How Not to Ouija, and Other Halloween Psychology Experiments for Idiots
rating: +16+x

“Why would you be wearing knife-point stiletto heels to a cabin in the woods?”

“Why would you be wearing a bodycon panel ruched dress?”

“When did trees get so sexual assault-y, anyway?”

The questions flipped back and forth around the living room, as did kernels of popcorn and the remote, idly held, volume turned up, down, channel flipped to cheers and boos. Finally, the threesome decided to watch a questionable slasher film.

Cooper was laying upside down on the sofa, managing to light the joint in his mouth and tap the ash into his hat, which had fallen off at some point. He listened to the girls point out all the flaws in the film, and critique how they would change things. Lazily, he watched the screen and concentrated on not burning his dried-out, bleach-blonde hair.

Marie dramatically slouched against her girlfriend with a huffed-out sigh. “I’m bored. This is boring. I hate this.” She stated, thematically drastic.

Rose rolled her eyes but minutes ago her own eyes had been fluttering closed as the film slowed to a crawling pace. “I bet they all die in the end. That’s how all these things end. Well, that’s how everything ends.”

Marie pushed herself up, pushing her long hair away from her face. “What if it’s not how everything ends? What if I tell you in this very house, there’s a ghost?”

There was a stillness in the air only interrupted by Cooper trying to correct himself into an upright position, keep hold of the joint, and still not burn himself. It was not successful, and he managed to stamp out the dropped roach, leaving another hole in the carpet.

“Shit.” He drawled, rubbing his eyes. “A ghost, Marie? What are we, 12?” He offered, with dismissive disdain.

“No, for real! Like, I was once in the kitchen, and I was looking for this pizza that we had ordered a couple of nights before, and I swear to god it was on the counter and then it just wasn’t!” Marie sounded suitably traumatised.

Cooper snorted. “So, someone cleaned up and that means you have a ghost?” He grabbed his hat and tapped the ash out and into the nearby bin before putting it back on his head. The hat, that is. Not the bin.

Marie shook her head. “Of course not! No one cleans up around here. Everything else was like it was the day before, only the pizza was missing. I had to have a sandwich instead. It was horrific.”

Rose tutted, stretching herself out. “Have you seen anything strange? Heard anything weird?” She asked, as she uncurled herself from the armchair in a way befitting the cat ear headband she was wearing, which was befitting of her t-shirt which stated, ‘This is My Halloween Costume’, which was befitting of her attitude towards the holiday.

Marie adjusted her cape. She was a superhero, she supposed. She had just grabbed the last costume at Tesco when the friends had decided at the last minute that Halloween was a fitting time to meet up, relax, and shoot the shit.

Time to celebrate the temporary freedom from their first year at university, studying psychology, art history and queer musicology, respectively.

“It’s a student house. It would be easier to list the normal things I’ve seen and heard. Everything is weird, nothing is clean, no one is here yet there’s always noise and mess and smells as if everyone is here all the time! It’s a fucking strange place, and now we have a pizza-loving ghost on top of everything else. I never thought I’d be jealous of you guys still living at home, but I am.”

Cooper snorted again. Marie rather thought he should be dressed as a pig, rather than as the Mad Hatter with a tie-dye, hemp leaf t-shirt on under his oversized jacket. “Yeah, home is where the fun is.” He said, dismissively.

“You can do whatever you want here! Smoke your lungs dry, try to dodge food poisoning in the kitchen and the bathroom, and see surprise nudity in your own living room. Can’t do that shit at home.”

Rose nodded in agreement. “Not so jealous of the junk food ghost but sure, gotta agree with Coops here, you got it made. Next year, I’m branching out into a student house of my own, and I can’t wait!”

Marie just shrugged. She didn’t want to admit to her friends that she kinda-maybe missed the organised cleanliness of home, having her own bathroom, and not coming downstairs to piles of strangers sleeping on every surface.

“Okay but listen. You know Fern, she of great parapsychology studying fame? I told her all about the ghost – “seemed to Rose and Cooper like ‘all about the ghost’ implied the Great Pizza Disappearance of ’21, but okay “— and she gave me directions on how to draw my own Ouija board because fuck me sideways if you think I’m giving my money to Hasbro. Humour me, right? It’s at least a Halloween-y thing to do, even if you don’t believe my bullshit.”

Cooper held his hands up in defence. “Look dude, I’m never going to say no to something involving a planchette. Who can say no to such a fancy word?” He asked, cocking an eyebrow and reaching behind his ear to produce a replacement joint.

Rose sighed. Her girlfriend knew she wasn’t going to disagree with the amusement such a mind-bending experience could give her. She’d probably even write a paper about it. ‘How Not to Ouija, and Other Halloween Psychology Experiments for Idiots.’

Marie clapped her hands, delighted.

“Well, in that case – should we try the Ouija board?”

“Yes, and also yes.”

Marie ran up to her room, Cooper lit his spliff, Rose looked up her ex on Insta and then noped out. Marie was much better – much more exciting and excited, reflecting against her own cynicism and realism against the flow of life.

A free spirit, a kite to her anchor, a flag to her stick-in-the-mud, a butterfly outside to her trapped indoor cat pouncing at the glass. Maybe that metaphor didn’t work, but Rose didn’t know, she wasn’t studying English for a good reason.

Marie soon came down with an uneven piece of cardboard that still had Amazon Prime tape on the back, but only in French and German. Cooper swiped an arm across the coffee table, and Marie stood in amazement that they had a coffee table because she had legit thought that it was a pile of books with glasses, grinders, ashtrays and red-fonted letters from the TV Licencing bastards balanced on top.

“We don’t have a planchette,” Marie announced with a dramatic sigh. “Fern said we don’t have to use a proper one, but still, maybe the ghost will be offended.”

Cooper raised an eyebrow again. “And what? It’ll start stealing pizza and your giant cookie desserts? What a shitheel!” He stated, with his own dramatic tone.

Marie glared at him, then grabbed a glass ashtray. Rose looked at her expectantly.

“Don’t smash it over his head. He can’t help that he’s a moron.” She advised her.

Marie tutted. “We’re using it as a planchette! I would never smash an ashtray over Coop’s head – where would we put our fags out?” She asked, sensibly.

The three crowded around the makeshift board. It looked like Marie had forgotten the alphabet midway through and had to correct a few of the letters with green Sharpie over the black, but it was fairly coherent considering she had been a determined drunk at the time of its design.

“Okay, so we all have to put just one finger on it. We have to ask the ghost – nicely! – to appear, and we have to make sure to dismiss the ghost before we remove our fingers.”

Cooper gave a lopsided grin. “It’s just polite to tell someone you’re going to remove your fingers. Right, Rose?” He teased his childhood friend, who elbowed him. “You twat.” She accused, making him grin more. “Well, you’d know all about that.”

Marie glared at the two. “Would you shut up? I’m trying to get serious here. Ghosts are like, old-school. They like manners and shit, they have routines for this sort of thing! So just put your finger on the thing, and we’ll start, and don’t take your finger off until I say. For real, Fern said there could be serious consequences otherwise.”

Rose and Cooper obediently put their index fingers on the planchette ashtray, and Marie closed her eyes because she had seen that they did that in all the movies. Maybe they needed candles? But all they had were trick-relighting candles in their odds-and-sods kitchen drawer, not the dramatic ivory pillars that she thought maybe a ghost would want.

“Uh, hello? Is there anyone there?”

Cooper snort-giggled, took another draw on his joint, and resisted the urge to say ‘Here, miss!’

Marie was starting to feel like a dumbshit.

“I’m Marie, and we mean you no harm! We just want to know more about you and maybe help you, if you want help?”

There was a ripple in the thinning veil between here and there, and Jac stumbled over his own two ghost feet as he was pulled, forced, through the portal to stand, invisible, above the coffee table.

The air was electric, and a shiver went through Marie's back. "Do you feel that?" She whispered to the others.

Jac supposed he was summoned, but there was no Ghost Education post-death, so he could only guess at this. He had expected his haunting to be grander, but he looked around the room to find abandoned textbooks, darts stuck in a defenceless wall, half-hearted graffiti and ominous, unknowable stains on the carpet.

He was stuck in student digs, forever, and somehow that was sadder than dying.

Marie tried again.

“If you’re here, all you have to do is move the… planchette. I’m sorry it’s not a real planchette. You were kind of a surprise, we didn’t have much time, Halloween is almost over, and Fern says – “

Rose was starting to quietly dislike Fern’s strong belief in ghosts, her degree, and her general existence.

“— that ghosts appear with more ease on this night. So, I hope you’re there, because I’m starting to feel pretty stupid talking to the air. Were you the one who stole the pizza?”

Jac grinned. The girl looked as stupid as she felt, and he was tempted to do nothing, but hey. Turns out death was pretty lonely, and the chance to interact with his living peers was far too tempting. They were living a different life than him — well, these days, living was very different from his own existence — but they were around his age, and around his generation.

Jac spun in the air, then twirled down toward the Ouija board to experimentally move it with his invisi-fingers.

Cooper’s mouth was agape as the planchette moved its way over to ‘yes’ with no pause. Rose looked on with more of a bland understanding of unconscious finger twitches and a bias to believe in spoopy things when the atmosphere was created. But Marie looked suitably proud as she opened her eyes to see the reply.

“Awesome! I mean, thank you for replying! So – who am I speaking to, please?” Marie felt very stiff and unnatural, stealing lines from old films, because somehow that’s how you spoke to ghosts.

J-A-C was spelt out with ease, and Cooper waited for the ‘K’, wondered if it was missing or if it was never there at all, then decided to stub out his joint for now. He needed to keep what few wits he had about him.

“Jac, nice to meet you. As I said, I’m Marie, this is Rose, and that is Cooper. We just wanna know some things, like… how did you die? If it’s not rude to ask, I mean.”

They always asked that in the films, and it was a 50/50 split that either the ghost calmly replied, or totally flipped the fuck out and destroyed the room around them. It was a good bet to make.

Rose started to question her understanding of unconscious bias just a little when the ghost spelt out quite a clear, if ominous, answer.

“Didn’t ‘Mind the Gap’.” Cooper put the sentence together, then grinned. “I knew they always warned you that for a reason!”

Marie gasped. “You died on the Underground? Could you tell us more?”

Jac absently did a twirl in the air as he ruminated on his death. It had been on the District and Circle line, and he had been fart-arsing about with his friends. Whistling through the tunnel, he knew South Kensington station was coming up, and Joe had started to wrestle in the crowded space.

Jac smirked and decided to slip out and then slip onto the next train that would come screeching along in just two minutes. Then he could sneak up on Joe on the escalator at their destination platform and scare the shit out of him.

As the doors pinged open, Jac looked back. ‘Mind the Gap’ echoed as always, but his concentration didn’t. He tripped through the said gap, stumbled, and fell on the concentrate platform.

He didn’t shed a drop of blood, but his brain rocketed back and forth and scrambled all the insides. He died how he lived – trying to spook his friends. He regretted nothing.

Apart from what he was being asked now.

“I didn’t die to spell shit out, dude.”

It came out to the three friends as a whisper on the wind – barely audible, yet they all heard it.

Jac grumbled to himself, using his fingers to rip open the veil to the second world.

“Next time, I’m gonna take their dessert as well.”

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