It’s strange that the terrors we invent for ourselves are often far more frightening than the ones that exist for real. Plenty of people with the courage to look down the barrel of a gun, nevertheless wake in the night terrified by the creak of a floorboard or a rattling door.

The first American president, George Washington, was one such. He was famously fearless on the battlefield, braving hails of bullets with perfect sang froid. And yet in private, he was consumed by an irrational fear: the idea of being buried alive. It was a fear so extreme that his last wish was that his body should be laid out and left untouched for three days after his death… just to make absolutely sure he had departed.

Was it literally the thought of waking up alive in a coffin underground that so terrified him? It has happened, of course, but incredibly rarely. Or was it less specific than that - was it the terror of losing control? Or a fear of being neither one thing nor another – not quite alive and not quite dead? Or maybe it was simply an irrational horror of the unknown.

Because it seems that even the brightest and the best of us fear what we don’t know far more than what we do. Our greatest fears are irrational, inexplicable; they serve no purpose. They are not an instinctive command to flee, as you might expect; instead, bizarrely, they encourage us to linger. For it is strangely difficult to tear yourself away from the worst kind of terror; it is always somehow delicious. Which, I suppose, might explain the enduring appeal of the ghost story.

We have been telling ghost stories since ancient times. The same preposterous spooks have been returning in different guises for thousands of years. How could they possibly still surprise us? And yet still we jump. Still we feel our flesh creep, our palms sweat, our hearts beat a little faster.

And in the autumn of 2020, here they come again. The Hauntings of Elgin Barrett presents a cast of vengeful spirits, desperate souls, evil forces, reincarnates and revenants, immortals and talking heads who infest the streets and homes, the schools and hospitals, the pubs and farms of modern Britain.

They’re called hauntings because they’re not just ghost stories. You’ll find unquiet sprits and dreadful spectres of the traditional kind in these tales but there are other strange, spooky, supernatural stories here too. The mystery of a murderous cult that goes about its business in plain sight. A primary school teacher who comes across an extremely unnerving small boy in her class.

They are written as dramatic monologues in the best ghost story tradition and recorded and performed by a team of top radio professionals. There are nine of them, varying in length from around thirty minutes to an hour and ten.

We’ll release one a week every Tuesday from 13 October until just before Christmas. You’ll be able to find them on this website or through all the normal podcast apps. Before each one appears, we’ll trail it on social media – Elgin Barrett is on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – so, do please, like him, share him and follow him too.

And there’ll also be a blog post here every week in which I’ll introduce the stories, sketch in a bit of background, provide a few pointers to where they came from and what inspired them.

Next time, I’ll start by introducing the first tale. It’s about an unscrupulous property developer who unleashes an evil force when he sets fire to a tree on a Sheffield building site. It’s called Annie’s Oak.