An update from our fortieth Writing Workshop
A summary of the workshop held on Saturday May 8, plus some of the output published below
This week, William completed the journey to the spirit world that we started last week. Inspired by the Victorian-era spirit drawings of Georgian Houghton, the group considered ways of using the idea of the inspiration of spirits in writing, as a way of communicating between the living and the dead. We thought about various means people use to stay in touch with their ancestors, from home shrines to seances, and the different ways spirit manifest themselves in stories. We watched a video of a Hawaiian storyteller telling a story about a haunted condominium, ending with the classic words "and the story is true", and discussed Augustine the Samburu blacksmith's story of a baby that turns out to be a ghost. We read a section from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, as Scrooge sees the strange, form-shifting spirit appear before him; and considered the role of the haunted house in many traditional ghost stories. We watched a beautifully animated (with shadow puppets) performance of Schubert's setting of Goethe's ErlKonig by the Oxford Leider, and looked at one of the earliest recorded zombie stories (Ishtar). Finally, with a woodcut from Hokusai, William reminded the group that spirits can take many forms...
The Challenge: Write a scene, story or poem with a connection to ghosts, spirits or the spirit world. What does the spirit world bring to your story? OR, try some spirit writing.
The Participants: Peri, Lena DN, Maddie, Gia, Leo, Madeline K, Pranjoli, Reese, Margaret, Wesley, Julia, Rachael, Chelsea, Jaya, Lena A, Mia, Delight, Lina, Helen, Hanbei, Peter, Sage, Sierra, Mahika, Anna K, Audrey, Angela, Tilly, Jonathan, Grace, Charlotte, Iago, Nova.
By Peri Gordon, 11
They inhabit me like I am some sort of haunted medieval fortress.
One of them darts through one of my walls and into the well-furnished but dust-covered room where the young girl once spent her time making beautiful sketches before her death of sickness in that same room. Another ghost haunts the stairs, where the girl’s father met his own end in a fatal accident. And yet another lurks in the former office of the girl’s mother, where she privately ended her own life.
Each spirit was once alive. One of them was the girl. One was the father, one the mother. They all died too soon, and that thought keeps them here, passionate grief scorching their minds and hearts. They are each so caught up in their own misery that they do not notice each other’s ghosts, only their own.
I was once a place of happiness, the cheerful, stylish, modern home for a family of three. Now I am a place of despair, a ghost habitat.
People come outside, snapping photos and gossiping about what went on inside me. Even those who do not believe there are ghosts are prevented by others from coming inside me. Most of them know that the ghosts are, indeed, here.
There is a mansion across the street, looking more old-fashioned than I ever have. That would make a good haunted house. But no; I am the haunted one. The home across the street is filled with happy people, happy rooms, happy memories.
But I am desperate.
I summon all the energy that being haunted provides me.
Power and adrenaline build up inside me like fuel for a car.
I send the spirits soaring out of me and into the home on the other side of the road. I am free from being haunted. Let the suffering be transferred to somewhere else. I have held the burden of being shunned and isolated for long enough. It is another home’s turn.
It only takes a few days for the family to move out. Hope rises inside of me.
But they do not come here. People don’t know I am no longer haunted. In fact, they believe I have spread the ghost disease, and that now both the other house and I are haunted. Most people leave the neighborhood, never to return again.
And the ghosts, missing their old spaces, return to me.
Well, that backfired.
Perhaps I really am haunted, not just because of the spirits I contain but because I have a wicked soul. Maybe seeing the deaths truly changed me, for I have become immeasurably evil, so evil that I would try to inflict my suffering onto another to free myself. I am despicable.
And now that the neighborhood’s inhabitants have left, I am even more lonely than I was before.
By Lina Kim, 11
That was the last thing I saw before I faded into the darkness, the dust of those who have fallen. But then, how am I still in the world of those alive?
My country has changed much since the war. My people are no longer enslaved. But at times, we are mistreated. There was an incident with a man named George Floyd nearly a year ago.
I’d lived with these people for over a century, watching as our society changed. Everything is so advanced now. I had scoped out the woods for a perfect resting place. There, I would not be disturbed.
Until the day I was.
As I hovered, formless, above a fallen log, I saw a flash of light and heard a short click. Without thinking, I rushed towards it.
“Wow, this is a perfect place for—” started a voice. It was a girl, holding what I had learned was called a smartphone.
“What are you doing here?” I asked in my deepest, most threatening voice. She jumped in fright and whipped her head around.
“W-what?! Who’s there?” she stuttered.
“Leave,” I growled.
She took off running in the other direction. I sighed. Finally, peace again. I decided to explore the woods.
After several hours of aimless floating, I came across the girl again. I could get a closer look at her now. She was sitting next to a tree, staring at a black screen. I just didn’t understand why she didn’t turn it on. The smartphone dropped out of her trembling hands onto a pile of leaves and she tucked her head between her knees. She sniffled.
“Well?” I asked. “Are you going to sit there, or are you going to be productive?”
The girl jumped, her wide eyes darting around. She was frightened.
“H-hello? Is someone there?”
“For goodness’ sake, I’m right here,” I sighed.
“I— I can’t see you, whoever you are . . . I’m lost. Do you know where the city is?”
“Well, of course I do,” I scoffed. “But I’m definitely not going back there. I’ve had enough.”
“O-oh. But who are you?”
“Me? I’m a soldier.”
“A . . . A soldier?”
“Yeah, I fought in the Civil War. In the United States, to be exact. But I died.”
“You— you— died?!”
“Yeah. Why does everyone act like it’s such a big deal? I died, and I’m right here, but nothing is really different about me. Except that you can’t see me. Not really. But I’m the fog around you!”
The girl began to tremble even more. “But— what do you want?”
I thought for a moment. “What do I want? Gosh, no one’s asked me that question in decades. Actually, no one’s even spoken to me in decades. Well, I guess I want company. It’s been over a century.”
“I— maybe I can be your friend?” she asked quickly, shutting her eyes nervously.
“Sure!” I decided. “What’s your name, and how old are you?”
She glanced up, and her smile appeared. “I’m Ariana. I’m ten. And you?”
“I’m either 23 or 183, if my calculations are correct, and my name is James.”
And so that is how my first friendship in a very long time began.
The Snake's Den
Anna Ko, 11
Her heart beat erratically in her chest. A nice evening, with only a slight breeze. The whole day had been foggy so she had decided to walk around as soon as the fog had passed by. When she came in, she had immediately noticed mist gathering up in the trees, but thought nothing of it. Ignorance would be her downfall. She had continued walking, noticing many snake-skins on the floor. Once again, she thought nothing of it. She was distracted. Distracted by the enchanting aura of the forest, bewitching her. Slowly, but surely, the spirits were gaining power, feeding off of the human energy. The wind howled slightly with the voices of spirits who tried to fend off the evil energy of the dark night.
To their dismay, from the energy taken before the evil had been found empowered them to scream at the other spirits, using the cold mist to create a snake, coiling around the entire forest, entrapping the forest and the things that lived there. She walked, going down-hill. She finally snapped out of her trance when the bewitching aroma turned to a revolting scent. But it was too late. Once somebody fell into a spirit’s trap, there was no leaving. Suddenly, the wind howled, and now she was in a cave on a boat, surrounded by a bottomless pit of water. The coiled snake, which she now knew was a powerful spirit, feeding on her energy to gain power, rose up and changed into a person. A person identical to her.
The next day, when “she” came back, she came back changed, as if a spirit were possessing her.
By Mia Money, 8
“Why must you go now, oh father?” said the little ones, as the answer still is not found.
“I am terribly sorry, but I must help your mother,” says father.
Most of the little ones cry, but one stays calm and says, “Goodbye, and good luck!” says brave raven, trying to keep her tears in as she hugs her father for the last time.
“I have been sick for a very long time, and that has helped me remember something your mother told me before she passed,” said the father, exhausted.
The little ones were remembering what their father had told them earlier. “When I am finally sent to endless dreamland and you see a beam of light, don’t move. I will have something for you.”
But they didn’t see one. They were starting to worry.
Meanwhile, the father was looking for the mother. Once they met again, the mother remembered the gift. She was going to give her dear children an old pendant that used to be a family heirloom. Back with the little ones, a beam of light finally appeared, and two ghosts rose out from the ground, followed by lots of mist. “We are finally back,” said the mother.
She gave the little ones the old pendant that seemed to make the moon glow even brighter.
Everyone was quiet. Finally Raven spoke. “Thank you.”
Then the ghosts floated back to their own world.
Then, once more, silence filled the air.