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Today, author Lana Lea shares a haunting true story.
By Lana Lea
This is my own childhood experience of the house I grew up in at Westwood. I lived in this house from the age of one until I was fourteen. My parents had no idea the house was haunted, although my grandmother, who visited us several times during the period we were there, mentioned to mum that she felt a presence. And that it wasn’t a very pleasant one.
I would awaken in the night, deep in the darkest hours when everyone was in bed, asleep.
No warning. No chance to move, to get away from it. I would simply wake up, my voice and my body paralysed, unable to even blink or breathe. There was a particular feeling of malice that accompanied the presence. I feared it more than anything else. More than the bullies at school. More than the wasps that built under the house and stung me if I even looked at their nest. More than my mother when she disciplined me – which was hard and often. I was terrified of this presence, and I’m sure it knew that I was.
During these night-time expeditions, I believed the ghost was sitting on my chest. I’d struggle to draw in a breath, to no avail. These horror-inducing visitations seemed to stretch on for many long minutes, until I was sure I would die from lack of oxygen, but they probably only lasted seconds. Then the pressure lifted off my chest and I sat bolt upright, gasping in lungfuls of air, and shivering in the intense chill that always accompanied the event. It usually took several minutes for the temperature to return to normal afterwards, by which time I would have bundled myself back under the bedclothes with my back to the door in an attempt to shut out the memory of the ghostly visit whilst trying to get warm again.
I don’t remember when I first became conscious of the presence in our house. It was always just there. I couldn’t see it; in fact, during all the years I spent in that house, I never once saw any visual manifestation of the ghost. But I certainly felt it. The thing that reminded me most, day in, day out, of the ghost’s presence, was the constant feeling of being watched. I don’t mean everywhere I went, but in specific locations. The strongest feeling of the ghost was in the spare room, across the hallway from my bedroom. I couldn’t bear to enter that room for most of my childhood, as the creepy sensation of being watched was so strong. Not only that, but I felt almost tangible waves of hatred and malevolence wash over me if I ventured even a step through the doorway.
The invisible watching eyes followed me all around that end of the house. In my bedroom. In the hallway. The little veranda that opened off the hallway, with stairs down to the yard. And anywhere in the yard over which the spare room windows looked. I sometimes felt the ghostly gaze in other parts of the house – in the lounge room, and my parent’s bedroom. Sometimes, when I was smaller, I crawled under the house to play, or to hide from parental authority. Even in the gloom underneath the house, I couldn’t bear to enter the space beneath the spare room, as I felt the menacing presence of the unwanted watcher there as well. It was just so eerie and unsettling.
I often felt out of my mind with fear induced by the watching presence. I must have seemed crazy at times, doing strange things that my parents could find no rhyme or reason for – and nor could I, when pushed for explanations. I grew up filled with a feeling of utter, unreasoning dread, icy tendrils of fear tickling my scalp, plucking at my heartstrings, and settling like a heavy, cold rock in the pit of my stomach. There were also times when ridiculous thoughts would enter my head, like the ill-founded suspicion that my beloved teddy bear, who I took to bed with me every night, was planning to kill me in my sleep.
Most days, I spent as much time as I could outside, as far away as I could get from the unwelcome presence in the house. Or I’d play quietly in the dining room or lounge room. I rarely ever spent time in my bedroom, except to sleep, as it felt so uncomfortable. Closing the door made no difference, and if I did, mum would come along and open it again to see what I was up to. I never was up to anything much, just trying to read a book or arrange my toys or have a tea party with Big Ted, Raggedy-Ann and Holly Hobby. She couldn’t understand why I’d shut the door if I wasn’t playing up, and I knew she thought I was strange for doing so. But I believed she would think me even stranger if I told her about the ghost.
I have since read, as an adult, that those who don’t believe in the existence of ghosts have some sort of ‘scientific’ explanation for what they label ‘night terrors’. Whether or not my experience can simply be explained away by saying some function of my body misfired, causing the said effects, I beg to take into account all the other weird and frightening circumstances around the haunting. As it was, I developed insomnia that persisted well into my adult years, even after leaving the house at Westwood. And I still cannot go to sleep laying on my back, thanks to the experiences of my childhood.
Of course, I’ve often wondered who the watcher might have been when they were alive. Who the actual person was who lived – and possibly died – in that house, leaving such an intense and menacing presence to haunt it after death. I had some vague impressions that may have been something to do with it. I always felt it had been female, and that it hated children especially. I had no doubt during my childhood that it would take my life if it could find the means. Who was this invisible stranger who affected me so much in my formative years, watching me so intently?
I am not alone in wishing to know. As an adult, I’ve been back there on daytime drives – back to that house of fear and trauma. Most times my partner would drive on by whilst I gazed out the window at the house I grew up in, wondering about the presence there. But one time we stopped, and I stood at the curb, looking at it. Out came the man who lived there with his family. We stood talking for a while, and a couple of his children joined us, bright-eyed and curious. On learning that I had grown up in this house, the little boy looked up at me and said something that sent shivers down me.
“Did you know about the ghost?”
I told him I did, and we discussed the subject in depth. It seemed the ghostly watcher had treated them no better than it had treated me. An older girl, a teenager who was absent during my visit, was so badly affected by the presence that she refused to live in the house, and her parents had been forced to buy a donger for her to occupy out in the house yard, located well away from that room. She came in for meals and to use the bathroom, but that was it. I could empathise entirely with her feelings about it.
The children were most excited to meet someone else who knew about the ghostly presence. I’m not sure their father was entirely convinced of the ghost’s existence, as – like with my own parents – neither he nor their mother had picked up on it themselves. But I felt like my own childhood experiences had been validated, as those children described so closely the very same things that I had gone through myself. In a way I think they were lucky. At least there were four of them to share the ordeal. I had been an only child, and had to bear the brunt of the ghost’s malevolence alone and in silence, in case I invited unwanted ridicule.
It has been many years since the experiences I have described here. Although I don’t often think of them any more, I can’t deny that they had a huge impact on me at the time. I know the spell has been at least partially broken – on my visit to the house, during which the man, his children and I walked about the yard – I didn’t feel any sense of the watcher or its malevolent gaze. Knowing the once-human identity of the fiend would not lessen or eliminate the damage it did me when I was a child, or stop it from terrorising other children. Which means it likely lurks there still, waiting, watching...