It was 1978, and three girls played a game down by the reservoir. The game was called Charlie’s Angels. No one ever argued about who was who. Two girls took turns playing Jill, the sexiest, and Kelly, who was also sexy. Nobody was a hundred percent sure what sexy meant. It was the summer before third grade. The third girl always played Sabrina, who wore turtlenecks, who wore a one-piece instead of a bikini. That was her choice. Nobody really understood why but it was fine. The girls didn’t like to argue. They liked to know their roles; they liked to solve crimes, whispering into walkie-talkies. Pointing their index fingers like guns. Swinging their hair. Stalking around the water’s edge, where countless little trilobites lay in the limestone gravel. On the far side of the reservoir stood a copse of angry trees with branches that were always bare, no matter the season, and thorns the size of your thumb. Stay away from those sticker trees, the girls told each other. Those goddamn sticker trees. They threw rocks at the trees where shadows were bad guys lurking. Sometimes they would just pick up the gravel and hold it. Study the tiny fossils captured there.
The ghost story went like this: in the early days of the last century, when the town was nothing but trains and dirt roads surrounded by prairie, a railroad man had a woman and wouldn’t marry her. Then she had a baby. Then he put the woman and the baby in a well. They died, and the woman became a ghost. She died in a well on a farm outside of town, but as a ghost she went to haunt the one place where men were guaranteed to gather: the diner. She haunted the diner as it changed hands through the decades, long after the railroaders were gone and only farmers and businessmen remained. She knocked plates off the shelf and turned chairs upside down. You could feel the cold of her in certain spots of the kitchen, at night, after closing. If she appeared to you and pointed her finger, you would die. She only appeared to men, they said, but still we looked for her in the most unlikely places, all over town. The playground, the swimming pool, the bridge. Our belief in her burned like a campfire, stoked by the stories we told each other.
For years no one knew what a Ouija board was and then one summer everybody knew and everybody wanted to try it. Only one family in town owned one—it was unclear why they had it or where it came from—so we all took turns stopping by their house to borrow it. It was that kind of town. Everybody was a neighbor. We would get the board in the late evening dusk and take it to someone’s basement, or to the school playground or the gazebo in the park. We were smart enough not to take it to the cemetery, or anywhere near a church. The Catholic girls said they never wanted to play but they were always the first to volunteer once the planchette was out. They were always the first to ask Are you the Devil? Other questions we asked: Who will I marry? When will I die? What is your name? Will you give us a sign? Sometimes the telephone would ring but no one was there. Sometimes the lights would flicker. The board spelled out names and dates and said yes no goodbye. It would claim to be a demon or a dead boy or an angel. Each night we decided what to believe.
Jodee Stanley was born and raised in Marceline, Missouri. She currently serves as Editor of Ninth Letter and Director of Creative Writing at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in journals including Crab Orchard Review, Mississippi Review, among others. She once bought a Ouija board at Goodwill, which was probably not a great idea.