“Where on earth is Sue? It’s not like her to be late.” Barry’s shaggy eyebrows met in the middle of his forehead as he frowned, making him look even more like an angry bear than usual.
“And why isn’t she answering her phone?” Skip’s soft Scottish-accented words echoed Barry’s mystification at the absence of our friend. Skip was tall and rangy, a huge contrast to Barry, who was short and fat.
My close friends and me were sitting at a table in the bar of The Queen’s Ransom, an allegedly haunted hotel, in Puckleberry, which is appropriately enough in the middle of what’s said to be ‘the most haunted village in Dorset’.
We’re all well-used to strange buildings with a dodgy reputation, whether they be modern houses, ruined castles in the wilds of Wales, or ancient piles of stone with masses of atmosphere, like this one, with its over-the-top low ceilings, ugly black beams and perpetually gloomy semi-darkness. If you were generous, you might care to call us ghost hunters, especially when you take into account Barry’s room thermometers, special recorder devices and video cameras that he carries in his car and arranges in strategic places to capture ‘hauntings’.
However, if you were not so generous you might describe us as a gang of pillocks.
But as ghosthunters, I can sadly but honestly say that we’ve never once discovered anything at all out of the ordinary. Sure, we once found a noisy underground stream, and some vociferous squirrels in loft spaces, even an electrical fault that was causing a massive outage of power. But never once had we witnessed any paranormal incident that stood up to scientific scrutiny.
So to be clear, we’re not naïve ignorant clowns in search of fanciful thrills. In fact, we’re all highly qualified psychologists, Barry’s even got a masters degree, and we’re all gainfully employed in our profession in hospitals, prisons and universities. The four of us met at Uni more than twenty years ago and forged a firm friendship that endured. And despite having settled with our families in different parts of the UK, we’ve always kept in touch, and every year we gather for a reunion in a place that’s supposed to be haunted, hoping to find evidence, or even experience of, paranormal activity.
And you might be wondering, have any of us ever seen a ghost?
But twenty years of failure hasn’t taught us a thing!
“Sue will turn up eventually,” I reassured them. “You know Crazy Sue, she’s got a knack of attracting disaster wherever she goes, but she always deals with it in her own sweet way. She misses trains, runs out of petrol, has a family crisis, or whatever, and she just takes it in her stride. She said she’s coming, and she’ll come, or at least she’ll let us know why not.”
“I often think back to when we were students,” Barry reminisced as the froth on his beer foamed up the tip of his grey moustache. “When we all took those extra classes in parapsychology. Back in those days I really did think we’d have discovered things by now – seen psychic activity, and been able to study it and then present it to the scientific community as solid evidence. When I think over the years we’ve followed ghostly cavaliers, red ladies, white ladies, moaning monks, hordes of screaming skulls and phantom horses. And it’s always turned out to be a bloody waste of time.”
“Oh well,” I told him. “One day we might be lucky. How are your sons doing, Skip?”
We went on to discuss our families, our jobs, football, politics and generally put the world to rights.
Much later, Barry yawned. “Don’t know about you two, but I’m shagged out after the long drive. Since Sue still isn’t answering her phone, I reckon I’ll go to bed. I bet she’ll turn up in the morning with one of her long rambling explanations.”
“Yup,” agreed Skip, uncoiling his body from the seat and standing up to his full six-foot five-inches. “But nothing short of being abducted by aliens will cut it for me. Honestly, she could at least have given us a call!”
“Ah, but the flying saucer was too far from a mast to get a signal,” I joined in the joke, eliciting weak smiles from my pals.
My bed, on the third floor under the eaves, was uncomfortable, the room was cold and had a damp musty smell of mould. Somewhere in the bowels of the house I could hear a dripping tap, and I’d spotted a network of cobwebs in corners, floodlit by moonlight from the curtainless dirty windows. The owners of this ghastly old inn were definitely cashing in on its ‘haunted’ status to attract ghost-hungry guests, with its spartan furnishings and Dracula-type décor, and had succeeded in making it about as welcoming as a crypt.
And I could not stop worrying about Sue.
Then I must have drifted into a dreamless sleep. I remember waking up suddenly, shivering with cold, to see Sue standing in front of me, smiling one of here sorry I messed you about smiles.
“Good to see you, Sue, what on earth happened?” I asked, remembering that I’d forgotten to lock the door to my room, allowing her to slip in uninvited. “I think your room is on the floor below, isn’t it?”
She didn’t answer, just smiled again, and left.
I fell asleep again and didn’t wake up until morning.
When I went downstairs, I encountered Barry, pacing towards me, furiously angry. “So, where the hell is she?” Barry demanded. “For God’s sake, Sue came into my room in the middle of the night! By the time I woke up and got out of bed, she’d disappeared, so I came down to the reception desk, but no-one was on duty. When the dozy receptionist arrived this morning, she said there were no new arrivals during the night, and the front door has been locked anyway, and no one buzzed her to get in. Stupid buggers running this hotel haven’t a clue what they’re doing, the idiots. What the hell is happening?”
Skip had the same experience: a quick flash of Sue coming into his room, then going.
It turned out that Sue had come into their rooms at about 5.10 am, and although I hadn’t seen my watch that would have been about my Sue time too.
The phone call to my mobile came when we were all sitting down to breakfast in the dining room.
“Jim?” I recognised the voice of Mike, Sue’s husband, whom we all liked and knew well.
“Mike, where the hell is Sue, we’re worried about her?” I asked him. “She came to the hotel in the early morning, but now she’s just done a runner.”
“No, mate, impossible, Sue’s in hospital. She was in a terrible car crash yesterday evening and they took her to the operating theatre, then straight into intensive care where she’s been ever since. I’ve been through hell, waiting in the relatives’ room for news, that’s why I’ve only just been able to let you know what’s happened.”
“How is she?”
“Well, she’s okay now, thank goodness,” Mike said. “The doc’s just told me she’ll make a full recovery, but my God it was touch and go.”
“Touch and go?”
“She actually died, Jim! At just after 5 this morning her heart stopped for several minutes. But thank heavens they brought her back in time to save her, and she’s going to be okay. Honestly, I’m just so relieved, I can’t really take it all in.”
“Neither can I.”
“Tell the others, will you?”
“Sure,” I told him, stunned. “Any possibility we can visit her?”
“Yes, but not for long.” He gave me the details of where to go, which was a town a few miles away. “Strictly it’s only family, but you lot are virtually family.”
When we arrived at her bedside she was looking a lot better than I expected. I kept thinking back to the time when Mike said she had died, which coincided with our night time experiences.
She even managed to say a few words.
“Thanks for coming.” All the tubes and pipes she was attached to made her look so weak and vulnerable I wanted to cry. “Do you know, this time here, seeing the doctors and nurses making split-second decision about life and death, all these people around me suffering and struggling. It’s made me realise something. We’ve been wasting our time looking for ghosts and paranormal experiences. It’s all rubbish.”
None of us replied.
“There are no paranormal experiences, or ghosts or anything like that. It’s all nonsense and rubbish,” she went on. “Isn’t it?”
1 thought on “No such thing as ghosts”
Oh good one, Geoff. I’ve really enjoyed it. The ending is an especially nice twist.