One of my favorite go-to tricks with middle school students is to tell a scary story. Everybody loves a scary story–except for the occasional kid that goes home, has nightmares, and complains to their parent who then calls me very upset. Or perhaps my young cousins, nieces and nephews, but I still insist that four years old is NOT too young for scary story time, and that crying is good for a child.
I relish in the oral tradition of scary stories. They are meant to be told, out loud, to an audience. Kidding aside, I really do get a thrill from telling stories to a group of kids who still have suspension of disbelief. You’d be amazed at what they are willing to go with, especially when they start feeding on that group mentality. I once had a group of 12-year-old kids believing the gremlins from the movie Gremlins were real, and you could see them at the zoo—you just had to look for them in the bat house, because they don’t like bright light.
So yeah, I like messing with heads, pushing the limits, and seeing how far I can get people to bend (but not break).
It helps to have a vast repertoire of stories. And I do–because I once worked at a haunted school.
Now, as I like to tell the kids, there COULD be a logical explanation for all these stories, and over the years I’m sure I’ve embellished some happenings that I now present as fact. That helps the suspension of disbelief–when you admit that it might not be true, people want to look for a way to make it true. It’s like vaccinating them against disbelief, and it’s very effective.
So, tonight I’ll blog one of my totally true scary stories. I’ll try to write it just as I would tell it in front of an audience, and maybe you can even pass it on. This is just the warm up, the beginning. It’s always a good idea to save the best for later.
The first school I worked at was haunted. People said it was haunted because before it was a school, it was a hospital. About fifty years ago, the building was no longer fit to be a hospital. These days, they like hospitals to be big and airy, a place to get well rather than be sick. This building was old and grand, but grand in a gothic sense. It had many side halls and stairwells. It didn’t make a very good middle school because it had no hallways for large numbers of students to pass through.
When I first began teaching, I started in the basement. It was said that the basement was one of the more haunted places in the school building, because when it had been a hospital, that’s where the morgue was. In fact, when they changed it from a hospital to a school, they had to tear down many of the walls to make larger classrooms from hospital rooms.
You could see the places where the old walls used to be. They were marked by a scar in the brick, but also something very curious in just the basement area—tiny pipes. These pipes were no larger than the width of a pen. The younger students would sometimes try to stick their fingers in the skinny pipes. This was not terribly sanitary, because what I heard from the social studies teacher is that these pipes had a very special purpose.
Back when the building was a hospital, and the basement was the morgue, they used those pipes. The hospital would sometimes prepare the body, and the city would not let them dispose of blood in the regular way. No, when they drained the body and pumped it full of chemicals like formaldehyde to keep it from spoiling, they had to use those pipes. Those pipes would carry the blood and internal juices from the dead bodies down into the ground, and pump into the veins the chemicals of preservation necessary to keep the corpse fresh as long as possible.
So, if you went to that school, would you go sticking your fingers in the wall? I didn’t think so. But some students just wouldn’t listen.
Some students didn’t believe the stories, at least, not until Ms. H.’s story got around.
Ms. H. was a real teacher that was down the hall from me when I first started teaching, way back in 2001. She was an excellent teacher, and she stayed after school a lot with the kids. Today, we have buses that pick kids up from after school activities, but back then, if kids wanted to stay after school, they had to take the city bus home if they didn’t have a ride.
Back in 2001, we didn’t have as many computers in the schools as we have today, but since Ms. H. was a language arts teacher, she had some computers in her classroom. She would let kids stay after school to type their papers. There was a city bus stop right outside the school on the corner, so the kids didn’t have far to go when they did stay after.
Unfortunately, though, the buses only came every hour. If a student missed the 5:00 bus, they’d be waiting until 6:00 for the next one.
So, Ms. H. had a routine. Kids could stay after, but well before 5:00 she would have them log off the computers, and then tidy up the room. We didn’t have desks in that school, so all of the chairs had to be put up on the table tops so the custodian could vacuum the floors. Then the kids could all pack up their things and make it out to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare.
Well one day, everyone was so caught up in what they were doing, they lost track of time. Before she knew it, Ms. H. looked at the clock, and it was TWO MINUTES TO 5:00! She skipped the routines, telling the kids to hurry, hurry, hurry. They ran out of there really fast, but thankfully they made it just in time for the bus.
Now, Ms. H. was left to clean up the room all by herself. Poor Ms. H. Before she began though, she had to run out to her car to grab some library books, because the students would need them the next day and she hadn’t been able to carry them all in that morning. (Aside: Actually, she went out to smoke a cigarette, so the library part I just made up to keep it appropriate for the children).
She had to be very careful, though, because after 5:00, all of the doors automatically locked, and there was no office staff on duty to let anyone back in. Too keep from getting locked out of the building, she took a book with her, and stuck it in the door. She then ran out to her car, grabbed what she needed (smoked a cigarette), and came back.
Thankfully, the book was right where she left it, so she got back into the building.
As she went down to her classroom, though, she noticed something odd. Her door was closed and the lights were off. That’s strange, she thought. She distinctly remembered leaving the door open and the lights on, since she was coming right back, and everyone had left in such a hurry.
She walked into the room and turned on the lights—and that’s when she got scared.
She saw that all of the chairs had been placed on top of the tables. Her room was tidy and clean. Even though it was nice that she didn’t have to clean up her room anymore, she got out of there really fast—because she thought the only way that could have happened is if the school was haunted.
Now, was it really haunted? How long do you think it takes to make a quick trip to your car in the parking lot, and come right back? Two minutes? Five minutes? Is that enough time for the custodian to come in, put all of the chairs up and clean up the whole room?
But Maybe not. If that was the only thing that ever happened in that school, I would probably say there was a logical explanation, that it probably was the custodian working really quickly, even though he was nowhere in sight.
But that’s not the only thing that happened. Eventually, something even happened to me.
But that’s a story for another day.