Lady Elliot Island, located off the coast of Queensland, is a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. Known for its diversity of seabirds and marine life, the island is also the site of a small graveyard, situated near the imposing lighthouse.
Susannah McKee, a native of Ireland, accompanied her husband, Tom, and four sons to Lady Elliot Island, where Tom took up the position of lighthouse keeper. Due to its location, food and medical supplies would arrive late, and living conditions were cramped. It was an isolated and desolate existence and would eventually become too much for Susannah.
In April 1907, Susannah dressed in her best clothes, walked to the jetty at the end of the lighthouse and threw herself into the ocean. Rumours circulated that her husband, Tom, had pushed her, but this could never be proven. He buried her next to the lonely grave of the daughter of a previous lighthouse keeper, who had died of pneumonia some years prior.
Over the years, sightings of Susannah would appear to visitors and staff; the first sighting taking place in the 1930s. The lighthouse keeper at the time, reported to have seen a woman in white ‘half walking, half-floating’ between the lighthouse and the keeper’s cottage. His daughter encountered a presence in the lighthouse, fearing it wanted to push her down the stairs.
In the mid-1980s, when the lighthouse became automated, the disturbances intensified. In one of the three empty cottages, the resort manager heard phantom footsteps, but could not locate the source. Two resort staff would later occupy the cottage, one being hurled from his bed with great force, and onto the floor. Some nights later, he woke to see the transparent figure of a woman standing by the front door.
There have also been stories of a woman’s face peering through cottage windows, and a white clad woman wandering the island’s airstrip.
It’s uncertain if sightings of Susannah continue to this day, but being a tortured soul, her spirit may well still wander the island she once called home.
In the early 1990s, I visited the Princess Theatre in Melbourne for a performance of Phantom of the Opera. It was a memorable evening, and the theatre itself is a magnificent building, but behind the glamour lies a different story. The theatre’s history has a tragic past, one that has its very own ‘phantom of the opera.’
Federici was the stage name of English baritone Frederick Baker, who enjoyed success in musicals such as The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. In June 1887, Federici arrived in Melbourne, with his wife and children, to give a series of performances.
In March 1888, the production of the opera, Faust, premiered at the Princess Theatre, where Federici was to play the role of Mephistopheles. During the final act, Mephistopheles wrapped Faust in his scarlet cloak, surrounded by smoke, dragging him into the fiery depths of hell. A trapdoor had been created on stage for the dramatic effect, but as the trap was reaching the cellar floor, Federici collapsed and died of a heart attack. Despite efforts from a doctor, and yes, even the use of galvanic batteries, he could not be revived.
Shortly after he was buried, stories began to circulate of cold spots on and beneath the stage, and people being touched by invisible hands. Over the years, there had been numerous reported sightings of a man’s dark figure within the theatre, either on stage or seated in the dress circle.
One sighting was by a wardrobe mistress and a fireman who was patrolling the theatre in 1917. At 2.30am, they saw a man in evening dress sitting in the middle of the second row of the dress circle, staring at the stage. He sat motionless, his white shirt glowing. They watched him for some minutes before returning to work. About an hour later, the wardrobe mistress returned to the dress circle to find the man still sitting there.
Throughout the years, numerous staff and performers have had encounters, leaving some investigators to believe there may be more than one ghost.
In the early 1980s, The Princess Theatre closed and was eventually bought and restored to its former glory. Despite continued incidents, the owner is happy for Federici to stay, believing he’s a friendly ghost and is considered part of the family.
These days, for every opening night performance, a third-row seat of the dress circle is left empty for Federici, as a sign of respect.
There are reports throughout the world of ghosts haunting locations to avenge their deaths, or anxious that their remains be cared for. One report, set in Australia during the early 19th century, would go on to capture the public’s imagination.
Frederick Fisher came to Australia as a convict, but would eventually be released for good behaviour, earning what was known as a ‘ticket of leave.’ He acquired 30 acres (twelve hectares) of land in Campbelltown, about 56 km (34 miles) from Sydney.
He became good friends with neighbour, George Worrall, a fellow ‘ticket of leave’ man. At one point, Fisher got into a fight with another man and pulled a knife. The man was not badly hurt, but Fisher was arrested. Fearful his land would be seized; Fisher gave power of attorney of his property and possessions to Worrall. He served his sentence and was released six months later. Shortly after, Fisher disappeared.
George Worrall informed the locals that Fisher had decided to return to London, a story that was believed for a little while. Doubts began to surface when Worrall tried to sell one of Fisher’s horses, using a forged document as proof of purchase. The police became involved and issued an award for the discovery of Fisher’s body.
When questioned, Worrall changed his story, saying he witnessed Fisher’s murder, but was not involved in his death. He named the killers, and they were eventually released due to lack of evidence.
One night, a short distance from Fisher’s home, a farmer by the name of John Farley, saw a figure sitting on the top rail of a fence. Drawing nearer, he discovered it was Frederick Fisher. He was pale, with a blood dripping down his face from a head wound. He let out a loud moan, raised his arm and pointed in the direction of a nearby creek.
Shortly after, a police search was conducted with the aid of an aboriginal tracker. A body was discovered in a shallow grave. It was a gruesome find, for the man’s head was battered and the back of the skull had been struck with a sharp object. The body was later identified as that of Frederick Fisher.
George Worrall was arrested and found guilty. Before his execution, he confessed to the murder, stating that he had acted alone.
There was no mention of the ghost in any documentation, but the story was quickly circulated and became folklore. Sceptics believed that John Farley invented the story as he knew the whereabouts of the body, but on his deathbed, he swore his story to be the truth.
Whether John Farley saw the ghost of Frederick Fisher or not, the incident has gone on to become Australia’s most celebrated ghost story.
Rumours of a ghost at Ascot House in Queensland, Australia, have been circulating as far back as the 1890s. It wasn’t until some one-hundred years later, that the ghost could finally be put to rest.
Ascot House was built for wealthy businessman and politician, Frederick Holberton, in 1876, and was originally named ‘Tor’. Situated in Newtown, a suburb of Toowoomba, it once stood on 13ha (32 acres) of land. It eventually changed hands, and the new owner renamed it Ascot House, and undertook numerous renovations. Ascot House contained a gothic tower, sweeping staircase and large high-ceilinged rooms.
Many years later, the house would fall into a state of disrepair. During the 1940s, flats had been added, which housed people looking for cheap accommodation. It was not until the 1980s that the house was sold to a successful renovator, who proceeded to bring the house back to its former glory.
No sooner had the new owner moved into Ascot House, that she would hear footsteps walking down the hallway at night but seeing no-one. Once, during the early hours of the morning she felt fingertips brush her shoulders. One warm evening, she leaned against a wall where the surface was icy cold. The cold patch lasted for months and defied explanation.
There have been numerous eye-witness accounts, including one man who saw the apparition of a young woman that looked as if her neck was broken. It had been rumoured that a young servant girl had hung herself within the house.
After many years of searching, the owner identified the young woman as Maggie Hume, who had worked at Ascot House as a housemaid under the employ of the original owner, Frederick Holberton. At 23 years of age, she committed suicide, not by hanging, but by taking strychnine. According to the police reports, it was believed she suicided after learning she was pregnant. At the inquest, a couple of male staff members confessed to having ‘connections’ with her.
As a single woman committing suicide, Maggie was buried in an unmarked grave. Now, a headstone has been placed at the site, giving her the sympathy she never received in life.
Australia’s colonial history has a bloodied past, with some of these stories handed down into folklore. The story of a ghost at Mount Victoria Pass is no exception and had been popularised in Australian literature during the 1890s.
The ghost is believed to be that of a young woman by the name of Caroline Collits. She married her husband, William, in 1840. He came from a respectable family but was generally regarded as a person of ‘weak mind’ and a bit of a spendthrift.
Their marriage was not a happy one, and eventually, Caroline left him and moved in with her sister and brother-in-law, John Walsh. Caroline’s new housing arrangements caused rumours that she was having an affair with her brother-in-law and was regarded as a woman of ‘loose character.’
There was talk of a reconciliation with her husband, and together with her brother-in-law, met William in a local tavern. After leaving the tavern, John Walsh attacked William Collits. Caroline intervened, allowing her husband to escape and called after him to run for his life. This was the last time she was seen alive.
Caroline’s battered body was found the following morning near the road on Victoria Pass. Her skull had been smashed in with a large stone, which had been found nearby, covered in her blood and hair. Despite his pleas of innocence, John Walsh was arrested for her murder. He was later convicted and hanged.
In the years that followed, rumours of ghostly encounters surfaced as travellers used the road on cold, windy nights. One such encounter involved a couple of young men whose horse became so spooked, it refused to go any further. As they moved closer to the bridge, the figure of a woman appeared, dressed in black. She did not move or utter a word. One of the young men described her eyes as if ‘there were sparks of fire in ‘em.’ She then went on to raise both her arms and open her mouth, making a noise which ‘sounded like no ‘uman or animal I ever ‘eard.’ The horse bolted, taking his male companions down the road with him.
This story would influence the poet, Henry Lawson, some years later when he came to live in nearby Mount Victoria. One of the verses described the incident as follows: –
Its look appeared to plead for aid
(As far as I could see),
Its hands were on the tailboard laid,
Its eyes were fixed on me.
The face, it cannot be denied
Was white, a dull dead white,
The great black eyes were opened wide
And glistened in the light.
‘The Ghost at the Second Bridge.’ Henry Lawson (1867-1922).
These days, the road is part of a busy highway, where the old bridges are barely visible. It would then come as no surprise that sighting of Caroline’s ghost in the area have not occurred for quite some time.
She may yet wander the road alone, her mournful cries unheard, but her story continues to live on.
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I love a good ghost story and I consume as many books on the subject as I can get my hands on. A couple of years ago, while perusing one of our local second-hand book shops, I found another book to add to my collection. It contained a few Australian ghost stories I had never heard of before. One of them, about a haunted house that was once located in Sydney’s western suburbs, would become the inspiration behind my novella The Curse of Marsden Hall.
In 1821, Major John Campbell arrived in Australia with his family, soon buying land around Eastern Creek. At the time, it was believed the site was where a battle between two warring Aboriginal tribes took place, some believing it was a sacred site. These have since been disproven and ‘Bungarribee’ means ‘creek with cockatoos’ or ‘creek with campsite’.
In 1822, the house was convict-built, with some convicts dying during the construction. It is believed that one was murdered there. As the house was nearing completion in 1826, John Campbell’s wife died. The last section of the house, a round drawing-room and tower, began the following year. It was during construction that John Campbell, himself, died less than twelve months later. After his death, the house would change hands many times. Rumours began to spread that the house was cursed, or even haunted; the first reference dating back to 1838.
Legend has it that the next death after the Campbell’s was that of an army officer. It is believed he lost a duel and shot himself in one of the tower rooms, his body in a pool of blood. Another army officer was later found at Bungarribee, his body discovered on the grounds. Apparently seeking refuge and escaping creditors, it is believed the words ‘died of hunger’, were written beside his body.
A number of strange events seem to focus on the circular drawing room and its tower. In the room where the officer shot himself, bloodstains appeared on the floor. Despite the best efforts of housemaids, they would reappear the next day. Muffled sounds, scratching, and scraping would be heard in the tower, as well as the clanking of chains at night. While sleeping in one of the tower rooms, people would wake up feeling cold hands around their necks or be touched.
There have been reported sightings of a young woman, dressed in white, crying outside the circular drawing-room. Sometimes she would be seen clawing at the glass as if trying to gain entry into the room. There are also reported sightings of convict ghosts, lights in the tower rooms (when not occupied at the time), and animals, such as horses, refusing to go near the house.
By 1910, Bungarribee began to deteriorate with age and neglect, and the land was subdivided. By the early 1950s, despite some attempts at restoration, the house was a complete ruin. The Government bought what remained in 1956, and the house was demolished a year later.
Today, the site where the homestead once stood is a public reserve called Heritage Park. The ghost stories of Bungarribee continue to be handed down into folklore.
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Recently I watched my favourite film, Picnic at Hanging Rock. I make sure I watch it at least a couple of times a year. With its constant sense of dread, this film made a big impact on my life and as a result, my writing tends to naturally gravitate towards Australian Gothic.
So, what is Australian Gothic?
The Gothic genre came to Australia as an imported genre (you’ll find a helpful post here on the ten elements of Gothic Literature) and took on many qualities of the traditional gothic, including the supernatural, romance and gloomy atmosphere. Like traditional Gothic, Australian Gothic has an element of mystery and fear.
Within Australia, the Gothic soon developed its own characteristics. The unique landscape of the country became an important element, therefore, becoming a character all of its own. The Australian bush transformed into a monstrous, spectral place, becoming the setting for nightmare and terror.
During the colonisation of the country, earlier stories were tied to the violence of settler life, including stories of death and brutality where murder victims returned from the dead, and burial grounds were uncovered. Stories involved the protagonist becoming lost or disorientated, sometimes even abandoned, so that the protagonist is isolated from others in order to be confronted by events. Such events either took place on the edge of civilisation or within the colonial homestead.
Australia ‘was a world of reversals, the dark subconscious of Britain. It was, for all intents and purposes, Gothic par excellence, the dungeon of the world. The familiar transposed to unfamiliar space. Nature, it seemed to many, was out of kilter. From its inception, the Gothic has dealt with fears and themes which are endemic in the colonial experience: isolation, entrapment, fear of pursuit and fear of unknown’.*
“We call what we do ‘Australian Gothic’,” says Everett DeRoche, a key figure in Australian horror who wrote the scripts for classics such as Patrick (1978), The Long Weekend (1978) and Razorback (1984). “Australia doesn’t have that iconic ‘haunted house’ that we are familiar with from American movies. But it does have the outback, and people’s fear of that, that agoraphobia.”
If you have ever watched such films as Mad Max and Wolf Creek, then you are familiar with the horrors such a landscape can represent. For me, the combination of the traditional Gothic with elements that are uniquely Australian make for an intriguing mix, full of many possibilities.
Do you enjoy Gothic Fiction? Do you have a favourite book or film within the Gothic genre? What film has made an impact on your life?
*Turcotte, G. The Handbook to Gothic Literature, Mulvey-Roberts M. (Ed.) New York University Press, 1998, pp.10-11.
Over dinner, we listened to some history about the house and stories of ghostly encounters by the current owners. Afterwards, we then watched a short film. By this time, it was now completely dark, and we commenced our tour of the house.
We were in a group of around twenty, so there were times when it became a bit cramped and within the first two rooms we visited, it had been uneventful. As we began to progress further throughout the house, some of us began to feel a sudden shift.
Whilst standing in the breakfast room, as our host was speaking there came a loud noise from the room above us, as if someone had dropped something heavy. I looked over at my husband and pointed to the ceiling and he nodded to indicate that he had also heard it. I’m uncertain if anyone else did, as our host was talking at the time and before we left the room, we asked him if he had heard it, which he did not. Remember, we were the only people in the house during this time and we were all standing within the same room.
We were told that some people experience feeling heavy in the legs upon the stairs, and it certainly did feel that way to me. I was having a struggle walking up them and with each step I could feel they were getting heavier, even when we entered what is known as ‘the boy’s room’. This was the room that the original owner, Mr. Crawley, was said to have died in. This room is also the room in which our guide, the current owner’s son, slept in between the ages of five and thirteen. These days he doesn’t like to enter that room and refuses to sleep in the house.
A couple of women later stated that within this room, they felt someone pulling at them, one stating that she felt the bag over her shoulder was being pulled. There was definitely a heavy atmosphere within that room.
The following day, before opening to the public, we were allowed to go through the house and grounds again. Some people had stayed the night and had not experienced anything, but my husband and I slept elsewhere, and we returned early the following morning.
At one point, my husband and I were alone in the house, as the other guests had gone to breakfast. It was at this time, upon entering ‘the boy’s room’, where Mr. Crawley had died, I began to feel something. The heaviness that I had felt the night before came over me again and I sat upon the edge of the bed. The feeling began to climb up my body and around my stomach, almost to the point of feeling nauseous. I felt as if I were being drained. When I stood up, I felt my legs begin to collapse from underneath me and I had to quickly hold on to the bed post for support. During this time, my husband, the skeptic, remained standing nearby with no effect.
About half an hour later, I went in to see the owner’s son and told him what had happened. I informed him the feeling felt as if someone was trying to pull me down into the bed. This he found interesting because he then stated that when some people lie on the bed, they get the feeling that someone is above them, trying to push them down.
Apart from feeling some coolness, the loud noise in the room above us and smelling cigar smoke in Mrs. Crawley’s chapel room (she used to smoke cigars), this was the strangest thing that had occurred to me during my visit this time to Monte Cristo.
While that feeling came over me when in ‘the boy’s room’, my husband told me that I might be a ‘sensitive’ or ‘empath’. This was something I had considered after our visit to Quarantine Station in Manly. Perhaps now might be a good time to look further into it before venturing on my next ghost tour. 😉
Have you ever visited or lived in a haunted house? Have you experienced something you can not explain? Have you been on a ghost tour? I’d love to hear your stories!
Some years back, I visited Monte Cristo, Australia’s most haunted house. I visited with my husband and children for the day. Even then, I managed to have some unusual experiences, and may have caught a spirit on camera.
So, what is it about Monte Cristo that has given it the label of the country’s most haunted house?
Built in 1884, it was the home of rich pastoralist Christopher Crawley and his wife Elizabeth. After his death in 1910, Elizabeth Crawley continued to live in the house until her own death some twenty-three years later. The house eventually became unoccupied for a long period of time, so that thieves, vandals, and the elements almost destroyed it.
The house has a terrible history, including that of a young girl falling from the balcony. It is uncertain whether she committed suicide or was pushed. Another young girl died due to a fall down the stairs. The nanny who was holding the child at the time stated she was pushed from an unseen force. A young stable worker who complained of being too ill to work was burnt to death when his boss set alight the straw mattress on which he lay.
It wasn’t until 1963, when the house was bought by Reg and Olive Ryan, that it came back to life. Only days after moving in, they returned one evening to find lights on in every window in the house. The electricity had not been put on yet and there was one unlit kerosene lamp.
Animals would refuse to enter the house, some dying mysteriously. The sound of a piano being played in the sitting room at night when the room was dark, and empty has been heard. In the drawing-room, objects have been known to have been moved. Visitors have reported encountering figures visiting their bedrooms at night, some being touched or pulled at while they slept. Despite the activity within the house, mediums and sensitives agree that the feeling of evil is strongest at the stables and the dairy.
Some people who visit the house feel the need to leave shortly after they have arrived, others complain of severe headaches. One man said when he arrived, he felt something had attached itself to his chest, and clutched tightly. After the tour of the house, he felt very ill and for several weeks the condition persisted. He eventually saw a doctor who found nothing physically wrong with him and suggested an exorcism. Suddenly one night the pain ceased and whatever it was had left him, yet he could see a faint indistinct form on the other side of the room.
There are many stories of unexplained events, too numerous to mention here, giving Monte Cristo a sinister reputation. It is a popular tourist destination and has been lovingly restored to its former glory by the Ryan family.
Experiencing anything at Monte Cristo that defies explanation is part of its appeal.
Have you visited Monte Cristo? Did you encounter anything unusual? Have you visited a haunted house or ever lived in one?
Last week, I wrote about some of my ghostly encounters at Quarantine Station. Due to the long post, I have broken it up into two parts and this week covers both the Caretakers Cottage and the first class shower block. Both these buildings left me with a rather uneasy feeling and I was quite surprised that in one of them at least, my sceptical husband has been left wondering that there’s ‘something not quite right about that place’.
Further along our walk away from the morgue, we approached what the tour guide referred to as the Caretakers Cottage. As we approached, I thought it looked like a nice old house and I imagine it would look rather ordinary during the day. Our tour guide informed us that we were going to go inside, but told us very little about it. Some of the records regarding the Quarantine Station had burned in a fire and there was very little information to go by regarding the house, other than it had been used as a staff quarters. We were to go through the house in the dark and see for ourselves if we could pick anything up. Once again, my husband and I were the last ones to enter.
As we walked through the first few rooms, our eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness and found there was nothing out of the ordinary. The house was quite warm and stuffy after being locked up all day and with twenty odd people walking through the house, things got a little bit cramped. At the back of the house were a sunroom, bathroom and laundry, which was north facing. The tour guide began calling everyone together into the lounge room at the front of the house, but my husband and I had not finished our viewing. My husband decided to go to the laundry, while I go to the bathroom and then swap before heading back towards the group.
Once I stood at the doorway of the bathroom, I was rather hesitant to enter as I had a bad feeling about it. Even though there was no light and my eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness, somehow, the bathroom was darker than the other rooms. Despite my hesitancy, I entered the room and on my left was the bath which had a window over it. As I approached the bath, the temperature dropped and I put out my hands towards it. I could feel a breeze circulating around my hands and it was then that my husband came up behind me. I asked him if he could feel anything and once again he said no. I told him I had to get out of there as I didn’t like the feel of it. I went straight towards the laundry, which turned out to be the coldest room in the house. It felt like walking into one of those walk in freezers. I didn’t waste any time in leaving the room and together my husband and I joined the group in the lounge room.
Being the last of the group, we stood in the doorway facing the lounge room with our backs to the back of the house. No sooner had we arrived, I felt something touch my back and from that moment, I stood side on with my back against the doorframe. At this point, I noticed my husband had done the same. From such a position, I could see into the lounge room as well as keep a constant vigil towards the back of the house.
The tour guide explained certain things about the house, including the belief from various psychics that someone had been murdered in the bathroom (in the bath) and that there was a bad spirit named Samuel. Some tour guides refuse to enter the house or take tour groups inside. During his talk, the EMF meters were said to have been going off the whole time and one of the group members asked to leave the building and was the only one to do so before the rest of us left. My husband later told me he was one of the other sceptics.
Standing in the doorway, I had the feeling that someone was watching and they weren’t very nice. I felt they were angry and wanted us to leave. I felt most uncomfortable and kept looking towards that back room, where at one point I heard something drop upon the wooden floor. I said nothing about it; the tour guide did not notice it either, but it wasn’t until talking it over with my husband a few days later that I discovered he had heard it too. I left the house shivering with cold, with goose bumps upon both arms. As we walked away, I couldn’t help look over my shoulder towards the house, but I could not see anyone in the windows watching us leave (which has been reported to have happened once).
The last building on the tour was the first class shower block. When people came off the ships they were required to have a shower, which were supervised and each shower cubicle had tiny holes placed in each one to make sure the people showered properly.
Once again, we were to wander this building in the dark and foolishly, I was the first one after our tour guide in which to enter. It was only after taking a few steps inside that I didn’t like the feel of it and I was overwhelmed by the strong smell of urine (the tour guide later told me this was the chemical, carbolic acid, that was used on the patients). We were to stop midway and after we were all assembled, I saw a dark figure coming towards me. I instinctively moved back and the figure continued coming towards me, only to discover that it was our tour guide. He then proceeded to inform us about the various spirits within the building, including a ‘Gollum- like’ creature that if you walked into it, feels as if you have walked through cobwebs.
Given its history, I was not at all surprised to feel like I was being watched in here and I felt exposed and vulnerable. This was why I needed my husband with me and he took my hand as we walked in single file around the showers. He walked in front of me and I told him to slow down as I looked in at the shower cubicles. Down one in particular, I caught a quick glimpse of some dark shape that didn’t look completely human.
Before leaving the building, one couple believed they saw something white in one of them. I went with them to help them try to find it, but could see nothing. I heard the tour guide tell them once we were outside that a woman has been spotted in there. One other couple said they had also seen something, but it was different to what this other couple had seen.
‘I saw something too’, I replied. ‘I’m not sure what it was. It didn’t look human’.
‘That sounds like what we saw’.
‘It was a small, dark, shadowy figure. Broad shoulders and it was hunched over, like this’, I replied as I demonstrated (it was very much like the image of Gollum in his cave in the picture above).
‘That’s it!’ the woman exclaimed. ‘That’s what we saw’.
‘Oh good’, I said. ‘I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw it and not going mad’. I had asked my husband if he had seen it and he had not.
It was with that final note that our tour had ended. Of-course in the light of day, I began questioning what I had seen and experienced. Did that really happen? Did I really see what I thought I saw? From the experience I learnt something about myself that I had suspected from childhood and am interested in finding out more.
When we arrived home, my husband looked up the Caretaker’s Cottage on the internet to see if it had been investigated, but it had not. It had certainly piked his curiosity.
‘So’, I said. ‘That was a good start. When are we going back?’
Did you ever experience a ‘bad vibe’ about a particular building or place? What was the scariest place you have visited and would you go back? Have you ever experienced something you can’t explain?