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 county 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?