Monday, August 07, 2006

A Quite Scary Story

I meant to blog on this for the past two Halloweens. I forgot both times. I was just thinking of the story last night, and I'm bound to forget it next October, so I'll post it now while I'm thinking about it. It is a true tale - a tale of horror and fright and terror and horror. Prepare to be FLIPPING TERRIFIED!

My Horrid Night of Horror in the Horrible Haunted House of Hell
(by Ed)
It was late September 2003 and I was in the process of moving house (I've moved house since, actually and - interesting now I come to think about it - had an unpleasant experience, though of a different sort, in the house I moved out of last, too). I had moved most of my stuff by way of my friend's car over a couple of days, but had left a few odd things in my room, which I couldn't squeeze into his boot, to pick up later. I walked past my old house more or less every evening on my way from university to my new home - so it made sense to leave this stuff and to plan to pick it up some evening on my way home.

A few evenings later, I stopped off at the house - now empty and uninhabited - to collect my remaining possessions.

It was dark. I'd planned to visit the house before nightfall, but for some reason I didn't manage to get to the house before 9 O'clockish. One of the distinguishing features of a student house is that hall and landing light fittings don't usually have working light bulbs in them - and this one was no different. In addition, I seem to remember that as poverty stricken but canny students we'd made sure to take most of the functioning light bulbs with us when we moved. This is the sort of thinking that marks us out as intellectuals. I'd left a bulb in my old room - at the very top of the house, on the third floor - but I had to make my way up 4 flights of stairs in almost complete darkness. I've written before about that strange quality of ghostliness and melancholy which pervades an empty, unhabited house and, at the risk of annoying my readers with a self-referential... er... reference, let me quote the following passage from that previous post (since it saves me the bother of having to re-write it, using different words and stuff):

"It's a very strange feeling, when you are alone in a more or less empty house where you have lived for a while and which you are about to leave. The house feels both familiar and terribly strange. You recognise it, of course - you know the layout of the rooms, you know the carpets and the windows and so on - but it doesn't feel quite like your home anymore. It's a rather disconcerting experience. The place feels haunted too. You remember it as an inhabited and homely place full of familiar possessions and comforts, and so to see it empty feels very wrong somehow. An empty, familiar house is also a desperately lonely place. I didn't like being there any longer than I had to be"

That's what it felt like this time, too. Which is convenient. Anyway, by the time I'd made my way upstairs, keeping one hand to the wall to guide my progress in the dark, I was feeling a little jumpy. I switched on the light in my room and set about packing my things - two or three plates, a mug, a saucepan, an alarm clock, a desk-tidy full of pens and paperclips, a couple of work folders - into the hold-all bag I'd brought with me for the purpose. You know that feeling when you fear - quite irrationally, but fear it nonetheless - that there's someone standing behind you, or watching you from a dark corner, or through a window? That's what I had. I had that sense that something bad was going to happen and that I ought to get out of the house asap.

I turned to leave the room. But as I started towards the doorway I saw something out in the hallway just a few feet away from the door, which made me freeze in horror. That's a bit of a cliche isn't it - 'freeze with horror' - but it's the best description of my experience. It was physical real terror - that strange combination of jolting shock and complete paralysis. I've no idea for how long the shock lasted - probably no longer than a couple of seconds, but at the time it felt like a very long time. Time seemed to stand still (to wheel out another cliched, but accurate expression). My heart was in my mouth (sorry), blood pounded in my ears like the sound of galloping moose (better).

Outside the door, in the half-light thrown from the bulb in my room into the hallway, I could see the outline of a pair of human legs. They were just standing there in the gloom. Don't ask me how I knew they were human legs (and not table legs or elephants or something) - you can just tell these things from the outline. Besides, as I stared at them I could make out the folds and ripples of the trousers and could see, quite clearly that the feet had shoes on them. But the initial horror of the realisation that there was someone outside in the hallway looking at me - someone I didn't know and who should not have been there, was soon amplified to an extreme degree. The thing is, that as I stared and stared it soon became apparent that the legs were not attached to anything - the intruder, or whatever it was, didn't have an upper torso.

Now that's actually very scary. Take it from me - you don't want to be stuck on the third floor of an empty, dark house with a disembodied pair of human legs standing between you and the way out. It is not an experience I would recommend.

The strange thing about being terrified is that, although your body suffers a kind of paralysis, your brain goes into full power. Though you may be rooted to the spot, you find that your mind, beneath the surface terror, becomes quite lucid, calculating and rational. You are petrified, but calm at the same time - if that makes sense. I wonder, by the way, if the physical paralysis that accompanies a bad fright is the necessary corollary of quick thinking in a dangerous situation - you freeze because your mind needs to work out what to do. I remember thinking in a split second about the options I had - I could try to get out of the window, I could make a run for it, I could attack the legs with a saucepan, I could try shouting 'fuck off' very loudly, I could whistle nonchalantly and stroll towards the apparition to see what it would do.

In the end, I didn't have to do any of these things. I remembered something. I remembered that one of my housemates had left a half length mirror in the hall way, propped up against the wall. I felt like a right twit.

The end.

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