Ghost and the Daemon is a serialized young adult fiction work I’m posting here, chapter by chapter, as I write it, along with my occasional doodles.
Nix gave the signal anyway and Lo-Ket coaxed a pale red spark from Freyja’s hearth fire just before Fize’s minion, Sooxa, scratched a green one out of a pane of sea glass nearby.
Freyja shook with a brief chuckle and stirred the fire.
“Once more,” spat Fize. “Winner takes all.”
“Thank you, but no,” said Nix. “Between Lo-Ket’s animas seeds and Sooxa’s, my minion will have enough to carry her through another lifetime.”
As Nix turned to leave, he heard a piece of driftwood shatter against the cliff face. The clatter wasn’t loud enough to drown out Fize’s curse, much less Sooxa’s banshee howl.
A giant dripping with kelp and and studded with barnacles and clams materialized from the wisps of chalk and charcoal fog crawling across the beach. The man joined Nix on his stroll. Drifting tendrils of fog caught on the curl of the giant’s massive green beard as they moved.
“Why do you play with Fize when you know it will only inflame his anger?” asked Meer.
“It’s only a game,” said Nix.
“But you know it’s more than that to him. And to you.”
Nix tossed out his hand. Lo-Ket vaulted off his wrist and flew into the smoky day to roam and hunt. He watched her go as he said, “It’s not my responsibility to keep the peace with Fize.”
“But it is your responsibility to attend the gatherings,” said Meer. When Nix tensed but said nothing, Meer fell to the task that had been asked of him. “You’ve become distant recently. Even more so than before.”
“You’re always over-analyzing things,” said Nix.
“I’m not the only one who has noticed. We all notice. Tristus asked me to speak with you about your absence.”
Meer nodded. Not good, thought Nix.
“The circle is unaware of your activities, but I can guess where your time is spent.”
“I don’t want to hear it, Meer. If they want me to be more active—to ride infinity on the back of petty arguments with the rest of them, so be it. But I’m not interested in discussing what I do in my private time,” said Nix.
“You exist behind the curtain, not beyond it, and yet you waste yourself in that other world,” said Meer.
“If my hobby gives me even some small amount of joy, how is it a waste?”
Meer sighed. “You’ve let your friendships go to seed. You have made no home for yourself. The rare occasions you are physically here, your mind is elsewhere. Or, worse, you are off picking fights and generally trying to show everyone how much you dislike your own world and kind, which is by now unnecessary as you have proven your point many times over.”
“We’re the same as we’ve always been. I’ve made my memories. This place is unchanging, don’t you see?” Nix searched Meer’s face but found only disappointment in the lines there.
“You still live in those memories. You need to let them go,” said Meer, but Nix was already walking away.
Ghost plopped down on one of the floor pillows she’d brought from home. By now it proudly bore a fine layer of dry earth. Darla made her way around the shack with a spray can of insect repellant as she did every time they hung out in the makeshift clubhouse. Jo-Jo, cradling a heavy book, made himself comfortable in his low beach chair next to Ghost.
Pip was quarantined in the chicken coop they’d brought in from outside the shack. Mrs. Pumpernickel had insisted that Darla bring him along after he made a strike with his toy car and some bowling pins that were actually his mother’s souvenir wine glasses. In the coop, he made clucking noises in between bites of black licorice.
“We’re not even a real club,” said Ghost.
“First order of business,” shouted Parker. “Come up with a club name.”
Darla gave the last floorboard crack a shot of acrid fumes and joined the others at the center of the square space. Old wood paneling and not much else surrounded them. Ghost had broken the lock after her new friends showed her the shack in the woods a short walk outside of town. The windows had been blacked out and the walls were covered in scratched words and symbols, but it didn’t frighten Ghost who was used to more foreboding signs.
The worse they found inside was a dead opossum. It’s sour odor was now obliterated by a few weeks of absence and Darla’s chemical warfare. They’d all had a hand in cleaning the space until it was suitable enough to be called their clubhouse.
“I was supposed to start a horror club with my friend, Poojah, back in my old town,” said Ghost.
Darla frowned at her. “Nobody else likes horror. Besides, that was your old town and your old friend. This is your new town and we need a new club idea,” she said. “We could solve mysteries or something. Truth Seekers Anonymous.”
“Too clunky,” Ghost said with a shrill note of irritation.
Parker squinted into space and stuck a finger up one nostril while he considered the challenge. “How about the Mystery Society?”
“Bet that’s been done a million times before,” said Darla.
They sat in silence and cool resentment.
“The Conundrum Council,” someone said. Everyone looked at Jo-Jo, who had only glanced up from his book to make the suggestion and had already returned to its pages.
“The good old CC,” said Parker.
“It’s settled then,” said Darla. “We’ll solve mysteries and learn every secret in this town. We’re already off to a good start with the clubhouse.”
“Secrets? Ha!” said Parker. “I’ve lived here all my life–nothing interesting ever happens.”
“Every town has secrets, Parker. Maybe you’re just too dumb to figure them out,” said Darla.
“Hey,” said Ghost. “I think I have a mystery we can solve.”
The others were all ears (even Jo-Jo though who could tell).
Ghost waved her goodbye to Darla as she headed homeward on her own. They’d spent most of the day at the clubhouse, making CC plans and planting a little garden with seeds Ghost’s mother had bought them after Ghost said she wanted to show Darla how to grow plants from scratch. She had consciously failed to mention that the seedlings would be planted around an abandoned shack in the woods but, Ghost guiltily repeated to herself once in a while, it wasn’t exactly a lie.
“What a sorry group.”
Ghost jumped a few inches off the ground. Nix was walking beside her.
“You scared me,” she said with a frown, but she was actually glad to see him. She had almost begun to question her sanity again.
“Making new friends, I see.”
“Oh. Yeah, they’re the best,” said Ghost.
“Strange choice of words,” said Nix. “They’re kind of off, aren’t they?”
“What do you mean, off?” asked Ghost, knowing exactly what he meant.
But Nix shrugged. “Nothing. I’m surprised you didn’t offer up my sighting as a mystery.”
“You’ve been spying,” said Ghost. She crossed her arms. “I didn’t tell them about it because you could be nothing more than a hallucination. My doctors said I might experience symptoms like that.”
“You’re right. I could be an illusion—that was a good decision.”
Ghost slowed. “You don’t have any way to prove that you’re real? Can you at least tell me about the place you come from, or is that secret?
“It’s a big place. That would take forever, and you would be bored,” said Nix.
“So you can’t tell me anything? That’s no fun.”
Nix looked at Ghost who stared back expectantly.