Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Back when I was a ghost...

The place where I spent my first two years of college has always struck me as the perfect setting for a werewolf story.* It's a high-powered University, very intellectual, built on the edge of the cumberland plateau; it's possible to walk from the dormitories, and find yourself in the midst of genuine wilderness - forest, cliffs, caves, wild animals - in a matter of minutes. This suited me; at the time, I was considerably more restless and uncivilized than I am now. If I could have changed myself into a wolf and gone to live in the woods, I probably would have. I'd at least have given the matter serious thought.

The buildings there are built of rough-cut sandstone, and the architecture has a somewhat gothic sensibility: regular and flying buttresses, elegant archways, crenelated walls along the balconies. In addition to encouraging a certain sense of romanticism, these features provide a nearly-irresistible** opportunity for climbing. And being restless and out of place and nearly nocturnal, I did a lot climbing.

The bell tower was a personal favorite, though I never did quite figure out how to get the rest of the way up to the balcony. That's not to say that it couldn't be done; I just never saw a method that I trusted enough to try - and since nobody knew I was up there, I was very cautious about trying things. A large part of that caution was that anything I came up with would also need to be done in reverse, so I could get back down afterwards. That was the consideration that ruled out most of my bright ideas.

But that's a digression, really. The point of this story isn't about climbing things that I probably shouldn't have been. This is a story about being a ghost.

In some ways, I really was a ghost. As I said, I mostly came out at night; I wore a lot of black; I drifted restlessly around campus; I seldom spoke. Socially, that's about all it takes. But one evening, it went a little further.

I was climbing, of course; not on the tower, but on the art building which formed another edge of the central quad. I had gone most of the way up, but instead of continuing to the observatory on the roof, I decided to come in through one of the fourth-floor windows. The window was open (it usually was), and getting to the ledge was no great effort.

However, as I slipped into the room, I saw that I wasn't alone. There was a girl in the center of the room, with her back to me. She had a paint brush in her hand and an easel in front of her. She hadn't heard me come in; she was concentrating on her project, and probably didn't expect to have anyone materialize behind her in an empty room at two o'clock in the morning. For a moment, I considered just climbing back out the window; but I didn't really feel like it... and besides, if she happened to look around and see me, that could lead to questions.

So I put my head up, straightened my long black coat, and walked silently around her and out of the room. I carefully avoided making eye contact; in fact, I ignored her completely.

I'm pretty sure that this is how urban legends get started.

* I tried to write one - several times - but I was in my late teens and the results were fairly awful.
** Nearly irresistible for me, at least. Everyone else seemed to resist just fine.


  1. Wow! That sounds exhilarating! I always loved climbing and I love hanging out in old buildings, but I wasn't brave enough to attempt anything on that scale. I tend to be more scared of getting caught than of the climbing itself. I like how you compare this to being a ghost. I bet there's a special sort of thrill (and terror) in knowing you are the one doing the haunting.

  2. It was a very odd time in my life.


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