The Screaming Woods had fast become Max’s favourite place since he had arrived in Witches Crossing. Surrounding the village, they were a place of darkness, where light could barely reach through the thick canopy of leaves that hung off every tree. Max, who wanted only to go unseen in the world, could be invisible here, disappearing in the murk and scratching out his name upon tree trunks to tell future children walking along the pathways that they were not as alone as he.
At the centre of the forest was a tree which everyone in Witches Crossing called the Old Man. It was a huge old oak tree, twice, three times as big as all the others there, which meant that even though it sat inside a dip within the forest floor, it reached up so high that its top could not be seen. Disfigured by time, its branches hung heavy with acorns that did not seem to be alive or dead. They stayed, eternally suspended, children of the great Old Man. Max had added this tree, alongside Hector his stuffed Raven, and the stories he and Hector read under the covers late at night to the list of things he did not hate. He came here daily after peering through Pyewacket’s shop window, and not once had he been disturbed. He could curl up amongst its twisted ancient roots and close his eyes and dream, and he could be alone.
Max put down the Ouija board’s box, squatting down between the massive limbs of the Old Man, re-fastened Hector the Raven back onto his shoulder and looked at what he had bought. Max had read about Ouija boards in books, and how they let you speak to spirits of the dead, but he had never held one in his hands before. The Ouija board came in a box made out of metal, which had once been covered in thick black paint, but was now scuffed and laced with scratches and dirt, as if it had been through dark adventures. He ran his fingers across the gold initials, J.A.M., his fingers tracing each letter one at a time. Opening the box’s rusty clasp he pulled out the board. It was rectangular in shape. At the top of the board the words YES and NO sat side by side. Underneath them and across the middle in a curved arch, the letters of the alphabet were written in two rows. The first row ran from A to M, the second from N to Z. Below them in a straight line near the bottom of the board were the numbers 1 to 10. And at the bottom of the board, written in simple lowercase text was one single, simple word: goodbye.
Reaching into the box again Max pulled out the planchette, a small gold arrow fixed onto a circular base that you could use to make the Ouija speak. As he held it, Max felt something, the first thing he’d felt since he stopped talking that made him want to speak. But though he wanted to talk, he didn’t yet know the words for what it meant to him.
He touched the planchette onto the board. At first nothing happened and Max felt a dark hole begin to open up inside him as he stared at it, wishing it would do something. Then he felt it. It started as a throbbing in his fingers. It went up along his wrist and through his elbow, and he knew for the first time that he wasn’t the only thing alive inside his body. It went further, deep inside him, wrapping long shadows around his heart and lungs and stomach. Then it went into his head and he felt his brain was alive with all the words he’d stored up in a month and more of saying nothing. And as the feeling grew and surged inside, his right hand holding the planchette tight upon the board began to move.