STEVE VOLK tries to recreate a British author's paranormal awakening--and succeeds in failing.
"It was this line of energy," says Gentile, "this long shaft of light just slowly bobbing toward me." He slowly traces a path in the air with his finger, mimicking the gently undulating beam of light.
He recovered in time to snap a single photograph as he was passed by the thing, which appears in the photo to be roughly 6 feet long, its front section caught in the middle of a dip, its edges remarkably clear and consistent--that is, if there's anything there at all.
"Take a good look," says Gentile. "What's the most important thing about this photograph?"
He points to a spot behind and beneath the shaft of light: a shadow, seemingly right where a shadow should be. "That's proof this is real," says Gentile. "Something was moving through that room. It cast a shadow."
And then it's time to go. We leave his home and stand outside for a moment in the street. A cacophony of boom boxes competes for our attention. Other people's kids dart around unsupervised in the dark. He says he thinks about moving. But as with the bathroom, other things seem more important right now, so he gets in the truck and starts the engine, intent on driving me into a world of mystery. Our first stop: Wal-Mart.
|Let there be light: When he lectures, Gentile brings a treasure trove of anomalous photographs, including this picture of a long, undulating shaft of light.|
Tonight Gentile's taking me to Byberry State Mental Hospital, which he says is "so haunted it's ridiculous."
It's late April, just a month or so before the institution is scheduled for destruction. Before we head over, we spend a couple hours in his truck, waiting for it to get dark enough to sneak onto the property.
He slips a CD into his car stereo to pass the time. Skittering, crab-walk rhythms, grandiose orchestral arrangements--the songs are uniformly accomplished, angry, dark and all composed by Gentile himself. In addition to all his paranormal interests, the self-certified demonologist uses his home computer to write songs, some of which serve as theme music for his radio show. He smiles when the music is described as spooky. "This is just what I like," he says.
We talk a little bit about loved ones who've died. "A lot of people get involved in this work because they're grieving," says Gentile. "I don't think that's a good idea."
He asked one relative to return and visit him after death. They've yet to come. But he once enjoyed a very vivid dream about his deceased grandfather. "How are you doing?" the older man asked.
"I'm all right," said Gentile. "I hope to write a book."
"It's not time yet," his grandfather replied, then gathered a pen and paper, and started writing.
"What are you doing?" Gentile asked.
"I'm writing your book for you," he said.
"How?" asked Gentile. "You're dead."
"I'm not dead," his grandfather replied, still writing. "I've always been inside of you."
By the time Gentile finishes telling this story, his eyes have welled with tears. Shortly afterward he starts his engine and drives us to Byberry.
I'm glad to be making this trip for reasons that have nothing to do with spirits. No one can live in Philadelphia for very long before encountering stories of Byberry--a mental institution known for abusing patients.