My ghost story

First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest, November 1-14, 2016 | vol. 29, No. 11 |

Do you believe in ghosts? I didn’t use to, but now I have to admit that I do.

I think back to the big ancient house in Santol that my grandparents lived in, where Japanese soldiers were reportedly killed, and the haunting feeling that someone (or something) is just beside you while you walked the long corridor to the bathroom, and if you turned your head fast enough, you will see it. The fear of actually seeing something kept me looking resolutely straight ahead.

But what this particular question brought back most vividly was the time I worked at Jollibee as a supervisor, almost 30 years ago. The Jollibee outlet was right next door to a multi-story cinema complex that housed nine movie theaters. The story circulating was that the movie house was haunted – a fire had broken out a few years back and people who were trapped inside died. 

Strange things started happening almost as soon as we opened the outlet. A staff member recounted how his hair stood on end when he was alone in the supply room, as if there was somebody behind him. Another reported seeing a burned woman with tears running down her face standing in a corner of the men’s restroom. The girlfriend of one of the staff also claimed to have seen a crying woman and a child in the women’s restroom.

These claims would have been easy to dismiss, save for the fact that despite nine movie houses, the place wasn’t doing well. Which meant that Jollibee wasn’t getting much business either. Our manager began to worry and insisted that our place needed to be blessed. So we asked a priest to come and bless the outlet. He went from room to room, from the front to the back, from ground floor to second floor, pronouncing blessing on each area. He said afterwards that he could feel unhappy souls trapped there. Whether or not this is true, I can’t say. He’d been on television, so I had regarded him more as a TV personality than a priest.

I didn’t feel anything at all. But that was soon to change.

One night, when we were closing up, the staff and I stood outside with a flashlight waiting for the other supervisor, Nina, to turn off the lights inside the outlet. I have to explain that the outlet’s only source of light came from the front glass walls. Once the shutters came down, it is pitch black inside and whoever turns the lights off would need the flashlight as guide to get out. 

Anyway, that night she frantically came running out, which surprised us all as she was a mature and sedate kind of person. She pulled me to one side and asked if there were other offices on the floor above aside from ours. I gave a surprised no. Later, when we were alone, she confided that as she started walking out towards us, there was a sudden loud noise above which frightened her. I was a bit skeptical, as we on the outside never heard a thing. At least we didn’t that night.

On another night, however, we were doing inventory. There were only four of us – a staff member, Nina, the security guard and me. Late in the evening, around 11 p.m. or maybe later, we heard a sudden noise above us, like tables and chairs being pushed around, the kind of scraping, grating noise students make when getting up from their chairs, in a hurry to leave the classroom.

And just as suddenly, the noise stopped. The suddenness and the level of noise startled us all into immobility. Then, I sprang up the stairs to see what was going on, thinking that some prank was being played. Nina shouted at me not to go up, while the security guard was forced to follow behind me. I glanced behind me briefly and saw the gun in his shaking hand, pointed at my back. At that time, the only thought I had was: good, we have protection. Only afterwards did I realize that if he had fired by mistake, I would have been shot dead – and most likely added another ghost haunting the place.

We made our way up – and saw nothing. Everything was in its place. The few chairs were in the office, not enough to make the kind of noise we heard. The supply room was orderly. I made for the restrooms, with the security guard reluctantly following behind. Nothing. Then I headed for the staff restroom, an enclosed space with no windows. Nothing.

But as we turned to leave, we heard a crinkle, like that of unwrapping a piece of candy. But there was nobody in the room. I looked at the frightened face of the security guard and said: “Walang tao ‘no? Wala tayong nakita.” He nodded. We went down and tried to act as if nothing had happened. I remember Nina had her hands clasped close to her chest while she waited anxiously for us to come back down. We hurried through our work and left, together. 

That was the last time I experienced anything supernatural. There may have been other occasions, but I left a few months afterwards (nothing to do with the ghosts) so I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that the blessing didn’t work. The trapped souls (if they were indeed the ones) were still there and heaven knows how they will be saved – if they want to be saved. Or if they are trapped souls or some other unexplained phenomena.
So, that’s my ghost story, and it’s a true story, the only one that I actually experienced.

And my takeaway from this story is: always let the security guard with the gun walk in front of you.