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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Roll Call! First Quarter Reading List

Book Meme Abibliophobia

I do not have this fear. Is there a phobia for the fear of having too many books on one’s reading list to fit into a single lifetime?

Here’s my reading list roll call for the year so far (heaven help me it’s bound to expand by the second):

The Halloween Tree Bradbury

The Halloween Tree, Ray Bradbury

I’m saving this one for October reading. I saw the television adaptation ages ago as a kid and was thoroughly creeped out. It was one of those television shows I randomly stumbled upon, so I only recently realized it was based on a book–and by Ray Bradbury no less. Shame on me!

The Halloween Tree is a spooky tale about a group of boys who have to search the past for their friend who is whisked away by a dark force on Halloween. Traveling on the tail of a kite on the hunt for their friend, the kids learn the true meaning of Halloween.

A Game of Thrones Martin

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

This is something I should have read last year. I’m possibly spoiled by the HBO series. But I’ve heard enough times that the book is better than the series (and I am obsessed with the series) so I think I need to stop kidding myself and get to reading these books.

If you live in a hole and know nothing about A Game of Thrones, it’s a sprawling fantasy with political feuding, dragons, magic, dragons, epic battles, romance, dragons and dragons.

Best of Roald Dahl

The Best of Roald Dahl, by Roald Dahl

I need more children’s books in my life and who better to turn to than Roald Dahl, writer of one of my favorite children’s books of all time, Matilda. By getting The Best of Roald Dahl, I feel I’m ordering a delicious burrito full of ingredients I’m sure to love.

If you haven’t read any Roald Dahl, I’d suggest starting with Matilda, of course, and James and the Giant Peach–oh! and The Witches…and don’t forget The BFG!

Days of Magic Barker

Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War, Clive Barker

I read the first Abarat book early last year and it’s time to get to the second. I have a reason for biding my time on this one. I went a little faint when fellow blogger Jacqui Talbot informed me that Barker has not finished writing the series and has, in fact, taken ten years to write the three books that have been released. So I’m taking my time as well, hoping to catch up right when the next book is published.

The Books of Abarat series is Young Adult fantasy that takes place in a strange and wonderful world and features a plucky and interesting protagonist, Candy Quackenbush. Here’s my book review of the first book of the series.

The Tooth Fairy Joyce

The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce

This one was recommended to me by a friend who is convinced I will enjoy it, perhaps because of my morbid taste and love of YA books. I’m actually clueless about this author and have never heard of this book. I’m kind of excited about going into a book blind.

Tell the Wolves Brunt

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt

I’m a sucker for coming of age stories and (artfully) plop a shy female protagonist into the book and I’m a goner. I think I first heard about Tell the Wolves I’m Home on one of the many websites I, the co-dependant book addict, visit to receive encouragement for my addiction. And I guess the novel has received much acclaim so that’s not a bad thing.

I bet this book is going to make me cry.

Small Gods Pratchett

Small Gods, Terry Pratchett

After reading Good Omens many moons ago, I decided I had to read a Neil Gaiman authored book and a Terry Pratchett authored book. I read American Gods and now it’s Pratchett’s turn. Reading Terry Pratchett is long overdue.

Almost everything on my list so far feels long overdue.

**

What do you absolutely have to read this year?

Top Three Scary Childhood Books

I’ve always loved Halloween. One year, my parents bought one of those ambient Halloween soundtracks to give our house a little mood when kids ran up our crooked stone stairs with their bulging bags. I took the tape and hid under the covers in my room, listening to the howling wolves, cackling witches and creaking doors lilting out of the stereo speakers.

Some of my favorite shows as a kid included Tales from the Crypt, Freddy’s Nightmares and tamer programming like reruns of the Twilight Zone. The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was Creepshow 2 when I was four years old (my parents weren’t restrictive about those things).

To this day, I find horror movies and the genre as a whole oddly comforting. Most Fridays, I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and watch horror movies (bad and good) until I fall asleep. It stirs up a cozy nostalgia. Halloween is when that feeling is at its peak.

In celebration of the holiday, I present you with three of my most beloved scary childhood books (actually, they’re all series).

The Witch Saga Series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

For a good year—smack-dab in the middle of my pre-teens—I only read books about witches. Perhaps I thought if I read enough of them, I’d become one. A girl can only hope. So when I stumbled upon Witch’s Sister at the South Pasadena Library when I was about 12, it was as if the book had been waiting for me. What can I say? It was magic.

The Witch Saga is a six-book series following Lynn Morley and her friend Mouse as they investigate, and are plotted against by, Lynn’s neighbor Mrs. Tuggle, a witch. Their families and lives are compromised by Mrs. Tuggle, but Lynn and Mouse are the only ones who see through her act. Naylor really knows how to employ that trope of adult disbelief in the tales of children and the frustration accompanied by it. I remember fuming about nobody believing Lynn.

I wanted to be Lynn Morley but I was much more like her meek friend, Mouse. And I still wonder how Mrs. Tuggle’s witchy brew tasted. I always wished I could try it, dangerous as it was. I drank a Chinese medicinal tea once and that’s probably as close to the flavor I imagined—licorice, ginseng, twigs and mushrooms—as I’ll ever get. Mrs. Tuggle wasn’t the kind of witch I wanted to be, but she was delightfully dark and wicked.

The books dealt with some issues even darker than witches, like divorce and suicide. I like a young adult book that isn’t afraid to broach serious topics.

Oh, and the main character’s mother is a writer. I remember a scene in the book wherein Mrs. Morley suffers from writer’s block induced ennui.

(P.S. I was also obsessed with Naylor’s Alice series.)

Goosebumps, by R.L. Stine

At the same time I was buying tons of Goosebumps books, I was an avid fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Remember that series? I know you do! Okay, maybe only if you grew up in America or Canada in the 90’s. Anyway, Goosebumps was a series of horror stories for young adults. They were short, easy to read, and just plain chilling.

Stine is still writing these books. I felt old when I looked at the list of books in the series and saw that the ones I read are now called “Classic” Goosebumps. I don’t want that word associated with anything produced during my lifetime. I guess I can allow that Welcome to Deadhouse is classic in that a good scare will never be outdated.

Say Cheese and DieWelcome to Camp Nightmare…so good!

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz 

This is kind of bittersweet. The art in this book made it a thing to be prized among elementary school kids. Stephen Gammel’s art and Schwartz’s stories combined embodied our nightmares in an addictive way.

The publisher of this book recently decided to change the illustrations. I don’t know what they were thinking, but it makes me appreciate that I grew up with the originals.

Random story: I was one of a few kids chosen to read a tale from this book to the younger kids at my elementary school for Halloween and I did a terrible job. I was assigned to a story that relied on a blood-curdling scream for a climactic end. Me…quiet and anti-social, trying to force out a believable scream. It was the worst.

What were some of your favorite scary stories as a kid?