Unnatural Occurrence

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

'This haunting was originally part of two hauntings. I've come back to haunt you, again and again.
- Julia, Friday Night.

Photo by Claudio Scott

Unnatural Occurrence

That I can live my life with you, is all that I can pray.

That I can learn to love you more, every passing day,

That you will find fulfilment, in all the things we do,

That we enjoy the happiness, which lives in love so true,

That when you go to heaven, I’m waiting there for you.

Seth opened his eyes and snapped out of the dream. A few gym regulars broke their workout routine to stare at him. The gym, part of the sports and leisure complex in Alting, was almost deserted on Friday nights. Matt, Callum and Royston, Seth’s hunky protégés, quit lifting their dumbbells for a moment and watched him out of manly admiration, out of sympathy. He felt low, out of sorts, hardly buoyed by their respect. Respect for the living. Mourning for the dead.

The trio acknowledged him with a sad shake of their heads and returned to the Power Section. The Grunt Room, as the elite weightlifters: men and, increasingly, women, called the zone. To pump iron in rhythm with the hip-hop beat. There were no women in the gym that night. Alting Sports Centre lay off the beaten track along Simmel Street, which ran parallel to the High Road, a leafy avenue without street lights. No young woman in her right mind would dare to be seen walking alone in the dark at night. Not down that street on a Friday night. On that Friday night.

At that time. Seth looked up at the clock-on-the-wall above the Aerobics Section. The time was exactly nine-thirty-two. He shuddered, spinally, as if a maniac had slid the cold blade of a knife under his gym vest, down between his shoulder blades, then whipped it out and stabbed him in the heart. Beads of sweat formed in the spiky black hair lining his forehead, smudging his eyes, running down his cheeks. Tasting his own salt, he shut his eyes to squint out the sting of brine. Big tears formed in his deep blue eyes. Tears of remorse. Of longing. Of pure despair.

On Friday night, a year ago, at that time, he’d looked at the clock-on-the-wall. The time, then, was also nine-thirty-two. Seth’s young heart pounded expectantly as if it was about to burst out of his barrel chest, pumping with exertion, like the blood surge that pumped his bulging biceps up when he lifted one hundred and fifteen kilos on the shoulder press.

He squatted on the press-seat staring blankly at the clock, the whitewashed wall through which he had heard the sound of screeching tyres, a young woman screaming, then silence. He’d run outside, over a mulch of rotten leaves in the puddled car park, under the spotlight, through a cutting in the hedgerow beside the fire assembly point. Out into the unlit street…

She was lying under the offside front wheel of a Jeep. The jeep reversed off her shattered body, performing a perfect three-point turn. Its wheels span, squealing like four piglets, as the 4x4 tore off in the direction of the dark forest from where the guilty can never be found.

Seth’s heart pumped away, a human piston engine thumping in his heaving, sweating chest. He recalled how he had missed the car number plate, kneeling beside the young woman in the wet street, clutching her sweet-heart head to his chest as his divine poetess muttered her last words:

That when you go to heaven, I’m waiting there for you.

The rhythm died. The music fell silent. The lights flickered, went out, and came on again. No grunting sounds came from Matt, Callum or Royston in the Power Section. Seth cried freely. Tears stained his cheeks, tainting his palate, running down the thick tree-trunk neck, splashing his massive hairless chest, the maroon crescent tattooed on his left bicep.

He shut his eyes, trying to stem the rhyme that lingered in his mind, blinking out his shiny tears of grief. The rhyme, her poetry, lifted. Her verse rose out of his inner consciousness, a phoenix, rising out of her funeral pyre to a polar position over his brows. He raised his heavy head and saw her.

There was a woman in the gym that night. Pounding the treadmill in front of him. Wearing a thin, dayglo pink vest, tight-fitting running shorts. Bare feet. She was running in bare feet! On a rainy night in Alting. She pressed a button on the console, the belt sped up. She was sprinting hard now: a blonde, beige, pink and black blur, testing his eyesight. Going for the burn. Seth baulked in sheer disbelief at her drive, determination, stunning ambition, as her rhyme returned to explode his torn-up mind,

That you will find fulfilment, in all the things we do.

Some say women perspire. Seth, glued to the press-seat, pinned to the high-back leather chair, looked on in astonishment as a dense scarlet bloom of sweat formed in the pink, spread from the small of the woman’s back, and saturated her running vest. Her straps slipped off her narrow shoulders, falling to her elbows. Seth could clearly see her breasts, bouncing to the rhythm. All of a sudden, she did the splits, parking her feet either side of the moving belt, and turned. No pushed. She pushed her head round to face him, raising her left arm, placing her hand on the top of her head. Her wispy blonde hair was drenched, soaking wet. He saw her right hand move, her gloss-varnished thumbnail stroke her left cheek, forcing her head to face him. She was flustered, blushing profusely. Embarrassed to see him? Her eyes half-shut, her mouth open, revealing rows of perfect pearl-white teeth. Seth’s jaw fell as pure poetry flowed, subliminally, from her silent lips:

That we enjoy the happiness, which lives in love so true.

He blinked.

And she was gone.

The rhythm returned. He heard the hip-hop beat. The lights flickered, went out, and came on again. Grunting sounds came from Matt, Callum, or Royston in the Power Section. Seth cried freely. He looked at the clock-on-the-wall above the Aerobics Section. The time was still nine-thirty-two. No time had passed. No time at all.

He rubbed his eyes and looked around, relieved to find himself back in the land of the living. In the company of friends. Matt: a squat, beefy, pug-nosed body builder: eighteen stone of solid muscle with a big heart, leaned into him, so closely that the pungent stench of his body odour filled Seth’s nostrils. He quickly broke the prevailing silence,

‘Do you need help?’ he said.

Seth shook his head, ‘Thanks for asking but I’ll be fine.’

‘You don’t look fine. What upset you?’

Matt’s round, ebony face puckered with concern. He had this reputation for grasping nettles, not letting matters rest until he had helped his friends in need, a true Samaritan.

‘Nothing upset me. I’m fine, okay?’

Seth stood up. Gym closed at ten. He had to hoover, turn off TV screens, unplug cross-trainers, treadmills, switch off lights, go home.

‘Seth, you were crying your eyes out.’

Royston, standing at his gym-mate’s side clutching two 7kg dumbbells, stuck his oar in. Pale, pipe-necked, nervous Roy, the constant worrier, ventured cautiously,

‘Sorry, this really isn’t any of my business, but who were you staring at?’

‘Who?!’ The fitness trainer’s surprise sounded genuine enough, ‘What do you mean, who?’

Matt: a quiet aside, ‘Cut it out, Roy, having a laugh, aren’t you? There was no-one else here.’

‘Yeah, who,’ the weight-lifter persisted, ‘You were staring at someone. Scared stiff. Anyone would think you saw a ghost.’

Infuriated by his friend’s insensitivity, Matt stormed, ‘Stop it, Roy! Don’t go there!’

Remember who died under the front wheels of the Jeep in Simmel Street only a year ago today? The collision, at nightfall, merited a brief mention on page three of the Alting Gazette, failing to make the local radio website. Individual road deaths failed to make Everything Alting Forest. Lost cats, yes. Charity fundraisers, yes. But individual road deaths were not considered newsworthy.

His procrastinations about the local media were interrupted when Seth uttered an ear-piercing cry, like an injured wild animal, and collapsed on the press-seat. He folded in on himself, his torso furling forwards, arms pin-folded behind his bowing head. He screeched and screamed like a banshee,

‘Julia! No!’

Matt stepped forward and embraced him, holding the wailing head against his chest. Gently, he stroked the gibbering wreck’s hair, which stood erect like a cockerel’s crest, until he calmed.

‘You saw Julia?’ he asked, raising his left brow, his rich baritone voice shrill with incredulity.

‘Mm, Julia!’ Seth gibbered, in a state of deep shock, ‘I saw Julia!’

Royston’s turn to interject,

‘But that’s impossible! Julia Pettitt was run down and killed by a Jeep outside here a year ago. The news even made page three of the Gazette!’

Matt rocked the distraught man’s sweating head like his baby, saturating his cool-thermal tee- shirt and shorts in the process, soothing him,

‘It’s alright man, it’s alright. Let it out. Let it out.’

‘Saw Julia, on the treadmill! Julia!’

‘There was no-one else here, Seth,’ reiterated Royston, adding, ‘What are we going to do, guys? We can’t just leave him like this. The man’s having a breakdown.’

Seth mewled like a strangled cat, ‘Saw Julia, on the treadmill! Julia!’

There seemed little likelihood that he’d recover in time to close at ten. He had to hoover, turn off TV screens, unplug cross-trainers, Julia’s treadmill, switch off lights. Matt let go of the hot head which keeled forward and fell into the wretch’s lap. He sniffed at the atmosphere, like a bloodhound scenting a dead fox, a black cat discovering a dead bird in a bush, a sniffer of the undead… and sensed a presence,

‘We find the Centre Manager, that’s what we do,’ he asserted, ‘Find the Centre Manager, get his help shutting down the gym, a cleaner to hoover. Then we take Seth to Sneak Easy and buy him a gin or three, get him home, put him to bed, stay with him till he feels…’

‘There might have been someone,’ a spine-chilling voice chipped-in, in the background.

‘Sorry?’

Royston and Matt rotated their heads and looked over their shoulders.

‘I said, there might have been someone, else… here.’

A yard or so back, holding his skipping rope (he could skip for England), the fitness fanatic: a suave, sophisticated, sexually-charged he-man, chased by the girls. Callum wasn’t wearing his shirt. He’d seemed unusually reticent, reluctant to come forward, at first. He stood still, staring up at the freshly-painted ceiling as if he were waiting for a sign. Excited, he grabbed the wretch by both shoulders, shaking him to his senses,

‘You saw her personal manifestation,’ he said, smiling smugly to himself.

Paranormal activities were not unheard of, just rare, in the quaint market town of Alting.

Callum, who was wearing dark navy gym shorts, drew his turquoise heavy-lifting tee shirt over his rippling man-cusps and twitching abs, staring unwaveringly at hapless Seth, who sat astride the press-seat whimpering. Nodding reverently, Royston sidled off to find the Centre Manager. Meanwhile, the young Adonis, a plumber by trade, seized the opportunity to explain away his new-found love of the paranormal to Matt, an electrician. Seth stared at empty space, searching his befuddled mind for the spirit of Julia Pettitt.

Callum swept a damp dash of hair out of his piercing teak eyes, turned to face the black bulldog, and outlined a ghostly fright he once experienced in Greenwich with his Amazonian girlfriend,

‘Drew and I became aware of an unworldly presence, a spiritual entity, as we waited in the rain by the bow of the Cutty Sark for the lantern ghost walk to start. Kurt the guide said it was Jack.’

Matt wasn’t listening. He was too busy admiring an A5 poster on the noticeboard next to the water fountain. The poster showed Matt dressed in tangerine t-shirt, royal blue shorts, go-fast gym shoes. In three poses: standing, bent at the knees, and slamming a medicine ball down on the floor:

New Year Slam Ball Challenge!

How many 10kg Slam Ball Throw Downs can you complete in 2 minutes?

Starting 20th January – 20th February 2017

Prizes for both Male and Female Winners!

2016 Male Winner: Matt Wright with 80 Throw Downs!

2015 Female Winner: Julia Pettitt with 53 Throw Downs!

Can YOU can beat THAT?

Speak to the Fitness Team Today!

Callum shook him by the shoulder, ‘Are you listening to me, Matt?’

‘Sorry, Jack,’ Matt mumbled, ‘Jack? Who’s Jack?’

Callum looked skywards, asking to be given strength, glanced at the still-inert Seth, carried on,

‘Jack was an eight-year old cabin boy who waited on the officers and passengers aboard a ship, ran errands for the Captain: helping out in the galley, carrying buckets of food to the seamen, scrambling up the rigging into the yards when the sails needed to be trimmed. He died at sea of scurvy in 1795. Did you know more sailors died of scurvy between 1500 and 1800 than died fighting battles? Scurvy killed two million sailors…’

Matt was genuinely intrigued, ‘No, I didn’t know that.’

‘Well you do now.’

‘I don’t understand. What’s all this got to do with Seth and Julia?’

‘Jack came back! He came home!’ Callum exclaimed wildly.

‘What do you mean: came home? I thought you said he died at sea?’

‘He did! He did!’

Seth’s ears twitched imperceptibly.

‘Then how could he come home?’ asked Matt, ‘Unless they brought him back as cargo?’

Callum waved his hand dismissively,

‘No, he was buried at sea. But he came home! On a Friday! Jack comes out on Friday nights to haunt the Cutty Sark. Oh, and he joined his family for dinner soon after his death, according to Kurt. Joined his family for dinner at table every Friday night!’

Seth strained his head to listen. Matt noticed him, quickly turning his gym buddy away, well out of earshot. He lowered his voice, hissing in an ear,

‘Callum?’

‘Yeah?’

‘First Jack, now Julia. What IS it with Friday nights?’

There was a clicking noise as Royston held his pass up to two red pinprick lights, the entrance door unlocked, and he returned with Centre Manager Gareth: an incredible bulk, a florid bear of a man. They were accompanied by the Cleaner, Alice, a pretty little thing with frizzy red hair, nasal jewellery, and a silver stud in her tongue. Matt and Callum’s heads revolved to the left as Gareth announced his presence,

‘Where is he?’ he thundered.

Roy, a road sweeper, slowly raised his slim right arm and pointed at the lifting equipment,

‘Over there, on the press.’

Without a moment’s hesitation, Gareth sped past the nutritional leaflet display and help point, pushing Matt to one side, and hauled Seth to his feet, exclaiming proudly, ‘Come here, Son!’

The other gymnasts looked on in awe as he crushed Seth in his arms, pressing his body to his in a series of man-hugs, bear hugs, expertly working the lactic acid-induced stress out of the younger man’s torso with intensive muscular manipulation.

‘How does that feel?’ he roared for the whole of Alting to hear, ‘Better?’

Seth felt his core strength return, felt good for the first time since the shock of Julia’s unnatural occurrence,

‘Mm, much.’

‘Good!’

Gareth yelled, letting go, ‘Be strong, Seth! Be strong!’

‘Thank you, Gareth. I will.’

Seth turned to face Callum who smiled, like Matt and Roy, and said, ‘Tell me what I saw.’

His friend looked at Alice, watching him intently, noticing for the first time the traumatic red Hoover with the downturned smiley face which she dragged, like a ball and chain, behind her.

‘Shall I?’ he mouthed.

‘Yes! Yes!’ she lisped excitedly, whistling over her tongue stud, ‘Tell him!’

‘Are you sure you want to know?’ asked Callum.

Seth nodded solemnly. Matt, Royston, and Gareth looked away sheepishly, embarrassed, as if they were witnessing an intimate act between him and Julia - which to all intents and purposes they were – a spiritual reunion.

‘According to Kurt,’ Callum began, ‘there are three forms of paranormal occurrence…’

Suddenly, mischievously, Alice interjected,

‘Where’s the plug socket, Gareth? Where shall I clean first? How do I switch off the TV screens? Would you like me to switch off the lights when I’ve finished?’

Gareth, furious with the teenager for her rude interruption, struggled to contain his self-control,

 ‘Alice! You mustn’t interrupt our customers when they’re speaking, yes? It’s very rude, yes? If you do it again, I’ll send you home, yes? Now what do you say to customers?’ He gave her an admonishing look, ‘Alice?’

She looked downcast, ‘Sorry I spoke.’

‘Good! Now shut up and hoover the gym!’

Seth eyeballed Gareth with contempt. Why did he speak to the girl like that? She was only a work experience trainee after all. Alice hadn’t finished. She answered back,

‘How am I supposed to hoover if I don’t know where the socket is, you stupid dickhead? Where do I clean first? How do I switch off the TV screens and lights when I’ve finished? Tell me!’

Bursting with admiration for her, Seth smiled fondly, silently mouthing, ‘Well done you!’

She strode up to Gareth the bully who was shaking with rage, but had nowhere to hide, ‘Well?’

‘You’ll find a plug socket behind the bott-bikes, Alice,’ he stuttered, ‘Start hoovering behind the cross-trainers, then do the weights area, around the lifting equipment, the relaxation zone. Finish at the bott-bikes. I’ll switch off the plasma screens and lights. See me in my office when you’ve finished. Thank you.’

‘Shall I continue?’ ventured Callum.

‘Would you?’

‘There are three forms of paranormal occurrence,’ he explained, ‘The first type is a physical manifestation when restless spirits make their presence known by shifting objects, sometimes violently.’

Roy cut in, ‘Like in the film, Poltergeist?’

‘Exactly! But Julia wasn’t a poltergeist. The second type is a haunting, what we commonly call a ghost: a wispy, shapeless form.’

‘I know!’ piped Matt, ‘Ghostbusters! Who you gonna call?!’

Callum had everyone’s undivided attention now. He nodded sagely, ‘Yeah, like Ghostbusters.’

‘I don’t think she was a ghost.’

The men’s eyes swivelled in the direction of Seth, ‘Why?’

‘It was as if she was alive again,’ he choked on his own words, took a deep diaphragm breath, sputtered, then spoke, more slowly this time, as if he were reliving a dream come true, ‘I heard her feet pounding on the treadmill. Smelled her musk, her body scent. She was alive I tell you.’

The gym went deathly quiet, save for the driving rain which strummed on the rooftop, the wind that howled through the dormer windows, and a high-pitched scream: Alice!

‘I don’t like it here anymore!’ she wailed, ‘Something evil, terrible, happened here: near the dark forest, in his house (she pointed out Gareth who looked down), along the high road, in the pond, at the old oak tree.’

With that, Alice slammed the traumatic hoover into the avocado green bott-bikes wall and ran out of the gym. Gareth wilted, sagging to his knees. Seth looked horrified. Matt and Royston regarded each other with amazement. Callum marched up and down the concourse like a mad toytown soldier, punching the air triumphantly. A cruel grimace grew on his sun-freckled face,

‘I know!’ he crowed, ‘We were there when she died!’

Seth folded, curled into a foetal ball, and rolled onto the cold tiled floor, ‘How could you have been? Julia and I were alone in the gym the night she died.’

He held his head in his hands, cried, recovered slightly, carried on, ‘I was the last person to see her alive, apart from the hit-and-run driver, who drove off…’

Matt turned on his gym buddy ferociously, shaking him hard, making his head wobble back,

‘What’s got into you, you mad fuck? Are you crazy? You’re not meant to tell him about Julia.’

‘Yeah, you promised me you’d keep schtum,’ chided Roy, angrily. 

Seth raised his head, repelled by the nightmarish thoughts that infested his mind like rat plague.

‘It was you!’ he screamed, ‘You killed Julia that night! You ran my girl over in your Jeep!’

Callum, Royston and Gareth stood over the quivering heap that was Seth, Matt backed away.

‘It was always us that killed Julia, don’t you know?’ they chanted hysterically, ‘We killed her!’

The sick bile climbed up Seth’s oesophagus, etching his gullet, throat, mouth with a foul acid,

‘I don’t understand, I…’

They all heard the sound at the same time. They turned their heads to watch.

There was a woman in the gym. Pounding the treadmill in front of them. Wearing a thin, dayglo pink vest, tight-fitting running shorts. Bare feet. She was running in bare feet. On a rainy night in Alting. She pressed a button, the belt sped up. She sprinted hard: a blonde, beige, pink, black blur. Going for the burn. They gazed in disbelief at her drive, determination, stunning ambition, as her rhyme returned to haunt Seth’s torn-up mind,  

That I will live my life with you, is all that I can pray.


Submitted: November 20, 2020

© Copyright 2020 HJFURL. All rights reserved.

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