Short Stories

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1.

FOOTPRINTS

My missing colleague was a radio surveillance operator and he did 13-hour shifts of intense listening through his headset. Off-duty he would say very little apart from commenting that the constant whistling of the wind “drove him mad”. He said that his co-worker had a monotone voice that was “driving him insane” and he needed to get away from him and experience “human company”. We checked all other “escape” possibilities and this was passed to the British Royal Navy Commander (we sailed out on a boat to avoid radio broadcasting) who was positioned offshore of Devon Island. The Top Brass thought there was a possibility that the missing electronics officer may have been abducted by the Enemy.

In the previous few days there had been a lot of strange noises outside our remote monitoring station. Rumblings from afar and flashing lights in the sky. As the resident meteorologist I was expected to explain these phenomena, but I couldn’t. I did have to put in a Special Report to RG5 however, for the record. They would use this at the subsequent Court of Enquiry.

My colleague had walked for 4 miles into the wilderness. He wasn’t lost. His steady steps, with an even pace, showed he had intent or purpose. Lost people walk around in wide circles. He knew what he was doing, but where was he heading? His footprints in the snow came to an abrupt end. He was never seen again. No body was ever found.

It was difficult weather conditions for this kind of operation, with the blinding snow and gale-force winds. In spite of this, rescue vehicles were fuelled up and a team searched the area where the man had left his footprints to nowhere. The strong winds were blowing snow all over the place and quickly covering the tracks of the man forever. And the searchers were now endangering their own lives. They gave up after 3 exhausting hours and headed back to Base while they could still make out their own tracks for guidance. They had marked all the areas they had searched with flags.



2.

HOTEL HALSTEAD

In April 1983 I arrived at Bootle railway station in Cumbria. I was there to work at a secret weapons-testing military-base which was two miles from the train station, but not on the map, or marked by any signs. I was also to work at Eskmeals observation station.

For the month I was there I stayed at a quiet country hotel. But it was just a bit too quiet. And the middle-aged couple who owned the establishment were decidedly odd. They scowled at my small transistor radio and indicated that they did not approve of it. They served me meals through a hatch and never entered the dining room. I would hear a knock and I would get up from my chair and slide the hatch open. I would be met with a woman with a withered face, and piercing blue eyes of sadness, and she would hand me a tray of food.

I had to sign in the guest book with a fountain pen. They insisted on this. The rest of the book was blank. There were no other guests. And the reception counter had a layer of thick dust on it. When I asked if I could make a phone call they said that the phone “was broken”.

The woman instructed that I should not ignite the paraffin heater in my bedroom myself, but if I was cold, then Mr Halstead would light it for me.

They were both obsessed by locks, keys, mirrors and doors. I was convinced they were hiding something in their cellar. Something bad. A secret that was unbearable. I could see it in their forlorn faces.

I had my Olympus OM4 35mm film camera with me. I took some pictures. All the time I had the distinct impression that I was being watched, that is, spied upon. The mirror in my bedroom was most peculiar. I kept thinking I was seeing people in it. At one point I thought I saw a young women undressing in the mirror. At other times I saw strange faces.



3.

LORRY MAN

The Lorry Driver was heading south, over the Dava Moor road, towards the Cairngorms. His final destination was Madrid. He decided to travel through the night to get a head start. It was well after midnight and he had been speaking with his wife on the phone just a few minutes earlier.

Now he was heading across the remote moor where there is no mobile-signal at all. Most people, for that reason, don’t travel over Dava Moor overnight.

At a narrow part of the road, with tall trees, at either side, his headlights indicated a tree had fallen over the carriageway ahead, blocking his progress forward. It would be some task to reverse back 10 miles and so he stopped about 50 yards from the fallen tree, got out of his cab, and walked towards the obstacle. It was now around 1.00 am. Lorry Man was isolated, on his own, and he had no phone signal. He had left his keys in the ignition.

From the light coming from his truck headlamps he examined the heavy tree-trunk that was stretched completely over the single-track road. As he looked around at the fallen tree, to see if he could somehow move it, he thought that the lights from his vehicle perceptibly dimmed. He had switched his engine off but had left his keys in, to keep the lights going. He thought perhaps that the battery was getting low and so he walked back towards his cab to start the engine up again and get some charge into the batteries and then maybe make a phone-call. He was assuming he had a mobile signal but didn’t have much local knowledge about this stretch of road.

As he walked back to his cab he could hear the gentle bleeping of an alarm coming from the dashboard. On entering the cab he saw that there was, in fact, no keys in the ignition and that was the reason for the gentle bleeping sound. This surprised him as he felt sure he had left the keys in the ignition. He got out of the cab and walked around a bit, checking all his pockets for his lorry keys. And then, about 20 yards away, he saw them on the ground, sparkling in the light of his headlights. He must have dropped them absent-mindedly while he was heading along to check the fallen tree.

It occurred to him that he hadn’t noticed that there had been much in the way of strong winds about and there were no signs of any other debris blown around on the road. In fact it was flat calm as he made the steps to pick up his keys from the ground. As he came closer to the keys they appeared to move, almost as if they were being dragged along by a piece of wire. The keys were slowly being pulled over the verge and into the edge of the woods. He started to panic a bit and instinctively followed the keys that were travelling along the grass. The keys speeded up a bit, as he followed them, and they were getting out of his reach. And then the ground gave way underneath him.

He plunged downwards with a thud, straight down into a deep pit. Stunned, he looked up from the pit to see a whole bunch of piercing eyes looking down on him from above and shining a bright light on his face.



4.

HAUNTED ROAD

A new section of road was laid on the A41 to divert traffic away from a small town that was not that far away from Aylesbury. But, shortly after the building-work commenced, reports of strange happenings began to surface in the local community. The road became notorious for paranormal activity, but also for the many lives it would claim. This is a story about a haunted road

It was the 27th of November and the sun had long since sunk below the horizon. There was a tepid darkness all around. A glow appeared over the tree-line; the distant lights of a car, cutting their way through the darkness. A young woman was travelling home along the isolated road. She had been working at the local hospital. The clock on her car-dashboard read 2.15am. The young woman yawned, and glanced into her rear-view mirror. Then her car headlights danced off a road-sign ahead. There was an unusual combination of numbers and letters on the sign. She wondered why she even bothered to look into her rear-view mirror as it was all pitch black behind her. Nothing to see. The darkness made her feel very alone.

Common reports about this stretch of road is that Faceless Monks appear in the middle of the road or on bridges. Dancing children are often seen under the electric pylons in the middle of the night. Strange signs appear, and drivers report distorted times on their watches and clocks and disorientation and intense feelings of unease.

There have been 25 deaths on this short stretch of road. Usually solitary drivers swerving off the road for no reason. Many investigating Police personnel and Security Officers have left their positions or taken complete breakdowns.



5.

GLEN AFFRIC

Glen Affric is one of the three Great Glens that join up the West Coast with Loch Ness. If you feel hardy enough you can walk the 45 miles from Beauly right across the mountains to Kintail, then down to Cluny, then further south which takes you into Glen Affric. But maybe you don’t want to try this in winter no matter how tough you are. And give yourself three whole days to do the walk even in the summer.

All these glens are now damned after the completion of the Hydro project that began in the 1940s. The powerful clan of Chisolm created the village of Cannich to house 1500 hard-drinking, and even harder working, navigational engineers; that is the manual labourers who built the dams with their bare hands, more commonly known as navvies. Cannich village is in the heart of Strathglass. In 1947 the men moved in specifically to build the huge structures for the Hydro project. By 1951 the power started to flow in what was the first phase of this ambitious scheme.

Glen Affric is full of birch trees and pine trees which are remnants of the big primeval forests of Scotland that have now nearly all disappeared, possibly because of the early burning by man, but more likely it was climate change, which is by no means a recent thing, as the climate has always been changing before there was any industry to speak of. In fact, Scotland used to be a very sunny and dry place and the evidence for this is held in the peat bogs and the forests of Glen Affric which are, indeed, the relics of Scotland’s ancient past.

Glen Affric is untamed and when I stand there it seems to me that no-one else in the world exists apart from myself. When you get to the end of the road it becomes no more than just a footpath for 18 miles which takes you to the shore of Loch Duich and then it is another good 10 miles further on into the wilderness to get to the banks of Loch Quoich where I camped overnight. Next up you have to carry your mountain bike over the highest hills in Scotland to finally get to the Knoydart peninsula. Most people take the easy way to Knoydart, that is by getting on the ferry from Mallaig.

I walked this journey many times of the years. I did the same route on a bicycle, later riding a motorbike, and eventually I got soft and used a car. After seeing William Arthur Poucher’s photographs of the deep blue water of Loch Quoich I wanted to go there and experience it myself.




6.

DINGWALL WEDDING

The year was 1984. Me and my mate Chas packed our Big motorbikes with camping gear and headed off from Dunfermline. I rode a Honda Goldwing, Chas strode a Honda CB900. These powerful bikes don’t hang around on the road. There were very few speed cameras in those days and so it didn’t take us that long to complete the 200 mile journey north from Dunfermline to Dingwall. Is was mid-August, and bright and warm, and so the run "up north" was enjoyable. We only had the clothes we were wearing, camping gear, and a toothbrush (each).

We arrived at Dingwall mid-afternoon after a four-hour journey (takin’ it "easy" on route). We parked the bikes near to the centre of Dingwall in a central car park and began to walk around the town to seek refreshments. But soon we were approached by a male and female couple who attempted to engage with us as we walked along the High Street. The couple looked like they were in their mid-forties and dressed for a wedding. Indeed, they were.

"Lads, lads..." then man said to me. "Can you help us?" We are from Buckie and we’re here to get married in the Registrars Office down the road very soon. We didn’t want any fuss with family and so have come here to get married on our own. Would you be our witnesses?"

The guy seemed genuine enough and I understood his reasoning and so we agreed to go along with it. We followed them a short distance to Dingwall Registry Office. Inside the Office the four of us were shuffled into a small room were a po-faced and officious-looking old-style lady glared at us in an unwelcoming and irritated way.

The soon-to-be married couple looked the part but Chas and I both had our helmets in hand and our biker gear on. The officious wifey glared at us with disdain. The wifey asked for the addresses and details from the couple and then asked me for my name and address. She was huffing and puffing all the time and was battering away on an old-fashioned typewriter with carbon copies in it. She wasn't happy that the couple had Buckie addresses and I had a Dunfermline address. However she became quite hostile when Chas tried to convey his address as it was all in Welsh. His home address was Aberporth in South Wales and his house address and everything was in the Welsh language. Chas had to very deliberately spell each part of his address to the officious wifey who was really losing patience as she continually kept trying to type the address properly for the official document. Eventually, and grudgingly, the officials completed the ceremony in a perfunctory manner and the four of us were hurriedly gestured out of the Office onto the brightly-lit street outside.

The newly-married groom shook our hands in a grateful and friendly way. "Can't thank you enough guys" he said and presented us both with a giant packet of Embassy Regal and a big box of Matchmakers chocolates. And off they went. End of story. Or that was that we thought.

Until about a week later when I was back in Dunfermline and Chas was back down in Wales. I got a phone call from Chas who sounded concerned. He said that he'd just received a confirmation through the post that he was actually married to the woman from Buckie. There was a complete mix up at the Registrars and they put Chas’ name on the marriage certificate by mistake. And so there he was down in Wales, a legally married man, to someone he didn’t even know. A woman who was probably twenty years older than him too.




7.

GOING OFF-GRID

If you do this, you will feel stuff. Deep stuff. No distractions. I think we should all have a try at this. And I have led by example. I have cycled all around Scotland - that is pedal power - and camped out in the wilds each night in a wee tent. I did it for a month with no contact with anyone. No phone or radio or any other form of communication - for a whole month. And that is when you experience things, deep in your soul.

I set off from the centre of Glasgow, then cycled north to the Campsies, then Aberfoyle, Tyndrum, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe … all the way up to Durness Lighthouse at the extreme North West. Then back down again, around Loch Ewe and over to Skye. Eventually heading south and east and ending up at Dunfermline, then over The Bridge to Edinburgh. A 1000 mile trip. Always outside. Living in a wee tent. It changed my perspective on life. Everything became vivid and real for the first time. Something as simple as a bottle of clear and pure water became beautifully fascinating and precious.

I spent one whole day at Balmacara. It rained heavily for twelve solid hours. And so I pitched my tent and stayed inside all day and read a book. I had my wee stove, a tin of food, and water. I spent the entire day reading and have never felt so relaxed in all my life.

A few days later, I dived of the cliffs at Durness, straight into the water. I almost died as the water was so cold and I suffered instant shock. Then it was quite a struggle to get back on land as the current was strong and the rocks were razor-sharp and sliced my body like a shredder.





8.

ICE

One day last year, during an extended cold snap, I set out on a mission to get some pictures of swans at the Secret Loch, a remote stretch of water that only I knew about. I suppose I risked it just a wee bit too much on this occasion.

I was wandering over the frozen lochan surface (to get nearer to the swans at the centre) when the ice sheet gave way under me and I plunged into the icy water. I was aware, at that point, that I was two miles away from the nearest single-track road and no-one else knew where I was. It had taken me a good hour to walk there (after leaving my car at the end of a small track). I had tramped through deep, and powdery, snow and I hadn't seen anyone else around (not that I'd expected to see anyone anyway).

I had no mobile phone with me (I never carry one) and I was now making a very good impression of a man who was trapped by his own icy body-weight, wearing boots that now felt like concrete blocks.

When I plunged through the ice sheet I lost my wool hat, my gloves and my designer snow-glasses. But, fortunately, I didn't lose my mind. I knew that in around only two minutes my limbs would lose all power. After five minutes I would have no feeling whatsoever in my whole body. And within fifteen minutes I would lose consciousness completely. This certainly focussed my attention on what to do next.

How I actually got out of my predicament is another story in itself. Suffice to say, I managed, somehow, to save myself from turning into just another winter casualty statistic. Although when I finally got back to base four hours later (with only one boot left) I had to cut my way out of my clothes with a Stanley knife. I then sat in a hot bath for an hour and afterwards took to my bed for a while. I'm still chittering today at the thought of the event, but somehow I feel so much more alive because of it. I even managed to save my SD memory-card at the time. And that has to be a good thing because I never lost my photos.




9.

THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT

I found myself standing in this eerie graveyard at 6.15 in the morning. It was deathly silent as only a graveyard can be. Dawn was just about to break and the atmosphere was cool and misty. As I walked around I felt silky cobwebs brushing over my face and I could smell the damp earth under my feet.

I began to take a closer look at the unusual cross-like graves. Something peculiar was revealed. Some of the graves were from recent years, but some went way back, sometimes hundreds of years. Other graves were so old that I could not read their inscriptions. But the peculiar thing was that the people buried here were old men who had died at exactly the same age. They had all left this mortal coil at the age of 84.

Apart from one grave, that is. This grave had the inscription "Baby Petrie". I bent over and peered closer to see if I could fathom why this gravestone was different. And then I heard a whispering voice from behind me.

My heart leaped. I turned around to see a tall, hooded, figure standing right behind me. I hadn't heard anyone approach. The figure just seemed to appear out of nowhere. Under a long dark coat and large hood was the face of an old man. He was looking at me very directly. It crossed my mind that my number was up. (but I wasn't 84 yet I thought).

"It will be hard for you" he said.

I made a mental note at this point to stop hanging around in remote locations at six in the morning.

I kept my voice steady.

"Eh, sorry?" I said to the Hooded Figure. I know this was pathetic but it was all I could muster.

"Our guests find the first week hard" the Old Man repeated.

"Really?" I stuttered. I didn't know what else to say.

"Do you wish to enter?" the Old Man asked me…

And then another man appeared, and some more Hooded Figures. This Other Man looked “spaced out” of his head but super fit and lean like an SAS type with his close-cropped hair. He had a back-pack strapped to him as if he had been camping outside somewhere overnight. He came very close to me and stared right into my eyes and said, "We want you." His gaze was intense, and his eyes were strangely hypnotic, as if he was under a spell, or in some sort of a trance.

I ran. They chased me.

I certainly wasn't hallucinating. I had felt the SAS man's breath on my face ... and his desperation. I ran as fast as I could over fields and walls and fences until my legs were burning hot, and my heart was ready to pop, before I collapsed of exhaustion on the ground. I think I must have covered three or four miles in my running fear. And I never looked back once.

I looked up now and fully expected to see a bunch of crazies ready to pounce on me. But there was no-one; only deathly silence, again.




10.

SEEING THE LIGHT

The distinguished couple that I met at Loch Garten were well-spoken and obviously highly-educated professionals. After all, they arrived in a Mercedes-Benz. In fact, he was a Diplomat and she was a Scientist.

I chatted with them. I mentioned that it was a particularly beautiful September evening because, even although it was flat calm, there were very few midges about. The lady suggested to me that it was maybe because of the "long winter" that the midges were reduced in numbers this summer. It was a good year for the visitor, she said, but a bad year if you were a midge.

We spoke about Perth (where they came from), their friends in Elgin, and also how stunning the West Coast is. We talked about how beautiful the Loch is and how peaceful it was that evening.

They asked me if I knew where the Osprey's nest was. I said I did, but that I could not possibly reveal that to them. They accepted this with good grace. They said that they had been watching some deer and it was fascinating. A charming and cool couple. They had that worldly sophistication of people who are well-travelled, intelligent and successful.

Later I wandered deeper into the woods where it was surprisingly quite dark out of the direct sunlight. Ahead of me, a shaft of light burst through the trees lighting up a small circle on the ground. At first I thought I was imagining things. But I wasn't. On the ground was a small shrine with flowers and poems and little statues. There was also a container of someone's ashes and a card telling the story of a young man who had died in action during the Second World War.

The card explained that the spirit of the man was laid to rest in the place he loved. The shrine was obviously visited regularly, and maintained, judging by the pretty flowers in the little vases and the immaculate condition of the display of memento mori.

The shaft of light piercing through the trees had isolated the shrine, lighting it up in a way which gave it an almost spiritual quality in the darkness of the woods. I crouched down, pointed my camera close, and framed the scene. But I never pressed the shutter. The lighting was remarkable but I thought it would be inappropriate to photograph such a private thing, even although it was in public view. And so the only record is in my memory.




11.

PARISIAN WALKWAYS

You are in Paris and surrounded by interesting architecture and beautiful people, and you have your camera with you. Your battery is fully charged and your memory card is empty. You are about to take some photos. Because that is what you came here for.

You whisper to yourself, “I’m going to get some great shots if I get cracking. I can see amazing opportunities all around me”.

And then you spot an elegant street lamp, still glowing in the dim early morning.

“This looks perfect” you think to yourself.

But you suddenly freeze. How do you capture this street lamp creatively for maximum impact? Do you shoot it up close, or from a distance? Do you include the other street-lamps down the row, or shoot this one on its own against the sky? Or, do you climb up the nearby stairs to get an higher-level perspective, or more interesting angle? One street lamp; infinite possibilities.

You could maybe shoot every possible combination and just hope for the best. But that’s no guarantee of a final great photo. And, don’t forget, you have an entire city to explore. You can’t really afford to waste time. Perhaps you should follow one of the proven rules for composing a photo? These rules come from the knowledge of what the human eye finds attractive. You can use these basic rules anywhere, on any subject. Classic painters have used them for hundreds of years. Think, the Golden Section, or the Rule of Thirds.

But then you look up from your camera and discover that, rather disconcertingly, you are surrounded by a SWAT team of military police with live guns pointing at you. You quickly get bundled into an armoured-vehicle and rapidly get taken away, and locked up, for being a threat to the Free World.





12.

THREE FRIENDS

The beautifully vulnerable and gorgeous cat lives on the street, surviving on scraps and the kindness of an old man, a street-musician, who plays his flute wonderfully for just a few coins.

The little orphan-girl is relentlessly bullied by her horrible foster-mother who is more interested in painting her toenails, drinking, and playing bingo, than the welfare of the wee girl she is supposed to be looking after.

Consequently the little girl spends most of her time out on the street to get away from her uncaring and nasty foster-parent with her constant horrid comments. The Welfare System cannot cope and turns a blind eye to the wee girl’s plight.

But she does have a friend in the cat. And the girl adores the cat and is very protective of it. She also has a friend in the kind and caring street-beggar.

However, a bunch of young thugs kick the girl about for their own gratification and amusement and then they beat-up the street-musician so badly that it puts him into hospital. Next they viciously threaten to “break the neck” of her only companion left, the cat.

The young girl seeks refuge in a broken-down telephone box with a long-ago disconnected line. And she takes the cat inside the phone box with her to protect it from the thugs.

In her desperation she speaks down the line and asks for courage and help from a source which is only in her imagination. Will help and support come back to her, down the telephone line, giving her the strength to stand up to the thugs?





13.

THE BUNKER

I worked as a scientist down in The Bunker. It was located several thousand feet under the City. To get there you walked through the doors of a traditional, innocuous-looking, castle on the edge of Dunfermline (military camouflage).

You were required to shout out your name, rank, your officer-in-charge, and your serial-number, into a voice-box on the wall. You then got scanned, deloused, decontaminated, given your Goon Suit, and issued with your ID card. Then you sat on a tube-transporter-unit and dialled your destination using a coded ring.

15 minutes later you passed through the 40ft thick Blast Door, which locked you in for a month, and then you descended several hundred stone steps before finally arriving at the Operations Centre deep underground.

Your purpose was to defend your country from a nuclear attack and you wouldn’t be seeing daylight for weeks. All underground corridors were coded with symbols and colours. I had quite a high clearance and was free to walk around most of them, but not the Crypto areas.

Most long corridors (60 miles in total) had wall-racks with triple bunk-beds and shelves packed with wafer-biscuits and big containers of water. When you got to your desk you were handed a manila folder that said on the front “For your eyes only.” An authority-figure stood next to you with a hand-gun in his possession. You knew the drill. You opened the file, took note of the content, and then signed the document. If you didn’t comply you would be shot. You were under military law now, not common law or statute law.





14.

NIGHTSHIFT

Working overnight in an unused wing of an Old Hospital could be creepy. As an electrician this was something I experienced a few times. Big hospitals can often have dark pasts, and they store historic memories in their bricks.

When you worked underground you would go through a small hatch and then it was locked from the outside. The small lights were controlled from above ground and could be switched off at any time plunging you into the pitch black. And then it would just be you and the rats in total darkness.

Fully-served "Sparks" would switch the lights off on you as an "initiation ceremony" to scare you.

The past records in the mental wing of the hospital showed that patients were only allocated one hour of therapy a week. But if you looked back to over 100 years ago you would see that therapy was more akin to torture. In those days they immersed patients in ice-cold baths and force-fed them medicine by putting funnels into their mouths to wedge them open. Most patients were tied to their beds or just chained to the wall. Many patients died during these barbaric practices but the vibrations of their spirits remain in the building. The patients were often gifted artists and writers but were seen as dangerous, and not even human, because of the ideas they expressed.

The big power cables ran in tunnels underground. Very few people ever saw these areas. The keys could only be gotten if authorised. A lot of corridors and rooms had been closed for over 100 years. The ventilation shafts in these basement areas carried the voices of those above and so, when underground, you could always hear eerie chatter. There were miles of dusty corridors below the hospital, almost as many as there were above ground.



15.

WAITING ROOM

I knew that the train station waiting-room had been out of use for many decades. I pushed the door anyway and, to my surprise, it opened easily, and so I entered the dusty and musty environment. My intention was to stay overnight at the station between the last train at 11.45pm, that late evening, and the next train at 5.45am the following early morning. I was armed with an old-fashioned 120 roll-film camera which only had 10 frames to play with. I managed to get 8 pictures to ‘come out’. Not too bad.

There were cobwebs everywhere inside the room and it was damp and cold. Years of stoor had gathered on all of the counters and bench-surfaces. The delicate strands of the webs caressed my forehead, and the back of my neck, and clung to my face in an unsettling way. I could smell stale tobacco and I also got a more subtle hint of perfume too.

The clock on the wall had stopped at five to midnight. There was a fireplace sunk into the wall that didn’t look like it had seen flames for a long time. I had bought some matches with me and they came in handy because I managed to get an abandoned paraffin lamp going, which was great, as this allowed me to take authentic time-exposures using the low-light of the lamp. And that indeed was my purpose. I was here to photograph echoes from the past, or ghosts, as people often call them.

I lay on a grubby bench and wrapped myself up in my sleeping-bag. As the night passed I saw moving shadows, and heard odd high-pitched voices, that sounded like people having conversations from 100 years ago while they waited for their train. I could just about discern some of what they were saying but the dialect was like nothing I had ever heard before.

Around about 3am I got bored. I got out of my sleeping-bag, and went over to have a closer look at an ancient telephone that was bracketed to the wall. I wiped it with my handkerchief and, just out of morbid curiosity, I put the handset to my ear. I heard a dialling tone. Now that really freaked me. I could accept that moving shadows and distant voices could be a figment of my imagination, but dialing tones? Was this environment playing tricks on my mind?

I put the phone handset back in its cradle. It immediately began to ring in a bell-like way. This could have been some sort of quirk, a stored electric pulse in the ancient wiring or something, I thought. But, when this ringing happened it took me aback, and I decided it was probably a good idea to get out of this spooky room as fast as I could. This was maybe getting just a bit too creepy for my liking.

I moved quickly to the big solid exit-door, tried the handle, only to discover it now appeared to be locked. Also, I could hear a man’s voice outside on the platform; a deeper voice, not high-pitched like the others. But who was wandering around at that time? I blew out the flame of the lamp and then I kept very still.

In the pitch black, from inside the waiting-room, I could see a shadowy figure, on the platform, walking past the windows. And then I heard a rattle of the door knob. I tensed up in fear of who might be about to enter, but the rattle was more of a “simply checking that the door was secure” because the footsteps then moved away along the platform and into the distance. Panic over. But was the exit door really locked or had the latch just slipped I asked myself. I tried the door knob again …




16.

CIRCLE OF FEAR

I was on a trip to the North-East, and I was cycling around on my pedal-bike looking for remote Standing Stones (marked on my ancient map). I would often come across rough tracks (ideal for a mountain-bike) that would lead me deep into the thick, dark woods, taking me well away from anyone.

Deep in these woods, on more than one occasion, I came across big circles in the trees (about 100ft across) as if someone, or something, had cut out a giant cylindrical hole from the top of the tree-line to the ground, which then formed a perfect circle on the surface of the forest. The trees all around me were lush and green but the near-perfect circle on the ground was charcoal-gray and barren.

I would stare, transfixed, at these cut-outs, trying to work out in my mind what could have caused them to be there as there were no other tracks leading to them in the dense foliage. It seemed that some sort of technology had been used in their creation.

The strange circles had an edge of protection to them because birds would clearly be repelled as they flew near. On closer inspection, no life appeared to exist, of any type, inside the circles; not even insects on the ground. But insects were all around me on the outside. Also, there was an almost imperceptible low-level humming sound too, in the air - like an electrical generator in the distance but with no apparent source.

Moreover, I sensed an undercurrent of menace when standing near to these circles that quickly became overpowering. I could handle this ‘vibe’ for only a few minutes before I felt an intense and primitive fear that compelled me to get away as fast as I could, lest I be abducted by some type of force that I could not begin to understand.

After returning home I decided to do some more research into the part of North-East Scotland that I had visited. I noted that there had been many instances of UFO sightings in the area over the years. I discovered that in one of these incidents there was an ‘attack’ by three glowing circular objects that swooped over the Beach at incredible speeds. These objects demonstrated stop-and-start turning in mid-air, that cannot be achieved by any conventional aircraft.





17.

BUYER'S MARKET

It is November 1966.

“A splendid old house, isn’t it?” the estate-agent declared persuasively. “Just the thing for a large family¾with good taste. Not one of those modern boxes with no room to swing a … eh, do have any pets Sir?”

Deep in his heart Danny Adams agreed that the house was magnificent, but he also knew not to let his feelings show; not if a good deal was to be made. And so Danny tried to look mean and shrewd. But his was not a poker-face and it registered his emotions like he was an actor in those old black and white silent movies. He yearned for this big house, with its cornices, attics, endless nooks and crannies, and above all, the thirty-by-forty-foot living-room that ‘featured’ a nineteen-foot ceiling and a fireplace big enough for a bonfire.

And there were also ten acres of sweeping land too, offering wonderful privacy. What a great place for the kids! With five of them, all active, outgoing, creative, and impulsive ¾just like their Dad. Finding a suitable house was no simple matter. Yes, but this one, almost hidden by the towering, leafy-oaks was a prize indeed ¾a lucky strike.

“It’s not bad,” Danny said cautiously, totally unaware that his soft, brown eyes shone like beacons. “But, after all, Mr Ross, the place has been locked up for over thirty years, and what with all the stories and stuff, that would scare most buyers off. Everybody isn’t as free from superstition as I am, you know.”

“There’s nothing to all that talk,” the Estate-agent assured him. “The owner just didn’t care to rent or sell. He inherited the property at a fairly young age, but never actually lived there ¾most probably because it was just too big for one person living alone. That seems reasonable enough. One man in a thirty-room house! Of course,” he added quickly, seeing that a question was trembling on Danny’s lips, “it does need some work doing, but that’s why the ad said it ‘needs some attention’. We thought a handy-man would see it as a real bargain, whereas if we had to call in our regular contractors…”

Danny was, indeed, a remarkably good DIY man, having a knack for cabinet work, masonry, electrical wiring, and even plumbing. He looked forward, with pleasant anticipation, to the job of renovating the house. The family could stay in the old one, several hundred miles away, while he worked away in peace, making the house ready for them. And there was no need to even consult Angela; she knew his taste was impeccable.

The Estate-agent and Danny agree on terms. There followed a period of intense activity and the old house was put into order.

Then there is the interesting puzzle of the mirror. The enormous mirror is set into the wall above the fireplace. The huge fireplace is intricately carved and decorated.

The family move in and are enthusiastic about the house. The five children enjoy exploring its many fascinating storerooms, attics, cupboards, and crawl-spaces. They kids range in age from five to thirteen. They walk, run, jump, and climb until they know every inch of the house.

Although the mirror was very old, it gave a clear, undistorted reflection. And with his family grouped around a blazing fire, Danny talked, with verve and imagination, about the reflected world to be seen ¾in part ¾over the mantel-piece. The oldest boy, Jerry, who was more science-minded at thirteen, showed less interest until his father, with shrewd premeditation, raised the question: why are left and right interchanged in the reflection, but not up and down?

This puzzle kept Jerry occupied for the rest of his father’s story. But Judy, who was eight, had a complaint. “The looking-glass room is just like ours,” she pouted.

“Not really,” Danny said. “See the picture on the wall? In our room, the man’s on the left; in there, he’s on the right. Besides,“ he added quickly, aware that the distinction didn’t impress her much ¾“we don’t know what’s in the rest of the reflected house, through the archway and in all the other rooms. They may be altogether different from this side of the mirror. And the ones who live in them may stay out of this room which we can see. The story will be continued tomorrow,“ Danny says, “at nine-thirty. Now it’s bedtime, except for Jerry; he gets his extra half-hour.”

“Not tomorrow, dear,” Angela reminds him. “We’re going to the partner’s meeting, remember, and we won’t be back until midnight”.

Neither Danny nor his wife had any misgivings when they left the following evening. Although the house was isolated to a degree, the heavy doors locked, as did the windows. Jerry was a strong and responsible kid and he would be left in charge.

The next evening, when the parents were away, the five kids became fascinated by the big mirror. They all pulled together and held up a bedroom dresser-mirror, which they had taken of its hinges, in front of the big fire-mirror in order to see into reflected areas in the mirror-world out of normal view.

When Danny and Angela came back into the house at eleven-forty and saw the living-room, she began to scream …

Angela never stopped screaming. Two days later she died. And Danny was indicted for murder. But he believed it was a mercy-killing.




18.

ALTAR EGO

The remote farmhouse, five miles from Dulnain Bridge, received an order of delivered groceries four years ago. Since then, there has been no reported activity of any kind. However, on November the 17th, three separate 999 calls were traced to this exact location. But no-one actually spoke during those recorded calls. The Authorities turned up at the address, forced the door, and entered the property. What they discovered was not easy for them to take in.

The interior of the house was in a serious state of neglect, with layers of dust coating the furniture and all the other surfaces. And there were cobwebs everywhere. Every room in the house looked as if it had not been touched in years, let alone lived in. The whole house showed no signs of life, apart from one of the bedrooms.

This bedroom was perfectly well kept. All neat and tidy; pristine in fact. It was the room of a young boy. His clothes and toys and possessions were in the drawers and cupboards. There was no dust here; no cobwebs. All clean.

In the centre of this bedroom was a make-shift altar; a table decorated with candles, fresh flowers, and some of the personal possessions of a young boy. There were also photographs and drawings of the lad, and some handwritten letters sitting on the table too.

There was also something else in the room. But this is too horrific to describe. The policemen who had attended this emergency-call could not easily accept what they saw that day. And they were never the same again.






19.

ON REFLECTION

To create a peaceful ambience, she put on soft music and lit some fragrant candles. Gathering a blanket, Lucy sat down on the settee, and laid her head down on a cushion. Her thoughts drifted around that day’s unusual occurrences, searching for an understanding or explanation.

Her weary eyes were drawn, across the room, to the bright yellow reflection of the candles in the mirror above the fireplace. Her mind was now beginning to relax. While her eyelids felt heavy, her body seemed to be getting lighter. The flickering candle-flames were hypnotic; like beckoning fingers, inviting her to come closer to the mirror. The music appeared to be singing "come to me, come to me" .

Her legs began to move of their own accord. In her trance-like state, Lucy felt that she was floating to the fireplace rather than walking towards it. Standing in front of the mirror, she looked deep into the reflection. But the room inside the mirror was not her room, the reflected room looked different and strange.

A faint and distant voice in her head whispered "take my hand, come and see my special land; you belong to me." She lifted her arm up, stretched it out, and gently touched the surface of the mirror.

Her breathing formed a mist, in the chill of the room. She felt herself being pulled into the reflection. A stronger voice said "Get thee hence.” Her chest tightened; she felt that the breath was being sucked out of her. Lucy’s legs gave way and she fell onto the floor in a crumpled heap.

She lay there, drained, for what seemed like hours, but only a few seconds had passed. The coldness was gone and the room was now comfortable and warm.

It was then that she noticed the Guardian Angel brooch. It was lying on the floor next to her. But, with no-one else in the room, she wondered who had placed it there.




20.

HELP ME I'M FALLING

In the Old Days, working as a Government Scientist, I travelled around the country, often staying in temporary accommodation. This was well before mobile phones were in general use.

At the time, the Base Interest Rate was 18 per cent and inflation ran at 30 per cent. Health and Safety was talked about sometimes, but rarely enforced. There was a lot of left-wing politics going on but not much Political Correctness in those days. Even in mid-winter there was a complete absence of delicate “Snowflakes”.

Accommodation was obtained by just wandering around and chapping on doors. And so you never were quite sure what you were getting yourself into. Most of the places I stayed in were well off the beaten-track, and the places I actually worked at, were usually not even on the map.

Being a keen photographer, I always carried a camera around with me. My monthly salary was £286; but my wee Minox German spy-camera had cost me £450. This meant I was stoney broke. And so I was looking for a cheap place to live while I starved for the next two months due to lack of funds for food and the like. But, not to worry, I stumbled, literally, on a place which was only going to charge me £24 a month for a room.

There was a sign in the window that said “Vacancies” and I thought I saw someone, a dark-haired woman perhaps, peering out of the side-window of a big house and so I casually walked up the outside stone steps, stood at the door, and rung the front door-bell. I rang it a few times but there was no answer. I waited a bit more and then turned around and walked back down the steps onto the pavement. Feeling a bit bemused, I was still half-looking back at the door, as I stepped back onto the pavement.

As I walked onto the street I inadvertently bumped into a young woman, who was gaily walking along, and I accidentally knocked her pink suitcase right out of her hand. She was a blonde-haired, good-looking young lady, in her early twenties. And she had the most piercing blue eyes.

Her case fell open and the contents spilled out all over the street. I apologised for my clumsiness, and said I was sincerely sorry, but she gave me a scowl as I stared at her clothing and underwear lying on the pavement before me. No wonder she was upset I thought. Just at that point the door to the big house opened. I walked, quickly, back up the stairs again, towards the door, to announce myself as someone who was seeking accommodation.

The Dark-Haired lady at the door said to me that “your” room was beautiful and it should suit you “marvellously”. The lady was immaculately dressed and looked about forty-five years old. She spoke in a clear and refined voice.

“Your room is all prepared for you” she said, with a pleasant smile.

“For me?” I asked tentatively.

“Well, someone very like you” she said, while fixing me with a direct look.

She didn’t ask for any references and didn’t even mention money. I said that I was “on a budget” but was prepared to pay £24 a week …

“£24 a month is just marvellous” she said “ I want you to be happy” She gave me her pleasant grin again. “You can move in right away.”

I carried my bags up the carpeted staircase, inside, and entered my room. I looked around a bit, and pulled open some cabinet drawers and stuff. In one desk-drawer I found a newspaper dating back to 1832 which unsettled me a bit. What was that doing here? However, when I opened a big storage-cupboard door I got a bit of a shock. The words “Help Me” were written in crayon, twice, in capital letters, inside the door.

Also, in the room, there was some kind of amulet dangling off the ceiling on a long gold chain, and this seemed very odd. Lying awake in bed, in the early hours, on my first night’s stay, I could hear strange creaking and groaning noises which I put down to just the sounds of an old house at night; that is, the wooden construction just expanding and contracting with temperature changes.

I had securely locked the solid bedroom door, from the inside, with my big key. But, in the dead of the night, I was becoming convinced that someone was rattling the door knob, or tampering with the keyhole, from the outside. Perhaps there was someone standing in the hallway?

As I looked up at the ceiling I could see gaps in the plasterboard and I had the feeling that someone was looking at me through these holes. But you know what it is like when you stay overnight in a strange place, especially an old house of this nature, your mind can play tricks and your imagination can run away with itself as it feeds on the isolation you find yourself in. No TV; no radio; no phone; no other distractions, and nothing to read¾apart from an old yellowed newspaper from another time and age.

On my second night’s stay I, again, woke up in the early hours. I was looking around the room and pondering, when I heard a muffled, and torturous, screeching-sound coming through the wall. It sounded like someone, or something, was being strangled. Or it could have been somebody having a nightmare.

In the morning I was putting out some rubbish from my room, some food-packets and leftovers and the like. Outside in the backyard I removed the lid from a big metal dustbin. I was just about to put my poly-bags of rubbish into the bin when, to my horror, I noticed a dead cat lying inside.

Later on, I became aware that some of my personal items were disappearing. Bits of my clothing were being “snatched” away” it appeared. And also, there was a small hole in the wall, behind the pipes in the bathroom. Perhaps another spy-hole like the one on the bedroom ceiling?

Another thing was bothering me too. At times, I could hear, what sounded like, ritualistic chanting, coming from behind the door of a room at the top of the second-floor stairs. In my mind I called this the Dark Room. I suspected I was being primed for sacrifice, just like the poor wee cat. And I imagined it could well take place in that room. I was invited to a “drinks party” for the following evening, by the dark-haired lady, but I suspected that I would be drugged and so I left the place that day, never to return.





21.

THE HAUNTED RECTORY

The House was built to last for hundreds of years but it stood for only seventy. It managed, however, to mark its place in history. Its name became synonymous with ghostly apparitions, poltergeist activity and terrifying phenomena that defied rational explanation.

The Rectory was constructed in 1852 opposite the Church. It was built as a replacement for a previous rectory which burnt down in 1841. The property had twenty-three rooms and was surrounded by five acres of land. Constructed using red brick, it’s neo-gothic architecture sat in stark contrast to the lush green trees and hedgerows that complimented the grounds.

A network of tunnels and vaults lie beneath these grounds but no-one knows who built them or the nature of their purpose. It is said that the Rectory was built on the same plot of land as a Cistercian monastery which existed in the Dark Ages, more than 500 years ago.

The disembodied cries of a young lady have been reported many times over the years and the ghostly apparition of a nun has been witnessed countless times over the centuries. The nun would walk across the grounds and then fade out of view.

One would expect, perhaps, to see the ghost of a monk because of the history of the monastery, but this apparently anomaly can be explained by a tragic story of forbidden love.

Legend has it that, in the 14th Century, an illicit affair took place between a monk from the monastery and a nun from a local Benedictine convent. The two of them planned to elope and settle down elsewhere in the country, at which point they would wed. But shortly after they had ran away, however, they were hunted down and were spared no mercy in the retribution they suffered. The monk was hanged and the nun was bricked up inside the monastery walls, while still alive, and left to rot.

Tales of paranormal activity were commonplace before the first residents moved into the rectory. Records show that the first resident was Reverend Henry Elgar Lawson Ellis. Ellis moved into the rectory with his wife and would go on to raise fifteen children there.

But such a large family required bigger, and more suitable, living quarters and so this led to the addition of a new wing in 1870. Many sources state that Ellis and his family experienced strange occurrences from the outset.

The Reverend became fascinated by the bizarre phenomena and requested that a summer house be built overlooking a small stretch of the grounds where the nun was seen most often. The family dubbed this area “Nun’s Walk” and Ellis would spend many evenings, after dinner, sitting outside the summer house, cigar in hand, trying to catch a glimpse of her.

The ghostly encounters began to occur more frequently. Staff, and even guests at the rectory, would often be found in shock, and fearing for their lives, after seeing faceless figures peering at them from the windows of the main house. Suffice to say, servants rarely stayed for long.

Henry Ellis passed away in 1892, leaving the property to his son Richard.

On the 28th July 1898 four of Richard’s daughters were exploring the grounds when they caught sight of the nun about 50 yards from the main house. Curiosity got the better of them and they decided to try and talk to her, but to their complete shock, the figure simply vanished into thin air as they approached it.

The parish organist, Ernest Tucker, is on the record as saying that “apparitions had been seen on many occasions”. This was further supported by various people living within the vicinity of the rectory, who also claimed to have seen ghostly figures walking across the grounds.

Richard’s daughters would often see the nun making appearances in the daytime and evening. They also said they had seen a phantom coach on quite a few occasions.

Richard Ellis would remain at the rectory until his death in 1930. The lease then passed to Derek Tensing and his wife who moved in shortly afterwards. Already well aware of the rectory’s eerie past, the new residents were understandably apprehensive and it wasn’t long before this feeling was fully justified. One morning whilst cleaning out a cupboard Tensing’s wife discovered the skull of a young woman inside a brown paper bag.




22.

TRANSITION

It was July 1975 and I was alone at home watching the third set of the Wimbledon men’s final between Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe, on a black and white coin-meter television. As a kid, I was keen on tennis.

Connors hadn’t made any impression on the game at all and had lost the first two sets 6-1 and 6-1. If he lost the next set then he would lose the championship. However, he managed to win the third set 7-5. Game on. And then the TV conked out.

I desperately searched around the house for a two-bob bit, to feed the meter, but could not find one. What to do? Does tennis get covered on BBC radio? Maybe. Do we have a radio? There might be one somewhere around, I thought.

This had been turning into an exciting final. Jimmy was back in it. And then the damn TV had ran out of money. The screen just went blank. And so I couldn’t watch the match, but maybe I could listen to the commentary. I didn’t know for sure if we had a radio in the house. My mother was more of a Coronation Street fan on the TV.

I looked and found a wee cheap portable ‘tranny’ in the kitchen cupboard (transistor radio) but it was useless: no batteries. It probably hadn’t been used for ages. I was about to give up, when I suddenly remembered that there was an old wooden-cabinet valve-radio in the cellar, in the close, outside. And there was just a chance it might still work; they built them to last in those days.

I hurried down to the cellar, and sure enough, there it was, dusty and worn-out and very old-looking. And it weighed a ton. I lugged it up the stairs. But it had no plug on the end of the wire. I bared back the insulation off the copper wires, with a pair of nail-scissors, and put the live and neutral straight into the socket without any plug. To my surprise it actually worked. It ran on 240 volts it appeared.

I picked up a weak, far-away sound, when I tuned the dial to find a station. I managed to get Radio 2 and could hear a crowd cheering and the broadcaster announcing that Arthur Ashe had just won the match in the fourth set.

I was puzzled. It hadn’t taken much more than ten minutes to get the radio working and so how could they have played a whole set? It appeared that this old radio was exactly one hour ahead in time as the 5pm news had just came on now, and my watch, and the clock on the mantelpiece, said it was only 4pm. What was going on here?



23

DISAPPEARING MAN

1

The year is 1972. The place is London. John feels like he is disappearing.

He walks, head down, out of the Housing Department building, and descends the big stone grey steps, into a busy street of bustling traffic. Cars, trucks, and red buses are jam-packed together. They thunder past him.

John is around 5ft 8 in height. He’s wearing a light-blue shirt, with a dark blue, plain tie, a dark jacket, and a lighter-grey over-coat, which is unbuttoned and blowing about in the wind. He looks at his best. But downtrodden. He’s 46 and still has all his own hair, albeit it’s a bit flat and dullish-looking, and it has quite a bit of grey running through the mousy brown.

John shows a stern expression, perhaps he even looks a bit indignant, as he walks along the pavement. Motorbikes, Commer vans, and black taxis, whiz by him. He doesn’t notice them. They don’t notice him. He walks along the crowded street, trying to avoid bumping into other people. He mutters away to himself. Now and then he waves his hands about to emphasise the points he’s making to his inner-self.

2

Somewhere else in London, there is the sound of a police siren. A Rover P6 swerves to a halt outside a council house. The flash white car is unmarked, but it does have extra spotlights on the front grill, and blue-flashers attached to its roof.

At the end of this grubby, and mostly deserted, street there’s a big factory, bellowing out thick smoke from its huge chimneys.

A tall man, with thick-black, straight-hair, briskly exits from the passenger side of the vehicle. He slams the door shut, leaving his driver still sitting behind the wheel. The tall man is wearing a light-grey plain coat, a white shirt, and dark tie, and he has purpose on his mind. In the distance, a couple of young teenagers clock the car and the man in the grey coat.

3

Meanwhile, while this is going on, John is sitting, on a bench-seat, inside a London Underground carriage. The coach rattles away, swaying his body from side to side. John is a bit tense. Every now and then he leans forward, and then sits back again. He seems to be experiencing some sort of inner turmoil.

4

The tall CID detective is now standing in John’s living-room, talking to John’s wife. He towers over her. A frumpy little lady, in a dark-blue, plain dress, has just picked up an old black and white, square, glossy photograph from her dresser. She walks over to the grey-coated detective with the picture. The CID man stands there, with his notebook and pencil, and a serious look on his face.

“That’s funny” she says, in a shrill, and slightly confused voice. “I was sure he was in this one.” The photo shows a plain-looking lady, standing in front of an unsightly wire-mesh fence, which lies beneath two council-house iron window-frames. She wears a dark head-scarf and a dark coat. Her handbag dangles from her hands at the bottom of the picture. But the lady is not centrally-framed, she stands to the right-hand side of the photo. To the left, there is a gap, and just the non-descript background.

“Perhaps he took the picture” the detective says, showing a bit of impatience.

“Ted, my brother Ted, took it. John never owned a camera.” She goes on, in her shrill voice. “Perhaps you know Ted? He runs a very successful business up Dawes Road” she flicks her head to indicate the direction of where she is talking about.

“What would your husband be doing with a gun?” the detective asks. He speaks to the lady, slowly and deliberately, as if he is making allowances for her not being that bright.

“I’ve no idea” she replies, with doubt on her face. “He wouldn’t know which way to point it.”

The detective persists, “Why should he threaten someone at the Ministry of Housing?” he says, rolling his eyes a bit.

“He wouldn’t; not John. But, our Ted, he was a crack-shot in the Army.” she answers.

“Can you describe your husband?” he says, now looking bored.

“John?” she gazes into the mid-distance, as if trying to picture him.

“Well, I mean … he’s not exactly Rock Hudson.” she trails off as she can’t think of anything else to say.

“Has he got any distinguishing features?” he’s losing patience.

She struggles. “No … nothing. You’d hardly notice him really. Nobody ever does.

5

John is sitting on the bench-seat, in the dimly-lit underground train-carriage, his body swaying with the motion of the train. He sees his own perturbed face reflecting back at him from the window on the opposite side of the aisle. Then his own face begins to change into that of his wife. She has an expression of disproval on her.

In a nagging tone his wife’s reflection says to John “People don’t notice nobodies, you know, you’ve got to impress yourself on them.” she says, sternly.

John suddenly snaps out of the dream he was in, and becomes aware of the train, and the others in the carriage. He slowly glances around. In front of him, to his right, sits a smart-looking man of about thirty-five who has slicked-back black hair. The man in wearing a dark suit, a white shirt, and a tie with small checks on it. The man’s head is nodding with the motion of the train.

To his front-right there is a woman of about twenty-five who has long, straight, brown hair. She’s wearing a thick white polo-neck jumper and she has a medium-blue wool coat on. There is a “No Smoking” sign just above her head. Right next to her is a bearded man in his mid-fifties who’s got a dark casual jacket on. John is wondering if these people are more significant than he is; more striking or important than him perhaps. “Are they making a bigger impression?” he asks himself.

He quickly takes a look at a younger man, standing, near the carriage door, to his right. This man seems to have self-confidence, he’s got curly hair, which is longish, but neat, and he’s wearing a thick polo-neck jumper under his dark coat. As John slowly turns his head away from the younger man he sees his own dour face reflected in the carriage window again, sitting there, with his dull over-coat on.

John decides to stand up in the train-carriage to avoid looking at his own, furrow-browed, reflection. Now, fully stretched, his hands are above his head as he hangs onto a strap at either side, and stands upright in the aisle, trying to keep his balance. He glances, again, at the young woman with long, light-brown, hair and the man with the beard.

He’s still uncomfortable, and so he walks forward out of the carriage and stands in-between carriages, next to the automatic door that swings open at a station. He looks down at a prim-looking women, with black hair, nearby, who has glasses on. She’s in her forties and is sitting in a twin-seat reading a newspaper. John bends right over in front of the lady. She doesn’t even look up. John looks uneasy. He was very close to her but she just kept on reading as if he wasn’t there. John goes to the other side of the aisle and peers over another lady’s shoulder and tries to read her newspaper. There is no reaction from her.



24

NO TOMORROW

1

Katy Turner was a 30-year-old Canadian Police Officer with an exemplary record. She was a good-looking young woman with longish blonde hair and striking blue eyes. On the morning of the 22nd of September 2018 she was reported missing by her dispatch unit, based in Colchester, Nova Scotia. They requested a missing-person’s investigation - to be carried out immediately - after she failed to show up for work for the first time in her 7-year-long career.

She had not once been late, and was known as the “go-to colleague” for filling in last-minute shifts and late assignments. Jim, her patrol-partner, described her absence, and lack of communication, as “very out of character” and immediately went to check her apartment with a spare key she had given him. He testified that he found her alarm-clock ringing and nothing out of place.

Katy Turner’s credit card was traced to an Uber-driver at 3.40am the night before. The driver was located by the police and he testified that he picked up a male and female from the Ale Bar and dropped them off at the end of a street just 6 minutes away. He also stated that he could sense tension between them during the short journey.

The Ale Bar’s security cameras were then checked and the police discovered Katy talking, kissing, and dancing with a man, who at the time, was unknown and unnamed. The closest point of surveillance to the Uber-destination was the rear parking-lot of a leisure-centre situated about 50 yards from the street where they were dropped off from the cab.

Investigators checked the CCTV recordings from the night before and saw a bare-footed character dragging a large wheeled-bin shortly before 5am. Then, 7 minutes later, the same figure is seen dragging the bin, with some difficulty, because of the weight, in the opposite direction. The same man is then traced and seen dragging the bin to a location underneath the Mackenzie Bridge. When he emerges from the other side, the security-camera footage shows him dragging the wheeled bin more quickly as it appears that it has been emptied. This area was immediately searched and Katy’s lifeless body was discovered at 3.30pm.

Katy’s lifeless body was discovered at 3.30pm on the day she never turned up for work. She had two black eyes, a broken nose, and her cause of death was ruled as asphyxiation, most likely due to strangulation. As forensics got to work on Katy’s body at the crime scene, the police strengthened their operation and declared the figure of the man in the CCTV footage as their priority.

Just over 48 hours later they had found out the man’s identity. A member of staff at the Ale Bar testified that it was Christopher (“Chris”) Gardener who had worked at the Ale House, as a doorman, in 2014, four years earlier. The following Tuesday-night, Chris was spotted, on the same surveillance camera that covered Mackenzie Bridge, driving his girlfriend’s car. He was seen driving up to the location where Katy’s body had been dumped, presumably after noticing the body was gone. He was located, and arrested, at his apartment, on the early hours of Wednesday morning. He was immediately subjected to interrogation.

2

The grey-walled interrogation-room is small in area, and it has a low ceiling. The lighting is stark fluorescent white-light. The only furniture, apart from three chairs, is a plain and functional table that has many 10x8 inch or A4-size photographs spread over its entire area. Chris sits adjacent to the table, with his back to the grey wall, on a stool which has wheels, allowing it to move on the floor, and a back-support; a standard office-chair.

Two detectives sit facing Chris, on similar stool-chairs. They effectively make a barrier which prevents him from walking to the exit door. Two cameras, bracketed on the wall, are recording events, and there is also a continuous audio-recording being made. The interrogators are employing the “Mutt and Jeff” technique, or Good Cop/Bad Cop.

Facing Chris, on his right-side, is a stocky-built man in a grey suit who has a full, and thick, set of grey wavy hair which neatly just brushes the collar of his crisp white shirt. To Chris’s left, there sits a pleasant-looking woman, with her fine-light-brown hair, tied in a pigtail at the back. She has a light-blue thin top on, and black slacks and flat sandals. She is adopting a casual and approachable posture. The woman detective (the Good Cop) is leaning forward towards Chris and is stroking his left arm to comfort him. The man-detective (the Bad Cop) has positioned himself, also, in close proximity to Chris and he, too, is leaning forward, while holding a steady gaze on Chris.

Chris himself sits facing them both. He has his arms folded tightly across his chest. He is pressing back on his back-rest, but his head is pointing downwards. He is not making any eye-contact. Between his spread-open legs, on the chair, is a plastic bottle of water. Chris looks about thirty. He has close-cropped black hair and is wearing a short-sleeved black T-shirt which shows his upper-body and arms to be strong and muscular. He looks like a gym-guy. He has black sports-leggings on.

The female Good Cop is slightly-built compared to Chris, and she sits very near to him, side-on, with her legs-crossed over, and in a relaxed, non-threatening, posture. The suited-man Bad Cop, with the wavy grey hair, has a similar “chunky” build to Chris, and he sits back a couple of feet, leaning forward, and is face-on to Chris who’s shoulders are hunched inwards as he leans forward and looks down towards his knees.

When confronted with the surveillance images, Chris instantly broke down but alluded to nothing and asserted that his memory was blank on the night of the incident.

3

“Are you still saying that you can’t Chris?” the male detective gently asks. Chris says nothing and just sniffs, as if he has a cold, or he has been crying. Chris’s head shakes in a tremor but he says nothing. “There’s either I won’t, or I will, or I don’t want to. Which is it? You don’t want to?” the detective gently presses Chris who says nothing in response and just keeps on sniffling. “I’ve just talked to some people upstairs. I know what you had in your car”. The detective is referring to a tarp, gloves, rope and gasoline.

When Chris was arrested they had found a big tarpaulin, some thick rope, a pair of black gloves, and a large can of gasoline, in the car he was driving at the time. The police assumed that the tarp would have been used to wrap up the victim’s body to transport to a secluded location, to be dowsed in gasoline, and then set alight, as a method of eliminating evidence.

Chris remains silent in his chair, but raises his head up to meet the eyes of the male detective. He carries on sniffling. His head is visibly shaking.

The male detective carries on: “Chris, the people that we interviewed, that were with you this weekend, said that you did not show any remorse. They said that you were your regular old self. No issues. Your Dad came in, but he wouldn’t give us a statement. He found out through the police. The police called him”. The detective leaves a pause. Chris shakes his head from side to side and starts to sob. The female detective reaches out and gently pats Chris on the shoulder in a comforting manner. Chris makes high-pitched sobbing sounds and continues to shake his head from side to side. “Chris, you’ve been sitting here saying, ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t’. Life is about choices right now…” the male detective raises the tone in his voice and begins to point at Chris. “…just like the choice you made to go out on Thursday night. She paid for the cab” - the detective jabs at a photo on the table from the cab camera. The detective stabs at the photo on the table again for emphasis. “She paid for the cab Chris”.

Chris turns his head to the side to look at the picture, on the table, of Katy and himself in the back of the cab. The detective remains silent. Chris lingers on the photo on the table. “Do you remember that?” the male detective sternly asks, pointing at the taxi-cab photo. Chris shakes his head in a “no” gesture while still keeping his arms tightly folded over his chest. “You don’t remember, or you don’t want to remember?”

“I don’t remember” Chris replies in a squeaky and pathetic-sounding high-pitched tone.

“What do you remember?” the male detective taps at the photo again, impatiently. “After she paid for the cab, what do you remember?”. The male detective uses the power of silence to increase the pressure. Chris sighs and sobs.

The female detective strokes Chris’s arm and, in a soft voice, gentle whispers reassuringly, “It’s ok”.

“Chris, do you see what’s going on here?” the male detective asks, and then leaves more silence. The detective now tries an alternative question as a tactic. “When you put her down, were you really hoping someone would find her?”. This is a subtle technique used to get an indirect confession out of a suspect. Answering “yes” would appeal to Chris's higher morals and the detective is hoping this will swerve his thought-processes from the fact that it would also distinguish him as the culprit in the victim’s death. Again, more forcibly, the male detective asks: “Chris, when you put her down there, were you hoping someone would find her?” Chris sobs and sniffles and shakes his head in a “no” gesture. The technique fails.

4

The male investigator now switches to the “ego-down” approach which is, essentially, the opposite of the “ego-up” approach he had just attempted. The detective now attacks Chris’s sense of personal-worth in the hope that, by doing so, the subject will voluntarily provide information in an attempt to vindicate himself and redeem some of his pride.

“How can somebody … I mean … if I ran over a dog …” the male detective raises his hands and makes chopping motions for emphasis. “… if I ran over a dog I’d feel bad. How can somebody do something like this and all weekend you act normal, have sex with your girlfriend, go to your father’s birthday party, and everybody says you were acting as always. Then, you’re driving around … you were gonna go and do something with her body …” the detective leaves a pause.

“I don’t know what I was gonna do” Chris says.

“Ok, the stuff you had in your car, what was that for?”

“Well … I had my bags … I was not sure if I was going to leave or not”.

By “leave“, Chris means skip Town, run away. In his bag was a passport, enough clothes for a week, and all of his savings in cash, which amounted to just under $3000.

"The stuff you had in your car, what was that for?" asks the detective.

"Well … I had my bags … I was not sure if I was going to leave or not".

“And what else?” the detective prompts Chris.

“Ah … eh … the tarp and gas … they were for … eh … one or two things …” Chris then clams up and starts sniffling.

“Which were what?” the detective prompts him. “That’s what I’m saying Chris, what did you have these for?” the detective adopts an upward-palms, open arms, gesture and puts a pleading tone in his voice as if to say, “come on, you can tell me Chris”. Chris just sniffs away with a blank look on his face. His forearm is shaking with the tension.

“You know what you had them for. You were going back down there … to get her?”

“I thought about it” Chris says, while nodding his head.

“Yes, you were” the detective confirms.

We have a breakthrough. This is Chris’s first incriminating statement, although it is not a full confession. However, this is an example of good, low-key, detective work. But it is not nearly enough, yet, for a guaranteed conviction that would stand up in court. The words “I thought about it” could be transmuted, in a number of ways, by a defence team. Yet the suspect has essentially identified himself as the man who was dragging the bin and therefore insinuating to the crime of interfering with a dead body. The highly-skilled detectives will use this breakthrough as a foundation to frame their next set of questions in order to increase the pressure for a full confession.

5

“What were you gonna do with the gasoline Chris?” the detective sweeps his hand in an arc to emphasis his question. Chris moves his head from left to right in a “no” gesture.

“I don’t know”.

“Chris, stop playing this game, ok? Seriously. You knew what you were gonna do”. The female detective sits very still and maintains a steady gaze on Chris as the male detective continues. “If there hadn’t been anyone around there you would have went down there and did that …”

“I don’t think I could have” Chris sounds feeble. “I drove by there before”.

“Yes I know you drove by there before” the male detective says to Chris while nodding his head in the affirmative. “I appreciate your honesty, ok?” (using the “Ego-Up” approach, giving Chris a reward for being truthful). Again, “I appreciate your honesty” then the detective leaves a pause.

“I don’t know what I was thinking” Chris says in a pathetic voice while shaking his head from side to side.

“Chris, you had your girlfriend’s car, too, right? Why … why would you do that? Because you didn’t want …”

“No, no, I didn’t have a lot of gas left and I thought I would have to go further away … to try to get away …” Chris says in a weak voice.

“Ok, that’s reasonable” the detective waves his hand in acceptance of the lame reasoning.

“I didn’t want to lie to you” Chris’s voice is whinny and he grips himself tightly with his arms.

“Ok, you don’t have to lie to me” the male copper says gently and kindly. The female cop reaches out and pats Chris on the shoulder to reassure him they care about him and he is with friends in this room. “Tell me this, was she … tell me this … was she still alive when you put her in that bin?”

Chris’s arm is trembling. His right leg is rapidly moving up and down on the seat. His foot is tapping away on the floor. “No” he says.

Chris has now confessed to the “felony” of interfering with a dead body. It is no longer insinuated, it is now confirmed.

6

“She didn’t suffer in there? She didn’t suffer when you threw her over that bank, she was dead? How do you know she was dead?” the male detective presses Chris, in a serious tone.

“I think she was” Chris replies. His right-leg and arms are trembling markedly. Chris should really have legal counsel at this point. He has just admitted that he did not know if the victim was already dead before the attempted disposal over her body. There was a chance she could still have been alive, but instead of taking her to a hospital, he left her underneath a bridge in the middle of the night. Disclosing lack of morality in such a manner will be brought up by the Prosecution at a trial.

“How did you know that?” the male detective asks. “Are you telling me she was not alive when you stuffed her in there?” Chris sniffs. “How did you know she was not alive?” the detective taps the table for emphasis.

“She wasn’t moving” Chris whines.

“You’re a paramedic” the detective states. Chris was, in fact, a salesman for a fire-suppressions company and a part-time personal trainer. He briefly served as a volunteer fire-fighter and underwent emergency medical technician training which is what the detective is referring to. “How do you know she was not alive?”

“She wasn’t breathing” Chris says.

“She wasn’t breathing? Like, how did you know that? Did you get down to feel for a pulse? Did you get close to her face, you know, because you are a paramedic, some people might have faint breaths?”

“I don’t know” Chris shakes his head and sniffs.

The victim not moving, or appearing to be breathing, is now Chris’s acumen for recognising her death. He has just admitted to not checking for a pulse, or using his CPR training, to try and save her life. The female detective now grips Chris’s left hand in her own, tightly, to bond and comfort him in his time of intense stress.

7

“When you put her in there, she wasn’t alive, 100 per cent, you’re telling me 100 per cent she wasn’t alive?”

“I think …” Chris shakes his head from side to side and grips the female detective’s hand tightly.

“Was she making any noises?” Chris replies with a shake of the head.

“Did she suffer? Did she suffer Chris?”

Chris sighs. “I don’t think …”

The male detective continues: “I can understand how some of those other things happened … but …”

This is a cunning and calculated tactic by the male investigator. He is now focusing his disapproval on one element. That is, the victim still being alive inside the bin, overly emphasises the wickedness of this single misdeed while he downplays, and partly justifies, all the other infractions that haven’t been confessed to yet.

“Please tell me she was not alive Chris. I need to know. Everybody needs to know…” the detective taps the table. “…you’re telling me she was …” the detective leaves a pause hanging in the air. “…and you said she wasn’t breathing?”

“No” Chris shakes his head.

“She wasn’t making any noises?”

“No” Chris says.

“Did you check her pulse, or anything like that?”

“No”.

“You didn’t? Because if you had told me that she was still alive when you did a thing like that I don’t know if I could still be in the same room as you Bud. Okay? So did she suffer? How do you know she didn’t suffer?”

“I don’t know” Chris sighs.

“I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re telling me that she’s dead, that you’re certain that she’s dead, when you put her in the bin, then how do you know she didn’t suffer? How did it end? Was it over quick?”

This is the first indirect question relating to the suspect, Chris, being present at the time of the victim’s murder. The detective is very good at stating the essential wording of the question at the end of his sentences in a very quick and casual manner which disguises the condemnatory nature of the inquisition.

“I think so” Chris says with a sigh.

“Chris, how did you know it was over quick?” the detective pursues further admission. “You’re a paramedic, you’re a fire-fighter, you know anatomy, you know how people’s bodies work?”

Chris sighs and sniffs, then composes himself. There is now a slightly stronger tone in his voice. “She wasn’t moving, and she wasn’t breathing” Chris says with certainty. This is not the answer the detective was hoping for.

To be continued ...




25

TRAIN OF THOUGHT

1

Long train-journeys in the mid 70s seemed to take forever. This was especially the case for a young and attractive woman. She was going to be spending the weekend with some friends. Joan was heading to a pretty little village and she was assured that she would like it. Her friends were supposed to be meeting her at the station that late winter evening.

The papers said that “They hadn’t caught him yet”. All the more reason for her to be extra careful.

Three girls had been assaulted on this train-line in as many months. And, in each case, it was a lot more than just assault. One girl nearly died too. They said that there was nothing to worry about because they’d catch him sooner or later. However it was Joan who was doing the travelling on this line that winter evening.

The Papers said they were “looking for a man with short blond hair.” Joan had shoulder-length, straight, dark-brown hair. She had an air of class about her and was well-groomed. The train stopped at a station. The next stop was were Joan was to get off. So not long to go.

Joan picked up a discarded newspaper that had been left on a nearby bench-seat in her small compartment. She was engrossed in it when someone entered the cabin and sat down opposite her. Joan glanced up from her paper to see a man of about thirty staring directly at her. He had short-cropped blond hair.

The attractive-looking man in the checked-jacket, sitting opposite Joan, had a pleasant smile on his face. His pale blue eyes were piercing, almost hypnotic. He was well-dressed and had a confident and relaxed presence. He stopped staring at Joan and politely looked away.

Joan hid behind her paper, glancing over it now and then, revealing her wide eyes. The blond man rattled his fingers on the seat as if he was getting a bit agitated or impatient. It was just the two of them in the small cabin, sitting opposite each other on the bench seats.

2

Joan glances up at the alarm-chain above her. The notice says:

ALARM
Pull the chain
Penalty for improper use £25

Joan glances over to the blond man. He smiles. Joan then realises she is crossed-legged and her skirt has risen up at bit. She sits herself upright, pulls her skirt down, and tucks her open beige jacket over her red blouse. The blond man looks at her legs approvingly. Joan is now feeling very self-conscious and she shifts around on her seat.

The man pulls out a lighter as if he is some sort of a magician. It just appears in his hand. He stretches out his arm in front of himself as if for dramatic effect. He rapidly flicks the flint of the disposable lighter creating lots of sparks. Joan’s eyes widen a bit as she locks onto the lighter. She looks to the man to see that he now has a big wooden pipe in his mouth. But he still has those gleaming eyes fixed upon her.

Joan turns her head slowly and looks at the triangular red notice on the window. “No Smoking” it states. Her concerned eyes are reflected in the window. The train speeds along though the darkness of the night, gently rocking their carriage. The lighter may have just been for dramatic effect because the blond man now produces a big box of Schiff Hamburg matches. The matchbox has a tall clipper ship on the label. He strikes a match on the side of the box. It immediately bursts into flames. He lights his pipe; smoke temporarily engulfs his face. He tosses the match to the floor and holds his gaze on Joan.

With his pipe in his mouth, and both hands now free, the good-looking blond man sits upright, then slowly and deliberately, he leans forward. He stretches his hand out towards her. Joan shrinks back into her seat.

The blond man picks up the newspaper that was next to Joan. She sighs in relief. His outstretched arm was not a threat, he was merely reaching for the reading material.

He sits back and holds the Times over his face, occasionally peering over it to meet her eyes. The train carriage jerks and sways. Joan is thoughtful. She slowly reaches for her leather handbag while keeping an eye on the man behind the newspaper. She delicately puts the strap over her right shoulder and begins to make motions to get up and leave the small compartment.

She stands up, and then looks up at the luggage-rack, above her head, where her big case is lying. She stretches her hand upward and touches the case handle. With a start, she feels his hand over hers. He stands behind her and he grabs the handle. She slowly sits back down. He hands her the case. She accepts it with a frown and dashes out of the compartment. He looks on with a serious expression on his face as he caresses his pipe. He is no longer smiling.

Joan gets off the train at the next station. She walks over the platform, carrying her case, and into the station ticket-office. She looks around. There is no-one there to meet her.

3

She stands in front of the ticket-bureau window and looks inside. There is a lamp on but no-one in the office. A big wooden wall-clock above her shows the time to be 10.45pm. Looking through the ticket-office window again, she flinches at the site of a wooden pipe sitting next to the ticket machine. It is silent all around, and the clock above her head ticks away.

She feels a hand from behind, touching her shoulder. She jumps and lets out a subdued cry of fright. And then she spins around.

“Miss Stevens?”

“Yes” she answers warily.

The grey-haired Station Master peers over his glasses at her. His face is friendly and helpful. He is in uniform, with crisp white shirt and dark tie, and he wears his official cap of authority. His moustache is greying and his hair at the side is long and straggly, giving him a slightly dishevelled appearance. His voice is polite and clear as he looks over his gold-rimmed reading glasses at her.

“Your friends called me” he says.

“What?” she nervously flicks her hair back.

“Mrs and Mrs Hunt were on their way back to town and their car broke down. So they’ll be delayed and so they want you to go on and let yourself in.”

Joan looks a bit anxious.

“They key’s under the mat” he informs her. “This way miss” he gently puts a hand on her back and guides her out of the station building and into the dimly-lit forecourt. “Turn right, out of the station, and it is the first house that you see” the man says helpfully. “About quarter a mile” he says, then pauses. “Everything alright Miss?” he leans towards her and shows genuine concern as they both stand face-to-face in the dark forecourt.

“Yes, thank you” she says with composure. Joan briskly walks off.

A few seconds later a tall blond man, wearing a smart checked-jacket, over a light-coloured polo-necked jumper, walks through the station building and past the ticket office. He stands in the forecourt and looks around keenly. His eyes searching.

“Just a minute” a voice of authority says. “Can I have your ticket please?” the Station Master asks. The blond man spins around to look at the source of the voice behind him.

4

Meanwhile Joan is now out of the station and quickly walking uphill. She keeps glancing back towards the station lights. The road is dark and she briskly walks on the tarmac but not actually on the pavement itself.

The blond man is now emerging from the station and walking her way. Joan quickens her step while glancing back often. She crosses a road of traffic, dodging the speeding headlights. Her case is becoming heavy and cumbersome. Her face shows anxiety as she is well aware that she is isolated and vulnerable in this dark, late, evening light. She is not even familiar with the surroundings.

She steps onto the pavement as a car approaches. The car headlights momentarily blind her. As the car sweeps by she looks back at it to check the registration-number on the rear plate. The car has now travelled another 50 yards, or so, and its headlights illuminate the shadowy figure of a tall man behind her, walking along the pavement.

There is an intense beauty in the vulnerability that shows in the eyes of Joan as her polished heels click-clack on the pavement in the stark white shadowy moonlight. And there is a strength in those eyes too. A resilience.

5

Joan reaches the Big House. She finds the Yale key under the doormat. She glances back at the path to check if there is anyone following her. She quickly puts the key into the lock on the door. In her haste, she pushes the door open, walks inside, and slams it shut. But she leaves the key, still in the lock, on the outside of the door. Her attention is now fully focused on surveying the dark and empty house she has just stepped into.

Joan walks further into the dark house. Standing by a window she looks out into the moonlit night. She sees that the big white gate across the track to the house is not closed properly. There is a gap where the fences should meet. The curtains are wide open on the window she looks through but, so far, she has not put any lights on inside the house. She walks to the hall and flicks the light switch.

Her eyes see into the house. She turns slightly to her left. Bracketed on the wall, just two feet away, are two solid axes, crossed over in an “X” shape. It suddenly occurs to Joan that she has left the Yale key in the lock on the outside of the door. She frowns. Then her eyes widen with the realisation. She spins quickly and heads towards the front door. She opens the door and looks out.

Standing outside, just a few feet away, is the blonde man from the train compartment. He has a gentle smile and nods his head in greeting. He stretches his hand out and his palm is almost touching her face.

Standing outside the house, just a few feet away, is the blond-haired man from the train compartment. He has a gentle smile and nods his head in a greeting. He stretches out his hand. Joan, bares her teeth, and lets out a high-pitched scream of terror, as the shadow of the blond man’s hand covers her face.

6

The next morning is cold, but bright and sunny. A cream-coloured Rover car, registration PFA 324H, speeds along a stretch of dual-carriageway. Inside the car a middle-class couple in their mid to late thirties are chatting. The dark-haired man is driving. The good-looking woman in the passenger-seat, with the neat fringe, subtle pale-blue eye-shadow and streaked-blonde hair, has a big fur coat on.

“She’ll be furious. Absolutely furious,” Susan Hunt declares, slightly theatrically, in her cultured voice. She glances over to her husband to gauge his response.

Keeping a tight grip on the steering-wheel and sounding slightly irritated, Jeff Hunt replies to his wife, “Remember darling, it wasn’t our fault,” his voice sounding a bit strained. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault”. On both occasions he emphasises the word “fault”. Jeff has fine short black hair and looks like he needs a shave. His wide sideburns are neatly trimmed. He looks like a professional man who can handle responsibility. His even-featured, handsome face, looks pasty in the harsh winter light coming through the car window.

“It’s your car” she mildly accuses him. “Men are supposed to look after their cars, to make sure they don’t break down.” She looks at him mischievously to see if he is rising to the bait. Jeff handles this by saying nothing. He concentrates on his driving.

Jeff keeps tight-lipped for just a short while. Susan breaks the silence. “Poor Joan” she sighs. “We were supposed to meet her last night, but now look at it,” she quickly glances at her watch, “it’s … it’s tomorrow”. Susan looks at Jeff as if to challenge him a bit. Jeff puts on a calming tone.

“She probably made herself some supper and went quietly to bed” he says, reassuringly.

“But I had to sit by the roadside and freeze all night,” Susan puts on a slightly perturbed look.

“Just who are you worried about, Joan, or yourself?” Jeff says with a smirk.

“Both of us, of course” Susan has concession in her eyes as Jeff takes a bit of command.

This is all play-acting.

“Both of us had an absolutely beastly night” Susan says with a warm grin. Jeff is grinning too. “All because of your wretched car” she teases. They both now have wide smiles.

“But you love me” Jeff says with confidence. Susan pushes her big fur collar up over her neck and face, and peers over the top revealing just her alluring eyes.

“Maybe” she says.

7

Jeff and Susan arrive at the entry to the driveway of their big country house in their cream “H” registration Rover. Susan gets out of the passenger side-door, takes a few steps forward, and opens up the white wooden gates to allow the car access. Jeff drives the car through and parks it next to the house, stiffly yanking the hand-brake on before exiting from the driver's side.

They both walk along the paving-stones of the path still mildly grinning at each other. Susan’s thigh-level leather boots make an impressive clumping sound on the stone path. She squats down and lifts up the door-mat to check. There is no key.

She stretches her arm out towards Jeff and makes a beckoning motion with her hand as if to say “the door-key please”. Jeff picks up a couple of full milk-bottles from the ground, swiftly transfers both of them to his left hand, and uses his free right-hand to place a set of keys into Susan’s palm. Susan puts the keys into the Yale lock, turns them, and opens the front door.

“Jeff!” she shouts in a high-pitched voice.

They both stare into their house. In the hallway they see tables upturned, cabinets tipped over, and books scattered all over the floor. As they look around they see picture-frames smashed on the floor and stools lying horizontally. There are bloody, hand-marks and finger-prints, on the walls, and large streaks of deep-red blood in places. One of the short axes is missing from the display.

They stand there in shock, frozen. Jeff holds a milk-bottle in each hand in front of him. Susan’s dark-brown leather hand-bag dangles loosely off her left hand.

“Joan!” they both shout, in unison, at the top of their voices. A bloody hand begins to emerge from behind the plasterboard of the wall-corner about 20 feet away from them. The disembodied hand moves slowly, and is about three feet off the ground, as it creeps around the corner of the wall.

They hear the sound of sobbing. Joan gradually appears from around the corner of the hallway. She is on her knees and she grips the wall, to steady herself, as she rises slowly into a standing position. This takes all her strength of will. Joan is battered and bruised and her clothes are torn. She staggers and falls into the arms of Susan, who has rushed forward to catch her. Jeff grabs the telephone that is sitting on a small table nearby.

The police are on their way. Their blue lights are flashing and their sirens are loudly wailing.

8

“Surely just one minute” the plain-clothed Inspector demands, with his face contorted. He stands at around 5ft 10. The knot of his tie is loose and bulges out of his dark-blue suit as it attempts to grip the collar of his check-patterned shirt. His craggy face, furrowed brow, and big moustache, mark him out as a tough guy with experience. His receding, but still lively, dark-red hair and huge sideburns give him an imposing appearance.

“The answer must be no” states the tall and distinguished doctor in the white coat. The surgeon clears the height of the copper by at least two inches. His voice is steady and firm.

The Inspector and the Doctor both look over to see the limp body of Joan being placed down on a hospital bed by two orderlies.

“Half a minute then?” the Inspector pleads, and attempts to use a softer approach to persuade.

“No”.

“Look, you’re doing your job Doctor, I’m just trying to do mine”. The Inspector points at his own chest for emphasis. “She saw the man, she must have. Maybe she can give us an accurate description?” he tries to convince.

“Not now please”.

“Look Doctor …” the Inspector gestures for them both to go out into the corridor. When outside the room, the Inspector raises his voice to a shriller pitch. “If we don’t catch him, he’ll do it again”. The cop stares directly at the tall man in the white coat and challenges him to concede. The Doctor comes back robustly.

“Potential victims are your concern. Mine is that girl”.

The Inspector pauses for a second, realises there is no compromise and then says “I’ll be back tomorrow then” before quickly walking away. The Doctor calls out and the Inspector stops in the corridor and looks back.

“Don’t you realise it is her mind that is affected? The state she is on now she may never make any sense”.

“I’ll be back tomorrow” the copper mutters under his breath and then walks away.

9

Joan is lying on the hospital bed, unconscious. She’s just been given an injection to sedate her. The tall doctor in the white coat comes into the private room to check on her. He leans over the bed. Her eyes are open, but she doesn’t see the doctor, she sees the blond man looking at her.

“Take the man away” she whimpers. She sobs and cries. “Take the bad man away”. The doctor moves away from the bed and whispers some instructions to a nurse. Joan grips her pillow and carries on wailing and sobbing.

Meanwhile, Susan is down on her knees in the hallway, cleaning up the mess at the house. She scoops up broken glass and has a vacuum-cleaner sitting next to her. Some pieces of furniture are still tipped over. The big cream phone, sitting on the small table, begins to ring. Susan glances up with concern and looks over at the ringing phone. She is dressed in a thin black polyester top and long black trousers. Jeff, still wearing his checked shirt, which now has the collar wide open, walks over and picks up the phone handset.

“Yes, I see. Thank you for ringing” he says into the phone, using subdued tones. Susan looks on in anticipation, with worry on her face. She has both hands placed on her thighs, and from her kneeling position on the hardwood floor, she looks up at Jeff who has placed the phone back on the hook. “It’s the hospital. No change.” he quietly informs her.

In the hospital, Joan is lying quietly now. She has a pretty floral gown on. Joan is awake but her eyes are in the distance. The Inspector is standing at the bottom of her bed. He has a friendly expression. “Miss Stevens” he says quietly and gently. His face looks softer and more approachable than the day before. His tie-knot is now tighter, and neater, over his fine-checked shirt. He looks quite smart in his blue suit.

“Miss Stevens” he repeats softly, inflecting his voice to a slightly higher, questioning, tone. Joan stares but is unresponsive. He moves in close and leans over the bed and is about two feet away from Joan‘s face. “Look …” he shakes his head a little with impatience. “… I just want to find the man…” he puts on a grin for her. She stares at him, wide-eyed. Joan almost looks like an innocent baby as she lies there.

The Inspector continues “… the bad man…” he nods his head to her, gently trying to get her cooperation. “… the man you’ve been talking about …” Joan stares at him with her innocent and glassy wide eyes. “… you are going to help me find …” his voice trails away and his head goes down a bit. He tries again.

“Miss Stevens, you don’t have to be frightened of me … I’m a police officer …” He takes out his I.D. from his jacket pocket and places it firmly in front of her eyes, just six inches, or so, away. “See”. The unfolded card has an emblem on it and it says COUNTY POLICE. It gives names and numbers, and it is signed. Joan looks a bit more relaxed. She slowly moves her head up to look at the man who is holding the I.D. card. Joan sees the blond man; the bad man. She lets out a hysterical scream of anguish. The copper shrinks back and looks bewildered. The doctor enters the room and instructs the Inspector to leave immediately. Joan carries on screaming intensely.

10

Later on that day ...

The Inspector is peering closely at the remaining axe which is still hanging on the wall-bracket. There is an empty slot next to it, where the twin was. His craggy face is screwed up in concentration and he strokes his moustache with his thumb. He steps away from the wall.

“You haven’t found it yet” Jeff states with a sigh, and a flat tone of disappointment in his voice. He stands a few feet away from the Inspector, by the window. Jeff’s wearing a light-blue plain shirt which is open at the neck, and darker blue soft trousers that flair a bit at the bottom. Both his hands are in his pockets and his shoulders are hunched up. He’s clean-shaven but his thick, straight, black hair is looking a bit too floppy. He could do with a good haircut.

“Nah. The axe … nor him” the Inspector replies. “Funny though …” the Inspector continues, while shaking his head “I thought we would have found it”. He walks forward to stand in front of Jeff. “Judging from the injuries, he didn’t use the axe on her. I thought perhaps she took it to defend herself”

“Well if she did, it didn’t do much good” Susan buts in impatiently. She had been within earshot listening to them both. She is standing upright, about twenty feet away from them, leaning on a wall, with her arms tightly crossed over her chest. She’s wearing a light-coloured floral dress.

The Inspector paces around slowly and continues with his analysis. “Probably put his prints on it during the struggle … eh … what he did … he ran out though here …” he points down the hall “…he remembered the axe … and, eh, came back for it”.

“How do you know that?” Jeff asks with incredulity. He is now standing behind Susan and has his arms loosely around her.

“I don’t know, I’m just guessing” says the Inspector, but he doesn’t sound very convincing though. He looks at the floor. “But there’s mud on this carpet …” his voice trails off. “I wonder why he didn’t kill her?”. The Inspector hangs the question in the air. Jeff and Susan both fix their gazes on him.

“I wonder why he didn’t kill her?” the Inspector conjectures.

“Well he might as well have” Susan looks stressed, “They’ve taken her to Corby Hall”.

“I know” the Inspector confirms, with a slight grin.

Susan is perturbed. “She’s not mad is she?”

“Not mad, maybe disturbed, but that’s understandable after what’s happened to her. As a woman you should understand that” the Inspector says with a wide grin. Susan is now close to tears.

“When I think of Joan in that place …” Susan’s eyes are glassy. Jeff grips her by the shoulders.

“Now darling it isn’t … a place like that” Jeff puts on a comforting tone.

“Corby Hall’s the best in the country” the Inspector has a uplifting tone, and a grin on his face. “And expensive” the Inspector nods to Jeff, who is clutching Susan’s shoulders.

“The Americans are showing their customary generosity. The Embassy is paying all the bills” Jeff states.

Joan had just arrived in the country to take up a position as a stenographer. Her train journey was the first time she had travelled on a British train. Because she was so well brought-up and educated Joan only had the mildest accent which she could take away, at will, if the context required this.

She’ll soon be well enough to talk to me” says the Inspector, confidently, “…and then … I’ll nail him”.

11

Later …

It is a cold and overcast day at Corby Hall. Joan wanders around aimlessly on the immaculately-mowed lawn next to the water-fountain. She is wearing a long grey coat over an ankle-length white, floral-pattered, gown and her footwear is loose-fitting scandals. Her arms are wrapped across her body, tightly, in an effort to keep out the chill. A nurse, in uniform, walks towards her to check her welfare.

Jeff, Susan, and a psychiatrist, are standing on a balcony of the grand house. All three are observing Joan, who is below them, at a distance, talking to the attendant nurse. Jeff and Susan gaze down, looking concerned. The psychiatrist stands back a bit and has a look of professional detachment.

Jeff is wearing a light grey suit and blue shirt and dark tie. His hair, while still full of body, looks neater and trimmed. Susan is wearing a patterned tweed jacket over a bright yellow polo-neck jumper, and she has matching flared yellow trousers. The psychiatrist wears a fine-quality dark-blue jacket, a crisp white shirt, and a conservatively-striped tie and buttoned-up waistcoat. He stands upright, with his hands behind his back, and his fine grey receding hair, and slightly tanned skin, give him an air of authority. He looks to be a man in his early fifties.

“I understand she has no family” the psychiatrist states using perfect diction. He has the slightest of accents.

“None to speak of, a couple of distant aunts…” mutters Jeff in a low voice.

“It is important she doesn’t feel lonely … isolated in any way” the psychiatrist states, drawing out the word “lonely” in a commanding way, almost as if he is a high-level government-official advising a Minister of State. His manner irritates Jeff a bit.

“Yes of course” Jeff says snappily, “we come every weekend …” his voice trails off.

“Can I go and talk to her? Susan asks.

“Yes, but only bright things please” the psychiatrist instructs, in his superior tone, as he paces away with his hands behind his back. They all walk inside. The psychiatrist heads over and sits behind his polished wooden desk. Susan and Jeff begin to walk out the office door.

“Not you Mr Hunt” the psychiatrist’s voice booms out and echoes of the walls. Jeff pauses, turns around bemused looking, and meets the eyes of the psychiatrist. “For the time-being it is best she only has female contact” the psychiatrist then looks down and carries on writing busily, without looking up. Jeff is a bit taken aback and so is Susan. Jeff glances at Susan as if to say, you carry on and I’ll deal with this. Susan walks away out of the office. Jeff walks back in and closes the door. He paces around for a while but says nothing. The psychiatrist doesn’t look up. Jeff is uncomfortable. He rubs his hands together and sighs a bit.

Jeff moves over to stand by the desk. “Doctor Warder” he says in a quiet voice. Jeff is now wringing his hands. Warder carries on writing for a bit, then he looks up at Jeff. He says nothing. Jeff walks towards the window and gazes out into the bright-white daylight. He briefly points out of the window and then he gently asks, “How long is this going to take?”

“Progress will be slow, but over the next few months I hope that she may …”.

Jeff spins around from his window-gazing and cuts in, “A few months?” he says with a surprised tone while looking directly at Warder.

“ … I’d say six at least” Warder spins around on his chair to look at Jeff.

“But then she will be completely well again?” Jeff asks, with concern on his face.

“Well, the experience she has been through, there must be scars of course …”. Warder has spun back around in his chair and he looks away from Jeff, in a detached way, thinking abstractly. “But she will be a perfectly normal and healthy young woman again” Warder states confidently, with his voice resonating.

12

Meanwhile ...

The Inspector is sitting behind his untidy desk, scribbling away intently with his black ballpoint pen, on a sheet of cream paper which is part of the contents of a manila-coloured cardboard file. His desk is functional, and probably too small, as there are many sheets of paper covering the whole surface. His two black telephones sit under a desk-lamp at his right-hand corner. He’s wearing a sleeveless, thin-grey, ribbed-patterned, v-necked jumper over a fine-checked blue shirt. His dark tie is fairly tight to the collar. On the blue wall directly behind him there are some notices and a big map. There is a purposeful knock on the door.

“Yes” he acknowledges, absent-mindedly, while still annotating his document.

“Detective Constable Wallace, Sir” a female voice announces.

The inspector carries on muttering to himself about his analysis of his notes and then pauses and slowly gazes up from his desk. At his eye-level he is facing the crotch of a set of blue female jeans about two feet away. The belt of the jeans is soft-grey/blue and studded with beads. The buckle is an ornate face with blue-beads for ears. Just above the belt-line is a horizontally pin-striped fashionable blue casual top. His eyes dilate involuntary as he continues to slowly raise them upwards to reveal a glamorous young blond-haired woman wearing a decorative necklace. The Inspector’s expression is frozen in surprise for a second as he clutches a piece of A4 paper, and then a wide grin appears on his face. He looks upwards from his desk at this tall woman, standing there, with approval in his eyes. He rises up from his seat and takes a few steps around to be at the other side of the blond woman from his desk.

“Well now constable Wallace, what I want from you is …”. The Inspector’s eye-level only meets the woman’s chest-level. She towers over him. The Inspector looks distracted at what he sees just two feet away. Slightly embarrassed, he gestures with his hand, “Why don’t you sit down”.

13

Later ...

I’m very pleased with you Joan, very pleased indeed”. Doctor Warder leans forward over his desk. “Cure is a two-way process” Warder’s eyes gleam with self-satisfaction. “We can lead, offer, direct, but ultimately it must come from you” Warder speaks in his confident and formal manner. Joan sits on a hard chair, opposite him, at the other side of the desk. Her head is slightly bowed forward and she is fiddling with a string of paperclips she has assembled. Joan is wearing a medium-green open-necked top with lots of buttons running up the middle. She doesn’t look up at Warder, she focuses her concentration on adding more clips to her chain.

Warder slowly reaches over the desk to touch her hands to get her attention and to stop her fiddling away. “You are doing very well …” his voice booms out. Joan flinches at his touch and lets out a cry. Warder gives her a stern look. “But perhaps the most important factor of all … is time”. Warder maintains steady eye-contact on Joan. “Time to forget. Time to re-adjust”. Warder speaks with force, almost as if he is trying to hypnotise his patient.

14

Meanwhile ...

Susan stands in front of a full-length mirror, combing the neat fringe of her straight blondish hair. “I’m sure it’s going to be good news”

“Don’t build up any hopes”. Jeff can be heard from the other side of the room.

“They said be prepared for a surprise” says Susan, with a smile of optimism.

“I know, but don’t build up any hopes” Jeff repeats. He has moved forward and is now standing behind Susan, fixing his cuffs. He, too, has a smile on his face.

“You’ve already said that about half-a-dozen times”. Susan turns around to look at him. “Darling, you’re beginning to sound like a needle stuck in a groove”

“Well that doesn’t half date you. I always did go for the older woman” he teases, and then he gives her a cheeky smack on the bottom. Susan spins around fast and swipes at him. Jeff ducks down at lightning speed and her attempted blow completely misses the target.

“I’m sure we’re going to see a great change in Joan” Susan’s wide smile is bright. Jeff puts his arm around her as they walk, together, out of the house.

To be continued ...



26.

PAST TENSE

It was a long drive to Taradale, on the edge of Loch Maree. It would probably take me four hours to get there. I was busy with other work for Trade Fairs, and the like, and so it felt like an inconvenience. This shoot was taking me well away from base. And so just as well the money was good.

I packed my road map and headed for the most remote part of nowhere, and Fionn Lodge.  The house had finally found its way onto the market. Just about everyone in the North West had heard of the place and all that had supposedly gone on there - not least the staff at Chisholm and Sons, the Inverness Estate Agency, in receipt of my services, and now encumbered with the property’s future. It was an odd story indeed.

Mary Fraser, was an elderly spinster in her late nineties. She had resided at the Lodge for over half a century, before taking her own life just a month ago. She had left a note saying that her wish was to be with her long-dead son, Donald, and that the Loch would decide her fate.

Her body was never recovered. A verdict of death by suicide was recorded at the inquest. It was concluded that the old woman, burdened with grief, and advanced dementia, had leapt to her death from Slioch Broch, right on the edge of the Loch. That should have been the end of it. But then the stories began to emerge.

The local stories. Stories of a mother, Mary, and of her son, Donald, living in the big house together over many decades. They were reliant and self-contained, until Donald finally met, and proposed, to the woman of his dreams, in the nearby settlement of Poolewe.

Just a few days before they were to be married, Donald disappeared and was never seen again. The rumours quickly spread. The locals whispered that Mary had killed Donald in a frenzied rage of jealousy. She had never wanted him to leave the Lodge, and so the old woman had made sure that he never would.

Thereafter, myths evolved into predictable tales of ghostly sightings in the mists on the edge of the Loch, and lost souls wandering aimlessly, trapped in limbo, in an otherwise, deathly silent, brooding house, haunted by its past.

Following the inquest, Bruce and McKenzie - an Ullapool-based solicitor’s practice handling the probate and settlement - instructed an estate agent in Poolewe to sell the property. However, fuelling rumour and speculation further still, the agent refused, stating that there was no market for Fionn Lodge and that, even if there was one, he would have no hand in its sale. Subsequently, Chisholm and Sons, became involved and, in turn, my services procured.

But I had no interest in any of the ghostly stuff. My brief was simply to photograph colour and black & white exteriors shots of the Lodge. And the sooner it was done the better, as far as I cared. And so, after three and a half hours of travelling, on a dull and grey overcast day, I was now approaching the Lodge on the Loch. I was eight miles from Poolewe.

I entered the gravelled driveway and made my ascent to the house itself. At that point the sun appeared from behind thick dark clouds, beaming golden light through the spruce trees to either side. I was glad of this. I had been concerned that the photographs, especially the monochromes, would appear flat and lifeless in the absence of any bright and direct light. I knew, from experience, that the best shots would be dampened without the warmth of sunlight on the brickwork.

I parked the car and then I walked around to the front of the Lodge. I found the grass freshly mown. Someone had obviously made headway already to ensure that the property was as presentable as it could be. As I stared at the big house a cold breeze brushed across my face.

For a brief moment I had the feeling that someone was standing directly behind me but, when I turned around, there was nobody; only the house, standing silently against the backdrop of the Loch and Slioch, the 3200ft Mountain, in the distance.

The house was abandoned and paint-cracked. From another age. The forgotten past. Though it was just past midday, the paint-flaked sash-cord windows on the upper floors looked darker than night. I had to admit that the isolated Lodge was an intimidating sight. A part of me could only admire its desolate beauty as it stood bathed in the late autumn sunlight against the blackening cloud. 

I used a neutral density filter to photograph the exterior. This allowed me to stop down the lens to capture long exposures that would be drawn out to over thirty seconds each. As the low-level stratus clouds were moving relatively quickly across the grey sky, I knew that this would create a blurred sense of movement in the skies, that would give more prominence to the Lodge itself as it stood silent and motionless in the foreground. My Olympus OM4 was firmly fixed to my Manfrotto tripod to ensure that the house itself was recorded tack-sharp.

By angling the camera-view slightly, and changing to a 28mm lens, I could also capture Slioch in the frame, ten miles in the distance, at the other side of the deeply grey Loch. I shot two rolls of black & white and one of colour, and that was my work complete. I packed away the camera gear and prepared to drive away. But before leaving, I couldn’t resist peering through the windows on the ground floor.

Inside, the rooms were sparse and unfurnished, dim and void of life or character. In one of the rooms, at the front of the house, a solitary wooden chair sat in the middle of the floor, facing the window. I imagined the view of the Loch from that position.




27.

DROWNING IN THE CITY

The City has expanded rapidly, since the Industrial Revolution, into a gigantic powerhouse of production. Hungry and desperate souls flock here in search of employment. The infrastructure has evolved to cope with the pressure.

In addition to increasing housing, transport links have been significantly expanded, and miles of new canals and railway networks have been constructed. The waterways converge in the heart of the City, creating a complex warren of junctions.

There is a dark and sinister nightmare surrounding these stretches of water.

The nightmare was all around, but hidden in plain sight.

In April 2018, a 35 year-old local man, called Brian, was cycling home along the Blythwater canal.

After a long day, Brian was travelling home from work. As he made his way along the cycle-path, Brian did not notice a dark figure step out of the shadows in front of him, until it was too late.

The figure swung a brawny forearm across his path, sending him flying over the handlebars and into the deadly embrace of the nearby waters.

Fighting the paralysis that had instantly afflicted his muscles, Brian swam for the nearest bank. As he planted one hand firmly on the side, and went to raise his other, a savage kick sent him flying backwards, once again, into the icy waters.

This time, the struggle for Brian to regain the surface was twice as hard as before, with every muscle and joint screaming at him in protest. Kicking his legs as hard as he could to remain afloat, Brian gasped for air. He could see the shadowy figure still standing, patiently, at the canal side, as if anticipating his next move.

Starting to tire, Brian quickly turned his head from left to right, looking for assistance, but the streets around him remained stubbornly devoid of life. Desperately, he began to swim backwards towards the far side of the channel, feeling his strength fade with every stroke. And then he heard the wail of approaching sirens.

The Shadow Man hangs around the waterways, waiting for an opportunity to drown someone, and easily get away with it. He is addicted to taking life. And he has killed countless people so far - unfortunate people who have been in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Brian’s elation on hearing the speeding police car is short-lived. The Emergency Services vehicle hurtles straight past, en-route to another incident. However, it is enough to force his assailant to retreat back into the shadows, and off into the night.

The shaken and shivering commuter eventually makes it home and tells his wife about what happened. She immediately informs the police. Brian is one of the lucky ones. In the next few weeks, the bodies of two young men will be recovered by the police from the local canal basin.

Word spread, like wildfire, throughout the City. The Shadow Man had returned. A local investigative journalist did some research and discovered that 85 dead bodies had been hauled out of the canal network in the past 7 years.