More Thoughts on Ghost Stories

by martinhesp


What is it about ghosts or even a hint of ghosts that fascinates us and sends shivers down our spines?

I recall a rather blurred image appearing in my newspaper under the headline: “Is ghostly shape on photo evidence of poltergeist?” – and it was what causes me to ask the question.

The woman who took the photo while on holiday in Edinburgh was convinced she’d captured a ghost although, looking at the image, I really couldn’t tell one way or the other.

I have, though, seen a photograph of a ghost – a remarkable clear-cut image that still haunts me to this day. It is, I hasten to add, the only ghost I have ever seen – photographed or otherwise – though I have written entire series of articles on the subject and been to some of the most haunted spots in Britain.

The photograph was shown to me some 30 years ago after a great deal of hesitancy on the part of its owners. The couple who eventually placed it before me did so because the image had shocked and troubled them, and they’d decided to go public in a bid to find an answer to the riddle.

An answer they never found.

They were real salt-of-the-earth country folk based here in the Westcountry – and if they happen to read this column I hope they won’t mind my describing them as somewhat old fashioned and backwoods-ish.

The image they thrust before me showed two children and a man standing in front of an old car – maybe a Ford Prefect – on what I think was a Dartmoor common. The weird and spooky thing about the photo was that there was a fourth person – a boy with blond hair, slightly blurred, as if he’d moved as the shutter had clicked. He was inside the car gazing out of an open window.

That boy, according to the couple, was a phantom. He never existed. Not in the real world of terra-firma anyway.

But he had existed in the imagination of their son – and this was the really strange and fascinating part of the story. They told me, and later friends of the family reaffirmed this, that since the son had been a tiny infant he’d regularly referred to a child that no one else had ever seen. Until the day that photograph came back from the developer’s.

This invisible boy was forever with him and throughout his youth the son would refer to this phantom friend as if he were as real as the clouds in the sky. At first the parents had been disturbed and alarmed, but over the years they’d grown so used to his mentioning the invisible child that they almost accepted the undetectable presence as part of the family.

We all have our strange ways and for them the son’s phantom companion was some mental glitch, a foible, an inexplicable idiosyncrasy that did no one any harm, a thing not worth mentioning to a doctor or to anyone else who might interfere.

Then came the bromide print and the questions it posed.

Who was the child? Why could no one else ever see him? Why only the son? What did it all mean?

I was as convinced by these honest simple countryfolk as I ever have been by anyone. They were not making any of this up – they did not want money for their story – they just wanted someone in authority to step in and take over the riddle in a bid to put their minds at rest.

All these years later I cannot remember if the national newspaper I was working for at the time carried the story or not. I recall running into the mother in a village street some time later and her telling me the son had gradually ceased talking of the phantom child until he eventually dropped all mention of him entirely.

She shrugged and walked away and I have never seen her since. But I have seen that child. The slightly blurred visage, the startlingly white blond hair. But more than that. The sense of angst and, somehow, the feeling – surrounding him – of incarceration…

Whenever I think of him I feel something, or someone, trapped. Stuck in some strange place or time/space continuum that holds him locked forever.

Is that just a writer’s fancy getting the better of me? Was I had for a fool by those people who thought it fun to have one over on a member of the gutter press?

I think not. I believe it was a ghost. But why and how he or it should have been there in that photo, in that old car, or in the son’s brain, I shall, of course, never ever know.
But it is only by sharing these strange things that we can even begin to come to terms with the supernatural. What surprises me, though, is how much the world is hungry for ghost stories – and I say that because I have just noticed that my ebook of ghostly tales is by far my best selling title. By which I mean, I’ve earned about enough to buy a round of drinks down at my village pub.