Monday, October 14, 2013

Touched by the Other Side by Ausha Benner

Touched By The Other Side
by Ausha Benner

“Look, it’s simple really.” My boss, Phil told me as we, along with the other trainees rode the slightly worn out trolley to our destination.

“We go in, everyone practices their lines, you get a feel for the house and then we’re out of here.”

I looked around at the other young faces and felt a sense of dread. I loved to perform, so becoming a tour guide for Ghosts and Gravestones seemed like a great idea. I had always been “sensitive” to the spirit world and loved a good ghost story.

Growing up in San Diego, California, I’d heard my fair share of stories from local haunts and all over the state.

I looked back down to my script; I wasn’t struggling with it, but I wanted it to be perfect.

I felt the trolley slowing and looked out the window. I was awestruck by the beautiful Queen Anne style mansion sitting in the middle of the ghetto in Golden Hill.

The exterior was a terracotta color, but the setting sun was shining through the house and the stained glass windows were alive with color.
Image courtesy of  Wikipedia Commons

I couldn’t take my eyes off the house and stumbled my way off the trolley and onto the street. I could vaguely hear Phil’s British accent giving us some history of the house, but I was too focused on one detail.

A widow’s walk on the top most floor of the house...that was facing inland.

“Ausha?”, one of the other trainees called out to me and I realized that I was in danger of being left behind.

I ran to catch up with the group just as they were walking through the front door. The docent that was working that evening introduced himself as Kieran and I smiled and shook his hand.

I followed the voices from my new coworkers and tried to ignore the opulent furnishings and art.

“Kieran? Is that hair?” I asked as I pointed to two framed wreaths on the wall.

“It is human hair. Victorians would collect hair from the deceased and make art out of it.” He confirmed and I wished that was on small fact that I didn’t know.

“You look familiar. Have you been here before?” Kieran whispered to me as my boss began giving instructions.

“I never even knew this place was here until I got hired.” I told him.

“I know I’ve seen your face somewhere before…” He trailed off as Phil called my name and had me begin our rehearsal.

I was in the middle of my first spiel, explaining how Jesse Shepard was a talented musician when I trailed off and cocked my head to the side.

“Is there a radio on somewhere?” I asked, looking directly to Kieran.

“No, I left it off tonight.” He responded.

I could hear soft piano music as I continued talking about the most famous owner Jesse Shepard and more details of this house, The Villa Montezuma.

I made it through my lines and asked everyone to follow me into the music room.

The sound of a piano playing was almost deafening in my ears. I tried my best to ignore it, but it just seemed to get louder. Just when I thought I my eardrums would burst, Kieran spoke up.

“Just so you all know, this piano belonged to Jesse Shepard. As you can with it open, that there are no strings inside.” He explained as everyone else took a look and the piano music began to fade.

“We had some issues with school groups coming in and trying to play the piano, so we made the decision to take them out. We have a small boom box that we usually turn on for the tours. If you would prefer not to have music, just let us know.” I nodded in his direction and began reciting my lines.
Image by eflon

“It was rumored that Jesse became engaged to a Russian noble woman after his visit to St. Petersburg in 1871. The story goes that she died tragically just days before the wedding.” I said as I began to feel incredibly nauseous. I clutched my stomach as I tried to continue to spit out my lines.

My boss and a few of the other tour guides rushed towards me as I collapsed to the floor.

“Ausha! Are you alright? What’s wrong?” My boss was shouting at me. I shook my head trying to clear it before I sat up slightly.

“Is there a picture of this woman?” I asked with a shaky voice. Kieran nodded and ran out of the room. Seconds later he was back and the look on his face told me everything.

“You need to see this Phil.” Kieran said as Phil helped me to stand and the other guides were keeping me upright.

“Oh my God….Ausha, did you know about this?” Phil asked me and I shook my head.

The picture was a traditional Victorian portrait. The woman wore a dress with a high, tight collar and cameo. Even in black and white you could tell that her hair was lighter...just like me. He eyes were obviously a blue or light green eyes are grey.

“She could be your mother….the features are so similar. You could be twins in a costume like this!” Phil exclaimed as everyone took a turn looking at the photo and then staring at me.

I excused myself and walked outside for some fresh air and to gather my thoughts. The piano music in my head had ceased. The stomach pain and nausea had vanished.

I took a deep breath as I pushed the hair out of my face. As I let the air out of my lungs I looked up and saw the figure of a tall, slender man walking around the widow’s walk.


Making friends with the other tour guides and the trolley drivers was easy and we all were like a band of misfits. We never really spoke about that rehearsal day, but every so often guests on the tours would come to me after we had finished and ask about my experiences.

After three months, we had a huge script revision and learned that the Director of Entertainment from corporate would be coming to experience the tour.

I jokingly offered to have him on my trolley since “something” was bound to happen. My boss Phil pulled me aside later and told me that not only would our man from corporate be in my group, but our General Manager and several other supervisors.

I remember it was hot for June and I was grateful that I had recently cut my blonde hair short. The energy in those early evening hours were charged with electricity and my guests were all looking for their ghostly sighting.

As my trusty driver maneuvered through downtown weekend traffic to take us to the beautiful mansion, I ran out of scripted dialogue. We had all known this would be a possibility at some point, so I began to describe my personal experiences as filler.

I took questions from some guests and told them that I never knew what to expect on any given tour.

I felt the trolley begin to slow and I proudly announced our destination. As we disembarked the trolley people were already taking pictures of the exterior and I gently reminded them that flash photography was not permitted inside the house.

They followed me into the house and I felt the air change all around me. I looked to Kieran and he shrugged his shoulders; whatever it was he could feel it too.

The air circulating around me was ice cold; the Goosebumps on my arms were evidence. There was a heaviness in the house that I had never felt before. I began my spiel when I began to hear the piano music again.

I stumbled slightly over my words since I hadn’t heard music there since my very first encounter. I led everyone into the music room. We’re trained to coral everyone in front of us, but with the temperature being in the 90’s at 8pm, I let them spread out more than I usually would have.

As I was telling more stories about Jesse Shepard and his career as a musician, writer, and spiritualist I froze as I felt someone or something touching my back.

At that moment every single person in that room heard three distinctive notes being played on the piano directly behind me.

My nerves began to get the better of me as I laughed nervously. A man that was standing about four feet from the piano started whispering to other guests on the tour.

“Did you see that? The keys moved!” He said as I looked to one of my supervisors, a skeptic, who was standing next to him.

“The keys did move.” He confirmed. I looked around at the other guests who were all talking amongst themselves and I tried to bring everyone’s attention back on me and get through the remainder of my script.

As I began speaking again I felt the same pressure on my back as before and suddenly my hair began to swish around my face, almost as if I were running my hand through it.

That’s the last thing I remember before I found myself outside and sitting on the trolley.

Some of the guests had pulled out their digital cameras and were capturing pictures when, according to them and everyone else in the room, I began to laugh and cry hysterically.

My skeptical supervisor from the company told me that it looked like I was possessed, like we had been conducting a séance, much like Jesse Shepard used to, and I had become the conduit.

I apparently bolted through the crowd and out of the house after the voice inside me stopped speaking and my head fell limply down.

I was exhausted that night, and I don’t remember much else of the tour or the other places we went that evening. When we arrived at our unloading point, several guests showed me the pictures they had captured.

Orbs were floating around me in a few of them, but I don’t personally put much faith in those since they can be debunked. There were two pictures though that stood out to me. The first was a shinning bolt of energy that seemed to be shooting out of my body. My chin was touching my chest and the guest told me it was at the very end of my probable possession.
Image by EvilBoris

The second picture is the one that made me reconsider my employment with this tour. Directly behind me was a shadowy figure of a man. You could make out his curly dark hair and mustache. He was tall and slender, and was standing straight as a board.

Jesse Shepard was standing directly behind me. I asked the couple at what point they had taken this photo. The woman told me it was just as my hair was being ruffled.

By the time all my tours were completed, my nerves were shot. I barely made it through my last tour because my thoughts were elsewhere.

As I was climbing into my car to head home, I felt the pull to drive past the Villa. I made my way through darkened streets and parked directly out front.

At that time, the docents always left a light in the parlor on, even after they left for the evening. Just as I was about to pull back out onto the street, I saw a tall, slender figure walk across the parlor, its shadow being cast by the light.

The next day I skipped school and went straight for the Villa. Kieran was there and let me in without question. I apologized for my guests that had taken pictures. He assured me that it was ok, and that capturing evidence of a ghost was more important than protecting the art in the house.

I asked if he would give me a few moments alone and told me he would be upstairs.

I wandered silently to the music room and stood directly in front of the piano, just like I had done the night before.

“Jesse, I love this job.” I started with a shaky breath. “If you feel comfortable using my energy to communicate, that’s fine….but not when I can’t remember anything.”

I felt something behind me and as I turned around I heard the piano music once again. I walked around to see the keys and they were moving of their own accord.

“Mr. Shepard, please, leave me alone in this house. I can’t take this!” I all but screamed as the piano music abruptly stopped and I heard Kieran running down the stairs to check on me.

After that day, I never felt anything in The Villa Montezuma.

It’s been 10 years since I last set foot in that house. In that time I moved away from San Diego for 2 ½ years, and one of the first things I wanted to do when I moved back was go straight there.

Every so often I feel the urge to drive by and check out the place; just like from time to time I still hear the piano music playing softly or feeling as if someone is standing directly behind me.

The Ghosts and Gravestones tour disbanded seven years ago and the Villa is currently being refurbished by the state of California.

Even though I couldn’t handle it, there is a part of me deep down that hopes that the spirit of Jesse Shepard doesn't give up and keeps trying to make contact from the other side.

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