Thirty-one Frights of Halloween

Tis the season to be frightened! At this time of the year when the veil between the two worlds is thin, one can’t help but be drawn to tales of ghosts, haunted houses, and the unexplained. Stories that we know can’t be true, but then again...the possibilities are chilling! After all, science may not be able to prove that ghosts exist, but they have yet to prove that they DON’T. So, in an effort to personalize your Halloween, here is a daily dose of spooky things that go bump in the night, and in the sky for that matter. Thirty-one frights of Halloween!

Monday, October 1, 2012

And Then There was Norma

For many years I worked at a locally-owned, community bank in Ellettsville, Indiana. The bank building isn’t particularly old or ornate, just a simple concrete block structure built around 40 years ago, but it does have the interesting history of beginning life as a grocery store before evolving from a bean seller to bean counter. Yet, at this not very old, somewhat but not really interesting building, odd and unexplained incidents do seem to happen on a regular basis, witnessed not just by the employees but also the customers. I used to tease my co-workers that the ghost of a crazed meat cutter, from the building’s grocery days, was haunting the bank in search of his next blue light meat special. But, I soon learned that my silly, made-up ghost was nothing compared to the “real” spirit many believe haunts the building. The fact that Norma*, who passed away in the late 1970’s, had once been an actually employee of the bank with many friends still working there, makes her sad, tragic story even that much more unnerving.
This is Norma’s story as explained to me by her family and friends, and deduced from newspaper accounts:

Norma was born and raised in a traditional, middle-class, religious family. Her life was surreally ordinary—she made good grades, was active in the small community, sang in the church choir, and married her childhood sweetheart.

Being young and practical, the couple put off having children until they were able to afford a proper home. Her husband pursued work in construction. Norma got a job as a teller at the local bank.   

Life was good. Things were going as planned, when tragedy struck. First she suffered the loss of her parents when they both suddenly took ill and died within months of each other. Later that same year, her beloved sister moved overseas and out of reach. And then, the most unthinkable happened—Norma’s husband, her great love, died young and unexpectedly. Norma, for the first time in her life, was completely alone.

Desperate to fill the aching void in her heart, Norma fell for the first man to show her kindness, a married co-worker with questionable motives. What began as a friendship quickly turned into an affair, then into obsession. Norma simply could not bear to be left alone. She hounded the man day and night pleading for his time and attentions. It was not long before the man’s wife found out about Norma and gave her husband an ultimatum: end the affair or else. “Or else” meant scandal, divorce, and being cut off from his wife’s considerable fortune. The husband chose his wife and Norma was once again left on her own.

Norma did not go easily. She cried, begged, and stalked her former lover, but to no avail. After one particularly nasty scene at work, Norma was fired, her bank accounts closed, and told never to return.

This final disgrace may have been what pushed Norma over the edge. She felt callously abandoned and betrayed. Even worst, she felt like a whore. She had mistaken sex for love and it had cost her everything. The shame and guilt of what she had done became too great for her to bear. In her mind there was only one way to end the pain. No one knows why she chose Drano®. Perhaps Norma was trying to cleanse her sins away, sanitize her soul. She had betrayed her few friends and shamed her family’s name. But, the greatest hurt of all was that she had betrayed her one true and now lost love. She deserved to suffer. She deserved to die.

It was a cold and snowy February night when Norma went out alone to her husband’s grave at the town cemetery. It pains me to image the scene: The tears, the apologies, perhaps even a kiss to her husband’s gravestone, before finally drinking the toxic cleaner. It was not a quick or easy death. The acid took its time slowly eating away at her stomach and esophagus. Alone in the cemetery, Norma must have suffered agonizing pain for hours before finally dying, her insides having been totally eaten away. Her body was found the next morning by children waiting for the school bus. Norma’s funeral was one of the largest the town had ever seen. She was laid to rest next to her husband. Finally, Norma had found peace. Or had she?

Ghostologists believe that the desperate, extreme act of suicide can damage the soul, trapping it in a mode of unresolved angst where the spirit can’t or won’t cross over to the other side. They become trapped between the two worlds, their ghostly beings wandering aimlessly among what was once familiar to them, searching for answers and redemption. Perhaps this is the case with Norma for she still seems to be very much among us, as a benign spirit.

It was the tellers who first noticed something was amiss. Adding machines would start calculating on their own, lights would turn on and off by themselves, and the security alarm would activate in the middle of the night when no one was there. There are police reports on file attesting to the security alerts and subsequent investigations.

When I worked at the bank as a computer operator, I believe that I actually saw Norma, even talked to her! It happened on an unexceptional morning. My primary responsibly was to perform daily computer updates and distribute the generated reports before the bank opened. Around 7:00am, as I was walking along the back area of the bank, I glanced up the center hallway and saw an attractive middle-aged woman working at the teller stations. I was then a relatively new employee and still not familiar with all the bank tellers and their work schedules. I waved and called out good morning, but she appeared not to hear me. After I finished delivering the reports, I headed up to the teller stations to introduce myself. The woman was still there organizing papers. I said hello again. This time she nodded, but did not look up from her work. That should have been my cue that she wasn’t interested in talking to me, but her snub made me feel self-conscious. I tried to explain who I was and way I was there, but the awkwardness of the situation made me nervous, causing me to talk faster and faster. Nonsensical words gushed out of my mouth. I couldn’t seem to stop rambling. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was really only a few minutes, I paused to take a much needed deep breath. It was then that the woman looked up at me and smiled. Never had I seen such sad, distant eyes. The air became instantly colder causing the hair on my arms to stand up. After an uncomfortable silence, I stuttered something to the effect of getting back to work, and quickly headed to the computer room. It was only after I sat down at my desk that I realized the woman had not spoken one word to me.  

The other bank employees started arriving for work at 8:00am. With the comfort of the familiar activity around me, my uneasiness disappeared and I became embarrassed. Surely the woman must have thought I was crazy. I went back up front to apologize, but the woman was gone. I asked the other tellers about her, only to be told that no one was ever scheduled to work at that hour. But someone had been there that morning. Insistently, I tried to describe the woman, but all I could remember were her eyes—her sad, distant eyes. My story was met with nervous giggles. Finally an older employee spoke up. “Oh, that was just Norma. She likes to keep things organized.”   

Mine is not the only close encounter with Norma. An evening bank employee reportedly quit her job over a similar situation. It was around 9:00pm. The only people in the bank at that hour were the night computer clerk and her four-year-old son, whom she had permission to bring with her to work. She was monitoring the nightly update when her son came running into the computer room excitedly. He told his mother about the nice lady he had met in the restroom. Instantly alarmed, she locked them both in the room and called security. No one else was supposed to be in the building at that time. A through search of the building yielded no results. This was not the first incidence that the employee had with Norma, but when the spirit reached out to her young son, it was too much. The employee quit that evening.

No one knows why the gentle spirit of Norma haunts the bank. Is her tragically lonely soul still desperately seeking the companionship she had lost in life? Or is she eternally driven to make amends for her disgraceful behavior? Perhaps it’s simply a case of what paranormalists call post-death amnesia—Norma doesn’t realized she is dead and thus continues to “live” her life as if nothing as happened—going to work day, after day, after day.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of her family and friends.

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