The Scream

“We ask only to be reassuredAbout the noises in the cellarAnd the window that should not have been open” ― T.S. Eliot, The Family Reunion

I have the pleasure of working in a historic office building downtown. The building itself is over 100 years old and the city I call home is now proudly 300 years old. I’m within walking distance from the famed Alamo: hell, the original battle of the Alamo spilled over into where I sit and work nearly every day of the week.

And in the spirit of the season and as is tradition on this humble blog: I’m here to tell a ghost story.

Pull up a chair. Sit down. Dim the lights. Relax. Hopefully, this one won’t be too terrifying.

I work on the second floor of a building with six floors. We have a large atrium and an elevator that barely works but does its best.

Our office is small, both in size and physical capacity and occupancy. There’s only a few of us here. That means gossip travels quickly. So when the doors creak, phones ring without them being turned on and other strange occurrences; we naturally discuss such a thing. We’ve all had experiences. I heard my name clearly in the back of my ear when no one had called it. My boss has encountered shadow-like shapes in the men’s room. Our accountant has heard doors rattle and all the rest of us minions have experienced at least one paranormal thing in the office and it’s amazing how quickly one can just accept a place being haunted. Normally, a ghost or apparition like this would add character to a place but these occurrences seem to only be enough to temporarily frighten and then promptly be forgotten. It’s likely the most effective coping mechanism we have against dealing with such a threat: the prospect of ghosts is such a primal and existential threat that the mind likely comes up with many excuses to such things just for the sake of maintaining any base level of sanity.

But we’re not here to discuss the trapping of a mundane haunting, dear reader. Certainly, you expect more from your host.

It was a mostly quiet afternoon. I kept my headphones in because I require noise to work. There was very little conversation. We all had something to do.

And that’s when we heard it. It started out sharp. It was a sound I heard in the back of my ears, through my headphones and whatever podcast or music I was listening to as a means to pass the time. But it was distinct. It was a scream. It was, specifically, a man screaming.

All of my coworkers looked at me and we all looked at each other. We collectively rushed out of the office and leaned against the railing to see what happened. It sounded like someone had jumped from the top of the building but as we gazed down into the atrium: there was no one there. Our building neighbors had also rushed out to see what the commotion was all about. We had all heard The Scream.

Eventually the disbelief dissipated and we returned to work. Whispers started in the office that erupted into chatter. It was revealed that this was far from the first instance of The Scream heard in the building. My boss had heard it before and other tenants have discussed the phenomena in great detail. Each person tells the story in a similar way: it sounds very clearly like a man screaming falling from a great height. You can clearly hear the ebb and flow of terminal velocity in The Scream but you never hear the impact of falling and meeting the cold hard tile of the atrium.

We’ve considered all the options of what the ghost may be. Maybe it was one of the not-so brave heroes of the Alamo who wandered too far from the battlefield. Maybe he was a working crafting this historic building. Maybe he was a man who was at the end of his rope while working and saw only comfort at the end of the mortar and ceramic of the grand atrium.

We’ve heard the scream more than once. Almost always in the afternoon, almost always the sound can be too clear to be human. Almost always like he’s falling.

I’ve heard The Scream a few times now. Honestly, you never really get used to it. You never get used to hearing clearly in your inner ear the sound of a man falling to his death over and over again in your workplace.

Now most days are a waiting game to see if we will hear The Scream again. We’ve flirted with the idea of buying items to see if the ghosts in the building will communicate with us. I’m barred from bringing in my tarot cards for fear we may receive or attract something not so pleasant. We joke that our breaking point will be collectively when we all see a full-body specter but I’m sure that isn’t true: running from a ghost doesn’t remove the experience. That haunting stays with you.

It always does.

Happy Halloween, dear readers.


The Woman In White

-Of all ghosts the ghosts of our old loves are the worst.-Arthur Conan Doyle.png

It’s that special time of year again. Last time, you all loved my little ghost story so much that I decided to tell another one. You may know where this story is going but that won’t stop me from telling it. And if you’ve heard this story from me, then sit back, pull up a chair because you know it’s a good one.

Let’s take a step back in time. It’s the 90s. My parents and I were on a road trip. My dad’s family lives out in the side/middle-butt part of Texas. On the way back one night we decided to stop in Corsicana. Corsicana has a strange little restaurant called Catfish Plantation. And the plantation part is very literal. It was an actual plantation house with a Master, a Misses and a modest amount of slaves. Well, the Civil War ended and now the establishment is a seafood restaurant for some reason. And like all things old and Southern, it was of course, supposed to be haunted. The restaurant prided itself on being extremely haunted and my dad being the large Southern skeptic he was decided this would be the perfect place to take his wife and young daughter. I couldn’t have been anymore than 8 or 9.  

It was late. Later than we normally had dinner since the drive back from the middle of nowhere Texas took a couple of hours at least and Corsicana is sort of the middle point. I had no interest in this allegedly haunted eatery. I just wanted chicken fingers and sleep and probably my GameBoy. Naturally, since this was a haunted establishment, there was a long and overdone tour. My mother was somewhat interested since she loved history and my dad was somewhat interested since he was the one who had this brilliant idea and he had a point to prove. I couldn’t be bothered. I was bored to tears and the entire time there was this woman behind me who seemed fixated by my hair. She didn’t say much. She was tall (well, tall to me. I didn’t reach over 5’0’’ until I was 13). She was pale and her clothes looked funny to me. So the little bit of interest that I had in this ghost-infested fish house was dampened by the fact that there was a woman who keep bothering me. She looked mean. She kept looking at me like I shouldn’t be there.

The tour group wasn’t very large but it did seem to go on forever in between mentions of how quality the catfish was. The overly enthusiastic tour guide continued to prattle on about how bad slavery was (which we are African-Americans knew) and that just before the battles really got down to business in the state, the slaves rebelled and took revenge against the master and his wife. All the while the same woman continue to leer at me and now had started to touch my hair which my mother had so expertly styled into twin braided pigtails.

After what seemed like hours of enduring this I finally snapped and shooed a hand away from me. My dad immediately reprimanded me. My mother followed up and said I was being rude. But I told them the truth. There was a woman in the tour that wouldn’t leave me alone. There was a woman bothering me and when my parents asked me who it was I pointed up and they saw nothing. They saw no one there. There wasn’t anyone there.

“Congratulations.” the tour guide beamed “Your daughter has met the mistress of the house. She’s been dead for over 100 years.”

No one said anything for a while. No one mentioned it for a while. My mom and dad rarely spoke of the fact that clearly their little girl had seen some sort of apparition.

We finished a satisfactory catfish dinner. We stayed in a kitschy hotel for the night and we as a family didn’t speak of the ghost again.

In hindsight, it made sense that a ghost would appear in front of me. I was a small black child running around this old Southern slave owner’s home. It was perfectly logical and there’s many theories that ghost appear to children because kids pay attention to them. Adults try to rationalize everything away but kids are honest. If they see a ghost, they say they saw a heckin’ ghost.

There’s something amazing about being spiritual, being Catholic and believing in ghost stories. To a good Catholic, ghost stories are the antithesis of faith. The dead are meant to rest until the resurrection. If you believe in a God, a heaven and a redeemer: then how could there be ghosts? But there was always a spiritual, almost magical, part of my family. My great-grandfather was a mystical man despite being a devout Catholic. My grandmother was also hilariously superstitious until her death. After my grandfather died, we would still hear his footsteps on the plastic slip cover in the hallway at night. My aunts took great comfort in knowing that their father was resting in heaven but still wandered his house sometimes. When I went through my magical rebellious phase, my aunts were horrified until they realized that the grandfather they looked up to (my great-grandfather) also had a tarot deck and could quote Edgar Allan Poe well into his 90s. Suddenly, I didn’t seem like quite the little edgelord anymore.  But knowing that I came from a legacy of magic, mysticism and spirituality helped make sense of the world I saw. My godmother’s Cajun and thus very spiritual. Both grandparents held long standing superstitions. My aunts believed in ghosts and my parents couldn’t help but admit that it was a compelling event that happened at Catfish Plantation. I was always a weirdly mystical kid. Dr. Langston, my rhetoric professor, called me an Indigo Child more than once and Indigo Children were always thought to be special, to be magical. And it never bothered me to still use the Roman Catholic faith while also still believing in tarot, crystals and reading about alchemy and the Fox Sisters. Catholicism still looks very pagan for many reasons to this day.

We tell ghost stories for a variety of reasons. We like to imagine that some people never leave us. If there are ghosts then there has to be an afterlife. There has to be something after death and that is much more comforting than facing the cold indifference of the universe. But ghost stories also haunt our hearts. They give weight to those we lost, even if that person didn’t mean anything to you. A ghost story forces you to care about someone. Forces you to carry the weight. And a good ghost story should stay with you forever.

I know I’ll never forget my ghost stories.