Spirits of Oz Chapter 8

Spirits of Oz Chapter 8 by B.R. Knight

About Spirits of Oz

  • 2014 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
  • Written and illustrated for a younger audience
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  • A new chapter is serialized each week
  • A different Topeka author and illustrator featured in each chapter
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Lola felt Nico grab her arm as the lights went out. They both shrieked, their voices rising higher and higher. A calm part of Lola’s brain wondered why Zoey wasn’t making any sound. After her initial shout of surprise she heard nothing from the babysitter. The other half of her brain was scrabbling frantically for a way to escape the horror of the apparition and its message. She sighed in relief when the light flickered twice more and stayed on, steady and bright. Her relief was short lived. Zoey blinked twice and started to smile at her. Nico’s fingers were convulsively clenching and releasing against her arm as they balanced on the bottom step leading up to the kitchen. Directly behind Zoey the shadow figure, its face blurry and nebulous, hovered, growing larger as they watched. A gaping hole appeared where its mouth should have been.

“There, just a little glitch in the electricity,” Zoey said and moved down the stairs to the basement floor. She forced Lola and Nico to step back down the stairs. The dark figure still hovered in the background and she was focused on something on the floor behind them. She advanced forward, hands on hips, and the pair retreated before her. “What’s that you have? That’s not a book!”

Lola’s gaze dropped to the ground near her feet where the spirit board lay in pieces, its planchette floating about an inch off the floor and spinning in a loopy circle. Nico kicked at it, but missed.

“What’s it doing?” Zoey demanded, stepping even closer. “What are you two playing at down here?”

“Nothing, nothing at all. Come on, let’s go upstairs,” Lola shouted.

“Yeah, upstairs,” Nico agreed.

The two siblings bounded forward, grabbed their babysitter by the arms and dragged her through the dark shadow and up the stairs. They all shuddered as they passed through the dark thing. The air around it was so cold it burned. Zoey tried to protest, but Lola and Nico forced her through the basement door, slammed it shut and turned the lock. Lola laid her right hand flat against the wood and tried something she’d once seen her mother pull off at an old haunted asylum.

“I bind thee closed. I bind thee closed. I bind thee closed,” she breathed under her breath.

She jerked her hand back as though burned when the wood beneath her fingers grew chilled and frost crept out of the lock and beneath the door’s frame.

She turned to find Zoey, her back against the stove, one tennis shoe tapping a tattoo against the ceramic tile and Nico crouched against a cupboard in the far corner.

“I’m waiting for an explanation. You lied to me so I would let you go down there. What were you up to and what have you done this time?”

Lola held her hands out, her mouth working, but no sound coming out. The air emanating off the door at her back caused gooseflesh to rise all over her body.

“N-nothing really,” Lola started to say.

“We opened the spirit board to talk to the Albino Lady and it was hijacked by the dark man,” Nico blurted out before he was able to cram a fist into his mouth to stop the flow of words.

Lola glared at him, but Zoey just laughed. “Right. The Albino Lady. You know she doesn’t really exist? Possum and I drove all over North Rochester looking for her. Wasted an entire Halloween and missed the most awesome costume party ever. I suppose this dark man of yours is the one that supposedly haunts the old Stull cemetery? Newsflash, kiddos, that’s just a myth, too. Now, get up to your rooms and clean them up before your parents get home. Geez, what will you think of next?”

Lola’s mouth gaped open. Was she crazy? She had seen the planchette floating above the remains of the spirit board. She had to have felt the unnatural cold as they raced through the dark figure. How could she be so calm all of a sudden? Something was definitely not right. Nico caught her attention and shook his head. He rose to his feet and led the way toward the stairs and their bedrooms. She gave Zoey a last concerned glance before trudging along after him, shaking her head.

“I can still see you, Lola. Get moving. I’ll be up to check on your progress in a few minutes.”

Lola followed her brother up the stairs and into his room. They tended to avoid her room after the whole window incident. He flopped onto the bed and flung one arm over his eyes.

“I thought we were toast there for a minute.”

“Me, too. But what’s wrong with Zoey? Shouldn’t she be freaking out still?”

“Nah. It’s like Mom always says. Normal people can turn it on and off at will. They don’t see what they don’t want to know about and they can trick themselves into forgetting it once they have.”

“Yeah,” Lola murmured, climbing up onto the bed next to her brother. “You’re right. It’s like as soon as I bound the door closed, she totally forgot about the spirit board and the lights flickering.”

Nico sat up and stared at her intently. “You’re absolutely right. When we first made it to the kitchen she was terrified, just like I was, but as soon as you finished with the binding, her face kind of went blank for a second. Then she was normal old Zoey.”

“Great. So we don’t have to come up with a full explanation for what happened downstairs. We just have to convince her we got sidetracked looking for the book after we found Mom’s spirit board.”

“You can handle that. She listens to you more than she does me anyway.” Nico threw himself back against his pillows. “What are we going to do about the basement?”

“What do you mean?” Lola asked, chewing on her thumb nail as she considered how to spin the situation with the babysitter.

“Um, I don’t know, maybe the dark shadow you just trapped down there? How do we explain that to Mom and Dad when they come home?”

“Maybe they won’t notice.”

Nico flew back up into a sitting position and stared at her with wide eyes. She had to fight hard not to laugh in his face.

“Oh,” he said, his face relaxing. “You’re kidding around. Great. We’re on some crazy quest for a bunch of dead people, we can’t tell our parents or any other adult, and we have the minion of evil trapped in our basement and you’re cracking jokes. No, don’t mind me. I’ll just go hide in this corner over here while you figure it all out, smarty pants.”

“Now who’s the drama queen? Sheesh. Relax. He got himself into our basement, I’m sure he can get back out. In fact, he’ll probably be gone before Mom and Dad are due back.”

“Who will be gone before your parents return?” asked Zoey from the doorway. She was watching them intently. “You haven’t invited someone over without permission have you? And what was that thing you two were playing with in the basement. It certainly wasn’t a book.”

“No one,” they both said in unison.

Lola slid off the edge of the bed and stepped toward Zoey. She didn’t like the intent light in the girl’s eyes. It meant she was serious.

“We got distracted looking for my book. We found an old board game of Mom’s and started playing with it instead of doing what we said we would do. We’re sorry.”

Zoey chuckled. “See, was that so hard to admit? Like we haven’t all been distracted by an old toy. Just last week I was in the garage looking for some clothes pins for my mom and I found a box of my old baby dolls with all their clothes and blankets and bottles. I must have been in there for over an hour looking at it all.”

She reached out and ruffled Lola’s hair. Lola shuffled her feet, hating to lie to her friend, but knowing it was for the greater good. Nico snorted from the bed.

“So are you hungry? I have a casserole your mother left heating up in the oven. Why don’t you wash up and come down. I’ll go set the table.”

Zoey hurried from the room, leaving a relieved duo behind.

“That was close,” Nico breathed. “I can’t believe it was that easy.”

“Me neither. We’d better wash up and get down there or she’ll get suspicious again. After dinner we need to figure out what the Albino Lady meant about the essence of spirit. I don’t think it’s going to be as easy to come by as the other items have been.”

The pair of them washed their hands in the bathroom adjoining their bedrooms and scurried downstairs to take their seats at the kitchen table. They both studied the door leading to basement. Nico’s eyes grew wide and scared. Lola felt her heart hammer in her chest. The frost that had been seeping under the door had expanded to cover the entire door and the wall a good two to three inches beyond the frame itself. Puffs of cold mist poured through the tiny opening in the center of the door knob. Worse was the faint, but audible scratching sounds coming from the other side. Only Zoey seemed unaware of the odd frost or the sounds.

Lola shook her head, warning Nico to be silent. There was no sense in drawing Zoey’s attention to the oddities. Both children tried their best to eat while ignoring the strange phenomena, but it was difficult. Zoey finally noticed their lack of appetite.

“Have you two been snacking? You are usually so good about eating your meals.”

“No,” Nico hurried to say. “We just had a very big lunch. You remember.”

Zoey’s eyes blanked over for a moment and then she nodded. “Right. We did eat a lot. Well, let’s get these dishes cleared. Then how about a movie? Maybe you’ll be ready for popcorn later or something sweet to rot your teeth.”

The cup Lola was holding slipped from her hands and smashed against the tile floor. Nico jumped and swung toward her, but Lola’s gaze was locked on Zoey where she stood in front of the door leading into the basement, her back to the children. A rhythmic thumping sound echoed through the house and they knew it was coming from the basement. The babysitter reached out with both hands and laid them flat against the wood paneling. They turned white from the cold, but she didn’t flinch or pull away. Nico rose and rounded the end of the table to stand beside her.

Zoey pulled her hands off the door with a sucking sound and Lola was sure she’d left skin there. When she faced the children, her eyes were as black as the shadow figure. Her lips were stretched wide in a fierce grin.

“What do you say we go back to the basement and close that spirit board of yours, hmmm?”

Nico clutched her arm and babbled, “We should run now. Now, sis, run. Away.”

“Oh, no, we can’t have that, now can we? Run away, boy, and I’ll hurt the girl. Do as I ask and I’ll let her live. At least until my masters come.” A hideous chuckle erupted from Zoey and Lola shuddered at the evil timbre.

Zoey’s left hand lifted and she waved toward the door. It swung open, a dark rectangle in the bright kitchen. “Down, now, children. We must close the board before reinforcements arrive.”

Lola, her arm around Nico, moved with tiny, jerky steps toward the door. They didn’t dare run away like Nico suggested. They couldn’t risk the threat the dark shadow had made against Zoey. They owed her that much. They would have to be brave and hope the reinforcements the shadow hoped to forestall rode in and saved the day after all. She found the top step with her foot and started down into the basement. Nico hung against her side, shivering. She was as terrified for him as she was for their babysitter. After what seemed an eternity her feet hit solid flooring and she moved under the single bulb lighting the basement. They skirted the spirit board, still shivering and hunching on the floor with its planchette spinning in the air above it. In their absence the board had reassembled and even as they watched the last pieces were sealing themselves together, leaving an odd web of black lines across the surface.

“That’s far enough. Close the connection and I’ll let the girl go free.”

The shadow’s voice was raspy even through Zoey’s mouth. The siblings turned slowly from the far side of the spirit board and faced their captive babysitter. Zoey’s eyes had taken on a red tinge and glowed in the dim light of the basement. They slowly knelt and reached for the planchette, but it bobbed out of their reach, spinning and bouncing, defying their shaky fingers to capture it and force the board to close. Lola felt tears blinding her and she knew they were as much tears of frustration as they were of terror. Nico was making small sobbing noises in the back of his throat. After several long moments, she sat back on her heels and glared at the dark creature.

“It’s useless. It won’t let us touch it.”

A squelching noise filled the basement as the dark shadow slowly separated from the babysitter. Zoey’s eyes returned to normal and her expression grew confused.

“Why are you back in the basement? Didn’t I tell you to come upstairs?”

Nico made a moaning sound deep in his throat and pointed a shaking finger toward Zoey. Lola looked up and thought she might faint. The spectral mice Zoey had described during the tree house disaster were pouring down the stairs from the door opening on to the kitchen and racing across the basement floor toward them. The mice, their eyes glowing red, separated into two streams as they encountered the dark figure and then rejoined into a solid stream immediately behind Zoey. The leaders leaped off the floor and scurried up the babysitter’s legs. Within seconds she was awash in the fiendish rodents. Zoey, however, was not their ultimate destination. They used the babysitter as a springboard to leap onto Lola and Nico. As the first one landed on her chest, its ghostly claws hooking into the front of her tee shirt, she could hear their fearful chittering like the sound of a chainsaw chewing into wood at a distance. It washed over her and she stumbled back a few steps, pulling Nico with her. Near the floor the planchette spun maniacally and began to spell out another message. N-O-S-T-O-P-Y-O-U-A-R-E-M-I-N-E-Y-O-U-A-R-E-M-I-N-E-Y-O-U-A-R-E-M-I-N-E-Y-O-U-A-R-E-M-I-N-E.

Lola tore her gaze from the spirit board at the sound of a terrified scream from Zoey. The babysitter stood stock still, pale in the bright light of the single bulb, as the dark shadow wrapped its massive arms around her frame and enveloped her and all the ghostly mice still clawing their way over her body. The mice screeched in what Lola could only describe as terror and pain. Nico made a hiccupping noise and raised his arms protectively over the spectral mice clinging to him.

“I think they’re afraid of it, too,” he hissed, backing away toward the far wall.

“You might be right.”

The squeaking of the mice coalesced into a single phrase. “Save us!”

Zoey made a choking sound and the siblings watched in horror as her lips turned blue and her eyes rolled up into her head. Even though it was clear she was unconscious, the dark shadow figure held her body rigidly upright as it devoured the mice clinging to her. As each shivering specter vanished into the shadow thing’s gaping hole of a mouth, a dull red light flashed briefly to life before fading to nothing. The creature took its time devouring the mice, clearly relishing the terror it caused the children.

The spirit board and its planchette roiled in a dark cloud on the floor between the children and the dark shadow. Flickering shards of silver light beat against the darkness, but could not find purchase.

“It’s the Albino Lady,” whispered Nico. “She’s trying to help us.”

“She’s too far away. It’s too strong. She can’t reach us.” Lola’s voice fell from cold lips. The temperature in the basement had been growing steadily colder since the arrival of the dark shadow. Her breath came in puffs of white mist.

The planchette shattered into several pieces, which clattered to the cement floor with a sound like hail on a roof. The spirit board shuddered, the black coiling mist enveloping it almost completely and blocking out even an inkling of the silver light they had seen flashing there earlier. The ground itself shook as the board cracked into two pieces and burst into green flames. The fire was cold like the air blowing off the black shadow, but it burned quickly until there was nothing left of the spirit board but ash.

Behind the dark enshrouded figure a bright, silvery light was growing near the top of the stairs. Lola wondered if her parents had returned early, drawn by some niggling suspicion of danger about to befall their beloved children. Or maybe it was Possum stopping by to check on Zoey. He seemed cool enough to be able to figure a way out of their current predicament. The glow brightened, but the creature of darkness was too engrossed in its meal to pay any attention to what was occurring behind it. The brightness became so blinding Lola was forced to glance away from it. As she turned her head toward her brother something moved in the corner of her eye.

“Klink! It’s Klink!” her brother shouted and bounced up and down. The ghost mice crawling over him bounced right along with him.

The spectral dog reached the basement floor and shook himself, spraying the walls with silver strings of saliva. His big doggy mouth hung open in a smile similar to the one he had shown them back in the cemetery. One glowing red eye dropped closed, almost as if he were winking at them, and then he launched himself at the dark figure, his ghostly white teeth shredding through the dark fabric of the shadow creature. Lola and Nico clasped both hands against their ears to blot out the otherworldly screeching as Klink ripped the dark shadow creature into tiny pieces. If Lola had to describe the sound the ghost dog’s teeth made as it rent the creature apart she would say it rustled like dry corn husks being ripped from the ears. The mice still clinging to Zoey leaped across the distance separating them from the children and joined their friends in holding on for dear life. Double their numbers scurried about their feet. As the final piece of darkness disappeared, Zoey’s eyes dropped fully closed and she slumped to the floor in a silent heap.

The red eyed mice scurried off the children and swarmed Klink. Lola shouted and tried to sweep them away, but her hands brushed through them with little effect. Klink, instead of retreating from the oncoming horde as she half expected, stepped forward to meet them. He dropped to his belly on the cool stone floor and opened his mouth, tongue lolling, while each mouse in turn marched into his gaping maw and disappeared in a silvery gold sparkle. The little dancing lights drifted slowly toward the ceiling and disappeared.

“He’s eating them,” she whispered.

“I think he’s freeing them,” her brother corrected, kneeling on the floor beside her, his hand now comforting against her shoulder. “I think this is what they want.”

A single spectral mouse perched on Nico’s shoulder, one paw holding onto his ear. Its bright red eyes watched its friends disappear into Klink’s open mouth, turn to lights and float up through the ceiling. Finally all of its ghostly friends were gone. Klink stared up at the one perched on her brother’s shoulder and whined. The mouse bobbed its tiny head and rubbed a cheek against Nico’s face before hopping to the floor before the dog’s ghost. It turned to study the two children.

“Fffooorrrrr yyyouuuu. Aaa ggggiffffttttt,” it hissed. Then it slowly backed into Klink’s mouth, transformed into a silvery gold light and floated lazily toward the ceiling. Then it was gone.

Lola’s knees gave out and she fell to the floor before Klink, gasping. Nico clutched at her shoulder.

“Are you all right? What’s wrong?”

“They’re gone. All of them!”

Nico glanced around the basement and nodded. “Yeah? So? Are you crying?”

Lola brushed a tear from her cheek. “It was so beautiful. Do you think they went to mousy heaven?”

“And you made fun of me for crying? Really? I oughta . . .”

Lola grabbed his wrist. “What about Zoey? Do you think she’s okay?”

The pair of them crawled to the fallen babysitter and rolled her over. Her lips had returned to their normal pinkish color and she appeared to be breathing, but her skin was cold to the touch. Lola rubbed her hands along her own arms. The temperature in the basement hadn’t warmed up a bit since the disappearance of the black shadow.

“Shouldn’t it be getting warmer?” Nico asked, voicing her own thoughts.

“Maybe it’s because Klink is still here.”

They stared over at the ghostly dog. He hadn’t budged an inch since he finished consuming the mice. He had simply lowered his head to his paws and closed his eyes. He looked like he was napping.

“What did it mean about a gift? Did it leave anything for us?” Nico’s bright eyes were once again scouring the basement, but Lola doubted he would find anything.

“I’m not sure. Maybe it meant Klink coming to save us. Maybe it meant they kept that thing busy until he could arrive.”

“No, I think it meant something more.” Nico’s voice was insistent.

Zoey stirred, but didn’t wake. Lola wondered if they should fetch a blanket to cover her. On the heels of that thought was another question. How were they going to explain this to her? Had she seen the mice? Or just the spirit board?

She was jerked from her thoughts by a retching cough. Her gaze darted to her brother, but he looked as surprised as she was at the sound. They both glanced at Zoey, but she was still deep asleep. On the floor where he had crouched to eat the mice, Klink rolled over onto one side and made another deep ratcheting sound in his chest.

“Eewww. I think he’s going to hurl,” Nico groaned.

The two children backed away as the ghostly dog leaped to its feet and coughed hard, once, twice, three times. On the third cough it spat a silvery blob of goo onto the floor before staring up at them with a chagrined expression.

“I thought only cats coughed up fur balls,” Nico said, squinting.

Klink coughed again and a second gob of goo joined the first.

“Yuck, what is that?” Nico stuck his finger into the first gob and jerked back, trailing a slimy strand of the silvery substance along with him. “It’s cold and slimy.”

Lola felt like she’d been punched in the chest. Had the spectral mouse known what they needed before they did? Is that what he meant when he said it was a gift for them? It had to be.

“It’s ectoplasm, a physical manifestation of a spirit. The essence of spirit!”


Chapter 9 will be published next week at https://www.tscpl.org/novel

About B. R. Knight

B.R. Knight grew up in the Big Sky country of south eastern Montana and north central Wyoming. She loved telling stories even from an early age and completed her first short story at age 8 about milk stealing aliens invading local ranches. It’s been a never-ending passion ever since. She attended Montana State University-Billings where she majored in English and Spanish education. She has published a Spanish-language short story entitled El espejo and a story collection called The Mistletoe Operation and Other Tales. She is currently working on an eight book series based on world mythology.

An Interview with B. R. Knight

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

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was in elementary and middle school I remember my family always calling me Hemingway because I liked to spend time writing. In college I took every creative writing course I could and became involved in the Wyoming Writing Project. I started writing short stories and have published a collection of 3 inter-related stories as well as published in several books of proceedings for various writing competitions.

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

I belong to a writing group, The Blackbirds, and several of our members participated in the first Community Novel project. They had so much fun I wanted to participate the next year. It was a great experience working on Speakeasy, so it seemed natural I would participate again this year. The challenge of not knowing what was going to happen before my turn to write was an exciting prospect.

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

Yes, this is my second year working on the Community Novel Project. We are also working on a similar project within our writing group where each of us writes a chapter and then passes the work on to the next person. It’s quite exciting and different from working alone.

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 am a consummate planner with OCD. My friends and family jokingly tell me I don’t have OCD I have CDO. I usually outline my work and then work from the outline. The excitement and fun occurs when I write myself off the outline and have to work my way back to the critical points I had already planned. It was difficult to write this way with the community novel because I never knew what was going to happen chapter to chapter. I stopped trying to outline after chapter 2 so as not to drive myself crazy.

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

This was my first stab at YA, so there were many challenges, especially regarding the characters’ ages. I loved the whole supernatural theme and the incorporation of local legends into the plot line.

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

Whoa! How am I going to top that and keep the story line going? Actually I was very excited about the chapter prior to mine. It was written by a fellow Blackbird, so I wasn’t really that nervous about waiting for it.

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

First, I hope I didn’t add a tangent that will send everyone after me into a tailspin. That happened to me on one of the projects and it was a terrible feeling. I hope the plot line maintains the taut suspense that has been incorporated into it so far.

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

Now I write novel-length works almost exclusively and mainly in the genre of paranormal suspense. Currently I am working on two projects. One is an ambitious eight book paranormal suspense series based on world mythology. The other is a four book historical romance series I started as a challenge from my sister when she felt I needed a break from the paranormal.

Especially for Our Younger Readers

What was your favorite book as a kid and why?

I loved The Adventures of Robin Hood. I read it over and over again. I would always cry at the end. I also loved reading stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable

What are some of your favorite foods?

I love chocolate, especially dark chocolate. When I’m not writing I love to cook, especially Italian food with pasta and spices.

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

I love cats. I have always had a cat except for brief few years between college and my first teaching job. I currently have 3 cats of my own – Huxley (after Adlous Huxley, of course), Hathor (after the Egyptian goddess) and Hermes Grey Thing. I also have a five year old beagle named Pumpernickel and a dwarf hamster named Squidjet.

Why did you want to write for kids?

Reading was always an important part of my childhood and if I can write something that will make kids feel like I did the first time I read my favorite books and allow them to find an escape into their imagination, why wouldn’t I want to do that?

Miranda Ericsson

Miranda loves to talk lit! Her favorite reads are poetry, literary fiction, and speculative science fiction, and she's passionate about promoting great literature written by Kansas authors. She works with library programs that support and engage writers in our community, so ask her for more information about the Local Writers Workshop and Great Writers Right Here author fair. Miranda also facilitates TALK book discussions and co-leads the Bean There, Read That book discussion group, and serves as a member of the library's 2Book Topeka team.