Around the age of twelve I moved into a big house with my family. It was on the edge of our little village, with a large garden. The house had two storeys – more than twice as many rooms as either of our previous homes, and was more than a hundred years old.
Everything about the house was ancient. It was built solidly, but it creaked. The stairs creaked, the doors creaked, the windows creaked. Sitting in the house alone, one could always hear noises.
During the next few years I frequently found myself in the house alone. I could always hear the movement of people who weren’t there. There were always noises that were impossible to identify. None of these, I believe, were ghosts, but they led my imagination astray more than a few times.
My bedroom was on the second floor, next to a bricked-up chimney. There were numerous chimneys around the house – and all but one was bricked-up. I could hear birds and mice in the walls, and the wind moving tiny rocks. The house seemed alive.
From the first night I spent there until the last, I knew I was never entirely alone. Lying in my bed at night, I could hear the distinct and unmistakeable sound of a person breathing above me.
This may sound terrifying, and indeed I almost have goosebumps thinking about it… but at the time I was never really afraid. The unplaceable sounds of the creaking building scared me more than the breathing above me. It just never seemed threatening. I figured out early on that if whoever or whatever was making that noise wanted me to be scared, I would be scared. Instead, I took that sound to be no more alarming than the hum of the refrigerator.
I moved out of my parents’ home at the age of seventeen, and by eighteen I was living in another old building; this time in the middle of a city. I was living with six other students of similar age and interests, and as such we never really slept. We were young men and we drank all night and watched TV all day. I barely went into my bedroom during the two years I lived there.
As drunken students we were hardly responsible, and when the lightbulbs in the windowless hallway – which connected our seven bedrooms, two bathrooms, livingroom and front door, over two storeys – burned out, we never got around to replacing them.
But it wasn’t particularly frightening to walk through the dark corridor and up the stairs in the pitch black. There were always the noises of other people nearby – always someone to shout to if I was attacked in the dark.
The reality was, although we never once locked the front door, it was always far more likely that one of us would trip over a discarded item of clothing and break a leg than be attacked by a ghost or an intruder.
During our first Easter vacation five of the flatmates went home to their parents. We were all broke and they needed to be fed, and to beg for the cash to see out the rest of the year. Oliver and I decided to stay in the house on our own. It was to be an eventful week.
Everything started to go wrong when I went to the library. I was wearing my iPod and listening to the Doors when I returned. The door was unlocked as always and the lights were out. It was early evening and so even when I got into the south-facing livingroom it was dull. Oliver was out somewhere, and the house was empty.
I was listening to “Cars Hiss by my Window” as I crossed the livingroom and put my bag down on the floor. I didn’t even think to turn on the light as I entered. I was just light enough to see – no big deal.
Jim Morrison sang, “A cold girl’ll kill you in a darkened room” at exactly the moment the livingroom door swung shut (it wasn’t on hinges and there was no draught) and I could hear footsteps just behind me, running across the livingroom floor. They were light footsteps – the footsteps of what my imagination immediately told me was a cold girl.
I spun around and of course saw nothing. I stood there for what must have been ten minutes, staring at the wall, waiting for something awful to happen. My heart was racing. After a while I turned on the light, sat in my favourite armchair, and stared at the door.
When Oliver returned a few hours later, I told him what had happened. He laughed and dismissed my experience, but after sitting with me for an hour, playing video games and listening to music, he began to look visible alarmed.
We were alone together in the big, empty house. With two of us in the livingroom, everything was alright. But we both began thinking about going to our rooms or the bathroom. At some stage one of us would need to urinate, or get something from somewhere. We couldn’t stay in the livingroom forever.
At some point I went to the bathroom. I held the livingroom door open to bring a little light to the hallway, but I ran back when I was done, utterly terrified that something was about to kill me. I vowed not to leave the livingroom again until absolutely necessary.
Sitting in the livingroom, we first began talking about ghosts, but soon tried to change the conversation. We quickly gave up all macho bullshit and admitted our fears. We were terrified of what was in the house.
We watched movies and TV and played video games, but with every passing hour we began to note strange noises. The normally silent building was filled with the sounds of life.
Above us – in Oliver’s room – we could hear the unmistakeable sound of footsteps. Someone was walking around his room, moving furniture and books. We looked at each other in horror. We were laughing a little, too, in some weird sense of confusion. It couldn’t be real…
The footsteps tread across the room and we heard his door open and close, but that was it. They never came down the stairs. I knew my bedroom door was open and whoever was up there and probably gone into my room, but we heard no more. There were sounds of movement, but nothing specific. Nothing as definite as what we’d heard directly above us.
At about four in the morning we were getting ridiculous. Sleep seemed impossible and we knew that there were six days ahead of us. I began to fear for my sanity. I couldn’t take the heart-pounding, head-fucking pain of being haunted.
When Oliver suggested that we drive to Tesco and do some shopping, I agreed. Getting out of the house seemed like the only sensible solution. We certainly weren’t about to make any breakthroughs sitting in the livingroom.
The only problem was that of gathering our belongings. I needed my jacket and Oliver needed his car keys, and all that was upstairs.
Together, we walked out of the livingroom and into the pitch-black hallway. We walked slowly upstairs and I turned on my bedroom light, illuminating the hallway. There was nothing in my door, and nothing in Oliver’s room, and so we set about gathering our stuff.
When I turned to walk out I saw a hand extending out from the gap between my not-quite-closed cupboard doors. It wasn’t a person’s hand. The arm was too thin, and the hand too bulbous. It looked cartoony. It reminded me of a clown.
I ran quickly into Oliver’s room and chose not to tell him about the hand. I decided that I’d finally gone crazy and had begun hallucinating. There couldn’t possibly be a clown in my cupboard.
We exited the house and left the door unlocked in typical fashion (I don’t think either of us actually had a set of keys), then got into Oliver’s car. Our street was tiny. There was room for only one vehicle, yet it was not a one-way road. On either side there were tall tenement buildings – relics of the city’s harsh industrial past.
We drove slowly down the road, joking about the house. We used humour to cover our fear, but at the same time we both agreed that it felt good to get out. Maybe we’d find something at Tesco to talk about and return with no memory of whatever was scaring us.
However, as we drove slowly forward, we both noticed something lying in the middle of the street. A small, spherical object was sitting under a streetlight. The set-up was too perfect. It had to be a prank. Something was lying in the yellow light, looking like a severed head from a horror movie.
We drove closer and closer, laughing because we both thought it couldn’t possibly be a head. The key was to each make it seem like we thought it wasn’t, so that when we found out it was something innocent, the other guy would look stupid.
Unfortunately, when we got as close as we could to the object without crushing it under the wheels, we could see clearly that it was a head-shaped, head-sized object, covered in hair. It was a human head. Severed at the neck.
We reversed at speed up the road, back to the house. We reasoned that if there was a killer on the street, it might have gotten into the unlocked house in our brief absence. The head was a warning. Something was playing with us.
We decided to go to Tesco because in the house lay certain death.
Amazingly, the trip to Tesco did us a lot of good. We both forgot about the severed head and the haunted house, and we drove back the wrong way – the way that we quickly realised was blocked by a severed head.
We stopped the car in front of the head and stared at it. We didn’t know what to do. It was still there, and the killer was probably on the street or in our house, and we were doomed.
“Go kick it,” Oliver said.
“Fuck off,” I told him.
Somehow, I ended up kicking the head. I just kept telling myself that it couldn’t possibly be a severed human head. There had to be a logical explanation. So I got out of the car and walked over, looking at it all the way, trying to reach that point where it ceased to be what it appeared, and became something normal.
It didn’t. I kicked the head and it flew and landed in the gutter, the dead eyes staring back at me; a manic grin on the face.
It was manikin head. A very convincing manikin head, with convincing hair and facial features, but a manikin head nonetheless.
I laughed and shouted back to Oliver, “It’s a manikin head!” and he immediately replied, “Who cut off a manikin head and left it on the road?”
I wondered about that… Severed manikin heads are rarely a good omen.
In spite of the glaring headlights, I could see beyond the car to a red phone box. There was a man in the phone box, staring at me. I got in the car and we drove quickly up the street as we watched the man stand eerily in the rear-view mirror.
When daylight broke everything went back to normal. The fear vanished and we went outside to find the head. It was gone, of course. Someone had probably been playing a weird joke. No doubt it was that crazy bastard in the phone box.
In the middle of the afternoon, we both retired to our rooms to sleep. I kept my cupboard doors open, terrified of not knowing what was there. I was confident that the ghost or clown or maniac would be a foe I could dispose of, but I hated not knowing.
I went to sleep pretty easily, with the light of the afternoon streaming in my window. I pulled my thick duvet over my head to keep the light out.
A few hours later, in the dark of evening, I was awoken by the distinct, unmistakable sensation of a hand on my face. My eyes shot open but I could see nothing. Still the hand was there, invisible. I was staring at the inside of my duvet, feeling the pulse beneath the skin of the fingers as it pressed hard down on my face.
Then it was gone.
I continued staring at the inside of my duvet, scared by what I’d seen, but more than anything just relieved to have slept. I searched my mind for a rational explanation, or at least the hint of something to make this go away.
Then my duvet began to move.
Slowly, very slowly, the whole thing was pulled from the end of my bed – down over my face and chest and hips and legs. The whole duvet was slowly dragged away from me, and I couldn’t bring myself to grab it and pull back.
I was too afraid to close my eyes. I couldn’t not see what was there.
What was there was a white figure – the silhouette of a girl. She was probably an adult, but I couldn’t make out her features. She wasn’t transparent, but she wasn’t entirely whole, either.
I stared at her for probably half a minute, as my hand fumbled blindly towards my desk lamp. When I switched on the light, she disappeared in the time it took my eyes to adjust.
When I moved to Korea I spent my first year and a half in too much of a drunken stupor to see anything, much less a semi-transparent being. But after a while I sobered up and one night I found myself at my girlfriend’s house, all alone. She was at work and it was dark outside.
I was standing in the kitchen when I heard something in the bedroom. I assumed it was one of our two cats, but when I looked down I saw they were both by my feet. I wondered what the sound was, but I couldn’t describe it. It was something, but nothing I could place.
I went into the other room and was overcome by the feeling of unwelcome. Something in the room was horribly wrong, but I didn’t know what.
I went back to the kitchen to finish making dinner, but my head was in the wrong place. I had the fear. I tried to distract myself, but I couldn’t get comfortable.
I went back through to the bedroom and sat watching TV with my dinner, finally able to get the sound out of my head. The cats were begging silently for food, and the house was quiet.
All of sudden, there was a ridiculous crash. I jumped up and ran through to the kitchen, ready to fight. It was a sound too big even for a ghost, I decided. There had to be an intruder…
I found an ancient Chinese painting lying on the floor by the front door. I’d found it on the street months before and rescued it. I had no idea what the characters meant, but the painting was about five feet high and two feet long, encased in glass and wood. It weighed enough that two people were needed to carry it.
The painting had sat for those months at one end of the kitchen. I found it by the front door – almost ten feet away, upside-down by completely in tact. Something had picked it up and thrown it across the room without breaking the glass.