As with so many hospitals in the UK – including my creation, the Royal and Waverly, in my latest novel, In Darkness, Shadows Breathe - University College Hospital (UCH), in Euston Road, London has been extensively rebuilt and modernized since it first opened in 1906. The present hospital dates from 2004 but stands right there, next to the cruciform building that has become the haunt of a number of spirits – each with their own agenda.
UCH’s most famous inhabitant is radical social reformer and philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. (1748-1832) He is most famous for his espousal of the theory of utilitarianism – namely: “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” He decreed that, on his death, his body should be dissected and then be preserved as an ‘auto image’ – self-image – for posterity. His wishes were duly carried out and he is still there (at least, his skeleton is, dressed in his clothes and stuffed with straw. His head is now a lifelike wax replica.) He is sitting in a chair, his stick – which he had christened Dapple – resting next to him, in a glass cabinet in the Student Centre.
A few years ago, a mathematics teacher, Neil King, was working late one night when he heard the sound of a stick tapping along the floor, at first distant, then coming closer. He paused to see who or what was making the noise, only to be astonished when the figure of Jeremy Bentham advanced towards him. He was so close, Mr King was convinced the apparition would throw him to the ground. But it didn’t. Bentham’s ghost vanished.
Incidentally, Bentham’s real head still exists – but, after it was stolen as part of a student prank, only to be returned later – it was decided to put it out of harm’s way. Now, it only comes out for special occasions.
The ghost of a student provides a lesser-known haunting. She is reputed to have been called Emma Louise and she also haunts the old building. It is said if you call her name three times she will appear.
The story goes that there used to be underground tunnels linking the old building with other parts of the campus, including the accommodation quarters of Arthur Tattershall Hall. It is along those tunnels that Emma Louise would travel every day. One day however she never arrived at the hospital for her shift. She was later found dead. Murdered. The crime appears never to have been solved and her spirit wanders.
A group of students who also resided at Tattershall – in the very room Emma Louise had occupied - decided it would be fun to test out the theory of summoning the former roommate and, having duly assembled, called out her name three times. Shortly afterward, they heard laughter. But no one in their party was laughing. In fact they failed to trace the source despite their best efforts. All through the night, they heard the sound of a girl’s voice at intervals, even after they had moved into a friend’s room to escape it. They never solved the mystery.
A couple of nights later, duly returned to their own room, they found the door open. Someone – either of this world or beyond – had painted the words, “HELP ME”, “DIE”. “MURDER” and “RIP” across the wall.
A painting of famous and much-lauded 19th century surgeon, who was also a professor of surgery at University College, London, Marcus Beck, started its own tradition of supernatural activity. It seemed that, if anyone fell asleep under this picture, they would quite likely become ill and possibly even die. As a result, shutters were created and a nightly ritual of closing them in order to hide the picture from view was initiated. It became the night sister’s first duty to close them and the day sister’s first duty to open them. If this ritual was not carried out, someone would unexpectedly die. The painting in question was stolen in 2001. Its whereabouts are still unknown.
No hospital of this age would be complete without its own version of the ‘grey lady’. In UCH’s case, it is a nurse in a blueish-grey uniform who is seen only when the screens go up around the bed of a really sick person. It is generally believed that the ghost is of a nurse who unwittingly administered a fatal does of morphine and is spending eternity regretting it.
Carol and Nessa are strangers but not for much longer.
In a luxury apartment and in the walls of a modern hospital, the evil that was done continues to thrive. They are in the hands of an entity that knows no boundaries and crosses dimensions – bending and twisting time itself – and where danger waits in every shadow. The battle is on for their bodies and souls and the line between reality and nightmare is hard to define.
Through it all, the words of Lydia Warren Carmody haunt them. But who was she? And why have Carol and Nessa been chosen?
The answer lies deep in the darkness…