It was a beautiful summer’s evening, West Belfast, 1986.  We lived in a street close to the Falls Park. From our house you could see the playing fields and pathways, the Black mountain in the distance.

The sun was still high in the sky and still bright enough to illuminate our bedroom through the closed curtains. In the orange glow I could see the old bunk beds in the corner and the detail of the brackets on the ancient wardrobes. I never liked them; they always had to be closed when we went to bed. From outside I could hear the calls and cheers of other children playing football. That was when my brother and I saw something that terrified us.

I was 11 and my brother was 12 and we had been scrapping. Mum gave us each a clip round the ear and sent us up to bed early. Our older siblings were out enjoying the day’s final rays, and the upstairs of the house was quiet and empty.  It was too early to sleep. My brother jumped down from his top bunk and we lay side by side like two runner beans in my bottom bunk, talking, laughing and messing about. Who would be able to beat whom in a fight, what would you do if you turned invisible for just a day, what would you do if you had a million quid? We kept our voices down, Mum was down stairs, and if she heard us enjoying our punishment there would be more than a swift clip in store for us.

We had been chatting for about three quarters of an hour. Then it happened. We had no warning, no sense of what was about to reveal itself in that moment.  A figure swung down from the top bunk, head and shoulders, like it was on a spring.  Its hair was long and greasy, frayed and worn. The face was sunk in on itself, emaciated and weathered. It happened so quickly, and so unexpectedly, my brother and I barely had a second to process it.

We’re not sure if it was the face of a woman or a man, or something else but we both saw it. It swung down and then back up in a flash, without making a sound from the top bunk. My brother and I looked at each other in horror and pulled the covers over our head.  The sun shone through the summer duvet.

“Did you see that?” was all we said for the next minute. I was desperate for him to say no, he saw nothing, shut up and stop being a wimp. But he did not, my brother saw it, we both did.  Still silence in the room, not a sound from the top bunk. We couldn’t move with fear, we couldn’t even shout out to mum downstairs. This wasn’t a ghost; there was no faint apparition, no glow. Whatever the head was, in that instant, it was there and real and in the room with us.

We lay there for hours, hugging each other, waiting for the practical joke to be revealed, for the relief to come. From beneath the covers, we watched the sunlight dim, and then darken into night. At some point we must have fallen asleep.

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