I don’t believe in ghosts. I think it’s fair that I admit this before I tell you a couple ghost stories (and I added a third today). Someone suggested that I call them “unexplained phenomena” stories instead, but it doesn’t have the same ring. It’s not difficult to resist a story about unexplained phenomena but a ghost story? Now that’s hard to pass up especially as Halloween approaches.
Both these ghost stories take place in churches and the third, in a cemetery.
Listen to me read this post:
When I was teenager, another girl and I were the janitors at the United Church we attended in Fairview. It was always a little eerie working in that big empty building that smelled of wood and paper. It was easy to feel spooked and to feel watched.
Back in the day, the church was left unlocked. There is a small meeting room located behind the sanctuary. It used to be furnished with a couch, a couple of chairs, and a coffee table from the 1960s. On occasion, folks with nowhere else to go would sleep there. Sounds like a very good use of God’s house, don’t you think?
The front and both side doors were very creaky, and no matter where we were working in the church, we could hear those doors screech open and slam shut. I always listened for the sound of someone entering the church while I vacuumed and while I dusted.
One Saturday afternoon as I vacuumed the sanctuary carpet, my partner mopped the basement floor. Suddenly, above the whir of the vacuum cleaner, I heard loud footsteps stomping across the second-level floor above me. As I recall it, the steps were so pronounced that they shook the stained glass window panes. I hadn’t heard anyone enter the building. I shut off the vacuum and stood there frozen, listening to the racket above, heavy steps, back and forth, forth and back, making the floorboards and me tremble.
Finally, I broke out of my paralysis and into a run, leaving the vacuum behind in the wide aisle. I met my fellow janitor as she raced up the stairs from the basement. We didn’t speak. We just looked wide-eyed at each other for a moment. Then she dropped her bucket and mop, and out the side door we ran.
Before I moved out to this area of Alberta, I spent a couple summers working at Heritage Park, the historical village in Calgary. My duties there included covering staff breaks in the buildings throughout the park, so I had the opportunity to work all over. I liked this job a lot.
One morning I was covering a shift in St. Martin’s Anglican Church. In the closet just off the vestibule, I found a glass vase. I spotted a gardener employed by the park walking through the churchyard, and I darted outside to ask him if he’d cut a bouquet of flowers.
“No problem,” he answered and in no time, he was back with the vase full of water and flowers gathered from the nearby beds.
He took the bouquet to the front of the church. There was a low railing and a tiny gate that cordoned off the altar area at the front of the sanctuary. The obliging gardener asked, “Where should we put this?” The church stood on ground that is consecrated and is still used for Anglican services, and so I felt that we should be respectful.
When the gardener placed the vase full of flowers on the baptismal font, I said, “No, maybe not there. Let’s leave the bouquet on the floor in front of the altar where people can see it.” I backed up down the aisle and he positioned the vase.
“Here?” he asked.
“That’s perfect. They look good and everyone will be able to see them. Thanks for doing that!”
The gardener left me alone. It was a quiet, dreary day and my friend in the RCMP barracks across the dusty street stepped out onto the boardwalk and beckoned to me to come for a visit. Together we stood and chatted on the boards, watching our respective buildings. If visitors came, we wanted to greet them and show them around. On that cool spring day, no one dropped by either exhibit while the Mountie and I talked. When it started to lightly rain, we both headed back to our stations.
When I re-entered the gloomy church, all the moisture left my mouth and my heart started to pound. The vase of flowers was now up on the baptismal font.
Here’s a third ghost story and probably a good reason to completely change the title of this piece. And yet …
About 25 years ago, I drove out to the cemetery close to where I now live. I was in the area to visit my grandmother but wanted to see some of the old folks in their final resting place, too. I remember that it was a warm, summer day and it was bone dry in this parkland region of east-central Alberta.
I turned off the highway and onto the narrow gravelled lane that leads to the Lakeview Cemetery gate. There were no other vehicles there. I parked my car on the brown grass and walked between the concrete pillars that mark the graveyard’s entrance. The breeze was light and stirred that thick, dry air around a bit.
When I saw the two women dressed in long, black dresses, I was startled. Usually another car or truck outside the gate or in the lane way signals other visitors are in the countryside cemetery. One woman knelt and the other stood beside her with a hand resting on her companion’s shoulder; both of their heads were bowed, their eyes downcast. There was no grave marker where they were and no headstones close by.
The women looked up when I entered the gate, gravel and dry grass crunching beneath my shoes. I lifted my hand in greeting, feeling uncomfortable, as if I were interrupting a solemn occasion. I wished I’d waited longer to come to the graveyard that day. For a moment they stared at me with piercing eyes set into pale skin from under the dark scarves they wore. They seemed annoyed.
Then slowly, the one who’d be kneeling stood up, and together they walked toward the woods that overlook the alkaline body of water that was a recreational lake back in the day, full of fish and fun, Hughenden Lake. They paused at the barbed wire fence and helped each other through, one holding the wires apart while the other held her skirt out of the way and stooped through the spread wires.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t want to have an experience to convince me otherwise and so I was almost relieved to see these forms helping each other through a pasture fence. That, I thought, was a good sign that they were human — humans that headed into a thicket of scrub brush that covered a relatively steep hillside that ended where the salty lake water started.
After they’d gone through the fence and disappeared into the trees, I walked to where the women had been when I first spotted them. As I’d thought, there was no marker, no gravestone. Interestingly, a decade or so later, some metal crosses were erected right about where the two forms had shared a solemn moment that hot afternoon, crosses that indicated the location of unmarked graves.
If you have a story to tell or need one edited, get in touch and I can help. Thanks for reading and listening. See you next time. ~ Lori