The Haunting of the Number Eleven
By Paul McAvoy
When Mike told me that a ghost boarded the number eleven each morning, I thought he was pulling my leg. Either that or mistaken. How many ghosts (if such a thing existed, that is) chose eight-thirty in the morning to go and do a spot of haunting? Visitations such as these were for the dead of night, surely, and amid the tombstones of old cemeteries, dangling chains and all. Not buses, never buses.
But Mike was adamant, and knowing how much I liked the odd spot of the uncanny and the weird, he had informed me.
'She's only young looking,' he said to me. 'Maybe thirty at the oldest. She has brown hair. She looks a bit like Alice Krige - you know, in Ghost Story, only a bit chubbier.' Hm, I thought. Just because she looks like Alice Krige, he thinks she is some mind of spook.
I asked him why he thought she was a ghost.
'First time I saw her,' he said dreamily, 'I just thought she was weird looking. Pretty, yes, and darn sexy, but weird also. She has those strange looking eyes, the eyes of a person who does not belong - who is dead.'
So that accounts for her being a ghost, does it? I had asked him. Because she is weird looking…
'She disappears, man,' he told me. 'One minute she is there, the next she is gone. Not on the bus, no. She gets off at Canon Street, walks down a side street, I think it is Rose Avenue - and she goes. In a puff of smoke - well, there is no smoke actually, but she does disappear. Listen, go on the bus tomorrow if you don't believe me. I have seen it happen loads of times. Every Wednesday when I have taken the bus to work, and on other days, too. She haunts the number eleven. Go and see her… It'll make a great story…'
Maybe, I replied, knowing full well that I would do.
How could I not?
Let me just tell you that I am a freelance writer and I have earned minimal amounts of money writing about just about anything I can earn money from. My name is Chris Davies, but I don't think you will have heard of me. I have written for Bella under a pseudonym and for the Mirror under a pen name. Some small press magazines bare my name, but on the whole I am pretty faceless. I have no autograph hunters chasing after me, anyway. I do write professionally, though, and that has always been my dream.
As I said, I write about just anything, but the unexplained is my favourite choice of literature. UFO's, wild cats on Yorkshire moors and, of course, ghosts.
So I went and caught the number eleven the next day.
I rode the bus, which was quite an eye opener after several years as a steadfast driver, I can tell you. I chose a seat at the back. Luckily it was summer and there were no school children screaming and shouting. When the girl Mike had described as being like Alice Krige boarded the bus, I knew it was her straight away. But… she did not seem to actually board the bus… she was just there, seated on a chair near to the back, about a row or two in front of me. She seemed to have appeared from nowhere on the number eleven.
I watched her quietly and was instantly intrigued. Mostly, I suppose, I was curious of her. Not that she was attractive to me - I was happily married with two red setters to feed. No, I was not interested in her looks, but she was interesting. Interesting because she was so different, so not-of-this-world. It could have just been my imagination, and Mike's, but she did look like a ghost.
Rose Avenue came up and she got off. I watched her though the window as she made her way down a side street and, just as Mike had said… disappeared.
It could not be a trick of the light; she had not entered a doorway.
The lady had just gone.
I went home and sat at my computer, considering emailing Mike about it, but something stopped me. Instead I wrote a few notes on what had happened for an intended article, then I got on with some other writing until Julie, my wife, came home and we had something to eat. On occasion I might well discuss something like the girl with Julie, but on this occasion I did not. I kept it to myself.
For some reason, I did not want to talk about this to anyone.
The next day I caught the bus again. Alice (as I found myself calling her) appeared on the bus, got off and disappeared. I did not follow her on this occasion but watched other bus riders to see if they noticed her. The bus, a single decker, was half full, but no one did appear to notice, or give a damn.
I made more notes, of her dress (which was modern), any distinguishing marks or traits and put them all on my computer when I got home.
I did not go on the bus over the weekend, as Julie and I went to the Lake District to take the dogs on the fells. However, Alice occupied my mind throughout the two days. I could not wait to see her again.
I had other work to do, though, so on Sunday evening I finished a piece I had been working on about English churches for a country magazine. As I polished it off, I received a call from Mike.
'Did you see her?' he asked.
I paused and asked him who he meant. It was not nice lying to my best friend.
'The Alice Krige woman…'
Not yet, I replied, but I would do so that week, or the next.
'Chris, you really ought to you know. It is spooky… and just up your street.'
I told him I would. I don't know why I was lying to him, I guess I wanted to leave it until I had finished, and got to the bottom of it all.
I could not wait to the next morning. I was going to follow her.
Alice appeared as usual, seated a few rows in front of me whilst I sat on the back seat of the bus, notebook in hand. I watched her as we travelled along the streets. She did not move from her position. She stared ahead, hands on her lap. Then when it was time to get off the bus, she made her way down the aisle.
I followed her to the front of the bus and got off behind her. I was next to her only briefly and I could detect a very faint odour of soil. Her body felt cold, too, even though I did not actually touch it – the coldness seemed to radiate from her. Her skin was a very pale colour, and on closer inspection looked bruised.
She got off the bus, headed down Rose Avenue. I followed. Halfway along, she disappeared. However, she did something before she actually vanished. That was, she looked behind her left shoulder, seemingly aware of being scrutinised. She shot me a concerned look. Then she disappeared. The look was both strange and frightening. This was possibly because there had been no change of expression and no look of anything other than contempt beforehand.
The look knocked me for six. I paused, waiting a couple of metres behind her. My heart hammered in my chest. I could not breathe and thought I might choke. Then she was gone.
For three weeks after these events I suffered from the most excruciating of abdominal pains. I was in hospital for a week whilst the doctors placed cameras up ever orifice known to man, but found nothing. In the end, they just let me go home and luckily the pain ceased.
I could not help thinking, though, that Alice was the cause of the pain. That the look of concern she had shot me had triggered it all. I decided not to board the number eleven again. But my curiosity is a nagging thing, it always has been, and like a dog with a bone, I had to know what was going on with Alice and why she haunted the number eleven.
I decided to use a different angle.
When I was fit enough, I drove down to Rose Avenue one morning just after eight o'clock. I got there early, as I wanted to get the feel of the place. Sadly I was not able to take much in, nor get any feel of the place because of what the street was like. It was an untidy place, lined with garden-less terraced houses. Old cars were parked up with rusting bodywork, and the houses seemed grimy. I had not known just how run down a place Rose Avenue was. The rest of the area seemed all right. But every garden has its thorns…
Feeling conspicuous, I returned to my car and waited until eight-thirty, then I returned. I waited by the bottom of the street. A railway ran along the end of the street and it was fenced off, so if anyone were to ask me, I would just say I was watching trains or something.
I saw the bus pass on Canon Street and sure enough I saw Alice come walking down the street. She got halfway, did not look up, did not do much of anything. Then she vanished, just as she always did.
I took in a deep breath, pulling out my notebook. I looked down at it for a moment, then let out a sharp gasp of pain.
The rugged hand gripped my wrist like a vice…
I looked up to see a man stood at my side. He was old looking with white hair that was thinning. Wiry, he had grey-white bristles on his chin and wore a string vest and black trousers. His bare arms bore various military tattoos.
I looked at the hand that gripped my wrist a moment, and then pulled my arm away.
‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘You were looking at her weren’t you?’
‘Who?’ I asked, but I knew what he meant straightaway.
‘Her, the one who walks and goes.’ His voice was wavy, almost manic. He reminded me a bit of an old seaman who warns people not to venture out to sea. ‘You know the one I mean. The one who disappears.’
‘Yes.’ I nodded, thinking suddenly that admitting to it would be to my advantage. Perhaps he knew something about her. ‘Who is she?’ I asked.
His face eased for just a moment. ‘Many people have seen her, just like you and me. Few have lived to tell the tale. I have seen several people like you standing here, making notes. I have warned most of them away. She is a cruel woman, she will kill you, just as she has killed many before you.’
‘I don’t understand what you mean…’
‘This is a warning: stay away from her, forget you saw her and don’t let her know you have watched her or she will hurt you. She hates to be watched does that Fenton woman. She has killed many before.'
'Fenton? Is that her name?'
'Names don't matter, son. She will kill you.’
I remembered how she had turned to look at me and how I had been ill for three weeks with stomach pains. ‘I see,’ was all I could say. ‘You know her then? You know her name?’
‘Alice is her first name…’ the old man told me, and my heart quickened. ‘You look surprised? Don’t be, people always know her name. Stay away, I tell you. She will hurt you. She does not like to be watched.’
‘But where does she come from, why does she do what she does?’
‘It is a very old tale… She has come and gone. She is walking, she is cursed, and doomed to walk… it is her punishment. But she does not like to be watched. She hates to be watched, has been watched for so many years, hundreds of years. There are no books to read, just stories to hear. I have seen her many times in the past and in many different places. I have seen her in London, too. And in Edinburgh. I do not follow her, oh no, but I just seem to end up seeing her. Someone - a man - once told me a story about Alice Fenton; this was in my youth. He told me the legend. But that is irrelevant. Take heed of my warning. Stay away, or she will kill you…’
And with that, the old man turned and walked across the road.
I went home and wrote notes on my PC. I hardly heard my wife return home, and was in a daze staring at the computer's monitor when she came into the spare bedroom and announced that she was going to visit her friend.
I nodded, still looking at the PC. She paused a moment at the doorway, and then left.
I logged onto the Internet and tried various search engines, looking for any mention of the woman the old man had referred to as 'the woman who walked and disappeared.' I found next to nothing. I did find a huge site on the occult, however, which was brimming with information about similar legends.
I sent the website's creator an email, detailing my story, then I got up and stretched my legs. My watch told me it was eleven-thirty at night. God, I had been at the desk for about seven hours. Surely that was not possible? I felt tired and hungry all of a sudden so I went down stairs and made a sandwich.
My wife returned in the small hours, but I was fast asleep and hardly noticed her climb into bed next to me.
I got up late the next morning and missed my wife. She had gone to work. I fed the two dogs and found her note in the living room on the mantle: ‘Perhaps we might bump into each other one of these days.’
I felt guilty, and after I ate my breakfast I went into town where she worked and bought some flowers. I went up to her office with the flowers only to find out she had taken an early lunch. I left the flowers with one of her colleagues and returned home to write more notes about Alice.
After lunch I called Julie only to find out she was in a meeting. At a loose end, with nothing to write, I went to Rose Avenue. I did not listen to warnings from old men…
When I arrived at Rose Avenue, I had a look around the street, wondering where the old man who I had spoken to the day before lived. As I looked I felt a few speckles of rain, but the clouds looked bright enough. I crossed over the road, looking over at the spot where Alice disappeared.
‘You looking for someone, mate?’
I paused, and then turned around. A youth wearing tracksuit bottoms and a white tee shirt was stood on a doorstep, cigarette dangling from his mouth. ‘Yes,’ I began. ‘An old man, I was talking to him yesterday…’
‘Oh yeah,’ he nodded. ‘I saw you. You mean Crazy Pete. Sorry to tell you this, mate, but he's dead.'
‘Last night I heard the pigs banging at his door. He was dead in his bed. Heart attack, or something.’
I could not help thinking about Alice and his warning. Surely she had not killed him, too?
I left the scene, thanking the youth for his help.
Once back at home, I sat at my computer and started writing down what you are now reading. I had to do something to take my mind of several things that had happened.
The first was the news about 'Crazy Pete.'
The second the note from my wife.
When I had got in, the two dogs were ready for their dinner and I obliged. Whilst I did this I found a hand written note from my wife on the mantle.
I have since thrown the letter away, but it went something like this:
I am leaving you. I am sorry. Things have not been working out between us for a long time. You know that. I know this is going to hurt you, but I am going to move in with Mike (I know he is your best friend, but don't be hard on him). We started seeing each other when you were in hospital with the stomach thing. Sorry. I will be back for my clothes, and we will decide what to do with the dogs…
Started seeing him we I was ill. Great. I wondered if my so-called best friend had had his eye on her before then, when he had told me about Alice, perhaps?
I felt anger burn up in my stomach.
As I said, I went upstairs to the computer and started writing this piece, in an attempt to take my mind off things. The natural thing to do would be to call her at Mike's but I stopped myself. I had to get my head around this. Things had not been working out? What was all that crap? Things had been fine! I know that I had been spending a lot of time on my work. When I write I seem to go into another world. She knew that, though!
But as I wrote, a message appeared on my screen. I had new mail. Would I like to read it now? Half expecting to find some junk mail, I clicked yes. When I saw what was there, however, I stopped and frowned.
There was an email from the person whose site I had visited the previous day, the site dedicated to the occult.
Hi Chris, (it began) I got your email and I must say I am quite worried. I think I know exactly who this woman is, this Alice Fenton. I only know a very little - if I knew more I would have the story up on my site - but from what I have heard, she is dangerous. A lot of people have suffered unexplainable deaths because of her. Stories go back as far as the middle of the seventeen-century. The legend is that she was the wife of a very rich nobleman, but she would have affair after affair. The nobleman found out about this and hired some witch or warlock to put a curse on her. This curse would cause her to 'ride and walk.' Why exactly I do not know. Early reports are of her riding in a carriage and disappearing in woods. People who have followed her and spoken to her have either died at the scene or a few days later. She doesn't like to be followed. She is cursed to 'ride and walk' for all eternity. Sorry I do not know much more than that. But this Alice has appeared in many different places through the years. I think it might be her. Whatever, better not to go and talk to her. If and when I find out more details I will let you know.
I reread the message. It certainly sounded like my Alice, but was it at all possible? Again I thought of the pains I had felt in my stomach, and the words of the old man. Could such a thing happen? I thought about it for a moment. But my thoughts soon drifted to my wife. And so to Mike. How could you Mike?
I had a memory then of him and me sitting in some pub.
'You have a great wife there,' he had told me. 'Wish I could find someone half as great as her.'
Another memory: The three of us in the park, playing football. Had I caught him looking at her that day? I shook my head. I had not thought anything of it. I trusted them both…with my life…
I hated him so much then. I yearned to get my hands on him, but of course I had to remain cool even though in my mind I wanted to tear him apart…
I looked at the email…
It would appear he had always wanted her, had been waiting for his chance and as soon as I was in hospital he had stepped in, concern for the little lady at home. I shook my head, biting back the rage and fury.
Then I looked down at my mobile phone, lying on my desk. I frowned and picked it up. I had his number in memory. I could ring from here. Could I act that well? I wanted my wife back, I was suddenly so sure of this fact. I needed her. How dare he do this to me? To me, his friend?
I punched in his number. He answered after one ring.
'Hi Mike, how are you?'
'Fine.' Cautious. 'Look…Chris…'
'Listen,' I began, trying to sound as convincing as I could. 'This Alice… you really have got to go talk to her. She is amazing man. She is a fucking ghost. I saw her disappear, just like you did and I went to talk to her today before she went. You really have to go and see her…'
'No, you have to…'
'Where are you, Chris?'
'In the newsagents near to Rose Avenue,' I said. 'Promise you will go talk to Alice, you will hear things you won't believe. I can't tell you anything, but she will tell you things that only you want to know…'
'Right Chris, I will do that.'
'Great,' I said. We said our farewells. I placed the phone on the desk with a shaky hand. He might do, and he might not. It was all up to fate now.
My stomach turned. I felt suddenly sick. What had I done?
But she might not be the same Alice Fenton after all…
Sure, and I did not believe that.
He might not go and when he did decide to she might well have left Rose Avenue to go haunt somewhere else.
I switched off my PC.
I had finished…
The Haunting of the Number Eleven frst appeared in 13 Stories issues 6 in 2003 and later in The Dark Within collection (Published by D Press)
The Haunting of the Number Eleven frst appeared in 13 Stories issues 6 in 2003 and later in The Dark Within collection (Published by D Press)