When I fell ill last March, the experience robbed me of my inclination and ability to write, but mercifully, this seems to have been a temporary state of affairs. There are many things I wish to write about, particularly concerning Stonehenge, but I have long planned to put together my experiences of the supernatural over the decades in a book entitled “Otherworld”. I was reminded of this a week or so ago when I came across the following account of two Greek hauntings that I wrote a few years ago, but there are scores like this and I really must commit them to writing before the details are lost in the mists of time:
Over twenty-one years ago, when my wife Gill was expecting our first child, we went on holiday to a small village in southern Greece. As had been the case with our previous visits to this wonderful country, the place was idyllic, so we divided our time during the day between visiting the archaeological ruins strewn across the countryside and lazing on the beach, with the waves of the Aegean gently lapping on our feet as we made our way along the winding, golden sands. After returning to our apartment for a meal, a rest and a change of clothes, we would then wander into the nearby village and we soon chose to spend our evenings at an open air coffee bar, situated just before the entrance to the main square, where we could relax and watch the world go by.
We soon came to know and to be on friendly terms with George, the young man running the bar, and the time inevitably came when I mentioned my life-long interest in ghosts. I knew that most Greeks take this kind of thing very seriously, so I didn’t make light of the matter, but I was nonetheless surprised when George confided in me that his village was infested by two truly terrifying hauntings.
He described the first as being a demonic voice, or a “dragon’s breath” that dwelt in a church and which terrified passers-by at night. I immediately supposed that this was some derelict building on a lonely hill, far beyond the confines of the village, so I was taken aback to learn that the church in question was in regular use by worshippers and was just 300 yards or so away from where we were sat, on a street just behind the lively main square. I was even more surprised when George told me that there was every chance I would hear the voice for myself, that very night, if I felt like spending a minute or two taking the trouble to walk there.
I could scarcely believe that I had encountered an active haunting that could be relied upon to make itself known to a casual enquirer virtually on request, while the fact that this church stood within 40 or 50 feet of a square packed with lively bars and tavernas made the whole scenario seem even more unlikely. All the same, I found it impossible to resist the idea of looking into this fearsome haunting, so Gill and I strolled through the main square down to the beach, then along the main road until we came to the bottom of the street where the church was located.
We were just about to walk up the gentle incline, when we noticed a young man in front of us taking the same route. As he passed by the church gates on his left, he leapt in fright, then hurried away through the gloom until he reached the top of the street, with its welcoming lights. Neither Gill nor myself had heard anything, so we slowly wandered up the hill until we came to the church gates. We had barely had time to take in the courtyard with flagstones and the small church just twenty feet or so away, when we heard a sound like a huge metal cylinder being unscrewed, containing pressurised air. This ‘voice’ seemed to come from one of the open windows in the church tower and it was extremely unnerving, so as Gill was expecting our baby, I immediately took her back to the bar and left her with George and his friends while I returned alone, to investigate further.
I felt mildly apprehensive as I strode through the dark shadows once more, but I felt no sense of foreboding, neither did I feel that my progress was being tracked in any way by any sentient being. I shivered as I stood waiting at the iron gates, but I couldn’t honestly tell if this was due to the cold night air, to fear of the unknown or to a combination of both. As I surveyed the church and courtyard once again, I had the distinct impression that I was being watched from one of the empty windows in the tower and this sensation was immediately reinforced by a loud, reptilian hiss that seemed to come from the empty window I was looking at. It made me shudder, but I stood my ground and cast around for any possible further clues among the trees, gravestones and courtyard in front of me.
A few seconds later, I flinched as the ‘voice’ or hiss seemed to creep closer to me, appearing this time to emanate from some invisible mouth a few feet about the courtyard and a few yards closer to where I was standing. I had been in many supposedly haunted locations over the years, some of them possessing a highly malevolent atmosphere, but I had usually managed to remain in place and keep my fear in check. This was different to most of the others, though, because whatever the ‘voice’ was, it was moving closer to me, and the scenario was made even stranger by the fact that I wasn’t sitting in some deserted castle or by some lonely pool in a forest, because just a short distance away were lights, music, other human beings and all the trappings of normality.
Just a few yards in front of the iron gates, to the right, was a small wooden shed, with briars or roses creeping up its sides. It was the other side of the courtyard from the tower where the voice first made itself known, so I was disconcerted when another loud hiss came from somewhere on the roof of the shed. I was completely baffled by this, as I had never come across such an animated ‘haunting’ before, nor one that performed to order, nor one in the middle of such a populated area, either. The hissing noise had been so loud that I began to think that it must have been a large snake, which would of course have meant that it was nothing to do with the original voice from the tower.
So, I decided to open the gates to have a look for myself, but I found that I simply could not force myself to enter the courtyard that was the domain of this monstrous voice. I had encountered similar situations before (and a few since) where I simply had to accept the unpalatable fact that I was too frightened to remain or go forward, so I snapped the gates together once more and set off back to the nearby bar, hardly daring to look behind me as the sibilant voice echoed through the cool night air once again. As I strode away, it occurred to me that the noise was not unlike the sound made by seawater as it drained back through shingle after a wave had hit the beach, but the nearby sea met golden sand, not shingle, and in any case, the appearance of this voice was irregular, unlike the waves that I could see and hear just a short distance behind me.
A few nights later, Gill and I were having a meal at a tavern owned by a Dutch family – two sisters and a brother – who had decided to make this beautiful village their home. They were all fully aware of the haunting in the church and they told me that it had blighted the village for many years, although no one could remember when it started, still less offer an explanation for it. This unnatural voice and its source was beginning to take up most of my waking thoughts, so I asked my new friends if it would be possible for me to spend the night in the church or church tower alone, to see if I could cast any light on this unnerving matter. They promised to ask about it, but when I next spoke with them, a few days later, they told me that the priest had declined to give permission and seemed to be angry that such an ungodly matter was receiving so much attention. Nonetheless, this was apparently the first time that any outsider had tried to solve the mystery of the demonic voice, so it seemed I had the tacit backing of many of the villagers who had learned about my interest in the place, while they trusted me not to cause any harm or exploit the matter in any way.
And so it was that I found myself stood in the churchyard, next to the tower, waiting and worrying as I had done so many times before. I was worrying that the police would turn up, worrying that an irate priest would come along, worried that some passing locals might take offence, and I was worried about what lay in wait in the tower that I planned to enter and inspect. I was accompanied by a burly, Greek-speaking Dutchman and one of his sisters who held an Alsatian on a leash, but I noted that the dog didn’t seem remotely out of sorts. This was no cast iron guarantee that there was no supernatural presence in the church, but it just added to my sense of bafflement.
A few nervous Greeks had accompanied us and they had almost fled when the ghastly voice made itself heard as we hurried across the courtyard to the graves by the tower. I didn’t blame them, of course, and as I began to climb the tower, using the church wall and a rusting drainpipe to help my ascent, I felt the Fear of God at the thought of what awaited me when I peered into the empty window. The rushing, hissing call came again and for some reason, a nightmare vision of demonic claws flashed into my mind, but at the same moment, I knew exactly what had taken up residence in the tower. My thoughts were confirmed by the people beneath me staring up at me and shouting “Ah, boofa!” as they saw an owl with a small rodent in its beak, silently winging its way to an aperture in the church tower.
By a small miracle, everyone had been gazing up at the same time, following my nervous ascent, so they had managed to glimpse this bird as it glided across the small space between the encircling trees and the tower. I hastily clambered back down so as not to disturb these creatures, but none of us present could help laughing at the idea that we had been so terrified by the sound of hungry babies. I was never able to work out the exact details, but my guess was that the baby owls in the tower were periodically fighting among themselves or else calling out to their parents for food. This was certainly the cause of the demonic voice that had frightened everyone so badly for years, while I’m also guessing that this ‘voice’ had been somehow amplified by the bare confines of the empty tower. As for the way the ‘voice’ had seemed to cross the churchyard, I presume it was a mixture of my imagination and the way that the rapidly cooling air at nightfall had carried the sound across the flagstones.
Even at the time, the explanation for this ‘haunting’ seemed so obvious that everyone concerned was surprised it had not been discovered before, but I know of at least one other alleged haunting in south Devon that occurred on a regular basis and which initially terrified some BBC sound engineers who went along to investigate it, until they belatedly discovered the true cause. Be that as it may, everyone had cause to celebrate at George’s bar later that night and it was very pleasant being the hero of the hour, but I was never able to do anything about the other haunting that plagued the village.
The only solid details I was able to glean at the time concerned a former mayor of the village, who had lived roughly a century ago. It seems that the village had once stood in a slightly different location until it had been destroyed by an earthquake, and for some reason that no one was entirely clear about, the mayor had been held to blame, presumably because he had been responsible for some of the construction that had failed so disastrously. As a result, he had been buried in the northern section of the churchyard, a place reserved for suicides and others who had committed crimes against God and their fellow man, but this particular mayor refused to lie down.
From what I heard, he was frequently seen in the village, perhaps two or three times a month, and he appeared to everyone as a physical form, not as an ethereal ghost. Everyone unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of this baleful spectre knew when he would be appearing, because he was always preceded by a sound described to me as a pocketful or purse of small coins chinking together in a regular, slow and highly ominous tempo. This spectre wasn’t regarded as a harbinger of any kind, because no particular ill-fortune was known to have befallen those who saw him, but his appearance as some kind of malevolent corpse was so sinister and so frightening that everyone was in dread of encountering him.
Perhaps the oddest aspect of this particular haunting was that the dead mayor did not prowl the village or the graveyard, but only ever appeared on first-floor balconies and nowhere else. No one could offer any explanation for this, but it fascinated me for a number of reasons. Although I’d heard of ghosts exclusively inhabiting specific locations, the only other example I could think of where a spectre confined itself to a first floor was the 19th century haunting in Berkeley Square, but as it could be said that many other ghosts confined their appearances to a single room, regardless of which floor this room happened to be on, this wasn’t much help.
To my regret, I never encountered this sinister spectral mayor myself, but on the night before I left the country, I was introduced to a man who owned a restaurant in the village and I was told he might be someone who could tell me more about this haunting. I was received politely enough and I learned that he possessed a degree in mathematics, but he flatly denied any and all knowledge of such a haunting. I’m not an expert on psychology or body language, but I could immediately tell that this man was under severe stress and making an enormous effort to be polite, so I quickly changed the subject. Later that night, I learned that his wife had encountered the phantom just the night before, on a balcony just above where I’d been sitting, and she had found it to be a shattering experience.
As far as these matters are concerned, I think of myself as a ghost finder, not a ghost hunter, so I’ll certainly look into this haunting again if I go back to the beautiful village by the Aegean Sea. Nightmarish though this phantom is said to be, the existence of a ‘ghost’ that makes regular appearances in a populated area and which confines itself to prowling highly specific places is a dream come true for those of us interested in such matters, so it may be that I’ll be able to provide a longer account of this monstrous apparition in the fullness of time. In the meantime, I’m fortunate enough to know of many others, much closer to hand, so I intend to resume writing about these and others for a planned volume I’ve mentioned before, “Otherworld”.