Terror is the bald necessity of needing other people. I’ll take a ghost over that any day of the week.
There are tons of Ouija boards for sale on Etsy. I’m looking for a used one because who wants to buy that kind of thing brand new? The occult needs history to work, I think, so I search out the oldest box I can find for under twenty bucks. There can’t be any plastic wrapping or factory-sealed sides. The pictures that one seller posts make the corners of the box look ratty and patched. The planchette is milky yellow, the color of stained teeth. Its center eye is cracked and nearly opaque. I wonder how anyone can read the letters through its lens.
I think: Whatever board I choose must have three previous owners. It should carry all that baggage with it when it finally arrives at my door. My baggage includes a lack of faith and too much self-pride. I have trunks stuffed full of sad queerness hidden behind homemade church dresses covered in too-bright flowers. The mouse hovers for a split second over my purchase options. Only twelve dollars, including shipping. It will arrive in five to seven business days.
Is the board itself haunted or does my house have to be? This is a question I ask the seller, but there’s no response. I’m glad. I don’t really need to know how it works to get what I want from it.
When we question our faith we should turn inward, says the Pastor. His face is slick with sweat. His hands shake as he clutches the microphone. I can see all this from five rows deep in the congregation; the rivers running under his arms, dampening the fabric of his white dress shirt. This is how we know God is coming through. He tunes into our brains, tweaking the reception until our pores bleed him out. I watch the Pastor struggle to accept this invasion, see it power through his muscles and his bones, making them tremble until he falls to his knees behind the pulpit.
The Holy Spirit is great enough to cure cancer. Jesus turned water into wine, expanded loaves and fishes to the masses from a single plate. Up from the grave he arose, we sing in swells, sharing hymnals. Our voices power the spiritual battery. After the sermon, the Pastor waits to greet everyone. Some of his sweat transfers to my hand and some of mine transfers to his. We’re sharing ectoplasm, I think, and I form my fingers into a fist to collect the essence of the Holy Spirit as tangible proof. Once we hit the parking lot, I lick the salt from my palm. In order to believe, I must ingest the word through my own body. I’m not able to believe very often.
At the very back of a Kmart Superstore, my friend and I find a Magic Eight Ball. According to our youth group leader, Magic Eight Balls are a direct hotline to the demonic realm. My friend and I have never touched a Magic Eight Ball because we’re told even thinking a question can call forth a demon. We hold it gently, nervous to accidentally dislodge the liquid and our own fortunes. The air is stale at the back of the Kmart; we taste cardboard and each other’s Burger King breath. We laugh behind our teeth, the sound hissing from us like spent balloons. I want to ask something different than my friend, but I’m more afraid of the answer than I am of encountering demons. The suspense is pleasurable. I marvel that something inside a plastic object could know the answer to anything.
Are you really the devil, asks my friend, turning the Magic Eight Ball over in our hands to reveal the blue opening at the bottom of the globe.
Finally, the reply drifting up like a blinking eye: What do you think?
We scream and throw the box back on the shelf with all the other Kmart junk no one wants to buy. Later, as we change into our swimsuits at her house, I shoot covert looks at my friend’s naked body in the mirror. I think about the unasked question that the Eight Ball maybe answered already. My own body feels as loose as the inside of the round, plastic fortune teller. The words move up my throat like vomit: What do you think?
Gifted a new Bible on my thirteenth birthday, I let a girl from church with pretty hair pen in all of her other friend’s names in the birth announcements: Michael, Stephen, Mary, some other people I’ve never met. Her handwriting is swirly and looks like cartoon hearts. When she doesn’t know an exact birthday, she guesses what she thinks might be closest and draws a question mark behind it in parentheses. This is a funny way to remember birthdays, I think, and I let her fill up the whole section. My parents are extremely upset and ask why I’d let someone deface my Bible. How will you add in any new births from our family? There’s none of us on the list. What will you do with the deaths? Will you write those in, too? The pages for death are pristine. No one I know has died except for Jesus, I say. What I don’t say, but think: Jesus died, but was reborn. He gets to go in the birth section, forever.
If there’s something out there other than us, it’s God. If there’s something out there other than God, what is that thing called if you’re not ever supposed to talk about it?
To steal a scary book from a kid in your fourth grade class, try the following method. Wait until the room empties for lunch, then stuff the book into the back of your pants, sliding the whole thing down into the warm territory of your underwear. Take it out into the hallway. If you sit next to the nurse’s office, no one will bother you because they’ll think you’re sick and waiting to get picked up. The book is about Countess Elizabeth B á thory, the woman who killed young girls in order to bathe in their blood. It reminds you so much of church: washed in the blood of the lamb, blessed blood of your redeemer. During communion, you drink grape juice that’s been sanctified as God’s blood to make you clean again. Countess B á thory bathed in blood to keep herself young, but when you swallow God’s blood you’re giving yourself eternal life. The pictures of the Countess are so beautiful that your heart beats in your crotch. She doesn’t wear clothes in her blood bath and you realize you’re finally seeing a naked woman who’s not your mom. When you see your friend in the hallway, you stand up too fast and you pass out. This is a good way to go home early, but it’s a bad way to steal a book.
A way to think of queerness as a young Christian is to remember that Lucifer was othered and Lucifer fell out of favor, quickly.
We watch horror movies at my friend’s house because her parents are out to dinner. We view The People Under the Stairs . Could God love someone that ugly, a girl asks, and we all laugh because being mean seems funny to girls who have to be nice all the time. Later on, we turn off the movie and play strip go fish. Once we’re all undressed, we practice kissing. It’s fine to do this as long as it’s with your friends, says the girl whose parents aren’t home. When we go to church the next morning, I’m wearing someone else’s lace underwear. It’s communion again and when I drink the blood, I think of God’s grace and the people under the stairs who don’t get any of it. I think of my friends’ naked bodies and of my naked body and I think of the body of Christ, broken for me. I pray and I sweat. I swear under my breath, swears I heard used on The People Under the Stairs . I pray again.
From a young age I’m told Lucifer’s problem is an overabundance of vanity. Lucifer, the most beautiful of God’s angels and the most conflicted. Maybe the other angels loved him too much. It’s hard to be a beautiful thing, I think.
I go to church with a friend from school. It’s what my family calls “fake church,” meaning it’s Catholic. Everything about the Catholic Church is striking. There’s something lovely every place you rest your eyes: gold leaf columns; jeweled windows casting colors on the congregation. The words spoken are in a language that’s so dead I feel history filling up the room. On the cross, Jesus hangs with blood brightly painted onto his side. It drips from his feet and hands; it douses his sculpted brow. The blood people drink in the Catholic Church is all red wine and they share a cup. Mouths press to the same spot, over and over again.
At home I ask if there are such things as Baptist nuns. This will be a running joke in my family for years—the time I wanted to know when I could turn Catholic. It’s funny to them because they consider the comedy of me as a nun, the strange dichotomy of a woman bred to marry and raise a family putting on a habit. It is a wistful thought I keep in my chest, all the time, for the rest of the school year. Nuns have built-in friendships with many other single women and they carry the dead corpse of Jesus as their bridegroom. No need to touch, ever.
Blood is a conduit for health and misery alike. It’s spilled in Jesus’ name to wash away the sins of mankind: blood for blood. When blood is shed in horror movies, it means someone’s done something wrong and they’re punished accordingly. Purity responds to purity, like for like.
Buying books on the internet means I can read whatever I want and never have to leave the safety of my home. I order information on the occult, paganism, witchcraft. There are ways to bless the profane. One long night in my shitty apartment, I drink bad wine alone while my one-year-old sleeps; I read about making a knife sacred. On the full moon, you take the knife you want to sanctify and bury it in clean dirt. You spill a drop of blood. I go outside under a hazy half moon and sit in the sunken patch of weeds next to an anthill. Roaches rise and fly from the mulch and the overgrown bushes. I’ve brought out a steak knife. When I take the blood from my arms, I pull stripes in my skin that will someday cause a professor to ask if I was attacked by a tiger. Giving up blood and salt to the earth is the only thing I feel capable of. It still feels like it’s asking less than what Jesus asked from me.
Getting baptized in a lake means that I get to open my eyes underwater and see the pastor’s white robe. It billows around us while algae drifts in the noon sunlight. It’s easy to get water in your nose when you’re submerged upside down, but they know to pinch your nostrils closed when they dunk anyone. After getting baptized, I cut my bare foot on a seashell and was forced to hobble to someone’s bathroom in wet jeans—blood and water. Jesus baptized people outside and later spilled his blood to wash us all clean again. The first time I masturbate is in the bathtub and I have my period. I don’t think about Jesus when I come, but I think about him afterward because the body in my mind is one with breasts not unlike my own. There are clots of blood swirling in the bath and I have to take out my tampon over the toilet while I sit and cry, still clenching.
I’m so scared of the Rapture I dream about it at night. How can I tell my brain to make the connections—to make sure I’m not left behind with the rest of the unsaved—when my head refuses to believe in eternity? My favorite childhood movie is The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston because I know my parents will let me stay up until eleven to finish watching it on a school night. Once a year on Easter, I watch terrifying Bible stories play out in glorious Technicolor. Plagues of locusts. Dead cattle. Rivers boil with gore in Heston’s movie. Those who would save their eldest rub blood over their doors before the Angel of Death swoops down to collect their souls. Every time I get my period, I want to stick my fingers inside myself, but no one wants to talk about periods and no one wants to think about the fact that female blood, flowing and pooling in a single direction, makes the body want to give up everything to get what it wants.
Different kinds of horror define fear in terms of: worldwide plague virus, zombie paranoia, serial murderers, starvation, loneliness.
Reading so much horror means I’ve read every Stephen King book in the library. Reading so much horror means I want to watch every horror movie and I do that, too. When I watch Carrie in my dorm room at the University of Florida—the one semester of college I snuck in before I got pregnant—I pause on the scene where the blood is dumped and splatters. It’s not scary to see blood poured out like this. If we’re washed in the blood of the lamb, what’s more of a blessing than being drenched in it? What I know is I was already pregnant when I watched this movie. I wouldn’t be drenched again for at least another ten months. How can a woman miss their period, when most of the time it’s too uncomfortable to bear? But I do. I miss the ache. The emptiness. The hollow lets me know there’s something there to fill. I masturbate more than ever, those few months before I know there’s a life inside me. Mostly I feel nothing.
Cleanliness and Godliness are two separate phenomena. If we’ve learned anything from the Bible, it’s that God loves picking up after a slob.
At a purity conference in middle school, we stand in gendered lines to sign cards pledging that we’ll wait until marriage to have sex. This conference sells bottled water at two dollars apiece with “True Love Waits” printed on the label beneath a cartoon water drop in sunglasses. The water tastes like boiled plastic. Somewhere inside the Southern Baptist Convention Center, a file cabinet holds my signature on a card that swears I’ll wait until I’m married to let my husband touch me. As I sign, I think about the friend I’m staying with at the hotel room and how our legs sometimes touch under the covers. We both shave twice a day so our skin feels tender like lips. I imagined our legs kissing each other in the night while we sleep. I sign the card and wonder what it means that this friend showed me how to use an OB tampon in the hotel bathroom. These are the kind of tampons that don’t have applicators, she said, as she demonstrated how to insert it with her fingers. The next day I signed my purity card and promised a room of strangers that I would wait and wait and wait.
If you let God in and then don’t let him out again, what happens to your body?
On a family vacation, we attend someone else’s church because we are not the kind of family that stays home on a Sunday. It’s a small building and there’s no air conditioning, so everyone’s body feels intimately connected to my own. Women speak in tongues and pull out hunks of their own hair. I hear from a girl in the Sunday School class that they occasionally handle snakes; long, slinky black ones that sometimes like to escape between the chair legs. At the end of the service, an elderly man falls down, clutching his own heart. I’m told not to help him. He’s been slain in the spirit , my mother says, holding me to her chest while I cry. Later at an all-you-can-eat buffet, I see the dead man helping his plate with a giant load of biscuits and gravy. To be slain in the spirit is a bloodless death. You can be reborn infinite times.
This is how we’re haunted, by the things that won’t leave our homes. They stay because we refuse to let them leave.
I use the Ouija board on a night that I’m home alone. I light candles around the perimeter of the room. Tall ones, slick white wicks that burn bright as birthday wishes. If I focus hard enough, can I call forth the Holy Spirit? Part of me wonders if this is how a person connects with God, by wishing the profane into something pure. I turn off all the lights. In the dark, I whisper to the thing that might speak back to me.