Recently I learned that there is a secret room in the basement of the building I work in. Though this will sound like absolute bullshit, the room is dark, covered in fading wallpaper, and is filled with broken dolls and torn teddy bears. And, naturally, some of those items are nailed to the wall.
There’s also a sink and bathroom that has seen recent and regular use. I’m not always a nice person, so I made sure to tell all of this to the girl who replaced me for the evening shift before I left. She’s told me before that she’s heard humming and moving below the floor, and this new tidbit of info caused her to give me a petrified look before I almost literally skipped out the door.
We love scary stories because they take our fears and transplant them outside the realm of everyday occurrence. We feel scared when we think we’re alone with a ghost. We are terrified when a human being comes at us with a knife. The things monsters might do lie in imagined, ethereal possibility, but we see our own actions every day.
As a teenager, I loved sneaking into cemeteries late at night. The local graveyard is huge, and I could burn hours just wandering around. I remember a scary moment as I sat beneath a tree, beside an old tomb that had been broken open long ago by falling branches. There was heat lightning in the sky, and something seemed to be scratching and muttering from inside the concrete hole. I was spooked, but I did not literally hide the way I did when I thought I heard living human voices, trailing along a set of railroad tracks, laughing and growing nearer…
There’s a psychiatric hospital in a nearby town that is largely closed down. I used to sneak into the larger buildings with an old girlfriend. We dropped dry ice in mildewed bathtubs filled with water, we looked through old x-rays, we studied forgotten maps leading to patients’ graves outside. Most of those graves seemed to be unmarked. Friends of ours loved to spin stories about ghosts still wandering the collapsing halls, and old patients who still lived in tunnels beneath the hospital grounds.
We need ghosts and monsters because metaphor absolves us of the sin of oversight. We thrill to scary urban legends about serial killers, because otherwise we would be left to sympathize with the old man muttering to himself in the cold. We tell stories of voodoo queens, because it hurts us less to fear an old woman who sleeps outside than it would to feel for her. We ask each other if we believe in ghosts, when our own indulgence compels us to never notice them.
Images taken from “Abandoned: A Look Inside Central State Hospital of Milledgeville, Georgia,” by Monica Waller. Follow this link to purchase her work.