I’ve always had a fascination with the paranormal. When I was a kid I loved ghost stories even though they also terrified me and contributed to my fears of things under the bed and in the attic at the end of my closet. As an adult I’m a skeptic, but an open-minded one. I’m familiar with the saying that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but I’m not sure what defines “extraordinary” in a world where sharks have been around longer than Saturn’s rings. What I’m getting at is that, if confronted with a genuine paranormal experience, I’d be willing to shift my definition of what’s normal. So far, though, I feel like I’ve never had anything close to a paranormal experience. Well, I’ve had experiences that were close, but never managed to be quite there.
One of my most memorable almost-encounters was during a sleepover at my friend John’s house and we started talking about The Bell Witch, a story of a poltergeist that tormented the Bell family in northern Tennessee in the early 19th century. One of the stories that’s sprung up about The Bell Witch is that if you go into a dark room with a mirror, close your eyes, and turn around three times while repeating “I hate The Bell Witch” when you open your eyes you’ll see her looking back at you. This is similar to the legend of Bloody Mary, although she’s supposed to show you your future . what exactly The Bell Witch looked like no one knows, but we all talked John into doing it, since he was the biggest skeptic and also it was his house. He went into the bathroom and turned out the light and we all crouched down at the door listening to John repeat “I hate The Bell Witch”. Then he came out and we all wanted to know if he’d seen anything.
“How could I?” he said. “It was dark in there.”
Before that there was the time I was playing a game with some friends at a picnic table in someone’s backyard. We had a Ouija board box on the table and a girl who lived in the neighborhood saw it and yelled that we were playing the Devil’s game. And she was right. Someone had put the Monopoly board in the wrong box and a game where the goal is to bankrupt your friends by building hotels on Ventnor Avenue has got to be inspired by Satan.
Perhaps my strangest experience, though, was at Camp Ozone. All the boys were hanging out in our cabin one night when the girls from the cabin next door came over and we all decided to sit around telling ghost stories which, I know, might sound more than a little paranormal, but we were eleven, so I guess the hormones hadn’t kicked in yet. I’m not sure where our counselors were—probably off doing something normal.
Then one girl, Angela, got one of the boys, Michael, to lie down in the floor and got the rest of us to sit in a circle around him.
“Now,” she said, “I’m going to tell the story of the day Michael died,” and Michael was either really easygoing or just completely unused to having any girl pay attention to him because he stayed right where he was. If anyone starts talking about my death, even hypothetically, I’m outta there. Angela explained that the story would put Michael into a trance, and then she started to talk about him riding his bicycle, which was pretty funny because she’d seen him swim so she must have known he wasn’t coordinated enough to ride a bicycle.
“And then he ran into a fire hydrant,” she went on, and we all looked at each other knowingly because we’d also seen Michael swim so this was completely believable.
“His body sailed up into the air.” Angela lowered her voice as she continued. “He turned as he fell and his head hit the pavement with a sickening crack. When the ambulance arrived he was pronounced dead at the scene. His body was zipped up in a bag and taken away. The funeral was held the next day. Michael’s body was placed in the ground and began to decay.” Angela was speaking in a whisper now as she repeated, “began to decay…began to decay…”
She leaned down and said, “Michael, can you hear me?”
Michael didn’t move. I think he’d fallen asleep.
“Now everyone,” Angela commanded, “put your hands under him and lift him up.”
And we did. Michael felt very light and his body was rigid, because he weighed about ninety pounds and there were eight of us around him, and if he slumped we would have dropped him, which is why the great mystery of it all to me is that I have no idea what any of that was supposed to prove.
And that concludes the 2019 Halloween Parade, although, as always, the final word goes to Lou Reed.