It was seven years since her dear grandad had passed, and she needed his help to finally solve the mystery…
Gran didn’t want the fact that Grandad was dead to exclude him from birthday parties or any other special occasion. So Ruby knew the Ouija board would appear tonight, as it always did at family gatherings.
It was Gran’s eighty-second birthday and all the usual relatives had turned up for tea, a slice of Gran’s homemade cake and a mystical chat with Grandad.
Ruby scanned the people in the room. Gran had loads of friends, mostly of her own age. The only other teenagers there were Ruby’s cousins. She’d never been particularly close to Helen or Simon.
Ruby noticed that Helen wore the old-fashioned emerald brooch, out of duty she thought, as she always did when she knew Gran would be present.
Gran had set the Ouija board in the middle of the table.
It had always intrigued Ruby; all those letters and symbols.
At an impressionable nine years old it had seemed a magical way to keep in contact with Grandad. She still missed his mischievous, sparkling eyes beneath his wild grey eyebrows.
That was seven years ago now, and the mysticism had dimmed. It was all trickery, of course. Gran didn’t fool anyone, the way she pushed the little wheeled planchette around the board to gain Grandad’s approval for all manner of household decisions.
Should she buy the lilac cardigan she’d seen at the shops? Would Grandad mind if she threw out the tatty old sofa cushions? It was all harmless stuff.
Normally Ruby just joined in with the same indulgent awkwardness as everyone else. But today – well, she planned to use the board to her advantage.
“I’ve had a lovely birthday,” Gran told Ruby. “Thank you for the scarf. Now, have a bit more chocolate cake, it was Grandad’s favourite.”
“Good old Grandad.” Ruby grinned; she had only fond memories of him. He had worked in the jewellery trade and was delighted that his youngest grandchild was named after a precious stone.
She might have been called Jade or Amber, but somehow Ruby suited what she thought of as a slightly fiery personality – a bit as she imagined Gran to have had when she was younger.
Grandad had kept a ruby in his little wall safe and often showed it to her: a deep red, like crystallised blood, glinting as he shifted it in his fingers to catch the light.
“I’ll let you into a secret, Ruby,” he’d said.
“When I’m gone, this ruby will be yours.” He’d smiled down at her. “Don’t tell Helen or Simon, though. They will get a keepsake too, but I think they’ll be a little bit jealous.”
Ruby nibbled at the birthday cake, glancing at her cousins.
Each of the three grandchildren had been left a personal item in Grandad’s will. Simon got Grandad’s watch, far too big for him at the time; Helen got the emerald brooch; and Ruby the ruby – as promised.
But when Grandad’s little safe had been opened, the ruby hadn’t been there.
Ruby had been appalled at all the fuss that was made. All the family knew that the safe’s combination was Grandad’s date of birth. But no one would have taken the ruby, surely.
Gran had been too upset at the time to deal with the problem, and the nine-year-old Ruby had been taken to the shops and bought a gold pendant on a chain. It was nice, but it wasn’t her ruby.
Ruby found out later that suspicion had fallen on her young cousins; they were a couple of years older than her.
Perhaps it was that suspicion which had kept them apart. They were always civil when they met – Simon always managed a smile and a joke – but they’d never really been friends.
Ruby particularly wondered about Helen.
Whenever they met, Helen seemed to have an imperious, judgemental look on her serious face. Did the family really think that Helen was the sort of person who would have taken the ruby?
It was a very awkward situation which had worried Ruby for the last seven years. Well, now she planned to get it sorted once and for all.
It was a daring plan. Ruby wondered if she could actually go through with it.
She’d thought about this a lot – of how the other members of the family might view the ruby’s reappearance.
What did they think of Helen, for example? If Helen had taken the ruby, was she the sort of person who would use this opportunity to return it? Or Simon?
When the cake had been cut and Happy Birthday had been sung, Gran waved everyone to sit around the Ouija board, as naturally as if she were inviting them to have more tea.
“Everyone place a finger on the planchette,” she said cheerfully.
Ruby and the others did as instructed and listened as Gran told Grandad about her day. She told him about the people who had visited; the flowers and presents she’d been sent.
From time to time the planchette meandered over the board. It was as if it were restlessly waiting to be asked something.
“Now then,” said Gran, as she always did. “Would anyone like to say anything?”
This was her chance.
“Yes,” said Ruby. She felt everyone’s eyes flick in her direction, conscious of the blush that reddened her face, but there was no going back now.
“The ruby that was missing…” she began, then stared down at the Ouija board, not daring to meet anyone’s eyes. “Grandad, do you know where it is?”
Ruby was surprised to feel the planchette move immediately in a circular motion around the board. She knew she wasn’t forcing it.
She watched the faces around her. Which of them was causing it to move? Helen? Simon? Gran, or one of her friends?
The planchette slowed, then rested over the word Yes.
A little thrill shivered down Ruby’s spine.
This was better than she’d hoped.
She glanced up at Helen, whose face betrayed nothing more than an indulgent boredom at Gran’s parlour tricks, but her eyes were fixed on Ruby – perhaps she’d guessed what she was up to.
Ruby didn’t waver.
“Grandad,” she continued, “can you tell me where it is?”
Slower now, the planchette swayed over the letters, pausing over the C.
“C,” said Gran brightly, as the little wheeled platform slid to the next letter.
L. O. Back to C. Finally, it came to rest on the K.
“Clock?” asked Ruby. She hadn’t hoped for any more than this, but the planchette jerked beneath her finger to stop again over the Yes.
“What clock?” It was Simon’s voice. In all the drama Ruby had practically forgotten he was there.
Ruby was already glancing about the room. Gran had an old Westminster Chime clock on the mantelpiece. Ruby knew it had to be wound every day – it was unlikely that her ruby could have remained hidden in there for seven years.
Gran had spotted her gaze.
“Have a look,” she said, the quiver of a smile tugging at her mouth.
So Ruby left the table and, handling the clock very carefully, she opened the little hinged door at the back.
There were cogs and gears and springs, but no ruby.
“How about the grandfather clock in the hall?” Simon suggested. “That would be appropriate.”
Ruby and Simon, followed by Gran, searched everywhere they could think of in the grandfather clock.
They stopped the pendulum to peer down into the long casing, using Simon’s phone as a torch. They even eased away the surround of the clock mechanism. Apart from a few spiders, they found nothing.
“There’s an old clock in your Grandad’s study,” said Gran. “It didn’t work, even when he was alive. So it hasn’t been touched.”
So Ruby and Simon followed Gran into the small study.
The room was just as Ruby always remembered it. The little safe on the wall, Grandad’s desk and chair. And there was the broken clock on a shelf.
Ruby looked at it; she knew that her ruby would be inside.
While the others watched, she unfastened a panel on the back of its wooden case and reached in. Lodged into the mechanism was something cold and hard. It fell free into her hand.
“It’s the ruby!” Simon grinned. He was delighted. “I’m going to tell Helen and the others. Good old Grandad, eh?”
He ran out of the room, leaving Ruby turning the stone over and over in her hands, just like Grandad used to do. Now that she had the ruby, she didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
Gran didn’t seem surprised. She patted Ruby gently on the shoulder.
“It must have been very awkward for you,” she said. “You took the ruby yourself, didn’t you? Then you were stuck with it and didn’t know what to do.”
Ruby felt her face flush as red as the stone in her hands, but she saw Gran’s face wrinkle into a kindly smile.
“I was only young,” she said. “Grandad often showed it to me, but I’d never touched it. When he died, I missed him so much. I just wanted to hold the ruby for a while.
“It was my special link to him.
“I stood on a chair to reach the safe, but I never got a chance to put it back. Then it was found to be missing. I panicked and hid it.
“Then of course, I couldn’t say anything without people knowing what I’d done.”
“So you guided the planchette tonight to spell out your message. It was a clever idea, no one would know who had influenced the board.” Gran lowered her voice. “I must admit I sometimes give the planchette a nudge myself. I knew what you were up to, so I was going to help things along.”
“So it was you!” Ruby exclaimed. “When I asked about the clock, you made it answer Yes.”
“I didn’t need to,” Gran beamed. “It wasn’t my fingers that guided the answer. I think Helen guessed what you were doing. You should get to know her better; she’s not as stony as she makes out.”
Ruby’s face crumpled into tears.
“Oh, Gran, I’ve been so stupid. All these years, I’ve allowed suspicion to fall on other people. And Helen must have known it was me all the time. And then she helped me this evening by influencing the board.”
Gran passed Ruby a lace-edged hanky to dry her eyes and sat down, a little heavily, in Grandad’s desk chair.
“The way Simon’s been energetically pulling clocks apart, I think she might have hinted to him too.”
Gran patted the arms of the chair. “You know, when I think of your grandad, it’s here that I can see him, sitting in this chair. We chat, like we used to, we don’t need the board.”
Ruby looked down at the stone.
“You’re not too cross, are you?”
Gran’s eyes twinkled in exactly the way Grandad’s had done.
“The ruby was always going to be yours. Now you can have it set in a pendant or something, wear it like Grandad intended.”
“Thank you.” Ruby gave her Gran a lingering hug. “I feel like it’s my birthday too.”
Then a thought came to her.
“Hang on, Gran. How could you possibly have known what I was up to tonight?”
Gran smiled again. “Ah, I’ve known for a little while now.”
Ruby sighed. “I know, the Ouija board sees everything…”
Gran waved a hand dismissively.
“Oh, that silly old thing…” She patted the arms of the chair again. “No. Grandad told me, of course.”