London, July 1977
The light from the projector flickered over the occupants of the viewing room; the red velvet plush seats now stained claret and the bodies lying strewn around—a trio of broken dolls. Blood trickled from their faces, hands frozen in claws, trousers sodden with piss, mouths open in silent screams. A fourth figure sat huddled in the corner nearest the door, rocking himself, froth speckling his lips, as he muttered the Lord’s Prayer. The silvery projection light illuminated his scalp, partly bald where he’d torn out his own hair only minutes earlier.
Arthur Kincaid, film producer at Pinewood Studios, never again returned to his former job, or home or remembered his name or those of his nearest and dearest. When the paramedics arrived, phoned by the building’s receptionist after she couldn’t gain entry through the locked door to Viewing Room 4, Kincaid muttered the same words again and again - ‘He’s coming. He’s coming for you.’
The film reel which was sitting in the old-fashioned projector was packed away and stored by the police for evidence and a possible trial. However, it was concluded the three other men had committed suicide and Arthur Kincaid was judged insane, so the reels were shipped to Kincaid’s solicitors, as his had been the name on the booking label.
There had been no need to watch the film. No one was that interested anyway. It was only a movie and it had nothing to do with the horrific tragedies, did it?
London, current day
Jimmy flourished the letter at the dinner table. ‘It’s from Sproggins and Sons, that fancy pants solicitors Uncle Arthur employed. Remember?’ he asked Ivy, his sister, who calmly continued spreading home-made marmalade on toast, methodically covering the edges.
‘Not really,’ Ivy replied.
‘Uncle Arthur’s finally popped his clogs, in that mad house he lived in . . .’
‘Home for the Mentally Ill,’ Ivy reproved her brother, but smiled as she did so.
‘Yeah, whatever, sis. He was off his head. Anyway, he’s left me everything. Sole surviving male heir. Nothing for you—guess Uncle Arthur wasn’t into gender equality! I get his house, his car—hey, didn’t he have a Rolls back in the day? When he worked at Pinewood? The house contents and ‘other possessions held in care by ourselves’ - old Sproggy-face says here. What do you think they might be? Diamonds? Gold sovereigns? I mean Uncle Arthur was rolling in it, wasn’t he? Didn’t he have a hit with that horror film, The Mummy’s Here! The one with all those female victims who kept losing their clothes along the way?’
Ivy nodded. ‘Don’t get too excited, Jimmy. Remember the costs of the nursing home. I expect there won’t be much left now.’
‘What there is though—it’s all mine!’ Jimmy was jubilant.
Ivy eyed her younger brother with a blend of tolerance and exasperation.
In truth the windfall had come at an opportune time for Jimmy’s personal finances, which were at an all-time low. ‘I’ll go make the appointment with Frogspawn and son, right this minute.’ Tigger-like he jogged from the dining room.
Ivy sighed. Jimmy was a handful and she rather hoped he’d move out one day and leave her to her own life, but he showed no sign of that. She ate another piece of toast, nibbling precisely from the crust inwards.
Roger Sproggin, the current and only surviving Sproggin solicitor, welcomed Jimmy Kincaid into a leather upholstered chair. He noticed his new client’s eagerness, his scuffed shoes, casual attire, scruffy four-day beard growth and chewed fingernails. He’d get straight to the business of the will, for he sensed this particular client wouldn’t sit still for long preambles.
‘Your paternal Uncle, has left you—‘
cut in, tapping his feet. ‘Yes, yes, I know he has, but how much?’
Sproggin Jnr., barely flickered an eyelid. ‘Well, with the sale of the house, the car, the contents . . .’ The solicitor named a figure which equated to a moderate lottery win.
Jimmy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He wanted to do a victory jig and drink whiskey. He barely listened to the rest of the legal eagle’s spiel.
‘ . . . then there are, of course, the film reels we’ve been holding since the police investigation . . .’
‘What?’ Jimmy refocussed.
‘Well, after the terrible incident which led to your uncle’s sectioning . . .’
‘Right, yes, when he went off his trolley,’ said Jimmy.
Sproggins shuddered at the indelicacy and chose to ignore it. ‘We have the film reels the deceased was watching on that evening in our possession, stored and untouched.’
‘Right, OK, well I’ll take them too. They might be worth something on eBay to an old movie buff.’
buzzed for his secretary and tasked her with bringing up the Kincaid boxes.
‘Coffee?’ he asked, ‘while we wait.’
Jimmy nodded and strolled to the window. His head was awash with ideas—he could now buy a house in London, instead of giving his sister rent money. He could wear suits like his Uncle used to have, buy a decent car or cars, travel abroad. He didn’t notice the view from the window. The vistas inside his head were overwhelming.
‘A word of caution, Mr Kincaid, if I may be so bold.’ Sproggins hovered over the silver coffee pot. ‘No one has unpacked the film reels since that summer evening in 1977 or watched them, well, not to my knowledge. Call me superstitious, but who knows what is on them?’
Jimmy turned around in irritation. What’s the annoying legal eagle drivelling on about? Then the penny dropped. ‘Do you mean whatever’s on those reels might have been linked to the deaths? And to Uncle Arthur going loopy? But those men committed suicide.’
‘Yes, that is correct. Three men died by their own hand that evening, after locking the door. To keep what inside the room with them? I’ve often wondered. They all died horribly, Mr Kincaid, tearing out their own eyeballs and hair. It was a nightmare scene for the officers and medics. Blood everywhere. Your uncle never could explain what had happened. Please don’t underestimate the tragedy of it. My father spoke of it often over the years to me. He was deeply shocked and he used to visit your uncle too.’
Jimmy shrugged. ‘It was all a long time ago now. Half a century. Water under the bridge. No one cares now.’
A knock at the door ushered in four large cardboard boxes. Jimmy made arrangements for them to be sent to Ivy’s address and left, heading for the nearest bar to spend some of the advance on his inheritance, provided by a tight-lipped Sproggins.
Jimmy’s celebrating turned into an all-nighter, segueing to a nightclub and a stagger-home, with a lucky lady companion in tow, in the early hours. When the lubricated pair got back to Ivy’s they both nearly tripped over the boxes standing in the hallway.
‘Bloody hell, darling, you moving in or out?’ The redhead rubbed her shins and clambered over the obstacle course, on her way to the stairs.
‘Just part of my inheritance,’ Jimmy slurred, waving his hand at the boxes.
The redhead sighed. She’d heard of nothing else all evening. Time for some bedroom action now, she reckoned. She beckoned Jimmy to follow her up the stairs.
And, of course, he did.
The next morning Ivy had moved the boxes, cleaned the hallway and deposited the boxes’ contents in the living room, where they sat as reminders of Uncle Arthur’s brief, but glorious, producing career. There were metal canisters, containing a handful of reels, a projector, folders of tatty paperwork and a small locked briefcase.
Jimmy slouched downstairs, pouchy-eyed and pale-skinned, long after 2 p.m. The redhead, he assumed had long gone, leaving her number and her knickers under his pillow.
‘Thanks, sis,’ he muttered and drank two mugs of coffee to kick-start his day.
‘Do you think this might be one of Uncle Arthur’s own films?’ Ivy was touching the spools and peering at the brown-stained papers.
‘Dunno, just don’t break anything in case I decide to flog it later on.’ Jimmy pulled the locked briefcase towards him, and shook it. ‘Something’s moving around inside.’ His eyes lit up at the thought of more loot.
‘This projector will still work, I think,’ Ivy, always the practical one of the siblings, commented, as she examined the old-fashioned equipment. ‘I could ask Mal.’ She coloured at the mention of the name.
Jimmy rolled his eyes. ‘Yeah, right, why don’t you ask dear sweet Malcolm?’
Ivy went pinker. ‘He is chairman of the . . .’
‘ . . . I know, I know, the Little Horton Photography and Film Society.’ Jimmy finished the sentence. He’d heard a lot lately about this particular group and about its sterling chairman and founder. ‘OK, ask Mal over later. He might be useful. Does he have a pretty friend for me?’
Ivy still pink-cheeked, giggled, but stood up and headed for the phone. She had hopes for Malcolm and this could just be the lure to facilitate a closer relationship.
Later that day, Jimmy went out, to buy ‘gear’, as he called it, and avoided his sister’s eye. She wasn’t sure whether if it was clothes, cars or drugs he was buying, and she realised, she didn’t really want to know. Trying to save Jimmy from himself and his habits was becoming tedious and soul destroying. She was glad of the peace which settled over her tiny maisonette when he’d gone out. Even Tazzy, the tortoiseshell rescue cat deemed it safe to make an appearance now Jimmy wasn’t there.
Ivy settled down, with the cat at her feet and coffee mug in hand, to read the crinkly and stained papers resting inside the manila folders. There were several different documents, she discovered stored together at random—a red leather-bound diary, pages from a film script, with the title typed on the front page, Midnight’s Terror, a few faded black and white photographs and a rusted paper-clip which secured a wedge of cuttings from some British newspapers, all from the 1920s and 1930s.
Odd, she thought, it’s as though someone’s deliberately collected these documents together. But why? And who?Ivy enjoyed a mystery and her history degree had involved much enjoyable archival research, so she rather relished the task before her. She dug deep into the papers, but for every question answered, another sprang up in its place. Also the more she read, the more uneasy she became. There was a real puzzle here, she realised, but also the hints of something more, something really
About the author
Alyson's work has been published online, in many anthologies - Space and Time, Under Her Skin and Musings of the Muses from Brigids Gate Press. Her work has been read on BBC Radio, and several podcasts. She lives in the UK with her family, and her rescue dog, Roxy.