I run a paranormal website. I write articles about ghosts, Dybbuk boxes, strange happenings, really anything in the fortean universe. I’m a skeptic, but don’t give that away in my articles. There’s nothing worse than a skeptical paranormal investigator in my world; we are hated. We are seen as the people that ruin everyone’s fun, and aren’t interested in being convinced. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. I lost my parents when I was young, so anything that could prove that there is an afterlife would be a God send to me. I wanted nothing more than to contact them. I would ask them if they were okay and where they were, was death something to fear.
When I received a message from a man, who called himself Clay, I didn’t think anything of it. I get these messages all the time, usually through email, and not to my personal number.
I can prove to you the paranormal exists. Clay he wrote.
I ignored it.
I know you’ve received this, my phone’s told me.
That was the last message I received for the rest of the day, until one final one arrived as I was lying down to go to sleep.
I’ll give you a taster. Nothing big. But promise you will take me up on my offer if you do experience something tonight?
Against my better judgement I replied, fine. and went to bed before thinking of it again.
My sleep was broken, which was odd, as I was usually a deep sleeper. I woke in a panic in the early hours. The room was ice cold and I was sweating profusely. My heart rattled in my chest and my hands shook. I didn’t think about the messages from Clay. Instead I was worried I’d had a panic attack. I hadn’t had one since I was a child, and that’s what worried me the most. It had taken so long for me to get over them, I didn’t want to be dealing with those again.
I went into the en suite and ran cold water over my wrists. It took me back to when I was ten, in the weeks after my parents’ death, the memory of what happened to them still fresh in my mind. My uncle had been taking care of me, he was out of his depth. He’d never been married and had no children of his own. The lack of a parental figure made it all the worse, the anxiety and panic overwhelmed me.
My wrists were numb by the time my heart rate began to slow. I was on edge, knowing the attack was abating, but fully aware that my mind, that little voice in the back of my head, could convince me that I was dying and the panic would flare up again.
I slipped back into bed feeling the soggy sheets, now cold from the sweating.
My phone light throbbed in the near dark. I picked it up to see a single message in my notifications.
Did you wake up?
It was from Clay, received just minutes before, the timing was impeccable.
You lock your doors at night to make sure no one can get in. You install anti-virus software on your computer to make sure no one can get in. I thought I was safe in my own house, behind the locks and double-glazing, though I never felt more vulnerable.
I’m the hanged man. Another message from Clay. Something ominous, to freak me out.
I didn’t sleep for the rest of the night.
Clay didn’t message the next day. I wasn’t sure if he’d thought he’d succeeded or whether staying quiet was some sort of game he was playing.
As the days went on and I thought about that night, the more my skeptical brain crunched into gear. It was obvious it was a parlour trick, something he’d played on others before. It was to get into my mind the idea of the paranormal just as I was about to fall asleep, and hey presto, you got yourself a guy having nightmares.
It was a Friday a few days later before I finally received another message from him.
Did I convince you?
Hardly. I said, with the break in days between the incident, my bravado had returned – it was not possible he knew I woke, and if he did? It meant he was watching me from outside or bugged my house. I didn’t know which was more concerning.
Come on, I was right wasn’t I? You dreamt of a hanged man. Then you woke in a sweat.
He was right about the latter. Was he right about the former, though? A hazy memory came to the forefront of my mind. A man hanging from the rafters of an ornate Elizabethan or Georgian bedroom. His face cackling maniacally as the noose grew tighter, and his eyes began to bulge and his arms started to spasm. My heart raced and a cold sweat returned just thinking about it.
I looked back at my messages. Seeing he’d sent, I am the hanged man after I had woken up. Now there was no way of knowing if it was the image that had woken me so abruptly, as I certainly didn’t remember it at the time. I was exhausted and drained, so there was a possibility I’d just forgotten. If I had dreamt of that after he’d sent me the message, I’m sure I’d remember, I hardly slept afterwards.
Curious, I replied.
Say I play along. What are you going to show me next?
A message came back almost instantly.
I need some promises from you.
I’m not agreeing to anything without knowing what they are.
That’s fine. But you will need to agree to my conditions before the next stage. It’s really important.
Tell me what they are.
You need to bring a camera, a good one. I don’t want people saying the photos are too blurry. I want you to bring someone impartial. Someone who doesn’t care about the paranormal that can be a witness. I want a promise you will write this up for your site, honestly, none of your two-sided articles, I know you’re an unbeliever.
No matter how scared you are, do not leave the location until you have everything you are coming to get.
And one last thing. You take a photo of me to put in the article. I want everyone to know it was me who convinced you. A photo of my liking.
Is that all?
You have a deal.
He sent me the details of the place I was to meet him. A stately home in the countryside. He’d hired the place out for the weekend. I shudder to think how much that cost. I wondered if he did this last minute, or whether it was something he’d already booked, like he was that confident I’d go. I almost pulled out, just to irritate him, but if he did have proof (and it was a big if), I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. I phoned up my friend Steve and asked him to come along. He thought it was hilarious.
We arrived as the sun set, typical haunted house atmosphere. Because ghosts only come out at night, right? That old trope. I was used to that. It made me more uneasy, like most people. That was the thing about the dark, it awakens your primitive brain, and makes you think of things hiding in the darkness, ready to pounce.
Clay was waiting for us in the lobby, a large open plan room with cascading staircases leading up both sides. I introduced my friend. Clay was an older gentleman, with short white hair, but a toned body that flattered his age.
“Things are going to happen quickly so I need you to be set up,” he said.
“What are we going to see?” I asked.
“There’s a little girl who haunts this house, she runs around upstairs and if chased downstairs runs across the lobby here.”
“Set your camera up there, and set it to take a photo every second.”
I unfolded my tripod and set it up exactly where he said. He inspected the camera. I did my best to make sure he didn’t touch anything and somehow tamper with it, like putting a lens on it with a print of a little girl. I knew a little about technology. I knew the memory card was something that could technically be infected by a virus of his writing, so that the images could be tampered with, as highly unlikely as that would be.
When he was happy, he told me to take a test photo. He checked the lighting and the exposure time.
“I think we are ready,” he said, “start it up.”
I set the timer, and heard the camera click as it took the photos.
“I need to get her to come downstairs,” he said, and my eyes rolled.
I hadn’t heard as much as a creaky floorboard since we’d arrived. I’m sure he had some elaborate plan. I had no idea how much he knew about this place, how long he’d had access to rig it to show us anything he wanted. At that moment, I knew it was a wasted trip. Even if we did get photos, I couldn’t say hand on heart that they were real.
Before I could protest, he was taking the stairs two at a time and disappeared off and out of view.
“This is stupid,” I said to Steve.
“What do you mean? Aren’t you excited?” he replied.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts. He’s set this up, look he even told me where to put the camera.”
“Is that her?” Steve said, turning to look upstairs.
All I could hear was the rhythmic clicking of the camera shutter. But, moments later I heard footsteps. The heavy footsteps of an older gentleman running around the upper floor.
“It’s Clay,” I said, slightly embarrassed I brought Steve along.
“How do you know?”
“I can tell the heavy clanks of a man’s shoes when I hear them.”
Then there was silence. We waited for a few minutes. I was now becoming impatient. Then Clay revealed himself at the top of the stairs.
“Did you see her?”
I shook my head. He quietly made his way down the stairs and stood in front of the camera. His face looked forlorn. After all his preparation, he couldn’t even execute it right.
“There’s my photo for your website,” he said.
All I could think about was how much money he’d spent. I wondered if a few more rehearsals was what he needed.
“Can you bring the camera up? We may be able to see her upstairs.”
His voice was exacerbated. He sounded so tired. I would’ve been too, if I’d run that much, but I was nowhere near as fit as him. We followed him up the stairs. I checked out the ceiling to see if he’d set up any projection equipment. I looked downstairs to see if there was a pane of glass used for doing a sort of Pepper’s ghost. I couldn’t see anything.
“I saw her in that room earlier today. Put the camera here.”
I placed it in the hallway, in front of the door he pointed to. I hadn’t turned off the timer. I left it snapping photos of the closed room. I pushed the door open and it carried on capturing one after the other.
“She must be in there, please don’t say this was in vain.”
The door creaked as it opened, and a chill ran through me. From the rafters I saw something small hanging.
“What the FUCK!” I shouted.
Steve was already running for his life back down the stairs. I heard the front door open before I had moved from the spot.
A child’s body hung lifeless. It barely swayed in the still air.
“What the fuck did you do, Clay?” I asked, and heard no response.
I gingerly walked into the room, and shrieked further, as I saw another body hang from the wooden beam. Its hands still twitched, as its death throes continued. Its red face appeared bloated; its eyes bulged out. I hadn’t known him long, but I knew who it was. It was Clay.
The police arrived an hour later. They interviewed Steve and I. They said they needed my camera for evidence, I didn’t resist. I was shocked. A panic attack held me; I did my best to not show it. It wasn’t the first time I’d found two people hanging. The last time I was ten.
A week passed, and a few interviews with the police later, and they were satisfied Clay had committed murder/suicide. And I finally got my camera back. It lay untouched for months, until the panic left me and my analytical brain returned. I’d neglected my website. My ad revenue was falling off, I needed to get back on the horse.
I thought back to that day, and the photos. Clay stood in front of the camera. But he couldn’t have. He was already hanging in the room upstairs. I had evidence though. I could check it. I opened the memory card slot. The card was missing.
I phoned the police and said I needed it back, my job depended on it. They said it was evidence. They said once it was processed, I’d get it back. They were true to their word. It arrived in the post today. The card was blank, they’d erased it.
I know what I saw. I don’t care how irrational that sounds. I need to get those photos back somehow. What scares me more is, what happens to me if I can’t keep my promise.