Chapter 37: Fear

All-American Ruins
10 min readMar 19, 2024

Location: Homemakers Fabrics and Dry Goods

Niagara Falls, NY


I say it in tandem with the click of the hazard lights.

“Huh,” again, followed by, click click click, the hazard lights quiet and steady, click click click.

My car also sounds puzzled, a low murmuring purr of the engine as I lay my wrists across the steering wheel and lean into it, my eyes veering skyward about 45 degrees or so through the windshield, up at this strange building. I initially stopped because I was curious about The Pharaoh’s Cup, an odd, abandoned former nightclub, but upon inspection, impossible to explore without really breaking the law.

“Not for me,” I said as I climbed back into my car. I’d driven down from Lewiston to go see — I don’t know what. Something. All of my plans had fallen through anyway, so I wasn’t in the mood to make more.

“Maybe I’ll just drive,” I told myself, and so I did, but I didn’t turn the GPS on. I just — drove.

Because, remember: God laughs when we make plans.

The first AA meeting I ever attended took place at an old church on the Upper East Side where an elderly woman said that to the group.

“God laughs when we make plans,” she chortled.

Everyone laughed. I fake laughed, just to feel included. I always found the cliche to be charming — and she too was charming. Different. Marched to the beat of her own drum. Talked to herself as she made the coffee, set up the chairs before a meeting.

Charming, I thought.

Every time I make plans that fall through, I think about her, and I laugh at myself for deciding that she was merely “charming” rather than “brilliant.”

“God laughs when we make plans.”

I should’ve listened. This trip really fell off the tracks. Canceled hotel reservation, food poisoning. I got pulled over on the Thruway, ticketed, assigned a three-year “Driver’s Assessment Fee” along with the actual fine. The cop didn’t even look me in the eye.

When I passed The Pharaoh’s Cup, a dilapidated structure of its own, overlooking the Niagara River, it seemed like a sudden break in the storm clouds. Alas, it wasn’t possible. I pouted back into my car and began to head east, back to the Hudson Valley, but I didn’t even make it a block out.

My escape from Niagara County is cut short when, in the middle of this warmer-than-usual October morning, I come across the building.

Is it — I mean, it’s a commercial space, just look at that display window, but — also a house?

I idle for a moment, then flip the car back around to a parking lot across the street from The Pharaoh’s Cup, kitty-korner to this other, unknown, architectural ruin. I stare blankly, confused. I even break my own rule of waiting to research a space until after I explore it and try to Google the address. Nothing.

“Nothing. Huh.”

I make a slow approach as if it’s a wild or feral animal. A breeze rushes past my ankles, carrying a cloud of dust that swirls around me, for an instant, before it carries on, barreling to find another lone passerby. I feel the hairs on the back of my neck crane their own necks up a smidge, a pre-warning, which I ignore because getting inside is —

“… so easy.” I squirm as I wiggle into a faded jade door on the side of the building which I learn immediately had likely once been its own separate entity before somebody annexed the entire building to a house plopped behind it, which was definitely here first. Probably a church.

But who knows?

The space is still, silent. There is a pulse. I can feel it in my throat, the eyes of the unseen watching my every move. I know it too, but I pretend to play dumb. Plus, this is a welcomed, happy accident, and I’m in no mood to complain about the hairs on the back of my neck reaching toward the stars, old, dusty, like every square inch of this carpeted entryway. I see boxes stacked up on top of each other with hymnals and Bibles.

“See, right, I knew it.” A church, I think. They must’ve failed to keep up with the mortgage. Couldn’t keep a congregation in their seats. Slowly but surely, people are turning their backs on religion and toward humanity. (Or at least I’d like to think so.) Pamphlets scatter the room, sopping wet from the ceiling that caves in above me.

This was also, likely, a store of some kind at one point, which I later confirm through intensive web-sleuthing: a fabric and drapery store called Homemakers. Somewhere down the line, they must’ve moved locations and sold the building(s) to some religious organization. Then, that organization must’ve tried to rent the rooms in the adjoining house to help pay the mortgage, but something happened, and this was all left to rot.

This is the story I tell myself, anyway. I peer to my right and see that it will be impossible to proceed into the sanctuary, however big or small it may be: it’s blocked off by a part of the structure having fully sunken into the room from the second floor. Not for me, I decide and pass back outside to enter the house side of the complex.

I don’t make it into the building. I look down the hallway into the connecting house, and as my head leans forward, I stare down at the end of the hall and see the bottom of a pant leg and back of a tennis shoe swish out of sight, connected to a — human? ghost? — body that just turned the corner into a part of the space I can’t see yet because I’m still standing outside. Strangely, I didn’t hear any noise when I saw the figure, nor do I hear any now.

Again, it is uncomfortably quiet.

These are the moments when I have to grapple with myself: Was that a real person? A figment of my imagination? A phantom? And which of these possibilities is the scariest?

When I was in eighth grade, my father and I were leaving his house to go somewhere on a sunny Sunday afternoon when I realized he wasn’t next to me. He’d been walking behind me as I bounced down the concrete steps towards the car, but as soon as the keys popped into the lock, I couldn’t feel him behind me anymore. The sounds stopped. I halted and spun back around to find my father facing away from me, hand on the front door knob, as if he were frozen to it.

“Dad — ?”

After a brief moment, he pushed the door back open. I began to approach him.

“ — Dad.”

He popped his head into the foyer and peeked around behind the door he was still holding onto.


He came back around, jiggled the handle, and as I reached his side, I looked up at his profile and saw a face on him that I’d never seen before.

Terror. My dad’s face was drenched in pure, unadulterated fear, from the top of his brow, to underneath his chin. Pale.

“Are you — Dad, you ok?”

“I closed the door — ”

“Ok, Dad, you’re kinda freaking me out, do you need to sit — ”

“ — and somebody yanked the door out of my hands from the other side.”

I freeze.

“Yanked it hard, from inside the house.”

“Dad, what are you talking about?”

He repeated himself, slowly.

“Somebody — behind that door — just yanked it away from me as I tried to close it. Somebody — ”

He interrupted himself and forced the door back open and popped his head around the corner into the foyer once again. He seemed crazed, fear still radiating off his body.

“Dad, should we call the cops?”

We didn’t end up calling the cops, but we did search the house, together. Nothing. We discussed it in great detail as we drove away from his house to wherever we were going that sunny Sunday afternoon.

It took him a couple hours to come down, and the story got told to a few people, and then, like all family stories, it got passed to as many people as it could before it went dark. I never forgot it though. Growing up, my dad wasn’t afraid of anything (or at least he pretended to be wholly fearless).

I’d never seen that look on his face before.

I’m already thinking about my father by the time I make it into the house, check down the end of the hall, can’t hear anything, and decide it’s safe.

What I saw was just a ghost in my head.

I proceed into a bizarre room filled with vintage computer equipment like the setup my father used to have in the basement. He was responsible for teaching my siblings and me how to use his old Windows PC, which, in the early 1990s, felt so sophisticated, so cutting-edge.

But staring at these machines, floppy disk drives, gargantuan, curved glass monitors, and the distant sounds of the QWERTY keyboard clickety-clack, I observe the passage of time, noting that my iPhone hanging out in my back pocket holds more operating power than any of these giant pieces of scrap metal put together ever did.

This bizarre palace of antiques adds to my puzzlement of the space.

And in the silence of the moment, a large crash in a room adjacent to this one interrupts my thoughts.

I hold my breath and listen to the sound of Niagara Falls a few blocks away. I don’t hear footsteps, I don’t hear scattered movement, so I proceed with caution towards where the noise came from. The investigation leads me to an adjoining room where I find a fallen broom and dustpan. I pick them up and put them back into their corner. Damn squirrels, I laugh in my head.

I continue to explore what was, at one time, a beautiful old house, like so many discarded houses on the US side of Niagara Falls.

The dusty and dented three-story charmer was parceled into separate apartments all of which have since been left to rot in the harsh Western New York winters, thrust up against the notorious Lake Effect, riddled with graffiti, the traces of squatters strewn all over the floors and walls.

I find piles of discarded buttons on the floor, and I read some of the tags aloud as I enter a small bathroom where the words “GET OUT” have been sloppily inked on a door in the hallway closet.

I take portraits in the mirror and imagine middle school me, eighth grade, 2002, Y2K, standing behind me. Every once in a while, the bullying I experienced over those few years vanishes, and I see how handsome I am. It’s not a horn-tooting moment, just an honest assessment that pulls me out remembering the scars that words like “ugly” and “faggot” left behind.

My body floats back downstairs, leaving my eighth grade reflection behind me, mentally preparing for the long drive back to the Hudson Valley. As I walk outside into the hazy October morning, I make a note to close the door behind me.

And though it could very well just be in my imagination, I feel it yank back, so I leave it.

Who am I to argue with a ghost?