Excerpt from The Spirit Writings Book 1: Beyond Pleasant End

Let me start by saying I am not dying. Nevertheless, it is true that I keep this diary now of what happens to me because the life I have led thus far will soon end and another will begin.

The loveliest and most musical phrase—”no more school”—has finally become a reality for me, and yet I remain as blessed as I am cursed. In that respect alone, nothing has changed. At minimum, I hope to succeed in at least two things: by recording certain memories, events, and dialogues here, I will never forget them; and by keeping the appearance of a diarist, I may be able to continue with the spirit writings.

I must learn to stop them, however, from accosting me in the midst of sleep. Last night when the moon was high, Crete knocked at the inside of my skull and I bolted upright, waking from what was otherwise a peaceful sleep. I propped the pillow between me and the cold wall, reached through the chilliest chunk of dark beneath the bed, and fumbled for the materials. It did not matter how dark it was in the room; I should say it never does, as I am not the one who does the writing. I leaned back, poised the pencil in the upper left of the page, and proceeded to black out.

When I came to, I reached over to my left and felt around in the dark for the scratchy surface of the matchbox, hoping I did not stupidly forget to fill it. (Again.) Eventually, I found a single match and struck the flame that faithfully brings light to the page and water to my eyes. Though I’ve learned to find nearly anything in the dark, I cannot seem to light a match without inhaling its sulfur stink and stinging my eyes. Igniting the wick on the lamp, and so as not to disturb Mother, I created just enough light to see what was written.

I woke up this morning with the writing still on my lap, my body propped up in bed, not having read it until just now. This one was something about a floating boy. I must have dozed straight off. I woke late, but because of the crick in my neck, it took me a while to gingerly dress myself, and I headed out to school a little later than usual. To avoid too much strain on my old dress, I lifted the ends of my skirt extra high as I hopped quickly over fence after fence. I knew on this day especially I must not arrive with a hole in my clothing. Yet, as I hopped so very near the clearing, I heard the familiar rrrip of the tight seam at my side. (Again.)

Other than that, I have no complaints. For months now, I have been able to cross the Dodd farm on the way to school without incident. For a long time, Tad and Marcus Fisch would hide along the path and leap out when I came by, laughing and howling, reaching out with their dirty hands to pinch at my clothes right down to the skin. The usual taunts followed: witch, ghoul girl, devil’s daughter, Satan’s mistress. It went on like this for years until one day Marcus grabbed for my braids but instead got my breasts. I don’t think he meant to, because he stopped for a moment as if in shock, but a boy like Marcus only shocks himself into delight at his own debauchery. He resumed his taunting, only this time it was even more vulgar, and all I could think was, How could a boy’s hands, let alone his mind, be so dirty this early in the morning?

Then Uncle T intervened—an important moment, though I did not know it at the time. He did not intervene directly, of course. No, he has told me so many times that is not his way. He instead instructed me to cut a thin but sturdy branch and make a blunt point, then carry it in front of me the next day on my way to school. “Hold it good ‘n’ tight,” he said. Well, I did, and when Marcus Fisch did as he was accustomed, jumping out from behind the barn, the blunt end of the branch poked straight into his privates. The stick broke in two pieces, kind of like Marcus as he doubled over and fell to the ground. Tad stood over him and eyed me, not so much in disgust as in disbelief at what I, a mere scrawny girl, had done to his older brother. He ran as if he had just seen a ghost.

Sometimes being the town ghoul girl has its moments.

Unfortunately (as I might preface many of the events of my life), this particular moment did not last. It did not take long for Miss Webster to get wind of the incident and call the three of us to meet outside the schoolhouse.

“Ava Godfrey,” Miss Webster began her admonishment, “I thought I told you to stop this nonsense.”

I had expected as much. Of course, Miss Webster would consider it my fault. No matter what I said, I knew the result would be the same. I could say I didn’t do it, or the devil made me do it, or Dolly Madison herself did it. It wouldn’t make any difference.

“They were trying to scare me,” was all I said, figuring I might as well say the truth.

“Well, they weren’t the only ones trying to scare someone, now were they?” Miss Webster asked rhetorically, standing close and looking down on me with her steel-gray eyes.

I learned to give up quickly when Miss Webster looked at me like that. If I didn’t, I might get a painful twist on the ear—or somewhere else. “Sorry, ma’am,” I said as ruefully as I could. She responds best if I am as pitiable as possible.

Miss Webster’s face relaxed a little, and she ended her lecture by asking the Fisch boys for their word that this hullabaloo would never happen again. The boys nodded and Miss Webster let the three of us follow her inside. She seemed satisfied enough, probably knowing that even if they didn’t mind her, at least the boys would soon be leaving school for good, and I would not be there much longer after that. I went up the steps after Miss Webster, so of course one of the boys pushed me from behind and made me stumble. I just missed Miss Webster and fell onto the second step near the top, hitting it so hard that one end of the wood popped up. I stood, and forced myself to keep going without turning around. I could hear the boys cawing behind me like blackbirds. At least it was the last day the Fisch brothers jumped out at me on my way to school.

There is no point in dwelling further upon such things on this particular morning when I have vastly more pleasant things to think about. I guess I have a knack for attracting the dismal. Although I was up half the night with the spirit writings, I am now giddy with excitement. For after this particular day, I will no longer walk up the broken steps and ring the bell, help with recitation, pass out the McGuffey Readers, or lead morning song time. There will be no more watching for little boys cheating during arithmetic, or reading aloud to little girls about how Eve, fashioned from Adam’s rib, created sin with her desire for knowledge. No, after this particularly fine day, I am to be the teacher’s assistant no longer. I never have to go back to that school again.

The thought makes me excited, a little tired, nervous, and extremely annoyed. For weeks, Miss Webster has been speaking with my mother, discussing my future without my input. While this is to be expected, it is not the most irritating part. The most irritating part is that Miss Webster insists not merely that I marry as soon as possible, but that my husband-to-be must be the boy matching my age. But the boy matching my age is the furthest from me in all other respects, including emotional maturity and overall behavior. It is indeed the boy who, seven months ago, acquired part of his father’s land and needs a wife as soon as possible to complete the house. It is, in fact, the boy who has cawed and clawed at me more than anyone else: Marcus Fisch.   ~~~

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