IT HAPPENED TO ME
First-hand accounts from FT readers and browsers of www.forteantimes.com
Travelling from Australia in 1980, my girlfriend Dianne and I bought a campervan to tour Britain. Setting off to explore the southwest, we headed towards Portsmouth on the A3. In the late afternoon we turned onto minor roads to search for a camping spot, eventually discovering an area of dense woodland. A clearing allowed me to reverse the van into what appeared to be a disused track that led into the forest. Tucked between thick bushes and surrounded by massive trees, we were hidden from any passing traffic. Once the tasks of roofraising and table-setting were completed I explored the vicinity while Dianne prepared a meal.
Having walked across to the far side of the clearing, I stopped and looked back toward the van, suddenly feeling uneasy. A sharp rustling from behind startled me. I jerked around toward the forest only to see a man walking his dog, perhaps 30 metres away. For me to be so on edge was bizarre and completely out of character. The man disappeared into the foliage without apparently seeing me. I began to enter the woods but again felt compelled to look back to the van. I slowly turned on the spot, scanning, trying to peer through the trees, for I had a distinct sensation that someone or something was watching me. I simply couldn’t walk any further nor did I want to. I returned to the van and thought it best not to mention my experience. While we ate dinner we heard the echo of laughing children as they walked along the adjacent road, but due to the thick bushes we saw no one.
The sun set as we washed the dishes, and the only light in the forest was the soft glow from the van. We sat silently reading with the curtains drawn. Dianne put down her book and started fiddling with the curtains behind her head, then reached for safety pins to join them together. I thought it strange as she had never bothered with this before, but I said nothing. She then lay down to read rather than remain seated upright. It was now getting on for 11pm and the wind began to increase substantially, raking the bushes against the windows. High above us the treetops whistled in the wind.
We were then shaken by a distant muffled thud, followed by another slightly closer, then another, each one louder than the last. We sat motionless, hardly daring to breathe. They were unmistakable footsteps on the path, heading toward the rear of the van. I heard the crunch of ground foliage, branches being snapped and pushed aside. Deliberate powerful footsteps. My eyes were now glued to the rear doors when it suddenly dawned on me that we were blocking the path’s entrance into the clearing. The scratching on the windows became more violent with each closing footstep. The noise now almost deafening, I felt a palpable presence building all around us when the next massive crunch was a solid half-step at the rear of the van. The noise and the scratching wind all evaporated with the final step, leaving us staring at each other, not daring to break the stillness with any word or movement.
Whatever was standing silently outside was also inside the van and I felt it meant us harm. As I grabbed a torch and went for the rear door Dianne blurted “Don’t go out there.” I hesitated with one hand on the handle then flung open the doors and jumped out flashing the torch in every direction, but there was nothing. I levelled the light along the track, straining to spot any movement, then tried to look through the bushes on either side, but it was impossible to see anything. I looked up to the stars, just making out the moving silhouettes of the top branches, then knelt down to shine the torch under the van, and finally turned the light one full circle.
That last ominous half-step had stopped right where I was standing. There was nothing to be seen but I could feel it. I stepped back inside the van, locked the doors and sat down. It was with us. I looked over to Dianne still huddled far away from the door. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. I clambered into the driver’s seat and pulled the curtains from the front windows, half expecting some ghoulish face to confront me. The engine mercifully sparked into life with the first turn of the key. I turned on the headlights, jammed it into gear and skidded into the clearing and then onto the minor road. As I accelerated I could still feel it inside the van, but it was being sucked out as though it was hanging on, trying to drag us back. Changing gears to speed up I watched in the mirror the darkness swallowing the road and with every second the ‘magnetic pull’ lessened until I felt the van finally released from its grip.
After about 10 minutes we came to a small village. With the hour close to midnight the streets were deserted, but there was a large empty car park where I pulled in and stopped under the glare of a light. I turned off the engine and clambered back into the sitting area to put the kettle on for a cup of strong coffee. Dianne had not moved; still huddled in the long seat by the table she seemed to be in a state of mild shock.
I now felt safe under the light with the curtains open to an uninterrupted view toward the main street about 50m to our left. Sipping hot coffee and puffing a much-needed cigarette I was the first to speak, asking Dianne what she thought it was. It was only then that I told her of my anxiety when I walked to the edge of the clearing unable to move away from the sight of the van. She admitted she had also felt peculiar but much later, after we had eaten. When asked about her fiddling with the curtains she said that she felt that there was someone outside peering at her, hence the safety pins to close the gap.
Over the next hour we went over the events together. Before I described my experience I asked her to detail everything that she had heard and felt. She recounted the scratching on the side windows, the first distant footsteps from down the path, then the strengthening wind with each closer thud until they stopped by the van. She then said, with no prompting from me, that she had felt the thing inside the van. Her explanation was that although the physical body was standing silently in the darkness, its suffocating presence had overflowed inside. When asked about our escape she confirmed that although she didn’t sense the van being restrained as I had, she felt that it had not completely left us until quite a distance from the woodland.
The next morning we drove on to Portsmouth. Foolishly I didn’t retrace our movements the following day to record the location of the woodland, nor did I take note of the name of that safe little village. When I returned to England in 1988 I hired a car and drove along many of the minor roads between Guildford and Portsmouth looking in vain for that woodland and the village. I have my own theory about that night: we were blocking the pathway used for a regular journey by some energy, let’s call it a ghost, and because we were an obstruction it needed to move us before continuing.
David Colwell Adelaide, Australia
Abridged from his E Book, The Invincible Twenty Seventh and other True Stories.