**Content warning: strong language.
I’ve come to a case in Strother’s files that took me a minute to remember. It’s strange to read someone else’s perspective of the same set of events, especially because they’re so different. My memories, which have eroded in places with time, differ with the accounts I’m reading, for obvious reasons. Even so, I forget some details, things not ghost related. Yet because Strother is writing them in real time, as they’re happening or just happened, his account is the truest one there is when it comes to the small details, about people’s names, about dates, places, directions, and history.
I was afraid it’d be like reading someone’s diary, an uncomfortably close look into their mind that you feel you have no right to. But Strother was a consummate professional and academic, there’s very little if any emotion in these reports. It allows me to distance myself, or at least try my hardest to.
I have a fear whenever I pick these up that somewhere in the lines there’s going to be an observation about me. He must’ve grown suspicious of me somewhere down the line, but did he ever write it down? What was the exact event that made him begin to mistrust me? Every line I read I think I’m going to find it, and I haven’t yet. I don’t know why I’m so desperate to know, it’s not like I can go back and change anything. I suppose that’s the hardest part of this whole thing. All these events, these observations of his, are in the past, a place where they’re safe. Some days, waking up on the floor, or on an uncomfortable mattress, I long to go back there, to the simpler time.
Right, no more wallowing. Let me tell you about this case, I think you’ll enjoy it. As you know we received a steady stream of requests from all kinds of people about all kinds of places. As time went on Strother was more inclined to let us decide which ones we should investigate, although I don’t remember ever choosing one myself – I was only a student after all.
It was Ken who spotted this one in our growing inbox. The emails we received varied in believability, even from my perspective, and when you have a few hundred unread emails in your inbox you tend to just let them jump from page to page in the hopes they’ll eventually go away. It took something a bit more than cold spots and objects moving to pique our attention.
There was an exception to this rule. Infamy. Some of us love a good haunted house, and the organisations who run stately homes are part of this group. The more haunted a house is reported to be, the more PR you can spin around it and the more visitors you can attract.
Obviously, it sounds better for the PR leaflets if the house has been investigated by ghost hunters, even better if those ghost hunters are academic researchers with stellar careers. This wasn’t the first time we’d had a request from a historic building, but when they realised that they couldn’t invite television crews in at the same time the requests just faded away.
Ken was very eager about this one, and I admit I’d not heard of it. Inchinnan House was a neo-classical mansion perched somewhere along the River Forth on the east coast of Scotland. Built in the late 17th century to a wealthy mine owner, it boasted numerous priceless art pieces, antique furniture, vast grounds with varied wildlife, and about 50 or so ghosts.
I wish I was exaggerating but if you pooled all the accounts together the number totalled 50. It’s not as surprising as it sounds, especially in a house that’s over 300 years old. The accounts I saw all varied, with some being typical like a white lady, a grey lady, bairns, a creepy man or two – all staples of historic haunted houses. Nothing stood out to me, nothing that would divide it from the rest. We all knew the only reason Ken wanted to go was to see if any stories were true, but the one he spun to us was that due to its age it was surely the most likely to have some measurable activity?
I loved that about Ken. He was always transparent, even when he was lying. If you hadn’t already noticed I got on with Ken the best of the three. I’d known him longer, and he was always more amiable and open. Strother was busy, closed off, and Steph just never took a liking to me, which happens. I’ll always be grateful to him for being in my corner, even on the day I was dismissed. If you are listening, somewhere, somehow, I wanted you to know that.
I didn’t think anyone would agree to it, but I never stopped being surprised at which places the team wanted to investigate. Thankfully, the team who ran the house agreed there’d be no TV crew there to film, so we’d have the place to ourselves. We weren’t the first ones to investigate the hauntings, as we later found out. A few professional mediums had visited and reported their findings, which of course there were. Some even introduced new ghosts and gave names to the ones already reported.
The staff who worked at the house also had their five minutes of fame with their personal sightings and experiences detailed in every blog and ghostly publication the house agreed to do. There was no lack of witness accounts about the house and its dead inhabitants.
Due to the size of the building, and the many accounts, we were there for 3 days. We didn’t have enough equipment to cover the entire house at once, so we sectioned it into 3 and investigated one each day we were there.
It was tricky to set up because there were numerous antiques and pieces of history in each room that we weren’t allowed to touch. Giant paintings of nobles gone by, landscapes by famous historical artists, and 200-year-old tables and cabinets were some obstacles we had to manoeuvre around. Eventually, we had everything to Strother’s liking and the waiting game began.
I never saw anything concrete during the first day. The setting up was my opportunity to get a feel for the place, to be in many rooms before the cameras began recording and things became tricky. It was colder in some rooms than others, but nowhere was particularly warm with high ceilings and single glazed windows. Whenever I thought I’d’ heard something it’d always turn out to be a creaking floorboard in another room where someone else was setting things up. Everything made a noise, the doors whined as they were opened and there wasn’t a piece of flooring you could step on without hearing it groan and squeak as though it were being murdered.
Disappointed, but not disheartened, we took our regular watches during the night. Thankfully, there was a small lodge in the grounds that the trust rented out to guests for holidays and that’s where we’d sleep. Ken and I were placed in the same watch, which obviously meant I was watching by myself whilst he slept. His snoozing was something we never discussed at any point in the three years of the study. I’m not convinced he even realised he was doing it.
Hyped up on coffee we both sat in the small staff room we used as a base staring at the screens, monitoring the temperature and the remote sensors of the motion detectors. I had earphones on attached to the audio recorders but all I heard was white noise, the creaks and groans of an old house, and a few pigeons. It was hard to keep track of every camera as there were so many in different rooms. In a way we’d spread ourselves too thin, so there were more than a few blind spots for the cameras.
At about 3am something caught my eye in one of the marvellous drawing rooms. It was difficult to make out, but to my eyes it looked like someone walking from the fireplace to one of the doors, which led into another equally impressive space. It never looked at the camera, and there wasn’t really anything distinct about it, as though it were wearing some kind of cloak or mantle. I couldn’t even tell if it was a woman or man.
I checked if Ken was asleep enough for me to sneak out and then left to go and investigate. It was a lot harder than I anticipated, and a lot darker. There in the countryside dark wasn’t the dark of the city, it was pitch black, there was no light pollution and so everything was just gloom. The only lights I could see were the flashing red and green from the equipment. I almost gave up and returned to the base because I thought there was no way I’d get through all these rooms without being caught on something.
I barely managed it, but if I hadn’t I could always make up an excuse, it’s not like I wasn’t good at it by this point. When I got to the drawing room I obviously couldn’t see anything. The figure I’d noticed had been on the night vision camera, so obviously it was more visible. To the naked eye, everything was black. I could barely trace the outline of the some of the furniture, and the reflection of the equipment’s flashing lights in the gold framed mirror, but that was it.
Slowly realising it’d been a stupid idea, I returned to the base and Ken, knowing that my previous freedoms of buildings at night time was barred to me in this case. I couldn’t use a torch because the light would be caught on the cameras and motion sensors. I was relegated to the base and hoping that whatever I saw on the screens would be nice enough to come out during the day.
Strother and Steph returned in the morning to relieve us of our watch, but none of us saw anything during the night and early morning. After some sleep and breakfast, we moved all the equipment to the next part of the house. Set up was quicker this time because all the equipment had been calibrated the day before, it was just a matter of altering their positions.
It was in the same drawing room that had caught my attention the night before that I saw the figure again, almost out of the corner of my eye. By the time I’d turned my head to look fully at it, all I glimpsed was tendrils of shadow disappearing out of the door. Quickly, but not too much, I hurried after it, cringing as the floorboards protested my haste.
By the time I caught up to it, entering a smaller room that looked more personal living room than the grandeur of before, I again only caught the few tendrils as they disappeared out of yet another door. I don’t know if you’ve ever visited a neo-classical mansion. There are very few corridors, one room leads to another, and leads to another. You just move from one to the next with fluidity reserved for the very wealthy. That’s why it was so easy to just keep following, like a bairn after a renegade balloon.
I was so determined to catch up, to observe some concrete detail that I didn’t realise how many rooms I’d passed. It was only when I rushed into the room where Strother was connecting some equipment that I realised what I’d done.
As anyone would do, he assumed I was there to speak to him and I think I made up some random question to make it seem as though I hadn’t just been following what was barely a ghost. As he was answering I took the opportunity to observe, to see if the ghost had allowed me to catch up, but there was nothing there.
You may find my doggedness strange, and to be fair I do too. I never stopped to think it might be strange that a ghost, beings that usually need help, would run away from one of the only people who could help it. I was determined to do just that, even if the ghost wasn’t having it.
For the entire day that we set up and monitored the equipment, I would catch occasional glimpses of the shadow. Always in a drawing room of sorts, although not the same one. I began to feel like it was taunting me in some way. Never lingering long enough for me to get a proper look, to take a wild guess who it’d be. Perhaps it didn’t want my help, perhaps it liked remaining in the house and didn’t have any sinister unfinished business.
When I read the temperature readings from the night before I noticed that the drawing room where I’d first seen it was consistently colder than the rest of the house. What was strange was that the night vision cameras had caught what I’d seen. This was the first time it’d ever happened, and I was as puzzled as the rest of the team were.
Strother gathered us all round to show us and didn’t seem to be annoyed that Ken and I hadn’t bothered to mention it. There were a lot of cameras to keep track of, and the sighting could only have been one or two seconds long, therefore easily missed. The rest of the team, unsurprisingly, were unconvinced by the evidence. Night vision, although good, isn’t perfect, and our equipment, although top of the range, wasn’t impervious to malfunction.
We all began to brainstorm normal explanations. A trick of the darkness, a glitch in the camera, some reflected light from a car or a house in the distance. Anything but the truth. It was an apparition of some kind, and yet as soon as we had proof the team were trying to disprove it. It irritated me that we’d been trying to find something like this for so long, that when it did land in our laps they were all sceptical.
What more did they want? We had cold spots, and now footage of a ghost. I’ll admit, it wasn’t as clear as it could’ve been, but it was a ghost. It was frustrating not being able to just tell them. My word didn’t mean anything, because they didn’t know I’d been seeing them for years.
I was convinced that if it’d been caught on camera once, there was a good chance it’d be caught again. One piece of footage could be argued with, but I’d dare even the strongest sceptic to argue with multiple.
I continued doggedly on for the next 2 days. Following tendrils of smoke from one room to the next, one wing of the house to the other. I never caught up, I never saw what it was, who it was. The cameras never caught it again. My determination quickly turned to despondency. Perhaps this was just one ghost who didn’t need me.
On the final day as we were about to pack up all the equipment, there was a strange noise coming from one of the rooms. It was distant at first, then it got louder and louder until there was a giant thunk that permeated every adjoining room. We all ran to the source and saw that a few bird’s nests, and a dead squirrel or two, had tumbled from one of the large chimneys into the grand fireplace of the drawing room. There was soot and dust and a thin layer of smoke everywhere. Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw the tendrils again.
I gingerly followed them, from one room to the other, and they never became anything else, only smoke. That’s the thing about old mansions, they’re draughty and if there’s smoke in one room, it’s quite an easy journey next door. When I returned to the room with the debris a staff member was there beginning to clean up. She said it was quite common to have birds roosting in the fireplaces as they hadn’t been blocked up. On particularly windy days, or after some bad weather, they sometimes came down the chimney and brought layers of dirt and old soot with them, creating a mess. The way the daylight entered the room through the large windows you could see the wisps of smog and soot curling in the air. If the light caught them just right, they looked opaque, solid enough to be ghost tendrils.
Take from this what you will. We had footage of something, whether it was just debris from the chimney, or a spirit, is up for discussion. But I never saw anything else in the entire 3 days we were there. If I hadn’t been so blinded, I may have stopped to think that it was suspicious this was the only ghost that had been caught on camera.
I’ve included this story for two reasons. One is to prove I wasn’t always right, and there isn’t always a ghost in every historic house. The second is the importance of remaining unbiased when faced with a reportedly supernatural event. I whinge about Strother’s arrogance, his stubbornness when it came to refuting the existence of ghosts, yet I was just as bad when it came to proving they were real. Whether I was aware or not, over the time I’d been on the study, regularly being proven right, it’d altered my perception until I assumed I was always right, and there was always a ghost to be helped. We all need lessons like this one, we all need to make mistakes to keep us on the right path, even though at the time it may seem as though it’s done the opposite.
I was more cautious when it came to believing everything I thought I saw after this case, but there were still a few times I thought there was a spirit and there wasn’t. No one’s perfect, after all.
You’re not going to believe this, I’m certainly having trouble and that’s saying a lot. I received a phone call yesterday from a number I didn’t recognise. Not being completely brain dead, I didn’t answer but the caller left a voicemail.
Margaret. Fucking. Donaldson.
It sounded like her, the same harsh Weegie tones she uses during her interviews on the radio. She denied the accusation I and my anonymous source laid at her feet about her being a serial killer, denied she had anything to do with the break in at my or Strother’s house. All she wanted, she said, was the files on the study, for which she would be willing to pay a substantial sum, in the region of six figures.
I firmly believe Margaret Donaldson is guilty of all the crimes I’ve levelled at her, and since I don’t button up the back it was definitely her, or someone under her employment, who broke into my house. The only reason this offer is being extended after all this time is because she can’t find me.
Well, Marge, because I know you’re listening, you can go and fuck yourself. I don’t need or want your blood-soaked money. I’m going to ensure you pay for the lives you’ve taken and the ones you’ve destroyed. You better enjoy your last months of freedom because by the time I’m finished with you, all you’ll be seeing for the rest of your life is the inside of a prison cell.