That creaking door opening, the half-moving shadow suddenly glimpsed in the corner of your eye, a squeaking dog toy when you're alone in the house without your pet pooch…hearing other people's spooky stories to make undisturbed sleep an impossibility.
I was woken in that awful hour between 3am and 4am when going back to sleep once woken is out of the question.
My eldest daughter Rose's blood curdling screams made me sit bolt upright and I ran across the landing into her neighbouring bedroom to find out what was wrong. Her younger sister hadn't stirred from her slumber…she could always sleep like the dead.
Being woken by young children is a regular occurrence as any parent will tell you and I expected to find seven-year-old Rose feeling poorly or having had a nightmare.
She was trembling and white-faced, pulling up the covers of her bed in the top bunk, telling me a lady with no face had been hovering by the side of her, parallel with her head. I was terrified in case I saw the ghostly spectre but couldn't show my fear to Rose and calmed her down, hush hushing her back to sleep.
Our Victorian two-bedroom terraced house in Northampton had seen goodness knows how many families living there before our time there in the 1990s, yet we weren't aware of anyone who died in it and I was too chicken to go digging out past censuses in case it turned up something unpleasant. And the house had a good vibe to it.
The next morning Rose didn't mention the faceless phantom so we chose not to either, putting it down to a nightmare. It was never spoken of again until seven years later when she and her sister were babysitting a young girl in the village where we were now living. They lived in a 1970s semi backing on to ancient woodland intersected by a winding path leading to the 11th century village church's graveyard. When our pal dropped the girls back home, Rose told us that the young girl had woken up screaming, saying there was an old lady in her bedroom.
“I don't think it was the same woman who was in my bedroom that night when we lived in Northampton," Rose said. “I couldn't say how old she was though as she had no face.”
We moved on again and years later, while researching our family tree, I decided to start delving back through the ancestors of Lady Margaret Stanley, my great-great grandmother (x15 or so) who married my great-great grandfather Sir Henry Halsall in the reign of Henry VII. I'm not sure why her name sprang out to me out of the many women on the family tree, but it did and I like to think it is she who came to watch over my daughters that night all those years ago.
Margaret is buried with her husband in St Cuthbert's Church, Halsall. Their effigies lie parallel next to one another and their clothing, carved out of the marble, indicates their status as Knight and Lady. Yet while Henry's is intact, it's odd that his tomb survived the desecration inflicted on Margaret's - maybe in the Reformation or maybe during the English Civil War - as her hands and feet have all been removed. Along with her face.
© Ruth Supple 2021-10-27