shot of sass, served on (n)ice

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"I didn't squeeze your hand."

It is August 2002. J and I are in Edinburgh, Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Fringe Festival is sort of an independent, "underground" arts festival that originated as an alternative to the "official" Edinburgh International Festival - with fancy-schmancy dancing, plays, and music for the upper eschelon.

At the Fringe Festival, you can go to a million and one 50-75 min productions. You can see everything from stand-up comedy, to one-act plays, to musical acts, to random street theatre. The week that we are there is the "pre-festival" week which means that many of the acts are half price, occasionally free. Thus, even though we must adhere to a strict backpacker's budget, we can still see loads of stuff.

Naturally, everything we want to see is always clear across the city from the thing we are currently viewing. I'm not joking. The number of times we criss-cross the city center must have made world records of some sort.

One night, in addition to our full slate of productions, we decide to tour a little bit of the city as well. Only this time, we are going underground.

That's right. Back in the day, at some point, a portion of the city was underground. They call it the Vaults. Originally it was meant as a storage area for local businesses. Before long, however, the underground facilities became slum housing for the poor, lasting for decades. The vaults are damp, dark, and more than a little bit creepy.

Our tour begins outside one of the vault entryways where we meet our guide and the approximately 12 other people along for the ride. We learn a bit of history, none of which I retain because all I want to do is get inside and see this thing already. Pretty soon, I get my wish.

It is still light outside as we make our way into the tunnel leading toward the vault. As soon as the door clangs shut, we find ourselves in complete darkness. Our guide breaks out a flashlight as we traipse through the hallway and into a bigger room where lighting has been wired.

At this moment our guide informs us to watch out for ghosts. I will cop to feeling mildly apprehensive, but shrug the comment off as tourist schtick, preparing to roll my eyes at further mentions of the paranormal. It's not that I necessarily don't believe, because I'm sort of agnostic about ghosts. It's just that we are a rather large group, in the late afternoon, and well, it's just extremely unlikely a ghost is going to pop out and scream "BOO!" at all of us.

I am pleased to find that the vaults offer a break from the warm August air outside. Although it is cool, by no means is it actually cold. In fact, the temperature feels rather pleasant. Our group is composed of seemingly normal people without the dreaded "talker" that can be found in some tour group settings. We all listen intently, ask the requisite questions, and "ooh" and "ahh" and "eww" at the appropriate times.

We have been in the vaults about half an hour when we reach one of the larger rooms. A semi-circle has formed around our guide as he describes the social nature of this room. People used to gather here, bladdy, blah, blah, kept close for warmth, blah, blather, blather, and oh, this room has lots of ghosts.

Apparently there is the requisite little boy ghost, designed to give us all the heebie-jeebies. What is it about child ghosts that are just disturbing? The guide continues with his ghost tales, now describing a shoe-maker/mender spirit who is also very popular with the tourists.

My interest is piqued, I'll admit, but more for history's sake than anything else. I study the room intently, trying to imagine living down here for years at a time and how horrid it must have been. The walls completely made of stone, no windows, the putrid smell, the drafty breeze, the cobbler in the corner.

Um, what?

And I see it. A shadowy male figure takes form in the corner. I can barely make him out, but he is sitting cross-legged.

I blink, because this can't really be what I see.

And he is gone. I keep my mouth shut because I don't want to be that tourist, the one who falls prey to the spooky stories and the suggestive lighting, the one the rest of the group pokes fun at the remainder of the journey.

But I cannot lie. I am a little shaken. The temperature has plummeted, and I don't want to go any further. As the rest of the group moves forward, I purposefully hang back a little, trying to decide if I should mention this "apparition" to J.

Before I make my decision, he irritatedly asks, "Why did you squeeze my hand so hard?"

"I'm didn't squeeze your hand," I reply.

"Yeah, you did. A few seconds ago. Like, really hard."

"Did not."

And he knows. He looks at me and reads it all over my face. "You saw something. I can tell just by looking at you. Are you okay? WHAT DID YOU SEE??!!"

Sheepishly I admit to possibly, maybe, but really definitely not seeing some sort of figure in the corner. It was just the lighting and the stupid stories, I insist. But he is having none of it. He is both elated and extremely jealous. He was dying to see a ghost, and now I have but am in complete denial. He wants details, all the details. I tell him what I know, and he goes off and immediately asks the guide where the damn cobbler ghost most often manifests.

In that corner where I saw him, naturally.

To this day, I remain skeptical about whether I did or did not see a ghost. J adamantly maintains that, yes, I have witnessed souls from beyond. I just don't know, though. The circumstances were so. . .shady (for lack of better word) and completely staged so that anyone could interpret the shadows on the wall as a ghost.

Then again, there was my face afterward, my automatic response of squeezing J's hand, the sudden chill that overcame me, and this account from some complete stranger, that I found on the internet.

Our guide, Fran, was a wonderful storyteller. She explained life in the rooms, what business had taken place and what articles were found after the excavation started. She also noted several spirits were frequently reported by visitors, but declined specifics at that point in order not to slant our experience. In one room she note a cobbler was often reported in one corner working and watching. I noticed it was the same corner where my husband had just moved to. Not a malevolent ghost apparently and while my husband did not feel or see anything, another woman in our party did have a particular feeling of a presence. You can imagine our shock after we took a look at the digital pictures he shot from the other side of the room! Originally the object had been to capture the guide telling the story of the room with the others looking on. His photo showed the whitish form of the cobbler, seated with arm outstretched as if reclining and listening to the stories! No matter how he attempted to touch up the picture, as if to remove a reflection or motion, it just sharpened the image. It had depth, especially near the ground and wall and could not be a shadow. The facial features are generally clear. There was no movement of air in the room, no strange markings on the wall. What else could it be?

10 tips left at the bar:

Andria said...

F*ck! You totally made that "strangers" account up! I so wanted to see the pictures. I'm soooo glad I'm not outside sitting around a campfire in the dark. I'm alone in my kitchen next to the window that's dark beyond. . lovely. Thanks!!

mendacious said...

woohoo! awesome.i totally want to go now. though kid ghosts... totally creepy.

penelope said...

Whoa. Super-creepy!

sheila said...

OK, this story in particular gave me the heebee-jeebees. I too am an agnostic when it comes to ghosts. I don't 'not' believe in them, but I've not seen one either. Sort of like UFOs --

Anywho -- keep 'em coming, these are fun!

J said...

i just wanted to chime in and corroborate niki's account. to this day i like to think that i saw a proxy, of course.

niki said...

Why has no one called me out on my dreadful typos?? "I'm didn't squeeze your hand," "tourish" Sheesh. I wasn't even drunk when I wrote this, just incredibly tired.

Anyway. I'm going to correct them now. I thought about leaving them, but I just can't. I can't do it.

niki said...

Andi - I totally did not make up that other account. If you click the link on "this account," you'll see my source (who also reports feeling chills at the end of her tour).

penelope said...

Initially I thought the typo was on purpose, having something to do with the story. No, seriously! But by the end, I totally forgot all about it. Nothing like a good ghost story to make people overlook clerical errors.

Lorrie Veasey said...

Must find my courage in the bottle, i guess.

Megan said...

Oooh, I love it! And am kind of jealous. I think. I would almost love to see a ghost, but then am afraid that I wouldn't sleep for a month.