140. Ghost Stories

Keep cool in the hot summer weather with some chilling stories. *Transcript available below*

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This episode is all about ghosts, strange things, the unexplained, demons and things that go bump in the night. I’m talking about the paranormal, ghosts, phantasms, specters, spirits, poltergeists, unexplained phenomena, and all that kind of weird stuff that you don’t want to hear about when you’re alone in the house at night. I hope you’re not alone right now, because this could be the creepiest episode of Luke’s English Podcast so far. To help you feel okay I suggest you get a teddy bear to hold onto or a pillow to hide behind, close the doors, close the curtains, do not look in the mirror, and keep the light on. You could burn a candle if that makes you feel better, as traditionally it is said that a flame can protect you from evil spirits. Ideally, listen with other people around. People say that undead spirits and demons can be attracted by accounts of paranormal activity. If someone talks about ghosts, it brings the world of ghosts closer to you, and in some cases can attract spirits into your world. So if you notice anything strange going on around you while listening to this, I suggest that you stop listening, turn on the lights, get a drink from the fridge in the kitchen and just put scary thoughts out of your mind. I don’t believe in it myself, but who knows what is really out there in the darkness. I’ll give you some more tips on that later. Basically, in this episode I’m going to tell you some scary and weird stories, which I thought of or which are completely real and really happened to me.

Do you believe in ghosts? Is it really possible that our world could be visited by spirits or other beings that we don’t normally see? The answer you’re thinking of may be “no”. But have you ever experienced something really strange, which you can’t explain and which, when you think about it without ignoring it, it makes you really frightened? To tell you the truth, I have had some strange experiences that I can’t explain and that I don’t like to think about very often.

Personally, I consider myself to be a rational person. I don’t really believe in ghosts. But I believe there are things in the world that we don’t understand yet. I don’t think we should always conclude that unexplained things are the result of supernatural or paranormal causes, but at the same time I know that there are plenty of things about the world that we really don’t understand and can’t even see. Even in science there are many mysteries. Massive puzzles that scientists are trying to work out. Quantam physics, our basic understanding of space and time, the origins or destiny of the universe, parallel worlds, other dimensions, the possibility of ghosts living around us or inhabiting certain spaces in our homes or outside our windows. These are all areas of mystery to us. 500 years ago people were relatively clueless. People thought the world was flat, that headaches were caused by evil spirits and that tobacco was good for you. All completely wrong. Like, totally wrong. These are quite big things to get wrong. Imagine if we are similarly wrong about what we know now. Maybe we’ve only just scratched the surface of knowledge about the world. There could be so much more that we don’t realize. Answers to the questions of what happens to us after we die, is there such a thing as the soul and does it live on separately from us, are there other invisible worlds full of demons or spirits living all around us, that we can’t see. Is it possible for us to disturb these spirits or upset them by doing wrong things without realizing it? As I said, I don’t believe in ghosts or the paranormal because I require evidence for these things. But still, there are things that I just can’t explain. And to be honest, that is frightening sometimes. There are things I’ve experienced that have freaked me out, and continue to bother my memory today. Sometimes these memories make me scared. Maybe it will be creepy but I’m going to share those things with you in this podcast episode.

I’m going to tell you some stories but some real ones, not made up ones. The stories I’m going to tell you are all ones that I’ve experienced personally. They’re not fictional bedtime stories or anything. They’re not fun stories for kids. They’re real accounts of some weird and scary stuff that has happened to me at various times. I don’t often talk about these things with my friends or family these days. They say it makes them feel uncomfortable. A lot of people don’t really like their world to be challenged by strange unexplained things. They’d rather not think a lot about things they don’t really understand, or things which are disturbing. But sometimes I can’t sleep and I think of weird things I’ve experienced and they make me quite scared, but they’re fascinating to me too so I thought I would share these experiences with you. Maybe you can explain them, or maybe you’ve experienced similar things. Some people might say that I shouldn’t talk about these things publicly or share them, because it could scare people, or even attract spirits into the homes of people who are listening to this. I’m not sure about that but I’d like to suggest that you listen carefully to this episode. If you are easily scared then just think twice about listening to this. It might disturb you. Don’t listen just before you go to bed. Turn on the lights if you’re in a dark room, so you can see everything. Close cupboard doors or doors to dark rooms so that you don’t get scared when you imagine that something or someone is waiting in there while you listen to this. If you’re not too scared, try to have a look under the bed or behind the sofa, because sometimes you can be very disturbed by the thought that there is something or someone there, watching you and waiting. Try not to imagine dark shapes or the idea that there is a person with you, because your mind will play tricks on you.
If it is night time and there are windows in your room, just quickly close the curtains and make sure the windows are sealed so you don’t worry about things that our outside getting inside, and so you don’t worry about seeing a face appear in the window, even for a moment. Closing windows or closing curtains will make you feel more comfortable because you won’t be able to see whatever is out there, and if there’s something out there, it won’t be able to see you either. Just be careful, when you close the window, do it quickly and don’t look out of the window into the darkness.
Quickly check empty rooms in your house if you aren’t too scared. It can really freak you out when you get the feeling that you’re not alone in your own home, and that there’s something or someone in another room, and maybe they’ve been there for some time without you knowing. So, if you can, have a quick look around the house. Go upstairs or downstairs and visit empty rooms, just to make your mind feel more comfortable and so you don’t get too scared while you’re listening to my voice. And if you need to go to the toilet or the kitchen you’ll be frozen because you don’t want to go alone so try to remember there’s someone there in the house with you, even if you are alone, there’s someone nearby and you can hear my voice and you’ll be okay. You could stop listening and wait until the day time if you like, but I suggest that you listen to all of this, just so that you can get to the end of it, hear the music at the end of the episode and although it might be frightening to be in silence, you know that you completed the episode and that’s the end of the scary stories and everything will be back to normal again.
One other thing – don’t look in the mirror while you listen to this. In fact, avoid reflections of any kind – seeing your reflection in a window, the glass of your mobile or computer monitor. Mirrors or reflections are said to be like portals to the spirit world. I’m not sure I believe it but it’s better to be on the safe side, certainly when discussing ghosts or demons. Who knows what elements of old folklore are based on knowledge that we have lost? Maybe folklore is all true to an extent. The subject of spirits and the supernatural was very popular in England during the 19th century and lots of strange events were documented during that period. Many well respected people such as Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories were very interested in this subject, and wrote about their experiences. Apparently, people used to gather together in séances (meetings often took place in dark rooms in houses that were said to be haunted or regularly visited by apparitions or other phantoms) in order to contact the dead, or communicate with the spirit world. They used various devices to contact the other side, including oiji boards but also mirrors. What these practitioners would do was to read pages of old texts designed to attract ghosts from the other side, and then at certain moments they would all stare without blinking into a mirror in order to see the spirits appearing. Apparently, the mirror was one of the most common ways that spirits reveal themselves to the living. They might appear just as a shape or shadow, sometimes overlaid on top of someone else’s face (very weird) or they would appear clearly as someone else in the room, usually standing behind the people). There are also lots of urban myths about standing in front of the mirror and saying special words, which bring a demon into the room with you, with your reflection. The story goes that once the demon has arrived in your mirror, he will always be there in any reflection of you, until you find a way to remove him. The only way to remove him is to tell someone else about it, persuading them to say the words while looking in a mirror. The demon is then transferred into their reflection, leaving you free again. Finally, the only solution is for a blind person to say the words in front of the mirror. They take the demon, but can’t see it and so it has no power over him.
I said before that traditionally people believed that spirits can be attracted by talking about them, and that describing or thinking about the other side can make the gap between our world and the world of spirits thinner, allowing them to visit us more freely. That’s why people tend to whisper or speak quietly when talking of these things. You shouldn’t go around shouting the names of demons or spirits, especially at night, and you should not look in the mirror while listening to this, or soon after listening to this. It’s not advisable and I would warn you not to do it. I mean, I don’t necessarily believe it myself and I don’t know what you believe, but sometimes it’s worth paying attention to traditional wisdom even if science disagrees with it. Sometimes science can be proved wrong, as I said before. So, avoid mirrors during this episode.
I hope you’re not getting freaked out or scared by all this talk of scary monsters visiting you. If you are superstitious, then you do what you’ve got to do. Say a short prayer if that helps, or try repeating some words to yourself in order to make yourself feel okay. Apparently, a common thing that people can say to protect themselves from evil spirits is this, and you can try repeating it quietly to yourself if it makes you feel any better.
“I am alone – I know they are not here”
“I am alone – I know they will not come”
“I am alone – I know they have not found me”
Say it three times. Just make sure you get the word ‘not’ in the correct position. Don’t say “I am not alone – I know that they are here” or “I know they will come” or “I know they have found me” – don’t say that three times while looking into a mirror, at any time. OK? Do not do that. I hope that’s clear.
If you’re with someone else, good. I recommend that you just squeeze the person’s hand or just touch them on the shoulder, just as a way to say “you’re here too”! If they react badly to that, like, if they tell you “get off!” or “what you doing?” Just explain calmly that you’re just making physical contact with another person in order to create a protective boundary between you and the spirit world in order to prevent any weird or scary things from happening. I’m sure your friend or loved one will understand. If you are on public transport, you could try touching the person sitting next to you but I am not responsible for the consequences. All I’ll say is that sometimes people on busses and trains can be much more dangerous than ghosts…

Finally, if you do get scared while listening to this or you notice anything strange going on around you, leave a comment explaining what has happened. It could be fascinating to read about it. Also, if you have any other strange things you’ve experienced, and how you explain them, let us know by leaving a comment.

OK let’s get started. I’m going to tell you about some strange things that have happened to me over the years. Let me know what you think? How would you explain some of this stuff?

The Japanese running tap
I spent 3 weeks during the summer, alone in my apartment while waiting for another flatmate to come. During that time some pretty weird things happened in the flat, and I don’t mean earthquakes although I did experience some of them. Not earthquakes, but something that I can’t explain.
The kitchen tap kept turning on by itself. I would go to bed in the tatami room. In the middle of the night I would wake up to noise coming from the kitchen. I went into the kitchen to find the kitchen tap running cold water. Freezing cold – much colder than usual. I’d have to turn it off by turning the tap around in my hand, before going back to bed. This happened 3 times. The third time was the worst because I distinctly remember making sure the tap was turned off before bed. I remember getting myself a glass of water, and then turning off the tap. When I woke up to hear the sound of the tap running, I DID NOT want to get up, but I had to investigate and I had to stop the tap. Perhaps the worst part was walking past an empty room which had large windows at the other side. I couldn’t bear to look into the room because I had a horrible feeling about it. It felt like there was something in the apartment with me. Turning off the tap, it was very cold again. I didn’t want to turn round to go back to my room and I must admit I was very frightened and I left the light on in the kitchen. I’m not normally scared by stuff, but sometimes I can’t stop thinking about that tap. How on earth is that possible? Can a tap turn itself on? Water pressure? Water which is left in the pipe coming out? Perhaps I did it in my sleep – maybe I walked to the sink and turned on the tap, which is pretty scary – why would I get up in the night, do something and then not remember doing it? I told all my students in Japan about it, and a lot of them were not really surprised by it. A lot of people in Japan are quite superstitious. Apparently there are many different types of ghost in Japanese folklore, and belief in ghosts and ghost stories is quite common in Japan. One particular old woman I used to teach on Fridays, was very knowledgeable and told me a lot about it, saying how ghosts or Yuurei are quite common, and even accepted by most people are being real. Apparently, these yuurei are spirits of people who have been prevented from having a peaceful afterlife because of the way they died or the trauma they experienced during their life, which is basically the same explanation given for ghosts in the UK too. It’s weird that ghosts feature in folklore from so many cultures around the world, and they all seem to be explained by this idea of a spirit that can’t rest. Anyway, this woman suggested that my tap thing was caused by, and I’ll never forget the name, a Zashiki-warashi or the ghost of a child. Apparently Zashiki-warashi are often mischievous, meaning they do naughty little things, rather than seriously scary or dangerous things. She said they commonly arrive and do things during the Japanese ‘witching hour’ between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, which is when the gap between our world and the spirit world are closest. She said that strange things that happen at night in Japan are sometimes attributed to zashiki-warashi. This didn’t make me feel better though, because the idea that I had some little Japanese child ghost in my apartment between 2 and 3 o’clock at night was not fun. The tap thing stopped after I got a new flatmate called Peter in August. For a couple of weeks though, I had a slightly disturbing time alone in the apartment, trying not to think of the tap. It hasn’t happened to me since, so maybe it was just then. If it does happen again, I will freak out I know it. Ive never told me girlfriend about it, because it would worry her. Any ideas what that was? If you’re from Japan, have you heard of zashiki-warashi, or other types of ghost? Do you think the woman was making it up or not?

*This is where the transcript ends. You can read some notes for the other stories below*

The bouncing ball
Freaky and still disturbs me to this day, even though I didn’t really want to believe it at the time.

Frozen in bed with a weird clock
Very scary at the time, but there is a rational explanation.
Here is a link to the TedEd video about sleep paralysis:
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