After Midnight: A True Ghost Story
The nervous chatter of the tourists echoed through the musty catacombs of the ancient city of Edinburgh. If I lingered behind the crowd, would that improve my chances of seeing a ghost? Or perhaps any spectral visitor would be put off by the unstable energies of the mass of people and I should be at the front of the procession. I tried both, to no avail.
With all the wars, grisly murders, epidemics, lynch mobs, beheadings and tortures that has plagued Scotland through the centuries you would think a ghost, just one spooky, caterwauling ghost would take time to say boo to a visiting Witch.
I took ghost tours from London to Inverness, stayed at every haunted castle I could find, camped overnight at lonely, windswept standing circles, but alas, there were no phantoms to be found, or at least, none found me.
Why ghosts? Because I think I saw one, once, maybe.
A friend's mother had died and I flew out to give what support I could offer. Tired from my journey I dozed off on the couch, listening to the murmur of well wishers as they gave their condolences and their tears. I thought the last of them had left, but through blurry eyes I saw an old man in archaic clothes sitting in the chair next to the fireplace. Some uncle or such I thought and drifted off to sleep again. A short time later, I woke up much refreshed and inquired of my friend who the old geezer was. She was taken aback.
"Uh, old guy, balding, looks like he's a bit player in a revival of Showboat?" she asked.
"Right. Uncle or something?" I replied.
"No, I think that's the ghost who's been haunting mom, breaking stuff, making things fly around the room and such."
"Uh, right." I said, thinking the whole death and funeral thing had been a bit too much for her.
Unfortunately for me, the rest of the family confirmed her story, shifting my world view a bit and testing the limits of my skepticism.
So, when the opportunity to backpack across the most haunted island on earth came up, I grabbed it.
The ghosts, however, had previous engagements and I returned to the states sans specters.
Disappointed but not defeated, I took up a new ghost hunt in my own backyard. Colorado is full of haunted houses, and one of the most famous is the Full Circle Cafe in Georgetown.
Everyone who worked there, from the dishwashers to the owners have had some kind of spooky experience. Just the place for a pre-Halloween haunting hunt. So I called Becky and Bill, the owners and made my pitch. They seemed excited and readily agreed. Perhaps too excited, and perhaps agreeing much too readily. My paranoia took flight in the days, and especially the nights, before my trip to Georgetown.
Perhaps they fed the ravenous ghosts an occasional tourist to keep the dishes in one piece. Maybe the news story of a gibbering madman found in their basement would promote the sale of a couple more burgers. Maybe...
Pish-Posh. I have been chased by grizzly bears, near trampled by moose, fallen off a glacier and survived the Reagan administration, and I'll be damned (uh, make that hornswoggled) if I will let a pair of pugnacious phantoms cause me to prevaricate.
The night before I leave, I check my gear one more time. Two flashlights, tape recorder, camera with high speed film, munchies, and a book, More Tales of Horror, to get me in the mood. I begin to wonder if a book chiefly consisting of eye-popping, bone-crunching ghouls is really the right choice for a haunt-hunt. Maybe the ghosts will feel they have to live up to our fiction. Visions slither by of me being served to the unsuspecting tourists as the blue-plate special for breakfast. Becky would scratch her head and ask, "Whatever happened to that nice feller? Musta' just upped and left." I search for other reading material. Joseph Campbell's Myths To Live By is packed away instead.
Summer tosses and turns through the night, wracked by bad dreams. She gives up any pretense of getting rest and tells me of her horrific dreams. My death in the midst of blood and mayhem, and her attending my funeral. She reaches for me in fear and I comfort her in the only way I know how. Some of her unease is assuaged, but I begin to consider this adventure in a different light.
Dawn finally arrives and I head into the mountains in the face of an impending blizzard. Georgetown is in the grip of a virtual white-out. As I pull into the street of the Full Circle Cafe I realize I am well and truly stuck. All the demons of Hel could chase me and I would not be able to return to Boulder.
As I enter the Cafe, Becky is sitting and chatting with some diners. Bill is in the back cooking the last few meals and cleaning the kitchen. With hugs and kisses I am welcomed and fed. As they close and clean, up Becky regales me with ghost stories. She tells me about the time she stayed late and closed the Cafe by herself. As she walked towards the door to leave she glanced back towards the kitchen to see a ghost washing dishes. She sprinted out of the Cafe and locked the door with trembling fingers. She never closes by herself anymore.
A friend of Becky's stops by and, after stomping off her snow covered boots, joins in the conversation. She tells me about the time they decided to play with a Ouija board in the attic. Strange cries and howling burst through the room and continued on for over a minute, scaring the participants almost into shock. They never tried it again.
Becky and Bill finally don their parkas and brave the blizzard for the trip home. The Cafe falls into silence. I set up my camera and recorder and sit in the quiet for a while. The hum of the lights and occasional tumble of cubes from the ice maker are my only distractions. The quiet starts to annoy me and I turn on the TV for company.
The Denver metro area and most of Colorado is paralyzed from the snow. The governor has declared a state of emergency and warned everyone to stay off the roads. My mind starts to chant "No way out, no way out, no way out!"
"Enough!" I shout at my little gibbering monkey hind brain. The chant retreats, but is in no way silenced.
I've got to keep busy and keep my mind focused on the job at hand. I take my camera and tripod to the basement. The light barely reaches the recesses of the musty, rock lined basement. I walk over to a circle of stone in the corner, an old well that some say contains the ghost of a child who drowned in it. The dark suddenly seems to close in on me from behind. I casually turn around, refusing to give in to my rising panic. I realize I have turned my back on the haunted well. I casually turn around again. Nothing there, but I have a draft on my neck. OK, well, this basement is really boring and I should go back up to the Cafe. I am not copping out, I am focusing my resources, yeah that's it, focusing my resources, sure.
I browse through Becky's video selections. I can watch Night of the Living Dead or Apollo 13. I pick Apollo 13. "Coward!" my mind snickers at me. "Putz" I reply, and refuse to discuss it anymore.
I stretch out in my sleeping bag in front of the TV and promptly begin to doze off. I am awakened by a huge thump that rattles the floor of the Cafe. Wind, I think and sleepily walk to the front of the Cafe and open the door. The snow drifts lazily down, covering the street in a blanket of white, with not a wisp of wind. OK, if it was wind, it was a really sneaky wind.
Midnight comes and Apollo 13 has splashed down safely. It is about time to shoot some photos upstairs where Bill says most of the hauntings happen. I grab my gear and head to the stars. It's dark up there – really dark. I shine my flashlight up the stairs, but the darkness gobbles the light, revealing nothing. The first step creaks under me, emphasizing the quiet that cocoons the Cafe. Standing on the second step I can see more. More darkness.
I suddenly remember that Becky has The Best of the Mr. Bill Show. It's a really good video and I should watch it, right now!
"Ohhh Noooo!!!!" cries Mr. Bill as Mr. Hands cranks him through the meat grinder. Boy, this is great stuff. I could watch it all night. And maybe I will!
"Coward!" my mind snickers at me.
"Nonsense," I reply, "it's cold up there."
"And dark," my mind counters. "And creepy and scary and ookie and spooky!" it gibbers.
"Shut up!" I growl, and turn up the volume to silence my mind's infantile cackling.
An hour later Mr. Bill has had all the torture I can take, so I turn off the TV and promptly begin to doze.
Thump, thump, thumpty-thump thump pops me awake. Uh...what was that, wind? No, through the windows the snowflakes continue their leisurely journey straight downward to join their massed brethren. Maybe kids. Right, two in the morning in a blizzard. I halt further speculation before it takes me where I know it's going.
I walk to the front of the Cafe where I think the sound came from. Suddenly rapid thumping from the attic echoes through the room.
Because of my Christian Fundamentalist upbringing I am not normally given to profanity, but I thought this was a good exception.
"Fuck, Fuck, Fuck!" I repeated for emphasis.
The thumping stops and an eerie quiet descends on the Cafe.
"Maybe you should go up there." my mind suggests.
"And maybe pigs will fly." I reply.
I retreat to my sleeping bag. As a child I always believed that if you hid everything under your covers the monsters couldn't get you. If a stray toe or hand slipped out, the monsters would bite it off. I tried it.
Unfortunately, as an adult you can envision the monster's talons going right through the covers and ripping your lungs out. I peeked out, nothing.
"This is silly." I mumble and turn on the TV. Jason is busy hacking someone into bloody chunks. Oops, wrong channel. I switch to the local news.
I-70 has been cleared all the way to Denver says the newscaster. The news opens new possibilities. Suddenly I am no longer trapped, I'm just a visitor in a noisy Cafe. I snuggle back into my sleeping bag, leaving the TV on for company and doze off.
I wake at 5 a.m. No thumping or creaking, just the droning hum of the lights and the chatter of the ice maker.
I gather my gear and begin the long process of clearing two feet of snow off my truck. I walk into the Cafe once more to make sure I have left nothing behind.
"Last chance." I say to the empty room. No reply. I lock the door and retreat to my warm truck.
The snow covers Georgetown like a glistening white shroud and the streets are quiet as, well..., a graveyard. Did I have a paranormal experience? Maybe. Would I do it again. You bet! But next time I would like company – just to verify my findings, of course. Maybe three or four people, or five or six. Just to get a broad consensual base. What other reason could I possibly have? Really.
Suggested News Resources
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- Museums and galleries are in Manhattan unless otherwise noted. Full reviews of recent art shows: nytimes.com/art.
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