The Ghost of Our Beliefs
Chris J Mitchell
© Chris J Mitchell 2017
The morning sun illuminates a layer of mist that rests on the fields like a giant blanket. In this countryside scene sits a cottage where an elderly man with greying hair puts on a warm jacket, gloves and a scarf around his neck.
“Sam, walkies,” he calls, and a West Highland terrier dog rushes over to him and starts hopping around his feet ready for his regular early morning trot. The man, Joshua, takes an extendable lead from a small stand by the door and kneels down on one knee. Sam stops his exuberance for a moment while the lead is attached, but the moment Josh stands up Sam heads for the front door.
“I’m off now, usual route,” Josh calls upstairs to his wife.
“Okay, see you,” she calls back.
Outside the air is fresh and Josh has a little thought to himself that he is most fortunate to retire to such an idyllic spot. Like a couple of well-versed explorers, they venture down an overgrown path that leads into a field; where the grass is damp, but Josh has a good pair of waterproof walking shoes, and Sam doesn’t mind proceeding with no shoes at all.
In the near distance is a copse of woods and a small lake, and beyond that, the tower of an old church spire is just poking out above the misty tree line. Josh approaches the lake, that’s peacefully at rest, and it is what he considers the icing on the cake that caps off this wonderful setting. A layer of mist hangs over the water and beams of sunlight break through the trees falling onto the shimmering lake surface.
Approaching the lake Josh lets Sam off the lead, who rushes to the place following any interesting scent that catches his nostrils. Whilst Sam is not particularly taken in by the sights around him, he is taken in by smells that fill the air. This to him is the real interest, and if he could give it more thought he would likely wonder why Josh seems captivated or is at least marvelling over the scenery in front of them. For surely isn’t more interest taken from the scents that enter the nose?
Around half an hour later, the pair is back in the cottage and Josh is hanging up his coat and scarf. He puts the lead down next to a book with the title, ‘The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever,’ by Christopher Hitchens. He then proceeds into the living room where his wife, Evelyn, has prepared a cup of tea for him.
“How was the walk?”
“Marvellous, splendid morning out there.”
“Yes, it did look quite picturesque from the window. But did you have any breakfast?”
“Yes, I had a bite to eat. No need for anything else, I’m quite full.”
“Okay, how’s the book going?”
“Interesting, although it doesn’t really produce anything I wasn’t already aware of and what I would really like is something more scientific, something that gives me elements I can see, study and test.”
“I see,” replies Eve as she busily tidies up the kitchen.
Josh sips on his tea and turns on the television to the early morning news. On the wall, next to the television is a framed certificate reading ‘Lifetime achievement award for excellence in Engineering’ from the British Society of Engineering and Science. The award is addressed to Joshua Dell, and it is an achievement that Josh is most proud of.
Since he was a kid, Josh has had a methodical mind and enjoyed building all types of machinery from his Meccano set. As well as a passing interest in physics and the sciences, his love of the workings of the world around him and his curiosity of nearly anything manmade transcended into his adult life where he studied Civil engineering. This lead to a career, for being somewhat of a natural in this chosen profession he did well and built a solid reputation in his field. A passion that even though he has retired, he still greatly holds. To him, the world provides the most marvellous set of tools and opportunities to create inventions and structures that better the human species. This is though the tangible world and universe that we live in. It is what can be observed, tested and recorded. Everything else, to Joshua at least, is theory or myth.
“I was listening to this fascinating program on the radio this morning. It really was quite mysterious you know. It was about the edge of the universe and whether there is an edge or is it just infinity. We don’t actually know, and it’s all theory at the moment,” says Eve.
“Intriguing,” replies Josh who is passively listening as he concentrates on the news.
“All really strange and we haven’t observed all of what’s in the universe, just the observable universe as it’s called. Which is limited to something a bit like a horizon, that we can’t see past because the light cannot reach us from beyond it, or at least it was something like that. I can’t completely remember the description,” Eve says from the kitchen.
She was a pharmacist by trade and now also retired, but she does not always see eye to eye with Josh. She is an agnostic at heart and sees this as the most rational approach. “Are you listening?” asks Eve.
“Hmm, sorry what’s that,” Josh says, sounding slightly annoyed.
“Are you listening,” Eve says. Walking out of the kitchen and staring at Josh as she does so.
“Sorry I was distracted by the TV.”
“I was saying how strange the edge of the universe or possible lack of one is.”
“Yes, interesting, I think I read an article about it in the New Scientist a while back. Most intriguing.”
“It’s something you can’t actually study or test directly; as we haven’t detected any traces of an edge, so if there is one it’s way beyond the edges of the observable universe.”
“I thought you might say that,” Josh smiles. A reference to many previous discussions they have had about life and science. These are well mannered and on the whole friendly. It is one of the reasons their relationship has worked so well and lasted. Not necessarily because they talk openly all the time, but because when they do so, they are open to listening to each other’s opinions and sometimes even changing their minds.
“I’m sure you would have liked the program.”
“I would have, I imagine. Mind you though we can see the world and the stars around us, so we know for a fact that something exists, and the edge of the universe or whatever it may be is connected in some way to what we can see. So, we have at least some hard facts something is there.”
“Perhaps, but we don’t really know. The thing is, this is something that is a mystery. We can’t observe it, and it’s all theory at the moment, so we don’t know what exists out there.”
“So, you’re saying what? Some hidden meaning I sense in your point.”
“Not really, just that we know something is out there and exists; although there is no direct evidence or way to observe it.”
“Hmm, trying to walk me into a trap,” Josh laughs.
“No, no, dear.”
“Didn’t we have this conversation some time ago?”
“We are nerds.”
“Ha, no, we are inquisitive with life to the full.”
“A better description. Anyway, I’m going to head down to the market. Do you want to come?”
“I think I’ll stay in. I’ve got a few things to do and may read this book a bit more.”
“Okay, I’ll head out shortly.”
“Righty-oh, see you in a bit.”
A few moments later Eve has prepared herself to leave for the market and picks up the car keys from the table. Saying goodbye to Josh and Sam she heads out into the crisp, fresh air.
“Now then Sam, what matters to you, the edge of the universe or a nice treat?” At hearing the word treat Sam’s ears pick up and he raises his head from a resting position. Josh walks into the kitchen where Sam excitedly follows in trepidation for the upcoming treat he senses coming his way. “You know Sam some things in life are strange, or perhaps that’s my perception,” Josh says as he opens the cupboard with the treats in. Sam sits and waits in expectation with one thought on his mind: the tasty treat. “I mean you have no care or thought for the universe or for whether a God exists or not. You care mainly for food, sleeping, walks and breeding.”
Josh takes a treat from a box of dog snacks. Sam’s excitement is now palpable, and he has to stop himself from moving from his sitting position. “Perhaps it’s just the human condition that we seek out meaning, search for the great beyond and all that stuff.” Sam is now getting slightly annoyed. Josh is slow in providing the treat, and whatever the sounds are coming from Josh’s mouth they seem to be the cause. “Here you go Sam,” Josh gently drops the snack into Sam’s mouth. “I mean you dogs and alike all seem so much more content with anything you are given, and I don’t mean just treats. I mean the world around you. No questions asked, you just get on with things. Anyway, I’m sure you’re thoroughly bored of my philosophising and wish to rest. Which I shall let you do.”
Josh retrieves the book he was reading and nestles into his chair. For the rest of the day he reads, potters about, eats, drinks and chats a bit more to Eve when she returns, and then later retires to his bed for the night.
The next morning Josh following routine calls Sam for this early walk and the happy pair set off down towards the lake. The mist as was there yesterday once again covers the surface of the lake and creates a wonderful scene. Sam is filled with joy as Josh lets him off the lead, but Josh senses something is different.
A strange, unaccountable, internal feeling that something is not quite right and this creates a little tension in him. He can see nothing that could cause him danger and there is no mugger or venomous animal in sight.
He brushes these thoughts to one side though as they are just irrational emotions and continues his walk. As he walks to the lake edge, the mist becomes heavier, and he looks in amazement as in the distance there is a young lady kneeling by the water’s edge. She wears an old-fashioned white dress and appears to have brown hair. Josh’s amazement is not from seeing another person, but from the fact this figure is semi-transparent, and he can see right through her. He rubs his eyes in disbelief and stares at the figure, and then the figure looks up and stares back at him.
For a moment, he is lost in time and the realisation that something extraordinary is happening. Could it be real or is it just his imagination? But there in the distance, something so tangible, vivid and plan to see. The sight of the figure strikes emotional strings in Josh’s heart. Strings that have not been touched since he was a kid and as though seeing something for the first time.
The figure fades into the mist, and with Josh in shock, he stumbles backwards losing his balance and sits awkwardly down onto the damp path. His heart pounding, he can’t believe what he has just seen. It goes against many of his beliefs, and in a single moment, they have been put into question. The supernatural has always been nonsense in his view, but could it be there is something to it. Sam, on the other hand, has been happily sniffing about, although he is interested in seeing Josh sit on the path and goes over to him to have a good sniff.
Back at the cottage, Josh rushes in through the door.
“Eve, Eve, are you up?”
“Yes, in the kitchen,” Eve replies as Josh tosses his jacket and hat to one side.
“You’ll not believe what I’ve just seen!” Eve comes into the living room as she detects a note of bewilderment in Josh’s voice.
“What is it?”
“I saw a ghost.”
“A ghost… Really?”
“Yes, I’m sure of it. At the lake, a young lady by the water’s edge. She looked Victorian.”
“Your imagination perhaps?”
“No, I’m sure she was there for several seconds and then vanished.”
“Well, you of all people,” Eve chuckles in disbelief.
“I need a good cup of tea,” Josh says as he breaths out a puff of air in expiration.
“I’ve got one on the brew now, come and sit down in the kitchen.”
A few moments later, after making the tea and placing it on the table, Eve sits with Josh in the kitchen. Whilst Sam rests up in his dog bed.
“Now say again, you saw a young woman, wearing a white Victorian like dress. Who you could see right through, but you’re sure it wasn’t a trick of your imagination?”
“Yes, and also no one else was there, I’m sure of that, and I can’t think what else it could be. I saw clearly a transparent ghostly figure.”
“You of all people.”
“I know, trust me I’m more than baffled by this.”
“Could it be a hoax?”
“Possibly, that is I would say one of three possible explanations. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a hoax. Firstly, I didn’t see another person around or hiding in the bushes, and secondly, it would be extremely elaborate and using technology I’m not aware of.”
“The other two explanations?”
“Either I imagined it, or it was real.”
“Amazing to say the least, quite a turn of events in fact.”
“I can’t believe it, you know.”
“I suppose you’re going to become a mystic by developing your clairvoyancy now?” teases Eve.
“This is no time for jokes Eve.”
“I’m glad as I’ve just thrown out those lilies and you may have needed them for your hair.”
“Please Eve, this is serious, you do believe me, don’t you?”
“Yes of course, but this coming from you is quite something. I’m glad you didn’t just brush it off or kept it a secret though because this doesn’t fit in with your worldview.”
“Of course, I agree on both points.”
“You always said as an engineer you can only believe what you can see and what can be measured. How can anything else exist, but now do you have something that presents a challenge to these beliefs?”
“In a sense of course, but I am not sure what I saw. I would say it doesn’t in any way suggest the existence of a God or creator, but it does present the existence of something more that is beyond present human knowledge.”
“So, the first question is, do you believe what you saw?”
“A good question, presently with the knowledge I have, I would say yes I do believe what I saw, and I believe it may be an unexplained natural phenomenon.”
“Well, take me down there now. I’d love to see the spot,” replies Eve.
Around seventeen minutes later Josh and Eve are back at the lake, but Sam has been left behind as not to slow down the pair in their investigations.
“It was just over there,” Josh says as he points to the spot where he saw the figure. The two walk over to the spot glancing around them and seeing if they spy anything out of the ordinary. The mist has now lifted, and the Sun is rising in the sky creating a clear morning.
“There was something else that I forgot to mention,” says Josh.
“I felt a little strange as I approached this place. A sense of tension in my body, like I was feeling concerned. Not a great deal mind you, something discreet that I just ignored.”
“Yes, maybe the two aren’t connected. Maybe it was something I ate that put me a little on edge. I’ll add that I had no heightened sense of fear and I saw no other person.”
“Well, I can see nothing here out of the ordinary.”
Josh looks around the spot where the girl was kneeling and then into the water. He also looks into the bushes around and walks off the path.
“Anything there?” calls Eve.
“No, I can’t see anything strange. There’s no sign of footsteps or anything being disturbed.”
“All looks normal to me.”
“As was expected I suppose.”
“Shall we head back?”
“Yes, let’s get back now, there’s nothing further here.”
Back home, Josh continues his investigation online and scours over the details from the various information he is presented with on the web. Investigating the paranormal and supernatural is something that Josh would not usually see himself doing in a hundred years, but this is a special circumstance, and he feels compelled to do so. Eve comes into the small study and brings him a coffee and a biscuit.
“Thanks, dear,” says Josh as Eve pulls up a seat next to him. Josh sips on the coffee. “Oh dear,” says Josh.
“What is it?”
“This coffee tastes funny.”
“Oh, I thought it was something you found online.”
“No, try this.”
Eve takes a sip.
“Oh, it’s sour milk, I am sorry.”
“We must get some new milk.”
“Ghosts are one thing, but sour milk really is frightful.”
“I know, I’ll get some today. Have you found anything of interest though?”
“Not yet no, but only just started looking and to be honest not completely sure where to start.”
“Local ghost sightings, legends or anything like that?”
“Yes, but I was also thinking along the lines of local consensus or death records, but can start with a few general searches,” replies Josh, “now let’s see.” Josh searches for local ghosts in the village. The search returns a list of various articles and stories on local ghosts. One about a drunken vicar and the other about the ghost of a young child that has been seen in or around the local pub. But there is no mention of sightings of a young Victorian female ghost or any ghost at the lake.
“Hmm, out of interest let me try searching a nearby village.” He types in ‘Ely local ghosts,’ and then ‘Huntingdon local ghosts,’ and then ‘Cambridge local ghosts.’ “Hmm quite fascinating. I’m doing the same search every time and just changing the place name, and I’m getting ghost stories come up for every location.”
“I can see, it seems that everywhere in Cambridgeshire is haunted.”
“I bet it’s the same for every place in the UK.”
“Fascinating, perhaps ghosts like the cloudy weather.”
“I’m sure many books could be written about the subject from a scientific and psychological viewpoint. I mean why are there so many sightings?”
“Who knows, tricks of the mind, the fear of the unknown, seeing a bush rustle or hearing something unexplained has been equated to ghosts.”
“Yes, it seems something conjures them from deep in the human psyche.”
“Fear or superstition?”
“Yes both, but there is something else I think.”
“Entertainment… People love spinning a yarn, or scaring each other. This keeps such myths alive in our minds.”
“I’m not sure if I like spinning such yarns.”
“But others do.”
“Yes, I suppose.”
“There appears more than one reason for sure and perhaps even a phenomenon that is yet to be explained.”
“Well, I’ll let you get on with this. I’m going out to buy a few things, including milk. Need anything else?”
“No, no, I’m quite alright.”
“See you shortly then.”
Eve leaves Josh in the study where he whittles away the next few hours carrying out various searches. Amongst these, he searches for any articles or stories of ghostly sightings in the village or nearby.
But then moves on to the national archives, online records, local consensus’ and death records to search out documentation of females who died in the village during the eighteen hundreds.
He also finds the somewhat amateurish looking website of a nearby historian; a man by the name of Oliver Jones. There is a contact email for him on the site, so Josh emails him before turning the computer off.
The morning has now departed and the early afternoon begins its shift. It is not alone though and with it comes a light pattering of rain against the windows. The sky outside slowly darkens, and a large grey cloud with gusts of wind picks up as a storm approaches.
In the living room, Josh waits for Eve. “Please come now Eve, and see what I have pulled together.” Eve walks into the living room departing from the kitchen and places herself ready for Josh’s latest findings.
“So, what news do you bring from the other side?”
“I’ve found nothing conclusive, but I have several things of interest.”
“Please tell,” says Eve.
“You would not believe, but searching out the local death records is no easy task and took me a while just to find a useful source. The national archives website was useful and also had links to other useful online resources. But did you know before eighteen thirty-seven there was no general registry office for births or deaths? And such records were kept mainly at local parishes.”
“Now, this figure I saw was wearing what I would equate as Victorian clothes; interestingly the Victorian period is noted at starting in eighteen thirty-seven to around nineteen hundred and one, so if my rough guess is correct then this girl would have died during that period. Again, working on a complete assumption that she died possibly in or near the lake and I saw her ghost.”
“Yes, and that is a big assumption.”
“Indeed, and it is not the only problem; I did eventually find a registry of births, marriages, and deaths that I could search for specified areas and years. I did a search for this area, and just between the years of eighteen thirty-seven to eighteen forty-two, it brought back the results of around ten thousand people. All within an age range of about thirty and worse than that no causes of death were displayed. So, let’s say a female drowned in that pond, unfortunately so far I have no way of finding this out.”
“That’s a dilemma. How would you find out the causes of death?”
“I’m not sure, for the records did not seem to have that data.”
“Is there no way of finding out?”
“They may be, but it may also be a fruitless search for me to try and scour the records for female names and then research each one individually in the hope of finding something that may relate to what I saw.”
“That’s not worth your time.”
“It’s not, but I have one lead though that I’ve followed up. I found the contact details for a local historian, and I’ve dropped him an email directly, asking some general questions. Let’s see if he responds, and he may cast some light on the whole matter of death records.”
“Did you tell him you had seen a ghost?”
“No, I didn’t mention that, I just asked him about researching the history of individuals in the village, but that I had seen a strange Victorian like figure that although likely a prank, had piqued my curiosity.”
“That was honest of you. He may think you’re mad, but I do hope he comes back to you.”
“I hope he doesn’t think me to be mad. I wish I could be completely honest with him, and that I could just tell him the truth. But if even you think I risk sounding mad then it’s best that I didn’t.”
“No, no I didn’t mean that…”
“It’s okay, I know you didn’t mean that. It’s just a general perception around the whole topic. I guess it points to the fact that there’s not a solid shred of evidence that ghosts exist, and those that see them are either mistaken or crazy.”
“My Aunt Margaret said she once saw a ghost as a kid and I never saw her as mad. She was really quite lovable.”
“Yes, but you knew her. She was family and trusted. You knew she wasn’t mad.”
“I know you’re not mad.”
“I know, but going back to my original point. If you speak to a stranger about seeing a ghost, there’s a risk he or she will think you mad. So best approach the subject carefully. I guess maybe again it points to the fact ghosts don’t exist.”
“What did you see then?”
“I don’t know.”
A few days later and Josh walks with great trepidation as he approaches a quaint looking house. He has not felt nerves like this for a long time, and his palms are a little sweaty. It is not a sense of pride that hinders him, but a fear of humiliation or at the least being viewed as a bit silly. He never expected to be here, and the invite to visit Oliver was beyond his expectation. Josh has though decided he will tell the truth if required, although he does not have to, but it is a matter of honesty for him to do so.
He hears the sound of the doorbell ringing inside, and his nerves pick up as behind a panel of frosted glass he sees a figure approaching. The door opens to a smartly dressed man, with a bald head, but still with hair on either side and a moustache.
“Joshua Dell, I presume?”
“Yes, it is. Oliver, I also presume?”
“Indeed, grand to meet you.”
“Thanks so much for meeting me,” replies Josh as he shakes Oliver’s hand.
“Please come in, and don’t worry about it, anything to help a fellow historical sleuth. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Yes please, milk and no sugar.”
Moments later the pair sit in a living room that could easily be presumed the cliché of a historian’s. Old prints of maps, a bookshelf full of books on antiquity and various historical subjects. Beautifully carved wooden statues of elephants sit on the mantelpiece, and there is the slight smell of old books like you get in an antique shop.
“Oliver, thanks again for replying to my email and inviting me, a stranger to your house.”
“No problem, I’m more than glad to help out if and when I can. Your email was intriguing, and something about it caught my eye.”
“I shall give you all the details I can then.”
“As much as possible.”
“Well, you see I’m looking for the identity of a young Victorian woman. Around the age of twenty-five and not older than thirty. She would have died somewhere around the year of eighteen fifty, but the time span could be anything from eighteen thirty-seven to nineteen hundred and one.”
“The Victorian period.”
“Do you know this person’s name?”
“I am afraid I do not. But I know she lived in the village where I live and possibly near the lake. Also, that her cause of death may have been drowning, but I am not sure of that.”
“That is not much to go on, a pool of possibilities.”
“I know, and I do hope that I made that clear in the email.”
“Yes, you did. But I will warn you that it will be very difficult to find the name of this person. I’m intrigued though, why are you looking for a person you know next to nothing about?”
“It’s a strange story, to be honest. But I have the reason to believe that this female either drowned in the lake or lived near it and I’m trying to find out if my reasoning is correct.”
“Yes, you, of course, are also aware that I mentioned a possible prank. But something strange in nature.”
“Yes, this is something that intrigued me. There is no obvious purpose for a practical joke I could see, but are you aware of one?”
“No, none that I could see. So, I’m investigating this to see if there is anything more to it.”
“I understand, but are you aware of any local myths or urban legends around a woman that drowned in the lake? This could be the basis for a prank?”
“Unfortunately, there is none that I’m aware of and having searched the Internet, I could find none online that related to what I saw.”
“This will be difficult, if at all possible. I assume you have looked at local birth and death records?”
“I have. I managed to find some local death records online. But all they provide are names, location and year of death. Apart from that not much else.”
“Hmm, local records of births and deaths were initially kept only by local parishes. Other records before this or at the same period were really only kept for business reasons. You know, so and so owes one pig and three sheep to the local lord. Or farmer Jones owes three shillings to the tax man. And also, there was no uniform way of keeping records of deaths. Records between parishes varied and whilst some I’m aware of did keep details of the cause of death. Most did not.”
“It does not get much better I’m afraid, you see, one thing that must be taken with a pinch of salt on any death record up to around eighteen seventy-four and even after that year; is the recorded cause of death. Very often those recording the deaths weren’t completely sure themselves, or they just put down the closest guess they could muster. Going back to Victorian times, diagnoses were notoriously unreliable, and it wasn’t until eighteen seventy-four that a doctor’s certificate was even a necessity for issuing of a death certificate, and until that date, it wasn’t even necessary to put a cause of death on the death certificate.”
“Goodness, that does put me in a pickle.”
“As amazing as it may sound, many records and reasons for things that have happened in the past are now long lost in the sands of time.”
“And it appears a great deal of sand has passed. This is most interesting, but also dampens my spirits in a sense for it appears my search will end sooner than I thought.”
“Forgive me; I didn’t mean to dampen your spirits. As mentioned the local parish records may help, that may still be held at the local parish or possibly online. You will also be able to find statistics or reports on the general causes of death. But that would not have been recorded for each individual.”
“It appears searching for an individual who I do not know may be unfruitful.”
“That all depends on how much effort you wish to put into your search. There are other ways; such as there may be local accounts of murders or deaths recorded in folklore or local tradition. If you are able to research local history, you may find something that is similar to what you saw.”
“I have done some searches into local folklore, but unfortunately I’ve not had any luck there. Also, online I’ve found a very long list of the records of about ten thousand deaths in my local area during just a few years of the period I’m looking at. But there are no details of the causes of death.”
“Check local parish records. You should be able to find them online, but you may have to pay to see them, and you may not have any luck with finding causes of death. Also, you say this person looked Victorian?”
“Well, one of the big causes of death for a Victorian woman was drowning.”
“Really, I didn’t know that.”
“Yes, they did not have the plumbing and access to water that we take for granted today. So, lakes, rivers, streams and ponds were all used for various tasks aside from just getting drinking water. And along with the heavy Victorian dresses, they used to wear and no swimming lessons, drowning was no rare occurrence.”
“Most interesting. But that presents another problem.”
“That if you find the causes of death, many may have drowned.”
“Yes, your search is a tricky one and I would think carefully before putting a lot of your time into it. By all means, please do take the effort if you wish, and you may well find out exactly what you are looking for. But you may not.”
“I will give it some thought; at least aside from nothing else it is most interesting to find out more about historical records.”
“I have one question myself I wish to ask.”
Oliver prepares to ask a question from the left of field. Not along the factual nature in which they have been discussing the matter, but something that pulls at his heartstrings.
“Did you not see a ghost?”
Thoughts rush through Josh’s mind from the question. How should he answer? Should he tell the truth? Is Oliver seeking a specific response or just being curious? Will he sound mad if he says yes?
“Conceivably, if such a thing exists or is not just imagination.” Josh answers by telling the truth, but in a very roundabout type of way. “It could have been so, but there is no proof such things exist and the evidence points to the contrary. I assume it would sooner be a trick of the mind, but there is no harm in looking further into the matter.”
“No harm at all and I do not doubt for a moment that you saw something,” Oliver says reassuringly, a subconscious nod towards Josh that he does not think he is mad. “Do you know why ghosts persist?”
“It’s because people keep on reporting them. One way or another they have stayed in our collective consciousness.”
Josh is feeling now that Oliver has more of an interest in ghosts than he could have guessed.
“Have you seen one?”
“No, afraid not. But I have a mild interest in such things, and as a kid, I read many of the stories by M. R. James.”
“I have not read much of his work, but I know he’s famous for ghost stories.”
“Most entertaining and I did so like The Treasure of Abbot Thomas. It really is a classic ghost story.”
“I have not read that one.”
“If you get the chance I do recommend it. It’s engaging stuff.”
“Any ideas where the notion of ghosts may have come from.”
“It’s strange you know. This whole ghost thing. A bump at night time, something in the corner of our eye. Or even something more prominent. Perhaps they are a scientific phenomenon we have not yet come to understand or more likely they rest in the deepest recess of our sub-consciousness. Rising up occasionally to give us a fright.”
“That seems to be the case. But I feel that makes them all the stranger. It seems like we are no more than just a bag of emotions.”
“If we let ourselves become that; I think that often is the case. Us humans do so love sharing stories about them as well. For entertainment and for the thrill. But some people do seem to see something that is unexplainable.”
“Well, I’m not sure what I saw, but I have no reason to keep the myth of them alive, and far from that, I have a rational view on life. I’ve never been interested in such things before, and I’m baffled by this strange occurrence.”
“It’s okay, I do understand. Although I do have a further thought, for you say that you have a rational view on life, but bear this point in mind, not everything in life is observable to the human eye, and the rational may not always be the correct answer. Humans have evolved intrinsically linked to the world around them and not all that meets the eye is necessarily so.”
“How do you mean?”
“Protagoras of Abdera was passionate about the idea that truth is relative, and that the way we perceive existence and everything in it is through our senses, e.g. sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. And these are limited and in turn fallible. We cannot see infrared or gamma rays for example, so how much of the world around us do we really know?”
“But whether a direct or indirect observation, the tests and measurements that come from these observances are key.”
“Yes, they certainly are, but how do we record those measurements and make those observations. It is through our human senses, and these may be fallible in some ways.”
“But if many people see the same independent results from a test is that not reliable at least they are seeing the same results?”
“Of course, it is. But remember, the point I’m making is that our perception of the world around us is all through our senses, and there may be things within our reality that we are not aware of, or that do not get registered in our minds. Another example of the greatly debated dark matter that physicists say exists, but they are not sure what it is, and no direct detection has ever been made of it.”
“A bit like the edges of the universe.” Oliver looks at Josh for a second with scrunched eyebrows. “I mean we cannot see or observe the edges of the universe. What may be or may not be there is all theory and if we ever find out I guess it could change the way we view our existence.”
“Yes, a good point. But bear in mind we should trust ourselves, but be weary of our beliefs. Our theories and views may not always be correct, but simply being aware of this, having an open mindset, putting our theories to the test and listening to the arguments of others is key.”
“But what I saw is no theory; it was something in front of me. If I doubt my own senses, how can I know anything? I could just be in a dream world?”
“Ha, a good point and I must add that I do not doubt my own senses, but I am open to reviewing the results. What I mentioned before is from the school of scepticism, and this is not accepted by many, and I’m not completely in favour of it myself. Wittgenstein argued that the scepticism I just mentioned is problematic in some ways as its foundations proceed from a position of bad faith. The problem being that a philosophical sceptic never allows for the capability of anything to count as evidence that might weigh against his or her doubts.”
“Interesting that Wittgenstein is still saying to review your own ideas, though. And going back to your original point, I will not doubt my senses, but I will balance them with reason.”
“Exactly, and do not doubt what you saw, but reason it out in your mind. Maybe, just maybe, ghosts do exist.”
“There’s potential I suppose.”
“Will you investigate further?”
“A little I think. I will not give this a lot of my time though, for if it’s to remain a mystery, then that is what it will be. I think my wife would have a heart attack if I became too involved.”
“You know I have just remembered one other thing that may be of help.”
“Graveyards. Their gravestones often can reveal a lot about who died and lived during a certain period. And Church of England churches often have graves from the nineteenth century which is the period you are looking into.”
“That’s an excellent idea. I will have a stroll around the church that is just near by the lake and will see what I can find.”
“I would advise not to go during a full moon,” replies Oliver with a smile.
“No, I will go firmly when the sun is up.”
“Sounds good to me, now are you okay for a tea or anything?”
“Yes, I’m quite alright thanks.”
The pair chat for a little more about ghosts and how nearly every town and village in Britain seems to have a local story about one or another ghost. The pub not far from Oliver even has a ghost mouse that has been spotted scurrying around the place on the rare occasion. There is even the story of a ghost cat once spotted at the same location. Although there is no explanation for when they may have lived in the pub for the present owners keep no pets.
There is also no explanation for what may happen if this ghost cat caught the ghost mouse. If the cat were to catch it then surely it would die. But if it’s already dead, how could it die again? Perhaps it would come back as a grand ghost.
The conversation continues for some time, but on light-hearted matters around ghosts and then around ghosts in popular movies. The time wanders on and if it had feelings it would likely feel ignored for so little attention is being paid to it. That is until Josh suddenly realises the time and has to say his goodbyes to Oliver.
Later that day Josh bounds back to his home uplifted by the conversation earlier, and now having a few final things to do on his checklist before he brings his search for this mystery figure to a halt.
“Eve, are you home?” Josh calls out as he enters the hall.
“In the kitchen,” replies Eve.
“I’ve had a good chat with Oliver, this historian guy.”
“Excellent, tell me all,” Eve says as she walks into the living room.
“Yes. Will do, just taking off my shoes.” Replies Josh as Eve sits in an armchair waiting for Josh to explain all he has just discussed.
“Well, to cut a long story short, it appears that the presence of any death records at most will likely only contain the year of death and not the cause. It wasn’t even required to have a death certificate for a person until around eighteen seventy-four. So, if this funny figure I saw did die any time before that, there’s likely no cause of death recorded for her.”
“You have so few details to go on, and the likelihood is that a few females of the age you’re looking for died in the village. So, it seems like a pointless search regarding death records if you ask me and no point getting stuck on it.”
“You’re right, even if the records I find do list the causes of death as drowning, I may have numerous records all of which would make me none the wiser. There was one other thing that came up though.”
“Oliver mentioned a trip to the local graveyard could be a good idea.”
“To see if you can find this ghost?”
“No, I’d have worried if he’d said that. It’s to check the gravestones, although it may be fruitless, it will be of great interest to see if I can discover anything further. I was even thinking I could go tomorrow morning.”
“Good, will you take Sam?”
“Yes, I think so, it will give him a walk as well.”
“Would you like me to come?”
“Up to you, come if you wish.”
“I may give it a miss. I have a few things to do here at home.”
Josh sits forward in his seat, as another thought has entered his mind driving him along to further action aside from changing his sitting position.
“Okay, but there is one final thing. I’ve really no idea what I saw, but my curiosity is eating away at me, so I must give it some thought and see If I can come up with any type of explanation.”
“Now, it’s a bit of a tangent, but as of now I will first compose and research my thoughts.”
“I’ll wait with bated breath for your latest announcements,” Eve says with a hint of fun.
“I will retire then to the study.”
Josh makes his way upstairs eager to further explore the thoughts in his mind. He feels excitement, the kind which he felt when he was a kid and was seeing something for the first time. Several hours later and after a cup of tea and some digestive biscuits Josh makes his way downstairs to update Eve on his latest revelations.
“Eve, Eve are you there,” says Josh, but he gets no reply. He walks into the kitchen, but Eve is not there either. He soon sees her outside though in the garden tidying a few items up with Sam rushing about her feet. She sees Josh through the kitchen window and strolls back inside.
“Well, what’s next?”
“Follow me into the living room and see.”
Moments later Josh and Eve are both sitting in the living room, and Sam has also trotted in as well. He sits near Eve’s feet with his head upright and listening out for any tone of voice that relates to treat, walkies, dinner or squirrel.
“I wanted to get a little closer to what I may have seen, so I have done some research and given it some thought. Prime suspect being the imagination, but what I saw was so tangible I have been digging deeper.”
“I’ve three theories, all of which may be wrong. But if nothing else they have been some fun to think of and to be honest I’m surprised they have not been suggested before in the study of ghosts. Although saying that perhaps they have and I have not read up enough on the matter.”
“Do share your thoughts.”
“Well, the first is inspired by what you mentioned about the edge of the universe and the light that cannot reach us. This got me thinking about light and the fact that it is pretty strange in itself.”
Josh nestles a little into his seat, so he can take a more comfortable position. For his mind is brimming with things to share and he can’t wait to say more.
“Now you know particles, neutrons and protons and that type of thing. You see they are crafty little fellows, tiny bits of matter that we cannot see directly, they are far too small and sneaky to the human eye. Even worse it’s impossible to comprehensively observe them and their location. You see the moment we try to observe them, their behaviour changes. I believe in science it’s called the measurement problem. Strange, but real.”
“Over my head I’m afraid.”
“What I’m saying is that there are some things in this universe that we know must exist in some way or another, but they are not directly observable or exactly measurable.”
“Well, all my life I have been convinced by the approach of the measurable and observable. And I still am, but on the outer fringes perhaps there is some movement.”
“I’m saying there may be the possibility of some sort of scientific phenomenon that the world is not aware of. As there is unexplained phenomenon around particles, although we can have experiments with them and their effects on the world around us.”
As Josh says this, Sam rolls onto one side and closes his eyes. The room is warm and comfortable, and Josh’s dulcet tones are making him feel sleepy.
“Now, think of this; light is made up of photon particles, which are basically tiny packets of energy. Light can also be waves, but that’s another topic. Now, these photons make up light that comes from the sun. This light hits the land and sea all around us and then reflects into our eyes; which is the reason we can see anything at all. Our brains somehow decode this information and then present it to use in lovely or sometimes not so lovely motion images.”
“Your point being?”
“So, these light photons carry information from where they originated or where they are reflected from.”
“I see, so you mean does light reflect off ghosts?”
“Exactly, yes! You read my mind.”
“This apparition I saw. If the same laws of physics apply to it as everything else; then there must have been some form of matter that it reflected off. Meaning that it must be made up of natural elements and particles.”
“An amazing point indeed, well deducted. I’ve not heard that one.”
“There is a second thought around this though. Perhaps the ghost created its own light. A bit like a torch or lantern does. Then this light shown into my eyes. How on earth this is possible is something I cannot explain. How can something take a form just made of some sort of semi-transparent shape that projects light.”
“Sounds like a hologram.”
“Humans have not been able to make holograms though, and even if we did in the future, it wouldn’t account for sightings now. So, an interesting idea, but I have no explanation for how it could work, aside from leaving it in the realms of science fiction or scientific phenomenon.”
“Another intriguing thought.”
“And think of one other thing, how the brain and consciousness works. Which we don’t fully understand. But we do know that the brain interrupts the patterns it sees from light and then associates meaning with those patterns. Which in a very simple summary of consciousness, or at least as far as I’m aware. So, whatever ghosts could be, our brain interprets them in the same way it interprets everything else that it gets from light. Or put another way if ghosts exist they are living within our physical world and scientific rules.”
“So, ghosts must be a form of light otherwise our brains could not interpret them?”
“Yes again, precisely.”
“This is why you were an engineer, for great methodical thinking.”
“Yes, but with things that exist,” winks Josh. “There is one other thought I have.”
“Another? You are on a role tonight.”
“I have not accounted for psychology or imagination yet. Which is our primary suspect here. Various experiments have been done and studies taken place that appear to suggest our minds and imagination are the primary culprits for ghosts. Here’s a thought to bear in mind; you know the actor Patrick Stewart. He was in a play at Royal Haymarket theatre a few years back, and he said that in one of the side aisles he had seen a ghost. Now, nobody else saw this, and no photos or footage was taken of it. Interestingly this is not that uncommon for one person to say they have seen a ghost; while others in the same location at the same time did not. So perhaps there is a third psychological or dare I saw even an unexplained effect on an individual where the brain patterns are altered causing them to see something in their imagination, that is caused by either an internal or external influence.”
“Hmm mind altering ghosts, interesting.”
“Yes, and aside from a trick of the mind there are big issues with all these other theories.”
“No evidence. Just conjecture. After all, you would think with all the camera phones around today somebody would get some good evidence. And worse than that, of all the things I just said even with particle physics at least some of it is observable. I mean the world around us is observable and also so are the effects particles have. But with ghosts, nothing about them is testable or observable.”
“Like the edges of the universe.”
“Yes, but we know the universe exists; as we are in it right now and a lot of its contents is observable. Aside from a few other things, it’s the edges we are not sure about.”
“Leading us back to the fact that ghosts probably don’t exist?”
“Which looks to be the case. If you asked me to place a bet, I would say that there is some kind of phenomenon that happens in the brain.”
“Yes, something instinctive in us, something that triggers a vision in our minds?”
“Maybe, and as Shakespeare said, there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy.”
“Well, let’s see if you find out anything further tomorrow.”
But for Josh, tomorrow is slow in coming and the rest of the day drags as the tug of the graveyard grows in his mind. He does not want to rush over there as he will likely find nothing and he is pushing back on any feelings of obsession. But the intrigue is growing and the tantalising thought that he could find something in connection to this strange figure grips his thoughts. This he does not mention to Eve, and even downplays going to the graveyard.
Later in the evening Josh ventures out into the garden to fetch Sam who has been having a good sniff before he will be put to bed. The evening is fresh and with a slight breeze it is a pleasure to be outside. Indeed, the whole experience is deeply relaxing and high above, the sky is clear of clouds and silence is all around. Josh pauses for a moment and looks up towards the majestic stars that shine brightly in the night sky.
“What a view Sam,” says Josh. “Amazing… ah, what is it really all about?” Sam stands next to Josh and looks at him unaware of Josh’s star gazing. After a few minutes Josh retires with Sam back into the house for the rest of the evening.
The next morning Josh’s mind is stuck on the thought of the figure he saw at the lake. This is the most captivated he has felt since actually seeing the curious sight, but his captivation is not just because he may find something connected to her at the graveyard, but he woke wondering if what he saw was real then who was she, and now his search is coming to an end would he ever know anything about her?
With such thoughts on his mind, he barely pays attention to the graveyard that he is now entering. Even the creaking of the old rusty gate does not draw his attention away from who this person may have been.
Did she drown at the lake or just live nearby? Was she in some way connected to the lake or did she just enjoy walking there when and if she ever lived? And was she really Victorian or from an earlier age?
All these questions are of little use to Josh at the present moment and although intriguing to consider they will probably never be answered.
What it really a ghost? Josh thinks to himself and as begins reading over each old grave stone. There was no great feeling of being scared at the time, although something felt a little strange, but not enough though to imagine something so vivid.
Josh ambles slowly through the graveyard looking over the headstones. He keeps Sam on the lead who is happy to be taking in the smells all around him, and if he were to see a ghost, he probably wouldn’t care.
“Hmm, interesting,” Josh says to himself. “Jane Lloyd, born eighteen seventeen and died eighteen forty-seven. This makes her just thirty years of age and of a prime suspect I suppose. I shall make a note.”
Sam sniffs around the gravestone, not paying attention to Josh’s mutterings.
“Ah, here’s another, Mary Pepys, born eighteen twenty-two and died eighteen fifty-six. This makes her in her thirties.” There is a tinge of curiosity that pushes Josh forward to check each headstone. Could one of these names here in the graveyard link to the strange sight he saw.
The tangible vision of the names and dates on the gravestones adds a new dimension to Josh’s feelings. As he gazes over the names inscribed in front of him, there is the possibility that one could be the ghostly apparition.
He is clutching at straws of course and in reality has very little to go on, and his investigations are based around assumptions or best guesses. Still aside from the mystery this is fun and has given Josh a taste of life that had never occurred to him before.
Paying little attention to the time, he views each grave and notes down any information that may be of interest. Upon viewing one of the final graves, he sees something quite fascinating; it grips his attention and leaves him feeling emotional for a moment. He jots down the inscription and once done he leaves with Sam and heads back to his car.
The note paper where he has jotted down the names of interest has taken a special place in his mind. Associated with it is not just ink on a page, but a magical feeling that something special may be linked to the things he has written.
Once home he rushes upstairs to his computer, the oracle of the modern-day world, that may provide him answers to his questions. He navigates to a site he has saved from his previous search, one that contains records of births, marriages, and deaths, and lays the notepad next to the keyboard. There are six names jotted down including that of the final inscription that he found so moving. This he will leave until last.
Each name though could be for a person whose ghost Josh may have seen. He enters the first name, Mary Maud, and inputs her date of death. Several results are returned listing the same name, but some of the different areas and some with not exactly the same date or slight variations in the way the name is spelt.
One name appears to match exactly, but there is no reason for a cause of death given. He continues to search the names one by one until there are none left on the list. The oracle today is not being particularly helpful and replied with half facts and mixed results. No causes of deaths are provided on any of the names, but the final inscription still stands out regardless of the lack of further information.
The light outside dims, the sun has set and the night has taken its place leaving the daylight to rest for the next few hours when once again the rising sun will call upon it. Josh sits in the living room, sipping from one of his favourite teas, earl grey, the distinctive taste always something to savour.
“I’m all ears,” says Eve.
“I hope your ears will be pleased with what I have to say. And I must thank you for acting as a kind of sounding board for me over the last few days. But I have something now of intrigue to share.”
“I wait with baited breath.”
“It’s tricky to know where to start; there is so much I can share, but you know what?”
“A very interesting and unexpected thing has come out of this whole event.”
“What I saw has affected my beliefs. In fact, in just a short period of time, I feel my mind has been opened to new possibilities. Now, this is not to say that I now believe in ghosts, the afterlife or a creator. Perhaps that is me being stubborn, but I do believe there is more to life than meets the eye.”
“I’ve seen a new side to you. I never would have imagined I’d have seen you investigating ghosts. And if I’m honest, a part of me is quite glad this has happened, for you now seem to have sprung a more open mind,” Eve says with a smile.
“I have indeed I guess, nor would I have ever expected to be investigating ghosts, and especially not wandering around a graveyard. I may though well have seen a ghost, something supernatural, that may one day be explained as a scientific phenomenon, but presently I’ve no evidence to confirm what exactly I saw. So, I’m keeping an open mind.”
Eve doesn’t say anything in response to Josh, but nods her head in anticipation of what he is leading on to.
“In my search at the graveyard, I found something quite amazing.”
“Well actually, a couple of things to be honest. The first I realised I do so love the tranquillity of the countryside. I find it quite beautiful. But why should I find it beautiful? After all, it’s not something that appears to be measurable? It’s just a feeling, a pleasure perhaps, but a healthy one at that and sometimes the countryside smells bad and getting stuck behind a tracker is a pain, but that’s life. It’s also a mysterious thing, and perhaps my thinking had been too analytic all these years.”
“Ahem, you don’t say,” Eve says with a hint of sarcasm. “Whatever you saw it’s certainly had an effect on you and this shows you saw something. Maybe it was a ghost?”
“As said I’m not sure, but the reason I’m being a little sentimental is not just because of what I felt at the graveyard. It’s because of what was written on one of the gravestones.”
“Gravestones, let’s get back to that, what did this gravestone have written on it?”
“There were six names you know I found of females that died of around the age of thirty.”
“A little sobering, so young, but what of this thing you read?”
“So, on the last gravestone I found this inscription that I have written down… ‘Remember as you go by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so shall you be. Prepare yourself to follow me…’”
“That’s not all; it’s inscribed to a lady called Anna Ashmore who was born eighteen twenty-four and died eighteen fifty-one. So, she was just twenty-seven when she died and beneath her name was written. ‘Who so loved to stroll by the lake.’”
“Sentimental, but it struck an accord with me for obvious reasons.”
“Could it be her? Whose apparition you saw?”
“Who knows, there is no way I can ever know for sure.”
“You will look further?”
“I looked up her name and found several matches. Again, none of which had a cause of death. But for argument’s sake, let’s say I did find a name that matches and it has a record for the cause of death that was drowning. Would I know for sure that the figure I saw was of a person who died of drowning? After all, the apparition showed no signs of it, and I have made one big assumption in relation to this. It feels right to leave it as it is now and after reading this, I felt quite moved.”
“I can understand, it’s all very poetic.”
“Well, aside from the fact I did not realise how difficult it can be finding the cause of death for most people who died not more than one hundred and fifty years ago.”
“And you have come up with some very interesting ideas around ghosts.”
“These are thoughts I had, but to be honest, this is more about my beliefs, than about ghosts.”
“I suppose so.”
“Another thought springs to mind.”
“And where does it spring?”
“The horizon of the universe, where light can’t reach us from. Where our knowledge of the universe ends. Life is a bit like that, the fact that our knowledge of the world around us has limitations, but what counts is how we take in these facts and digest them. An open mind and a good heart is the best way onwards.”
“Yes, and we may find the truth of it all one day.”
“Perhaps, but one this is a discussion that could take is into roundabouts and philosophical never ending arguments.”
“How about a cup of tea instead?”
“Sounds marvellous. Where’s Sam?”
“He’s in the garden, just having a sniff. I’ll call him in a minute.”
“Don’t rush him; I’m sure he’s out enjoying himself.”
At the end of the garden out of sight from the main kitchen window, Sam rushes about sniffing the bottom of the fence. He thinks he’s got the scent of a mouse or at least some sort of a rodent. Either way, it fills him with intrigue and excitement. Indeed, with so many smells around how could he ever be bored of being in the garden.
The more he sniffs about, the more he wants to find out where the smell is coming from and ideally, if he can find the rodent that made the smell. He searches about looking for an answer to a question that his nose has given him. It is not profound in any shape or sense, but to him, it is of the utmost importance and something he is driven to get the bottom of.
As he sniffs about, he comes to the white dim transparent foot of someone standing behind the fence. It steps forward through the fence and reveals itself to be a fully transparent figure of a female; the same that Josh saw a few days ago.
Sam stops for a moment and looks up, but pays little attention and after a second goes back to sniffing around the fence. The transparent figure gazes towards the house and then moves its head towards the dog. She smiles and then fades away.
Sam is a little annoyed for she disrupted his search for the creator of the scent and who appears to have gotten away. Then if not bad enough, he hears the door latch down the garden open and someone calling out some words or another. He assumes they are for him, but does his very best to ignore them. It is the scent that matters to him, and it is both beautiful and one of the things that brings his world meaning.
After a few more calls, Eve appears at the bottom of the garden.
“Come now Sam, I have called you several times already, and you’re ignoring me.” Sam pretends not to hear Eve and trots down the garden. Trying to get in a few quick sniffs before he gets back to the house.
Joshua is a retired engineer, but was not just an engineer by trade; he was one by heart. Ever since a child he was fascinated and gripped by the mechanisms and machines that the human race has created to further enhance their lives. His mind is methodical, pragmatic and his beliefs stand firm in facts and reason. What is observable, testable and measurable is what exists and everything else is simply myth or theory. His heart felt understanding of the world though is disrupted and altered by the strange sighting of a unexplained figure or what is more commonly thought of as a ghost. Will this experience alter his beliefs or will the ghosts of his previous values stand firm?