Rational Explanation

I’m not a massive believer in the paranormal, but in all honesty I’ve never been able to convince myself that ghosts aren’t real. Personally, I think that it’s something that I’m not meant to know about, if it does exist, so I’ll keep my distance, but there are a few things that I’ve experienced or heard about that have no scientific explanation, should I say.

I tell some of these stories quite a lot when the topic comes up in conversation, but the ones that aren’t my own experience may need to be taken with a pinch of salt, and the ones that are may be anxiety-fuelled, so this is no confirmation of anything existing or otherwise.

My dad works as a nurse, and he’s had a few weird things go on whilst on the graveyard shift in a hospital with a very old building. There was one particular night that he was working on a geriatric ward. On this ward, in the bed nearest the window and furthest from the door, was a lady with a catheter that needed emptying every hour. My dad (let’s call him Josh) and his colleagues were taking it in turns to do it, because that area of the ward gave them the creeps, for lack of a better term. One of the other nurses went first, and said she felt something strange, like there were things running past her while she was crouching down to do the catheter bag.

When it was Josh’s turn, he hesitantly crept through the ward, past all the sleeping patients. He crouched down, and experienced the same thing as his colleague had described, but when he turned around there was nothing there. He wished away the seconds and began to make a speedy exit when he saw one of the patients sitting bolt upright, smiling.

Josh stopped and asked the lady sitting up if she was okay.

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just watching the children play”.

Josh went on to do a bit of asking around, and found that a few people had mentioned seeing children in old-fashioned clothes running around playing in that ward. He later found out that back in the 1930s, it was in fact a children’s ward.

The second thing I heard from Josh (which will go on to a more confusing story as well here) was about a phantom nurse with a veil. There’d be many unrelated patients who would ask when the nurse with the veil was coming back to tuck in their blankets. Word on the wards was that this was the spirit of a ward sister who took her own life in one of the side rooms in this part of the hospital. I did begin to think that this one was a bit of a tall tale, until something else happened that made me doubt myself.

A school friend of mine was an inpatient in the same hospital, and when I went to see her she told me about a stupid thing her mum had said. She told me that her mum had gone to the toilet, and when she came back she said to her that she’d seen a nurse wearing a veil, but when she went to speak to her she walked off and had disappeared. She thought her mum was just seeing things.

There were also the rumours that Josh heard and swore to be true, which I’m not convinced were anything more than rumours. The one that stuck with me the most, however, was a break room for the nurses on night shift to use for a nap if they wanted to. Apparently, any female nurses that slept in the room would wake up with their hair plaited. It went on so much and for so long that, apparently, management at the hospital had to lock the room up and it’s not been used in years.

Obviously, these are all stories I’ve heard, and while my dad maintains that he experienced them as described, I can’t swear any truth in it. I can, however, share one or two of my own weird experiences.

I’ll start with my university accommodation. It used to be a convent back in the day, and was a grade 2 listed building, so no works could be done to upgrade much of it, so it had that weird feel about it anyway. I was on the second floor, which was the top floor, of my house (which was a section of the building that was built in a square with a courtyard in the middle. On the ceiling in my room was a loft hatch, and one drunken night my friends and I decided to open it and see if there was anything up there. Ever since then, the house felt totally different. I’d wake up and see a person running out of the door, it was just generally freaky. Can I say I’m sure that this wasn’t because of my vivid imagination? Of course not.

The second place I lived at university was a funny old house with a 1960s style front. It had always felt unwelcoming as it had been left in a complete state and not professionally cleaned as promised. There was what looked like a large blood stain on the living room carpet, and all the furniture was in random rooms – two beds in one, three wardrobes in another, all sorts of crazy things. I was already feeling a bit weird about these things after the last palaver from halls, but a house that was only 50 years old was unlikely to have anything, right?

Well, my housemates hadso thought there was something there, and over time I did too. I had a project due to be delivered and it had been a nightmare making it from start to finish. I’m not the most organised person (which you’ll probably notice from reading my ‘daily’ poetry that definitely isn’t daily) so I laid everything out, the label I needed, the project, everything required in the correct order on my desk. I went to sleep and woke up the next morning to find it had gone. This happened to me a lot, which was why I had started to question things – my passport or documents, for example, would be one moment next to me and another moment gone and in some cupboard or drawer. I had convinced myself it was me forgetting I’d moved stuff, but after this I wasn’t so sure. I started panicking a fair bit, as that project had to be in at 9am on the dot for submission. I trashed my room looking for it, and eventually found it on top of my wardrobe, underneath a suitcase I kept there. I’ve never sleep-walked in my life, so unless that happened out of the blue, I have no real explanation for this one.

The next, and final, thing I found a lot harder to ignore. When I first met my wife, I was staying at her mum’s house a lot, sometimes on my own as we worked different shift patterns. When I was there alone, the cat would always come and sit with me and look around at something that wasn’t there. According to my mother-in-law, who rented the house out for about 20 years before moving back into it, almost every tenant that had passed through had made comments about strange goings on, and they were sure there was something there. When the family moved back in, they would find things would go missing and turn up in unexplainable places. Hangers would clang against each other in closed wardrobes, and there were sections of the house that always remained icy cold. She had eventually decided to have a confrontation, and announced that she didn’t mind living alongside whoever this was, but could they please welcome them as they now welcome her. Nothing happened after that, unless I was there alone, which I guess would make sense, as I wasn’t there when that was said, so I wasn’t included in the agreement.

There was one time that really was unexplainable. It was Hallowe’en as well, which I don’t give a lot of thought to as I am Christian, which is also part of the reason why I like to leave things like this alone, as they’re not for me to explore or understand.

So there’s the kitchen door opposite the bathroom door, and a mirror on the wall in between. I was using the mirror to put on some makeup before I went out, and suddenly a musky perfume smell wafted past. There was nobody in the house, and none of those automatic air fresheners to be spraying away. It seemed to come from the bathroom and go into the kitchen, and a few seconds later, the lid of a jar that was by the sink flew across the room and bounced on the tiled floor with a heavy clang. That was it, I went out with only one eye done.

Like I said, these are stories from word of mouth or my own experiences which may have perfectly rational explanations, I just don’t know what they are.

Theft Day

I can still replay it in my mind, the day everything changed. To this day I can recall the chill of the air combined with the fire in Danny’s eyes, and the rush of anxiety we prayed we could supress. As I go about the life I so desperately endeavoured, I wonder whether the overwhelming burning that comes with the memory is that of regret, guilt or pride. In many ways, we succeeded that day. Danny called it Theft Day.

It was summer, one of the hottest I’d ever lived through, when we came up with the idea over a meal limited in nutrition accompanied with watered down lager and leftover juice frozen into blocks. Neither of us usually spoke at home. We rarely had anything to say to each other – after over a decade of living with each other’s company whilst sharing mundane experiences, our list of topics of conversation wore thin. Even the things that perhaps were of interest we didn’t talk about, we pretended they didn’t exist. What went on within our four walls was witnessed by both of us, what went on outside we’d rather ignore. Danny ate his food with some haste, staring at a blank wall with a look of frustration and anger on his face. His mouth moved as if talking while he ate, his expression like none I’d seen before. His fist struck the table with such force that I jumped to my feet, my chair crashing down to the floor behind me.

“Why did you do that?” I gasped, my heart pounding.

“I’ve got it,” Danny muttered, his eyes remaining fixed on the wall. “I’ve finally got it. You trust me don’t you Chris?”

I nodded slowly, frozen to the spot. That was when we planned Danny’s Theft Day. He had solutions for every problem I threw back at him as I desperately sought a reason why it shouldn’t go ahead, but eventually, we shook on it. I went to bed that night sick with anticipation and a flood of thoughts racing through my mind, bombarding each of my senses with the deepest sense of unexplainable emotion. I knew it could only go one of two ways, and either way, this was my last night in the small room that Danny and I had called home for the last twelve years.

I awoke early to the familiar sound of Danny’s alarm clock, the high-pitched sound ricocheting against the walls and into my ears. Danny still snored, his arm hanging over the front of the sofa with his fingers not quite reaching the pen from which he had adroitly drafted plans and sketches of his fantasy that lay peacefully on the remains of the carpet. Slowly beginning to decipher my thoughts, differentiating between my haunting dreams and unexplainable conscious thoughts of what was to come, I dragged my limp body up from the mattress and over to Danny.

“Wake up, D,” I called, shaking his shoulder. “It’s time”.

Danny groaned and his eyes fluttered open. “Eat first”, he ordered. “We’ll need all the energy we can get. We’re not going to eat again for a long time.”

I looked at the small pile of food that was left in the corner of the room, comprising of some stale bread slices, warm ham and a quarter of a block of cheese, yellow from the heat in the room. Knowing that our finances would forbid us consuming anything more than what lay in that pile for at least another two days, I began to eat. Between the two of us we hungrily devoured the pile of food and the last of the lager that stood in a small bottle. As we ate, the sun began to extend its nimble extremities into the room through the cracks in the board that covered the part of the wall that once contained a glass window.

“It’s getting light outside. Let’s go, brother,” Danny mumbled dryly, his eyes bursting with exhilaration.

I got dressed quickly, pulling the cord in my trousers tightly around my emaciated body while Danny looked over his plans. Once he had memorised each intricate detail, he placed the papers in the ashtray on the table and lit them with a match, the slight flame suddenly becoming a small fire, dancing as it engulfed the pages greedily before gradually dying out, leaving nothing but soft, grey ashes in their place.

When we left our home, the streets were still quiet. The early sunrise was a welcome source of fabricated security, the daylight providing us with the confidence to tackle what may be lurking behind each corner. We ran from the building without looking back, our eyes and hearts fixated on the building that stood pompously over the city with an air of authority that cast a sombre shadow over all that dwelled beneath.

“What are you doing out here so early? One of the chancers, are you?” a gruff voice echoed through an alleyway containing the remnants of a civilised society. “Seen plenty of them – don’t think you’ll get anywhere, you might as well come join me here, it’s actually quite peaceful. You can see the stars sometimes, in the sky at night, and if you hide really well, some days you won’t get caught by anyone at all. I’ll tell you what that is… that’s freedom.”

I peered into the alleyway, just making out a scrawny figure with long grey hair and a white beard. I inched closer, into the shade of the building and looked into the alleyway. The man had a gentle face, dirty with the repercussions of what could have been decades of living in these conditions, but the thing that resonated with me about this man for countless months after meeting him were his eyes, so perfectly blue but also so dark, like nothing I’d ever encountered in another human being. His gaze pierced my skin as if it were burning, a lifetime of deprivation of contact with anyone other than the few rats that belonged to a colony that invaded the corners of every building in the town. His clothes were mouldy and torn, and he had no shoes at all.

“How long have you been living in there?” I dared to ask.

“As long as I can remember, son. I’ve got my wits about me and that’s all I need to get by. That and the help of a lovely little lady, she throws food in here for me, every other day without fail. I’d be dead without her. She creeps out here, from up there,” he gestured to the pretentious building. “She dresses up and everything.”

He paused for a second, his soft face becoming stony and cold. “Hey, you didn’t hear that, alright? I didn’t tell you anything. Now, you and your little friend be on your way, I can see him, lurking over there. Clear off and stay away, I can defend myself against you, against anyone, you’ll see!”

I turned around and saw Danny behind me, staring blankly at the man, hidden away in the shadows cowering from the light of day and the population. “Let’s go, brother,” he commanded.

I left the man and ran away from the alleyway, giving Danny a sideways glance. It was then that I realised how envious I was of that man. The man with the most freedom I’d ever seen on our side of the world living in an alleyway, cowering in the darkness feeding from the perilous kindness of a stranger.