“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”
– Casares, The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Note: I apologize for the lengthy delay in updates recently. Without giving too much away, the last few days in Victoria and the subsequent trip to Seattle have been utterly mindblowing. I’m beginning to feel the toll of my constant activity yet the more I postpone my writing, the more I would need to write to catch up to my current ongoings at present. Godspeed.
Edit: Again, if I misquote you, do not stab me. I am, in fact, an extraterrestrial alien.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the rain continues its onslaught, leaving gray clouds hanging ominously over the Garden City. Like Vancouver, most of the population react in a similar fashion whenever the rain appears; the streets become desolate, people disappearing beneath what miniscule cover they could find. I spend most of my time researching the area, carefully planning out which events to attend and what sights to see.
Amongst the announcements made prior at the munch, I find my way into one of the public events, namely a rope night. Along the way I encounter another familiar face from the mainland and am pleasantly surprised by his presence here at the island. The host and hostess of the event reside in a finely decorated household, periodically fueling wood into the fireplace. In comparison to Vancouver’s bi-weekly rope nights, the attendance is small yet the company is remarkably welcoming.
For a time, I sit back and observe the methodical procedures of the riggers and their rope bottoms and quite frankly I was rather impressed. Most of the attendees are skilled in their knots and bindings which I admit kept me from participating. After all I have yet to expand or practice my skills since my fateful departure – a risk that I refuse to take until further notice.
As the evening progresses, I eventually leave the rope bunnies to their own devises, having made plans prior for the duration of the night. I had previously attempted to track down and make introductions with one of Victoria’s many historians and occultists but due to pressing matters, this arrangement had been cancelled abruptly. Disappointed by this development, I return to my lodgings and spend the rest of the evening making repeated visits to the designated smoking area, seeking other options to pursue.
I digress now to provide a bit of background information regarding the Garden City (again, I base this off what I’d learned from locals and other sources). Victoria has a reputation amongst paranormal enthusiasts and believers as one of the most haunted cities in the entire province of British Columbia. It is not unheard of that in some of the older buildings, namely in the areas of the Downtown district, that travelers have been known to flee from their rooms at odd hours in the night.
Some of the local homeless population also report that there are certain areas that they themselves avoid; not for the sake of safety or security, but rather to avoid the chance encounter with such entities in the night. Bastion Square, where I met Paul only days prior, is widely known as a former execution ground and jailhouse. The Maritime Museum has a restored courthouse as one of its attractions, rumored to be haunted by none other than Sir Matthew Begbie, known as ‘The Hanging Judge’.
Though I myself am a self-proclaimed skeptic, there remains to an extent certain belief to superstition, if only due to my cultural upbringing. The sight of shrines and incense holders in restaurants had always been a common thing during my early childhood. It is not uncommon even in modern Hong Kong for businessmen to old traditions, paying homage and due respect for good luck and fortune. After one or two personal encounters in the past, I have since taken everything with a grain of salt.
On Friday evening, the weather improves and following the advice of the tourist center, I find myself waiting outside for the tour guide to arrive. A heavy shower that afternoon had resulted in a large dispersal of commuters, most of the shops closing earlier than intended. My early arrival had kept me pacing and wondering if the event had been cancelled. Eventually I am joined by several other sightseers and finally the guide himself.
“Welcome to the Ghost Walk.” He says as part of his introduction. “Our tour has been going on for the past eleven years, all of our stories are gathered from people not unlike yourselves, each who have encountered or experienced the strange and paranormal.”
“What most people don’t know is that Victoria is one of the most haunted cities in the entire province.” He emphasizes the words ‘most haunted’ with a lifted tone of voice. “There have been countless murders, suicides and deaths since the city was first founded. Somewhere out there, perhaps where you sleep, may be home to such an event.”
The Ghost Walk proves to be a venture in story-telling and amidst periodic stops, allowing a view across the pay, our guide compels us his captivated audience with stories of old. The Gatsby Mansion, where the numerous deaths of its founding family has led to stories of phantom disembodied heads haunting room #5; the Bay Hotel, where the site of the grisly murder of Agnes Bing reawakened a scare proclaiming the return of Jack the Ripper; the old Immigration Building, where the ghost of a young Emily Carr reportedly stands watching the windows, having once been told of a fictitious tidal wave that kept her praying its return, if only to avoid the boredom of afternoon tea.
We stop briefly at Market Square, where the guide prompts us with a tale of two lovers that descended into a story of domestic abuse that ends in murder. As he recounts the story, about how a young prostitute and her pianist lover began to argue with increasing violence, I cannot help but notice that some couples cling to one another. These are fears and concerns that occupy the minds of anybody in a relationship, the perpetual risk of making a mistake that pushes their partners too far – not unlike the similar worries of people in the scene.
The tour ended in Chinatown, before the Gate of Harmonious Interest, where our guide finishes his tale with the story of Chung. As one of many Chinese immigrants during the gold rush, the young man had fallen hopeless in love with a beautiful sing-song girl and prostitute. Driven by his infatuation, he devised a plan to elope with her and tried to prompt her into murdering her brothel owner. Instead she laughed at him, humiliating him before the entirety of gathered spectators, and scorned him in public. The result was murder in the most horrific fashion – Chung decapitated in the girl in broad daylight and, soaked in her blood, fled down Fan Tan alley from pursuers and pushed his way into a nearby celebration. He was eventually caught, though he committed suicide, and buried without any ceremonial offerings. Since then his spirit is said to haunt the place.
Throughout most of the stories told that evening there is a common theme consisting of broken hearts, lost lovers, and misguided intentions. It occurs to me that most of the ghosts described in these hauntings are mostly victims of the past, like many others before them that have experienced the same trials and tribulations. At the end of the tour I left with a sense of pity for the old residents of Victoria, curious about the experiences they had that led them to those final tragic moments. Likewise I wind up glancing over my shoulder as I passed through the city lights, clutching my walking cane whenever I did.
I personally have a theory about ghosts that is both scientific and spiritual in hypothesis. Ghosts are entities that are conjured through the strong eminence of energy, positive and negative, left in certain areas and places. For a person to experience great fluctuations in happiness or despair, notably at the time of death, they leave behind a residue in time and space. What then occurs is a stasis, provided that time is linear, and a loop wherein these events repeat themselves indefinitely; therefore attempting to alter these events or images, results in direct invitation or intervention on what cannot be controlled. I encourage that people be respectful should they encounter these entities if only for posterity’s sake. Why do you think objects start flying whenever those paranormal investigators on TV begin insulting and challenging things openly?
“Thank you for attending the Ghost Walk,” our guide says in closing, amidst cheerful applause. “I bid you goodnight and a good night’s sleep when you go back to your hotels tonight.”
Yeah right, buddy.
Next Update: Wherein yours truly attends Domlander, a kinky talent show unlike any other; the last day in Victoria and mischievous antics before legislation; reflections, thank yous and preparation for Washington state.