Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Ghost at the Shelter by Sara Niles

I am the author of Torn From the Inside Out, The Journey and Out of the Maelstrom, three very serious nonfiction memoirs;however, Out of the Maelstrom is laced with humor throughout, placed strategically among stories of trauma and survival to lighten the mood.
In Ghost in the Shelter, my former work colleagues and I had many laughs at my expense over this story, that can be found in Out of the Maelstrom
Note: Sandy was the long time shelter manager and Veronica was the night manager of a small, nonprofit domestic violence shelter located in an impoverished and crime ridden small town. Sara Niles narrates the story.
Chapter 11 Out of the Maelstrom
 The Ghost in the Shelter

Both Veronica and Sandy were superstitious, at least enough so that they believed Casper the Friendly Ghost lived at the shelter and only came out when the house was empty of clients. I sat with them early mornings listening to their ‘ghost’ stories, and had to resist laughing out loud while they compared notes.

According to Sandy, the ‘ghost’ would get mad and knock books off the shelves in the front office. I was thinking to myself that the hundred year old wood flooring was warped and slightly lopsided, and that if I was the floor and a six foot tall woman was stomping around on me, I might tilt a book or two off the wobbly bookshelves too. According to Veronica, the ghost lived upstairs and rattled the outside top door (the fire escape door) on windy nights. Once again I was giggling inside myself while I smiled at them both. The real reason for the noise was likely a simple one such as the door was probably unlatched and banging against the wall because Veronica was too scared to go up and latch it on those cold windy nights.

The first time I experienced  both of my co-workers talking seriously about ghosts, I thought it was a prank on me to see if I would fall for it, but I was even more dumbfounded to discover they were irritated at me for not believing them.  Both Sand and Veronica truly believed the shelter had a ‘ghost’ and  the ‘ghost’ was running rampant. Both Veronica and Sandy were telling the same tale as realistically as witnesses to a crime scene recounting the hard core facts.I was so tickled that I could barely contain myself, but dared not laugh; especially since my two amazonian co-workers were six feet tall and I was a mere pittance of that height, at five foot two, I could outrun the both of them, I was sure, just in case a giggle escaped me.

“He’s really ticked off at something!” Veronica stated. The report this time was a little different from usual, because the ‘ghost’ was rattling the floor boards with this new installment of the ghost tale. It was hilarious, I was cracking up inside and had to walk out of hearing in order to relieve myself of the giggles as I thought to myself: my god, both these ladies are going loony on me-not one- by a couple flew over the coo-coos nest. What I did not know is that I was about to join them.

It happened that we had a few days with no clients, a rare thing indeed and one that should be taken advantage of to catch up and rest because breaks like this came infrequently. Someone called in to inform Sandy that she could not cover her work shift and Sandy was not prepared to cover it, so I volunteered to cover it. I could catch up on work and watch television in peace.

I was lying on the couch in the back room because it housed the largest television, when the curtains trembled. I continued to watch television (it was probably the central unit kicking on). About twenty minutes passed and the floor started to shake as though there was a physical tremor, then the  the curtains visibly shook, this time, and the tremor was sustained. I was imagining things. The washer kicked on. Whatever it was, I knew it was not a ghost because there was no such thing. Logic would prevail, logic and science and I would walk calmly into the washroom to confirm my suspicions. The washer was not in use and had not been in use that day; nor was the dryer. Not the dishwasher. Perhaps a big truck on the street caused the vibration. Whatever the cause, it had to have a scientific explanation, I thought to myself, while still feeling a bit uneasy.

I resumed watching television in my comfortable, cotton sweat suit set, with a glass of iced tea. There. Reason won out- the vibrations stopped. Just as I had dismissed the fear as irrational and unreasonable, another tremor shook the floor, and I hesitantly allowed  my arm to drop from the couch as I placed my hand flat on the floor—the vibrations were strong-it was like a small earthquake. That was it! It must be a small earthquake-of course I had never known a quake to strike in our area before, but that meant nothing. I was sure the local newspaper would confirm it tomorrow. Not to worry, but at least I knew Veronica had not lost her mind because it she had, there were two of us on the loony bus.

Morning came without event and I made coffee, Sandy would be in soon. I had not decided whether to even mention the ‘tremors’ considering how worked up over ‘ghosts’ she would get. Nope–I would just let it go.

Meanwhile, Veronica was covering the early evening shift due to a family crisis with the same staff person. I came to work the next day only to discover the ‘tremor’ that I had felt and failed to mention, had not been the work of a ‘ghost’, but was a real and present danger. The old gas lines underneath the house had sprung a leak and the friction from the escaping gas rattled the pipes, the pipes rattled the floor, and by the time Veronica arrived, the vibration could be felt on the ground. Veronica did not believe in taking risks, she was the type who would call 9-1-1 first and figure out the problem later. The Police arrived first and seemed to think Veronica had lost her mind when she told them the ‘ground was shaking’ at which the two officers looked at each other and began to do their pre-departure apology and it was at that precise moment that the biggest tremor of all hit and the ground vibrated underneath their feet. Veronica said the two officers switched into crisis mode and immediately called the situation in. The city was called and notified of the emergency so that a bulldozer was promptly dispatched and the gas lines were shut down, thus barely averting catastrophe. I was so glad Veronica was at the shelter instead of me, I would have been quietly sipping my tea while I blew sky high along with the shelter, a sobering and mildly humorous image popped into mind. Would the insurance have covered me?

I had learned my lesson in practical survival versus the ghost story. Next time there was a suspicion of a ‘ghost’ I would follow Veronica’s example and simply call 9-1-1, or maybe even Ghostbusters.