The wooden floorboards creaked as he took a step forward. He was reminded of a time when he and his partner Roy had searched through a home in the night when a woman thought her dead sister was haunting her after a séance. Even though they knew she was unstable and imagining it, the two men had gotten the feeling like there could be a real ghost; like they’d almost expected to find one.
Now two years later it was an Ouija Board and a very spooked single mother that had them out searching a home in the middle of the night. And like two years before, John Gage had been the one to get the upstairs duty in the small two-story house, unfortunately with the lights inoperable due to a neighborhood power outage.
He shone his flashlight around a dark bedroom and caught sight of the twin canopy bed with the top sheet, blanket and bedspread pushed back from when the eleven-year-old girl of the house had bolted from the bed in a hurry, claiming to have seen a ghost.
John took another step forward, then grinned when he heard a low grumble.
“Hungry, are ya? How come you’re not downstairs?” he asked as he glanced over his shoulder in expectation of seeing his partner. But he wasn’t there.
He quickly turned around and scanned the area for the source of the noise.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
Nothing. . .
Suddenly he got an eerie feeling he was being watched.
“That’s just your imagination,” Gage told himself. “It was probably your own stomach ya heard. This ‘ghost’ stuff is just gettin’ to ya, man.”
They’d had a rash of responses to homes with worried parents over the past several months. Some were sure their son or daughter was possessed by the Devil after they’d caught them playing with an Ouija Board, a trend that was started by a very frightening movie released the December before, ‘The Exorcist’. Others were just certain the game had roused up a ghoul or ghost of some sort and it was free in the house. Most of the time the paramedics or their captain had to explain that it wasn’t part of the fire department’s job to handle such cases and advised the families to seek help elsewhere.
But with the single mother alone with her daughter, John and Roy felt they should stay and play along.
He hastily exited the room, the floorboards again creaking under his weight, and moved on to the next. There he stopped in the doorway and shone his flashlight around, then repeated the same process with the bathroom.
“Well, no ghost here.”
Satisfied he’d fulfilled his half of the promise to the mother, John headed for the steps.
“Johnny, you find anything?” Roy called out from the bottom of the staircase.
“No! It’s clear!”
He wasn’t about to mention that his own stomach likely spooked him. Roy would never let him forget it.
John trotted down the staircase, where he met up with his partner near the front door. “What about you? Did you. . .uh. . .find anything?”
“No. So I guess we can assure Miss Tyler that her house is ghost and ghoul free.”
“And that she might wanna keep the Ouija Board outta little Betsy’s hands.”
Once they’d left the home, John stared out the passenger window of the squad as he thought back to how he had felt like he wasn’t alone in the little girl’s room. If he’d been more of a believer in ghosts and such, he probably would’ve bought into his suspicions. However there was one oddity he couldn’t explain that was bothering him. If it was his stomach that growled earlier, why didn’t he feel hungry even now? And why did it just do it that once?
“You okay?” Roy wondered.
“Yeah.,” he turned his head and nodded. “Yeah, just tired.”
“I second that.” After a brief pause, Roy added with a nod toward a box between them, the Ouija Board in it. “Hey, I think it was a good idea for you to agree to take that when she asked.”
Johnny glanced down at it.
“I think so too.”
He hoped. He sure had no use for it, but at least this way it was out of the little girl’s hands and put her mother’s mind at ease. Now if he could just put his own at ease as well.
Soon back at the station, John lay on his side, his back toward Roy in the bed across from his. He didn’t want his partner to see he was still awake.
He’d seen the movie ‘The Exorcist’ and could certainly understand how some people could be so influenced by it, even months after its initial release. It was a powerful movie. And with Halloween just a few days away, it was even more so on many people’s minds.
But he’d never considered himself one of those types. Now despite his doubts, here he was wondering if he’d indeed had a brief encounter of sorts with something supernatural.
Man, you know better than that. . .
All he knew for sure was that it was going to be a long rest of the night unless he got some sleep.
In the very early morning hours the klaxons sounded and the dorm lights came on as the crew of Engine 51 was sent out on a call for a fire. Having been woken up as well, Roy yawned as he settled back down onto his bed while John went to the latrine, still in his sleep attire of blue boxer shorts and a white t-shirt. Unable to get a restful sleep, he’d been awake for awhile.
The dark-haired paramedic emptied his bladder, then proceeded to the sinks where he turned on one of the faucets and washed his hands. He bent down to splash some water on his face as well. John reached for a paper towel and began to dry his face and hands when he caught a quick glimpse of movement from behind him in the mirror over the sinks.
He quickly spun around, only to see he was alone in the room.
Maybe it was Roy just checkin’ to see where I am. . .
He absently tossed the balled up paper towel in the trash, turned off the light, then returned to the darkened dorm, one of the engine crew having turned off the brighter lights on their way out. John slowly made his way toward the chest-high brick divider that separated his and Roy’s beds from the captain’s.
He didn’t get a reply and as the beds came into view, he saw why. His partner was obviously already asleep.
John furrowed his brow and glanced around as he once again got the uncomfortable feeling he was being watched. His gaze traveled back to the entrance of the latrine. The paramedic took a quick glance at Roy, then started toward the other room, his steps methodical. When he reached the doorway, he very slowly peeked inside before entering. He scanned the dim room, but like before didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
“Get a grip, man. There’s nothin’ here,” Gage whispered to himself.
When he turned toward the doorway of the dorm again, John jumped slightly as he came face to face with the captain.
“Cap. . .!”
“Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Hearing the words spoken, he felt silly. Of course he hadn’t seen a ghost. As much as he’d started to wonder again, the captain was a reminder of the real world and that things like ghosts just didn’t exist to them. Especially not in the station.
The relief was overwhelming. He’d almost forgotten to ask the obvious question.
“What’re you guys doing back already?”
“It was a false alarm. Dispatch had us return before we even got a mile away.”
John nodded, just glad to have them back, though he couldn’t tell the captain or anyone else why.
As he settled into his bed again, John shuddered when he felt a sudden chill. He slipped down under the covers farther, then draped his left forearm across his eyes in hopes of getting more sleep.
Forty minutes before the morning tones sounded, Gage woke of his own accord. He turned from his right side onto his back and rubbed at his eyes with the backs of his fisted hands while his mouth opened wide in a yawn.
As he brought his hands down, John caught a glimpse of the door leading to the apparatus bay closing. Roy was still sound asleep, but when he sat up, John could see that both Chet and Marco’s beds across the way from theirs were empty.
He pushed back the covers and swung his legs over the side. With another brief yawn, Gage ran a hand through his mussed up hair, then stepped into his boots and turnout pants, pulling the suspenders up over his shoulders.
“I hope one of ‘em made coffee,” he muttered to himself. “I can sure use it.”
Much to his delight, once he was in the apparatus bay the aroma of fresh brewed coffee wafted through the air.
“Hope you didn’t drink all the cof --- fee,” John trailed off as he walked into the dayroom. He stopped abruptly when he saw Chet and Marco at the table with the Ouija Board in front of them.
“What’re ya doin’?”
“Just passing some time,” Chet offered. “Where’d this come from? You know?”
John nodded. “Of course I know. Roy and I brought it back last night. How else would it’ve gotten in the squad, Chet?”
Both men glanced at each other before each gave him a puzzled look. “What’re you talking about?” Chet wondered.
“The board,” John explained, motioning toward it. “We left it in the box on the seat.”
Once again the two eyed one another, then looked at him.
“I don’t know where ya left it, but it was here like this when we walked in.”
Marco nodded in agreement.
“Because. It couldn’ta gotten out of the squad on its own, now, could it?”
“Well, maybe Roy got up in the night and left it here.”
Again Marco nodded.
“Oh c’mon . . .why would Ro- - - Wait. . .” He narrowed his eyes. “I get it. Ha ha, very funny, guys.”
Chet once again exchanged a baffled look with Marco. “Whataya mean?”
Now more at ease since he was sure he had all the answers, John walked over to the stove where the coffee pot was still on a warm burner. “You got out the game, waited in the dorm till you knew I was awake.” He reached into a cupboard for a cup as he continued with, “Then you hurried back here so you could pull this little charade when I came in.”
“Hey, Marco and I’ve been in here for over twenty minutes, huh, Marco.”
“We have, Johnny.”
“Sure, what ever you say.”
“Look, I’ll prove it. I’ll ask the Ouija Board.” Chet quickly placed his finger tips lightly on the surface of the pointer. “C’mon, Marco. Put your fingers on it.”
“Chet. . .”
The fireman ignored the paramedic’s voice and continued on once Marco reached over and did as directed. “Oh Spirits of Ouija, are we playing a trick on John?”
“Chet, this is dumb.”
But all three found themselves watching as the pointer slowly made its way to the word ‘no’.
“Man, this is ridiculous,” John grumbled, silently scolding himself for even giving the small stunt any of his attention. “Of course you’re gonna make it say ‘no’.”
Chet looked at Marco. “Did I make it move?”
“How would I know?”
“Ya both could have.” John poured some coffee into his cup and took a sip as he leaned his backside against the counter. “That’s just a game. A lousy game.”
“I don’t know, Gage,” Chet said with exaggerated skepticism in his voice. “We’ve had an awful lot of people call the fire department that didn’t think it was.”
“Yeah, and look why they didn’t. They let a movie influence ‘em. Just like--”
He was interrupted by Chet’s imitation of the little girl’s voice from ‘The Exorcist’, along with his fingertips again on the pointer. “Captain How--”
“Okay, okay. I’ve just got one more question for it.”
Gage sighed. “And what could that be?”
“Oh Spirits of Ouija, does Johnny annoy you as much as he does me?”
“That’s it.” John set his cup on the counter, his lips pursed. He reached between Chet and Marco for the board. As he picked it up it tilted slightly and pointer slid on its own to ‘yes’. He stepped away with both items in his hands.
“Hey, where’re ya goin’ with it?”
“Never mind!” he called over his shoulder as he left the room.
Marco sat back and eyed Chet. “Well, if you wanted to get him worked up, you certainly did it.”
“Aw, he’ll get over it. He always does.”
“I just have one question for you.”
“If we didn’t get the game out of the squad, and he didn’t. . .and everyone else is still asleep. . .who did?”
Chet shrugged. “It could’ve been any of the others. . .one of ‘em could’ve gotten up and done it, then went back to bed.”
Marco hesitantly nodded in agreement, but it didn’t sound logical to him. “Should we ask?”
“Nah. If it was a prank, they’ll know they got us.”
Again Marco hesitantly nodded, but Chet didn’t sound too convinced himself.
Both men looked at the doorway John had just gone out of with the game, each feeling a little spooked.
Once in the apparatus bay, John ran into his partner, who’d just come around the front of the squad.
Roy looked at the game in his hands. “Where’re you going with that?”
“To the dumpster.”
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of it now.”
John looked down at the board game. “Nah.” He then returned his gaze to Roy. “I’m just tired of Chet playin’ with it. That’s all.”
“Ah. . . got it.”
“And Chet had it. Now he won’t anymore.” With that, John headed out toward the parking lot behind the station.
A slight smile played on Roy’s lips as he watched the younger man leave.
Only Chet would find a way to annoy him with that thing, he thought with a shake of his head.
Gage tossed the Ouija Board and its pointer into the dumpster that was located against the exterior back wall of the station.
“ ‘Good bye’ is right,” he said as he read the phrase off the board.
He eased the lid of the dumpster down, then walked away with a satisfied grin on his face.
The next hour before A-shift’s duty ended went without incident. The men were just assigned brief chores by their captain to keep them busy. When the relief crew of C-shift took over, the others all headed for their vehicles in the rear parking lot, then home for a twenty-four hour break.
When John arrived at his apartment building, he climbed out of his white Land Rover. As he went to close the driver’s side door, he noticed a corner of the Ouija Board showing from under the passenger side of the seat.
Chet . . .
He reached across and under for the board, then noticed the pointer was under the seat as well. Once he had the items in hand again, John glanced at the large dumpster at one end of the parking lot. He closed the door of his truck and trotted away.
The early part of the day had gone like any other could’ve for the paramedic. He took a shower to refresh himself before heading out on a few errands. When he got back home a couple of hours later, he put away two sacks worth of groceries he’d picked up, then gathered together his dirty clothes and went down to the laundry room on the ground floor.
With everything going normally, he’d been able to shrug off the somewhat strange night he’d had and again attributed it to his imagination getting the best of him.
After a couple of ventures up and down the steps between wash and dry loads, his clothes were finally done and ready to come out of two dryers. John opened one hatch and folded each piece in a so-so manner as he stacked them into his laundry basket.
Partially through the first batch, he heard the door to the room open and close. He quickly turned as he offered, “I’ll be outta your. . .way. . .in a. . .” No one was there.
Probably just someone checkin’ to see if the machines are available before they bring down their clothes.
John finished emptying the first dryer, then moved onto the next. But this time he found himself occasionally glancing around the room as he worked when he got that familiar sense of being watched. But he was clearly alone inside, and couldn’t see anyone at the one and only window. Everything appeared perfectly normal. However if someone had peeked in earlier to check for empty machines, they were certainly taking their time to return.
He quit folding and tossed the remaining clothes from the dryer into the basket in a heap, then picked up his belongings and hastily exited the room.
That’s enough for me.
A relaxing afternoon drive away from the city to get some shots with his camera sounded good to him.
As John drove down a sparsely populated street, he heard a shuffling sound behind him. A quick glance in the rearview mirror revealed nothing, but he caught a sudden motion in front with his peripheral vision and his gaze shot forward.
He swerved and slammed on the brakes. The sound of screeching tires filled his ears as the rear of the vehicle swung around. The Rover skidded to a halt partially on the side of the street, the passenger side just inches from a wooden telephone pole.
John immediately opened his door and scrambled out while two witnesses hurried to his aid.
“Where is she?” he asked, all the while looking around for the cause of his near accident.
“Are you okay?” one man inquired. “Christ, you’re lucky you didn’t hit the pole!”
But the paramedic had more than his own safety on his mind. “Where’d the old lady go?”
He nodded, still shaken up. “She was just in the street! I damn near hit ‘er!”
The two male witnesses looked at one another and shrugged. The first then stated calmly, “There was no old lady.”
“Yes there was. Right there.” He pointed to where he’d seen her. “She was dressed all in black with a black scarf on her head.”
“Buddy, I don’t know what you saw. . .or what you’re on. . . but there was no lady.”
John looked to the other man, who shook his head ‘no’. “He’s right. There wasn’t.”
The paramedic gave them a wary look.
I know what I saw. I *know* it. . .but where’d she go?
He looked around again. It was just the two men, a couple of other people now peering out of the few homes nearby to see what was going on, and himself. There was no old lady in sight.
Still bugged but with nothing more he could do, John started to climb back into his Land Rover when he recalled the strange noise prior to the sighting. Just out of curiosity, he peered over the back of the front seat. Gage’s eyes widened and lower jaw dropped. What appeared to be the tip of the pointer from an Ouija Board was visible from underneath his camping gear.
On the evening of their next duty, John told Roy all about his strange experiences as they returned to the station after a late night response to a ranch house on the outskirts of town. It was yet another Ouija Board related call and John was the first to speak up to inform the family they needed to contact someone else; the fire department couldn’t handle those kind of calls.
Though his partner had tried to figure out was bothering John several times since they’d come on duty, it had taken till now for the younger man to let on about what he’d seen. . .or not seen. . . over that fifteen hour period. Mostly because he just wasn’t sure how Roy would react. Now he was about to find out as he finished his story.
“By the time I opened the back door and pulled the camping stuff away, what ever it was, was already gone. Just disappeared. Like the old lady.” He couldn’t help but shudder slightly as he recalled the eeriness. “And I haven’t had any more strange things happen since. None. I think I’m gonna take it as a lesson to leave the Ouija Boards alone. . .including taking one off anyone else’s hands. . .and I’m gonna do just that. Leave ‘em alone, that is.”
“You know what I think?”
“I have a feelin’ your gonna tell me.”
Roy took a quick glance at him. “Well, you have to admit, we’ve had a lot of calls about stuff like this over the past several months. And you were tired the other night and said you hadn’t gotten much sleep when we got off duty. Plus it’s around Halloween; a perfect time for stuff like this to be on the mind. And the power of suggestion can be pretty strong.”
“So I only thought I saw what I saw, felt what I felt and heard what I heard is what you’re sayin’.”
“It makes more sense than the alternative.”
“But how do you explain the Ouija Board when I got to my apartment?”
“Chet could’ve put it in and just won’t admit it.”
John nodded as he gave it thought. It was true Chet had denied putting the game in there, but he often denied a lot of pranks and blamed them on his alter ego, The Phantom. However he hadn’t even tried that approach with this and it just seemed odd to Gage. But Roy was right. The other explanation sounded bizarre.
Or it coulda’ been one of the *other* guys. . .
Suddenly something just over a block ahead to the right caught his attention.
“Uh. . .Roy. . .does your power of suggestion see what mine sees? Because if it does, I think you might just wanna make a quick turn here and take our suggesting selves on another route.”
“Hmm?” The senior paramedic looked at what his partner was pointing to. His mouth opened slightly at the sight. There on the sidewalk was a white glimmering image in a human form of sorts.
Roy did as suggested, making a sharp right turn for a detour. Neither he nor John had any desire to go near the apparition. Some things were better left alone.
I was 14 at the time, but I remember the slight frenzy 'The Exorcist' caused. Some people actually started believing they were possessed. It's a scary and effective movie even after all this time.
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