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Monday, 13 April 2015

It Came Out of the Basement

     Up to a couple of months ago, I always regarded imaginary childhood friends in the same light as pickpockets: I'd heard about them, but never had any direct or indirect experience of them. I never had an imaginary friend as a child. None of my friends had, that I know of. I never met any adult who told me he had had one as a child, or that his children had one. Indeed, the only references to imaginary friends I had ever read were in fiction. Then, I came across the Fortean Times publication,  It Happened to Me!, volume 3, in which ordinary people told of their extraordinary experiences. (I reviewed volume 2 previously.) Here, several people described their own, or their children's imaginary friends. Significantly, they all recognized them as imaginary, and invisible. (One did say that she saw her "friend" briefly, but I suspect that was with the mind's eye.) Then, squirreled in among them, on page 36, was a story of something quite different, and quite weird.
     Englishman, John Burke was the middle of three children. As he explained, when he was aged four, they lived in a five story building with a basement entered by a trapdoor. He and his little sister were forbidden to enter it because its steps were considered unsafe but, in any case, the trapdoor was too heavy for them to open. However, one day he was sitting on the stairs about six feet from the entrance to the basement when he saw the trapdoor begin to open. Just then, he became paralysed. Unable to speak or move, he watched as, out of the basement, climbed an elflike creature as tall as he was, dressed in green and brown, and wearing a pointed hat.
     The creature sat down beside him and spoke in a "strange clicking and whistling language" which he could not understand. Somehow, however, he gained the impression that its name was Frick Frick. Finally, the creature returned to the basement and, as soon as the trapdoor was shut, the paralysis left him, and he was able to go about his normal life.
     Child specialists will tell you that few people remember anything earlier than their third birthday, and I think most of us possess only fragmentary memories of the time before we went to school, which was the first major change in our lives. If this were a one-off, I would consider it a product of a little boy's imagination, probably inaccurately remembered as an adult. However, it turns out the experience was repeated many times over the next three or four years - always in the same place, with the same paralysis, and Frick Frick always doing nothing but talk in his strange language, occasionally tapping him on the arm. Master Burke was no longer afraid. The end came when he was eight years old, and the family moved to a new residence, leaving Frick Frick behind.
In the years since then [he added], I have spoken about Frick Frick to both my brother and sister. Neither of them remember being visited by Frick Frick, but my brother, who is two years older than me, remembers often seeing me sitting on the stairs by the trap door just staring into the distance as though in a trance.
      I wonder if his brother remembered the trap door being open during these "trance" phases.
      I am going to invoke Occam's razor and assume that this was a psychological, rather than a paranormal phenomenon. But I would be more comfortable is it had happened in the bedroom. Paralysis is a feature of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when most dreams - at least most remembered dreams - occur, and no doubt prevents the sleeper from acting out the dream. However, strange things, such as night terrors, and hypnagogic or hypnopompic visions, appear when the sleep phase gets out of synch with the consciousness phase. In the same publication, a woman described waking up paralysed and seeing a fly as big as her hand circling around. Her alarm turned to terror when she realised it was about to land on her face. Suddenly, her rational mind shouted: "Snap out of it! You're just having a lucid dream", and immediately the spell was broken. Did the little boy somehow have a waking dream on the stairs near the trapdoor and if so, how, why, and with what predisposing conditions? And did that vivid experience somehow cause him to lapse into the same state at other times when he was in the same place? It is all very weird.
     Of course, when adults see the same sort of thing during their normal state of awareness, they call it an elf.


  1. It's the Djinn Malcolm. There was a time when everybody knew about them, but modern science has "explained" them away.

  2. There is a story in a book I read about an exorcist that seemed disturbingly close to this to me.