KTVN Team photo courtesy of Jeff FossLife’s toughest lessons unravel truths we hold dear, beliefs we’ve glommed onto since childhood when we built our worlds upon the logic of others, claiming it as our own. A Reluctant Spirit is about discovering our own truths so we can live our fullest lives.

Chapter 1: B Movie

Just this morning, I embraced a deep peace, an understanding this evening would lead to something important in my life. That serenity fled a few miles back—squealing as it pushed itself through the cracked-open car window.

Faking fascination with the arid scenery we speed past, I stop making small talk with the two cordial strangers in the front seat of this SUV. They laugh in unison, responding to some joke told on satellite radio. I wipe my palms against my soft, brushed cotton pants, take a deep breath and watch the sagebrush hills turn to scrub. Although a passenger, I’m along for more than a ride.

I am venturing on this journey—for the most part willingly—to play a bit part in what seems like a 1950s horror flick, the kind airing late at night when reasonable people slumber in the comfort of their beds. Unfortunately, the B movie I’m to appear in isn’t scripted; it’s reality. For tonight, a Reno television news crew, three paranormal investigators and I (the fraidy cat) are to spend the night in reputedly one of the nation’s most haunted locales: the Goldfield Hotel. I’m the designated impartial observer.

My stomach flutters. I’m actually going to do this? Me, the number one coward. The one who covers her eyes during the scary parts of movies. The woman who shuts the closet door tight before going to bed so she doesn’t have to look into a black hole.

Nothing will happen. The building might creak. But that’ll be it. After all, this isn’t Hollywood. I take a deep breath.

We hurtle—at least in my angst-ridden mind—through this landscape I once drove through on my way to Vegas and points south. As we round a bend, the central Nevada town of Goldfield unveils itself. Once a city teeming with more than 20,000 souls, only a few more than 400 call it home today. Skeletal head frames dot the northern end of town, a testimony to Goldfield’s once thriving mines. Clapboard houses disintegrate, long neglected. Contrails—new and blurred—crisscross the powder blue sky. And the eerie-looking Joshua trees stand like posed stick figures on the parched landscape. But it’s the hotel that commands my attention. So large. So looming. Dwarfing all the structures still clinging to these desert knolls. It imposes itself on the entire community. On me.

Our small convoy—the news van with all the equipment, the ghost hunter’s car and an SUV carrying me, the news anchor and executive producer—parks just south of the hotel. The SUV’s engine dies and quiets. My car mates look at each other. No one speaks. Are they stunned into silence as well?

We open the doors and slide out. When we close them, the noise echoes off the buildings and down the street. Its reverberations spark action.

“Let’s get some establishing shots,” the anchor calls over to the photographer getting out of the news van parked beside us.

“We’ll get the caretaker,” Janice Oberding—my friend and the first ghost hunter I ever met—yells to us from the other car.

Everyone scatters while I stand on the thinning asphalt street, called Columbia. The news guys discuss their plan of action and set up gear. The ghost hunters sprint along a dirt road, disappearing down a small hill.

I’m alone.

My muscles throb with each movement. Every joint screams as I fight the gravity threatening to pull me into the earth itself. I’d handle tonight better if I felt stronger physically. Free of pain. I’m fighting another exacerbation of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Post-Viral Neurasthenia that’s plagued me since an African photo safari almost 18 years ago.

And everything this evening entails—staying up all night in a potential adrenaline-inducing atmosphere with few places to sit or lie down—will affect me for weeks to come.

God, how did I get myself into this?Goldfield Hotel by Ken M. Johns

I stare at the long-vacant hotel. Slowly creep toward it. This four-story mass of brick and Nevada-quarried stone, dubbed the Gem of the Desert, had been the place to be. Once adorned in leather, mahogany and Brussels carpet, this grand lady suffered an unglamorous demise. She’s been stripped bare, and there’s no electricity, running water or beds.

I gaze at her bank of naked windows. Fleetingly, I fancy her panes stare back at me.

Stop it!

Over by the Channel 2 Coverage You Can Count On van, voices register high, tinged with excitement.

I have as much ghost hunting experience as the average person. None. I don’t even watch those silly paranormal shows. And I really wouldn’t tune in even if I did subscribe to cable.

What brought me to the brink of this preposterous situation started four or so years ago when my employer, Truckee Meadows Community College, offered its first ghost-hunting course. As the department’s public relations coordinator, I work with the media. And every fall, they take an interest in our ghost classes. I pair up journalists with paranormal investigators or psychics as they breeze through “haunted” houses and such. Never before had one of the reporters asked me to join them. Until now.

So here I am, possibly flinging myself through Hell’s gate.

The air’s breathless. Dry. Dusty. Only when a semi pushes through town on Highway 95 do I feel the slightest breeze against my cheek.

More voices. Laughing. I glance over to the news van and see the ghost hunters have returned with the hotel’s caretaker, a petite, neatly groomed, gray-haired woman. I should go meet her. It’s the polite thing to do.

Instead, I’m drawn to a first floor window—the only one not paneled with cracked plywood. My curiosity propels me to it.

The window’s grimy, so I rub a small spot on the glass and cup my hands like a viewfinder. Dust shrouds everything off-white. A wall-length, carved wood bar. A sawhorse. I can’t see anything else from this vantage point.

Owning this building brings on a financial curse, I’ve heard. No entrepreneur in the past 90-plus years made a profit. One owner even staked three mining claims—including one in the hotel basement—and still never turned a buck.

“Kathy, you ready?”

I jump, startled, and turn toward the voice. Janice resembles someone’s young, perky grandmother with her dimpled cheeks, kind hazel eyes and short, curly, reddish-brown hair with a mind of its own.

I force confidence into my voice as I rub my dirty hands on my jeans. “Yes. I’ve always wondered what it’s like inside.”

She winks and lowers her voice. “It’ll be all right. You will be all right. Okay?”

I nod.

“It’s time.” She pivots in the direction of the porch where the others wait.

I grasp the cross necklace through my T-shirt and ask God for forgiveness and protection. A good Christian woman with a healthy fear of God wouldn’t have put herself here to dabble in the occult. I should’ve said “no” to coming. Yet, I didn’t.

My head pounds. But there’s no time to be sick. So I hustle to reach the others.

Bill, the news anchor, takes the offered key from the caretaker. He towers over us.

I guess that he’s at least 6’2”. His ocean blue eyes every once in a while gleam with a hint of mischief. “Let’s do this,” he says as he twists the key into the padlock of the boarded-up double doors.

Goldfield Hotel foor mosaicThe lock clicks open. I brace myself against a bricked column, near a tumbleweed that settled on the porch. Everyone stands on the black floor tiles that proclaim “Goldfield Hotel.” Some of the little squares had been gouged out.

The station’s photographer films the procession crossing the threshold: the elderly caretaker who pats the doorframe as she enters; the psychic with her wavy long hair tied up in a gauzy scarf; her brother, the wiry veteran whose expertise is recording the voices of the dead; Janice; and the skeptical news producer who looks both ways as he steps into the building.

“Kathy.” Bill holds open the heavy plywood-covered door for me.

I take a gulp of air. Try to smile. A little. It’s not that I believe the hotel’s really haunted. It’s just I’m not convinced it can’t be. And right at this moment, I know I’m not brave enough to say ghosts don’t exist.

The past four years led me here. There must be a purpose to this. So why do I feel I’m standing on the precipice of disaster? I grip the doorjamb to steady myself.

God, please stay beside me.

– – –

The Old Me never would’ve believed the story that follows this chapter. Or, at my worst, I would’ve thought a person telling a tale such as mine would be condemned to hell. I never would’ve had the courage to believe this story if I hadn’t lived it. All I ask is for you to read this book with an open mind. For if you do, then perhaps you, too, will see that our reality is so much grander than we’ve ever been taught.