A couple of weeks ago, I put together a thing about ghosts, thrown together from a few of my blog posts for a project and then decided to go a totally different way (which is coming soon, I’ll talk all about it when I know more). But my ghost story has been sitting there all gussied up in a prom dress with nowhere to go, like a ghost in the attic looking out the window in longing wait just wanting someone to pay it some attention.
I release you, ghost story.
Legitimate Ghost Science
The thing about being broke and watching House Hunters is that you start playing the game, What would I do for a real house? Would I live with a demon? I think I could totally live with a demon if it came with an attached garage. And theoretically this is true. Theoretically you’d put up with anything for more space and a dishwasher. But the reality is sleepless nights silently praying for the banging in the walls to stop in an apartment that smells vaguely of urine. The tradeoff is the exposed brick, original hardwood flooring, and natural lighting throughout in a desirable neighborhood downtown.
I lived with a ghost, so I know a lot about ghosts. Well, at least I know something about living with a ghost. That’s because I was haunted once and I think it might have been by the ghost of Molly Brown. You know, from the Titanic? I know, it seems weird, but hear me out. I lived in a super haunted apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver. My friend and I moved in there together. My friend, Vicki, not Molly Brown; Molly was already there and a ghost. Vicki’s not a ghost.
This apartment was walking distance from, what we later found out, was Molly Brown’s house. We did know her house was called Molly Brown’s House, but it was also 1996 and Titanic hadn’t come out yet, so we didn’t really know who she was. I guess there was a musical about her, but it took Kathy Bates to really bring the whole thing together. I did know that her house was a museum, but beyond that, I didn’t put too much thought into it.
Vicki and I were much younger than we are now. No gray hair between us. We were 19. And like most 19-year-olds, we ate raw cookie dough and corn out of cans we’d buy from the convenience store on the corner. We were obsessed with The Beatles and Weezer when they still had Matt Sharp in the band. We were either going to start a comedy troupe or a rock band. Maybe both even though I still don’t know how to tell a joke or play the guitar.
The day we moved into the Denver apartment, was a mixture of sweat and relief. We spent a good six weeks apartment hunting from Poets Row to Five Points and everywhere in between. The only other thing available was a small, windowless basement of an old Victorian home with a shared bathroom and a pull chain toilet, so walking into the sunny living room on 14th Avenue felt like a dream. Jenny, a mutual friend that Vicki and I knew from work had a corner apartment in the same building on the 3rd floor that looked out over an alley and an empty parking lot. I parked in the lot once when I couldn’t find street parking, and the parking lot police gave me a $150 parking ticket and a big orange sticker on my windshield that took me 3 hours with soapy water and a razor blade to get rid of. Jenny just paid $50 a month for a parking pass to avoid any of the hassle. That always seemed like a rip off to me.
So, the day we moved in, The Beginning, we were greeted by the welcoming sunlight that spilled in from two large windows on the south wall. There was a rumor that the building was built as a hotel for businessmen in the 1920s. There was a defunct dumb waiter up the center of the building, still accessible from the bathroom and adjacent hallways through clear windows. That dumb waiter probably had its heyday more than a few decades back, but now it was just a dusty smelling hole filled with old beer bottles and used syringes and see-through windows that looked into the neighbors’ access windows, located in their hallways and bathrooms. It only just occurred to me now that my neighbors quite possibly saw me naked, but to be fair to past me – and future me that will inevitably lay awake tonight thinking about it in horror – my neighbors seeing me fresh out of the shower was the least awful thing about the Denver Apartment. I mean, there were bullet holes in the bathroom tile. Vicki and I brushed it aside telling everyone who came over, that it gave the place a little character.
You know when you see something paranormal going down and you think, Yeah, I’m just going to ignore that? It doesn’t work.
Only hours after being courted by the sunny afternoon sun, bouncing off the original hardwood flooring in the living room, Vicki and I held each other in the dark in fear on that very floor as rattling chains and moaning laughter and slow, even footsteps walked up and down the original hardwood hallway. We cried and stayed up all night praying to the ghost of John Lennon to protect us.
I walked out to my car the next morning to see that it got tagged on the street, right in front of Molly Brown’s house. It wasn’t like a spray paint tag, but it was a very threatening scribble in the frost on my back window. This has actually happened twice in my life. Both times being right as I moved into a new place. Maybe it’s a guardian angel that hates me. Maybe it’s a ghost who was a fan of Ghost trying to tell me I’m in danger but doesn’t have a penny to roll up the wall, so he has to scroll it out in the early morning windshield dew. BITCH, he writes in whatever crossed realm magic he has summoned. Perfect! he thinks, she’ll know what that means.
I think I may have summoned these ill-willed ghosts through the Ouija Board as a teen and then they never left me.
When I was 13, I developed body odor and an obsession with the Ouija Board. I think in that order and at the same overnight visit to my friend, Lauren’s house.
Sara, Lauren, and I met in middle school art class and in between drawing circle people and perspective cityscapes, the two of them spent every class, willingly or not, listening to my unverified theories that perhaps all of Def Leppard were deaf and way into cats. I also spoke loudly on my conviction that West Coast hip hop group, N.W.A. was named after an airline. I’m pretty sure the girls had some bet going between them over who could stand my idiot stories the longest without laughing. Maybe there was a can of soda on the line. Whatever it was, I eventually infiltrated their clique of friends like Ebola, spreading my ignorance and lies to the furthest reach. Miraculously, I was never beaten up.
The year was 1989, possibly 1988 but we’re not going to squabble because when I start doing the math on my age I begin to sweat and grow even older. It’s like that merry-go-round in Something Wicked This Way Comes, all fun and games until your skin wrinkles and dusts off of your skeleton into a pile of ash and sadness.
At a sleep-over at Lauren’s house, we had just finished watching a rented VHS copy of The Exorcist which, even at the time, we all knew was a bad idea, but none of us wanted to admit it out loud, so we decided to dress up in Lauren’s new dresses from her trip to San Francisco earlier that summer and at that precise moment, I realized that I officially needed to start wearing deodorant. I’m convinced it was fear manifesting itself in physical form, like Freddie Krueger shredding up the pits of Lauren’s new dress with my onion-like stench. I’m a true friend and said nothing about it. We also decided at this time to pull out the Ouija Board and talk to dead people because I think a Magic 8 ball told us it was destined. This would not be my last Ouija Board experience, nor my last attempt to talk to dead people. They have apps now.
“Only use two fingers, like lightly put them on. Actually, they shouldn’t even really touch it, just like hover.”
“But it needs our energies to work, or something doesn’t it? How’s it going to work if we’re not touching it? We need to touch it.”
“Yeah, like if we didn’t need to touch it, it’d be channeling ghosts all the time!”
“What if it’s channeling ghosts right now? I don’t think I want to do this. You saw what happened in Exorcist. Even the smoking priest couldn’t handle the demons that came from the Ouija Board.”
“He smoked. That’s what the demons were mad about. The smoking. He was probably faking the whole thing anyway. He was a stunt priest.”
“Can we get on with this? Okay. Two fingers, touching the pointy thing, but lightly. And don’t push it. I’ll know if you’re pushing it.”
Will you know though, Lauren and Sara? I thought to myself as I sat oozing B.O. into a dress that wasn’t mine.
To be honest, I probably pushed it, but I don’t remember doing so. I remember being spooked and engrossed in the story playing out before us, letter by letter, of a boy named Kenneth who was killed – hit by a Coca Cola truck on his way home from the mall – or something equally as adolescent, and forced into an afterlife of parlor tricks and fortune telling.
I’m afraid ghosts are becoming too kitsch. Too trendy. Too hip. It’s all fun and games until I pull out my ghost app at a party and then I’m what, too old for this? The ghosts don’t care how old you are, Heather.
One night in the Denver apartment, as I stepped out of the shower – you’re welcome, Apartment 10 – my cat, who was standing on the towel rack on the back of the door jumped onto my naked, wet body in pure fight or flight mode as I grasped out desperate to find a towel that I could wrap around me as an impromptu cat shield.
I opened the door to the bathroom, the cat tore off around the corner leaving scratch marks in the floor and as I looked up, at the end of the dark hallway, I was staring eye to eye with a Victorian woman, dressed in a white Victorian gown, and you could tell that she wasn’t real, it was like looking at a hologram. But she stared at me as she moved into the bedroom – my bedroom – slamming the door behind her.
I never used that bedroom again. I spent the remainder of my residency at the haunted Denver apartment sleeping on the hand-me-down loveseat in the living room. I should’ve known that room was evil from the start. There was a creepy mirror glued to the wall that you probably didn’t even have to play Bloody Mary in front of to get the ghost in it to come out to say hi.
You would assume, knowing my obsessive interest in the paranormal, that I would’ve, at some point in my life been down to play a good old round of Bloody Mary. In case you don’t remember being a teenage girl at a slumber party in the 80s, Bloody Mary is more than that disgusting drink with clam juice and vodka. Bloody Mary was a “game” where you would stand in the bathroom with the lights out, close your eyes and chant “Bloody Mary” three times and when you opened your eyes, you would see a murdered girl in the mirror, standing behind you, looking at you. I know that we joked about doing this at several parties, I don’t actually know if any of us ever went through with that third “Bloody Mary”. Maybe the game was invented after someone drank three Bloody Marys and was trying to refocus and reassess their life decisions alone in the bathroom as we all do, when your face looks bloated and weird and you realize you’ve had too many Bloody Marys.
My interest in the paranormal is in jest only. When put into an actual situation where there may be a ghost, I’m not as cool as I pretend to be. I’ve lived with a ghost and lived to tell the tale. It’s my party story. But, ghosts are trouble and not something you invite into your home as a joke. I’ve watched The Exorcist. I’ve seen how that plays out.
I remember once at my grandma’s house, my sister, Julie and I decided we would try to summon Mary. It was the afternoon, what could go wrong? We’ll never know because I couldn’t go through with it. Not even in the middle of the afternoon.
The slumber parties I remember the most are the ones where we tried to scare each other. Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board was a favorite and I always wanted to be the one levitated so that I could feel envied for being so magical and airy. I never levitated. And then there was the Ouija Board which I’m not sure whether it worked or not but when I was a middle schooler, I’m pretty sure I would sometimes push the little triangle thing to see how far I could get my friends to believe. This is probably what has angered the ghosts.
One day a guy knocked on the door at the Denver apartment and said he used to live there and asked if he could use the fire escape. I said “yes” because I was 19 and stupid and he came in, went down the hall, into the ghost’s bedroom, and right out the window onto the fire escape. I should’ve asked more questions. That guy was probably also a ghost. I had to go in the room to close the window behind him and I think the ghost woman touched my hair. I don’t know. That was the last time I went into that room.
The thing about living in an apartment is that most of the time, you can easily blame all strange noises on the neighbors. Was that a demon growl or just Chubs, the bulldog that lives next door? Was that a ghost in the hallway or just Brian upstairs, rattling his chains for some reason? Kitchen cabinets slamming? Earthquake. It’s like living in complete ignorant denial. Icy hand caressing my back? Roaches probably. See? People in apartments, for the most part, ignore it. This is probably why all horror movies happen in houses.
I’m not like those normal apartment people. I assume everything is a ghost. One time, my husband had his headphones on while he was humming a song in the kitchen, only I didn’t know it was him at first. He sounded like a ghost haunting. I heard a ghostly moan that paralyzed me with fear, something I hadn’t felt since the Denver ghost. It was just Billy.
Maybe I should get my own ghost show, filmed in night vision green where I go around in the dark investigating moans. Holding a device that sounds like it’s detecting dead bodies in concrete, my glowing eyes looking concerned, I’d say to the camera, “Hmm that could be actual paranormal, could be a dude in headphones humming along to The Lemon Twigs. I’m going to take an EVP here in the kitchen, Sheila, you go investigate the hallway”. I was watching a ghost hunting show once and they were using their iPhones to communicate with the ghosts. I do have to say, from being an expert in ghost apps, I think they might not detect real ghosts. Like, the ghosts that appear on your phone screen look like they might have teleported in from an 80’s movie. The 3 Men and a Baby ghost looks more ghostly than these app ghosts. I did have one app that cost like $6.99 that probably talked to real ghosts but then it wouldn’t update anymore, and it would just crash my whole phone, so I had to delete it.
I think the perception we have of ghosts and demons is wrong because, in my multiple apartment hauntings, it’s the ghosts you see in white that are the demons. The dark shadows that just lurk in the corners, minding their own business, they’re fine. They’re not Harry Potter dementors or those things that took Carl away at the end of Ghost. But these are probably irrelevant examples regarding house ghosts, because all of my hauntings have been apartment ghosts. You have to admit, it does seem more likely that bad stuff happens in houses. And hotels. What do apartments get? A bum rap, that’s what. And a shared laundry room that ne’er-do-wells sometimes break into in the middle of the night to steal your laundry, but I’m not 100% convinced the laundry thing wasn’t just the neighbors across the way exacting petty revenge. Back in my haunted Denver apartment, a man used to sleep down in the laundry room and he would yell at you when you turned on the light. I don’t think he was a ghost.
If I had the hacking skills and smarts, like Mr. Robot, I would totally find out how to scare people using the microphone on their laptops. I would target my friends too, like “Hi, Michelle. It’s me, a demon. Nice shirt. Go Broncos!”. Friends would be the best prey because I already know their weaknesses and I have a vested interest in their reactions. I feel that’s important in a prank. “Hey Vicki, the guy from the laundry room is standing behind you in your blouse.” Somebody teach me these practical skills please. This is what kind of ghost I would be, by the way. A chain rattling, spooky sounds ghost that apparitions out of a friend’s cupboard. I hope that there’s a ghost wardrobe department and I can be ghosts from various decades. Like 60’s hippie ghost, Salem witch trial ghost, caveman ghost, because I don’t think there’s enough of those talked about. Standard white sheet over the head ghost. Headless horseman ghost. The styles are endless. This is probably what ghosts are, they just scare us because it’s hilarious to them.
But are ghosts even real? I’ve lived in a couple of haunted apartments, one that was the scariest apartment in the world. But logically ghosts make no sense, and that is what makes ghosts so scary. For all we know they could just be an alternate universe overlapping ours where they’re as weirded out about me as I am about them. In this universe, I’m sitting on a couch, in their world, I’m a weird half vision in the hallway with messy hair.
Here’s the thing. I know, scientifically or logically or whatever ghosts don’t exist. Like it doesn’t make sense. I also very much believe in ghosts. Because I’ve seen them. I have lived with ghosts. I don’t wish living with a ghost on anyone no matter what the interior design perk it may come with. And yet, at the same time, I don’t know how it’s possibly a thing. There’s a whole scientific thing about energy transference and how energy doesn’t just go away; it has to go somewhere. And where else would it go other than ghosts and Ouija Boards? But I also get the whole thing about how an energy field being off in your home because of negative ions or leaking water pipes, or something else that makes scientific sense, our human brains interpret this fluctuating, abnormal, unbalanced energy as danger. But, since we can’t physically see danger, our brains form hallucinations trying to make sense of the whole thing and we see ghosts. Or something. But I’ve seen ghosts live in the ghost flesh and if what I saw was only my mind’s hallucinations, my brain deserves an Oscar. I looked that Molly Brown ghost in the eyeballs.
But ghosts have to exist. I seem to be a vessel for ghosts. I have the ones that hate me and write nasty messages on my car windows, and there was that one time that I’m pretty sure Elvis visited me in my kitchen and dumped a cabinet of Tupperware on me while “Heartbreak Hotel” played on the radio. There was Molly Brown, who I don’t really think was Molly Brown. I looked her up, she seemed like she was a really cool lady. And we have the same birthday. Denver Apartment Ghost was not a cool lady. I refuse to share my birthday with Denver Apartment Ghost. She smelled like pee.
I sat down to pee last night and I got hit in the head by my son’s plastic, Halloween sickle that was propped up behind the bathroom door. That’s how Death is going to take me. Not slicin’ and dicin’ like some garden variety Freddy Krueger; the Grim Reaper is too sophisticated for such dramatics. He’s just going to jump scare me into a heart-attack on the toilet. Like Elvis.
Now, if I would have met my eternal demise then and there, we would be in quite a pickle. The obvious, number one reason being no pants. I probably want to be wearing pants when I die. Secondly, my bathroom is a disaster. Like biohazard zone disaster. I should probably take some Scrubbing Bubbles to the sink soon and like, a flame torch to the rest of it. I can’t be found naked and slumped over in a bathroom that resembles a truck stop. It’s embarrassing. Not only for me, but future generations that have to relive the humiliation in stories told and retold ’round the campfire in vivid detail.
I’m going to need a cleaner. Like a personal assistant but also super loyal that will take care of all of my indiscretions before the news teams and nosy neighbors arrive to find all my photoshops of Prince as a ghost in purple undies on my laptop. This might be hard to coordinate though because, as my super loyal personal assistant life restorer, you’d have to be on call for like, ever, because I don’t plan on ever dying. I’m going to be like one of those Twilight vampires with the glittery skin that live well into their 1,000s. “Sorry for waking you, kid, that wasn’t a ghost, that’s me walking the hallway at 3:00 AM ‘cause I can’t sleep. I’m too busy worrying about neighbors seeing the cat attack me while naked in the bathroom last century. Yes, the wailing moans are me as well. Go to sleep, Renesmee.” The easy thing to do would be to just keep my life together while I’m alive, but let’s be honest, this is not a skill I currently have on my resume.
Now that I think about the logistics of this, someone needs to call up TLC, this is the show idea! I need either Theresa Caputo or Zak Bagans to team up with like, Oprah and the What Not to Wear team to come in with a camera crew and sort me out. They can help me throw away my underwear with the holes in them, sort through my emails, vacuum, make friends with current ghosts already in the building, etc.
See, I base a lot of my knowledge of the afterlife on what I’ve seen in the movies, mostly Ghost and Beetlejuice and here’s the thing, once you’re a ghost, you’re stuck in the clothes you died in. I don’t make the rules. So, do we want comfort or haute couture? Like, do I have to walk around in Gucci the rest of my life? Is this why you see so many ghosts in ballgowns? Or am I okay haunting the halls in my sweatpants? Do they make gowns in sweatpants material? These are things I need to find out. Dying on the toilet will still be a problem, but that’s what you hope your family is for. Emily Dickinson’s family published her poems after she died, I’m just trying to get mine to agree to pull up my pants.
This could be my new life path. Live in a way that won’t embarrass me when I die. Although, what kind of life is that? It’s boring. Maybe I would have a better shot if I live my life preparing those around me for my embarrassing ghost phase. Like I’ll just be openly weeping in the hallway at various times throughout the day and adding photoshopped pictures of Prince to my email signatures.
Please, someone’s just gotta pull up my pants…