Tuesday, October 29, 2013


When I agreed to pen this guest post for Wendy, I had no idea what the topic was going to be. I made my pitch, showed her the sort of stuff I write, and waited for her to come back to me with a yes or no. She said “yes.” Then she said, “Do you believe in the paranormal or the supernatural?”

See, this is why you should always set the parameters before you offer to write a column. It’s a reasonable question to ask a guy like me, especially at this time of year. After all, I’m a writer – a horror writer, no less – and my work is filled with vampires and zombies, ghosts and ghouls, and things that go bump in the night. If you had to make a wild stab in the dark you’d probably guess that I was all about the paranormal.

And you’d be wrong.

The idea of the paranormal just doesn’t sit well with me. As far as I’m concerned, we have our time on this planet, and we’d best make the most of it, because once it’s gone, that’s it – we’re worm food, baby! No heaven, no hell, no reincarnation and definitely no wandering the earth in ghostly torment.

I’m an atheist. That means there is no afterlife, and that’s a very comforting thought for me. Certainly, it’s more comforting than the alternative – that there is some all powerful being, with the attention span and wilfully destructive personality of a five-year old kid strung out on an overdose of Halloween treats, judging me for my actions. Or, worse, that when I die, I’m going to walk the Earth, my spirit occasionally breaking through to some middle aged medium (well, probably a large, to be honest) to tell my loved ones where I buried the bodies money.

Think about that, for just one minute.

The tradition of the ghost story is a long and noble one, predicated on the fact that a regular guy or gal is being haunted by some ineffable being from another plane of reality; the soul of a long departed human being, doomed to trudge around somewhere he called home for the rest of eternity. In the stories, it’s always the living who are scared, by these encounters, but what of the ghost? If we are to believe that these are spirits, with an intelligence and a sentience to call their own, then surely theirs is the worst form of torment?

They are eternally trapped, without form or function. On the rare occasions that they manage to make contact – to reach out to another human being, for the first time in decades – all of a sudden they are treated like the bad guy. Hated and despised, and with no way to argue their case, ever since Waddington’s stopped mass producing ouija boards.

So, yeah, the idea of an afterlife is an affront to me.

That said, I have no problem in believing in the existence of ghosts – I just don’t think that they are trapped souls. Rather, I take the view that they are a recording of sorts; an imprint of someone or something, trapped in the fabric of their own surroundings. So many ghost sightings are tremendously dull, and remarkably repetitive. They always seem to involve the ghost doing the same thing, over and over, regular as clockwork – rather a dull way to spend an infinity, I’ve always thought. It makes perfect sense to me that a particular set of physical conditions can result in the shadow of a person being left behind in the atmosphere, absorbed into the wood or the stone of the place that they spent the majority of their life.

I have my own tale of this sort of thing. As well as my thoughts on the paranormal, Wendy asked me about the time in my life that I was most scared, and the two intersect very neatly. I’ve had a few scares in my life, mostly for perfectly rational reasons – I once slipped down between two massive bales of hay in my nan’s farm, and thought I was going to suffocate before my brother came and pulled me out, for instance – but I’m guessing that’s not the sort of scary moment that Wendy had in mind, this close to All Hallow’s Eve.

My great grandmother died at the ripe old age of ninety, blind and bedridden. She was a wonderful woman, and I used to love sitting next to her on the couch, holding her hand and listening to her talk. Sometimes, I’m not even sure if she knew I was there, or whether she knew who I was if she did, but that didn’t matter. I would cradle her wrinkled hands, with skin as thin as tissue paper, and just listen. Towards the end, she was confined to her bedroom, as she could no longer even make the journey downstairs, but that’s not how I choose to remember her.

I forget how old I was when she died, but I think about ten or eleven. She lived with my nan in an old farmhouse, just outside Chester. The house itself could be creepy at times, with its plethora of rooms, most of which were unoccupied, and twisting corridors and stairwells, in which a young lad could easily become lost. I remember we were visiting my nan, not long after my gran’s death, and I was wandering aimlessly around the house, for some reason or another. I passed the room that my gran had slept and died in, and I heard a distinct moan. This wasn’t the moan of a ghostly apparition, but the moan of my gran, as she lay in bed, her mind hazy and her body aching with the weight of years. The door was slightly ajar and I wanted to go in, to see what had made that noise, but I couldn’t draw up the nerve to do so. I didn’t need to. I knew what that sound was – it was Gran – I’d heard that same moan a dozen times or more, when she had still been alive.

I was eleven years old and a bright young thing, so I’m not saying it couldn’t have been my imagination playing tricks on me. What I am saying is that at the time, I knew that sound. It was real, a noise coming from a real throat, not from some trick of memory. I’d be prepared to swear that in any court in the land. To this day, I wonder what I might have seen if I’d have opened that door, or what else I might have heard if I’d have waited outside a little longer, but I didn’t. The door was open a crack or two and, even at that young age, I wasn’t fool enough to be tricked towards a part-opened door, no matter what might lie behind it.

I ran downstairs, and I think I got told off by my dad for running around the house like an elephant, but I didn’t care.

To this day, it remains my one and only brush with the paranormal – however you define the term – but once was enough.




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