There are three things you need to know to understand this story, provided you are not my sister:
- I started college at 15.
- I almost immediately got mono and didn't realize it, assuming that I was sleeping 16 hours a day because sleep was the best thing in the world and I'd suddenly gotten really good at it.
- I made most of my bad decisions – like, most of the bad decisions I would ever make, and almost all the ones I could think of – before starting college.
At the first party I went to, before classes even started, someone dared a guy named Fernando to take a random handful of pills on top of the lots of alcohol he'd already had. (Note to impressionable people: don't do this.) I said to the dude I was apparently dating, "This is not going to end well and I'm leaving before it gets disgusting." And I went to my room, which was blissfully free of intoxicated people.
About half an hour later, there was pounding on my door. When I eventually answered it, someone who seemed to know me said breathlessly, "Fernando's going to die! Come quick!"
"If he's going to die, you should call 911," I said grouchily. "I'm not a doctor."
"But what if he's not dying? He could get in trouble!" the someone said.
"Which is worse, being wrong about him dying or being wrong about him not dying?" I asked. But the person was adamant. Somehow, in my absence, I had been elected the Person Who Is Going to Know If Fernando Is Actually Dying. (I suspect the dude I was apparently dating nominated me.) So I went back to the floor the party was on and into the men's bathroom. I inspected Fernando, who was retching miserably in the shower, but conscious and oriented. Assembled spectators told me, in as dramatic, hushed voices as were possible in a shower room, everything he'd taken and every detail of his behavior since then.
But I had seen much worse decisions being made -- made a number of them myself, in fact -- and I was 15 and didn't actually know anything. Also I didn't have any social skills and was snotty as hell. So I sighed heavily, pointed out the various reasons why Fernando would probably be fine aside from a hangover, advised his roommate not to let him drown in the shower and to put him to sleep on his side, and stomped back up to bed. (Note to impressionable people: don't do this. Call 911. We were all very lucky that Fernando was indeed fine, aside from the massive hangover.)
Unfortunately, that turned out to be the perfect way to become everyone's Person Who Knows Stuff. I got asked a lot of questions and woken up from a lot of naps by people who I felt should know better, what with them being older than me and also not newly arrived on the planet.
Which takes us to Halloween. On Halloween, a group of my friends decided to do an expedition to the local ~~haunted graveyard~~ and invited me along. I said no. In every woman's life there comes a point when she's done all the fooling around in graveyards she's ever going to do, and I'd reached it the year before. (That is a totally other story.) Plus, my bed was calling to me, and it was going to take more than some gravestones and weed to keep me from it. "It will be stupid," I predicted, and told them to have fun without me. (The future Mrs. Vine, Best Beloved, did go, and confirms that it was in fact stupid. She wandered off after a bit because the gravestones were more entertaining. It's a pity I didn't go, since then she would've had company in being disgusted with the proceedings.)
The next morning I learned that Drama Had Occurred and mentally patted myself on the back for missing it. "Chris got possessed by a ghost!" someone told me.
"Oh. Really?" I said. I probably rolled my eyes, because: possessed. By a ghost.
"He lay down on a grave and invited the grave's spirit to possess him and his whole body twitched and it was really creepy!"
I imagine there was some further eye rolling at this point. (I told you I was snotty.) I definitely said, "Did you guys take acid?"
"Yes, some of us, but Chris didn't have any!"
"Okay," I said.
That afternoon, Chris asked me to come to his dorm room. We sat on his bed while he told me about the possession, and how he didn't feel right, and how he could feel the ghost eating away at his resistance, and he wasn't sure how much longer he could hold out. Chris was a great guy, but very prone to theatrics, and it took him more than an hour to go through all this. I could see that I was likely to have to listen to a lot more of it in the near future.
Here's the thing about having mono: you are suddenly very motivated to draw the straightest possible line between point A and point B, where point B is your bed. So that's what I did.
"Okay, don't worry," I told Chris. "I know how to do an exorcism." By which I meant that I knew the basic idea of it, it didn't seem like there were many potential pitfalls, and it was either that or listen to his feelings about ghosts some more. You'd have done the same.
He grabbed my hand. "I knew you'd know what to do."
"Yup," I said, removing my hand from his. "Okay, here's what I'm gonna need." I made a respectable list of things that seemed vaguely exorcism-y and that people would probably have to go to the next town to get, and then I went to my room to "prepare," by which I meant nap.
An hour later, Kelly knocked politely on my door and announced that they had acquired all the things on the list. "Are the candles real beeswax?" I asked suspiciously. "It doesn't work if they're not real beeswax." She assured me that they were.
I went up to Chris's room, where a number of people had gathered to listen to Chris talk about how the ghost was eating away at his resistance, and also talk to each other about the Great Graveyard Trip, and also just generally be loud. I do not like loud. "You have to be totally quiet," I announced to the assembled audience. "If you talk, you could draw the ghost to you, and you're not prepared to deal with it."
Everyone shut up instantly. It was extremely gratifying.
Then I set about improvising some random, vaguely arcane-ish actions. I burned some stuff and put the ashes in the mortar and pestle. I added a little of my blood and Chris's blood and put all that in the mortar and pestle, too. I ripped up some herbs, added those, then muddled everything together. I had Chris lie down and drew a circle of salt around us. I lit the beeswax candles and placed them carefully at randomly-determined points that definitely looked significant.
Then I rubbed the ash mixture on Chris's forehead, sternum, and stomach, and recited as much as I could remember of Julius Caesar's The Gallic Wars. (Mrs. Scher, you were absolutely right: Latin did turn out to be knowledge that would come in handy in the future. My belated but very sincere thanks.)
When I realized I was running out of memorized faulty Latin, I made my voice get a bit louder and deeper, and then I stopped suddenly and blew out the candles.
Chris's body twitched all over. ("Just like--" someone whispered, and I shot her a warning look.) He made some distressed whale noises. He jerked some more.
Then he opened his eyes and said, "I felt it! I felt it leaving my body!"
He thanked me sincerely, hugged me, and burst into tears on my shoulder, which is a hell of a thing to do to someone who made up an exorcism out of whole cloth for you, but whatever. I advised him not to go to graveyards in the future. "You're not up to it," I explained, which was the literal truth. Someone that suggestible should stay indoors and take up an improving hobby. Maybe model-making.
"I know, I know, I should never have gone," he said.
"Well, it all worked out," I said briskly, and got off the floor. "Wow. That's exhausting," I added, and then, after a pause, "My energy is totally depleted. I need to go recover."
As I left, a girl said to me, "How did you learn to do exorcisms?"
"I can't answer that," I told her, and went off to get some more sleep.
Just in case my sister does have some extremely misguided plans to use this as college life advice for Z, here are the take-home lessons of this story:
- If the amount of sleep you need triples, go to Student Health immediately.
- If there's an outing, like to a graveyard, go on it; if I'd gone on that one I would've met Best Beloved a year earlier, and I also would have been able to put a stop to the possession nonsense before it got to in-dorm-exorcism levels of ridiculous.
- Just in case, memorize a chunk of something in a dead language. You never know when it will come in handy.
Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comments.