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by Maria Hummel

NELLE 1 | 2018

In eighth grade, I qualified for spring regional music camp as a flutist. I can’t imagine why. Even when I practiced, I had bad rhythm. I couldn’t mind the silences, and rushed the notes.

Playing flute was not my chief ambition then. I wanted to meet a boy, in particular a boy from another school. I did not know him yet, but I pictured him: shaggy-headed, intent as Schroeder on his trumpet or timpani, and most importantly a mystery—not ruined, like all the guys in my grade, by daily contact at the cubbies.

How would I find my noble specimen? I hoped for some accident—my flute falling and his wiry arm reaching out to catch it—but I was too scared of denting a rented instrument to let go. Boys didn’t sit near the flutists anyway. They clustered in the horn section, their reflections shining in the murky gold.

Whenever practice ended, I scurried to meet my girlfriends in the auditorium, and we quickly erected an impenetrable fortress of giggles and whispers. One day Laura brought a Ouija board.

“Weeeeeeejeeeeeeee,” she whispered, clutching the box. “It means ‘yes’ in French and German.” Laura had perfect bangs and long auburn hair. She loved horror movies. I think she married young.

Her Ouija set was made by Parker Brothers: a simple board with a white plastic planchette to glide over the letters and numerals. We crouched down behind some seats to play, touching the planchette with our five hands. It slid. Then it slid again, with a mysterious tension that reminded me of magnets.

“You’re pushing it,” someone said.

“Stop pushing it,” I echoed, but my finger was on the planchette, too, and it moved between us with that same taut force.

“It’s a spirit,” said Laura. “What’s your name?”

“P-T-R-J-K,” our hands spelled out.

“Hi, Patrick,” said Laura. “Do you have a message for us?”

Patrick was the only male who’d talked to us the whole day, and he seemed as reluctant as the rest, skittering side to side before settling on letters.


Our shoulders touched as we huddled closer, we who wore sweatshirts and jeans like our mothers, who hoped we were pretty, who thought life was an instrument to learn how to play and then the songs would follow. We were either all pushing the planchette, or none of us were.


“All perish,” I said, a chill slipping over me. The lights of the auditorium fell on the board, making it glare.

“All perish. That is so creepy,” Laura said triumphantly. She sat back on her heels, breaking our tight circle.

“When?” someone said.

Our hands swept to the numbers: “2-0-1-4.”

Before Patrick could tell us anything else, the bell rang for practice again. We packed the Ouija board away, and didn’t dwell on it because eighth grade is full of prophecies and so few of them come true. (“In 10 years, we’ll be married to Michael and Randy Jackson and have their babies and live in Switzerland!” Heather and Britney screamed in the class yearbook.)

Yet the next morning I went down to my father’s study. His window looked out on the yard’s bare cold April. Glancing up now and then into the frail spring light, I wrote a story about a woman who turns 41 and suddenly recalls the day at regionals when her friend’s Ouija board predicted the end of the world. I used red ink, and the curvy penmanship that I hoped made me look artistic. The Cold War was at its height then, and predictable bombs fell in the final paragraph, blasting the woman’s house to pieces.

I could not imagine the world ending any other way.

I could not believe that it would die many times, and begin again. I feared only total destruction: cities crumbling, people charred to skeletons. All perish.

Those pages are lost now. The year 2014 has passed, and it already has grown the soft patina that hindsight makes.

The girl is gone, too. I miss her. Only the woman remains, standing by a light-filled window, looking out. Nothing has happened yet, but she knows it will. Long ago, she said yes to the question: yes, my life is carrying me closer to its end.

Some days I still wait for the shattering. Lately, though, I’ve begun listening for a silence, too, which, in music, is called the rest.

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