Some say that truth is stranger than fiction.
Back in our early twenties, Jerry and I found a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan's West Village. We had been friends for a number of years, and as aspiring actors could not afford to rent alone. We would be subleasing from an artist named Lee Gatch.
Near our move-in date we met with Lee Gatch at the 50 King Street apartment and signed the papers. He looked to be in his late-fifties, with a trim figure and a full head of gray hair.
Without a dining room, we sat at the kitchen table, in a small area at one end of the living room.
"Do you have your own furniture?" Lee Gatch asked.
"No," Jerry said, "we've been looking for some."
"My daughter lived here," he explained. "She works for the airlines and has been transferred to Atlanta." He took a moment to gaze into the living room, at the blanket chest at the foot of the Hollywood bed. Unless I misread the look, it appeared to carry a touch of dread. "It's my furniture," he went on, "so if you like, you can keep it until you move out."
An offer Jerry and I could not refuse. Lee Gatch seemingly as pleased as we were.
"Be kind to the furniture," he said. "The blanket chest, mirror and dresser are from the Eighteenth-Century. Same with the dresser in the bedroom." Then added, "Whenever you're ready to move out, be sure to call me and I'll pick it all up."
The day we moved in, I chose the living room with the Hollywood bed to sleep on. Being an early riser it gave me easy access to the kitchen and bathroom without disturbing Jerry.
On our first night I lay ready for sleep. In the dimness of the room, my tired eyes made out a wispy cloud creeping across the old mirror that hung above the dresser. Soon as it had passed the mirror, it vanished.
In the morning, when Jerry came out of the bedroom, I told him what I had seen. He had a methodical mind; I trusted his analytical abilities. In bathrobe and slippers he approached the mirror and gave it a quick study. He then turned to the open blinds that covered the window between my bed and his bedroom.
"Last night were the blinds open or closed?"
"Closed. I opened them around a half-hour ago."
He went to the blinds. "Maybe car lights bounced off the windows across the street and shone cloudy through the edge of the blinds and the window frame."
"And hit the mirror as the car moved slowly forward," I added in agreement, and that was that.
A few months had passed when one night I turned the lights out and got into bed. I lay there whispering the lines I had learned for an audition. When ready for sleep I rose up and adjusted the covers. Something caught my eye at the foot of the bed, where the old blanket chest sat. Its lid rippled like pond water on a windy night. I thought I had gotten dizzy, sat forward and gazed at the lid - at the face of a woman with open dead eyes, hair splayed under the rippling water.
"Jerry!" I hollered.
He rushed out of the bedroom. I turned to him, then flicked my eyes back to the chest - the image gone.
The lights on now, I told him what I had seen. In his robe he thoughtfully patrolled the room.
"You must have been asleep and dreamed what you saw. There's no other explanation."
"I was awake, sitting up when I saw it." Thinking then that it would be useless to try to convince him. "I don't know," I breathed, "maybe your right."
"Well, of course I'm right," he said with a yawn.
I kept the lights on and slept in stops and starts, sitting up occasionally to check the lid of the chest.
Another few months later I was falling asleep on my side, facing the open bedroom door. In the near-darkness, I made out Jerry in profile before the mirror of the antique chest-high dresser. He wore dark slacks, a white shirt with billowed sleeves and appeared to be putting on cufflinks. As I wondered why he was getting dressed with the lights out, he came toward me and stopped in the doorway. With tortured eyes he dropped to his knees, arms pleading toward me - it wasn't Jerry!
"No!" I cried out.
The figure evaporated as Jerry leapt from his bed. He snapped the light on and came through the doorway.
I sat at the edge of the bed, voice shaking while I told him what I had seen: the tortured eyes, the figure pleading desperately.
"Has to be another dream," Jerry said.
"Nightmare is more like it. But I saw it," I went on. "I wasn't asleep - I know I wasn't."
I kept the lights on and stayed awake the rest of the night.
A few weeks later Jerry and I entered our building with groceries. We stood waiting at the elevator. Jerry stepped across the lobby to where an eighteenth-century map of Manhattan hung. He studied it, then muttered, "I've never read this." He turned toward me. "You ever read the fine print at the bottom of this map?"
"No, never noticed it," I said as I joined him there. Squinting, I read that on this property had stood George Washington's Manhattan wartime headquarters.
"Well," Jerry said, "if you actually did see those ghostly things, this could be the reason."
"You really think so?"
"No, of course not, but I have to admit this is quite a coincidence, and pretty creepy."
At the end of our year's sublease I called Lee Gatch and told him we would be vacating. Jerry and I were now able to afford our own apartments.
Lee Gatch came with movers to collect his furniture. He and Jerry and I sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee while the movers performed their chores. There was a lull in the conversation, Lee Gatch lost in thought, eyes on the old dresser under the mirror, then shifting to the blanket chest at the foot of the Hollywood bed.
"In this apartment," he said hesitantly, "did you ever see anything strange?"
Jerry and I exchanged a glance. I answered, "Yes, a number of times."
"When my daughter was little, she had her own bedroom and kept her toys in the chest. There were times she'd awake in the middle of the night and rush scared into our room. The reason was always because of the chest."
I told Lee Gatch about the face under the rippling water. Without any sign of surprise he said, "In the late 1700's, my ancestors came here from the Isle of Wight. The chest was on their ship. Its legs had to be cut off so it would fit into one of the storage bins."
Jerry asked, "What would the legs being cut off have to do with the chest being haunted?"
"No idea," Lee Gatch said regretfully.
"What about the mirror," I asked, "the dresser under it, and the dresser in the bedroom?"
"They were aboard the same ship." Then said, "We kept them stored in our basement."
I had never seen Jerry so troubled. It was a dilemma for this particular man of methodology.
The three of us left the apartment and went down into the street. Where Jerry and I said our goodbyes to Lee Gatch. He drove off and Jerry said, "Guess we can also say goodbye to the George Washington theory."
Some years later, Jerry's acting career had blossomed. Mine had not. We remained close friends while I worked at a small record store. It was a wintry evening when I arrived to relieve Brian. He had the newspaper open on the counter, reading his favorite section, the obituaries. We exchanged greetings as I went into the restroom where I hung my coat. As I did, I heard Brian call out, "What do you know about that - Lee Gatch died!"
Stunned by the news, I went to him. "How do you know Lee Gatch?"
"Never heard of him," Brian said. "Just thought I'd yell it out."