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The Seance

Tapping into the Ouija board like a phone line to ghosts

One month before college graduation with a blank future looming, I accepted a coworker’s invitation to a séance. She made it sound like such a good idea.
    “A ghost saved my cousin’s life,” Barb insisted. “She warned him against a cross-country bike trip where his friend was hit by a semi-truck two days into the journey.”
    She said that ghosts were omnipresent and omniscient. They were trapped souls looking for resolution to their own problems, tapping into the Ouija board like a phone line.
    “Most are helpful, but you have to be careful,” she warned. “I heard about one girl who got too friendly with an evil spirit who followed her home and assaulted her.” Her eyebrows arched suggestively. “She was stupid, though — came on to him and then forgot to say goodbye when she got scared. It’s like hitchhiking. Sometimes you don’t know who you’re riding with until it’s too late.”
    I was skeptical but polite. Barb was experienced and knew what she was doing. What was the worst that could happen?
    Nothing about her apartment bespoke séance as we sat on her floor that night sipping wine, but I almost left when she mentioned that our boss might stop by.
    “Relax,” she said. “Bill’s just curious and lonely. You know he just came out of the closet and left his wife?”
    I did not. They were married 20 years with two kids.
    She explained the board’s layout: the alphabet, numbers 1 to 9 and the words yes, no, hello and goodbye. Then she had me rest my fingertips lightly on the planchette, the pointer, with her.
    “Do not exert pressure or try to direct it,” she said. “And don’t let go. That’s very important.”
    Then we began. “Is anyone there?” she asked.
    The planchette inched toward Yes and then quickly scanned goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, tugging our fingers with magnetic force.
    “Okay, goodbye. You can go,” Barb said, and it stopped.
    I was terrified and thrilled. “Do it again,” I said.
    Fishing for contacts was like taking a Sunday stroll where you meet dozens of passersby. Some nod, some stop to chat and some want to bend your ear. A few gave their names and verified personal trivia to establish credibility.
    Then we caught Reginald.
    Hello, hello, hello, he begged.
    “Have we lived past lives?” I asked.
    “What was I?”
    GEISHA, he spelled out, channeling a childhood memory of a cherished postcard.
    “How about me?” Barb asked. “What was I?”
    It was like playing Twenty Questions. “Will I find a job? Love? Happiness?” I urged.
    Once we’d exhausted the topic of ourselves, asking about him seemed the polite thing to do. When Reginald said he was from 19th century London, I pictured a gentleman in top hat and opera cloak stepping from his brougham into the evening fog. Then he elaborated. He was a thief, an addict, a bisexual hustler still mourning the man who’d left him for a shotgun wedding.
    IS BILL THERE? he asked.
    Bill who’d said he might join us? How did Reginald know? Had he been eavesdropping? Mind reading? Was it really possible they’d been lovers in another life and that Bill had renounced his gay lover once before for a sham marriage?
    We tried to call Bill but got his answering machine. “Get over here now,” Barb urged. “Someone wants to talk to you.” She hung up and came back to the board.
    “What did you do when you were alive, Reginald?” she asked cautiously.
    We both flinched, momentarily disconnecting from the planchette before willing our hands back in place. Walking away was not an option.
    “Do you mean to harm us?” Barb asked.
    Even so, we told him goodbye, and I decided not to wait for Bill to arrive. Just then I felt safer walking the empty dark streets alone.