Sam shoves the flashlight between his teeth so he can use both hands to shut the door. Images of his parents waking and pumping the breaks on his mission make him hyper-aware of the click it makes, like a thunderclap. He catches a glimpse of Nova’s sleek tail disappearing around an alley corner: his last shred of protection under this star-sprinkled sky. He sprints after her.
Nova stares into the darkness, she bounces off walls and shreds the curtains at 3 AM. There’s no sensible explanation for it, so even if his parents scoff at the thought…. He knows that his cat can see ghosts. Armed with his worn tablet, a flashlight, and a butterfly net- he’s prepared to prove his parents wrong. He may not be able to tell time yet, but when the moon hangs in the sky like an iris, it’s easy to see it’s past his bedtime. Prime ghost hunting hour!
At last, he catches up with Nova, his best friend. The tabby flicks his ears towards him once but otherwise continues her determined march.
“Lead the way, Nova,” he says.
In the space of a single flick of her ears, she identifies the 6-year-old creature barrelling after her. She hears the way his unwieldy bare feet slap the concrete and each clamorous rustle of his dinosaur pyjamas. And these oafish creatures dare to be offended when Nova offers them dead birds on their beds? It’s not her fault it’s clear they wouldn’t be eating anything otherwise, not with those hunting strategies.
Sam’s pathetic attempt at stealth is a great example. She left the windowsill for a reason- he wasn’t invited on this trip. But that is the misfortune of him growing older; he’s mobile. She misses the day he first arrived at her home. He did nothing but sleep, cry, and be someone else’s problem.
Well, if he insists on tagging along, she decides the best course of action is to ignore him. She follows a scent trail to a single house. Its vinyl siding shines in the moonlight, reflecting upon a cardboard box that sits by the trashcan.
Suddenly, Nova sees herself, a kitten in a cardboard box. The squirming bodies of her siblings did nothing to keep the frostbite away.
However, in this box, one of Them hides.
Ghost-hunting lost its charm as he winds between shadows, feeling the asphalt digging into his feet. Nova leads him to an imposing house, straight to the trash cans that reek of days-old yogurt and expired meat. He itches to pass this house.
But she falls to a dead stop and stares into the depths of a cardboard box. Sam fidgets, waiting for her to snap out of it and move on. She does not.
“Is it a ghost?” he asks. He grabs his fingerprint smeared tablet, opens the ghost detector, and taps “FIND GHOSTS”. The radar spins like a clock gone haywire before halting.
“VENGEFUL SPIRIT! DANGER!” it declares. The display’s red light washes over his pale features. He may not be able to understand the words, but the skulls dancing upon his screen fill him with urgency. A ghost is in the box!
This is the point where he would take his butterfly net, scoop up the foul creature, take it home, and put it in a jar. When his parents woke, he would whip out the ghost detector. Sure as day, it would light up on the jar and prove he was right all along.
“I tracked Nova. She led me right to it!” he would say.
“Wow!” his parents would reply. “You’re so smart.”
But the promise of a ghost shoots paralyzing electricity through his bones. He squeaks and races to the house opposite the box. He collapses on the ground. The grass pokes through his jammies as he pulls his legs into his chest, fear seizing his chest and crumpling his face. Tears coat his cheeks. He glances at Nova- who is meant to be his best friend- and discovers she doesn’t acknowledge his alarm. Sobs grip him.
Grasping for a shred of comfort, he imagines his imaginary friend- a colossal T-Rex with legs like tree trunks- standing at guard. It bellows at the ghost. Its jowls vibrate from the sheer power. No one would dare to mess with a T-Rex- not even a ghost. Right?
It has glossy coal-black eyes surrounded by crepey gray skin. Butterfly wing ears open to frame its trunk and wise face. The elephant-butterfly-hybrid trots out from the box. It’s so petite, it only rises to Nova’s belly. It gives a dainty toot of its trunk as it reaches over to grab Nova’s tail. It’ll fit right in at Nova’s sanctuary- dozens of creatures of all shapes and sizes found in similar conditions. Even if they drive Nova wild- forcing her to chase after them in the wee hours of the night or make her stare in disbelief- she won’t abandon them. She knows what it’s like to be a stray, to exist as brief entertainment and then be tossed out and forgotten. To wander the streets, searching for someone who cares.
Nova is beyond thankful for her humans who took her in. So, if she has the opportunity to help other creatures… why wouldn’t she?
Nothing should feel unwanted, because there’s always someone out there for them.
But before Nova could lead the elephly home, an earth-shattering roar reverberates through her skull. She whips around and finds herself face-to-face with a giant lizard.
Sam pries his eyes open at the sound of Nova’s hiss. She peers into the slitted eyes of his T-Rex. He imagines the dinosaur leaning to take in Nova’s smell, its exhale parting her fur. Nova replies with claws swatting its nose. Even though her paw goes straight through, Sam knows. She doesn’t see ghosts, but imaginary friends!
Megan Malone is an avid nature and animal lover who is passionate about growing as both a writer and a person with everything she does. For as long as she can remember, she’s loved creating stories! She wrote her first book at 14, and she dreams of being a published novelist someday. As well as being a regular contributor for ‘Hey! Young Writer’, she writes blog posts for ‘Young Eager Writers’. Check them out at: https://www.youngeagerwriters.org/blog.