The Hawk in the ChurchNovember 8, 2022
Today, I voted.
My polling place is inside a church rectory, the underbelly of the church used for administration, storage, and other activities. I haven’t been inside a church, let alone its rectory, for quite some time. Oddly, the aroma of churches never changes. The moment I stepped through the double doors, there was a heavy perfume of drywall, sweet wood, and old carpet that enveloped me. I call it “the smell of ghosts” because many of the haunted places I have investigated carried that same ancient smell of a building in a constant evolution of rot. (I vow to make it a candle someday.)
While I waited in line, I studied an illustration of the Virgin Mary affixed to the wall, her Caucasian American appearance more akin to Roz from Frasier than any real depiction of a woman from Nazareth. She stood literally on top of the world, curling her toes around the globe with dexterity. Next to it, a flyer curtly demanded you to “respect life” and gave a contact number for mothers in need.
I don’t know why—perhaps it was the iconography, the “smell of ghosts,” or the thought of life and the loss of it—but I thought back to one of my first paranormal investigations at a church in my hometown. I spoke about this investigation last Halloween on my podcast (see My First Ghost Hunt: A Ghost Story). What I didn’t talk about is what happened when we returned years later.
To recap, back in 2004, our local municipal center had moved into an old church/chapel. Reports of people in full 1800s regalia appearing at random began to surface. Full-bodied ghosts were seen fairly regularly. Things could be heard moving upstairs. Doors would slam. Disembodied voices were recorded. Whenever someone captured something in photos, something significant would happen to that person so that the evidence was mysteriously misplaced or lost forever. Just your typical ghost stuff.
Me, in my newly forged fascination of ghost hunting, fell in love with the prospect of having a truly haunted place to investigate. Eventually, this led to an official investigation, wherein I unexpectedly heard my first ghost say, “Stop following me,” and I almost collapsed. Straight after, I became bedridden for about 10 days and inundated with wild, wake-up-screaming nightmares. Thinking about it now, it sounds like a Victorian Gothic horror novel.
But I was 14 at the time.
While I believed I felt something, I never ended up capturing any solid evidence. All I had left were the traumatic nightmares of men rummaging my house for the USB drive of photos and dragging me out of bed violently; the irritated voice that commanded me to stop following it; and my mother’s trepidatious prodding as she asked me, bald-eyed, if I was possessed.
Fast forward years later. I was in my early 20s. I had moved out of the state to live with my boyfriend. Together, we began researching the ouija board with, shockingly, great success. We were planning a trip back to my hometown when came my wondrous idea: “Let’s take the ouija board to the church.”
I knew one of two things would happen: a response or literally nothing. There was no harm in it. We had been using the board for years with no [long-term] consequence.
Aye, to be so brave.
My obsession with this church was complete. I was excited to have a comeback, a second chance, a confrontation. I didn’t want revenge; I wanted them to either confirm or deny that they made me ill.
“Hey, remember me? You made me sick.” I flagged the flashlight up the blackened church walls while my boyfriend set up the table. I wanted them to come out swinging.
I was Zak Bagans but with the piss and vinegar of a woman.
The church felt so still. There was no sense of being watched. No electricity in the air. It was passive, shrugging its shoulders at me. Still, I felt something in it. A professional hardness that comes with watching people come and go for years while you agelessly conform to the shapelessness of the space you occupy as nothing but energy.
On my iPhone, I had one of those word bank ovilus apps, the kind that spit words at will. As I walked the halls, it sputtered, “Halt. Halt.” I listened to it objectively but kept going.
We sat down at the altar. The ouija board was set on a cheap coffee table between us. We gently placed the ends of our fingers on the planchette and called out, “If anyone would like to speak with us, now is your chance.”
Immediately, the planchette took action. It’s the most aggressive the thing has ever moved for me since. It shot around the board, “STOP. STOP. GO AWAY.”
I was amused at its strength and fervor. I thought that if we took our fingers off it, it would easily continue driving across table. It continued, over and over. “QUIT.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“HAWK… GO. LEAVE US.”
“LAST CHANCE.” I swear I could sense a bit of hurt in his protest. He was really trying. He warned us over and over again.
He was defensive, aggressive. There was a sense of anger and dominance in his presence, but he didn’t go beyond that. I was offended that he would try to manipulate my body, my emotions again. I don’t know if he remembered the last time I was there, but he was seemingly acknowledging that he could make us feel him if he wanted to.
Then all went quiet. The planchette sat stiff, losing its ethereal lightness.
Him and his ghost compatriots had a penchant for going from one end of the building to the other to avoid people. I believe he pushed them away to a space where people like us wouldn’t antagonize them for the rest of the night.
I wasn’t totally satisfied. Fine, go. He must have known the worst thing he could do was ignore me. He enacted it with perfect indifference. Here all at once and then gone in a flash.
Despite our encounters with him, I no longer feel that his motives were cruel. I think he was genuinely trying to help others stay safe while also reconciling their death so they could move on. It couldn’t have helped to have me there goading them on about being dead. He gave me a slap on the hand in the kindest way he could. That’s partially why I hate many of these antagonistic ghost hunting shows. Without a solid communicator, you’re just rubbing a sore spot raw. Why?
On rare days, like today in the rectory, I will sometimes think back to that night. I wonder if Hawk is still there, ushering new ghosts away as they fall inside with exasperation, not knowing where else to go. They see a church, and they think it’s salvation. Not free will, not choice. Is that the fate of all churches?
I told Source about this incident after writing this post. He’s the least enthralled by my ouija adventures. With no face or body, I could only infer his glum reception of the story by the dejected energy in his response. “It’s not a joke. It’s not a toy.”
Yes, I know. Respect life. In all its stages.