I wrote this short story back in 2011. It is one of my handwritten pieces that never made it onto my hard drive, let alone publication. In fact, it was never meant to. I wrote it primarily for myself, and thought that perhaps one day, I would put it into Word and send it up to some magazine or the like, to see if they might be interested in it. Somehow, I never got round to it, and so since the time of writing, it has sat there in my archive, with my other handwritten unpublished short stories and poetry. So when I saw that this week’s Discover Challenge was to make an ephemeral transcript digital, I thought that perhaps I would give this piece an airing and see what you all thought of it. Who knows, later on, I might give some more of my short stories and poetry an airing too. That’s if you’d all like to read them, of course! Thus, without further ado, I give you “Ouijabble”.
John and Linda sat down at the dining room table, ready to play their habitual weekly game of Scrabble. This had been a routine of theirs since before they were married. They both worked long hours, so much so that sometimes they would hardly see each other throughout the week. Once John joked that it was pointless them even having a house together, given that they spent so little time there. Neither of them worked weekends, but on Saturdays there was all the housework to catch up on, shopping to do, mothers to call, friends to see, and a whole heap of other stuff to take care of, all of which made Saturdays almost as busy as a workday. Sunday was the only day when there was absolutely nothing to do. They could sleep late, eat breakfast in bed, even stay in bed all day if they wanted. Generally, they could do as much or as little as they liked.
It was on one of these lazy Sundays, either while they were dating or just after they got engaged, neither of them could quite remember which, that the idea of playing Scrabble was born. They both loved word games, and so the idea of playing a game – or even several games – gave them the opportunity to spend some quality quiet time together when neither of them had to think about work, and if anyone wanted to call round, they could quite legitimately say they were busy. John and Linda loved these Sundays together. It gave them something to look forward to at the end of the week, and just between the two of them, Sundays were renamed “Scrabble Day”.
This morning, while they were drinking their coffee and eating their bacon butties in bed, Linda had told John about a conversation she’d had with a colleague at work. Her colleague, it seems, had begun to keep chickens. She currently had four of them, and had had them for a couple of months, but none of them had ever laid any eggs.
“Anyway,” said Linda, “the other day she was going shopping, so she started to make a list, as you do. She knew she needed eggs, because her chickens hadn’t laid yet, and so she put that as the first thing on the list. She was just about to write milk, when she looked out of the kitchen window and saw the neighbour’s dog jump the fence and start heading over towards her chicken coop. So, with the list still in her hand, she ran outside to chase the dog away. As it turned out the dog was just curious, and didn’t really mean any harm, and the neighbour was very apologetic when she came to get him back”
“Is this actually going anywhere?” asked John, wiping a bit of bacon grease off his chin.
“I’m getting to it, sarky” Linda replied, giving him a sharp dig in the ribs with her elbow. “To cut to the chase, she put the list down on top of the chicken coop while she checked that none of the chickens was any worse for wear, and then, what with all the commotion and everything, she went shopping and forgot the list. When she got back, she went to check on the chickens again, only to find the list still on top of the coop where she’d left it. Not only that, but all the chickens were inside, and they’d all laid eggs. I mean, isn’t that spooky?”
John shrugged. “Not really, no. The neighbour’s dog scared the chickens and instead of shitting themselves they all laid eggs. I don’t see what’s spooky about that at all”
“No, I mean, isn’t it spooky that she leaves a piece of paper with the word “eggs” on it on top of the chicken coop, and a couple of hours later all her chickens have laid eggs?”
He shrugged again. “Just a coincidence” he said.
Linda gave him another dig in the ribs. “Honestly, you have no imagination at times”
John just smiled and continued with his breakfast before saying “It’s a good job she didn’t write milk on her list, isn’t it?”
“What makes you say that?
“Well, you said she wrote ‘eggs’ and she got eggs. If she’d written ‘milk’ she might have ended up with a cow!”
Linda gave him another dig in the ribs for that.
“Mind you,” said Linda, a little while later, “it would be funny wouldn’t it, if we could just write down any word and it would happen. Like, if we wrote down “money” and then suddenly we got loads of money”
“Hey, yeah,” said John, reaching over to the bedside table for a piece of paper and a pen, “Let’s try it” And with that he scribbled something down, folded the paper and handed it to Linda.
“Very funny, you cheeky git” said Linda, as she unfolded the paper and read what he’d written. ‘A shag’.
Oddly enough, what John had written did indeed become reality; in fact, it became reality more than once, and by the time the two of them sat down to their game of Scrabble, it was three o’clock in the afternoon and the discussion about chicken coops and shopping lists had been entirely forgotten.
Each taking turns to remove one letter, John and Linda picked out seven letters, arranging them as they went on the little plastic stands. John sighed. His letters were rubbish – J B N O E Z Q – and as he glanced up, he could tell from the look on her face that Linda’s letters weren’t much better.
“Who’s going first?” he asked.
“Well, seeing as how I’ve got absolutely nothing, you can go first”
John put down ONE, the only word he could think to make. “Great start!” he said, writing down his score before picking out three more letters “Only three bloody points”
“Well, at least you’ll be pleased to know you’ve helped me” said Linda with a cheeky smirk. And with that she took a P and H from her letters to make the word PHONE. She rubbed her hands with glee. “Haha! Ten points!”
“There’s a long way to go yet, Little Miss Modest” smiled John, watching her pick out two more letters.
“OK, OK Mr Uppity, just because you’re losing” They would often banter like this during Scrabbleday. Calling each other by the names of real or imagined characters from the Mr Men and Little Miss books had somehow become part and parcel of the game.
John’s three replacement letters were R O and M, and so, using the O from PHONE, he spelled out the word BROOM, for nine points. Linda shrieked with delight, as she added STICK onto the end of BROOM, landing on a Double Letter Score and a Triple word score to make a total of 63 points.
Just then the phone rang.
“I’ll get it seeing as it’s your turn next,” said Linda, getting up from the table, “but no cheating while I’m away”
“Oh, Little Miss Cynical, you wound me, you really do!” replied John, with feigned indignation.
“That’s nothing to what I’ll do if you cheat” she said, giving him a playful slap on the back of his head as she passed.
Cheat? I’ve never cheated at anything in my life! he murmured to himself, looking round to make sure the coast was clear before taking a sneaky peek at Linda’s letters. He knew he shouldn’t have looked; not necessarily from a moral standpoint, but rather that he now realized that unless his luck at picking letters changed, she was going to beat him hands down. She had B A E M N I O. He looked back at his own letters. J Z Q W I C H, and tutted. Maybe I could pretend I’m Polish he thought to himself, and then “Haha! Take that Little Miss Beat-You-Hands-Down” he said out loud, realising that he could use the T of BROOMSTICK to spell WITCH and earn himself fourteen points. He was just writing down the score when Linda returned.
“Who was it?” he asked, as she sat back down.
“Oh, just my mum” she replied, looking at her letters.
“What did the witch want today?”
“My mum isn’t a witch. I keep telling you that”
“So how do you explain that cat of hers then?”
“Having a black cat doesn’t make my mum a witch any more than driving a Porsche makes your dad a tosser” she said with a little laugh.
John didn’t respond. He merely sat looking at the Scrabble board with a puzzled and slightly disturbed expression. The words PHONE, BROOMSTICK and WITCH jumped out him, as in his mind strange connections began to form between the words and what had just happened. They had spelled out the words PHONE, BROOMSTICK and WITCH, and then the phone had rang and it was Linda’s mother, who John had always thought of as a witch, and an meddling one at that.
“John? John, I’m sorry” said Linda, her voice breaking his train of thought “I didn’t mean to say that about your dad. It just slipped out”
“What?” John replied, forcing his gaze away from the board “Oh, yeah, don’t worry about it. My dad is a tosser anyway”
Linda smiled. “So what’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing. I was just looking at the words and…no, it’s nothing…forget it. I’ve been reading too many ghost stories I think” John’s tone was jokily dismissive, but falsely so. Forcing the thought out of his head he said “Come on then, your turn”
“OK, OK” she replied, “Give me a sec”
John watched her as she turned her attention back to her letters. Whenever she was in deep concentration, she had this funny little way of wrinkling up her nose. It reminded him of Samantha from Bewitched.
“Ha!” said Linda, “Take that Little Mr. Hurry Up” and with that she put down a B and E at the beginning of WITCH to make BEWITCH. She looked up at John with a big beaming smile; but the smile faded instantly when she saw the look on John’s face.
“Whatever is the matter?” she asked, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost”
But John didn’t reply. He simply sat, staring at the board.
“John? For god’s sake what is it? You’re scaring me” said Linda, her tone almost pleading.
John blinked, trying to shake himself from his stupor. Finally, he said “It’s nothing. It’s stupid”
“What is? What’s stupid?” asked Linda.
“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” said John “but every time we’ve played a word it’s happened”
“What’s happened? You’re not making any sense”
“Look! We made the word “phone,” then “broomstick,” and “witch” and then the phone rang and it was your mother, who I always call a witch”
“So. That doesn’t mean anything, silly. It’s just a coincidence”
“And then I was just thinking that when you wrinkle up your nose, you remind me of Samantha from Bewitched, and look what you put down”
Linda looked at the board for a moment and then said “Yeah, OK, if that’s true then that is a bit creepy. But I don’t think you need to go getting all wigged out about it. Like I said, it’s just a coincidence. It’s like…”
“…your friend and the eggs” said John, interrupting.
“What? Oh don’t be daft. You said yourself that that was a load of stuff and nonsense”
“But what if it isn’t? What if whatever we write down actually happens?”
“Then there would have been world peace and equality and an end to injustice years ago. This is Scrabble, John, not an Ouija board. Now shall we carry on? Or do you want to scare yourself and annoy me some more?”
“Well thanks for your concern, Little Miss Supportive” said John, sarcastically.
“Any time, Mr Paranoid”
Looking at the letters he’d just picked up, John saw that he now had an ‘N’ and two ‘Es’. He smiled, and, using the ‘K’ made the word ‘KNEE’ for 9 points. Linda added the points to the tally on the piece of paper and then shifted position while she considered what to play next, banging her knee on the table as she did so.
“Bollocks!” she exclaimed, putting her hand under the table and rubbing her knee, “That really hurt” Catching John’s eye, she couldn’t help but notice the look of worry. “Don’t look so scared,” she said “my leg’s still there. It probably won’t even leave a bruise”
“I’m not worried about your knee…”
“I don’t mean it like that. But don’t you see?”
“Oh come on, Linda! I spell the word ‘knee’ and look what happened!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, John!” said Linda, “It still doesn’t mean anything. I could have banged my ankle instead and then what would you have said?”
“But you didn’t bang your ankle, did you?” said John “You banged your knee. I spell the word knee and you bang your knee. Now on its own then yes, it’s a coincidence, but when you add it up with all the other stuff you get…”
“A few coincidences” said Linda, obviously irritated “For god’s sake, John, you’re reading something in nothing. Honestly, I wish I’d never told you that stupid story about the eggs. Listen, I’ll prove to you that this is all stuff and nonsense”
“How?” asked John.
By way of an answer, she placed an ‘M’ and an ‘A’ in front of the ‘P’ to spell the word ‘MAP.’
“Now,” said Linda, “if a great big map suddenly falls onto the table, then I’ll believe all this witchery hoodoo of yours, but until that happens, can we please just get on and play the game?”
“Fine” said John, obviously rankled.
“And I don’t want you saying that we live next door to Pamela and map is Pam spelled backwards either”
“OK, OK you’ve made your point! I’m stupid, you’re not”
“I never said you were stupid, John. All I meant was that when something gets into your head, you’re likely to start seeing things that aren’t really there”
“Oh, so I’m imagining things now, am I?”
“For heaven’s sake, this is ridiculous! You know full well that I’m not saying you’re imagining things!”
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it” said Linda, getting up “Honestly, I’m beginning to regret ever starting this game”
“Yeah, you and me both” said John as she got to the door. Grumpily staring at his letters, he didn’t see Linda turn around and peevishly stick out her tongue at him. He was still staring at them when she came back, his mind flitting between figuring out what word he could make and for what score, and the unnerving feeling that something odd was happening.
“Who was it?” asked John, as Linda sat back down at the table.
“Oh, just some guy looking for McKenna’s Camp Site. He said he’d been driving round for about an hour trying to find it. Turns out he had his map upside down”
“Yeah. He was going camping and he had a ma…” Linda stopped short of finishing her sentence.
“What’s the matter?” asked John, “Still think I’m imagining things?”
“I told you before I never said you were imagining things!” Linda snapped back. There was something in her voice, a tone that wasn’t there earlier. The disdainful, perhaps even sardonic, attitude had disappeared, replaced by something altogether more worried, fearful.
“Hey, I’m sorry” said John, reaching across the table to Linda, who by now was staring at the Scrabble board, her eyes flitting this way and that, taking in all the words they had so far played.
“What if you’re right?” Linda asked, raising her eyes to him, “What if whatever appears on the board actually becomes real?”
“Well in that case, it’s a good job we’re not playing snakes and ladders” said John. Although he laughed as he said it, it was a laugh filled with nervousness rather than mirth.
“Please be serious” replied Linda. She sounded on the verge of tears.
“Look,” said John, “it’s all just witchery hoodoo” Linda was about to protest but John cut her off by saying “Your words, remember. I mean, if every word that anyone played in Scrabble actually became real then it would have been called Ouija Scrabble by now, or some Americanised contraction of the two, like Ouijabble or something”
By now, John and Linda were held in each other’s gaze, holding hands across the board. Linda sighed and shook her head.
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s just a weird set of coincidences, that’s all. If we hadn’t had the conversation about the chickens and the eggs, we probably wouldn’t have even noticed it, would we?” She was smiling, and to all intents and purposes she sounded convincing, but underneath it all, it was as though she was trying to convince herself.
“Exactly” replied John, “The only thing that’s definitely happening is that we’re scaring ourselves”
Linda took her hand from his and said “I’m going to make a cup of tea. You want one?”
“Err…yeah if you’re making one” said John, somewhat reticently.
Linda smoothed down her hair and wiped her hands over her face, something she often did when she was trying to calm herself down. As she lowered her hands she glanced at the board.
“Very funny Mr. Wise Guy” she said “I don’t need scaring any more today, thank you very much”
John looked at the board and saw that she had seen that he had utilised the E in the word PHONE to make the word TEA. He laughed.
“Just trying to make light of it, you know me” he said with a shrug.
“Don’t I ever” she said, as she wandered into the kitchen to make the tea. John thought it best not to tell her that he had actually played the word TEA before she had come back from answering the door.
Once the tea was made and Linda had settled back down in her place, John reminded her that it was her turn to play.
“I know, I know” she said, haughtily.
John looked at her. She had a curious expression, one he had seen many times before. It was the expression she wore when she was determining whether she ought – or rather dared – to do something or not.
“Fuck it!” she exclaimed “I’ll show this Ouijabble or whatever the hell it thinks it is who’s boss!” And with that, utilising the E in the word KNEE she played the word DEATH. Unconsciously, the two of them looked at each other, then at the board and then back to each other. John looked up at the ceiling; Linda looked around the room. Finally, Linda couldn’t hold it any longer and began to giggle.
“Look at us!” she said, in between giggles “It’s like we’re expecting to be hit by lightning or something” John laughed too.
“We’re acting like kids telling ghost stories at Halloween” he laughed.
The doorbell rang and they both nearly jumped out of their chairs, which only made them laugh even more.
“I’ll get it this time” said John, and he was still giggling as he left the room. He had been gone not more than a few seconds when Linda heard his voice behind her. He was no longer laughing. He sounded breathless and somehow…detached. He spoke just one word. “Run”
Turning in her seat, Linda saw John stagger forward, his hands clutching at his chest as blood oozed through his fingers, leaching out over his white t-shirt. His face was pale, as if he were about to faint. He dropped to his knees. Linda jumped up from her chair and ran over to him, bewildered at what could possibly have happened. She reached out to put her arm around him, but he pushed her away. “Run!” he gasped.
Just then, a movement caught her eye and as she looked up, a figure rounded the door. It was the young guy with the map who had called earlier. He had a bloody knife in his hand.