The moments passed. My eyes became accustomed to the dark and I could make out the vague outline of Pressing next to me. He leaned over and whispered somberly, Well, when's something going to happen?
Before I could answer—
How do you do, Dr. Bach! How do you do, Mr. Pressing! came to us out of the darkness. It was a tantalizing, childish voice with a slightly roguish touch. It might have been a winsome little prodigy stepping out in debut. It might have been a tiny actress in a puppet show.
Good afternoon, responded Mr. Pressing.
Who are you? I asked.
With a friendly lilt the answer came.
I'm Sylvia. . . . We are glad you are here, Dr. Bach, she said with a neat curtsy in her voice. This is going to be a good séance. There are good vibrations. Look!
The small trumpet was slowly rising from the floor. It stopped slightly above the larger one and hovered uncertainly . . .
But who are you? I insisted.
Sylvia! said the voice emphatically. Didn't I tell you? I am Sylvia? . . . I can get other spirits for you, if you want me to.
How? I demanded. With millions of spirits in the spirit world, how do you get them? Call Bob Whitehand for me.
Bob Whitehand? The voice seemed to drift from us for a moment. Bob Whitehand? it returned reflectively. I'll try. It is done by vibrations . . . I'll try to get Bob Whitehand after while. But look at the trumpet now, Dr. Bach!
It had risen to five or six feet above the floor and was slowly floating in space . . .
Where would you like the trumpet to go? asked Sylvia
Bring it close to me, I told her.
Outlined by the luminous bands, the trumpet floated toward me. It stopped close to my right ear.
Put it in my hands, Sylvia, I said.
Hold them out!
I extended my hands and the trumpet came to rest in them. Now, I thought, here's my chance to find those strings. Balancing the feather-like tube in my left hand, I passed my right hand completely around it. No strings.
Put your hands on each end of the trumpet, Sylvia directed.
I did, holding the trumpet about elbow's length from my body.
Now I'll talk to you from inside the trumpet.
A whispered voice—Sylvia's—came from within the trumpet. I put it to my right ear—the voice was there; to my left ear—Sylvia speaking.
Well, I admitted, that's interesting. Then I withdrew both hands quickly. Unaided, the trumpet remained fixed in space.
A conversation between Sylvia and Pressing was lost in my amazement upon seeing the other trumpet begin a slow take-off. Without stopping, it ascended to a point near the ceiling. It hung there, then started a slow swinging motion, round and round, like the retarded movement of a helicopter.
I think I have Bob Whitehand for you.
Good! I said, in a tone of co-operation. Bob? Bob? Can you hear me?
A luminous head appeared levitated about four feet from the floor. It was not materialized in the way that materializations are usually described. It simply appeared out of nothingness. It was like a blurred flashlight reflected on a human face. I made out the unmistakable features of my friend who had been killed in France. This apparition hovered in the room for only a few seconds and then blacked out. How should I explain it? If it were actually a human face illuminated by a flashlight, it must have been shrouded in a curtain in the center of the room. But I knew there had been no curtain. Besides, why would the flashlight diffuse over no other single part of the room, curtain or apparatus—if apparatus were used? And if it were someone impersonating Bob Whitehand, how could he make up such a marked resemblance to Bob, inasmuch as no one knew that I would request Bob's appearance? It was an inexplicable happening and remained the most vivid of the afternoon's demonstration.
The reason for concealing the medium, I was informed, is because a red light is used during a materialization séance. Even a dim light interferes with the generation of the ectoplasm necessary in building spirit forms. The cabinet shields the medium during the time this force is being assembled and then, when complete, the form can stand the light rays long enough to be seen outside the cabinet by the sitters—from thirty seconds to three or four minutes. The medium entranced is also sometimes disturbing to the spectators. It is not a pleasingly aesthetic sight—especially during the materialization, for ectoplasm exudes from her mouth and body in the nature of a gauzy, foggy, smokelike substance from which figures are formed by the spirit chemists.
Since there was no way for anyone to enter or leave the cabinet without coming through the room, I accepted it as part of the required setting.
But what about the light? I inquired.
The bright lights will be turned off, we were told. Ectoplasm, with its quality of luminosity, shows up best in dark or semidarkness. The séance will take place in a red light, which will not detract from the materialized forms. It will be bright enough for you to discern one another all the while and to see me standing near the cabinet.
About this time Mrs. Harwood rapped at the inside door and was admitted. The door was relocked. Mrs. Harwood was diminutive, gentle, and refined. She greeted us in a cordial, forthright manner. But as she stepped inside the cabinet, I reminded myself that true art is the ability to conceal art.
The assistant took her place beside the cabinet.
Let us enter the séance reverently, she instructed, and there followed a brief word of prayer. Then she continued: I have these requests to make. Be sincere. You can assist very much in the success of the séance. Please do not speak among yourselves. If however, a spirit appears and indicates he wants to speak to you, if he calls you by name or motions to you to come, get up and speak to him. I only ask that you will please not touch the spirits. Are there any questions.
Why shouldn't we touch the spirits? I asked.
There is a connection between the spirits and the medium, the assistant explained. When you touch the spirit you are really touching the medium and disturbing the conditions of the trance. Do you remember the words of Jesus when He said to Mary in the garden after His resurrection, Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father?
I had further questions but, convinced that the success of the séance depended as much on us who sat in the circle as upon the medium, I put myself in a receptive though not credulous state of mind. I was determined today to fight against hallucinations or hypnotism or whatever might intrude under the guise of psychical demonstration.
When the assistance turned out the bright lights, the room was illuminated with a deep red glow which came from a spot light directly over my shoulder. I turned to examine it. It was a theatrical spotlight covered by a thickness of gelatin. In its light I could easily see Pressing at my left and the doctor from Texas at my right. The others in the group, sitting in a half circle on folding chairs, were also always discernible.
After perhaps five minutes of silent waiting, the assistant suggested we sing a song. Someone started, I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say. We sang one verse and were about to begin another when a voice spoke.
How are you, everyone? It sounded like Sylvia. But I knew that Clifford Bias was at this same hour giving his demonstration of trumpet mediumship.
I am Twilight, said the voice.
At this everyone responded, Hello, Twilight. How are you?
I'm just fine, said Twilight, and how are you Dr. Bach?
I'm fine, too, I replied, piqued at having been singled out just because I hadn't chimed in with the others. It struck me that a spirit should think of something more profound in the way of getting attention than the old earth-worn phrases.
Twilight was chatty. Everybody happy? You happy, Mr. Pressing? You happy, Mrs. Daiches? I think this will be a good séance. Oh, a very good séance, I think for sure. It is a good circle. Oh, it's a good day for a séance. Nice and sunny. Atmospheric conditions have a lot to do with séances. When the atmosphere is heavy, it is hard for the spirits to manifest. Materialization is hard then. Oh, yes it is. And we must have materializations! We just must have! This last was said with an ironic twist.
All religions must have phenomen—how do you say it—phenomena—or phenomenon—or phenomenons! I never can pronounce it. Twilight laughed.
A good séance? I wondered.
A light flickered near the floor, close to where the assistant stood. It was a luminous glow, like the quick beam of a flashlight shining up through a cloth. It came suddenly, tarried a moment, and faded reluctantly. Twilight's disconnected talk persisted as the mirage of light loomed again. This time it mounted higher like silver smoke curling around a light bulb. Then the light went out, but the silver smoke continued to hover. I can describe it best as a bright, shimmering vapor, struggling for expression. Slowly it began to take form. Something like shoulders—then a face appeared. It developed into a bodily form and spoke. It called for Mrs. Daiches. She got up, took a few steps, and said, Yes, Mother?
How are you? the figure asked in a low, hushed whisper.
I'm fine, Mother. Why didn't you bring Father with you?
Immediately a man's voice spoke. She did. And hovering beside the figure of a little woman was a somewhat larger figure of a man. They had form and masklike features. For a moment I thought they might be two actors dressed in luminescent costumes and wearing paper-mâché masks. Where had they come from? How had they entered the room? I felt sure I would know before the séance was over. Houdini once said that he could duplicate any such manifestation.
Then a third figure appeared. Let us say, materialized, for it is the best description. It seemed to come out of the floor—an inchoate mass of ectoplasmic stuff—growing, taking form, speaking. I made out the semblance of a young boy.
Mother, he said, do you remember the walks we used to take?
I sure do, said the mother.
He took his mother's arm and they moved back and forth across the room, coming so close to where I sat that I pulled back my feet.
Throughout these doings the whisperings continued—sometimes simultaneously. Twilight was still chatting. And there was spirit laughter, low and pleased. I was seeing the raison d'être of spiritualism: demonstration and proof of the continuity of life, coupled with the comforting assurance that that life is good.
Here was the reunion of a family—a son telling his mother that life over there was just a continuation of life on earth. There were not two worlds at all; there was but one interblended world closely interwoven by memory and the love of life. Consciousness could not die. Personality could not be destroyed. The spirit of man was, indeed, eternal.
I drew my attention from the Daiches' reunion and touched Pressing's arm.
What do you think? I asked.
I have been to many séances, he replied. This promises to be one of the very best.
I analyzed the possibilities of fraud and deception. The room was sufficiently illuminated that I would have seen holes in the floor, or shifting walls. And if it were done with mirrors how would one explain three figures speaking at once, gliding across the room, touching arms, brushing past my feet?
This was the séance. The implausibility injected into the first ten minutes carried through the entire demonstration. For an hour new figures materialized and disappeared. Once Twilight cautioned, It is getting very bright. Too bright to see. Fix the read light.
I will, Twilight, said the assistant, coming over to put another thin sheet of gelatin over the spotlight.
I was making minute mental notations of all that was happening—the hovering, swaying motion of the spirits, the rhythm of life, like the rise and fall of a tide, as many as four speaking simultaneously in whispered voices, excited, hurried, persuasive. Suddenly the galaxy of spirits melted away. For a long still moment nothing happened. Then the swirling ectoplasmic effluvia glowed from the floor and quickly took on the form of a girl. Before the figure was complete, it spoke.
Marc, dear—Marc, dear—Marc, dear.
Those who know me well call me Marc; those who know me better call me Marc, dear. so I knew this must be a familiar spirit. I got up and walked over until there was a space of less than four feet between us. Yes? I said, Who are you
The answer was fraught with disappointment. Don't you know me?
I did not. I had no idea who this might be. I had really been too absorbed to think very much about personal contact with the spirits....Nor did I propose to offer any hint of whom I thought she might represent. No leads, I determined.
I do not know you. Who are you?
Paula, came the answer.
The name and soft manner in which it was uttered brought the sudden unfolding of a forgotten drama. Twenty years ago my sister Paula had died at the age of twenty-three. Her child Janette had died shortly before. These deaths had been among the deep sorrows of our family, but time and travel reduce the past into forgetfulness. No medium or spirit had plucked this name out of my mind because I wasn't thinking of Paula. I had not thought of her even once during the séance.
I looked at the presence before me closely.
How do I look? she asked.
You look fine, I replied.
The right height? she whispered. Do you think I should be taller?
No. You are about the height I remember.
I wanted to do a good job, she told me earnestly. Do I look all right?
Yes, I assured her, recalling that one theory of materialization is that the spirit takes the ectoplasm and fashions according to its memory the human form which clothed it on earth... Did this form and these features resemble Paula? I must admit they did. Very much. The outline of the figure was recognizable and convincing. It was like a false front, a flat, two-dimensional body with the semblance of arms clothed in a shadowy gray-white film. The face, though typically masklike, was strikingly reminiscent. There was an illusion of long blond hair. I cannot say whether the voice was Paula's or not. After twenty years I would not remember. Just now, however, it was Paula returned.
But why shouldn't it be? I asked myself as I stood there. The spiritualists at Chesterfield knew I was coming. If, as some people say, they have a well-laid system of espionage they could easily have traced my family and got Paula's description. If this was someone dressed up, play-acting, if this was a marionette using the voice of ventriloquist, naturally it would be constructed as to represent Paula. This thought haunted me more than the presence. I wished I could convince myself some way. The impulse to reach out and touch the figure became stronger. I moved closer, I moved slightly to one side so that the red light would strike the spirit's face more directly. We were about three feet apart now. Paula was talking about life in the spirit world. I was asking hasty questions: Have you seen Jesus? What is heaven like? What about the element of time? Can you be everywhere at once? Are terms like Methodist, Reformed, Presbyterian, Catholic ever used where you are?
Her voice seemed to laugh. She answered, No, no, to all questions save the one about heaven. It was like speaking to a living person secretly, clandestinely, knowing that time was running out. Her features seemed to become clearer. Perhaps it was my mind playing tricks.
And then the thought came to me. Paula, I said, do you remember the catechism we learned at home?
Paula, do you remember the first question in that catechism?
What was it, I asked almost fearfully.
The answer came at once. 'What is your chief comfort in life and in death?'
Go on, I urged.
'That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death am not my own—'
She interrupted herself. Here where we are the words have a greater meaning!
Then quickly, breathlessly, she told me that serving God meant personal development. Life on the spirit plane is an evolvement. Like the breaking of a chrysalis. Like the ascent in a spiral. Like the growth of moral affection to higher and higher heavens. Several times she interrupted herself with Do you understand? Is that clear? as if she felt her message was vital, all-absorbing. Death, she insisted, was not a violent result of sin. It has no sting. It was neither friend nor enemy. It was part of the divine purpose, a purpose without beginning or end.
The whisper grew fainter. I can stay no longer, I must go now.
Paula, one more thing. Can you put your arms around me?
I'll give you a kiss, she said. Come closer.
You come closer to me. I wanted her to come nearer the red light. She did. There was now scarcely a foot between us. The face was luminous, seemingly transparent, and without depth.
I leaned forward and lowered my head. The weblike texture of ectoplasmic arms encircled my neck. Something soft and flaxen brushed my forehead. Then Paula vanished—into the floor, it seemed.
I walked back to my chair and sat down.
Was that all right, Twilight was asking. What do you think.
I did not reply.
What did I think?
A few minutes later the lights were turned on. The cabinet assistant called to Mrs. Harwood, Are you alright? From within the curtain the medium announced that she was.
The séance was ended.
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