Contacting the ghost of a dead playwright — who, incidentally, happened to have died across the hall — on the floor of my bathroom was not how I expected my college Saturday nights to go. But there I was, squished between four of my friends, Ouija board on my lap, on the first night of October.
Hosting a séance was the best idea my roommates and I could come up with in order to communicate with Eugene O’Neill, the playwright who died across the hall from us on the fourth floor of Kilachand Hall, back when it used to be a Sheraton Hotel. My friend Erin and I would be “conducting” the séance, meaning, we would put our fingers on the planchette that would allow us to communicate with Eugene, using the Ouija board I had bought from Target earlier that day. We researched appropriate Ouija board behavior: to maintain an open, friendly demeanor, so as to welcome any friendly spirits into conversation and to always say goodbye at the end of a session, so as not to leave any spirits hanging around.
We decided to set up shop in our bathroom, which shares a wall with Eugene’s former residence in room 401. We all clustered on the floor, strangely nervous. Before beginning, we had come up with three questions to ask Eugene, in case he showed up: What his favorite book was, what we could do to be better roommates for him, and whether he was a Red Sox fan.
We began by asking if there were any spirits in the room — and, within seconds, I felt the planchette beneath my fingers slide confidently towards “Yes” on the board. I immediately accused Erin of pushing it — just as she, simultaneously, opened her mouth to do the same. It had felt strange, as if there was, indeed, a force pushing the planchette, though neither Erin nor I had pressed down hard enough to guide it to an answer.
We asked, next, what the spirit’s name was. After several seconds, the planchette glided towards “E,” then “U,” then “G,” spelling out the name we had been expecting: Eugene. Again, my first instinct was to accuse Erin of moving the planchette, but by this point, there was a nearly-tangible presence in the room: not unfriendly, but a strange, overwhelming sensation of an unnameable … something. Erin posed our first question, inquiring about his favorite book.
More slowly this time, I felt the planchette slide, sluggishly, to “C,” to “T,” to “N,” to “E,” before stopping. After staying still for several minutes, we concluded that these letters must be his message, one we found impossible to decipher. Figuring it must be an anagram, we scoured Google for any books that might begin with these letters, to no avail. Losing faith in the coherency of the Ouija, we asked our second question. Eugene seemed to gain momentum at this point, moving definitively from letter to letter — until he spelled out the word “REST.”
Every hair on my body stood on end, as if called to attention by an irritated professor addressing a sleepy group of students. My roommates and I were all notorious night owls; just a few nights before, I had been up until 3 a.m. writing a last-minute paper. If we were interpreting it correctly, Eugene was complaining about how late we stayed up — and was recommending we get some rest in order to remedy this.
Giggling nervously, Erin asked if it would be alright if we asked one last question. The planchette moved once more to “Yes,” forcing my arms to bend backwards awkwardly, sending my roommates squirming.
“Are you a Red Sox fan, Mr. O’Neill?” I asked.
A warm rush of air blew through the cramped bathroom, shoving my arms forward, the planchette landing on “3.”
“Three?” I asked, confused.
A warm rush of air, again, forced my arms back toward “Yes.” Eugene was a Sox fan, indeed.
Erin and I, both alarmed and excited by the intensity of Eugene’s response, made eye contact, and understood that it was time to say goodbye. Once we had bid Eugene farewell, all of us were left speechless and shaking. Despite how friendly Eugene’s spirit was, each of us were filled with the weight of what we had just done.
Despite our experience, I have realized that I can’t prove the existence of Eugene, as 50-year-old ghost stories cannot be proven — and realizing that I have a fifth, undead roommate, who may or may not still be writing plays in the bathroom doesn’t mean I can prove it. Ghosts, like people, can’t be predicted or relied upon. And I guess I am going to have to learn how to accept that.
All I know is that I’m going to have a tough time going to the bathroom from now on.