Camp 4 was a lonely piece of land in the middle of a peach orchard. Along with our home, there was a vehicle barn at the back of Camp 4, a building for bathrooms and a three-story bunkhouse for the migrant workers. The bunkhouse shadowed our home in the afternoon light. When I was nine year old, about a year after we moved to Camp 4,I asked my mother about it.
"Mom? What's over in there?"
I was so curious about the dilapidated dwelling. It sat there the whole year just begging me to explore it.
"You stay away from there! It's dangerous! There is rotten flooring and rat poison all through that old thing. It is supposed to be haunted, too!" She warned.
Which, of course, just made me want to check it out more. A haunted house right next door, I thought that was so cool. It only took me a year to build up my courage to go in there.
I talked my sister, Sissy, to go exploring with me. She was just eighteen months younger than I and we spent most of our time entertaining ourselves. Mom and Dad had to go shopping in town and it was about a forty- minute drive to the large mall that had the merchandise they wanted.
As soon as they pulled out of the chain-link gate and drove down the dirt road to the highway, I started in on my sister.
"Sissy, come on! Let's go check it out! Please, come with me!"
She stared at me with suspiciousness. She knew we weren't allowed to go into that bunkhouse.
"That's not a good idea, knucklehead! If Mom and Dad found out, we'd be in for a wuppin'!" She said.
"Come on! They won't find out! We'll just go over and look around and come right back! We'll be gone fifteen minutes! No more! I promise!" I said.
"Okay, but if I see one rat, I'm outta there!" She looked me from head to toe and saw the mischievous smile, "And if you try to scare me even once I'll tell on you so fast, your head will spin!"
My intention wasn't to scare my little sister. I wanted to see a ghost. My imagination had begun to spin in overdrive when I'd heard my mother's warning. We ran out of the house and across the forty yards to the door of the bunkhouse. A moment of trepidation caused me to pause before I turned the doorknob. I looked at my sister beside me.
"Don't you go off by yourself and don't you leave me here. I don't want to have to look for you when I want to get out of here." I said.
Her eyes reflected my own curiosity. She wanted to see what was so forbidden just like me. I opened the door and the smell of decayed wood made me wrinkle my nose. Sissy, who was just an inch shorter than me, pinched her nose and looked at me. She already wanted to get back to our house.
I said, "Come on, Sissy! We haven't even gone in yet!"
With her other hand, she flicked nonchalantly as if saying lets get on with it. I pushed the door open without entering. It creaked as it swung and opened into a long hallway. Closed doors lined the walls and dust covered the floor. Paint peeled from the ceiling and walls. The air was thick with the smell of age because the bunkhouse was never opened up.
We entered the hallway. The floorboards moaned as we walked to the first door. I grasped the knob and twisted. The door opened into a tiny room with an old rusted bed frame. It had metal wires criss-crossing and they attached to the solid bedposts with springs. The room was completely bare of anything else.
I jumped when my sister spoke.
"Alright! Are you satisfied now? Let's go home!" She said.
My heart hammered in my chest. I looked at her with my brows furrowed.
"Sissy! Don't do that! And we are only five feet from the door! Come on a little more." I spoke sharply, annoyed at her for almost scaring the pee out of me.
We left shoe prints in the dust as we walked along the hallway. I opened every door and looked in to find the same bed frames and empty rooms. The last two rooms on the end looked to be the biggest. I opened the one on my left. It had ten showerheads poking out of the wall. White tile adorned the walls and two faucet heads for the hot and cold water under every showerhead. A large rusted grate covered the drain in the middle of the room. The dust seemed to be a blanket on the floor. As I looked around the room I felt a chill spread over me. I didn't think about it, then, but there was something funny about that shower room. Something that wasn't right.
"Jimmy! Let's go back now! I'm getting scared. Its cold in here and I don't like it!" she pleaded.
Again, she scared the crap out of me. It was so quiet in that bunkhouse, when she spoke it startled me.
I glanced at her incredulously.
"Come on Sissy! Just a little more! I want to check out the upstairs!"
I was determined to open every room before my parents returned from shopping. I skipped opening the room opposite of the shower room and headed for the stairs at the furthest end of the hallway.
At the bottom of the stairs, something began to bother me again as I inspected the stairs to ensure they were safe. A feeling of concern crept behind my mind. I dismissed it as I stepped onto the bottom stair and began my ascent.
I thought, 'its just the heebie-jeebies!'
About halfway up the stairs I heard the sound of footsteps walking the length of the bunkhouse as if a person were walking down an identical hallway we'd just traveled. I turned around to see my sister gone.
"Sissy!" I shouted.
I panicked and ran.
Adrenalin coursing through my bloodstream, I bounded down the stairs, two at a time. I hit the bottom at a dead sprint. My eyes concentrated on the open door at the end of the hall. I skid on the dust when I stopped to shut the door. I spun around looking for Sissy.
I spotted her running for our front door.
'That brat left me!' I thought.
After I got to my room and stopping to berate Sissy from her desertion, I thought about what had bothered me in the bunkhouse. I lay on my bed picturing our adventure into the abandoned building. I slowly advanced to the shower room and mentally opened the door. This was where I'd first felt a nagging wrongness.
It struck, as if it was a physical blow to my chest. I sat straight up on my bed and screamed for my sister.
She shouted back, "What?"
I went to her room and sat on her bed. She was sorting through her bureau and reorganizing it. I explained to her what I'd felt when I opened the shower room door and as I went up the stairs.
"I figured it out just now! What kept bugging me."
I paused to let the fright drain from my voice. I didn't want Sissy to think I was actually scared. I had to be the brave older brother.
".there were footprints. Fresh footprints from the shower room to the stairs. Then up the stairs."
It took me three years to build the courage to enter that bunkhouse, again.
It was my thirteenth birthday. My parents allowed my two best friends, Jon-Jon and David, come over to spend the night. Dad pitched our huge canvas tent in the middle of our backyard and built a fire as if we were in the mountains. We sat around that campfire and told dirty jokes and tried to scare each other with spooky stories. I held out, my story, for until we actually lay down to sleep in the tent. I had a plan to let Mom and Dad fall safely asleep and then spring it on my friends. The fire got low and Dad brought out a pot full of water. He poured the water on the fire extinguishing the flames.
"Jimmy, you boys get into your sleeping bags and get some rest. It has been a long day for all of us."
It was a beautiful starry night as we entered the eight-person tent. It was a green ancient canvass tent my grandfather gave us. It had a musty smell from only being used a few times a year and still had pine needles scattered around the floor. I lie down and found the ground more comfortable than on the hard dirt of the mountains. Jon-Jon was telling this gross joke about a little kid in a closet.
"And he opened the closet and there was this little kid staring at a booger on his finger. He was saying over and over.I'm gonna eatcha.I'm gonna eatcha!"
Our thirteen-year-old humor found this hilarious and we all burst into wild laughter. We each had flashlights and tried to blind each other often, pointing the beams directly into the other's eyes. We had a pillow fight until Dad came out and warned us to take it easy. We whispered warnings to each other about keeping quiet after he left.
After we settled down our adolescent roughhousing, I started to explain my plan.
"Hey guys! Did you know that bunkhouse is haunted?" I spoke quietly.
"Aw! Come on, Jimmy! There is no such thing as ghosts!" Jon-Jon replied.
Jon-Jon was a big athletic boy with short curly black hair. He had a wide nose with huge round nostrils. He looked of Samoan descent but he was half Mexican and half Filipino. I knew he would be the one to contest the possibility of ghosts.
"Yeah, Jimmy! I've read plenty of ghost stories but never known anyone who has even seen one!" David fell in behind Jon-Jon.
I said, "I swear to God, guys! There is a ghost over in that bunkhouse!"
Jon-Jon continued to dispute my claim, "You just have an overactive imagination, Jimmy!"
I told them my story. How I went in and saw the fresh footprints. How I felt the cold chill and then the sound of someone walking above my sister and I when I was on the stairs. They both listened intently but Jon-Jon continued to scoff.
"It was just some border-brother who slept there and not a ghost!" He said.
David said, "Yeah that sounds more like the truth, Jimmy."
I wasn't going to be derailed. I wanted another look into that bunkhouse and I didn't want to do it alone. I'd thought about the same thing Jon-Jon mentioned but couldn't shake the certainty that those footsteps where supernatural.
I asked them, "Do you wanna go over and check it out?"
I looked at them both, the glow of the flashlights illuminating the inside of the tent. They hesitated answering me. I could see Jon-Jon's wheels grinding for a way out of going into the bunkhouse tonight. I smiled at him.
A challenging grin that seemed to say, 'Okay, if you're so sure, prove it!'
I looked at David who had an even more sheepish expression. He avoided my gaze when I glanced his direction. He was a short dark hair boy with a preppie hair cut. He looked like he had his hair styled by the same person who cut Anthony Michael hall's hair in The Breakfast Club.
"Come on! We can go over there and check it out! It isn't like there really is something going get us, right?" I mocked Jon-Jon's explanation. "There is nuthin to be scared of is there?"
Jon-Jon grew slightly angry. His brows clenched together and he unzipped his sleeping bag.
"Alright! Let's go then but you're in the lead, Jimmy, since you've already been in there!" He said.
David and I, simultaneously, unzipped our own sleeping bags and stood up. We silently slipped out of the tent and walked toward the ominous building next door. It was even spookier at night. I opened the door and our beams of light streaked across the length of the bunkhouse. I heard both Jon-Jon and David exclaim their disgust over the smell. We walked all the way to the shower room and looking in each of the open doors. They hadn't been closed since my sister and I had made our visit three years before. The dust was thicker in the air and on the floor than I remembered.
I pointed my flashlight down.
I said, "That's where I saw the footprints and they went all the way up the stairs."
My beam swept the floor and shot up the staircase as I spoke. Their beams followed mine scrutinizing the floor. They were looking for the footprints. There were none, now, as if someone had swept up the evidence long ago. We stepped to the base of the staircase. With my best friends close behind me, we began our ascent onto the unexplored second floor.
The stairs creaked with the weight of all three of us. It circled around and was very claustrophobic. I knew these stairs weren't built to move furniture up and down them. These tiny rooms weren't for luxury and permanent dwelling.
We arrived at the top huddled together for security. Our three beams of safety illuminated the hallway with closed doors along both sides of the walls. I traveled to the first door.
Before I opened the ancient door, I looked at Jon-Jon and David. They were standing so close I almost smashed my nose into David's ear when I turned.
I pushed them back a step.
I said, "Okay, we'll open every door as we go along. At the end we'll turn around and go back to the tent."
They both nodded their enthusiastic agreement.
I opened the door.
It was an exact replica of the rooms down stairs. Dust lay on the floor like snow in the mountains during mid-winter. It was so quiet I heard my pulse in my ears. We continued down the hall about three doors with nothing to really explain the footprints I'd seen three years earlier.
When I opened the fourth door, we saw a cardboard box sitting at the single far window.
Jon-Jon immediately walked over to it. I looked at David and we followed.
Jon-Jon said, "See! It was just some wetback, you saw! He was probably staying here and he kept his clothes or something in here!"
He squatted down and unfolded the top of the lone box.
"Auuhh!" He shouted disgustedly.
He jumped back and looked at us.
"There is a dead rat in there!" he said.
David and I went over. We shined our lights into the box. Sure enough, a dead rat lay in there, a hole chewed through the cardboard at the bottom.
I said, "It must have died from the rat pois."
The door slamming shut interrupted me.
We screamed, simultaneously, and ran for the door.
I got to it first and tried to open it. To my mounting horror, it wouldn't turn.
The next thing I realized I was thrown across the room.
It was if someone had shoved me on the playground. I felt two hands hit my chest but so hard I was launched across the room back towards the cardboard box. I looked over and both Jon-Jon and David were lying beside me. We all three had been thrown at the same time. The look of shock would have been hilarious if it had been a prank but it was no prank.
I stabbed my flashlight at the darkness before me. I scrambled back to my feet, my best friends stood up hundredths of a second after. I sprayed the beam around the room finally focusing on the floor. I saw in the blanket of dust a large footprint appear at the door.
I shouted, "Look!"
As David and Jon-Jon directed their light at mine, a trail of bare footprints began to approach us. It grew cold in the room, like we were suddenly inside of a freezer.
"Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!" We all screamed at the same time.
The dust was so thick and it covered our clothes from being thrown on the floor. The beams of light emblazoned the room enough to see the dust particles hanging in the air.
Terror struck me as I began to make out a figure in the dust.
Above the footprints, I saw an outline of a tall person. It lazily strolled toward us. I smelled the acerbic stench of urine drift up from beside me. I heard David and Jon-Jon shouting and screaming.
"Do you see it? Do you see it? Oh My God! OH MY GOD!"
The figure stood before us. The apparition had stopped advancing just a foot away. I saw it begin to circle around behind us.
We turned in unison, keeping the ghost in sight. It stopped moving in front of the window.
Behind me I heard the door hit the wall. I dared a quick glance over my shoulder.
The door stood open.
I grabbed my friends by the hands and we ran for it.
We jumped down the steps of the staircase screaming like little girls.
David fell, halfway down, and rolled to the bottom. I grabbed him as I streaked past. He made it to his feet before I could drag him off his balance.
We sprinted for the tent, not even stopping to close the door to the bunkhouse.
Inside the sanctuary of the tent, we caught our breath bent over with our hands on our knees.
After we had calmed ourselves, we looked at each other, thankful we'd escaped the haunted bunkhouse.
"Um, Jimmy do you think your parents would hear me take a shower?" Jon- Jon asked.
I looked at him stunned about the question.
"Why?" I asked.
"Cause I peed my pants!" He said.