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The Dangers of Make-Believe

posted Feb 11, 2018, 11:19 AM by Cecelia Harrs   [ updated Feb 11, 2018, 11:20 AM ]

When I was five years old, my sister was kidnapped by a ghost.

The story goes like this: my oldest sister Sarah, and her best friend Emily faked a letter from a ghost named Samuel Withel and hid it outside our house. In addition to Sarah and Emily, the game involved my sister Katie, her best friend, who was also Emily’s little brother, Luke, and me, who had no counterpart in Emily and Luke’s family, and spent most of my time running after them on legs that were too short to keep up.

The haunting quickly escalated, and SW laid out rules for communicating with him. The oldest, Sarah, had to go down to the basement alone and deliver our letters, and the next morning return to collect a response. Those weren’t the only documents: worn, nearly illegible papers revealing the existence of ghosts, aliens, and other creatures began inexplicably appearing in books, under rocks in the park, and, once, to our amazement, on a shelf in the public library. Katie and Luke were skeptical - they were eight, and thought they knew everything. But Sarah and Emily quickly shot down any doubts - they were ten, and therefore really did know everything. If they said the house was haunted, then the house was haunted.

One morning, Sarah went down to the basement to collect the latest letter from SW. But she didn’t come back, and the longer we waited for her, huddled together on her bed, the greater the collective feeling of dread became. When a blood-curdling scream split the house, we leapt off the bed and dashed downstairs to find her.  Eventually, she was found, tied up and gagged behind the furnace. But then a different cry was heard through the house - mine. I had been left behind upstairs, and, thinking for sure that Sarah was dead, was stumbling around in circles, blinded by tears and calling, throat raw, for my mother.

It’s a famous story now, but I barely remember it. Bits and pieces of it come back sometimes: the five of us clustered in my sister’s room, listening to the latest bit of news with a mixture of horror and wonder. Sometimes, my sisters joke that it was some sort of psychological trauma I’ve repressed from my memory, and is the reason I dislike scary movies, or the dark. But there are two things I know I took away from it for sure: a tendency to doubt anything my sister says, and an inherent fear of the basement. 

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