By Margaret O’Neill
“There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”; Shakespeare’s immortal words made sense to me one Halloween night over 40 years ago.
I was studying in London and had rented a small flat on the top floor of a large Edwardian house on the north side of the city.
The owners, Shirley and Paul, had moved to England from New Zealand 25 years earlier and had raised their family in the house. With the children grown-up and gone, they rented the top floor to University students.
I had been living there for nearly three years and got on very well with the owners, who were in their late 40s.
Taking pity on a “poor student”, they regularly invited me down to dinner.
On the evening of the 31st October, I had been studying late and fell into bed exhausted around midnight.
I had heard the local children “trick or treating” earlier but silence had once more descended on our leafy suburban road. In the middle of the night, I was woken up out of a deep sleep by somebody trying to get into bed beside me.
At first I thought I was dreaming but the force of the hands that pushed me across the double-bed were very real. I froze; the room was pitch-dark so I couldn’t see a thing.
My first thought was how was this possible? I clearly remembered locking the door before retiring for the night.
I felt secure in the knowledge that nobody could get through the locked windows as they were on the third floor and much too high to access. As I felt the mattress sink from the weight of whoever it was, I began to panic. With one final push, I felt a large body settle down beside me. I was terrified! This can’t be happening!
Desperation pushed into my chest making it hard to breathe but I knew I had to remain calm.
If I could only reach the bedside-lamp just over my head to the right, I would be able to see who was there. I kept two small hand-weights from the gym on a shelf underneath the lamp so I had at least a chance of being able to defend myself against the intruder. With a pounding heart, I reached out and switched on the lamp.
To my utter astonishment there was nobody in the bed beside me. The alarm clock said 3.02 am. I jumped out of bed and checked the door; it was still locked. I checked the kitchen and the bathroom; looked under the bed and in the wardrobe.
In fact, I looked everywhere I could think of, but found nobody. I sat in an armchair for the rest of the night too frightened to even make a cup of tea. As dawn broke the reality of the situation dawned on me. Reluctantly, I got back into bed and fell into a fitful sleep. I slept with the light on every night for the next two weeks, as I was too scared to turn it off. I was coming upstairs to my flat one evening when I ran into Shirley.
After exchanging the usual greetings, she hesitated before saying, “Paul’s mother died recently in New Zealand. He’s very upset as he hadn’t seen her for five years. She was only 70 and hadn’t been ill. She died suddenly. It came as an awful shock to all the family.” “I’m very sorry to hear that,” I replied, “When did it happen?” “Hallowe’en,” she replied. “The call came in the middle of the night. She died at two minutes past three our time.”
Suddenly I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, as I remembered my experience on that night. “That’s very strange,” I replied. “I had a very peculiar experience that night at exactly that time.”
She listened attentively as I told her what had happened. “Really?” she replied. “Paul’s mother lived in that flat for years. In fact, we built it for her but she was homesick and returned to New Zealand a few years later. Since then, she has lived with Paul’s sister in Wellington.
“She always told Paul that she would never leave without saying goodbye to him. He was her only son and she doted on him. Her spirit must have returned to the house looking for him that night. I think in some small way what you have just told me will help him.”
Strange as it may seem, this made perfect sense to me. A mother reaching out to her only son from the other side of the world as she was dying was a perfectly acceptable explanation to me for the events of that night and explained my “intruder”.