My freshman year of college, I attended a small women-only liberal arts college in Virginia (it’s gone co-ed in the last few years, but at this point it wasn’t). I’m from California and was a little worried about being alone on my own so far from home, so I requested a room in the dorms’ No Man Hallway. The other residents were a bunch of girls like me: mostly freshmen, all of us from religious or otherwise conservative households. The only men allowed on the hallway (besides the occasional father moving things in and out for his daughter) were maintenance workers, and they had to announce themselves by bellowing “Man on the Hall!” whenever they came up.

From Day One, something was wrong with that hallway. It started with an eerie feeling of being watched, and escalated into things like radios and the showers in the communal bathroom at the end of the hall being turned on and off apparently of their own free will, things being moved around girls’ rooms, that kind of thing. Typical haunting stuff. It started out as very benign, and we all joked about it, how we had representatives of the three major religions on the hall and at least one of us should be able to perform an exorcism, if need be.

So September and most of October passed with general activity, and then things began to get...creepy. The entire hall was woken in the middle of the night when someone ran up and down banging on every door. You’d walk into the bathroom to find every tap in the sinks spewing hot water, full blast. Radios that had never acted up before would be turned on. And whatever it was started getting nasty. It would pull our hair when we were out in the hall talking, or push us in the bathroom, or whatever. Nothing terrifying, but alarming. And worse, it moved out of the hallway and bathroom and started coming into our bedrooms more and more.

So I was really scared, but trying to be brave and not telling my family about the ghost. But my mom got the story out of me one night when we were talking on the phone, and I admitted to being scared. My mom is pretty sensitive to spirits, and she was alarmed. I tried to play it off as no big deal, and went about my college life.

The next day, I came back to the dorm from class, walked into my bedroom, and there was a man sitting in my desk chair.

He was not a flesh-and-blood man, either. He was more of a shadow, an outline, but I could see him clearly. I think I stood in my doorway for about a year and a half, staring at him, until he raised a hand at me. Raised a hand, like he was greeting me, inviting me in. I freaked out and ran down to the bathroom, where all of the showers were running. There was no one else home on the hallway.

From that day on, he was always there, sitting in my room. If I was bopping around with my iPod, I’d see him sitting on my chair or on my bed. If I needed the chair, he’d move to the desk, or sometimes to my roommate’s bed. I never saw him clearly; he was always a shape, an outline, more an impression than anything else. But he was there, and he was real, and eventually I started to call him John. He was tall, and kind of thin, and he gave me the impression of an older gent who wore cardigans and a tie, like Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. I liked John.

Because here’s the thing: from the day he arrived in my dorm room, whatever was on that hallway left me alone. It would still run around and bang on every door-except mine. It would mess around with everyone’s stuff-except mine and my roommate’s. Everyone else’s room phone would ring and have no one on their other end. Never mine. Other girls’ food would disappear from the communal fridge, or end up spattered in the sink; other girls would find their clothes tampered with; other doors would find their posters and crap messed up (we all decorated our front doors). My room? Nothing.

I didn’t mention John to anyone. I was having a rough time; my roommate and I were fighting and I was realizing that I really didn’t like the college at all. One night around Thanksgiving, some church friends and I watched “The Ring” as an activity, and then they dropped me back at the dorm. And I just felt sick walking in, like I was being watched. All the way down that long hallway to my room, I could feel whatever was there watching me, waiting. All of the lights were on, but I was so scared that I thought I was going to cry. I made it into my room, curled up in my bed (my roommate was gone for the weekend), and wished that I were home. I could hear the thing outside running up and down the hallway; I had just watched a terrifying movie, I was eighteen and small and scared. I got my blankets up around me and just cried.

After a while I realized that I wasn’t alone. My personal ghost was sitting on the bed with me. And somehow I knew that as long as he was there, whatever was in the hall (and there had been some inter-denominational talk about getting the place blessed) would not come into my room and would not hurt me. For whatever reason, he was protecting me.

On my last morning at the college, I got up at four o’clock to meet a taxi to take me to the airport. I got dressed, ate a bowl of cereal in the tiny communal kitchen, put the empty bowl into the sink, and walked back to my room to bring my suitcase down to the elevator. As I waited for the elevator, something in the kitchen behind me exploded. I walked over to the doorway and looked in: an egg in a pot had been heated until it cracked. The ring on the stove that it stood on was red hot. I’d been standing in that kitchen three minutes before and there hadn’t been anything on the stove. No one else was awake.

I turned back to the elevator and saw John standing next to my suitcase. The doors opened and we walked inside, and he was with me all the way across campus to the taxi by the front doors of the main building. I was so relieved to leave that place behind me as I drove away, though at that point I was still planning on returning in January. (Spoiler: I didn’t.)

At home in California, I told my mom everything, from my disappointment in the college as a whole, to the haunting. I told her about the thing on the hallway, and about how it never came into my room after my own personal guardian angel showed up. I described how he would sit in my chair and keep watch, and she laughed.

“Sounds like my great-granddad,” she said. “When I was little, he’d always keep an eye on us kids. He didn’t like bullies and he had no patience at all with the supernatural. He believed in it, but he didn’t like it haunting us.” That entire side of the family is Mormon, and they all believed in (and had experience with) ghosts. My great-grandfather, who I’d never even heard of, apparently had no problem with performing exorcisms or “casting out” spirits, and was widely believed to be good at it. He was fiercely protective of his family, too. He died when my mom was a teenager, in the late ‘60s.

And his name was John.