In the spirit of the Halloween season, for your spooky fall delight, I give you a torrid tale of supernatural happenings. This accounting transpired thirty-years ago, and it comes with a warning that if you are ever invited to play the Ouija board—run! Run away as fast as your powerful legs will carry you. As a reader you have the choice to believe this story or not, but whatever you decide this will be a story that will scratch your Halloween itch for a good old-fashioned spiel of horror. Do you know what happens when you unlock the door between the realm of the living and the dead? I do. I can tell you from experience that earthbound souls look for every opportunity to latch onto the world of the breathing. My experience with these mysterious forces took place when I was twenty-years-old in the mid-1980’s, when hair was big, and the Edmonton Oilers were even bigger. At that time I thought I understood the order of life and death. I assumed the Ouija board was merely a game. Wasn’t it a silly pastime created to scare a gaggle of teenage girls into giggling mess of hormones? That had been my belief. I was mistaken. I suppose you could out and out, say I was wrong to expect that playing with the spirit world was no more serious than a game of tiddlywinks. I found out swiftly enough that communing with the spirits is no game. They will draw you in by the temptations of your curious mind, and then devour as much of your energy as you are willing to give to them. When I finally broke free of their addictive power I swore I would never touch the Ouija board again.
My chronicle of the paranormal began when I was working outside Calgary as a stable hand. I lived by myself on the property where I worked in a three-bedroom trailer. Nice right? I had a spacious home to myself. You’re probably thinking I must have been a heck of a stable hand to earn the privilege of having an entire trailer to myself. No, that wasn’t it, you’d be wrong in thinking that. I mean, I was passable, and maybe even an above average stable hand, but the fact of the matter was, the whole horse boarding business was on a downhill slide. The farm itself edged closer into receivership every day. The operation was in a state of disrepair; the fences were in need of new boards and a coat of paint, and the barn itself demanded a facelift too. The stable was a forty-stall barn accessing an attached indoor riding arena with an elevated viewing area behind glass. On the opposite side of the barn was another large building which contained a mechanical hot-walker, for those of you that don’t know, a hot walker is much like a merry-go-round, it has a central pivot point with metal arms that extend outwards like the spokes on a wheel. The horses are hooked up to the end of the arms and they walk around at a slow pace for twenty minutes or so to cool down after a tough workout. It’s a labor-saving device if you are a bustling horse establishment. This hot-walker had been neglected for years, thick layers of dust caked the machine, a skeleton in a long forgotten cave. The echoes of busier times in this cavernous space had faded away long ago. It was sad. I could see the stable had been magnificent in its prime, but today there were only ten stalls rented out of forty, hardly a money-making proposition. Isn’t it disturbing how most things in life end up that way? In the beginning, everything is shiny and bright, and appealing to the eye, and then the years take a toll causing a fading and scarring. Then suddenly that which was once perfect is wanted no more.
I found that my three-bedroom trailer was an empty space for one person. My boss suggested I get a kitten, he said it would be good for me, and it would help with the mice. I didn’t think I had any mice. He convinced me further by bringing me to his truck and retrieving a black fuzzy kitten with a pink heart-shaped nose. He placed the bundle of cuteness in my arms along with a bag of kitty food. My boss didn’t take no for an answer. A quick review of my social life told me I was well on my way to becoming a cat lady anyhow so I may as well get an early start. The mirror told me every morning that I already had crazy hair. My new goal of becoming an up and coming cat lady was short lived. One moment my feisty kitty named Bella was pouncing on fallen leaves at the bottom of the porch steps, and the next she was gone. I was so enthralled by Bella’s pouncing play that I didn’t notice the German Shepard come down from the owner’s house. The dog must have been watching Bella from a distance. I heard the thrumming of his feet in the grass. I looked up. He was streaking towards us focused on Bella. I moved to grab my kitten, but he was already there. I felt the brush of his hair as he snatched Bella out from under my fingertips. He continued to run with my kitten mewling in his mouth. He stopped under a shelterbelt of trees. I raced after him screaming for him to stop. I wasn’t his master. He didn’t listen. My kitten was a plaything. I see the bright flash of scarlet on the dog’s snout. The predator dropped his nose into the long grass, and I heard an unearthly yowl, the tone almost brought me to my knees. The resulting silence is heavy. I stepped into the dog’s space and see Bella is no more. There are some pictures and sounds from life experience which never leave your brain. I wasn’t going to be a cat lady. That particular incident happened two weeks before the Ouija board came into my world.
The truth was I was lonely. The majority of my weeknights were spent reading or watching the boob tube. I worked alone, and the only time I saw people was when the horse owners came to the stable to spend time with their horses. My saving grace was my former college roommate and friend Robbi, she would pick me up a couple times a week to rescue me from my hermit-hood. We’d hit up the country bar scene in Calgary, either at the Ranchman’s or the Longhorn’s. The rest of the week I was a recluse. So when Giselle, a teenage girl who boarded a horse at the stable asked me to play Ouija with her after work one day, I joyfully consented. Yes please, let’s invite the spirits of the dead into my home so I can have someone to talk to. I was always up for a new experience. Maybe I could apologise to my cat for not looking after her better.
My workday ends. Giselle, and I stroll towards the trailer speculating on the newest rumors about the bank taking ownership of the farm. It is supposed to be business as usual for a while.
I step up into my tiny porch and wave Giselle into the tight space. The ever-present smell of horse vents from my various work coats dangling off a six hanger rack. We kick our boots onto an old wooden shelf, and then I open the main door into my trailer. We step into the kitchen; on my left is a small table with three chairs tucked under its edges. The table is pushed up against the wall, and a wide window allows a generous amount of dimming daylight into the open room. Gingham curtains frame the window, and the view displays the long side of the riding arena. On my right is the cooking area of the kitchen with the standard appliances. The faux oak cupboards are set up in the shape of the letter U. The maroon counter-top is edged with a stainless steel strip displaying the screws which hold it in place. The linoleum on the floor has a complicated design that would have won awards for disguising a pile of puke. A bank of cabinets and a six-foot-long set of cupboards hanging from the roof separated the kitchen from the living area. If you ducked down, you could interact with the people in the living room. I never ducked down.
“Do you want a Pepsi? I ask Giselle awkwardly, realizing I don’t really know this person very well. My run and hide tendencies kick in, but I had nowhere to go.
She clutches the board game under her arm and taps her feet uneasily before answering. “Yes please, a Pepsi would be perfect.” She smiles, it was a smile that barely separated her lips
I snatch two Pepsi’s from the fridge and stroll back to the table. “Have a seat, Giselle, they are all equally uncomfortable,” I say with a laugh handing her the pop.
She chooses the chair nearest to the door.
Good choice I thought, easy escape if the demons come out of the board tonight.
I sit down on the opposite side of the table and pop the tab on my can. Air hisses out. I study Giselle’s face as she sets the board between us. She’s a gem in the rough, a token amount of polishing would be all she needed, and then she would have shone. Her abundant glossy brown hair is tied into a high ponytail, and perfect spirals spring forth from every direction. Her nose seems a tad too sharp for her face, and the extra weight she carries shows on her cheeks, but who cares. The integrity, which glimmers from her eyes, exhibits her good heart.
My attention switches to the box on the table. I note the organization that manufactures the Ouija game, it is a time-honored American company labeled Parker Brothers. This is the same company that markets and sells Scrabble, Parcheesi and umpteen other family-friendly games. You must admit it’s a bit peculiar, I mean, this is the Parker Brothers.Who knew this upstanding organization is selling people a tool to talk to the dead. Bizarre right? It’s almost too wacky to be true. The game has to be a hoax. How wrong I was.
Now before we get into the nitty-gritty details of what took place that first night, I must confess I was an open mind, ripe for the picking. The only judgment I had was against judgment itself, and maybe brussel sprouts, I had judged brussel sprouts to be unworthy to enter my mouth at any time. Plus, I must confess to having solid presumptions about the afterlife. When I was barely old enough to be pulling the blanket up over my head, my Dad intermittently brainwashed me with a tale of a creepy family haunting when he lived with his grandmother. The spirit in his story had died too young in the Second World War, in a land far from home. If you have a hankering to read that story it’s called The Haunting.
Now before you, poo-poo on the possibility of spirits communicating through the Ouija board hear me out— What gives life to our lights, and our appliances, and our computers? It’s energy. And what is energy? It’s that invisible source that aids in animating objects that would otherwise be dead. It is the mysterious spark responsible for giving all of us life and maintaining the existence of our bodies. It is that which enables our laughter and our tears, our faithfulness and our infidelities, and yes, even our terrors. This energy of life is in every breath and every step we take. It is there, whether for the benefit, or the detriment of mankind. This energetic life force has been called our spirit, our essence, our soul, and many other names by a multitude of cultures and religious beliefs. For the simplification of this story, I will call this internal powerhouse a spirit or soul. Now, if you are happily following me down this rabbit trail of thought, you might even agree that upon death our soul is released to attend an ongoing, all passes included, forever continuing disco party in the sky. Now, consider the idea that some souls don’t want to disco, or party on under the bright lights. Consider the idea some souls that don’t want to leave the quiet and comforting energy field we call Earth. Maybe those lingering souls are confused or reluctant to attend the infinite celebration in the afterlife. Perhaps it is due to their unexpected death. We won’t know the answers until it happens to us. But for the love of Halloween, and horror movies, and a good old-fashioned spooky tale let’s believe that an earthbound soul is always searching for a way to connect with the tactile world again. And let’s face it, there is no better way than the Ouija board to communicate with the spirits. Maybe the Parker Brothers company had it right all along?
Giselle tears the plastic off the brand new box.
I lean forward with my arms on the table and chuckle nervously. “Wow, I had no idea they still sold those in the stores. I thought the only place you’d find the Ouija board would be in a dusty old attic, or stashed away in the steamer trunk in great-grandma Bertha’s basement. ” I watch her fingers crumple the plastic wrap into a ball. I stand up and open my hand, “Here give me the garbage I’ll throw it away.” I toss it into the can under the sink. (Way before recycling) My nerves are a runaway horse. Nothing is going to happen, I reassure myself. I try to believe the whole game will be Giselle stealthily shoving the plastic pointer around the game board— which means I’ll have to pretend I don’t see her doing it. Fun times— yay, my sarcasm is back.
I plop back into my seat.
Giselle is unfolding the game board from the box.
“So what do we need to do?” I ask.
She lays the Ouija board open on the table and wipes her hand across the surface, she pauses and lifts her eyes to mine. “I’ll tell you in a minute. Do you have any candles? I think we’re supposed to have the lights off.”
I raise my eyebrows, “Really? All the lights?” A flickering chill runs through me.
She nods, “Yes, and how about a writing pad and a pen? Do you have that?”
She points to the lettering on the board, “In case they spell a message.”
“They?” I say, “How many do you think we’re going to talk to?” I sweep into the living room and grab two scented candles from the coffee table. I bring them into the kitchen.
My young guest is positioning the plastic pointer on the board.
“I hope you like the smell of pine,” I say, “they’re the only ones I have.”
“Sure,” she replies not bothering to look up. She runs the pointer in a circle on the board, like a witch stirring her brew with loving care.
I place one candle between us on the table, and consign the other to the kitchen counter nearest to us. I open the kitchen junk drawer below and rummage through the disorderly contents. I finally extract a book of matches, a small notebook, and a pencil. I set it down on the table closer to my chair. “Alright, I’ve got everything we need. Now it’s your turn. What are the rules? Or does it even have rules?” I asked. My stomach bubbles and then rumbles loudly reminding me it’s feeding time. I hold my hand against my tummy hoping to silence the noise. “Can we have snacks while we play? I’ll warn you now— if I don’t eat, I’ll become pretty miserable. And then you aren’t going to know the difference between me being possessed and frothing at the mouth, or me being hungry and frothing at the mouth. True confession time—I have little to no control when I’m hungry— and fair warning— I have knives in this kitchen, and even though they are dull they would still get the job done. So in a long winded way, what I’m saying is— I don’t care if we can snack or not, I’m having something to eat now— for your safety of course.”
Giselle laughs. It’s a forced laugh with a hint of insincerity. ”Eat— eat away. I never said you couldn’t eat. “ She tilts her head and narrows her eyes examining me, “You’re a little weird, aren’t you? Humph, maybe, that’s why I like you.”
“Yeah,” I say agreeing with a toothy grin. “That’s why the aliens like me too.”
She groans and shakes her head. “Too far.” She seems more relaxed. “I’ll read the rules while you eat.” She glances at the box and then flips it over.
I pour a bag of salt and vinegar chips into a bowl and bring it to the table munching as I go. I can already feel my body settling into the happiness of carbs.
Giselle is scanning the bottom of the box. “There aren’t many rules. Do you want me to read them aloud?”
I pause holding a handful of chips in front of my mouth, “Yes,” I answer shortly, and then shove all the chips from my hand into my mouth. I crunch loudly.
Giselle assigns me an irritated glance.
I shove the chip bowl towards her, “Have some,” I garble through my mouth full of chips. Then I blush as I covering the lower half of my face while I chew quickly and swallow. “Sorry— It’s just that I’m so hungry, Terry, my boss, had me exercise an extra horse today, so I had no time to eat. “
“It’s fine,” said Giselle tossing her head. “Number one says, set the board either on the player’s lap, or on a table between two players. Number two says if there are additional player’s they can take notes and act as scribes.” She glances up at me, “I suppose I can just keep one hand on the pointer and write with the other?”
“Sure, why not. What else?”
“Number three, put the planchette on the board (letter side up),” she scoffs. “Letter side up? What are we? Retarded?” She shot a quick look at me again, “Well, maybe you are—“ she says with a giggle.
Good, she’s become comfortable enough to start putting me down. We are going to be pals for sure. I shrug. “Mmmm.” My cheeks bulge with chips.
She continues on, “Both players place fingertips lightly on the planchette—”
“Hang on, “ I interrupt wiping the salt from my mouth with the sleeve of my shirt. (I know— classy right? The full-time position of cat lady hangs in the balance.) “Is the planchette that little plastic pointer thingy,” I ask gesturing to the board, “Or is there some other elegant looking piece of equipment that you have hidden away?”
“Of course the planchette is the pointer,” she says frowning at me. A sudden flash of impatience travels through her gaze. “Now, let me finish. Number four says everyone should concentrate— Obviously. Number five says, take turns asking questions, but everyone needs to agree and focus on the question. Speak slowly and clearly— And number six says, wait for the Ouija board to answer.” Giselle lays the empty box down on the floor out of the way. She inhales a long breath and then exhales sharply. “Are you ready?”
I shift uncomfortably in my seat, and I feel my nerves accelerate. “That’s it? That’s all we get?”
“Mmmhmm,” she nods.
“I raise my eyebrows, “There’s no troubleshooting guide in case we end up possessed, or if the planchette springs off the board and smacks us in the face?”
“Nope,” she replies grinning slightly. “No troubleshooting, we’re on our own from here on in. Are you ready?”
“I guess,” I say scrutinizing the chip bowl, “Did you want any chips—“ I wait a moment and then hold my hand up wiggling my fingers in the air. I cackle with ill intent and then utter in a deep voice, “More importantly, do you think the spirits want any chips?”
She presses her lips together and shakes her head at me yet again, “No. No chips for me or the earthbound souls.”
“Fine,” I sigh,” it’s all your losses then. And don’t get hangry with me later on, I offered.” I deposit the chip bowl on the counter beside the sink. Then I light the candles with the matches and turn off the lights. Instantly shadows spring up. Giselle and I are distorted silhouettes on the wall.
I rub my hands on my jeans wiping off the potato chip grease and realize I should have washed my hands. Oh well, maybe the spirits like the flavor of salt and vinegar. I hesitate and then place my fingers on the pointer.
Giselle follows suit.
We remain silent. We stare at the pointer.
“Well?” I say, “Come on Giselle, rock and roll— this was your idea. You’re going to have to step it up. What do you want to ask?”
“Let’s ask if there are any spirits in this room?” she says with a gleam in her eyes.
“Great,” I say, “go ahead.” But now I’m thinking I don’t want to know if there are any spirits in this room. I live here for God sakes. Jeepers creepers maybe I should get a crucifix.”
To be continued on tomorrow—