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  • Writer's pictureNicole Jorge

SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT

“I got you something” Katie said, offering the little booklet to Julia.


“What is it?”


“It’s a scary story.”


“Where’d you find it?” Julia asked, suspiciously.


“In the bathroom.”


Julia dropped it beneath the passenger seat. “Oh, gross. Katie, what the hell?”

“I thought you’d like it!” Katie said as she drove them away from the Publix. “It’s just a chick tract. It isn’t any dirtier than a doorknob. Besides, I’ve handed you worse.”

“Not the point,” Julia replied, shivering in disgust. “Let’s give it to Joy.”


They picked Joy up next. She didn’t seem to mind that the tract had come from the bathroom and flipped through it until they reached the graveyard. Football season was finally over, and they didn’t have to compete for parking in the shared lot with the field just across the way. Franklin’s and Day’s cars were already there. The girls paid no attention to the sign at the graveyard’s gate - this far out from Halloween, patrols were few and far between, so there was no use worrying about trouble. They were the trouble.


As they traipsed through the graveyard, they passed headstones that had gone untouched and unmourned since the Civil War, simple coarse stone and blighted Italian marble obelisks alike. Someone - Mayra, probably - had left a spell jar and poppet at the foot of a family plot. The inside of the jar was hidden by condensation; the doll was knotted together from some hot pink fabric and a hair tie. It looked a little ridiculous, and it made Julia feel a little ridiculous about the whole business. They found Mayra and the others waiting beneath the small shelter by the front gate. Surrounded by studded leather and combat boots, poor Franklin was woefully out of place in his letterman jacket. He looked so relieved at the sight of the girls that Julia felt sorry for him.


“I brought beer,” he said, by way of greeting. “You want a beer?”

It was a bit cold for beer, but Julia let him pop the top off a bottle for her anyway.

“Did you know it’s a full moon tonight?” Mayra asked, twirling a lock of her blue hair. “It’s a full moon tonight. Perfect for conjurations.”

It was fully dark out when they finally gathered around the grave. Jeremiah had painstakingly mapped out a pentagram from sticks and branches atop it; the candles lit in a circle around them must have come from his mother’s Scentsy supply, because the air was full of the scent of plumeria and jasmine. They hunched their shoulders against the chilly wind. Katie took one of Julia’s hands and tucked it into the pocket of her hoodie, twining their fingers together. She was small and warm and solid at Julia’s side, and Julia leaned into her gratefully.


“Ladies and gentlemen,” Jeremiah intoned, somberly. “Tonight, we commune with the dead!”


“Who are we communing with, anyway?” Joy asked. She swayed a bit where she stood, buzzed after her single beer. Jeremiah frowned. He squatted to shine his light onto the headstone.


“John Daniel Winger. Legend has it he was a master duelist. Killed 14 men.”


“Was it the 15th that got him?” Franklin asked. Jeremiah wagged a finger at him.


“Save your questions for Mr. Winger himself, folks. Are we ready?”


There was mumbled assent. “I said, are we ready?” Jeremiah repeated, agitated as a school teacher. The response was more enthusiastic the second time around. Mayra cheered loudly enough that anyone driving past with their window down was sure to overhear. Satisfied, Jeremiah crouched to pick up his ratty old spiral-bound notebook. He poured some of his beer into a tarnished silver cup he’d picked up at the Goodwill as he read aloud in Latin. Chanting rhythmically, he made some passes over the cup with a costume dagger. Like the spell poppet, it felt like a childish show and made Julia cringe. It was entirely possible nothing would come of Jeremiah’s song and dance. His performances were hit or miss. Half the time they just hung out at the graveyard talking shit and drinking until someone got an angry text message ordering them home. Jeremiah would promise them that next time would be different, and they’d trudge off the way they’d come.


Maybe it was the full moon shining through the trees above, or the luck that some supernatural entity liked florals; whatever it was, the light from the candles flickered and guttered, and then there was a man standing at the heart of the pentagram. He was fuzzy, as apparitions often were, and hard to focus on. His clothing gave the impression of something homespun. He had a beard and thick eyebrows beneath which he looked out at them.


“John Daniel Winger!” Jeremiah said. “We call upon you!”


“...and why in God’s name is that?”


Katie’s fingers twitched in surprise. Jeremiah’s eyes widened. He cleared his throat.


“Um - yeah! I command you to reveal to us the secret of your death. Tell us, spirit, what earthly misdeeds delivered you to your grave?”


There was a long, quiet pause before the spirit answered at last.


“Well,” he said, thoughtfully. “I s’pose it’d be the drinkin’ and the smokin’. Hard to say for m’self. I’m not right sure as to how I got here.”


There were frowns. Katie looked to Julia with raised eyebrows. Jeremiah shone his light through the apparition at the headstone again.


“This is John Daniel Winger, isn’t it?”


Mildly: “It is.”


“The...the duelist? Killed 14 men?”


There was another pause, and then a heavy sigh.


“I do believe I see the source of your confusion,” the spirit said. “You would be meanin’ to call on John David Wringer.”


Franklin groaned. Katie rolled her eyes. “Damn it, Jer,” Day said, quietly.

“John - seriously?”


“As the grave, young man.”


“Well where is he?”


“Couldn’t say,” the spirit replied, unconcerned. “Last I heard of ‘im, he was took captive by the Yankees out by Kennesaw. Just as well. He was a mean devil.”


“Then who are you?”


Shaggy brows furrowed. “You mean to tell me you’re standin’ on my final earthly resting place and you got no idea who I am?”


Even in the poor light, Julia could make out Jeremiah’s flush. He sputtered.


“I mean - uh, obviously we know who you are - ”


“Do you, now? And who would that be.”


“Uhh...John Daniel Winger?”


“And?”


Jeremiah looked around helplessly. He shrugged.


“You, uh...died in battle?”


Another sigh. “Young man, I have never lifted a rifle in my life. The nerve of you, callin’ on a restin’ man with this nonsense. I got half a mind to haunt you, you know.”


“Whoa, hey!” Jeremiah stammered, raising his hands. “Let’s not be hasty, man.”


“You said you were drinking and smoking,” Joy put in, helpfully. Jeremiah pointed at her.


“Yes! Yes, you did say that! You were, uh, a local...merchant? Townsperson? Person?”


“I,” the spirit said, archly, “was the town of Winthrop’s librarian for 16 years, young man. 16 years serving this town proudly, and what do I get for it? A bunch of ignorant youths waking me from my God-given rest. You know, I do believe I will haunt you!”


The candlelight flashed and flared. Julia let herself begin to feel a little nervous, shifting closer still to Katie, who looked ready to bolt. Mayra fidgeted and dug her hands through her hair. Day glared at Jeremiah. Franklin took a long drink from his beer. Joy raised her hand.


“What if we give you a book? Like, a future book! So you won’t haunt us.”


Jeremiah clutched his notebook to his chest.


“Let’s see it, then,” the spirit demanded. To Julia’s astonishment, Joy took the chick tract from her pocket.


“Here! It’s a miniature book! About the Bible!”


“A religious tract, eh? Well, I never did go in for that sort of thing…”


“It has historical value! It’s a contemp - hic! - contemporary form of media, haha. You’ll like it, I promise!”


Julia and Katie exchanged uneasy looks. The spirit was nodding, though.


“Well...I suppose there’s something to be said for intrinsic value...you oughtn’t a go ‘round raising spirits, though. It’s mighty disrespectful.”


“We won’t disturb you again,” Jeremiah insisted. “Promise. You can have the book, and you can get back to your rest, and you’ll never hear from us again. Deal?”


Joy waved the chick tract excitedly. The spirit sighed again.


“I s’pose so. Leave it here, then. And you get yourselves home. Your parents oughta tan your hides.”


Joy tossed the tract into the circle. Jeremiah snapped his notebook shut.


“Okay! And with that, spirit, we send you back to your resting place across the veil. Goodnight, goodbye!”


The spirit snorted. And then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it was gone. A flurry of movement broke out at once. The circle was kicked apart, candles blown out and gathered up, and Jeremiah shook salt copiously across the grass. Joy unsteadily approached the grave of John Daniel Winger and crouched to prop the booklet up against his headstone, giving the stone a little pat. “That was pretty cool!” she said. “I can’t believe it worked.”


“Of course it worked,” Jeremiah said smugly, hugging his notebook to his chest. “I know what I’m about.”


“You don’t know shit,” Franklin said.


They traipsed quietly back toward the parking lot. Katie swung hers and Julia’s joined hands back and forth between them as they walked. They would have some alone time later after they dropped Joy off at home, just the two of them, not a ghost or a goth to be seen.


“So,” Jeremiah said, as they reached the lot. “Same time next week?”






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