GHOST IN THE MACHINE; WEB SURFERS HUDDLE OVER SCREENS AS SCARY TALES OF UNEARTHLY THINGS RAISE GOOSEBUMPS ON THEIR FLESH

AN EERIE, HYPNOTIC glow emanates from the corner of an otherwise pitch-black room. As you draw closer, the reverberations from the unearthly hum prick at your flesh. The sound of your own breathing fills the inside of your head, as you reach out to see what unimaginable horrors you can conjure up.

Your finger spasmodically taps twice. A loud, prolonged shriek fills the air.

Then the modem connects. You’re logged on.

Welcome to Web, the modern storyteller of mystery and horror. Instead of spreading at gatherings around the campfire, spooky tales are spread in chat rooms, posted on bulletin boards and deposited directly into one’s private in box.

And what better place than the ether of cyberspace to spin phantom tales of faceless intruders, fantastic misfortunes and lost souls?

There’s nothing mysterious though, in finding ghost stories on the net. Probably one of the most chilling sources out there is www.ghosts.org. The 6-year-old site, also called “Obiwan’s UFO-Free Paranormal Page,” is the final resting place for more than 700 mostly “true” ghostly encounters, like the friend of a friend in rural New England who would get phone calls at all hours with nothing but scratching and howling wind on the other end. No one could call out on the phone either, so she finally called from a neighbor’s house to complain to the phone company. The surprised operator told her no incoming or outgoing calls were possible, since a falling branch had severed her phone lines days ago.

Obiwan, by the way, is Lisa Krause, who describes herself on the site as “a stay-at-home mother, a writer, a Web site designer, an amateur with a great interest in the paranormal, and a huge movie buff. Obiwan is not: a professional parapsychologist, a ghostbuster, or a psychic.”

The site offers a ghost mailing list for a daily paranormal fix. It has also attracted so much attention that a production company creating the series “Real Scary Stories” for the Fox Family Channel posted on its message board for material.

Krause doesn’t believe the nature of ghost storytelling has changed. “I still get lots of requests for stories that are appropriate for telling at a camp-out or party,” she notes. “For people who have had strange experiences, finding other people’s stories on the Internet can be a nice validation.”

Spirited site

Another site with a tale to tell is Tennessee-based ghosthunting organization SPIRIT (www.ghosthunter.org), or Society for Paranormal Investigations Research and Informational Training. Its Web site lists its bylaws, chapters in Canada and the United States (including one listed in Redlands) and the stories.

“We are ghost hunters,” it describes itself. “We listen for legends, wives’ tales and folklore, and search for the truth behind them. We track down haunted houses, and look for signs of spectral habitation. We traverse winding country roads to reach secluded cemeteries, and seek the spirits there. And, very often, we waste hours of our time to see nothing at all.”

Although the founding soul of SPIRIT is slowing down at the moment (the news section was last updated Nov. 15, 1999), the Web site still has a formidable archive of folklore, history, photos, field reports, and even book and movie recommendations. Of course, it also posts true stories, like the apartment ghost who broke lava lamps.

Urban legends

While not strictly in the supernatural realm, frightfully delicious urban legends can now circulate at digitized lightning speed. The San Fernando Valley Folklore Society tracks down these legends at www.snopes.com.

While its detailed debunking might smack of playing the spoilsport, SNOPES understands how the legends spiral around “dangers that ripple just beneath the surface of our seemingly calm and untroubled world We never know what gruesome discovery may be waiting around the next corner. And even if we somehow escape all of these horrors, our own vanities may do us in.”

The site corrals the usual suspects of AIDS-infected needles left in sandboxes and people who wake up in ice-filled tubs with vital organs missing, but the most horrific of the urban legends talk about lurking killers. Some are merely modern versions of old fears, like the story of gang initiates who hide in the back seat of a car to kidnap women or take a body part as a trophy. “The venerable Killer in the Back Seat,” assures SNOPES, “has been melded into the slasher hides under the car’ scare to form this new shocker.”

One of the latest incorporated fears of the Internet itself. “If a guy by the name of SlaveMaster contacts you, do not answer,” the e-mail urges. “He has killed 56 women that he has talked to on the Internet.” The e-mail goes on in urgent capitalization to forward the message to other women (and men, just in case) and emphasizes, “This is no JOKE!!!!!!”

While the Internet is far more efficient than the heralds of days past, the truth still takes just as long and becomes just as distorted. John Edward Robinson, Internet alias “slavemaster,” was arrested June 2 after two women in the Kansas City area who had agreed to sadomasochistic sex over the Internet filed charges when the brutalization went too far. After his arrest, authorities found five barrels, each holding a woman’s body.

Find your own

You can feed your pleasure, paranoia or quest for the otherworldly by entering the sites below. Just remember the lines between the living and the dead become oh-so-fragile on All Hallows Eve.

* www.castleofspirits.com: Readers vote here for their favorite tales of fright. The Australian Web site posts stories that come from all over, including California.

* www.invink.com: Illinois-based Invisible Ink devotes its book catalog to nonfiction works on ghosts and haunted houses. Titles in the California section include “Ghost Stalker’s Guide to Haunted California,” “101 California Haunts” and “Haunted Alcatraz, A History of La Isla de los Alcatraces and Guide to Paranormal Activity.”

* www.ghostories.com: The Corona-based Web site charges $7 to post stories as a method of quality control. Fiction, however, is accepted.

* www.themoonlitroad.com: The path in this case is the backroads of the American South, arguably the place where the best yarns are woven.

* www.macscouter.com/Stories/GhostStories.html: One source for scout leaders, complete with details on how to ham up the storytelling.

* www.theunexplainedsite.com: The site might be down for maintenance, but it’s worth waiting for. It links to stories from news organizations such as CNN.com, the Las Vegas Sun and the Minneapolis Star Tribune about ghost tours, hauntings and ghost hunters. Blame the media.

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