It was a dream come true, winning a trip to San Francisco, all expenses paid. I’d never expected to win that photography contest, but I’d submitted my red-filtered pic of the London Eye, regardless. And then I won. And here we were: me and the cute boy I called my friend but whom I secretly had a big crush on.
We docked at Alcatraz Island as dusk set on the horizon. It was a small gathering, a tour no bigger than fifty people. Visiting Alcatraz had been on the itinerary from the start, but taking the evening tour of the legendary prison had been my idea. Eric agreed, he couldn’t be more excited about the wonderful view.
As the captain called for all passengers to disembark the ferry, my heart pounded hard against my chest, thrilled to set a foot on this historical site, famous for the notorious escape of Frank Morris and his posse back in 1962.
As soon as we reached the dock, the tour huddled on the platform. Our guide arrived soon to meet us and led us in a most challenging walk uphill.
The night fell upon us in the middle of our quarter of a mile stroll. The chilly wind picked up fast. I zipped up my jacket, but the cold persisted. Restlessness and curiosity tangled inside me. I couldn’t understand the feeling, so I dismissed it fast.
“Look at all those houses,” Eric said, pointing to a complex of abandoned buildings, dilapidated and forlorn, with dusty windows and tattered curtains. They reminded him of a video game, he said. We later learned that guards and their families used to live on the island. Not only did Alcatraz have its own morgue, but at some point, it also had a bowling alley and a convenience store. About 300 civilians lived there.
I didn’t like lingering in that area. The scholar in me pushed me to stay, but I could not deny the increasing alertness rising from my core. It was a silent warning, a natural instinct instigating me to leave that place as fast as possible… We took a few pictures and that was that.
That feeling of foreboding only increased as we climbed higher. Soon, I began to realize this was not the tour I’d had in mind when I’d booked it. Not once had I stop to consider that a setting such as this could contain more than history.
I sighed in relief when we entered the prison, believing I’d left that bad feeling behind.
But I was wrong.
We chose the audio-guide to take our time discovering the prison instead of running after the fast-paced tour guide. And so, the tour moved forward, and we lingered, enjoying the silence, the stillness in the dimly lit prison blocks. We walked into cells, sat on the beds, took many photographs. At one point, I stood inside the prison and held the door’s bars. Quite unexpectedly, I got a sense of the harrowing solitude suspended between those walls. It was a sadness that shook me to the core, a soundless despair so dense it was almost tangible.
Voices echoed in the room ahead. A team of four people, three men and a woman, had also distanced from the group. They were having a conversation in the library, their voices so low I could not make out the words.
Driven by curiosity, we decided to have a look. We peered into the library and spied on them for a few minutes. Eric and I thought it was interesting, the way they held their bearings, too formal and spread about the spacious room in a circle with the woman sitting on a bench in the center. I soon realized they were holding a seance.
One man took photographs, while another held up a voice recorder.
“I guess they think she’s a medium,” I teased, shrugging my shoulders. Eric uttered a quiet laugh.
At last, the team of paranormal investigators left the library. We were free to explore on our own and take pictures while listening to the stories of the many riots that issued in this prison block. There were still bullet marks on the floor.
The paranormal investigators were always one room ahead of us. I thought it was funny, how the men uttered oohs and aahs whenever the medium pointed at something in the air. I was certain they were filming for a television show, so I didn’t pay much mind to their alleged findings.
At length, we reached the visitor booths. Through the doorway stood the lighthouse, and that marked the end of the tour. The paranormal team was long gone. Eric and I were left on our own to take pictures with the wonderful backdrop of the empty cell block’s aisle.
“I have an idea for an awesome photograph,” I told Eric. “You step outside to the visitor’s area, and I’ll stay here. That way you can take a picture as if you were visiting me!”
It sounded like the most original plan.
Eric agreed. He went outside, heading towards the visitor’s booth. Meanwhile, I waited inside, completely alone, knowing the designated park ranger would lock the cells in a few minutes.
I looked through one of the visitor’s windows, waiting for Eric to appear, when suddenly, I sensed someone standing behind me.
That’s odd, I told myself. I’ve never been too cautious, so I decidedly turned around.
I was relieved to discover a mannequin only a few feet away from me. It was standing in the corner, outside one of the cells. There were so many wax figures spread about the prison as part of the exhibit. I’d simply missed that one.
The figure was a man, garbed in vintage prison clothes: brown shirt and pants. Narrowing my eyes, I moved closer to study it with detainment. I now stood about four feet away from the wax figure, and was able to appreciate the stitching of its brown hat, tilted down enough that it cast a dark shade on its eyes. Still, the nose and the lips had been chiseled with great detail. The quality of this mannequin was absolutely amazing.
My eyes swept the figure downwards, paying attention to the shirt’s buttons, the trousers… How true to period the clothes looked, even worn with time.
I looked further down, following the trousers’ length when the fabric abruptly faded.
This wax figure had no feet.
This was not a wax figure.
My eyes widened. My jaw must have dropped as I stepped back towards the window where Eric tapped, ready with the camera.
“You have to see this!” I told him, but he couldn’t listen to a word I said. I then turned, pointing at the ghost standing behind me.
He was gone.
I looked into the deep hallway. It was vacant as it had been for a long while.
Eric tapped the window again, waving the camera.
I went to the window. He finally took the picture. Good.
I then ran out of there as fast as I could, shocked and bewildered, my mind whirling to find an explanation to what I’d just witnessed. Altogether, this unique experience had lasted three or four minutes, which seemed an eternity.
When I stepped outside, Eric welcomed me with a warm embrace. I wanted to tell him what had happened inside the visiting area, but as we stood under the blinking lighthouse, with San Francisco’s lights twinkling in the dark horizon, Eric held my shoulders and stared into my eyes.
“I want you to know that I love you,” he said, “and that I want you to be my girlfriend.”
Tears loomed in my eyes. Never would I have imagined it, that for weeks, he’d planned to tell me those words at exactly that point in the tour, with that wonderful landscape for scenery.
I must have said yes a hundred times… nay, a thousand.
Eric’s eyes glistened with impending tears. He glided his hands on my jawline and leaned closer to meet my lips in one unforgettable, heartfelt kiss.
It was a dream come true, winning a trip to San Francisco, all expenses paid. And here we were: ghosts, me, and the cute boy I called my friend but whom I secretly had a big crush on… And he’d loved me all this time.
And now, some pictures of that evening. These are part of the raw, original footage.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”