Ouija boards, cemeteries, out of town guests, and things that go bump.
|The sun had already dipped down below the horizon as the boys breached the gates to the Love & War cemetery. The night was still and calm; only a gentle breeze rustled through what was left of the grass that had once carpeted the graveyard. The cemetery was as old as Love & War itself, and although the cemetery had seen a few recent arrivals, the grounds were not maintained as well as they once were. A few graves sported tacky, faded, plastic flowers, but most were bare. Sunbleached and wind-weathered stones dotted now-crooked grave rows amidst a sea of dead grass.
Silence descended upon the boys as they made their way through the cemetery, eyes searching tombstones for the name “Minerva Auckland”. Although they didn’t say so, both Marco and Alejandro, being only eight and having only mastered the art of reading the year before, were a little concerned that they wouldn’t recognize the name even if they saw it, because although “Minerva” sounded like it was probably easy to spell, neither boy had any idea how to spell “Auckland”.
They needn’t have worried, however, for it was Cheehawk who made the discovery. “It’s here,” he said, calling from the far back corner of the cemetery. Cheehawk crouched down low, running his fingers along the the carved stone as he read. “‘Minerva Katherine Auckland, 1818 – 1853. Bear me no grief, shed me no tear. For as I foresee it, you’ll too soon be here.’” Cheehawk shuddered, shaking his hand as though to shake off the poem. “That’s creepy,” he said.
Marco and Alejandro gulped and exchanged looks. Actually standing at the witch’s grave amid the crumbling walls and dead grass, the whole idea of making contact with her started to seem… less than good. Marco, swallowing hard and clenching his fists, cast a sideways glance at his brother, hoping against hope that his brother would call off the event.
But his hopes were dashed as soon as Alejandro plopped on the ground and said, “Aw, well, let’s get started.” Marco felt his stomach lurch as he settled down next to his bother and across from Cheehawk, who also was beginning to look a little green around the gills. Cheeawk placed the game on the ground and gingerly removed the lid, revealing a water-stained board and a chipped, plastic planchette.
Cheehawk lifted the board and planchette, flicking the box aside. “We all have to sit as close together as we can,” he instructed. “You guys better not have lice,” he said with a sneer.
“We don’t,” the twins chimed. They came together into a small huddle, sitting Indian style, their knees touching. Cheehawk placed the board on the ground between them and put the planchette in position. Following the older boy’s lead, the twins placed two fingers from each hand gently on the planchette.
“Now what?” Marco asked.
“Be quiet,” Cheehawk instructed. “I’ll take it from here. Just keep your fingers lightly on the thingie. And whatever you do, don’t let go!” He gave the boys a stern stare, and they nodded silently.
The ritual began.
“We wanna talk to Minerva Auckland,” Cheehawk said, his voice low and monotone, his eyes closed tight. “Minerva Auckland, if you’re out there, we’re here to…say happy birthday.” He hadn’t rehearsed what he was going to say, or even given it much thought. Marco looked askance at his friend, thinking maybe Cheehawk had fibbed a bit when he said he knew what he was doing.
“Minerva Auckland,” Cheehawk said again, this time his voice a little louder. “We want to speak with Minerva Auckland, the witch who burned up in her house in Love & War.”
Cheehawk cursed under his breath, and while he cast about for something more inviting to say, Marco had an idea. “Probably gotta ask it a question,” Marco said, his voice only slightly more than a whisper. He closed his eyes, drew in a breath, and said, “Minerva Auckland, Minerva Auckland, can you hear us? Are you here?”
A beat. Two. The boys were so still they dared not even breathe. Then, without fanfare, the planchette wobbled, a slight jerk, before it began gliding across the board, lurching to a stop when it reached the top left corner of the board, which read, “Yes”.
“You’re pushing it,” Alejandro hissed, his voice less steady as he would have liked. But both Marco and Cheehaw shook their heads, their eyes wide with fright and wonder.
“Hush! Marco, ask it another question.”
Biting his lip, Marco concentrated and asked, “Ah, Minerva Auckland, how many boys are sitting at your grave tonight?”
The planchette jerked, stopped, and then glided down the board to the row of numbers, stopping when the clear plastic of the planchette hovered over the 3.
“Oh man, this is freaking me out,” Alejandro said, his voice breaking. He almost sounded on the verge of tears. “You guys sure you’re not pushing it?”
Neither boy answered as Marco prepared his next question. “Minerva, can you tell us anything about the future?”
The planchette moved smoothly across the board, stopped decisively at “Yes”.
Marco looked up from the board, eyes searching. “What should we ask it?”
Cheehawk thought for a moment. Then he said, “Ask her if she knows what the winning lotto numbers are.”
Marco made a face. “Are you sure I should ask her that?”
Cheehawk nodded furiously. “Do you know how many video games we could buy if we won the lottery? I bet I could even get Ma to buy me my football uniform.”
Winning the lottery could buy a lot of video games, and though Marco wasn’t a big a fan as his brother or Cheehawk, even he could see the benefit of having his choice of any game securely locked behind the glass doors at the Walmart in Placerita. And besides, what else was he going to ask? Returning his attention to the board, Marco asked, “Minerva, can you tell us what the winning lotto numbers will be?”
The planchette was still. The boys glanced at each other apprehensively, then back down at the unmoving board. Finally, the planchette began to stir. It moved around the board in rapid figure eight patterns, its speed steady, its movement fluid. Then the planchette stopped. After a moment it began to spell something out. “U-M-U-S-T-I-N-V-I-T-E-M-E.”
Alejandro spoke the words as he read them. “Um ustin vite me?” The confusion on his face was mirrored in Cheehawk’s expression.
But the message was clear to Marco. “You must invite me,” he whispered. “She wants…” He shook his head, concentrated hard on the board. “Invite you where?”
The planchette began to move again. This time, it did not hesitate. It spelled out, “T-H-E-L-I-V-I-N-G-W-O-R-L-D.”
There was no mistaking what the board spelled out this time, and all the boys instinctively snatched their hands away from the planchette as they started at each other in horror. “What should we do?” Marco asked the others.
“What does she mean, invite her? Can she get out? I mean…she’s dead, right? Can the ouija board bring her here?” Cheehawk’s words spilled out of him like candy out of a piñata. His eyes darted between Marco and Alejandro, searching. “I mean, vampires can’t go in your house unless you invite them. So maybe she can’t get here unless we invite her.” He shook his head, waving his hands in front of his face. “Noooo way. She can just stay right there!” Then a thought struck him. “Is she gonna get mad if we don’t invite her? Is she gonna hex us or — ” His voice was rising steadily higher as his panic reached a climax. His pudgy face was red and beads of sweat were popping out on his forehead. “What do we do?” he squealed.
“Didn’t you say you’d done this before?” Alejandro asked. “Shouldn’t you know if ghosts can come through the ouija board?”
Cheehawk’s mouth opened and closed like a fish, but no words came out. He’d been caught in a lie, and there was no use trying to deny it. Instead, he slumped down, shoulders drooping, and put his head in his hands, trying not to cry.
They sat in silence a moment, and then Alejandro made a decision. “Can we hang up on her by moving the thingie over the ‘Good Bye’ at the bottom if it gets too scary?”
Cheehawk shrugged his shoulders without looking up. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Maybe. I think so.”
Marco was shaking his head slowly, tears of fear welling up in his eyes. He didn’t care if his brother saw him cry. He didn’t care if they called him names. He didn’t want to go any further. He wanted to leave the cemetery. The tiny hairs at the back of his neck were standing up, and he was beginning to get a Very Bad Feeling. He knew with all his heart that they should put the ouija board away and go home, change into pajamas and watch something funny on television until the bad feeling went away. He could practically hear a voice whispering in his ear, saying, “Cut it out, Marco. Cut it out right now.”
But he couldn’t. Sitting there, perched on the brink of certain, inevitable disaster, Marco became a pawn in someone else’s game of chess — merely an object to be moved around, a means to someone else’s end. Even as his insides reared up and his conscious mind threatened him with every weapon in its arsenal, Marco felt the invisible puppeteer pulling his marionette strings. He felt (though who could say if it were true) locked into a single course of action, predetermined, one his entire life — all eight years of it — had led up to. Propelled forward by forces unseen, Marco moved through his next motions unwillingly, fearfully, and knowing with a soul-deep dread that he couldn’t do anything about any of it.
And that was why, though every fiber of his being railed against it, he took a breath and put his fingers back on the planchette. After a moment, the other boys followed suit.
“Minerva Auckland,” Marco whispered, his voice shaking as he blinked back his tears. “We invite you to the world of the living. We — ”
But before he could finish his thought, the planchette began to spin under their fingers and then shot off the edge of the board, landing in a patch of brown grass and eliciting a screech from each of the boys. Officially scared out of their wits, they scrambled to their feet, still screaming, and as they ran for the cemetery gates they could swear they heard a peal of deranged, high-pitched laughter that was certainly, definitely, coming from Minerva Auckland’s headstone.
They didn’t stop to see what was happening. Pumping their arms and legs as hard as they could, the boys fled the cemetery like bats out of hell. They didn’t stop running until they’d made it back to the Flores place, their hearts thumping so hard they feared they might explode. Marco was crying freely now, scared and angry at himself. Angry at Cheehawk and Alejandro. And suddenly, so, so tired.
But even in his wild fear, he realized, too late, they never said ‘Good Bye’.
See all the stories from Love & War, Texas at http://www.loveandwartx.com