This story is by Michelle Bettauer and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Never mock the spirits.
You may think that they are nothing more than spooky ghost tales meant for scaring people.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
My name is Luna Justice, enemy of spirits. I’ve always known my family was a bit unordinary; I was raised by a loving single father because my mother mysteriously vanished without a trace.
I didn’t know how unordinary my family was.
If my story doesn’t interest you, you can close this book right now. But if you wish to know about a innocent victim in the extermination of the Justice family, read on… if you dare.
The autumn breeze swept through the trees as I strolled through town on my way to school. I had walked this path many times, gazing at the small retail stores that lined the street and the people that walked along the sidewalks. A dog barked in the distance. Narrow sunbeams flickered through the clouds as leaves fluttered on the wind.
Nothing could disrupt this peaceful morning.
Nothing, that is, but a spirit.
Looking over to the other side of the street, I was shocked to see a glowing blue figure floating above the sidewalk. I could have sworn that it glared at me accusingly. No one else seemed to see it; in fact, people were walking through the spirit, making its blue form flicker.
A red leaf fluttered into my face; when I swatted it away, the figure was gone. I shrugged it off, thinking it must have been my imagination.
But more spirits appeared along the path as I walked. Each glared at me in loathing and disapproval. Each vanished before I could get too close. My head pounded from confusion; I had to be hallucinating, right? Spirits and ghosts didn’t exist…
Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I realized that I had wandered out of town. I found myself at the edge of the forest, but it wasn’t normal. Everything was dying; the plants were wilting, and the twisted trees were leafless.
Floating in front of the biggest gnarly tree was another spirit. The glare in it’s glowing eyes was full of hatred and wrath.
“You.” it’s voice sounded raspy, like a blistering wind.
“Wh-who are you?” I asked, unnerved by the spirit’s glare.
“I am one of the dead. One of the victims of your family’s crimes.” it hissed.
“Crimes?” I stammered.
“Tortures. Betrayals. Killings. Your family is nothing but scum.” it spat.
“My family…?” My survival instincts were screaming at me to run, but I felt rooted to the spot.
“Oh, the Justice family. What an ironic name for a group of murderers, thieves, and traitors.” it hissed with a dry laugh.
“W-What???” I stuttered. “My family isn’t-”
“Are you so sure, Justice scum?” the spirit interrupted. “Have you not seen some of the spirits that your family has betrayed?”
My mind reeled back to the dozens of blue ghosts I had seen earlier.
“Those are only a small portion of victims of your family’s twisted antics. Many stayed behind in the spirit realm, unwilling to taint their pure souls in your filth. They are glad that they died so quickly, that their suffering at the hands of the Justices ended so soon. They prefer their new home in the land under this Earth. The land that will very soon become the final destination in your short, miserable life.”
Before I could ask what the spirit meant, it dissipated into the air. In its place stood a gaping hole the size of a car.
‘There has to be a mistake.’ I thought. ‘My family aren’t thieves and killers.’
And yet… when I was younger, I had locked myself out of my room, and my dad had picked the lock in one second. He didn’t earn much money, yet our family was rich. Could he…? No.
I pushed the thought away, and studied the hole, staring at the steep rocky tunnel leading down into the Earth. An eerie blue glow pulsed below the entrance, and the tunnel reeked of rot and soil.
The ground rumbled, and I nearly fell into the hole. I backed away from the strange tunnel as tendrils of grey smoke burst from the hole. The tendrils sped toward me, wrapping around my waist before I could scream. They yanked me off my feet and dragged me toward the tunnel.
I screamed for help, but no one came. My feet slipped into the hole as I grabbed a nearby tree root. I clung to that root with all my strength, slowly pulling myself out of the hole as the tendrils continued their attempt to drag me into the darkness. I thought I could make it.
My hands slipped off the root as smaller tendrils coiled around my legs, and I was dragged screaming into the hole.
More tendrils of smoke curled around my waist, yanking me deeper into the darkness. I clawed at the walls and floor, desperately trying to grab onto something, anything, that could stop my forced decent. Pain flared through my hands as the jagged stones pierced my soft flesh, but I continued clawing. The tunnel grew smaller, and unearthly blue fog started swirling in the air, making it suffocatingly hard to breathe. I hit my head on the stone ceiling, and I blacked out for a few… seconds? minutes? I couldn’t tell.
I came to just as the tunnel opened up into a gigantic rock cavern filled with creepy fog and blue spirits. The tendrils released me, and I fell from the tunnel, landing sprawled on the stone floor. There I laid for a few minutes, my breath shaky and uneven, until I lifted my head to see the tunnel disappear.
A realization hit me, and I crumbled in despair.
I would never see my father or the light of day ever again.
But my story doesn’t end there. What fun would there be in that?
This was just the beginning.