A True Haunted House Story

from August 1966

All right, here's the scene: Wolverhampton, England, August of
1966, evening, pissing rain.  I'd been hitching NW from London
on my way to Crewe, to visit relatives on my Welsh grandfather's 

It had been dark and stormy weather all day, not the best 
hitchhiking conditions: lots of waiting in the rain, but not a 
lot of rides, mostly short.  Didn't get as far as I'd hoped, so 
I was in Wolverhampton when the sun went down.  You can look it 
up on a map of England: it's there, just north of Birmingham, 
so this story must be true.

I'd been dropped off in town, but didn't really want to stay
there, rather keep going.  Bread & Breakfast were not in my
budget.  I walked on through town towards the M6 Motorway North--
it was rainy, chilly, dark, the shops were closed, the streets 
empty except for me passing by--and finally came out the other 
side and tried to hitch on into the night.

Very hard to hitchhike soaking wet--nobody wants to sacrifice
their car seats for some stranger, therefore no rides.  It got
late, I knew it was hopeless and time to find a place to crash. 
I had a dry sleeping bag in my rucksack, safely bagged in
plastic, I was not unprepared for this.  

Actually I'd been looking for shelter all the way through town-- 
a bridge, a covered alley, anything dry, comfort was secondary--
but there was nothing, and by now I had wandered on out of town 
to the last lamp pole, beyond which I would be taking my chances 
against Nature on a night like this.

So I stood there trying to hitch.  Two cars went by in an hour, 
neither stopped--or even slowed.  The town clock rang eleven 
times.  The rain rang more.

Hmm, a church on the other side of the road from the lamppole.  
I wondered if there was a roof I could hide under, and studied 
the building.  Then saw that there was a little house beside the 
church, dark, with the windows all broken out.

Hey, am I really looking at an abandoned house?  That's just what 
I NEED right now!  Moved closer for a better look.  And indeed,
it was desolate and unused, was empty, open, and probably dry. 

Now I didn't want to do anything criminal, like trespassing, and 
I didn't want to scare or upset any of the nice English people, 
but I had to get out of that weather, so I approached cautiously, 
making sure it was all right.  I did have to climb over the 
fence, which could be considered an intrusion.

But when I gave the front door a little shove, it opened for me
as if that dark house was welcoming me in.  "Hello?" I said first,
"anyone there?"  Just to be polite--no way of knowing who or what
might be waiting for me in that darkness.

So are you scared already?  Well, I wasn't yet, but I won't lie 
and say that I was brave either, one IS apprehensive in such a 
situation.  Nor does one wish to do do anything stupid, there 
really COULD be someone in there: a drunken bum, a wild rabid 
dog, other travellers like myself, maybe the Hells Angels, 
etc etc.

But wait!  I could actually see in there.  The streetlamp 
was shining in through the broken windows.  And as my eyes 
adjusted I could see that it was one large room.  The only 
furniture was a long wooden counter which sort of divided the 
room into halves.  There was no one there.  

And it was dry.  I advanced, in out of the rain.  "Wow, I don't
believe this!  How lucky can I be?  I've got a place to crash for
the night--much better than under a bridge anyway."  

I moved in.  Glass crunched under my feet--the broken windows 
spread out over the floor everywhere.  I took off my rucksack.  
Checked behind the counter to make sure no one was hiding there, 
just in case. 

Still not sure, I called.  "Hello, anyone here?  I won't hurt you
if you don't hurt me."  Nobody.  Great.

I had to sweep an area clear of glass to get to lay out my
sleeping bag, well hidden behind the counter, just in case.  And 
I had to strip naked, my clothes were soaked.  I dried off with 
my almost-dry towel.  And then I snuggled down into my cozy wozy
sleeping bag, with my jacket for a pillow, zipped myself in for
the night, and lay back and relaxed for the first time that day. 
Realized how tired I was.

But I was also really enjoying this moment.  Getting warm now,
the floor nice and firm, the pillow just right, and that special
victory of Having Found a Free Place To Crash.  Humble Hitchhiker
against the Elements wins Again!  Ta Daa!

"Ok, great, now get some sleep."  I lay there.  Tense.  "Relax,
sleep," I told myself, again and again.  Didn't sleep.

Something was bothering me.  Something, but I didn't know what.

Yeah, yeah, this is where it begins to get spooky, all right. 
But very subtly.  I hardly noticed it.

I could hear...something.  Something I wanted to identify, but it
was so faint and distant that I couldn't make it out.  Not quite
a sound.  So I kept listening.

Ah, a motor somewhere back in town--no, too irregular.  The
wind--no the storm had quieted to mere rainfall.  A radio in a
house somewhere nearby?  Someone in the church?  A special sound,
clearer now, as if closer...air...whistling...gasping...


Yes, that's what it was, breathing: the air in, slowly, then out,
heavily.  Very consistantly heavy, like...someone asleep.  "Yeah,
sure, that's what it is.  Somebody sleeping.  Ok, now that that's
solved, get some sleep yourself."

So where IS this somebody? I wondered.  Because I could clearly
hear it now.  Not a sound from far away, as I'd thought at first.  
In fact, it pretty much had to be in this room.

But I could clearly see around the room--yes, my eyes were quite
open--there was no place for anyone to BE.  There  was absolutely 
no one else there.

Unless they lay on the other side of the long counter from
where I lay.  But I'd looked there, been there, I was alone. 
And no one could come in or out of this room without crunching on
a floor littered with broken glass.

Ok, classic moment, gang: the town clock gongs out Midnight.  I
suddenly remember that I'm in England, that country so famous

"No, no, no," I told myself, "You're an American!  You know
better, there are no ghosts, so don't fall for it!"  Right. 
There IS some logical explanation.  Science will prevail. 
Superstition shall be defeated. 

Besides, it was cold & wet outside.  "I am NOT running out into
that rainy night just because it's getting a little... mysterious
here. It's dry here, I'm naked and tired and tucked in for the

Analyze what's happening.  Ok, somebody breathing, etc etc, seems
to be asleep, also seems to be quite near.  I can hear it clearly
over the rainfall, which is loud through those open windows.  But
there's no one here, so either (a) I am imagining it, or 
(b) the sound is being transmitted from somewhere else.

It MUST be some machine, far away.  Yes.  No.  Yes.  No, not a
machine, it's a large animal-- a horse? or big dog? no, for sure
it's a...man.

Slowly and steadily through the night, the sound seemed to get closer and clearer. Until it was beside me now, or in front, or behind me, I couldn't tell. It was everywhere. Everywhere near. My mind was racing and reaching for an satisfactory explanation: a stereo speaker wired to a microphone in some other house where someone just happened to be asleep? I still wasn't really scared yet, because it was all so subtle that I kept asking myself, is this really happening or am I just imagining it? But I couldn't stop hearing it, clearer and nearer, louder, heavier. So I decided: "I AM imagining it, of course. It's all in my head, getting louder only because I'm tuning in so hard. I'm simply scaring myself. Ignore it and go to sleep!" I rolled over, trying to find the optimal snoozing position, thumping the floor with elbow or knee. The breathing stopped. Total silence. It was gone. Or whoever was sleeping had been... disturbed. Which was itself disturbing. It brought the feeling of "nearness" into perspective. I did not fall asleep, but lay there listening. Eventually, slowly, raggedly it starts up again--someone almost awakened, but not quite, then falling back asleep. Steady, heavy breathing, no snoring. Now I had ghosts running through my head: I was waiting for the sound of chains being dragged across a floor upstairs, or the sound on someone coming down those stairs towards me. I envisioned myself in a Tom & Jerry cartoon, me rocketing up out of my sleeping bag, dangling in the air for a second, then running right through the wall of the house and off over the hills, stark naked, fadeout. But the most awful fear I had was that my guitar, leaning there against the counter, would play just one note. Or break a string--because then I WOULD rocket up... Actually, I was too scared to crawl out of the minimal safety of my sleeping bag. Or too stubborn to give up my bed. Or too dubious of what was happening. I don't know which, all three I guess. Nor did there seem to be any actual physical danger to react to. So I just lay there, with the breathing sounding louder and nearer and more more more until it was right in my face, roaring in both ears, as if I were nose to nose with a large man breathing, Breathing, saying nothing. I couldn't feel it or smell it, I tried, but it was so loud that I finally had to cover my ears with both hands and just stare at the room. Amazingly, I dozed off. The next sound I noticed was birdsong. The sun was coming up. The rain had stopped. The night was over. The breathing had stopped. It was only 5:00 in the morning, so I let an hour's sunlight fill the room before I got up. I was still rattled, but not scared any more. I had dry clothes in my rucksack, packed the wet into the plastic bag, and was ready to go in minutes. But I didn't go. I explored that little house, looking for any explanation for what I had heard. I looked for wires, speakers, hollow pipes, footprints, hidden rooms. Nothing. Abandoned house, that's all. But outside, I walked around the house and found myself in a little cemetary between the house and the church. "Ah, well that explains it," I told myself, "it WAS a ghost." I took my pack and went out on the street, back on the road again. Hey, I'd survived a night in a haunted house. Pretty neat. I considered walking back into Wolverhampton and asking about this place. Did it have a reputation? Was it famous? Wouldn't it verify my experience if the locals told me, "Oh, don't go in there, son, that place is haunted!"? But it was only 6:00 now, I'd have to wait several hours for the shops to open up, and the traffic north was already passing by. So I hitched out of Wolverhampton, never been back. You'd think this story ends here, but it doesn't. There are no fadeouts in real life. It was a nice day and England is a wonderful place to hitch, full of really friendly people who offer rides to strangers. I was transported up to Crewe in no time, arriving by noon, and contacted my cousin Janet, who lived on a small farm just out of town. And sure enough, I could crash for free for a few days while I explored the area of Chester and Delemare Forest and Liverpoole. I could sleep in a little cabin a bit out from the house. In fact, I could have the cabin all to my self. Alone there. The first night I lay awake half the night, listening for the breathing to begin. Didn't. Thinking, "if I do hear it here, then I must have imagined it back in Wolverhampton too." Also. if I don't hear it, then Wolverhampton was probably real... and therefore could probably also happen other places in England, like here... Oh, I did get some sleep, but it wasn't easy. The next night I took the family dog out with me, so that he could breath and I could know what I was hearing. Sort of like keeping the TV on to obscure creepy sounds at night. Or whistling in the dark. This went on for a while. I travelled around England, Wales, Scotland for a month, and--my budget not getting bigger as I went--sometimes slept in open places, under bridges, anywhere... except in old abandoned houses. I was scared of them. Not that there were so many of them. And every night I found myself listening for the breathing. Sometimes I slept in Youth Hostels, and when I would tell my story, others would invariably say, "Oh, yeah man, England's LIKE that. I remember when I was visiting an old monestary with me mum 'n dad..." and they would tell their own spooky experiences. But it all culminated north of Edinborough one night. I screwed up, checking out of the Youth Hostel, then spending all day in town anyway, so that the Hostel was full when I decided to stay overnight. I found myself walking out of town to hitch, then night falling, and there I was, walking on and on, knowing that I wasn't going to get a ride tonight. Time to find a crash pad: and there it was, just out of town beside a dark road. A lonely abandoned house, signs of a fire at the front door, windows gone, an empty shell. I walked up to it, and looked at it. There it was, a Free Place to Crash. If I had the balls. But I couldn't go in. Ok, it wasn't raining--I guess I would have entered if I'd really had to. But there were threatening clouds above, I couldn't just walk away from it either. So I compromised. I went out into the field of high grass just beside the house--if it rained I could run inside--and laid out my sleeping bag. Tried to sleep, got dozey, and was just drifting off... ...light? Voices? Bodies moving through the grass? Ghosts from the burned house? Then there were two flashlights in my eyes, dark shapes against the night sky, and voices. But at least they were real. "Ho, what have we here?" Not a threatening tone, just politely inquisitive. I sat up and found myself looking at two Bobbies, 2 English policemen, out here in the night, far removed from Edinburough. "Uh, I'm...just sleeping. The youth hostel was full." "Oh, well then, carry on. We're just glad that you're alive. See a body layin' there and it gives you kind of a scare y'know. G'night, sir!" They turned off their flashlights and walked away. I fell back to my pillowed jacket, satisfied that what I'd heard was real, and fell asleep easily. But were those Bobbies real? What they were doing out there I have no idea. Or how they could possibly find me in that high grass, or... why they would even try? Guardian angels to remove a curse from me? I had no problem sleeping after that, nor did I listen for breathing, ever again. Twilite Zone music. Fadeout. 3R