ON GHOST STORIES, PART I: BETWEEN YOU AND ME…
Ghost stories are big at Camp Redblood, just as they are at any summer camp worth its salt. Camp Redblood and the Essential Revenge is, among other things, a ghost story itself, so I’ll be discussing them frequently as this shaggy dog of a weblog progresses. I should here make a distinction between ghost stories and ghost fiction. For the purposes of this blog, let’s say that ghost stories represent any alleged real world account of supernatural goings on, while ghost fiction covers entirely made-up works like A Christmas Carol, The Shining, and, somewhat lower on that list, my own little writing project. In that case, I should revise my earlier classification of Essential Revenge from ghost story to ghost fiction.
With that neatly out of the way, let’s talk about ghost stories because they’re what led me to the fiction. Anyone I’ve shared a whiskey or two with can attest to my fondness for the topic. Not just spooky tales themselves, but also their place in the modern world, in the old world, in literature, and in popular culture. I suppose at this point it’s necessary to share my actual beliefs on the subject of ghosts. Given the fact that the demarcation line between certain beliefs and non-beliefs has never been clearer than it is here in 2014, it’s likely I’ll lose readers just by virtue of what side of that line I come down on, and that’s the last thing I want.
With that in mind, let me say that while I’m a believer, I think ghost stories are here for one reason only, and that reason is fun. They’re here to be told over campfires for the purpose of scaring the socks off of kids and adults. What they’re not here for is to be proven, that’s for sure. I’m always amused when I turn on the TV and see some dipshit reality show ghost hunter skulking around a creaky basement, armed with infrared scopes, sound recorders, Geiger counters—fucking Geiger counters; people actually go out and purchase Geiger counters for this stuff —in some misguided attempt to push their paranormal malarkey into the scientific realm.
The truth of the matter is that believing or not believing a ghost story is beside the point, at least to everyone who isn’t telling the tale. The point is to have fun, and you leave fun behind the moment you start hanging out in dark places with a bag of electronics in the hopes of proving something. This extends to those on the other side of the fence as well. Those of us who enjoy a good yarn have all had a vocal skeptic cut the thread and spoil the fun at one time or another. These individuals sort of remind me of people who watch a movie and do nothing but point out the continuity errors and visual fakery. The crucial difference is that no movie fan ever tried to go out and prove that that King Kong really did run amuck on the streets of Manhattan in 1933, or that John Rambo went back and single-handedly won Vietnam for the United States in 1985. And nobody ever bought a fucking Geiger counter to detect the Gamma rays emanating from Lou Ferrigno, so my sympathy is with the skeptics here.
I used to believe the effectiveness of a ghost story depended as much on one’s surroundings as it did the verbal prowess of the speaker. A snowbound house, a hotel lobby late at night, even a sparsely populated bar– all evocative places I’ve taken in a tall tale or two. Then one day I eavesdropped on a really bitching ghost story in the lobby of The Boston Business Journal (not exactly the most spine-tingling spot in the Commonwealth) and had to rethink that belief. I concluded that it wasn’t surroundings or even the storyteller that made a great ghost tale come alive; it was the give and take between the storyteller and their audience.
One phrase I tend to hear a lot with effective ghost stories is “between you and me”, and I think that phrase is key to this idea. “Between you and me” is someone leveling with you, someone without an agenda, someone who isn’t trying to sell you something, who knows how crazy this all sounds, who’s just telling you what they saw or heard or felt. Somewhere between you and me is the truth of the matter, and if we’re going to have fun with ghost stories, we have to leave it at that and keep the goddamn Geiger counters out of it.
Tomorrow: Part II — The Creepiest School Assembly in History