Spirits of Oz Chapter 2

Spirits of Oz Chapter 2 by Aimee Gross

About Spirits of Oz

  • 2014 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
  • Written and illustrated for a younger audience
  • Just joining us? Please start reading with Chapter 1
  • A new chapter is serialized each week
  • A different Topeka author and illustrator featured in each chapter
  • Read online or download to your ereader!

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Read Online: Spirits of Oz Chapter 2 by Aimee L. Gross

Author Bio | Author Interview

“What do you want to bet this is a bad idea,” Nico said. He turned to follow the apparitions to the corner of the cemetery, but Lola grabbed his elbow.

“Wait a sec, or walk slow, at least. I’ll be right back.” She loped down the road to the open rear door of the equipment van. One of the tech crew, Frank, sat on the bumper eating Skittles and swigging a massive Mountain Dew Icee.

“Hey, my favorite girl. Want some Skittles?” Frank held out the bag. “Anything to stay awake during the boring parts.”

“No, thanks though. What I’d really like is to borrow a digital recorder.”

Frank frowned. “They’re not toys, Lola.”

“I know that. We don’t want to play with it—Nico and I are studying for our spelling test tomorrow. Anything to stay awake during the boring parts, right?”

Frank put down his drink and sorted through an aluminum case just inside the door. He handed Lola a palm-sized silver recorder, and called after her, “Be careful with it!” as she thanked him and sped up the hill to Nico.

Lola put her fingers on the “power” and “record” buttons as she slipped it into her jacket pocket.

“What do we need that for?” Nico asked quietly, as the two walked toward the shimmery white shapes of the Lady and her dog.

“Evidence,” Lola said, and pressed the buttons.

When they arrived at the corner where the Lady stood next to the fence, they noticed rough-cut stones from an old foundation in the grass. On each stone an apparition lounged, perched, or stood bolt upright.

I guess that way they’re sure they aren’t being impolite and standing on someone else’s grave, Nico thought. He checked by the faint glimmer of the ghost light to make sure he and Lola were observing the same courtesy.

Some of the gathered spirits looked like old railroad barons with long-tailed suit coats and bristly whiskers. Others were young children, none older than the twins. One woman in a plain long dress and bonnet held a baby wrapped in a small quilt. Other men wore military uniforms from long-ago wars. Nico and Lola had never seen, or even heard of, so many full-body manifestations appearing at the same time. They counted over two dozen settled on top of the crusty rocks.

Nico whistled. “Wow, this is really rare.”

“Yes, children,” said the tallest of the men. His low, rumbly voice sounded like far-away thunder. ”We are all gathered here because of the tremendous urgency of our situation.”

“Just spit it out, Maitland,” the Albino Lady said. She scratched Klink behind the ears. “Carver’s squadron can’t keep the grown-ups distracted forever. Do you realize how much energy they’re expending?”

The twins glanced down the hill, and watched their parents slipping through the gravestones as if chasing something elusive, darting left and right and signaling each other with their flashlights. The camera operators and sound techs trotted close behind.

“Quite so, my dear. Children, we in the spirit world must have your assistance. A problem has been allowed to grow unchecked by those charged with keeping order. Now both sides of the Veil must cooperate to prevent dire consequences.”

Other spirits nodded solemnly. All of the blank red eyes were fixed, unblinking, on Nico and Lola.

Lola cleared her throat. “But why us? Don’t you need adults to help you if it’s so important?”

“Despite your mother’s psychic gifts, and the mechanical frivolities the living wave around,” Maitland pointed toward the scene in the cemetery below, “once the living attain adulthood, the perception of their senses changes. It is extremely difficult, and extraordinarily taxing, for those of us who have passed to communicate with them.”

“Only with children, then we can make ourselves seen, and talk more easily. Right, Father?” A young boy spirit spoke from atop one of the stones. Nico wondered which carved initials at the Maitland family plot belonged to the boy.

“Correct, Theodore.” Maitland nodded, though he did not look away from the twins. “So you agree to aid us?”

“Wait a minute!” Nico took a step backwards. “You haven’t told us what the big problem is yet, or what you want us to do.”

The ghost inclined his head like a tree bending to the wind. “Ah, indeed. The critical issue is this: on both sides of the Veil, we reside in a free-will world. Do you understand the concept? Each of us makes choices throughout our lives, and this continues after passing. Free will, you see?”

“And sometimes blackmail,” Nico said, with a dark look at the Albino Lady. She smiled lazily.

“Yet you have a choice whether to consent to this ‘blackmail’ you refer to, or refuse to do so,” Maitland said. “All choices have consequences, but we are free to choose. Our world is somewhat unusual in this regard. You may not know at your tender ages, but there exist many other worlds beyond our own.”

“We have no way of knowing if that’s true or not.” Lola fingered the recorder in her jacket pocket.

“I have no evidence to offer, but more is made clear to all of us when we cross the Veil. Certain denizens in other worlds want very much to enter our world and … feed, as it were, on our freedom of choice. Some of us who have passed on have chosen to defend our world from these creatures. While there are others who mean us harm, this present threat comes from those who would infest and change our world with respect to free will. Word has reached us that, due to laxity or neglect—“

“Or treachery!” the Lady cut in.

“There is no proof of that!” Maitland stamped his foot, but it made no sound. “What is crucial to realize is this: our protection has failed. They are coming.”

“Okay, say for a minute that is all true.” Lola considered the pale faces around her. “What exactly happens if the bad guys get in?”

The Lady swept a hand around to encompass their entire surroundings. “The ‘bad guys’ completely take over. All our choices, in life and in death, are taken from us. They become the boss of everyone and everything. We will all become nothing more than puppets. The universe is big, honey, and not everything in it has your best interests in mind.” The Albino Lady sighed. “Trust us, we have to stop them before it’s too late.”

“Trust,” Nico echoed. He dragged a hand across his forehead. “And just what is it we can do, since we are still among the living, and you guys are the ones that messed up guarding things?”

“You saw how Klink could not pick up the stick to fetch it?” the Lady said. “We need living folk, you two, to gather the things we will use to fight the intruders and seal the – oh, it’s sort of a gate or portal, so they are kept out for good.”

“What ‘things’?” Nico asked, pronouncing each word distinctly.

“You must first agree to help us,” said a new, raspy voice. The twins looked behind Maitland to see a glimmering soldier. He snapped a salute.

“Before we know what we’re agreeing to get for you?” scoffed Nico. He took Lola’s arm and pulled her back. The soldier stretched taller before their eyes, until he loomed as high as the bare tree tops tossing in the wind.

Lola yelped in alarm. “Nico didn’t mean to be rude, sir. He just wants to understand. I mean, we’re kids, we can’t drive or—“

Nico jerked on her arm, but Lola dug her heels into the soil. “Remember what the Lady said about Mom and Dad and the show,” she begged.

He glared at her for a long moment while the wind gusted around them. The spirits said no more, merely waited, staring.

“Okay, sure,” Nico said at last. “What do we have to get?” Lola tried to meet his eyes to thank him, but he turned away and refused to look at her.

“No, you must agree properly. Each of you, raise your right hand and swear. ‘I agree to help in this just cause to the best of my ability. I take this pledge of my own free will.’ Swear it.” Maitland held his hand up to demonstrate.

Exchanging a wary look, the twins repeated the words with hands raised. Maitland’s shoulders sagged with apparent relief, and the rest of the spirits murmured and shook hands with each other. The Albino Lady hugged the woman with the baby in her arms.

“I will tell you what you must bring to us, and remember, time is of the essence. We require a glass bottle filled with sea water—“

Nico choked out a laugh. “You might not remember, being dead and all, but Kansas is as far away from any ocean as you can get.”

“Nico’s right, Mr. Maitland,” Lola said, more politely. “There is no sea water anywhere near here. And Nico and I can’t go flying to the coast with an empty bottle.”

“Flying?” he said blankly. He looked to his fellow spirits.

The Albino Lady said, “She means in an airplane. I’ll explain later.”

“Remember,” grated the soldier, who had shrunk down to human size, at least, “You swore to aid us of your own free will.”

I’m beginning to think you kind of tricked us into that, Lola thought. I should have let Nico drag me away…

“Does it have to be sea water or can it just be salt water?” Nico asked, brows furrowed.

Maitland and the others conferred, then he answered, “So long as the fluid is the same in all respects, not just salinity, it can meet our needs.”

“What are you thinking?” Lola said.

“Mom has that sea salt from the health food store. It’s made from evaporated ocean water, I’m pretty sure. And I know there’s got to be an empty wine bottle in the recycling barrel.” He shrugged. “We just have to look up online how much of the salt to mix in.”

Maitland beamed at them both. “We have chosen resourceful warriors! The other items—“

“Uh, come on, guys, how long is this list, anyway? It’s getting late.” Nico shot a glance over his shoulder toward his parents in the hollow.

“Perhaps you should write it down,” suggested the ghost.

Lola was afraid Nico would let on about the recorder running in her pocket, but he only said, “If it’s all as weird as the first thing, we’ll remember.”

A cracked porcelain teacup didn’t sound impossible to come by, but a horse with a broken leg? ‘Hair from a squirrel’s tail’ sounded like a good way to get bitten. A funnel and a sieve weren’t too big of a stretch, but a ‘sightless eye’? What could that mean? The ghosts weren’t telling.

There were more odd things on the list, but the Albino Lady told Maitland the diversion for the Espiritu film crew had run its course. The twins had to leave.

“Don’t worry,” she assured the two as they walked toward the Maitland gravestones. “You’re clever. You will figure out everything on the list.“ She stopped and looked at them, eyes a darker shade of red. “You have to.”

When she and Klink faded from view, Lola switched off the recorder by feel, not wanting to pull it out of her jacket until they were in the van and out of sight.

She turned to Nico. “I hope you’re not going to say any of this was my fault.”

“Are you kidding? It was all your fault.”

He laughed when she balled up her fists, and he went on, “I wasn’t going to go for it at first, but then I began to believe they really could make Mom and Dad’s show flop and get cancelled if we turned them down. Plus, I can’t think of a better way to work on Edison’s invention with Dad. We could become the most famous paranormal researchers of all history. Let’s go load the file from the recorder onto a laptop and hear what we’ve got.”

The entire cast and crew had crammed into the tech van, everyone talking and pointing to video screens that showed EMF meters lighting up like fireworks. Victor Espiritu was practically dancing as he viewed a moonlit mist coalesce into a cloaked figure. Even the director had a smile on his face. Only Frank noticed Nico and Lola come in.

“Did you see some of this stuff?” he called to them, jubilant. “This is some of the best footage we’ve ever gotten!”

Nico picked up the only free computer and jerked his head toward the front seat. Lola settled in next to him, and thumbed the power switch to ready the recorder to upload.

No response. The battery was completely dead.

“No, no, no,” Lola moaned.

Nico raced to the back of the van for another battery, and put in the fresh one with shaking hands. “Maybe the battery only ran out after we got everything.” He pressed play. Nothing but a faint hiss came from the recorder. No voices at all, not even the twins’.

Lola silently banged her head into the seat backrest. “We both know better. Frank always keeps fully charged batteries in everything. Sometimes they get drained by phenomena, that’s all.”

Nico grunted. “One thing we saw plenty of tonight was phenomena.”

“Were phenomena. I bet they did it on purpose. Well anyway, Mom and Dad are pumped. The ghosts gave them some great stuff.”

“Yeah. Let’s hope we can keep the folks happy and high in the ratings by bringing all this crazy stuff to the weird dead people.”

“Do you believe all that about saving the world? What did the Albino Lady say about Maitland? That he left part of his soul all over the country or something? I thought regular ghosts had issues, but this bunch…”

Nico powered off the blank recorder. “I don’t know if it’s real, but we swore to help them.”

The back doors slammed, and Meriam Espiritu called for Lola and Nico. “Come on kids, time to go home and get some sleep. We have got to come back here and get set up by dusk tomorrow. Or I mean, later today! We might even do a live broadcast with a Twitter feed!”

Chapter 3 will be published next week at https://www.tscpl.org/novel

About Aimee L. Gross

Local author Aimee L. Gross loves to tell stories. She writes for both Middle Grade and Young Adult audiences, and has several novels in the works. MG titles include The Alchemist’s Lawn Boy and Seven Ways To Lift A Curse. YA Contemporary work is represented by Lost To History: Anthony’s Story, while the YA Fantasy genre consists of a trilogy, Crows Know Best, No Mercy From Crows and As The Crows Fly Home.

She welcomes followers on Facebook as Aimee L. Gross, author & artist. Or, connect on Twitter @Aimee_SanG. She invites you to check out her blog or send a message at agross9999author.com. Readers are her favorite people!

An Interview with Aimee L Gross

What is your writing background? What sort of work do you usually write? (Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Genre?)

I have been actively writing for the last 5 years, although I considered myself a writer from an early age. My usual genres are Fantasy/ SF with some Western fiction and an Espionage story here and there. My primary focus has been writing for children, especially Young Adult and Middle Grade.

Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?

I have participated each year. The first year represented the only writing I had done for an adult audience for many years. I adore working with a cadre of authors who are drawn to the challenges of collaborative writing!

Have you ever written fiction in collaboration with other authors before?

Yes, during the previous two years.

Do you usually write in a burst of inspiration, or is your work carefully outlined? Did writing for the community novel differ from the norm?

I don’t often do a great deal of outlining or advance planning beyond identifying my protagonist’s goal. Characters tend to tell me their story if I get out of their way.

With the community novel, I read what has been written, and let it percolate while I walk my dog. It may take several walks, but inspiration will come. Then I just have to sit down and get to work!

What do you like about the premise and characters of this year’s Community Novel Project? What challenges you about them?

My premise was chosen for the kid novel this year. When the request for proposals email arrived, I used the contemplative dog walk technique to come up with the idea of siblings whose parents are paranormal investigators. The author of the first chapter created the twins with their unique voices, as well as a delightfully spooky setting. I couldn’t wait to start on chapter 2!

What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?

The first author established a superb ‘hook’ and engaging characters. What writer wouldn’t want to take them further on the journey?

What do you hope happens or doesn’t happen in the chapters that come after yours?

I hope Lola and Nico are successful in their quest, overcoming all the obstacles we writers can devise.

What sort of writing can we expect from you in future? Are you currently at work on any writing projects?

I sent in a full manuscript for my Middle Grade novel, Seven Ways To Lift A Curse, to the agent who requested it. Now I am waiting to hear if she will offer to represent me. Another step on the path to publication!

Especially for Our Younger Readers

What was your favorite book as a kid and why?

I have such difficulty picking just one! I loved so many. ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ was a favorite I read over and over, if I can’t have a Top Forty list. Meg is such a strong character with a lovely sense of irony, plus I thought it would be way cool to have parents who were scientists, and a genius baby brother.

What are some of your favorite foods?

Grilled salmon, homegrown tomatoes, Greek yogurt with fresh raspberries…now I’m hungry.

What is your favorite animal? Do you have any pets?

I am awfully fond of foxes. We have one who lives in our backyard, but he is very secretive so I have only seen him a few times.

We have a Cairn terrier (like Toto in The Wizard of Oz) who is always happy to go for a walk whenever I need to think about writing. We also have a marmalade cat who turned up one day and assured us he lived at our house now.

Why did you want to write for kids?

Because of all the wonderful adventures I experienced through reading when I was a kid. If I had a time machine, I would go back to read some of my favorites again for the first time. Since I haven’t got the time machine yet, I try to write the same kind of stories I loved as a child. That way, maybe someday, a grown-up kid will love one of my books so much, they will wish for a time machine, too.


Miranda is your Readers Librarian. She loves to talk about books and help readers discover new stories. Miranda hosts author visits, facilitates the TALK Book Discussion Group, co-leads the Racial Justice Book Group, and serves as a member of the library's Top City Reads Together team.