My name is Sofia Ahlström, I am 21 years old and was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden. When I was a child I had trouble sleeping at friend’s houses, or going on trips with my class – I always panicked when it was time for bed. I avoided sleepovers as a young teenager, but when I was 14 years old, my parents sent me and my friend to a place called Angsholmen. They sent me to camp, for 2 weeks – maybe you can imagine my nerves! The first night went quite smoothly and after two weeks I felt as if I had found another home. I came back every summer and when I was too old to be a participant, I applied to work as a leader. Today, Angsholmen is my second home (as it is to so many people). Right now, I am doing my internship at Hot key Books and I was asked to write about ghost stories from my childhood. I did not really have to think about what my subject would be, since I already knew: Angsholmen.
A long time ago in 1914, right outside of Stockholm, a horseshoe shaped island called Angsholmen was bought by the Swedish military. They used the island for protection, and built an enormous fortress at the curve of the horseshoe. When camp for young kids was introduced to this beautiful island the fortress was demolished, for the sake of safety. Today the fortress is standing there still, but closed, like a strange looking stone hill with hatches here and there.
As you may presume, there are stories. Many say that Angsholmen is haunted to this day. Strange things have happened during the years, and everyone who has been to Angsholmen knows the story about “Översten” (The Colonel).
When the military came to the island the soldiers were told stories by the previous landowner, ghost stories about the island’s history. People had randomly vanished through the years and were later found dead, with no eyes, and blood under their fingernails. The story said there was something disturbingly ugly haunting Angsholmen, something so horrifying that people who saw it scratched their eyes out. “Översten” did not want his soldiers to be distracted, so he forbade them to ever talk about this “silliness” ever again. They began blowing up ground to be able to build a fortress. Everything was going well, but there was one enormous stone with a weird green light around it that they were not able to blow up. So, they threw the stone into the lagoon. Only a few weeks passed when soldiers started to disappear. Every time someone vanished, there was a sharp, green light coming from deep down the lagoon…
The story itself is not very dynamic. But when this story is told at camp, on the actual island, in a dark room, the only source of light is the few candles in front of the teller. The teller puts out the candles, one after one, until the last line of the story when he blows out the last one. At that moment, someone always screams, making everybody scream.
We do not tell a lot of ghost stories at camp, but we do have a much scarier tradition. One night, when the kids are asleep, we dress up according to a scary theme, like characters from horror movies. We wake the kids up and they get to go on an exciting and scary adventure. It’s almost like a ghost house at Tivoli, but this is in the woods on a scary, haunted island. Of course, we do not want someone to be frightened for real! So there are plenty of rules for us leaders. The most important is to remember the word “Kanelbulle”. It means cinnamon bun (it is a neutral word and cannot be mistaken for anything else) and is the code word for “Do not scare me”. If anyone says this word, we don’t scare this person. This event is, for a lot of kids, the highlight of their camp experience. It is curious how we absolutely hate to be scared, but at the same time, love it.
One other night, without us leaders knowing, the kids do the same thing to us (of course they have the camp manager to help them and make sure everything is safe). Now, you might think that it would be difficult for 12 year olds to actually scare adults… well, think again. As I mentioned, this is in the woods, on a small island, with a lot of scary old houses. There are about 30 leaders, and 80 kids. Imagine, running around in the middle of the night with 80 “dead” children trying to make you scream. Trust me when I say they don’t have to try.
It makes me think about what it is that actually makes people frightened. In daytime the island is safe and fun, but as soon as it turns dark, it’s scary to walk alone among the trees on the pebbled road. It is the unknown that terrifies us. The dark creates shadows that make you doubt your eyes. The heavy silence that comes with night allows you to hear things you do not recognize. The cold wind is clean and light, and it makes you shiver as if it is hiding something. It is almost as if mother earth is telling you, through all your senses, that you should not be here.
We have a name for this scary night: Koh-i-noor. Koh-i-noor is a diamond, and it means “mountain of light”, which feels suitable when you think of the story of “Översten” and the green glowing stone. Actually, the Koh-i-noor stone exists and it is placed in the front at The Crown of Queen Elizabeth. That means that the stone is right here in London at the Tower of London, displayed with The Crown Jewels!
People often get frightened in lack of proof. Do we hear the sound of steps; we need to confirm it with our eyes to believe it. The eyes are our most reliable sense. Our nose, body and ears can fool us but we always believe what we see. That is why the darkness scares us.
At the same time, being out of control can be an exciting sensation – like riding a rollercoaster or free-falling. I believe it is the combination of liking and disliking something at the same time that makes us feel the thrill of excitement. It makes us feel alive. If we didn’t like it, then why would Halloween, horror movies and ghost stories exist?
I have come to one conclusion; human beings are complex.