Thursday, August 16, 2012

My First Ghost

My love affair with all things spooky goes back as far as I can remember.  Since I was a kid I've been fascinated with the unknown.  I felt a need to know if there was more to this world than what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears.  Later I realized that if I could answer questions on whether or not ghosts and things of a paranormal nature existed, I would be more comfortable basing my personal theology on that.  If i could feel more certain about what happens after death, i would be more comfortable with what happens in life. 

After years of chasing ghosts, I've never experienced anything as clear as my first encounter.  Being 15 and years from overcoming my fear of the dark, I was quite shaken by the experience.  This was the 90's, long before TAPS and the notion of ghost hunting became mainstream.  Although I was fascinated with all things spooky I hadn't considered a true paranormal experience happening to me.  At least I didn't run away screaming...I only walked at a brisk pace.

The first ghost I ever saw was the best a paranormal investigator could hope for - a full bodied apparition.  Only I was not on an investigation.  I was a sophomore in high school in a sleepy little mining town in Kentucky.  

In previous decades students wanting to grab a puff between classes only had to walk outside the building, where they were often joined by faculty and staff also needing their nicotine fix.  By the time I made it to good ol’ Fleming-Neon High School there were strictly enforced rules against tobacco use on campus.  Of course back then we all considered rules to be made in order to be broken.  As soon as the bell rang signaling the end of one class period a couple dozen girls would cram into the five-stall wide bathrooms which quickly filled with the thick fog of cigarette smoke.  I’m sure the same was going on in the boys’ bathroom, but never felt the need to go and see for myself.

The teachers were no dupes and knew exactly what was going on.  While most of them were only biding their time until retirement and were not concerned in the least as to what damage we were doing to our lungs in the restroom, there were a couple who took twisted pleasure in busting through the bathroom doors and grabbing the first student they saw with a cigarette in their hand and hauling them down to the principal’s office.  The bathrooms had a heavy outer door and then another swinging stall-type door a few feet on in.  Those of us hotboxing cigarettes had a split second after the first door opened to glimpse under the swinging door, watching for “teacher shoes.”  If there was a possibility that the clicking heels about to push open the swinging door belonged to a staff member cigarettes would go flying in every direction, causing orange sparks to bounce off the walls and stalls.  As long as you didn’t have a cigarette in your hand you couldn’t be hauled down to the office.  That didn’t save you from the scornful looks, but kept you out of detention.  

The high school had two floors of an identical layout, and it was common knowledge that most of the smokers gathered in the downstairs bathroom.  This was something I tried my best to set in stone and enforce my last two years there, out of sheer terror.  I often found myself done with the busywork assigned for the day and bored, staring out the windows of the classroom.  I’d ask permission to go and use the restroom, not having any real need to use it for anything other than a smoking hideout.  During class there was rarely anyone else in the bathrooms.  Occasionally someone would actually need to use the facilities or have the same idea I did and grab a quick puff, but the restrooms were usually deserted while classes were in session. 
I had an English class upstairs and having stared out the window longing for the school day to be over for 20 minutes I asked to be excused to use the restroom.  I had reasoned that if you were in the last stall, furthest from the door you had the most time to dispose of an incriminating cigarette should a faculty member feel the call of nature during class.  On this occasion someone had failed to make sure their deposit had made it’s way to the sewers, so in disgust I settle for the stall next to it. 
The calming rush of that first puff had barely hit me when I heard the outer door swing open.  Being cautious but also not wanting to toss it in the toilet just yet (cigarettes weren’t that easy to come by before you were old enough to buy your own) I stood crouched over the toilet with the cigarette ready to fall to it’s watery death at the first hint of trouble.  I held my breath and waited, hearing the inner door swing open.  There was no clicking of “teacher shoes” but something didn’t feel right. 
There was a crack about a quarter of an inch between the stall doors and their supports through which you could see out into the sink area.  I peered cautiously through this crack, still holding onto that cigarette.  I saw someone walk past.  It was only a split second glimpse, but they appeared to be wearing a long skirt and to me that translated into teacher attire.  I had no choice and flushed the toilet, careful to not drop the cigarette until I had so the flushing noise would drown out the hiss of the extinguishing smoke I had so badly wanted.  If a teacher thought you were smoking in the stalls, just as I was, they would often walk across the length of the bathroom and stand below the windows on the far end.  When you’d come out they would be standing there with their arms folded across their chest and wearing an expression of reproach.  I knew this is what I was in for, as the figure had passed in front of me in the next to last stall and I hadn’t heard them enter the backed up one.
Hoping I would only receive a tongue lashing and not an escorted trip down to the principal’s office, I waited as long as I could and then swung the stall door open to face the music.  Before I was even halfway out of the stall I looked to the window, completely expecting to see one of my teachers there with their arms folded across their chest.  To my surprise there wasn’t a soul there…a living one anyway.  At first I was relieved, but it only took a second to realize that this wasn’t right.  I had definetly seen someone walk in front of me, I’d even heard the doors open although I hadn’t heard any footsteps.  Panic set in and I made haste to return to my classroom.  I’ll always remember returning to my seat, which was just a few feet away from the teachers desk.  Instead of my usually talkative self, I had returned solemn and silent.  Instead of out the window I stared straight ahead.  The English teacher looked up from the pile of papers in front of her and saw the puzzled expression on my face.  “What’s wrong with you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said.  That’s when it hit me.  That had been exactly what had just happened, although I didn’t dare say so.
 I put a lot of work into organizing the restroom routines of the female student body, and by my senior year it was commonly accepted that between classes if you wanted to smoke, you went downstairs. If you actually need to use the facilities you went upstairs.  If nature called during an upstairs class I never thought twice about taking the extra time to go downstairs to do my business.  If the halls were empty, I’d sometimes even take off jogging when I got close to the bathroom and not stop until I’d reached the bottom of the stairs.  I’d always get a creepy feeling from that bathroom.  Whether it was because there was bad voodoo coming from it or I was just remembering that one spooky instance I do not know, nor did I care to find out in those days.
 At some point later while in study hall I got the courage to tell some of my close friends what had happened on that day in the upstairs bathroom.  One of them said that made sense, and I asked what she meant.  She relayed a story to us that had been told to her by her aunt, whom I knew as a respected school teacher herself and surely the no-nonsense type.  She said when they were in high school in the 70s they had snuck into the building one night and set up a séance in the upstairs bathroom.  One of them claimed to be versed in the occult and led the proceedings.  When they asked for a sign of a spirit’s presence, the windows burst open, an unnaturally strong wind came through causing everything in the room to be tossed about.  The lights flickered on and off.   The girls were shrieking in terror and trying to gather up their belongings when they heard an unearthly growl that seemed to come from everywhere.  That’s when they forgot about their stuff and got out of there as quickly as they could fit through the doors. 
 Another friend chimed in that she had heard that if you opened a door to the other side and didn’t close it, say by getting scared and running off, it left whatever had gotten through here in this world.  We all hypothesized about what could be lurking in the upstairs bathroom for the rest of the period.  When the bell rang I made a beeline to the bathroom to smoke, downstairs of course.
Was the tale of the séance in the 70s exaggerated? Probably.  Did it have anything to do with the specter I’d seen? Maybe, maybe not, but when you’re dealing with a bunch of impressionable high school girls, the coincidences connect strongly.  Did I see something pass in front of the stall I was in? Absolutely.  Was it human? Absolutely not.  That is all I am sure of.  A few years later all the high schools in the county consolidated and the building where I had my first paranormal experience now stands abandoned.  I haven’t been in it since the school closed.  I would love to go back now and do an actual investigation, because if there ever was a place that consistently gave me the creeps, it was that upstairs girls bathroom.


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