Christina here and I’m continuing with the paranormal theme, even though Halloween is over. I love this time of year when the nights are getting longer and darker, and we (in the northern hemisphere) begin to light log fires and candles at night to dispel the gloom. It’s easy to imagine that the shadows around us are moving and there’s something, or someone, lurking in the corners, especially if you live in an old house. In other words – it’s the perfect time for ghostly tales!
Do you believe in ghosts? Spirits or lost souls who remain on earth because of unfinished business? I do, but I’ve never been fortunate (or unfortunate?) enough to encounter one myself. To tell the truth, I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat and would probably have had hysterics if I did come across anything paranormal, so perhaps hearing about it second-hand is the better option for me.
I’m sure we all have our favourite ghost stories – the wives of Henry VIII who haunt Hampton Court Palace, with at least one of them running screaming along a corridor as she learns her gruesome fate, or the ghost who was seemingly caught on security cameras there in 2003 (see here for more details); the Roman legionnaires who still march in the cellars of Treasurer’s House in Yorkshire, seen only from the knees up as the level of the floor was lower in their time (see here); and it is of course no wonder that there are many reported ghost sightings at the Tower of London. It would be strange otherwise, given all the horrors that place has witnessed!
The most fascinating stories, however, are those much closer to home. In my case, I know or have known people who claim to have experienced paranormal phenomena, and as they are all rational and honest, I trust them when they tell me what they’ve experienced.
My grandmother reported that as a child she lived next door to a house where a murder had been committed. She told me she was woken one night by the most harrowing screams, even though there was no one in the room. She assumed it had to be the murdered woman (and others had heard it too) and refused to sleep in that room ever again. Other relatives have had the dubious honour of being woken up several times over the years to find a small ghost girl, around ten years of age, in their bedroom looking at them sadly. Whenever this happens, someone in the family dies soon after. I sincerely hope I never come across her!
When I was younger, I was incredibly fortunate and used to stay regularly with friends at an old medieval manor in the English countryside. By day, it was a beautiful house built 600 years ago of mellow red bricks with tiny leaded windows and tall chimneys. The floors sloped and there were dark beams everywhere – everyone except me had to duck when going through the low doorways (at 5’3” I’m fairly short). The building had started life as a great hall in the 15th century and then been added to over the years. The main part was originally open all the way up to the rafters, and if you went up into the attics you could still see soot on the roof beams from when there was a hearth in the centre of the room. Later generations had built an inglenook fireplace so huge you could have roasted an ox in there and it was the perfect place to gather of an evening when a roaring fire was lit.
He – because it was most definitely a man – had been seen leaning against the mantlepiece of the fireplace, smiling. By all accounts he was tall, blond and handsome, with a trimmed beard and wearing chain mail. And he’d been see-through so there was no mistaking the fact that he wasn’t real! I’ll admit that when I heard how good-looking he was, I did sort of wish I’d encountered him – who wouldn’t? A proper knight in shining armour? Bring it on! (I kind of imagined him the way Ivanhoe was portrayed in the 1997 BBC adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s novel even though that’s completely the wrong era.)
However, as I’ve mentioned, I’m a chicken. The owners didn’t know this and the very first time I visited, they happily told me they’d put me in the “haunted” guest room in the oldest part of the house – as if they were doing me a favour! I know now that they were just joking, but I had no idea and spent the entire night hiding under my covers with my fingers in my ears. I don’t think I slept a wink.
After that, I heard many tales about this ghost. He didn’t normally manifest himself – that happened only twice (once all of him appeared and the other time just his face was visible on the wall), but he did make his presence known in lots of other ways. There were steps heard at night, a front door that mysteriously opened and closed by itself even though no one was there, and worst of all – he was allergic to modern machinery. Whatever new gadgets the owners bought, they invariably broke and had to be repaired several times. It was as if the ghost didn’t want anything new-fangled on the premises. Far from being annoyed, though, the owners found it amusing and it didn’t bother them.
I learned to sleep in that house without cowering under my duvet, but I refused to be alone there, especially on dark, autumn evenings like now. The ghost did fire my imagination though, and I wrote a timeslip, The Silent Touch of Shadows, with him in mind. I tried to imagine a reason why someone would hang around for over 600 years and in my story he became Sir Roger of Langford, a warrior knight. The heroine in the present saw him the way my friends described their ghost. Here’s a short extract to give you an idea:-
The old timbers of the house creaked from time to time and the occasional gust of wind whistled down the chimney, but nothing else moved. Melissa could hear humming and the distant clatter of cooking utensils from the kitchen, but the noise seemed far away. A sense of unreality stole over her, and she was lulled into sleep.
Without warning, the dog suddenly shot up and growled furiously in the direction of the wall opposite Melissa’s chair. His hackles were up and he performed a series of little angry jumps while keeping his eyes firmly glued to the wall.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ She rubbed at sleep-heavy eyes and stared after him as, claws scrabbling on the slippery floorboards, he bolted for the door into the hall. She turned back to see what could have made the little dog act in such a strange manner and froze.
There was a face on the wall and it was staring at her.
The hair on the back of her neck stood on end and a vice began to close around her throat. She couldn’t breathe, and although she wanted to scream, she found it impossible. She tried, but only a pitiful whimper emerged. Squeezing her eyes shut she regained the use of her lungs, although only for small, painful gasps of air.
‘Oh, my God,’ she whispered.
She raised her eyelids just a fraction. The face was still there, and he smiled at her. She drew in another rasping breath and opened her eyes fully. Sheer terror kept her rooted to her seat and her eyes riveted to the strange image.
It was a he, no doubt about it. He had an incredibly masculine face, although it was framed by long, blond hair. It slowly came into focus as if an invisible lens was adjusting the picture and Melissa found herself gazing into a pair of ice-blue eyes that seemed strangely familiar. She noticed a long scar down the left-hand cheek, which made him look slightly piratical
She wondered fleetingly if she’d gone to sleep and was dreaming now, but somehow she knew this wasn’t the case. The vivid eyes blinked and she exhaled slowly to calm herself.
‘No, this can’t be happening,’ she breathed, but his smile widened as if to prove her wrong.
Little by little, she felt the terror ebb out of her and curiosity took over. How was this possible? Another brief attempt at closing her eyes to make him go away didn’t result in any change. The man’s face remained and his lips moved as if he was talking to her, although she couldn’t hear anything.
‘Impossible,’ she muttered.
His smile suddenly made her go weak at the knees, despite sitting down, and as if in a trance she felt her body lean forward to catch his words. There was an urgency compelling her to listen, and she became frustrated when at first she couldn’t make out what he was saying. Slowly, however, his voice grew louder and began to echo inside her head until she could hear him clearly.
‘I love you, sweeting. Help me, please!’ His voice was a caress, flowing over her softly, causing her breathing to become laboured.
Feelings of love for the man exploded inside her, taking her by surprise. She couldn’t understand why she should feel anything for him at all, but the warm love flowed through her as if she had no control over her emotions whatsoever.
At the same time little tendrils of fear crept up her spine, but she realised that it wasn’t fear of him, but for him. She didn’t want to lose him. The urge to cry was overwhelming and she desperately wanted to tell him of her love, but the words stuck in her throat. In agony, she clenched her fists and his voice receded. The pain helped her regain control over her limbs momentarily, but then the voice rang out once more inside her head.
‘I love you, sweeting.’ The force within her returned with a vengeance, slamming into her gut. A yearning for him went through her, stronger than anything she’d ever experienced before. She drew in a ragged breath. She wanted this man, more than anything.
When his features began to fade, Melissa panicked and found she could move once more. ‘No, wait! Why are you saying that?’ she cried, erupting from her chair and stumbling towards the opposite wall. ‘Don’t go yet. Please, tell me who you are.’
She heard a chuckle, a rich vibrant sound that made her body sing with the remembrance of pleasure, and then came a faint reply. ‘Roger, sweeting. Help me …’
Do you believe in ghosts? Tell me your favourite real ghostly tales please – I think I can handle it from a distance!