Tales from a Talking Board, a Horror Story Anthology, ed. by Ross E. Lockhart, Word Horde, 2017: Introduction & TOC

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Cover Art & Design by Yves Tourigny.

“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.”

— Deuteronomy, Chapter 18, Verses 10–12, Holy Bible (New International Version)

“Ages 8 to Adult.”

— Ouija board packaging, 1972

Table of Contents

  • Other books by Ross E. Lockhart
  • Full Title Page
  • Frontmatter
  • Dedication
  • Epigram
  • A Brief History of Talking Boards – Ross E. Lockhart
  • “YesNoGoodbye” – Kristi DeMeester
  • The Devil and the Bugle Boys – J. M. McDermott
  • Weegee Weegee, Tell Me Do – Anya Martin
  • When The Evil Days Come Not – Nathan Carson
  • Grief – Tiffany Scandal
  • Spin the Throttle – David James Keaton
  • Pins – S.P. Miskowski
  • Deep into the skin – Matthew M. Bartlett
  • The Burnt Sugar Stench – Wendy N. Wagner
  • Worse than Demons – Scott R Jones
  • The Empress and the Three of Swords – Amber-Rose Reed
  • Questions and Answers – David Templeton
  • Haruspicate or Scry – Orrin Grey
  • May You Live In Interesting Times – Nadia Bulkin
  • Copyright Acknowledgments
  • About the Editor

Introduction: A Brief History of Talking Boards by Ross E. Lockhart

Not long before the Civil War, a movement swept across the United States, one that held the belief that not only did the soul continue to exist after the death of the body, but that these souls, these spirits, could be communicated with, and could impart wisdom, warnings, and pathways to better connect the living with a supernatural, infinite intelligence. This movement, known as Spiritualism, flourished, boasting nearly eight million followers worldwide by the turn of the twentieth century, despite holding no central doctrine, no canonical texts, and no formal organization. Initially appearing in upstate New York, birthplace of religious movements such as Millerism, Adventism, and Mormonism, Spiritualism boasted its celebrities—the Fox Sisters, Cora L. V. Scott, Achsa W. Sprague, and Paschal Beverly Randolph, to name a few—but a big part of its appeal was its promise to put the power of spirit communication into the hands of its adherents. Advancing technology and American entrepreneurial spirit intervened, and complex divinatory systems like spirit cabinets, table turnings, and alphabetical knockings soon gave way to simpler, more foolproof methods. First came the planchette in 1853, a “little plank” of heart-shaped wood with a pencil incorporated, a means of channeling spirits through automatic writing.

Time passed, and Spiritualists and entrepreneurs continued to refine the technology of Spiritualism. In 1886, the Associated Press reported on a new phenomenon sweeping through Spiritualist circles, the “talking board,” a tray with the letters of the alphabet imprinted upon it, on which a planchette (sans pencil) would be used to point to individual letters at the urging of the spirits. Inspired by this development, Charles Kennard of Baltimore brought together a group of investors, including attorney Elijah Bond and painter/varnisher William Fuld, to form the Kennard Novelty Company to produce and market these talking boards. While Fuld was the artist, Kennard and Bond are better described as capitalists than Spiritualists. They saw an opportunity to make money, so in traditional American spirit, they jumped at it. But that didn’t stop them from asking their board to name itself. Working with Bond’s sister-in-law Helen Peters as medium, they asked the board its name. The board spelled out O-U-I-J-A. The investors puzzled over this strange word. What could it mean? They put the question to Peters. The board answered: “Good luck.” Or so the legend goes. Whether the Ouija board named itself, or if the name comes from the French and German words for yes (oui, ja), or if Peters subconsciously (or consciously) named the board in honor of the popular women’s rights activist Ouida remains enshrouded in mystery, but in 1891, Bond was awarded U. S. Patent number 446,054 and the Kennard Novelty Company Ouija board officially went into production.

In 1892, William Fuld patented his own improved version of the talking board (Patent no. 479,266). Fuld’s mystifying oracle incorporated magnetized wires as a way of providing an early force-feedback effect, and promised to “form words which constitute questions that the players must answer before the board will reply to the previous question.” Fuld would spend the next several years patenting and copyrighting several improvements to his board, securing his reputation as the Father of the Ouija board. Countless variations on the talking board have been produced in the more than 130 years since its inception, bearing names like J.E. Garside’s Throne Board (1893), Southern Toy Company’s Quija (1919), J. W. Stanley’s Witchy Board (1920), Fortune Industries’ Wizard (1940s), Cardinal’s Swami (1940s), Clinton Art Products’ Rajah (1944), and Pacific Game Company’s Predicta (1968).

For much of their history, talking boards were treated as a harmless parlor game, celebrated in song and depicted by Norman Rockwell on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. But as time passed, more sinister Ouija stories appeared. Sensationalist newspaper accounts linked Ouija boards to crimes, even murders, and mental illness. In 1971, author William Peter Blatty included scenes featuring a Ouija board in his novel The Exorcist, and that scene’s inclusion in William Friedkin’s 1973 film adaptation, as young Regan MacNeil uses the board to chat with Captain Howdy/Pazuzu, may have been the catalyst that pushed the talking board from innocent game to Satanic tool in the minds of the American public. Regardless, talking boards remain popular, though marketing has shifted considerably towards darker themes, with

Ouija-branded horror films, and an emphasis on the idea that it’s just a game…or is it? My first encounter with Ouija would have been in the late 1970s in a parochial school in southern California. Let me clarify, this was not my first encounter with a Ouija board in the flesh (that would be a few years later), but an encounter with what I call the Ouija board story. During a bit of classroom free time, a group of kids started talking about Ouija boards, perhaps echoing a parent’s echoing of a Sunday sermon, or an adult conversation over how The Exorcist had scared the Hell out of them. The conversation became heated, prompting the teacher to intervene.

Now, this teacher could have dispelled the rumors of spirits and demons being bandied about the classroom. She could have calmed our fears, quelled our concerns, but instead, she decided to grab the planchette and run with it, spinning a horrifying tale of the time a Ouija board showed up in the school’s kindergarten toy box, and how this board was somehow manipulated by the motley collection of five-year-olds into summoning a phantasmagoric fantasia of nightmare apparitions, spinning about the room like a magic lantern carousel. As I recall, the story climaxed in blood and tears, as the spirits reached their claws through the veil to rend and disassemble a particularly wicked little boy (and I’d swear the teacher looked directly at me at this point), spattering the other children with gore and gristle before the previously absent teachers (seriously, where were they this whole time?) could intervene. But intervene they did, grabbing the board (and, presumably, the planchette) and carrying it out into the playground where it was promptly burned, sanitized in cleansing, sacred fire.

When the teacher finished her account, I looked around the classroom, taking in the shellshocked faces of my suddenly silent classmates. I thought long about the story, adding the pieces together, then looked at my teacher, her arms crossed in front of her chest. It didn’t add up. There was no barren, scorched spot on the playground in front of the kindergarten classroom. And most kindergarteners didn’t really have the motor or language skills to manipulate and properly utilize a Ouija board. In that moment, I realized the teacher was putting us on, telling a tall tale, lying to a group of kids in order to scare us. But to what ends? To keep us on the straight and narrow? To scare us away from the occult? To make us compliant, unquestioning Christians? As
my peers sat agape, aghast, I realized the absurdity of it all. I started laughing, uncontrollably…

…and spent the rest of the day in the principal’s office. And with that brief account of Ouija and personal history, I welcome you, reader, to Tales from a Talking Board, an anthology exploring the history, the present, and the future of talking boards and other, stranger tools of divination and spirit communication. Herein, you will find fourteen weird and wonder-filled tales of the strange and supernatural, by fourteen of my favorite authors. So dim the light, place the board across your knees, and ever so gingerly, press your fingers against the planchette.

Now relax, and think of a question.

The spirits have a lot to tell you…

Ross E. Lockhart
Petaluma, CA
July, 2017

About the Editor

Ross E. Lockhart is an author, anthologist, bookseller, editor, and publisher. A lifelong fan of supernatural, fantastic, speculative, and weird fiction, Lockhart is a veteran of small-press publishing, having edited scores of well-regarded novels of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Lockhart edited the anthologies The Book of Cthulhu I and II, Tales of Jack the Ripper, The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron (with Justin Steele), Giallo Fantastique, Cthulhu Fhtagn!, and Eternal Frankenstein. He is the author of Chick Bassist. Lockhart lives in Petaluma, California, with his wife Jennifer, hundreds of books, and Elinor Phantom, a Shih Tzu moonlighting as his editorial assistant. Visit him online at http://www.haresrocklots.com.

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