On the Nature of Scary Things

Happy somewhat belated Halloween. The one day of the year when everyone thinks folklorists are cool and listens to what we have to say. Often this is about the origins of Halloween, but I’ve already gone into that way  back in the day when I posted about liminality. So instead, I thought I’d share a spooky story and a short musing on the nature of spooky stories.

I just got back from a conference in New Orleans. New Orleans is an incredible city, but that’s another post. This post is about another guest at the hotel; one of the eternal variety. You see, one of my friends convinced herself her room was haunted and went to the front desk to talk to them about it. While they knew nothing about her room, they did show her a photograph taken by a guest of the fourteenth floor showing the ghost of a little boy who haunts that floor. It was clear and somewhat creepy. I know because I asked to see it.

It probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me at all that my next step was to go to the fourteenth floor and check it out. It was quite late by the time I got there (with another friend). At first I thought we were just doing something silly. It’s hardly my first time looking for ghosts. But in a crowded hotel on a weekend night; I just figured what were the chances he would come out and play?

We were about halfway down the hallway when I remarked to my friend that the hallway “felt” different. She agreed and said her ears were popping. Mine were two. We kept walking. At one point I had to put out a hand to steady myself against the wall because it felt so heavy and my head was swimming. My friend agreed the “heavy” sensation was worse in that part of the hall. Weirder than all of that is the fact that by the time we got to the end of the hall we felt better. It was just that one area; we walked through it four times to make sure.

Now, I don’t know that the dizziness we felt was a ghost or anything supernatural. Maybe there’s unshielded electrical wire there and that’s what was giving off that strange heaviness. Maybe it was all power of suggestion.

But isn’t that exactly why it’s creepy?

As another friend pointed out, it’s that ambiguity which gives supernatural narratives a lot of their appeal. If someone could prove that ghosts exist, they’d become a lot less interesting. They wouldn’t be creepy, they’d just be part of our reality. It’s that unknown that unsettles us.

So maybe the fourteenth floor of our hotel is haunted, maybe it’s not. That’s what makes it a good story.

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