For a while, I lived in a Detroit mansion. It had three stories, two wings, 10 bedrooms, and a ceiling that was falling in. The mansion was rife with haunts. One guest saw a woman in white running down a hall (from the corner of her eye). Windows opened mysteriously. Weather got in. But the rent was cheap.
One summer day, in the middle of the afternoon, Dylan—an English major that lived on the second floor—announced he was going to teach himself how to dance. I rarely saw Dylan except when he was involved in a new scheme. He was big on single tasks, taken up randomly, that consumed all his energy. Afterward he would return to his room for another calendar season. Dylan decided he was going to learn “the worm.” Confidence was going to be acquired. He detached every mirrored surface in the house and carried them down to the basement. After much fussing, he arranged the mirrors along the cellar’s red walls, got a boombox out and started warming up to Michael Jackson. I wasn’t in the cellar, but I’ve seen Dylan dance so I can easily describe it. There’s usually a lot of elbow work. Sometimes he shakes his whole body like a dusty rug.
From the depths of the cellar, Dylan began to scream.
“Dylan!” I called down the stairs. “What happened?” Was it a dead animal? Or, more likely, ennui?
Suddenly, Twiggy from the third floor was also screaming. Maybe it was bees?
Dylan crept up the stairs, sweaty and wide-eyed. Together we ran up the claustrophobic back spiral stairs to Twiggy’s room. She was sitting on her floor, covered in Chinese food. Her bedroom window was shattered, blown out from the inside. The wind howled loudly against it, sounding like a plane on a tarmac. Twiggy began to cry. She had no memory of screaming or knowledge of why her takeout was all over the room.
Dylan finally let it spill that he’d been dancing to “Smooth Criminal” when a black shadow slunk out of a corner and stood up to human height, shuffling like it was made of paper. He watched its reflection in the mirrors and saw it slide along the wall curve—slowly at first—before it shot suddenly up the spiral staircase. He hadn’t stopped dancing and was unaware that he was even screaming until he heard Twiggy screaming too. In addition, he said, he was moving out.
It was not the appropriate time to call dibs on his room—but I did get his room. It was the biggest.
After Dylan’s famous dance exorcism we were no longer haunted. I thought it was ridiculous that we’d exorcised the house with “Smooth Criminal.” We still had a shitty landlord and after a while we had to move out because he was stealing utilities from the city. But the house stayed vacant, and sometimes I’d sneak back into the mansion and walk around in the dark. Even under those illicit circumstances, that mansion felt safe and warm—like grandma’s house—for the rest of its days.