Friday, May 28, 2010


Since I adore being in creepy places alone and pushing the limits of what I can stand, I enjoy spending time alone in scary places. Not a lot of people have the ability to or want to sit alone in a dark creepy place, but it's one of my favorite delights. I get a thrilling tingle of being in a damp crawlspace or blackened woods or abandoned mine shaft with only my thoughts and little or no light. I figured, why not share these experiences with you in a new series I will do periodically called "ALONE" telling what it was like to be alone in different places. This first installment is alone in an abandoned old west prison complex.

There are only a few of us enjoying the huge abandoned prison for the night. The rest leave for an EVP session in another building on the compound. I remain in the frontier cell block alone. Each cell opens to the outdoors with no protection from the elements except a roof over their heads and bars on each end of the room facing south and north.

I turn off my flashlight and walk with hands in front of me, feeling the row of bars to find my way down the corridor to the distant section of the prison. I am about to pass the last cell when I hear a clanking. One of the cells has a loose door, no doubt. I curiously feel my way back to the culprit and pull it open.

Inside, the cell is black and impossible to see. I have to feel the edge of the bunk beds to make my way in. The constant desert dust in the air has settled heavy for the night and I cough. Just then, a low moan sounds at the far end of the 10-foot deep cell. My finger poises itself over the “on” position of my flashlight ring that I wear on my index finger. With one easy push, I could have adequate light to see what it is. Perhaps one of the group has remained behind?

I fight my instinct to turn on the light and decide instead of go further into the cell, my fingers skirting along the edge of the hard bunk towards the other set of bars, unsure what I might feel and imaging my fingers finding a crusty old shirt on a hard slender body and then angry hands grabbing my wrists and pulling me in. I turn my mind from that imagery knowing no prisoners still exist here and haven't for many decades. Still, my fingers curl against the air, prickling with anticipation of encountering something unexpected.

One of the things I love about ghost hunting and abandoned sites is pressing myself alone in the most nasty and creepy atmospheres and fight every instinct to believe what my mind conjures up.

My heart thumps wildly as I hear what sounds like a soft light sigh. I fight every desire to turn on my light and instead put my hands in front of me and feel along the bars, turning and touching the corner of the room and its chipped and aged wall. A faint male snicker has me swinging around and listening carefully. It came between me and the opening to the cell. The hinged door creaks heavily again and thumps against the opening. If the wind pick up anymore, I’ll be closed inside with…it.

My heart beats in my ears so loudly, I can barely make out any sounds, other than my shallow breath. And then, the gate opens up with a sigh.

“You’re there, aren’t you?” I ask. “You don’t get many women here, do you?” I set down my voice recorder, turn it on and leave hurriedly before the wind kicks the gate back closed.

I wander through the main gate into the “bad” part of the prison. This area has an isolation room that is carved out of a cave with a hole in the roof and hooks in the walls to chain people to, keeping them just far enough apart they couldn’t kill each other but could torment each other. Sometimes, it was said, prison guards would enjoy tossing scorpions or rattlesnakes down the roof hole. It was inhabited by bad memories and also lots of bats.

I duck through the short entrance and feel along the rock walls towards the center. It still holds the faint odor of sweat and urine even decades and decades after being closed. A bat swooshes down and threatens to get caught in my long hair, so I slump down to the floor and remain still until it settles down. In the muggy hot room with the stagnant air, I can imagine hours upon hours of no sense of day or night, no air circulation, and rock all around the prisoner. The bats flutter on the ceiling overhead. I tuck my knees up and listen for a time to their little noises. A low moan reverberates through the cave resonating strangely, followed by a slight whistle. I shimmy myself up to stand, fighting the desire to turn on my light.

“Are you here?” I whispered, my voice echoing in the round cavern.

Cold wet air converges in front of me and then a bat sweeps down, flapping against the air above my head. I duck down again to the floor and listen to my breath as I await the moan again. I hear shuffling nearby, sounds like someone’s feet against the dirt. I stretch my legs out and kick my heels at the ground making the identical sound. If a prisoner were in the hole, his feet would kick out in front of him and make that sound.

“I’m here.” I tell…it.

The faint rattle of a chain startles me and this time I stand up and am met by a swooping bat that disrupts my long hair. I jump back and hit the stone wall, knocking the air out of me as I hear the chain rattle one more time only a foot or two away from me. I turn on my finger flashlight and study the bolt in the wall with the ring in it. Two feet away. No chain.

I curiously flash the light up for a moment to see the entire ceiling covered with bats fluttering restlessly in their toe holds like one large pulsating living being. I back down the narrow low-ceiling tunnel and rush outside, sucking in fresh air and studying the night sky above with relief. I wipe some sweat from my forehead as I imagine the men who stayed in here for hours and days and weeks... I feel a bit queasy.

I work my way down to the farthest cell block. A giant courtyard with super high walls around me is the final row of cells. These ones have closed off doors and single bunks. They seem more like tiny cheap motel rooms than the other bunk bed cells and the godawful cave. I go inside one and study the bunk and table. I sit down and stretch my legs out and my light catches something on the dirt floor. A single large black scorpion is rushes its way towards me with its claws raised in a jousting pose. I lift my feet off the floor and shiver. For all the weird sensations of being watched and strange noises and bats, the scorpion bothers me the most.

The winds in the huge moonlit courtyard outside start up in a circular pattern, a dust devil forming and dancing like a crazy drunken wraith across the dirt ground. I reach over on my knees, afraid to put my feet down where the scorpion is, and tug the door shut. There’s a barred windowless opening, but the dust particles pound against the door like sandblasting machinery and the noise reaches a crescendo. The room rattles. I cough against the dirt as it suddenly dies and everything goes completely still. I have never heard a dust devil end so fast. I get up and push at the door, but it’s stuck. A moment of panic gets to me as the ring on my finger with the flashlight falls to the floor, the Velcro pulling apart. I try to stand in the doorway's threshold up above the ground where the scorpion is. My hands are on the lever and I pull up and push, putting my weight into the wooden door. It flings open and I stumble onto the ground of the courtyard, the moon shining in my eyes.

The jail suddenly seems very silent. With no roof on the cell blocks there should be sounds of people milling around again as the night-time hunt continues, but there is nothing. Just utter silence. The group is going overtime on their EVP session. I look back into the cell for my light ring. The light on it is shining against the scorpion not 6 inches away, glossy in the bluish light. I contemplate how to pull the ring up without it striking. I squat down to see under the bed there are two more scorpions. I shudder inside as I swipe my light away and rush from the cell and out into the ring of moonlight.

I take a few steps on the hard-packed earth and then stop to listen as another footfall pounds the calieche sun-baked earth after I have stopped. I turn my head and study the open square in the night’s light. I am all alone. I feel as if dozens of eyes are upon me from every direction. I take a few long-legged strides towards the doorway that leads to another cell block and hear rapidly following footsteps directly behind me. The sound is of someone running in heavy heeled boots. I pivot around and study the open lit area. The moon’s glow reaches every corner of the courtyard. There is no one anywhere, but I feel their eyes!

This time, I take long slow strides and hear nothing. I assume it was a trick of my ears. Then, as I stop to reassess, I hear two very distinct footsteps again right behind me, kicking at the hard earth as they come down heavy.

I take a deep breath. Right about now, I’m ready to join the others. I’ve had enough alone time feeling the history of the place and listening to the sounds of signs, moaning, creaking, whistling, chuckling, and footsteps. I run the last 20 feet to the opening and stop, pivot around and watch as the last cell’s door slams shut.

Now, I’m mad! There has to be somewhere there messing with me. I storm past the cells to the final one and pull open the door, my tiny light on my finger illuminating an utterly empty cell! I look up at the sky and the courtyard and wonder if another dust devil had started to form. It’s completely still, none of the sounds of a whirlwind. I stalk away across the courtyard again, forgetting the footfalls, forgetting the slamming door. I simply want some artificial lighting and people’s voices. Real people’s voices.

I go through the portal into the next cell block and then through another into the next cell block, heading up towards the museum, glad I’ll be indoors when I remember my voice recorder. I search the cells to find the one in which I left it. I light up the length of the bunk and see my recorder. My flashlight blinks off. I play with the switch. The battery is dead and I don’t carry miniature batteries with me and left my flashlight in the museum. I was determined to be alone and be in the dark and feel the prison and listen to the prison and “be one” with the prison. I never imagined I would lose my only light!

I remember the scorpion in the other cell and I freak out, jumping onto one of the metal bunk beds, my hands feeling along the top bunk and wrapping around the voice recorder. Then, I realize the recorder’s red light wasn’t on. It should have been recording. I click at it and realize the battery is dead. Oh, why not? Everything else in this place is dead!

Just then, I hear a snicker in the corner just like I heard earlier.

“Funny, huh?” I ask. “Well, I’m leaving and there won’t be anymore women to torment.” I warn him. I reach out, feeling in the complete and utter blackness of the room for the gate’s bars. I trip over a rut in the dirt floor and fall into the bars, grabbing at them and realizing that the gate is shut. I hadn’t shut it going in and I didn’t hear it shutting when I was in there. I take a deep calming breath and push and… it opens! But, it creaks as I open it. I close it slowly and it creaks loudly. How the hell did it close silently?

I don’t even care to know anymore. Women alone in this old western prison are not safe here. I stumble over the rutted dirt beat down by lots of monsoon rains in the past summer. I burst into the museum with its florescent lighting and beautiful displays and sigh with relief.

I just did it! I spent over an hour alone in the prison!


  1. Excellent depiction of your experiences! I felt that way while visiting Alcatraz ... very creepy place (real fun at the same time).

  2. SunTiger;
    I would love to do Alcatraz. I think the water crashing on the rocks would make a wonderful haunting alchemy...

  3. I must confess I read your post with my mouth open. Your ability to create a certain atmosphere, to describe sounds, feelings, to play with light and darkness, your courage to experience things alone - all that leads to the conclusion that you're one of a kind.

  4. Duta;
    You're a sweetie. Thanks so much. Part of the reason I spend time alone in these places is to be able to write locations for horror fiction, but I'm also highly alert and attuned both physically and psychically to the environment so I can know if anything is changing or any activity is occurring. People talk about how traumatic events can imprint a haunting in a place and I truly believe it. It's moments like those when I'm intensely present and all my senses are working, I wonder if perhaps I am leaving an imprint...

  5. The night we had our workshop in the old Yuma Prison was pretty cool except there is a lot of interference with the TRAINS going by every hour or more! Later in the night--after Sharon & Ginny left, about 4am about 6 of us sat outside the John Ryan cell and kept a vigil--we saw shadows moving about in his cell. IT was very COOL! but we did have to throw out all EVP because of trains and a festival across the river! DARN!

  6. Yeah, I found that wandering around alone really helped me to identify what was supposed to be there and what wasn't. The moan within the cave I came to believe was a motorcycle or something low frequency on the freeway. Cool place and being exposed to the outdoors definitely made it feel even nastier. I just kept thinking of those poor guys in there in the summertime. I would have asked for death penalty for humanitarian reasons.