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.
Click here to watch the video version of Nostalgia and Marlou.