Unus_Mundus__Sightings

If by our senses spirits we perceive,
Or from the strength of fancy so believe,
No fault do we commit that merits blame,
If to the public we report the same;
For whether by our eyes we spectres see
Or by a second sight, we must agree,
Things are to us as they appear to be. *

Sunhill Asylum, November 13, 1963…

Bob sits at his desk, immersed in the morning paper. A trolley comes squeaking down the passage carrying a woman in her mid fifties. She looks half-dead, all clammy and pale, her mascara running down her cheeks in sooty slicks. She drools and mumbles:

‘They stole my baby.’

‘It’s all right luv,’ cheers Dobbs. ‘You won’t remember a thing by lunch.’

The trolley seems too slow for him, so he jumps aboard and scoots it along with his foot. He winks at Bob as he passes:

‘She’s been to see Doctor Death. He fried her like an egg. She got completely cooked.’

‘Poor cow,’ tuts Bob, shaking his head.

Dobbs brings the trolley to a halt. Then he leers at Bob and whispers:

‘You can touch ’em up when they’re like this, you know. You can poke ’em and they don’t remember a thing.’

Bob jumps to his feet and snarls:

‘I didn’t hear that! You filthy bastard! And I hope to God you didn’t! Because if you did, I’ll have your guts for garters!’

‘All right, all right, keep you hair on! I was only joking. Besides, who’d want to poke an old hag like that?’

‘You make me sick,’ scowls Bob. ‘You’re dirty inside. Just get lost, will you? Take that poor woman back to her cell. And keep your filthy paws off her.’

‘Who the hell are to order me around? You’re nothing around here, mate. Nothing. Just look at you, with your side burns and greased back hair. It’s Nineteen Sixty-Three mate, not Fifty-Three. Who are you trying to kid, eh? It’s pathetic, that’s what it is. Pathetic. Call yourself a rocker? That’s a joke, that is. Wake up and smell the coffee. Your time’s come and gone, grandad. The Big Bopper’s dead, mate. Dead. You’re just a one-eyed Teddy Boy, way past his sell-by date. ’Ere, is that Brylcreem in your hair or boot polish? My god, you must fancy yourself half-rotten.’

‘Oh leave it out.’

‘Who do you think your are? Cliff Richard? You’re an embarrassment mate, an embarrassment. Well listen up, it’s not your place to order me about. I’m a nurse, I am. You’re just a security guard. Security guard. What kind of a job is that anyway? Sitting at a desk all day, reading the papers. Had a visit from The Pools Man have you? Fancy your chances? You going to become one of them overnight millionaires?’

‘Curse my luck. I wouldn’t give you a farthing.’

‘A farthing? That’s not even legal tender grandad. They got rid of farthings three years ago. Are you senile as well as stupid?’

‘Sling your hook.’

‘You’re just a sad ol’ looser, mate; that’s what you are, a sad ol’ looser. My god, you’ve got some lip, ordering me about like that. You want to watch yourself.’

‘Or what?’

‘Or you’ll get what’s coming to you, that’s what.’

‘You don’t frighten me Dobbs. Praying on defenceless women. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.’

‘Oh give it rest, will you? I was only joking.’

‘Well I’m not laughing. Call yourself a nurse? They should lock you up.’

Dobbs leans casually on the trolley, his right foot resting on the brake pedal. He teases his fingers through the woman’s hair and leers:

‘This is my girl, this is. I know how to treat a woman. She’s sex mad, this one. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for me.’

Animal!’ snaps Bob.

‘Where’s your sense of humour?’

‘I’ll report you to matron.’

‘Report me? Report me for what?’

‘For groping the patients. You filthy perve.’

‘Threaten me again and I’ll punch your bloody lights out.’

‘Just you try it Dobbs. Just you try it. I’ll have you any day.’

‘Oh yeah? You and who’s army?’

Bob steps forward, puffing out his chest like a silverback gorilla; then he raises his fists, his jacket flying open, revealing a pot belly hemmed in by a tight blue shirt:

‘Come on then Dobbs. If you’re such a hard man, let’s see what you’ve got.’

Dobbs darts behind the trolley and nervously licks his lips:

‘Listen Bob mate, calm down. Calm down, all right? You’ll give yourself an ’art attack.’

‘I’ll give you a bloody heart attack! Now take that poor woman back to her cell, before I get matron. And remember, I’m watching you Dobbs. I’m watching you. Got it?’

‘Miserable old git,’ mutters Dobbs, and he tugs the trolley between the swinging doors.

Bob peers through the round window as Dobbs saunters off down the corridor. After about twenty yards, Dobbs stops to give a V sign, poking his tongue like a gargoyle. Bob prods the glass with his finger and hisses:

I’m watching you!

Then he strides back his desk and runs a comb through his hair:

Grandad. The cheeky little git… I’ll show him. The Big Bopper’s dead. Well not this big bopper.’

He sits with a weary sigh, tucking the comb in his top left pocket. A wail of lamentation sounds from a distant ward, followed by a groan of despair and a shriek of wrath. Then Dora comes clanging down the corridor with her mop and bucket, a cigarette dangling from her lips:

‘Morning Bob.’

‘Morning Dora.’

‘Another day in Paradise.’

‘Fancy a drink later?’

‘Not tonight pet. It’s Bingo at the Pally.’

‘You turning me down for two fat ladies again?’

‘I won a teddy bear last week.’

‘Did you?’

‘For my grandson.’

‘I’ll be your teddy, Dora.’

‘Oh! You cheeky rascal! Teddy bear! I could cuddle up to you these long winter nights!’

She cackles like a crone, cigarette wobbling in her toothless gums. A wisp of smoke hooks her eye which clams shut like a blue mussel.

‘Bingo at the Pally?’ tuts Bob. ‘That’s the third week in a row you’ve jilted me. What are things coming to? I can’t even buy a girl a drink these days. I’m beginning to think I’ve lost my touch.’

‘Lost your touch? You could charm the birds out of the trees, could you, Bob Sykes!’

‘I’m still a one-eyed bachelor, though, aren’t I?’

‘A fine catch like you? I don’t understand it.’

‘Fine catch? I look like Long John Silver – but without the silver. I’ll be fifty-six next year.’

‘Fifty-six? That’s still a spring chicken, that is.’

‘If only.’

‘Never mind pet. Someone will come along soon enough. Just you wait and see. Well, I can’t stop and chat: I’ve got half a mile of corridor to mop before lunch.’

‘Stone the crows. Just how far have you pushed that blinking mop?’

‘I dread to think. The main corridor is over a mile long. And I’ve been mopping it forty years.’

‘You must have mopped to the moon and back.’

‘And smoked myself half to death.’

‘You should pack ’em in, Dora luv.’

‘I can’t work without a fag in my mouth. They help me think of other things. Besides, I’m saving up the coupons. Another hundred points and I can get a new iron. Our Karen’s blouse got burnt by the old one. Melted. Nylon, you see. It sets like glue. You can’t scrape it off for life nor money. And it stinks to high hell. Well, I’d best be on my way. If matron catches me yapping, I’ll be in for the high jump. You know what they say: no rest for the wicked. Ta ra, Bob, pet.’

‘Ta ra.’

She wanders off as the asylum clock strikes ten. Bob sits motionless through each strike, his eyes fixed on the morning paper:

Shortage
HAM is up 3s. 0d. in the £.
BUTTER has climbed 1s. 6d. because of a world shortage.
SUGAR has jumped 4.s 0d. in the £.
JAMS and SYRUPS have followed sugar with a 1s. 6d. in £ leap.
CANNED FRUIT is up 10d. and CHEESE 5d. in the £.
Until the dust settles I would avoid the shares of the food-retailing mammoths.(i)

IT MAKES YOU THINK
The £31,000 which pop-singer Cliff Richard spent on a house would earn you £33 6s. 4d. A week – before tax – for life if you invested it at 5½ per cent. interest.(ii)

To the left is a large photo of a tennis match with two mixed doubles shaking hands over the net. The text reads:

It’s Good To be Thirty
To be young and vigorous, with great hopes for the future. One of those hopes, of course, is that when the time comes to retire, you will still be active – and have money to enjoy your leisure to the full. Now is the time to plan to have that money.

A Prudential endowment assurance policy for £3,000, taken out at age 30, can bring you £6,255 when you are 65, assuming present bonus rates are maintained. Should you die before 65, you family will receive £3,000 plus bonuses to date. Ask your local Prudential representative or send this coupon today.(iii)

Bob hears a lingering female voice which delights his ears, and somehow reminds him of Spring – it sounds like a melodious flute, latent with sexy softness:

‘Good morning Bob. Look what I found.’

He looks up to see Maria holding a dead rat by the tail. He gasps and jumps to his feet:

‘Miss! What on earth are you doing?’

‘A rat Bob! A great big rat!’

‘I can see that miss! Put it down!’

She grins and dangles it over his desk:

Ugh! Get rid of it miss, for Pete’s sake! You’ll give us all The Black Death!’

He cowers and kicks the bin towards her feet:

‘Drop it, miss!’

She lets go and the rat lands in the bin with a thud:

‘Don’t worry Bob. It’s quite dead.’

‘Vermin miss. They carry all sorts of nasty diseases.’

‘I’m sick of seeing them lying up and down the corridor.’

‘Do you work for Rentokill, miss?’

‘Rentokill? This place needs a visit from The Pied Piper. The rats outnumber us ten to one.’

‘Don’t touch ’em! Leave them to the experts. Ugh! I never thought I’d see the like! A fine lady like you with a dead rat!’

She brushes her hands together:

‘I bet you thought I was some sort of shrinking violet.’

‘Not at all miss. But not even I would touch ’em – at least, not without gloves.’

‘It frightened a patient. A young girl. She refused to come out of her cell. And I don’t blame her. This asylum is a public health hazard. It’s a disgrace.’

‘You ought to wash your hands miss. Right away. Them rats come from the sewers you know. The sewers. Ugh!

She draws near and lowers her voice:

‘Listen Bob, I’ve got a favour to ask.’

‘Oh I can’t collect rats miss. They make my flesh crawl. Dead or alive. Ugh! You want the janitor. Rats are his department.’

‘It’s nothing to do with rats. It’s about Jack Vallis.’

The Parisian Lady?

‘Yes, him.’

‘Well, what is it miss?’

‘There’s a board meeting at 11 a.m. I want you to bring Vallis. Can you do that for me?’

‘To the board meeting? Whatever for?’

‘Never mind. Just do as I say. But wait outside until I call you in. Is that clear?’

‘Yes miss.’

‘Do you know where the board room is?’

‘Of course miss.’

‘Good. Bring Vallis at 11.15. And don’t be late.’

‘Very well miss, 11:15 it is.’

‘Thank you Bob.’

She’s about to walk away when Bob says:’

‘I hear you’re moving in.’

‘Moving in?’

‘To the west wing. I wouldn’t if I were you. The west wing is haunted.’

‘Haunted? Don’t be silly Bob.’

‘It’s true miss. Never walk the morgue corridor after dark. Whenever someone passes, we get disturbances. Spirits of Death are very bad for the health.’

‘Are you having me on, Bob?’

‘No miss, as God is my witness, most people on the night shift have seen things in this place.’

Maria folds her arms and asks with strained attention:

‘What things?’

‘Like Stomping Bill.’

‘Stomping Bill?’

‘Someone in heavy boots walking up and down the corridors all night long; but when you look, there’s no one there – nothing except a ball of mist. It’s creepy. Really creepy. When I first started here, I had a bedsit in the west wing – right above the morgue. But after a few weeks I couldn’t wait to get out.’

‘What happened?’

‘Well, I don’t want to say miss.’

‘Why not?’

‘You might think me crazy, you being a shrink an’ all.’

‘Not at all. I saw a ghost when I was young.’

‘You did, miss?’

‘Yes. A grey lady standing at the foot of my bed. Our maid saw it too – and so did my father on several occasions. So I won’t think you’re crazy. You can trust me Bob.’

‘Oh it’s not that miss. I know I can trust you.’

‘Well what is it? Don’t you want to talk about it?’

‘You mean, as doctor and patient?’

‘No, I mean as friends.’

He wrings his hands and checks up and down the passage:

‘Tell you about the haunting, miss? Here? Now?’

‘Why not? Now is good a time as any.’

‘It makes me nervous talking about it in this place. It might be listening.’

‘You mean Stomping Bill?’

‘No, not him.’

‘Then who?’

‘I don’t want to say, miss.’

‘Listen, I’ve got half an hour. But if you don’t want to talk about it, I’ll walk away now. Or we can discuss it another time.’

‘No, please don’t go. I mean, I like talking with you, miss. Stay. Please stay.’

She draws near and perches on his desk – her pose more befitting of an intimate companion:

‘So tell me what happened.’

‘Well, it started off with little things at first. Whenever I entered the room, it felt like someone – or something – was watching me. I felt strange breezes and chill draughts. I heard whispers in the corner; there was a damp patch by the wardrobe that smelt horrible. Things would go missing and reappear in odd places. Like my shaving stick which vanished from the bathroom and turned up in my cornflakes. Imagine that. There am I, shaking out the packet, when a stick of Old Spice tumbles in the bowl. I thought, hang on a minute Bob, someone’s pulling your leg. My shoelaces vanished the next day. But that night, I found them hidden inside my hot water bottle. Inside, with the top screwed down, and the bottle still full of water from the previous evening. How do you explain that? I nearly lost them down the plughole. Something devilish was taking delight in doing me mischief. Then just after turning in, there was this infernal pounding, like fists banging on the walls. And there were lights.’

‘Lights?’

‘They came floating through the window, like balls of burning gas. Sometimes a shadow would appear there – a thing so black, it was darker than the night: the silhouette of a man with broad shoulders. But I knew it wasn’t human, miss. Not human at all. Things got worse. Much worse. One night, a presence entered the room; it sat by my feet at the end of the bed; I felt the mattress sink; the bed moved and the blanket was pulled from my shoulders. I swear on my mother’s grave, that thing came right through the ceiling. A phantom.’

Maria looks hard into his eyes:

‘What did it look like?’

‘Well it’s difficult to describe, miss. A ghostly light that burst into a bloody globule. It caught my legs and pulled me out of bed. The fright nearly killed me.’

‘Did anyone else see these apparitions?’

‘No miss.’

‘Didn’t you tell anyone?’

‘Yes, I told Doctor Hardy. Big mistake. He thought me certifiable. His diagnosis? Hysteria, brought on by the death of my aunt. But I wasn’t hysterical. Quite the opposite in fact. Her passing brought me great peace of mind. Hardy offered some sessions on his couch. But the prospect of becoming his patient scared me more than the phantom. Hardy said all apparitions were symptoms of mental disturbance. But I wasn’t disturbed, nor delirious, nor drunk, nor anxious, nor anything else. At least not before I saw the bloody thing. Seeing something like that – it’s enough to push anyone over edge. I thought I was about to get smitten with the curse of insanity. So I told Hardy I was mistaken. A dream, I said. That seemed to please him. But it wasn’t a dream. It was real. As real as you are sitting right there.’

‘Did you see the phantom again?’

‘Did I? It wouldn’t leave me in peace! It haunted me night and day. In the small hours, it came to my bedside and bit me on the thumb! Hardy said: “You bit your own thumb.” I said: “Do I look like a teapot?” He said: “You were bitten by a rat.” I said: “Can a rat pull you out of bed?” He said: “You were sleepwalking Bob.” But I was wide awake. Wide awake, I tell you. That’s the worst part about it: not being believed. You start doubting your own mind. Hardy was very keen to commit me. But his verdict wasn’t based on the facts, you understand? I’ve seen it happen to others. Once you’re committed, they can always call you mad, whatever you say. But I know what I saw. And it wasn’t a rat. It was a poltergeist, miss. A poltergeist. Doors opened, taps went on and off, lights exploded, furniture moved about, and pictures were thrown from the walls. I couldn’t sleep a wink. And if I did manage to nod off, I had visions.’

‘Visions?’

Bob looks pale and drawn. Whatever the visions were, he doesn’t want to say. Maria reaches out and squeezes his arm momentarily:

‘Can you tell me Bob?’

‘I saw devils, miss. Fire devils. There were hundreds of them, rampaging through the wards; their horns were red hot, and their hooves made fire come out of the ground. The whole asylum was ablaze. Patients were shrieking, running into the night like Roman candles. I thought the gates of Hell had opened up.’

His lips begin to tremble as he gazes into space, lost in the vision. She squeezes him again:

‘It’s all right Bob.’

‘Part of me was watching from afar; I could see the asylum glowing on the horizon, and I knew I was doomed to the flames. But I had this terrible urge to reclaim my body. So I went in search of it, sifting through the ashes. The corridors were crammed with dead, all tangled in smouldering heaps. I searched for a long time. You know Sunhill – it’s a labyrinth. The whole hospital was back-to-front and upside down. So many secret doors and passages. The fire had consumed everything; the upper floors had gone, and the lower wards were burnt out shells. There was nothing left. Not a scrap. Just trolleys, wheelchairs and iron bedsteads. I searched high and low, but my body was lost. I asked myself: where would I go in a fire? I could only think of one place: the hydrotherapy room. When I got there, the pools were full of rubble. Then I came across a corpse, all bloated and black, curled in a bathtub. Just a husk of flesh, charred like a sausage. But I recognised my signet ring, glinting in the cinders… That corpse was still part of me. I thought, how shall I go on without it? You’d think I’d be glad to be rid of the body – a fat old geezer like me, with diabetes and cataracts. But I felt so ghostly and insubstantial; so much less than what I was. There was no heaven for me, miss. Just a bodiless hell. I thought I’d be lifted up. Transported to a better place. But I was earthbound. My aunt had a rhyme she used to sing when I was young: “Too bad for heaven, too good for hell, So where he’s gone we cannot tell.” I was stuck in Limbo, miss. And the urge for my body was uncontrollable. Like a hunger. A ravenous craving hunger. My spirit had no vehicle, see. I was powerless without it. Impotent. That corpse was such a vile ungodly thing. Unfit for habitation. The face was burnt to the bone, without eyes or lips, and the nose seared off – just a grisly black hole. But even that ghoulish carcass seemed better than nothing. It makes me shameful to think of it. That corpse drew me in, miss. It was irresistible. Like a magnet. And the closer I got, the stronger the pull. The next thing I knew, I’d slipped inside. I don’t know why, but for some reason I entered through the mouth. It was the most natural thing to do. I perched on the tongue like a fly. I saw the fillings in my teeth, and remembered trips to the dentist in the pouring rain; hopping on trams; the bustling streets; the pretty girls giving me a wink. Life. I wanted more. I had this crazy idea of getting myself to hospital. As if the doctors could save me! I passed down the throat, deep into the chest. The lungs were foetid and rank. They say the heart is the seat of the soul. But my heart was a lifeless stone, and no matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t beat again. Then I knew I’d always be a dead thing – that resurrection was impossible…’

He shudders and looks away.

She squeezes him again:

‘It was just a dream Bob.’

‘That’s what Hardy said: just a dream. But it was a vision, I tell you.’

‘A premonition?’

‘I don’t know, miss. I’m still cut up about it. I had that vision several times. And I always awoke screaming in a cold sweat. Soon after that, I started having panic attacks. I thought, perhaps the demon wants to drive me stark raving bonkers. In the end I was too frightened to sleep. I bought some pep-pills from a bloke down the bus station. Benzedrine. I told myself the demon was all in my head. But then one morning, after brushing my teeth, I caught sight of it in the mirror: a black thing with eyes like burning coals. It vanished into thin air.’

Maria fixes him with an icy stare.

‘It wasn’t a dream, miss. I swear it wasn’t. It was standing right there, watching me.’

‘Hallucinations are common with insomnia.’

‘But it was right there, I tell you!’

‘All right Bob. I believe you.

‘I didn’t use my room after that. I didn’t sleep. I stayed on patrol ’til dawn. Somehow I managed to stick it out for a week. Luckily I found some digs in Preston. Don’t get me wrong, I like my job an’ all, but I wouldn’t spend another night in Sunhill for all the tea in China. Sorry miss. Have I put the wind up you?’

‘Of course not. Don’t be silly.’

‘It’s just that, you being new an’ all – well, I thought you ought to know. I don’t like to blab about such things. Especially not to doctors. But when I heard you were moving into the west wing, well I thought it my duty to tell you. I mean, I wouldn’t want you going through what I went through.’

‘Well thank you Bob.’

‘You’re welcome miss. Only, don’t tell doctor Hardy, will you?’

‘Why should I? It’s not an offence to see ghosts in my book. I cannot dismiss offhand what you experienced as hysteria; you strike me as a very sober, level headed man; and I have no good reason for denying the reality of these apparitions. In fact, I regard everything you related to be unknown phenomena that occur in the world of Nature. In my experience, it’s only the ignorant who deny these things.’

‘I was in two minds to tell you at first. But I’m glad I did. I knew I could trust you, miss. You’re not like the others.’

‘Others?’

‘Your necklace, miss. Your crucifix: it was one of the first things I noticed about you. I knew straight away you were a woman of substance. I’m a good judge of character, miss. I get a feeling for people. A gut feeling. You understand?’

She smiles briefly then says:

‘That rhyme of your aunt’s—’

Too bad for heaven, too good for hell, So where he’s gone we cannot tell.

‘…Yes. Do you believe in heaven and hell?’

‘Of course, miss. Of course I do. I believe in God and His Son Jesus Christ, who conquered death, and bought us eternal life.’

‘Then why do you think you dreamt of Limbo?’

‘I don’t know, miss. I’m not a bad man. I mean, I was a bit of a Jack the Lad in my youth. I tried to do good, but I always came up short – in so many ways. I’m a failure really.’

‘Your aunt made you feel like that?’

‘No miss.’

‘Did you feel this way before coming to Sunhill?’

‘Well that’s just it, miss. I always counted myself as a happy-go-lucky kind of sort. And I was looking forward to my new job. But when I saw that black thing in the mirror, everything changed. It gave me a few grey hairs, I can tell you. I still fear this place will go up in flames.’

‘Supernatural intelligences know the fears and concerns of men. That demon knew your weakness, and made you question your future state. By your past deeds, it made you feel unworthy of Heaven. So you kept returning to Limbo.’

‘You think it was all my head.’

‘No Bob, I didn’t say that.’

‘It was evil, miss. Pure evil. I was surrounded by dreadful black clouds. I couldn’t fight them. I wasn’t strong enough. Wasn’t good enough. I tried saying the Lord’s prayer but I forgot the words. I’d come up short again, see. I’m such a stupid old fool. I was dull at school and I’m dull at prayers.’

‘We are not saved by works Bob, but by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Never doubt the mercy of the Lord, nor the glorious battalions of the living God. Some believe that Heaven and Hell are not actually places. They are states. Conditions of mind. And we must find them within ourselves. When we leave the body, we take them with us.’

‘I’m so glad you came to Sunhill, miss. It’s such a relief talking to you. This place needs people like you.’

‘Like me?’

‘They said you were a nun.’

‘Who said?’

‘Mr. Smith, the Attendant, for one. And matron. She said you’d spent six years in a convent. Is it true, miss?’

‘That was another lifetime. But from my earliest days I drifted toward the spiritual side of life; the temporal world held very little charm for me. And I know from personal experience, that our five senses are not the only channels of perception and communication.’

‘My aunt belonged to a spirit circle.’

‘Oh? And did you attend?’

‘No miss. To be honest, I was more interested in playing darts down the boozer. But she warned me never to try and contact her after death; she said evil spirits can mimic souls of the departed. She said there were many earth-bound spirits.’

‘I’m sure there are.’

‘But how can a spirit move furniture or bang on walls?’

‘I have no idea Bob. The modus is unknown. These phenomena are not understood. That’s why science refutes them. But I believe consciousness is somehow intrinsic with the Ether. Consciousness is key.’

‘Consciousness?’

‘If the mind is not annihilated with the body, then what else can it be?’

‘Whose consciousness? That’s what I’d like to know.’

‘Perhaps it’s best you don’t know.’

‘Hardy said it was just noises echoing in empty wards. But he wasn’t there. I saw three chairs flying in the air. And six knives, balanced end to end. That’s impossible, that is. Except for a poltergeist.’

‘I’m not sure Bob. It is difficult to know if a haunt is due to a metetherial imprint, or the actual agency of a discarnate entity.’

Metaferal? You’ve lost me there.’

‘Take this asylum. Think of all the pains and sorrows it has witnessed. Intense emotions cause impressions in the ether; and these are sometimes captured in the fabric of a building – just as photographic film records light, or magnetic tape records sound. Psychic energy. These old walls must be full of it. Metetherial imprints can persist for centuries. And they often replay when conditions are favourable. Like Stomping Bill.’

‘But what about the poltergeist? That wasn’t an imprint. It had a mind of its own. It was wicked; disruptive; devious. Discarnate, I’m sure.’

‘Impossible to say. The strata of madness are potent with psychical force; they come from what Freud called the id – that dark inaccessible part of our personality, where our primitive impulses boil in a cauldron of seething excitations: the chaotic world of dreams, where moral laws and logic do not apply. Contrary impulses exist side by side, without cancelling each other out, or diminishing the other. The id is charged with all the energy of primitive desires, but it has no organizational power, and produces no collective will; it only strives to satisfy and realise its instinctual drives. According to Freud, if civilization is to survive, the id must be suppressed, or the discharge of its energy would be catastrophic. This is what happens in the lunatic: repressed impulses that reside in the id are suddenly released, causing mania and psychosis.’

‘What are you saying? That the poltergeist was a lunatic?’

‘Perhaps. An old patient, unaware that they’re dead.’

‘It was a demon I tell you.’

‘Or something else entirely. It is my belief that the id can form a Numen – an entity that becomes quite independent from the strata of mind that gave it birth. Like the golem of Rabbinical legend.’

‘Whatever it was, it meant me harm, miss.’

‘Not necessarily. In many haunts, there is an aimlessness about proceedings, as if the spirit is lost, angry or confused. Sometimes the dead are like mad people when they find they have no body.’

‘No body? But it bit my thumb, miss! I’ve seen so many strange things in this place, enough to make me think the dead are all around us. And only God knows what else.’

‘The scriptures are full of preternatural intelligences.’

‘But why did they come knocking on my door? I didn’t invite them in. I want nothing to do with them.’

‘We are all part of them, whether we like it or not. Normally we perceive only a very small fraction of reality. But the spirit realm is all about us; we are immersed in it, like fish in water; another dimension, invisible yet all pervasive. Consciousness is a totality beyond space-time. Jung called it the Unus Mundus.

‘I wouldn’t know about Jung, miss. But my aunt told me about a blind man who could see in the dark. He had expanded his mind with occult knowledge, see. Something about ancient Tibet. He’d written this book called The Third Eye. But he was a complete fraud.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because if he’d seen that black thing, he’d be a very unhappy man. And he wouldn’t be encouraging others to do the same. Hardy said all phantoms come from the philosophy of the savage. He said the disembodied mind was just a primitive myth. He made me believe I was going mad. He said it was impossible for the human eye to behold the impalpable. I wish he was right. I don’t want to see in the dark, miss. I prefer things just as they are. I like to keep both feet planted firmly on the ground.’

‘Perhaps that’s just it. The spirits are trying to shake you up a bit. Make you see the bigger picture. Have you thought of that?’

‘Well I don’t want to see the bigger picture. I’m a simple man, with simple pleasures. What’s wrong with that? I’ve never hurt nobody. I go to church on Sundays. I don’t belong in Limbo, I’m sure I don’t.’

‘But you tried staying there in your dream, didn’t you? You returned to your dead body and repossessed it.’

‘It was horrible, miss. Horrible.

‘We cannot stay creaturely forever Bob. Spirit is the principal part of our being; it is the ruling part; the eternal part. Our animal body is just an instrument for this material world. The spiritual life is the true life of man. Sorry, do I sound like a preaching nun?’

‘Not at all miss. Well, maybe just a bit.’ He grins, then adds: ‘Perhaps I need some good old fashioned religious instruction. The Sunhill priest is useless. Father Doughty. He is shrewd. He is clever. But he’s not a holy man. And he knows nothing of demons.’

‘I haven’t met him.’

‘To be honest, you’ve helped me more in five minutes than he did in five weeks. Can you believe he suggested electroshock therapy? He said if I didn’t have it, I’d remain in Limbo for a thousand years. Endeavouring to mock me, he was. A thousand years. I thought Bob, don’t you stand it from him. He ought to be defrocked, he ought. For saying such a thing. So I told him where to shove it, miss.’

‘Good for you.’

A thousand years. That priest is a very creaturely man indeed. I’ll have no truck with him. He reminds me of a lizard. He’s always licking his lips – like he wants to eat you.’

‘You told him about the haunting?’

‘He wouldn’t listen to the likes of me.’

‘But you told him about your dream?’

‘My vision, you mean.’

‘Yes, your vision. Did you tell him?’

‘Not all of it, miss. Just parts.’

‘Well what parts did you tell?’

‘The part about the fire devils. And the part about finding my corpse. But I didn’t tell him I repossessed it. I didn’t dare.’

‘What did he say?’

‘He said I was bent under the yolk of Christian superstition.’

‘Did he indeed?’

‘I couldn’t believe my ears, miss. He told me to forget all about it. He said to dwell on it would only plunge me into error and misfortune. He said belief in demons was false and contrary to reason. And him in a dog collar! He said the principles of salvation were just principles of human freedom, and that I should enjoy my freedom now. He told me to go down the pub. Find myself a lady friend. Would you Adam and Eve it? Chance would be a fine thing.’

She bites her lip to curb a smile, then says:

‘What use is a priest if he cannot give a few morsels of scriptural comfort?’

‘Let’s face it miss, that priest is a blooming atheist. A creaturely atheist.’

‘Most men are inclined to the creaturely life. Who knows what state will befall us after death? Some say our creaturely addictions remain with us beyond the grave. The alcoholic still craves drink; and the lustful still crave flesh – habits that can only be sated through living bodies. Creaturely spirits are drawn to creaturely pleasures. That is why the moral virtues are so important. If you interpret your dream from a purely Jungian perspective, it is a manifest conflict between your creatureliness, and your spirit.’

Bob looks frustrated and strains his voice:

‘But it wasn’t a dream, miss. That’s what I keep trying to tell you. It was a vision. That black thing put it in my head. Put it in there, see?’

‘Perhaps the fire represents the destruction of the old Bob. The creaturely Bob. Could it be that the demon was trying to teach you something?’

‘I don’t know. I just wish I’d never set eyes on it, that’s all.’

‘Christ came to expand our consciousness into the Heavenly Father’s consciousness. But sometimes a demon can serve the same purpose… Demonic encounters can inspire us with a reverence for Divine law – with a sense of harmony between Man and God.’

Her words leave him in a state of anxious solemnity. Bob wrings his hands and lowers his voice to a hoarse whisper:

‘That demon is always on my mind, miss. I can’t forget it. It’s been five years since I moved out of Sunhill. But I can still see its eyes, burning in the mirror. I get the ugly feeling it follows me about. Watches me. Even when I’m far away from here.’

‘Have you seen it since?’

‘No miss. But I’m frightened of mirrors. And I can’t sleep with the light off. It’s pathetic for grown man like me. Last week I went to Blackpool. I thought a bit of sea air would do me good. Clear out the cobwebs. I like it there off-season – the Winter Gardens and the Promenades. But my favourite place is the old steamer jetty on Central Pier; it’s a long way out and far from the crowds. You’re not meant to go there any more: it’s derelict and locked up. But the turnstile’s broke, and if you give it a good shove, you can squeeze through. On that particular day, I walked all the way to the end: it’s like the prow of a ship, with sea-spray blowing in your face. I stood at the railing, watching the waves roll in, and I thought, I’m about as far away from Sunhill as I can get. Then I saw this bright orange light rising from the water. It was only there for a second or two. No bigger than a beach ball. It flew above the pier and grew brighter – so bright I could hardly look. Quick as flash, it shot off toward the horizon. It shook me up a bit. I didn’t feel safe out there all alone. I was eager to get back on dry land. But just as I turned to leave, I was seized by a cold terror. I could have sworn that thing was right behind me. That black unholy thing. I was petrified, miss. I couldn’t bring myself to look. So I just stood there like a lemon, gripping the railing, until a kid came by with a kite. On the way back I had a panic attack and shrieked at a Laughing Policeman – imagine that, being scared by a mechanical dummy.’

‘I hate those things,’ mutters Maria.

She clasps his hand – a brief squeeze full of feminine comfort. Then she says softly:

‘You must pray Bob. Pray to the Virgin.’

‘I do pray, miss. But I still feel threatened. I wish I had your faith, miss.’

‘Never doubt the power of prayer Bob. Just think of all the angelic orders – the Archangels, Principalities and Powers; the Virtues, Dominations and Thrones; the Cherubim and Seraphim. These are the entities rising up toward the Light of the infinite intelligence Himself. But there are just as many opposing entities, descending toward chaos and Darkness. There’s a war going on – between the Angels of Light and the Angels of Darkness. Mankind is stuck in the middle. To believe such things is heresy in the modern age. Especially in psychiatric institutions. The tragedy of psychiatry is that Freud stuffed the Spirit Realm into the id and firmly screwed down the lid. But we are so much more than that.’

He feels incapable of defending himself against her religiosity or analytic scrutiny. All his innermost fears have been laid bare upon the table. He’s not sure if her method is down to feminine intuition, spiritual knowledge or animal psychology. Either way, he’s glad of her support. A warm glow swells in his breast, then he blurts like a fool:

‘Oh! I’m so glad you’re here miss. I think you’re a diamond!’

Her face brightens with a pearly smile:

‘I’m glad you’re here too, Bob. Between you and me, you’re the only man I trust in this place.’

‘Am I miss?’

He looks utterly disarmed, and continues wringing his hands, his pot belly spilling over this belt like a blancmange.

‘Tell me Bob, you said the passing of your aunt brought you peace. Why was that? Was she a burden to you? Sorry. Do you mind me asking?’

‘Not at all miss. My aunt died of pancreatic cancer, see. Towards the end she was in such terrible pain. But just before she passed, she became very still and serene. Her face lit up, and she told me not to worry. She said Stanley had come to take her away. Stanley was her brother, see, who died six years previous. I couldn’t see him, yet I swear he was in the room. I felt his presence, miss.’

‘Please don’t call me that. My name is Maria.’

He mutters:

Maria.

Bob can’t take her eyes of her; she looks so angelic and ethereal with her blonde hair, rose complexion and white gossamer blouse. Then he shakes his head in remorse:

‘No… It doesn’t feel right, me calling you that.’

‘Why not?’

‘It sounds too familiar. Besides, I don’t think matron would like it. Not to mention the doctors.’

‘Well, what shall I call you? Mister?

‘If you like, miss. But I prefer Bob.’

‘And I prefer Maria. Do we have a deal?’

He beams:

‘Yes miss. I mean, Maria. Well, I’ve told you about the haunting, so my conscience is clear. A pity you weren’t here five years ago. Then I could have talked to you instead of doctor Hardy. You’ve put my mind at rest, you have. You make these things sound so sane and reasonable. Now, you won’t forget to wash your hands, will you miss?’

She smiles fondly:

‘Of course not. Goodbye Bob.’

‘See you at 11:15.’

‘Remember to wait outside the door until I call you in. And keep it to yourself, would you? I don’t want Pontius finding out.’

He taps his nose:

‘Mum’s the word.’

She turns away then stops in her tracks and asks:

‘Er, Bob, just out of curiosity, who told you I was moving into the west wing?’

The Parisian Lady.

‘Jack Vallis? How on earth does he know? It’s not even official yet.’

Bob shrugs:

‘Your guess is as good as mine. But you can’t keep a secret from Jack Vallis. He knows about most things in this place. Especially where the dead are concerned.’

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2017

i. Daily Mirror, November 13 1963 p25. (British Newspaper Archive: http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).

ii. Ibid.

iii. Ibid.