Monday, January 26, 2009

Apartment 45: A True Account as told to me by Chauncey Romero



I don't believe in ghosts. "Life after death". The phrase itself is laughable on its face. It is the epitome of oxymorons and perhaps the most brazen and outrageous idea ever to be sold to the desperate masses.

I make that point before presenting this story so that you will know that my intent is not to promote superstitious folly or to merely shock by spinning cheap campfire horror yarns, but rather to simply recount a tale that is, to the best of my personal knowledge and judgement, factual.

The following is put forth, with some dramatic interpretation, as it was related to me by my cousin and friend Chauncey Romero of Jacksonville Oregon. All parties involved have verified the essential accuracy of this account.

Chauncey and I are part of a large family consisting mostly of first through third generation Mexican Americans. There is a long history of old-world superstitions and native beliefs that provide a rich background to the many contemporary tales the family tells - tales of the incredible and the inexplicable. The bounteous legacy of personal brushes with the supernatural, taken in its entirety, has become the stuff of family legend. Several of them are exceptionally haunting and fascinating and worthy to have come from the mind of the most highly imaginative writers of horror.

This particular narrative stands out distinctly from the rest in that, in my estimation, its veracity is stronger than most. The credibility of the people involved is about as solid as one could ask for, but that can be said of any number of similar accounts of the inexplicable. In this case, the validity of the story is bolstered by verifiable circumstances and coincidental, corroborating evidence that flies in the face of all reasonable probabilities.



We were at a family gathering sometime in 1971. My wife Dena and I were engaged in a conversation with Dianne, my cousin and your sister, where the conversation had turned, as it had many times before, to the telling and retelling of good old-fashioned family ghost stories. They say that every family has at least one gay uncle. We don't have any that I'm aware of, but what we lack in that area, we more than make up for in true horror stories. That night, I had a relatively new and recent personal experience to tell.

"I don't believe in ghosts." I told Dianne. "But I'll tell you something that happened to me about two years ago that was pretty strange."

"Oh yeah," added Dena, "That thing that happened in your apartment? Oh man. I wasn't there, but Chauncey told me all about it the next day and it really freaked me out. I do believe in ghosts but even if I didn't I'd have been freaked anyway."

"Anyway, I had come home that evening and was pretty tired. I had a long day working at the store (the House of Note, a music store in Riverside California). I think I'd been partying pretty hardy the night before, so I was probably a little hung over too. It must have been about 8 o'clock when I just spread out on the bed and crashed.

"The next thing I know, it feels like several hours later in the dead of night when I'm awakened by the sound of somebody coming through the door to the apartment. This wasn't unusual since I was sharing the place on a part time basis with Alex Caruso. He was always in and out. If he wasn't sleeping there, he'd sleep over at his mother's house. You remember Alex?"

Dianne nodded. "I think so. Isn't he that short, disheveled looking guy that sort of hangs around the band?"

At the time, besides running the store during the day, I was playing with the house band at The Banker's Club on the weekends.

"Yeah, I guess you could describe him that way. He's actually a funny guy. He always had the hots for you too. Didn't he Deen?"

"Yep."

Dena and I laughed at the quick blush we got out of my dear, modest cousin. I loved to tease her. But this was too easy and I didn't want to get sidetracked from my story. I was just starting to get scared myself - just like I do every time I recall it.

"But I distinctly heard the front door open and close. A normal sound of somebody coming in. Being in a rock band and having a hang-loose lifestyle, there were always people around. Nothing unusual about it at all.

"The apartment had a curved staircase with a wrought iron handrail that went up to an open second floor hallway that ran along the bedrooms and overlooked the entire downstairs. I was in the master bedroom at the end of the hallway.

"So I called out 'Alex?'... 'ALEX?' I wasn't alarmed or anything, I just wanted to know if it was him. It seems like I wanted to talk to him about something, but now I don't remember what it was. But I heard him, or what I thought was him, coming up the stairs. I didn't think about it or wasn't aware of it at the time, but I don't think I actually heard footsteps like you normally would. It was the sound of the wrought iron handrail that I was focused on and that stands out in my mind today. It had always made a low-pitched tone as it vibrated, like a very large tuning fork. But this time the humming was definitely louder and more pronounced. It sounded as if the rail were moaning. I called out again even louder and firmer, 'ALEX! IS THAT YOU?" The moaning of the rail had stopped so I figured that whoever it was had reached the top of the stairs and was coming down the hallway and should have been well within earshot by now. So my feeling at that point was one of annoyance, you know, at not being answered, and at the same time a growing dread at not being answered.

"I was about to curse or call out again when the figure drifted into the room.

"I need another beer. Anybody else want one while I'm up?"

"Come on Chauncey!" Dianne laughed. "You're making all this up."

"No I'm not. I really want another beer."

I couldn't blame her for her skepticism. I've pulled a lot of practical jokes and piled on the bullshit with her many times over the years. But this time I wasn't joking.

"It's true." Dena said. "I was there when it happened. Not there that night, but the next day when he told me about it and you could tell he was still shaken up."

I came back from the kitchen with another cold one. "That's for sure. That's why I need this.", I said, holding up the brew. "I've told this story at least a half dozen times but I still get the willies just thinking about it."

"So go on.", urged Dianne. "There was a figure in the room?"

"Yeah. There definitely was. I don't know if I could call it a figure, so much as a swirl. A misty swirl with a vague shape of a head and shoulders on top. I don't recall that I saw any limbs. It reminded me of a mummy. As if it were the upper part of a mummy above a swirling white cloud.

"Instinctively I tried to call out again... to ask 'Who are you?' or to call out for Alex again or for help, or to frighten it away. But I was the one that was frightened and whatever I was trying to say just stuck in my throat. The only sound that came out was a gurgling, choking sound. I could only watch in horror, my eyes transfixed on the thing as it hovered there at the foot of my bed. I reached for the bedside lamp, not taking my eyes from it, still trying to cry out, my fingers fumbling for the switch. But my fingers wouldn't work either. Nothing worked. I don't even remember breathing. It was as if the air was thick with a highly charged energy and a strong current running through my body that rendered me helpless and in a state of suspended animation. I was panicked and literally paralyzed with fear.

"And all the while the thing just stood there, not moving or making threatening gestures or noises. It was simply, calmly... being - in mocking contrast to my own state of emotional turmoil.

"Eventually - in retrospect a full minute must have gone by - my fingers managed to somehow find the light switch. Even with the room now well-lit, the ghost... or entity or whatever it was, lingered there for a few moments more before drifting toward the bathroom and disappearing beyond the door."

"Weeeeird, huh?" said Dena. She'd heard the story many times before, but never tired of hearing it again. She likes that kind of stuff. She watches that psychic guy's Crossing Over show all the time.

I could tell Dianne was impressed too. "So what did you do then? I would have left the place and never come back."

"I went downstairs, turned on all the lights and tried to call Alex and another friend or two, but couldn't get in touch with anybody. Eventually I worked up the nerve go back upstairs and peek into the master bathroom just to reassure myself that is wasn't there. And it wasn't. So I just stayed up the rest of the night and the next day I met Dena for breakfast and told her the story."

We were all silent for a moment, letting it sink in and grappling with the unreality of it, what it all might mean and how you could justify the truth of such a story in your own mind. I've since come to the conclusion that there is simply no way to explain the inexplicable.

I noticed that Dianne now looked pensive and disconcerted. "When did this happen?"

"Gee, it must have been almost two years ago when I was living in Berdoo. Not long after that, Dena and I moved to Mentone together."

Dianne was silent for a moment, obviously struggling with her thoughts, then spoke softly and hesitantly. "You know, something happened to my boyfriend, David Tripp, a few weeks ago. His apartment has a staircase with a wrought iron handrail too. He told me that he had fallen asleep on the couch in the living room and woke up when he heard somebody coming in the door. It was dark, but he could make out the dark shape of a person silently walking up the stairs. When it got to the top, it turned toward a closet door and walked through. David had a roommate, but he sensed this was not the roommate or any other person he knew. Of course, when he went to check it out, there was no one there. He was sure that what he saw was a ghost."

"Now you're the one that's bullshitting!"

I said it, but knowing Dianne, I didn't really believe it.

She shook her head.

"That is strange about the staircase and everything.", I said. I was almost afraid to ask the question. "Where does your boyfriend live?"

"At the Las Palmas Apartments, just below Highland between D and E streets."

Goosebumps. Dena and I exchanged glances. "What was our apartment number there Deen? Do you remember?"

"It was apartment 45"

Dianne's eyes widened as she drew her hands to her mouth and whispered, "Oh my god!"

This story was first published in Skreed Magazine in 2002.

1 comment:

toni said...

i love this story. i've told it to my kids many times. (my mom is the dear modest dianne.) i'm so jealous you got it for your blog, but recognize you have dibbs, being as you were there.