Grace led her three 7th grade classmates and Ethan down the basement stairs of her parent’s house, where the girls quietly commented and shushed one another until they reached the bottom.
Ethan, Alyssa’s younger brother by about three years, had asked her sister to let him join in the girls’ sleepover a few nights ago. He passively lamented about how bored he’d be at home and how he never got to spend sleepovers with his own friends, but the thing that forced Alyssa’s hand was that he knew about the Ouija board. He had been walking to the school bus with her when Heather had first promised to bring it to the sleepover. Alyssa groaned, frustrated at his pleading and the prospect of being forced to bring him and make sure he didn’t ruin anything. “Don’t make a big deal about it when we start playing,” she sternly instructed, “and don’t tell mom or dad when we get back.” Ethan promised to be cool, but to stay quiet.
The group reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the furnished and carpeted room to their immediate right. Ethan sat on the wide, blue couch and the girls sat in front of him on the blank, tan carpet. “Alright guys,” Heather announced as she tenderly grabbed something heavy and angular from her over-night bag, “time to welcome the guests of honor!” It was the Ouija board, emerging with its pale wooden surface showing thick, curling black letters and decoration. The gravity of the thing immediately bred thoughts of ghostly faces and whispers into Ethan’s mind, where they swam frantically. The girls gathered tightly; the tips of their sock-covered feet peeked over the board after Heather set it down. Ethan already felt like the shadows nearby had gotten heavier.
“Okay so,” Heather began officiously, “we all start by putting our hands on this thing: the planchette.” She held up the planchette briskly and set it back down. “And then um… we circle it around the Ouija board a few times and then start asking questions. But—” she interjected helpfully, “we can’t take our hands off the planchette until we’re all done and we also have to say goodbye to whatever we’re talking to.” A moment held the magnitude of an idea that rose between them—spirits drifting into the room, hovering in wispy trails and icy wafts of musty air, waiting to manifest. Then two questions came at once; Nicole asked “so it really works?” as Alyssa asked “what happens if we let go without saying goodbye?” Heather turned to Alyssa and, with her profane knowledge turning her confidence into an expression of mystery and foreboding, warned, “if we don’t properly end our session with the entity, it won’t return to the spirit world…” Then, turning back to Nicole, she replied simply “and of course it works—why would we be using it if it didn’t do anything?”
Ethan couldn’t help but interject quietly, as if afraid to wake someone, “will it bring a ghost or a demon?” Alyssa half-turned to meet his eyes: “huh?” “I said ‘is it going to bring ghosts or demons?’” Alyssa completed her turn to analyze Ethan’s expression. He wanted to stay resolute and hide his fear in front of the girls, but he knew this was dangerous. “Don’t worry Ethan” Heather assured, “I’ve done this before; nothing will get you—besides, we’ll send whatever it is away.” Alyssa turned back to the board, when a thought returned to her and she spun back around. “Ethan, remember, don’t tell mom or dad or anyone else about this—and don’t scream or freak out. You’ll be fine, okay?” “I won’t scream,” Ethan responded tersely, scowling. “But,” he said in a fading tone, stopped short by the perplexing challenge of warning the girls about the danger they could face without looking like more of a baby.
Grace started to rummage through her pocket for her cellphone. “Here Ethan, you can take pictures or a video if you see anything scary.” Nicole agreed, passing the phone to Ethan, who found himself in the reflection of its black screen still looking far more afraid than he wanted to be. He remembered a Sunday school lesson not so long ago when the teacher assured the class that nothing, not even Satan or all the demons in Hell, could stop God from protecting kids like him from evil. God is here, he reminded himself, he’ll keep us safe. Ethan turned on the phone and found its camera app, clicking it open and then peering into a dark and grainy representation of his crossed legs painted by the yellow light of a lamp at the other side of the room. “Okay,” Heather began again, “are you guys all ready?” Nicole and Grace said “yeah;” Alyssa said “I’m ready,” and Ethan pointed the phone’s camera at them as he started to feel the heat of oncoming sweat building under his skin.
All hands touched the planchette. Heather’s voice rose as she spoke darkly; “if there are any spirits here, come speak to us now.” “Do we circle the board first though?” Grace discreetly interrupted. The girls started to move the planchette in rough, rapid unison. Nicole’s fingers slipped off of the planchette for a second and she hurriedly tapped the piece again with her eyes wide and lips tight. Alyssa smirked at her, “you’re gonna get possessed, Nicole.” “Shut up!” Nicole shot back, failing to suppress her own smile, “I put my hand back on so it’s fine. It doesn’t count.” Ethan felt beads of sweat beginning to crawl out—is something bad going to happen now? He kept the camera on the girls, trying not to expect a shadow figure or a spectral clawed hand to come into frame.
Heavy seconds passed in silent expectation and then the planchette began to move. Low, wooden scraping marked its path in between the letters H-E-L-L-O. Alyssa gasped and Nicole let out a breathless “oh my God…” “We’re okay, we’re okay,” Heather said distantly to no one in particular. Grace looked around the room for extra figures and then at Ethan, who was dutifully attempting to keep the phone steady.
“What is your name?” Heather asked resolutely. The planchette reached for the letters N-O-T-N-O-W. “What does that mean, Heather?” Grace whispered. Heather blinked and her jaw strained tight before she said “maybe it doesn’t want to introduce itself yet…” “Are you guys moving this?” Nicole blurted out as she shifted her gaze between the girls. They silently shook their heads; “no,” said Grace. Movement on the board drew their eyes back down– C-A-N-T-L-E-A-V-E. “Why can’t you leave?” Alyssa asked while looking into the board. Ethan’s voice came out before he knew it. “Alyssa…” he groaned, “don’t talk to it.” W-A-N-T. Heather bristled, “what do you want?”
“Oh God!” Nicole yelped, “this isn’t real; you guys are pranking me!” Her hands stayed still on the planchette. “Heather, we should stop now” Grace whimpered. Alyssa looked back at Ethan, whose eyes were fixed into the phone screen, brimmed with tears. God is here, he repeated over and over in his mind. “Ethan, are you alright? Did you see anything yet?” As Alyssa asked this, Heather had been forcing her eyes to stay on the board and her thoughts swarmed in heaves. “Tell us your name now!” she commanded. S-A-T-A… “Heather!” “OH my God!”
A short scream leapt out of Nicole’s throat and she lifted her hands over her mouth in swift terror. Ethan had contorted into a fetal pose, still sitting with the camera pointed at the girls, silently praying “our Father who art in Heaven…” as tears fell from his widened green eyes. “Nicole!” Grace called out, “the planchette! Put your hands back!” “By the power of Christ…!” Heather began to recite, channeling her terror into faith in the last hope for rescue.
The door to the first floor creaked open and all the sound ran out. The children became still as corpses as they looked toward the wall that covered their view of the staircase. Alyssa inched closer to Ethan, still gazing at the bottom of the steps with screaming eyes.
“Girls?” a male voice called. Grace let a measure of her breath slip, turned her eyes to the board and, as terror returned, hoarsely whispered “shit! Hide the board! Now!” Alyssa grabbed it and slid it forcefully under the couch. “You just swore!” Ethan whispered back to Grace. “Grace? What are you kids doing down here?” the man’s voice began asking as footsteps started to descend the stairs.
“Nothing, Dad!” Grace answered. The man came down, clad in an old shirt and pajama pants, glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, and with sideburns waxing gray. “You guys look terrified. What have you been up to?” he queried with a furrowing brow. “We’ve been telling ghost stories,” Heather asserted. “Must’ve been a pretty good one going on,” he said while searching their expressions again, “I heard you guys screaming from upstairs.” “We’re sorry,” Grace said, looking down, “yeah, Heather’s story got us pretty good.”
Ethan continued to look around the room while he closed the camera app on Grace’s phone. Alyssa glanced over at Ethan. Nicole looked into the floor from guilt; only Grace kept eyeing her father’s expression to see if he was buying the lie. The man gave a short sigh and looked around the room for anything amiss. Then he half-turned to the top of the stairs, scratched the back of his head with a heavy arm and added “uh, it’s getting pretty late—we were just about to turn out the lights to go to bed. Why don’t you guys come upstairs and get some sleep.” “Okay Dad, we’ll follow you up,” Grace responded plainly.
As Grace’s dad started to walk up the stairs, Heather quickly reached under the couch to grab the Ouija board and put it back into her over-night bag. The other kids began to stand up, each bearing some degree of shame and fading fear on their face. Ethan hurriedly wiped tears from his eyes. He waited for Heather to get the board before wordlessly handing the phone back to Grace and avoiding her gaze. He made sure not to be the last one to reach the stairs as they started their trip back up to the living room. He felt like something was following them.