An ominous cloak of clouds covers the German sky above. The adjacent Rhine river boasts an extensive heritage of folklore and mystery.
For our day in Cologne, my school group and I are staying at an old Convent-turned-hotel. It feels just as ancestral and full of history as the neighboring river, and our arrival feels oddly unwelcome. The staff are nice enough, and prove especially patient as they continue to tolerate an obnoxious group of American teenagers.
And yet the air is coated with a lurking presence; as if we’re trespassing on sacred ground. I quickly find that I am not the only one with these suspicions. A few other students feel the same way. Even our head chaperone acknowledges this phantom trace of paranoia that laces the air. And it’s the same chaperone that suggests we hold a séance in the convent’s chapel.
We’re instructed to gather in the chapel at 9:00 PM sharp, wearing all black. I arrive early with a few of the other more enthusiastic participants to set up the chairs and lights.
Once we’re all seated, our chaperone begins the séance. Linking hands around a long wooden table, we all bow our heads and close our eyes. Our chaperone begins to reach out to the other side, asking if there is anyone in the room.
As the séance progresses, I feel a strong, oppressive sensation from behind me. Though not the least bit religious or superstitious, this feeling of dread is undeniable. I am not welcome here.
Halfway through the séance there is giggling from the end of the table. It turns out many of the students are not taking this seriously, and are here for the mere novelty. They are curtly dismissed by our head chaperone. “If you’re not going to take this seriously, you can leave.”
We resume the séance. Once again we reach out to any spirits that may remain in the chapel. Tendrils of fear still brush lightly at my back. And yet our calls are not answered. Our chaperone decides to call it a night, along with the majority of the remaining students. But, unsatisfied, a few of us remain behind, determined to receive a sign.
My childhood friend takes charge of the séance. Once again, we all link hands, bow our heads, and reach out. My fear has begun to dissipate, and still we receive no signs from the other side. It’s time to call it a night.
Refusing to break etiquette, my friend wants to exit the séance properly. She asks how to say goodbye in German.
Someone responds: “Auf Wiedersehen.”
At the utterance of these words, the lights go out and we’re suddenly all thrown towards the center of the table.
An oppressive weight pushes down on me. I can’t lift my chest from the table. I can’t unlink my hands with my neighbors. Screams fill the chapel. I feel my own screams being ripped from my throat, but I can’t hear myself.
Out of nowhere the weight is lifted and the iron chain of hands is broken. We all scramble out of the chapel in terror.
Gathered in the lobby, everyone talks in fast, broken sentences, trying to explain to the others what had just transpired. I console my friend who led the last séance, assuring her everything is going to be fine.
The dread that had loomed over me in the chapel is no longer present, and what remains is a rush of exhilaration and adrenaline that leaves a wide grin plastered on my face for the rest of the evening.