Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Ghost on the Line

I've been meaning to tell this story for a long time and kept forgetting - but now I remember, so here it is.

Back in 1990 my wife and I had been dating for a couple of years at the time and unfortunately had to separate for the summer. She had received a fellowship to study at Rice University in Houston for a few months and I got a job as an Assistant Stage Manager at the Seaside Music Theatre in Daytona Beach, FL.

For various and sundry reasons we'd been separated during our relationship before and knew how to deal with it. Since this was in the days before e-mail was a ubiquitous part of everyday society, the only way we really had to keep in touch that summer was my mail and by phone.

Laura stayed in a dorm at Rice, which had a community phone at the end of each hall that everyone on that floor took turns using. As far as we know, there were no other extensions.

I stayed in a type of quad apartment complex that was used during the school year by Embry Riddle University but was rented out by the theatre for its actors and crew during the summer, so we all lived there.

(Note: My summer at Seaside is probably a whole series of posts in and of itself, which maybe I'll write someday. At least after the statutes of limitations pass...)

I was roommates with the Technical Director, and our room was near the entrance of the quad and right across the breezeway from a bank of payphones that we all used. Again, not only was this before widespread personal email but before any real use of cell phones (now I'm really feeling old) so the payphone was pretty much my only link to the outside world.

One evening after rehearsals were over, I was standing in the breezeway talking to Laura on the payphone. She, in turn, was in the hallway at her dorm talking to me. As our conversation progressed, we would hear noises in the background - shuffling sounds, that sort of thing. Each likely thought it was noise on the other end of the line...when it reality it was quiet on both ends.

Eventually we heard breathing.

We both realized something was very wrong at the same time, and stopped speaking. Tentatively, each asked if we had heard that...

More shuffling.

I asked if there was an extension to her phone - she said there wasn't, and I told her the same for mine. We couldn't figure out where the noises were coming from..

Then we heard the laugh. A deep, earthy chuckle that slowly rippled across the lines.

We were both extremely alarmed by this - I immediately requested whoever was on the line to get off....there was no response. Laura and I said our hasty goodbyes and hung up.

Later, we checked to make sure there was no other access to the lines - there was not. And to this day we never figured out who - or what - was listening in...

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