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(Henry's Point of View)


Peering from my bay window, I watched the autumn wind shuffle colorful leaves down the street. It reminded me of football seasons long ago when my three best friends and I raced our bicycles to the Puyallup High School stadium in time for the coin toss. On those rides, we chanted ‘Yo ho ho and a mouthful of gum, Pirates are here so you better run’ as fallen red alder leaves scattered in our wake. Back then we thought the Pirates were undefeatable, but today’s reality is that the Pirates haven’t had a winning football season since 1967. Twenty-five years ago. Where have the years gone? I grinned and chided myself for sounding like my father.

When I was a youngster in Washington, the Standard Time darkness and the Pacific Northwest rains from November to March didn’t bother me. Such weather encouraged indoor activity and my buddies and I gathered around our favorite board games.

The warped and worn boards from Monopoly, Clue, and Risk now sat abandoned in the attic. My wife wanted to toss them. “After all,” she said, “our boys don’t care about those games when they can play on Nintendo. Besides, most of the pieces are missing, and the Monopoly money is all crumpled.”

My insistence that the games remain in the attic ended the conversation. I’m sure my wife decided the small box of relics from my youth wasn’t worth additional effort.

I went to the kitchen, reached for my World’s Best Dad mug, and then made a cup of hot cocoa. Returning to the living room I sank into the recliner closing my eyes as the cocoa warmed me. Before long, the high-pitched shrills and bleeps coming from my sons’ bedroom became distant, and I traveled back to the year I turned twelve—the year of the accident and the shadow.


The month of November marked the beginning of another season of Monopoly, and the winter of my twelfth year, 1967, was no exception. We were as serious as any pre-teens could be when playing Monopoly. We carefully considered which token would be the luckiest, but pretty much stayed with our favorites.

The most intense of our foursome took the role of the banker. It was only right because his grandfather, the first Franklin Maxwell, had been Chief Financial Officer of the Puyallup National Bank for twenty years before his retirement, and Franklin Maxwell II was now the Assistant Branch Banking Manager with eyes on the current CFO’s office. Franklin Maxwell III—we called him Frankie—was honest and could add numbers in his head faster than I could with pencil and paper. He usually felt obligated to tell the latest foreclosure stories during Monopoly games. When your dad works at a bank, I suppose interest rates, risk assessments, and foreclosure stories are typical dinner-time conversation topics.

Frankie didn’t have brothers or sisters but had many friends at the Fife Academy for extra-smart kids. He opted to spend his free time with us, the not-overly-smart kids at Puyallup Central. Frankie lived down the street from me and served as the head altar boy at Saint Casimir’s Church. Going to a private school wasn't something Frankie bragged about or even talked about. It was one of many situations a kid had no control over, like being an only child. Frankie’s mom was one of those mothers who got involved with everything. She was president of the Fife Academy PTA, volunteered at the Puyallup Public Library, and ran errands for shut-ins.

Then there was PJ—Philip White Junior—the firstborn of Philip and Paula White. Following PJ were Pamela and Patricia. Their orange and white cat was named Princess. PJ was the experienced babysitter in the group and the only boy I ever knew who admitted to changing a diaper. The White kids had their mother’s red curly hair and their dad’s sense of humor. PJ’s mind never rested, he enjoyed experimenting, and his mantra — If this, then what? — never allowed a problem to go unsolved.

My third friend was Mark B. Reed. The B stood for Benjamin, but we all called him Booger because he always had a finger in his nose. It seemed his life-long ambition was to find the perfect piece of dried mucus. We worried about what he would do with it once he found it. Booger was the only person I knew whose parents were divorced. He never talked about his dad. Booger had the one thing that made Frankie, PJ, and me jealous: he had an older brother. People referred to Booger as Joe’s little brother; this never bothered Booger because he idolized Joe. I remember how excited I felt when Joe once dated my older sister. I imagined they’d marry, and we’d all be family.

Thanks to Joe, the starting quarterback, the Pirates of Puyallup were having a successful football season for the third year in a row and were contenders for State Championship. Joe was a natural on the field and won a full-ride scholarship to Washington State University to quarterback for the Cougars. Drivers would honk their horns and pedestrians waved to Joe as he walked through town; he was a hero.

On Sundays following Mass and dinner, Joe and Booger would take off on whatever outing Joe had planned. It never mattered where they went or what they did. It was the Reed brothers’ time together.

Unlike his scholarship-winning brother, Booger didn’t have an athletic bone in his skinny body. His mom never encouraged him to try out for sports. Maybe she figured one hero in the family was enough. Booger’s ‘coke bottle’ glasses magnified his dark brown eyes. I always thought he could overcome anything because he was a spunky kid.

Compared to my pals, I considered myself to be the most knowledgeable in female anatomy. My sister, Gina, was four years older and a shared bathroom separated our bedrooms. Because of our house’s floor plan, I could describe breasts. By unlatching the door leading from my bedroom to the bathroom, the air suction from the movement of Gina’s door silently drew my door open, providing an eyeful. Her anatomy sparked my curiosity. I never shared with the guys about my source being Gina. She was my sister, after all.

My parents allowed the four of us guys to hang around together in the basement on school holidays. Mom worked in town, and occasionally she brought takeout when she did her noontime check to be sure we weren’t destroying the furniture or burning the house down. It was in the basement where we also had our first hand-rolled cigarettes. After the initial experience, we weren’t keen on the habit, even though it was considered cool to hold a cigarette between our lips.

I digress. Back to the games.

Frankie took it upon himself to keep the weathered Monopoly money looking decent by taping the torn bills and carefully working the creases out of the others. He landed his thimble dead center on every square and showed no mercy or compassion. He was a ruthless landlord and, without apology, would take your last dollar.

Booger’s token of choice was the racecar, and he was usually the first to declare bankruptcy. Booger played the game with a finger in his nose and his pastel-colored money scattered–all the while threatening to fling one of his snot balls at Frankie. Booger added sound effects like squealing tires and booming mufflers as he moved his racecar around the board.

During the Thanksgiving weekend, Booger arrived with a wide grin on his face and a flat box under his arm. “Wait till you guys see this.”

“What is it?”

“A new game,” Booger said. PJ barely glanced up as he picked at the scab on his elbow. “Real cool–wait 'til you see what it does.”

Frankie eyed the box, and said, “O-E-jaw?”

“It’s pronounced wee-jee,” Booger corrected.

“If there’s money—”

Booger interrupted Frankie. “Nah, it’s nothin’ like anything we ever played. It’s powerful.”

We took our positions around the board. I examined the strange-looking plastic piece. Frankie grabbed it from my hand.

“Be careful with that, it’s important. It’s the planchette.” Booger continued. “It’s how Ouija talks to us.” Frankie gingerly set the piece on the gameboard.

“Only two people can touch it, and only one can ask the questions. Everyone else has to be quiet.” Booger instructed. He asked PJ to place his fingers on the planchette opposite his. Booger asked simple questions like “Does Susie love PJ?” and, “What time is it?” and, “Will I get a new bicycle this Christmas?” The plastic piece moved first to yes, then landed on the 7 and then the 15, and then spelled out MAYBE. These were the answers we expected. In the safety of my room, it seemed harmless enough. Booger described Ouija’s potential. He claimed we could know ahead of time whether or not the Pirates would win the next game. “We could place bets with kids at school and make tons of money—millions even.”

His fingers still on the plastic piece, he asked, “Will the Pirates win on Saturday?”

The planchette slowly moved to yes. Our eyes widened. Booger said, “See?”

Frankie said, “I don’t think so. You guys moved it.”

PJ responded, “It answered the other questions. But it’s not possible to predict the future.”

I laughed. “Geez guys, when was the last time the Pirates lost a game? They’re headed to state!”

Booger wouldn’t hear of it. “Okay, let’s ask other questions—questions we don’t know the answers to.”

PJ asked which girls in our class had the biggest breasts. The planchette moved to zero. We snickered and continued with the silly questions. It seemed we spent most of the evening accusing each other of guiding the planchette across the letters. Frankie and PJ began arguing, and I stared into the green shag carpeting and picked at a crushed Cheerio. The planchette slid to goodbye.

Booger glared at us. “See, the spirits don’t like when we argue or when more than one of us talks.”

“Geez, Booger, when did you become the spirit know-it-all?” My frustration started to show. I missed the Monopoly games.

We took a snack break to give the spirits time to chill.

Then it was Frankie’s and my turn. With PJ and Booger looking on, and before we could ask a question, the planchette moved. Booger’s index finger froze in his left nostril. Frankie and I looked accusingly into each other’s eyes.

Frankie announced the letters: “C-R-A-S-H.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

At the same time, my dad rapped on the bedroom door. “Okay boys, time to call it a night.”

“Time to crash,” Frankie said with a laugh. “Guess Ouija can tell the future.” My friends headed home, and I turned to my comics. Something didn’t feel right, though. 

As Ouija predicted, the Pirates advanced toward the playoffs with the following Saturday’s win.

The next Monday was a teacher-in-service day, so there were no classes. We were playing Monopoly at my house. Mom had arrived with takeout pizza when the phone rang. Booger was summoned home. Mom, teary-eyed and pale, gathered Frankie, PJ, and me into the kitchen and told us the tragic news: Joe, our idol, the town’s football hero—and worse, Booger’s brother—was in a car accident. He died at the scene.

Frankie and PJ left for their houses, and I retreated to the quietness of my room upstairs. I listened to muffled voices later in the day as Mom retold the sad news to my sister. I fell asleep as Gina cried late into the night. I felt a little sick to my stomach, but I didn’t cry. I wondered about Booger and if his stomach was upset.

When you’re a kid, death and dying are usually not topics of conversation. Sure, you poke at dead birds and unidentifiable roadkill, but you don’t think about people that way. You are aware people die, but you go on believing it’ll never happen to someone you know.

At the funeral parlor, I sat with my parents and Gina. I watched the backs of the Reed family. My friend sat wedged between his sobbing mom and a grim, tall man, who was, I suppose, his father. When the service was over, the line to the casket dragged, and then it was my turn to pay my last respects. Joe, eyes closed and lips tight, wore his varsity letter sweater, and next to him were flowers, his college acceptance letter, and a faded pre-divorce Reed family photo. I watched as Gina touched Joe’s hand. I kept staring at Joe, waiting for him to wink and say, “Fooled ya!” An eerie feeling overcame me. My dad gave me a little shove, and I stumbled into Gina. We moved away from the lifeless body.

Two weeks later, Booger appeared on my doorstep looking like he was on some sort of mission. The familiar flat box was securely tucked under his arm. “I can't be sure Frankie and PJ aren’t foolin’ with me. Let’s just do it, Henry. Me and you.”

We sat on the floor in my bedroom and swore in spit we would not manipulate the planchette. After an hour of steady questions and reasonable responses, we were convinced the board had power.

The following Friday after supper, PJ and Frankie joined us. We played Monopoly and drank Kool-Aid in the den while Dad and Mom sipped coffee in the kitchen. Without outrightly saying it, we somehow knew it would be best to continue the Ouija activities once my parents were asleep. So, much later in the evening, we quietly snuck to the basement. Booger and Frankie took their turn at the board, and after a few minutes of questioning, Booger bravely asked, “Give us a sign Joe can hear us.”

“Don't take your fingers off.”

The planchette moved to yes.

“Was that the sign?”

“What do you think?"

We exchanged glances and listened to Booger’s shaky voice. “Dear spirit, can we please talk to Joe?”

The plastic instrument glided over the letters M-A-Y-B-E.

Frankie exhaled deeply. Even though I wasn’t supposed to talk, I addressed Ouija in an attempt to break the silence. “We need to talk to Joe. It’s important. Help us. Please.”

The furnace rattled. The basement light went off, then on. Dad’s voice bellowed from the top of the stairs. “What in God’s name are you boys doing down there? It’s two o’clock in the morning—get up here and get to bed right now! You better not be looking at girly magazines!”

Stumbling over each other we ran up the stairs, not because Dad yelled, but because we were scared out of our wits. We knew we were way over our heads with this new game. I didn’t like this secret.

The following morning, Dad reprimanded us about smoking and girly magazines and respecting women. Dad’s breakfast lecture made us want to laugh, but we quietly chewed the Frosted Flakes and pretended to be sorry for the sins he thought we committed.

We decided to continue the Ouija activities at Booger’s house, where Booger and Joe each had a small bedroom at the far end of the single-wide trailer. We figured Ouija would give the best results from Joe’s room. Since Joe’s death, Mrs. Reed habitually fell asleep on the couch in front of the television after her supper of vodka and pretzels. She was oblivious to what was happening around her.

Booger had another idea. Somewhere along the way, he learned about séances. “Ouija will be our medium. Our go-between, linking us and the spirit world.” He lined Joe’s football trophies on the carpet and then he pulled some shirts from Joe’s closet.

We solemnly took our places around the Ouija board. We each wore an oversized shirt and patiently waited for the sign—which came as water gurgling or the furnace thumping—and then did everything imaginable to summon Joe’s spirit.

It seemed that Ouija was only interested in answering questions about football. Once in a while, the board would give scores for upcoming games.

As predicted by the spirit board, the Pirates never made it to the state championship without their star quarterback.

Over the next few gatherings, we added candles—little white votives we pocketed from the storage shelf behind the church altar. We created music, usually from Dad’s country and western record collection played at a slower speed.


As creepy as the country music sounded, the recordings of Father Peter chanting in Latin during Mass were even better. Those were made with my pocket-sized tape recorder hidden beneath my altar boy robe. During one session, we almost made contact, but, as the February wind howled, Frankie sneezed and broke the concentration.

We didn’t stop.


We couldn’t stop.

We had to be patient.

Life was going pretty much as we planned up until the spring. We hardly noticed the snow had melted. The neighborhood kids were testing their Christmas bicycles; but Frankie, PJ, Booger, and I were busy with the spirit world and Ouija.

On April 26th, what would have been Joe’s 18th birthday, we planned to stay awake all night. We knew Joe would not disappoint. We arrived at Booger’s house with pajamas and sleeping bags. The lamp lights off and candles lit, Booger draped an old Superman cape over his shoulders. He asked for a sign that Joe’s spirit was present. Ouija was quiet. We took turns asking but the spirit board didn’t respond. We must have asked a hundred times. Frustrated, we blew out the candles and turned on the desk light. One by one, we froze as our eyes followed Booger’s stare to the melted wax near the board. Almost buried in the resin was the racecar token from the Monopoly game. It was upside down.

“Now, that was the sign.”

“No shit.”

Silence. Booger flipped the light switch and we made our way into his room.

For hours we lay in our sleeping bags on the floor, convinced Joe would appear. One by one, we drifted off to sleep. Sometime later, I felt chilled and, when I sat to zip my sleeping bag, I saw it. Bigger than life, against the far wall, was a shadow. The head was huge as if it had a hat on—or a helmet. A shadow with a football helmet!

Keeping my eyes glued to the wall, with my left hand I began shaking Frankie, wheezing next to me. I kicked at PJ, his red curly hair the only visible piece of him sticking out of the Spiderman sleeping bag. He looked like a human burrito.

Booger’s bed was too far away to reach. I groaned. When PJ saw the shadow, he made a kind of whiny sound and crawled down the hallway. Frankie got up, too, his legs stiff, he looked comical moving without bending his knees. I edged toward the door. The shadow moved and I felt a wet spot on my pajama bottoms before getting into the hallway.

We sat on cold vinyl, too scared to move from the dark kitchen, fearing ghosts lurking around every corner. My heart pounded in my head. The tick-tock of the wall clock was the only sound until the chirping birds at dawn.

We never checked on Booger. We just got up and went home without changing from our pajamas.

Later, Booger said we must’ve been dreaming. Did we have a collective nightmare? Something in Booger’s voice made me uneasy. For the first time, I understood what it felt like not to trust someone.

The very next day, my parents decided to remodel the kitchen. This ended games with my buddies because Dad kept me busy fetching tools and sweeping the floor every weekend till mid-summer. By the time the remodeling was complete, PJ had gotten a paper route, and Frankie had started hanging out with a kid from the private school. We saw each other at Mass on Sundays, except for Booger. He stopped attending church.

When I bicycled to the trailer park in July, I saw a ‘for sale’ sign tacked onto the side of Booger’s house. No one seemed to know what became of him and his mother. I peered inside the kitchen window. The place was empty, save for a Pirate’s School Calendar hanging next to the phone jack.

The next school year Frankie’s family moved to the city because his dad got a big promotion.

Even though the Puyallup Pirates were not doing well, PJ and I attended most of the home games with Frankie occasionally joining us. PJ and I had each other’s back while muddling through junior high and then were each other’s wingmen during high school, temporarily parting ways for our college years.

Frankie is now a successful Financial Investment Advisor in Chicago; he sends a holiday card every December. PJ, a high school science teacher, got married first and now is a father to twin girls. I took a job with an architectural firm, and soon after, my wife and I adopted the boys. PJ and I settled our families into Seattle neighborhoods and continued to get together whenever schedules allowed.


The ringing woke me.

“Dad, it’s for you. It’s Uncle PJ.”

I picked up the extension.

My buddy was laughing and nearly shouting, “Henry, you gotta see this. Put on 21. You’re not going to believe this.” 

An infomercial. A middle-aged man was talking about his how-to book. The voice was steady and convincing. This guy was either someone who had climbed his way up the corporate ladder or a genuine bullshitter. The well-manicured fingers pitched a hardcover book, titled Listen, the Board is Talking, and guaranteed success to anyone—anyone who would send $39.99 plus tax and shipping for his book. He claimed the book was a personal guide in making life-changing decisions such as finding your soulmate, choosing a career, and investing.

 “Well, I’ll be—” I let out a low, long whistle and set the handset onto the phone’s base without moving my eyes from the television. A seven-foot-high display board showcased a photo of the man dressed in a three-piece, pin-striped suit. Also on the display board was the book’s cover which featured a faded image of the Ouija board. The dark and magnified eyes behind the man’s thick lenses left little doubt, and then the smiling man brought his thumb and index fingers to his left nostril, winked, and allowed his hand to fall to his side. Booger was alive and doing well.

I clicked the television off.

The all-too-familiar Mario Brothers’ electronic tunes wafted into the hall as I passed my sons’ bedroom. A few minutes later I reappeared. “Hey, boys, finish that level and come here, will you?”

The house quieted.

“What is it, Dad?” Tommy appeared from around the corner, and Brian followed on the heels of his big brother.

“This is a game I used to play when I was a kid. Wanna learn how to play? It’s called Monopoly.”


The End

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