In the early hours of the morning after I heard the janitor leave, I swung down through the trap door in the floor of my upstairs room into the restaurant.  Dark spaces frighten some people, but I find the darkness liberating.  It wasn’t pitch-black dark in the kitchen.  The pilot lights on the Wolf range created an eerie glow that made the room weirdly visible.

In the dining room, moonlight filtered in through the windows at the front and back.  I sat in the middle, away from the light, and waited.  This was an experiment.  I was looking for the ghosts that I heard inhabited the building.  I didn’t believe in ghosts or in anything supernatural, but there are things, most things, that we can’t know for sure.  I keep an open mind.

A few weeks earlier, I tried the same experiment in the coffee shop.  Above the front door to the restaurant there was a large, round Prince Albert advertising tin.  Someone told me that the ghost of Prince Albert had been seen floating around the area of the coffee shop.   I was unsuccessful in my attempt to bring the ghost forth.

When I was negotiating to buy the Sea Gull, the previous owner, Marlene Hall, told me a story about the house behind the restaurant where they were living.  She said something akin to a poltergeist haunted the area between the bathroom, kitchen, and living area.  She’d seen objects moving around in strange ways and heard odd noises there.  She related another story of an unusual occurrence at the corner of Lansing and Main streets in a blacksmith’s barn.  The blacksmith saw a phone jump off the hook in his shop and start ringing on its own volition simultaneously with the fire siren going off.  There were many stories of ghosts in Mendocino.  I found them all amusing.

Napkin Art, Sea Gull Cellarbar, artist Goslyn

Napkin Art, Sea Gull Cellarbar, artist Goslyn

While I had no intention of ever seeing a ghost, I vowed never to give up trying.  So, here I was on this dark night sitting in the dining room waiting for something to happen.

For whatever reason I was wide awake, my senses on high alert, despite the fact that my expectations were low.  My eyes adjusted to the darkness and I could make out the outlines of the tables and chairs around me.  The room was empty, or so I thought.

My heart raced when I saw him in the corner.  Unmistakably male, non-white, with sharp features, a large nose, narrow forehead and eyes barely visible under some odd cap (coonskin or was it a halo?), with a feather hanging out the back.  The wall behind him slowly lit up like a psychedelic sunrise.  I could see nothing of his body below the neck.

“Hello?”  I said nervously.

He didn’t move.  He didn’t turn one way or another.  I wondered if he were some kind of holographic illusion.  I looked around the room and behind me to see if there was anything to explain the vision.  I saw nothing to indicate that what I saw was a holograph.

“Who are you?  What are you?  What are you doing here?”  I was afraid that if I rose and walked toward him he might disappear.

What kind of deception was this?  I closed my eyes and put my hands over them and saw blobs and patterns and my own eyes looking back at me.  Even with my eyes closed I saw the outlines of the man in the corner.

Napkin Art, Sea Gull Cellarbar, artist RTS

Napkin Art, Sea Gull Cellarbar, artist RTS

I was sure he was some weird hallucination.  But then he spoke.

“I have come out of the wood where I have been a prisoner.”

Needless to say I was shocked.  At first I was too frightened to respond, but my curiosity grew stronger than my fear, and I gathered up the courage to speak.

“What kind of prisoner?  What do you mean?”

“My spirit was locked in the wood.  Your presence here brought it out.”

“You are a spirit?”

“I am what I am.”

“How did you get trapped in the wooden wall?”

“I am Chief Thunderbolt.”

“I don’t understand?”

“When your people first arrived here, they killed my people.  My angry shouting became the thunder and the wailing of my people became the rain.  The lightening that preceded me on my journey home started a fire.  I became caught up in the smoke and was absorbed into the wood that was used to make the wall.”

The vision disappeared.  I walked to the corner and there was only a chair and a table against the wall.  I had no idea what just happened.  A spirit seeps out of a wooden wall and seeps back in again.  What could that mean?  I felt like I was going crazy.

Napkin Art, Sea Gull Cellarbar, Jack Haye

Napkin Art, Sea Gull Cellarbar, artist Jack Haye

I stood around thinking about this for over an hour then went back upstairs and was soon asleep.  The next thing I remember, I was awake again.  I wanted to prove to myself that whatever happened had some rational explanation.

I dressed and went downstairs bound and determined to figure it out.  Dawn was breaking, but dark clouds were forming in the sky.  Soon the employees would be arriving and the smells and sounds of the restaurant would change everything.  I had to hurry to get to the bottom of what happened during the night.  I walked into the dining room and over to the corner where I’d seen whatever it was that I saw.  There was nothing but the table and a chair.

It was still dark in the dining room.  Suddenly everything lit up in a flash.  And then the thunder arrived with great force, and then the rain.

Listen to Merle Haggard’s I Am What I Am