Do séances work? Can you really call up the dead and speak with them? Back in the ‘70’s, séances were a big thing, especially with teenagers. Growing up in the city, it was our equivalence to a rural area’s campfire ghost story.
I was fifteen when I participated in a séance. It left me so affected that years later, when I had children, I asked them never to get involved with things of that nature: séances and Ouija Boards. I remember being relieved when my fifteen-year-old daughter denied ever participating in one. Had she, we likely would have talked about it together. I know I had already shared with her my experience and prayed it would be enough to keep her away from experimenting with the occult.
I was living in a children’s home at the time. We were all in the activity room, far away from the housemother. Upon entering the girls’ hall of the orphanage, to the right was a storage room that held linens, toilet paper, paper towels, etcetera. The left was the housemother’s quarters and bathroom. There were eighteen dorm rooms on each side of the hall and at the very end was the TV room, the bathrooms and showers on one side, the activity room on the other.
Becky, a tall lanky blonde who, always seemed to me to be countrified, was the ringleader. She was forever barefooted (when she was allowed to be) even during the winter months. However, as a cutter, she always wore long pants and long sleeves to cover her self-mutilations.
Becky and Zoey, her roommate and co-conspirator, quietly went around to some of the girls and asked for us to join in. Sophia was a tall, thin, sixteen-year-old girl who’d lost both of her parents and had no other family, was asked to participate. Her name was Sophia, not Sophie. If you called her the latter she would be quick to correct you, “My name is So-phi-a; not Sophie.”
Sophia gave Becky and Zoey a tongue lashing about messing with things they ought not to be involved in. “I won’t tell the housemother though. I’m not a snitch. Snitches get stitches,” she conceded. “You can both just leave me out of it.”
Dawn, my dorm neighbor, was blonde with beautiful big blue eyes. She was quick with a cute chubby smile that matched her chubby body. The most pronounced thing I remember about her, she was hypersexual. Dawn used to regale us with stories of her sexual escapades and personal exploitations. She was only fourteen, so I secretly thought she made these stories up for attention. Being rebellious, she jumped at the chance to participate in the séance.
Willie and her sister, Freddie, were invited to join in. Willie joined because I was doing it. Freddie refused. Willie and I used to talk a lot and hang out with one another. She didn’t often speak to other people; I was one of the few. She said it was because I made her laugh. We even ran away from the children’s home together one weekend.
There were five of us girls who accepted the invitation. Not everyone was asked because not everyone could be trusted not to tell. We slipped into the activity room and gathered on the floor in a circle, knees touching, hands being held. Zoey was to act as the medium.
“Remember, do not break the circle,” Becky advised. “If you are going to leave, put the hands together from either side of you before leaving. Just don’t break the circle, it’s very important.”
Freddie came barging into the activity room with Sophia right behind her. I would not describe Freddie as mentally challenged, but you could tell she was below average intelligence. Even so, she came storming through the door yelling at Willie. “You know better than to do this! This is the devil’s work and it’s against God! You better stop it right now,” she demanded.
“Freddie, go back and watch TV,” Willie insisted.
Sophia was standing with her arms folded listening to the two sisters. She seemed quite amused. I wondered if it wasn’t her idea to get Freddie to come in and say something as she, too, was very much against the séance to begin with.
“Please get her out of here, Sophi-A,” Zoey asked, emphasizing the A at the end of her name.
Becky spoke up, “Please, Sophia, before someone figures out what we‘re doing.”
“You’re all going to hell for this,” Freddie warned shaking her finger at all of us.
Sophia laughed as she ushered Freddie out while the rest of us prepared to begin. Zoey waved the air around her as if to clear the bad energy from Freddie and Sophia’s animosities. Becky warned again, “Do not break the circle.”
We took hands and sat in the circle trying to decide whom to conjure up. Becky wanted to call up her grandfather but she was afraid he wouldn’t know who she was since he’d passed away before she was born.
Dawn wanted to talk to Elvis. He had died only a few years earlier. “He’s not dead,” Zoey said with authority. “So, we can’t talk to him. You’ll have to call his house in Graceland if you wanna speak to Elvis.”
“I know,” I said speaking up. “There was a ghost in the last house I lived in. His name was Tom. Let’s talk to him.”
Becky had instructed Willie to turn off the lights as she lit a white candle and set it in the middle of us. She had swiped it from one of the housemother’s room. We then took each other‘s hands one last time. Becky sat next to Zoey; I was on the other side of Zoey, Willie to my left, and Dawn between Willie and Becky.
Zoey tried and tried to conjure Tom to no avail. She sat quiet for several minutes as Becky tried. We three girls, Willie, Dawn, and me, were there for the show so neither of us attempted to bring Tom up.
As Becky sighed with defeat, the flames from the candle grew twice in size and maintained their enlargement. They flickered wildly. It startled me and I moved to back away from the flickering flames. I was honestly thinking this whole séance thing was a joke but when those flames grew twice their normal size, it was enough to make me thoughtfully reconsider.
Everyone gasped. Becky, seeing I was moving, whispered, “Don’t break the circle.” Satisfied that I wasn’t going to, she said, “Tom, is that you?”
Again, Becky asked if it were Tom who made the flames grow. “Yes,” came a man’s voice. We all jumped. There were just us five girls in the room and it was very clearly a man’s voice, deep sounding.
“Where are you?” Becky inquired.
“In hell,” he answered and then laughed heartedly with amusement.
We realized, all at the same time, the man’s voice was coming from Zoey who was sitting between Becky and I. Becky was the first to break the circle. She jumped up and ran from the room, the rest of us in hot pursuit.
Willie veered left toward the TV room to be with her sister, Freddie. Dawn and I dashed into the bathroom across the hall while Becky took off right toward her dorm room.
As I was going through the door to the lavatories, I saw Becky stop in the middle of the hallway. She turned and said in a hoarse whisper, “Look!” Becky pulled up her sleeves and I trotted over to see what she was showing me. Dawn came up behind me. There was candle wax on both of Becky’s forearms underneath her long sleeves.
“You two planned this shit,” I said with a hint of anger in my voice.
“No, I swear we didn’t plan this,” Becky denied almost in tears. “Where is Zoey?”
The three of us went back to the activity room. Zoey was still sitting in the same place with her hands stretched out holding imaginary hands. It was as if no one had left her. She was staring straight ahead, unmoving.
While the three of us were dragging Zoey out of the activity room, Freddie and Willie were in the TV room praying. Willie was mostly crying as her younger sibling knelt before her reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I went into the room and realized Freddie was holding both of Willie’s arms. Just like Becky, there was candle wax up both of Willie’s forearms as well where her long sleeves had been.
Becky and Dawn were still in the hallway where they were slapping Zoey trying to bring her to. Zoey later claims no memory after asking two or three times for Tom’s spirit to join us.
Within two weeks of the séance, Sophia, having said good-bye one morning to whom she considered her friends, got on the school bus and then, after arriving at school, walked off school property. I never saw her again.
Willie withdrew more into herself. She became more quiet and reserved. Freddie took to reciting the Lord’s Prayer daily and getting her sister to say it with her. She was still so angry with us for doing the séance. The day before I was transferred to a cottage, Freddie and Willie went to live with an aunt in New York.
Dawn took an overdose of her medication. Come to find out, she’d been cheeking her pills at medication time and was saving them up. Without telling anyone what she was going to do, she swallowed around 20 tablets. She was found half-unconscious and rushed to the hospital. After spending most of the night having her stomach pumped, she was sent back to the orphanage. The housemother made me sleep in the TV room with Dawn to keep an eye on her until she could be transferred to a mental hospital the next morning.
Zoey left. Ran away, just like Sophia. She just got up one morning and walked off. Becky, her roommate started cutting herself more following the séance. It was rumored she went to a mental hospital as well. Within two weeks, we’d all been dispersed and scattered. I never did get to the bottom of what happened. I was skeptical though. Did it really happen? Did the séance work? I’m not entirely sure it didn‘t.
I could say Zoey and Becky planned this, even down to Zoey pretending to be in a trance. They could have also had Sophia pump up the hype and work Freddie. Willie and Freddie wouldn’t have played along with the hoax though, that was a given. Dawn was too busy rehashing her imaginary lovers so I don’t believe she would have been involved. Intended hoax or not, I always come back to the same two questions. The first, how did Zoey change her voice to a man’s? It was obvious she wasn’t deepening her voice. It was clearly a grown man’s voice. Most baffling though was; how did the candle wax get on both girls, up their sleeves, and onto their arms?