Computer graphic by Scott Garceau
Spending lockdown with a ghost?
THE X-PAT FILES - Scott Garceau (The Philippine Star) - May 24, 2020 - 12:00am

It happens. You spend enough time locked inside, you start noticing things. Tuning in. Hearing things. The return of birds to our windowsills? Frogs in the nearby meadows? All welcome. The sound of furniture moving above your head in the dead of night? Spooooky…

Sharing a lockdown with ghosts is a real thing. At least that’s what The New York Times reports (“Quarantining with a ghost? It’s scary,” May 14, 2020). People have cited greater ectoplasmic activity since they’ve been in a confined space. Doesn’t matter if the house has had murders in it or not, whether it was built over a Native-American burial site or a former IHOP: the ghosts are making themselves known, in small, subtle ways.

In our case, we have an upstairs roof deck with a sliding glass door. Sometimes the door’s accidentally left open at night. The person sleeping below that area (my sister-in-law) reports hearing furniture moving around above her head at 1, 2 a.m. She, naturally, does not want to go upstairs and investigate. She says she’s grateful that the — well, whatever it is — is reminding us to close the sliding glass door in the morning.

Now, the natural inclination is to say that it’s just wind; the open glass door allows greater air flow, maybe it’s tossing small objects around, rattling the blinds. We can’t say with any certainty, because none of us is brave enough to set up a time-lapse camera, Paranormal-style, and let it rip between midnight and 2 a.m.

Even her boyfriend, who’s “tuned in” to paranormal energies, notices it. One day, before the lockdown, they were hanging out on the roof deck at night. She says he was about to put his arm around her shoulder… when he suddenly whipped his head sideways. He thought he’d… seen something. They were alone up there, early in the relationship. Maybe, I suggested, it was a ghost chaperone? “That’s the only part of her house that makes the hair on the back of my neck and arms stand up,” he admits now. “I sometimes find myself seeing something from the corner of my eye move in the area where that energy is usually located.”

With spectral visitations, there are often auditory effects (furniture moving), apparent physical proof (my own Phuket hotel stay after the deadly tsunami hit in 2004, during which my carry-on bag inexplicably flew off a dresser), or the odd ectoplasmic appearance (during lockdown, a guy in Massachusetts turned on his kitchen light in the wee hours to get a drink of water, saw a strange man sitting there at the table in a WWII uniform, thought nothing of it… did a double take… and the man was gone).

Is this stuff real? Is it all just our minds playing tricks on us? We recall a few weeks back, during the deepest lockdown, news headlines and YouTube videos announced that Manila had become a “GHOST TOWN.” But they didn’t mean it literally. What was happening?

One co-worker tells me about recently visiting an ATM in Manila during the lockdown. Yes: it was late at night, and there was nobody else around when she punched in her numbers at an empty ATM terminal. As she heard the electronic sound of her digits entering, she was surprised to hear someone else entering digits nearby; she turned her head to the adjacent ATM, but... nobody was there. “I felt a presence,” she says now. A “blackness,” is how she described it. Maybe the ghost was swiping her PIN.

Possibly the ultimate “lockdown ghost” movie is The Shining, in which Jack Nicholson’s family, snowbound in a Colorado resort hotel, start to experience spectral appearances, including unnerving twins and rotting women in baths. Years ago, my brother-in-law thought it’d be a good idea to stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado — inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s novel — and here’s what happened:

“They booked us in a room adjacent to the one where King supposedly wrote the book,” he says now. That would be Room 217. “The light was a bit dim, the room a bit hazy, a little eerie; we felt like we were entering a time warp into 1909,” the year the hotel was first built. So, musty old hotel: check. Socially isolated: check. My brother-in-law goes on: “After a hearty dinner of elk, moose and deer, and a couple of Colorado beers, my wife and I headed back to the room; we dozed off — both full and a bit buzzed — in our dinner clothes. We kept some lights open.

“At around midnight, she immediately woke up and said, ‘Why did you jump on the bed?’ I was fast asleep but abruptly woke up and said, ‘That wasn’t me, I was sleeping. Just forget about it.’”

At about 12:30 a.m., the loud banging started.

It seemed to come from outside their window, but neither wanted to investigate.

“My wife told me, ‘Go check it out.’ I said no way. I might have a heart attack.” (He still remembered Salem’s Lot. You know: Danny Glick floating outside, scratching the glass.) The loud banging continued, every 10 minutes, until about 2 a.m. The front desk wasn’t much help. They shrugged it off, saying other guests had reported a noise, but it was probably just a branch or raccoon or something.

They tried sleeping with the lights on, wearing earplugs. The banging continued. Eventually, they decided they’d had enough “fun” and requested a different room. The new one was fine, apparently. No time warp, no ghostly banging. “We slept soundly until around mid-morning and regretted staying in a $200-a-night room that scared the sh*t out of us.”

Paranormal specialists like John E.L. Tenney, host of the defunct TV series Ghost Stalkers, says our awareness of these things might have to do with a heightened state of anxiety and hyper-vigilance during social isolation. He dismisses most of the cases as natural or “completely explainable.” It’s just that we’re not typically indoors so much, so we don’t usually notice the house “settling” — bricks and concrete popping, wood expanding or contracting. “It’s not that the house wasn’t making those sounds,” Tenney says. “They just never had the time to hear it.” Think of houses as older citizens: they tend to make a few creaking noises now and then.

But our house is not old. And the lack of any weird tragic backstory suggests ghosts shouldn’t be residing in the shadows. Unless they’re… EJK victims, randomly seeking justice, perhaps? Maybe squatters? Do ghosts squat?

Maybe we’re spooked by what’s happening in the real world.

The brain specialists seem to think there’s a connection between the pandemic and our mental processing of it. We see the COVID as an “intruder” in our lives and — voila! — the mind supplies a metaphorical intruder in the shape of ghostly disturbances. Maybe.

There’s also the (much more comforting) idea that we are now living in a “pause” in our normal life. Things slow down. Fewer cars on the roads. Less pollution. We still rely on our gadgets, but there’s less static and white noise than before. We are dealing with the silences in between now. Maybe it’s in these spaces that you start to truly tune into your environment. And maybe… just maybe… these spirits were there all along.

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Visit and follow @scottgarceau on Instagram.

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