By Daniel Margrain
Towards the end of last summer, I finally achieved my dream of living in the French countryside. To this end, I followed in the foot-steps of my sister Lydia, her partner, Pete, and their young daughter, Milly. Although things haven’t gone quite as smoothly as expected, I haven’t regretted for one second my decision to leave London, the city where I had spent the last thirty-six years of my life.
Over the past five months, I’ve become pretty adept at wall paper stripping, sanding and painting. My sister, Lydia and her partner, Pete, have two acres of land so I’ve been busy with the strimmer. The grass here grows like crazy and everything’s bigger, from the blades of grass to spiders, ants, bats, snakes, lizards and wildlife/flora/fauna in general.
We have chestnut, walnut, apple, pear trees and a plum tree. More about the latter in due course. Much of this produce is staple here. Meat and vegetables are, of course, locally sourced. Lydia and Pete intend to grow their own vegetables when everything is settled.
We’re in the commune of Fursac, Creuse in central France roughly between Toulouse and Paris about four hours train journey from each. The countryside is beautifully idyllic. There are horses and cows in adjoining fields and a border collie that follows us around everywhere.
Huge bats nestle in the crevices of a nearby barn and eagles and herons glide majestically overhead. Claude Chabrol’s, Le Boucher and Claude Berri’s, Manon des sources, are accurate cinematic representations of what rural life is like here. It’s pretty remote but not too much so.
I don’t drive and there are no buses so my bike has been a God-send. The nearest town of any note is La Souterraine about fifteen kilometres away. Our commune consists of five properties all of which, encouragingly, are lived in. We’ve made friends with our French neighbours. The only person we’ve had a problem with is our electrician who happens to be English.
The village of Fursac proper has a two Tabac’s and a Michelin star restaurant/hotel. It’s a great region to cycle, not too hilly with plenty of picturesque communes, lakes and forests dotted throughout the undulating countryside. Every summer the town plays host to a music and arts festival that attracts visitors from all over France.
But it’s not all rosy. The region also has an extremely dark history. On August, seventy years ago in the nearby commune of Chabannes, six Jewish children were rounded up by the Nazi collaborators, the Vichy, where they were deported to Auschwitz as part of a wider sweep of the Jewish community.
These historical events provide the backdrop to some extremely bizarre recent happenings that I will endeavour to explain. My sister, brother-in-law and young niece have all experienced some very strange and unexplained events here. Since my sister moved to the commune she has experienced doors randomly opening and closing, the sudden movement of household objects which have fallen from surfaces and the clear sounds of footsteps.
One might argue that these events could be rationally explained by the fact that the house is old and draughty. But my sister assures me that when these things happened, the air was still and there were no breezes or gusts of wind present.
Events get far stranger. On a clear August afternoon two years ago, after my sister first arrived, my brother-in-law, Pete, was sitting in the garden when suddenly, about twenty metres away, a middle-aged man appeared next to a solitary plum tree. The man, who was standing upright, stared directly at Pete. The figure was solid in form and Pete could clearly identify this persons features and attire.
Pete described the man in question as ‘white of medium height and build’. He was dressed in ‘old fashioned working clothes and wore a cap’. After a few moments, Pete claims the figure ‘dissolved into thin air’. He said it reminded him of the old Star Trek episodes when the characters get teleported from one place to another. Pete hadn’t been drinking alcohol or taken drugs of any kind. He wasn’t feeling tired and was fully conscious when this happened.
None of the scientific explanations outlining the possible reasons why people think they see ghostly apparitions applied in this instance. Pete is the type of person who would ordinarily scoff at any suggestion of the existence of ghosts or paranormal phenomena.
If you were to meet Pete, you would conclude that he would be the last person on earth who would believe in supernatural happenings and in the past has expressed outright cynicism towards anybody who purports to having experienced such happenings.
This makes subsequent events appear all the more strange. Over the months that followed, things went from strange to the outright weird. The first of these events began last February. While sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea, the same male figure – again in solid form – appeared, this time only three metres away from where Pete was sitting.
The male figure, who was dressed in the same working clothes and wore the same cap, raised both arms, bending them at the elbow, pointing both thumbs upwards towards Pete. Visibly shaken, my brother-in-law ran into the living room a few metres away where my sister, Lydia, and my niece, Milly, were watching TV.
Milly started to cry due to upset this weird event caused. After a few minutes, Pete, rather gingerly, returned to the kitchen. The man had disappeared. Again, none of the scientific explanations outlined above applied.
What is particularly strange are the events that occured in the following days. Unbeknown to Lydia and Pete, the former owners of the house, an elderly couple, called round unexpectedly, ostensibly as a courtesy call. Lydia answered the front door and invited the couple in for a chat. Pete was out at the time, food shopping.
The couple asked Lydia if they could look around the house to see what work had been done. Lydia obliged. The couple then inquired what the renovation plans were for the property. The previous owners had taken great pride in the house and at one time the woman’s family had apparently owned a large amount of land in the vicinity. The couple seemed pleased that the property was being looked after and that it’s essential character was being maintained.
Then almost out of the blue, the woman asked Lydia whether she had, ‘experienced the presence of my grandfather who built the house?’ Taken aback, my sister replied that she hadn’t ‘but there is a possibility that my partner has’. With this, the woman became very emotional and tears began to form in her eyes.
The woman explained to my sister that she had seen her grandfather in the house on numerous occasions after his death. She then relayed the following story about her grandfather to my sister:
Her grandfather, she said, had been active in the community and had fought in the trenches during World War One. The former owner reminisced how, many years later, her grandfather would regularly poke fun at the Vichy Nazi’s whenever they passed through the commune.
The woman said that on returning to the house her grandfather had built in Fursac – what is now Lydia’s, family home – he had packed some plum seeds in his bag which he subsequently planted in the garden of the house.
The woman pointed to the spot in the garden where those seeds had developed into the existing plum tree, beside which Pete had seen the male figure dressed in the old fashioned clothing and cap.
Why did the male figure appear in front of Pete at the exact spot in the garden where the previous owners grandfather had planted the plum seeds?
Moreover, why did this male figure put his thumbs up towards Pete in the kitchen as if it was a friendly gesture?
Could it have been that the figure in question was the grandfather of the previous owner and that the gesture was intended as a sign of his gratitude in relation to the restoration work Pete was undertaking on the house?
In relaying this account of events, both my sister, Lydia, and my brother-in-law, Pete, wanted to make clear to me that they knew nothing of the families history prior to Lydia’s meeting with the previous owners.
One of our French neighbours in the village, who we are particularly friendly with, has in his possession an old black and white family photograph that includes the grandfather pictured as a boy. Pete has seen the photograph but is unable to confirm whether the boy in question is the same person he saw in the garden and kitchen.
Although these series of unexplained events are strange, the third major happening is arguably the most bizarre of all, not least because my sisters daughter, Milly, had also witnessed it. Four months had passed since the previous ‘ghostly’ siting. It was now a warm Tuesday evening in mid-June. Dusk had just began to emerge.
During this time of the evening, Lydia usually puts the bins out for the next morning collection as part of the weekly routine of chores. But on this one occasion – much to my sister’s subsequent regret – Pete took it upon himself to put them out. The idea was to show Milly what was involved in wheeling the bins from the barn to the collection point by the roadside outside the house.
As they approached the barn, their attention was immediately drawn to the sky directly above them. What Pete described as a ‘huge, silent and liquid-looking undulating black mass’ appeared at low altitude above them in what was previously a clear sky just as dusk was beginning to set in. The nearby houses in the commune had turned their lights on moments earlier. However, upon the appearance of this strange object in the sky, all the lights in the village momentarily went out simultaneously, including the one solitary street light.
I have since suggested to Pete the possibility that this peculiar experience could of been the result of some kind of weather or atmospheric event. But both he and Milly were ‘one hundred per cent positive’ that what they saw was an actual physical object.
Pete said the object was ‘undulating but solid, rather like a huge Perspex sheet, the mass of which ‘covered the entire commune and the immediate visible sky.’ Milly, who was nine years of age at the time, described the object as ‘like a giant wobbly black sheet that flapped about’.
Moments later, the strange craft disappeared into the distance, beyond the horizon, after which time all the lights of the houses in the commune came back on. Both Pete and Milly then ran nervously, but excitedly, back into the house. They recounted to Lydia what they had witnessed. All this happened, Pete said, ‘within a matter of around twenty seconds.’
I asked Pete if any of the neighbours in the commune had seen anything. He replied that he hadn’t mentioned it to anybody else and that nobody, to his knowledge, had reported the event.