Haunted Laundry Machine?

I had added this as a mere addendum to the earlier post about The Mangler (one of my most favorite short stories by Stephen King), but it was so striking that I must give it its own post.

Video: Five-Year-Old Rescued From Washing Machine

Quote from the video:

Surprisingly, that machine was out of order. “And I haven’t been able to run it since, and I haven’t been able to run it just before.”

Man, that’s spooky. Brrrrrrrrh.

Now all we need is for them to release grainy black-and-white surveillance footage from a CCTV (no audio) showing the child apparently talking to some… thing… inside the laundry machine, and then climbing into the machine, seemingly hypnotized. Grotesque arms or tentacles reach out of the machine to help the child in. (The video said that the machine was high enough that the child would have had difficulty climbing into it. At least, unassisted.)

Then the door closes by itself. Furtively, without slamming.

Then the machine turns itself on.

There are adults in the background, but their backs are turned or they’re busy measuring detergent or folding laundry. So nobody notices anything amiss. The sound of a washing machine starting up wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary in a laundromat.

When interviewed later, in the emergency room, the child reported seeing “a little man” inside the laundry machine.

The story as it appeared in The Wenatchee World on November 7: Child injured in laundry mishap

And as it appeared on the KVUE website the following day: Mother rescues 5-year-old girl trapped in washing machine

“Have you ever wondered if that laundry machine you told me about is haunted, Johnny?”

— Quote from The Mangler

Previous post on spooky laundry rooms.

Addendum (4/2/12): 1-year-old Ore. boy drowns in washing machine

Plant Growing in Man

Doctor finds plant growing inside man’s lung

Reminds me of a recent horror novel entitled The Ruins, by Scott Smith (made into a movie). In this book, the origin of the evil plant is never made clear, although a tantalizing hint is given: something about the indigenous people having a legend that a people made of wood were created before human beings were created.

I believe this is a reference to the Mayan creation myth, in which the gods had created humans in three tries. The first attempt was with mud, and was an immediate failure. The second attempt was with wood and was more promising, but ultimately the gods decided to scrap this attempt and destroy the People of Wood. The third attempt was with corn, which was successful — leading to us. In The Ruins, it is hinted that the evil plant is a survivor of the People of Wood. Resentful of the People of Corn, this last surviving remnant of the People of Wood wishes to have revenge. I am sure that Mr. Smith was referencing the Mayan creation myth.

I am currently listening to an audio course entitled Myth in Human History. (If you’d like to purchase it but it isn’t on sale right now, just wait; The Teaching Company rotates sales on their titles.)

People of the Wood reminds me of the element Wood in the Chinese Five-Element system.

And People of Corn reminds me of Stephen King’s short story Children of the Corn.

The Laundry Room

As I was headed out to work this morning, I passed by the laundry room down in the basement. I took a quick peek through the window in the door of the laundry room, and saw that the lights were out. And I was struck by how eerie the place looked. I snapped a photo with my cell phone, and here’s the result.

The Laundry Room

I like how the light pools in the center, and how it’s dark in the corners of the room. And I like how the displays on the driers in the back are glowing in the dark. This room looks like the kind of place where an otherworldly apparition might manifest. There’d be a smell of ozone, and an actinic flare, and a popping, hissing, or clicking sound. And then it appears. (And you turn around and frantically open the door to flee, but it opens only to reveal pitch black nothingness…)

The black and white checkerboard floor reminds me of some of the scenes in the Red Queen’s castle in the recent Alice in Wonderland movie. When I was a kid, sometimes I’d see spinning checkerboard figures in the state between wakefulness and sleep (hypnagogic imagery). And in his classic paranormal book The Mothman Prophecies, author John Keel mentions at least twice that “goblins” associated with Mothman wear plaid (!). At one point, Mr. Keel writes

Bedroom phantoms in checkered shirts are old hat to investigators of psychic phenomena. I have come upon this again and again. So often that I have written long articles about it. In some cases these ghosts-in-plaid are accompanied by the odor of hydrogen sulfide and sudden chills or sudden blasts of heat, while other episodes are probably purely hypnopompic. That is, they are the residue of dreams which overlap briefly into the waking state … a phenomenon well-known in psychiatry and parapsychology.

(He mentions the word hypnopompic, but for me the checkerboard patterns were hypnagogic instead.)

Stephen King’s short story The Mangler (which I’ve discussed before) had a laundry theme. And also note that “The Laundry” is the name of a secret government agency in Charles Stross’ delicious Laundry series.

Addendum (08/22/10): Here’s a nice passage from Charles Stross’ The Fuller Memorandum, the most recent installment in the Laundry series (p. 197). It suggests the dread that the creepy laundry room evokes.

There are places where the walls of reality are thin; the service corridors of hotels, subway footpaths at night, hedge-mazes and cycle paths. You can get lost in such places … These routes blend into one another. Of all the myriad ways that link the human realm to the other places, these are the ones we know very little about — because those of us who stumble into them seldom return with their minds intact.

This spooky laundry room is one such place, where the “wall between the worlds is thin” (p. 227).

Addendum (09/07/10): Here’s video footage of another creepy laundry room. The sounds of the machines reminds me of the machine in the movie The Mangler Reborn.

Addendum (09/07/10): OK, this isn’t really about the laundry room, but I thought it was intriguing: A Demon in the Bathroom (freely available from PubMed Central). For more about Sulak, the Lurker in the Bathroom, see this.

The Mangler, and The Great Appeal of Horror Fiction

I.K. (and I think his brother F.K.), R.M.B., and my father have asked, why do people like to read horror stories, or watch horror movies? Why would I ever want to be scared?

I think part of the fun is seeing how skillfully a master yarn spinner like Stephen King unfolds (unmangles? see below) a story. In the Introduction of Night Shift, an anthology of short stories by Mr. King, John D. MacDonald writes:

Note this. Two of the most difficult areas to write in are humor and the occult. In clumsy hands the humor turns to dirge, and the occult turns funny.

So, part of the fun is just admiring how well a skilled story teller writes.

But this is only enjoying the horror story as a work of art, admiring a master’s expertise in his craft. I think there is a more visceral appeal of the horror story: the very experience of submerging oneself in a world created by the writer. (And it seems appropriate to evoke viscera when discussing horror fiction. Glistening internal organs sliding past one another…) Mr. King explains it better than I can.

One of my favorite short stories by Stephen King is The Mangler, which I have mentioned previously, and which appears in Night Shift. The Foreword that he wrote for that book is in itself a good read. There, Mr. King writes:

Fear makes us blind, and we touch each fear with all the avid curiousity of self-interest, trying to make a whole out of a hundred parts, like the blind men with their elephant.

We sense the shape. Children grasp it easily, forget it, and relearn it as adults. The shape is there, and most of us come to realize what it is sooner or later: it is the shape of a body under a sheet. All our fears add up to one great fear, all our fears are part of that great fear – an arm, a leg, a finger, an ear. We’re afraid of the body under the sheet. It’s our body. And the great appeal of horror fiction through the ages is that it serves as a rehearsal for our own deaths [italics mine].

I think Mr. King is onto something here. I think that the appeal of horror movies and horror stories, at least in part, is that it allows us a safe way to consider our own mortality, our own funeral, in an indirect and vicarious manner.

(I suppose I.K. might respond, “But that begs the question. Why would I ever want to rehearse my own death?” :-))

Mr. King wrote a book entitled On Writing, subtitled A Memoir of the Craft, in which he recounts his career as a writer. I think that The Mangler is based on some of his real-life experiences with laundries. On pp. 19 and 24 of On Writing, he mentions that when he was a child his mother once worked in a laundry on the “mangler crew,” and hated it.

One meaning of the word mangle comes from the laundry business, which is “to press fabrics by means of heated rollers” (so a mangler is a machine which presses fabrics). But another meaning is “to mutilate or disfigure by battering, hacking, cutting, or tearing”. In The Mangler, Mr. King is playing on the two senses of the word. This is delicious, delectable; it is fun to toggle back and forth between the two meanings, one mundane and the other gruesome, in my mind.

On p. 58 of On Writing, we learn that as a college student Mr. King himself picked up a job working in a laundry. And then on the next page, p. 59, we read about this creepy incident in the laundry:

On one occasion I heard a strange clicking from inside one of the Washex three-pockets which were my responsibility. I hit the Emergency Stop button, thinking the goddam thing was stripping its gears or something. I opened the doors and hauled out a huge wad of dripping surgical tunics and green caps [apparently, local hospitals used the laundry’s services — M.], soaking myself in the process. Below them, lying scattered across the colander-like inner sleeve of the middle pocket, was what looked like a complete set of human teeth. It crossed my mind that they would make an interesting necklace, then I scooped them out and tossed them into the trash.

Try to imagine if you had unexpectedly been presented with a collection of human teeth, grinning up at you in a disembodied rictus. I think I would have felt a giddy, fleeting fear in the pit of my stomach. It would make me think of somebody being tortured, and getting his or her teeth pulled without anesthesia. And I would think of a dread voodoo that requires human teeth as an ingredient for some black magic spell.

And then on p. 60, we read that Mr. King had a “floor-man” (which I take to be a sort of supervisor) named Harry. Mr. King describes this guy as follows:

Harry had hooks instead of hands as a result of a tumble into the sheet-mangler during World War II (he was dusting the beams above the machine and fell off). A comedian at heart, he would sometimes duck into the bathroom and run water from the cold tap over one hook and water from the hot tap over the other. Then he’d sneak up behind you while you were loading laundry and lay the steel hooks on the back of your neck.

I think it is likely that these somewhat negative or creepy experiences with laundries inspired Mr. King to write The Mangler.

Here’s an academic paper by poet Susan Stewart (now at Princeton University), in which she examines the inner workings of the horror story:

Susan Stewart, The Epistemology of the Horror Story, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 95, No. 375 (Jan. – Mar., 1982), pp. 33-50

Professor Stewart’s article starts:

NOWHERE ARE NARRATIVE’S IMAGES of unfolding, of hesitation, of the step and the key more thematically profound and more clearly worked on the level of effect than in the horror story.

Unfolding. There’s that word again.

Addendum (07/16/09): Cleaner has head cut off in giant meat blending machine. (via Fark)

Addendum (07/22/09): Woman found dead in a machine at a food processing plant. Investigators believe it was accidental. She died from “crushing injuries from a robotic packaging machine.” (via Fark)

Addendum (05/21/10): Man freed after getting hand caught in wood-chipping machine at Buderim. Reminds me of a scene from this movie. (via Fark)

Addendum (05/23/10): N.Y.-Toronto train kills 2 in separate collisions. Reminds me of Stephen King’s evil train, Blaine the Train. (via Fark)

Police: Man sucked into sausage seasoning machine. It “somehow” became activated while being cleaned. Somewhat more reminiscent of the first Mangler movie than either of the two sequels.

Addendum (07/28/10): Missing man crushed in trash compactor

Addendum (07/28/10): Worker dies after being crushed in paper roller machine in Claremont

Addendum (08/13/10): 2 NC men rescued after being trapped in hot dryer. “Authorities say one man got into the dryer to free an item that was jammed and he was overcome by the heat.”

(Recall that the original Mangler story was set in an industrial laundry facility.)

Addendum (09/28/10): Gardener decapitated in freak wood chipper accident

Addendum (01/24/11): Tortilla Factory Worker Killed in Mixing Accident. Sounds more like a Masher or Crusher, than a Mangler.

Addendum (04/12/11): Man dies after falling into pasta machine.

Addendum (05/24/11): Madelia man killed after being run over by his own riding mower.

Addendum (06/19/11): Woman killed in Bellingham steam roller accident.

Addendum (08/22/11): Lawnmower Slips From Jack, Kills Cemetery Worker.

Addendum (08/26/11): FDA warns of strangulation with massage machine.

Addendum (08/29/11): Worker’s leg crushed at Pepsi plant in Tampa. “The St. Petersburg Times reports this was the third major casualty at the plant in six months.”

Addendum (08/30/11): Sky Harbor worker gets trapped under baggage carousel. “The cause of the incident is not known.”

Addendum (09/21/11): Company fined over worker killed while cleaning blender.

Addendum (11/13/11): Child Saved From Washing Machine. “Surprisingly, that machine was out of order. ‘And I haven’t been able to run it since, and I haven’t been able to run it just before.’ ”


Have you ever wondered if that laundry machine you told me about is haunted, Johnny?

— Quote from The Mangler, by Stephen King

(12/18/11: This one was so striking that I was compelled to give it its own post.)

Addendum (11/18/11): Alton man dies in wood chipper accident in Belleville.

Addendum (11/27/11): Worker’s hand minced in Swedish meatball mishap

Addendum (12/18/11): Woman dies in freak NYC elevator accident

Addendum (12/18/11): Man dies in horrific accident after getting stuck in food grinder at hummus plant

Addendum (5/8/12): Horror as boy, 12, is crushed to death by automatic gate while playing game of chicken with friends

Machines Versus Biologics

A machine that eats organic creatures; there’s something unsettling, disturbing, wrong about that.

It reminds me of one of my favorite Stephen King short stories, The Mangler. To my delight, they have made a movie based on this short story, and there’s even a sequel. I haven’t seen either movie yet, but they are in my Netflix queue. (As an aside, the Netflix Prize may have been won! Via MetaFilter.)

I just remembered — some years ago, there was a report about a robot that eats slugs, and uses the energy from the slugs to power itself. It was called the SlugBot. Maybe they can revamp one of those robot lawn mowers so that it is powered by its own grass clippings; it would be a sort of robot cow, so maybe they could paint it with the “cow spot” pattern.

Man versus machine is a recurring theme in science fiction. SF author Gregory Benford wrote a sequence of books called The Galactic Center saga; I think there are seven books in the series. In Benford’s universe, there is an epic galactic war between all mechanical life (the Mechs) and all biological life, spanning thousands of years. In the Matrix movies, you have the sinister machines that enslave humans, using them as a source of energy, as if they were living batteries. The Matrix scenario was very reminiscent of a short story by Dean R. Koontz entitled Wake Up To Thunder which I read back in the 80’s, in an anthology of SF short stories; here, enslaved humans were used for computational power, which seems more plausible than using humans as a source of energy (but I note that we already have robots that use flies and slugs as sources of energy!). SF author Dan Simmons’ Hyperion series also pits machines (the TechnoCore) against humans; I might be mis-remembering, but I think the machines used humans for computational power every time humans used teleportation technology that the machines provided. In Battlestar Galactica, you’ve got the Cylons. And of course, in the Terminator movies there’s Skynet.

Addendum (07/16/09): Biomass-Eating Military Robot Is a Vegetarian, Company Says (via MetaFilter)

Addendum (07/17/09): Company Denies its Robots Feed on the Dead (via FARK)

Dangerous Pizza Dough Machine

Hope they don’t use this dangerous pizza dough machine at Jigsy’s. Hope the little girl is okay.

Reminds me of a short story by Stephen King, entitled The Mangler.

Published in: on 28 December 2008 at 1:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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