For years I've had an interest in the supernatural, but I've always been a devout skeptic, forever disappointed that I've never come across any sort of valid physical evidence of a haunting or channeling or visitation....it all seems to be, well, piffle. And I've always known that if I had a first-hand experience with a ghost, I would pretty much have a heart attack on the spot and die. I've heard people tell me stories of their supposed visions of ghosts, and while I take them all with a giant grain of salt, it always makes me feel a stab of real creepiness whenever I envision myself lying in bed at night, suddenly hearing an unexplained giggling or confronted with a split second glimpse of a pale face in the corner of the room....
In short, while fictional horror stories can be scary, there could never be anything scarier for me than sitting down and reading, watching, or listening to real evidence of a haunting. Because I don't think I'll ever get such evidence, I thought it might be interesting to create some and see how realistically I could portray an actual episode of supernatural doings. The silly faked videos, photos, and audio recordings shown on cable are invariably ridiculous. Why, I always wondered, if they're going to fake this stuff for entertainment value, why can't they do it right?
The Cabin Tapes is a CD that professes to contain raw audio recordings made in a remote cabin by an unknown person. The scratchy, fragmentary recordings seem to document a man's conversations with a mysterious woman who seems to be a ghost. The Tapes came out of nowhere, provide no hard explanation for what is heard on them, and leave the listener with an unsolvable mystery that does provide just enough clues to create a sense that something truly, truly eerie is present....and it has secrets. If a real haunting were ever captured on electronic media, it would be rough, sometimes indecipherable, strangely incomplete, and that is the mood that this project tries to capture.
Here is the back story, included with the CD, told in the form of a letter written to a group of parapsychologists found in the phone book:
Three years ago, I came into possession of some items taken from a sailboat that was soon to be sold, and among them, unbeknownst to me at the time, was included a compact disc containing strange recordings of what could be construed by a person who believes in such things as a haunting or manifestation of a spirit. What you have now is the original CD I found, and the handwriting on it is that of someone I do not know.
In the summer of 2000, a friend and I were in a local boatyard in Rehoboth, Delaware; he had been doing occasional freelance work cleaning hulls since he was a teenager. I was visiting him that day as he prepared to paint a hull in dry-dock. A red-bearded man of about fifty came up to us and asked if we wanted to make a quick $150 by cleaning out a sailboat. My friend David said sure, and I said I would help him, and we followed the man to the old boat, also dry-docked, which was called "All It Took". The man introduced himself as Clyde. David asked him for some details, and Clyde told us he had bought two boats from the same man the month before and had decided to sell them both off when he had judged they were too much beyond repair to deal with. He said that the one in front of us had been sailed all the way from Argentina to the U.S. We were to work on disposing everything inside "All It Took" which Clyde hadnít already kept for himself. David was given a check for $150 and Clyde left.
The boat contained an assortment of old equipment and personal effects neither David nor I wanted---it looked like someone had been living on the boat in very crude fashion. We dumped almost all the possessions immediately, but we each found some things we did like and decided to keep for ourselves, since Clyde had given us permission to take it or dump it. I took a three-man tent, a vintage thesaurus, a wooden rack filled with CDs in blank cases, and a rudimentary cassette recorder. Some of the CDs were labeled by hand with the names and dates of lectures given on various psychological topics by various people, mostly about criminal behavior; two were in German. Most of the CDs in the rack were not marked at all. David worked in the boatyard another few days that summer but didn't see the man named Clyde again.
The CDs sat in their rack for a long time untouched, as I had taken them mostly just for the rack itself. Then one day I decided to go through them out of idle curiosity, and listened to odd moments of the psychology lectures. I then got to the CD marked "CABIN TAPES" and cued up track one, and almost instantly heard Joana Tamner's voice, responding to an anonymous questioner.
There are a total of seven tracks on this CD. I do not know for sure how the sound was recorded, but in working a little with the tape recorder I took from the boat, I judged that it very likely made the original recordings, and then the seven tracks were edited and assembled onto a CD.
CD tracks 1 and 2 consist of the first conversations between the interviewer and the woman Joana Tamner, who is apparently dressed in period clothing and who does not know why she is in a tiny room inside a cabin in the middle of the woods. She believes the year to be 1793.
CD tracks 3 and 4 consist of a monologue delivered by the interviewer explaining the situation somewhat, and then a strange measuring experiment conducted by him. Track 5 is made up by a persistent knocking on his part, apparently an effort to get Joana Tamner's attention. CD track 6 consists of the third conversation between the interviewer and the woman. Track 7 seems to be nothing more than the sounds of footsteps through the woods.
I have now listened to this CD twenty or twenty-five times in an attempt to furnish a transcript of the recordings, and to figure out exactly what this all means. All I can really say for sure is that if you listen to this CD and have an open mind about the existence of ghosts, it becomes plausible that Joana Tamner is not of this life, and has had some sort of otherworldly encounter with a man named Dennis. The fact that she is presumably dressed in archaic clothing and that she speaks in such a trance-like and dispossessed manner adds to the sense that she is not truly living.
There is more to it than just that. The town where Joana claims to have been imprisoned in 1793 is called Angier's Corner. Checking a history of Massachusetts, I discovered that Angier's Corner changed its name to Newton Corner in 1844, and still has that name to this day.
After playing the CD for my friend David, we went back to the boatyard where we had discovered it. Fourteen months had gone by since then. Clyde was no longer working there, but we were able to get his phone number, and we asked him more questions about the man he'd bought those boats from, telling him we'd found some photos which seemed personal and which he might want back. Clyde offered us little information, as it had been a cash transaction. He recalled only that the man had been named James or John, and that he'd been a tall man of about forty who had said he'd sailed all over the world. He was a scholar and collector of rare things, but how he made his living was never revealed.
If you have the time, please do e-mail me with your impressions of these recordings. There is always the chance, I suppose, that they were somehow faked for whatever reason, or perhaps the man and woman on the tapes are nothing more than doctor and patient. I only believe that they are authentic because there is so much on them that seems to serve no creative purpose and is quite uninteresting to listen to; listening to the source tapes from beginning to end is pretty much an exercise in patience and tolerance for long stretches of perplexing woods sounds, drawn-out silences, and poor quality audio. I don't have much interest in following this mystery, if it really is a mystery, other than to have a few other people confirm to me that the tapes truly do suggest an authentic encounter of some kind, either with a person whose mental state has convinced her that she is a spirit, or something else even stranger.
Thank you for your attention.
Below is a transcript of the Cabin Tapes. It slowly develops an unfinished story of a present day suicide, a murder more than two hundred years old, and a bizarre transference between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The actress D. Anna Miller played Joana Tamner, and I played the man who questions her about her appearance in the cabin. To make it all as fully authentic as possible, the tapes were recorded on mediocre equipment, making the dialogue almost inaudible at times. The pauses between my questions and the answers from "Joana" are sometimes uncomfortably long as Joana gazes into space, waiting for words to come, drawing the Q & A sessions out to considerable length. Her voice is incredibly frail, and every syllable is a great effort for her. Her pauses and her flat monotone are not reflected in the transcript. "The Cabin Tapes" are not terribly entertaining to listen to, no....but this of course was the point: to simulate, as closely as possible, the feel of something real and unadorned.
The Cabin Tapes, copyright 2003 by Soren Narnia.
What is your name?
Joana? What is your last name?
Where are you from, Joana?
Where in Massachusetts?
How old are you?
28. Do you know where you are?
Do you know how you got here?
Are you married?
What is your last memory?
They opened the window for me.
The window that saw the laundry house.
Where was that?
The one in prison.
You were in prison, was that in Massachusetts?
What were you in prison for?
When were you in prison, can you tell me that?
I donít know.
Where did you get those clothes, the clothes youíre wearing?
I made them.
Do you have any family we can call?
Where does she live?
You donít know how you got here?
What would you like to do, youíre in Virginia now. Would you like to go back to Angier's Corner?
No, I want to sleep.
Can you stand up for me?
Not supposed to.
All right. Iím going to let you sleep, okay, and Iím going to want to talk to you some more later.
Hi, Joana. How do you feel?
I want to ask you, have you seen this man, his name is Dennis, look at this photograph.
Do you remember seeing him, ever?
How long have you been in this room, how long have you been in this house?
A long time.
Okay. Did you come to it from outside, in the woods?
Can you tell me anything about this house, have you seen any of the other rooms?
How did you come to be here, did someone bring you?
I woke up here....on my side.
Was it a week ago that you woke up here, was it three weeks, do you know?
Okay. You havenít seen this man, then, Dennis?
I donít know.
The last thing you remember was an open....someone opening a window in a prison?
Where was that?
Why were you in prison?
I killed my baby.
(long pause) What was the prison like, were you in a prison cell?
It was smaller than this. I had a table. They made a window.
How long were you there?
A month. Or what a month said.
They let you go?
What did you do in prison?
I made clothes, and I read a book.
Did you make those clothes?
What was the book you read?
It was...."Down the Stream."
Do you remember the very last thing you remember, the last minute of what you were doing before you woke up in the bed here?
They opened up the window, then I was sick.
You were sick?
What made you sick?
I didnít eat for a long time, I didnít eat anything.
So you remember the window and being sick.
Nothing else, and then you were here?
There was a hallway.
What was that like?
Dark, and people were passing by me.
What did they look like?
They were all the same....men.
What does that mean, they were all the same?
All the same person, going past me, looking at me.
You were standing in the hallway, or you were walking down the hallway?
Walking down the hallway.
What did the man look like, the same man.....
He looked like that.
He looked like this, like Dennis, the man here?
Where was the hallway, was it in a building?
I donít know.
How dark was it?
Black dark. Black.
Where did the man go?
I donít know, he walked past me.
You killed your baby, and they put you in prison?
Why would you do that, did you mean to do that?
I donít know. I donít remember.
Who put you in prison, was it....was it a jury, and a judge, and lots of people?
How did you get here then?
I donít know.
What is your motherís name?
What was your babyís name?
So you were married?
Who was the father of your baby?
I donít know.
Is your mother still alive, then?
Can you look at this picture again for me, you say you saw this man in the hallway?
Did he say anything to you?
Did you say anything to him?
When did this happen?
Before I came here.
How long ago?
Iíve been here.... for three hundred days.
Okay, weíve been looking for this man, his name is Dennis, we donít know where he is, this was his room, he was staying in this house. Do you understand that?
Can you tell me anything more about him?
Do you think you might remember more if I let you be to sleep for a while?
You do, okay, thatís what Iíll do. Are you hungry or thirsty?
Do you have any pain? I can get you a doctor. Do you have to visit the bathroom?
All right. Iíll be back here in two hours, all right?
I want to get some notes down about the cabin, I have it all written down, but I should have it on tape, where the woman is now is the last place Dennis was seen, that was the....20th, the bed is really the only thing in the cabin, except for one mirror, there's the front main room, and the bedroom off from that, and also off from the main room there's a smaller room, with barely enough room for a bed, but there's really nothing here, it wasn't designed for living in, there's no kitchen, no bathroom. The front room has a window and the bedroom where the woman is has a very small window which is entirely, I don't know, gummed up from age or humidity, whichever, you can't really see much though it. Obviously there's no electricity, so if you want light, you have to bring your own. It took Dennis and Douglas about two hours to hike up here from the south, there's actually a shopping center right to the north.....east, if you walk only about fifteen minutes, the woods end pretty abruptly in a parking lot, that's where I'm parking the car, so it's not totally cut off, but Douglas didn't know anything about what was north of the woods, apparently, they brought their food from town. But when he got worried about Dennis, he went right back south, that's a long hike. There's no lock on the front door at all, that's the only way in and out, so the woman could have just walked right in, there's a lock on the bedroom door which I should break or remove or something. I'm just leaving the door open for now. Um.....it's 12:10 now.
(He goes outside.)
Okay, I'm walking.....
(Footsteps through the leaves are heard, and they are audibly counted.)
....Forty, now this way....twenty-eight.
(Long pause, then he knocks on the wood, waits, does it again, but nothing happens.)
I have another picture here of Dennis. You saw him, right?
This is the person you said you saw in the hallway?
Can you tell me anything more about the hallway, I don't understand what it was.
It was long, and dark, and I just saw a tree and the man.
How long did it take you to go down the hallway?
Just a minute.
Did you touch the man I just showed you, did you hit him, did you----
Who put you there, did someone make you go into the hallway?
Someone wanted me in there so I went.
Who was it?
They never said.
What can you tell me about Angier's Corner?
It's a little town, there aren't many people.
Do you know where it is in relation to Boston?
You go west, you go....continue west.
I know John from there, I know Sally from there. I knew Pru from there.
John and Sally, who are they?
They live in Angier's Corner.
Were they your friends?
No, I knew them, in Angier's Corner. Clerks.
Did you have an occupation, ever, in Angier's Corner? What did you do for money?
Did you ever hurt anybody? Are you sure you didn't hurt the man I showed you?
No, just my baby.
Can you think real hard about how long you've been in this room?
No, it hurts.
It hurts. You mean your mind hurts or your body hurts?
Was it your body hurting you in prison, when you were in prison?
Yes, I was very weak, I never ate, and I died.
But you're here now. That doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?
What year is it? The one we're living in now?
Is that what time your clothes are from?
I made them....five weeks ago.
They're dirty now.
Yeah. Is it really 1793, are you sure?
Do you know who the president is?
Have you ever been in a car? Do you know what a car is?
Do you remember what state I said we were in?
Have you ever been in that hallway before, the one you told me about?
It was just the one time?
Were you wearing the clothes you have on now?
Have you looked out the window, over here?
Do you know you're in the woods, did I tell you that?
I know I'm in the woods, you told me that.
Tell me about your town, just as much as you can. What street do you live on?
In a house?
I'm in a room upstairs over the grass.
Who else lives in the building?
Mrs. Dana. Mr. Green.
Are they tenants in your building?
You live alone?
Who pays for you staying there?
I don't have to pay.
Did someone come get you and take you away to prison?
When did that happen---what season was that in, do you remember?
Winter. It was the day after Christmas.
If you go out of your house, you go through the front door, there's a street there, right, that's Walnut Street?
What else is on Walnut Street?
Just my houses.
Are there cars parked on the street? Do you know what I mean?
No. I'm in sleep, couldn't be hungry.
Can you tell me about some other places in Angier's Corner? Do you go to church?
I go to Second Church.
What street is that on?
On my street.
Can you say that again?
On my street.
Okay. Do you want to go back there?
Do you want to stay here?
Did you see.....was the man I showed you in the pictures ever in this room?
I don't know.
You only saw him in the hallway?
It wasn't outside, in the woods, it wasn't in a building, ever?
No, he was wanting to kill himself, so now he's inside the stone.
What does that mean, why do you say he wanted to kill himself, he never spoke to you in the hallway, did he?
You can hear him inside the stone.
You said he never talked to you. What did I say his name was?
Where can I hear him?
Inside the stone.
Where is the stone?
Outside the room.
Which one, there's a lot of stones out there.
Any stone he happens in.
Why did you say he wanted to kill himself? You did talk to him.
I don't understand why you'd say that. Can you tell me your name again?
I can go out and talk to Dennis?
Isn't that what you said?
You can listen hard at the stone and his voice will appear.
What would Dennis tell me? Would he tell me what happened to him?
He might sing it.
Have you thought any more about how you came here?
I woke up.
How long ago?
I don't know. Seventy, seventy.
Can you go back into the hallway where you saw Dennis and talk to him?
Can you take me to him?
No, I'm here.
It's darker than it was....yesterday, same time but darker.
If I asked you to get up and come back to someplace with people, would you want that?
No, just I'm tired, I don't want any of that.
Okay. Do you know what season it is?
That's right. What year is it?
You made your own clothes?
What clothes was Dennis wearing?
It was too dark.
But you saw his face?
I saw his face, sleep.
Did you see him kill himself?
No, he was walking toward killing himself.
Can you explain that for me?
You can't see the hallway if you're not in there, I can't tell you about the way it goes.
Okay. Have you drunk any of that water, this water here?
No, I don't want it.
You're not thirsty at all?
(Footsteps start and stop again and again in the woods, for no discernible reason. This continues for about two minutes, and then the CD ends.)