Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A BENEVOLENT SPIRIT by Adèle Geras

There will be only one illustration in this post. There will be no names, only initials, in the manner so beloved of old-fashioned ghost story tellers.

First, a word about my own attitude to phantoms, spirits and revenants of every type. While I may not believe in them, I do think they're a wonderful resource when you're writing fiction. One of my very first books was Letters of Fire, long out of print, which was a collection of supernatural tales.



One story (and it provides the image on the cover of this edition) concerns a boy who goes on a school trip to Lancaster Castle. The memories of everything that has happened in that place through the centuries are very strong. I felt them when I visited the place myself and it was this feeling that inspired the story called 'Billy's Hand.' The castle is thick with history, which is a kind of haunting. I do firmly believe in atmospheres attaching to buildings because the past is always with us. I've felt it and I'm sure many of my readers will know precisely what I mean.

But in the whole of my 67 years I've never seen anything spooky. This in spite of having friends (one in particular, when I was at University) who routinely claimed to see figures reflected in mirrors, felt chilly on just that landing and so on and so forth.

One night, though, about half a dozen years ago, I travelled to a picturesque part of the country and spent a night as a guest of...let's call her L. Her house is beautiful and also extremely old. In the hall, there's a window and on one of the panes, a name appears. It's been scratched on the glass, maybe by a diamond, in (L thinks) the 18th century. The whole name is there but let us call her - for it is a woman - Mrs W.

When L showed me to my room, she mentioned Mrs W and assured me that she was a most benevolent phantom. All she did, it seemed, was tuck sleepers up in the bed, in the very bedroom I was to sleep in. The room was blissfully comfortable. I was tired. I'd had a glass of wine and some food with L. I didn't feel in the least spooked. Nevertheless, when I turned the light out, I decided that it was better to be safe than sorry. So I said, aloud: "If you're there, please tuck me in very gently because I'm really tired and want to go straight to sleep."

This would be a much better story if I had been tormented all night long. As it was, I slept like a log and Mrs W either tucked me in so gently that I didn't feel it, or else decided to be peaceful on that particular night.

Before writing this post, I checked with L. I phoned her to see if she could shed any light on Mrs W and her activities. We spoke for about ten minutes and L produced more and more evidence to show that Mrs W was indeed a presence in that beautiful house. Mostly, it seems, she confines herself to bedrooms. She rearranges furniture. People feel as though she's there in the bedroom with them. Some do indeed get the tucking-up treatment. There's a part of the house which isn't a bedroom, but a passage on the way to the bathroom that some members of the extended family like to avoid when they visit. L was adamant that her mother, a very sensible and sceptical woman in every way, had felt the presence of Mrs. W as had L's children and L. herself. I hasten to add that L. is as sensible and practical and intelligent a person as you could wish to meet. She told me that one friend of hers, a man she described as a 'sensitive' had actually seen Mrs W going up the stairs to the bedroom...he was standing in the hall at the time and had read her name on the glass just a moment or two before...

I hadn't been haunted but Mrs W is still with me. I like to think of why she's in bedrooms tucking people in....that could be the beginning of a story.

9 comments:

Stroppy Author said...

How lovely, a ghost that tucks people in!
I'm still hoping there's a plausible scientific explanation of ghosts as I've had several spooky experiences but refuse to believe in the supernatural as supernatural - unexplained is fine!

adele said...

Yup! UNEXPLAINED is a good word.

mary said...

Ooh, enjoyed this, Adele. And want to know who Mrs L is...someone famous?

Katherine Roberts said...

Some buildings are definitely haunted! In fact, I sold my last house because it had an evil ghost/vibe... it was part of a converted workhouse, the part where families were brought in and forcibly separated, and I stuck it out for 18 months before I moved.

My cat hated it there (she used to flatten herself to the floor and shake and sweat for no reason), though strangely other parts of the workhouse seemed much more peaceful. I know you'll say it was my imagination, but I did seriously consider an exorcist. Selling seemed the simplest option, since you don't have to declare ghosts on the sale forms.

Book Maven said...

Interesting, Katherine. Can cats sweat?

adele said...

Fascinating, Kath! And yes, I'm sure buildings do retain something of what's gone on in them. Prisons, hospitals, schools. There was even a Federation Conference in an ex-hostel for the men who built canals in Birmingham now converted to a hotel and parts of that were most...uncomfortable. UNEXPLAINED, as Anne says.

Catherine Johnson said...

With my sensible head on, I am sure all ghosts and spooky goings on are produced by one's own mind.
With my spooky head on, I can run at speed out of an empty church, or feel myriad icy chills if forced to look out into the garden at night. As a child I could even make myself hear voices.
I LOVE ghost stories!

wen said...

Like Adele I know plenty of level-headed people (far more sensible and sceptical than me!) who have had spook-y experiences. Occasionally I wish for them -- but mostly I dont! Being gently tucked in would probably suit...

Anonymous said...

Friends who once lived in the Old Abbey House in Cambridge had two children who regularly saw the resident ghost as had other children before them. They were very young when this happened. It came and slept on their beds now and then "It's a cat" "No, it's a dog" "No, it's a cat" they would wrangle over this. Their parents just listened and never commented on the supernatural aspect which had been noted for at least 100 years.
Erika W.