Dead, to begin with || A London ghost story

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – artist unknown

The knocker came straight out of a Dickens novel. In fact, this must have been the one that inspired Charles Dickens to write Marley’s first appearance in A Christmas Carol. It had to be. A thing of dingy brass, it gazed down at us with a cold stare from the door of our temporary flat.

The flat resided in a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. The Tower of London was nowhere nearby. Neither was Big Ben, or any other spectacular sight that declared you were in London. But it was up the street from a Tube station, in a safe area, large enough to fit a family of five…and affordable. Looking at that knocker, I could see why.

The inside was an extension of the knocker. Not a horror-film-waiting-to-happen type of place, but definitely odd. The dining room was imposing and the sitting room encouraged you to relax elsewhere. When the lights flicked on in the kitchen, they greeted you with your own personal light show. The bathroom was best not lingered in for it felt as though ghosts hovered at the edges of the mirror, and while there were three bedrooms, one brought to mind every horror story ever read or imagined. Even during the day, some latent instinct warned not to stay in that long, thin room for long.

My sister and I chose the room to the left of the hallway, while our mother slept in the slightly larger room to the right with our two youngest siblings. Being an old flat, the room had it’s own chorus of creaks and moans. The window declined to shut fully, but it was in an upper story and warm enough to not cause worry. And though the door knocker portended to something unseen within, the majority of the week was uneventful in terms of living arrangements. This could be because very little time was spent within the flat, and those hours that were were dedicated to slumber and giving reprieve to tired feet. The exhaustion was so complete even the groaning of the old building could not interrupt our sleep in the wee hours of the morning.

This exhaustion is what made it strange to find myself wide awake late one night during the middle of the week. There was no gradual merging from dreams, no groggy waking. One moment I was deep asleep, the next I was staring at the ceiling. Confused, I looked to my left, where my sister lay. She stared back, equally puzzled. The next day she told me she, too, had woken up suddenly, without explanation. We frowned at each other, silent as we wondered.

And in the far corner, the door to the hallway opened.

We lay there, nonplussed.

It did not swing open fully, but rather moved slowly, as though a gentle hand on the door knob guided its way. After a foot or two, the movement paused. Then, just as gracefully, the door quietly shut.

My sister and I looked at each other again to make sure the other had seen it. We had. I vaguely remember one of us checking the door to make sure it was shut completely, as it had been when we went to bed. It was. Our mother and younger siblings were only feet away in the other room, but we didn’t dare go out into the black hallway. We didn’t dare open the door. In an act of either bravery or foolishness, we went back to bed, although I don’t know that either of us slept well the rest of the night. For my part, it was spent with head safely enclosed by the protection of blankets. If the door opened again – or worse – it would not have an audience this time.

The next morning, we tried to rationalize what we’d seen. Perhaps there had been a breeze from the open window, causing the door to move? Except it had been latched shut. Only a turn of the knob could have opened it. Besides, if it was just air, wouldn’t it have opened all the way, or shut more fiercely? That’s how the doors at home behaved. Try as we might, there was no getting past the impression that the entire sequence had been more akin to someone peeking in on a slumbering room. And we couldn’t explain the sudden wakefulness.

To this day, I’m not sure how we spent any more nights in that room. The following evening, we nervously laughed it off as we pushed our twin beds together. That felt safer somehow. Perhaps it worked, for there were no more inexplicable awakenings in the night. The door behaved as doors should. Still, there were no regrets to be had when we left at the end of the week. Sadness at the end of a great trip, sure, but I was happy to put the flat with the Marley knocker behind me.

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