The Murderer

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Stephen, a quiet man who popped into our Dark and Light store one day, told me this very interesting story:

Stephen’s Story

“I killed my wife,” said the man sitting opposite me in the cable car.

“Excuse me?” I answered, bemused, thinking I’d misheard him.

“She was sitting where you’re sitting now, and we were passing over the valley, just as we are at the moment. What a splendid view, isn’t it?

“I’m not quite with you.” I tried to make sense of what he was saying.

“Perfectly simple. I killed her. The thing is we’d been arguing all day, and she was going on about how much money she’d screw out of me in a divorce settlement. So I couldn’t stop myself. Just looked at her smug self-satisfied face as she went whining on and on, opened the door and pushed her out.”

“Really?” I was barely listening to this madman. I was terrified of travelling to the top of the mountains in this cable car and had been dreading making the trip. Now we were halfway up, getting higher and higher, and I’d kept my eyes tight shut so as not to have to look out of the window. I just longed to reach the mountain peak and get out and sit down on firm land, and not to have to look down to a view thousands of feet below me.

Nor did I want to have to talk to this maniac, who was sitting opposite me.

“Yes, it wasn’t that hard really, She was so surprised she hardly realised what was happening. And when she went, she fell through the air just like a sky diver, quite extraordinary. It was quite beautiful to watch her fall really. I had my binoculars and was able to see what happened. She crashed through a greenhouse roof and landed headfirst in a crop of tomatoes.” He paused. “Funny that. She always liked tomatoes.”

I didn’t reply.

“So young man,” he went on. “Are you scared of heights?”

“Yes, terrified.”

“So why are you travelling in a glass-sided cable car above a valley that’s 2,000 feet below us?”

I flinched at the thought. “I write for a travel magazine and I have to describe the view and this cable-car experience for an article I’m writing.”

I looked at him properly for the first time. He didn’t look mad at all. He appeared to be perfectly ordinary: a man in his late sixties, chubby, mostly bald with some white hair, wearing a light coloured suit. Beside him was a thin, bored looking man of about my own age, who was absorbed in looking out of the window at the view below us, and taking no part in our conversation.

“Have you always been afraid of heights?” the ‘murderer’ persevered.

“Yes. Ever since I was small.”

“Well, what I’d suggest you need to do now is bite the bullet. Step over to the door and lean out over the drop. If you can do that you’ll have faced your fear. Then you’ll never be afraid of heights again.”

“No, I couldn’t do that,” I replied. “It’s bad enough just being here.”

“One step at a time, eh? Well there’s no need to worry. This car is as safe as houses. I should know – been using it for years, ever since we retired to this area. It’s perfectly safe. And it really is a beautiful view down there.”

He was behaving so matter-of-factly that I wondered if I’d misheard what he’d been saying earlier on.

“Excuse me,” I began hesitantly, “but didn’t you just tell me that you had recently murdered your wife?”

“Yes I did,” he replied equably. “And now my problem is what to do next. Do I go to the police? We were alone in this cable car, no witnesses, so I could pretend she just jumped. But it’s a risk. If they don’t believe me I’d face years in prison.”

“Yes.”

“Alternatively I could go on the run, but I really don’t fancy that at my age. Or I could kill myself. Hmm. Quite a range of options really. What would you do?”

“Well, to be quite honest, I don’t think I’d have murdered my wife in the first place.”

“Point taken. At the time it seemed such a good idea. But now I really am in rather a fix.”

The journey continued, and when we arrived at our destination, it was such an incredible relief to step out onto land. I wondered if there was any other way to get back to the town I’d just left, so as not to have to go in the cable car again? I really didn’t want to face a return journey in the wretched horrible claustrophobic cable car.

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My new friend bustled off quickly and strode away out of sight.

As I began my walk into town, the man who’d been sitting opposite me, and beside the murderer, was staring at me, frowning to himself.

“Absolutely astonishing,” he said, coming closer and staring at my face. “I really can’t see a thing. They can do miracles these days, can’t they?”

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well, the earpiece and the mic for your phone. It’s so tiny I can’t even see it. All through our journey just now you were chatting away to yourself, obviously talking to someone on the phone, and yet your microphone and your earpiece must be so tiny as to be virtually invisible.”

“Wait a minute,” I told him. “I haven’t been talking on the phone. I was talking to the man beside you. The old man who was sitting opposite me.”

“What old man?” he said in surprise, smiling at me. “We were alone in that cable car. There was no one else there but the two of us.” He ignored my amazed expression.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry into your business, clearly your phone call was private, I promise you I wasn’t listening.” He moved closer to me, talking in a quieter voice. “Hope you didn’t mind me chatting to you, but between you and me I’m a bit nervous, as I’ve got a pretty grim job in front of me. I’m a reporter for the local paper, for the Brits who live out here. A fortnight ago some English bloke who’d retired out here apparently went mad, pushed his wife out of the cable car, then went home and shot himself. It’s up to muggins here to find out the facts. I don’t suppose you’ve heard anything about it, have you?”

 

Gone with the Wind

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Knowing that I’m interested in the supernatural, very often people tell me their stories.  This is Ray’s very strange tale that really got me thinking. . .

“Thing is Jamie, when my wife died, my little girl took it hard.”

Ray Tomkins was verging on drunk, chattering away almost to himself, even though he kept leaning towards me, to make sure I was still listening.

“How do you explain to a three-year-old that her mummy has gone for ever?”

Ray was a pleasant fortyish character I’d got talking to in the pub. I liked him a lot. As he downed his third pint and leaned closer to me, his friendly smile whisked me into his realm of cheerful contentment.

“It was a hard time for me, as you can imagine. Had to give up my job and I signed on the dole to look after her. But it was the best decision I ever made. They say that being a dad is the most important job you can ever do in your life, don’t they? And by golly it’s true.”

“Can’t have been easy on your own,” I commented.

“But strangely enough I wouldn’t have missed those years for all the riches in the world. Having my little Ellie meant that somehow my Sally wasn’t gone, do you see? Because they were so alike in lots of ways. And when children are that age, every day is exciting. Watching a little person grow and change, learn to speak and see things and find out about life. And now that Ellie’s grown up, she tells me how she remembers those years when we were alone, and how happy she was, in spite of mussing her mum of course. See, I had to be a mum and dad all rolled into one. With a bit of help from my mum and sister of course.”

He gazed into space for a moment. “But the thing I wanted to tell you about, Jamie, was my ghostly experience, because I know you’re keen on that sort of thing. Well it was 2003, and we used to go for walks in Coulsdon, Surrey. There was this old derelict mental hospital – Netherne – that they’d mostly knocked down, out in the fields it was, where the village of Netherne-on-the-hill is built now. But the chapel of the old mental hospital was still there, and Ellie used to like looking over at the place you know? Nice old red-brick building, You couldn’t get close, but you could see it from the path through the metal fence, and it was where we’d always sit down on the grass for a bit of a rest before the walk back home.

“Well, one day, she looked up at one of the broken windows and started waving. I looked across to where she was waving, but there was no one there. Who are you waving to, love? I asked her. She just smiled, and pointed and said ‘Pretty lady! Daddy, look at the pretty lady! Can’t you see her there? In window. Looking down. Smiling at me!’

“I was worried that she’d started seeing things, was losing her mind. And next day she looked up to see if the pretty lady was there at the window, but she wasn’t. Nor was she there the day after, or ever again, even though little Ellie looked up expectantly, longing to see her. She was always disappointed.”

“And it was just a derelict empty building?”

Ray nodded. “It was fenced off from the public, so if anyone had been inside it could only have been a building worker, and if someone had broken in, they’d not have been in the mood to stare out of the window smiling down at a child. Well I tell you, I was a bit worried, and asked our doctor about it, but he said that is wasn’t so unusual for youngsters of that age to make up ‘pretend’ people, and in Ellie’s case, she was obviously missing her mother, so inventing a ‘mysterious pretty lady’ was a natural thing, because she was missing a female influence in her life. That seemed to make sense, and I didn’t make a big deal of it, and, as I said, Ellie never saw her again. So no harm done. Soon she forgot all about it.”

I got us some more drinks, thinking that was the end of his story.

“But you know what was odd?” he went on, “Not long ago Ellie and her boyfriend Mark and I went to see that film Gone with the Wind, and after it, Ellie was quiet like, she seemed shaken, you know? I asked her what was wrong, and she said ‘Did I remember the ‘pretty lady’ she saw at the window of the chapel at the mental hospital, all those years ago?’ I told her yes, I remembered her talking about it, that she’d imagined it. ‘Well,’ she said to me, ‘I’m sure I didn’t imagine it. And that was her, in the film! Scarlett O’Hara! I can distinctly remember her looking down at me and smiling, the actress in the film. I’d forgotten all about seeing her until I saw Scarlett O’Hara  there on the plantation gazing out at Rhett Butler. She was gazing down at me in just the same way.’”

“So do you think that Ellie had seen Gone with the Wind as an infant on TV, and not remembered it?”

“No. I thought of that. I’d have remembered seeing it on TV with her – she only ever watched cartoons on her own.”

“Very odd.”

“When we got home, her boyfriend googled the actress Vivian Leigh, who played Scarlett O’Hara in the film. We found the following entry:

The actress Vivien Leigh suffered from bipolar disorder, and after a particularly bad breakdown in 1952, her husband, Laurence Olivier, brought her back to England in 1953, where she was treated by the relatively innovative method known as Electro Convulsive Therapy, in the exclusive Fairdene wing of the pioneering Netherne Hospital in Coulsdon. .

So I dug around a bit and checked the date she was admitted. It was the evening of 21 March 1953. Fifty years to the day when Ellie saw the ‘pretty lady’ in that chapel window. . .”