The first time it happened, I figured it was an errant employee moving about
haphazardly who'd knocked my toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush and razor into
the sink. The sink in question was that in the staff lavatory located on one
side of the spacious kitchen. I returned the items to the little glass shelf
placed underneath the wash-basin mirror and gave it not a thought.
It had been three months since I took over the operation of the little place.
The location was idyllic; plenty of parking in a tree-lined lot, plenty of space
between me and the neighboring businesses, and to boot the back yard was large and the lawn sloped off into a
thicket of reeds bordering a vast salt marsh which was alive with shoreline
birds and other fauna. The building was a fifteen-minute walk from the beach
proper; on the Long Island Sound. What clinched the deal was that there was
housing for staff that was nearby and affordable, and
also a very modest sleeping quarters for me right in the building. The only
drawback to living inside of one's restaurant is that the door to one's
wardrobe, at least, had to be closed firmly all day lest the clothes start
smelling of garlic, smoke and frying oil.
After having lived in the noisy city for so long, I slept
quite well in the silence of the Connecticut shoreline. The chirping of the
crickets was the only sound, punctuated by the occasional passing truck or
the eerie call of a Loon. For the first time in years, complete darkness
abetted my sleep; there was no window to the outside from my tiny room.
The tiny place, which seated only a hundred souls, was a neighborhood
fixture. Essentially it was a 35-seat bar opening on, yet separated from a dining
room with a few booths and some large round tables by a low partition. It was
the first Chinese Restaurant built between Guilford and Old Saybrook, erected in
1965. The years hadn't been so good to the place, and it had taken three weeks
to renovate into a condition I was happy with. During renovations we discarded
an attic and closets full of old equipment and rubbish. All I kept were some old
menus, going back to the original owners. What a novelty Chinese food must have
been to these conservative New Englanders!
The place closed around midnight on weekends; earlier weekdays. I'd bid the
staff good-night after they finished their chores, and would typically stay on
an hour or so with the last hangers-on nursing their "last call" ration of
alcohol until they got the hint that it was time to go. Once the front door was
locked, I'd turn off all of the lights and enjoy my own alcoholic
refreshment while watching the bar's wide-screen television. Sleep came soon
after the end of Johnny Carson's show.
At first I thought it was paranoia on my part. It seemed to me as if one of
the drunks had decided to perhaps stay behind in the restroom or the rear of the
dining room. When I checked, of course there was nobody there. I was, however,
overwhelmed by the sense that someone was in the building with me.
The uneasiness escalated when one morning I went into the staff lavatory to
wash and there, in the basin, were my toothbrush and other grooming things. I'd
only found them in the basin in the evenings. This particular morning, they'd
found their way off of the shelf yet there was no explanation for why they'd
gotten to where they were. My level head dismissed the strange case of the
falling grooming objects to the vibration produced by the huge, outdated fan
which blew air through the heating and air conditioning units. The fan was
located in the furnace room just behind the lavatory, so it made sense that the
noisy thing would generate enough vibration to dislodge the articles in
Who Are You?
I awoke one Sunday morning with a pounding hangover. As I looked into the
mirror, I swore I'd never get that drunk again. I'd had four martinis
while watching late-night television. Worse, I recalled vaguely having called
out loud "who are you?" I'd gone farther than that; imploring whoever or
whatever was in the room with me to appear to me, and perhaps engage in
communication of some sort. I felt so ashamed and silly I used this as an excuse
for a little "hair of the dog" and made the first Bloody Mary of the day for
myself, long before any of the others showed up to work.
Part of that first drunken evening became routine over the next couple of
months. Far from drunk, I was there soberly beseeching the presence nearby to
show him/her/itself. During the day I walked around the property, looking for an
overhanging tree limb which perhaps made noise. The only thing that I found was
a large crack in the cement slab the restaurant was located upon. This was
peculiar because I hadn't discovered the crack when inspecting the property
prior to purchase.
This crack, it turned out, extended through the rear of the building and was
detectable in a preparation room in front of the walk-in refrigerator and
also in the furnace room. I probed the carpet where the crack would follow into
the carpeted dining room and everything seemed fine. This could be explained,
however, by the crack's being filled-in at that point by the adhesive used to
adhere the carpet to the floor.
The contractor I called said that such cracks were quite common on the soft
ground near the marshes, and that all one could do was fill the cracks in with
cement, to diminish the potential that water would seep up and cause a really
big problem. He also carefully placed stakes in the ground, and drew a plumb
line on two sides of each. He'd come back in two weeks to see if the building
was shifting dramatically.
Meanwhile, I spent many evenings with the mild but definitely uneasy feeling
about whatever the heck it was that was giving me the jitters. It must just be
the country air and the country quiet, I told myself over and over. I thought
about talking to the previous owners, who lived in the town, but figured they'd
think I was crazy; and beside, they held the mortgage on the place. If I did
anything to lead them to believe I was mentally unstable, I'd surely be evicted.
I spent the better part of a Monday in the vault at the office of the Town
Clerk. There I traced the deed on the land back to the first recorded owner.
From there, a search of newspaper records the following week turned up nothing
peculiar about the owners, but for the fact that all but the previous owners had
died (none under mysterious circumstances). There had been a fire in the kitchen
in 1969, necessitating expensive renovations. That was the only thing that came
up, and those townspeople I asked about the place could only conjure up memories
of the parties that had been held there.
A call to nearby Yale University led me to a local anthropologist who kept
accurate records of Native American tribes who populated the area. There was
no record of any settlement on or nearby the small bit of terra firma
between the vast marshes and the Sound, about three-quarters of a mile away.
So no, no murders, much less any unexplained deaths on nor near the property.
The same went for the neighboring parcels, which at one time were wilderness all
the way from the salt marsh up to the main road, Route 1, a.k.a. The Boston Post
Road. There was nothing that would perhaps explain the existence of spirits in
the restaurant. I had exhausted sources of information, both in print and via
One evening I was talking to one of the regular bar customers. Tom is a lobsterman
in the Summer, he spent his winters drinking and taking odd jobs doing painting
and renovation work. He'd warmed up to me over the months. We were friends by
now, I allowing him a credit account at the bar which he dutifully paid off
every time good fortune smiled on him. There we were conversing, just he and I
in the darkened restaurant, and we heard a loud "pop" and a hissing sound coming
from the kitchen.
A valve in the water pipe leading to the dish-washing machine had suddenly
given out, and scalding hot water was spraying, across the room, from the valve-handle. The first
thing I did was try to shut off the water. I couldn't find a valve but for the
one coming out of the hot water heater. So I closed it and also shut off the
water heater. Tom and I dismissed the faulty valve to the age of all of the
building's mechanical fixtures. He said he'd be by in the morning to replace the
valve. That night I went to sleep damning the fact that there wouldn't be hot
water for my morning shower.
The next morning, a plumber came by. The plumber was a friend of Tom's. As he
worked deftly sawing pipe and soldering in a new valve, he casually mentioned
that he'd repaired that very valve just about a year before. How could it be
that the valve which now appeared green and corroded was only a year old? Heck,
it looked like it was "original equipment;" installed when the building was
erected. As I made out the check to pay him, I wondered to myself if I should
tell him about my concerns. Best not to, I finally decided. If this fellow had a
big mouth I'd become a town laughing-stock.
Tom showed up at one o'clock in the afternoon and asked if I was happy with
his friend the plumber. I answered in the affirmative, and queried Tom as to why
the plumber wasn't a customer. It turns out the fellow had had an awful time in
Vietnam and couldn't stand Asians; any Asians. The only reason he'd taken
the job was me (and Tom, of course). I told Tom that that was funny; he'd helped
out the previous owners a year ago! Tom explained it away saying that perhaps
the plumber needed the money. Tom was nearly astonished as I when I held up the
old valve; green, corroded, and with a few spokes missing from the valve-handle,
and explained that the plumber claimed he'd replaced that very valve the year
before. Tom dismissed it as cheap materials — yet he knew what I was getting at.
Tom watched the bar after the lunch diners had left; giving me time for a
shower. Dinner that day came and went, and Tom and I had a pretty good glow
on by eleven o'clock that night. He walked home, and I closed up.
I awakened that night to what sounded like the constant squeal of tires on
asphalt. What the hell could that be? I walked quickly through the
restaurant checking first for leaks or a running faucet. The problem seemed to
come from the furnace room. Sure enough, I opened the door to that room and the
sound became amplified; the bearing on one side of the old heating/cooling fan
had given out and the bearing and shaft were now spinning around inside the hole
in the fan housing. It was cold; very cold. I cursed as I shut off the heating
system, and called Tom. Wrapped in three blankets, I was still cold and slept a
precious few hours that night.
It took until three o'clock in the afternoon for the plumber to come back. He
removed the bearing and spent another two and a half hours going to New Haven to purchase a replacement. Tom left, preferring the
warmth of the wood fire in his cottage. I stayed, along with the help, serving a
few customers who decided to take-out their orders rather than risk pneumonia
from the freezing cold inside the restaurant. The heating fan was fixed,
finally, in time for the late bar customers.
I asked Tom if it was a peculiar coincidence that the two mechanical
emergencies had occurred within a week of one another. His answer? "Shit
Nothing major happened in the ensuing months. By Summertime, I'd become quite
accustomed to drowning my fear of my "companion" with plenty of liquor. I even
explained my unfounded fears to a doctor, who was quick with a prescription pad,
Xanax and an admonition to get more sleep and work (and drink) less.
It needs to be said at this point in my story that I'd resolved to remove my
toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, razor and other grooming aids from the sink
in the lavatory every morning. I'd gotten into the habit of leaving them in the
sink. I replaced them in the sink each morning, with the semi-conscious thought
that if I heard them fall some night I'd be scared out of my skin.
My relationship with whatever was in the building continued. Nothing as
dramatic as the mechanical failings of that fall and winter occurred, but things
did indeed happen. The most memorable was the putrid odor of human feces
surrounding the dish-washing machine late one summer night. I poured water into
the drains with elbow connections in hopes it was merely a hiccup from the
The last thing I did the last night I owned that place was to say, out loud,
in the darkness "whoever you are, I'm leaving because of you and I hope you're
finished with me!" The Chinese Restaurant ghost, indeed, had had his fun with me
and didn't follow me elsewhere.
Everything hereinabove is true and transpired in 1995-1996 in Clinton, Connecticut USA. Submitted for the Quest