‘Stuff to Scare the New Guys With’

SymbolMedic

There is much debate in scientific and theological circles regarding the exact point in time that a collection of cells can be considered living, as well the exact point that the same collection of cells can be considered dead.

The moment of death has historically been a fluid concept. Indeed, there are many examples of those whose hearts have stopped beating or been declared brain dead being bought ‘back to life’ thanks to advances in modern medicine. As I write this, it is commonly accepted in the medical community that true death occurs the moment there is no chance of such a resurrection.

But what of the spirit, that intangible and unique life force that makes us who we are? Is it possible that this part of us can live on after this ‘true death’?

In my experience, the best place to begin searching for answers is in the testimonies of those who work at the boundary between life and death; the medical profession and the emergency services.

HMonitor

4th February 2012

Karen Sawyer is one such individual. Short, slight, and with a disarming smile, she currently works as a baker specialising in bespoke wedding cakes.

However, fifteen years ago, she was employed in an altogether more ‘challenging’ field.

These are her words, not mine.

We meet in a small boutique coffee shop in the London Borough of Hackney where, over several strong cups of Americano coffee, she shares her story.

As she speaks, it is impossible not to notice that her words suggest an inner steeliness at odds with her soft voice and somewhat gentle demeanour.

‘I was a call handler back then, and an emergency medical dispatcher. The trust I worked for smooshed both those roles into one. The night shifts were tough. The hardest parts were the long spells of doing nothing or dealing with mundane calls. Then, ‘Wham!’ You’d get these moments of incredibly high stress. I didn’t last long. Two years, maybe.

‘Some of the ‘old timers’, the people who’d worked there for ages, they all had the odd weird tale to tell or spooky story to share. But you took it all with a pinch of salt. They seemed like urban legends, you know? Just stuff to scare the new guys with, no more than that.

‘I only had one really strange thing happen to me, but crikey was it strange.

‘The shift started as normal, nothing unusual. Some mum rang up, worried about a rash her kid had. A drunk lad who’d snapped a finger, just the typical midweek stuff.  I remember getting up for a cup of coffee, then sitting back down when the call came in.

‘It was a young woman. She sounded… distant, tired. I could tell she’d taken something. She said her name was Tiffany.

‘Tiffany was asking for an ambulance. She said she’d taken a bunch of pills. She said she’d tried to kill herself, but she didn’t mean it. She was begging me for help.

‘I got her address and dispatched an ambulance out to her.

‘We’d been trained to keep people on the line, ‘til the paramedics arrived. She kept kind of dipping in and out on me. She’d go from loud and distraught to quiet and whimpering. She kept saying: ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake, a terrible mistake.’

‘I spoke to her for about five minutes, whilst the help was on its way. I tried to get more information out of her, specifically what the pills were that she’d taken. She said she didn’t know. So I asked her about her family. But she kept, kind of, coming and going is the only way I can describe it. Hysterical to sad. So sad.

‘I asked her if her front door was unlocked. I heard her put the phone down and then a clicking noise, which I assumed was the door being taken off the latch. 

‘Now this is before everyone had mobiles, so I guess she’d put the handset down somewhere near the receiver. 

‘She never came back on the line.’

Ms Sawyer wipes tears away from her eyes.

‘I heard the paramedics enter the building, and then some muffled voices talking. I disconnected and took a deep breath. I thought that I’d done all I could.

‘A couple of minutes later, one of the paramedics on the scene rang up. He was asking me who’d made the initial call.

‘I thought that was a bit odd. I told him it was Tiffany, the young woman.

‘He asked me if I was sure. Maybe someone else had made the call?

‘I was adamant. It was the young woman I’d spoken to. Not a relative, not a friend. No one else.

‘He just said okay and then hung up on me.’

She brushes strands of hair away from her face, composing herself.

‘Someone contacted the front desk, asking for the supervisor. I watched him take the call, all the time looking at me. He hung up and then waved me over.

‘He’d been talking to the paramedics on the scene. Apparently when they got into the place, Tiffany was dead in the hall. She was ice cold, showing signs of lividity and rigor mortis.

‘They estimated she’d been there, dead, for at least a day.’

LondonMono

According to Ms Sawyer, the recording of her phone conversation that night was reviewed at length, along with the logs of the paramedics.

All the timestamps pointed to Ms Sawyer conversing with the caller, a woman who had apparently committed suicide by an overdose of codeine, an opiate, an overdose which took her life some twenty four hours before she dialled 999.

This is not the first case of this nature experienced by a member of the emergency services that I have encountered. Indeed, the more of them I investigate, the more I am convinced that the spirit can sometimes linger behind, tied to this world for a short while, particularly after a traumatic death.

I suspect, in this instance, that the phone call Ms Sawyer answered was a final plea for help.

But without further, focused research, answers to the nature of the soul will continue to remain elusive. I must add that, once again, this is not the kind of incident that can be replicated under the conditions required to satisfy the scientific method.

Mannequin

A month after her experience, Ms Sawyer left her job as a call handler, stepping back from the edge. I cannot blame her.

If there were any justice in the world, those who toil at the apparently fluid border between life and death would be revered and rewarded accordingly.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

This was another one that was tough to type up. It’s always easier when it’s abstract concepts or historical accounts, not actual, living (or dying) people. I think I need a break from reading the good doctor’s notes for a bit. And a drink. A large one – C.R. 

Unexplained Impressions in the Snowfall

Flake

February the 8th, 1855. As the sun sets and day turns into night, a heavy snowfall lands on the neighbourhood of Exeter. The winter has been far colder than usual, and the snow that evening settles on that of the night before, and the night before that, refusing to melt. Before sunrise, the local residents begin to stir as the new day begins.

But something strange awaits them out in the snow.

Hundreds upon hundreds of mysterious tracks are found. Around four inches long and three inches across, the tracks resemble that of a hoof, and lay between eight and fourteen inches apart, in single file. When traced, these tracks have a combined length of over fifty miles. Even stranger, whatever left these prints seemed undeterred by any obstacle. The tracks continue, unbroken, over snow-topped roofs and frozen rivers, high walls and haystacks.

More hoof-marks are found the next night. And the next.

At a loss for an explanation, the locals dub them ‘the Devil’s footprints’, on account of their cloven nature.

The people grow fearful, and, for a time, refuse to go outside after midnight. Eventually, as with all such events, things return to normal, and the incident passes into local legend.

Several theories are proposed to explain the prints, ranging from the tracks of wood mice, whose leaping exploits leave a mark that resembles a cloven hoof, to an ‘experimental balloon’ accidentally released by workers at nearby Devonport Dockyard.

As is typical of such theories on the paranormal, all of these possible explanations solve one problem, but inadvertently raise another.

For instance; leaping mice may explain the shape of the prints, but even the most energetic of mice in the warmth of spring cannot leap onto the roof of a house in a single bound.

An escaped balloon, with its trailing ropes and errant shackles, may solve the issue of the tracks being made on raised surfaces, but it is unlikely that those tracks would be as uniform as the ones seen at Exeter that morning. Indeed, one would expect to find drag marks at least somewhere along the trail.

Perhaps it was the work of badgers, or even an escaped kangaroo from a private menagerie. Perhaps it was the work of unnamed ‘pranksters’, that much maligned but never identified group who are so easily blamed for such occurrences.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, something unknown really was stalking the fields of Exeter those dark and snowy nights.

But all this happened over a century and a half ago and, without a repeat of such an event, it is unlikely we will find answers in the here and now.

However, a curious account was bought to my attention a few years ago that, while not exactly the same, is similar enough to allow parallels to be drawn with the events of 1855.

SnowyField

June 1st 2016

Amanda Banford is a cheery woman, with a big smile and a motherly demeanour. She invites me to her house, a small but cosy two-up two-down in the Nottinghamshire village of Bunny, to discuss her ‘funny little tale’, as she puts it. Over numerous cups of tea and endless offers of cake that I eventually give up declining, she recounts her story. Her dog, a friendly Jack Russell terrier named Barnabus, loiters by my feet, gratefully hoovering up any crumbs the moment they hit the floor.

‘It happened a few months back, in January, those few days when it snowed really heavily. I like it when it snows. I like how quiet it gets. It’s so… peaceful, you know? 

‘It was early, maybe four, half four. Barney was barking like mad. He’s not normally like that. He’s a silly little thing, but not a barker. Are you, Barney? No, you’re not. You’re a good boy.’

She picks up the little terrier, fussing over him and, much to my surprise, smothering him with kisses before placing him back on the ground.

‘Anyway, I put my robe on and went downstairs, and I noticed how cold the house was. It was so cold I could see my own breath. I got into the kitchen where Barney was yapping away and would you believe it? The back door was wide open.

‘Now most people’s first thoughts would be something like ‘oh no! I’ve been burgled!’ but all I could think about was something my Dad used to say; ‘if you have the heating on but leave a door or window open, you’re paying twice: once to heat in here and again to heat out there.’

‘I bet your parents used to say something similar. Cake?’

She thrusts another slice of Victoria sponge at me. I take it and ask her to continue.

‘Okay. As I was going to the back door, I noticed there were these big, wet footprints on the floor. Bare footprints, like some fella had just stepped out of the bathtub. They started by the fridge and then walked across the kitchen, straight out of the backdoor.

‘I picked up Barney and took a look out into the garden. The snow was quite deep at that point, at least a good few inches. The footprints carried on, in the snow. You could see the outlines of the toes and everything.’

What did you do next?

‘Well, I was intrigued, I suppose. So I get dressed, popped Barney on his leash, and went out into the garden. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone; take Barney for his walk and see wherever this barefooted chap ended up.

‘Now, this is where it gets odd.

‘I followed those footprints, by the light of the streetlamps.

‘They went down the garden, out into the street, all the way into town, and then out into the fields.

‘I must’ve followed them for hours. I didn’t have work that day, so it wasn’t a problem. The further they went, the more I wanted to know what this guy was doing, walking about barefoot in the snow in the early morning.

‘The sun had just started to come up when I got to the end of the tracks. They just stopped, right in the middle of a field.

‘Literally, step, step, nothing. No more footprints. I couldn’t believe it. 

‘There were no other signs of anything anywhere nearby. I mean literally nowhere near. The only other prints were those behind me, the ones that me and Barney had made. It was like this guy just vanished, or was lifted up into the air, you know? Poof! Gone!

‘I was more than bamboozled, let me tell you.

‘Cake?’

Fortunately, Ms Banford was quick enough to take some photos of the last few footprints on her mobile phone, before reporting them to the local constable.

He too followed the tracks. He too was unable to explain how they came to such an abrupt end.

The constable estimated that the tracks covered at least eight miles.

Footprint

So what was the identity of this mysterious, barefooted nocturnal visitor? Why did his journey begin in Ms Banford’s kitchen? And what was his ultimate fate? Did he just vanish? Or was there some other agency at work here?

There are similarities that can be drawn between the incidents at Bunny and Exeter. However, unlike in the case a hundred and fifty-odd years ago, I feel it is reasonable to conclude that whatever occurred in that small Nottinghamshire village, it was not the work of leaping rodents, rogue balloons, fugitive kangaroos or even those ever-resourceful yet unidentified pranksters.

A local reporter did actually come to interview Ms Banford the following day, taking a copy of her photographs, and nodding sympathetically at her ‘funny little tale’.

The paper did not run the story.

It seems mysterious footprints in the snow no longer elicit the same excitement they once did.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

I remember my Nan telling me all about the Devil’s footprints when I was a kid, it seems to be one of those things that has been absorbed into the nation’s consciousness. Also vanishing individuals is fast becoming a recurring theme in the good doctor’s notes. Where do all these people go?? – C.R. 

‘Spooky Action at a Distance’

Swirl

Precognition is a curious thing, defined as a forewarning, or even a memory, of events that have not yet come to pass. There are many examples dotted through history of individuals somehow briefly opening a window through time and peering into the future.

In April 1912, one Anne Ward, a maid for the wealthy Cardeza family, refused to board the doomed ship the RMS Titanic with her employers, claiming she’d experienced a dream the night before foretelling a terrible tragedy. The Cardezas went on without her. History records in detail how that journey ended.

Famed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is also believed to have had such an experience one evening during the Blitz. Apparently Churchill ordered his staff to ‘put dinner on a hot plate in the dining room’ and then head down to the air raid shelter. Shortly afterwards, a bomb struck the house, completely destroying the kitchen.

Even President Abraham Lincoln is said to have seen his own assassination in a dream, although he was powerless to prevent it.

Now, it is entirely possible that stories were just mundane events that have become twisted and exaggerated through the lens of time. However, it is also possible that these examples are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, and only remembered because of the famous individuals and events involved. Perhaps many similar things have been experienced by so called ‘regular’ people, and these events, due to their nature, go unreported.

I recently had the good fortune to be introduced by an acquaintance to a very credible witness to such an event, one Dr James Hancock.

Trees

May 11th 2014

I meet Dr Hancock in a busy wine bar at Heathrow Airport. A highly respected heart surgeon, he is on his way to a conference in Geneva, and London is just a stopover. Although he is understandably tired from the first leg of his journey, I find him to be pleasant company.

A serious and sober individual, he comes across as highly intelligent, and not someone who would let his imagination get the better of him.

We both agree that a bar in an airport is not the best place to discuss such matters as what he experienced one day on the winding, wooded roads of California ten years ago, but discuss them we do.

The following is his account.

‘It was 2004, springtime, spring break actually, and I was in my last year of medical school. Aneek, my girlfriend at the time, was desperate to do one of the famous American road trips, so we decided to travel from Three Rivers all the way to Fresno, following a route that her Uncle had recommended to us. We’d hired a vintage Oldsmobile for the journey, a real beautiful ride, and the first day was plain sailing all the way. 

We stopped off at one of the state parks and had a great afternoon just looking around. It truly was breath-taking. We camped there that night then hit the road again the next day.

We’d agreed to take turns driving. That afternoon, Aneek was behind the wheel and I was in the passenger seat. It was a bright day, real sunny, and we were headed down a small winding road through the woods, these amazing giant trees on either side of us.

We’d been arguing the previous day over which radio station to listen to. Nothing serious. It was kind of a running joke by that point. Aneek liked the oldies stations, but I wanted to listen to something a bit more up to date, you know. A Smokey Robinson song had been on, and it was just coming to an end.

I remember the last line clearly. ‘Cause I’m really sad…’’

He rather quietly and flatly sings those words.

‘As it faded out, I reached for the dial to switch the station.

Then it happened.’

What happened?

‘One moment I was awake, and then suddenly everything felt different. The only way I can describe it is that it was like I was in a dream. Everything had this weird sheen to it, like a shimmer. No, that’s not the best way to describe it. I’m not sure I know the best way. Do you know when oil sits on water? All the surfaces I could see, the dash, the windshield, even the road outside, they all looked like that, almost glistening in the sunshine. Glossy, I guess. 

That’s not an ideal description, but it’s the best I’ve got. As I’ve said, everything felt like a dream.

I watched as a car came speeding ‘round a bend up ahead, too fast to stop. Then it hit us, head on.

Then I was outside the car, above it, looking down. I watched in slow motion as the two cars collided and crumpled like cardboard. There were two teenage boys in the other car, and the one on the passenger side came flying through the windshield. I watched the driver’s head slam into the steering wheel. The front of our car buckled. The impact was so great it caused the steering column of the Oldsmobile to slam into Aneek’s chest and head, and I watched as the whiplash effect caused my neck, the neck of the version of me below me, however you want to put it, to snap forward and back again real violently. A similar thing happened to the driver of the other car.

I saw it all, in horrific detail, even though it was just a split second. There was blood everywhere, and I knew, I just knew, that all four of us, Aneek and me, the two kids, we were all a goner. Done for. 

Suddenly I was back in the car, in the passenger side, listening to that last line of the Smokey Robinson fade away again.

‘Cause I’m really sad…’’

He sings those words again, but quieter this time.

‘Everything was back to normal. The weird sheen had gone.

I shouted at Aneek to pull over. She was scared, but she didn’t argue. Just as we were coming to a stop, a car, the same car that I had just seen, came tearing ‘round the corner. There were two teenage lads in the front, struggling to keep control as they took the bend.

They just missed us.

 It took a while for Aneek to calm down. Hell, it took me a while to calm down. She kept asking me how I knew to stop, but I couldn’t explain it. It took me a while to put it into words.

We found a motel that night and travelled home the next day.

I’m aware of how all this sounds.

I’ve never experienced anything like that ever again.

And I’m not a lunatic. Trust me. ’

I tell him that this is exactly the kind of thing a lunatic might say.

He glares at me for a moment before breaking into a broad grin and pouring himself another glass of wine.

Ripple

I found Dr Hancock to be most convincing, and it is obvious that something happened to him that sunny Californian evening. Did he somehow foresee the grisly fate that awaited him on that winding back road? Was there some unknown force at work that decided he should be given a chance to avert that fate? Or is it possible that the ramifications of certain major events in a person’s life can somehow echo both forward and backwards through time, like ripples in a pond, travelling outwards in all directions?

The quantum theory of physics does seem to suggest that it may at least be possible for time to run in more than one direction.

Perhaps future research will reveal Einstein’s famed spooky action at a distance to be even spookier than we presently imagine.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

I must admit that I’m struggling to get my head ’round this a bit, physics was never my strong point at school. The good doctor has mentioned time travel before, but I suspect that this is something different. 

I’m actually looking up heart surgeons in the US by the name of Dr Hancock. If I can find the right guy, maybe he can shed some light on Dr Gotobed’s whereabouts. Fingers crossed! – C.R.