This is the first and last time I attempt a conversation with the dead. And I'm not about to be alone down here. There's no flying solo with a 2001 glow-in-the-dark Ouija board by Hasbro. Summoning the spirit world requires the participation of two or more living individuals. Says so in the instructions.
You, my one and only Ouija buddy, are my first ever unofficial boyfriend. So everything's super fucking complicated. We're always hiding. From our parents, the popular kids, each other, ourselves -- driving fifty-five an hour down our hometown country roads. Too afraid to pull over because we're too afraid to get caught.
Although you're one or two years younger than me, you're quite a bit wiser. A bit more experienced and a great deal more confident in the gay department. I have not yet kissed any other guy but you. So I trust you.
She. The spirit. Our dead point of contact. Her name is Dorothy. She used to live here in my best friend's family home, back when this building was all chopped up into six or seven smaller-than-studio-sized apartments.
I imagine Dorothy's personal space as the smallest one. Somewhere in the attic.
Dorothy, as my memory serves me, is documented in our hometown newspaper as one of our hometown "crazies." My best friend's mom shows us (or tells us about [or just totally makes up]) some clipped and safely kept article from the seventies or early eighties (an article older than us) that talks about Dorothy beboppin' around town in nothing but her powdered blue nightgown, with a large kitchen knife of some kind in her hand, on her way to do something totally mundane, like buy a sweet potato or make a deposit. Only Dorothy's totally and completely out of her mind. And evidently, no one cared. Because eventually, as my memory serves me, Dorothy climbed those rickety wooden steps down into this concrete belly of my best friend's basement, soaked her gown in gasoline, and then lit a match. There's still a burn spot on the wall of the basement and bubbled varnish on the wooden door frames one level up to prove it.
No one else has the guts or internal imbalance necessary to join us. So it's just the three of us. You, me, and the gnarly old ghost named Dorothy.
We've unfolded our Walmart-bought cardboard Ouija board atop an old milk crate, right next to the basement walls black hole of a burn spot.
With your eyes closed, you speak.
Dorothy, are you there?
I close my eyes, too. Yet I know you're still here, because I can still feel the heat of your hands next to mine, resting atop the board's plastic heart-shaped planchette.
Dorothy. Can you hear us? Are you there, Dorothy?
The piece, without any conscious effort on my part, moves to the upper left corner of the board.
Yes, she says, without ever saying a thing.
You and I look at each other, face to face, our noses as close as they've ever been -- all four eyes trying their hardest (without words) to communicate, I had nothing to do with it, I promise, I had nothing to do with it, I promise, I had nothing to do with it, I promise. And I know my eyes really mean it. I didn't move it.
Dorothy, when will Ryan die?
The space feels smaller now that you've asked this. Why have you asked this?
Dorothy, when will Ryan die?
I can feel my pulse there on the tip of each individual finger -- and although I know I am not (in any kind of conscious way) moving the magnifier, it glides to the number three, then the number two, and stops. 3-2. Thirty-two.
How will Ryan die?
My heart is improvising its own wild, fight-or-flight rhythm. A sad attempt at distraction.
Dorothy, how will Ryan die?
The stillness present in this moment has an unusually high density, and I am beginning to feel a little bit more like Dorothy -- like she is somehow in me. And just when I'm about to retract my hands and wrap this shit up, the plastic heart-shaped planchette decides to move to the letter H, then I, then V.
This is where the rest of the memory's finer details begin to blur and then fade.
I didn't take the thing very seriously for very long. Maybe a couple of weeks. A month or two. I just eventually sort of assumed he moved it, as some kind of prank, as some kind of crooked joke. I didn't know. But I didn't believe in any ghosts. Most days.
Ten years after Dorothy's prediction in the basement, I'm sitting at our now defunct hometown truck stop restaurant, drinking coffee and chain smoking cigarettes with you, the best friend that grew up in the stitched up version of Dorothy's old place. We're both home from college for some basic holiday visit. And you, out of the blue, ask if I've heard from him lately.
You ask me if I've heard from my first ever unofficial boyfriend, the first guy I ever kissed, the one I shared the morbid Ouija moment with in the concrete belly of your basement. And I tell you that I haven't, before you tell me that he's sick. He's going through a really rough time, you say. Some of the saddest stuff stories are made of -- before you tell me that he's been diagnosed.
That then-micro memory about Dorothy and her black hole burn spot re-surfaces, rearranges, and then inflates itself a bit. And after that, like any other run-of-the-mill black hole, nothing escapes it.
About the author...
Ryan Dale is a halfway filmmaker (only ever finishes half of the movies he starts to make) and halfway novelist (only ever halfway done with the goddamned writing process) that lives in Edgewater (Chicago) and frequently feels Underwater (everywhere). Tweet him so he stays afloat: @ryandalefeels.