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Ghost Hunting 101 (Or, The Time Zeb Found Himself Lost in the Cemetery)

A.L. Davidson

Decorative Green Leaf with pink stem

What an unusual Thursday it was shaping up to be! With the School of Magic and Divinations emptied for spring break and Miss Eloise’s Acid and Apothecary closed for a long-overdue night off while the owner and her friend—the pompous Professor Pyle—went on a date (the horror!), it felt as empty as a ghost town!

     That didn’t stop Zeb—the school’s most famous ghost hunter—from getting the urge to pester the paranormal with his antics. Despite the fact his dorm-mates and fellow hunters were out of town, and the springtime skies were filled with gray-toned clouds, Zeb knew that it was the perfect night to head to the cemetery.

     Thursday, as everyone knows, is when the supernatural barriers are at their weakest (this is, admittedly, not true but Zeb’s enthusiasm makes it hard for anyone to tell him otherwise) and the rain would rouse them from their slumbers like a cursed call back to the mortal plane.

     So, dressed in all black with his signature baseball cap on his head and his heavy backpack on his spine, Zeb raced out into the rainy evening to find himself a ghost! It had to be a special ghost, a real ghost, not like those friendly spirits that lingered in the Acid and Apothecary or attended Professor Pyle’s lectures on ancient magics.

     No, it needed to be a scary ghost, that would be the only way he’d ace his filmmaking finals that were drawing much closer than he’d like to admit. How else would he get clearance to travel with the group that was heading to the supernatural sanctuary known as Wylder Wood in the summer for their annual Spirit Festival? It was the highlight of his yet-to-be-started documentary! He had to prove that he could handle it, so tonight he was going to catch himself a really big, really scary ghost… even if it killed him.

     Breaching the front gate of the local cemetery, a place he had been so many times the security guard had stopped trying to get him to sign in, Zeb marched toward Mausoleum Row to begin his quest. His overpowered flashlight swept over the tombstones with such fury that the residents of the Cat Corner in the pet cemetery scattered to the skies with angry hisses.

     He began knocking on the doors of the mausoleums, asking the residents within if they had any hunches or hot gossip about big time haunts in the area. Stirring the sailors caused the raging seas contained in their cement resting places to crash down upon the already soaked ground. Pestering the patriots sent gunfire out into the night, and messing with the magicians caused him to accidentally get pulled out of an abnormally large top hat!

     Soaking wet and agitated that he had yet to find a good subject for his project after wandering for a whole fifteen minutes, Zeb stood under the umbrella that Molly—the sweets-loving ghost who frequented Miss Eloise’s—offered up while they waited for their friends to get ready for a trip to the library.

     “Why is it so hard to find a good ghost around here?!” Zeb cried in anguish.

     Molly cut their eyes to him. “Really?” they chided.

     “No offense, obviously, I mean a good bad ghost.”

     “Maybe you should change fields, I hear cryptid hunting is a hot commodity nowadays.”

     “Oh, you’re a genius! I should go find myself a monster!”

     Molly watched as Zeb disappeared into the night under the cover of the heavy clouds and thick trees that lined the cemetery.

     “What a weirdo,” they mumbled as they wandered off toward the road.

     Zeb launched himself up and over the fence that kept the cemetery grounds for humans and human-adjacent souls from the more magical resting places that required special wards and soil to contain the energy. He bypassed a stone marker for a Sasquatch, a statue with a beautiful visage of a vampire, and wandered deep into the Supernatural Sanctuary with his flashlight sweeping over the shadows.

     “Let’s see… werewolf… werewolf… werewolf… we have a lot of werewolves here. Reaper… gorgon… oooooh,” Zeb grinned with giddy excitement, “it’s so hard to choose!”

     As Zeb went to take a step forward, he felt himself go rigid and his body spun like a ballerina in a music box. A sound cut through the storm, one that crescendoed like waves on the rocky shore, and the melodic hum dug into his brain like a pesky earworm. He stepped forward, one foot after the other, until he was marching through the marshy muck toward the far end of the cemetery where he had never dared to venture before.

     He understood immediately what had happened when he saw the happily bouncing ball of fire in front of him. He’d gotten caught in the path of a will-o-the-wisp, one who seemingly didn’t realize it had scooped up a mortal in its path. Until it released him, he would be forced to follow it like a sailor to a watery grave by a siren song. So, he decided to let it take him wherever it wanted. He liked the humming, it was one of his favorite songs, and the purple-blue hue of its flickering body was a nice light in the chilly springtime evening.

     The will-o-the-wisp twisted this way and that, bobbed in and out of trees and massive tombstones that looked monstrous against the flashes of lightning. Zeb found himself soaked in mud and rainwater up to his ankles from the harsh stomping of his footsteps. He was glad he decided to turn his little camera on, tucked up safely against his forehead under the cover of his baseball cap’s bill. It would be great B-roll, he assured himself. A fun visual to narrate something dramatic over.

     The will-o-the-wisp dipped down a hill without warning while Zeb was lost in his musings and the reverberating tune of the spirit’s happy chorus, and he quickly found himself tumbling down the steep, muddy slope. He yelped a bit and started spiraling down the grassy knoll with such force he plowed into the spirit and caused such a shuddering that it lost its incorporeal form and turned back into something more human.

     The two tumbled and spiraled until they landed in a patch of poppies near the sacred grounds where the city’s saints had been laid to rest. Water splashed up around them like a tidal wave, and Zeb finally regained control of his body. He shot up and wiped the water from the camera lens and his eyes.

     “Well that was exciting!” Zeb said happily.

     The will-o-the-wisp, appearing much like a watery-eyed young woman around Zeb’s own age, looked at him with a sense of distraught sadness. The spirit’s body warbled like water without boundaries to hold it, and she sat with her mouth agape and shock in her expression.

     “Are you okay?” Zeb asked.

     The spirit tapped her ear and held up her hands to make an X.

     Zeb gasped; he lifted his hands and began signing out the words he wanted to say, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you! I’m Z-E-B!”

     The spirit’s expression changed to a happy one, “You know sign language? I’m M-E-L-O-D-Y, you can call me M-E-L!”

     “I guess you probably didn’t hear me stomping behind you, then! I was caught by your voice and started following you!”

     “I love to sing and I always end up trapping somebody when I do, the last guy who got caught in my trance walked straight into a lamp post. I thought it would be safe in the cemetery because this weather is horrible! You’re weird.”

     Zeb smiled, “I get told that a lot! I’m making a documentary, and I’m trying to find a scary spirit! Want to help me?”

     Melody nodded excitedly. Zeb scrambled to his feet and quickly began searching through his backpack for another flashlight. He did a trick with it, flipping it up in the air before he caught it behind his back, and handed it over to his new friend.

     “What’s this for?” Melody inquired.

     “Ghost hunting 101, never go anywhere without a flashlight!” Zeb replied.

     Melody extended her hand to take the flashlight. It dropped straight through her corporeal form into the mud. Zeb and Melody looked at each other for a moment before they both began laughing. It was a good night to get lost in a cemetery.

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