I went to bed last night and listened to both one-hour episodes of the radio version of 'The Exorcist'. Lovely. This can be my entry into John's ghost story competition:
A while ago, there was a priest on the radio who occasionally performed exorcisms, and as I listened to him explain his methods and motives, I realised that he really did understand what was going on, and he really did perform a useful function on the rare occasions he was called out as a last resort by parents who were a little confused about their daughter's (and they always are daughters) unusual behaviour.
"Poltergeists and possessed adolescents," he began, "Have nothing whatsoever to do with the dead. These phenomena could be explained using purely scientific terms, if only we understood the science behind them. In the absence of of this understanding, it takes a priest who is trained in psychology to remedy the situation, and - for want of a better description - drive out the Devil or demons". This was a sensible priest, just dealing with the problem as he found it, and without any mumbo-jumbo.
There are three key ingredients in poltergeist hauntings, and - classically - these are a mother, an unsympathetic father, and a hysterical, pre-pubescent daughter. This is as far as the understanding goes, and the physical things that occur cannot - at the moment - be explained. Neither can God, which is why the wise priest never tries.
I know all of this to be true, before anyone accuses me of getting carried away, because I have witnessed it with my own eyes, and within my own family. My (now dead) sister had a girl child with her somewhat unresponsive husband (he just liked the quiet life) and the three of them lived in a newly built little house on a modest estate near Winchester. The other thing you don't need for poltergeists is a big, old house.
Right from the start, my sister would say strange things about her daughter which I put down to post-natal depression. Things like, "She stares at me in a way which makes me think she understands what I am thinking". This was before she could talk.
A little later, she would confide in me that she was very guilty about the way she felt about the baby. "I just don't like her as a person - I know this sounds stupid and cruel, and I know she can't even talk yet, but this is just the way I feel and I have to tell someone. H**** doesn't want to talk about it and thinks I am being stupid. Am I going mad?"
I began to think that she was actually going mad, but I didn't say that. Instead, I began reading-up about this sort of thing, and by the time I went to visit them, I thought I had a grasp on what might have been going on.
When I called on them, the little girl was about 3-4 years old and able to talk. "Come downstairs and see your Uncle Tom," my sister shouted, and the girl came down and stared at me.
"Tell him to go away," she said, "I don't like his eyes." I think she knew that I could 'see' what was going on.
When she was out of the room, my sister told me of other, stranger things that had been happening. She would stand at the bottom of the stairs and take in a breath to shout up instructions for the girl to tidy her room, but before the words came out of her mouth, her daughter would shout down, "No. I don't want to and I'm not going to."
Things came to a head one night a little later. The girl was upstairs in bed, the washing up had been done and my sister and her husband were sitting in a room watching T.V. before going to bed themselves, when a clattering noise came from the kitchen.
My B. in law went into the kitchen to find a large knife had been taken out of one of the drawers, and blood was splashed around all over the formica-topped work-surfaces.
He rushed upstairs to his daughter's room to find her tucked up and asleep, so he went back down and checked all the windows and doors, finding them all locked and secure, so he searched the house for an intruder but found none.
They stared at the scene for a half an hour or so, then - not knowing what else to do - cleared up the mess and went to bed. I asked her if they had taken a sample of the blood, but she said that this had not occurred to them.
This was the trigger for my sister's break-down, and the doctor recommended she go to a child psychologist. When she arrived for the appointment, she asked the psychologist when she should return to collect her girl, and he said, "You are not going anywhere - you are part of the process."
In a few weeks, all was back to normal, and their relationship reverted to a normal, loving, mother and daughter one, though the subject was never considered taboo whilst my niece remained a child. It only became taboo later, and my niece has no recollection of any of these events.
I didn't dream them up though, I assure you.