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Published:April 9th, 2008 10:40 EST
Ghost-Hunter Artist's 'Unwelcome' Guests

Ghost-Hunter Artist's 'Unwelcome' Guests

By Glenn James

(Or Spirits of the Dear Departed) 

Glenn James, Artist and Co-Writer of “The Reluctant Ghost Hunter,” experienced a Haunting which made life very disturbing for its living participants…. 

I am a rational man; let me say that on record before I tell you anything else about this experience.  It’s true that my talents lean towards the supernatural and horrific, and by profession I am a Gothic Artist and Writer, but as Terry Prattchet once wrote, you can’t build castles in the air without having your feet firmly on the ground. 

Whatever my artistic inclinations, then, I do not expect to encounter the supernatural at every turn, and this is why my experience is chilling; because for seven months, my wife and I lived in a house where we knew that “something” did not want us under its roof, and it was going out of it’s way to make us feel unwelcome.

It was not a haunting on the grand scale: No headless spirits on the battlements or flying furniture.  I would say, in terms of the perpetual conflict of the vindictive-dead against the living, that it was a cold-war episode rather than a pitched battle, but it was the down-to-earth reality of it which was completely unsettling.

It began when we moved into an old Georgian Cottage, which we were renting in Worcestershire, in England.  At heart I was reluctant to move in, and perhaps the standing tenant could sense this.  I had deeply loved our old place, a little place on the outskirts of the other side of the city, where I had moved to write my novel “Skaler.”  But, as a friend observed, it was not much bigger than a postage stamp and, as a growing family, we needed a bigger place closer to town. Angela, (having the sensitivity to look for an older place, to help ease me in leaving for our first home), had found this little cottage, and at first sight it seemed ideal. It was almost twice the size, and it included a dining room and a long garden, so we took the property on a six-month tenancy.

Neither of us had lived in a house with a cellar before, but that was fine, and something of a novelty.  It was thoroughly decorated and we had decided to use it as our study and office, as it was quite a pleasant room with a nicely tiled terracotta floor.  When we were being shown around, we were somewhat startled to see that there was a single wrought-iron bed down there, (which of course set me off making Hammer-Horror jokes about captive monsters), but the landlord agreed to remove it when we moved in.

Oddly, there was a humidifier in the room which the agent said we must keep running all the time, and the room was uncommonly cold, even with its radiators on.

That never struck me at the time, but it was very cold; and then they said something which has a great significance now.  In the corner there was a shallow cupboard, little more than an alcove containing the switchboard for the wiring, but the agent made a point of drawing our attention to it.  In this cupboard, they said, there was an oil painting and they asked us if we would mind just leaving it there and not removing it.

This is no Dorian-Gray oil painting in a gothic frame, nothing obviously sinister, and for a long time, following their request we did not touch it, as it was simply a piece of rolled-up canvas on the floor.  Looking back I thought it odd that an estate agent should mention it, but perhaps you may draw your own conclusions.  When I did look at it, the painting was a nude study of a young woman, perhaps painted in the early 1920’s judging by her bobbed hair, and it was unfinished; blocked-in to complete the basic colours ready for the artist to complete the finer details.  It was unsigned.

I think that the first thing we noticed was the Internet problem.  Our computer was set up in the opposite corner from the offending cupboard, and nothing that we could do or try would get our connection to work.  For the whole of our seven months there we were trying, and no amount of engineers could solve the problem, which they frankly confessed was baffling.

Then there was the atmosphere.  You never felt comfortable, or “at-home.”  I caught myself looking around as if you felt something there, and I later found out that Angela felt the same.  I began to suffer from insomnia and a lack of confidence in my work, for no apparent reason (as things were going well, and we were consolidating our progress.)  Increasingly I was awake at night for no apparent reason, only getting to sleep in the early hours and, although I was actually close to the bathroom door and the heating system, I constantly felt cold down one side in bed; something which astonished my wife, who found the heating somewhat oppressive.

We both later discovered that we were beginning to feel a certain uneasiness about going down to the cellar, (or “The Lab” as I used to call it in a mock Boris Karloff voice), but the really uncomfortable feeling surrounded the spare front bedroom.

Its door was opposite our bedroom door, and we had no real need to enter it as it was self-contained.  It began to be the case that both of us felt apprehensive about entering the stairwell and looking up towards this door and I, for one, felt very uncomfortable if I knew it was open when I had to go upstairs.  We did not mention this to each other until later, but it makes my hair bristle to recall it now.

I think the turning point was the Christmas Fayre.  We had moved in during early October 2004, and we were intending to take part in the annual Worcester Christmas festivities with a stall selling my artwork; which did fantastically well as it turns out, quite a surprise for Gothic work at Christmas!  But we had to dress in costume, and when we got these clothes on for the first time we had a very spooky experience.

I was dressed in a top hat and frock coat, and my wife wore a long, elegant dress, blouse and hat, and as soon as we got these clothes on we both had a profound feeling of something which had happened in that house in the past: Something about an artist from a wealthy family promising a girl that he would marry her, but she not believing him because, she said, his family would cut him off without any money.  It wasn’t a kind of tangible revelation, just a very uneasy sudden knowledge which made us both very uncomfortable.  We were glad to put the outfits away.

After this, we really became aware of the front bedroom.  Neither of us ever saw a thing, but we both got a solid mental impression that there was a severe old woman in black who inhabited the room.  A woman with a sharp expression and a furious anger that we were unwelcome in her house.  I, for one, began to be rather scared at times, I don’t mind admitting it, as I was alarmed that I might see this woman on the landing or if I entered the bedroom.  There was a constant breeze in that bedroom, from no logical source, and it felt deeply oppressive. The impression became so great that I began to worry about telling Angela; and, in the end, one day I told her that something was worrying me.  Straight away she stopped what she was doing and said, “Is it the old lady upstairs?”

When I described the impression I had of how she looked, Angela agreed straight away, having exactly the same impression herself.  This was far from comforting as we were discussing starting a family, and the front bedroom would, of course, have become a nursery.  Neither of us wanted a child in a room with that hostile figure.

We both felt that the strange impression of the past we had experienced, about the painter and his lady, was related to this old woman, and even more so to the unfinished portrait in the cellar.  By sheer bad luck we had moved into a house where an artist and his wife would be incredibly unwelcome, and the feeling increased daily.  It was unnerving. Inexplicable scratches appeared in a tabletop which I was using to cut and mount drawings, and for which we later had to pay a fair bit of money to repair.

The insomnia increased.  We became edgy and nervous at home, glad to get out in the morning and uncomfortable at home at night.   We began to experience bad luck at work. I, myself, was going through a dreadful period with a boss openly hostile to my dyslexia, and the two of us wondered how to break the cycle. I have since read how a malignant spirit can make life incredibly miserable and unlucky for someone whom it decides it doesn’t like; how their lives suddenly become inexplicably unlucky on moving into such a house, and only improve when they leave.  Fortunatly this happened to us.

By sheer luck (although it didn’t seem like it at the time, as it meant a hell of a lot of effort), we had a chance to move.  Our second lease was one month into its new contract, when our landlady announced that she would not be renewing in the autumn, and was giving us five months notice to vacate the property.

We were out in three weeks flat.

Never have we left anywhere so willingly, and it was by this point that we had become convinced that the presence in the bedroom was connected with the oil painting downstairs.  It was only now that I unrolled it and looked at it.  And this is where the really spooky thing happened.

As far as I was concerned, I wanted out; we couldn’t wait to see the back of the place.  We had moved all of our furniture to our new address and had returned with a friend to do some last tidying up.  I was in the cellar, hoovering the rug on my own, and I happed to be barefoot.  I was right in the centre of the room, on the opposite side from the cupboard and humidifier.  I looked at the cupboard, addressing the hidden painting, and said, “Right, it’s all yours.  If you want your bloody house so badly, you’re welcome to it, we’re Going!”  And as I said this, the water-canister in the front of the humidifier shot out of its housing, right across the room, and soaked my bare feet.

There was no way on earth it could have done so on its own.

It was a solid, heavy container for the water condensed out of the atmosphere, and it was almost full, about the size of a large, old-fashioned, removable car radio.

I swore loudly and went upstairs.  When I told our friend what had happened, and had aimed a few well-chosen words at the building in general, she said, “Don’t antagonise it!” and she virtually ran for the door….

All the same, it has been three years, and only now can I write about it.

A month after we left, our luck changed and I got my first commission to illustrate a book; appropriately enough, a book of ghost stories!  But the face and figure I drew for the cover is the one both of us imagined in that front bedroom, (on the right-hand side in the photograph), the hostile former owner of the house and, perhaps, the tragic subject of the portrait in the cellar.  I have attached a copy of the drawing to this article, and remain very glad that it comes from my imagination.  I have always had a Gothic streak anyway, but it’s only slightly comforting to think that, having lived through this situation, it has really given me a real life experience to draw on in my work.

All the same, if I had met the apparition face-to-face in that room, I really don’t know what I would have done, and that’s the truth.

The ironic thing is that prior to this haunted building, our home stood on incredibly old soil, a ten-minute walk from an enormous Barrow Mound. Given the wonderfully witchey name of “CrookBarrow Hill,” it was said to be the grave of hundreds of men who fought the Roman Invasion 19 centuries ago and yet, in almost 4 years, we never saw a single ghost.  That’s not to say that I didn’t have any hair-raising dreams about it, but that’s another story…. 

I only hope the old woman is happy now that she has her house back, and I have avoided the area ever since. Both of us have always thought it the height of good manners to know when to leave, and we remain very glad we did before the feeling of a presence became a much more tangible sighting.