Friday, September 18, 2015

Camp Memoir: The Ouija Board Story

Hola!

 I'm writing a memoir about all my camp experiences: from camper to CIT to counselor.

Here's one of my many crazy stories: The Ouija Board. 


Our yearly gatherings for staff training at the end of December prepared us in many ways—for example, how to conduct engaging lessons or what to do during an emergency—but it didn’t prepare me for the Ouija board incident. How could it? I suppose that’s part of the thrill of being a camp counselor, though, the element-of-surprise kind of nature the job brings.  

Before camp, I liked Ouija boards; I mean, from a distance that is. Passionate about ghost stories and exploring cemeteries, the idea of being able to communicate with the dead intrigued me. As a pretty sheltered kid, however, I stayed clear from any and all horror films, only sticking to the Disney classics. My entire world view, for that matter, was still viewed through a happy-go-lucky Disney-like lens, so for some reason I didn’t think Ouija boards were nearly as bad as people made them out to be.

For instance, when I was about ten-years-old, my Nana and I were browsing items at a nearby garage sale, stuff like unwanted clothes, books, and furniture were up for sale. Nothing really screamed out Buy me! until our eyes landed on a worn-out box containing a Ouija board. Smiling, my grandmother reached out for it when an elderly woman beside us with Harry Potter-like spectacles and a cross hanging around her neck coughed in that look-over-here sort of way. We did. With wrinkled, liver-spotted arms crossed tightly across her chest and a flash of warning in her eyes, she told us, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“No?” Nana replied.
“That’s a portal for…” the woman paused, looking left and then right before answering in a harsh whisper, “demons.” 
“Oh ok,” Nana said. “Thank you for letting us know.”
We still bought it. 

Although my Nana’s atheistic rejection of demons comforted me in that I believed nothing terrible would occur, an undeniable shiver zipped down my spine each time I reached into her closet for a fun family game and saw the Ouija board hovering over me, like a cat about to pounce on its prey. I did play it eventually. Just once though with my friend Hannah, but after arguing over who was really pushing the planchette around we ended it shortly and, in all honesty, to my relief. That was the extent of my relationship with it, until the summer of my sixteenth year. 

Lil camper Amanda. 
With two years of CIT experience under my belt, I was confident in my abilities as a leader—maybe overconfident. Everything flowed swimmingly that first day until later that night. After attending to my hygienic needs, I entered the Yurt to discover all eight girls huddled at the center of the floor, surrounding something apparently very entertaining. Their whispers and giggles led me to assume that it was one of two things, either pictures of boyfriends—which I could easily extinguish—or perhaps a fun game of Uno. (Side note: I love Uno.) As I peered over their shoulders, however, I discovered that it was not Uno as you can probably imagine—no, instead it was a Ouija board. (Dun, dun, DUN!) 
“Oh,” I gasped, taking two steps back. What was the protocol for this? I panicked, searching my memory for training sessions in which to apply this to, but nothing came to mind, nothing except for that woman-from-the-garage-sale’s voice leaked into my consciousness, warning me: That’s a portal for demons! “Um, yeah, I don’t think we should be playing this,” I informed the girls. 
“Noooo!” they whined in unison. “How come?”
“It’s not…” I began, my voice trailing off as I struggled to compose a sentence that didn’t involve the word demons in it. 
“Please?” they begged, pathetically batting their eyelashes and pouting their lips.  
There’s this precarious teeter-totter relationship between being a camper’s friend and their leader. Even to this day, I struggle with it because, of course, I want my campers or the kids I’m babysitting to like me, but at the end of the day I’m the one in charge and sometimes that means putting a foot down; this gets easier with more experience, but at fifteen I still teetered toward wanting to be their friend rather than stepping into a leadership role, especially since most of them neared my age anyway. 
“Well, I guess it’s ok as long as you ask it PG questions,” I caved.
“Yay!” they cheered, focusing on the board once again. 
I smiled, thankful we could compromise, when one girl asked in the creepiest voice possible, “Is someone going to die tomorrow?” 
“That is not a PG question!” I squealed. 
Instead of halting the game, they only giggled quietly, the planchette gliding their fingers this way and that way until it finally landed on the Yes. Everyone gasped, including me. Silently, we glanced around the circle, our eyes darting from person to person, wondering who among us would die tomorrow and how? A horseback riding accident or worse, murder
Now, with 20/20 hindsight I have to admit that that question was rather vague—Is someone going to die tomorrow?—of course, one of the seven billion people on the planet was going to die that following day, but this logical conclusion never occurred to us. 
The next morning the girls ate their breakfast with sullen expressions, possibly wondering if today was their last day to live. The camp director approached me in the food truck as I poured milk over my Cap’n Crunch cereal, asking, “What’s up with them?”
“Oh, I think they’re just tired,” I answered nonchalantly, screwing the lid back on the milk carton. In retrospect I should have brought the issue to her attention right then and there while we stood in private—maybe then the chaos that followed could have been avoided—but I didn’t. I thought I could handle it. After all, I was fifteen-years-old. 
“Yes,” she said, tilting her head sideways as she peered out the window at them, “first night is usually the hardest, but we’ll make them tired.” She laughed and then patted me on the back. 
“Yeah,” I chuckled, gulping down a bite of cereal as I roamed back to the girls’ table.
Luckily no one died that day (that we know of). 
Later that night, the girl who asked yesterday’s morbid question snagged the Ouija board, placed it in the center of the room, and declared, “I think we should play again!”
Yusss!” most cheered, while three remained nestled in their beds, reading a book or keeping silently to themselves in some other fashion. Their rigid, slightly titling postures, however, told me that they were still listening in. 
“Girls I really don’t think this is a good idea. Remember how freaked out we were last night and this morning?” I reminded them.
“But nothing happened today,” Morbid Questions girl stated matter-of-factly. 
“True, but…” 
She took this moment’s hesitation to dive right in and because I informed the group earlier that I’d probably undergo spinal surgery Morbid Questions girl asked, “Is Amanda going to survive her back surgery?”
“No!” I screamed. “Why’d you ask it that? That’s not PG.”
Popping her head up from the huddle of bodies, her eyebrows knitted together in a puzzled expression. “Well, you wanna know don’t you?”
How I felt. 
Not via Ouija board, I thought. 
My stomach twisted into knots as I watched the planchette slowly spiral around the board until thankfully it landed on the Yes. 
We all sighed. 
“Ok, seriously,” I warned them, nervously snapping my fingers, “it’s time for bed, especially since you haven’t been listening to me about asking it PG-rated questions.” 
“Oh, alright,” they grumbled. 
Even though the answer had been a yes, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t fall asleep that night. Unnerved, I kept peeking out of my sleeping bag, checking to see if the board game still lay at the center of the room where we left it. For some horrifying reason, it felt as though there were a person or an animal—something alive—sitting and like monitoring us all. 
That is a portal for demons! Her words haunted me. 
Demons. 
Demons.
Demons. 
I wanted it gone. 

Luckily the girls were too exhausted from riding horses and mucking out stalls to play with the Ouija board the next couple of nights. Instead, it laid untouched at the center of the room, until one morning it shifted… 
At 5am I awoke to a piercing scream. Eyes flashing open, I jolted upright in my sleeping bag, my heart hammering against my ribcage. Across the room from me sat a quivering girl who kept pointing at the end of her bed, screaming, “It’s on me! It’s on me!” The sight sent a shiver down my spine. Perched on the foot of her bed was none other than the Ouija board. 
This news caused everyone to bolt upright, eyes wide with horror and mouths gaped open, they—like me—couldn’t believe what their eyes were witnessing. Whimpering now, the girl pulled her legs in toward her chest, trying to get away from the thing. 
“How the heck did it get there?” I asked.
“I don’t know!” she wailed. “Just get it off of me! Please!” 
Scrambling out of my sleeping bag, I jumped to my feet and darted over to her. As I picked up the Ouija board I felt disgusted, much like the feeling I get when cleaning up deposited gopher remains left in the garage from my cats, but instead I found a spot for it on top of the wooden shelves right next to the door that held our shoes. Shutting my eyes for a brief moment, I inhaled deeply, exhaled, and then turned around to face the girls. “Who did this?” I asked in a voice just barely louder than a whisper. 
Silence. 
Searching each one of their faces for hints of guilt, I tried to figure out the culprit’s identity. I didn’t care who did it I just wanted to know that someone—a person, not a demon—did it. However, I found no traces of guilt, only fear. 
Raising my eyebrows I asked, “No one?”
They shook their heads. 
“Ok, well,” I sighed , “let’s go back to sleep. Only two more hours until we have to get up.”
They nodded. 
I knelt beside the previously screaming girl before climbing back into bed. “You ok?” I asked. 
“Yes.” She nodded. “It just freaked me out.”
“Yeah, I bet,” I answered. “Freaked me out too. Let me know if you need to talk later.” 
“Ok. Thanks.”
No one fell back to sleep that morning. 

Too ashamed at that point, I still didn’t let the camp director know what was going on. I felt stupid for not telling her sooner, but I also wanted to handle this situation on my own like the almost-adult I was. Excuse after excuse, I told myself both she and I were too busy to discuss silly things like Ouija boards. In all honesty, I thought she would be mad at me and subsequently fire me, crushing all my counselor dreams, something I find both sad and hilarious now. A part of me hoped that the Ouija board madness was over, but of course, it wasn’t yet… 

After horseback riding that afternoon we came back to the Yurt to change into our swimsuits. Sweaty and coated in a thick layer of dust, I couldn’t wait to jump into the pool! It sounded so refreshing. 
As I strode inside the Yurt I noticed out of my peripheral vision that the Ouija board was missing. I glanced down at the floor, thinking that perhaps it fell off the wooden shelf, but it wasn’t there. As the girls filtered in behind me I did a quick scan of the room, but it was nowhere to be seen. 
Like strobe lights the word demons flashed in my brain repeatedly. 
Now I didn’t want anyone panicking, but at the same time I wanted to scream, “WHERE THE HELL IS THE OUIJA BOARD?” 

The girls were in such a cheerful mood, joking and giggling, as they prepared to change out of their dusty riding clothes and into their bathing suits that I prayed no one would notice its disappearance. 
I plopped onto my mattress pad when someone screamed, “It’s. In. My. Sleeping. Bag.” 
We all looked in the direction of the voice. It was the youngest of the group. She began pointing at her sleeping bag and yelled, “Amanda! Amanda! It’s in there.”
Rising to my feet, I marched over to the girl, plucked the Ouija board out of her sleeping bag, stomped to the center of the Yurt, dropped it there, and then slowly pivoted on my heel, looking each girl in the eyes before announcing through clenched teeth, “This has gotten way out of hand.”
Silence. 
“How’d it get there?” I pointed at the girl’s sleeping bag. 
“I don’t know!” the little girl whimpered. 
“No, I’m not asking you,” I answered in a softer tone. “I’m asking everyone.”
“Oh,” she murmured. 
“Why is the Ouija board magically appearing in people’s sleeping bags?”
No answer, instead my question was met with a horse’s whinny outside. 
“Someone needs to answer me,” I told them. “Who’s been moving it around?”
Again, no answer. 
“Because this has got to stop,” I told them, my voice shaking, “this is not ok.”
“Amanda, who could’ve had time to move it?”  Morbid Questions Girl asked. “We’ve all been together since this morning.”
Unfortunately that was true.
“Fine,” I answered, sighing. “Get your bathing suits on” 

CIT Amanda. 
On the last night of camp we prepared hobo stew and s’mores over the fire pit, but had to cut our cookout short due to the powerful winds that evening. It blew our hair in each other’s faces as we strolled back to the Yurt, making us laugh.
“Stop!” yelled one of the girls as I climbed the first porch step. 
Turning around, I asked, “What’s wrong?” I assumed she had fallen and perhaps needed the First Aid Kit.  
Listen,” she whispered. 
At first, the whooshing of wind and rustling of tree branches were the only things I managed to hear, but then it happened. 
A moan. 
From inside the Yurt. 
“Oh my god,” Morbid Questions Girl said. “Someone’s in there.”
All the girls, including myself, started freaking out. 
Then we heard it again. A very distinct moan. I suddenly pictured an old woman in a psych ward waddling down the corridors at night, the hallway lights above her flickering as a thunder and lightning storm brewed outside. 
“Ah, look!” screamed another girl. 
To the left of the door, the tarp that held the Yurt together starting pressing outwards—that’s right outwards, not inwards like it should have with the strong winds. 
“Oh no,” the first girl said. 
“What?” I asked. 
“The Ouija board is in there.” 
Demons. 
Demons. 
Demons. 
The youngest camper started to cry. 
Morbid Questions Girl tugged at my sleeve and said, “Amanda, you have to go in there and grab it.”
“What?” I squeaked. “Why?”
“Because you’re our counselor. You have to protect us.”
Dang it, I thought. She had a point. 
I summoned all the courage I could muster, inhaled a deep breath, and then marched up those staircases like the fearless woman I pretended to be. Kicking open the door, I bolted to the center of the room, stretched out my arms like Andy from the The Shawshank Redemption, and bellowed, “Spirits be gone!” 
Yep, that's the stance, except I wasn't smiling. I looked horrified. 
“Grab the Ouija board!” the girls yelled at me. 
I bent down to snatch it up and then sprinted out the door. 
“We need to get rid of it,” Morbid Questions Girl stated. 
“Uh-huh,” I agreed, out of breath. 
“I think,” one girl chimed in, “we should burn it.”
Several campers gasped, turning toward her like she was insane. 
“You can’t burn a Ouija board!” Morbid Questions Girl seethed. “Are you kidding me? That’s basically tempting Satan.”
“Well, maybe we can just keep it outside or something,” I suggested. “On the porch?”
They all agreed to this. 
It’s not a surprise that none of us slept well that night. 

The next day the campers went home and so did the Ouija board with Morbid Questions Girl. Thank God. I never knew what became of it—was it thrown in a dumpster, donated to Goodwill, or burned?—whatever the case may have been I was nevertheless thrilled about its absence. 
And I’ve never played since. 

Moral of the story: Tell the camp director about the Ouija board. It saves a lot of unnecessary trouble. 

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