Outcasts – CH1 – Egress.
Daniel James is a paranormal researcher; it was something he had done since his twenties. Nearly two decades in the business, and still, he had not, until this point, found any actual proof. He had walked away for a period five years earlier, not because he no longer believed. Many who worked in the trade become so disillusioned that they give it up. The optimism of youth told them that they would be the one; they’d be the one who proved it all. Exposing the ghosts and goblins, proving life after death. Maybe even a meet and greet with Lilith and Satan. Then the realisation came in mid-life that you’ll not prove it, and perhaps it did not actually exist. Still, he was dragged back to the trade. Maybe all that was left at the end of it all was to be worm food. If that were the case, then why not go out hunting for the truth and fighting?
It was not the notoriety that had seduced him. It was not the idea of fame – relative though it may have been – it was the question. It was the idea of knowing that something else was out there. To actually know beyond any doubt. The thought of saying, definitively, that there was something after death and here is the proof. That was what had driven him; that was what had pushed him forwards for all these years. So why did he stop? What had made him take a break when he hit his late-thirties? Well, he had found what he was looking for, and it had terrified him. It had shaken him to his very core, screamed “Why hello there” into his face and then laughed as he had run from it.
Daniel sat waiting in his car, flicking through the latest discoveries on his phone. It was his daily ritual. He had to know this stuff. He would check for any new ideas, new tricks that could be used to con the gullible into parting with their money in exchange for a visit with the deceased. The trick levitating tables, the smoke machines and mirrors used to create effects. The practice was always trying to find new ways to con the naive, so he also had to continually read, learn, and modernise his methods. Trying to keep one step ahead, or at worse to be level pegging. Answering a question with “I do not know how they did it” would lead to the death-knell in his profession.
This job was different. This one would be easy. A haunted house,
haunted being a term he had always used loosely.
Two thoughts would traverse his mind when a haunted house case file dropped on his desk. Firstly, the obvious one, ha this would be easy. Dripping pipes, wind seeping through cracks in window frames, creaking floorboards and all other non-supernatural events. What a load of bollocks. Secondly, a long, drawn-out moan of boring would echo the darkest corners of his mind.
Bouncing from side to side and up and down as his eyes rolled back in his head.
He would have found more excitement at a political discussion group.
The most intriguing investigation that Daniel had been involved with was the Burke house. Once again, it had not been supernatural, but at least it had been different. It had been interesting. It had started with a noise that would be heard occasionally in one wall. It would be heard primarily at night, but not only at night. It was never clear enough to precisely determine what was being said. Never quite sure if anything really was being said, if it was even a voice at all. It was random, intermittent static, and beholden to whatever power that was causing it. The mind has a way of seeing patterns in things, faces in objects and speech in noises.
Maybe it was something, maybe it was nothing, but maybe, just maybe, it was everything! Without fail, it would reoccur. Sometimes days would pass and sometimes weeks, but it had always come back. Finally, Daniel came across the case file and took it up. It had been floating in and around the Institute’s offices for a while, waiting to be investigated. Ninety minutes later, and with the help of a smartphone, the issue had been resolved. The most supernatural element in the case? How the batteries had lasted so long? The best two quid he had ever spent was on the Architecture of Radio app. It was capable of detecting radio signals, and it gave you a visual reference. Red for a weak signal, orange for medium and green for strong. It was mainly used for séances, but it had other uses too.
Before Daniel had taken the case, the usual cranks had been, saying that it was most definitely a sign of some otherworldly presence. Within two hours total, it was all over. A sheet of plasterboard had been cut from the wall and the culprit identified. A previous tenant or owner had lost a baby monitor down inside the wall. It had been chewed by a rodent, and by pure chance, had shorted and would intermittently turn itself on. Something purely natural that had given the impression of the supernatural. It had picked up a signal from somewhere nearby; where? It held no real relevance as cross chat on these things was not an uncommon occurrence. It could have been any of the houses nearby, or it may have just been electrical cracking and hissing. The monitor had been removed, the wall was patched back up, and the problem was resolved. One more being filed into the depths of his mind and office filing cabinet. Mission accomplished, case closed and thank you for tuning in. Join us next time on tales of the disappointing…
As Daniel sat in his car, he looked at the house and its grounds. Something niggled at him. Buzzing around his mind like a fly caught in a net curtain. A thought floated up from the depths but sunk back underwater the second he tried to seize hold. Something was not right, and the fact that he could not put his finger upon it unnerved him. A shiver swept its way down his spine. People had often mistaken his ability to see things that others missed for a sixth sense; it was nothing of the sort. All he had is the ability to notice things, nothing more and nothing less. He would see things that others would overlook. Linking two things and coming up with a solution. He’d not realised it at the time, but the baby monitor had been his mind doing just that. A friend had bought the same monitor a decade earlier and experienced a similar problem with the interference. It was the static in the background that had set his mind searching for the link, not the noise it had picked up but the static. There was a familiarity, the connection, and it would take some weeks before it had finally clicked and he had remembered.
Daniel sat and tapped his fingers upon the steering wheel, something felt wrong here, and he couldn’t quite work out what it was. Annoyed with himself, he opened the car door, stepped out and slammed it shut. The windows in the old wreck rattled like panes in an old greenhouse as he did so. The car was a mess, but it was his mess. It worked and did what he wanted, besides he thought. Who was going to nick his old clapped out 2CV?
Daniel stood and looked down the road at the closed gates. He’d had to park away from the house as the driveway was gated and bolted. The short driveway led to the detached house with a road crossing just before the gates. The place he had been sent to see stood alone in the distance. The upper floor windows looked like sets of drooping eyes watching him. The trees that led up either side of the driveway were neatly pruned, clipped and in places pinned back. The drive itself was clear of leaves and other rubbish that he would have expected this time of year. Then it hit him. The mental block crumbled, allowing him to see; that was it, that was what had been wrong. Once he had looked at it, it was so obvious, but it had taken him longer than he would usually have expected. Longer than he’d have liked. The house had been empty for years; it had nobody to maintain it. The family had once tried, but nobody would stay for long. In the end, falling like dominos, the family line was broken and lost. The house and grounds were all that remained. Its current owners are seemingly unknown, the house managed by a group of solicitors.
So who had been maintaining the trees?
It couldn’t have been squatters or the homeless, could it? Garden maintenance was not something they were known for as far as he knew. Besides, had they taken over, then being spotted by a passer-by would have been the last thing they’d wanted. Hi everyone, we’re just squatting here, so just ignore us. Daniel Checked his pocket for his tools and a padlock, and he then headed toward the gate. He reached the road that intersects, looked both ways and crossed. He looked at the entrance; it was locked and secured just as it should have been. The large metal gate was spattered with rust spots giving it an orange tinge far more in keeping with the season.
Daniel pulled the lock picking set from his pocket, plucking between the picks and pins. He slid the guide into the bottom of the padlock and slipped a pin in beside it. Closing his eyes and imagining the lock and the pins the way that he had trained himself. Visualising the lock’s inside as he moved the pin, click. The lock was rusted, but it fell open with ease. Permission had been granted from the solicitors that dealt with the estate, so he had no need to be worried about being discovered. Nobody knew what had happened to the original keys; it had been so long since the house had been inhabited. He could have employed a locksmith, but he liked to work alone. Why hire someone to do a job that he could do himself? The lock was removed and discarded onto the ground. He took the fresh one from his pocket and unlocked it as he opened the gate. The metal creaked with age as he pushed it. He walked through the small gap and pushed the gate closed. He slipped the new lock into place, pocketed the key and then left the lock open and hanging on the latch.
Daniel stood for a moment alone and in silence. It was just the way that he liked things to be. As he walked the drive, he admired the trees and the pristine condition they were in. The leaves were still green when they should have been tinting to autumn orange. He shook his head; how did he miss that? It all seemed so obvious now. He noticed that the house seemed to be in good condition as well. The house was half brickwork and half wood. The bottom brickwork he would have expected to see was chipped and discoloured after all this time. The top should have been peeling with paint flecks falling away to reveal rotting wood below. Neither thing had happened. The upstairs had the look of almost being freshly painted. The bricks downstairs glowed with a pale red colour, extruding life and freshness.
Something was not as it would seem. Daniel considered heading back to the car and searching the boot for the jack handle or lug wrench but decided against it. So what if a few homeless people were living here? They had looked after the place and may need help, not violence and threats. Why hello there. I mean no harm. Oh, sorry, ignore this big metal tyre iron. I’m just happy to see you. I always come carrying metal. He looked at the steps that led to the front door, expecting to see some dereliction, a sign of age and a lack of maintenance. They appeared as fresh and new as they would have been on the day that they were built. He placed his foot on one and pushed hard; he did not want to be deceived. It did not budge. It was still as strong as it had ever been. He took a step and made his way to the front door. The steps were soundless, with not a creak or wheeze to be heard.
The doors stood before Daniel at an imposing eight feet. They were made of oak and gigantic; they appeared to open centrally. Two doors that alone were huge and no doubt heavier than most standard household doors. Houses that were built with height, space, and grounds, a long-forgotten commodity. He turned to take another look around the front garden; they’d fit ten homes here in today’s world, he supposed to himself. The grass was neatly trimmed and the flower beds, though empty, were free from weeds. Just the brown soil ready for those seeds to be sown in the spring. Were things better in the past, or was it just a fondness for an imagined world that did not really exist? Maybe a little of both, he decided.
Daniel reached into his pocket for the lock picking set once more but then decided against it. If someone was living here, he does not want to spook them; I come in peace. Reaching up and knocking on the door, he then listened but heard nothing. He then lifted the large metal knocker and dropped it; it boomed through the wood as he let it go. He expected to hear a shuffling of feet, the sounds of movement, something, anything, yet he still heard nothing. Not a whisper or scratch of movement from inside the house. He placed his hand upon the door handle. It was a solid brass handle that matched the knocker, and it felt unexpectedly warm. It was like somebody had stood holding it for a period just before he had arrived. He twisted it, and the handle moved smoothly and turned with no resistance. The place was unlocked, and the door swung open. With the door now open, he stepped inside. “Hello,” Daniel called out, “I come in peace. I mean you no harm.” As soon as he stepped inside, the temperature change was apparent, not colder as he would have expected in a traditional haunting, but warmer. A handful of degrees, but it was a noticeable difference. He ran his hand along the top of the hallway radiator. It was stone cold. He lifted his hand, looked at it, and saw not a speck of dust. He looked around the hallway, and everything is immaculate. He had expected to see dust covers over any items still remaining, but this looked like the house had just been tidied, awaiting his arrival.
Daniels mind ticked over, joining the dots, adding it all together, trying to find a logical conclusion. He stood for a moment thinking and then kneeled with his right knee on the ground. There it is, he thought, and then he placed his hand down on the floor just to double-check. The mystery of the cleanliness could come later; for now, he had found the heat source. Heat rises, and it was coming from below. He grabbed his phone from his pocket and looked at the plans he had for the house. Zooming in and out, he searched the pictures for a basement or utility room that was below. The master staircase’s left-hand side, into, and through, the kitchen and then to the left. Pushing the phone back into his pocket, he ventured forwards. The floorboards finally creaked under his weight as he made his way to the kitchen.
The kitchen was as spotless and tidy as the hallway. The house’s contents should have been looted or rotted and consumed by time and neglect. But, instead, it looked like someone had loved and cared for it all. Daniel shook his head.
This wasn’t right; something was wrong. This wasn’t part of the script. It was meant to be windy windows, creaky floorboards, and rattling pipes. This was wrong.
Daniel felt an urge to turn and leave rush through him. He suppressed it, pushing it to the back of his mind. He had never been a coward; he would not have allowed himself to be. You couldn’t be in his line of work! Monsters under the bed, creepy crawling shadows from the closet, those were all bollocks, inventions of an overactive imagination. Now those were part of a script. The scariest thing in the world was your imagination, and once you let it run riot and take over, you leave yourself wide open.
Here be nightmares, do not enter if you scare easily.
Daniel placed his hand on the door to the basement and pushed it open. The door flew open with ease, its hinges well maintained and loose-fitting in the frame. He looked down the wooden stairs into the blackness below. There was a curiosity here, he noted. A trick of the light that caused a strange effect. The basement seemed to suck the light from the kitchen. Light reached the frame of the basement door and then went no further. Daniel moved his hand between the basement and the kitchen. Well lit in the kitchen, shadowed the second he went beyond the doorframe. Weird. He flicked the light switch for the basement, and of course, there was no power. Daniel tapped the torch app on his phone and lit the stairway. Be prepared as his Scoutmaster had always said to him. He tested the steps as he had done outside, secure and stable, he started his descent. One step, then two, then three, one hand gripped the bannister, the other held the phone and lit the way. The light from the phone flickered, and then suddenly, the phone went utterly blank. The steps beneath his feet gave. They didn’t just give from age or structural weakness. There was no cracking and flexing of the wood. One moment they were there. The next, they were gone along with the bannister, and he found himself falling into the darkness below. He was being swallowed just as the light had been from the kitchen.
Daniel lay on the floor; his eyes were closed. He had closed them as he fell. What the fuck just happened? he thought. His foot was half step, and even had one step given out, he would have been able to balance his weight on the other. He had learnt before to take one step with one foot. Slow and steady wins the race. It was as if they had just vanished. He’d got lucky, the fall had not been that far, and as it was straight down, he had landed feet first. It could have been much worse. Just as he was about to reopen his eyes, he heard it, a noise, the slightest movement in the dark. Something skittering in the blackness, coming from the corner of the room. Something or someone was in the room with him. He kept quiet. Subconsciously he held his breath, eyes closed and mentally glued shut. He tried to listen and hoped to go unnoticed. There was just something wrong about this; a feeling swam in his stomach. The ruffling stopped, and all was still. He took a peek, just a little slide of an eyelid. Enough to see, but – hopefully – not enough to be seen. The room was now light, an unnatural light that engulfed every angle. Listening once more, trying to hear anything out of the ordinary. The room had fallen silent. He opened his eyes fully and looked around the room.
The room was empty, a square box room with just a well at its centre. No windows, no doors, no light fittings to be seen and nothing – that Daniel could see – skittering around in the corners. He looked up, the door was still there, but it was too high to reach. The stairs were gone, vanished into nothing.
Vanished from sight as if they had never been. He looked around the room. There must be another exit somewhere. There did not seem to be any source for the light. The beams of wood that made the floor of the room above let a little peek through but were nowhere near enough to light this whole basement. Checking from beam to beam, he saw nothing that could answer the question of the lights source. Tentatively he walked to the corners of the room, checking before every step for something lurking. Something that could somehow loiter in this strange brightness, he found nothing. Just the four corners, the four walls and the well in the centre. Anger overtook fear, and he was suddenly annoyed; this must be someone’s idea of a practical joke. The how’s and why’s never crossed his usually logical mind. Anger had suffocating logic and reason with a mental pillow. “Okay, you got me!” he shouted out to nobody but the room. Following up by muttering “You fuckers” under his breath. He stood and waited. Hope rather than an expectation that the door would fly open and some of his younger, more exuberant colleagues would be there laughing at him. He stood there a little longer than was needed, deep in thought. His imagination then took over; what if this was not a prank? What if this really was something else?
Daniel moved closer to the well; it was all that he had left to investigate. He was aware that his mind decided to first check the things that he could already see. He knew that looking down the well was looking into the unknown, gazing into the mouth of madness. When you look into madness, madness looks right back at you with a smile. It was, though, his only choice. He took a long deep breath and approached the centre of the room.
On the one hand, he was glad to be alone so nobody could see how shaken he was. On the other? He’d rather have had company. He placed his hands on the stones around the well and could feel the heat rising from the shaft. Well, I found the heat source. He almost had to dare himself to lean over the well, double dare. A blast of hot air hit his face as he looked over, like being slapped by an angry girlfriend. It forced him to turn and look away. He held his hand out into the room, testing the temperature. It was warm but not hot; a pleasant spring day. He dangled his hand over the well and felt the warm, heated air. The closer to the centre, the warmer it got, too hot to touch at threequarters of the way. Not quite the bowels of Hell on the hottest day of the year, but close enough. He withdrew his arm, his hand shivered at the sudden temperature change. Suddenly he felt something under his foot, something different, something that wasn’t there before. Couldn’t have been there before.
He took a step backwards. The ground beneath Daniel’s feet was just soil. Compacted by years of use, but soil nonetheless. The wooden framework of the house was built up around the soft under-base. The man who builds his house on the sand had obviously not applied in this case. Poking up through the earth was a small, ivory-coloured, tiny triangle-shaped object. A small pea of a strange rock budding up through the ground. It cannot have been there before; he would have felt it as he stood next to the well. It did nothing as he looked at it, just there where it was not before, sprouted from nothing. He moved his foot towards it, his mind telling him not to touch it with his bare skin, or in this case, leather shoe. Something warned him against that, just a feeling. He pushed the rubble slightly with the end of his shoe; as he did so, the object moved, a small creamcoloured stone driving up through the dirt. He thought it could be his mind playing tricks at first, but then it moved again. It twitched slightly, wiggling like a worm as it appeared, making its way to the surface. It was slow at first, fascinatingly sluggish, and he was mesmerised by it until he realised what it was. It was the notch three-quarters of an inch down that gave it away. The object shifted through, becoming taller. Some kind of strange albino plant growing in real-time. The join, though, he knew then it was a skeletal hand pushing through. Only one finger now, but it was moving faster.