“Raymond, I would like you to walk me through exactly what happened the night of November 6th.”
“I already filed the paperwork.”
“We’d like it on the record.”
“Meaning you think I’m crazy.”
The suit across from me shrugged, and I knew what that meant. Here in Alfred, craziness was a given. There was a sea of stories out here, and not one of them saner than the other. It wasn’t unusual, but as an officer, they had to make sure something hadn’t snapped.
“Alright,” I said.
Near the Wellness Center stood the condemned South Hall. Boarded up, covered in moss and ivy, it became a rite of passage for students to break in.
The break-ins happened nearly every fall semester; it was such a common occurrence that everyone down at the station thought it was strange that Public Safety shouldered the responsibility onto us that night. We never got involved with it before.
The caller didn’t tell us why they wanted us, either. That should’ve been my first clue that something wasn’t quite right.
I had been one of the few officers left tying up loose-end paperwork that night, and I ended up pulling the short straw. Nobody else wanted to deal with drunk college kids, despite the crippling boredom we all felt in the department.
Taking over the call with Public Safety, I told them I’d investigate and escort the students out. Relations between us and them were usually met with the Alfred brand of hospitality, but this caller’s responses were clipped. Single word responses, grunts, hums. Uncharacteristic, even on a Saturday night.
“When you arrived, did you carry weapons on your person?”
“I had my baton and taser. I left my holster in the station.”
“That’s not protocol.”
“I didn’t think it was necessary for a B&E.”
With a grimace creasing his face, the suit motioned for me to continue.
Reaching South Hall, I didn’t see any immediate evidence of a break-in. Besides my own, there were no flashlights. Moving closer to the side entrance—the one nearest to the Saxon Inn—I could see that someone had managed to jimmy open the boarded door. It was one of the easier ways to get in. All you would have needed is a screwdriver and hammer, if you didn’t have a crowbar.
I entered South Hall and called out, “This is Alfred Police. If you’re still here, come down to the first floor.”
As I suspected, no one took the invitation and, after hearing nothing in the way of voices or movement, I decided to walk further into the building.
The interior of South Hall was graffitied to hell and back, with collapsing walls and stairways—all hiding asbestos, which completed the image of a dangerously popular locale. Due to the pandemic, we were already wearing masks, but I didn’t want to stay here longer than necessary.
I was overly cautious in walking around, as even the first floor resembled a sinkhole, sporadically shouting, “My name is Officer Raymond, I’m with the Alfred Police. Public Safety called us to escort y’all out of here. You’re not in any trouble.”
For a time, all I heard was my own muffled voice echoing back at me, until I heard what sounded like a crash a few feet ahead of me. Shining my flashlight towards the sound, I was disturbed to find that the light barely peeked through the dark.
“Anyone in here, please carefully make your way towards me,” I said.
And that was when I got an answer.
I brought my light down toward the sound of the voice. It shone on someone hunkered down in a corner, their back to me. As my light hit them, their head turned to face me. Their eyes were so wide, it almost seemed like they shouldn’t have fit their face. Those eyes were full of something, and I thought it was fear.
They didn’t blink. “Please help me, I fell.”
The sound I heard suddenly made sense, and I moved toward them.
“Are you bleeding? Where does it hurt?” I aimed my light toward their legs, as I asked.
When they didn’t answer, I flicked my light back to their face.
What it showed, it wasn’t human. The face, all sinewy and white, lacked any skin or defining feature. Their eyes are what I can’t get out of my head. They had seemed normal but now? Now they reflected the light like an animal, just orbs in their head.
I never jumped away from something so fast.
When I could breathe without hearing my lungs creak, I pointed my light back to the corner. They were gone. In my panic, I hadn’t heard them move.
Though I sat alone on that broken floor, I still felt watched.
“Raymond, do you need to take a break?”
The suit’s hand hovered over the recorder, itchy trigger finger over the pause button.
I pulled at the sleeves of my shirt. “It’s the temperature. Cold.”
I didn’t know what I thought I saw, but I still had evidence that someone broke in. At that point, for better or worse, I chalked the altercation up to a prank. With the kids still in the building, I decided to continue up to the second floor.
As I went up the stairs, I was aware that my hand took to hovering over my baton.
That feeling of being watched got a lot stronger when I reached the second floor, and the hand that held my flashlight was starting to cramp from holding it so tightly.
“Funny prank, guys. But seriously, I need y’all to clear outta here. One thing to do this in the morning, but at night? Don’t think you’ll get a tuition settlement if y’all hurt yourselves here.” I tried to let the comment come across friendly, but there was a tar in my voice that made it mean.
Vaguely, I could hear walking nearby. Like any kid, they were likely hiding in odd corners, afraid of getting into too much trouble—or enjoying the situation more because of it. I’ll be honest, I don’t know why I did it, but I strobed my flashlight to order a response. “Stop.” The same voice from downstairs.
I obeyed. “It’s gonna be a long night if we keep this up. Let me escort you outta here.”
Moving my flashlight around from where I stood, I couldn’t find any sign of them.
“Listen, it’s…what? Midnight? You could get hurt. You need to leave.”
Their voice echoed out of the dark, “Officer Raymond?”
“I can’t leave.”
“You can. You got up here somehow.”
I squinted into the dark, wondering if the shapes I saw were real or fake. “I can lead you out. We’re not lost or trapped.”
“You can.” I moved from where I stood, illuminating blind spots and still finding no one.
It was like they sat on my shoulder and whispered it, and I turned around at the sound. My light landed on the kid, with their too-big eyes, their pupils barely visible from constriction. They stood with their back to a large, boarded window, one of the flimsy plyboards that were always fraying in the storms.
I gestured for them to move away, to come toward me.
I lowered my flashlight in frustration, and when I took a breath and brought it up again, they were gone. No sound of their shoes, or soles, across the concrete.
“Just come with me.” I stepped toward the window, shining the light on the graffitied board in vain.
Their voice again. “You can’t help me, can you?”
And I turned around to find their arms reaching for my chest.
“The last thing I saw was that sinewy, uncanny face—their animal eyes, like cataracts staring through me—before I woke up here at Jones, with a leg splint and a doctor telling me it was a miracle I’m still alive and I’ll make a full recovery.”
“Raymond, you wrote...” The suit studied my report like it was a counterfeit bill. “Well, that you believe you were accosted by a ghost.”
The memory of writing those words made me wince, something I knew I’d never live down back at the station. “Do you have a logical explanation for my account, sir?”
“It’s generally accepted that your ghost,” his eyebrows curled up at the word, “was nothing more than a student having a mental health crisis. They were going to either hurt themselves, or you, and impersonated a Public Safety officer as a way to get police help.”
“You can’t explain everything away with that.”
He ignored my comment, continuing, “There’s been no report on the kid, which would mean they’re fine, and you were the lucky pick. No one’s come forward about it, though. We’ve only got your version of the story.”
“Wasn’t there a follow-up investigation at South Hall?”
The suit looked at me like I was a child. “We’ve got a scene report, and your doctor’s notes. It really is a miracle you’re alive. Your head was an inch away from exposed brick.”
“One question, sir.”
He turned off the tape recorder.
“Did anything say how I managed to break through that boarded window?”
The suit’s shoulders tensed for the first time, new creases forming that I don’t think you could ever iron out. In the dead quiet room, I could hear the vague clicking of his tongue has he got ready to answer.
“That’s the one thing we don’t understand.”
By Sam Sage