The Tape: Haunted After Midnight
Among the Spirits
Addition to the Lore of Horror
What follows is a story based on a real experience I had in high school. The school really did have a haunted history connected with it and we used to badger teachers to continue telling us those stories. The details found in the story are as true to what happened as I can remember following one newspaper experience. With Halloween so close, here follows just one experience I've had with the "paranormal."
Directly across the cemetery, the three-story, all-girls school loomed, waiting. Many who attend tell stories of basketballs bouncing long after they had been locked up, of chairs moving across the floor late at night, of a little boy’s laugh followed by the appearance of a light in a vacant room once dark. As my mom parked the car, I felt the thick, ever-present dread within, tangible as the nightly hue surrounding us. An investigation awaited, part of my recent assignment for the school paper. Were the paranormal encounters baseless stories to inspire awe, or genuine encounters with the unexplained? I didn’t know, but as I caught the nightly hue surrounding the tombstones across from us, I felt a shred of peace. Beautiful. I turned, missing the familiarity and reassurance they offered already. Walking grimly into the school with my mom, the other needed chaperon, I hoped that I was wrong and there would be more para and less normal. The para I could handle. The normal was something different.
The night began by setting up shop on the second floor in a classroom, then ordering pizza. Sitting quietly, I listened as the girls – all seniors – asked about the latest development in my advisor’s new relationship. Instantly, her expression radiated joy, her voice excited, gushing. After she left to talk to him on the phone, I listened as the girls discussed my advisor’s relationship before chatting amicably about what college would be like and how to avoid the freshmen fifteen. Being a sophomore, I attempted to understand the flow of their conversation, which seemed strange. I strained my allegedly smart mind for some comment to contribute, some words that meant I was a presence, too. But that wasn’t my world and while my mom read quietly in the back, I remained invisible.
Around midnight, I remembered the other procedures we had discussed back when a haunted overnight sounded like fun. After reminding the girls of them, we walked around placing tape recorders around different areas. Some of the girls put powder outside of doors. Maybe we would see footprints. On the third floor – alone – I set the tape recorder down, feeling dead inside as I did. Maybe I was too uptight, too rigid in my ways. Youth is supposed to be fun, careless. Pacing the hall again, I tried to sense the para. Nothing. If you’re there, I’m not afraid of you. No, the para would be nice about now.
Not long after I went back downstairs, I promptly fell back asleep as a movie played in the background. Nothing happened, I thought, disappointed. Waking followed too quickly after comfortless sleep. As we gathered up our supplies and went around collecting the tape recorders, a janitor listened dubiously to one of my fellow reporters stating that the powder was just powder, not anthrax. Back in the days when 9/11 remained as fresh dew on our consciousness and the media blared varying levels of possible terrorist threats at us, we were all a little jumpy. Why were we courting the fake intangible threats when the real ones surrounded us? I didn’t know, but I walked sleepily off to homeroom, annoyed.
Walking into the newspaper room later, I waited for the resigned statements that the ghost stories were just the stuff of local legend. Skepticism had won out for the day. To my chagrin, I listened to my adviser and fellow classmates recount tales of listening to chairs being moved in the floor above. Must have been after I fell asleep. Or they just wanted to believe in ghosts. Only the glow in my advisor’s voice – perpetual since she started dating again – had subsided, tinged now by a tremulous gravity.
Just the collective producing their fears, I thought. Skeptical, I didn’t anticipate anything more. Then we began listening to the tapes.
I hit play on my tape. First came the silence. Expected. Nothing out of place about that. Footsteps follow. I comment that this must have been after I turned it on. We sit, listening to the sound of my walking. Listen as I pause before descending the stairs.
“What’s that?” one of the girls asks, her voice abrupt.
I hit replay, baffled. We listen again. Listen as I walk down the stairs, my footprints a soft, unsteady rhythm – I’ve always had a phobia of stairs. Mixed in that cadence of the rise and fall of my feet comes another set of footprints, soft yet definitely out of sync with my careful rhythm. “Creepy,” one girl mutters, her vivacious eyes alight with wonder.
The tape played on. “Stop. Hit replay,” the elfin-faced girl said, oblivious to the way the others have crowded, the soft chatter of their conversations stilled. “It sounds like someone talking,” she comments as we listen to the soft, indelible voice come from the recorder. More than once, we hit replay, poised on the edge of a mystery that is now ours. “First floor, first floor, not that way, over there,” spoke the soft voice.
“This is too weird,” our adviser declared, her voice shaken, disturbed.
I said nothing, uncertain. Later, while describing the experience to someone who didn’t believe in ghosts, he pointed out that perhaps the voice was just one of the girls secretly messing with the experiment. Or even just one of the janitors, perhaps.
I shook my head. “The janitors had all left by the time we started recording. And it couldn’t have been a girl’s voice. The voice had too have been a guy’s – it was too low to be a girl’s.”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts. It’s not biblical,” my opponent continued.
I frowned, uncertain. The tape disappeared not long after that incident – I’ve never found it again – and my skepticism wavered. In an attempt to repeat the experiment two years later, my advisor, now married, emphatically disagreed. It wasn’t journalistic, she told us. Yet I couldn’t help but ignore the strange tone in her voice, so similar to the one she adopted when quickly describing the experience of listening to chairs move overhead. Maybe some things were real – and maybe they weren’t.
But somewhere in time is a girl afraid of normal, a group of girls poised on the edge of their future, a bright voice in love, and a voice calling us to some part of our school that we might never know on this side of the living.
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