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They all go back to where they belong

The fluidity of life

By Simon CurtisPublished 2 months ago 42 min read
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They all go back to where they belong
Photo by Tom Arran on Unsplash

My colleague and dear friend Collins Bentley was the best of us. Our story together started in those terrible trenches of the Great War, we were both Cambridge undergraduates, me in my second year of a Chemistry degree, he was a third year physicist though in the trenches we were just Privates Bentley and Liddle. I chose not to reminisce about that place and that time. Collins did too and when we returned to our studies in 1918 the cold and wet horrors of Passchendaele were avoided at all costs. Indeed it wasn’t until many years later that the subject came up and in very different circumstances. He progressed towards his inevitable PhD and I too followed suit but in all honesty in a far less likely manner. Nonetheless he, the high flying physicist with his great theories on electricity and as he frequently reminded me, me with my test tubes and stirrers made our way from those grief laden swamps to a peaceful academic existence. To be honest it suited Collins far more and he began making his moves through the faculty while I swiftly moved into the private sector. The influx of American money opened many doors for an aspiring young chemist and by the time I had finished my Doctorate I also had a fiancée to consider and when a fledgling petrochemical company contacted my old tutor looking to build a team in England I had my start. Thankfully it was not too far from Cambridge and I was both able to keep my home, stay close to my darling fiancée and regularly meet up with Collins for a quiet pint.

It was on one of these meetings I noticed a real spring in my old friends step. He bounded in and without checking ordered our drinks and arrived flopping about like an excited puppy. I, as the first to arrive had already bought our drinks and so Collins tumbled into his seat plonking two more filled glasses of beer on the small round table.

I hadn’t seen him quite so animated in some time and I was delighted to see that childlike spark return to my friend. It was clear he couldn’t wait to tell me why and within minutes of sitting down he had explained that he had secured a small grant in order to set up some studies into his new theory on electricity. It was, he proposed, entirely plausible that if properly structured, electricity could be transmitted not by inefficient wires but more effectively and efficiently through the air. He believed that he had come up with a set of plans that he believed would help him revolutionise the use of electricity and make it accessible to all. He spoke quickly and at times without breathing. When he finished he took one great intake of breath followed by a huge gulp of beer and after sweeping his floppy brown hair away from his eyes looked at me for my opinion. I pointed out that I was no physicist and probably not the man to seek an opinion from but this brought another torrent of words and then a request that I look at his analysis of the chemical composition of air.

We caught up and discussed our lives before parting with promises to meet again soon along with a request to send a set of notes for me to read over. Sure enough the following day a courier arrived at my home with a bundle of papers. They were disorganised and unusually hectic in their presentation but after I deciphered the areas of chemistry that Collins had alluded to and he was correct in all of his calculations but some of his ideas really stretched the limits of possibility. I added a set of notes which commended my friend’s chemistry but posed a few questions of which I felt he was deliberately avoiding in fear of undoing all of his theories.

We didn’t meet again for a couple of months and again he was filled with excitement and enthusiasm though this time his energy was clearly falling and he had the appearance of a man living on coffee and little else.

I was correct in my assumption as he launched into a set of complaints about the difficulty he faced finding adequate food at unsociable hours near the university. He followed this with another set jumbled explanations of why he was spending so much time in the laboratory. He had been expanding his interests and experimenting with electricity and water. He believed if he could effectively map the behaviour of electricity in water he might be able to predict its behaviour in air more accurately. He was finding this far more difficult than he had anticipated but felt he was making good progress and was certain he was close to creating a container that could hold charged water that could be used later. We talked about his ideas for a while before turning our attention to our shared interest in cricket and the forthcoming Ashes series he was keen to watch the Australian superstar Donald Bradman who he had seen in 1930 but missed in 1934. Collins insisted that I joined him in June as his uncle was a member of the MCC and had apartments in London which he was sure I would be welcome to join him for some or all of the match. I invited him to my forthcoming wedding and he promised he would attend. We parted on cheerful terms agreeing to meet again soon. That was in March and from there I heard little from him. I heard nothing from him in June as the test series came and went then in July he failed to turn up to my wedding. I was beginning to get concerned about him and those concerns grew when I received a note from his mother.

I had only met Mrs Bentley twice and was very surprised that she was able to track me down, but she did and her short hand written note was filled with confusion and pain. Her husband, Collins’s father had passed away and she had not heard from or seen her son. He had missed the funeral and he had ignored her pleas to join her at their home in Kent. She was desperate for me to try and track him down and implore him to go to her side. I was so moved by her letter I immediately picked up my coat and made my way over to the university. When I couldn’t find him in his rooms I made my way for the college. I knew he would be there despite the late hour as in all the time I had known him Collins had never really diverted from his two primary bases.

The old building was pitch black as I made my way through the familiar corridors of my youth. Empty room after empty room without the merest hint of light until further up the corridor I saw a small trickle of yellow creeping from underneath one of the doors. It was Collins’ lab, I was right. I knocked firmly on the door and waited but there was no reply. I tried again and this time I called out his name and announced myself. I heard a shuffling sound then a soft pressing as if whoever was inside was putting their ear against the hard wooden door.

All was silent for a moment and then with a gentle click the door was opened ever so carefully and just enough that the room’s occupant could see outside but nobody could see in.

“Are you alone?” He whispered.

“Yes old boy,” I replied.

“Who sent you?” He said again in a short accusatory tone.

“Your mother Collins, she’s worried about you.”

Without another word the door opened up just enough for his arm to shoot out, grab me by the shoulder and drag me into the laboratory behind the door. He slammed it shut and locked it behind me.

I looked at my friend. He was filthy and his eyes red and swollen. He clearly hadn’t slept properly for some time and the bundle of blankets in the corner by his desk suggested he had been sleeping in the laboratory on occasions. He walked over to his desk, pulled over a second chair and took a bottle of whiskey and two glasses from the small wooden cupboard in the desk.

Without saying a word he poured two large glasses handed me one and sat down.

“I’m sorry about mother I really am. And father of course but events, well they move so fast and well, especially now you see, with the Germans again. Well. It’s all too important.”

“What on earth is going on?” I asked.

“Umm, well, so. My research was going splendidly and look there, see on that bench, there is my first prototype of the water battery. Super eh? Well that’s exactly what I had been aiming for. But then. And this is where the bally problem lies. Well I saw a lecture here from an American chap. Very interesting. Dr Gissing. Have you heard of him?”

I had indeed heard of him. His invitation to speak at the college had been met with a huge degree of scepticism since the publication of his paper on the science of the spirit. I myself had not paid much attention to it but clearly my friend had been to see him.

“Well. See. Umm. I went and listened to his lecture then read his work, all of it and I came to a bit of a revelation. Well. Umm. I think you need context really. Yes.”

I watched as he shuffled uncomfortably in his chair and rubbed his forehead with his thumb. He took a breath and then looked at me with what seemed like a renewed wave of confidence.

“So I never told you this but when I was a child I was very lucky, I lived near lots of great places to run and play and there was water everywhere. Streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and if course the sea. So I was never in the house I always had somewhere to be. Well one day when I was about ten or so I was playing on my own near the stream that ran down by the back of my house. Well I was sat there and a man walked up. He damn near gave me a heart attack as I hadn’t heard him approaching. Well as a friendly lad I said hello and he just ignored me and stared straight past me and over the fields. So it was then I realised the chap wasn’t all there. I mean that in a literal sense. You could see right through him. He then walked into the water and melted away right in front of me.”

He stopped and paused to catch his breath and to a certain extent judge my reaction. He clearly felt I had digested what he had said favourably as he continued.

“That disappeared into my mind for many years until we were in Belgium. I didn’t tell you this at the time because I didn’t think it would make any sense. Well I was on a patrol in Ypres when it was at is grimmest and wettest and while I was out there creeping through that mud I saw them. Two men walking casually as you like right across no man’s land. I was too concerned about myself to say anything but I realised they looked just like the man I’d seen as a boy and again these two fellows seemed to dissolve into one of the bally pools.”

“Goodness old boy. You mean to see you’ve seen a ghost?”

“More than a ghost, up to then I’d only seen 3. Then I read Dr Gissing’s proposals about spirits being some form of electrical charge and bang it was all there. So I started looking into it. Just a bit at first, then a lot and it overtook my research but it was worth it. I can make them appear. Ghosts. The real thing.”

“What do you mean?” I asked dumbfounded.

“Ghosts. I can make them appear. Admittedly the circumstances have to be perfect but if you have water, a resident spirit and what I call my spirit electrolysis kit you can show them.”

I sat back in my chair for a moment and looked at him. He meant it. Every single word of it. I was about to speak when he began again.

“I’m doing it all in secret though. The university chaps have no idea and I’d appreciate it if you don’t mention it to anyone. They were happy with my progress with the water battery they are leaving me alone. Thing is though. I have gone a step further. I think I can use my water battery to trap a ghost and move it. It’s unbelievable. But I promise it’s all utterly possible. I’ve not properly tested it yet but my initial work is very promising. But I have a deadline you see. That’s why I’ve been a bit amiss in my duties to you and dear mother. But there’s another war afoot and the army want my help.”

At this point I began to doubt him but I chose not to question him but listen further.

“A fellow from the army turned up to ask about my batteries one day and he saw the Gissing papers on my desk. He clearly knew who he was and he got reasonably excited that I might have been aware of Gissing. I didn’t go into exactly what links I had made but even what little I told him excited his interest and it was then he gave me the king and country speech before explaining that if we could release ghosts as a weapon it could turn the war. Well so he went away and I forgot about it. But then a week later he came back. He said he could offer me as much money as I needed to develop ‘Ghost Bombs’ and assured me he would ensure my place here at the university would go unchallenged and I would be seconded under secrecy. Well I have agreed but the deadlines are being moved forward as events are getting more pressing. Actually it’s good you came tonight. I’m off to my new base this week. It’s all sorted. I inspected it last week and I am moving the things i need and getting going at my new laboratory in Hull.”

“Hull?” I spluttered.

“Yes. It had the perfect mix of water, history and for goodness sake who in their right mind would think to look in Hull for a top secret weapon.”

We both laughed and for the first time since I’d arrived he seemed to relax. We sat in silence for a while just looking at each other neither quite sure what to say. It was he who broke the silence.

“I truly am terribly sorry about the wedding old chap. I do hope you understand.” He said in calmer and softer tones.

“No fear old boy. But Collins you must see your mother, I really think you should find the time to see her before you go.”

He promised to me that he would see her, have a good meal and a full nights rest and in return I promised to visit him in Hull in a couple of months time. He said he would contact me and collect me from the station as he was worried about sending the address. He was as good as his word, he went to see his mother after a couple of days of rest and food and while he didn’t contact me to join him in Hull he turned up on my doorstep on Boxing Day with gifts and apologies for worrying us before spending a lovely afternoon and then retiring to his lodgings in college. He hadn’t talked much about his work but mentioned he was making progress and was convinced he would have Earth shattering progress before the end of the coming year. He said he was told he was going to have to as his army colleagues were certain that despite the signs at the end of the year to the contrary the coming year, 1939, would see war of some kind.

Before our parting at Christmas the same promises of a visit were made and I was surprised that before the end of January a telegram arrived with details of a train I should catch that was pre-paid, all I had to do was go to the guard, say my name and I would be escorted to my place in first class. This had the feeling of being like some sort of royalty and I am not ashamed to admit the slight air of secrecy attached was additionally exciting.

As promised Collins was there at the station to meet me. He grabbed my bag off me and rushed out to hail a cab. Outside the station was a busy and bustling city, though to my surprise there were far more horse drawn wagons than I was used to. I lost my bearings momentarily when Collins grabbed me by the collar and dragged me into the waiting cab that very quickly negotiated the busy streets away from the station but swiftly toward the equally busy docks. The cab pulled up outside a row of warehouses outside which were men loading and unloading the carts with barrels and boxes of all different sizes. I looked at Collins who could tell what I was thinking and looked back with a childlike grin.

The cabbie was paid and we stood out on the street. To my right was a dock with the tell tale signs of debris and oil in the water that a ship had recently disembarked. Ahead and behind were countless stevedores busily working away and to the left the row of warehouses. The one we were stood beside read the name “Wilson” and seemed as active as the rest. Collins directed me to a door and we walked in. It was much as I had expected with piles of boxes and a great deal of activity. I walked down the side of the massive space following my friend until he reached a second door. He opened it into what looked like a standard office. Once inside he put down my bag, took off his hat and overcoat and hung them on the coat stand. He took mine, hung them up but then picked my bag up again. He looked at me and winked then turned to the back of the room. I hadn’t noticed before but there was what appeared to be a cabinet. He walked over and opened the door then disappeared into the cabinet. Shocked I followed him and found myself in a perfect modern laboratory. It was far bigger and better equipped than the one he had at the university. Off to the side were four doors and at the end of the room a set of stairs going down.

Behind the doors were two very well furnished living spaces each with a bed, a desk and a wardrobe, one of which Collins had clearly been using. The second was a small kitchen and the third a bathroom. I was stunned to see such a complex in what appeared to be the back room of a pretty ordinary warehouse. Collins was beaming with pride as he showed me round and by the time he got to the stairs I felt he was fit to burst. He took me down to another door. This was a heavy metal door that was bolted and Collins needed three keys to open. Once he did, behind it was an old stone basement. It was cold and damp. The only natural light was through a few thin windows at the top of the wall that sat on the dockside through which you could see people’s feet if you strained your neck. Collins flicked on a light and the room became coated in a sickly white green light revealing dozens of rows of shelves. What made these shelves so interesting was their contents. Each shelf was filled with hundreds of the flasks he had shown me back in his university lab. Now they seemed refined and machine rather than hand made. He turned and looked at me.

“What do you think?”

I looked at him not quite knowing what to say.

“These are my Ghost Bombs. Well they will be once I’ve filled them all. There’s at least 500 in here and I’ve only managed to fill about five but that’s the easy bit. I’ve done all the donkey work. Look at how amazing these are.”

He handed me a flask. It was an empty glass cylinder with metal domes on each end. They had small thick protuberances and one of the domed ends had a sprung hinge on it. The opposite end had groves in it which suggested it sat in some sort of cradle. I handed it back to him.

“You’re sceptical about this I can see. But I’ll show you tonight. We are going out to catch ourselves a ghost.”

He beckoned me to the door and we headed out again, he locked everything meticulously behind me and led me back up into the laboratory. At the top of the stairs I broke my silence.

“Catch a ghost?”

He laughed and pointed at a crate in the corner of the laboratory.

“Indeed. There is the device, we will have supper then head out. It won’t take long to set up and then my dear old chap. Then you will see something to truly expand your mind.” He returned to my case and carried it into the second bedroom before walking to the kitchen and placing the kettle on the small stove.

That evening we dined in a very pleasant fish restaurant before returning to the warehouse. The dock was silent now but for the rats and the stray cats chasing them. We strolled down the quay and the water lapping against the wall almost gave the feel of a dream. Once inside we placed the crate onto a trolley and along with a large leather bag dragged it to the door. Instead of heading back out of the door we had entered in Collins manoeuvred the trolley around the boxes, barrels and sacks to a larger door at the other end of the warehouse. He pushed it open and behind it was a truck with an open back. He placed two planks of wood onto the back of the truck to create a ramp and we pushed the trolley up.

“Good god. This is easier when there’s two of us.” Collins laughed as he slid the planks into the back of the truck alongside the box and slammed the back of the truck closed. He jumped round to the front climbed in and started the engine. I followed suit and soon we were rumbling through the quiet roads of Hull. I asked where we were heading failing to realise that as I knew nothing about Hull any location would be just words. His answer was equally as useless as it was just a mischievous chuckle.

We travelled out of the city and it seemed towards the coast following the line of the River Humber. Eventually the lights of civilisation decreased and the headlamps became the sole source of light. The road became less reliable and as we rattled along I began to wonder exactly how far he needed to go to find his ghosts. Soon though he turned off the road and up a narrow track at the end of which I could see a distinctive cube shaped tower. We arrived at a gate behind which appeared an overgrown track. He stopped the truck by a broken wooded gate, I looked up and standing in black against the blue black sky the tower seemed more imposing. He jumped out and rushed around to the back and before i had managed to to climb out he had the planks down and was standing in the truck. He rummaged in the leather bag and removed what looked like a pair of bike headlights but they had straps hanging off them. He handed one down to me before turning his on and then attaching it to his head using the straps. I took the example and followed suit before climbing up into the truck and helping lower the cart down the ramp.

“I can’t wait for you to see this. It will knock your Bally socks off!” He said with a bustling chirrup to his voice.

He heaved open the gate and we pulled the truck up the worn but certainly not maintained path up to the tower. When we arrived I noticed there was no door and its roof was barely there. Inside the elements had got to it and much of the floor was flooded.

“Perfect conditions. Superb. Right, once you’ve helped me set up I don’t want you involved. All I want you to do is observe and enjoy. Come on.”

He opened the box inside which were a small petrol generator some long wires with large crocodile clips at the end and between the two was an unusual box. I helped him carry the generator but after that he ushered me away as he attached both wires to the generator then one end he left but the other end he attached the box and place it half submerged in one of the puddles. He checked everything was secure before he grabbed one of his ‘batteries ‘ from his bag and secured it into the box. With a click the end opened and with a smile he turned to me.

“It’s ready.”

He took care to position me away from the puddle but close enough I could see it clearly in the dark he had just plunged us into by turning off our head lamps. He took the unconnected wire and placed it in the water before going to the generator and turning it on.

With a cough it spluttered into life and I watched as the band on it began to rush around. With this he darted back to the box and stood crouched behind it like a wicket keeper standing up to the stumps to a spinner ready to catch any slight nick. As my eyes adjusted to the dark I looked around the decrepit old building, the brick walls were crumbling and the roof above looked as if it could collapse at any moment. Suddenly I noticed a glow in the water. It was a light fluorescent blue. It spread like someone had dropped an ink into the puddle but as it spread outwards it began to do the same upwards and soon it very clearly began settling into a distinctly human form. Before I realised it I was looking at an almost solid man. I staggered back slightly more in surprise than fear and I kicked a rock. The sound did not disturb the man who continued looking out across the room and out of the far window. His chest heaved as though he was breathing like any regular living soul, i could see the creases in his skin, the stains on his clothes, the tears in his eyes. He turned his head and looked in my direction but not at me, it seemed he was looking through me. It was if he was there but more like a hazy memory. He was clearly dressed in Civil War uniform, though not being a student of history identifying him as a cavalier was as far as I got. He was translucent and his colouring slightly muted but he was there right in front of me. I looked across at Collins and was surprised to see him looking at me rather than the incredible sight in front of us. He winked and then pressed a button on the box. With a gurgle like the water being sucked down a plughole and a pop like that of a large champagne cork the man was instantaneously sucked towards the box and up into the flask. With a click the lid closed and Collins rushed over to the generator to switch it off.

“Incredible isn’t it.” Collins said beaming at me and switching both of our lamps on.

I was speechless and felt my legs beginning to weaken. I bent over and put my hands on my knees.

“If anyone and I mean anyone else had shown me that I would have said it was a trick. Was that a real ghost?”

Collins nodded.

“And you have it in that tube.”

Collins nodded again with a ridiculous smile on his face. He put his hand on my shoulder and gripped tightly.

“I did it”

I hadn’t said much as we had packed up and headed back to the warehouse. We were halfway back when I finally felt able to rationalise what I had seen.

“Why is this something the army want?” I asked.

“Well, you remember the Angels of Mons, well imagine we can go up to Culloden and secure a ghost army of rampaging Scots or find a ghostly Roman legion. We drop that in front of a German division and watch them turn and run.”

I looked at him and I knew that even though this made little sense, what I had seen proved to me he was no madman and he was right. That was the high point of my week in Hull. We spent time discussing how it all worked and he showed me each stage of his project’s development and by the end of the week I knew as much as he did. Before he put me back on the southbound train he promised to send for me again and asked me if I would mind dropping in on his mother just to let her know he was ok. I agreed and headed home still not certain I fully grasped what I had experienced.

That second trip never took place as by the end of that summer war had broken out. I didn’t hear from Collins at all but this did not surprise me given the circumstances and I hadn’t really thought about him much when in the late summer of 1940 a pair of uniformed soldiers turned up at my door. I invited them in and was told that I had been seconded from my job by the Ministry of War and was to leave the following day for a secret location. My wife was to be paid double my salary while I was away and I would be given food and lodging with a small spending allowance. While it was all very surprising I knew fine well where the secret location was. This time I was picked up at my door by a soldier and escorted the entire way to Hull where I was again met at the station by an exhausted looking Collins.

He engulfed me in a bear hug as soon as he saw me and whispered in my ear.

“Thank god you’re here. I can’t do this alone. They say I’m the difference between winning and losing the bloody war. I’m so tired.”

We climbed into a military vehicle and we flew through the streets back to the warehouse. This time the street was different. There were sandbag gun emplacements at the end of the street and a definite presence around the warehouse door. We climbed out and one of the soldiers grabbed my belongings and carried them into the building. This time Collins did not leap out. He climbed down like an old man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. When I went down into the basement I very quickly realised why he was so tired. In the time since I had last seen him the handful of filled flasks had turned into rows of them. He gave me a weak smile when I looked at him.

“You’ve been busy!” I said to which he nodded and ushered me out of the room.

He took me up into the laboratory and then pulled a bottle of whisky and two glasses out of one of his cupboards.

“I don’t like it in there. The atmosphere is bad. I think I was wrong about the spirits. I had thought they were just electrical interference generating the images. I don’t know but I think they are some how sentient and are very unhappy.”

I looked at the haggard figure in front of me and placed my hand on his shoulder.

“I must keep going though. It means the war will end and they all get released. I just need you here to help me for now. I didn’t want anyone other than you. I hope you don’t mind old man?”

I smiled, opened the bottle and poured out two large measures to celebrate my arrival. We spent the evening reminiscing over a dinner of fish and chips one of the soldiers managed to find for us. We barely discussed the task in hand and I felt this was what Collins needed, it was clear he had been living and breathing his project and this distraction no matter how small, was as good as a holiday. He smiled and looked relaxed before I bid him goodnight and retired to my bed.

When I woke Collins was already up working but a smell of sausages wafted through the laboratory and into my room. He heard me stirring and shouted through an offer of tea and breakfast. I dressed quickly and joined him in the lab where we ate sausages , drank tea and planned the day. It went like that for the next few weeks, those breakfast meetings were the highlight of the day and we took turns frying the bacon or boiling the eggs. It was our small oasis of normality amongst the unreal days that saw us travelling miles across the north of England seeking out any sort of rumoured haunting. We collected highwaymen, millworkers, farmers, soldiers and many more besides. What had changed was on the side of every spirit we collected. He stuck a label on the side and on it he wrote the location they were found, an approximate date and where he could he added a name. Though he never told me I could feel the guilt in every capture, I could also sense his unease at being down in the storeroom. While I would linger his time down there was swift and transactional. I sensed he hated it down there.

I had been there almost a month when one of the soldiers told us about the bombing in London. We followed the news every day and while we worried for the people of London our air raid sirens had become more frequent too. We heard rumours of attacks on other cities and there were a couple of attacks on Hull too. We chose to put these things to the back of our minds and persevere.

Before Christmas we were visited by a gentleman from the ministry who briefed us on the progress of the programme that had been set up to weaponise the ghost bombs. It was progressing slowly but he was certain it would be ready for a full test early in the new year. We were encouraged to get as much ‘ammunition’ as we could in the meantime but to have a rest over Christmas. This was music to my ears as I had not been home in three months. By the 23rd I was packed and ready to ho but despite all of my pleading Collins would not be moved. He was determined to stay at the warehouse and as I made my way back down the country he was settling in for a week on his own in the Warehouse. At the time I didn’t realise it but I think looking back it is probably my greatest regret that I didn’t do more to persuade him to join me.

I returned on January 1st as promised and found Collins slumped over his desk feverishly filling out a ledger oblivious to my arrival. I placed my hand on his shoulder and he jumped. I looked at his haggard face and drawn features. It looked like he hadn’t slept for the entire time I was away. I asked if he was unwell and he emphatically shook his head. I was shocked at the manic look in his eyes as he returned to his ledger. I looked down at the book and saw detailed notes written with a number, dates, names and other details. When I looked closer I saw exactly what he was recording. He had noted the date of capture, location and flask number for each ghost, but not only this he had also included potential names, ages and history with some in staggering levels of detail. I asked again and he stopped, looked over his shoulder towards the door into the warehouse then looked back at me.

“I hear them. They call out to me, they are angry. I have a responsibility to them.” He whispered.

looked at him.

“You hear them?”

“Yes, all the time. It’s worse when I’m down there, but I can hear them now.” He said pinching the top of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.

I couldn’t hear anything. We sat in silence and I looked at him.

“They moan. They scream. Now they are shouting. Just shouting.”

At this point I dropped my bag snatched the pencil out of his hand, placed it on the table, pulled him to his feet and dragged him to the door grabbing his coat on the way out. I marched him down the street towards the city and the nearest pub. There was an hour until afternoon closing and I was determined to get a pint of beer into his hand. I found us a quiet corner, sat him down and grabbed two pints.

“You need a break old man. You need some rest. You’re making yourself unwell. This is too much responsibility for you to shoulder yourself. Let me help you.” I said firmly before taking a gulp of beer.

Collins looked at me and shook his head.

“I’m not mad. I know you’re only trying to help me but they are calling me. It’s not so loud now but they do. I have to make sure that after all this they all get back. I believe that as all the water is connected they will make it back eventually but I need to or they will always call out to me.”

His clarity of thought belied his wild appearance. It wrongfooted me briefly, I knew he was not going to be shifted from his new purpose. I had to find a way to help him through it. I took another mouthful of beer and thought for a minute.

“If you are recording it all so you know what is in each one of the containers and you ask someone in the admin at the Ministry you can make sure you can deal with it all later. Let’s get a letter drafted today to make sure this is part of the process. We also need to make sure we have a proper routine. When we get back I’m writing one down and you are going to follow it Doctor Bentley and we are going to get through this. We will do this Collins. We will do this together.”

My friend seemed to melt before me. He took his hand off his drink and grabbed my wrist. He looked into my eyes, his own filling with tears and said thanks with a weak croak.

We took the longest possible detour back to the warehouse grabbing some cockles from a shop near the quayside. The fresh air woke me up and began the process of reinvigorating Collins. When we returned to the warehouse I sent him to make a pot of tea while I brought out the typewriter and began typing a letter to our contact at the ministry. Our resetting and rescheduling took most of the afternoon and by the early evening I could see Collins was beginning to flag. He had admitted he hadn’t slept for more than an hour at a time in past week and after we dined on a cobbled together egg and ham supper he retired and I could hear him snoring almost as soon as his door had shut. I took the opportunity to try and get the laboratory back into some sort of order and started to tidy the various equipment back into the appropriate cupboard. As I worked away to the rhythmic sound of my friends’ snores I heard a shout from outside. This wasn’t unusual as the warehouse workers and soldiers who milled around tended to be fairly vocal but at this time in the evening it possibly meant there was some sort of problem. I put down the cloth I was using to wipe the benches down and walked across to the door. I opened it and squinted into the darkness. The warehouse was closed for the evening and the blackout meant the only light was from the small lamp over our door. There was nobody inside the warehouse and the assigned guards were posted outside the door. Deciding it must have been from outside on the quayside I shut and locked the door before returning to my cleaning. Five minutes passed and I heard the shout again. It was anguished and sounded in pain but this time it sounded far closer and was clearly a woman. I stopped and waited for a moment to pin point where the sound was coming from. I waited and the sound came again. It wasn’t in the laboratory but it was close, I think I knew in my heart where it was but I chose not to admit it to myself and when it stopped I chose to put it aside and finish my chores.

The following day Collins was invigorated and close to his ordinary self and surprisingly committed to the schedule. We spent the day working on improving the containers to hold multiple spirits and then as my schedule dictated we shut down at a reasonable hour, took a stroll then returned for a few hands of cards before retiring. I hadn’t been asleep long when I was jolted awake by an agonised cry. It was a man calling out in despair and was soon joined by another voice, this time it was a woman’s, not the one I had heard before but equally as pained. I rose, pulled on my robe and walked into the laboratory. The voices increased in number and volume and as much as I didn’t want to I was drawn towards the stairs to the basement.

I tightened the belt of my robe around me and headed down the metal steps the sounds echoing around me. I carefully unlocked the door and pushed it open. Cold air rushed past me and the moist smell filled my nostrils. The sound was louder here but the empty room seemed silent. I flicked on the light and peered down the rows of containers. It was exactly how I had last seen it. It was still, very ordinary and certainly not filled with anguished souls. I stood for a moment before I realised that out of the corner of my eye something was moving I looked closer and at the end of the room on a shelf halfway up was a flask rocking slightly from side to side I began walking down the room towards it, it was definitely moving but none of those on the shelves above and below or even the one next to it was moving. But it was. I stepped slowly towards it keeping my eyes firmly pinned on the flask as it rocked from side to side and as I reached around an arms length away it stopped. I looked at it for moment and was about to pick it up when I felt a presence behind me. I could hear breathing and that tell tale prickle on the back of my neck.

I span on my heel and came face to face with Collins.

“You can hear them too.” He said with a sigh.

The following morning we sat over tea and toast unable to find the words to share what we were feeling. It was Collins that broke first and was as matter of fact and clear as I had heard him. The Ministry were testing the delivery method that week. If it worked they would do a loaded test the following week and from there the flasks would be taken to a more secure location. It might even be the case that a ghost catching team would be put together and we would be nothing but admin. I’m not sure either of us fully believed that but we accepted this fantasy as the inevitable outcome of the next few weeks.

We continued to work and other than a surprise and unnecessary trip to the bomb shelter at the back of the warehouse it was a very ordinary day. We received a food delivery from the grocer and between us managed a reasonable dinner. We were about to start a game of dominoes when the screaming began. To me it seemed more intense than before but Collins looked at me with a resigned shrug. I shuffled the dominoes and invited him to pick. Before he did the voices became clearer, louder and far more panicked. I looked at Collins, this was different, I could tell from his eyes. Just as I was about to speak the air raid sirens began and we both turned towards the door. Before we could move there was a roar, a thud and the ground beneath us heaved. We both stumbled but gained our balance. Without saying anything we both turned and ran to the basement.

Collins threw open the door and without worrying about the black out flicked on the light. Amazingly every single flask was intact. However the street level window lights had been shattered and for some reason water was pouring into the basement down the stone wall.

“Go and see what’s happened out there and get the guards to stick some sandbags in front of the windows to stop this damned water getting in.”

I bounded up the stairs and as quickly as I could I tore around the front of the warehouse shouting over one of the soldiers who had surprisingly not left his post. I looked across the dock and could see that further along the wall had been hit which had caused water to run down the street and of course into any places below the waterline. I gave instructions to the young soldier and then crouched down to see Collins. He was there double checking the flasks trudging ankle deep through the water. He looked at me and gave a thumbs up. Just as he did there was a crash and a flash of bright light. I was thrown backwards onto the road that ran along the quayside. It took me a moment to realise what had happened and in the swirling mix of dust and smoke I climbed up and crawled to the window. I looked in and couldn’t see through the dim and flickering light that Collins was there on his knees in the increasingly flooding basement. To my horror I realised that the shelves around him were empty and the debris of the shattered flasks floated in the knee high water.

Collins pushed himself up and pulled the door. It was jammed. Something inside the now wrecked warehouse had fallen and pinned the door shut. I shouted in that I would get help. He turned towards me and he was about to speak when I heard an exultation as if hundreds of voices all cried out at once and then rising out from the water came dozens of arms, they grabbed at Collins’ legs and hands, dragging him down into the water, clawing at his face and pulling his hair his screams being drowned out by their wails. By the time I realised what was happening he was gone and voices had stopped.

The army managed to get into the basement fairly quickly but it was far too late. Collins was dead and all his flasks were gone. Inevitably without them or him the project was over and I returned home and back to my job. The ghost bombs, as far as I know never saw the light of day. I think it was probably for the best.

I still travel to Hull every so often and stand by the docks. I’m sure, when it is quiet and I take the time to listen I can hear Collins calling me in the lapping of the river. Especially if a thunderstorm is close.

supernatural
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