The Last of the Star Whales

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Marcel Griaule was a French anthropologist born at the end of the Nineteenth century. Beginning in 1931, he spent several years in the Mopti region of Mali in West Africa, studying the indigenous Dogon people.

The Dogon are renowned for their adherence to their old ways, ways that have been surprisingly resistant to change over the millennia. Their traditions offer a rare glimpse in to life as it was a long, long time ago.

In 1946, Griaule spent a month in the company of a man named Ogotemmeli, a blind hunter who divulged the astronomical beliefs of his people, beliefs that amazed the French anthropologist. According to Ogotemmeli, the Dogon had knowledge of the star Sirius B, a white dwarf that is invisible to the naked eye, as well as the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter, alongside other cosmic information that is apparently inherent to their views of the Universe and their place within it.

In later years, various authors would jump on the work of Griaule and use it as proof of the ‘Ancient Astronaut’ theory, a line of thought postulating that early man was visited by beings from other worlds. According to this theory, those beings guided humanity to build such wonders as the pyramids of Giza and the stone heads of Easter Island, as well as introducing us to art, literature and other facets of high culture.

I have no time for this theory. I believe it is a mistake to belittle early man by ascribing his great works to extra-terrestrial sources. Besides, prior research suggests that it was Griaule himself who introduced the idea of Sirius B to the Dogon people.

But all this is but background noise.

In 1948, one Germaine Dieterlain, a student of Griaule’s who had accompanied him on his trips, was preparing to leave Mali and return to France. On the day she left, a Dogon elder handed her a series of stone tablets, tablets that were inscribed with a strange writing the likes of which Dieterlain had never seen before. The elder explained that even he could not read the words on the tablets, but local legend had it that these words detailed a creation myth that was even older than his people’s. Indeed, the tablets were considered ancient even when the Dogon themselves were young.

Unable to find anyone capable of translating these tablets, Dieterlain donated them to the Université de Paris, where they elicited no more than uninterested grumblings. They remained there until 1976, when they found their way into the hands of the British Museum in London, gathering dust in a vault for fifteen years.

In 1991, they were stumbled upon by one Paul Cortez, a linguistics expert working on a hypothetical universal translation system. To test his creation, Cortez required a document in an unknown language that had never been deciphered.

At this point considered untranslatable, the Dieterlain tablets were just that document.

A decade of hard work later, Cortez believed he had cracked the code inscribed upon the ancient stone. In 2001, he published his findings in the academic journal British Historical Review*.

Here is his translation:

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In the beginning, there were only two things: the Darkness and the Silence.

The Darkness was so deep that it went beyond even forever, and the Silence so quiet that even if there were things to speak, they would not have dared to utter a sound.

Then the Star Whales came, great herds of majestic beasts that roamed through the voids of space. And their call echoed throughout the Universe, a chorus of love and hope. The Darkness retreated and the Silence surrendered, and the stars and the planets took their places in the heavens.

Life was born to that sound, the song of the Star Whales.

The cycles came and went, and the people of the young races began to prosper under the sound, a song that would warm even the coldest of souls. These young races gave names to the voices in the chorus, adding the new calves as they were born, and celebrating the elder whales as they moved on, into the Great Ever After.

The young races passed this practice on to their children, and their children did the same; on and on, down through the generations. First with sounds, then with symbols, and finally with the written word. 

As is the way, the customs of the old eventually became the traditions of the new, and many an infant on many a land sat up at night listening to the great concert in the heavens. 

As time passed, and civilisations rose up and crashed down like so many waves on the shore, the chorus of the Star Whales grew weaker, as one by one they moved into the Great Ever After. No more calves were born, and the song of love and hope that once echoed through the heavens began to grow silent, until only one voice remained. A quiet voice, unlike the others.

And the song grew sad.

The wisest of the wise men amongst the young races named the whale to whom this voice belonged: ‘Akhtumara Shem, the Lonely One, for whom time is Short’. After all, the laws of survival as understood at the time declared that one being, all alone, cannot possibly live for long.

But the Universe is a strange place, and sometimes it cares not for the laws of those that reside within it. And so the lonely whale sang on.

The young races grew old, ancient even, and eventually they began to leave the Universe, taking their ways with them, and new races appeared, spreading out across the lands. Tales of the great chorus lingered, an imprint on the collective memory of all life that ever was or ever will be.

Still the lonesome whale sang. And even now, it is said that if you can find a deserted plane and stand atop its highest mountain on a quiet night, you will hear it. The song  of Akhtumara Shem, the Lonely One, for whom time was not short.

Akhtumara Shem, the last of the Star Whales. 

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The translation was roundly mocked by the stuffed shirts of historical academia. After all, there are no other documents that speak of anything even vaguely like such a creation myth in any other culture on Earth.

This fact was considered enough to brand Cortez’s universal translation system, at best, a grandiose folly, and at worst, a description I have no desire to repeat here.

Unable to gain further funding, Paul Cortez died of pneumonia in 2003, discredited and penniless.

The tablets themselves were returned to the vault in the depths of the British Museum, no doubt to gather dust once more.

Cortez’s daughter has kindly donated her father’s work to me. I have forwarded it to a colleague of mine based at the University of Cairo, an old friend who is an expert in the translation of long dead languages.

Perhaps she can shed some light on the history of this ancient, yet unique, tale of a lonely astral cetacean.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

 * I have attempted to trawl through every copy of the British Historical Review  for 2001, but it is quite a dry publication for a layperson such as myself. I’ll endeavour to carry on, but I do have a life to live outside of fact checking the good doctor’s notes – C.R. 

A Thought-Form by the River Trent

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Gunthorpe is a small village tucked away by the banks of the River Trent, on the outskirts of Nottinghamshire. It is typical of many such places scattered throughout the United Kingdom; quiet, sleepy almost, consisting of no more than a couple of pubs by the riverside, a high street and a patch of houses, all surrounded by a network of fields and criss-crossed by winding country roads.

In August of 1991, it was also the site of what initially appeared to be a curious case of bi-location, but soon became something far more sinister. All centred on one eighteen year old girl:

Karen Ogilvy.

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6th April 1995

Joseph Colman is a personable young man, and only the dark circles that have taken up residence around his eyes betray the fact that he is nursing a rather severe hangover. Currently a student in his final year at Sheffield University, he was born and raised in the aforementioned village of Gunthorpe, and a friend of Miss Ogilvy’s.

We meet in the bar of the Corner Pin in Newhall on a cold, grey afternoon. Nestled by the fireplace, between pints of imported lager, Joseph tells me his recollections of the August of ’91:

“Yeah, I remember that summer. That’s the year we got our ‘A’ level results.”

“There were four of us who’d always knock about together. Me, my girlfriend Mia, and then Marcus and his missus Karen. We’d all gone to the same school, so we were all close. Not so much anymore. We’ve all kinda drifted apart.”

“It started off with a couple of little things, things that didn’t seem like a big deal at first. I saw Karen in the village, across the street, walking ahead of me. I shouted at her and she turned round. I waved hello and she just turned back and carried on, completely blanking me. And then she did the same to Mia a few hours later in the corner shop. Apparently Karen stared straight through her. Mia thought she must’ve been high or something.” 

“I wasn’t too bothered by this, perhaps she was just having a bad day? Shit happens. But Mia was pissed off. We asked Karen about it the next time we saw her, and she had no idea what we were talking about. She thought we were just pulling her leg.”

“But… that sorta shit, you just forget about it, right?” 

He gingerly sips his pint before continuing.  

“Well, a few days later, there’s a bunch of us having a drink in the Unicorn. When last orders came, we thought we’d pop up to one of the fields and have a… a smoke. You know what I mean?” 

I assure him that I do.

“Anyway, I’m driving ‘coz I’d only had a couple of pints. Mia’s got shotgun as she was, you know, my girl back then. Marcus and Karen are in the back. Karen asks if we can swing by her house first. She wants to pick up a bottle of vodka she’s got stashed away.”

“So we drive to hers and she jumps out, goes running inside. We’re sat there for, I don’t know, five minutes? Mia’s getting a bit impatient and tells Marcus to go and see what the hold-up is. They argue back and forth for a bit, but then Karen comes out. She walks over to the car, and she’s got this kinda blank expression on her face. Says she’s changed her mind and that she’s not actually feeling too well, that we should go on without her. Bit weird, right? But hey-ho, off we go, the three of us.”

“The next day, Marcus rings me. He says that he’s just spoken to Karen, and she wants to know why we ditched her.”

“I rang Karen myself. She reckons that she went inside, and whilst she’s taking her room apart looking for this bottle of booze, she said she hears us drive away. She goes outside and we’re gone. And she’s absolutely insisting that this is the truth. Almost crying about it.”

“That’s a bit fucked up, right? All three of us saw her, heard her speak. But she’s adamant that never happened.”

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Bi-location is a curious phenomenon. It occurs when a person is present in two separate places at the same time.

In Marseilles, towards the end of the last century, a class of schoolchildren witnessed their young teacher writing on the blackboard in front of them as well as strolling through the schoolyard outside their window.

In 1906, the British Member of Parliament Sir Fredrick Carne Rasch was seen attending a debate at the House of Lords, when it was a well-known fact that he was tucked up in bed at home at the time, tackling a nasty bout of influenza.

The Portuguese friar and doctor St. Anthony of Padua was said to have appeared both preaching a sermon at one service and singing in the choir of another one balmy Easter Sunday in the 13th Century.

But bi-location appears to be a harmless, if unsettling event.

What happened in Gunthorpe that summer seemed to quickly escalate into something much more troubling.

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10th April 1995

Mia Cooper is a good-humoured individual, currently completing her teacher training in physical education at a Rushcliffe School, a local comprehensive in Nottingham. When I finally get the chance to meet her in person, I get the distinct impression that her job is akin to the herding of cats.

On her lunch break we sit in the staff room, and between bites of a sandwich and sips of burnt coffee she tells me of her experience of the events of the summer of ‘91. Her retelling is faithful to Joseph Colman’s, albeit with some minor, inconsequential differences.

Her words pick up where Mr Colman’s left off:

“We ribbed Karen a bit about that night, told her she had an evil twin knocking about that was trying to ruin her social life. She laughed it off a few times but I could tell she wasn’t amused.” 

“Then it happened again.” 

She shifts a little in her chair, leaning toward me.

“Late on the Saturday, Joe was driving the four of us out into the fields, for a puff or two…”

She mimes smoking something furtively.

“…Marcus was joshing him about making sure that everybody was in the car this time, but Karen seemed in good spirits. We all did. We were due to get our results in a few days, so I think we were all a bit nervous. I suppose we were just looking to unwind.”  

“So we’re going down past Allen’s farm, on one of those tiny country lanes… do you know the ones I mean? You can literally get one car and maybe a Rizla down ‘em. And once the sun’s gone? They’re pretty much pitch black.” 

“Anyway, we turn this one corner, not too quick, and there’s someone standing bang in the middle of the road, facing away from us, not moving. It’s a woman, and she’s kinda swaying. We just assumed she was another club casualty. Too many pills at the start of the night, yeah?” 

“Joe honked the horn a few times, and Marcus is getting all up in his ear, saying he should just nudge this crazy woman out of the way.”

“And then she turns ‘round. And I shit you not, it’s Karen.”

I remind her that she’s just said that Karen was in the car with her.

“She was. She was sat right next to me. And she looked terrified. The one beside me, anyway. The Karen in front of us was just staring at the car with this mad look in her eyes.”

“Until she ran at us.” 

Ran at you? I ask her to elaborate.

“Got down on all fours and just charged at us, running like an animal.”

“Joe slams the car into reverse, swerving backwards down this tight country lane. And this… this thing… this other Karen… she was keeping up with us. And everyone in the car’s just yelling. And then… and then she just disappeared.” 

Mia goes silent for a moment. I can see her hands are shaking.

“I know I saw all this. But I also know that I couldn’t have seen it, you know?”

I ask her what the four of them did next.

“Well we kept going in reverse for a bit. Then Joe stops the car, and we all got out. Karen’s screaming, saying she wants to go home. Marcus’ tries to calm her down but it didn’t help. So we drove her home and she ran inside, slamming the door.”

“We never saw her again.”

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The next day, The Ogilvy’s house is devoid of life. A few days later, a ‘for sale’ sign appears outside. As far as I can glean from local records, her parents emigrated, alarmingly quickly, to Canada, taking their only daughter with them.

I have been unable to track them, or Karen, down for comment.

The next day I was, however, able to speak with Marcus Howe, the other passenger in the vehicle that fateful night. A soldier in the British Army stationed somewhere in Bosnia, he manages to  relate his version of events to me over a crackling phone line.

He corroborates the accounts of Joseph Colman and Mia Cooper.

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I believe it is fair to say that whatever took place in Gunthorpe that summer goes beyond mere bi-location. Indeed, the reference point I keep returning to is the Tibetan Book of the Dead and it’s mention of the Tulpa: a thought-form if you will, with a physical presence and a personality, created by mental power alone.

But it apparently takes an enormous amount of focus and decades of training to manifest such a thing.

Perhaps Karen Ogilvy possessed such power, but without knowing it. Perhaps she unwittingly willed a duplicate of herself into being, and that duplicate, without direction, proceeded to leave confusion and distress in its wake.

Without speaking to Miss Ogilvy, it is, unfortunately, impossible to know.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

Pennies (and Other Objects) From Heaven

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Throughout history there have been cases of strange things raining from the sky, as if some unseen celestial prankster is making merry at our expense.

In Gorsky, Russia, 1940, thousands of silver coins tumble to the earth, much to the delight of the local peasants.

In Kendarington, England, 1989, a couple in a churchyard witness a shower of coins. The coins themselves are dated between 1902 and 1953, ‘old money’ in the UK, and therefore of no real value to anyone.

In Columbus, Ohio, the United States, 1991, thousands of dollar bills descend to the streets. Upstanding citizens hand over $500 to the authorities. One can only presume that the rest of the money is ‘absorbed’ into the local economy.

But it is not always currency that assails us from above.

In Queensland, Australia, 1989, thousands of dead sardines fall from the heavens ‘like a sheet of silver rain’ about the house of Mr and Mrs Degen. The Degen’s fill a bowlful of the fish for their cat, Winksy, and keep a couple for themselves as souvenirs. The police report from that day details that the fall of fish is confined to an area of two acres around the Degen property, and no more. The remaining sardines are quickly snaffled up by the local wildlife, no doubt to Winksy’s dismay.

In Stroud, England, 1987, a two day bout of torrential rain brings with it thousands of tiny striped frogs that bounce off umbrellas and land on pavements, hopping away to nearby lakes and streams. The frogs are of the species Allobates olfersiodes or the Rio Rocket, native to the forests of Eastern Brazil. Two days later, a similar downpour in Cheltenham brings more of these amphibious travellers.

As previously stated, these events are not a modern phenomenon. Indeed, deep within the pages of The History of the Northern Peoples, by the Swedish writer Olaus Magnus, is a woodcut depicting a fall of fish over his homeland. The book in question was published in 1555.

Modern science attempts to explain these showers as the product of waterspouts or tornadoes, whereby objects or creatures are collected up by powerful winds and then deposited elsewhere. Whilst I concede that this is a possibility, it fails to explain why only a certain species of frog fell in Stroud, or only silver pennies in Gorsky. Science will counter this by stating that, during a tornado, the circular winds will separate whatever it picks up according to specific gravity, rather like a centrifuge. But if this is the case, what happens to the rest of the detritus that said tornado must have also gathered up? Surely we should see further showers of a singular species or denomination further along the storm’s path?

As this appears not to be the case, what are the origins of these flurries of animals and objects? Even I find it difficult to believe that matter, living or otherwise, can be spontaneously created. So it stands to reason that these mysterious sky-borne tourists must have started life somewhere.

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On the 4th of March 2002, I received a call from a distressed individual in Hereford, requesting my assistance with one such occurrence. I duly travelled west and was greeted by a local farmer, who regaled me with a tale of several hundred large fish following from the sky the previous night. The fish had landed only on his house and a neighbouring field, and they were very much alive when this occurred. The majority of them had suffocated out of water, but the farmer had managed to save a couple, placing them in a large water butt.

I was a little surprised upon viewing the survivors: they were a pair of mature Koi carp.

I took the fish with the farmer’s blessing and gifted them to a local aquarium, where, to the best of my knowledge, they still reside.

I was at a loss to explain this and, I must concede, it was not long before other, more pressing cases began to occupy my time.

A few months later, a colleague of mine based in Japan sent me a translation of a local newspaper cutting. The article details a Koi farm in the Aichi Prefecture that managed to misplace its entire stock of fish overnight. There were no signs of a break-in, and one suspects the stealing of two hundred-odd examples of valuable carp from a locked building would not only attract some attention, but also be terribly time consuming.

The date this piscatorial heist took place? The 3rd of March, 2002.

Whilst it is definitely possible to draw a correlation between these two events, if some type of a transference did take place, the actual mechanics are, at best, an enigma.

Perhaps it is the work of some unseen celestial prankster after all.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

The Man Who Fell Through Time

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Gareth Roberts was born in Wigan in 1946, the youngest of five sons. He grew up in an impoverished household in post-war England, and having to wear the hand-me-down clothes that dressed his four brothers before him instilled in the young boy a resolve to succeed that his siblings lacked. This resolve pulled him through his ‘O’ levels and on to university, the first of his family to do so. He left University College of London in 1968 with a first class degree in accounting. His tutors remember him as a diligent student, with a keen eye for detail.

His parents were proud witnesses at his graduation.

Gareth went straight in to employment for Packham & Cooper, a small accounting firm based in central London.

In 1972 he met and began courting one Anna Collins, a local hairdresser. A year later they were married. The newlyweds moved in to a house in nearby Croydon, where they planned to start a family of their own in the not too distant future.

Gareth’s story should end here, his days lived out happily but unremarkably as a hardworking husband and, more than likely, a doting father.

But a curious series of events conspired to take his life down an altogether different path.

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The following is an excerpt from the Croydon Guardian, dated Tuesday the 1st of July, 1975:

‘Police received several reports of bright lights over Croydon and Bromley on Sunday night. Witnesses claimed to have seen multiple orange shapes moving through the skies. ‘They were like giant glowing balls jumping through the clouds, all over the place,’ said Clarice Powell, local resident and mother of two. ‘I was getting the cat in when I saw them. First just the one, but then two more appeared. I watched them for about twenty minutes. They flew close to the ground and I thought they were going to crash, and then they just zipped away, gone.’ The strange lights were also spotted by a group of local astronomers who could not identify them. ‘No military or air force exercises were scheduled to take place that night,’ a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said yesterday morning.’

Whilst the nocturnal illuminations of that night are indeed odd, they are just a precursor to something far more extraordinary.

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4th October 2005

George Evans is a tall, balding man with a large smile and a firm handshake. He has recently retired from the Metropolitan Police, but in 1975 he was a fresh faced detective in the Borough of Croydon. He agrees to meet me in the Oval Tavern and over a few pints of ale we discuss the events of that summer.

Upon reading the newspaper clipping mentioned above, he gives a throaty laugh before lighting a cigarette.

“I remember that, yeah. We all had a good chuckle about that down at the station. It takes all sorts, I guess. Do you know we once had a man ring up and say he’d been chased home from the boozer one night by a giant rabbit? He said it was as big as a car. You notice the papers didn’t run with that story.”

“But that not what you wanted to talk about, is it?”

I tell him that it is not.

Mr Evans stubs out his cigarette and consults a battered and yellowing notebook.

“Well, I took the statement from Anna Roberts. She said that the on the 31st of June, a Monday, her husband began to complain of intermittent headaches and problems with his vision. He described them as ‘flashes of black’ that struck him every couple of hours or so. They were bad enough to keep him off work for a few days.”

“By Thursday night, she said he was feeling much better, and he decided to go to work on the Friday. She suggested that he may as well take that day off as well, just in case the headaches returned, but he was having none of it. Going by what his colleagues said, that didn’t sound out of character. Apparently he was, and how can I put this politely? ‘Work focused’. Yeah, that’ll do.”

“Anyway, she made him a packed lunch. His favourite, a cheese and pickle sandwich. I’ve actually underlined that part. See? I think it says a lot about a man when his favourite sandwich is cheese and pickle. Anyway, he popped it in his briefcase, gave her a peck on the cheek and climbed in his car. She said she watched and waved as he drove off.”  

“He never made it to work. The next day, at about six in the morning, we get a phone call about an abandoned car on the A232. It’s Mr Roberts’, and it’s just sat there. Driver door open, keys in the ignition, engine running. No sign of him, not even his briefcase.”

We get another round of drinks and Mr Evans continues.

“Now, to start with, we thought maybe he had a second family somewhere, or that he’d just got bored of his life and decided to bugger off and start afresh somewhere else. It’s not unheard of. But that didn’t sit right with the kind of person he was. Like I said, he was pretty work focused, and by all accounts he was happy with his lot. So then we thought maybe it was his job. Perhaps he was cooking the books for someone? We went through all his files, but everything was above board, plus his boss said that most of his clients were pretty small fry. So nothing there either.”  

“After about six months we ran out of leads, and the case went cold. Eventually his wife stopped calling and it kinda got put on the back burner, then taken off the hob altogether, if you know what I mean?”

He lights another cigarette and blows a coil of blue smoke up at the ceiling.

“It bothered me for a long time, that case. What happened to him? He was a strait-laced, happily married accountant. I thought about it every now and again, but eventually I guess I just kinda forgot about it.”

“But it doesn’t end there. Fifteen years later, in the winter of 1990, I get a phone call, completely out of the blue. It’s a copper up in Edinburgh, says he’s found a body, a body he thinks I might be able to identify.”

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2nd of February, 1990

The I          *  was the first in a proposed group of boutique hotels due to open in Edinburgh’s old town. Designed to accommodate the more affluent tourist, it had fourteen rooms, each with their own unique style. On it’s opening day, the first guests to stay in the penthouse suite return to reception to report that their key card will not work. A porter goes up to their room with the master key and successfully gains entry.

He finds a fully clothed man laying prone on the bed, a briefcase next to him. The porter tries to rouse this unexpected guest, but he cannot be woken.

The man is dead.

The police attend quickly and search the body for identification. The man has no credit cards in his wallet, but in his jacket pocket, creased and folded, is an old fashioned, paper and photoless driving license.

The name on the license is Gareth Roberts.

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Mr Evans continues:

“A couple of days later I drove up to Edinburgh to take a look at this body. I get to the coroner’s office, and sure enough, it’s Mr Roberts stretched out on the slab. But this is where it gets weird. He was what, 29 when he disappeared? I shit you not, he hasn’t aged a day. Not a single grey hair, wrinkle, scar, nothing like that. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a single person who time hasn’t caught up with in some way or other over the last fifteen years.”

“So I ask to see his belongings. There’s his suit, a little crumpled, but apart from that in perfect condition. And then there’s his briefcase, also in perfect nick. You know what was inside, apart from some files? A cheese and pickle sandwich, as fresh as if it was made a few days ago.”

“I asked the coroner for the cause of death. He has no idea. Says there was nothing physically wrong with the guy. It’s like he just stopped being alive. Those were his exact words. And if the coroner’s saying that? Well, you tell me.”

“A few days after that, his wife, Anna, now remarried, comes up to see the body. It shakes her up badly, but she confirmed what I thought. It’s like a single day hasn’t passed since he vanished. Two of his brothers said the same thing.”

“I took it to the Chief Superintendent, but he didn’t care. Told me to chalk it up to experience and forget about it.”

“It made the ninth page of some local rag. A small column tucked away at the bottom. ‘Vanished Local Man’s Body Found After Fifteen Years’, or some bollocks. I guess they missed the important part.”

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I have been unable to find the article that Mr Evans mentioned. I was, however, able to view the post-mortem report. Cause of death was listed as unknown.

I chose not to ask Anna Roberts, now Anna Pendleton, about her first husband’s disappearance. I feel she has been through enough without a stranger digging up the bones of the past.

Many elements of this case are intriguing. What happened to Gareth Roberts on that July morning in 1975? How did his body end up inside the penthouse suite of a newly opened hotel hundreds of miles away? Why, after so long, were his body and belongings in the same exact same condition as they were when whatever misfortune befell him? And did the curious lights spotted in the sky in the preceding days have any connection to that misfortune?

Barring the appearance of new evidence, whatever transpired to doom the unfortunate Gareth Roberts to somehow ‘fall through time’ to his death will remain a mystery.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

* Since this report is handwritten, and the good doctor’s penmanship can be pretty ropey at times, I can’t for the life of me decipher the name of the hotel in Scotland. I can see that the first letter is an ‘I’, but frankly, the rest of the word is a mess – C.R. 

Incident at the Temple of Debod

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January 9th 1960

It is on this date that construction of the Aswan High Dam across the River Nile in Egypt began in earnest. Its reservoir, Lake Nasser, becomes one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, covering over two thousand square miles; two thousand square miles that were once home to several important archaeological sites.

One of these sites is the Temple of Debod, a monument to the ancient winged goddess Isis. It consists of a processional way which leads under three stone pylon-shaped arches, then onto the temple itself, which houses a sanctuary and an offering table, along with several antechambers and a set of steps leading to the roof.

The temple was built in approximately 200 BC and has undergone several revisions and alterations over the centuries. In 1968, with the commission of the Aswan Dam, the whole site was taken apart brick by brick and moved to the Parque del Oeste in Madrid, where it was expertly reconstructed. Its relocation was a diplomatic thank you to the Spanish government for their help in saving the nearby Abu Simbel complex, and to prevent the temple from being reduced to no more than an undignified and crumbling stack of blocks in the murky waters of the newly created Lake Nasser.

The Temple of Debod’s new home was opened to the public in the early summer of 1972.

Almost immediately, curious events began to occur.

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First there was an upsurge in reports of missing housecats in the residential areas near the park. These reports continued to rise in frequency over the next few weeks. Taken on its own, this is not so unusual. After all, the humble cat is not famed for its fidelity. The vanishing felines caused a few ripples in the local community and the odd disgruntled letter to the district newspaper, indignant at the apparent lack of response from the authorities, but nothing more.

Then there were several sightings of a tall, pale skinned and dark haired woman striding through the park late at night. These sightings would also not be unusual, were not for the fact this woman appeared completely naked. Indeed, one couple out for a midnight stroll claimed that the unclothed lady gave off a slight, almost ethereal glow.

But missing pets and naked women do not a case for the paranormal make.

Then a young boy disappeared.

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15th June 1972

Adriano Martínez lived with his family in an apartment block close to Parque del Oeste. According to police reports, his parents recalled their son taking himself to bed just after 10pm. His mother checked in on him as she retired at midnight and found the window to Adriano’s room open and her son nowhere to be seen. None of his clothes or other belongings were gone. Whilst it’s certainly possible that he just stole away for the evening, the Martínez’s apartment was on the fifth floor, a climb that would be difficult for an adult to make, let alone an eleven year old boy.

Adriano was not seen for the next thirty six hours. A thorough search of the apartment block, the park, and the other surrounding areas by the local Policia Municipal revealed no sign of him.

And here is where events began to take an even stranger turn.

Debod3 B & W 2

17th August 1995

Inigo Gómez is a short, lithe, and deeply tanned man, and the faded scars on his face and arms speak of a life lived on the lowest rungs of society. He currently works for the local social services, mentoring wayward teens, but he admits to a much more ‘fluid’ lifestyle back in the early 1970s. Homeless and an alcoholic, he would spend his nights in the Parque del Oeste, avoiding the police and snatching at sleep wherever possible.

We meet on a sunny afternoon and share a table outside a cafeteria on the edge of the park. After an hour or so of small talk, Inigo tells me the tale of what he saw on that warm night in 1972.

(My Spanish is a little rusty, so please forgive any errors in my translation. The expletives are all Inigo’s own.)

“I’d been in a fight that night, I think. I can’t remember quite where or why, I just remember the pain in my head from getting punched and the pain in my knuckles from fighting back. I was very angry in those days. I thought the whole world was my enemy. Somehow I ended up in the park with a bottle of orujo. That was my usual routine back then; get some booze, find a bench or piece of ground somewhere out of the way and just drink myself to sleep. Either the sun would wake me in the morning or the police would kick me awake and then move me on. It wasn’t the best time in my life.” 

“There were rumours among the other homeless hombres in those days, about the woman in the park. A friend of mine told me that he’d seen her, and that he’d be sleeping somewhere else for a while. Me? I didn’t care about that. I just wanted somewhere to drink away the rest of the day. But the cats though… they fucking bothered me. Seemed like there had been fucking dozens of them those past few nights. I hate cats. Still do. Puta gatos locos, me comprendes?”

He smiles and twirls a finger around the side of his head.

“It was the cats that woke me up, all yowling at the same time. I remember opening my eyes and seeing them all walking past me, like there was some fucking ‘reunión’ somewhere. I don’t know why, but I staggered to my feet and decided to follow them…”

 He is gazing toward the park now, a faraway look in his eyes.

“…they went to that damn temple. I never liked that place. And they were all gathered there. Hundreds of the little bastardos. They were on the stone, around the arches, looking at the building at the end. In the doorway was the woman, just stood there, completely naked with her hands in the air. It looked like there was a light behind her. She had this weird kind of glow around the edges. I have to tell you, she was beautiful.” 

He smiles at me again and winks.

“In front of her was a little boy, ten, maybe eleven years of age. He was naked too. I saw the woman had something in her hand, a knife maybe, and for some reason that made me sober up quickly. Before that point I think I thought I was just having a drunken dream, but seeing the blade was like a slap in the face. If it hadn’t been a kid I probably wouldn’t have cared. That’s what I was like back then. But I couldn’t see a child get hurt. Even I knew that was wrong. I had to do something. So I shouted out. I’m not really sure what happened next.”

It takes some coaxing to get the rest of the story out of him.

“Well… and I understand if you don’t believe me… all the cats turned to face me. I remember hundreds of pairs of eyes looking at me. There was a flash of bright light, and the woman… she flew towards me…”

Flew? I ask him for clarification on this.

“Yes. She had wings. Giant wings with white feathers. I don’t remember what happened after that.”

Debod4 B & W

Police records reveal that Inigo was found the next day wandering through the park with the boy in his arms and mumbling incoherently. The child in question was the young Adriano.

Inigo was held for questioning for the next few days under suspicion of kidnapping. He was later released without charge due to a lack of evidence against him.

Adriano was taken to a nearby hospital. After a thorough examination he was returned to his parents, apparently unscathed, the only sign of his ordeal a streak of grey now running through his otherwise jet-black hair. He had no memory of the previous night’s events. Not long after, Adriano’s father accepted a job in Geneva and moved his family out of Madrid.

They declined to be interviewed.

As for Inigo Gómez, the incident that night forced him to question his life choices. He has been sober ever since.

A short while later, two of the archways of the Temple of Debod are dismantled and swapped around, a configuration they remain in to this day.

No further incidents are reported.

Madrid3

It has long been theorised that certain emotionally charged events can be recorded by organic materials, and these events can then be replayed when specific conditions are met (see The Possible Mechanism of Residual Hauntings, where I discuss this in greater detail). However, in this instance, the phenomena’s apparent ability to interact with its surroundings casts this theory into doubt. It is unfortunate that all the evidence in this case is anecdotal, and Inigo Gómez’s past makes him not the most reliable witness. But something unusual took place that summer at the site in Madrid, and whatever occurred was evidently deemed sufficiently serious to sway the Spanish government into action, and that action was enough to alter conditions sufficiently to end the associated phenomena.

One can only wonder what might occur if the two stone archways were to be placed back in to their original positions.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

Notes on the Practice of Seancés

OuijaB&W

“Dr Gotobed, my friends/colleagues/associates and I are planning to hold a séance, what guidance can you offer us?” 

In my line of work, this is the question I receive the most, from thrill seekers, the recently bereaved, and the occasional member of law enforcement. I have one simple piece of advice that I tell everyone who asks me this question:

Don’t do it.

The potential risk far outweighs any giddy rush of excitement or snippet of verifiable information that maybe gleaned from attempting to commune with the spirit world. Even if initial contact is successful, there is no guarantee that further sessions will elicit the same results. Indeed, once a door is opened to the other side, it is often very difficult to close.

I have rarely spoken of this, but many moons ago, when I was attending university and not yet a doctor, some friends and I gained possession of an Ouija board. Being young and fearless we decided one night to hold a makeshift sitting. Four of us sneaked into an abandoned and derelict farmhouse, rightly or wrongly believing it to be the appropriate setting for a spiritual adventure. We sat in a circle around our new board, each placed a finger upon the planchette, and began to ask questions of those that dwell in the ether.

Suffice to say, our initial probings were of the mundane variety: the names of first pets, the occupations of long dead grandparents, etc. Much to our surprise, all of our questions were answered correctly. So our interrogation took a darker hue. Spurred on by our success, we began to enquire of things that had yet to pass, and then to challenge whoever or whatever it was that we were communicating with to perform certain acts for us, acts that would prove its existence as a sentient being.

But our hubris was almost our undoing.

I will not share the events of the rest of that fateful evening. All I will say is this; one does not expect to encounter a pale and haggard version of one’s self in a dilapidated farmhouse on a windy night in the East Midlands.

Whatever we contacted that night followed us back to our halls of residence and tormented my friends and I for the next fortnight. Only with the assistance of one of our more open-minded tutors did we manage to shut whatever door we had opened. Of the four of us involved in that ill-fated attempt to contact the ‘other side’, two dropped out of university to return home, starting their studies anew the next year at a different location. The third resides a gibbering wreck in a secure psychiatric hospital.

As for me, this is the incident that set me on the path I currently walk now.

So, to reiterate: my advice to those that are planning to hold a séance? Don’t, for you know not what you meddle with.

Please do not mistake my desire to deter would-be spiritualists or amateur ghost hunters for fear. My only wish is that others do not have to experience the same things I have. Even now, a veritable lifetime later, the sound of a cold wind blowing through a broken window on a dark night still causes me to shudder.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

Operation Werwolf

Tri3

1st April 1945 

‘My werewolf teeth bite the enemy-

And then he’s done and then he’s gone.’  

These were the words, preceded by a wolf howling, that began the first transmission of Radio Werwolf. The Nazi Party, staring defeat in the face, used the broadcast to exhort every last German citizen to ‘stand his ground and do or die against the Allied armies.’ The programme ended with the chill words: ‘…a single motto remains for us: “Conquer or die”.’

Radio Werwolf’s purpose was, ostensibly, to prove to the near-victorious Allies that the German people would not roll over and accept defeat easily; that a highly trained, highly organised underground force, aided by the local populous, would fight to the last for the Nazi cause.

Operation Werwolf.

But this was not to be.

Whilst pockets of resistance did spring up, mainly small bands of remaining SS troops and the odd group of die-hard Nazis, there was no stomach left in the defeated German people for more violence, and Operation Werwolf proved to be far more effective as a propaganda tool than it ever did as a viable military campaign.

The name Werwolf was taken from the 1910 novel Der Wehrwolf by Herman Lönns, a favourite text of the Nazi Party owing to the fact that its words could be framed in the context of a particularly rabid form of patriotism. The novel itself makes no mention of shapeshifting or lycanthropy, although it is easy to imagine Nazi top brass envisioning with a smile legion upon legion of lupine warriors resisting the Allied advance.

The station ceased to broadcast after a few weeks, and Radio Werwolf fell silent.

Twelve months later, with the Führer dead and the war over, Germany’s capital, Berlin, was well within the grip of the Allied Forces.

Berlin

3rd April 1945

A young US serviceman named Aloysius ‘Louis’ Blair, stationed in the west of the city, uses a day’s leave to take a stroll through the Grunewald Forest with a fellow soldier. Private Blair’s journal, kindly donated by his granddaughter, reveals in a cramped scrawl that he and his companion elect to spend that crisp morning strolling through the conifer and birch trees of the woods. Come noon, they settle down in a glade to partake of a spot of lunch, a cigarette or two, and a nip from the bottle of brandy Private Blair’s colleague has ‘liberated’ from a black market profiteer.

All is calm in the forest. And it is in the calmest moments that fate tends to play her hand.

Through a haze of cigarette smoke, a small flash of sunlight glints off of something in the distance, deeper into the woods.

Louis and his colleague, still young enough for curiosity to flow through their veins, go to investigate the source of the fleeting illumination. To their surprise, disguised by the underbrush, they find an iron door set into a slightly raised mound of earth. The door is heavy, rusted and stubborn, but it opens under the combined strength of the two servicemen. The air that assails them from within ‘smelled like an ol’ waff’s crab hole,’ in Louis’ rather colourful words.

What they find, down a short set of steps, is a bunker; a bunker stacked high with weapons and munitions. Scattered across the floor are discarded food cans, along with other signs to suggest that the bunker has recently been occupied. With the memory of the Radio Werwolf broadcasts ringing in their ears, the two soldiers search the bunker thoroughly. Convincing themselves that the place is deserted, and that there are no other exits or entrances, the pair draw straws to see who will stay and who will return to base to inform their superiors of this cache of Nazi resistance supplies. Blair draws the shorter straw and stays behind, taking up position directly outside the door with only his rifle and the bottle of brandy for company.

All is silent, save for the odd buzz of an insect and the rustle of leaves in the afternoon breeze.

Forest2 B & W

June 8th 2010

In a beachside café in the German town of Bad Doberan, I sit and sip sweet black coffee with Bertha Weber, a local resident, born in Berlin in 1935. Her body is frail, but her mind is sharp, her English flawless, and her memories of that day vivid.

“I remember that afternoon clearly, yes, even now. I’d had an argument with my mother, something about the way I’d swept the floor. What’s the word you English use? Half-arsed, yes, that’s it.”

“It was a beautiful day, so I went for a walk in the forest. I found it calming. The war was over, but it didn’t feel like it was finished. Not in the city, anyway. But out there… it felt peaceful. Do you understand?”

“I was picking wildflowers. I thought I would take them back to Mother, to say sorry for my behaviour, but then I heard a whimpering in the undergrowth. To start with I thought it might be a baby or a child. After all, it would not be the first time someone had left their unwanted ‘negermischlinge’ in the woods. But as I got closer, I found what I thought then was a large hound, but now suspect was a wolf. It was thin, like a bag of bones, not quite fully grown but definitely not a puppy, with big glassy eyes. I stood still, not wanting to scare it. Eventually it climbed to its feet, and it walked off slowly on wobbling legs. It kept stopping and turning its head, like it wanted me to follow. So I did.”

“It led me to a clearing, and there was a man there. An American. A soldier. He was standing by a door in the ground. He saw the hound, and me, and then he pointed his rifle. Americans and their guns. Some things never change, eh?”

“The soldier started babbling something at me over his weapon. I don’t remember what it was, I didn’t speak English  back then. The hound went over to the door in the earth and I shooed the soldier aside. I wasn’t scared of him, I’d seen enough of ‘die Amis’ by then to know he wasn’t going to shoot a young girl.”

“The dog shuffled by him, and down in to the dark. The soldier started shouting at me in German, but his accent was so bad it didn’t really get what he was saying, so I shouted back.”

“As we were yelling at each other I heard a voice from inside the what I now know was a bunker. A weak, frail voice. It was saying ‘…hilfe… hilfe…”

My German isn’t great, but even I know that word. Help.

“The soldier and I looked at one another with wide eyes. He went down in to the bunker, and I followed.”

“At the foot of the stairs, sprawled out on the floor, was a boy. He can’t have been much older than a teenager, and he was so thin, gaunt even. His eyes were sunken and I could see his ribs through his skin. He looked awful, like a ghoul.”

“I caught a glimpse of the soldier. I’ll never forget the look on his face. I could tell that kid wasn’t supposed to be down there.”

Forest B & W

Private Blair’s journal goes on to detail the arrival of his battalion’s commanding officer, and his vain attempts to explain the sudden appearance of the emaciated teenager. The discovery of the contraband brandy in his possession almost led to a court martial, and the young soldier was ordered to keep his head down and his nose clean for the foreseeable future, and not to speak of the incident in the Grunewald Forest again.

Private Blair returned to the US the following year and lived out his days as a police officer in Oklahoma. He died in his sleep in 1994. It appears he never told anyone of what he saw that day in Berlin.

Frau Weber passed away in January of 2011.

Other than Private Blair’s journal and Frau Weber’s testimony, no record of the cadaverous interloper in the bunker exists. His fate is unknown. It is interesting to note that, apart from this incident, there have been no sightings of wolves in Berlin for over a hundred years.

I believe it is safe to speculate that this was probably not what Nazi High Command had in mind when they commissioned Operation Werwolf.

Dr. Thomas Gotobed