I saw a ghost once.
This might sound odd coming, as it does, from a devout sceptic (or a terrible sceptic, as a close friend recently put it—as if being sceptical was something to be ashamed of). I usually have no time for mumbo-jumbo such as ghosts, spirits, the afterlife, homeopathy, wind power or papal infallibility; but, on this occasion, I saw it with my own eyes: a 100%, real-death ghost! It startled the crap out of me.
I had known about the ghost since I was a kid. The White Lady, they call her. She haunts the ancient humpback bridge over the stream which formed the picturesque Dibbinsdale valley, close to where I grew up. Local legend has it that, many years ago, a novice nun had a tragic love affair with a monk from a nearby monastery. She ended up drowning herself in the stream. People say, if you pass through Dibbinsdale on a dark, winter's night, you can see her ghost standing on the bridge. Pure nonsense, of course—until you actually see it.
I was seventeen years old when I saw the ghost. It was December 1982, and I had just passed my driving test. This meant I got to give Carolyn a lift in my dad's old Triumph to a local church where she had recently become a bell-ringer. Don't ask me why Carolyn had suddenly decided to take up bell-ringing—it's just the sort of thing she does—but I was glad she had, because I got to spend an hour watching her swing around on the end of a rope, and… well, unlike Carolyn, why don't I leave the rest to the imagination?
Anyway, our route home from the church took us through Dibbinsdale. Even without the ghost, it's a spooky place to drive through after dark, especially in December: the leafless trees cast eery shadows in the beams of your car's headlights. Not that I was worrying about shadows, you understand; I was wondering how it would look if a committed atheist were suddenly to take up bell-ringing.
When we got to the bottom of the hill, I rounded the sharp right-hand bend, then swung hard-left over the bridge. And then I saw her: the White Lady began to materialise directly in front of me. I think I might have gasped (not for the first time that evening), but that was all I had time to do before my car ploughed through the still-not-quite-corporeal form and headed up the other side of the valley.
"Did you see that?" I asked, trying to hide my alarm.
"Did I see what?" asked Carolyn.
"Don't be silly, Richard!"
And then I realised what I had really seen. Fortunately, it wasn't too late to save face:
"…Yeah, but you can see where the ghost story comes from: a dark, winter night; the cold air sinks to the bottom of the valley, turning the moisture in the air above the stream to mist; the beam from your headlights shoots into the air as you cross the humpback bridge and suddenly illuminates the mist—is it any wonder people think they've seen a ghost?"
"Only if they're totally stupid, though."