For most of the Stanley Film Festival, I didn't stay at the Stanley Hotel. I booked my room too late and the hotel was at maximum capacity, so I bunked at an adorable, innocuous little lodge about a quarter of a mile down the street.
I should have stayed there.
The last night of the festival, I stayed at the Stanley Hotel proper. The hotel - legendarily home to Stephen King when he conceived of The Shining and, more specifically, The Overlook - is long storied to be haunted, and you can read a little about their ghostly history here. For our final hurrah before returning home, some of us decided to have a seance in one of the second floor rooms of the hotel.
This sounds dumb, surely. I know it does, now. But we weren't taking this thing terribly seriously. The mode of communication was an off-brand Ouija board called a "Celestial board" that my friend Jen Yamato picked up in town. (You can read her account here.) The candles were two birthday candles plucked from a birthday celebration at the Stanley's restaurant just an hour before. That said, I believe we were all respectful. We followed the rules printed on the box to the letter. We entered into this thing with honest, if a bit silly, intentions.
We started with everyone's hands on the board, but there were too many of us. So we started taking turns, with different combinations of people placing two fingers lightly on the planchette, as instructed. At first nothing - or sometimes, very little - happened. And then it was my turn, along with Daniel, Roxanne and Jason, with Elijah taking notes on our progress, as the rest of the room watched in near silence.
The board started to move immediately.
pic courtesy of Jen
We asked her her name. She said Ave or maybe Ava or maybe Dafni. I'm not actually sure any of those words - the first few attempts were a jumble, before she started communicating more clearly - were her name, but I am sure it's a girl. We all immediately referred to her as "she" with no question - to me, at least, she just felt like a she. We asked her how old she was when she died. The planchette encircled the number 9. We asked her how she died. She said WATER and LAKE and then MOM.
Did your mom drown you?
Though sometimes the answers she gave us were frightening - do you want us to do something? HIDE. From whom? HIM. Is someone here in danger? ALL. - I never felt in danger. We're all in danger of death, of course, and surely there's more than one HIM haunting the Stanley Hotel from whom we should hide. But in that room, even though the night was incredibly intense and stressful, it never felt dangerous.
Is anyone else with you here?
There was one word that she repeated more than any other, a word that broke my heart and chilled me to my bones:
At one point, the planchette began whipping around the center of the board in crazed spirals, and Jason said it best when he described it as feeling like our hands were caught in an uncontrollable eddy of water.
And then she started repeating a number.
I thought that might be the day she died, March 24th of some long-ago year. (Or maybe last year. I don't know how it works. If she died in a lake, how is she at the Stanley, I kept wondering, but that's assuming I know the rules, and after Sunday night, I am certain that I do not know the rules.) Finally, Jen looked up from her phone on the bed and said in a quiet, shaky voice, "Guys, it says here that Room 324 is one of the most actively haunted rooms at the Stanley."
Even though it's clear what she wanted, we didn't want her to want us to do that. "Do you want us to go to Room 324?"
"Is there anything else we can do for you?"
And suddenly, that was it. We couldn't get anything else out of her. The planchette stopped moving; she was done. Following the instructions on the board, we politely asked her to depart, and then all of us silently moved the planchette to the word "Goodbye."
Everyone in the room - even the once-skeptics - was silent, shell-shocked, riveted. I can't describe the atmosphere - heavy, incredibly stressful. No jokes, no bravado. Those of us on the board and a few others, everyone in a daze, decided to go up one flight of stairs to the third floor. It's what she asked us to do, you know?
pic courtesy of Jen
Slowly, we made it up to the third floor. The moment we reached the top of the stairs, we ran into a couple who was legitimately terrified. I believe they were on something - at the very least, they were drunk - but their fear was unmistakable and terribly real. "No way. No way that just happened," the woman kept saying. They told us that they had just seen "a presence" moving down the hall toward them. Jen asked them to describe the presence, and at once they both said, "Small," and the man added, "Friendly." The presence appeared three doors down the hall, and then moved toward them, before disappearing.
Three doors down the hall?
Some of us walked down to the room while others stayed with the couple at the end of the hall. It felt like the longest walk of my life - I felt underwater, on another planet from my friends who were just a few yards from me. We stood outside Room 324 for a few moments, but nothing happened. I stayed last, just a beat or two after everyone else, waiting, but that was it. She was gone.
And the thing I keep thinking is that if that couple hadn't been there to scare her off, we would have seen her. She was there for us. She was waiting for us.
It's been five days and writing this has left me shaky and cold. I didn't sleep the rest of that night - no one did. I sat in my room with all of the lights on until the moment the sun rose, and then I bolted for outside, where I immediately ran into Jen and Roxanne, who were doing the same thing. For the next two days, every muscle ached - I felt like I'd been in a car accident, and every inch of my body had tensed up from the impact. I thought we'd spent about 45 minutes on the board, only to realize later that the whole thing had taken nearly four hours.
I've spent the days since researching everything I could find - newspaper archives, death indexes, drowning reports, census records. I've found several stories that could fit what we learned, but really, what we learned was so little. Nothing to go on, nothing to prove what happened, nothing to make sense of it. If all of this sounds flimsy, believe me, I understand. That's because no words, nothing, can describe the way we all felt. The way that room felt. The way that hallway felt. The way I feel right now, telling you about it.
There's one thing that comforts me, when I think about it. Because beyond the fear, what I feel mostly for that little girl is sadness. But this doesn't make me sad:
Are you alone where you are?
Who is Peter? we asked, and then, because I realized that was too big a question, I asked, Who is Peter to you?
I'm glad she isn't alone, that little girl.
pic courtesy of Jason