“‘And it’s not just obvious things,’ he said. ‘It’s not all possessions and hauntings and black shadows by the bed. Satan can come knocking wearing a more mundane coat. The Ouija abuser could have health or personal problems, or their luck could just turn rotten. Most often, the afflicted simply find that their faith in God mysteriously drains away. The invisible world of the undead, the world of ghosts and spirits, is the world where the devil lives,’ he told me calmly. ‘And if you go looking for the devil, the devil will find you.’”
-Will Storr vs the Supernatural by Will Storr
When I was a little boy, I used to hang out with my gay cousin, his sister and their dead relative in their haunted mobile home. Well, at least they told me there was a dead relative that lived with them. Although I was around ten-years-old and naive, I was still skeptical of the trailer’s transparent tenant. It was hard for me to imagine there was an actual presence, a ghost, that walked (floated?) among them.
I’m pretty open minded so it wasn’t that I didn’t believe in ghosts but I was also the type of person that needed to see things with my own eyes in order to truly believe. Also, my cousins had tried to trick me with unbelievable stories before.
My uncle had a pond across from his trailer and the eldest cousin, J, once told me it contained a gigantic fish as large as the pond itself. His name was Chester. I was probably about seven at the time and dumb and knew nothing about fish. If wales could get huge, could some species of fish as well? Although I had never heard of a gigantic catfish before, maybe Chester was a freak accident of nature.
My little brain spun with the possibilities but there was never any physical evidence, never any indication of a fin skimming the surface of the shimmery gray pond. I wasn’t sure what to make of J’s claim but his sister, K, backed him up. J liked to be dramatic and spin salacious stories but K was more down to earth and so if she agreed with him, maybe it was really true. Maybe there was a fish as big as a house floating around in the murky water.
Eventually, I came to my senses and realized my cousins were just screwing with me. Chester the catfish was a hoax, unless some toxic waste had somehow spilled into the water, genetically altering the scaly creature’s DNA, turning it into the Godzilla of redneck cuisine. But if that was the case, how come they never told the press and made heaps of cash off their freak-sized pond monster?
The ghost thing was a bit trickier. J said it was one of their relatives, Vernon, who used to live in the trailer before his father moved in. Vernon might have even possibly died there, which would have bolstered the validity of the story and also made it somewhat more believable and spooky. To me, at least, it was more logical there was a ghost in their house rather than an enormous fish with a pituitary problem. It didn’t help matters that the trailer was pretty creepy as it was.
The whole trailer was small and cramped. The interior wasn’t well lit or ventilated and was always hazy with cigarette smoke. My uncle and both cousins smoked so there were ample amounts of ash smeared on the tables and cracked ashtrays among the coffee-stained copies of Cosmopolitan. The smokiness could have easily been misinterpreted as an unnerving fog that had just rolled in to announce the presence of something unholy.
There weren’t many sources of light, either. And what little light they had was dull and mustard yellow in color. There were also rooms in the house I never entered, such as their bathroom and father’s room. Knowing there were unseen rooms within the tiny confines of the place prodded my imagination. Those rooms were mysterious. What was the mobile home hiding in those rooms?
That other half of the house where the unexplored rooms were located was connected to the den and kitchen by a short, narrow hall. A door leading outside was on the right of the hall and was covered by a makeshift drape made from what looked and felt like a burlap sack. It was the only light source in the hall. It filtered the sunlight into jagged brown shafts that splintered off and dissolved into the darkness, leaving an inky black hole…or wall…or entrance to another dimension that floated ten feet in front of me. I had never gone past the inky darkness so I had no idea what was back there. Technically, it was my uncle’s bedroom but for all I knew, that might have been were Vernon died.
And then dwelled.
As with most haunted houses, there was the occasional door swinging open or closed by itself. I rationalized it, like any good skeptic would, as a circulation of air moving the door. That was really the only evidence I ever encountered and it wasn’t much to convince me of an other-worldly entity. But J insisted it was Vernon coming and going. No one ever acted scared about it, possibly because they were making up the whole thing, or maybe because they knew Vernon was family and wouldn’t hurt them.
I, however, thought the idea of a ghost gallivanting in my home was creepy.
Things got creepier when K’s friend, Fallon, came over one day. She was staying the night with K and brought an overnight bag filled with what I assumed was makeup and clothing. A storm was brewing outside and everyone was confined to the small space of the trailer. So, to pass the time inside, Fallon reached over to her bag but instead of pulling out a pot of lip gloss, she took out a Ouija board.
Fallon was another one who had extra occupants in her house.
“I swear,” she told us one day, “if you put your head under water in our tub, you can hear the dead talking to each other.”
Ever since hearing that, I have always been hesitant to stick my head in any body of water large enough to submerge my entire skull. Once again, my imagination took her small sentence and ran wild with it. I envisioned the warm water filling my ears and amplifying the sounds of the dead. What did they talk about? What did they sound like? I definitely did not want to know. This caused many problems during bath time.
So, when Fallon suggested the Ouija, I opted out.
“Come on,” they all said in unison. I didn’t want to be a buzz kill but even at ten-years-old, I had been fed a healthy diet of horror movies and had seen enough to know Ouija boards were not catalysts for contacting Casper. Nothing ever good happened when those things came out to play.
We were in J’s room at the time, an incredibly small space with just enough room for a bed and dresser. His walls were filled with taped up images of the slain pop singer Selena and magazine cutouts of models and clothing. The aforementioned Cosmopolitan belonged to him. The room smelled heavily of JOOP! cologne and hair product.
It was cramped enough with the four of us in the tiny room, not to mention the dozens of models eyes on the walls following every move I made. I was feeling claustrophobic. I needed some fresh, fragrance free air. As Fallon set up the board, I got out and sat in the den.
There wasn’t anything good on during that Saturday afternoon besides football. I looked through J’s small collection of VHS movies. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and Hellraiser 3. I put in the latter as the group in the next room put their hands on the planchette.
After about half an hour, they all came out looking thoroughly satisfied. At this point, my memory fails me. I’m not sure if they told me they actually contacted a spirit. I suspect if they did, J probably had a hand (literally) in hitting up some dead folks.
It wasn’t until fifteen years later when I read Will Storr vs the Supernatural that I almost fully recalled the incident with my cousins and the Ouija board. To summarize the book, Will Storr is a skeptical journalist who went tagged along with demonologists, witches and exorcists as they investigated paranormal activity, all to see if he could find evidence of real ghosts. Interestingly, many of the cases he took part in involved the use of a Ouija board.
And after reading the excerpt found at the beginning of this entry, I realized the description basically fits my life and subsequent death. I’ve had health and personal problems. My luck is rotten. My faith has drained away. Is it possible that I my cousins contacted a demon and consequently I contracted a demon disease?
Far fetched? Maybe. But sometimes I get so bummed I look for answers anywhere. What’s the solution to the ever looming sadness? Is it pills? Is it exercise? Or do I need an exorcism?
It seems a little unfair. I didn’t participate in the Ouija session. I shouldn’t be the one afflicted with any kind of supernatural sickness. I’m not saying that any of the others should have fallen into a funk instead of me but I was an innocent bystander struck by a hit and run raising of the dead. Maybe they talked to a real ghost, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they simply opened the door for something to slide through the seams of the board, a presence that pushed its way into reality.
And then maybe that presence latched itself on to me.
I wonder if that explains this nagging duality that I feel within myself. I’ve always felt like two people: a fat guy and a fractured fool. Maybe there aren’t two of me after all, just two presences in one body. There’s the Brannon and then there’s the demon, mimicking me but with a sadistic slant. It’s the part of me that doesn’t want to care, the part that wants to believe in nothing but chaos and indulgence. It’s the part of me that’s been coming out more and more over the years. It’s the part of me that’s been killing who I was before that day in a haunted trailer.
The question is, how am I supposed to know if I’m possessed? What if I have an STD (Supernaturally Transmitted Demon)? It’s not like I can visit the doctor and ask him to run some tests. There are no physical symptoms to speak of. Well, nothing that would stand out as being paranormal in nature. Sure, at twenty-five years old, there’s still the delightful combination of wrinkles and pimples, the premature balding, the crooked eyes, nose and teeth. There’s the fifteen year struggle with my weight, which I still haven’t managed to control. Even the lump in my throat isn’t so abnormal that it would lead a medical professional to diagnose me with the devil.
Then there’s the internal factors of no meaningful relationships or goals. There’s the emptiness that scrapes at my stomach, a fading joy in things that used to make me happy, like drawing and writing. Even the destructive behavior of overeating and shopping doesn’t do the trick like it used to. But what would a psychiatrist say to that? That’s not necessarily supernatural, just super lame.
So, where does this leave me? If I’m not possessed, then I’m just screwed. And if I am possessed, then I guess I’m still screwed but at least I’d have an explanation for the everyday entropy. What’s going on with me? Is there a phantom floating inside? Is there a demon driving my depression? Is it a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or simply an error in judgment or choice?