[This is the account of my first “smoking gun.” It is as accurate as I can make it, a process that has included repeated interviews with the principles involved, always following Gibbs Rule Number One: Never question suspects together. Conversations are left out except when the exact words can be confirmed, or the comment was short enough that a memory approximation is reliable. Also, I’ve kept the descriptions as free of sensationalism as possible, in order to let the facts speak for themselves. For more information on this Smoking Gun series, please see Smoking Guns: Introduction.]
My first wife and I moved to Welland toward the end of 1974. Our apartment was long and narrow. To enter, you came in the side of the building, up a flight of stairs to a landing, which offered access to two apartments, ours and our neighbours through their kitchens. (Although our neighbours play no role in this story, they will figure rather prominently in the next.)
Below is a floor plan of the apartment. It’s important to have a good idea of the layout in order to understand the events described here. Words are good, but in a situation like this, pictures are clearer. To the left is the entrance from the landing. The right side overlooks the street. You’ll notice an arrow, labeled “Stopping Point,” pointing to a location along the hallway very close to the entrance of the living room. That will be important later on.
Now that the visuals are out of the way, here’s what happened.
Moving in was hot work. Val was already pregnant with the twins, and getting quite close to delivery, so I was doing it all myself. Partway through I got thirsty. Fortunately there was a convenience store just beside the shoe store below us, so I ran down, grabbed a Coke from their fridge, then ran back upstairs to continue the unpacking. I realised about an hour later that I’d neglected the commercial part of the transaction, so I ran down to pay. That was when I first met Roseanne, a very pretty young woman who worked as a clerk at the store. (The fact that I met her is important to the story. The fact that she was pretty is just an added bonus.)
We finished unpacking late that night, and as a reward sat down at the dining room table to smoke a bit of the stash we’d brought with us. It was the same stash that, a few days later, would allow me to learn to type in one night, and a few days after that, to walk across the road to the newspaper office and land a byline with the city newspaper (all of which is recounted in How I Came to do Marijuana). Good stuff, and I mention it for the sake of full disclosure, plus to show that it had nothing to do with subsequent events.
Around two in the morning, both Val and I simultaneously had a sudden, and very strong feeling that something had just come in the kitchen. We could clearly see that nothing was there, but not only did the feeling persist, it felt like whatever the intruder was, it was coming closer.
It was also scary as hell.
We couldn’t stay in the dining room any longer, so we retreated down the hall to the living room, but the feeling that it was still moving continued. About ten minutes later we felt that it had reached the point I’ve marked on the floor plan as the “Stopping Point,” and was just sitting there. I want to stress that it wasn’t as though a ghostly figure had come down the hall — whatever it was, it felt like it was still in the kitchen, the dining room, and all the way down the hall. Our impression was of something like a malevolent mist or fog — invisible, but as palpable as a night terror.
A few minutes later, we felt it retreating. About 20 minutes after it started, we were convinced it was gone.
I was impressed, but not unduly so. After all, we’d smoke some grass, and it was very easy for me to imagine that we’d simply become suggestible to each other’s reactions and fantasized the whole thing.
But then, the next night, at the same time, it happened again. And the night after that.
I can’t describe how impossible it was to stay where the “thing” was. I could no more enter the hallway when it was there than I could have entered an underground dungeon with shadows of animated skeletons moving about.
Still, you learn to live with stuff, and we adjusted the best we could.
Because of my inadvertent theft from the convenience store, we’d struck up a friendship with Roseann, and had her over one night about a week after we moved in. I’d told Val not to mention our nightly visitor to her when she arrived, and I knew she hadn’t said anything up to that point because the two of them had not spent any time together without me being present. (As time went on, that would change — but this was just a few days after moving, and she was still a very new friend.) I wanted to see if I could detect any change in Rosann’s behaviour when the “mist” made its appearance.
Whatever else you might say about the phenomenon, it was remarkably precise in its timing, and as the time grew close, I got ready to observe Roseann as closely as possible without being obvious about it. That turned out not to be as necessary as I had thought. At the very moment I felt it enter the kitchen, she sat bolt upright and said, “What the hell is that?” Val started to say something, but I stopped her. I didn’t want any contamination of Rosanne’s perceptions. Instead I asked her to tell me exactly what she felt. She described something terrifying coming in through the kitchen, through the dining room, and down the hall. Naturally, I could feel it too, and each stage of her description matched not only what I was feeling, but what Val and I had felt each night since moving in. Then Roseann said, “It’s stopped.” I asked her to tell me where. She approached the door to the hall very, very slowly, and pointed to the same Stopping Point we’d repeatedly observed. A few minutes later, she said, “It’s leaving now.”
Okay. That was confirmation of a sort. We hadn’t been smoking (we actually smoked very little), and I knew I hadn’t said anything to her about it. And since I was with Val 24 hours a day (no need to leave the house while writing), I knew Val hadn’t either.
I have to admit, that was pretty good confirmation that something was going on, although I had no clue what it was. But there was still some lingering doubt. Had the three of us somehow heterodyned on a subconscious level, with Val and I unwittingly leading the way? It seemed remarkably unlikely, but there was nothing to completely discount it. At that point I put it down as “excellent” evidence, but not a smoking gun.
But there was to be more.
Not long after this, it came time for us to return to Toronto. That’s where our doctor was, and we had arranged to stay over a few nights at Ian’s place when Val’s delivery time was close. Our first-born, however, was still a baby, and we didn’t want to lug her around during this whole procedure, so we arranged for Flo (my mother) to come and stay in our apartment while we were in Toronto. It would also give her time to spend with her granddaughter.
The delivery didn’t go exactly as planned, but I’ve already described that particular fiasco in some detail (Want Fries With That?). We came back home (without the twins), walked in through the door, and the first words out of Flo’s mouth were, “I’m never staying in this place again! What is that?” And when I say they were the first words, I mean that literally. There was no, “So how are you doing?” No, “It’s good to see you guys again.” Just a near-hysterical declaration that she was never coming back.
I already knew what had happened, but I got her to describe it. The route it took was the same. The length of time it took to traverse the route was the same. The “Stopping Point” was the same. And the time and length of its retreat was the same. (The retreat, while not immediate, was always significantly faster than its approach.)
There was, however, one difference. Flo had done something we’d never done.
One night, while she’d been holed up in the living room to get away from the terror, the urge to pee had become too great and she simply had to go to the washroom. It was her second or third night experiencing the phenomenon, and she knew she wouldn’t be able wait it out. She said that when she finally built up the courage to go down the hall and actually entered the “presence,” she felt like the air around her had frozen.
That was the final piece of evidence I needed. Not only had I not told her, but neither had Val. We weren’t even around, and she experienced the same thing every night she was there. Even if we had given off subconscious signals of our unease about the place, there was no way she could have picked up enough from them for the details to have matched so exactly. No “natural” explanation was possible.
Not long after this, Val and I read a book which described a ceremony for dispelling ghosts and we performed it. The “thing” never appeared again — even though I never believed it was a ghost, and don’t to this day.
And that’s the end of that story.
Okay, this thing ended up being way too long, so I’m going to put the possible conclusion into a separate post.