Wednesday, 4 December 2013

My dance with the devil

by Jasmine Ward.


It was Halloween and I had spirits on the brain. You’d think in a world that pulsates with technology we’d be forced to let go of pagan beliefs and suspicions. Well, you would be wrong: our cities are rife with ghost tours, Ouija boards and countless supernatural films. In fact, there’s even a smart phone app that allows you to talk to spirits. I did a little research and stumbled upon a sensation that had me enthralled: ‘Ghost Hunting.’ With some trepidation, I decided I had to explore ‘the dark side’.
Ghost hunters link up in online chat rooms and book out ‘haunted’ locations for a night. On winter’s evenings they meet, having packed spirit boards, u-v lights, cameras, instant coffee and high hopes. I signed myself up for a hunt taking place at ‘The Ancient Ram Inn’ in Wotton-Under-Edge, deep in the Gloucestershire countryside. It is supposed to be so haunted that the owner can no longer accept guests - only ghost hunters.
I showed up at 6:30pm and met owner John Humphries and his daughter Caroline. The place was freezing; Caroline left me alone with Mr Humphries who was huddled by the inn’s only radiator. The room was overflowing with old books and dirty mugs, and a Barbie doll with a burned face peered down at us from a shelf as we chatted. Mr Humphries is eighty-five and suffers from dementia, yet despite his age and condition he was able to relay a brief history of the inn and describe several of his own spiritual encounters.
He told me the place is over one thousand years old and home to a myriad of disgruntled spirits. He spoke specifically of the demonic spirit Icabus. He said, “He’s had me four times this month.” When I asked what he meant, he said, “Excuse me dear, but I mean he’s tried to f**k me.” Mr Humphries is extremely religious, he showed me his Bible and said he chucked it at the succubus when it crawled into his bed.
Astonished, I watched as Mr Humphries nodded off. Caroline came from the kitchen carrying two cups of tea, and after a quick cigarette she took me on a tour. The inn consists of two guest rooms, a kitchen, barn and an attic - all haunted. Caroline has lived in the inn since she was seven. We sat in a room that has a dirt hole in the centre with a sign saying ‘Ancient Grave’. Mr Humphries claims he dug up bones from the hole and found a broken dagger. 

The room is padded with dozens of stuffed animals, placed there, according to Caroline, in order to appease the sound of crying ‘ghost’ children often heard by paying guests. She said, “I’ve never seen anything but you wouldn’t believe the things I’ve heard.”

Once, Caroline and her husband were watching telly when they heard crash, bam wallop above them. Caroline ran up the first flight of stairs to find her bedside table at the foot of the attic stairs. Every book had remained inside that table apart from Stephen King’s ‘Fire Starter.’ She explained that three weeks prior to this, the kitchen had burned down for no apparent reason.  “The ghost was calling me an arsonist,” she concluded.
During my tour I learnt of many spirits. Mary Gibbons, a witch who sacrificed children, for instance, an un-named cavalier soldier, two monks and an 8 stone Rottweiler that patrols the attic. I had come feeling brave and now I could feel my toes curling.
After my tour I met the ghost-hunters, a random mix of thrill-seekers lead by Kevin Crook, a ‘seer.’  Some were locals. One was a prison guard, another a builder. I had a quick chat with Kevin who told me that he had seen ghosts since he was a kid. I noticed the hunters had been going mad on their camera phones, shouting, “Jezus, there are bleeding spirits everywhere!” Cynical, I looked over one of their shoulders and saw the camera light reveal bluey white orbs zinging around the air. Disbelieving, I tried on my phone and I too saw the orbs. I was perplexed. I am not saying they were ghosts but what the hell were they? Dust particles?  
Our odd group of around sixteen hunters, plus myself, commenced to the attic. Mr Crook said that the atmosphere in the attic was toxic. It made him feel awful. Entering the attic, I too felt dreadful, although perhaps this was because I had knocked my head walking up the stairs. We sat down and turned off the room’s only light. I confessed to being nervous, and looking around I remembered I was without a friend: there was no one I could clasp onto if something happened. The woman next to me said, “Watch out caz they feed off fear.”
The gang was readying the spirit board when the room filled with the scent of sulphur.
Someone gasped, “You know there’s a demon about when you smell egg.”
One of our crew then replied, "Don’t worry its only me, I’m a nervous farter.”
Three women then put their fingers on the spirit board’s planchette and the leader said, “Is there anyone that wants to speak with us?” She closed her eyes and repeated herself, and the planchette slithered over to M then A then R and Y. I remembered Mary Gibbons. The woman spoke, “You alright there Mary? Where you from?”
The board spelt something incoherent like FDHJG. Someone said, “Oh she’s illiterate”.  Oh yes, of course, I thought. The woman asked if she could read and the planchette inched its way over to me. The women pulled it back to the middle but it slid back. She said, “Do you know this young woman?” It was still. Turning to me, she said, “Do you know anyone called Mary?”
“No!” I yelped.
“I think she just wants you to put your finger on,” she said. So I did.   
Spookily, as soon as my finger hit the board, the session was brought to a close and we trickled downstairs into the Bishop’s room. The Bishop’s room was reportedly a place of satanic worship and home to Icabus, the succubus. We entered the room which had three beds dressed in scarlet covers. We sat down. We remained in silence until a man by the fireplace said in a thick Gloucestershire accent, “My ears and my lap, they’re cold.” The temperature was sub-zero, so this was hardly surprising. Mr Crook said: “It’s him, he’s sat in your lap and whispering in your ear.” Enough was enough. I made my excuses and left.
I didn’t sleep until 4am. I had all the lights on and my eyes peeled for any demonic activity. I didn’t and still don’t know what I believe. Was it real? The place was icy and the atmosphere thick with excitement. There’s no doubt that the inn is pregnant with some kind of energy. All I know is that if there is anything out there, I don’t want to mess with it. I am done probing ‘the other side’.  

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