They say the magic has gone out of the world. But the world I live in is a strange, and magical place. And in this season, of dark nights and portentous days, the call of the soul can be heard as never before. So please, enjoy this tale and remember the words of the famous poet:
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
His Mother’s Son
I looked. “What.”
She pointed, “There.”
At the time I lived on 7th Street, in Bloomington, Indiana, just off campus in an old, turn-of-the-century 2-story home that was drafty but comfortable, my room the biggest in the house. She was my new girlfriend, curious about everything. I had the place set up nicely for a Grad student a nice rug, my computer and desk, an easy chair, a full-size futon close to the ground – Japanese style – and a bookcase with textbooks, some esoteric mainstays and…
“…my Ouija board.” I chuckled and shook my head.
“It doesn’t work,” I stated matter-of-factly and returned my attention to her.
“Oh, ok…hey, stop that!” She giggled and the subject was forgotten.
A year later and we were married, living on 17th street, still in Bloomington, in the bottom-floor apartment of a small, 4-unit complex that fronted a wooded, shady hill and a small pond that housed what seemed to be a multitude of bullfrogs that would serenade us all night every night during the summer. My office was in the rear of the apartment in what would have been a second bedroom, it’s south-facing wall a sliding glass door.One night she walked in and saw the Ouija sitting on the top shelf of one of my storage areas, and so I told her its tale.
I had bought the board when I was stationed in Germany. Over the years, I had used it a few times. In Germany, another soldier and I had tried to use it and I remember feeling contempt when I could feel him trying to push it, in order to make it seem as if it was working. With two people sitting next to each other, fingers on the planchette, it is easy, you see, to tell when force is coming from another person touching it. Another time I’d used it with Claudia, the night we became a couple. It hadn’t worked with her either and we’d sat in the candle-lit darkness looking at it, and each other, finally leaving the board for other, less boring pursuits.
When I left Germany and the military I took the Ouija to school with me and can’t remember using it at all at Prairie View, down in Texas. For a long while it sat on a bookshelf, a derisive conversation topic, gathering dust and acting as a placemat for drinks and other intoxicating substances. i kept it because it was cool, a Ouija board made by Parker Brothers no less, a game sold in stores around the country. So when I moved to Bloomington to attend IU, my opinion of the Ouija was quite loud and decidely decided.
“Let’s try it, then. I’ve never tried a Ouija board before,” she said, looking at me with a smile on her face, her eyes twinkling.
I laughed and agreed, certain that it would be a repeat of the same old disappointing experience. If the old adage that you have to believe in it for it to work were true, then we stood no chance of experiencing otherworldly visitations that night, because I was dead certain that Mr. Ouija was a bunch of hooey, bunk, a sham, or that I had absolutely no psychic ability at all.
So we got the candles and I lit them, turned off the lights in the apartment and sat on the ground in front of the patio door, grinning at each other. I felt a little excitement because of the drama of the moment – as we sat there, together, on the brink of the unknown – but dismissed it, calmly explaining to her the process of touching the planchette lightly, invoking protection and querying the Ouija in the attempt to call forth the spirits. She smiled and asked questions and I could tell that she was a bit nervous too. I felt a foreshadowing sensation of realization and regret, knowing that she would be disappointed when it didn’t work.
Playing the moment for all it was worth I placed my hand on the planchette, nodding for her to do the same. She did and we sat there, in the flickering light of the candles, watching the board intently. Arriving at the dreaded moment, I asked the board,
“Is there anybody there?”
We waited – I, with bated breath – for what seemed like an eternity and then, after what had to be only a few seconds, slowly, gently, the planchette began to move. My immediate shock was immediately offset by my mind, whirling with the implications and I quickly calculated the possibility of her moving it. No, i decided, it was not possible. Our fingers were touching it lightly and I could feel no pressure coming from her side of the planchette. The instrument seemed to glide under our touch, moving, indeed, of its own volition. Obviously it moved toward the “Yes” located in the top right-hand corner of the board.
She and I stared at each with wide eyes, and then returned our attention to the board. A bit nervously I asked, “Who do you want to speak to?” The planchette began to move again, still slowly, tentatively, under its own power, and spelled out my name.
“Who are you?”
The Ouija responded, “Big Momma.”
My heart pounded in my chest as I felt tears rising and my throat choking up. She told me she loved me, and that Big Daddy was there with her. We stayed on the Ouija for a bit longer, asking questions. I tested the entity for specific knowledge, which it was able to answer without hesitation. Not long after, we put it away, both of us amazed by what had transpired that evening. It was apparent that what I lacked in psychic abilities, she had in spades. The Ouija responded to her touch like a puppy to its Mistress, the spirits crowded around, jostling each other in their eagerness to speak with us, to cross that boundary between life and death, even if only in the limited constraints of a wooden board inscribed with magical, machine-marked symbols of ancient conception.
Over the next few weeks, we played with the Ouija many more times, almost every night. She took the Ouija over to her friends houses and played it with them, coming home and reporting about crazy spirits casting murderous spells, prophesying confusion and ugliness and I began to feel a seed of something cold born, deep down in my soul as I would nod and smile, laughing along with her as she related the details of her Ouija adventures.
I spoke to Big Mama and Big Daddy again once or twice, and met my Guardian Angel, Xavier, a 9-year old Caucasian boy who had died in the 1800s, and who had been with me for years. I knew about him because Karen, an ex-girlfriend of mixed native/African-American ancestry had actually seen him with me, and described him to me as well as drawn me a picture and told me his name. We met her guardian angel, a 7-year old girl named Tagazana, who had lived in Sumer. They told us that Guardian Angels were always children who had died violent deaths, and I have believed that ever since. Other entities visited, some claiming to be wandering spirits who lived in the void between worlds, while others were lost, their imprints weak, the planchette barely able to move between letters. She spoke to her mother, who had passed when she was a small girl and we both reveled in this ability, enjoying it, not realizing that the more we used it, the more visible we were to entities on the other side of the board, and we relaxed our vigilance, I’m sad to say, sometimes forgetting even to invoke the spirits of protection as we hastened to see who would come to visit us next.
And then, one night, as we sat before the board, we were visited by a seemingly weak and tentative spirit. I asked, “Who have you come to visit?”
“Who are you?”
I frowned, attempting to remember someone named Mae Mae, and shook my head. “I do not know you, do I?”
“Yes, you do. I love you. Good bye.”
“I love you. I love you. Good bye…”
Puzzled by the strange visitation, we put the Ouija away and sat down to watch some television. About an hour and a half later, I received a phone call from my mother, who was crying. I knew it was bad news and listened as she told me that my Great-Aunt Mamie had passed away earlier in the evening. Stunned, I could barely stand as I realized that I had spoken to her just as she crossed over and I let the tears fall, as I am now, sending her love and wishing her a safe journey into the next world. I didn’t tell my mother that story for years, not wanting to upset her with the direct evidence of my transient adherence to Christian spiritual prohibitions.
And so it had gone, the spirits gathering around what must have seemed to them to be an oasis of light in the grey haze of purgatory, a light concentrated on her – and me, peripherally – coalescing into an intimate gathering of intention that bound us together as One as the time period allotted this experiment came to its inevitable close. She reveled in her gift, her ability to ‘speak to the spirits’, to be able to ‘call them out’ an expression of her general charismatic ability, a psychic energy that she exuded and that drew people to her like magnets; a strength and ‘soulfulness’ that was, apparently, strong enough to even reach past the boundaries of the physical world. It is what had drawn me to her as well and I loved that strength, saw her as the epitome of womanly power, Eve to my Adam, life partner and mother of my children, eventually.
Another night, and surely, just another spirit. We sat in the usual spot, our fingers on the planchette. I asked, as always, “What is your name.”
Immediately, I realized something was different. Nina was strong. Stronger than any spirit that we’d ever met. Our fingers barely touching the planchette, it virtually flew across the board, making the circuit between letters at lightning speed. I felt that something I’d felt weeks earlier rising again, this time fast and cold, pervading my entire body. Cold sweat rose on my forehead as I heard my mouth ask, “Who are you here to speak to?”
She perked up and I looked at her, wondering if she felt the same thing I was feeling. She was smiling, watching the board, intent, not paying me any mind. Nina’s message came through the board fast, loud, and clear.
“No man is good enough for her.”
That knot of coldness lodged in my throat and I sat there, silent, as she asked, “What do you mean?”
“No man is good enough for you.”
She looked at me and laughed, but I was in no mood to reply. She asked, “Do you mean my husband?”
The planchette flew up and to the left. “Yes.”
Summoning the will from somewhere, I asked, “Do you mean any men? Her father? Brothers?”
Again. “Yes. No man is good enough for her.”
She was getting stronger. The planchette was moving faster as she began to repeat herself, “No man is good enough for her, no man is good enough for her, no man is good enough for her, no man is good enough for her,” over and over until I, repulsed and scared half out of my wits half-shouted, “We release you, spirit!”
I sat back, my heart pounding, looking at her. She smiled nervously back at me, giggling a bit. The strength of Nina had surprised us both, but the feeling of danger that I felt regarding her visitation was not shared by my wife. As years passed between that night and the present, whenever I’ve brought it up, she has laughed it off, but I wonder, who Nina was, and why she said what she said. I also wondered if she truly came to speak to her, or if she was, indeed, speaking to me.
That board got burnt out back, on my little smokey grill, that night. I knelt solemnly before it, sending up silent prayers and listening to the bullfrogs groan, poking it with a stick until it was nothing but ashes.
Ten years and three children later, we now live in San Marcos, Texas, where I attend school, completing a doctorate in geography. We have two older girls, nine and five, and a boy, two. Earlier this evening as I drew a bath for them, the feeling of the Halloween season finally hit me, full force. I walked outside into the brisk evening to look up at the moon, and caught my breath as I saw that it was surrounded by a single, rainbow ring of brilliant colors.
The cusp of Fall always leaves me breathless as my body and scorpionic programming resonate to the imperatives of the stars and seasons, the darkness of the oncoming winter preceded by this timein-between, during which the door between worlds opens and fetid gusts of infinite possibility emerge upon wings of black promise, flying into our dreams, whispering secrets of lust and desire blowing cold, echoing foreboding across the starless moors of restless nights. I I remember Nina, as I often do and shiver, perhaps from the cold, realizing that this was the time of year that we had spent that fateful time with Mr. Ouija. Sober now, I rushed back in to the warmth, and my children.
The oldest has washed her brothers hair, leaving it in curly waves that flow back across his skull. She laughs, shouting, “He looks like a girl!” I chuckle and agree, placing their towels around their shoulders and sending them into the Master bedroom to lotion up and get dressed for bed. The boy runs as soon as I take him out and proceeds to run back and forth in the hallway, preferring air-drying, I suppose, to the warmth of his duckie-towel.
After removing them from the bath I begin cleaning up after them, shaking my head as I pick up pants and underwear, using the floor rug to sop up the water they’ve left on the floor.
“Come back here, Nina! Nina!”
I slowly walk out of the bathroom and into the bedroom, where the children are alternately lotioning and dancing, playing and laughing as the boy jumps around. I look to the oldest, who had shouted out that name.
“Who are you calling that, baby?”
She pointed at her brother. “Him! He looks like a girl!”
I try to swallow the lump in my throat. “Why did you choose that name?”
She pauses for a moment to really think about it then shrugs. “I don’t know. It feels right.”
This, from the little girl who remembers what happened to her before birth, and whose dreams come true. I look at the beautiful boy, laughing and shouting as he jumps on the bed, my heart, my soul and know, that even if I can’t, he will always be there to protect his mother, no matter what dark days may come. I release the coldness with a deep breath and rush over to hold him close as he laughs and screams, “Daddy, daddy!”
I smile, reveling his proximity and love. And even though he is born partly of me, of my flesh and blood, I know, with a certainty that defies the laws of the physical universe itself, that he will always, and forever be, his mother’s son.