Authors: Jack Lewis
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Ghosts, #British, #Religion & Spirituality, #Occult, #Ghosts & Haunted Houses
This book is dedicated to my wife,
who has taught me the true meaning of
As the car rumbled over the rough
country road I got the sense the sky was closing in on us, like the nearer we
got to the village the more the world shrank. Seagulls circled overhead and
shrieked into the air. Jeremiah drove. I sat in the passenger seat and leafed through
my notes, pausing from time to time to stare through the window as the pale
greens of the Scottish countryside rolled by.
It looked like a peaceful area, but it was desolate. Weeds scratched through
the grass and the ruins of decades old cobble-stoned walls lined the roads. The
greenery grew up to the side of the road and then suddenly stopped at the
tarmac, as though it were surprised at the sudden intrusion onto its spread. I
reached for the radio dial.
“Don't touch that,” said Jeremiah.
“It interrupts me thinking.”
They were the first words he'd said in over an hour, and without the radio on
all I could hear was the hum of the engine and patters of rain of the
windscreen. The wipers moved hypnotically back and forth, each swipe clearing
my view of the murky countryside. I couldn’t stand silence. Not when I was with
another person. I didn’t mind it when I was alone studying or writing an
assignment, but even then I had the TV on low volume to get some background
Enough was enough. Why had he agreed to the interview if he wasn't going to
talk to me? What was either of us getting out of the whole thing? Professor
Higson had warned me about Jeremiah. How stubborn he could be. How he was rude
just for the hell of it. I wasn't going to pussy foot around him.
“Why do you do it?” I asked.
He glanced at me and then back at the road. He held onto the wheel as though he
were a student driver and needed complete concentration. He was so wooden, like
there was no life to him at all.
“My professor says you're subconsciously seeking out your own death, but you're
too scared to take the matter in your own hands. He says you’re waiting for
something else to do it for you.”
“Your professor needs a glass of water to help swallow the thesaurus.” he said.
I wondered why I'd agreed to come. Travelling all the way up to Scotland to
investigate an urban legend that anyone with even a shred of logic would know
was bullshit. Did he really believe in this stuff? His reputation was dirt, but
no-one ever doubted his intellect. Maybe he was dangerous. Perhaps a twenty two
year old woman shouldn't travel with a man she hardly knew to score extra
credit with her professor.
Jeremiah’s bulk threatened to spill over the edges of the driver seat, but his
long leather coat was zipped, buckled, and it managed to reign in his body. His
hair was an unwashed swirl of ginger that swept across his forehead. His face
reminded me of my alcoholic uncle’s; slightly bloated and red all-over, but
with an intelligence behind it. Except that I knew that Jeremiah didn't drink.
I opened my mouth to try and start a conversation again, but I thought better
of it. I sighed. Jeremiah reached forward and turned the dial of the radio. The
car filled with the sounds of an upbeat pop song. He pressed a button and it
was replaced by something classical.
“If you have to have music we'll at least have something I like,” he said.
It was like I was just a nuisance to him. I had felt that way since I first
wrote to him requesting the interview. I remembered his reply to me, on which
he'd spent as little energy as possible.
That's all I got. It was only when I dropped Professor Higson's name that
Jeremiah opened up to the idea. Said he wouldn't do a normal sit-down
interview, but he was investigating something up in a little Scottish village.
If I really wanted to get the inside scoop I could join him. Otherwise, he
didn't give a crap. I remembered telling Professor Higson about it.
"Do you think it's, you know, some kind of sex thing?"
Higson leant forward with his elbows on his desk. His tie was fastened so tight
that it threatened to strangle him.
"Jeremiah Cosgrove is a lot of things, but he's no pervert. He isn't
interested in your body Ella."
“Then what is he after?”
“Me. Or what I can get him, anyway. He's been hounding me for access to an
experiment the university carried out in the eighties.”
“So what's the big deal?”
Higson tapped his pen on the desk. His initials were carved into the tip. “I
want to find something out from him, but he isn't willing to trade. No quid pro
quo. It has to be his way.”
I sensed a history between the two men, and it felt like I was stuck in the
middle. Like they were old friends with a decade-long feud between them.
Perhaps I should have picked something else for my dissertation.
“Maybe the real life study of the
occult and urban legends is a stupid thing to write about,” I said.
“No Ella, you're on the right track. Go with him, get a little life
“Life experience won’t get my dissertation
“Just remember what we've spoken
about in class. These dark tales and fancies, they're all bollocks. They've
always got their roots in reality, some kind of logical explanation.”
I leaned forward, looked him in the eyes. "Let's say I do. Will you
recommend me for the master’s program?”
Higson sighed. He rubbed his forehead. “You know I can't do that. You just
don't have the grades.”
“I need this, professor.”
"A master’s degree isn't everything. There are lots of avenues you can take
when you leave university.”
“It's everything to me.”
I was getting worked up. We'd had this conversation before. He liked me and I
knew I was his favourite pupil. So why wouldn't he recommend me? I’d poured too
many hours into this to hit a block in the road. I’d turned down party invites
and rejected phone calls until one by one my friends stopped dialling my
number. This was all I had.
The professor bit his bottom lip. Then he picked up the pen from his desk and
stared at it for a while, deep in thought.
“Do one thing for me, and I'll see
what I can do about recommending you.”
“What is it?”
“Go on Jeremiah’s trip, his investigation, whatever he wants to call it. Find
out one thing for me. Find out what happened in Bruges.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ask him about Bruges in '99. Find out what really happened - no lies, no
bullshit. Then I will recommend you.”
The car hit a pothole and jolted me out of thought. The village was ahead of
us. It was a collection of ten or so houses that looked like they grew out of
the fields. As though the stone and the grass were melding together, and
someday the countryside would rise and devour the buildings. It seemed like the
kind of place you'd go to die when your kids had grown up and left you.
“Are you going to tell me why we're here now?” I asked.
“You wanted to learn what I do. Well here's the first lesson. I listen.”
I couldn't believe a person could be so socially inept. I bit back my anger.
“What exactly are we listening to?”
He turned the radio down.
I listened. All I could hear was the car engine turning over. Then my breath as
it left my mouth. A faint rattle coming from one of the windows at the back of
Jeremiah seemed occupied with something, like he heard something I couldn’t.
His eyes were far away, not staring at the road but looking somewhere I
couldn't see. They were pointed at the village in front of us but they seemed
to look beyond it at the same time.
The stone houses got closer and I realised how run down they were. They must
have been built hundreds of years ago, and the centuries had taken their toll
on the battered stonework. Something about the village and the way it jutted
out of the fields made me uneasy. I missed Manchester and the hustle of the
city and the knowledge that you were surrounded by thousands of other people.
Out here I felt like we were the only people in the world.
We were staying in the only pub in
the village. It was a run-down inn that served ale and cider to the locals. It
was the kind of place where everyone knew each other’s names, their gossip,
what kind of cereal they ate in the morning. The landlady was a stern old woman
called Marsha. She motioned us into the pub without even a hello, just looked
us up and down with a grimace.
“How many rooms?”
Did she think we were going to share? Jeremiah had twenty years on me at least.
No offence, but an overweight grump wasn't my type. I hated her attitude.
Luckily Jeremiah was a match for it.
“Did you not hear me on the phone? Thought I was explicit. Two rooms.” He held
up two fingers. Then he looked back at her. “This is what fingers look like
when they’re not webbed.”
Marsha turned and walked through the pub and passed the bar.
In a different situation with different company the pub might have been quaint.
Old wooden beams ran across the ceiling. A real log-burner fire filled the air
with a smoky smell. I could picture taking a table in the corner and cosying up
to someone. Having a warm stew and then drinking beer and playing scrabble. Pity
I hadn't met anyone I could do that with in a long time.
In this environment the place didn't warm on me at all. Along with the smoky
smell there was one of damp, like it had rained and the water had seeped inside
and dried into the walls. The furniture was all mixed up like they'd collected
it over the years, some chairs looked comfy, and others like they would break
your back. Holes dotted the walls where a dartboard had been in place at some
Marsha stood in a doorway across from us with her hands on her hips. She
reminded me of an old school teacher I once had, the kind who saw the kids as
nothing but a hassle. Someone who saw teaching as a job to be groaned through
rather than something to love.
“It's this way.”
We followed her upstairs. I struggled getting my travel case up the steep
wooden steps. Jeremiah didn't help. At the top of the landing she pointed at
“You decide which one belongs to who. I lock the doors at ten, so you better be
back because I won't get out of bed to let you in. Breakfast is at six.”
“Six?” I said, incredulous.
She had me a sharp look. Her eyes narrowed.
“We keep hardworking hours round here, lady.”
She turned and walked down the steps. When her feet touched the bottom Jeremiah
turned to me.
“Landladies are usually a source of local information. This one’s a bitch.
Don't talk to her, don’t tell her about anything we see.”
“What are we likely to see?”
Jeremiah paused, as if wondering what to tell me. I badly wanted to know. He'd
given me almost no information on what the trip entailed other than where we
were going and how long we'd be. I knew it would be something unusual, but
going by Jeremiah’s history, that could mean anything.
“Dump your things then come to my room.”
In my room there was a bed that looked slightly smaller than a double. Fine for
me, but I imagined that Jeremiah would struggle with his. There was a small
sink, a dresser and a window that looked onto the village. I turned the tap on
the sink but nothing happened. I looked under the basin and found the pipe had
been disconnected. I was in a hurry to hear what Jeremiah had to say so I
didn't unpack my stuff.
Jeremiah's room was the same except that I saw him washing his hands in the
“My sink doesn't work,” I said.
“Ask for your money back,” he called over his shoulder. “Oh, wait. You’re not
“Hope this hell hole isn’t costing too much.”
“You’ve got your own bathroom haven’t you? So you don’t need the extra sink.”
“Stuff like that just bothers me,” I said.
“You need to learn which things are worth getting angry about in life and which
I didn't want to seem fussy. That was exactly the sort of attitude that would
lower me in Jeremiah’s estimation. Not that I actually cared about his opinion,
but if he didn't see me as an equal he would carry on treating me like a
I pulled the chair from under his dresser. Jeremiah had found the time to
unpack some of his things, and on the dresser I saw a collection of books. An
Encyclopaedia of the Occult. Darsley's Dreams and Fantasies of the Fantastic
and the Uncanny. A Modern Guide to the Other. Just some light reading, then.
The books were well–worn and each had index cards of various colours jutting
from the pages.
Jeremiah turned from the dresser. He unfastened the buckles in his coat and
took it off. Seeing there was no coat stand, he threw the coat onto the bed. I
was surprised. He looked a lot slimmer without the coat. Still overweight, but
more like an older guy that had let himself go a bit. I could imagine him being
slim in his younger days. What happened to him? Probably the same thing that
happened to every guy as they got older. He’d gone to pasture.
Jeremiah sat on the end of the bed and faced me. For the first time I felt like
he was actually paying some attention to me, rather than speaking from the
corner of his mouth. He looked into my eyes and I stared right back, not
wanting to seem nervous.
“What are your beliefs?” He said.
“What do you mean?”
"I'm an atheist."
“It's a crock.”
“Do you look behind you when you walk through your house alone?”
Suddenly I was the one being interviewed. I felt like he was writing a paper
about me, not the other way round. But his would just be stored in his head,
like he was building a fact file on me. I got the impression there was a lot in
Jeremiah’s head. Like when he told me to listen in the car. He was taking in
his surroundings, feeding on something I couldn't quite see or hear.
“I live in dorms,” I said.
Jeremiah shifted his weight on the bed.
“When you were little, did you sleep with the light on?”
I thought back. From six through to twelve years old the light stayed on every
night. One of my foster dads and I had an understanding that he'd look in on
me, and only after he knew I was asleep would he turn off the light. I also had
a lamp next to the bed with the switch within easy reach, just in case I woke
up during the night.
“No,” I said.
“I don't believe you.”
My face bristled. “Believe what you want.”
Jeremiah stood up and walked toward me. He reached behind me and picked up a
book from the dresser, then sat back down on the bed. The old frame sagged
under him with a creak. I wondered how much weight it had supported over the
years, how many people had slept in this room. He opened the book and flipped
through the pages. He settled on the one he wanted and read.
“A child needs light because they fear what they will find in the dark. But it
is not always the dark that scares them; sometimes it is the idea that when
they turn off the light, there will be nothing. In the darkness their world is
“Spooky. What's the relevance?”
He put the book down next to him. There was a serious look to his eyes. Not
that he'd ever seemed light hearted. “Do you know what I do, what I am?”
“You study the occult.”
He shook his head. “Your professor studies the occult. I live it. I meet people
Ella, I see things. Things that can't be dismissed in the pages of the book.
But nor can they be believed by the eyes that see them.”
Was this a riddle? I realised that getting anything from him was going to be
tough. The man didn't open up or speak clearly. He seemed to want to mystify
me, but at the same time I knew there was something underneath. Some truth. But
how would I get there? How would I follow Professor Higson’s request and find
out what happened in Bruges? If this was some big secret, how would I get the
truth from a man who gave nothing away?
Jeremiah carried on. “Six months ago I got a letter. That's nothing new, I get
dozens a month. All of them ask me to go here and there to investigate some
mystery. If I followed them all I'd be running round like a blue-arsed fly. And
most are just shite.”
“And this one?”
“This one’s real.”
He picked up the book and turned to the back. He pulled out a letter from
between the pages. It was lined paper torn from a notebook. I couldn't see the
words but the handwriting was unkempt, like that of a child's but with a slight
maturity that came from a man’s hand.
Outside the sky was starting to turn. The clouds hung low, and there was a dark
grey mix in the air as though the sky were trying to hold onto the light. It
was a battle it was losing, and one it would fight and be defeated on every
night in a cycle that would last long past my life and the life of any children
I had. A sliver of silver moon cut a pale shape.
Jeremiah started to read.