Halloween Haunts: A Taste of Halloween Beyond – The Talking-board by Lisa Morton
I’ve written a lot of Halloween fiction, and I do mean A LOT. As in, I’ve already had one entire collection of just Halloween short stories and novellas – The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats – published (by JournalStone) in 2017, and I’ve written a bunch of new Halloween fiction since. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that I’m both a horror fiction writer and an expert on Halloween history (with three non-fiction books on that subject to my credit).
When I’m asked to contribute a new Halloween story to something, I always stop first to think about some aspect of the beloved holiday I maybe haven’t done. It seems like I’ve left no Halloween stone unturned: I’ve written stories about jack-o’-lanterns (duh), trick or treat (bigger duh), haunted attractions (well, super-duh), Halloween collectibles, Halloween software, Halloween shapeshifting demons, Halloween and ghosts, Halloween and the Devil, Halloween’s past, Halloween’s future, Dia de los Muertos, and (quite possibly the weirdest thing I’ve ever written) a semi-autobiographical novella about a Halloween expert.
What does that leave, you might be wondering? I asked myself that very question last year, when Crystal Lake Publishing approached me about the possibility of doing a Halloween novella, to be gathered into a book with Halloween novellas by Lucy Snyder and Kate Maruyama.
I realized I hadn’t really explored witches and Halloween, at least not in a modern setting that acknowledges the truth about witches as healers and practitioners of white magic. Witches have undoubtedly the oddest relationship with Halloween of any of its icons: thanks largely to Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, they’re typically depicted as evil, wizened hags dressed in black (fun Halloween fact: prior to that 1939 classic movie, witches shown in Halloween imagery were usually dressed in red). Now, in 2022, we know that witches are not, in fact, green-skinned crones working with the Devil, but are likelier to be smart people of any gender who honor the earth, the ancestors, and the elements, and who hold October 31st as a sacred Sabbat, whether under the name Halloween or Samhain.
I thought it would be interesting, then, to write about a contemporary witch but still incorporate folklore. I would use certain tropes – mainly the idea that Halloween night is when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest – but also add in our current obsession with paranormal activity. Mix in a few other Halloween standards – a party, costumes, trick or treat, a haunted wood – and my novella began to take shape.
Lucy, Kate and I also decided to tie our three novellas together, although they were all written separately. We created a pop-up Halloween store called Halloween Beyond, which would sell standard Halloween paraphernalia but occasionally slip in a magical item. My magical item would be an old-fashioned Ouija board; thus my title finally became Halloween Beyond – The Talking-board.
The plot of Halloween Beyond – The Talking-board centers on Kayla, a college student who is still trying to process the disappearance of her younger sister Hailey a year ago. In this excerpt, Kayla has reluctantly come to her best friend Sophie’s party, bringing along the talking-board she bought at the Halloween Beyond store.
It was just after ten when Sophie entered the living room, pushed aside two others to make space for herself on the couch, and placed the talking-board on the coffee table. “Hey, look what Kayla brought.”
The friends all crowded around, examining the device. “Is that a Ouija board?” Kitt asked.
Kayla answered, “Kind of – it’s called a talking-board, and I think this one might be really old.”
“Ohh,” Danielle said as she glanced mischievously around, “that means it’s had lots of time to gather spirits.”
A young man named Cole who was dressed as a soldier and who Kayla had never met before tonight, said, “I don’t think we should play with that thing. Ouija boards are gateways to evil shit. Do you guys know about Zozo?”
Sophie and Kayla exchanged a look before Sophie asked, “No. What’s Zozo?”
The young man answered, “Not what – who. It’s a demon that’s called up by Ouija boards. It’s really bad shit – makes threats, even carries through on some of them.”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “You’ve seen too many horror movies.” She rose, shut off the music, lit a candle on the table, and turned off all the lights in the room, plunging all but the faces closest to the board into darkness. Nodding at the planchette, she said, “I think there’s room for about five fingers on there. Who wants to play?”
Kitt bounced with excitement. “Me!” She stuck her right index finger on the planchette. Kyle, a gangly practical joker who was dressed as a dead businessman and was Danielle’s off-and-on boyfriend, shoved his hand down, leaving Danielle to follow suit. Sophie added her finger before looking up at Kayla. “C’mon, you brought this, so you get to play.”
Kayla tried to smile, but she was anxious. She hesitated before putting her finger on the planchette beside her friends’.
Danielle asked, “So what do we do now?”
Kyle replied, “We ask it stuff, like, you know – is Cole still a virgin?” Most of those present laughed, including Cole.
“No,” Kitt said, “we have to be serious about this. We start by asking if anyone’s here.”
The laughter stopped instantly, as all eyes turned to the board. After a few seconds, the planchette began to move, its motion seemingly aimless, circling the board.
“Who’s doing that?” someone asked.
A reply came: “Kyle.”
“I swear, I’m not!”
After a few more seconds of the slow, pointless movement, the planchette slid to “Yes”.
“Yes,” Kitt breathed out, “there is a spirit present.”
Looking down at the board, Sophie asked, “Can you tell us your name?”
The planchette went faster now, weaving a path up and down between the two rows of letters, spelling out B-U-N-N-Y.
Kayla went pale, gasping, “Oh my God.”
Sophie looked up at her friend. “Isn’t that what you used to call Hailey?”
Kayla could only nod.
Someone whispered, “Who’s Hailey?”
Kayla barely heard the soft response: “Kayla’s sister who died.”
The planchette began to move forcefully now. I-M-N-O-T-
Sophie glanced at the others. “Kyle…”
“It’s not me. Check it out.” He removed his finger from the planchette. It continued to glide over the letters: -D-E-A-D.
Look for the Halloween Beyond novella anthology soon from Crystal Lake, and in the meantime…stay haunted, beware Zozo, and Happy Halloween!
Order Halloween Beyond here: https://getbook.at/DarkTide4
Hail the Queen of Halloween!! Great story excerpt. I enjoyed reading it.