October 5, 2018

So here’s my ghost story.

I used to work at a children’s museum near my hometown. The building was old, and there was a big, creepy basement below, complete with a heavy steel door that rumbled when you pulled it open. Every October, the museum hosted a professional-grade haunted house down there, and it was known around town for being one of the better Halloween attractions in the area.

While I was paid for the work I did for the museum, the hours put in at the haunted house were solely on volunteer time (permissible since the haunt was technically a separate entity from the museum, even though it’s profits helped fund museum operations). I didn’t mind, despite the dust and the noise and the crazy long hours. It was an immersive, month-long Halloween experience, and I revelled in it with childish glee.

Besides, had I not volunteered I would have had to rouse myself out of bed at 3 AM each evening it operated, to make sure the building was secure after everyone left for home. So every evening I stayed behind until the last haunter left. Invariably, one of them would turn to me and ask: “You ever see any ghosts in here?” And my answer was always an honest no.

But people will never accept the idea of an old building that isn’t haunted, and between groups the performers made up stories to convince themselves and each other that their haunted attraction was literally haunted. People claimed to hear voices coming through the walls when everything else was silent. Of course they heard people talking; groups left through the floor upstairs, and we shared walls with several business, including a popular martini bar. They were hearing drunks, not ghosts.

One night, the night before Halloween in fact, I went out with the other performers to grab a bite at Waffle House. I was halfway through my grub when I realized I hadn’t set the alarm before locking up, and when I was done I mentioned to the haunt manager I had to head back.

“Oh, shit!” he laughed. “Sean’s goin’ back to that place alone, y’all!” And everyone made fake-solemn goodbyes, since clearly they would never see me alive again.

I rolled up to the front doors a little after 3:30 in the morning, opening the door without leaving it unlocked, and made my way to the far panel that would set the necessary series of alarms. I could hear the usual smattering of voices overhead, trickling in through the vents from the martini bar. Some nights there would be opera music accompanying the drifting conversation; the proprietor lived in an apartment over his business.

I stopped halfway across the floor. The bar…would have closed at 2. And when I’d driven by, the lights were out, upstairs and down. The street was empty; the only occupied parking space was my own.

And the conversation seemed…closer than the kind that typically trickled through the vents. It almost sounded like there were two or three people in our upstairs mezzanine, talking amongst themselves.

“Do you think he hears us?” a distinctly female voice said then.

I was standing in the center of a wide, open space. There was nothing above me, nothing behind me. But from just behind and a little above I heard a man’s voice answer:

“I think he does.”

I didn’t set the alarm that night.

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