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Guest art by Timothy Weaver (Timo!)
Episode 12: Speaking in Ghosts
Gorey was having a problem. Every time he coughed, a bit of orange afro came out of his mouth – but never all the way out. The afro was always sucked back in, and Gorey was beginning to worry about where it might be retreating to. Could it have been hiding somewhere in the deepest recesses of his stomach? If that were the case, then why did he still feel hungry all the time? It was a confusing, ridiculous and somewhat embarrassing situation to be in.
He even hid his coughs from Agnacious, who he considered to be his girlfriend even though they had only ever gone out on one date – a date that Agnacious had not particularly enjoyed, at that. He imagined that everyone would assume he had taken to biting his orange afro when he was hungry, and that was not something a cool cat would ever do. It was certainly not something Gorey would do, for he knew that Jack would always have a gourmet meal sitting on a silver plate for him at Jack’s mansion in the woods.
There was only one person he knew who could be trusted to keep a secret while also being a competent detective, and it was this person he hoped to find and persuade to help solve his digestive mystery.
When he could not get a hold of Hana, he searched out James instead. James was found working on the back tire of his bike on the driveway beside his house. Gorey watched for any potential passers-by from behind some nearby bushes, and when he saw that the coast was clear he trotted out of hiding. Then he danced across the driveway as the asphalt had been heavily heated by the sun.
James immediately noticed the orange afro coming towards him, and then he noticed the white cat that came with it. He set down his tools and stood up, wiping his hands on his shorts.
‘Hana isn’t here,’ greeted James.
Gorey looked up at him through his black sunglasses.
‘That’s cool, man,’ the cool cat responded. ‘She’s actually not the guy I wanted to see. No word of a lie – I’m here specifically for you, dude. I was sorta wondering if you could . . . help me out of a jam, if you know what I’m talking about.’
‘It’s hard to know what you’re talking about,’ James told the cool cat.
‘Okay, well, we’re both bros, you know? We understand each other on a basic duder level. I wouldn’t tell people about your feelings for Hana, for example, and you wouldn’t tell people about my—’
Gorey cut himself off with a strong, raspy cough, and James could clearly see an orange afro appear around his lips. It was a disgusting, bizarre sight that went away as soon as Gorey cleared his throat.
‘About that,’ the cool cat said.
‘Just what was that?’ James asked, suddenly finding himself concerned about the cat’s predicament.
‘I think it’s an afro, dude,’ Gorey said worriedly. ‘But it’s definitely not where it’s supposed to be.’
‘Yeah,’ James said, looking the cat over for any other deformities but finding none. ‘I can see that.’
Gorey suppressed another cough by pressing one of his paws to his lips. He swallowed and sighed.
‘So,’ he said, gazing up at James hopefully, ‘think you can help a dude out?’
‘Hmm,’ James said thoughtfully. He stroked his chin while squinting at the cat. ‘Hana is probably the person you need to talk to in a situation like this, but I’ll see what I can do. How about if I pick you up and squeeze you?’
Gorey took a step backwards. ‘You’d have to catch me first,’ he said, sweat trickling down his forehead.
‘Okay, then how about if I hold you down while you force it out?’
Gorey hesitantly brought his foot forward again. ‘That might work,’ he said.
‘Let’s go around to my backyard. I don’t even want to know what would happen if someone saw me holding down a cat that’s coughing up an orange afroball.’
Gorey nodded and followed James down the driveway and into his backyard. The backyard was small and heavily shaded, and the grass felt cool against the underside of Gorey’s paws. It was definitely a nice change from the heated black asphalt of the driveway.
‘Lie on the grass,’ James told the cat.
Gorey flattened his belly against the grass, the blades tickling and scratching his skin. James crouched by the cat and held the poor feline down to the ground with his dirty hands. They remained in this position for about a minute.
‘This isn’t all you made it out to be, my man,’ Gorey said. His chin was pressed to the dirt and he had to strain to speak.
‘You’re supposed to be coughing,’ James explained.
Gorey let out an obviously fake cough. Nothing happened. James pressed down on him harder but all Gorey did was groan.
‘How about I get a hose and spray water in your face?’ James suggested. ‘That usually gets me coughing.’
‘Whatever, man,’ Gorey said. ‘I just want to get this over with.’
James headed back to the side of his house and unwound the green hose. He made sure he had enough slack and then he turned the valve until water was shooting out the end of the hose in a steady stream. With this jetting snake in hand he returned to Gorey and sprayed him in the face.
Gorey sputtered and coughed until the orange afro popped out entirely. James stood gaping at it while he held the hose limply in his hand.
It was not just an afro. There was something wearing it, and that something had a face with baggy eyes, red lips and red cheeks. The afro creature had no arms or legs and trailed out of Gorey’s mouth like a wisp of grey smoke. The more James looked at it, the more he realised he could see through it.
‘I, er.’ James fumbled for words as Gorey tried to back away from the ghost coming out of his mouth.
‘You gotta be kidding me,’ Gorey said, and as he spoke the ghost’s long body grew even longer. ‘What is this thing?’
It grew some more.
‘I think it’s a ghost wearing an orange afro,’ James offered.
‘I don’t remember eating any ghosts!’ Gorey cried out. Each word added more length to the ghost’s body.
‘I’ll, er, try spraying it off with the hose,’ James said, and he lifted the hose so that the water rushed towards the ghost – only to go right through it.
‘Okay, let’s just stay cool,’ Gorey said, his voice shaking as much as his body. ‘Let’s just stay extra cool over here.’
By now the ghost’s face and afro were up higher than the roof of James’ house. Its mouth was slightly opened and James could just barely make out white, badly-spaced-out buckteeth. The ghost seemed to be looking around at its surroundings but appeared to be doing so with dumb disinterest.
James looked back at Gorey. With the thin wisp of grey coming out of his mouth it looked like the cool cat was smoking. James sprayed Gorey in the face with the hose again but nothing happened – except, of course, for a very wet and upset cat.
‘Okay, I have another idea,’ James said, and a look of fear somehow flashed across Gorey’s sunglasses. ‘Don’t worry, this one should actually do some harm if we’re lucky. Wait here.’
Gorey nodded and sat trembling while James disappeared into his house. The cool cat had to choose between staring at the back door as he waited for James and gazing up at the impossibly tall ghost. He ended up closing his eyes. Behind his eyelids he found the comforting sight of an infinite number of minuscule, dancing stars, and the lack of ghosts was utterly refreshing.
When he opened his eyes again it was to James returning with a discomfortingly sharp pair of scissors.
‘Okay, let’s try this,’ James said. ‘The ghost is hanging out of you by a thread, and my mother says that the one thing you should do with a loose thread is cut it. I suggest biting down, because this may or may not hurt.’
Gorey did so, fully expecting the ‘may’ part of ‘may or may not hurt’. James bent down and tried to grasp onto the ghost to steady it for its pruning. His hand, unsurprisingly, fell through it. Instead he went ahead and opened the pair of scissors so that the blades were flanking the ghost’s tail, and without another moment’s thought he brought the blades together.
That was when Gorey heard a sound that made his heart stop with uncertain expectation: snip. His eyes crossed as he tried to stare at the thin length of ghost just past his nose. The bit of ghost was rising.
Gorey took a few steps back to make sure that the ghost had in fact been detached from him. His heart made up for the pit stop by rapidly gaining speed – he was free!
The ghost, high above, expressed a similar sentiment: ‘Free!’ the orange-afro-wearing ghost called out in a voice as thin as its body. ‘Freedom!’
James resisted the urge to wave at the ghost as it floated away. Instead he looked at the scissors, which Gorey was also looking at.
‘Those may very well be one of the most powerful weapons on the planet,’ Gorey said, awestruck.
‘Really? My mom uses them to cut my hair.’
James was glad to finally have an absurd story to tell Hana, instead of the usual other-way-around. When he managed to tell it to her at the hill overlooking the river, however, even she had a hard time believing it.
‘Look, these are the very same scissors I used to save Gorey!’ he said, pulling them out of his pocket and displaying the evidence to Hana.
They were sitting on top of the hill, their legs still sore from the long walk.
‘First of all, that’s a terrible place to put scissors,’ Hana said worriedly. ‘I’m surprised you didn’t stab yourself to death.
‘Second of all, those are the scissors your mother uses to cut your hair.’
Hana rolled her eyes. ‘Until I actually see this afro-wearing ghost floating around the city, I don’t think I’ll be able to believe you.’
She then noticed how deflated James had suddenly become, like a balloon that had just been pricked by the world’s sharpest pin.
‘That doesn’t stop it from being a good story, though,’ she said. ‘Even if it doesn’t make any sense, and may or may not’ve happened, the fact that you were so happy telling it is all that matters. I think you should tell it to Henri as well. After all, he likes ghosts – to some extent, anyway.’
James sighed. ‘I guess that would be okay if it wasn’t for the fact that it actually happened,’ he said, looking down at the scissors that were clutched in his hand. Then he looked to the river.
‘Does it matter?’ Hana asked.
James suddenly grinned and turned to her. ‘Of course not,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t matter that you can make things out of your dandruff and it doesn’t matter that I cut a ghost free from Gorey. Right?’
Hana was absolutely confused but decided to smile and agree, if only for James’ sake. ‘Right,’ she said.
James returned the scissors to his pocket. Then Hana took the scissors out of his pocket and held onto them so that he would not accidentally stab himself.
When Hana returned home after parting with James, she was immediately whisked away to the movie theatre by her family. Apparently her parents had just learned of a new monster movie from a tv commercial and became ecstatic at the sight of the age rating, which would allow them to bring their two young daughters. Although Hana had grown weary of monster movies by this point, a trip to the movie theatre was always enticing, so she gladly went along with them.
Hana watched the purple sky outside her backseat window as they drove to the nearest theatre with suitably ginormous screens. At one point she thought she saw a grey balloon floating in the air but the car went by too quickly for her to get a good look. The car seemed to be passing everything by a bit too quickly, actually. Every bump they hit bounced her into the air.
She clutched onto her seatbelt; her father was driving so fast that Hana felt they might as well be part of the fleeing populace in one of the giant monster movies. At least Sara appeared to be enjoying it, as long as the expression on her face was that of her grinning in joy and not grimacing with fear.
Hana leaned forward, so that when she spoke to her father her words would not be pushed back by the sheer speed of the vehicle.
‘Shouldn’t you be going a bit slower?’ she called to him.
‘The movie’s not going to watch itself, Hana,’ her father called back. ‘Besides, I figure that if we go fast enough it’ll start to feel like we’re actually going in slow motion.’
‘I . . . see,’ Hana said, although all she could see out her window at this point was a world-enveloping blur.
Very, very soon they made it to the parking lot, and when Hana got out of the car she was incapable of walking in a straight line. After she learned how to walk again they headed to the movie theatre, and up on the marquee she found the title of the movie they were going to see without even having to ask.
‘“Flamesaurus Versus The World And The Moon”,’ she read aloud.
‘And the stars in-between, according to the blurb in the commercial,’ her mother said.
‘I’ll be happy as long as Flamesaurus really is just a dinosaur on fire,’ her sister said.
‘I think you speak for us all on that one,’ her father said.
Hana tried not to sigh. If she had grown weary of monster movies, she had become even more so of dinosaurs in general. But she could not let her family know that.
They entered the theatre and got their tickets. The movie was everything Hana expected it to be, meaning it was a straight-forwarded enactment of its title with more explosions than were really necessary, ineffectual assaults on Flamesaurus and many shots of people driving out of cities just a bit more slowly than her father had driven to the theatre. Sara applauded whenever something exploded, her father resisted the urge to jump up in excitement whenever Flamesaurus stepped on something interesting and her mother tried to warn the characters before they did something stupid, which was unsurprisingly often.
‘Don’t go in that smouldering building,’ her mother would say through her teeth, displaying legitimate concern for the characters on the screen, ‘that’s where Flamesaurus’ baby is.’
From somewhere behind them came a sound that was either a very upset snake or somebody shushing her mother. Her mother was incapable of hearing it, however, having entered the realm that existed between the real world of the theatre and the fictional one displayed on the screen. It was in this transitory realm that her warnings seemed capable of making a difference, with ‘seemed’ being the optimum word.
The movie ended with a shot of astronauts rebuilding the moon.
‘Well, that was a good movie,’ Hana’s mother said, as she always did when she had finished watching one. Hana came to recognise this phrase as the series of magic words that changed her mother back from a person who talked to a screen to a person who, well, did not try to speak to fictional characters.
‘BOOM!’ Sara yelled, clapping her hands together and pulling them apart in some abstract approximation of one of the movie’s explosions.
They walked up the aisle to exit the theatre, each of them becoming about one centimetre taller from all of the popped popcorn kernels that were sticking to the bottoms of their shoes.
The world outside was eerily calm with its lack of Flamesaurus. The sky had finally grown dark and Sara speculated whether the moon was just a duplicate that had been built after some monster attack many years ago. Hana decided to agree with her, if only because it was more fun than telling the truth.
As they gazed up at the sky while heading back to the car, Hana’s father noticed a long grey balloon floating past some buildings to their left. They thought it unique because they had never seen a grey balloon before – nor had they ever seen a balloon that was so very long, for that matter.
Hana, looking closely, noticed something orange on top of it. She was about to bring it up when she realised just how afro-shaped the orange thing was.
‘I wonder what it’s for,’ her father said. ‘Perhaps it’s a birthday present for a guy who can only see in black and white.’
‘It could be a ghost,’ Hana said.
Her family gazed at it thoughtfully for a moment.
‘Nah, that’s ridiculous,’ her father said, and they got into the car.
As they left the parking lot, Hana looked out her window to see the ghost float towards a building and disappear behind it.
‘Yeah,’ she said quietly to herself. ‘It is.’
To Be Continued In Episode Thirteen: Brussel Does Something