Fear of the abyss
Tiny clouds dot the blue sky. An old cat dozes in the shadow of the long stone wall of the 19th-century British military depot. We can hear the rustling of trees and the far-off buzz of cars on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. I am walking with Daniel Dupéré, Head of Operations at the Stewart Museum. We are headed to another stone structure with a filled-in well, a few windows at ground level and a heavy wooden door.
This building, which used to have two additional stories, was a barracks and dining hall for the British soldiers who lived here almost two hundred years ago. It is said to be the fifth most haunted place in Canada.
Daniel lifts an iron bar to open the door. Creaking, the old hinges give way, revealing a rectangle of darkness. As we enter the shadowy interior, I immediately breathe in a suffocating dampness and strong animal smell. Small openings lead to rooms on either side. We are here to talk about ghosts.
Daniel’s voice suddenly rings out under the stone arch. He tells me about the teams of ghost hunters and mediums who have spent the night here. Ninety-five percent of the time, it’s nonsense. They think they see a ghost, and it turns out to be dust. Many people have reported having strange experiences at the Museum, both visitors and employees. But that’s not the same as experiencing it yourself. My curiosity is piqued: what about the other five percent?
He then recounts a series of anecdotes about other people’s experiences: doors that open and shut by themselves, the elevator that moves without anyone calling it, and a former night watchman who used to do his rounds with a baseball bat because he was afraid. Some of the stories from employees make my blood run cold. Others, on the other hand, are amusing: One time, some mediums came and stood in this very spot and said they saw people in chains, which makes no sense because this was the soldiers’ dining hall! He chuckles. And what about his personal experiences? His face turns serious as he answers.
I’m trained as an historian and archaeologist. I’ve never been someone who believes in these things. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I confess that I have experienced some truly… disturbing things.
We hear a pebble fall from the vaulted ceiling. Daniel continues. I have given it a lot of thought and the only conclusion I can come to is that I have no explanation. I wouldn’t say that I’ve witnessed supernatural events or seen a ghost, but I have experienced things that challenge my world view.
Shrugging his shoulders, Daniel heads toward the exit. Human civilizations have only been around for a few thousand years. That’s nothing, compared to how long life has existed on Earth. There are so many things we don’t know, and even more that we’ll never understand.
I stop and peer into the dim light of the long room. The hair stands up on my arms. What if it were true? A terrifying dizziness comes over me, a sensation that recalls my childhood fear of swimming in a lake where I couldn’t touch the bottom. I used to imagine there was a bottomless pit full of monsters under my feet.
Confronted with an experience that challenges our most basic instincts, we feel an emptiness. We suddenly understand that, compared to the unfathomable vastness of the universe, we know absolutely nothing. In the grand scheme of things, our actions, our ideas and our emotions are nothing more than quivering larvae in a rotting vegetable.
Daniel and I step out into the dazzling sunshine of a beautiful August day. The sun’s rays warm my skin, but I can still feel the coldness of the abyss in my chest.
Alexis Curodeau-Codère, Factry intern
Alexis roams the Museum meeting people who, each in their own way, shape the institution and bring it to life.
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