Samantha’s eyes darted back and forth in quick spasmatic movements. Her heart thumped in her ears as she held her breath in terror. “SSHHHH! Don’t talk! I can feel it listening!”
Paula drew in her breath to hold it but felt like screaming. Had her friend truly gone mad? Or was it more sinister than that? She waited for what seemed like an eternity before she heard a muffled “Okay… okay… but I have to keep this short. I know you think I’ve completely lost it, but I’m telling you, it’s real what I’m experiencing!” Samantha’s voice trailed off, and a pregnant silence delivered itself to Paula’s receptive ears.
“Sam, you just need to rest! You’re exhausted. With all you’ve been through recently, I’m surprised you’re even standing! Now if you want me to fly over, you know I’ll jump on a plane tonight.” Paula half hoped Sam wouldn’t accept her offer. They had grown up together since the third grade and spent so much time together, they were almost able to finish each other’s sentences.
Paula had lost touch with Samantha after they went to separate colleges and later got married, Paula moving to the East Coast while Samantha headed to Southern California. But like most strong female friendships, nothing could come between them. Neither time nor distance could breach that special bond.
Still, Paula was sheepishly relieved to hear her friend reply, “No, absolutely not! You have your mother to care for, and besides, I’m not sure whether this thing could attach itself to you. I don’t want to take any chances. I just need someone to talk to, someone I can trust who won’t commit me. Derek thinks I’m crazy enough already! He says it’s just a menopausal hormone imbalance and nothing more!” Sam let out a disapproving snort.
Paula laughed. “Men! I swear the human race would be long gone if all we had to rely on were these dingdongs!” Paula waited for Sam’s reaction but was met with silence. “Sam? Hello… Sam!” Paula could hear shallow breathing and a strange sound like static clicks coming through the phone and a weird buzzing sound, then nothing. The phone went dead.
Sam held on to her cell phone with so much pressure her knuckles turned white from the strain. As the skin lifted off the back of her neck like a cat hunching its back, she tried to remain calm, but there was no overriding millions of years of evolution. Her fight-or-flight response had kicked in, and Sam was being sucked into the biochemical feedback of fear.
Was it really there, this shifting dark figure? How could it exist in a well-lit room? she thought as the lights began to flicker. Her own shadow cowered before the growing dark entity, and she was getting dizzy. Not sure how much time had passed, she awoke to her husband, Derek, shaking her and lightly tapping her face.
“Sam! Sam! There’s my girl. What in the world happened?” Derek said as Sam started coming around.
Sam got up, shaking, with Derek’s assistance, sank into their big sofa chair, and said, “That’s the thing, it’s not of this world!” She started sobbing uncontrollably. It took an hour for Derek to finally calm his wife down enough to get clues into what Sam had been experiencing this past month.
Sam recalled the first time she experienced the shadow presence, during a conference she attended in the Bay Area, staying at a historic hotel, the Fairmont, in the posh Knob Hill area in the heart of the city. The hotel had existed since 1907, built by two daughters, Theresa “Tessie” Fair Oelrichs and Virginia “Birdie” Fair Vanderbilt, who built the hotel in honor of their silver mining millionaire father (net worth of $50M in 1880), the Silver King, US Senator James Graham Fair. Their hotel was almost completed when the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck, and while the structure survived, the interior was damaged by fire, and the opening was delayed until the following year. The Fair sisters somewhat clairvoyantly sold their interest in the hotel just two weeks prior to the completion date of the hotel and the catastrophic earthquake that followed. Despite their fortuitous foresight, neither lived to see the Fairmont Hotel opening, as they both perished in the Great Quake. It is said that their spirits still caretake the hotel, along with its guests, as their good upbringing as hostesses would command. Another spirit that resides in the esteemed hotel is a prostitute that was murdered in one of the rooms. It is said that she sits in a red teddy, chatting up guests. And if those spirits weren’t enough, the 7th floor of the hotel used to serve as an infirmary for soldiers during World War II, with several male spirits still roaming the halls there.
Of course at the time, Sam was privy to no such ghostly information. She noticed only how beautiful and expansive her room was, like a small home, and that everything was old yet restored to its original grandeur. But right from the beginning, after checking into her room, there were small things, like the feeling something was caught in her eye when she went to the bathroom to wash her face. It wasn’t makeup or anything she could identify, but it felt like a speck was caught, which she couldn’t blink away. And the lights flickered whenever she turned them on and periodically throughout the evening. The odd bumps, thumps, and clicks throughout the room, well, those could be explained away as hotel rooms, especially old ones, tend to “settle.” But something truly unsettling happened the next day, when she was awoken to the drumming of fingers on top of the wooden frame of her bed.
Sam recalled waking up to that drumming sound, like an impatient staccato sound that fingers make when someone is waiting for time to pass. The drumming followed one another in sequence from pinky to pointer, 1-2-3-4, click, click, click, click, like galloping horses running in place right over her head. What was that exactly? Sam thought at the time, realizing it was morning before her alarm was to go off. The room was well lit with the breaking rays of sunshine, yet those fingers banged away until Sam got out of bed and started her day.
Sam was in too much of a rush to get to the first discussion at the conference to think much more of this odd wake-up call. But later that evening, more oddities in the room, more flickering lights, and something in her eye that she couldn’t blink out. She heard tapping sounds throughout the room and felt pinprick sensations on her body at times. Sam felt that she wasn’t alone in the room, that there was another presence there, watching her, trying to communicate with her with weird sounds she drowned out with the TV. By the third evening, she couldn’t stand to be in that room and didn’t sleep a wink, with all the lights on and the TV running. She felt such relief to check out of that hotel and fly home.
But that evening after unpacking and lying down in bed, thinking of sweet slumber, she felt something hit her face. She opened her eyes and looked down on the comforter at a piece of shag carpet from the floor. How did that get ripped up from the floor to be flicked in her face like an insult? This was meant to get her attention in the rudest way and was not something that could be easily brushed aside. Now it had her attention, and she wondered whether that thing from the Fairmont hotel room could have followed her home.
The next day, Sam woke up to the same sound of drumming fingers, this time on her own headboard. She jolted out of bed and looked around the headboard, but nothing could explain that sick joke but that entity having followed her home all the way back to San Diego!
Sam looked up the hotel online later that day, discovering that the Fairmont was one of the oldest hotels in San Francisco, that it survived the Big Quake and served as a hospital during World War II. Sam’s investigation also yielded the Lady in Red, who was believed to be a mistress of the night. “Oh great! Why am I just now learning this, and why or how would some ungodly entity follow me of all people home?”
During the online research, Sam also found that signs of ghosts or poltergeists can be the feeling of sharp pinpricks throughout your body and the feeling of something being caught in a person’s eyes, just like she experienced. But what was this exactly? The Lady in Red or something more sinister?
Derek laughed it off, saying Sam had an overactive imagination, or perhaps underactive hormones. It wasn’t enough that Sam had to deal with being a middle-aged menopausal woman, but now she had to deal with harassment from both her husband and this unidentifiable “shadow.” It was enough to make any sane woman feel like she was going mad.
Derek was a good man and faithful husband who loved his wife, but he just didn’t believe in this nonsense when he heard Sam’s story about the Fairmont and feeling the same eeriness whenever she went upstairs to the bedroom. Derek racked it up to too many miles flown with very little rest and Sam suffering night sweats like she was burning up from the inside. But Sam was not sweating because of hormones anymore; she simply sweated like a Pavlovian response whenever she found herself alone in her own bedroom with that wicked presence.
When Sam would try to say her prayers in front of her home altar before sleeping, as she did every night before bed, flickering pinpricks would try to still her lips, like tiny rubber bands slapping her mouth as she tried to say the Lord’s Prayer or any prayers for that matter. This entity didn’t want her to communicate with God, and once she lay down in bed, that was when the battle would start. She could feel this shadow presence trying to jump into her, occupy her body like a cloak, and Sam would pray and curse it to “Get out! This is not your home! You are not welcomed here!” saying the Jesus prayer over and over. “Oh Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner!” while getting up, pacing the floor and spraying holy water throughout the room, onto herself and her husband sleeping in bed, much to his chagrin. The harassment would subside for a minute or two, and then it would come back, taunting her because she couldn’t control it, nor did it care that it was an uninvited guest in Sam’s home.
Sam had reached out to her friend Paula for comfort after a particularly brutal week of battling this apparition night after night. She started to think she was in fact going crazy, but the presence was too alive to deny, seeming to gain strength from feeding off Sam’s fear. Now Sam was constantly terrorized in her own home, and this last apparition took all of Sam’s resistance, temporarily snapping her out of consciousness.
Derek, consoling his wife, had never seen her so fragile mentally or physically. He was coming to the realization that this might not be all in Sam’s head. He, too, had an unexplained feeling of being pounced upon in the night whenever Sam did battle with the entity, and it would tire of fighting her and try to jump onto Derek. He dared not admit it to Sam initially, trying to keep her calm and himself feeling in control. Yet there it was, this unseen shadow that somehow was invisible yet “felt” like something real, weighted, that could swap terrorizing one warm human body to another. Derek also couldn’t deny having extremely strange dreams.
In one, he was sitting with Samantha in a fancy restaurant with a bar, and a woman was sitting across from them, only staring at Sam, but Sam wouldn’t even look her way, never giving this woman the time of day. The bar and patrons were all from the 1920s, clothing like flappers, and Derek felt like he was in a movie when several mobster-looking men walked into the room, looking to shoot Derek and Sam. Derek grabbed Sam’s arm and ran out of the bar, with the men in fast pursuit. They tried to duck down narrow alleyways to avoid these menacing figures trying to kill them, for what reason, Derek didn’t know. When Derek awoke, he wanted to tell his wife what he dreamt, but decided not to fuel her growing panic and anxiety.
Derek hugged his wife tight. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but let’s try to go to bed. Both of us could use more rest right now.”
Sam doubted she would ever sleep soundly again but tried to be brave, for at least her husband’s sake, if not her own, as she couldn’t show any weakness to the shadow. That night, besides the thumps and clicks in her ears under her pillow and pinpricks throughout her legs, it was unusually “quiet.” But before both Derek and Sam rose the next morning, the entire bed shook them awake, not just a gentle to and fro shaking or even as an earthquake might shake an entire room side to side or up and down, but physically like a signal wave rolled through the bed, cresting and falling across the middle section of the mattress. No physics could explain or contort the bed in that way. This was when Derek finally admitted to Sam his strange dreams and feelings of being “jumped” during the night when Sam was able to toss off the shadow.
Now Sam had the ammunition she needed. It wasn’t all in her head, she wasn’t going crazy, this was some unexplainable and malevolent force that for some reason she alone didn’t have the power to overcome, even with holy water, incessant praying, and demanding the shadow to depart to where it came from. Sage incense smoking all rooms, doorways, windows, nothing had worked. Sam swallowed her pride and called her Orthodox priest, Father Dushan Vukovich, asking him to help her expel the entity from her home. To her surprise, Father Dushan didn’t seem judgmental of either her mental state or her experience, saying he had been asked this before and would be happy to help and would come by Tuesday afternoon.
Sam sat back down with a long sigh of relief; a huge weight lifted off her shoulders. She was physically and mentally at the end of her rope with the ominous harassments that seemed to escalate, and finally, not only was her sanity validated but she found the first hope for banishing this dark spirit.
When Father Dushan came to the home, he was dressed in a dark black robe, carrying a black leather “doc kit” satchel that looked like an old-fashioned doctor’s bag. Sam and Derek greeted him with three kisses as is tradition, one for each cheek and a third to seal the greeting in Trinity. Father Dushan didn’t waste time and set about to work, opening his large bag and pulling out a Bible, holy water and oil, a beeswax candle, a golden crucifix, and a censer on a chain with a cross on the top. Father Dushan proceeded to light the charcoal tabs to burn the incense in the censer until thick smoke emanated from it, smelling like frankincense and myrrh. He swung the censer, which made a melodic clanging with twelve bells hanging from the chains. He moved swiftly and gracefully about the rooms in the home, saying prayers in church Slavonic, a 2000-year-old language that knows no blasphemy, swear words, or sinful connotations. He read from a portion of his Bible that was specifically to exorcise any evil or demonic forces, and blessed both Sam and Derek, putting holy oil on their heads. It was in some ways such a simple act, nothing fancy or earth-shattering like you see in the movies, but so eloquently and quietly powerful.
After that point, everything stopped. The poltergeist’s mischievous antics ceased, and Samantha and Derek’s life went back to normal, with peaceful slumbering nights, something Sam didn’t think was ever going to be possible again.
Yet Samantha was still left wondering what exactly the entity was that could be so powerful to tear carpet pieces up, flow through their bed, making it feel like waves on the ocean, and sinisterly disturb her and even her husband’s peace of mind. And why wasn’t she strong enough to rid it herself? Was there something inherently wrong with her, or was she weak? What drew this entity to her?