We’ve all experienced them at least once in our lives, those inexplicable, unnerving instances that make us wonder whether dark forces are at play, their subtle and sinister hands manipulating our reality from afar. They leave an impression, an indelible mark at the deepest levels of your subconscious, buried away by overwhelming reason, the steadfast grip of sanity, and a fear of the unknown and explained. We all have these stories. This is mine.
It happened so long ago, I can barely remember when, but I do recall it was a quiet night at my childhood home. The plan had been for a group of us to get together and resume play on a gaming campaign interrupted by an early school night, but a storm front had moved in late that day, washing out some of the local roads, making for treacherous driving conditions. A couple of my friends had already called to cancel. The simple fact that I hadn’t heard from the others gave me hope that, perhaps, we would manage to salvage the evening by literally weathering the storm that was battering the area with high winds and a torrential downpour. My parents were out, stranded at my aunt’s place, my sister visiting a classmate, leaving my friend Paul and I alone in the empty house, seated downstairs, waiting.
The lightning flashed and the basement lights flickered. I could sense Paul’s unease, his impatience. It was looking increasingly likely we were going to be rained out. As both our eyes slowly gravitated to the clock ticking past 8:30 p.m., I was suddenly struck with a thought. “Hey. I have an idea.” Without explanation, I got up and disappeared through the door in the back.
Paul followed me, past the washer dryer, and into the garage where I hunkered down at the foot of a mountain of discarded childhood treasures. The garage bulb had burnt out long ago and we hadn’t gotten around to replacing it, so I searched in the darkness until I found what I was looking for, retrieving it from the pile and holding it aloft. “Got it!”. From where he was standing, he couldn’t tell what it was at first but, once we stepped into the light, he realized – and frowned. “Seriously?” In my mind, the circumstances couldn’t have been more perfect.
I don’t know how my sister had ended up with the ouija board and, looking back now, I’d think it would have been something my mother, a minister, would have frowned upon. Then again, she may have simply dismissed it as one of many silly board games along the lines Clue or Sorry which also lay buried, somewhere, in that corner of the garage. Surely, Hasbro’s recommendation of “Ages 8 and up” was enough to forestall any ominous implications. And Paul seemed to be of like mind when, after a roll of his eyes, he acquiesced with a shoulder shrug.
We cleared the table of multi-sided dice and hand-painted figures, and set it up – the faux wooden board with its ornate letters and numbers, eerie images in its four corners: a grimacing sun, a frowning moon, practitioners of the dark arts pictured on lower left and right. At the top, the word OUIJA flanked by the words YES and NO; at the bottom, the word GOODBYE inexplicably, forebodingly, split in two. We sat down and touched our fingers to the heart-shaped plastic diviner, what the instructions referred to as “the planchette”. It was surprisingly warm to the touch. Suddenly, a thunderclap jolted us out of our seats. It was, I thought, as if some supernatural force was warning us off. But I didn’t give voice to my mounting dread and if Paul had similar concerns, he didn’t speak them either.
“What do you want to ask it?”I said.
Paul briefly considered and then, decided: “Who’s going to win the Super Bowl?”
A fair question. As we resumed our positions, the tips of our fingers gently resting on the planchette, I voiced the question aloud as if in so doing, I was communicating directly with the spirits. “Who’s going to win the Super Bowl?”
As we sat and waited, utter silence descended upon us. Strangely, mysteriously, the thunder and rain had stopped. I could almost feel my own heart beating through my chest. The basement lights flickered once again.
Five minutes. Ten minutes. Then, a movement, ever so slight, what at first I suspected to be Paul moving the planchette may well have been my own trembling fingers. I took a breath and refocused. Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. Another movement, ever so slight. I realized, I was holding my breath. We waited. And then, Paul broke the silence: “Boy, I hope it’s not trying to spell San Francisco Forty-Niners!”
Okay. Your turn!