Earlier this week a few coworkers of mine began exchanging ghost stories. One coworker recounted how her aunt’s cottage was haunted by a previous owner. People see an elderly man through the windows of the house when it is supposed to be vacant. There are disembodied footsteps on the stairs. Taps are turned on and off at random. Another coworker shared that her sister’s house had previously belonged to the sister’s parents in law. The house is surrounded by miles of prairie and is an old, yet still beautiful, yellow brick farmhouse. It is known within the family to be a creepy place during a full moon. When the young couple purchased the house from their elders the sister’s mother in law (who had lived in that farmhouse the whole of her married life) said in a soft, girlish voice, and wry smile, “Oh, it’s a full moon tonight. The gremlins will be out.” Pets raise their hackles and bare pointed teeth to vacant hallways. Hard soled shoes walk across the wooden floors. The sounds of people talking are hear behind the door leading to the attic. I scoffed at these stories but leaned in closer and kept listening. It wasn’t yet noon and yet I felt chills on the back of my neck.
It should be mentioned that I don’t believe in ghosts. I believe in the power of perception and of the human imagination. I believe in the power of a good story and of the magic (or if I should provide a word which carries less of a supernatural connotation, perhaps "captivation"?) between a story teller and their audience. Having now shared my beliefs, I know that had I been listening to these stories in a darkened wood near a campfire I am sure my empirical resolve would not shield me from the thrilling power of these tales.
The moments I spent listening to my coworkers and their creepy tales inspired me to think of the seemingly universal appreciation of an eerie narrative. I thought of those huddled in a longhouse ages ago, who shivered as a bard spoke with a thunderous voice and great gestures of the monstrous Grendel who wandered the misty moors. I thought of Victorians sitting in overstuffed flower-patterned chairs holding crystal glasses of port round a crackling fireplace on a wintry eve and exchanged stories in hushed, resolved tones of floating grey ladies, mysteriously locked rooms, and draughty castles. For a good story (no matter what we believe) we can let ourselves be carried along for a time in the waves of the tale, for our hair to raise, and to watch for moving shadows in the corner of our eye. Seemingly, it something we have shared in common through the ages.