If it's young boys on boot camp, it will be about girls – lies 99 per cent of the time. When you get older, it's more or less of the same. But there is one topic you have to be particularly close to the people around you to talk about, because when you talk about “that,” you're sharing a moment that left you feeling vulnerable. No matter how old you are, how worldly or “experienced” you and your company are, on a dark night it always creeps its way to the surface. And it gets triggered the same way every time. A sudden clunk down stairs, a scraping noise on a window or a rogue gust of wind through the door, it cuts off any discussion and causes everyone to fall quiet as they dwell on the same uncomfortable question.
Jon finally brought up the courage to say what everyone was thinking: “So do you guys believe in ghosts?” Andrew gave Jon the you-aren't-fucking-serious look. Rob, sprawled across the couch, flexed himself upright. “Yeah, man ... Let me just think for a moment …”
When I was about 13, seven of my friends and I decided to camp out 400 metres from my dad's farm by the woods. We happened to be telling ghost stories just like we are now, except we were inside one of these big old-fashioned tents with bunk beds on each side, clustered like baby sardines. Now one of my cousins was there, and being a bit older than the rest of us, he tried to pull our legs by talking about this crazy man who wandered around the place. I can't remember the details, but it was something about a farmer who never spoke a word, who had gotten lost trying to chase after a dog that had stolen one of chickens. Even though he broke his leg leaving the farm, he still went after the dog, dragging his dead leg behind him. The man never returned. Even though a search party was sent out after him, since the man never spoke a word he never called out for help, so he was never discovered. Rumour has it that he is still searching for whoever stole his chicken and the only clue as to when he is coming is the noise he makes when dragging his broken leg across the ground.
James made the dragging noise, making a few of the younger kids upset but giving most of us a good laugh. About half an hour later, when we started drifting off to sleep, there was this noise outside the tent like a footstep. One of us whispered, “Did anyone hear that?” We all thought it was James being a dick as it looked like his bed was empty. We then decided to ruin James' bunk by throwing his sleeping bag around, only to find James was hidden, sound asleep underneath the sleeping bag. This sent a wave of terror through our tent. One of us started crying. Now It must have been nature's turn to pull our legs, and boy did it pull good, because the zipper on the tent's entrance begun to slowly come down.
We all went into shock. I don't know who got up first – maybe we all got up at the same time – but we jumped out of our beds to escape the impending onslaught, running into the sides of the tent to try force a way out. Although six of us were in the same soccer team, there was no team effort being made here and as we all collided to the different sides of the tent the whole thing fell over. All hell broke loose, all vision turning black, as the tent collapsed on top of us. Since no one knew who was who or could see shit, we all started running into each other. This was only made worse when one of the boys screamed, “HE’S GOT ME, HELP ME” in that kind of screaming, screeching high-pitched voice that gets all horror movies going – and of course instead of helping him, everyone ran as far away from the location of the scream as possible. Finally we started getting out from underneath the tent, somehow. For a moment it looked like tensions may have calmed down, giving us the space to actually look the fuck around to see what was actually happening, but all chances of that disappeared when one of the boys tripped over the strings holding part of the tent up, screaming, “HE'S GRABBED MY LEG! HELP ME!” Like a gunshot among rabbits, all eight of us scrambled in every direction.
“That's fucking awful,” I said when Rob finished. I loved it. There are only two things that scare me now: failing my papers and talking to Mum after failing those papers. I've always wondered why when we feel deeply connected to the people around us, we start feeling the need to share with each other our silliest and often embarrassing stories about ourselves. Sometimes you're hesitant about it because you're worried that whoever you're bonding with won’t look at you the same way and you'll lose the mojo that had kept the companionship going. But maybe it's about establishing a deeper level of trust? If you can tell someone else that embarrassing story, you are giving them something that they could hold against you in a damaging way. You are subconsciously signalling to them, as if saying, “I’ll concede this personal part of my life to you, to demonstrate my trust in our relationship.” It’s like in movies when you feel attached to a character after you are shown a secret about them or a flashback into his or her past. The person telling the first story is waging his or her reputation on the table. Yet once the gamble is made, it nearly always pays off.
Andrew started positioning himself upright, to begin his own story.
Many summers ago when I was in, I think, Year Seven, I was staying at my friend’s bach in the middle of nowhere. Since his whole family was over, the house was pretty crowded. What this meant for us was that we had to share the single top bunk bed, squeezed together in our sleeping bags. I had a little fear of falling off bunks, so I made sure I was on the wall side. Now it had recently been Christmas and we had spoiled ourselves with a good zombie movie and late night treats, going to bed with chocolate and shit all across our faces. But later that night, around maybe 2am, I woke up to see my friend in his sleeping bag, half bending over the edge. I was still in my dream-like state and just lay awake staring at my friend, feeling reassured that if my friend hadn't fallen off in his current state, it must be pretty hard to fall off the top bunk and I shouldn't worry about it again ... Only until in a surreal, slow-motion-like moment, he flipped off the top bunk, hitting the wooden floor with a loud clunk. And you know that terrible type of cry that emerges when someone can't quite comprehend what terrible thing just happened to them, like when you accidentally trip over, it kind of comes out slowly at first, only to get more and more louder? Yeah, it was that type.
But in my spot I had no idea of what condition he was in. For all I knew he could have been a bloody mess, so I just fucking lay there, petrified. And after watching a zombie movie, I had this realisation that if he just died, he would come up and eat me. Because I was both young and sleepy this shit was a legitimate concern of mine at the time. Then I thought he’d just go running to his mum – the logical thing for a crying kid to do. Apparently not. I heard this clink noise, I realise he's climbing back up the ladder. What is he climbing up the ladder for? What the fuck can I do for him? Then it hit me, he was going to fucking eat me.
When his head emerged in the darkness all I could see was this face covered in a dark smear. Although it had been from the chocolate we’d eaten earlier, at that moment it might as well have been fucking blood, my “save myself in the corner from the zombie” instincts kicked in. I got all the power from my legs at the bottom of my sleeping bag I could muster and, like a mermaid attack or some weird nature caterpillar move, I kicked him in the face and he fell down again. Clunk. Now, if he had any brains, it should occur to him that climbing up the ladder a second time would not work out well again – and, of course, he wouldn't because he is not a zombie and I was just in a sleepy state, right? Wrong. He then starts climbing the ladder again, exactly like how a stupid zombie would. This made me panic the fuck out, so I add to his scream with my own. The parents rush in, turn on the lights and sort everything out. We weren't friends again after that summer.
“You kicked your friend in the face? That is brutal.”
“At least I can make my way out of a frick’n tent.”
“Hey, Jon, you haven't said a word, what story do you have?”
“Nah, I don't have any good ones.”
If one person confesses to others a story about themselves, but then no one else follows, it's the biggest fuck-you sign you can give. It's practically saying, “I refuse to take this companionship to the next level and, instead, I’m going to enjoy the privilege you have just given me of having damaging information over you.” Rob passed around the remaining beer cans that had turned mostly warm by this point. Jon spoke up again. “Actually, come to think of it ...”
We were on this ghost tour in Scotland with about 35 other people; it was a late night and the guide was taking us to this graveyard. During the Black Plague many people had been buried in this graveyard and sometimes when it rained heavily the water would cause bones to emerge from the ground. The only thing that made the place less ugly was this big oak tree. Anyway, there was this especially creepy tomb. The rumour was that a man who had died during an exorcism was buried at the end of the tomb, as to not let his bad energy grab onto someone else. The tour guide seemed especially knowledgeable on this “bad energy” stuff. As we gathered within the cave, he told us that people on his tour had been known to have epileptic fits when standing inside, so if any of us were feeling uncomfortable he suggested to us to stand outside as it might be the bad energy left here. A couple people left.
As he started to talk more about this idea of bad energy, people were becoming pretty scared. One guy at the front of the group wanted to leave but it was so packed within the tomb he couldn't get out. He then started screaming to be let out, giving the tour guide the idea to buff up the excitement by announcing that the bad energy was here and we all needed to leave immediately. Yet the couple that had left earlier had lit cigarettes just outside the tomb, giving off the illusion to some poor fellow that the glowing cigarette butts were actually the devil’s eyes shining through the darkness. Instead of keeping such a worrying sight to himself, he let us all know by screaming, “THE DEVIL IS AMONGST US, HE’S TRYING TO TRAP US IN.” This caused everyone at the end of the group trying to leave to push forward impatiently, making half the group fall over. Screams followed.
The tour guide, who still wanted to maximise the experience, yelled, “THE DEVIL’S HERE, I SEE HIM TOO!” Unfortunately, no one else in the group saw the humour. Everyone burst out of the tomb. Now, it could have ended there and the night could be recovered but, no, it didn’t. When one woman at the front of the group ran into the low branches of the oak tree it plunged her backwards. She screamed, “IT'S DRAGGING ME BACK,” which set off a wave of panic, just like the young boys in the tent earlier, except this time most people on the tour were fully-grown adults.
The four of us had a few giggles at that story, then the beer was finished and we slowly started to drift to sleep. Suddenly a small gust of wind burst through the window. ”What was that?” Rob jokingly teased. Everyone shyly laughed along yet no one fell asleep particularly fast that night.