The Séance: A Ghost Story? [Hippie Squared]

The only dead person we knew between the two of us was Valerie’s Uncle Robert. So we decided that for our first séance we would call on him. Valerie was my best friend in the neighborhood. She was eleven, and I was ten, in Lansing, Michigan in the fall of 1973.

First we chose the room, and made it ready. We decided on my mom’s den, a small square room at the front of the house. A confined space, easy to scan for any ghostly activity we might summon. And if we managed to conjure any full-fledged ghosts, they’d have nowhere to hide. No nooks or crannies to crawl into. Plus, the room had only two outside light sources: one big window overlooking the front porch, and one small square window up in a corner. Both windows had roller shades, which thoroughly blocked the light — the old-fashioned kind, where you pulled a cord to unroll the shade, until it caught and stayed in place. To open the shade, you gave the cord another gentle tug and it rolled up again, letting the light back in.

We closed the door to the room, and turned off the light switch. We squared up about ten feet in front of my mom’s bookshelves. They were packed with books: the latest literary bestsellers, sure, but also an extensive women’s lib section; a couple of yoga books; and several shelves of books on UFOs and ESP — including multiple titles by and about the trance-mystic Edgar Cayce, the so-called “Sleeping Prophet.” But also books about the supernatural: ghosts and hauntings. I don’t remember where we learned how to conduct a séance, but it was probably from one of my mom’s books. And how cool was that for a ten year old boy? To have a mom who was into ghosts and the supernatural?

I had no personal experience with ghosts. But my mom did. I so wish now that I could remember her specific ghost story. I could always rely on her to tell it when I wanted to hear it, so I never had to remember it for myself. Seems like it was something about an appearance at the foot of her bed, when she was a girl, staying in someone else’s house. She was a scientist. An archaeologist, specifically. So she had no certainty about how to explain the phenomenon that we call ghosts. But she never had the least bit of doubt about what she’d seen. I wasn’t sure if I actually believed in ghosts, myself. But if they did exist, I sure wanted to see one. I sure wanted my own ghost story to tell.

We stood back from the bookshelves. I was on the right, Valerie on the left. I held out my strongest hand, my left, and took her hand in mine. There was just enough light peeking in around the cracks of the shades that we could see objects in the room dimly, but not enough that it should give any ghosts much pause about dropping in. We focused our most penetrating attention on the flat plane of the bookshelves, as a screen upon which the supernatural could shine. Then in deep, serious, sonorous voices we intoned in unison, “Uncle Robert…if you can hear us…show us a sign.”

Even before the last resonant vibration from our final chanted syllable had died out in the dark and silent room — something happened. Something which had never happened before, and never happened again in the two years that my mom and I lived at 1420 Lansing Avenue. Bang! The roller shade on the little square window in the upper corner of the room shot up, spun and clattered around and around — without any living human hand having pulled its cord.

We both screamed! And hit the deck. And jumped up, and threw open the door, and ran screaming out of the room. I had never screamed like that in my entire life. I didn’t mean to scream. I didn’t even know I was screaming, until I heard it. It just came out of me. There it was. A true scream. It chased us out of the room, snatching at our heels. We thundered down the hall, and tore around the corner into the living room.

Where my mom, in her comfy chair, looked up from her book with a calm and scientific look. “Was your séance successful?”

We surrounded her chair. Valerie tried to catch her breath and tell what had happened at the same time, but then she started laughing. That made me laugh. Which made my mom smile. Finally we did manage to tell it. Because there wasn’t that much to tell, really.

“Well, let’s go have a look,” my mom said. Under the bright light of the living room and her dispassionate appraisal, I already felt my courage coming back. What was a ghost sighting without a proper investigation conducted by ghost hunters?

I led the way. With Valerie there, I had to be brave. The yawning rectangle of darkness that was the open doorway loomed at the end of the hall. I approached cautiously. I steeled myself for the moment of maximum menace, the moment of standing upon the haunted threshold. Once there, before anything could jump out, I darted my hand in and flipped on the light, so as to properly banish any lingering spirits back across the borderlands.

I pointed up at the corner window. “See?”

My mom stepped forward to examine the blind. She pulled it down. It stayed in place. She stepped back, and we all waited a moment. It did not spontaneously snap back up. She pulled the cord again and the blind rolled up smartly, but without undue violence. Just like normal. It certainly did not sound like a gunshot this time.

“Well,” my mom said. “Something happened here.” Valerie nodded vigorously. I felt myself puff up. We had scientific validation. Something had happened. My mom led us through an analysis. Together we all broke down the possible explanations.

“It could simply have been coincidence,” my mom said. “It just so happened, at that very moment, that the blind snapped open on its own. It’s certainly not impossible. The principal of Occam’s Razor probably favors it as the most simple and direct explanation.” I felt myself deflate. “But I don’t believe it,” she quickly added. And I filled back up with renewed importance.

Moving on to supernatural explanations, the most obvious one had to be: our seance had been successful. We had done exactly what we had set out to do. We had summoned Uncle Robert. He had heard us from the spirit world, and gave us the sign that we had asked him for. Alternatively, some other mischievous spirit, some trickster, had heard our call and decided to play a little supernatural jape on us.

“It could even have been telekinesis,” my mom suggested. “You wanted it so badly, that the power of your minds joined in concentration caused the blind to jump.”

After that night, we did try to repeat the experiment. Over the next few weeks we conducted a series of follow-up séances. None worked. We tried other locations. Other incantations. When Uncle Robert failed to make a return appearance, I remembered that I had a dead grandfather whom I’d never actually met. He too turned a deaf dead ear to our entreaties. Perhaps Uncle Robert had made his point. Or perhaps our minds were never again as clear, innocent, virginal and thus telekinetically potent. Perhaps our patron trickster spirit had moved on to play other tricks on other impressionable living souls.

To this day I have no favored explanation, no “belief” about what happened. I only know that something did. Valerie and I shared an experience. I’ve long ago lost touch with her. Valerie Hall, are you out there somewhere? Do you, like me, still tell our ghost story every now and then, around a campfire or come Halloween? If a ghost story’s what it was. I don’t think I’ll ever know. Unless there is a spirit world to cross over into, and when I take my turn to do so I happen to bump into old Uncle Robert there, or Valerie, or my mom. Maybe then we’ll know. Or maybe we’ll just have more possible explanations opened up to us, shrouded in yet deeper questions. With which to renew our investigations.

How about you? Do you have a ghost story you’d like to briefly share in the comments?

featured image credit: emdot

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