The Grey Lady
My mother is from Scotland, and there’s a castle in her family. She wasn’t raised there but her father inherited it when she was in her twenties and she grew up going there every summer. It’s a very castley-castle, with turrets by a loch in the western highlands. The castle is apparently very, very haunted. Her family has been in that part of the world, more or less in the same place, since the 12th century. So that means there has been plenty of time for a variety ghosts from lots of different periods in history to settle in.
When I was very small, my mother didn’t really tell me about all the ghosts that were said to have been there, as she knew that when we would come from New York to visit her family, no little kid would want to go stay in a haunted castle.
We went to visit on time when I was about six, about the age when you have imaginary friends. Or I did, at least. And I had a lot of them, and they were very active and social. Someone in the group was always getting married, or throwing a ball of some kind. It was an interspecies group; there was bear named Fred, who was the ringleader and lots of beautiful woman with Italian names like Francesca and Mary Luca and a family of royal cats.
There was a garden at the castle, and the garden was kind of French, with very tall manicured shrubs. I was there with my usual non-existent crew, having a little picnic to celebrate someone’s wedding. And then I saw this lady, who I had never seen before. And she was grey, completely grey, and dressed in Victorian clothes. Not that I would’ve been able to say that at the time. I think I thought they were “old fashioned” clothes. And she was sort of roaming around the garden, almost gliding, as if she didn’t have feet under her petticoats.
I think I kind of acknowledged her, but I was having a picnic with my friends who looked a lot more fun than her, and for some reason I did not invite her to sit down. I watched her watch us, and then she suddenly disappeared.
It was a strange feeling, because, as a child, you’re in charge of your own imagination. But this time it was in charge of me.
Anyway, I went inside and I spoke to my mother. I told her “I was having a picnic with my friends, my imaginary friends, and there was this woman there, and she was all in grey, and I know she wanted to sit down with us, and I didn’t feel like asking her.” My mother’s face went totally white. I said, “What, what’s wrong?”
My mother looked at me with a very puzzled face and said, “You’ve seen the Grey Lady in the garden.” And I said, “What’s that, what’s that?” And she told me about the ghosts that had been seen around the castle for centuries and that the Grey Lady was one of the most famous ones.
And suddenly I realised that what I’d seen was a ghost, I hadn’t made her up. And then my mother, perhaps not very perspicaciously, read me diary entries of ancestors and other people describing the Grey Lady. I tried to figure out who she was and where she came from. I can’t remember many of the details about her but she did have a complicated, sad story like most ghosts. If I remember correctly, she died in childbirth and she was named Elisabeth. No one seemed to know why she was grey.
Over the years when I went back to visit, I’d feel things, spirits, chills, doors would suddenly close, and sometimes I would hear voices of people who weren’t there. I became very aware that the castle had this whole other set of inhabitants. Even now when I go back to visit, I find it extremely hard to sleep at night.
I’ve looked for the Grey Lady again but ghosts seem to play by their own rules. Maybe she’s still angry I didn’t invite her to the picnic.