“Where are we going?”
I asked this question more than once, however it was only on the fifth attempt that I got an answer out of Jane.
“Jesus, Tim, why are you so eager to know?”
“Honestly? I’m more afraid of the unknown where people are concerned… at least I know all that supernatural stuff is in my mind.”
“So… you’re still convinced ghosts don’t exist? You don’t change, Timothy,” she had a smug, satisfied look smeared perpetually upon her face as she drove, “oh, did you hear about Galloway Hall?”
“No, what happened?”
“Well you know they were demolishing the place to build- well I’m not sure what they were building actually, a library or something? Anyway, as they were tearing it down, they found something-“ she paused for dramatic effect. I figured I would give her what she was expecting.
“A room- or a basement- something, hidden away. Apparently some cult had been using this room to sacrifice children, they’ve found dozens of skeletons, and apparently they are still finding more.”
“I know, right?” I could sense part of her was bragging, she may not have even been aware that she was doing so, but she recalled the events of the night we spent in Galloway Hall well enough, and this just proved that she was right all along, something horrific had happened there. “I did some research on this cult when I heard the news; they call themselves Prima Aetas Subortus. They believe sacrificing their offspring to some obscure ancient demon brings them youthfulness, meaning so long as they keep reproducing and killing their kids, they live forever.”
“Christ, see what the supernatural does to people? They believe in these ridiculous fantasies, and end up committing mass murder!”
“Yeah, strange though… the cult seems to have died down nowadays,” She chuckled to herself and turned onto a dirt road, “we’re almost there!”
Throughout my childhood, I had never been particularly afraid of the dark, no more so than anyone else at least. However, I think it goes without saying, that due to the experience I had in my apartment only a couple of nights previously, I was apprehensive about driving in the pitch black at the very least, and utterly terrified at the most. I remember it surrounding the car, swallowing the little box of metal in its immersive endlessness. When it came to the point where I could no longer breathe, I was sure I would pass out, and the darkness would once again attempt to devour me, but a series of dull lights in the distance loosened my oesophagus.
“You okay, Tim?”
“You’re looking a little pale…”
“I’ve always been pale.”
“Alright, more pale than usual.”
I just shrugged. The destination was fast approaching, and as it did, I became more and more sceptical that there was anything there for me. The place towered far above the surrounding fields. Even in the dark it was clear where we were going. This was a castle: Motte and Bailey, and mostly intact, although there were clearly certain areas that were in disrepair.
“Are we seriously going to a castle?”
“I told you I had a new job didn’t I?” she quizzed, somewhat frustrated, “well I’ve been asked to investigate and document any supernatural occurrences in and around the area, and this castle has one of the most frequent sightings in the country.”
“We’re searching for a ghost in a castle? What is this, Scooby Doo?”
“Were you always this cynical, or did I just not notice it all this time?”
“You’re telling me that you don’t feel this is just a tad absurd?”
She didn’t feel the need to dignify my question with an answer as we pulled into the courtyard. There was only one other car present, a white BMW with a private registration plate. The castle itself was actually as far from foreboding as a castle can be, all of the lights were on, and the natural embellishment that had been added to the place, presumably for tourist’s eyes, had actually made the building rather beautiful.
The minute we pulled up a man emerged from the giant mahogany doors that led to the entrance of the main body of the castle. He was short, bald, and had such an obvious sense of self importance that he reeked of pretention. He addressed Jane solely, and acted as if I were not there.
“Jane, is it?”
“Yes, that’s me, how do you do sir?”
“I would be much better if I was at home in front of the fire with my dogs- which at this point will have to wait until tomorrow to go out now- but I digress, thank you for coming on such short notice, I was hoping we would be able to get this over with as soon as possible.”
“I’m sorry- get this over with?”
He wrinkled his nose, as if there were some distinctly offensive odour pervading the air, where in actual fact, all I could smell was the slightly overpowering scent of the array of flowers and bushes surrounding the courtyard.
“I do not like anyone poking around my castle at the best of times.” He didn’t feel the need to expand on that point, instead he simply shoved the warm keys into Jane’s hand and headed to his car. “Also, please do not entertain the idea that you can steal anything, all security systems are in working order, and if you so much take a step out of the building with anything that doesn’t belong to you the police will be on you quicker than you can say ‘sorry’, alright? Try not to damage anything either…”
With that, his shiny bald head disappeared into the black, tinted windows of his car, and he sped off into the night.
“Well, he was delightful wasn’t he?” laughed Jane, “c’mon, let’s go!” She practically ran into the castle, and I reluctantly followed, although I admit, I was somewhat anxious to get out of the open air. As I shut the door behind us I couldn’t help but notice the large amount of crows perched on the ramparts, on the roof and various ledged dotted here and there. I wasn’t going to dwell on that though, and I didn’t.
The castle was quite impressive on the inside, at least I thought so, the preservation was extraordinary, the majority of it looked authentic; it was passable at the very least. However, it wasn’t long before an atmosphere set in, it was odd; something felt off. I do not know what it was, maybe everything was a little too perfect, I did consider that, but I couldn’t be sure, all I know is that Jane felt it too. Then again, Jane always had those kind of feelings, and they were always more extreme than mine. Then it occurred to me; I knew nothing of this place, I wouldn’t be able to deduce anything, my mind would not be able to concoct any wild imaginings because I knew nothing.
“Did you read up about this place, Jane?”
“Of course I did, I have to do my research don’t I?” she shot me a cursory glance, “why?”
“How do you know that anything that might happen tonight won’t simply be a product of your imagination based upon what you already know?”
She considered this for a moment, “I don’t, I know that little things won’t amount to anything, knocks on the windows and walls, objects moving by themselves, it doesn’t prove anything, and I’m aware enough to acknowledge that, but I don’t believe my mind is proactive enough to create a whole scenario that will fit to what I already know.
It was at that moment the lights went out. My stomach convulsed, my throat constricted and my heart jumped. I was taken back to my apartment, and I had to force myself to breathe because at that moment I could have let myself asphyxiate just to escape. Fortunately Jane had packed several torches with an abundance of batteries.
“You were expecting this?”
“Apparently it’s been happening quite frequently over the past few weeks, power cuts that is.”
“Tim, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“I know- I know that.”
Then came that sound. The sound of clawing. Fingernails on the floor of the room directly above us, and as time passed it only became more and more intense- desperate. Naturally we proceeded to check the room, but as was to be expected, no-one was there. It looked to be another infuriating search for phantom noises that would amount to nothing. The room itself showed no signs of anything out of the ordinary… however, it was a peculiar room. It’s original purpose was unclear, but it was obvious that the managers had designated it as a place to show the entire history of musical instruments. Considering the size of the room, it ultimately ended up looking cluttered, with various woodwind instruments hanging on the walls, some of them in frames, some of them merely on stands. In the centre of the room there was a large, suspiciously modern looking, grand piano.
Again, that feeling of misplacement, that sense that something wasn’t quite right came back. I didn’t like it there, maybe it was the way so much had been forced into one room, maybe I was simply feeling overwhelmed, claustrophobic, I don’t know, but I knew I wanted to get out of there.
“There’s something underneath these floorboards,” Jane suddenly stated, her voice monotone and cold, I looked over at her and saw her face had lost its entire colour, “can’t you feel it?”
It took me a moment, but sure enough, I could feel it, aside from a very faint buzzing, which I could feel more than I could hear, there was a light clunking sound. I fell to my knees and pressed my ear to the floor. The cold, wooden floorboards did not welcome my ear, they were rough, and so icy it burned. I could hear it though, sure enough, there were footsteps. The significance was not lost on me, although it only dawned on me at that moment what was happening.
This place was channelling all of my major past experiences with the supernatural, from the most recent to the depths of my childhood- first the darkness, then the clawing on the floor, now the footsteps- what was it? I considered the fact that because I knew nothing of the history of the place, that my own history was beginning to come to light, but was that even possible-plausible even? It seemed ridiculous, and even now I struggle to believe that is the case, but what other explanation can there be? I am yet to find any link between myself and that castle, no history, no prior knowledge, nothing has come to light; and yet, my fears were being reflected within those ancient walls.
We followed the footsteps, what else could we do? At this point, my fear had become so intense that I could block it out, much like when a person is in so much pain that they become numb to the entire experience. All that was driving me now was my curiosity; I needed to know what was happening.
Following the footsteps led us to every inch of the castle, every time we came close to the source of the sound it seemed to shift to an entirely different location, at times it would appear that the footsteps were just above us, below us, or even directly where we were standing, the sound grossly loud, but then in the next second it would become faint once more and be marching along the hallway next to us. After what must have been hours, we reached a final location where the footsteps were so loud the whole room seemed to shake tremulously. At this point my eyes were beginning to blur over, I was exhausted, I was frustrated, I felt no more fear; that had dissipated about an hour into the chase. My feet had gone numb, and I could feel myself falling into what can only be described as a temporary, lack-of-sleep-fuelled state of insanity.
The room we found ourselves in was not part of the original castle, that being said, it was by far the most horrifying room there. It was a bathroom; the men’s bathroom to be precise. It was grimy, grey, grim and falling apart. It genuinely looked like something from a horror film. There was a large mirror that took up the majority of the one wall, and it was so filthy, it was near impossible to see a reflection of yourself without it being distorted in some way. The sound of footsteps vibrating was so violently that the doors of the bathroom stalls threatened to come off their hinges… and then it stopped. Just like that, there were no more footsteps; just silence. That was probably more unsettling than anything else we had experienced that night, but at that point, the only thing I felt was a sinking feeling in my stomach.
I slumped against the wall, defeated.
“This was a giant waste of time.” I muttered, as Jane struggled to hide her sense of disappointment, “it’ll be light soon, it has to be, we should get out of here.”
“Something is going on here, Tim; you know it, why can’t you admit it?”
“I can’t deny that something I going on here, if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have chased the sound of footsteps all over the damn place, but that doesn’t make this any less pointless, we aren’t going to find anything… because whatever is going on here, it’s purely messing with us, nothing more.”
Then there it was. Of course, I should have expected it, but I guess I was holding out hope that my theory was nothing but wild speculation.
On the mirror- the disgustingly dirty mirror- was a gentle tapping. Someone- or something- was on the other side. I could feel them staring at me through my monstrous reflection, I could see their mischievous grin snarling malevolently at me as they watched my internal torment. What I felt at that moment is indescribable, a mixture of fury, fear, anxiety and frustration soaring through my body with so much energy and ferocity I could scarcely control myself.
One of the toilet seats had broken off and lay solemnly on the floor next to the stall. Barely thinking a grabbed it and hurled it at the mirror. I watched with delight as the glass shattered, the cracks spreading, resembling a sharp, jagged cobweb. It did not break entirely however, and that was not something I was going to settle for, despite her attempts to restrain me, I managed to shake Jane off and smashed the seat into the mirror one final time.
The glass gave up the ghost and shattered entirely. As it fell, a black void appeared behind it, something neither of us expected.
We both fell to the floor, overcome with the shock of what had just happened. I had never acted to so impulsively before; I had never been so overcome with emotion that I had felt the need to do so. We just sat there for a while, neither of us moving, staring into the space behind the mirror. It was Jane who moved first.
She glanced into the space, and then turning to look at me briefly, she climbed inside. Naturally I followed.
The space behind the mirror was a room in darkness, but filled with lights of every colour, some of them flashing, some simply shining on, and never blinking. As my eyes adjusted it became clear what the place was.
“Tim, over here… look!” Jane’s voice cut me out of my reverie, “this panel here… it’s the reason we’ve been hearing things all night.”
“There’s a system built into the castle walls, most likely for tourists on ghost walks and things like that, a kind of horror ‘ambience’, and someone has left it on.”
“Why would anyone do that?”
“Publicity, maybe? I don’t know,” she sighed, clearly the first day of her new job wasn’t going quite as expected with the discovery the whole thing was staged, “you were right, this whole thing was a waste of time, everything tonight was set up.”
I pondered for a minute, something still didn’t add up.
“Yeah… it was set up, but it was set up specifically to target me!”
“What? Why? What are you talking about?”
“The lights going off, then the clawing on the floor, the footsteps, then the tapping on the mirror… that’s too many coincidences to ignore!”
“Okay, Timothy,” she put her hands on my shoulders, “think for a second, what you are saying, why would someone go to so much effort, just to get to you? I mean, how much effort must this have taken? I’m sorry, Tim, but that’s insane.”
She was right, logically of course, it made very little sense, but then the CCTV footage switched on. Jane and I both watched as a clip from only an hour earlier played by itself. It was the music room, except it wasn’t empty. There was a hooded figure slowly making its way towards the camera. Its face was obscured, although you could just make out white, skeletal features behind the hood. As it drew closer to the screen, it held up a white sheet of paper, although the picture was black and white, as well as grainy, the words printed on it could just be made out.
‘Happy Hunting, Tim’
Then the screen cut to black and silence pervaded the entire castle.
Jane looked at me, fear evident in her eyes, I remember because it was the first time I had seen her truly scared.
“Tim… what the hell is going on?”