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Miscellaneous By: Philip Roberts

Another true ghost story. This time partly my own adventure, partly my sister, Cherl's, and partly told to us by friends of friends.

Submitted:Dec 20, 2010    Reads: 364    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

In 1968 my family were dismayed to find that we had to sell up and move house. Until then we had lived in a back street in the western suburbs of Melbourne, in the town of Spotswood. Although we were dirt poor, our house was one of the best in the neighbourhood, due to the fact that my father was a bricklayer and had built the house himself in his spare time in the evenings and weekends over a number of years. During those years the six of us had lived in a dilapidated three-room shack at the back of a large plot at 7 Vernier Street. We had all helped out, carrying bricks, mixing mortar, cleaning trowels and shovels down the years. Also the house had only been finished in mid 1966, so none of us were happy to hear in 1968 that the state government was acquiring land in our area to build the ill-fated WestgateBridge.
However, you can't fight city hall (or so I'm told), so instead of arguing, we packed up and moved to Hannan Street, North Williamstown. In mid 1968 Hannan Street was in one of the better parts of Williamstown, so I was shocked to return there a few years ago and discover it is now a slum area.
Things could have been all right for us in Williamstown. However, rather than settle for the small weatherboard house he had purchased, my father decided to repeat the experience of building a brick house over many years. The state government auctioned off our Vernier Street house (not the land, just the house), which my father bought back for a few hundred dollars. It was then a matter of some weeks to tear down the house as carefully as possible, attempting not to damage any of the bricks or roof tiles. Then my father used these near-new materials to build our new house in Hannan Street.
It would have been bad enough if he had just torn down the old house and built a new one on the spot. However, for reasons best known to himself, he had the bizarre idea of building the new house around the old one. This was a time consuming process, but it meant that we had plenty of space to live in while the outer walls were being built. Then came the moment of truth when it was time to tear down the inner house, leaving only the outer shell.
This would leave us with no covered living or sleeping area. To get around this we spent more than a year building a brick-walled bungalow about a metre from the back of the house running the entire length of the house. This bungalow was very large. It had a master bedroom-cum-kitchen-cum-dining room, its own toilet, a tiny bathroom, an equally tiny washhouse, and another room whose use I cannot now recall.
This was fine for my parents, and my sisters Cheryl and Denise solved their sleeping accommodation by moving up to Queensland where they worked for a couple of years. However, my brother John and I still had nowhere to sleep. I was only thirteen at the time, John 15, so we were both still at school and living with our parents. To house us therefore, my father, John, and I built a one-room concrete structure, which we dubbed "The Bomb-Shelter". This had one-metre-thick concrete walls, a roof of corrugated iron covered in concrete, a concrete floor (which was like ice to walk on in winter) and a fifteen-centimetre thick cast-iron door, which seemed to weigh a tonne the day John and I held it up for hours while the concrete around the hinges set.
It was in this bomb-shelter that we encountered the "Hannan Street Horror".
Looking in the through the doorway, my bed was on the left, John's bed was on the right, with a gap of perhaps forty centimetres between the beds. Behind the beds were our wardrobe and a lot more room than we had between the beds. John and I lived in this concrete bomb-shelter for a number of years and for the first couple of years nothing unusual happened. But then my sister Cheryl returned from Queensland and we were suddenly one bedroom short. To solve the problem, John gallantly agreed to sleep on a mattress on the floor behind the beds, allowing Cheryl to have his bed. However, after a week or so, Cheryl complained that she couldn't sleep on the lumpy mattress and asked me if I would swap beds with her. Less gallant than John, at first I refused. But after a fair amount of nagging and pleading, from both Cheryl and our mother, I finally reluctantly gave in.
The first night sleeping in the right-hand bed, I awakened late at night (I don't know the time since the clock was on the floor behind the beds, near where John was sleeping) to see a ghastly figure standing near the cast-iron door at the foot of my bed. The figure looked like a tall man surrounded by a sea of swirling yellow flames. His right arm was held out, pointing accusingly down at the bed where I lay. He was fairly solid looking, however, the cast-iron door was clearly visible through him. (After this experience I have never been able to enjoy M.R. James-style ghost stories, in which ghosts are depicted as 100% solid, looking exactly like living people. My own experience tells me that whatever ghosts really are -- disembodied human souls, demons, earth-recordings, etc. --, they could NEVER be mistaken for a living human being.)
In a work of fiction I would probably have done something heroic, or something stupid like charging at the "ghost" probably to crash headfirst into the cast-iron door behind it to kill myself or knock myself unconscious. In real life, I did nothing but sit quivering in the bed, staring wide-eyed in terror at the figure for ten minutes or so, before pulling the blankets up over my head to hide under the covers. I stayed cowering under the bedclothes for maybe a half hour or so, until eventually I fell asleep and slept through the rest of the night.
In a work of fiction I would have told everyone what I had seen and after they had finished laughing at me, I would have indignantly set out to prove the horror existed by staying up to watch for it the next night. Perhaps even insisting they sat up with me. In real life I did and said nothing about what I had seen to anyone.
The next night I woke up late and saw the glowing, fire-shrouded figure standing at the foot of my bed again, still pointing accusingly at me with its right hand. Over the next few months I woke up late almost every night and saw the ghastly glowing figure every time.
On every occasion my reaction was the same: I sat staring at the horror for a few minutes, then pulled the blankets up over my head and finally fell asleep, and slept the rest of the night through.
Then, to my great relief my sister, Cheryl, returned to Queensland where she shared a flat with my eldest sister, Denise, who had stayed up there. This meant that I could return to my own bed and John returned to the "haunted bed". I call it the haunted bed, because whatever the ghostly figure was, it could not be seen from my bed, only the one that John normally had.
Relieved to be back in my own bed, and pleased to never see the horror again, I hardly thought of it again over the next couple of years.
Then at age fifteen, in year ten, I was in a social studies class, when our teacher started talking about the sights of Williamstown. Perhaps I should mention for the benefit of anyone who hasn't lived there, that the people of Williamstown are among the most self-centred, egotists on earth. Although Williamstown is nothing but a working class suburb, the residents behave as though it is the most wonderful place on earth. Williamstown-ites spend half their time fantasising about the wonders of Williamstown. Thus it was that instead of teaching us Social Studies as she was paid to do, that day our teacher was talking about "wonderful Willy". She then progressed to local legends. As a foreigner, having only lived there for four or five years, I was close to falling asleep from boredom at this stage.
Until one of the students, whose last name was McLaughlin, suddenly said, "The old house where Roberts lives is supposed to be haunted."
I came wide-awake immediately, hoping the student would give a description of the ghost supposed to haunt our house. Or at least that the teacher might ask for my confirmation that the house was haunted. After all I lived there, so if it was haunted, I might be expected to know something about it. However, she didn't even look in my direction. And to my disappointment McLaughlin said nothing more, so the teacher moved on to the next student and the next legend, and I went back to sleep.
After the class I sought McLaughlin out in the hope that he knew more about the ghost that haunted our house. However, he swore that all he knew was that the house was supposed to be haunted. Although we were not friends and so he had no reason to want to help me, he had no reason to lie about it either, so I must believe that he was telling the truth.
With all the imagined wonders of Williamstown, one true wonder about the town in those days was the marvellous library; on par with the one we have in Footscray thirty years later. I used to bicycle down to the library a couple of times a week either to research assignments for school or to get books to read. So it might seem natural that I would have tried to research the legend of the Hannan Street Horror in the library. And in a work of fiction that is exactly what I would have done. However, as strange as it seems to me now, what I really did at the time was nothing.
My interest in the "horror" had been piqued for a moment by McLaughlin's comment in class. But when he knew nothing more about the ghost I did nothing about it and almost forgot about it completely.
In 1976 my parents separated, so my father stayed in Williamstown and my mother, my sister Denise (now back from Queensland) and myself moved into a rented house in Yarraville. In 1978 we moved to Footscray, and in July 2000 I moved to the house I currently live in, in Stafford Street.
Over the next few years I had all but forgotten the horror.
In July 1987 my brother John was killed in a road accident. Understandably this was a great shock to all of us. The next year, 1988, we were all still depressed at John's death, my mother was in a state of heavy shock, so Cheryl, who was working part-time at nights in those days, had taken to coming over to visit two or three days a week.
One day Cheryl, Denise, mum, and I were all sitting down at the kitchen table drinking tea or coffee, when out of the blue Cheryl said to me, "Do you remember when you lived out back in the 'bomb shelter' with John?"
I assured her I did, and she explained that the real reason that she had wanted to swap beds with me wasn't because John's mattress was lumpy as she had claimed at the time, but because she had seen something ghostly every night over the week she had slept there. Naturally I expected her to say that she had seen the ghostly man surrounded by fire, pointing down toward the bed. Instead she told us that what she had seen was a number of ghostly white faces hovering above the bed.
In a work of fiction I would then have told Cheryl what I had seen and we would have compared stories, teamed up, done some research and finally cracked the mystery of the Hannan Street Horror. In real life I kept quiet, and up until publishing this document have never yet told anyone what I saw back in the early 1970s in Williamstown.
I guess on reflection that the strangest thing of all about what Cheryl and I both did or didn't do after seeing the Hannan Street Horror, was that neither of us had bothered to ask John at the time if he had ever seen anything strange. After all the phenomenon could only be seen from his bed, and he slept there for a number of years while Cheryl only slept there one week and myself a few months. So logically you would expect John to have seen the "ghost" much more often than anyone else. Yet he never mentioned seeing or sensing anything strange and never complained about sleeping in that particular bed. However by the time Cheryl told me what she had seen John was dead, making it impossible for us to question him.
After this I hardly thought of the Hannan Street Horror again, and Cheryl and I never spoke of it again for some years.
Then in September 1992 my father died and we were notified that Cheryl, Denise, mum, and I had jointly inherited the Hannan Street house along with the Masonic Lodge (my father had been a long-time Lodge member), so we would each receive a one-fifth share upon sale of the house.
To all extent and purpose that seemed to be the last that any of us would ever hear of the Hannan Street Horror. But not so. In May 1995 we had gathered to celebrate Mother's Day. At the gathering was mum, Denise, myself, Cheryl, Cheryl's son Andrew Cott, and Andrew's then fiancé Theresa - they've since split up.
After dinner we were sitting round at the kitchen table talking and Theresa mentioned that she knew the woman who had purchased our old house in Hannan Street. This was news to us. Although Andrew had known Theresa when the house had been sold in 1993 she hadn't mentioned knowing the buyer at the time.
"She told me they're going to pull down the old concrete building out behind the house," Theresa told us. "They reckon they can sense a menacing presence out there."
Well, that is all I can tell you about the Hannan Street Horror at this juncture. We still haven't bothered to try to do any research to find out what (if anything) it really is. All I know is that it appeared to me as a man in a sea of fire pointing accusingly, it appeared to Cheryl as a number of floating white faces, and to Theresa's friends as a menacing presence, a feeling of something evil lurking there.
Possibly with the destruction of the "bomb shelter" the presence will cease to exist. But maybe not. "Ghosts" are supposed to be able to tenant a new building built on the site of a place they have long haunted. And there had been a rickety old wooden bungalow on the site that we had torn down before building the "bomb shelter" so possibly the "horror", whatever it was, had originally haunted the old building and moved to the new concrete structure when it was built there? Who can say?
In 2003, when my mother, now elderly and infirm, was living with me, we drove down to Williamstown to see what remained of the old house.
The owners had not only pulled down the 'bomb shelter'. But had had the whole brick house and all out buildings torn down and replaced with a colonial style wooden house.
The above may or may not be a true "supernatural" incident, however, everything stated happened exactly as I have related it; this is not a work of fiction.
© Copyright 2010
Philip Roberts


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