SBR 1.2: Bookworm

Ssorc ym treah epoh ot eid, kcits a eldeen ni ym eye, welcome to Spirit Box Radio’s community and advice segment, with your temporary host, Sam Enfield.

[INTRO PLAYS OUT]

Yes, faithful listeners, it’s still me standing in for Madame Marie. There have been no new updates as to her whereabouts, although something very strange happened this morning. I got up from the desk to go to the loo. I left on the desk a small stack of letters that we’d received in our PO Box.

As you know, before Madame Marie disappeared, looking after the PO Box was my job here at Spirit Box Radio and whilst I’m now having to host the show, the job still needs doing. So I collected these letters from the PO Box and thought I’d sit and listen to the channel for a while, see if anyone wants to reach me, and then I got up and when I was on the way back, the papers shifted, as though rustled in a gentle breeze, as though someone had left open a window, somewhere, and a tiny breath of outside had danced its way in to stir them. But, dear listeners, there are no windows in the Spirit Box Radio studio, no. I am absolutely certain of this because the studio is in a basement.

Yes, it’s most peculiar. There almost certainly some kind of supernatural cause to the breeze. Madame Marie left out quite a few books on the desk, and I’ve been flipping through them to see if there’s anything that might indicate why there is suddenly some kind of draft in this room six feet under the ground. A couple of the tomes I’ve had to write of right away as they are written in some incomprehensible runes. Well, to me they’re incomprehensible. Someone else could clearly comprehend them quite well as there is an abundance of notes in red ink cluttering up the margins. At first I thought the notes, too, were written in runes, albeit very different ones, but when I ran a finger over them I realised they’d left an impression in the page which suggest to me that they are written in biro, and who on earth is writing runes in biro? You’d at least get a fountain pen, surely.

Anyhow once I’d realised this, I caught sight of the notes in one of the broken shards sticking out of Madame Marie’s broken hand-mirror collection, and I noticed that it was mirror writing, in a very loopy cursive. As you can imagine that was pretty exciting and I felt a bit sherlock holmes, you know? Only when I actually read the notes they were not very useful at all and only served to confuse me even more about the runes they were referring to.

//

Another of the books was about tarot reading, which I was absolutely delighted to come across. Of course, Madame Marie kept all of her books about the general occult down here in the studio so I never had a chance to look at them, but now I’m getting a proper look at this guide to tarot, I’m finding it quite thrilling and informative! Someone actually wrote into the show last week asking for a tarot reading, but of course, having no real spiritual gift having yet to study the wonders contained in the book before me, I did not even bring it up, and put it into the growing pile of requests for Madame Marie to attend to upon her return from wherever she’s gone to.

However, with this trust guide, I think I’m going to give it a go. The reading request comes from Miriam in Bedfordshire, who would like the desk to be consulted on whether or not she ought to apply for a new position at work. An opportunity to put herself forward for promotion has come up but she’s not sure if she should take it. Well, Miriam, I’m not sure how reliable this will be, what with it being my first ever reading for someone else, but how exciting! Live on air! On my favourite radio show! Where I’m now the host!

Okay. So, just like the book said, I’ve been getting to know the deck. I’ve been sleeping with it next to me in bed, tucking it in. I even made it a cup of coffee this morning. I know it’s a bit soon to say but I think we do get on. Something of a relief really as it’s the only deck I’ve been able to find, and apparently it’s bad luck to buy them for yourself, according to the book.

So. Here we go. I’ll cut the deck with my left hand and pull the card on top. Which is…

//

Death. Hmm. Now. What does that mean? Let’s have a look. Oh dear. Was it upright or reversed? I was holding it sort of sideways. Goodness, this is complicated. Well. That means it’s either going to be resistance to change, or… oh. Embracing it. So. Hmm. I should probably do that one again. I’ll just shuffle the deck.

Okay, here we go! Cut the deck with my left had and hold the card in a normal way, Sam, you foolish boy, and… oh. Death again. Upside down. Which I think means go for it? The promotion I mean. I don’t know. I can’t really. Let me just have another look at the book.

Ah, okay, I need to try to feel more about the question, apparently. I’ll shuffle the cards again and ask it out loud ‘should Miriam from Bedfordshire put herself forwards for that promotion?’ and I’ve drawn…. Death.

This is a lot harder than I thought.

Anyway Miriam I think you should go for it, your handwriting is very beautiful but there’s something about it which gives me the strong impression you’re holding back and could definitely do with a little bit more belief in yourself. What’s the worst that could happen, afterall? You kept getting ‘death’ and that’s apparently a good sign.

Anyway. Whilst that didn’t exactly go brilliantly, I think that was pretty good for a first try! Maybe I’ll learn a little more once I’ve got past chapter one.

Madame Marie had not deigned to provide me with an augury forecast for the coming week, so I suppose, as we’ve already started to do so by addressing Miriam’s tarot reading request, we ought to move on to our letters. Back when I was just the PO Box Boy – which I’ll be more than happy to go back to when Madame Marie and the others return – I used to love sorting through all of your letters in to the studio. Sometimes I would sit and read them start to finish in order to properly sort them, but of course sometimes when I picked them up I could tell right away which pile they needed to go into. It’s just common sense, isn’t it? Anyway. It was a real pleasure sorting through all of the physical letters but unfortunately the only thing we received in the PO Box this week was a scrap of cloth with a stiff brown stain on it. And a stamp and proper address, of course, or else it would have never got to us. But that doesn’t make for very entertaining reading.

//

We have, however, received numerous emails. The emails since of the sorting is done automatically my Madame Marie’s computer. I don’t know too much about technology, and I’m only muddling my way through presenting this show by virtue of all of Madame Marie’s notes, so I’m not sure how the sorting feature on Marie’s laptop actually works. What I can conclusively tell you is that a good deal of the emails she gets don’t have a sender attached to them, so there must be some kind of filter. I’ve tried looking for where that setting would be but when it comes to computers, I really don’t know what I’m doing. Well. I don’t know what I’m doing with most things, really.

Anyhow, I thought it would be exciting if I picked out an email which DID have a sender attached. This one was sent in by Mr Collin Donald Rowlins, to be precise. Here’s what Collin had to say.

I’ve been using the library in my hometown, Rhyl, since I was a kid. It’s quite big as local libraries go, especially nowadays, and a part of the reason the council keep paying to keep it open is because over the years the building has become somewhat multi-use. There’s a little cafe that sells the usual greasy spoon fair, you know, fry ups, cups of tea so strong your spoon stays standing up when you stop stirring, real good, hearty food. Upstairs there is a little museum – as museums go it’s a bit of a poor show, one room of local items in glass fronted cabinets, like a very well organised attic more than a curated collection. Still, it’s better than nothing, and in a town like rhyl, it’s hard to muster a real sense of community spirit.

Rhyl is a seaside town which really made a name for itself with the emerging middle class of Victorian holiday goers. They’d take the newly minted trains down the coast to get some fresh air away from the city. The train station is still very grand, though a little rough and rusty around the edges, and walking down the promenade on the seafront, you can see the ghosts of this more illustrious past in the facades of the large terraces that overlook the sea.

Unlike a lot of towns not so far from Rhyl, it never relied on mining to make its trade, so the collapse of the industry really passed Rhyl over, and it did pretty well for itself right up until the mid-nineties or so, when international travel really started to get affordable for people, at which point. Well. Rhyl just became another forgotten town. It’s pretty desolate these days. It has a reputation for violence and drugs and speaking from my experience of the few nights on the town I’ve had, it’s earned them.

//

As well as the museum and the cafe, the council runs a few essential services out of the library, helping people with their council tax and housing benefits, that sort of thing. This change is actually pretty recent, and to be honest I wasn’t really sure about it at first. It did change the atmosphere of the place quite significantly, skewing wildly from parents with young children and the lonely and elderly, to a mish-mash of the desperate, the frustrated, the truly not wanting to be there right now, and the not-so-savoury. You may be thinking me judgemental but I myself collect unemployment payments and would not dream to cast aspersions upon others who do the same.

Anyhow, after my initial reservations, I’ve grown to be quite fond of the various characters I see coming into the library, and quite enjoy seeing the regulars come in. There are a few who need help processing paperwork, and those who pay cash in hand for their council flats. There are the old guard, who come in for the books, and nothing else, and then, there are the trouble makers. Those who are missing payments, accused of fraudulent claims. A regular rotating cast of people who come in almost solely to harass the staff.

Not that I derive any particular pleasure from overhearing verbal abuse, but I have come to recognise and anticipate which of these characters will show up on what particular days, and why they might be kicking off this time.

There is one guy in particular, in his early forties with a tattoo on his neck that reads ‘sonia’ in vaguely gothic lettering. He has a sort of cockney accent, even though I have it on good authority he was born not far from the library itself and has most likely never even visited London, so I can only assume the accent is affected from watching a lifetime’s worth of Eastenders. He seems to have modelled himself on once-main-stay Walford Square villain Phil Mitchell, too, wearing exclusively ill-fitting jeans and shell suits, and carrying with him a packet of rolling tobacco and a small bottle of liquor, and a smell of stale smoke and alcohol that didn’t leave the library until a few minutes after him.

I’d grown used to their ways and rhythms, like an odd sort of calendar, to such an extent I could reliably say what day of the week and time of the month it was by which person in particular was yelling at the library staff. As such, the staff have a relatively high turn over, and every few months there is someone new on the front desk.

//

A couple of months ago this very elderly woman was sitting behind the desk when I came in. when I say very elderly I mean it; at first I was sure she’d mistakenly though the chairs behind the desk were available seating and had sat there by mistake but when I asked she smiled an incredibly wrinkled smile and told me she was the new librarian. I was very pleased about this; Rhyl Library has not had a proper librarian for a very long time, with all the cut backs and the amount of council work the staff have to do. I thought maybe with a proper librarian we might actually start getting some new books.

That didn’t happen. At least, not exactly. Libraries, as I’m sure you’re aware, have quite high standards for the volumes they keep on their shelves, but after the new librarian started I noticed standards were slipping a bit. I’d see books with tattered covers on full display, others where the spine had totally split, shoved haphazardly together, not even sellotaped. And over the weeks and months I began to notice a smell. A sweet, sour sort of smell, like rotting groceries, which would come and go as I perused the shelves. I wondered at it at first; perhaps the old librarian was senile. I never said anything, of course, in part because of the other thing I’d noticed since the old librarian started on the front desk; the rowdy clientelle was becoming significantly less rowdy. Or rather, the troublemakers I’d come to measure my days by were no longer coming in at all.

Over the next few weeks I noticed something else rather odd. Sometimes, one of the rowdier clients would approach the front desk and speak to the librarian, and she would tell them to go and wait for her upstairs in the reading room. This perplexed me; for all of rhyl library’s many facilities it most certainly does not have a reading room. Still, all the people who she told to go to the reading room would nod solemnly and trail their way up to the library’s second floor. After a little while, the librarian would follow them, and would not return for the rest of the time I spent in the library that day. The longest absence, I believe, was about two hours. I never saw anyone she took up to the reading room again.

The second floor of Rhyl library does not have many books. There is a wall of reference texts, a cluster of computers, and a microfiche. There is a little archway which leads to the museum, and two red doors – neither of which are very big. One of the doors leads to the staff room, the other to the office of the librarians, both of which are locked to the public and very clearly labelled. In the museum there is another door, to another office according to the sign on the door, and this one is blue. That’s all the doors there are; certainly nothing even remotely like a reading room.

Before the librarian told them to go up there, she would always type something into the computer at the desk, look at the screen for a long, long time, and return to them with something like ‘you have never created a library card’ or ‘you owe such and such in late fees’. One Tuesday afternoon, Bargain Bin Mitchell came in with his usual complaints that his housing benefit was not enough money or he was due to get more money for something else, and almost as soon as he launched into his tirade, the librarian leaned across the desk and said, ‘you took out a book some time ago and it was never returned to our shelves’. Bargain Bin Mitchell was furious about this, proclaiming he’d never taken out a book in his life. Well, apparently he had, said the librarian, he would have been about eight years old and the book was about cowboys. Cowboys, Bargain Bin Mitchell shouted, I don’t even like cowboys, are you saying I’m gay?

At this, the librarian sat back in her chair and said, coolly, that ‘you ought to be quiet, as this is a library, after all. Would you please wait for me in the reading room’. Bargain Bin Mitchell’s face went bright red. I thought for sure he was going to start shouting the roof off, but, despite flapping his mouth open and closed a few times, no sound came out of him. His eyes, buggy and wide, glared at the librarian. Without another word, he slouched off, up the stairs.

//

I don’t really know what compelled me to do it. I was curious, I suppose, and hoping to overhear what the old librarian told this trouble makes to get them to do what nobody else could; shut up and go away. I followed Bargain Bin Mitchell up the stairs, holding my breath of course, keeping a few paces behind him. He veered to the right, into the museum. As I got to the top of the stairs I heard a heavy thud; a large door slamming shut.

I dawdled for a while by the microfiche, twiddling my thumbs. And I followed him into the museum. Everything was in it’s right place, except for Bargain Bin Mitchell, who was nowhere to be seen, and also, between the glass box of old news paper cuttings and the one of old, tatty train tickets, there was a large, red door.

It seemed to be made of a very heavy hard wood, painted red some time ago. Where it was peeling I could see other layers of other paint, all red in various shades. Every other door in the library is made of heavy duty MDF. The building is fairly new, and none of the doors are made of hardwood. Certainly not like this one, anyway. It had a brass handle, ornate and tarnished, but for the bow of the handle itself which was bright and polished by frequent use. At eye level, the door was labeled just like all the other doors, except not with little plastic boards with the council’s logo in the corner, but tarnished brass. It said ‘reading room’.

Let me tell you, I have been to this library every day of my life and this door was definitely not there in the museum prior. But, as I was standing there staring at it, the old librarian bustled past me just pushed the door open, dragging a mop and bucket behind herself. Inside the reading room appeared much darker than the rest of the library, and I couldn’t see much beyond the door. A few minutes later, despite being escorted out of the building not half an hour ago, Bargain Bin Mitchell stomped in after her, carrying a bucket and a broom along with his usual whiff. I braced myself for it and as the door swinged shut again I allowed myself to release the breath I’d been holding and that’s when I caught it. The smell. The horrid sweet sour rot I’d been smelling on and off in the library for weeks, and yet somehow it was different, changed. So thick and warm it was overwhelming and I thought for a moment I was going to be sick.

//

I stared at the closed door. The paint, as well as cracked and peeling in places, was also strangely bulbous, as though swollen, as though threatening to burst. I don’t know why but my hand was reaching out to the large door handle, my eyes fixed on the brass sign, the words ‘Reading Room’ etched deliberately into the metal, and then I gripped the handle and pressed down and felt the door beginning to swing in, the smell impossibly strong but different as the air from inside the reading room rushed out to meet me and I caught it then, that subtle difference I’d noticed before was. Stale cigarette smoke and weeks of grime and body odour. And beneath it all, like a new base note in a horrible perfume, the unmistakable stink of meat.

I stood there for a little while but I could hear anything from the other side of the door, and it was getting quite late in the morning and I was starting to get peckish, so after half an hour or so, I left.

Does this sound like any sort of ghostly encounters you’ve had before?

Regards,

Collin

Well Collin, that’s certainly a very interesting story, but my personal experiences with ghosts are actually rather limited, as I imagine are most peoples! Of course, though it’s not been addressed, I assume this email was intended for Madame Marie, who no doubt has a lot more of a way with that sort of thing that me, a lowly PO Box boy. I have had several unfortunate encounters with very strange doors, but I don’t know if any of them would really be relevant, and, goodness, I’ve been talking for rather a long time now and I should probably think about closing this Advice and Community segment up!

As always, please talk to each other in the forums and send your queries in to us at Spirit Box Radio if you’d like to get in touch. Of course, by us, at the moment what I mean is me, and as I keep saying my experience is very limited. When Madame Marie is back which I am completely certain she will be, maybe she can do some sort of extended edition of the advice and community segment where she addresses all of these letters and enquiries I’ve probably botched. I’m sure it won’t be long before she’s back. I’m certain of it.

Well. For now, anyway, I’ve been Sam Enfield, this is Spirit Box Radio, thank you, and goodnight!