Sometimes things just fall into place. I was thinking that – with all the Halloween ghost stories abounding in the blogosphere – I might just tell you a story, and then I decided I’d post something else this evening. A few minutes later, I was leaving a comment on Sher’s blog, and the word verification box was staring me in the face… it was asking my to type “ouiaj”. All things considered, I don’t think that’s a message I can really ignore… do you? So, the story then… and trust me, every word is true.
Thinking back, it feels like it was another life. So many years ago, another person occupying this body of mine. Still, it was me, and Gill, my partner at the time, was kneeling on the floor by my side. With us, and forming a circle on the floor, were about half a dozen of our friends, and in the middle of that human circle was a ouija board. The house, part of an old Victorian terrace adjacent to Hadley Wood, was dark and quiet, and although it wasn’t All Hallows Eve it was winter, and it was approaching midnight. The wind was rattling the old sash windows and causing the flames from the few candles in the room to dance, and the shadows moved as if they actually had some kind of life of their own. It was perfect, and we were scared.
To begin with, we just sat there waiting, and willing the glass to move. The questions were basic, just requiring a yes or no answer, and looking round I could see the concentration on my friend’s faces. We must have sat there for over an hour, and we were fast beginning to think that nerves and flickering candles alone weren’t going to be enough to forge that link to the spirit world we were all quietly yearning for.
The air, when it hit us, was like a cold breath that filled the room. Phil, who’s house we were in, said “Fuck it. The door must have opened downstairs.” Looking pale, even in the candlelight, he walked out the room, full of bravado, only to reappear a minute later with a puzzled look on his face, “Strange”, he mumbled, and sat down again. And so we started again. “Is there anybody there?”…
We watched with a mixture of fright and disbelief as the glass moved under our fingers. “Yes”, it spelt. We all looked at each other for even the slightest sign that the glass had been pushed by one of us, but it was evident that we were all just as shocked as each other. “Do you have a message for somebody here?” Again, the glass moved under the lightest of fingers. “Yes”, was the answer.
“Who is your message for?”, Phil asked, his voice now noticeably shaking as he spoke. Slowly, very slowly, the glass moved to the letters that spelt my name. I looked at Gill, and she stared back at me, eyes wide, disbelieving. I could feel the hair on my neck standing on end, and I looked around the circle, feeling all eyes burning into me. “What is your message?”, Phil asked, looking at me as he spoke.
We waited what seemed like an eternity, but thinking back it was probably no more than ten or fifteen seconds. But – as we were beginning to think it must have been somebody pushing the glass after all, it began to move again. And it spelt something that was utterly meaningless to me.
“Barry hex ill”.
I looked at Gill again. “What? 'Barry hex ill'... who the hell's Barry??” I looked at her hoping for some kind of revelation, but she shrugged her shoulders. “No idea”, she said. And after that, despite Phil, and then Val (his wife) repeatedly asking questions – asking for some kind of explanation – the glass never moved again.
We packed the ouija board away after a while, and all went downstairs. The lights went on, the drinks started flowing, and the truth is that we thought no more about it. It was as if the spell we’d been under just moments before was completely broken. And the next morning, when the phone woke me up a lot earlier than I’d have chosen, I could barely remember what we’d been feeling in that dark, cold room the night before. It was Mum, and I knew immediately that something was wrong.
“Mum, calm down and tell me what’s going on. What is it?” I asked her, trying the best I could to emerge from the deep sleep I’d been in seconds earlier. I waited for her to speak.
“I’ve got some bad news. I’m sorry to wake you up with it, but I thought you’d want to know.” I felt my stomach churn as I asked her again what was going on.
“It’s Uncle Barry. He had a stroke last night, around midnight… a bad one. And they don’t know if he’s going to pull through.”
Let me assure you that this story is true, down to the smallest detail. I’ve never forgotten the chill I felt at those words, or the look on Gill’s face when I put the receiver down and told her what Mum had said to me. And since then, I’ve never quite been able to say that I don’t believe…