Saturday, 2 January 2016

Wetter than an otter's pocket

We have a TV program over here in the UK called ‘MostHaunted’; I think that I've mentioned it before.  For those who don’t feel like clicking on that link, it’s about a group of friends and family who travel to old castles and pubs and disused military installations and try to interact with the spirits of the departed.  The sort of program that, if it were to have been made in the USA for instance, would have to have the words ‘For entertainment purposes only’ written in large, friendly letters somewhere in the titles, so that none of the viewers had to deal with any uncomfortable ideas or suddenly have the urge to ‘try this at home’. (Believe it or not, I've spoken to one of the cast of the show about this very subject – I shan't name-drop which one*, because I'm not like that, but she says that she hates that whole ‘For entertainment only’ thing)

The Most Haunted team

Anyway, last night, I had a dream where I was some minor member of the team, on an investigation (I'm a bit of a fanboy of the program, so this was only a matter of time I suppose – and if one of the production team are listening, I really wouldn't mind tagging along one night – you could do a ‘no-name blogger special', you've already got the Internet presence after all.) – But the odd thing was, I remembered it when I woke up.  So, in true Robert Louis Stevenson style, I wrote it down. We also have/had very similar moustaches you know, Stevenson and I, but that’s neither here nor there.

Bear in mind that it was a dream, so the details aren't going to be factual or accurate, and I've added some bits so that it makes a little more sense. I suppose I could have embellished it a bit more and saved it to be next years’ Christmas Ghost Story, but I’d probably have forgotten it. I hope you like it.


The minibus that the hotel had found for us was older than I was. I remember turning to Stuart, pointing to a hole surrounded by rust at the bottom of the door, and shaking my head, but he just shrugged and carried on resignedly loading the gear on to the rear seats as if to say ‘Yeah, but what’re you gonna do?’.  It was starting to get dark, but at least the rain had finally stopped.  Normally, we’d get there nice and early set up in the daylight, take a few readings, set up the radio mics and suchlike.  But our shiny new crew-bus had decided that that was all way to easy and had thrown a strop, as well as some vitally important part of the engine.  The guy in the garage said that the part had to come all the way from Germany, and it would be a couple of days at least, so that was nice.

Once we were loaded, the trip around the ring-road did little to lift our spirits, we’d hit Leeds’ rush-hour and everyone and their brother was wanting to go the same way as us.  At least it gave me some time to think about the job.  It was only my third gig with the team and I was still very much ‘back-room’ staff. I wasn't ruggedly handsome enough to be in front of the cameras I suppose; it didn't help that I wasn't much of a screamer either, so I had limited entertainment value – I’d had enough contact with disembodied voices and doors opening and closing on their own in my own home to let it shock me in a damp, disused factory by the river in Heckmondwike, which was lucky really, as that was exactly where we were heading.  We’d got the call a few weeks before, from the PR team of a development company that was converting said factory into flats. They asked us if we’d like to work on something a bit more ‘current’ than we’d normally been used to.  It seemed that they’d been excavating one of the buildings to see if the foundations were up to the change of use they were going to put them through and had found some strange ladder-shaped configuration of rotting railway sleepers about a metre down.  Then the County Archaeologist had somehow got wind of it and had wanted the chance to take a look before they all got dug up. Everything was going well until they found the first body and they'd had to call the coroner. The bodies weren't recent, probably dating from about when the factory was built, but their numbers, and the method of their burial was very odd.  They’d found seventeen bodies so far: two adults – A man and a woman, and fifteen children all of similar ages.  They were lying peacefully, no sign of foul-play or struggle, wrapped in the remains of Hessian sacks that were all neatly tied at the top with leather thonging. They had been laid to rest in the spaces between the rungs of the ‘ladder’; it’d given the construction guys quite a shock when they first found them, But it wasn't until the bodies had been taken away for reburial that things really started to get strange.  It was as if someone had opened the  ‘I-Spy book of Hauntings’ at page one and started ticking things off in order. 

There were cold spots, which you’d probably expect in a Victorian factory next to a river. The same could be said for the unexplained draughts and rattling doors.  Then the reports of half seen shadows and disappearing lunchboxes had started, then someone claimed that he had been reaching behind him for a hammer when someone had gently placed it into his hand, although he was the only person in the room.  It all came to a head when the Yorkshire Evening Post ran a story from a builder who had left the job after being followed around for his entire shift by the sound of giggling children.

I think the developers thought that getting us involved would give them a bit of positive publicity, maybe they were right, I don’t know much about that side of things.  The house I live in is haunted and I manage OK. Maybe they thought they’d get some free publicity.  When we got to site, the rain had just started again, you could see the mist of it blowing past the floodlights that were spread around.  A man wearing a hard-hat and a hi-viz jacket waved us through the gate and we parked up next to the other, working crew-bus that the talent had used to get there earlier in the day and made our way over to the group, who were huddled under ‘Most Haunted’ branded golfing umbrellas and looking into a hole.

“So, that’s where you found them?” Yvette asked the foreman who was desperately trying to look comfortable for the camera.
“Yes,” he replied, “we’ve extended the trench, but those seventeen… people were all we found. We’ve just had the go-ahead to remove the wood and check the foundations.”
“Well, we’ll do our best to find out why they’re still here and hopefully help them to cross over,” she turned dramatically, straight to camera, “on tonight’s Most Haunted.  OK, cut there, we’ll add the sting and that’ll do it I think.” Then she turned to me, somewhat less dramatically, “We’re set up in that building over there, the Foreman said it has all the mod-cons, which means it has a working kettle and a jar of instant coffee. Did you remember to bring the milk?” she took a sip from a large Starbucks takeaway mug.

I smiled and nodded, then started unpacking the gear from the van.  The room that she’d indicated turned out to be an old machine shop that had had most of the heavy machinery removed.  The walls were red-brick under a coating of grease and the steel tables were all welded to the floor.  It took me the best part of an hour to set up the desk and connect all the wiring and I was still hunched under the desk when Karl walked in.  He kicked the sole of my boot to get my attention and I cracked my head on the underside of the table whilst cursing his ancestry in Klingon.

“Oops, sorry mate. Just been talking to one of the site security guys.  It seems that the next building down the river is a bit of a ‘hotspot’ at the minute.  We want to setup some lights and stuff in there, but there’s no juice. Can you throw a cable down there?”
“Yeah Boss, no problem, I’ve got a reel in the van.”

I rubbed the growing lump on my head as he went outside and I muttered something unsavoury under my breath.  Grabbing the cable, I wandered down towards the building Karl had mentioned, bumping into Yvette, who was sheltered under an umbrella, looking down into the oily river below.

“Thinking about going for a swim?” I asked, trying to attract her attention without actually using the words ‘Can you move out of the way, because this reel of cable is really heavy.’
“No, I was just wondering why they were there, why they were buried and then had a factory built on top of them, why they were in sacks?”
“Cheaper than coffins,” I replied, “perhaps you’ll get to ask them later?”
She smiled and nodded, still looking into the water. She blinked and turned to me as if she’d just remembered something, “Let me show you where we need lighting.”

My million candlepower torch showed that the building was very much like the one we’d set up camp in.  A couple of the skylights were broken, letting the steady stream of rain make growing puddles on the floor. A bramble bush had made its way inside through a half-opened fire door and some of the heavier, cast iron framed machine tools were still there – More expensive for the previous owners to move than they were worth.  The main difference was the sound of a steadily ringing telephone.  I pointed at Yvette, putting my thumb and little finger up to the side of my head with a questioning expression.  She shook her head in response.  The sound echoed off the damp brick walls, making it sound like it was coming from everywhere at once. We crept around the darkened room, tripping over the corners of lifting tiles, the sound getting louder as we headed away from the door and towards the furthest corner.  Even when there was no further to go, the ringing still sounded wrong somehow, like it was muffled or I was wearing earmuffs.  But it was still urgent, the ringing bells demanding to be answered. I scanned the torch backwards and forwards over the wall, but saw nothing except a single 1940’s metal sign, advertising that ‘Careless talk costs lives’ with a child-like drawing of a busy train carriage.  I gently touched the sign and pulled my finger away with a yelp as it vibrated at the same time as the phone rang.

“It’s behind there,” I whispered, as I took a screwdriver from my belt and slid it behind the sign, easily levering the rusty screws from the brickwork.

In an alcove, completely covered by the sign, was what seemed to be an old army field telephone with a mouldering canvas cover.  I tipped my head towards it and pointed again at Yvette, who shook her head and took a step back. The phone rang another four times before I plucked up enough courage to pick it up. At first I could just hear the wind, then faintly, but getting louder as if the person on the other end was getting closer, I heard a calm, male voice.

“Tell them it’s all right, I’m the first one here, but it’s all right. They shouldn’t be scared.”

Then the line went dead.  I lowered the handset, constantly looking at it as if I expected it to turn into a snake in my hand at any moment.  When I put it back onto the cradle I realised that the braided cord coming from the box ended abruptly in a knot of corroded copper wires about an inch away.  There didn’t even appear to be a cable that the phone could have been connected to in the past.  Then the realisation hit me just as the phone began to ring again...

*  *cough* It was Yvette that told me *cough*

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