Since Halloween is just around the corner, I thought I’d complete my trilogy in four parts with a few stories that I’ve heard during my whirlwind affair with the spirit world. They’re personal stories, not fictional prose, so I’ve written them as they were told to me. Apologies if I’ve missed or changed anything – I was trying to remember as accurately as I could.
I’ll be updating this sporadically until Halloween so keep your eyes peeled.
Mysterious Nan in the Picture
“I don’t believe in ghosts. I think it’s all a load of bullshit, really,” a few of us are sitting around after work discussing my recent obsession with the supernatural. Stew, a big, burly, rugby-player with a strong Essex accent is speaking, still tapping away at his keyboard. He stops. “Although, my Mum has a picture that was taken at my cousin’s wedding and standing next to my Granddad, clear as day, clear as day, right… is my Nan… I don’t believe in ghosts, though.” The tapping of the keys resumes. We all frown at him for several moments. Then the tapping stops. “Well, she’d been dead three years by then. Honestly, it’s just weird.”
The Death Watch Beetle
My Mum, a few years ago, when I was a kiddie-wink, whilst standing at the bottom of the stairs in the ancient, tumble down terrace I was brought up in, heard footsteps on the landing; little, fast-paced kiddies’ footsteps. Where the landing met the top of the stairs, it was faced by the bathroom on the other side and when she looked up into the gloom at the top step, she saw a faint white shape pass into the bathroom from the landing. A flicker of something. Thinking it could only be me, she called my name, but I emerged from the room next to her. She was more than a little perturbed. As it turns out, there is a large type of beetle that lives in the floorboards of old houses, the unfortunately named Death-Watch Beetle – these beetles headbutt the floorboards as part of their evening ritual and each bump is answered with a bump from the nearest neighbour, creating a series of thumps in quick succession. Footsteps explained… but the white shape? Have you ever taken a sip of something, expecting something else? Momentarily, you taste the thing you were expecting before your nerves catch up. The white shape? My guess is that it was an expectation that I would appear and when I didn’t, there was a moment where the eyes fought to keep up with the anticipation. My Mum, even as a non-believer isn’t convinced it was beetles, though. And I could be mistaken, of course…
And the Clock Stopped Never to Go Again…
“I think there are plenty of things that we don’t understand. But, no, I don’t believe in ghosts… although there are a lot of unexplained things that have happened in the family,” I’m in the pub with one of my bosses, nursing a pint of Sam’s 3.8*. The wind’s getting up and it’s twilight. Sitting in this traditional style bar with its warm yellow glow, looking out at the people walking past with their coats pulled tight around them, I could just do with a spooky yarn to give a nice polish to a brisk and brooding autumnal evening.
“Like what?” I press.
“Oh, you know, just weird things…” he looks at my hopeful face and sighs. “Well, like the clock next door to my Mom’s. It’s an old grandfather clock that stopped when the old lady next door died. When the new neighbour moved in, she kept the clock, even though it didn’t work. And then, one New Year’s Day, she came round and perfectly described the old woman who had lived there previously.”
“The one who’d died? Had she found a photo’?”
“No, never seen her before in her life. But she said that she’d been sitting there, in the armchair, this white figure, clear as day and that when it turned midnight, the clock struck once. It strikes once every single New Year’s Eve at midnight. I’ve heard it!”
* Or Leeds Pale, as it’s more commonly known
The Long Bad Migraine
My first year at Uni’ saw me living in a ground floor room in a converted Travel Lodge. Just as the weather turned cold, the radiator in my room broke. As the snow started falling, my quarters became almost unbearable; it got to the point where I could see my breath. This was just my room; everyone else’s was fine. Various workmen came out to see to the stone cold radiator and bled it and did fancy things to it, but to no avail. Then it started banging in the night and if it the knob was turned to “off”, I had to turn it to “on” (and vice versa) in order to stop the racket. This happened once every fifteen minutes for a few weeks. And then one day I saw something out of the corner of my eye. If I hadn’t known myself better, I’d have sworn it was a little girl in a red dress. That night, I opened my eyes as the banging started and, vision clouded with gunk, saw, fleetingly, the faint, blurry* figure of a little girl in a red dress with long straggly black hair and, horror of horrors, a terribly burned face. I did the most sensible thing I could think of and immediately shut my eyes**. Now I’d been feeling odd for a few days anyway and had put it down to being incredibly tired on account of the noisy radiator. But I was petrified. I’m not sure how long I let the banging go on for before I finally, with my eyes still shut – I kid you not – groped along the length of the mattress to where the radiator lived at the end of the bed, reached down and turned it on (or off – which ever one it wasn’t to begin with) and crawled back to my safe warm space at the pillow. I lay awake all night, with my eyes closed, of course, every so often feeling my way to the end of the bed to stop the damn clanging radiator, which I was now convinced had something to do with the frightening apparition I’d just become acquainted with.
Of course, in the cold light of day, sitting in the common room with everyone else, I felt like a total wanker trying to relate my story. Until I got to the part about this child’s burns, at which point, someone piped up: “Well, there was a fire here a while back, Em’”. After that I saw her everywhere. Flashing out of sight when I looked in the mirror; dashing into the bathroom when I tried to look directly at her. I never saw her full on. I was convinced, for a while, that I was losing my mind.
To cut a long story short, three days later I started with the worst paraplegic migraine I’ve ever had. It was so bad, I couldn’t count to ten and when I attempted to go to the theatre, I vommed all over the floor of the toilets and then fell into a sleep so deep no-one could rouse me. Knee High Theatre carried on regardless of my slumber and the second half of The Wooden Frock, which I managed to watch with one eye closed*** , was fabulous! The colours that had made up the little girl – red, black and mottled white – were the colours of the flashing lights in my interrupted vision and when the migraine went, so did she. Relief all round. To top it off, a week later, a rather fat man with a terrifically hairy cleavage managed to figure out what was wrong with my radiator and all was well in the world. So that’s the scariest of my “supernatural” experiences and even that was a false alarm.
* And I mean really blurry, so in hindsight, my imagination had probably gone into overdrive by this stage!
** When the going gets tough, the tough hide under the table!
*** This was in the days of 20:20 vision
The Light at the Centre of the Tunnel
Longdendale in the High Peak is renowned for being the most haunted valley in Britain. There are plenty of stories of monsters, beasts, ghosts, aliens… a fighter jet crashed on the moors during the war and pieces of it can still be found to this day, if you know where to look. People have reported sightings of aeroplanes crashing around the area and subsequently rung the mountain rescue team who have diligently gone out and found no evidence of an accident. Similarly, people often say they’ve heard low flying light aircraft when there were none due to fly and some report explosions that never happened. The regularity of v.similar reports over the years leaves a question mark hanging. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that Longdendale itself is criss-crossed by powerful ley-lines… or so they say.
Amongst these bizarre reports is a phenomenon known as the Longdendale Lights, which are usually spotted floating above the Longdendale Trail. The trail is a disused train track that runs from the top end of Hadfield to Woodhead Tunnel and runs parallel with Woodhead Road. It is now used by walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders and makes up part of the Trans Pennine Trail. Being a local, I’ve used the trail myself a few times and can honestly say that Woodhead Tunnel is a bizarre place. In the good old days, you could wander right up to the mouth of the tunnel and, if you were brave enough, slip between the metal bars. These days, despite being forced to stay well back by additional gates, you can still feel the clammy, chill air that hangs in the tunnel; even in the middle of a heatwave, you can find yourself shivering in this spot and it takes a while to get the chill from your bones when you move away.
I’m given to understand that my stepfather’s grandfather worked as a navvy when the trail was a working railway line. It was a dangerous profession that involved working in pitch black tunnels, through which heavy freight trains would whoosh, leaving you with not much time to find a hidey-hole. Woodhead Tunnel is 3 miles long and originally made up the train line from Sheffield to Manchester. One day, Steve’s grandfather was walking through the tunnel from Woodhead – there was a problem on the tracks and he and his colleague had been drafted in. They were shining their torches ahead and must have been half way through the tunnel when they saw another of their colleagues walking towards them, down the centre, between the tracks. So they shouted:
“Hello Bill. What’s happened?” Or some such.
But Bill just kept on walking, staring straight ahead with an expression of fear on his face. When the two men had found and rectified the problem on the track, they carried on walking and came out the other end of the tunnel to collect their pay. At the office, they mentioned to the man in the payroll department that they’d seen Bill and he’d been acting v.strangely. The man stopped what he was doing and stared for a moment before he said: “Bill died last night.”
Feeling a Touch of Pressure
My sleeping pattern has never been amazing. Well, not as far as I remember. I used to suffer terribly from insomnia, I have recurring nightmares about being up high* and I worry about anything and everything all the time, which means that I just can’t turn my brain off. I also suffer from a mild sleep apnoea… ok, just a general apnoea; I forget to breathe when I’m awake sometimes… yep, really. And on top of that, I get up to run at 5am most days, which means that my pasty face generally has black circles beneath the eyes and my life is tinged with a vague surreal sensation. I like to think it makes me a better artist, when in actual fact it makes me grumpy, weepy, headachey and look like shit.
Last night, I crawled into bed under two thick quilts and lay drifting as I tried to turn my mind off. As well as my usual barrage of rather disturbing thoughts and images, I managed to have two identical disconcerting waking dreams that there was a figure in the room wearing a long black cape with a pointy hood, which freaked me out slightly. I managed to fall asleep after that, but I awoke, petrified out of my wits, around 3am. I was apparently mistaken in my assumption that sleep paralysis only happens to people who lie on their backs. Lying on my right in the foetal position, I couldn’t move. There was an enormous pressure on my left side. If felt exactly like someone was sitting on me and then the pressure moved slightly so it was on my back and shoulder too, as if someone was sliding round to get a better purchase. Naturally, as per week long migraine, I kept my eyes shut**. But my heart was pounding and I was convinced I wasn’t alone. My skin crawled and all I could think was: “I am in danger!” The only time I’ve ever felt anything remotely like it, was when I was awoken by an electrical storm in Devon with my hair standing on end and the air crackling.
After a while, although the pressure remained, my heart rate slowed and I decided that, actually, this was not dissimilar to a nocturnal, sleepy embrace from the boy, which is also like having the air slowly squeezed from your lungs… in a good way of course… and I managed to coax myself back to sleep.
It was bound to happen; I was sort of expecting it, so in that sense was an invocation. Amongst other pressing concerns like how I’m going to pay off my maxed credit cards and what I’m going to wear to the Rocky Horror Show, sleep paralysis has been playing on my mind somewhat. I do feel, however, that I pooh-poohed*** the subject in my previous blog and wanted to say that it was terrifying and really, truly did feel like being sat on… in a bad way, of course…
I still can’t shake the feeling of that terrific force on my side and when I got up this morning, my artist’s mannequin was facing the wall when it usually faces into the room. I guess I knocked it at some point, but it gave me a start. And heading to the bathroom I suddenly jumped backwards and cowered before I realised that the assailant with the red face was actually a red helium balloon that I’d nicked from El Kitten’s wedding.
Once again – the power of the mind!
* Massive massive fear of heights. I mean, ridiculously scared. People don’t believe how scared I am of heights. Alan once made me go up the Sagrada Familia: after nearly shoving all the tourists over the side of the first connecting bridge between two of the fabulous towers, I pressed myself to a wall with legs of jelly and numb hands and announced that I was going down immediately. My fear is so bad that I don’t even like being picked up!
** I’m actually a hero with the eyes of a coward
*** You know, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from being in the Army, it’s never ignore a pooh-pooh. I knew a Major, who got pooh-poohed, made the mistake of ignoring the pooh-pooh. He pooh-poohed it! Fatal error! ‘Cause it turned out all along that the soldier who pooh-poohed him had been pooh-poohing a lot of other officers who pooh-poohed their pooh-poohs. In the end, we had to disband the regiment. Morale totally destroyed… by pooh-pooh ~ General Melchett
Rosemary & Time
“Jane’s got all this stuff hanging in her house, you know,” El Kitten gazes into space for a moment. “It’s like a herb. For keeping the ghosts out.”
“It’s rosemary,” says Jane. “It wards off spirits. When I exorcised my house, I was told to hang it in every room.”
“You exorcised your house? How did you do that? What happened? Did you have to get someone in?”
“My mate’s into all that sort of stuff so I just asked him and he told me what I needed to do.” Jane seems blissfully blasé about the whole thing.
“Which meant asking the ghost to leave?” I say, incredulous. I feel quite pleased with myself for knowing that much. I got the titbit from Samantha on Sex and the City, but I fail to mention that little detail.
“Well, pretty much. You have to tell the ghost, firmly, that it’s time for it to move on!” says Jane.
“What made you think you had a ghost in the first place?”
“I knew I had a ghost. There was no way it could have been anything else. Things just kept happening like I’d put my keys in the door and they’d fly out again. Or all the lights in a room would suddenly come on all at once. Or I’d leave a room and go in seconds later to find all the cupboard doors were open. It went on for ages. And then the final straw was one night, after Archie had gone to bed – Archie used to have all these toys like Buzz Lightyear things with cords at the back that you pulled to make them talk – and this one night they all just set off.”
“Did Archie wake up?”
“No, you know what kids are like. Once they’re out, they’re out. But I just thought enough was enough,” she shakes her head. “There was never anything malicious about it. I didn’t feel like it meant us any harm. It was quite playful, really. I just thought that we’d lived with it for too long. Then I performed this exorcism when Archie was at school and it all stopped.”
As you probably know, I’m a real sceptic when it comes to the supernatural. Still, I love a good spooky story and I’ve been typing this with all the hairs on my arms standing on end in delicious quivering fear. Think I might have to reach the Edgar Allen Poe out!
Thanks to everyone who sent me their spooky tales. Keep them coming.
APOLOGY: I have to apologise profusely for my use of a Daily Hate article in my link on the haunted valley. It just happened to be quite apt, but I swear, I’ve always been a good little Guardian reader.