Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories

‘Can you see the pattern?’

‘Not really.’

He joined the dots on the map with his pencil.

‘Is that better?’

Radiant arms stretched out across the map.

‘All coming from here,’ he said, stabbing the centre of the pattern. ‘And what is there?’

‘The museum,’ I said.

‘Exactly.’

‘You drew some dots on a map,’ I said, ‘and then you joined them up. What does that prove?’

He waved the Haunted Shuckleigh booklet at me.

‘The dots are all the hauntings in this book. Don’t you see what it means?’

‘First,” I said, ‘I doubt if that book contains all of the so-called hauntings in this town. If it did, you’d just end up with a map that looked like it had caught measles. Second, you sound like someone from Ghostbusters. But not Bill Murray, which is a shame.’

In spite of my disbelief in his diagrams and theories, I allowed Maxwell to talk me into persuading the museum, where I work as a junior curator, to allow a ghost hunting night in the building. It was a paid event and there were a surprising number of people willing to pay to spend the night in sleeping bags on a hard floor, hoping to be scared.

I took them all down to the renovated basement, one of the oldest parts of the building. They shivered deliciously when I told them all about the skeletons discovered under their very feet, at least two of which had died by violence.

Maxwell turned out the lights and we stood in silence until a rash of squealing broke out, several people in the crowd claiming to have been touched or heard whispering. No more than the scares in a cheap ghost train, I thought. Maxwell probably had an accomplice in among the paying punters. this was how he made his living, after all, telling ghost stories.

He propounded his theories about the museum as a nexus for occult energies.

‘This building, founded on the burials of seven murder victims,’ he exaggerated, ‘has, over the years, accumulated objects of occult power from the town and its surroundings. We do thank Sally Jamieson,’ he smiled at me, ‘for having the courage to spend the night here with us, when no other member of the museum staff I have asked would even contemplate staying here after dark.’

They gave me a round of applause, but I felt slightly used. I did not know that he had ever asked anyone else, and my colleagues’ sympathetic looks and murmurs as they left for the night took on a different shade of meaning. I had assumed that they just understood how much of a pain it would be to spend the night with a crowd of crazy ghost hunters, but now it looked as though they, too, thought something stalked the museum halls at night.

Did everyone in this town think that there were spooks around every corner? The museum did have a room dedicated to occult bits and pieces, and that was where we would be spending the night. I had cleared the section that was used for temporary exhibitions to make space for the group. We went in there and Maxwell toured us around, giving highly-coloured accounts of all the exhibits, the poppets, witch bottles, mummified cats and so on. The magical regalia of Augustus Elkin came in for special scrutiny.

‘Augustus Elkin belonged to a prominent local family, as you probably know, with many legends attached to his ancestors. He was involved in the occult movements of the 1890s and 1900s, starting off in the Rosicrucians, which he left after differences with other members, to found his own order, The Brotherhood of the Sacred Fire. In spite of its title, the Brotherhood had a largely female membership. His spiritual partner, Margot Dinsdale, took issue with some of his more misogynistic pronouncements and is supposed to have entered into a magical duel with Augustus. She won, and took the entire female membership with her into her own order, the Daughters of Hecate, which still exists today and which permits no male member.’

At this moment a bell rang. It sounded like a bell. I looked around to see if I could spot Maxwell’s accomplice. Everyone else was looking around, too.

Maxwell laughed nervously.

‘Maybe that’s Margot,’ he said. ‘Or Augustus, registering a protest.’

Everyone laughed. Nervously.

To me, he whispered, ‘What was that?’

‘No idea,’ I said. ‘I thought it was part of your act.’

‘Act?’

He looked genuinely surprised. Oh damn, I thought, he really believes all this stuff.

Maxwell finished his tour of the gallery, and we all settled down with foam mats and sleeping bags, and I turned out the lights. I fully intended to sleep if I could, but the others were readying themselves for the imminent arrival of spirits. They would probably imagine themselves something. I just hoped they would be quiet about it.

I must have gone to sleep quite quickly. I dreamt that I opened my eyes and saw a dark figure stalking the room. It walked upright like a man, but had horns and the hindlegs of a goat. It stopped and saw me, then pointed directly at me. ‘Daisy,’ it said.

I woke up in a sweat. The dream thing knew my real name, which I always hated. That made it certain that this was nothing more than a dream. I have called myself Sally for years, which is possibly an equally stupid name, but I chose it when I was six, and I have stuck with it.

‘Did you hear that?’ said Maxwell.

‘What?’ I said.

‘Someone said my name.’

I was relieved until another person said, ‘someone said mine too.’

‘And mine.’

‘I heard that too.’

Everyone in the group was sure that their name had been spoken.

‘Um, did you see anything?’ I asked.

None of them had and they all said they were awake at the time. Well, they were probably just about to nod off, weren’t they? Hypnogogic hallucinations and a touch of group suggestion after having been wound up by Maxwell’s stories.

Then that bell rang again. People started to squeal.

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’m putting the lights on.’

I headed for the switches, but I bumped into something, someone. Someone hairy and with very rank breath. He grabbed my arm. I swore at him, pushed away and made for the switches.

‘Daisy,’ he said, ‘you’re mine.’

I clicked on the lights and turned to see who it was. The light was dazzling for a moment, but there was no-one there. Of course not. Some bit of business from whoever Maxwell had doing the ghost train act.

There was nothing in the gallery but a bunch of tired, slightly manic would-be ghost hunters.

We left the lights on ‘till morning.

I would say that it was a success. Everyone was good and scared. Only Maxwell was unhappy. He looked pale and frightened, but not in a good way. He hung back until everyone else had left.

‘Don’t go back in there, Daisy,’ he said to me.

‘What did you call me?’

‘I heard him claim you.’

‘My name is Sally,’ I said. ‘I work here, so I am definitely going back in.’

‘He—‘

‘Daisy doesn’t exist. No-one can claim her.’

It was an unpleasant trick, but that sort of thing won’t work on me. I am never doing a Ghost Hunter night again, no matter how much they want me to.

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