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  • Writer's pictureCassandra Daucus

A Mother's Spirit

“I don’t want to do it.”

Dorothy scowled at her little sister Margaret as she opened the box and pulled out the ouija board, being careful not to knock over the candles when she set the box aside. “You never want to do anything,” she replied, taking the planchette and offering it to Margaret. Margaret flinched away, but their youngest sister, Ruth – only six but brave as a lion – grabbed it herself. She settled herself on the rug across from Dorothy, legs tucked under her dress – black, just like those of her sisters.

“I’ll do it,” said Ruth, turning the planchette over and sticking her finger in the hole at the center. “What are we doing again?”

“Something silly,” Margaret said, at the same time Dorothy said, “Talking to Mama.”

“We’re talking to Mama,” Dorothy said again, louder and stressing every word. Margaret huffed and sat heavily on the chair at the desk next to the window. Since the attic playroom also served as their school room, there were three desks, one for each of them, but the one next to the window was the best because it had a nice view of the town square, just across the road from their house.

On this day, the view was not quite so nice. The sky was gray and rain fell heavy, as it had every day since Mama died. Red and orange leaves had fallen from the trees that lined their yard and turned to brown sludge that clogged up the drains, causing little floods in the streams that ran down the gutters. Mama’s funeral had been that morning, a wet and dreary affair, and then everyone had come to the house for a party. The children thought it was strange to have a party about Mama’s death – weren’t parties for happy occasions, like birthdays and Easter and Christmas? But Papa insisted it was right and also insisted that they needed to be quiet and behave as long as there were people in the house. Dorothy took it on herself to keep her younger sisters in check; they accepted cheek pinches and saccharine words of sympathy with grace. Once the door closed on the departure of the last guest and Papa released them, Dorothy grabbed the ouija board from the hall closet and herded the other two up to the attic.

Back in the room, which was growing dimmer by the moment as the sun set, Ruth’s eyebrows pulled together in confusion. “Mama’s in the ground. How can we talk to her if she’s in the ground?”

Dorothy answered, “We can talk to her spirit. Remember how Reverend Jones said Mama’s spirit is with God now?” Ruth frowned, but nodded. “Well, we might be able to use the ouija board to find her spirit, and talk to it. Her.”

“I’d like to talk to her. I miss Mama.” Ruthie tried to spin the planchette around her finger, but it kept slipping off.

“I miss her too,” Margaret said with a sigh. “I don’t want to forget her. I’m going to name my daughter after her.”

“I’m going to name my daughter after her,” Dorothy said firmly.

I’m not having any babies at all,” Ruthie added. “But I won’t forget her.”

“Who is going to teach us, now that Mama is gone?” Margaret asked into the silence that followed. She picked up one of the pencils from the cup on the desk and then dropped it, causing the whole cup to rattle.

Dorothy answered self-importantly, “I heard Papa talking to Reverend Jones earlier. He’s going to ask Miss Miller to teach us, until he has a chance to hire a live-in governess.”

Margaret kicked the desk leg. “I don’t want a governess.”

Dorothy snorted and carefully lifted the planchette off Ruth’s finger, in order not to hurt her. “You’re going to have a governess.”

“What’s a governess?” Ruth asked, watching with interest as Dorothy set the planchette on the board.

“It’s like a new mama,” Margaret grumbled.

“New Mama!” Ruth exclaimed, her expression a combination of hope and horror.

“Hush, Meg.” Dorothy shot her a reproachful glance. “Ruthie, a governess is a private tutor. She’ll teach us during the day, like Mama did, and at night she might spend time with us. Reading, and the like.”

“Like Mama did.”

Dorothy ignored Margaret that time.

Ruth frowned. “Dotty, why can’t Missus Clark be our governess?”

“Missus Clark is the housekeeper, she has enough work to do. And Miss Baker can’t do it because she’s the cook. And Papa can’t do it, because he has to go to work every day to pay for the house and everything else.”

“I understand.” Ruth nodded. “So how are we going to talk to Mama’s spirit?”

“Through the ouija board. Look, put two fingers on this – that’s the planchette.” Dorothy placed two fingers of her right hand on the wooden object. Ruth quickly followed suit. “Margaret?” Dorothy glanced up at her other sister, who stared at the rain running down the windowpane.

“It’s not going to work,” she said quietly.

Dorothy turned her attention back to the board. “Fine. We’ll do it ourselves. Ruthie, let’s move it around a bit, to warm it up.”

Together, the girls pushed the planchette around the board in a loose figure eight pattern. After a minute, Dorothy took a deep breath and began to speak.

“Spirits of the realm. We’d like to talk to our Mama. Um, please?”

Nothing happened. She tried again.

“We’d like to talk to our Mama, Emma Danielson. She died on Wednesday.”

The air around them moved, causing the light from the candle to flicker across the wall.

Ruth gasped. “Mama?”

Under their fingers, the planchette shifted, pulling their fingers until the circle landed over the letter Q.

Dorothy stared for a moment, confused. “Q?”

“What does Q mean?” Ruthie asked.

“Maybe it wants us to ask a question.”

“What kind of question?”

“That’s not Mama,” Margaret interjected.

Dorothy ignored her again, and instead asked the obvious question. “Oh, spirit, are you our Mama?”

The planchette shivered and moved again. Ruthie narrated letters as it moved.

“W… H… A… T.”

“What,” Margaret translated.

“Maybe it didn’t hear the question,” Dorothy said. “I’ll ask again. Oh, spirit, are you our Mama?”

“L… O… L,” Ruthie spoke again.

“Lol.” Dorothy shook her head. “What on earth does lol mean?”

“That’s not Mama,” Margaret said again. “Maybe this spirit speaks another language?”

“Or maybe L O L stands for something else? What is that called?” Ruth scrunched up her face in thought.

“Acronym.” Dorothy answered, at the same time the planchette moved again.

“W… H… Y… R… U…”

“This is…” Dorothy looked up at Margaret. “Can you write this down?”

Without a word, Margaret opened up a notebook and pulled a pencil from the cup, and started writing the letters as Ruth recited them. When she was done, she read out what was written there.

“Why ru doing this.”

“Roo?” Ruthie said. “What’s a roo? R O O?”

“No.” Margaret shook her head. “The two letters, R and U.”

“Are you,” Dorothy said. “She means ‘why are you doing this.’” Then, addressing the board again, she said, “Spirit, we are doing this to reach our mother, Emma Danielson. Do you know Emma Danielson?”

The planchette swiftly shifted up the board, settling on YES.

(Emma, come on. What are you doing?)

The excitement in the room was palpable. Even Margaret leaned forward.

Ruth, too, lifted herself up on her knees and leaned right over the board, never taking her fingers off the planchette. “Yes? The spirit knows Mama?”

“May we speak to her?” Dorothy’s voice shook.

Again, Ruth narrated. “L… O… L… YES.”

“Ugh.” Margaret leaned back again. “So confusing.”

“But the spirit said yes,” Dorothy insisted, and took a steadying breath. “Is… is this our Mama? Emma Danielson?”

(Emma! We’re going to be late!)

“It’s still moving!” Ruthie said. “I… M… E… M… M…”

“I M–I think that's I'm–Emma Dan–” Margaret began, but Ruth interrupted her.

“Emma Danlielson!”

“Let me finish, Ruthie. I am Emma Danielson Smith. I am not your mama.”

“Oh no.” Tears gathered in the corners of Ruth’s eyes. “Did Mama forget us when she died?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Dorothy chided. “Emma Danielson Smith. This is the spirit of someone else with Mama’s name.”

“Or the spirit is taunting us.” Margaret signed and set down her pencil. “Or Dorothy is taunting us. Ruthie, do you think Dotty is leading the planchette?”

“No!” The youngest and oldest sisters cried out together.

“She is not!” Ruthie used her free hand to wipe a tear from her cheek. “The planchette is moving on its own. I’m sure.”

“I’m not doing anything, Meg,” Dorothy grumbled, reaching across the board to wipe her sister’s other cheek with her own thumb. “I’m only trying to get in touch with Mama.”

“Fine.” Margaret huffed. “Then ask another question.”

“Spirit of Emma,” Dorothy began. “Where are you?”

Ruth spoke, and Margaret wrote, and when the planchette finally came to a halt, Margaret read back what she had written.

“How did u–you–get my pound sign.”

Dorothy frowned. “What an odd thing for a spirit to say.”

“We don’t have her pound sign, do we?” Ruthie asked. “I don’t even know what that means.”

Dorothy shrugged. “Spirit of Emma, we do not have your pound sign.”

After a few seconds, the planchette moved again.

(Come on, Sweetie. You don’t want to be late to the funeral.)

A minute later, Margaret read: “Did my mom give it to you.”

Rain dripped in the silence that followed.

“Her mama?” Ruth’s eyes, wide, shined in the gathering gloom. “Is Emma a child, too?”

(Emma, I'm sorry but if you don’t come right now, I’m going to take your phone away. We need to get in the car now.)

(I’m coming, Aunt Kay! Please don’t take my phone. I need it!)

“Spirit of Emma, are you a child too?”

They had to wait several long minutes for an answer, and when the planchette finally started to move again, aside from the illumination of the candles the room was completely dark. The rain had quieted, so the only sounds were the rasp of the planchette across the surface of the board, in harmony with the scratch of Margaret’s pencil across the page.

Dorothy and Ruth sat patiently while Margaret made sense of the letters.

“How old are you. What is your name. And just call me Emma.”

“Emma, I am Dorothy, my friends call me Dotty. I am thirteen. My sister Meg is ten, and Ruthie is six.”

(What are you doing? You’re being awfully quiet. Do you want to talk? It’s okay to talk.)

The planchette moved again almost at once, swiftly moving from letter to letter.

“I’m 12. Why are you looking for your Mama.”

“Because she died, and we want to talk to her. To her spirit.” It was Ruthie who spoke this time, her voice soft and low, but it didn’t seem to matter to Emma. Not even a minute later, the planchette moved again.

(I’m texting with a friend. Some new friends.)

Margaret translated again: “My mom died too. I’m driving to her funeral now. I miss her so much.”

The girls in the attic looked at each other, the orange glow of the candlelight dancing strange shadows across their faces.

“Emma doesn’t sound dead,” Margaret said.

“Her mama died too,” Ruth said wistfully.

“I like her,” Dorothy added.

(That’s good, Sweetie. It’s important to have friends.)

Footsteps sounded slow and heavy on the stairs. “Girls,” the housekeeper, Mrs. Clark, called as she climbed. “It’s time for dinner! Miss Baker has cooked up quite a feast. What are you children doing up here?”

“We need to put this away before she sees it,” Dorothy whispered, before raising her voice slightly and speaking quickly. “Emma, we need to go. Can we talk to you again?”

The planchette’s movements were rapid, but thankfully Emma communicated more quickly than Mrs. Clark ascended stairs.

“Me too. And yes, you have my pound sign, call any time. Ttyl.” Margaret read the words breathlessly as Dorothy packed up the ouija board and planchette, shoving the box under the desk just as Mrs Clark opened the door.

“Oh, goodness!” She exclaimed. “Why are you sitting up here in the dark?”

“We were talking about Mama,” Ruth said, pushing herself up to stand.

“Well, that’s good,” Mrs Clark said. “Emma was quite a woman, and deserves to be remembered. Blow out the candles, now, and let’s go downstairs. Your Papa’s had a long day, and he wants you all to himself tonight.”

As the sisters followed Mrs Clark down the stairs, Margaret whispered to Dorothy, “What do you think T T Y L means?”

Dorothy shrugged. “I don’t know. But if we get in contact with Emma again, perhaps she’ll tell us.”


Kay glanced over at her niece sitting quietly in the passenger seat. The only sound was the patter of rain on the roof of the car, and the flap of the windshield wipers working hard to toss it aside. Emma had finally set her phone down and was staring out the window at the rivulets running down the sidewalk.

“Done chatting with your new friends?”

“They had to go.”

“You know them from school?”

Emma thought for a moment. “Something like that. They’re sisters. Their mom died too, so…”

Kay swallowed around the lump in her throat, the one that formed when she got the phone call and hadn’t really gone away since. Emma’s mom Leah had been Kay’s twin, so Kay knew something about sisters, and about loss.

“It will be good to talk to someone who understands how you’re feeling.”

“Yeah.” Emma finally turned to look at her aunt, and smiled for the first time in days. “I think it will.”


Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, M. R. James, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, and a ton of fan fiction, Cassandra Daucus (she/her) writes soft horror and dark romance. She is intrigued by how the human mind responds to the unknown, and also enjoys a good gross-out. She has stories in Ooze: Little Bursts of Body Horror, October Screams, Mouthfeel Fiction, and Witch House, and forthcoming from Hungry Shadow Press, From Beyond Press, and others. Cassandra lives outside of Philadelphia with her family and three cats. Her social media and website can be found at


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