Excerpt from my upcoming short story collection.
A Ghost Story (and it 's a true story!)
© Faction House Publishing
Are you prepared to confront the unknown? The famous escapologist Harry Houdini entertained and shocked audiences all over the world with his death-defying tricks. There was not a lock or chain that he couldn’t escape from. Bound tightly inside a trunk and the trunk itself chained up, Harry was thrown into a river, and lo and behold, to the amazement of the watchers, he escaped! Harry’s other forte was his dedication to the debunking of clairvoyants and charlatans who preyed on the gullibility of others by purporting to pass on messages from their departed loved ones. Society was awash with false mediums holding seances, which Harry would expose as confidence tricks. As far as life after death and the appearance of ghosts were concerned, Harry was not a believer.
He offered a huge sum of money to anybody who could prove they’d had contact with him from beyond the grave. His reasoning in setting such a task was that if nothing on this earth could bind him, then he would even free himself from the clutches of the afterlife. If nobody claimed the prize, then, according to Harry, life after death was a myth, and ghostly apparitions were the stuff of hoaxes. Houdini died on the night of Halloween, October 31st, 1926, and since he shuffled off this mortal coil every Halloween Eve, seances have been held to contact him. The prize was never claimed!
So, do you believe in ghosts? I do. Why do I believe in ghosts? Because I’ve seen them. Up close and personal!
I can feel your scepticism through the unseen pixels of this electronic page, but I urge you, dear reader, to accept the truth of what I am about to tell you. Maybe you’ll reach the end of my little tale and not believe a word, but I assure you, by all that’s unholy, the events described happened and were verified by impartial witnesses. Time to introduce you to my ghostly visitations …
Let me set the scene. A semi-detached large house in a Manchester suburb. The time … mid-seventies. The occasion … my then girlfriend, Melanie and I (she was a singer in a band and her name has been changed to protect the innocent) had spent a night in the town visiting various clubs and bars. Manchester was lively in those far-off days. Then it was a taxi home (my parent’s house – I was cat-sitting while they were away on holiday), and then we did what most young folks did in those days and retired to bed (I’ll spare you the beautiful details on the grounds of confidentiality). My girl had a meeting in London the next day so we’d ordered a taxi for 4 am so she could get the early morning train. After a night of passion, my lady left me sleeping, got dressed, collected her overnight bag, and sat on the stairs to await her taxi.
I travelled to London a day later, and we met again at the Chelsea Potter on the Kings Road.
In a cosy corner, my lady gave me a strange look, ‘That was one weird night at your place.’
‘I thought it was a wonderful night,’ was my reply.
Still, her puzzled gaze searched my face.
‘What’s the matter, was the taxi late? Why didn’t you wake me,’ I asked.
‘Is your place haunted? I was scared out of my wits by what went on.’
The look in my eyes showed my concern, and the raised eyebrow was her cue to continue.
‘You know something!’
‘Tell me what happened,’ I replied, pausing to roll a cigarette.
Her mouth opened and closed as she struggled to formulate the words. Perhaps to recall the event was too frightening, and subconsciously, she wanted it to stay hidden.
Liberating the rollup from my mouth, she inhaled, let out a long, shuddering breath, and told me what I hoped not to hear.
Melanie is sitting on the third step of our stairs on that fateful night. Illuminated by the dim security light in the hall, she could see a window in front of her and the door to the right. It’s still dark outside as tardy dawn decides to have a lie-in before bringing light to our world. She checks her watch. 4.05, the cab is five minutes late. Through the window, the streetlamp casts the shadow of the tree by the front gate. Otherwise, some might say all is quiet, as quiet as the grave. She hears footsteps approaching the door. Taxi is here at last. She rises from the stairs, grabs her bag and opens the door. (In those days, taxi drivers didn’t stop outside and honk the horn to herald their arrival. They came to the door. Civilized, eh?) So, there she is, right hand holding the open door, left hand clutching the overnight case. She looks up and … and there’s nobody there. Maybe she’d imagined the footsteps? She peers down the drive, but nothing, no person, no taxi. Ah well, maybe a night of fun and passion had taken its toll. She’s overtired with a long day ahead. Be patient, she tells herself, closing the door to resume her waiting on the stairs.
There’s a tiled porch outside the front door, and a gust of wind causes leaves to swirl around. She recognizes the sound, but then another noise impinges upon her: shuffling feet. Out there. On the porch. In the dark. There’s somebody there! It must be the taxi driver, mustn’t it? Without picking up her bag, she flings the door open to see ... nothing, nobody, nada. She sits back down, but something is wrong; she can feel it in her bones. There’s a strange force telling her to move away from the stairs. She rises, moves to the middle of the hall and glances down to her bag at the foot of the stairs. She's wondering now whether to wake me up. Fear courses through her, and suddenly, the door clicks and opens an inch. She's assuming she hadn't shut it properly. She must think that because the alternative is too scary. She shuts the door and turns to go up the stairs to disturb the sleeping beauty (me). There’s a sudden rap on the door. The immortal three words that can be shortened to ‘FFS’ come from her lips, and she retraces her steps to open the door to reveal ... our friendly local taxi driver.
‘You all right, love? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
Back in real-time, here in the Chelsea Potter …
‘The taxi man asked if I’d seen a ghost! I didn’t see anything, but I sure as hell felt a presence, so what the fuck was that all about? Don’t give me any bullshit about me imagining things. I know what happened, and what happened was that somebody, or something, wanted to get through your front door. I felt threatened. I know that I was in the way. I was blocking something in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was scary. Tell me I’m not going mad. I’ve hardly slept since. It all keeps coming back to me. What was it all about? The truth now, or we’re finished.’
I called the waiter over and ordered more drinks (yes, we even had waiters in pubs on those far-off days). A pint for me and vodka for my lady.
‘Is this the first time you ever imagined such a presence at my place?’ I asked.
‘Imagined! I didn't imagine anything. I heard it. I felt it. The bloody door opened on its own. Somebody was on the porch. Something wanted to come in. What's it all about?’
I thought it was time to tell her the story, and it went like this ...
As a youngster in my parent’s house, I often used to sit at the top of the stairs, on the landing, looking down to the hall and the front door. Four doors on the landing lead to the three bedrooms and the bathroom. In the bathroom ceiling, a hatch gave access to the loft.
I liked sitting on the stairs when nobody else was in. Just me and my dog, Beauty. I’d been into the loft on a few occasions when my father sent me up carrying a television aerial and shouted instructions for me to walk left or right as he viewed the TV screen below and shouted up to ‘Leave it there and come down.’ His other main instruction was, ‘And mind where you put your feet. I don’t want you coming through the ceiling!’ I often felt there was something not quite right in that loft and was happy to beat a careful retreat once my aerial installation mission was accomplished.
It was soon after that I’d find myself sitting at the top of the stairs, but often with a feeling that I was in the way of something that I couldn’t describe. Eventually, I got into the habit of sitting at the bottom of the stairs, and sometimes, when I was alone, I’d get that frisson of unnaturalness and eventually move away.
So, I grew up, and on occasions, I’d hear my father come home from a meeting late at night. I’d hear the front door open close and his footsteps as he climbed the stairs.
One time, when I was almost sixteen, I’d been waiting for my father to get home so I could ask him an important question (I wanted a motorbike for my birthday). My bedroom opened onto the landing, and I’d heard him come in, door open, door close, his footsteps on the stairs, and, as per every teenager’s cunning plan, I ambushed him at the top of the stairs. Clever, eh? Except ... except he wasn’t there. Nobody was there. Perhaps I’d misjudged, and he’d gone into my parents’ room?
No sounds came from the bathroom, and the door was slightly open. ‘You in there, dad?’ No reply. I pushed the door open to reveal an empty room!
‘Is everything all right?’ my mother shouted from her bedroom. ‘I just wanted a quick word with Dad,’ I replied.
‘He's not home yet. Talk to him in the morning.’
‘But I just heard him come in. He came up the stairs. I thought he was in the bathroom.’
‘No, son. He’s not back. It would have been the ghost you heard. Now go back to bed.’
The ghost? What the heck was my mother talking about? Naturally, I went into her bedroom and demanded an explanation. Only to be informed that the sound of the front door opening and closing followed by footsteps coming up the stairs happened quite often and that my mum was amazed I hadn’t heard such happenings before. And that was my first introduction to our ghostly visitor.
As the years went by and I’d done a little research, it came to my attention that nobody had died in our house since it was built in the 1930s. So why was a ghost coming to call? From articles and stories, I gather that ghosts generally appear in places that had a meaning to the individual before they died. Again, in conversations with my mother, it seems that if anything were in our ghost’s path (like a beautiful young woman sitting on the stairs in my case), then the spooky visitor would go away and come back when the coast was clear.
The waiter appeared, ‘Same again, sir?’
‘Too bloody right,’ said my lady, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘You should have told me about this before letting me wait on the stairs. That was so unfair.
‘To think that I was in the path of a ghost. A bloody ghost, for Christ’s sake, and you never thought to warn me about the danger I was in.’
‘You weren’t in danger. It doesn’t harm anybody …’
‘Well, it damn near frightened me to death, and if that’s not harm, then tell me what is?’
Eventually, I was forgiven, but the point here is that my well-known singer in the band had no inkling, no past knowledge of our ghost before she first came across him (I’m assuming it was a ‘him’ because of the heavy footsteps).
This tale has a sequel that happened a few years after my parents divorced and went their separate ways. Remember I lived in a semi-detached house? My mother was living there on her own, and the ghostly visits continued until one night when my mother spoke out.
Mother was in the bath (the ghost always entered the bathroom where the hatch to the loft was), and she heard the front door open and then close. The sound of footsteps coming up the stairs got closer. If you were having a bath in our house, you’d be facing the bathroom door. The footsteps came down the landing and stopped outside the bathroom.
After all these years, my mother just wanted peace and quiet; she needed this ghost to go.
‘What do you want?’ she asked calmly from the bathroom. ‘I can’t help you, so please go away and leave me alone.’
Brave mum, eh?
Silence, except for the soft drip of a tap. The footsteps came forward, and the bathroom door opened ever so slightly.
’Go away,’ my mother demanded.
The door stayed slightly ajar, and footsteps retreated across the landing and went down the stairs; the front door opened, then closed. Mother let out a sigh and finished her ablutions. The ghost never returned.
But there is yet another sequel. Our next-door semi-detached neighbours knew about our ghost and had often speculated with my parents about the whys and wherefores of such things. One day, Edna (neighbour) was in her rear garden when my mother was pruning her roses, and they got to talking.
‘You heard your ghost recently? asked Edna.
‘Not for quite a while,’ said Mother, recounting to Edna how she’d told the ghost to leave.
Shaking her head, Edna said, ‘We thought that was the case because the bloody thing comes in our house now, and it’s the same routine as you had!’
This begs the following questions –
Why was it we only heard the ghost but never saw it?
We assumed our visitor wanted to get in the loft, but why so high?
Why did it move next door? Was there something about that plot of land that was so special?
Have you experienced anything like this?
Answers on an electronic postcard to email@example.com
I have another ghostly story about our house later!
Five minute read - I dare you!