Thursday, July 2nd 2009 – 06:3
“All I can tell you right now is there’s been some kind of incident.” Peter Wells’ voice crackled through the radio. “I’ll keep listening on the scanner and update you when I hear more. From what I can gather, it’s big.”
Malcolm Kingsley could see how big the incident was through his windscreen. There were at least eight police cars outside the abandoned mental hospital, known back in its day as the East Sussex County Asylum, now Hellsleigh Hospital. A large crowd had gathered outside the police cordon and fencing, all eager to catch a glimpse of what was going on. “I’m here now, Peter.”
“I don’t need to tell you how big this story could be for us, do I?”
“Of course not; I’m on it.” He started getting ready to venture out into the rain. “I can see Mark’s already here. I’ll find out what he knows and go from there.”
“Hold on, Malcolm, something’s just coming through now.”
Waiting for his boss, Malcolm sighed. The rain was coming down hard.
“They’ve just called in the coroner’s office.” Wells sounded excited. “CSIs are on their way now. Hang on, they’ve just located two more bodies. Christ! This could be the big one we’ve been waiting for. Do me a favour and get an exclusive – the paper needs it.”
Getting tired of listening to Wells, Malcolm said he would see what he could do.
He opened his car door, immediately feeling the spray of warm rain from his roof and catching the musky smell of it hitting the tarmac. He grumbled to himself, standing up and flipping his hood over his head. It was big, fat rain. “Get yourself an exclusive,” he said to himself, limping towards the crowd.
Malcolm was fifty-three years old and a veteran investigative journalist. He’d worked for The Daily Mail for ten years in a free-lance capacity, which had allowed him to remain living in his hometown of Hailsham. Five years earlier he was involved in a nasty collision with a truck, which had annihilated his right knee and left him with a severe limp; after he recovered, he took the job of freelance reporter for The Hailsham Express.
Hellsleigh village was a short drive away from Hailsham, so when he received the early morning call from Wells to get up here to the hospital, just outside the village, he’d quickly changed into his rain gear and drove over.
Surprised at how many people were up and about at such an unsociable hour, he could see the village grapevine was working to full effect. His knee ached like a bitch, especially in the hot July weather. Spotting Mark, his associate at The Express, he hobbled over and stood next to him. “What the hell’s going on, Marky-boy?” He tried to nose through the crowd. He went on tiptoes, not being all that tall. “What do you know?”
Mark Tracey, an energetic young reporter with three exclusives for The Express under his belt, glanced over at him nonchalantly. “I’m not sure. I spoke to one of the locals, who was out walking his dog before work just now. He said he saw a bloke up on the roof earlier, covered in blood. That’s when he phoned the police. Look, that’s him, there, talking to the plod.”
He could just see who Mark was pointing at. “Have any bodies been brought out yet?” He tried catching sight of the main entrance doors, but some tall, mountain of a guy was blocking his view.
“Bodies? No, nothing like that. I haven’t seen much to be honest.”
Wanting to lob the mountain’s head off so that he could see, Malcolm tried pushing through the crowd to get a better view. He was met by some complaints from the villagers. What did he care? It was his job to be here; they were just being nosy.
Managing to get through to the front, where the yellow and black police tape prevented him from going any further, Malcolm stood next to a pretty young girl in her early twenties, with long blonde hair under a hood and a nose stud in her left nostril. “Hi! What’s going on? Do you know?”
“Yeah, there’s some guy up on the roof over there.” She pointed. “I only saw him briefly. Seth saw him better than I did.”
Malcolm looked past her, to a man in his mid-twenties, holding a can of lager, who looked like he hadn’t slept in days. He looked like a drug user, with a gaunt face and pasty complexion. “What did you see? Did you recognise him? Was he a local?”
“Dude, I swear it was that guy off the news. Yeah, you know the one. He’s a paranormal guy, or some shit…You know the one, writes them books.”
Malcolm didn’t have a clue who he was talking about. “Who? A paranormal guy?”
“Oh, dude, like, you know, them books he writes about visiting haunted places,” Seth continued. “He goes there, writes about how they aren’t haunted. Right arrogant tosser, you know the one...I should know his name.”
Still none the wiser, Malcolm wished he would stop saying ‘dude’, and ‘like’. He hated it when youngsters put ‘like’ everywhere within sentences. “Nope, sorry! You got me.”
“He means Brandon Fiske, that guy who writes the Hoax series,” a man standing behind Seth explained, who also looked like a drug-user.
Glancing at pretty blonde’s eyes, Malcolm could see how dark they were. And looking down, he saw her holding Seth’s hand. They were together as a group, he finally realised; they must have come straight from a party, or something.
“Nah, it couldn’t be Fiske,” a voice from behind the man behind Seth said, who didn’t look like a part of their group; he was middle-aged, wearing a suit. “Why would he come here?”
“Dude, you’re, like, kidding, right?” Seth turned and faced the nay-sayer. “This is the most haunted place in the country - everyone knows it. I’m, like, surprised he hasn’t been here already.”
“That’s a ton of crap, you know that?” Argued the suit. “If I had a quid for every time I’d heard a ghost story about this place, I’d be a rich man, but it’s all bullshit. I met some girl, who said she was bitten by a ghost in there, but could she prove it? Of course she couldn’t; it was probably her boyfriend, got over-excited. They’re just ghost stories and urban myths, that’s all. It’s a disused mental asylum, so of course it has to be haunted.”
“Yeah? Well, I was chased out of there by something last year,” Pretty Blonde announced. “I felt it touch my back just before I got out. I’m never setting foot in that place again, I can tell you that much.”
“Again, we just have to take your word for it, do we? Where’s your proof? It’s just an old, abandoned building with a history, that’s all it is. It’s an inanimate object; it doesn’t remember, or feel, and it certainly doesn’t attack people.” The suit was confident.
“How do you explain what happened to me, then?” Pretty Blonde turned to Suit, her face red and angry. “Are you calling me a liar?”
Thinking she might punch him any minute, Malcolm waited for the fireworks.
“Look, I’m not calling you a liar.” Suit held his palms out, placating her. “That place just plays tricks with your mind. You feel creeped out, you think you hear something, or in your case, feel something. Then your mind tells you to get out of there, quick. You aren’t the first person to get creeped out, and you won’t be the last, either.”
“You can think whatever you want; I know what I felt,” Pretty Blonde added.
“Babe, you never mentioned that.” Seth pulled her close. “I told you never go in there, didn’t I? You see now? That’s exactly why I won’t go inside.”
It was the first sensible thing Seth had said since Malcolm had arrived. He wouldn’t ever go inside Hellsleigh Hospital, either. Not after what had happened to him and his wife. It sent shivers down his spine, just thinking about it. It gave him nightmares, if he were honest; they weren’t common or garden nightmares, far more vivid than that.
In late June last year, Malcolm’s wife, Hannah answered the landline phone just before bed, only to hear heavy breathing down the line. On the first occasion, she hung up and laughed it off. Night after night it happened, at different times, but always in the evenings, so his wife didn’t know whether to pick up, or not.
After a week of these creepy heavy breathing calls, Malcolm picked one up. While it did sound like heavy breathing, to him it was raspier, like someone, or something trying to talk. He would remember the sound until the day he died.
With goosepimples on his arms, and the hairs on the back of his neck standing at attention, he yelled down the line and slammed the receiver back on its cradle. He was pretty shaken by it and had to drink a few whiskies before bed. In the end, wearing his whisky jacket, he put it down to kids playing a prank. It had to be bored teenagers.
Being an investigative journalist, and curious, he reviewed his itemised phone bill the next day. The same number had called every night for over a week, so he highlighted the number and called BT Customer Services to enquire. After a lengthy chat with the advisor, the voice said, “I’m so sorry about this, Mr. Kingsley, we must have a bug in the system somewhere. Are you sure you’ve given us the right number?” Malcolm told him that he was certain. “Oh! I don’t know how it’s appeared on your bill; this number was disconnected in 1994.” He asked where the number was based. “It’s registered to Hellsleigh Hospital.”
“But it’s been abandoned for fourteen years.” His hands shook.
“Yes, I know. Like I said, it must be a bug in the system. We’ll look into it.”
After work the next night, early July, Malcolm picked up the call at half past nine. It was the same raspy breathing as before, except that this time it spoke.
The words whispered were, “Habitat Hic Nisi Mors”, which sounded like gibberish to him at the time, but the unnatural, other-worldly whisper sent a chill to his very core.
He looked the words up on Google that same night and found the Latin translation: ‘Only Death Dwells Here’.
“There he is.” Suit pointed at the rooftop in front of them.
Malcolm shuddered, remembering those phone calls, which had stopped as suddenly as they’d started. Trying to forget them, he looked up at a guy on the roof. “It is Fiske.” He was amazed, not by Fiske’s presence atop a supposedly haunted building, but rather because his hands were covered in blood, which the heavy rain was washing off.
Behind Malcolm, vans belonging to the scenes of crime officers arrived.
The officers, in their white coveralls strolled up to the police, before being allowed past the cordon.
Too busy watching Fiske, who was staring at his blood-soaked hands, Malcolm was mesmerised by the paranormal investigator he’d seen on TV a number of times. “What’s he doing?” It was mindboggling, watching the revered celebrity making a scene.
“I didn’t do it,” the suited Fiske shouted. “It wasn’t me.”
What was he talking about? Malcolm watched Fiske turn round, his back to them; he was startled at something. Malcolm tried to see what Fiske was looking at – then, another figure emerged up on the third-storey roof. A rather dishevelled, vagrant-looking man faced Fiske. “That’s Oscar!” He recognised Hailsham’s most famous vagrant straight away.
“Who’s Oscar?” Blonde asked.
“He’s our resident tramp.” Malcolm put his hands on the fence, trying to move nearer to get a better view. “What the hell’s he doing up there?”
Oscar the Tramp charged at Fiske, grabbing him by the waist and forcing Fiske backwards. “Oscar, no!” Malcolm yelled, watching, as if in slow motion, as both Fiske and Oscar fell from the roof to a dull thud on the ground.
The crowd gasped in horror as the two men fell to their deaths.
Blood pooled around Fiske’s broken skull.
Able to see where Oscar’s skull had smashed, even brain matter was visible amongst the freely pouring blood. On the ground next to Fiske, Oscar had fared no better; blood was everywhere.
“Shit!” Malcolm was in shock. He bowed his head and listened to the police and paramedics go about their business, trying to save the two clearly dead men.