Nothing Is Ever Destroyed, It Just Changes Form
It was Lizzy's idea to charge people three bucks to scream in Grammy's field. Mom and Dad thought we were out having normal childhood summers. Stomping in creeks, catching tadpoles, playing baseball. The stuff they wished they'd done. But Lizzy wanted to make some money, and it wasn't like anyone was using Grammy's land. She died years ago, but there was some zoning issue so her house is mostly how she left it.
Lizzy and I made a sign and stuck it in the ditch by the road. "Scream Here for $3." I thought if we were going to charge that much we should give them something to drink, so Lizzy made up batches of expired Country Time lemonade and charged two bucks for it so we could roll in five dollar bills at the end of the day.
Our first customer was a fancy woman whose face looked like it was being held together in huge patches by invisible stitches. Once her back was turned, I could hear her sobbing as she stepped. Her scream sounded like porcelain shattering.
But what we noticed, after the first few people, were these white transparent blobs bobbing along the top of the tall grass. Only noticeable when we packed up for dinner. Lizzy said it was a trick of light and tramped in to prove it. The trees encircled the field like the walls of the Colosseum. Here was where people faced their lions. I couldn't let her go in alone.
When the ghost of an event goes through you, you see flashes of it. The first time, I saw a dead man on a metal table. He didn't look made up like Grammy did at her funeral. His skin was bluish white. Like only the blue marshmallows had been kept in the milk too long. His bruised face faded and the field came back. My shorts were damp from sweat and humidity. Lizzy was shuddering in front of me but somewhere else.
"Lizzy!" I yanked her arm. Normally she'd yell and shove me. But it was like she couldn't see me. I hauled her out of there. Big steps through the grass. Lizzy tripping behind me, struggling to get her balance. We never told each other what we saw. Just gulped leftover lemonade like the dusty flavor could cancel out what happened. Later I saw worse things. Men sweating and grunting on top of me. Cars toppled and tangled like toys. Blue bloated bodies. Accidents from before we had a system.
It was my idea to catch the ghosts in jars. I collect the money and then Lizzy takes one of Grammy's old canning jars into the field. When Grammy was alive we helped her can lemon curd, peaches and blackberry jam on weekends in the summer. Food we'd feast on all winter, our puckering mouths fresh full of summer. Now those shelves are covered in the same jars but with white faces and open mouths pressed against the glass begging to be let out. At least, that's what I imagine they're saying. Maybe they're just screaming
To Swallow a Ghost
I didn't mean to swallow the ghost. It slipped down my throat and coiled in my stomach like a frozen hose full of water, a blast of winter in the scorching summer. When we touched I saw a dream house on fire, the flames consuming it like a sandwich, ambulances that were too late, a black body bag and two smaller white body bags that could've only been for kids about my size. I didn't know they made more than one size. The images looped in my head as my body shook. The trees listened in like the audience in an amphitheater, their leaves whistling in the wind, the only witnesses. The field was full of ghosts skimming the top of the grass up to my chest. My throat constricted and released, constricted and released like I was trying not to throw up. My belly stretched pregnant from the pooled ghost inside. My balance was slipping, tipping forward when my sister dragged me to the driveway and forced me to drink lemonade. After she went into the bathroom, I rounded the corners of Grammy's house and vomited. Everything inside me came out. The lemonade in a sad puddle. My doubt, my sadness, my fear. The ghost. It floated in front of me faceless. Only visible because it was getting dark now, and the contrast highlighted the white outline. My skin tingled all over. There was an ecstatic fluttering in me, like a kite catching the breeze. I reached for the ghost.
lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Her flash fiction appears in Monkeybicycle, The Molotov Cocktail, matchbook, McSweeney's Internet Tendency
and others. She's a reader for Pidgeonholes. Her story "Postcard Town" was selected for Best Microfiction 2021. Breaking Points, her debut chapbook, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press (fall 2021). In addition to her website (linked), read more at and find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle