Ghosts? Yes I know of ghosts. I know that there are various sorts of them, from poltergeists to vengeful spirits and of course, phantoms. Poltergeists like to get up to all sorts of mischief and are in fact very common. I know of many a person who has fallen for the deceitful tricks of poltergeists. Take Lenny Kleinbooi for example. Lenny had suffered from asthma his whole life and as such, he always carried a pump with him. When he was at home, the pump had a place on the bottom shelf above the kitchen sink. Then one day when Lenny fell into asthma induced breathing fit, he found that his pump was gone. Fortunately for him he was able to stumble his way outside and was seen by a concerned neighbour who then took him to hospital. Later, Lenny’s pump was found in the fruit bowl on the dining room table underneath a bunch of bananas. A group of us deduced that such a shrewd hiding place could only be the work of a poltergeist as Lenny had a very good memory and organised manner about him. That was not the only occasion that Lenny had found himself the victim of a Poltergeist’s prank. He had left home one morning to go into town only to come back later and find to his horror that his house was burning down. It was found later that the gas stove had been turned on sometime that morning and a candle had been lit and had fallen over onto the stove, igniting the gas and starting a fire in the kitchen which then spread throughout the house. The chief investigator for the insurance company deemed it to be a deliberate case of starting a fire and was ruled to be arson and so the insurance would not pay out until the culprit could be apprehended. Many people thought that it was Lenny himself who had started the blaze so as to claim the insurance money and take an overseas holiday to Malta, but I knew that it could only have been a poltergeist and a poltergeist being what it was could not be apprehended and tried for his crimes. Thus, Lenny had to move into low budget accommodation downtown. That was before they discovered that he had Alzheimer’s, otherwise Lenny’s attorney could have claimed that, due to his condition, Lenny had been unable to find the light switch that morning and had to light a candle to see what he was doing when making his breakfast. He then could have further claimed that, again due to Lenny’s condition, he simply forgot to both turn off the stove and put out the candle next to it. Had such knowledge been available, Lenny could have bluffed his way through and need not have made mention of any poltergeist in the process. Partly due to his condition and partly due to the poltergeist constantly stalking him, Lenny passed away a few months later. A few days after that however, the chief inspector in the arson case died of a heart attack while munching on a boerewors roll. This brings up the next type of ghost: The vengeful spirit. The coroner put the inspector’s death down to poor diet and failing health but I knew that it was really an act of retribution exacted by the vengeful soul of Lenny Kleinbooi. Such was plain.
So you see where poltergeists enjoy committing mischievous deeds, vengeful spirits carry out acts of revenge and retribution. Now we look at the last kind of ghost: Phantoms. What makes phantoms so mysteriously different from the rest is that one simply cannot tell when they are there and when they are not. It is easy to tell when one’s car keys have been misplaced that a poltergeist is about or that when one is met with series of misfortunes that the vengeful spirit of one’s old mathematics teacher is paying one back for every time one fell asleep in his class, but with phantoms it is more difficult. As I have said, it is difficult to tell when one in fact is in the presence of a phantom as they take great care to conceal themselves when they are in the vicinity. I have had experiences in which I have been sitting in the living room and felt a sudden chill come over my shoulders. I would spring up and spin around hoping to observe some sort of paranormal phenomena but as I have said Phantoms are difficult to see, especially when invisible as they often are. The most that I would observe is that I had left the kitchen window open. The distinction between a phantom and an evening draught is also a difficult one to draw, but one who has ever encountered a phantom may be able to tell you the difference. I am one such person, having first encountered such a spectre in my naïve and simple youth before I believed in such things. A long time ago it was, but the memory is no less clear now than it was back when it happened all those years ago.
It was late one spring afternoon that myself and some friends of my youth set off on a camping trip to the place known as Phantom Forest. “Why is it called Phantom Forest?” asked Arnold Aldridge, the new boy in town. “Because” answered Jimmy Jones while taking a moment to take a bite out of a green apple “there are phantoms living in there.” Joseph Mdaka and I sniggered as he walked behind them but Arnold nodded with wide eyes as if this were some profound revelation. “What’s the matter Arnie?” Joseph goaded, “Are you scared?” Arnold immediately puffed out his chest in indignation and vigorously shook his head. “No, no, no. Scared? Definitely not!” We all chuckled again. As the new boy in town, it was our job to initiate Arnie by taking him into the heart of Phantom Forest, waiting until darkness fell and then getting him to tell us the spookiest story that he could. Following that, one of us would put out the fire and then we would all silently step away from the campsite in the dark, leaving Arnie alone to fear for his life. The purpose of this scare tactic is to test the mettle of the new boy and see if his character is worthy enough to join our crew. Even if the poor guy was scared stiff we would still welcome him in. We had all gone through this rite of passage and tonight it was Arnie’s turn. We had crossed the White Bridge and taken the right turn off of the main road. We now followed the dirt road with the estuary on our right, shimmering gold as the setting sun shone upon it. It was warm and the late day had a docile almost lazy feel to it. The four of us continued along the road for about another quarter of an hour before Joseph pointed to the hidden path leading off of the road. We stepped off the sand and gravel and onto the cooler, softer dirt of the path leading into the undergrowth. The shade provided a cooling sensation and the sweat on my back began turning icy, which was pleasant at first but as always it inevitably became too cold for one’s liking. “How far into the woods are we going?” Arnie somewhat nervously asked. “You’ll see.” was Jimmy’s simple reply.
The undergrowth was thick but it was not so thick that we could not see that the sun had almost set. It was dark in the forest, dark enough to warrant taking out and turning on our torches to illuminate the path before us. We had been walking for quite some time before Arnie spoke again. “How much farther?”
“Five minutes or so.”
About that amount of time later Jimmy halted causing the rest of us to stop as well. He slowly shone the light from his torch around him in a complete circle to observe the surroundings then turned to us and proclaimed: “We’re here” and abruptly dropped his pack and knelt down to begin setting up. The rest of us followed suit and together we set about establishing our base for the night. We had two tents between the four of us and one sleeping bag each. Joseph and Arnie took charge of starting the fire and Jimmy and I busied ourselves with erecting the tents. It did not take a considerable amount of time nor effort and soon we were all camped around the fire, joking about habits of our teachers and coaches while passing around a bottle of brandy that Jimmy had nicked from his old man’s cupboard. “Hey Jimmy bru,” I piped up, wincing after having taken a swig myself, “won’t your pa have your balls for breakfast for pinching his dop?” He just sniggered as the bottle came his way before saying “Nah, trust me bru, man is drunk enough when he comes home to worry about what’s not in his cupboard. Besides, my ma gets really pissed at him whenever he comes home with booze; he’s actually forbidden to have it. If he ever realises that the shit’s missing, he’ll just think that she threw it out.” We all chuckled at this and continued with the comments and wisecracks, this time about each other’s parents and the misadventures many of them had had in the past. Joseph recounted an absolute gem about a time when his mom drove into the shallows of the estuary while she was inebriated. She was able to get help and get her car lifted out of the waters and still get home before sunrise. She never told Joseph’s pa and he would only find out several years later when by freak chance he happened to be sitting next to a man who had been there on the night of the occurrence while he was recounting the story to a friend. We had a good laugh at that one. Arnie had been rather quiet which was to be expected given that he was new in town and did not know anyone too well. It was alright though as his time to speak was soon to come. After a period in which our laughter and conversation had died down, Jimmy called on Arnie. “Arnie, now the time has come for you to prove your worth to us.” There was a nervous yet determined look in Arnie’s eyes, he was nervous, yes, but refused to be intimidated. “You have to tell us,” Jimmy continued, “one scary story, the scariest that you can come up with and then the three of us,” he indicated to himself, Joseph and myself, “will judge whether or not you are worthy to join our crew.” The three of us chuckled but Arnie stayed silent. “So,” Jimmy went on, “without any further crap, let’s hear what you have to tell.” He was silent for a few moments and was staring at the fire in front of him, probably running whatever story he had over in his head in order to ensure for an immaculate delivery. Then he lifted his head, looked at each one of us in turn and began. “Okay, let me tell you the story of Tabitha Swindley and her family.” There were still a few quietened sniggers to be heard from the rest of us. Arnie was not to be perturbed and commenced with his tale. “Tabitha, her husband and their two children lived in a cosy cottage overlooking the bay, right next to the beach. They lived happily together and often went out onto the beach to go swimming and collect shells and sorts in the sand and in the rock pools. This was routine for them pretty much every day after the children had come home from school. The two children and their mother, Tabitha, would go to the beach while their father would usually read the paper, joining them only about once every week. This was almost an integral ritual of sorts for the family and always ended happily with the three, or sometimes four of them going home to make supper. Then it happened on one Friday afternoon, something terrible. It seemed a day like any other where everything was as ordinary as it could be, with the children playing on the rocks by the pools by Castle Rock and Tabitha watching them from the beach. Her sights were usually fixed upon her little ones and their antics but on this day it was different. It is said that the ocean has a way of sometimes playing tricks with one’s mind and on this day it had apparently done so with Tabitha. Rather than keeping her eyes on the children, her gaze had been captured by the sea, causing her to stare out towards the horizon. It was while she was in this mesmerised state that a rogue wave had snuck up without anyone noticing and swept the daughter, Alicia was her name, off of the rock on which she was stepping. Tabitha saw this out of the corner of her eye and it was enough to break the spell of the ocean and prompted her to scream for her daughter and run towards the spot where she had been taken. She tore over the rocks and stones and was there in a flash but it was still too late. The back-wash as I hear is strong up at Brenton and there was no sign of Alicia at all. In the ensuing hours search parties were dispatched and boats and helicopters went out to find any sign of the poor little girl but to no avail. She was lost.” There was no hint of laughter amongst any of us now and we listened intently to the story which Arnie was telling us. “The father, John as he was called, took the loss hard and felt it difficult to forgive Tabitha for her negligence and so too did Tabitha struggle to forgive herself but it was for different reasons that neither of them felt that forgiveness was forthcoming. In John’s case it was anger and in Tabitha’s it was guilt, something which burned one’s insides greater than anger of any sort ever could. They both struggled immensely with the loss, Tabitha probably more so. Such was her guilt that one night John awoke from an uneasy sleep to find that he was alone in bed. He called for his wife but to no answer. He walked into the living room and saw that the front door had been left open. He then called for her again outside but still no reply came. He then grabbed a torch from his cupboard, checked on his remaining child; the son named Harry, and then went outside to search for his wife. Despite the number of times that he called there came no response and he could see her nowhere either. After having made his way onto the beach he was able to make out what vaguely resembled a fresh set of footprints. It was a difficult task to spot such in the sand, especially in places where many had walked during the day but John had lived by the sea all his life and could tell fresh prints from older ones. He followed the trail from the soft sand until it reached the harder, moistened sand which had been touched by the waves and saw that the trail led directly into the breakers. She had simply,” he paused for a moment “walked into the sea.” He stayed quiet for a while after this, joining us in silence. What had intrigued me the most was not his story, impressive though it was, but rather his knowledge of the beachfront and the ways of the ocean considering the short amount of time he had been here.
Joseph then stirred. “What happened to her?” he asked.
“She was taken by the sea.” Arnie said simply. “Some think that she had been driven to madness and walked into the ocean to search for her missing child and retrieve her from its treacherous depths but it would simply claim her as well, or so they thought…” I interjected at this point.
“What do you mean by ‘or so they thought?’”
“What I mean is that that is not where the story ends.” The rest of us shifted in excited yet slightly uncomfortable anticipation. I thought to myself that surely Joseph had to make a move to put out the fire now so that we could slip away and give Arnie the scare but he seemed transfixed by the story and was as eager to hear the end of it as Arnie was to tell it. He went on, “A few days after his wife had gone missing a distraught John, who had begun to drink himself to death following the loss of two of his closest family members, awoke on the living room couch after having passed out from too much brandy to see that once again the front door was open and leading from and to the open door across the room were what appeared to be two sets of wet footprints. He jumped up to follow the first trail which led into Harry’s room and was shocked to see that Harry’s bed was empty and there was no sign of him at all. John then ran out of the front door and in a drunken haze, he stumbled down to the beach. There was no telling what he saw next. Some will say that we was simply drunk and was hallucinating but others believe that what he saw scared him to death, for…” and at that moment an eerie and chilly gust of wind was suddenly conjured from nothing and possessed such force that it extinguished the fire in a pinch. “Perfect timing” I thought to myself and slowly crept away on my hands and knees out of the clearing and into the bushes. “Jeez, where’d that come from ey?” I heard Arnie say, but to no answer from the rest of us. Although it was dark, it was a task which myself, Jimmy and Joseph had performed on numerous occasions and as such we knew exactly where to tread and where to find each other. “Guys?” Arnie called out with a slightly worried tone in his voice. After about a minute and thirty metres crawl out of the campsite, the three of us found each other. “What you think hey?” Jimmy whispered.
“Ja, it was good.” I said. “But in any case, regardless of the story, he was in from the moment he agreed to come along. Now let’s get to seeing what he’s really made of.” Arnie’s inquiries as to our whereabouts were becoming more frantic now. “Seriously okes, this is not funny.” We all quietly chuckled. “Good job with the fire by the way Joe, perfect work.” I said. Joseph stayed silent for a moment and then said in a somewhat confused voice, “I thought that was you.” Now I was a little confused myself and turned to Jimmy. “Jimmy?”
“Random gust of wind?” he said worriedly. Then we heard the scream. It was enough to curdle the blood and root all of us to the spot as if we had become trees of the forest ourselves. It took a moment before any of us were able to uproot ourselves and run through the bushes to the campsite to see if he was alright. Upon immediate inspection it was found that he was nowhere to be seen. We had all become panic stricken. What was it that extinguished the fire? What had caused Arnie to scream so terribly? And most importantly, where was he now? “Did anyone see anything that could have put the fire out?” I asked in an exasperated breath, “That could be what scared him.”
“I saw nothing. Nothing at all” said Joseph. And with that, Jimmy thought of the only plausible explanation that there was to be had. “Phantoms.” he said aloud, dreading his own words. I was sceptical. “Naai man, phantoms don’t exist. They’re make-believe, like the Easter bunny.”
“They’re not make-believe, you just can’t see them!” He said.
“If you can’t see it, it’s not there!”
“So are you saying that there is no such thing as air? Or the Holy Spirit for that matter.”
“The Holy Spirit, we know exists because it says so in the bible, air we know exists because of science.”
“Wait, is the Holy Spirit a phantom?” asked Joseph.
“No Joe,” I said, “The Holy Spirit is a spirit.” Joseph seemed satisfied with his answer but Jimmy was not convinced. “What’s the difference?” he said. I thought for a while and then replied, “Phantoms haunt people while the Holy Spirit offers only salvation.”
“Maybe the Holy Spirit came to offer you salvation Jimmy, by coming to get you to repent for stealing your pa’s brandy.” said Joseph.
“Yes, but he mistook poor Arnie for you, Jimmy, and he must have been so overcome by the glory that he could only scream in disbelief.” My words had reminded us of the real problem we faced, that Arnie was still missing. “Yes, speaking of Arnie, we should go look for him.” Joseph said simply. We all nodded and set off with our torches to try to find our missing comrade.
In spite of what must have been about an hour of walking through the undergrowth in the dark calling out his name, we were unsuccessful and eventually decided that it was a futile search in the dark and that it would be better to resume the search in the morning and that we need not worry about him too much as he would be in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jimmy still disagreed that it was the Holy Spirit as such an entity would not have made such a mistake as confusing Arnie for himself. Joseph and I agreed that should such be the case, it must be a phantom in whose presence Arnie now finds himself and we should thus resume the search immediately so as to rescue him from further harm. At this suggestion, Jimmy suddenly agreed that it must have been the Holy Spirit, that he was safe and that we should go to bed. He then promptly fell asleep and was followed into dreamland by Joseph and myself shortly after.
We recommenced with our search immediately upon waking and could not have been walking for any more than a minute when we came across our previously absent friend lying down in a foetal position at the base of a large tree. He was awake when we found him, unless of course he had taught himself to sleep with his eyes wide open as if he had seen a ghost, which we all agreed that he probably had or at least felt its presence since certain types of ghosts cannot be seen. We got him up and walking after a few prods and picks at him and we walked back to camp to pack up. We had hoped that by telling him that he was now officially part of our crew he would cheer up a little but he still said nothing and would maintain his silence throughout the entire journey home. We were worried about poor Arnie for a few days afterwards, especially when we did not see him at school on Monday but as it turned out, he had left town with his father who was apparently a diplomat and spent most of his time moving from town to town. But we knew that the reason for him leaving probably had something to do with our misadventure in Phantom Forest. Looking back at the manner in which he behaved after that night, the remaining three of us deduced that it in all likelihood had not been the Holy Spirit that visited us but something far more sinister and what it had said or done to Arnie was something of which we would never know anything other than it was probably less than pleasant. It is funny how such things happen to the most unlikely of candidates and why but regardless of who was plagued by ghosts of whatever sort, myself, Jimmy and Joseph saw it fit to never tread upon the earth of Phantom Forest again.