I have a confession to make. I believe in ghosts.
Please don’t ask me to explain why, or if I have any evidence of the afterlife – I don’t. I’m just a fairly jumpy person and I have a feeling – a feeling – that there’s more out there than meets the eye. I’m the kind of person who will scoff at a horror film in a crowded cinema, then start to feel uneasy on the walk home through the graveyard, my thin veneer of bravery long gone. If my life was a spooky film, I’d be the sniggering, jostling, puffed-up marketeer who tells everyone she’ll be right back and haplessly dies ten minutes in. I am a social unbeliever. I am the worst kind of ghost aficionado. When the Otherworldly Uprising happens, the spooks and ghouls will come after people like me first.
As a result of my foolish, fence-sitting beliefs, I have somehow developed a set of ‘Ghost Rules’:
Things which dispel ghosts:
- Loud pop music and lights
- Being in a house with people
- Being in a crowd (high streets, parties, gigs and cinemas are very safe)
- Open windows (you can jump out of them to avoid interaction and ghosts don’t want that)
- Sunlight (especially morning sunlight)
- Duvets and any kind of blanket
Things which attract ghosts:
- Being in bed, alone, in an empty house
- Being alone anywhere after dark, such as an abandoned school or council office
- Sleeping with a hand or foot outside of the duvet
- Going to the bathroom at 3am
The split-level house I currently live in has one toilet, downstairs, just beyond the kitchen. This means that nocturnal toilet visits aren’t the comfortable, carpet-padded, three-second journeys most people have to make. I have to cross the landing, head downstairs (in the dark), go through the lounge and the kitchen (yes, still in the dark), and then I’m in the bathroom. It’s freezing cold at night, as the bathroom is one of those early 20th century add-ons from a time when people eventually tired of relieving themselves in a shed.
M is not given to flights of fancy, but he once told me a story which further eroded my confidence in the dark. He had a girlfriend who lived in Huddersfield, in a standard two-up two-down. The bedrooms were all on the top floor, and the small bathroom was at top of the main stairs which led led to the lounge and the front door. Just as he was stepping out of the bathroom he got a ‘mental flash’ of an old woman pushing past him, and running in the direction of the stairs. Suitably frightened, he bolted for the bedroom. “I got the feeling she – it – almost wanted to push me down the stairs,” he said. “I didn’t see anything. I didn’t feel anything, I just got terrified. I suppose I never quite got over that.”
Predictably, this story stayed with me, so now late-night toilet visits are a much-hated occurrence. The average visit – from leaving my bed to returning – takes two minutes. This is a breakdown of those two minutes.
0-10 seconds: Leave room. Bedside light on, main light switched on, nothing to see here, all is well.
10-15 seconds: Cross first section of landing in the dark. Behind me – master bedroom with two housemates in it. Ahead of me – single bedroom with another sleeping housemate. Safe so far.
15 – 20 seconds: Down the stairs, in the dark. Utter terror. I think of the old woman that M sensed. Deep breath for maximum screaming in case of ghost attack.
20 – 27 seconds: Negotiate lounge. If feeling especially frightened, turn on lounge lights. This carries a penalty later when transitioning from light to dark.
28 – 31 – seconds: Kitchen crossing. Turn on lights. Eyes fixed on bathroom door – DO NOT turn around.
31 – 70 seconds: Toilet business. Lights are all on and I am in a locked room, so safety levels have increased, but I am at maximum distance from housemates, and my bed.
71 – 75 seconds: At this point, I do not allow myself to turn around. Exit bathroom, turn off bathroom lights. Walk through kitchen. ONLY turn off lights when I am on the lounge threshold.
75 – 80 seconds: Walk through lounge. If lights are on, head for light switch, turn them off. This is the spookiest part of the mission; turning from the light switch to begin the dark stair ascent. Not only will I be dazzled from the lounge lights and have reduced visibility, but from this position, I can see the lounge and the kitchen.
81 – 89 seconds: Stairs. This is the worst leg. Head turned 45 degrees to avoid looking at the now-dark lounge and kitchen entrance. Navigate by counting stairs. Avoid running – the ghosts will smell fear.
90 seconds: First safety base as I reach the door of housemate’s bedroom. From this point, I can dive in and plead for clemency if attacked by ghosts.
90 – 100 seconds: Landing journey. I am now midway between housemates’ bedrooms so I have a choice if I need to call for backup.
100 – 120 seconds: Enter bedroom, switch off main light, get into bed, shut eyes, grope for side light, put earplugs in, go back to sleep. Full reliance on super-tog duvet to protect and comfort.
I’d welcome any comments from people who exhibit similar behaviours, but I know that’s unlikely, as most people got over these fears when they were five.