Saturday, 19 May 2018

Ghost watch

We’d been there for hours; hours of mind-numbing boredom: so much for the haunted house of Haywards Heath; so much for the local branch of the Sussex Spirit’s Society; so much for my first attempt at organising an all-night vigil. I prayed for something to happen; practically sold my soul for a paranormal encounter. Be careful what you wish for; by morning three of us would be dead; the rest irrevocably changed. One thing’s for sure, none of us would doubt the veracity of the Spirit world again.

Fed by an unhealthy obsession with horror films and programmes like Most Haunted, I wanted to set up my own paranormal investigation Meet-up group. I’d been to several ghost evenings run by other organisations but often found them to be contrived, fake and very unrewarding. A lot of money spent on props and technology with lots of people jumping at their own shadows and very little actual research into what they were looking for. God knows what would have happened should they have actually found it!
They were less inclined to keep open minds and saw it as an excuse to prove to everyone else how much of a medium they were (to me they were all medium); when in actual fact they were just charlatans.
To my mind you didn’t need technology; just sensitive people who were open to the paranormal. You also needed someone who didn’t believe (or who demanded proof over supposition), someone that could keep their feet firmly on the ground.

I advertised on Meet-Up and carefully vetoed those people who wanted to join. Out of thirty people I selected just five to go along with me on this first nights vigil.
Elspeth was pale, in the wrong light it was possible to mistake her for a ghost. She was quiet; unassuming (to a point) but full of moral objections and constantly sought the higher ground. She was a vegan and saw that as the backbone to her extreme sensitivity; in her own words she wasn’t sullied by dead flesh.
John was the complete opposite. His voice were darkly hued, rich and almost mellow; he had the ability to relax and calm almost any situation down just by talking. It helped that he was well over six foot tall with an athletic physique. He was the cynic in the team… well, that wasn’t strictly true. He wanted to believe but also wanted proof not some flowery language about ectoplasm or pseudo-scientific bull. Consequently he did not get on well with Elspeth; there was no middle ground between them.
Nor did he get on well with James either; and I could quite understand why: James was very full of himself; he had the contacts; the know-how and the expertise. It was James that secured the venue –which had remained derelict for quite some time before we walked in. James did everything to excess and it showed; a firm believer in his own hype and nor did he suffer fools gladly. (Of course, those so-called fools were the ones that either disagreed with him or disbelieved him.)
Rachel’s surname was Bland and that pretty much summed her up; unassuming in every way, no curves to her personality. She was unsure about the paranormal; she was interested in it but was uncommitted in that as she was in everything else. She was to be my control.
Veronica had had a few paranormal experiences and wanted to know more; this was her first time on a ghost hunting expedition and had high hopes. I didn’t want to disappoint her.
Although James had picked the venue I did my own background check on it and had to agree that it was the perfect place to hold our first investigation; plenty of spirits we could get in contact with, so I arranged for us to meet and, as luck would have it, we fixed the date for Halloween itself.
Everyone was excited, except for me as I had a lot riding on it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could pull something off like this and finally become a success. I think that’s what blinded me in the end and put so many people’s lives at risk.
I arrived at 8.30pm and made sure that everything was set up: tables and chairs for each of the rooms; drinks and food; walkie talkies for each of us. The toilet didn’t flush but I’d brought enough water to even deal with that eventuality
James was, unsurprisingly, the first to arrive. He’d brought his Ouija board and, although I’d expressly forbidden any technology, his EVP recorder. “It’s pretty much my money that’s financing this little venture; I found out about this place so you’re going to have to indulge me, aren’t you?”
Unsurprisingly all the women came together: strength in numbers, especially when dealing with the occult; and John arrived last.
We’d set our base of operations in the kitchen-dining area; James had already set things up with the Ouija board in the centre of the room and chairs placed around it. Rachel was the first person to talk: “So why have you kept so much of this a secret?”
“Yes, you only told us where we were going this afternoon.” John agreed.
“I didn’t want any of you to have any pre-conceived ideas of where we were going. I don’t want this event to be ruined by prejudice or ego. I also don’t want you to worry yourself unduly –which you might have done if you knew the history (which I’m sure a couple of you do now).” I explained. “This has to be approached in a completely detached and unemotional way; leave your ego’s at the door please, there’s no place for them here. Let your ego get in the way and you may jeopardise my goal tonight or even put us all at risk.”
“Just what are your goals, Michael?” Elspeth asked. I sighed. Out of all the people I picked for this evening I knew that Elspeth would prove the biggest problem; she had an ego bigger than the whole group combined –and that included James as well!
“Ok; I will… and I’ll explain why I picked this place tonight… Sorry.. we picked.” I felt James bristle at my choice of words but he didn’t rise to it. “The two failings of all the ghost hunting programmes and expeditions is that they’re either staged or done for the wrong reasons. People are too interested in the glamour; they don’t care about actually communicating with those that have passed over. To them it’s the spectacle; the thrill of being frightened; the hype and excitement. They’re not disciplined and become frightened by their own shadows or the slightest noise.
“What’s more, they pay money for the experience and so the things are staged –either with confederates or with carefully scripted episodes. Don’t forget suggestibility plays a large part in these things. But…” I paused and tried to gauge whether people understood me. All but James and Elspeth were paying close heed. James just wanted to play with his toys and Elspeth just wanted a chance to show off her skills. “what have they missed due to their blinkered expectations? Note that the questions are always ‘Did you hear that? It sounded like a….’ which is more likely to elicit a similar response rather than a ‘what do you think that was?’ which is an open question and will allow more debate, and is more likely to be debunked.”
Veronica put her hand up, wishing to speak. “That I understand, Michael; but why choose here of all places? You must know the history.”  I looked at James before replying.
“Yes, I’ve lived here long enough and actually used to live in this very road, although I never met the residents. Note that I didn’t tell you their name. If you do happen to know I trust you to be discrete. By not knowing all names become equal and should you hear anything at all you won’t be trying to fit it into something that is already present in your mind.
“The history of this place goes back many years. A white witch used to live here, believe it or not. This is going back between the wars and she lived here for years, and was accepted by the community. Then in the ‘60’s, before the summer of love and freak power, the house was broken into and she was murdered. Some people say she put a curse on the house but how is that viable or even verifiable? I tell you this so you understand the type of thing we are working against: hyperbole, gossip, fiction. Though we can’t call this a scientific investigation I would still like to treat it as such.
“The place remained derelict for a few years before a young couple moved in. They lived here for three years before she became pregnant and the girl was actually delivered here. They seemed very happy for the first five months then, whether it was because of post-natal depression or mistreatment by the husband, she took the lives of both her daughter and husband by exsanguination; she’d drugged her husband with whiskey and sleeping tablets.”
“That’s horrible..” Rachel said, trying hard to hold back the tears.
“Another family moved in a few years after.” I continued. “They were expecting, but the child was still born… and when they moved out the house remained as you see now.”
“If I had known this beforehand there’s no way I would have joined you.” John snapped, making a move to leave.
“You don’t strike me as the reactionary type, John.” James replied. John whirled around.
“James does have a point.” I agreed, if only to try and defuse the situation. “You can’t subscribe to the view that buildings have memories, do you? That the very bricks themselves become infused with the evil around them? That’s poppycock!”
“Well… I..”
“We’ve spoken enough times about the nature of good and evil, especially when applying it to nature and the animal kingdom; is this any different?” John shook his head. “If I had the slightest feeling that you were going to react this way I would never have invited you here. Remember what I said about the ego? Well, reactions are the very heart of it. If you, or anyone tonight feels a reaction I would urge you to swallow it; don’t act on it. There’s no place for the ego here tonight. Reactions do not come from a place of truth, and that’s the only thing we’re looking for.”
John was placated by this and I turned to the rest. “I believe that you all have the right to know the history of this place and, having heard, you all have the right to leave now; but before you make up your mind know this; stone is inanimate. We seek only to communicate, to open the door, if you will; to allow open communication with whatever still dwells here. It can only affect us if we allow it to. We have to physically open ourselves to it before it can do anything, and I don’t believe there’s anyone here that stupid who would.. The Ouija board and James contraption are the only methods we will use and they will not put us in any form of danger, so we’ll be completely safe. So.. does anyone want to withdraw? Please do so now…. No? Then we’ll begin.”

It all started so innocently enough. We sat around the table with the Ouija board in the centre. Initially our hands were simply on the table as I wanted to see whether it was possible for the planchet to move on its own, but after ten minutes of questions nothing happened. Even when we placed our hands on the planchet itself nothing happened for another thirty minutes before it suddenly shifted to the I. Everyone took a sharp intake of breath and watched as it moved from the M to the B, then O; R; E; D.
The table then collapsed into hilarity and the almost-reverent atmosphere I had tried so hard to create was broken. It wasn’t hard to realise that it was James behind it.
“I’m sorry.” He said with no prompting. “I just want to use my Spirit Box.” John rolled his eyes at this and Elspeth looked ready to lynch him but James carried on regardless. “It monitors AM frequencies and white noise so that the Spirits can get into contact with us.”
“So it’s a form of short wave radio then.” Elspeth bit back, James looked deflated. “Look, we’re not all moron’s. Even I know that John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell and Marconi were all stanch Spiritualists. The radio, television and telephone all had other applications; and that was to contact the other side. All your device does is amplify those messages and monitor a wider frequency set.”
Now Rachel seemed impressed; she had found a kindred spirit.
James went off into another room in a huff and took John and Rachel, leaving Elspeth and Veronica with me, and from the sounds of it they were in the living room so I suggested we go upstairs. The family had died upstairs and I thought that Elspeth would be able to hold a mini séance there. Of course, she had no idea where the deaths had taken place therefore the results, if any, would not be tainted by prior knowledge, or what I call leakage.
We stood in the centre of the room and held hands in a semi-triangular formation..
“Is there anyone there?” Elspeth said after breathing deeply half-a-dozen times. I used to think that it was a necessity; part of the need to tune in, but I’ve since found that not to be the case. I suppose even Medium’s need to market themselves and it all forms part of the act. Nothing happened, so Elspeth tried again. Again with the heavy breathing and looking at Veronica I was pleased that I wasn’t the only one finding it hard to keep a straight face. I was just about to break the circle when Elspeth said:
“Did you hear that?” Veronica looked at me and shrugged.
“What do you think that you heard?” Veronica asked and I winced; I knew what was going to happen next.
“Excuse me, child; I did not think anything. I heard a young girl-child giggle. The fact that you didn’t hear anything says more to me about your sensitivity; or lack of.” I could see Veronica bristle at this and she was about to break the circle when we all heard it.
It was unnerving, but unmistakable; it was clearly the giggle of a little girl. It seemed so incongruous in such surroundings; knowing the history of what had happened in this room made it very sad. Elspeth seemed the most moved by this, almost desperate to get in contact, whereas Veronica seemed unsure –she was a sceptic despite wanting to believe and this had shocked her. I was unsure too; I wanted to rule out other things out before I came to any conclusions. I wanted to get James so he could verify this using his EVP recorder, but Elspeth looked at me.
“Let me try to make contact. If she responds then you can go get James. Allow me this much, please.”
There was something in the way she said please; there was something else at stake that I should’ve picked up on but I nodded. This time there were no deep breaths, no histrionics; just a calm intensity I’d not known from her before.
“I’m speaking to the little girl who just giggled at us. Thank you for letting us be aware of your presence. We won’t hurt you; we just want to talk with you.” A floorboard creaked above and Veronica winced despite herself. Then we heard a low growl, like a large predator of some kind, followed by a whimper. Something was definitely with us, maybe more than one thing. Elspeth had gone pale and her hand became sweaty. She looked at me, alarm showing in her eyes and said: “Get James.”
We could hear that he was in the next room now and part of me wondered whether it was him making the noises to frighten us because we’d mocked his machine, but not even he would stoop so low.
James said one word to me when I walked into the room they were in: “Nothing.”
“Not a damned sausage.” Rachel agreed; John looked bored now but Rachel just looked deflated.
“James; you need to come with me; bring your EVP.” James grinned at me and all three of them made to follow us but I had to stop them. “Not yet.” I explained. “I’m not even sure how James energy will affect the group dynamic in there; until I do please could you stay here? I know this is asking a lot and I do apologise but please stay as quiet as you can. I’ll include you both just as soon as I can.”
I walked into the room and immediately noticed that the temperature had dropped dramatically even in the brief time I’d been away. James noticed it too and it was obvious that he was as interested in what was happening as I was; all pretence of ego had been dropped. I told him nothing about what had happened, and nor did he expect me to. He switched on the Spirit Box and stood in the circle with us as I nodded to Elspeth.
“You can talk to us through my friend’s recorder. We would like to help you; you need not be afraid of us.” The Spirit Box gave off static and then a throaty chuckle. Now I was apprehensive; nothing I had encountered before had given off this kind of reading. James expression turned from concentration to alarm.
“Do you feel that?” Veronica asked.
“What, the sheer oppressiveness of the atmosphere or the fact that the temperature’s dropped at least ten degrees in the last thirty seconds?” James replied.
“I’m talking to the entity that is in here now with us. Give us a sign that you’re more than just weird atmospheric or a creaking floorboard. Make us believe that you’re here with us.” I said. This wasn’t an approach I normally believed in –antagonising the spirits- but things didn’t feel right. Suddenly Rachel screamed from the next room and we all ran to find out what had happened. She was cowering in the corner, her hands to her face with John standing over her looking shocked.
“I never touched her!” He said. I pushed past him and held her. She sobbed into my arms and I just held her until she stopped. Something had traumatised her and as I gently pushed her away I could see the livid scratch marks, vivid red, down her cheek.
The EVP crackled with something almost unintelligible. It sounded like EROFF. We played it back a few times before Veronica said “Enough! It said enough to us…”
“But why?” John asked. “Why would It say enough?”
“No… it was a question.” Elspeth said. “Enough?”
“It thinks you were goading it, Michael.” James realised. “You asked for proof… well, you got it! Do you want any more?”
I was beyond shock now, someone had actually been physically harmed by… whatever it was, and I had inadvertently provoked it. I had caused this to happen. As far as I was concerned this was proof enough; I wanted to leave now before anyone else got hurt.
Elspeth picked up on this. “You can’t!”  I was about to answer when the EVP stuttered: “ don’t… Don’t leave me!” It was clearly the little girls voice.
Nothing in the annals of psychic research could hold a candle to this and James knew it. He was all for staying now as well; he looked like the cat enjoying his cream. He didn’t give a damn about the little girl (or whatever the hell it was.); all he was interested in now was fame. Rachel was terrified but I knew that she couldn’t abandon the little girl. Could I?
“We’ll stay for one more hour.” I said, adamant. “But at the first sign of another attack on anyone I’m going to abort and we’ll all walk. Agreed?” John, Rachel and Veronica all agreed with no hesitation; whilst James thought about. This was more down to self-preservation though, he didn’t like the idea of being attacked either; which left Elspeth.
“I can’t leave her, Michael.”
“We don’t know who or what she is.” John replied.
“You have one hour to find out, but I’ll carry you out if I have to.”

We all needed to be of one mind; to have the intent to stay otherwise we would be vulnerable so I talked to everyone and all gave their consent except for Veronica who was shaken by what was happening.
“I don’t know.. this wasn’t what I was expecting.” She stammered. She was obviously upset and what Elspeth said next did nothing to help.
“You have to be sure – we could save a soul tonight but only with your help. But without you this night is wasted and she could well suffer for it.”
“Shut the fuck up, Elspeth!” James snapped. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“She needs to know the ramifications of what she’s doing. It’s not just her that is affected by her lack of strength!”
“She has to do this from her own volition not because you forced her into it. If anything should happen to…”
“No… it’s ok.. I’ll be alright.” Veronica interrupted. “There’s more than just me at stake now. I’ll be ok.”
“Are you sure?” James asked, but Veronica nodded.
“Well; looks like you’ve got your chance; but you and me are going to have a serious chat about tonight.” Elspeth grimaced at me. “What do you need us to do?”
“Draw a circle with a six pointed start inside it. Each of you stand at one of the points and hold hands. At no point are you to break the circle. I will stand in the centre with the EVP.”
We did as we were instructed and held hands against the now numbing cold.
“If nothing happens in the next half hour I suggest we all go home.” John said after a couple of minutes.
“Sod that! I don’t think I’ll be able to last that long!” Rachel said, but James nodded to Elspeth.
“I don’t think you’re going to have to wait long at all. Look.”
Breath was starting to condense in front of her and she started to speak, quietly at first. “..won’t hurt you. Come forth little one, we won’t hurt you; we only want to help. Come forth, little one, we don’t want to hurt you…”
“Mummy.” The EVP suddenly sprang into life again, making us all jump. It was as if the presence was in the circle with us; the signal was that clear.
“I’m here, baby; Mummy’s here!”
I looked at James who was equally as startled by this sudden change of events. He was about to point at her when she shouted, “For God’s sake, don’t break the circle! “
There was so much anguish in her voice that l almost called it off, but it was too late –there was only one person that could call it off now, and she was right in the middle of it.
“I’m here, baby; come to me.” Elspeth pleaded.
“GIRL IS MINE!” The EVP spoke again, this time a snarl; vicious; animalistic.
“Stay away from her, you bastard!” Elspeth shouted.
“Now, wait a minute.” John suddenly said.
“What’s going on?” Rachel asked, fear gripping her voice. I wanted this to be over but Elspeth showed no signs of doing so. There was something else driving her, something that was over-riding her awareness. Another growl shook us, followed by a frightened scream. Veronica tried to wrench her hand away but I held firm to it.
“Don’t! It would be disastrous now if you broke the circle. All our lives could be in danger. We don’t know what we’re dealing with!”
Another scream from the child stopped our deliberating; Elspeth tore her blouse open and shouted: “Come into me child; let me protect you!”
Too late, I realised what she intended to do and what was really going on; she shuddered and quaked, clutching at herself and almost collapsing to the floor before straightening up rigid, like a marionette. Now the growl came from within her.
“Elspeth, are you alright?”  Again, I was far too late to stop Veronica from moving towards her, breaking the circle.
We might have been safe had the circle remained unbroken…. Might.
What had been Elspeth whirled around and knocked Virginia flying. She landed in the corner with a sickening crack. She lay there unmoving. John ran over to check on her and just shook his head. “She’s dead… I can’t believe it… She’s.. dead! You killed her!”
He was about to launch himself at her but I quickly rugby tackled him before he had a chance to do so. I shouted for James to take the Rachel in to the other room; on no account was anyone to leave the house; too much was at stake now. Somehow we had allowed something to cross over; we had to do something, anything to send it back. I had no idea what that was, but my first thought was to get some distance between me and Elspeth.
I dragged John into the next room with me as he’d banged his head in the tackle. The thing that was Elspeth did nothing to stop us; it was getting acclimatised to its new environs. Besides, it knew that we could do nothing against it; it was feeding off our fears.
I shut the door between us and Elspeth. When I turned round an odd sight met my eyes; I saw the rest of the group standing around a lone man sitting on one of the chairs grinning.
“Well… this is a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into.” He said, crossing his legs. He wore a black leather jacket with its collar up, blue jeans and sneakers. His expression was one of amused cynicism which was exacerbated by his fuller face and glasses.
“Who the fuck are you?” I snapped. I’d finally reached my breaking point; I wanted to hit him; to take him apart.
“Wait, Michael… this is Alex Paige.” James said, stepping between me and the man. “I’ve heard of him; he’s a writer of occult horror novels; but he knows his stuff… he’s very well versed, and he lives around here.”
“And he just happens to be out on a midnight stroll?” I snapped back.
“I couldn’t sleep, mate. I could feel something was wrong so I just tracked back the feeling to here.” The great Alex Paige replied. “Boy, you have no idea what you’re doing or what you’ve stirred up, do you?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “We know the history of the place. We know what we’re dealing with.”
“The two have nothing in common with one another. Tell me what happened up here.”
So I told him of Elspeth and the young girl spirit and the other malevolent presence.
“And it never occurred to you that it was one and the same?” Alex interrupted.
“Only when it was too late.” I admitted.
“What about Elspeth, then? What’s her story?”
I didn’t know, but Rachel suddenly spoke. “She had a daughter who died when she was four years old; she drowned. That’s why Elspeth became a medium in the first place.”
“Did no one think to tell me this before now?” I snapped. No wonder everything had happened this way; Elspeth was an open wound waiting to be exploited, she never stood a chance!
“That’s not the issue now; the only thing you need to think about is how you’re going to deal with that in there.” Alex placated.
“And what do you propose we do about it?” John suddenly asked, he was just starting to get his bearings back; he was having a hard time understanding it all. Everything was spiralling out of control now.
“Luckily I came prepared.” Alex replied. “I always carry some salt and Holy water with me. (Don’t ask why) but before I go any further you have to remember two things. One: that is not your friend in there. Whatever it is, it’s simply wearing her skin now; it’s not her. Two: She needs to be dealt with. It’s not going to be nice but it will have to be done. You can either stay out of it or be there with me; but if you get in the way you will be treated as part of the problem. Are we all in agreement?”
“No!” John suddenly snapped back. “Who put you in command?”
“You all did when you started fucking around with things you don’t understand. Two of you are already dead, how large does the body count have to get before you sit up and take action? Look, I don’t need you in there but I thought you could man up and take some responsibility for the mess you caused. But if that’s the case then sit the fuck down and leave me to my business.”
“I’m sorry…” John said. “Elspeth… we..”
“It doesn’t matter. Nothing else is important anymore; shutting that…thing down is the only thing that matters now. This is what we’re going to do: each of you should take a pocket full of salt; that will protect you from her. She won’t be able to attack you physically all the time you have salt on you. You must form the circle around her again; hold hands initially and while you have her contained I’ll draw another circle around you with Holy water, then it will be trapped.
“I’m going to perform an exorcism and whilst I’m doing this you need to take your dead friend away. You won’t have much time; don’t look back, whatever you do.”
We all nodded. Rachel was scared beyond belief but she took her portion of salt in her pocket and said. “All we need now is vinegar in the other pocket.”
“That’s good.” Alex replied. “Humour always helps.” He opened the door to the room where the thing was. “Ready?”

It was the cold smell of putrefaction that hit us upon entering the room and it was coming from her, who was standing exactly where we left her. She turned to face us and I thought I saw something overshadow her; an outline of the thing that had possessed her. Her face was contorted and warped into a mask of hatred. She snarled and lunged at us as we surrounded her. Alex was right though, she couldn’t touch us because of the salt we had in our pockets.
I closed my eyes and prayed to all the God’s I didn’t believe in to keep us all safe and apologised to the people that I had brought into this. I heard Alex walk around us intoning a blessing as he splashed the Holy water. As he finished he said Amen and then: “You’ve got to go now. No time for Good-byes; take your friend and leave. Run like fuck, don’t wait for me –I’ll be fine. Don’t look back; just go.”
I thanked him nonetheless and apologised, and took Veronica’s body with me. I walked down the stairs as quick as I could after James and Rachel. John was behind me, or so I thought.
It wasn’t until I was down on the street that I realised he wasn’t, but before I could go back into the house the bedroom was suddenly engulfed in flame.
I only know what happened because of what Alex told me afterwards: John hadn’t followed me; he still believed that Elspeth could be saved. Unbeknownst to me, he had had a relationship with her some years before and still carried a candle for her; loved her still, in fact. He had smelt petrol when Alex had been walking behind us and his fears had been realised when he walked back into the room we had left.
Alex had just lit a makeshift petrol bomb and was just about to throw it when John knocked him to the ground. Unfortunately the bottle went flying and smashed on the floorboards by Elspeth’s feet, splashing her with liquid fire. The screams must have been terrible but Alex could only look in horror as John tried to rescue her. Elspeth grabbed hold of him and engulfed him in the flames as well. Alex knew there was no way for them to escape the circle and realised that he only had seconds before he too was trapped. He barely made it. 

Two months later; I still have nightmares of the night: Elspeth, John and Veronica; dead because of me. I started this because I wanted to know what existed on the other side. Now I know and wish to God that I had stayed ignorant.

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