~ Eric Witchey
I was the last ghost hunter in the haunted asylum. My three-person crew, Garret, Lindon, and Svetlana, had all bolted by one a.m.
We had just put several dozen organic eggs, a monster tub of real butter, and a few gallons of whole milk in the abandoned asylum kitchen. Any real ghostly presence would spoil the eggs, curdle the milk, and make the butter go rancid. I didn’t like the low-tech ghost detectors, but enough self-appointed expert viewers had left us follower comments that high-tech tools fritzed when real ghosts made an appearance. We added backup to make them happy.
Garret checked the eggs and sniffed the dairy. Into his lapel mic, he said, “1:00:00 a.m. The eggs and dairy are fine.”
As if his words were an incantation, the disconnected industrial dispose-all started up on its own.
I got a five second, wide-eyed night-vision selfie from his head-mounted GoPro before my equipment man turned to me and said, “Screw this shit. I didn’t sign up for real ghosts.”
He bolted. His custom Electromagnetic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) detector and hand-held infrared camera hit the slick tile floor. To my amazement, neither one shattered. Unfortunately, his night-vision headset went with him.
The equipment in my van caught his footage, but I never saw him or the headset again.
Lindon, my roving cameraman, abandoned us second.
He had just arrived to see what was up with Garret when the double doors to the walk-in pantry opened like jaws. Rusted can, rotted label, and spoiled bean stink poured out on a column of cold air just before an ectoplasmic hand grabbed his loose shirt and pulled him toward the pantry maw.
Static from the EVP on the floor died, and a man’s clear, midwestern-accented words sounded out. “Turn on the lights! Turn them on!”
Lindon spun faster than an Olympic diver to break the gooey grip then sprinted even faster than Garret, leaving nothing behind except the echo of his girly scream.
Svetlana, my medium, was made of strong Romani stuff. After watching the tail end of Lindon’s encounter and hearing the EVP, she cursed the ghost and me in Russian then took a flask from a hip holster she had worn since I first met her. We had all joked about her belt having more pockets and better stuff than Batman’s utility belt.
I thought, Good. holy water. She came prepared.
She had come prepared, and I suppose she might have thought she had brought holy water.
“Vodka,” she said. She popped the cap and slammed back a deep swallow like the Ruska Roma she was. She then handed it to me. “Is good. Is for nerves.”
After what I experienced in my hour in the Willamette Hills Out-Patient Retreat and Asylum, you bet I hit that flask. For nerves, you know?
I was in the reality YouTuber and general streaming game as a way of sharing my quest to find real ghosts and crowd-sourcing research, but I was the only true believer in my crew. The two guys joined me because hey, reality TV, TikTok Followers, Instagram, and YouTube. For them, identity relevance meant being seen doing things other people hoped were real.
Svetlana hadn’t joined us to build a community of channel monkeys feeding on content. In her interview, she said, “I come here because Prababushka . . . How you say?”
“Ah. No. Great Grandmother says to me, ‘Go there with that boy.’”
I figured she was either adlibbing script to impress her maybe new boss or coming on to me. I’d had influencer groupies before, and she was kind of hot in an “I’ll kick your ass if you piss me off tattooed Russian ninja chick sort of way.”
I liked her and her story. I liked her because, well… Because I liked her. I liked her story because the Great Grandmother who told her to interview for the job had been dead for five decades. Combining her hot vibe and the story, I didn’t care what her real reasons were.
Even so, when the ancient tank of an industrial cake mixer started up on its own, she calmly handed me her vodka and said, “You nice boy. Not so smart American, but nice. I hope you live.” Then, she turned and calmly walked out of the building without another word.
Which put me in the middle of a 1 a.m. dark asylum kitchen listening to rustling in the pantry, a spinning industrial cake mixer, a grinding dispose-all, and, unexpectedly, a never before absolutely clear-voiced EVP monitor.
“Turn on the fucking lights!” the EVP screamed. “Turn on the God-damned LIGHTS!”
Precedents that tell you what to do when encountering real ghosts don’t exist. I mean, most of the shit you hear about or see on social media is just made up. Ninety percent is scripted to gain followers.
In the olden days before social media, there was that Hans Holzer guy and his friends. In the 1950s and 60s, they did their best to investigate and document. Back in Hans’s day, ghost hunters had to be dead serious because they were going to have to live with ridicule and ignominy. Today, all the online and channel-show ghost hunters pretend to use his discovery and documentation methods modified with a few tech updates. A bored population craves the adrenaline boost of a scream in the dark. Visuals and suspense for media feeds are more important than meeting actual ghosts.
Don’t get me wrong. No way I was above a boost in “Like, Subscribe, and Click on the Bell.” I had my silver YouTube plaque, and my Insta had 100k followers, and I figured my crew bolting one-by-one would send my Night in the Asylum video viral. From the garnering sponsors perspective, the shoot was already done, but there was no way I could leave without learning more. Like I said, I got into it for real ghosts.
By phone flashlight, I found the light switches next to the swinging metal double doors from the kitchen to the asylum’s cafeteria. I tossed the switches—all six of them. The place had been abandoned for over a decade, and Garret and Lindon had assured me the whole facility was completely disconnected from the grid. I didn’t expect lights, but I did hope for a response from the ghost/poltergeist/whatever the hell was living out its afterlife in the kitchen and giving such a clear EVP signal.
The lights came on.
Like, there’s no power in the building, but the lights came on.
Like, all the lights.
The kitchen lights, the pantry lights, the cafeteria lights, the patient room corridor access lights, and probably all the office and dormitory and rec room lights, too, though I couldn’t see them from the kitchen.
In an EVP digital voice I swear sounded profoundly relieved, the box said, “Oh, thank fucking god.”
Corny, and a little late, I know, but I was scared, so I fell back on my lame scripted patter. “If there is any presence in this place, any spirit with unfinished business, please make yourself known to—”
The mixer stopped. The dispose-all stopped. The noise in the pantry stopped.
My ears strained for anything reassuring in the silence.
The EVP spoke. “Thanks!”
That made me jump and think it would be a really good time to return Svetlana’s flask.
Before I followed my crew, the thing went on. “I’ve been trying to get someone to turn on those lights for twelve years. Twelve years! I thought I’d go insane. Every damned night, living in terror.”
Hand on the flask and eye on the doors, I said, “Uh, okay.” My script was scrap. Bravely adlibbing, I asked, “Why?”
The EVP, still on the floor, had a QLED touchscreen. It flashed as the apparition spoke. “You know this is an asylum, right?”
“And you came her to find ghosts because you figured there would be disturbed spirits?”
“Yeah . . . ?”
“Maybe some real nut jobs? Serial killers? Sociopaths? Psychopaths?”
“Maybe. I suppose.”
“Idiots. They all come here for that, but it isn’t that kind of asylum.”
The giant mixer snapped on again, spun the massive twisting, off-center mixing blades through one revolution, and stopped.
A little stunned, I mean I was talking to some kind of disembodied spirit, I asked, “What kind of asylum is it?”
“For rich folks. Phobias, mostly. A few low-intensity personality disorders.”
Grasping for some sense of who I was talking to, I asked, “Were you a doctor?”
“You were the cook?”
“Didn’t I just say that? Look around, ghost hunter. You’re standing in a kitchen. Did you come here because the volleyball court was haunted? The tennis court? The patient rooms?”
“You had a volleyball court here?”
“No.” Static squawked from the EVP. “Catch up, man. I made that up to make a point.”
I felt silly. The ghost was right. We had packed up the van and driven four hours from Vancouver WA to the middle of nowhere coastal foothills Oregon forest to check out the haunted kitchen stories about the Willamette Hills Out-Patient Retreat and Asylum. “Yeah,” I said. “We came to check out the stories about the kitchen.”
“It’s not rocket science. Kitchen ghost. Cook.”
“And the thing with the lights?
“Nyctophobia. Perk of the job. Free therapy. I’m afraid of the dark.”
God, I hoped the Wi-Fi tethered recorders in the truck were storing all this. My mic was on. So was my head strapped GoPro. The EVP had been online when Garret bolted, but you never knew if what you believed you were hearing was the same as what the equipment picked up. “Did you die here?”
“Well, duh. Are you a ghost hunter?”
Trying to calm the spirit and get past his snark, I asked, “How?”
“Hobart.” The mixer clicked and spun up to a pretty good whining, twisting mix pace.
“Was Hobart a patient?”
The mixer stopped. “Hobart is the company that built the mixer.”
I checked out the massive machine bolted to the floor. The metal bowl had wheels and was big enough for me and Svetlana to hide in. The metal paddles that mixed whatever went in that bowl looked like two multi-tined forks the size of tennis rackets spinning and twisting in and out of one another’s orbits. “How the hell did that thing kill you?”
“It was installed in the 60s. No safety features.”
“You would have had to climb in the bowl. Why would you do that?”
“It was the week we were closing. I still needed therapy, and I was pretty bummed about losing my free appointments.”
The reason the ghost was stuck on the mortal plane seemed to be coming into focus. “You suicided.”
My plan to calm the spirit wasn’t going well. “I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry.”
“I’m interested. I want to know what happened.”
“You’d be the first.”
“I turned on the lights.”
The EVP went silent for three of my exploding heartbeats before the cook said, “Baking a goodbye cake for all the staff and patients meant using the big mixer, but I wasn’t happy about it.”
“An afraid of the dark cook who died baking a cake—that’s your story?”
“You wanted a ghost. You found one. Now, you want what? Napoleon? Hitler? Maybe Marie Curie glowing in the dark and cackling?” The mixer stopped. “Selfish much?”
“I’m sorry.” And I was. I mean, talking to that ghost was everything I’d hoped for, and everything I said seemed to upset it.
The ghost seemed to sense my sincerity. “Technically,” it said, “I died mixing the batter. Gordo Tenston, who called himself The Prankster Orderly, stuck a hand in from the cafeteria and flipped the lights off. He thought that kind of thing was funny, and they couldn’t exactly fire him in the last week of operations. The asshole had Borderline Personality Disorder and loved triggering phobias because he had decided they were all faked.”
“So the sudden dark scared you to death?”
“I told you. Hobart. Mixer. I was startled. I jumped enough that my hand got caught between the mixer blades. By the time anybody showed up, I was pulled into the batter and beaten into red dye number 2.”
That was a little more graphic than I wanted. YouTube might demonetize me if I didn’t cut that part, but the cook who died making a goodbye cake was brilliant quirky stuff. Nobody had done anything like it, and I had a real ghost talking to me. Finally. In that moment, I wished Svetlana were still with me. She’d have at least pretended to understand my excitement.
“Fear of the dark, then,” I said, “and a goodbye cake.”
“Look,” the ghost said, “Do you mind if I work while we talk?”
The pantry started to rattle. The doors opened again, and ingredients started to file out of the closet in a silent Sorcerer’s Apprentice sort of floating dance.
I was thinking, I’m so totally going to be rolling in sponsors.
The giant Hobart mixer spun up. A spray hose from the sink stretched out and poured water into the giant metal mixing bowl.
“A cake?” I asked.
“Unfinished business,” the cook said. “Twelve years of night terror gives a ghost a craving for a calming ritual. Baking is sort of my thing.”
“Why didn’t you—”
“Bake in the light? Not how it works. I can’t haunt in the daytime, and I’m too scared to bake in the dark. Hell, I can’t even move.”
“But you rattled the cupboards and touched people and stuff.”
“I hid in the pantry, shook in my ectoplasmic skin, and tried to get people to help me.”
I supposed that made some sense. “And nobody would turn on the lights?”
“You saw what happened when I tried to get your friends’ attention.”
I watched the ingredients, including all the eggs, milk, and butter we had brought, mixing for a while then kicked myself for not thinking of setting up more coverage.
While the ghost mixed and baked, I went to the van and brought in extra cameras to catch all the footage I could.
Several bowls of different colored icing made themselves while the batter in huge cake pans baked. About three a.m., the layers of a massive cake came out of the oven, floated across the kitchen to a counter, and stacked themselves. A spreading spatula rose from a drawer, dipped into icing bowls, and spread sweet goo over the layers.
“The asylum is empty,” I said. “Who’s going to eat all this?”
“You,” the cook said, “for one. Others will show up. Bake a cake, people show up to eat it. Of course, I’ve never gotten this far before, so maybe not.”
I checked my cameras and recorders.
“As thanks for the eggs and dairy, here’s some advice,” the ghost said, “Set up a couple cameras in the cafeteria.”
I did. If you’re a ghost hunter, you don’t argue when a ghost gives you ghost hunting advice.
The finished cake, a gorgeous thing decorated with marbled swirls of brilliant colors and a single sparkling red calligraphy word, “Goodbye,” rose from the counter and floated to the cafeteria doors.
Instinctively, I pushed the doors open.
“Thanks,” the cook said.
The cake passed through and settled itself on a table. A moment later, a cake knife the size of my arm floated out of the kitchen and poised over the cake.
As soon as the blade touched icing, the entire cafeteria filled with ghostly forms: amorphous spectral wraiths, transparent shambling people in hospital gowns, white-coated doctors and nurses, a couple of janitors, and a handful of casually dressed ghosts who might have just walked in off the street.
“They all died here?”
The cook said, “No, but they all know how important it is to celebrate healing.”
Trying to make sense of the confusing gathering of specters, I said, “Your intention in the baking determined who showed up?”
“You’re trying too hard,” the cook said. “Just enjoy the party. Have some cake.”
The cake sliced itself. The assembled ghosts ate and chatted and clapped. As the cake disappeared, they even sang oldie ‘80s disco and ‘90s alternative rock songs like bored old people on a European tour bus.
I caught every detail in glorious 4k digital.
When the last ghost finished the last piece of cake, all the apparitions disappeared. A loud, metallic clank shook the walls of the asylum, and the building went dark.
In that first moment of absolute darkness and silence, I discovered my own loneliness in my lost connection to the nyctophobic baker. “Cook?” I asked the silent darkness.
By the light of my phone, I made my way back to the kitchen. “Cook?”
The EVP monitor cast a low, silent glow on a few floor tiles.
Behind me, a door squeaked.
I jumped and turned.
Svetlana strode in, her hand-held utility belt flashlight burning a white, high-intensity LED beam through the darkness.
Grateful for her stoic company, I said, “They’re gone.”
“The cook, the doctors, the patients.”
“For decade,” she said.
“They were here. I talked to them. Filmed them.”
“Great Grandmother say ghosts only can talk at night.”
“It is night. They were just here.”
“Is dawn,” she said. “Sun up now. No window here.”
She swept her light around the kitchen. The beam stopped on a top hat-sized triple-layered cake bearing a calligraphy message. “Thank you. Fill the darkness with light.”
Svetlana asked, “You bake?”
I said, “No.”
“Ah,” she said. “Outside, Svetlana is walking on road. Great Grandmama appears. She says to me, ‘You go share boy’s cake.’”
She smiled, nodded, and crossed to the cake.
As morning light filtered through the windows of the asylum and a diffuse glow reflected into the kitchen, Svetlana and I enjoyed the ghost cook’s gift. After the last delicious bite, she said, “We are done here?”
“Yeah. They’re not coming back.”
“Okay.” She holstered her flashlight and gave me a sweet, icing-covered peck on the cheek.
A week later, Svetlana and I argued over whether to let Great Grandmother take the night shift driving, agreed to try it, set the GPS destination to our next investigation, and posted the asylum video.
Comments poured in, as they do . . .
RealityGeek49 10 minutes ago
Obviously fake. Production values too high.
SpookSpaz1213 minutes ago
Cook voice a hired actor. Heard them on anime.
SvenTheZombieSlayer1 hour ago (edited)
More Svetlana. Less moron who thinks cake is cool.
Reply: Prababushka Sad child. Your grandmother Sophia taught you read. She weeping.
NEXT VIDEO: Ghosting Hunting at the Heceta Head Lighthouse with Svetlana, Prababushka, and American Boy.
Eric Witchey has sold stories under several names and in 12 genres. His tales have been translated into multiple languages, and his credits include over 160 stories, including 5 novels and two collections. He has taught over 200 conference seminars and classes at 2 universities and a community college. His work has received recognition from New Century Writers, Writers of the Future, Writer’s Digest, Independent Publisher Book Awards, International Book Awards, The Eric Hoffer Prose Award Program, Short Story America, the Irish Aeon Awards, and other organizations.
Eric Witchey’s How-to articles have appeared in The Writer Magazine, Writer’s Digest Magazine, and other print and online magazines.