Calling the Poltergeist
By Emerald A. Behrens
The room felt haunted to me even before those strange events. I remember a feeling of uneasiness and fear. How many children had been in this room before me?
“This is your room,” the staff member said and I saw the small flat children’s bed decorated with a plain green coverlet. It wasn’t unlike the hospital bed I slept in at Langley Porter before I came here to Edgewood—a place for damaged children. At least this bed didn’t have restraints.
I looked at the wall facing my bed where two plain cabinets stood, painted cheap white, for any belongings I would have. I had very few.
I thought this place would be temporary for me and that I wouldn’t stay long. I didn’t know I was going to be stuck at Edgewood for two whole years.
The bedroom faced the west and if I squinted I could see the ocean past the fire escape, winking its silvery light back at me. I felt like a prisoner in this institution and wanted so desperately to run to the ocean but I was scared. Trapped in this new place with no way out—how would I escape? I had nowhere to go.
I looked at the picture on the wall, the only decoration in the room. A young Amish girl with a white bonnet and dress held a cat. I had no idea who she was or why this picture was in the room. I didn’t know the picture was meant to be comforting decoration.
At the end of my plain bed was a white trunk, totally empty. Along one wall were built-in closets painted a sickening off-pink hue. All of the walls and trim were painted this awful color.
It reminded me of the cement room I was dragged into at Langely Porter with the same color paint peeling from the walls. At eight-years-old I didn’t know what lead in paint was or that it was poisonous. I spent my time in that cement room peeling the paint off the walls because of severe boredom. Children were locked in these rooms, some for hours at a time. In other places, children died in these rooms.
Those rooms were called restraining rooms, for the children when they had their fits. Mine lasted a few hours and my back was a bloody scabbed-over evidence of my past tantrums with staff people.
I was not alone in this new bedroom at Edgewood but had a roommate. I didn’t care much for her and the feeling was mutual.
The girl roommate bullied me until she finally left and I was given another roommate—one who didn’t speak except to say, “I don’t know”.
I didn’t know this was a defense mechanism for dealing with the staff or that it was her way of saying, F*ck you! to the people who put her in this institution. I had no idea why she was there as she seemed really quiet most of the time.
It wasn’t until later I realized she could talk. She was really very smart. No wonder she hated the idiotic counselor in the institution who bullied her. I finally understood why she kept saying, “I don’t know”. What else could she say in a situation like that?
She was a devout Catholic, read ghost stories and lent me her Goosebumps books by R.L. Stein.
Pretty soon we were exchanging ghost stories together. She told me the traditional camp-fire ghost stories where a babysitter gets a phone call from a man who says he’s such and such feet from her house—until he’s just a few feet away.
Cue terrifying scream at the end, “RRRRAAAHHH!”
It scared me but then again I had never heard ghost stories from other kids before. I was a lonely child.
“Have you ever called Bloody Mary in front of a mirror?” She asked me.
I shook my head. I vaguely recalled the alcoholic drink the woman who gave birth to me drank in the mornings.
“She’ll come to you if you call her name out three times and then you’ll see her in the mirror.” My roommate whispered excitedly. We were up past our prescribed bedtime, around 10pm, so we had to whisper.
The staff had stopped patrolling the hallways but we didn’t want to wake the other roommates. In two other rooms, the four girls were asleep. The boys in Halleck cottage were on the other side.
We crept out of bed and the old floorboards creaked underneath the moldy carpet. We both went to the shared bathroom and stood in front of the cracked smeared mirror. I saw the two bathroom stalls behind me next to the two shower stalls. The frosted glass of the one window was creaked open and black mold covered its edges.
Both of us whispered at the same time, “Bloody Mary! Bloody Mary! Bloody Mary!”
We waited and stared intently into the mirror.
The eyes tend to play tricks on you, especially in the dark and though there was light from the hallway, it still wasn’t enough to clear the strange visions that appeared before me.
My face was pale and shifted slightly, as if it were made of putty and the eyes began to sag and melt before my eyes focused on the image of my own face again. The more I stared, the more my face changed until I seemed to get dizzy. Was this supposed to be Bloody Mary? I hadn’t actually seen her.
My roommate and I quickly went back to our rooms and I described how my face changed.
“That’s Bloody Mary!” she nodded but I wasn’t convinced.
I joked then about the movie, Beetlejuice by Tim Burton that us kids had seen at Edgewood and wondered if it was possible to summon a poltergeist.
That’s when everything changed and I realized it wasn’t just my roommate playing a trick on me. There was no way she could have done this herself.
“Let’s do it! Let’s call him!” My roommate said, referring to the spooky specter.
We both said his name, three times out loud, just like in the movie.
I guess it was just a movie trick after all.
My roommate shrugged and we both lie down for bed. I closed my eyes and set myself ready for sleep.
But then I heard something. I opened my eyes and looked at my roommate’s bed. She hadn’t moved.
I waited a moment and listened.
I sighed and was about to pull the covers over my head when I heard it again.
Knock, knock, knock.
It was coming from the wall behind my bed, which separated my room from the other girl’s rooms. My room was in the middle of three dormitory-style rooms and had the fire escape with stairs that went down to the ground outside. To my knowledge, the windows were locked and no one could come inside.
My roommate saw me turn in bed.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Listen…” I pointed to the wall and then we both heard it.
Knock, knock, knock.
It was very soft but you couldn’t miss it. Nothing else would make that sound.
I forget which one of us got up first but she went to the front of our room and motioned me to the back door connecting our dorms.
We both crept very quietly into the adjoining room but found the other girls asleep. Since their beds faced away from the wall where I heard the knocking noise, there was no way they could’ve snuck back into bed without making a sound. The floor I walked on creaked with every footstep.
My roommate and I both went back to our room.
“There’s only the closets on the other side of the wall,” she pointed and I nodded.
Was someone in the closet? But how could they fit? The closets were roughly the size of a broom closet each and there was no way an adult staff member could fit in without making a noise, not to mention they would have to be remarkably still the rest of the time.
If there had been other kids in those closets, we would have heard them walking through the hallways.
Don’t poltergeists inhabit closets?
We both waited but didn’t hear anymore knocking sounds.
It was probably past 11pm now and we both decided it was better to get some sleep.
Whatever it was wasn’t going to come after us then and I didn’t have the sense of terror I had at other strange times when I encountered paranormal events, so I wasn’t too concerned.
I had told my roommate about the strange entity I had seen at the foot of my bed at night, when I had that bad roommate before.
The strange shadow entity had sat on my bed and I felt extreme terror to the point where I couldn’t breathe. Luckily, the shadow hadn’t hurt me but I did wake up to find my digital clock had been unplugged—that or the lights had gone off during the night.
I managed to sleep after.
The next night, we tried calling the poltergeist again and said his name three times.
Nothing happened. Not even one single knock.
“Oh well, maybe he moved on,” my roommate was disappointed as was I.
When you’re a kid stuck in an institution, there isn’t much that holds your interest but a poltergeist is something different altogether. You hold hope for the strangest things during times you want to escape out of a bad situation.
Having a poltergeist next to our room was cool. The fact that we had summoned the entity was even cooler.
I suppose this gave us kids a sense of power when we had none.
My roommate and I settled down to sleep but I kept hoping I would hear that knocking again.
It never came.
We got a shock in the morning.
Two pieces of candy were waiting for us on the trunk next to my roommate’s bed, along with a childishly scribbled note that said, “I’m coming back”.
Well, this was interesting, I thought.
To be honest, I was a bit dubious, as I had seen my roommate eating that same brand of candy just a few nights before. I was jealous of her.
In the institution they put us on different levels, each with its own privilege—and punishment. I was always on the lowest level because I was a trouble-maker and had multiple fights with the staff. My roommate was smart, kept quiet and as long as she obeyed the rules, got to move up the level until she graduated off the horrible system. She got to go on walks to the store by herself and use her own money to buy candy.
I never ever, ever, got to that level. I could never stay out of trouble. Someone would always make me upset and then it was back to the bottom again—just like my life now.
In those days, I was a troubled child who had been through too much to know how to regulate emotions. It was an unreasonable request, in my opinion.
But at least this poltergeist game we had going was entertaining at the time.
I didn’t know then how far it would go.
My roommate and I discussed how we could summon the poltergeist and maybe make requests. Would it bring us more candy?
“Prove to us you’re real!” My roommate fervently whispered. I guess she knew I doubted the spooky specter and I pointed out the candy that had been hers. She denied everything of course but I still wanted to believe in this ghostly entity.
What would it do next?
Then we heard it again.
Knock, knock, knock.
We both got out of bed but when we, very quietly, looked in the other room—no one was awake. The closet doors were closed and there was no way anyone could’ve gotten in there.
My roommate and I tip-toed back, utterly perplexed.
“Okay, what else can you do?” My roommate dared the specter.
There was no answer.
Eventually, we had to get some sleep and I think it was around midnight by the time we both fell asleep.
Another shock in the morning and something that has perplexed me to this day.
My grandmother had given me a number of stuffed animals which I laid down each night beside my bed, like little guardians keeping watch.
After that terrifying incident with the shadow entity at the foot of my bed, I used the stuffed animals like a barrier, so that if anything tried to get me, I would know immediately. A few of the stuffed animals had bells, so if they were moved, you could hear.
But this morning I woke up utterly astounded.
All of my animals had been moved. Not only that, each one had been lined up meticulously at someone else’s bed—and their animals were now lined up at the side of my bed.
How could someone have done this without making a sound? The floors in that place were old and creaked often and I would’ve heard if anyone moved my stuffed animals.
It couldn’t have been a staff member and it would have taken too long to move each animal, at least ten or more of them, including the small pocket sized animals.
My roommate was as perplexed as I was.
This was the final proof that the poltergeist we had summoned, did in fact, exist.
Now what were we going to do?
I forget now what happened to the poltergeist. I guess it went away on its own.
Eventually my roommate was able to go back with her parents and escape the institution of Edgewood.
I wasn’t allowed to leave. I would be stuck there another year before I ended up endangering my life. I climbed up a very tall tree, and threatened to jump off if any staff member came near.
Obviously, I survived this ordeal and didn’t die. My grandmother was called and got guardianship of me so that I too, finally escaped that awful place.
The poltergeist incident was just one of many in that strange place where children’s nightmares come to life.
I’m sure many children after me have had similar frightening experiences. I wonder if that strange shadow entity is still haunting children as they try to sleep in a room that’s a hundred years old and full of terror.
There’s something in these places that tears reality apart. Maybe it’s the total loss of control children face, under the supervision of people who don’t always wish them well. Perhaps it’s the ghosts of past traumas that re-awaken with each new body brought in. Bad events have seared themselves into the walls, like undead testimonies of horrors witnessed before.
They still scream to get out.
Institutions make children easy prey and not just for the real-life predators in this world. Children may face another darker fear, one they can’t escape from even after they wake.
I was the lucky one to survive. I don’t know how many other children will.