CHILDHOOD GHOST STORY
By Sarah Lakeland
Editor’s Note: On this windy Old Hallow’s Eve, we have another ghost story from another Estes Park local, recounting a ghost story from her childhood in New York. Hope you enjoy, and have a safe and happy Halloween.
CHILDHOOD GHOST STORY
By Sarah Lakeland
The key would not turn in the lock of the much-coveted Parkchester apartment. She headed back to the manager’s office and told him. He looked incredulous.
“That is the right key,” he said.
Mother held her ground. The manager handed her a second key.
This key worked, and she pushed the door open. She was instantly invigorated. This was to be her new apartment with her husband and two daughters, my sister and me.
Stepping into the apartment, she was assailed by the strong stench of funeral flowers. Yet, upon careful inspection, there were no flowers to be found in the empty, spotless apartment. She put aside any more thoughts of this assault on her olfactory senses, until months later, when she would recall the smell, accompanied by horror.
Her mind returned to the first key, unable to open the lock. She knew that doors symbolized the transition from one place to another, even the passage from one world to the next--concepts found in religion, mythology,and literature. The key, she knew, provides an opening, giving us passage into unknown worlds; a key symbolizes freedom.
The first key prevented her entrance. The second allowed her passage.
These thoughts unnerved her. What about the smell of the funeral flowers? She knew the popularity of funeral flowers was not due to their beauty, but their heavy fragrance was used to cover up the smell of decomposing corpses in a time before there was chemical embalming.
She cleared her mind of these morbid and worrying thoughts. She was fortunate to find a two-bedroom apartment in such a wonderful development as Parkchester, a safe enclave in the middle of the Bronx.
They had little money, but she made the apartment a cozy home. My father worked long days, as the driver of a laundry truck for his family’s business. He left for work each morning at 5 am.
My father was a kind, mild mannered man with warm blue eyes and a wonderful smile. Everyone loved Jean. He had married Eugenia, a striking brunette. One day my mother had accompanied her sister to a modeling interview, which did not work out as planned. The agency wanted to hire Eugenia, not her sister. My mother was very shy and did not want to be a model. She declined the offer.
We were too poor to own a vehicle but that never deterred Mother. Parkchester was a planned unit development, which made it easy for us to walk most places. We were frequent visitors to the Bronx Zoo, and our hearts were heavy knowing of the permanent plight of the animals.
THE PROPHECY OF THE GYPSY
As we left the Parkchester neighborhood, there was not much development in that area leading to the Bronx Zoo. It was isolated with dense forests. Surrounding the Bronx Zoo were Romani encampments. Their brightly colored clothes hung on trees drying in the sun. Their wooden wheeled wagons were equally bright. These were probably the Ludar or Romanian Gypsies who were originally from northern India and made their way to Europe. From Europe, some made their way to the United States. Newspaper articles written as early as the 1860’s described Roma encampments in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn and here, in 1956, was one in the isolated woods around the Bronx Zoo.
A middle-aged woman hurriedly approached my mother. She was wearing a brightly colored skirt to her ankles and a loose cream-colored long- sleeved blouse. Her bright blue scarf encircled the top of her head while the wind gently blew her long metal earrings and the curly black hair that reached down her back. She was dark-skinned but did not look like any of the races that I had seen before. She spoke some English mixed with words in a foreign language.
“Here, here,” she insisted, shoving a bracelet into Mother’s face. Take this bracelet, five dollars only.” Sensing my mother’s disinterest, she continued in her broken language, becoming louder, more frantic.
“Madam, madam! You must take this, or you will have two husbands.”
I realize now my mother was frightened by this woman’s pleas. She hurried us away. Later, mother said she’d been worried the Roma would kidnap my sister and me.
“Besides,” she said. “Five dollars is a lot of money. That was some cheap paste bracelet, painted to look shiny.”
“But what about the curse,” I asked. I didn’t want my mother to have two husbands. I loved my father.
Life in the Parkchester apartment was joyful for a while.
One day, while my father was napping, my mother experienced a feeling of terrible loneliness. This uneasy feeling involved, improbably, my young, vibrant father. Months later, Mother would recall this anxious feeling as a premonition of my father dying.
But I digress.
My father entered the Veteran’s Hospital to have his thyroid gland removed. This was considered a simple operation. While recuperating in the hospital, he met Tom, a strongly determined man, and they shared many card games. My father told Mother that Tom was dying, which made him sad because Tom was nice.
Within a brief period, a dramatic series of events occurred, which changed every aspect of our lives.
Upon returning home from the hospital, my father became extremely illwith spinal meningitis and was rushed back to the hospital. My father was allergic to penicillin, the only antibiotic available at that time, and nothing could save him. My father was in and out of comas. He managed to call my mother on a Friday from the hospital. He told her he was going to die the next day. He said he would miss her, and my sister and me.
My father died the next day, just shy of his thirtieth birthday. I was five years old, my sister was eighteen months, and we were left without our father.
THE GHOST IN THE HOUSE
A brief time after my father died, Mother went to the Veteran’s Hospital to visit Tom, who did not die as my father had predicted. Tom and Mother were married soon after
The Gypsy premonition became true.
I hated Tom from the very beginning. He was like a chameleon but did not betray his true colors until months into the marriage. Somehow, though, I sensed his violent, abusive nature immediately.
There was never any peace in our lives after Tom became our stepfather. I’ve often wondered how my father could have so misjudged Tom’s character.
I can’t recall exactly when the ghost first appeared in the hallway outside the bedroom I shared with my sister. Ghost is too strong a word. I can describe it only as a mist that would slowly move, back and forth, outside the doorway. This continued for years.
As my sister grew older and more aware of the apparition; it frightened her. She asked what it was. I knew if I called it a ghost, she would never be able to sleep well in that bedroom again.
“That’s a soldier our dad sent to watch over us,” I told her. This story calmed her.
About a year later my mother moved my sister and I to the big bedroom. This would accommodate a third bed, for my baby brother, but this room had no hallway views. My mother and Tom moved into the bedroom my sister and I had previously shared. They had the hallway views.
Since their marriage, my stepfather had proved he was a pugnacious, evil man. He had been in many fistfights prior to his marriage with Mother. We learned he had been administered Last Rites six times. Tom proudly regaled us with his stories of near-death experiences, and how the Angel of Death had visited him at the foot of his death bed frequently
On this morning, Tom said he’d seen the Angel of Death in the hallway during the night.
“She had a veil that covered her head, and flowed down to the floor,” he said. “It was terrifying.”
My mother said she had seen the specter as well.
I was confused. This was not what I had seen in the hallway. My experiences were calming, soothing. But Tom was terrified by the apparition.
I had heard stories of people dying and experiencing a light at the end of a tunnel. They described seeing loved ones in the light, beckoning them, or urging them to return to life.
My stepfather, though, said he’d never had an experience of seeing a light in the tunnel or loved ones awaiting him. He had a grim vision of Hell awaiting him when he left the planet. He often said he thought he’d get on “fine with the Devil.”
Shortly before Tom died, he told us of a dream he’d had.
“I had died, and I had to choose between the door on the left, or the door on the right. I chose the door on the left.”
He would not tell us what was behind that door, but it was terrifying to Tom. Perhaps this dream was a warning to him; that he had the ability to make amends for his terrible actions, and only then would he be able to choose the door that would open to show the light at the end of the tunnel.
Tom finally passed away at eighty-three. My sister and Mother saw him shortly later in the hospital. “His mouth,” my sister said, “was wide open. He had a terrified expression on his face, which was pale and ashen.”
“He looked as if he’d seen a ghost.”