A Stroll into Limbo
by Tom Slemen

The following eerie story came to my attention in December 2000, when a retired priest telephoned me at the studios of BBC Radio Merseyside. I went along to interview him and he seemed very sincere. I have had to change a few names to abide by the priest's request for anonymity.

In December 1986, two Catholic priests came out of the Diocesan Council Office on Brownlow Hill at about five minutes to five in the afternoon. Father Howard was the older priest and Father Andrew was just twenty-five. As they walked up the street on their way to a bookshop called Parry's Books, they suddenly noticed that things were unusually quiet. Not a single person passed them and there were no cars on the road at all, even though it was the middle of rush hour.

The priests walked into the bookshop on Brownlow Hill and found the place deserted as well. The cash registers were operational and the place was lit up, yet there was no one else about. Not a single member of staff or a customer could be seen. This obviously made the priests uneasy. They waited and waited, but no one came into the place and there was no one outside to be seen either. Father Andrews nervously joked, "Perhaps there's a bomb scare on and everyone's been evacuated!"

The other priest only frowned.

The time seemed to drag by and when Father Howard glanced out of the bookshop window at the University clock-tower, he was amazed to see that the time was still five minutes to five. It was almost as if time itself was standing still. Father Andrew was becoming increasingly agitated so he tapped on the door of the bookshop staffroom, but there was no answer. When he looked inside, he saw handbags and coats and other items belonging to the staff, but no sign whatsoever of anyone. It was a scene more reminiscent of the Mary Celeste than of a normally-busy city centre bookshop.

According to Father Andrews, the baffled priests went next door to a pub called the Augustus John where, to their horror, they found the premises to be equally deserted. The one-armed bandits were illuminated and the bar and lounge were lit up, yet no one was about.

Feeling more and more disconcerted and perplexed, the two priests decided to hurry back to the Diocesan Council building on Brownlow Hill.

"I don't like this one little bit," Father Andrew whispered to his colleague, halfway through the journey.

"I think it's 'the other fella', up to his tricks," replied Father Howard, flickering his eyes downwards in a knowing way.

Young Father Andrews knew exactly to whom he was referring - the Devil.

"Jesus, please get us out of this situation," murmured Father Howard, reverently.

At that precise moment, a vagrant, who was well known in the area, ambled round the corner from the direction of the Students' Union building. The next thing that the two priests heard was the screeching sound of a bus's pneumatic brakes. When they turned around, there was the usual heavy traffic on Brownlow Hill again. Then they heard the clock-tower striking five o'clock.

The priest who recited this strange incident to me showed me his old diary for December 1986 and there was the full account written down, exactly as he had told it to me. The other priest, who is now working in London, also confirmed the weird story.

"It was as if we had strolled into Limbo that day," Father Howard had reflected with a shudder.

© Tom Slemen 2012