Glynn Washington: Snap Judgment Studios. Jack was nimble. Jack was quick. Jack had cash, and Jack was sleek, but Jack never learned to watch his back. Lately, no one’s heard from Jack. Listen to Spooked, stay tuned. From Luminary, you've crossed over to Spooked.
I know how I'd like the pass from this world. I don't want it to happen for a long while, but when it does, I want to be surrounded by loved ones. I want to tell them each how dear they are to me. I want hugs and I want kisses. I want love, hands held, stories shared, beautiful last meals, rich desserts, sunsets, ocean breezes. I want to touch my grandkids and my great-grandkids each in their turn, then, I want to leave. Everybody else, I want them to share a bottle or two of the finest scotch to kick up the music, and when we have laughed and cried and laughed some more, I want to go to sleep with a smile on my face. Finished, complete, perfect, but not everybody gets perfect.
I know my neighbor, when a crazy pointed a gun at him at a convenience store, he pleaded with the man. “Brother, brother, I have kids. I have kids, which means I'm not done. I’m not finished. I have things here I must do first,” and thankfully, my neighbor was spared. Not everyone is spared. Not everyone gets to be finished. People leave things, sometimes, very important things undone, and that's why sometimes even from the other side, they're going to try to close that circle.
My name's Glynn Washington. If you have something you must do, something you must say, there is no time at the present. Spooked starts now.
Now, we’re heading to a small high school, not so far from Spooked Studios, Los Gatos, California. Kirsten Cortez, she's a new teacher. From her classroom window, she can see rolling golden hills, redwood trees. The sun is almost always shining, and yet, something larks. Spooked.
Kirsten Cortez: I had just got my first teaching job as an 11th grade English teacher, and I was really excited about it. The building was a two-story old fashioned building with rolling green lawns in the front. I was put in a room in the main building, which overlooked the front lawn. It was in a room upstairs that you could see from the street. I also was going to graduate school in the evenings, so I would stay late and work until after dark, and then, I would leave to go to my night class.
When I was working in my classroom in the evenings, sometimes, I would be overwhelmed with a feeling of melancholy and sadness. I started getting this sensation that somebody was watching me, the little hairs on the back of my neck would stand up, sort of a feeling of static and I would feel like I could see something out of the periphery of my vision, like a shadow, a smoky shadow. Then, whenever I looked, there would be nothing there, but I kept having this sense that someone was standing there hovering over me at my desk. It would give me this feeling of wanting to leave the room as fast as possible, but I would often convince myself that I must be delusional or I must be tired.
I was under a lot of stress as a new teacher and I definitely wasn't getting enough sleep. When I began to notice strange things happening in the classroom, I tended to discount what was going on. I would go into the classroom early in the morning and I started to notice things that were out of place. In particular, the chalk from the chalkboard tray, this is back when we had blackboards that covered the wall, the chalk would be removed and in a pile in the middle of the room. It sometimes looked like somebody had stepped on them and crushed them. The chalkboard erasers would be in different places than where I had left them, not in the chalkboard tray.
As a new teacher, kids play pranks on you and I just assumed that maybe I hadn't noticed the night before that kids had messed with my classroom. One morning, I walked in, and again, the chalk was on the floor in the middle of the room. There was a message written on the board. It was in the lower right corner. It was somewhat small, in a cryptic old fashioned handwriting, was the word "help" written in chalk. Even though I was sure I had erased it the night before, I convinced myself that maybe I hadn't noticed it the night before and maybe the kids had done it. It didn't look like a typical student's handwriting. It was cursive, like old fashioned cursive. I couldn't think of any student who had that kind of handwriting.
I had a rowdy seventh-period class. They were notorious for blurting out and asking questions and try to side rail whatever it was that I was talking about. They used to call me by my last name. One day, one of them said, "Dang, Sandoval, what were you doing here last night, like so late?" I said, "What are you talking about." The student said, "I was walking my dog by the school right out on Main Street, and I looked up and I saw that you were still in your classroom. What were you doing?"
I said, "Well, I was working," and then, the student said, "Well, if you're working, why were you standing at the window and staring out?" I said, "I don't remember standing at the window and looking out." They said that they couldn't see my face or my facial expressions. They tried to wave to me to get my attention but I was just standing there stuck still staring out the window. Again, I discounted it. I didn't think too much of it.
Then, one night, I had a night class, and I didn't have time to pick up dinner. My husband had offered to swing by the high school to drop off food. We picked a time for him to meet me down in this court that was right next to the corner of the front of the school. From that court, you could see the window of my classroom. I went downstairs, and I went up to the side of his car, on the driver's side. His back was turned to me because he was looking up at the building where my classroom was.
I knocked on the window, and when he turned around, looked at me he jumped and he looked so startled. He rolled down the window, and he said, "I could have sworn I just saw you in the window looking down, and I was wondering why you weren't coming down to meet me and why you were standing there staring at me in the window." We both look back up together, and there was nothing there.
At that point, I was getting scared to be in the classroom, that very oppressive feeling in the classroom started to grow heavier and heavier with time. I began to sense that somebody was in the room with me, and that must be the figure that other people have seen standing in the window. I was really nervous about asking around or reporting the feelings that I had because it was a new teacher. I wasn't sure if people would think I was crazy. I didn't want to destroy people's confidence in me.
I was working on a Friday night. It was mid-October. I realized that it was Friday the 13th. I was working very late, grading papers, and trying to get my work done. I noticed the scent of smoke like a campfire. At that moment, I started to hear whispers. It sounded like they were coming from the vents up above in the ceiling. I heard the whisper get louder, and it started to build up. Then, all of a sudden I heard, "Get out." I could feel my whole body just clam up with tension. I could feel my heart thudding. I felt a combination of both dread and absolute terror, the feeling of urgency that I needed to just drop everything that I was doing and get out of that room, nothing was as important as getting out of that room.
I left without taking the papers home with me. They were scattered and spread out on my desk, and I wasn't about to take the time to gather them up and get them organized. I just left the room. I decided, at that point, I wasn't going to stay and work in my classroom late anymore, and I wasn't going to get there early. I was just going to figure out ways to get my work done, go home in between or go to a coffee shop.
There was an older teacher who had been there for decades. She had been there so long that she had taught some of the teachers that I was teaching with. I asked her, has there ever been a fire in the school? I didn't have the courage to tell her why I was asking. I just told her it smelled like something burning in my room. She said, "Well, there was a fire that devastated the entire town way back when. It was so big that it burned pretty much everything on Main Street where the high school is located.
When I looked up the fire that the senior teacher had told me about, I learned that the fire had occurred on October 13th. This building wasn't even here when it happened. Even though the fire had never touched the walls of this building, I started to wonder if maybe there was something, some residue, some kind of tragedy, or something that was leftover from that time.
The school year went by. In the spring, we had our annual Sadie Hawkins dance, the dances where the girls asked the boys to the dance. I, of course, was assigned to chaperone, and it involved me staying late until after the dance shut down at midnight. I realized after I finish chaperoning the dance that I needed to go back to my room to grab my things. Most of the teachers, as soon as the administrators release us from our chaperone duties, everybody makes them self scarce and they take off as fast as they can, so I couldn't find anybody to go back up there with me.
When I went back into the building, it was dark. The only light was the green and red exit signs near each of the main double doors. It felt as if once I entered that building, I was cut off from the rest of the world and cut off from other human contact. I was scared. I was really nervous. If I didn't have to get my purse, I would not go back up into that building or into my room.
I opened up my classroom door, it was dark in the room, and the only light that was coming in was from the front windows, which faced the street. I looked to the right of the door and in front of the blackboard, there was a woman. She was standing with her face almost touching the blackboard and all I could see was her back. Her hair was pulled up in an old-fashioned kind of hairdo. She had a high collar, dark dress. It was like a charcoal gray color, and it looked like an old period dress. I could not see her shoes because the bottom half was faded out, almost as if her feet had disappeared.
At that moment, when I saw her, I felt a shot of cold going through the core of me. I knew it was whoever I had felt in that room. I was trying to talk myself into believing that it was somebody who had gotten into the room and not what I thought it was. Very tentatively, I said, "Excuse me. You're not supposed to be in my room. You need to leave now." There was this weird awkward pause.
The woman didn't move at first, and then, all of a sudden, she started to turn her head. I saw the side of her face look like her face was burnt. She looked at me out of the corner of her eyes. When they locked with mine, it was a strange and overwhelming feeling of recognition as if I knew her and she knew me. I was just filled with that sense of dread, mixed with terror, mixed with sorrow. It was a horrible feeling. I just turned and I left as fast as I could. I started calling to see if anybody was in the building. "Is anybody here? Is anybody still here? Help me. Help." I needed to be with another human being, and I did not want to be alone.
I found the janitor locking up the theater in the main building downstairs. I said, "I think there's somebody in my room. Can you come with me?" When we went back in the room, there was nothing there. I was shaking all over. I grabbed my purse, my keys, and whatever papers I was going to grade over the weekend, and I bolted from the room. I had trouble getting my work done that weekend. I had trouble sleeping. I couldn't stop thinking about that vision and that face, the side of her face, the way she looked at me out of the corner of her eye. I really tried hard not to go or stay in my classroom after the bell rang. I didn't go there in the early morning anymore. I just avoided being in the room as much as possible.
Years went by and I never told that story to anybody until 12 or 13 years later. A lot of things had happened between those years. I wasn't a new teacher anymore. I had babies, I had gone through life, and it was just a much better happier time. I felt safe enough and confident enough to start researching. I went to the library, and I went through all the historical photo files of Los Gatos and read some of the stories about the fire that destroyed all of the buildings that were on Main Street.
I looked at lots and lots of old photos. I searched and searched for a face that might have matched the one that I saw. I became obsessed for a while. I found this old photo of a teacher at an old desk with a blackboard behind her, and to the left of the desk was a window that looked very much like the windows of my classroom. I felt like that picture wanted me to find it. The woman looked just like the woman that I saw. I think that woman who I saw was an old schoolmarm, old in the sense that she had been a school teacher maybe a century prior. I feel like she might have died in that location by fire.
When I think of a schoolmarm, I think of a woman whose life entire life is devoted to teaching children. Maybe she had spent too long, working too long, late at night at school, and maybe that's why, if there had been a fire in that location and took her life, maybe it was because she was there when she wasn't teaching. Maybe she had spent extra hours there and had subjected herself to something that could have been avoided if she had been working only the hours that she should be working.
During my first year of teaching, I was easily working 16-hour days. I didn't have any free time. I didn't even see my new husband very much. I felt very alone. Maybe whatever was there was commiserating with me. It was less of scaring me out, more of protecting me. I thought maybe there was a warning in there that I shouldn't be working that much or that late in the building, that maybe that's why she had decided to show herself to me. I think that later on in life, maybe one of the reasons why I didn't get the same feeling in that room was because I had learned more of a work-life balance.
I used to have students always ask me for stories about the school. Eventually, I decided to tell that story of the presence in the room that I had come face to face with. By about the third year of telling the story, I started thinking about the woman and how she looked, and what was odd is that she looked like me a little bit. She was about the same size, very similar stature. Her coloring was very similar. She had dark hair, dark eyes.
I started thinking it would be fun to dress up as her and show my students what she looked like. I went down to Haight-Ashbury District in San Francisco and went to my favorite vintage clothing store, where they have clothes from every single era. I described to the owner what I was looking for, and of course, I didn't want to tell her this was the dress that I thought I saw on a ghost, but I described exactly what it was. She pulled out a dress out of the back that looked exactly like the one that I had seen on the woman in my classroom. I went and looked at some hair tutorials and did my hair exactly like that era.
I remember when my students walked in the door, my back was facing them when they came in the room, they freaked out because they said it looks so realistic. I wore it around all day, and then, I started to get creeped out about wearing it because it smells 100 years old. It smells like history. I think I might've worn it twice, two different years in a row. I have not worn it for a few years, but I will keep it forever. When I retire from teaching, I should probably leave the dress in the room.
Glynn: Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your story with Spooked. You should know that Kristen is a Spooked listener. She reached out to tell us her story, and we want you to do the same thing. If you have a true terrifying tale, be sure to drop us a line it firstname.lastname@example.org. The original score for that story was by Richard Haig, was produced by Zoë Ferrigno.
Oh, I hear you. I know this episode might be finished here, but we are nowhere near the darkness. Be afraid, beware, but be careful. Experience season 5 of Spooked only a luminarypodcast.com. If you have a story, a personal tale that you need to finally share with someone that truly understands, let us know. Send us your stories at email@example.com. There is nothing better than a spooked story from a Spooked listener. If you like our storytelling, in the bright light of day, subscribe to the Snap Judgment Podcast because it might just change your life.
Spooked was brought to you by the team that never skipped a day of school, except of course for Mark Ristich. Most teachers didn't know he even attended. There's Anna Sussman. Our chief Spookster is Eliza Smith, Chris Hambrick, Annie Nguyen, Lauryn Newson, Leon Morimoto, Renzo Gorrio, Teo Ducot, Marisa Dodge, Alyia Yates, Zoë Ferrigno, Greta Weber, Jacob Winik, Sanaa Khan, [unintelligible 00:25:41] and Anne Ford, Fernando Hernandez, and Flo Wiley. The Spooked theme song is by Pat Mesiti-Miller.
My name is Glynn Washington, and I tell the kids, "Obey your principal. Listen to the superintendent, things will go easier for you. Mind your teacher, do what they ask unless they ask the impossible. Let them know right off the bat, they can scream and holler all they want but you will never ever, never ever, never ever turn out the lights. This episode of Spooked will summon the dark of night by Luminary.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.