Published in Issue 18 of Visionary Tongue, 2003.
Like most people I’d always associated ghosts with old buildings. I knew about the ‘grey lady’ at the local stately home, the headless monk at the abbey. I’d been to ancient caves and wells with a distinctly creepy atmosphere; I’d stayed in a haunted cottage in the wilds of Cornwall (and an interesting holiday that turned out to be…!) But when I moved into my beautiful, shiny, brand-new, purpose-built, city centre apartment a few years ago, the last thing I expected to find amongst the mod cons was my very own ghost….
The flat was on the third floor of a small, exclusive block in a small, exclusive development. It was the first home I’d ever owned after a succession of dubious rentals, and it was everything I’d ever wanted. It had a galley kitchen, a spacious lounge, a view over the treetops to the railway line; it was warm and clean and bright and smelled comfortingly of new wood and paint; and best of all, it was modern and sleek with not a smoking chimney or a draughty old window in sight.
At first I didn’t notice anything odd, because everything was new and strange to me. Drops in temperature could be explained by hiccups in the central heating, or the neighbours across the landing opening their door. A sense of being watched was probably homesickness for my old flat, or the craning pigeons on the roof next door. I bought a draught excluder, had the heating serviced, and fitted net curtains in the bedroom. And thought no more about it.
Gradually, though, things started to happen. I was more and more conscious that I wasn’t alone, that there was another presence in the place besides me. It was strongest in the bedroom, in the corner furthest away from the communal stairs; sometimes, at night, I could swear there was something coming up through the floor. But switching on the bedside light produced the same result every time – nothing. There was never anything to be seen, or felt, or even smelled. I told myself not to be an idiot and went back to sleep.
In the meantime I got myself a boyfriend. He was an engineer, and practical, and he didn’t believe in ghosts. The first time I mentioned it he laughed, nicely, and then he told me not to be an idiot. Ghosts didn’t live in brand new flats, he said. This whole plot was razed to the ground, and the ground dug up for foundations, and stomped and churned for months while the builders were at work. There was nowhere left for a ghost to hide, he said.
That was all very well, until the night I had a peculiar dream. I dreamed I was dancing in the bedroom with a faceless man who whirled me round and round until I could barely stand. When I woke, heart pounding and dripping with sweat, I found the sheets in a tangle round my legs and one white feather drifting down from the ceiling. I tried to tell myself it was the cheese I’d had for tea but somehow I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that it had really happened, that I really had been spinning round the room like some drug-soaked dervish. But when I mentioned it to my boyfriend he laughed again and said I was probably drunk (I don’t drink) or stoned (I don’t do pot) or that it was all just a dream after all. Full
It was comforting to have my fears allayed in such a practical way, and for a while I half believed him. Until the day I was leaning out of the bedroom window, sniffing the fresh air and looking at the trees, and felt somebody pinch my bum. In an otherwise empty flat. My boyfriend thought it was hilarious, but it left me shaken. After all, your bedroom is supposed to be a personal space – but mine had been invaded. Was there really somebody watching every time I went to bed? I started undressing in the bathroom, and left the hall light on all night.
Eventually even my boyfriend began to change his tune. I think it was his birthday that finally convinced him I was right. I’d invited him round for a romantic dinner-for-two so we were quite alone in the flat; I was in the kitchen preparing the meal and he was standing in the doorway watching me. And something or someone kicked him in the back. We searched all over, of course, but it was a tiny flat and there was nowhere to hide. The front door was locked, the windows closed and bolted – and the thirty-foot drop to the ground would have put off anyone less than Spiderman. And he hadn’t imagined it, because he wasn’t the imaginative type, and anyway, the same thing happened again in a few weeks’ time.
The Christmas holiday came and my neighbours invited us for coffee. They lived in the flat directly below mine and were professional accountants, both sensible, neither given to flights of fancy. We sat and chatted for a while, about current affairs and the latest films and what our plans were for Christmas, and then right out of the blue they chorused, ‘Have you felt the ghost yet?’ It seems I wasn’t the only one to notice.
In a funny sort of way, that helped. I wasn’t mad or imagining things, and somebody else had sensed the same things I had, and that was quite a relief. I began to wonder less about my own sanity, and more about the ghost. Who was it? Why was it in my flat? Why had it chosen such a blank modern canvas for its endeavours, when right across the street was a row of derelict Victorian houses, all cellars and attics and blank-eyed windows, just ripe for haunting? I called in at the library and began to check the facts.
The first clue was that row of houses across the road. Studying early street maps I found there’d been a corresponding row on my side of the street, demolished to make way for the new development. The row opposite was a vast nineteenth century terrace with four storeys and loads of period detail. Now ferns dripped from the guttering and moss coated the walls but in their heyday they’d provided fine homes for the city’s wealthy merchants, and it made sense that both sides of the road would be the same. I dug deeper and unearthed the plans of the houses, and they were even more interesting. Because when I checked the measurements I found that one old house had sat squarely where my block of flats was now. It was a double-fronted monstrosity with drawing room and dining room either side of a wide central staircase, and the corner of my bedroom, where I’d felt a presence moving upwards, lined up perfectly with the stairs.
I didn’t have time to check every last sheet of paper in the library, but just before I went home I discovered one more fascinating thing. It seemed some very odd rumours had been circulating in the neighbourhood for the better part of the century – rumours that said a young girl had been killed, in the very house that underlay my flat.
We never did discover the full truth of the matter. I never saw the ghost so I couldn’t identify it, as murderer or victim or anything else. Shortly afterwards I had a ‘new-age’ friend bless the flat and the visitations stopped, and shortly after that my boyfriend moved to a new city and I moved with him, and sold the flat. But the whole episode had two important consequences. One, my boyfriend now believes in ghosts as firmly as I do, and two; we’ve both come to the conclusion that appearances can be deceptive. Restless spirits can linger when all trace of the connection to their own lifetime has long since disappeared, and you don’t need old stone walls and creaking floorboards and miles of secret passageways in order to find a ghost.
© Fiona Glass
Fiona has been writing for about seven years since an accident forced her to give up ‘work’. She prefers writing short stories, mostly with a twist in the tail, but is currently staggering through her first novel, a sub-X-Files style ghost story. Fiona holds a History/Archaeology degree and often weaves a historical background into her work; her short stories tend to concentrate on the fantasy, sci-fi and horror genres although she also writes some adult gay male fiction.
Fiona has had a number of short stories published over the years in the small press and on the Internet. These include fiction in the Lost Ages Chronicles (ceased publication) and ShadowKeep Zine as well as a vampire story in the latter’s 2001 Halloween e-book. Her work has also appeared in amateur publications such as The Neutral Zine, No Holds Barred and It’s Raining Men. She has her own website featuring more examples of her stories at www.fiona-glass.com.
Fiona lives with her husband in Loughborough, a small university town in the English midlands, and in her ‘spare’ time enjoys gardening and watercolour painting, as well as reading anything she can get her hands on.