It's almost Halloween. Do you like ghost stories?
I enjoy scarey movies. I enjoy scarey books, like Stephen King. I am not a religious person, and I don't really believe in things like the afterlife, or ghosts, or the supernatural. But I do love the stories! I love the way a good one makes your spine tingle.
I was traveling as a stagehand with a theatrical production. My job was to run the spotlight for the show, and call the cues for the other spotlight operators we picked up in each town. This means sitting in the dark, watching the stage for 2-3 hours, and pointing a powerful lamp on actors at the right time. One person knows the show - that was me - and I was connected by intercom to three other people who didn't know the show, so I could give them instructions.
The four of you are a closed circuit. No one else hears you. At first, only the cue-caller talks, and everyone's quiet, listening to the instructions. "Standby Spot Two, on the girl in white, entering downstage left, 50 percent ... and ... go! ... Spots Three and Four, standby to fade to black in a three count as he exits ... there he goes ...Three and Four, change to a frame One and standby up center full body iris, full intensity on the Model T when the scrim clears ..."
But on a long-running show, once everybody learns their cues, something interesting happens.
There's a peculiar intimacy that develops with people you spend so much time connected to so closely, while being unable to look in the face. You are alone in the dark - and yet three other people are whispering in your ear. You hear their breathing. You hear their involuntary utterances - a muttered "oh shit!" for a mistake, or a grunt of effort, or a sigh as they stretch a stiff leg or arm.
It's almost like being in a confessional, talking through the grating to the unseen counselor. Only you're all equal penitents. All four of you talk. You talk about what pisses you off. You talk about your lovers, or spouses. You talk about politics. Sex.
And you tell stories.
Stage Left Onstage Truss Spot Two was a woman in her forties - a little older than me at the time. She had helped me hang the front-of-house balcony rail, and she was a good electrician and frontlight operator. She was gay, I'd met her girlfriend who worked at a restaurant in the theatre district. She was rough-edged, but nice; when she heard I was interested in gardening, she'd given me a list of good local nurseries to visit in town.
On Saturdays, we had two shows, a matinee and an evening show. One Saturday night Spot Two told us a story.
She said that she had led a rough life when young, and had experimented with drugs, including heroin. One Saturday night, at the apartment she shared with a roommate, she shot up and overdosed. Spot Two said she felt herself leave her body, hovering above the room watching her own body convulsing on the floor. She saw her friends freak out when they discovered her, and had a sense of floating overhead watching the EMT's treat her.
This description is common in stories of "near death experiences," along with what Spot Two said she experienced next. She entered a dark tunnel that drew her to a brilliant light that attracted her onward. But suddenly between her and the end of the tunnel, she saw someone she knew, barring the way.
It was the female bartender at the local gay bar she hung out at. In her dream or vision or hallucination, Spot Two called out the woman's name, and said, "What are you doing here?"
The woman looked at her, with an expression of deep anger in her eyes. She said, "You stupid bitch! What the fuck did you do this to yourself for? Go back and don't ever do this again!"
And abruptly Spot Two found herself back in her body, paramedics reviving her.
Or so she said.
A few days later, after she'd recovered, she stopped by the bar where the woman had worked. There were flowers on the back bar, and candles burning. What's with that, she asked?
Oh, they said. That's from the memorial service. The bartender had died of a heart attack last Saturday night.
Is this a rare old chestnut of a story? Is this a urban myth gone personal? Spot Two told it well. It had a practiced feel to it, like she'd told it many times before.
But it still sent a tingle up my spine, whispered in my ear as it was, while I sat suspended from the ceiling of a darkened theatre.
Happy Halloween. What's your favorite ghost story?