I’ve interviewed a lot of people about their ghostly experiences, not least because I’m looking for similarities in their accounts. Of course, atmosphere, climate, and environment have always been crucial in setting the tone, but the thing that strikes me is how ordinary many of these encounters are. And yet the more mundane the haunting, the more plausible it seems.
The account I wish to share with you was told to me by a woman called Charlotte. She had seen my advert asking people to contact me about their paranormal experiences and was keen to arrange a meeting. While many prefer to be interviewed at home Charlotte was happy to come to the office. She was a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company and could fit me in between clients. We arranged for the following morning, so she didn’t have time to get cold feet.
Charlotte arrived just after ten. She was a young-looking forty-four-year-old, donning a suit and a ready smile. People are often nervous at the start of an interview, perhaps worried I’ll think them a fantasist, but Charlotte showed no sign of being ill-at-ease.
I took her to the office I allegedly shared with another paranormal investigator. I say allegedly because Peter was shy of sharing, or his absence suggested as much. His name was on the door, and paperwork on his desk came and went, but our paths never crossed in the four years I was there. I didn’t have to suffer his foibles nor he mine.
I allowed six weeks to pass before encroaching on Peter’s half of the room. I needed more space, but that wasn’t the only reason. I was curious to see if he would slip in, and quietly move things back to my side, or leave a note telling me to desist. He did neither. I had recently acquired a fine leather chair, which had resulted in Peter’s drawers being relegated to the narrow gap behind the door. I offered it to Charlotte who was quick to make herself comfortable.
Some people don’t know where to start, while others purge themselves with an air of chaotic relief. Charlotte simply asked me how I would like to proceed. I told her to start from the beginning, and I would ask questions when necessary.
Charlotte’s experience took her back twenty years. She was twenty-three and living in Norwich. Her friend Shirley had moved to London, and Charlotte had surprised her with a visit. She didn’t think it would be a problem - the two had been friends since school, but when Shirley opened the door of her two-bed flat in Islington, she wasn’t pleased to see her.
Charlotte put it down to stress. Shirley had a new job and was working long hours. Charlotte had taken her friend out to dinner and a steady flow of drinks helped them both to relax.
‘It was like old times until we got back to the flat,’ stated Charlotte. ‘Shirley started to make up a bed on the sofa, but her flatmate had recently moved out, so I knew there was a bed going spare. Yet when I asked if I could sleep in the other room, Shirley wasn’t keen. She said her mother had slept in there the week before and was so uncomfortable she moved to the sofa. I said I could sleep through anything, especially after a bottle of wine, but Shirley offered me her bed instead. She said she didn’t mind sleeping on the sofa.’
Thinking that was ridiculous, Charlotte had taken herself off to the spare room. Admittedly it was devoid of any homely touches, but it had what was necessary for sleep. A solitary pink sock peeping from under the bed was the only memento of its former occupant.
The evening had caught up with Charlotte; she crawled into bed and blacked out.
‘I don’t know how long I’d been asleep for when I felt something brushing against my cheek. It took me a moment to register it was breath!’ The realisation had stunned Charlotte back to consciousness. ‘I sat up, but the breathing continued. I’ve never felt more terrified!
I asked if she had seen anything.
‘Not straight away. The room was dark, and it took me a moment to adjust. But then I saw her standing by the dresser. A young woman with long hair, wearing a nightdress. She looked terrible, like she hadn’t slept for days. I could see the wallpaper through her. It was floral. I’ll never forget it. And the room was freezing. My hands felt like ice,’ Charlotte shivered at the memory.
‘I told myself I was dreaming, but then she spoke. She wanted to know who I was, and what I was doing in her room. My terror turned to embarrassment. Shirley must be confused; her flatmate hadn’t properly moved out. I apologised, but the woman said I could stay, and that she would speak to Shirley. She then walked out. I was going to follow, but tiredness got the better of me.’
Charlotte had stirred again at a more civilised hour. She expected to find Shirley’s flatmate on the sofa, but the sitting room was empty.
‘Shirley finally emerged, and when I told her what had happened, she was shocked. She asked me to describe the woman - I did, and she couldn’t stop shaking. I was annoyed that she had let me use the room when her flatmate still assumed it to be hers. Shirley insisted her flatmate had moved out hence why the room was bare.
Charlotte said the former flatmate must still have a key, and that Shirley should get it back. Shirley said that was impossible, and when Charlotte pressed her, she was given a potted history. Shirley explained that her flatmate was already living there when she moved in. The woman was in a relationship, but Shirley disliked her flatmate’s boyfriend. It came as no surprise when she found out he was cheating. Her flatmate ended the relationship, but quickly regretted it and tried to get him back. He refused and started to date someone else. Shirley’s flatmate had bought a cocktail of painkillers and Shirley walked in on her lifeless form. The woman’s parents had cleared her room.
I wanted to know why Shirley hadn’t told Charlotte at the time. Charlotte said her friend couldn’t bring herself to talk about it, especially as she had found her. Shirley’s mother had also seen something in the room when she stayed and now, with Charlotte’s experience Shirley knew it was time to move out. Charlotte never went back to that flat and they never spoke of it again.