Off the map

I looked around, prayed for the ghosts to come and see me.

I was nervous this time round – normally I’d be just fine.

The reason for feeling this way wasn’t clear.  Sure, I was under a lot of pressure – but that was nothing particularly new.

Something had me on edge.  There was an anticipation which I could not quantify or give any reason for if asked – not that there was anyone around to ask me right now anyway.

It wasn’t the potential threat of the visit from spirits – I was pretty much okay with those when they chose to appear.

The darkness surrounding me was okay too, although I’d have preferred a bit of light – I had the new Stephen King novel in my bag and was really getting into it on the train to get to this place.

I had a torch, of course – never went anywhere without one in my line of work, but I wanted to conserve the use of it – just in case the sun up never came.  That had happened to me on more than one occasion before.

Eternal darkness.

It’s a weird phenomena, and not often spoken or written about, but it does happen from time to time.  A house, or any other type of building, that just refuses to let light enter it ever again.

It’s like whoever, or whatever, is haunting the place flicks their own special hidden light-switch off and that’s it – an impenetrable darkness cloaks the property – forevermore.

Anyway, I doubted that such a thing was going to happen in this place.

There hadn’t really been that much activity to date, and I had to admit to being more than a little pissed off that it looked as though not much was about to happen to change that.  The expenses to get to my chosen destinations were beginning to rack up and I’d hoped to counter-balance them by getting at least two reasonable length articles out of my time at each place.

But, unless something really special started to happen soon, I might have to rely on the old imaginative juices once again to spice things up as I had done before when in a really quiet one.

People wanted to read about much more than a few noises and a glimpsed apparition these days.

Hollywood had a lot to answer for, not to mention all those God-awful television shows where a group of z-list ‘celebrities’ suddenly developed an uncanny knack for transforming the creaking of an old building cooling at night into the very sound of an approaching zombie army’s footfall.

I wasn’t keen on exaggerating too much on what actually happened on my visits to these places, but needs must, the mortgage needed to be paid and the kids needed school shoes, ghosts or no ghosts.

So, looking around in the half-light of the room, I started to ponder on the ‘what if’ options that I had to utilise.

I suppose I ought to backtrack a little and should have started by telling you the kind of place I found myself in for ghost-hunting on this occasion.

My agent had decided that an old disused Police Station would be certain to offer up its fair share of tortured souls from within its walls and, more-so, from its cells – which was where I’d taken up residence for the night.

But, Alcatraz this ain’t – be assured of that.

No, of all the dangerous penitentiaries of the world, I found myself in Bromley on a wet and windy Thursday night.

It was a place that had no real history of haunting or paranormal activity, certainly none that I’d read of before, but my agent insisted that I give the place a go.

Despite the fact this one was a little ‘path least travelled’, even ‘off the map’ for me, I’d decided to give it a try.  If the building gave up some really juicy ghost activity, I cold be the first to capture it on the page.  There was a new monthly hauntings magazine due to be published soon, and I would really benefit with an exclusive in the first issue.

After a brief welcoming by one of the local councilors who met me at the door with a key to the building and a much appreciated cup of coffee and packet of chocolate Hob-Nobs, I was left alone in the building.

My mission was to record the spirits of those few – very few indeed by comparison to some of the places I’d visited – that had perished there.

In fact there were just four deaths recorded in the old building, and nothing particularly sinister had leapt out at me when I’d had a quick read through the building’s file before agreeing to the placement.

The building itself was certainly no Amityville, no Marsden house from Salem’s Lot – there was no wrecking ball due to arrive and level the place after my night here after tales of it being built on ancient Indian burial grounds or sacrificial land.

Far from it in fact.

Like a lot of other older Police Stations, this one was due to be redeveloped into luxury apartments within the year, and the team that used to inhabit it were already seconded into a huge new purpose built facility on the other side of town.

According to records , if I found myself being haunted at Bromley ‘Nick’, it would only be from one of four of its previous residents.

The first was a chap with the rather unsavoury name of Flea Lambert back in early 1960’s.

According to the old police notes, he’d received a heavy beating from a man who’d caught him stealing the day’s takings from his corner shop.  After being taken into custody, he’d died shortly afterwards as a result of his injuries, before a medic had even been brought in to the station to assess him.

The second death there had been Police Constable Ronald Halstead in 1967.

According to the staff log book, he’d suffered a heart attack in the early hours one morning whilst on night shift in the holding area.

The same log also made mention of the empty whiskey bottles that had been discovered in his bottom desk drawer, and his regular trips to the fish and chip shop which was just across the street in those days, neither of which would have been factors that could have been overlooked when the man met his untimely end at 42 years old.

The third and fourth deaths – the most recent – had also occurred closest to each other.

In May 2006 a small fire had broken out in the cell area.  It was believed to have been started by an electrical fault, although it remained a bit of a mystery as the exact starting point for the fire had never been established.

Whilst no one was killed the night of the fire itself, one man who had been imprisoned in the cells that night for drunken assault suffered breathing complications and died from smoke inhalation related problems within days of the fire.

His name was Neil York.

Three months after York’s passing, a vagrant had been brought into the cells after reportedly starting a fight with anyone who was interested in having one at the town’s Central Library.

He passed away from natural causes – although pneumonia was a much more likely cause judging by the man’s condition as detailed in the detainment log book.

So, I didn’t have much to start with if I was going to have to spin out a tale of a haunting from my night in the place.

Just four deaths in over forty years and none of them particularly mysterious or inspiring.

When forced to ‘twist the truth’ a little, as did happen from time to time as a result of little ‘real’ activity, I always tried to steer clear of the most recent events.  They were, by their very nature, the easiest for others to debunk if they chose to, and had the most likelihood of having living relations standing by with their lawyers at the ready.

So, as usual in such circumstances, I started at the event furthest in the past and took a view on what I could do with that.

It had been the early sixties, but there was every chance that Mr Flea Lambert still had living relatives around.  Although, by all accounts, it sounded like he was likely a loner who spent his days divided between his burglaries and the drinking of the booze which he spent most of his booty on.

‘What if?’  I started as always.

I took my notebook out of my rucksack and laid down on my stomach on the old cell bunk-bed.

Switching the torch on and laying it beside the book, I started to think and to write.

What if he’d been framed?

Set up by the shop-owner, so that he could have the takings himself and then claim on the insurance for a lot more?

I had to be careful on that line.  There was still the chance that the shop-owner was still around and if I spun a tale about Mr Flea Lambert coming back from the dead to tell me of an injustice and fraud, my arse could be sued as soon as my feature made the magazine.

I tapped the page with the end of the pen, thinking of another angle.

From the corner of the cell came another tapping sound, like a mimicking of my own.

I stopped tapping with the pen immediately, but the other sound continued, two more taps came and then the sound stopped.

I switched off the torch and sat still in the darkness, waiting to hear if the noise would come again.

It had been vaguely familiar and I was sure that, if I heard it again, I would know instantly what was making the sound.

I didn’t have to wait long before it came again, three more times in quick succession.

On the third occasion I suddenly formed a picture I my head.

What I was hearing wasn’t a tapping, more of a flicking, or a clicking – the clicking of a cigarette lighter.

As though my thoughts had allowed it to spring to life, following the third click a small flame appeared at the foot of the bunk on which I sat.

I’d barely glimpsed it, and what I thought to be the wrinkled hand that held the lighter, before the flame was gone again and darkness returned all around me.

I took a shallow breath and cautiously picked up the torch, swinging the beam at where the flame had appeared.

But there was nothing visible beyond the end of the bunk and the cell bars which divided the tiny room from the corridor.

A flame.

Fire had taken Neil York from this very place, this exact cell – the inhalation of smoke from the fire had caused his death, according to the records.

Maybe I’d be better to concentrate on him for my article – despite my concerns about it being one of the two most recent deaths in the building.

As if to answer me, and to enforce the idea, the flicking sound came again and I turned to see the flame had appeared again, only this time from outside the holding cell, the flame visibly moving across behind the cell’s bars.

My torch lay idle in my hand, its beam directed at the floor as I stared transfixed at the flame and at the withered looking hand that held the lighter.

Then a sudden scraping sound started up from the office room beyond the cell and, as though running away or hiding from the noise, the flame extinguished once again.

I winced at the horrible noise.

It was like the sound of fingernails being dragged down an old style school blackboard.  I lifted the torch in the direction the sound was coming from and, as soon as its beam alighted on the wall, the sound stopped.

The message left behind was, however, very much in evidence.

Scratched or scraped into the white-washed brickwork, its letters carved crudely and revealing the word carved into the red brick dust beneath.  The single word looked like it had been written by a small child’s hand.  The depth of the letter shapes and the force it must have taken to etch them into the brick suggested that a much more powerful hand than that of a child had created them.

Just the one word, all in lower case, carved deep into the brickwork by an unseen force.  Just the one solitary word.

damnation

It was positioned directly above the old wooden desk that would have once been used by the night staff in the cells area.  Its position was too high to have been reached by anyone of regular height without standing on the desk itself but, judging by its appearance, it wouldn’t have made a safe platform to risk that.

I stood slowly and made my way over to the wall to examine the lettering more closely.  It was ragged and haphazard.  At first, from the sounds that its creation had made, I had been certain that it must have been cut into the brick by a tool of some kind but now, when I looked closer, I could see that the letters were of varying shapes and sizes and the cuts were of different depths.  If it didn’t seem too ludicrous an idea I would have considered that the message had been clawed into the wall by a giant hand.

I moved to the end of the desk so I could get closer to the wall and cautiously raised my hand towards the end of the word.

Click, click.

The sound of the cigarette lighter sparking again came from directly behind me.

I turned quickly, raising the torch in front of me, but there was no flame this time and no sign of anyone there.  I turned back to the wall.  The wall was clean and white painted brickwork.  The word had disappeared, leaving me wondering if it had ever been there at all.  I scanned the wall over twice with my torch, to be certain, but the wall remained untouched and bare.

I stood in silence, aware of the heavy beat of my heart which was sounding in my ears as I gave another slow sweep of the whole area with the torch light.   Everything seemed to be back as it was when I had arrived.

From my jacket pocket I retrieved my mobile phone and opened it.

There was no signal strength, the display bars all blank – and yet in the same place earlier that night a full signal was showing on the display.  There was, however, something that was exactly the same on the phone’s display as it had been earlier – the time was displayed as 19.36, but at least an hour must have passed since my arrival at the building.

I remained standing there, staring at the phone display and mentally counting to sixty and beyond in my head, but the time remained at 19.36.  I snapped the phone shut and reopened it, but it still remained unchanged.

Cursing the fact that I’d not put a watch on when I’d left my flat, I tucked the phone into the pocket at the front of my shirt, sat back down on the bunk and pulled my large notebook towards me.  I decided to read through the copies of the police file notes I’d brought with me – in the hope that, maybe, they would offer some more clues as to what might be causing whatever was going on around me.

I remembered the word ‘damnation’ from within the notes about Neil York – there had been something about that word, a connection to his work.  I flicked quickly through the papers until I finally came to the notes about his death after the fire in the station’s basement.

Neil York had been a games designer, I read, not of the modern computer video games but from what now felt like a bygone age where kids really used their imagination and part created their characters and the worlds in which they played their games.  I remembered the games, not necessarily the titles that he had worked on – ‘damnation’ had certainly passed me by – but I’d been a bit of a Dungeons & Dragons nut in my younger days.

I recalled those days with a fondness – the collecting of the miniature figures and the creation of adventures with my college friends.  There was little mention of Neil York’s work in the file, just the title really, nothing more to suggest that the game or its title had any connection with the strange events now occurring around me.

But he had died as a result of being here, here in this very room, from smoke inhalation from a sudden fire.  Here I was with an unseen being taunting me with a cigarette lighter at regular intervals.  That and the appearance of the word carved into the wall, of course.  These things did not make for happy thoughts.

There was a sudden breath on the left side of my neck and I turned sharply, expecting to see someone sitting beside me, but there was no-one there.

Instead, a voice called into my right ear.  A husky voice, like the dying words of a weakened man pleading for water to parch his cracked and fragile lips.

“Write, writer…write.”  Came the whispered voice.

I didn’t need to turn.  I knew that there was no one to see there.

Just how much of this was only going on in my head?  I wondered.

Was the work I’d chosen to pursue really starting to get the better of me and my mind?

I turned, just the same , but I was alone on the bunk.

I listened intently, awaiting the next sound.

I didn’t have to wait for long.

When it came it was the sound of scratching and it was coming from directly in front of where I was sat.

‘Oh great, now rats!  Not very original.’  I thought, bracing myself and looking down, expecting to see rodents swarming around my boots.  But it was not the sound of rats that I’d heard.

I watched in amazement and in terror as my hand moved swiftly across the page of my notebook in my lap, the pen was rushing along and writing line after line of hurried text over which I had no thought or control.

I squinted at the words as they raced across the page.

Some were known to me and appeared to be in English, but others were bizarre spellings and words that looked as though they’d been hauled from an old H.P Lovecraft story.

Automatic writing was, I knew, something that many writers would have loved to have as a gift – just to be able to switch off and let the words flow out without having to think too much, or at all – make sense of it all later in the re-draft.

But this was terrifying, I could only watch helplessly as my own hand scribbled out descriptions of almost unimaginable horrors – I could make out enough of what the words spelt out to know that this was a very dark and dangerous piece of writing appearing in my own handwriting.

Alien hand syndrome.

That could be what I was experiencing, I thought.  I’d read of it.  Murderers sometimes spoke of the terror of being completely unable to control the actions of their own hand as it struck their children, as it threw rocks, as it wielded a knife towards their victims.  All of their control was gone from their very own fingers.

“That’s it.”  I heard the voice again but this time in my other ear.  “Write it right.  Write it right.”

With the hand that I still seemed to have control over I swept the room again with my torch beam.

“Who are you?”  I called out, thinking I probably had little to lose by confronting whoever was instructing me.

There was a clicking sound in response to my question, and the lighter flame roared fiercely outside of the cell as though it were now stronger and brighter – like the flames I remembered from Bunsen burners used in school labs.  And then, from all of the walls around me, came the sound of scraping an clawing once again.  The sound that had last time revealed the single word ‘damnation’ was now amplified ten-fold and was coming at me from every direction.

I flashed the torch beam around the walls, catching glimpses of carved words in the brickwork as they appeared and then disappeared as quickly, as though self-repairing, like fast healing cuts to flesh.

‘Daryl LaTelle.’  I mouthed as I read a name before it vanished.

I struggled to keep up with the words as they appeared carved into the walls around me and then filled with brick dust and covered over with white paint again just as quickly.  It was then that I realised that I didn’t need to follow the words around the walls, as my own possessed hand was copying them automatically into my notebook.

I stared in wonder at the words I had already written, my hand was still rushing across the paper, continuing to write more ahead of what I read.

Daryl LaTelle – he will reveal the true horrors.   Lovecraft, Poe and all of the others were mere pretenders – LaTelle has the truth to reveal to the world – his world, but he has yet to find one strong enough to draw it to create it, to write it for the rest of the world – he needs to find one who is strong enough to create his bible for all to read.

The words were large on the page, the lettering much larger than I would normally write under normal circumstances, the handwriting itself did not look like my own, it was as though someone else was using my hand to write their own words, their own message or thoughts.  I continued to watch helplessly as my hand grabbed at the page and turned it, having run out of paper quickly with the large scrawl.

My hand dropped straight back down to the fresh page and continued to write.

And all I could do was watch and read.

Neil York came close – his idea to bring the truth of damnation to the younger ones, to bring them the horrors by introducing them through a game was inspired, but he was not strong willed enough – the fire of his passion was not resilient enough when damnation’s own fires struck out and took him.

My hand stopped short of the bottom of the page and I watched as I put the pen down beside me and my hand went back to the page and turned it to the next.

In the centre of the otherwise blank notebook page was a black and white illustration of a man sitting on a prison bunk – it looked very much like the cell I was now sitting in, and likely the very same bunk.  The picture was incredibly detailed and it reminded me of the great black ink illustrations I had seen in a Stephen King book I’d read once, Cycle of the Werewolf, which had featured drawings by Bernie Wrightson.

The man in the drawing was staring out into the area where the holding officer’s desk was.  On the desk was a large black folder, a portfolio, and staring down at it were seven horrific looking creatures who surrounded the desk.

They were like a compendium of classic movie monsters, a mix of the very worst creatures you could imagine from the pages of horror novels, or glimpse in the half-light of the beginnings of a horror movie before the full rubbery costume or poor CGI effects were shown in full light.

Their eyes were all locked on the figure who sat on the bunk and the look within each of those eyes had been captured to perfection – they meant the man the worst kinds of pain, both physical and emotional and would not stop until they had delivered him just that seven times over.

As I stared at the illustration and at its incredible detail, there was a sudden shift in the image and, to my shock, the creatures appeared to be moving, as was the man twitching on his bunk as he watched helplessly.  One of the creatures – which I guess was probably the most human-like of the group – leant in towards the portfolio.  From its side an arm came up and onto the desk, a withered and torn arm ending in a series of claw-like fingers, and within the fingers a silver cigarette lighter was clutched.

I heard ‘click, click’ as though the sound was coming from within the room once again and I watched as the flame from the lighter in the illustration on the page ignited the edge of the portfolio and it began to roar with red flames.

I could only stare as I watched the flames roar brighter and stronger until they began to rise up from the page itself right in front of my eyes, the heat scorching my face.

Dropping the notebook to the floor, I stood quickly and kicked it shut, and then stamped on it until I was sure the flames had gone out.

I looked around the cell and the room outside.  The carving of words into the walls seemed to have subsided and all was silent and still once again.

I reached into my jacket and took out my phone, realising only then that my hand had come back under my control once again.

I flicked the phone open and was relieved to see that a small signal bar was now lit – it was enough to indicate that I would be able to make a call.

If I’d looked more closely, however, I should have also noticed that the clock display, however, still remained stuck in time at 7.36am.

I scrolled through until I found the entry for my agent’s number, cursing myself for never getting around to logging a speed dial entry for him.

I hit the call button.  I was keen to hear as friendly a voice as I was likely to get tonight.

After two rings the call connected.

“David?”  I asked when the phone was picked up and the line was silent.  “David? – Is that you?”

“Sorry, fella, he’s not here right now.  Maybe I can help?”

It was a man’s voice that came back at me, and I had no idea who it might have been.  My agent and his phone were never apart.  The guy had even been known to hold a heavy business deal conversation whilst taking a pee.

“Who is this?”  I asked.

“Oh, sorry.  I really should have introduced myself.  I hope you’re sitting comfortably on your bunk there.  I’m Neil.  Neil York.”  The voice replied, like a stab of ice to my heart.

I gathered my thoughts as quickly as I could.  I was amazed to hear my mouth speak despite the fact that my mind was still in freefall.

“Neil York?  Neil York, the games designer?  Neil York who created the ‘damnation’ game?”  I asked hurriedly.

“That’s me.  Oh, and good luck with all that!”  The voice was followed by a hollow laugh and then the line went dead.

I shivered and looked hurriedly around me, wondering what the hell could be next.

I looked down at the phone display.

The signal bar had completely disappeared again, so another call to the outside world was not possible and, with the clock display stuck, I had no idea just how long I’d been in the cell and how long it would be before I was to be released back into the streets by the councillor who’d let me in.  That was if he was going to return at all.

Gingerly, I picked up my notebook from the floor half expecting it to burst into flames once again – but it didn’t.

Holding the torch under my arm, I used both hands to open the book to re-read my automatic writing notes.  I hoped that I would be able to make some sense of what was going on, as long as some of the writing was still legible after the flames had taken hold of the pages

I stared down in disbelief at the empty pages of the book I held in my hands.

There was no writing at all, no illustration and no sign of any fire having occurred within its pages.

I was looking into a completely blank notebook.

Then came a sudden splash of colour in the form of a blot of red that appeared in the centre of the page I had in front of me.

It was followed by another straight afterwards, it hit the page and spread out like a red starburst on the page.

I raised a hand to my face and it came away from my nose with its fingers bloodied.

I stared at the blood and could only watch as more blots of blood splashed down onto the pages of the book in my lap.

Under my arm the torch lamp flickered twice and then went out.

I sat in total darkness, listening, waiting.

I placed the torch and the notebook beside me on the bunk, held my head in my hands, and stared straight ahead into the dark.

Whatever fate was planned for me now, it was very clear I could have no further influence on it.

I had given in, mind and body surrendering to whatever unseen forces were about to reap their terrors  upon me this night.

And I listened as the ‘click, click’ sounded once again.

Despite the total and all-consuming darkness which surrounded me, I still closed my eyes at hearing the sound.

What I couldn’t see, couldn’t hurt me…right?

 

Keith

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