We hopped into a cab to my Dad’s apartment in Gramercy Park. The city haze hung like a shroud over my brain. I could barely think. My grandmother who was the most important person in my life for eighteen years couldn’t just disappear. A murderer just snuffed out her life for no reason.
On the packed streets, people walked quickly despite the hot stale air and the fact that Mere was gone. No one cared. I kept seeing her lying in the pool of blood. If I had just been a few minutes earlier, I might have saved her. That surreal ambulance ride replayed over and over in my mind. How I held her hand but couldn’t hold on to the life that seeped out of her. Maybe I should have hugged her instead of holding her hand. Was our secret signal enough to let her know how much I loved her now and forever? With each passing moment my anxiety worsened.
I tried to stop the panic inside my brain. With my eyes closed, I focused on Mere. “Where are you?” I called.
For a brief moment the temperature in the cab turned cold, a sign that the dead are present. Mere are you here? Even though the medical world proclaimed Mere was dead, I knew she lived on. She was a practicing Catholic, so an afterlife was just part of her faith. Although my parents are atheists, I’m a spiritual explorer of sorts - finding God in the most unusual places.
Mere please tell me what to do now. I’m so confused. Mere’s supernatural presence vanished, no matter how hard I begged,
Though the afterlife was very real to Mere and me, we didn’t publicly discuss the details, like our occasional séances in Bryant Park behind the library. In today’s scientific reality discussion of the spirit life is not PC, especially with many of the educated. For Mere, another glitch in our psychic life was that her church forbid contacting the dead through Ouija boards. But Mere in her rebellious way said, “This isn’t the first time I acted independently from the church.”
Our Ouija board is a vintage yellow, the color of old parchment. Some call the Ouija, a spirit or talking board through which the dead communicate with the living. On a Ouija board the deceased basically respond to questions of the living. The words YES appears next to a graphic of the sun while the word NO is printed on the opposite side of the board near an image of a crescent moon. Printed in the center are the capital letters of the alphabet. The living put their fingers on a planchette or wooden ruler while the departed answer the questions. The departed spirit moves the small plank around the board. They are communicating through the energy of the participants. Sliding from one letter to the next, the planchette spells out the deceased’s responses.
Actually I was the one who lured Mere into experimenting with a Ouija board that I found in a vintage toy store in the Village. We loosely followed official paranormal guidelines for contacting the dead. Mere thought of it as a creative medium. She loved books and delighted in the possibility of contacting some of her favorite deceased authors, especially those who researched and wrote their manuscripts at the Forty-Second Street Library. Before the world of computers, the Rose Room at the library was a Mecca for writers researching their work. Therefore, Mere believed a lot of the creative energy of those writers still existed around the library.
One cold night when I met Mere after work, I happened to have my board with me. I I begged, Mere. “Tonight is foggy - perfect for giving the Ouija board a try.”
“I just know a lot of those writers are still hanging out here. Maybe if we sat at one of these tables in the park, a writer who has passed might join us. Who do you want to contact, Mere?”
“There are so many. It’s hard to pick.”
“You’ve got to choose one. Come on.”
“What about you Zoe?”
“No writer - I want to hear from musicians. An old school musician who still rocks from the other side.”
“Well John Lennon lived at the Dakota, just blocks away.”
“Yeah, imagine talking with one of The Beatles!”
So we set the board up on one of the square metal tables. We didn’t have a candle. I shoved a piece of cardboard under one leg of the table to steady it. Sitting across from each other, we placed our cold fingers on the planchette, the ruler that spells out the spirit’s words letter by letter. First, we moved the piece around in circles to get it warmed up.
Mere called, “Is there anyone there?”
No one. Nothing at first, then slowly the planchette started moving from letter to letter. Once it landed on the letter “p” for a brief second. Then it moved slowly across the board until gradually all movement stopped.
Finally Mere gave up saying, “It’s pretty cold out here. Maybe coffee at my place will heat up our intuitive gifts.”
“Wait! Before we leave, it’s important to say goodbye. I read that on line.”
“Did we even say hello?”
“No.” I answered, “but I have a feeling they are listening.”
She replied, “Definitely.”
Of course through a Ouija board or a sudden drop in temperature are only two ways the deceased communicate. Many other ways, such as a flying moth, an image in a mirror and a shaking bed are the dead making their presence known.
Mere had passed hours ago. By now, she must be trying to reach me. We had
such a close bond when she was alive. I was desperate to hear from her. Sure enough when I checked my phone, I noticed on the camera roll a picture of that rusty old table where Mere and I often sat behind the Forty Second Street Library with the Ouija board between us as we contacted the spirit world. Out of respect, we never took pictures during our séances.
Mere sent me this picture, her first contact, a huge moment. Why send
this picture? When was it taken and by whom? An unusual clue that needed investigation. I hadn’t expected to hear from Mere on my I phone. I knew nothing about the paranormal in the digital realm. The kid who could really help me understand this was twelve year old Dylan, the brother of Chase, one of the techies who worked in the library. Dylan and I often met each other in the library while waiting for Mere and his brother to finish work.
Dylan, little and skinny with big feet, reminded me of a German shepherd
pup who you know is going to be formidable someday soon. Now when Dylan focused on a screen, he was awesome. His fingers moved so fast you barely noticed it. He could navigate intricate data, write code, create software. A genius trapped in a twelve year old body. Most of the librarians called him Baby Wizard.
The weird thing was that once he’s finished with the computer, he transformed into a overactive kid. Watching him with his brother, I swore Dylan was determined to drive Chase nuts. Without warning, Dylan would start punching Chase’s arm or pulling Chase’s hood over his face or jumping on his back.
I don’t know how my grandmother could stand having a conversation of more than two minutes with him, but obviously he and Mere had some kind of odd friendship going. They would often have heated discussions when Dylan visited his brother at work. During one of their talks Mere spilled the beans about our feeble attempts to contact the dead in Bryant Park. Surprisingly, scientific Dylan loved the idea. He had no problem with the supernatural being involved in the tech revolution. Actually he was very interested in getting the dead into computers. In Dylan’s words, “If they wanted to continue to communicate with the living they better log on soon.”
I was angry that Mere shared our secret, especially with this geeky kid.
When I confronted her about revealing our secret of the supernatural with Dylan, she replied, “Zoe, maybe Dylan can contact Steve Jobs. I have a slew of questions for Steve Jobs!”
I remember the cold November night that Dylan joined us in a séance.
He kept shifting his weight from one foot to another while fiddling with the strings from the hoodie. His long brown hair covered his eyes. I couldn’t tell if he even knew what was happening.
So I asked, “Dylan, what do you think of the Ouija board?”
Without even looking at me, he yelled, “Wouldn’t it be funny to hear ghosts fart?”
Mere shot him a look that quieted him, but he kept rocking back and forth. Mere, gifted with intuitive sensibilities, sat down first at the square table. Then she opened the board and put her fingers on the planchette. As soon as I touched the wooded plank, I felt an energy like an electric charge.
The park was dark, cold and rather deserted for this time of day.
I explained that candles are usually used at séances.
Just as I got those words out of my mouth, Dylan whipped out his iPhone with the flashlight shining on the old yellowed board.
“Hey, if an Apple phone doesn’t get Steve Jobs back from the dead, what will?
My grandmother and I had to smile.
Mere then called out, “Is anybody there?”
At first the planchette lie still, but I felt a presence.
When Mere repeated the question, the planchette slowly started to move.
Dylan quickly jumped up, “Are you Steve Jobs?”
The table rattled when my grandmother firmly kicked Dylan under the table as a warning to slow down.
“Welcome,” she said in a gentle voice.
“Are you Steve Jobs?” Dylan whispered in an eerie voice.
The planchette moved to
We rarely contacted the spirit world. This night they contacted us. Dylan already impatient asked, “Hey maybe you could find somebody better than Jobs.”
With that said the planchette picked up speed.
“Are you from here?” my grandmother continued.
Quickly the pointer slid to
From here I thought. Here is in the middle of the park? What did that mean?
Next my grandmother questioned, “Who are you?
The pointer suddenly rushed across the board. Dylan jumped but didn’t utter a sound. Mesmerized, we watch the letters appear in the cut out circle on the planchette.
“Pauper? Are they kidding us? A pauper from Silicon Valley?”
Then it was over. We sat there speechless for a few seconds. Then Dylan kind of stretched.
“Yeah, Ms. D. You are smooth. I have to hand it to you. You got a knack for making that spirit board act like it had a life of its own.” My grandmother made no response, but we looked at each other intently. We both knew the history of the library that had been built on a mass grave of paupers. Body upon body of the poor piled up and abandoned. Could this be one of those spirits unearthed when the library was constructed?