What a haunting place! It haunts me. . .
How often we use the word. . . .and we don’t realize we use it correctly. Ghosts cannot haunt. There are no ghosts in a room except those we bring ourselves. This is the true haunting. This has driven men mad.
No haunting can be explicit. It must be implicit else it is not a haunting. If Sir Percy carried his head under his arm every night at 10 and walked down the passageways of the old castle he would become a spot of bother . . . but we would get used to him and he would cease to be a haunt anymore. Without fear there is no haunt.
It is the subjective nature of a haunting that makes it a source of terror. We interpret little events. Things go missing. They reappear. A shadow speeds past, seen in the corner of our eye. In one real case, a couple continued to find stubble in their bathroom sink each morning, as though a man had shaved there early each morning. They dug into the past of the house and found that a man had killed himself there.
We begin to put things together like the above– searching the past of the house. If we find something grave, we begin to convince ourselves there is a ghost. Now if a floorboard creaks, it means something nefarious. Chills seize us and we clutch ourselves. We fancy something has passed. The bed feels like someone has sat down on it. We bolt up.
Altogether we work ourselves into a frenzy. We live in a haunted house. We are being haunted.
It doesn’t matter if it is a real ghost, if such there are. All hauntings remain subjective. They are the collective result of our own minds terrorizing us from the tidbits of real facts that have happened about us, facts testifying to the unusual or abnormal that we do not feel should be going on in a house.
Our shoulders cringe together when we enter a dark room. Our eyes dart back and forth rapidly until the flick of the light switch vanquishes the unknown.
Such is a haunting. It is the synthesis of fear. It breaks out into a full terror from the littlest things.
The original The Haunting was frustrating because it was so subjective, the movie less so than the book by Shirley Jackson. But it reflects the truth of the real thing, and it can happen to any of us. It doesn’t matter if you believe or do not believe in ghosts. A haunting comes from within us. You cannot escape it. You often cannot exorcise it. People simply leave the house. A legend builds behind them of a haunted house, but there are those who come after who experience nothing unusual. Then there are those that do.
Was the house truly haunted then? Yes. Without people there can be no haunting.
In each case of haunted house, however, the truth becomes obscured by the sensation. We love haunted houses. Borley Rectory was the first. A strange old Victorian brick rectory with a bricked up window and dank courtyard of many echoes. A strange family in the Bulls, reports of a black shrouded nun, footsteps on the floorboards and even “Don’t Carlos, don’t” echoing through the walls while the rector stood at the top of the stairs, squarely amazed. But this seems like nothing compared to what Harry Price spun about it.
Borley inspired Dorothy Macardle’s The Uninvited. It also inspired Jackson’s superb The Haunting of Hill House. Eventually it came to inspired The Legend of Hell House.
But we were too sophisticated in the 1970s to want ghosts. Amityville Horror gave us demons we could assail or retreat before. Flies swarmed in winter, other strange events happened. A family fled in terror. Bank and bunk have been made of much afterward, but events and the history of the house came together to inspire the perfect subjective haunting that became grossly explicit in the movie franchise.
Was Arthur C. Clarke right? Noting that our eyes are a lens and our brain the screen upon which we see, can something reverse this and turn the brain into a projector, transmitting an image from within us onto the lens? When someone sees the dark hooded figure, a faceless void, is the brain projecting the image onto the retina and we see it in the room? Then the haunting truly comes from within.
In many cases, both famous and obscure, there is some dark, draped shroud moving about, robed in night and death, clothed from our fears. Black coaches, black cats, and we find a history of black deeds. A skull was found in the cupboard at Borley. A whole family had been gunned down at Amityville.
It’s not enough to say there are no ghosts. It is not enough to say “Get a hold of yourself.” The creaking boards come back. We wait apprehensively if that dark specter we’ve heard about or seen may, just may appear. We have enough! We say it is real. We take comfort that it wasn’t just something within us. We move out. We are free.
Nevertheless, a haunting will and must always remain subject. It must pry subtly upon our minds, eating away until we finally have enough.
The rest of us shrug and wonder. Was our friend truly haunted? Yes. But by what?
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.