Ghosts in the basement: closeup of The Morris

After the three clocks in my apartment provided a horrifying insight, the ghost hunter I met sold me a sage stick. I had no idea what to do with it—or really, what exactly was in my apartment. So I invited Annette, a close friend who was sensitive to the paranormal, to come and assess the situation. She meditatively walked around the rooms and eventually concluded, “There are a lot of shadows in here.” Not quite getting her point, I explained that the east-facing living room was usually dim, receiving only a stingy triangle of light during the day. Annette shook her head and said, “No, by ‘shadows’ I mean … human remains.”

Then she pointed to a corner of the kitchen ceiling and said, “That’s your problem right there.” I noticed that area was where my boyfriend’s eyes had taken on a sinister cast in a photo and where my new desktop computer kept freezing up. Annette told me she saw an emaciated, very angry young man hanging there. He might have been a former leukemia patient from the turn of the century, when my building had been a hospital for the then-incurable disease.

Annette continued exploring the apartment and observed, “There’s anger in the main room and anguish in the bedroom.” I joked that those are the two emotions I do best at, but she turned and looked at me, her eyes speaking worlds I didn’t understand. Chastened, I realized that what she found could never be translated into human terms. A panic reared up in me. How could I spend another night in this apartment, knowing it was crowded with tormented, undead spirits? Dave, the on-site manager, had warned me about this, but he’d quit and moved out, claiming the building was killing him.

Taking the sage stick from me, Annette volunteered to rid my apartment of its bad energy. She opened all the windows, cabinets, and drawers, and told me to wait outside the building. I huddled on the sidewalk curb, wondering how effective the smudging process would be.

401 Meth Ave
View from my apartment (halfway house across the street and meth labs in brick building next to it, among other neighborhood attractions)

About 15 minutes later, Annette came and told me it was safe to go inside. Walking into the apartment, I didn’t feel much difference in the space. Annette left, and I laid out small bowls of salt (another gesture in this new superstitious vocabulary I was acquiring), hoping for the best.

The shadows had not left. Things only got worse in the apartment and more bizarre.

September 11 had occurred a month before, and the world seemed upended. One evening I had watched a TV program on biochemical weapons—including anthrax—and was reading a magazine, when I turned the page and stuck my thumb in some white powder. Freaked out, I called the non-emergency police line and sheepishly mumbled, “I’m sure it’s nothing, but …” I’d barely finished my sentence when police sirens came wailing up to my building. The Hazmat guys came to my door in their space suits and confiscated the magazine. A few tense days passed, and I eventually found out that it had been only talcum powder, used to keep the pages of glossy publications from sticking. (I did get my letter recounting the incident published in Paper, the magazine I’d been reading, and they courteously sent me a replacement issue–talcum free.)

As if that weren’t enough, a few weeks later, I returned home to find that my apartment had been broken into. Ironically, I lived in the most inconvenient unit to rob: on the top floor, nowhere near the ramp or emergency stairs, and directly across the hall from the manager. The break-in happened while I had stepped out for a slim length of time in the afternoon. The burglars had taped a small circle of white plastic bag over the manager’s peephole and then chiseled a rectangular hole into my door with a sharp blade. They pushed aside the deadbolt and made off with all the CDs I’d lovingly collected while living in Seattle, Philadelphia, DC, London, and Seoul. To add insult to injury, they also grabbed my stash of laundry quarters. The police officers shook their heads and said they’d never seen an apartment entered this way. They never found out who did it.

401 breakin
The strangest break-in, according to police officers

Afterward, I kept my blinds shut and hung a piece of white gauze in front of the bay window, blocking out the surrounding apartments. The burglars could have lived in any of them, watching me leave my building. I felt violated and under surveillance, both from those outside and from whatever was continuing to monitor me inside my own home.

After less than five months of living in the cursed apartment, I was done. The angry guy in the kitchen, the anthrax scare, the break-in … it was time for me to leave. I broke my lease and was not surprised to hear that the tenant before me had too.

I found a small studio apartment in an entirely new neighborhood, Belltown. My new apartment manager told me that the building, the Stratford on 4th, was constructed in 1916 as an army flophouse. According to a retired fire marshal, it “used to burn down weekly.” But unlike the apartment I’d fled, this place had a neutral, even cozy, feeling to it. Plus it had an elevator–and no ramps in sight.

After moving the bulk of my belongings into my new studio apartment, I went back to The Morris to pick up the last few items and return the keys. Then I called a cab and waited in the empty, preternaturally silent apartment. The air was thick. I was still there and so were they. Sitting uneasily by the door, I felt a tension mounting in my chest and my throat starting to constrict. My fingers tightened around my backpack. They wanted me out. Now.

Fine, I thought. I gingerly picked up my bag, using all the self-restraint I had, and managed to exit the unit without breaking into a sprint. People say that energy travels up and outwards in a building, so naturally my corner top-floor unit was ground zero for paranormal activity. I left the apartment to its occupants. They had resided there for decades, beginning in the dim hours of the early twentieth century. They are probably there now.

On the street I waited for the cab as a disoriented, shirtless man in pyjama bottoms wandered around the block, mournfully repeating, “Danny … Danny … Danny …”

A few minutes later, the cab pulled up, I turned my back on the apartment forever, and we drove down to my new life in Belltown.