I was standing in the doorway to my best friend’s bathroom. It was three in the morning, and I was struggling to stay awake. Traci had just started having seizures not long before this sleepover. They were terrifying things involving her falling to the floor and thrashing. She was going to the hospital the next morning for a test to determine the cause, and because she had to sleep for the test, she had to stay up all night. I had volunteered to stay the night with her to keep her company and help her stay awake. Being the homeschooled kid that I was, I could do this on a weeknight and sleep the rest of the next morning and afternoon away.
It would be a joke to say that I wasn’t as young as I once was, but that’s how I felt that night. I was around fourteen at this point, and my carefree middle school days of staying up all night were long gone. Still, I felt terrible for the forty-five minutes I had fallen asleep on the couch already. I had promised to stay up with Traci, although it didn’t seem like she needed much help. She had always been better at staying up than I was, even back in our middle school prime. She was sitting at one of the house computers watching music videos and reading fanfiction as I wearily dragged my sleep heavy body to the bathroom.
I had always been afraid of this bathroom, but as I half-stumbled there now, my fears were the last thing on my mind. I reached through the doorway and flipped on the light, waiting to see if any cockroaches reacted to the change. I blinked a few times as my eyes adjusted to the light’s harshness after being in the softer light of the computer room. As always, my focus immediately went to the frosted glass window that was situated awkwardly behind the toilet. I hated that window, but I had gotten used to it over the years. This time was different though. This time, my whole body felt as though it had been dunked into cold water.
I was twelve-years-old when I met Traci. I already had a best friend at the time, but he was my mom’s best friend’s son and, when you’re a twelve-year-old girl, it’s hard to stand up in a room of peers and say that your best friend is an eleven-year-old boy. I knew, because by that time I had done it, and I had been laughed at.
So, at age twelve, I finally met my best female friend. I thought the girl who introduced us was my best friend, but I was wrong. At that age, in 2003, we called people like her “users” like it was an official title. Her name was Lauren, and there were only two good things that came out of our long and educational friendship: I learned how to stand up for myself, and I met Traci.
Traci and I had many things in common. In fact, we were more alike than she was with her real twin. For starters, we shared a name, although mine was spelled with a “y” and hers with an “i.” This was one reason we took on nicknames. It seemed like the coolest thing ever to name ourselves after Sailor Moon characters, which I think says a lot about the era we were teenagers in. She was Raye. I was Ami. We were both very short. We both had the same shade of brown hair. We were both very pale. We were both outsiders. And we were both fascinated by ghosts.
If it’s true that the feeling of being frightened bonds people, then it’s no wonder that Traci and I became such fast friends.
“If you stay awake and you’re really quiet,” Traci told me the first night I stayed over at her house, “you can hear a scratching sound on the bathroom window. My sister Brandy has heard it ever since she was a little kid. One morning, she woke up and there was a dead frog stuck to the outside of the window.”
Even at the age of twelve, I was afraid of getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. There were still times at home where I got so scared that I woke my dad up to walk back to my room with me. Naturally, I hated that bathroom window from the very first time I saw it. It was frosted so you could see nothing but light in or out, but it was positioned right behind the toilet and there was no curtain. Turning my back on it to use the toilet made the hairs on my arms stand up. As if getting up alone to pee wasn’t creepy enough.
I didn’t experience anything that first night though. Instead, I came away with a new best friend and the feeling of finally fitting in somewhere.
That summer we met our other best friend, Maryanne, and the three of us became inseparable. We spent every weekend together, sometimes at my house or Maryanne’s, but most of the time we went to Traci’s trailer. Her family lived in Terry, Mississippi. Terry is a very small town. When I was younger it didn’t seem special to me. It was a little eerie at night, but what small town in Mississippi isn’t, especially once the streetlights come on and the mists start to roll in and everything is silent. As the years passed, I disliked going there more and more until, by adulthood, I avoided it as much as I possibly could. Just setting foot in that town felt wrong somewhere deep in my gut, and the feeling didn’t fade until I got onto the interstate heading back into Jackson. I thought I was imagining the feeling until I spoke to some friends recently. They felt the exact same way.
Traci lived on a private plot of land deep in Terry. To get to it, you had to drive through the city itself and turn down a road that seemed dark even during the day. Once you crossed the train tracks, you passed two other houses where her relatives lived and continued down a dirt road until you reached the very back of the property. Her trailer was the last one on the land, and behind it was nothing but a pond and a field of young pine trees that stretched as far as I could see. Sometimes at night we would sit outside and look at the stars. We watched many a meteor shower out there. Being private land in a small, quiet town, there was very little light pollution. Standing in her yard at night staring out into that field felt like being at the beach and looking out on the dark ocean. It could go for miles and I would never know. We felt like we were the only people in the world.
It was at Traci’s house that we created our first and only Ouija board. At this point in my life, I can’t say what piqued our interest in Ouija boards. Until I started hanging out with Traci and Maryanne, I don’t think I even knew what one was.
We used an old gameboard that Traci found buried deep in her closet and some white fingernail polish. We painted the letters onto the back of it with painstaking care, forming the alphabet as well as “yes” and “no” with our faces close to the board and the smell of fingernail polish burning our noses. I wrote most of the letters because they claimed I had the nicest handwriting. When Traci’s twin, Staci, wasn’t paying attention we stole a lens from an old pair of her glasses. Staci would get furious at us when we messed with her stuff and stealing something as personal as glasses was a serious offense. We were terrified that she would realize but, to this day, I don’t think she knows what we did. The lens became our planchette. The board felt very cobbled together, but Traci insisted that homemade boards are more powerful. We had each put a little of ourselves into it by creating it from scratch.
The first time we used the board was at my house, and we really set the scene. We dimmed the lights in the room and lit candles. We closed the curtains and waited until my parents were in bed before we played. We each placed a finger on the eyeglass planchette and held our breaths and watched.
“Is anyone there?”
Ever so slowly, the planchette moved to “yes.” The candles flickered as we each finally released a breath. After a few more questions we relaxed enough to accuse each other of moving the planchette on purpose.
“Stop moving it!”
“Well I’m definitely not moving it.”
“Are we doing this right? Do you like the candles?”
The planchette moved to “no.”
“Is the smoke too much? Maybe it’s making it hard for him to communicate.”
The planchette moved to “yes.” We blew out the candles and continued in almost total darkness.
My experience with the Ouija board isn’t anything like what is portrayed in the overdramatic horror movies. No one was possessed, and we didn’t have a malevolent spirit hunting us down. Nothing moved in the house, and we didn’t have nightmares that kept us awake night after night. Instead, we believed without a shred of doubt that the planchette was moving on its own. Or rather, that something was moving it for us. There was one ghost we talked to every time we used the board, and he became our secret friend. He especially liked Maryanne. I wish now, thinking back, that I could remember his name. It was something generic, like Steve, or James, which is probably why I can’t remember. I texted Traci and Maryanne recently, and they can’t remember either. In all the memories that have come to the surface, his name seems to have been collectively wiped from our minds.
It was a thrilling adventure for us every weekend to wait until Traci’s family went to bed before pulling out the board. She knew instinctively that her family would disapprove. My parents didn’t care, and Maryanne lived only with her dad, who I doubt knew what was going on with his daughter most of the time, although not for a lack of trying. Maryanne was a loose cannon at that age, purposely “forgetting” to call her father on the weekends. Playing with the board felt more taboo at Traci’s house, making its intrigue all the stronger.
For a long time, we didn’t encounter anything that felt sinister. The ghost became a fourth member of our little group, entertaining us when we were bored and giving a group of outsiders a secret to bond us. It was around this time that we made our biggest mistake with the Ouija board. I don’t remember which one of us had the brilliant idea to paint a pentagram onto it, but after we did, we couldn’t get in touch with our ghost anymore. Instead, when we tried to communicate using the board, the planchette would only repeat “666.”
Since my childhood I’ve done a small amount of research into Ouija boards. According to Scott G. Eberle in Psychology Today, there is a reflex called “ideomotor action.” This is a part of our subconscious that causes us to move the planchette without even realizing it. Naturally, when we first met our “ghost,” we kept contacting him over and over because he was who we expected to speak with. When we painted the pentagram, we expected a sinister result, and therefore were unable to speak to our ghost anymore. Of course, at the time we weren’t looking for a logical explanation. We were fully invested in the Ouija board and were convinced that we had summoned something that kicked our ghost off the board.
After we lost our main form of communication, we started exploring other ways to talk to our ghost. We began freewriting, which involved asking questions and allowing the spirits to “guide” our hands to write answers. As strongly as I believed in the Ouija board, I was skeptical of the freewriting. I felt like I was simply writing the responses I wanted to get, but Traci and Maryanne were invested in this new form of communication. However, freewriting did bring about an incident that I still can’t explain. There are a few experiences from this time in my life that I can’t explain away, and this was one of them.
We were hanging out at Traci’s house for the afternoon and wanted to listen to one of her CDs. We couldn’t find the remote to the stereo, and so we had pulled all the cushions off the couch looking for it. Feeling lazy when it didn’t turn up, we left the cushions on the floor and sat on them to do some freewriting. Traci put her CD in the stereo and adjusted the volume before sitting down.
“Prove that you’re here,” I said, the other two taking notice and waiting for a response. “Change the volume on the music.”
I don’t think any of us expected anything to happen, so we were all startled when the music suddenly got loud. We all looked toward the stereo in surprise, thinking that we must be imagining things, but Traci’s dad yelled at us from the other room to turn the music down. Maryanne got up and turned it down at the stereo. Because we were sitting on the floor, we knew that none of us could be sitting on the remote.
How was that? Appeared on my paper.
There were other strange things that would happen in that house late at night besides the scratching on the bathroom window, which, by this point, I had heard through the wall of Traci’s room. We almost always stayed up late into the night on the weekends. It didn’t take long for us to realize that when we stayed up that late and were very quiet, we could hear a car pull into the driveway of Traci’s house and see its headlights on the closed blinds of her room. Car doors would slam, and we could hear the sound of people talking. We were always too afraid to open the blinds and look out. There was no reason for someone to be outside at that time on private property, and it was strange that it was consistently at the same time every night, and only if we stayed quiet and turned off the lights.
There were a few strange incidents that happened after we painted the pentagram onto the board, such as lights turning on and off when no one was near the switch. One time, the experiences even followed Maryanne to her house, leaving her very shaken up. She was alone — as she often was when her father was at work — and sitting in the computer room when, suddenly, a bloodcurdling scream came from the back room of the house. The room had been empty since her sister moved out years before, but the screaming was undeniably inside the house.
Naturally, Maryanne ran out of the house with the phone in hand. This was during the age of dial up internet, and she had left the computer signed in, meaning that she had to run back into the house to yank the internet cable out of the wall. She told me that she tried calling her neighbor, her dad, Traci, and me. None of us answered and she ended up waiting outside until her father came home. None of us ever heard the sound again, but needless to say, we avoided that back room when we went to her house, and eventually we began to shy away from using the Ouija board.
At first, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I thought that maybe my sleep heavy brain was creating images in front of my eyes. There was so much wrong with the scene in front of me. It took me several seconds before I could make my legs move again. When the blood finally rushed back into my body, I bolted, forgetting entirely about my full bladder.
“A face,” I managed to stammer out to Traci, who was still sitting in front of the computer, entirely oblivious to the fact that my whole outlook on the world had just changed.
“What?” she asked, turning away from the music video she had been watching.
“There was a face at the window. The bathroom window. And the scratching. I heard it. I saw it.”
Startled, the first thing Traci said was, “Don’t tell my mom. She’ll open the door and go look outside.”
For the rest of the night I sat on the couch. I didn’t fall back asleep. I sat curled into a tight ball, trying to make myself as small as I could. As I watched the dark windows in the computer room, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had seen. The frosted glass in the window kept any clear features hidden from me, which I am half thankful for. As curious as I am, I don’t think I want to know what kind of features could exist on such a bloated, vaguely human shaped head. I don’t want to know what kind of fingernails would make the scratching sound I heard as the hand moved against the window. I don’t want to know what kind of creature would be tall enough to peer into a window that I couldn’t reach from outside even if I was standing on my toes.
The next morning, I left early. Traci’s mom was taking her to the hospital for her test, and her dad was taking her sisters to school and then me to my house. The sun was barely rising, turning everything into a sort of flat colored haze. There was a mist hanging over the lake, and the sky over the field was just beginning to turn pink. It was a beautiful morning.
As we headed to the cars, I glanced behind me at the bathroom window. Just as I had remembered, it was too tall for any human to reach without some kind of ladder. There were no trees anywhere near it that could have scratched it or even reflected against it. I felt chilled all over again and hurried to the car. My view of the place had changed overnight. Our games were no longer games. I don’t know if we had released something by meddling into things we shouldn’t, or if what I had seen was something that existed here long before Traci and I were born. Was it attached to the trailer itself? I didn’t know it at the time, but in another year Traci’s family would buy a new trailer and place it almost in the same spot. The old trailer would sit for months, an empty shell, until it was picked up and taken away. The activity stopped at that point. We still played with the Ouija board, but I never saw the face again. As I grew older, the memory became hazier, but never left me entirely. I remembered it most vividly when I was old enough to drive and would walk to my car alone at night after a late visit at Traci’s. A few years ago, when Traci moved away from Terry with her fiancé and two children, I breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to go back there to visit her anymore.
I can’t say if I believe in the Ouija board now. My rational mind tells me that there’s no way it could be true, but the memories I still can’t explain linger in the back of my mind. I haven’t been able to make myself get rid of the board. It is still hidden away somewhere in my childhood bedroom. I know I will come across it when cleaning out that room, and I don’t know what I’ll do with it when I find it. Legend has it that if you get rid of an Ouija board, it will always find its way back to you. As long as I know where it is, I can tell myself that my memories are just the product of the overactive imaginations of children. But what if I get rid of it and it comes back?
Eberle, Scott G. “The Ouija Board Explained.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 16 May 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/play-in-mind/201205/the-ouija-board-explained
Tracy Pitts lives in Jackson, MS. By day, go visit her at the Mississippi Children's Museum. By night, she can be found at the local coffee shop either writing or playing Dungeons and Dragons. She is a student in the Mississippi University for Women's low-residency Creative Writing MFA program.