01 Feb Is There An Afterlife
It started with a friend of mine, Stewart, who had always been interested in the supernatural. I, on the other hand, had no more interest in it than the next person. Of course I’m curious about whether there is life after death — and for selfish reasons — but I prefer to leave these things to themselves, as I find the entire subject morbid. I’m sure I’ll learn the truth in the end, but until that day I’d rather not ask the question for fear of the answer, either way.
Stewart was captivated by the paranormal, he lived and breathed it, but our friendship had developed through another of his passions – film – and although he often asked me to go on one of his ‘investigations’, I always replied that I preferred such things to remain on the cinema screen, and to stay there.
We’d go for a few beers regularly at Farlan’s bar on the main street or catch a film at the local cinema with some mutual friends. Then, suddenly, I didn’t see or hear from him for a couple of weeks, which was peculiar, but I assumed he was simply busy and so I left it at that.
It was 3:04AM when he called. I was angry at first that he’d woken me, but when I heard the sound of his voice, anger quickly bled into concern. Stewart was always such an upbeat guy, but that night his voice sounded distant, and there was a new uncertainty I had never sensed before which quivered underneath each word, unsettling me.
‘I need you to come and get me’ he said in a low whisper.
‘What’s wrong? Where are you?’, I asked.
‘I can’t talk for long, just come to the old botanical gardens at the edge of town’. His breath became increasingly laboured and agitated as he spoke.
‘Stewart, if you’re in trouble, call the police…’
‘No!’, he exclaimed in a unique mix of whisper and shout. I’m not meant to be here, they’ll arrest me. Just come to the botanical gardens and send me a text when you’re waiting outside. I have to go’.
And with that, he hung up.
Ten minutes later I was in my car and driving to the edge of Windarm town. It was an autumn night, and as I passed landmarks which were usually familiar to me during the day, each twisted tree branch and leaf covered garden took on a more threatening nature than I was used to; the night revealing an unapparent side to the town I loved.
It seemed strange to me that Stewart would be in the botanical gardens at night. He quite regularly went away on nocturnal investigations of abandoned hospitals and other supposedly haunted locations, but that place didn’t seem like an obvious choice for such things. In the past the gardens housed beautiful exotic trees, plants, and wildlife under a massive green house which must have been over 200 feet in length, but it had been shut down for a few decades. I guess the townsfolk didn’t frequent it often enough to keep it afloat. Even when I was a kid the place was just fodder for a rock or two, shattering many of its countless panes of glass, each held in place by a rusted frame — although admittedly my throw fell short more often than not. I know my dad talked about going there when he was a kid, amazed by the place, a self contained tropical landscape even during Windarm’s bleakest winters.
I pulled up in front of a large metal fence. It had been erected years previous, encircling what was left of the botanical gardens and its grounds; no doubt to dissuade new generations of rock throwers. On its gate hung a mud smeared sign displaying the words “No Trespassing” in no uncertain terms. Stewart obviously hadn’t bothered with the warning, no doubt more interested on catching a glimpse of something otherworldly inside. I left the engine running, as it was a little cold out, but just as I unlocked my phone I received a text message.
*Kill your lights!*
And so I did. Then another message quickly followed.
*Don’t call me, whatever you do.*
I began to develop the distinct impression that Stewart and I were not the only ones present out there in the night. A nervousness crept into my breath, and as I sat there looking into the darkness of the gardens, partially obscured by a web of fencing, I felt as though something was staring back.
For a moment I was unsure how to proceed, but was then startled by another text message, and, frightened by the thought that Stewart was in there somewhere and about to be grabbed by a burly security guard, a local gang, or worse, I adhered to his instructions:
*Follow my light and get me the hell out of here.*
And there it was, Stewart’s torch flickering for a brief moment before being engulfed by the darkness once more.
I opened the car door, the night uncomfortably cold as it washed over me. Just 30 minutes earlier I had been cosy, sleeping in my bed, and now this, climbing over a fence and walking into God knows what.
The fence rattled as I pulled myself up, and as I reached the top I looked across the pitch night and seriously reconsidered going any further. Then, Stewart’s torch light flashed again and I knew I couldn’t leave him, possibly injured or trapped, with the chilled October air threatening worse.
I jumped down from the fence as quietly as I could, my feet muffled by the whispering grass below. The ground was wet, and the unattended grass and bushes which surrounded the main building made progress difficult.
The light flashed again. Three times in fact before Stewart turned it off once more. I was sure now that he was growing more agitated, and so I continued in the direction of the once-glass building to reach my friend as quickly as possible. But my footsteps were uncertain, and my eyes struggled to pierce the dark. I took out my phone and used the LED light on its back to see where I was going.
As I walked towards the large shadowed outline of the garden building, I grew increasingly apprehensive. There were only three possible reasons why Stewart turned on his torch intermittently. One was that it had broken somehow, perhaps he could only get it to flicker into life every few minutes. Another explanation would be that the battery was low. Perhaps he was lost and switched it off to conserve what little juice it had left. The last explanation was a less appealing one. I switched off my light at thought of it.
Perhaps he didn’t want to draw too much attention to his location. Maybe he was frightened that someone else would find him first.
The darkness stood before me, a wall of black which blanketed all. It was hopeless, I was going to have to switch the light on to see where I was going. I remembered when I was 14 and had nearly fallen down an old drainage shaft when I was camping at night with friends. I always shuddered thinking about that, about how bad that fall could have been.
I needed to see where I was going. If a security guard came and found me, then that was a better outcome than falling into the darkness somewhere, unseen.
And yet, the thought of a night guard seemed far-fetched. The old building had been derelict for years, and it seemed unlikely that the town would waste money on wages for someone to patrol the area at night.
Finally, I reached the building, its base made of red brick which had held up surprisingly well for all its years of neglect. The same could not be said of the frame. Large metal struts reached up to the sky, forming a huge domed roof. I could see pieces of the frame lying on the floor, and in the dim light from my phone I thought I saw strands of it hanging from the roof, just waiting to break off and impale any unwelcome trespassers.
I cringed at the thought of my friend lying somewhere inside, perhaps impaled or trapped by falling metal and masonry.
Stewart’s light flickered again, and then disappeared. It was indeed coming from inside, and as I ducked under and then through one of the countless empty metal frames, I realised that he was somewhere in the middle of the building.
Despite having no solid walls, there was an echo of sorts to the place, subtle, my footsteps ricocheting gently off the concrete floor and then filtering out into the bleakness of the night.
That was when I first noticed it. The cold. Sure, it was always cold in October, but as I slowly proceeded, shards of broken glass cracking occasionally under my weight, a chill in the air grew more pronounced. It bit at my exposed face, and I was convinced that if I looked in a mirror my nose would have been bright red.
It was closer now, and for the first time I saw the light reflect upwards for a moment and illuminate Stewart’s outline. As I drew nearer the night closed in and the cold was now becoming almost unbearable. My hands ached from the bones outward, and the air froze my insides with each breath.
I was now only a few metres away from the centre of that old glassless dome and my friend. Then light flickered again, but it seemed obscured somehow, as if Stewart had turned his back on me, the light from his torch bathing him in illumination for only the briefest of seconds.
‘Stewart, it’s Mike. Are you okay?’ I said softly.
‘Yes, let’s get the hell out of here!’ he replied nervously.
Then a new noise joined us. Just as I opened my mouth to whisper across to Stewart and ask him if he was hurt, the sound of broken glass breaking under weight echoed from behind. It came from somewhere behind us and was subtle at first, but there was no doubt: I could hear movement. Yes, footsteps, more pronounced. They were moving towards us. Then, they stopped.
All I could hear was my heart thumping, the adrenaline of apprehension coursing through my veins. Quickly, I switched off the light from my phone hoping to obscure our location.
‘Someone else is here’, I said.
‘I know’, whispered Stewart. ‘They’ve been wandering around me for hours’.
Then the footsteps moved again, this time circling, prowling under cover of night. I knew then why Stewart had called me. Someone was taunting him, they had been in that broken glass dome all along, terrifying my friend and me in the process.
No doubt he had been terrified. But now there were two of us, and whoever was circling, they were surely but one. I decided we would act, pick a direction and stick to it. I moved close to my friend and whispered.
That word still haunts me. The light from Stewart’s torch came on once more. But, you see, it wasn’t a torch. And whoever I was standing right in front of was not my friend Stewart. A strange light emanated from inside the throat of what I can only describe as the figure of a woman. The light bled out through translucent skin which seemed to take on the appearance of night, and the light forced its way up and out of her gaping mouth.
At that moment, Stewart appeared from the darkness, grabbed my arm, and before I knew it we were running. Our feet scrambled over broken glass, pummelling it further into smaller shards. I looked over my shoulder, and the horrid figure, light source and all, was chasing us. The light from her throat and mouth seemed to pulse with intermittent fury, and as we reached the metal frame of the building, she screamed words of hate and anguish, a rasping anger filled with nothing but contempt for the living.
Before I knew it, we had escaped the gardens, that screeching creature seemingly constrained to the boundaries of that derelict building. We reached the fence, then the car, and then home; where I fixed both Stewart and myself a large whiskey as we tried to calm our nerves.
As it turned out, Stewart had been on one of his investigations as I’d thought. He’d heard stories of strange lights coming from the old botanical gardens building at night, and thought he would check it out. He got more than he bargained for, that’s for sure. At first the old building seemed empty, but as the night drew in he felt as though he was being watched. Suddenly, the batteries from his torch drained. The spare batteries he always carried with him were equally unresponsive, and so he was left in darkness, alone.
It was then that he heard the footsteps, and a woman’s voice who simply kept saying ‘I know you’re hear. I know you’re watching me’. To Stewart it sounded like she was pacing up and down, occasionally standing over him as he hid on the floor. God knows what would have happened if she’d found him.
I’m sure you have realised by now that Stewart claims he never called me on his phone, or sent any text messages. Indeed, he dropped it in the darkness and still hasn’t found it to this day.
We talk about that night occasionally, and Stewart hasn’t been on an investigation since. He lost the stomach for it, and who can blame him. My unease with the memory of that night, however, doesn’t revolve around the fear of meeting some spectral creature in the night — I intend to stay as far away from any ‘haunted’ place as I can. It’s more a fear which grabs me occasionally when I really think about what that night meant. If that horrid apparition is in any way what happens to us all when we die, that we are filled with such hatred for the living, I’d prefer to believe that there is no life after death; for what we encountered that night was a twisted reflection of all that is good in each of us, and if no good can remain, I would rather not exist at all.