“This might be a bad idea.”
The words were spoken by Fred Turner, attending the 27th birthday party of his friend, Kate. Sitting on the couch in her apartment, surrounded by their friends, he was answering the offer of someone suggesting they use her newly opened gift: a Ouija board.
“No, no, no, no! Do not mess around with that thing!” Kate’s older brother, Dave, warned.
“Will you relax?” Tim, Kate’s boyfriend, asked. “It’s harmless, mostly a conversation piece.” As he pulled the board from its packaging, he turned to Fred. “You aren’t scared of this thing too, are you?”
“No, I just want to avoid the annoying cliché that will inevitably follow. We’ll all sit around it, someone will ask a question, and for a few moments nothing will happen. Then it will start to move. We’ll all start accusing each other while you fail to keep from smiling, telling us that you did it. You’ll give a half-assed promise to not do it again and we give it another try. Then…” he looked around the room and pointed to Kate’s younger sister, Becky, “you’ll move it because Tim got you going, after which we make everyone promise not to mess around again, then try it for the third and final time, in which Tim will of course break his promise and push the disk thing because he just can’t help himself. Someone will snap and we’ll give up, too pissed off at each other to keep going.”
“I have a better idea. How about we don’t do it just for the sake of not doing it,” said Dave. “Don’t fuck with the dead, just don’t do it.”
“I thought you were atheist, though?” asked Becky, looking up from her chair at her brother.
“I don’t believe in God, but I’m not stupid enough to think the world isn’t painted without a few shades of gray.”
“Relax, I promise I won’t screw around with it. I just want to see if it works,” said Tim.
“That is literally the definition of screwing around with it.”
Ted finally pulled out the board and laying it across the coffee table in front of Fred, but not without knocking some dirty dishes, pieces of wrapping paper, and a couple gifts onto the floor.
“All right then, I’m game,” said Fred.
“Me too,” added Kate.
“Sounds like fun,” Becky said.
All hands were on the planchette and all eyes were on Dave. He gave a long sigh and finally kneeled down beside the table. “Fine, but I’m just doing this to make sure you don’t do anything stupid. But we really shouldn’t be doing this in your apartment, Kate, that’s like shitting where you eat.”
He added his hands to the planchette and Kate took Fred’s place in the middle of the couch. She took a deep breath and waited before speaking.
“Is there anyone here who wishes to talk to us?”
Nothing happened. Everyone looked around, suddenly feeling embarrassed by what they were doing.
“Is there anyone here who wishes to talk to us?”
Eyes became wide as the planchette began to move, sputtering across the board towards the “yes” in the corner.
“Who’s doing that?” Dave asked. Both Kate and Tim repeated the question.
A guilty smirk, Fred raised his hand.
“You have got to be kidding! After that big speech you made?!” Kate nagged.
“I couldn’t help it, it was inevitable, just like I said!”
“Fred was right, though, I was about to move it myself. He beat me to it,” said Tim.
“Well he was certainly right about people getting pissed off. Look, let’s either do this right or put it away,” said Dave, already with a short fuse.
“Next one to move it has to go on a beer run, got it?” Kate warned. Everyone nodded. “Ok then, let’s try this again.”
They all put their hands back on the planchette.
“We are calling out to any nearby spirits. Is there someone here who wants to speak to us?”
Once again, several silent moments passed by, the wooden disk refusing to move.
“Is there anyone there who can hear us?”
All eyes moved to Becky. If Fred was right, she would break the promise. Just like before, the planchette began to move and slid over to the “yes”, but again looking to Becky, everyone saw that she was the most surprised.
“Ok, everyone be honest right now. Who is moving it?” Dave asked, speaking like there was a cobra sitting on the coffee table instead of a game board. No one answered.
“What is your name?” Kate asked. The planchette moved.
“Oz?” Tim asked.
The wooden disk moved again.
Dave’s free hand wrapped around his sister’s wrist. “Do NOT tell it your name, understand?”
“Ok! Ok! What should we ask it?”
“I got one,” said Fred. He leaned over the board. “Trump or Biden?”
Grammatically incorrect, but the right answer nonetheless.
“That’s good enough for me,” said Tim. “Does God exist?”
“Score one for the atheists,” said Kate, but Dave looked anything but happy.
“Do Heaven and Hell exist?” asked Becky.
“Are you a sexy succubus?” Fred asked.
“Do you know any that you could send my way?”
Y O U R M O T H E R
Tim, Kate, and Rebecca all turned to Fred and laughed, while Fred grinned with his eye twitching. “You’re one funny spook, you know that?” He then leaned to the side and let slip a foul stench to the sound of a tuba’s wail. Everyone shrieked and covered their noses, swinging their arms to try and dispel the evil cloud.
“There, I made a friend for you, the ghost of that fish taco I had for lunch. Try and get along, motherfucker.”
“You moron,” Dave growled. “NEVER instigate a spirit. You have to always be polite.”
Everyone became dead still, as if the planchette had stolen their motion in order to move on its own. It zipped back and forth across the board without anyone touching it, defying all laws of physics. Its movements became more erratic, spelling out swears and curses, with the pointed end aimed at Fred.
The only one brave enough to act, Dave slammed his hand on the disk. “Can you tell us again what your name was?”
With his hand back on it, it began to move.
Z O Z O
What little color Dave had left drained from his face. “Well Mr. Zozo, thank you very much for talking to us, but I’m afraid we have to go now. You take care.”
He moved the planchette to the “goodbye” in the corner. Everyone sat stunned, unable to believe what had just happened.
“Always sign off by saying goodbye, otherwise the doorway stays open,” Dave muttered. He then folded up the board and stowed it back in the box.
“Dave, what are you doing?” Kate asked as he got up with the box under his arm.
“I’m taking this thing and hiding it where no one will ever find it. After an experience like that, you should never use the same Ouija board. In fact, I don’t think any of us should touch a Ouija board ever again.”
“You know what that thing was, don’t you?” asked Becky with clear terror in her voice.
“When people use Ouija boards, it’s not uncommon to encounter a non-human spirit, and of all recorded contacts, Zozo is one of the most frequent demons to appear. It is typically very rude and aggressive, but I had no idea that it would show its true colors so early. Hopefully I managed to close the doorway before any permanent damage could be done. Kate, happy birthday. I’ll see all of you guys around.”
Three weeks later:
With the weather turning, the gang forsook the autumn cold for the interior of a café, having decided to all meet up for coffee. They sat in the corner of the room, away from the noise of the orders being spoken and repeated, breathing in the aroma of crushed coffee beans. Fred was the last to show up, but it was more surprising that he actually came. No one had seen him much since the party. He looked really tired, sporting bags under his eyes.
“Wow, Fred, what happened?” Kate asked as he sat down at the table, having just ordered the largest coffee available.
“Meh, my new roommate has been keeping me up.”
“Since when do you have a roommate?” Tim asked.
“Considering that the rat bastard doesn’t pay any rent, he’s not actually a roommate.”
“Well who is he?” asked Becky.
“You all remember Zozo, right? It turns out he followed me home.”
Everyone took a sharp breath, hoping that Fred was kidding.
“That’s just a joke, right? You aren’t really being haunted?” asked Dave.
“Well for the first few days, everything was fine. Some things would be moved around, I’d hear footsteps outside my apartment, nothing more than that. Then it changed…”
To the hissing of his bathroom sink, Fred worked to scrape away the remains of his breakfast from his teeth. Behind him, his shower tapped out its last few drops. It was the fourth day since Kate’s party, and the events that had transpired were in the farthest corner of his mind. He leaned down to spit, and raising his head back up, he looked into the mirror. It appeared behind him with lightning speed, a hulking demon coughed forth from the pits of hell. Its body was jet-black with long hair with two large horns hanging down over its face. Its nose was flat like a snout, drool trickled from its sharp fangs, and its eyes glowed red like two cigarettes.
“Huh,” said Fred, answering the beast’s growl.
Without moving his eyes, he wetted his toothbrush in the sink and continued brushing. Seeing the creature behind him had made him jerk in surprise, but he wasn’t actually afraid. The sight of the monster had pushed him past that sensation. His mind had turned white and he wasn’t quite sure how to process this. Had he not already done his business, a brown steamer would currently be on the floor between his feet. This stalemate continued on for another minute, the demon glaring at him with the intent to kill, Fred continuing to brush his teeth while his only functioning brain cell bumped around like a blind goldfish. If the look on his face could be summarized in one word, it would be “dafuq?”, with that exact spelling, and it would be written across his forehead.
Once he finished brushing, he opened up his medicine cabinet and retrieved a bottle of mouthwash, and closing the door, he was surprised to see the demon still behind him. Normally in the movies, you would look away from the mirror and come back to see something behind you, look over your shoulder, and then look to the mirror to see nothing.
“Huh,” he said again. He held up the bottle. “Want some?”
“You mean to tell me that you actually saw Zozo?” asked Dave.
“Yeah, ugly motherfucker,” said Fred, as if talking about a girl he had met at a bar.
“You’re just messing with us,” Becky scoffed.
Fred nonchalantly lifted up his shirt, showing several sets of scratch marks going across his chest, all in threes. His friends all gasped in shock, understanding why they hadn’t seen Fred these past weeks. This demon must have been ruining his life.
“Yep,” Dave sighed, “that’s a demon. They always do everything in threes. Christians seem to think that it’s to mock the holy trinity.”
“Fred,” said Kate, “you need to call someone. Find some ghost hunters like on the sci-fi channel. Do a house cleansing or something!”
“Oh no, I don’t want to get rid of him!” Everyone stared at him in disbelief. “I’m having way too much fun!”
“Fred, you’re being torn apart!”
“Meh, he doesn’t do this anymore. Besides, you can’t deny that these scars look really badass. Talk about a real panty-dropper. And check it out…” He turned around and showed his back, and the numerous scratch marks carved into his skin. “Guys, if your back doesn’t look like this at the end of the night, your woman is not satisfied.”
Impossible, he was actually making jokes about this?
“Fred, you have a demon living in your apartment! How can you be enjoying this?!” Becky asked.
“Have you ever gotten into a big argument with someone and you really want to punch them, but you can’t? So you hope they throw the first punch so you can turn to them and say “oh ho ho, you fucked up”, and then beat the living shit out of them since they started it? It’s kind of like that. Once that demon decided to throw down, it was on. I was like Bugs Bunny saying “you do realize, this means war?” I’ve been having a blast.”
“I don’t believe it, you’re actually trolling a demon,” Tim sighed.
“Oh, I’ve gone way beyond trolling. This is art.”
“Well what happened after you saw him?” asked Becky.
“Well for the rest of the day and that night, everything was quiet. The next night, he showed up again…”
The shaking of his bed woke Fred up, the clock at his bedside table showing 3:00. What the hell? Was this an earthquake? He sat up, and even in the pitch-black bedroom, he could see Zozo standing at the end of his bed, arms outstretched, claws pointing out, snarling like a lion.
“I will eat your soul!” the beast roared.
“NI**A, I AM TRYING TO SLEEP!” Fred yelled in return.
He then lied back and pulled the blankets over his face, hoping to drown out of the noise.
Everyone stared at Fred, utterly dumbstruck.
“You honestly said that?” Dave asked.
“You wake me up at three in the goddamn morning and I’m not holding back. It was the first thing that came to me. Though I kind of feel bad about it. I’m white and I know I’m not supposed to use that word, but if you’re yelling it at a demon, that kind of takes away some of the bad juju, right?”
“Well when he was in your bathroom, you said his body was black, right?” asked Tim.
“Yeah, that makes it ridiculously bad. Being haunted by a demon is no excuse for hate speech. It also says a lot about you that that was your instinctive response.”
“Hey, it did make him leave.”
“Probably because he was so offended. I’m surprised he didn’t bitch-slap your cracker ass,” said Becky.
“So what happened after that?” Kate asked.
“Well he showed up at my bed a couple more times, often telling me to kill myself. It got pretty annoying, on and on about suicide, blah blah blah. I kept telling him to fuck off, that my death was already predetermined.”
Everyone around the table looked confused, except for Tim, who was chuckling. “For those who don’t understand, Fred has some weird belief that he’s going to die in Florida, killed by a clown firing squad.”
“It came to me in a dream. Anyway, during the days, I didn’t see him, but I knew he was messing with me. Sometimes it would get really cold for no reason, but apparently Zozo didn’t realize that this is Maine. We shovel our driveways in t-shirts. Then lights would start turning on in the middle of night and I would keep having to shut them off. That was annoying.”
Having just turned off his bedside lamp, Fred looked out through his bedroom door. All the lights in his living room had just turned on. Muttering curses, he got up out of bed and went back to turn them all off. With the living room dark, he returned to find that all of the lights in his bedroom were on. Again, he moved through the bedroom, turning off all the lights. Then of course the lights in the living room turned back on.
“Hey! If you’re going to waste all this electricity, you better help pay rent! You’re going to make me some goddamn money even if I have to sell your ass on the street corner!”
“Then I would hear him stomping around; walls, floor, and ceiling. My neighbors were not happy about that, but I just kept saying it wasn’t me.”
“Let me guess, always in threes?” Dave asked.
“Yeah. It was the second week and I decided it was time to fight back. So whenever I would hear thumping and stomping, I would go on Youtube and start playing loud Christian rock. I probably could have played hymns or sermons or stuff like that, but I decided that I really wanted to piss him off, and nothing works better than some douchebag with a guitar singing about fish and bread. I could tell it worked because Zozo stopped pretty quick and then moved on to something new. This time, he was filling my apartment with the smell of rotting meat.”
“What did you do?”
Fred looked up into the distance with a proud smile. “I smoked… just so much pot. For that week, I was the highest I had ever been, and it was really good stuff, dank stuff. My apartment was like an opium den. It covered up the smell, and I tell you, that demon looked like a kitten compared to the monsters that all of my furniture turned into. And to really fuck with Zozo, I fought back by ordering a ton of Indian food, and stuff from countries that I didn’t even know existed. My apartment smelled like some gypsy boarding house, and after eating the weirdest stuff on earth, I would completely destroy my toilet with a roaring mudslide. Every night, I would sit on my porcelain throne, high as fuck, impersonating a cappuccino machine and laughing like a madman as I swung the door to fan the stench through my apartment and make that demon savor my flavor.”
By now, everyone was laughing, even Dave. Fred could have been making this all up, but the wording and imagery was just too hilarious.
“Then, on Friday night, we both decided to step up our game…”
His pockets full of kush, Fred stood outside his apartment door, fiddling with his keys. Upon finding the right one, he unlocked the door and stepped inside. The lights were flickering, a loud buzzing as the bulbs flashed in and out. All of the furniture in the living room had been moved to the side, save for a single chair from the kitchen table. Above it, a rope hung from the ceiling fan, tied into a noose. In the corner, Fred could see Zozo, shrouded in shadow.
“Do it, kill yourself!” the demon roared, saliva pouring from his mouth like tar.
“Jesus Christ, what did you do?” Dave asked.
“What do you think I did? Well at first, I was kind of puzzled that the noose was actually made of rope. I don’t have rope in my apartment; I don’t even know anyone who has rope. This is freaking Portland, how the hell does a demon just get rope? I mean, if he had just tied a noose using an extension cord, I could have understood, but he went the extra mile. I was impressed, good for him. That’s the kind of demonic service that you just don’t see anymore.
Anyway, so I put down my stuff, get up on the chair, tie the noose around my neck…” Everyone leaned in, waiting on baited breath. “And I started furiously jacking off.”
Everyone fell back, feeling like puppets with their strings cut. Of all the things for Fred to say, he went with that. His friends wanted to laugh, they really did, but they were utterly defeated, sitting in the presence of this apparition of madness.
“And I’ll tell you this: David Carradine had it right. It was awesome. I mean I know I’m supposed to be killed in Florida by a clown firing squad, but I wouldn’t mind dying like he did. Best wank of my life, no question, in feeling, amount, and distance. I almost fell off the chair. To fuck with Zozo, I made sure to always maintain eye contact and kept licking my lips, and if he had just been closer, I would have been the first person alive to achieve a demon money shot.”
Nobody moved, utterly paralyzed by what they were hearing. Of course they wanted to ask what happened next, but all they could think was “poor Zozo”.
“After that, I realized that you could even scare a demon with weirdness. So whenever he started bugging me or I could feel him watching me, I would just start spanking the monkey and he would leave, utterly disgusted. But in the third week, he got really mean. That’s when he started giving me these nasty cuts, but I was ready.”
Standing in his kitchen, pouring himself a cup of coffee, Fred hissed as three large cuts appeared on his wrist, making him drop his mug and create a mess on the counter.
“Well that’s a little harsh!”
Driving home from work, Fred nearly swerved off the road from a trio of slashes across his back, making the car behind him honk.
“Hey, we need to establish a safe word first!”
Fred looked himself in the mirror as he brushed his teeth, eager to get into bed and fall asleep. Burning away his fatigue, three large cuts opened up on his chest.
“Oh yes, harder, Daddy! That’s just how I like it!”
“I was particularly proud of that third line. I mean, Zozo still gave me some cuts, but after being called “Daddy”, I could tell his heart just wasn’t in it. I had ruined it for him.”
“What fucked up planet did you come from?” Dave asked in disgust. All of his other friends had their faces in their hands.
“Planet Internet. Anyway, he was still really pissed off, so he started throwing stuff at me. However, the first time…”
To the smell of mayo and salami, Fred hummed to himself as he made himself a sandwich. About to reach for the second piece of bread, his attention was drawn to the other side of the kitchen, a monstrous growl and the rattling of glass and ceramics catching his ear. He looked back and all of the dishware cabinets flung open. He had only a second before glasses and plates were launched with deadly intent.
Tim couldn’t help but chuckle. “Let me guess, it didn’t know that you could… you know…”
“Juggle like a demigod? No, he didn’t. Poor guy.”
Catching all of the cups and plates, Fred laughed in triumph as he tossed them up in perfect order and trajectory, maintaining an equilibrium of throwing and catching. “How do like me now, bitch?! You come into my house with this weak-ass shit? Come on, give me your best shot!”
Objects kept flying at him, but he caught them all and never lost his grin. When the number became overwhelming, he would start tossing dishes to the side, sending them skidding across the counter but without breaking. With Fred now humming the Benny Hill theme, the demon gave up, conceding this round.
“Oh come on, don’t leave now! I was about to start doing tricks!”
“Who would have thought that that summer you worked as a birthday clown would save the day?” asked Becky, unable to keep from laughing.
“I tell you, that feeling of victory made dealing with all of those shitty brats worth it. But Zozo still wasn’t done. While I was home, Zozo would wait for me to have my back turned and then throw something at me, but I could always tell when it was going to happen because I would see a shadow moving across the wall.”
“And of course he didn’t know that you…”
“That I’m a master paintball player? Oh, he soon found out.”
Singing his own action theme song, Fred leapt over his couch, dodging three books flying through the air at him. In his hands were two squirt guns, filled with holy water. In midair, he pulled the triggers, spraying the shadow above his bookshelf. The water sizzled and hissed no matter what it struck, and the edges of the shadow would shimmer with a growl of pain. If only Zozo had known that this was how Fred spent his weekends.
Rolling across the floor, he followed the shadow with his eyes, shooting twin streams of holy water at the fleeing beast. As the monster reached the kitchen, Fred’s guns ran empty. Hearing a roar of anger, he ducked down as a storm of forks and knives were hurled at him. He rolled under his dinner table and knocked it onto his side, forming a perfect barrier. With cutlery being imbedded on the other side of the wood, Fred pulled some bottles of holy water out of his pockets and filled up his guns. The cashier of the religious supply store had given him a strange look when he emptied their supply.
Now fully loaded, he took one of the small bottles and removed the cap. He stood up from behind the table and saw the shadow of Zozo behind his kitchen sink. Before the demon could act, Fred hurled the open bottle like a grenade and made a direct hit, spraying the wall with holy water and making the beast howl in pain. Withered into a black streak, Zozo hissed and bolted across the ceiling to the unit entrance. He slipped through the door and Fred chased after him.
“You aren’t getting away that easily!” Fred yelled, running down the hall with his neighbors wondering what the hell he as doing.
“We ended up doing laps through my apartment building, running back and forth through the halls and stairways and fighting each other. I got yelled at by a lot of people, but in all honestly, it was the most fun I’d ever had.”
“Regardless,” said Dave, “you need to take care of this problem before it further escalates. First is the Infestation, then is the Oppression, and next comes Possession.”
“Oh, he already tried that.”
“I’m serious. He possessed me yesterday but stopped immediately. It seems he looked inside my head… and he did not like what he saw. Apparently I’m damaged goods. Besides, as long as he doesn’t start deleting my DVR recordings, I’m having too much fun messing with him. ”
Dave gave a deep sigh with his face in his hands. “REGARDLESS,” he repeated, “we still need to get rid of Zozo. I suggest we go back to your apartment and perform a house cleansing. Luckily I keep some sage in my car for such occasions.”
Kate turned to her brother, the look on her face telling everyone she was at a loss for words. “Seriously, how the hell are you still an atheist?”
“Are you sure that isn’t just pot?” Tim asked for the umpteenth time, referring to the large bundle of tightly bound leaves in Dave’s hand.
“No,” he groaned, “it’s sage. Native Americans used this stuff to dispel evil spirits.”
The group was standing in the hall outside of Fred’s apartment, psyching themselves up to face the demon.
“Look, let’s just get this over with. I don’t want this thing sticking to me,” said Kate.
Fred unlocked his door and the group stepped into the apartment. Just like Fred had described, several items were out of place or missing, scattered throughout the apartment in the aftermath of his most recent battle with Zozo. There were books on the floor, water stains on the walls, all of the furniture was askew, and the dinner table was pocked with scratches from when Fred used it as a barrier.
Dave reached into his pocket to pull out his lighter, but Fred stopped him.
“What he hell?”
“What is it?” Tim asked.
“He’s gone, I can’t feel him anymore.”
“What do you mean he’s gone?”
“I mean Zozo isn’t here. Normally I can easily tell when he’s actually around me, and even when he’s hiding there’s still something in the air, but I can’t feel anything at all. My apartment hasn’t felt like this since before the party.”
“Is it possible he just left?” Kate asked.
“It’s more likely he’s just playing possum, waiting for Fred to let his guard down before attacking again,” said Dave.
“I’ll put my money on him being gone,” said Tim, “I can understand not wanting to possess Fred.”
“Thanks for that,” Fred huffed. “Dave, do you still have that Ouija board?”
“Because I want to call Zozo back.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Come on, he was the nemesis I’ve always dreamed of having! We were like Tom and Jerry! Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner! Alien and Predator! NFL players and the word ‘no’!”
Once again, Dave gave a deep sigh with his hand over his face. “You know what? Do whatever you want, I’m out of here.”
Everyone nodded in agreement and left, with Fred standing alone in his apartment.
Weeks passed without even the smallest sign of paranormal activity. No objects moved, the lights stayed off, there was no thumping, and Fred’s scratches healed up. Deprived of his archenemy, Fred was at a loss, utterly bored. He hadn’t felt this empty since his last girlfriend broke up with him. After a while, he returned to his ordinary life, now finding himself in bed, sending some last-minute texts before going to sleep.
About to put his phone away, he looked up and saw that the lights in his living room were on. On instinct, he ducked to the side, just as a plate flew through the air and crashed into his headboard. A wide smile on his face, Fred reached into the drawer of his bedside table and pulled out a squirt gun, filled with holy water.
“Baby, you’re so good to me! Don’t ever leave me again!”