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art by Tim Stewart

Swallowing Ghosts

Grandma always said, "Don't yawn with your mouth open, a ghost will fly in."
I didn't believe her until it happened.
I yawned. Something rushed through the air, stuffed itself between my jaws, like slimy pop rocks in my mouth. I yelped. I stuck my fingers in my mouth. Like trying to grab Jello, it melted away as my fingers closed.
When I tried to talk, my words changed. I shouted, "Get out!" but what emerged was "Luccombe oaks!" I tried to say, "There's a ghost in me!" Instead I said, "Gash, they're fair ripecherry!"
I kept trying to spit it out. It kept squirming around in there.
Grandma died three years ago, so I went to Grandpa. He was sitting watching a crow sidle along the porch railing near him. He claims he'll tame one, but the birds just humor him in order to get French fries.
He nodded at me, keeping an eye on the crow, when I stepped onto the porch.
I said, "Unuchorn! Ungulant! Uvuloid! Uskybeak!"
He squinted at me.
I said, "Hep there."
He looked thoughtful.
I said, loud as I could, almost shouting, "Four ghouls to nail!"
He said, "What you got in your mouth, you fool boy?"
I opened my mouth as wide as I could.
He came over to pry it open an inch more with his thumb and forefinger and peer inside.
He said, "You've got a ghost in there, son."
I nodded.
"Well," he said. "Let's get to work."
He tried everything he could to drive it out: a lit cigarette, nail polish remover, peanut butter, an old voodoo charm he'd picked up in New Orleans. Three crows lined up on the railing, watching and squawking commentary.
I said, "What a picture primitive!"
Grandpa stroked his whiskery chin. "Well, I reckonů" he said.
"And Concepta de Send-us-pray!"
"No need to get worked up."
This time I tried to say something that made no sense. "Ex nickylow malo comes mickelmassed bosum."
"Huh," Grandpa said.
A crow cocked its head at me and went hop hop hop, coming closer. It squawked at Grandpa.
"If you think you can do better, you go ahead and be my guest," Grandpa said.
"Hold on," I wanted to say, but it came out, "Cheesugh!"
Grandpa paid no mind. With a bony forefinger, he poked me in the chest so hard I opened my mouth to say "Ouch" (or whatever that would have become). The crow hopped forward, stuck its beak in my mouth, and pulled out the ghost. It flapped away, the other two in pursuit as though it were holding a French fry.
Probing around with a finger, I dislodged a feather from my mouth. Ghost traces fizzed away. I chased the last of them out with my tongue and looked at Grandpa.
He grinned. "Serves you right, not listening to your Grandma!"
I made a face.
"Be careful, your face might freeze that way."
Of course it was too late.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, February 10th, 2011

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