When the video starts, there’s no queue outside the ghost house.
It’s early evening; only just opening time.
It’s still an hour and a half before they vanish.
It doesn’t take long for guests to start arriving. A couple of minutes in, two teenage girls walk-run through the snaking, back-and-forth barriers to the front of the line and, when they see they’re the first on the ride, their eyes widen and they start to talk excitedly. A staff member, poised just inside the darkness of the entrance, comes out. He’s dressed to match the Himalayan theme of the ride: dark trousers, a fleece, woollen gloves tucked into his belt, and a headtorch. He says something to the girls and they smile again – and then, a moment later, they disappear into the dark.
More people follow.
The queue builds.
After a while, the same two girls emerge from the exit on the other side of the structure, laughing. One of them mimics the scream she must have made on the ride. The camera is about eighty feet away – far enough back that it can take in the entrance on the left, exit on the right, and a middle section, which, with the placement of its windows and its broken door, has been deliberately constructed to echo a face.
Slowly, over the next ten minutes, the people who go in one side file back out the other. On average, the ride takes just under four minutes from beginning to end.
At 5:51pm, Tom Brenner and his nine-year old son Leo join the queue. Tom is tall and wiry, well over six foot, and has a black baseball cap on. His son comes up to the crook of his elbow and is wearing a bright yellow backpack and a pair of white Nikes, the red tick visible on them, even from a distance. Afterwards, park staff find selfies on Tom’s phone of him and Leo. They share the same eyes and nose.
It takes them twenty-six minutes to get to the front of the queue. Preceding them are a group of four guys in their twenties: they’ve spent almost the entire time laughing. Behind the Brenners is a mother and her twin daughters. As they’ve been queueing, Tom and Leo have been chatting almost constantly. It seems to come easily to them. A couple of times, Leo says something that makes Tom laugh and, on the second occasion, Tom ruffles Leo’s hair. Leo spends quite a lot of his time in the queue pointing at things off camera – other rides, other sights at the fun fair. When they get to the final part of the queue – where the line runs along the front of the ghost house – the two of them start gesturing to the middle section of the structure: the slanted windows that look so much like eyes; the punctures in the edifice which imitate the shape of flared nostrils; then the big, open doorway that looks like a mouth, broken at the sides to give it more of an oval shape.
The group of four guys disappear inside the entrance and, when they do, the same member of staff as earlier comes out and says something to Tom. Tom smiles and looks at his son, saying something to Leo in turn, but it’s impossible to see what.
Finally, the Brenners enter the ghost house.
The four men exit three minutes and fifty-six seconds later. One of them at the front does an exaggerated double-take as he tells a story and they all erupt into more laughter. The clock in the corner of the footage ticks over for another thirty seconds.
At this point, Tom and Leo should be exiting.
But the clock keeps running.
Another thirty-two seconds pass and then the mother and her twins exit. One of the twins is crying. The mother tries to comfort them as they move out of shot.
Another half-minute and the people who’d been standing behind the mother and the twins come out of the ride. Then the ones behind them, then the ones behind them. It’s like a factory of people, one after the next, heading in and then coming out.
Except two people haven’t come out.
Another ten minutes pass.
Shortly after, the ride is paused. It’s not clear from the outside that that’s the case but we find out afterwards that this is just after Tom’s mobile phone is handed into a staff member. It’s been found by another guest on the floor: it’s dark inside the ghost house but the guest was alerted to the phone because it was constantly ringing.
Tom’s wife, Sadie, is calling.
She’s on a spa weekend with her sister in Bath.
It’s not the mobile phone that stops the ride, though. It’s the backpack that Leo was wearing. It’s lying on the floor, in one of the ghost house corridors, and it’s not until a member of staff brings it back outside, into the light – and then shows it to the guy working the entrance, who recognises it as Leo’s – that everyone sees the front.
There’s two cameras inside the ride: one is about a minute in; the second one is right at the end, prior to the exit. Tom and Leo are recorded passing the first camera.
But they never reach the second.
It’s the space in between cameras where Tom’s phone and Leo’s backpack are found. In that same space there are no public entrances, and no ways out of the ride.
It’s impossible to explain what happened or where they’ve gone.