08 Jan Sniff
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"Sniff"Written by Michael Whitehouse
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Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
Let me tell you all a story. It’s one which I think is interesting, but at the same time frustrating for me. You see, it’s not mine. And for that reason I can’t develop it myself or adapt it into a complete tale. It’s supposedly an experience someone actually had, but the account seems so well rounded that I’m suspicious of it. I have a niggling feeling that it might come from something already published. I detest plagiarism in any form, and for that reason I’d hate to take the account, build upon it, then later discover I had taken something from another writer. There’s also the possibility that it is an urban myth or legend that I’m unaware of. But the truth is the story bothers me. I really would like to know if anyone here has actually heard of it. I’ll do my best to relate it to you now. Is it just a published story, or based on a genuine experience?
Many years ago my dad had a drinking buddy who was also a school teacher. They knew each other well and would often catch up over a few pints, discussing everything from work, to politics, to almost anything you could think of – the usual pub banter.
One night, one specific conversation they had together, always stuck in my dad’s mind. It was a quiet midweek evening, and their local was quite empty with just a few of the regulars propping up the bar. As they sat there, the conversation ebbed and flowed between the drinkers and the staff, eventually landing on the topic of ghosts. More specifically,‘Did they exist?’ and ‘Had anyone there ever seen one?’.
Of course, as these things go, they all took turns describing strange supernatural occurrences – things that go bump in the night. All of the stories were the same in that they were secondhand in nature. The accounts were of friends, family, and acquaintances who had encountered the paranormal, but no one there could claim to have seen a ghost themselves – no one but for the school teacher.
The story he told my dad and the others there that day, was that he had been privy to something quite frightening a few years earlier. In a suburb of Glasgow called Govanhill, he had an aunt. The man was caught between moves and needed somewhere to sleep for a few nights, and so she happily took him in.
It was a small flat with only one bedroom, but there was a sofa bed in the lounge which was not entirely uncomfortable, and would at least provide him with somewhere to rest before sorting out his living arrangements. After a nice meal and some polite conversation, the school teacher’s aunt went to her room for an early night. He was tired and hoped to get to sleep soon enough as well and, after pulling out the sofa bed, switched off the lights and closed his eyes. Quickly, he fell asleep.
He awoke to darkness. It was still the middle of the night, and he wondered why he had stirred considering he was usually a heavy sleeper and rarely woke before the morning. Then he heard it. A noise. There was definitely something in the room with him. The sound was unusual, but not unidentifiable. It was not unlike someone breathing, quickly followed by a sharp inhalation which the school teacher could only describe as a sniffing sound.
Readying himself to get out of bed, turn on the light, and see what was causing the unusual noise, his eyes now adapted to the pitch black. While no details could be seen, the breathing and sniffing noises began to edge closer to him. He was now convinced that there was something unwelcome in the room with him, and by the shuffling noise which now accompanied it, he was certain it was substantial.
Of course he was panicked. Part of him wanted to rush into his aunt’s room and barricade the door, another part preferred to stay still and not disturb whoever was there. Perhaps they had a knife. The thought of some burglar stumbling around in the dark with a blade only made him more apprehensive. He decided that he would lay there quietly and bide his time. Maybe the housebreaker would just take something and leave without altercation. But then what of his aunt? Had she been hurt?
Then, a warm moist breath blew across his face as someone leaned over him. Trembling, he reached out his hand instinctively, touching something cold and damp hovering only inches away. Leaping out of bed in horror, he knocked over a table as he made his way to the door, tripping clumsily and landing on the floor with a painful thud.
The school teacher’s aunt found him in the hallway, dazed, yelling for her to get out of the flat. She seemed strangely unafraid and after switching on all the lights showed him that the place was quite empty, including where he had slept. Calming his nerves with a drink and a snack, she sat him down and explained what she believed had happened.
The story goes – and this part I know to be true – that underneath Govanhill, and therefore his aunt’s flat, there once lay a large network of prosperous and important mines in the 19th and early 20th centuries. While they had been the site of many unfortunate cave-ins, gas leaks, and accidents, the aunt was convinced that she had often heard in that room the noises of those who had lost their lives down there.
While she had never experienced anything quite as potent as the school teacher, who was visibly shaken, she was more concerned about the poor apparition of an old pit mule trapped in darkness, trying to sniff its way out from that suffocating place, with only its cold, damp nose to guide it.
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