“I don’t want some demon in our house!” came the panicked complaint from my roommate, who, as the rational person I know her to be, I hadn’t expected would be so freaked out by the ghost I’d bought on the internet. “Don’t you know this is exactly how people die? By inviting demons into their house?”
Just so you know I’m not insane, it’s important to mention that I didn’t just order some empty box with a dubious potential spirit-inhabitant. No. The ghost in question was taking up residence inside a small but hefty porcelain doll named Meredith, dutifully acquired in an online auction for the bargain price of $9.95 (plus $11.95 shipping - they always get you with the shipping). So clearly I knew what I was doing.
Back to Alex, shaking with rage. Rather than appealing to her lack of belief in the supernatural, I opted for logic and reason. “I was very careful, actually, NOT to buy a demon,” I replied. “The listing made it clear that this is a human spirit who is currently draining its owner of their life energies and they are eager to rid their home of her presence.” Oddly, this in no way soothed her.
I first read about buying haunted dolls on eBay over at Vice. Then, demonstrating the hilarious Venn diagram that is my life, I heard about the practice again on NPR. I thought about it for twenty-four hours, then caved and began bidding. Some of the dolls cost thousands of dollars. Many, like the one I wound up bringing into my apartment, were listed as requiring the skills of “serious handlers.” You know, like crocodiles. The thrill of bidding kicked my heart rate up. This could be one of those all too rare moments where real life seems cinematic - non-fiction colliding with fiction - I could not let it pass.
It’s not unusual for an easily frightened, highly-anxious person to like scary movies. When I mention to people my passion for them, I have to force a laugh when they inevitably say “How weird! You’re terrified of death and so anxious but you PAY to get scared!” The difference is when something scares me in a movie, I know it’s a movie. It’s not real. They broke for lunch and a zombie extra tried to flirt with the hot blonde lead. In two hours or less I can get up and walk away into the light.
It’s also incredibly reassuring as a haver-of-panic-attacks to sit in a dark crowd and scream at the top of my lungs free of the fear of censure from those surrounding me.
So obviously I ordered a doll. Proof that there could be more to the afterlife than a damp hole? Bring it. Of course, I didn’t enter upon this transaction without trepidation. As a kid my mom banned Choose Your Own Adventure books because she associated them with Dungeons & Dragons, which of course, was satanic in nature. Ouija boards were also a no-go and when, after reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I decided to keep an earthworm as a familiar it was promptly disposed of along with my witchly aspirations.
Even my high school (Catholic, natch) was big on the “do not meddle with forces you don’t understand” trope. We once had an entire assembly dedicated to the dangers of communicating with the minions of the dark lord, Azalel and Beelzebub. Best. Assembly. Ever.
Part of me wondered, as I told the people in my life what I was embarking upon, if I’d made a huge mistake. This was the part of me super-willing to jump on the believe-in-anything bandwagon. I mean, if I woke up tomorrow and looked out my window to see a massive mech shooting lasers from its eyes as it demolished the city, I would waste no time being all “whwhwhat?” No sir. I would solemnly nod, grab my machine gun, and zip-line out my window, intoning, “I always knew this day would come.”
It was hard not to get the creeps when my conversations began to play out like the exposition of most horror movies. “I bought a haunted doll on the internet,” I told my manfriend.
“Good thing ghosts aren’t real,” he said.
I blinked. “You do realize that you are going out of town for a week, right? And that if this was a movie you would return only to the news of my death?” Luckily, life is not a movie.
The doll arrived and I decided to leave it on the shoe rack in our hallway until my friend Conor, a fellow horror-flick enthusiast, could come over to help chronicle the entire event. The next morning, I discovered that, in a misguided attempt to protect us from evil, my roommate had left a cylinder of sea salt on top of the box. She’s either watched way too much Supernatural, or not nearly enough.
Friday night meant a seance/very scientific attempt to communicate with a ghost. Since my experience hosting ghostly dinner parties was limited, I stuck with what I knew. I bought a mess of wine, Alex made curry, and I made a chocolate pie (it’s best to have a good base in your stomach when contacting the great beyond) and she, Conor, and myself tucked into our grub while Conor cobbled together a Ouija-like board after a song and dance about not buying one because he didn’t “want to give money to that organization.”
After seeing the ridiculously extensive efforts people go to on Pinterest to make Ouija boards, we settled for something that did not involve decoupage and herblore and were pleased with the result.
For the actual ghost-contacting bit, Alex fled to her room. Conor and I had both downloaded apps including various versions of Ghost Radar and some questionable EMF readers. We were both a little giggly-scared (as you can see in the videos Conor graciously shot).
That’s because just before he arrived, a framed photo in my house inexplicably fell over. I mean, inexplicable in the sense that I live on the side of a highway in a rickety building BUT this photo has never fallen over before, to my knowledge, which I kept telling him.
We were like bungling kids on a first date. A first date with a ghost. “So what are we trying to do exactly?” we each said about eighty times. The makeshift Ouija board was a bust, but that didn’t matter because the TV spontaneously TURNED ON AND OFF THREE TIMES DURING OUR RESEARCH! IT WAS TERRIFYING!
Later we learned that, in a very secular twist, this was just Alex fucking with us. She had an iPad app remote for the TV. Which turned out to be exceptionally disappointing.
Nonetheless, I was still freaked out enough to put the doll (and the canister of salt) back in the hallway before I went to bed that night. But I had no trouble sleeping. I heard no strange rustling. I was content and resolute in the reality that as quick as I was willing to embrace and believe what cannot be seen, that innate trust has yet to be rewarded.
The next day, Conor sent me video of the entire event. I thought I’d feel ashamed watching myself and my friend talk to a doll, and feel nervous in its presence. I was sure I’d be mortified when I saw just how panicked and thrilled I’d become when the TV clicked on, when the doll shifted in position slightly (again, shaky apartment).
Instead, I watched each segment grinning. It’s not pathetic of me to have maintained a sense of wonder and curiosity. It’s not embarrassing that I live my life with baited breath for the big “what if.” If anything, that’s probably what makes me a good storyteller, and that is something worth holding onto.