Thursday, 6 February 2014

Ghost at the feast

Having looked at more chilling New Zealand Ghost stories, here is my own merely puzzling experience of ‘the other side’.

Encounters with the spirit world are meant to be spooky – unsettling, even terrifying, but my long-dreamt-of experience was positively convivial.  Rather than creeping through a dark, abandoned house I was standing in a packed kitchen, at a party, surrounded by laughing and chatting people.

The house, however, was most definitely haunted.  Not long after moving into the area, our neighbour didn’t waste any time in telling us about her ‘full house’. Catherine was a sunny, eternally youthful woman in her late 50s, always smiling, and attempting to frighten anyone would be the furthest thing from her mind.  But she soon realised that I had a fascination for the supernatural and would always fill me in on her latest happenings at home.  She happened to live in a very old house, or at least one composed of parts of very old houses which seemed to retain the essences of their previous inhabitants.  Catherine appeared to be especially sensitive to their presence, and knew them all.
There was a blind man and his dog, Catherine had heard the sound of slow footsteps and his cane tapping along her hallway walls.  One part of her home was originally a schoolhouse, so the ‘Grey Lady’ who dwelt there was assumed to have been a teacher.
Catherine’s husband, Cliff, was a very pragmatic man and accepted her unusual perception of these things as a point of fact, admitting to only ever having seen shadows or indistinct shapes himself.  Catherine was clearly a few more rungs further up the ladder of second sight than the rest of us, and I think this would occasionally cause her distress because she told me about a defence she employed when it became ‘too much’.  She would imagine a soldier standing in each corner of her bedroom before she went to sleep at night, watching over her protectively, and it seemed to work  Mainly though, I think the presences were not much more troublesome than mice, although appearances did sometimes seem to herald misfortune in Catherine’s family.

She and Cliff had just completed some major alterations to their home, including a large brand new kitchen, and it was here we all stood at their ‘house re-warming’ party, grouped around a large freestanding bench.  I was talking to someone, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure move past the other side of the open kitchen doorway, heading down a short hallway to the front door which was not visible from where we were standing. The part of my mind which wasn’t engaged in the conversation had just realised that I was anticipating the sound of the door opening but had heard nothing; when Catherine said quietly beside me: “I’ve just seen the Grey Lady”.

There was no shiver down my spine, just the thrill at having finally seen a phenomenon for myself which I’d been desperate to experience all my life.  As far as I could tell, Catherine and I had been the only people present aware of the apparition.  And what did the Grey Lady look like?  Well, to me, exactly like the indistinct shape you see when someone walks past at the very periphery of your vision – except completely silent.  Literally a shade.  As I mentioned, I suspect there are degrees of perception  in these situations.  My own ‘extra senses’ are probably quite dull and I’ll only ever be able to glimpse dim figures if anything at all. But someone like Catherine, for whatever reason, has a clearer awareness of visitors from this other world, whatever they might be.
An illustration for someone else's more thrilling ghost story, which unfortunately turned out to be a hoax.

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