Strange noises in the office late at night sent me and a colleague prowling around our building, looking for any lurking ne’er-do-wells who might’ve pierced our fortress-like defences, and be rooting through the bins (as I’m told ne’er-do-wells are wont to do).
And whilst in one particular corridor, we encountered a strong smell of what I vaguely recall were called ‘cigarettes’ – a smoke-generating device long since banned from our offices and grounds by government and corporate policy alike.
Just in this one area, though, there was a thick air of pungent tobacco smell: a smell of old and numerous ciggies, like you’d find in pubs, in the days way back before The Ban.
We thought it a little odd. We’re somewhere in the bowels of the building and a colleague would be foolhardy to say the least to pick that corridor or adjoining offices to indulge their habit. Not only is there rather a lot of CCTV, but the profusion of sensitive fire alarms (which, in early days, it was shown do indeed respond loudly to furtive fags) would betray anyone who tried it on.
We dismissed it, having more magnitudinous piscine life forms to sauté, and continued our search.
We didn’t find anything.
But a few days later, whilst discussing the drama that had disrupted our otherwise routine shift, we found that a number of other colleagues had experienced the same: unaccounted noises, the smell of old, stale death sticks.
So clearly it’s ghosts.
Well, all right, there might conceivably be other explanations, but perhaps unsurprisingly the matter of ghosts came up anyway. And we got to sharing our eerie stories.
As with many things paranormal, I tend to think of myself as a sceptical believer. I have no doubt that people have these experiences – and that they are therefore ‘real’ in every sense that matters – but I struggle with a lot of the claims popularly made and the ‘evidence’ offered for them.
Photos, for example: although there are some cracking good, properly creepy photos doing the rounds, I’ve still to be convinced that a ghost is something that can be photographed.
To my mind, there’s a difference between a ghost and a spirit. Although the two might be superficially similar, I think they’re two distinct things: a ‘spirit’ is a conscious ‘entity’ of some sort, while a ‘ghost’ is not.
Rather, a ghost is an echo: an imprint, perhaps, of some condition that once existed in a particular place. It’s not necessarily visual, though it can be: it can also be auditory, olfactory (perhaps the smell of old ciggies?), thermal… Or it can just be ‘a feeling’. How and why a ghost occurs I have no idea, but I think the strong pattern created by thousands of years of accounts of spooky goings-on…..
It goes without saying that there are countless other possible causes for any given experience, enough to satisfy even the most casual debunker that there’s no need to assume ghosts exist at all. The chill is probably just a draught; the smell is probably just evidence of illicit smoking, or symptom of a brain disorder. And we’re all prone to prickly feelings sometimes – when we’re alone in dark places, or walking down deserted corridors at night (in my case). There’s no reason to assume that feeling of being watched, or closely followed, is anything but heightened alertness playing tricks with us.
Our experience with the spectral smoker isn’t a useful scientific account: there are far too many variables, and we’re tainted as witnesses by the fact that there’ve long been rumours about our offices being ‘haunted’.