I’ve had many interesting housing experiences in my 20 plus years of touring, including a stay in an old building filled with creaky wood floors and spooky shadows.
This building in the downtown section of a small Midwest town has had several lives. I think it was a factory originally and later, a dance hall. Now it’s a gallery and performance space, with pressed tin ceilings and beautiful woodwork. I had a wonderful evening opening for my friend singer-songwriter Erica Wheeler.
I thought it was odd that they gave her, the main act, a hotel room when they could’ve offered her the cute apartment located behind the stage. Instead, I got the apartment. As an opening act I was grateful for any housing. As long as I wasn’t sharing my bed with any six legged friends, I was happy.
Erica and I stayed up late eating popcorn, telling stories and laughing. Her eyes started to droop and not because my charming company had become boring. We had our goodbye hugs before I opened the front door. I locked it behind her. She’d have a short drive to her hotel and a comfortable bed. I strolled to the back of the building, relieved that I didn’t have to drive anywhere.
The building was in a deserted commercial part of town, so there were no dogs barking, cars motoring or any other usual comforting sounds of a residential neighborhood. I could hear the far-off rumble of highway traffic and the occasional train whistle from tracks a couple of miles away. The old structure settled, emitting low creaks, like the groans of an old person getting up from a chair.
Several high windows let in the pale yellow light of the moon and a streetlight.
The living room was cozy with antique-looking furniture. Along one side was a battered dark wood table and on it, a wind-up phonograph player. Next to it was a beat up 78 of “Wild Irish Rose.” I thought briefly about turning it on but changed my mind.
I was alone in an awfully big building. The big front doors were already safely secured. Still, I carefully locked the doors to the little apartment and settled in front of my laptop to roam the wilds of cyberspace. I thought that staying up late would result in a weary fall into bed and a deep sleep.
An hour later I heard a big CRASH and in one movement I jumped back from the desk and wildly looked around. At my feet sat a very guilty looking cat that had just knocked over my backpack full of heavy books. I knew the place had several resident felines, but I thought I’d locked out the little buggers. I love cats and normally would welcome them in. I was already spooked by the creaky building, though, and didn’t want to be surprised by any curious kitties.
I searched the apartment, and in the tiny dining area I found a doorway covered only in a blanket. I assumed that the cat had crept in that way. Nothing I could do about it, so I sat back down at my computer.
Soon I heard “thud whoosh thud whoosh … thud whoosh thud whoosh.” It sped up to a frantic pace, stopped, then started again. My heart beat faster as I looked around. A shadow passed out in the hall, making an unusual shape on the glass door as it moved from left to right. I tip toed to the door, quickly turned the knob and threw it open, calling out, “Who’s there?” just in time to see a black kitty butt scamper down the hall.
I turned on the hall light, left the door open and sat back down at the computer.
At 3 AM, unable to keep my eyes open, I dressed for bed, turned off the lights and slipped between the covers. The window blinds didn’t close all the way, so the room was filled with eerie striped shadows. I squeezed my eyes shut, willed myself to sleep and did my best to shut out the low groans of the enormous building.
I slept fitfully. A noise would cause my eyes to fly open. I’d think, “Oh it’s just the cats” and roll over. My brain kept supplying “What if?” scenarios that included images I hadn’t dreamed of since my ten-year-old self stayed up too late to watch The Twilight Zone.
Too bad I didn’t have ruby slippers. Or a witch. Or a hotel room.
I woke up early to cheery sunshine streaming in the windows. I took a quick shower and got the hell out of Dodge.
A few months later I ran into someone who lived in that town. “Where did you stay?” she inquired.
“Oh,” I said, trying to sound casual, “I slept in the little apartment they have there.”
Her eyes flew open and she exclaimed, “You know it’s haunted?”
Not long after that I wrote “Ghost Song” and put it on Better Than Chocolate:
Sweet scent of roses / The oak floor creaks / Shadows on the high tin ceiling / A fiddle weeps / Through the open window / Pale moonlight / Ghostly dancers at midnight
©2009 Jamie Anderson