This is a special episode of Glasgow Ghost Stories that was first performed live at the London Podcast Festival. It’s been a while since I’ve gone back to the weird and wonderful world of the Dead and I’m so grateful that I was given the chance to do so live in London. I recorded and released this episode now not just because we’re at the scariest time of the year once again but because starting on the first of November 2021 Glasgow is hosting the UN Climate Change Conference. There is so much riding on the outcome of this conference, it’s so vital that real change happens now. Most of the episodes in Glasgow Ghost Stories focus on the past, of course, it’s a podcast about the Dead, but one of our core beliefs is that change is possible.
This time of year is always a little sad for me – the long Scottish summer days where the sun barely sets are changing back to those cold Scottish winter nights. We get barely any sunlight as it is in Glasgow, and the thought of living in artificial light for another six months is a wee bit sad. Thinking about the changing night has reminded me of a strange encounter I once had, a few years ago and I thought that I would share that with you today.
My name is Libby and I see ghosts. It’s fine. It’s mostly not a big deal. They have their own stuff to do, I have life to get on with. But there have been moments where a real connection has been made. The thing about the dead is for them, the real fear is becoming static. You stay still, the things around you change. And you lose the sense of who you are. The things that remind you are gone. And if you lose who you are, eventually, you become nothing more than white noise. Blankness. Static.
So you’ve got to move with the times. This is mostly easy for the living. We change and grow even when we try not to. It’s just part of life. And more than that, we have influence over our surroundings, way more than the dead do. Oh we think it’s so scary when we walk into a haunted house and walls begin to bleed and the rooms begin to scream and the shadows become all…you know…creepy? But, can you imagine living in the same place for a thousand years and then one day, out of the blue, your ancient home just…vanishes? Becomes a car park? How would any of us deal with that? Well, from the ghosts that I have met, I would say, not well.
So, anyway, I work in a pretty standard office building, one of those modern ones with huge windows that make it way too warm in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. Over this particular summer, there had been a bit of a heatwave and the office had become pretty unbearable.
But when I sat down at my desk, next to one of those huge windows, I felt a sudden chill. The desk was covered in a shadow and the air around me was cold enough that I had to keep my jacket on. It lasted almost an hour, the darkness and the cold growing worse and worse before, finally, it vanished and I was back in the light and heat of a summer day.
I tried not to think about it too much. It was probably nothing. Just a weird shadow from another building. Nothing to worry about at all.
The next day I sat down at my desk and the shadow appeared again. This time it lasted for the entire morning. I sat shivering while around me the rest of the office opened every window and complained about the heat. I made a mistake then. I should have just kept my head down and let the shadow pass on by. But I didn’t. I turned and looked.
There was nothing outside my window but darkness. The morning light was gone as if someone had covered up my window with a huge wall. I stared into the nothingness and thought, just for a moment, that there was something else, something within the dark. Then, with a huge shivering movement, the thing that was covering my window slid down the glass and around the corner of the building. The heat and warmth came back and I turned back to my work, hoping that it was gone for good.
Of course not. It followed me home. As I walked into my home, the shadow appeared, first at the living room window, then across until every bit of light was blocked out. The flat grew colder and colder as each window was cut off from the sun. I covered myself in blankets and tried to get on with things but the situation was growing desperate.
This lasted up until I realized I could just leave. I stepped outside into the warm summer evening and looked at the shadow stretching up over my flat with some curiosity. It wanted my attention. So maybe I should try and see what it why.
I called out to it from the street. It shrank down to the ground with alarming speed and faced me. It was like nothing I had met before – no real shape, more like someone had taken a slice out of the world and left a void in its place. It came close to me and I felt the awful chill of death freezing the air around us. I took a step back.
So…what can I help you with? I asked the shadow. It moved closer to me again, stretching out until it was taller than me, becoming a wall of darkness that blocked out everything around it. I stepped back again. This felt…dangerous.
The summer evening slipped into dusk while we continued on like this, me trying to ask it questions, it trying to move closer. The street lights flickered on and all at once a pool of artificial light lit up the pavement around me. The shadow moved back out of the light like it had been burned. It shrank down and took off down the street.
I started walking after it. I didn’t really know what else to do. Why was it afraid of the street light? It had been fine in the daylight. What did it want?
I walked along trying to find places where the light didn’t touch. It was surprisingly difficult. it poured from people’s windows, shops were covered in lit signs, car lights cast beams in every direction. It was hard to find real darkness anywhere. The city at night was almost as noisy and bright as it was during the day.
I walked through the late evening for a little while before reaching a lane around the back of some houses. I saw a weird movement in the dark and I walked in, calling out for the spirit, hoping that this wasn’t some kind of trap.
A wall of darkness rose up in front of me, ten feet tall and as wide as the lane. The cold around me was almost painful as the ghost moved forward and I stepped back in alarm. It followed me and I panicked, turning around and running back out of the lane, almost tripping over a bin in my haste to get away from the spirit.
I stopped under the glow of the street light and paused to catch my breath. This was all such a horrible plan. Why did I leave my flat? Why did I decide to get involved in any of this?
The ghost moved silently to the edge of the pool of light, then shrank back, growing smaller and smaller under it slipped down under a hedge, back in the darkness. The puzzle of it distracted me from the fright and I began to think.
It had followed me about during a sunny day. It didn’t fear daylight at all. But the man-made lights that came on at night…those it hid from as if they could hurt it somehow. And it was desperate to get my attention, for some reason, as if it wanted to be seen, but when I came to find it instead it was trying to attack me?
Attack didn’t seem right. I had met malicious ghosts before. This was unpleasant, it was cold and horrifying and it might be dangerous, but it didn’t want to cause me pain. It wanted me to see it. Or maybe, to experience it?
I took a deep breath and walked out from under the street light and back towards the hedge. I crouched down and reached out a hand.
“Ok. Show me what you want to show me. I said to the dark space under the hedge. A couple walking past me gave me an odd look. Oh well.
The ghost moved back out from under the hedge and into the gloom of the little lane. It stretched out again and waited for me. I braced myself for the cold and took a step towards it. And again. I reached the ghost and paused, wondering what it was waiting for. Did it want me to…walk into it?
Well, might as well see this all the way through. I stepped forward once again.
The cold of walking through the dead is awful. But it was over in a moment. I looked around and realized I had not passed through a wall as I expected. It was more like a cube now all around me. And it was nothing like the void I had expected.
There were stars.
All around me, shining bright in the night sky, were stars, like none I had ever seen before. The air was clear and crisp, the glow of the city gone and replaced with the perfect dark of a night deep in the wilderness. The moon hung across the sky, pale and brilliant.
After a few moments, I realized there was more – the sounds were different too. Gone was the traffic and the sounds of other people. Instead, I could hear the calls of birds, wild animals, the rustle of wildlife all around. Inside of this spirit, the memory of an ancient night was perfectly preserved.
I stepped back out from the ghost after a good long while. The cold rushed through me again and I was back in Glasgow on a summer night, with the fumes in the air and the noises of people all around. I glanced up, but there was nothing to see above the buildings but a blank strip of grey and orange.
It took some persuading but I got the ghost to hide in my bag until I got it out of the city. That weekend I took a train out to my parent’s house, out in the countryside on the side of a hill where there’s a least a little of that old night sky remaining. The stars still compete with satellites and airplanes but I hoped it would be enough to give this spirit a little comfort.
I released the ghost at the top of the hill, next to an old Scots pine. We looked down the valley to the orange glow of Glasgow in the distance. Even those things that we think we can take for granted – the stars in the sky, the dark of the night – can be taken away. You’ve got to move with the times, or risk losing yourself entirely. I wondered how long that ghost had hidden away, keeping its memories close.
It moved away into the night and I never saw it again. But now, when I go and visit my parents and look up at the night sky, the stars look as bright and as clear as they did inside that spirit’s memories, from so long ago.
Glasgow Ghost Stories was written and produced by Libby Thomas. Narration was by Libby Thomas. Credits were read by Harris Jones. The music is by Kevin MacLeod, and can be found at the free music archive. Sound effects are from freesound.org. Follow us at Glasgow Ghost Stories on twitter and tumblr, and visit us at glasgowghoststories.wordpress.com for transcripts of every episode. Looking back can remind us of what matters and what we’ve lost, but it’s most important to look forward. One day we will be the history of those looking back. What will we have to teach them? As always, thanks for listening.