Last year I read two ghost stories.
The first was Henry James's The Turn of the Screw and the second was Sarah Water's The Little Stranger. Both were great stories, but especially James's The Turn of the Screw. I read it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end for most of it.
Ever since, I have been completely enthusiastic about exploring ghost stories as a literary genre… and my next foray into the world of ghosts has been my current read, The Virago Book of Ghost Stories. It is a collection of 20th Century ghost stories written by some of the most fabulous and talented female authors of that time, including Edith Wharton, Angela Carter and Elizabeth Bowen.
At the very beginning of the preface to this collection of ghost stories is the above quote by May Sinclair and when I read it I fell in love with her words. Not just because I loved Sinclair's own contribution to this collection, but because it captures so accurately how I feel about ghost stories.
They are enthralling.
When I read ghost stories I feel as close to the character telling the story as I might feel to a flesh and blood person telling me of their own ghostly stories.
What Sinclair says about the two realities is so true. A good ghost story blends the supernatural with the everyday reality in such a way as to make the supernatural feel natural, albeit spine chillingly sinister (most of the time). It is the atmosphere that this blend of the real and the 'imaginary' creates that is enthralling.
These stories have me completely sucked in and I wish that the Virago Book of Ghost Stories would never end.
It has, however, got me thinking.
Do I believe in ghosts?
Now I know this is a book and it's not real – don't worry. But I have always had a suspicion that ghosts really do exist, after a ghostly experience I had as a teenager.
This is my own ghost story.
First, let me set the scene. In the family home in which I grew up, there was a hallway that lead from the main living room towards the end of the house. As you walked down the hall, there were 2 doors going off to either side. On the right, the first door led my younger sister's bedroom. The second led to my parent's bedroom. On the left, the first door led to the kitchen and the second to the bathroom. My bedroom was directly at the end of the hall.
This event happened in 2001, the year of my HSC exams (end of school exams for any non-Australians reading this). I was always a good studier, and as usual I was in my bedroom studying at my desk, which was right next to my bedroom door. It's my habit to keep my bedroom door closed, and this day was no exception. I remember being at home alone, although I can't remember anymore where everyone was. It was the afternoon, so it was very quiet around the neighbourhood and as such there was no background noise to distract me from my study.
I was completely engrossed in my study when all of a sudden I heard a sound. I wasn't even sure what the sound was, but there was a sound that made me look up from what I was doing and listen.
I listened very hard, and then I heard it again… a footstep in the hallway. I froze. I kept listening. Eventually I called out "Hello?" There was so response, but eventually I heard another footstep.
I went completely rigid. Every muscle in my body froze. I remember staring at the wall in front of me and not being able to move as I listened.
The footsteps started coming slowly up the hall towards me. I still couldn't move. I was so terrified. I held my breath. I gripped my pen. And I kept staring at the wall in front of me waiting for something to happen.
I think in my mind at the time I assumed that we had been broken into and that it was the offender that I was hearing moving down the hall towards me.
Eventually the footsteps stopped right outside my door and by this time I was completely panicking – internally that is. I was till frozen, unable to move or think or call for help.
Then nothing happened. I don't even know how long I sat there for. I never heard the footsteps retreat, or go into either of the rooms next to my own. They just stopped outside my door.
Eventually enough time passed for me to be able to move and think. I called out again, "Hello" and there was no response. I got up and slowly opened my bedroom door, and there was no one there.
I was so freaked out that I took a break from study (pretty unusual for me sadly) to have a cup of tea and I finished off my study in the bedroom with the door wide open until people came home.
Ok – you can see from that little story that I wasn't born to be a writer, but I hope that you can also see how an experience like that might make an impressionable teenager at least open to the possibility of ghosts, can’t you?!
My suspicion that ghosts might actually be real was almost confirmed when I went on an underground ghost tour in Edinburgh a few years later. We were in a room several floors under the ground and the tour guide was telling us ghost stories. I was standing right near the door into the corridor, which was so pitch black (as you can imagine) that you couldn't see into it. As the guide was talking I could feel a presence in the corridor. I was becoming more and more terrified and was nearly on the point of saying to the guide that I was too scared and I wanted to leave… when another employee of the tour company jumped into the room and screamed "BOO!" As you can imagine, I screamed the loudest out of everyone in the room, and obivously I was sensing the actual presense of this person standing right near me outside of the door. It confirmed that there was no ghostly presence at that time under the streets of Edinburgh.
But I have still always suspected…. that maybe they do exist.
Lately, I have been taking it a few steps further? I am not a religious person. I like to think that there probably is a God, but I definitely don't believe anything that man says about God (ie. follow a particular religion). I don't even know if I believe in life after death. But lately I have been wondering – how can I believe in ghosts if I don't know if I believe in life after death? Can you think that there is probably a God and still believe in ghosts? What is a ghost anyway and does it have anything at all do with the afterlife or not? Or anything to do with religion or not? Am I just a sentimental fool for even contemplating the existence of ghosts?
So many questions and so few answers. Now I have exposed my embarrassing secret and personal ghost story it's over to you.
Do you believe in ghosts – or have you had an experience that you can't explain? Do you like reading ghost stories and what is it about ghost stories that you enjoy? I want to know everything!