A ghost story for a ghostly day…
It was late at night when Lindsay entered the old Custom House in Hamilton. She knew the stories of the hauntings: a woman in black buried in the walls of the basement who still wanders the halls; a young boy playing, perhaps an old student from the night school that was once there; the shadow of a black cat caught in between window panes or scampering up the stairs that vanishes into thin air. She heard of the terror the workmen restoring the building went through in the nineties. She didn’t really believe it, though. They are just stories, passed on through word of mouth and adapted like in the game of telephone into the elaborate tales they are now. Surely the workers didn’t really come in one day to find their tools stacked in a six foot pile, balancing precariously until toppling down when one of the workers tried to approach the tower.
The rain was coming down in sheets as she ran from her car to the door of the old building built in the 1850s. It was beautiful, but something about it gave her the creeps. She shuddered, shook off the rain and knocked on the big old door. A tall bald man with a dark goatee, wearing a long black coat over an old suit opened the door with a creak.
“Hello,” she said. ”I’m looking fo-”
“I know,” he answered in a low, quiet voice, then opened the door a little further, gesturing for her to come in.
He pointed to the coat rack and then stood over her, starring. She took off her wet coat and scarf. She could hear the winds rattling against the tall windows to the right of her. As she looked over at the noise, she saw a shadow and jumped. There between the grand staircase and the window was was a life-like sculpture of a man. He looked so realistic, she was certain there was another person in the room starring at her. She swore his eyes were following her. She shook it off and followed the real man with the goatee into a drawing room. She was determined not to let her imagination take over. I don’t believe in ghosts, only science, she said to herself.
She was left in the room to wait. All the windows were shuttered closed and an alter of candles at the front was the only light, casting shadows around the large space. The wind made the shutters shake a little. All of a sudden, one of the hinges on the shutter came undone and swung down with a huge clang. She jumped. A giggle escaped from her mouth, a coping mechanism for awkward situations that sometimes gets her in trouble. It was just the wind, she told herself. She looked around the large empty room, surprised no one else was there yet, but didn’t think too much of it. She was early. Ten minutes went by until the man with the goatee re-entered and gestured for her to follow him. She was relieved to be leaving the room. She wanted to make her apperance and get home to her cozy bed. She had been looking forward to it, but the rain and cold had made it difficult for her to leave her house and drive the hour to get there.
When she got into the front foyer she looked over at the sculpture of the man, just to make sure he hadn’t moved. She giggled again. She is being so silly. He’s made of wax, he can’t move. But those eyes of his are so creepy, like there is a soul trapped within them. She heard a noise to her right and realized her guide had left. She hurried after him, down some stairs, and through a door. She was alone in a dark hallway with three other doors. He hadn’t waited for her or told her which one to go through. She stood in silence for a few minutes, hoping he would come back or she would hear him calling.
Fat chance, she thought. That creepy dude wants me to be scared and alone. She weighed her options. She could just go back up the way she came and drive home. Although she had been looking forward to this for awhile. Or she could just pick a door and hope it was the right one. Maybe everyone is playing a trick on her? After a couple more minutes of complete silence she started to feel really hot and annoyed. She looked at each of the doors. She remembered the stories of the basement. There was a woman’s decapitated head that supposed fell through a dumb-waiter. There’s a room with an old, excavated staircase where there are cursed boots and a woman was supposedly raped on the stairs and haunted in her dreams after setting foot in the Custom House once. One of these doors also supposedly had the body of the woman in black buried in the walls and a bunch of men buried in an old tunnel in the floor because of an earthquake.
She looked at each door again, not sure which one to choose, then look a leap of faith and pushed open the first door on her right. A gush of wind knocked her a little off balance and she stumbled into the room. The door slammed behind her. Her heart was racing. It was pitch black besides a small red lantern in the far right corner.
“Hello?” she said. No answer.
She saw her guide sitting next to the lantern facing a hole in the wall to his right. A wave of relief fell over her. It then occurred to her that there was no one else in the room. What were they doing here? Where is everyone else? She can’t be that early. Her heart started to beat faster again. She could feel the adrenaline rushing through her body.
“Is this the place?” she asked her guide, trying to be forceful, but what came out was more of a whisper.
He didn’t respond. She took a couple of steps towards him and tripped on the uneven floor, but caught herself before she fell to the ground. She looked down and thought she saw a hand reaching out from the stone floor, but just as quickly it disappeared. The man with the goatee stills didn’t talk or move. She was starting to get really scared.
“Is this a joke?” she said. She tried to take deep breaths to calm herself, but she was certain she saw that hand coming from the floor. And why was the man not responding? Maybe she should leave, she thought. Instead she took another deep breath, approached the man and the hole in the wall. ”Hello,” she said, trying to get his attention. He continued to stare into the hole. All of a sudden a strong smell of sulphur filled the room. There was something wrong. She leaned in to touch the man’s shoulder. He turned very slowly around and looked at her silently. She jumped back. Where his eyes should be were just black holes. She started to panic, stumbled back as quickly as she could, but it was too dark to see where the door was. As she felt the walls to find the exit, a wave of cold surround her and a white light around her height and build appeared beside her. She screamed.
The door to the room opened. ”Hey! Lindsay. Are you okay? What are you doing in here? The ghost tour starts upstairs.” Her friend James stood in the door. He was the guide for the ghost walk she had come to the Custom House to go on.
“But, I was shown down here by…” She turned to point to the man with the goatee in the corner and her voice escaped her. There was no one there. She was the only one in the room. ”But. There was a man. He had black eyes. He made me follow him here. And a white figure. And a hand from the floor…” She walked towards James stunned, a few tears brimming at the corners of her eyes. She looked at him, looked back into the room. She tried to look brave. There are no such thing as ghosts, she told herself. It must have been a refraction of light. Or she was just tired.
“Are you okay?” James asked kindly. He guided her up the stairs. She took a deep breath, thanked him, told him she wasn’t feeling well, grabbed her coat, and walked out the door. She was not sure what she experienced, but she knew she never wanted to go back into that building ever again. She drove home and got right into bed, vowing never to tell anyone what happened. They wouldn’t believe her anyways, she convinced herself.
Just as she was about to close her eyes she felt a cold gust of wind hit her face, the smell of sulphur filled her nostrils and the shadow of a woman in a black dress walked through her room. She pulled the covers over her head and tried to sleep. She repeated over and over that “there are no such thing as ghosts”, but no matter how many times she repeated it, she couldn’t convince herself that it was true.
Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y’alls neighborhood
Happy Hallowe’en y’all!
(Based on a true story. Thanks James Pettitt and Haunted Hamilton for the legends of the Custom House to help with my story. Yes, I really did tour the Custom House, but did I experience the horror from the above story? I’ll leave that up to you to decide…)