So I’m shivering in the Newcastle train station, looking for my 3:17 to Edinburgh. I’ve just been given a job, and I’m exhausted from the interviewing and from hiking through a cruel rain and imagining how I’ll befriend this packed and grimy and good-natured a tough Victorian theme park of a city. It doesn’t help that I’m fighting through the end of my winter cold, so I’m dazed and headachy anyway.
In the dark figures on the platform with me is a church eccentric. I know the type. He looks like a Latin teacher, only seedy: Lenten purple turtleneck, threadbare lecturer’s jacket, leaky shoes. He’s got one of those wooden crosses on a leather cord, of the sort you buy in liberal Anglican bookstores. He’s got dandruff. He’s weaving through people and talking animatedly. He’s got an eyes-closed grin, and he’s blinking a lot, like the light is bright (which it isn’t here). I don’t think much about him, or anyone else, because my head hurts and my feet are wet, and part of me is still back in the interview room.
I make a couple circuits around the steel benches and the station billboards, toes stinging, and I become aware of a low string of words, about a train set. It’s this eccentric. He has circled around the steel benches too, and is walking right at me. He’s talking at me, too, and it’s about trains, and he’s a little bit louder he should be.
He says, ‘… and so, there we were, going round and round and round. After all this waiting, we all got on, you know, and then it was just a train set. Just a ruddy train set! Only we didn’t realise it. Ha! Ha!’
I’ve already gone to Weirdo Mode. It’s uncharitable, and I do feel guilty, but I turn sidelong to him and try to look occupied.
‘We’d no idea! What a ruddy dream that was! Ha! Ha!’
I bob the polite nod, and say ‘sure sounds strange, yeah.
He has unbrushed teeth. He’s still in that squint-grin.
I turn away, I hear him chortle something like ‘one strange dream’, and it sounds as though he’s turning away from me too. I glance over at him, and he’s not there. I rush eyes around the platform, and he’s really not there.
I turn all the way around, two or three times.
I’ve started breathing hard.
I scope every dark figure on the platform, intensely. There are only a dozen of us. The train is rumbling in. The dark crowd starts to move. The eccentric is nowhere at all.
I glance back and forth behind me as I get into Car C, and fumble out my ticket. I’d been praying for a spirit for a long time. I’d been praying about a lot of things. I’d been talking to Jesus intensely in the train ride to the interview. We’d been conferencing before then, about liberating me from the dismal college job I’d been in for too long. I’d been worrying with him over family darkness as well. All these things felt like dungeons, and I wanted to liberation. I wanted to rise to Jesus and just be with him, and watch as he lifted me free. And just for indulgence, simply as a dad-favor, I wanted to meet a spirit. I was pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to. I told him I thought it was naughty of me to ask. But I wanted to see a for-sure spirit, just because it would make me know, even deeper than I already knew, that spiritual things were real. By inference, I would then know even deeper that God is real. I’d prayed a lot for this. Be it an angel, be it a demon, it didn’t matter to me. I just asked that it not be scary, and that I know at the time that it was a spirit I was seeing. And I wanted to see it, not feel it or hear it.
And I got one, of the rare variety, no less: the ones that seem human, and that speak to you.
In the yellow light of the train, I remembered all this praying, and I started worrying. Was this visitation just now demonic or angelic? I have the scriptural assurance from Hebrews, that people have entertained angels and not known it. Angels can be around us all time, in other words, and in fact they probably are, given how interested God and his angels are in us. We’re sort of their job. We may well see them in crowds every day. So this eccentric could have been angelic.
But I didn’t like him. In retrospect, I remembered not liking that disinhibited, rather manic, grin.
He was also intrusive. Are angels intrusive? Sometimes they are, in scripture, but only in a grand and holy sort of way, when they’re announcing something or rebuking someone – not when they’re incognito. That must be why we’ve entertained unknowingly. There was something like an ambush with this visitation. He veered around a crowd and came right at me. He was not only intrusive, he was disruptive. There was something about him that seemed inclined to make trouble, I thought.
He was also strangely disengaged. He wasn’t trying for a conversation. He was broadcasting. Ghosts do exactly that. And I think that ‘ghosts’ are demonic masquerades of dead people. I’ve never heard of them engaging in real conversations.
Then I got worried. Had this demon come to me in particular, or was he trawling the platform for humans to bother? I tried to remember if anyone had spoken with him. I couldn’t. Did they even see him? I didn’t know.
Was there something about me that attracted him? If Jesus was making a pastoral breakthrough with me, if I was maturing as a Christian, was this spirit allowed to approach me now, as part of some sort of advanced lesson? Was he approaching me out of spite, resenting my progress?
I’m not inclined to think that demons are all-knowing. They come across in the Bible as rather limited beings. Anyone who has watched a Ouija board session can’t think they know much, either. I found myself doubting that his visit, while eerie, was terribly important. Nor did I think he knew much about me now, or even my whereabouts. I thought, if he appears in Edinburgh, I’ll think this is a bigger project than it seems. He never did.