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Originally published at An Island Where No One Lives.  Adapted and edited for inclusion here.

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A while ago, I was browsing Henry's Asylum and came across this entry. I thought to myself, Say, I have a kind of ghost story, I'll leave it here in the comments.

But then I further thought to myself, You know, I haven't posted anything on my blog that's been entertaining, interesting or even well-punctuated since, well, forever.

So, I cast aside the fellowship of man and decided greedily to post my story at my own blog.  And now, since I like the story, I've put it here. Sorry about that, Henry; if you've popped by for something, this one's for you.

Some years back, when I was a mere prat in college, I was a member of the university choir, though you wouldn't hardly believe it to look at me now. In early December, we embarked upon a tour of some cities in the South, mainly located in Georgia and South Carolina. At each spot, we sang various works in the local church, and we were then trundled off to stay the night at the homes of parishioners who had volunteered to host us.

When we reached Charleston, a group of us were selected to stay in one of the older homes near the church. We enjoyed a pleasant evening, chatting with our hosts, before it was time to go to bed. I was shown my room and bid goodnight, and I prepared to retire.

Many of the houses we stayed in throughout the trip were quite old, and the previous night, one of the girls told us she had stayed in a house reputed to be haunted, though she had no spectral encounters. My room this night was quite old as well, with solid wood floors and an old steam-heater near the window. Of course, our dorm room in college also had a steam heater (two of them, in fact), and I knew that if it kept going all night, it would eventually remove all the moisture from the air, and I would wake up (at best) parched, at worst with a raw throat--not at all good for singing.

So, after preparing for bed, I turned the heater off, and settled under the covers. And then--

No sooner had I drawn the covers up, it began. A slow, scratching noise came from the wall, immediately above my head. It sounded like the long fingernails of a clawed hand, slowly and deliberately running their points over the wallpaper.   It was almost like a taunt.  I'm here, and I have all the time in the world.  And there's nothing you can do about it.

That, of course, implied that the owner of the hand was a creature of reason.  It might have been some unthinking brute, searching for prey, and only by remaining still had I escaped its notice.

I, for my part, was petrified, in the literal sense of the word. I was too terrified to move, certain that any motion on my part would be instantly detected and my fate, decided. Only the darkness and my silent stillness hid me from this creature.

I lay there under the covers, wondering what kind of fate that sinister hand was going to deal to me. I was not conscious of time passing, thought it seemed that the world had slowed to a crawl.  I was resigned to staying awake, rigid, all night long rather than, through panic, trying to move and being forced to confront (and no doubt surrender to) this phantom.

I have no idea how long I lay there, but it was long enough for despair to become my dominant emotion. I felt the hand of doom upon me, as surely as I thought I would soon feel the other, more immediate hand above my head, upon me.

At length I could tolerate no more. Prepared to sell my life dearly against this invader from the shadows, I tossed the cover aside and turned to face my fate--

--and, now that the angle of my head was changed, I could clearly hear that the scratching was not coming from over the headboard, but from the radiator; that it was not the sound of scratching fingernails, but the sound of hissing steam dripping from the now-closed valve.

I have never felt relief as palpably as I did that night. Nor, for that matter, foolishness at my overzealous imagination. Needless to say, I did not make my experience a topic of discussion the next morning.

But I have never forgotten my visitor.   

It might be interesting to speculate what might have happened, had I not chosen to move.  I suspect I would have been a complete mental wreck by the morning, when my companions came to retrieve me.  I'd be one of those gibbering people from Poe, or Lovecraft, and I'd spend the rest of my days laughing and whispering darkly about secrets and hidden dimensions and such like.

It might be argued that that happened anyway, so what's the difference?   Well, at least I got there my own way, eh?

April 6, 2005

 

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