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The Communicator
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The Communicator

by Tim Pettigrew

*Told to me by my friend, who has allowed me to write his story—as long as I agreed to change the names of those involved. Although the names are fictional, the story and its’ setting are exactly as he related them to me.

On a cool Friday evening in October of 1977, a group of teenagers gathered at a friend’s house in Dandridge, Tennessee, as had become their Friday night ritual for the past five years. At their Friday night ‘parties’, they would stay up all night long; talking, drinking cokes, eating pizza until they were sick... They ended up watching television most times—usually the horror movies that were on the “late, late show”. This particular night, as they were watching an old Vincent Price classic, they started discussing ghosts, witches and the supernatural; debating if they were real or imagined. One of the girls, Lisa, said she knew they were real, because she had once seen a ghost at her Grandparents’ house.

“Late one night when I was seven years old,” she began, “my Grandparents and I were sitting on the back porch enjoying the cool summer night. We were sitting there talking to each other, having a good time, when we saw a shadowy-white figure move across the backyard. I jumped up and ran in the house and they followed, where we watched it from the window and saw it go into the barn. We kept watch on the barn for fifteen or twenty minutes but never saw it again. Guys, I have never known my Grandfather to be scared of anything, but this bothered him really bad. It scared us all! The next morning we went out to the barn and found that some of the bailing twine my Grandfather kept had been fashioned into a perfectly-tied miniature noose, and was hanging from the loft of the barn. That was too weird! I know it sounds silly, but can anybody explain it? I have thought about it ever since, and I can’t begin to figure it out.”

Roger, a young man who was two years older than the rest of the group, (and who was there only because these were the best friends of his younger girlfriend), looked at her with a sneer and said, “You stupid bitch! What you saw was probably fog or something—because there ain’t no ghosts!”

“Well how do you explain the noose hanging in the barn? That wasn’t fog!” Lisa snapped back at Roger.

“Aw, it was probably made by some kids who were playing in the barn, dummy! Kids are always doing stupid things like that.” Roger seemed as though he was attempting to make himself believe what he said as much as to convince the others as he stood forcefully and said, “Somebody had to make it, because there AIN’T NO DAMN GHOSTS, and you’re all idiots if you think there are!”

Roger’s girlfriend Robin was obviously embarrassed that he was making a big deal of it, and she snapped, “Well, you don’t have to get mad about it, Roger!” She looked at Lisa and winked. “If she says she saw a ghost I believe her!” Roger grimaced and shook his head from side-to-side and said, “Whatever!” Lisa was glad her friend had confidence in her, but she saw Roger was going to keep getting madder if she kept talking about it, therefore she decided to change the subject. But before she did, her boyfriend Todd entered the conversation.

“I don’t know if there are ghosts or not, but I believe once people die they either go to heaven or hell—they don’t hang around here on earth dragging chains and shit…….That’s made up stuff. But I’ll tell you one thing—I do believe that there are demons! The Bible even says they’re real.” He paused for a moment, and grinned as he said, “Anyway, Lisa, I doubt demons would waste their time to make a noose to hang up in your Grandfather’s barn!” Everyone laughed except for Roger, of course, and Julia—the young lady whose house they were in. Julia had been unusually quiet since they had started talking about ghosts—she sat on the couch, listening intently to what was being said, but didn’t offer a comment until Roger spoke again.

“I told you little shits that ain’t no ghosts, there ain’t no witches, and there ain’t no demons, either! All that stuff is a bunch of nonsense parents used to tell kids to keep them too scared to do anything! They’d tell ‘em the devil was gonna get ‘em!” Roger laughed sarcastically as he shook his head in disgust. “You are all dumb-asses if you believe they’re real!”

Julia slowly leaned across the coffee table and stared into Roger’s eyes. “Roger—You don’t believe in ghosts, witches, or demons, huh?”

“Hell no, I don’t!” Roger said, growing madder by the minute.

“Well, what if I prove to you that they do exist?” she said.

“How do you think you can do that? People who are a lot smarter than your dumb-ass have tried to prove it for years, and no one has done it yet!”

Julia looked him straight in the eyes. “I will make a believer out of you, Roger—that I guarantee! There are a lot of things you don’t see on TV.” Tauntingly she added, “Well, whaddya say, tough guy? Are you gonna take me up on it?”

Realizing that everyone would think he was a coward if he declined, he said, “Go ahead, dumb ass! I’m not scared of you, or any-damn-thing you can do!”

“Good! Let’s get started then!” Julia looked at Roger with a smile that suddenly seemed almost evil. It was a smile so unlike her usually cheerful grins that it actually scared her closest friends. Julia rose from the couch and said, “Go get your van started, if the son-of-a-bitch will crank, and we’ll all go down to Douglas Lake and I’ll show you what you really don’t want to see, Rog.”

“What do we have to go down there for? Can’t you work your magic mumbo-jumbo here, Esmerelda?”

Julia looked back over her shoulder at him as she walked toward her bedroom door and said, “I never said I would or wouldn’t scare you, Roger—that’s not my call…..I only said that I would prove to you that ghosts and demons are real. Now, go get the van, please……Unless you’re chicken-shit!”

All eyes in the room went to Roger, and everyone wondered if the 6’3” senior captain of the high school football team actually was scared. When he saw the others looking at him, he jumped off the couch and yelled, “I ain’t scared of a damned thing!” He stormed out to his van, started it, and pulled it around to the front door of Julia’s house.

The shocked teenagers walked toward the van, and Robin went up to Julia and whispered in her ear, “What are you going to do to him, Jules?”

“I’m not going to do anything to him”, she explained. “I’m simply going to prove to him and to everyone else that the supernatural realm does exist!”

They were all silent as they got into the van, and the somber mood would have suggested they might have been on their way to a funeral instead of having fun on a Friday night. As the van began to make its’ way out of Julia’s driveway, Todd interrupted the silence by asking Julia what she was holding in her hands.

“It’s a communicator—An old communicator. You remember old Miss Chambers that lives on Highway 92, don’t you?” They all nodded their heads in acknowledgement of the old lady Julia spoke of. “She gave it to me last year. She told me her Grandmother was given the Communicator by a former slave girl that lived near their farm after the Civil War, and it had been passed down to her, instead of her mother. Miss Chambers is nearly eighty now, and she never had any children, so she gave it to me.”

“It looks like one of them ‘Wee-Gee’ boards to me!” Todd said.

“Some people call them that, Todd, but Miss Chambers told me they are actually called communicators—because you can use them to communicate with spirits,” Julia explained. “And Todd, just to be grammatically correct, that word is pronounced ‘Wee-Jah’, not ‘Wee-Gee’.”

“Oh, forgive me,” Todd said mockingly. I wouldn’t want one of the ‘big, bad, boogers’ to get mad at me for mispronouncing its’ name!”

Everyone laughed , which seemed to calm their nerves, but it made Roger worse. He felt more uneasy as they wound around every curve in the road, and as they climbed each hill. “Shut up back there!” he yelled. “Do you want me to have a wreck? Good God! Where the hell are we supposed to be going anyway, Julia?”

“It’s about a half mile on down the road, Roger. You’ll see a path that leads into the woods. When you see that path you’ll need to pull over to the side and park right there”, she said. “We’ll have to walk the rest of the way.”

The van moved slowly around the curvy road as if it didn’t want to go where its’ driver was taking it, when Julia yelled, “There!”, and pointed to a small footpath leading into the woods. “Pull over right there.”

Roger pulled the van in the narrow pull-out on the side of the road, and everyone got out of the van nervously—each one wondering what was about to happen. They still were not sure what they were doing there to begin with, about to walk down a dark path through the woods to God knew where.

“Hey! After Julia gets finished spooking Roger, we oughta go swimming!” Todd said.

“It’s too cold for that, stupid! I don’t want to get Pneumonia!” Robin said. “Let’s just let Julia have her fun and let’s go back home. The next movie is supposed to be a good one!”

“I’m all for that”, Lisa said. “I’m not too crazy about being out here in the first place.”

After they had walked for about ten minutes they came to a clearing in the woods, where they finally saw the lake. They followed Julia to a large rock that sat broodingly at the edge of the water. When Julia reached the rock, she placed the Ouija board on top of it and produced a large candle and a pack of matches from her jacket. She lit the candle and closed her eyes. She said something in a low tone that none of the others understood and picked up the candle and swung it three times to the left and three times to the right. She returned the candle to the rock and pulled a pouch from her pocket that contained some form of dark gray powder. At this point, everyone in the group was beginning to get scared.

“What’s all this mumbo-jumbo about, Julia?” Roger demanded. “I didn’t come out here to see you put on some weird magic show, you freak!”

Julia didn’t respond to or look at Roger, but she took a small pinch of the powder and sprinkled it over the candle. When she did this, the candle’s flame grew large and bright for a brief moment, as if it were alive—dancing and fluttering against the backdrop of the frightened faces of the onlookers.

When the candle’s flame grew higher, Roger’s underlying but potent fear grew higher as well.

“Look, Julia—I want you to tell me what you’re up to right now! Enough is enough! What’s this crap with the powder and the chanting?”

Julia looked at him with a look of contempt and disgust as she said, “I must do that in order to summon the spirits, Roger—to let them know we desire their presence.”

“The only thing I desire is to get out of here!” Roger said. “This is foolish!”

Julia simply ignored Roger and as she turned her back to him, she raised her arms above her head and began to move them back and forth, softly singing something in the unknown language she had used before. After she did this for a minute or two she abruptly opened her eyes and seated herself Indian-style on the dirt in front of the Ouija board.

She looked at her friends with coldness in her eyes and announced, “My friends, the spirits are now ready to communicate with us. Everyone come closer and join hands around the rock. I will caution you of one thing—there can’t be any talking or laughing while the spirits are present—we must not disrespect the spirits. Agreed?”

Everyone nodded their heads in agreement—even Roger—who apparently had realized the quicker they got this over with would be the quicker he would get out of there. On Julia’s command they all joined hands, but each of them began to look at Julia with a newfound sense of fear and distrust. They were seeing a side of their friend that they never knew existed, even though they had known her since they were in first grade. The girl they now saw by candlelight was not the girl they had known—it was a dark and scary representation of her. They each hoped within themselves that soon she would start laughing and tell them it was all a big joke, but they knew that wouldn’t happen. They realized that this had already gone too far and was much too elaborate to have been only a spur-of-the-moment prank.

Julia once again closed her eyes and placed one hand on the Ouija’s pointer, and asked Lisa to place her hand on the other side, which she did. Julia hummed and swayed for a moment, and the pointer suddenly started to move! Lisa’s eyes widened and everyone knew how scared she was. The Ouija’s pointer began to spell something out. R---O---G---

“Aw, this is bull-crap! You’re only doing that to try to scare me!” Roger said, as beads of sweat started to trickle down his forehead.

“Shhh! Let the spirits say what they want. So mote it be!” Julia appeared as if he were in another world as she continued swaying and chanting.

The pointer began moving again, spelling E----R--------F---I---R---E.

“Oh, my God!” Robin screamed, deeply concerned for her boyfriend. “It first spelled Roger, then spelled fire! What does it mean, Julia?”

Julia was becoming scared herself as she explained, “I don’t know what it means. The spirits say what they want, and I don’t always know why.” Lisa removed her hand from the pointer and Julia removed hers as well.

“All right, the joke’s over.” Todd said, actually feeling sorry for the big football hero who now sat at the edge of the circle with terror in his eyes. “You’ve scared Roger to death”. “You’ve scared us all, Julia—now let’s go home.”

“It wasn’t me, Todd—you ask Lisa! The pointer moves on its’ own! Doesn’t it Lisa?”

“Well, I sure didn’t move it any—it did seem to be moving on its’ own.” Lisa was terrified, and all she wanted to do was get back in the van and get away from there.

As they were talking, Robin started yelling and pointing to the Ouija board—the pointer was moving by itself, as no one was touching it at all! Everyone started yelling and screaming, and Julia looked to be more scared than any of them at this point. She began to cry and she ran over and picked up the Ouija board and threw it as far as she was able to throw it into the woods, and the entire group ran back toward the van as fast as they could run. Lisa stopped about halfway to the van and looked back toward the rock, and she saw that a fire had started in the exact location where Julia had thrown the Ouija board.

“Everybody—Look back there!” she cried as she pointed toward the fire. “Julia, did you throw the candle in the woods, too?”

“No—it’s right here,” Julia replied in between sobs as she showed them the candle she had used at the rock and now held in her hand.

“Do you suppose that’s what the board meant when it spelled out F-I-R-E?” Todd asked.

“I don’t know,” Julia said. “I only got into this stuff last year when I started going to see Miss Chambers. It was always cool before—I mean, it isn’t supposed to do things like this! I’m sorry guys, I thought it was just harmless fun. I didn’t mean for anything bad to happen.”

“It’s all right, Julia—let’s just get out of here right now!” Robin said.

The teenagers continued to run as fast as they could, and they finally made it to the van. When Roger climbed inside he saw the fire in the woods was getting bigger. He floored the accelerator and pointed the van back toward home. The van was going about 60 mph on the narrow, winding road when all of a sudden, something flew up in front the windshield, causing Roger to run off the road and crash into a tree.

Todd, Lisa, Robin and Julia were getting out of the van as it burst into flames—with Roger trapped beneath the steering wheel. Todd tried for a minute or two before he finally got Roger free from the vehicle. When he got a look at Roger he saw he was badly burned, especially on the right side of his face.

The police and the ambulance arrived a few minutes later, and took all of the teenagers to the hospital for tests and observation. Everyone was okay, except for Todd, who had received minor burns while he was getting Roger out, and Roger, who received 3rd degree burns on his arms, and on one side of his face. Later that night, the luckier of the teenagers sat outside Roger’s room, talking about what happened.

“I guess we know what the Ouija board meant by ‘fire’ and ‘Roger’ now, don’t we?” Lisa said glumly.

“Let’s don’t talk about it, okay?” said Julia, the girl who obviously blamed herself for what had happened.

About that time a police officer came and seated himself on the bench beside them, in order to verify the story of what happened one last time. They all told him about the car crash, but nothing about the events leading up to it, until Robin remembered the fire in the woods. “Officer, there was a fire in the woods about a half mile up the road from where we crashed—has the fire department put it out yet?”

The officer looked at Robin with a puzzled look, and replied, “A fire? About a half mile toward the lake, you say?”

“Yes,” Robin replied, “on a small path in the woods that leads to the lake.”

“Okay—I’ll have someone check on it.” The officer said as he turned and walked away. “You kids try to get some rest, you hear?”

They all nodded as the officer walked down the corridor of the hospital and got on the elevator.

Lisa looked sternly at Robin and said, “I don’t know if you should have told him about the fire—what if they think we started it and we get in trouble?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Julia said. “All of this is my fault, and if any problems come out of this, I’ll take the blame. I shouldn’t have messed with that stuff anyway.”

About thirty minutes later, the policeman came back and sat next to them again. “Are you sure you saw a fire out in the woods? With the crash and everything that happened, couldn’t you be mistaken?”

“No sir, there definitely was a fire. We all saw it.” Julia said solemnly.

“Well, Miss, an officer has been out there checking on it for the past half hour. He went all the way down that path to the lake, and he says the only fire he’s seen out there tonight was the one caused by your accident.”

When the teenagers heard this, they all looked at each other with stunned looks on their faces, but declined to explain any further to the officer.

“You kids have been through a traumatic experience, and sometimes the mind plays tricks on folks,” the officer said. “You just do what I said, now, and get some rest.” He turned to leave, then paused and said, “There was one peculiar thing out there on that trail, though. The officer said he did find a small pile of ashes and a plastic lens—but saw no evidence of a fire around it or under it. It’s probably been there for a long time.” He stared straight ahead for a moment, trying to figure out in his own mind what might have produced ashes other than a fire, but dismissed the thought from his mind, and bid the youngsters ‘goodnight’.

It has been twenty-five years since these events took place, but those who experienced it will never forget it. For instance, Roger is reminded each time he looks into a mirror that some things are better left alone. As for Julia, she never again used a Ouija board, or any communicator other than her telephone or e-mail, and she is now a professor at a local college where she teaches Religious Studies—where her curriculum contains no form of mysticism whatsoever.

Copyright Tim Pettigrew 2005

Tim Pettigrew is a freelance writer residing in Morristown.
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