The Ideomotor Effect

Image of Short Story
While I wait for news, and now my hands have stopped shaking, I want to record the incident that happened tonight.

My parents had gone into London to see an opera and still aren’t back at nearly half past midnight. They said I could have a couple of schoolfriends around as long as we promised to be ‘sensible.’ Fat chance! So, Shelley and Julie had called round, together, about seven o’clock. They’d brought some DVDs and Julie had snuck a couple of bottles of beer from her brother’s stash. Shelley had brought a large carrier bag. Like all teenage girls, we swapped news and giggled about the boys we fancied, then we put on a DVD, The Omen.

Well, it was pretty scary, and nasty too, the way people got killed, being sliced in two by a faulty lift and crushed between train carriages, for example. Afterwards, Shelley said, “God, that was horrible. Look, I brought something we can play, I’ll go and get it.” She headed for the kitchen.

Julie laughed. “Paul used to look like Damien when he was young. He used to get mad when we called him Damien!” Paul was Julie’s brother.

Shelley returned with a rectangular box. She opened it and took out a board with the letters of the alphabet and the numbers one to ten printed on it, along with the words ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘good bye.’ The board was decorated with star symbols and a sun and a moon, both characterized with evil-looking faces. At the top of the board was a skull and, on either side of it, bat-like wings.

“Oh, my God!” I exclaimed, “A Ouija board, this is scary!... I know, I’ll light some candles!”

Shelley laughed, “My gran used it to contact spirits!”

Soon we sat at one end of the dining table, two candles burning in holders in the centre of the table and the room lights turned off. Our half-drunk bottles of beer stood on coasters, we didn’t want to stain the table, being thoughtful girls at heart. I took a swig of mine, I wasn’t sure of the taste, but it made me feel good.

Shelley explained how it worked. “All put a finger on this. It’s called a planchette.”

It was a heart-shaped piece of wood with a pointed end that ran on small castors. It moved around slightly under our finger pressure. “I’ll start.” In a serious voice, she continued, “Is there anybody there?” Nothing happened. Julie giggled. Shelley asked again and the planchette remained where it was. “This is silly,” I said, as Shelley asked a third time. Suddenly the planchette made a rapid movement directly to the word ‘Yes.’ My heart was pounding. It must have been Shelley or Julie moving it, surely? I was certain it wasn’t me. My finger was only pressing lightly. Shelley continued, “Who’s there?” The planchette spelt out ‘A F-R-I-E-N-D.’

We asked silly questions, the sort of things teenage girls ask. When will I get a boyfriend? Will I go out with Russell? Will mum and dad buy me a horse? The planchette would spell out the answer we wanted to hear, or else a jumble of letters that didn’t make much sense. After half an hour I was getting bored. “Let’s watch another DVD.”

Julie laughed. “I brought The Exorcist. That’s a good one!”

“Hang on, said Shelley, I want to ask it something. She hesitated, then, “When will I die?”

Julie and I looked at each other, disconcerted.

The planchette moved to the row of numbers. Again, my finger wasn’t pressing hard. I looked at Shelley and Julie. Their faces were serious and their fingers didn’t look to be moving the planchette. But surely, they must have been?

We held our breath as, slowly, the planchette picked out 2-0-8-7. “Phew, that’s a relief,” laughed Shelley, “wonder what it’ll be like then?”

Then my turn. The planchette spelled out 2-0-9-2. “Wow, I’ll be....” My brain struggled. I was never one for sums. “uh, ninety-three!” We all laughed.

“Let me try,” said Julie. This time the planchette moved away from the numbers and spelt out three letters, H-O-Y. “Hoy, what’s that supposed to mean, this is silly. C’mon let’s watch that DVD.”

We pushed the pointer to ‘good bye’ and Shelley put the board and planchette away in their box and took it into the kitchen. We extinguished the candles. I think we were all a bit spooked by that so we were geared up to be frightened by The Exorcist!

“Is there any more beer?” asked Julie.

“Here, you can finish mine.” I handed her my bottle which was still about a quarter full. I’d decided I wasn’t terribly keen on the taste of beer.

So, we sat, watching as a girl, about our age, became more and more ‘disturbed’ and ghastly things began to happen, the special effects team of the day going overboard with the gore. Suddenly the doorbell rang and we jumped out of our skins.

“It’ll only be Paul,” laughed Julie, going to answer. “They said they’d call round.”

Her brother, Paul, and his girlfriend, Maria, came into the room. Paul was a few years older than Julie, tall, dark and handsome, as they say. Maria, his girlfriend, was a few years older than Paul, had olive skin and long dark hair. I felt self-conscious, and envious of her looks.

We paused the DVD and Paul poured us all out some wine he’d brought. “Don’t tell your parents!” It was chilled and quite sweet. I liked it! I’d make sure the glasses were thoroughly washed and put away before mum and dad got back!

They asked what we’d been doing. When we said we’d been playing with a Ouija board, Maria looked shocked. “Dios mio, eso es peligroso – dangerous!”
Paul laughed, “Come on, it’s harmless fun, don’t be dramatic!”

“No, Paul, you can contact espíritus malignos – evil spirits.”

“It’s all done by subconscious movements, the ‘ideomotor effect.’ I’ve read about it, it’s all rubbish. Scientists have tested it out.”

Just then there came a soft tapping from the kitchen.

What’s that? Maria exclaimed.


We looked at one another.

It came again, tap-tap-tap-tap.

“I’ll go and see,” said Shelley.

We told Paul and Maria about the dates we would die and about the nonsense word. Paul laughed, “one of you was moving it subconsciously!” Maria turned pale. “H-O-Y, hoy, in Spanish, that means today!”

A scream came from the kitchen and Shelley came running in. Her eyes were wide and her face white. “The planchette was tapping against the board – in the box!”

We looked at each other in disbelief. Suddenly all the lights went out. Julie screamed. “Oh, my God, I’m getting out of here!” She pushed past us in the dark and ran to the door, then out and down the hall. Some light entered the room as we heard the front door open, then there was a cry and silence.

The lights came back on. Paul went to see what had happened and came back grim-faced. “Julie’s fallen, she’s unconscious. She must have tripped on the step. She’s cracked her head open.”

We called an ambulance. Paul and Maria went with Julie. I’m waiting for them to call from the hospital. Until then, I can’t possibly sleep, just write this and hope that she’ll be OK. I know one thing, I’m done with Ouija boards – for good.