My friend and I were staying up late on a Saturday night, studying together at Leavey Library. It was half past eleven, and my friend, needing a break from studying for her biology midterm next Monday, whispered, “Hey.” She pulled up her chair closely to mine, and began to let her distressed emotions out, bemoaning the fact that despite hours of studying, she just couldn’t absorb all the information she had just studied.
To distract her from the stress on midterms, I asked whether she knew any ghost stories. Well, it probably wasn’t the best way to console her, but she pondered for a moment. “I know one,” she whispered, and began her story.
“I read this once in a Korean ghost stories collection book—you’ve probably heard of it. So there was a student, a high school student, who studied really hard all the time so that she could be the top of her class. But no matter how hard she studied, she was always behind the first place and was in the second place. Have you heard of this story?” I vaguely remembered several stories that began in a similar way but wasn’t sure, so I shook my head no. “Anyway, one day she was studying as usual, and after class she was on her way home. But on her way home, she encountered an old grandma—a really creepy-looking grandma, who asked her: ‘Would you like to be at the top of your class?’”
“The girl, surprised that the grandma would ask her such a question so fittingly, said yes. Then the grandma said that if the girl wanted to be a valedictorian, she would have to drop blood on the toilet for one hundred days—” “Wait, what kind of blood?” “Any kind of blood, like animal blood.” “How much?” “Just enough blood not to flood the toilet but on one condition that the girl must not look at the toilet seat while she is dropping the blood. Desperate to be the top of her class, she took the offer.”
“Every day after class, the girl caught a rat, killed it and dropped its blood on the toilet, careful not to look at the toilet seat. But as she caught more and more rats, she could no longer find any more rats. Realizing that she had just ‘run out’ of rats, she even killed her pet cat and her pet dog as a sacrifice. On the hundredth day, she literally didn’t have anything else to kill—so she decided to cut her own finger and drop her blood down the toilet. But after 99 days of repeating the ritual, she suddenly got curious as to why the grandma insisted that she couldn’t look at the toilet seat, and decided to take a peek. So she turned her eyes ever so slightly, and guess what she found—” she paused. “What?” “The grandma, with her mouth widely open, ready to drink the blood that the girl had offered!”
After my friend finished her story, I asked her whether she thought the grandma was actually a ghost. She whispered, “I think so—it must be! Otherwise, how could she be inside the toilet drinking blood?” We sat silently for a while, thinking about the story. I felt a slight goose bump on my arms. “So did the girl manage to get in the first place?” I whispered. “I don’t know. The story just ended with the girl discovering the grandma…Yeah, it’s freaky.”
This story about a girl relying on a violent and extreme means to be the top of her class is not at all surprising in a country like South Korea, where academic competition is extremely intense. According to a study by the Korean Statistics Institute, 39.2 percent of suicidal thoughts amongst teenagers in Korea arise from academic competition (“Adolescent Suicide Rate”). It is interesting to see that such a phenomenon is more commonly associated with females, rather than males, and this seems to be the case because from my observation, females in general tend to get more easily jealous of others than their male counterparts.
It is no surprise, then, that my friend brought up the ghost story at such fitting time and setting, as at the time of the storytelling she was extremely frustrated by her upcoming midterms. My friend was complaining about how difficult and frequently administered the biology and chemistry midterms were, being administered every three weeks or so. She was under the intense pressure of having to outdo her peers, repeatedly telling me how in science classes, it’s a win-or-lose situation: either everyone does well and is satisfied with the score, or everyone does poorly so the grade curve goes up. Under such intense pressure, she almost felt compelled to tell the ghost story where the protagonist was one whom she could identify with at an intimate level. Therefore it seems that the story almost reflects her mental state: the pressure to perform well on her upcoming exams, as well as her concerns that other students would outdo her no matter how hard she studies. In addition, though ghost stories usually cause psychological distress, this story ironically seemed to be cathartic for my distressed friend who, by retelling the story, let her frustrations out through the portrayal of the protagonist who, too, was completely overwhelmed by studying and the pressure of having to do better on the exams than her fellow classmates.
Although the story did lack a definite conclusion, it did conjure up a scary mood, thanks to the setting at which the story was told. At the time, it was about 11:30 at night and we were in the library, which demands complete silence and is generally known to be one of the more haunted places on college campuses because its archive of antiquated collections are a reminder of both happy and tragic past eras, and we were whispering so as not to distract other students from studying. In addition to the setting, our whispers helped create the creepy mood, which was also well fit for storytelling.
“Adolescent Suicide Rate Increases by 57%.” Herald Economics. N.p., 10 Sept. 2013. Web. 12
Nov. 2013. <http://news.heraldcorp.com/view.php?ud=20130910000023&md=20130913005020_AT>.