Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Barracks Shadow Man

     So many of the ghosts I’ve seen I didn’t get a good look at. They look like regular people, and unless they’re wearing period clothes it is usually impossible to spot them. Fort Ord evens the playing field somewhat because most of the ghosts there are wearing a uniform and the style of uniform gives away their age. I’ve told you about the African-American in the OG (pickle-suit), and the guy sitting in my truck wearing an Army orderly’s uniform.

     There was also the Captain who almost knocked me over one morning. I was on the alley between the 2-27 barracks, and I was reading the stickers still on the windows of the upper floors. As I turned I had to jump to one side as this man wearing the old khaki uniform, and captain’s bars on his shoulders barreled past me. In a step and a half he vanished. I can still see him. He wore the old bus-driver hat, and carried a brown leather briefcase. He had a determined look on his face. The cut of the uniform placed him in the late 1950s to early 1960s.

Charlie 3-9 Barracks. He sat at the far entrance.

     A year or so later I was simply out for a walk. Fort Ord is at the halfway point between my home, and the peninsula. It’s a great place to walk because the distances are marked, and you can keep track of who far you’ve gone. I was finishing up a three-mile loop, and decided to cut up through the alley between the Machu, 3-9 barracks. The end I approached from is almost blocked by a pair of Monterey Cypress trees. Their long branches reach across the alley entrance, and they make it impossible to see through to the other side.

     I came up at an angle which allowed me to walk under one tree, and out onto the alley way. As I rounded the corner of the neighboring building I saw movement on the steps of the opposite barracks.  I stopped as this place can be tricky with gangs, and homeless folks sometimes hanging out. What I saw blew my mind.

The tree I stood beneath as I watched him.

     Sitting on the steps of the barracks was a man. He wore the camouflage pants, and the black Corcoran combat boots. The upper half of his body was a shadowy outline. I could see enough definition that I could tell he was smoking a cigarette. I stood there looking at him - really looking at him in detail. There was no question about what he was. He didn’t react to the wind blowing through the trees. He just sat on the steps, head hunched just so, and every once in a while taking a drag from his invisible cigarette.

     I marveled at his lower half. The sun reflected from the shine of his boots. I could see his laces tied at the top. He had something in the thigh cargo pockets of his pants, and the brass buckle glinted. I wondered what might happen if I touched him. Would I feel anything?

     The shadowy upper half was interesting too. It resembled a garden variety shadow in its consistency. It was solid, and I couldn’t see through it. I could make out the fingers on each hand as they rested just above his knees.

     His head turned my direction, and he sat up straight. He took one last puff, stood up, and turned to walk inside. He vanished as he went through the door. He had seen me. I assumed he was a residual vision; a recording in space time. I was wrong. This guy posed a bunch of questions about how things work on the other side. Why stay there? Do ghosts get cigarette breaks? Why not wear comfortable shoes? Why keep your boot s shined?

     I walked up those steps, and pulled the door open. Standing just inside I stood listening for the sound of boots. It was silent. I apologized in a calm voice, and I left. Of all of my ghost sightings this one remains the most interesting to me. I know there were two suicides in the building during the time-frame of the ghost’s uniform. Maybe he feels a sense of duty to the men he left behind. Maybe he feels like a failure, and cannot move on.

      I hope he finds a way to let go.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Scary Ghosts

    Ghosts don’t scare me. Well, most ghosts don’t scare me. Most of the time I don’t realize they’re a ghost as most of them just look like regular people. Even the few times where I knew I was looking at a ghost I was not frightened, just fascinated as I tried to take in as much information as I could. Still, there are a couple of times where I was scared enough to run.

     The first one was classic. I had slipped into one of the huge three-story barracks to locate a mural I’d been told about. The barracks was essentially a large apartment building. The first floor was pitch black. The windows were all boarded up. I had a small flashlight, but the pure darkness engulfed the beam so I could only see what was in the light beam. I found the mural in the mess hall; a Cobra painted on the wall, and I snapped a few pictures. I figured where there was one mural there should be more so I searched the entire building. I love poking around abandoned places, there is a thrill of discovery, and the thrill of breaking the law makes it a unique experience.
I found nothing more to photograph. I returned carefully down stairs to the huge entry hall. I waited a moment by the doorway to listen for footsteps. The last thing I needed was to walk right into a cop. So I’m standing there in the pitch black and a voice comes from behind me.

     “Hey buddy.” A male voice said.

     I clicked on my light as I swung around. I was sure I was going to see a police officer standing there with a huge grin on his face. Instead the hallway was empty. The voice had come from less than a foot away. I bolted out of the door and ran all the way back to my truck.
Looking back I can still hear the voice. It sounded curious, like “Hey buddy, what are you doing here?” I had heard voices before, but it was in another building where I was on a well-lit floor. That time I heard two men yelling at each other on a floor below me. I had just come from that floor, and it was empty.

     The second scary ghost happened in the daylight.

     I had gone to East Garrison, which is the dark-side of the moon at Fort Ord, and parked my truck at the gate. I was with my friend, Mike, a former Army Ranger, and Navajo. Mike likes to run, and I don’t so what we do is plan to link up at a specific location within a window of time. He’ll run five miles in twenty minutes, and we decide to link up on a large road just opposite of the huge ammo bunkers just south of the Pre-Ranger site. It’s a two mile hike for me, but I like the challenge.

     I chugged my way up the road, into the trees, down into a slot canyon, and made the road in exactly twenty minutes. I was feeling like Superman. I waited for Mike…and waited…and waited. No problem; in our planning we had a secondary plan that if we didn’t link up at the appointed time we would return along a set course until we got back to the truck. I figured we’d bump into each other at some point on the way back.

     I began walking down the hill. I hear Mike call my name. I call out “Hooah!” the universal greeting of grunts everywhere. There is silence. Oh well, he knows where I am, and he’ll find me. I continue moving, and a short time later I here Mike call my name again. He sounds closer, but now I have moved down the ridge to a point where I my view into the canyon is obscured by the Manzanita that grows thick here. I yell Mike’s name, but there is no response. I yell “Hooah Ranger!” and suddenly there is the sound of radio communication. It sounded like someone had a police radio somewhere below me in the canyon. It seemed fairly close.

     The voice stopped. I shrug, and continue moving. Then I hear Mike call my name again. I stop and yell “Hooah Ranger” again. The radio chatter erupts from the canyon again. This time it sounds closer. Fuck this, I’m running. I take off at a good clip down a side trail that takes me into taller trees, and thick brush. I hear Mike call me again, and the radio chatter pipes up immediately. Now it seems to be coming from close by. Close enough I should see the source, but I don’t. The brush is so thick I should hear someone moving through it.

     The radio chatter is now following me.

     I’m running downhill along a narrowing trail, and the radio thing is keeping up with me just off to my left. I can hear someone relaying my position on this radio, and a voice responding ordering to stay with me. I pick my knees up and I run as fast as I can. The narrow trail finally broke out into a wide open space just about the BLM road. I got down to the road, and continued to run all the way to Barloy Canyon Road. The Radio chatter stopped somewhere on the way.

     I got back to my truck in record time. Mike joined me a few minutes later. I asked him why he didn't link up after he saw me. I told him I heard him call me, and he told me he had seen on the ridge, and called to me. He said he didn’t hear me call back. Then he saw me head down the ridge, so he figured he’d meet me back at the truck later. It asked him why he kept calling me.
He said he only called me once.

     I tell him I heard his voice calling me a couple of times. I tell him about the radio sounds, and how it followed me down the ridge. Mike shook his head. He didn't hear any of that. Driving back to Pacific Grove we discussed possible explanations. Maybe sound bouncing off of the fog. Maybe there was a SEAL team working in the area (SEALs still train at Fort Ord). We both agreed it wasn't a SEAL team as those guys just don’t make noise in the field. It is the only time I have ever felt fear when encountering the unknown.

The Hospital Ghost

     For about six years I roamed the abandoned Fort Ord slipping into empty buildings searching for murals to photograph. The Army base is essentially a small city spread out between Marina to the north, and Seaside to the south. On this autumn day I was working the older part of the base on the Marina side. It was built during WWII, and added onto as the base grew. I had parked my truck in a parking lot in the area of the old base hospital. I grabbed my Canon and headed off into the maze of wooden buildings.

     When I was about a half mile away I realized I’d left my extra film on the floor of my truck. I turned around cursing myself, and walked back to the truck. Sneaking into buildings requires timing and luck so this mistake was throwing everything off. Closing in on the parking area I see a man sitting in the passenger seat of my truck. “Oh great, some asshole is robbing my truck!” I think. I change my angel of approach so that I come up from the blind spot. I pull my multi-tool from my pocket, and open the pliers.

     Why not the knife? Great question, I don’t know how to fight with a knife. Knives complicate things. Pliers make better sense for the tactically less inclined because all one needs to do is jab, and squeeze hard. It doesn't matter where you grab someone with the pliers, they will scream, and they will comply. I ran scenarios in my head as I made my way to my truck.
Then I stopped. The guy wasn't moving.

     He was sitting in the passenger seat looking straight ahead. He had short hair, and a thin light-brown mustache. He wore a white, short-sleeve shirt. He wasn’t rifling through my glove box, and he was alone. My truck was the only vehicle in the lot. I put away my pliers. This guy obviously had mental problems, and a violent confrontation would have been a bad idea. I stepped to my right until I was in his view. He turned to look at me. The sadness on his face was profound. He made eye contact. There was a moment of shock as he saw me.

     He vanished.

     I stood there for a few seconds not sure what to do. I opened the door just to make sure he hadn't I don’t know…slid under the seat or something. He was gone. I grabbed my film, locked the door, and walked around my truck to make sure it was secure. I resumed my hunting, but my mind dwelled on the guy I’s seen sitting in my truck.

     I had a ghost in my truck at Fort Ord once before. He was invisible, but I could smell him. The odor of boot polish and chewing tobacco was over-powering. I decided to play it cool. I started talking to him as if he were there. I told him he could ride along until I got to the front gate, but he’d have to leave there. Then I gave him a guided tour of the new CSUMB campus, and the various changes going on. At the front gate the odor went away.

     There was no scent in my truck this time. When I’d finished my jaunt I sat in my truck for a while looking in the same direction my guest had been looking. What was he seeing in his world which could bring such sadness? I turned the key, and drove home.

     A few weeks later I bought a copy of “The Soldier Factory” about the author’s time at Fort Ord in the late 1960s. He told about working as an orderly at the base hospital, and how it would fill after large battles in Vietnam as the hospitals in Hawaii and San Francisco overflowed with seriously wounded men. It turns out many of the men whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. actually died at Fort Ord.

     The man sitting in my truck was wearing the white uniform of an Army medic or orderly. I now understand the sadness in his face. The horror he must have seen, and the suffering must have been too much. Of my many ghost encounters this one was the most heart breaking for me. My dad was a medic around the same time, my mother was also a medic, and I have five cousins who fought in Vietnam.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Ghost Story #1 for Halloween: The Neighbor

            In 2002 I got my current job working front desk at a small motel in Monterey, California. I had been out of work for a year, so any job was welcome, and I came to enjoy the work. The hours are a pain in the ass. I work Shift 2 which starts at 3:00PM, and ends at 11:00PM. This gets me home around 11:30PM on a good night. The hours took a while to adjust to. Usually I’d come home and make a sandwich. Standing in the kitchen I would often see my neighbor, Dean, working at his workbench on the enclosed deck of his home.
            Dean was a retired Merchant Marine who taught marksmanship at the Moss Landing shooting range. Dean packed his own rounds (meaning he made his own bullets) using a special press. I would see him working away in his workshop-deck often. Dean was the kind of neighbor you dream of. He had three cats, he was quiet, and he was great with tools. He saved my butt on many home improvement fiascoes  So that February when I started my job it was nice to see a familiar face when I got home from work.

            Later that month I was doing emergency plumbing repair under my house. As I crawled out into the sunlight I heard the crunching of footsteps on Dean’s gravel-covered yard behind me. It was Dean coming around the back of his home. He greeted me with his usual charm. We talked about my latest plumbing adventure. Dean had undergone heart surgery a few months before, and I commented how great he looked. When I asked him if his heart was bothering him he said “No, not anymore.”

            We made some more small talk, and then we both had to get back to work. As I crawled back under the house I heard him crunch away. A few nights later I got home around midnight, and I was warming up some food on the stove. As a I waited I looked out of the kitchen window to see Dean working in his faded yellow bathrobe. He turned and waved at me, and then returned to his work. I filled my plate, and went off to the living room to eat.

            Two days later I’m getting into my truck to go to work, and I see two people come out of Dean’s house. The people, a man and woman, were well dressed, but Dean told me if I ever saw anyone strange around his place to call the sheriffs. Dean had a number of guns in a safe. So I went over to find out who they were. They told me they were just checking on Dean’s home. I asked if they meant they were feeding his cats they told me the cats were long gone. I asked them why Dean got rid of his cats…
     They told me Dean was dead.

     I was shocked. I said I didn't hear the ambulance. They told me he had died back in November of last year. I was incredulous. I told them I had seen Dean two nights ago, and we had just had a conversation face to face only a few days before that. I told them I was calling the police. Thankfully the neighbor from across the street, who had heard this exchange, came over to calm me down, and told me that Dean had indeed died four months before so I didn't have to call anyone.

            I apologized and left. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out if I had somehow screwed up the days I’d seen Dean, but I decided I was solid. I still had the receipt from the hardware store for my plumbing repair. I never saw Dean again. Many nights I look out my kitchen window hoping to see him again. When I work in my yard I hope to hear his footsteps crunching on the gravel behind me. I think about all of the questions I could have asked him that day. I doubt he could have answered them, but still just to have had that chance. All we talked about was how plumbing was a pain in the ass, life isn’t easy, and how his heart had stopped bothering him.

            I tell people who've never seen a ghost the odds are they have, but they didn't know the person they saw was dead. I enjoy the irony of being knowledgeable about ghosts, and having one walk right up to me in the middle of a sunny day to say a few word without me having a clue. I miss Dean too. He was a great guy, and I know wherever he is now he’s doing well.