photographed by Craig McDean for Harper’s Bazaar US March 1995
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The One He had Forgotten — Part Six — Archive
The empty wine glass made a soft thunk as Alex placed it on the paper covered coffee table. Normally pushed off to the side against the wall, and normally covered in odds and ends that were constantly making their way in and out of their collective purses and shoulder bags, it felt strange to have it resting in the middle of the room. It felt even stranger to be seated on either side of it, sitting on their folded legs, staring at it expectantly. The room was dim ̶ the only source of light coming from a particularly obnoxious streetlamp and the muted television.
In a soft voice, Alex murmured, “You can use a wine glass in the place of a planchette. Really anything that moves across the paper easily will work.”
They had available to them two choices: go the children’s store a number of blocks away and ask very awkwardly where the brand name Ouija boards were located, or make their own, which was ̶ like most things ̶ easy enough to do in the era of quick Internet searches.
“It just moves where you want it to move,” Margot said in response. She was sober, but she was exhausted. The night before had been…she sighed. It had been one nightmare after the other ̶ awful faces piled against more awful faces. Ominous voices half screeching, half whispering threats to her. Warnings maybe?
She placed a finger on the glass and moved it slowly. “I mean, that’s what I’ve always heard. That’s what my mom told me when I was little. You move it around, but you don’t know you’re moving around because you really, really, really hope it’s someone from beyond the grave trying to talk to you. Or it’s your friend just fucking with you.”
She looked over their improvisational Ouija board, and ̶ perhaps because she had just mentioned her ̶ remembered all the times her mother had encouraged her to improve her lettering. They had gone with a QWERTY format (assuming most ghosts that would bother them in a recent enough apartment building would have learned touch typing), and Margot had just barely managed to squeeze some of the letters in.
“Hello” it said to the left ̶ “Goodbye” to the right. She had doodled in a rather lopsided drawing of the moon in the middle. It had a face, and the eyes were closed. She didn’t read anywhere that she needed that…it just made it feel a bit more right. The numbers zero through nine were on the board, and finally toward the bottom “Yes” and “No.”
She stared at the board a while, then looked up to Alex. “I don’t really feel like you’re trying to mess with me, and I know I’m not going to intentionally be moving it. I just don’t think I’ve ever heard of any definitive instances of accurate Ouija board usage. Like, come on here, you’re a chemistry major.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m trying to figure out if there is a ghost in my apartment, not get a research grant. I don’t need to prove this is real to anyone but myself.” She leaned in across the table. “Besides, I haven’t seen anything yet, and if there’s anything to be seen I want to see it.”
“What if I’m not seeing anything either? What if I’m going crazy?”
Alex smiled. “Then I won’t really know that until we try, will I?” In a final sort of way, as if to cut off any further discussion ̶ through which they would likely talk themselves out of even trying to contact the dead through a makeshift Ouija board ̶ she placed her fingers delicately on the base of the glass and stared across the table at Margot. “Come on, let’s ask it a question.”
Margot looked around the room, her eyes lingering in the direction of her bedroom, before they returned to the table. Slowly, she placed her fingers on the glass beside Alex’s. The glass was cold. Her jaw felt stuck, and her heart was starting to beat faster. “This is just a stupid game,” she thought to herself before she summoned the will to ask: “Is there a spirit in the room?”
She wondered what it would feel like. Would the glass dart out from beneath her fingers, flying across the board? Would she be able to hold on, or would she lose her grip? Would the glass then cease to move? Would she be able to tell if it were Alex pulling it along ̶ a certain slight tug that always seemed to originate from her side of the table?
“Are you here?” she tried.
A sudden tug toward the “Yes” in the left corner. And it was a tug ̶ a definite pull, where if Alex had been responsible for the motion it would have been a push. Her thoughts split suddenly in a panic ̶ at the same time the realization washed over her that she couldn’t blame Alex for anything that might happen on that board, the fear hit her that Alex had no way of debunking what was happening. For all she could tell, Margot was moving the glass.
She tried to think of a question quickly, something she couldn’t know the answer to ̶
“Who are you?” Alex asked.
Then: “A ̶ S ̶ P ̶ I ̶ R ̶ I ̶ T”
“That’s vague,” Margot replied. “Who are you. Why are you bothering me? What do you want?”
“One question at a time, Mags.”
“She doesn’t believe me,” she decided, then asked: “Who are you?”
“I ̶ F ̶ O ̶ R ̶ G ̶ E ̶ T”
“A ̶ N ̶ G ̶ R ̶ Y ̶ No ̶ C ̶ O ̶ N ̶ F ̶ U ̶ S ̶ E ̶ D ̶ No ̶ A ̶ W ̶ O ̶ M ̶ A ̶ N ̶ A ̶ P ̶ E ̶ R ̶ S ̶ O ̶ N ̶ A ̶ N ̶ G ̶ R ̶ Y ̶ No ̶ No ̶ No”
The wine glass ceased to move. Margot looked up at Alex, expecting a sort of incredulous, accusing glare ̶ “How dare she move it so obviously?” she expected to hear, expected to see on her face. But instead there was confusion, fear. Seeing something fairly similar to what she was experiencing on Margot’s face, she said very quietly. “I wasn’t moving it either.”
She was going to reply, but then the glass began to move again, and her eyes darted back to the board. It was moving so quickly now that she had to mouth the letters to herself to keep track of them. It occurred to her only then that they should have found a way to write these messages down as they occurred.
“I ̶ D ̶ I ̶ D ̶ N ̶ T ̶ W ̶ A ̶ N ̶ T ̶ T ̶ O ̶ D ̶ I ̶ E”
“I didn’t want to die,” Alex said aloud, her voice still quite hushed. Her eyes were wide and starting to water.
“I ̶ T ̶ R ̶ U ̶ S ̶ T ̶ E ̶ D ̶ No ̶ No ̶ No ̶ D ̶ O ̶ N ̶ T ̶ T ̶ R ̶ U ̶ S ̶ T”
In a thin, wavering voice, Margot whispered, “How did you die?”
The glass remained still, yet the air was static with an uncomfortable energy. She looked across the table over to Alex, who lifted her gaze. “What’s happening?” she mouthed.
“I don’t ̶ “
Suddenly, the glass began to move again, but this time erratically. It would dart across the board, then pause, then go across and make small circles. Sometimes it landed on letters, and sometimes it didn’t ̶ the letters that she had time to pay attention to were seemingly gibberish.
And then all of the lights went out.