Sallie Benson and I are related through marriage. Her mother, Janet, a hot-tempered, but almost always reserved red-head, married Denny Brown, the curly-haired, tobacco- chewing son of my stepfather’s eldest sister, Aunt Mildred. Sally considered us cousins because we both called Mildred “Aunt Mildred’.
“Want to come up to my house tonight and play with the Ouija Board?” she asked one warm summer night. The Ouija Board belonged to Chris Smith, our neighbor. He lived in a trailer in the woods just below Sally’s place and to the left of the white and yellow double-wide where Uncle Daryl and Aunt Cathy lived. Chris found the board in an old metal shed where his mom, Deb stored their lawn mower and old nick-knacks. He dusted off the daddy long-legged spiders and brought it up to Sally’s back porch one June evening in 1984.
A group of kids gathered around to give it a spin. The Ouija Board was a game from our parent’s generation. Despite the popularity of this mystical version of Monopoly during the 1970′s, by the time we were old enough to spell things, the game was forgotten and almost banned, like the old knockers– the toy with two heavy balls on each end of a string that made a loud clacking sound while creating black eyes on the snotty noses of children across America. The Ouija board seemed more dangerous to Sally, a devout Catholic, and I. I was a born-again Baptist who had been baptized twice in life; once first as an infant in a little Lutheran Church on the top of Stonecreek Ridge, and again, that summer, in a leaking baptismal pool inside the First Baptist Church of Three Springs, PA.
Rumors about Ouija Boards circulated in town about my Reverend—David Chevy, who, according to people his age, while studying as a seminary student at nearby Juniata College, had once had a bad experience with an Ouija Board and had decided to burn it, but while doing so, was haunted by these terrible screams that came out of the fire inside a burning barrel in his parent’s back yard.
Everyone in town had burning barrels then. Whether the rumor was true, I never found the courage to ask my preacher about it, but instead, took the road less traveled, agreed to be Baptized by him, and developed, along with Sally Benson, a devout Catholic, an unquenchable thirst for things of the occult.
We both took our religions serious, but never really talked about it. I once attended mass with Sally and her older sister Claudia, and was laughed at by both Claudia, and red-haired Janet, when I stood with my best friend Sally to go to confessional. That’s when I learned I was different from the Catholics, but at least I knew I had been baptized twice in life, and had some form of protection against the board.
It was silly trying to get the Ouija Board to work properly with Ryan and Robbie Garlock, Jason North, Brian Hoffman, Randy Marlin and my brother Bill acting stupid around the game.
Sally and I were very serious and told everyone to shut up as we tried to get it to work right. The other boys were trying to see between Sally’s shorts instead of watching what was being told to us. Eventually, we ended up playing kick- the- cans on the day that Chris brought out the old toy. He forgot to take it home with him. Sally immediately claimed it as hers despite the fact that Chris’s mom didn’t even know that her childhood toy was missing from the shed.
Sally and her mom Janet knew I was one of the few teenage boys who could be trusted sitting on her bed when Sally called me up there that evening for a game. My hands went on only a heart- shaped oracle with a needle suspended in the center of a glass magnifier. I was more interested in channeling than trying to get into Sally’s Daisy Duke shorts. The ‘magic’ was real with my childhood friend and cousin. She had mystical powers, just like me, and we both believed in God, demons, fortune tellers and Aretha Franklin.
The messages hidden in the letters on the Ouija Board came to us effortlessly. “Who will I marry?” I asked it over and over again. The oracle spun in confusion, knowing, as Sallie and I both did, that I would never marry a woman.
“Does Ryan Garlock love me,” Sally asked.
“Oh Sally, that’s a stupid question to ask a spirit,” I said.
“Well, what should I ask it?“
“Let’s make the ghost prove that it is real,” I suggested. “Turn off the lights and light one of those candles on top of your stereo.”
The hairs on our neck stood on ends the moment Sally blew out a match after lighting a red, fragrant candle.
“Take your hands off of it,” I ordered. I was able to move the oracle without touching it by simply holding my hands above the beige colored plastic. Sally’s eyes widened and she insisted that I let her try channeling the plastic piece around without touching it.
“Focus on it. Don’t focus on what it’s going to spell out. Just focus your attention on the needle and think of nothing,” I advised.
Sally took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. My cousin was just like me. She had a wild imagination and could believe in almost anything. Sure enough, when Sally focused her thoughts on the metal, suspended needled, the piece of plastic started moving around the board as if a ghost was conducting a spelling-bee. “This is freaking me out,” she said.
“Yes, me too.“
The summer went on. We saw our friends at the Three Springs Community Pool. We were getting older and so were all our friends. Kick the can lost its popularity and getting the gang together to play games was hard.
Despite our attempts to stop spending so much time improving our skills on the lettered board, our sessions became more intense. Janet always gave me cans of Mountain Dew when I stopped by to see Sally. My own mother had just Kool-Aid, and visiting the Browns was like visiting rich relatives. I had such a high from the pop. It is no wonder I was able to move the oracle without touching it.
There wasn’t a whole lot to do on warm summer nights, living in the woods so Sally and I started lighting candles and turning off the lights almost every night. Eventually, we learned to sit with our legs crossed like Indians and to say chants prior to asking for events of the future.
“Show us a sign you are here,” I ordered that evening when the little lens kept repeating the numbers 6-6-6 and spelling out L-E-G-I-O-N-S. I figured Sally’s Catholic roots were causing the repetitive signs to appear and I wanted to take the game to the next level anyway.
“Show us a sign you are here. Show us a sign you are real,” we kept repeating.
The closet door in Sally’s bedroom came crashing down from the rollers and track from which it slid opened and closed. Sally and I both saw a dark shadowy figure, an image of the devil, I suppose, inside her closet.
Sally and I ran from her room screaming at the top of our lungs. Sally was crying and tears were streaming down her face. We were terrified.
Her step-father Denny went into the room to check things out.
“There’s nothing wrong in here,” he insisted, swallowing a gulp of his spit as his cheek, puffed out in exhaustion form years of chewing, squeezed more flavor from the black wad of tobacco hidden behind his lips.
“But the closet door– that closet door just fell and we saw something in there,” Sally cried. I shook my head in agreement.
Denny insisted that the door was working perfectly and was not off its track, but to this day, I vividly remember the closet door falling and the loud bang it made and the evil we saw among Claudia’s Jordache Jeans.
Life went on and lots of new clothing was worn and placed in and out of her closet, despite the fact that years ago, demons were once hiding in there. I was placed at the Benson table during the wedding of a family member almost a decade later. Sally and I insisted on sitting next to each other. It had been years since we saw each other. I left for the Army in ‘88 and hadn’t seen her in ten years.
She laughed when I asked, “Sally, did you just see my glass moving around on its own?” She remembered the warm June night from our childhood immediately.
“Denny, tell us the truth”, Sally insisted there at the wedding reception, sitting next to lovely Aunt Mildred who had on yellow. “Did you put the closet door back on track that night when Charlie and I was playing with Chris Smith’s Ouija Board and came out screaming,” she asked.
He remembered the night perfectly and looked both Sally and I in the eyes and swore that he did not put it back on its track. Sally and I looked at each other and smiled, yet hairs were standing up on the back of our necks because we both know that the devil was in her room that night.
I remember running home with the black board with lettering that dark summer night. Mom had recently burned a brown paper bag full of garbage inside our burning barrel; I could see smoke rising under the light of a pole light and red glowing embers at the bottom where the steel barrel had rusted and coals of fire seemed to drip out.
I considered throwing the Ouija board in, like Reverend Dave Chevy had done with his, but thought it best to keep the thing outside for a night, where at least, if there was evil in it, it would be Baptized out with dew that often crept in at night in the spooky wooded land in which we lived.