Ouija Board

by Brendan Stephens

My sister was terrified of ouija boards, but she wanted to talk to our little brother more. I let her pick which board to channel through. I had a bunch. She was still Christian, so she didn’t choose my favorite: the one with the Baphomet that had a faux-bone planchette. Instead, she went with one that had a smiling sun and moon that looked like 1930’s sailor tattoo flash. It was almost as if she thought that God might give her a pass for conjuration because the board was less satanic.

It’s not like it mattered one way or another. Spirit boards are all unconscious cognition, a couple of brains expecting movement guides the hands where it wants without any single person feeling responsible. I didn’t believe in spirits or witchcraft or magic or God anymore. Not since he died. But yeah, I had joined the aggressively atheistic Satanic Temple to piss off Christians, specifically my Evangelical family. And really, there’s no denying the beauty in pentagrams, goat heads, and inverted crosses. Even back when I said constant prayers and read the Bible cover-to-cover, I had already discovered everything looked better in black, going to the Church lock-in wearing eyeliner so thick that I looked like a panda.

We both put our hands to the planchette, and I could feel her fingers trembling through the cheap wood—either balsa or pine.

I asked if our brother was in this room.

The planchette moved a smidge. Then it beelined for the yes.

Her eyes were globes, and she asked the question all first-timers ask: if I was moving it. I told her I didn’t. I didn’t say that I didn’t have to, we both moved it.

I asked him if it hurt.


She asked if he had a full life.


I asked if he had any regrets.


She asked if there was a message he wanted to give us.


I asked why he did it.

No response.

She asked if he was in heaven.

The planchette drifted towards yes, but I suddenly resisted the movement, my fingers no longer resting. I pushed towards no. Never mind that I didn’t believe in any of this. Not because he was in hell, but because he now lacked existence as much as if he had never been born. Nothing. He was nothing. I suddenly regretted even humoring her. I needed to force my sister to see the blank reality that I saw.

But, I couldn’t force it. I pushed so hard that my forearms burned, but the best I could manage was to keep the planchette still.

“Are you forcing it?” I asked her this time.

“No. Are you?”

For a second I thought maybe he was out there, guiding my hand, that maybe eternity could be grasped. But her fingertips were as red and her knuckles were as white as mine were from pressure. We were arm wrestling.

Both of us tried to make the other relent, his delicate soul caught between us.

Brendan Stephens is a PhD student at the University of Houston. He is the recipient of an Inprint Donald Barthelme Prize, and his work has appeared in Epoch, Southeast Review, Carolina Quarterly, and elsewhere. Currently, Brendan is the assistant online fiction editor for Gulf Coast.