The Demon

We lost Tyler Weigel to suicide when we were forty-two.

He posted online in April of 2020 that his mom had recently passed away from a stroke. This was early pandemic and we were all very much still hunkered down. I spotted the post, and suddenly remembered Tere Weigel, his mom, and what she looked like. How (as a sculptor) she stored many of her distinctive pieces around their house; I had stared at them on the many occasions I had come over to play in seventh grade. So on that day, I sent Tyler my condolences, despite not having seen or spoken to him since 1996, the year I left Seattle.

Five days later, through social media posts, I learned that Tyler, too, had died.

The next memory came quickly. It was a cool autumn night in 1990 near Concordia Lutheran School – where we both attended – in the North Seattle suburb, Wedgwood. I wrote about it in his memoriam:


In seventh grade, I was new at a school across town. One night playing neighborhood football, Tyler Weigel took me aside, pointed downfield and said “Hey Russell, run really fast that way and look up over your right shoulder. The ball will fall right into your hands.”


I didn’t believe it because I was fat and awkward and sucked at sports. But I ran anyway – and about twenty yards downfield I glanced up over my right shoulder – and the football magically landed in my hands.


I told that story recently to my kids about how a select few people are sports superheroes.


Nowadays, decades later, I watch football regularly with my two sons. I’m a Seahawks fan despite not having lived in Washington State for near thirty years. As we watch Geno Smith throw for a hundred yards, I describe the physics required to make the ball land precisely where it’s intended. It takes a lot of practice, I tell them.

In seventh grade, Tyler evidently had practiced a lot. He was athletic, not to mention good-looking and popular. He came from one of those families—you know the type—whose dads put their boys in T-ball at two and Pop Warner football by four.

He felt big feelings. With sports, he wasn’t the biggest kid, but he’d play with a fierce heart. “You’re trying too hard!” he'd shouted at me on the basketball court. “You can’t play zone offense. There’s no such thing!” Before recess, the boys would talk at lunch about going to watch sporting events with their dads. “But I hate the Kingdome,” Tyler said of our city’s stadium. “It’s stinky and it’s smelly and it smells.”

He was kind. I remember telephoning his house one night to seek advice on how to break up with my (technically) first girlfriend, and he gave me words to use graciously. Another day he made fun of my hair or clothes for no reason, as boys in seventh grade sometimes do. “You’re so studly-like,” he said with a sneer. “I wish I could be like you!”

Sometimes he would say funny things. On a field trip, as the school bus passed the cemetery in Ravenna just off 35th Avenue near the U-District, Tyler admitted that, as a small child, he thought we buried people after they died so they would grow back.

Some days, I’d see a different side of Tyler pretending to act older than we were. Sneaking out at night during sleepovers, he’d climb us onto the roof at Decatur Middle School to play with knives and taste vodka. He would regale us with pop culture references we maybe shouldn’t have heard at twelve years old. Like the vile words Chucky spews at his victims in the movie Child’s Play (1988). Or the sexually-charged lyrics from 2 Live Crew’s banned album As Nasty as They Wanna Be (1989).

In 1990, I still didn’t know a lot of music. My favorite song in seventh grade was “One More Try” by Timmy T. And this is what TV and Film gets wrong about the 90s. Music supervisors inject soundbites of alternative post-Seattle grunge, like Everclear's “Santa Monica” or anything by Stone Temple Pilots. For those of us who were there, put on Timmy T. and you’ll instantly remember the fall of 1990.

But I digress. What I’d like to talk about has to do with an incident that happened two years later at the Camelot Music record store at Southcenter Mall in Tukwila in late 1992.

Camelot Music was located in Rainier Court, adjacent to the Silver Coin arcade on the south side of the mall. Many an adolescent could be found loitering in the KB Toys and Orange Julius near the glass exit doors.

On that day, I was browsing the alternative rock section – which within mere months had shifted from a single display column to the second largest subdivision in the store. I carried in my hands a compact disc of Babes In Toyland’s sophomore album, Fontanelle. 

Now, Camelot was a mainstream competitor of Musicland (Sam Goody) and The Wherehouse. It was a far cry from indie shops like Cellophane Square or Orpheum Records where local artists promoted their demo tapes. But this was still Seattle, and now and then you could find (if you were there at the right time) the secretly-stocked import titles tucked between the studio releases. A few weeks earlier, I had discovered there and purchased Nirvana’s split single with The Jesus Lizard, titled: Puss / Oh, the Guilt.

“Excuse me,” said a voice from behind me. I turned and saw a thin black man in his late twenties, standing next to an older black man in his fifties. I can imagine how I looked—a stout, wall-eyed Asian kid in a baseball cap, scrupulously poring over rock albums that didn’t quite match his appearance.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” said the younger man. He was taller than me, but not intimidating. He wore a plain collared shirt of a single color. “I don’t mean to startle you. But I felt the need to approach you.”

I didn’t ask why. I had no words.

“You have a demon following you,” he said. “There is a demon, and I’d like permission to pray over you.”



In 1989, I began attending school in a different part of town. Prior to this, my Asian-American family never traveled farther north than the Space Needle. But now, my sister had been admitted to Seattle Prep, a private Catholic school on Capitol Hill. This was a fancy school for rich kids. My parents figured this could present opportunities for us working-class Rainier Valley brats.

But Seattle Prep was eight miles the opposite direction of my elementary school (at the time) in Skyway. And so, my mom decided to keep me in the same general direction as my sister’s high school by enrolling me in a school up north. As a consequence, we had to make friends in a different world than the one in which we were raised.

And this is the beginning of my story about discovering the part of town beyond the South Seattle bubble of my childhood. For my sister Stacy, this included the neighborhoods Capitol Hill, Montlake and Madison Park. For me, it began at Wedgwood and Meadowbrook.

In memory, I like to call this North Seattle world “Hamelin.”

I borrow its name from the folktale of the pied piper who drove away rats from the city streets with music. In 1991, I began writing fictional stories about it, composing them on an IBM 386 computer late at night after my parents were asleep and my sister locked her door.

In this world I created, I could live out and explore the feelings I felt at ages twelve, thirteen and fourteen, at a time when I had few friends or family to provide another outlet.

I could kill people in this world to help me deal with the emotions I felt.


But back to 1990.

One friend my sister Stacy invited to our house during her freshman year was Aubrey Hernandez, who lived in Broadmoor. Stacy described her as being a little weird.

The curious part of Aubrey’s visit first involves something from the past. Several years prior, our next-door neighbor June Gilbert had gifted us a then-popular Parker Brothers game called Ouija as a Christmas present. Neither of my immigrant parents had any clue what this was.

The Gilberts also owned a Ouija board and kept it in their living room downstairs. I saw it left out once and touched the black cotton under the legs of its planchette. June, an ardent atheist, explained to me the ideomotor phenomenon – how unconscious muscular exertions would move the planchette through a process called “automatism.” I was nine-years-old at the time. So when my sister and I discovered ours didn’t do anything, we tucked it away in the basement closet to gather dust for years.

But on the very day Aubrey Hernandez came over to play at our house, the Ouija board suddenly began to work.

I didn’t really know much about God or the Devil, except that they existed. Even the least bit of faith can foster protection against the influences of darkness, I suppose. And I dare say a cultural community like the Asian one in which we lived helped as well. It’s meant to anyway. But that’s why I never questioned why the Ouija planchette never moved. It wasn’t supposed to. Ghosts and spirits weren’t part of our persuasion.

But on that (probably) rainy Seattle day in 1990, when Stacy told me the Ouija worked, I had to see it for myself.



My schoolteachers didn’t see me as a kid with problems. I earned high grades in school. I was spelling bee champion. I won the piano tournament twice. And despite being the only non-white kid in class, I’d had moderate success making friends at my new school.

Well, as easy as friendships can be in seventh grade. It wasn’t the first time white kids had made fun of me for being Asian. They’d read my name with exaggerated difficulty looking over seat assignments, going “Naka–Hama–Hura?” And that wasn’t as bad as kids who’d pull their eyelids horizontally and say “wing-wong fing-fong,” and ask me to translate what they’d just said in Japanese.

No, mostly, I would just get questions and curious looks. Like most twelve-year-olds, I just wanted to fit in. I can't say it felt good when classmates said they weren’t allowed to come to my house because South Seattle was dangerous. But I at least managed to play sports and develop creative talents that were unique to me. Like writing stories. And drawing cartoons.

It just so happened that the cartoons I drew were incredibly violent. Like a man firing automatic weapons into numerous people. With blood and brains bursting out of the exit wounds.

On the afternoon of December 18th, 1990, heavy snow fell upon the city. Despite Seattle being a northern town in a northern state, snow days were quite rare. So that day, shortly before Christmas vacation, the sight of white flakes sticking on the ground got us middle schoolers really excited.

Some time later, after classes were dismissed, after it was dark outside, I found myself one the last schoolkids waiting to be picked up. For the most part, my seventh-grade classmates lived within a walking distance of school. They had all gone home, and I wasn’t acquainted with them well enough to wait out the storm at their houses. 

That night, I knew my mom had a long commute. I didn’t know when she would get me. Or if she could reach me. See, there weren’t ways to communicate with school other than land-based phones. I had listened to news updates over the classroom radio broadcasting about how the I-5 freeway was closing due to the ice.

My mom eventually did reach me hours later. During the night drive home, at one point, we abandoned our car in the snow because the road became too difficult to navigate. We walked outside in the darkness until a Good Samaritan with a 4-wheel drive SUV picked us up.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Devil chose this time of my life to send a demon after me.



The Ouija board had become sort of a parlor game of cheap entertainment on our block on Beacon Hill. Once it started working, Stacy and I showed it to some of our neighborhood friends. We’d ask it to do things—like tell the future, predict who’d win the Sonics game, or even dare it to play tricks on our family dog like some carnival psychic. It was cool and fun.

The spirit occupying the board had a name. A back story. It told us it was a young boy who died on the train tracks down Beacon Hill, the same ones we could see below the I-5 freeway running parallel to Boeing Field. As I write this today, I find myself still afraid of repeating this, of uttering the spirit’s name or describing what it spoke. Yet as children, we took what it said not as deception, but as something fantastic and true.

Most of the time, we tested its abilities. “Tell us Colleen Watkins’ home phone number!” The planchette moved in swift, circular motions. It selected numbers. We wrote them down. Then we’d open up the school directory. Sure enough, the phone number was correct. 

These innocuous experiences led us to more serious questions. We’d come home and pull out the board to summon our spirit, this time to ask why a boy or girl in class was mad at us—something perfectly logical and urgent for an adolescent to ask. Eventually we’d try to determine whether my sister would have a date to a certain dance. Or if another girl liked me back.

What began as minor amusement evolved into a gift Stacy and I both treasured. A pocket psychic. A secret ally. We convinced ourselves the spirit had to be a good one; the dog wasn't frightened by it, after all! Eventually, I wanted to show this off to my school friends. Maybe for validation. Maybe simply for having a cool device other kids didn’t have.

When my classmates Jeff Strom and Lincoln Webbeking visited for a rare sleepover at my house in South Seattle, I pressured them into checking out the Ouija. Surely, we were in the basement talking about girls or sports or movies as seventh graders do. I retrieved the box from my closet and removed the board and planchette. I wanted them to see my entertaining toy. I wanted them to think it was cool, and likewise think I was cool for owning it.

Jeff and Lincoln laughed it off. I attempted to sit them down, goading them to put their hands on the planchette. Lincoln shifted his voice into that of a sing-songy fortune teller. Jeff ran upstairs.

I chased after them, yelling, cursing at them to give the board a try. I hated how they didn’t believe me. I needed them to know it was real, and that I wasn’t making it all up.

Some days later, when we were back at school, Lincoln and Jeff revealed to me why they wouldn’t play with the board. Long ago, their parents had forbade them from touching anything to do with the occult, specifically Ouija boards. They were products of real Christian homes.

While attending parochial school, I had been exposed to stories of the Bible. This included Matthew 8:28, and the story of when Jesus cast demons out of two possessed men. He commands the spirits out and sends them into a herd of pigs. These pigs rush down a steep bank and throw themselves into the sea, drowning in a mass suicide.

By then, I had also watched enough movies on cable television to know better than to get involved with evil spirits. Demons had powers. They could enter the bodies of humans and animals. They could inflict disease and cause physical infirmity. They could harm unbelievers.

I suppose there was enough godly will inside of me at age twelve to convince me I could be in danger. So eventually I got rid of the Ouija altogether in 1991.

Things didn’t get better immediately. Life at home was messy. I didn’t understand what “oppression” meant from a spiritual sense. But maybe I was too young to know any different.

A year went by. Then I was at the mall at Camelot Music.

“I rebuke you, Demon! In the name of Jesus, I rebuke you!” the young black man shouted amid confused customers. The older black man nodded with amens and stern concentration. I mostly watched in bewilderment.

They handed me a postcard about their church. Both wished me well. I thanked them, but the exchange left me scared and embarrassed. I walked back to the food court, where my mom and sister were eating Sbarro pizza. I told them what had happened.

“You should say Go away! Leave me alone!” my mother instructed me in broken Japanese-English. It was my mother’s general mantra to remain neutral and uninvolved, and not to bother anybody.

In truth, I didn’t know how to feel. This confused me more than anything. Given the choice of having a demon, or not having a demon, I’m sure I’d choose the latter. But the notion of an oppressive entity didn’t frighten me. At thirteen, I had bigger problems than demons or ghosts.

I mean, come on. Sure, I’d sneak-watched late-night viewings of Hellraiser and Witchboard and the Elm Street movies of the time. And we’d all let shapes in the darkness trick our eyes to run our imaginations amok. But I had never seen a ghost or ghoul. I didn’t know what a demon looked like, let alone understand what one was meant to do.

But I had experienced sleep paralysis. This is the feeling of lying in bed, unable to move, but awake and conscious of what’s going on. Afflicted people speak of shadow figures that terrorize you while you’re defenseless.

I would sense such an entity many years later in a room where I slept. I was twenty, living in a cottage off Las Flores Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. The entity’s presence first hovered near my bed, then above me, then directly beside my face. My muscles regained control. I gathered courage, turned over and looked its direction. The entity billowed like big black smoke.

Anyway, I never told anyone else about that demon stuff at the music store. Not for more than a decade.



Eventually, things did get better. I did well enough in high school to earn a grant to attend college in Los Angeles. Finding myself again at a religious school, this time I appealed to God for forgiveness. It sounds cliche, but through repentance I came to know Jesus Christ.

I also learned about studies on sleep paralysis that documented the effect of prayer with people suffering from the condition. Whether this was psychosomatic or not, many attested to the power of Jesus’ name. And how it discharged the shadow figures by its mere utterance.

In 2007, I reconnected with Jeff Strom and Ben Buckley with the advent of social media. While they still resided in Seattle, I had been living in Los Angeles for eleven years. During a holiday visit back to Washington State, I drove out to a bar on Lake City Way and drank beers with my old friends from Wedgwood.

They shared stories of what had happened over the last fifteen years since we had lost touch. How Lincoln’s wife had also dated one of our classmates. And how Jeff’s wife had at one point driven a wedge between Ben and Jeff to the degree they didn’t speak for five years. Or something like that.

Jeff was expecting his first child. Lincoln had kids already who were nearly grown, because he’d joined the Navy and married earlier than others. Ben was getting married soon, too. And Tyler, well, they didn’t have a lot of news to share about Tyler.

The last time I saw Tyler was at a party my senior year of high school in 1996. It was a spring night, a few weeks before graduation. We were at a park near the Hawthorne Hills sign on Sandpoint Way. I was drinking keg beer, chatting with a classmate and some other boy I didn’t know, but who happened to be Tyler Weigel’s best friend at Roosevelt High School. This boy walked me up the street to the Inverness neighborhood, where another house party was underway. Inside, I encountered Tyler.

He was sitting on a futon or fold-out bed. He was pretty wasted. We didn’t speak of anything consequential. He said he’d had a run in with another kid we both knew in seventh grade (I’ll call him Chris M.). Tyler told me through slurred speech how Chris was “fucking bitches.”

As I envision Tyler reading the message I wrote to him in 2020 to offer condolences for the loss of his mom-- twenty-four years after our last meeting-- I doubt he remembered that 1996 encounter.



I’m forty-four now. Just last month, I flew back to Seattle with my wife and two boys to visit my parents for the Thanksgiving holiday. I attended my first NFL game: Seahawks vs. Raiders at Lumen Field.

One night, after putting my kids to bed, I poked around my parents’ basement in search of relics from my youth. I discovered yearbooks, some Calvin and Hobbes collections, and old toys and games I kept stored in the closet. This was the same closet the Ouija had sat for years before it suddenly became active.

I thought of Tyler. I could only infer what had happened to him by reading social media posts. Some of his friends questioned what might have caused him to do it, whether it had to something do with COVID or the loss of his mother. 

People close to him knew he was in pain. But for some, it seemed, his suicide came as a surprise. To me, that notion is a little crazy. People don’t commit suicide impulsively, right? My guess would be that it’s something a person considers as a possibility and mulls over for a long time.

My family and I returned to our home in Los Angeles. One day nearing the holidays, I switched on my writing computer, which houses my .mp3 collection of 90s music. When this happens, I put a Winamp list on shuffle, and I’m suddenly infused with memories of the boy I was during that time.

Like most fans of 90s grunge, I appreciate the major Seattle acts. Mudhoney’s instrumental prelude Generation Genocide fills me with images of the city, its colors and soundscapes. Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage ignites my heart with Chris Cornell’s piercing vocals. Now, the obscure songs are better at taking me back to specific moments because those I couldn’t have heard in any other period in life. Never on a throwback TV special or a greatest-hits album. No, I only listened to Hammerbox’s Bred in the freshman locker hallway of high school. And I only listened to Alice in Chains SAP during my loneliest days of 1992 after starting at Seattle Prep, losing my middle school friends, changing schools again in yet another northside neighborhood.

Now, Rage Against the Machine wasn’t a Seattle band, nor a grunge band, but being a 1992 release, it still makes the playlist. In my opinion, there’s no song angrier than Killing in the Name (1992). And it’s not even the repetitive fuck you I won’t do what you tell me part that gets me. It’s Zack De La Rocha’s final scream of “Mothafuckeeeeerrr!!!!!” I recall the sheer violent anger I felt about being a poor, fat, friendless fourteen-year-old Asian kid trying to find his way at a wealthy mostly-white high school in urban Seattle.

This is the song that happened to be playing on my Yamaha speakers the very moment my six-year-old, Kai, walked into the room.

“Dada, what are you listening to?” he asked.

I switched off the song, telling myself he was too young to comprehend the lyrics.

“Oh, it’s the music Daddy listened to when he was young,” I said. “It’s kind of loud, huh?”

Kai, being the very affectionate type, climbed into my lap. “Yeah, it’s kind of loud.”

“Well, Daddy used to listen to a lot of angry music when he was a kid,” I said.

Kai looked at me, dumbfounded. “Why?”

I tried very hard and managed to keep it together. But inside I was in pieces. This was because Kai didn’t know the angry person I used to be. He only knows the dad that he adores, the dad who showers him with love and affection every day.

Truth is, I didn’t want him to know why I was unhappy as a boy of twelve, thirteen, or fourteen. Being a father, I understand how those adolescent years can be our most vulnerable. And if we can’t escape our demons, they follow us into adulthood. They can even follow our children once we’re gone.



Later, while assembling toys in advance of Christmas morning, I thought of my neighbor June Gilbert who’d gifted me the Ouija. June had passed away of cancer long ago. She didn’t believe in God, the Devil, or anything really. I guess she didn’t see the harm.

As I pondered this, something connected in my mind. A conclusion between my memories of Seattle, my parents, and my friends from the early 90s. I remembered something. It shocked me I hadn’t put it together sooner.

I mentioned, some time before the rebuking the demon incident, I decided I needed to get rid of the Ouija. Something within me knew that it was wrong. I feared something bad could happen to me.

At twelve, I’d watched enough horror movies to know not to try and burn or dispose of the board, out of the supernatural risk it could return to me. So instead, I reasoned I just had to give it away to someone willing to take it.

Tyler Weigel happened to be the very person to whom I’d given away my Ouija board, sometime back in 1991. 


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