Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Phantom Hand

I lived for a time in Richmond, Virginia. One night, while lying in bed, I felt a hand grab my ankle. After a moment, it let go. I looked down to see what was going on, and I saw a hand slowly sinking down below the edge of the matress, as if someone was under the bed. I cowered in the bed for a few moment, but finally worked up the courage to look under the bed. When I did, it was empty - nothing and no one there.

I ran out of the room and into the next room, where my housemates were talking. As soon as they saw me, one of them said "wow, you look like you've seen a ghost."

Commentary: This is a personal account from a coworker, one that I heard earlier today. When I first heard it, I loved the story, but wasn't sure what to put in the commentary. After all, it isn't tied to a particular storied location, nor is it part of local folklore, the story doesn't seem to serve any particular social purpose, and I have already written about the ghost sightings of sleeping people.

But, damn, it's a good story. And then it hit me - why not talk about what makes it a good ghost story?

Well, for starters, it's short - not a requirement (some very good stories are not short), but it helps the teller to keep the attention of the audience. And there is another element - that the hand was not simply felt, but seen. Creepiness within a story depends on a delicate balance. Too little detail and it's just someone shooting their mouth off and insisting that something mundane isn't. Too much detail, and the story becomes ponderous, and often sinks under it's own weight into a see of incredulous nonsense.

But just the right amount of detail...

See, if my coworker had simply stated that he felt something grip his leg, I would have nodded my head, collected the story in my personal notes, maybe eventually posted it here, but not given it much further thought. If he had claimed to have seen something under the bed, well, it might have been creepy, but it could just as easily left me rolling my eyes.

But seeing the hand,and then having it vanish...well, everyone in the truck this morning shivered a bit when that part of the story was told, and it helped that the storyteller used his own hand to illustrate how the phantom hand moved. It was creepy, unnerving, and you could tell by the grin on his face that the coworker loved the effect that this story was having on us.

Sources: Personal Account

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