An update from our thirty-ninth Writing Workshop
A summary of the workshop held on Saturday May 1, plus some of the output published below
In his second class in the spring 2021 series, William took us on a journey to the spirit world, looking at mysterious manifestations in fiction and popular culture, from Caspar the Ghost to the ghost of Hamlet's father. We considered the different language used to describe ghosts and spirits, and the tricks used by writers and movie-makers to show us ghosts and spirits of people who aren't really there. We saw excerpts of two versions of Hamlet, one in which his ghost father appears through a (somewhat traditional) mist, and anther more contemporary version where the ghost appears through the glass on an apartment balcony. We discussed some of the reasons fictional ghosts might appear, in particular (like Hamlet's father), restless spirits who have unfinished business.
To watch a video of the instruction in full, click here.
The Challenge: Write a story where a spirit manifests itself in non-corporeal form (a mist, a vision through glass, a wind, a scent) and/or has unfinished business.
The Participants: Julia, Leo, Sierra, Mia, Lina, Lena A, Lena DN, Margaret, Maddie, Jaya, Peri, Sage, Delight, Hanbei, Helen, Gia, Pranjoli, Reese, Rachael, Mahika, Jonathan, Angela, Anna, Audrey, Charlotte, Grace, Tilly, Peter.
Peri Gordon, 11
Samuel had made a pact with his wealthy brother, Andrew. When Andrew died, he would leave half his fortune to Samuel in his will.
But when Andrew passed, no will of his could be found.
It left Samuel tremendously angry. At the same time, he mourned the loss of his brother. With his mind toggling between the two emotions, Samuel felt as if he were in a cage of steel, the robust metal reinforced by layers of grief and fury.
He skipped work, skipped sleeping, skipped eating. He just sat in silence.
But it only took two days for him to receive the shock of his life.
He was sitting rigidly, the only movement on his body coming from the tears that would race each other down the man’s face, made even faster by the incoming wind.
The moment this last concept was absorbed into his brain, Samuel sat up straighter, his eyebrows raised. All doors and windows were closed; the air should not have been swirling as quickly as it was. The air was heavy, too; it billowed, bounced, and seemed to breathe. And then. . . it spoke.
“I’m sure this will come as a shock to you, but I see no way to soften it. I have not been peacefully at rest for the past two days.” The voice was silky-smooth and deep. In fact, it sounded like a less self-assured Andrew. Samuel shuddered, wondering whether he had gone mad. He looked up, where the unexpected wind had formed and where the voice was coming from, and felt a warm, comforting sensation, as if he could sense Andrew’s body heat returning. Samuel knew this was ridiculous, as the hand of Andrew’s body had been cold. But after pinching himself, Samuel knew that this could not be a dream.
“Andrew. What are you doing here? How can you be alive–” the moment he finished the word “alive,” Andrew spoke up again. “Of course I am not,” said his disembodied voice. “I am obviously dead.”
Samuel protested, “But how can you be here?” The voice answered, “I am a voice and a mist. You might call me a ghost, or a spirit. And I have good reason to be here. An unfulfilled promise, specifically.”
Samuel started to ask what that was, but then he remembered. “The pact. Andrew, why didn’t you create a will?”
Andrew explained, “I died suddenly in the night. I hadn’t expected it or prepared for it. My brother, you know I’ve never been prepared. But now, I will provide you with what I always said I would. Half my fortune will go to you, and then I will be gone.”
The Spirit of the Muffin Girl
Delight Kim, 11
Muma always said, “No ghosts, Zeline. If you ever meet one, turn away and run.” before I went to sleep. And even though I knew the stories of ghosts were rubbish, it kept me awake. The soft rustling of the velvet curtains, the whispers outside my window and the small creaks in the old wooden stairs were always there. I always got a tense feeling that someone was in our house. The sounds frightening me, chilling my bones, holding my eyes awake. So I decided I would find the culprit. If there was one, anyway. Getting up at 1:37, known as the ghost’s minute, I crept down the hall to our praise room, the room where my family honored the dead. Amazingly, the candles were still lit and the bread and goodies that were from last week were mostly fresh. Then I noticed suspicious activity. There was no wind, but the smoke from the candles was curling and bending in an odd way, like hands molding tack putty. The bread was rolling around the table and I had to steady them a countless amount of times to keep them from falling. A munching and a “Mmmm,” came from behind me. I whirled around, grabbing a cross that Muma told me that would fend off unwanted spirits and I thrust it in front of me. There, a spirit, a girl no older or younger than me, was licking the dulce de leche frosting off a triple chocolate muffin. My eyes widened. She screamed and fell off the chair she was sitting on into a large bucket, but I didn’t. I was too frightened, anyway. The muffin flew in the air but was miraculously caught by some invisible force and led to an empty plate.
“Who are you?” The spirit licked her lips. “What are you doing in my house?” She tried to get up but the bucket held still.
“Y-your house?” I asked. “You must be confused. This house is ours.” She sniffed.
“My papa built this magnificent house with his own hands! He was known as the Builder of the Century! This house was the envy of our neighbors, so of course it is ours!” I lowered the cross, a thought swimming madly inside my head. How did the spirit get in here? The cross was in the room. Unwanted spirits would surely be fended off. What was her unfinished business?
“Pish.” She spat, as if reading my mind. “Of course I can get in here. This house belonged to us until some men came and shot my Mummy and Papa.” An unearthly sparkling tear slid down her pale, translucent cheek. Nevertheless, she continued.
“And they demanded our money but I refused to tell them our money hiding place. So they shot me too. But before I died, I swore on my Mummy and Papa’s spirits that I would take care of the house.” The dim light bulb in my head was illuminated. That was the promise.
“So . . . are you planning to stay here forever?” I asked. She nodded.
“I won’t haunt you or your family. But maybe we can become friends in return for some food and keeping the house clean. I’m Renata, by the way.” I smiled.
“I’m Zeline.” I thought about the muffins we had left in the kitchen. “Are you still up for muffins?”
Farewell, Until We Meet Again
Lina Kim, 11
“I don’t know, Izzy,” said Ophelia.
“Oh, come on,” I complained. “He wasn’t spooked by a crazy bulldog, he won’t be afraid of a harmless ghost who he can’t even see.”
“Yes, he will.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, Ophie, he’s a cat!”
“So? I’ve been having nightmares, Izzy. Nightmares.” A drop of water emerged from the mist Ophelia was. A tear. “I, who never sleep, have been having nightmares.”
“Oh, Ophelia,” I reached out to the mist, the equivalent of giving her a hug. “I’m sure everything’s fine.”
“No, it’s not.” More tears were spilled. “Something is going to happen.”
“We’ll be okay.” I insisted. The mist wrapped around me. Ophelia needed comfort.
“Come on,” I whispered. “How about you meet Cody now?”
She sniffled. “Cody the kitten.”
“Yes, Cody the kitten.”
“Not . . . Not that Cody.”
I sighed. “No, not the Cody from that story you wrote that was stolen.”
I bit my lip. “Sorry. I guess I can be sarcastic at times.”
“It’s fine. You’re the best friend I could ever ask for.”
I was not. I never was.
But at least she had someone.
She’d told me what happened long ago. She’d written a book, her pride and joy. She was sure it would be published. But the day she finished editing, her work was stolen. Someone had taken it and published it as his own. And no one was able to prove that it had been she who wrote it.
She desperately wanted revenge on that man. She’d died only three years ago, drowned. But the person who had stolen her work was still alive. I’ve tried to convince her that revenge isn’t the answer. She wouldn’t listen.
Cody had been the name of a character in Ophelia’s book. I had loved the book so much, that when my mom finally let me get a cat, I had named him Cody. When Ophelia found out, she visited me. As a ghost. She’d told me her story, and since then, we became best friends. I had scribbled out the name of the ‘author’ of the book and scrawled in my horrible handwriting, Ophelia the Ghost. And only by gaining revenge could she be put to rest.
Or so she thought.
“Ophelia?” I asked as she swirled around Cody. He didn’t seem to mind Ophelia. Probably because he never noticed her.
“It’s been four years. Why do you still hold it against him? It will just get you into trouble.” She knew what I was talking about.
“Because.” she said bitterly. I sighed. No amount of talk would convince her.
But maybe writing would.
I grabbed my pencil and thought. What to write? What could convince her? After a couple of minutes, I knew what to write. A poem.
Around an hour later, I had completed the poem. I went outside and called Ophelia. She swirled down. “What is it?”
I cleared my throat and recited my poem. Maybe she would listen, or maybe this was just another puny attempt that would amount to nothing.
“Whoa.” she said.
“There’s no reason for you to hold it against him. There’s something called karma, and you don’t need to enforce it. It will probably happen on its own.”
“Probably,” she echoed.
“Come on, Ophelia.”
Tears leaked from the mist. “Izzy, if I let go of the rage—” she choked up. “I’ll never see you again.”
“Oh, Ophelia, I know,” I whispered. Tears rolled down my cheeks. “But you have to move on. You can’t spend your whole life here. Besides, what happens when I move on? What if you’re still here?”
She swirled around me one last time. “Kid?”
“You’re really something.”
And she merged with the breeze, disappearing into the afterlife.
“Farewell, until we meet again.”
The Daughter of the Trees
Madeline Kline, 13
The forest looms over me, the trees seemingly patronizing me with every step. I shift my backpack on my shoulders and quicken my pace. Creepy as it is, this forest isn’t dangerous. Kids have been using it as a shortcut for ages, according to Luke. And no one has ever gotten hurt.
As I move faster through the trees, the disapproving whispers seem to follow me, growing louder with every step. The wind blows into my face, attempting to push me back in the direction I came. I press on, carefully putting one foot in front of the other, until the wind reverses its direction.
The leaves blow off of a tree next to me, and the wind plays with them, spiraling into one column of leaves and air. I can’t help myself. I stop. And I stare. As I watch, the column splits on the bottom. It becomes rounded at the top. Two more parts peel away from the middle. The wind shapes the leaves into natural curves, and the figure is… humanoid.
Pine needles fall from the trees to form her hair, cascading down her green back much like human hair. She turns 180 degrees to face me, the leaves formed to make facial features. A nose, lips, and no eyes. The girl is about a foot taller than me. When she opens her lips to speak, only air comes out, whooshing past my face with the same patronizing tone I’ve heard since I first stepped under the cover of the trees. Then, the air moves, vibrates, forming nature’s voice.
“Why . . .” She starts, her voice resonating, echoing, seeming larger than the forest itself. “are you here?”
I’m stunned. I’ve left everyone far behind. This couldn’t be Luke’s prank. My brother should still be at home, asleep. All of my “friends” should also be peacefully sleeping, wherever they live. Could someone have set this up beforehand? Maybe to scare any unsuspecting kids trying to use this forest as a shortcut.
“Why,” She says again, somehow even louder this time, “are you here?”
“I’m just passing through,” I say, scanning the forest for where someone might have hidden a speaker, or some computer controlled contraption.
Sea of Warn
Mia Money, 8
The ghosts from the Sea of Warn
All have something to say
For the ghosts from the Sea of Warn
All have to warn someday
They come to the mortal world
With a warning to give
To friends from the mortal world
And they can continue to give
And when the leader of the ghosts says,
“Let’s go back!”
The group of all the ghosts go on, as
The wind blows past
Pranjoli Sadhukha, 11
It was a cozy Wednesday evening when Briar came. I was in my cousin’s mansion with a few friends. I could never recall who had invited her, though her mystifying grin lingered in my memory. It wasn’t a shy or particularly friendly smile, but rather alluring, as though she was challenging us to find our way inside her mind. It was a pleasant October night, and the air was infused with the essence of chocolate and pumpkin spice. Briar had eagerly chatted with us, as if this was the last night of her life, and her last wish was to make it count. Days later, the sheer irony had finally dawned on me. Her face was pale, a striking contrast to her pitch-black hair, with a white briar rose woven into it. Her hands were always clasped around her mug of hot cocoa, yet she never took a sip. She was truly peculiar, yet so merry we let it slip from our minds, and enjoyed the evening. Soon, we were all headed upstairs, our tired souls quickly getting lost in deep slumber. However, something had been bothering me that night, but I couldn’t put a finger on it. I woke around early dawn to see a supernatural fog enveloping the room. The silvery mist enwrapped Briar, growing thicker and thicker until I couldn’t see my own hand through the haze. Then I spotted a ghostly form of Briar floating above me. She gave me an enigmatic smile and faded away. In the morning, every trace of her was gone. I put my mind at ease with the thought that it had all been a dream. Later though, when I ran to grab my crimson cardigan from the velvet plush couch, I sharply gasped as I saw it, out of the corner of my eye. Lying on the mantelpiece, was a flawless white briar rose.