In the spirit of Halloween, a ghost story (following hard on the one I posted last week) that, when told to me, sent shivers down my spine and made me ponder the notion of different dimensions.
A sensible, well grounded couple
If you were to meet my friends, Jane, a senior nursing sister, and her husband Peter, an aeronautical engineer, you’d be likely to conclude that they’re not the sort of people who believe in ghosts. Rock solid and intelligent, they both have their feet firmly on the ground and nary a fanciful thought in their heads.
The couple, who live in Somerset in England, have explored the length and breadth of the British Isles, lodging in everything from caravans to castles. In all their travels and when visiting famously haunted buildings, like the Tower of London, they never once sensed, let alone glimpsed, a spectral form. As to stories such as that of the ghost of King Henry V1 pacing about the Tower of London on the anniversary of his birthday every year, or the White Lady waving to schoolchildren from the Tower, they’d have dismissed them as publicity campaigns. As I would have done too.
Until about four years ago.
An idyllic Cornish cottage
It was late summer and Pete and Jane travelled down to Cornwall for a week’s holiday. The cottage they’d booked was ancient. The ceilings were low, the floors uneven, the doors somewhat creaky, the furniture mostly antiques, the kitchen equipped with a coal-fired range and a scrubbed wooden table, the tiny bathroom almost an afterthought. Set in a neat, rose-filled garden that bordered a church more ancient than the house, it was a typically charming English village scene. Pete and Jane were delighted.
They unpacked their bags and set up a camping cot in the corner of their bedroom. This was for their little granddaughter who’d be arriving the following day with Pete and Jane’s son, Simon and his wife.
An ancient churchyard and a quaint pub
From their bedroom window, Pete and Jane could see the church graveyard with its rows of age-blackened headstones covered in moss and lichen.
A crumbling stone wall surrounded the graveyard, weeds poking through the gaps. Crows and ravens cawed from the tops of tall, spindly fir trees growing in the churchyard. Some people would have found it an eerie place. Not Peter and Jane.
The sun was low on the horizon when they went out to explore the village on foot. A quaint pub in the centre of the village boasted good food, so Pete and Jane went in for dinner. An hour or so later, they strolled back down the unlit, winding lane to the cottage.
“We should have left a light on,” said Pete, struggling to find the keyhole in the darkness.
A silent night until…
Once indoors, they switched on a couple of lamps, made a cup of tea, watched telly then turned in for the night. The bed, unlike the other furniture, was new and very comfortable and promised a good night’s sleep. Jane remarked how utterly peaceful it was – no traffic noise, no sounds other than their own voices. Of course, the baby’s arrival tomorrow would change all that!
The pair switched off their bedside lamps and were drifting off to sleep when a creaking sound disturbed them.
“Is someone in the house?” Jane whispered.
“Can’t be. I locked the front door,” said Pete. Another creak sounded. He sat up.
A dark shape
A dark shape was at the door. No doubt an optical illusion, or a shadow. Pete blinked. The shape advanced across the room. “What the…?” Pete whispered.
Jane sat up too. She started to speak but her voice died. A figure of a woman stood at the foot of the bed.
“Who are you?” said Pete.
The woman remained silent and still. In the darkness, it was impossible to make out her features. However, she seemed to be wearing a bonnet and perhaps an apron.
“Who are you?” Pete asked again.
“What do you want?” asked Jane.
The figure turned slightly, glanced toward the window and then to the corner where the cot stood.
“This is a joke,” said Pete, and switched on his bedside light.
No one was there.
Jane was speechless.
Pete rubbed his eyes. “It’s got to be an optical illusion. A shadow cast by a light somewhere.”
“No lights are on. There isn’t even a moon,” Jane observed. She was right. The night was pitch dark.
“Oh well, whatever it was, it’s not here anymore,” said Pete, switching off his light again.
At the foot of the bed stood the mysterious woman.
“Look, just tell us who you are,” said Pete. “And what you want.”
Jane switched on her light.
Where the shape had been, there was nothing. And yet, as Pete told me later, there was a sense of a presence. A sort of invisible occupation of the space at the end of the bed.
“It’s the cot, you see”.
Pete and Jane spent the rest of that night sitting bolt upright in bed and with the lights on. As soon as dawn broke, they got up, phoned their son to tell him the holiday was cancelled, then hastily packed their bags.
They were loading their car when the vicar appeared. He greeted them and asked how long they were staying.
“We’re not,” Jane said and described their spooky experience.
“Ah, yes, I understand. Most unnerving,” said the vicar. “It’s the cot, you see”. He pointed at the camp cot that Pete was putting in the boot. “That always upsets her.”
“Upsets who?” asked Pete.
A milkmaid called Ellen
“Ellen,” said the vicar. Then he told the story of a milkmaid who’d lived in the cottage in the mid-1800s and whose only baby died at birth. “They’re both buried in the churchyard.”
Arriving home later that day, Jane phoned the cottage owner to say they’d aborted their stay. She mentioned their creepy experience. The following week, the cottage was put up for sale.
On my last trip to the UK, before Covid grounded us all, I visited Pete and Jane in their non-spooky home. They told me of their encounter with the bereaved milkmaid. I remarked how terrifying it must have been.
“At the time, it was scary,” said Pete, “but I’ve come to realise that ghosts mean us no harm. You see, since our experience with Ellen, I’ve become very aware of ghosts.” He spoke in a matter of fact way, as if we were discussing the local news. “I know when there’s one around. It’s that same sense of an invisible filling of space I experienced when we switched on the light and no one was there.”
I suppose most of us have had that sensation of being watched even though no one is about but Pete insists it’s different. “Once you’ve seen a ghost, you know there is a spirit dimension.”
Like Pete and Jane, I once would have dismissed any suggestion that ghosts are real. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps it’s true that other dimensions or even parallel worlds exist alongside our own reality.