I (Psicopatía para la justicia)
‘You must be Mr. Laurie. I’m Hugh Sholay, they sent me from Central.’
‘Ah, yes, did they explain the process?’
‘Yes, but if you still fancy giving me a tour of the place, please do.’
Mr. Laurie walks me through the old archival site. All the film cans from 1960 to 1980 are housed are, in a remote warehouse in the Yorkshire moors. I had to pass two security clearances. If you think that’s excessive, it’s the Beeb trying to fix the errors from yore. All the lost footage from the news and shows they never thought would be worth caring for now is worth millions. And it’s this place, Site C in Yorkshire, where 5000 or so cans remain, uncategorised, unlabelled, forgotten. It’s raining heavily outside. British Summer, eh?
It’s raining heavily outside. British Summer, eh? Luckily, this place has been retroffited with dehumidifiers and all sorts of fancy equipment. I would like to run you through how magnificent and dashing they are, but I need to pay attention to my supervisor, Mr. Laurie.
‘I used to play guitar in a band’ he says, combing his silver fox curly hair. I can see a faded sleeve tattoo peeking through his white, starched shirt. He proceeds to tell me about the bands he met while touring, mentioning that there’s a considerable amount of music footage laying around, and if I fancied a complementary digital copy, I should just ask for it. Perks of the job.
It takes us a good hour to go through the archive. I see a few labels with the names ‘Up Pompeii’ and ‘Z Cars’. Some are faded, some have been scribbled over. Decommissioned, wiped, and burnt, the three options old footage had once the Beeb seemed them useless to store. I catch a weird smell in this area and Mr. Laurie nods knowingly.
We end the tour at a former green room. The tapestry on the walls is faded by time, the vinyl seats are cracked and fractured. Still, there’s no unpleasant smells here. My tea is a bit overbrewed, with two sugars and a dash of skimmed milk. Mr. Laurie assures me everyone here likes it overbrewed.
‘You’ll thank me when you can’t take the smell off from your hands.’
‘You had trouble with vinegar syndrome?’
‘A few times, yes. If you happen to run into one, call Mr. Kania. He’s our Captain Cold. He’ll freeze and digitise it in a zinch. There are A-D strips on storage, ask Mr. Creamer for them.’
I take note of the names and drink my tea. It does take away the smell that was still lingering in my nose.
II (Opciones y violencia)
Today we found a couple of clips from two Dr. Who serials and a football match. Mr. Ward, my supervisor back in Thames Central, makes it clear: under no circumstances must these clips be made public until they’re cleared by Cardiff Central and a proper PR campaign is devised. He tells me the story of a certain group of superfans, led by a Mr. Orville, who think there’s a conspiracy and that we have all the missing episodes in this place, hidden from everyone.
I ask him if it’s true. He tells me the Beeb still wants to milk that rickety show for all it can. Don’t kill the golden-egg laying goose, I guess?
It’s been 3 months since I arrived here and it’s a boring job, but I like it. It’s quiet, you get to study and marvel the many stages of television, from the droning, repetitive nature of family shows to the evolution of technology. Sometimes, a voice was distorted so much it ended up as a spectral, asexual lamentation in the distance. Other times, it was a reverberated stream of words which meant something in that special time and place, but its significance now is lost to the passage of time.
What I mean is, you do get some perspective. You want to believe that you make a mark in this world, and all the people who worked on these shows must’ve felt bad when they heard their hard work was junked. Makes me think about my work.
Sometimes I need to stay during nights. We’ve had a few films that not even Captain Cold Kania could recover, so I volunteered to stick around, see if we had a leak or anything during stormy nights. Sometimes you could hear the roar outside; the moors’ sparse vegetation ripped apart by the howling storm winds.
One night I thought I heard a scream and I ran in its direction. I thought for a moment that I see a green figure, human-like in shape. It faded as soon as I saw it. Is my mind playing tricks on me? I look closely in the area where I saw it. It’s where I noticed the weird smell back when I first came here. Now the smell was a little easier to identify: a musky men’s cologne. Similar to the one my dad used. It’s a smell I will never forget. I used a black light lamp and look for any signs of colour change in the floor or near the tapes. Everything is fine. I go for a brew at the Green Room and for a moment, I hear a droning guitar and bass, joined by a spectral voice in lamentation. I fall asleep and my tea mug shatters on the floor.
III (Matar anocheres)
‘I don’t think it’s wise to be here at night so often’ says Mr. Philpot, as he bites an orange slice. ‘I heard the place is haunted. This was a military centre in the early 70s and people in town say an entire squad disappeared here.’
I bite a bourbon and the crumbs fall into my blue tie. I don’t bother wiping them away. ‘Old wives tales’.
‘No, no, they really experimented here. Mrs. Munro swears her brother, a brigadier, was among the people who disappeared in this spot. I wouldn’t have taken this job, had I know 2 years ago.’
‘Two years? Wow, that’s almost as long as the time I’ve been here’
Time does fly and that incident with the green humanoid shape has repeated at least 5 times. I’m at the beginning of my second year stretch in this place and it’s been…interesting. We’ve just finished recovering can number 1300. We had a couple of hardass sci fi fans coming around and Mr. Philpot has managed to deal with them properly. Nothing permanent, but they know they’ve been in a brawl, for sure.
Me? I’ve run a log of the stuff I find. We’ve managed to identify a few samples of weird mold growing on some of the labels. A laboratory in Bradford believes it’s an endemic species to this area of the Yorkshire moors. A previously unknown organism, slowly spreading and growing here, in my workplace! Imagine that.
I managed to save enough money for a night vision camera. It’s a small thing I can place on my lapel and tonight I’m hoping to finally catch some footage of this weird apparition. Mr. Ward says he can’t be arsed with “odd Northener phantasmagoria” and says that any time I spend on this fool’s errand will be deducted from my wages. My measly wages.
So be it. My work hasn’t lost its quality, so now they brush me off as some odd-working fella that gets the job done. Mr. Laurie sometimes looks concerned about and has mentioned a few times that I should take a break, but I want to get to the bottom of this. Besides, the mold we’re catching could potentially become an important piece of research for the university. We all could get a slice of funding to better up the place, and the university could give some of that money, right?
I’ve quit the tea in this place. I want my taste buds to stay pristine. I’ve noticed that the musk cologne smell intensifies before an apparition. I know correlation does not imply causation, but I’m sure in this case, we can make an exception. The weird, droning music, with warbled vocals, comes and goes without warning. Sometimes it’s soothing, sometimes it’s unnerving.
A month passes and still, no more apparitions. Stormy nights, clear sky, nothing seems give a clue. Believe me, it’s all on my logs. I have them all in my house, all 20 notebooks filled with my observations of this green apparition. I need to prove to Mr. Ward this “phantasmagoria” is real, that it’s all connected and it all makes sense.
It’s a quiet, warm night in July. I’m sharing a small cigarette with Captain Cold Kania, who is visiting Mr. Philpot. He’s got a tape that says Gallo de Janeiro and says I will like it. It sounds like an old BBC Radiophonic Workshop experimental music record. I’ll probably give it a listen later this week. Tonight, I want to do another walk inside.
‘Maybe stay with us, sir’ Mr. Philpot says. ‘There’s a ring around the moon tonight, it’s a bad omen’.
Kania slaps him on the back and laughs. ‘Stop it, mate’ and draws out a flask. Both have a small sip, I decline and make my way inside. The wind is quiet, an eerie silence that is sometimes present in this place. I make my way into the warehouse and my lantern seems to be giving up the ghost.
There’s an LED lamp on Mr. Laurie’s desk. I’m sure he won’t mind. I wait for an hour or so near the cans. The smell intensifies and I’m ready to record. The musk smell eventually becomes overbearing and I leave the camera recording on top of a barstool we sometimes use as a ladder. I wash my face and make a cup of tea in the Green Room.
That’s when I hear a loud shrill. My tea-cup, a replacement from the one I broke a long time ago, vibrates and jumps a few times, spilling tea all over the cloth. I run towards the aisle where the camera is and I see them. It’s five, no, six green humanoid shapes, translucent. They vibrate in place and sometimes their features look defined, other times, they are like green static. One of them raises something that looks like a weapon and make a shooting motion. Another loud shrill and a boom throw me back. They are now moving closer to me and I stagger. I hit the barstool and it falls down. I don’t know where the camera fell to, but if only I could just find it, I could…
‘Have the police swept the area?’
‘Yes, Mr. Ward. Every single shed and abandoned house near the warehouse has been looked.’
‘What about his house?’
‘First place we went to. Nothing but an empty freezer, all his clothes, and a many, many notebooks.’
‘No, no cans. He didn’t steal anything. I don’t think Mr. Sholay would steal from us at all. He loved preserving history, like everyone here.’
‘I see. So, around 3 AM, he simply…vanished?’
‘Like he fell off the Earth, sir. We looked around but we only found an overturned barstool and my LED lamp.’
‘Aisle G, sir. The one with the weird smells and the mold.’
‘Are all cans accounted for?’
‘Maybe we should clear that aisle. Go over those tapes.’
‘No, hire another person.’
‘It would be the fourth one in less than 6 years, sir. Maybe Mr. Philpot is correct about this place, sir?’
‘Is there something you’re not telling me, Mr. Laurie?’
‘No, sir, we’ll contact you again if the police has any new leads.’
Mr. Laurie hangs the phone and looks back at the three armed men in the office. There’s a smart suited one besides them and takes a step forward.
‘Remember, you signed a confidentiality agreement. Anything comes out from you and things will get very bad for you. Understand?’
Mr. Laurie complies and watches the four agents leave the place. Later that day, he would go to aisle G and look at the place where they found a puddle of unidentified liquid near the overturned barstool. His mind goes places and he gets a bottle of musk cologne out of his pocket and sprays it around.
‘Please, don’t do it again. I won’t forget to spray this place. Please don’t take anyone else.’
Mr. Laurie hears no reply and he walks away, defeated.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López.