THE WIND HOWLED outside the walls of the Nicaraguan café, rain lashing the roof. The electricity on the island of Ometepe had failed, leaving us huddled amongst the giant shadows cast against the walls by a flickering candle. Maxy leaned forward, his face skull-like in the upward light from the flame. "Who knows a ghost story?" he asked. I smiled knowingly and began.
As a atheist since childhood, some may call my believing in the other-wordly slightly hypocritical. I can't explain exactly what I believe; what I can do is to relate my personal experiences, and those of my family.
My late Grandad Bill was the first to tell me of an experience he had whilst working as a long-distance truck-driver in the 60s and 70s. Using a remote lay-by one night to answer the Call Of Nature, he'd returned to the cab of his truck and opened the door. A young woman was sat in the passenger seat. It was late at night, and my Grandad was a little shocked that someone was out in the middle of nowhere on a deserted road, never mind a young woman on her own. He asked the woman where she'd come from, and explained that he wasn't strictly supposed to take passengers. But where was she going, exactly? Slightly annoyed by a lack of response from the woman, who stared fixedly and silently at the dark road ahead, he ran around to her side, and flung open the door. The cab was empty...the road deserted. Quite shaken, he returned to his depot a few hours later; a couple of drivers had also seen this woman in roughly the same spot over a period of years. Nobody had a valid explanation.
Now as far as I know, no-one else in the family has had any supernatural experience. Except for events surrounding my sister, Emma. I remember one occasion where we'd been on a family outing; returning home early evening, we'd entered the house to find that every single photograph and painting on the walls of the entire house had been moved, so that they were all at crazy angles. Inexplainable. Myself and my Mum had a similar bizarre experience in that house: her hairbrush had gone missing one afternoon, and a brief search of the house left her bemused. Returning to the place she'd originally been brushing her hair, she found the brush exactly where she knew she'd left it. She was positive that it hadn't been there when she was searching for it. I'd answered the phone one night while getting ready for a night out, and had the lid from a tub of wax in my hand, having been in the bathroom when the phone rang. Going back to the bathroom, the tub was nowhere to be seen. Puzzled, I imagined I'd carried it through to my Mum's room when the phone rang. But it wasn't there. Nor in my room. On entering the bathroom, the tub was on a tiled shelf in front of the mirror. And I will swear on my life that it hadn't been there a moment ago.
At the age of fourteen, my younger brother had by far the most sinister and frightening experience in the house. I was twenty by this point, and had taken the smaller room due to being out most of the time. My old room had double sliding mirror doors on a built-in wardrobe. Scott and his best mate Paul had been sitting on the windowledge, overlooking a school field, and having a smoke like we used to when our parents were out. On climbing back into the room, the mirror doors began to shake violently. Paul reacted quickest, running for the door and down the stairs. He told me later that he ran all the way home, a quarter of a mile away. Scott sprinted out the bedroom and slammed the door shut, holding the handle and putting his foot against the frame to stop it being opened. When he heard the rattling sound cease, he left the house as fast as he could. My parents returned a few hours later to find him sat in the garden, being too scared to go back into the house alone.
These strange occurrences stopped when my sister moved out to live with her husband-to-be, Lee. But they continued at her new house. One night my nephew, four years old at the time, came downstairs late. My sister told him to get back up the stairs and get to bed, as he shouldn't be up at this time. His But Mums were cut short. Twenty minutes later he was down again, but similarly dismissed.
Emma lost her temper when he appeared a third time, and shouted "Lewis...I won't tell you again. Get back up those stairs and get in your bed."
Lewis was tearful. "I can't get in my bed, Mum..."
"What do you mean, you can't get in your bed?"
He rubbed his eyes. "There's a little girl in my bed, and she won't get out."
Emma's blood ran cold.
A close friend of hers recommended a spiritualist church in Preston, the Northern town where we grew up. She laughed it off at first, but decided to take a look when Lewis had a similar experience again one evening. She got to the meeting late. The church hall was half-filled, and Emma made her way to a seat near the back of the gathering. The woman at the front stopped speaking a few minutes later, mid-sentence, and peered into the dim recesses of the back of the hall. "There's a little girl here," she said "and she's lost. She's looking for somebody." The speaker scanned the room "She's looking," she suddenly pointed at my sister "for you." The hairs on the back of Emma's neck stood on end as the woman smiled beningnly and informed her that all was well, and the little girl had seen her.
They found a bigger house a few years afterwards, Emma having had her third baby. The property they'd bought had belonged to an elderly man who had died suddenly. There was therefore no chain, and they moved in quickly. Weird things started happening from the first week: Max, her second child, was a toddler...he came into the kitchen one day with blood on his hands. Emma panicked and, having ascertained that he hadn't cut himself, asked where the blood had come from. Max took her to the living room and showed her a small patch of fresh blood on the wall; on some evenings they could smell pipe tobacco, and could hear the sound of a walking stick on the wooden floors downstairs; one night while in bed, the mobile of dangling fish shapes above the baby's cot had begun to move. Emma said that they should shut the window, as a draught was no good for the tot. Lee went to close the window and, moving the curtains out of the way, realised that the windows were firmly shut. Puzzled, Lee says that he was getting into bed when the mobile stopped turning, the fish on wires still swinging with the momentum; gradually it started turning in the opposite direction. Again, no logical explanation.
Being a misguided believer in the old bloke in the sky with the long beard, Emma asked the local vicar in to bless the house (incidentally, he's quite cool for a Creationist...my Mum introduced me to him one Xmas with the words "This is my eldest son, Warren...he doesn't believe in God" How we laughed). And so Nick The Vic blessed the house, and nothing further happened, though they moved to Australia a short while afterwards. Nothing strange seems to have occurred out there so far, but I put this down to English ghosts having more sense than to move to Adelaide. I mean...would you?
My sister isn't one to make things up or sensationalise a story. Unlike me, who makes everything on this blog up. I've never been to Central America, or anywhere else. I'm currently locked up in a mental institution near Liverpool, typing with my nose until they take the strait-jacket off. Which they'll do. But only when I tell them where I buried the bodies. Since I've forgotten, I've had to become very good at this nose-typing.
Of course I'm joking. They don't make me wear a strait-jacket.
But let me finish with a story that could easily have put me in said loony-bin. In the early 1990s I dated a Blackburn girl named Cushla for a while, and she had a very odd friend named Catherine who dabbled in the dark arts. We were invited round to her house one night to try the Ouija board. This is something I'd never tried before, and will never repeat. It had all started slowly, Catherine trying to summon something to no avail. Just as we were about to give up the upturned glass, on which we had our little-fingertips resting, began to glide around the table, stopping at the letters arranged in a circle. Catherine asked questions, but was not receiving answers which made any sense. I was smiling to myself, positive that some of the seven people around the table were pushing the glass. I was not smiling a moment later when the glass moved directly towards me: the person opposite was certainly not pushing it, as her finger was bent, and I was pushing against it in horrified disbelief. Cushla held my hand tighter. One girl freaked out and started crying, saying she wanted to get off the board. Catherine sternly told everyone to keep their fingers on the glass until she said it was safe to break contact. On asking the presence if we could leave the conversation, the glass repeatedly slid to the card marked No in the centre of the board. During a further half-hour of garbled messages she asked again and again, and eventually the glass crept to Yes. With a sigh of relief we released the glass, and I winced as Cushla let go of my hand: her nails had stuck into the base of my palm, and I hadn't even noticed the discomfort until whatever it was had allowed us to end the session. I drove her home in silence afterwards, and checked the rearview mirror constantly on my nervy onward journey alone. We never spoke of the incident again. And it's not an experience I'd ever want to repeat.
You don't have to believe me; indeed, laugh heartily if you don't. I'm just relating personal experiences as they happened to myself and those around me. These experiences centred around Emma, almost as if she were a sensitive conduit. We still don't know quite what to make of them. And likely never will.