The triangle moved across the painted and lacquered board from one letter shape to the next, but the child didn’t understand. Instead they laughed and tried to catch the planchette. Had the spirit lips and breath, a heavy raspberry sigh would have sounded through the room.
FINALLY, a human with whom to communicate, and this one was much too young to know how.
The spirit idly passed the planchette this way and that, watching the tyke chase it, laughing and babbling inarticulate chatter.
An idea occurred.
The spirit left to rifle through the boxes and stacks tucked into the depths of the attic seeking the texts of youth long past. The spirit returned triumphantly with their prizes (however dusty), but the child was gone. The little voice echoed up the stairs from the house below where the spirit could not and would not follow.
The books were left next to the abandoned ouija board and the spirit settled into the bones of the house with a creak and a whistling sigh of wind passing through the loose parts of the walls and windows. A good sulk was never quite right without the weight of a body, even borrowed.
A shiver went through the spirit. A demanding little voice peeped insistent and punctuated each cry with a slap to the board.
The planchette darted across the board and the returned visitor squealed and lunged after it. The spirit pulled the wooden piece around, spelling small words, but the little living grabbed it, and it became a game of tug-of-war.
Well, still, it was more interaction than the spirit had encountered in at least a decade.
Reduced to a mere toy.
The child (Shouldn’t children have names? Who even was this tiny mortal?) put one corner of the planchette in their mouth. This seemed like the sort of thing one ought to dissuade living children from, in the spirit’s vague recollection. They pulsed a tiny shock through the dust and grime collected on the wood. The child dropped the piece with a wide-eyed wail of surprised betrayal, lower lip popping out and quivering.
Maybe it was too much? It was so hard to gauge these things when one hadn’t had proper senses for such a long while. How was one meant to calm a living being with a limited ability to engage?
But the spirit needn’t have worried, because the distress dissipated quickly in the face of discovery. The child noticed the books, which had been abandoned before, and dove into them with a reckless abandon that quite took the spirit aback. Had no one taught this child proper care of the most valuable creation of human kind? (How was it, come to think of it, that the child was unattended except for an incorporeal being, anyway?)
These two thoughts seemed each to answer the other in some way. The spirit decided it wasn’t much concern of theirs, however.
More importantly, maybe hope was not lost.
Fluttering the books open before the child (Would naming this small human creature be too presumptuous? The spirit hardly knew them, after all, but continually referring to this one as ‘the child’ also seemed a bit too tedious. A pet name, then. Yes, that would do.), the spirit began to dance the images and letters across the pages, much to the child’s (Poppet?) delight. It quickly became apparent, though, that this was not imparting anything beyond entertainment value.
The child (Ducky?) would need sound, which the spirit had not done in far too long. This would take more contemplation, and perhaps more digging. The spirit returned the old ink to their places on their respective pages and went away to seek a tool for vocalizing.
In retrospect, this perhaps could have been an option all along with any of the past visitors, but the old ouija board had always worked well enough. No need for so much effort as this. It simply wasn’t an option this time. Not yet. The spirit, having had this realization, still thought it best to continue with their mission. It was good to have a goal after so long, after all.
The child (Lamb?) was, of course, gone again upon the spirit’s return, but it was just as well, because the old phonograph was broken and a kazoo was hardly useful with no lungs to press air through it.
The spirit settled in to wait, this time watchful, hopeful, eager.
When next the child laboriously climbed the stairs to the ouija board and the spirit, they had worked out a system with the wind in the gaps of the warping boards in old house’s walls. Consonants might be a bit difficult, but they’d get to that when it was time.
The child (Little Bear for the strength demonstrated in their trek up to visit?) went first to the board to slap and call as they had before. The spirit obligingly offered the planchette’s movement, but this time chose to adjust the boards of the house at the same time to sound some of the letters.
The spirit’s would-be student, disappointingly, did not immediately take notice, but then the child paused the chase to look around, seeking the unusual sound. Encouraged, the spirit pulled the planchette to the ‘a’ and allowed the wind to “haaaa” through a window. It was like watching an ember light and grow. The spirit tried another, pulling the planchette again for an “ooooh” that bounced around the ceiling. A spark lit in the child’s eyes and they shrieked and clapped and leapt upon the board, grasping the wooden piece. They shoved conveniently to another vowel, and the spirit arranged a creaking “hehhhh”. This went on, and the spirit was forced to get creative knocking things over and plucking at objects to make clicks and snaps and approximations of sounds as best they could. It was frankly exhausting.
Maybe it was time for self-study. They dropped a book open onto the board and hoped the little Spark would understand. Spark was startled and pouted, and for a moment the spirit worried they would cry, but they seemed to settle into playing with the pages, so the spirit retreated to rest.
Spark had gone again when the spirit resurfaced, and then was gone for three days.
A series of long unfamiliar emotions rolled through the spirit. Anger, frustration, worry, loneliness. How long had it been since they’d had clearly definable feelings? They’d only just settled on a name for their new friend and the child was already gone. It was maybe a bit foolish to have gotten attached, they knew, but it was lovely to have had company for that brief time. The spirit hoped the child was safe, wherever they’d gone.
The spirit righted some of the mess they’d made before and fiddled sadly with the books and board. They considered dissipating to wallow more comfortably when they heard the grunts and thumps of little Spark struggling up the stairs. And then there was the child! A tad darker in the face, with a small, bright hat strapped on by a band under the chin. They had clearly seen sun and the spirit then understood that they’d only been temporarily and unavoidably detained! That was to be expected on occasion, they supposed, and now felt a little silly for being so dramatic about it.
And anyway, it seemed, too, that Spark had immediately sought the spirit out upon their return! The spirit filled with a warmth that suffused the whole space. Even the child appeared to feel it, because they blinked and laughed as if tickled when they reached the top of the stairs. Yes, Spark was a happy occurrence for the spirit after all. Maybe the happiest they’d had since living.
Spark and the Spirit wasted little time, going enthusiastically straight for the board and planchette, and it only distantly occurred to the Spirit that the child had to have parents that, although they clearly did not keep too great an awareness of the whereabouts of their young child (much too young to be left unattended, in the Spirit’s opinion), had to at least also be in the house somewhere, and perhaps would wonder at the sudden commotion of sound whenever their offspring disappeared.
But that was not an immediate concern, and so the Spirit dismissed it in favor of enjoying the task at hand.
Within a matter of days, Spark quickly began imitating the sounds as best they could, apparently having made the connection between sound and shape, or maybe sound and position of the planchette on the board; it was difficult to tell. The Spirit was thrilled with this progress all the same, and was only briefly surprised to find no one had yet come to seek out Spark, no matter how long the child occupied the attic space, or to seek the source of all the noise. Clearly inconsequential. Now how to transition from sound and symbol association to words?
The Spirit had noticed before that Spark seemed already to have a firm grasp of language if not quite the ability for diction just yet, but maybe if Spirit was quick enough, Spark could be encouraged to string the sounds together? Spark could be reading in no time! Spirit felt very proud.
Another day came when again Spark didn’t come. Spirit was roused from a resting state by screaming from the house below. Remembering their dramatics from the last absence, Spirit tried to be calm, but the two unusual occurrences of the missing Spark and the loudness of the adult tenants unnerved the Spirit.
Screaming in itself wasn’t unfamiliar to them. People usually screamed for all kinds of little things in their experience. Spiders, surprise, Spirit’s more puckish moods as a young essence. Worry and curiosity eventually overcame them upon considering the sound didn’t seem much to match the tone for those kinds of causes, and Spirit sank into the bones of the house to try to listen through the walls.
The voices of the adults and the crying of little Spark reverberated through the wood, the anger and fear jarring Spirit as it all absorbed into the house. They were so far below the attic, it was hard to clearly understand their words, but Spirit understood immediately two things: Spark was in distress and his regularly negligent parents were likely the source.
This would not do.
But while the house had been enough living matter once that Spirit could borrow its body now and again, what could they do to help Spark in their time of need this way?
It didn’t matter what. They had to try.
With as much force as they could muster, Spirit rattled the boards of the walls, the floors, the ceiling in each room. Spirit twisted and pulled at the windows until they creaked and cracked and the metal of the frames whined with the pressure. The wind that normally sighed and sung through the gaps of age in the attic came howling through the whole of the house to make clear that enough was enough. Furniture scraped as the whole home shook, dishes fell and shattered, and Spirit and Spark seemed to try to match each other, so that finally the adults were quiet. And then Spirit was quiet. And then, when they could no longer feel the cries of Spark, they drew back from the bones of the house, letting all its parts settle back into place, hopefully none too worse for wear.
Spark did not come the next day.
Or the next.
Spirit began listening through the walls more, looking for their friend, and sometimes they’d feel the shuffling of feet from one room to another through the floor boards, but not a peep but the feather weight of the occasional whisper.
The days went on with no sign of the child. Spirit began to feel lonely, spending more and more time sunk into the bones, listening, losing hope and fearing the worst as the days went on.
Spirit was slipping aimlessly from less to more presence, turning the pages of Spark’s books and shuffling the toys Spark had brought sometimes and left behind, when there was a scraping from down the stairs and then a light. Spirit paused and shied away. Spark never came with a light.
A heavy thump, thump, thump came slowly, steadily up the stairs, the light bobbing with the motion of a body rising into the attic.
A man came into view. If Spirit had eyes, they would have shaded them. They didn’t recall the last time there was so much light in that space. The man paused, sweeping the light across the items scattered on the floor. He stepped in cautiously, and picked up one of Spark’s toys.
Like he recognized it.
Spirit fought down a sense of protection and possession. Was this one of the adults who had so frequently abandoned Spark to Spirit’s care? Who was he to little Spark? How dare he?
Spirit circled the man as the man circled the books and toys and ouija board. They watched the man swallow and croak, “Oh, God.” The fear that Spirit could almost taste on him burst into a thick wall around him and Spirit knew who this man was.
Spirit shoved the light toward the board and dove to move the planchette. This one would have no trouble understanding.
‘W-H-E-R-E-?’ Where was Spark? Spirit needed to know.
“Oh,” the man choked, “Oh, God.” He swung the light away and spun on his heel to leave.
Spirit yanked the light and the man back around. ‘W-H-E-R-E-?’ Pause to pull the light back.
The man shook and dropped the light with a violent clatter. “I don’t know who that is,” he whimpered.
Spirit was running out of patience, and worse, out of energy. They picked up a toy and shook it in the man’s face.
The man shook his head and whimpered again. WHERE? Spirit railed, and the man cried out and covered his ears.
Finally, Spirit was tired. Spirit had worried and watched and waited for days, and now here, at the last chance to find their little Spark, they would have no answers. Slowly, sadly, Spirit dissipated, needing rest.
The man ran, sure that maybe he’d almost lost and just saved his child’s life.
In later years, when the child would grow with a voice that sometimes sounded like a haunted house and who would sometimes sing like a howling wind as they played, the man would remember the creaks and moans of an old house with a hidden attic full of books and a board that spoke to him, and he would shake.