By best-selling paranormal author Joni Mayhan
(Except from her upcoming paranormal thriller Ghost Magnet)
The Shrewsbury store was located in a run-down shopping plaza near the edge of the Worcester, Massachusetts’ border. It attracted a wide range of shoppers. Not only did we get the needy customers, who insisted on employing me as their personal shopper while they painstakingly perused the store, but we also got the shoplifters from the bad parts of town. Trying to maintain some sort of balance between the two could have been a full time job in itself.
Shortly after I took over the store as the manager, the employees began telling me about Fred. Apparently, they felt the building was haunted.
“How do you know his name is Fred?” I asked.
One of my team leads stepped forward. She was a pretty young blonde with an open smile. She had been with the company for many years and knew the ins and outs of the store better than anyone.
“Follow me and I’ll show you,” she said.
I followed Carrie to the back of the store, praying for a pause between shoppers to satisfy my curiosity.
The store was long and narrow, reminiscent of a bowling alley. It had low drop ceilings that were adorned with brown water stains and old rusty shelving that had been repainted red so many times, the paint had bubbled.
She brought me to an employee bathroom that was painted dark green. It made the already small room feel like an algae coated closet.
Someone had tacked up glittery stickers along all the walls, depicting cartoonish sea life. It took me a moment to realize they were hoping to make the bathroom feel like the inside of an aquarium. With their unfortunate color choice, it felt more like being trapped inside of a decaying septic tank instead.
“Right after we painted it, this appeared,” she said, pointing to a jagged line of words.
Fred was here.
I stared at it, trying to understand what she was telling me. It was obvious that someone had scratched the words into the paint. How was that paranormal?
“Didn’t someone just scratch that into the wall?” I asked, stating the obvious.
She smiled. “That’s what we thought when we first saw it, but we painted over it again and it reappeared each time.”
I must have given her an incredulous look. I’ve been told that my emotions play out clearly on my face, no matter how hard I try to hide them. This time was no different.
“Well, that’s what we think anyway. I guess it could have just leaked through the new paint,” she said, attempting to discard her earlier enthusiasm.
I felt as though I’d just taken a lollipop away from a starving child. Her expression went from elated to dissapointed two seconds. Besides my inability to hide my emotions, I also have a tendency to speak my mind without thinking about the consequences. This is something I still continue to work on.
At that moment, someone paged me to the cash register, so I didn’t have time to pursue the conversation any further. I wouldn’t have to wait long for another examplethough. Several days later, something else happened.
We often worked overnight shifts. With a store as busy as ours, it was impossible to get all our tasks done when the store was filled with shoppers.
Armed with extra-large coffees, we started at ten o’clock in the evening as the last of the shoppers exited through the automatic double doors. Twenty pallets full of product had arrived earlier in the day and we were eager to get it onto the shelves.
My head receiver pulled the pallets out onto the floor near the area where the product was located and a group of people would begin tearing it apart, placing the items on the corresponding shelves.
After several hours of this, we stopped to take a well-needed break. I took a sip of my now cool coffee and plopped down on the edge of a pallet full of wild bird seed, praying I didn’t split the bag open in the process.
Without warning, a thumping noise went across the store intercom.
It sounded exactly like a heartbeat.
Everyone in the group paused, looking up at the ceiling as though expecting to see some mammoth beast lurking there.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
Carrie laughed, amusement lighting up her face. “That was Fred.”
“No way,” I said, jumping off the bird seed pallet. I made my way into my office to inspect the intercom system. During the day, it was hooked up to an MP3 system that broadcasted music and promotional blurbs throughout the store. At night, it was thankfully disconnected, giving us a break from the canned music none of us had ever heard of before.
Typical of that type of system, the music was muted when someone used the intercom to page a message. “Manager to the register” was the most frequent phrase used.
Nothing was amiss. Everything was working like it normally did. By the time I returned to the sales floor, the sounds of a beating heart had stopped.
“Do you hear that often?” I asked, feeling the first sensation of trepidation.
“Just during overnights usually,” one of the employees told me.
The logical side of me dismissed it as faulty equipment. The store was old, which meant that the electrical components were also aging, but a heartbeat? That was a little surreal to me. It was difficult to explain.
I quickly forgot about it until the next event transpired.
One day, I was merchandising some new product into the current plan-o-gram, while internally cursing at the person who designed the product layout. Instead of making sure the items would all fit on the same shelf, the corporate merchandiser had simply shrunk the image on the page. It meant that I’d have to rework the entire design to fit everything in the already tight spot.
As I knelt in front of the shelving unit, the automatic front doors opened. I glanced up, thinking that a customer had walked through. It was our customary policy to greet them as they came into the store and offer assistance. When I looked up, nobody was there.
Even though I had been sitting there for over fifteen minutes, I wondered if I had somehow triggered the invisible eye that detected movement. I waved my hands over my head, but the door fell closed again and remained that way.
“That’s weird,” I mumbled to myself and then returned to my project. A few minutes later, it happened again.
An employee walked past and took notice of the situation. She smiled at me.
“That must be Fred,” she said breezily.
Since coming to the store, the employees were hell-bent on convincing me that the store was haunted. Even though I had lived through a haunting of my own, I had a difficult time accepting their theory at face value.
People often get spooked and will lump together several experiences, hoping to make a noteworthy story out of them. I wasn’t necessarily buying it, although I was getting closer.
The following day, I came back to my display and began tweaking it to make it look better and the door didn’t budge. I stared at it, almost willing it to move, but it refused.
Several days later, as I was covering the register for a cashier who was on break, it began happening again. This time, I was far enough away from the doors to know that I wasn’t causing it to open. It was almost as though it was doing it on purpose to capture my attention. I put a call into the company who serviced the doors for us.
The man came out the following day and tore apart the mechanism. He worked for nearly an hour before he put it all back together again.
“Nothing is wrong with it,” he told me matter-of-factly.
“What do you mean? It sometimes opens on its own. Something must be wrong,” I told him.
He shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you. Nothing is wrong with it.”
If I wasn’t convinced that the building was haunted, the next event would make me a believer.
Carrie and I often got to the store several hours before it opened. While she cleaned the small animal compartments, I finished up paperwork and did small projects that I couldn’t do when the store was opened.
I was in the middle of tearing apart a display, when Carrie approached me, her face blanched of color.
“Oh my God! You won’t believe what just happened to me,” she said.
I started to ask her to elaborate, but she motioned with fluttering hands for me to follow her. “I have to show you,” she said.
She led me back to the rear of the store and pointed at the double doors.
The doors were solid with small windows at the tops that led to the receiving area where we kept the excess product that wouldn’t fit on the shelves. When I tried to push them open, they refused to budge.
“You know my routine. I go back into the back and get the portable vacuum in the mornings and then push it through these doors to get to the front of the store. After I was finished with them, I went to put it back and the doors wouldn’t open,” she said and then pried the door open with her fingers to show me what was on the other side.
Two heavy boxes were in front of the doors, preventing them from being pushed opening. This was strange to me because we didn’t keep boxes of product near the door. They were either lined up on a shelf on the other side of the room or they were left on the pallet until we could put them away.
As I inspected the shelf where the boxes are kept, my heart nearly froze. There were two open spaces that were identical in size to the boxes she found in front of the doors. It looked as though someone had picked up the boxes and carried them to the doors. I didn’t know what to say.
The following weeks found me anxious about going into the back storage room by myself. If I could have avoided it altogether, I probably would have, but some of the supplies I needed were kept there.
It wasn’t long before I began hearing the same static sound that I’ve always associated with ghosts. I stopped dead in my tracks the first time I heard it, my heart hammering inside my chest.
Was there really a ghost here?
I would flip the lights on in the morning and practically race to the back of the store. The backroom was dimly lit. No amount of lighting could have eased my fears though. If this was a ghost, he was nothing like the man at my rock wall. This was more like the creepy guy who haunted my former house. I got cold chills just thinking about it.
“I’m just going to go back and get a few peg hooks and then I’ll be gone,” I would say aloud, hoping none of my employees would hear me. Then I’d race to the far back corner of the room where the shadows were the darkest and grab what I needed before bolting out of the room.
It felt weird talking to thin air, but I hoped that by explaining my intentions, he would leave me alone.
On one of these occasions, I nearly barreled over Carrie as she came through the double doors. She laughed at the expression on my face.
“Now do you believe me?” she asked.
I did, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I didn’t want to admit it for fear that the employees would be too frightened to come to work. Finding good associates was difficult enough. Losing them over a haunting would have been devastating.
Several months later, the final piece of the puzzle dropped neatly into place.
I came into the store two hours prior to opening time, my mind filled with thoughts of our upcoming inventory. Once a year we were required to count every piece of product in the store, to ensure our inventory counts were accurate. It was a time-consuming process that I dreaded every year. Not only would it eat up all my work time, it would also force me to work longer hours.
That morning, I wanted to go through some of the back-stock in the back room and put away everything that could fit on the shelves. As I was walking down the long aisle towards the rear of the store, I saw a man standing at the end of one of the aisles, inspecting one of my displays.
He was dressed as though he belonged in the 1940’s with a long trench coat and a newsboy cap. He was close to my height, judging by the shelves he was standing in front of, which was fairly short for a man. The fact that he was in the store at all was astounding. Even more surprising was his coloring. He was made entirely of shades of grey.
From his jacket to his shoes, he was grey and white, looking exactly like an old newspaper photo. I only saw him for two or three seconds before I walked past an aisle display. By the time I got around it, the man was gone.
I knew for a fact that the front doors were locked. The only people in the store were me and Carrie.
“Carrie!” I called out, while racing to the spot where I saw the man. While I was pretty sure he wasn’t a physical person, judging by the grey tones, I couldn’t simply dismiss it as paranormal without searching the store first. If someone had somehow snuck into the store, I needed to know about it.
Carrie came running and we searched the store together, not finding any trace of the man. Both the front and back doors were securely locked, as well.
Once we finished, we retreated outside for a cigarette. After I took my first deep drag, my hands were still shaking.
“I guess I finally met Fred,” I told her.
“I guess you did,” she said with a sense of accomplishment.
I did a bit of research on the property and learned that it had been a gas station in the 1940’s and 50’s. Later, after the gas pumps were removed and the building was demolished, it became a graveyard for old semi-truck trailers. I was told that homeless people would camp out in them until the police chased them away again. The man I saw pretty much fit the description of what I thought a man from the forties would look like. Was he a former gas station owner who was still hanging around his property?
The questions piled up on top of one another with no logical explanation. I had been under the assumption that someone had to die at the location before it could become haunted, but after researching the topic I learned this wasn’t true. Ghosts sometimes hung out at places where they spent a lot of time while they were alive. If the man worked at the gas station, or even owned it, it stood to reason that he might hang around there after death.
It made me wonder what he was doing. It was obvious that he wasn’t seeing a vision from the past by the way he was inspecting the flea and tick endcap so carefully. Was he trying to make sense of the new-fangled products? I didn’t know, but I was insanely curious about him and wanted to learn more.
Years later, while I was at a national meeting, I met a man who had once managed my store. He had since been promoted to a district manager position in Arizona, which gave him a sense of clout. I knew he would be hesitant to talk about ghosts given his job title, but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without at least trying. I asked him about Fred as soon as I tracked him down.
He gave me a steady look, his expression border-lining between intrigue and apprehension.
“I saw him one morning. I need to know what you saw,” I told him. The expression on my face must have been the deciding factor because he pulled me aside to a place where no one else could hear us talk.
He then told me about the heart beat on the intercom and about the front doors that sometimes opened on their own. Then he told me a story I hadn’t heard before.
“One night as we were locking up, we stood at the front of the store near the doors and saw a man race across the store and disappear into the fish department. We searched the store from top to bottom and never found anyone,” he told me. That was confirmation enough.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, not only was I living in a haunted house, I was also managing a haunted store.
Joni Mayhan is a paranormal investigator and is the author of 15 paranormal books. Ghost Magnet is available on Amazon.com. To check out Joni’s new books, click on the photo below.