Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Ghosts and Ghoulies

I had a conversation about ghosts with my sister the other night. She has this idea, you see, that she has a bit of a sixth sense; she's somehow more attuned to the supernatural than most.

I never know what to say about this topic, because I'm totally conflicted about it: it's the place where, for me, reason and experience collide. That is to say, I'm sure that there are rational explanations for just about every ghost sighting that there has ever been; tricks of the light, flaws of memory, hoaxes and hallucinations can do amazing things to people's credulity. The fact that most supernatural activity seems to happen at night without witnesses always stands it in bad stead. I know all that.

And yet, twice in my life I've been convinced that I've seen, if not ghosts, then things that can't be completely rationally accounted for.

The first time was when Mamiko had this old apartment in Tokyo, which I used to visit every Tuesday night because Wednesday was her only day off. It was a tiny place in a rickety old building, with a long street of dodgy bars, strip clubs and 'hostess' pubs outside, so I always had trouble sleeping in it until the day I started buying 99 yen ear plugs. One night I was lying in bed tossing and turning, listening to drunks singing outside and trying to chat up the hostesses, and sleep was coming even later than usual. It got to 2am, then 3am, then 4am, and every half an hour I'd get up and move about, sometimes trying to sleep on the sofa, sometimes getting a glass of milk, while listening to my girlfriend happily slumbering away. (Can there be any stranger feeling, by the way, than the mixture of emotions you get when you can't sleep but your SO can? Half of you is desparate not to make any movement at all lest it wake them up, but the other half of you is consumed with jealousy that they can be so contented while you're so miserable.)

Anyway, at about 4.30am I was lying on my side facing away from the door, when I felt a hand touch my shoulder. It lay there for a second, then seemed to grab and shake my upper arm. I vividly remember looking up and seeing a grey figure standing next to the bed, looking down at me and lowering its head as if peering into my face. I immediately lashed out with my arm and sat up, and felt a brief flash of coldness in my hand before the figure disappeared - not by vanishing but by dashing out of the room and into the kitchen.

I got up and went into the kitchen and there was nobody there. I then spent the rest of the night checking all the windows and the front door, and waiting for dawn.

The second time was when I had recently arrived in Japan, and was sort-of seeing a girl we'll call T. Together with her friends we went to a large cemetery in Aoyama, a posh part of central Tokyo, to drink under cherry blossom trees. (That isn't as weird as it sounds - Aoyama cemetery is one of the best places in Tokyo for cherry blossoms, and in spring the place fills up with drunken picknickers from noon till midnight.) We stayed there for most of the night, and at one stage T and I sneaked off to fool around a little. We found a place behind a large family grave, but we weren't there for longer than five seconds before we simultaneously noticed that there was something else there with us.

It was a green globe of light, about the size of a football, floating perhaps three metres off the ground above the grave. We watched it for ten minutes, moving this way and that, before T saw others in the distance over other graves, hovering in the moonlight. It was indescribably eerie.

Now, I know that both of these incidents are suspect. In the first, I hadn't slept well and might have been drinking the night before (I can't remember exactly) and that could well have caused my mind to play tricks on me. In the second, T and I were both drunk, it was at night, and there might even be some scientific explanation for what we saw - St Elmo's Fire or Will 'O the Wisps or some such.

I know all that. But still. I know what sleeplessness is, and what hallucinations it can cause, but that grey figure is still so vivid in my mind that it's hard to explain away as a brain fart. And we might have been drinking, but both T and I saw exactly the same things in Aoyama cemetery that night, and T even has some photos she took and which show we weren't hallucinating. So what was it?

As I said, I'm conflicted. My head tells me one thing, but I'm unsure whether to believe it. I suppose sometimes you just can't square experience with logic.


Amanda said...

Those are two eerie stories!

Somebody once told me that if you think that you feel something weird around you, then you really do. Its such a shallow sentence but it ALWAYS comes to mind whenever I think I feel something.

zero_zero_one said...

The second story is especially eerie: you fooling around with a girl...

Seriously though, just because a person can't explain something doesn't mean that that thing cannot be explained. However, to quote the bard, "There are more things in heaven and earth... Than are dreamt of in your philosophy..."

Andrew Fry said...

I just finished a course on the nature of evidence and reality. The foundation of the course was the question of what is science. The phrase pseudo science made its way into discussion a number of times. I am a rational person, but I do believe in ghostly encounters.

One thing that strikes me about the ghost conversation is that it does seem to split into two camps. Those who have not experienced an activity, presence or phenomenon, (likely to dismiss or smile along) and those who have had those experiences (immediate kinship in a shared experience). I am of the latter camp. Science is a wonderful thing that may some day explain our connections to those who have shuffled off the mortal coil, but I'm not sure we can ever explain everything.

mattiecore said...

I've never had that type of experience, and in my heart I know it would probably scare the shit out of me, but I'd really like to experience something like it.