When I was 4 or 5, I remember sitting up in my bed, staring at the door to my bedroom. The door was ajar, and figures were streaming in. I watched them from atop my bunk bed on the second floor of an endearingly small townhouse end unit on Better Hours Court in Columbia, MD. It was Summertime; nevertheless, I remember feeling like my Superman sheets weren’t doing a good enough job keeping me warm.
It was late, I knew this because there were no lights on down the stairs in the Livingroom where my parents watched HBO until it signed off around midnight or so. I loved the extra light that would stream into my room from downstairs when they were still up, especially during thunderstorms, when my whole body charged up with fear.
The only light at that hour came from my Humpty Dumpty nightlight. And I hated that nightlight, Humpty in a frozen falling pose with a Cheshire Cat grin. The nightlight made no sense; I knew the fate of Humpty Dumpty shouldn’t have allowed for that manic smile. I toyed with trading it for my twin’s Holly Hobby nightlight. I couldn’t just get rid of the light, the small glow of Humpty’s maniacal face was all that protected me from the sinister shadows.
The room was well past capacity with the figures of both men and women. I rubbed at my eyes. I was sure it was just my eyes playing tricks. And yet still, I was unsettled enough to start calling for my father. I watched the door as I called and called again. The forms persisted.
When my father finally entered, he entered with a few more of the figures, but I recognized him. He was the only one not really wearing any clothing. Just a drab light brownish pair of boxer shorts.
“What’s the problem, Raymond?”
“There’s people in my room,” I said, motioning to the forms my eyes had been generating in the darkness.
“It’s just you and me,” he said. But I could still see the others. I made him sit there with me for a while, and eventually, I fell asleep.
Every institution has its signature ghost story. My military school’s folk story was of a “man” that lived in the woods on the western end of campus, waiting to dine on a cadet’s flesh. One student had described recovering a frisbee that had arrantly flew deep into the woods during a match of ultimate frisbee. He swore he had stumbled on a pile of bones the Dog Man had left near its den.
Gawd, I remember thinking the tennis players were so frickin’ tough during my 7th-grade year. Yeah, the football players were big, and yes, the wrestlers were mental; but neither team had to play a sport with an audience of the Dog Man. The school’s tennis courts were surrounded on almost all sides by the western woods. Some said the tennis courts had been built on the foundation of an ancient church; if you were on the court itself, you were untouchable to the heinous demon. Once you exited the court fencing, you were fair game.
The neighboring airport had a searchlight spinning at all hours, like a landlocked lighthouse. At night, especially when there would be a slight fog or mist, the globules of intermittent flashes of light could be downright ominous.
It especially didn’t help if your 7th-grade mind believed the Dogman legend. As such, nights were creepy as hell on campus.
And to make matters worse, some the school was also apparently haunted by the spirits of the World War II-era US Army Air Force members that had trained forever ago at the airport and used the same barracks we called home. Pilot, Robert K. Morgan, of the Memphis Belle fame, trained there before his stint over Europe in the great war.
A classmate who served one night as the 2-4am night guard insisted he saw a ghostly battalion in the middle of his shift, a collection of shadows forming outside of the guard shack. No one wanted to believe him.
The Dog Man was different than the noble spirits of past airmen. I would have spent a month being hounded by airmen ghosts over the Dogman.
His tale was also born out of Airport lore that metastasized into a brutal canine-faced zombie with huge teeth. The story was, a man and his K9 companion had attempted a landing at the airstrip after a lengthy flight from Ohio. There was a storm that bloomed unexpectedly, and as the doomed pilot attempted his landing, he was ripped off course. Picked up by the force of the wind and hurled into the woods. The accident was horrific. A bloody mess of multiple decapitations and torn sinew.
It was said that when the headless man’s body was found, it appeared to be grasping at the dog’s former head as if realizing it now needed a new one.
The ambulance that was dispatched to recover the body didn’t fare much better. The ambulance never arrived at its destination.
After weeks it had been discovered partially submerged further down Big Pine Tree Creek than was thought to be possible. The vehicle was nowhere near the roads that would have taken it to its destination. Hell, it wasn’t near any roads, period. No bodies were ever recovered from that wreck.
The dog’s body was discovered months later in the middle of our school’s campus, mangled and half-devoured. It was said to be proof that the creature had returned. That all happened many years before I started attending school there.
When I heard the tale, it was generally accepted that the monster survived off of human flesh and would only prowl the western edge of the campus nearest the woods. Yet it was said on cold rainy nights if he were hungry enough, he would encroach further into school grounds, sometimes as far as the library to snatch students into the bushes near the paths leading to and from the library. There were many times I would run at full speed between the library and my dorm.
One of those dreary nights, I began to run back, and as I made it onto the road, I spotted a man standing under streetlight over near the airport on the western edge of campus.
My legs gave out, and I stumbled skidding across the rough wet pavement. Immediately I sat upright gripping at my injured knee. I had ripped my uniform pants, exposing my bloody scratch to the night air.
Then I heard the noise. Running. I looked up to the mist in the air danced all around the pitch-black shape as it approached. Then it stopped. Turned and ran away.
I got up confused. Why? I wasn’t even able to finish that thought, a brownish-van with a shot muffler passed quickly on Airline Dr. The car had bought me seconds.
In our dorm, after lights out, I passed the story over to my roommate. The nightguard opened our door at the point where I breathlessly describing the shadow pursuing me.
The nightguard, an amiable older gentleman whose job it was to make sure we didn’t sneak out at night, asked us how we were doing. We would usually say something like “fine” and then return in kind. He would then always respond “on a scale of 1-10 about a 11.4.” It was very charming.
This night my roommate mentioned how I had seen the Dogman. The nightguard, we called him “Flowers” if I remember correctly, was confused. We had to explain the Dogman lore to catch him up.
Finally, he smiled. “I walk these grounds every night and I ain’t never seen a man-dog”
“Dogman,” my roommate corrected.
“It was probably just someone smoking a cigarette, son. Those wretched things make the poor souls concentrate on them until they’re done,” he said. “And when he seen you fell, he ran to help, that’s all.”
“But he ran away when the van passed, I think he was coming to get me,” I said.
His expression changed, he was serious now. “I wouldn’t go fearing any dog-men, boy. Most men are dogs, and they will git’ you if you let’em.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a Watchtower magazine, handed it to me. “The only thing you really have to fear is that your soul is right with God, son. The rapture is coming, and it is coming soon.”
THE USS YORKTOWN GHOST
We were standing deep within the bowels of the USS Yorktown (CV-10) a massive aircraft carrier/ museum docked near Charleston, SC. Two classmates came running over huffing, “we saw a ghost,” they said, one of the kids was ashen-faced. I felt an immediate jolt in my chest, “where?! Show me.”
Spotting a ghost on the USS Yorktown, for high school me, seemed like a genuine possibility.
The ship’s history is impressive; she was named in honor of the USS Yorktown (CV-5), which fought valiantly and was sunk in the Battle of Midway. CV-10 served in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War. Many died serving aboard her. Not to mention those unfortunate enough to find themselves in her crosshairs.
“In the engine room,” my classmate informed. “We had walked in, and there was this old guy, and you could see right through him and shit!” That was the story. Ashen-faced kid nodded vigorously.
We began making our way through the cramped halls, down treacherous stairways that seemed more like ladders. Deep into the ship’s belly.
We passed placards of history and old photos. The USS Yorktown had snatched Apollo 8 astronauts out of the ocean upon their return from space. She even starred in Hollywood productions like Tora Tora Tora and an episode of Get Smart.
For me, the Yorktown had always been a very close second favorite naval vessel to the USS North Carolina, which is about the coolest battleship you will ever see (she being parked in Wilmington, NC).
Part of the reason the Yorktown was such a fave was because of how well I knew “the Fighting Lady.” My Military School was located very nearby, so we often traveled there for school field trips. I had spent sleepover nights in her old bunks, ate dinners and breakfasts in one of her mess halls, and even ordered a late-night Dominos Delivery pizza to her gangway.
“This is it,” my classmate whispered.
The room. The air was stale with odors of antique metals and dust. The room felt dense and almost electrically charged. “It totally feels different in here,” I admitted. But there was nothing to be seen. We stood there for a few beats, just listening with the artificial engine noises billowing through the room.
Then a small rustle from a door nearby. We stepped into a murky hallway where fluorescents flickered unsuccessfully to fill the gloom with light. I immediately stumbled backward. A small noise escaped from deep inside me as if my lungs were screaming. Which I extinguished somewhat by clenching my teeth.
At the far end was a man, almost completely in white with what appeared to be a naval hat. The figure turned his head slowly toward us. And stared. A cold globule of sweat ran down my back.
“Y’all here with y’ alls school?” The figure asked.
“The ghost can talk!” My classmate’s shocked susurrus. “Can ghosts talk?!”
“It’s not a ghost, I think it just some old dude,” the ashen-faced kid responded.
“Ya’ know I was on a ship much like this one; if y’all want, I can explain some of the comins’ and goins’ onboard a vessel like this here.”
And with that, the old man in very light tan pants, white polo, and a baseball cap with gold wreaths lined down the brim, in other words, a tourist, led us on a small tour. More like he was following us.
The relief of not seeing a ghost quickly mutated to boredom. We went from confronting a specter to hearing about what hotel this man was staying at.
The brutal “tour” continued. It was more a narrative of his personal naval history that revolved around laundry, fistfights, and powdered eggs. He would not stop with the powdered eggs. “Have y’all had some powdered eggs? I know y’all think your school food is terrible, but you call me when you had yourself some of them powdered naval eggs. I swear I thought they was trying to kill us with them eggs.”
At one point, he was shaking his fist and cursing loudly about powdered eggs. Other tourists we passed were perplexed.
VANILLA GHOST STORIES
In other words, I don’t have any actual ghost stories. The Dogman was obviously a bullshit tale conjured up by bored cadets long before I started attending. I almost wonder if it were just a legend started by the faculty to keep us away from the furthest side of campus late at night (a place where one might actually get away with smoking cigarettes or breaking other school rules).
And clearly, the old man, who had hated powdered naval eggs, was flesh and blood.
I honestly don’t know how I feel about ghosts… I try to keep an open mind about everything. Couldn’t spirits just be the human mind playing tricks on itself? Or perhaps hiccups in time? Hell, maybe cloaked aliens?
Maybe I did see something in my room all those years ago. I’m still unconvinced, yet from that day until my late 20s, I hid under a mound of blankets at night. Honestly, my experiences with the supernatural in 43 years have been vanilla at best.
My buddy, Carlos, had way better half- baked ghost experiences. We lived in an ancient building on Spruce St. in Philadelphia. The place had a historical marker designating it’s age back towards the time of the Civil War. His room was in the basement and on occasion, would wake to his computer chair rolling around the floor on its own.
Or the late-night he walked past Independence Hall and saw the face of a woman staring back at him from behind the glass of the closed building.
FEATURED IMAGE SKETCHED IN PHOTOSHOP BASED ON “THE SHINING” — (WARNER BROS.)