Are you afraid of the dark?

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I was studying for my finals one October night at freshman dorm at university when I started to hear the screams. It began as part of the usual buzz at a regular dorm: the shouts of incorrigible students running across the halls or the usual games so I didn’t pay attention at first. But then the minutes went by and all went silent except for the screams.

I looked at my watch. It was almost eleven o’clock, way past curfew. Why were the screams getting louder? Even the tone was getting stranger by the minute. Finally, it got so loud I could understand the words.

“Please! Stop. Stop!”

“No…. please!”

The screaming went on for another thirty minutes with no sign of abating.

That was weird, I thought. Normally, our wing mistress (an upperclassman assigned to each wing of the dorm, tasked to manage us freshies) would already have hushed them up with the threat of a few penalties such as being grounded from using the TV room.

By this time, my curiosity was piqued, and I decided to take a break from studying (I couldn’t study anyway from the ruckus). I stepped into the hallway and saw that almost everyone was still awake judging from the lights that shone through from under the doors. Strangely, I found myself all alone in that hallway. Everything was still.

Was I the only one that could hear the screams? Impossible. It echoed through the whole wing.

I followed the screams, and it took me up three flights of stairs and finally led me to a closed door just opposite the landing of the third flight of stairs.

I looked down the hallway. The lights were still on in this part of the wing. But no one was there either.

From behind the door near the landing, I could hear the girl screaming for help and banging on the door.

By this time, I was more puzzled than curious, so I moved to the door. That’s when I heard the strangest sound of all. For some reason, I hadn’t noticed it before but once I got close, the hair on my neck stood on end.

I’d heard that same laugh before but only in the movies. Low, villainous. Exactly like the laugh you’d imagine the way the devil or Dracula would laugh. Utterly, creepily supernatural.

I snatched my hand back from the knob.

What in the world was that?

Once again, the girl on the other side of the door screamed. The knob wiggled but didn’t open. The unearthly laugh grew louder.

“Hello? You okay in there?” I asked.

“Please, help! Help me! Please! Open the door!” the girl begged, hysterical.

“Can you not open the door on your side? It should, shouldn’t it?” I asked. Looking back, that might have been a stupid question. If she could open it, she already would have.

“Please… open the door! I can’t get out! Please.. Oh, God, please!”

I pushed against the door but wouldn’t budge. I could only wiggle the knob. Again, the villainous laugh came again. This time, it was so loud, it boomed across the hall.

“Seriously?” I shouted. “Who is in there with you? I can’t open it!”

The girl was blabbering now. I couldn’t understand her anymore. Just hysterics.

Perhaps because they heard me, the doors down the hallway finally opened one by one. Residents started to gather by the door, horror on their faces.

“Can someone please get the mistress?” I yelled.

Someone ran and moments later, Rina showed up with a ring of keys. We tried the room’s key, and then all other keys. Nothing. The door stayed shut. Meanwhile, the cries and the supernatural laughter went on.

Someone had called the guard, too, who tried to muscle down the door. Nada.

I was getting annoyed. How was this even possible? Not funny.

Finally the mistress gave up. She asked me to fetch the Puerto Rican nun who lived in the dorm who also served as our guidance counselor.

I shot the mistress a look. A nun? What can a nun do that a mistress, a guard, and 14 other residents can’t?

I went running nonetheless. Her room was four floors down and located at another wing. Sister Maria didn’t even question my story. She sped off faster than I and by the time we got back to our wing on the third floor landing, I was breathless.

All that time, the crying and the laughing hadn’t abated.

Sister Maria took out her crucifix and said a prayer. With her other hand, she made the sign of the cross in the air.

Suddenly, silence.

Sister Maria stepped forward, turned the knob, and opened the door.

I never forgot that moment. The unbelievable image of a nun praying over a door that wouldn’t open through sheer force but opened at her touch.

It was all too good to be true. Like a scene from a horror movie. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.

Everyone hung back but for the nun. The door was now wide open. And just beside the door was a girl I didn’t know personally but met in the halls from time to time. She was mewing, shaking from fear. Opposite her, on one of the two beds was another girl that I assumed was her roommate, unconscious.

It was at that moment that the mistress shooed us all away. Back to our rooms, she said.

The next morning, the news spread throughout the campus like wildfire (this was 1996; text messaging and social media were not yet invented but we did have beepers and email). I remember retelling the strange story over and over again to my classmates.

By lunchtime, we found out from mutual friends (who were close friends with the two roommates) what really happened inside that room.

Both girls were chatting with the door slightly ajar, when Girl 1 happened to look at the mirror on the back of the door. Right where Girl 2’s reflection should’ve been was the image of an ugly man with what looked like goat’s horns. She looked back at her roommate on the bed opposite hers. That’s when she started screaming. Her roommate’s face had indeed morphed into a biblical devil (whatever that meant). The door suddenly swung shut, and no matter what she did, couldn’t open it until Girl 2 collapsed on the bed right after the nun’s prayer.

That evening, the dorm manager gathered all of us in the hall for a meeting. Together with Sister Maria, he explained that what happened the previous night was the product of the girls’ hallucination.

I never quite bought it. I heard what I heard, saw what I saw. If it had been a hallucination, then all of us involved were hallucinating. Is mass hallucination a thing? I don’t know what happened exactly, but that explanation didn’t make sense either. BS, really.

Until today, I still wonder about that particular night. It also had the unfortunate effect of changing my worldview a little bit.

Up until that point, I was fearless. Ghosts were products of the imagination and horror movies amused me. I grew up with the belief that the unexplained always had an earthly explanation. I never hesitated getting into protracted discussions – sometimes heated – about the reality of the supernatural. I reveled in proving believers wrong. After all, they couldn’t produce proof other than hearsay and outrageous claims.

The reason for this is simple: my father’s side of the family were pranksters. Somewhere in the island of Cebu, Philippines there still exists, for example, a legend that on rainy days candles float across a particularly lonely road at dusk.

At another village just nearby, a centuries-old tree still stands that no one would dare to pass by, especially at night. It is said that a kapre (the Philippine version of a hideous man-eating giant who always sports a cigar) resides high up among its branches.

On both cases, my ancestors were to blame. They created elaborate jokes on hapless villagers who were too gullible and superstitious. These jokes ended up as supernatural legends, and no villager from my family’s hometown would ever dispute the existence of countless supernatural beings in their area.

Of course, the villagers know nothing of my family’s involvement or they would have been lynched. It remains a family secret, passed from one generation to another.

So imagine my confusion after that October night at university. The process took awhile but I probably became the first in my family to question the belief that supernaturals didn’t exist. I told my dad this story who promptly dismissed it as having been my imagination. Or that the two roommates must have planned it all along.

I’m still not sure what happened exactly. There may or may not be horned devils, who knows for sure?

The Roman Catholic Church says exorcism exists. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

There may or may not be ghosts and witches. Who can really tell?

All I know for sure is that I have come to avoid watching horror movies. I am no longer too quick to dismiss stories of the supernatural by friends. I have become instead, a little more accepting of the uncertainties that probably exist on earth.

It does, after all, make life a lot more exciting.

How about you? Do you believe in the supernatural? Tell me your stories in the comments below. I’d love to hear it.

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