Estimated reading time — 23 minutes
From a young age I always knew I would become a soldier. I was born into an upper-class family with a proud military tradition. My grandfather was wounded at the Somme, and my father served under Montgomery in North Africa. It was always expected that I would follow in their footsteps, becoming an officer and a gentleman, and so it came to pass.
As a young lad I read military themed comics such at Victor and Boy’s Own. These stories glorified war, portraying heroic soldiers executing daring raids behind enemy lines. By the time I eventually graduated from Sandhurst and received my first commission, I realised my military career would be nothing like these boyish adventures.
The nature of warfare had changed significantly since my father’s and grandfather’s days. The British Empire was in steep decline, and the armed forces found themselves bogged down in numerous low intensity conflicts across the globe – Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, and Aden, to name but a few.
The military were no longer fighting national armies, and there was no clear front-line. Our tactics had to adapt to this new environment. Psychological operations became a significant part of our counter-insurgency strategy. Most people will have heard of ‘hearts and minds’, which is the goal of winning over the local population and denying support to the insurgents. This was partly achieved through acts of kindness, providing better housing and medical care etc.
But these was also a darker side. Fear is a great motivator, and so we used black propaganda, mass coercion, and other subtler tactics which played on the human psyche, exploiting the population’s primal fears…inspiring terror to break the enemy’s morale and their will to resist. You won’t read about this sort of thing in the history books, but it did happen, and I was a part of it.
We were so committed to defeating our enemies that we sometimes went too far. We opened doors to dark hidden places – doors which should have stayed closed. And what we unleashed into our world was far more dangerous than any terrorist gunman or bomber.
Northern Ireland was my first deployment after Sandhurst. I got posted there during the summer of 1969, taking command of an infantry platoon on the streets of Belfast. I knew very little about the place back then – shameful really, as the province was located only a few miles across the Irish sea.
There were serious riots during the summer, with hundreds driven from their homes and entire streets burnt to the ground. The Catholics had gotten the worst of it during the violence. Back then, the Protestants controlled the government and police, and held most of the decent jobs. We had some sympathy for the Catholic minority at first, and they saw us as their protectors. Girls went out with soldiers and housewives made us cups of tea and sandwiches. This was the ‘honeymoon period’, but it didn’t last.
My next tour in Ulster was during 1971. I’d been promoted to Captain by then, taking a post with the Intelligence Corps. My second tour was divided between Belfast, Derry and the new prison camp established at Long Kesh. The environment had changed dramatically in the two years since my last visit. The Catholic population had grown to hate the army, and patrols were attacked with rocks, bottles and petrol bombs every time they left the barracks.
We also faced a dangerous new enemy – the Provisional Irish Republican Army, or IRA. The ‘Provos’ – as they became known – were a well-armed, highly motivated, and utterly ruthless terrorist group, committed to violently ending British rule in Northern Ireland. Our soldiers were subjected to sniper attacks and the town centers were blitzed by terrorist bombs. Meanwhile, Protestant paramilitaries retaliated by killing Catholic civilians. Inevitably, the casualties quickly mounted.
The government brought in internment without trial that August, arresting hundreds of suspects in a mass military operation. It wasn’t a success. Our intelligence was poor, so we picked up a lot of the wrong people and let the main players slip through our fingers. Internment greatly angered the Catholic community, as did Bloody Sunday. The IRA had no shortage of new recruits, and the violence escalated.
It was around this time when I first met Stanley Black. Stanley was an enigmatic, larger than life character. He didn’t wear a uniform and apparently wasn’t a soldier. I never found out exactly who he worked for. I assumed MI5 or MI6 – one of the intelligence agencies – but was never certain. In fact, no one seemed to know which organisation employed him, but he enjoyed free reign and access to all the barracks and police stations across Ulster, and the senior officers all listened to him.
Stanley was in his late thirties or early forties at the time – well groomed, with dark hair and expressive, piercing eyes. He was fiercely intelligent, an expert in counter-insurgency tactics and master of just about any task he set his mind to. I respected the man, but also feared him. I saw a darkness in Stanley Black – a fanaticism and total single-mindedness. There was nothing he wouldn’t do and few lines he would not cross to achieve his goals.
I regularly met with Stanley back in 1972, drinking with him into the early hours at Thiepval Barracks. These were the worst times for the army in Ulster, with one hundred soldiers killed that year alone. We were making some inroads against the IRA, but not quickly enough. I felt angry and frustrated and was prepared to listen to whatever Stanley had to say.
He spoke of bringing the war to the enemy, of ‘terrorising the terrorists’. I know he ran a number of operations at that time – surveillance, informers, undercover units and pseudo-gangs. There were also rumours of more unorthodox and bizarre tactics.
The intelligence services had long held a fascination with the occult – with primal fears and the power of mythology. Stanley had been in Kenya and used the Mau Mau’s tribal superstitions against them. He wanted to do the same in Ireland, explaining the rationale to me one night after a heavy drinking session in the officer’s mess.
“You’re dealing with a Roman Catholic mentality – one of virgin births, miracles etc…But also evil. Of demons that walk the earth.”
He wanted the population to fear the unknown, to believe that the political violence on the streets and back fields would unleash something truly evil and beyond human understanding. The operations started out small, with pentagrams scrawled on bus shelters and rumours of satanic rituals dropped to the local press. After a while, the actions took on a more sinister tone, with skinned cats dumped outside churches, and graveyards desecrated with goat’s blood. But, according to Stanley, this was only the beginning.
Back then I had no idea of what he had planned and frankly I did not want to know. In any event, my second tour ended in late ’72. I returned to England and tried to forget about Ulster and its troubles, but the violence didn’t end…and I got sent back in 1974.
On my third tour I operated along the border – South Armagh, otherwise known as Bandit Country. This was a PIRA stronghold and – at the time – the most dangerous posting in the world for a British soldier. The IRA declared a short-lived ceasefire as they negotiated with the government, but the bloodshed continued, as did sectarian ‘tit-for-tat’ killings. I worked with the infamous Captain Robert Nairac around this time. This was a couple of years before Nairac got kidnapped, tortured and murdered along the border, his body fed into a meat grinder.
The violence was relentless, and I became disillusioned and despondent. There seemed to be no way out, no path to victory or peace. I drank heavily and became reckless about my personal security. The way I was going, it would only be a matter of time before I ended up dead. But, when I was at my lowest ebb, with almost my last shred of hope gone, Stanley Black came back into my life.
I hadn’t seen Stanley for over two years at this point and didn’t know what he’d been doing all that time. I’d asked around of course, making discreet inquiries among my colleagues in the intelligence community. Almost everyone had heard of the infamous Stanley Black, and most had met him on at least one occasion. However, few would admit to having worked with him, and no-one seemed to know what Stanley was up to now.
There were rumours of course – those whispered in the mess halls and barracks. Stanley had achieved a near legendary status among the security forces, with stories of pseudo gangs, extra-judicial executions, and illegal cross border raids. And then there were other stories, darker ones…the occult, black magic, and the paranormal. I didn’t really believe it. I suspected Stanley had created these myths himself, probably as part of a bigger plan.
His call came entirely out of the blue. I’d just finished a long shift out in the field and had returned to the heavily fortified barracks at Bessbrook Mill, preparing to drink myself into a stupor…to forget. I was surprised to hear his voice over the telephone. Stanley sounded different somehow – his voice deeper and raspy. Our conversation was brief but nevertheless unsettling. Stanley seemed disconnected from the words he spoke, as if he were reading out instructions from a manual.
Stanley said he was now based in Derry City, operating out of Ebrington Barracks. He claimed to be working on something big – an operation with the potential to transform the entire conflict.
“I can’t go into the details over the phone,” he explained, “but I need you up here. I need people I can trust. Men like you, with an open mind and prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve victory.”
Stanley wanted to recruit me for his classified operation and promised he would take care of all the red tape with my commanding officer. It wasn’t an order, and so I had the right to refuse, but I accepted his offer with gratitude. It probably sounds crazy. After all, who would sign up for a mystery operation run by a man with few (if any) moral scruples and a very flexible view of the law?
But, at the time, I was on a downward spiral with few prospects. I imagined I would either drink myself into an early grave or be killed by a terrorist bomb or bullet along the border. I had no idea what Stanley had planned and doubted his operation would hasten the end of the conflict.
Nevertheless, I felt it could restore some purpose to my otherwise pointless existence. And so, I accepted Stanley Black’s offer. It turned out to be the worst decision of my life.
The transfer was quickly arranged, and five days later I drove up to Derry in an unmarked civilian car. I didn’t wear a uniform but did carry my military ID card, which allowed me quick access through security force roadblocks.
Derry (or Londonderry, as it is still known to its Protestant inhabitants) was a bleak and dangerous place back then. A small, mainly Catholic city with high unemployment and a disputed history. The town center had been blitzed by IRA bombs, and the housing estates were daily battlegrounds between the army and young Catholic rioters.
My instructions were to report to Ebrington Barracks, the main British military base in the city, located on the east bank of the River Foyle. I’d spent some time in Ebrington during my previous tour and the base hadn’t changed much in the two years since. Originally a Victorian era barracks, Ebrington had been reactivated in 1969 and subsequently expanded, with tall and strong perimeter walls constructed, designed to withstand everything from high velocity bullets, blast bombs, and mortars.
I gained access through the security gate and reported to the duty officer. To my surprise, the officer informed me that ‘Mr Black’ was not present in the barracks and his base of operations as actually located five miles further north, along the shoreline of Lough Foyle. Stanley had however organised a motorboat to transport me to his location. I was rather perplexed and irritated to hear this news, as Stanley hadn’t mentioned anything about a secondary location during our – admittedly brief – telephone conversation. Nevertheless, I’d come this far and had little choice but to follow instructions.
We set off shortly after dusk in a small dinghy. The pilot boat’s pilot was a young corporal from Birmingham. He explained how it was safer to travel on the water at night, as there was less risk of sniper attack from the shore. It was a cold and crisp autumn night, with a new moon clearly visible in the otherwise dark sky above. There was virtually no wind however, and the lough looked as still as a duck pond. The corporal assured me that the forecast was good, and so there would be no weather troubles on the lough that night. As it turned out, he was dead wrong.
I glanced across at the west bank as we went, noting the darkened silhouette of the cathedral’s spire and the old city walls. Beyond the walls and out of sight lay the sprawling and impoverished Bogside area, scene of the Bloody Sunday massacre in early ’72 and now an IRA stronghold. I could hear the all too familiar sounds of conflict carried in the still night’s air – youths shouting angrily, the heavy clump of soldier’s boots, and the harsh crack of rifle fire. The nightly ritual of violence had begun once again.
But nevertheless, our small motorboat sped onward, down the river’s mouth and out into the lough, which was actually an inlet opening out into the cold waters of the North Atlantic. As it transpired, I was misinformed about the location. Stanley’s base of operations wasn’t next to the lough, it was on it.
Somehow, Mr Black had commandeered a boat – HMS Ramsgate, a former Royal Navy depot ship which had most recently been used to transport troops into the province. Ramsgate had been earmarked for use as a prison ship, but the internees were since moved down to Long Kesh. The boat was due to be decommissioned until it was acquired by Stanley for one final and very unorthodox mission.
I met Stanley on the ship’s bridge, which I noted was kitted out with state-of-the-art equipment, including closed circuit television monitors, speakers, and recording devices. There was a small team on board, two army technicians called Fraser and Page, and two military policemen – Ball and MacIntosh, both armed with Browning Hi-Power pistols.
Stanley was evidently in command, but his appearance shocked me. Gone was his formerly immaculate tailored suit, replaced by a soiled shirt with an open collar. His jawline was covered by a rough stubble, and his hair appeared greasy and unkempt. Stanley also smelt pretty bad, and I suspected he hadn’t washed in several days. But what really struck me with his eyes – once filled with a predatory intelligence, but now appearing wild and half crazed, like those of a man who’d stared into the abyss for too long and lost his sanity. But, in spite of his disheveled appearance, Stanley greeted me as an old friend, and implied that I’d done him a massive favour by agreeing to come.
HMS Ramsgate had been designed to accommodate several hundred people, but now the old ship was virtually derelict and abandoned, moored on the lough’s calm waters off a lonely stretch of shoreline. The boat was a rust bucket, but its long and darkened corridors and empty cabins gave off an eerie feeling, one of decay and foreboding.
Other than Stanley, myself, and the four-man team, there was only one other person on board – a young woman with whom I was already acquainted. Orla was a girl in her early 20’s – an attractive young woman of slight build, with long flowing dark hair, skin as pale as milk, and deep green eyes. She’d grown up in the Falls district of West Belfast, a working-class Catholic area which had become an IRA stronghold during the early 70’s.
Orla had the misfortune to have come of age during the early years of the Troubles, and, like so many other young people at the time, she’d been drawn into the conflict occurring on the streets around her. However, unlike other young women in her community, Orla made the ‘mistake’ of falling in love with a British soldier.
The boy was a 19-year-old private serving with the Light Infantry. Try as I might, I cannot recall his name, but he was a handsome young chap – the type with the gift of the gab who knew how to chat up girls. I believe Orla met him at a community disco in Ballymurphy, arranged by the army during the so-called honeymoon period, when relations between the military and local community were still relatively cordial.
Orla started seeing the young soldier, but they had to keep their relationship a secret as the situation soured, and the locals turned against the army. I don’t know exactly what happened between them, but the upshot was that Orla’s family and neighbours found out about her illicit love affair, and this caused her no end of trouble. One would have hoped the soldier would do the decent thing, but his tour ended, and he returned to England and promptly broke off his relationship with the young Belfast girl. I believe he had a girlfriend back home the whole time. In any event, a heartbroken Orla was left to face the backlash alone, and even her family (who held pro-IRA sympathies) turned against her.
Soon she was subjected to a brutal and humiliating punishment, being tied to a lamppost and ‘tarred and feathered’. This was how the IRA’s female wing handled so-called collaborators such as Orla, women who went with British soldiers. Once Orla recovered from her injuries, she remained ostracized in her community – alone, without friends or family or any prospects.
It was around this time that she first came to my attention. Orla got arrested for some minor offence – shoplifting or something like that. She got passed through the system and my superior officer wanted to use her as an intelligence asset. I was appointed as Orla’s handler. The truth was, she never provided us with much information – snippets here and there, mostly of little use. But, after hearing her story, I took sympathy on the poor girl, setting her up with a flat in a neutral area and keeping her on the active roster, so she continued to receive a small stipend from the government.
I lost contact with Orla after they transferred me to the border and was astonished and concerned to discover her involved with Stanley Black’s mysterious operation. I stood on the ship’s bridge, watching the young woman through the cameras as she sat alone in a cabin below deck. I noted the old-fashioned floral dress she wore, with a leather jacket draped over her shoulders, presumably to keep her warm. Her head was cast downwards, and her dark hair covered most of her face, as she smoked a cigarette, taking long drags as she pondered her grim situation.
I reacted angrily at first, turning on Stanley and confronting him. “What the hell is she doing here? This young woman is no terrorist. You’ve no right to hold her!”
Stanley shrugged his shoulders dismissively before replying. “She was facing six months when I found her. Larceny and drunken disorderly. I offered her money and a new start away from Ireland. She came here voluntarily.”
I felt a twinge of guilt which lessened my anger. Clearly, Orla’s life had gone from bad to worse after I left her in Belfast.
“What do you intend to do with her?” I asked sheepishly.
Stanley didn’t answer my question, at least not directly. Instead, he took a firm grasp of my arm and forced me to look into his wild, intense eyes.
“I need her…I need you to persuade her, to make sure she does as I say. This will go a lot more smoothly if the girl willingly co-operates.”
Suddenly it all became clear. This was why Stanley had brought me up here. He needed me to get to Orla, to trick her into compliance so he could conduct whatever twisted experiments on her. I didn’t know what exactly he had planned at this stage. I suspected it was some sort of new interrogation tactic. During internment, we’d used the five techniques to break the will of our prisoners. Later, this would be condemned as torture by the European Court of Human Rights. Officially, the British government no longer tortured prisoners but in reality our techniques had simply grown more sophisticated over the years, with men like Stanley Black pioneering new and unorthodox tactics.
I should have refused – but, to my eternal shame, I agreed to do what he asked. I went down to the cabin, held the frightened girl’s hand, and told her everything was going to be fine – that all she needed to do was get through tonight and then she’d be free to start a new life, forever leaving behind the war-torn streets of Northern Ireland. She trusted me, and I fed her a pack of lies. I’ll never forgive myself for what I did to Orla, nor should anyone else.
I returned to the control room on the bridge, where the tension was building, as Stanley’s behaviour became increasingly erratic. Shortly before the experiment began, he pulled me to one side, whispering in my ear to prevent the MP’s and technicians from overhearing.
“I don’t expect you to understand, my old friend. Not at first anyway. I didn’t believe it myself initially. Thought it was all superstitious nonsense. A means of tricking and frightening thick Irish peasants. But the deeper I dug, the more I saw. I’ve witnessed things which cannot be explained by science. There are other realities beyond what we can see and comprehend, and entities which are not alive in the true sense of the word. They don’t belong in our world, but they want to cross over into our reality, to latch on to the living. Their powers are immense…frightening to some. But, if we are able to control these entities and bend them to our will, then the possibilities are limitless…”
I was literally left speechless. Was Stanley playing a sick joke on me? Nothing in his demeanor suggested so. The man looked deadly serious. He must have picked up on my discomfort, judging by his next question – “You think I’m mad, don’t you? I don’t blame you…But you will see soon enough, my old friend. You shall witness the power of what comes from beyond.”
He patted me on the back, smiling faintly, before making his way back to the control station and barking orders at his technicians. Meanwhile, I just stood there, dumbstruck and in a state of shock. Stanley was right about one thing – I did think he was mad. I believed that the extreme stresses of the job had broken him.
Stanley had clearly suffered some sort of mental breakdown and had come to believe in the paranoid fantasies his unbalanced mind had created. I realised that I should never have come to this place. But now I was here, and I needed to take action to shut this crazy operation down, to get Orla to safety and detain Stanley, by force if necessary. The two military policemen may be able to help if I could get them onside. I was still formulating a plan in my head when Stanley began his experiment, and my last opportunity to stop him was lost.
As Stanley gave his orders, the technicians flicked switches on the control panels, confirming that various electronic functions were operational – ‘Lights, check. Cameras, check. Door locks, check.”
The last announcement worried me the most. They locked Orla in, but why? I had no function in these proceedings and so could only observe with trepidation. I noted the two MP’s standing back, watching developments closely, looks of serious concentration etched on their faces, their hands firmly placed on their gun holsters, like they were prepared for a violent occurrence at any moment. But my attention was focused on the central monitor, the grainy black and white image of young Orla, sitting on the hard chair in her bare cabin, looking increasing agitated, like she sensed something sinister was beginning.
I looked away in shame, instead glancing at the small monitors on either side, which showed the views of various cameras on the ship’s exterior. I didn’t know why they set up cameras looking out to sea, but assumed they were for security purposes. An IRA assault by boat was unlikely, but not unheard of. What I did notice was how the previously calm waters were now becoming rather choppy, as the night-time winds picked up. This struck me as odd, since the forecast was for good weather throughout the night. I didn’t think too much about it, however.
With the preparations completed, Stanley lifted a microphone which I soon discovered was linked to speakers hooked up in Orla’s cabin, which at this stage was more of a prison cell. There was a sense of dreadful foreboding in the control room as we waited for Stanley to speak. I honestly had no idea what to expect.
We were all astonished when Stanley began to sing. All these years later, I don’t recall the exact words of the ballad. I believe he sang in Gaelic Irish, or some ancient variation of that language. How Stanley had learnt such a bizarre incantation, I’ll never know. What I do remember is how the sorrowful ballad shook me to my very soul. The others in the room clearly shared my trepidation. One of the technicians – Fraser I think – let out a nervous laugh, before his co-worker Page shot him an angry look. And the cool and tough demeanor of the MP’s began to crack, as fear crept across Ball’s face, and MacIntosh began perspiring heavily.
But Stanley appeared immune to everything else occurring, as his heart wrenching song reached a terrifying crescendo. I stared into the main monitor, watching young Orla closely as she listened through the speakers in her cabin. She looked up at the camera in confusion, mouthing something that we could not hear. But, before long, her look of bewilderment turned into fear, her eyes widening as she cowered in her chair.
I looked away, unable to bear the shame. When I glanced across at the external cameras, I was astonished at the height and ferocity of the waves, as clearly a storm had taken hold, seemingly coming out of nowhere. The boat was swaying heavily from side to side now, and before long we all struggled to stand…All except for Stanley, who inexplicably appeared unaffected. It became clear to me that there was a connection between the terrible incantation and the increasingly violent storm, even though this seemed impossible. And there was something else, something deeper. I felt it inside me – a severe dread unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I knew what it was to fear for my life, but this was different. What I felt in that moment was primal…a terror that I could not explain.
I didn’t understand what was happening, but I knew I had to put an end to it. I needed to stop Stanley before it was too late. I stepped forward with determination, heading straight for him, but I struggled to walk, my body being thrown from side to side as the boat swayed in the heavy seas. I laboured on regardless, determined to bring this to an end. Reaching out, my hands were almost upon him…but, in that very moment, the lights went out, and the deck was plunged into darkness.
Losing control of my senses, I stumbled, hitting the floor heavily. “Dear God!” I heard someone exclaim. The dark was all encompassing. It continued for what seemed like an age, but in reality was only a few short seconds. I couldn’t see a thing, but my other senses were heightened. I quickly established two things. Firstly, Stanley’s terrible ballad had ended, and secondly, the ship was no longer swaying. It made no sense, but this is what happened. A moment passed, and mercifully the emergency lighting kicked in, dimly illuminating the control room.
I slowly lifted my head and saw the face of Stanley Black staring down at me. His dark eyes were emotionless, showing no signs of either fear or concern. He spoke to me in a calm and composed voice, saying – “And now, it begins.”
The monitors were still out, so we couldn’t see Orla inside her cabin cell. I dreaded to think what state she was in. Stanley ordered the two MP’s to descend to the lower decks and check on her. The two men obeyed their orders with some evident reluctance. They no longer looked like tough and experienced soldiers but more like scared young boys being sent off to war. Drawing their pistols, Ball and MacIntosh left the control room and began their slow descent.
Stanley, myself, and the two effectively redundant technicians were left waiting in the dimly lit control room, staring at black monitors and still badly shaken by the inexplicable events we’d just witnessed. Stanley began to speak, rambling at length about destiny and immortality. I no longer listened. I felt sick to my stomach, somehow sensing that something terrible was about to occur.
It seemed like an eternity passed as we waited and suffered through an unbearable tension. And then we heard it – a shrill, high pitched and inhuman scream which echoed through the dark, steel corridors of the old ship. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before; an otherworldly shriek which chilled me to my very bones.
A moment later, a man cried out in terror, and then came the gunshots – three or four loud bangs in quick succession. We listened in terror to the mad scrambling; the shouts and gunfire, men running, their heavy boots stomping against the metal gangways…and always the unnatural screams growing louder and louder, so piercing and chilling. Even Stanley appeared uneasy now, his eyes widening with fear. Evidently this wasn’t part of the plan. His experiment was now out of control.
The ominous sounds grew closer, until the running battle was right on the other side of the control room door. One of the technicians – Fraser I believe – lost his nerve, breaking and running towards the back door. His colleague cried after him, calling Fraser a coward. I didn’t blame the man for running, but somehow I knew he wouldn’t get far. Suddenly, there was a heavy banging on the door, and then the handle began to turn.
My fear was all encompassing at this point. I struggled to breathe, and my legs could hardly carry my weight. I was unarmed and had no means of defending myself, not that I believed a gun could stop what was coming. The door swung open and a figure ran into the control room, slamming it closed behind him. It was MacIntosh, one of the MP’s. His face was a ghostly shade of pale, his uniform ripped and bloodied, and his eyes filled with pure terror.
He opened his mouth and shouted loudly, as if he had no control over his volume. “SHE’S COMING! RUN YOU FOOLS…SHE’LL KILL US ALL!”
We didn’t get a chance to respond. At that moment, the hellish screeching began once again. This time it was so loud it forced us all down to our knees, covering our ears in a near futile attempt to drown out the awful din. Just then, the steel shutter door burst open with such power that it knocked MacIntosh off his feet.
What stood on the far side of the doorway was not of this world, at least no longer. I could just about recognise the physical body of Orla, but whatever creature had overtaken her, clearly it wasn’t human. Her skin was paler than the palest white, and yet her body was illuminated by an unnatural light, appearing like some kind of walking lantern. Her dress was torn and ripped, with her right breast exposed, but there was nothing sexually attractive about her form.
She didn’t so much walk as she did glide, as if the natural laws of gravity and physics did not apply to her. But what really struck me, what chilled me to my very core, was her – or its – eyes. Gone were the sweet and innocent eyes of Orla, replaced by something dark black and demonic, shark-like and predatory in their nature. I was terrified, but remained glued to the spot, unable to run or avert my gaze from this truly horrifying creature.
I saw movement in the corner of my eye, glancing over and seeing Stanley walking forward towards the beast, his attention entirely focused on this monstrosity he’d helped create. He seemed transfixed, unaware of anything or anyone else around him, as he was drawn towards the demonic siren. I tried to shout out to get his attention, to warn him of the imminent danger, but found I could not speak.
Stanley kept on walking until he stood a mere two or three foot away from the horror he’d brought into creation. I watched him stare into those black, lifeless eyes, and he showed no fear. She opened her mouth – a gaping dark hole which looked like a portal into hell. Suddenly, Stanley awoke from whatever spell had held him entranced, as his face filled with fear and he surely realised the extreme danger he was in. But it was already too late.
The entity screamed once again, except this time it was worse than ever. The high-pitched din was unbearable. There was no end to it, no relief. I saw Stanley crawling along the ground, blood pouring from his ears as he cried out in agony, but his screams were entirely drained out. I rolled up into a ball, burying my head between my legs, but I couldn’t block out the hellish noise. I felt the pressure building inside my head, an explosion occurred inside my brain, and then I felt myself drifting away, before the darkness took me.
I awoke 3 days later inside the military wing of Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast. Frankly, I was astonished to still be alive. I’d suffered two perforated eardrums and head trauma, but was otherwise okay, physically at least. Four other survivors had been recovered from the Ramsgate, all with similar injuries but still alive.
Stanley Black wasn’t so lucky. Officially, his cause of death was recorded as heart failure. The fact that he’d been a healthy man in his early 40’s with no previous history of heart disease was not commented upon. While I was recuperating in hospital, I was visited by several senior government officials and was debriefed in depth, asked to repeat time and again my account of the events of that fateful night. I was told in no uncertain terms that I must never reveal what had happened on board the HMS Ramsgate. There was talk of the Official Secrets Act, of a lengthy prison sentence if I spilled the beans. In truth though, I had no intention of telling my story at that time. Who would have believed me anyway?
I imagine the other survivors received similar treatment and were subjected to the same threats. Meanwhile, Stanley Black’s body was spirited away and buried in secret. And what about Orla, you might ask? Her body was never recovered. Officially, she’d never been on board the Ramsgate, and so the Ministry of Defence held no record of her disappearance. The entire incident was written off as a communications operation which had gone wrong due to an equipment malfunction caused by the storm.
The ship was decommissioned after the incident. The old boat was towed to Liverpool, where it was scheduled to be broken up for scrap. I recall reading a newspaper article a couple of months later, stating how ship workers had refused to work on the Ramsgate after claiming to hear ghostly voices emanating from the ship’s walls and corridors. The incident was widely ridiculed as a hoax, or an excuse for the local union to call strike action. But, given all I’d seen and heard, I wasn’t so sure.
They allowed me to return to active duty after my recovery, but I got a new posting in England and never did return to Ireland. Nevertheless, I found it impossible to forget what happened that night. Images of the demonic entity haunted my dreams, as did its terrible wail of death, which I simply couldn’t get out of my head.
And then, over the next 12 months, the oddest thing happened. All four of my fellow survivors from the Ramsgate died, all in separate incidents and locations. The two MP’s were returned to front-line duty with their regiments. MacIntosh was shot in the head by a sniper whilst on patrol in West Belfast, and Ball was blown up by a booby trap bomb in South Armagh. Later, Ball – one of the technicians – got electrocuted after an equipment failure in Aldershot Barracks, and Fraser died in a car crash in West Germany.
A conspiracy theorist might have assumed that a shadowy government agency was eliminating witnesses to the botched operation on the Ramsgate, but I didn’t believe this. In the months after the incident I’d read up on Irish mythology and learnt of the Banshee; an infamous supernatural entity in Irish legend whose scream was believed to be an omen of death. The physical description matched what I saw that night, and I became certain that Stanley had summoned such an entity from the other side, using Orla as a vessel to capture this wicked spirit.
I realised that all the men on board the Ramsgate had been marked for death, and my own turn would surely follow. But, evidently, I did not die. The banshee didn’t come for me, and I have lived into old age. Why did this happen? I’ll probably never know for sure. I used to believe I had been spared – that Orla or whatever she’d turned into still held some residual memory from her former life and remembered the kindness I had once shown her.
Now, all these years later, I realise I was only half right. I was spared, but only because a quick death would have been too merciful. My life has been one of misery, failure, and pain. I suffered a psychological breakdown a couple of years after the incident and was dishonorably discharged from the military. I never held down a solid job again. I was briefly married but soon disappointed my young wife, who left me for another man. I couldn’t really blame her. There was a child – a son who I was no kind of father to. We became estranged, and I haven’t seen him in twenty years. Eventually, I became addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs, and my health deteriorated. I’ve fought cancer on three different occasions. And now, I’m an old man at death’s door, slowly rotting away, alone in a miserable nursing home. I realise now that Orla did this to me. She wanted me to suffer because I betrayed her. This awful life has been my punishment.
But its nearly over now. I can feel the cold hand of death creeping ever closer. When I sleep, I see her in my dreams, and I can hear the banshee’s wail at night, growing ever louder. So, why have I decided to tell my story now, after all these years? You may think this is meant as an exposé of the British dirty war in Ireland or a warning to others, to ensure they don’t interfere with forces beyond our comprehension.
In fact, neither is true. This is a confession. The war in Ireland is officially over, the victims laid to rest and differences largely settled. But, for poor Orla, it will never end. Because of what we…what I did to her, Orla will never be free…never have peace. I cannot excuse what I did to that poor girl, and I can never take it back.
I can hear her now, the banshee’s sorrowful ballad, ringing through the walls of my room. She’s coming for me, coming to set me free. I’m so sorry Orla. And, if there is a God, may he have mercy on my sinful soul…
Credit : Finn MacCool
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