In 2016, photographer Adam Smith took some photos of an abandoned long-stay asylum in Wales, United Kingdom, when his camera caught a blurry apparition staring back at him from an upstairs window.
He uploaded the chilling image to Facebook to show the world what he saw. Smith was convinced he'd captured on film the ghost of a dead patient, but more than likely it was a smudge on the camera lens or a reflection of light on the distorted window pane.
Humans see what they want to see.
It’s why people spot the image of Jesus in burnt toast or alien crabs in the photos beamed back from the Mars rover. Our brains work like this, we give cars faces, windows in buildings look like eyes and simple, three-dot emojis look like human expressions. 😮
However, occasionally, an unnerving story comes along with no rational explanation, no rogue toaster or active imagination to blame, no logic to square the circle of bizarre events that unfold.
My story, my true story, is one of these exceptions.
What I'm about to tell you is real, not a campfire tale or a slice of hearsay, it actually happened, and what's more, it happened to me.
The Ghost in the Locked Room
Some unspecified time ago when I was a teenager and the only people who had mobile phones were car dealers and no one had even heard of the word "google", some friends and I decided to go to a British seaside town for a short holiday.
The plan was to hire a holiday cottage in Minehead, Somerset, get drunk, hang out at the seaside and not be in the vicinity of our parents for a whole, blessed week.
It didn't take long before a group of us with oversized rucksacks were disembarking a coach and opening the door to what would be our home for the next seven nights.
The property was a large, old townhouse, spread out over two floors with an expansive garden, spacious front room and a King Arthur style round table in the middle of the kitchen.
In an excited frenzy, upstairs bedrooms were soon claimed. I was in the master bedroom with my girlfriend as we got "couples' privilege". Two friends grabbed the twin room at the back of the house, one of the girls took the single room at the front, and most importantly for this story, the middle twin room went friends Helen and Will.
There was a final room in the middle of the landing that sat locked.
It had a window above the door so we took turns holding each other up to see the juicy secrets that were contained within.
Alas, it was innocuous, a step ladder and some pots of paint. We reasoned the room must be locked as it was about to be decorated and thought no more about it.
Late one morning, with several days drinking and summer laziness under our collective belts, we had gathered in the front room when Will made his way downstairs.
He'd awoken from his sleep, fixed himself a bowl of cereal and joined the rest of us.
When I saw him, he looked pale.
“This house is haunted,” he said, blankly.
This isn't typical of Will's character. He’s your regular, reliable Poindexter, and a matter of fact atheist and a man of logic and reason.
"Haunted?" I said, expecting a joke.
"Yes, haunted," he replied with the serious look of someone who'd just been through something.
He was agitated and had made the cereal to try and reclaim normality over the morning. It wasn't working.
“Someone was pulling on my bed covers when I was in bed,” he said.
We all heard him say it, though were expecting a different story, perhaps one about putting his watch down and finding it had moved in the morning.
This, well this was different, unnerving to say the least.
“I couldn’t move,” he said flatly.
"You were dreaming," someone suggested.
"I was wide awake."
He began to explain to us what he had just endured.
Will had been lying in bed, alone and hungover when he began hearing a little girl’s voice. It was perfectly clear, though the words themselves were indistinguishable.
He panicked and tried to get up, but was frozen in place. The room had gone cold. He was lying on his side as the girl's voice rose in volume. Unmistakable, as if she was talking to him from two feet away. Then, something began pulling at the bottom of his bed covers, a firm, repetitive pulling of the sheets. Tug, tug, tug, from the bottom of the bed. He was unable to sit up and look, and lay in terror, motionless. The pulling stopped but quickly resumed behind his back, the sheets tugged repetitively once more, while the little girl’s voice continued.
Then it stopped.
All of it, gone, in a moment, and he hastily got up and came downstairs.
We shook off the story. He was hungover, he was tired, he was dreaming, but no one could rationalise how real Will claimed it to be. He was shaken.
The next few nights, I lay in bed, pleased someone was laying beside me, everyone more unnerved by Will's conviction than they wished to admit.
The girl in the single room next to us explained she could hear someone moving up and down the stairs at night. Imagination perhaps, as this confession only came after the ghostly incident, but the candle she had lit as a nightlight on the window sill bobbed and weaved each time the stairs creaked and groaned, the flame's erratic movements reflected in the window glass of her box-sized bedroom.
I asked her if she was scared, lying awake at night and alone, but she confidently told me her Christian faith kept her from fear.
I envied her mental sword and shield and was frustrated and embarrassed by my own nighttime unease.
Will himself was traumatised enough to sleep downstairs for the rest of the week. Another friend, blustery and cynical about the event and saying it was all nonsense, did the same, claiming he was too drunk to make it to his bed each following night.
The holiday wound down without much fanfare.
Three days after the incident, the landlady arrived to do an itinerary of the house before we left. We all stood in the kitchen, surrounding the round table as she totted up the cost of three broken tumblers and made idle chit chat.
"How was your stay?" she enquired.
Helen, Will’s roommate for the week, spoke up and said it had been fine. We all looked at each other. It had a lot of coming-of-age fun, but it hadn't just been fine.
“This is going to sound weird..." Helen began, "but is this house haunted?”
“Oh yes!” the woman said without batting an eyelid. “By a little girl.”
Our blood ran cold.
“I used to live here with my family,” she explained.
“The little girl used to follow my young son around. No one since has mentioned it apart from you. Perhaps it’s because you’re all young and that’s why she made contact.”
There was a difficult silence as we digested her words.
“We locked the room on the middle landing as that’s where she is, mainly.”
Will's room was next to the locked room, his bed butted up to the adjoining wall.
Everyone stood slack-jawed and bug-eyed. How did she know that the ghost was a little girl? We never told her. No one mentioned the girl's voice.
As we'd later discuss, what was a woman doing hiring out her home to holidaymakers when she was convinced it was occupied by the restless spirit of some kind of Victorian child who harassed dozing residents from their morning slumber? Here she was, charging us pennies for three broken tumblers when she had failed to mention any of that.
In retrospect, some sort of refund may have been in order.
We left, boarded a coach back to London and slowly ruminated on what had happened. Was the ghost real? If so, what would that mean? How could this all be explained away? Why couldn't anyone find a rational explanation? We all wanted one.
Perhaps Will was mistaken, slumbering in the woozy land of half-sleep and imagined it all, but he’s hardly the type. Perhaps the woman decided to play along to scare us, yet the facts reconciling the way they did was too spooky for our liking. How did she know about the girl?
The matter-of-a-fact way both Will and the landlady spoke about it all made me question any explanation I’ve heard since that day.
My intuition tells me they both firmly thought they were telling the truth, but who knows. Whatever the case, trust me when I say it doesn’t stop your mind whirring in the dark hours of the night, convinced something just moved the duvet. And did it just get a little bit colder?
Don't have nightmares, do sleep well.