When I was in high school, I saw a ghost. Or at least, what I thought might be one.
As the co-director of a small production of a play called “Kill Me Deadly”, part of my job was to put together costumes for the show. There were quite a few costumes to put together, and the details were especially important.
I decided to go into my hometown’s theater which had its own collection of period clothing, costumes, and accessories. I let myself in with the key that had been given to me and made my way upstairs to the costume room.
This would be the first and last time I was alone in the theater.
While in the costuming room, surrounded by suits from the 1940s, I desperately searched for sizes and styles that would fit our detective characters. Suddenly the calm air of the Art Deco theater became unsettling. Though the upstairs of the theater was always warm, a chill rolled down my spine.
I heard the stories from locals of how the building was supposedly haunted. I never experienced anything myself, but I’d always had a fascination with the gothic and the macabre.
I grew up going to church, and had always been told that ghosts were made up or were just demons created by the devil trying to tempt you with sin. In my small hometown, basically everyone went to church, if not yours than one of the dozen or so others that littered the square-mile town. I had friends who weren’t allowed to watch shows and movies that dealt with magic and witches.
My mom once told me that she didn’t like that my dad had allowed me to watch “Harry Potter” at such a young age. She thought it might turn me against religion. I imagine she wouldn’t be too excited to hear that the closest religion I feel connected to is Wicca, and even then only in the barest sense.
In the end, it wasn’t the negative influences of witches and warlocks that led me to leave the church. While my mom was very accepting of the LGBT community and her bisexual daughter, there were many members of her church who were not.
Standing in the costume room with the sudden feeling that I wasn’t alone, I remembered the warnings I had heard from members of the congregation throughout my childhood. I let out a slow, deep breath and tried to rationalize this sudden, anxious feeling that took over my mind and left me wanting to crawl out of my own skin.
Maybe I just wasn’t used to being alone, especially in that building. I was used to constantly being surrounded by people. It’s not uncommon for people to be overcome with an anxious feeling when confronted with being alone.
Or maybe it was because I was a high school student who was awake way too early on a Saturday morning. No matter what the reason was, I just knew that I needed to get out of that building. I remember so vividly putting down the pinstripe suit I had been looking over, grabbing my bag, and turning around.
That’s when I saw him.
Though the building was dim, I could clearly see the outline of a tall man in a top hat. The longer I stared at him, the more details I saw. His clothes looked old-fashioned, similar to the suits that I was just looking at. I couldn’t see his face, but could still feel his stare. The only thing that separated him and me was the glass window that divided the costume department from the lights and sound booth. He hovered between me and the stairs that could lead to my freedom.
I always wondered why so many people were so adamant that ghosts had to be real. That they simply had to be out there, because what else could explain all of the “haunted” buildings and first-hand experiences. Some have attempted to explain the phenomena away as beings who have temporarily crossed into our dimension. Others have said that they are hallucinations or momentary psychotic breaks.
I think that perhaps believing in ghosts is almost a coping mechanism for people who identify as more spiritual. Not necessarily Christian, but spiritual. It’s a way to hold on to the people that you’ve lost by keeping the idea that they might still be around.
But this brings forward a new brand of horrors. If your loved ones are trapped, will you ever see them again once the sweet embrace of death takes you too? Or will you also remain trapped between the veil of existence and not, constantly waiting to be freed from the endless after-life you find yourself in?
So many people are looking for answers, maybe that’s why there are so many ghost hunting and paranormal shows out there. Are ghosts real, or do we just want them to be? How can we help them? Why are they out there?
Back in the theater, I began to slowly creep towards the stairs that would give me an escape. The figure of the man remained where he hovered, staring straight ahead. He didn’t seem to acknowledge that I existed, and maybe I should do the same. I took a deep breath and walked past the figure, not daring to glance at where he was.
It wasn’t until I got to the bottom of the stairs that I turned around, but the man was no longer there. Still I rushed out the door, locking it behind me, the costumes could wait for another day.
To this day, I’m not really sure if what I saw was actually a ghost. Could it have been a hallucination? Did I peer into another dimension that someone slipped into ours? No matter what, I know what I saw.
Very few people believed me about the man in the top hat. Some may still think I was crazy or making it up for attention, but I still think about him sometimes. I wonder if he ever made it out, or if he was trapped to spending countless nights watching high school students put on low-budget versions of “Bye Bye Birdie.”
Either way, I vowed to never be in that building alone ever again.