Paul Bae discovered the devastating power of stories 17 years ago in his boss’s office. Then a high-school teacher in Vancouver, the current comedian and podcast producer was summoned by his principal, whose answering machine hosted a stream of irate complaints regarding one of his lessons. “She called me in, shaking her head, and told me she got some calls from parents about how their kids couldn’t sleep alone in their rooms that weekend,” Bae says. During an annual Halloween tradition called the Hour of Horror, Bae told a class of ninth graders the tale of a toilet with a dark history: If a brave soul ventured to the third-floor restroom and entered the middle of three stalls at exactly 3 p.m., the lights would flicker as “the shadow of a girl on a noose would swing over the stall.” The girl, a victim of bullying, had taken her own life.
Unfortunately, Bae wasn’t able to finish the story. “At the end of every Hour of Horror, I’d say, ‘And there’s one more thing you should know: nothing I said today ... is true,’” he says. “But for some reason, the bell rang during one of my answers, and the kids rushed out of the room to start their weekend. With a dawning sense of horror, it struck me: I forgot to tell them it was all made up.” His principal dismissed Bae with “a stern warning to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” but he apparently didn’t take those words to heart. His friend, the indie filmmaker Terry Miles, enticed Bae into the world of podcasting, and the pair now channel tales of the supernatural to 200,000 listeners a month with The Black Tapes. The podcast follows an affable journalist named Alex Reagan as she explores a series of terrifying cases—involving séances, demonic possessions, or apparitions—that have no apparent scientific or rational explanation.