Laurelton, Rhode Island
THE ORNATE SCRIPT ON THE BOARD TWISTED in the candlelight, making the letters and numbers dance in my head. They were jumbled and indistinct, like alphabet soup. When Claire pushed the heart-shaped piece into my hand, I startled. I wasn’t normally so twitchy, and hoped Rachel wouldn’t notice. The Ouija board was her favorite present that night, and Claire gave it to her. I got her a bracelet. She wasn’t wearing it.
Kneeling on the carpet, I passed the piece to Rachel. Claire shook her head, oozing disdain. Rachel put down the piece.
“It’s just a game, Mara.” She smiled, her teeth looking even whiter in the dim light. Rachel and I had been best friends since preschool, and where she was dark and wild, I was pale and cautious. But less so when we were together. She made me feel bold. Usually.
“I don’t have anything to ask dead people,” I said to her. And at sixteen, we’re too old for this, I didn’t say.
“Ask whether Jude will ever like you back.”
Claire’s voice was innocent, but I knew better. My cheeks flamed, but I stifled the urge to snap at her and laughed it off. “Can I ask it for a car? Is this like a dead Santa scenario?”
“Actually, since it’s my birthday, I’m going first.” Rachel put her fingers on the piece. Claire and I followed her.
“Oh! Rachel, ask it how you’re going to die.”
Rachel squealed her assent, and I shot a dark look at Claire. Since moving here six months ago, she’d latched onto my best friend like a starving leech. Her twin missions in life were now to make me feel like the third wheel, and to torture me for my crush on her brother, Jude. I was equally sick of both.
“Remember not to push,” Claire ordered me.
“Got it, thanks. Anything else?”
But Rachel interrupted us before we could descend into bickering. “How am I going to die?”
The three of us watched the board. My calves prickled from kneeling on Rachel’s carpet for so long, and the backs of my knees felt clammy. Nothing happened.
Then something did. We looked at each other as the piece moved under our hands. It semi-circled the board, sailing past A through K, and crept past L.
It settled on M.
“Murder?” Claire’s voice was soaked with excitement. She was so sketchy. What did Rachel see in her?
The piece glided in the wrong direction. Away from U and R.
Landing on A.
Rachel looked confused. “Matches?”
“Mauling?” Claire asked. “Maybe you start a forest fire and get eaten by Smokey the Bear?” Rachel laughed, briefly dissolving the panic that had slithered into my stomach. When we first sat down to play, I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes at Claire’s melodramatics. Now, not so much.
The piece zigzagged across the board, cutting her laughter short.
We were silent. Our eyes didn’t leave the board as the piece jerked back to the beginning.
We waited for the piece to point out the next letter, but it remained still. After three minutes, Rachel and Claire withdrew their hands. I felt them watching me.
“It wants you to ask something,” Rachel said softly.
“If by ‘it’ you mean Claire, I’m sure that’s true.” I stood up, shaking and nauseous. I was done.
“I didn’t push it,” Claire said, wide-eyed as she looked at Rachel, then at me.
“Pinky swear?” I asked, with sarcasm.
“Why not,” Claire answered, with malice. She stood and walked closer to me. Too close. Her green eyes were dangerous. “I didn’t push it,” she said again. “It wants you to play.”
Rachel grabbed my hand and pulled herself up off the floor. She looked straight at Claire. “I believe you,” she said, “but let’s do something else?”
“Like what?” Claire’s voice was flat, and I stared right back at her, unflinching. Here we go.
“We can watch The Blair Witch Project.” Claire’s favorite, naturally. “How about it?” Rachel’s voice was tentative, but firm.
I tore my eyes away from Claire’s and nodded, managing a smile. Claire did the same. Rachel relaxed, but I didn’t. For her sake, though, I tried to swallow my anger and unease as we settled in to watch the movie. Rachel popped in the DVD and blew out the candles.
Six months later, they were both dead.
Rhode Island Hospital Providence, Rhode Island
I OPENED MY EYES. A PERSISTENT MACHINE BEEPED rhythmically to my left. I looked to my right. Another machine hissed beside the bedside table. My head ached and I was disoriented. My eyes struggled to interpret the positions of the hands on the clock hanging next to the bathroom door. I heard voices outside my room. I sat up in the hospital bed, the thin pillows crinkling underneath me as I shifted to try and hear. Something tickled the skin under my nose. A tube. I tried to move my hands to pull it away but when I looked at them, there were other tubes. Attached to needles. Protruding from my skin. I felt a tugging tightness as I moved my hands and my stomach slithered into my toes.
“Get them out,” I whispered to the air. I could see where the sharp steel entered my veins. My breath shortened and a scream rose in my throat.
“Get them out,” I said, louder this time.
“What?” asked a small voice, whose source I couldn’t see.
“Get them out!” I screamed.
Bodies crowded the room; I could make out my father’s face, frantic and paler than usual. “Calm down, Mara.”
And then I saw my little brother, Joseph, wide-eyed and scared. Dark spots blotted out the faces of everyone else, and then all I could see were the forest of needles and tubes, and felt that tight sensation against my dry skin. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. But I could still move. I clawed at my arm with one hand and ripped out the first tube. The pain was violent. It gave me something to hold on to.
“Just breathe. It’s okay. It’s okay.”
But it wasn’t okay. They weren’t listening to me, and they needed to get them out. I tried to tell them, but the darkness grew, swallowing the room.
I blinked, but saw nothing. The beeping and hissing had stopped.
“Don’t fight it, sweetie.”
My eyelids fluttered at the sound of my mother’s voice. She leaned over me, adjusting one of the pillows, and a sheet of black hair fell over her almond skin. I tried to move, to get out of her way, but I could barely hold my head up. I glimpsed two dour-faced nurses behind her. One of them had a red welt on her cheek.