I awake with a start and freeze under the duvet, stare wide-eyed into the darkness, my heart hammering in my chest. My bed just moved. It was exactly the same sensation that you get when a dog or cat, or something heavier jumps off the bed and it springs back to normal. I don’t have a cat, or a dog, or anything heavier that lives with me.
I lie absolutely still and hold my breath. Is whatever it was still in the room? My mind does circuits faster than a formula-one driver.
‘You imagined it!’
‘You must have done!’
‘I did not!’
‘What on earth could it be?’
Pictures of a hideous wolf-like creature fills my mind. Sometimes an overly active imagination is just not an asset.
‘It must be a burglar!’
‘Why would a burglar get on the bed and then jump off again?’
‘He didn’t fancy you after all?’
I don’t know how long I lie barely breathing, listening for the minutest sound, duvet pulled over my head. I can’t stay like this all night, sweating and terrified. Whatever it was I have to face it. I have to put the bedside light on. That means sticking my arm out into the dark and fumbling for the switch. What if it grabs my wrist! My heart bashes itself wildly against my ribs.
‘You’ve got to do it!’
‘For heaven’s sake do it!‘
Breath held I summon all my courage and shoot my arm out, connect with the base of the lamp and flail madly for the switch. Got it! Heavenly light! I force myself to squint over the scrunched duvet, petrified of what might be staring back. Nothing! No axe-man grinning knowingly at me from the doorway. No hairy drooling beast. Relief floods through me. So what jumped off my bed?
I have to search the house. If I don’t I can’t possibly put the light off and go back to sleep. Under the bed I feel around and pull out my equalizer – the biggest screwdriver in the world. Useful at both ends, one for stabbing, one for bashing, it’s hidden away for exactly this type of situation. I quietly pull on jeans and trainers, then I methodically check every room and every cupboard upstairs. Nothing. At the top of the stairs I gird my loins and then I sing noisily all the way down. This will warn him I’m coming and give him time to escape, and I won’t have to do my best impression of Vlad the Impaler.
I flick lights on as I go. Loo – clear! Utility room – clear! Kitchen – clear! Lounge – clear! A clean sweep. And not a window pane broken or a door forced. Nobody’s here and nobody has broken in. So what in the hell jumped off my bed? A worse thought slips into my mind. What if it was a ghost? Some lost soul risen from the peat bog (I live in the fens), or some ancient jilted fen man trapped between two worlds, still seeking vengeance on his bronze-age lover! No way could I live with that! Not some sporty spirit using my bed as a nightly springboard. I’d have to move. I made a large mug of tea and stuffed two sugars in it, then I sat at the kitchen table and tried to calm down.
Bleary eyed I trudge in to work. Sleep was hopeless after I returned to bed. I’d kept waiting for the bed to go boing again. I sip my first coffee and stare vacantly at my computer screen.
My friend Julie comes over, ‘Did you feel the earthquake last night?’ she asks excitedly.
‘The earthquake! There was a small earthquake somewhere up north and it shook houses as far down as Peterborough!’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Yes, it was on the news this morning.’
A look of relief and then a silly grin has spread slowly across my face.
‘What?’ says Julie.
‘It means I don’t have to move house,’ I said, ‘I don’t have a ghost!’
The above is a true story. Earthquakes are exceedingly rare in England. This one really did happen in September 2000.