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The 13th floor is traditionally skipped in most modern high rises. This is on account of the enduring superstitious belief that the number 13 is unlucky, and that being on a 13th floor spells certain doom.

This Elegant Theme is titled 13Floor, suggesting its intended use is for spooky stuff like Halloween content or ghost stories.

The closest experience I had to a genuine ghost story came in the days after my grandmother died. I do not recall specifics at the moment but her death from heart attack occurred in the late 1980s, during college summer break. I was at home, in the house where most of my growing up took place, when the phone in my bedroom rang. I was with a friend. I do not remember what we were doing but whatever it was I did not want to interrupt the revelry, letting the phone ring a number of times before picking it up. I had assumed my mother would answer on the phone downstairs. Evidently she assumed I would take the call. The phone rang 7 or 8 times before I somewhat impatiently answered.

I heard heavy breathing, moaning, and a voice muttering my name. It was my grandmother, saying “Mark? Is that you? Can i talk to your mother?” I ran downstairs to tell my mother who had called, saying nothing of the apparent distress her mother was in. I realized later that the heavy breathing and other signals did not fully register with me as I heard them.

Minutes after mother took the call she ran upstairs, announcing that we were going to her mother’s apartment and to get ready to go immediately.

My friend went home, no questions asked, recognizing that something serious was happening. My mother and I got in the car. In her storm of uncertainty and confusion she drove the car completely on the wrong side of the road, nearly colliding with one vehicle before I grabbed the steering wheel and put us on the right side of the street. I told her to stop at the corner and that I would drive. For the remainder of this ordeal I did all the driving.

We got to her mother’s apartment building, a retirement/semi-retirement community the likes of which were abundant in Florida. As we boarded the elevator I looked for the 13th floor. There was none. I cannot say with absolute clarity that this memory shines so clearly that i can casually toss it off as a given. But I always looked for the 13th floor on any elevator in any tall building.

I don’t know who called an ambulance but EMT personnel arrived soon after we did. Grandmother looked dead already, ghastly pale white as a slab of weathered marble. Still, she was happy to see us. She did not smile. I never saw her smile. But on our arrival she showed a gratified, comforted look of thanks.

She was taken to the hospital, where she died the next night. My mother threw herself onto the body lying dead in the hospital bed. I was last to touch her, timidly touching her cold hand, in the first and so far last experience I had touching a dead body.

The days that followed ran together like one. I got little sleep as the phone rang night and day with calls from relatives long forgotten and altogether unknown to us until word got around that Gladys had died. No one liked Gladys, who had alienated virtually everybody on all sides of her family save for my mother. Calls came in to support us and my mother in particular, but not to mourn the loss of Gladys. My mother would later be lectured by her sister about how caring for Gladys was a mistake she would never have to make again.

As calls started slowing down and plans for the funeral had been made I looked forward to a first full night of sleep in what felt like weeks, but which was probably only 3 days. Then, at 3:42am, the phone rang. I might have ignored it under normal circumstances but if this was another relative from far away I did not want to miss the call or deny them the chance to connect, for whatever reason they might have had for calling at such a strange hour.

I picked up the phone and mumbled “Hello?”

I heard heavy breathing, and moaning.

“Is that you?” I heard a woman’s voice ask.

“Yes. This is me.”

She replied “I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“I’m OK,” said I. “There’s been a lot going on.”

“I’m sure there has,” she said. Several seconds of silence ensued, then the heavy breathing continued, the gentle moaning.

My eyes slamming shut in desperate need of sleep I asked something like “What can i do for you?”

“Do you want me to come over right now?”

That question woke me up. I asked “Who is this?”

Her voice became perturbed. The moaning stopped as she pointedly responded “This is the woman you were with last night!”

I was confused but lucid enough to recognize that my uncertainty about who had called should not lead me to tell them off when it could be a concerned relative calling to offer support.

“Can you call back tomorrow?” I suggested. She agreed to this, her voice returning to what I had come to recognize was a sensuous sound. I will never know who this woman was or who she thought she was talking to but years later, while recounting this story to a lover, I realized that she must have been masturbating. I had deduced right away that this woman was a lover or paid paramour attempting to phone her partner but dialing the wrong number and talking to me instead. But the sound of masturbation just didn’t click with me when I was a young college sprig. I thought I was hearing the ghost of my grandmother, whose heavy breathing and moaning came through that very phone just days earlier.


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