Why did I join the study? You’ve probably been thinking that every time you listen to my voice. Sometimes I think the same thing, but then I remember. I joined the study because I’m human.
As a species we all seem to have an obsession with understanding ourselves, of having labels put on us, of that feeling we get when we read something that describes us to a tee. I joined the study because I wanted to understand myself. I’ve been able to see things that others can’t since I can remember. It’s pushed me into a lot of situations I’d rather not be in. No one else in my family has the same ability, and for the first 20 or so years of my life I was completely alone, lacking answers and understanding.
I thought the study could give me the knowledge I craved, that I needed to live the rest of my life seeing ghosts. That was why a part of me always wished to get caught. That was, until I actually did.
I was ignorant when I started working with Strother, Ken, and Steph. I didn’t understand neurology, or even psychology for that matter. I didn’t understand the intricacies of our brains, or the differences between them. I also didn’t think my abilities stemmed from there.
That’s why when Strother suggested we all donate a reading to the study as controls, I agreed. I watched as the nodes were attached to my head, answered the questions that were asked, and completed the tests. Like everyone else in the study, I was given a numeric ID so I couldn’t be identified, but there are other ways to identify anonymised data.
And I thought nothing else of it for the near 3 years of the study. Then Ewan Brodie blew into our lives and set the dominoes falling.
My altercation with the ghostly woman, whom I’d mistaken as a human, had left me in a literal pile on the floor. It was hard to shake, harder than my usual visions of a ghost’s past were. She didn’t show me anything, she only moved past me as though I weren’t there. She didn’t want me to know who she was. She wanted me gone.
I don’t know how much Ewan saw of what happened, but it was enough for him to insist that we were the same. I could’ve admitted it, he wasn’t the first medium I’d showed off to, but there was a lingering reason at the back of my mind that forced me to keep quiet. If the team considered him to be close to genuine, then there was a chance they may give credence to what he told them, about ghosts, or about me. Perhaps it was just an inherent fear of mine since I’d never confessed to anyone aloud what I could see.
My experiences as a child had instilled a sense of dread about sharing my abilities. If my parents couldn’t accept what I saw, then why would the rest of the world? It’d become habit to deny all knowledge of ghosts or anything outside of the mortal realm. Ewan wasn’t convinced by my denial, but strategically backed down.
I dusted myself off and went on my way, none the wiser about the ghost but relatively sure Ewan was genuine. He’d referred to the female ghost as she, which meant he must’ve seen her as clearly as I did. Finally, someone like me, able to see the things in the dark that no one else could.
I was happy, relieved, but there was a twinge of disappointment at the realisation I wasn’t the only person who was special. Believe me, that feeling’s faded with time. It’s all well and good being different, but if you have no one to speak to or share your experiences with, then it’s a very isolated life.
All that was left to do for the study was wait and watch. We’d been given complete access to the building and we’d agreed to take shifts monitoring the equipment. We didn’t always do this, sometimes we left it running and would return in the morning, but in the case of the asylum Strother didn’t want to take any risks. Ewan didn’t stay the night but before he left he asked to speak with me, alone. Irritably I agreed, but knew I’d be grilled on the contents later by the team.
He warned me that no one should go into the asylum alone, as the woman we’d both seen earlier that day was dangerous. He told me he needed some more time to get the full picture, but in the meantime to observe from a distance. I didn’t say anything in reply, keeping my silence. If I didn’t open my mouth, I couldn’t incriminate myself. In what was a strange encounter, he patted me lightly on the shoulder before getting in his car and leaving. The motion was almost pitying, as if he knew something I didn’t, knew something more.
Strother and I took the first shift, and unlike those with Ken there was no dozing off in the wee hours of the morning. We both sat in the van, coffees in hand, scanning the screens and noticing as specks of dust and the occasional bat flew across the camera’s path. As I’d expected, Strother quizzed me about what Ewan had wanted. I told him we’d spoken a few times whilst setting up and he was asking about where to stay locally.
I feel really bad about that lie now. Of all the ones I ever told Strother over the years, that’s the one I remember most clearly. I think it’s because it was the last lie I ever told him.
The next day we had to take readings from all the rooms, like temperature and EMF. Ewan appeared early and began his leisurely walk around the asylum. During my own journey I came across another spirit, one that was less flesh and bone looking than the woman before. It was an older woman, petite with a slender frame. She was biting her nails, even though there was nothing left to bite. She stood in one of the rooms, possibly hers in life, looking down out the window, as if waiting for someone to come and get her. At this point I wasn’t sure if she was a loop, a memory of someone long gone, or a genuine ghost. My doubts were quelled when she turned to look at me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ghost with such a fearful expression. She was almost in tears.
“She’ll get you, she always does”, the woman uttered.
“Who does?” I asked instinctively.
Thankfully, there was no recorder in this room, so I could speak to ghost freely, and I already knew I was in the cameras blind spot at the door. At least, I thought I was.
The ghostly woman raised an unsteady hand, lethargically, as if it took a lot of effort to do so and pointed it straight at me. My heart gave a jolt before I realised she wasn’t pointing at me, but through me. I whirled around and looked in that direction, straight out of the hallway window, through the gaps in the trees and across the courtyard to the opposite side.
I saw Strother standing in the room, reading a gauge he had grasped in his hand, and at the window lurked the woman I’d seen the day before. The same murderous gaze froze her features. Ewan’s warning came to me then, his warning about not being alone in the building. There was nothing benign about that ghost, and I feared the thing Ewan had known but I hadn’t was that the ghost was capable of harming the living.
I practically sprinted to the room where Strother was, but it was like running in a dream, my legs just wouldn’t move fast enough. As I rounded the corner of the hallway the room was on, I saw Ewan had arrived first and was lingering outside, staring inside. I rushed to his side and we both looked in at Strother.
That’s when I heard it, the crackling of the audio recorder in his hands, muffled voices through the static. There was nothing clear or distinct, but it sounded different to the other times we’d used it. Ewan and I stared at the ghost of the woman who lurked like death at the window. The light that streamed in didn’t illuminate her shadowy presence.
Strother asked the room who was there. She answered:
“Shouldn’t you introduce yourself first?”
I’d never seen Strother so shocked. His entire body froze, every muscle coiled tightly in preparation to flee. He glanced down to the recorder in his hands, eyebrows furrowing as if he’d imagined it. I think he was too startled to say anything else, and thankfully before he could, the woman set her eyes on Ewan and I at the door. She moved faster than anything I’d ever seen in our direction. Before my reflexes could kick in, I felt someone grab my arm and yank me out of the way.
Ewan remained steadfast, holding his ground. I saw the woman emerge from the room, going straight for him. I gulped in air, about to shout a warning, when before she could connect with him she dissipated like dust blown from a surface. Any words I wished to say died in my throat.
Then I felt the presence at my side, the one who’d saved me from another cold experience. It was another woman, a third one, who looked as average as they come, someone you’d walk past in the street. She was dressed like a nurse, her hair tied back in a bun, comfortable shoes on her feet. It was only when I saw her that I realised the malignant woman was wearing the same thing.
“You should leave”, she urged.
Then she let out an almighty scream. One moment she was next to me, pleading with me, and then she was being dragged away down the hall, legs flailing and hands desperately clawing at whatever had captured her. I began to shiver, and I knew it wasn’t due to the cold.
Strother acted as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn’t communicated with a spirit for the first time. I can’t tell you what was going through his mind, but it certainly never got in his way.
I was becoming more tempted to speak to Ewan but knew that there were few places where we wouldn’t be recorded. Why had the ghost not gone through him like it had shot through me? Was he like me, or was he better?
I tried to get on as normal, but there was nothing normal about this case. Everything was quiet for a few hours after our encounter, but when I noticed the woman with the bitten nails again I sensed I was in for some answers.
As I stepped into her room everything shifted and time rewound. The plaster and splinters of wood disappeared from the floor, the windows repaired themselves, and the room became what it once was. A single bed was in the corner, there were blinds over the window, a small desk with modest piles of books and paper. I watched as the ghost sat on her mattress with knees held close to her chest. Feverishly she kept glancing at the door, specifically the gap underneath it, as if waiting for someone’s feet to appear.
She viciously attacked her nails and I could see the blood red scabs from where they used to be. Keys rattled inside the lock, clicking until it opened with a muted thud. As the door swung open the malignant woman who’d spoken with Strother entered. She looked more human, more normal. She had on a nurse’s outfit, her hair neatly tied back, and she looked friendly enough when she came in. But as soon as the door closed behind her something shifted in her expression.
As she glanced towards the dinner plate left on the desk, a few peas still sitting on top, she lunged for the patient, grabbed a fistful of her hair, and dragged her over to the desk. I could barely watch as she pried open the woman’s mouth and force fed her the remaining scraps of food. Her victim’s sobbing did nothing to placate her viciousness.
Before I could look away entirely, the scene shifted again. We were in a different room, a consultation room with a desk in front of the window, two chairs, and a bed that could be covered with a curtain. On one of the chairs was the kindly nurse who’d saved me earlier, and on the opposite was the patient who’d just been force fed.
Their conversation was intense and I only caught snippets of it. The nurse was urging the patient to do something, to report something, and immediately I knew who she was talking about. From what I understood, the venomous nurse was abusing the patients under her care, and her colleague was trying to stop her by getting the patients to testify and give evidence. The nail-biting patient was understandably reluctant to say a word against her tormenter, even with the reassurances of the nurse.
The door slamming open interrupted their conversation and the abuser stormed in angrily. Her ire was directed towards her colleague and the two began a heated argument. The patient jumped from her chair and took refuge in the corner of the room, hiding like a frightened bairn.
After a few moments, although it could’ve been longer, the kind nurse shrugged her shoulders, a determined tone in her voice, and stated there was no way out for her colleague. She’d be fired and would never get another job as a nurse.
She turned to leave, as if going to report what she knew immediately, and I remember thinking, in the faintest voice, don’t turn your back on her.
In desperation, still fuelled by rage, the abusive nurse swiped a pen from her pocket and drove it straight into her colleagues’ neck. Being a nurse she knew exactly where to aim, and blood began to gush from the wound like a river. It wasn’t long before she crumpled to her knees and collapsed on the floor, slowly bleeding to death. Her killer stood there, not rushing to help, or calling someone else, she simply stepped over the body and firmly shut the door.
I only caught glimpses of the next few scenes. Of mopping up the blood, of forcing the patient to help drag the body from the room, until it was gone, and I was left alone and cold in the patient’s room.
I was at a loss on what to do next. I’d never had a case where both the victim and perpetrator were dead. Why were they both lingering in the asylum? What could I do to release them?
I began where I always did. A quick online search. Thankfully, I managed to find a small website dedicated to the hospital’s history, one I’d seen before. It held some patient and staff files, along with any pictures that’d been taken. I found both nurses in the same photograph, taken in the 50s. The murdered nurse was called Hazel Stevenson, and her killer Eve Buchanan. After searching for both I found a small newspaper article detailing the disappearance of Hazel – her body was never recovered, and no charges ever brought. As for Eve, despite her desperate attempt to hide her crimes, she was terminated from the asylum and charged for brutality and negligence. She hung herself in prison and was buried not far from the asylum, in the small village where she’d grown up.
I had no idea what to do with this information and just when I was about to give up all hope and pretend it had nothing to do with me, I got an email from Ewan Brodie’s account. It contained the address of where Eve Buchanan was buried.
When I was supposed to be sleeping, before my shift started at the asylum that evening, I got a taxi to the graveyard where Eve’s remains were interred. Waiting for me at the graveside was Ewan. He plastered a triumphant smirk on his face, as if he’d won our game of cat and mouse.
“I knew you were like me”, he stated arrogantly.
He asked my why I’d been so adamant to hide it, and I answered that I was afraid he’d tell the rest of the team. He then inquired why someone like me was a part of a study like that. It was a question I’d asked myself on a near weekly basis for 2 and half years. But by this point, I knew why. So I could better understand myself, what I was, why I could see things other couldn’t. Ewan smiled at me, in his irritating, gloating way, and said he could tell me everything I needed to know.
Ewan and I are really good friends now, and I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for him. He told me that to release the spirit of the murdering nurse a piece of her victim had to be placed on her grave. It turns out that Eve Buchanan wasn’t a ghost, in the traditional sense of the word, like everything else I’d seen, but a wraith. These are dark shadows, wrathful shells that linger in a place of chaos and misery. The way they could be dissipated was if the remains of a righteous person wrongfully killed was buried in the same soil. Because Eve had murdered Hazel, who’d been trying to do the right thing, she’d created her wraith’s own demise.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black handkerchief. Inside was a finger bone. Unlike me, he’d managed to find where Hazel Stevenson had been dumped after her murder and had taken some of her remains for the purposes of getting rid of the wraith. And just like that, by placing a small piece of bone under the surface of the grave, Ewan had solved the asylum’s problems.
As a parting gift he gave me a silver bracelet, encrusted with moonstones. The stones were pearlescent and managed to glimmer even in the gloom. When I glanced back at him, he shook his wrist at me, revealing a black corded bracelet that also contained moonstones. It turns out these crystals have a kind of ghost repellent property. It makes spirits unable to pass through you, or harm you in any way. He advised me to wear it all the time, and I haven’t taken it off since.
When we all returned the next morning to pack away the equipment, the police arrived after Ewan called them. He showed them to where Hazel’s bones were, what was left of them, and they opened an investigation that they had no hope of ever solving. As we were packing up the equipment, Strother managed to capture Ewan and requested he do a reading for the study. After a quick glance at me, he shrugged and agreed. He’s never told me why, not really. His favourite reason is that he wanted to see the shock on Strother’s face first hand when he realised mediums existed, but I think he agreed for the same reason I did. To understand ourselves, because Ewan may know a lot, but he doesn’t know why we are the way we are.
And I thought nothing else of it. Ewan came in, did the tests, gave us the readings, and then left. Two weeks later, I was working late trying to finish some writing on my thesis, when Strother came and called me into his private office. I followed him and he shut the door behind me quietly, walking around to his desk. The computer was on, there were a few files littered here and there. I hadn’t failed to notice Strother’s tense expression, the stiffness with which he moved, or the rigid set to his jaw.
He asked me if there was anything I’d like to tell him. I didn’t understand what he meant and told him so. He swivelled the computer screen around to face me and played the footage it’d managed to capture at the asylum. The first was my brief encounter with Eve Buchanan when she’d passed right through me. From the audio you can hear me talk to her. Every encounter I’d had with the ghosts in that place was shown to me on that screen, all with high quality audio.
Strother then showed me two EEG graphs. They looked very similar to one another, almost as if they were from the same person. He then displayed a third, which looked very different. My heart was in my stomach, and I knew then, really knew, that the game was up.
He told me the two similar EEGs were from myself and Ewan. The third was from Strother himself. Both Ewan and I’s results were significantly more than chance. Our results proved that mediums were real, and the footage he had for the asylum proved that ghosts were real.
Looking back on it he didn’t seem angry. Even though we’d been searching for nearly 3 years for proof of the paranormal it didn’t annoy him that I’d kept the way to do that from him all along. But he wasn’t happy either. It was like he was sad that he’d found it, and at the time I put it down to him having to admit that he was wrong in his scepticism, but now I’m not so sure.
He told me he’d have to report it, and at those words every cell in my body began to panic. I told him he couldn’t, and that if he could find out which results were mine, despite the anonymisation, then so could everyone else. It would ruin my life, I’d be reduced to a circus show. I was desperate to retain normality, as much as I had anyway. A part of me may have wanted to get caught all those years, but the better part of me knew the consequences if I did. It was only the fakes who advertised themselves, they liked the attention, whether negative or not. But I’d never craved that, or I’d be a working medium. And if Strother reported these results then that choice would be taken away from me.
I could tell Strother was conflicted. He’d found the proof he’d been looking for, if he published the results his career would be made, on the back of my destruction. Strother had a monumental decision to make. He could sacrifice me for his own gain, or he could hide the results, compromise his scientific integrity and future career.
My logic kicked in then as I watched his face contort painfully. The general rule in studies where participants are recruited is that anyone can withdraw themselves at any time, which means their data can’t be used for reporting. All I had to do was withdraw from the study and I’d be safe. And that’s exactly what I blurted.
Silence settled as neither one of us knew what to do. Then, after a few seconds, Strother went to one of his filing cabinets and pulled out a withdrawal form. I’ve never signed something so quickly. And I thought I was safe, but nothing would ever go back to normal.
Strother was away for 2 weeks after that, visiting another university amongst other things, but when he returned I was summoned into his office once more. He explained that I couldn’t finish my PhD. He’d tell the university I withdrew, but I wasn’t to come to work again. Any connection I had with the study, or any of its outputs, was over. All of this was effective immediately. I was too shocked to ask why, although the reason might be obvious. Maybe he was angry with me for lying all those years, or perhaps it was my withdrawal from the study forcing him into a corner and ruining 3 years of work.
When Ken saw me packing up my things he went to try and interfere but returned with heavy shoulders and a guilt-ridden apology. I left and tumbled into a pit of self-loathing and depression.
A few weeks later the news hit the headlines. Journal articles with the teams’ names on them filled the pages of newspapers and blogs, ones I’d never seen and were certainly never submitted by any of us. Pictures of all three of them were on every gossip column, in every newsletter, and on every social media site. They were frauds who’d tried to trick the world into believing that ghosts were real. Did I ever connect what had happened between Strother and I with these events? Not really. Why would our confrontation have anything to do with what happened? I didn’t ruin his career, it takes a lot of pull to orchestrate something like that, influence which I certainly didn’t have.
Do I believe there’s a connection now? I’m beginning to. I don’t like coincidences. I don’t like the fact that a few weeks after I told Strother that ghosts were real and I could see them, everything went up in flames. Maybe I’m being self-absorbed. The world doesn’t revolve around me, and perhaps the events surrounding the destruction of his career doesn’t either. It’s hard to tell without knowing all the facts. And I suppose I’ll never know because he’s gone.
*Clattering, papers shuffling and then spacebar.*
Someone’s broken in. I just got home and the door’s been kicked in. Everything’s everywhere. And you know what’s missing? Nothing. The TV, the laptop, the expensive jewellery, even the cash is all still there.
Everything’s a mess, and if you’d taken something of value I may have thought this was a genuine burglary. *laughs manically* You must think I button up the back. If you’d listened to just one of these statements you’d know how I feel about coincidence. Alice Strother’s home gets broken into less than a week before mine does? Her basement, the place where she keeps all her brothers’ things is turned inside out, and you think I wouldn’t find that even slightly suspicious?
I noticed the people you’ve sent to spy on me, to follow me, and no doubt to intimidate me. I connected the dots, and I know exactly what you want. Did you think I’d be stupid enough to leave the files and laptops lying around where your dogs could find them? We’re both adults, so why don’t we have a conversation? I look forward to meeting you, whoever you are.