After Kim made sure she had on an appropriate amount of pink clothing, we left her place in separate cars; I wanted to make sure I wasn’t depending on anyone but myself for a way home in case something horrible enough happened to make me run out of the school with a shock of white hair and yellow demon eyes. It was 7pm when we crept up to the snow-packed road snaking down to the school. I had a rare moment of common sense and decided to park at the top, in front of someone’s house, because I was pretty sure our puny Ford Focus wouldn’t make it back up that road. And I certainly didn’t want to have to spend any more time than necessary on school property.
I trudged down the school road alone, lugging a purse weighed down with two cameras, lenses and four flashlights. I found Kim sitting in the parked car in front of a locked door, which I’d later learn was the location of the stabbing. Had I known that then, I wouldn’t have been pissing around out there so long, planted in the snow and talking to Kim while waiting for Chris to return. (I don’t know where Chris went, but if that had been me and Henry, I can’t say for certain that you’d find him anywhere on the premises of that school without me pasted on his back like static cling. Kim is far braver than I.)
Chris reappeared to collect us, and I was a little surprised that I wasn’t squeezing out pee drops as I followed him up the steps to the main door, which had been unlocked for the night by the owner of the abandoned school. (Everything was done legally–no breaking and entering, release forms were signed, it was legit. And maybe that’s why I wasn’t quite as freaked out as I imagined I would be, walking up those steps and through that door, into a run-down brick abyss where dead Susie Swanson could be waiting in the girls’ room to fist my soul like a rotted apple.
The co-founder of the group, George, had brought a generator with him, so the makeshift command center (I just kept calling it Base, like we were playing tag, a very scary round of tag with spirits) which was located right across the main entrance, was well lit with a giant kerosene heater as its focal point. There was a computer monitor set up, displaying a quadrant of night-visioned images from around the school. A surplus of yellow flashlights stood at attention next to that.
As I put down my purse and took a nervous gulp of my contraband Riunite, I saw that Chris was eating some sort of Hostess delicacy, and I too wanted a Hostess delicacy, but every time I went to ask him where they were, I got sidetracked. (Are TastyCakes the ones with the white Charlie Brown zig-zag decorating the top? If so, that’s what Chris had that I coveted.) There was so much to take in: George running around in a last-minute effort to get everything in order; foods inappropriate for a vegetarian cooking in crock pots on a table along the far wall; the static-y blips and squeals of the Steelers game being broadcast from a small radio on a windowsill (which, in spite of my all-consuming Steelers-hate, was actually doing a large part to numb my nerves).
Being the newbie, I generally tend to fade myself into the background. But I felt that, in this case, it might be a good idea to introduce myself, stick myself in the thick of things, so that perhaps someone might notice later on if I went suddenly absent. And that’s when I introduced myself to Nick; Tiny (and you are already wagering that he’s not Tiny); and Brittany and Lynnette, two young girls from Somerset.
George passed out small notebooks, with a long loop of blue yarn attached to the spirals for us to wear around our necks.
“And everyone please take a pencil,” he added, motioning to a package of plastic Bic mechanicals. “If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that pencils always work.” I quickly swiped a purple one (probably too zealously), which I ironically had a hard time getting to work at first.
We stood around in Base for awhile, chatting and waiting for some more people to arrive. Jimmy Wenger, whom I had heard about from Kim and Chris and was excited to meet, arrived and immediately snapped eighteen photos of me, doing nothing more exciting than shivering and clutching my phone, mid-tweet. I mean, obviously I’m a ghost-hunting pinup model, but that was still a little excessive, I thought. Jimmy brought into the room with him a warming presence, like a big figurative bear hug, and I at once felt a little safer with him there.
Chris fitted me with some dorky head-lamp equipment and we all left the room together as a group, ascending the staircase to the second floor. George did some talking about the school while we were left to explore the classrooms at our leisure. Broughton Elementary isn’t very large; there were only around eight classrooms on the second floor (I probably should have counted; a real ghost-hunting journalist would have). The first room we explored–which I would later learn George and Tiny were calling the Shadowman Room, due to the fact they saw a large SHADOW dart out of it while they were observing the monitor in Base–had the name Blake grafitti’d large and in red on the wall. For a second, I considered the possibility that it was Henry’s son.
George pointed out that when he arrived earlier in the day, the minute hand was exactly on the 3. It had since slipped down a little. I tried to shake off the chill that was using my spine as monkey bars.
“Just please, after you leave a room, close the door behind you,” George said. I thought maybe he was trying to be courteous to the owner of the school. Then he added, “We’ve been noticing open doors on camera that we were sure we shut, so I want to make sure they’re all shut right now so we can be positive about it.”
STFU! Oh my god, I was so scared.
I was really upset that “Pauls” didn’t have an apostrophe, and started to not feel so sorry for this school that had perished, but then I realized that must have been the point of the lesson. Good thing, because I would have fixated on it all night and probably would have returned with a Sharpie.
I kept looking up to find that I was the straggler of the group, which would set me off into a sort of Wile E. Coyote running-in-place maneuver before taking off to wedge myself back in the middle. I was not about to get taken.
George led us through another set of doors at the end of the hallway and, before descending the stairs, he said, “Everyone say hello to the little girl,” and in unison, everyone did. Everyone but me, whose voice box had become tragically impaired from the fist of FEAR choking it. I hissed in Kim’s ear, “WHAT little girl?” and was suddenly very aware of my surroundings as I did a frantic little jig down the steps and into the gym.
The gym wasn’t too bad. It was a big space, clothed with litter in some places, metallic marijuana leaves painted over the school’s insignia on one wall, big windows near the ceiling. It just looked like a gym, nothing else, nothing creepy or haunted. For the first time, my skin wasn’t blistered with goose bumps.
Coming back up from the locker room, we had to pass through the gym again to get to the stairs that would take us to the 1st floor classrooms. I caught Tiny shining his flashlight up at one of the windows and I asked him what was going on.”Just saw something,” he mused, nonchalantly. I didn’t like how lethal the tree branches looked on the other side, back-dropped by a horrid salmon-hued winter sky. I didn’t stick around to see if I saw what he saw.
The bottom level of the school had some more classrooms and a long hall which sat a lone, sad wooden child-sized chair next to a water fountain. That was an image that I had a hard time shaking. I was telling either Tiny or Nick about it later, when we were poking around outside, and they agreed that there is something inherently creepy about casually-strewn childrens objects in abandoned places. I was careful about not moving anything for fear of pissing off the ghost of a particularly persnickety red-head kid of the REDRUM-persuasion. (I really think red-headed spirits would be the meanest.)
I found that my iPhone was helping me take better photos than my camera, which I could barely get to focus. The lens kept fogging and I’m sure it was because it was just so cold in there BUT IS THAT REALLY WHY? I had my crappy red point-and-shoot as backup and that one got me some marginally decent pictures as far as I could tell at a glance. I haven’t had a chance (nor the balls) to really sit down and look through them yet. Maybe Henry will sit with me. I mean, not that I need him to hold my hand or anything. Seriously, you guys!
The one thing I thought was odd and noticed on the top floor was that there were certain rooms that were almost good as new. The tile on the floor was intact and clean. None of the paint in there clung to the walls in brittle curly-q’s. Some of the bathrooms were cleaner than my own, while the others were nasty, broken, caked with filth and age.
Kim asked George about this and he told us it’s one of those inexplicable things that even Don, the school’s owner, can’t explain. “Don doesn’t have anyone coming here to clean,” George told us. Yet, some of those rooms looked like they were still holding daily classes while the rest were riddled with vandalism and the tolls of neglect. The school has only been closed for eleven years, but I guess I just expected that decay and decomposition was more of an equal opportunity process.
What’s a walk-through without a tour of the boiler room, which I am here to tell you is just as terrifying as you might imagine, if say you are right now imagining tons of large, rusted furnaces and valves on which to accidentally slip and concuss yourself before landing on a sheath of broken glass and ice and having a cavalry of demon-shadows swarm your lifeless body, while the more sadistic of the floating dead enter your every orifice and ghost-fuck you from the inside.
Yes, the boiler room was very scary.
Chris broke away from the pack and entered the small coal-chute room alone. “I heard a heavy sigh as soon as I walked in there,” he reported back. Now, Chris was probably the biggest skeptic there so I latched on to this immediately and, hoping to finally have my own experience, walked into the tiny nook of a room with Kim.
And proceeded to hear nothing.
“I didn’t hear it!” I whined later to Chris. What a fucking one-trick pony. (The sigher, not Chris.)
With the walk-through complete, we retreated to Base to wait for the last two people who had yet to arrive, and to discuss what parts we wanted to focus on for the EVP-segment of the night.
I almost kind of wished the Steeler game was still on, broadcasting a noisy little piece of the outside world into our cold, tense Base Camp.
[Sorry I’m splitting this up into sections! The amount of stuff I want to write about is overwhelming and staggering. I’m hoping to squeeze the rest into one last part, but that’s the stuff that’s the most troubling for me to put into words.]