The big disconnect: official versus public perceptions of the West Memphis case

 

The case of the West Memphis Three is a landmine for Arkansas’s judiciary. When people anywhere learn what has happened to the three Arkansas men, their confidence in the courts—at least in Arkansas—tends to explode. The damage already has been vast, and it’s likely to spread.

Not that any member of the judiciary has ever publicly acknowledged that. Arkansas elects its judges, its prosecutors and its attorney general. Everyone’s wary of shrapnel.

But jurists throughout the United States recognize that public perception of America’s courts is already suffering. In a 1999 national survey, 23 percent of those surveyed reported that they had a “great deal” of trust in their states’ courts, while 7 percent said they had “hardly any trust.”

In Arkansas, the figures are skewed more dramatically. A 2010 survey in Little Rock in 2010 reported that, while 38 percent of those surveyed said they had a “great deal” of trust in the judicial system, a stunning 54 percent said they held “hardly any.”

In a speech last summer to the Arkansas Bar Association, Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hannah noted what he called those “troubling” figures. “In every speech I have given since becoming chief justice,” he said, “I have made the statement that the success and viability of our court system is totally dependent upon the trust and confidence of the public.”

Hannah told his audience: “We must take seriously the public’s perception and do all that we can to create and sustain a system which both is fair and impartial in fact and in appearance.” (The stresses are his.)

Unfortunately, as thousands are by now aware, the fact and the appearance of injustice permeate the West Memphis case. The totality of injustice extends from the police who investigated the crime and came up with no evidence; to the prosecutors who nonetheless tried to send three teenagers to death for it; to the judge who mocked his own court by qualifying an uncredentialed witness as an  “expert” in the occult; to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which found not a single flaw in either of the men’s two trials; to the state’s attorney general who insists that it’s his job to support the 18-year-long farce and press for an execution.

In the past few months, I have conducted my own informal survey regarding this case. I contacted several people who have worked for years to see the men’s sentences reversed and asked what, if anything, about the case they found “intellectually offensive.”

Here are some of their emailed responses:

Mark Cowart

“I found the West Memphis Police Department’s tactics, the prosecution’s tactics, the public reaction, Judge [David] Burnett’s actions, and the juries’ verdicts offensive.” –Mark Cowart, DDS., Chattanooga, TN

“[The case] was based on hearsay. If there had been a jury composed of critical-thinking individuals instead of a jury swayed by mass hysteria, the outcome would have been much different.” –Dr. Lanette Grate, Conway, AR

[private]“The so-called defense effort for Jason was intellectually offensive. I’m sorry, but it was. Not a single witness was placed on the stand to help that man and that was morally, ethically, and legally wrong. There were certainly people who could have testified to his alibi and to his character. … No one is ever going to convince me that it was fair, just or acceptable that he received counsel that felt a fly-under-the-radar strategy was reasonable. He was a teenager being tried for the murders of three small children. His life was on the line.” —Anonymous

“It was offensive intellectually in every possible way, from the presumption of guilt (which I’m ashamed to say I initially shared) to the shoddy investigation to the coerced ‘confession’ to the inane testimony of ‘Dr.’ Dale Griffis to the argument that reading horror novels and wearing black are evidence of a lack of a soul to the juror misconduct to the idiotic law that requires that appeals be heard by the very judge who presided over the original trial to—well, you name it. If there was anything that wasn’t offensive about the case, I don’t know what it was.” —Dr. David Jauss, Little Rock, AR

“After viewing the documentary (“Paradise Lost”), I remember having a  discussion with family and friends about how scary the prosecution seemed. It seemed like a witch hut. The crowds outside of the courtroom seemed as though they wanted to lynch the teenagers. They appeared to be in a frenzy of hate. I thought the prosecution and detectives and judge seemed to be a bunch of good old boys attempting to convince the jury of the guilt of the three teenagers because they were easy targets. It reminded me of the Salem village witch trials sent in modern-day Arkansas.” —Capi Peck, Little Rock, AR

“I was with some friends in Hawaii who wanted to visit Arkansas until we watched the film together. Then they changed their minds and never came. The salient intellectual objection at the time, for me and those Hawaii residents, was the prosecutor’s closing arguments.” —Brent Peterson, Little Rock, AR

“The state’s use of Dale Griffis as an expert witness. I find it hard to believe that [Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John] Fogleman and [Prosecutor Brent] Davis weren’t smart enough to realize how ridiculous Griffis was, but they called him anyway to testify about the occult because, in my opinion, they knew they didn’t have enough without playing some “occult” card to the jury. I think Fogleman’s comment in closing about looking into Damien [Echols’]eyes and not seeing a soul is a disgusting parlor trick/game, as well.” –Diana Paulson, Chesapeake, VA

“I thought the satanic panic was most unfortunate because no one cared to delve more deeply into it.” –Marie South, Jonesboro, AR

“I never, for a second, believed those three little boys were killed at the ditch-bank scene where their bodies were recovered. The mere sight of their bodies on the ditch-bank at the beginning of ‘Paradise Lost’ has haunted me ever since. I simply could not, even after repeated viewings, reconcile the way they were discovered—hog-tied and naked—with the idea that this was a satanic killing, with a completely clean ‘crime scene.’” –Bob Tankersley, Atlantic Beach, FL

“I lived in Memphis when this happened, and I was offended at the bungling by police. My own son was a police officer in Kentucky at the time, so I found it offensive to see how West Memphis police were handling the case, losing evidence, doing anything to convict—in the easiest way the could—persons who couldn’t defend themselves.” –Pat White, Fairfield, IL

Though I am glad that it ordered a review of this case, however belatedly, my own prize for “most offensive” would go to the Arkansas Supreme Court. It sets the standard for how law is conducted in Arkansas. It permitted this case’s atrocities, not only to occur, but to drag on for 18 years. As the court’s own rules for professional conduct observe:

“The legal profession is largely self-governing. Although other professions also have been granted powers of self-government, the legal profession is unique in this respect because of the close relationship between the profession and the processes of government and law enforcement. This connection is manifested in the fact that ultimate authority over the legal profession is vested largely in the courts.”

Public confidence in Arkansas’s courts is low and getting lower—and the public’s mistrust extends well beyond the West Memphis case. Whatever happens with that in December, confidence in Arkansas’s courts has suffered. Responsibility for the injury—and the “ultimate authority” to heal it—rests with the supreme court.[/private]

The politics of death

Arkansas requires more training for drivers, cosmetologists and mold investigators than it does for coroners. In fact, the state requires nothing—no training, no testing, not even a background check—for county officials who investigate deaths.

I raise this topic now because, presumably, according to Circuit Judge David Laser’s order, certain evidence from the case of the West Memphis Three is now being tested. Court filings in the next few weeks are likely to focus attention on the work of the crime scene investigators and the state crime lab.

This lull, as we await results from the laboratory analyses now underway, is a good time to revisit the earliest moments at the drainage ditch where the bodies of Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch were found. This is what records tell us about the coroner who pronounced them dead.

[private]Crittenden County’s coroner, Kent Hale, was called to the scene at 3:20 p.m. on May 6, 1993, an hour and 50 minutes after the boys’ bodies were discovered. Hale, who worked for Roller-Citizens Funeral Home in West Memphis in addition to his job as county coroner, was accompanied to the scene by another of the funeral home’s employees.  

Hale noted in his report that when he arrived, he found all three bodies out of the water and lying on the bank covered in black plastic. The air temperature was approaching the high eighties. Fly larvae were starting to appear in the victims’ eyes and nostrils.

Hale pronounced the boys dead at 3:58 p.m., by which time the bodies had been lying in the open for more than two and a half hours. In his brief report, part of which was on a form, Hale noted the position of the bodies as he found them, the temperature of the water in which they’d been found, and that they were tied hands-to-ankles “by shoelaces.”

Hale also noted what appeared to be injuries to the boys, including bruising, cuts, abrasions, a “stab wound” to the head of Christopher, and signs that the boys ‘may have been sexually assaulted.” He wrote that the bodies were sent to the office of the Arkansas Medical Examiner in Little Rock. (Hale’s report.)

Hale left many parts of the form blank, including one for “Causes of Death.” He would leave that determination to the state crime lab, which is permissible under Arkansas’s dual coroner/medical-examiner system. The criminal investigation was already in the hands of the West Memphis Police Department.

The role of coroner originated in England before the signing of the Magna Carta. The word itself comes from “crown,” as the coroner was supposed to represent the interests of the king at a subject’s death. Today, expectations of coroners vary greatly.

In England, coroners must be either a physician or a lawyer with at least five years of practice. They are expected to investigate any deaths that are unnatural, violent, sudden with unknown cause, or that occur in police or prison custody.

In the U.S., coroners may be either elected or appointed, or the coroner’s job may be part of another job, such as that of prosecuting attorney. In some states, the titles of coroner and medical examiner are used interchangeably.

Requirements for both positions are established locally. A coroner’s duties, however, always include determining the cause, time, and manner of death.

The Arkansas County Coroner’s Procedures Manual states that, “The county coroner is charged with the responsibility of determining the cause of death for those deaths properly the responsibility of the coroner.” It adds, however, that if the medical examiner accepts the case, the coroner is relieved of that responsibility.

Friction can develop between police working a crime scene and a coroner, who is required to conduct “a good, thorough investigation” and file a report on the death within five days. As a result, Arkansas officials have interpreted the state’s law as providing that “law enforcement officials must give the county coroner access to all scenes of deaths…” because “… the coroner must satisfy himself as to whether the death was the result of a crime.”

That is a heavy responsibility. As noted in the “Coroner’s Creed,” published on the website of the Arkansas Coroner’s Association, “Death is the most important legal event for all human beings. … Both the deceased and the survivors may be greatly affected legally by how death occurred, what actually happened, why it occurred, and precisely when it occurred. … Only when these questions have been answered correctly can all the proper legal issues arising at death be effectively handled for the proper administration of justice.”

Consider: If a corner concludes, correctly or not, that someone slipped and fell, the death may never be investigated as a crime. If the coroner concludes that a death was an accident, insurance may be collected, even if the death was actually a suicide. A coroner has the power to determine whether a baby’s death in the crib was a tragic accident or a criminal act.

Yet, in Arkansas, the requirements for someone to hold the job of coroner are less than minimal. According to the Coroner’s Procedures Manual, “The coroner is elected for a two-year term of office with the requirements that he/she be a qualified elector and resident of the county.” That’s it. To be a county coroner in Arkansas, all a person must do is register to vote and win election.

By contrast, to drive a car in Arkansas, a person must pass a vision, written and driving test. Auctioneers must sit for a written exam and conduct a mock auction for an oral exam. To be licensed as a cosmetologist, a person must have completed the 10th grade and successfully completed a 1,500-hour course of instruction at an approved school of cosmetology.

Massage therapists must pass a background check by the state police and the FBI, in addition to completing 500 hours of massage therapy classes with test grades of at least 75 percent. And to be licensed as a mold inspector, a person will have to be certified as an industrial hygienist by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene; as a microbial consultant or indoor environmental consultant by the American Indoor Air Quality Council; or have successfully completed at least 20 hours of college-level microbiology.

It could be argued that, after existing for a thousand years, the coroner’s job has become obsolete. But in the poor state of Arkansas, at least, where a government job is a job, and an elected post is a job with status, discussion of eliminating coroners is a non-starter.

The alternative is to improve requirements for the job, in hope of improving its standards. A state representative attempted that in the legislative session this spring. His bill, titled “An Act to Modernize the Office of Coroner,” did not pass.[private]

How a man in Denmark, troubled by the case of the WM3, created an invaluable online archive of it

Christian Hansen, a laborer in Denmark, loves Clint Eastwood.  He admires the actor’s work so much that an online friend nicknamed him “Callahan” after Eastwood’s character in the “Dirty Harry” movies.

Christian Hansen

He never imagined that the little website he formed as a repository for documents about the case of the West Memphis Three would become the largest archive of a criminal case in the world. If he had, he says, he would have named it something other than “Callahan.”

But there you have it. A modest Danish guy who likes to work with his hands creates a site named after a fictional San Francisco cop and, over time, the site morphs into a massive online reference library for the nonfiction process that ensnared—and still holds—three kids from Arkansas. Callahan has become the go-to site for anyone wanting to search police, court or media records from the case.

[private]Hansen was a senior in high school, living in a town just outside of Aarhus, the second-largest city in Denmark, when he saw “Paradise Lost” on Danish TV. That experience, in December 1998, was his first exposure to the case. He knew no one else who cared about it. A few weeks after seeing the film, when Hanson got on the Internet, his first search was for the documentary’s title.

Hanson is close in age to Damien Echols. But unlike Echols, he’d gotten a Commodore 64 computer at 13 and by now has played video games for years. He’s also had access to the Internet, which is where he perfected the English he learned in school and from TV.

For about six months after seeing “Paradise Lost,” Hansen couldn’t get the case out of his mind. He’d read a lot of true-crime books, but this case touched a deeper chord. For one thing, he didn’t know—and couldn’t figure out—whether the three were innocent or guilty.

In 1999, he read “Blood of Innocents,” the first book about the case. “There wasn’t a lot of information available on the Internet back then,” he told me via email. “But after reading it all, and particularly after learning that Jessie Misskelley had made a post-trial confession, I came to believe they were guilty.”

Over the next few years, Hansen saw the first message board about the case go online, followed by documents from the West Memphis Police Department, my book, Devil’s Knot, and audio recordings of the trials. Hanson read, watched and listened to everything he could get his hands on.

Hansen has been part of the WM3 online community since 1999, but has rarely participated in online discussions. What perplexed him about what he saw in those discussions was that so many people involved in the case believed that someone would actually confess—not once, but multiple times—to something he didn’t do.

Hansen’s interest in information was stronger than his need to defend his belief that the WM3 were guilty. In October, 2001, his curiosity led him to create the site now simply and widely known as Callahan.  It not only served his own research needs, but grew into a site where organization and neutrality offer others what he calls “a place to read facts without  getting an opinion shoved down their throats.”

When he created Callahan, Hansen never imagined that the site would still be around in 2011. He figured that “either the WM3 would be free or Damien would have been executed within the next decade.”
As sometimes happens, however, Hansen’s pursuit of information led to a change in his views. He came to see Misskelley as “a borderline mentally handicapped boy who was easily manipulated and wanted to please authority figures,”—a boy who “probably never even realized that what he says on June 3, [1993] would land him in a cell, rather than to the police letting him go home.”

Yet Misskelley’s post-conviction statements still bothered him. The more case documents he read, however, the more he felt he understood about Misskelley’s motivation. He now regards Misskelley’s statement to the officers who were taking him to prison as “a desperate attempt to escape the lifetime in prison he had just been sentenced to.”

Hansen writes: “I can see why he went against the advice of his own attorneys on February 17, [shortly after his conviction in 1994]. “He was led to believe they weren’t acting in his interest and, after all, going along with them in the first place had gotten him a life sentence, so it’s easy to see why he would give yet another statement to the prosecutors that day.”

Hansen is aware that many who believe in the guilt of the West Memphis Three also cite a confession Misskelley allegedly made to a teenaged girl, which was reported only in a Memphis newspaper; they also refer to repeated statements of guilt Misskelley is said to have made to his attorney prior to his trial. But Hansen no longer finds these admissions persuasive.

After “several years” of believing that Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin were guilty, Hansen’s quiet pursuit of case documents, led him to believe “otherwise.”  He reached “the realization that what Jessie described in his confessions was a ludicrous scenario that simply didn’t stand up under scrutiny.” Now, Hansen says, “there’s no longer any doubt in my mind that they’re innocent.”

The case has taught him “that people can confess, even multiple times, to something they didn’t do, without having a gun pointed to their head,” he says, “and that the police aren’t always the good guys.” What came to offend him most was the hard but unavoidable fact that sometimes, “a police force will pin a crime on innocent people.”

For Hansen, a change of view about the West Memphis case led to other changes. Where he had once been “in full support” of the death penalty, he isn’t anymore. Now he hopes that the West Memphis case, like “all other cases of injustice in the world, will teach people that the justice system is fallible, and that just because a jury says you’re guilty, that doesn’t necessarily make it so.”

None of those personal views—from when he believed the men guilty or now that he thinks they’re innocent—appear on Callahan.  The site has been—and he wants to keep it—“the ‘Switzerland’ in the WM3 cyberland.”

But maintaining that piece of cyberland has not been easy. There came a time, in late 2004, when Hansen “totally lost energy.”  He posted online that he was no longer interested in supporting Callahan. An Arkansas computer programmer who’d grown up near West Memphis offered to take over. When I contacted him, the programmer asked to be known only as “Greg” because, he writes, “It’s not about me.”  

For Greg, the work was about information and innocence. “I didn’t think they received a fair trial,” he writes. “And I didn’t believe that they were guilty. It was my old neighborhood.”

He began paying the site’s rent and adding new files as supporters found them. But the arrangement didn’t last long. Hansen “regained some motivation,” as he put it, and came back, to take over most of the work. Greg writes that since then, he and Hansen have shared the rental duty on the site, with some help from other supporters.

Monte Walker

In the spring of 2007, Monte Walker, a resident of Tennessee, who’d grown up in Mississippi, wrote to Hansen to tell him how much he appreciated the site and to volunteer his help if needed. At the time, Walker says, he was under the impression that all of the evidence files were on the website.

In the correspondence that followed, Walker learned that Callahan had only about half the case file. He responded by pulling together a team of volunteers to go to the West Memphis Police Department and copy every piece of evidence from the case for Callahan.

Walker estimates that over the course of about a year, he and his group copied 15,000 documents, 100 audio and 20 video tapes—all of which he and Hansen uploaded to the site. The entire process took about two years.

In the fall of 2009, Walker and Greg together spent several days at the Arkansas Supreme Court library in Little Rock, copying transcripts from Misskelley’s trial that were missing from the site. Walker and other volunteers have also transcribed images of records into word documents so that the site’s search engine can access them.

“Callahan is the only unbiased source of WM3 case information on the web,” Walker says, “and it is also the largest collection of information. For people interested in learning about the case, I think Callahan lends credibility to the online experience.”

Hansen “absolutely” wants for Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley to be freed and “the real killer(s)” to be  found. Yet he has never contacted the men. “I’ve thought of doing so in recent years,” he writes, “but I don’t know what to say to them.”[/private]

A juror’s affidavit: ‘Damien Echols seemed to me to be Satan walking alive’

‘Satan walking alive’

On June 7, 2004, one of the jurors in the trial of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin signed an affidavit that will become a key piece of evidence at the evidentiary hearing in December. The affidavit supports other evidence of juror misconduct at the men’s trial and illustrates the effectiveness of prosecutors’ contentions that the murders were committed as part of an “occult ritual.”

[private]In the affidavit, Peggy Vanhoozer Nicholson said she kept notes throughout the trial and during the jurors’ deliberations. At one point in her notes, she said, she wrote the word “Satanic” regarding Baldwin. She said she then crossed out that word and wrote “follower.”

On the line above those words, Nicholson said: “I wrote ‘J. Misk. State.’ That was my shorthand for ‘Jessie Misskelley statement.”

The statement Misskelley made to police formed the basis of his conviction at a trial that was recently concluded. The statement was not, however, supposed to be used or referred to in the subsequent trial of Echols and Baldwin because Misskelley refused to appear at that trial and testify in support of it. Evidence that the jury foreman improperly discussed Misskelley’s statement during jury deliberations at the Echols/Baldwin trial will be presented by defense attorneys as part of the reason they are seeking new trials for the men.

Nicholson provided attorneys with her notes from the Echols/Baldwin trial. In her affidavit explaining the notes she said: “In my view, based on my own background and beliefs, Damien Echols seemed to me to be Satan walking alive.”

Prosecutors at the Echols/Baldwin trial presented Satanic involvement as the pair’s motive for murdering three West Memphis children in 1993. At one point, deputy prosecuting attorney pointed to Echols and said, “You see inside that person, and you look inside there, and there’s not a soul in there.”

(On a personal note: The segments shown here are enlargements from photos of Nicholson’s affidavit, which was provided by the Arkansas Supreme Court in response to a Freedom of Information request. I appreciate Nicholson’s  integrity in providing her statement and notes. That quality has not been seen enough in this case.) [/private]  

Nostalgia and Marlou, by Damien Echols

Art by Sebastian Yingling

Nostalgia was completely unlike the other girls in her class. She was a secret girl, a tiny sorceress with black eyes and bones like razors. While the other girls played hop-scotch and jump rope, Nostalgia had tea with the ghosts that haunted the caterpillar tree.

The caterpillar tree stood at the farthest edge of the playground, and every spring it would be completely covered in wriggling caterpillars, from its snake-like roots to its highest branches. They would inch their way across Nostalgia’s lap as she sat cross-legged on the ground and chatted with the ghosts who were drawn to the tree.

Nostalgia felt pity for the ghosts, who whispered that their skeletons were buried far beneath the school. They had been there so long that no one remembered them, and they were constantly disturbed by the running, screaming children who played games of tag and kickball. Nostalgia nodded in sympathy as the ghosts shrieked and wrung their hands.

The other girls in Nostalgia’s class called here “weird” and “gross,” but she paid them no mind. She had no desire to be part of their group, and the things they were interested in bored her. What interested Nostalgia was Halloween. When she got out of bed every morning, the first thing she did was mark an “X” through another day on the calendar. Seeing the “X” gave her immense satisfaction, as if one more barrier between her and Halloween had fallen.

To Nostalgia, every day that passed was just one more step taken on the path to October. The other kids snickered when she did her schoolwork with orange and black pencils that said “Happy Halloween” in the middle of February. They smirked at the laughing skull stickers Nostalgia put on her notebooks in May. They thought her black-cat hair barrettes were odd, and her backpack strange—covered as it was in jack-o-lantern patches. She paid them no mind.

Nostalgia’s best friend was Marlou—an abandoned house on her street. While walking home from school one day, Nostalgia heard a voice in her head say, “Come and sit on my porch.” And so she did.
Nostalgia loved Marlou dearly. She loved the spiked Iron Gate that hung from on hinge on the path to Marlou’s front door. She loved the honeysuckle vines that crept up and around Marlou’s windows. She even loved the way Marlou smelled, because it reminded her of an old mummy in a dusty crypt. She spent every moment she was not in school with Marlou, listening as the house told her secrets.

Marlou had many things to tell, and all of them were of interest to Nostalgia. She told Nostalgia magick things, things that no one else knew. She told her to never trust the color red, because it was the color of madness and was always looking for a crack to seep through. She told her about certain days where the year was thin, and how it was possible to disappear into one of those thin spots and never be seen again. She said that there was a place where December is a man, and that magick was like a machine that you push reality into, and t comes out the other side changed.

Other times Marlou told stories about people who had lived in her rooms during days long past. She composed poems about them, often in haiku form.

Each day, Nostalgia wrote down all that Marlou told her, letting her hands become Marlou’s voice. She scribbled Marlou’s secrets between the lines of her science book. She copied Marlou’s stories into the blank spaces in her spelling book. She crammed Marlou’s poems into the margins of her math book. Summer gradually turned to fall, but Nostalgia and Marlou still never ran out of things to talk about.

Marlou was like a maze; her hallways never took Nostalgia to the same place twice. Nostalgia made a game of trying to count how many rooms Marlou had, but the number was always different. One time Marlou had nine rooms, another time she had fourteen. Once Nostalgia even discovered an attic that she could never find her way back to, no matter how long she searched. It became their game, much like hide-and-go-seek.

Marlou’s rooms were full of treasures and artifacts that Nostalgia loved to spend hours examining. There were things that looked like rusted tubas and rotting accordions. There were sets of bone china made of real bone, and stacks of photographs that were as yellowed as ancient teeth. There were scores of trunks and boxes and bags. There were piles of clothes and heaps of jewelry. There were books in very language ever spoken, and some that were never spoken at all. There were voodoo dolls and shrunken heads, coffin nails and graveyard dirt, all the things that make a little ghoul’s heart go pitter-patter. There were things on shelves which made Nostalgia feel ill when she looked at them for very long—masks which made her insides squirm and figurines that made her stomach lurch. Once she looked away she could never quite remember what she had just been looking at.

Marlou said that all her treasures had belonged to the old captain that had built her. His name was Captain Henderson, and he had sailed a ship all over the world. He had visited places that had never been on any map, and brought back things for which there were no names. Some people said that Captain Henderson was never a real person, but only a myth or a story. No one had heard from him in over 200 years. When Nostalgia asked where Captain Henderson was, Marlou was quiet for a very long time before finally answering, “Exploring.”

When Halloween finally arrived, Marlou and Nostalgia decided to celebrate in grand style. It was the day they had waited for all year, so they wanted to make it more special than any Halloween before. Nostalgia spent days carving dozens of jack-o-lanterns, which were placed on every step and window sill. Marlou groaned and creaked, sighed and whispered. From deep within the walls came the faint sounds of pounding and shouting, yet no matter where Nostalgia went inside the house, the noise still sounded just as far away.

No kid can resist a haunted house on Halloween, especially one like Marlou. They came in droves, dressed as ghosts and ghouls, devils and witches, werewolves and vampires. Nostalgia met them at the door to hand out candy and give them a guided tour. She led them through Marlou’s corridors and told them hair-raising stories of haunts and wraiths, pointing out the rooms where the spirits still lingered. In the backyard kids gathered around a witch’s cauldron and bobbed for apples. In the parlor, Nostalgia told them their futures, using an ancient deck of cards she found on one of Marlou’s shelves. All the while, Marlou continued to clink and rattle, gibber and chuckle, and generally carry on like a ship full of tormented souls. It was the greatest Halloween any of the children would ever know, and they would remember it forever. As adults they would even dream of it, and awake with a delicious sense of unease. None would ever be certain if all their memories were true, or if some were only imagined.

After that Halloween, Nostalgia’s schoolmates no longer considered her odd or weird—at least not in a bad way. On Valentine’s Day, she always received the most gifts from secret admirers. They left sugar skulls in her desk and big black spiders in her locker. They hung velvet vampire bats from Nostalgia’s coat hook and left handfuls of candy corn in her lunchbox. In fact, Nostalgia had so many new friends and admirers that she no longer had as much time to spend with Marlou. The days melted into weeks, and the weeks merged to form months. Marlou sank into a deep sleep and dreamed her way through the passing seasons. There are things for which time holds no meaning, and Marlou is one of those things. She could pass centuries dozing like a mother hen with its head beneath its wing, if that was her wish.

As all little girls must do, Nostalgia grew older. She began to forget much of the magick she had once felt. Sometimes she would pass by Marlou and get the feeling there was a secret right on the tip of her tongue, but could never quite remember what it was. It scurried across her brain like a hairy spider, causing her memory to itch like a madman with fleas.

One October day, as Nostalgia was passing by Marlou, she saw men wearing hard hats and tool belts. They had trucks and carts and lots of machinery which seemed to serve no purpose other than to make loud, obnoxious noise. They were carrying Marlou away, piece by piece, like ants on a chocolate bar. Suddenly, all of Nostalgia’s memories came flooding back, as she felt as if the men were carting away pieces of her heart along with the rusty nails and dusty boards.

Nostalgia knew that it was time for Marlou to be moving on, collecting more stories and having more adventures. As the men carried parts of Marlou off in every direction, Nostalgia her speak one last time… “Don’t forget,” she said. And Nostalgia wouldn’t. She would never forget again. Even after she grew to be a little old lady, Nostalgia continued to live ferociously. She never wasted her time on the monotonous, the mundane, or the mediocre.

Nostalgia lived so long that even she forgot her true age. All of the little girls in her neighborhood loved her and would come to hear her stories. Nostalgia taught them how to snatch coins from the moon’s reflection and how to make the wind blow by whispering into their fists. She showed them how to make good luck charms out of chickens’ bones and crow feathers. And no matter how many times they heard it, the girls still clamored to hear the story of Marlou again.

As for Marlou, pieces of her traveled all over the world. Her doorknobs and floor boards went east. Her books and furniture went west. Her trinkets and treasures went north. Her boxes and trunks and chests made their way south. Every single piece of Marlou, right down to the pipes and plumbing, was incorporated into some new structure or building. Future generations of little girls would hear Marlou’s whispers coming from the drain on cold October nights. They would open books to find messages from Marlou just for them. They would hear Marlou’s voice coming from their closets once the lights were out. They heard Marlou speak to them from inside the walls and from under the bed. Marlou’s presence could be felt in basements and crawl spaces, in attics and boiler rooms. Little girls everywhere would hear Marlou’s voice, and they would carry her magick in their hearts.

The End

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