haunted mansion

Submitted into Contest #221 in response to: Write a story from a ghost’s point of view.... view prompt


Fiction Speculative Contemporary

Nelson Muskrat’s father made a fortune in the coffee futures market. Divorced from any material coffee trade, this market saw invisible, imaginary tokens swap hands in a global game of poker that ballooned the bank accounts of key players in Europe and the U.S. while farmers in the Global South tore up unharvested crops of low-grade Robusta coffee plants because production costs were so high, it made no sense to let them bloom. Muskrat Senior’s profits put his son through private school, then Yale, and pumped funds to the young man’s millions of ideas. By thirty, Nelson Muskrat was a billionaire. He created an app that showed .5 second clips in rapid succession to six-year-olds and devised a higher-definition biometric-tracking security camera to be placed in grocery store baby formula aisles. He created a line of gasoline-powered bicycles, and Air Ears (like AirPods, but with wires that attach to one’s phone to prevent loss). He even had a line of quippy graphic tees. What could the man not do? 

Write a memoir, it turns out. That’s why he hired me. 

I sit bent like a shrimp in my home office on an October Sunday. The blue night billows in through open purple curtains. My home is huge, a mansion, paid for by a fat stack of books I wrote that bear other peoples’ names on the front covers. I do memoirs, mostly. I ghostwrote for celebrity chefs, pop divas, two former presidents, and an internet-famous dog. Now, Nelson Muskrat: his team approached me ten months ago. 

My laptop screen glares blank, white, blinding. Manilla folders of Muskrat’s annotated life facts submitted by his PR team lie bulging on my desk. I thought I’d get to meet the man now. But, our only contact has been scattered WhatsApp messages. 

I am the best ghost in the business. Though, since Leonard left ten months ago, I can’t write. 

I have a wordcount deadline to hit by sunrise, a new chapter to submit. Midnight now, and I flip through folders, my notes blurring together like bloodstains, the words meaning nothing. Lots of quaint and curious forgotten lore here, I guess. Did you know Nelson Muskrat had a pet boa as a kid? Who cares. 

I was at a dinner party but four hours ago and red wine still throbs in my temples. I’m sleepy. I wait for the tapping to come. 

Electricity costs are astronomical for the mansion. I keep lights off at night. There’s a rapping at the door, and when I leap from my chair and swing the door open to the hallway’s black cavernous mouth, I see nothing. 

Then, the same glowing airy bird that has visited me for ten straight months appears above the door. She’s the ghost of the world’s last dodo, and she has written this memoir for me. 

“Hello,” I say, and the ghost looks at me with a small, sad, prehistoric eye. Her beak is like a man’s shoe, curved at the tip. Her small wings fold to her fat body. Her legs are strong, wide, grounded. She shimmers like moonlight on rippling water. 

Ten months ago, in bleak December, the same day I signed a contract for the memoir, Leonard texted me that he was not coming home that night, and never would. I thought it was a joke: we had, over fifteen years of coupledom, merged into a single soft being with one digestive tract, an ear for similar music, and routines that locked into each other like grinding gears of a sensible machine. I wore him like a second skin. Then, he left. I called, texted, tried to track him down with all our apps, but all the tech can’t bring him back. My contract would make us so very rich, but I could not celebrate. I wailed through all the mansion’s halls in tattered stinking clothes, with bloodshot eyes and seaweed-tangled hair, a banshee trapped with writer’s block. I didn’t eat. I drifted through hot, dreamless sleep for days. For the first time in my career, I couldn’t squeeze a word out. Then came the dodo. 

I thought she was a dream, that ghostly bird at the foot of my bed. I wasn’t scared. She beckoned me to my laptop. She was far more graceful than people make dodos out to be. She looked with love and patience into my face, wrinkled with weekly monsoons of tears. The dodo did not speak, yet I heard her in my head. She told me what to write. The first chapter flowed beautifully. Waking up next morning, the draft was real, still in the computer, not a dream. The dodo came back every single night since. 

Tonight, I talk to the dodo first:

“Maybe you know, but I was just at a dinner party, for the Ghostwriters’ Association. It was really, really nice. I saw that girl I always see there. She gave me her number, and I think we’re really gonna be friends. I haven’t really had girls to hang out with since I started working on this project.”

The dodo cocks her head. I shake mine. 

“You’re right,” I say. “I haven’t really had friends since I met Leonard.” 

The laptop screen has gone dark, reflecting my drooped cow eyes. The dodo has no reflection. 

“We should get writing, huh?” 

My fingers dance over the keys like butterflies that can’t quite pick a flower. I try to type myself before the bird takes over, usually. Tonight, I can’t stop thinking of the party. 

“And,” I continue, “There was a new member there, a nice little man. We were flirting, I think. I’ve only met him once before, but I like him a lot. He gave me his number, too. I think we’re gonna go out.” 

Through long and lonely months, the dodo has been the only one I’ve spoken to, save for monthly meetings with the Ghostwriters’ Association. It’s a small and simple life inside this big house, nocturnal frenzies pounding words with my one companion followed by daylight sleeping. Tonight’s party, though, was like nibbling on bread after starvation has convinced you that you are not hungry, and suddenly craving a feast. 

My phone buzzes with texts. The messages feel heavy in my pocket. I look at the screen: it is my new friend, then the man. It’s two in the morning. Time trickles away. They both want to hang out, soon. 

“Ah, I’ve got no time to hang out, right? The memoir is almost done, then it’s editing, more editing, and honestly, I just feel like getting invested in anyone new is probably too much, right? Like what if it ends bad? Can’t have a repeat of last time, right, haha.” 

The world beyond my window swirls dark and cold: pine trees do their dance in the October breeze, and the coquettish moons covers herself with storm clouds. Small stars glimmer like the hope in my belly, and I am scared. Clouds can cover light fast, and love can always be snatched away. 

“I don’t know,” I sigh. “I always get ghosted. Better not to think about it all too much, not get invested. Let’s get writing.” 

But on my desk, the dodo sat, and perched, and nothing more. 

“Come on! What’s wrong? Thou art sure no craven?”

Her gentle beak points to my phone. 

“I can’t text them! I’ve work to do! And you, by the way, aren’t helping.” 

Her soft form bows, folds sadly into itself. I see her life, and my heart breaks. Her last days on Mauritius, centuries ago, the very last of her kind, her siblings slaughtered in their eggs by imported colonial pests, her grandparents shipped off to European freakshows, her aunts sold as bones to collectors. The storm that gathered off the coast, her huddling alone in a dark cave, the thunder cracks and thudding waves, her eyes closing, and never opening, even after the storm broke, a whole history dying with her feathered self, with the very humans that caused her extinction not believing extinction could happen at all, still so sure that more birds remained, will always remain, in some great balance that a human hand could not disrupt, her personality and shape late distorted into cartoons on key chains and kids’ books, a symbol of stupidity and final death, though it stands only for innocence and love. 

I surely am anthropomorphizing, but I am sure she gives me a sad smile, and then I understand. She points to the keyboard with her clawed foot, and I know she will always be with me, but I must do the work alone. I look away, and she disappears. 

I stand, stretch, stumble to the dark kitchen, located several wings away. I brew coffee. This blend is sour, stretched with the low-grade Robusta depleting farmers in Vietnam and depreciating better beans on the global market. Perhaps I ought to write how Muskrat Senior is partly responsible for that when I finish this memoir. I have lots of ideas for what to put in, really. 

I return to the office, and I write. First, a few text messages to new friends. Then, a new chapter. There is indeed balm in Gilead. 

October 23, 2023 20:26

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07:22 Oct 31, 2023

Ooh! Fun take on the prompt. I was actually a little disappointed when an actual ghost arrived, I just wanted it to be about the ghost writer! I loved all the details about Muskrat's businesses. Beginning with his father threw me off though, and I had to read it a few times. But overall, really nicely done. Would love your opinion on my latest!


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22:15 Oct 30, 2023

This was so fun. Brilliant paragraph about the history of the dodo bird toward the end. Theres many layers of “ghost” in this story. And so many fun little details and metaphors. Really enjoyed reading.


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