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Archive for the ‘Folklore’ Category

Lethmachen residents take to the polls on whether bats should leave or remain…

swarm-1

Comment One:

The decision over the fate of the bats in Lethmachen church has been upmost in our minds of late, and as we have, as a community, finally resolved the issue, it is felt by all of us at Lethmachen Haunted, that the many strange and intriguing narratives the controversy has thrown up can at last be addressed. The input of the Party of the Fields And Trees has, of course, been a central (if I may say, inflated) area of interest, yet there are many other hidden areas of experience that the events have brought to light. As a publication that is neutral on political matters, until recently we had decided to pursue a policy of silence.                               

Here, then, the first post related to what has popularly become known as ‘the bat massacre’    

Jon Hawkes, MA, acting editor.

Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

It is important that it is understood from the off that I have little interest in the supernatural, and that, further, for me, organised religion is comfortably at home in that category. My knowledge of my husband’ s proclivities in this area date from a note I woke to find after staying at his for the first time (he gracefully submitted to the couch): he had gone to the Big House, and I was instructed to find breakfast. Well, by then, I was hooked, poor me, and it was not long before we went up there together, in front of witnesses.

For many years – ten at a guess – I could classify my husband’s faith as appropriate. Sunday morning was never much to me in the way of public activity, and he never put pressure on me to attend. There were fetes, but not too many.

It was the bat massacre, or the debates leading up to it, that tempted him to something more. I think anything else I would have seen coming. When we first heard, it seemed such a natural matter, the church hardly figured. He was there among the banner wavers, and I too for a while, but those first few big meetings turned into regular, smaller gatherings, and then this became a vigil, and it was he who kept it, almost always. Another woman might have thought there was another woman, but I knew better. Or thought I did.

One night, after he came home, I moved to salvage something, and so I had prepared a meal, and I opened wine, and I talked of bats, and listened. What did I hear back that made me cry? Not the fact of the animal’s impending doom – because even though we all said it could not happen, and even thought that to ourselves, somewhere I think we knew that, for some horrible narrative necessity, it must  – and not the viciousness of human nature, or the stupidity of opinion easily held. It was simply the pity of it all, I suppose, the pity of him, and us.

At the time, I thought the effect my crying had on him – and the effect really was superb – was that of a woman to a man. I was so vulnerable, and he untouched, and it was that that touched him. Not that he touched me. But he stopped, and looked, like he had not looked towards me in six months or more. And his hand even reached out, and a finger extended, and this to almost an inch of my cheek. He was soon out again, of course, but when he returned, something had changed in our relationship. The tension was no longer there. He did not back away from me. He didn’t avoid me. He did not, admittedly, become tactile, nor did he rush into conversation. He said little to me, perhaps even nothing. But he would look. And he was entranced.  One night, he placed a little tray of milk and sweets at the foot of our bed, and bent his knees, and stayed that way a while, before moving quietly out. I listened for him on the stairs but heard nothing. When he did not attend on me – and there were hours when he did not – he seemed comfortable with this. He was no longer worried about me: a husband not worried that his wife was alone. I saw it as a blessing.

After the tears, and with this new arrangement, I began take an interest, and that was how I came to read the papers, and then unroll the posters, and turn the banners, and visit the website. It is strange what need allows  – strange even in those who beliefs might lead one to assume a low threshold on belief to be in operation, but, yes, a statue had indeed begun to weep in Lethmachen Church. It really was the first I had heard of. My husband undoubtedly saw this as a sign: every sparrow that falls, and all that.  He had quite a group behind him. The virgin was on their side, weeping for all her worth to stop Lord Carrier and his ilk.

That there was a connection could not be denied, and, yes, it might have been, and might be still, that I had been elevated in his eyes by the statues tears, yet my sense of it remains firmly pointed in the opposite direction: my tears had enabled him to pin me for an object. If I cried, and if this made him feel…well, anything….then it was a situation encountered once before at least, and recently. Conclusions could be drawn, roles cast, and peace returned. What else was there to think, but that emotional woman are made of stone, or that stone is fashioned into the shape of emotional women?

I left without a note, packing my belongings, at least the ones I could stand to see, in the two suitcases we had taken with us on our honeymoon, the same that had contained my worldly goods when I moved in.  A day or two later, so I have now heard, they killed all the bats.

Comment Two:

Lethmachen Haunted is not touched by political bias, as was made clear in our most recent post. It is with due caution, then, that we approach the subject of the recent environmental intervention at the church. We take the reaction to this from some quarters to exemplify the worst excesses of contemporary irrationalism, and the following report is very much in the spirit of Charles Mackay’s Madness of Crowds.  The very name attached to recent events is illuminating in this regard: ‘bat massacre’ introduces a subtle anthropomorphism, while removing the cull from the variety of contextual factors that grant it genuine significance.

The facts in the matter are plain: the bat population in the church had recently increased to an unsustainable level. The fabric of the church was suffering, services were regularly disrupted, and the balance of our local ecosystem had been tipped. The suggestion to put the matter up for an open vote, it should be remembered, came from the church itself. Clearly there had been a misjudgement of popular opinion on their side, but that hardly signifies. What is remarkable in all of this is that the defence of essential democratic principles has fallen to the Party of the Fields and Trees, while supposedly liberal voices have proven themselves shrill advocates of the most evasive of elitisms. Although the vote was close, there can be no doubt those in favour of intervention carried the day with a clear majority. In my understanding, this demonstrates not the blood-thirsty nature of our town, but the care and responsibility with which the populace approached their decision. Rather than advocating simple, knee-jerk environmentalism, the vote ensured the richness of our natural and ecclesiastical heritage would be safe-guarded. The argument can be repeated against criticism of the presence of children at the event.  Protecting our environment is not always ‘nice’. Hard choices are required, and I for one am gladdened by the site of young people – even very young people – taking active responsibility for the management of the world around them.

What I personally find fascinating is the extent to which the liberal left have been shown to have embraced the conspiracy theory.  The appearance of Lord Carrier seems to both unnerve and embolden them. It would seem, according to prevailing narratives, that the hearts of men can be known from their faces and posture:  modern phrenology, indeed.  Carrier is said to have whipped the crowd into a state of glee, and that certain councilmen went about their subsequent business with an almost childlike verve, and this can be attested to through third-party examination of external features. I see nothing untoward in the five minutes of mobile phone action that has been made available. When I invited some friends round the view the footage (over a couple of cool ones, it has to be said), we noted some just enthusiasm, but nothing more sinister than that.

More bizarre still are the sightings of the dark, winged figure, with the glowing red eyes we have been bombarded with. Amusingly, more than one witness noted the encounter was on  – shock of shocks!  – an evening noted for its ‘blood red’ sunset! Ta da daaa!! Research would no doubt find a correlation between political persuasion and encounters with this (how else to name it?) batman. Calling John Keel! Strangest of all, of course, is the contention, most vocally endorsed by Tony Cribb, (see last week’s post) that the Mother of God has weighed in on the batty side.  With weirdness of this magnitude, you can bet there is more to come!

Jon Hawkes, MA

Acting editor

 

Comment Three:

In recent posts, our acting editor has stressed the importance of impartiality. It is to demonstrate our commitment to this ideal that we include the following correspondence. 

The Editors, Lethmachen Haunted.

Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

I have now seen some of the footage from the recent ‘bat massacre’, presumably the same material discussed by Jon Hawkes in a recent editorial on your website. Massacre is the least of it, that much is clear, and I am disturbed by the attempt to domesticate or differ the action.

Even before we get to that grim spectacle, however, a word or two about the process that led to it. I have a number of friends who voted ‘yes’, but from talking to them they had not sided with extermination. Most felt that the proposition ‘Should the church be cleared of bats?’ should be resolved in the affirmative through relocation. In any case, the vote is not binding. Councils in the UK, along with central government, do not function in their every decision through popular vote. Systems are in place that attempt (!) to ensure coherence in provision. If we follow public opinion at every turn, the council would find itself in the unenviable position of having to uphold and destroy a range of local services (ok, perhaps this is the position they presently do occupy, but you get my meaning!).

Turning to the footage from the massacre, the idea of it documenting sober and righteous action is almost instantly dispelled. The video begins with a noise that blots out all others. A grinning face then pulls back from the camera, revealing the darkness to be the proximity of lens to mouth. Distance is achieved, and other sounds can be heard, the noise now singled out as a guttural, stupid cheer. The figure in front of us then swears (‘F**k yeah!’), and runs away, kicking something on the ground as it does, all the time twirling a baseball bat.  Moving quickly towards one group, made up of a man, a woman, and three kids, we see the tallest of the group drawing a plank across the ceiling above him, the other 4 stamping on the ground about them. The focus changes, and the camera pans into a corner, near the ground. It takes a second or two to make out, but one of the kids is getting the camera to focus on a large bat, and three tiny, large eyed creatures behind it.  I hope I am wrong, but I think these are probably its children. The frame is then filled for a moment by the child’s back, then settles over its shoulder, to see its boot stamp on the mother’s face, five times in quick succession. Two of the babies flee as best they can, but one stays, whether out of love or fear, who is to say, and the boot comes down again, stops just short, then descends once more, to laughter so loud it blots out all the other terrible noises.  A voice cuts in then, screaming ‘Get the other f**ers. F**k ‘em. F**k ‘em up’. That the voice, high and reedy, is that of a child is disturbing enough. But the camera pans round once more to catch the one offering instruction, only to fall upon Counsellor Marty Reynolds. He is there only for a moment. His face is close, and excited, and it is – surely – his mouth moving as the soprano cry carries on. This lasts a matter of seconds, and the sound is momentarily distorted though the movement of the mike, but the effect is singularly strange. I paused the video at this stage (00.58.46 on the YouTube video attached). Take a look. I know we all look odd when a video catches us mid-action in this way, but there is something haunting in that face, something awful and familiar, surfacing in, or manifested by, the features. Something I have seen somewhere else. It is a kind of glee, and a concentration, a face that is wholly public, yet utterly unknowable. Whatever. It is the face of the bat massacre, and J. Hawkes should be ashamed.

Yours, 

Ken Lawson.  

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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.

 

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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’?

 

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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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Is cleanliness next to godliness? Or next to something very different?

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Dear Lethmachen Haunted,

I had the strangest experience in the bath last night. I realise there is a supremely rational explanation, but I would really prefer another, for reasons that will become clear. The twist is simple: when, after washing my hair with an old cup whilst sitting in deep, warm and soapy water –this a throwback from childhood – I lay out flat and submerged my head.  On doing so, I heard – with great clarity – the ringing of a little bell. Ting, ting, ting. This sound was small, like a jewel, I thought, but perfectly distinct. It was a tolling, not a shaking nor a rattling. Is there a possibility this is something a little more romantic than tinnitus or madness? If anyone knows, they are sure to be a regular reader of your wonderful site…

All the very best, Nigel Scrimp

We would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help Nigel. In the meantime we asked folklorist and friend of the site Nigel Lawrence Tuns-Smith for his take on the bath time bells:

Bells are uncanny. The bell is bound to the science of metallurgy, forever associated with occult practice. Imagine: you are out upon the common lands. No one is about, and all it is possible to encounter is mud and sky, the occasional trees or low lying shrub. If you say up there a while, an animal might come into view, having lost its way.  Before that: a sound.  The dull, sway of a bell. No other person is about, but that sound is sourced in iron, and where there is iron, there are human hands, and the spark of invention.  In a moment, human agency has intruded in a space you know is bereft of all human life other than your own. A spectral presence. Taken another way, that chime can speak of man’s departure, and that brings its own specific fear. The bell can sound through chance, not design, through the movement of air, or the swaying of bovine shoulders. It is an instrument of the human, but its note does not need to be consciously willed. The striking of a bell can thus seem automatic, deathly, a human art extrinsic to the human. The repetition of the thing supports this. The ringing of the bell goes nowhere. In one sense, it serves no purpose. Of course, it draws attention to itself, and thus to whatever it is bound, yet this really is nothing. Its purpose is to announce existence. It achieves nothing. That is why, I think, it has its place in ritual. It is the pointlessness of the thing that isolates it from any wider meaning: it has the terrible cleanliness essential to any ritual object. The danger is that this pointlessness can return in ways that are not desired, drawing attention to the emptiness of whatever ritual is to be enacted. It is not only that the bells, as signifying nothing themselves, fail to adulterate the wedding, but they sing out and repeat wedding’s insignificance, its lack of difference, the extent to which it is beyond anyone’s control. The bell is extrinsic, as I have said: the terror of it always comes back to that.

Of course, ‘the bell under water’ has a long standing tradition in British folklore. The drowned church mourns the passing of a golden age, and celebrates its persistence, whilst warning against a loss of faith. The knell is heard from an element other than water: it reaches the ears of those upon the land. Nigel has encountered something different. As we know from the song of whales that sounds travel swiftly beneath the waves.  Is it that these particular sounds have traversed a great distance? Or is it that distance is precisely what is not an issue. The bell is with Nigel, not attached to some other place, some lost way of thinking.  If this is a keening, what is to be lost? As all devotees of the Tarot know, death does not have to mean death in its most literal sense. Yet, I think, it is well that Nigel, concerned as he is with tinnitus and madness, is sure to be visiting his GP at the earliest opportunity…

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Local historian identifies a secret path through Lethmachen 

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An interesting correspondence has reached us from local protestor, and noted military historian, Ashley Clarence. Evidence of a previously unknown Long Straight Track, perhaps?  A simple delusion? Or something more sinister?

 

Dear Lethmachen Haunted

I am, as I am sure you know, one of the most vocal members of the grass-roots movement opposed to urban encroachments on the green and pleasant land surrounding our town.  It was I who led the resistance to Keepers Close, and although we lost that particular battle, I had sworn that a victory against the proposed adjoining development would signal our commitment to a protracted war.  Last week, I gained access to the archives of Shire Hall, hoping that I would discover some long forgotten fact of rights or geology that might aid our cause. Unfortunately, this was not what I found.

One cannot, I think, look at an old map of one’s home town without attempting to locate one’s home within it.  I did just this as soon as the map was laid before me, but as my finger traced the empty space that awaited my kitchen and bathroom, I perceived that a path, now long forgotten, led straight to my hearth. It was not so much that I saw this: it was not marked as such.  What I glimpsed instead was something more akin to a trace, the evidence of the path’s absolute necessity.  I knew at once that if it had been seen by me, then it could be struck upon by others. It would not be a difficult road to travel.  This continues to worry me. If seen, it could be walked. It would need a degree of grit, but no machete. And the worst are those who persevere.  It was a road that would only be seen – I see this now – by one who wished to gain entry against my will, and fix a hold upon me.  There is no act I could perpetuate to lessen the treat. To destroy the map? Of course! But I was in a record office.  You would not, and neither could I. And who is to say what the strike of the match, or the sound of the tear, might attract?  It would be fruitless anyway. The sight of the path does not lie in or on the record.  Knowledge of it begins with intent, not research.  If the will is there – map or no map – the path will be seen.

To live with such a furrow! After only a week, I have used up all of my resources. To confess, I feel, is my only recourse.  It is thus I write to you. Not a confession of any act, but of the path: a making public of it. The hope – against hope, increasingly – is that, through this, the step will not be stealthy if it comes, but will resound as a tramp. A Familiar road. I mean that in the vulgar, rather than comforting, sense, I think. It is done. The path is inked. Any traveler upon it walks through this.

Yours sincerely,

Ashley Clarence

 

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‘Silent Anguish’ on the bog: the latest exhibit at Lethmachen Museum causes a stir….

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Last year’s discovery of a well preserved ‘bog body’ out on The Lethmachen Levels provoked a flurry of excited speculation among archaeologists worldwide. If the unearthing of ‘The Mourne Woman’ has since failed to capture the anticipated international headlines, this may in part be due to the interference of local officials who, as readers of this site will be aware, are less than keen to have a spotlight trained on Lethmachen. Yet the impact of the event has also been undermined by a glaring lack of reliable scientific conclusions. Most significantly, eminent archaeologists have so far failed to reach an agreement on the dating of the body. A difference of opinion has arisen over The Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as the manner of death, although all appear satisfied it was the result of some form of violence. Further tests have been called for, as have the resignations of staff currently supervising the project.

In the midst of all this distrust and confusion, Lethmachen Museum bravely decided to plough ahead and present ‘The Mourne Woman’ to the general public, as part of their February exhibition: ‘History On Our Doorstep. Infamous, eccentric landowner Henry Savory, on whose property the ‘bog body’ was located, had immediately donated the find to his local museum. Head Curator Ian James proudly announced ‘This artefact represents our shared heritage and should not be kept under lock and key. It deserves to be seen by all’. ‘The Mourne Woman’ has indeed proved an instant success, with daily queues trailing the length of the High Street. However, perhaps neither The Museum nor the scientific world was prepared for the nature of some of the reactions.

Judging by the information we have received, responses to the sight of ‘The Mourne Woman’ seem to follow a similar pattern. The account we now give prominence to is fairly representative, if perhaps expressed in more colourful language than most. The words are those of a thirteen year old schoolboy. The boy wishes to remain anonymous, yet I can tell you he is the son of an old school friend, who in turn related the story to me:

‘I don’t usually go to museums that much, not unless we have to because of school. My parents aren’t really interested, and that is a good thing. I would hate to be one of those kids that get dragged along to museums or art galleries every weekend. I’ve seen some of those trendy parents, standing in front of paintings and clapping their hands excitedly like stupid seals. They always start speaking in this fake voice and want to tell you what anyone can already see for themselves. When an adult does that to me I just deliberately look away and stop listening. But sometimes I like to go to museums on my own, especially when they are showing something weird. Friday morning in class everyone was talking about this ‘bog body’. So I went right after school that day, when nobody else would see. It wasn’t as scary as I expected; it was smaller than I imagined and behind glass. Yet even though it wasn’t that frightening, I couldn’t stop staring at it. I was stood there for ages, but nobody bothered me. It was close to closing time and the building was almost empty.  Maybe I was thinking of how I will look like when I am dead. Probably pale and ugly with stupid eyes staring at the ceiling. Before I knew it, they were announcing they were shutting, but I didn’t really care about the rest of the exhibition anyway.  All I could think about on the way home was ‘The Mourne Woman’. It was something about the face. Even though the eyelids and lips were screwed shut, and the skin was all tanned and withered, the face had this expression on it that reminded me of someone. I knew it.

That night I stayed up late, but it wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I remembered. Quite a long time ago I used to go to the children’s library in town. Every other Saturday I was allowed to borrow three books. Most of the staff there were really serious and unfriendly. They would snap at you for putting something back on the wrong shelf or putting your feet up on the seats. Then, for a little while, I suppose about nine months, there was this younger woman working there. I never spoke to her properly or knew her name, I was only a kid, but I remember the first time she was there she helped me find a book I wanted. The other staff told me it was on loan. After that I made sure I always waited until she was free at the desk so I would be served by her. It sounds a bit weird now, but I think I pretended we were real friends. I actually started to look forward to my visits to the library, and would spend the night before imagining a conversation I might have with her. This was all stupid – we never had any conversations and then one weekend she had gone.  I really hoped she was sick, that she would be back in a few weeks, but I never saw her again. Until now.  ‘The Mourne Woman’ had the same expression on her face: kind but sad, like she was surrounded by people who would not listen. There couldn’t be anyone else who felt exactly the same as that. ‘The Mourne Woman’ was my librarian from a few years ago, not centuries old like the scientists said. What if someone had killed her and hidden her body on the marsh? What if she had got lost on her way home and drowned, dragged under by the weight of heavy books? Someone had to know…’

It may be tempting to interpret the above narrative as some flight of schoolboy fancy and yet many other visitors to the museum have emerged with an almost identical impression. Those gathering to see the ‘bog body’ have become convinced that, rather than being an antiquity, these remains are in fact those of a distant relative, a half forgotten lover, an ex work colleague, or even  just a nodding acquaintance from a town where they once lived.  Archaeological experts have greeted these proposals with the expected disdain, apparently offended that their claims of ‘historical authenticity’ should be permitted to be questioned by the general public. When we approached paranormal investigator Dr Neil Cross for comment, he observed that people’s reactions were probably due to some form of ‘mass hysteria’ prompted by a ‘desire for ethnic roots’ within this ‘uncertain age’. However, off the record, Dr Cross admitted that he too had been inexplicably affected on viewing ‘The Mourne Woman’. ‘I thought I was seeing my late wife, shortly before she passed on’ he confided ‘there was something in the expression…the look of silent anguish…’

 

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