A TRUE GHOST STORY
©2002 Connie Cook Smith
It was a chilly, cloudy November day when I went to look at the apartment-for-rent on East Read Street. This historic district of mansions and townhouses from the 1800's in Baltimore features a pleasant quadrangle park, anchored at the center by the earliest Washington monument in the United States.
Now it was the 1970's, I was in my 20's, and single. My roommate and I had finally really gotten on each other's nerves, and I'd decided I definitely wanted to live alone. I loved this location, and figured the advertised apartment would have to be in pretty bad shape for me not to want it.
The live-in landlady answered the buzzer and explained that the place was the front half of the third floor. Was I interested in climbing lots of stairs everyday? I didn't mind. I like lofty places. (And I was young!)
She told me that Kathy, the current occupant, was presently in, but we could call her and see if it was all right to look around now. And so the way was cleared. Minus the landlady and her reluctant knees - her husband did all the maintenance - I climbed the wide old wooden stairwells to a new adventure.
Kathy had opened the door for me. It opened on a narrow hallway that had been converted to a butler's pantry kitchenette. Well, so much for the kitchen! I wasn't much into entertaining, anyway.
But the end of that hallway opened up into a MAGNIFICENT living room! High, high ceilings, three gigantic windows simply flooding the place with southern light, an original marble fireplace, and enough space for - well, about half an old-fashioned ballroom!
I was in love. Without even seeing the bedroom and bath, I murmured, "I'll take it."
But then, as I gazed around more deeply, I suddenly blurted out to Kathy: "Is it haunted?" She looked at me, very startled, paused, then said, "Sometimes I think so..." Then we acted as if that never happened.
I hadn't SEEN anything. Just all of a sudden, I sensed something was there - and knew it certainly enough to say so to a stranger. But amnesia-like, we moved on to other subjects.
I glanced at the bedroom, about a third the size of the living room and therefore spacious, but cozy, also with a marble fireplace and a good-sized window over the alley on the east. The bathroom had been carved out of the bedroom and was strictly a utilitarian space, although there was a nice old tile floor, and the fixtures looked like they came from the 30's or 40's. And they worked.
I was exhilarated. I thanked Kathy for the tour - she was a painter, an artist who had lived there 3 years - and I wished her luck with her move to be with her boyfriend in the suburbs. I practically skipped down the long flights of stairs to the landlady's door and plunked down a deposit. I wish I could remember how much it was in those days, but I don't
When the weekend came, I began to move in. With friends, a lot of things got moved on Saturday, but I spent Saturday night in my old place because my bed couldn't be moved until Sunday. I knew that would probably make for a rough Monday morning at work, what with my first, unsettled night in the new place being Sunday night.
But oh, I never dreamed how very unsettled it would be!
Back to Saturday. During a break in the moving-in activities, a friend and I were sitting on the floor, gazing out the sky-filled windows, and taking in all the old proportions around us. Nothing had changed structurally in this room for over 120 years, and I said to my friend that I could almost imagine the sound of horses' hooves clopping down the street below.
Whereupon suddenly we heard horses' hooves clopping down the street below!
My friend was less startled than I, being a Baltimore native and used to this neighborhood's presence of horse-drawn vendor carts. But I was originally from out-of-state and had very seldom seen them. As I rushed in amazement to the window to have a look, we both cracked up at this hilarious moment of synchronicity.
But now it was Sunday night, and I wasn't laughing. Tired, tired, tired Sunday night before a Monday work-day morning, and where WAS everything? Where was ANYTHING! Moving can be the worst stress.
I thought about the contrast between where I now resided and where I worked - a Fortune 500 company headquartered high up in a downtown office tower made of glass and steel. Inside, all was muted lighting and gleaming parquet floors and rather seductive Muzak - the better to clinch deals with, my dear...
I was only a receptionist, but I enjoyed managing 10 incoming lines on the electronic switchboard, keeping all the executives' calls and messages straight, and greeting and hosting the many businessmen who arrived from around the world.
Rest! I must get some rest, because a busy Monday morning was on the way.
I finally got the bed made up - it was tucked into a corner opposite both the fireplace and the east window, with that shade now down like a droopy eyelid. I fell into an exhausted sleep... until sometime deep in the middle of the night...when I was awakened by the most awful thing.
I was struck awake by very HOT energy coursing up and down the length of my body. The movement was as if hands were sweeping all over me to determine what I was, but I didn't actually feel hands. I felt powerful currents of a blind and furious force examining my presence. I felt floods of intense heat and cascades of spewing rage and hatred, and I became utterly paralyzed with terror.
In the darkness, I could see nothing. But someone or something was HATING me with enormous fury and power. I was engulfed in wave after wave of exploratory rage, and I seemed powerless to stop it, powerless to do anything at all, except be totally horrified.
I wanted to reach for the phone, but I could not move my arm. I wanted to scream, but my throat was shut down. I couldn't utter a whimper and I couldn't seem to move in any way. I wondered if I was going to be killed.
Eventually, I don't know how long, the onslaught began to lessen. Finally, it ceased. My mind told me this was just a horrible, horrible dream, that dawn would come soon, that I would get up and go to work downtown in that modern, busy, office tower of smoky glass and shining steel, and all this terror would evaporate and seem silly and unreal.
I lay there waiting for REALITY to take hold of me and return me to my normal sense of safety. I wanted to drift off and get a little more sleep. I wanted to look forward to decorating my new home!
But I could do nothing but lay there wide-eyed, barely breathing, wordlessly praying for dawn to come. It seemed to take forever. Finally, I felt safe enough to step out of bed and try to pull myself together.
Needless to say, it was a very tough morning. I chose to tell co-workers that I was just tired from the move. I wanted the lingering fear to wear off and disappear. By noon, at the latest, I expected to be my giggly ol' self again, maybe even invite someone over to see my new digs.
But as the afternoon wore on, I began feeling more and more oppressed. I began to dread going to my new home, especially with the prospect of this November time-of-year making it dark before I even got there.
By 4 p.m. I was scared enough to call Jeremy. Jeremy was a sweet young black man, over six- and-a-half feet tall - he had to duck through most doorways - and he was heavy into the first generations of personal computers, and White Magic. The joke was, with me being Caucasian and just 5'1", that he was "my little brother."
Jeremy was somewhat of a giant in height, and he was definitely a giant in intellect. Our far-ranging discussions covered all of this universe and spilled over into others. So I knew that recounting my experience to him would not faze him in the slightest, and indeed, it did not.
That alone was mightily helpful to me - just someone to listen to me without the least bit of concern about my credibility, or my sanity. I thought he might even have some answers, and in fact, he did.
Very comfortable with mysterious energies, Jeremy approached the matter analytically - shooting questions at me that I can't remember now, but seeming to require only a series of yes or no answers.
Frankly, all I REALLY wanted was for this hulk of a guy to escort me home this night - I was scared and I wanted a big man to protect me! But he wasn't having any of that. He had university classes that night, for one thing. And for another, he knew I needed to handle this in a different way. I needed to use my own power - not his - to deal with this problem. And I knew he was right.
And so, after running diagnostics on the situation through my input, Jeremy concluded that a Spirit was there who was infuriated over the change in human occupants, and that it was up to me to make peaceful overtures to this Wrathful Being. After all, he, she, or it was there first, Kathy had left, and now my presence was an unfamiliar and therefore disturbing and unwelcome force.
Well, great. I was supposed to REASON with this beastly consciousness that I couldn't even see, when what I really needed to do was find all my disorganized things and maybe get some rest.
But I was certain there would be no rest if tonight was anything like the night before! I wondered if I would be able to stay there. I imagined trying to explain to the landlady why I wanted my rent and deposit back and why I was leaving.
But what Jeremy had advised me to do appealed to me on some fundamental level. I left work early in order to get there before darkness fell, but it was nevertheless a murky November twilight when I arrived at the apartment. My legs were a bit rubbery as I unlocked the door - but suddenly I felt a flash of anger that I'd been robbed of the joy of moving into this lovely old place. And so I went striding purposefully down the rest of the hall, around through the living room, and into the bedroom...
...whereupon I saw absolutely nothing but a heap of moving-in jumble, and my rumpled bed from this morning. It all looked so ordinary. I felt almost foolish...but then the clear memory of my anguish the night before swept over me, and I knew I had to try something, anything, to prevent that from happening again.
I remember I sat down on the edge of my bed, coat and all, and I just began talking. I don't remember what I said exactly, but I proceeded as if there was a Being there who could hear me, and I simply explained what had happened - that Kathy had needed to move away and that I was attracted to this place and I needed a place to live and that I understood a change could be disturbing but that I thought we might get used to each other and need not bother each other and that all could be well. And so on.
I talked for a long time, until I felt I had made my good intentions clear and had nothing else to say.
Then I went out to my hallway kitchenette and fixed some supper and ate while gazing into the living room fireplace. It was not a working fireplace, but Kathy or someone had painted the interior of it black and dotted it with little iridescent stars and planets. It looked like an interdimensional doorway, but a friendly and beautiful one. I felt very peaceful, and very tired, and soon I got ready for bed, with Tired starting to win out over Scared.
Finally I crawled under the covers, took off my glasses, and closed my eyes. For awhile, I kept opening my eyes and looking around - AS IF seeing what I feared might help!
And then, oh no...there WAS something, over by the fireplace.
This fireplace was also non-working, and it had no pretty decorations. It was just a dark maw, and there was SOMETHING, something swaying like seaweed, just beside it. I grabbed my glasses and felt the choking fear now filling my throat.
Not yet rendered immobile like last night's terror, I was about to run screaming out of the room, out of the apartment and down the stairs and out onto the street if necessary - when suddenly a clear, calm message saturated my mind.
Amazingly, I relaxed almost completely. The clear and benevolent message ringing around my brain was: "You don't have to be afraid." For some reason I completely believed that. Even though right over there by the fireplace stood a ghost.
Yessir, right there was a ghost. A classic, white-ish, transparent figure, a woman's figure in old-fashioned dress, shimmering and swaying right there by the fireplace, a few feet from where I lay.
Well. A ghost. An actual ghost...
As I silently observed this phantom, I somehow knew she was going to stay right there. I knew she would not approach me and that there was no more anger in her now, only sorrow. I sighed, and amazingly, I immediately fell asleep. It was as if we both fell asleep.
After that, things began to normalize around there. I finally got all my things sorted out and began to have company now and then. A month or two had passed when I met a hypnotist/psychic named David, his partner John, and David's wife, Martha, a student of Rudolf Steiner. These were very sweet and interesting people who visited me a few times. I listened to their stories and theories, but as yet I hadn't told them of my own adventure, right in this apartment.
One evening with David and Martha, he excused himself to use the bathroom. As he came back through the bedroom, I called to him, "Hey David, do you sense anything strange in there?" Immediately he responded, "You mean the woman by the fireplace?"
Chills, and smiles!
"So you know about her?" David asked. He was so used to seeing things that other people didn't that he only commented when he thought it appropriate. So I told the couple what had happened, that nothing had happened since, and that I really hadn't known if she was still there.
David asked me if I wanted to know more, and I said of course. So he went back into the bedroom to "talk to the ghost," while Martha and I chatted about more mundane things in the living room. I noticed that it was totally silent in the bedroom all the time David was in there, so I half expected him to say he couldn't reach her or whatever, when he came out. But he had a report.
He said that this woman's beloved father had died, not exactly in that space, but in this house, around 100 years ago and that she felt responsible. If only she had done this, that, or the other, Father would have survived his illness. If only she had not displeased him, earlier in their lives...
David tried to get a name for her, but all he kept perceiving was "daughter." Above all, she was his daughter, but she had failed him, and therefore, she was not a GOOD daughter.
Father's spirit passed on, but she remained stuck in the house, weighted by grief, gravid with guilt. She used to roam around the whole place in constant, restless regret. But when Kathy came to live there, this ghost-woman became attracted to her peaceful and artistic nature.
For the first time in nearly a century, Daughter had found some peace. She settled down in Kathy's bedroom, by the fireplace, and there she rested in a semi-twilight state - until that awful day for her when Kathy moved out and I moved in.
How she hated losing the modicum of peace she had attained! How she truly wanted to eliminate this intruder - me! - who had usurped this room and this place and thus stirred up all her grief and regret.
I believed it.
That night after David and Martha left, I found myself once again sitting on my bed, talking to this Being who now seemed so very understandable to me. I sympathized with her pain, then found myself explaining that I was sure the best way to be a good daughter was to allow herself to move on to where her father was - that the last thing he wanted was to be separate from her and unable to comfort her as she paced around or stood about, isolated by pain and regret.
The next morning, I woke up fully dressed in the clothes I'd had on the night before. I had fallen asleep talking to her, and now the Saturday morning sunshine was pouring in full force through the east window. The room seemed so clean and bright and shining - and I can say most assuredly that had nothing to do with my housekeeping!
There was just so much light and such FRESH air, even though the window was closed.
Then I knew. Daughter had departed. I just knew that two souls were now rejoicing in the eternal nature of life. I myself moved on to California in a few months -- on to marriage and family - but not until that most beautiful Baltimore springtime had soaked my own soul with lovely sky-scapes and beautiful memories.
(And there you have it - a true ghost story - and a happy ending.)
Connie Cook Smith