Spooks in Scotland

She shut and locked the gate. And right then, I’m sure all six of us wanted out. This wasn’t what we wanted. Hindsight is 20/20. We should have expressed a desire to leave. Demanded it, if necessary.  I don’t know what the others thought in that moment, but I certainly wasn’t expecting things to get as bad as they did.

Kinda sounds like the beginnings of a scary story, doesn’t it? Well, it sort of is. Except that this is a personal experience, not a bit of fiction I’ve come up with. One I’d like to forget. And yet I’m committing it to written words. Why? Because it’s made me think.

A year and a half ago, I and six others spent two days in Edinburgh, Scotland and (with the exception of one girl) thoroughly wasted a good two hours and a few pounds (the currency, not the weight unit) each. We had thought we’d paid for a night-time tour of the dark side of Edinburgh where we’d hear stories about the guy who inspired the story of Jekyll and Hyde, about the two guys who became serial killers so they could sell fresh bodies to scientists for money, about the witch hunts, the like. What we got instead was a ghost talk – a totally different tour called “City of the Dead”.

When it started out, it wasn’t so bad. The tour guide led us down into a narrow street and talked about living conditions in the city in ages past and how positively unpleasant it was. Then she took us down into something like catacombs. There were about forty of us in the tour group total, all gathered into a dark space with the light of our flashlights and hers. If we thought living conditions above ground had been bad, we very quickly learned how much worse it was underneath. The guide told us of how sixty people – our group and then half of us again – would have been crowded into the chamber in which we stood, in the dark or perhaps by a wee bit of candlelight if they were lucky, sharing a single chamber pot, unable to get into any position without touching another person, so on, so forth.

Basically, it began as a very much historical tour sprinkled with the guide’s tendency to mention and joke about spirits.grape-jelly-1

But then she shut the gate between the chamber in which we stood and the outside world.

And I was uncomfortable. So was another of the girls, she afterward told me.

The guide said that it was for safety, which makes perfect sense (they’ve found drunks passed out down there before), but at the same time, my group and I felt trapped. Trapped with her and with whatever she might say.

Oh, and I should mention that she shone her flashlight upwards at her face. You know, the way people like to do when they want to be creepy in a dark room?

She led us up some stairs that had been installed in the chamber and into another, somewhat smaller chamber with a much lower roof (but still out of arm’s reach)

And that’s when things got creepy.

I don’t believe in ghosts. I never have. I didn’t begin to then. But in a semi-dark, enclosed chamber with at least thirty people (not counting my party) who may buy into such tales and a woman who, to her credit, is a pretty good storyteller, imagination can become a problem.

The first story she told wasn’t so bad. She fabricated such a sad story for the “friendly, lonely, little boy spirit” that she got at least some of her audience (myself included) to empathize on some level or another. She said he was probably just looking for his mother, hence why he often brushed against women. And because he was so young, he also hoped for a playmate among the children who came down into the catacombs. Haha, fine, so now everyone’s feeling a finger twitch or a tickle of clothing on skin. Whatever. And then, of course, she got into a “case” (who knows if it was a story of someone’s imaginings or if she was just making up something that supposedly happened on one of her previous tours) of a little girl who had started giggling and talking while the tour guide was speaking. When her mom tried to get her to stop, the little girl said that she was talking to the little boy ghost.308398-nemo-and-dory-from-finding-nemo

To quote Dory in Finding Nemo, “Whoa, whoa, hold up, partner. Little red flag waving.”

But whatever, I could brush that off.

Then came the description of, I think it was, a policeman or something similar dressed in a red uniform, who generally stood in one particular corner of the room (figures, it was the corner that led to the connection to the next room). He never did anything but stand there and watch. (I noticed that the shadows caused by a candle and multiple flashlights played with that corner some, which no doubt had some people thinking they might have seen a glimpse of him.) But there was something peculiar about this ghost. Besides creepily watching everybody, obviously. The tour guide told us about another earlier tour during which a little boy had hidden his face in his mom’s shirt. When asked why, the boy said he saw the ghost policeman standing there. Was he wearing red? Uh-huh. Was he doing anything? Nope, just watching… but he doesn’t have eyes. Just black spaces where his eyes should be.

Yeesh, that’s creepy enough without ghost stories and flickering lights. The Avengers movie did that briefly with the characters whose hearts Loki touched with his scepter. I handled that just fine, but it would have taken me a long while to get used to those characters if their eyes stayed that way. But back to the spooks.

I think our tour guide might have mentioned another ghost in that room, but I can’t recall what it was.

Because the next one was the worst.

She took us to the next room, gave us a tad more history, and then told us of the least friendly ghost. This one “actually” attacked people. Shoved them over (loss of balance?). Knocked them out for a couple minutes (fainting?). Left scratch marks on people that weren’t there before (yeah, I’ve had those too… like when I stepped on a sharp rock and didn’t realize that it’d even punctured my skin till hours later when I noticed I had a nice, big cut on my big toe). But whatever. Just another ghost story.

Except that this one scared me.

Not because of the ghost.

Because of the story.

Not the whole thing. Just one element.

This one apparently happened to our tour guide’s colleague on one of his tours. He was talking about this unfriendly spirit when his flashlight went out of a sudden. Naturally, panic ensued. He assured them it was okay and that he’d get his light working again in a jiffy. Suddenly, one of the moms started calling for her daughter, who had been standing next to her just a minute before. The guide tried to calm the mother, who only grew more frantic. The guide finally got his flashlight back on and they found the little girl standing in the back, apart from the group, facing the corner. The mom naturally ran over and brought her back to the front where they originally had been and scolded her for scaring her like that. The little girl insisted she didn’t mean to, but that when the light went out, she got scared and reached for her mom’s hand and grabbed hold of one and was led to the back corner and told her to stay there. So she did.

Wasn’t she scared? No.

Was it someone else in the group? No.

Did she think it was her mom’s hand? No.

How did she know?

“Mommy doesn’t have claws.”

And “sure enough”, there were three scratch marks on the back of her hand.

Before you ask, no, it wasn’t the scratch marks that scared me. It was the fact that each of these stories had a common factor.


Regardless of whether these stories featured real children or fictional, no one is quicker to believe anything than a child. They depend on what others tell them until they’re old enough to come to their own conclusions and even then, there’s a chance they’ll stick to what they were taught in their youth. Jesus told His disciples to have the faith of a child, a faith that readily believes what Jesus laid out for us. Because of this, I think children are more “attuned”, in a manner of speaking, to the spiritual world. And when it comes to ghost stories… well.

I don’t believe in ghosts. Never have. Never will.

But I do believe there are spiritual beings called demons.

Despite the creepiness of the tour, I am very certain there are no ghosts down there in Edinburgh’s catacombs. They’re just tour guides’ tales and tourists’ imaginings and cheap ways to get money.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a demon or two joining those tours.

I’m not trying to accuse the tour guides of being demon-possessed or of intentionally inviting demons to hang around. But I do think that all this ghost jabberwocky could crack open a door. And especially to children. (I don’t know if she was serious when she said it, but our tour guide said that she hadn’t believed in ghosts till she started working for the tour. Since then, she has “experienced” and been around with others have “experienced” whatever ghostly encounters. She said that sometimes she sprinkles salt on her threshold. Oh, but her roommate is a ghost-hunter, so the two of them have fun with this kind of stuff (when they’re not scared by it))…. Whatever.)

It may be that these stories were just made up to give everybody a scare. It may be that one or more of these children (or adults) were only making up stories or thought that flicker of light or puff of air was actually a ghost.

Or possibly, just possibly, one or more of them actually saw (or felt or heard) something.

I’m not saying they did – after all, demons don’t have to pretend to be ghosts in order to work. I’m only saying that it’s possible.

Why? To mess with people’s heads? To have them laugh it off later and thus write off all things supernatural (demons and God included) as figments of imagination? Maybe.

And do these “ghosts” mainly target children or are those just the creepiest stories to tell? Maybe, maybe not.

Even with all this talk about demons, I don’t mean to encourage imaginations to run with the idea any more than I do the ghosts. I said that this tour got me thinking. And it got me thinking of how demons could work with mankind, of how children especially are so impressionable, and of how easily imaginations may run away with us (perhaps to something far worse than ghosts?).

Just to finish the tale of our ghost tour. Our tour guide shut off her flashlight to show us how dark and eerie it was in there without lights. I will admit that I was uncomfortable and not particularly fond of this idea. That inky black felt almost tangible, whether because of my active imagination or because of the humidity or because of something else. After a few moments, one of the girls screamed, I assume from fright, either of imagined who-knows-what or because someone near her brushed her accidentally. Lights were turned back on and the guide continued to speak. And then she was interrupted by a co-worker in a mask who jumped out at us, which got people taking a step back, shouting, swearing, and the ex-Navy in my party in a defensive stance (I kind of wish he had punched the guy, even in startled surprise, for playing such a jolly mean joke). The point was to end the tour on more of a “heh-whew-that-wasn’t-a-ghost-after-us” note rather than something to induce nightmares (though thinking about the tour in a hostel room with a loose window that rattled in the wind was certainly not pleasant either). “Though,” our tour guide added, “if you saw something in there – even if you only think you might have -, please let us know. Even if it’s in an e-mail later on!”

Wonder if I should tell them.


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