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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:

“Aye.”

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.

Episode 14 – Breakthrough

**contains some strong language**

I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to get here. I just became so carried away with the first few months of the study that I chose to forget about the end. You know how it ended, but I’ve kept a lot of things to myself about that time.

Over the last few months my guilt has been growing like poison ivy, expanding until you can’t see anything else. You see I always knew there might be a connection, but ever since investigating who funded our study, remembering those last few months, last few cases, it’s become harder to deny the association.

So, I’ll start at the beginning of that sequence of events. Today, I’ll to tell you about the last medium we recruited to the study. It wasn’t intentional like the others had been, nor was it voluntary on their part. But their arrival marked the beginning of the end for me.

We’re jumping forward about two years from the other stories, but don’t worry, I still intend to tell everything that happened in between. We’d all grown to understand each other, to accept each other, and by that stage I was almost fond of Strother’s quirks. Almost.

My PhD thesis was coming along nicely, the light was on at the end of the tunnel, my time left on the study was short, and most importantly I’d managed to hide for nearly 3 years, all in plain sight. I was blissful in my ignorance that my past mistakes would come to haunt me.

The asylums of Victorian Britain still stand proudly in some corners of the country. Some have been renovated into other things, others pulled down so we can pretend to forget about our brutal misunderstanding of mental illness, and some, the occasional few, are left as monuments to it. As places where photographers go to capture the timeless essence of decay, of nature claiming back what is hers.

Unbelievably there are people who own them. Usually private individuals who once had a shiny plan which time has corroded into nothing. Sometimes these people get lucky and developers buy them, whilst to others they become a standing testament on how not to spend their money. Due to privacy reasons I can’t tell you who the owner was, or even the name of the building. From here on I’ll simply refer to it as the asylum.

The owner, who had bought it about 20 years previously, had been wanting to sell it for some time but had no offers. However, as soon as Strother told us about the request I knew why. This asylum had a reputation, as most abandoned buildings do, of being haunted. By this I mean so haunted TV series have stayed the night there. There’s an epidemic of witness accounts and stories attached to it of screaming, laughing, getting grabbed by an invisible force, being pushed, crying, you name it and someone’s probably reported it. Due to this kind of interest, the current owner had been unable to sell it. So, they wanted proof, once and for all, that there was nothing inside.

My opinion about places like this is that one or two accounts may be true, but the rest are usually fevered imaginations. It’s true in life that people only see things the way they want to, and haunted buildings are no different.

The email from the owner did sound more like a command than a request. They were willing to part with a considerable amount of money to get us to investigate, under the condition that we found nothing. On accepting, Strother refused the money and kept the right to report what he found to be true, whether haunted or not.

By this point in the study we’d found no proof of the paranormal. None of the ghosts, poltergeists, loops, wraiths, omens, or overseers I’d seen in the near 3 years on the study had ever been caught on any kind of device. Don’t worry, I’ll explain what an overseer is at some point. To the rest of the team this would just be another instance where there were no ghosts to be found, but to me there was endless possibility.

I’d been to my fair share of abandoned buildings, that’s why I ended up at the police station a few times when I was younger, but it’d been quite a while since I’d last stepped foot into one. There are very rarely hundreds of ghosts in the same place. From these stories you might think the world is full of ghosts, enough for there to be one per home, or one in every old building, but it’s not really like that. I only tell you about the places we went to that were haunted because there’s not usually story in the ones which weren’t.

One weekend in late winter or early spring, it’s always hard to tell in Scotland, we packed our things into the van and set off to the abandoned asylum. As had become my ritual I sat in the van on the way and read up on the building. It was a regular, if you’ll excuse the pun, haunt for photographers and there were hundreds of pictures online of variously touched up photos of both inside and outside the Gothic building. It looked more mansion than asylum, with long windows, turrets at each corner, and arches for doorways, along with decorative carved faces of what I could only assume were beings from folklore. This style of architecture was very popular when it was built in the 1850s to house the so-called “lunatics”. Obviously, this tended to include people with a varying range of mental illness. Those with depression would be treated the same as those with schizophrenia. If I lived back then I shudder to think if I’d be put into one.

Due to its reputation, and the state of the inside, most of the pictures gave it a sense of isolation. An eerie place no one dared go near in the dark. The asylum, after many name changes over the decades, had been closed to the public in the 60s and had changed hands a few times until the current owner. The pictures of the wards and empty staircases looked like something from a film set. The paint was peeling from the walls until it resembled the scaly back of a reptile, the floor was covered in debris from the bits of ceiling that had fallen off, shards of glass from the decimated windows and dead leaves that had blown in during the cold autumn. The most poignant detail to me was that there were still a few beds in the wards, stripped down to the frame and springs, but they painted a grim picture nonetheless.

I had mixed feelings about the asylum on the drive and after my research. There was no reason for it to be haunted, and yet there was every reason. How much misery had happened inside? What terrible events would be so strong that they would resonate down the centuries? What tormented souls were denied peace in death when they’d had none in life?

Even now, visiting places like that fills me with an inexplicable sense of dread. Most of the time it’s pretty mundane, just an empty building, but others…well, they’re for another time.

As we pulled up to the main entrance I admit to being awed by the asylum. If you looked past the boarded-up windows, the graffiti, and nature growing out of every crack, it was a magnificent building. It stretched 3 floors and sprawled out like a stately home. Perhaps overshadowing the magnificence was the unmissable sense of abandonment and decay. The sandstone was tinged with dark green and black, the cream paint on the archway was now a gruesome shade of grey, and the doors, once meant to appear welcoming, were shut with a heavy-duty padlock and chain, a few curse words scrawled with spray paint.

There was a man there to greet us. He introduced himself as Malcolm. He worked for the current owner as some kind of property manager, and so had a key to the lock. I could tell he was reluctant to go up the steps to the entrance, and I don’t think the mountain of litter and pigeon shite did much to entice him. He was friendly and chatted away quite the thing, but our attention was captured by another car pulling up and parking beside the van. At first, I thought it might be the owner come to greet us in person, or perhaps someone from a local newspaper investigating the activity at the abandoned asylum on a slow news day.

A young lad stepped from the car, in his late twenties at the time, yet he had something about him that felt older, a sense of knowledge that he inexplicably permeated like perfume. He took one swooping glance at the building as if committing the entire thing to memory, then came and joined us.

We all looked around at each other, confused and waiting for him to explain. But he never did. He was more interested in the building and its charms than any of us. It took Malcolm to introduce the lad as Ewan Brodie, a medium. I swear I heard the rest of the team’s internal groans as if they had uttered them aloud. Remember, by this point we hadn’t found any evidence of the supernatural and this included mediums. Each one we’d recruited to the study showed no sign of their abilities being down to anything more than chance.

I tended to share their opinion by this point. After 3 years of willing another person like me into existence and facing disappointment each time, I’d become jaded and began to think there was no one else like me. This Ewan Brodie would just be another name to add to the list.

I thought Strother would protest the medium’s presence, especially since we weren’t told there’d be someone else in the asylum with us, but mysteriously he kept his silence. Ewan didn’t seem keen to talk with us and he said the bare minimum when Ken attempted some small talk. In all honesty, my first impression was that he was too big for his boots, but that shows you how much I’d changed in the 3 years of my PhD.

After Malcolm had removed the lock and chain from the door, he left and told us to call him back when we’d finished. Ewan wasted no time in going inside, and Strother didn’t appear to mind that he wasn’t first through the door. Instead we began to remove the equipment from the van.

It was a bit gloomy in the entrance to the asylum, but that’s because there weren’t any windows, and the ones on the ground floor had all been boarded up. So we could see where we were stepping we had to use torches. As in the pictures I’d seen online the ground was littered in debris from the building and rubbish from where people had squatted or had a weird night out in an abandoned asylum. Ewan was nowhere in sight, so the rest of us just carried on.

By this time setting up had become a streamlined process. Strother hardly ever had to tell us where to put anything because we instinctively knew. Ken and I were setting up in what looked as though it used to be a consultation room when he admitted to me he didn’t expect Ewan to be so young. I asked him what he meant. It turns out that Ewan Brodie was thought to be one of the few genuine mediums in existence. He was very discerning about what he worked on and styled himself as a medium by referral. His name was passed around by word of mouth only, and he hardly ever took on the requests he was sent.

I’d met plenty of mediums, and none were as high and mighty as him. But all of them were fake. Was this how the real ones acted? Or had he just accrued such a high reputation that he could afford to appear picky? I admit I’d never heard of him, but apparently Strother had sent him an invitation to be a part of the study and received no reply.

Ewan Brodie was a bit of an enigma in psychological circles and hardly anyone had seen him in person. I could see the glint of excitement in Ken’s eye as he told me all he knew. If any professional medium was genuine, then I think the entire team thought he’d be it.

We continued setting up, systematically moving from the ground floor upwards. It was difficult not to let the stories and my imagination spook me when I was on my own. There’s something about abandoned buildings that penetrates logic. It was cold, damp, and I shuddered every time I saw an abandoned bed or wheelchair. I wasn’t the only one, Steph yelped in fright when a pigeon flew out of the room she’d gone into, and the noise echoed like a distant scream.

I slinked my way up the stairs, avoiding the pieces of plaster and wood that had fallen. The light streamed in from the window, cracked and broken but uncovered. On the first floor the decay was more obvious but had a strange delicacy to it, almost like a spiders’ web glistens in the sun. Where the darkness cast a gloomy shadow on the ground floor, upstairs was illuminated, and if you looked hard enough you could see its glory days.

The building surrounded a courtyard, so there were only two ways to go, left or right. Holding the box in my arms I stepped towards the window which looked down on the forest the courtyard had become. Everything was engulfed by green, the small saplings that had been planted before it had closed had grown into full blown trees that towered above the asylum walls. It was hard to see any resemblance to what it’d been before.

Out of the corner of my eye, or perhaps my better sense, I felt something brush past me. Immediately I looked down the hallway after it, just managing to see a tiny wisp of something drift into one of the rooms. It wasn’t anything I recognised, but I’d definitely seen something.

Someone cleared their throat behind me and I don’t exaggerate when I say I jumped a foot in the air, nearly dropping the box of equipment. I spun around to see Ewan Brodie standing there, looking in the same direction I’d been. He stared at me for a few seconds, almost narrowing his eyes in scrutiny before a ghost of a smile crossed his face.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Sarah”, I replied.

“You work for Dr Strother?” he inquired.

I nodded slowly, still bewildered from my earlier shock. I saw the small smile again, only briefly, before it disappeared. He then asked me if I’d seen something. I became quite good at answering that question over the years. I shook my head in confusion and said no, I didn’t think so. He just nodded, but I thought there was something about his expression that didn’t believe me.

We went our separate ways and caught glimpses of each other intermittently. Every time I felt scrutinised, inspected. It was hard to ignore but made easier with the equipment. It took hours to set everything up on every floor, but it meant I had a good look at the entire building.

I experienced more flashes of spirits, or what I assumed to be spirits. They were more like will-o-the-wisps, small pockets of shadow or light before they disappeared. Every time I saw one, Ewan wasn’t far behind, and I began to get the feeling that he was more genuine than any medium I’d ever met before.

It was after I’d finished setting up one of the last boxes of equipment and began to head towards the stairs that I saw a woman, a human. It didn’t startle me as it should’ve but did surprise me. Was she another medium the owner had called in? Was she an associate of Ewan’s? She was standing very still, almost statue-esque, and when she noticed me she turned to face me with the blankest look I’d ever been given.

“Excuse me, I don’t think you can be in here”, I called to her.

I was sure she’d heard me, I could still hear the echo of my voice on the walls, but she never listened. The expression on her face became darker, as if a shadow had engulfed it. Honestly, it was the expression I’d seen on murderer’s faces before they killed someone. I became frightened then. I’ve said before, people scare me more than ghosts do because ghosts can’t really do any harm. I was alone in the corridor with this strange woman who ignited my sense of dread. The way she looked at me, pinning me with a dead stare I’d never been on the receiving end of. When she began to move towards me, I would’ve screamed if I’d had the chance.

She was down the hall one moment, and then by the time I blinked she’d closed half the distance. The way she flitted in my direction wasn’t human. Every time I blinked she’d be closer until she passed straight through me. In all the years since I’ve never felt anything like that. It was cold, painful, vengeful, angry and frightened simultaneously. My blood felt like it was freezing, my organs seizing up as if gripped by a terrible frost. As she moved through me she took my essence with her, and without it I crumpled to the floor like a wet towel.

I can’t express to you how horrible it was, I can never find the right words, but it’s stayed with me all these years. I don’t know how long I was on the floor, amongst the dirt and rubble before I realised Ewan was at my side. His appearance shocked me into action, and I began to drag myself from the ground.

“You saw her, didn’t you?” he asked.

“Saw who?” I replied, hearing the quiver to my voice.

He appeared irritated by my denial but then said that he and I were the same, and that he knew I could see what he could. I adamantly denied any knowledge of it and pretended I’d stumbled over some plaster. Again, he didn’t seem convinced.

Present Day

This is going to sound crazy. Well, I suppose we’re already on that train anyway. I was in the bank this morning and whilst waiting in the queue I saw this couple. At least, they were meant to be a couple but something was just…off. Not the ghost kind – no, I can understand that, this was something else, something more instinctual. They were holding hands, standing together, but there was nothing relaxed or at ease about their posture, their expressions. I’m not an expert at relationships but that didn’t look right.

I thought nothing else of it until as I was driving home, I saw the same couple in the car behind mine. This could all just be a huge coincidence, the world’s a big place with lots of people, but I think you know by now that coincidences in my life are never what they seem.

Perhaps I’m just paranoid. With releasing these statements, trying to find the director of Inverlewis and the break-in of Strother’s family home I do feel more on edge than usual. (chuckling weakly) I mean why would someone follow me? I’m not anyone important. Alice Strother said only the TV was taken, and they’d certainly left the place in a mess. But break-ins happen all the time.

(Sighs) it’s probably just stress, all this storytelling dredging up bad memories and guilt. Maybe I’ll take a break soon, from all of this, from the past. I’ve been so caught up in finding answers everything else has skittered away. I don’t know how many more brick walls I can keep running up against in this quest of mine.

Episode 13 – Battle of Wills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

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

Episode 12 – A Widow’s concern

Let’s get back to a good old haunted house story. Strother could be a bit of a snob, and that’s putting it politely. Where we had to mutiny against him in the Anderson case, whenever he wanted to investigate something, we all had to go along. Such was the case with the McBride house.

Strother was already established in his career by the time of the IPP study, and like many academics before and after, he’d created his own network of like-minded individuals. What’s more surprising is that he kept in touch with them and was on amiable terms. The snobbery I’m referring to is that these friends of his appeared to only have attended universities with high reputations, like Oxford and Cambridge. That’s just how I saw things at the time, when I was young and prone to disliking him.

A prominent psychologist at Cambridge, and a close colleague of Strother, had sent us a report of a house in Stirling being haunted. And so, because it was one of Strother’s colleagues, we packed our bags and set off along the motorway to investigate.

The house itself, more like a cottage really, was owned by Dr and Dr McBride, retired academics themselves. Just like the Anderson house, this was detached, but was close to the local village shops – more like shop singular.

As had become my ritual I sat in the van on my tablet whilst we travelled, reading as much as I could about the haunting. The McBrides had moved in barely 12 months previously, and almost as soon as the new locks had been put in there had been strange occurrences, like cold spots, furniture moving, feeling as though they weren’t alone in a room when no one else was in the house. The usual haunted house stuff. Like every case of a haunting we’d come across, Strother had a grounded explanation on hand.

Rather than the hallucinations of a child, they were the imaginings of a couple with the first stages of Alzheimer’s or shared psychosis. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s what he implied. I thought it was quite strange that reports of a haunting had only started when the elderly couple moved in. The family who’d owned the house before had never had any trouble, or if they did it wasn’t reported. Strother blamed the idleness of the elderly, but if you’ve ever had retired grandparents you know there’s no such thing as idle retirement. But he was the epitome of logical explanations, it wasn’t his fault he didn’t know the truth.

To be fair to him he could’ve been right. Where he always assumed logic, I always assumed otherwise, because that was what our experience had taught us. I suppose for academics neither of us ever went into an investigation unbiased.

When we arrived, Mrs McBride was already at the door to greet us. She was a kindly old woman, her grey hair unusually long and tied back in a bun at the nape of her neck. She looked be in her late sixties, but I’m about as good as identifying the age of retirees as I am with teenagers. They just all look the same. Rather than set up immediately, she insisted we all have a cup of tea and some biscuits, and uncharacteristically Strother agreed.

We didn’t have long with our break because as soon as he’d gulped his down he was on his feet and halfway back to the van to begin unloading. We set up as normal, but because the reports were so scattered around the house, equipment was spread quite thin.

The house was probably just as you imagine it. There was a lot of furniture, like display cabinets, drawers, coffee tables, and even more trinkets and ornaments to adorn the fireplace and window sills. The wallpaper was busy, that floral pattern that makes you dizzy if you look at it too long. Everything was clean, there wasn’t a particle of dust to be seen anywhere. I find the older generations have a lot of house pride, something which I’ve always lacked.

I’ll admit I took a liking to Mrs McBride. I never met either of my grandmothers, both were gone before I even went to school, and I always felt like I was missing something. So, when a kindly old lady began to feed me more biscuits, promising not to tell anyone else, I was smitten. I think she took a liking to me too. I hadn’t failed to notice the graduation and family pictures of her own children, but as with many kids, when they turn into adults, they move away to live their own lives, often some distance away from their parents.

I was putting up cameras in the kitchen, chatting away with Mrs McBride. I noticed there were occasions when she seemed to check out, if you know what I mean. She’d get a glazed look in her eyes as if she was daydreaming or distracted. Then, after a few moments, she’d come right back and continue our conversation. Dementia did occur to me, but she was fine otherwise.

She asked me how someone with my background had become entangled in ghost hunting. By background she meant my degree, not my ability to see ghosts. In the 3 years of my PhD I never managed to hone an explanation about how the hell I’d ended up on the IPP study. I fumbled my way through a pittance of an excuse, anything but the disappointing truth in that I’d had nowhere else to go, and that I had psychopathic tendencies.

Then she asked me if I believed, and I knew she didn’t mean God. That question has plagued me all my life. For most people in this world it’s a matter of faith, not dissimilar to religion. There’s no definitive proof of either God or ghosts, not to average people. To me, it wasn’t a matter of belief, but fact, what I could see with my own eyes. The larger implication behind her question was if there was life after death, and I, unlike most human beings, was privy to that answer. Yes, there was, for a certain few unfortunate souls. Beyond that was a mystery, even to me.

My answer to that question changes depending on who’s asking. It’s better to play along with people when you know they don’t really want the truth. I observed Mrs McBride, and I observed the rest of her house. More importantly, the things that weren’t there. One towel drying on the radiator, one toothbrush in the bathroom, framed black and white picture in the centre of the mantelpiece, showing the heyday of a man who’s already gone. Mrs McBride was a widow, and none of us had known. The exchange between Strother and his colleague was at least six months old, and in that time Mr McBride had passed.

Grief has a lot to do with faith. People either find religion or the supernatural in the midst of theirs. Some turn away from one and find the other to be of more comfort. Faith also becomes more important during times of loss. That’s the reason why my answer changes depending on who’s asking. Regardless of fact, faith brings comfort during a time when everything else brings pain. I saw the way Mrs McBride was looking at me. It was important for her to have her own beliefs validated by someone else, to know she wasn’t the only sceptic turned believer in the face of death.

I answered that I did, and that gave her some relief. Here was a woman who’d surrounded her entire life with science, yet now it brought her no sense of stability, only emptiness. She’d also spent her entire life a sceptic, like her husband, but now was being forced to face that she might actually have been wrong. Whether she thought the disturbances in the house had something to do with her husband wasn’t something we discussed. She was certainly one of the calmer people I’ve ever met when faced with the existence of ghosts. She seemed to almost welcome it.

It wasn’t the ghosts, or lack of, that bothered me. It was the promise of an awkward conversation between all of us somewhere down the line when she’d be forced to tell us her husband had passed. I could see the grief was still raw, and I wasn’t looking forward to the full weight of it on her face as she told us the truth.

Strother came into the kitchen and asked Mrs McBride if he could start taking her statements about the strange occurrences in the house. She was more than happy to have someone else to listen. It was about ten minutes later when I began to hear a thumping on the ceiling, as if someone was dancing around up there. I assumed it was maybe Steph or Ken setting up, but when they walked past the kitchen door both Strother and I realised it wasn’t. Something came crashing down the stairs, skittering down every step until it finally broke at the bottom. It was a crystal bowl, the pieces of it lying everywhere, on every step. Strother hastily commanded me to set up the cameras up the stairs, and I did as I was told, avoiding the glass shards.

It was a deceptively large house, with at least 5 bedrooms and an attic. I’d grown nervous after the bowl incident. You’ll notice that my stories this far have involved pretty tame ghosts, with perhaps one exception. I suppose you could call the one in the McBride home a poltergeist. In my experience they tend to be stronger than the normal ghosts, and can move things freely. They’re also more dangerous, because if they throw things down the stairs, what’s stopping them from throwing a body?

I’d only ever met one before, but that’s another story for another recording. Once I was up the stairs, I realised that all the doors were closed, meaning I had very little idea of what was behind them. So far, we’d concentrated our efforts down the stairs, setting up the base, checking if equipment was working. The first floor had been neglected. The other difference was there was definitely a presence up there. I’d see something in the corner of my eye, a man, just a glimpse, but it wasn’t uncomfortable, in fact it was quite timorous, and after a while of flashes here and there I concluded it was possibly Mr McBride. It could’ve been my wishful thinking.

The first two rooms were bedrooms, probably for guests or family when they came to visit. The third room was one everyone’ll be familiar with. It’s the storage room where things which don’t have a place anywhere else are thrown so it’s out of mind. Children’s toys, old magazines, and a myriad of trinkets were on the floor and every available surface. Sets of drawers, a wardrobe or two, cardboard and plastic boxes alike, and unused chairs were strewn about. Some drawers were so full that they wouldn’t close. The largest piece of furniture was a grand old display cabinet with glass fronted panels, made of a dark mahogany wood that shimmered in the daylight from the window. It felt like it was at least a metre taller than I was, and contained even more trinkets, and some fancy china plates which I assumed might be a wedding set, notoriously unused.

I had an idea as I looked at it, since it was so high up I could easily place a camera on it. I then also realised cabinets that large and old had a tendency to topple over, so decided to look for somewhere else.

I went further into the room, stepping on pieces of carpet that didn’t have anything on them, over and in-between the collection of a married lifetime, but I stopped suddenly when I heard a shrill voice shoot through the air.

“Don’t look at her”, it said.

It was too loud to have come from downstairs. My eyes scanned around the room quickly, trying to see something, even if it was just a flash. I was too busy searching for something around the room that I didn’t see as the monster of a display cabinet began to shake precariously. I didn’t even realise it was moving until I sensed something about to fall on top of me.

Instinctively, I put my arms up to protect myself, and the pain I felt when the cabinet connected still resonates to this day. I’ve had my fare share of scrapes in my life, but that’s definitely in the top 5. It actually broke my arm, but I didn’t realise at the time because the breaking of the bone was drowned out by the almighty shattering of the glass panels on the door and everything inside. I crumpled to the floor and would’ve been crushed to death by that cabinet if it hadn’t caught on a set of drawers behind me. I was stuck underneath with little to no space to move.

It was difficult not to panic. My arm throbbed with pain, I was covered in glass as was the floor around me, and it was dark, as if someone had pulled the curtains over the window to block out the light. It’s what I imagined being buried alive is like. It felt like the longest time that I just lay there, still, battling with the rising panic and the pain that engulfed my left arm. I wanted to scream for help but wasn’t sure if anyone would hear me underneath the cabinet and up the stairs. My voice was also frozen with shock. I think I was just in shock. All I could do was inhale, and exhale.

I didn’t hear the footsteps storming up the stairs, and only barely heard the door to the room opening. It was Strother’s voice I heard through my panic, calling my name in a questioning, serious tone, but it was calm, level, and it pulled me back to my senses.

I replied that I was fine, which I wasn’t. I heard Ken say something about the cabinet looking heavy, then Steph’s voice replying she was unsure how they were going to move it, or even how it had fallen in the first place. All I wanted was someone to pull me out, but I was slowly realising that the academics were doing what they did best. Discussing a problem to death before actually doing anything about it.

I began to move my legs, which thankfully weren’t stuck, and managed to shimmy my way towards where I could hear their voices. After a few moments I felt two hands under my arms and someone pulled me the rest of the way out. It was Strother. He propped me up on one of the wardrobes, which I’ll admit I was afraid would also decide to fall on me, and asked if I was hurt. I could no longer feel my arm and glanced at it gingerly, hoping I wouldn’t see a bone protruding from my skin. Thankfully there was only blood from the many cuts and incisions the breaking glass and china had made. They were all over my face, hands, and arms as well, but I wouldn’t find that out until later, when the shards were being removed.

Strother began to examine my arm and as soon as he did the pain returned and I whimpered like a child. Mrs McBride bustled into the room at that point and began fussing me, asking if I were faint, if I’d been hurt, and as soon as she took a good look at me she announced she was going to call the doctor and disappeared.

Strother asked if I could stand and I nodded, pulling myself from the floor but as soon as I was nearly upright the room began to spin and my legs acted as though someone had pulled the bone out of them. Strother caught me before I could fall and eased me back down to the floor, telling me to breathe slowly and that it was just the shock. I’d be fine in a few moments. His voice was reassuring and calm, and I did as I was told until the dizziness was gone.

***

I managed to find the person working at Inverlewis. After a few probing emails they agreed to meet with me. Even before I arrived I could sense their reluctance. I’ll call this person Mary, not her real name.

Mary arranged to meet me at some services on the M74 in the early hours of the morning. For those outside of Scotland the M74 is the only motorway that connects the West side of Scotland with England. It runs from Glasgow to the border. Understandably at that time in the morning the road is quiet, as are the services. We’d arranged to meet in Starbucks, just by the window.

Mary, a woman in her mid-fifties, wore a black wig and glasses that didn’t have any lenses. Were things so bad that she had to wear a disguise before meeting me? I sat down opposite her, without ordering anything, and begged her to tell me the connection Inverlewis had with the study.

She told me that before she’d left the company she’d been strongly encouraged to sign a non-disclosure agreement. From her tone I felt like it was more coerced than gently persuaded. Due to this she couldn’t tell me any details. However, she did confirm that Inverlewis had funded the study, although it’d be almost impossible to find proof now, and that the director of Inverlewis showed a particular interest and had asked to see all of the reports that were sent by Strother.

She then warned me, a spark of genuine fear in her eyes, to stop. I often wonder why people bother, is it to absolve them of any guilt if something bad happens? Her being so enigmatic, and the existence of a non-disclosure agreement for a distribution company’s employs had just made me more curious. What do they have to hide? Why were they involved in the study, why did they fund it? And where were they when it all went down the pan?

We’ll have to find out, won’t we?

Episode 11 – Amen

People frighten me more than ghosts. It’s not ghosts who kill people or who hurt others. They’re usually the victim, the one in need of help. At least, that’s what my experience had been before the MacQueenie possession.

Heather had spoken to me in someone else’s voice, I’d seen someone else’s face on hers. I was so afraid of what I’d seen that I desperately tried to explain it away with logic. I would’ve said she’d faked the whole thing if I hadn’t had a physical reaction to it. Reason was the only thing that I could hold onto to keep the fear at bay.

Heather had said, in someone else’s voice, that they knew I could see them, and they knew what I was. Then proceeded to call me a witch. The phrase that struck a resonating chord in my memory was that witches should burn. The other poignant detail was that the face I’d seen overlapping Heather’s was definitely human. I don’t claim to know what demons look like, if they exist, but I can’t imagine it would be anything as mundane as our own faces.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the witch trials in Scotland. If you think the epidemic in Salem was bad, you’re in for a shock. I said before, Scotland and its people are superstitious, even in this world of science and fact. It’s no surprise that back in the throes of the witch trial pandemic that thousands of innocent men and women were burned alive after being accused of using witchcraft. If it was a demon possessing Heather, why would it call me a witch, and why would it care that I should be burned?

No, this didn’t sound like a demon, this sounded like a priest of the 17th century. Had we been half right? Rather than a demon possession, was this a ghost possession? Could this level of control even be possible from a spirit? Considering the evidence had looked me straight in the eye and told me I couldn’t help made me more inclined to believe it was.

Unfortunately, the entire episode had occurred with no witnesses, and as soon as Strother had come back it had disappeared. Heather herself didn’t seem to realise what had happened, and if it weren’t for my racing heart and fearful shock, I would’ve thought I’d imagined the entire thing.

The bottom line was I knew ghosts, I knew how to deal with them. I didn’t know anything about demons. It was easier for me to convince myself this was a bad case of spirit possession. Either way, I didn’t know what to do.

I could tell Strother, but at that stage he was being so enigmatic himself that I wasn’t sure it’d do much good to tell him. If Heather herself denied it, then I’d be the person so caught up in demon fever that I imagined her threatening me and calling me a witch.

So, I said nothing and tried to calm myself down as I watched Strother conduct his tests on Heather. If anything was out of the ordinary, he never said. Nothing else happened, Heather never lapsed into the other voice, or the other face, and I sat there beginning to think I had developed some kind of paranoia.

Unbeknownst to me, Ken and Steph were downstairs with the MacQueenies and Father Alan watching recordings of the exorcisms that were performed on Heather. Strother and I were shown them after we’d finished conducting the tests. It’s not what you’d expect, or even think. Heather wasn’t strapped to a bed, or tied up, she sat in a chair in the middle of the living room, facing what I presumed to be the trained exorcist who was reciting something in Latin. All throughout his dialogue she never did anything, much like what had happened during her tests with Strother. Through both exorcisms she sat there calmly, sometimes closing her eyes, occasionally looking out of frame, even at the camera. It was during one of those instances that I glimpsed the same smile on her features as I had done when we were alone in the room. It was just a brief second where her face was masked by someone else’s, but it was too quick for me, or anyone else, to see any details. I don’t even think anyone noticed apart from me because they never asked to pause the recording, or for a closer look. Not wanting to draw attention, I kept quiet.

Looking back, I probably should’ve said something. That was the first piece of evidence we ever found of paranormal activity. It would be quite a while before we found anything similar. But I was so afraid of Heather, of whatever was inside her, that I thought by keeping quiet it wouldn’t threaten me again.

This didn’t pan out as I was hoping. During the hours we spent at the MacQueenie’s home none of the reported phenomena happened. This was as much a shock to us as it was to her family. Strother kept his silence and agreed that we would return the next day.

Whilst packing away the equipment from the MacQueenie’s room Heather once again cornered me when I was alone. My first thought was that her slender figure was blocking the only safe exit from the room. As my gaze roamed quickly I couldn’t find anything that could kill me if thrown in my direction from an invisible force.

“Witch,” she whispered again in another voice.

“What are you?” I managed to stutter but I could hear the fear in my voice.

“Your saviour. I can save your soul from eternal damnation, just as I can save this girl’s.”

It all sounded very familiar. Not personally, but we’ve all heard similar lines written in the annals of history. Saving souls, eternal damnation, my earlier theory that it was more human than demonic was beginning to look promising.

“Who are you?” I demanded, braver this time.

“You know who she is,” Strother’s voice interrupted our brief conversation as he passed Heather at the door.

She gave him a quick glance, just a small look, but whatever I’d seen on her face Strother also saw. It was a split second, but I saw his features crumple in doubt, some colour draining from his face. He saw what I saw. Not Heather, but something else. She came around after that and asked us why she was in the room. Strother used her question as a lifeline, applying logic in a situation where there was none to be found, much like I’d done after my first encounter. He queried if she blacked out a lot, couldn’t remember why she’d done something or gone somewhere. She said yes, frequently.

He simply nodded his head pensively before collecting some equipment and leaving. I was quick to follow.

That evening, in the hotel, I researched local history, concentrating on religious houses and priests or similar who had been murdered or had been related to the witch trials. Understandably, I couldn’t find anything. Deflated, and dreading the thought of returning to the MacQueenie’s the next day, I tried to sleep.

The next day Strother sat down with Heather and asked her questions about events in her life, if she’d had any accidents or had surgery. Heather said she hadn’t. He then asked if she’d ever taken recreational drugs like marijuana. She displayed the hesitation that many people do when asked a question like that. The hesitation that means they have but are too embarrassed to admit it. Predictably she denied it. After a few more questions Strother excused himself and left the two of us alone, again.

This time, though, Heather remained herself. She exhaled deeply and then asked me if I thought Strother had believed her about the drugs. I told her I didn’t know as he was a hard person to read. In an attempt to justify her actions, she stated that everyone took drugs at university, it was a way to blow off steam. I agreed and told her I’d done the same thing, which I had when I was a fresher.

This seemed to build a rapport between us and she began to confess to me that her parents had been worried about her before she began acting strangely. She’d started to miss classes and fall behind on her coursework, meaning her results had dropped and she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to graduate the following year. Her parents blamed the people Heather had become friends with, saying they were the wrong sort. Heather hadn’t believed them until she’d come home.

She then told me a story that had been passed around this group of friends one night. The area where the university was had a reputation for witches and had one of the highest number of women being killed as a result of the trials. Their souls were said to haunt one specific graveyard. On a drug high, the group had gone to the cemetery to see if they could see the tormented souls of the victims, but once there things had escalated. Heather confessed to me that she liked one of the other girls in the group and was desperate to impress her, so when that girl voiced a dare that she would buy whoever stole a skull from the cemetery a drink Heather was eager to please.

Most of the others went in but were too spooked to do anything else. Heather, fuelled by desire and alcohol, managed to find her way into a stone crypt that hadn’t been locked and had stolen one of the skulls. At first the girl had been ecstatic, they’d spent a night together, but when sobriety set in the next morning Heather was commanded to return the skull.

She paused after the confession and a haunted look passed across her face. It was like she couldn’t understand the next set of events. As if she was trying desperately to remember something that had happened when she’d blacked out.

Heather admitted that when she’d gone back to the crypt she hadn’t wanted to put the skull back, she’d wanted to keep it. Convincing herself it was a memento of a good night she had bagged the remains and taken them back to her room, and subsequently when she’d returned to her parents for the summer.

Did this skull have anything to do with Heather’s behaviour? Because the skull was in her possession did this allow the spirit to control her? These events were all new to me. As far as I’d experienced ghosts had never possessed anyone, even me. Was this how it worked? And if that were the case then how could it be stopped? Usually ghosts found peace when their remains were discovered and laid to rest, but according to Heather this spirit’s remains were already in the grave. Was all of this because she’d disturbed them?

I asked her if her episodes had started not long after she’d kept the skull and slowly, she nodded. I needed to find those remains, but before I could pose the question Heather’s face contorted, her voice deepened, and I was no longer speaking to her.

“You’ll never find me. I told you, you can’t help me.”

“Who said I was here to help you?” I replied.

Strother returned and stated that he wished to take Heather to the hospital to have some scans, but unsurprisingly by the time the door opened Heather was back to normal.

This caused me to think back to everything I’d seen, or rather what no one else had. In the tapes of the exorcisms the spirit possessing Heather hadn’t said a word, it hadn’t done anything, in the sessions with Strother and I it’d been the same. It knew that both were trying to help, attempting to loosen its hold over Heather, but they couldn’t do that if they thought that nothing was wrong. All anyone had to go on was the witness statements from Heather’s family and catholic priests. The spirit obviously thought Strother wouldn’t find anything at the hospital either because it let Heather agree to go.

I managed to avoid going with them both, stating that I wanted to get some work done back in my hotel room. Instead of going there with Ken I remained at the MacQueenie’s home and tracked down Eilidh, Heather’s younger sister. I quizzed her about the skull, hoping she would know where it was kept. She said she didn’t, but then asked a question that caught me off guard.

“Is that’s what causing it?”

If you’ve learned anything form these statements, it’s that I’m always surprised when I have a frank conversation with someone about the supernatural. Most people cling to their beliefs, to logic, and refuse to acknowledge anything outside of those bounds. So it’s refreshing not to have to walk on egg shells during a conversation. I told her I thought it might be, and she agreed to help me look.

Carefully we scoured every inch of Heather’s room. Eventually, we found it at the bottom of her wardrobe in an empty backpack. Understandably Eilidh kept her distance, but by this point finding remains was a weekly occurrence for me so I scrutinised it in my hands.

There was nothing special about the skull, it looked just as you’d expect it to. A few teeth were missing, there was a chip here and there probably from where it had been jostled on the journey from the cemetery. It was a lot less frightening than the spirit attached to it.

Eilidh asked me what we should do with it, and I didn’t have an answer. I was in unknown territory. How did you release a person possessed by a spirit? So, I did what any sane person would do. I stole the skull.

Stole might be an exaggeration. Looking back, it was also quite dangerous. I had no guarantee what was happening to Heather wouldn’t also happen to me. But I took the skull anyway and pondered on what I should or could do with it.

With the skull on the bedside table, facing away from me, I researched the graveyard Heather had told me about. As well as being a graveyard reportedly haunted by the souls of witches, it was also where a lot of the perpetrators were buried. The people who tried victims accused of witchcraft were usually prominent citizens, the people who could afford to build mausoleums for themselves and their family.

How many innocent people had this spirit killed in its lifetime? How many men and women had it sent to their deaths? My initial thought had been to return the skull to the same cemetery, but the more I read and the more I remembered, the less inclined I was to go to such lengths.

In what I can only call a streak of vindictiveness, I took the skull, shoved it in my bag and left the hotel. I bought a portable barbecue and some accelerant, lit it, and watched the flames lick around the curves of the bone. It takes a lot to burn bones to ash, a hotter flame than a disposable barbecue. I watched for hours, occasionally throwing on more accelerant. The bones became discoloured, blackened on the edges, but didn’t disintegrate.

Eventually I let the fire die out, removed the skull, and crushed it under my foot. The fire had managed to break the bones down enough so that I could grind them to ashes myself. I didn’t pick them up, I didn’t scatter them, I just left them on the ground to be washed away.

It was the first ghost I didn’t want to help, didn’t want to save. I know I’m not judge and jury, but I’m not a saint either. After everything it had done, why did it deserve my help? No one had ever said to me that it was my duty to help spirits. There was no rule book I had to follow. I was born with this ability, and no one to guide me in using it. Was what I did wrong? Possibly, depending on what side of the line you are. I may not have helped the spirits, but I did help Heather MacQueenie.

We all returned to the MacQueenie’s home for the final time the next day. This time Heather looked tired. We all sat down in their living room whilst Strother finally broke his silence. He’d gone to the hospital early to collect the results of the scans he’d taken on Heather. He showed them one or two and then pronounced that Heather had a small tumour pressing on her frontal lobe. He thought it was benign but suggested seeking further advice from a specialist doctor at the hospital. His explanation was that the tumour has slowly become bigger over time until it had started pressing on the part of the brain that controls the personality. This caused mood swings, sudden bursts of anger, and occasionally a change in way of speaking. His explanation for the Latin was that being a catholic she was more familiar with the language than most other people. As for the objects moving of their own accord he listed mundane causes but said he couldn’t be sure as he’d never witnessed anything like it.

And just like that, there was a normal, logical, explanation.

Strother was so convincing that I began to doubt. We’ve all heard stories about people’s personalities suddenly changing because they’ve hit their head or a tumour’s been found. As I remembered every detail I realised that I hadn’t seen anything paranormal. Had I really seen someone else’s face on Heathers, or had it just been a change of expression that made her face appear different? She would also be familiar with the witch trials. Was it just a coincidence that she had chosen me to level the accusation at? Had she really been possessed at all? Had that skull just been a skull, with no malignancy or ill intent?

Heather yawned a few times during Strother’s reveal and apologised, stating that she hadn’t had a lot of sleep the night before, and admitted that she had woken up screaming in the middle of the night from a nightmare that she was being burned alive. Was the timing a coincidence? Heather hadn’t known I’d taken the skull, and even if her sister had told her she couldn’t have known what I’d done to it.

To this day I’m still not convinced either way. I’ve since learned it is possible for a ghost to possess a living person, I’ve witnessed it a few times, and all are different to one another, let alone comparing them to Heather. I also know that Heather had surgery to reduce the size of the tumour and has led a normal life ever since.

Was it all just a coincidence, or was she possessed by a ghost? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

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