We were in Melbourne to attend the Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tour, a twice weekly two-and-a-half hour event that has been scaring the pants off tourists and the locals for many years.
Like the bats, we've heard about it, but never thought there was much to the story. So, one Saturday, we decided it was time to bite the silver bullet and finally check out what all the fuss was about.
We bravely headed to McKillop Street in Melbourne, where the tour was to begin at the aptly named "Haunted Bookshop." It's housed in a small, windy, cobblestone laneway that makes you feel like you've stepped back in time 100 years. That is, of course, until you see the bright red and yellow arches of a McDonald's sign glowing from the rooftops above you.
At 8 pm, once the sun had set and the streets were clear, our guide, Drew Sinton, appeared out of nowhere in black cape and hat, smiling at his intended prey for the evening. There were about 20 of us in the tour party - an even mix of Aussies and tourists, all eager to begin.
For the world's most livable city, Melbourne had suddenly gone very quiet. In fact, for a Saturday night (and the night of the final qualifying sessions of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix - held no more than two kilometres away) there was hardly any sound at all in the city streets.
Quiet. Deadly quiet.
This didn't surprise our guide, who informed us that the center of Melbourne is built on two cemeteries and is "the only cemetery in the world lit up at night."
Suddenly, as if on cue, a flapping sound was heard overhead. As we looked skyward, a group of eight or ten bats flew just above us, darting back and forth through the main streets, arcing to the sides of buildings, curving to land in the trees around us.
Melbourne. International city. Home of bats.
As the tour began and we walked down the back streets, an eerie silence fell over the group as we listened to tales of mass murder, suicide and horrific accidents from Melbourne's short and bloody history.
We were surprised, although I'm not sure why, that the number thirteen kept reappearing during the night. The horrific tales took place at buildings numbered thirteen, or businesses whose numbers combined to equal thirteen (for example 67 Queen Street. 6+7=13), or even the number of casualties, "thirteen people dead or injured here," our host would whisper in a deep monotone of terror. We came to building after building whose street numbers added up to thirteen. Even two bouncers outside two different haunted pubs wore security tags numbered thirteen.
Maybe someone was trying to tell us something.
We followed our guide like sheep would a shepherd. We huddled around him in the night, scared for our safety, but wanting to hear more at the same time. As we walked, he would stop every so often and stare into a dark alley, tilting his head, as if listening for someone ... or something.
"Did you hear that?" he'd whisper, before moving on.
And the bats flew with us, zig zagging overhead, the flapping of their wings combining with the sounds of our footsteps in the quiet cold back alleys.
Melbourne has a habit of burying its past. Examples can be seen everywhere. Remember, this is the city built on not one, but two cemeteries.
Other highlights included walking by the scene of the 1987 Queen Street massacre, where a guy went on a rampage in a post office building, shooting eight people to death. The office is now an international hotel! Pity the international guests in certain rooms ... but they'll never know. And only a few have heard screaming and running footsteps in the middle of the night.
For pure spooks, chills and thrills, you couldn't go past the old Cobb & Co building. It's now a converted carpark but, naturally, it holds a grim secret. "Can you see a ghost holding an ax on the first floor platform?" our host asked as we huddled inside the empty shell of the building.
In the middle of the night, and in the silence, we were invited to roam around one by one. Down to the end of the building and out of sight down a long corridor, before returning to the group. Our host wanted to find out what "vibes we could pick up".
We were told of the horrific ax murder that took place there last century. In cold, calm tones, we were told how the murder unfolded and our guide used his flashlight to trace the route the ghost takes when it is seen; usually on cold, windy winter's nights.
These horrid events have left the building with the legacy of a ghost that from time to time has enjoyed scaring the wits (and a lot more) out of people. Even the carpark attendants and security guards won't stay there at night! And six skeptical journalists ran from the building in terror just two years earlier.
For an open building in the middle of Australia's second biggest city, it was eerily deserted, cold and dank.
Except for the bats in the rafters. Their beady eyes shining in the darkness.
On the last section of the two-and-a-half-hour tour, and with the bats still fluttering overhead (were they trying to communicate with us? Or were they just following us?), we arrived at the Queen Victoria Market.
The "Queen Vic", as it's known, is Melbourne's biggest and most famous fruit and vegetable market and, you guessed it, is built on the site of a cemetery.
We stood in what was once the Catholic section while forklifts spun and wove around us, preparing the merchandise for Sunday's market.
Our host gave us the history of the cemetery-cum-market, in all its tainted glory. The state government extended the market a few years ago, decided to put up some new pavilions and under-cover areas. But the building workers went on strike once their earth-moving equipment began digging up bones and skulls, human legs and arms.
They'd dug right into the Protestant section of the old cemetery.
We finished the tour just outside the wall of the old cemetery, which is now the entranceway for the Queen Victoria market. We were standing on the old unconsecrated ground section of the cemetery. This was where all the criminals, the unbaptised and native aboriginals, the suicides and the insane were buried over 100 years ago. They were all buried standing up, facing the wall of the cemetery - facing the eternal rest that they would never receive.
The large sign above us read "Welcome to the Queen Victoria Market" in bright colorful letters - but suddenly food was the last things on our minds.
As our guide Drew said goodbye and disappeared back into the night, we started walking back to our car. And as we did, the bats filled the sky once more.