“So when did all this start?” the officer asked. He was tall and round. His gold shield caught the light in way that made it glisten like it had been recently been shined. He stood in front of us with a small black pad, taking notes on what we said.
“I don’t know, I guess about three weeks,” I started to explain, but before I could finish, Meredith cut me off.
“The first time I saw him was five weeks and four days ago,” she said with her usual authority. Meredith was the secretary for the church’s preschool. She was a Boy Scout leader, had a strange obsession with Tab soda, and, because she liked to walk laps in the gym before work, was often the first person in the building each morning.
“Okay,” the officer said.
“I kept telling Jeff I knew something was wrong, but he just made fun of me,” she said.
I smiled and nodded. I was tempted to defend myself, but there wasn’t much to say. I had been accusing her of chasing ghosts for over a month. Occasionally, I would even sneak up behind her in the hall and yell, “Boo!”
“The first time I heard him was on a Tuesday morning,” Meredith said. “As I came into the gym, the door on the opposite side of the room closed, which I thought was weird. So I ran over to it, and when I opened it, I heard the door at the bottom of the stairs close. So I ran down the stairs, but when I got the hallway under the gym, I could see the door down the hall closing. So I ran down the hall, and then up the stairs. But when I got back into the gym, the door on the other side was closing again.” As Meredith explained this game of chase, she grew agitated.
“How many laps did you end up doing?” I asked, taking joy in her frustration. It wasn’t that I disliked Meredith. I liked her enough, but she could be a harsh know-it-all. As a pastor, I was supposed to be nice, so my only avenue for revenge was to poke at her when I got the chance.
“Seven,” she said. “I went around with him seven times.”
“But you never actually caught him,” I said.
She glared at me. “No. I never caught him.”
“So you see,” I said to the officer. “That’s why I thought she was chasing a ghost. I mean, seven laps. That’s a lot of laps.”
“Was this the only time you encountered him?” the officer said, not amused by my games.
“Oh, no,” she Meredith said. “I chased him around the building at least once a week.”
“But you never saw him?” the officer said.
“Nope,” she said. “Never caught him.”
That Meredith never caught the ghost was understandable. The church building was a maze of interconnected classrooms, parallel stairways, and circular hallways. It was perfect for an unending game of hide-and-go-seek. For most of the week, the big building was empty. When I was there by myself at night, it wasn’t unusual to feel like someone was watching me. I had no idea someone actually was.
“About once a week,” Meredith said. “I’d find a fresh pot of coffee in the kitchen, and there were always lights on that shouldn’t be, and the teachers were always complaining about their lunches missing stuff – like bags of chips, or cookies. Once I even heard a radio playing in an empty classroom, but when I went to turn it off, there wasn’t anyone around.” Then she turned to me. “And you remember that one time I told you I heard someone taking a shower in the boy’s locker-room? And I asked you to go and check it out? You remember what you said?” she asked accusingly.
“Ghosts don’t take showers,” I said with a sheepish smile.
“Ghosts. Don’t. Take. Showers,” she said to the officer.
“So what happened today?” the officer asked, still not amused.
“I came into work early,” I said.
“He usually doesn’t get here that early,” Meredith added.
“And when I went into my office, there was a man sitting on my couch,” I said.
“Right there. On his couch,” Meredith said.
“What did he look like?” the officer asked.
“I’d put him in his late forties,” I said. “Clean shaven. Grey hair. He was in a red track suit.”
“Okay,” the officer said, taking notes. “What did he do when you came into the office?”
“He stood up,” I said. “Then I put my laptop down on my desk and said, ‘I’m sorry. Do we have an appointment?’”
The officer smiled. “What’d he do?”
“He said he was here to meet with the other pastor, so I told him he had the wrong office,” I said.
“So he apologized, shook my hand, and stepped into the hall. That’s when it occurred to me that it was five-in-the-morning and that I was the only one in the building. So I stepped out into the hallway after him, and he took off running.”
“But you couldn’t catch him,” Meredith said.
“Nope,” I said smiling at her. “He was really fast.”
“Where’d he run to?” the officer asked, still taking notes.
“He ran out the front door and down the street,” I said.
“Did you chase him?” the officer asked.
“Nope,” I said. “I called you.”
“So do you think you’re going to catch him?” Meredith asked.
“Did he take anything you know of?” the officer said.
“Food and coffee and stuff like that,” Meredith said, irritated.
“Not anything important,” I said.
“He usually doesn’t,” the officer said.
“Usually?” Meredith asked.
“Yeah,” the officer said. “His name is Charlie. He camps out in buildings around town. Usually he sneaks in while everyone is busy, hides in a stairway, and waits for people to go home. They he eats out of the fridge and picks a room to sleep in. He’s never hurt anyone, but we’re still trying to catch him. First time he’s done a church, I think. Usually he does office buildings. He did the mall once. Do you want to press charges?”
“Yes,” Meredith said.
“No,” I corrected. Meredith shot me a dirty look. “We’re a church,” I said. “Taking people in is kind of what we do. In fact, if you catch him, tell him we can help him find a more permanent place to stay.”
“Alright,” the officer said. “And don’t feel bad. A lot of people think he’s a ghost.”