I believe the Ouija board wanted to be found. I know how that sounds, and before Patty’s death I would have thought it sounded crazy too, but now that I have seen with my own eyes, I am convinced it wanted, needed to be found.
It lay among Patty’s Aunt Tracy’s belongings, stored away in the attic of her home with the various boxes of baby clothes and pictures and keepsakes, the scattered remnants of a long life, dust covered and cob webbed. When Aunt Tracy passed, the house became Patty’s and it was an easy decision to pack up and move into it. The kids were grown and gone, so our empty nest was not that difficult to abandon. Aunt Tracy’s was paid for and the taxes were less than our yearly rent. Like I said, an easy decision.
So, six months to the day after we buried Aunt Tracy, we stuffed our worldly possessions into a U-haul truck and drove the four hours from Myrtle Beach to Charlotte and parked in front of 1333 Queens Road West. The house was over fifty years old and it reflected the style of the times; columns on the wide porch, three stories with an ample attic, a big back yard, four rooms and two and half baths. Compared to our two bedroom bungalow at the beach it was a mansion. Patty was overjoyed.
“God, Michael,” she breathed, “it’s beautiful.”
“You act like you’ve never seen it before,” I teased her. “Didn’t you use play here when you were a kid?”
“Only when we visited.”
“So you already knew it was beautiful.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t mine then.”
“Ours”, I corrected her.
“Only if you play nice,” she said, grinning.
I loved that grin, the playful mischief it suggested. It always turned me on. But then, Patty could have hit me with a frying pan and turned me on. She had always had that effect on me, since the first time I laid eyes on her. I had made a date with her college roommate Roxanne and when I arrived to pick her up, Patty answered the knock at the door wearing sweats and no makeup. She was the most beautiful frump I had ever seen. That first and last date with Roxanne was the shortest I had ever been on, probably because I spent the whole evening asking her questions about Patty. At any rate, Patty herself would have nothing to do with me until her second year when she got a new roomie. We went on our first date on my birthday that year and stayed together for the next twenty-five, marrying, raising two boys and a girl, Michael, Caleb and finally Jessica who had just turned twenty-one the week before Aunt Tracy died. She was the one who found the Ouija board in the attic.
We were gathering and separating Aunt Tracy’s leftovers for a yard sale, one pile for the sale and one pile for those things that Patty deemed too personal for some stranger to store in their attic for future sale to some other stranger. The “keep” pile had been steadily growing larger than the “sell” pile and I made the cardinal mistake of pointing this out to Patty, a marital faux pas that earned me a glare and a warning.
“Look, this stuff isn’t just some junk,” she snapped. “It was my Aunt’s personal belongings and I am not just going to arbitrarily discard it.”
“No one’s suggesting you should,” I said, piqued. “I just made a comment. This yard sale was your idea in the first place.”
“I realize that,” Patty retorted. “I just don’t think Aunt Tracy would have wanted her favorite things sold to some stranger for fifty cents a pop.”
“Why don’t we just ask her?”
We both looked at Jessica, who had been avoiding the confrontation in the corner, rummaging through boxes. She was holding the Ouija board box in front of her and grinning, trying to break the tension with humor. I bought into it, laughing. Patty did not.
“That is not funny, Jessica.”
“Oh please, mother. I was only kidding.”
“Yeah, ease up, Pats. She didn’t mean anything by it.”
Patty stood up and brushed the dust from her pants. “I think I’ll go downstairs for a while,” she said in a terse voice. She headed for the attic stairs.
“Come on, sweetheart, don’t be mad,” I called after her as she descended the stairs, but I knew it was too late. When Patty got mad, her modus operandi was to remove herself from the scene rather than fight. It was good for her, but it always pissed me off. I started after her. Jessica stopped me.
“Just let her go Dad,” she said. “You know how she is. She’ll steam for a few minutes then it’ll all be over and she’ll come back and everything will be like nothing happened.”
I knew she was right; Jessica knew her mother better than anyone did and even though I was spoiling for a fight, I took her advice and sat down. As I sit here in this cold concrete cell I wonder what would have happened if only I hadn’t, if only I had followed Patty and finished that fight instead of playing with that damned Ouija board. Patty might still be alive right now and I wouldn’t be awaiting execution for her murder.
I can recall everything as clear as day.
Jessica and I sat there on the floor of the attic and put the box with the Ouija board between us. It was old and faded, the white lettering a dingy gray. Jessica opened it and inside was the folded board and a plastic triangle with a glass eye at the point. She took the triangle out and then the board, unfolding it and placing it on the floor in front of us. The board was the same dark maroon as the box cover but the lettering, the alphabet arced across the center, the word “YES” at one end of the arc and “NO” at the other, and the numbers one through zero beneath, was bright white. At the top center was a picture of a large eye, the same bright white with an azure pupil, “HELLO” in the left corner and “GOODBYE” in the right. Underneath the eye was the word “Ouija”. In the bottom corners were a caricature of the sun on the left and a crescent moon on the right, each with its own sinister looking face grinning out at us. There were instructions folded underneath the board. Jessica took them out and read them.
“It says,” she instructed, “that we take the planchette,” she held up a plastic triangle with the glass piece in the tip and castors at each corner and put it in the center of the board beneath the alphabet, “and each put two fingers on either side.” She put her fingers on one side; I put mine on the other.
“Now we ask it questions.” She looked up at me, smiling. “What should we ask?”
I smiled back. “I don’t know. Let’s try something simple.” I closed my eyes and asked aloud in my best Vincent Price, “Are we alone?”
Instantly, the triangle began moving.
Jessica said accusingly, “Are you doing that?”
“No, I thought you were.”
“I’m not doing it,” she laughed, “you are!”
Laughing with her I said, “No really, I’m not,” and we looked down at the board. The glass eye had stopped over the word “NO”.
“I guess we’re not alone,” I said, still smiling. “You ask one.”
Jessica closed her eyes and said, “Are you dead?”
We both giggled. The plastic piece moved and this time the eye stopped over “YES”.
“Very cute,” I said. “You’re just trying to scare me.”
“I swear,” she said, stifling a nervous giggle, “I am not doing this.”
“Well neither am I.”
Jessica smiled. “I guess it must be the ghost,” she said tauntingly. “Your turn.”
This time I asked a specific question. “What is your name?” I said.
The triangle started moving, slowly, and began spelling out a word using the letters arced across the board. It started with B, then A, then down, then back to A again. And this is where I start to lose my recollection. I remember some part of me, the hidden, untapped part we rely on as children to keep us safe from the boogey man and the creatures under the bed but that withers when we grow up and stop believing in such things, that part screamed at me to TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF, NOW! but it was too late and as the planchette moved towards the next letter, I began to feel light headed, and I could feel my temperature begin to rise. Sweat broke out on my brow; pressure was building in my head, my heart began throbbing faster and faster and as the glass eye settled over the letter L, a blinding pain exploded in my skull and the last thing I remember was the sound of my own voice screaming. And then, according to testimony, all Hell literally broke loose.
The rest for me is a blank. At my trial, my daughter had filled the blank in.
My screams had alerted Patty. She ran up the attic stairs and called my name. According to Jessica, I leaped to my feet, spun around and grabbed Patty by the throat with both hands and lifted her bodily from the floor. Jessica said she screamed at me to stop and tried to pull my fingers from Patty’s throat and that I had growled at her in response. She said it sounded like a wolf growling. She testified that I began speaking in a language she had never heard before, anywhere, much less from me. For my part, I had flunked high school Spanish twice. That was the extent of my language training.
Jessica continued, telling the court how I had held a struggling Patty off of the floor by her throat, how she had heard a sickening crunch and how suddenly her mother had begun twitching spasmodically in my grasp. The coroner later testified that I had broken Patty’s neck with my bare hands. Jessica finished her testimony by saying I then threw Patty down the attic stairs and collapsed in a heap unconscious at her feet. She went down to try and revive her mother, but Patty was already dead. She then called 911.
I came to just as the police and paramedics arrived, the blaring of the sirens the first sounds I heard, then Jessica’s sobbing. I struggled to my knees and reached for her. She scratched my face, and screamed through her tears, “STAY AWAY FROM ME! YOU KILLED HER! YOU KILLED HER!” I had no idea what she meant. Killed who? Who had I killed? Why was my daughter so obviously frightened of me? What in God’s name had I done?
The next days and weeks and months became a blur; the arrest, the fear of being locked away with murderers and rapists, the story breaking on the local news channels, my sons vowing to avenge their mother, my daughter’s tear swollen face as she testified against me; the jury’s recriminating stares; the verdict and then the sentence. I remember sitting at the defendants table, shackled and helpless, trying to conjure Baal, to bring him forward and show them I was innocent, that I was not trying to escape punishment with an insanity plea, that there really was a demon from the blackest pits of Hell loose in Charlotte, that it’s name was Baal, but he refused to materialize. I could hear him laughing at me in the back of mind. I can hear him still, and I know he’s waiting for me on the other side.
So now I sit on death row waiting for my turn with the needle. They say nobody in prison is actually guilty, just ask them. Everybody has a story to tell; the judge was unfair, the lawyers inept, the witnesses mistaken, the police corrupt, but for me, the truth is too unbelievable, sounds too contrived, like the desperate meanderings of a guilty man trying to convince everyone he’s insane, but I know the truth, my truth, and I know that it doesn’t mean a damned thing. And there’s one thing else I know.
It wasn’t me that killed Patty. We let something through, Jessica and I, upstairs in the dusty attic of Aunt Tracy’s house on Queens Drive, something named Baal, something that came through whatever door we opened playing with that God damned Ouija board and took me over, something horrible; something evil. It was Baal that made my children hate me, it was Baal that took my life away from me, it was Baal that killed Patty, not me and in less than twelve hours from now, at precisely six o’clock A.M., I’ll go to my grave believing it.