I’ve got a hankering to spill the beans on a few stories in the memory bank, but everything at the forefront is re heartache, unrequited love, new love, old love, confusing love, prospective love, blah, blah, blah, blah – BOOOORRRINNNG.  So, instead of rhyming off the ins and outs of what’s really on my mind, I’m going to dig deep and dust off a doozy down from the shelf. Rather than dissect matters of the heart, I shall postulate on the inner-workings of the soul. Not just any old soul, no, a tortured one – yes, a wandering one.  Now, many in my circle have heard this retold time and time again, but you know, personally, I can never get enough of a good thing. Let’s call this one “The Mystery of the Motueka Murderer.” (I’ve never actually titled it before. It’s got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?)

Way back in 2004, I was on a solo tour of New Zealand. Another one of my “let’s get some perspective” ventures. I had been touring around the South Island, doing what is dubbed “WWOOF-ing” – willing workers on organic farms.  Basically, you pay a minimal membership fee, get access to a list of families throughout the country that are willing to provide travelers with food and accommodation in exchange for approximately 4 hours of work per day on their farms. Picking flowers, painting houses, you name it, it was on the list of potential chores.  You call up your chosen destination, “ring ring – my name is Cynthia, I’m from Canada, la la la, (I hope you don’t suck and aren’t weird and creepy) and I’m wondering if you are looking for any wwoofers at the moment?”  More often than not you’re signing up for a totally positive, unforgettable experience, but on the rare occasion, you end up with more than you bargained for in one way or another.

Motueka was one of those towns. Small, but ‘bigger’ than any of my expectations in every sense. I had been staying in a town called “Greymouth” and yeah, it was just as shitty as the name suggests. Grey. Bland. Boring. I was overworked by a bunch of weirdos, the people gave me the heebee jeebees, so I cut my intended stay short and picked up the phone to get a move on.  I can’t remember what drew me to Jackie and Steve’s farm in my little directory, but I can certainly remember our initial conversation. Jackie was a Doctor (very respectable) and Steve was an Agricultural Consultant on his way to Fiji for a month to complete some special project. They had a small hobby farm, chickens, horses, sheep, a lemon orchard, and some olive trees. They also had three children, Finn, Sophie, and James, ages 6, 4, and 2. Because Steve was off on business, Dr. Jackie could really use a hand around the house, and a pleasant Canadian girl with plans to stick around could be just the right match. We set the date, I booked my bus and set sail for the next phase.

When I first arrived at the farm, I didn’t like it. I just got bad vibes. At first I thought maybe it was because as soon as we arrived we were out in the field lifting sheep and such (oh you know those Kiwis and their sheep…wink, wink), and then I chalked it up to simply being a bit travel weary. Another farm. Ugh. I miss the comforts of home, I thought.  They showed me my digs, and when I saw I would have the luxury of my own, quaint, quiet cottage situated next to their house, I talked myself into it, thinking, “Oh, this will be great. You’ll have time on your own, to read, write, relax…it will be lovely and much needed. Suck it up, Cynthia.” So I did. And the plan was for me to stay with the whole family for a few days, get to know how things operated, take off for the weekend, and come back on Sunday to start playing Little Susie Homemaker.

After a weekend of debauchery in the city, I was content to come back to my little cottage, bake apple crisp, and make crafts with the kids. My initial bad vibes were successfully suppressed, and I was settling in. An all round lovely day with the family, and off to beddy bye to finally soak up some of that me time I was oh so looking forward to.  Travelling alone in a country full of fresh, delicious food, tends to lend itself towards (moderate) weight gain for me, so as I was getting changed for bed, I was checking out my new chubb in the reflection of the glass in the window. “Hmm, not too impressed with this, but what are you gonna do?” I thought as I undressed. As I stood there, examining my flaws framed by the open curtains of the window looking out to the pitch black, middle of nowhere, night, I started to get the sense that someone was watching me.  (Even though I’ve told this story a million times, I still get chills at this part, and yes, I’m considering getting up and closing the blinds on the window next to me – but I digress).  The self talk started, “Cynthia, no one is outside, it’s just your dumb, overactive imagination, stop it.”  Yeah, yeah. I *mostly* shook it off, but still sped up the process, got changed, and jumped into bed.

Having heard rave reviews, I was reading, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” that night, but I was pretty tired, so cut the reading session short. (another sidebar – still haven’t been able to pick up that book again – bad connotations).  I got up, clicked off the light, and jumped back into bed. [Here’s where I always debate whether to tell the full story, or the clean version – but I think I’ll go for the full on full story, because a) it’s relevant, and b) this is the way it happened] ANYway, I’m travelling alone, so you know, a girl gets lonely. If I’m going to have the luxury of being in my own private quarters, I might as well take advantage, right? So, yeah, here’s goes nothing and taking care of business, and suddenly, I hear a knock at the door.  “Rap, a tap, tap.” It’s the kind of flimsy door, with a single pane window that rattles in a very particular fashion – you know, the kind you hear, loud and clear, with no doubt about it being a door knocking, especially in the silence of nothingness in the middle of the night.

“Hello??” I call out. No answer. I get up to investigate, and instead of going directly to the door, I peer out the window next to it to see what’s up, and simply see the dog, Patch, sitting quietly and calmly on the mat, looking up at me. “Hmmm…very curious. I know I heard that, but maybe it was just Patch wagging his tale?? Or maybe it was a possum??  Kind of weird that he’s just sitting there like that, and I’m not really sure of the logistics of a possum or tale wagging and that exact door knocking noise, but what else was it when there is clearly no one out there?”  Back to bed, and by the way, abort mission on project cure the loneliness.

I’m laying there trying to get to sleep, but there’s one thing that’s really bothering me. Why are the lights still on in the house?  I mean, Jackie is a doctor, she’s got to get up really early for work, so why would she still be up? Are they leaving the lights on for my benefit? They didn’t do that last week when I was here? Nevermind. But I can’t shake it. What the hell is up in the house? FORGET it, Cynthia. Go to sleep.

“Overactive imagination” starts again, and my worry about the lights is escalating into all kinds of visions. Is there something wrong? Is there something wrong with Sophie? Should I go in and check? I can’t cut this feeling loose and now I’m having flashes of a woman murdered, and really, it’s all very silly and I should just go the F to sleep and stop being such a scaredy-cat.

Phewf. Finally, I forget it for long enough to drift off. I’m just about to go to sleep when suddenly, on the pillow above my head, I feel/hear a hand moving along across my head. “Shhhhhooooooooppppp” over the pillow, slowly from the left to the right. I’m definitely awake, and think, “Okayyyyy, sooooo, eitherrrrr there’s a rat in the bed with me, in which case it would be besiiiiide me right now, orrrrrr there is someone in here.” Not a split second after that thought, I feel this phenomenal weight on my chest, my whole body goes stiff, my arms tighten up at my side, my hands make a fist, and I hear the most disturbing sound of a maniacal man’s voice laughing, “muah, ha ha ha ha.” The sound came from my mouth, but believe me, I was sure I didn’t make it. “Christopher?” was my first instinct.  It was the one year anniversary of my cousin’s death, and I wondered if maybe he was trying to connect with me. But no. I quickly dismissed that justification and realized that if it was him, it wouldn’t have felt so bloody terrible. It felt like there was a man on top of me, holding me down, saying, “Ha, ha, ha, you little bitch…” So unbelievably sickening. I literally had to pull myself up out of bed, slipped on my sandals, grabbed my sweater and ran towards the house.

The door was locked when I got there which was really a shame, considering the proximity of the door to the dark path leading into the woods, but fortunately, Dr. Jackie was on it, and she promptly unlocked it and let me in. “Hey there. C,mon in. I was just up reading…the first night when Steve goes away is always a little weird…” (YEAH, NO SHIT!!) I come inside, make my way over to the kitchen and fumble around to make myself a soothing cup of tea. She starts rambling on about this and that, and as I go through the motions of boiling the water and act like I’m listening, I stop her and say, “You know, I’m sorry, but I’m a little shaken up…I just had the strangest experience.”

“Oh?” She says inquisitively.

“Yeah,” and at the risk of coming off like a total nutjob, I rhyme off the specifics of my encounter.

“I’m so sorry. We’ve never had that happen to anyone in the cottage before,” she apologizes. WTF?????  What is THAT supposed to mean, ‘we’ve never had that happen in the cottage??’ Christ almighty! Is she serious? “Yeah, not that I would ever wish this on anyone else, but in a way, I’m glad this happened to you, because I thought I was crazy. I’ve had the exact same thing happen  to me a number of times minus the sound effects. It only ever happens when Steve’s away…you’re the first person to confirm this for me.” One of the chosen ones! Wow! I’m such a lucky duck.

Awesome. So it’s 1:30 in the morning, in the middle of nowhere, and this woman is about to absolutely confirm my worst fears. I would have been utterly content to brush this one off (how that would have been possible, I’m not sure) but no, she proceeds with corroboration. “We’ve had this place exorcised twice. We thought it was gone, but now that we’re doing renovations, we feel that things are being stirred up again. This used to be a ‘House of Ill Repute’ (a brothel) and there was a woman murdered here. We feel there was the spirits of a father and son hanging around , the father has moved on, but I think the son is still here. Because it only happens when I’m alone, I feel as though it’s a man who truly hates women…”  No kidding.

That would explain the vision of the murdered woman, the nasty apprehension I had while changing in the window, the knocking on the door during ‘me time’, and finally, the feeling that there was a filthy man on top of me, invading my space and  laughing maniacally.  “I can definitely agree with you that whoever it is that’s hanging around, he’s coming from the dark side, that much is guaranteed.”

“I don’t like going to the loo at night,” and she points to the bathroom, located immediately next to where I was standing. “Finn has mentioned that he senses something around here too.” The six year old boy was a genius, literally, but had major behavioural problems, in fact, so did the young girl. I recall her saying to me once, “I don’t know what comes over me! I try to be good, but sometimes I just can’t help it!!” YEAH, KID! CUZ YOUR HOUSE IS HAUNTED! NO WONDER!!  I felt like saying.  Jackie and I took our tea to the couch and she conveyed her struggles with the energy of the house and the property in general. They had done all kinds of work to change things, to clear it, but to no avail.

“That is so awful,” I announce, “To be stuck between two worlds like that. It’s bad enough to live like that in one life, but to carry that over into another. Just move on, just let go. It must be so awful” and with that reflection, I felt that immense weight that I didn’t even realize was still on me, lift. I didn’t mention a word aloud, but Jackie must have sensed it too because she then exclaimed, “Did you feel that?? It feels lighter in here doesn’t it?  I’ve never been able to take pity on it before…maybe that’s what it needed.”

“Anyway, I hope you’ll still consider staying with us…I should get to bed,” and off she went, leaving me to my own devices, at 3 a.m. in a house that I now know for a fact is besieged by the boogeyman. THANKS, LADY!  I sat in the room, next to the dreaded loo, and nearly shat myself with fear. I picked up the phone and called my boyfriend back in Canada, disregarding the inconvenient time difference and talked to him until the sun came up. In the early morning I went to sleep for a few hours in her bedroom while she made breakfast for the kids. I had an episode of sleep paralysis, but other than that, nothing much to speak of. 

That day I had a decision to make. Should I stay or should I go? Against all my better judgment, I opted to stay. I was pretty broke at the time, and because I had agreed pre-poltergeist to take on some extra duties for some extra under the table dosh, I found it hard to say no. To this day, I’m still not sure how or why I made that call, but I did, and not only did I push myself to stick it out, but I forced myself to stay at least one night alone again in the cottage.  I know. Insane. But I wanted to prove to myself I could. “This is my space, and you’re not welcome!” I announced. I wanted to conquer it, and I did, but that was enough. The rest of my 2 week stay was on a mattress on the floor of her bedroom, with ear plugs to boot.

Even though I was doing a lot of writing at the time, I couldn’t even document any of this while I was still there. I had a hunch that someone was potentially lurking over my shoulder. What a crazy time that was. I left the property for a night or two for some more sin in the city, and driving back onto the land, the heavy gloom hanging over the place was palpable. I have a clear memory of turning off the engine of the car, sitting there looking out onto the fields and thinking, “this place is fucked,” and nevertheless, collecting my overnight bag and making my way back to the house. I also remember one day I was working out in the field, pulling up a fence, and when I got to a certain nondescript place in the paddock, I felt sick to my stomach, got so creeped out, called Patch the dog, and scurried off to the house. I just couldn’t be there for whatever reason.  When she questioned me later as to why I hadn’t finished with the fence, I told her that basically it was because I got scared, and really had to bite my tongue and not shout at her with my inner voice, “THIS PLACE IS INSANE.”

Friday the 13th rolled around, and when 2 American girls I had met contacted me and asked me to join them hitchhiking down the coast, I packed my bag and announced I was getting the hell out of dodge. Jackie protested, “But you promised you’d stay until February 14th! I need you!” I replied with something to the effect of, “I think I’ve done pretty well…and sorry, I’m not staying here on Friday, the 13th. Call me crazy, call me superstitious, but I’m done.”

Two years later, I got an email from her. “Hey, how are you doing back in Canada? We think of you often…lots of wwoofers passing through…we still get visits from our nocturnal wanderer…etc etc etc.” 

“I think of you often as well,” I replied with not a word of lie. That was not the kind of place you forget. It really sticks with you. One for the books.