by Michael S. Collins
A lecturer the wrong side of forty, Simon had managed to dispense of his Glasgow roots decades previously and detested returning to his birthplace. The banter and the smoke were a far cry from the class boundary he had become accustomed to.
Simon watched the locals eat wet chips in the rain to the amusement of their shrieking ladies and quietly despaired of his luck as his taxi sat at the lights. To come back home was terrible at the best of times. But to return for a funeral!
Simon Baker had never been that close to his Uncle Hugh, and yet the dead man’s final letter remained in his top pocket.
I’m sorry I was never the best of people at times, and I hope you can forgive me my past misdemeanours, for shortly I shall be without recourse to answer. I saw it again! Looking into this I know that...(here the writing becomes illegible)...and the rumours are true! I think this should be investigated by an academic mind. Don’t you? There shall be more for your liking at the Reading, if I am at my end.
Baker had been confused by the letter but suffered some slight remnant of guilt when, two days after it arrived, Hugh’s prediction had come true. He had been out shopping in town, walking laden with the bags down Renfield Street. Then, as eyewitnesses were to later testify to the coroner, the man stopped suddenly in fright, dropped his bags — spilling his groceries in the process — and ran across the street. Halfway to the Central Station stairwell, Hugh Baker came into contact with a bus and was killed instantly.
The driver was inconsolable, and many of the passengers took to looking after the unblameable man whilst the ambulance arrived. Hugh Baker was pronounced dead at the scene. He, being widely known and loved, was mourned. Indeed, such was the love for this local soul that two of the eyewitnesses noted their disdain at the passer-by with the dogs, who had walked on as if without a care in the world!
Simon Baker, for all his weariness, thought this final act very strange. What made him run out into the street just like that? What did Hugh Baker realise, to make him write his letter? Simon sighed. Sometimes illegible handwriting came at the worst moments. If Hugh had been a student instead of deceased family member, Simon would no doubt have deducted him marks for penmanship.
But one line in the letter made clear sense: There shall be more for your liking at the Reading. However this intrigue was to turn out, Simon knew the tale was too irresistible not to look into.
The funeral and burial went without too much incident. If Simon had expected riches, he would have been disappointed. What passed hands at the reading was not riches, nor even understanding, but a bridge into the continuation of Hugh Baker’s work. With little estate or wealth to distribute amongst closer members of family, Simon was waiting his turn to receive when he was handed a dusty red book.
“What’s this?” he said.
“It’s Hugh’s journal,” said the reader. “He specifically states here that you should have it.”
Clues will arise in the old man’s book then, thought Simon. He clasped it tightly, but forwent the temptation to read until he got back to his hotel room. There, with the aid of the reading light and his glasses, Simon turned the pages and received an erudite insight into the mind of the deceased.
In his younger years, Hugh Baker had been a geography lecturer, and such was his expertise he had been still called in for lectures on occasion. The journal was full of his lecture plans. Of more importance towards the end of the journal — and the quality of the writing noticeably dovetailed at this point — were two specific renditions of experiences Hugh had in his final week.
13th October. What a sight beheld me tonight. The Watcher himself! That which comes to those who wish to see it! And I had hoped for a longer life as well.
All due to my gentlemanly chivalry. After a night drinking with Louise I insisted on walking her home. One does not allow a lady to walk alone at night after all.
After she was safe at home, I took to walking down the Bute Street in the direction of Great Western Road. It was a very foggy night, and the fog glistened in the early hours of the morning like fresh mountain dew. You could hardly see two feet in front of you!
I slowly became aware, by degrees, of barking. Someone was walking their dogs rather early. I caught a glimpse of a hooded figure holding onto the leashes just in front of me. I could have walked on undeterred, if not for just as I passed the figure turned to stare at me.
Those eyes! It gave me quite a start! It wasn’t until I got back indoors that I even gave the old urban myth a thought. Probably unsubstantiated, and I shall recover after a good night’s sleep.
He did have a good night’s sleep — it was noted in the journal — but the journal went on to suggest that the myth may not have been quite so unsubstantiated after all.
16th October. I’m going to die! When, where and how I have no idea, but it will happen somehow before the 20th!
The rumours are true, the Watcher exists! One vision of him could be put down to nerves, and the atmosphere of the early morning, but a second vision leaves us in no doubt that the Watcher exists and that the next time I see him I shall die.
I was in bed last night, reading through some notes I was preparing for a talk on population dispersal. It was getting late, and I was dozing off when I heard a rattling. And then a scraping. It sounded as though something was climbing the wall of the house.
Then, silence for a second or two. A dog’s bark broke the silence, and I started thinking of my encounter two nights prior. Then, to my intense shock and despair, a hand appeared at the foot of my window. Not just a normal human hand either, but a withered decomposed rictus, its digits barely hanging on.
The figure crawled upwards, slowly coming into focus until it sat perched on the window sill, beckoning to me. A hooded thing, its features barely visible but what could be seen was dank and crumbling, black like the night but with flashes of green across the face as if lichen had begun to grow across it.
And those eyes! The fiery nature of them is a sight I shall never forget. The thing stared at me through the window, and raised a cadaverous finger, which it pointed... at me.
And then it smiled, a sickeningly foul grimace that chilled me. The message was simple: soon, you shall be mine. Then it disappeared without trace.
The Watcher exists! Oh dear. I wish I had paid more attention to my mother’s warnings when I was younger.
Simon read this journal with interest. Who was the Watcher? Some sort of portent, he assumed, and figured a day at the library was called for. Hopefully the archives could shed more light on this Watcher character. And after that, perhaps talking to people with links to it. Only then could the mystery come closer to being solved. One thing was for sure. Simon Baker no longer regretted his return to Glasgow.
November 23rd, just over a month since the death of his uncle, Simon Baker entered the dusty and confined atmosphere of the main hall at the Mitchell Library. Since he had decided to find answers about Hugh’s death, he had exhausted family and friends alike with queries, about whether they knew anything of this Watcher. They had not, and so in the library of forgotten records the lecturer had retreated, in hope that some earlier soul had left clues for posterity. With fifteen yellowed books of newspaper clippings, Simon hoped something would turn up sooner rather than later.
Loose pages fell to the floor, unnoticed. The hours passed, the pile of books grew, and the lecturer grew frustrated as nothing better than dead ends arrived to clamp down every brainstorm.
Not really knowing where to start looking for evidence of the Watcher, Simon had forced himself to read through everything. By the end of the first week, he had only reached back as far as 1990, and a different approach was required.
He concentrated on the obituary pages, each and every one of them and hoped something would jump out, some evidence of mysterious circumstances. Even a hint.
And the years passed by. Hendersons, Smiths, Bartons, Camerons, Murphys, all passed on, and no clue to the Watcher. He passed 1950, passed his grandparents’ deaths and even his great-grandparents’ deaths. He passed tragic cases like Maria Gilchrist, only thirteen at death to illness; to elderly Agnes Downing, passed on at the age of ninety-seven due to natural causes.
The pages turned, and Simon felt it rapidly becoming a useless excursion. Then, as he was considering a lunch break he turned the pages to set aside the book he was poring over. One of the books had fallen to the side of his chair, and he leant over to pick it up.
A loose page had fallen out. A page seven of some long-forgotten, discontinued Glasgow newspaper. Simon glanced at it. A lovely sensationalist headline: Angels Warned Me of Impending Blitz. Curiosity got the better of Simon, and he read the first bit of the story.
The deaths caused by yesterday’s bombing by the Germans of the Rover Theatre in Whiteinch have sparked outrage throughout the community. But one woman believes she was spared the same fate as the fifty souls who died in the horror — through a visit from an angel.
“He was a bit scary looking, right enough,” claimed Agnes Downing, 97. “Loads of dogs running about at his feet. And he just pointed right at me, and I know it was divine intervention for me to not go to the Rover the next day. You just know these things, you know, don’t you? I knew it was an angel, because he just disappeared, like. It came to me, because I wished to see him. Those poor souls!”
The usual sensationalism, thought Simon. He despaired of its prevalence on the television schedules, let alone the newspapers. But something stopped him dropping the story back where it belonged. Something in it was screaming for attention at the back of his mind, and he could not make out what it was. Something in the story. The theatre? No. The bombings? No.
“Hold on,” said Simon aloud, and mentally slapped himself. How could he be so daft? The dogs, the figure: they were right out of Hugh’s journal! And the name, Agnes Downing, he was sure he had seen it before too. A quick flick of the obituary pages proved that memory correct.
DOWNING, Mrs Agnes Serena Theresa, 97, died March 20th, 1941, at her home in Whiteinch of natural causes. The funeral was held was Monday at St Ninian’s Catholic Church, followed by interment in the cemetery at Hillfoot.
She was the widow of John Alistair Downing, and they were formerly of 2/3,14 Whiteinch Close. She is survived by her daughters Anne, Jessie, Serena and Patricia, and by her son Robert. She had no surviving siblings.
Agnes Downing had died, peacefully at home, exactly one week after she had seen her angel. Evidence of the Watcher existed, from 1941! Simon scribbled the details down in his notebook and was hit by a second brainwave. The dogs! The dogs seemed to be an ever-present feature, based on the two cases at least. And two of the eyewitnesses to Hugh’s death had noted the man with the dogs. The man with the dogs, or perhaps the Watcher himself!
“Hugh’s death was three months ago,” said Simon to himself. “Therefore, if those who were at his death saw the Watcher, they would be dead by now too!” So if he could find that out, he would be one step closer to the truth. Thankfully, he still had his old contacts with the know-how.
* * *
“Hey, Simon. Long time no see.”
Simon shook the old man’s hand — his name cannot be mentioned for fear of landing him in unwanted attention with the press.
“Evening, sir. Not doing too badly?”
“Surviving. Mostly. Yourself?”
“About the same.”
“You wanted to see me.”
“Yes,” said Simon. “Did you get the report on Hugh’s death?”
The old man looked puzzled. “I got it through my usual channels. Why?”
“Can I see it?”
“It’s there. On the coffee table. Why?”
Simon picked up the report, and flicked through its pages, looking for the relevant information. It was near the conclusion.
At the scene of the incident, Mr Jonathan Andrews was helpful in identifying the body. Mr Andrews and the second witness, Miss Amy McGrath, brought the query of the man with the dogs to attention, but no line of questioning has ascertained much in that regard.
I, William J. Bonner, M.D., Acting Coroner of Glasgow City, Scotland, on the 20th day of October, 2----, hereby certify that the above facts are made of record after diligent investigation and I believe them to be correct.
“I needed this. Theorising. Yes, I would like some coffee, thanks,” said Simon.
He bent down to rummage through his bag. It had taken less time than he had thought, but he had managed to photocopy every obituary notice of the time period 21st-30th October. He looked for the names that would prove the existence of the creature.
ANDREWS, Jonathan James Alexander, 61, died October 28th, 2--- suddenly, with family.
MCGRATH, Amy Elsa Theresa, 72, died October 26th, 2---, peacefully at home.
Simon turned to his friend. “The two witnesses to Hugh’s death,” he said. “They died themselves. Within a week of his death.”
“Really? The odds of that happening must be extraordinary.” His friend passed Simon his coffee mug.
“Don’t you realise what this means? This is as much evidence of the Watcher there ever has been.”
“The Watcher? But that’s just an old wives’ tale...”
“Yes, Hugh’s journal, historical evidence of the phenomenon, the accounts in the coroner’s report and subsequent deaths. It all adds up. This is as much evidence as has ever been correlated together for it.”
He stopped. “Hang on, the evidence was all just waiting to be found out. How come nobody has connected the dots together before?”
“They couldn’t be bothered, I guess,” said the friend.
“Couldn’t be bothered?” Simon’s voice could not have been shriller.
“Well, the only ones who’d notice would be grieving, wouldn’t they? And if you have personal grief to attend to, who cares what’s happening to someone else you’ve never laid eyes on more than once? Way of the world, that is.”
“The facts were there. Someone should have noticed.”
He stopped again.
“Do you have a dog?” Simon asked.
“No, why do you ask?”
“I thought I heard barking. There it is again. Can you hear it?”
“I hear nothing.”
Simon casually glanced out of the window, down to the street below. It was getting increasingly darker, the cars were quiet and empty, not a soul was on the street. But one. Standing by the lamppost, looking up, with dogs chasing around its feet, stood the decrepit thing from Hugh’s journal, its eye ablaze with righteous fury, its arm pointing to the window, its face rictus into an uneasy smile. But then Simon blinked, and there was nothing in the streets after all. He turned to his friend.
“Are you all right?” asked the friend.
“I thought I saw...” Simon began. He shook his head. “No, probably just a trick of the light and a hyperactive imagination.”
His friend looked at him with the old schoolmaster’s stare he had perfected. “If you think you saw what you think you saw, you best get on a-hurry with your work.”
Simon starred, uncomprehendingly. “But it couldn’t have been....surely not?”
The old man smiled at him.
“I didn’t see anything!” he replied, and smiled at his younger friend. “Might have been a trick of the light. Or else...”
“Oh god!” said Simon. “That which comes to those who wish to see him! That line: it’s in both Hugh’s journal and one of the papers I picked up. My mind just didn’t join it up. Hugh was looking into the Watcher myth, wasn’t he?”
The old man smiled sadly back. “He was.”
“It doesn’t just appear to those about to die. It appears to those who track it down. God, I’ve been such a fool.”
“It might have been a trick of the light, and only that.”
Simon clutched the coffee mug in increasing horror. Trying to relax, he gulped some of the liquid down. It was already cold.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael S. Collins