Episode 24 – Serial ghosts

I’ve finally come to this case. I knew it was getting close. This is probably the case that frightened me the most. I even occasionally have a nightmare about it.

As I’ve said before, our inbox was full of requests for us to investigate supernatural phenomena, whether it be houses, historic buildings, or even people. We didn’t have the time to get through them all, and over the 2 and a half years of the study I watched as that inbox grew unmanageable. It was a bit like a supermarket aisle, there’s so much choice you don’t know what to choose.

Steph was the one who picked this one out of the mountain. It was a house museum in Edinburgh. Bought by the National Trust and decorated to look as it did in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was terraced, in a circle around a private garden area. There was even still cobblestones on the road outside. The email was from the manager of the property asking us to investigate a series of hauntings that staff and visitors alike had experienced.

As you can probably guess from these statements, as the study went on Strother was less picky about places we investigated. Either that or he grew to respect our opinions. At the weekend we all travelled to Edinburgh and made our way through the parallel streets to the museum. Even as we approached the grand façade we started to realise something was wrong, and I don’t mean ghost wrong.

Parked on the street outside was a small van with a relatively well-known tele (TV) channel’s logo on the side. A few people were unloading recording equipment from the back and traipsing it into the museum. After a brief conversation amongst ourselves to check if they’d emailed us about filming in the museum we approached one of the people removing stuff from the van.

He confirmed they were indeed booked to film an episode of Ghost Hunters, or Ghost Finders, I can’t remember what it was called now, some sketchy production. The atmosphere was getting chilly, and it was at this point that the museum manager spotted us. Strother went to speak with her by himself, and from where I stood it looked like a tense conversation. I thought he might’ve not so politely be telling her where to go, or refusing to investigate anymore.

To my surprise he returned and informed us that we would still investigate the house since we’d made the journey, but we weren’t giving permission to be filmed. We all nodded, taken aback that we weren’t on our way to the train station, and followed him inside with our own equipment.

One of the producers didn’t seem to like that we hadn’t given our permission for them to film us, or was irritated that they didn’t have the whole place to themselves. I only overheard mumbled conversations so I didn’t know.

I don’t think that the house museum had ever been so well-recorded. There must’ve been at least 2 cameras in every room we were allowed in, and lord knows how many audio recorders. The filming crew were nice enough people, just ordinary folk trying to make a living. The chilly atmosphere pervaded, and one of the other producers of the show did come into our base before they started filming to try and persuade us to change our minds. I think Strother summed it up best when he told her to piss off.

As I’d been setting up equipment, between short conversations with the crew, I never saw anything, but as you know by now things can go either way from there. I don’t really know what I was expecting. The last historic house we’d visited I’d been touched by bias in what I thought I saw, so this time I was a lot more discerning.

As we worked our way to the top floor, where the nursery was, I continued to see nothing out of the ordinary, and slowly began to relax. Setting up the last camera and motion sensor I made my way out of the nursery on the top floor and began to descend the stairs. I hadn’t been out of the door five seconds before I saw a spirit, as clear as day, as if they were alive. I almost said hi, thinking it was one of the crew.

This spirit isn’t what you’re probably thinking, this wasn’t some ghost of the past dressed in silks wearing glittering jewellery, this was someone from the present, or at least the near present. It was a woman, wearing jeans and a leather jacket, her hair piled on top of her head in a bun so dishevelled it was defying gravity by staying there. I slowed my pace as I approached the stairs, observing her for clues as to who she was, when she was from, and why she was here.

Unlike many ghosts I’ve encountered she didn’t acknowledge me, didn’t even look at me as I passed her. She was staring down the stairs to the floor beneath, as though there was something there causing her distress. When I began to walk down, I saw another ghost. A bit more dated in clothing and appearance, but still 21st century looking. This time it was a man, perhaps in his thirties dressed in a grey tracksuit. He too was looking down the next flight of stairs. As I approached him he didn’t move, as though he were a statue that only I could see. Like the woman near the nursery, he didn’t acknowledge me as I scrutinised him on my way past. He had the same strange look on his face that she did, a mixture between fear and despair. Taking the next small flight of stairs put me in the path of yet another ghost, another woman, a bit younger than the first, dressed smartly in pencil skirt and blouse. Staring in the same direction as the others.

I began to get that tingling at the back of my head I do when something isn’t right. Slowly I edged my way over to the polished bannister and looked down the remaining flights of stairs until the tiled reception hall on the ground floor. On every set of stairs from where I was there was a ghost, like a line of toy soldiers, set up to stare in the same direction.

I’d never encountered so many ghosts in the same place in my entire life, especially none who had no apparent connection to the building they were in. What were they all staring at? Did I really want to know? I moved past each one of them in turn, hoping at least one would be identifiable, but they were all strangers, with no connection to the building or each other that I could discern in a glance. It was like they were victims of a disaster or an attack of some kind, but nothing like that had happened in the museum.

By the time I returned to the base on the ground floor I was beyond unsettled, and had this horrible dread lodged in my stomach. This wasn’t normal, and I couldn’t even come up with a plausible theory as to why they were all here.

All I could do was go through the motions of our routine and try to distract myself with the curiosity of if they’d show up on any of the cameras. It was strange to see everyone else just walk past them as if they weren’t there. The crew running up and down the stairs, running between rooms like bees trying to make honey. The commotion grew as soon as the cast of the show turned up. Suitably unqualified people trying to make a career for themselves, inviting “professional” mediums on as guests.

I used to watch those shows as a bairn, feeling an odd kind of affinity with the mediums on it. No one else in my life saw the things I did, but watching people on the TV who did, or at least pretended to, gave me a distant kind of comfort. Until I got older and realised they couldn’t see anything at all. Watching how they film those programmes, and how many takes they do of a specific “encounter” really removes any of the magic they bring to the telly (TV).

The ghosts remained throughout, not being caught on our cameras and by the absence of reaction from the crew, not on theirs either. I also overlooked the fact that it was impossible for me to try and communicate with any of them now because every inch of that house was being recorded. The wording of our refusal to the crew may have been misleading. There was no way they wouldn’t get some footage of us, they just weren’t allowed to broadcast it. It wasn’t like we signed anything, and if some desperado in the editing room caught me talking to thin air after their guest medium claimed there was a presence, my life would’ve been over.

I was pretty stuck. All I could do was observe from a distance, try and fathom where they were all looking. They wouldn’t stay in the same place, they’d move around, blip from one floor to another, one room to the next, but it was all so chaotic and there were so many of them it was hard to discern if there was a pattern to their movements.

Our investigation was going no better. Staff members and crew were walking all over the place, into each and every room, so all our equipment was constantly going off. We ended up just watching them record the show because whatever room the cast was in was usually the quietest. There was never a ghost where they were.

This continued into the night. There’d be breaks in filming for them to re-set things, and then they’d just carry on. The premise of the show was that the cast was meant to spend the night to see if they could capture any activity, which meant that our night was about to go as well as our day had. Strother would also only let one of us return to the hotel at a time, rather than a two-man shift as usual, because things were so busy he wanted at least 3 of us in the house at all times. Ken was the first to go, leaving Strother, Steph and I to sit and watch.

Occasionally one of us would have to get up to reformat some of our equipment, but even by my standards it was dull. The ghosts continued to move around of their own free will, and I began to get a headache trying to figure out what they were staring at.

At about 2 am, Steph had switched with Ken, Strother said he noticed something on one of the cameras, but the focus was off. Ken offered to go and fix the problem. He walked up the stairs and opened the door to the room. It used to be a living room or parlour of some kind, with elegant tables and writing desks in strategic places so they’d catch the light. I observed what Strother had. In the corner, just behind one of these writing cabinets, was a blurry lump, as though it was some extra equipment, or a large speaker of some kind. I couldn’t see clearly either.

Ken fumbled his way, with his wee torch, to the camera and began fiddling with it until his face became blurry and the background came into focus. I inhaled through my teeth before covering my mouth to stop the whimper gathering there from being released.

The lump in the corner wasn’t equipment, or a speaker, but someone’s body propped against the wall to look as though they were sitting down. I still remember their glassy eyes somehow pointed straight at our camera lens. Bones are one thing, its easy to create a distance because it doesn’t look like a person, but a body still warm from where the life has just left, it shook me to my core.

Strother cursed under his breath and pulled out his phone. First, he phoned Ken and told him to leave the room, the next call was to the police.

Once again there was a flurry of activity. Blue lights reflected from the large gold framed mirrors in every room of the museum, casting a severe glow on the pastel wallpaper with vines and song birds. Police officers flooded the house like the ghosts had, and to me it quickly became overcrowded. There was a sea of people in every hallway and most rooms, the living and the dead congregated together.

We were told to stay in the base and not come out. No one was allowed to leave the museum and it was obvious that the police thought the culprit was still in the house. We’d be given updates from time to time. Steph phoned us from outside saying they wouldn’t let her in. Strother and I tried to get some sleep on the floor whilst Ken kept watch, but I don’t think either of us could close our eyes without seeing the body.

The ghosts in the house still remained, but this time they were all congregated on one floor. On my trips to the bathroom, always accompanied by an officer, I heard snippets of conversation from detectives and other officials on the scene. They began to mention the penny murderer. This name kept coming up so when I got back to the base I decided to look it up.

You might be more informed on this than I was, but the penny murderer was the name the press gave to a serial killer who was believed to have killed about twenty people over a span of a decade or so. He was given this name because at every crime scene, usually on the victim somewhere, he left a rare penny. Over the years detectives and crime enthusiasts had theorised what this token meant. Some pegged it as the stereotypical serial killer’s signature, a part of his ritual, whilst others thought it was like a weregild* or price that people used to pay to the victim or victim’s family when they’d committed a crime. Obviously, the penny murderer thought his victim’s lives were worth a penny, or a bit more than a penny since they were always rare kinds. By rare I mean special editions with commemorative prints on them like a jubilee or anniversary or an important Scottish or British event.

The police were obviously beginning to think that the victim had been put there by the penny murderer. They also obviously thought they were one of us or the film crew. I decided not to share this information with Strother or Ken. If it made me this afraid then the least I could do was spare them the same. We were relatively safe in the base with only police officers permitted to see us and question us. I knew none of us were the penny murderer.

Knowledge is a weapon, a useful one, but it can also be a curse. I should’ve stopped at the Wikipedia page, but I just had to look at newspaper articles where there were pictures of the victims. As I flicked through them, some confirmed and others suspected, I began to recognise faces, and all of them were in the building with us. The police’s suspicions were right, the penny murderer was in the museum, and no one had any idea who they were.

The floor where the ghosts were congregated was the floor where the tv crew had been confined by the police for questioning. A part of me knew I shouldn’t get involved, but back then, in my youth, that part never got to make the decisions.

I thought if I just got to one of the ghosts I could persuade it to talk to me, to tell me its story so I’d know who the penny murderer was and by some miracle tell the police, all without sounding like a nutter.

Luck was on my side as the police were getting ready to release the people they’d already interviewed and take the remainder down to the police station. Telling Ken and Strother that I needed the toilet again I managed to slip out the door and up the stairs without being noticed. Amidst the sea of ghosts, I desperately began to search for one that wasn’t in the living’s line of sight.

I tried a couple, waving my hands in front of their faces, urgently whispering to them to get them to show me who killed them, even what had happened to them. After what felt like hours doing this, they eventually all turned to stare at me en masse. For a brief second, I thought I was in danger of being thrown back down the stairs. Slowly, their arms moved until they were pointing at a room at the end of the corridor.

I slowly made my way down to the door, hearing the gentle creak of the aged floorboards beneath my feet. The door itself, painted white, was slightly ajar but beyond was darkness that only made me more uneasy. I reached out, grasped the handle, and flung the door open so I could startle whoever was inside.

But there was no one there and fumbling around on the wall I managed to find the light switch. I turned back around to the ghosts, marvelling at this group deception, but they were all still pointing in the room.

Gingerly I went inside, paranoid someone might be hiding behind the door ready to jump out, or in one of the grand wardrobes stuck against the wall. There was nothing there that was out of the ordinary, more importantly there were no bodies to be found.

Between one blink and the next a ghost appeared from outside, further in the room than I was. I hissed in fright, practically jumping a foot in the air. Just like the rest outside it began to point to a corner where there was a set of drawers, made of oak and freshly polished. It had delicate handles possibly made of gold.

I began to open each in turn, savouring the smell of fragrant wood as it wafted towards me. Most were empty, some had loose papers, guides to the house, whilst a few had what looked to be bed sheets. But, in one of the drawers near the bottom I came across something that wasn’t supposed to be there. A black jacket.

I picked it from the drawer and was surprised by how heavy it was. It was quite outdated, scuffs here, specks of dirt there, one of the zips on the pockets was broken. When I held it out I heard a jingling coming from one of the pockets.

Reaching in I pulled out a small pouch, like a coin purse. When I opened it, all I could see were pennies.

That’s when I heard people enter the room. Three men, two were police officers, and the third was a member of the crew I’d seen setting up equipment. I dropped both jacket and coin purse on the ground, and I still have nightmares about the noise of those coins as they cascaded over the wooden floor. One landed near the officers’ feet and he bent down to pick it up.

All of them were rare, a few from the golden jubilee, one from the Olympics, one with Shakespeare’s profile. The officer asked the man if that was his jacket. This might seem like a strange question to ask considering I was the one holding the damn thing. It turns out the man had asked to go and retrieve his jacket from the room and the officers had accompanied him.

The man didn’t say anything, but I’ll never forget the smile that spread on his face as he stared at me, the pennies he favoured so much glistening in the light. Joy that he finally got to tell his story.

I’d hoped to avoid visiting a police station, but with this case I’m afraid it was inevitable. When asked how I’d known where the pennies were, I told them I’d been talking to him earlier that day and he’d spoken about how he collected rare coins. After hearing the officers talk amongst themselves about the penny murderer, I got suspicious, and rather than cleverly alerting them, I decided to investigate myself.

They were understandably disgruntled, calling me reckless, nobody wants a dead hero, the usual crap. At the time I couldn’t understand their concern. Nothing had happened, the penny murderer had gone willingly. It’s only as I’ve aged, become more cautious that I realise how that encounter could’ve gone.

 As you no doubt know the penny murderer, real name Duncan Inkster, was sentenced to life after being successfully convicted of 5 murders, but the real number is thought to be much higher, and after the number of ghosts I saw, I can confirm it is much higher.

I’ve thought over the years how unlucky we were to choose to investigate the house museum at that particular time. As for why Duncan Inkster attempted a murder like that in a house with a finite number of suspects, I’ll never know. You’ll have to ask him. I don’t like coincidences, but I am a big believer in timing, and I think we were on the wrong side of it. It took us a while to do another outside investigation after this case. I think we were all shaken, in our different ways. Instead, we focused on recruitment of mediums and psychics, savouring the safety of our offices.

*Weregild – mainly Anglo-Saxon in origin, also called blood money or man price. It was a sum of money a perpetrator paid to the family of the person they had murdered.

Episode 23 – Lucid dream

Have you ever had a recurring dream? I’ve had a few, but there is one in particular that I’ve had since I was a bairn. Now, I know I’ve never addressed what happens to ghosts after they move on, because I don’t know for sure, but these dreams certainly make it hard to refute the possibility of reincarnation. I say recurring dream, but that might be misleading, recurring implies the same every time. The only thing that’s the same in each of my dreams is the setting, and occasionally the people. Events, however, are varied.

It’s a nice place, where I have this dream. It’s a small town, perhaps even a village, with a few rows of stone cottages, a steady stream of smoke curling from the chimneys. There’s no pavement, not like we’d know it today, just dirt. In some dreams it’s solid, others it’s no better than a swamp. There are people everywhere, walking about with baskets, sacks, buckets, with people, on their own. There’s no organisation, it’s just chaos. People are walking beside horses pulling carts, jumping out of the way of a lone rider in a rush. Women wear white linen caps, sometimes trimmed with lace, other times plain. Pattens* are on their feet in an attempt to elevate their hems above the muck. Men’s hair is long, often tied back away from their face with a cord. Their trousers are short with buttons on the front, their jackets sometimes made of fading wool.

There’s smells in the air, of burning coal, manure, shite, piss, metal, and bread. It’s always noisy, although you wouldn’t expect it to be. Sometimes I can feel the thud beneath the ground as a horse approaches, or the clatter of a door knocker as someone leaves their home, or the squawking of two fish wives blethering* away.

I’ve never heard the name of this place, no one I speak to ever has any reason to mention it in conversation because they obviously know. I’m not myself in these dreams, not really. People talk to me like they know me, have known me for years, and I talk back exactly the same way, even though I couldn’t tell you their names.

I’m a bit like a passenger, what I’ve always assumed a ghost possessing someone else would experience. The irony isn’t lost on me. I’m conscious, I experience everything in the first person, but I’m not in control of what I do, say, or where I go. I don’t even know my own first name. Everyone just calls me Mrs McIlwraith.

I have a husband, although by the looks of my hands I’m quite young. In some dreams I have bairns, either cradling them in my arms, watching them play together, or watching as their coffins are lowered into the ground. It’s difficult to tell how much time has passed in these dreams because nothing about the town changes. The skin on my hands wrinkles, age spots appear. I notice the people I speak to can have strands of white hair in one dream, have none the next, and then not be there at all.

They’re never in order, these dreams of mine. It jumps around, from funeral, to christening, to wedding. The people are relatively constant, one generation after the next, all looking alike and becoming the same thing as their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. Everything is stagnant, to some extent, and nothing really changes.

It’s quite comforting really, there’s a sense of certainty and predictability that modern life lacks. People are simpler, they speak how they find, they’re more honest because they believe God’s watching and He’ll punish those who lie.

But it’s far from boring or monotonous. Every dream I’ve had, and there have been plenty, gives me a glimpse into this person’s life and the challenges we both share. Whether figment of my imagination or something more grounded in history it doesn’t really matter, because these dreams mostly bring me comfort that I’m not the only person like me. This was especially important when I was the only person like me that I knew, before Ewan.

I write them all down, the parts I can remember anyway. That’s the only bad thing about dreams, it’s difficult to remember linear time, it’s usually just scenes, snippets of nonsensical events. I’ve found that you’re more likely to remember your dreams if they make sense, if they tell you a story. So, I’ll tell you one.

I’m married in this dream, I know because I’m Mrs McIlwraith. There has been one dream where I’ve been a Miss, but it was very brief, and no matter how hard I try I can never remember what the surname was. I think I’m pregnant, either that or I’m eating too much. My stomach protrudes beneath the layers of clothing, but not enough to make it certain either way. My hands are relatively young. I know I’m referring to hands a lot but I’ve never seen my face in a mirror, there’s never a scene where I’m looking into one. So, the only way I can discern my age is by my hands, or sometimes by the bairns running around.

There are no other children, so I assume I’m carrying my first. There are dreams when I feel it kick or move around, and sometimes it’s so vivid that when I wake up I feel my stomach expecting it to still be there. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, apron tied around my waist, stained and repaired from many uses. The fire’s always on and the door’s always open. A lot of people walk past and each one of them shouts a greeting. Some of them even stop in the doorway to have a chat.

It’s mostly women, pausing to spread the local gossip, because there always is some. The Ogilvie’s eldest son is engaged to the Robertson’s second daughter, Mrs McClure is expecting her fifth bairn, or that Mr Cox has run off with his mistress. This time a young woman stops at the doorway. She’s not dressed like the other people in the village, she’s more flamboyant, her clothes a wee bit more expensive and eye catching, her makeup obvious where others look not to have any on.

I know her and exclaim her name in delight, but I also have this strange feeling, a bit like dread or anxiety. I invite her in, but then proceed to close the door, a wee voice in my head hoping that no one saw her come in. This young woman’s name is Ann, and she’s a prostitute, or whoore as the locals often say. How I’m friends with her is a mystery. From what I know of history, lassies of the night don’t usually mix with married women. It’s all to do with respectability. It’s fine to hear gossip of others, but every respectable soul lives in fear of being the subject of it. This is back in the day where everyone still went to church on a Sunday and appearances meant a lot.

You never know, perhaps this person who’s eyes I see through was a whoore. Ann seems a good deal younger than me, I’d maybe say she was about 18 or 19, far too young to my modern eyes to be forced into stranger’s beds. I remove my apron, but not without wiping my hands on it first, and offer her a seat, which she takes with an ease that suggests she’s a regular visitor.

I sit down beside her and after the polite chitchat is over she gives me a grave look, as though something terrible has happened. I ask her if something’s wrong and she hesitates, glancing into the fire as though it’ll give her the words she’s looking for.

She tells me business has been slow of late, the brothel where she works isn’t getting as many customers as it usually does. I’ve gleaned the impression over the course of my dreams that a brothel is a place that working lasses want to work because there’s a measure of safety and security when it comes to themselves and their stream of income. That’s why when Ann tells me the man who runs the brothel is thinking about releasing some of the girls I can tell things are bad.

I share my condolences and try to reassure her that she may not be let go. She shakes her head lightly and then turns her watery gaze directly on me. Ann confesses that her visiting me wasn’t just to appraise me of events, it was to ask for my help.

I’m surprised as I have no power to change her predicament. My husband, Mr McIlwraith, is a foreman in the local mines, hardly in a position to entice customers to the brothel. At least, I’d hope not. Ann goes on to explain that the reason the brothel is losing its patrons is because there’s been a series of disturbances in one of the rooms. These events, such as people being harmed in some way, have led rumours to start that it’s haunted.

She then goes on to tell me the reason she came to me is because she knows I have the sight. That seems to be a common way to refer to my ability to see ghosts. The person who I am in the dream, Mrs McIlwraith, has the same gift as I do. However, she doesn’t appear to like it being mentioned. I can’t imagine any woman back then was. From what I can tell there are no witch trials going on, it’s a bit late for that, but their consequences are still felt, especially for people like Mrs McIlwraith who would probably be classed as one.

It’s the village’s worst kept secret. This isn’t the only dream I’ve had where someone’s propositioned me regarding an apparent haunting. But every time they do I feel my stomach clench, and an unwelcome feeling of dread bleeds into my mood. In this time, I don’t like being able to see things others can’t. I can’t tell how everyone knows about it, I can’t even glean if it’s a family thing, like my maiden name carries a reputation. Somehow, everyone knows, or at least it feels like everyone, but no one speaks about it unless they want me to do something with it.

The weird thing is despite my dread and apprehension I inquire further about the haunting at the brothel. Even though I don’t want to help, I feel like I have a duty to, as though it’s my job.

Ann tells me small things began happening 6 months ago. The door would open, or refuse to close, the windows acted the same way. Occasionally a patron would hear something coming from inside, but when someone went in to investigate there was nothing there. It was always cold in that room, even with a fire going. Things began to escalate when patrons were thrown out of the room, and some of the lasses would wake up with injuries on them like scratches and bruises, which they claimed were not from the client. It’d become so infamous that the man who ran the brothel had permanently locked the room but the sounds still came from inside.

His actions came too late, and in fear for their safety and their reputations, men had begun to frequent other places. Ann pleaded with me to help, implying I was the only one who could. Apparently, a minister, or church affiliated exorcist, had already had a go but understandably failed.

Despite believing in God, I understand that the souls of the dead aren’t his domain, and that there was very little the minister could do to free the spirit. I’m the brothel’s last hope, and I don’t like it.

Despite this, I still intend to help, but I worry how to go about it without being seen and without my husband finding out. I agree to visit early in the morning, when all the patrons have disappeared but the village hasn’t fully woken up. I sneak out of our house whilst my husband sleeps and have an excuse if he wakes up before I’ve returned.

The ease with which Mrs McIlwraith can investigate hauntings or ghosts is enviable. It’s strange the freedom she has because mostly everyone around her believes in them. There’s no science, there’s no journal articles disproving them, or budding scientists willing to reveal a fake medium or psychic. People aren’t educated to the same extent, and I’m pretty sure not many of the people I speak to can even read or write. Without education, without the foundations for questioning or investigative thoughts, it’s simpler for people to believe what their parents believed, and the stories that have been passed down the generations. This is rural Scotland, and if we’re superstitious in the 21st century, I can only imagine how much we were in the centuries before.

The brothel isn’t what I, modern me, expected. It’s very normal and looks just like every other house in the area. I can’t imagine the neighbours on either side were too happy about their being a brothel next door. There was no sign post, or anything that would indicate what it was, but I guarantee you everyone knew. This was the morning though, and it was probably an entirely different picture at night. I was reluctant to go inside and kept looking over my shoulder expecting someone to see me. I was very aware of the rumours that would fly around if I was seen. I almost left without knocking, but I managed to gather the courage to chap on the wooden door.

The man who ran the brothel, or was, at least, a manager of sorts, let me in where Ann was waiting for me, looking a bit more bedraggled than she’d been the day before. They both took me up to the room and my stomach squirmed around as the door was unlocked and swung open.

There was no fire in the fireplace, the window was closed, but everything else was ordinary. There was a bed, neatly made, a few chairs and tables near the flames. It was basic but comfortable. Ann was right about it being cold and my fingertips were the first to feel the lack of heat.

I took a few reluctant steps inside, not failing to notice that Ann or her employer didn’t follow me. I gazed around in every corner, under the bed, even near the wooden beams of the ceiling, but I couldn’t see anything. I began to relax a bit. I also recalled Ann’s descriptions of the phenomena in the room and realised that no one had actually seen anything. But I knew better than to try and find some normal explanation.

My heart jumped against my ribcage when I heard the door to the room slam violently shut. I whirled around, but I wasn’t really surprised. The handle began to rattle, as though someone on the outside was trying to open it again. Ann called that it was locked. I checked, and it wasn’t. There was no reason I couldn’t just go and open it, but I knew that’d be impossible.

I turned back around to face the room, deciding not to waste my time with the door. My eyes snagged on the one thing that had changed. A woman, dressed in bright clothing, perched on the side of the bed, the buckles on her shoes sparkling even in death. I had a brief moment of recognition, as though we’d met before, but it was too fleeting to grasp onto.

“I know why you’re here,” she stated sourly.

I asked why.

“Tae get rid ae’ me!” she snapped.

I tried to explain that no one wanted to get rid of her, that they only wanted to help. She mentioned the minister who’d visited and shouted to the room for her to leave. I reassured her I wasn’t going to repeat those events. I then asked her who she was.

She opened her mouth, closed it, and repeated this a few times, whispered syllables falling from her mouth but never forming a coherent answer. I inquired if she couldn’t remember.

“It doesnae matter if I cannae,” she answered dejectedly.

After a moment of silence, she checked if I truly wanted to help her. I nodded. She commented that it was unusual for married women to want anything to do with people like her. I couldn’t answer her, knowing I’d felt nothing but reluctance and dread at the thought of helping prostitutes.

She began by acknowledging she couldn’t remember who she was, even her name. There were only two things that lingered in her mind. One was that she’d been murdered by a patron. Rather than seek justice, payment, the male manager had simply thrown her body in the river. The second was that in her short life she’d given birth to a handful of bairns, only one of which had survived. She was adamant she hadn’t wanted to keep it, and that she didn’t regret her decision to give it away. But I could tell from the way her eyes watered that those words were hollow.

There’d been something she’d forgotten to give her daughter before she was sent away, the only item that she wanted her to have. It was a necklace. A small silver cross with one modest ruby in the centre. Fortunately, she hadn’t been wearing it when she’d died, and it was still somewhere in the room, hidden beneath a loose floorboard.

At her request, I recovered the soft piece of velvet it was enrobed in. I couldn’t help my hand hovering over my own stomach and thanking God I’d been born with a better fortune than this woman, and Ann, and the girls like her. If the bairn I was carrying was a daughter, I vowed upon my life she’d never set foot in a place like this.

The nameless woman elicited a promise from me that I’d ensure the necklace reached her daughter, and in return she’d stop haunting the brothel where she’d died. I agreed, and just as she disappeared there was a click from the door and it swung open to reveal a frantic Ann and the man whom I knew had disposed of the spirit’s body.

I reassured them I was fine, stuffing the velvet scrap into my pocket before they could see what it was. Before I left the brothel to complete my side of the promise, I stared into that man’s eyes as coldly as I could and delivered a prophecy that he, one day soon, would meet as bloody an end as the women who he’d disposed of. And I had no doubt in my mind that my words would come true.

Seeing as it was a small village, there was only one church that looked after orphans and abandoned bairns. There was a name embroidered on the piece of velvet in unsteady hand. I assumed the ghost’s daughter was Martha.

I went to the church to find the minister and the volunteers who looked after the parish’s bairns and requested they give the necklace to Martha. When asked if I wanted to see her, I declined, feeling like it was too close to the bone. I don’t think I’d removed my hand from my stomach for more than 5 seconds since my visit to the brothel.

I did catch a glimpse of the bairn, who couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5. She was in clothes that barely fit her, and shoes that had to be tied to her ankles to prevent them from flying off as she played. She was a bonnie bairn, with the essence of her mother in her dark hair. I found it best not to think about what she’d become. I’d only promised the ghost to deliver the necklace, I hadn’t promised to be the girls keeper. I wasn’t wealthy enough to sponsor her, nor I was in a position to adopt her. The only thing I could really do was make her clothes that fit, and that’s exactly what I did.

I can’t tell you what happened to Martha, this is the only dream so far that she’s been in. I like to think she did better than her origins would imply, but it’s perhaps my wishful thinking.

I don’t know who Mrs McIlwraith is, if she’s even real or it’s just my imagination running amock whilst I’m asleep. If I was so inclined I could delve into my ancestry, but without a first name it’s impossible to verify. So, I’ll leave that decision whether she’s real or not up to you.

*Pattens: special shoes usually made of wood or metal that would go over the shoe and elevate the wearer so the hems of their skirts, and their actual shoes, wouldn’t get dirty.

*Blethering: Scottish colloquialism for chatting/talking, mostly in a gossip-y way.

Episode 22 – Haunted or not?

**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.

Present day

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.

Episode 21 – Unbound

**Content warning – reference to suicide

Even if you’ve never seen a ghost before I bet you’d be able to describe them. With the occasional exception, they look just like they did in life. It’s what you’d expect considering they’re the souls of the dead. Why would they look different?

That’s why every muscle in my body froze when I saw what I thought to be a ghost return my stare with ruby red eyes. No ghost I’d ever seen before had shared that trait. This could’ve meant a couple of things, but the foremost in my mind at the time was that I’d been wrong, and this wasn’t a ghost at all.

Remember, these were the days before Ewan and my ghostly education, back in the simpler time when all I thought existed were ghosts and loops. In my opinion, ghosts didn’t have red eyes, therefore it wasn’t a ghost.

Our staring match didn’t last long, it probably wasn’t even a second, and as soon as it disappeared time restarted. It was like I’d been underwater where everything was peaceful, silent, calm, and as soon as whatever it was vanished, I’d broken through the surface and taken one long gulp of air. I could hear the young lad sobbing, the choking sounds the young woman was making as she wriggled pointlessly.

When I glanced back into the room, about to race towards the two and help get her down, there was a loud thud that they would’ve been able to hear three floors down. There was a mish mash of body parts and clothing. The shirt had buckled under the girls’ weight, or whatever had attached it to the ceiling hadn’t been able to withstand her struggling, and had sent her falling to the ground, gulping in air as if she were in outer space.

The young lad continued to sob as he watched the girl claw at the bind around her neck. I gathered myself long enough to call the emergency services. I honestly don’t know how I got away with this one. The coincidences sounded preposterous.

I just happened to go and stretch my legs up the stairs just as someone was attempting to take their own life. I mean who voluntarily goes up the stairs to stretch their legs? Unless you’re training for a marathon, which I wasn’t. Again, the team believed me, although it may have been for a lack of an alternative explanation.

Looking back on it now, remembering Strother and I’s penultimate meeting, he must’ve been suspicious enough to do something to those cameras in the asylum. For nearly three years I’d been following and talking to ghosts of all kinds, and none had been caught on camera. Yet, at the asylum, I’d seen it clearly on the screen. I may have gotten away with my pathetic excuses in the short term, but I think in the long run they unravelled me.

The young woman, Leyla, was taken to hospital and understandably placed on suicide prevention watch. The story from the young man, who turned out to be her boyfriend, was that they’d been revising together and he’d went to make them a late dinner, but when he’d returned he found her in the middle of a suicide attempt.

The paramedics thought it was lucky the ceiling, and whatever contraption she’d set up for herself, hadn’t managed to hold her weight. Obviously, I don’t think it was that simple. The shirt she’d used to do the deed wasn’t attached to the ceiling by anything visible, no nails, no industrial strength cement. So, what was it held there with?

At the time I didn’t really want to think about it. Ghosts didn’t usually have the kind of power to kill someone, not unless it’s one heck of a grudge they’re harbouring. Which made me more certain it wasn’t a ghost, a thought which frightened me more, because if it wasn’t a spirit, then what the hell was it?

I did the healthy thing and buried my fear and doubt deep down in my mind where it wouldn’t bother me and continued. Just a small piece of life advice, if I may. Don’t do this, it’s not healthy, and it doesn’t help. Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away.

We saw nothing else for the rest of the night, which forced Strother to conclude that there wasn’t anything in the accommodation. A few days later Steph was allowed to go and see Leyla, along with a rep from student support, to ask a few questions. On her return, she reported that Leyla denied she’d tried to kill herself and was adamant that her shirt had wrapped itself around her neck.

Understandably, after this story she was placed quietly into the psychiatric ward for further tests. She’d have to learn the hard way that talking about strange things to doctors never did you any favours.

During further research Ken also found that Leyla, Emily, and Kieran were all on the same exclusive course together. In light of this information the team concluded that perhaps the course was putting too much stress on their students, causing them to take extreme measures. I also found this connection suspicious but didn’t arrive at the same conclusions. You know how I feel about coincidence.

Strother recommended to the dean that every student on that course be given an evaluation by university counsellors to see if any others were thinking about taking their own lives. As a reward for suggesting this the dean asked if Strother, Ken and Steph would use their psychological expertise and help out with evaluations.

I can tell you now, I’d never seen Strother so disgruntled. I’m unsure if he thought it beneath him to evaluate undergraduates, or he thought his time might be better spent doing his own research, but he stormed around the place like a petulant bairn who hasn’t got their own way for the few days the evaluations took place.

Whilst all of this was going on, I was abusing the power we’d been given to investigate the rest of the students on the course. Why was it three from the same degree, an exclusive one at that? Why was whatever it was harming them, going so far as to try to take their lives? Were those three connected in some other way? It was difficult for me to accept I might not be dealing with a ghost, so I convinced myself it was a ghost, just not one I’d seen before. I preferred the theory that there were different species of spirit to it being something else entirely. Perhaps its eyes were red and it had the power to harm the living because its grudge was so great. I mean, I’d seen spirits that no longer took the form they had in life because they’d been dead for so long, maybe this was similar.

But no matter how much logic I piled onto the mystery my nightmares about those eyes wouldn’t stop waking me up in the middle of the night.

It comforted me to do something, to pretend like illegally looking through confidential student files could solve the problem. It was as I was going over the victim’s records that I noticed, in passing, that they were all at the top of the class. Surely this was a sticking point when it came to the suicide theory? Why would students who were heading for a first-class degree suddenly decide to end their lives? I kept these questions to myself as the atmosphere in our team was subdued at the time.

As the only member of the team who didn’t have a background in psychology, I remained safe in the office as disgruntled and nervous undergrads piled into our office space. Sometimes I recognised them from the picture on their file, and some were unknown since I hadn’t managed to get to theirs yet. There weren’t many on the course, between 20 and 30, but since I wasn’t supposed to have access I had to do my digging covertly, which took longer.

When I’d go to get a cup of tea or coffee, even to get lunch, there always seemed to be a student waiting in the hallway or coming out of one of the interview rooms. It was when I was on one of my runs to the kitchen that I noticed something unusual. It’s difficult to describe this feeling. It’s kind of like a noise that you can’t consciously hear but your jaw clenches anyway, as if steeling yourself against it somehow. The muscles in my face tightened and I could feel my teeth grinding together yet didn’t seem to have enough control to get them to stop.

I heard Ken speaking from the door to our office space and out of habit I looked towards the noise. He and a young lad were walking towards where I stood, empty mug in hand, feeling the muscle in my jaw spasm painfully. Ken was telling the lad about what was going to happen during the meeting and that it was nothing to worry about. I stepped aside to let them pass me, and this is going to sound crazy, but I swear I heard whispering in my head as the lad passed. It built up gradually until it was at its loudest at the point he passed me, and then it faded away.

It wasn’t a pleasant sensation, and as soon as Ken led him into one of the small meeting rooms it felt like a weight had been lifted in my mind, the brain fog dissipated. Believe me, they ran every test imaginable when I was a bairn, and schizophrenia was ruled out, so the voices weren’t in my head, per se.

I didn’t recognise the lad, and I didn’t have his name. Luckily for me students were supposed to leave their bags in the small meeting room before going for their interview. Almost as soon as Ken closed the door I went to rifle through the student’s belongings. Just in case you thought I was a moral person.

I found his student card, which identified him as Adam Balantine, and thankfully this matched the driver’s licence in his wallet. Don’t fret, I didn’t steal any money, I’m not that bad. He had books, pens, an Ipad, but the more I dug into his bag the quicker the heaviness returned. By the time I found the black leather-bound book I thought I was going to have to make a trip to the dentist.

The book I dug from the depths of his rucksack was the scabbiest thing I’d ever seen. The leather was cracked, marked, and dented from what looked to be centuries of abuse. There was no writing on the cover or the spine, and in all honesty I was reluctant to open it to see if there was one on the inside page. I turned it over in my hands, felt the scaly leather beneath my fingertips, grinding my teeth to try and overcome the sudden pressure I felt on my temples and the constant stream of nonsensical whispers that thrummed through my ears. It was only when I glanced at the skin around my nails that I noticed it starting to turn black, tiny veins of dark grey feeling their way up my fingers.

Instinctively I dropped it, spiralling quickly into a panic. But when I scrutinised my hands again they were back to normal, no marks that shouldn’t be there, no creepy dark veins. Still feeling panicky I stuffed everything back into Adam’s bag, zipped it up, and left.

I may not have known then what I do now, but even I could sense that something wasn’t right with that book. Why did he have such a thing? What was the pressure and the whispers I heard whenever I was near it?

I retreated to the safety of the office, and after I popped an aspirin I looked up Adam Balantine’s student record. He, like the other 3 victims, was near the top of his class, on track for a first-class degree. The score he received on their last test placed him fifth in the class, after Leyla, Emily, and Kieran, who were the top 3.

Was this bigger than just those 3? Was that red-eyed monster going after top achievers in that course? But what, if anything, did that book have to do with it? Was that how it got to its victims? The book would appear out of nowhere in its victim’s belongings, and then after it’d succeeded in harming them would disappear? Or was the book more like a pin on a map, a target the creature was aimed at? Did it have its own free will, or was it being controlled by someone?

Was Adam future victim, or perpetrator? Unfortunately, the answer to that question wasn’t in his record, so I’d just have to ask.

Another obvious coincidence was that Adam shared the same accommodation with Kieran and Leyla. I decided, after work hours, to go and pay him a visit. Was this dangerous? Perhaps, but if the creature had wanted to hurt me it had ample opportunity before, and it didn’t really occur to me at the time that Adam posed a threat.

I arrived at the flat number recorded in his file. His flatmates let me in after I told them who I was looking for, and I knocked on his door. For a brief moment, between my knock and the door opening, I had an unwelcomed flash back to Leyla’s so-called suicide attempt. I was building up to forcing the door open when he opened it himself.

There was no recognition in his eyes as he looked at me. Obviously, our encounter earlier that day had struck me more than him. My plan, going in, was to somehow get the book from his bag and take it away with me. My working theory was that somehow the book was a target for whatever that creature was, and it went after the person who had it in their possession. I didn’t know how true this theory was, all I knew was that the book was malignant, and it wasn’t a coincidence it’d turned up now, so close to the three incidents.

I told a lie as close to the truth as possible. I said I was a colleague of Ken’s and that I was sent to do the follow-up interview Adam was told about. When he returned a blank stare, I pretended Ken had just failed to mention it. Using his confusion to my advantage I brushed past him into his room. As soon as my feet crossed the threshold, I was looking for his bag. It wasn’t long before I could hear the whispers again, faint, like white noise.

I began asking mundane questions, ones I, in my ignorance, assumed psychologists asked their patients. How they were, what they’d been getting up to, if they’d had any relapses or other symptoms. I then threw, as casually as possible, a question about whether he’d seen anything out of the ordinary. I made it seem as though high levels of stress could bring on hallucinations. He gave a similar reply to all my inquiries. A grunt of refusal. But when I asked if he’d seen strange things his eyes immediately darted to his desk. When I followed his line of sight I saw the book lying open, strange symbols and even stranger writing scrawled across its bruised pages.

I’ll confess, I was naïve. I’d gone in assuming Adam to be possible victim since whatever it was appeared to be targeting high achievers, of which he was one. I also had no idea how that book was connected to the ghost-like creature. I’d assumed the book was like an anchor, something that it was connected to, not something it was driven by.

As if craving attention the whispering became louder, more rushed and chaotic. My guard slipped and I asked, panic in my voice, what it was. He told me he wasn’t sure and that one day it’d just appeared in his bag. When he’d got to reading it he realised it was a grimoire. For us mere mortals, grimoire is a fancy word for spellbook.

Now, ghosts was one thing, witches quite another. But young Sarah was about to find out the world was a lot bigger than she’d ever thought. Adam turned into what I’d always thought a psychopath caught by the police would act like. It was as though he’d been desperate to tell someone how clever he was figuring out how to use it. He said it was simple, he collected a few ingredients, some from specialist shops, said a few words over a few nights, and his wishes came true.

One of those wishes was to be the top of his class. The course, that was the vein connecting all the victims, was cut throat and only the top 3 students were offered employment with partner companies at the end of their degrees. Adam, at number 5, was just missing out. I was unsure if the book functioned like a twisted genie. The owner simply stated a wish, and the book would do whatever it liked to make that wish come true. Or it was more sinister, and Adam had purposely found a spell that removed people from his path?

I mean I’d just found out that magic possibly existed, so I wasn’t in any position to theorise. The stranger thing was that Adam just kept on talking, the words were falling from his mouth like teeth in a nightmare. He was showing me pages filled with severely written words, nonsensical diagrams, and stains on the page that, honestly, looked like dried blood. He came to rest on a page which had a drawing of something I immediately recognised, complete with ruby red eyes.

The page it was spread across named it as a vengeful spirit, someone who’s died with regret and anguish and lingers in the world aimlessly. What the spell claimed to do was harness this spirit and turn it into a weapon.

If you’d told me, at that stage of my life, that it was possible to control a spirit I’d have scoffed arrogantly. But I was staring at proof it was possible, and with what looked to be very little effort.

 When the shock wore off, or at least lessened, I began to realise I was in a difficult position. He’d told me all his secrets, everything that he’d done to his course mates; what happened to me now? Would I be able to just walk out? Could I make a run for it, or would that vengeful spirit find me anyway?

I didn’t care about that book, or about getting it away from him. These were powers I had no experience or knowledge of. And why was this my responsibility? I understood ghosts, to a certain extent, I could sympathise with them, and that sympathy compelled me to help them as best as I was able. But this? A book filled with spells that whispered curses. No thanks.

As I was trying to manoeuvre my quick exit from his room the door burst open as if a hurricane had torn it down. A petite woman, no more than 5 feet, stormed in with a frosty look on her features. Adam still had the book in his hands, thumbing through the pages, not realising his fingers had turned black.

The woman didn’t say a word, she made a beeline for Adam and swiped the book from his hands before either of us could do anything. Before our eyes she wrapped the volume in some red cloth, possibly linen, and suddenly the whispering stopped.

She seemed to know that it was Adam who was responsible, or who’d been using it for his own gain. I felt like a fly on the wall as she never once looked at me, or even acknowledged I was there. She pinned Adam with a cold stare and warned him, in the most threatening tone I’d ever heard, that if he tried to mess with things he didn’t understand again she’d let the spirit he’d enslaved loose on him to do what it liked.

On her way out of the room, bundle tucked under her arm, she stopped for a brief moment and glanced at me, narrowing her eyes as if I had a spot on my face that offended her. She warned, rather than told, me to never mention what I’d seen in that room to anyone.

And for a few years I kept that promise, until I met Ewan and emerged from the darkness of ignorance. I’ve never met her again, I couldn’t even tell you her name, but I know what she is. You probably know as well. A witch. A very powerful witch from a very powerful family of witches.

I won’t go into detail as it’s not really relevant, but yes, there are witches, and yes there are spellbooks. But the thing Adam had was more of a curse book, created to cause suffering and death. Witches don’t like to have those kind of things loose, so they retrieve them with as much stealth as they can muster, scaring the shit out of whoever gets in their way.

As for the consequences, Adam dropped out of uni, became a lorry driver and runs a paranormal investigation blog. *laughs* I’m kidding. He took the witch’s warning to heart, and unfortunately reaped the benefits of his paranormal interference. He was offered one of the coveted 3 jobs for the top 3 in the year, and after that I lost track of him. I like to believe that somewhere down the line karma caught up with him, but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that one.

Episode 20 – Out of our control

***Content warning: reference to suicide.

Right, let’s get back to the study. I’ve been going through the files that Strother kept and the notes he took. It’s weird to compare what he saw, or what he didn’t, and what I experienced myself. It’s like getting a glimpse into the normal world, the one that the majority of people see. It must be nice to only know normal fear, of losing your job, of failing, of being late for work. I read Strother’s notes, his reports on the study, and sometimes I prefer the world he saw. The one where there was no such thing as ghosts or wraiths or Overseers. The one where there was a down to earth, rational explanation for everything.

I wonder how he lived the remainder of his life realising he was wrong. We never spoke after he dismissed me from my position on the study, and after the scandal had passed, I didn’t want to or have the ability to find him and ask. How wronged he must’ve felt all these years, knowing that ghosts were real, having the proof, but being branded a liar. How did he sleep at night knowing that there might be something in the darkness? How well did he transition to a new belief system, or did he desperately cling to his old one where ghosts and people who saw them were confined to the pages of fiction? These are all just more questions I’ll never have an answer to.

This case was closer to home in that we didn’t have to stay in anyone’s house or dingy local hotels. I don’t think there were many people in the building we were in on campus that really knew what we were doing. They knew about testing psychics and mediums, and Lord knows there’s plenty of studies that’ve done the same thing, but I can’t imagine they ever knew the true extent. Some did, of course, and that’s how we became acquainted with the universities’ ghost stories.

Strother was reluctant to investigate any of the claims we heard or were reported to us. Mostly because he assumed they were fake, tales students passed amongst themselves during Halloween to seem interesting. But then student reports began to flood central administration, and a few unfortunate cases ended up at the hospital.

They all had one thing in common. Unexplained phenomena. Which was why, through the long grapevine of academia, it ended up on our desk in the office. Strother, ever prideful, tried to make it seem like it was his choice, but there were mumbles that we’d also received some emails from the Dean encouraging us to put minds at ease.

The good thing was that we didn’t have far to go. The bad thing was that it was exam season, and the reports were varied and came from all over campus. How did we sort the genuine from the fakes?

Exam time in a university isn’t a place many people wish to be. Libraries are full, cafes are full, pubs are even fuller. There’s an awful tension permeating lecture theatres, labs, and offices. It gets to some more than others. When students started getting hurt and ending up in the hospital it sent a wave of panic across the student body. And from that panic stemmed paranoia and opportunists. I even heard, from a psychology PhD student, that an undergrad had flung themselves down the stairs and claimed they were pushed by a ghost, all to get out of their final exam. The sadder thing was, they weren’t the only one.

Thanks to them we had to investigate each and every case that cried ghost. Interviewing people wasn’t my speciality, so I was saved the more arduous task. Occasionally I’d have to accompany one of the others, but I never said much. Everyone I went to see were suitably vague about what they may or may not have seen, and some had been so careless that even the doctors diagnosed self-harm.

Having said that, there were a few which came back suspicious. The first that I saw, and went with Steph to investigate, was someone who’d managed to get themselves locked into a private study room in the library for 3 days. When someone had eventually managed to get the door open the student had to be sent to the hospital for dehydration. The strange detail was that the door had never been locked from the inside or outside. The librarian who’d found the student had simply opened the door. When the student, a final year undergraduate called Emily, had spoken to us she maintained that the door wouldn’t open and her phone had died, despite being at least 70% full.

The second, also a final year undergraduate, called Kieran, had been pushed from his balcony door on the second floor. He’d broken a few bones but had got away relatively unscathed considering it could’ve been much worse.

There were another 2 or 3 cases, but to the team they weren’t serious enough to warrant further investigation. None of them were injured, and it didn’t seem to me as though they were connected with Emily and Kieran.

Workmen, health and safety officers, and a locksmith had all been to the study room where Emily had been trapped. Even though they couldn’t find anything wrong, they’d replaced everything anyway, just to be on the safe side. As for Kieran…let’s just say he wasn’t allowed to open the door in his room anymore.

Over and above their serious nature there was something else tying the two together. Both were enrolled on the same course. Now, for the life of me, I can’t remember the name of it, but it was a very niche subject, and highly competitive. There were only about 20 to 30 places available, and students fought tooth and nail to get them. The course worked as a feeder of sorts, having connections to jobs, and boasted an impressive 99% employment rate.

Obviously with that kind of exclusive atmosphere comes pressure, and the university was going at the incidents from the angle that the students had just snapped, their stories just a cry for help. We investigated the library, and there was nothing there, and to be thorough we set up our equipment in Kieran’s accommodation.

Obviously, during exam time, the students weren’t happy at being relocated elsewhere for a night or two, but the university was more concerned with quelling the ghost fever that swept around campus leaving mayhem in its wake.

We primarily focused on the floor where Kieran’s room was, setting up cameras, audio recorders, thermometers and motion sensors. We placed some of the lighter equipment on the stairwell, and the floor above and below.

This was probably the first case where all of us lacked the professionalism we’d cultivated since the beginning of the study. Even I wasn’t entirely convinced, so you can imagine what the already disillusioned psychologists felt about it. It was more of going through the motions, jumping through the hoops, so we could tell the Dean what she wanted to hear.

During the day the motion sensors were set off a lot, and all were mundane causes. Floors were thin, and the walls even thinner. Someone slamming their bedroom door closed caused a domino effect to where we were. There was loud music playing on the other side of the accommodation building but managed to find its way to us. Occasional students would pop back in to retrieve something they’d left behind.

By the evening dinner run we were all bored and counting down the minutes until the end. That’s why I almost missed the brief flash of black red smoke on the stairs. It was difficult to see on the small screens we had, but the presence was caught by each camera in turn. Whatever it was ascended the stairs, like a human would.

It was never there for long and I scrambled to keep up without trying to draw attention to the fact I was seeing something. I’ve seen similar spirits before, like the wee girl in my first statement, or the poor creature from the Anderson house, but this was somehow different.

Ghosts usually occupy the same colour spectrum, from black to grey, occasionally white, but this one was blood red, so deep it was practically black. Whoever it had once been was completely engulfed by this strange smoke, almost as if they were trapped by it. I’d catch a glimpse of a hand or a neck, slender fingers, but they’d be smothered soon after.

The smoke itself acted like a separate entity, always slightly lagged from the spirit it encased. It was like someone had dropped food colouring into water, the moments before they completely mix together. There’s still patches of clear crystal, surrounded by thin ribbons of red. Through those clear patches I tried to see what was inside, but the red was too quick for me.

We didn’t have many cameras on the stairs, and it disappeared quite quickly after the last one. From the direction it was going in I assumed it would continue upwards. But what was there? Why was it here?

Something prickled the back of my head, a sense I still get to this day when something is about to go wrong. I excused myself from the rest of the team and made my way to the stairs. Unfortunately, there was no way of not getting caught by the cameras, I’d have to think of an excuse later.

As I made my way up, I listened carefully for any sound, hoping beyond all experience that the black-red mass would make some noise that I could follow. It was colder on the stairwell, but whether that was because there were no radiators or due to paranormal activity would be something Strother and the rest would debate later.

I continued on, unable to hear anything but the occasional thud of speakers and chatting students. No one passed me, and no one came out of any of the other floors. By the time I was four floors up and out of breath I was beginning to lose hope.

That was when I heard the cry. A scared and confused shout for help coming from the floor I’d just reached. I scrambled to open the door and burst into the flat. Whoever had called out in the first place was now sobbing, their pleas for assistance drowned in their petrified confusion.

The flats themselves were long corridors with rooms on each side, and from where I stood I noticed one of the doors was open. I ran towards it and when I looked inside my breath caught at the back of my throat.

A young woman dangled from the ceiling, her entire body shaking as the air was cut off. Holding her there was a cotton shirt tightening around her neck. How the shirt itself was attached to the roof escaped my notice at the time. There was a young man, about her age, desperately trying to support her legs and feet so she couldn’t suffocate to death, but his desperate sobs did little to help him.

I admit I was so shell-shocked by what I saw that it felt like hours I just stood there watching the scene unfold, unable to do or say anything useful. Time slowed, as if someone had mercifully pushed the pause button on my life. There was perfect silence. The door to the flat was swinging closed at the end of the corridor, and for some reason it caught my eye. For the briefest of moments I glanced at it, perhaps hoping someone would come in to help or take control of the situation, but all I saw at the end was the black red mass I’d followed up the stairs.

It stared back, and through the miasma I saw a pair of crimson eyes.

Present Day

I’ve been going through the list of names sent by the anonymous informant. It’s not looking great for this tip being untrue. So far, all the names I’ve investigated are dead. But I’m not convinced they were all hunted down by Margaret Donaldson, unless she has the ability to murder by heart attack. Now that I say that aloud it should be ridiculous, so why does it only frighten me more?

There are a handful who do appear to have died naturally. Old age, hereditary conditions, general accidents on the road or otherwise. However, it’s the ones that don’t look natural that concern me, and the number keeps rising. The first one I came across was a suicide. I think I might’ve been reading too many conspiracy theories because if I was going to kill someone and get away with it, making it look like they did it themselves would be one of my first choices.

I went to visit their family, well aware I might be overstepping, especially when I pretended to be a family liaison officer with the police checking if everything had been handled in the case to their satisfaction. They were devastated at their loss, and every second I spent there, lying to their faces, made what self-respect I’ve accumulated trickle away. They told me they’d been shocked at the time because there’d been no signs, everything had been going well. Obviously, this wouldn’t be the first time parents hadn’t known the ins and outs of their bairn’s life, but there were too many coincidences here for my liking.

This pattern kept emerging in all the family’s I visited. Disbelief that they were gone, confusion as to the circumstances surrounding their death. Perfectly content people taking their own lives, one or two stabbed in an area they’d never have gone because they knew how dangerous it was, a few car accidents on road that wasn’t on their normal route, even one person killed by a red light runner on a crossing they never used. The bodies are starting to pile up around me and they’re all reportedly put there by Margaret Donaldson.

When I asked Ewan to look over the list he pulled out a few names he recognised, and they were all dead. One was actually murdered but as far as he knew no one had been brought to trial over it.

I didn’t want to believe this list was real, and every time I search for a name I hope more then I ever have before that it turns out to be no one. Every time I’m disappointed. Margaret Donaldson, Director of Inverlewis limited, charity benefactor, award winning employer, is probably a serial killer, and unfortunately for me, I’m on her black list.

Episode 19 – The face of death

How can you not realise you’re dead? Up until this case I thought it was impossible. Perhaps loops were the exception, but then again they’re not technically ghosts, they have no consciousness, no ability to think for themselves because they’re just memories of people who died.

Moira could hold a conversation, Moira was a ghost.

Her apparent ignorance took us both off guard. What did we do? Should we tell her she was dead and that we’d been called in to help her move on? Was she even the ghost the minister had called us for?

It was a difficult situation, and since she was there Ewan and I couldn’t discuss it, so we just went along with it. We knew nothing about her, how she’d died, where she’d died, why she was haunting the church. Without that information what could we really tell her that she would believe? If Ewan had theories or answers to these questions, he couldn’t tell me at the time.

When we later discussed it, we’d both been reluctant to tell her the truth. The entire situation just seemed so sad. How long had she been dead and not realised? How long had she been haunting this church before we arrived?

When Moira asked if we’d like a tour of the church whilst we waited, we both mumbled something inaudible and she took it as consent. If someone had come in then, the minister or a member of the congregation, I can’t imagine what they’d have thought.

She began informing us about the dedicational plaques to affluent members of the village who’d been buried inside the church, back in the day when they used to do such things. They even had a stone effigy in one of the small chapels. It was well worn, but had a knight lying down with his legs crossed, signalling that he was a crusader once upon a time. Moira knew everything about every piece of that church.

What was curious was that she never mentioned the significance or the context of the art on the walls. There was a lot of it, from bairn’s crayon drawings to professional calligraphy, but she never mentioned or even acknowledged any of them. I theorised it was because they’d been put up after her death. Because she didn’t know she was dead, perhaps she couldn’t see anything that had been put there in the years since. It was just a theory.

As much as we wanted to humour Moira the church wasn’t of interest to either of us. She was. Thankfully, Moira was more than eager to tell us about herself.

She’d been married for nearly thirty years. She and her husband had been childhood sweethearts. He was a clever man and had attended university. So clever that he’d been summoned down to London to work for the government. It saved him from the frontlines, at least, but their long separations were difficult. She often went down to visit him because he was rarely allowed leave. It was also easier to see her son when he was released from duty in France.

Mercifully, he hadn’t been injured, but he was a brave lad who was fighting for his country. All she wanted was him home safe.

Moira appeared to take all these things in her stride, and she informed us matter-of-factly of her family’s predicament. And she wouldn’t be alone. The twentieth century witnessed two of the worst wars in human history, her entire generation were forced into a way of life they had no choice but to adapt to. Hearing about that time spoke like it was ongoing shrunk the distance until it was uncomfortably close.

It’s always comforting to think of that time as the past, as words on the page of a textbook we’re forced to read, as a fictional or foreign land that we’ll never see. But people like Moira lived through it, and facing the fear, dread and worry head on was how they dealt with it.

I don’t know about Ewan, but I almost didn’t want to tell her the truth. She wasn’t doing any harm, why couldn’t we just leave her be? But I knew the answer. Ghosts are subject to the decay of time as much as anything in this world. Even though she was fine now after so many decades that wouldn’t always be the case. As much as I wanted to let her stay, to let her carry on thinking she was ever going to see her husband and son again, I knew we couldn’t.

Then came the difficult question of what we were going to do about it. She didn’t have any unfinished business that’d be keeping her around, she wasn’t a vengeful spirit determined to torment even in death. Why was she in the church in the first place? What drew and kept her here? Had she died inside, was she one of the affluent buried beneath our feet?

We were all interrupted by the door to the church opening. The minister hurried in, out of breath. He was a middle-aged man with trimmed beard and dark chestnut hair. He huffed his way through an apology, he’d been kept by a parishioner who’d just lost his wife. Moira saw him as we did, and Ewan and I took turns in observing her expression. She obviously could see him, but he didn’t reciprocate.

We asked him if he was familiar with a Moira, although it was obvious it would’ve been long before his time. Luckily his face lit up with recognition. He confirmed she used to be an active member of the church during the war and that some of his current parishioners would reminisce about her. Her husband had been called to London to work with British intelligence during World War II, whilst her son was sent to France.

She had the unfortunate timing of visiting her husband in London during the blitz in 1941 and never returned. Her body was interred outside, amongst the rows of neatly kept headstones.

It might’ve been cruel of us to let her find out this way, but if it came from a minister she could hardly accuse us or him of lying. I fully expected her to deny it anyway, to get angry, but she was silent.

It was then that I realised we’d been wrong. She did know she was dead, and all she’d wanted to do was talk to us because we were the only ones who could listen. Her life at the church must’ve been fulfilling, some of her happiest memories, and after her abrupt death she’d decided to stay.

The minister’s ringing phone cut through an atmosphere he was totally ignorant of like a sharp knife. He said he needed to answer and we nodded stiffly in understanding.

Before Ewan and I could mentally scramble for an excuse to leave and discuss what we should do, the air in the church began to ripple. Think of heat from tarmac on a warm day but more distorting. Suddenly there was an older gentleman a few paces away from us all. He looked to me as if he’d just stepped out of a film from old Hollywood. He was perfect in every way you can imagine, there wasn’t a blemish on his skin, his eyes were glassy and innocent. Nothing about him was intimidating, yet I was nervous.

His presence was jarring, as if he offended the very air he occupied. Although his presence wasn’t malignant it still gave me this pit in my stomach, like the beginning of existential dread. He wasn’t human, I was certain of that, but he wasn’t a ghost either.

Whatever he was he showed no interest in Ewan and I, only Moira. That frightened me more, as if he meant her harm in some way. He asked her if she was ready, and that people were waiting for her.

She was crestfallen, and his meaning was obvious to everyone. She was being asked to move on, after so many years stuck. Who was this…this…creature? Was he death, capital D?

Neither Ewan or I moved an inch, even our breathing was shallow in case we were spotted. A nonsense reaction since we weren’t exactly invisible. Moira was torn, and to help with her decision the strange man explained that if she didn’t leave voluntarily with him then something else would eventually take her. It was obvious from his tone that no one wanted to meet this something.

After further contemplative silence Moira took a deep breath and faced the man directly, nodding her assent. He held out his hand and then they were both gone, vanished into thin air without pomp and ceremony. I’d at least expected there to be a bright light.

Ewan let out the breath he was holding and his limbs turned to jelly. He looked relieved that they’d both left. I begged him to explain.

The man dressed like a black and white film star was an Overseer, or at least that’s what everyone called them. They were death, the grim reaper, every tale you’ve ever heard, that’s what they were. But rather than killing souls, per se, they were merely guides helping people move on.

When you die you have a choice; go with the Overseer or remain behind as a ghost. Most spirits go, but the ones who remain, the ones I can see, are the ones who go against the advice given to them. But no spirit can remain amongst the living forever. There was a subgroup of Overseers, aptly named Catchers. They went around capturing ghosts.

This puzzled me a bit. If there were these Catchers then how could Ewan and I make a living out of helping ghosts move on? How were there ghosts who had lingered for decades, even centuries? Were these catchers waiting for a brew*?

But then I remembered a certain few instances where a ghost had just vanished, as if they’d been snatched away before they could finish the business that’d kept them here in the first place. Maybe these Catchers were understaffed, or very selective.

I asked Ewan how many Overseers he’d seen, and if he knew the one we’d just met. He didn’t know. He’d never seen the same one twice, but his grandmother had told him that they always appear different. Usually in a form that’s comforting or familiar to the spirit they’re trying to guide.

The idea was to make it as easy for the spirit to move on as possible, which they wouldn’t if they were afraid. All I knew was that the Overseer had shaken me to my core. Perhaps they affect the living differently, but there was just something unbelievably unsettling about it. The way it moved the air, it’s overly sympathetic gaze, the silken soft way it spoke, it’s definitely featured in some nightmares of mine over the years.

Thankfully I haven’t seen many, but it’s always a worry of mine whenever I find a ghost case to involve myself in. It makes me miss the days of the study, before I knew what they were, or even that they existed.

Ewan never took payment for this job, I think we both agreed it was inappropriate considering we hadn’t really done anything. The timing of the Overseer’s appearance was suspect considering how long Moira had lingered. But the living aren’t meant to know the ways of death, even ones like Ewan and myself. I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the years, some like me, others better, and although we all know about the guides, and their hunting counterparts, information and facts about them are thin on the ground.

The only words they ever say to us are thanks. It’s like we’re background characters they take no notice of. Just as well because they’re all creepy as hell and if I wasn’t looking forward to dying before then the thought of being met by one of them makes me wish for unnatural longevity.

And I’m afraid that’s as much as I can tell you with confidence because no one, and I mean no one living, knows what happens after. My only piece of advice, if you’ll permit me, is always go with the Overseer. Staying might seem important, but nothing is worth your soul.

*a brew – British colloquialism for a cup of tea.

Episode 18 – Limbo

What happens when we die? How do some people linger in our world and yet others move on? I’ve skirted around the issue so far because up until the study I never knew myself. In the years since I’ve become well informed thanks to friends and others I’ve met, so let me share that information with you.

You might also be wondering what I’ve done with my life since the study. Today, I’ll tell you about what my life was like 6 months after the scandal hit. I wasn’t caught up in the backlash the others faced, so I could live my life as normal, but I decided to do it a different way.

I wasn’t in the best state after the scandal. As I mentioned, in the two weeks between Strother telling me to leave and the scandal hitting headlines I was barely any better than a vegetable. I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat, I just kind of wandered around the place listlessly. Even the ghosts I’d helped functioned better than I did.

On the practical side, I no longer had money coming in, but after my time on the study, joining my ghost seeing world with my professional one, what could I do that would be so fulfilling and come with a paycheck? I’ve not always liked seeing ghosts, especially when I was younger, but through the study I began to feel privileged to be able to see things that others couldn’t. And I loved helping the spirits finish the business that kept them amongst us. If fakes could make their living by pretending to see ghosts, then why couldn’t I do the same?

The person I reached out to was Ewan Brodie, who was more than happy to listen and teach me what he thought I should know. Ewan was the Yoda to my Skywalker, and I was fascinated by him. He has a certain calmness about him that I needed during that part of my life.

Let me tell you a few things about Ewan. He, like me, has been able to see ghosts since he was young. The only difference was that his grandmother saw them too and had been a practicing medium all her life. In fact, he comes from a long line, stretching back at least a hundred or so years. But here’s the strange thing. The ability jumps a generation. Ewan, his grandmother, her grandmother, and so on, but Ewan’s own parents are accountants and have never seen a spirit in their lives.

I never met either of my grandmothers, that I can remember anyway, and there’s no way for me to find out if that’s just the case with his family, or everyone like us. These were all revelations to me back then, and the more time I spent with Ewan the better I became.

We don’t work together now, my time with him was brief. It sounded like the perfect job, but after a year of ghosts all hours of the day I craved to return to some normality. I have the dreaded office job now that I was so afraid of before I joined the study.

About six months into our working relationship Ewan became interested in a job. As you’ve probably realised this was quite a rare occurrence due to his exclusivity. Like the study, a lot of the emails he was sent were obviously hoaxes or hyped up imaginations, and he was always relatively good at sniffing out the genuine ones.

I was surprised by his choice. The email was from the minister of a rural parish church. The parish itself was modest, the congregation dwindling as the number of funerals increased, but like many other churches, it was managing to survive in the age of science. The minister had heard about Ewan Brodie from one of his parishioners and decided to email in the off chance he’d be able to help.

According to the email the small church was haunted by the ghost of a woman who no one seemed to know. This was quite unusual for a small, close knit community who knew each other’s business like it was their own. This story itself didn’t tell us much. Ghosts don’t necessarily have to haunt the place they died, if it was in fact a ghost.

Working with Ewan, getting my ghostly education, made me miss the times before, the times of simplicity when I thought that there were only ghosts and loops. When I thought I could help them all. The world was so much bigger than I’d ever imagined, and even now I still sometimes miss those times of ignorance.

The church ghost never did anything malicious, no one was hurt, and it was only a few people in the congregation who’d ever seen her. It begged the question of why the minister was contacting Ewan at all. I mean, he wasn’t cheap to hire.

Ewan explained he liked requests like this because he knew they were sincere. Rural parishes didn’t have a lot of money, so they wouldn’t contact him unless they were certain of a haunting. They were also one of the few people who welcomed him and had a genuine concern for the trapped spirit.

We set off for the parish at the beginning of the working week, unlike the weekends I used to have to dedicate to the study. I’d been to rural places before, winding country lanes, spectacular views, but there was something secluded about the parish. It was surrounded on two sides by a national park, and on the third by a river. I would quite easily have driven past and thought there was nothing there. If I was horror film fan, I would’ve said it was a good setting for one.

The church held pride of place in the modest village. All the buildings were at least a hundred years old, if not older, and all had plaques to indicate their original purpose, even if they’d been converted into homes in the meantime. The graveyard of the church was understandably full, whilst some of the larger headstones were so old the Scottish weather had rubbed them smooth.

There was a post office that was also the local shop, and bank on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A mobile library van was there when we arrived, and there was an unsurprising Co-op* on the corner, the only 21st century looking thing in the whole village.

Our car was eyed curiously by the populace as we drove the quiet, narrow streets to the church. The main road bypassed the place by miles, and unless you got lost, or were purposely looking for it, no stranger ever found their way into it. As I said, very secluded, but the villagers didn’t know anything else, I suppose.

Ewan didn’t have a team of trained psychologists or professionals at his beck and call. He was a one-man business, and I became his assistant, an act more out of charity than a genuine need for help on his part. He went everywhere in his car, and it suited him fine because he had no equipment to carry. He parked the car in a small spot in front of the church gate and waited for five minutes for the minister. After ten he hadn’t appeared, so we both got out and made our way up the path towards the stone church.

You’ll find if you ever travel into the deep countryside that church doors are rarely locked because there’s usually nothing to steal inside, that or they trust people to be honest in a house of God. The church itself was of simple design, shaped like a cross, with one bell tower at its head, above the entrance was a clock that was at least 5 minutes slow.

The front door was painted black, chipped and rippled with age. When Ewan grasped the ring-pull I thought he’d get tetanus. The entire door groaned with the effort of opening and it took both of us to push it open wide enough so we could squeeze through.

It was cold inside the church, even though the day was relatively mild outside as summer began to turn to autumn. We left the door open, just in case. No one was inside, all the pews were empty and there was a strange kind of peace that settled in the silence. You couldn’t hear anything from outside, and only the occasional shuffles of our feet over the stone floor echoed around the walls.

I thought it’d be dark inside, but there were two large windows with panels of stained glass that portrayed scenes from what I assumed was the bible that allowed natural daylight to filter in. The stone floor was well worn, like rocks on the beach that the tide has eroded over time. There were some cracks, chips taken out, but it was mostly just uneven where thousands of footsteps had trodden.

There were some marble plaques on the walls, dedicated to people long since dead. Wooden crosses joined them, along with picture frames containing intricate calligraphy of a bible passage.

Ewan called out to the empty space to see if anyone was there and we just couldn’t see them. I think he thought the minister might be waiting inside for us. No one answered, and all we could hear were the echoes of his inquiry. We were both about to turn around and leave when an older woman bustled out of a small side door.

She had auburn hair, graced with streaks of white and grey, tied back at the nape of her neck. Her blouse was long sleeved, and her skirt sat just below her knees. The smile she gave us when she saw us was warm and welcoming, and instantly she asked us if she could be of any help.

Ewan told her we were there to see the minister and that he was a bit late to our meeting. She chuckled lightly, nodding her head in agreement and announced that the minister always found a way to be late.

The older woman introduced herself as Moira, the lead volunteer for the parish and head of the flower arranging club, and a proud member of the bell ringers. We let her go on because neither of us had noticed. I’ll admit, it took a while, longer than it should’ve for a professional medium and his assistant.

I think it was because she was so lifelike. Ewan and I exchanged stiff glances, mindful not to let Moira see us. And it was then that we had a shared thought. I don’t think she knows she’s dead.

Present Day

I learned something interesting…well, interesting if it’s true, about Margaret Donaldson. Someone emailed me, I don’t really want to know how they found my email address, claiming to have some information about the enigmatic Director of Inverlewis.

This person, who never gave their name, tells me in this long email that they’ve been hiding from Margaret Donaldson for years. They’re certain it was her who broke into my house and Strother’s family home looking for the files.

More interesting, and even more frightening, is that they’ve attached a list of names. It seemed innocuous at first, until I read more of the email. This anonymous stranger calls Margaret Donaldson a hunter. By this they mean that she hunts down people like me. The sender can also see ghosts and had an unfortunate run-in with Margaret three years ago and has been on the run ever since. The attached list of names turns out to be victims of Margaret Donaldson’s spite.

For some reason, not detailed in the email, Donaldson uses her resources to find people like me and send them to an early grave.

…Christ, is this even true? Its credibility is on a shaky peg considering whoever sent it wasn’t brave enough to give me their name. And surely if it was true then I, Ewan, or any number of our acquaintances would’ve known. We’re a small, close community, I think we’d notice if we were being picked off by a lunatic with infinite resources.

This can’t be true, it can’t be. I mean *laughs nervously* it’s ridiculous. She might be powerful, she might’ve funded the study, but getting away with murder, with being a serial killer, is a bit of a stretch. What is this, a soap opera?

Still, the list of names bothers me. This person is either very determined to have me believe them, or that list is real. I’m also not really in a position to be choosy with what I believe. The fact is someone broke into my house and had me followed, and to be honest the director of a multimillion-pound company undoubtedly has the resources to do that, especially one connected with a study into the paranormal. There’s no harm in researching a few of the names to see if they go anywhere.

*Co-op – British food shop chain. Usually the only shop in very rural communities

Episode 17 – Best served cold

Where were we? Aye, I was slowly realising a nightmare I never thought I had. On a train, going at speed, with no one driving it. It was one of those moments where no one knows what to do. It’s the moment after you’ve been given some bad news and before you’ve had enough time to process and react according to your nature.

I began to feel a bit sick, my dinner mixing with a kind of fear I’d never experienced before. It’s the kind you get in situations where you think you’re going to die. That sense of astute panic that goes so deep it buries itself in your bones, and if you give into it then you’re lost. Over the years I think I’ve felt like this twice, maybe three times, and it doesn’t get easier.

Spoiler alert, I obviously didn’t die, but at the time it was a real possibility. Not many things could stop a train that was hurtling along a track, not one that we had much chance of surviving anyway. The academics did what they do best, keep calm under time pressure. They start asking questions. Where were we? Which station had we just passed? Was there any way to stop the engine and coast to a stop? A track switch to give us more time to contact someone and tell them what was going on?

Here’s the thing about a lot of academics, or at least the ones I ever met. They’re usually relatively calm people, so laid back they may as well be horizontal. Nothing ever seems to penetrate that exterior, not looming deadlines, and apparently not out of control trains. But the more time you spend with them, the easier it is to see past this. They may be serene on the outside, but if you look close enough you can see their inner self flapping about like any normal human being. They just keep that self under tighter control than the rest of us mere mortals.

The plan was the driver would call someone at the train controller’s office to tell them what was happening and see if there was anything that could be done. He’d already tried to radio the problem in, but it wasn’t working, along with most of the other controls in the driver’s cab. The rest of us would systematically try the emergency break handles they put on every carriage in case of an emergency.

One by one we smashed the glass and pulled on the levers, and unsurprisingly nothing happened, the train still flew down the track on its way to Ayr. It was difficult to fight off the panic at that point. The driver came back from his phone call and told us the train would be re-routed to an older line usually only frequented by freight trains to give them more time to help us. He went to get into his cab but found the door was now locked, from the inside.

Baffled, he shook that handle until I thought it’d come off in his hands. The man was a whimper away from a full-blown meltdown and before he could tip over the edge the rest of the team sat him down and tried to calm him.

You can’t see into the driver’s cab from the carriage, the slither of glass that runs down the centre is backed with a reflective lining so all you can see is your own panicked face staring blankly back. But the backing was old and peeling at the corners. Using one eye I squinted into the cab, slowly searching for what I was beginning to think was the cause of all the commotion. Sure enough, the ghost of the lad I’d spoken to earlier stood in the middle, staring out the front and watching as the living world flashed by.

I could say anything to him, shout through the door. I knew what was causing this entire thing and I couldn’t do a thing to stop it. Then I started asking questions. Why was he doing this? Why now, when this had never happened before? What did he mean earlier when he said we weren’t there yet? Was it because he thought we were trying to stop him?

That was when the scream of the engine was replaced by the squeal of the brakes. It was sudden, so much so that all of us ended up sprawled on the floor, sliding down the carriageways until we could find something to grab onto. It wasn’t so bad for me since I was already at the end, but I watched as the team clung on to the seats, even to each other, to stop their unwanted progress down the carriage.

The train juddered to a complete stop, and for a brief moment I felt a jolt of hope that it was all over, that all that lad wanted was to get to a specific station and then disappear. This was a short-lived hope. We all began to stand up, trying to get our balance on two legs. I managed to hoist myself upright using the handle of the door but when I looked down the train, through the small windows in the carriage doors, I saw a group of three lads get on.

I opened my mouth, gulping down the air, wanting to scream at them to get off, but before I could utter a single syllable, I heard the distant thunk of a door closing down the train. It was the only one that had opened, and I knew that no matter how hard we tried none of them would be opening again. The train groaned into motion before any of us could do anything. Following the direction of my stare Strother also noticed the lads and asked how they had gotten on. He wouldn’t have believed the answer.

I wasn’t stupid enough to believe it was sheer bad luck that had made the train stop and pick up those lads. They had to be connected somehow. Strother was already on his way down the carriage and I followed him. The lads all sat at a table seat, feet on seats, laughing at something. They had no idea what they’d just walked into.

Strother asked them how they’d got on the train. They paused, looked at each other with disbelief, then sniggered the answer that the train doors had opened. They then accused Strother of being pished*. Whilst Strother was explaining the situation to them, and their joy turned quickly sour, I noticed the spirit in the carriage, and he was smiling. Not the friendly way, but the triumphant way, the way you smile when you’ve killed the wasp that stung you.

What did these men have to do with the spirit? Why had he stopped the train just for them? Unsurprisingly, after Strother broke the news they all began to panic, spouting nonsensical shite about being too young to die and that it wasn’t fair. The spirit’s spiteful smile widened.

I began to scrutinise the lads, looking for something that would connect them with the ghost. Their tracksuits, their trainers, the hairstyles they wore. That was when I noticed that each of the three had a tattoo on their forearms. It was a word, mostly covered up so I couldn’t read it. I observed the ghost and noticed he also had a tattoo in the same place, but his was definitely a different word. Was I stretching? A word scrawled onto a patch of visible skin was hardly a niche thing. I was certain they had a connection somehow, but without the ghost showing me, or being able to speak with the gang alone, it was impossible to find it.

At this point it would be easier getting the truth from the living rather than the dead. I went on the theory that the three lads must’ve had something to do with the ghost’s death. Why else would it go to so much trouble to get them on the carriage?

Thankfully, Strother was summoned by Ken, giving me the opportunity to do something I took immense pleasure in. Making immoral people afraid of me. Were they immoral? Perhaps not, but they were certainly something bad if a spirit had decided it would rather stay just to torment and kill them.

“Who did you kill?” I hissed at them.

An eerie silence settled, pushing out their panic.

“You killed him on this train, didn’t you?” I demanded.

To be fair this confrontation could’ve gone either way for me. If I was right then these three lads had killed someone, what was stopping them from doing the same to me to shut me up? But I figured it was the same reason I was using such a forceful and dangerous tactic. We were on a train that was hurtling towards our deaths.

“He’s going to return the favour, unless you tell me what happened.”

The spirit didn’t like my line of inquiry and using more force than the last time decided to push me out of the way. I went sprawling down the aisle, stopping my landing with my hands and feeling as the pain spread through them like a bad case of pins and needles. By this point in the study I hadn’t met Ewan and he hadn’t given me my moonstone bracelet that protects me from ghost’s power. I was completely at the mercy of the spirit.

I pleaded with the three lads to tell me the truth about what had happened, and my fall seemed to have shaken some realisation into them. Under no other circumstances would it have been so easy to force their confessions, but their panic, the imminent threat of death, and my impossible knowledge about their crime were all working in my favour.

The three of them couldn’t speak quick enough, and it was hard to hear as they were all talking over one another, correcting each other. From what I understood, the three lads were members of a gang, they were all street dealer level, carrying the odd bag of cocaine and weed. The spirit was from an opposing gang. The group of them had some kind of turf war going on. One night, coming back on the last train doped up on their own product, the spirit had got on by himself, and the three lads decided they were going to teach him a lesson.

The spirit never had a chance, it was three against one, and it had spiralled out of control. The three lads were quick to pin the blame on each other, and then try to wriggle out of the responsibility. None of them knew who had dealt the final blow, but when they realised he wasn’t fighting back, or even moving, they began to panic.

It may be an empty train, and they may have covered the CCTV cameras in the carriage, but there was very little chance they wouldn’t be seen by someone alighting with a corpse. That’s what their drug addled minds thought at the time anyway. They decided instead that they wouldn’t get off with the body, they’d just hide it somewhere in the carriage.

I know, none of them strained a muscle thinking of that plan. They managed to find a loose panel of the wall, just behind the toilet, and bundled the corpse inside, breaking bones just to get it to fit, then covered it back up. How the smell hadn’t seeped out I’ll never know.

They’d then got off the train at their stop and never told a soul what had happened. Words were tumbling from their mouths quicker than I could keep up, but I hauled myself from the ground, trying to concentrate on what they were saying, when they all suddenly fell quiet. All I could hear were choking noises, the desperate sound of someone swallowing trying to claw air into their lungs but failing. The spirit was in front of one of the lads closing their fingers around his throat.

I know I say that humans frighten me more because they can do more harm. That doesn’t mean ghosts can’t do their fair share – it’s just rarer. The remaining two stared wide eyed at their friend, unable to see what I could.

I shouted at them to find the remains, not really knowing if that was going to help any. I had no idea how to force a ghost to move on, all the ones I’d ever met and helped chose to do so, but this one wanted his pound of flesh before he left.

Frantically, the two clambered over each other to the toilet, which was in the same carriage we were, and clawed at the panel to pry it off. With their combined strength they managed, and they fell backwards taking the piece of metal with them. The near mummified remains of the spirit fell onto the floor with a dry, brittle sound that wasn’t drowned out by the engine. The smell erupted everywhere and the lads began to wretch.

The ghost still remained, my plan hadn’t worked, and there was about to be another corpse on the train. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash, a blip of ash grey smoke, like the wisps that trickle from a candle wick after the flame’s been blown out.

I couldn’t focus on it, sometimes I thought I could see the outline of a person, then others it was back to being a shapeless, ethereal being. The same ash smoke swirled around the spirit of the murdered lad, engulfed him until I couldn’t make out his arm from his leg. He began to frantically shake his head, screaming that he wasn’t ready to go, but the smoke didn’t appear to care.

Then it dissipated, faded into the air, taking the ghost with it. The lad who was being strangled crumpled to the floor as though someone had pulled his bones out, gulping air as if he’d never breathed in his life.

That’s when I felt the train begin to slow down, my body swayed forwards, the screech of the engine died away and the scenery outside didn’t rush by so quick. Strother arrived in the carriage and announced that the driver had managed to get back into the cab, and that the controls were working again. He was stopping the train.

That’s when Strother saw the mess. One lad on the floor rubbing his throat, another two being sick, and then the gruesome remains of the boy they’d murdered.

He asked me if the bones were what he thought they were. I nodded absently. He got his phone out and began to dial the police, muttering under his breath that it was the second time we’d found remains on a case. Little did he know the number was much higher than that.

The lads were all charged with various degrees of murder and accessory and did prison time. As for what happened to the spirit. At the time I didn’t have a clue. I’d never seen anything that could whisk away a ghost like that before. I didn’t even think it was possible. I hadn’t really seen what it was either.

I know now, of course, but that’s experience, and don’t worry, I’ll tell you soon.

*Pished – a Scottish slang word for drunk.

Episode 16 – Train to nowhere

I’m sorry it’s been a while. I needed a break, to think, to plan, to move. After the house was broken into and ransacked, I thought it was best to leave. If they can do that to a house then what could they do to me? They can’t kill me, yet, because I still have the things they want. There are things you can do to a person that are worse than death, and I’d rather not find out what they are.

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop making these statements. There’s still a lot to tell, especially since I skipped forward. I’m trying to go through these chronologically, matching the files Strother and I kept, but skipping to the end has always been a temptation of mine.

Let’s go back again, to the first year of my PhD when I was ignorant of what was awaiting me. Our cases didn’t always fall onto our laps, acquaintances and friends didn’t always think they had a ghost problem. Sometimes, we had to shift for ourselves. The problem was that we used the internet to do this, and as with something so large and therefore easier to lie to, it was almost impossible to know which ones were genuine or were down to someone having too much bucky* on a night out. I won’t insult your intelligence with some of the ones I read, or that we laughed amongst ourselves at, but there were a few amongst the shite that were worth looking into.

Ken was the one to bring this particular case to our attention. On his journeys around the internet he had found a few pages dedicated to the so-called Glasgow haunted train. He had found witness accounts of strange noises throughout an entire train that went from the capital down to Ayr. If you’ve ever been on any train you’ll know there are a lot of noises you could consider strange, and all of those will be mechanical.

According to other stories a handful of independent individuals had reportedly seen a young man sitting at a table seat, staring forlornly out the window. They thought nothing of it, but when they got up to leave and glance back, they noticed he’d vanished. Strange noises and a disappearing passenger was all we needed to head to Glasgow to investigate.

Our first problem was the people. If you’ve ever visited Glasgow central, or any major train station for that matter, you’ll know that the sheer number of people makes it impossible to get anywhere fast. The Glasgow to Ayr line was busy for commuters, people travelling to Prestwick airport, and various other people with lives to lead. So, how were we supposed to set up a controlled environment in which to investigate?

At the time it was miraculous but looking at it in hindsight it makes a lot more sense. After checking carriage and train numbers, we discovered that it was one particular train where people reported seeing and hearing strange things. Strother managed to get the train on the line with no one else on it. There was still a service going on another train on the same platform, and we were thrown strange looks by passengers, but this way we avoided having to mingle with them.

I was impressed at the time, and I thought Strother must have some pull with someone on high. Little did I know it was probably Margaret Donaldson who used her own gravitas to procure us a private train.

Obviously, none of us could drive the train so there was one more person who joined us, the driver. He didn’t look too happy about it and when Ken jokingly asked if he’d lost a bet, he replied, in all seriousness:


The train itself posed more difficulties when we were setting up the equipment. Trains aren’t known for their stability, and if you’ve ever seen how the staff stand on a journey you’ll know what I mean. Since it was a local train it didn’t go at high speeds, but there were bits of old track to navigate, winding down the countryside. Any motion sensors we set up would be constantly going off, and any images would be blurry.

Everything had to be attached to the train, to the walls, the floor, even the corners beside the CCTV cameras. There’s something very unsettling about being on a train by yourself. At first, it’s a peaceful and novel experience, then the longer time ticks away the more eerie it becomes until you feel as though Armageddon might’ve hit during your journey and you’re the only person left on earth.

By the time the train pulled away from the station everything had been set up and all we had to do was watch the screens and try not to get travel sick. To mimic the conditions when the spirit was seen we’d asked the driver to stop at the usual stations, but not open the doors. Because it was a local train there were a number of stops which felt like short distances, so by the time we set off it was time to stop again.

During our preparation, moving around the train, squeezing ourselves down the narrow passageways between seats, I hadn’t seen or heard anything. Although this wasn’t a great sign, I hadn’t dismissed the reports altogether.

I’ll admit, methods of transportation being haunted was a new concept for me. It was always buildings or people by that point. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to haunt a train either. Was travelling with Scotrail really such a trauma? Perhaps it was the prices.

I can joke now, but even Strother didn’t appear to take the job very seriously. By this point everything we’d investigated had yielded nothing, and I could see the lack of results were beginning to take its toll on morale. We’d go onto collect bits and pieces over the years, but as is the way, nothing concrete, until, of course, the asylum. So, by this point I could well imagine the team assumed we’d find nothing, especially considering our source was a bit suspect.

It really was a nice journey, barring the frequent stops. Once the train emerged from Glasgow it was sprawling green countryside until the horizon. Wheat fields, vibrant poppies, cows as far as the eye could see. But sure enough, not long into the journey we all heard a noise that was different to the rest.

Not the rumbling of the wheels on the tracks, or the whine of the engine, or the crackle of the cables overhead. I thought it sounded like someone whispering through a pipe, except it seemed to go from one end of the carriage to the other. Like those plastic tubes you used to get as a bairn, groan tubes, but with a deeper pitch and slower execution.

It was definitely noticeable over the other noises of the train, and it sounded out of place. Obviously because it was the same train and carriage numbers that people reported hearing the noise Strother was keen on it being something mechanical. For all I knew he could’ve been right. Hearing strange noises is only half of the problem, without seeing it I’m as powerless as everyone else.

He set us to searching each carriage, because the noise was being picked up on every recorder we’d set up. We looked under the seats, in the corners, Strother became so zealous he removed one of the panels on the wall to reveal the electrical circuits behind it. The rest of us didn’t go that far, but by the same token we couldn’t find where the noise was coming from.

To me it sounded like the ceiling, where the light strips were, but Ken swore it was the windows. It did echo around the carriage before making its way to the opposite end. Then it just stopped.

That was the only thing to happen in the first few hours. We got to Ayr, went back, and then started all over again. The scenery became pretty generic by the sixth passing. I was nearly on the same level of demoralisation as the rest of the team were because in those few journeys I’d never seen the vanishing passenger, or anything else. It looked like Strother was right. The noise must be a mechanical failure somewhere, but there was just something biting at me about the noise. I just couldn’t place my finger on what.

In the early evening, we were sitting together eating what food we’d brought with us when I saw a flash through the carriage doors. There’s a very thin window on the doors at the end, so you can only see a small bit of the next carriage, but I knew I saw something.

Giving the excuse that I needed the toilet I went to investigate. Peering through the glass I cast my eyes in every seat that was facing towards me, all the way up to the opposite end, and again, saw a brief glimmer of something. I stepped through the doors and began to walk my way unsteadily up the carriage, holding onto the seats for stability.

At the very end, at a table seat looking out the window, was a young lad. His hair was cut close to his head and he was wearing a red tracksuit with black stripes. Just like in the reports he was staring out the window at the scenery, watching as the cows and fields flashed by. I moved nearer, pinning my eyes on him hoping that would make him stay. Then the train jolted over the tracks and jerked me to one side. By the time I’d regained my balance he was gone.

Frustrated, I made my way over to the seat anyway, thinking there might be something hidden underneath or near that would give me some clues. No matter where I looked there was nothing there. At least the case had finally got interesting.

I saw him again an hour later, at the same table, but this time I managed to reach him before he disappeared. Back in those days I assumed every ghost was a ghost, but as you know there are as many different types of spirit as there are ice cream flavours. Thankfully, this one was pretty standard, and when I came to stand beside him, he looked up at me.

“We’re not there yet,” he said.

“Not where?” I questioned.

He retorted petulantly that he didn’t want to go because he wasn’t ready. Before I could think of a reply he stated, angrily, that I couldn’t force him. I became confused. This seemed like a conversation where I was the only one who didn’t know what was going on. Did he think I was someone else? If that was so then who else had he been talking to?

I began to hear the noise again, the whispered groaning, but it was more frantic this time, faster and afraid. He stood up quickly and looked out the window, practically pressing his face to the glass. The train began to slow, the engine noise was replaced with the chink of the breaks. We were approaching a stop. Then we began to pick up speed, the engine thrummed back into life, and I saw a platform briefly appear in the window before it was gone. We were going too fast to see which station.

It’s not unusual for trains not to stop at every station on the line. They might not be a part of the train’s regular route, or they might be request only. They usually slow down as they go past in case there’s anyone waiting on the platform for another train. There was nothing unusual about it.

“We’re nearly there,” the ghost uttered, staring out the window with a childlike eagerness.

He acted as if I wasn’t there at all, and he didn’t appear inclined to tell his story like most other ghosts did. I offered my help, but he rounded on me, outrage flaring his nostrils, and spat that he didn’t need my help.

Then he did something that any ghost rarely did. He pushed me out of the way and disappeared off down the carriage. It wasn’t a hard shove, but it was enough to make me stagger back a few steps, aided by the train’s unstable sense of gravity. Then a feeling of slow, viscous dread began to trickle down into my stomach. The sense that I didn’t really have any control of our current environment. Houses and buildings were one thing, they were stationary, you could leave if it became that bad, but a moving train, that was a whole other kettle of fish. I was on his turf now, and if he didn’t want to show me his story then I had no choice. I didn’t know who he was, why he was here, and I didn’t really have any way of finding out. We had started playing a game, but I didn’t have any cards.

When I returned, the train driver had joined the rest of the team and I swear I’d never seen anyone look as grey as he did. I recognised the look on his face, the one of disbelief, and a stroke of panic that made my heart drop.

He then told us he couldn’t drive the train properly, and that he hadn’t been able to take control of it for over 5 minutes. Steph asked if that was the case then who was driving the train. He swallowed hard and then replied. No one.

Present Day

I like to pack for holidays in advance. At least three days before, I have the things I’m going to take, and the things I need to take, all set aside. That’s why I wasn’t happy when I had to pack everything in as short a time as possible and leave my own home. I loved that house, I bought that house, but it’s just not safe anymore.

The files are still in hiding, not always with me. The question remains as to who wanted them badly enough to break into Strother’s family home, and my house? My first thought was Margaret Donaldson. As soon as I start looking into her people follow me and my home is ransacked. But by that same token it could be an unknown third party who has interest in the study. I’ve hardly been keeping things to myself. But all I’ve released are stories, my experience, and by themselves they’re not proof of the paranormal.

Who would want to get their hands on that proof? Who has or had a stake in the study? That’s why my mind always comes back to Inverlewis and Margaret Donaldson. It makes sense. If she has enough pull to commandeer a private train then that doesn’t leave much else she can’t do. But surely because her company funded the study they already have copies of the files, especially since Strother sent them interim reports? Why would they need to break in and steal them? Whoever broke in hasn’t contacted me despite my offer on the last statement.

Too many unknowns. I’m not ready to give the files up yet. I need people to hear my voice and listen to my stories before I publish proof they’re real. Whoever wants them is just going to have to wait like the rest of the world.

*Bucky – Scottish slang for Buckfast, a cheap alcoholic drink that gets people drunk very quickly.

Episode 15 – Exposed

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.

Present day

*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.

Up ↑