One of My True Ghost Stories
Nothing Troublesome Here
I am not one of those paranormal investigators who obsesses over finding proof about life after death. I'm just a normally curious person who wonders whether the "real ghost stories" are actually real or just the product of overactive imaginations.
When this true story happened, I was the pastor’s secretary in a very small office located in a rather old church building. It was a historic building, and it had some architectural features that made it something of a conversation piece. Because of my boss’s schedule, I was often there alone. It was a part-time job, four hours each day, and it suited me quite well. I liked the position, and from all I could tell the congregation liked me too.
Besides having some interesting history, the building was located on a major thoroughfare, which meant that sometimes when people passed by, they might want to come in off the street. But I learned that the people who did so (in that location anyway) were often people who had some kind of mental problem, perhaps even a religious mania, and it might be frightening to be alone in the building with them. The door to the outside was not visible from the office, so years ago the church people had installed a buzzer there, so that the outside door could be kept locked. People would ring the buzzer and I, or anyone else in the building, could see through the glass who it was and either open the door or talk through it to answer questions.
Fun on the Telephone, and a Ghost Story within a Ghost Story
Part of my job was to log calls that came in while I was there. Most of the time they were legitimate, church-related calls. But there were numerous occasions when the phone would ring and no one would be there. At least, no one would answer. I developed a little spiel, a little patter to speak when that happened. I felt somewhat awkward, not knowing whether anyone was on the other end. The line really sounded dead many of those times, but it did not revert to its dial tone. Other times there would be a lot of static on the line. I got into the habit of saying, “Oh Hi! How are you? It’s you again, is it? Well, there’s not much going on here today. I don’t know what you wanted this time, but I really can’t help you right now. I guess you’ll just have to call back.” When I was in a good mood, I didn’t mind the calls – they just seemed like a joke. Sometimes I found them to be highly irritating, mainly because I didn’t know how to explain them.
It finally occurred to me (slow, I know) that the calls were probably caused by some sort of glitch in the local phone company’s system. Maybe they were related to a weather problem or wet soil or something of the sort. I started logging those calls separately, with the intention of trying to contact the phone company one day and ask them if they could possibly check into them.
In the meantime….. occasionally other people worked in the building; people might be there to set up for annual events like the bazaar or chili supper or to attend the weekly daytime Bible Study. Once a week a part-time custodian and her assistant cleaned and polished the building. I learned that the custodian was a writer; she had taken a year’s leave of absence from a very lucrative job, in order to write her dream novel. The custodial position was really just a way for her to get out of the house and out among people, a way of taking a break from her intense writing. She and the assistant both were very likable people, and we would chat for a few minutes each week, but usually only a few, since my work on those days was often at its busiest.
I didn’t really talk with them – or anyone else – about the non-phone-calls I had been receiving. I was determined to solve the mystery on my own, using my own good sense and observational abilities as an amateur scientist.
One day, Amber and I both seemed to have a little bit more time available than usual, so I asked about her book – how the writing was proceeding, and all that. I realized that I had never before asked her what it was about, so I put the question to her. “It’s a sort of ghost story,” she said. “Actually, it’s about a woman who is experiencing some phenomena that she can’t explain, and so she sets out to determine whether or not ghosts exist.” She paused. “It’s fiction,” (I had guessed that),”but I myself really do honestly have some spiritual questions. I don’t know what to believe, but I guess it seemed to me that in writing the book I could get a grip on my own beliefs – and make a good story at the same time.”
Great, I thought. Ho Hum.
Skepticism and Curiosity
Like many or most people, I have wondered about ghosts from time to time. I have wavered at different times between complete disbelief and mild acceptance of the possibility. I have even thought sometimes that I would like to have some experiences that might help me to formulate an actual theory of my own, something that I could accept, that would explain some of the contradictions that I have heard from various people I trust. At one time, I even thought about sitting in a cemetery at midnight, just to see what would happen. I haven’t done that yet, but I’ve never totally ruled it out. [Edit: After writing this, I actually did pursue something along these lines; but that is a different "true ghost story" to tell one of these days.]
When Amber was telling me about her book, I was really quite amused. A grown woman writing a ghost story? To help her make up her mind about ghosts? Cute. Nice idea. But not for me. I doubted that I would ever read her book, but I did have some curiosity about what kind of writer she might be. She clearly had some skills and experiences that I would never have guessed.
Life went on. Work went on. I kept writing and copying bulletins, preparing and sending the monthly newsletter, keeping records, preparing the church directory, doing all the daily chores, answering the phone and logging the calls, even when no one was on the other end of the line. And Amber and her assistant continued to come in once a week to clean and ready the building for its busiest day.
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One week, when the three of us were the only ones in the building, I was working quietly at my desk when Amber rushed in, quite agitated. “Do you have a way of turning on a radio from up here?” she asked. Her question didn’t really make sense to me, and I guess that it showed in my face, because she repeated and clarified. “Can you turn on the sound system that is downstairs in the Fellowship Hall? Is there some way you can do that from up here?” she asked.
“Noooo,” I replied hesitantly, “no, I don’t know of any way to do that. But I can ask around and see if it can be done.”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” she responded. “Irene and I were downstairs cleaning, and all of a sudden, the sound system came on. At full blast. Neither one of us was anywhere near it, so we know that we didn’t bump into it or anything like that.”
It was odd, to be sure, but not out of the question. We talked a bit longer, and it seemed to me that the simple act of talking about it calmed Amber down quite a bit. When she was a little quieter she explained, “It really did seem like something a ghost might do. And it sort of tied in with something I was writing about in my book last night.”
I told her that I would come downstairs when I could and see if I could come up with any ideas that might explain it, and so she left me to go back downstairs to work. Now, my husband has a degree in electronics and he has always had a huge interest in everything electronic and electrical; some of his interest, and a little bit of his knowledge, have rubbed off on me. And so I felt confident that I could come up with a plausible, rational, realistic explanation. A ghost, indeed! We’re adults here, remember?
I might add here at this point, that at the time this story happened I had not heard that the town where it was located had a regional reputation as having numerous ghostly phenomena. Not that that knowledge would have made any difference to me. I’m not responsible for what the local people tell for their own entertainment.
I finished the task I was working on, but not without receiving another silent phone call. It was not an exceptionally high stress day for me (tell that to Amber and Irene!), but I was just having too many non-work-related interruptions, and it was irritating to me. And now this – a “ghost” phone call – on top of Amber’s irrational assumption that a sound system that turned on of its own accord could be paranormal in some way. Really!
Really! I felt pretty fed up with it. So I talked out loud - pretty loudly - to “it,” whatever “it” was. “Okay, ghost, old friend, old buddy, old pal. I don’t even believe you’re real, I don’t believe there’s a ghost here at all. I can think of plenty of explanations for the phone calls and for the sound system glitch. But, just for the sake of argument, I’ll pretend that I think you are real. I don’t know what you’re up to, but you clearly have something you want to tell us. Just come right on out and tell us what’s going on. What’s on your mind? Better yet, why don’t you just send me an e-mail? That would be something that I could see and read, and it would be a lot easier to understand, because I can’t for the life of me figure out what you’re trying to tell me with your phone calls!!” I was glad no one was around in my part of the building, because it was so stupid – weird and strange – to talk out loud as if there were somebody there, when I knew for certain that they were not.
I headed downstairs to where Amber and Irene were working, and they showed me the system. They turned it on again at full volume as it had come on earlier (they had turned it off in the meantime), and I commisserated with them. No wonder they had been scared silly. It was an exceptionally loud sound in an uncarpeted room that provided a lot of added amplification. If someone were working along quietly and with focus, and then BOOM – well, anyone would have gotten a fright.
It was an audiotape-player/CD-player/radio combination, and I wanted to find out how it had come on at full volume, for no reason at all, all by itself. I looked on every side around it to see how it was plugged in and what sort of controls it had. I looked at all of the wires going in and coming out to see how they were labeled. I investigated everything I could imagine to see if I could discover what sort of opportunity there might be for an audio glitch of some kind. I didn’t have enough detailed knowledge to verbalize what I was intuiting, but I could see that there were several possible explanations. So I started with the one that was easiest to explain.
“The Boy Scouts were here last night, weren’t they? Don’t you suppose that they could have had this system on and then forgotten to turn it off when they left? Maybe they just turned the volume down low, thinking that they were turning it all the way off.”
“Okay, but how did it come on today?” the women asked. I pondered that. “I think something jostled it and just caused the knob to turn; it could be very loose. Maybe traffic outside or something similar caused it. This is an old building. It has some wobbles in it that the traffic might affect.
“I really think that’s it. Someone – probably the Scouts – left it on by mistake, and some unknown movement caused the volume to jump suddenly, just to give you all a good scare!” I smiled as I said it. It wasn’t really a very good explanation, but they were so rattled, I didn’t think they needed any speculation on other-worldly possibilities that would stoke their fears.
“Another thing that might have happened is some kind of electrical surge in the lines. You never know how these things happen. Electricity doesn’t come into a building at a perfectly even rate, you know. It could have been a power surge that did it.”
They weren’t convinced, but they were too nice to tell me so. But my assumed air of assurance did help them to continue as calmly as they could under the circumstances. They did, however, tell me that they were going to finish their work as fast as possible and leave. “Will you be okay here by yourself?” they asked. Of course I would. I stayed by myself nearly all the time, and their scary incident couldn’t affect me in any way.
But as I headed back upstairs, self-confident and a little cocky, I started thinking about ghosts in general and “the ghost” in the phone. I remembered my challenge – the one that I had spoken aloud before I went downstairs. “Wouldn’t it be funny if there really were some sort of e-mail? How would a ghost go about sending one?” I wondered.
And it was in that frame of mind that I sat down at my desk and checked e-mail one more time before finishing other chores and leaving for the day. Sure enough, I found that an unfamiliar e-mail address had sent us something; there was some sort of spam in the Inbox. That definitely puzzled me, because the office e-mail account had, so far, been quite free of external spam. You know what I mean: sometimes there were forwarded e-mails from known senders that I would probably just delete if it were my home account; we got those touching – awwww – stories, political opinions, 101 new uses for Coca-Cola. Of course we also received legitimate advertisements for church-related products. But in my year-plus of time working there, I had not seen even one e-mail that I considered to be genuine spam.
And now there it sat, and I had to decide what to do with it. I couldn’t decipher the subject line. I mean, I could read it, but it didn’t convey to me what the e-mail was about. The only way to discover that would be to open it.
I admit I was curious that it had arrived immediately after my challenge to a “ghost”; and I wanted to see what kind of message I might possibly receive from “the other side,” if such a thing could actually happen. I was skeptical, but I was curious. So I opened it.
It was an advertisement for Viagra.
I kid you not. I laughed and laughed, and I decided that whatever kind of message any “ghost” was trying to send me, the only sane thing I could do was to treat it like the joke it appeared to me to be. I’m sure I will always find some irony, even humor, in the fact that that particular e-mail arrived on a day when we were talking and wondering about ghostly phenomena. I can’t say that I will ever truly believe a ghost was trying to tell me that he was in love with me – but if I ever need any leverage in the romantic arena, I can simply remind my husband that a ghost once tried to woo me by e-mail.