Look, I shouldn’t be telling you this. You might try and find the path I took down through the tunnels, and I can’t have another’s death on my hands. Even so, I had tried to write out my story for a new internet blog series about Columbia’s rumoured hauntings, but I immediately received a private message from an email address originating in Panama with some…disturbing personal information, my Columbia address, and a receipt number for my most recent financial aid transaction from Columbia. Whoever the anonymous emailer, they were clearly wired into the Columbia administration and really didn’t want anybody reading about Columbia’s more…paranormal aspects.
But I can’t keep this to myself. There are phantoms at Columbia, and they are angry.
My operations at Columbia mostly consisted of your basic ghosthunting tactics—going to locations of interest, usually at night (to prevent outsider interference), and, to put it lightly, moseying around and asking if any spirits are present. Did I believe in the paranormal when I started out? Not really. The whole “ghost hunting” thing was really just a matter of finding something exciting here on campus. The outcome of your Orgo midterm doesn’t really matter as much when you might be experiencing contact with the otherworldly, you know? Some people want free hugs and puppy days in the library, but spooking yourself in a decrepit hallway underground makes you feel so much more alive.
So when I set out to find some of the legendary spirits haunting Morningside Heights, I wasn’t really expecting much. I followed the outline of my plan perfectly, accessing the tunnels under Furnald via an unused shaft (thank God I had my rappelling equipment on me). I was in search of the old Manhattan Project labs, and, therefore, the spirit supposedly haunting those ancient rooms. It was cold, almost too cold, when I jumped from the portal of a ventilation shaft I had very carefully unhinged. A faint buzzing reverberated through the floor as I surveyed the old machinery, an alien chittering which seemed to cut at my concentration the further I walked into the room. I didn’t know what it was—hell, I still don’t know what I was hearing—but the human mind is quick to generalize unknown and unexplainable experiences in familiar terms. My mind took what should have been a foreboding welcome to this abandoned and dusty lab room as the movement of underground machinery—even though I subconsciously knew that no machinery could produce sounds like those.
I crouched silently and took a few minutes to listen to this electric popping emanating from the floor. The chittering meshed together, as if a disembodied whisper were groaning out in pain. I shuddered. It was just my imagination, right? But just to be sure, I took out my recording device and started asking questions. The minute I spoke out, the chittering lowered in pitch. An icy chill ran agonizingly though my spine, raising the hair on the back of my arms as I swiveled to address my speech at the correct corner of the darkened room. I was being watched, something deep in evolutionary bowels of my psyche was telling me. I should have left then, I keep telling myself. But I soldiered on, inching through the standard litany of ghosthunting questions.
“Am I speaking to a ghost? Who is the spirit I am speaking to? Why are you still here? Were you involved in the Manhattan Project?” As soon as I mentioned the name of the famous project which occupied these spaces half a century ago, the alien noises suddenly stopped. A clicking noise, like one of those old cartoony Geiger counters, slowly floated around the room. My mouth was agape. That, certainly, was new. The air smelt of ozone and seemed to weigh down on my limbs with every slight shuffle forward. A gas leak, I rationalized, and an insect trapped down in the tunnels. It had to be. Ghosts aren’t real.
Yet if there were a ghost down here, I considered, it would be the spirit of a dead lab assistant who supposedly died of radiation poisoning during the first infantile steps of the nuclear project. So I asked, as is only human, if dying were as bad it seemed. Nothing like a little humour to lighten the mood, right? But a sudden wind pierced through my layered clothing, knocking me off my precarious balance—mostly out of surprise—and onto the buzzing floor. A sharp pain gripped my stomach as I gasped on the concrete floor, the Geiger noise clicking from the walls around me. I tried to push myself up on my elbows, but my head was imploding in pain and my muscles burned on the inside, like hot acid was funneled into tendons, dissolving my body from the inside-out. This was unreal. The whispering had begun again, and I could clearly make out phrases as I shuddered on the ground.
Over and over I could hear what passed for a tearful and buzzing “how could they” rumbling through the walls, the air, and the ground. A cabinet marked with what I assumed to be various signs of medical danger began to rumble, its locked doors slamming forward and backwards as if somebody were locked inside. I’m not proud to say it, but I immediately ran away. Were those rusted hinges, or were sharp moans echoing from the cabinet? I didn’t want to find out, and shuffled in a panic backward to my entering point. The vent was still open and I exasperatingly climbed upward, moving as quickly as possible away from this hellhole. But some…thing wouldn’t let me go. I could feel two frail hands stretch from the darkness below, grasping at my ankle as I gasped in fright. I shook the force off of me—and later I would find a bruise in the shape of frail hand marking my left calf. But just as suddenly as it all had begun—the moaning, the pain, the mental and physical agony—I was back in the vent with my bodily ills rapidly fading away.
I still don’t know what happened in that abandoned nuclear lab. Whatever came over me didn’t end up following me home, and everyday I thank whatever higher power might have been looking out just for that moment of escape. I resigned myself to having suffered a miniature stroke of some sort, especially since my EVP recording hadn’t recorded anything of note—no chittering, no voices, not even my bout of pain. Seriously, my painful gasping wasn’t even on the recording. It was 30 minutes of perfect silence, from the minute I entered the tunnels to the minute I exited. Was I overtaken by some sort of Cartesian demon? Or can the human mind really twist upon itself so easily in the dark? I’m still not sure. But I am assured of something. Somebody died down there in those black voids underneath our campus…and they’re still angry.
But I’m done with all that. No more tales, no more hauntings just waiting to be exposed. It’s not worth running into what could be another embittered poltergeist. Plus, as of the next morning, patches of my hair began to fall from my head. I guess it’s just time for my body to go bald, and you can’t be a respectable ghost hunter without a full set of hair, right?