I like being spooked. Gently. My threshold for fright is as low as my threshold for inappropriate humor is high. Let me tell you a story that I’ve been dying to share for two weeks now, as an example of the latter: I attended the wedding of an old dear friend of mine two weeks ago. During the reception, her bride's maid of honor gave a speech in which she attempted to illustrate how far back their friendship went by including an anecdote about the time they wrote a memorial tribute for their deceased geckos…and the victims of 9/11. Out of a crowd of all but a hundred people, there were a few uncomfortable chuckles, but there was an overall palpable tension—a result of mismatched intention and delivery—and then there was me, literally crying tears of laughter into my napkin. I’m sorry, but, like a sneeze, I CANNOT CONTROL IT. That was the funniest shit I’ve ever witnessed. I immediately asked her if she would be my maid of honor.
But when it comes to horror, I am a giant baby. If I watch even a snippet of something like Paranormal Activity, I will install flood lights in my bedroom and sleep with them on for, like, a week. If we were to watch American Horror Story: Roanoke together (which is also, in my opinion, the scariest one), you'd better be prepared for me to sit on your lap at all times, even while you’re on the toilet.
The only thing that scares me more is real-life encounters with the supernatural. So, in the spirit of spooky season, let me share my one (and hopefully only) paranormal experience—or at least, as close as I have ever gotten to having one.
When I moved to New York City in 2014, I was fortunate enough that my job back home in New Jersey could transfer me. At the time, I worked for a small chain of consignment stores, and I was to begin working at their Soho location the week after I moved in. The space wasn’t large; it was long and narrow, only one floor, and you could see almost every square foot from the register, which was by the door.
It wasn’t anything spectacular, the items consigned ranged from Marni to Banana Republic. That location had just opened up, so they were still unpacking boxes of unsold merchandise from other locations when I started. And, while I was familiar with the POS system at the store and their organizational flow in general, I still had to be trained in other areas like what went where, how to use this and that, and other things that were necessary for the store to operate on a day-to-day basis.
The assistant manager at the time—whom I’ll lovingly refer to as Bangles, as her arm looked like it was in a cast fashioned out of metallic Slinkies—was giving me a general rundown, walking around the store with me to show me its layout—here are the pants, the skirts, the shirts, etc.—until arriving at the door that lead to the basement. No big deal! That’s usually where all the supplies are: the hangers, merchandise still needing to be processed, other miscellaneous items. After a quick peek, before heading back up the stairs, Bangles was like, “Oh, but whatever you do, do not, under any circumstance, move the small doll from her little spot in the wall.
Then she was like, “Any questions?”
YES, B, ONE OR TWO. ONE: WHERE can I get a sandwich in this neighborhood that costs less than fifteen fucking dollars, and TWO: WHAT DOLL?
According to Bangles, before the store had officially opened its doors to the public, one of the district managers was cleaning out the basement and noticed something in a little crevice in the wall. Upon first glance, it looked like nothing more than a piece of fabric sticking out of a crack, but when she got closer, she noticed that it was a doll no larger than the size of the average index finger. There was nothing remarkable about the doll; it was plain, not unlike a voodoo doll, but without the pins stuck in it, and had yarn-like brown hair. That’s it. Nothing sinister on the surface. It was peculiar at best. Not thinking much of it, the district manager tossed the doll into a small box of miscellaneous items and continued cleaning out the space.
When they opened the store the next day, things looked askew. Some of the bags that had been on display were now on the floor. Some shirts appeared to have fallen off their hangers. A little odd, but nothing that warranted immediate concern. They simply cleaned up the small clusters of messes and went about their day.
Later that day, the lights started flickering. (It was at this point in the story that I’d started scrolling Indeed on my phone.)
Someone went downstairs into the basement to check the fuse box and found nothing out of the ordinary, so it was deemed “just one of those days.” The next morning, Bangles and the rest of the crew arrived to find clothes scattered on the ground, again. Like an infomercial from hell, WAIT, THERE’S MORE. The thermostat was set to a teeth-chattering temperature, somewhere in the low fifties.
No one knew what the fuck was going on. Pranks and tomfoolery in general couldn’t be officially ruled out beyond verbal confirmation from each of the small, three- to four-person team because the security cameras were yet to be installed. And the security system wasn’t breached, so they knew it couldn’t have been someone breaking in to fuck around. The call had to be coming from inside the house.
After tidying up again and resetting the temperature back to not-bone-chilling, the small team continued about their day, hoping for no more blunders outside the realm of explainable. Until, yes, you guessed it: The lights started flickering again, this time more vigorously. Thoroughly creeped out, the district manager and Bangles went downstairs to, yet again, check the fuse box, leaving the two sales associates working that day upstairs alone on the floor. They decided to go ahead and reset the fuses, and Bangles happened to notice the doll in a small box of items nearby. She asked the district manager what it was, and the district manager was like, “Oh, just something I found while cleaning up in here. It’s nothing.” And proceeded to throw the doll in the trash.
The second the doll landed in the trash, they heard a loud thud upstairs followed by screams.
(The screams I could understand, because retail. But it was the thud that I was scared to ask about.)
Bangles and the district manager raced back upstairs after hearing the commotion overhead to find the two sales associates visibly freaked the fuck out. One of them had witnessed a large bag fly right off of a shelf. The bag was nowhere near the shelf's edge, as they had earlier gone around the whole store double-checking those types of items were securely in their respective places. The bag flew off the shelf as though someone had belligerently pushed it.
(NO, NOPE, NAY, NEIN.)
Bangles and the district manager looked at each other and watched realization unfurl in synchrony across one another's faces. They didn’t know why or how, but whatever was going on in that store had something to do with that raggedy doll. They immediately went back downstairs where the district manager took the doll back out of the garbage and returned it back into the same little crack in the wall where it had been found.
Besides four thoroughly spooked employees, the day continued sans paranormal mishaps. And, the next day, nothing looked amiss—everything in its rightful place.
It wasn’t long before the store permanently closed its doors, not because of supernatural circumstances, but because the store wasn’t earning enough by itself to afford its rent in Soho. Over those few short months it was open, I was too spooked to ever set foot in the basement, at least not by myself. And, on the rare occasion I did find myself down there, it was never for more than seven seconds. I didn't know where that little doll's spot even was, and I never asked because I never had any intention of looking for it.
I’ve never experienced anything of that ilk since, and I’d like to keep it that way. I am not your friend who likes to seek out scares in real life. I will not visit an abandoned insane asylum on the Long Island Sound with you. I won’t stay at an inn built any time before 1998. I won’t visit New Orleans without implanting seven different types of protective amulets under my skin like a microchips.
I do love a good story, though. So why don’t I pass the mic (or I guess, flashlight) over to you, dear reader. Drop your hair-raising tales in the comments below because ‘tis the season of interrupted sleep.