We were expecting another guest and although the weather was springtime rowdy with wind, a few cracks of lightning, and hard rain, I distinctly heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Me being the gracious host that I am, I set down my knife and walked to the top of the stairs to welcome our late arrival. But there was no one there, only a cold chill that slipped past me and raised the hair on the back of my neck.
For about a year I was the Chef at The Loft at Soby’s. You know the place, right? It’s just above what is now Jones Oyster Company and it’s solely meant for private events. Access is through a door on the side of the building that faces the parking lot. From there it’s a several dozen steps up a wide, wooden staircase and halfway up, those stairs take a 90-degree turn to the left which brings one to the middle of the Loft. Turn left and you’re in the bar/kitchen area which leads to the dining room. Turn right at the top of the stairs and that takes you to a common area with soft seating and a nice A/V set up and if you keep going there’s two bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. The third floor offers open-air seating and another bar. I did the majority of my cooking in the kitchen at Soby’s then carted my work up the stairs and into the Loft. After about a month of this, one of our bartenders, Janet, asked me if I’d met the ghost yet.
“Excuse me but what?”
“Yeah. You didn’t know?”
“Well, that didn’t exactly come up in the interview process. Tell me more.”
Janet slid a little closer to me and her eyes widened and as she spoke her hands massaged the air in front of us.
“Yeah, we have a ghost. We think it’s a She, others are certain it’s a He. She eases through our wine cellar then creeps up into the Loft. Never hangs out in the dining room, just those two spots.”
Janet put one arm on my shoulder, pointed at the door to the cellar, then lowered her voice to a whisper.
“If I’m in the wine cellar by myself, I always make an announcement that goes something like ‘Hey it’s me, Janet, your friend. I don’t want to disturb you, I’m just here to do my work.”’
“And does that work. Does she leave you alone?”
“No. Well yes. Okay sometimes that works and sometimes I feel like someone’s watching me, or I feel a cold chill come out of the brick walls like someone is passing close by. Sometimes there’s the sound of a bottle clinking or a cough or a mumble when I’m certain I’m alone. It’s all very…Chef, I gotta get some work done.”
“Yes ma’am. Me too.”
As time went by there were other remarks, less dramatic ones, regarding the ghost, most of them were unremarkable. A light switched off, there was a laugh off in the distance, a shadow where there was no other person. Then came that night at the Loft. We had a group of 13 folks, all from the same company and they were waiting on a 14th person that was running late. Too late. At some point the gentleman in charge asked us to start service, so we did. The sun dipped low, the sky grew angry, and lightning lit up those big windows. As soon as we served the first course, that’s when I heard footsteps on our staircase, and I was certain it was a woman in heels. That staircase has an unmistakable timbre to it because it’s hollow underneath. So a lady in high heels hits a certain note, especially if she’s late to dinner. Except the staircase was empty. I mentioned to Luke, our Manager, that I was certain our 14th guest was coming up the stairs but the staircase was empty. He shrugged his shoulders and asked the group if the 14th person was a lady.
“No, sir. And he decided to stay at the hotel. He’s not feeling well.”
I returned to my station without any concerns of a spirit until that woman came back up the stairs ten minutes later, when we were plating the second course. Luke turned to the staircase then looked at me and nodded.
“Chef. Go see who that is.”
I garnished the 13th plate, wiped my hands and headed to the top of the stairs only to be greeted by a cold chill that was so disconcerting I wanted to jump behind Luke. So as not to alert our guests, I whispered:
“Holy shit. I think it’s the ghost. There’s no one there but we both heard footsteps.”
Luke wasn’t surprised. He’d been part of the Loft for months prior to my arrival.
“Of course it’s her. But we have to take care of our guests so let’s focus.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Five minutes later one of the waiters came up to check on us and ask if we needed a hand. Jim was a recent Furman graduate and a linebacker on their football team. His ever-present smile was always welcome in the Loft. As we were plating the entrees, he hung out for a few minutes and helped serve and pour wine. As soon as the last plate left, I cleaned up to get ready for dessert and as I turned to my left, a shadow moved from the left bedroom to the right one. I dropped my cutting board because I knew all of our guests were in the dining room, then Jim walked into the kitchen.
“Chef. You okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Jim, help me out and go see if there’s anyone down the hall.”
He shrugged his muscular shoulders, walked down to the bedrooms, checked the bathrooms then with his boyish charm announced:
“All clear, Chef. Need anything else?”
I exhaled, remembered there was work to do so I thanked Jim and he headed back downstairs. The rest of the night was relatively eventful.
That was a few years ago and whenever I’m downtown I usually make a detour and walk past the Loft and wonder if those footsteps were real, and if so, to whom did they belong.
Do you know?
As a PS, all the names have been changed to protect the innocent.