February 2, 2023

Parapraxis

Writer's Showcase

‘A Ghost Story’

7 min read

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[A Ghost Story]

The dinner party had come to the point where the food had been enjoyed and the wine and conversation still flowed, so there was no move to leave the table. The talk then led – from what origin nobody could remember – to the subject of the supernatural, in particular that of ghosts, and with what if any experiences the party may have had. I listened to the views of my friends and could see that a healthy scepticism was being agreed upon. After a while my silence was noticed by our host, who, turning to me asked if I had any views on the matter. So, I looked around the table, took a sip from my glass, and I began:

You might expect me to agree to the consensus that ghosts don’t exist, apart from maybe in people’s minds, and that may be so for the majority of incidents. However, I do have a story, and it is what happened to me when I was young; but first I’d better set the scene, and if you are expecting some gothic tale I’ll have to say you might be disappointed. The uncanny can be found in the everyday, and that is certainly what I found, or rather, what found me! And this was in a quiet suburb of Perth, Australia, where I was living with my family when I was seventeen.

At the time we were renting what was known as war service house, one of many built after the second world war for returning service men and their families; these served the same purpose as the prefabs that our own government built in the same period. Of basic wood framed construction, they have mostly gone now, due to their locations and being set on generous blocks of land, not to mention the asbestos exterior walls. My abiding memory was of ours being too hot in summer and too cold in winter, and this was when air-conditioning was uncommon in dwellings; and yes, it can get cold in Perth in their winter.

On the plus side I had my own bedroom, leading off the kitchen; with the light switch to the left of the door, my bed to the right and opposite under the window my desk and chair, where I’d study and read before bed. And I’d like you to remember this – that I couldn’t read in bed as there wasn’t a power point close enough, the one under my desk was used for a table lamp and my radio. So, after watching television with the family I’d go to my room and read and study until I went to bed, first turning off the light; and after a while the glow under the door would end when my parents also went to bed.

So, that’s the setting: me in my room; going to bed and waking up in the morning – or being woken up by my mother, to get up and get ready for college; and so, it was for a while if my memory serves me right; the problem being that I can’t remember exactly when it began, though I can when it ended. But it would always begin in exactly the same way; not every night – thank god, but I’d say two or three times a month – and maybe that was just as bad – the randomness of it. I would turn off the light, get into bed and soon be asleep. I’d sleep into the early hours, then, without any warning I’d be immediately awake, staring into the dark, with the absolute conviction that I was no longer alone in that room.

Although my memory is still vivid about this happening, I have difficulty in conveying the effect it had on me as teenager. I guess we’ve all at some time been frightened, or felt threatened in some way? If I crept up on one of you and suddenly let off a loud bang behind you I’d expect you’d be startled, such a reaction being no more than our evolutionary hard-wiring – a basic survival instinct leading to the well-known flight or fight response. And while my experience began suddenly, when I was once awake it was different, in that it began with a disquiet, but it then grew into a sense of fear and horror, and I instinctively knew that what was in that room with me was not a someone, but something uncanny.

I enjoy a good ghost story as much as anyone, but too many rely upon the usual props: you know – the ghostly apparition, levitating objects, ghostly groans, the ancient curse, or forbidden incantation to summon the spirits. I guess that there wouldn’t be much mileage for a writer if all they had was a teenage boy in bed believing that there was a supernatural presence in the same room with him. But try putting ourselves in his place. It is dark, he lying prone and too afraid to move, and yet he knows it is there, but where? And no, there wasn’t the usual ending, where I was suddenly smothered by an evil entity; instead, I endured it until I could stand it no longer, and jumping out of bed, rushed, and fumbled for the light switch to reveal…….

What? And what would you expect? A dreadful figure? No, in fact nothing – just an empty room; and with that no sense any longer of a presence. So, there you have it, or so you’d think; that this was all going on in my mind – perhaps a residue from a bad dream; and I would have put it down to that too, at least to begin with. But then it recurred, and always the same way. And here I could end my story – or not? For there was a different ending of a sort, and this was much more dreadful than my usual experience. Words are interesting; if say ‘dreadful’, we generally use the word for anything we consider unpleasant or not to our liking; but it has still its old meaning – utter fear of the uncanny. And this is what I got, the last time, when I woke up, and found a hand in mine.

Have you ever had a mild electric shock? Yes? Well imagine something that shudders you into the very core of your being – into your very soul – if such exists. I really can’t find the words to convey this, but the realisation was immediate, that my all too human flesh was in contact with something it could not endure. After that night, I never had another uncanny experience, and as it happened we moved soon after. And it was some years later; when I was working for the state government, where my job involved planning for underground power lines, and I happened to be driving up to one of the new northern suburbs being built, and on a whim I took a detour through Joondana, to look for our old street and house.

I hardly recognised it; all the old houses had been replaced by modern brick and tile homes; all apart from one or two, one of which was opposite where we used to live; and I wasn’t surprised to see Mr Pattison out at the front, watering his plants. I pulled over, got out, and introduced myself, and to my delight he remembered me, though he’d aged since I last saw him; and I remembered he used to loan me books – some of which didn’t suite the tastes of my strict parents. Looking across at the smart new house where our old one once stood, I asked him if he could remember much about the people who had lived there before my family. Sure, he said, before your lot we had another family living rental, and before them the original owners – the Mansell’s, but they sold up after their daughter died.

I’d asked the question out of idle curiosity, but then I realised it was more than that: I’d felt a memory stirring; so, I asked him if he knew what she’d died of. From what he then told me, she was, though very young – a chronic invalid who was bed-ridden for a long time, until she had died at home. In fact, he said, she died in the very room where you used to sleep. That made me feel at once cold, and I looked down at my hands; and I then remembered, that the hand that had once been in mine was that of a child.

Well, that is my story, and you can make of it what you choose. Meanwhile, I could do with a drop more of your excellent Merlot Allen.”

 

© D G Moody 2022.

 

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5 thoughts on “‘A Ghost Story’

  1. When recently published on ABCTales, ‘rosaliekempthorne’ said of it ‘The simplicity makes it scary, no monsters jumping out of closets or the like, just the sense of a presence and the feeling of a hand, but those details are scarier than an overt monster attack, and the horror was well-evoked.’

  2. Wow dougie, such a beautiful piece it is. OMG it was so engaging, so interesting, so thrilling I could not tell you. And I got a little scared in between while reading it and I am not lying. You made me remember my experiences from my childhood when I used to wake up in middle of night and everything I saw was shaking and moving, my god it used to be so scary. Anyways great work, excellent story building and everything.
    Cheers.

  3. Hi Mike.

    Thank you for the great feedback; as you might have guessed, this was essentially a true story that happened to me; but I have ‘factioned’ it at beginning and ending. I think it was when I woke up the feeling of having a hand in mine that really scared me!

    Best……Dougie

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