The Belvidere House, 1993

We sat cross-legged in a loose circle at the head of the staircase. A fifth of Jim Beam made the rounds, burning our throats as we told ghost stories. We bore witness to the demise of prior residents, each one more gory than the last, all suicides and murders. Though none of us knew the prior incarnations of this three-story rooming house, we sensed the despair and loneliness that emanated from each of the spare, dark 10 x 10-ft. cells. The mahogany woodwork spoke to grander times, but the peeling wallpaper and crumbling plaster moldings revealed a downward twist in the tale. Six of us were alcoholics, four of those would be dead within the next two decades. Three of us were underage. Leota and I took our turn with the ouija board. We worked in near-telepathic tandem, telling the story of a young salesman who shot himself in room 202. One of the other women shrieked as we spelled out his name with no hesitation. “They can’t be moving it themselves,” people marveled at our synchronicity, but we moved that planchette with an easy calm. We didn’t need nonexistent ghosts to tell our stories. The microexpressions we sent each other had become a second language. We’d been storytellers for too long already.

When Leota died, I never thought to try again. I would have worked that small planchette to splinters for the sake of revealing her destination, if I could only believe. Twenty years after that night, I learned the house served several decades as a nursing home. Perhaps those room vibrations of lonely death were accurate, just not as intentional as we’d portrayed.


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