I ATTENDED the quaint New England women's college responsible for both Sylvia Plath and Nancy Reagan. What they don't tell you in the viewbook is that it's next door to a long-abandoned state-owned mental hospital—a red brick, boarded-up horror called "Old Main," which looms on a hill above campus, much like the titular asylum in season two of American Horror Story.
On weekends, my friends and I would try our hand at breaking and entering. Given away by our flashlights and ghost huntin' cameras, we'd be shooed off the premises with a warning. Every time I passed Old Main on my usual run around campus, I felt a sensation of pure dread—the kind you decide isn't real—and I'd run a little faster.
But where was there to run, really? I lived in a Gothic-style dorm that was more than 100 years old and had never been renovated. Confused bats cruised the hallways regularly. The basement—called "the trunk room," which didn't help—was the worst part of all, full of calcifying brick, mysterious leaks, and giant metal cages where we stored our boxed-up possessions between school years. We had a trunk room policy: You did not go alone.
One year, I came back to school in early January after a semester away. With none of my friends around to accompany me to the loathed trunk room, I shoved my phone in my pocket—just in case—and descended into hell. Among the cages, I felt the usual terror, so I reminded myself that, nervous chuckle, GHOSTS AREN'T REAL, a sentiment about as soothing as "Your chances are good!" for the flying-averse.
I'd let myself into one of the cages and was struggling to remove a human-sized plastic tub from a high shelf when I saw it, scrawled above me in crooked maroon writing: GET OUT. I freaked the fuck out, my flight instinct kicked in, and next thing I knew, I was back upstairs. I did not go into the trunk room alone again.
A month later, one of my friends confessed over dinner that she'd helped dress up the trunk room as a Halloween haunted house the semester I'd been away, up to and including writing GET OUT.
"Our house probably isn't haunted!" I said, full of embarrassed relief.
"Yeah," she said weakly. "That's one out of, what—"
We sat in silence, recalling the one building we were leaving out. I could almost hear laughter echoing from the looming brick hull of Old Main.