I never used to believe in ghosts. What I did believe in was over-active imaginations. I know all about them because I have one! What happened to me on a dark Scottish winter’s night changed my opinions.
I work in a croft on Harris, a small island that lies just off the West Coast of Scotland. In summer the island attracts a fair amount of tourists, but come the winter it can be a very lonely place. We do not have a TV or a phone in the croft as it is too isolated to make connection viable.
Most nights at home are spent playing cards or reading before turning in early. The owner of the croft - my only housemate - had gone down to Glasgow to visit relatives, so, on this night I had locked up and gone to bed around 9.30.
I lay alone in my bunk with only the sound of the wind whistling outside and the rain bettering against the window as my companions. It was, what us Scots would call, a dreek night.
The storm outside seemed to be growing more forceful by the moment. A faint but persistent knocking at the door therefore came as a surprise.
As I pulled on a pair of jeans and rushed out of the bedroom, through the main room and to the front door, my mind was racing. Who would call at this hour? Who would be crazy enough to be out on a night like this? I unlocked the door and pulled it open. A cold gust of wind blasted my face with ice cold rain, but nobody stood beyond the door. I leaned forward into the cold night, but still could not see anyone. Supposing that the wind, or my imagination, had been the cause of the banging, I began to pull the door closed. Only then did I see, from the corner of my eye, a figure slumped against the wall, several metres from the door. I rushed to the figure. On closer inspection I realised that it was a man in his mid-twenties. He was, inappropriately, dressed in jeans, trainers and a T-shirt. His face was a paler white than you can imagine and he was as cold as death itself.
Propping the man up on one of the wooden chairs in the main room, I tried to force hot, sugary, tea down his throat. After dragging him in from the cold I had tried to get some sense from him, but he was either unwilling or unable to talk. Assuming he had somehow, perhaps drunkenly, wandered lost from the nearest town, I decided that the best option was to let him stay overnight. I would try to get help in the morning.
I propped the stranger up and went into the kitchen to fetch a bowl of soup and some bread for him, before preparing a bed. I returned to the main room several minutes later with the soup and bread on a tray, but the room was empty. I put down the tray and began to search the croft. Perhaps he had regained consciousness and went to the toilet. As the search proved futile my concern grew. Had he wandered back outside?
I pulled on some boots and a heavy jacket before heading out into the night. The storm had grown worse and the pitch black made searching difficult. I looked round the immediate area before stumbling down to the road. Looking up the hill I was surprised to see lights flashing about a mile further on. I made my way towards the light.
As I approached I could see that the lights belonged to the island police van, which doubled as an ambulance, also there was the local policeman’s car. As I drew closer, the van began to move off in the direction of town. The local policeman was left alone, peering over the ditch at the side of the road. I called out as I walked towards him. "Hello there"! He greeted me before going on to explain that there had been an accident about 45 minutes previously. A man had driven his car off the road and had been killed on impact. I told the policeman about my mysterious guest and he said he would have a look around before he left, but not to worry. He thought the fellow would have regained consciousness and fled in embarrassment.
I returned to the croft and went back to bed, glad to be warm and out of the cold and rain.
Several days later I was awoken early by a knock on the door. The local weekly paper had been delivered. As I flicked to the second page I froze in fear. There was a small picture of my mysterious visitor underneath a headline that read "Man killed in road tragedy".
The man, from Edinburgh, had been staying with his long-term girlfriend on the island. She had chosen that stormy night to end their relationship. Broken hearted, he fled her house and jumped in his car at around 8.30 p.m. Travelling towards the main town on the island, his car had, inexplicably, left the road. The man had almost certainly been killed instantly and police put the time of the accident at around 9.00 p.m., at least half an hour before my visitor had arrived!