Max Blackwood did not like the corridor. It was a long dark tunnel with a flickering light bulb linking the dormitory with the main section of Montague Boys School. Since earning his prefect badge he would often stay behind to report the day’s events to Mr. Sheridan the headmaster and then walk the corridor alone when finished.
Each night, as he made his way back to the dorm, the intermittent bulb cast strange reflections in the windows. Sometimes he thought he could just see, out of the corner of his eye, another person in the corridor but when he turned he only saw himself reflected in the glass.
On a dark December evening Max was tentatively returning to the dormitory, having delivered reports of his school friends’ misdemeanours. “There’s nothing there. It’s just the light reflecting in the glass” he told himself focusing on the doors at the far end.
“Wait.” a quiet voice echoed in the corridor. Max stopped.
“Hello?” he replied, fearfully.
“Look to your left. I need to talk to you.”
There was no malice in the voice so, gathering his courage, Max turned. It was not the ghastly vision he had expected but a boy dressed in a uniform Max recognised from old school photographs taken long before he was born. He felt great pity as the boy seemed desperately sad. Yet something in the back of his mind warned him to be wary.
“What do you want?” Max asked.
“My name is Alex. I’ve been trapped in the reflections for such a long time. I just want someone to talk to. You’re the first who’s stopped for me. Please, come closer.”
Max found himself obeying although he wanted to get as far away from the window as he could.
Alex placed an outstretched palm on the glass. Max realised he was also slowly reaching out to it. Alex’s voice now took on an edge of desperation. “Touch the glass. Take my place and I’ll finally be free.”
Max realised what was happening, snatched back his hand and ran for the door.
“There is nowhere to run Max. I’ll be waiting in your reflection!”
Max bolted up the stairs, closed all the curtains, heaved a towel over the mirror and leapt, fully clothed into bed pulling the covers over his head.
In the morning he returned his prefect badge much to the disappointment of Mr. Sheridan.
After a year of private counselling sessions that night is nothing more than the lingering memory of a dream. They convince him the incident was hallucinations brought on by the pressure of informing on his peers.
They encourage Max to take up a sport to relieve his stress. He excels at swimming.
The starter’s pistol fires. Invigorated by the roar of the crowd, he dives.
He nears the water’s surface and realises too late that the approaching reflection – a sad looking boy – is not his own.
There is nowhere to run Max. I told you I’d be waiting.
In the summer of 2012 the website Den of Geek ran a competition called Den of Eek. To enter one had to write a ghost story in no more than 500 words. The prize was for the two winners to read their entries alongside professional writers at a storytelling event in London on Hallowe’en night that year. I hadn’t written any fiction since I was at school but as an avid reader of ghost stories I thought I could maybe deliver something half decent. The first draft was 2000 words. It was quite an exercise, getting it down to 500 while keeping the essence of the story!
It didn’t win, of course. As it’s my first story after 20 years, it’s not my best piece of writing!
The idea is a kind of loose remake of a story my old headmaster Mr. McGeown, read to my year during an assembly way back in 1984. No matter how hard I have tried I’ve not been able track that story down, which is a shame as I’d love to read it again. It’s Mr. McGeown who I hold largely responsible for my love of ghost stories as he used to read them to us often and I loved, and can still mostly remember, every one.
The encouraging Mr. Sheridan is partly based on Mr. McGeown but is named after Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu, the Victorian writer who produced several classic supernatural tales, including one of the most beloved vampire stories of all time, Carmilla. Continuing with the unsubtle horror writer references, the main character Max Blackwood is named after Algernon Blackwood (who both H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King have cited as a major influence) and the undisputed king of the ghost story, M.R. James, is paid tribute to in the name of Montague Boys School. However, the protagonist, and his doppelganger are named after identical twin friends of mine, Max and Alex, who I had promised to include as characters when I started writing Badgers Crossing – and this story seemed appropriate for that!