Ouijust Playin

They say Ouija boards are dangerous. Or that they can steal the souls of unwary idiots playing with things they don’t understand. They say a lot of things, in a lot of ways, in different faiths and creeds all around the world. I’m not here to judge anyone who believes in higher powers, gods, angels or those darker elements that would have to exist if we allowed for the lighter ones. I’m not even going to warn you about dabbling in the unknown like some tired Dennis Wheatley knock-off. I’m just going to tell you of the day I decided I would never again allow myself to even be in the same room as a Ouija board. You can decide for yourself from that point on; I take no responsibility for what you do with this information.
For the record, I am not religious. Or spiritual. I don’t see omens in the stars at night, or believe that carpenters of any description can rise from the dead no matter how great at wine-tasting they might be. I don’t worry about eating fish on a Friday and I have been shamelessly wearing clothes of more than two fabrics for many years, without even the slightest fear of the fiery doom the Bible would have me believe awaits me after death.
The reason for my spiritual bankruptcy is probably my Irish Catholic grandparents. When I was a kid, there were more crucifixes and doe-eyed Virgin Mary statuettes in their house than there were ashtrays, and those guys could really smoke. Trust me, if familiarity can breed contempt, it’s a wonder I never joined some militant atheistic pressure group.
Inevitably though some things stay with you into adulthood no matter how you try to make space in your head for more useful things. Try to learn a new system at work and you’ll find your brain has trouble finding room for it, stubbornly insisting even after your third performance review that the words to Jack and Jill may yet prove vitally important and must not be deleted under any circumstances.
I have reason to be very pleased about this. My brain obstinately held on to prayers, the names of angels, Bible stories and admonishments against evil even though at no point in my life was I ever sitting in an exam – going out of my mind with panic – and being grateful that I still knew how many people ate a mythical fish on some mountain. As it turned out, that information was more useful than I’d ever have expected.
It was in my first year of University that the peculiar events I mentioned earlier took place. I present it here for you in the hope that perhaps you might remember it, if ever you find yourself in a similar situation.
I hadn’t wanted to go to the party that night. I wasn’t feeling so great because the previous night had been both late and heavy; patches of my memory were still fuzzy and my head was only just recovering. My roommate however was insistent and, as usual in cases where she actually had the motivation to do anything at all, a boy was involved.
“You have to come,” she pointed out, her tone flatly certain like I’d overlooked some by-law of the University. “Simon’s going to be there.”
“I don’t care,” I pointed out just as flatly, from where I lay on my bed with my arm over my eyes. “I’m dying.”
She threw a cushion at me and I violently flinched away, moaning as my alcohol-soaked brain sloshed around inside my skull. Showing the same capacity for sympathy as does a tiger to a wounded deer, she continued to throw things at me until I grudgingly agreed to go with her to Danny’s. By the time we arrived, I was feeling quite a lot better and on the threshold of that magical transition between ‘never drinking again’ and ‘I fancy a beer’.
Danny’s was a small and unpleasant room in a small unpleasant house, but then so was everyone’s back then. No one lived well or mould-free, owing to the fact that despite being the beneficiaries of staggeringly large loans taken out to cover our fees and accommodation, which most of us would spend the next ten years repaying, we nonetheless never seemed to have any money.
At first I assumed that was the reason for the candles. Burning in stands all around Danny’s bedroom, little flickers of flame lit up the chilly dark. Some of them were alarmingly close to the curtains, hanging thick with moisture and mottled with mould, and others stood at an angle in cups sitting on the exposed wooden floorboards.
When this ‘Simon’ walked in, I was unimpressed. His jeans were too tight, his hair too unkempt, his wrists encircled by far too many festival bangles. He looked like the kind of guy who’d spent so long figuring out how he wanted to look he’d forgotten to develop a personality. My roommate practically swooned and the evening became largely run-of-the-mill and uninteresting to anyone over 21 from that point.
Until the Ouija board appeared. I don’t know who first pulled it out, or from where. I didn’t see who set it up or started the excited chatter about it. All I know is that all of a sudden, the candles took on a more sinister aspect. The laughter became more muted, the smiles more nervous. And in the middle of it all was Simon, sitting at the head of the table with the little wooden board set out in front of him, pushing the ornate circle of wood with the hole in the middle into the centre. I remember that intense shock I felt as I caught a glimpse of Simon between two people in front of me. Just a fleeting sight, probably distorted in my memory by everything that happened afterwards, but one that has stayed with me ever since.
In that brief moment, Simon’s skin seemed to gleam in the candlelight, the flickering flame casting thick shadows under his eyes so they appeared to be pools of inky black staring out at us. I could have sworn his face was too long, though I put it down to the wavering light. For a second it seemed his lower jaw protruded too far, and combined with the black eyes, Simon’s face was transformed into that of something…not right.
The moment passed and Simon was himself again, an insufferable poser and fashion victim no doubt but unquestionably human. I blinked and shook my head, and I remember distinctly putting down my glass and giving it a suspicious glare. To this day I cannot taste rum without feeling a flutter of that dread I felt back then; it has been forever tainted for me.
I hung back as people took their places, laughing it off if anyone asked me if I was scared. I had no reason to be scared of Ouija boards; I believed in no spirit or demon that could possibly do me harm. What held me back was that peculiar vision of Simon’s altered face and the creepy chill it had given me. I felt tense and on edge, my nerves tight and raw. The last thing I wanted to do was sit down with everyone facing me and able to see my nervousness. They’d mistake it for fear of the stupid Ouija game, and as I mentioned before I was both a teenager and at a party. I wasn’t about to risk looking fearful just because too much rum on top of a hung-over brain had made my eyesight go funny.
Seven people, including my tragically lovesick roommate, had taken places at the table and had their fingertips held lightly to the circle of wood. A few were giggling, others seemed to be taking it more seriously but most wore those light, wry smiles we adopt when trying very hard to appear entirely unimpressed by a situation. Those smiles did not long survive the next few minutes.
The circle of wood began to move, as it inevitably would have with seven excitable people touching it and wanting it to move. What surprised me was the word it spelled out.
“Knock?” said my roommate, looking around at the others with a wavering smile that suggested she didn’t know what to make of it but was totally not freaked out by it at all. Not at all.
The others shrugged and carried on. The same word was spelled out again.
“Who’s there?” said one of the other guys leaning against the wall watching, as I was. Some of the others laughed. Knock, knock, who’s there?
The wooden marker moved again. I once again noted Simon’s face. Still human, but with such an expression of eager anticipation that it frightened me far more than my hallucination of him with the distorted face. It suddenly occurred to me that there really was no sense in pushing on a door if you didn’t know where it led.
The marker began to move again, slowly this time, as though savouring its moment. As though giving us time to stop it, perhaps. It seemed to me that the candles wavered in those seconds, like an unfelt wind had passed over us or a presence swept by unseen. The room was silent, no giggles and no comments passed the lips of the enthralled students gathered there, their transfixed faces lit by the dancing flames burning around them in the eerie darkness of the room. A panic seemed to grip me at that moment, looking from face to face, seeing that wooden marker make its slow and graceful way from letter to letter, spelling out a word – a name – that I suddenly did not want to see completed and won’t repeat here.
It was at that moment that one of those prayers floated across my thoughts, long since relegated to the realms of distant memory by the dogmatic rationalism of my maturing mind. The prayer my grandmother had said every night before bed and every day on waking. The Lord’s Prayer. Without thinking, I recited it to myself in my head, no sound escaping me. I only heard the words in my mind, but I drew an unexpected comfort from them.
No sooner had I completed the prayer, the marker stopped in its tracks. It rested inches from what was perhaps the last letter in an ancient and long unspoken name. The answer to the question “who’s there?” remained unanswered. Simon, his eyes once again in deep shadow, turned unerringly to stare directly at me, his face utterly expressionless but his eyes burning. I felt a deep chill as I met that gaze, a deep and primal stirring of fear. He stared for a few moments, those black eyes regarding me soullessly, and I realised that he knew I had interrupted him somehow.
Finally, Simon pushed the marker away and rose from the table, declaring that he needed a drink and was done playing with stupid toys. The others stood up too. Someone turned the lights on and the music up. The whole thing was forgotten. But not by me.
We never saw Simon again.
I’m not a religious person, as I said. I don’t know why that prayer did what it did. Maybe it was just my will against his. I don’t know. I make no judgement or statement about the spirit world and I am not qualified to speak of the existence of gods and demons. But know that nothing good or benign or harmless was trying to talk to us that night. The look Simon gave me, so blank, so utterly dark and inhuman, like that of a shark regarding a man standing behind glass, has stayed with me all my life.
So take this as you will, and next time a Ouija board comes out at a party, remember my story.

About the Author

Steven D. Jackson

Steven is a short, freaky -- wait no -- Steven writes short freaky stories and posts them at sdjackson.blogspot.co.uk/ where you can read them for free.

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