On Parentheses, Pennies and Possible Poltergeists: A Horror Story

By Mike Thorn, Communications & Marketing Assistant at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

The thought strikes me on a third read-through of my article’s final draft: There are too many parenthetical statements here. I delete an overstuffed line and lean back in my chair, scanning the paragraph again. It’s still not quite working. I might need to rethink this story’s entire structure.

My mind is locked into a white space roiling with commas and sentence transitions when I first hear the Taylor Institute Specter. Its voice is weird, almost desperate, like a wailing protest too abstract for words.

I tilt forward too fast and almost whack my stomach against the desk. I peer over my monitor into Learning Studio F. It’s dark and empty in there; the only trace of movement is a block-lettered screensaver spinning TI-250B on a loop.

If this is a ghost, I think, maybe it feels some strange affection for parentheses. I might’ve hurt its feelings by scrapping that sentence.

I turn to ask Galicia if she heard the noise, but she’s busy discussing something with Chris.

I shake my head and return to the task at hand. You write scary stories on your own time, I tell myself. Focus on the task at hand: deal with your parenthesis problem.

For the rest of the day, my scariest encounters come in the form of impending deadlines.


A week later, I’m walking out of the bathroom when I see Brian rushing down the hall, pennies piled on his outstretched palm.

“You know what year these are from?” he asks.

I lean in to read one of the pennies. “1971. Those are some pretty old pennies you’ve got there, Brian.”

“1971,” he confirms. “That’s right. Of course.”

“Forty-six years ago,” I say. “What’s the significance of that number?”

“Let me tell you something, Mike. That noise you’ve been hearing, it’s not coming from the pipes. It might sound like pipes—”

“—I was thinking more along the lines of ‘tormented banshee,’ but okay.”

Brian pauses. “Did you know that the TI was built directly on top of the old Nickle Museum?”

“I thought we were talking about pennies here, not nickels.”

“Please, let me finish.”

“I’m sorry.”

“The museum was named after Sam Nickle, an oil tycoon and philanthropist. Guess what year he died?”

It’s starting to come together, like a promising (if spooky) lead for a UToday story. “I’m going to take a wild guess — 1971?”

“Bingo.” Brian closes the pennies back inside his fist. “Here’s the thing. Facilities personnel spent all morning searching the building for the source of that sound. They couldn’t find any possible explanations. Shortly after they left, I went into the basement. And guess what I found?”

I say nothing.

Brian reopens his hand and cracks a devious smile. “Oh, nothing much… just a pile of pretty old pennies.”

When I look at the coins this time, the back of my neck goes chilly. I force a chuckle.

Still smiling, Brian widens his eyes. “Happy Halloween.”

He goes his way, and I go mine; I wave to him as he crosses back toward his office. I’ve almost reached the Research Assistants’ lab when I glimpse something in the window to my right. I think it must be a reflection of someone behind me, so I turn around and look. Discovering I’m still alone, I return my glance to the window. I’m looking into the eyes of someone I’m quite certain I’ve never seen before. The man dons an old-fashioned suit and vest; he smiles broadly under a head of white hair.

I blink. When I reopen my eyes, there’s nothing but my own reflection on the window’s surface. I quicken my pace back to the lab.

Article-writing can sometimes be a solitary process, but not today. No, today I can’t shake off the feeling that I’ve got company.

Mike Thorn is the communications and marketing assistant at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. He writes articles for UToday, manages the Taylor Institute’s social media accounts and provides copy-editing for Taylor Institute documents. He is the author of the forthcoming short story collection Darkest Hours, and his fiction has previously appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies. For more information, visit his website.


  1. Thanks for the chuckle and escape, Mike! I love the “characters” and I think it’s brilliant how you tied some fact to fiction. With awe and appreciation, Grace

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