So, like it says in the about the author section, I went to Oberlin for undergrad, majored in creative writing, learned from some great teachers, etc. I don’t usually give money to Oberlin because they’re actually really awful about asking for it, and often make it difficult to give.
But a fellow alumnus and friend posted on Facebook how they were doing a special giving thing this month – give money, and they’ll send a student photographer out to take a picture of whatever on campus you want (with some exceptions: no dorm rooms, no people without consent, etc). Some people might see this an get dewey eyed with nostalgia. I did not. I thought of how I hadn’t done anything on April Fools Day.
So, with some encouragement from friends, I sent in several… unique requests, written in a style I suppose would be most easily-labeled as “Lovecraftian.” What’s really fun about these is that while they’re all wildly exaggerated and over the top, they’re all inspired by real Oberlin experiences and ghost stories. As you’ll see, I never communicated directly with any of the student photographers, but I hope they saw these stories and enjoyed them.
Or, as my friend Meghan put it:
“In my heart, I imagine these being read aloud in a team meeting. One staff member says, “I told you the alumni would send in some weird requests – but Jesus Christ…” To which another replies, “I love this job so much sometimes.”
This is the first request I sent in:
It’s very important this photo be taken at night. I would like the student to enter the Arb from the main entrance on South Professor and follow the path into the woods. When the path suddenly veers sharply to the left (it was in a clearing then), there is a place with two trees on either side that create an arch over the path. I saw something terrible there once, with glowing eyes, taller than I was. I don’t know if it’s still there, but I would like a photo of where it was, at least. I can still hear it whispering sometimes, like the creak of branches, and the wind through leaves, but darker, somehow, colder, and shaping words I can’t pronounce, words I should not know, words which will soon, no doubt, drive me mad.
I received the following response to that one:
That is disappointing, but not surprising. The woods there shift and move in unnatural ways, hiding their changes beneath the foliage. Perhaps it is for the best. But as you mention it, I do have another story, and another request: The lowest level of Talcott. It’s off limits, I know. It was off limits then, too, but we were adventurers, and we went anyway. It’s only accessible via one stairwell, but I don’t recall which one, you’ll have to check. In the lowest level, we found a room – or perhaps rooms – like a town that had sunk into the swamp Oberlin was built on. There were buildings in the room – with windows looking out on nothing but the basement. Walls with red wood siding. A secret, forgotten place. Out of the corner of our eyes, we thought we could see people, wandering the sunken streets. I could have sworn I saw a face – a horrible, decaying face – pressed against one of the windows, but when I showed my friend, it was gone. He fainted dead away, anyway. He told me later he saw something worse, but has never told me what, not even in the letters he writes me from the asylum. Worse than the visions, though, were the sounds, half like footsteps, half like nails on glass. I could never figure out where they were coming from – always behind me, no matter how many times I turned. I still hear them sometimes, when it’s dark. I know I’ll never escape them, and one day soon, whatever it is will take me. Simply because I trod in that forgotten street below Oberlin. I would like a photo of that street, before my time ends.
to which she responded:
They are wise to “push back” as you say. I wouldn’t wish on any other student the nightmares I still suffer through, though I hope you share these stories with them, as a warning. Unless you fear they would be more of a lure than a warning – then tell them nothing. But, to the photo. There is another place, perhaps more horrible than the others. Tank burned down once, you know. I’d heard it was an orphanage before that, but I don’t know the truth of it. What I do know is that there were rumors back when I was a student, rumors of ghosts roaming the halls – but not the same halls. The building which burned had floors at different levels than the rebuilt Tank, so the feet of ghosts would hover in the air, walking on floorboards long since gone. We went there at midnight to see these phantom legs, a decision we soon regretted. As one of my companions made a swipe for the first ghastly foot we saw, the feet stopped walking, and a head came down from the ceiling, as if bending over to stare down at us. We realized then that we were but fish in an aquarium to it, whatever it was. It’s visage wasn’t human, though perhaps had once been. Ethereal husks sloughed off it’s wiry face, and two burning white eyes in the center of it did not seem as eyes at all, but as portals to a strange place. It was difficult to look away, but difficult to look. Eventually I tore my eyes away from hers and fled, but the halls of the building had changed and I moved slowly, as my body was stuck in the floor. Soon there were more upon us, laughing or howling or both, I couldn’t tell, and they fell on me like a pack of cats on a mouse. I remember the sound of my own screams, far away, as if they weren’t coming from my own body. I woke up the next morning on the roof of Tank, my body covered in bruises. My companions, except one, were all with me. The last one never reappeared. Sometimes I see her in my dreams, with those horrible things still toying with her, stringing her arms like a marionette, and calling her their favorite toy. I know it would be hard to capture the burned halls on camera, but I would like a photo of the uppermost hall of Tank. Perhaps I can use it to speak with my lost friend.
This request was apparently acceptable to her. She sent student photographer Yvonne Gay to take a photo of the top floor of Tank, which she did.
I gotta say, it’s a lovely photo for some dorm hallway, and even a little spooky. I wonder if Jessica shared the letter with Ms. Gay, and she was in on the mood I was going for.
Sadly, I realize now, I should have used the Tank hallway request last, as it was the easiest photo to take. I had one more request ready to go, but which I never got to send to Jessica. But I’ll share it with you now:
On Cedar Street, there is a fence with a crack in it, and if you find that crack, you may look through to see a strange garden. I noticed it once on one of my many evening walks, when I tried to dispel the ghosts of the friends I’d lost in the tragic accident before coming to Oberlin. The Garden struck me as a strange thing, and stranger still, I could only find it after the sun was low on the horizon, and only when alone. There were always fireflies there, or so I thought them, and they would sometimes spot me, staring at them through the crack in the fence, and then follow me home, making a faint buzzing noise. I didn’t know then as I do now that fireflies do not buzz, so I thought nothing of it at the time. One night I awoke to find a halo of the fireflies around me, buzzing, and then… laughing, almost maniacally. They darted towards my face, and then I saw that they weren’t flies at all, but small, hideous creatures, with legs like frogs and a countenance like a rotting sea creature. They had long spindly arms with sharp claws, and their skin was a mottled grey. They swatted at me that night, drawing blood, and I ran from my bedroom, and from my dorm, screaming. I became sick the next day, unable to move and feverish. My friends brought me medicine, but it did nothing. All I could do was sweat and sleep, but when I slept, I was haunted by nightmares of a horrid place I had never seen – a grey desert pocked by glistening red stones. There, the firefly creatures had come from, I knew. They had devoured their world, and they would devour ours next. I only went back to the hole in the fence once. When I looked through, the garden was gone, and instead there was a horrible pit in the ground, but not into the ground. Into somewhere else. It was grey and sandy and seemed to belch a horrid stench. And from it came a horrible buzzing, a billion of the creatures in a hive, and it grew louder as I stared. I ran before they could emerge. I regret that now. I wish to know what became of the garden. Please have your student photographer find that hole in the fence and take a photo of the garden through it. But tell them to run from it afterwards. I’m still haunted by these nightmares. All I can dream of it the place with the grey sands, and myself there, wandering for hours. I never wake up refreshed. It’s like I’ve haven’t slept in years, but instead been transported when I thought I slept. Tell the student to run after the photo is taken, and to not look back.
I really hope they shared these letters with the students. They’re all real stories – ghost stories, sure, and added to and exaggerated, but there is a ghost in the arb, ghosts that walk mid-level in tank, a sunken street under Talcott, etc. If all of those are forgotten, I’d be pretty sad about it. So, if any of you are current Oberlin students, and feeling daring – go out! explore! Tell me more ghost stories and if you’re at Oberlin, try to get the photos that Jessica couldn’t. Share them here.