The Law of Conservation of Energy.
One of few ideas I retained from a year’s worth of high school physics.
Its main premise: energy cannot be created nor destroyed.
My teacher, Mr. Dove, was a stereotypic science instructor.
A muted, bland daily dress code.
And a monotone deliverance of information that, when it got down to brass tax, explained how we, through pure luck, survive in a universe mired in flux.
I sucked at all maths. Toss in some theoretical stuff and my head borders on implosion.
But this theory struck a chord.
It proved to me, in a roundabout way, the existence of a person’s soul.
You know, that electrical energy firing brain waves.
Energy that, when you die, exits the body.
On mulling over the idea, I procured a half cocked personal theory: human energy can take a two fold path.
It either floats away, becoming absorbed into other forms of Nature.
Or, if disgruntled, (maybe more so, pissed off) it might hang around for a bit.
Floating in mortal space.
A ball of bad vibes lashing out.
Jealous of the living.
Growing up in a mid century suburb, life was mundane.
With minimal friends I found escape in books.
History. War. Horror.
But mostly, I was smitten with a good ghost story.
My library cue was consistently stacked with obscure, dusty anthologies.
Of weird tales passed down through the generations,
painting the picture of old ghost towns, civil war battlefields, of shuddered, north eastern coastal villages overflowing with angry spirits.
I read on, consumed by tales of hearsay, continuing to fill my head with paranormal paranoia.
I hoped to one day experience what was beyond.
A buddy of mine went to a local college in Rhode Island.
The campus, like everything in New England, was ancient.
Doing the math, I calculated that the thousands of bodies rolling in and out each year, ramped up the potentiality of death.
Those tragic ones, hypothetically, being the most vulnerable for a haunting.
Like a janitor getting electrocuted.
A lawn maintenance man getting stabbed with a spade.
Or a commuter getting sandwiched in an elevator shaft.
My mind reeled.
Instead, tangible history paved the way for its paranormal activity.
As if made up, the college’s track record exhibited all the conventions of a haunted tale:
Built in the beginning of the Twentieth Century, it was situated next to a hospital that treated communicable diseases.
Considering those illnesses were taboo, patients were wheeled underground through a series of tunnels connecting each ward.
And, as if in a chapter of a horror novel, by mid century the hospital was condemned.
The local college scooped it up, and the wards were turned into student dorms.
Decades later, one of the dorms caught fire. Ten women died inside.
And those spirits of the victims were said to do everything in their ethereal powers to let the earthbound know of their presence.
We swung by the college, through an iron fence its red brick facade loomed on a hill.
Here, Ben laid out his personal experiences.
Grimacing faces in glass.
A high pitched, ghastly whistle reverberating through the dorms.
During finals week, he and two friends studied in the basement.
From behind him, a grey-green ball shot past his face and into a brick wall.
Sealed up, the brick wall once served as an entrance to a tunnel.
That tunnel, an artery connecting the defunct infirmary wards.
Around the same time, I had become pen pals with a Canadian named Pete.
He lived in the no-mans-land between Detroit and Toronto.
One winter, I paid him a visit.
Pete made me a copy of a tape recording he’d produced at his childhood home.
Labelled on the case, in black marker, were the words ‘The Billing House.’
Throughout the Billing House, he arranged his ‘surveillance equipment.’
An old VHS camcorder in the living room.
A handheld voice recorder in the kitchen.
As Pete left, he surveilled the unoccupied house for 90 minutes.
Back in my bedroom in Florida, I’d often play the recording late at night.
For half an hour it was silent.
On occasion, you’d hear the house creaking, its wooden frame shifting among the elements.
However, mid way through, static broke silence.
And cutting through the static, a religious station, distant at first, became more audible.
Building in volume, the Billing House’s kitchen radio served as host to a preacher giving a fire and brimstone sermon.
Of the need to repent.
Of souls burning in Hell.
Until finally, a key slides into a lock, a deadbolt opens, and the sermon quiets to silence.
Pete had returned to the house.
The haunt-er, creeping back into wherever it came.
I had woken up sometime late that night, compressed to the bed.
It was a force unknowable in the dark.
It pressed so hard on my innards, my bladder pounded in pain.
I heaved upward using my core.
I tried moving my legs.
I used my arms to push out against the mattress.
But this paranormal force kept me down.
I was immobilized.
As I woke up the next morning, my eyes focused ahead as I stared out the window.
Through the frame, it was a sunny morning. A family of jays guarded their nest in the old magnolia.
And then I realized, upon waking up, that I was already sitting up in bed.
For years, this experience continued.
The same sequence in each event:
Fighting to move.
Finally giving into the paralysis.
I was now certain that my childhood home, the most unlikely structure, tucked into a typical Florida neighborhood, was haunted.
I’d gotten what I subconsciously wished for.
Over the course of years, droves of friends had stayed the night at our house.
Next to my single mattress, a bed mat was always set up on the floor for guests.
One night, mid winter, a friend visited from London.
We got in late, well past midnight, and I fell out in exhaustion.
The next morning over a bowl of cereal, he spoke out, half jokingly, in his cockney English.
‘That was some weird shit last night.
You do that often?’
Concerned, I pressed him to describe what he had witnessed.
‘For hours I laid there on the floor.
I couldn’t sleep.
Then you started mumblin.’ ‘
He took a bite of his Wheatabix.
Having floated in a minimal amount of milk, he crunched on the morsels a bit, then swallowed
‘You sat up, slowly. I mean real slow.
You mumbled some more. Something about needing to ‘˜take a piss.’
Then you just stayed there, hunched over in bed.’
Suddenly, everything came into perspective.
I was given a moment of clarity.
Here was the mortal solution to my anxieties:
a failed, delirious attempt at a midnight bathroom break.
This was my bogeyman.
My apparition was pure human exhaustion.
‘Bloody hell man, I was freaked out.
You raised up real slow.
It was like a scene in one of those horror movies.’
He took a long sip from his tea.
Pulling the cup away from his face he placed it neatly back into the saucer.
‘Yea mate, you rising up like that, it looked like someone had resurrected a corpse.’