Summer writing vacation interrupted by noisy ghost

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published August 23, 2000 in The Suburban Life, added April 14, 2015.

Regina Villiers had a ghostly experience while staying in this college dormitory this summer.

Regina Villiers had a ghostly experience while staying in this college dormitory this summer.

For summer vacations, some people flock to beaches to char themselves into skin cancer.  Others go to Vegas, hoping to become instant millionaires.  I usually head to a writer’s conference.

This was the summer I became Nancy Drew, Girl Detective, at a writer’s conference and stayed all-alone with two noisy ghosts in a haunted college dormitory.

I didn’t intend to be Nancy Drew.  I didn’t believe in ghosts and knew nothing about ghosts when I checked into my assigned dorm on a Sunday evening.

The old three-story building’s beauty drew my admiration.  It had turrets and an encompassing porch filled with white, wooden rockers harking back to pre-tech days when people sat and talked.  Inside, it had the elegance of an earlier era.

When the woman desk clerk, the only humanity in sight, told me the dorm was empty for the summer except for the handful of writers coming in, and that I was the first to arrive.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  I asked for the most isolated room and trudged about two miles down a long hall to reach it.

After unpacking and setting up my temporary home, I went in search of drink machines and refreshments.

Heavy, squeaking, double doors a couple of feet from my door led to the basement, which proved to be unlit, uninhabited, and totally eerie.  As I went from one gloomy, dark end to the other, I noticed something strange:  One room seemed set apart, sealed and securely locked.

When my room’s light refused to obey the switch and then came on by itself, 10 minutes later, I trekked up to the faraway desk to report it.  The desk lady looked startled and grabbed her huge key ring.  She’d have to move me close to the desk, she said.  The others had called and wouldn’t be checking in until the next day.  I would be the only person there that night and shouldn’t stay so far away, all by myself.

I insisted that I liked my faraway room.  Then she told me the ghosts obviously didn’t want me in that room.  The dorm was haunted, she said, by two ghosts, the old man who had once owned and had lived in the old house and by a girl student who had killed herself in her basement room.

That room was sealed and locked, never to be opened again.  When I told her I had been in the basement and had seen the room, she paled.  “Nobody goes in the basement here,” she said.

I scoffed at the ghosts and insisted on remaining in my isolated room, thinking of all the stories I could fabricate about it.

I went to bed early, falling asleep to glorious silence, only to awaken at a loud exploding bang.  I looked at my tiny alarm clock on the former of my bedside desk.

Midnight.  I listened and heard a metallic scraping sound in the hallway outside my door.  Then the door closed across the hall.  I relaxed.  Some one checked in after all.

Then footsteps started on the uncarpeted hardwood floors.  Up and down the hallway, and back and forth someone paced on the floor of the room above me.  It seemed strange that a new arrival would stay on the second floor, with the entire first floor vacant.  But someone was up there, and my peace and solitude and ended.

I slept fitfully because of the footsteps and abruptly woke again at 3:30 a.m. (again, I looked at the clock) when the heavy basement doors beside my room squeaked open and loudly clanged shut again.  Oh, fine, I grumped.  The new arrival was an insomniac with a 3:30 a.m. Pepsi habit.

But the next day, I learned that no one had checked in the night before.  I was still the only person there and had spent the night entirely alone in the building.  It was then that I decided that the desk clerk was trying to scare me witless.  But she was a good actress.  When I asked her at her next shift, which wasn’t until Tuesday, if she’d been going into the basement at 3:30 a.m., her eyes widened.

“Wild horses couldn’t get me in that basement at night,” she said.  “I’ve never even been down there in the daytime.”

The three to four writers who’d checked in by Monday night were plausible reasons for the noises I heard, though they were the same noises of the night before.  Again, the loud band woke me at midnight, as it did at midnight every night I was there.  I heard footsteps in the hallway again and in the room overhead.  The double basement doors opened and clanged, as the night before.

Though reason told me it had to be the desk clerk, who wasn’t even there much of the time, I started to enjoy the ghosts.  I could blame them for everything that happened.  I almost never spill anything, but now, coffee wouldn’t stay in my cup.  I’d be sitting reading or writing, and suddenly, I’d be grabbing papers and mopping coffee, when I’d swear I hadn’t touched the cup.

And there was my radio.  It just seemed to fly off my desk one morning and shattered in a dozen pieces on the hardwood floor.  I wasn’t near it.  It was the girl ghost I decided.  She was irritated at the oldies station and couldn’t stand the music.  Maybe she’d prefer me to listen to disco or rap.

The old man ghost played with my lights, I decided.  He was probably a miser and against electricity, thinking I should have brought my own candles.  The whole time I was there, he wouldn’t let the light come on until 10 minutes after I’d flipped the switch.

I never did explain the water dripping from the ceiling.  It seemed to come from nowhere, without rhyme or reason.  When I put an old margarine tub under the spot where it usually dripped, the tub stayed dry.  Then sudden drop would hit the back of my hand, as if to get my attention.  There were no circles on the ceiling.  Anywhere.

I did go back to the basement again to explore, in broad daylight and sunshine.  I took my faithful camera and took pictures of the sealed door.  The pictures did not turn out.  A week after returning home, my beloved camera died.  I now have a new one.

On the last day of the conference, the others checked out.  I had to stay over until the next day, spending another night all by myself in the old haunted house.  Again, I heard the same noises.  And the desk clerk I’d suspected wasn’t there that night.

When I left the next day, I paused on the front porch as I waited for a cab.  I turned to one of the old rockers.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” I said.  “It was the most interesting time, and I’ve enjoyed it.”

I could almost swear the old chair rocked, ever so slightly, back and forth.

Now, how did that desk clerk do that?  She wasn’t even on duty that day.