“Ghost is lonely,” Poppy said.
I raised an eyebrow, much like our parents would have upon hearing such an utterance.
We were walking to the coffee shop in Cratersville, fresh from the secret portal that took us to and from school. It was a Monday, which meant it was washday. In Cratersville proper—meaning downtown—people hung up their laundry on clotheslines in accordance with the decorum of our 1950s-themed town.
The coffee shop was located adjacent to a street of houses. I stared at the blinding white sheets blowing lively in the brisk autumn breeze. It was always sunny on washday.
Despite the bright demeanor of the day, Poppy’s mention of ghost bothered me.
“What do you intend to do, then, to cheer up this lonely ghost?” I asked, knowing that Poppy’s imagination would steamroll any reasonable conversation I would try to put forth.
“Ghost needs fun,” Poppy determined as she opened the coffee shop door. I doubted her diagnosis, but didn’t say so. We made our way to our normal booth. It was a couple of hours before closing and the coffee shop was off of its midday boil.
Rowan brought us our usual after school snack, which consisted of a strong herbal tea along with a couple of seasonal scones, neither of which was offered to the coffee shop’s regular customers.
She asked how school was along with reminding us of our afternoon activities. We didn’t need reminders, but Rowan was part of our kin-clan, and this is what she was expected to do.
Poppy waited for Rowan to leave before regaling me with her phantasmagorical ideas for cheering up the lonely phantom of our father’s theater.
Mind you, I felt that her wanting to “fix” the ghost’s loneliness had more to do with looking for a reason to use our newly discovered magic than any real caring on her part.
After we finished our refreshments, we took our dishes to the counter and handed them to the Rowan. Poppy then made her way upstairs where a hidden portal waited to take her to the Wanderlore Grove, while Rowan walked me to the Great Razzlematazzle’s theater located several blocks away.
This is what being in a Wanderlore kin-clan is like. Every sibling has a different path. Every sibling has a different tradition they’re expected to follow.
At the theater I was tutored in our father’s tradition, while Poppy was tutored in the tradition of our mother in the Wanderlore Grove. Rowan, who was considered an older sister to us, eschewed the traditions of every parent-kin of our clan—even the traditions of her own genetic mother Fia.
Of all of the members of our kin-clan, Rowan was the one I most wanted to be like. She was sure of herself without thinking she knew it all. This is why I ventured to ask what she thought of the ghost that haunted our father-kin’s theater.
She contemplated my question as we crossed the street and headed for the alley. After some time, she answered, “At times, we all feel like ghosts—a little ignored, a little out of place, a little misunderstood.” With that she opened the backdoor to the theater and let me slip inside.
I thought about Rowan’s words as I sat on the well worn stage, an open book in front of me, practicing the magic of my father’s tradition. This magic didn’t come as naturally to me as the secret magic that Poppy and I had discovered that summer.
My father was busy talking to a stage hand about some behind the scenes stuff, yet he could tell I was distracted.
I started talking as he approached. “Poppy said ghost is lonely. Do you think she’s right?”
A strange look crossed his face as if the thought of a lonely ghost affected him somehow. He sat beside me on the dusty boards.
“Living a different existence can certainly be isolating,” he acknowledged. “Despite this, some journeys require a path that none have taken before.”
His words were unexpected. I didn’t suspect he would take my inquiry so deathly serious—just like Rowan. Being in fifth grade, I didn’t understand the things that weren’t said could be just as important as the things that were.
I didn’t ask further about ghost. Everyone seemed somber when they spoke of ghost, and that made me somber too. I just couldn’t fathom what the phantom’s unspoken tale could be.
That night, after I got home to the Wanderlore Grove, where Poppy and I stayed with our mom and Fia, my thoughts were haunted by ghost.
When sleep overtook me, I dreamed of the ghost imprisoned in my father’s theater, and how it only wanted to be able to wander the streets in the daylight with everyone else.
I awoke, knowing that my dream wasn’t really the tale that ghost would tell if given the chance, still I felt inspired enough to let ghost know that I understood its plight.
I too felt plagued by the darkness of things I didn’t understand.
On the Night Between the Worlds, my surprise for ghost was finally complete. Poppy and I had yet to find our rhythm of creating together, so I created my creatures alone. She didn’t understand how I created from my emptiness any more than I could understand how she created from her abundance.
I took the concept of the fluttering sheets drying on the clothesline, so infused with the sun’s light, and created a fright of happy phantoms to visit ghost at its eternal haunt.
The ghosts were covered in rainbow squiggles and all had rainbow wings. They glowed with the warmth of the sun unlike their cold, night-loving moonlit-kin.
And, just to make sure that my sentiment was understood, I scribed a golden glowing passage on sky blue card. The fragment was taken from an out-of-era children’s book I stumbled across in another icon world the summer before. In its quirky way, it captured the spirit of my unsettled yet distilled feelings:
If you were hunted
but walked into meadows
to feel the blue of the sky
at the price of your life
You know my name…
I am the ghost*
—Jellybean Reds, Creator of Little Creatures
*adapted from “The Rabbit Box” by Joseph Pintauro and Norman Laliberté