‘Extraordinary Talents’ at Foston Hall

RainSymbol

Throughout history there have been many recorded examples of individuals with apparently fantastical abilities. The following is just a small selection:

In the 1880s, one Annie May Abbot tours North America. Known as the ‘Georgia Magnet’, this innocuous young woman is capable of making small objects completely immovable, simply by resting a finger on them.

In Saratov, Russia, in the 1920s, a factory worker named Leonid Tenkaev is allegedly capable of generating an internal magnetic field that allows as much as 20 kilograms of ferrous metal to be stuck to his body.

In the 1980s, Chicago bellhop Ted Serios is witnessed ‘throwing’ mental images onto blank Polaroid film, creating a series of blurred images showing scenes from the recent past.

But serious, objective research into these kinds of abilities is often clouded by sensationalism and claims of fraudulent behaviour. Possibly due to the nature of these individuals and the phenomena that surrounds them, no recorded example of any lengthy and detailed analysis into the nature of their ‘extraordinary talents’ seems to exist.

I used to believe that a chance to speak with such an individual would be a fine thing indeed.

But expectation and reality are seldom the same thing.

Prison1

A few weeks ago I was asked to visit a person currently being detained at her Majesty’s pleasure at HM Prison Foston Hall, near Derbyshire.

One Nigella Shah.

Although wiry and slight of frame, Ms Shah has the appearance and mannerisms of a featherweight boxer. She is also a career criminal, half way through a ten year sentence for actual bodily harm and impersonating a government official.

Her crimes are not the reason I have been summoned to Foston Hall, but the curious phenomena that sporadically occurs in her presence.

On more than one occasion, in her small and enclosed cell no bigger than eight square metres, various strange effects have been witnessed. One guard describes checking up on Ms Shah one night and seeing the bed levitating above the floor. Ms Shah was tucked up and asleep inside it at the time.

Another guard recalls all the contents of Ms Shah’s cell being found strewn across the dining hall, some hundred metres away. The door to Ms Shah’s room was found locked. She claimed no knowledge of how this event may have occurred.

In fact, the door to her cell has been found unlocked on several occasions. She has never tried to leave the room, let alone escape.

Lock

I meet with Ms Shah twice, both times in the recreation area. To save us from being bothered by the other inmates and their guests, these meetings take place outside of normal visiting hours.

I find Ms Shah to be a confident and intelligent individual, although prone to lengthy outbursts of quite intense verbal abuse. Throughout the interview she cracks her knuckles repeatedly and rarely breaks eye contact.

The following is an excerpt from our conversation on the 4th of April 2007, specifically the part involving our discussion of the unusual events that have occurred in her presence. A full transcript can be found logged in the archives of the Psychical Research and Investigation Society.

Dr Gotobed: Are you aware of the reports of ‘unusual activity’ that seem to be following you?

Nigella Shah: Ah, a believer. I’ve spoken to a few like you before. Of course I’m aware of them; I’d be an idiot if I wasn’t. You know what they used to call me at school, Doctor? ‘Spooky Shah’.

DrG: When did they begin?

NS: When I was about eleven, twelve maybe. That’s the first time it was clear to me. My Mum told me that she once, back when I was a baby, she once left me alone in my room. Only for a minute or so. When she came back my toy box was open and everything inside it was laid out on the floor in a circle. I was tucked up my crib at the time.

That first time though, that was at school. The teacher, this sad old fucker called Dixon or Dickless or some shit, he was yelling at me after class. And this whole row of desks behind him, they just flipped. Scared the silly old sod half to death that did.

[she chuckles]

But that all sounds like some Carrie level shit, doesn’t it? My Mum got some daft old biddy to come ‘round to try and ‘cleanse my aura’.

DrG: And how did that work out?

NS: [she chuckles again] Well, she left in tears, put it that way. Said I was the ‘Devil’s child’. Told my Mum to send me to a convent. I told her to bollocks. 

This first interview then devolves into a combination of tall tales, obviously taken from classic horror films, followed by some rather creative name calling littered with expletives. After several minutes of this, I opt to terminate the session.

As I am leaving, Ms Shah asks me for the time. I check my watch. Somehow, it has stopped dead on midnight.

I clearly recall checking it when the interview began, just shy of 4pm.

#

Our second interview takes place two weeks later, on the 18th of April 2007. As I enter the prison I ask the warden if they have experienced any electrical trouble since Ms Shah’s incarceration. He replies that they have not, but he then goes on to ask me with a wry smile if I’ve noticed the lack of clocks in the building.

I must confess, I had not.

#

Ms Shah seems in a much less confrontational mood this time around, although she still insists on cracking her knuckles and staring intently at me.

The following is an excerpt from this second session. Once again, a full transcript can be located in the archives.

DrG: So you are aware of these things happening.

NS: Sometimes I am. Other times, no. Sometimes I have, like a dream, just before. It feels like I’m going into myself, like tunnel vision. And there’s black around the edges.  Like, furry black.

DrG: Do you have any control over them?

NS: I never used to, not when I was a kid. But as I got older, it seemed like if I concentrated, I could make little things happen. Not always, but sometimes.

DrG: Can you give me an example?

NS: [she smiles] When my door unlocks, sometimes that’s me.

DrG: You have a key?

NS: Not an actual one. Not like one you can hold, if you know what I mean? [she taps her head]

DrG: But why do that?

NS: For shits and grins, I guess. It’s fun to fuck with the screws.

DrG: There is an organisation that you could be a lot of help to. If you assist them, let them run some tests on you, sorry, with you, they might be able to look at reducing your sentence? 

NS: Oh fuck you, you stuck up piece of shit.

Ms Shah then launches into a lengthy and violent diatribe questioning my sexuality. I draw this session to a close.

This time, as I go to leave, Ms Shah calls out to me. I turn back, and see her pointing to the ceiling and grinning.

A spot of water falls on my shoulder. Not two seconds later, it begins to rain heavily inside the visitor’s centre.

This shower continues for several minutes.

After this interview, I spoke at length with the maintenance staff of Foston Hall. There were no leaks in the pipework of the building, and no rain has fallen for the past fortnight.

They were at a loss to explain the sudden deluge that occurred that day.

Rain

So does Ms Shah possess certain ‘abilities’, abilities that allow her to manipulate and manifest matter? And is she in control of these abilities?

Sadly, without further investigation, it is impossible to say for sure one way or the other. Ms Shah has proven unwilling to cooperate further. Indeed, she refuses to see myself or anyone else from the PRIS.

Her case does bring to mind a similar series of events that surrounded an American gentleman named Don Decker. He too was allegedly capable of manifesting rainfall indoors, and he also declined to be tested by investigators. Similar low-level telekinetic activity has followed him for years. He is currently incarcerated for arson, a crime he denies.

I have asked the staff to inform me of any further unusual events that may occur at Foston Hall, but I fear they already have enough on their plates with the day to day running of the prison.

We can only hope that perhaps one day, Ms Shah will have a change of heart. I, for one, will not being holding my breath.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

The mysterious PRIS crops up again! I tried them a second time, hoping that they might have the full transcripts that the good doctor refers to. Like last time, the chap I spoke to said that they had no record of any such documents. He also went to great pains to reiterate that their records were ‘patchy in places’ – C.R. 

Ghostly Goings-on in the Lace Market

Devil_and_Drum_from_Saducismus_Triumphatus

Strewn throughout mankind’s history lay accounts of so-called ‘poltergeist activity’. The word poltergeist comes from the German, and translates simply to ‘noisy spirit’. A rather mischievous form of haunting, it throws small objects, drags furniture about and raps loudly upon walls and ceilings, often to the soundtrack of disembodied groaning and grumbling. Interestingly enough, these occurrences always seem to have a human focal point, often a young person on the cusp of puberty.

But sometimes it seems a focal point is not required.

Consider an event that took place in the September of 1862, in a quiet unassuming street named Laksegade in the centre of Copenhagen, Denmark.

A great commotion took hold early that morning in one of the houses on Laksegade, and all of the residents fled, panicked, out into the street.

Witnesses report windows being smashed from the inside. Potatoes, cutlery and other household objects soon began to be hurled from the building, all to the background of loud, guttural laughter and cursing emitting from inside.

A crowd began to gather, watching as firewood and furniture was tossed from on high with reckless abandon.

The activity began to fade with the arrival of the police. Officers searched the building thoroughly, but were unable to locate the source of the disturbance. Much to their surprise, the house was completely deserted.

The phenomena eventually petered out later that morning. Due to the lack of potential culprits, the public began to speculate that none other than the Devil himself was responsible.

This particular case gave birth to the popular Danish phrase: ‘Fanden er løs i Laksegade’, which roughly translates to ‘the devil is loose on Salmon Street’. It is a rather more poetic version of the English phrase ‘when the shit hits the fan’.

Copenhagen

A similar, although less well publicised, event took place in Nottingham, England, in 1998.

Early in the morning of the 10th April, Good Friday, on High Pavement in the Lace Market, the streets are sleepy and quiet. Owing to the bank holiday, many workers are at home.

At about 8am, the peace is broken by the sound of shattering glass. The first floor windows of one of the old buildings on the North side (originally a house, recently converted into offices) are blown out from within. Files and stationary begin to tumble to the ground. A passerby, out for a morning stroll, hears the commotion and calls the police, fearing some kind of explosion.

As in Copenhagen, some hundred years before, a crowd begins to form.

HighPavement

7th February 2006

Barry Glenn is a large, softly spoken man. Round of belly and with a warm handshake, he was a police constable in 1998, and one of the first officers on the scene that particular morning.

We meet at a small greasy spoon by Nottingham train station. Over a pot of tea, Mr Glenn shares with me his recollections of that day.

‘The three of us, Constables Reynolds, Constable Jacobs and myself arrived just after 9am. There was already about a dozen people gathered around the building.

‘There was paper and glass everywhere, and things like mugs and pens strewn about the floor, and also the odd television, the big fat type they used to have for computers. The strange thing was; nothing was smashed or broken.

‘We thought it was a prank at first. Everything looked like it had just been placed on the ground deliberately.

‘We started moving people back, when another telly come out of the window. There was a gasp as it fell, and it fell quickly, like you think it would. But then the queerest thing happened. It just hit the ground and stopped. Dead. No damage to it what so ever.

‘Now, I’ve never chucked a television out of window myself, that’s not my style, but I’m quietly confident that if I did, it would shatter on impact with the floor. That’s just common sense, right?

‘While we were puzzling that, this giant wooden desk comes flying out. A big, heavy bugger, made of solid oak.

‘Same thing as the TV. It hits the ground and stops. Not a scratch.

‘After we’d got everyone clear, I went and run my hand across it. The damn thing was warm.

‘All the while this is going on, there’s this odd, kind of ‘grumbling’ sound coming from the building.

‘Not like an earthquake. More like an animal growling. A big animal.’

#

Taking advantage of a break in the commotion, PC Allen and his colleagues try the door to the building, and, finding it locked, they break it down.

The minute the door is open, the activity ceases.

A thorough search commences, yet no one is found inside.

Whilst it is possible that someone slipped past the officers, if that were the case, there is more than a good chance the assembled crowds outside would have seen that person make their escape.

The glass tube that holds the door to the fire exit closed is unbroken.

One would have expected such an event to at least garner a mention in that day’s news. Mr Allen tells me he was interviewed by the BBC later that day, but his spot was bumped for coverage of the arguably more important Belfast Peace Agreement.

TV

These two cases are interesting in that they present certain, classic aspects of the traditional poltergeist haunting, chiefly the unexplained noises and the hurled objects. Indeed, even the odd behavior of said objects as they struck the ground was also reported in the now famous Enfield case. In that instance, marbles and toys thrown across the room at great speed also came to a dead stop, and were also warm to the touch.

But, in both the Laksegade and High Pavement occurrences, there is one important omission from the catalogue of traditional poltergeist motifs: the lack of a human focal point.

Is it possible that some disembodied force was capable of generating the power required to cause such destruction? Were they somehow manifestations of some kind of unfocused frustration or rage? It is worth noting that in both of these cases, not one person was physically injured during the activity.

If only it were possible to recreate the conditions required to bring forth such an event. The mind races at what we might discover.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

This all happened a short distance from where I currently work, and I have never heard of this case. I did some digging through back issues of the local paper in the library and managed to find a small two paragraph long article tucked away on page 17 of the April 14th edition of the Evening Post titled ‘Ghostly Goings-on in the Lace Market’. Sadly, Nottingham Central Library were unwilling to let me borrow their copy for reproduction.

Once again, I’ve added some links to the article for those who’d like to look into some of the mentioned cases – C.R.

On the Possible Mechanism of Poltergeist Activity

This is an excerpt from a much larger file. Sadly, a dozen or so of the pages are water damaged beyond repair and only the following section remains legible – C.R. 

Mechanism1

A key part of the varied palette of recorded phenomena associated with poltergeist activity is the manipulation of solid matter: a much-loved trinket disappearing, only to re-emerge sometime later in a place that had previously been searched thoroughly, a shower of stones apparently falling from the ceiling, a toy building brick thrown through the air by ostensibly invisible hands, mugs and other kitchenware traversing the surface of a table under their own steam.

I could go on.

Here I would like to propose a theory as to the possible mechanism of these phenomena.

First, a thought experiment.

Alan1

This cheerful fellow is Alan. Imagine, if you will, that Alan is a living person, like you and I, except for one crucial difference; Alan exists on this piece of paper in two dimensions, and two dimensions only. He perceives the world in terms of length and width, but he has no concept of height.

If we hover a finger over to the paper, a little to his left, he has no knowledge of it. If we place that finger down, he perceives a flesh-coloured line next to him.

Alan2

If we draw an unbroken line next to him, Alan cannot cross this line. He has no way to ‘step over’ it, so to speak.

Alan3

By drawing further lines around Alan, we can trap him in a square. His only way out is if we are kind enough to erase a segment of one line and create a door for him to come and go. So Alan is free to carry on with his two-dimensional life as he pleases.

And now we can really start to mess with his world.

Alan4

If we were to take an object, in this case a coin, and place it outside the door, Alan can see it. But if we pick up the coin and place it inside his small room, all Alan can see (remembering that he can only perceive in two dimensions) is the coin disappearing and then reappearing next to him.

If we were to take the coin off the paper and place it in our pocket, as far as Alan knows, that coin has vanished forever.

If we were to blow across Alan, slightly from above, he would see not our pursed lips, but only feel a breeze brush by him in the horizontal plane.

Now, let us extrapolate Alan’s world into three dimensions, bringing his reality into line with our own. What if there were beings that exist ‘above’ Alan and ourselves in a hypothetical fourth dimension? Following our little experiment through to its logical conclusion, would it not be possible for said beings to ‘pick up’ objects from our limited reality and place them in another location, all unperceived by ourselves? And what other little tricks could they play upon us, toying with us in the same way we have been toying with Alan, poking at our reality with hypothetical fingers.

But what purpose would this serve?

SymbolMechanism

I would like to propose another thought experiment. Consider, if you will, a colony of ants living by the side of a footpath. The various member of the colony all have their jobs, and for the most part will go about their business, unconcerned with and untroubled by the lives of the people that stroll by them every day.

But what if one afternoon a small child bends down and prods the ants with a stick? What would these tiny creatures make of such an occurrence? How would such an event fit into their frame of reference?

I am aware of the limitations of this comparison. Ants are not humans; our motivations, our fears and desires, even our very existence, to us appears considerably more complex. But what if there are things outside of our frame of reference, things that are as different from us as we are from insects?

Indeed, prod a line of ants with a stick and they will do their best to minimise the disruption and carry on with their business.

In my experience, most people, when confronted by something far out of their range of comprehension, tend to do the same.

 

From what I can gather, the next section goes on to detail the good doctor’s ideas as to why teenagers are more susceptible to being harassed by poltergeist phenomenon, and that’s about all I can glean from the ruined pages. It’s a real shame that more of this file hasn’t survived – C.R.

An Encounter on the Midland Mainline

Tucked away in the case I found a journal, which appears to have more reports in it, although these are written up in a different style from the rest of the files. At first I thought Dr Gotobed was just jotting down fiction based on his experiences, but the fact they are accompanied by what appears to be corroborating evidence has made me think again. I’ll try and include a few more of these, if for no reason other than they seem to reveal something of the good doctor’s character – C.R.

Train Station3

14th November 2002

Midland Mainline Train, 21.15 to Derby

“Do you know why you are here?” I ask, looking up from the thin file on my lap and towards the reflection of the young man sat next to me in the window opposite. The description on the yellowed pages is disturbingly accurate, right down to the bloodshot eyes and the gash across the forehead. The kid is in his early twenties, and dressed a little out of date for the time, in slightly flared jeans and a bright yellow sports top. He carries it well, all except for the fleck of deep red across his breast and left shoulder. I’m in a black suit and a white shirt, unbuttoned at the neck. I look like I should be advising him about his future career options. Or on my way home from a funeral.

“Because I fucked up,” replies the kid.

I look down at the file, then back at the reflection opposite.

“Why would you say that?” I ask.

The kid looks down at his feet, revealing a slick dark liquid dashed across his scalp, then back at the window, meeting my gaze in the reflection.

Neon streaks by the window and mixes with spots of rain as the train rocks slightly to take a turn. The carriage lights flicker.

“I… I don’t want to talk about it. Things… they changed. Got too much.”

The only other person in the carriage is an elderly lady sitting several rows away. She turns and looks at me with a slightly concerned expression on her wrinkled face, then gets up and leaves the carriage.

“You need to move on from this,” I say to the window.

“I know.”

“Tell me how I can help.”

In the reflection, the kid looks away.

The door at the end of the carriage clunks, and I see the old lady whispering conspiratorially in a conductor’s ear. The door clicks and opens and the conductor steps in and moves towards me.

I glance back at the window and see the kid’s eyes begin to blacken with rage.

The carriage rocks and the lights dim, before returning to full strength.

“Stay calm,” I whisper, my eyes fixed on the reflection.

The lights flicker repeatedly, more violently this time. A slight breeze begins to coil around the floor.

“Stay calm,” I repeat.

“Excuse me, sir,” says the conductor, gruffly, a skinny bald man in a polyester uniform. “Who are you talking to?”

I look up at the conductor, then to my right at the empty seat next to me. The conductor raises an eyebrow, before following my gaze as I look ahead, to the window. As he does, he catches the reflection of the kid, his bloodshot eyes ablaze with anger and the gaping wound across his head. The conductor gasps and drops his hand-held ticket machine.

The train jolts violently and the lights dim again, deeper, and for longer this time. The breeze turns into a gust and blows through the carriage, lifting the flotsam and jetsam of the day’s commute across the floor and the hairs on my neck up and away from my skin. Somewhere along the length of the carriage, a pane of acrylic glass cracks. When the lights come back on, the reflection of the kid is gone.

There is an moment of awkward silence as the conductor gawps at the window, now empty except for the occasional trackside light flickering by. His face has turned an ashen colour not normally seen on the living.

“I’m Doctor Gotobed,” I say. “Your bosses should have told you I would be here.”

“I’m… I’m sorry, Doctor,” stutters the conductor, picking up his equipment. “We were expecting you earlier.”

“Looks like I’m going to be here for a while.” I turn back to the file on my lap. “I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this carriage clear for the next hour or so.”

The conductor leaves, and the train rumbles on.

Eight stops later, it reaches its destination, and then turns back. I’m still on-board, in exactly the same seat. I run my fingers through my hair and sigh. This is taking far too long, and I definitely don’t want to go around again and spend the night in Derby.

The lights flicker intermittently for a few seconds.

I look up at the window. The kid is back, bloodshot eyes calm now. We sit in silence for a while. “Do you…” I begin to ask, eventually. “Sorry, did you see a light?”

“At first. But I have to stay. I can’t go there. I’ll stay here. With the shadows. Until she knows.”

“Who knows?”

“My girl.”

“Knows what?”

A single tear rolls down the kid’s cheek and mixes with the blood that’s dripping down from his scalp.

“That I love… that I loved her. I didn’t want to go like this. I’m so sorry.” A sniff, and the kid continues. “Can you tell her for me?”

The lights flicker once more.

“Of course. Tell me more about her and I’ll find her. Tell me exactly what you want to say, and I’ll be back here next month. I don’t expect you to be.”

The train rumbles on, and the kid tells me about his girl.

Train Station2

Back in Nottingham, the train groans to a halt. I pick up the file and step off, heading through the high ceilinged Victorian building, its grand archways a testimony to the architectural skills of men long since buried.

“Doctor Gotobed! Doctor Gotobed!” A gruff voice shouts along the platform, and the tall, skinny and bald shape of the conductor jogs towards me. “Excuse me, Doctor. But was that the… the…” I can tell he can’t bring himself to say ‘ghost’. He settles on: “What was that?”

Succinct.

Tucking the file under my left arm, I reach into my jacket for a cigarette. “A request for help,” I reply, lighting the cigarette as I turn towards the marble steps that lead to the exit.

“Doctor Gotobed?”

“Yes?”

“There’s no smoking in the station I’m afraid,” replies the man in the polyester uniform, all back to business.

I flick the cigarette onto the tracks and head up the steps, out onto the street and into the wet November night.

The rain falls like heartache.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

Journal1

Tucked away in these pages of the journal is a clipping from the Nottingham Evening Post, dated November the 16th, 1996. It details the death of a 22 year old man who fell in front of a train two nights previous. I don’t feel too comfortable sharing his name here. 

The train was the 21.15 Midland Mainline from Nottingham to Derby. 

There is also another clipping, this one taken from the February 2001 official newsletter of the Psychical Research and Investigation Society. It’s a report of ‘low-level psychokinetic activity alongside the appearance of a full-bodied apparition’ on the same train route. 

These two documents are what make me think this story of Dr Gotobed’s is more than just fiction. 

Either way, typing this up has left me a little drained emotionally. I’m putting the journal back in the case and placing the whole lot back in the cupboard. I need some beers and to think about something else for a while – C.R.