Crickets chirped in the cool grass of the moonless night and there was no breath of wind anywhere near the house. In the living room, Ethan began to warm in his sleeping bag, anxiously turning over vague thoughts in his mind as he faced away from the older girls’ chattering about the session with the Ouija board in the basement.
In a lapse between their sharing of experiences during the séance, Alyssa timidly brought up her concern that perhaps not properly ending the session with the Ouija board could allow something bad to happen during the night. The other girls agreed. Ethan had turned back over to watch them now, freshly disturbed. Heather turned her head to look down the hallway and probed the silence for stirring. She then laid low and dug her hands into her overnight bag at her side, lifting it up and setting it awkwardly between the girls. “Okay,” she whispered, “my hands are on the planchette; all of you put your hands on and I’ll end the session.” The other girls stretched out of their sleeping bags and squeezed together, all reaching their hands into the bag.
“If there are still spirits in our presence or in this house,” Heather quietly called out “we say farewell and ask that you return to your world. You are not welcome among us. In the name of God and Jesus Christ, leave us now.” They held still and waited, eventually looking at one another and taking their hands out of the bag. “I think we’re good now,” Heather sighed.
“Hey Ethan,” Grace said as she looked over at the boy. “Did you record anything weird on my phone when you were filming the séance?” Ethan turned his eyes toward his pillow, becoming lost in the internal playback of moments where he searched into the phone screen for demons as the video recorded. “No,” he said. “We could just watch it,” Nicole helpfully suggested, “but turn the volume down though.” Grace searched for the video on the phone lying beside her backpack in front of her sleeping bag. The girls clustered closer around her as it started to play. Ethan had no desire to watch. He lay on his back and looked into the patterns on the ceiling; bizarre faces became evident in its whorls and coarse bumps.
The video was quiet enough that it only hummed, distantly punctuated by the occasional scream or the shift of Ethan’s fingers around the phone’s pin-hole microphone. Although they found nothing of consequence, there was much pausing, rewinding, debating, and squinting into the glow of fuzzy images. The video finished and Grace put the phone into her backpack.
“Do you guys think…” Nicole began to say after she crawled back into her own sleeping bag, “that we… were really talking to the Devil?” They pondered and seemed unwilling to answer. “I don’t think so, really,” Heather admitted. The girls agreed by virtue of intuition—it was an unimpressive entity. Their conversation transitioned to more benign subjects.
Finally, Grace got up to turn out the lamp that had dimly illuminated the room in pale cream light. The darkness swept through and only slivers, pinpricks, and hints of light remained. The girls still talked, but now somewhat sluggishly. The talking gradually turned into mumbling punctuated by long pauses and yawns. Heather was the first to say that she was too tired to keep up conversation and the other girls agreed, saying goodnight to one another and drifting off. Ethan, only now closing his eyes, still lay awake.
Ethan’s time passed in one monolithic stretch of turning over and thinking. The sleeping bag subtly and slowly passed from warm to hot. Ethan opened his eyes to a room of black and muted blue. The hallway entrance was above his head and to the left, behind whose first corner nothing could be seen. To his far right was the front door with its small, high frosted-glass panels barely glowing from the light of a streetlamp. The entrance to the kitchen was to the left of the front door. Inside, there was nothing but blackness and the spirit of the unseen blue numbers on the oven’s clock. The TV set up past his feet stood above an entertainment center where a cable box blared the time in thin, green, digital lines: 3:13.
The heat of the sleeping bag had suddenly culminated into a moment of breaking sweat. Alyssa once told him that 3 A.M. was the beginning of the “Witching Hour,” when demons began to roam the Earth in search of bodies to possess and destroy. He knew she was just trying to scare him, but the numbers burned with power ever since. Ethan felt fragile and prone, encumbered by his sleeping bag and the lack of time to prepare for any attack. Then he felt eyes spotting him from somewhere in the room.
Ethan quickly checked his surroundings. The darkness in the hallway lingered, the front door stood still, and the kitchen kept quiet. But there in the corner between the TV and the main window of the living room—that’s where the eyes were. A stark patch of tall shadow was fixed there; its edges wavered grim and slow. Ethan held his breath and his eyes stretched wide, hungry for definition and detail. Don’t move your head, Ethan thought to himself, don’t move anything! Terror flattened him. The Shadow hovered blankly. Jesus, please protect me. Ethan waited for The Shadow to finally move; he peered deeply into its face with all the courage that piety gave him.
The Shadow twitched.
Ethan squirmed in two swift motions out from his sleeping bag and dashed on his tip-toes to the bathroom down the hall. He barged in and deftly closed the door against The Shadow’s approach as he pressed the lock and turned on the lights. Wincing at the glare of the radiant bulbs above the mirror, he crept into the tub, pulling its shower curtain toward him just far enough so that it blocked the sharp light. From there, Ethan caught his breath and stared at the bottom of the door. The spots of sweat on his pajamas turned cold and he sat down on the chilly bathtub surface. I think I was quiet enough not to wake anyone.
Time passed and a black clock over the toilet ticked it away stoically. The Shadow did nothing. Maybe it was gone now. But to think of how close it had been made Ethan’s stomach sink. What about the girls? … They ended the Ouija session in the living room, but I wasn’t a part of it. Maybe it just wanted me all along… But what if it had already done something?
What if one of the girls was possessed? … No, no, none of them acted like it. But then… demons are crafty. What if a demon possessed someone and tried to act normal so it could fool people? How long could it go on like that? Would an angel stop them? God wouldn’t let someone just stay that way… Ethan gazed into the tub drain, feeling the weight of his eyelids as they itched with exhaustion. He lay down and curled up.
What if the demon can still hurt them? They were messing around with spirits and stuff—it’s against the Bible, after all. … But God would still protect them… Alyssa, what were you thinking? Ethan closed his eyes. He wished he knew more about how spirits worked and what other rules there were.
Will the demons leave at 4 A.M.? It’s the Witching Hour; so they’d have to leave. Ethan opened his eyes and lazily peered over the tub as he brushed away the shower curtain and looked at the clock on the wall: … 3: … 22. Do they leave on their own or do angels have to scare them away? It isn’t the same time all across the world though, so maybe they just get moved to wherever it’s 3 A.M. … But wait, is there always someplace in the world where it’s 3 A.M.? If that’s true, does that mean demons never have time to go back to Hell? He thought of The Shadow checking the time on the cable box and looking back over at the Ouija board in Heather’s bag.
Why do ghosts and spirits need people to play the Ouija board in order to communicate anyway? Can’t they already talk? They can move things too—it usually happens when people mess with Ouija boards. So why don’t ghosts move planchettes on the Ouija board themselves rather than having to rely on living people to move it? When using a Ouija board, can you only talk to spirits that are nearby?
If you were to tear down a haunted house, would the ghosts still stay where the house was? If a ghost lived in the attic, would it still be hovering up in the air as if the attic were still around?
Do ghosts ever feel crowded? If 100 ghosts lived in a bedroom, would they get bunched up as if they had bodies or would they just go through one another? Ethan imagined a tight crowd of annoyed ghosts in a kid’s bedroom, squirming and elbowing one another for more space. The thought made him snicker, but then he remembered that ghosts and demons were serious and dangerous things, so he tried to stop smiling.
Could 100 ghosts win in a fight against a demon? If the ghosts were strong people when they were alive, maybe. Well no, demons can use dark magic though and ghosts probably can’t. Plus, demons would have better weapons with them. 100 ghosts is a lot though… But how many demons could an angel beat up? 10? No, 100, easily. Actually, an angel wouldn’t lose no matter how many demons there are because God gives them power… unless they gave in to darkness or something.
Ethan began to imagine an angel in golden armor with a fiery white sword. The angel looked out onto a battlefield in the cloudy heavens where demons and unbelievers had gathered to challenge him. Ethan watched the following cataclysmic battle play out like a movie. Under the feet of the warring entities, a tight, short pulse pounded in a sequence that stopped abruptly. Then it pounded again, but with a force that shook the very veil of Ethan’s thoughts—there was a great receding…
Ethan opened his eyes and immediately realized he’d fallen asleep. He rolled onto his back and felt the benign stiffness of his limbs. A knock at the door came and Ethan’s exhaustion fled as fear shot into him. He bolted up and listened. He then quietly moved the shower curtain back to look at the time: … 6: … 32. “Hello?” whispered a voice outside of the door. It sounded like one of the girls. He crept toward the door and tried to wave away the fear that The Shadow was playing a trick. He slowly turned the handle and the lock clicked. He eased the door open and a sliver of light illuminated Grace, who squinted at the brightness.
Ethan opened the door the rest of the way and looked out. The hallway was dreamily painted in very faint gray and blue. As Grace and Ethan traded places, he stood to look out toward the living room, which barely glowed in the rising light of dawn. He warily inched out of the hallway, eyeing the corner where The Shadow had stood. In its place was the ordinary shade of a corner unfavored by the light of a window beside it. Ethan felt yearning for the pillow and sleeping bag he’d abandoned, now laying in a heap just as he’d left it. There was relief in finding things as they were in the daytime: vivid and unintimidating. But with the relief came a feeling that wasn’t quite so comforting; Ethan felt like a fool.