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The emptiness at the top of the stairs

Some close encounters with local spirits at SIT, Retreat

Olga Peters usually writes about less ethereal matters as staff reporter for The Commons.

BRATTLEBORO—I’d forgotten to turn on the light at the bottom of the stairs.

The garden level of Bliss House between the muted wall light in the stairwell where I stood to the pool of light over my desk sunk into darkness filled with the hulking shapes of file cabinets, a paper cutter and photocopier. It would be a dark walk back to my desk.

A door latch clicked behind me.

Bliss House, home to SIT Study Abroad, can be a noisy place to work after hours.

Footsteps. Doors opening. Closing. Random bangs and clanks.

“It’s the Bliss House Ghost,” a co-worker told me.

The night before I had run into her office thinking the banging on her door came from someone locked inside. Her office door stood open.

“Who’s here?” I called to the empty building, assuming my co-worker would answer.

The banging stopped.

Bliss House, sits on top of a hill over looking the World Learning campus. Caretakers have moved the farmhouse to eight different locations since its construction in the 1700s.

“Anything with that kind of history has got to have some kind of ghost,” said friend and colleague Lisa Johnson.

Lisa’s desk sat on the first floor of Bliss. She heard the footsteps pacing the upper floor hallway and knocking around in the director’s office when she worked late.

“But it never felt like a scary ghost,” she said.

* * *

When it comes to ghosts, I’m an agnostic.

I don’t assume every shadow belongs to a ghost. Basically, anything’s possible in this weird, wide, wonderful world. Your guess is as good as mine.

But on this night, standing on the stairs, faced with walking into the darkness and the sound of an opening door when I was the only breathing thing in the building, weird overshadowed wonderful.

Hinges creaked over my shoulder. The back of my neck tingled.

This is ridiculous, I thought. What are you afraid of?

I turned and faced the emptiness at the top of the stairs.

See, I told myself.

The top stair creaked as if taking someone’s weight. The next step creaked. The third step. The fourth.

My skin developed a rash of goosebumps. I didn’t wait for the fifth step.

When it comes to ghosts, I’m also a self-proclaimed wuss.

Clearing the bottom steps, I shot for the sanctity of the light above my desk.

I spun around, expecting to see some filmy shape melt out of the shadows and come at me.

Instead, the creaking on the stairs ascended. A door clicked closed again, and I listened as the footsteps paced the hallway above.

Maybe my imagination ran away with me.

Or maybe I ran away from an opportunity to meet whoever went bump in the night.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #73 (Wednesday, October 27, 2010).

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