Monday, May 27, 2013

Do Not Open Until Christmas

 I remember one night, near Christmas, when a snowstorm blew down over Lake Erie from Alberta, Canada.  Those are always the coldest ones.  Canadian air in December will change what’s going on outside the window in a matter of minutes.  There is a howl as it rushes through the trees.  Branches creak.  Signs sway.  Dead leaves, dry and crisp, swirl in corners.

I was with my two brothers in an upstairs bedroom when it hit.  The topic of discussion?  Christmas vacation.  In Ohio it begins on the twenty-first, every year.  Two weeks without school, and new toys to play with.  It was still Matchbox for me back then:  the cars, the cities, the racetracks.  Oh and Milton Bradley had this really cool spaceship called the Starbird.  You wouldn’t believe the stories I could dream up around those things.  And come the twenty-fifth, I would have more set-pieces to use.  I wanted two weeks of that.

But when that clipper from Alberta came down, everyone stopped talking.  It hit the window like a fist.  Tony, the oldest brother, went to the glass and peered out.  Todd and I did the same seconds later.  The street—West Main Street—was empty, but shadows played everywhere over the blacktop as the trees shook and the streetlights swayed.  There was a storm coming.

There was a storm coming… so the three of us started doing something that lots of other people in the western hemisphere do during snowy nights at Christmas-time:  We started telling ghost stories.

And that’s what I’m going to do for you today.  No, it’s not Christmas-time, at least not as I write this (it’s actually May the twenty-third).  It’s not cold outside either—not by a long chalk (I live in Manila these days).  Still…how about some ghost stories?  Not fictional ones either.  The truth, when you know where inside of it to look, is always so much more interesting, don’t you think?  So go grab a cup of coffee or a mug of tea.  I’ll wait.

None of these stories come from Ohio—we’ll save Ohio for another post.  These actually come from the call center in Manila where I work.  Filipinos tend to be very open to the supernatural.  When I tell a Filipino/Filipina a ghost story, he or she usually comes right back at me with three more.  This first story is one I know to be true, because it happened to me.


My wife Rose (the headmistress of this particular little blog, mind you) and I were in the middle of another shift.  I was getting tired of sitting in front of my computer banging away at plastic keys, and so was she.  As luck would have it, our little world on the third floor had a rest area tucked away in a dark room at the back row of windows.  Agents and officers alike regularly napped there during their lunch-breaks.  Rose and I walked back to it, lay down, and soon dozed off.

Do I snore?  I don’t know.  She’s never complained.  I was awake anyway, when something passed by very close in front of my shut eyelids.  At the outset, it was easy to dismiss.  Window-shades moving in a rogue draft from outside.  I kept my eyes shut…even as, seconds later, I began to feel a light tapping up and down my arms.  Nervous tics, right?  People have them, sure.  I know I do.  Except that I wasn’t nervous that day.  I felt, in fact, quite relaxed, and had I been alone in the room at the time, nothing further out of the ordinary would have occurred.  I would have gone on ignoring the shapes moving in front of my eyelids, and the little tics about my arms, until whatever was causing them decided to give it all up as a bad job and sweep away to another, more relenting recipient.

The trouble was Rose.  She was that relenting recipient, and she was lying right next to me.  Nothing passed in front of her face.  Nothing tapped her on the arms.  Whatever was in the room that day…spoke to her instead.

“Pinatay mo ako. Pinapatawad na kita. Pinatay mo ako.”, it whispered, over and over, over and over.

Do you know what that means?  It is Tagalog for You killed me.  I forgive you.  You killed me.  Rose was none too pleased with the accusation, forgiven or not.  She asked if we could leave.  I agreed, still mostly ignorant of the events that were taking place.  It wasn’t until she described her experience to me, minutes later, that the pieces fell into place.

Another incident, also from 2007, occurred on the fifth floor. 

You can’t bring your children to work, right?  At least not on a typical day.  Toddlers especially have a problem with this rule.  They cry and beg you to stay home.  You cry and beg them to let you go.  And finally they do let you go…but not without this sad, empty feeling in your heart, as if you are doing something wrong.  In the end this works out to the toddler’s advantage, because that guilt that you carry tends to make the pasalubong more expensive.

But I digress. 

In 2007 there was apparently a child of toddler age running around on the fifth floor, having a grand old time with teasing the security guard who worked there.  This little girl with long black hair was dashing to and fro about the cubicles, laughing as if it all were nothing more than a game of hide and seek.  Finally the guard chased her into the slumber room, where it was dark and quiet.  The girl smiled up from the shadows, now little more than a shape in the weak light coming through the door.  She then jumped into one of the beds and pulled a blanket up over her face.

The guard had her now.  She stepped over to the bed, bent, and pulled the blanket back.  Underneath it was a fully grown female agent, sleeping soundly.  The little girl was nowhere to be seen.

Of course not all of the stories from that building are long ones.  Some can be swapped while standing at the water cooler.  There is supposedly an entity with long black hair that frequents the girls’ comfort room on the third floor.  Female agents have reported seeing this hair from inside the stalls, dragging back and forth over the tiles.  One story from the ground floor regards the spirit of a young boy who likes to crouch under the cubicles and smile up at passers by.  The spirit of a second young boy can sometimes be seen inside the elevators.  He is less playful.  He will ask you for a peso…and if you refuse, he will threaten to make the elevator crash.

Now I don’t know if any of these stories actually scared you.  I’m not even sure if scaring you was my point.  I do not think any of us on that long ago snowy night in Ohio went to bed scared.  We did, however, have this look on our faces—this look that exposed the preclusion, at least for a little while, of our stance on the mundane and prosaic.  Ideas of the otherworldly had taken over our thoughts for a time.  And perhaps, at this very moment, they have taken over yours.

The title of this post need not be heeded, but if you have all the same, then may these lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet comfort you, the way Marcellus sought to comfort Horatio as he spoke them:

MARCELLUS. It faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say that ever, ’gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Goodnight to all.  Where you’re living it may never get cold, there may never be snow, the leaves may never die and the wind may never chill your bones to their very marrow…but there will always and everywhere be stories of the otherworldly, provided you know how to listen for them.  Look out your window at midnight, or just down to the end of the hall.  Walk into a dark room, and listen.

Open your mind…

But wait until Christmas, if you can.


  1. wah!! that is a scary and if that happened to me, no doubt i will not walk alone in the hall way or use the elevator alone..

  2. LOL... we always get those scary stories eh. :)

  3. Scary! I remember the stories about a little girl in my previous office building din. Sabi pa, she used to hangout sa training rooms. Eh trainer ako dati and I was frequently alone. Buti hindi nagparamdam sakin! :)

  4. Ooh, scary stories! I have never seen one, but sometimes I can feel them

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  6. I had an experience on being poked on my right shoulder by the ghost. I thought my co-worker was playing a joke on me. But when I turned he was busy taking a call and was too far from me. And I never heard him got up from his chair. The chairs would make a squeaky sound with the slightest movement. It happened on the fifth floor of the same building at about 2 A.M.. But it was a friendly touch and a unique experience.