It is coming close to Halloween so perhaps this is a good time to share a scary tale that also happens to be true.
It was sometime in the early eighties and Bert was coming to the end of a long, leisurely trip around Europe. His funds were running low and his plan was that he would wend his way homewards but, before doing that, he wanted to meet up with an old friend from Ballymena who was teaching English in Marseilles. But when he called at her apartment he was told that she was away for a few days. He had around three days to kill before Rosie would return and rather than leave without seeing her he decided to wait it out. Because of his cash shortage he couldn't afford to stay in the city. Being an adaptable sort of chap he decided to travel just outside Marseilles. He caught a bus to a likely looking area and on exploring found himself a nice dry cave. It was wide enough to accommodate him lying down, deep enough to give some protection from inclement weather but not high enough to stand up in. It was ideal. He tramped back down to civilisation, bought bread, cheese, fruit and wine and settled down for the night.
The wine did its work and Bert was soon fast asleep until he was startled awake at some pre-dawn hour. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end and he felt quite alarmed. There was something tugging at his sleeping bag. He shone his torch around the cave but there was nothing to be seen. He decided it must be the wind catching it or a animal tugging on it. He settled down and went back to sleep. But not before checking his watch. It was nearly 4 am.
The next day he put the experience out of his mind. It was probably a dream. He spent the day exploring the countryside before going into town for more supplies. That night the wine did its customary work and he fell asleep easily. Until he wakened, hair prickling on his scalp and neck. There was that tugging at his sleeping bag, more insistent this time. Terrified he pulled the sleeping bag over his face and lay shivering until dawn. He decided that this would definitely be his last night in the cave.
The third day brought torrential rain. He mooched around all day telling himself that this nightly disturbance was all in his mind. He decided to give it one more night. After all, he'd see Rosie the next day. There was the prospect of company, a bed and a hot meal and just one more night to get through. What harm would a little ruffling or tugging at his sleeping bag do?
At the usual time, the hour before the dawn, Bert felt the familiar prickling at the back of his neck. He drew the sleeping bag right over his head. Then, horrified, felt himself being picked up as if two sets of strong arms had each taken a corner of his sleeping bag . He felt himself being flung into the far reaches of the cave. And there he cowered, trembling and sweating until the first glimmer of light entered the cave. He gathered up his belongings and left. An hour later he was sitting in a café on the outskirts of town surrounded by people on their way to work. He drank coffee and smoked. And thought, did that really happen?
All was forgotten when he met up with Rosie later. That night he slept on a comfortable couch in a warm apartment, all terrors behind him. But not entirely forgotten, for this strange experience has stayed with Bert all his life. It was one of the first stories he ever shared with me. And now and again it is spoken of, whenever the subject of ghosts, ghouls or hauntings comes up in conversation.