Flash-fiction: Whispers and Some Kind of Understanding

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I’ve never seen a ghost, exactly, but I’ve heard their whispers for as long as I can remember.  Maybe even longer than that.

When I was a little girl, I thought it was normal for my imaginary friends to introduce themselves by name and have real conversations with me. Mama would listen to me prattling on about Audrey from Maine who lived in a lighthouse with her father and thought the fog horns were singing just for her, or Joshua from Florida who warned me never to let my poodle outside alone when the hawks were in the sky.

“He said his neighbor’s dog was taken by a real live ‘gator!” I exclaimed as I climbed into the front seat of our ancient Dodge. Mama hated that car, but I loved the way it always smelled like summer inside, probably because we never got all the beach sand out of the ridges in the seats. “And Gazelle said we hav’ta put lots and lots of sunscreen on when we go down the shore, because our skin is an organ, too.”

“An alligator, really? Where do you come up with these things?”

But Mama never believed me when I told her that my invisible friends told me these things. She’d just tug on one of my braids and tell me I was lucky to have such a vivid imagination, and maybe I’d be a writer someday.


The whispers faded as I got older. I guess the more you know about the real world the harder it is to hear the voices that emanate from the not-quite-real. It’s like the Peter Pan thing – you get old enough and you stop believing in magic and fairies and friends you can talk to but not see.

Oh, they still managed to grab my attention when it was important.

Joshua was the one who warned me that Paul Sanchez wasn’t as sweet as he wanted me to think. He was the second-hottest boy in the junior class when I was a sophomore and I was so excited when he asked me out. We saw a movie and got drivin’-through burgers and fries and went to the cliff over the ocean… and I knew – I knew – he was gonna kiss me, and I couldn’t wait to find out what all the fuss was about.

But he tasted like stale soda and cigarettes and after we kissed a couple times, he slid his hand under my shirt, and started to push me backwards on the bench-seat of his Daddy’s old Ford pickup, and when I told him “Stop!” he refused.

Joshua was there though. He told me to lift my knee at exactly the right time, and then he whispered into Paul’s ear, and Paul apologized and took me straight home.

After that, he never talked to me again, but sometimes when we were both in the quad during lunch he’d look at me funny, like maybe he thought I was touched… or he was.


Of all my ghost friends, Joshua was the oldest. He’d been twenty-three when he passed, he said. He’d been studying marine biology at Florida State, and he’d been stupid and gone on a bender the night before a boat trip. He didn’t remember all the details of his dying – or he never shared them with me, anyway – but he made me promise that if I was ever gonna get super-drunk I’d do it in the safety of my own space, and not ever go driving or sailing after.

It was an easy promise to make. Booze and weed only ever loosened my tongue to the point where I’d forget that not everyone was as gentle and kind as my Mama about the stories that got whispered to me.

When I was twenty, and in my third year at Bennington working on a self-designed course of study involving folklore and fantasy and creative writing, it finally clicked in my head that Joshua had a kind of crush on me, and I knew I had to send him on his way.

I’d done that for Audrey, when I’d turned ten and she couldn’t follow. And I’d done it for Gazelle when I’d turned fourteen and realized I liked boys (she didn’t). And I missed them fiercely, especially when I was alone at night in my chilly dorm room and I hadn’t made any friends yet.

But Joshua… he was the boy I wished I could kiss, kind of like Cristina Ricci did in that Casper movie, when Casper makes himself solid for her.

Except Josh could never be solid.

And then I met Aurelio.

Aurelio was the son of the Ambassador from Spain, and he was made of sweetness and sex appeal, inside and out. He wrote poetry and played guitar, and he had this thick, curly hair that just begged to be finger-combed, and he let me do it with my fingers. He had soulful blue eyes and this accent that was kind of like Mexican Spanish mixed with French and when he kissed me, it felt like coming home.

Joshua was jealous.

Joshua said I was too young for a serious relationship and I’d end up being hurt and why wasn’t I listening to him?

Joshua started whispering to me about girls Aurelio was hooking up with behind my back, but I could tell he was making it up, because I’d known his voice since I was a little girl, or longer, and I knew what lying sounded like.

Finally, I locked myself in the bathroom and ran the shower at full pressure and I called Joshua to come talk to me.

He’d never been there when I was naked before, and he whispered that I shouldn’t let my boyfriend know about him, or he’d have to kill him.

And that’s when I told him to go.

“You’ve always been a friend,” I told him. “You kept me safe when I needed a guardian and you nudged me to write and explore and you saved me from being lonely during my darkest times, but I’m a grown woman now, and there’s a reason people my age don’t have imaginary friends anymore.”

He yelled at me, and he made my Gillette Swirl Razor pop its suction cups and fall off the shower wall and he ran his chilly ethereal hands over my bare skin, and I forced myself not to react to any of it.

“I’m gonna step in the shower now,” I told him when he’d had enough. “And by the time I’m finished, you need to cross over. You’ve done your duty by me, Joshua.”

He didn’t have any choice but to agree.


Aurelio arrived home just as I was wrapping my hair in one towel and the rest of me in another. He had a bag of Chinese food from the place that made the good kind of pot-stickers and he’d stopped at the flower stall on the corner and picked up a bouquet of purple carnations that smelled like innocence and cloves.

We sat on his second-hand Oriental rug in front of my ratty eggplant-colored couch and pigged out on moo shu pork while we watched The Artist, and then he took me to bed and we satisfied a totally different kind of appetite.

And afterward, he pulled his guitar into the bed with us, and leaned against the leather headboard, strumming lightly as he recited his latest poems to me.  In between stanzas he told me nonchalantly, “It’s nice to be alone with you, finally.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Joshua and Bianca finally moved on,” he said,  as if I’d known he’d had a whispering friend, too.

As if people talked about their invisible friends every day.

And who knows?

Maybe they do.

Inspired by Selena Taylor

And the song “Whispers and Some Kind of Understanding,” by GhostLight


Just Like Us?

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“Mom! Harry’s chewing with his mouth open again!”

“Harry, mind your manners. Becky, stop tattling on your brother.”

“But Mom!” both children chorused, their voices utterly failing to harmonize.

“I couldn’t help it,” Harry said. “I got a toe caught under my tongue.”

“Yeah, that’s what you always say,” Becky countered. She mimicked him. “I got a hand caught in my tooth. There was hair in the back of my throat.” She rolled her eyes skyward. “You’re eight hundred not eighty. LEARN TO CHEW!!!”

“Stop picking on me!” Harry roared back. “You almost got caught during your Haunting last night. Charlie told me that Mara told him you tickled a Child’s Foot and she kicked you!”

Becky’s eyes – all five of them – went all slitty and her nose squinched up and her face deepened to an almost-forest green. “Don’t you dare tell Mom about that. Don’t even think about it.”

Harry’s voice was only a soft roar when he said, “I’m sorry, Becky.”

Both of the young monsters were quiet for a bit, as they picked up Human Cookies and dunked them in their Curdled Milk, and then ate them.

“So, I heard Charlie wants to dress as a Child for Halloween.” Becky said after a bit. It was clearly a peace offering. “I was thinking we could come up with something even scarier for you.”


“Yeah,” Becky grinned, showing off her rows of sharp, gleaming, recently unstraightened teeth. “I think you should go as an Adult.”

“That’s not so scary.”

“A Human Adult.”

Harry couldn’t help giggling, which meant his sister got a lovely view of partially masticated cookie and frosting.

“Mom! He’s doing it again!”



Flash-fiction: The (von) Brunt of it All

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“Autumn in New York is so lovely,” they said. “The colors of the leaves are so vibrant!”

Sure, sure they’re lovely when they’re still suspended from the branches. They’re vibrant when they first land on the ground. All those yellows and oranges and bright reds.

You’d get sick of them surprisingly quickly if all you could do was lie in a pile of the rotting things and stare at the sky with one eye and the ground at the other, for days at a time. Don’t believe me? Trust me, I know.

After all, that’s my life.

You all know the story, I’m sure. Mild-mannered school-teacher Ichabod Crane comes to Tarrytown to lead the charge for education, falls in love with Katrina, and has a series of run-ins with a Hessian on horseback, a soldier name of Brom Bones who lost his head – quite literally – by a single, spectacular, sword-stroke. Goes around now with some squash or gourd tucked under one arm.

Calls himself the Headless Horseman.

Makes a show of being all scary and magical.

Truth is, magic’s got nothing to do with it. It’s Daredevil that gets Ol’ Brom where he wants to go.

Daredevil… now that was a horse. Bred in Spain, brought him over to the colonies from Seville. He’d been trained by the same folks who  taught the Lipizzan stallions all their cool tricks. Blind as a bat – blinder, really – Brom didn’t need a head to get around as long as he had that horse.

But I digress.

You all know the story of the Horseman, but did you ever stop to wonder what happened to his head?

It’s okay. I know how it is. Man riding around without a head – that’s a scary thing. Head rolling around without a man – that’s just unfortunate.

At least the grin without a cat was still welcome at tea.

But me?

Leaves. Leaves and mulch and dirt and worms. Rain, mud, snow, ice, grass, and leaves again. On and on through the wheel of time.

Wheels go round.

Heads go rolling.

The Horseman, he’s Brom Bones… he’s got the stories and the screams and the flickering firelight that makes the shadows shrink and grow.

Me? I’ve got a name too, you know.

I’m Brunt.

I used to be Abraham von Brunt, but that’s a name that requires legs and arms. And a chest. And broad shoulders.

At this point?

Well, my hair is dirty and matted, my eyes are filled with grit and I cannot get the taste of old dirt and rotting leaves out of my mouth or nose.

Well, at least until the next rain.

I’ve managed to see a bit of the world, though.

Figured out that wiggling my ears and scrunching my nose could give me a bit of mobility.

Find the correct angle on the right ground, and heads will roll.

And every once in a while some kid who wants a disgusting keepsake will use a stick to shove me into a satchel, and carry me around for a bit. I don’t have vocal cords anymore, but I can project my voice into a willing person’s head, give them directions.

Instructions really.

Or… suggestions, I guess.

I’ve given up any hope of reuniting with Brom.

My new goal is to make it back across the pond. Not to Austria or Germany, though.

Nope. I aim to make it to Scotland.

I’ve heard there are whole clans of Scotsmen lopping each other’s heads off like it’s some kind of  Game.

Pretty sure one of those bodies could use a spare.

And if not?

One option is to become a willing participant in that other game – the one with the brooms and the ice.

Team could make a pretty penny if they had a stone that could Suggest that the opponents miss some shots.

And option two? That’s the one with less pain and more dignity.

See, the people of the Isles are closer to real magic than they are here in the Colonies. Maybe they can build me a strawman body, like the ones they prop up in fields to keep the pests at bay.

It’d have to be pretty well packed though… to bear the brunt of it all.

Inspired by Fran Hutchinson.