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A Ghost Story, From a Skeptic’s Point of View

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

Illustration by Eva Bee

Illustration by Eva Bee

It was a late night -- the bewitching hour on a typical early 1990s night-- when the dorm party on the top floor came to a crashing end. The patrons dispersed stumbling off to every corner of the facility.

Tired and inebriated, I managed to navigate the stairs to my floor and enter the darkened dorm unit – essentially, a furnished apartment – I shared with five other students. I was the first to make it home while three roommates I was with searched for another party to crash (the whereabouts of the other two was unknown).

I had my fill, and the night was over. I stumbled through the living room and down the hall toward my bedroom. Along the way, I passed by one of the two bathrooms, thinking little of it. My head was spinning, and the only cure was my bed. Still, as I passed the bathroom closest to my room, I heard the recognizable slosh of water flowing in the sink.

The faucet may well have been a portal to a mysterious world.

It was a moment of irritation; somebody didn’t turn off the faucet. Despite my desire for bed, I made a detour into the pitch-black realm and headed for the source of the noise. It was a simple task – turn the running cold water off – but annoying nonetheless. I continued my short jaunt to my room (using the wall to keep my balance) and found my bed. I was out within minutes without a care in the world, especially for a faucet.

I should have cared. The faucet may well have been a portal to a mysterious world. Even a jaded skeptic, (like myself) found himself scratching his head in disbelief the next day. That faucet – the one I believed someone had left running – became the source of a peculiar event that tested my beliefs and my roommates’ into the paranormal. Something wrong was happening in the unit. But, was that “something” a technical flaw or a paranormal event?

Talks of a Ghost

Things quickly got strange the next day. By Saturday morning (or to be precise, near noon, considering that was the time most of us woke up), most of my roommates made their way home and were nursing their hangovers. That day, my roommate, Fred, woke me up. He entered the room, packed a few things in backpack and duffle bag (he often left during the weekend to be with girlfriend, church, or both). While he did this, he grumbled about something not being turned off. Before I could ask, he was out the room and out of the dorm unit.

It didn’t take long for me to realize what he was talking about. I heard the unmistakable sound of flowing water. I got out of bed and headed for the bathroom where I found the faucet spitting out a strong stream of water down the pipes. So much was flowing that the water backed up in the sink. No one else was in the bathroom. Thus, with a sense (once again) of irritation and perplexity, I turned it off. Usually, my roommates were good at not leaving things unattended, but every so often, they forgot, which I surmised happened on this day.

originally posted on

originally posted on

About this time, I heard the other roommates Martin, Chris, and Morten (Jerry was missing and was probably spent the night with his frat buddies) in one of the three rooms in the dorm, conversing with one another. I headed toward this room to find all three bleary-eyed and unusually anxious. They were in the midst of conversation.

“I’m telling you something’s weird is going on in here,” Chris stated.

“I heard something that there was a murder that happened some years ago,” Martin stated. “Or maybe it was suicide.”

“Maybe,” Morten said after some rumination on the notion. “This dorm was built on an ancient portal or burial ground and the dead are trying to communicate with us.”

Before I could ask what the conversation was about, I heard the the sound of the faucet flowing again. The others heard it, too, and became very quiet. The incident, nonetheless, sent a chill through my spine. I didn’t have to ask; they were talking about ghosts haunting our dorm.

A Challenge for a Skeptic

As mentioned, I’m a skeptic when it comes to all things pertaining to the paranormal. This revelation was not out of arrogance or a closed mind as many true believers have accused me of being. It’s quite the opposite. Over the years, I learned that a “bump in the night” may just be that…a bump in the night caused by terrestrial, non-ethereal beings or things. In addition, the bizarre creaking in the house has nothing to do with ghostly powers, and more to do with gravitational powers that constantly pulls things down. Physics creates some incredible magic!

Still, I had a childhood belief in ghost – one that has had unusual effects on me as an adult. For instance, as I march toward 50 years of age, I still sleep with a pillow over my head. This habit formed at the age of six when I thought I heard ghostly things in the middle of the night, and it compelled to bury my head under blankets or pillows to drown out the sound.

Additionally, there was also the remote possibility that the paranormal world I rejected as hocus pocus drivel, may have some validity that I was ignoring.

I was 22 when the faucet incident occurred. By that time, I took course in physics, read tons of scholarly books and journals in history and philosophy, and conducted a few science lab research. My educations was well rounded and it chipped away much of my deteriorating beliefs in the stuff people labeled as the “unexplained”.

Still, despite my education, my naivety about the world was still there, and forcing me to question everything I had learned up to that point. There were plenty of mysterious things to keep me up at night, pondering – even fearing – what it might be. Additionally, there was also the remote possibility that the paranormal world I rejected as hocus pocus drivel, may have some validity that I was ignoring.

A Lesson about Ghosts from a Windmill

The water flowed continuously while I conversed with my roommates. Their arguments were compelling. Even Morten’s portal theory sounded legit when he told it in an assured tone. But, something in the back of my mind kept milling around like a caged beast. Something didn’t seem so paranormal about the faucet.

As mentioned, as a child I hid under the covers or put a pillow over my head to block out disturbing noises I heard at night. In particular, the scary noise I heard was a loud screech and wail. One night, it became so loud that I screamed in the middle of the night and ran out my room.

My father quelled my fear that night when he revealed that the noise (which he heard, too) wasn’t an evil monster roaming outside my room. Instead, it came from something he built and erected in the backyard. My dad loved to build (and still does) many things in his garage. His foray at the time were windmills. In this case, the prototype he made had been subjected to powerful winds coming from a Pacific storm. It knocked something out of whack and was now grinding away in the wind.

similar to the one that was in the backyard

similar to the one that was in the backyard

Thinking back on this incident, I came to the realization about the faucet. While the others talked, I exited the room and went to the faucet.

Once there, I turned the knob and immediately felt a sensation. It felt springy, ready to return to its previous position. I turned it off, only to watch is slowly slip back – much like a ghostly hand turning it -- and open the roaring flow of water into the sink. Something else caught my eye; a trickle of water was coming from the knob. That wasn’t good, but it was also a relief.

This wasn’t the working of a restless spirit of a murdered coed. Nor was it the result of an open portal from another dimension. This was the windmill of my youth resurfacing. It was a mechanical problem – likely a broken gasket or a worn out thread on a screw.

No Ghost!

I went under the sink and turned the shutoff valve. The flow stopped and stayed that way. At least one sink in the dorm would not be used until maintenance could schedule a visit. I was elated, relieved, and enlightened. The elation came from knowing that the mystery was solved. The relief emanated from the notion that it was not a spectral force and that the problem could be easily fixed (in later years, I learned to change the faucets, thus learning a bit more about the wear-and-tear that can occur with faucets).

The enlightenment, however, was the lesson; things don’t stay the same and things will breakdown. In addition, not everything has an easy explanation. Still, if one is observant, learns the lessons of the past and keep an open mind (but not enough to accept the paranormal), such things don’t need to be a mystery.

These days, I still sleep with a pillow over my head. It turns out it’s a great way to deaden the sounds of the fans my wife tends to leave running throughout the night. The days of fearing a ghost rattling something in the house – or turning on faucets -- in the middle of the night are long gone. I’ve come to the realization that the things that go bump in the night are just that -- things. The house settling, the power of gravity, or a broken gasket or stripped threads in a faucet: those are real ghosts. And this skeptic can abide to that.

A portal to another dimension never appeared during or after the faucet incident.

A portal to another dimension never appeared during or after the faucet incident.

© 2020 Dean Traylor