Take some sugary Southern charm, three limes, and a whole bunch of musings both literary and otherwise. Throw in some balmy southern heat (just enough to make everyone feel sexy and sweaty). Juice it up with enough rum to get a little heady. Spice with mint leaves, fresh and feisty. Take a large sip, sit back, and enjoy.
This time I’m going to tell a Ouija story I haven’t yet told. It’s from the time i was in college at NYU and rather than studying for tests, my friends and I much preferred gathering in one of the cramped dormitory rooms, drink rum and coke out of plastic cups and play Tears For Fears on a boom box. Somehow one night the conversation got onto Ouija.
My friend Vinny, the only one of us who wasn’t dorm-bound, was intrigued by the stories some of us had told of playing with Ouija board and things getting increasingly weird, so he went to a toy store or two, only to be let down that nobody carried such an outdated thing anymore. It was the dawn of the age of video-games. Tower Records was still on Houston.
Then one morning he stepped out of his home, walked for half a block and literally stepped on a Ouija board that someone was hawking on that Brooklyn sidewalk. Those sort of things, I’m told, happen a lot with Ouija.
Vinny arrived one late evening at our dormitory and slipped it out from under his windbreaker with a winsome smile and a chirping, “Surprise!.” Before long we all had our fingers on the planchette, trying to make it move. With collective will, it’s not hard to make something happen. Soon we were asking stupid questions at a piece of hard cardboard and getting mostly misspelled, terse answers. Still, no one wanted to leave the door room, not even for more rum, afraid we would miss something funny from our four favorite Ouija ghosts:
Emma, an 18th century woman who died of some kind of fever
Mo, the guttermouth who died in Vietnam
Mary, a mostly shy ghost who seemed to like speaking only to Clemencia, my roommate
And Andy, who died in a motorcycle accident and whenever we asked him where he was standing, would say, “On your tit.”
(It wasn’t until months later, when I woke up one morning to stare at my only-half read Jane Austen masterpiece that I realized that all the initials spelled Emma).
Before long, a room that was intended to be a tight abode for two smallish college girls became a speakeasy with smoke tufts blowing from under the door, music playing late in the night, and voices ringing with questions like, “Which one of us will be the first to marry? No, no, wait, I have a question but I don’t want to ask it out loud. Can you read my mind?”
The dormitory door was always open and boys and girls were streaming in between classes to get their turn at touching the planchette and asking after a grandfather, aunt, or lost cousin. One girl became convinced she was talking to her long gone grandmother, in Greek.
Soon the room began to smell of feet, bad breath, and unwashed laundry. Our little gatherings didn't sound so fun anymore when we were accusing one another of hogging too much time or for not being a “good enough conduit.” We were all so caught up in this addictive intercourse with the other world that we didn’t even care when Vinny began to shout that he’d had enough, that we stank as badly as that room, and that we all needed to cool it and get some fresh air or he was going to take his Ouija and go home.
We all unanimously agreed that Vinny was an uptight asshole. As for his taking his Ouija back, “Over my dead body,” said Clemencia in a deadpan, and then slept with it under her pillow for a night or two.
One day, a skeptic friend who had been observing us for days asked the Ouija for proof. He didn't want to put his finger on the planchette: too easy it would be, he claimed, to get caught up in the illusion. Instead he asked the four of us who were sitting in session to ask Emma the ghost what his middle name was. The planchette unwaveringly spelled it out. I was in the room, and I saw my friend’s mouth hang open. He muttered “That is correct. I’ve never told anyone.”
Finally, Tracy, a girl who was a self-proclaimed Born-Again Christian, talked me into stealing the Ouija and sneaking it when Clemencia was sleeping. Clemencia, she pointed out, was a church girl with nothing but Christ in her mouth. Yet that afternoon, when we told her she was becoming obsessed with Emma, Clemencia had looked at me and said, “Fuck you. Both of you. Get out of my room.”
Tracy dragged me down to the dorm’s basement, with a Bible in her coat pocket and the Ouija under her arm. Once we’d set up the board over the ping pong table, Tracy began to invoke Emma, the ghost who had most consistently haunted our Ouija board. At first the planchette moved hesitantly under my index finger. Then it began to pick up confidence.
“Are you there, Emma?”
“Your name isn’t really Emma, is it?”
“You’re Satan, aren’t you?”
“Do you know God, Emma?”
Q U A
“Do you fear God, Emma?
Q U A C K
“Quack?” I didn’t speak English all that well yet, and it seemed odd to me that Emma was impersonating a duck.
“Yes, you're a quack, the quacks of all quacks,” Tracy intoned. She read a passage from Revelation, fire and brimstone and lakes of sulfur spilling out of her mouth in dramatic Evangelical overtones.
I don’t know whether Emma was a duck or a dead person, whether she meant that Tracy was a quack or that God didn’t exist. But I do know, sure as I know I’m typing this right now, that the planchette was spinning too fast for my finger to keep up. I lifted up my finger and after a second or two, Tracy did also. The planchette kept spinning all by itself.
It spun for about four or five more seconds, so fast that it looked to my naked eyes like it had lifted half a finger’s height off of the Ouija board. Then it shot very fast and hard like a hockey puck at Tracy’s face. Tracy ducked. The planchette landed somewhere in the darkness of the dormitory’s basement. We heard its thuck thuck thuck and then it was quiet.
Tracy congratulated herself on a job well done of exorcising the demon in the Ouija. As for myself, I don’t know what it was that spoke in Greek and could move a planchette without a physical body. But one thing is for sure: I never played Ouija again.
Laura Valeri is the author of two award-winning short story collections, Safe in Your Head (SFA Press) and The Kind of Things Saints Do (U of Iowa Press). You can follow her blog at www.lauravaleri.com