Chapter 2: Curious Beginnings

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.


pancakes-1-242x300Ghost awoke buzzing with that innate recognition of the first morning of summer break.

She couldn’t decide whether the full boxes and the barren rooms burdened or lightened the skip in her step, but she was certain that the scent of pancakes and bacon masked the sorrows of moving. For now.

A golden brown disc performed a perfect flip before landing in the hot greased pan. “Ha!” Ghost’s dad shouted at the pancake.

At the old oaky kitchen table, Ghost’s mom set down the book she’d been reading and perched her sandaled feet on a mostly unpacked box of books labeled “Pots and Pans.”

“Exploring today?” she asked Ghost.

“Nah,” said Ghost. “I thought maybe you’d work on the garden.”

“You don’t have to stick around here if there are other things you’d prefer to do.”

Ghost toyed with the edge of the book, staring intently at the cover. “Yeah. I mean, it’d be nice to just hang out in the backyard.”

Ghost felt the full weight of her mom’s eyes, then, “That actually does sound like a nice way to spend the day—gardening,” said her mom. “Alright. Let’s do that.”

“I think I left my drill behind somehow,” said Ghost’s dad as he delivered a platter of pancakes. “I need to walk to the Ghost Reads-272x300hardware store in town anyway. We’ll have to part ways after breakfast.”

“Walk into town?” asked Ghost.

“Yeah, it’s only about a mile away.” He shrugged off Ghost’s confusion. “It’s a small town. But don’t worry—there’s a small serving of urban sprawl only an hour away,” he said, beaming at her helpfully.

**

A bright fleck of orange swung into the wind, dancing across the sidewalk and into the road. Ghost remembered something. A man darker than the night.

Ghost stepped back, watching another ember make its way across the street from the willow-veiled yard next door. A shadow rose from a crouch beyond the wispy branches and moved toward the sidewalk. Clawed fingers held fire and smoke. The woman raised her eyebrows at Ghost. Tiger and fawn held a stare.

“Ready, hun?” asked Ghost’s mom, appearing from the house with her keys. She looked up the street. “Oh. Hello there,” she said, walking toward the woman with a wave that tried too hard.

Ghost expected the woman to dissipate in an impressive display of thunder and cloud, but she smiled back at her mom and said, “Hello,” in a silky baritone.

“Sabrina,” said Ghost’s mom, shaking the woman’s free hand. “Is that sage? Smells wonderful.”

Matilda-287x300The woman nodded. “Matilda,” she said. “You just moved in.”

“That, we did.” Ghost watched her mother inanely gesture at the moving van still parked in the drive. “Me, my husband, Lucas, and my daughter here,” she beckoned Ghost.

Ghost’s legs stiffened as she approached the awkward interaction to stand beside her mother.

Matilda’s slitted violet eyes peered at her behind their thick black lashes. They moved across her face and hair.

“And your name is?”

“Ghost.”

Matilda nodded. Whether approvingly or apathetically Ghost couldn’t tell, but she was determined to find even a trace of the former.

“We’re off to run some errands,” said Ghost’s mom. “But we’d love to have you over for dinner once we’re settled in.”

“That would be lovely. And please,” Matilda slanted her eyes at Ghost again, “my door is open if you ever need help.”

**

“I could not get comfortable around that woman,” Ghost’s mom said once the car doors were securely closed and the windows rolled up. “There was something,” she wrinkled her nose, “witchy about her.”

Ghost pretended to look out the window while her mom darted a glance in her direction.

“That was a terrible thing to say, wasn’t it?” asked Ghost’s mom as they drove past town only a minute later.

A handful of khakis, some pale summer dresses, crisp shorts, and navy shirts dotted the streets in front of pristine gingerbread stores. Even now people pushed their chins forward to see into the unfamiliar car.

“I thought you liked witches,” said Ghost.

“I do. I like witches in books and movies. I like people who own one too many cats and set up altars cluttered with interesting things in their living rooms.” The tires rolled over loose gravel as they pulled into a nursery’s parking lot. “But she was, oh I don’t know. Too intense.”

An elderly woman with purple-tinted hair gave Ghost a look as they walked through a verdant trellis into a wonderland of black plastic pots and dwarf citrus varietals.

“Anyway,” Ghost’s mom concluded, rolling a platform truck to her, “she’s probably a very nice woman.” She stood behind her own cart. “Ready?”

fizzle fingers-243x300Whenever they moved to a house with a garden, the rule was that Ghost could choose ten plants, and her mom could choose ten. They would continue on in that fashion for a number of trips to the nursery until they had a discordantly glorious garden. By now, Ghost knew her mom’s batch would include fragrant lilies, bright sunflowers, and white hydrangeas. Ghost would gravitate toward the crawling jasmine, irises, snapdragons, and strawberries before seeking out something new. The two parted in a competitive flurry, but Ghost quickly found herself daydreaming into the silly face of a snapdragon.

She’d given it some thought and decided that the man had in fact been real and not a figment of her imagination. The memory of the encounter had by now returned in full. But for all the danger implicit in that brief meeting, Ghost wondered if she had made some mistake. In the early afternoon warmth with the scent of jasmines beckoning, he appeared again in her mind’s eye as a curious neighbor. Not unlike Matilda.

The only detail she couldn’t reconcile was their conversation. What had he meant about being able to see and hear him?

Ghost frowned at the orange snapdragon. She could swear it had been yellow seconds ago. But now the color deepened to crimson, then with a blue stem. A cloud gathered over the tray of flowers. Ghost looked up to find the man himself looking down on her.

“I wish you wouldn’t gape like that. I’m not a spectacle.”

Ghost closed her mouth. “Sorry. I,” Ghost faltered, “I think we’re neighbors. My name is Ghost.”

“I know who you are. But we aren’t neighbors.”

Ghost looked around the nursery for her mother, but the entire place seemed to have cleared out while she’d been daydreaming.

“I should get back to my mom.”

The man crossed his arms and shrugged his shoulders. Ghost turned to go, but stopped. “Well then who are you? Why were you sitting on the street?”

“Free country. Isn’t that what people say?”

“Okay. Then why are you following me around?”

The man uncrossed his arms and smiled wryly. “There’s the question.”

“Well?”

“Because you can see me,” he said.

“Of course I can.”

“That’s the thing. You shouldn’t be able to see me.”

“I don’t get it,” said Ghost. “It’s not like you’re invisible.”

“Yes. I am.” He rested his hand atop the head of a snapdragon. It fizzled like a sparkler before disintegrating. “You’re gaping again.”

“What are you?” asked Ghost.

“I’m a daemon.”

A demon, thought Ghost.

“What do you want from me?” she asked.

“I want to know why you can see me. And I’m not going away until I find out,” said the daemon.

“That’s it?”

Ghost spun around to find her mom surveying the one bucket of jasmines on her cart.

“Only one plant?” her mom continued.

Ghost turned around again, but just as she expected, the daemon was gone.

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Chapter 1: Embers in the Wind

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.


Constance-1Once upon a time, Ghost’s name was Constance. But when she electrocuted herself on the exposed cord from a string of jack-o-lantern lights and was pronounced dead before coming back to life five minutes later, her parents changed her legal name to Ghost. Ghost called the white skunk trail falling over her long, black hair her Bride of Frankenstein streak.

She tugged at the streak when she felt anxious. As she did on her last day of elementary school. Poojah didn’t have a streak to pull so she cried instead.

“But why are you moving now?” Poojah wailed. Ghost gave her streak two tugs and wondered how Poojah could get any words out of her scrunched face.

“My parents wanted to move sooner. They decided to wait until I had to go to a new school anyway,” mumbled Ghost.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Ghost shrugged. “I’ve only known a little while. And I didn’t want you to be upset during graduation.”

“What about the summer? We were gonna start a horror movie club and sneak into the fun house at the fair.”

Poojah’s overbite was exaggerated by her open-mouthed misery. Ghost used to imagine that a train puffed along the tracks of her braces when she smiled. She’d never be able to do that again because this was the last time she’d see Poojah. That’s just how things happened when you moved. Ghost knew this from experience.Poojah-C1-3

“I know,” Ghost said. “Hey, I gotta go. My parents are waiting–they wanted to head out to the new place right after the ceremony. We’ll keep in touch?”

Poojah nodded furiously. “Forever.”

Ghost smiled. Poojah didn’t know she was lying yet, and her best friend’s earnestness was one of Ghost’s favorite things. She hugged her goodbye and turned away. As soon as she did, she felt better.

**

Ghost stuck her head out of the window and wondered what breed of dog she would be if she was reborn into the species. A blue whippet, she decided as the green hills and tall wind farms rolled against sky and cumulonimbus. She imagined her spindly whippet self flying over the grasses, going wherever.

“Are you excited about the new place?” asked her mom.

A response didn’t come right away. Hesitance was part of Ghost’s answer, but it was hard to be bothered and angry in the summer, with the warm sun and cool wind on her face. They always moved during the break and by the time her spirits could match the icy weather, it was too late. By that time, Ghost either already had a friend or had found a secret place in the new neighborhood. By then, her old friends were awash in a milky haze, and she’d feel too guilty about it to use them as ammunition.

“I guess.”

**

The sun hung low in the sky as the car pulled into a tidy driveway.

“We’re here,” announced Ghost’s dad. He gave Ghost a tired smile and shook her knee. She didn’t know whether to be aggravated or amused so she grunted without any real objective.

The houses got better each time and this one was no different. It was spacious with an innocent charm. Ghost felt like Anne Shirley on Prince Edward Island, and then immediately felt stupid for having that thought.

She almost expected the person who would become her new best friend to show up on the driveway with a plate of cookies and something quirky and memorable to say. But they unloaded the moving truck and nobody showed up.

Ghost’s room was a pretty space with a tall window facing the backyard. It came with a garish powder blue and floral window seat from which she could stare down at a half-hearted rose garden that her mother would almost certainly uproot and replant with strange tulips and vivid wildflowers. Tall trees hid the neighbor’s backyard from view.

Her mother might want to work on the yard all day tomorrow and then Ghost could sit outside with a book and not think about anything or meet anyone new.

Ghost’s dad finished putting her bed back together and smiled down at his handiwork before looking up.

“You okay there?” he asked.

“Hm?” Ghost turned away from the window. “Yeah, fine dad.”

Going-Wherever-C1-2-243x300“Me and mom thought you might like pizza for dinner. We can set up the television and watch some bad horror movies tonight if you’d like.”

“Sounds good,” said Ghost.

His quiet gaze rested on her face for a few long seconds, but then he nodded and stepped out of the room.

“Who’s next?” he bellowed into the empty hall. “You’re in for it now, breakfast table.”

**

Ghost liked the protagonist so she was relieved the girl escaped the cannibal demons from the mental ward. She didn’t mind that everyone else in the movie died though. She turned around to test a half-formed, possibly flawed comparison between “Death Ward” and Shakespeare’s Hamlet on her parents only to find them asleep on the couch.

“Horror, Inc.” was up next in the queue. She lifted off the floor cushion to stretch her legs and grab a slice of jalapeño and anchovy. One o’clock glared at her from the stove’s dashboard. But she wasn’t tired at all. It was in the moments when everyone else slept and the world was silent and dark that Ghost felt most alive.

She walked her pizza slice to the window and looked out at the empty street. A hot evening breeze blew into the house as Ghost opened the door and stepped out onto the cobbled walk. It was lined with white alyssum, which she couldn’t help but think smelled like alley pee.

Ghost knew better than to walk out of the house unsupervised at night in certain neighborhoods her family had lived in, but this was a suburban cul-de-sac of the buttoned-down variety. She was trying to remember a mean but funny movie quote about people who lived on cul-de-sacs when she noticed the man.

He wore a black turtle neck, gray jeans, and dress shoes. He looked around the same age as her parents—mid-30s maybe—but he smoked a tobacco pipe. Like an old person. Or, Ghost corrected herself, like someone putting on airs. He puffed on it now, sitting on the curb, massaging the scalp buried beneath a pile of black hair.

The man noticed Ghost just as she began backing up. She was on the verge of running for it but the expression on the man’s face stopped her. He tucked his chin into his neck, frowned, squinted one eye, and beetled his brow. He looked at her like she was the crazy one.

Orange embers drifted out of the pipe and into the wind as he stood up and walked toward her, cocking his head. Now he squinted both eyes, his face hardening. That was enough to send Ghost scurrying into the house. She didn’t want to wake her parents and start a commotion, so she closed the door as softly as she could without losing too much time. Every lock clicked into place.

Ghost crouched by the door. Silence.

Then. “Can you see me?” came an even voice from the other side.

Ghost bit her lip to shut herself up, but here it came anyway. “Yes.”

“Then you can hear me too.”

Ghost said nothing this time.

“But that can’t be,” said the man.

Ghost counted to twenty. Nothing more. She stood up. Slowly…slowly. And put her ear to the door. She flinched against nothing more than the prediction of a violent rap, but all was silent. Ghost took a terrible chance. She unlocked the door and cracked it open. And then more. Until nothing stood between her and the empty street.