Let’s just say this is fiction, though obviously I write about what I know. as authors are always told to. The problem is I often write so transparently about what I know that I could end up sued for libel, and that would be awkward. So I’ll try a short story, because I feel the urge to write, and the characters will be so unbelievable and preposterous that no one could possibly recognize themselves or real events in this. Honest, guv’nor.
For a while now I have been drafting stories about Lars Gunnarsen, a half-Danish psychic investigator, told by the narrator, who we will call CJ, because those are my initials. Lars is a true anti-hero- a swaggering ghastly fellow, pompous, overbearing and badly dressed, who claims to be a parapsychologist and hangs around a university being old, fat and bald. You will be delighted to hear Lars does not actually appear at all in this story so far as I have written it, because it’s only Part One.
Writing takes discipline and free time, and in my case endless editing, rewrites, and experiments in different tenses and perspectives. So I banged this out in “nne take”, and have fixed the obvious typos but not even read it back yet, so it’s abysmal. Hey, at least I’m honest.
In this story I went for the raconteur’s first person perspective – the narrator is telling a story of past events, and i’m not convinced it works at all. Nor as ghost stories go is it very exciting — clumsy attempts at humour mar it, and it lacks any tension. It is designed to introduce the main protagonists of what was going to be a book, from when I stupidly thought about a collection of Lar’s misadventures as a “Psychic Detective.” Still, I can’t write for toffee, but you might if really bored find it vaguely bearable – and if anyone enjoys it, I’ll post some more…
The Case of the Haunted Dorm
(being in the main the first great adventure of the magnificent Psychic Detective Lars Gunnarsen and his pathetic, dimwitted associates, as told by his friend and lackey, general dogsbody and social secretary, CJ).
All stories must begin somewhere, so mine begins here, in a shabby room in a college dormitory. It is now six days since I arrived at university; I have still never kissed a girl, driven a car or smoked dope, though I have conjured a spirit to visible appearance. I guess that counts for something? Yes, I know you don’t believe me, and neither does anyone else – well except QC.
Still when Wicked Uncle QC announced he was gay, and I dropped my coffee on my lap in shock, and my other new friends made their excuses and left (convinced he’d bugger them on the spot one presumes?), well what else could I boast of to change the subject?
I’d met QC in the refectory dinner queue my first afternoon, and he seemed a decent, bookish chap. Nothing about his tweeds, the beard or his fob watch said gay to me. He looked normal, human? How was I to know? I’d never met one of “them” before,,, So I’d asked him back, and then this, my reputation in shreds, and an awkward silence as the door shut behind my new friends.
So I tell him of the August nights at the Priory, and he just laughed. Laughed — but believed me, a reaction far I found far more disturbing than the derision and scepticism I usually faced. And after my tale ended, he yanked open a bottle of wine with his penknife, and told me of his experiments with Crowley’s Magick. And I did not believe him, but it was so much better than “where are you from, what A levels did you do, what course are you on?” the name rank and serial number of Fresher’s Week. I suggested we walked to the Off License for another, even though I don’t drink.
That evening saw a terrible gale, and QC and I sitting on the racecourse stand, shouting words in to a wind that blew them spitefully back in our faces, drinking wine and laughing wildly as lightning split the sky, laughing manically at obscure in-jokes. Lovecraft, MR James, The Illuminatus Trilogy, Crowley. “Do what thou wilt with the hole in the floor!” I yelled, flailing my arms about. QC was trying to inscribe a pentagram with his right arm, but it had six horns exalted. (Note to the non-occultist reader – Normally pentagrams have one or two horns exalted, depending which way up they are, and only five horns total, but in QC’s drunken madness he seemed to achieve non-Euclidean geometry Lovecraft would be so proud of him!)
Maybe I was not seeing straight. OK, we only drank two bottles of wine, and I less than half of one, but it was my initiation to alcohol. The storm wore itself out, and crawled off over the hills to die, and we strode back to the college, laughing in defiance at the rain and our sodden clothes. And as we entered the campus, I shook his hand, and slipped round to the other door. After all, could I really afford to be seen with a homosexual? People might think I was one!
That was three days ago. Now I’m listening to God’s Own Medicine, The Mission’s finest album, and trying to work out where I stowed my underwear when I unpacked. I’ve hand washed the same pair in the sink three times – the situation is rapidly becoming desperate. Grunge is still three years in the future – I’m no prophet, but I’m pioneering the look, but I’m far from happy to pioneer the smell. .I’ve considered soaking my leather jacket in patchouli oil, but somehow the idea of crusty underpants still repel me. I’m a mess, and a disorganized one, but I peel off the tired underpants, and half naked waving the disgusting things about my head, start to goth it up, a wild dance, failing my arms, pirouetting round the room, singing loudly “Heaven or Hell I know them well…”
So when six burly sports lads walk straight in to my room, I freeze red faced. I’m not one to deliberately reveal my shortcomings to the world. I grab the houseplant my sister gave me as a parting gift to cover my modesty. Somehow, the underpants which fly from my hand to the lampshade, and hang accusingly, and the feel of my nads on the terracotta pot do not comfort. I am, just slightly, phased. OK, I’m gulping back incipient tears.
Oddly, the lads do not seemed bothered at all. Instead, they just start laying out sleeping bags on my room floor, as another huge hairy guy comes in with a crate of Newcastle Brown ale. It appears they are here for a while, and they nod at me as they start rearranging furniture to make camp beds in what was till moments ago my personal space. “Put some clothes on mate” is all I get in way of explanation, and so I dash to the wardrobe, and pull out my dressing gown – and a pile of clean underpants cascade to the floor. A silver lining to my PE student cloud?
And so I came to first hear of ye famous ghost of Bluebell Halls. Well not immediately – but within a few minutes, the lads explained their entire block had fled their rooms, and were planning on staying out till someone got rid of the ghost. The Duty Warden was the Head of the PE Course, so they were not going to him. Only two people on campus knew of such things, me and QC,, who they call the “Gay Nazi Wizard”. (QC has a fascination with the Third Reich – I’d noticed that already). So they has decided to take shelter with QC and I, half going to each. I inquired how they decided who got to stay with the GNW, and who got to stay with me. “We played cards” said hairy bloke –“and we lost”.
This place does nothing for your ego…
So, the facts? The students, all training as Sports Teachers, live in one of the new blocks. Less than twenty years old, the blocks are red brick structures each designated by a letter — ‘A Block’ to ‘H block’. They cluster round the edge of the playing fields that make up most of the campus, I live in the main building, an old Victorian hotel converted to a dorm, with the canteen just outside my window. The spook has driven the lads out of D Block, a building which as I say is no older than I am. In fact, from the little I have seen they look like Barratt homes new builds, converted to dorms. Nothing less spooky than that! Now the main building, that has an atmosphere, though it may just be the stench of stale socks, too much deodorant sweat and my now infamous underpants. Actually probably the latter. Oh well….
Yes, I’m getting on to the ghost. It haunts the stairwell, and every night at seven pm they hear it, all of them. They joked about it at first, but after three nights they started listening for it, and the jokes started to fall flat. On the fourth night they waited, and then hearing the spook panicked and fled outside. By the fifth night they were all hopelessly inebriated, and milling about in the lobby, loudly shushing each other, till it happened right on time. Tonight was the final straw, the most dogged sceptic converted. Clark had had the presence of mind to tape record it, and they would show me, so I could exorcise it. Exorcise it?!!! ME? WTF?
The tape was unenlightening. When I played it back an eerie silence descended upon the room, but that was the spookiest thing – watching these hefty lads listening entranced, fearful even, to a hissy cassette. Some swearing, lots of banging about, a few comments as they placed the recorder, then a slow rhythmic bumping. I was utterly unimpressed. “Where’s the ghost then?” They looked at me like I was an idiot. It seems the bumping was the ghost.
Just after seven, every evening, there was the same bumping sound on the stairs. Jack’s girlfriend noticed it first, while waiting for him in the lobby, and thought it was him coming down – but when she turned no one was there. The next night, two of them heard the footfall, as they were playfully strangling each other in some macho wrestling. And then, everyone started listening, and a senior student who had lived there a couple of years back had told them the horrible story that explained it all.
About fifteen years back a homesick Fresher, a girl with definite problems, could take it no more. She was a sports student, and unwilling to return to a troubled home life and admit defeat, she hanged herself at the top of the stairs. She stood there, balancing precariously on a medicine ball, and then let it slip from under her feet, bouncing down the stairs, as she gasped out her life.
Now it seems the tragedy replays – every October, around the anniversary, the haunting begins, and the sound of the ball bouncing down the stairs can be heard again. Worse, some people feel a tightness in the chest, and a strangling sensation, and fight for breath as their legs go wobbly and their heart races, as they experience what the girl felt that night. If they don’t run, then they join her in death.
It all sounds pretty real to me. I have no idea what a medicine ball was, something graduate doctors might attend? I get the idea though – it’s American I’m told, a transatlantic version of a football or some such. Bigger, supersized – it’s a Yank thing. My immediate thought was the lads were a great big bunch of wusses – I mean this does not sound that scary to me. I looked over the thousand pounds of rippling muscle and humourless simian encamped on my floor, and decided to keep my thoughts to myself.
Worse, the expect me and QC to do something, get rid of it. Now ok, I’ve seen a ghost I think, in a Priory on a summers evening scarcely a year ago, and some truly weird events things followed. I believe, I the arch-cynic, yes, I believe in spooks. I’ve started to collect the folklore of my home county, and I’ve read a lot of books, boring to death everyone as I pontificate on the subject of psychical research. Yet somehow the idea of being a ghosthunter seems a lot less attractive now – in the words of Ghostbusters –“they expect results”.
Now I’m not a ghostbuster – I’m a ghosthunter. I hate exercise and exorcising about equally, or I would not be reading Religion and History, I’d be a sports student. I know nothing about magic, and my one attempt in that direction was enough to put me off for life. Yet somehow admitting to these goons I had no idea how to deal with this: unthinkable. So I just nod, grab the keys to Martin’s room – he seemed fairly presentable, and I hate to think what might be in Chad’s room judging by the musky odour he exudes. Walk right out, with what I hope is an air of solemn bravery and cool mystery, that “hero off to face unspeakable peril” air.
Then I return embarrassed, and put my jeans on, as my dressing gown robe flaps open, and I realise I’m still half naked. It’s not like this in the movies.
I stride purposefully outside, and loiter in a shadowy corner, wondering when the next train for Suffolk leaves. And then an apparition manifests from across the yard. A ghostly figure wearing a linen suit and panama, carrying a tin box under the arm, and brandishing a cavalry sabre vigorously as it advances straight at me. It knows my name, and as I recoil in terror I finally recognize QC’s whisper, and look up from my cowering stance.
Er, yes I’m fine I assure him. Just a sudden attack of cramp. This man has no fashion sense. Or I don’t. Either way, it seems we really are going to spend the night in D Block. Yep, just me, the gay nazi wizard,and the malevolent murderous spook.
Now I could keep you in suspense, build atmosphere and tell you of how we held a long vigil in that lonely place while we whispered sagely of Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know,a nd how the ghost manifested, and we bravely faced it down. I’d be lying.
D Block was actually much better than my room, positively modern, and while the heating seemed jammed on full and the pipes gurgles every so often, well it was pretty cosy. We turned all the lights on, examined the haunted stairwell, and then tried to peer in to the kitchen of Block C across the way. Well I did, it’s a girls dorm. (Yes, I said kitchen. I’m not a pervert. That’s Lars, but he is not in my story yet.)
OK, so QC finds a couple of bottles of something called White Lightning in a cupboard, and a bottle of Scotch. I made toast and availed myself of their jam, and he cooked a full English breakfast half emptying the fridge,and we mutter about what we are going to do. And we decide the obvious course of action – say we had got rid of the ghost, and do absolutely nothing. That should do it – their imaginations had simply run away with them. We will reassure them, they will cease to worry, and we can bask in the glory and use the Sports Students to take over the college. QC muttered about annexing the English Department, and I suggest a putsch in the Student Union Bar. As he has now drunk one bottle of White Lightning and is half way through his second, he nods enthusiastic assent. Hell, I think he would have been enthusiastic anyway. We practice limp wristed fascist salutes, and I agreed we should found the dreaded Pink Shirts for our putsch. I’m far from a Nazi, as you can imagine – but his parody complete with camp goosestepping makes me smile. Bad taste, sure. But funny…
Yeah, I know, I’m supposed to be telling you about Lars, the so-called Psychic Detective. I’m getting to that bit.
Dawn sees me curled up on the loo floor, feeling like someone had pounded my head with the toilet seat. Judging by the vomit caked in my pullover, and the acrid taste in my mouth, well maybe they had. Then I recall QC’s offer of a quick drink. Not that I got muc more than a mugful of Scotch; QC drank most of it. And the smell of frying food made me run outside, and heave pathetically over the accusing flower bed. QC strolls out cheerfully, eating a fried egg sandwich, and my heavings bear noxious fruit. “You look great” he chuckles enthusiastically. “I’ll tell them the ghost tried to possess you and we barely escaped with our souls”. I am growing swiftly to detest QC.
Of course it does not work. Sports students are not stupid. Did I really say that? They listen to QC’s elaborate tale of incubi, succubae, his role in The Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight and his exalted grade as an Ineptus Exemptus 2=3 or whatever,and his great magickal battle with the sppok (in which I seem to play the role of hapless victim, I note). At first they listen with sympathy, then with growing disbelief, then with gales of laughter. At least we cheered them up.
It is abundantly clear the denizens of D Block are not convinced, so while QC devised a ritual based on Crowley’s Magick in Theory & Practice, I snuck off and called the chaplain. And you know what? He did not laugh at me.
The Reverend James — I’d seen him at Chapel on first day, where we had sung interminable choruses of some repetitive stuff about Jesus loving us, complete with twangy electric guitar accompaniment> That was bad, but the group of gangly girls in leotards who danced up and down the aisles, miming and waving streamers were worse. New fangled religion, I think I prefer the occasional Methodism of my youth, or the Anglican weddings I’d sat through forced in to some crushed velvet page boy ensemble. Yeah I’m studying Religion after the Priory experience, but I was never a fan of this God business, and am still not religious. This chapel thing reached new depths of banality.
Still Rev James seemed ok, young, fresh faced, enthusiastic and trying to be “down with the kids”, a walking stereotype of “trendy vicar”. So I call him, the number was in my Fresher Pack. Wisdh I hadn’t, as he actually worries me more. It seems he has only been here three years, but yes he has heard the suicide story, and yes he has heard each year of the bouncing ball ghost, and yes, every year he comes out and blesses the building. (So not much success then?) He will be right over, and will say the prayers again. We can meet him at D Block after lunch, 2pm sharp.
Turns out an Anglican exorcism is not much to write home about. Technically it’s called Deliverance Ministry, and they wander round saying prayers and I think sprinkling water. I was standing outside, expecting the Rev to be hurled bodily out by ye olde malevolent spook, before the whole building explodes Hollywood style. So I stand peering in, with about thirty others, denizens of D Block, friends and hangers on. QC is on usual form, holding forth to this audience on the inhabitants of the astral world, but they were really just eyeing the door nervously, not giving his spiel the attention it deserves. I catch something QC mutters about Secret Chiefs and Akashic Records, but I am not really listening either, and he peters out halfway through Holy Guardian Angels.
And then the Reverend Bob James emerges, and smiles a lot, inviting us to a meeting called Greenhouse where we can grow in the Christian Faith. He gives us a little pep talk about a personal relationship with Jesus –QC says he wants “a religion, not a boyfriend”, but no one laugs. The Trendy Vicar makes a few a lame jokes, stares hard at QC, informs us we should keep this all very quiet to protect the college’s reputation, and roars off on his motorbike. Oh, well that’s that.
Church of England 1, Beasties From Beyond 0.
We thought it was all over. In fact, it was only just beginning.
(And I may one day post part 2, if really bored.)