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True Ghostly Tales: The Forlorn Spirit

Cindy is an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.

Discover a real-life ghost story about a woman who makes a gruesome discovery at a client's house.

Discover a real-life ghost story about a woman who makes a gruesome discovery at a client's house.

This story was sent to me via social media by a woman named Shannon Smith who put herself through college by cleaning houses in the Columbus, Ohio area between 2006 and 2008. A terrifying chain of events that occurred in the home of one of her clients would alter the course of her life in ways she could not have foreseen.

The Discovery

Shannon had several homes that she cleaned on a rotating basis. One of her clients was a woman in her fifties who lived in a ritzy housing development on the outskirts of the city. She was single and worked full-time at a local insurance agency. They had hit it off right away and the woman, Mary, had hired Shannon to come in once a week to clean her home while she was at the office.

The women had very little interaction after their initial meeting. They communicated through notes that Mary would leave on the counter, or by telephone when necessary. No one would be there on the days that Shannon was scheduled to clean except for two small dogs who seemed to have the run of the house.

Minor Complaints About the Job

Shannon recalls that, although she loved animals, she resented having to clean up after the dogs. They had been trained to do their business on pads that were spread out on the dining room floor. Unfortunately, they also left messes around the pads which Shannon would then have to clean.

Another aspect of the job that had made it difficult for Shannon was the fact that her client was a heavy smoker. Mary had numerous ashtrays that were always brimming over and the acrid smell of cigarette smoke hung heavily in the air. Shannon had tried to make the situation bearable by wearing a mask over her nose and mouth when she worked, but it hadn't been enough to filter out the strong aroma.

Shannon is quick to point out that these were minor complaints that she had never voiced to Mary. She was paid well for her services and any issues she had with her client had not been worth raising a fuss over.

Straightforward Work With Few Surprises

Mary had entrusted Shannon with a key to her house during their initial meeting, since she would not be there to let her in on the mornings that she was scheduled to clean. Tuesdays were the day allotted for Shannon's visits and both parties were happy with the arrangement.

Shannon had worked for Mary for over a year without incident, it was a straightforward job with few surprises. Her client always left a check on the table in the entryway for Shannon to collect when she finished cleaning. Everything ran like clockwork until one morning when Shannon noticed something out of the ordinary as she pulled into Mary's driveway.

Mary's Car

Mary had never once been home in the months that Shannon had been in her employ. On this visit, however, a red SUV was parked on one side of the driveway. Shannon thought it strange, but assumed that Mary either had company or had stayed home from work for some reason.

Rather than let herself in, she rang the doorbell to alert Mary that she was there. She waited for a few moments for someone to answer the door with no luck. At this point, Shannon used her key to gain access to the house. When she stepped inside, she knew right away that something wasn't right.

Shannon immediately announced that she was there just in case someone was in the house. She didn't want to sneak up on anyone and had a slight fear of being mistaken for an intruder. The response she received was dead silence.

Dogs Acting Strange

Normally, the dogs would greet her when she entered the house, but on this day they simply laid on their beds and stared at her. She was also surprised that there was not a trace of smoke in the room. On most of her other visits, the odor would be so strong that she could smell it from outside. On this day, the air had a cloistering quality to it that she had never felt before. It also reeked of animal waste.

It was when she walked into the dining room that her stomach suddenly turned to knots. The dog's pads looked as though they hadn't been changed in days. If Mary was meticulous about anything, it was in keeping the dogs' area sanitary. She had told Shannon on their first meeting that she bought training pads in bulk and made sure that they were changed as quickly as possible after being soiled.

Shannon remembers that there were five or six large pads on the floor and that they had been used so many times that they were all completely soaked. She also noticed that their water bowls were both empty. Shannon had seen them in need of fresh water before, but never even close to being empty.

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She can't explain it now, but Shannon didn't immediately search the rest of the house. She feared that something terrible had happened to her client, but she wasn't prepared to confirm her suspicions.

Rather than trying to locate Mary, Shannon took a few minutes to collect and throw out the dogs' pads. She then cleaned the area on her hands and knees before laying down fresh pads. She also washed the water bowls and filled them. All the while, the dogs never left their beds. They weren't acting like themselves at all and she describes them as being in some sort of a daze.

A grisly discovery in the home of an employer would lead a young college student on a journey into the unknown.

A grisly discovery in the home of an employer would lead a young college student on a journey into the unknown.

Where Is Mary?

It was only after she had tidied up the dogs' area that she made her way through the hallway that led to Mary's bedroom. She had to pass by two other rooms and a bathroom to get to her destination. She noted that all of the doors were closed.

Shannon knocked on Mary's door before entering the bedroom. To her relief, there was no one in the room. The bed had obviously been slept in, but there was no sign of Mary. She checked the attached bathroom and found that it, too, was empty.

Bewildered, Shannon checked the other bedrooms and found that they were also vacant. The beds had been made and nothing appeared to have been disturbed. She wasn't sure what she should do so she commenced with cleaning.

Shannon remembers being frightened as she tried to pretend that everything was alright in the house. All sorts of scenarios ran through her mind. She thought that perhaps Mary had been abducted or that someone had murdered her and they were hiding somewhere in the house. She knew what she had to do, but it was not something she was looking forward to.

Searching the Downstairs

There were two levels to Mary's house, although Shannon had only been hired to clean one. Mary had told her that there were also two bedrooms and a bath downstairs that she was using for storage. The stairs to the other level also led to the garage.

Shannon gathered up every bit of her resolve and opened the door to the home's lower level. She flipped on the light and made her way down the stairs which she noticed were covered with items that Mary had left there, probably with the intention of putting them away at another time.

Once she reached the landing, she saw that there was a door on the right and an archway on the left. She opted to go to the left and check out that area first. After she found a light, Shannon could see that these were the storage rooms that Mary had described. Boxes littered the floors and it looked as though someone had started a construction project that they hadn't finished.

After she was satisfied that no one was hiding in the storage area, Shannon decided to check out the garage. She opened the door and immediately saw that someone was lying in front of the automatic door.

A Body in the Garage

Shannon had only met her client once, but she recognized her as being the person on the concrete floor. She moved closer to the motionless form and called out her name. The sound of her voice echoed in the room, but did not rouse Mary. Once Shannon could see the woman's face, it was clear why she wasn't responding.

Mary's eyes were partially open, but devoid of life. Shannon says that she stared at Mary's chest for a few seconds and thought that she saw signs that she was breathing. Having convinced herself that she might still be alive, Shannon reached down and felt for a pulse in Mary's neck. She describes the skin as being as cold as an ice cube.

Panicked, Shannon ran up the stairs and called for an ambulance. Not wanting to spend another moment in the house; she fled outside and sat in her car until help arrived.

When the ambulance finally pulled in behind Mary's car, Shannon got out and directed them to the body lying in the garage. It didn't take the medical personnel long to determine that Mary was no longer living.

Shannon remembers the remainder of the day as being a blur. She had spent several hours answering questions and recounting the events leading up to her frantic phone call to 911 with one person after another. She worried that she would be in trouble for not alerting authorities earlier, but no one appeared to blame her for her actions.

A Heart Attack?

Shannon's fears would soon be laid to rest when she visited the funeral home to pay her respects to Mary. It was there that she met Mary's brother and sister-in-law. They had taken her aside and told her that they believed that Mary had suffered a heart attack the day before she was found as she was preparing to leave for work. Her purse and keys had been discovered on the floor near her body.

She had also lifted the cover of the keypad that opened the garage door, but had not entered the numbers since the door was down when Shannon arrived. They explained that they didn't want Shannon to feel guilty about what had happened; there was nothing she could have done that would have helped Mary.

Shannon left the funeral home thankful that this whole ugly episode was behind her. When all was said and done, Mary's death was determined to have been natural and that should have been the end of it. A phone call from Mary's family in the coming weeks would change everything when Shannon would once again find herself in the dead woman's house. This time, however, she would not be alone.

A restless spirit can remain Earthbound when unexpected death occurs.

A restless spirit can remain Earthbound when unexpected death occurs.

The Company We Keep

It would be less than a month after the funeral that Shannon would receive a phone call from Mary's brother. He explained that he wanted to put his sister's house on the market and asked if she would be interested in giving the place a thorough cleaning in preparation for the impending sale.

Shannon's first instinct was to politely turn down his request. She had no desire to ever set foot in that house again, for any reason. Unfortunately, she was struggling financially at the time and was in no position to turn down work. She was torn between what she wanted and what she needed.

Mary's brother must have sensed Shannon's trepidation because he quoted her a figure than no one in their right mind could refuse. Feeling that she had no other choice, Shannon agreed to clean the house from top to bottom.

Shannon confesses that finding Mary's body had impacted her more than she had let on. She had worried for days afterwards that she would someday end up in the same position as her client. She had always been shy and had no personal attachments to speak of. She realized that she and Mary had been more alike than she cared to admit.

The job was set to begin on the following Monday and continue for however many days were needed in order to get the place in shipshape. Mary's brother had graciously allowed Shannon to set her schedule around her school and study time. It wouldn't be easy, but the hefty paycheck would allow her to pay off a chunk of her mounting debt.

Shannon spent the weekend before her job was to begin worrying about what was to come. She couldn't seem to shake the creepy feeling she had experienced in the house on the day that she had made the horrifying discovery in the garage. The realization that she had spent hours milling about upstairs while Mary's body lay just below her feet had weighed heavily on her conscience.

She had also been plagued by a bizarre recurring nightmare on the nights leading up to the job. In the dream, she would be diligently going about her duties when the sound of voices would suddenly erupt from somewhere down the hallway.

Shannon would muster up the courage to investigate the noises only to find that they were coming from Mary's bedroom. When she peered through the doorway, she realized that the voices were coming from a clock radio that was sitting on the chest of drawers.

Shannon remembers that, in her nightmare, gooseflesh rose on her arms as she listened to the voices that were emanating from the radio. It wasn't music that she was hearing, but rather several people speaking over top of each other. The voices were both male and female and Shannon could tell by the things that they were saying that they were talking about her.

One person would say something to the effect of, "She has no business here." while another would respond, "He sent her." Shannon listened as the voices debated what to do about the situation. One male voice was adamant that she had to be made to leave while a female voice pleaded with the others to leave her alone.

Shannon stood frozen to the spot, not sure if what she was hearing was real. One of the voices was familiar to her. She had heard it in person once and on the phone several times. She couldn't be certain, but Shannon was pretty sure that the voice of reason had belonged to Mary. As soon as she would make this realization, she would wake up. The nightmare repeated itself on several occasions over the weekend, sometimes two or three times in one night.

When Monday morning rolled around, it had taken every bit of Shannon's resolve to get her out the door and into her car. She doesn't know if it was her own subconscious or something else that was trying to keep her from leaving her apartment that day.

Shannon had a sinking feeling as she pulled into Mary's driveway. She still didn't want to do the job that she had taken on, but there was no turning back now. She still had a key to the house, so she let herself in just as she had done countless times in the past.

Shannon didn't see the dogs anywhere, but that wasn't too surprising. She assumed that someone, perhaps the brother and his wife, had taken them in. Everything had been so quiet that day that it had made her feel a bit uneasy. Shannon ended up turning on the television just to have some noise in the house.

Someone had already moved out a good bit of the furniture in the living room before Shannon's arrival. Presuming that whatever was left behind was being sold with the house; she set about dusting and polishing all of the remaining items. As she cleaned she discovered that, true to his word, Mary's brother had left her a sizable check tucked underneath a lamp on the desk.

She had already made up her mind that she would finish the job in one go even if it took all day and night. This was not someplace she wanted to be and she wasn't sure that she would come back to finish the job on another day. The fact that she had already been paid in full added to her desire to complete this undertaking in one go.

About three hours into the day, Shannon says that the television suddenly stopped working. She tried turning it back on with the remote control, but nothing happened. She then attempted to turn the device on manually with no luck. She would have to suffer the silence after all.

Every now and then, throughout the day, Shannon says that the hair on her arms would suddenly stand up for no reason. She also remembers the distinct smell of cigarette smoke that would arise and then dissipate as she went about her chores. She tried to convince herself that she was stirring up trapped odors as she cleaned, but her nose knew better. The stench of smoke was so strong at times that she felt as though someone was blowing it directly into her face.

Shannon knew that something strange was going on, but she kept reminding herself of the check that was now in her possession. It was more money than she had seen in a long time and she wasn't about to forfeit it. She kept her head down and worked double time to finish up and get out of the house for good.

It was sometime after she had taken a short break to grab something to eat that she heard the sound of the dogs whimpering in another room. She hadn't seen either dog that day and there were no training pads left out for them, but she couldn't mistake the sound of their whining.

Shannon searched the house for the dogs, but could not seem to locate them. They sounded like they were trapped somewhere and couldn't get out so she looked in all of the closets and underneath the remaining furniture. After turning the house upside down, she came up empty-handed.

Hoping that the dogs would turn up on their own, Shannon resumed cleaning the house. She says that at various times throughout the day she would catch a glimpse of one or the other of the dogs, but they would go back into hiding before she could reach them.

It was nearly dusk when Shannon decided that the upstairs of the house was as clean as it was going to get. Mary's brother had told her that he had cleared out the storage area downstairs so all she would have to do would be to clean the bathroom and vacuum the floors. He had also asked that she mop the garage with bleach water. Once those tasks were completed, her job would finally come to an end.

Shannon admits that she hadn't been looking forward to this part of the job. Even so, she did as she had been instructed and cleaned what had once been the storage area. When she was finished, she retrieved a mop and bucket with which to sanitize the garage floor.

When Shannon opened the door that led into the garage, she saw something that sent shivers throughout her body. Standing in front of the garage door was a woman. Shannon knew immediately by the style of clothing and the woman's size that it was Mary. She would describe what she witnessed from that point on as being akin to viewing a scene in a movie as it unfolded.

As Shannon watched, Mary punched the numbers into the keypad that should have opened the garage door. Shannon could tell that she was having trouble because none of the numbers seemed to work. Mary was getting upset and mumbling to herself as she continued to try various number sequences; none of which opened the door.

At one point during her struggle, Mary had turned for a moment and looked directly at Shannon. She hadn't acknowledged her, but Shannon thinks that Mary realized that she was there. It was during this time that she heard Mary speak, but it seemed to have been more to herself than to Shannon.

Mary had appeared to be disoriented as she muttered, "What's wrong with me?" Shannon remembers that Mary's expression had seemed more frightened than questioning when she had made the query. As Mary turned back around to give the keypad another try, she had suddenly let out a cry and put her hands on the back of her neck.

Shannon watched as Mary slumped forward against the garage door before easing herself onto the floor, holding her head all the while. Mary then struggled to locate something in her purse, but gave up quickly and let the bag fall to her side. Shannon says that Mary had then fallen perfectly still for a few moments; staring blankly at the ceiling and moaning.

Shannon recalls hearing Mary let out a deep sigh that seemed to go on for several seconds followed by a deafening silence. There was no doubt in Shannon's mind that she had just witnessed Mary's death exactly as it had occurred. At that moment, she was so overcome with sadness that she had dropped to her knees on the floor a few feet away from Mary's body and cried for this woman she had barely known in life.

She is not sure how long she had grieved for Mary, but she does remember that when she finally raised her head she could see through the garage door windows that it was now completely dark outside. Shannon was also aware that Mary's body was no longer lying on the floor. She, along with her purse and keys, had vanished into thin air.

Shannon isn't sure why, but she says that the atmosphere had changed following the events in the garage. She no longer felt afraid in the house. The strange sounds she had been hearing all day came to an abrupt halt, as did the smell of cigarette smoke.

No longer fearful in the garage, Shannon had mopped the floor without hesitation. When the job was finished, she turned off the light and left the room for what she hoped would be the last time.

As Shannon was walking up the stairs, she could hear that the television was once again working. Confident that she had done right by Mary, Shannon gathered up her things and stepped out into the night.

Mary's brother had contacted her on the morning after she had completed cleaning the house. He told her that he and his wife were very pleased with her work and that they would recommend her to others if the need should ever arise.

Shannon decided not to tell him what she had seen in the garage. One of the reasons for her silence was that she didn't think that she would be believed. That was not, however, what compelled her to keep the encounter to herself.

Possible Explanations

Shannon felt then, and still feels, that if Mary had wanted her brother to know how she had spent her final moments on Earth she would have shown him the same thing that she had revealed to Shannon. For whatever reason, the details of her lonely death had been something she had felt more comfortable sharing with a virtual stranger.

I have to interject that Mary might have felt a connection to Shannon, since both women lived alone at the time and had strained relationships with their extended families. Of course, Mary did not know this when she was living, but it is said that with death comes clarity.

Before ending the call with Mary's brother, Shannon had inquired about the dogs. She was slightly sickened to learn that both dogs had been taken to the local animal shelter and euthanized, at his request, shortly after Mary's body had been discovered. Shannon didn't ask any further questions and didn't mention that she had seen and heard the dogs in the house on the day that she had cleaned.

In the end, Shannon believes that Mary had stayed in the house until someone was there to see her off on her journey to what awaits in the next life. She says that the burden that seemed to lift itself from the home following the scene in the garage had convinced her that Mary had found peace. She had, apparently, needed someone to truly mourn her loss before she was able to let go and cross over.

I agree with Shannon that Mary had repeated her death day for a reason, but I'm not so sure of the motives. It is possible that the events replayed themselves so that Mary could attempt to clarify her cause of death. Since Shannon had seen her hold the back of her neck and head, it could have been a stroke or aneurism that felled her that day rather than a heart attack. It doesn't really matter, but maybe it was important to Mary.

Another possibility is that Shannon had opened herself up to the energy that tends to remain behind after a traumatic event has occurred. Time and again, I have heard stories of chilling sights and sounds that recur at homicide scenes. My father, who worked in law enforcement for most of his life, attested to the fact that he and his fellow officers had seen things that they could not explain in the aftermath of particularly heinous crimes.

Whatever the reasons, Shannon is satisfied that Mary found solace in their encounter and it had enabled her to move on. The experience ended up having a positive effect on Shannon as well. No longer content to lead a solitary life, she married shortly after her college graduation and is the mother of two small children.

The events at Mary's house also helped to guide Shannon onto a career path that she had never before considered. She is now employed as an occupational therapist who specializes in the care of patients who are confined to their homes. She knows, better than most, that no one should be alone in this world.

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