(Illustrated by Gordon Van Dusen)
This is a story of two possible realities. One reality, is that of one of the worst cases of neglect and untreated mental illness I have ever heard. The other reality, is that of an elderly woman being tortured by forces not of this world. This story took place in a very small isolated community in New South Wales, Australia during the 1990s. There was a great deal of embarrassment and grief surrounding the events, so every name used is purposefully false to protect the privacy of those involved. The story came to me by way of someone who had family members directly involved and who had himself claimed to have witnessed some of the unusual events that took place.
In the year 1996, a 73 year old man named Edward Allan Taylor lay dying in a public hospital bed with emphysema. Aside him, the entirety of his short stay in hospital (this time) sat his wife of 50 years, Irene Taylor. Unable to have children and estranged from what family she had left, Irene was entirely invested in Ed as a husband and her soul remaining family. By the time Edward had passed away Irene had actually partially blinded herself from her crying so much, flaring up a preexisting eye condition.
Luckily for Irene, despite losing her husband and having no family to turn to, she did have friends. Immediately a vigilant support group formed around Irene in her hour of need, her friends wouldn’t leave her side. For several months they continued to successfully persuade her to stay as a guest in their homes and each did their part to aide her in her grief.
During this time, however, in the late 90s in Australia, all over the world and even ongoing today, there was a growing interest among certain communities in tarot cards, psychic readings, past life regressions and general “new age” spiritualism. Irene’s friends, many of the women over 50 in her community had taken an interest in this sort of thing. Irene was particularly fascinated and comforted by the concept of being able to commune with the spiritual world.
Eventually Irene felt comfortable returning to her home and became fixated on becoming a “psychic conduit” to be able to perform readings for her friends and attempt to communicate with her deceased husband, Edward. To begin with, it seemed as though having a new interest was a useful tool to help Irene get over her grief and move on with her life. It was also remarked that as far as “psychics” go, Irene wasn’t half bad. She (allegedly) made several accurate predictions that earned her a decent enough reputation as a medium, as far as that goes in a very isolated, small Australian town anyway.
It wasn’t until Irene made one specific claim that suspicions began to rise. She said to one of her friends (the mother of the source of this story) that she knew she would have a wonderful holiday in Fiji. What was interesting about this claim is that while she did accurately predict an “anticipated” holiday, it had been since discussed and canceled for various reasons prior to the visit/reading. Others also were discovering that it appeared as though Irene had an insight into current, unforeseen events, more so than actually predicting events to come.
Upon discovering the unusual nature of Irene’s predictions, it also became apparent that Irene was leaving her home less and less. It was upon this seemingly subtle, inconsequential revelation that some of her friends began to question Irene’s methods and behavior. Irene, laughing and clapping her hands, as though she was letting her friends in on some grand deception admitted to them, that she had made a connection with a spiritual entity which had been providing her with guidance and secret information. The spiritual entity, being the spirit of her deceased husband, Edward Allan Taylor.
Irene claimed that Edward had reached out to her from across the void and that she didn’t have to be alone, not if she didn’t want him to go. Irene’s friends took varying stances on this belief. Some thought it was wonderful Irene felt she made this connection with her deceased husband, others thought it was an unhealthy deviation from her grieving process. A few tried to persuade her to return to more conventional spiritual guidance and start going to church with them again on Sundays.
The mood had soured somewhat, suddenly the psychic readings didn’t feel so enchanting and mystical, but rather eerie and unsettling. As months passed, Irene slowly isolated herself from her group of friends. She was suspicious of everyone she knew, became secretive and detached. Trivial arguments began to arise, she was uncharacteristically hostile. Her appearances in the community grew fewer and fewer still. One by one, her once loyal friends reluctantly began to give up on her.
The concern grew too much for one of her friends to bear, months had passed with no word from Irene. She had stopped answering her telephone, makeshift curtains layered the windows blocking out the light of the outside world. Fearing for the worst, Elizabeth (the mother of the source of this story) called her son (the actual source of this story) to accompany her at Irene’s home, in fear of what she might discover.
After spending several hours tapping on windows, banging on doors and walls to no response, the decision was made. Dan kicked the door in and immediately recoiled to cough and gag. The stench, he said, was utterly unbearable. He noted an array of flying insects even flew out of the home, the moment the door was breached. Struggling to cover their nostrils and mouths to dampen the stench, Dan and his mother explored the filthy domicile.
Dan admitted that he may have been mistaken during the exhilaration and confusion of entering the home where he expected to discover a dead body, but he claimed that he felt as though several objects were thrown at him from various directions. One object being a drinking glass which shattered when it struck the hardwood floor. Elizabeth began tearing down the makeshift layers of curtains, until light began to pierce into the house. She went about opening as many windows and doors as she could as she called out to Irene. Upon flicking the light switches it became apparent that the bulbs in the light fittings had all been burst.
As the fresh air of the outside world blew down the hall into the darkest back room of the home, Dan and his mother Elizabeth heard what sounded like a heated discussion between two distinct voices, one male, one female. As they quickly made their way toward the back room, her screaming began. An agonizing wail shrieked, as though she was being physically tortured by some unseen presence. Dan said he thought he heard a myriad of obscene whispers surround him as he looked down at the sight before him. When Elizabeth got to the room, as all she said was “Oh, God!” and began to cry in horror. Elizabeth grasped the blankets covering the window in the back room and Irene shrieked, “NO!”
Dan helped his mother pull the curtain down, and upon realizing it was a fixed window, the stench was so unthinkably putrid, he used a wooden stool to smash the window out. As fresh air and light entered the room, they could only look down in disbelief at the elderly woman, on the verge of starvation, emaciated and sobbing on the floor, naked and covered in her own excrement. She had been eating her own feces.
Emergency services were contacted immediately…
Days later, in the same hospital where her husband had passed away, Irene lay in a hospital bed, riddled now with various health complications. Elizabeth paid her a visit. Elizabeth asked her, why she had done the things she had done. To which Irene would only say “Edward told me to” and avert any attempts to make eye contact with her. She died two days after that visit.
Elizabeth and others involved directly with what was going on, believed something not of this world preyed on the most vulnerable soul it could find. Irene’s life was rife with sorrow, family life fell apart when her father committed suicide in her youth, she didn’t have friends until she was well into her fifties. Ed was the only one she ever trusted and “something” used that undying trust to take advantage of her, to manipulate her and eventually, destroy her. A particularly malevolent, insidious type of evil targets someone in the state that Irene Taylor was in.
Years ago, I was passing through the region where that little town resides. I decided while I was there, I would stop to pay my respects to “Irene” and “Edward” at their companion plot. I don’t know if it’s true that “paranormal” events led to her unusual behavior and death, I don’t know if Irene just completely lost her senses in an emotional cyclone of grief and confusion. But for whatever reason, the story has always resonated with me. It’s unfair. Mental or paranormal, no one should face such an abysmal fate alone. But there’s another element of this story, which I failed to properly address.
Elizabeth was worried for Irene, more than any of her friends, because she was afflicted with reoccurring nightmares involving Irene suffering at the will of some malevolent force. She told Dan she heard a voice say, “Please help Irene” a voice years later, I’ve entertained the thought, that maybe that was the real Edward Allan Taylor. We fixate so much on the grim elements, we forget her friend bursting through the door, tearing down the curtains, the light of day abolishing the darkness. I don’t know what fate befell Irene Taylor in the end, but I like to think that if there was something supernatural going on, her friend Elizabeth, may have actually saved her from a fate worse than death.