By the time I joined high school I had an overactive imagination and a deep, holy fear of ghosts although I did not believe in them. I was after all -in my opinion- a skeptic and a firm believer in science. As a first year student all my scientific reasoning and skepticism was dismissed as childish ignorance and by the fifth week it had all turned into uncertainty and perhaps hope of one day meeting a real ghost.
One of the structures in our school was a run-down abandoned classroom next to a storage shed a good distance away from the rest of the offices and classrooms and behind which were two graves, one of which was rumoured to be that of the school’s founder; a well-respected Englishman. Terrifying tales of the ghost of a British man roaming the area had most students avoiding it and only the most adventurous sort to meet the pale white figure . I was far too reserved and sensible to attempt such foolhardy behaviour having watched enough movies and read enough books to know how such adventures ended.
Later that year my class was relocated to the abandoned classroom, a decision which brought about mixed feelings. The joys of being able to make noise and engage in mischief without fear of being heard by teachers, as well as concern that it we were being punished for some unknown crime most of us were however pleased with our new premises. No one mentioned the ghosts either out of fear of being branded a coward or simple logic that there were no such things as ghosts. I however, secretly hoped for something crazy, adventurous and perhaps a little adrenaline inducing to happen. Everyday after supper, between seven and nine, our night study was either quiet with us busy studying or rowdy as we enjoyed the freedom from supervision. My secret wish to see ghosts was not granted although the frequent rat or snake did come calling not that we were too bothered, it was all part of the adventure.
One night three friends and I stayed behind a little after everyone else trying to finish up some work. I am not sure who came up with the brilliant idea to shout “ghost!”, but the result was that two of my friends tried to run for the hills only making it to the door before realising how silly they looked. The two of us left undaunted by the threat were laughing hysterically and spent a couple of minutes mocking our cowardly comrades as we quickly finished packing up lest an actual ghost showed up.
A strange sound at the back of the class did not help matters and I bravely turned to catch a glimpse of whatever monster had decided to have a late-night snack. This time I was the only one brave enough to stick around as the others took off at speeds I had previously thought no man could reach, leaving me standing there looking thoroughly amused to see three young men scared off by what turned out to be a tiny rat.
As I made my way to the door the realisation sunk in that I was alone, far from anyone else and in what up to this day is one of the creepiest places I have been. My imagination chose that moment to come alive with every sort of suggestion and explanation. By the time I stepped out of the slightly creepy classroom out into the dark, cold and very creepy night the voices in my head and my imagination had turned my brain and my surroundings into the scene of a horror movie with every imaginable creature licking its lips. A distant owl was an alien dinner bell, a cricket was a giant man-eating arachnid, the wind carried the voices of blood-thirsty ghosts craving a skinny, terrified Kenyan snack, a twig I stepped on was a psychotic monster stalking its petrified prey. If I was going to make it to my bed with my soul and body intact I had to do something to silence my brain and the world around me so I decided to sing. Hopelessly out of tune, knowing only some of the lyrics and so off-key that my brain hurt I boldly walked, singing like my life depended on it. For a moment my dreadful screeching seemed drive away my fear.
Then I saw it! At first I thought it was all in my head, then as I looked closer the disfigured shadow moved. The voices in my head, the cricket, the owl, the wind, my heart and most of the world chose that very moment to go completely silent and cease all activity. I was petrified beyond reason, my stomach felt like a vacuum and my vision suddenly became as sharp and as clear as that pesky owl’s so I decided to close my eyes so as not to see myself die. I ventured to take a few slow silent steps but they were so loud that I opened my eyes to make certain they were my own feet. The hideous shadow of my tormentor was moving closer and my heart decided to restart with the vengeance, volume and rage of the Hulk. A crunch behind me almost made me scream but I refused to turn around. Perhaps if I did not look into its eyes it would not eat me, that was how it usually happened in some of the movies. I stopped dead in my trucks figuring that there was no way I would outrun whatever it was that was about to consume me. The now very real beast from the depths of hell also seemed to stop and watch me, grinning with pleasure and malevolence.
It seemed to me like I had been there for an eternity when I decided examine the grotesque shadow a little closer. I was doing so contemplating making a run for it when it dawned on me that I was staring at my shadow, made hideous and disfigured by the large jacket I was wearing and the bag on my back. Still too terrified to either laugh at myself or reevaluate my situation I decided that this was the moment to run like my life depended on it before a real ghost or monster made an appearance.
I do not remember much of that desperate race to safety, by the time I was calm enough to think and breathe I was in the dorm shaking like a leaf in a storm as my friends looked at me with concern. I put on my bravest face, which they said looked like one who had seen a ghost, and reassured them that I was perfectly okay.
When I finally met the three deserters, I simply mocked them for being such cowards and running from a rat. After all, what man runs from a rat?
Lesson: Ghosts, Life is full of them.