The pillow I eased my head down onto felt like a mixture of cloud and downy feathers. As my head settled as far as it would go, I glanced at Genna, my sound asleep wife, then at the clock: 1:40A.M.
I closed my eyes and started thinking about the Ark. That was the nick name for the old, multi event center at the college I attended forty five years ago. Concerts, assemblies, lectures, and sporting events were all accommodated in the Ark . No animals, just people, were herded in for this or that function.
As far as I can tell, the nickname had no religious connotation, and it was derived for purely secular reasons, a place of refuge or asylum.
Quite often in college life, refuge and asylum can mean the same thing. An asylum is where crazy people do crazy things. A few kegs of beer can therefore create an asylum at a college. Anyway, there was nothing religious about the place, as far as I knew.
I think I slept pretty well. I wasn’t tired anymore, but I just felt a little “off,” is the best way I can put it.
Usually if I wake up and haven’t slept well, it takes a while for my head to clear, before getting up to speed. If I sleep well, my brain zooms back onto life’s highway quickly. This wake up was somewhere in between. I was rested, but curiously still thinking about the Ark, the same thought I’d had when I started to recharge.
My first encounter with the Ark was at Freshman Assembly Orientation, where we all got the “you or one of your seatmates on either side won’t be here next semester” speech. A very cute reality check welcome, but not a confidence booster for a spooked undergrad.
If you mention the Ark to any alum of my generation, however, a sporting event will come to their mind first, most likely, Men’s Basketball. That’s because Men’s Basketball started to gain fanatic interest while I was at the school, and nearly achieved championship status a few years later. By light of day, the Ark is still a magnificent, imposing structure, a Federalist style leviathan with a brick facade, and rows of windows with thick molded scrolls above each. All of the ornate molding around the windows is still painted white, as is the soaring cupola with its bronzed weather vane centered in the middle.
To dispel its uniqueness, it was probably one of thousands of such buildings on college campuses across the country. However, I decided to forgo these outside details to visit inside the Ark late one night as I was driving home (just a half hour away). I decided to go late, hoping that no one was there. It would be quiet, and I just might find an unlocked door to gain entrance. Sure enough, a lazy janitor or a careless student left a back door for me to return and reminisce in the old Ark’s darkened quietude.
There were enough night lights for me to drift into the building without needing cat eyes to see. The only sound was my light clicking heels on the wooden floor. I was trying to tiptoe in case someone authorized to be there wouldn’t hear me. Looking down, I saw the faint outline of the center court circle where basketball history had been made. This was the perfect spot to pan the innards of the old place, and I could just barely make out the white painted railings and sky blue seats in the balcony, the familiar school colors. In the darkness, I was beginning to feel like Jonah in the belly of that whale.
I kept glancing around, trying to remember the places I used to sit when I first became a basketball junkie.
As I picked out a few seats, I must have imagined hearing a slight squeak, the sound of a sneaker on a high gloss court. Nah, this antique of a building must have a variety of sounds all its own, from years of standing up to wind, rain, snow, as well as the heel pounding from legions of students for ninety plus years. After I rationalized that, I heard a few more of those squeaks getting slightly louder, as if coming towards me. Creepy, I thought.
The old Ark is playing with me. Then, all of a sudden, really creepy.
A gust of air (I’m still inside, right?), goose bumps down my back, from my head to heels, and what felt like a tap on the shoulder. Shit, I thought, a creepy night watchman is onto me. I slowly turned around, trying to conjure an innocent explanation. My first word stuck to my palate as I saw, not a man, but a glowing figure, an apparition.
I started to shake like I’d been tasered, barely able to stand. My mind raced, trying to assess what was happening. A cold sweat oozed from every pore, and I damn near peed my pants, as I struggled to remain upright.
Mercifully, I was given a sense of calm from one word spoken by this ghost before me.
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