Lois let out a whoop. “I passed!”
I went to my wife, who was sitting cross-legged on the sofa. The laptop’s screen displayed an image of the certificate. “I knew you could do it, Honey.”
We were out of college five years and married three, but not making enough at the milk studio to feel comfortable starting a family. So soon after the veracity of Ouija Board spiritualism was scientifically validated, my wife enrolled at Alternate Realities Online University.
Now here she was ready to moonlight as a certified Ouija Boardologist. I was to be her assistant. We posted a virtual shingle — “Lois and Raymond Wachowski — Putting You In Touch With Your Passed.” It didn’t take long for our first client to reach out.
When Bryan Peters led us into his home, I noticed he walked with a limp. He told us he was desperate to make contact with his passed, Tilda.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Peters,” Lois said. “How long were you married?”
“Married? No. Tilda”— a sob cracked his voice—“was my bonobo.”
Not what we’d expected, but we weren’t about to be choosey. “I understand, Mr. Peters,” I said. “We love our pets.”
“Tilda wasn’t my pet. She was the light of my life. And I killed her.”
Lois tossed me a look. I lobbed it back. We weren’t keen on helping a killer, even if the victim wasn’t human. Lois asked Mr. Peters the circumstances of Tilda’s demise.
He explained he’d gotten drunk and provoked Tilda into attacking him. She chewed off the big toe on his right foot. He called emergency services, but when the medics arrived, Tilda, still agitated, went for them. They summoned the police. The ape charged when they walked in, and the cops shot her.
“I put the tragedy in motion. I have to know if Tilda forgives me.”
We decided to help him.
Lois set up the tools of her new trade on our client’s kitchen table, and I manned my pad and pencil. My wife and Mr. Peters closed their eyes and put their fingertips on the planchette. As it zipped around the board like a bumblebee amongst flowers on a fresh grave, I wrote the letters. When the pointer stopped moving, I read the message — ee kee keek hooh oo ho oho o. Gibberish. I thought we’d made some rookie mistake, but Mr. Peters smiled, jumped up and began shrieking — eek eek eek hoo hoo hoo hoo — as he chimp-walked around the room. He explained his beloved Tilda had told him all was forgiven.
Our next few clients weren’t as interesting as Mr. Peters. Just simple, straight-forward communications with the dead. Then came our appointment with Widow Jenkins. We assumed she wanted Lois to communicate with her husband. Wrong.
Widow Jenkins claimed aliens had abducted her. A happy event, as it turned out, because she’d fallen in love with one of her captors.
“He wasn’t permitted to take me to his home world. But after returning me to earth, we kept in touch using a micro filament he implanted in my brain.” She went on to say that the communications had stopped abruptly. She feared something terrible had become of her alien lover. “I can hardly eat or sleep. Please help me.”
We couldn’t say no.
The planchette rocketed around the board. When the pointer stopped, Lois and Widow Jenkins opened their eyes. I read the message. Her alien lover had been killed in an accident on Zrrt but died thinking of his “beautiful earth lady.”
Widow Jenkins dabbed away tears. “At least now I can get on with my life.”
Driving home I told Lois I was puzzled. “I didn’t think alien abductions had been scientifically validated.”
“They haven’t. I was in contact with Mr. Jenkins. He told me what to say. It was his gift from the other side to his wife.”
Lois gained a good reputation. Business was so brisk, we thought about quitting our jobs at the milk studio. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t.
One day a Stan Stevens called. He refused to say much on the phone so we went to his place not knowing what to expect. We rang his bell. He flung open the door and pulled us inside.
The man was twitchy, his eyes red. I figured he was still mourning his loved one. He put a hush to his lips. “Follow me. Quickly. Follow me.” He charged down the steps to the basement.
On one wall was a chalkboard filled with calculations. He rushed to the board and started erasing a formula with his hand. “All wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Too many numbers. Too many possibilities.” He wheeled toward Lois. “Help me. The lottery. Winning numbers. Your board. The numbers. Tell me.”
My wife explained to Mr. Stevens that Ouija boardologists like her communicated with those who’d passed. Predicting the future was something altogether different and hadn’t been scientifically validated.
Mr. Stevens’ head began jerking side to side. “Show me the numbers,” he shouted. “Now! You can’t go. I won’t let you. Numbers. Winning numbers.” I eyed the stairs. Stevens twisted to a workbench. When he faced us again, he was holding a bag of sugar. He shoveled a spoonful into his mouth then swigged from a bottle of water. “Sweet!” He threw back his head. Lois and I seized the opportunity and flew up the steps. I heard Mr. Stevens bellowing behind us “26 53 44 … Sweet! … 66 29 88 … too many numbers … Get back here … Sweet!”
“What a day,” Lois said that evening as we shared a bottle of Merlot while listening to an oldies station. My wife alternated between sipping her wine and filing her nails. She needed to keep them short to better pick up vibrations the dead sent to her planchette. “These first few weeks of my new career have been unforgettable.”
“Unforgettable.” We touched glasses. “Here’s to Chimpanzee Man, Space Lady and Sweet Freak.”
“Bonobo,” Lois said. She was always better with details than me.
One of my favorite songs started to play. B-b-b-baby, you ain’t seen n-n-nothin’ yet…
As soon as I opened the door and saw him, I got an elevator feeling in my stomach. He wore a ragged black suit and threadbare tie the color of a slit jugular. He handed me a card that read simply “Delvin” and asked for Lois.
“This is Mr. Delvin,” I said to my wife as she came into the foyer.
“Oh, like Madonna,” I said, trying to break the tension that stuck to him like cheap cologne.
Delvin ignored me and homed in on my wife. He went on for several minutes about how she had untapped potential that, combined with his special connections, would make her rich and famous. My wife began to nod. “Untapped potential … Rich … Famous.” Her eyes became vacant as the windows in an abandoned morgue. I finally couldn’t stand it anymore, grabbed Delvin’s arm and walked him out. I went to Lois, gently shook her by the shoulders, and snapped my fingers.
“How about you go get us peanut cluster buster parfaits?” she said.
I still didn’t like the glossiness of her eyes, but went for the ice cream, thinking it might bring her out of whatever stupor she was in.
When I got back home, a note lurked on the kitchen table. “Gone with Delvin.”
Our tiny home seemed so cavernous without Lois, I half expected to discover a colony of bats. I begged my wife to come back even though telepathy with the living hadn’t been scientifically validated. Many nights, reaching for Lois in my sleep, I scooted further and further until I awoke conking my head on the floor, which fortunately was shag-carpeted.
I had a nightmare about a scaly green arm reaching up and snatching my wife. Even though specialists struck off under-the-bed monsters before I was born, I realized the dream was confirming something I’d both feared and hoped: Lois hadn’t left voluntarily.
I spent weekends scouring the internet, my mind a fine-tooth comb. Finally, I found them. Delvin had booked Lois on an overseas tour and was live-streaming their shows. At each performance, he led Lois onstage, her face blank as a tombstone awaiting inscription.
My wife and Delvin sat at a golden table with gargoyles carved into the legs. He and Lois fingertipped a skull-shaped planchette. The board had an inverted cross and septagram by the YES and NO where the sun and crescent moon normally would be. Curling serpents formed the GOOD BYE at the bottom.
A costumed assistant scribed the letters then read the messages aloud in character. These weren’t ordinary communications from the other side. Lois, with the help of Delvin’s “special connections,” was receiving messages from historical figures.
I had to admit hearing the spirit of Henry the Eighth justify Anne Boleyn’s roll-about head and Marie Antoinette’s ghost claim she truly had sympathy for the breadless made compelling theater. Attendance of the shows swelled like a cyst full of pus.
At each spectacle, Lois seemed thinner and paler while Delvin glistened with another ring or gold necklace. I didn’t know what spell he’d cast over my wife, but it was draining her.
After one show, Delvin teased there would be a special guest at the next performance. When the night came, the amphitheater was thronged. I watched on my monitor as Delvin and Lois came onstage. After a dramatic pause, the costumed assistant strutted out wearing a Nazi uniform and toothbrush mustache. The crowd gasped. I fought to keep down the chicken wings I’d just eaten.
Delvin and Lois took their places at the golden table. The assistant leaned over them, pen and pad in hand. The camera zoomed in. The instant Delvin and Lois touched the pointer, the assistant began screaming. He collapsed to the stage and writhed like a snake on hot asphalt until Delvin and Lois removed their hands from the planchette. Delvin took a sweeping bow. The assistant had to be carried off. Lois rose, wobbled and stared straight ahead.
I had to do something but there was no way I could afford traveling abroad. I thought about stowing away in the wheel well of an airliner. Fortunately it didn’t come to that.
Delvin announced that the next show would be a triumphant return to Lois’ hometown. I could make my move. I recalled how my wife had said her first few clients had been unforgettable.
The arena was packed. I sold our sofa and easy chair to afford a front row seat. A stilt walker juggling oranges clumped up and down the aisles. The crowd did the wave. At one minute past showtime, people began chanting Lo-is Del-vin Lo-is Del-vin. Then the place went dark. I heard three soft thuds. Probably the oranges hitting the floor. A clatter and swearing. The stilt walker. Several seconds with nothing but sporadic coughing and a baby squalling. Then: a fanfare of trumpets; a spotlight hitting the stage; Lois and Delvin; a rhapsodic ovation.
Delvin wore his trademark red tie and an expensive-looking black suit. Lois sported a red suit and black tie. My wife was pale, thin and still absent behind her eyes. Delvin basked in the reception a few seconds then led Lois to the golden table.
I jumped up and shouted my wife’s name. The audience cheered, and Delvin smiled. Lois remained stoic. I yelled “Lois, it’s me Raymond. Lois!” This time the crowd jeered, and Delvin’s eyes threw Bowie knives in my general direction. My wife turned her head. “Lois, remember Sweet Freak? Space Lady?” People yelled for me to sit. Delvin had me in his sights now and stared a pain into my chest. But I hung on. My plan was working. Lois rose from her seat. I climbed onto the stage and chimp-walked while shrieking eek eek eek hoo hoo hoo hoo at the top of my lungs. “Remember Chimpanzee Man?”
Lois started toward me, still mostly out of it but with a spark of recognition. As I reached for her hand, Delvin put his arm around her waist and walked her back to the center of the stage. Two ushers grabbed me by the elbows and escorted me out.
I had the right idea, but couldn’t execute my plan alone. I needed a crew.
I visited Widow Jenkins and Chimpanzee Man. I told them about Delvin and how he was getting rich off of my wife’s talent while draining the life from her. They agreed to help. My team was still one short.
I knew Sweet Freak was the best remaining unforgettable choice to help snap Lois out of her trance, but I couldn’t rely on him. He probably didn’t even know what day it was most of the time.
I decided to make do with a three-person rescue squad. Then, as luck would have it, Sweet Freak called. He’d gone to Sugar Sugar Anonymous and kicked his habit. He was contacting me to apologize for his behavior. When I told him about Lois, he agreed to join the cause.
The next show was in Drake, a three-hour drive away. I never imagined the town’s high school basketball team, would factor into my plans to rescue Lois. The team, which recently won the championship, was known as The Ducks. Keeping with the carnival atmosphere that had increasingly draped Delvin’s shows, most of the crowd was dressed accordingly. My crew ducked up and slipped past Delvin’s security guards.
I’d downloaded schematics of the venue and developed detailed rescue plans, including choreography and dialogue. The arena had a theater-in-the-round. As Lois and Delvin came on-stage, the crowd gave them the usual standing ovation. The four of us left our cheap seats and took up front-row positions at 12, 3, 6 and 9. As soon as the audience members sat, I blew my decoy — skwack. Sweet Freak yanked off his duck head and shouted “Hi, Lois remember me? Show me the numbers! Sweeeeeet.”
My wife turned toward him. I hoped seeing and hearing Sweet Freak would begin to pierce her daze. Delvin motioned. Two security guards rushed to Sweet Freak and bum’s-rushed him toward the nearest exit, which I knew led to an alley.
Before those two guards returned, I hit my decoy twice. Skwack skwack. Space Lady beheaded her duck costume. “Thank you, Lois, for communicating with my dearly departed on Zrrt.” Lois stood and rubbed her eyes.
Two more security guards leapt into action … and out of my way.
Delvin scanned the audience but saw nothing but a bunch of ducks. As he pulled Lois back into her seat, I skwacked three times.
Chimpanzee Man, duckhead-less, rushed the stage. “My darling Tilda was not a chimpanzee.” While the point of his line was to jog my wife’s memory, I think he intended to jab me, too. He feigned a grab for Lois. Delvin lunged at him. Still in full duck, I took advantage of the absent guards and Delvin’s distraction. I charged onto the stage, swooped my wife into my arms and dashed into the audience. Delvin screamed at the guards to stop me, but they couldn’t get to us because, by then, chaos had engulfed the crowd. I lowered Lois to her feet and put a duck head on her. We blended in with the badling and made our way to the exit to the alley.
Sweet Freak was waiting in our getaway car. Space Lady and Chimpanzee Man were already in it. Sweet Freak was supposed to be ready to burn rubber. Instead he was bent over behind the wheel. I feared the guards had hurt him till I saw he had a pile of scratchers in his lap.
I screamed at him to get us the hell outta there. He looked at me sheepishly and said his Sugar Sugar Anonymous meetings had conflicted with those for gambling. Then he got us the hell outta there.
As we sped through town, I kissed Lois and called her name. She came to herself somewhat, but I couldn’t pull her up the last rung. “Don’t you remember Chimpanzee Man?” I said finally in desperation.
Lois blinked a few times. “Bonobo.” Then she looked into my eyes. “Raymond? I thought you went to get peanut cluster buster parfaits?”
My wife gradually recovered from her ordeal. A stream of reporters and fans pestered us awhile, but trickled to a stop. Then Delvin paid a call.
When I opened the door, I wanted to say go away, but “Come in” came out.
“You think you won?” he said. “Your wife was nearly depleted anyway. Join me, and you’ll have an ocean of money.” The pupils of his eyes seemed to spiral like pinwheels.
The things we could do with an ocean of money, I thought. Buy a new car, bigger house, a yacht. The room dimmed. Was I awake or dreaming? I could feel sea spray on my face when my wife’s voice — “Get the hell out of here” — snapped me from my stupor. I was about to walk out with Delvin. Lois had her hand over her eyes.
“Pity,” Delvin said, then smirked, bowed and left.
That was more than a year ago. We haven’t seen Delvin since, but he apparently cast his spell on someone else and is touring Asia. My wife is back at the milk studio, which has bumped up our pay. We’re getting by and have a family — a cat, a turtle, and two flying goldfish. A team of researchers investigating the authenticity of dark magic has interviewed us.
Speaking of which, predicting the future recently was scientifically validated. Crystal ballogists soon will be all the rage. Delvin, I’m sure, is licking his lips.