As distinguished as Massanutten Military Academy is, there was one area I simply couldn’t be in: the dorms.
There are far too many details to go over, so let’s just say that at the age of 16, I was way more trouble than my parents were willing to put up with. Considering both my Mom and Step-Dad came from military families, this simply wouldn’t do. It was clear that I needed discipline they either couldn’t or wouldn’t dish out, so the consensus was military school. I’ll admit, I was intrigued by the idea; I knew that I was out of control, and I knew I was capable of great things on the rare occasion that I was IN control, so I figured it was worth a shot. (Naturally, I kept my outward expression as one that swayed from disgust to neutrality, like every 16-year-old.) We loaded up in the car, and drove out to Massanutten Military Academy in Virginia to take a tour of the campus.
The visit started out pleasant enough. The grounds were obviously well cared for, and although the buildings were old, they seemed to be kept in proper working order. I really liked the idea of such structure and rigidity in my life, knowing that all I had to do to succeed was to just pay attention and do exactly as I was told. We were introduced to a number of students, a few teachers, and some other faculty. We sat in different classes, observing how the ebb and flow of everything went. The general atmosphere was relaxed, yet serious; these students knew what they were there to do, and even if they were going to have a good time doing it, they still intended to get things done. All in all, the school seemed very promising. I liked the grounds, I liked the teachers, I liked the students, and best of all, I hadn’t felt anything in any of the buildings other than the echoes commonly found in tight living quarters.
That is, until we entered the dorms.
From the moment we walked into that building, every hair on my body stood up and my skin instantly froze over. I was used to this kind of thing by now, due to our own Smiling Occupant and years of visiting old Civil War battle grounds. Still, this was different. I wasn’t quite sure how or why it was different, but it was different. My parents filed in behind me, with the guy showing us around in tow. He continued with the same speech he had been giving us throughout the tour, which I was now almost completely ignoring. We walked a little further into the dorms, and I felt myself getting colder and colder, my skin getting tighter and tighter. A strange and (at the time) unknown twinge in my brain startled me, as a silent alarm starting going off in my head. For me, this place was serious trouble.
We went up a stairway, and passed over a threshold into some random hall that had more living quarters. The instant that hall came into my field of view, every nerve ending in my body felt like it had been dunked in ice water. My vision started to blur, my hands got clammy, and an incessant pounding seemed destined to plow through my skull. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, I started to get angry…really angry. I’ve always had a bad temper, but even at its absolute worst, I still maintain at least a sliver of control. But this? There was no controlling this; it was as if anger seeped through every pore, every fiber of my being. The best comparison for it would be how the Emperor described the Dark Side of the Force to Luke Skywalker…all consuming, all controlling, and worst of all, its attention was squarely focused on me.
At this point in my life, my “experiences” were still fairly limited. There was the Occupant in our own home (who I knew quite well by the time this happened), there were the random echoes that appear almost everywhere, and there were the legions of echoes and background spirits that permeate Civil War locations. Still, I had never encountered something quite like this. I don’t know if there was something truly awful in that dorm at Massanutten, or if I just didn’t want to go so my mind made this up as a convenient excuse. Whatever the truth was, I didn’t care in that moment: I just knew that I absolutely had to get out of there, and that I could never ever step foot in that building again.
The rest of the visit to the Acadamy was a blur, honestly. I don’t remember leaving that building, nor do I remember the drive home. I vaguely remember acting completely loony and embarrassing the hell out of my parents before we left, and I still remember some fleeting images of the looks on people’s faces, but beyond that the rest of the memory is a total wash. It doesn’t matter. Whatever I did that upset my parents as much as it did, the point was I knew that I wasn’t going back there.
I don’t know what roams the halls in that dorm at Massanutten. I don’t know if it’s a danger to everyone (which it obviously isn’t…), if it’s a danger only to some, or if my mind decided to use my greatest fear in an attempt to get me out of there. What I do know is this: as much as the Smiling Occupant in my childhood home wanted to protect me, the Occupant I encountered at Massanutten wanted me to meet my end.