CAUTION: As the title of this post implies, the story that follows relates details of a creepy but true ghost encounter I had back in 1982. If you don’t wish to be “spooked” then don’t read this story! Thank you and Namaste
I was 21 and I didn’t believe in ghosts. I believed in science and all the wonderful things that science could prove. But then one day my brother-in-law, Greg told me a “true story” about his youngest sister Caroline. According to Greg, when Caroline was seventeen, she woke up one morning to find a mysterious entry in the diary she kept on her bedside table. Not only was the handwriting unfamiliar, the subject matter spoke intimately about an affair her older sister Alison was having with a well-respected married man in the community. Why and how this information had ended up in her diary, she hadn’t a clue. Even more importantly, was it true? Caroline immediately went to Alison, handed her the diary, and was soon the target of angry accusations. How dare she take Alison’s personal diary and read it. And, how dare she copy one particularly intimate passage of Alison’s diary word for word into her own diary. Of course, Caroline had no idea what Alison was ranting about — in fact, she hadn’t done anything of the sort, although circumstantial evidence certainly suggested that she had. Thankfully, however, over the days and weeks that followed, Caroline’s innocence was ultimately borne out as many new entries appeared in her diary, all written in the same distinctive handwriting — that of a woman who eventually introduced herself as having last lived in England in the late 1800’s and who made the further claim that she was Caroline’s spirit guide. Well, I suppose that Greg could have been having me on. But, that’s not the kind of person he was, nor did we have the kind of relationship where we pulled pranks on each other. So, I accepted his story as strange but true. And, I soon hatched a plan to confirm it firsthand.
Two days later, alone in my apartment, I had just sat down at my desk when I felt suddenly compelled to say a few words out loud: “If there is good and evil in the world of ghosts, I’d like to make contact with a good ghost. Not a bad or an evil ghost, just a good ghost.” As much as I hadn’t pre-planned on saying anything out loud, I decided to do so anyway because of something my mother had said the day before (just after as I told her that I was thinking about making contact with a ghost). My mother had always been a spiritual person, having been a member of an international non-denominational spiritual group called Subud since the 1960’s. However, rather than encouraging me to conduct my experiment (as I thought she would), she tried to talk me out of it, telling me that it was potentially dangerous, and that I had no idea what kind of trouble I could get into. Furthermore, although I no longer have any memory of it, my mother claims that I told her the reason for my intended experiment was that I didn’t believe in God. My alleged reasoning was that if I could prove the existence of a ghost, then perhaps I would be more inclined to believe in God.
Sitting at my desk with my eyes closed, and a ball point pen held loosely in my right hand with the tip resting gently on a blank sheet of paper, I tried as best I could to clear my mind and relax. After about five minutes, I began to think that I was wasting my time, that nothing was going to happen, that I should stop, when all of a sudden a wave of pins and needles entered at the top of my head and rushed down into the rest of my body like a waterfall of chills. To say the least, it was a really surprising and intriguing sensation. But before I could give it more than a moment’s thought, my body suddenly sat upright and rigid in my chair, while my heart began to pound wildly in my chest. The symptoms were so startling and strange, you’d think I might have stopped then and there. But I was much too curious, and completely unafraid. So, I stayed the course for a few more seconds until I was finally unnerved by a painful shock-like sensation that jolted my right bicep, causing me to immediately push myself away from the desk and scramble to my feet. What the hell had I just experienced, I wondered, as I soon began to pace my bedroom floor. Although I had no idea, I was pretty sure that with a little more courage and time I just might find out.
A few minutes later, having resumed at the desk with the paper, pen and closed eyes, I immediately began to sense that my physical nature was different; like I was distinctly taller than my five foot six frame. Was it possible that the pins and needles I had felt earlier was direct evidence of a ghost entering my body? While I was wondering, my right arm suddenly twitched. It was so subtle, however, I quickly convinced myself that I had imagined it until a few seconds later, another one happened. Then another. And another still. A minute later, the twitches were occurring with such frequency, it felt as if my arm (and the pen in hand) was moving on the page. I say “felt” because my eyes were closed, and because I was determined not to open them. Fifteen seconds later, the twitches stopped just as suddenly as they had begun. Opening my eyes, I was astonished to see a two inch circle on the paper. I was also astonished to see that the circle had been perfectly retraced three or four times. How was I able to do that with my eyes closed, I wondered. Dumbstruck, I sat there marveling at the drawing — with the pen tip still resting gently on the perimeter of the circle — when the twitches in my arm suddenly resumed, and my arm began to move. Perhaps I had already acclimated to the unusual sensations, because this time I looked on with an almost detached sense of curiosity as the pen slowly and purposely retraced the circle three more times before suddenly spiraling around and around the interior of the circle in a gradually diminishing radius — eventually coming to a stop in the center. After several seconds of inactivity, I used my free will to relocate the pen to a new area of the page where no sooner did I rest the tip of the pen on the paper, my arm began to slowly and deliberately move the pen to create a two inch circle that for all intents and purposes was an exact duplication of the first.
In the end, it took about an hour and a half to fill four sheets of paper with these strange little circles. Given all the repetition I had just gone through, by the time I introduced a fifth sheet of paper, I fully expected more circles. But this time, the pen surprised me by moving off to the right in a straight line, right off the paper and onto the surface of the desk where I immediately stopped it, and repositioned it back on the paper. Nevertheless, like a willful child, off it went to the right again, off the page and onto the desk like before. Suddenly an idea popped into my head. The next time the pen reached the edge of the page, I stopped it in its tracks and placed a new sheet of paper beside the first. Then, surrendering my arm to the invisible force, off went the pen to the right again, across the new sheet of paper where once again I stopped it at at the edge while I put down another piece of paper. Well, as you can imagine, it wasn’t long before page after page accumulated. It also wasn’t long before it seemed kind of obvious that whatever it was that was happening would be a whole lot easier on the floor.
Gathering up the previously marked pages, I laid them out in order on the hardwood floor and tacked the corners together with tape. I then knelt down, relaxed my arm and continued to watch as the pen (and my arm) moved across the paper and onto the floor wherein I immediately stopped and added paper as before until finally, after about fifteen minutes, I was surprised to see a drawing beginning to emerge that was clearly more than a random abstraction. In total, about fifty pieces of paper were used to depict an eerily distorted spirit-like body with a bizarre mushroom-shaped head. The head was drawn last.
The drawing complete, I stood up and marveled at this strange spirit portrait. And I suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to show it to my mother (after all, it was she who had tried to talk me out of the experience in the first place). Picking up the phone, I dialed my parent’s phone number and was disappointed to find out from my eldest sister, Anne that mother was out for the day. Being far too excited to contain myself, I told Anne what had happened, and asked if she was interested in seeing the drawings.
It was around two o’clock in the afternoon when I set out to make the ten minute drive to my parent’s house. A few minutes into the trip, I stopped at a red light and for a few passing moments, I watched as pedestrians crossed the street in front of my car. Although it didn’t alarm me at the time, I later remembered the strange sensation of my hands clutching the steering wheel, and this feeling I had that I was all-powerful and indestructible. Oddly, I wasn’t the least bit alarmed or disturbed by these feelings until later that same night, when I was reflecting on the day’s events and suddenly remembered this moment. But now I am getting ahead of myself.
My parent’s house was a turn of the century red brick home that sat on a short tree-lined side street in a central neighborhood of Toronto. It was disproportionately tall for its width and was set back from the road on a fifteen foot rise. All in all, I always thought there was something spooky about the look of that house.
A few minutes later, having arrived at the house and shown the drawings to Anne, I felt immensely disappointed. I had been so amazed by the experience of receiving the drawings, I had expected my sister to be equally amazed. But that wasn’t the case. In fact, even the large portrait failed to elicit that much enthusiasm. Consequently, I headed back to my apartment feeling dejected. But not before I left the drawings in a neat pile in my mother’s sitting room where she would be sure to see them when she came home.
Later that night, I woke to the sound of a ringing telephone., and was greeted at the other end by the sound of my mother’s voice, clearly upset.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Were you in my house today?”
“Did you leave some drawings in my room?”
“Because you’ve brought something into my bedroom, and I can’t get it out!”
“What? What do you mean, ‘I brought something?'”
As my mother went on to explain, as soon as she arrived home and opened the door to her sitting room, she was immediately assaulted by a foul odor that she described as a nauseating combination of feces and burning rubber. Calling Anne downstairs from her third floor bedroom, Anne was equally shocked by the sickening smell. Wondering what it could be, Anne remembered my visit earlier in the day and the drawings I had left on the table. However, although they quickly determined that the drawings weren’t the source of the odor, before the thought occurred to call me, my mother decided that she and Anne should do a spiritual exercise in the room (known in Subud as a Latihan). During a Latihan, people move, speak, or sing in accordance with the God-spark that resides within their individual nature. This spark or connection to the Divine is awakened or “opened” when one joins Subud. In any event, I had heard my mother and sister doing their Latihan on many occasions, and the sounds they often made were beautiful, like the voices of singing angels. However, on this occasion, when my mother and Anne tried to do their Latihan in the midst of that horrible smell, my mother told me that strange and incoherent mumbling sounds came out of their mouths. And something else – Anne suddenly remembered a significant event that had happened earlier in the day.
As Anne tells it, after I had left that afternoon, she had decided to take a nap in my parent’s bed. This was not an uncommon occurrence as my parent’s bed was the largest and most comfortable in the house. What was uncommon, however, was that Anne woke up from her nap because she heard strange incoherent mumbling sounds as if someone, a male voice in this case, was trying to say something. In her semi-conscious state, Anne strained to understand until the unintelligible sounds suddenly became an unmistakably clear command to “Get out. Get Out! GET OUT!!” Anne immediately left the room, but shrugged the whole experience off as a strange dream.
Several hours later, on the phone with my mother, I was more than a little skeptical when I asked what could possibly smell so bad. Without pause, my mother told me that the smell was caused by a malevolent male spirit. She claimed to know this because if it were a female spirit, she believed that she and Anne would have been able to clear it with their Latihan. The fact that the smell got worse during their Latihan led my mother to believe that it was a male presence, that it was evil, and that I needed to get over there right away and get rid of it.
“How am I supposed to do that?” I asked incredulously.
“You’re going to join Anne and me in my room and the three of us are going to pray to God that this thing goes away.”
“But I don’t believe in God.”
“I don’t care,” she said. “We can’t sleep with this thing in the house. So, you need to get over here NOW! You brought this thing here. You can send it back to wherever the hell it came from.”
I didn’t know what to say. My mind was reeling.
“So, how long before you can get here?”
Fifteen minutes later, my mother and Anne were waiting outside on the front porch as I pulled into the drive. I recall the house never looked as spooky as it did that cool March night at 10:00 pm. Years earlier I had seen the movie “The Exorcist.” I also knew the story of the Amityville horror — you know, the one where you can’t believe the people are so stupid that they don’t leave the house. In fact, that’s precisely what I was thinking as I climbed the front steps for the second time that day: Was I moments away from committing a similar act of stupidity?
Standing on the front porch, as we reviewed the events of the day, I questioned whether I would smell anything at all. Perhaps my mother and sister had spiritually attuned noses that could detect odors that a spiritually non-attuned nose such as mine would not. In response, my mother and sister were quite adamant: the odor in my parent’s bedroom was unmistakable.
Now, before I continue, I feel it’s important to tell you, my mother’s house was always immaculately clean. They had no pets. There were no small children or grandchildren in the picture yet. In fact, most of the time it was just my sister, Anne, and my mother sharing this large, immaculately clean three story house as my father spent a lot of time working out of town. That said, even with a full time housekeeper, my mother could almost always be found doing one of two things: cooking, which she exquisitely excelled; or cleaning, an activity that I always thought bordered on obsessive. In other words, if indeed there was a bad smell emanating from somewhere in my parent’s bedroom, the one thing it would assuredly not be was a wayward chicken sandwich decomposing beneath a piece of furniture.
The Bad Smell
In spite of my mother’s and sister’s persuasive testimony, in the end it was a healthy dose of skepticism that propelled me into my family home and up the stairs to the second floor. Standing outside my mother’s bedroom/sitting room door, with a nod from my mother and sister I opened the door and was immediately assaulted by a truly thick and repugnant wall of stench; to my mind, if there had been a month’s old rotting corpse in that room, it would have smelled better than whatever it was that was causing that hideously foul odor. Regardless, we stepped across the threshold and entered the room. We had a mission to accomplish, and we weren’t going to be stopped. Interestingly, as we stepped forward into the room, both Anne and I began to spontaneously curse at the unseen presence. This fearful reaction continued for several seconds until my mother interrupted us and requested my sister to kneel down and pray with her in the adjoining master bedroom while I remained standing by choice in the sitting room. I didn’t believe in God so I wasn’t going to pray; but I felt betrayed by the ghost. I had trusted him, and that trust had led to this frightful situation.
A few minutes later, when the smell didn’t go away, my mother decided there was nothing more we could do. As we left the room and shut the door behind us, I remember feeling the gravity of the situation on my shoulders for the very first time. My naïve actions had precipitated this whole shocking affair, and unfortunately, I didn’t know how to fix what I had instigated. As a result, my mother and sister now had an unwanted house-guest of questionable origin, and there didn’t seem to be a damn thing any of us could do about it.
That night, the three of us slept in Anne’s third-floor bedroom. Mother and Anne shared the bed while I slept on a make-shift bed on the floor. Although I didn’t want to stay in the house, the thought of going back to my apartment, and spending the night alone, filled me with even more fear and dread than the proposition of staying.
Later that night, as I lay on the floor and tried to sleep, I remember the memory of that horrid smell lodged deep in my nose. I also recall how hyper-trained I was on every creak in the house. At any moment, I expected to hear a mumble or a groan from the world of the dead. Needless to say, it took an exceptionally long time before I allowed myself to fall sleep. In the end, however, we all had a peaceful, uneventful night.
In the morning, as soon as we awoke, the three of us cautiously approached the sitting room door. Unlike my skepticism of the previous night, this time I had fearful thoughts racing through my mind. Was the room going to be as we left it? Would we find strange symbols etched in blood on the walls? I slowly opened the door, and looked in. At first glance, everything looked normal. And there was no longer evidence of that disgusting smell. The three of us then entered the room and conducted a thorough search of the two adjoining rooms. Our conclusions were unanimous: the ghost was gone — at least, for the time being.
Not willing to take any chances, Mother decided it would be best if a group of men from Subud came over and did a clearing in her sitting room and adjoining bedroom. In order to organize this, Mother called Dahlan, one of the men from Subud and told him about our harrowing experience. Dahlan was a soft-spoken man in his mid thirties – at the time, he’d already been associated with Subud for many years. A few hours later, Dahlan arrived with five other men and proceeded to conduct a Latihan in the sitting room.
As a precaution, Mother asked me to be present in the house when the Subud men did their Latihan. For her, a bit of insurance just in case my ghostly acquaintance still had some lingering connection to me. Of course, I acquiesced without complaint. I was way over my head and was particularly ashamed of the fact that in spite of my mother’s warnings, I brought something vile into her personal sanctuary.
I sat quietly in the large front foyer of my parent’s home while the men from Subud did their Latihan. A few minutes after they began, my throat began to itch and my eyes began to well-up with tears. Although I didn’t have any allergies, for the next ten minutes I hacked and coughed uncontrollably while tears streamed down my cheeks. Mother handed me a box of Kleenex.
Half an hour later, the Latihan was finished and the men descended the stairs. I remember Mother waiting at the bottom of the stairs, and asking them how their Latihan had been. “Very peaceful,” was their reply.
Later that day, following Mother’s instructions, I burned the strange collection of ghostly drawings in her living room fireplace. In the end, the ghost never did return. But as for strange happenings, a year later (almost to the date), my saga with the unseen world continued.