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Do You Live on Mystery Island?


by call1ope

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When she first sees him, she's eight years old, and he's a barely-flickering light in the distance.

      His humongous tail trails the ground, and he leaves smoke where he steps; the sight takes Amelia's breath away, even though she's seen ghosts before.

      Behind her, her brother sits up in their mother's rocking chair, straining to see over her shoulder.

      "Do you see Mom?"

      "No," Amelia says, pouting, "just Crokabeks and trees."

      Milo frowns.

      "Don't worry," Amelia says, smiling hopefully, "she'll be home soon."

      "But it's scary out there. Are you sure she'll find her way back?"

      "Doesn't she always?"

      (The Haunted Woods go on for miles.)

      For a second, the question seems to assuage Milo's worries.

      Then: "Did you see that Lupe again?"

      He's leaning half off of the chair now, big eyes wide and prodding.

      "No."

      ("Do you live on Mystery Island?")

      "I haven't seen him in a while," she says, leaning back against the window.

      ("No.")

      –

      Every night, the Ghost Lupe comes by, his tail trailing the ground.

      Each time, he asks her (sitting on the porch braiding flowers into her little sister's mane): "do you live on Mystery Island?" and each time, she tells him no. Each time, she dodges his stare.

      Ghosts are scary, says her mother. Ghosts are malicious and vile, and you must always tell them to leave.

      –

      "Mama's going to a party tonight," Amelia tells Milo one night.

      He's standing in the doorway to their mother's bedroom, bleary-eyed and already in his pajamas, and Amelia is sitting on the bed, watching her mother's reflection in the mirror.

      Her mother is always stunning, but tonight she's particularly so, sitting at the vanity in a collared dress. And as she fixes that collar, she spins around to regard them both. Her stare is cold and serious, tonight, and she's looking right at Amelia.

      "Milo, go get in bed," she says. "I'll be there in a minute to tuck you in."

      Amelia watches Milo nod and dash away.

      "Amelia," says her mother, "what do you do if you see the Ghost Lupe?"

      "You say 'no,'" Amelia says proudly. "I know, Mama, I knowww."

      Her mother smiles, closing the lid of her makeup box.

      "Yes, yes, I know. But it's a full moon tonight; the ghosts will be coming round."

      (In droves, says the news. In droves, says her mother.

      But Amelia's never been scared of ghosts, anyway.)

      –

      "You're really not so bad, are you?"

      "Do you live on Mystery Island?"

      "I wish you'd answer me!"

      "Do you live on Mystery Island?"

      "Noooo."

      –

      It's on a brighter night that she sees him again, and she's waiting there on the porch. Mother is at another party, and Milo and Lila are asleep upstairs. Amelia straightens her collar, lights a candle, and waits.

      It's later when he finally comes, a glowing beacon between the trees. Amelia is quiet, hovering on the edge of the porch swing. Beneath her, it creaks quietly.

      Here he comes, she thinks.

      She doesn't hear his paws or the breath he seems to exhale, and begins to wonder if he breathes at all. (He's bigger than she thought, and isn't so much a light as a glow.)

      "Do you live on Mystery Island?" he says, creeping slowly around the house.

      "No. Do you?"

      He stops, then, seems to consider. Amelia waits patiently.

      "No," he says. (Exhales. So ghosts do breathe.)

      "Did you want to?"

      "No."

      She smiles, something small and vague. The Ghost Lupe has always been terrifying, in every book and tale, campfire story – but here he is, and she's got him cornered, she's got him confused, thinking: you're not so bad.

      "You're not scary."

      "My ship crashed," he says. "I need to find my crew."

      And he's gone.

      –

      Milo sits in their mother's chair, rocking. Lila is sprawled on the sofa, bringing her cardigan up over her head and laughing, and Amelia entertains her, making faces by the window.

      She hasn't seen him in a month, and the Woods have been quiet. She knows he doesn't come here often and that most ghosts don't wander this far, but she's curious, now: who are you and why are you here?

      Lila is sitting up now, fixing her with a big blue stare. Around her shoulders her cardigan lies defeated and crumpled.

      "Do you want to hunt ghosts, Amelia?"

      "I don't want to hunt them," Amelia says, "I want to study them."

      "That's silly! Ghosts are scary..."

      "They're not so bad."

      (She met the Pant Devil in her father's orchard, this small blue mass floating high above her. He didn't take anything, just stared, and when she returned to the house she couldn't find her favorite plushie. She thinks he's greedy. She thinks ghosts shouldn't steal.)

      "Well, I think they're scary. My friend says she saw Vira in the hallway at school and that it got really cold and creepy."

      "No one's ever seen Vira before, though. Not even I have seen her."

      "Well, I'm not about to go and call her a liar; that's not nice!"

      Amelia smiles, patting her sister's head.

      "That's right."

      In his chair Milo stirs, tossing his head up on the arm again; Amelia peers over at him, curious.

      "You're always talking about ghosts..."

      "I think they're cool!"

      "You're weirddddd."

      –

      She was eight, when she first saw him – a tall and gangly thing with large eyes and messy fur. His tail trailed the ground, picking up leaves, and he was luminous.

      She had never seen anything like it, and like all children, was immediately drawn in. But the fear kept her away, kept her wary, because Mama always said nothing good came from interacting with ghosts.

      It went on like that for another year at least.

      She never interacted with the Pant Devil. She never talked to the ghosts in her grandmother's house or the lights in front of the Gate. She knows she should have, and that changes today.

      Today she is twelve, and she is determined to help.

      –

      "Do you live on Mystery Island?"

      "Yes."

      "You're just a child."

      "Yes."

      "I have to find my crew."

      "I hope you do!"

      –

      Milo and Lila are asleep; Amelia and her mother wait by the porch.

      "Was he a captain? He mentioned a crew."

      "He always mentions the crew."

      "But do you think he's really here, Mama? I can never tell."

      "I don't know. But you always say 'no,' do you hear me?"

      (It's been four years, but she always says 'yes,' when before she would say 'no.' Nothing changes, anyway, but it's nice to change, she guesses.)

      "I know."

      –

      "Do you live on Mystery Island?"

      "Do you?"

      This seems, at last, to catch him off guard.

      "No."

      "Where is your crew?"

      "My crew. I must find them."

      Amelia's mother raises her candle now, squinting; her eyes follow the smoke wafting off of their visitor.

      "What do you want?" she says.

      He stares back, searching.

      Amelia clenches her mother's dress in her fist, and her mother's hand grazes the back of her mane: hush now, don't worry.

      (Amelia isn't worried. In the yard, she played with ghosts.)

      "I must find my crew," says the Ghost Lupe aimlessly.

      "They're not here!" says Amelia's mother.

      She can't take it anymore, she thinks. She peels herself off of her mother's side and approaches him, trying to gauge what would be safe to say.

      "They're not here," she says, trying to seem sure of herself, "but I'm sure they're looking for you! And, if you look, you'll find them. I know you will!"

      And you'll go, she thinks. You'll be at peace.

      You'll be at peace.

      His eyes (tired and sad and older than she could ever possibly think) seem to linger on all of them, then. (There's some sort of broken hope there.)

      "You will find them," she says, straightening up, "I know."

      Please go, she thinks. You won't be happy here.

      He doesn't seem to think about this at all, simply flickering out; she watches him go, but doesn't protest, clasping her mother's hand tightly.

      In the end, he doesn't return.

      (And in the end, Amelia never meets Vira, either.)

The End

 
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