It rained today. I was at my campsite and I could tell it was the type of rain that was going to last all day. The rain started lightly in the early morning but by the later morning it was steady and harder. The rain made bubbles on the surface of the lake water. When you see bubbles on the water you know it’s going to rain steady for a long time. I’d have no choice but to be holed up in my tent so I packed up my gear and set out for Mowat Lodge in my canoe. Most likely I’d be staying there for the next couple of days, judging by the weather. I could stay here, but to be truthful, no matter the resolve of an outdoorsman, if there’s a prospect of a roof and a reasonably soft bed nearby in weather like this, it is the better option taken.
I set out onto the water. The surface on Canoe Lake was as smooth as could be, save for the millions of bubbles made by the millions of raindrops coming down. Everything was quiet, save for incessant tapping noise of the raindrops that permeated everything. My bailing tin (an empty Chum Tobacco tin ), joined in on the chorus of tapping but its performance was short-lived because I needed it to bail out the rainwater.
My destination was Mowat Lodge, but then I decided to go to Lowrie Dickson’s place first. Not sure what prompted the change in plans but I sensed that I had some unfinished business to attend to. Or I needed some whisky.
The rain came down harder and harder. The rain clouds descend from the sky and hung low over the water. It was hard to see through the rain and clouds and it felt like the distinction between heaven and earth had disappeared leaving only an amorphous expanse of gray. My only connection to this world was the sound of my paddle dipping and slicing through the water. I imagined to myself that this was like the first day of Creation, before the Light. It could haven been the afterlife too. Perhaps the essence of life is about colours and anything before and after was just a mass expanse of gray – just like the trenches in Europe. I didn’t like the line of thinking I was falling into. ‘Live the colours as long as you can,” I thought to myself.
When I arrived at Lowrie’s shack, I shook myself out of my thoughts. The rain was dripping furiously of the brim of my felt hat and my mackinaw trousers were soaked through. I had on my canvas shoes with the rubber bottoms, the once-white uppers were now a dingy gray. Another sign of gray. But I was I was thankful I wasn’t wearing my shoepacks because they’d stink to high heaven.
There was a light on inside and Lowrie Dickson came out to greet me.
“G’morning, Lowrie,” I replied.
“C’mon in. What brings you here?”
I explained that I was headed to Mowat Lodge because of the rain, but decided to drop by for a social call first. We went inside. Without missing a beat, Lowrie produced two tin cups on the table with a lick of whisky in each.
“Here’s to a rainy afternoon!” I obliged to Lowrie’s toast and another two licks of whisky were in the cups.
Lowrie said that after we had our Ouija board session a couple of weeks ago, he decided to look into the rules. A guest at Hotel Algonquin knew the rules and wrote them down for Lowrie. The guest warned him that the spirits got downright ornery if the rules weren’t followed.
Lowrie showed me the piece of paper and we went through the rules. There were five of them.
Rule 1: Never play the Ouija board alone. As I recall there were at least three of us, Lowrie, George Rowe. We had a lot of whisky to drink I remember.
Rule 2: Do not allow the planchette to count down through the numbers or backwards through the alphabet. I don’t remember anything of the sort. I remember some numbers being counted out: 7 and 8. That’s counting forward by my numbering system.
Rule 3: Always place a silver object upon the Ouija board. I knew you were supposed to do this, but I did not know it was a cardinal rule. I had a lure in my pocket which I set out. I made it from one of Annie’s discarded spoons (I found it in the pile of potato peelings dumped out back). Originally came from the Highland Inn, it was silver to be sure..
Rule 4: Never ever mention ‘God’. We were good on that one too. Lowrie and George make practice of only mentioning the lower-cased ‘god’ in conjunction with ‘damned’ or ‘forsaken’. I don’t recall any religious rites or swearing on that evening.
Rule 5: When you’re done playing, say ‘goodbye.’ I think we did, but I wasn’t sure.
Lowrie looked at me. He had fear in his eyes. I looked back at him.
“Lowrie, it’s a parlour game. You think the spirits are going to after us?”
At that very moment, a blinding flash of light came through the window. Less than a second later, a hideous crack of thunder shook the cabin. . Another flash – out the window, lightning struck the lake, where I was with my canoe, not more than an hour ago. This time crack of thunder piercing and deafening. It was simultaneous with the lightning. The thunderstorm was on top of of us. What I wouldn’t give to have my paints now. I’d be outside painting in the storm. If the storm took me, so be it.
After a few minutes, the storm had passed, but the fear was still in Lowrie’s eyes.
“A storm like that is going to take me to my grave.”
“Lowrie, don’t worry the damn spirits of the Ouija board. I’m sure the both of us will be around for a long time. Let’s have another whisky.”
Author’s note: In 1918 Lowrie Dickson was gravely injured during a storm while canoeing on Canoe Lake with George Rowe. Because of the gravity of his injuries he was sent to Toronto Hospital for treatment. He died shortly after.