This past weekend was challenge 1 for the Flash Fiction Writing Challenge. My group was assigned the following.
Genre: Ghost Story
Location: Military Boot Camp
Object: An outdoor Grill
Here’s my entry:
Braddock’s cat was at it again. The damned thing had woken me every night since I’d gotten to boot camp and sleep is one thing the Drill Instructors made sure we needed. Worse, I was the only one that could see it. Ghosts are common enough, but people who can see them aren’t, at least according to my Grandfather.
Braddock was my bunk mate. He slept on the bunk below me and the ghosts of his entire family kept him company. Unfortunately that included the cat. It was the first animal ghost I’d ever seen and I would have just as soon never see another.
Braddock didn’t talk about it much, but the story was that his parents had died in a fire. Luckily, they hadn’t carried the scars with them into the spirit world. They were actually quite a pleasant couple of people. Old man Braddock spent most of his day reading some sort of newspaper, I wasn’t going to ask where it came from; and Mrs. Braddock spent her days alternating between crochet and cheerleading her son through the rigors of boot camp. My grandfather believed that all ghosts that held too tight eventually needed our help to pass on, but if a man’s parents wanted to stick around and cheer him through boot camp, that was okay by me.
The dead can see our world just fine. They just can’t act on it. There’s a line between the worlds. My grandfather taught me how to cross that line and live with one foot on either side. We are guardians and guides. We fight to keep the spirit world intact and separate from the land of the living. If the veil between the two tears, every spirit in the area could come through and wreak havoc. It’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen. Grandfather had taught me to walk in both worlds at once. No one had taught me that a cat’s ghost can do it too.
For that reason alone I had thought about sending her on, but so far, apart from her nightly scramble, she hadn’t harmed anyone. She watched over Braddock and kept our squad bay free of bugs. Which, I guess, was part of the reason for her nightly romp.
I crawled out of my bunk and headed to the bathroom, keeping low to avoid being seen. I didn’t want to get busted for being out of bed, but once I’m up I have to go. I’m just one of those guys.
On the way back I snuck past the rear door of the squad bay. One of our instructors, Staff Sergeant Flint, was bent low beside the large outdoor grill they let the recruits smoke around. My guess was he was inspecting the ground for butts we had missed on our last police call. I watched him for a brief second. He seemed like an okay guy. He had his ghosts, but most people did and I hadn’t seen any of them cross the line.
Before I could sneak past the door Sergeant Flint snapped erect with a swiftness that made his joints pop. A strangled cry tore from his throat and he fell to the ground. A dark cloud of spirit poured over him and I bolted out the door. Energy cascaded outward from the grill pit, blanketing the area so anyone asleep would stay asleep. I was on my own.
The ghost responsible was a twisted black cloud of hatred. Its power was immense. Every spirit in the area funneled toward the place it was trying to breach. Flint thrashed on the ground below the creature, his breath shallow. I hit the ground beside him and slammed my power against the spirit, trying to force him away from Flint. Its wrath filled the wind around me and Flint spasmed, his life force feeding the creature.
I hit Flint hard, trying to make him fight back, but the ghost was dug in too deeply. The veil was ripping open around me. If I didn’t stop it soon it would open and let the spirit world funnel through. The ghost was stealing the energy from Flint. If I couldn’t break the ghost’s hold on him he’d die.
Flint’s flailing hand slapped my leg and I looked down, but the reaction cost me vital time I didn’t have. A hissing yowl sounded behind me and an orange blur of anger threw itself against the ghost’s hold on Flint. It was Braddock’s cat!
The cat took the ghost by surprise and I felt the spirit recoil. I slammed my soul against the weakened veil and welded the gap shut. The ghost wailed, trying to pull away from Flint. The strange cat held strong and I threw my power behind hers. The power of the ghost shattered like glass and together we pushed it into the realm of judgment.
Flint came awake almost immediately. “Bird.” He barked. “What are you doing out of your bunk?”
I snapped straight. “Sir! This recruit saw you fall in the smoke pit and came to check on you, sir!”
A confused look passed over the Staff Sergeant’s face. I could tell he was trying to remember what had happened, but the psychic shock had erased it. “I’m fine, recruit,” he said. “Get back to your bunk.”
“Yes, Sir!” I said and jogged back to the squad bay. I swung into my bunk. With luck the shock was strong enough that the Staff Sargent wouldn’t even remember scolding me by morning.
I settled into my bunk and closed my eyes. I had almost an hour and a half until they rousted us out of bed the next morning and I still desperately needed the sleep. As I drifted a presence settled near my feet. A gentle purr ran softly through my bunk and I smiled. Braddock had one hell of a good cat.