(From a note dated August 17, 1973,
found in an envelope on the author's nightstand)
I want to tell you about the time I
saw a ghost, and the things I've done at Newberry High School for
which I am deeply ashamed.
If you think this an attempt to
garner sympathy, that's not my intention, and besides, sympathy
is not what I need right now. It won't do me any good. All I want
to do is gain some kind of perspective on what I've seen and why
I've seen it, for what's left of my peace of mind. Make what you
will of it, but what I tell you is true, at least according to my
understanding of truth.
My name is Orlando Wake. I'd been
teaching literature at Newberry for twelve years.
Urban legends, I believe, are as
much a part of high school culture as senior ditch day. I've
heard plenty of accounts from students retelling the sordid
stories of lost spirits in the gymnasium or the cafeteria or the
girls' locker room, and as the stories get passed on from
generation to generation they grow wilder and more grotesque in
the decompression of translation.
The stories I've heard flying about
among the student body regarding the "Hamburger Lady" are as
gruesome as an impressionable teenager can make them, but are
actually rather mild in comparison to the facts, which after a
few weeks of research I can now share with you.
Most of you are unfamiliar with
Darius Maghee, and that wouldn't be surprising, because his life
went mostly unnoticed. He worked in a slaughterhouse in Goodyear,
Arizona in the mid-1920's, a son of a Scottish immigrant. Folks
described him as a "quiet, pleasant gentleman" who, on the
surface, didn't fit the profile of a murderer.
Very little is known about the
prostitute he picked up one night in September 1928, but knowing
what I know now, I could probably reach the conclusion that she
was a beautiful, vibrant young woman who wanted the means, not
the sex her activities
provided. I think in spite of her position, she loved life very
much. There's no doubt about that.
Maghee picked up that prostitute in
Phoenix, strangled her, and brought her body to the
slaughterhouse after hours where he processed it like the pigs
and cows that met their fates behind its walls. This poor,
desperate, unknown young woman was gutted, drained, and turned
into ground meat. Her body was discovered the following day, and
the slaughterhouse was shut down. It is unknown if any parts of
her ended up in the meat supply.
That was according to Maghee's
delirious, panicky confession to the authorites two months after
he murdered the girl. He was hung in Florence Prison two years
later, just twenty-nine years old. His last words were "God, I
hope I never see her again," and it would be easy to interpret
them as an expression of raw apathy for a young life, but I know
that's not what he meant.
I know, because I know now what was
haunting him, what made him confess. I've seen it in the halls of
Newberry High School, which was built on the spot where the old
slaughterhouse used to stand. For everyone who has passed through
those halls, it was a shocking and amusing legend, but one that
wouldn't manifest itself into reality for just anyone. Most of
the student body believed the story was just some sick joke born
in reaction to the Manson family murders from a couple of years
One who didn't was a young lady who
I will only refer to as Daisy, a bright, warm, charismatic junior
in my third period composition class.
There are certain women for whom men
would forsake their morals, obligations, and even logic just to
hold them close and kiss them, and Daisy fits that description.
Maybe it's a little ironic that I refer to her as a woman, but
she was all definitions of that to me. She was beyond desirable,
womanly shaped beyond her peers, shameless in her conversation,
coltish yet seething with quiet seduction. I was her teacher, yet
I was no different from all the shy, pimple-faced boys in the
room who wanted to sit as close to her as possible, with the
exception that I was happily married, a father of a baby boy, and
an authority figure in the community. None of that mattered
whenever I saw her, although I struggled with keeping my feelings
in check for the sake of my profession if nothing else. I lost
that struggle when I met her after school one day to discuss one
of her papers and she professed her attraction to me with an
openness and vulnerability I couldn't resist.
We had sexual relations for a month,
and for that I am deeply sorry.
In all my years of teaching I've
never sought out such relationships with students and even found
the idea of doing so distasteful. So what made me want to satisfy
my physical needs with a young woman twenty years younger on the
desk of my own classroom? I wish I knew. Perhaps that ghost knows
It was Daisy who first told me the
details of what the students knew about the ghost, the "Hamburger
Lady" as they call her. It was after one of our late night
"sessions" in Room 5 of the English building. With a twinkle in
her eyes that revealed equal parts fascination and fear, she told
me of the old meat packing plant and how a "female employee was
stuffed into the meat grinder out of jealousy," in her words. I
told her she was far too sophisticated to believe in such
"My big brother saw it," she
explained. "One day he got caught making out with some girl in
the boy's bathroom, but he never got in trouble for it other than
two hours of detention. The next night after football practice he
saw it. He said it looked like a woman with bloody skin crawling
on her hands and knees. Scared the crap out of him. It's been
four years and he hasn't been the same since."
She went on to say that only men
claim to have seen the Hamburger Lady, theorizing in her sweet
way that it only wanted to terrorize the men because it was some
kind of "women's lib" ghost, an otherworldly defender with the
purpose of offsetting the social dominance of men. I found that
to be both brilliant and funny. I'm not laughing now.
Two nights after that exchange I was
in my classroom again waiting for Daisy with my wife at home
believing I was "helping the basketball team at practice." I kept
the lights off and the doors unlocked. I recall the clock reading
7:15, which meant that she was a few minutes late, and I had more
time to sit in the dark and think about how wrong this was and
the dreadful idea that it would be her father or my wife walking
through that door. The darkness has a way of needling the
conscience of a guilty man.
It was then that I heard something
in the hallway that sounded like wet footsteps of bare feet--slow
and deliberate, yet landing with an audible squish--moving from
one end of the hallway to the other, passing right by my room.
The squishing stopped on the other end of the hall and everything
was silent again. My throat was drying up. I wanted to believe
that there was no one on the entire campus but me and Daisy, but
what was making that sound? I cracked open the door and peeked
into the hallway. In the darkness, the glass panes above the
building's main doors provided a dim aperture of light.
On the floor there was blood. Even
in the semi-darkness I knew it couldn't be anything else. It was
a long line of blood, thin and splotchy, like something one would
expect from a body being dragged, stopped, then dragged again
across the floor. The line started at my door, trailed up the
hall, curved and ended at the east stairwell.
A sickness welled up inside me as I
began to think of Daisy and why she was late.
I followed the thin trail of blood
up the hallway, praying to God I wouldn't find what I thought
would be on the other end. If anything had happened to that
beautiful young lady I would never forgive myself.
At the base of the stairwell was
something I did not expect. It wasn't Daisy or her father, nor
was it my wife. It was no living thing at all.
It was coiled on the bottom steps of
the stairwell on all fours, a nude, human form with mangled,
furrowed skin glistening with an unforgiving red. Its torso
appeared to be female, but its shapely form was tattered. Large
chunks of flesh were ripped from its legs and back leaving
exposed bone, and both of its feet were gone, ripped at the
shins. If it had skin at all, it was stained with its blood. On
its face (not much more than ragged, red strands) was a single
eye, bloodshot and blue, that allowed its meager expression of
agony and rage to reveal itself to me, accusing me of crimes of
which only it knew. It crawled toward me, its fingerless hands
squishing in its own bloody muck. Then it turned away from me and
slithered up its own trail back down the hall, and disappeared
into the darkness.
I only stood there, unable to speak,
barely able to breathe. If such a creature came from God, then
God should be punished.
I don't know how long I was standing
there when I heard someone call my name, but I remember the sound
that came from my throat-something between a scream and a
Daisy stood at the door of Room 5
apologizing for being late, staring with that irresistible lust
in her eyes. I was in no mood to meet with her--my heart felt
like it was turning inside out-but I needed company. Right then I
needed someone warm and alive to hold in my arms and help remove
the nightmare from my mind. I looked down at the floor and
noticed the bloody stripe was no longer there. It's gone, I
thought. Nothing there.
We went back into the classroom to
make love. I didn't ask her about the Hamburger Lady, how it was
described by people who've seen it. We didn't talk much at all. I
just let her have her way with me as I did with her. We were on
my desk and Daisy was on top of me when I closed my eyes,
allowing my desire to take hold of me. I opened my eyes.
The Hamburger Lady was on top of me.
Her cold, bludgeoned, bloody form. Her accusing eye.
I remember screaming, but I don't
remember much else about that night. Daisy claims that I struck
her across the face and tried to strangle her, but that couldn't
be possible. I loved her, or at the very least, I liked her
enough to never want to harm her. If I'm guilty of anything, it's
having an inappropriate relationship with a teenage girl.
Anyway that's a moot point. My wife
is gone and I'll never see my baby boy again. I'll never teach
again. By no means am I whining about it; I brought all this upon
myself and I deserve all the shame. But those misfortunes are
mild in comparison to what I'm dealing with now. The house I
tried to make with my family is empty and lonely beyond anything
I could imagine. And yet I'm never alone.
In my dreams and in my waking hours
I see her, crawling, oozing, staring at me with vengeance burning
from her eye. She never speaks, but her gaze, her awful,
blood-drenched presence, tells me all I need to know about my
shameful life. I thought when I left Newberry High I had left her
there, a salacious fairy tale to be told and retold to curious
young minds. But she's real...Oh God, she's real! Even now as I
write this, I can hear the squish-squish-squish back and forth
and up and down the walls and the floors. I hear it again. She
watches me like a prison guard, her eye...her eye. I can't go
into my own bedroom anymore. She won't let me sleep.
She won't leave me alone. And now I
know what she wants from me.
For the last time, I'm sorry. You'll
find my body in the basement.