I got stuck in a pitch black forest this evening.

I trundled Macaulay over the road and up into the top of the iron-age fort, quite forgetting that here in Britain we gained an hour last night. The darkness foreclosed.

It is an ancient place, the place where Herne The Hunter killed himself, condemned to haunt the forest; where the carriages of kings and queens had rattled after the hunt; where ancient men had settled and lived in round houses facing the sunrise.

I watched the last vestiges of sunlight disappear, and finally the dog was just a moving blacker patch in a forest of black.

Surrounded by darkness, though every step is familiar, I longed for human contact.

The iPhone has a torch and I used it to guide me home, checking the dog whenever he ventured into its small comforting circle of light.

At no point did I feel uneasy. I never sensed anyone else there, anything undreamt of in my philosophy. No prickles on the back of my neck.

But I have in the past.

Regulars will know I had an unorthodox part-time-mum job when my two were tots. I managed a mansion thought, by some, to be haunted.

It is now a theatre and arts centre, and I have regaled readers before with the many tales which hang about its corridors. It is a grand house, but not a happy place.

At the end of October in my first year, I got a call from a fellow manager.

“Oh, hi, Kate,” he began chummily. “I’ve had something come up and I’m down to cover tomorrow night at The Park. Could you cover for me?”

The next night was October 31st. I noticed, as the years passed, that there was a distinct stampede in the opposite direction for the evening shift of Hallowe’en.

I agreed.

There were other times at that great old house, originating sometime in the 1600s, when I saw things and heard things. Not that night.

But there was one part of the building I found it almost impossible to visit.

At the end of the 19th century there was a fire at the house, a terrible blaze which destroyed the nursery. Two small children were killed. It is now a studio theatre, painted completely black. Its tall, beautiful Georgian windows are covered in black shutters. One of the windows used to be broken: and eerily, no-one ever mended it. Instead the ivy climbed in tendrils through the gap and matted out any remaining daylight.

It was pitch black, even in daytime.

There is a balcony walkway, brightly lit by a great chandelier, which leads to what was once the childrens’ wing. On October 31st, I felt an almost insurmountable reticence in walking along it to lock the little theatre. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t say what.

Something was there.

And since then I have found that many staff find the same. No apparitions, no wails and groans: but prickles on the back of your neck.

Animals have those, too.

I came across the most wonderful story today on a website called UncannyUK.It collects people’s ghost stories. It does not seem to be concerned with validating them: rather, with retelling a good yarn.

The story in question concerns a young man who moved into the bottom flat of an old English cottage.

The last owner had been an old lady who loved her cats: and this was glaringly obvious. Because at tea time every day, all the neighbourhood cats would congregate outside his back door with an air of assured expectancy.

Nigel was an obliging soul, and he doled out milk every evening as required. The cats and he got on famously, and eventually he tried leaving the milk inside the house to tempt them further.

But they would not set paw over the threshold. Ever. They were terrified of something inside that house.

This puzzled Nigel. And as the days wore on, he began to put two and two together.

Because he began to see, around the house, out of the corner of his eye, a black cat. Whenever he looked squarely he could never find it: but its brief sideways appearances were getting more and more frequent.

Finally, one evening: what a relief! In the cat walked, large as life, brimming with vitality. It sauntered over to Nigel as he sat watching the television, with his legs crossed in front of him.

And then, it walked straight through his feet.

You may not be the sort of person who ever has prickles on the back of your neck; who senses that things are out of whack somewhere in the ether.

But there might be someone else nearby – not necessarily human – who is.

Image source here


47 thoughts on “Prickles

  1. I do think some people can sense another presence. I do KNOW that some animals definitely do. More than one dog of mine has being lying down, raised their head and watched something walk across the room as clearly as anything, but I could see nothing. And this occurred just as if it was an every day occurrence, very casually…

  2. Oh, you do tell a great story, Kate – it’s just dawn here, though, so I’m not too worried. πŸ™‚ Still, I know what you mean about the prickles, the sense that someone or something is there, the movement just off the line of vision…

    1. Very unsettling stuff. There were times, when I was locking up that mansion, when looking behind you was the most difficult to do. More than once I have had the corner-of-the-eye thing going on…

  3. Prickly, indeed, is what I am on the Hallow’s Eve. This reminds me of the Halloween of my childhood, around 8 years old, when I was a witch and a black cat followed me to all my stops and even followed me home!

  4. I regularly have a night time listen to George Noory on Coast to Coast AM radio…callers from all over the world contribute to stories of the paranormal, UFOs, alien abductions and all things strange! Although by day this is SO not me, I get hooked and can’t turn it off. And I get prickles all the time. Very spookily entertaining. And Kate, the black cat photo is a gem! Debra

    1. Sounds a brilliant programme: and nice to meet someone else who loves to listen to these things at night time! The photo comes from the most hilarious Russian site: well worth a look…

  5. Ooooer – chilling and engrossing, Kate (but somewhat tempered by that mirth-inducing photograph) You have such a talent for evoking the ghostly and gothic – NaNoWriMo material, perhaps?

  6. I read this in the email version earlier today, and promptly summonsed wife and sister-in-law to read it. The ‘through his feet’ punchline got to everyone!

    On two occasions I have had prickes and dismissed them until I observed that a canine companion was sharing them. Then, I was out of there!

      1. Horses tend to spook at anything, even a buck breaking cover near them! *ruefully rubs behind in memory of landing very hard on same after such event*

  7. When I was young I was pretty sensitive. I recall being repeatedly driven from a church by terrible head pains each time I stood before the lecturn. I later learned that many people had seen the ghost of a drowned sailor there – and he was not best pleased by their visit. Strangely the resident vicar had never witnessed anything untoward

    1. Good thing, really, Tooty, if he had to be in the church when no-one else did. How strange that you should get those headaches in a place with such a soul drifting around it. The vicar was extremely fortunate!

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