A True Haunting in Belgium
Here’s a first for me. My book, ISLAND OF THE FORBIDDEN, inspired a reader to write about her own haunting experience. Aniko Carmean is a writer of superb, speculative fiction. We’ve been cyber buds for several years now, supporting one another as we attempt to grow as writerly types. Anyone who appreciates fine, intelligent stories needs to check out her new lovechild, ODD SKY BOOKS. She’s crafting some of the finest tales you’ll find today.
What I didn’t know all these years was that Aniko had her own, hair raising brush with the unknown. Thankfully, she took the time to put it into chilling words and wants to share it with the class. I live in a haunted house and I even got goose bumps reading this.
So turn down the lights, charge your EMF meter and read on…
I’m a military brat, and when I was in high school, my father was stationed in Belgium. We lived off-base in a small village. Our three-hundred year old house was on the village’s grand place, directly across the street from the ancient church that had been bombed and rebuilt in at least one of the European wars to roll across that dismal, chill land. The only functional fireplace had an intricate carved bronze inlay, the attic was closed off by a heavy wooden door that predated my family’s immigration to the United States by centuries, and the kitchen’s exposed beams begged to be festooned with drying herbs. It looked old, not scary – in the daylight.
I am not like Jessica Backman in Hunter Shea’s novel Island of the Forbidden. I cannot banish what she calls energy beings (EB), and what I call ghosts, nor do I seek supernatural encounters. I can, however, see, hear, and feel ghosts. I discovered my ability when I lived for three years in a that house, the one in Belgium. More than twenty years have passed, but reading Island of the Forbidden awakened memories of my time in the haunted house. Aspects of Jessica’s encounters in the isolated Ormsby House are similar to my experiences in Belgium, and I thought it might be of interest to the ghost-hunters, skeptics, and the simply curious if I shared a little of what I remember.
Many haunted house stories describe unaccountable and unnaturally loud thudding sounds. Ormsby House in Shea’s Island responded to the intrusion of the visitors with thunderous house-rattling. Similar thudding greeted my sister and I on our first night in Belgium. Our room was on the top floor, just below the attic. The sounds started as a tapping somewhere at the far side of the attic, and grew to a sledgehammer thud as whatever was making the noise crossed the attic. When it was directly overhead, the noise was so loud I was certain the ceiling was going to break open and tumble death down upon us. My sister and I were crouched together on the mattress that didn’t yet have a bedstead, clutching hands and staring up at the ceiling. Then, as suddenly as it started, the banging stopped. I don’t believe either of us mentioned the possibility of a ghost – not then – but I don’t think we slept, either.
In Island of the Forbidden, a drop in temperature is an indicator of the presence of EBs. “Cold spots” are also a part of my experience in Belgium. The old house was drafty, and the attic itself was built such that it was open to the outdoors all along the eaves. It was never warm in the winter, but even in the summer, there were times that the cold in one area was palpably more frigid than the ambient temperature. This occurred mostly at night, when a layer of cold would hover above me as I tried to sleep. The cold carried the sensation of a presence. There is little that is more terrifying than intuiting something malevolent that is invisibly cloaked in cold.
The malfunction of electronics is another common hallmark of a haunting. There are plenty of high-tech hijinks in Island, and the characters struggle against an onslaught of cameras on the fritz, drained batteries, and power outages. When I was in Belgium, I recall only one peculiar electronic malfunction, but remember that my experience predates smartphones, iPads, and itty-bitty digital cameras, so there were fewer electronics for an EB to afflict. What I did have was a voice-activated tape recorder(!), which I put in the attic. I hoped to capture some of the strange noises that my family had heard up there and share them with my friends. I expected to record footsteps that seemed to walk into a non-existent distance, or the sound of shattering glass, or even – and best! – the voices of men speaking in French as they played cards. What I got was a creepy amalgam of disturbances, starting with the sound of footsteps and low, male voices. The recorder captured the scuffing of the instrument being shoved across the floor, and then a long stretch of silence. Minutes passed, and then came a series of violent bangs, as if the recorder were being stomped or bashed with something. Indeed, when I retrieved the instrument, it was halfway across the room from where I left it. After the first time I listened to the tape, the cassette player seized; it would not open to let me take out the tape, nor would it play the tape, even with new batteries. Years later, after we moved back to the States, the cassette player did work again, but unfortunately the tape itself was damaged.
In haunting stories, the visual sighting of ghosts is the pièce de résistance. Island of the Forbidden is full of apparitions which present themselves in gory detail to the characters sensitive to seeing them. I am not gifted like Jessica’s compatriot Eddie, and the ghosts in Belgium never showed me their faces. One ghost appeared only at night. A maternal, safe feeling flowed from her presence, which manifested as a fuzzy mass of white light. I slept deeply and peacefully on the nights she hovered at the far side of my room. There were other shapes, though, that were defined by an absence of light. In my most terrifying incident, I was wrapped in my towel and walking to my room after showering in the creepy bath where I never felt like I was alone. It was winter, and already pitch black outside. As I passed my sister’s room, I saw her sitting on the edge of her bed, in the dark. I asked her if everything was okay, but she didn’t answer. Water dripped from the ends of my hair, icy cold, and a realization hit me: the person on the bed was far too large to be my sister. As if sensing my understanding, the shadow stood. The shape was that of a man, and laugh if you will, but he wore a stove pipe hat. I couldn’t see any features, just the cut of his clearly old-fashioned garb, and that hat. I was frozen, gripping my towel around myself, staring. He extended a hand to me and I did the only sensible thing; I turned on the hall light. He disappeared, and even when I was brave enough to shut of the light again, he was gone.
As a result of my experiences in that house, I am a discerning aficionado of all haunting stories. Island of the Forbidden makes it onto my approved list of haunted house tales, and joins the likes of Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and James’s The Turn of the Screw. Hunter Shea gives his EBs backstory and reason, which makes for an engaging read, especially when combined with the authenticity of the supernatural events in the story. If you want to revisit your own haunting, or have never experienced ghosts and want to know what it feels like, I recommend reading Island of the Forbidden.
Aniko Carmean is a speculative fiction author living in Austin, Texas. She loves ancho-chocolate milkshakes, October, and dogs. You can read her stories for free by visiting Odd Sky Books and signing up to become a member of the Odd Literati.
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