These Creepy Sonnets Form a Short Story About a Seance... And Aftermath

In honor of National Poetry Month, please enjoy a story in six sonnets by our very own acclaimed science fiction author Tim Powers.


by Tim Powers


The nuns had mentioned it, in school. They said,

In more or less these words, "You're better off

"Taking up drink, or even dope, instead."

Being a kid, and never one to scoff

(At least not openly) at their advice,

I made a show of humoring the Lord

While secretly indulging in the vice

They warned against — id est, the Ouija board.

I'd heard that you could talk to folks who'd died,

By sliding this device from letter to letter.

You couldn't see them, but they couldn't hide

All mute beneath their gravestones. It worked better,

I found, to do the thing by candle-light,

In the dead-silent middle of the night.


And did I hear from ghosts? Well, not at first.

The "planchette" (that's the gadget that you slide)

Is for the ghosts to move, not you. The worst

Mistake beginners make is to decide

The message half-way through, and — like someone

Impatient with a stutterer — presume

To end the sentence for him, jump the gun:

You've blown it then, the message won't resume.

Passivity's the key — but not a key

For you to open anything they'd hide.

It's in the "hands" of someone else, and he

(or she, or it), who has already died,

Is now awake again — a "person" who

Is holding now the key that unlocks you.

[Has got hold of?]


But no one told me that part. That I found,

One night, when I relaxed and let the ghost

Just push the thing whichever way around

The board it pleased, and I was more engrossed

With watching the planchette swing to and fro

Than reading what it spelled. It made my eyes

Grow blurry — there I sat, too tired to know

That really this was meant to hypnotize.

I heard my fingers snap, and sat upright;

Some hours had passed — I couldn't now recall

A word the thing had spelled. The cold daylight

Showed me a paper covered with my scrawl —

The lines in columns there were all the same:

A hundred times I'd written out my name.


That was obscurely frightening, and I threw

The board straight in the trash; but late that night

(Early next morning, really), damp with dew

And blinking in a streetlamp's lunar light,

I woke up in the alley, pawing through

The garbage till I found the thing again.

And something was elated to renew

Our link, across the gulfs of where and when.

What could I do? I brought it back inside.

There the planchette was, but it couldn't wait

For that — instead I watched my fingers slide

And tap across the board; I'd hesitate,

Only to be yanked back — and so I read



My voice was still my own — I firmly told

(Then begged) the entity to let me go;

That was a laugh. By then the thing controlled

My arms and legs, and now it could forego

The board entirely. Snatching up a pen,

It scribbled on the wall: We aged and died,

But I've come back to have our life again,

Over and over, pushing you aside.

I struggled, or I tried to, anyway.

But he — or older me whom I'd called back,

Whose fare I evidently had to pay —

Was crowding me and taking up the slack

So quickly that in moments it was done:

He had a body now, and I had none.


Eventually he'll grow old and die

Again, and then again, and every time

He'll find the youthful me eager to try

The game the nuns considered such a crime.

Sometimes I hope to serve him tit-for-tat

And work the gambit back on him; but then

Remind myself that he's too smart for that —

He'll never touch a Ouija board again.

But maybe, in those years he stole from me,

He'll marry, as I never got to do;

I'll watch from this dark Limbo, and if he

Should (not unlikely) have a child or two,

And one of them should see a board somewhere

And touch it, even briefly — I'll be there.


Share This Story

Get our newsletter