School “Spirit”

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It is nearing midnight. We are walking across the street to the field I told you about earlier, the one where you either hear an owl or a something else. I can’t say for certain the spot is haunted, but it is always cold.

We walk up the abandoned side street, past the cracked pavement falling prey to waist high weeds. We step around two boulders, and into the field. A path cuts through the center of the clearing; it is nothing more than cracked earth, trampled grass, and the souls of sunflowers left to wither when the Summer left. Wind whispers entreaties that draw us forward, right into the center of the field. I  stretch one hand out as if to grasp the difference in temperature, while you try to huddle within yourself against the cold.

“How long do we wait?” you ask.
“I don’t know,” I say. “Would you like to hear a ghost story?”

You either of shiver or nod, I can’t tell which, but I start the story anyway.

A Gate into Mary Washington College

Credit snakepliskins, via flickr.

I attended a small liberal arts college that happened to be built on a Civil War Battleground. One of the dorms was used as a hospital, and the road running along the base of the hill upon which the college perched was the repeated scene of bloodshed. What is now a bucolic Campus Walk was once peopled with soldiers but, on the night I’m going to tell you about, I was alone on the mile-long length of brick road.

At about the midpoint of  Campus Walk, there was a bridge. It crossed a stream, and then Campus Walk continued up the hill on the other side. Most of the time, the area was full of students, full of activity. That night it was cold and, at 3 AM, even the partiers had taken refuge. The campus was silent except for my echoing footsteps.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. There was a figure in the distance. It appeared to be moving very quickly, but was not getting any closer and I couldn’t tell if it was moving away from or towards me. I stopped and watched, conscious of my isolation.

I could not see his face, and I still couldn’t tell which direction he was going. His legs moved with a strange stop-animation motion, like a really bad video revving forward and backward in a jerky loop. His long blue coat fluttered around his neither-this-way nor that-way legs, but he didn’t get closer to the other end of the bridge, nor did he recede into the distance. I looked behind me, at the long walk back the way I came. I looked forward, at the soldier – for by now that’s what I thought he was.

I started across the bridge, my heart pounding and my armpits slicking with nervous sweat despite the cold turning my breath into a hazy gray banner announcing my approach.

When I reached the midpoint, the soldier disappeared. I stopped again, just as freaked out by this as I had been by his appearance. I took a deep breath and made a run for it. I got to the philosophy building and I spun to look behind me.

There was no soldier.

In fact, no matter how many late nights I walked that campus alone, I never saw the soldier. To this day, I can still picture the oddity of his movement, the bewildering way in which he went nowhere while moving very fast.

Just as I wrap up my story, you say:

“Listen!”

In the distance, there is something screaming. The air is colder now, almost unbearable. The scream echoes, and is impossible to pinpoint.

We run.

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