Kendall shut the kitchen window firmly, hoping to drown out the sounds of a million screeching Valkyries coming from the garage. Chad was back from his fraternity reunion near Cincinnati, Ohio, and had brought back a little something from his trip.
“I don’t know how I feel about you staying at a place called the Golden Lamb.” Kendall had asked, the day before his trip. “Isn’t that kind of religious sounding? Won’t you be dealing with creepy inbred country folk?” Kendall had asked, the day before his trip.
“If it’s good enough for several former presidents and famous authors, it’s good enough for the bros” Chad had reasoned. “You have to be less judgmental. Besides, there’s a rumor that it’s haunted. We’re going to get drunk and play with Jeff’s Ouija board.”
Kendall had rolled her eyes at this childishness. “Well don’t invite any strange locals into your room. And don’t stop and ask for directions in any isolated parts of town.”
“I’ll be just outside of Cincy. What could go wrong?” Chad had asked.
But something had gone wrong. Chad hadn’t come back from the Golden Lamb alone. Chad had brought back an electric guitar. “I used to love playing in college!” He’d explained to Kendall, who had frowned while tapping her foot in a manner that indicated she’d heard this before, and that she’d heard him play before, and neither was good.
“You also used to love Zima in college” Kendall pointed out. “But that ended you in a bathtub filled with ice on a drunken dare, and you spent a week in the hospital for frostbite.”
Chad had turned up his amp and struck an E chord at that, loudly drowning out her protests. He loved his new guitar. In fact, Chad loved it so much that he actually played on it, and practiced, and learned a few oldies songs. He explained to Kendall it was because they all started in E and used the same three chords.
“How would you know?” Kendall had responded. “You never tune.”
Two weeks later, Chad stormed into the house through the back door and stomped into the kitchen, pointing an accusing finger at Kendall before he’d even finished shutting the door behind him.
“What did you do with them?” He asked, jabbing the finger at her for emphasis.
“What did I do with what?” Kendall asked, not really paying attention. She was taking a tray of pumpkin spice cookies out of the oven, and was engaged in a delicate balancing act to prevent burning her own wrists on the edge of the cookie sheet.
“My guitar strings. They were sitting on top of my mini fridge just last night and now they’re gone. Don’t tell me you didn’t hide them. I know you hate my playing.”
“I don’t hate your playing” Kendall said in her peacemaking voice. “I just wish you’d play in tune. It’s hard to hear Louie Louie in a minor key because you can’t be bothered to check your strings before you start.”
“Well I don’t see how else the strings could move from the fridge without some kind of help.”
“It’s probably raccoons” Kendall reasoned. “You know they like to pry the window open.”
“What would raccoons do with guitar strings?” Chad asked. “Wouldn’t they be more interested in what’s inside the fridge?”
“I don’t know much about wildlife, but I bet they’d rather eat string than Coors Light. I know I would.” Kendall bit into a cookie as sanctimoniously as humanly possible. She hadn’t taken the strings, but she wasn’t sad they were gone.
Chad stormed off in a funk, intent on purchasing a bag of new strings and hiding them so that Kendall couldn’t move them again. She was always trying to clean up after him and losing his things, things he’d left so conveniently out in the open so he could see where everything was.
Kendall finished her cookie, feeling a little bad for Chad. This new guitar fad was obviously the beginning of a mid-life crises, and instead of being supportive, she was being tolerant. It could be worse. He could have bought a new car, or gotten highlights, or started manscaping. Maybe rather than complaining, she could find a solution. She pulled out her iphone and opened up the Amazon app. If Chad was going to play, he was going to have to improve.
“Where did summer go?” Chad asked a week later, digging furiously in the back of the closet. “I can’t believe it’s coat weather already.”
“It’s been coat weather. This is Ohio.” Kendall said. “You took your coat to that frat weekend. I bet it’s still in the garage.” Kendall had actually been the one to put the coat back in the garage. She hated his old, eighties leather bomber coat. It stank of old spilled beer and stale cigars, and the leather was shiny in some spots and flaky in others. Five minutes in the closet with the nicer coats and they all smelled like an American Legion hall after a charity horse racing event.
“Oh yeah!” Chad darted outside. As soon as he walked into the garage, he saw the coat, which had been slung over the workbench in an effort to air it out a little. Wrapping it around himself, he felt something pointy in one pocket. “What’s this?” He reached in and his fingers closed on something triangular and plastic. He pulled the plastic piece from his pocket and realized that somehow he’d ended up going home with the planchette from Jeff’s Ouija board in his coat pocket. He didn’t remember taking it, but it was quite possible that he’d thought it was a hilarious prank in the drunken heat of the moment. Chad tossed the planchette on the workbench and snuggled into his favorite coat. He loved this coat. It always smelled like his favorite beer and cigar smoke, just like his grandfather’s house. Besides, if a guy was going to go to Guitar Center, he had to wear a leather jacket. That was like, the one rule of Guitar Center.
Chad had read about these pedals that would make his guitar sound three times louder and which could possibly blast out the windows on the Bradford house next door, and he was going to spend his quarterly bonus on one. He hadn’t told Kendall yet, he wanted it to be a surprise. He knew she didn’t like his playing, but he knew that she hated the Bradfords even more.
When Chad arrived home from Guitar Center, he tossed his coat over the back of the kitchen chair, a practice which drove Kendall crazy.
“Hey, slow down there, speed racer, I’ve got something for you” Kendall said, smiling and holding up a box from Amazon.
“I’ll check it out in a few” Chad said, brushing past her. “I want to get in the garage and turn this sucker up to 11.” He wasn’t going to be fooled. Last time she’d given him a present it was a pair of Crocs.
Chad’s casual treatment of Kendall’s love and support infuriated her to no end. That man child! He could sit in that garage all night for all she cared. She opened up the box and shoved the brand new guitar tuner in the pocket of the leather jacket. Maybe when he pulled it out, he’d be excited. Or not. Whatever. Turning on her heel, she left the kitchen to toss the empty shipping box in the recycling bin and to take an angry walk.
“Dang it, Kendall!” Chad slammed the kitchen door shut as he rushed in from the garage. “I told you not to move my guitar strings!”
Kendall was unfazed. “And I told you I haven’t touched your guitar strings. You just bought new ones, remember?”
“Of course I remember, and they’re not where I left them.”
Kendall rolled her eyes. The unspoken comment was that he could never find his things because he left them all over the place to begin with.
“I see that eye rolling” Chad said. “I know exactly where I put them. They were in my tackle box next to the fishing line.”
“Good place for them” Kendall said. “Maybe they’re at the bottom of Lake Erie.”
“I know you don’t like my playing, but you don’t have to hide my things. You could have just asked me to use headphones. I’d have done that. Eventually.”
Kendall smacked herself in the forehead. She wished she’d thought of asking Chad to use headphones! So simple! Why hadn’t she thought of that? Regardless, she hadn’t touched his things.
“I don’t hate your playing and I didn’t sabotage your stuff. In fact, just the other day I bought you a present that you were too busy to notice.” She marched to the coat closet, where she’d grudgingly agreed to let Chad hang his coat, after a liberal application of essential oils to remove the odors. She stuck her hand in the pocket she remembered and fished around. Nothing. “Well I did buy you a present, and I stuck it in your pocket so you’d find it” she finally said. “Did you empty your pockets without looking at the contents?”
“Of course not. A man almost never cleans out his coat pockets. He lets the old things stay in there to decompose and reinforce the pocket linings. That’s why men’s coats last longer than women’s.”
Kendall stuck her hand into an inside pocket and pulled out a hard, triangular piece of plastic. “What’s this?”
Chad took it from her and examined it. “That’s weird. I thought I put that on the workbench.”
“I thought a man never emptied his pockets.”
“Hush, woman” Chad said. “This here is man business. This is the planchette from Jeff’s Ouija board. It’s the pointer you use when you’re spelling out words from beyond.”
“Beyond sanity” Kendall muttered, snatching it back from him to examine it. “Maybe you replaced my present with this last time you were outside.”
“No, I only took this out so I could mail it back to Jeff. It’s really his daughter’s Ouija board, and I didn’t want to disappoint her at her next sleepover.” Chad mentally finished up that sentence with that’s what she said in his brain. “I’m sure the present will turn up. Maybe it fell out in the kitchen.”
“Maybe Reginald pawed it out of your pocket” Kendall said, glaring at their fat orange cat, who was standing up on his hand legs and sniffing the game piece. “He’s kind of a cathole.”
“Reginald can’t be bothered to poop in his litter box, I think it’s unlikely he’d take the time to dig something out of my coat pocket” Chad said. He took the planchette back from Kendall and put it back in the coat. “I’ll mail that next time I’m driving past the post office. It should freak Jeff out to get it in the mail. I’m not going to tell him that I found it.”
“Yeah, maybe he’ll think it’s haunted or something.” Kendall said. They both laughed.
A week later Chad left work early to take some estimated quarterly tax forms to the post office. He could have mailed the forms from his office, but when he was sending things to the IRS, he preferred to watch a clerk mail stamp the envelopes, rather than trusting an intern to remember to make it to the outside mailbox before 5:15. When he arrived at the post office, the sight of the boxes in the back of the room reminded him that he had something to mail back to his friend Jeff. Selecting a small box from the self-service kiosk, Chad reached into his pocket for the small planchette. It felt heavier than usual. Pulling his hand out, he saw that he was holding a heavy box, with a glass screen and a small built in speaker. It was a guitar tuner. His other pockets were empty.
Confused as to why Kendall would empty his pockets despite Chad’s totally logical explanation as to why pockets should never be emptied, Chad paid for his mail and drove home. Kendall had beat him home by a few minutes, and was putting groceries in the refrigerator when he entered the kitchen. She turned around when he entered the room, and her eyes lit up when she saw the tuner in his hand.
“You found your present! Do you like it?” She asked.
“Actually yes, I do. Yesterday I tried to play Under My Voodoo and it sounded like a dirge. You were right about the tuning thing, so thank you.”
Kendall didn’t know what Under My Voodoo was, but she assumed it was responsible for the sounds that had set the dog across the street howling on the previous evening, so she was glad he’d found the tuner. “Where did you find it?” She asked. “Was it kicked under a piece of furniture somewhere?”
“No, it was in my coat pocket. Are you sure you checked all of them the other day?”
“Of course I’m sure. I checked twice.”
“Well, somehow the game piece I was going to mail to Jeff is missing, and this was in its place.”
“We were together when you put the game piece back” Kendall said, starting to get offended. Honestly. She was always the one who had to find the things Chad misplaced, and she was getting sick of him blaming her. She pulled out the crisper drawer to put away a head of cabbage and jumped back a step. “Chad! Seriously?”
Chad leaned over her shoulder. The planchette was nestled in the bottom of the vegetable crisper, next to some kale that had seen better days.
“Hey. You know I didn’t put that in there. I never go in the green drawer of death.”
Kendall stopped short, realizing that this was quite true. “Well then what the hell is happening?”
They both jumped as Chad’s phone sounded. Chad had unfortunately selected In the Hall of the Mountain King as his ringtone, and in her surprise, Kendall threw the cabbage in the air. It splattered on the floor, narrowly missing a hissing Reginald, who darted out of the kitchen, tail puffy like a brush.
“Hello?” Chad asked, not looking at the readout as Kendall attempted to stifle her giggles. “Oh hi Jeff, great timing. What’s up?” He turned and put a finger to his lips, shushing Kendall. “Yes, it’s quite interesting that you say that. Oh, that’s not missing. I have it right here. No, I don’t know about your watch. I’ll call you if I see it. Bye.”
Kendall was dancing around waiting for Chad to get off the phone. “Is Jeff playing a prank on us? Did he break in?”
“Jeff called to see if any of our things have turned up missing in the last few weeks. He called to see if I’d taken his watch by mistake, and his daughter was upset when she opened the Ouija board and the piece was missing. I don’t see him angering his daughter on purpose. Anyway, he lives four hours away.”
“Interesting” Kendall said. “So he probably isn’t the one messing around with your strings and tuner, then.”
“Probably not” Chad said. “I’m going to mail this game piece right now, before it disappears again.” He left the room to go to his office, where he knew he had some stamps and a padded envelope somewhere, that is, if Kendall hadn’t decided to clean his desk and move everything.
Kendall picked up the bruised head of cabbage and removed the outer leaves, rinsing the rest under the tap. She opened the fridge to place the cabbage inside, and jumped back again when she saw something tucked under the milk in the side door. She tentatively reached in and pulled out a brown envelope containing some nylon guitar strings.
“CHAD!” She yelled. “GET IN HERE!”
That night, Chad tossed and turned in bed. He was having a hard time falling asleep, because Kendall was sitting up in bed, reading on her illuminated tablet, and had failed to turn down the screen brightness.
“What are you doing that’s so important you can’t go in the other room” he finally asked, pulling the sheet over his face.
“I don’t want to be alone” she said. “It’s too dark, and I’m researching Ouija boards.”
Chad groaned. “Are you a fifteen year old girl? You know they’re just silly toys to creep out your friends, right? They work on the principals of your subconscious and the anonymity of having multiple people touching the pointer.”
“Is that what Jeff told you?” She asked. She was deep into a website about demon possession hosted by geocities and it was freaking the crap out of her. “What’s the name of the hotel where you guys stayed?”
“The Golden Lamb” Chad said. There was silence from Kendall, and he was able to doze off for a few minutes, before being violently shaken awake again.
“That place is haunted!” Kendall said excitedly. “It’s on the website! There’s a little girl who appears and moves things around, and a man who smokes cigars. What if you brought one of them back? Your coat smells an awful lot like cigars.”
“Yes, obviously the reason my coat smells like cigars is because a ghostey old man blew haunted smoke onto it” he said sarcastically. “I only brought one thing back, and it was a guitar.”
“You brought TWO things back. You brought back that stupid game piece. I can’t believe you didn’t check it out before you played with that thing!”
Chad snorted. “That’s what she said.”
Kendall smacked him with a nearby pillow. “This is serious. You’ve brought something into our home. Did you mail that piece back to Jeff? Maybe we should just get rid of it.”
“I’m more afraid of Jeff’s hormonal pre-teen daughter flying into a rage than I am of any ghost moving some stuff around” Chad said. “So yes, I will be mailing it back to him tomorrow.”
“Good” Kendall said. She reached over and turned the bedside lamp on.
“What are you doing?” Chad pulled another blanket over his face.
“Well you don’t expect me to go to sleep in the dark after reading about ghosts and hauntings and demon possessions, do you?”
Chad put the stamped envelope in the mail the next afternoon, and resumed business as usual. Kendall was still spooked, and jumped whenever she heard a distant train whistle or was startled by Reginald. She promised to stop reading Ouija board facts to Chad from the internet, once she’d learned he’d gotten rid of what she was now calling “the devil’s finger.”
Chad still couldn’t shake the idea that the whole thing was an elaborate prank being played on him by his fraternity brothers in the area. One of them must have been in town on business. It was common knowledge that Chad never locked his garage, because it was rusted and he was afraid the key would break off in the lock.
Three days later, while they were in the living room watching Game of Thrones, Chad saw a text message from Jeff pop up on his phone screen.
“What the duck is this?” Read the autocorrected text message. There was an attached picture of a torn open padded mailer. In the envelope was a small black guitar tuner. Chad looked up to see if Kendall was looking. She was stretched across the couch, snoozing with her mouth open.
Chad got up and walked slowly and quietly to the closet. He opened the door and pulled his jacket towards him. Feeling carefully in the pockets, he reached in and pulled out: Jeff’s planchette.
Chad stared at the game piece in confusion and horror. None of his frat buddies knew that he was mailing the planchette back. Jeff lived in Cincinnati, and he wouldn’t have had time to orchestrate a switch. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Kendall was starting to wake up. He quickly stuffed the planchette back in his coat pocket before she could see it.
She yawned and stretched as she sat up, reaching over to open a small drawer in the coffee table. “I wasn’t sleeping!” She announced cheerfully, lying through her teeth. “My eyes were just tired. Have you seen my reading glasses? I swear I just put them in this drawer a few hours ago.”
“Ah, crap” Chad said.
[DUN DUN DUN…horror movie scream sound]