“What a paranormal tour that was! Scared my socks off.” Jamie was still recovering from the spiritual encounter at the Old Miner’s Cottage. Well, at least he thought he saw a ghost. Everyone else believed he had succumbed to the effects of dim lighting, creaky doors, and unusual animal sounds.
“Mate, you should’ve seen the look on your face. Scared shitless, if you ask me. Your eyes were bulging out,” said Gazza, who always liked making fun of his younger cousin whenever he got the chance.
“Do you know the way back to Windsor Guest House from here?” asked Jamie.
Gazza always came well-prepared when visiting new locations, and so he pulled out his pocket map from his black hoodie. There was no point using the maps on your phone, as the internet signal was not enough to establish a connection.
His hands were trembling from the cold. It must have been closer to five degrees Celsius.
“It’s straight ahead on the main road … just after that building over there.” He adjusted the map next to the solitary streetlamp until he got his bearings.
“I think it’s the corner store. Turn right and down the hill, and we’re there.” Putting the map away, he then pulled his hoodie over his head to cover his ears and whatever hair he had left on his head—Gazza had short hair at the back and sides with a tuft at the front. He was your typical fashion-conscious guy, in his mid-twenties.
“If you spent more time listening to the tour guide rather than perving on those tourists from New Zealand, you probably would’ve seen the ghost,” said Jamie.
“You’re a funny guy. I reckon they were looking at me.” He put his hand on his chin. “See this beautiful face? Irresistible.”
They both laughed as they started making their way down the main road to the corner shop that also doubled as a museum during the day. A lot of buildings in Walhalla played a dual function.
Walhalla was an Australian ghost town with only a few locals staffing the tourist facilities. But it was becoming a genuine tourist spot for those into the paranormal and old Australian history. It was a town that had sprung up in 1862, on the strength of the gold mining boom, and then died a slow death as the gold became too challenging to find.
As they reached the end of the main street and the corner store, it was a quick walk around the bend and down the main road to the Windsor Guest House; approximately two hundred feet.
Jamie was the sort of guy who always looked for an easy way out, so of course he noticed a shortcut that would shave off at least one hundred feet to the guest house. The only problem was navigating through an abandoned mining shaft with a sign warning people not to enter.
Underground Shaft Unstable
Do Not Enter
“What do you reckon, Gazza? Doesn’t look that bad to me, and it leads straight to the side of Windsor Guest House.” He pointed toward the shaft. “Yeah, I can see the lights from here to the side entrance.”
Gazza looked at Jamie and shook his head. “Nah, there’s no light there, mate. And what happens if we fall down an old shaft?”
“Ha-ha. Are you scared, Gazza? What if all those women who think you’re hot find out you’re a chicken in disguise?”
“There’s a big difference between being a chicken and being stupid, mate.” Gazza rolled his eyes. “Come on; let’s continue walking down this road to the front. I don’t care if it’s two hundred feet farther.” Gazza was older and more mature than his cousin, who also lacked common sense.
Sometimes, Gazza thought his cousin was trying to impress him, or he was just plain stupid, thinking he was devoid of any danger and invincible.
“Nah, I’ll meet you there, mate. In fact, I’m gonna be waiting for you in front of the fireplace while you shiver in your jocks,” said Jamie.
“Come on; there’s nothing to prove, mate. I told your dad I’d keep an eye on ya, so don’t get me in trouble.”
“I promise ya, mate; I won’t blame you for anything, all right? I’ll meet you at the cottage, at the fireplace.”
“Jamie, at least take my torchlight so you can see through there. It’s pitch black.” Gazza pulled off his pocket-sized flashlight from his key ring and gave it to him. It was a small flashlight but super powerful, enough for Jamie to navigate his way through.
“All right, I’ll take the torchlight.”
The ghost town of Walhalla was nestled in the high country, two-hours’ drive from the city and surrounded by hilly terrain and lots of dense vegetation. Although there was moonlight, it was ineffective in these surroundings.
Every night in Walhalla was pitch black, and the locals always carried big flashlights to get around. The substandard streetlighting was typical of a ghost town with few inhabitants. Why spend money on infrastructure for a village with only thirty residents?
An icy breeze blew across the main street and up Gazza’s backside. He adjusted his jacket by zipping it up to his neck while holding his hoodie with both hands.
As he watched Jamie’s outline disappear into the distance and into the prohibited mining shaft, he stood and pondered, gazing into nothing. He heard the twisting of branches and someone stomping on an uneven surface full of dry leaves and twigs that had blown off the tall trees surrounding the mine shaft. He made nothing of it and thought it was just Jamie making his way through the tunnel. However, doubt was never too far from his mind.
He knew what Jamie was like—sometimes immature and did not think before he acted. It made him careless, and he was always getting into trouble, even if it was unintentional. Many times, Gazza had to bail him out and cover for him; show him the right way, like a mentor.
“Oh, bugger this.” Gazza turned around and walked straight toward the restricted mine shaft to follow him. He did not want to be in a position where he had to explain this to Jamie’s dad should he fall into something and hurt himself.
“I’m coming, Jamie. Can you give me an oy so I know where you are?” Unlike Jamie, Gazza didn’t have a spare flashlight, so he relied on the minuscule amount of moonlight that filtered through the treetops.
“Jamie! Where are ya, mate?” he called out again.
There was no response, which made him feel twitchy.
He carefully watched his step, not wanting to fall into an unused mine shaft, twenty feet underground. It was what the miners had dug through for low-lying surface gold back in the days when gold had been abundant. Walhalla was full of these holes, and the area he had walked into was renowned for accidents. It was an uncharted area.
Gazza felt his feet wiggle under the weight of the soft terrain, dry leaves, and pieces of twigs and branches lying on the ground. He had to watch ahead for every step, as one mistake and he could slip into a shaft and be stuck there for days before someone realized he was missing. His only saving grace was that the local authorities always checked the mine shafts first when a person went missing, citing that it was usually a tourist not paying attention to local warning signs and becoming overly adventurous.
“Jamie, where are ya? I’m right behind. Can you give me an oy!” Gazza was starting to feel uncomfortable. Jamie couldn’t have made it to the other side so quickly.
He heard more footsteps. Maybe it was Jamie. But the footsteps appeared to be someone moving around him, encircling the area.
What’s going on? he thought.
He knew Jamie was a practical joker, but this was not something he would do.
He heard the breaking of twigs and branches around him and the stomping sound of heavy footsteps getting closer. Then he heard a frantic scream coming from directly in front of him.
“Help! Help! Someone’s got me!”
He recognized the call for assistance—it was Jamie.
Gazza couldn’t see more than two feet in front of him, so he couldn’t see what was going on.
A tingling sensation went up his back, and goosebumps formed on his arm. He shook in fear as his throat became dry and his eyelids froze open. He tried to navigate his way to the source of the sound, step by step.
There was another scream, louder this time.
There was no mistaking it was Jamie, and there was panic in his voice, exponential fear that something horrible was happening.
He still heard the footsteps of something encircling him around the surrounding shrubs, but he could not get a fix on it without a light of some kind.
He took another couple of steps and, just behind a shrub, he saw a light pointing upward. He recognized it as his flashlight from the contour of the light.
Jamie must have dropped it, he thought.
He picked it up and pointed it in the direction of where he could hear the stomping of footsteps. The light gave him a reprieve—at least he could get a visual on what was going on around him.
There was another scream for help, and then silence. An eerie silence. The stomping stopped, and the shuffling sound of someone walking around him faded away. All he could hear was the bustling of the trees as they swung in the breeze. He was in the eye of the hurricane as an unnatural calm set in—the calm before the storm.
Gazza felt a presence behind him, and then he once again heard a shuffle of leaves and stomping of feet beside him. By the depth of the sound, it appeared to be a large person.
He felt a blast of chilled air rip down the back of his neck, and he shook uncontrollably from the reaction.
He turned around to be confronted by a man whose appearance was of a gold miner, a relic of the past, from a time when audacious gold miners seeking their fortune graced Walhalla, and it had been a hive for activity. It wasn’t the appearance of a real man. He was transparent yet three dimensional, giving this ghost some credibility.
Gazza flashed his light toward the gold miner’s ghost as he struggled to maintain a steady hand.
The ghost wore a red and blue checked shirt with suspended, loose-fitting corduroy trousers. Covered by an oversized sack coat and wavers for shoes—a type of waterproof gumboot—he had a white handkerchief tied around his neck and a broad felt hat. It peered out of a skinny, sunken face, white and devoid of any existence. With an elongated nose and red bloodshot eyes, Gazza knew it was not from this world.
Jamie had disappeared, and he wanted to find his cousin so desperately, but this crumbling image stood in front of him, toying with the very fact that it might have been responsible for Jamie’s abduction.
Gazza was a panderer—a good-looking guy who liked to mix with beautiful girls. He was not a fighter. And yet, he realized he was going to have to confront a most significant battle for his life.
He stood firm, upright, arms folded, a natural reaction as his defense mechanism kicked into overdrive. But that could not hide his vulnerability as he internally trembled in fear for his life.
He continued flashing his light at the phantasm circling him with dancing eyes, ready for its next move. Whatever happened to Jamie, I’m next, he thought.
The icy-cold wind blew a gust across the mining shaft, and the moonlight made way for darkness as the clouds rolled in, suffocating any virtue of hope. It was pitch black, and his flashlight was starting to fade slowly as the battery life dwindled. He tapped on the light, hoping to jar it back to life, giving him back the light he so desperately needed, but it was only temporary.
The phantom continued circling, stomping on the hollowed turf, peering at him with penetrating eyes, ready to make its move. It lifted a gold miner’s pickaxe, raising it in the air as a glimmer of light reflected off the tip of the sharp end. Gazza instinctively covered his face by raising his right arm.
The phantom came for him, and with an almighty swoop, the pickaxe fell on Gazza. He screamed for help, just like Jamie had … but no one was there to hear his final plight to the world.
Had the demon murdered Gazza or taken him prisoner? Would he suffer the same fate as Jamie, as the demon rendered his soul to the caverns of the mine shafts below, an evil cemetery of lost souls, held captive for its pleasure, where a playground of debauchery awaited Gazza and never-ending darkness? An attempt to save five minutes from a walk in the brazen cold air had cost them both dearly.
But let the record show that it had not been the first time people had gone missing without a trace in Walhalla. It happened occasionally. A plethora of unsolved missing person cases over the years had become an embarrassment for the local authorities. And yet, surprisingly, the town still attracted tourists wanting a joyride into the paranormal.
The locals attributed the disappearances to tourists not following the rules and falling into shallow mine shafts, as there were hundreds of them in the area not recorded by local surveyors. Walhalla had had so much gold at the time of its discovery that the land had been like rabbit warren holes. And if you fell into one, and the fall did not kill you, then dehydration certainly would. No one would hear your screams, and you would die a slow, agonizing death.
Jamie and Gazza had not checked in the night before and had never returned, and so, the guest house manager raised the alarm.
The call for two missing persons went out the following day from Windsor Guest House. The police from the town nearby were on site for what was a familiar tale—another missing person’s case to add to the list of unsolved disappearances.
Senior Detective Sergeant Wellock was on the scene at the Windsor Guest House by ten a.m. A middle-aged man with a long-serving history, he had investigated many cases over the years and was an experienced detective who knew his stuff.
He was slightly overweight with a manicured moustache and a receding hairline. He wore a red and blue Scottish bonnet to keep him warm, but it had also become his trademark.
Over the years, he had built trust with the residents of the town, gathering support from the locals in any way he could. Information was scant in these cases, as the town had few residents. Any information that could lend to a lead would assist his investigations tremendously.
Detective Wellock brought in a team of trackers to help locate Gazza and Jamie. They started the investigation where they had last been seen—at the venue of the paranormal tour—and then worked their way to the area designated as off-limits—the mine shaft. They were experienced trackers who knew the locations of the dangerous mine shafts across the whole town. It was all experience and local know-how, as no street maps could guide you through the dangers of the unmarked holes. It helped with investigations, as they instinctively knew the most likely places of danger.
After the initial search, Wellock stepped into the main lobby of Windsor Guest House and stood next to the warm fireplace, holding out his hands as the radiating heat warmed his cold extremities.
Windsor Guest House was a typical British manor that had been built over a hundred years ago by the early pioneers of the area. A beautiful brick home, not spoiled over time, with its original Old English charm, it had been converted into a cottage and was a popular overnight stay with tourists.
“So, what can you tell me about these blokes?” Detective Wellock went right into questioning the owner of the cottage, not wasting any time.
“Before we get started with your questioning, would you like a strong coffee?” asked the owner. They had known each other for a long time.
“Sorry, mate, forgot my manners. Yeah, a coffee would be great.”
The owner pointed at the classic antique chairs. “Why don’t we take a seat next to the fireplace then?”
When they sat, Wellock informed the owner, “I have a better idea with this investigation this time. I am bringing someone on who is a little different, so I will need the support of the locals.”
“Who is he?”
“His name is Bolder, Zack Bolder.” Detective Wellock took a sip of his coffee then wiped his moustache with a paper towel. “Oh, and don’t worry; he’s not your typical priest who you’d meet in church.”
“Whatever do you mean by that?” The owner was confused by his friend’s random wording.
“He’s trained in supernatural and paranormal investigations for the Catholic Church, a parapsychologist.”
The owner gasped, “A spirit hunter?”
“I wouldn’t call him that—he may get offended. Let’s say he looks for things we can’t find—cases that don’t make sense, the bizarre. And no matter how much resources we throw into it, these cases go nowhere using our traditional methods.”
“Bolder …” the owner mused over the name. “He sounds like a tough guy.”
“Yes, mate. If you saw some of the shit he’s had to put up with … You have to be mentally tough, and he’s a rock. Excuse the pun.”
“Does he get results?”
“I was a skeptic, too. I didn’t like it when he first started with us, but I rely on him now. He works under an arrangement between our special investigation branch and the Catholic Church, on secondment when we need him. He’s done some good work so far.”
“So, it’s Zack Bolder on the scene?”
“Yeah, I’ve called him in. He will be here this afternoon, so make him feel welcome, okay? He will be staying here at the cottage.” He took a sip of his coffee, looking straight into the fireplace.
“What is it, Detective?”
“I really hope we can find these two guys, and they have just fallen into a shaft. Hopefully, not hurt. But this one feels … different.”
“Yes, mate. It’s different than the last time.” He paused for a moment. “We will go there this afternoon and have a look with Bolder as soon as he arrives.”