This is a Call
The room filled with the sound of crackling cellophane as Dave unwrapped the item that Petra had bought on his behalf a few days before. He put the wrapping and ribbon aside to look at the one-of-a-kind Ouija board carved out of poplar wood and shellacked with great care. "What the fuck is this?"
Taylor took another sip of wine before putting the glass down and considering the board on the table before them. He was looking at its fancy lettering upsidedown, but he still knew what it was. "Well, it's a Ouija board. Isn't that what you asked for?"
"Yeah, I asked for a Ouija board." Dave picked up his own glass of wine and gulped down half of its contents, sucking in a mouthful with a slurping sound. Swishing it around in his mouth, he finally swallowed and then grinned at the taste. "I just thought she'd go to fucking Target and get some Parker Brothers shit or something. This was bought from..." A card hung from the ribbon that had been tied around the cellophane wrapping to hold it closed; Dave took it between his fingers and turned it over to read it. "...the Magic Cove. It looks like something you'd use to commune with witches or some shit. I should have known there was something weird about it when it came wrapped in cellophane like a fucking fruit basket."
"You know Petra," Taylor said of Dave's neighbor from down the street. "She does everything in style."
"I guess, but even this? No wonder it cost so much." He traced over the letter A with his finger. All letters, numbers, and words had been burned into the wood and then carved until they formed an attractive cursive font, with flourishes here and there for a dramatic design.
"Why did you have Petra buy it anyway?"
"You think I want 'TMZ' catching me getting a fucking Ouija board?"
Holding his wine glass close to his lips, Taylor said, "You've talked about using one with the press before," and took another sip.
"I know, but it's different now. I'm closing in on fifty. Then, I was still a quirky kid. Now, I'd be an old eccentric, asking Kurt for songwriting ideas. I don't want people saying that shit about me." Looking at the board, Dave shook his head. "Damn Petra."
Taylor had to snicker, his glass hanging loosely from his fingers by the rim. Petra's husband had struck it rich in the construction business, leaving her with plenty of time to maintain a fun little venture on the side, running errands for her well-off, busy neighbors. Housesitting, pet sitting, dog walking, whatever needed to be done, including picking up items for people that they did not want to be seen buying. Dave hadn't needed for the Ouija board to be so fancy, but at least it would still function the same. "You gotta admit, it's pretty gooch."
"Kinda, I guess. Let's see what we got here." Picking up a thick sheet of paper from inside the cellophane wrapping, Dave began to read about his new communication tool. "Ah, thank you for your purchase, mmm, made of poplar wood to enhance your intentions to communicate with other realms, yadda yadda yadda, more powerful than your standard board, please make sure you read the following prayer before every use to protect yourself from possible possession or other forms of attachment?" The tone of his voice became more dubious as he went along; now, Dave stuck his tongue out in a raspberry. "Pbbt. What are we, in church?" He flung the instructions aside.
Taylor snickered again. "They really sell it, huh?"
"Yeah." His eyebrows arched, Dave overdramatically rolled his eyes.
"Tell me again how this whole thing started."
Dave looked behind himself at the statue in the corner of what he and Jordyn had deemed the art room. She was more into art for art's sake, he bought it for the investment. Twice a year, they looked for something affordable but valuable, and this time, it had been Jordyn's turn to pick. "It all started when that thing came into the house. I thought it was creepy from the moment I saw it, but Jordyn would not be swayed."
Taylor took a moment to examine the statue from across the room, his eyes moving up its form. Essentially, it was a male mannequin painted to look like a blue sky, with clouds and rainbows and a kite floating across its chest. The eyes, painted medium blue with darker flecks, almost seemed real, such care had been taken in their crafting with a paintbrush. The mannequin had been bisected at the waist and its top and bottom halves misaligned, the top half connected to the bottom half by a twisted, bending braid of copper wire. Its right arm was bent up at the elbow, index finger aimed toward the ceiling as if the mannequin was about to make an important point. It had no hair nor clothes, just a body made of plastic and sky. "I can't say I like Jordyn's taste in art this time around. Is this to pay you back for the two Magrittes with nude chicks in 'em that you bought?"
"Possibly. Mostly, she said she wanted it because the artist is really trendy and popular right now. Says he's gonna be real big, and then we'll be happy to have a creepy mannequin in our home." Dave visibly shuddered. "Tell me, man, would you want a fucking mannequin in your house?"
Staring at the piece of art, Taylor gave a shudder too. "Fuck no. They give me the willies. Who is this great up-and-coming artist?"
Dave leaned in. "He calls himself... Thingamabaub."
Laughing, Taylor said, "Really?"
"His real name is Bob Christy. Get it? Thingamabob? Only, he spells it B-A-U-B."
Taylor laughed louder and longer. "You made that up, man!"
"I did not." Dave was laughing too. "He really does."
Still chortling, Taylor extended the pinky curled around his wine glass, doing a caricature of a snooty person. "Excuse me," he began, speaking with a haughty, uptight accent, "you spelled my name wrong. It's not B-O-B. My name is spelled B-A-U-B, thank you." Taylor brushed imaginary dust off his knees with the other hand, scrunching up his face in disgust. "Peasant!"
Now Dave laughed louder than before, a hand to his stomach. "I know, right? It's so stupid. Pretentious motherfucker."
Taylor tried to calm his laughter so they could continue the conversation about the "paranormal activity" in Dave's house, but it was hard. Baub. His eyes scrunched up and his sunny smile came out once again in a fit of renewed chuckles. All he and Dave could do for about twenty seconds was roll in their seats with laughter until their peals tapered into snickers and wiping of damp eyes. Things seemed ten times more humorous than they actually might be when you were slightly drunk.
"Goddamn, that's funny. What's the statue called? 'Plastic D-U-E-D'?"
That set them off again. Dave snorted and then tried to control himself, getting out, "It's called 'The Conduit.'"
Taylor spoke between chortles. "'The Conduit'? The fuck why?"
"I dunno." Looking at the painted mannequin, his amused smile faded. "The day it was delivered, I saw a bowl slide along the kitchen counter by itself."
"Really? Fuck all. That's scary."
"Just - " Dave demonstrated how fast the bowl moved with his arm, making a swishing sound. "All I could do was stare at it for a minute. Are we having extreme foundation problems or did that thing just move by itself?"
For a moment, Taylor considered what Dave had said, and then he snickered through his teeth. "Those would be some pretty extreme foundation problems."
"Yeah. Call Foundation Repair."
"Then what happened?"
"A lot of it is standard stuff. Doors opening by themselves, cabinets swinging closed, all of it with no one nearby to make it move, and you should see those doors go, I mean, this is no slow might-be-a-breeze closing; this is some movement with purpose." Dave spoke as much with his hands as with his mouth, gesturing freely to illustrate everything he said. "You should be in here alone with it. Its eyes follow you everywhere, just boring into your back. When you go up the stairs, it feels like someone's chasing you from here up to the kitchen."
"Ooh, like the ghost in your old house in Seattle."
"That's why you think this house could be haunted by the same ghost."
"But what does your old ghost have to do with this statue?"
Dave thought about it; he knew exactly why he thought what he thought, but how to put it into words...? It was actually pretty easy. "A name says everything, right? It's called 'The Conduit.' Maybe Baub designed the thing to allow ghosts and other shit to pass between worlds. Maybe my 'old ghost' has been looking for a way to follow me all this time."
Feeling a little overwhelmed with the idea, Taylor reared back in his seat and blinked several times, considering Dave's theory. A piece of art that allowed ghosts to cross miles from one house to another? It was like something out of a movie. He finally sighed and leaned forward. "You think this ghost likes you that much?"
"I started a dialogue with her. Maybe she needs me to finish saying what she's got to say." Dave pointed to the Ouija board.
Smiling to himself, Taylor wanted to reach out and stroke Dave's arm, give him a hug, something. He so earnestly wanted to help this ghost, just like he wanted to make real connections with his fans. He needed to make a difference wherever he went. But, that need could wind up hurting Dave when he was bound for the wrong track, possibly setting himself up for failure. Whatever was going on, Taylor didn't think it had anything to do with the ghost in Seattle. "But didn't you say that Jordyn saw a dead guy in the bathroom? Not a female ghost?"
"Well, yeah." Dave leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers behind his head. "She said she walked by the master bathroom, you know, the one off our bedroom..."
"...and out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone sitting on the toilet, someone adult-sized with sandy brown hair. It scared her, you know, because no guy with that hair color was supposed to be in the house. She looked and for a split second saw a man sitting on the closed toilet with his hands over his face, and there was... there was a severed head in the bathtub, trailing blood going down the drain."
"Wow... I'd shit a brick."
"Most people would." There was a little bit of a laugh in Dave's voice when he said it, but it was a nervous laugh, a frightened one. "When Jordyn came to me, she was shaking. The guy and... the head... disappeared, but... I'm afraid of my girls seeing them."
"Of course," Taylor said, nodding.
Dave looked up at the ceiling as he spoke. "Violet saw a door slam closed by itself, accompanied by a loud fucking thump on the wall. Afterward, she clung to my side so tightly..." Shaking his head, he leaned forward and looked at his friend with new determination. "We're going to get to the bottom of this tonight. I'm the man of this house, and I'm not going to let any ghost scare my family just because she has a message to get through." He tapped the Ouija board hard with the tips of his first two fingers. "Whatever this is about, you have to help me solve it."
"Of course, Dee, yeah yeah." Wiping his palms on his jeans, Taylor asked, "If this Baub guy did put the statue together as a ghost conduit or whatever, why would he do that? And if it really works, why would he sell it?"
"I don't know, artists do all kinds of fucked up things in the name of self expression. You ever hear of Robert Mapplethorpe?"
Taylor acted almost insulted to be questioned about such a thing; didn't everyone know who... er... his shoulders slumped. "...No."
Waving a dismissive hand, Dave said, "Never mind. I don't know, maybe the guy thinks he's a badass ghost buster or some crazy shit. Tries to collect ghosts or something. Artists are often eccentric, you know. And what he created actually worked. But it didn't trap the ghosts, it just let them through. So he got bored with his toy and slapped some paint on it and viola! $20,000 worth of sucker Dave!"
"You spent $20,000 on that thing?" Taylor asked with wide eyes.
"Like I said, Jordyn, on the trail of a good investment, will not be denied." Dave, gesturing to the other art on the walls and displayed around the room, said, "Look, I didn't buy this stuff because it's all going to appreciate in value. Some of it we got because we like it. Especially this one..." He gazed upon one of the Magrittes - this one featured a nude woman covered in jewels - and said nothing for a moment, eyes a little glassy with alcohol. "The really expensive pieces may stay at a level price. But this statue could be worth a lot more someday. I don't want to just throw the thing out if there's some way we can close the door, you know what I mean?"
Nodding again, Taylor assured, "Of course, Dave, I know just what you mean. Well, I'm not so sure this guy created a ghost conduit on purpose, you know, but there definitely is something strange going on here. We can get to the bottom of it."
"Okay," Dave replied, grinning. He turned the Ouija board so the letters and numbers were upright for Taylor, downed the last of his glass of wine, and slapped a thin wooden planchette with felt on its feet down on the board's glossy surface. "Let's do this shit, Tee."
Taylor rubbed his hands together. "Where do we start?"
They were both sitting in chairs with wheels; Dave rolled his around to Taylor's side of the table. "You're going to put your hands on the planchette so it can move around while I write down what it says."
Taylor rubbed his fingers over the board's surface. "The letters look carved, but the board is smooth. Did they cover it with glass?"
"No, I think it's some kind of shellack or resin."
"Cost $125. Like I said, I should have known there was something weird about the board." Dave, getting his sheets of paper laid out, pointed to the opposite wall. "I want you to focus on the art instead of the Ouija board. If you look at the board, you'll try to influence what it's saying based on what you anticipate it to say next. Just trust me to write down every word and don't look, okay? Look at the art on the wall."
"Okay." Taylor put all of his fingers, save for the thumbs, on the planchette and then asked, "Aren't you supposed to be on the other side with your fingers on here too?"
"I can't write anything down if I do that."
Taking a deep breath, Dave signalled for Taylor to be ready and asked the first question. "Is there anybody here besides us?"
At first, the planchette sat still, unmoving. Dave and Taylor both held their breath. Then it slowly slid up the board to YES.
"Awesome, it's working." Taylor was looking at the board.
"Tee, don't do that. Look at the wall."
"Oh right, sorry. It's too tempting not to look." He tried to keep his eyes on the naked woman in the Magritte painting.
Dave continued with his questions. "Are you the same ghost that haunted my house in Seattle?"
The planchette moved to NO.
"No?" Dave clicked his tongue. "There goes half my theory."
"It feels like someone's got their hands over mine," Taylor commented.
"It always feels like that with a Ouija board. Okay, if you're not my previous ghost, then who are you?"
The planchette immediately began to spell out a name. Whoever this ghost was, he wasn't wasting any time. NICKY.
"Nicky? Nicky who?"
Suddenly, the board stopped responding, the planchette unmoving.
"I can feel this energy around my hands, like the air is charged," Taylor said, trying to describe the feeling of being the one with his hands on the pointer when it was working. "He wants to keep talking to us, but he doesn't want to answer that question. I can feel it. The energy is... reluctant. Waiting for you to move on."
"Why is that, 'Nicky'? Would we recognize the name if we heard it?"
The planchette began to move again. MAYBE.
"What'd it say?"
"Ooh." Taylor had a sudden, horrible thought. "Nikki Sixx didn't die, did he?"
Dave couldn't help but chuckle. "I'm quite sure the ghost isn't Nikki Sixx. Besides, he spelled it N-I-C-K-Y." Thinking a moment, Dave continued asking questions. "What are you doing in my house, Nicky? You're scaring my family and I don't like that."
He watched as the pointer spelled out TRAPPED.
"Trapped? Why are you trapped here?"
Snapping and then pointing at the statue, Dave said, "You see? It's the statue. Our ghost came in with the statue. What can we do to set you free?"
The ghost paused as if it was thinking before replying. NEED NEW PLACE TO GO.
"New place to go? How would that help?"
Dave opened his mouth to ask more, but the planchette began to move again. As it finished its trip around the board, he frowned and thumped Taylor on the shoulder with the back of his hand. "Stop pushing it. We were getting somewhere."
"What do you mean? I wasn't pushing it."
"Oh really? You mean you didn't make it spell this?" Dave showed him his writing on the piece of paper.
Because Dave didn't know what the board was going to say, he simply wrote down each letter as it came, which made the words run together until he rewrote them. He hadn't had the time to fix this one yet. Still, it wasn't that hard for Taylor to figure out, and he couldn't hold back his snickers.
"Do I take that laugh as a confession?"
Shaking his head, Taylor said, "No, man. I didn't push it, I swear." Despite himself, he laughed some more. "The ghost knows you."
"Great, my ghost is a fan." Dave pointed to Taylor. "Then I guess you know him too."
The planchette spelled out, WHOS HE.
Now Dave took his turn to laugh. "Ha ha ha, HA HA, HA! HA!"
Feigning hurt, Taylor replied, "Now that smarts."
"Hey, stop reading as we go along. Look at the art, goddamnit."
"Look at the art, look at the art," Taylor parrotted, but in a mocking voice.
Dave put two-and-two together and rolled his eyes. "So you were a fan of Nirvana."
The pointer went straight to YES.
"That's just what I need." Dave sighed. "Look, I appreciate that you love Nirvana; I'm certainly not knocking my work with that band, but you're scaring my wife and children. What do I have to do to set you free so you can go on to Heaven?"
There was a long pause. Then, IM NOT WELCOME THERE.
Dave, not understanding, read it twice. "Huh? Not welcome wh..." He figured it out. "Heaven. You're not welcome in Heaven."
"Is that what he said?"
Dave nodded. "Why wouldn't you be welcome in Heaven? What did you..." Swallowing hard, he whispered to Taylor, "I want this guy out of my house."
The planchette moved around the board furiously. Taylor's eyes widened as he tried to keep up. I CAN HEAR YOU.
The two men glanced at each other. "I'm sorry, Nicky. But really, you're saying some scary shit. What can I do to get you to leave?"
While waiting for an answer, Taylor leaned over and said quietly, "Doesn't it seem kind of strange that this guy is a Nirvana fan and he winds up in your house?"
Dave shrugged. Before he could say anymore, the pointer started to move again. As Dave realized what it was saying, his face became more and more grim with frustration and anger.
THERE ISNT A DAMNED THING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT.
Tapping Taylor's arm, Dave showed him the message. Now Taylor scowled, and mouthed, "What the fuck?"
Dave started to say something, but just at that moment, a loud crashing sound and then a bang came out of the walls. Both men jumped, Taylor making a whimpery noise. "Nick, calm the fuck down, okay?" Dave demanded.
Looking down at his hands still on the planchette, Taylor said, "I can't - I can't move my - " He struggled a little, looking back up. Taylor made such a deep, shaken gasp that the sound sent chills sweeping up Dave's back. "Dave!" he whispered harshly. "Look at the statue! Its eyes! They're different!"
Dave didn't want to look. Instead, he looked at Taylor's frightened face as he stared at the statue. If he had looked at his own face in a mirror, he would have seen the same wide eyes and gritted teeth. "How could they be different? They're painted on."
"Look!" Taylor whispered. "They aren't blue anymore."
Another chill crawled up Dave's back at just the tone of those words, how desperately cornered Taylor seemed to feel at that revelation. As if he believed 'Nicky' when he said there wasn't a damn thing they could do to make him leave. He reached over and briefly patted Taylor's shoulder. It registered on some sublevel of Dave's mind that the shoulder felt cold.
"Dee?" Taylor whimpered.
"It's okay," Dave said softly, and stood up, creeping slowly toward the statue. Taylor was right. As he approached it, Dave could see that its eyes were now pools of blackness. And as he got closer, he could see that they looked just as painted on as ever. "How the hell is this possible?" he thought aloud.
"Dave, does this mean he's... out here... in the room with us?"
He looked at Taylor, noticing for the first time that he still had his fingers plastered to the Ouija's planchette. "Are you o - "
There came another loud rap on an adjacent wall. It was followed by several more, ear-assaulting bangs that moved around the room from the statue to the wall behind Taylor. Dave winced in his shoulders and scrunched up his face, then yelled, "Quit that fucking shit!"
Taylor squeezed his eyes shut until it was over. Afterward, he relaxed a bit, but he didn't open his eyes.
"Motherfucker!" Dave shouted at the ceiling. "Get out of my goddamn house! NOW!" The muscles in his arms flexed and his nostrils flared.
The room fell silent. Dave looked around, challenging the open air to do it, just do something else, just try me, fuckhead. Nothing happened. He looked over at the statue. The eyes were still black.
Dave turned to check each side of the room and caught something out of the corner of his eye. A fancy mirror in a silver frame hung in a corner, an expensive artistic piece Jordyn had wanted on sight because the frame was very ornate, made in the art nouveau style. Dave had it hung with one side attached to one wall and the other attached to the perpendicular wall so it reflected the room nicely. Now he could see Taylor reflected in it, sitting with his hands on the planchette and head down, eyes closed.
He wasn't alone.
A man, a partially transparent man, hovered behind Taylor with his ghostly, whispy arms around Taylor's shoulders. He was reaching around, holding Taylor's wrists down. Dave's body froze, not allowing him to move as he realized the guy wasn't standing behind Taylor, but floating behind him, his legs almost parallel to the floor. As he watched, the ghostly hands sunk into Taylor's hands, the arms about to follow. The ghost was whispering in Taylor's ear.
Horrified, Dave looked away from the mirror at the actual Taylor. No ghost. When he put his eyes back on the mirror, the ghost was there again, arms sinking into Taylor's arms. Fear filled Dave's eyes. "Tee!"