'Uncanny' Two-Part Summer Special: Canadian Horror Story
Danny Robins took fans of his paranormal podcast, 'Uncanny', on a nightmare holiday in Newfoundland, where in 1998 a family were terrorised during their night in a rented holiday home.
In the 30-minute-long podcast, Danny launched a cold case style investigation of the podcast's 16th case, entitled 'Canadian Horror Story'. Danny told listeners, "as ever, I need you to be the Watson to my spooky Sherlock. Listen to the evidence and then I want to know what you think."
In the first of two summer specials, Danny introduced us to Scott, a 38-year-old NHS worker. Scott was 14 at the time of his traumatic experience, which took place on a "dream holiday" with his family to Newfoundland. Scott told Danny, "this all happened back when I was 14 in 1998. It was the first time I've ever been abroad." He continued, "it was me, my brother Callum who was nine, my mum and dad, my aunt, my cousin."
Danny explained, "at one point on the holiday they decided to do a road trip. So Scott's dad borrows a vehicle and they drive along the Atlantic coastline. They head towards Twillingate, an island just off the main island known as the iceberg capital of the world."
Here they manage to find an isolated wooden house to rent for a night. The old windswept house was built against a cliff face, painted green and stood looking out to sea.
Scott recalls, "the thing that we did notice as we first arrived was there was an old, dilapidated wooden shed, I think it was a boat shed. I remember looking over there and sitting in the doorway, was an old man and he was just sitting on a wooden chair of some kind, just sat in the doorway staring at us."
This man, who Scott describes as a "grizzled old sea dog", seemed to vanish by the time the family were in the house a few minutes later and looking back out. What made the experience even more strange is that the landlord of the house, a man named Michael, told them that no one would be in that outbuilding.
Once inside the house, the family already felt a little unsettled. Scott told Danny, "there was this enormous old fashioned radio, which was on the table and had these huge enormous dial knobs on the side of it." Scott's mum turned the radio on, but as she turned the dials a bone-chilling, guttural voice emerged through the static. Scott said, "it was very loud. It made me jump. It's hard to explain this, but it sounded like a distorted human voice, but at the same time, it sounded like no voice I'd ever heard before."
Once the family had stumbled upon this frequency, they didn't seem to be able to stop the relentless voice, eventually Scott turned the radio off at the wall. Scott continued, "at this exact moment there was this loud thud right by the door. The nearest I can equate it to is the sound of someone dropping a heavy bag of flour, and I remember I looked over, my cousin looked over as well, and there was nothing there."
Later in the evening, the family were made to feel even more uneasy when the landlord returned unexpectedly. Scott said, "he popped his head around the door and said 'hello, just checking you're all still doing okay.' There was a pause and he said, 'have you seen the ghost yet?' And we all froze."
Michael immediately realised he'd said the wrong thing and backtracked, claiming the comment about the ghost was merely a joke, but now feeling even more unsettled, the family decide to head to bed. Scott and his brother Callum take the smallest bedroom, where they're forced to share an old fashioned metal-frame single bed.
Recalling his story on the podcast, Scott said, "the only thing I remember there being in the room was a sort of sideboard unit on one side of the bed, and it had this huge ornate mirror and I vividly remember that I really just knew that I never wanted to look into that mirror."
When Danny asked why Scott didn't want to look into the mirror, he said, "I just had a sort of horrible feeling that I would look in there and see something standing there, staring."
Things really started to escalate for Scott when he woke up in the middle of the night. His brother was still asleep, but Scott could hear footsteps coming from outside his room, "I heard footsteps," he said, "very firm heavy footsteps walking down the corridor outside our room." Scott remembers hearing these footsteps walking back and forth along the corridor, strange behaviour the convinced him it wasn't one of the family.
Scott says that the footsteps suddenly stopped, but that wasn't the end of his ordeal. He told Danny, "I appreciate this sounds a little bit far fetched, at this point the bed that we're sleeping and began to vibrate." The shaking bed terrified Scott, but Callum was undisturbed and remained asleep.
Scott said, "I remember pulling the duvet over my ears and just willing this to stop. It did stop. At that point, I felt the duvet being pulled off me. So I sort of half turn. Then Callum flies out of bed."
Danny is of course shocked by this unbelievable revelation that Scott's brother flew out of the bed. Scott explained, "he sort of sailed through the air right over me. My memory of it is that he is closer to the ceiling than he is to the bed. It felt like someone had picked him up and tossed him."
Scott continued with his story, "I still did not want to look in that mirror. Like if I looked at that now I would see something, presumably whatever had lobbed him across the room." But Scott did look, "I could make out the image of some sort of like dark shape. Something dark, standing there in the room on the other side of the bed."
Then Scott heard the footsteps again, but this time they stopped at the bedroom door. The door opened and Scott felt relieved thinking it must have been a family member coming to his aid, but it wasn't. After about a minute the door closed again and the sound of footsteps continued off down the corridor and vanished.
What The Experts Think
Danny is joined by Evelyn Hollow, a parapsychologist who is also currently appearing in the Discovery+ series, 'Spooked Scotland'. Evelyn is joined by writer and former editor of the sceptic magazine, Deborah Hyde.
Evelyn started by saying that "in terms of weirdness factor, this case has really got it all. Even just speaking to the B&B owner and things like that, I'm instantly uncomfortable. The setting, the descriptions and all the little things that seem off."
Deborah is less convinced and thinks that the voices heard through the radio that seemed to precede the activity might be explained as an audible form of pareidolia. She told Danny, "people do tend to see patterns in things. It's called apophenia. It's the tendency to perceive a specific pattern in a random or ambiguous stimulus."
She continued, "there's a whole area of parapsychology devoted to it called EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomena. Parapsychological investigators often take sound recording equipment into environments, and then they play back the recordings later. The idea is that something is trying to come from a different dimension and communicate with you, but experimentally we've seen it is so dependent on the subjective interpretation of the listener. We've all seen faces in clouds, it's the aural equivalent of that."
As for the footsteps that Scott heard, Deborah says that these are very common in reports of hauntings, but she adds, "they're also an incredibly common thing associated with sleep paralysis."
Sleep paralysis often involves sufferers waking in the night to find they are frozen in their beds. The experience often includes hallucinations - commonly a dark shadowy figure, and hearing loud noises. To make things worse, sufferers feel totally awake throughout the entire episode.
Deborah adds, "if you wake up in a paralysed body, it's as though there is a dream in your waking environment and if you can think of some of the horrific things you've seen in a dreams, it is truly, truly terrifying. And if you didn't believe in ghosts before you had the experience, you certainly would by the time you'd finished."
But does sleep paralysis explain the shaking bed? Evelyn doesn't think so, "I've suffered with sleep paralysis since I was a child and I have never had the bed shaking. The bed shaking fits the pattern of escalation that we're looking at here."
Deborah also thinks that sleep paralysis or the unsettling events of the day affecting Scott's sleep cycle could be why he thought he experienced his brother flying from the bed. As for the dark shape in the mirror, Deborah says, "we're aware of things that could potentially be dangerous to us, and we interpret them in the forms that they can be dangerous to us." So the shape Scott saw could have been something like a pile of clothes or a dressing gown hanging on the back of a door, an experience we will all be familiar with.
What Higgypop Thinks
I tend to side with Deborah on this one, especially in terms of the voices heard through the radio. Having heard thousands of examples of EVPs, the majority are indistinct and open to interpretation. Those which do sound clear are often lacking in context and are not direct or intelligent responses to the questions being asked. Although I admit, there are examples and clear and contextual EVPs which are interesting.
In Scott's story he doesn't mention running from the room in terror as you might expect. Neither does he tell us how his brother got back in the bed or what happened next. Surely you'd have expected Callum to wake up if he was thrown across the room. All this suggests that Scott may have been in a dream-like state. The reason he doesn't run or even remember how the events ended is because he probably just drifted back to sleep and the experience fizzled out. If the events were real, you'd be unlikely to just fall back to sleep, you'd probably run from the house and sit on the front porch until sunrise.
If Scott's brother had really been thrown across the room as violently as Scott remembers, you'd expect him to have injuries or bruises, but Scott doesn't mention this. Perhaps we will hear more about this in the second part of the summer special next week.
Evelyn is right that a shaking bed isn't commonly reported with sleep paralysis, but mechanical sounds are common in sleep paralysis and are something I've experienced. Mechanical sounds can often be rhythmic and any sound or vibration, especially a rhythmic one, could be described as a vibration. It doesn't seem too much of a leap to conclude that someone might interpret a rhythmical mechanical sound as a vibration while in a state of semi-consciousness.
Scott's experiences were dramatic, but it's not the full story, the next day he learned that his parents had also had a disturbed night. Danny told listeners, "there is so much more to come in this case, because next time on 'Uncanny', get ready to meet Scott's dad, Brian, as we find out what happened in the room next door."
Danny left listeners with the tease, "if you think Scott and Callum's experiences are scary, wait till you hear what happened to his parents."
The first part of the 'Uncanny' Summer Special is available now on BBC Sounds and continues on June 13 when the second part will drop at 9pm. You can subscribe now on BBC Sounds and the new episode will automatically drop into your feed.
Danny and his paranormal experts who feature in the episode, Evelyn and Deborah, will be taking part in a live tweet-along during the premiere of the episode. So, press play at exactly 9pm and join the conversation on Twitter. The tweet-along will be followed by a Twitter Spaces discussion about the case immediately afterwards, giving you the chance to ask any burning questions you have about the case.
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