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The Ghost and the Steel Wheel Roller

by Luke Vermeulen

February, 2005

Mosul, Iraq

We have a steel wheel roller in our motor pool that’s haunted.

Usually it’s houses and stuff that you hear about getting haunted on TV but that dumb roller definitely has a ghost hanging around it. I’m looking at the thing right now and the ghost’s right there, standing in front of the big steel wheel staring at me. Probably standing right in the exact spot where it got crushed when the roller was being unloaded at the port. We have four identical rollers all parked in a row in the motor pool and I can totally tell which one is the haunted one from a mile away.

This ghost should haunting the boat where the crushing happened and not some piece of construction equipment. There’s a bunch more scary, haunting type stuff you can do on a ship than with a Caterpillar CS-563D Vibratory Roller. You can turn lights off and on, bang stuff together, move around in dark shadows. That’s all stuff that would scare the shit out of me and probably scare anyone working on that ship. All this ghost ever does with the roller though is randomly switch on the beep beep beeping of the back-up alarm. Dumb. Everyone just thinks it’s faulty wiring, not an actual ghost and I get yelled at to fix it since this is one of my team’s rollers.

Maybe the ghost wants to stay and haunt the thing that killed it. Maybe he wants to put a curse on any operator that uses the thing since his untimely demise. Nobody around me seems cursed yet but the curse might take a few months to set in. I might already be cursed since I’ve driven it the most! I’ve even taken it out on missions.

It’s hard to describe what it looks like. Maybe more of a presence than an actual thing to be seen although I definitely know it’s there and feel like I’m actually seeing something. I’ve tried a few times to see how close I can get to the ghost before he disappears and it’s usually 20 feet away from the roller before he vanishes. It’s like an on/off switch when he disappears. All the sudden he’s just gone but then he comes right back when I move away again. I want to try to talk to it to see what it wants but I don’t want to be yelling at it from across the motor pool and have everyone think I’m crazy. So the ghost remains, watching me whenever I walk by.

I haven’t heard anyone else talking about this ghost which has me a bit worried. I don’t want to bring it up and be labeled the guy who claims there’s a haunting going on in the motor pool but I also don’t want to see this poor ghost (who was once just a local contractor working in Kuwait) every time I go to the motor pool staring at me with his piercing ghost eyes. This started happening to me in our motor pool at Camp Virginia in Kuwait and now that we moved into Iraq, is happening again at FOB Marez. It’s really starting to be a drag. For my own sanity and my ability to get any maintenance work done in the motor pool when I feel this dead guy constantly staring me down.

I’m thinking he must be hanging around because of his unfinished business. I grew up watching those ghost hunting shows on TV and according to them, the only thing these ghosts want is closure on their unfinished business before they head off to wherever ghosts go. They wouldn’t be sticking around here if they didn’t have some leftover business to attend to so all I have to do is help the ghost tie up the loose ends and complete any of his unfinished business and he’ll leave me and my roller alone!

This is where I get stuck though trying to solve this problem. I don’t know who the ghost was and have no idea how to help him complete his unfinished business. I know he was a local national working for a private company that unloads boats in Kuwait City and that’s all I know. I feel bad for this guy but don’t where to begin. Dying alone like that crushed between two pieces of steel in the hold of a ship. That’s pretty gruesome. That might even make me come back to haunt something.

From the TV shows, I remembered that summoning ceremonies were ways to try and talk to a ghost if you couldn’t talk to them normally. On TV, these ceremonies are usually done at night with candles for dramatic lighting, people holding hands in a circle saying their summoning incantations and lots of commercial breaks to build up the suspense. They also like to bring out the night vision goggles in case the ghost is lurking in the darkness somewhere watching what’s happening. With the ghost I have to deal with not letting me get close enough to talk to it, this would have to be the way to go to force a conversation.

With this in mind, I held my own summoning ceremony for the ghost a few nights ago in front of the roller. I spent the day rehearsing what I would say to the ghost to start things of and to run through some contingencies like if it actually tried to talk to me or if it tried grab my soul or do either weird ghost stuff. I didn’t have any candles so I got a bunch of blue chem-lights from supply. I gave up on the night vision goggles, hoping the ghost would be easy enough to see with the chem lights.

At 0300 I left my hooch and went over to the motor pool in my PTs and shower shoes. In case anyone saw me they’d just think I was going to the bathroom. I had left the chem lights and my notebook by the roller during the day so I wouldn’t have to sneak them out at night. I was very nervous about getting caught.

I didn’t see the ghost when I got over there and walked down the long row of dozers, scrapers and excavators until I reached the haunted roller. I sat down in front of it, waited a few minutes in the dark to make sure nobody was around and broke the blue chem-lights, carefully placing them in a circle around me and casting the roller in a bright blue glow. I held my green notebook in my left hand and put my right hand on the big steel wheel of the roller. I didn’t think about laying hands on the roller before but it felt like the appropriate thing to do. It was hard to read what I wrote but this is what I said to the ghost (who, I could feel, was totally watching me):

“I’m sorry that you died unloading this vibratory roller from the boat at the port in Kuwait City. Nobody here knows who you are and honestly, at this point you’re only ever brought up as a morbid story to weird people out. In a few months, nobody’s going to be talking about you anymore.

“I don’t know where you came from, or how you ended up in that ship getting crushed to death, but I hope you didn’t have a family that you left behind. Or If you did, I hope that they’re taken care of and that they don’t find out how you died because it sounds pretty awful. I want to talk to you directly to see why you’re hanging out here and not going to the place you’re supposed to go as a ghost. I want to help you clear up any unfinished business so you can get out of here. I also wish you’d stop staring at me so much when I’m in the motor pool. It creeps me out. You probably saw me do it but I cut the wires on the back-up alarm so you can’t mess with them anymore.”

I waited expectantly for the ghost to answer me but it never said anything. I could tell it was there but it kept its mouth shut.

I waited for like ten minutes reminding the ghost a few times that I was here to talk to it but there was only silence. I wasn’t sure how long I should wait for something to happen and I started getting worried someone would see me so I hid the chem lights in the gravel and went back to bed. Nobody noticed what I did.

To my disappointment, when I went back to the motor pool during daylight I could still see the ghost standing there by the roller. The only thing that was different was that it wasn’t staring at me the way it had done before. It was just standing there looking at the ground. I was pissed it was still there and stopped what I was doing to stare at it. At one point it looked up at me but then quickly glanced away, like it was sorry to still be around. That gave me some hope that things were improving, at least.

I’m going to try and come up with Plan B for ghost removal but the current situation seems more tolerable. The ghost has toned it down a bit with weirding me out which is good, but it’s also still here, which is not good. I wish I could help it with its unfinished business so it can get out of here and stop hanging out in a dusty gravel lot on an American army base south of Mosul. I don’t even want to be here.

Luke Vermeulen is a former Army engineer and Iraq War veteran.

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