The ghost hunter
I was known as the Ghosthunter. I never liked the name, it made me seem like one of those mad priests who go round old houses screaming threats at supposed spirits, faking exorcisms for a sizeable fee.
The truth is, 99.99 per cent of all ghosts are perfectly explicable, whether a deliberate hoax, strange noises from old heating pipes, or just the imagination of an anxious mind. I was very much a rational ghost hunter, one who went round haunted houses looked for a non-paranormal explanation.
The Lexington Terrace job came from the landlord of the property, Mr Quinn, a man who owned and rented many houses around Cambridge and who I had had occasion to work for before. He explained the situation over the phone, a young couple had rented one of his properties, an old vicarage, just a few weeks ago. During that time they had phoned Quinn every day to complain of strange noises and ghostly apparitions appearing during the night. They were threatening to quit the property, leaving Quinn with the expense of advertising for new tenants.
Quinn had brought the property in derelict condition a year previously, for a bargain price. It had taken almost the whole year to get the house back into habitable condition and the couple, Mr and Mrs Donald, were his first tenants. As much as anything he was keen to avoid the house getting a bad reputation, in these days of the internet, tales of a haunted property can soon make a place unrentable.
I arranged to go round that night, to examine the house in detail and to stay overnight, what I call a wake-over, sitting up all night, listening for any sign of the paranormal.
“Mrs Donald?”, I said to the young lady who answered. She nodded and I followed her inside the house. In the lounge, reclining on the sofa with a copy of the Telegraph, sat a young man. “Mr Donald, I’m Max Hilton, I’m here to check for ghosts and ghoolies.”
Mr Donald showed me around the house and I carried out a number of standard tests for obvious sources of reflected light and unusual creaks, groans or other sounds. I also checked there was nobody hiding in the house, it sounds stupid I know but in my work there was one occasion the ‘ghost’ turned out to be a relative who, angry at not inheriting the house himself, had hidden in one of the unused rooms and was trying to drive the new inhabitants out by a routine of faked spookery.
Eventually the Donalds went to bed and I begun my vigil in an adjoining room. I had a good book to read and every twenty minutes I would take my torch and carry out a brief exploration of the house. There was no activity at all, not even the odd noises you expect to hear in an old house. The door to the Donald’s room was left open all night as pre-arranged, and though I tried not to intrude too much on their space, I scanned their room as part of my search, but it was as empty of mystery as everywhere else.
By the end of the night all I’d achieved was finishing my book. I‘ve sat through many false alarms in my years in the job, many houses where the reported ghost never showed up, but never a house so devoid of creaks, groans and strange lights, yet the Donalds had been pestering Quinn every single day. They must simply be deranged, I concluded.
I said goodbye to the Donalds, drove home and phoned Quinn. “I stayed over all night,” I said, “not a single thing. I think the problem is with your tenants, there’s nothing in the house.”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone. “But who let you in?” he eventually asked.
“The Donalds of course, who else.”
Another pause. “The Donalds left the house yesterday afternoon. There wasn’t anyone in the house.”
“Then they must have come back.” I described the couple to him, expecting him to confirm their description.
“Mr Hilton, you have just described exactly the same figures as ghosts seen by the Donalds. The couple that were murdered in the house, the vicar and his wife.”
He emailed me a copy of the news clippings he’d been sent by the Donalds the day before, as part of their justification for breaking their contract and fleeing the house. It was the report of a murder in what was unmistakably the same house, from 16 September 1933. I recognised the photo of the murdered couple, because I had spent the whole night with them.
I still maintain that 99.9% of cases are explicable, but that still leaves far too much unexplained for my comfort. I quit ghost hunting that day, to become a full-time writer of ghost stories. I have never set foot in a haunted house since that day.