“The Haunted Shed” by David Aronson

(Read the SubtleTea interview with Aronson here.)

When I was a little kid, I loved ghost stories. Whenever I found myself in a library, ghost stories were the first things I looked for, and I read as many as I could get my hands on. As an adult, I don’t really understand what the appeal was, because nine times out of ten those tales of headless women and sleepers having the blankets pulled off of them by invisible hands in the middle of the night, would scare the living-bejeesus-shit-stuffing out of me. And then, I would obsess over the stories, re-assembling the most terrifying details in my imagination over and over again for days on end.

One would logically assume that this is not the kind of experience that a child would willingly subject themselves to, or repeatedly seek out, yet that’s exactly what I did.

The psychologist in me would like to think that these frightening stories and images were symbols representing traumatic, fear-inducing, real-life events that were floating around in the murky grotto of my subconscious, and that the compulsive reading of ghost stories was an unconscious attempt to stimulate the repressed fears in order to process them. It was a primitive form of cathartic therapy.

Yeah – that works.

One book in particular occupied a large portion of my childhood awareness. It was entitled Fifty Great Ghost Stories and I purchased it at the elementary school bookmobile. It was very thick and every one of its detailed and highly descriptive stories took place in the late 19th century.

The Victorian era was a world I was already familiar with from reading the Sherlock Holmes adventures by Arthur Conan Doyle, and it was very easy for me to get lost in the book’s Gothic landscape of crushed velvet and heavy drapery, shadowy corridors in dark mansions lit by candelabras, domestic servants and horse-drawn carriages, and young squires returning home from tours of the continent.

It must have been the end of the school year when I bought the book – fifth grade I believe – because I spent a large portion of that summer immersed in the gloomy, macabre world that it evoked. I sat in my room with the curtains drawn, reading and wallowing in stagnant pools of both romantically-tinged melancholy and garden-variety depression, alternating with overwhelming and uncontrollable feelings of being really creeped out.


It seems I was a Goth kid before there even was something called Goth; before the Cure purchased their first tubes of black lipstick and nail polish. It was a psychologically unhealthy situation to be sure. A lot of my depression grew out of a difficult and largely unsuccessful transition to a new school and new neighborhood where I felt like a complete outsider, and staying inside reading morbid ghost stories in isolation was not doing anything to improve my emotional state.

Halfway through the summer something shifted, and I was able to pull myself out of the house and into the sunshine. I sought out what few friends I had in the neighborhood and spent my time in communal play, like a healthy, well-adjusted child is supposed to, but my preoccupation with ghost stories still lingered.

There was an empty field near my house that my friends and I spent a lot of time in. It was actually rather small, but to our child’s perspective, it seemed enormous. The field was flanked by trees which blocked the surrounding suburban tract housing from view, and we could imagine that we were exploring in some forgotten wilderness far from civilization.

At the edge of this field stood a large shed. The shed had a small window and a door that resembled the front door of a house, which made it easy to imagine that someone, some hermit-like being, might actually live there, or had once lived there, since the shed seemed as if it hadn’t been used in years.

In a very short time, we had constructed an entire mythology around the shed and its imagined former inhabitant. We tried to satisfy our fevered curiosity by peeking in the window, expecting to see ancient but still intact tables and chairs and a bed, but the view was completely obscured by dust and dirt and cobwebs.

There was something eerie and unsettling about the big, house-like shed, and my friends and I were both fascinated and scared of it at the same time, and the summer passed with the shed’s mystery persistently skulking about the periphery of our young minds.

Then, on a cloudy day late in the summer, when signs of autumn were just beginning to harsh our Tom Sawyer barefoot buzz with the threat of a brand new school year, something happened which amped the shed mythos up to War of the Worlds panic proportions.

My friends and I were farting around in the field, looking at the clouds and chasing butterflies and putting grasshoppers into jars, when a gnarled, rickety and very thin old man suddenly materialized behind us, seemingly out of thin air, startling us and making us jump.

The man had an extremely wrinkled face, like a desiccated prune that had fallen into the back of a cupboard and been left to fossilize, and his beady, yellow eyes exuded an aura of malevolence.

“What are you doing here? You don’t belong here!” he shrieked. His raspy, high-pitched voice was strangely asexual; it could have belonged to either a man or a woman, and the queerness of it sent shivers up my spine.

“You shouldn’t be here! Get out of here!” he screamed, with all the hysteria of someone defending themselves from mortal danger. He moved towards us with a shaky, spastic gait, and swung his cane at us wildly like someone batting at an attacking bee, and we stumbled all over each other like the Three Stooges to get away from him.

Later that day, our imaginations went into overdrive. The old man had been so bizarre and evil and freaky…so inhuman…his voice so otherworldly…like a wailing banshee… And hadn’t he just appeared out of nowhere? There could only be one explanation. It was the ghost of the man who had once lived in the shed. Yep. That’s what it was alright.

So hungry were we for something strange and mysterious to occur in our bland, sanitized, suburban world that we didn’t even entertain the notion that it could have been a real flesh and blood person who we simply failed to notice sneaking up on us; some crotchety old coot that we’d never seen before because he usually stayed inside his house watching game shows on TV and eating soft foods that wouldn’t foul up his dentures and who needed to vent his spleen over being old and weak and impotent. Nope. It was definitely a ghost.

We stopped going to the field after that. We were too spooked, and for a while we re-hashed the story of our encounter with the ghost of the shed, each time embellishing it with more ghostly, supernatural details, giving ourselves an adrenaline rush to equal any preteen sugar high. But like any addictive activity, our tolerance level soon peaked, and the story just wasn’t scary anymore. And besides, school was starting, bringing with it newer and bigger stimulations.

But there was a part of me that didn’t want to give up the ghost, so to speak, and so I started making up stories. I told my friends that I’d been walking past the field and seen the ghost of the old man, illuminated by a supernatural light, inside the shed folding clothes, or something ridiculous like that; that I’d seen him wandering around the field, digging something up with a shovel, or possibly burying something with a shovel. I can’t remember all the silly stories I concocted, but I’m sure that the details came straight out of Fifty Great Ghost Stories.

I don’t think my friends ever really believed me. They were tired of the ghost game. But I got so involved in my own stories that I actually began to believe them. It was a strange kind of self-hypnosis, and for years afterwards, in my mind, I was convinced that I had actually seen a ghost in or around the shed in the field. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that the spell wore off, and I thought back to that summer and said to myself “Oh yeah. I made all that shit up.”

It had been my longest sojourn in the land of the unliving, and although I made a few brief visits as a teenager, like the time I had strep throat and spent a week with a high fever, reading nothing but ghost stories and listening to the Doors’ Strange Days, their darkest album, and putting myself into a very disturbing head-space, my eagerness to go there diminished, and by the time I was a young adult, I had no more need or desire for walking those gloomy corridors.

My inner psychologist feels that in some strange way, I must have identified with the ghostly protagonists of those stories. After all, they were unhappy, earth-bound spirits trapped in some stressful or traumatic situation, and that’s exactly how I felt in the fifth grade: trapped.

Nowadays, when I go to the library, I usually peruse the occult section for books on astrology and my other various esoteric interests, and I often flirt with the idea of cracking open one of the many books of true ghost stories. All those ghostly women in white, wringing their hands and searching for their lost children; the little boys and girls peering forlornly out of the windows of the rooms where they were murdered; the brave young men defending buildings that no longer exist – they’re all whispering to me “Come back, David. We miss you…”

Perhaps I’ll have a chance to visit them on the day that I die, making a brief stop in their tragic shadow-world, before my soul moves on to the next adventure.

– 2006