It was spring in Sierra Vista, a small town in the mountainous southern desert of Arizona. Sierra Vista is a town with a lot of history. A mere 15 minute drive away from Tombstone, site of the Earp Brothers' legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Sierra Vista is steeped in the mystique and intrigue of the American Wild West. I was a 24 year old Sergeant in the United States Army, serving on temporary duty at nearby Fort Huachuca, one of the military's preeminent installations for Military Intelligence training.
I want to preface this story by saying that I am about as big a skeptic as there can be. I grew up with a very...let's call it "paranormally sensitive" mother. She had more than a few (what I considered to be) tall tales about her brushes with ghosts and the like. My father was not afraid to voice his doubts as to the veracity of my mother's stories, and I guess some of that cynicism probably rubbed off on me. To this day, I watch shows like "Paranormal Witness" and scoff at the accounts of people on the show. To me, there is always a logical explanation for any seemingly unexplainable scenario.
Temporary duty, or TDY as the acronym-crazed military likes to call it, is very transient in nature. Typically, TDY is centered around either receiving training yourself, or administering training to other soldiers. In this case, I was attending an advanced training course pertaining to my job in the Army that was only offered at Fort Huachuca. For the roughly 6 weeks I was there, I lived out of a duffel bag and slept by myself in a dingy, solemn hotel room.
Anyone who's ever served in the military knows that environment lends itself to making fast friends with your fellow soldiers. Those friendships typically tend to be pretty fleeting in nature, but that doesn't make them any less memorable. So, after only a day or so of arriving at Fort Huachuca, a group of us enrolled in the course had quickly formed that type of fast, easy camaraderie that you only find with someone who's shared those same experiences as you. Throughout the challenging course, we pushed each other and helped each other along until graduation. When we finally got to the last week of the training, those of us who had made it through decided we would go out together to celebrate.
The site of the celebratory dinner was Daisy Mae's. A landmark establishment in the Sierra Vista community, Daisy Mae's was a steakhouse with a checkered history. At various points in its lineage, it had purportedly served as both a brothel and a speak-easy. Numerous back-room dealings and shady undertakings had occurred there, according to legend. Chief among the rumors swirling around Daisy Mae's were the stories about its most 'ghostly' patron.
The version of the story I was told, by the proprietor of Daisy Mae's at the time, was that the ghost had been a particularly vile Mexican desperado. A cowboy, or charro, who was known to ride into the area, raiding and terrorizing the populace. The story goes that one day this particular charro rode into the area that is today Sierra Vista, intent on getting drunk at the brothel where Daisy Mae's now stands, as well as taking advantage of the establishment's more 'carnal' amenities. After an afternoon of heavy drinking, the story goes, the cowboy had shot his mouth off to a young sheriff who was eager to make a name for himself. The two squared off in a duel in the dusty avenue in front of the brothel, and the cowboy was shot dead.
Our group was captivated by this tale of high Wild West drama. But the story took a spooky turn when our waitress told us about how, for decades, staff and patrons alike had related stories about hearing spurred heels clicking away down empty hallways, the smell of cigar smoke heavy in the air at closing in a non-smoking restaurant or a general air of malevolence; that hair-raising, gut-wrenching feeling of 'strangeness' that comes from thinking you aren't alone, when, at least ostensibly... You are.
After the story, we all exchanged nervous glances and uneasy smiles. A few brave members of the group even went so far as to share their own personal experiences with things they couldn't explain. They were generally given a good-natured brow-beating by the rest of the group for being so 'gullible'. By the end of the meal, a few of us decided to go check out the area of the restaurant that the cowboy's spirit was purportedly most often sighted. In a dusty, neglected back hallway of the restaurant that seemed to serve little purpose, a solitary naked lightbulb hung from the ceiling. Some unfelt draft seemed to be subtly moving it, causing the bulb to slowly sweep its dirty, yellow light against the ancient stucco walls of the hallway. Various pieces of historical memorabilia were nailed along the hallway. A grainy, sepia-toned photo of a 19th century couple here, an antique pair of ivory-handled six-shooters there. A dust-caked old AM radio sat on a small hutch, tuned into nothing but static.
I'm not sure what we expected, walking down that hallway. Some part of you hopes you experience something, but at the same time...there's that sense of dread... The sincere hope that it's just an empty hallway. The small group of us that had ventured back soon thinned until it was just me and Daniel, the Staff Sergeant who had become a good friend as we went through the training. Maybe it was the fact that I'd had few beers. Maybe I thought I could prove how tough I was... I can't say for sure. Whatever the reason, I smirked at Daniel and began to provoke the spirit that I didn't believe was actually there.
Nothing happened. The grimy light continued to cast shadows down the arched hallway. The decades-old radio kept up its monotonous buzzing. And I felt I'd proven a point to my new friend.
This is where the story gets weird.
The hotel we were all staying in was only about two blocks from Daisy Mae's. I had a room on the first floor to myself. A single window provided a view of a dark alley between two dilapidated, brick buildings. The alley was exactly centered on my room's window, creating the effect of a long, almost utterly dark corridor marching off into nothingness. A single, amber-colored sodium streetlight created a lonely island of light in the alleyway's river of darkness.
A set of teal and orange floor-length drapes, as gaudy as they were dusty, hung in front of the large window. As I readied myself for bed, I looked uneasily down the dark alley. I soon noticed that my forearms were covered in goosebumps and that I was very uncomfortable. I couldn't shake the feeling that someone was watching me. As I brushed my teeth, washed my face and hands and set out my uniform for the next day, that feeling of unease was constant. I often found myself overcome with the irresistible urge to check behind me. But there was never any indication that I wasn't alone.
Before I climbed into bed, I peered warily down the alleyway. I knew it would be impossible for me to sleep with the drapes open, so I closed them, got under the covers and, after awhile, settled into a restless sleep.
Some time later, I was startled awake, by what I couldn't say. I found myself in that hazy, semi-conscious state of the recently awoken, not quite sure of where I was or why. Bleary-eyed, I looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand to my right and saw that only two hours had passed since I first put head to pillow. As I slowly gained coherency, a growing sense of dread swelled in my chest. Almost against my will, I turned and looked to the left, surprised by a shaft of pale moonlight splashed across the dark colored carpet of my room.
As my mind churned wildly trying to figure how the drapes had gotten open, the pit of despair in my chest settled dramatically into my gut. Down the alleyway, under the single buzzing sodium light, a shrouded, smoky figure leaned purposefully against one of the buildings. At that instant, I knew two things with absolute certainty: First, whatever figure was down that alleyway was definitely the cause of my unease... And second, it was unquestionably malevolent.
Unable to tear my eyes away, I stared in abject terror as the amorphous figure turned towards me. It seemed to perceive my fear and waves of panic overtook me. I felt my breathing coming in ragged gasps, felt my heartbeat racing along at a breakneck pace. Suddenly, I felt myself empathizing with the rabbit caught in the snare, or the insect trapped under the glass. Though I couldn't see its face - couldn't even say it HAD a face for certain - I felt as though it was leering at me down the alley, focusing all its malevolent energy on me. Just when I thought I couldn't take another second, the sodium light began to flicker. The insignificant pool of light sputtered and then was gone. After several tense seconds, the light crackled back to life, but the shadowy figure that had previously stood beneath it was nowhere to be found. For a brief instant, I felt safe.
That's when a crushing, suffocating weight settled on me. It felt as if I was struggling against the strongest person you could imagine. My head, shoulders and arms were pinned to the bed. It's difficult to explain, but it felt like whatever unseen force was atop me had a face that was mere inches from my own. I could feel its breath on my cheeks, but where a face should have been, there was only inky blackness. Though I couldn't seem to move, I didn't feel as though anything was physically touching me. I felt seething anger and hatred emanating from above me and as I struggled to breathe... I cannot describe to you the level of terror and panic I felt.
The next thing I knew, I was waking up to my alarm. It took me a little while to come to grips with what I had experienced. To this day, I'm still not sure. There aren't too many people who I've shared this story with. Hopefully someone who reads this will know what I'm talking about and maybe learn from my experience. Thanks for reading.