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When will kids ever learn not to play with Ouija boards? Every single story they feature in has at least one death, injury or mild stomach upset. I Call Upon Thee, a novella by Ania Ahlborn, also involves a Ouija board experience, and yes, it goes wrong.
We follow our protagonist Maggie back to her childhood home following the death of her sister. While back there, uncomfortable memories of a broken family assault her, as well as a literal demon from her past. With her physical and mental pain increasing, Maggie tries to solve her past mistakes as best she can.
Not only do we get some Ouija board based creepiness, I Call Upon Thee also works in the creepy possessed doll, the kid who might be evil, a dead kid who was probably evil, shadow monsters, poltergeist activity, haunted cellphones, and a good old fashioned scary storm or two. While all of that may sound cliched, each device is used effectively and with nods to the classics, as characters sometimes reference the movies you might start thinking of as you read on (The Exorcist, Poltergeist).
There’s also a decent pile of character work built up before you get to the real heart of the story in Maggie’s return to her home town. You get flashes of the past, neatly differentiated with an alternative font face rather than the usual have a chapter full of italics device. While the characters are well rounded and believable, there is quite a lot of setup before the creeps creep in, which might put off those impatient for ghostly doings.
Stick with it through and you’re rewarded with some decent chills, as half-seen shadows curl around the corners of Maggie’s old home, and a dead girl’s doll reappears to set Maggie’s and your own nerves on edge. If this were a movie, there would be few jump scares, just slow builds to fake-outs, and this leads to some decent chapter-end cliffhangers where you’re left feeling edgy, but have to wait for relief which doesn’t always come. Things get worse for everyone the longer the story goes on, mostly using suggestion of the paranormal to give you those shivery spine feelings.
Maggie herself is put through the wringer almost from page one. The bulk of her suffering is emotional, as she tries to reconcile old friendships and understand why the evil from her past is creeping back around her again. There’s no gore, just dread and tension, both of which take hold when they should. A persistent spinal condition nags at her, and the use of this flaring up as she encounters various haunted weirdness is a good tool to make you feel tense too, right until the final page.
Oddly enough for a novella, it can feel like it’s taking its time too much. Maggie dwells on things a fair bit, often when you want the narrative to ramp up, which had me drumming my fingers on my knee a bit. That dwelling does serve the story though, especially in the book’s final few chapters, and that made me feel kind of bad for getting skip-happy near the start. On a re-read, knowing about Maggie and her state of mind, the story works a lot better. Especially the last five lines, which make you want to go back and check for signs you might have missed.
And hey, if you want to read a book twice, I reckon that’s a solid recommendation.
Grab yourself a copy via Ania’s page here