Friday, October 24, 2008

Jack and the Ghost Stalk?

There are only two types of people in this world. Those who believe in ghosts and those who do not.

I happen to fall into the first category. Scoff, guffaw, and jest all you want, I understand. You see, I used to be like you, I used to be a non-believer, but I've seen things now that I just can't explain. I've witnessed events that no scientific, religious, or psychological explanation can satisfy. Not even a six foot talking dog and a pot-head in a van could get to the bottom of these mysteries.

Back in the day, when I was a young pup at college, I worked in the theatre department. While there, I did just about every job you can imagine being dished out to a student. I swept the floors, I tore the tickets, I carried the heavy set-pieces around, I built the sets. I ran the lighting, I designed the sound, I worked the spot, I controlled the sound board. Later in my theatrical career, I acted in, wrote, and sometimes directed the shows. A regular Renaissance man, I had myself a little chunk of each and every portion of "it all." Those were some great times.

Oh yeah, the theatre I worked at was haunted.

It seemed that just about every one that worked there, went to that school, or wandered by late at night and for reasons that still escape that person, decided to play drunken ghost in the graveyard inside the building at three in the morning had a ghost story to tell.

Lucky for all of them that ghost stories became a fall semester tradition. Even though the building we were sitting in was chock fullo' ghostly sorts, each and every Halloween night, Jack, the theatre manager, would sit us down on the stage with all the lights dimmed, and we'd tell our stories. Jack would always start.

He'd fill us in on Bertha, the ghost in the balcony. You could see her, sitting up there in a chair, looking down on the stage. She must have been a theatre lover in her past life, or should that just be life, because there she was, every night, just sitting there in the fourth row of the balcony, right on the aisle. She'd disappear if anyone happened to find their way up into the balcony, and same thing if the lights came on, but there she was, whenever the lights were low and the upper level empty. She sat and watched the show. Always from the same seat.

After Jack introduced Bertha to all that year's freshmen and transfers, we'd go around the circle and tell the stories we had. Most of them stunk, unbelievable tales of frightening phantoms and mischievous poltergeists. Some of them were rewritten versions of all the urban legends, reconfigured just enough so that they took place in or around the college. Most of them were pure make-believe. A lot of them were nonsense. Or so I thought.

Jack would always finish the evening with his own ghostly encounter. His story always had us on the edge of our seats, even when we'd heard it several times. His story, coming from a respected professor and award winning director, that story felt true.

Jack's story took place during one of the first years he was teaching at the college, way back in the early '70s. Late one night, hip deep in term papers, Jack was nodding off at his desk. He knew that he was the last one in the building, because the night janitor always said goodnight before he left. Even so, somewhere in between awake & alert and sleepytime, Jack recognized the sound of the water fountain out in the hallway when it suddenly went off.

Believe me, the is was an easily placed noise. That water fountain was, in all likelihood, the first water fountain ever assembled in North America. Some students theorized that it had actually been the Queen's favorite bubbler, but those crazy pilgrim folk snatched it and brought it over on the Mayflower. In other words, it was old.

That thing made some very un-water fountain like noises. It actually sounded more like a Harley Davidson/baby screaming underwater combo deal. Clank clank clankity clank clank rattle rattlerattattattatttattattle screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee is the sound that came out of that thing when anyone dared to press the button. Not many people did that twice, not only because of the migraine inducing sound effects, but also because somewhere in the past, perhaps back at Plymouth Rock or maybe when General Custer was using it, the spiggoty thing became all misaligned. Instead of a nice cool refreshing sip of icy H2O soothing your throat and moistening your lips, you'd get a room temperature spattering of yellowy liquid right in the eye. It didn't even matter how tall or short or close or far you were, it somehow knew, and it shot you in the eye.

You can probably understand why the Clank clank clankity clank clankrattle rattle rattattattatttattattlescreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee coming from the hallway outside his office startled Jack. He thought he was alone in that big old building and who in this world would be quenching their thirst from that thing?

Jack slowly rose to his feet, shaking off the sleep as he headed towards the door. He peeked out into the hallway and saw nothing. It was dark out there, nothing but the red light from the exit sign reflecting on the surface of the Kaiser (that's what we called the fountain) and the cold linoleum floor.

Chalking the whole thing up to a mish-mosh of lack of sleep, hardwork, end of term stress, and his over-active imagination, Jack went back into the office to pack up his stuff and head home.
He tossed some books and papers into his bag and reached for his coat. Mid-reach, Clank clank clankity clank clank rattle rattlerattattattatttattattle screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee came pouring into the room from the hall again. Already on his feet thistime, Jack stepped towards the door. It took a second for his eyes to adjust. No one was at the Kaiser, but in the shadows, Jack swore he saw a shape, an arm maybe, rounding the corner and heading down the stairs to the basement. Knowing full well that there was no reason for any students to be in the building this late, Jack got his "hey,you're not supposed to be here" face on and trudged down the corridor. When he reached the steps, he shouted down, "Hey! Hello? Is anyone down there?"

No answer came back.

Curious to see if maybe he'd inadvertently picked up an LSD habit, Jack wandered down to the basement to prove his hallucinations false. He took the first ten steps quickly, but turned the corner and slowedhis pace for the last ten. At the bottom, Jack found himself in an empty room. On one side was the door to the costume and make-up room, that door was bolted. Jack, himself, had the only key. He checked it anyway. Satisfied, he wandered to the other side and checked the other door - a super wide, ridiculously heavy metal door that weighed close to a hundred pounds. That door led to the woodshop and was pad-locked. Jack felt his pocket, finding the lone key to be right where it belonged.

Shrugging it all off as late nights and caffeine jitters, Jack strolled back to his office, more ready to go home than he'd ever been before.

Quickly, Jack organized the paper's he'd been working on, just to give himself a head start on the next morning. A morning Jack was startingto realize was going to come way too soon. With his coat in hand this time, he heard it again, the unmistakable colicky baby/biker gang noise that emits from the Kaiser. He darted out into the hall and turned towards the sound. What he saw there relieved him. A boy. A small boy, no more than six or seven years old standing up on his tippy toes to get a drink.

"Hey, kid? Kid?" Jack called.

The kid didn't respond, he was busy slurping the loudest water ever. "Kid, you're not supposed to be here. Where's your mom and dad?" Jack didn't recognize the boy as the son of any of his co-workers, but figured some sort of parent had to be nearby.

As he approached the kid, with the intention of ripping ole pops a new one when he was found, Jack explained to us that he started to feel cold. Like someone had turned the air conditioner onto super Arctic freeze setting and it was blowing just at him.

Jack was still a good fifty feet away when the kid stopped drinking, stood up straight, looked right at, almost right through is the way he described it, Jack, smiled a real big crazy little boy goony bird smile and waved.

"Yeah, that's it. Hello," Jack muttered under his breath. About to repeat his where in the living heck are your parents line of questioning, Jack moved closer. The boy, he didn't seem to really notice Jack. He just turned and marched down the basement steps.

"No!!! Kid, you can't go down there," Jack shouted, running after the lad. Skipping all but the really important stairs, Jack found himself in that big empty basement room in no time.

No kid.

He checked both doors. Locked. Keys, still in his pocket. Jack was dumbfounded. He's a rational guy. Down to Earth. Straight laced and conservative. There was nothing to explain these things he was seeing. Or rather, what he wasn't seeing.

Sure that some of those radical 1960's campus hippies had spiked his coffee, Jack muttered curse words under his breath the entire way backupstairs.

Back in the office once again, Jack grabbed his bag and pulled on his coat. As he walked out into the hall, he smiled to himself at his foolishness. How could a grown man let his imagination get the best of him like that? With one foot firmly planted on the hall tile and the other well on it's way, Jack made an effort not to see the Kaiser with his peripheral. "Please don't go make a peep," Jack thought.

It didn't listen.

Clank clank clankity clank clank rattle rattle rattattattatttattattlescreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Jack stopped dead in his tracks. Slowly turned, swearing and cursing the mere existence of water fountains as he did so, and faced that end of the hall. There he was, gulping down nasty luke-warm, slightly eggy smelling water, the little boy.

His shoulders slumped and "why me-s" ran through his brain like hamsters on a wheel. "Kid?" Jack managed to spit out. "You're notsupposed to be here," came out next, trepidation replacing the irritation that was in his voice earlier.

Just like before, the boy stood up, turned real slow, smiled that bone chilling creepy little smile, and waved. Just like before, the boy turned and bounded down the stairs. Just like before, not wanting to, but no longer entirely in control, Jack headed after him.

Going full speed when he tried to make the worn out loafers on his feet make the turn around to corner to the steps, Jack slid on the tile and knocked into the wall. Stumbling uncontrollably down the first few steps, he hit the iron hand rail so hard that he actually chipped the bone in his elbow. Still, he didn't feel the pain, not yet, adrenaline kept him moving into the basement.

As he'd expected, that big empty room was just that, empty, so shoving his hand into his pocket, Jack grabbed his keys. Fumbling a little bit from all the nerves, Jack finally turned to dead-bolt and threw open the costume room door. He reached over and flipped on the lights, suddenly sending power to a room full of insanely bright make-up mirrors. That sort of brightness could probably melt your eyes, but Jack fought through the temporary blindness and the spots and the whiteness. When his vision started to clear he saw a fuzzy version of a room full shadowy figures. In the moment, he nearly wet himself,but he slowly realized what he was seeing was a room full of costume mannequins.

When his sense of sight returned, he searched under the tables, behind the dummies, in the wigs, within the props, and inside the cabinets, but there was no boy. That left only the wood shop.

Jack bolted across the room and sped towards the shop door. It took two hands and all his strength to pull the metal barricade open, and he had to prop it in place with his foot while he hooked the cable that held the door open around a bolt in the wall. Without that cable or that bolt, the door would slam violently shut, and I still have an ache in my once broken hand to prove the force that door closed with.

The fluorescent ceiling fixtures in the shop were easy on Jack's eyes, so when he hit the switch in that room the light actually made it easier to look around. He searched every inch of the shop, in the lumber room, behind scrap piles, under the work benches, around the table saw and air compressor. Finally, in the furthest corner of the room, near the giant drill press, Jack saw a pair of Keds sticking out.

"Hey, kid, I don't know how you got in here, but it's not hide and seek time. Get out here." Jack shouted.

The kid didn't budge. Jack crept closer.

"Hey. I said get out here. Where are your parents?" Jack mumbled.

Still, the kid didn't move a bit. Nearly right on top of him, Jack edged his way around the drill press. There he saw the kid, just laying there, a glassy look in his eyes, his chest, which should have been rising and falling with breath, still.

Jack, side-stepping panic, dashed the last few feet and reached out to the boy, boy scout CPR lessons swirling around in his brain.

As he went to touch the kid, to help him, to save him, Jack placed his hand on the little guy's chest. The boy vanished. Like smoke dissipating into the night air, he was gone.

Now Jack would tell us this story every Halloween night, with the stage lights low, and that very woodshop directly beneath the stage floor we were sitting on. With the freshman sufficiently freaked out, Jack would usually ask for a volunteer to run to his office, back behind the stage, to get something for him. Realizing they'd have to walk by the waterfountain and the stairs, no one ever offered their services. I did. I didn't believe. "Great story," I thought, "but just that, a story." That was my stance until three years later, when my own empty building encounter changed my mind.

Next week, the anniversary of my ghostly run-in, I'll tell that story. Until then, run home and hide under the bed when ever you hear Clank clank clankity clank clank rattle rattle rattattattatttattattlescreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Read the Scooby Doo style revelation that takes place at the end of Jack's story.

1 comment:

AngieSS said...

That's just creepy. And I'm already afraid of the dark. Guess I'll be checking under my bed tonight!