By the time we threw the Day and Night Regency Ball, Gentle Reader, the Fabulous Party Association had been going strong for three years. Most of our functions had been hosted at Hale’s Pass Lodge, in Arletta, owned by the Parks Department and rented to a preschool during the week. The standard procedure was to collect the keys on Friday, decorate that night, host the function on Saturday, and clean up and return the keys on Sunday. On this particular occasion, we were prepared to turn the lodge into the Villa Diodati, where Lord Byron, the Shelleys, and their assorted hangers-on famously told ghost stories*.
Whenever Miss Ward and I arrived at Hale’s Pass, our first order of business was always the same: the pilgrimage to the Sad Chair Room. You see, once you’re inside Hale’s pass, there’s a locked door at the end of the hallway. It leads to a stairwell; at the bottom is another locked door. Once inside the basement, amid the many things stored there, behind a cinderblock pillar, is a third locked door. Behind this, Gentle Reader, is a puddle, with a single child-sized chair in its center. Every. Damn. Time.
This place functions as a preschool, as I said, and we were always horrified by this chair, imagining the punishments inflicted on the terrified children in that solitary chair.
On this occasion, when we made our pilgrimage to visit the Sad Chair, we heard a faint, regular ticking, like a watch – suddenly a flurry of flying beetles was heading straight for our faces. Once we ran to safety, we were reasonably certain† that we were in the beginning of a bad horror flick.
That‘s when we hit on the idea for the best party-game ever: a séance.
We set up, as usual, full of mad chatter about the probable ghosts just dying to pierce the veil and come to our party. We talked of nothing but ghosts that night. We talked of them while hanging the decorations. We talked of them the next day, while cooking the dinner, and while setting the table. You may have noticed, I talk about ghosts quite a lot.
As the guests trickled in before dinner, we let them mingle, have a few amuse-bouches, a few apéritifs. By this point, most of our guests were familiar with the standard plan of our entertainments: Mingling, dinner, party-games. Miss Ward and I were dying of excitement, but we kept it contained until after the rôti de turquie and viande de mystére‡ had been cleared away, until after the croquembouche had been entirely eaten.
We then informed our guests of our cunning plan. Those who were made uncomfortable by the prospect of potentially raising the dead would be free to amuse themselves upstairs, while those who fancied a darker, more robust entertainment, were to follow us to the Sad Chair Room. I picked up my candelabrum, and Miss Ward and I led the way.
Three locked doors later, our guests were snugly sitting on the concrete floor, watching our faces flicker in the candle light. We invited those who felt compelled to cast a ward or utter a prayer to do so, until everyone felt sufficiently protected. We joined hands, and began.
We all took turns serving as medium, but not one of us was able to break through to the other side. The candles didn’t sputter, the wind did not begin to howl. There was a significant lack of supernatural activity. Disappointed, the guests began to file up the stairs to rejoin the rest. We did our best to try to salvage the situation – Clearly, someone’s wards were too well cast for anything to break through – but the mood was broken. The guests made their goodbyes, and shuffled, one by one, to their cars.
Mysteriously, the next time we returned to Hale’s Pass, none of the keys fit the padlock on the Sad Room door. Clearly, the dead no longer wished us to disturb them in their sanctuary, and had taken measures to prevent it.
* If you didn’t know, this is where and why Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.
†About 90% certain
‡For the first time, we had menu cards, which were laboriously hand-lettered in French.