For The Record, Episode 12: Full Fathom
[MUSIC AND TAPE RECORDER STATIC FADES OUT]
…no Bethan, that’s for the head archivist in Manchester. [pause] Yeah, I keep getting her post for some reason. Can you send it on to her? [pause] Thank you, you’re an absolute treasure!
Right, where was I..?
Statement of Anna Hughes regarding the disappearance of her sister Cerys, received by e-mail 2nd of September 2018. Audio recording by Rhys Llewellyn-Jones, archival assistant, Sefydliad Materion Paranormal Cymru, Welsh Institute of Paranormal Affairs.
Dechreuad y datganiad - Statement begins.
My name’s Anna Hughes - I found your institute on the internet and I’m sending you this story because nobody else believes me and someone needs to know what happened.
It all started at that car boot sale in Llandaff. My sister, Cerys, had this habit of collecting old knick-knacks - jewellery, beads, cameos, but really anything she thought was pretty. She loved car boot sales and charity shops for that. When she moved out for university, she left a lot of them in her old room at Mam and Dad’s and I remember her having to throw a load out when we cleared their house out after the accident. She was heartbroken about giving up her treasures like that. When we moved into the little house in the back streets across from Jackson’s Bay on Barry Island, I told her she’d have to keep them in her room, but they still spilled out all over the place. She was like that, everything about her all spilled out everywhere. She always dressed in bright colours and left her clothes lying around, and her words came thick and fast, tumbling over each other in their hurry to get out of her mouth.
At the car boot in Llandaff, she bought this box. I absolutely hated it from the moment I saw it, I couldn’t say why, but it just gave me this awful creeping feeling, like something crawling down the back of my neck. The wood was dark, like old blood, and smelled sickly sweet and spicy. Like rotten fruit or an old lady’s perfume that’s been left in the bottle too long. There were these patterns on it, curving and twisting, almost like the box had hundreds of sharp little claws carved all over it. I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if one day it had unfolded little beetle legs and skittered away. Cerys was ever so taken with it though. She said it was beautiful and smelled gorgeous. I told her I didn’t like it, but it turned out she’d already bought it, so I told her to keep it in her room where I couldn’t see or smell it. I knew full well it would probably migrate somewhere else in the house when she forgot, though. There was a rusty key in the similarly rusty lock, and at first, she’d tried to turn it but it wouldn’t budge. On the way home she made me stop somewhere to get some oil for it and when we got back, she dumped far too much of the oil into the keyhole. It worked though, because the key turned and with this horrible grinding click, the box came open. Inside was just… letters. Lots of old letters. Cerys looked disappointed. I don’t know what she thought was going to be in there – gold and jewels, maybe a treasure map or something…
I didn’t think any more about it for a few days. Work was busy and I had a lot on my mind, what with one thing and another. The next Monday I got home to find the kitchen table covered in musty old letters, and the smell of the box hanging heavily in the air, cloying and incongruous among the normal scents of kitchen cleaner and microwave dinner. I wasn’t happy about them being all over everywhere, but Cerys was clearly absolutely fascinated. She showed me a few of the letters and said she’d been reading them – I don’t know how, because they were written in that curling-loopy style old letters often are, but she always had terrible handwriting so I suppose she must have been used to reading scribbles. I remember thinking they should have been in a museum, but now I’m glad I didn’t tell her that. Nobody should have read those letters and we should never have opened that box in the first place. She’d read a couple by that point, she said - they were from a young sailor who had been on various ships, seeking work wherever he could, and written from various ports around the Atlantic. They were all written to the same person, his sweetheart Elen, who was working as a scullery maid in a house in Penarth. Those that were dated were from around the middle of the 19th century. Honestly, I didn’t pay a lot of attention after that. I keep thinking maybe if I’d listened sooner, or better yet persuaded her to destroy the whole lot, then she might still be around.
She lost interest again for a while, as she often did with these things she’d get into, and I didn’t see the letters for a couple of weeks. Work was still busy both for me and her – it was summer, and she worked at the amusement park down at the beach. She’d do other stuff in winter, office temping in Cardiff sometimes or restaurant work. The next time the letters came up it was one Sunday afternoon when I was outside tidying up the yard. She came out looking a bit pale and said she’d read a few of the later ones and there was something weird about them. The sailor boy kept talking about something being wrong on the ship he was working on, but he wasn’t sure what. There was a lot of stuff about the rations being rotten and fights breaking out among the crew, and something wrong about the ship itself. I said I didn’t want to hear about it, and Cerys got upset with me – she said I never wanted to talk to her these days. I said I did, I was just busy and tired, and I didn’t want to hear about some old sailors and I definitely didn’t want to hear about boats. She went all quiet and said it wasn’t anything to do with Mam and Dad’s accident, and I said I was sorry and I knew it wasn’t; but I’m not sure I really meant it. I gave her a hug and said I’d listen properly later. She didn’t talk to me about the letters for a while after that, and I didn’t bring it up. Honestly, I just wasn’t interested in that old stuff, and I was hoping she’d get bored of it all eventually. She didn’t, though. I’d see her researching online and printing out old articles about shipwrecks. She started to look tired as well, but then she always did in the busy season; she’d take extra shifts at weird hours to save up for when it was quiet in winter. So I didn’t think it was that odd. One time I picked up one of the letters she had left out on the table. I couldn’t make much out amongst the brown stains where the ink had run, just the odd word or phrase. Things like “bearing” and “powder” and “checked the binnacle” and once something like “won’t let them get me”.
Cerys stopped talking to me about the letters, but she also stopped talking to me about much at all – we’d still talk about work and what was on TV, but we just weren’t as close, somehow. Things we used to talk about; family, feelings, that sort of thing, she wouldn’t discuss anymore. It was like she was pulling away from me, and I didn’t know what to do because I couldn’t say exactly what was wrong.
It all came to a head one night in late August. It had been hot all day and I’d just come back from a long shift with some proper nasty customers to find the living room absolutely covered in papers and letters and Cerys sat in the middle of it all drawing maps of the Bristol channel of all things. She looked like she hadn’t slept in a week, and I swear her dark circles had dark circles on them. I lost my temper at her, told her I’d had enough, she needed to stop this nonsense and throw all this stuff out. We got in a proper row, back and forth and everything spilled out of me that I’d wanted to say for weeks. It got worse and worse until she screamed at me, out of no-where, that it was my fault Mam and Dad were gone and if I hadn’t wanted to go out on the boat that day, they’d still be alive. I started crying and said it wasn’t true, it wasn’t my fault, that wasn’t fair, and there was something wrong with her, and it was all the fault of those bloody letters. I started picking up the papers and letters to throw them out and she just… went for me, I swear she was trying to claw my eyes out. I shoved her off me and she fell on the floor, scattering paper everywhere. I shouted at her to leave me alone and ran off to my room upstairs. Honestly, I was terrified of her. There was something in her eyes, that wasn’t my sister, and her nails… they were all stained and brown, the same colour as that horrible box. I heard the front door slam and the sound of her running down the road towards the beach. Then… nothing, and just me left there crying in my room, alone.
I don’t know how long it was before I came out of my room and went downstairs. The letters were all where she’d left them, so I started picking them up and making a pile. I saw that awful box on the arm of the sofa, and I was absolutely filled with hatred of it. I felt it well up inside me, all hot and vicious. I picked up the TV remote and hurled it right at the box. It fell, and hit the laminate floor with a cracking sound that sounded more like breaking bone than wood. I went to pick it up, and I saw the lid was broken and it had torn a bit of the green lining away. When I picked it up, another letter slid out from the lining where it had been tucked away out of sight. I unfolded it and read it. There wasn’t much written on that paper, but it was written thick and clear, and what was on there I’m not going to write here for fear of what might happen to anyone else who reads it; but it was enough to make me drop the letter and the box and run right out into the street without even closing the door behind me.
I ran down the path to the bay without stopping. It was late and quiet, but it was summer so there was still enough light to see by. I followed Cerys’ footprints from the sea pink-spotted grass across the damp sand to the edge of the water, and I looked out across the Bristol Channel towards Devon through the heat haze. Squatting off the coast in the dusky light was an old, wooden ship; dark as blood with tattered sails, and covered in twisting, claw-like carvings. The side and sails were soaking wet; rivulets of water flowing off them, as if it had just a short while ago emerged from below the slowly darkening sea. Rowing out toward it at a steady pace, I saw a little boat with a handful of dark figures pulling on the oars. One of them; the only flash of bright colour I could see on that boat, was in the prow, a multi-coloured splash among the deep reddish-brown, struggling against something. As I got closer to the edge of the water, I heard it - carried by the breeze coming off the sea, a dreadful, wordless screaming.
I ran. I was scared, and I kept thinking, what if the boat turned back and came for me? I ran all the way home. When I got back to the house, I gathered it all up, the box, the letters, everything. I dumped it on the patio, doused it all in barbeque lighter fluid and dropped a match on it. It was all dry, so it went up in a flash. The box stank as it burned, with a smell more like charring meat than burning wood, but it burned all right. I stared into the flames until it was nothing but ash, just to make sure. Then I packed a bag and went straight to my Nanna’s in Caerphilly. Don’t know what I’m going to do now, but I can’t stay here. There’s a place in China, near the border with Kazakhstan which is as far away from the sea as you can possibly get – I looked it up. That might be far enough. If I’m lucky.
Diwedd y datganiad - Statement ends
All righty. Things we could follow up – I visited the property on Barry Island previously registered to the Misses Hughes, and gained entry by claiming to be their cousin who thought he’d left something in the house. The new owners were a lovely elderly couple who allowed me to check the property quite thoroughly, sorry Mr and Mrs Geddings, just doing my job. There was a greasy, burned patch on the patio which Mr Geddings said he could not seem to clean off despite his best efforts. Mrs Geddings also showed me a half page of charred paper which she said she had not been able to decipher the handwriting on due to her poor eyesight. Thank goodness. I apologised and explained that my “cousin” Cerys had collected a lot of old documents and that must be one of hers and I’d be happy to take it away with me. The paper is sealed in an opaque protective envelope attached to the statement. Please do not open the envelope or attempt to read it without using appropriate PPE and following SOP S007 – Ymdriniaeth ag arteffactau a allai fod yn beryglus/Handling of potentially hazardous artefacts.
Things I could not follow up – much else. Further investigations regarding the Hughes sisters have confirmed the information given in the statement regarding their previous employment – I managed to find the funfair where Cerys Hughes worked during the summer and the proprietor was very helpful. I also won a duck, which I will be keeping on my desk, his name is Fred. Mrs Hughes senior, of Clos Enfys, Caerphilly unfortunately assumed I was a journalist, yelled some choice words at me and slammed the door in my face, sadly cutting off what could have been a fruitful line of enquiry.
Things I could not find at all, Miss Hughes the statement giver. Unfortunately, since we are not the police, I have no access to her bank records or any way of tracking her movements. Neither the Chinese or the Kazakh Embassies have any record of a visa application from her - that they are willing to inform me of, anyway. I must assume she went where she said she was going to in a more clandestine way. Good luck to her, I say.
Diwedd y recordiad - Recording ends.
[distantly, as if he has stood up to address someone away from the tape recorder] I suddenly fancy an ice cream. Bethan, I’m going to the shop, d’you want an ice cream?
[laughing as he realises he has forgotten to stop the tape] Forget my own head next.
[NAUTICAL-SOUNDING ACCORDION VERSION OF THEME MUSIC] This episode of “For The Record” was written, directed, and performed by Lou Sutcliffe (as “Rhys Llewellyn-Jones”). It used sounds from freesound.org, under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License. For full accreditation, see the show notes. To be kept up to date on new episodes, submit your statement, or to get involved in production, you can follow us on Twitter @ftrecordpod, on Tumblr at fortherecordpod or view our website at fortherecordpodcast.co.uk. Stay safe, take care, and caveat emptor.