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Every Society Breeds The Ghosts It Deserves….

Lethmachen is the most haunted town in England.

 We should know. We have lived here all our lives.

 Yet you have probably never heard of Lethmachen. The town is never mentioned in any book or on any website dedicated to the paranormal.

 This does not mean that Lethmachen is not haunted, it means that people here are afraid to talk.

  A conspiracy of silence? We say ‘Always watch the quiet ones!’

 The purpose of this site is to document the supernatural phenomena of Lethmachen, both contemporary and historical.

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Lethmachen: The Most Haunted Town in England

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  • Available now via Waterstones.com

The first book of tales based on the true accounts documented on this website

13 terrifying tales of Shire Horror, published by Lethmachen Press….

ISBN: 978-1-291-40880-5

Heirlooms Cover

HEIRLOOMS & OTHER GHOST STORIES: published 13th October 2015

by James Stoorie (native of Lethmachen and author of horror)

ISBN: 978-1-326-40836-7

  • Available NOW via Amazon, Lulu.com, Barnes & Noble etc
  • E-book available via Lulu http://www.lulu.com  (ISBN: 978-1-326-44512-6)

Thirteen terrifying tales of the supernatural. Things you dare not even imagine. Modernised updates of the traditional ghost story, the vampire, the phantom hitch-hiker, the imaginary friend, the witches coven. An uncanny landscape of haunted high rises, haunted hospitals, haunted holiday cabins, haunted show homes, haunted music festivals, haunted bird sanctuaries. Think Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood in the 21st Century! An animated film of lead story ‘Heirlooms’ is currently in production (a tale of school children who inadvertently summon up Peg Prowler, a predatory Victorian ghost).

 

A countryside alliance gathering against local residents?

stick

There are few people working the fields these days. Things were different when I was young. Back then Lethmachen was still the rural community it had been for generations and farming the land was still the way that most of us earned a living. Of course that was before all these big office buildings and business types started taking over the town, with their computers and their wine bars and restaurants. If my parents were still alive I doubt they would even recognise Lethmachen today. It’s not the place they grew up in, it’s been changed into somewhere else, and I don’t care what anyone says but the people are different too. For one thing, those of us that remain farmers are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet; nobody seems to care about local produce anymore. That’s why we have no choice but to sell off our land to these property developers. I’ll never understand why we need so many houses, swallowing up the countryside until there’s nothing left. But it’s the truth that people never realise what they’ve lost until it’s gone.

All the folk from the neighbouring farms have signed petitions and gone on protest marches and attended meetings, but I reckon it never does any good. All the Council are interested in these days is money – I suppose what with all the cuts that is to be expected. But it is sad to think that the people in charge of running this town don’t even care about its history, about its roots. When I was growing up the local countryside was not just a place where a few scattered families lived and worked – it was the very heart of the community. Town dwellers would actually make a point of visiting the woods and fields out here. They would come for walking holidays, or for picnics at weekends, or just for a night’s drinking at The Bloated Sow. Its years ago now, but I remember hearing how the whole town was buzzing with excitement over the upcoming barn dance, or the fireworks display, or one of the summer festivals. As children we would spend hours exploring the forgotten pathways that run through the woods. Me and my friends would collect objects on nature trails, or play hide and seek amongst the trees. Sometimes we would even sneak out at night to go ghost hunting! But you never see anyone in the woods nowadays.

Which brings me to the point I am trying to make. Or rather, this seems the right place for me to repeat what other people have been saying. I have gathered, from certain small articles I have read in The Lethmachen Echo, that even folk who live in the centre of town have, over recent weeks, started thinking a lot about our countryside. Although none of these stories have been very specific, they do no more than hint at the details, I have filled in the gaps from local gossip I have picked up when travelling in to the shops. So, if I may be so bold to state the matter in plain words, the fear is that certain ‘things’ are coming down from the woods at night and lurking around the town. Nobody seems able to describe exactly what these ‘things’ look like; those who claim to have seen them could not even say whether they are human or animal or something else. However, all the eyewitnesses agree on a few points – the ‘things’ they saw were “dark and shadowy” (after all, it was always at night) and they moved in a strange, slow manner, as if they are feeling their way along unfamiliar streets and alleys (“like harvestmen moving through long grass”). From what I could learn, there is actually no evidence that these creatures are creeping down from Lethmachen Hill but, typical of town dwellers, everyone seems convinced that the countryside is in some way to blame. The main reason for this makes no sense – eyewitnesses have apparently reported that on the nights following their encounters they have all dreamed about the hill, and in particular that old stretch of trees those who live nearby call ‘The Petrified Wood’.

Of course these days I am too old for such children’s tales. Yet some of my neighbours reminded me that this is not the first time something of this kind has occurred. There were similar rumours back in 1969. I remember that was the year there was the outbreak of Dutch Elm disease, because Lethmachen Hill had been out of bounds all summer, and everyone used that as an excuse not to investigate any further. Anyway, eventually the stories died out. But then came the spring of 1976, when little Linda Snowbed disappeared, and it all began again. Linda was amongst a group of youngsters who had dared each other into exploring ‘The Petrified Wood’, even though they knew it was wrong. If you don’t already know, dead centre in ‘The Petrified Wood’ lies this dense copse, hidden away like it is either very shy or has something to hide. No sunlight is allowed in there, all the branches and hedgerows grow tangled and deep, and hereabouts people whisper of it as ‘The Wood Knot’. I went there myself, just the once, but not the same afternoon as Linda and her friends. Well, somehow the kids got separated during a game, and Linda did not return with the others at dusk. Blanche, her baby sister, had been with her. But when the adults questioned Blanche all they could get out of her was “It was the Ink-Sect! It was the Ink-Sect!” and some garbled story about a tall, thin creature, camouflaged in shadow, that peeled itself off a tree trunk and grabbed hold of her sister. Linda never came home, and once again the hill was out of bounds. Long afterwards, Mrs Snowbed recalled how one of their relatives had kept stick insects as pets, and Blanche had always called them ‘Ink-sects’. More to the point, what followed was a second summer of sightings – of dark ‘things’ creeping through the fields towards the town. Many of the older folk believed it to be Linda’s restless spirit, roaming from ‘The Wood Knot’. In fact, one of my last memories of my grandmother is of her, hunched over in her seat by the fire, shrugging her shoulders and saying sadly “Perhaps she’s alive. Perhaps she’s dead. Either way I suppose she just wants someone to play with”.

Being reminded of these old stories got me thinking about what they had in common. For a start, I realised that on both occasions mentioned above, the sightings of the ‘dark things’ occurred during a summer when the hill was strictly out of bounds. Whole areas were cordoned off – nobody went there; nobody spoke of doing so. This must surely be more than a coincidence, I reckoned with myself, if not the key to the whole mystery. Then I wondered if it could all be connected to what I was discussing earlier. Perhaps the woods are as sensitive as people. Once upon a time they were the centre of attention, they captured all our imagination, they were the first refuge of lovers. The woods were lived in, explored, even worshipped. Perhaps they were even proud of the fear that some people felt for them and the wild tales that followed? But what if people lost interest? What if nobody came to see them anymore, if they were no longer spoken of, nor written about in stories? Would they feel neglected, forgotten, spurned? Over time, would they grow jealous and bitter in the shade, like a jilted lover? Perhaps in their anger the trees and the shadows would breed dark things? And perhaps at nightfall these dark things would leave the woods and go hunting for an audience, gathering them by force? Such things are not unheard of around here, or at least they are half remembered in old folk legends – talk of ‘The Briar Folk’ or ‘The Stickmen’ or ‘The Deciduous People’ – whatever you prefer to call them. Not that I ever paid much attention to such old wives’ tales.

Yet once again it is true that the woods are empty. Just the other day, I barely saw a soul. Modern folk seem content to remain rooted in their homes, staring at their computers or their wide screen televisions. Rarely does anyone venture out into the street, let alone explore their local environment. For some strange reason, people would rather take a holiday abroad than spend a week in Lethmachen. Yes, today there are no children playing on the pavements or out in the woods. I assume the idea is that they will be safer in their own back gardens? Yet the trees hate us if we turn our backs. Rumour has it that ‘The Briar Folk’ are growing more fearless, more reckless. They can camouflage themselves almost anywhere.

French Evening Class speaking in tongues?

office

I believe I am reporting a fraud. There is a possibility that it could be something far worse, but let’s call it fraud, if just to ensure my integrity as a witness. Somehow it seems too early in 2016 for anything significant to happen, January always feels formless to me, as if the year is waiting to take shape. Yet something has happened, something that has compelled me to write. Like many people I optimistically made a few New Year’s resolutions over the Christmas period. One of these was to learn a language. Over the previous twelve months I had come to feel my life’s parameters were far too limited, a sensation no doubt shared by many Lethmachen residents, or in fact anyone living in a small town. Perhaps learning a foreign language would open up new opportunities, new possibilities for me? I had decided that to begin with French was the best option as I at least had some experience of studying the subject at school, although little of what I had learnt seemed to stick. It wasn’t that I felt any great affiliation with French culture – there are few French nationals, or indeed any international immigrants, living in Lethmachen. Yet I had to accept I did not really have the confidence to throw myself into anything more exotic, more challenging. I imagined I would find it awkward enough being back in a learning environment after all these years, and I was slightly anxious at the prospect of making a fool of myself in front of the other students.

If it wasn’t for the advertisement I probably wouldn’t have acted and, as is so common, any ambition to change myself would no dount have faded by February. However, the little classified posting in the back pages of The Lethmachen Echo appeared an act of fate. ‘French For Beginners – An Intensive Two Week Course’. Everything sounded ideal: classes were beginning immediately, running 8pm every weeknight, and it would all be over so quickly I would hardly have time for second thoughts. Perhaps the fortnight would give me a taste for a more advanced programme or equally, if I did not enjoy the experience, I could quickly strike it from the ‘bucket list’. Inspired by a renewed sense of purpose, I phoned the number at the foot of the ad, wondering if the ‘limited places’ had already been filled. I suppose the more cautious side of my personality half hoped I was too late, yet after a few cursory questions about my (lack of) language skills, the flat, nameless voice at the end of the line announced I was in. I had heard these type of courses could be quite expensive, however when I enquired the fees they seemed very reasonable; suspiciously affordable I might say in retrospect. Nonetheless I must emphasise they still took my money under false pretences and, regardless of the cost, this amounts to fraud.

The following, frosty Monday evening I walked the twenty minutes across town to Stark House. During the day this rather drab 60’s built office block is home to various insurance and telemarketing firms. Many people I used to go to school with have worked there at one time or another. Yet by night the building is deserted and looks a bit forbidding: I could not see any lights on any levels and the glass foyer was locked up and also plunged into darkness. For a moment I thought I had somehow come to the wrong place, but then I noticed the laminated A4 sheet stuck to the front doors, directing ‘French Beginners’ to a side entrance. After climbing a flight of stairs sparsely illuminated by emergency strip lights I came to a landing and a set of lifts. Following another set of instructions fixed to the wall I took the lift up to the fifth floor and turned right, then left, then right down a dimly lit warren of corridors. A dozen shadowy figures were waiting in awkward silence outside the door of Room 5.17, looking as if they had been summoned to the headmaster’s office. We all briefly exchanged greetings before slipping back into silence, taking it in turns to glance expectantly up and down the corridor, waiting for an instructor we had never met.

The whole class jumped as the door behind them was suddenly flung open and, simultaneously, the windowless room within flickered into light. Our tutor, who announced himself as Mr Carnall, had apparently been in the classroom the whole time, oblivious to his prospective students gathering outside, presumably sitting motionless and mute whilst contemplating the darkness. My first impression of Mr Carnall was that, although he ushered us in with a show of great warmth and enthusiasm, his grin was more like a grimace and he studied each of us as we entered with hard, bird-like eyes. Nevertheless, during his induction speech he was considerate and re-assuring, insisting that none of us should worry if we initially felt out of our depth or struggled with the unfamiliar words and pronunciation. He also advised us to focus all of our attention on this intensive course, and not to get distracted by reading external materials, or be lured into practicing our new found skills on any French speakers. Mr Carnall was concerned that any outside influence could be detrimental to our confidence, as it can be so easy to be misunderstood. We must bear in mind that we were only ‘beginners’, and ‘there are, of course, many different dialects’. On completing his welcome, our tutor insisted we undergo that usual, painful rigmarole of going round the classroom so each of us could introduce ourselves. The majority of those attending had, like me, chosen to take the course simply because they were searching for something new in their lives. A couple of the younger students explained they were considering travelling or studying exchange degrees, whilst the more self-important types asserted they were learning the language for ‘business purposes’. When asking about our previous experience of French (nearly all of us had only fleeting memories of being taught it at school), I now recall that Mr Carnall seemed annoyed when one attendee, whose name I forget, admitted that he had distant relatives in France and had picked up the basics on his occasional visits. Although this student assured the tutor that brushing up on the essentials was what he needed, and he appeared enthusiastic during that first lesson, I noticed he was absent from all subsequent classes.

At the beginning of each lesson Mr Carnall would hand around our text books, in reality well-thumbed photocopied manuals, all of which had to be returned to the tutor at the end of class. ‘L’heure est venue! French For Beginners’ was set in bold text on the front page. The lessons followed a fairly typical format, stirring up vaguely unpleasant memories of school: the whole class reading and re-reading certain passages out loud until they sounded like some kind of ritualistic chant, role playing games structured around strange and unlikely scenarios, listening to audio tapes and watching video clips of strangers going about their lives in cities that look similar to ours but sound uncannily different. Perhaps as a child I had found learning a new language a little intimidating, a little unnerving, but just accepted it. At that age, I suppose the wider world seems like an alien planet. Yet I was disappointed at myself that now, as an adult, I was finding the whole experience even more unsettling than I remembered. It is difficult even with hindsight to pinpoint the root of my anxieties, only I was finding it almost impossible to follow the flow of conversations or the logic of texts; to me the participants in the recorded conversations sounded lost, almost frightened, and the performances of the actors in the videos seemed to imply a darker purpose beneath the bland surface. Matters were not helped by the addition of ‘Malfie’, a cartoon character who appeared in a few panels at the end of every chapter in our texts books. I assume he was designed to lighten the mood, whilst recapping a few grammar points. However, there was something sinister about this faun-like creature who always seemed to be lurking amongst the trees in the middle of nowhere. And what was the purpose of that ominous, dilapidated barn that the artist felt compelled to sketch in as part of the backdrop?

Fortunately, I was not alone. The three-hour classes were always relieved by a twenty-minute coffee break at 9.30pm, when we dozen students huddled into a small kitchen area attached to an adjacent office (I was not sure what Mr Carnall did during this time, but he never once joined us). A number of my classmates admitted, in moderate tones, that they were also finding the course more demanding than they expected, possibly too advanced. We confided that we often found ourselves misinterpreting the subject matter, or reading things into the dialogues that surely could not have been intended. If I ever looked over at Danielle, the woman who occupied the desk next to mine, I was aware that her eyes constantly held a look of bewilderment, sometimes bordering on fear. ‘And what about those ‘Night Tapes’ we’ve been given to listen to at home…’ she said to me during one coffee break ‘Don’t they give you nightmares?’ Frustratingly, at that point our conversation was interrupted by Roger Akeley, one of those ‘business purposes’ people who had soon emerged as the star pupil in the class. He was always seeking to inspire us with unsolicited pep talks and encouraging us to stick with the programme to the end. ‘Believe me, by the time we get to the final test next Friday you’ll really appreciate those ‘Night Tapes’…’ he enthused ‘It makes it all so easy…you can learn in your sleep! I reckon we don’t even realise how much we already know, what is stored in the back of our minds. Those tapes bring back things we thought had been forgotten’. In spite of his determination to sound persistently optimistic, there was something dry and ruthless underlying Roger’s delivery, prone to slipping out if ever someone disagreed with his opinion in class. It was his true voice that I thought I recognised. Had I met him before? It is only now that I realise how much he sounded like that voice on the other end of the telephone. The one that had guaranteed me a place on the course.

The ‘Night Tapes’ are the key to this whole affair; the exhibit I can enter into evidence. These were the only items that were permitted to leave the classroom with us, presumably because Mr Carnall thought it unlikely that anyone still owned the technology to copy the old fashioned cassettes contained within the Walkmans. The idea was that we would listen to these tapes whilst we were sleeping and absorb the knowledge without conscious effort. The cassettes were certainly effective in sending me off to sleep – the monotony of the endlessly repeated phrases and sentences merging into a soporific incantation. These solemn intonations must have continued to run through my dreams for, just as Danielle suffered, I too had nightmares. On waking all I would be able to recall was the imposing outline of a dilapidated barn, framed in silhouette against a rural night sky. Also, other sounds only half concealed by the chanting chorus of voices – the clashing of antlers, the clutter of cloven feet, the excited baying and whinnying of what must surely have been animals. Then the cacophony and the images would be cut dead, I imagine because in my sleep I had reached the end of the tape.

It was on the Thursday night of that second week, the night before the class had to sit their final test, that I received some unexpected visitors. I hadn’t really socialised since New Year’s Eve; obviously my weeknights were now occupied and I typically spent my weekends pacing the flat reciting passages from the ‘Night Tapes’. A couple of my friends had become concerned by my new reclusiveness and took it upon themselves to call round shortly after my return from Stark House. Steven and Sonia arrived bearing a couple of bottles of wine. At first I attempted to politely decline their company, explaining that not only did I have work in the morning but I needed this evening to revise for my French test the following night. There would be no time to swot up tomorrow as I was required to report to Stark House slightly earlier than usual. Mr Carnall had informed us that his company’s ‘Test Centre’ was located on the rural borders of Lethmachen, and he had hired a minibus to drive us out to The Old Tithe Barn. Yet my friends can be very persuasive, pointing out it was too late now to learn anything new, and sure enough we were soon settled down chatting and drinking. Unfortunately, I was completely exhausted as a result of my hectic schedule over the last fortnight, and must have fallen asleep in their company. It could only have been a matter of minutes, yet I was roughly shaken awake to find Steven and Sonia stood over me, their expressions troubled, accusatory. Had I been talking in my sleep? Apparently so…

‘That language is not French! Whatever language you were speaking, it definitely wasn’t French’ argued Steven, an English tutor at International House in Lethmachen. ‘If anything, it reminded me of a medieval English dialect, long fallen from use. From what I could piece together, it sounded like a call to worship, some kind of invocation beckoning something or someone back from the past…’ What I had been murmuring in my sleep were the teachings of the ‘Night Tapes’, yet the words and sounds I had uttered had so disturbed my friends that they feared I had suddenly fallen ill. After the initial shock had worn off, we were all able to laugh about it. Well, at least for a short while. Steven and Sonia convinced me that the classes I had been attending were all part of some elaborate hoax, designed to fleece a few gullible souls of the registration fee. ‘Whatever you do, do not attend the test tomorrow’ my friends cautioned me ‘They’ll probably just try and scam you for more money. Or get you somewhere isolated and rob you. There must be a reason they continued with these fake lessons after all of you had paid in advance’. It was agreed that the next day during my lunch hour I would visit Stark House in daylight, and alert the management company as to what was occurring on their premises after hours. However, when I stormed into the foyer shortly after noon and began ranting about Carnall and his phoney ‘French’ lessons, the staff of Stark House gawped at me as if I had lost my mind. There were no evening classes taking place in their offices, they assured me, that would breach health and safety regulations. They had never heard of this Mr Carnall or had any contact with him. Desperate, almost in a state of panic, I attempted to force those present to listen my ‘Night Tapes’. Unfortunately, at that point, I was escorted from the building by security.

I feel no shame in admitting I was angry…I am angry. Why are there such people in the world, whose only goal seems to be to profit from exploiting and humiliating others? My only crime, weakness if you will, was a cautious desire to expand my horizons, to try and make small changes to my life. Do I deserve to be punished for this? I am curious to know whether Danielle and my other classmates also uncovered the deception. Did they attend the final test at The Old Tithe Barn? Are they now walking around unaware that their language qualification isn’t worth the paper it is printed upon? They were only passing acquaintances; I haven’t heard from any of them or seen them about town since the day before the test. One of my motives for sharing this story on your website is to let them know that if they wish to join forces and lodge a legal complaint against Mr Carnall and his cronies, they will have my full co-operation. After all, in any language, F-R-A-U-D spells fraud.

 

Another teenage couple fall victim to ‘The Writhings’?

lane

If you cast your mind back just a few short months, to Thursday April 30th 2015 to be precise, you will recall the local media reports regarding the disappearance of Flora Logan and Peter Earley. No clues to the couple’s whereabouts were forthcoming and yet, as there were also no bodies discovered, there remained a glimmer of hope for the families of the missing teenagers. Unfortunately, as is common in these cases, when it became obvious that there would be no immediate resolution to the mystery the Lethmachen Echo and its readership soon lost interest in following the story. Life moves on, new priorities arise, things that once seemed they could never be forgotten gradually fade in to the background. That is why, a scant eight months later, I feel the need to remind you of the details of the case.

Although, in fact there are no details, only rumour and innuendo. Peter’s car was discovered, abandoned, in a secluded wooded hollow in the early evening of Friday 1st May. His family had reported him missing late that afternoon on receiving a concerned phone call from the school secretary. Peter had not attended classes that day and had therefore missed taking part in a science project that counted towards his final assessment, behaviour that seemed completely out of character to his teachers and peers. Flora’s father and elder sister were both working away that week and her absence was not quite so out of the ordinary. However, at some point during the brief interviews conducted by local police officers, one of their mutual friends had let slip that Peter and Flora had planned a ‘secret’ rendezvous that night. Their destination: a ‘lover’s lane’ on the outskirts of town.

One of the initial stumbling blocks for the search was that this ‘lover’s lane’ did not really have a name. Or perhaps had too many. Yet it did not seem to take long for the police (and journalists) to identify the location that Peter and Flora’s friends had in mind. For, although they may call it different things, the majority of Lethmachen residents would be able to pinpoint exactly where to find this ‘lover’s lane’. Even if, like myself, you were never blessed with an opportunity to spend an evening there, you would be aware of the ‘lane’ as an essential part of local folklore. It is to some degree neglected because it is not a place anyone would choose to visit during the day. The surrounding countryside is unattractive, there is nothing to see there and it leads to nowhere. It is simply a dirt track that lies semi -concealed a couple of miles down Two Sticks Lane, that lonely stretch of roman road heading out of town. Some claim that this dirt track used to function as a bridlepath and was known as ‘The Ridings’. Nowadays, if it is spoken of at all, you are more likely to hear locals jokingly refer to it as ‘The Writhings’.

As I have acknowledged, the written facts are scarce. In the police statement, they announced they had discovered Peter’s car in a natural wooded hollow just off the main track. Its position suggested it had been deliberately parked at an angle that ensured privacy, hidden from prying eyes behind the lush, dark green foliage of the encircling trees and hedgerows. Mr Earley had only recently purchased the vehicle for his son, and the car was found in pristine condition, although the doors had been flung open and the contents of the car scattered about the immediate area. Amongst this debris the police retrieved ‘certain objects of interest’ that they concluded were ‘anomalous to the scene’ and would thus be ‘pursued as lines of enquiry’. What exactly these objects were has never been revealed, presumably to protect the integrity of the investigation. Inevitably this led to increasingly wild conjecture in certain sections of the local press. One version of events, that gives the impression of arising from school gossip, is that Peter’s mobile phone was actually retrieved from the scene. Although this has never been acknowledged by the authorities, the story goes that the phone contained a number of ‘intimate’ photographs of Flora, taken as dusk fell on the very night the couple disappeared. As the light fails in the woods, the camera seems to catch something over Flora’s shoulder, something indistinct within the trees, a dark outline contrasting with her pale skin. Nobody seems certain whether this silhouette may be human or animal but it is said, in the final image, Flora’s nervous smile has faltered into an anxious frown.

‘Evidence of sexual activity and droplets of blood’ were identified both inside the car and in the woods outside, yet Flora and Peter were most definitely gone. Apparently they had either been forcibly abducted or had fled the scene yet, if they had fled, there were no obvious signs to the route they had taken. ‘There is no road through the woods’. Theories the teenagers had eloped for a ‘dirty weekend’ were soon dismissed as days progressed into weeks without the couples return. Gradually, starved of any further information, all but those closest to Peter and Flora began to lose interest and seemingly, even for the police, the case took a backseat. Yet, before we all started to forget, we were vaguely aware that this was not the first time such an incident had occurred. Frustratingly, the dates and names initially eluded me. But a little basic research brought to light what was lying dormant in Lethmachen’s collective unconscious. 1996: Jennifer Thorley and Bram Walden. 1983: Debbie Mackman and Wayne Hobson. 1967: Imogen Bloom and Rich Harvest. There were more, dating back as far as I was able to trace through old editions of the Lethmachen Echo. All were couples reported missing after spending a night at ‘The Writhings’. All had vanished in the spring, typically during late April or early May, presumably as this is when the nights begin to grow warmer. None were ever found. Surely the dates are spaced too far apart to imply the work of some undetected serial killer, and yet the repetitions within this sequence give these disappearances an almost ritualistic feel.

In the wake of the most recent disappearance, and made restless by my own superficial research, I decided to question some of Flora and Peter’s peers about what they thought may have happened that night. Unfortunately, the interviews were compromised by the usual problems when you try to talk to anyone in Lethmachen about ‘The Writhings’. The majority of answers were ambiguous, evasive, or outright hostile. Neither Flora nor Peter had mentioned specific plans for the evening of 30th April, but nevertheless somehow everyone I spoke to knew they were intending to drive out to the ‘lover’s lane’. ‘Nobody ever really talks about that place’ one source, who wished to remain anonymous, told me ‘for a start, it doesn’t even have a proper name. But you just know when you are supposed to go there, that’s all’. When I asked him to explain what he meant, a female companion interrupted, blushing slightly: ‘You know, you just get a feeling, a bit nervous but excited at the same time, like butterflies in your stomach. That’s when you know it’s your turn that night’. ‘Everybody knows about it’ explained another schoolgirl ‘everybody understands what happens there’. But do they really, I began to wonder? After all, how do you discuss a place without a name, a place that must at once be private yet public knowledge, an experience that must be simultaneously intimate yet boasted of in public? In some ways, it is necessary ‘The Writhings’ is kept secret, for imagine the inconvenience if everyone knew of it, if the whole town felt compelled to pull up there on the same night! And yet, the word must start somewhere. Who is it who firsts designates a certain location as a ‘lover’s lane’? How and why do they then propagate this knowledge? Is it passed from lover to lover, like a virus?

There has recently been renewed interest in the case of Flora Logan and Peter Earley. Last month, two local couples ‘hunting for wild mushrooms’ in the vicinity of ‘The Writhings’ unearthed the remnants of a curious statue. On initial examination, archaeology academics have tentatively proposed the statue represents some form of pagan deity, and perhaps was once the centre piece of a shrine dedicated to ancient fertility rites. Intriguingly, this discovery suggests that perhaps the ‘love’ long predates the ‘lane’?

 

Patient discovers the dark things lurk behind us all…

loo

Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

I am not the first to write this I know, but I do apologise for the personal and quite horrible nature of what follows. This all turns on the subject of digestion. I have been plagued by irregular bowel movements for some time. I dealt with this in my own way for a while, but eventually I found myself talking to a doctor and was diagnosed with Celiac disease. I was not even that convinced of this then, and now I really do have my doubts. I altered my diet, and there was a change, of course, but the whole unpleasant experience of evacuating was still something I had to do. Horrible, as I said. There is only so much one can take before alternative therapies are looked for. I went through my quota of cranks before I was directed to your neck of the woods, and to the clinic of XXXX.  You may laugh, but he isn’t that well known beyond your borders. I certainly didn’t know. It’s remarkable how one’s relationship with the internet can change: I was no longer looking for the hidden, but the exposed and present. I wanted to encounter something that offered a way out, and that was that.

The therapy was as odd as you can imagine, and probably the less I say about it the better There was lots of lights, and I lay down on a bed in a dishevelled room, and XXXX sat with me and twinkled and laughed, whilst his assistants took blood, and my temperature, and asked some irrelevant seeming questions.  I left without much hope.

That night, as I was sitting on the toilet, having as little luck as usual, I had a peculiar experience. At that time, I hadn’t got round to shaving the hair around my anus – this is something many of us end up doing – and I felt it – well – I felt it twisting, or uncurling. It is possible for it to do this, I suppose, so for a moment I made nothing of it. The feeling did not go away, however. There was a light but determined movement there, it seemed to me. Well, I stood up, got a razor, manoeuvred myself into a peculiar position, and began to shave, using the bathroom mirror as a guide. I then sat down once more. My skin was tingling, but that could not account for the feeling that followed. It was delicate and groping, and again the sensation was as if something were stretching itself. A moment after, I heard the splash of something hitting the water below.

It was only a few hours before I found myself upon the toilet once more, and it was with growing concern that once more I felt the peculiar sensation in that most intimate area. I focused upon it. Yes, I could feel the soft, cobweb touch, but also a kind of miniature wiry strength somewhere behind it. I knew there was something in my rectum as well, and it was moving. I am aware of the lack of agency that accompanies certain bowel movements, good or bad, but this was something different: it was as if whatever was there was being dragged along, and most determinately not by me. And now, as I concentrated, I found I could identify not a single touch upon my outer body, but four or five points of pressure, and with that a hard lump of something seemed to pull away from me. I turned around and looked: nothing amiss, but I knew something was not right, so I put down some toilet paper and squatted by the side of toilet. At once, it was as if a number of tiny arms, like thick, articulated hairs, were reaching out of me, prizing me apart, and then heaving out a body of matter. I felt this drop, but instead of a thud, there was the slightest tap below me, and – with no more sound than a cheque being written – I caught, for a second, the sight of something, perhaps two inches long, scurrying away. I reached out for it, and, surprised at my own speed, I pulled the door to before it had a chance to escape. What lay before me was nothing but hard, compacted bodily waste. The legs, I realised, had been drawn in. The thing was not unlike a stick insect in that respect, although in its movement and generally physiology, I was reminded far more of the spider.

I am not unaware of the way this will be reported. I decline to add my name for this reason. And I do know that, in the broadest possible terms, I am probably mad. Certainly that is how I will be seen. For this reason I cannot see my doctor. I know what is prescribed on these occasions, and it will advisedly effect my condition. I think it unlikely that XXXX’s cure was biological in the strictest sense. Indeed, the most likely explanation seems to me that I have in some way been hypnotised. If anyone has any genuine knowledge of this area, please get in touch with this website. It might be thought that all is reasonably well with me. I no longer strain, and I do not retain fecal matter, yet the creatures are more terrible than I could ever explain. They have dethroned me – that is the best way I can explain it. They are a foreign force, an alien more profound than fecal matter or food could ever be. My relationship with my partner is coming under severe strain, and more than anything I do not want to lose her. We cannot share a bed, lest the beasts make themselves known. Please help – I am in hell,

Yours X

Do local parents have more to worry about than the latest Ofsted results?

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After the ignoble defeat of his Party of the Fields and Trees in this year’s election, which saw labour and Liberal candidates urge their supporters to back Katherine Knot, their Tory rival, Lord Carrier all but disappeared from public view.

He has recently returned as a philanthropist, or so his press office would have it, bank-rolling a school to serve the Lethmachen area, despite there being no dearth of other providers, nor any existing demand for alternative services. “The Carrier Free School” sees its mission as “widening participation” with a focus on the “total pedagogical transformation” of the under-privileged.

It is not for us to cast aspersions on such a no doubt well intentioned endeavour, and thus it is with regret that we learn that the project has already encountered difficulties. An early Ofsted inspection has been postponed due to a lack of students. The school points out that it had not officially opened its doors when it received notice of the immanent visit, and takes this as an opportunity to launch into an attack on government bureaucracy. This has caused no little confusion, as witnesses claim to have seen a number of children about the premises. Young relations of the newly appointed staff, the school maintains, and has gone so far as to publish admissions data and financial plans in the local paper. The school is set to open in autumn 2016.

Adding to the school’s woes is the recent bizarre footage of various teachers and governors caught off-guard, and behaving in a less than professional manner. There is nothing untoward about the images. In one, Douglas Codswell, on record as a geography teacher, is filmed standing alone and holding a flask. He is biting its lid and talking to himself. As he does, his eyes are fixed and open, and his head bobs from one side to another, punctuating the little sing-song sentences, the precise words of which are impossible to catch.

In another video, Martin Ryder, Deputy Head, and local businessman Marty Reynolds are filmed together. Martin, the taller man, is facing Marty, his arms round him. Marty’s arms are hanging by his sides. The two are circling round, Marty quietly gurgling with laughter, and Martin muttering, again in a sing-song voice.

This peculiar, child-like behaviour has, thus far, been regarded only as proof of the silly and odd nature of Lord Carrier and his various enterprises. To us, however, it carries a peculiar, uncanny charge.

Or is it just your imagination, running away with you?

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The conversation that set in motion this chain of events was hardly memorable. A chance meeting with a childhood friend who I had not seen in years. That perhaps makes the incident sound more romantic and more significant than it felt at the time. In fact this individual had never been more than an acquaintance, even when we had shared a classroom back at primary school. We both spent a couple of years lingering on the fringes of the same gang – that is all. No doubt this explains why our adult conversation soon grew so strained and awkward. We had literally run into each other during a busy lunch break, both of us impatiently scouting for seats in a crowded café. He seemed to recognise me immediately, which must have instantly put me on my guard. A little bit of background: I am one of those rare souls from our hometown who has spent most of his life living and working away from Lethmachen. Yes I returned a year or two ago, but to be honest the demands of my career have allowed little opportunity for nostalgia and I never had the time for looking up old friends. Nevertheless I suppose it was only natural that our conversation was quickly directed towards those people we once had in common. It was not my intention to be rude or dismissive, but I genuinely struggled for something to say. At first I could not summon up any of the faces of the names mentioned, nothing but an indistinct blur of half formed faces in school uniforms. Then, out of nowhere, something came back to me. ‘Matthew Dolly?’ My companion fell silent, and studied me noncommittally, as if I had said something mildly offensive or inappropriately intimate. No, he did not recall anyone by that name. Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Matty had been as insignificant as we had been, just another boy on the margins, never the centre of attention with the boys or a favourite with the girls. If my memory served me right, he had actually been subject to a certain amount of teasing, on account of his effeminate surname and a nervous stutter.

My companion left shortly after, suddenly recalling that he needed to be back at the office in time for an important meeting. It meant nothing to me – the conversation had been stilted, inconsequential, and I did not expect to give it a second thought. However over the next few days it kept cropping up in my mind at the least opportune moments: in the middle of a delivering a corporate presentation or in the middle of the night. I suppose I was being oversensitive, guilty about not having been more open towards my old acquaintance. I found myself dwelling over every word uttered as some people are inclined to do. Why had he not remembered Matthew Dolly? The more I thought about that strange boy the more long forgotten details I was able to sketch in. Yes, on the whole he had simply been a face in the crowd – one of the substitutes for the football team or an anonymous shepherd during the nativity play. And yet there had been a handful of occasions when we had actually spent some quality time together…alone. Once Matty had turned up unexpectedly at my house on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t even aware he knew where I lived. My family were out – I had played up a slight cold to avoid having to trawl around the shops in the town centre. Matty and I spent three or four hours making up games in the attic, hunting through dusty boxes I knew I was not supposed to touch. It had been fun, but I remember I made him leave before my parents returned. After all, I was supposed to be ill. There was another time when I returned his visit. He lived with his grandmother in this old house on the hill that everyone thought had been empty for years. Matty invented some kind of treasure hunt because he had acres of overgrown gardens and lots of empty rooms. In one of these there were lots of dolls. Nothing but a heap of china dolls, lying neglected upon the floorboards, their eyes fixed on the door we had inched open.

Thankfully as the busy weeks passed I gradually forgot all about Matthew Dolly, resigned him to history once more. Then one evening recently I was enjoying a meal with my parents in a local restaurant. It was something they said that stirred everything up again, that raised the gnawing sense of doubt that has plagued me ever since. It began with the most casual of remarks. Perhaps these things often do. My parents were already in the preliminary stages of organising a small New Year’s Eve party for a few of the neighbours. It was a tradition down their road that each household took a turn as hosts as this year was the turn of my parents. This led to a discussion of the gatherings they used to host when they first moved to Lethmachen, and I was about five years old. As I grew older, and I assume my parents felt successfully assimilated into the community, these little soirées became few and far between. Yet they were a significant part of my early years, when every weekend I would be dragged out of bed to meet the assembled guests. As a nervous child, I always found being paraded in front of a crowd of slightly drunk strangers quite intimidating. My parents understood this and so, my duties over, I would then be permitted to retreat to the kitchen with a glass of lemonade and a plate of cheese and pineapple on sticks. There was one person I always enjoyed seeing though, who would pop his head into the kitchen with a friendly smile, either to tell me a joke or to smuggle me a handful of peanuts he had pinched from the glass bowl in the living room. He was, I think, a work colleague of my father’s. That is, I had never seen him around the area so I assumed he was not a neighbour. Somehow he seemed younger than the other party guests and his name was David Christmas. I shared this memory with my parents.

‘There was no such person, you must have imagined him!’ Both my parents were adamant about this, insistent even. Suddenly, inexplicably, my thoughts flashed back to Matthew Dolly. There seemed to be a connection, something I had overlooked. Could it be that I had imagined them both? Before I had time to consider the implications, my parents had proceeded with the conversation. No, they had only thrown a few of those evening parties, and there had been nobody present called David Christmas. Perhaps it was one of their friends playing a joke, although they could not imagine from my description whom it could be. Anyway, as they had explained, they had never really felt comfortable hosting those events, full of people they soon discovered they felt nothing in common with. If anything, the experience had only made them feel more isolated in their new neighbourhood. Instead they had soon settled on a more sedate arrangement with a certain couple they had become particularly friendly with. Did I not remember June and Geoff Ainsell? They used to come over for a meal every other Saturday night? No, try as hard as I might, I could not picture these people at all. I was about to say so when something terrible dawned on me. Perhaps my parents had imagined June and Geoff Ainsell, much as it appeared I had imagined David Christmas and Matthew Dolly? Should I dare suggest this possibility to them? But how could I? Too much time had passed, it would only upset things.

For I was beginning to recognise there was always a fragile sense of narcissism in the developing of an imaginary friend. A need to reassure ourselves that an imaginary friend lived only for us, that only our behaviour could impact upon their mood, that we alone could appoint a time for their final dismissal. Yet what if this belief were mistaken? What if imaginary friends were non-exclusive? What if in fact they were as indifferent to you, as sporadic in their interest, as ‘real friends’ so often were? Perhaps their needs were as fleeting and fickle as our own and they would only ever be peripheral characters in our lives. But then, how to identify an imaginary friend, to distinguish them from a real one, either at the time or with hindsight? Would there be a tell-tale sign in the purpose they served, or would their true nature be almost unobservable? How many of the people I had thought I had known in the past had in fact only existed in my imagination? For many weeks now I have been able to dismiss this anxiety, to get the fear out of my head.

 

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