Angela came home to a silence that was buckled with tension. They’d had a row again. She made no sound as she placed the shopping bags on the floor. Nor when she poured a glass of water from the tap, gulping as if it was the first, she had drunk for days, the oppressive summer trespassing into every part of the house. She took her time to savour the liquid, to enjoy the quiet despite how it had manifested before walking to the living room.
Danny sat on the armchair; his shirtless torso welded by sweat to the backrest. He acknowledged her briefly then continued to watch LWT. Angela’s voice was one of disdain peppered with concern when she asked the whereabouts of their son and the reply was swift. Ben was upstairs. When asked if he hit him Danny grimaced.
“Barely touched him. All things considered.”
Angela looked at her husband of fifteen years and wondered what she was supposed to think of him or her son. Of their marriage and family. She found that if she thought too hard on the subject her head throbbed and eyes wearied at the vision laid forth in her mind. Better left well alone.
“I’ll go talk to him.” She said and vacated the room.
Angela could hear the sniffling from the hallway. A familiar sound and not always a consequence of the battles between father and son. At times Angela on her night travels to the bathroom could hear Ben weeping into his pillow. She explored once what the matter was, but he declined to speak. So she left him to it. Tonight was different however. Help was needed with the shopping and at six o’clock it was no time to be barricaded in the bathroom. When the ogre downstairs needed a pee Ben would be back in the line of fire. Her knock was as soft as cotton while her voice struggled to find the right tone.
“It’s no good staying in there all night.” she said and then waited for a response. It came in the shape of the bathroom door being unlocked and Angela took her cue to enter.
Ben was sat in the bath with his knees to his chest. A familiar posture. Eyes swollen from tears though Angela mused he was a bug-eyed child anyway. She sat on the toilet seat lid and handed Ben some tissue paper. Asking the reason for tonight’s ruckus was cause for consternation and while Ben protested that he hadn’t done anything she reminded him that smoke never rose without fire.
Ben fidgeted while his mother waited for his version of events. Danny had come home to find their bedroom ransacked. At first, he thought they had been burgled but when he inspected the room closer he found nothing stolen. It was more like a whirlwind had ploughed through, scattering garments and bedding all over. The focus however was the dressing table, its mirror smeared with red lipstick and several expletives. Naturally Ben’s father accused him of the chaos and the more he denied it the darker Danny’s wrath became.
Angela’s concern faded quickly, and she fled to the bedroom to see for herself. As expected, her workshy husband hadn’t bothered to clean up and she swallowed hard at the site of the room and the offense scrawled on the mirror.
In a flash she was back in the bathroom and Ben winced expecting another belting. Angela however held back; her fist clenched by her side all the same. Instead she asked her son to explain himself. What possessed him to do such a thing? And where had he picked up that language? But Ben held firm. It was not he who had done it. He wouldn’t dare to do something so bold as to gain further attention from his father.
“So, then who?” Angela erupted. Her face pale, eyes wide.
She waited a moment as Ben mustered the courage before speaking in whimpered, hushed tones.
Danny’s absorption in the TV lapsed as his wife sat down beside him, his eyes falling on her before releasing control of his mind once again. Angela rubbed her neck without thinking. Asked Danny if Ben had mentioned anything about a friend called Lucy? Her voice went unheard and so she asked again and a third time before finally Danny tore his face from the football. Irritation drowned in laughter at the question. No Ben had never mentioned a Lucy.
“Not bloody likely to, our son, either!” Danny added and while he laughed it felt like he was stabbing himself in the chest in pointing out his son’s failings. Angela wondered why Ben would make such a poor excuse up. When would Lucy have even had time to cause such a mess let alone why? Remembering the shopping she returned to the kitchen but stopped dead at the doorway. Ahead lay her food. Removed from its bags and stacked precariously to the ceiling. Tins acting as foundation stones to bread and cabbage at the top.
“Danny!” her voice shrill with awe and fear. “Danny!” Eventually rising he swore at the sight of such pandemonium; asking his stupid bint of a wife why she had done it. Yet before her protest could get full steam, they heard Ben crying out upstairs and so they ran to him as the tower of food began to be thrust across the kitchen via unseen forces.
Danny entered the bathroom an instant before his wife. It was the first time she had ever heard him sound scared. Despite her sudden reservations about following him her legs had already mapped out her trajectory and so she turned the corner back into the bathroom. Only to see Ben pinned to the floor screaming.
“Lucy!” Ben said, his voice could be heard outside by neighbours. “Lucy Stop!”
The congregation was one of considerable scientific prowess. Professors and academics across the spectrum from believers to hardened cynics. A full room as opposed to the empty chamber Nigel Flint had expected. His heart raced as he conversed with similar minds. His hands moist with perspiration. Yet he was not one of the scheduled speakers tonight but one of many of the established patrons of the ‘Society of Psychical Research’. The floor instead was given to junior acolytes in the field and to hear their blossoming articles on the varied subjects that the society deemed of merit. Nigel was here for one primary reason, however. To hear Thomas give his first address. Thomas was a young lecturer from North London Polytechnic and what he lacked in experience he more than made up for in zeal. When Nigel first met him, he was taken aback by how similar he felt they were, remembering his own enthusiasm on entering the Society twenty-five years before. Thomas’ zest had not gone unnoticed by most of the patrons and so Nigel felt even more humbled that the young man had sought him as his tutor and confidant.
The room fell silent and those still standing made for their seats. Nigel was sentinel-like in his focus as Thomas began to orate, his confidence blossoming with each sentence. A loose strand of hair fell to his face and Thomas gently brushed it aside. Nigel smiled before realising he had mimicked the same movements himself.
That evening he congratulated Thomas on a job well done, explained how proud he was of his achievement. Thomas thanked him as one would thank their father for their affection. His mind ablaze with ideas and theories, Nigel asked if he fancied another drink or two in South Kensington. But hesitation from Thomas’ mouth betrayed his answer.
“My girlfriend’s expecting me, Nigel.” He said. “Some other time?”
Nigel nodded, wished the young man well before seeing him off into the night. It was still as warm as it had been in the day outside. The heat wave of ’76 would likely claim more lives before it expired itself.
No weather to be locked inside a train, Nigel thought. And so, he chose to walk home.
It was past 2am when he arrived back at his house. Try as he might to be silent the dog, as ever, gave the game away. Nigel stroked its head as he placed his jacket on the rack, making his way upstairs.
Miranda was already in bed. He could tell from her posture that she was still awake but when he apologised for his tardiness no response came.
“Just a bit humid for the train, tonight.” He offered with a warmth in his voice he hoped would not go unnoticed. But Miranda did not move.
“It’s not too far a walk. Main roads mainly.”
Miranda sighed, got up out of bed and walked to the en-suite. Nigel smiled as she left. Then stared at the wall lost in thought. A moment later the toilet flushed, and she returned to her original position.
“There’s a note for you.” She said and pointed at his bedside table without turning. Nigel examined it in the dim light from the outside streetlamp. It revealed a phone number and an address. With a name above: Mrs Angela Schofield.
Electricity hissed from the TV’s blank screen, angered by being switched off unexpectedly. A rare occurrence in the house that Nigel now sat in. He had been summoned by the intriguing tale garbled to him by Angela a week ago. Around a month before his arrival, strange phenomena had been occurring. Lights dimming or switching off by themselves, objects moving or stacking themselves without explanation and a recurring sense of someone or something being in the room. They had also mentioned odd odours but Nigel, despite attempts to focus his attention, could only smell the remnants of years of cigarette smoke. It was a dizzying experience when mixed with the humidity. That and the sight of Danny. Bare chested despite the stranger in his house. Nigel noted how he seemed disinterested in his presence, neither bashful nor cocky about this stranger seeing him half naked. Nigel was such an unthreatening presence that even when he found himself staring at the Hogarth specimen no notice was taken. Danny was still quite trim despite his years and Nigel mused that he must work in construction.
Angela returned to the living room with two glasses of ice-cold lemonade, both weeping with condensation. Nigel lapped like a dog and sighed from the relief the drink provided. He asked again about the most recent incident once Angela made herself comfortable and she spoke of the night they saw Ben stuck to the floor by what they had christened “Lucy”.
“And this to date was the most extreme situation that has occurred?” Nigel asked and Angela nodded.
“Frightening’s not the word. Ben daren’t go to bed without the bedroom door being open in case of something.” Angela looked down at her drink. “I’m sure I seen shadows in there when I walk past but I’ve not said anything to Ben. Don’t want to scare him anymore.”
Nigel smiled, looked at them both. “I detect an accent.”
“Leeds,” Angela said, “Came down for work about a year ago.”
When asked how they had settled Angela confirmed that, as with most people, it was hard to leave friends and family but once a new routine was established, they found living in the capital quite pleasant. Exciting even. Remarking how just last week she had treated herself to a trip down Carnaby Street and saw George Best himself.
“Get an autograph?”
Angela shook her head. “He was across the road.”
Nigel veered them back on topic, asked if Ben had adapted as quickly as they had or if he missed his friends more deeply?
“After all it is hard to make friends at such an age.”
At this Danny snorted and Nigel looked to Angela for explanation of the commentary from the side-line.
“Well I mean, he’s not made many friends around here. Or at school but then.” Angela paused to find words that would comfort both her and Ben if repeated back to them. As if she were on trial.
“Well he’s not the most sociable of boys.”
“You mean He keeps to himself?”
“She means,” Danny said, his eyes still focused on the void of the dead TV, “That he’s a dirty stop in. He’d rather sit and sulk upstairs than kick a football about with the lads round here.”
Angela ignored her husband. A skill she was now proficient in. Instead she digressed that even back in Brighouse Ben preferred his own company. That he didn’t do sports or play with the other boys. That this in turn meant they picked on him. Bullied him. Knocked him about a bit. And when Nigel enquired if the same was happening now Angela stayed silent. She was unsure but it was more than likely.
“To think of it,” Danny piped up once again, “a Northern lad being battered by a bunch of Southern gits.”
Sweat ran down Danny’s chest and Nigel instinctively mopped his own brow watching it snake out of view. He asked what Ben did with his time. What he enjoyed. The answer from his parents was slow to emerge, as if the weight of each word was a monolith being pulled to its eternal standing position.
Books came the first answer. Then music. Then a silence. Nigel watched as Angela finished her drink, peering at Danny through the glass.
“Perhaps I could speak to Ben?” Nigel asked, standing. Angela stood up in tandem. Confused but nodding to the request.
Nigel followed her up the narrow staircase of the terrace, reaching the door of Ben’s bedroom. Before she knocked however she turned to Nigel and with what appeared to be genuine concern and asked him about her son.
“Do you think this ghost is threatening our Ben?”
But Nigel could not answer. “First let us discover if there is a ghost at all.” He said.
Bowie observed the room’s occupants from a poster stuck to the inside wall. The bedroom was as close to a library as one could get within a box bedroom, classic and modern literature piled atop of one another against walls were pictures of football players or sports cars would ordinarily be. How an academic mind appeared in such a space was to Nigel a mystery. And while he chided himself for his snobbery the question remained unanswered.
Nigel, having entered, stood staring at the young man before him. Ben was sat on the edge of his bed, a tension in his muscles as if he were ready to leap to defend himself at a moment’s notice. Behind a long mop of brown hair, he looked at Nigel who provided a smile then introduced himself. Ben nodded.
“You’re the ghost hunter? He said but Nigel corrected him.
“Parapsychologist.” But Ben didn’t seem to understand and so Nigel clarified, stating that in the world around them there were countless things still unexplained.
“Some people would experience phenomena and try to rationalise it away, while others would jump to conclusions of the supernatural.”
Ben still seemed unsure, but his interest was piqued.
“What about you?” he asked.
“I simply seek the truth. Whatever that may be.”
Nigel waited for another question from Ben, but it never arrived. Instead he seemed to retreat into himself and from Nigel.
“You’re not in any trouble, Ben.” Nigel’s voiced hummed with calm. “I’m just simply trying to figure out what is occurring in this house.”
Ben twitched, the springs in his bed calling out from the sudden movement. In protest he expressed how this was nothing to do with him. He hadn’t done all the things that had been blamed for and that he was not in control of Lucy like his dad suspected.
Nigel raised his hands in decorum. Apologised if he had scared Ben into thinking that he was to blame somehow.
“On the contrary, you might well be the answer to resolving the situation. The hero as it were.”
Ben was still and a small smile appeared on his lips. Nigel returned the gesture before asking the most important question.
“Who is Lucy?”
Ben’s smile fell away and he looked around as if she might be in the room with him now. Out of instinct Nigel did the same and focused his attention on any changes within the room that he could detect. There was nothing. So instead he returned attention to the child ahead of him. Encouraged him to speak which he eventually did. A babble at first but building strength like a flooding river.
Lucy, Ben had begun, came to him in a dream. She was the same age as him with the same colour hair and eyes and enjoyed the same things he did. But she was trapped. Somewhere dark, unseen and cold. Unable to reach out into the brightness of the sun. The heatwave was as alien to her as Mars would be to him. The dreams became more regular from every week to every night until one night she asked him if he would help release her from her prison. He had enjoyed their conversations and so he agreed. Willing her to come forth into the bedroom one Sunday afternoon to listen to some music with him.
Ben’s eyes lit with flames of memory when he recalled how she first made her presence known to him. When he put each record on, he would ask her if she liked it. At first nothing occurred, but when he played The Carpenters the needle suddenly lifted from the record before it was thrown across the room. This minor manifestation of Lucy resulted in Ben being scolded by his father for wrecking an album. It was the first of many instances in which he would plead, in vain, that he was not the culprit of the mischief occurring. And until the last incident in the bathroom his father vehemently ignored such pleas.
Ben noted that Nigel was writing what he said down and Nigel, aware of the break in narrative, placed the pad to one side.
“Who do you think Lucy is, Ben?”
Ben was silent. Then shrugged.
“Would you consider her a friend?”
“She scares me sometimes. But we have a lot in common. I feel we’re almost the same person.”
Nigel looked up at Ben.
“The same person?”
Ben sighed, tried to piece together the jigsaw of words in his mind to create a coherent sentence.
“When she’s out there, messing about or scaring people. I don’t recognise her. But when it’s done. When it’s quiet. I feel like she’s back inside me. Like she is me. The real me.”
Ben looked at Nigel who stared back, absorbed by the concept laid out to him.
“You must think I’m off my head.”
“No.” the word escaped before Nigel had mustered a sentence.
“No, I don’t think so.”
The void of silence began to fill as Nigel struggled to find the words needed. Each second lost left Ben adrift in a sea of anxiety.
“It’s quite extraordinary.” Nigel began “Within the field of poltergeist activity it is usually on the coming of age of young girls that the focus of attention falls.”
Ben fidgeted as Nigel continued. “And yet here you are going through undoubtedly the same scenario. It’s unprecedented. But not surprising.”
“It is my belief that poltergeist activity is the psychic manifestation of repressed aspects of personality. That the more we try to hide who we truly are or what we have been through the more the phenomena intensifies.”
Ben tremored at the explanation, looking at the door in fear of a sudden entrance of Angela or Danny. But Nigel drew back his focus.
“It is not my place to ask what secrets you might be carrying. My role here is simply to investigate the paranormal.” He said firmly.
“But I want you to know that everyone carries secrets. And I am happy to help carry yours if you’ll let me.”
Ben was silent. Eyes fixed on Nigel, ready to explode from frustration. Yet too many barriers had been built over the years. So instead she welled up.
“I just don’t want to be scared anymore.”
Nigel patted Ben on the shoulder. He would not rest until the phenomena had ceased and been explained. But most importantly of all he assured nothing bad would befall Ben.
At the end of the corridor at the top of the stairs he found Angela smoking a cigarette. To her also he gave reassurance. He would investigate the phenomena, of which there would surely be more. But first he needed transparency. The real reason they left Leeds and family behind. Angela stretched her neck to see downstairs. The TV had been resurrected, and so she told him everything she knew. It started with missing makeup…
Nigel stared into the night in the back of the cab, his face illuminated in strobe. His mind keeping speed with the vehicle in trying to disseminate all he had learned. Truly the Schofield’s case was a remarkable and tragic one. One of exponential psychic phenomena bubbling at the surface. But to tread lightly was imperative, Nigel did not want to cause more suffering than had already taken place. How he was to go forward left him stumbling for answers and suddenly he felt claustrophobic within the taxi.
An hour on foot from home he paid the driver and began to walk in the balmy night. These were truly still the dark ages in many respects. Nigel knew this deep down. From Parapsychology and beyond, many things were still hidden in dark places, unspoken out of fear, prejudice or the simple devastating act of tradition.
Nigel’s surrounds changed as he ambled. Grey and sullen tower blocks making way for close knit trees, whispering to each other in a gentle breeze. He walked with purpose, having walked this way many times before, until he reached a small concrete box of a lavatory. A place familiar to him. In the dark it was hard to make out at first but focusing his eyes he eventually saw the silhouette of a man stood outside it. Nigel’s pace slowed as he approached, the man having noticed him minutes before. A cigarette was lit, and Nigel took in the soft skin and stern expression ahead of him. Then he smiled.
“Do you have the time?” Nigel asked.
The young man’s expression didn’t change but he answered all the same. They then stared at each other for a while before the stranger breezed into the lavatory. Nigel sighed and thought of the child he had seen today. No matter what he would not risk revealing the secret around Lucy. He would keep it as safe as the one he was about to create. And he would add it to the collection of his own.
Originally from Lancashire (of the Pendle Witch fame) Michael Byrne has lived in London for over ten years. Previous work has been published by HellBound Books Publishing (USA) and Red Leaf Review (Canada) as well as winning completion in Scribble Magazine (UK) and having work made into a podcast via Psudopod (USA). You can find his website here and Instagram here