I'm not easily spooked. I've never thought that spirits would wander Earth, haunt houses, or play pranks on living people. Sure, I've had the hairs on my neck rise when something doesn't feel right, but I've always been able to convince myself that there's a logical explanation.
Several years ago, after awakening to a strange sound, I walked through my old house around midnight. As I walked, I looked at the phone plugged into the wall. It rang. Once. No one was on the other end. Of course, this was just coincidence. Someone dialed the wrong number, realized it, and hung up at just the moment I walked through.
After working late one night, I walked through the office at my school and passed by a window. I looked into the window and saw clearly the silhouette of a man reflected. It was late at night; no one else was in the building. I spun quickly to see who was there and the office was empty. My heart raced but I knew I had just been tricked by light and shadows.
One summer afternoon, a cleaning crew hired to strip and wax the school floors came running out of the building. I went outside to see what the matter was. One of them explained breathlessly they had seen an apparition in room 209. The foreman showed up and chastised the workers and told them he'd walk them back to the classroom.
A storm was brewing from the west. I could see the dark clouds coming and felt the wind pick up. We walked upstairs to room 209 silently. The foreman shouted, "Ghost? Where are you, Ghost? There's no one here ..." Then, down the hall, a door slammed. Then another. Then each classroom door slammed one after the other, marching straight down the hall. Suddenly, the door to room 209 slammed shut. No need to panic; the storm's wind had simply blown through the building.
Last August, my wife and I took a long weekend in Eureka Springs to kayak the White River and ride mountain bikes through the ample trails. We decided to stay at the beautiful Crescent Hotel located on top of the hill overlooking the downtown square. I booked a room by phone and the lady at the reservations desk said, "You're on the second floor. That's the haunted floor."
"The haunted floor?"
"Yes, sir. You may see some weird things."
I didn't know it at the time, but the Crescent is known as America's most haunted hotel. Built in 1886, the hotel had several lives. It started as a hotel, then a girls' school, and for a brief time, a hospital operated by a charlatan doctor. The doctor advertised that he could cure cancer, and, preying on the vulnerable, lured gravely ill folks to Eureka Springs to receive treatment.
Of course, his treatments were bogus. Many folks died on site and the basement was used as a morgue. The morgue was right below the room I had reserved for our quick getaway. I wasn't worried.
The Crescent Hotel is a Victorian masterpiece. The wide hallways, original hardware, and meticulous landscape provide a wonderful backdrop to a romantic weekend. We saw several folks taking pictures down empty hallways. I asked one what they were shooting and the person answered, "I'm trying to catch orbs."
"Yes, spirits appear in photographs as orbs."
We spent Friday afternoon walking the town and eating a great dinner. That night, we turned off the room lights to the darkest hotel room I've ever been in. I awakened the next morning ready for our float trip and more tourist activities. My wife looked tired.
We kayaked the White River for several hours and again toured the town. After another great dinner, we retired to our room. About midnight, I felt as if someone was standing at the foot of our bed. I used my cell phone as a flashlight and no one was there. After turning on a noisemaker to provide some background sound to aid sleep, I dozed off. Then, I heard it.
A voice kept repeating the same thing over and over again. I couldn't make out the words but it seemed to be higher pitch, maybe a child. This went on for several minutes. I opened my eyes wide to prove to myself I was awake. The voice continued for about 10 minutes, saying the same unintelligible thing over and over again. Then, it stopped. I knew it had to be a loop in my noise app. I somehow caught a repetitive sound and my sleepy mind made it into a voice.
When I awakened, I picked up my phone and took a photo of the corner of the room where I'd heard the voice. My wife asked what I was up to and I told her, "I'm looking for an orb." I braced for impact. She didn't make fun of me.
After Sunday morning brunch, we packed up and headed home, stopping for a quick dive in the Kings River and some homemade sandwiches at the Serenity Farm Bread Company in Leslie.
About an hour into the trip, my wife said, "I've got to tell you something. Friday night, I heard someone talking. I thought it was you but then realized you were sound asleep. It just kept repeating the same thing over and over again. It felt like someone was in the room. That's why I looked so tired Saturday morning. I didn't sleep much."
What do our minds do to us? Those soft corners of our brains feed off impulses that we don't even recognize. Our bodies react and we get chills. But all those impulses are just charges of energy made into more by active imaginations. Ghost stories are easily explained and easily discounted. There's nothing else out there.
Unless, of course, I'm wrong.
Steve Straessle, whose column appears every other Saturday, is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 10/19/2019