I used to be afraid that things were hiding in the darkness of my bedroom. Not until I was 12 did I stop sleeping at least 3 nights a week with the lights on. What finally cured me was a late night visit to my West Valley home by a way too drunk for her own good woman, who banged on my basement window while I slept. I realized that whatever I was afraid of in my head was far less frightening than the things and people that could actually see me if the lights were left on. I have since come to crave total darkness when I sleep. I love nothing more than the absolute silence of a dark basement at night. My fear of demons and devils, ghosts and the like has long since faded away. I do not fear the unexplained and often am more than willing to accept rational explanations for most things. I have however, had two personal experiences that I have not been able to explain and while I can attribute rational reasons for both of them, they remain as my two stories of the paranormal.
The first happened when I was very young, maybe 8 years of age. My family had moved into a rental home located on the west side of Salt Lake County. I was in the second grade and just shedding off the fantastical beliefs in things like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the like. The house we rented was a gray brick rambler with three bedrooms and no basement. My parents called it the “pillbox” house and while at the time it didn’t seem that horrible to me, my parents were not too fond of it. I slept with my brother in bunk beds (me on top) and our room was nearest the front door. The hallway stretched to the other two rooms away from the living room. During Christmas that year my father had read A Christmas Carol aloud to the family and one night, just after reading of Marley’s ghost I woke from a half dream, swearing I could hear my father moaning “Scrooge” from the master bedroom. I recall not being too frightened, thinking my dad was having some fun at the expense of his three young children (something I have come to love doing in my own family, a little scare now and then, just for a laugh). Though he still denies, or maybe now just doesn’t remember doing it, I am convinced it was him. Besides, why would a spirit call out the name of a fictional character in the night?
Soon after than, I think in the early spring, I woke up from a very sound sleep. I know I was awake and not dreaming because I recall feeling the copy of Cars and Trucks and Things that Go underneath my pillow, taking it out and seeing the cover in the light sneaking in from the living room. My bedroom door was open at night, making things less frightening and giving me quicker access to my parents if I needed them. It was not unusual for me to wake up in the night. I still do it. In most cases I roll about for a minute, use the bathroom if I feel that will help, then fall asleep again. This night, after placing my book back under my pillow I felt an overwhelming silence. The normal sounds of the night were buried under it and I looked around very frightened by the sensation. It was similar to the heavy pressure of good sound cancelling headphones. That ominous silence that seems impenetrable.
I wanted to cry out for my parents, to have them come in, anything to break the silence, but I couldn’t even hear my own rapid breathing, let alone make an audible sound. In an instant I knew something was in the hallway. I could not see it but I could completely feel it. I don’t want to label it as evil, but it was definitely malevolent. In my mind, I could imagine it in the hallway just outside my sisters bedroom. It began to move, drifting the three or four feet between door frames, stopping just inside of mine. It was shaped like a man, maybe six feet tall and completely black. I looked at it for a moment and it back at me. It entered my room, neither floating or walking, just entered. I closed my eyes and opened them again, hoping I was imagining this and it would be gone. Instead it was right next to my bed and me being on top, its face was very close to mine. I say face, but really there were no features, just blackness, as if a shadow had separated itself from someone and animated itself. I closed and opened my eyes again. It was still there in the silence, standing motionless. Then it was backing out of the room towards the hallway, not pausing as it left my room and into the living room. In seconds I was asleep again.
I don’t know if I made this up in my head and have told this story so many times that its falsehood has become truth to me. The experience is so caught up in emotions, especially fear, that I think it must have happened. Regardless, it gets to be spooky and that is a fun tale, right?
My second story is a bit more elaborate, if not less horrifying.
In the summer of 1989 a few friends and I spent a few months working at a hotel in Brianhead, Utah. My best friend worked as the morning cook, while another friend was the dishwasher for that shift. Another worked as part of the maintenance crew while several others worked as servers. I worked as the night dishwasher and short order cook. The dinner service chef and I were the entire kitchen crew, which meant I spent the hours between 2pm and 2 am working my backside off. I did the majority of the vegetable preparation for the evening, cutting and washing piles of green beans or broccoli. I also helped cut all the meats and cheeses, peeled the potatoes. I was responsible for baking the potato dishes, as well as any other sides we were preparing that week. I made cheesecakes, piles of them. The chef mostly wandered about making sure things were to his liking and made up various tasks that would make him appear busy.
During the meal service I would try to keep up with the dishes and pots, while being instantly available to make burgers, halibut or chicken on the broiler. Once the dinner hours were over and the restaurant closed, the chef would spend fifteen to twenty minutes cleaning the line (never the floor by the way) and he would be gone. I would be left alone until well into the morning scrubbing pans, washing the remaining dishes and moping the floors. It was hard work and paid very little, but I loved being away from home and being independent.
The hotel was filled with ghost stories. Tales of hearing strange sounds or phone calls from rooms where no one was staying; incoming calls on the switch board from the two buildings that had not been built or the ski-shop where the phone had been disconnected. It was rumored someone had fallen down an open and unfinished elevator shaft, impaling themselves on the rebar and they were haunting the place. Babies were supposed to be heard crying in rooms where no guests where located. After hearing these stories, many of us experienced odd things, like seeing the shadow or image of a small child at the bottom of a stairwell (which I now attribute to florescent lighting and a blind corner) or hearing footsteps in the hallway late at night.
The doors in the hotel were very heavy and always made large banging sounds when they closed. One night I could swear I heard one door open, most likely a stairwell door, footsteps move down the hall and past my room, but another door never opened. All easily explained, right? Faulty wiring, poor design and an elevator door with a broken bell.
One night, after a particularly busy dinner service (three bus tours of 49 people each, one coming in near 9 pm), I was in the kitchen listening to Janes Addiction and scrubbing pots. It must have been close to midnight and as usual, the chef had been in his bed sleeping for hours. The hostess on duty that night had just come into the kitchen to tell me she was leaving. Whoever was hosting was responsible for making sure the side door to the patio was locked, the candles out, the music and the overhead lights turned off. Last, she would leave by the front door, with the liquor store on the right and the hotel front desk directly across. They key was given to the desk attendant and it was locked in a drawer until the following morning.
I said goodnight to the hostess and continued working. Part of the job required me to empty the kitchen garbage, taking the bag through the dining room and out to the dumpster. I walked out and towards the entrance. Everything was as it should be. I could hear Janes Addiction playing from the kitchen. The overhead lights were out and the door out to the patio,was locked. I propped it open with a chair, took the trash out to the dumpster and returned to my pans. I still had close to seven to scrub and the floors were seriously filthy. I was looking at another hour or two of work at least. I turned up the music, trying to make tolerable a task that was at the best of times deadly dull. Any night after a large group it was much worse.
Side one of the tape ended and I went to flip it when I heard something from the dining room. I called out, thinking the hostess had returned, that she must have forgotten something but there was no response. I walked out of the kitchen, calling her name again. I wasn’t nervous as it was fairly common for someone from the wait staff, or for the bartender to be in the restaurant at this hour. I walked out and through the breakfast side of the room. The room was empty, dark and as I walked past the greeting desk, I could see the night clerk at his desk, reading something or other.
It was then I noticed the overhead lights in the dining room were up. I could hear music coming from the shelf system. I was convinced someone had come back in and that they were finishing some forgotten task, but there was no one else in the room. I walked farther in, completely puzzled but still not really afraid. On my right was one of the tables set for two. It sat up against the wall, a very quiet, isolated and romantic spot. I recall it being one of the best tables in the place. Unlike the rest of the room where the chairs were tucked tight underneath the tables, these two were slightly pulled out and turned with their seats towards the room. The candle in the center of the table was lit.
I did not experience the heavy fear of my earlier experience, but as these things started to come together in my head, muddled up with the other tales of ghosts and haunting I had swimming in my mind, I felt a shock in my system. I felt as if someone or something was here with me in this room. My instant reaction was to run and I did, right through the kitchen, leaving the pots in the sink, the dirty floor, rushed out the back door, down the stairs and through the parking garage of the building I was staying in. I crashed through the stairwell door and up the three flights to my door. I quickly opened it and let it close heavy behind me. My breath was obviously heavy and labored. My heart pounding and my head swimming in a desperate way. I flopped onto the bed and much like my childhood experience, fell asleep.
The next day my boss told me that while the music and overhead lights had not been on when he arrived, a candle had burned down. He was more angry at the carelessness of that than anything else. No one had used the key from the front desk to enter the restaurant and none of the wait staff or host staff ever took credit for scaring the hell out of me.
I like to pretend that the ghost that night (and I am going to let it be a spirit) only wanted some conversation. I was being offered dinner and a chance to share some insightful thoughts. I often regret not staying around, not just to see if anyone was messing with me, but I feel I missed out on a genuine opportunity to experience something strange and otherworldly. If there was a ghost in that building, it had surely seen me, night after night working and cleaning. Maybe it liked the cut of my jib, my easy going manner and clever smile. Maybe it thought I seemed like good company. Maybe it liked my choice of music and wanted to talk about that. Maybe…