Literacy Week: The Ghost Writer

For Literacy Week, January 23-27, students competed in a short story contest for the chance to win a pair of  Apple Air Pods. Of many deserving submissions, the top honors go to Ava Johns for “Terms of Agreement,” 2nd place to Mae Denson for “The Ghost Writer,” 3rd place to Gavin Walker for ‘Navane Naivety,” 4th place to Bryan Fist for “Too Small for Conflict,” and 5th place to Vidya Bandoo for “Partly Cloudy Skies.” Congratulations to all of our very talented creative writers!

Senior year holds the feeling you only get at the top of a roller coaster. The world waits below while you and your classmates sit– strapped in– ready for the imminent drop. Twists, turns, and loops frequent the months and days as we all rush closer to graduation. Although, as of now, graduation is the last thing on my mind. A teetering stack of fresh papers sits on the desk in front of me. Bold headlines boast everything from student news to sports schedules. These are the first print copies of our newspaper this year. The first copies with my name written on them as Editor-in-Chief. Each tiny, printed letter feels like a gold medal. Although I can recite each piece by heart, I read a few articles, my fingertips savoring the feeling of real paper in place of a screen. 

The Florida humidity washes over me as I stride through the courtyard, unable to shake my giddy mood. Each stack of papers had been dutifully stationed in classrooms and courtyards, waiting to be read. My breath catches as I see two girls exiting the bathroom and heading straight to a pile near them. 

“Will those bathrooms ever have paper towels?” A short blonde jokes to her friend. I watch as she shakes the moisture off her hand like a wet dog emerging from the pool. 

Her friend rolls her eyes and snatches a paper from the stack. “Honestly, just use this, Sophie,” she laughs, “no one is actually going to read these anyways.” My mouth opens in disbelief as Sophie crumples the front page of my star-studded articles.

“Yeah, I would much rather watch TikTok or something,” Sophie responds. The ink smears as the paper soaks up the water from her hands. Just as quickly as the water left Sophie’s hands, it appears on my cheeks. I can’t help but let the tears pour down my face. Holding in every sniffle that threatens to burst out, I run past the girls down a lengthy hallway. I was floored by how flippantly they destroyed an entire semester’s work. The taste of salty tears stains my lips as I walk. 

As I walk past the Archives room, an eerie creek echoes through the hallway. I turn slowly; the hallway is so empty I can almost imagine a tumbleweed rolling past me. Without warning, a sharp thud rings out, and the dark doors to the Archives room swing open and slam against the wall. I can feel the noise reverberate under my feet as I stand rooted to the ground in shock. 

Timidly, I inch towards the room. I run my finger along the popcorn-textured wall as I step inside. A small gust of wind blows my caramel hair out of place. Open window, maybe? Each step makes the wood beneath me squeal, and the air feels heavy. My sniffles subside, replaced by my curiosity to locate who opened the doors. 

A loud groan escapes from the corner of the room, and I stumble back in fear, petrified. In the process, I knock over a gargantuan green devil mascot costume and it topples over helplessly. After more than a few ragged breaths, I realize the sound came from an ancient air conditioner switching on. “No need to be scared,” I mutter before turning to upright the costume.

Before my fingers can even graze the felt-lined edges of the mascot, a hissing noise rises from the depths of it. A pearly translucent figure pops out before my watering eyes, chilling the room. My heart leaps into my throat as I stare at the six-foot-tall ghastly figure that resembles a teenage boy. I could see the decorated shelved through him, yet he looked almost solid. He takes a huge breath before reaching his arms towards the sky in a stretch. 

“The fresh air in here is just delicious,” the figure says while taking another whiff. I stare in horror as he continues, “I’ve been trapped in there since about ‘95. Let’s just say the championship football game did not go well.” He cracks his neck and stretches again like a cat waking up from a mid-afternoon nap in the sun. 

“Who are you,” I ask, praying my voice doesn’t sound as scared as I feel.

“Oh right, I didn’t even introduce myself,” he laughs, “I’m Wilbur, and before you ask, I have no clue how this happened.” He motions down towards the wispy ends of his clothes and translucent skin. 

“So, you’re a ghost?” I suggest. I release my white knuckles from the table they grip onto and walk over. “I just don’t get it. How did you escape?”

“I guess when you knocked over the mascot, I tumbled out. So I have you to thank for freeing me. I kind of owe you for that. Being in that costume for one Friday night football game is more than enough… trust me,” he laughs again while soaking in his surroundings. No longer petrified, I look into his colorless eyes. “Wait, were you crying?” Wilbur questions, his eyebrows furrowing in concern. 

“Yes,” I respond, “but that was about something else, not this.”

“Well, I do owe you a favor. Maybe I can help you out?” he asks, drifting closer to me. The light smoke that follows him sinks into the carpet. 

“No one reads the newspaper,” I mutter, “I spend every waking moment editing, writing, rewriting, re-editing, then repeating.” 

“Ok well, consider your problem solved,” Wilbur responds with a smirk.

The next day I still can’t shake the ominous feeling of meeting a ghost. I walk through the halls to my third period and feel like a ghost myself. The day continues to be filled with lessons and studying, but I can’t get my mind off Wilbur. I especially can’t get my mind off what he meant by solving my problem. The walk to my sixth period is uninteresting. My AirPods play music loud enough to where the yelling and noises around me seem quiet. The history work on the board is a simple reading assignment, meaning everyone is about to get out their phones and scroll around instead of actually reading. Ten minutes into our ‘reading time,’ the boy next to me leans over with wide eyes. “Lucy, look at what Sloane just posted on Snapchat,” he says, flipping his phone toward me. In the shaking video, I see a tornado-like whirlwind of school newspapers chasing students down the halls. The flurry of papers rages on, creating a thunderous sound. Just on the edge of the frame, I see more papers being tucked into stray backpacks out of thin air. 

I’m left with one word after watching the endless stream of videos people posted, Wilbur. 

I find him in the Archives room, doodling mustaches and mean words in an old yearbook. A smug smile rests upon his lips. He doesn’t even look up as I walk closer, panting from my mad dash to the room. “Wilbur, what did you do!” I almost scream at him. 

He continues casually doodling, “oh, I gave Mark and Alex mustaches because they used to take my lunch money.” His feet are propped arrogantly on the table. 

“Not the drawings,” I sigh with irritation, “the papers, the tornadoes, the uproar you just caused.” He finally turns his gaze to me and raises one eyebrow.

“What do you mean? People definitely are going to pick up a paper after that,” he laughs while twirling the marker between his wispy fingers. 

“No Wilbur, all they did was post videos,” I assert. I flop down, backpack and all, onto the floor. We soak in the silence of our defeat together for a minute. 

“I wish they didn’t have phones,” we sigh in unison. A quick glance at him confirms my suspicion; we’re both thinking the same thing.  

The next day I slink around the halls, praying my all-black outfit is more stealthy than suspicious. The bell sounds the second time after fifth period, and crowds rush to lunch in herds. Peering around the corner, I see the principal and secretary head towards the teachers’ lounge for a quick lunch and debriefing. The office door is inches from closing before I stick my arm in to pry it open. On the tips of my toes, I sneak around the room towards the computer and router. I can practically hear the spy music playing in my head. 

After finishing my tasks, I stride through the office and grab a candy from the secretary’s dish on my way out. Unable to help myself, I run up the stairs to the Archives room. Wilbur drifts in through the west wall without warning and begins to describe, with great enthusiasm, how successful his mission was. He narrates with the tone of a sports commentator watching a wild game. 

“By sixth period, all cell service, wifi, and battery charging will be shut off?” I ask.

“If we did everything right, I suppose yes,” he answers happily.

“And you placed stacks of the newest editions in each study hall room?” I question him. 

“Oh, so many,” he replies, eyes wide, “they’ll have no choice but to read.” 

The situation feels like one that calls for a villainous laugh or a retreat to an evil lair. Instead, I sigh contently and head to the third floor of the media building. 

The lights flicker once, then again. I shift in my seat nervously. The gaggle of girls next to me pay no attention as their thumbs lock onto their screens, scrolling endlessly. 

“Selena,” a girl whispers, panicked, “is your phone working?”

Selena refreshes at least three times before mirroring the wide-eyed look of the girl next to me. 

All around me, headphones are disconnected from ears and a confused murmur spreads through the room. Questions bubble up around me and the look of boredom begins to spread. I stay rooted in my seat, waiting for someone to move toward the papers. My breathing quickens as I consider the possibility that no one even thinks of the newspaper. All those articles, pieces upon pieces of teamwork, clever writing, and stunning photography. Just as my hope had about drained out, a tall blonde boy pipes up. 

“How did your basketball game go, Oliver?” he asks a similarly tall boy. 

“We won, but I forgot the final score,” he responds, “I’m pretty sure someone wrote an article about it for the newspaper.” The blond saunters towards the stack in the corner and grabs one. The pages flutter as he flips to the article on our championship basketball game. The two athletes turn to each other and begin reading with vigor. 

“Hey Oliver,” Selena calls out, “is there a fashion section in there?” Instead of responding, Oliver grabs another paper and tosses it to her. I watch as it sails across the room and into her lap. A table of friends crowd around to get a look. Suddenly, the once upset murmur shifts to animated discussions between friends as they all read about their interests and important events. Relief flows through me and I let out a content sigh. 

Suddenly, my pen sits itself upright without warning. The point presses against the paper and seamlessly scrawls out a message. 

“So, would you consider me as more of an advertising manager or a ghostwriter?”