I was probably seven years old the first time I dabbled in the fine art of Metaphysics. A mysterious gift arrived from my mother's aunt, wrapped in bright red paper and suspiciously like the shape of a Monopoly board. My sister and I were gleeful to discover that it was not the suspected new Monopoly board at all, but instead a Ouija board. Not a typical gift for the average kid, but my sister and I were overjoyed. Bear in mind the Christmas tree was decorated with Jack O' Lantern lights from Halloween, along with a few left-over rubber skeletons we'd been saving since October. We couldn't wait to get our tiny hands on it. It wasn't long before it became a regular ritual for the two of us with the occasional overseeing by my mom.
The following spring, after passing a winter using the Ouija without much paranormal activity, we discovered something that set a series of creepy communications in motion. While scrambling after our little brother through the woods, we happened upon an old grave that belonged to a young pioneer girl who died at the age of 8 in the late 1800s. (This seems like the groundwork for a horror story, I know, but it is a true tale of terror from my own childhood.) We lived several miles from the nearest town in the remote foothills of California and were accustomed to 1) clambering around in the woods and 2) exploring spooky pioneer cemeteries. Still, even to us, that one lone grave in the woods, and the fact that it belonged to a kid close to our own ages, upped the freaky quotient to a level that haunted us as dark settled that night. It could have been the power of suggestion, the sad grave and its spirit lodged into our subconscious minds, but within a week the ghost of the girl, whom I'll call Jenny, started making an appearance on our spirit-board. I will never forget the eerie sensation when the marker began to move on its own. Wide-eyed and goosebumped, my sister and I looked at each other and then promptly accused one another of pushing the planchette from letter to letter. I knew I hadn't moved it, and she swore she hadn't either. That we made contact with the Other Side remains a certainty in my mind to this day. The significance of what was actually happening was a little lost on us at the time, being as young as we were. (Children have a natural telepathy that an adult mind often suppresses.)
The gravity of the situation was not lost on my mother, however. When we recounted the information we were beginning to receive from young Jenny, Mom marched into my room and snatched up the board (to this day she won't say if she kept it or threw it out!) muttering something about opening a portal we were not able to close. We wanted to know what happened to this young ghost. Why was she buried in a lone grave? Did she live on that property? How did she die? To our curious minds the interruption of this great mystery was a disappointment we would not soon forget. (And still have not solved.)
Apparently, my mother was not so concerned that we would be communicating with the young ghost (there is something sweet about it, really) but rather that we had actually made contact with a darker entity posing as the ghost of Lil' Jenny, in order to gain control over our own mortal, vulnerable, young minds. (Okay, this is probably sounding crazy to some of you, especially if your mom was the type who shuttled you to ballet or tennis lessons and baked pies for the bake sale. Mine was busy doing battle with dark forces, and hey, that's what made Varla Varla.)
All this came back to me recently during a voracious reading session for my new gig -- my publisher has asked me to scour the cobwebby archives for volumes of forgotten lore for a new e-book series. You can read more about the Paranormal Parlor and Magical Creatures collections here:PW E-Book Announcement) In 1915, Emily Grant Hutchings had her own clairvoyant experience with the Ouija. She "wrote" Jap Herron, a novel that was supposedly one of four lost works of Mark Twain. She claimed that seven years after Samuel L. Clemens passed on to the netherworld, he returned to communicate with her via the Ouija board, that she might record these lost works. Jap Herron was the first, which made it to publication only to be torn from the shelves and all distribution stopped. Twain's daughter and his publisher sued Hutchings and her publisher to cease and desist. Therefore few copies exist and it is not a widely known story. Surprisingly true to Twain's voice, Mrs. Hutchings was nothing if not an excellent ghostwriter (forgive the pun!) And needless to say none of the future "lost works" ever surfaced, via Ouija or other medium-sources. You'll have to read Jap Herron for yourself to be the judge. Twain's ghost or an Edwardian woman's attempt at clairvoyant celebrity? And for the record, as a Mom-Who-Sees-Ghosts I think I finally get what my mom was so worried about. A mother's love knows no bounds, not even when it comes to psychic protection. Thanks, Mom!