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Night Shift Ghost

Tom S.
October 2023

Back in the 90s, I worked as an EMT in a pretty big city in the Midwest. I saw a lot of horrible things. But the one that really sticks with me is something that to this day I can’t explain.

It happened on Halloween. I was working the night shift. Most nights, we were called out to car accidents, stabbings, or ODs. On this occasion, we received a dispatch from 911 for an unresponsive male in an apartment block in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city.

When we pulled up in front of the building, my partner and I saw the figure of a man lying flat on his back on the sidewalk. We jumped out, grabbed our equipment and stretcher, and got to work.

The man looked to be in his 40s or 50s. Thick curly hair. A neatly trimmed beard. Dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt. We knelt beside him and tried communicating with him, but he didn’t respond. We watched for signs of movement and listened for any sounds coming from him. I searched for signs of trauma—blood or obvious wounds—and found nothing. We checked his vitals. His pulse was faint and his breathing was shallow.

I glanced around to see if there was anyone who could tell us what had happened, but the area outside the apartment building was empty. A strange thing, considering it was a Saturday night. As we moved to lift the man onto the stretcher, someone shouted down from a window above our heads. I looked up to see a woman leaning out of an apartment window five stories up, waving her arms.

When I asked if she was alright, she said something in Spanish I didn’t understand. My partner, who was fluent, came up next to me and called out to her. They exchanged a few words, and she ducked back inside.

My partner said, “She’s the one who called. They need us on the fifth floor.”

I gestured behind us at the guy on the stretcher and said, “What about him?”

But when I looked down, he was gone.

Figuring he must have somehow picked himself up and staggered away, my eyes did a quick scan of our surroundings. There was no one in sight. Even if the guy had been able to move quickly, he couldn’t possibly have moved so fast as to disappear the instant we had our backs turned. But that was apparently what had happened.

With no time to waste, we picked up our gear and ran up the five flights where an elderly man had fallen and hit his head. We got him to the hospital in short time but got no answers about the man on the sidewalk. Although we were both confused and a little freaked out, my partner and I never talked about the incident.

About a year later, I met a girl who lived in the apartment building across the street. In a city this big, that’s unusual, but I think sometimes things happen for a reason. I told her about my one experience there, and the disappearing man on the sidewalk. She immediately wanted to know what he looked like.

I described him. Somewhere in his 40s or 50s. Neatly trimmed beard. Thick curly hair. Then her face went dark.

“That was Xavi,” she said. “He used to live in that building.”

I asked her to tell me more. She hesitated and shook her head like she didn’t want to talk about it, but I persisted.

“Xavi was one of the neighbors when I was growing up,” she said. “He dropped dead from a stroke one night right there on the sidewalk.”

When I asked her when it had happened, she said, “Twenty years ago.”

I said that was impossible. That it must have been someone else. But the expression on her face told me she knew more. Although I didn’t get it out of her that night, she eventually opened up. I found out that my partner and I hadn’t been the first people to see Xavi after he died. Every so often, people would see Xavi. Sometimes he was walking down the street like he was coming home from work. Other times he was seen standing still and staring at the sidewalk near the area where he’d died.

Most of the time, he was gone before anyone could do a double-take. But some people in the neighborhood claimed that they’d actually tried to communicate with him, and that he’d seemed not to hear them. Always when they looked away, even for a second, he would vanish.

I’ve heard stories like this before. Only in my case, we hadn’t just seen Xavi. We’d touched him. We even lifted him onto the stretcher. Throughout it all, he felt as real to me as anyone else I’d ever tried to help. That’s the part that really frightens me. The one thing I can’t just put away and forget.

I left my job a few months after that. The incident with Xavi, and what I later learned, left me changed. Every time I answered a call, I found myself wondering if the person I was working on was real or a ghost. That’s not something to carry with you on a job where every second counts. So I left.

The city streets are filled with ghosts. And when you can no longer tell the living from the dead, it’s probably best to stay away.

Tom S.
00:00 / 01:04
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