When the Ghostcatchers First Came by Iona Rule

No one noticed. They began with the old haunts: graveyards, derelict hospitals and battlefields. Places where there were easy pickings: ghosts who had been dead so long they had been forgotten, who spoke in ancient tongues and whose names had been lost. We didn’t mind, sometimes we were relieved. The old ghosts were a nuisance carrying on like they did, shaking chains and moaning. Ghosts like that were an embarrassment. Removing them was the kindest thing. They trapped them in glass bottles, and we would hear their trucks clinking as they drove through the town.

We didn’t think about what the Ghostcatchers were doing until they came for our ghosts. They came to my friend Martha’s door and took her ginger tom, Sammy. He had been hit by a car last autumn, but returned in a brush of a tail against her bare calf, in an invisible weight on her quilt and a vibrating purr that lulled her to sleep. They trapped him in a Kilner jar and took him away, ignoring her pleas.

They took our school dinner lady, the one with the candyfloss hair who always gave us second helpings of custard. The one who had a stroke at the bus stop but still came back to hover over the mashed potatoes each lunchtime. They trapped her in a jam jar and put her in the back of the truck. The headmaster tried to stop them. I watched from the window as the Ghostcatchers pushed him to the ground. Damp fingers of mud crept up his shirt, but he didn’t notice. He just watched the truck drive away to the tinkling sound of a hundred trapped souls.

No one knew where they took them, but there were rumours. Some said they sunk them at sea. Some said they split their particles to create energy, making the sign of an explosion with their hands. One old woman said they shot them in rockets to the moon. I liked her answer the best. When the moon was full, I  imagined our ghosts drifting on the surface, looking down at us all.

The only ghost we had at home was Gran, who haunted us gently. She would guide Mum in the kitchen, placing her spectral hands over Mum’s while she made pastry, keeping them cold. In the evenings she sat on the TV lamenting how much the world had changed. During the darkest nights, she would sit by my bed and tell me stories of the life she missed.

When the Ghostcatchers came to our street we told her to hide. She shrunk to the size of a tic-tac and hid in the gap in my gums, disguised as my absent milk tooth. She tasted like wine gums and Turkish delight. As the truck rattled up our street, we waited. We sat together listening for the rusted creak of the gate, the footsteps on the path and finally, for the knock at the door. The sign that the Ghostcatchers were here.

IONA RULE — Iona has seen three ghosts in her life. One was a cat. She has come second in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and has work published or forthcoming in Atlas and Alice, Fractured Lit, Lost Balloon and The Phare.

Art by CLAUDIA LUNDAHL — Claudia is an artist and writer from New York. She attended the City University of New York at Hunter College. She now lives in London, England with her husband and their two dogs. Find more of her work online at www.claudianlundahl.com or on Twitter @claudrosewrites.