less rooms, and the decoration looked outdated, antique.

I could see the couple clearly this time, but the audio was still out of tune, as though I was a few frequencies too far. Their argument became more animated, their voices louder until they were practically screaming at the other. The woman, a small thin person with cropped, sleek hair, stormed down the stairs. The man, obviously dissatisfied he hadn’t had the last word, stormed after her. For a horrible moment I thought I was about to witness a murder but knew I couldn’t find answers if I didn’t follow them. Reluctantly I trudged down the stairs.

The kitchen, which was in a different place to where it was now, was smaller and looked new. All the appliances were ancient but shiny, as if they’d just been unboxed. The argument continued, the woman began to throw things, plates, bowls, anything she could grab quickly. Suddenly, out of things to throw, the woman stalked over to the cooker, a medium sized gas appliance that was no doubt common in many homes of the era and began to turn all the knobs. She didn’t reach for a match, or a pot to use on it, and turned back around to the man with a dangerously determined set to her mouth. He started goading her, as if daring her to do something.

All I could see was their argument, not the poisonous gas that permeated the air around them. The longer it was switched on the more dangerous it became. It happened quite quickly. They were arguing, the man reached into his pocket, pulled out a lighter, and everything was engulfed by an amber light so bright I had to close my eyes. I swear I could feel heat on my face.

Slowly I opened my eyes to darkness, the only light the small LED on the back of my phone illuminating the door to the dining room of Mrs MacBride’s house. It must’ve been where the kitchen used to be. Because the archives hadn’t been digitised, it was difficult to immediately check whether what I saw was my imagination or the truth.

 I was wrong about them being poltergeists, the crystal bowl that had been thrown down the stairs had just been a coincidence, a fatality of their endless loop. There are many types of ghosts, some you can interact with, and others you can’t. The nameless couple were ghosts, but not the same as in my previous stories. It’s like they can’t accept their death, or don’t realise they’re dead, it’s hard to tell. They never interact with the living, and they just play out a specific scene, or set of scenes, from their life in some kind of cruel repetition. Most of the cases I’ve seen just fade with time, nothing but an echo of the past that still lingers. There’s not much you can do. After that explosion there’s no way anything of them would be left to find. They’d disappear with time.

Satisfied there was nothing else, I returned to bed. I woke up the next morning with a hangover, or at least what felt like one. I had a migraine that felt like it was splitting my head open, and I had no appetite. I wasn’t the only one as both Steph and Strother forced themselves to have a cup of coffee in the hopes that Mrs MacBride wouldn’t notice they weren’t touching anything else.

Mrs MacBride herself had begun to look pale but ever the hostess waved it off as old age. All of us were cursing Ken and his wife for taking us all down with whatever virus she’d picked up at her school. I don’t think any of us apart from Ken were sick, but at times it was certainly a close call.

To distract myself I decided to try and search for details about what I’d seen the previous night. To my surprise I found an archive of the local newspaper, one that had been out of print for at least 40 years, but the local historical society had uploaded the backlog. The article detailed a terrible fire that had happened just outside the village in a Bramble cottage. The cause of the fire was reported to be a gas leak somewhere in the house and had killed both the occupants, a married couple. The fire had happened in 1936, and in the article was a small, blurry picture of the ruined house. I recognised the tree that stood beside the house, grown larger in the near 100 years since the picture had been taken. If I wasn’t mistaken the Bramble cottage the couple had blown up was in fact Mrs MacBride’s cottage, rebuilt and given a new name. That would be the reason there was no other information on previous owners.

I started to fit together the pieces of information I’d been given. The occurrences had only started when the MacBride’s had moved in, the family who stayed there previously hadn’t seen anything, even the loop of the arguing couple. Why had their loop started as soon as the MacBride’s had moved in? What was different about the house now that hadn’t been before? What was the significance of that particular scene with the gas? The paper had reported it as a gas leak, and from what I’d witnessed the stove hadn’t been on long enough to cause such damage. Was there a connection somehow?

Sensing something wasn’t right I showed Strother the article, and unlike me he managed to reach a conclusion. He immediately told us all to get out of the house whilst he went to fetch Ken who was still in bed. Before he did, he asked Mrs MacBride if she had a carbon monoxide detector. She nodded, but when she went to test it, it didn’t work.

I don’t think any of us had ever voluntarily left a house in such a hurry. Steph was on the phone to the gas board and the fire brigade almost as soon as she was outside.

The couple’s loop wasn’t a coincidence. There was indeed a gas leak somewhere in the MacBride home. What we were all suffering from wasn’t a virus Ken’s wife had spread, but gas poisoning. The reason none of us had died was because it was a very small leak from an old pipe that appeared to occasionally move. This was what Mrs MacBride had been hearing when she’d referred to the creaks and groans of old houses.

Gas poisoning can cause nausea, hallucinations, and headaches, amongst other things. Mrs MacBride admitted she thought she was just getting older and more likely to catch a cold or virus.

As for the other presence in the house, I can only assume it was Mr MacBride, but I never saw it again after that first day. Perhaps he was trying to warn his wife the same way as the couple but was unable to. I suppose you could call the couple an omen, something that people see when something bad is about to happen. They didn’t do that great a job in my opinion.

Obviously because of the gas leak Strother attributed the presences that Mrs MacBride saw as hallucinations, and once again I was left knowing otherwise. I suppose the moral of this story is always test your carbon monoxide detector, because there may not be a previous occupant who’s blown themselves up.


It was difficult to find a place to start at Inverlewis. It was obvious that they had wrapped legal circles around their employees, forcing their silence, but since Mary had told me about the director taking an interest in the study I decided to start there.

The current director of Inverlewis is a woman called Margaret Donaldson, and she’s been in charge for nearly 20 years. There’s only one picture of her on the website, and it looks to be quite dated. I couldn’t find out much else, other than she managed to work her way to her position and has won many awards and recognitions.

There’s nothing about our study, or her connection to it. If she’s the director of the company you can bet she gave the instruction to fund us. But why? There’s nothing in the research I did to indicate why she’d have such an interest in the paranormal. What does it have to do with her company? What did she have to gain by it?

And what do I do now? She’s practically untouchable, and I don’t think I’ll be able to persuade her to give me answers, even if she did agree to meet me. I’ll need to have a think, but in the meantime I’ll keep digging.

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