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Encounters with the Uncanny: Postscript

Last week I mentioned that the September Meanjin has an essay by me about ghosts and ghost stories. At the time the piece was print-only, but I’m delighted to say it’s now available online in its entirety.

Obviously I think you should read it right away, but once you have I think you should come back here, because in the week since it was published it’s acquired an extremely unsettling postscript …

The postscript relates to the anecdote at the end of the piece about the house I grew up in. As I say in the piece:

there was a space in front of the window seat in the front room that terrified me. When the room was full of people and sound it rarely bothered me, but as soon as I was alone there I would feel it, the sense that something was there, a presence or—I sometimes thought—a hole, into which all the light and warmth in the room seemed to drain. More times than I can remember I felt it start: the creeping feeling I was not alone, that something malevolent was nearby; more times than I can remember I fled the room, too afraid to turn and see whatever it was that lurked there.

I’m not sure I’d ever discussed this with anybody except my father, who, disturbingly, was similarly uneasy about that room. But last week, when I sent the piece to my brother I got an email back almost immediately.

The email read:

So funny the things we don’t talk about.

The front room by the window was where the old lady I saw once was when I was sleeping in there with my friend A– when I was about 13.

Scared the shit out of me.

Understandably surprised I emailed him back to say I didn’t know the story, to which he responded:

Middle of the night, old thin woman sitting at end of A–’s mattress staring at me, put head under covers and then she was not there when I looked again.

Always freaked me out that room, especially if I was the only one in the house, could feel it just walking past the doorway into it.

So there you are.

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. James, this is a fascinating piece you wrote. It does give me the chills particularly since I’m currently living in a house as part of my writing residency, which I’m sharing with a ghost. Although I must say “my” ghost is more a positive and supportive vibe. Lucky!

    September 18, 2012
  2. Lee #

    Terrific! I’m off to read it straight away.

    September 20, 2012
  3. Deborah #

    in listening to many women over 40 or so years i have heard similar stories told in a deprecating manner because of course we all know nothing’s there. Except when you add all those stories together, and make a decision to accept them, there is a great deal of evidence that something…has happened, is there, what can you say? The small house I lived in – the first house I bought – had three adults standing in front of the stove, or now the fireplace but then where the wood stove was. They watched me see them from the door step which separated the front of the house from the back. They were smaller than me. After a while when I had filled the house with people they were no longer there.

    Good on you James, love to all

    September 20, 2012
  4. Great read as always. Reminds me of a friend who relocated to Perth with his family a few years ago and experienced some things he could not explain. Among them was an uneasy feeling near a particular corner of the backyard — they later found out a young man had hung himself from a tree that used to stand in that exact spot.

    September 20, 2012
  5. Bec #

    My mother operated a shop out of a town’s two oldest buildings, which were once homes. The back room of the second building always felt unwelcoming and many people refused to go near it. Turns out a son of the original inhabitants had died in there after breaking his hip falling off a penny farthing bike. Thing is, the best bit of the story really, is a century later a descendant brought a photograph of the entire family to the building. It was as if the son realised he wasn’t bound there any more, he had his family back and departed when the photo did. The voices that my mother sometimes heard in the front room also left. She was certain they were of parents, who were worried about their son. The buildings never felt sad again. And now I wonder if my deceased mother sometimes visits them. I hope she does.

    September 22, 2012
  6. They’re all such fascinating stories that I feel like I should turn this thread over to people describing their on encounters with this sort of stuff. And it’s interesting so many of us have them, not least because this really is one of those places where the different ways we have of being in the world seem to rub up against each other, often with quite unsettling results.

    September 22, 2012
  7. Dorothy Johnston #

    Fascinating piece, James. It’s interesting that Henry Handel Richardson was an ardent spiritualist, as was her father Walter. I was thinking about her a couple of weeks ago when my partner and I had dinner at the Royal Hotel in Queenscliff, which is just down the road from where Ettie Richardson, (as she was then, of course, lived while her father was dying horribly from syphilis. The Royal is Queenscliff’s oldest hotel, and Walter is supposed to have given medical lectures there, though I don’t see how he could have been well enough. Before the town had a regular morgue, a sandpit in the hotel basement doubled as one. It’s rumoured that the new managers are going to start running ghost tours. I’ll be signing up for one.

    October 3, 2012
  8. nathancurnow #

    Hi James

    I really enjoyed your piece in Meanjin.

    It’s so complex isn’t it? What these strange experiences say about us… the complexity of whether we believe, deny or live with them as unsolvable ‘primitive parts’ of ourselves. It’s fascinating!

    we will have to share stories one day.

    cheers mate

    October 4, 2012

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