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Written on October 31, 2011, and categorized as True Story.
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I lived in halls of residence for a term when I first went to art school. A large, modern, red brick building, a spit from Wood Green tube, it was full of first year students who arrived at this north London polytechnic from everywhere in the UK, begotten of diverse parents, chemists and postmen, teachers and printers, Waitrose executives and Sainsbury’s cashiers, girls with expensive earrings and posh accents mixing with boys who ate chips out of the bag and spoke with their mouths full.

It was OK as a landing spot, but far too restrictive a place to remain, and I left after a single term, house-sharing for three years after that. There were studenty fads, silly pranks, nothing heavy, just knockabout stuff – drinking games, pool all-nighters, climbing out of the window five, six storeys up in pitch darkness and traversing sideways to the next bedroom window along a tiny two inch ledge, holding on with fingertips and praying the wind didn’t blow. Changing everyone’s food around, from one kitchen to another. Stealing bras and filling underwear with shaving foam. Barricading people in their rooms silently as they slept. I kept my head down, avoided almost all of it, tried to adjust to living away from home, something I had planned to do since I was ten years old and had finally achieved. At nineteen, like everyone else, I was still making sense of life.

But as the nights drew in and got colder from October to November, and the hard reality of hours of study, missing home and living poor and isolated took hold, a fad swept the student rooms which became insidious. Ouija board. Summoning the dead, and speaking with them.

Of course the rational in me knew all about it – suggestion, group psychosis, etc. I had read books about it for years, being interested in anything unusual or unknown, including the paranormal, since I could remember. I was quite the expert. But at 2am with a room full of scared and emotionally hollow students, strange things can happen even to the most rational and least suggestible person.

I was very cool, and I didn’t expect to be as easily rattled as the screaming girls on the language courses, and the pasty-faced public schoolboys doing business studies who tried it once, then exited and locked their doors at midnight, leaving just a hardcore group in the kitchen, letters on the table, fingers on the glass, watching it move, spell words, phrases, and form conversations. It became more serious when we were told things about the building which we knew to be nonsense, but then Welsh Ian, a catering student, went off to the library and researched the building where a “spirit” claimed to have lived and died. Sure enough, the place had existed, on the site where the new building now stood. The dates were right, and it was exactly as described. He told us the following evening over tea, and I was impressed by his diligence, but of course, we were spooked, and our little group on the top floor became wary, stopped doing it. But still, it drew us back. It was really fascinating.

One night, five of us sat in the room after midnight, with a candle burning illegally. Paul, an overweight, dour law student from Cheshire was an insomniac, so he was up with us. A complex character, he never completed his first year, and we all knew his heart wasn’t in it – he was there for his upper-middle class parents’ sake. He refused to join in, but he sensed the fascination even while being sarcastic.

We tapped into “spirits” and Paul sat to one side, watching. After a few false starts, one spirit seemed to know Paul, and we were surprised, because Paul wasn’t touching the glass. But it was definitely responding to him. It gave its name, its place of birth. Cheshire.

Paul was deeply dubious, and wasn’t sure we weren’t tricking him. It turned out that Paul did have a friend who had died, and so we then asked questions and got answers, and then asked Paul if the answers tallied, but there was a strange difference this time, and we all felt it. Led on by Welsh Ian, who was the most excitable and possibly the most in touch with beliefs, Paul finally overcame his scepticism, and offered a question.

“Ask him how he died.”

So we spelt out the letters, “H O W D I D Y O U D I E”

and waited.

And the glass moved.

D

E

S

I was thinking, what? Destroyed by… ?

O

L

A

T

I suddenly saw what we were being told, and I felt real fear.

E

Oh fuck. Desolate.

We turned to Paul, blood drained from our faces. His cheerful, chubby face did not look happy. His eye had developed a tic.

“How did he die?” asked Welsh Ian, eyes wide, voice rising several tones higher than usual.

Paul gathered himself before answering quietly, and completely seriously.

“He died alone, in his room, from leukemia.”

 

We were expecting facts about the illness, or accident, not a chillingly believable description of a real person’s feelings as he died of an uncurable disease.

Desolate.

Oh my word. Poor fucker.

We stopped immediately. Nobody slept in the dark that night, alone in their single rooms.

I knew it was getting out of hand, since I was now really scared, feeling the kind of fear which I had considered vaquished by years of reading Edgar Allen Poe. The next day, I went to see a Jeremy, a devoutly Christian friend, who every bit as alarmed by “Satanic” ritual as he had been brought up to be, prayed for us. I was happy with that, but still.. we had started a craze, and it took time for it to die down. We’d opened up a can of worms, which wriggled all over campuses for weeks, creating scores of hollow-eyed students who paid even less attention in lectures than usual.

I have never since played such an occult game, for I learnt that if you dabble, you will very possibly end up experiencing things you don’t plan on experiencing, and learning things you don’t want to know; and few of us have the power, skill or training to be able to cope with the results of investigations on the other side of the veil of death.

100% true story. Dedicated to Soriah Bronté.

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