one from the archives: a ghost story

“Wall” (from the series “Ghosts”) by artist Tom Friedman,     taken at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston    , September 2018.

“Wall” (from the series “Ghosts”) by artist Tom Friedman, taken at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, September 2018.

Earlier this week, my friend Jenny Lawson shared a ghost story on her Twitter account, and I was transfixed. And then I remembered that I had a ghost story of my own, that I shared almost 6 years ago here on Chookooloonks, on July 31, 2013. Inspired by Jenny, I thought I’d re-share it here. Enjoy. (And feel free to share your own ghost stories in the comments. I LOVE a good ghost story.)

I mentioned earlier this year that I have a fascination with the paranormal:  for example, Marcus and I are at the end of an epic marathon of viewing of The X-Files every night, primarily (exclusively?) because I insisted.  We used to have a similar addiction to Ghost Hunters; again, for the same reason.  And while I'm sure our experience with the Marfa Lights is a distant memory for Marcus, I've been replaying that episode over and over in my head since that evening in the desert (what were those lights, anyway?)

Several weeks ago, I was cruising along the web, and came across this post by my friend Holly (who just had a baby, by the way - welcome to the world, little Hugo!) about an incredibly strange, possibly haunted experience that she recently had in Scotland.  My first reaction was an intense wave of jealousy  (really, why can't things like that ever happen to me?), followed by a second wave of empathetic terror (Sweet Mother of Gumby, please let nothing like that ever happen to me).  And then I remembered that I had a ghost story of my own to share -- nothing quite as traumatic as what happened to Holly (because, seriously), but nonetheless, a bit odd -- and I made a note to tell you the tale here on Chookooloonks.

And then I lost the note. 

And then I found it again!  So here it is. 

When I moved to London in January of 2001, my flat was a surprisingly airy 2-bedroom apartment in the Fulham-Chelsea area -- in fact, if you click on this link, you'll see exactly where it was (notice its proximity to the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital and the Brompton Cemetery -- this becomes important).   Even though it was in the basement, it had a conservatory and a private garden, which allowed a lot of light -- and I loved the place.

My first few weeks in London were a bit rocky (my flat was broken into while I was in the shower - ! - and the dude took my wallet, my work laptop, my phone, pretty much everything that I considered a lifeline during those early days), but eventually I settled in pretty nicely.  The flat was otherwise safe and cozy, in a great neighbourhood, and soon enough, I felt at home.

On a Friday evening about 3 months after I'd moved in, I had just returned from an international trip -- Africa or the MIddle East, I can't remember which -- and seeing as my social life hadn't exactly picked up yet, I was looking forward to a quiet night at home, and passing out early.  Once I had showered the airplane scent off of me, I was in bed by 9, and asleep soon thereafter.

I was dreaming -- I don't remember what about -- but in my dream, I started hearing a slow, rhythmic, creaking noise.  After a while, I realized that the creak wasn't a dream, and I woke up.  The creaking continued. 

Creeeeak .... creeeak ... creeeeak .... 

The sound was loud, and seemed to be coming from right beside my bed, next to my pillow.  There wasn't much space between my bed and the exterior wall,  and there was nothing there but my bedside table. 

I sat up, blinking in the darkness, trying to see the cause of the sound.  It was definitely in my room -- since the building was an old Georgian structure, the walls were solid, so it couldn't have been some animal in the walls.  Besides, the sound seemed almost mechanical.

The creaking continued.  And suddenly, I recognized what it was. 

It was the sound of an old wooden rocking chair.  My grandmother had a rocking chair that used to make a similar sound, so I was sure of it.  I kept blinking in the darkness, trying to see, and then I ... well, I didn't see, exactly, so much as I sensed  ... an old woman rocking in her chair next to my bed. 

I was wide awake, and I was sure of it

I sat there wondering what to do, and while I thought about it, the creaking continued.  I was so exhausted, I wanted to go to sleep, but ... well, honestly, this was weird, right? 

But then I realized that I wasn't all that scared.  So instead, I said out loud, "Okay, I know you're here, but I'm really, really tired and jetlagged, and have to get some sleep.  So I'm going to back to sleep, but relax and stay as long as you need." 

And the creaking stopped.  

So I lay back down, and went back to sleep. 

The following Monday, when I'd returned to the office, I told the story to my friend Chris, a salesman with whom I'd worked for several years.  Chris was a particularly no-nonsense, level-headed guy, so I assumed he'd laugh along with me, convince me that in my jetlagged stupor, I was just imagining things (even though I was pretty sure I wasn't).

"Crazy, right?" I said, nervously chuckling.  

"Definitely weird," he said, nodding, but not smiling.  "Wait, where do you live again?  Chelsea, right?" 

"Um ... yeah, why?" 

"Is there a hospital near you?" 

"Actually, yes -- I live right behind the Chelsea & Westminster.  Why ?"

"You know, back in the old days, when hospitals lost patients, they would bury the bodies on the grounds.  You never know who might have been interred in your neighbourhood..." 

Oh good Lord.

Anyway, I never did find a reasonable explanation for the creaking noise, and although I'm certain I was awake and not just imagining anything, the sound never came back.  I always just felt like whatever it was was satisfied that I wasn't a bad person, and went away.   

Weird, right?

Soundtrack: Ghostbusters, as performed by Pentatonix. Because why not.