In my hometown, there is a unique shop of oddities called “HexWorks” that I frequent. It’s an old-world boutique that specializes in niche products that I’d describe as being vintage-style with a modern spin. Their items include cloaks, pocket watches, lapels, bizarre art prints, lavish jewelry, and Victorian home decor, among other curiosities. Let’s just say it’s a great place to visit if you’re ever putting together a steampunk cosplay.
HexWorks is, without a doubt, my favorite place to window shop, but I rarely leave with anything. The prices are high, rightfully so, and though I love the selection, I can’t really say I need anything they have to offer. It would be different if I were a convention-goer or financially stable enough to justify such luxury purchases, but alas, I am neither. Instead, I relax in the shop’s tranquil atmosphere and drum up business for them whenever I get the chance to talk about the place. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
One day, however, a new product arrived at Hex – one that I couldn’t help but gush over. There, sitting on an easel behind the store’s front window, was a large, hand-made, one-of-a-kind Ouija board. The woodwork was beautiful, and the text was striking. It was crafted so elegantly that I couldn’t help but be captivated by it. I had to know where it came from and how much it was going for.
Curious as ever, I made my way into the shop, walked right up to the owner, and inquired about the board’s origins. He told me it was a new piece sent to the shop by a friend of a friend who had inherited it from a relative. It was an heirloom that had been in this person’s family for many years, passed down from generation to generation. Too spooked by the board to continue the tradition, the man donated it to HexWorks.
The more the owner and I talked about it, the more I wanted the board for myself. I was never big on the occult or the paranormal, but it was too beautiful a piece to pass up. It was something I wanted for no other reason than to say I owned it. It would be a conversation piece and an item I would proudly show off to my friends and family. The downside? The owner wanted $500 for it.
After a few rounds of haggling with the owner, we came to an agreement. He would put the Ouija board aside for me, and I would make weekly payments until it was paid off. He even offered me a slight “friends and family” discount for being a regular at the shop. After all was said and done, I would be paying $432. That was still a hefty price tag, but I was grateful for the compromise and gladly agreed to the conditions.
A grueling nine weeks later, I was the proud owner of my very own spirit board. It came in an equally well-crafted, wooden chest, upon which the word “Ouija” was etched, along with what was presumably the year it was made, 1913. Upon opening it up at home, I noticed a few extras that came with it.
Inside the chest, alongside the board, was an ivory planchette, an empty picture frame, and a small, faded pamphlet titled “User Manual.” The pamphlet’s contents consisted of diagrams and instructions over-explaining the use of the board. It more or less boiled down to “place your hands on the planchette and wait for it to move.” What I found peculiar was a section towards the back of the manual with a heading that read “Cheat Sheet.”
It went like this:
Want a simpler way to see your loved ones in the afterlife? Fear not! We have just the solution. Introducing the Ouija board cheat sheet! With this easy-to-follow guide, you’ll be able to see those bereaved from you and know that they’re okay. Simply follow these instructions:
- Place the frame included in your kit directly in front of the board in an upright position.
- Choose one of the following 29-character sequences and place your planchette over the letters and numbers accordingly. The year in which your chosen loved one was born is represented by the four question marks at the start of the sequence. The year in which they passed is represented by the four question marks at the end.
- Be sure to visualize the person in your mind as you move the planchette across the board. If done correctly, a still image of your loved one should appear within the frame, however briefly.
This is not a precise science and results may vary. Each string of characters works differently depending on the person, the time of day, and the area in which you are located relative to the spirit realm. If one sequence doesn’t work, fret not. You can always try another. And please bear in mind, this is a one-way window. Your loved one will not be able to communicate with you when their image surfaces. Any attempt to speak with them will be met with silence. Enjoy.
I chuckled at what was clearly an attempt at humor by the maker of the board. Distasteful, perhaps, but it was certainly comical. Imagine that – entering a code into a Ouija board and receiving a snapshot from the other side. How ridiculous.
Still, something about the Ouija board “cheat sheet” irked me. Was the picture frame’s only purpose to accompany the joke? Shouldn’t the manual have clarified this a little further? And who exactly was the joke meant for, anyway? This board was one-of-a-kind; more than likely commissioned by its original owner. Was such a beautifully-crafted piece really meant to be nothing more than a gag gift?
Having a gag myself, I set the thing up, frame and all. Whether it was out of boredom or a desire to prove to myself that the “cheat sheet” really was a load of malarkey, I decided to follow the instructions to a tee. I grabbed a beer, chose a character sequence, and recalled the birth/death dates of my favorite family pet, Scratches. All dogs go to heaven, right?
After placing the planchette over the corresponding characters, I looked up at the frame. I swear I saw a milky, white fog manifest behind the glass. No image, just cloudy particles dancing about like dust brushed off of an old book. To make sure I wasn’t seeing things, I repeated the process, and to my surprise, it happened again and again. With each subsequent use, the smoky substance grew in visibility. It was still faint, but entirely noticeable.
Several theories swam around my brain, many of which sunk into the abyss of my collective thoughts. One, however, kept coming up for air. It was silly, but I kept considering the possibility that maybe, just maybe the cheat sheet was legitimate. Crazy, I know, but the prospects of having a truly supernatural artifact were exciting. Even if there was a rational explanation for what I’d seen, I was at least going to have some fun playing around with the thing.
And so, I took off. I called up my parents and collected the dates of various relatives who had passed away. I told them I was doing that Ancestry.com thing to “learn more about my heritage.” Deceptive, yes, but they wouldn’t have been so understanding if I told them I was dabbling in the dark arts.
After gathering the information I needed, I reclaimed my seat in front of the board. I’d had a few more beers by this point, so my motor skills were not exactly in perfect working order. Because of this, I fucked up the first sequence. Using my great aunt Linda’s birth and death years, I entered the code correctly, save for the “O.” I accidentally placed the planchette over the “O” in the Ouija logo at the top of the board. What happened next was surprising.
I noticed my mistake and expected the frame to remain dormant, but this was not the case. To my astonishment, a clear image came into focus behind the glass. What I saw was the outline of a structure sewn into a white, foggy backdrop. As quickly as it came, the image faded out of view, leaving me baffled.
What was I seeing, exactly? A building in the afterlife? Is that where buildings went upon being demolished? Or was the next world industrialized, much like earth?
Enthralled by the idea of having a peek into heaven’s inner workings, I fudged up some more sequences. I plugged in random years, past, present, and future, and made up my own codes. There was no rhyme or reason to my methods – I was basically punching in random combinations just to see what would happen. I was rewarded with little results. Only a couple of my codes worked, and the images that came about were too blurry to make out any discernable features.
Despite mostly failing in my endeavors, I kept at it. Sequence after sequence, I continued to move the planchette across the wood. I grew tired, but my curiosity far outweighed my eyelids. Towards the wee hours of early morning, I struck gold. One of my made-up codes worked, giving me a proper glimpse into what comes after.
As clear as day, I saw a bustling street, filled with what I assume were souls of the departed. In addition to people, there were cars, buildings, and traffic signs, the likes of which I’d never seen. It was similar to earth scenery but significantly different. Surrounded by a flood of light and white fog, the landscape felt altogether more peaceful, for lack of a better description. Honestly, it’s something I look forward to being a part of – in the distant future, of course.
I was satisfied with my find, but I couldn’t stop there. Using different variations of the same sequence, I pressed on. To my delight, I was greeted with more and more images of the afterlife, all of which bore great clarity, allowing me to see even the finest of details. Here are some of the things I saw:
-Skyscrapers, far taller than their earthly counterparts
-Transparent bridges, connecting various parts of the heavenly community
-Bioluminescent trees and wildlife (mostly scattered about, but I did find one large forest)
-Glimmering pools of water around every corner
-Strange weather patterns. Every now and again I’d see clouds, but they changed color from image to image
With every sequence, I found something new and unusual on the other side. I was an explorer of sorts, discovering vast sections of land in uncharted territory. This was now my hobby of choice. Unfortunately for me, it was one that wouldn’t last.
In an attempt to take things a bit further, I grabbed a camera, a pencil, and paper. I would record my findings and write down points of interest. I was more or less setting out to make a map of heaven. It would be a tough project, but one I would most certainly enjoy.
Now by this point, it was around eight o’clock in the morning. I’d been at it for about nine hours straight, and I was more than ready to take a break and catch some shut-eye. I decided it would be best to start my cartography project after a quick nap, but I wanted to try one more sequence before going to bed.
I made up another variation of the jackpot code and entered it into the Ouija board. I then watched with bated breath as familiar white particles came together like puzzle pieces to form another heavenly landscape. The anticipation was torture – I felt like an addict, biding my time as I waited for the heroine to take effect. I may have been a little obsessed, but at least the way I got my kicks was harmless. Or so I thought.
Just as I was about to receive my fix, something strange happened. The pieces of the image swirled around at high-speed before revealing a blank, dark background. White letters then faded into view, creating a very clear message.
Perplexed, I tried another sequence, then another, and another. Each time, I was greeted with the same word. I even tried older codes that I knew worked, but to no avail. For an entire hour, I tried and I tried, begging the board to work again – to restore its supernatural properties. Eventually, I got one code to work, but not in the way that I’d hoped.
Upon using the code, old images resurfaced, cycling backward like slides on a projector. In every one of them, something was amiss. It was distant at first, but as the frame cycled through the images, it came closer to the foreground. It appeared to be some sort of shadowy figure, pitch black and faceless – like a black cloak suspended in the shape of a person.
Within a few moments, things took a turn for the worst. The darkness stayed, but the scenery changed – from the afterlife to this life. I saw still frames of my family and friends here on earth, the shadowy figure looming behind them. I helplessly watched as it crept up on them, inching closer and closer to contact. I was horrified.
Before the figure could reach out and touch my loved ones, the slideshow ceased. For a moment, the frame was empty, void of the horrors that once danced behind its glass. I was granted a breather, but not for long. After another moment or two, one last image filled the frame.
It was me, sitting in front of the Ouija board, just as I was then. I might as well have been staring at a reflection. Standing directly behind me, however, was the cloaked figure. It reached down and touched the back of my neck. I felt its cold fingers slide across my skin. Breaking free of my initial shock, I jumped up and ran for the door. I left my house, tired and terrified. I didn’t return until the following day.
After everything that’s happened, I can only guess that I pissed off some angelic being upstairs by poking around its home. I saw things I never should have been able to see and overstayed my welcome, breaking some sort of divine law in the process. I’ve since disposed of the board, but my experience has stayed with me. I’m always looking over my shoulder and constantly checking on my family and friends to make sure they’re okay. So far, so good.
Though I’m alive, I can’t help but feel I’m closer to death than I’ve ever been. Yesterday, I almost walked into oncoming traffic. A passerby had to pull me back. This morning, I felt the elevator at my work wobble a bit and I swear it was about to fall. Maybe it’s paranoia. Maybe I’m just shaken by what I saw and felt. No matter what’s going on, I’m going to play it safe from here on out.
Moral of the story? Don’t fuck around with Ouija boards.
CREDIT: Christopher Maxim
(Click HERE to check out Christopher Maxim’s latest book, How To Exit Your Body and Other Strange Tales)