Thursday | July 20, 2017
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The helping hand: A ghost story

The Helping Hand: A Ghost Story



Some businesses — like a theater, for instance — will embrace their ghost stories because they add to the mystique. Other establishments, such as hotels and colleges, will never acknowledge their purported hauntings because they don’t want to scare off customers or potential students.

Likewise, some people are ready to share their supposed encounters with spirits and ghouls at the drop of a hat. Others are much more reluctant — these are folks who are quiet, rational, reserved — and when someone like that shares such a tale, it feels as if the door to the supernatural world might be yawning open, just around the corner.

The friend who told this to me doesn’t want her real name shared. Let’s call her Berenice.

Even when I knew her in high school — this would have been in the mid-’80s — Berenice was very self-conscious about her glasses. Who wasn’t, back then? Nowadays, glasses can be stylish — back then they were thick, bulky and awkward, or so it seemed. I know this; I wore a pair myself.

But contact lenses badly irritated her eyes, so she didn’t have that option. Instead, she’d take off her glasses and hide them once she got to school. She was farsighted, so she could read a blackboard, but if she had to recite from a textbook on her desk she’d have trouble.

Berenice took this habit with her when she went off to study biology at a local university we’re not going to name. She ended up earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry, by the way, and works for a big biotech company in Southwest Virginia.

Her first night in her all-woman dorm, she stayed up late at a mixer getting to know the other students. Around midnight, a couple of seniors decided to scare the freshmen with ghost stories. They claimed a student had committed suicide in a closet by the top of the dorm’s main staircase — a tale Berenice learned later was completely made up — and that, if you went up there in the hours after midnight, you’d encounter her unhappy spirit.

My friend doesn’t believe in ghosts, but that tall tale freaked her out enough that she took the elevator back to her third-floor room specifically because she wanted to avoid the stairs.

When she got back to her room, meaning to read a little while before going to sleep, she discovered her glasses were missing. She’d tucked their case in the back pocket of her jeans just before going into the meet-and-greet.

She took the elevator back down to the common room, which by this time was empty, but didn’t find her glasses on the floor, under the sofas or between the cushions. Her farsightedness made the search a lot harder.

She had retraced her steps back to the elevator lobby when a voice whispered, “Are these yours?”

Berenice had not seen anyone walking toward her or heard anyone coming up behind her. As far as she knew, she was alone in the hall, so she nearly screamed when a hand lifted right in front of her face, clutching a dark object.

She couldn’t see the hand clearly. She described it to me as a pale blur, not flesh-colored but bone white. She could tell its curled fingers were incredibly thin, practically skeletal. I recall how her voice shook as she shared that detail.

She thought she recognized what it was holding. Not knowing what else to do, she closed her eyes and held out her own hand. Whoever had spoken placed the case that held her glasses in her palm.

It took her forever to find the will to open her eyes, and even longer to take her glasses out of their case and put them on. Once she did, she quickly looked around.

She was alone.

Across the hall, the elevator doors stood open, though she hadn’t pressed the button.

The elevator wasn’t there. Instead, she saw the dark pit of the elevator shaft. Then the doors closed and opened again, and the elevator was in place.

My friend ended up taking the stairs back to her room.

She never told anyone at school what happened. She eventually worked up the courage to ask the seniors who shared those ghost stories if they’d ever heard anything strange about the dorm elevator. They hadn’t.

A couple of years later, after Berenice had moved into an apartment off campus, she learned about a well-liked maintenance worker, employed at the university for many years, who died in a freak accident. He fell down the open elevator shaft while doing repairs. A small plaque on the side of the dorm memorialized him until a few years ago, when the building was torn down to make way for new construction.

A story she found on microfiche about his death described him as a person who would always stop to help, no matter how busy he was.


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