A True Ghost Story for Halloween

I love a good ghost story. I like to hear or read them, and I like to tell them. I don’t often get the opportunity to do that, and when I do, I always have to decide:

Do I tell a good fictional story?

Or do I relate my own experience with a ghost?

It’s a hard question. I much prefer the classic ghost stories I know. They’re more coherent, conclusive, and scarier than my own experience. However, my ghostly encounter is my own experience. Only a few people know about the incident, and the tale bears telling. On the other hand, I’m not sure it really is a ghost story. I can think of a couple of explanations for what really happened . . . I think.

And yet—I wonder.

It’s Halloween. I’ll tell you my story, as plainly and truthfully as possible, and let you decide:

Many years ago I worked the night shift at a radio station in a small coastal town in northern California. The town featured many old buildings with classic Victorian-era storefronts. The station’s control booth sat in the front bay window of one such store, looking out on the sidewalk at street level.

The announcer who hosted the shift before mine was a rather odd woman who prayed to Elvis Presley and held unconventional views on a variety of topics.

One evening, when I arrived at work, this woman greeted me with obvious relief. She told me she was frightened, and was glad that I was there so she wouldn’t be alone.

Between announcing sets, she had been going to the production booth to audition music. While in that booth, she said, “the landlord’s ghost” had visited her.

The radio station’s building belonged to an older couple that lived on the second floor. The husband had developed cancer a few years previously. When it became terminal, he took his own life. I had not heard that his ghost lingering on the premises, but this woman felt his presence in the production booth. Her evidence? The ghost had knocked a case off one of the speakers, so that it fell on the console in front of her.

This detail escapes me now, but it may have been the anniversary of the landlord’s death—perhaps that had brought him to her mind that particular evening.

Obviously, she had been listening to music at high volume, creating a vibration that eventually rattled the case off the speaker. Nevertheless, the topic of ghosts had been raised, and lingered in my mind through the long night shift.

I am not normally a timid person, but on this night my thoughts turned dark. Weather matched my mood: as often happened, sea fog stole through the town, obscuring the deserted street until I could barely see the landlady’s car parked in front of the bay window. By the time my boss arrived for his morning show, I was rather jumpy.

I told him what had gone on in the night, and we shared a laugh. He related a similar night he’d experienced at another local radio station. Its building sat near the station’s broadcast tower, and on a moonlit night shift he’d heard strange moaning outside. He plucked up his courage and went to investigate, but was unable to locate the source of the sound until, perplexed, he rested a hand on a tower guy wire. When he did that, the guy wire stopped vibrating, and the moaning ceased.

Just as he finished his story, a blaring car horn startled us. Without warning, the horn blasted long and loud, as if someone leaned hard on it. My companion ran outside to see where the noise came from. He returned moments later, somewhat pale.

I asked what was happening, hoping he’d tell me a drunk down the street had passed out against his steering wheel. My boss said nothing, but pointed emphatically at the car parked outside the window. The landlady’s—the dead landlord’s—car horn blasted at us ceaselessly!

The landlady rushed down to the street, and my boss ran out to help. Their search revealed nothing that might have caused the horn to blow. Finally, they yanked the wires, cutting off the horn.

Corrosion is a constant problem in that sea spray-soaked town. Perhaps the wires had corroded, leading to a short that started the horn? I don’t know. The car had no alarm system, to which the horn might be connected. We never heard a satisfactory explanation, although I still think one must exist. What an incredible coincidence, though, that the dead man’s car horn should suddenly blast while we were thinking of him!

You may doubt the truth of this story. But ask yourself: if I were making it up, wouldn’t it be better?

Happy Halloween.

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