The sign had
been put up in the window of our local pub two weeks before the actual event.
You had to buy tickets at three quid a shot; and to be perfectly honest I
really didn’t want any part of it.
It wasn’t the price (I’m not that tight-fisted) , it was more to do with personal belief than anything else. Also, no sooner had I read that poster than I felt a strange prickle down both arms and across the back of my neck.
The poster read: See Maude O’Hara: The world’s most powerful telephonic medium LIVE at the Dun Cow, Friday 24th!
‘What the hell is a telephonic medium?’ I asked my two best mates, Shane Brennan and Terry McGann who were stood right next to me sipping from their pints of lager. The pub was busy, filled with chatter and laughter, but there was only us taking any notice of the poster.
‘Never heard of one,’ replied Terry, ‘but for three quid a go it can’t do any harm, can it? Plus it’s a Friday night and we can all go for a curry afterwards!’
‘What makes you think I want to go?’ I directed the question at Terry, but it was Shane who answered. ‘Ah, come on, Mark! We’re the Wild Boys, aren’t we not? What one does, we all do!’
‘So if I jumped off a cliff . . ?’
‘Then we’d stand and watch you do it! Jesus, I’ll pay your three quid if that’s the problem?’
I laughed and poked him in the ribs. ‘Money isn’t the issue, Shane. I just don’t happen to think these people are genuine. They’re usually charlatans out to make a quick buck.’
‘I’m as sceptical as you,’ Terry remarked, despite the fact he’s always watching those reality ghost-hunting shows on Sky; and quick enough to tell us the gory details of the latest horror movies he’s watched. He continued:
‘You see, I got this theory on spirits. I believe they’re nothing more than imprints left behind after death. Sort of like recording something on VHS and forgetting all about it. Then, years later, when you do watch it again it’s all old and wobbly and rubbish quality. That’s a bit like a ghost, isn’t it? See-through and distorted; fading away like a dementia patent’s memory.’
‘What a charming way of putting it,’ Shane grunted.
Terry shrugged and drank more lager. ‘Well anyway, I want us to see this Maude O’Hara. I want to pretend I’ve recently lost a close family member and see if she ‘connects’ with this imaginary person. If she does, then the joke is on her, I’d say.’
‘And what then?’ Shane asked, ‘you demand your three quid back?’
‘No.’ He drained his pint glass and sighed. ‘I won’t ask for my money back. But I’ll tell her my theory on spirits. That they’re un-aware of their surroundings and can never speak to anybody ever again. If she is fake, then we can expose her. Stop her from hurting other people with her lies.’
I looked back at the poster and mulled the suggestion over. I half agreed with everything Terry said. I say half because as I re-read those words: telephonic medium I suddenly got the chills. Did it really mean she used a telephone to speak with the departed?
‘So, come on,’ Terry urged, ‘are we buying tickets or not?
‘I’m in,’ said Shane.
I looked over at the pair of them. Two of my oldest mates who’ve followed me throughout my life so far. Saying yes should be easy when you’re with people like that, because basically they’re an extension of you. Terry, the youngest out the three of us, was our joker. Anything we usually did with him was a good laugh. That’s probably why I found myself nodding when I really didn’t want to.
But still. Two weeks passed me by as if on fast-forward. I went to work and did what I had to do. I met Shane and Terry a couple of times afterwards at the Dun Cow for a few cheeky pints; and one night we even went out for a curry. Funny thing is, none of us spoke about the looming evening with Maude O’Hara. It was as if we were all avoiding the topic for some reason; the same way you dodge talking about a doctor’s appointment. On the evening before the event at the Dun Cow I caught myself snapping at the wife, yelling at the kids. My body felt as tense as an iron bar and, for that entire night, I think I managed only two hours’ sleep.
Friday evening saw me pushing open the double doors to the pub and hurrying in out of the pouring rain. It was busy; the bar rammed. A loud rock song was blaring over the jukebox speakers and it took me a few moments to locate Shane and Terry. They were seated across the other end of the room near the window. Shane spotted me and lifted up a fresh pint of lager, telling me the round was already in.
‘Didn’t think you were coming,’ Terry said over the racket, as I squeezed myself into a small gap on the window-seats. He was dressed in his motorbike leathers, and his crash-helmet sat in the middle of the table like a decapitated head. I took a long draught from my pint glass and wiped my lips. ‘I almost didn’t. You know I’m not comfortable with stuff like this.’
Shane was munching on a bag of crisps. ‘Mark, you’re starting to sound like an old woman! It’s only a bit of fun for crying out loud.’
‘Fun?’ I looked at them both, dubiously. ‘If you think watching a medium try and talk to the dead is fun then you seriously need a holiday!’
We drank and chatted for a while longer – well, Shane and Terry did – I just sat there and tried to listen. After about ten minutes the landlady turned down the volume on the jukebox and said, loudly, ‘Ok ladies and gents! Can the first ten people who have paid to see our guest medium Maude O’Hara, please make your way into the lounge area!’
Shane, Terry and me collected our drinks and coats and followed seven other people towards the lounge doors. Once inside, the landlord was there to ask for our tickets,which he ripped in half and then gave us one piece back. The thick velvet curtains had been drawn and the lighting was turned down so that the whole room was draped in a miserable gloom. A large and shiny mahogany table had been placed in the centre, with enough chairs for all of us paying customers to sit. At the head of the table was another chair. It too was mahogany, but the back and arm-rests were made up of carved faces and clawed hands. It looked like the Devil’s own throne.
We sat. We all exchanged glances and whispers. By now I was feeling decidedly uncomfortable and my throat was dry. I kept glancing at the devilish chair at the head of the table; at the carved faces with cheerless eyes and blank expressions. I hated it out-right.
Terry nudged me and whispered in my ear. ‘I’ve made up the perfect sob story for her. I bet you any money she falls for it and makes contact with the poor departed soul who doesn't exist.’
‘Perhaps it’s not such a good idea,’ I whispered back. ‘I mean, if she finds out you’re trying to make a fool out of her . . .’
‘She’ll do what, exactly?’ Terry almost snapped. ‘Look Mark, you already said yourself they’re charlatans out to make a fast buck, and I happen to agree! She shouldn’t be allowed to do this to people.’
I sighed and shrugged. He was right, but there was a creeping sense of doubt in my mind. Something about that chair made me unsure; as if I should get out now while the going was still good. I was just about to stand up, too, when the lounge doors creaked open and a tall, elegant woman flowed into the room and seemed to glide silently to the head of the table. We all watched her, whispers fell quite and nobody moved.
‘I am Maude O’Hara.’ She spoke in a brittle yet educated voice. At a guess I’d say she was in her late seventies; and yet didn’t she still retain some air of exotic beauty? Yes, she did, for I could see the high cheek bones and almond-shaped eyes. In fact, her eyes seemed to glitter with a strange vibrancy that made me feel even more off-kilter. Her black hair was woven into braids that draped over both shoulders; tied at the ends with multi-coloured ribbon.
She sat slowly upon that flamboyant throne and regarded us all with an unblinking stare. ‘Welcome, my friends. We are all here this evening to contact loved ones sadly departed.’ She swept that glittery gaze across mine and I felt something inside me shrivel; go cold.
‘In these modern times,’ she went on, ‘we medium’s must also accept that the old ways of communicating with the dead are over.’ Maude O’Hara placed an object down on the table before her. ‘I am sure you are aware of these. It is a Smartphone. Before we begin, I would like you all to examine this device. For sure, I do not wish people to think me a fraud.’ Her gaze was on me again. And then on Terry, and Shane. I wanted to scream.
Maude O’Hara passed the phone to the person on her right. He quickly looked it over, frowning all the time. He passed it to the young girl next to him, and she did the same. When it arrived at me I took it with a clammy and shaking hand. Nevertheless, I looked at it closely. It was a Samsung. It felt incredibly light, too, and when I flipped it over I saw why. There was no back to it, and likewise no battery or sim-card. Still, the sceptic in me wouldn’t quit. I swept my finger across the blank screen, half expecting to hear that light jingling noise as it unlocked, but nothing happened.
I handed it to Terry, glad to be rid of it.
Finally, it arrived back at Maude O’Hara. She placed it on the table in front of her and she drew in a deep breath. ‘We are ready,’ she said. ‘Place your hands flat on the table, now, with your little fingers touching those next to you. That is the power-link. The spirits require energy.’
The room fell deathly quiet. Maude O’Hara closed her eyes and bowed her head. We all did as she asked and we waited. I could hear muted laughter and chatter coming from the bar, and I suddenly wished I was in there with them.
Seconds ticked by; became minutes. Nothing happened.
Maude O’Hara was breathing deeply as if she’d fallen asleep.
It was strange, but as I glanced up I noticed the lights dim even further, as if they were about to go out altogether. The fixtures on the walls crackled and sputtered and my heart lurched sideways.
A trick, I thought, it’s not real! Just an elaborate trick!
Maude O’Hara groaned and a shiver ran through her body. She muttered something that sounded Gaelic. Groaned again; shivered.
The Smartphone whistled.
I jerked back in my chair, stunned. Beside me, Terry muttered, ‘The hell?’
Slowly, Maude O’Hara lifted her head and picked up the phone. She looked down at the screen and nodded. ‘They are with us.’ Her glittery eyes jumped up and scanned the circle of people around her. The lights continued to dim and grow bright; dim and grow bright. . .
Maude O’Hara rose to her feet. She began to pace around the table, her black chiffon robe causing an icy breath each time she walked by. She ran her long fingers playfully over our heads but her face remained blank; unreadable.
‘So many,’ she whispered. ‘So many spirits and so little time.’
She paced and paced. Circling us like a vulture sighting quarry.
Rain began to clatter against the lounge windows, and it seemed to me that the muted chatter from within the bar drew extremely faint; as if heard from a great distance. The medium stopped behind an elderly gent sitting beside Shane. ‘This is for you,’ she told him. ‘The spirit is sad . . .’
The lights dimmed; somebody gasped.
The elderly man took the phone from her. He squinted at the screen – a screen which was illuminated, but how?
We all watched in silence as he read the message. At first he scowled, but that was quickly replaced by a look of sheer disbelief. ‘No.’ He shook his head and dropped the phone. ‘This isn’t real! A con, that’s what this is! A con!’
Maude O’Hara said, ‘She is not at rest. She wanders along dark corridors and through empty rooms . . .’ The medium closed her eyes and nodded. ‘I see her now in a flowing white gown. . . drifting . . . screaming . . .’
‘Shut up!’ the elderly man pushed back his chair and rose to his feet. ‘I won’t listen to this! I’m leaving!’
He stormed out of the lounge and the door slammed behind him.
Maude O’Hara returned to her throne. She was smiling as she bowed her head and told us to create the power-link once more. I joined in, reluctantly. But you better believe I was shaking to my core. Something was building in the room; some sort of raw energy that made my nerve-endings thrum.
I glanced across at Terry, hoping to catch his attention, but he was glaring hotly at the medium with tight-lipped anger.
I shot a worried look over at Shane, but his eyes were closed.
The Smartphone whistled.
Maude O’Hara reached out and picked it up. She looked at the screen. The wall lights flickered crazily; rain clattered sharply against the windows.
A reptilian grin cracked her face. Her eyes flicked up and met Terry’s. Rising to her feet, she circled the table once more and stopped right behind my friend.
My heart was knocking hard on my ribs. I was sure she could hear it. Terry twisted in his chair and glared up at her. I could tell he was desperate to blurt out his tall-tale about a dead family member, but Maude O’Hara didn’t give him chance.
‘For you.’ She handed the phone to him. Her eyes were flinty. He accepted it and frowned at the screen. His lips moved silently as he read the message.
‘I don’t understand,’ he mumbled.
‘Perhaps not. The spirits can be quite cryptic.’
Terry turned the phone so that I could read it too.
It said: HALLO TERRY EDGWARE ROAD SCREECH HA HA!
Maude O’Hara took the phone from him. ‘There is nothing more to say. Nothing more to prove. You may as well leave now.’
I saw Terry clench his teeth angrily. His face twisted. Both confused and furious he rose to his feet. ‘Just as I said all along. A bloody fraud! That phone is rigged!’
Other people around the table began to whisper and look decidedly nervous.
Maude O’Hara smiled. Said nothing.
‘Mark . . . Shane,’ Terry said bitterly. ‘Are you coming with me or stopping here with this lying old witch?’
‘They will remain,’ Maude O’Hara declared. ‘The spirits have business with them. But they are done with you!’
Terry scowled and stormed out of the lounge. The door banged shut.
God, I wanted to jump up and follow him. I really did, but for some reason I felt cemented to my chair. I was cold inside; so horribly cold. A clammy sweat was trickling down my back and beading across my forehead. Maude O’Hara wandered back to her throne; and sat.
I thought: How did they know his name??
We closed the circle; our hands flat on the table, pinkies touching.
The medium lowered her head once more. There was a fast-growing sense of unease around the table; a tangible feeling of bad.
But what did we do about it? We did nothing. We sat and we waited, despite the fact I half knew what was coming. Thinking back on it, maybe she even gave me a few chances to escape my fate, but like I said; I was rooted to that chair as if I were a seed that had sprouted from it. Rain rattled on windows and the room grew steadily colder.
Madue O’Hara groaned and her body swayed.
I glanced over at Shane, my heart drumming. He looked right back at me and I saw genuine fear shining in his eyes.
Down went the room’s temperature. My skin crawled and I started to shiver. Everybody’s breath smoked in the chilly air; the table-top became slippery with condensation.
The Smartphone whistled.
Lifting her head, Maude O’Hara looked aged all of a sudden; almost haggard. It was as if the actual act of summoning spirits was giving them energy whilst draining her. Still, she reached out and picked up the phone.
Her cold, glittery gaze jumped from the screen to mine.
I wanted to leap from my chair and run. I think I wanted to scream, but I did nothing; moved not a muscle and made no sound at all. I stared back at her and I could tell she knew. Guilt surged through me. A great tidal-wave of it, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. My eyes blurred with tears and I felt them trickling down my cheeks.
Maude O’Hara stood and made her way around the table; chiffon sighing. She stopped right behind me like a detached shadow but I didn’t look up at her. Instead, I bowed my head and clenched my teeth.
‘Here,’ the medium whispered; all but spat. ‘Read it and weep some more. She did not deserve what you did to her!’
I could feel Shane looking at me; sense his confusion. He hadn’t been there that night. He'd been in Spain; sunning it up.
The phone was placed in front of me and, backhanding tears from my eyes, I read the message:
MARK I DIED I DIED I DIED . . . . THE SHAME . . .
‘I’m sorry,’ I croaked, ‘please . . . I’m sorry!’
Memories came crashing in; stuff I’d tried so hard to forget. Two years ago, another psychic medium, another venue. Terry and me, younger, more foolish. We sat there and we laughed and whispered about her all evening. And then, when we noticed she was wearing a tiny ear-microphone, in which she was gathering information about the sitters from the landlord, we stood up and exposed her lies in front of everybody. There was very nearly a full-blown riot; with people demanding their money back and the table they were using over turned. Jeered at and heckled, she’d left the pub in tears and, in such a state of anguish, ran straight into the road . . . a car going a little too fast . . . a screech of brakes and a thud. . .
‘I’m sorry,’ I said again, but now my voice had virtually gone.
Maude O’Hara snatched the phone from me. ‘Leave,’ she said, ‘there is nothing more to say.’
Heads turned as I left the room, puzzled glances; secretive muttering. I headed for the door and pushed through it. In the bar, loud noise washed over me. The jukebox was singing a song about regret, and lost chances. I kept my head down as I weaved in and out of crowds; heading for the exit. Once outside I stopped and leaned against the wall. Rain fell in icy-cold torrents and soon drenched me to the skin. For my part I stared blankly at the main road and thought back to that terrible night – the screech of brakes, the thud.
A mere candle flame. Snuffed out.
A week later Terry McGann was killed on his bike; just as I suspected he would be. I think even Terry knew what fate had in store for him on the Edgware Road that day, but that’s something I can only assume. A van pulled out in front of him and he struck it at just over thirty miles per hour. Still, that was enough. He broke his neck and died pretty much instantly on the roadside.
So. That just leaves me, because Shane wasn’t there that fateful night. The wife has gone to bed and I am sitting in the living room writing this. As a precaution I have removed the battery and sim-card from my phone, just in case it . . .
It just whistled . . . I have a message.