I’m a big fan of ghost stories. Always have been, always will be. I was brought up on them by a father who compiled anthologies of Victorian ghost stories and it’s a fascination that has never dwindled. In fact, I’m such a fan that during a period of my life when I was writing screenplays, the majority of them were ghost stories.
Do I have my own, real life, ghost story to tell? Not really. I’ve had some mysterious, eerie and possibly supernatural experiences during the course of my lifetime but I have never actually, straight-up, what-else-could-it-have-been, seen a ghost, spook or apparition. Whether I would want to or not is a question that I have wrestled with forever. Maybe, sometimes, I think it would be cool. Other times, yeah no. The majority of times I’ve found myself leaning toward the resoundingly negative are the moments I’ve successfully convinced myself that I’m about to see a ghost.
The ingredients for such a feeling are very simple. Prepare one lifelong fascination with ghost stories, add to this the comprehensive knowledge and wealth of reference material that such a fascination brings, sprinkle with a generous portion of imagination (the blessing and the curse of the creative mind), and finally serve in an unfamiliar house on the first night of a house sit. Voila!
Houses are different, of course. Some feel like home from the moment you walk in. Others take a few nights to adjust to. And then there are those rare few that are just begging to be haunted. You know the ones; old houses, big houses, lots of creaks and moans from floor to ceiling, far removed from street lights and the noises of nocturnal humanity. These are the houses that practically echo with doom as the door closes on the departing owners and all is suddenly silence. Then there’s that first night, covers pulled up to your nose while you try to figure out what each creak, thump or bizarre animal noise could be logically attributed to, while your mind (which left logic behind around dinner time) does its utmost to convince you that a spectral monk or red-eyed woman in black will come screeching into the room at any moment. You are Linus waiting for The Great Pumpkin. I readily admit I have had nights like this. I’m an imaginative guy.
Ah, the sweet sounds of morning and the mercy of daylight, let me tell you.
When I house sat in Chislehurst recently, in the UK county of Kent, I visited Chislehurst Caves. Much recommended to anyone who is in that area, by the way. They are a series of man-made catacombs, dating back to the Roman era and used heavily during World War II as shelter from the German blitzkrieg. In one spot is a place known as the ‘haunted pool’. It’s a small rock pool said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman who was lured into the caves and murdered in the water. Decades ago the owners of the caves offered a cash prize to anyone who could spend the night there alone, by the pool. Only one person ever made it. Most didn’t even get past fifteen minutes before pushing the panic button so someone would come and lead them out of the darkness. Fifteen minutes, by the way, was actually the most common cut-off point, by a long margin. Makes you wonder what people saw after fifteen minutes.
Anyway, the point is I have to wonder whether I could do that. Spend a night down in the pitch dark, with only a lantern, in a spot that is reputedly haunted by something nasty enough to see off hundreds of people within quarter of an hour. I honestly don’t know the answer. Obviously, the gut instinct is to say no, or even NO! But then again…
Following that chain of thought leads nicely to the question of whether I would agree to house sit in a place with a haunted reputation. It’s an interesting question. At least to me. I mean, isn’t one of the reasons I do this to see new things and gather new experiences? Who says they all have to be restaurants and sight-seeing? After all, while I was house sitting in Edinburgh I attended a late-night ghost walk and came away at once relieved and disappointed that I experienced nothing more than the occasional sense of dread. Wouldn’t someone like that jump at the chance to house sit in the Haunted Mansion? Sure, I’d be terrified but wouldn’t it be worth overcoming? Think of the stories you could tell, assuming your sanity survived relatively intact. Think of the stories you could tell if it didn’t!
How about you? Would you do it? If not alone, then are there conditions under which you would do it? With a partner? With animals? With Bill Murray?
As of yet, this is merely musing. None of the house sitting sites I frequent provide home owners with a field for declaring whether their house is haunted or not. And would they if they could? All we house sitters could be blindly walking into a haunted house each and every time. You just never know. Did the owners tell you not to open a certain door, or go into a certain room? Do the locals give you funny looks when you tell them where you’re staying? Has a crazed old woman warned you to run before it’s too late? Or maybe I’ve just seen one horror movie too many.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the dog I’m looking after is barking at an empty part of the room.