The Right Questions

Lit Up — June’s Prompt: Stranger Things

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

One afternoon when I was 13, my best friend Ann and I decided to contact the spirit world. It was 1973, the year the Watergate hearings began. We craved answers, not about the far off future of world peace or the environment, but our immediate future of first dates and junior high school drama. Our inspiration came from the movie “The Exorcist”, starring Linda Blair as a girl who got into some trouble using an Ouija board. Her character, Reagan, is possessed by an evil spirit. The scariest scene in that movie captured Reagan peeing on the floor in front of her mother’s dinner party guests. The idea that a demon might take over my body was nowhere near as terrifying as the prospect that I might lose control of my bladder in public.

In our Southern Baptist households, getting hold of an Ouija board presented a problem. Ann brought out Candy Land and Battleship, neither of which lent itself well to communicating with the other side. Fortunately, she also had a much-used Scrabble game. We laid the wooden tiled alphabet out in a circle and added a “Y” and an “N” for yes or no. Ann slick-shined the dining room table with lemon-scented wax polish to better conduct the psychic vibrations. For the indicator we selected a glass jelly jar, one of a matched set printed with cartoon characters. This one had a cat and mouse chasing each other round the sides of the glass.

We banished Ann’s little sister Patti to the living room to watch television. We didn’t fear for her safety, we didn’t want a tattletale witness to our séance. After we grabbed a bag of chips and cans of soda (in case raising up the dead required a snack), we sat down to find the answers to our most pressing problems — “Does that new boy in second period math think I’m cute” and “Will I get a date for the homecoming dance?”

We flipped the jar down on the table and placed our fingertips on the top. Ann leaned toward me to ask, “Do you want to go first?”

“Sure,” I replied.

I tried to remember how Linda Blair had addressed the Ouija board in the movie. I took a sip of my drink, cleared my throat, and asked, “Is anyone there?”

Our makeshift spirit channel stayed stubbornly silent.

Ann suggested that we were pressing down too hard while I countered that we should have gone with a Magic Eight Ball. We adjusted our fingers until they were barely resting on the cool glass surface.

“Maybe it’s not a person,” Ann said. She addressed the glass, “Is any THING there?”

While we waited I thought we ought to get out some bean dip for the chips. I half rose to head to the kitchen when the little glass jar under our fingers shuddered and began to slide across the table top.

As it settled toward the letter “Y” neither one of us spoke. Not because we were terrified, but because we were busy considering what questions we would ask.

We set in right away, and we covered everything from which boys might be harboring a secret crush, to whether there would be a pop quiz in English class that week. The cartoon cat and mouse raced through the alphabet, rushing to tap the Y or the N and pausing to spell out garbled nonsense words. Finally we took a break and lifted our hands from the jar.

“Are you moving it?” Ann asked me.

“No, I thought you were,” I replied.

“I’m barely touching it,” Ann said.

After a brief trip into the living room to make sure Patti was still busy with the television, we placed our fingers back on the glass. I leaned down close to the table, as though I were whispering into the ear of the cartoon cat on the glass, and asked, “Who will I marry?”

The glass began to zip around the letters. It tapped one of the wooden tiles, and we spelled along as it answered.

“K, O, R, E, A, N, B, A …” I paused and watched as the jar selected the final letters.

“Korean Banker?” Ann asked.

“Huh?” I replied.

I didn’t know anyone from Korea, at 13 my knowledge of that country came from the television show M*A*S*H.

Before I could ask again, the glass jar began to glide furiously across the table. It knocked wooden tiles off the edge and then slid to a halt in the middle of the circle of letters. We felt a little jitter under our hands, and the glass shattered.

“Oh no!” Ann cried out. I didn’t know if the prospect of demonic possession terrified her, or whether she feared her mother finding shards of broken cartoon glass scattered in the carpet.

The noise drew Patti from the living room, and we bribed her silence with the rest of the chips. We swept up the glass and tidied the table, hoping that Ann’s mom wouldn’t notice the small scratch left by our exploding spirit conduit.

This was our last attempt at divining the future. I think of that glass sometimes. I imagine an insignificant, minor lost soul, an apprentice demon perhaps, sent up to deal with what appeared to be a simple possession of two teenage girls. Instead he gets stuck under a vacuum of glass and lemon furniture polish in an endless interview for Tiger Beat magazine.

If I could go back, would I ask different questions? I don’t remember any of the answers but one. Sometimes I dream of a man with dark hair, his back to me as he walks into a large, unnamed building. He reaches for the heavy door and as he disappears inside, I know a sense of loss, a memory of opportunity passed by and fortunes lost if only I had known the right inquiry, if only I had spoken the language.

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