An extremely silly tale….
The small Highland town of Inveranywhere was much like any other Highland town of a similar size. It had its own Church, its own bank, its own butcher and baker, and every other kind of shop a town of its size might have. On the surface it was a quite unremarkable place but, despite being hidden away on most maps (“head north towards Inverness and turn right before you get there”), it still attracted its share of tourists, all anxious to experience the joys of kilts, whisky, shortbread, haggis and any other stereotype the local agencies had the nerve to try and exploit.
But Inveranywhere had something else. It had something unspeakable.
The town was a place of real evil.
And the evil would silently creep through every inch of the town like a fog, or a strange blackness which was somehow alive. And ultimately it would swallow the entire town whole, consuming them before moving on to seek out its next prey.
Evil opened its eyes, looked around and smiled.
They would learn. Oh they would soon learn.
It was probably safe to say that Sally Fielding knew she was dying. And there were a number of clues as to why it would be correct to assume that she was aware of this fact. Perhaps it was because the young woman lay partially sprawled across the stained concrete floor of the toilet-block, doing what appeared to be the backstroke in an ever growing pool of her own blood. Or maybe it was because, while she was slumped in one corner leaning against the chipped, foul stained old sink, her left arm lay three feet away in the middle of the floor. Or possibly what truly let Sally understand that she was about to meet her maker was the figure which loomed above her brandishing an already blood soaked axe.
“You….” Sally gasped as her life flowed away almost as quickly as the blood gushing from the stump of her left arm. She glanced down at the puddle of red forming around her torso – her expensive trousers were now soaked with blood. As the figure swung the axe above its head, ready to strike down, Sally reflected on the circumstances which lead her to be in the toilets at that particular time. If only she had not ran in for a quick smoke, thus flouting the ban of smoking in public places which she had argued did not apply to toilets. After all, how could a toilet be a public place? Urinating in a public place constituted an offence so if a toilet was a public place she could not urinate there as she would be committing an offence, thus……
Well, her argument had fallen on deaf ears. If only she had agreed to go on her work organised “Stub It Out” course and lunch time aerobic session. If only she had bought the bulk of nicotine patches she’d been offered by the brother of the cousin of the man she’d once met.
As the bloodied axe sliced its way down through the air towards Sally’s head, the unfortunate Miss Fielding’s reaction was magnanimous to say the least.
“Oh bugger,” she gasped, dwelling on the fact that her mother had been so right. Smoking really would be the death of her.
Meanwhile, far, far away something else was stirring. This time it was something of pure innocence and goodness. It was someone who – although he did not know it at the time – might just turn out to be the saviour of the good people of Inveranywhere, and quite possibly the saviour of mankind as a whole.
No pressure then.
There was a quiet, rhythmic hum of snoring mixed in with a gentle tick tock of an alarm clock. A large pile of bedclothes rose and fell gently.
Suddenly: “Wakey wakey rise and shine. Up and at ‘em. It’s the best time of the day.” The unnaturally cheery voice shattered the quietness forcing the pile of bedclothes to stir even more. A large mass of limbs, together with the duvet, groaned and shifted slowly. “We’ll be back in a moment, but first a few adverts.” The bed clothes visibly sighed then were still.
And then a new voice: “Bowel trouble? Bladder problems? Don’t suffer in silence, we are here to help you. Our operators are standing by to take your call. Phone now and receive our limited edition……..” Instantly a pale arm shot out from beneath the bedclothes, quickly silencing the disembodied voice. Almost as quickly as it had appeared, the arm disappeared back under the duvet, which seemed to sigh then settle back into a period of contentment and silence.
But not for long.
“Yoo-hoo, Mr Malone?” The bedclothes visibly groaned and cursed. “Mr Malone. It’s me.” Suddenly the duvet pushed back to reveal the figure of Mr Malone – or Jake as he preferred – dressed in black pajama bottoms and white t-shirt. He sat up blearily, rubbing his eyes just in time to clear his vision and see his bedroom door open. “Oh there you are. Time to get up.” The door closed again quickly and Jake rolled onto the floor with a thud. He managed to free himself from the grip of his bedclothes and stumbled to the door.
“Maggie?” he murmured. And then a moment later he truly found his voice. “Maggie!” He fell out onto the landing, ignoring the remnants of last night’s takeaway, and found himself in the kitchen of his small flat. The smell attacked his nostrils and he retched inwardly. Maggie was already at work on the washing up. “You don’t have to do that,” he said although he was delighted she was. She smiled at him kindly.
“Rough night?” He shrugged in that ‘don’t remember’ kind of way. Suddenly his senses came back to him.
“Hang on you can’t just walk in here when you like. I might be naked.” At this thought, Maggie’s knees buckled under her considerable weight and Jake could have sworn the colour drained from her face in seconds. He moved to her side and pulled her upright again. “Take it easy. You okay?” She pressed a sweaty palm on his bare forearm. He took it as a sign she was still dizzy and squeezed her tighter. Her voice was nothing more than a whisper.
“Just a little bit light headed.” she squeaked. “Not sure what came over me.” However this statement was not exactly true. She knew perfectly well what had ‘come over her’. The mere thought of Jake naked? Maggie recalled with a blush, possibly the greatest moment of her life when Jake had asked her to help him dress in a kilt for a friend‘s wedding. Quite simply it had been for her, a moment to remember, and a memory she would treasure for the rest of her days. It had, however, messed up her blood pressure no end.
Jake helped Maggie to a chair and joined her at the table. She closed her eyes briefly and took a few deep breaths. When she opened them he smiled at her and her face turned a light shade of pink.
“That’s better,” she mumbled. He patted her on the hand.
“So what’s all the excitement then?” She brightened quickly.
“The thing is, we have got a job.” Jake’s ears pricked up at this comment because ‘Jake Malone: Paranormal Investigator Inc’ had not exactly had a huge amount of custom since its inception roughly five year earlier.
“Well,” he said trying to keep his voice as level as possible. Already he could sense the tingle of anticipation which he would experience when there was a case to be solved. “Tell me all about it.” In a flash, Maggie was rummaging through her mock crocodile skin handbag. Triumphantly she produced a piece of paper and – pushing her silver rimmed spectacles back up her face – began to read:
“The local Council Headquarters. Apparently there’s been a murder.”
“A murder?” His brow creased slightly, and he felt the tingle of excitement start to spread.
Maggie looked her boss in the eye and waved the piece of paper. “Shall I?”
“Of course Maggie. Please continue.” She steadied herself and began again. “Apparently there’s……someone was killed. And also, people have seen things.”
“Seen things?” he echoed. Maggie shrugged.
“Apparently.” She looked at her notes, as if for confirmation. “Seen things.” Sighing, Jake leaned towards his friend.
“Could you elaborate slightly? You’re my sidekick. You are Lewis to my Morse, Scully to my Mulder. It would really help if….”
“Ghosts and stuff,” she said, pushing her glasses back up her nose. “People have seen ghosts.” Now it was Jake’s turn to feel light headed. He swung back in his chair and rubbed his forehead. His mouth opened to say something then closed again. “Are you all right Mr Malone?” Again his mouth opened, but he could not managed very much.
“Ghosts?” His voice eventually squeaked into life, in a way which was barely audible to the human ear. Maggie nodded.
“There have been numerous reports in the basement of at least one ghostly figure. And the really strange thing is, each sighting seems to be accompanied by a strong smell of whisky.” Jake looked up at this point, eyes narrowed.
“Whisky? Are you sure it’s not the witnesses who smell of whisky?” Maggie turned her notes over and scanned them quickly.
“No, Mr Malone. It’s definitely the ghost that smells of whisky.” He smiled kindly.
“That was a joke Maggie. A joke all right?” She looked up at him over her glasses. At that moment she reminded him of his old headmistress.
“I know that Mr Malone. Of course I know.” Jake smiled again.
“I know you know. And call me Jake. Please.”
“Yes Mr Malone.”
At that precise moment on the other side of town there was a young woman called Ruth who was convinced that she was about to die. The young woman’s nightmare involved being strapped into a contraption which vaguely resembled that of a dentist’s chair. But no amount of root canal treatment, or dental charges, could come close to mirroring the agony and terror which Ruth was about to endure. This seat where she found herself was anything but a dentist’s chair.
The air was stale and damp yet it seemed to be alive with a strange buzz of electricity. This electric atmosphere was not caused by excitement or anticipation on Ruth’s part, but by power currents lining the stone walls of her prison, which was actually a deserted basement. Ruth was strapped into the chair at the forearms, wrists, knees and ankles. Her eyes darted left and right – an unfortunate result of her squint – then a breath of wind blew across her face.
“Hello?” she said, choking back her fear. “Is someone there?” Footsteps at her side now. One side and then the other. “Hello?” she said again. Silence. “I know you’re there. Say something.” Her voice was thick with fear. “Please.”
“Ah Ruth.” A voice to her left. Ruth tried to crane her neck then realised she was also shackled at the throat.
“I…I can’t….” Tears burned at her eyes then trickled gently down her cheeks.
“So young,” said another voice, this time from the opposite side.
“Please. Please let me go….” she begged as a metal box lowered from the ceiling. The woman on the left placed a bony hand on Ruth’s shoulder, making the young woman cringe at the touch.
“Oh Ruth,” it said as the container reached the top of her head. “So unfortunate. Such a shame.”
“What do you want from me?” Ruth was sobbing now. The other woman pulled the metal box down and opened a hatch. Quickly she jerked the contraption down and pulled it over Ruth’s head, stifling the woman’s screams. The electric buzz grew louder as the two women locked the device shut.
They looked at each other as one reached for a large red switch on the wall behind the chair. With a twinkle in her left eye – her right one was false – she pulled the switch down.
And at that moment it seemed as though Hell had come to Inveranywhere.
The Council Headquarters – or “The Kremlin” as it was known locally – was an imposing building standing at the far end of the main street which cut straight through the middle of the town. It was the prime source of employment for Inveranywhere and the surrounding area. Figures suggested that 64% of the local male population had a wife or cousin working there – occasionally the same person. Every morning, the unfortunate souls who had the privilege of being Council employees could be seen trudging, head down, through the main doorway and into what outsiders would simply assume was their place of employment. But to those who worked there it was known as something else – it was the ‘Pit of Doom’, ‘Hell on Earth’ or ‘If Only I’d Studied a Bit Harder at School’.
It was so easy to spot those employed by the Council, with their permanent glazed expressions, and a general faraway look in their eyes. There were also endless rumours of ‘methods’ which would be tested on new members of staff. ‘Team days’, ‘team work’ and ‘customer focused’ were the watchwords bandied about by Management in snappy soundbites designed to entice new members of staff in the same way that a spider might trap a fly. Staff watchwords tended to be along the lines of ‘piss up in brewery’ and ‘arse from elbow’. However, before members of staff had time to engage in their ‘blue sky thinking’, develop their ‘strong communication skills’ or even begin ‘networking’ they were being packed off on team days, designed to ‘re-program’ them as ‘team players’ and ensure they were all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. Of course, some staff went on team days and never came back at all. But they were never mentioned again. Those who survived knew better.
So this was the joy which awaited Jake and Maggie. On the outside it was a perfectly respectable looking establishment, but deep, deep inside danger lurked for those people who were careless.