This story is by Sarah Park and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Griff’s cheese dusted fingers slipped and the mini ouija board spilled out of its plastic prison. It cartwheeled across the stained coffee table and cracked open, finding its final resting place perfectly parallel to the table’s edge.
The board, about the size of his phone, was intricately designed with Baroque filigree, a ram skull in the center, a sun and moon in the upper corners, and skeletal hands holding eyes like an offering in the lower corners. Spying one more piece, he shook the packaging. A small, folded booklet fell out along with a quarter-sized planchette. It clattered across the table until it snapped to the skeletal hand on the left. Hello, it read.
Griff raised a quizzical brow and sipped at his fluorescent energy drink. That was weird. But at this point, he was willing to forego reason and listen to a board before he listened to Steve, his mom’s latest mistake.
Something had to be done about Steve, that walking Mr Rogers’ cardigan. He came to this realization when last week, Griff was celebrating his fortieth alone with a birthday cake flavored CBD cartridge, staring down the laundry detergent gift wrapped with a business tie instead of a ribbon. His mom gifted it to him along with a card that announced she wouldn’t be doing his laundry anymore. Instead of blowing out a candle, he sucked in a puff until his face puckered like he could inhale his birthday wish. He only wanted one thing: to rip that mustached grin off Steve’s face.
If Steve would just invest in his company, Griff would pay them back within six months, one year tops. Instead, Steve set him up with a job interview at noon. It was their loss. Griff didn’t bother to explain to him that he snagged a meeting across town with a popular TikToker at the same time. His dealer mentioned this TikToker came by every Tuesday and Griff saw his opportunity to influence the influencer with a neon beanie branded with his company’s logo. It was now or never. Steve threatened this was his last chance to get a real job or the locks would get changed tomorrow. It was a gentle push out the nest, as Steve put it.
The ultimatum made Griff question everything. Maybe he had overstayed his welcome. Maybe twelve years was long enough to test his idea. Maybe the price of his dream wasn’t something he could share or pawn off on his friends and family.
He shook sense back into his brain and picked up the booklet with illustrated instructions, rules, and a Darker Brothers logo with a howling Minotaur icon inside a box. “Ugh, cheap off brand junk,” he muttered. No wonder the guy at Occult Oddities gave it to him for free. But he needed a sign, something from the universe to spell it all out for him, and this was the next best thing.
He didn’t need rules and the game was simple. Ask the spirits and they’d give an answer. Confident he watched enough TV to know how it worked, he balled up the booklet and tossed it at the waste bin. It rimmed the basket, joining the other balls of credit card bills and rejected business proposals that, like everything else in his life, never quite made it.
Rules of the Ouija Board
1. Never use the board alone
He licked the radioactive orange umami dust off his fingers and placed it on either side of the planchette. He wasn’t sure who he was talking to, but he squeezed his eyes shut and he exhaled a cross between a confession and a prayer. “Hey…Board. I’ve poured every penny I didn’t smoke or snort into this business. Tell me I’ve got a chance.”
He peeked at the board through squinted eyes.
It didn’t move.
He groaned. “Damn knock offs,” he cursed under his breath. He ran his hands through his thinning mane, simultaneously cleaning his hands and dirtying his hair. Maybe he was going to have to go to that interview after all.
He looked down to check the time on his phone and found a large streak of orange on his shirt. He groaned, stripped it off and threw it into the pile of other shirts worn only once. But as he patted his pockets to make sure he had everything, he saw the tie for his interview and the beanie for his meeting on his inflatable armchair. If he wasn’t given a chance, he’ll take one.
He shook a few cans of energy drink the color of melted highlighter. He found one with a little juice left, gargled and swished it in his mouth, then breathed into his palm to check his breath. A sour sulfur masked under a heavy musk of blue raspberry with notes of desperation. Good enough.
2. Never forget to say ‘goodbye.’
“It isn’t my fault I missed the interview. I told you, I missed the bus. Well, go ahead then!” He slammed the door on Steve’s face.
Griff leaned against the door with a sigh and threw the beanie in the bin.
He plopped onto the inflatable armchair with a hiss. But something was different. The board was still on the table, waiting for him. Griff stepped closer and his eyes widened. The planchette moved to the lower right, Goodbye.
He picked it up, testing the weight of it in his palm. Maybe it was magnets. There was something written on its misaligned sticker. He held up the piece between his thumb and index finger, “Pay the price or suffer the cost.”
But there, through the eye of the planchette, standing in the corner of the room was a shadowy figure with beady red eyes. A hiss crescendoed in his ears, “You’re mine.”
He dropped the planchette, whipping his head around but no one else was in the room. Suddenly flames circled around the ouija board and the table cracked open as a dark figure rose above the board. The terrifying beast resembled the icon from the booklet, its body a vessel for molten darkness. It would all be so terrifying except the mini ouija board summoned a mini demon.
Its gleaming ruby eyes blinked open, and Griff could only think to put something between them. That something was orange and round.
3. Never give a demon a cheese puff.
The cheese puff disappeared where its mouth belonged. The darkness, a hungry void that stared back, swallowed.
Its eyes beamed like a laser cat pointer in pleasure. “You fool,” it laughed in a register comparable to Barry White. “By offering me this delicious poof, you have performed the last step of the Ritus Daemonium and tethered my earthly form to this plane and to you. I will not rest. I will never leave you until a deal is made.” It looked deep into Griff’s eyes to drive home its point, “And your soul is mine.”
“I am generous, human. I will grant you one wish before I carry your soul to my underworld,” it paused dramatically. “In servitude ad infinitum.”
Griff trembled staring at the carpet. So this was how it ends. His last ditch effort to save his business was wasted on a baby-faced TikToker and now he was out of time. Tick tock. But at least he was granted one last wish. If he was going to hell, then he was damn sure he was going to make it worth his soul.
The balled up rejections near the bin gave him instant clarity.
“Demon, I know my wish,” He said.
The mini demon nodded sagely. “Name it.”
“I won’t keep you on the edge of your seat,” He chuckled confidently. “We’re going to revolutionize the world with my idea.”
“Say it,” the demon growled.
“Luxury inflatable furniture for adults!” Griff threw his hands in the air like he was smashing that glass ceiling. No longer will the laws of man or Steve box and limit him. He was breathless in his triumph.
The demon was stunned into silence, but for different reasons. It pinched the bridge of its nose. “Are we married to this idea?”
“I’ll call it Air-istocracy.”
“Making this idea successful would be a lot of work. I’d have to rebuild the universe to make it marketable,”
“So you’re saying it can be done?”
The demon sighed loudly.
“The Air-istocracy of Comfort. Bounce into Bliss,” said Griff, lost in his daydream.
That was the demon’s cue. “I’m out. I think I have enough souls.” It stomped its foot over the ritual seal, but the hellmouth didn’t open. It’s dark hoof clopped again, a little faster this time.
No. Griff wasn’t going to take any more rejection, not when he had so much to offer, an empire to inflate comfort and deflate stress.
Griff’s face darkened. “I offered you a cheese puff, demon. You are bound to me until my wish is granted and we have a universe to reimagine.”