Reveals and Resolutions.
When I finally opened my eyes again, the front door was still wide open. My head and my back both ached, but the lights were all back on and the invasion seemed to have passed. It was quiet now. I sat up and looked about – the hall was now covered with party decorations that had fallen to the floor. I felt oddly hollow and my stomach hurt. I wondered how long I had been unconscious. I tried to stand up and instantly felt dizzy. I managed to make my way into the disarray of the living room and found Harris and our guests awake and looking just how I felt.
We took some time to recover, gulping down water and eating whatever of the now curiously cold food hadn’t fallen on the floor. Someone looked outside and reported that the storm was now in full force. We could hear the wind howling outside.
I shuddered. Someone checked their phone and cried out in alarm. According to all our clocks, we had been out cold for two whole days. It was now, without any time to prepare, Halloween.
Confused and shocked, we tried to make sense of it all. What had happened to us? We all seemed unhurt, just a little groggy and dehydrated from being knocked out for almost 48 hours. No one had called us, which was strange. It was as if we had all been carefully put out the way. But why?
Someone tried calling home (dial noise), and found that the call wouldn’t go through. Others tried with the same result. Harris, still checking the windows, reported something very strange in the distance. There was an odd glow in the sky out towards the East, it’s source just out of view from the windows. We rushed out the flat and downstairs to look.
Outside the street was deserted. The windows along the road were all black, which, worrying as it was, made me feel a little reassured. At least they weren’t all glowing with yellow light. Looking down the street we could see a huge beam of green light shooting up into the swirling clouds. Whatever it was, it seemed like the source of all the strangeness. I felt my resolve strengthened. Whatever was going on, I had to try to do something about it.
I rallied my guests and gave as straightforward an explanation as I could.
Libby – it all started when I was out in the rain one day..
Harris chimed in to back me up when I faltered.
Harris – so, look, there’s pigeons…(pigeon ramble)
It was tough. A lot of blame and fear was passed around, but, after we were done, my friends agreed that we had to do something. Well, most of them. Some just wanted to go home.
It was at this point that the pigeon ghost appeared, flapping wildly and looking more frightened than I had ever seen it. The close door slammed open – Francis was there too, outside the flat for the first time since we’d known him, still invisible but now a stronger presence. Somehow we were able to sense his location and avoided walking through him. It was Halloween, I realised, and all ghosts could move freely. I made introductions between my living and dead acquaintances. Then, it was time for practicalities.
We had three cars available between us. We squeezed in, Francis and the pigeon getting into mine, and headed east, towards the source of the green light. The streets were completely empty and dark, until we got closer into town. Ghostly figures were appearing on each side of us, joining a parade all moving in the same direction as us. I pulled over and the two cars behind me followed suit. I opened the car door and called to the nearest ghost as my passengers crouched down away from the dead. The spirit was a middle aged man in a modern looking outfit. He looked slightly surprised to see us but was friendly enough.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that there are living people here tonight, with all this weirdness.” he said to me. He explained that the green light was very odd and everyone was on their way to investigate it.
“It’s interrupting everything!” He complained. “People are freaking out. I guess the rumours are true. I don’t know, I’m from out of town.”
I got back in the car and grimly told the others what I’d heard. We drove on, the light getting brighter as we got closer. A suspicion of the location began to gather in my mind and I adjusted my route accordingly. My suspicions were confirmed. We were heading to the Necropolis.
We parked in the square at the cathedral and gathering together. All around us ghosts were congregating, worried and irritated. In the crowds I could see none I recognised. Francis was almost visible now and the pigeon was in child-shape, hoping, I expected, not to alarm the other ghosts. Our group huddled close, trying to work out any sort of plan.
“We need reinforcements.” I decided, and sent Francis off to spread the word and find any ghosts that were willing to help. We began to make our way towards the entrance.
Glasgow Necropolis is an extravagant Victorian cemetery built on the hill next to Glasgow Cathedral. Thousands of beautiful monuments line the slopes, from gravestones to huge mausoleums and towering columns. It’s a beautiful place to explore, with views right across the city. At night it becomes a maze of eerie shadows and treacherous pathways. We scrambled up the gravel, holding close to each other as we moved. The green light was bright now, casting long shadows back down the hill. It was difficult to move along while trying not to pass through any of the many ghosts milling about.
We reached the top of the hill, out of breath and full of dread. At the top was the monument to John Knox, bright with the green light as it burst from the top of the statue. Ghosts circled it, confused and wary. Above in the sky the storm clouds bubbled and swirled. We moved to the front of the crowd.
Perched all over the statue and surrounding buildings were pigeons. The other ghosts stayed well back from them, looking more and more terrified. I tried desperately to think of something reassuring to say. My friends looked almost hollow with fear, like I was, but here they were, standing with me.
I felt a cold touch on my shoulder and turned around to see the séance ghosts looking more serious than I had ever seen before. Behind them I saw the coffee ghost peering anxiously at me.
“Where have you been?” one of them exclaimed. I gave an account of what happened at the party and they looked gravely at one another, but nodded thoughtfully.
“If whoever this is felt the need to get you out the way, maybe you can do something to stop this,” suggested one of them. I shrugged. I had no idea what I was supposed to do.
Suddenly, the screaming that had become so terribly familiar filled the air. A booming voice echoed across the hilltop.
“Welcome one and all! I have called for you and you have all come to me!”
The ghosts shuffled uncomfortably and looked around for a source of the voice. A figure, shadowed in the dark behind the green beam of light, moved forward. She was tall and thin, more solid than any of the other ghosts and her eyes were two points of glaring yellow light. Her hair, long and wild, flew around her in the wind. As she walked forward, dark shadows appeared behind her, huge and menacing and I realised that the army of ghost buildings were here too.
Other ghosts ran back and soon we looked like two sides of a battle, standing facing each other. Above, the storm howled and crackled.
The ghost woman fixed her eyes upon the crowds of terrified looking spirits and smiled a cruel looking smile.
“How does it feel, this one night of the year, to be free, to walk the earth and fear losing nothing?” she asked. The crowds looked back, confused.
“I, of course, and my army, can do this any time. We don’t need this special night, this special place in order to do that. We can walk where we like, whenever we want to. We take what we want!”
The crowd now looked afraid and angry, some shouting back that her army were parasites that preyed on other ghosts’ territories, that the earth belonged to the living and that she was taking away their precious time. The woman waited impassively for a few seconds as the crowds reacted to her then raised her arms and, with a sharp movement, flicked her hands and out of the sky two lightning bolts shot down into the ground at her feet. I felt my hair raise and smelt something tangy and metallic in the air. My friends and I were so exposed and vulnerable up in front of her.
The woman laughed again, that angry, echoing laugh, and continued.
“The living do not deserve the mercy of the dead! In my life I suffered at their hands – they hanged me on a lie! and in death I continue to be misused! I have lost the living part of myself and gained all the power I could want! Join me! Join my army and we can rule the earth! The living will fear us and the dead will follow us! This city should be ours! We shall swallow it, then we shall swallow the surrounding towns – my old town – then more and more of this earth!”
The crowds were silent and shocked. There was a pause, as if each of them were considering the consequences of refusing her. I looked at their faces, and saw many of them had their eyes closed, mouths moving as they repeated something to themselves. Mantras, perhaps, to remind themselves of their identities.
I looked back at her, wondering. She claimed she had lost her identity, and created a new one, but how? She also said the living misused her in death. What did that mean? I frowned as I took her in. She also said she wasn’t actually from Glasgow but from a neighbouring town. Something in my mind clicked and I began to put the clues together.
“No.” It took me a second to realise the word had come out my mouth. Suddenly I could feel a thousand pairs of eyes upon me, and the woman’s face twisted in rage, looking around until she spotted me. She seemed to falter, as if in shock, but recovered swiftly and snarled.
“Look! The living even trespass here! They taint the gathering with their presence! Let us start by making examples of them all!”
“They do not trespass! They are welcome here, unlike you, witch!” came a cry and a huge ghost, towering above my head, appeared behind me. I stared back at it. It was the ghost from the motorway, now, at last, able to be seen. It was a dragon – huge and scaled with a pair of wings that it unfolded as it raised itself to its impressive height. A small part of my mind wondered when it chose that shape, what it had ‘evolved’ from. How old was it?
The woman narrowed her eyes at the word. “You have been here a long time, beast.” She responded. “What would it be like for you to lose yourself? My deal is simple, join me, give me the humans, or I will make it impossible for you to return to your homes and you will be lost forever like my pigeons here.”
At this the shadowy army behind her moved, the ghost buildings shaking with a deep rumble. The bright yellow lights in their windows shone out across the crowds – I saw spirits push into each other to avoid the glare. The dragon reared up, a deep roar beginning in his throat.
“You will not threaten us, Witch!” He bellowed, the sound echoing across the hill. The green and yellow light seemed to shrink back at the sound. But to my horror, the woman simply smiled and stood her ground.
“I see you do not take my power seriously. Perhaps a demonstration?”
She gestured towards the dragon with a sharp movement and as one the ghost buildings piled forward. The rest of the ghosts surged back in terror and my friends and I were forced to moved out of the way behind a monument. In the crush I lost sight of the dragon. Then, a sudden heart rending scream filled the air and when I finally managed to look back, the place where the huge figure had been was now filled with the hulking masses of the ghost buildings. The woman gestured again, and they fell back into line behind her, leaving behind nothing but a tiny figure perched on the ground. The blank eyes of a freshly made pigeon ghost blinked back up at us.
There were gasps from the crowds. The rest of the pigeons shuffled uneasily. I stepped forward, feeling, for the first time, something more than fear. I felt indignant.
“See? Do you see my power? Can’t you see that your choice is to follow me or be lost forever?”
“That’s not true.” I said. Once again the eyes were upon me. I pressed on, pointing at the pigeons. “They aren’t lost forever. They’re right here, looking for themselves, and they only reason they haven’t found new homes and identities is because you won’t let them.”
For the first time, the woman looked confused. I continued, not entirely sure what I was doing, but filled with a rage that was displacing my fear.
“If you just told them they weren’t lost, they wouldn’t be! They’re fine! They’re dead! Why should the dead feel pain anymore? It’s pointless! You’re just manipulating them into thinking that something bad is happening when all you want is to use them to manipulate even more people! The pigeon ghost I know is amazing! It only sat with me a little while and talked to a couple other people and now it can change shape! And move freely – like you! It doesn’t want to harm anyone! It just wants friends!”
On cue it walked forward, spun, billowing out the red dress, and transformed back into a bird before flying up and landing on my shoulder. I pointed at her.
“You seem to think all the dead suffer like you! You think that no solid identity means you can just decide what they are! You need to stop thinking these things. I don’t know much about spirits, but I do know that you become what you believe – your thoughts are all that’s left, really, and this kind of unhelpful thinking is the real problem. Let other ghosts work out what they want for themselves.”
She looked enraged, moving towards us, her arms raised again. I imagined those bolts of lightning shooting down and hitting us and hurried on, stumbling over my words.
“It’s not a lack of identity that’s been you’re problem – it’s been that the stories the living tell about you have been coming true! Because that’s the power the living have, right? We can change stories, we can tell new ones, we can influence your identity, especially when yours is fragile. Isn’t that right, Agnes?”
She reeled back. I spoke softly now, the rage gone.
“I figured it out when the dragon called you witch. That’s who you were, right? The Paisley Witch. A lot of people were murdered after being accused – Scotland was awful about that. But only one gained a legend. The one who supposedly cursed the town and all the people in it forever. I don’t know if that actually happened, I don’t think it matters. I would probably say something similar if I was going to be executed like that. But it’s what happened afterwards that matters – long after you lost your living identity – I’m guessing you chose to move away from the site of your death and I don’t blame you – the legend lived on, influencing you, twisting you. They blamed you for everything, for years, and even now they keep building memorials. They won’t even pardon you, even now!”
She looked quiet now. I stopped, out of breath and shaking. She looked up, and when she did the yellow light was dimmer.
“How dare you? Who are you to say these things? You are no one! Just some stupid girl who stuck her nose where it didn’t belong!” Her voice was low but her rage remained.
I took a breath. What could I say to that?
“You’re right.”, I said. I felt thousands of eyes on me as I talked. “But it’s still true, isn’t it? I might not know anything about the dead, but I know the living – and how much power we have, even over you.”
She stared at me, and I saw a hundred years of pain and misery in her eyes as she gazed into mine.
“I never really wanted to be this.” She said softly. “I just felt alone. Others were afraid – the living and the dead. I only felt good when I was in control.”
“You can be in control of your identity. You just need some help.” I responded. I felt bad now, seeing her. She had been in so much pain.
“You’re not alone.” said a voice. I looked round to see the coffee ghost moving forward, looking scared but determined. “You might feel lost, but you still can do all the cool stuff that Libby was saying about the pigeons. You just need to let go of the pain. She’s right. We don’t need pain. It’s pointless.”
Suddenly the crowd of ghosts were agreeing, offering encouragement, some clearly just hoping she wouldn’t hurt them, but others moved, some smiling, some nodding in understanding. Agnes looked around at the sea of faces and smiled, a soft sweet smile. The yellow light left her eyes and she let her hands drop to her sides.
“I think,” she said, “I’m ready to let go now – of all of it.”
There were murmurs of surprise in the crowd as she closed her eyes and was enveloped in a soft light. She flickered, then seemed to separate into a million tiny points of light that floated away across the hill and into the night.
The green beam of light went out and the sky went from clouds to clear, the stars and moon appearing above us. The towering bulks of Agnes’ army paused and then retreated. They would still be out there, but somehow that seemed like an issue for another time. The dead would have an eternity to deal with it.
The rest of the night was celebrations, and seemed to last for far longer than a few hours. When we felt tired we drove home, and as we did so the strange night of the dead seemed to fade away, the street lamps flickering on and people appearing, in costumes, all filling the streets and their homes with wonderful, wonderful life.
Glasgow Ghost Stories is written and produced by Libby Thomas. Narration is by Libby Thomas. Credits are read by Harris Jones. The theme music is by Kevin MacLeod, and can be found at the free music archive. Sound effects are from freesound.org. Follow us at Glasgow Ghost Stories on twitter and tumblr, and visit us at glasgowghoststories.wordpress.com for transcripts of every episode.
Well I don’t think I’ll ever have a Halloween like that again. Here’s a tip – if you find yourself in the middle of a graveyard facing down a centuries old vengeful spirit, it might not be too late for reason. But even so, make sure you’ve got some friends to back you up.
We all need a long rest now, but we’ll be back for one more episode. Until then, as always, thanks for listening.