Friday, October 08, 2010
A Hole in the Wall
This is not a ghost story.
The main reason this is not a ghost story is that there are no ghosts in it. No long dead wraiths with unfinished business, no malicious poltergeists throwing furniture against the walls, and no lost souls trying to reach out from the other side. If this were a ghost story it would probably be more satisfying. You could come away from reading it satisfied that you had gotten your times worth. "This is about the time I met a ghost, and this is what it had to tell me." Perhaps it would cause you to question your beliefs about the afterlife. Perhaps it would reaffirm them. Or perhaps you would simply dismiss it as an obviously fraudulent Halloween tale. Unfortunately there are no such meetings in this story, and it is far too mundane to be likely to inspire such impassioned responses. What I will say, however, is that this story is completely true, and it's about the scariest moments in my life.
During my first two years of college I worked a couple nights a week cleaning a laundromat. I would come in sometime between midnight and 7am and sweep, mop and wipe down the laundry machines. It was not a glamorous or high paying job, but it was easy, the money was under the table, and I got paid a flat rate per night. That meant that if I worked quickly I could make nearly 20 bucks an hour. Not a bad job for a college kid with no bills. A couple hours work and I'd have enough for a couple new CDs. It also helped that I enjoyed the night. I enjoyed biking to work through dark and empty streets, seeing no one but the occasional cat or dog. I liked biking home as the sun was just about to rise. Sometimes these commutes would turn into full on excursions, as I biked down the coastal trail, or just roamed around the deserted midtown area.
The night on which this story takes place was in the early fall, which in Anchorage means that it got very dark at night and there was snow on the mountains, but it was still temperate enough that you could comfortably venture out at night with a light jacket. I started working about 1am, and there was nothing about the night-or the laundromat itself- that would make me think that soon I would be fearing for my life.
I went about my business as usual for the first hour; headphones on as I wiped down the washing machines, swept the floor and emptied the trash. After throwing the trash into the dumpsters around back I took off my headphones as I switched the CD in my discman, and I noticed a sound I had so far missed: running water. Running water; that's not something you'd be surprised to hear in a laundromat, even one that was closed, but this sounded different. It wasn't the sound of water running through pipes, or of a slow drip. This was the sound of open water. Imagine a deep and slowly moving creek. I had already turned off the power to the laundry machines, so I checked the sinks and toilets; none of them were running.
Along the back of the laundromat, running the length of the business, was a 3-4 foot wide corridor. It was primarily for storage and the pipe-works. You could walk through it, if you were sure to watch your head for frequent pipes, and didn't mind emerging covered in dust and cobwebs. I checked back there, turning on the one bare bulb, but none of the pipes were leaking. And anyways the sound of water was no louder in the corridor than anywhere else in the building. Feeling my obligation to the owners was fulfilled, I stopped looking for leaks and set about my final task of mopping.
Now that I had noticed it, however, the sound of water was all I could hear, and uneasiness started to creep in.
At the time I regularly wore a necklace. A small Chinese coin on a leather strap. I'm not normally a necklace person, and have never before or since worn any form of jewelry, but this had been the lone gift at a pretty crappy birthday, so it held some small sentimental value. As I worked I became very aware of that necklace. I felt very clearly the leather strap on the back of my neck. As I worked that awareness rose to irritation. And still the sound of water seemed to become louder. The strap of the necklace first itched, then seemed to burn. My discman remained off, because I was filled with the sudden conviction that I needed to be able to hear my surroundings. I frequently stole looks around the room, although there was nothing out of the ordinary. The room was brightly lit, empty and uncluttered. The only thing I could see was my reflection in the glass window running along the front of the building.
Finally, my job done, I emptied the mop bucket and set the supplies back in the closet and made my way to the door of the building. Something near the bottom of the back wall caught my eye, and I detoured to take a look. The wall was wooden in this portion, and along the bottom there was a small hole. It was about 3 inches wide, and maybe 6 inches high. It was almost pitch black in there, but I could see something reflective as I knelt down in front of it. Water. Not still water, but not running water, either. It seemed, in the dim light, to be moving always closer, like a miniature tide. I had a sudden sense of scale that shouldn't have fit into that tiny space. Logically I knew the area back there could only have been a couple feet, but it seemed so much bigger in my heightened sense of paranoia, as if I was looking in on a distant, vast ocean. Water was all I could hear, and I was suddenly filled with the absolute certainty that if I didn't leave right now, I would die. It wasn't even fear, just a flat understanding that my life would end if I didn't get the hell out of there immediately.
This is the point in the story where, if it were a proper ghost tale, the presence would make itself known. A ghostly pale claw would reach out towards me, and my hair would turn white as I ran gibbering from the building and into madness. But this is not a proper ghost story, and nothing made itself known to me. Nothing happened at all, aside from me rushing out the door, locking it behind me, and biking back home. A little more quickly and direct than usual, but nothing eventful. I went back to work the next week, and didn't feel the slightest uneasiness. The sound of water was gone, and for the rest of my time working there I never had any inkling that anything was wrong. The hole was still there, but I never again saw any water behind it. The only proof I had of the event was a red ring around my neck where the leather strap lay, but even that had faded by the next day.