Authors: David Kiely
Joe Kilmartin is a down-to-earth, skeptical man. On hearing Heather's account, he was naturally incredulous. He dismissed the whole thing as a bad dream. He had never in his life seen a ghost and consequently did not believe in them. He had often upbraided his partner for reading horoscopes and visiting fortune-tellers. As far as Joe was concerned, if she believed in “all that rubbish,” she was quite capable of “seeing things,” too.
They went out for a drink that evening and ran into some friends. The company helped Heather to unwind. Over the next few nights, with Joe by her side and no more visions at the bedside, Heather was prepared to admit that the experience could well have been an illusion, brought on by stress or too many late nights.
Come the weekendâand especially on Friday nightsâthe couple had a routine. Too weary to go out socializing after a busy week, they would buy a six-pack of beer, rent a video, and treat themselves to a quiet evening at home.
That Friday, they had just settled down and were about to start the VCR when there came a commotion from upstairs. Their bedroom was directly above the living room. More noises came; it was as though something, or somebody, was moving about up there. But who?
Heather began to tremble with alarm.
“Oh, my God!” she cried. “It's
She's come back!”
“What, your granny?”
He had been looking forward to
It came highly recommended and he was not going to let a figment of Heather's imagination spoil it for him.
“It's only Rip,” he said. Rip was their young German shepherd. The dog was known to wander about the house.
“No, it can't be.” Heather was panic-stricken. “I put him outside earlier on.”
At that moment, as if on cue, Rip barked outside in the yard. Joe would have to come up with another explanation. Heather was ready to scream.
“All right, honey,” he said, “all right. I'll go and take a look.”
As he expected, there was no one in the bedroom. But he did notice what he describes as “a foul kind of a smell, like drains, or stale pee.” He wondered what it could be. He opened the window to air the room, shut the door behind him, and returned downstairs.
Halfway through the movie, it happened again. The second disturbance convinced Joe that it was not Heather's imagination. From directly overhead, he heard a series of thuds; it was if someone was jumping from one part of the room to another. The thuds were loud, so heavy that the light fixture trembled. Joe paused the video. “I'll check it out.”
“Take Rip with you, will you?” Heather pleaded.
Grown nervous himself, Joe brought the dog in and set out to investigate. But Rip was having none of it; he would not venture up the stairs. He stood with his front paws on the bottom step, barking up at something unseen.
Heather was frantic by then. She could not remain in the house a moment longer. Breda, one of Joe's aunts, lived a few miles away. They would spend the night with her. They had to pack an overnight bag, but Heather refused to go upstairs. Joe steeled himself for the task. He went up and pounded loudly on the bedroom door.
“You better get the f*** out of there before I come in!” he warned, fear lending him a bravado that he knew would be short-lived.
He flung the door wide and flipped the light switch. Nothing happened. He cursed. The bulb was blown. He would have to pack the bag by the light from the hallway.
Without giving it much thought, he grabbed anything at hand and shoved it into the bag. He noted the same unpleasant stench, even though the window was open. He said nothing of this to Heather.
They were ready to leave. Rip would ride in the back with the overnight bags. Joe went to Heather's side and offered words of reassurance. He took one last look at the house.
“My blood ran cold,” he says. “I happened to glance up at the bedroom window. We slept at the front of the house. I remember distinctly that I had just opened the window. But
had shut it.”
That was not all. As Joe watched, he saw what looked like a figure standing just beyond the opened drapes. He could swear that he saw the drapes move. That was enough for him. He climbed into the car and they sped off.
He said nothing to Heather about the shape at the window. She was upset enough.
The couple spent three nights with Aunt Breda. Her home was small: big enough for one, cramped for three people and a dog. On
balance, it was inconvenient for everyone involved. Breda was afraid of dogs; Joe disliked his aunt's disapproval of his cohabiting with his girlfriend; Heather felt that she was intruding in another woman's house. But they managed.
They left when Heather felt up to returning home. Breda, a deeply religious woman, gave her nephew a small crucifix, together with a novena, and promised to pray for them. She assured them that, as far as she knew, a ghost never harmed anyone. Joe wholeheartedly agreed. It was with such assurances, coupled with Joe's promise to adjust his work timetable to exclude night shifts, that Heather agreed to return home.
They went back in daylight and found things much as they had left them. Joe went first to the bedroom and was relieved to find that the strange odor had gone. But the window was shut, and that fact disturbed him.
He had bought spare lightbulbs, but they proved unnecessary. Inexplicably, the light in the bedroom was working normally. Loose wiring, he thought, and made a mental note to check it.
That night, Joe fell asleep without difficulty. With Heather it was otherwise; she lay awake for a long while, listening to his breathing, until she, too, finally nodded off.
Something roused her in the early hours. She had the distinct impression that somebody had just run fingers through her hair. She could still feel her scalp tingling from the touch.
She raised herself on an elbow. She thought it likely that Joe had done it in his sleep; but Joe lay with his back toward her, sleeping soundly. She lay back down again and pulled the comforter over her head.
Heather was fully awake when it happened a second time. The fingers of a spectral hand pressed themselves deep into the nape of her neck and raked swiftly through her hair, right to the crown of her head. All she would remember later was her uncontrollable screaming and seeing Joe's startled face, his arms reaching out to console her.
The following day, Heather insisted that they move out again. Joe refused, despite her pleading. He thought she was going crazyâwhich was understandable, given her history. He advised her to see the doctor. Heather rejected the suggestion out of hand. She was not sick, she told him. She had not taken medication for two whole years and did not feel depressed. Scared, yes, but not depressed. For the first time in her life she had stability: a partner who loved her, a home, and a steady job. She was determined that nothing would jeopardize this hard-won security.
They reached a compromise. Joe pledged that they would only move out again if
saw, or sensed, the ghost. Heather had little choice but to agree.
Joe still said nothing about the night they left to move in with his aunt. But he had his reasons. “I wasn't at all sure what I saw that night,” he admits. “I mean, it was dark; we were both upset. I thought: could be I
shut that window. Could be I only saw a shadow or the reflection of a cloud or something.”
A week passed without any further manifestations. Heather's nights remained undisturbed.
Joe had other concerns about his partner, though. They were concerns that he could not voice to anyone, not even to his aunt. He was worried about a change that had come over Heather.
He traced the beginning of the change to the day he had come back early from work, the morning she was in the bathroom. Her trancelike demeanor had puzzled him. His first thought was that she was on drugs, but she assured him later that she did not take any, not even prescription drugs.
From that day on, Heather was not the same person. Even her posture was different somehow. She seemed to slouch more, and sometimes, when seated, she would cross her legs at the ankles, much in the way an old woman would. The unpleasant odor he had first detected in the bedroom seemed to follow her around. It resembled stale urine; Heather had always prided herself on her personal hygiene. She liked to smell nice.
These physical anomalies were not, in themselves, as troubling as Heather's deteriorating relationship with the dog. Rip refused to go near her. This was very unusual. Heather and the dog had been inseparable. Now Rip seemed unwilling to share the same room with her and would only settle when Joe appeared.
There were times during their conversations when Joe had the distinct impression that Heather was listening not to him but to someone else. She would cock her head to one side and chuckle. One night, he caught her talking to herself in the bathroom. The language was unintelligible, like nothing he had ever heard before.
He challenged her about it. “Who were you talking to in there, honey?”
She looked at him as if
were the crazy one. “You were hearing things,” she said simply. “I wasn't talking to anyone. I was brushing my teeth.”
Still, Joe was prepared to put up with these things. So long as the grandmother did not appear to Heather again, life was tolerable. He had concluded that his sighting of the figure at the bedroom window that day had, most likely, been an illusion.
Aunt Breda's crucifix, which he had placed in the bedroom, was obviously doing its work.
His optimism was short-lived; Nan Sal was to return. This time, she did not wait until the house was dark and silent before making her presence known. Nor did she choose the bedroom.
Joe was adamant that the first apparition had been a figment of Heather's imagination. He was still skeptical.
“I'll believe it when I see it myself,” he had told her.
It was Friday, March 6. The couple were on the couch watching television. They might never have known about the presence of their “visitor” had Rip not alerted them. The dog was dozing on the
hearthrug when, without warning, he leaped to his feet. He began barking furiously.
Joe and Heather turned. In the corner, partially lit by the standard lamp, stood the figure of an old woman. Nan Sal. Heather saw that she was wearing the same blue gown. Her hands were extended in a beckoning gesture and she wore the same fixed grin as before.
The grin was not a mirthful one; it seemed utterly malevolent. Heather was terrified. Joe was speechless, his skepticism melting away like snow in a skillet. But he recovered quickly. He stood up.
“Get out of here!” he shouted at the apparition. “Get out! We don't want you here!” They were the first words that came into his head.
But nothing happened. The old woman still stood grinning balefully. Heather was howling with terror. Joe tried again. “For Christ's sake, get out!” he cried.
At that, the visitant raised its hands to its throat and made the throttling gesture that had so frightened Heather. As before, it slowly disappeared.
Joe switched on the light. Rip was whining, ears back, his tail between his legs. He seemed to be staring at the place where the apparition had been. Joe found himself staring, too, trying to come to terms with what he had just seen.
He heard a gurgling noise. Heather was still on the couch; she had her back to him, and her shoulders were shaking. She seemed to be having some kind of fit.
She did not respond. The gurgling grew louder. Joe came around to the front of the couch. He could not believe what he was seeing: it was the most macabre sight he had ever witnessed. Heather's eyes were bulging; in the light from the standing lamp he could see that her face was discolored. She was choking. Joe saw the cause. There, “as clear as day,” was a hand, fastened about her throat. But it was not Heather's. It was an aged, wizened hand where Heather's should have been, and it was trying to choke the life out of her. The
hand ended at the wrist in a frilled blue cuff and wore a brass ring on the middle finger.
Joe was petrified. He was witnessing the inconceivable. His rational mind told him it was nonsense, that such things did not happen. Yet he could not doubt the evidence of his eyes. Heather was under attack. Her face had turned purple under the hand's murderous grip and her eyes had swiveled in her head, so that only the whites were visible. She was gasping for breath. He had to act.
Overcoming his revulsion, he seized the grisly hand. It was cold to the touch and seemed immensely strong, the tendons and muscles feeling like nylon ropes. As he tried to free her, Heather grasped his shoulder with her “other” hand, the normal one. He heard her attempting to call out his name.
He was frantic. But even as he struggled, he was registering yet another impossibility.
“It was that other hand,” he says. “I knew Heather was trying to help me. She'd gripped my shoulder and was squeezing. But it wasn't her hand. It was like someone with long fingernails. It felt like eagle talons digging into my flesh. But I knew that Heather's nails were bitten to the quick. Always had been. She was one of these nervous people who are forever biting their nails.”
Using both hands, and all the strength he could muster, he managed at last to break the hold. As he did so, he felt “a warm sensation” beneath his grip, as the phantom hand relaxed. “When I looked again,” Joe says, “it was Heather's hand I was holding on to. Her
Heather was free. She collapsed onto the rug, choking and coughing, and gasping for air. Later she would confess that she never felt closer to death than she did that evening.
“Are you all right, honey?” Joe asked, bending over her.
She could only nod.
“We're leaving,” he said. “Right now! We're getting out of here.”
But Nan Sal had not finished with them. At that moment they heard footsteps overhead, followed by their bedroom door opening.