In ancient times, All Hallows Eve (Halloween to you and me) was considered to be a time when the walls between our world and the next became thin and porous, allowing spirits to pass through.
In two decades of policing, I have encountered death in all its forms and it’s never spooky, but usually sad, mundane or tragic. So it’s difficult to believe in ghosts and spirits. And yet...
Back in 1990, before becoming a constable, I was an enquiry officer, working at Spalding Police Station. In those days the police station was based in the old Victorian building tucked behind the magistrates’ court. It had been built in 1857 and, despite its age, the station was well maintained and had an indefatigable boiler and excellent heating system, so it was always warm and snug. Standing proud against all weathers and all seasons, it stood sentinel like the last bastion of society.
My job was to work in the enquiry office: the police station reception. In those days, the police station was open all hours, so I worked 24/7 shifts.
It was just a routine night shift. Everyone was out on patrol and, as was usual, I was the only person in the police station. As was tradition, just before midnight I locked the front door for a moment.
The door had the original Victorian lock and the enormous ornate key always reminded me of the ceremony of the keys at the Tower of London. Door locked, I then started towards the kitchen to put the kettle on for a shift brew.
I had only taken a few steps when I heard the sound of the front doorbell. Cursing the ill-timing, I returned to the front door and opened it. There was no one there. I looked up and down the yard in case the caller had been impatient: there was no one about. I locked the door again and started down the corridor again. This time I got as far as the kitchen when I heard the doorbell again. Not wanting to miss the caller, I rushed to the front door and unlocked it. There was no one there. Again I looked both ways to check. Puzzled, I closed the heavy door.
It was as I was turning the key in the lock that the doorbell rang again. I pulled the door open. Nothing. No one there. The only noise was the rustling of a breeze through the trees, blowing the last autumnal leaves across the car park.
Then the bell rang again. I was stood on the doorstep, door open, looking at the doorbell as it rang. There was no one else about. It was at this point I felt the first chill between my shoulder blades.
I want back inside and returned to the enquiry office. There were a series of bells on a gantry above my desk. Imagine the servant call-bells in Downton Abbey or many other stately homes and this gives you an idea of the type of bell system, albeit ours were not as ornate. One of the bells was linked to the front door and the others were linked to the cells. There were five cells and each one had its own bell.
As I looked up I could see that, after all that, it wasn’t the front door bell ringing, but cell number three. I had mistakenly assumed it was the front door. The thing is, there was no one in the cells. Suspecting that one of the night-shift officers had sneaked back in and was playing a practical joke, I went to investigate in the cell block.
The cell block was at the back of the station, down a couple of steps, where you not only stepped down to another level, but also stepped back in time. There was something very Dickensian about the cell block. It always had a stale-smelling mix of perspiration and desperation.
Like the rest of the station, it was well heated. Not on this night, though.
Stepping down to the cell block, the temperature dropped and there was a sudden fog on my breath. My teeth started to chatter. I told myself this was the temperature drop and not fear.
The cell block had the benefits of the same heating system as the rest of the station. I placed a hand on the red-hot radiator. If the radiator was hot, why did I feel so cold?
Unbidden, a line from Macbeth came to mind: ‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.’ Berating myself, for spooking myself, I checked every cell. There was no one there. As I started to walk back to the enquiry office I could hear the bell ringing again on my approach.
The bell had stopped ringing on my return to the office, but its last shuddering vibrations showed that it was cell three again.
At this time the officers returned from their patrols for their nocturnal cup of tea. The tea wasn’t ready, so I reluctantly explained what had happened, expecting ridicule.
There must have been something in my demeanour, however, as no one made fun of me. Instead, they wanted to investigate.
Colin, the dog-handler, retrieved his German Shepherd dog from his van and took the dog in to the cell block. This brave dog, veteran of numerous public order incidents and catcher of countless criminals, would not enter cell number three. The dog sat on its haunches, resisting every effort.
Colin had to lift and carry the hapless hound in to the cell, where it started howling morosely and ran out as soon as it was placed on the ground.
We never did determine what caused these strange occurrences. I had never experienced anything like this in the old police station before or since.
It may have been strange atmospherics or a blip in the ancient wiring system. Or it may, just may, have been the anguish of some long-forgotten prisoner echoing disconsolately across the centuries.
Happy Halloween every-one.