October 31, 2011


About ten years ago - a couple years after Beth and I got married and not long before I started the site - I ended up in the hospital. Beth and I were shacked up together and I woke in the night having problems breathing. For a few minutes I panicked in silence, trying to will myself to take a deep breath but the harder you try, the less success you have. Eventually I woke Beth up. I'd had a cold and a fever but this was hospital time.

We lived about five minutes away from the closest hospital. Beth drove. We arrived at a vacant emergency room. I was taken right back through the double doors, Beth beside me. A rapid succession of nurse techs, nurses, and doctors visited. I was given breathing treatments and oxygen and something to dull the pain from the overworked muscles in my chest. The verdict was pneumonia. I was, according to everyone, likely going to be okay with the proper treatment but I was admitted for the night to be sure.

I was in room 124 - why I still remember the number is a complete mystery to me - a corner room with two views of a grimy parking lot and the main road beyond it. It was a double room but there was no patient beside me. We had cats but no kids so Beth decided to spend the night with the full understanding that the cats would be peeing on something by 8:00 in the morning if no one showed up bearing cat food and a can opener.

Around 4:00 in the morning - elapsed time about three hours from walking into the ER to getting settled - there was a knock on the door. I expected another nurse with orders to provide me with some pills or take my blood pressure or temperature. But it wasn't. It was some old guy pulling an IV bag on wheels beside him. He was dressed in a standard issue hospital gown and pink socks. He came over to the side of the room my bed was on and sat down in the chair, one of those fake leather recliner-looking things that hospitals think look classy.

"I think you've got the wrong room, sir," I said.

"No, I just came over from the room next door. Couldn't sleep. Saw them wheel you in a while ago. Don't much want to be here myself. Thought we should talk," he replied. I caught his face in the light. He was older with a wrinkle-lined face but he wasn't old. He looked like Hal Holbrook, the actor.

"I'm happy for the company," I said. "Just don't wake up my wife over there. She's worried about me."

"She shouldn't be. There's nothing wrong with you a week or two of drugs can't fix. They'll kick you out tomorrow and you won't see this place again for a while."

"You sound so sure," I said.

We talked for a while. He'd been in Vietnam, the army. I mentally crosschecked a timeline with his face and it all seemed to work out fine. He had a son who hadn't come to visit him and a daughter who had. He never told me what he was in for and I didn't feel like asking for fear of being handed an answer that would make the conversation awkward. After an hour of quiet talking, he got up.

"Have a good night," I said.

"Yeah, you too. If I don't see you tomorrow before they spring you, goodbye. I'll see you in a few years. You'll be back to have a kid. It'll be a girl. Act surprised." And then he disappeared.

A few minutes later Beth woke up.

"Did we wake you, talking?"

"We? Someone else was here? I didn't hear a thing." I told her about the conversation with our next door neighbor. We both fell asleep inside five minutes.

The next morning, I felt better and I was indeed allowed to go home with a bottle of pills and promises to relax. "Just like our next door neighbor said," I said to Beth.

"Next door neighbor?" asked the nurse. "You don't have a next door neighbor. We've got five empty rooms on one side of you and four women on the other."

I explained the events of the previous evening. And she'd never seen anyone like the man I described. Instead, she handed me discharge papers to sign and a pamphlet of instructions for me to take home.

I never forgot the story. I wasn't able to make my mind up if it had been a dream or an effect of medication or just plain exhaustion. But I never forgot it.

As predicted, three years later Beth and I found ourselves in the same hospital. To my amazement we had a beautiful little girl. Mia. In the rush of activity and mental fatigue, I'd almost forgotten the events of three years before. I forgot to be amazed that the prediction had come true. We were loaded up with discharge papers, a packed baby bag and, most importantly, a baby. It was only when we got home that I saw, scrawled on the bottom of Beth's discharge instructions a barely legible note that said, "see, I was right...

...and Happy Halloween!"

Posted by Chris at October 31, 2011 7:16 AM

As soon as I read the old man coming in, I was hoping to myself "Oooh, this better be a spooky old ghost man - if he's real I'm going to be disappointed". You didn't let me down, sir.

Posted by: Henry Elliss at October 31, 2011 8:10 AM

I love your Halloween stories! I'm just sad that I've been reading long enough to expect them :)

Posted by: Elizabeth at October 31, 2011 8:16 AM

Love it!!!

Posted by: Maribeth at October 31, 2011 9:20 AM

Good story!

Posted by: Heather at October 31, 2011 9:27 AM

Somehow I forget that you do this every year! Nicely done, although I did get tipped off somewhere around "Hal Holbrook."

Posted by: Fraulein N at October 31, 2011 9:47 AM

Happy Halloween to all!! Great story, as usual.

Posted by: ann adams at October 31, 2011 10:17 AM

I was half-way through before I remembered that you do this to me every Halloween. Nice one!

And Happy Halloween!

Posted by: Carmen at October 31, 2011 12:14 PM

I love your ghost stories. Happy Halloween!
My daughter had our first grandchild one week ago, she named him Owen. I was pleased to immediately think of you and your Owen when they told us his name.

Posted by: LeeAnn at October 31, 2011 12:30 PM

I LOVE IT! Happy Halloween, Cactus/Fish Family!

Posted by: Mindy at October 31, 2011 12:49 PM

Damn you. ;-)

Posted by: Kami at October 31, 2011 2:30 PM

You got me! I have read forever and always forget about your Halloween stories until I "keep going". Love the story though!

Have fun with the kids tonight.

Posted by: Krush at October 31, 2011 3:01 PM

LOL! You got me. I should've known, considering the day. It was a cool story, though! :P

Posted by: Manda at October 31, 2011 3:35 PM

You had me wondering UNTIL you said there were five empty hospital beds. As if :P

Posted by: Heather at October 31, 2011 3:41 PM

I love these stories every year!

Posted by: Heather at October 31, 2011 4:09 PM

i love your halloween stories...this year was good!!

Posted by: becky at October 31, 2011 8:44 PM

Damn, you had me! However, I am very easily taken in, but kudos mr. cactus! Good Job!

Posted by: karen at October 31, 2011 10:59 PM

When I get old(er) and my memory fades ( more ), I will remember this story without the happy Halloween part. That's because it is a beautiful story regardless. Nicely done, and man, why you don't write a book or something is beyond me. You clearly got stories to tell.

Posted by: metawizard2 at November 2, 2011 9:15 PM