Welcome back to Florida Stories, a column where staff writer Allie Conti tells us some of the lessons she's accumulated in her decades of living in the Sunshine State and making her parents sad. If you have a Florida Story you'd like to share, email her here.
I'm still not sure where the Ouija board came from, but I first remember seeing it out of the corner of my eye as I smoked a Pall Mall with my bare feet dangling off the porch. It was the kind of boring early fall day that makes you wish something supernatural would happen, the kind of slow afternoon that's so peaceful and sun-dappled you can easily imagine serial killers lurking just out of sight behind oak trees and in pickup trucks roaming the streets. Maybe you had to be there.
I was living that post-college summer in a mess of a house my mom called the "locker room." Two of my roommates were a pair of Catholic twins who had grown up on a horse farm in Ocala. Sean was a runner who had just started his graduate degree in urban planning; Dylan was a Sasquatch of a dude who had knocked out a front tooth during a drunken tumble while pissing off the porch and never bothered to get it looked at. He was so fixated on the flatscreen television, which was constantly playing ESPN, day or night, that when it had blown out months before he screamed hysterically and then broke into my room through a window to steal my tiny set, claiming he couldn't sleep without it. He was basically a troll guarding the entrance to our kitchen; there were times I swore he hadn't moved from his throne in the living room for weeks on end. He often slept there and snored.
As different as they were, the two boys had been raised with the fear of God in them, and whatever the status of their Christian faith, they were loaded to the gills with superstitions. While I had assumed the only deities they recognized were the University of Florida Gators, their upbringing had instilled in them an unshakable belief in curses and demonic possession as well—or so I found out when I mentioned the Ouija board on the porch.
Previously: Why You Should Never Try to Hide a Runaway Florida Teen in Your Dorm Room
First they panicked, then they instituted a moratorium on touching it. This was broken a few hours into the night, when the normally sedentary Dylan made a dash for the porch while Sean and I and our third roommate, Michael, looked on.
Dylan fiddled around outside with the board while Sean appeared to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. "Get back inside, goddammit!" he would periodically wail.
After what seemed like an eternity, he did. Then Dylan sat in his well-worn recliner, took three shots of Evan Williams, and started to weep.
If you have never seen a man the size of a linebacker wail with guilt and drunkenness and dread at being a sinner in the hands of an angry God, let me tell you: It's no fun at all. Meanwhile, Sean was rocking himself in the corner and repeating, "this isn't right, this isn't right" over and over.
"WHAT DID THE OUIJA BOARD TELL YOU?" I finally screamed.
Dylan poured another shot, wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his Gators shirt, and inhaled the whiskey.
"Sixty-nine devils," he replied.
"Oh my God," Sean screamed before collapsing on the floor.
At this point, Michael interjected, possibly figuring that someone had to be the voice of reason and there wasn't anyone else around.
"Come on guys, he has to be making this up," he said to me and Sean. "What does '69 devils' even mean? There are devils? Sixty-nine of them? There are two devils doing a lewd sex act? Like, the clothing company the Gap has devils?"
Unable to assuage us with jokes about jeans, Michael grabbed one of the axes lying around the house (it was that sort of place) and took the board on to our front lawn, where he reduced it to kindling.
"It's going to be OK, I'm banishing you from the spirit world," he announced as we cried. "Fuck ghosts!"
After it was completely smashed to bits, he started peeing on the remnants. We then all took turns ritualistically peeing on the remnants, for reasons I cannot recall but made sense at the time.
Immediately I felt better.
Sean, however, was not satisfied. He got a weird look in his eye and, as a final flourish, doused the surrounding area with almost an entire bottle of lighter fluid, then lit it on fire. This turned out to be a terrible idea. The flames got dangerously close to our house before we fought them off with water and dirt. By this time the four of us were all crying—out of fear of the fire, panic in the face of the supernatural, smoke filling the air, or some combination of the four.
When the fire was out we went back inside the house feeling extremely unsettled. No one spoke; Dylan was practically catatonic. We figured it was best to go to sleep and forget the whole thing.
Years later, wondering about that "69 Devils" business, I asked Dylan what the fuck had happened to him out on that porch, and whether he had been fooling us. His answer: It was a prank.
"I thought the 69 would've been a dead giveaway, but [you all] were more focused on the devils aspect," he explained.
I don't know if that's true—that crying of his was pretty convincing. Perhaps he had gotten spooked and was now trying to play it off as if it had been a prank all along. And whatever the spark that set it off, that was an intense evening that drained all of us physically and emotionally. Michael got the worst of it, however, because of a strange coincidence that almost ended in murder.
To back up: When I woke up the next morning there was a person asleep on the porch—not an uncommon occurrence back then—and Michael looked like he'd had the roughest night of his life.
Apparently, after we all went to bed, Michael woke up in a panic. "I was staring at the ceiling, because I had this weird feeling, this intense feeling, that there was something next to my bed," he recently confessed. "I told myself, 'It's fine, you're OK, you're having a bad day because your friends are acting emotionally funny, and there's no inimical spirit next to you.'"
He refused to look so as to even humor the thought that there was something evil afoot. The plan was to stare at the ceiling, count down from ten, and close his eyes at zero. But when, he got to "two," he could sense that whatever was next to him had moved.
"I had no idea what was going on and so I jumped out of bed and on top of whatever it was," he told me.
"I'm sorry officer," the thing apparently said as Michael grabbed for the axe, which he'd brought into his room after getting spooked by the Ouija board incident. "I'm not drunk, I swear."
According to him, a completely fucked up college student had wandered into our house while we were running in and out dealing with the fire and had eventually tried to pass out in Michael's room, where he came about two seconds away from dying from an axe blow.
I don't believe in the power of curses, or so I tell myself, but when I look back on that night and what we did, it seems impossible to explain our actions without resorting to the supernatural. What if that drunk kid had been mauled by Michael's axe and we had to explain ourselves to the cops and the courts and the media? What would we have said when asked why we thought it was OK to light our yard on fire? ("To kill the ghosts real good, officer"?) Why was Michael's first instinct, when confronted by the unknown, to kill it with an axe? Why was our house full of axes in the first place? Even if it was intended as a prank, was there something ominous in the phrase "69 devils" that infected us?
I don't know the answers to those questions. All I know is that no one ever burned their house down playing Clue or Monopoly. Stick to the non-occult board games, kids.
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