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!
Downloading Spirits of Oz Chapter 5 by Chris Blocker
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Read Online: Spirits of Oz Chapter 5 by Chris Blocker
Lola held her brother’s hand all the way to the hospital. The fight they’d had earlier suddenly seemed so juvenile. What had gotten into her? It was as if this whole ghost expedition was making them lose sight of what mattered–they were siblings on a mission to save their parents’ show. It was a family matter, they couldn’t lose sight of that. And if what the Albino Lady said was true? Their failure could have bigger consequences than the continuation of the program. They needed to find their focus. They needed to return to the mission. Instead, they were on their way to the hospital.
When Nico fell from the tree, Zoey panicked. Lola saw things rationally, but her babysitter was totally freaked. The rational thing was to call 911, check Nico’s breathing and heart rate, check for bleeding, and keep him still until help arrived. Instead, Zoey called her sister, Ramona, scooped up Nico in her arms, and ran back and forth between the house and the yard. “He’s not moving,” she said over and again. “He’s not moving.” Despite Lola’s attempts to get Zoey to listen to reason, Zoey wouldn’t. Fortunately, Ramona pulled up to the house in only a matter of minutes. The car, a boxy thing from the eighties, was painted four different colors. Behind the wheel of the car was an older boy with spiky hair. Zoey lifted Nico into the backseat and squeezed into the front beside her sister and her friend. Lola gently moved in next to Nico, doing her best to keep him straight. She held tightly to his hand as if everything depended on the interlacing of their fingers.
“Hi,” Ramona said, turning around in her seat and offering a half wave to Lola.
Naturally Lola wanted to skip such formalities, but she returned the greeting and gave the best smile she was capable of.
“I’m Ramona, by the way. This is Possum,” she said, placing her hand on her friend’s shoulder.
“Greetings,” said Possum. As he pulled onto the street, Lola saw his eyes glance at her in the rear view mirror. What kind of name was Possum?
“Can you drive faster?” Zoey asked. Her body shook and she continually turned back to look at Nico and then at the road.
“Speed limit is forty,” Possum said. “Unfortunately we’re not an emergency vehicle, so I can’t go any faster. If you’d like, I can change the speedometer display to show kilometers-per-hour. Then we can go up to sixty-four and it might feel like we’re flying.”
“You’re so clever,” Ramona said, leaning against Possum’s shoulder.
The hospital was only a couple miles away, but it seemed it would take forever just to get out of the neighborhood. Had time slowed? Were some spirits of another world trying to keep Nico from reaching the hospital in time?
“Come on, Nico,” Lola said in a loud whisper, knowing he probably couldn’t hear her. “Hang in there.”
“I had a cat that once fell out of a tree,” Possum said. “Your friend should be fine.”
“He’s my brother. And cats are supposed to fall out of trees.”
“What happened back there?” Zoey asked. “What was Nico doing in the tree house?”
“I don’t know. Really, I have no idea.”
Zoey stopped turning from Nico to the road and looked directly at Lola. Her voice was distant, unsure of itself. “It was weird, wasn’t it? Suddenly everything was so cold and–”
“I heard you scream. Did you see something, Zoey?”
“I saw– Never mind, I don’t want to scare you.”
“Zoey, my family investigates the paranormal. I’ve seen my share of scary. I can handle it.”
Zoey looked away and began messing with the hem of her shorts. “It’s just, there were mice.”
“Mice? You screamed because of mice?”
“They weren’t just mice,” she said, glancing at her friends and lowering her voice. “They were…unique.”
“I have a mouse with two heads,” Possum interjected. “I mean, it’s just the remains of the mouse. I have a wide assortment of unusual creatures.”
“Where were you when I needed a squirrel’s tail, Possum?” Lola asked.
“Oh, I’ve got plenty of squirrels. They practically fall out of trees waiting for me to taxidermy them.” His eyes glanced back at her nervously in the mirror again. “Sorry, probably not the right thing to say right now.”
“Any chance you have a sightless eye?” Lola asked.
“What do you mean by a sightless eye?”
“I don’t know actually.”
“Huh, a sightless eye. I like you Lola,” Possum said. “Zoey, would you mind opening the glove compartment, and ‘seeing’ if there’s anything that matches the young lady’s request?”
Zoey did as she was asked. Various objects tumbled out of the space as it was opened: a tire gauge, a map of Australia, a plastic Tyrannosaurus rex figure, a light bulb, and handfuls of crumpled receipts.
“Yuck!” Ramona exclaimed. “There’s a sandwich in there.”
“That’s where I put it,” Possum said, reaching across to grab the bagged sandwich. A mustard-drenched pickle slipped from between the bread and fell to the bottom of the bag. “Anyone hungry?”
Everyone shook their head. Everyone but Nico who was still unconscious.
“I’ll have to get back to you on the sightless eye, Lola,” said Possum. “Naturally, being into taxidermy and all, I am in possession of many variations of glass eyes, but I need to see what spares I have.”
The car came to a stop at a red light. The hospital was now in sight, directly in front of them. “No one’s coming,” Zoey said. “Can we just go through? It is an emergency.”
“Just this once,” he said. He scanned the road–left, right, and left again–making sure there was no oncoming traffic. While the light was still a solid red, he carefully crept through the intersection and made his way into the hospital parking lot.
Before the car could come to a stop, Zoey was dashing through the emergency room doors. Possum put the car in park, turned around in his seat and faced Lola for the first time. “Pez?” he asked, holding up a Donald Duck Pez dispenser. Despite being a bit strange, Possum was a normal-looking guy with a really cute smile. She reached out with her free hand and took a strawberry-flavored candy from Donald’s bill. “Your brother reminds me of my cat,” he said. “They’re both very quiet and well-behaved. Really, he’ll be okay.”
Zoey returned with a wheelchair and a nurse. Carefully, Zoey and the nurse hoisted Nico from the car and Lola was forced to let go of his hand. As the nurse took him away, Lola felt powerless to help. She watched him disappear between the sliding doors, unsure for several moments what she was expected to do now.
“Come on,” Zoey said, grabbing her hand. The waiting room was nearly empty, a good sign that Nico would receive prompt treatment. Overhead, the television flashed images of a hamburger, its topping falling slowly into place one by one. On television, the rules of gravity didn’t apply to hamburger toppings. Had Nico fallen that slow, she might have been able to catch him. Of course, the laws of gravity do not matter when some unseen force is holding you back.
“Sorry I let you down,” Zoey said. She was leaning forward, her head resting in her hands. “You and Nico both. I don’t know what happened.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Lola reassured her. “It was out of your control. Every part of it.”
“I had this intuition moments before Nico fell that something bad was about to happen. But I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move.”
“What about the mice?” Lola asked.
Zoey looked down at her newly-painted toenails sticking out of her sandals, and Lola remembered her own feet, one painted, the other not. “There were six, maybe seven mice all of a sudden and they–well, they had these horribly pink eyes and their fur was all mangy and–I don’t think they were mice.”
“What then? Ghost mice?”
“I don’t know,” Zoey said. “It was all too much.” She began to cry and Lola placed her hand on her babysitter’s back. “It’s okay,” she said soothingly. “It’ll be okay.”
She wanted to get Zoey’s mind off the subject, get her to focus on something positive. “Your sister is really nice,” she said. “And Possum too. Strange, but nice.”
Zoey exhaled a small laugh. “Possum’s a little different,” she said.
“Yeah,” Lola said. “What’s up with him? Is he for real?”
“He’s for real,” Zoey said.
“Possum isn’t actually his name, though, right?”
“No, but few people know his real name. He’s been going by Possum since he was little, since the first time he brought a dead animal to school for show-and-tell.”
“Is he Ramona’s boyfriend?”
Zoey glanced at the seat next to her, then down at her splayed fingers. “Possum’s just the guy next door, you know? I guess my sister and I have always battled for his attention, but–well, I don’t know–he’s Possum and I’m not sure he notices either one of us really. It’s like that sightless eye thing you two were talking about; Possum doesn’t ‘see’ us.”
Even if he didn’t come through on the sightless eye, Lola imagined Possum could be a great ally in future projects. Strange work required strange associates. Of course, that all depended on whether there would be any future projects.
She sat unmoved for the rest of the time. The television made her feel sick–it reminded her of The Spirits of Oz and all that depended on their success–so she watched the clock. The minute hand was at the top of the hour; she watched it fall. Slowly, minute by minute. Just as it was about to begin its ascent back to the top, the doctor appeared before her.
“You’re Nico’s relatives?” he asked.
“I’m his sister,” Lola said. Zoey didn’t speak, but she nodded her head.
“Nico had a pretty bad fall. Suffered a concussion. Good news is that he seems okay. He scored well on all the cognitive and physical tests. He’ll have a headache for several days, probably feel a little nauseous, but I think he’ll be okay. Naturally, we’ll need to keep him here overnight for observation.”
“So he’s awake?” Zoey asked.
“Yes, actually he was awake by the time I got to the room. Must have woken minutes after you brought him in.”
“Can we see him?” Lola asked.
“Of course,” the doctor said, “right this way.”
He led them back into a small room with a curtain drawn all the way across. The doctor pulled the curtain aside and there, sitting in the bed with a smile on his face, was Nico. As they approached him, Nico straightened his back and looked at her in amazement. “Do I know you?” Nico asked. “You look familiar.”
Lola felt like she had been kicked in her stomach. How much had Nico forgotten? If he couldn’t even remember his own twin, what did he remember? “Nico, it’s me. Lola. Your sister.”
“I know,” Nico said, his laughter interrupting his words. “I so had you.”
“You’re such a dodo,” Lola said, wrapping her arms around him.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Zoey said, placing her hand on Nico’s arm. Lola could tell that Zoey was about to start crying again and didn’t want the whole thing turning into a sobfest now. Once Nico got started crying, it would be hard for her to have any kind of conversation with him.
“Zoey, can I have a minute with my brother, please? It’s kind of important.”
“Sure,” Zoey said, dabbing at her eyes. “I’ll be in the hall if you need me.” Lola waited until Zoey pulled the door shut behind her.
“The doctor said you’ve got to stay the night in the hospital.”
“I know,” Nico replied. “So what happened? How’d I get here?”
“It’s a story that’ll have to wait,” she said. “Needless to say, it involves one of the strangest things I’ve come across these last few days.”
“Ghosts?” Nico asked. “Phantoms?”
“A teenage boy named Possum,” she said. “But that’s not what I want to talk about right now. What happened back at the house? There was definitely some weirdness, I saw that–thing–that creature or spirit or whatever we saw right before Mom got home. Zoey apparently had a bad case of zombie mice. And you? You were in the tree house and–did you see something?”
“One of the scariest things I’ve seen these last few days,” Nico said, as his head fell back into his pillow. His eyes grew distant and wide. “But nothing as scary as what I see coming.”
Lola turned abruptly. Opening the door was their father, his face painted with alarm. He rushed into the room, his hands outstretched toward them. A few steps behind was their mother. Her arms were crossed in front of her; her red hair intensifying the fiery glare in her eyes. Underlying her scowl was a hint of tenderness, a glimmer of worry, but Lola knew they were in trouble. Somehow, despite their many attempts to help their parents and to seal a rift between worlds, they’d made a wrong step. Like a squirrel without its tail, a horse with a broken leg, or an eye without sight, they were missing something so obvious that it hurt. Time was slowly falling away and they were helpless, victims of gravity and a mother’s furious worry.
Chapter 6 will be published next week at https://www.tscpl.org/novel
About Chris Blocker
Chris Blocker has never seen a ghost, but he hears them occasionally, especially at night when it’s dark. Ghosts do not care that he holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska and an English degree from Washburn. They may have read his work previously in the Dia de los Muertos anthology—also full of ghosts stories—or Inscape. His novel, The Weeds Shall Inherit, is currently in revision. Although ghosts may be friendly, Blocker keeps a security blanket nearby just in case.
An Interview with Chris Blocker
What is your writing background? What sort of work do you usually write? (Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Genre?)
I’ve been an active writer for more than a decade. I have an MFA degree in writing from the University of Nebraska as well as an English degree from Washburn University. I consider myself a novelist, however I like to write the occasional short story, poem, or random nonsense. I’ve spent much of the last five years writing and rewriting my novel for adults which I hope will be completed soon.
Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?
When I finished my tenth or eleventh draft of my novel, I realized how sheltered from others and the writing world I’d become over the last five years. I needed to step away and focus on other writings and interactions. I returned to writing short stories, but I also wanted to push my limits—do something I’d never considered before. I’d never participated in a community novel, or written for a juvenile audience, so I thought this project would really stretch my talents.
Have you ever written fiction in collaboration with other authors before?
Never have. I’d consider doing it again.
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 like to have a general plan in mind, write out a basic premise, then write, write, write. I don’t like to over think the story because I’ve found that doing so makes it harder to deviate from the plan. The story takes a life of its own, and forcing it to my will is the fastest way to spoil it.
What do you like about the premise and characters of this year’s Community Novel Project? What challenges you about them?
I like that our heroes are not only siblings, but twins. I think this will put them on an equal footing with one another from the start for most readers. Will it be Lola or Nico who figures out the next clue to the puzzle? I never know. They’re both very intelligent and they each have many strong qualities.
What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?
I wanted to discover the squirrel’s tail!
What do you hope happens or doesn’t happen in the chapters that come after yours?
I’m holding out for a literary rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Seriously, I just hope all the threads come together. There’s quite a bit going on at this point in the story and it has all got to start wrapping up soon.
What sort of writing can we expect from you in future? Are you currently at work on any writing projects?
My main writing focus is novels for an adult audience. I may venture into other territories over time, but I think I’ll always consider myself a novelist primarily. Currently, I’m finishing my novel, The Weeds Shall Inherit.
Especially for Our Younger Readers
What was your favorite book as a kid and why?
My favorite book was Koko’s Kitten by Dr. Francine Patterson. Not only did I cry when I read it as a child, I still get teary-eyed every time I read it. I was also really into the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’d like to say I loved many classics, but truthfully I never read any of them. I’m finally getting around to them now that I read to my own children.
What are some of your favorite foods?
Coffee. Is coffee a food? Also cookies, especially chocolate chip. And then there’s Mexican. One can never go wrong with Mexican.
What is your favorite animal? Do you have any pets?
I’ve always loved Bobcats. I also have quite an affection for Meerkats, Cows, and Anteaters. I’d love to have a pet anteater or cow; meerkats and bobcats do not make good pets. Currently, I share a home with a lazy dog, Jack, and a mischievous but lovable cat, Takoha.
Why did you want to write for kids?
It was a fun change of pace. Plus, I was excited that my own kids could read something I had written… before they were college-aged.