As part of our Kickstarter campaign for Haunted Hallways, we invited some of the writers to chat about their stories and the genre in which they reside. Thanks to author Audris Candra for this great essay! If you want to hear an excerpt from her contribution to the anthology, visit our Kickstarter updates for a backer exclusive!
OUR HAUNTED HALLWAYS
By Audris Candra, author of "The Magic They Never Taught Us"
Mawar, a high school student of a pesantren (Indonesian Islamic boarding school), passed by the near-empty classrooms. There she saw her roommate Melati doing god-knows-what, but since she had to rush back to the dormitory, she didn’t greet her.
When she reached her dorm room, she found Melati there, reading a book.
Startled, Mawar said, “How did you get here before me? I didn’t see you at all.”
“What are you talking about?” Melati said with a puzzled look. “I’ve been here for the past hour.”
What my friend saw was Melati’s qorin/qareen, an evil spiritual double all humans have. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, such stories are not unheard of across Indonesia—from the shrill, cat-like giggle of a kuntilanak, to mass hysteria that requires an ustad to exorcise every victim. The Christian private school I attended wasn’t exempt—there were rumors of ghosts and malevolent spirits taking residence in the school’s medical room.
I can see why those stories started. The thick layer of dust blanketing the cupboard racked my lungs. The paracetamol tablets were from an expired batch, and the small roll of gauze was yellowed with time. The school never cared to replace them, and yet as dirty and spooky the room was, I often found myself back there, taking a fitful nap because risking a jumpscare from a ghost was preferable to listening to my fascist teacher carving propaganda into my developing brain.
Moral of the story is, even though it was a religious school, it wasn’t free from such hair-raising tales, because after all, it was still a school.
Schools are wonderful places of education, where a child’s talents and interests are nurtured. Where their laughter echoes down the hallways, where the teachers are always kind and understanding, always there to support them—a second set of parents, if you will. Or at least, that’s how it should be.
The thing is, the walls don’t just listen to the lessons imparted—they watch every single sentence passed between students, and that includes the racist insults hurled by the bullies, the demeaning jabs from the teachers meant to “motivate” the students with tough love. They absorb every ounce of stress, every drop of despair and fear that comes with exams and too much homework. It shouldn’t surprise us when these feelings build up and twist the schools into something else entirely, into a system that perpetuates the horrors of being a student.
All of this is amplified in Mallory Thorne School of Excellence, where nobody can be free from the ghosts, both in tangible forms and in abstract concepts. The racism, elitism, and the endless -isms are real, and in our Haunted Hallways anthology, we give them various shapes so we can call attention to them.
So come, dear readers, walk with us down the creaky wooden floorboards of the dark corridors. Listen to the whispers of the cold wind and taste the iron in the air. Walk with me down the memory lane, to your own time at school.
What haunted hallways have you passed through?