As my book, Oranges and Lemons, is a ghost story, and today is Halloween, I thought I’d blog about ‘scariest ever’ moments. Typically, the scariest experiences are associated with normal life; issues such as relationship worries, financial concerns and health troubles, which most of us probably deal with at one time or another. But what about the kind of ‘scary’ associated with story books and fiction? For me, watching a horror film, alone in the house, is not only madness but something I absolutely refuse to do! What would be the scariest thing for you? Would you dare to spend a night in a reputedly haunted room? Would you engage with a ghost like Jess does in Oranges and Lemons? Would you walk through a graveyard in the dark?
Honestly, I haven’t had all that many scary moments in my life. Not spooky-scary. I’ve had some of the usual sort of interview scary, childbirth scary, surgical operation scary situations and plenty of life challenges of other sorts, too, but, of hair standing-on-end moments, I’ve barely had any.
There was one though. It was around 1986 and I had some annual leave from my nurse training in West Yorkshire. All my friends were away and I decided to return home to my parents’ house even though I knew they, too, were away on holiday in France.
All was fine until the first night. I woke to the sound of voices outside. My bedroom window was open as it was unseasonably warm. The curtains hung, slightly apart and dead still. There wasn’t a breath of wind and the night was black. I listened for a moment, unaware of the time. I knew I’d been deeply asleep as it took me a while to focus on the sounds.
“She’s on her own,” I heard a man say, and my heart began to pound. The words were as clear as if he was in the room with me. There were no other sounds outside. No owls hooting; no dogs barking; no cars going by. Just the voices, clear, unhushed.
“Let’s go round the back,” said another.
All my senses sharpened as I realised they were talking about me. Who were they? Did they know me? Did they really know I was the only person at home? How could they? With shaking hands, I lifted the bed covers, so, so quietly. I was on my own. In that big, empty house. Defenceless. My legs were wobbly as I slid out of bed. There was just enough space between the bed frame and the windowsill for me to roll into and I shifted from my side onto my knees, moving slowly so that I wouldn’t make any sudden noises or even bump the wall. Yet they already seemed to know I was here. And vulnerable.
“She’s definitely in there,” came a voice again.
I raised my head, just above the level of the windowsill and hid behind the left-hand curtain, then moved a fraction to the right so that I could see down to the street below. I was shocked. Two men were standing in the shadow of the house. And both their faces, upturned, were ghostly white with dark spaces for eyes.
“Heeello,” they said, together, in a creepy, drawn-out tone that was so deliberately friendly as to be anything but.
They’d seen me. My mind scrambled to work out who they were but I didn’t recognise the voices and I could only see that they were pale skinned, vaguely brown-haired and neither old nor young. Yet, they were grinning. They seemed to think this was fun. I dropped back to the floor with my heart hammering hard. My breath came in such a ragged panting that I might as well have been a hunted deer crashing through a forest, fleeing its pursuer.
I heard the scrape of their shoes as they began walking from the path, onto the drive and around the side of the house. Were these men intent on burglary or did they want to hurt me? I’d never been so frightened in my life. I was too scared to leave the narrow space I lay in. I couldn’t creep to the phone downstairs and imagined, even if I did, they’d be inside and they’d intercept my call and punish me for seeking help.
I lay there, listening, for a long, long time, waiting for the crash of them coming inside and their feet thundering upstairs. My pounding heart was so loud in my head, I feared I wouldn’t hear their progress towards me and they’d be upon me before I could do anything.
Eventually, I must have fallen asleep. I woke in the morning, stiff, frozen and tired. The temperature had dropped and the light was just starting to creep into the room. I climbed back into bed and remembered the men who’d been watching me and who’d terrified me.
Was the whole episode real or had I dreamed it? To this day, I’m not sure. What is certain is that something terrified me that night and the fear was so real, I lay for hours in the narrow space at the side of the bed, hoping to be hidden, though how ridiculous that seemed.
And the next day I was exhausted!