Unexplained spooky feelings
July 13, 2018 11:19 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever had a “creepy” feeling in a place for no reason and later found out why? Not necessarily a supernatural explanation, it could be eg that later you noticed the floorboards were sloping so no wonder you felt a bit uncertain walking about.

My little boy (5) loves going for walks in the dark. Last night my husband and I took him to the local wood with a few torches and glow sticks and went for a little explore. We’ve done this a few times; it’s an area I know extremely well (grew up here, I feel safe there and wouldn’t get lost) plus we only ever go a little way into the wood, mess about a bit then come back out. It’s always felt fine but last night I don’t know why but we all felt creeped out. We turned back because little boy didn’t like it but we all felt the same! It was weird and I was trying to work out what was different or why we all felt like that. It was a very quiet night, perhaps it was as simple as that. Anyway you weren’t there so it would be hard for you to answer exactly but I’d be interested to hear about any similar experiences that were later explained!
posted by KateViolet to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I have experienced that, in a wooded area. Just sitting and doing nothing, but then this sort of overwhelming feeling of the other. And that I needed to get out of there, now.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:23 PM on July 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have a friend who is a wildlife biologist who got this very uneasy feeling when out in the field and later learned that a mountain lion had been seen repeatedly in the area very recently. She's very sure she was being stalked by the cat and some very primitive intuition kicked in. She left the area as soon as she felt it because it was so unusual and she's otherwise completely comfortable doing fieldwork.
posted by quince at 11:28 PM on July 13, 2018 [23 favorites]

Meteorological changes can cause stuff like extreme and sudden unease in both animals and humans, similar to the way that animals act super weird right before earthquakes and tornadoes. Was there any storming later on that night, or even just a lot of rain?
posted by poffin boffin at 11:30 PM on July 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

I live on the continent with the greatest number of venomous snakes. If the thought 'snake' ever comes to mind while walking, I stop immediately and take stock of my surroundings. There has been a snake nearby enough times to confirm that my reptile-brain is recognising nearby reptiles.
posted by Thella at 11:37 PM on July 13, 2018 [29 favorites]

Yeah, I used to get this at my grad school, which had a smattering of eucalyptus groves all over its campus. There were one or two specific areas that even during broad daylight triggered a very strong sensation of, "Unsafe. Leave. Now." I actually ran away from one specific grove because the feeling overwhelmed me. Later I learned a couple of women had been abducted/assaulted in those trees prior to when (and unfortunately since) I attended school there. I didn't know until after I graduated.

Our lizard brains kick in sometimes. I really appreciate it when they do.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:39 PM on July 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

Last night was the eclipse and astrologically that brings “intense” energy. Lots of people cast spells or just meditate during New Moons. It is also much darker than usual because no moon is visible. That could certainly add to a spooky feeling. Anyway it’s good that you are teaching your son to trust his intuition. It’s always okay to leave a place if your gut says “this isn’t right.” I have had many encounters that felt eerie. Usually a mix of atmosphere, ritual, meditation, and/or sometimes inebriation will enhance it.
posted by shalom at 11:43 PM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:43 PM on July 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

Um, do you really want to know? So. My family and I were holidaying at a very popular hotel in Fiji a few years ago. It was wonderful. My son did kids club, my two year old daughter enjoyed time with a Fijian nanny for a few hours on the beach while my husband and I had a break. Anyway, on our second to last day while the kids were doing this, the two of us decided to take a walk along the very famous beach near the resort.

We left the hotel perimeter and kept walking up a dirt track where there were no buildings, just scrub. The brush got denser. I had a long skirt and it kept catching and started to get annoying instead of romantic. We walked past an abandoned car with a personalised number plate, which we both commented on. Eventually my husband got weirded out and said he was getting a creepy feeling and wanted to go back, so we did. We said we’d try again the next day, but things got busy and then we had to go home.

Two weeks pass. I’m lying in bed in the morning passing a newspaper between us when I read a tiny paragraph down the bottom about dismembered body parts washing up on a famous Fijian beach. The beach we were at. Guests at the hotel came across a dismembered head first, then later, feet, then hands, at the same beach my daughter played on with the nanny.

The newspaper article explained that they belonged to a Russian couple who had gone missing the day that we had gone walking on the beach. Their car with the personalised number plate had been dumped in scrub the same day and discovered a fortnight later. Back then the media was reporting it was the result of a land deal gone wrong but I don’t know if that’s what they’re still saying. (All of this is online, apparently it’s very rare for Fiji to have a murder so this was a big deal.)

The idea that this may very well have been carried out while we were actually walking on that day there freaked both of us out so much. So, the next time you get a weird feeling? Yeah, don’t ignore it.
posted by Jubey at 11:49 PM on July 13, 2018 [44 favorites]

I only have a pop science reader's POV, but this study came to mind: "Swiss Neuroscientists Induce Spooky ‘Feeling of a Presence’ in Healthy Volunteers" -- "the few scientists who have taken an interest in the [feeling of a presence] phenomenon have tended to theorize that it represents the conscious sense of a person’s own body, misidentified as an 'other' rather than the 'self.'"

Less relevant studies where people try to guess if other people present are staring yield observations like "When in doubt, the human brain is more likely to tell its owner that they're under the gaze of another person" and "It turns out that we're hard-wired to believe that others are staring at us, especially when we're uncertain," and it's pretty easy to imagine something like that kicking in whenever there's a feeling of a presence.

My supposition is that, by analogy with the fact that your brain has to map agency over your own body and will keep mapping agency when it shouldn't, it's also busily trying to posit and track the agency of other entities nearby and just makes assumptions and mistakes sometimes. Probably a lot of different kinds of cues can trigger it.
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:50 PM on July 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've had a number of 'intuitions' across my life and more than one have kept me alive - we are much more than the sum of our parts and I'm certain there's a part of me that is constantly looking ahead and behind.

Once I was cycling in the US on a very narrow road, in dense forest so sound was really muffled, when a clear-as-day voice said "GET OFF THE ROAD NOW!" So I did and 20 seconds later a semi roared thru. Learn to trust your small voice.
posted by unearthed at 11:51 PM on July 13, 2018 [17 favorites]

I have. I was camping on the Northern California coast with a girlfriend on New Year’s Eve in the late 90s. We were both experienced backpackers and had followed a little deer trail to a clearing above a lagoon about a quarter mile from our car. Cold, overcast night. I wasn’t super familiar with the area but we were near enough to the beach that we could hear the waves. We set up camp, ate dinner and were sitting across the fire from each other in the dark when I was suddenly overwhelmed with fear — almost terror. Nothing had changed around us, but I felt like I had been punched in the chest with an ice pick. I looked at her and realized she was feeling something similar. We almost simultaneously said “We need to get out of here NOW.” We threw our stuff together and bolted for the car. To this day we have no idea why it happened. Was something/someone in the dark watching us? I’ve backpacked hundreds of miles in the ensuing years and never experienced anything like it again.
posted by not_the_water at 12:03 AM on July 14, 2018 [13 favorites]

One time me and my mom were walking on a path near Sea Ranch in NorCal around 5 years or even more ago. We had a weird feeling for a few yards and the found what looked like some garbage bags buried near the library. It was New Years. I wanted to call the cops- mom didnt. We didnt. We never found out. Weird feelings... usually mean something.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 12:25 AM on July 14, 2018

For sure. My one most connected to fame is that I hung out with some friends of my then boyfriend. We were messing around in their backyard and every time I went to one side of it I felt like I was suffocating. We went for a walk before heading out and on the same side of their house, two houses down, I suddenly felt almost like I couldn’t take another step, like there was a wall there. I actually went home to get my asthma meds even though it wasn’t asthma.

Turned out that was Paul Bernardo’s childhood home. I actually live in the neighbourhood now and it gives me the creeps but since I know it, I figure it doesn’t count.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:21 AM on July 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

It was a very quiet night, perhaps it was as simple as that.

Quiet, especially extremely unusual quiet, can be a sign that there's a predator around that animals who normally make noise have spotted. We're primates, one of our great skills is reading the room - we notice what other animals are doing, interpret it and let that inform our decisions. There's lots of primates that make friends with other mammals, and let them act as guards.

So you've been reading the room, at the back of your brain, and you've heard a lack of small furry critters and insects and whatnot, and your primal brain has read that as "predator is near". There's a good chance your primal brain was right, depending on where you were. Even a large pet dog that's jumped a fence would get the small critters of your area to stay quiet and still. Humans exhibiting "stalking" behaviour would do it too, in areas where people often go. The other creatures can tell the difference between a large animal that is hunting and one that is not.

Walking with a small child is only going to amplify that, as your primal brain looks to keep your offspring safe. There's a lot of stories in this thread of "me and my partner", and again, you're keeping people valuable to you safe.

So you probably saved yourself some grief going home, one way or another.
posted by Jilder at 5:42 AM on July 14, 2018 [40 favorites]

I've had a similar experience with mountain lions. I used to work a job with perimeter security checks that were partially outdoors bordering the redwood forest, where we frequently found tracks, scat, and had sightings. A creepy feeling told me and my partner not to go on the part of the round that went behind a building that directly butted up to an unlit part of forest-- later that night we saw eyeshine briefly when we pointed our flashlights in a connected part of the forest, and the next morning, there were a LOT of tracks plus signs of a small struggle behind that building.

Anyway, I actually came in here to say that it turns out some ghost experiences might be carbon monoxide poisoning.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:13 AM on July 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

You might be interested in the Third Man effect.
posted by the thought-fox at 8:08 AM on July 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

There is a recent unsolved murder at a local campground I'll get to below, but in the meantime...

Nthing mountain lion or similar predatory animal.

In February of 2016 my son and I went camping at Malibu Creek Campground. I kept fixating on this one corner of the campground that has some kind of construction area. I would muse maybe somebody with bad intentions has access to that area through the campground, and I spent a fair amount of time being vigilant towards that direction.

Sadly, a few weeks ago a father was murdered in his tent in the same campground by a mysterious assailant. Since then, about 10 unsolved shootings (some injuries, some not) over the last 3 years were collated by news media in the same park/campground from social media + confirmed by police reports.
posted by jbenben at 8:10 AM on July 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've spent a fair amount of time rambling and camping in England and Wales, and find the English countryside in particular often disquieting and eerie. This magnificent article offers some potential explanations: basically, the world is fucked and that translates to how we feel about environments. (Also there have been a lot of battles and bloodshed kind of everywhere in England.) I'm far from the only one to find the eerie in the English countryside.

(I don't get the feeling in Wales, really, although the first night I wild-camped in Wales I was suddenly scared as night fell. I assume that was my lizard brain telling me to GET INSIDE WHERE SAFE, despite the fact that I was in a field of sheep and could literally see a motorway.)
posted by kalimac at 8:15 AM on July 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Gavin de Becker discusses this is The Gift of Fear if you want to read more on it. Basically, you are picking up on something that isn't right or normal and your brain is telling you to act on it before you can consciously identify what is wrong. Usually you don't want to stick around to figure out what's setting this off.
posted by Polychrome at 8:15 AM on July 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

Reading this thread honestly gave me the creeps. Sitting here with a knot in my stomach. :(
posted by vivzan at 9:43 AM on July 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

You know how very occasionally, you will narrowly miss a collision with another car, and it feels like you reacted before you even consciously noticed the other car? I’ve read that’s because you actually do notice it (say, in your peripheral vision) and your instinctual responses kick in to protect you before your conscious mind has time to absorb the information and develop a plan (the book Traffic has a great explanation of this).

I think something similar is happening sometimes when you get that creepy feeling. Maybe your body notices that there’s a slightly off smell, or hears a very faint noise. And your survival instincts kick in without your conscious mind even being aware of a (past or present) threat.
posted by lunasol at 9:59 AM on July 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I’ve read numerous accounts of women who were attacked and later said they’d ignored a little voice that told them to avoid an area or a person. Something like that happened to me, but I don’t want to give details here.
posted by FencingGal at 10:19 AM on July 14, 2018

Sometimes the unsettling feeling is related to something internal, and I can connect the dots with a commitment or action that needs to be changed. Relational unrest can feel very physical. I also deal with a little anxiety, and these kinds of feelings may be simply overactive imagination deciding it's time to freak out. Usually there's some cause, like camping alone or being in a new place, which I can talk myself through. I have to rely even more on reading-the-room in these cases. I've learned to tell the anxiety from intuition.

That said, I was often afraid to sleep in my bedroom as a kid. I vastly preferred to sleep in the hallway where there were no windows; the hallway was a nexus of the home, though which everyone had to pass to go anywhere. With my upbringing, we chalked it up to demonic spirits.

As an adult, my parents reminded me I was the only family member with a bedroom on the ground level; the room was on a corner and had windows on two walls. We lived in a neighborhood where it was actually possible-to-likely that people would be roaming around with bad intent (or at least that was the perception of our family). My guess is this was a survival mechanism against real or perceived danger and also a sense of familial isolation; I would have latched on to spirits as the main way my parents would give me caring attention, validate the feelings, and let me get out of the bedroom. This might be, again, why I sometimes have the strong internal-desire/external-feeling linkage described above. I learned a somatic process to get my needs met.
posted by ramenopres at 10:25 AM on July 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

My Aunt had one room of her house that gave her the creeps so much they ended up selling the house, she put it down to the fact it was an old house & someone must have died in that room. New owners found a gas pipe under the concrete in that room was leaking & gas was leaking in trace amounts into the room, probably for years.
posted by wwax at 10:44 AM on July 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

I just want to confirm that your subconscious mind is processing A LOT of data you are not consciously aware of.

I believe this accounts for much of what passes for "intuition" or psychic ability. In my campground example, I keep wondering what looked or seemed "off" in the direction of the construction area that I just couldn't put my finger on.
posted by jbenben at 10:54 AM on July 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Came here to mention infrasound but ereshkigal45 beat me to it!

There has been some research done, most notably by Vic Tandy, that found that there is a certain range of sub-audible frequencies around 19Hz that can provoke feelings of fear and unease in humans. In his case, he was in his lab when he started to feel distinctly "not alone" and even believed he saw something like a spirit.

He later was able to determine that a newly installed extractor fan in the lab was emitting infrasound and was the likely culprit behind his "ghost sighting".
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:46 PM on July 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

Infrasound was also The Secret of [spoiler for 50 year old juvenile novel]!
posted by moonmilk at 6:06 PM on July 14, 2018

In reading these stories, I now remember feeling off about the basement of a house I rented for a year. The upstairs was just fine, but the unfinished basement held some sort of terror for me. Unfortunate, since that's where the washer and dryer were located, and since that was where I had put the cats' litter boxes. Poor cats.

I was no stranger to unfinished basements, and it should have been a cool space for me to use, but I noped out of it as much as possible. I finally made myself thoroughly explore all three rooms, and I found nothing unusual. But that didn't change how I felt about going down there. Very strange.
posted by bryon at 9:02 PM on July 14, 2018

Best answer: My father was a residential realtor in a small town north of Boston. He was skeptical of ghosts, witches, Lovecrafty weirdness, all sorts of New England phantasmagoria. And he raised me to be the same way, even though I thought spookiness seemed like a fun vibe. But many times I slept in friends' creaky houses that had been around during the colonial era, and many times I walked in supposedly haunted woods. My childhood dog's favorite play-spot was near an abandoned pauper's cemetery.

Following the recession of the '80s, the real estate market picked up for my dad. He found himself with too many high-maintenance properties to care for, most of them of historical character. (Read: old as nails). The spring I turned 14, I agreed to help him to do post-winter maintenance on them. This meant: picking up sticks in the yard, pulling invasive weeds, and mowing the lawn as soon as it started growing,

I was too young to drive and cell phones weren't yet invented, so dad'd drop me off at each of the houses and agree to come back in two to three hours. I'd bring a book and a Sony Walkman and I'd work until complete, then sit and wait for my pickup. (And ice cream, and usually five bucks). Since it was still early in the spring, it didn't get too hot.

One Saturday around late April, he dropped me off at a bright red Cape Cod colonial in deep woods. Its roofbeam was a little swaybacked with age, but it was in mostly good condition. Dad was in a rush, and left me at the end of driveway so I didn't see (until I lugged the mower up the driveway) that there was – in addition to the red house – a low, stony outbuilding with a huge surrounding yard. The buds were just showing up on the trees, and they'd made the woods just thick enough that I couldn't see it from the road.

It was after I mowed the area around the house that I got the heebie jeebies. I felt very cold, and very alone, and very young. But I ignored it, walked toward the outbuilding, turned up my Walkman (lol early '90s), and mowed the first strip near the outbuilding. It was slow going, because the ground was still soft and muddy. And then ... I stopped listening to the cassette, because it abruptly unspooled. Magnetic tape everywhere. I shut off the lawnmower to try to fix the tape. It surprised me how airless the atmosphere had became. That whole 'quiet, too quiet' cliché? Yeah, that. No birds, no insects, no distant dogs barking. It was, suddenly, like the deepest part of winter. I heard something behind me. And then came something like (but not exactly) a change in atmospheric pressure.

I adjusted my head, wondering if my ears had popped. I noticed that the atmosphere thickened, observably, when I tilted my head toward the stone structure behind the red colonial. That was when I got spooked.

And this is what the change felt like:

Whenever I turned toward the building, I'd feel my senses narrow. Almost like I was about to black out. Pressure in my head, on the back of my eyes, sound like underwater. Whatever the opposite of an out-of-body experience is, I felt it then, too: an extreme self-awareness. I had – almost – tunnel vision. And I was aware of another body. Or two. Or a lot of them. I was aware of a crowd. Even though I was alone, I felt the presence of a big group.

I was afraid to face the stone outbuilding, so I turned my back on it, and the sensation went away.

How dumb, I thought. Probably allergies to pollen or something. Clogged sinuses. There's nothing back there. I turned the lawnmower back on and – just because I was a dumb kid – I turned to look at the low stone building again.

Pressure, tunnel vision, paranoia, roaring silence, awareness of an invisible crowd, etc. I turned off the lawnmower and BOLTED for the road where my father would pick me up. I sat in new grass by the street for the better part of two hours waiting for him. I was so worried he'd be mad. When he picked me up, I sheepishly asked him to go back and get the lawnmower. In my defense, I told him the story.

And ... dad drove off without the lawnmower. Just floored it. We were about two miles away when he told me that the stone outbuilding had been the town's receiving vault from the mid 18th - early 20th century. I had to ask him what a receiving vault was. "Because of groundfrost," he said," the people who used to live here couldn't bury bodies in the winter, and the receiving vault was where the corpses were stored. "In the spring they'd take them out and bury them properly."

Then he said:

"On days like today."
posted by mr. remy at 9:18 PM on July 14, 2018 [77 favorites]

Two years ago, my cat decided to go walkabout, so I was getting out of bed every few hours, going outside and walking the perimeter of our one acre property, calling her. We live in a rural area, woods on two sides, and visible neighbors. It was a mild summer night, crickets, peepers and assorted nighttime sounds. Several of our other cats were walking happily with me, so cool to have the human outside at night! Around my third time getting out of bed, I was on the second circuit around the yard when I realized the cats were not with me. They were huddled at the back door, wide eyes. And then it hit me. It was quiet. Like, REALLY quiet. I was near the front edge of our property, close to the road. We have a house sized juniper bush, so I couldn't see the road. At that moment, I hear what sounds like a pop can drop onto the road, and roll down the slope. Just that, the metallic sound on the rough road. I walked backward FAST to the house, shut the cats in the garage, and get myself into the house, pronto! I avoided looking out the windows, and did not wake my partner. Just shuddered for a long time.

Missing cat was fine, waiting at the door in the morning. I walked the road, checking the ditches on both sides. No can, nothing metallic that could have made the sound that I heard.

I still get the willies thinking about this.
posted by LaBellaStella at 6:43 AM on July 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Dang! mr. remy, please write more ghost stories. This was beautifully told.
posted by Scram at 1:26 PM on July 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

mr. remy, how far away were you from either building when you experienced these sensations? I ask because carbon monoxide poisoning can manifest in the ways you describe. For instance, this npr transcript relates one lady's experience with carbon monoxide poisoning which left her really believing there was a ghost in her house.

Carbon monoxide can seep through drywall, and I assume poorly insulated windows as well. It's possible the red colonial had a faulty furnace which could have been leaking carbon monoxide into the building and its vicinity all winter. You might have been breathing in carbon monoxide all that time you were mowing. It's also possible the outbuilding could have had the faulty furnace, though because it was made of stone, I don't know how much would have actually seeped outside.

It's probably too long ago, but it would be nice if you could find out if a house inspection on that property ever showed a problem with either furnace. Maybe your dad would remember?
posted by La Gata at 9:49 AM on July 16, 2018

A friend of mine once described walking into his living room in the dark and freezing with fear. He said that he felt menace, and the presence of something harmful. I'd been in his house - it was spotless, cheerful, cozy. He backed out of the room and turned on the light from the kitchen. There was a scorpion in the living room, the first he'd ever seen in the house. It almost blended in with the beige carpet, so he hadn't seen it in the dark. I suppose he must have subconsciously registered the movement but if he had not been able to turn on the light he'd never have known what had scared him.
posted by DSime at 2:28 PM on July 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

Maybe carbon monoxide and infrasound create the proper conditions for ghosts to manifest themselves.
posted by The otter lady at 9:41 PM on July 30, 2018

Response by poster: So many great answers! This was exactly what I was hoping for - a mixture of sensible science and spooky anecdote. Really hard to pick a best answer but had to go to mr.remy really for such a wonderful piece of writing. Thanks all.
posted by KateViolet at 8:18 AM on August 10, 2018

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