Ghost Story Education
“When you make love to one ghost story, you make love to every ear and mouth and mind that ghost story has ever been with,” our gym teacher, Ms. Stimson, declared, pounding a well-manicured but powerful fist against her desk. She shot her laser pointer at the diagram taped to the whiteboard, showcasing the anatomy of a ghost story in all its macabre, gothic glory.
She wove the red dot of the laser around the salient points, drawing our attention to the dangers within. The trap doors, the revolving bookcases, the stormy nights, the red herrings, the conveniently deceased mothers—all those clichés and tired archetypes we could potentially contract a disease from.
I studied the fake woodgrain of my desk. The loops and whorls on the left side resembled the banshee from my father’s latest ghost story, the one he told to his friends when Mom was out of town, when he thought I was asleep and not wide awake up in my bedroom, my ear pressed against the vent in order to hear him brag about his exploits to his Army buddies. And I thought of the ghost stories I’d started seeing—more than one ghost story, actually. If Mom and Dad were to find out I was seeing more than one ghost story at a time, they would have disowned me. There are certain things a good Catholic daughter simply shouldn’t do.
There’s the Japanese ghost story from the next town over, the one about a kitsune in a three-piece suit who skins men alive. Then there’s the German one, in which the ghost of a witch haunts the children who first beheaded her after she’d attempted to cook them into a stew. And there’s the farm boy ghost story, whose plot revolves around an abandoned well and a bloodied scythe.
“Are you listening, Abigail?” Ms. Stimson planted an arm on my desk, stared down at me. Her face was a skin-tight red mask, eyeing me accusingly, as if she could read my mind, sense the hormones surging through my brain. “Do you want to end up with a phantom to raise?” Ms. Stimson said, pursing her lips.
The students behind me tittered. I could read their minds, the mental portraits they were already painting of me—Abigail the Gothic doyenne, Abigail the queen of the graveyard, Abigail who lives among vampire bats in the ribbed vaults of a derelict cathedral.
“No, Ms. Stimson,” I answered.
Wordlessly, Ms. Stimson returned to the diagram. She jabbed her long index finger into the northeast corner of the ghost story diagram, a scowl animating her face.
“And this,” she declared, “is where ghosts are gestated into love stories.”
The classroom gasped, then laughed in bemusement and disgust. All except me—I’d come face to face with that part of ghost stories before. There was nothing repulsive or shameful about it at all.
Lane Chasek is the author of the experimental biography Hugo Ball and the Fate of the Universe (Jokes Literary, 2020), two books of poetry, and the forthcoming novel She Calls Me Cinnamon (Pski’s Porch). Lane’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in such publications as Atlanta Review, Hobart Pulp, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, North Dakota Quarterly, South Dakota Review, and Taco Bell Quarterly. Lane writes blogs and reviews for Jokes Review, and you can read his less-polished musings and rants on lanechasek.com