Footsteps Across Time

Why do some people see ghosts?

Perhaps I should ask that another way. Why do some accept ghosts as a part and parcel of a full life, and others insist they are not there at all?

It seems to come down to how we choose to explain the unexplained.

My grandfather was a shiftless Irish labourer who wrote poetry, my grandmother a long-suffering housewife who could make a cabbage go further than it had a right to. They had a family of seven children and the good town of Dover, on the Kent Coast, housed them all in a three-storey place with an outdoor lavvy.

They were all settled when the war began, and were subject to the usual business of evacuation and the less usual business of fending off shells from the long distance guns on the French coast.

The third from youngest of the children was a beauty, a clever woman who went on to become a successful professional. Her room, when she lived in the tall thin house, was at the top , on the left as you came up the narrow stairs.

None of my siblings or I ever knew her. Her life came to a sad end while we were still young.

We went to stay in the Dover house, once, just for a week. Interestingly it coincided with a kind of realisation of womanhood for me. I was 15 years old, and suddenly my brothers and sisters seemed separated from me by a chasm of knowing.

One night I could not sleep. Myself and my brother and sister were tucked snugly up at the top of the house, in the room to the right of the narrow staircase. They drifted sublimely off to sleep: but for some reason I could not settle. This is unlike me: I sleep like a log, unfailingly, even in times of crisis.

It must have been one o’clock in the morning when the footsteps came up the stairs.

My heart leapt. I was convinced my mother had woken and was coming to check on us all. I could hug her, and tell her I couldn’t sleep. Perhaps she would make some hot milk and lace it with sugar. Surely, after that, I would sleep like a baby.

But the footsteps did not come to me. Instead, they turned and, after the opening of a door, walked into the other room, there at the top of the house in the black early hours of a Dover morning.

And to my knowledge, they never came out.

I know, because now I really wanted the hug-and-hot-milk. I was lonely as only the small hours can make one lonely. I waited, and waited, for my Mother to come out and tiptoe into my room.

But she never did.

I drifted off, in the end. And I asked my mother, the next day, why she came up to the spare room in the middle of the night, and she looked at me strangely and said she had done no such thing.

And later that day, I took my sister to investigate what was in the spare room. It was a typical bare-linoleumed place, full of boxes of old and forgotten things and echoes. We opened a tall boy drawer to find exquisite 1960s stilettos amongst a lifetime of paraphernalia. My aunt must have been a woman of considerable taste.

I do not know why disembodied footsteps assailed me in my fifteenth year, making a one-way journey into the room of a woman who had died, sad, in another part of town, years before.

The memory of those footsteps has been part and parcel of my life these thirty years.

But I’m sure there’s some perfectly straightforward explanation.


63 thoughts on “Footsteps Across Time

    1. I spent three years locking up a haunted mansion at night, Roger. there were enough strange coincidences to fill a novel. But none of us know for sure, do they?

  1. I held my breath throughout this tale – now I know where your talent comes from – the clue is your Irish grandfather, who must have kissed the Blarney Stone and handed the gift on to you.

  2. Kate, how wonderful that your heart was opened up to receive the spiritual. It’s the one we finally choose to receive that’s important. Lovely story

  3. A fascinating tale well told. When I first read the unillustrated version, I had a mental picture of a box of Italian daggers!
    Anyway I can offer a perfectly straightforward explanation. It was a ghost. Own experiences and those of other very down-to-earth family members have convinced me that they exist. Exactly what they are, though, I have no idea.

      1. Indeed. Some make more sense than others. The one I don’t think has any credence is that which holds that every such event has simply been imagined.

  4. Very well told, had me wondering the whole time. I think I count myself among the “I don’t know crowd”…can’t say that they don’t exist, too many strange occurrences to rule them out.

  5. Oh Kate!

    How incredible! What a fantastic question to have tucked away in your soul. Grief and a haunting and fabulous shoes. The shiver is both creepy and giddy.

    1. The strange thing is that when it happens to you, it seems quite normal, Cameron. Each detail is totally authentic: it spooked the young me considerably, but until I write about it, it never occurred to me how the pieces would fit together. Almost as if it were orchestrated from elsewhere.

  6. Well done, Kate. I don’t know that I’ve felt a ghost, but, I don’t know that I have not. I can, oddly enough, sense when something is wrong with my daughters or sister. I’ll tell Tom or write it down in a journal and, sure enough, it holds true.

  7. Perceptions, a sixth sense, things that go bump in the night, hair standing on end on the back of your neck and goosebumps for no apparent reason . . . Personally, I refuse to pooh-pooh any of these. 🙂

  8. Well, I don’t believe in ghosts, but am convinced there is so much more in this world that is as yet unexplained 🙂

    Beautifully written. A good, very rational friend of mine offers up two ghost stories from her life, one involving her mother which is pretty inexplicable! !

    1. Thank you, Brett. You are so preceptive. I am just coming out of a very stressful time, and can feel my sense of humour and perspective returning like a reluctant alleycat who cannot quite believe the guard dog is gone….

  9. I’m going to be completely vacuous and ask: Are those the shoes you found? Did they fit you? Do you have them now?

    When I’m a ghost, I shall haunt the world with footsteps in my shoes. 🙂

    1. Nope, those are not the shoes. They are the right shape – were they called winkle-pickers, those block-ended insanely pointy shoes? – but they were a uniform pale green silk, impossibly lavish.

      Could you stand ghostly company when you are one? I’d love to clump alongside you in Princess Di flatties. Your sense of fun, I feel sure, would be immortal.

      1. Kate, spending time rattling chains with you would be most excellent. 🙂 At least, I hope we get to pick a not-rainy, not-hot climate to haunt.

  10. brothers and sisters seemed separated from me by a chasm of knowing.

    When we grow up and become cynics this knowing will sure do a job cultivating that chasm alright.

  11. Oh, I love this! What a wonderful ghost story laced with family history – the very best kind.

  12. I’m a rationalist at heart, and an atheist by conviction. Reason tells me there must be a perfectly good explanation for your experience, and non-belief convinces me there no ghosts. But yet I can’t explain the experiences many of us have, the things we see or don’t see, the synchronous happenings when somebody dies, the cold shiver down the spine when there’s no obvious draught. We all love a ghost story, don’t we, the vicarious thrill of hearing what happened to someone else, but we don’t really believe it, do we? So how to account for these inexplicable goings-on when all our sensitivities are screaming for answers?

    Oh, and thanks for such a sensitively told story.

    1. You’re welcome, Chris 🙂 What would we do without the unexplained? It’s where the best of our stories come from.I shall fall back on Shakespeare’s stuff. As usual he has Hamlet say it better than we ever could.There are more things in heaven and earth…

  13. Considering the vivid nightmares I had as I child, I would not for a moment discount the imaginings of an active young mind in the middle of the night. I would and do immediately discount the paranormal as I simply do not believe in such things. Which is good. I hate to think what a belief in the paranormal could do when combined with a mind given to nightmares.

    1. It is indeed much simpler not to imbue chance happenings with higher significance, PT….those nightmares sound terrible. How awful to experience them as a child.

  14. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
    (Wm Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I. Scene V)

    That’s all I’m saying. Except to swear, Kate, it couldn’t have been me – I’ve never been able to wear shoes that pointy and that high under the heel. 😉

    1. I know, and walk up a pair of narrow precarious English stairs! I adore that phrase of Hamlet’s.
      Your pen is on fire at the moment, Ruth. I hope there’s an anthology in the pipeline.

  15. Dear Kate, your ending reminds me of a scene in the seventh and final Harry Potter book. Harry has sacrificed his life for his friends. Lord Voldemort has cursed him into death.

    Harry now finds himself in KIng’s Cross station with Professor Dumbledore, who died the year before. They talk of many things and Harry comes to understand that he may choose to go back to Hogwarts and change the triumph of Voldemort to failure.

    As he walks toward life, Harry turns and says to Dumbledore, “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”

    And Dumbledore responds, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real.”


    1. Once again, Dee, you remind me of one of my great literary heroes, Robertson Davies. The idea that the life of the mind is just another strand of the tangible life everywhere else.

  16. That’s a fresh ghost story Kate with a nice fasionista component. Now that you’ve written it and shared it, maybe you’ve opened the door to invite a sequel. If so, don’t keep it to yourself. I for one will be eagerly waiting — albeit with the bedcloths over my head.

  17. The world wouldn’t be very interesting without unsolved mysteries, such as this. I don’t believe in ghosts or evil spirits etc, but had a very unpleasant experience one night in a holiday home with “something” that I cannot really explain – and my mother, who has completely different beliefs to me, experienced the same thing elsewhere in the house that night. Maybe the creepy cherub decor and dark wood panelling everywhere just got to us both! I don’t know…

  18. Oh I do love the shoes…and this story! I believe…and I have no explanation for why I do. Certainly ghost stories fly in the face of anything that even suits my own theological understandings of “the dead.” I came to a simple understanding with myself years ago that there are so many things unseen and mysterious, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. I have had some similar experiences in my life and once you do, you don’t forget and can’t be talked out of them!

  19. A ghost with good taste! I don’t believe in ghosts, but have grown up with too many tales to completely get it out of my mind when I am alone in dark places 🙂

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