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Jarvis Hall Swing
Trinity Sloan ~ Poetry

The tree swing behind Jarvis Hall is gone

The branch has been shorn off

Now there is only a limb stump with a chain still wrapped around it

 

The grass has not yet grown back

There is still a patch where students pushed off and dragged their feet

 

I used to seek out that swing after dark

Walk to the edge of campus 

With my headphones

And swing as high and as fast as I could

 

It used to make me feel like the only person 

in the universe

Free and childlike

 

The swing itself was nothing special

The kind made of bare chain and metal

 

But I grew fond of it

 

I went there when I was too restless for company, 

for bed, for homework, for sleep

 

I went there on a whim

I let my feet lead me

 

Where, now will I go? 

Forest Spirit
Emily Masters ~ Short Story

Finley was cautiously optimistic. Carson, Nora, and Keeley seemed like nice people. Their neighborhood was pretty secluded, so the bus ride to the middle school each day was just the four of them. They absorbed Finley into their friend group, and to his surprise, things were going… well.

 

On Finley’s third day at his new school, he got off the bus and started to go home, but Nora caught his arm. 

 

“Yeah?” Finley asked. Had he left something on the bus?

 

Carson and Keeley exchanged a look, nodded, and turned to Finley. “There’s something we need to show you in the woods,” said Keeley. 

 

Finley looked at Nora for confirmation, since she seemed the most level-headed. But she only smiled. That made Finley more nervous. 

 

Keeley started into the trees behind the bus stop with Nora and Carson right behind her. They didn’t consider that Finley might not follow; Finley himself hadn’t either.

The path they picked their way along was so overgrown that Finley was suspicious about whether there was a path at all, or if Keeley was simply stepping wherever the ivy was thin.

 

Finley's shoelace caught on a root. He had to grab Carson's arm to keep from landing flat on his face. "Are you- sure you know where we’re going?" Finley panted. Nora, Keeley, and Carson didn't seem winded, but Finley wasn't used to the treacherous footing or air so crisp and fresh that it seared his lungs. 

 

"Almost there," Keeley called from up ahead. 

 

Nora gave Finley a sympathetic smile. "Trust me. It's so worth it."

The longer they walked, the less Finley believed her. The straps of his backpack dug into his shoulders, and the weight of his unfair amount of first-week-of-middle-school homework was definitely beginning to contribute to future spinal problems. He stopped walking and took off his backpack. “I need a rest.”

 

“Come on, we’re almost there!” Keeley called. “Oh, wait, there it is!”

 

Finley was so focused on trying to catch his breath that he barely heard her. 

 

But then, something rustled in the trees up ahead. 

 

Finley's mind started spinning in a million awful directions. The nice neighbor kids were going to prank him by feeding him to a bear. This was it. 

 

A figure peeled itself away from the winding shadows between trunks and branches, and Finley's mind went blank. He couldn't process what he was seeing. All he could do was stare. 

 

It was shaped like a human. But it couldn’t be a human, because humans weren’t ten feet tall.

 

Humans didn’t have horns made of the spiraling twists of tree branches, draped with delicate ivy and short sprigs of moss. Humans didn’t have eyes that looked like circular pools of crude oil set deep within eye sockets carved of stone or fossil. 

 

Finley was sure of one thing. This creature wasn’t human.

 

And then, when Finley thought this couldn’t get any more bizarre, the creature spoke. 

 

"Does a question bring you back to my domain?" the creature said. Its voice warmed Finley, as if it were possible to sound like dappled sunlight through leaves, swaying gently. 

 

"It knows stuff," Keeley whispered, eyes glittering with excitement. 

 

The creature inclined its head in what could have been a nod, and said, “I possess the most ancient of knowledge. Ask, mortals, and I will share.”

 

“Go ahead,” said Nora. 

 

“Like what?” Finley rasped. He had forgotten how to breathe.

 

“I ask it random stuff about plants whenever it comes to me,” Carson said. 

 

Keeley nodded. "It gave me advice on how to win arguments with my sister."

 

"Ask it something, Fin," Nora said. She gave him a push toward the creature, which was meant to be encouraging, though, Finely was more worried about not getting eaten. 

 

The zipper of Finley's backpack jingled, and he realized his numb hands were shaking. “I, um, I don’t,” he tried to think of an excuse, any excuse, but the thing’s eyes were boring into him. Ancient. Endless. And staring at Finley. He was more terrified than he had been the morning his algebra teacher had asked him to work a problem on the board, in front of the class. 

 

So Finley said the only thing in his brain: “Can you help me with my algebra homework?”

 

Nora gasped, and Finley looked back at her in horror, horrified that asking about math was some kind of taboo. But Nora, Keeley, and Carson were all grinning. 

 

“You’re a genius,” said Keeley. 

 

They looked back at the spirit, which shrugged and said, “That can be arranged. Have the sages at your institute covered integers yet?”

The four of them went back almost every day after school, hanging out with the ancient forest god and getting help on homework. 

One day, a few months later, after it had been long enough that Finley’s grades were improving, and that he had stopped feeling like the forest spirit was going to eat him, Keeley asked the spirit a question. 

 

“No offense,” she said, “but why do you hang out with us?”

 

The spirit considered for a long moment. “The others of my kind do think me strange for my willingness to interact with humans. They find your kind tiresome, with your fleeting lives and selfish ways.”

 

“Hurtful,” Carson said through a mouthful of Doritos. 

 

Nora shrugged. “No, that’s fair.”

 

The forest spirit let out a grating rumble that made Finley think there was an earthquake happening inside his rib cage. It wasn’t until the spike of panic died down that Finley realized the spirit was laughing. 

 

“I suppose I find humans interesting,” the spirit said. “I believe judging you all by the worst of your number is a disservice to those who are good.”

 

“Does ‘the worst of our number’ include whoever wrote this article?” Carson shook the offending printout, and the spirit lightly plucked it out of his hand. The spirit’s oil-spill eyes didn’t seem capable of narrowing, but Finley got the impression that if it had eyelids, it would have squinted. 

 

“I confess I have trouble with the small, unnatural print of humans,” the spirit said. “However, I have yet to encounter anything written by a human that did not reveal something interesting, whether about the world, other humans, or the writer themself.”

 

Finley expected Carson to be ready with a snappy retort, but he was surprisingly silent. 

 

Finley took the article from the spirit and read it aloud. His English teacher this year gave fantastic grades whenever Finley’s analysis essays included one of the spirit’s comments, so he was feeling confident. While he read, the spirit swayed back and forth like the wind was blowing through its tree-branch antlers. Carson had a strange look on his face and didn’t say much for the rest of the afternoon. 

 

It wasn’t until midway through freshman year of high school that Finley thought of an important question he should have asked far sooner. “Do you think it counts as academic dishonesty to have an eldritch being help us with school?” he whispered under the rumble of the bus on the way to the high school. 

 

“The spirit doesn’t do our homework for us,” Nora said. “It just explains things so they make sense.”

 

“So we’re not cheating?” Finley asked. 

 

Carson shrugged. “Other kids have tutors.”

 

Finley thought. He supposed he could accept that. 

 

Keeley’s family moved away in their sophomore year. They kept loose contact, but eventually, regular communication fizzled out. 

 

Finley didn’t have the time to miss Keeley. He, Carson, and Nora took more and more advanced math, science, and language arts classes. Finley kept waiting to hit a wall where the spirit couldn’t explain Finley’s course material to him anymore, but instead, the opposite happened. Finley found that he needed less and less help as he got a sense of the rhythms behind his assignments. The spirit answered what few questions Finley did have with the same slow, pondering wisdom it always had. 

 

Before Finley knew it, the remainder of high school was gone, as unnoticeable as the leaves in autumn browning with the season, and as empty a feeling as a forest of barren branches. 

 

Finley didn’t understand how his friends had their lives so figured out. 

Ever since Carson decided that the spirit’s respect for human words meant something to him, he started spending his summers attending out-of-state journalism programs. Finley didn’t remember which of the programs had offered Carson a college scholarship, but he knew Carson had eagerly accepted. Nora, ever-extraordinary, was accepted into a research institute in Sweden to study clean energy. She’d suggested that Finley apply to go with her, but Finley didn’t want to go so far from home. Through Instagram, Finley even found out that Keeley had been accepted for political science at an Ivy League. 

 

Finley still had no idea what to do with the weight of his own future, so he picked at random one of the state schools that offered him a full-ride scholarship and decided it was a problem for Future Finley. 

 

Future Finley felt a lot closer now that he was staring at the end of his last summer before college. Suddenly, he couldn’t stand to sit in his empty bedroom any longer. 

 

In the flurry of goodbyes and graduation pictures and packing his life into cardboard boxes, Finley hadn’t visited the spirit in a month. He took the glasses case off his side table and started into the woods. 

 

Finley expected the walk to feel silent and lonely. The only time he’d made the trip alone before was a day in eighth grade when Nora and Carson were both sick and Keeley had detention for back-talking a teacher. 

 

Now, with Carson already at his new university and Nora at home, frantically trying to deepen her understanding of Swedish, Finley was by himself. But he didn’t feel alone. The walk was accompanied by the late summer wind sweeping through the trees, the scuttling and chittering of squirrels, and the thick, green smell of growing things. It felt like only a moment before he reached the part of the wood where they always met the spirit. It was already there, gnarled, branching antlers looking as much a part of the landscape as the ancient oaks behind it. 

 

The spirit offered a rumbling greeting as Finley sat down. The rock Finley usually sat on felt smaller than it once had. Good lord, was it really more than half a decade ago that he’d first followed Nora, Keeley, and Carson into the woods?

 

The spirit moved slowly, so slowly that it looked like part of the landscape. It made Finley feel temporary, fleeting by comparison. 

 

"Humans are funny creatures. Capable of great acts of destruction, preservation, and creation. But most of all, capable of choice."

 

Finley nodded. The spirit sounded so poetic when it talked about human nature. 

 

“I will not live beyond this forest, and this forest will likely come to an end before the turn of many more mortal lives.”

 

Finley sat up straight. “It what?”

 

The spirit hummed softly to itself, a sound that made Finley think of a whale in the deepest part of the ocean. It was a melodic, lonely sound, and for a second, Finley thought that would be the spirit’s only reply. But after a moment, the spirit said, “Human greed drives them to dig deeper, to reach farther. Your neighborhood was the beginning and will not, I think, be the end.”

 

Finley gasped and stood up. “Why do you let us visit you, then? Why did you keep helping me and my friends if we represent- what, the end of your forest?”

 

The spirit hummed again, a sharper sound that made Finley sit back down, feeling like a scolded elementary schooler. 

 

“It is the nature of humans. I do not begrudge them, or you. Humans have the capacity to build things that last beyond them. If my kind were capable of such things, I imagine we would do the same. Nothing lasts forever, but human lives are fleeting enough that I suspect creation eases the sting of mortality.”

 

Finley felt the beginnings of an idea brush against the edge of his mind. But then his phone let out a jangling buzz. 

 

"Just a second," Finley said, fumbling to answer. “Mom? What’s up?”

 

"Where are you? We're supposed to leave soon."

 

Finley grimaced. "Right. College education. I'll be home in ten."

 

“Don’t tell me you’re out hiking again-”

 

Finley pressed the end call button and got to his feet. He waved at the spirit. "Sorry. I need to-"

 

The spirit offered a sage nod. "As is the nature of humans."

 

Finley started to leave, but then he remembered part of why he'd come in the first place. He took the glasses case out of his backpack and set it in the spirit’s hand. "For you," Finley said. "For when humans write with small print."

 

The spirit accepted the glasses case and was still looking at it curiously when Finley walked away. 

 

It was another two decades before Finley had time to venture back into the woods. 

Finley’s parents were pleasantly surprised when he told them he’d decided to major in environmental law, and they were doubly pleased when he ended up with a scholarship to an excellent law program after he got his undergrad degree. He didn’t quite end up top of his law class, but his rank was more than respectable enough for his purposes. 

After that, it was reading case precedents, running petitions, and doing more paperwork than he’d ever imagined was possible. 

 

But now, looking down at the shiny bronze plaque marking the woods as a national conservation area, it all felt worth it. 

 

Carson thumped Finley on the back.

 

“I’m sure it would have gone far less smoothly if not for all the publicity I got from an award-winning journalist I know,” Finley said. 

 

“You flatter me. I knew exactly which impressive scientific papers to cite,” Carson said, winking at Nora. Nora rolled her eyes but made no attempt to hide her wide smile. 

 

“I can’t believe it took the commissioning of a national park for us to all end up in the same place!” a loud, cheerful voice came from behind them. 

 

“Keeley!” Nora shrieked. 

 

“How’s Congress?” Carson asked. 

 

Keeley’s smile was sharklike. “Oh, you know, just a lot of people who don’t like me and know I don’t like them, pretending to be best friends.”

 

“Politicians scare me,” Finley said to Nora. 

 

Keeley scoffed. “Like a lawyer has any room to talk.”

 

A few local reporters came up to them to ask Nora about her research or Keeley and Finley about their careers, or to gush to Carson about how one of his articles changed how they viewed journalism. Eventually, the crowd dispersed, leaving Keeley, Nora, Carson, and Finley alone, not far from where they’d waited for the bus together more than two decades ago. 

 

No one said anything. Finley didn’t know about the others, he didn’t even consciously think it, but somehow, they all turned and started walking into the woods together. 

 

It was harder to make their way through the woods wearing nice shoes and trying not to snag an expensive jacket on passing branches. Finley didn’t feel old enough for how much his knees protested at being made to pick their way through undergrowth. He was just glad he wasn’t wearing anything designer like Carson or high heels like Keeley. 

 

Up ahead, the clearing Finley had spent hundreds of afternoons as a teenager looked entirely unchanged. 

 

Three high schoolers sat curled up on a stack of mossy boulders, typing away on laptops while one of their cellphones lay between them, probably working as a wifi hotspot. 

 

A couple of middle schoolers looked like they were running lines for a play on the other side of the clearing, laughter, and fragments of overdone Shakespeare ringing clearly over the rustling of wind and leaves. 

 

In the middle of it all was the spirit, their spirit, with eyes like oil and a smile like sunshine. A little boy, probably in elementary school, was busy setting flowers at spirit’s feet. 

 

The spirit seemed deep in concentration, reading over a tablet and occasionally offering a comment to the middle-school girl who stood beside it, nodding thoughtfully. 

 

On the rock beside the spirit was the now somewhat battered glasses case that Finley had left with the spirit the last time he saw it, nearly twenty years ago. Perched on the spirit’s craggy, fossilized face was a pair of bright blue Walmart reading glasses.  

 

Finley looked at his friends and saw that they each had the same soft, reminiscent smile that he felt on his own face. By silent agreement, they turned and left nature to run its course, knowing they’d done their part to preserve it. 

Mutant
Joshua Humphrey ~ Flash Fiction

Dear Diary,

I feel like I'm becoming a mutant. I'm devolving and dissolving slowly into slime, and it's a struggle to hold myself together. In the mornings I gather last night’s remains of me to face the day. People don't seem to notice this somehow. They talk to me as if I'm not melting on the inside through every word I'm saying. It's a small miracle they manage to deal with me given that as I try to collect myself I only make it worse. By the time the conversation is done, I feel like I could slosh down on the floor and evaporate in the air. The breeze doesn't care about what’s said, it only blows words away. By afternoon, I'm becoming unrecognizable, my face is a droopy version of itself. Again, no one seems to notice. I feel like I'm struggling to function, but the people around me are laughing as if I'm funny. That or they look at me like I'm speaking a foreign language when the words in my throat are garbled. Once I get home, I'm just happy to be alone. But being alone means I'm with my thoughts, replaying every moment I've failed, every word I should've used instead, everything I shouldn't have done. It's a bunch of needles striking into my heart again and again, each one sharper and faster than the last. I'm a mess. The wind might blow words away, but at these moments I wish it would blow me away too. Wouldn't it be a better place if it did? To not have to listen to my mistakes? But it doesn't, and my only rest is in my dreams, where I'm no longer thinking. Eventually, I’ll have to wake up and gather myself again. I feel less and less human as time goes on, but no one seems the wiser. I wish I could stop thinking sometimes. It'd be easier.

S.P.A.M. - The Abomination of Nature
Vanessa Winders ~ Short Story

It was dark, that much they could agree on. The mass as it thought of itself didn’t really know what to make of their feelings. It was confined, that much was certain, but the memories of vast space and bright light were there in most of them. The small ones said they had always been in a crowded place like now. They all remembered eating, needing to eat to survive. They knew each of the collectives ate different things. The round ones said they could eat anything, but the large horned ones insisted on plants. The small ones were not picky either; they said they used to hunt in older times before the dark. There was noise from beyond the edge of the dark, it was always muffled but the collective found out from it that they were called meat. Meat didn’t sound like any of their old names, so they kept listening. Cow, pork, sausage, spam, hot dog, chicken, and pig were other names that they heard. The Cows recognized their name from the squabble, the caretakers had called them that back in the big space with light. Chickens also recognized their old name, though some were saying it didn’t feel right. They said there was a food bringer that used to enter their old territory. It sounded like a caretaker, but the chickens insisted it wasn’t. The Cows thought they were rather rude for being so small. The round ones decided to name themselves Hogs and that was that.

 

Time was passing but none of them were sure how. It was getting frustrating; with no light they couldn’t decide how long it had been. The hogs suggested trying to count, but there were so many of them they tried to dismiss the idea. Eventually, the voices grew more distinct, and confidence in who was who started to become clear. There were many chickens, somewhere around 50 to 70 depending on if the roosters were separated from the hens, as the two fractions came to be known as. The hogs were somewhere in the 50s. Recounts were always fuzzy since they never liked to stay together. The cows knew that they numbered 42 exactly, thanks to their patience.

The cows made decisions together and would spend their time trying to make sense of the missing feelings and the darkness. The chickens just like to make noise, but their speakers almost always fell to the same rude few. The hogs were objectively the most chaotic of the group. With their pushiness and arrogance, they were determined to find a way out of the dark.  

 

They had all died; it had become obvious once their memories started to return. The cows had all grown silent. The caretakers whom they loved had stuck them in metal cages and slit their throats, the chickens had all had their necks snapped, the hogs’ pins to the head. The revelation made the cramped space so much more suffocating. They had to get out, yet light remained elusive. Only in unity did there come any sense of peace. They held power together, their emotions pushing and affecting the world beyond the confines. It became visible through vibrations. Their containment was cylindrical like the silos and the material that held them was metal. It was cold almost like the coldest days back in the big space when the white feathers fell from the sky.

 

They had to stop thinking about their differences, the space was too cramped for them to be fighting.

 

They were not natural, this they could all feel but not really put to thought for fear of spiraling further into the deep abyss they found themselves teetering on. They could not name the sensation, but it was like their understanding was expanding. They could make out voices beyond the metal, the words that they knew came from this noise. There were beings beyond the edge of the wall. It skirted them on the edges, but they were sure it seemed to be caretakers who had met a similar fate to them. They all had the feeling that this new understanding from beyond was the right conclusion.

 

“We’re here in the Alamos Meat packaging facility hunting for the spirts-”

 

“They say the Alamos Meat packing plant is haunted-”

 

“Ghost of the workers walk the halls-“

They were ghosts, that’s what Willaim told them. Willaim was a human. He had been crushed by the machines that grind up their bodies into the mush. He wasn’t a caretaker but a worker. Or that is what he claimed. He wasn’t very nice to them. All the information William gave them was about his own despair rambling in the conner about their strange state of being. The collective decided they didn’t like Willaim a whole lot.  

They didn’t like the other human ghosts much either. There were others: Bob, Kyle, Stephanie, and Joe. Joe and Bob had fallen into the meat grinder and only occasionally came over, they liked talking to the cows and weren’t too bad as far as humans went. They were the oldest of the residents of the factory. Sometimes, they would guide parts of the collective out and tell them stories, for they, like William, found the inability of the collective to answer back soothing in a strange way.

 

Stephanie had been murdered; her throat slit like the cows. Perhaps that is why she hung around them like Joe and Bob.

 

Kyle didn’t remember how he got here or how he died but he knew how to move things with his vapor body and had tried desperately to impart the skill to the others. The collective were the only ones who would listen to him.

It was a Monday sometime in summer, according to William. Stephanie had joined in on the game, while Joe and Bob watched from beyond as Kyle communicated with the collective. It was a silly and not unusual day for the undead residents of the meat packing plant. It wasn’t any different from any of the other day, save for a disturbing shared thought from the hogs and then an agreement by the chickens and an opposition from the cows. The hog pushed their vapor mass forward and the chickens grabbed onto Kyle through sheer force of will. Kyle struggled and soon Joe and Stephanie were trying to pull Kyle form the animals’ grasp. The cows tried to spit Kyle back out but found that the hogs and chickens were now trying to absorb the poor humans. William ran away, drifting through the wall. Bob stood frozen watching the withering mass of vapor that only they and the other spirits could see start to chew up the souls of his friends. After the mass had absorbed Stephanie, Kyle, and Joe, it lumbered over and swallowed Bob whole who was shaking yet stood with paralyzed legs.

The mass had great power and understanding now after absorbing the others’ spirits. It now knew what all the voice from the living had meant, that the great bright space they had left were farms and fields. The Humans added their despair to the cows. The hogs and chickens chanted that they must absorb William as well and then they as the mass would break out of the plant.

They could touch things now and move things they had only been able to pass through before. It was exhilarating to all of them. They found Willam in the freezer. By now, the humans had joined in with the Chickens and hogs in chanting to the feeling of power having corrupted even them.

But it was the cows that reached towards Willaim and pulled him into the mass. Desperate for comfort, he had been hiding in the canned packages of the meat sitting on the dock waiting to ship out. The cans rumbled and cracked open on the floor, the gooey flesh contents spilling out.

The mass tried to absorb that as well in a moment of frustration, grinding up the metal and meat with their new power. It worked. The vapor mass of their being had a body now and the shards of shredded metal jutted out of the back and malformed mouth that had formed from the globulus entity that sat growing ever larger it forced more of the cans into its body.  The pasty pale pink meat groping together was held together only by the sheer force of will of the entity to reform a body.

Then, it moved. The being could only make sound with movements and the metal scraped across the floor and the flesh squished in unbearable repetitive noises. There were voices beyond in another part of the factory. The predators, humans, hogs, and chickens wanted to hunt. The cows were passively excited at the thought of a larger body pushed forward with them.

“We’re here to investigate the stories of ghosts haunting this pla–’’ The human was cut off as the mass surged forward rushing at alarming speed and pulling the smaller body into its essence.

There were four other humans watching in terror who tried to run away but the heavy metal cameras they carried weighted them down and the mass pulled them in as well. “Ghost hunters” is what they told the collective their identities were, but they assimilated into the voice of the throng of consciousness chanting alongside the other humans to add to their section.

The mass approached the double doors that led outside. Back to the big and wonderful green space of fields and—that wasn’t where they were.

The humans told the others that this was called downtown and was a community where other humans lived. The rest of the mass responded angrily, Stephanie too. It was humans that had taken their lives and stuffed their bodies into metal barrels. They would take their flesh and make it part of their now and reclaim what had been stolen.

With the remaining bits of Stephanie, she dragged the other humans into following the rest of the collective. They approached the warehouse. The staff had gathered and were leaving the building from their night shift yet stopped to gawk at the monster before them.

Some had the mind to flee, but the rest of the frozen were quickly assimilated. The being surged forward with twelve more bodies having been added. The mass was now covered in dirt and pieces of the human's clothing poked out of it. Even so, it used the crushed-up bones from the humans and the larger pieces of metal to shape itself legs.

It shambled forward faster now, propelling itself through the warehouse and out the back exit emerging out into a back alley where homeless humans had gathered around a trash fire for warmth and community. The alley was narrow and none of them escaped. Their cries of assimilation were so loud it summoned more to the masses to investigate. The humans absorbed were now just shy of 60 in number but soon reached it when the mass pulled in three more from a third-story window it was able to reach now towering at that same height. Somehow, not that it really understood it with so many voices clamoring in its head again, it let out a scream of its own into the sky declaring its intent to hunt for the rest of the night.  

The Ghost of the Bog
Madison Milligan ~ Poetry

I am a ghost of the bog,

And I float in the dense fog,

As many people lose their way,

 

It is true I am quite small,

But I do give it my all,

As I rush in to save the day,

 

If there is ever a yell,

With my nice bright glowing spell,

All their fears I will chase away,

 

I have only one complaint,

Which is that people feel faint,

At my spectacular display,

 

I know it may be shocking,

When a small ghost comes stalking,

But now I will ask if I may,

 

If I am very scary,

Why is it you cast nary,

A glance at the Ghoul in dismay

 

Sure, my roommate isn’t lame,

But his nature is not tame,

And he cannot help in the same way,

 

Wait, no, do not steal my pen!

You will mess up this up agai

 

A peaceable ghoul

I have helped the humans too

The ghost is lying

 

No, please stop writing haikus,

Why don’t you go take a snooze,

I want to write this. Go awa

 

I mind my business

Like the meddlesome ghost should

But he loves drama

 

Ack, you ruined the rhythm,

Fine, humans, keep choosing him!

But keep to the path, do not stray.

The Adventures of Sherlock Mums
Winfridah Machogu ~ Short Story

Cold was the night.

Every Halloween night, the mummy would rise from his slumber in the cemetery and take on a mission from the mummy gods.

 

He was…Sherlock Mums.

 

Tonight, his mission was to solve the mystery of missing children on Elm Street in the Old Elms House, deemed to be haunted.

 

“Save the children, Sherlock Mums!” the mummy gods echoed. So Mums rose from his tomb, adjusted his coat, pushed up his reading glasses, and said, “Mums is on the case.” He proceeded to stroll out of the museum and head to the house.

 

There is one thing we didn’t tell you about Mums, the mummy gods and other beings may understand him, but he cannot speak to humans. Oh yeah and there’s the fact that if he doesn’t solve his mission and return to his tomb by sunrise at 7:00am…he’ll turn to dust *POOF* (but we’re sure he’ll be fine!).

 

9:00pm

 

Walking to the house, there were trick or treaters roaming everywhere. A little boy came up to him dressed as Chucky.

 

“What are you supposed to be, a dummy?” The boy cackled in Mums’ face.

 

“I’m a mummy, not a dummy, you insolent child!” Mums mumbled angrily (well, at least that’s what the kid hears).

 

“Aren’t you a little too old to be dressing up for Halloween?” The boy said snobbishly, proceeding to tug at Mums’ bandages. He ended up pulling so hard that Mums screamed like a little girl.

 

“Jeez, you use super glue or something?”

 

Mums turned around before he did something he’d regret. “Your costume smells like century old milk by the way!” The boy gets in one last insult before Mums storms away.

 

Focused back on the mission, Mums arrived at his destination, the Old Elms Haunted House. Standing before Mums was a two-story brick house, encompassed with rare Clematis flowering vines all around it.

 

He reached the front door, which smelled of warm pumpkin pie seeping in from the inside. Before he could even lay a finger on the doorbell, it creaked open itself.

 

A tiny voice whispered from the shadows. “Sherlock Mums.”

 

Mums took a deep breath and stepped inside cautiously. To his surprise, everything inside was ghastly. It looked like the house had not been touched for centuries, despite the pleasing outside appeal of the home. He found the light switch and they flickered on, nearly blinding him. This caused him to stumble back and fall in front of the fireplace. The fireplace suddenly turned on, highly potent, as if the house had a mind of its own.

 

“Why do I always get the near-death missions?” Mums muttered under his breath, stumbling backwards from the fire.

 

Once the fire disappeared, Mums took a closer look at what was on top of it. There were a bunch of dusty frames filled with images of a young girl, about eight years old, with her mom and dad. The mom had a round face, small lips, and dark tight curls. The dad had more of an oval shape going on, with round eyes and looser curls on his head. The girl inherited her mother’s tight curls, with bright brown eyes, and a button nose. She wore a half-smile in many photos.

 

One of the photos was the girl with her soccer team filled with boys. Next to it was a trophy imprinted with the phrase: “Good for a girl.”

 

“Ouch.” Mums said, shaking his head in disappointment. He continued upstairs, as the rest of the first floor was just filled with dusty old furniture in the living room and nothing but a jar of salt in the cabinets.

 

Mums went into the parents’ room and found nothing but a bunch of cobwebs and a trail of flowers around the room. He proceeds to the next room and finds the little girl’s room. On the door is the name Nola in huge letters.

 

Inside, the walls were painted lavender, and nearly everything was covered in dust. Flowers creeped into the cracks of the window. There were multiple photos of Nola in her soccer uniform, along with a row of trophies up on a shelf.

 

With no clues to find, he continued into the hallway and came across a door with the name ‘Nakeem’ in bright blue letters. Mums entered the room and found a nursery. The walls were baby blue, decorated with soccer balls all over. In the corner lay a deserted white crib. When Mums went over to it, he found a mini soccer ball inside.

 

Soon enough, Mums realized there was nowhere else to look for clues upstairs. He went down to the basement (the typical haunting area). He couldn’t seem to find the light switch, so he went old-school and fired up an old lantern he found lying around. All it were old boxes with different labels such as Christmas, Halloween, trophies, etc.

 

Mums loathed the thought of going through all the boxes, but he did it anyway. He skipped over Halloween, because he hated the thought of people dressing up as him and other “monsters,” deeming it monster appropriation. We support Mums.

 

12:29am

 

Halfway through the boxes, Mums continued to search diligently. He really didn’t want to turn to dust. That wouldn’t be a good look on him.

 

Mums stumbled upon an unlabeled box. He opened it and found a journal. The handwriting was messy, but legible.

 

Before Mums could even open it, the doorbell suddenly rang. Confused, he ran up the stairs to go see who it was, but the door snapped shut.

 

“What the…” Mums muttered, pulling on the doorknob and banging for it to open.

 

“Hey let me outta here! I know karate!” Mums screams desperately (though he didn’t know karate; it was just a weak attempt at a scare tactic).

 

He ran to the basement window and saw a little boy at the door. You’ll never believe who it was: the Chucky kid.

 

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Mums said in exasperation, pleading silently to the mummy gods to give him another mission.

 

“TRICK OR TREAT! HELLOOO?” The chucky kid stayed persistent, banging on the door with all his might. “I SMELL PUMPKIN PIE! I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE!”

 

Mums prayed the door wouldn’t open and that he’d eventually go away to whatever hole he crawled out of.

 

But oh, was he wrong.

 

The door creaked open and the Chucky boy disappeared into the house, out of Mums sight.

 

Desperately, he grabbed a sledgehammer lying in a toolbox and treaded up the stairs. He leaned back to build up as much force as he could to break open the door. Right as he pulled the hammer forward, the door burst open.

 

He dropped the hammer and sprinted into the living room, screaming his lungs out for the Chucky kid. With no luck, he went upstairs, yet the kid was nowhere to be found.

 

“What the-” Mums breathed. “How can a little kid just disappear into thin air?”

 

Despite his disappearance, Mums knew the only way to solve the case was to keep researching. He went back down to the basement and opened the journal. The front page had the name Nicole Brown on it.

 

It was the mother’s old journal.

 

April 6th, 2005

 

It’s been a very eventful couple of weeks. Nathan is at work and we just found out some exciting news. Our next child is a girl! Nathan bought a soccer ball before we even knew the gender, obviously pining for a boy…

Mums wasn’t even halfway through the book when he heard a faint nose, almost like a woman’s voice.

“Hello?” The voice whispered. Mums looks up to see a woman in a white dress.

 

“Whoa!” He jumped back and got in a fighting position.

 

“Who are you?” He demanded, nearly falling over from his stance.

 

“Nicole…Nicole Brown, who are you?” The woman questioned.

 

“The mother of this old place?”

 

The woman nodded.

 

“In that case, I have a couple questions for you.” Mums took off his spectacles to show he meant business.

 

“Wait…what’s in it for me?” Nicole asked.

 

“Well, what do you want?”

 

 “I want out of this place. I want my soul to be freed and to become one with nature.”

 

“Oddly specific,” He contemplated the trade off and then stated his answer. “Deal. Now, tell me about your family. What happened to you guys?”

 

“Take a seat, we’ll be here a while.”

 

Mums knelt into crisscross-applesauce.

 

“It started before our oldest, Nola, was born. Her father, Nathan, bought a soccer ball before even knowing the gender of our child. Once he found out it was a girl, he still passed on the ball down to Nola and enrolled her onto a soccer team. She wasn’t just good, she was great, yet it seemed as though nothing she did was ever good enough for Nathan. So, when he found out the gender of our second child was a boy, he was so ecstatic that he bought a bunch of toys for him and talked about him going to the big leagues one day all the time. Things were going great until one day I fell ill. We went to the hospital and they deemed I lost the baby. That’s when everything went downhill.

Nathan became more aggressive and angry all the time. One day he just clicked and tried to harm us. I tried to shield Nola, but it was no use. Suddenly I’m…this. A ghost.”

 

“Wow…that’s rough.”

 

“Now, I gave you what you wanted, get me out of here,” She demanded.

 

“Right. Well, here’s the thing. I don’t exactly know how…at the moment!”

 

“What? You promised me liberation. I cannot stay here; toxic homes hold grim memories.” The mother’s voice rose in anger.

 

“I didn’t say when I would give it to you, now did I?” Mums smiled smugly at the mom, proud of outsmarting her. “Besides, I have a mission to solve and I may still require your assistance.”

Nicole stayed silent.

 

“Look, I’ll get you out of here okay? I just need to solve this mission so I can leave too.”

She looked at him in his nonexistent mummy eyes and nodded her head.

 

“Great. Now, do you have any secret rooms in this house I should know about?”

 

“I mean, there’s the attic. It’s pretty hidden but you’ll find it in front of my room.”

 

“Alright…well lead the way milady!”

 

“I can’t leave this room.”

 

“What? Why not?”

 

“I just can’t.”

 

Mums groaned louder than he needs to, “Fine, but I’ll be back, I promise.” He ran up the stairs, leaving Nicole to wait.

 

He found the white string to pull down the stairs to the attic. A bunch of dust came flying out and into Mums bandages.

 

“Ugh, now I need new wraps.” He moaned.

 

The stairs creaked with every step he took. When he was finally in the attic, it was pitch dark. He pulled out the flashlight he found in the toolbox from the basement. All he found was a bunch of empty boxes around. He took a closer look and came across a white sheet covering something. When he pulled it off, it uncovered a bunch of children's skeleton bones.

 

“Oh. My. Mummy.” Mums was taken aback by the sight of it, and almost threw up his lunch from centuries ago.

 

He headed toward the exit until he was stopped in his tracks by a faint weeping sound.

 

“Not another mysterious sound…when will it end!” He went over to investigate, and the sound got louder and louder the closer he came.

 

When he finally pinpointed it, he shone his flashlight on not a ghost but a child. The Chucky kid. Of course. It had to be him.

 

“Please don’t hurt me! I want my mommy!”

 

Mums shone the light on his face to let him know who it was (since he wouldn’t understand him).

 

“Hey…you’re the dummy from earlier!” The boy wiped his tears and stood up.

Mums rolled his nonexistent eyes and nodded.

 

“Are you here to rescue me from the scary ghost?”

 

Mums nodded and quickly realized that if the Chucky kid told him what he saw, then the whole mystery would be solved.

 

He took the kid downstairs and had him communicate through Nicole. Once the kid went through the whole five stages of grief (in disbelief of seeing a ghost), he was willing to help.

 

“What did you see?” Nicole asked, mimicking what Mums wanted her to say.

 

“Well…I don’t remember exactly. It all happened so fast and it was really strange.”

 

“How so?” Mums asked.

 

“Huh?” The boy replied, dumbfounded.

 

“He said, how was it strange?” Nicole repeated.

 

“Ohhh- The ghost was more of a shadow. I didn’t see his full face. He was tall, thin and had curly hair. That’s all I remember.”

 

Mums pulled out a photo of the father and showed it to the boy. “Is that who you saw?” Nicole asked.

 

“Yeah, that’s him!” The boy perked up.

 

“What should we do, Mums?” Nicole asked in a shaky voice.

 

Gears turned in Mums’ head and he believed he had it all figured out. The dad was taking all the children and hurting them like he did to his daughter and wife. He just didn’t know how to get rid of the ghost. Thinking hard, Mums remembered something from a century-old mission. The only way to rid a ghost was to burn what kept them there. Something valuable, but what?

 

That’s when Mums knew: the soccer ball in the nursery room.

 

“Stay here!” Mums yelled. He proceeded to sprint up two flights of stairs, leaving them alone.

 

“Can you walk through walls?” The boy asked a weary Nicole, picking his nose.

 

Bursting through the nursery, Mums took the ball and ran to the fireplace downstairs. He threw the soccer ball into it and it turned on by itself, melting the ball. The strange thing was, nothing happened at first. Suddenly, the vines around the house grow larger and tighter.

 

“What…” Mums scrambled back to the basement in distress.

 

“Did it work?” The Chucky boy asked, still picking his nose.

 

Mums stayed silent, then looked over to Nicole. Her head was down when he entered the room.

 

“Nicole, what are you not telling me?” He approached her cautiously.

 

“It was an accident.” She mumbled, and then she faded away.

 

“What was an accident?” Mums waited for an answer, but it never came. He took the kid upstairs. He didn’t trust Nicole anymore.

 

6:45am

 

“Why are there flowers everywhere?” The boy picked one off a vine in the parents' room.

Mums realized these were the same ones growing around the outside of the house. Taking a closer look, he started connecting the dots. He then went back down to the basement with the boy.

He screamed at the top of his lungs, which sounded like a whole lot of mummy mumbling to the boy.

 

“NICOLE! I KNOW YOU’RE HERE!”

 

She appeared behind them.

 

“You know, at first I thought it was the father, then possibly even you.” He paces the room in a calm manner. “But the flowers, trophies, and that bait story you told me all come back to her. Your daughter, Nola.”

 

He stopped in his tracks in front of Nicole.

 

She paused for a while. “She’s just a little girl,” Nicole mumbled.

 

“Wait, I’m right? I mean HECK YEAH I’M RIGHT!” He fixes his posture to a confident stance.

 

“Nola doesn’t know any better.” She protested.

 

“It’s wrong!” Mums argued.

 

“A mother must always protect her child. You have to understand that,” she said frantically, but Mums didn’t give into her lies. He ignored her.

 

All he needed to do was burn what was keeping her there, yet nothing came to mind. He looks at the time and realized he only has ten minutes till sunrise.

 

“Come on Mums, think!” He wracked his mummy brains for an answer.

 

Then he remembered back to when he entered the home. The fireplace and the “Good for a Girl” trophy. He grabbed the boy’s hand and ran to the fireplace, grabbing the trophy.

 

“That’s mine,” the voice of a small child said. Mums turned from the fireplace and looked down to see a little girl standing in front of him.

 

“Nola,” He gasped.

“Who are you?”

 

“I’m here to set you free. To put a stop to all the missing children.”

 

“NO! They deserve what they got for picking on little girls!” She yelled, then turns to the Chucky kid. “You’re next.”

 

Vines covered the boy’s arms and legs, lifting him against the wall.

 

“Wait! Just listen to me kid, it’s not right. He’s innocent and so were they,” Mums pleaded.

 

“Yeah and so was I.” She stared him down, rage coursing through her ghostly veins.

 

Mums looked down at the trophy. “Good for a Girl” he mumbled. “You aren’t just good for a girl, you’re good in general.”

 

Nola looked at him, clearly confused, “You really think so?”

 

“I know so.”

 

“What do you think?” She turned to the boy.

 

“Don’t kill me, I’m too young! I haven’t played on the OG Fortnite map yet!” he cried out.

 

“He can’t understand me. Look, all those boys were fools to think you weren’t special. Girls can do anything guys can do, and more.”

 

The vines around the house become looser. “Your dad may not have been able to see that, but I do.”

He got down on one knee.

 

“Why should I believe you?”

 

“You’re right, kid. It doesn’t matter if I believe in you, but if you believe in yourself.”

 

Nola let go of the Chucky kid, and the vines around the house dropped. “I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s over now,” Mums breathed a sigh of relief. “Now you need to be set free, all of you.”

 

7:00am

 

Mums made an informed decision to burn it all to the ground. He poured gasoline he found in the basement all around the home and used a lighter to set it ablaze. Outside the house, Mums and the Chucky boy stood, watching the fiery haze.

 

“Wow,” The boy stared in amazement.

 

Nola and Nicole stood in the window smiling, waving down at them, then disappearing into a white mist.

 

The sun began to peer through the trees, but Mums didn’t care. He stands in solidarity accepting his fate. Those kids were his mission and he solved it. Their souls were free. That’s all that mattered. He was even glad the Chucky boy was safe.

 

Mums looks down to his hands turning to dust. The mummy gods couldn’t save him now. Soon enough his whole body dissipates, leaving the Chucky boy alone.

 

“Hey, where’d you go?” He looked around, confused. “Next year, I’m gonna be a mummy just like you.”

 

He turned tail and ran home.

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