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Clove & Moose 5: The Phenomenal Phantoms

Clove and Moose is a serial fiction story. While there is an overarching plot, each episode can be enjoyed on its own without reading what came before. However, if you want to get caught up, click one of the buttons below.

Previously, on Clove & Moose: After the mysterious Cataclysm dried up the earth and its magic, Clove left home to search for pools of corrupted magic left behind in the Cataclysm’s wake. Along with her cat Moose, she’s on a mission to find the corrupted magic, reverse its effects, and leave the world a better place.

“Thanks for your help.” Jie brushed his hands together to shake off the dirt. “This looks so much better.”

“You’re welcome,” Clove said, standing up to look down at their handiwork. She’d come across Jie’s farm on her way to the city and he had offered her food and lodgings in exchange for a day’s work on his farm. “I hope you can get things growing again.”

“Me too.” He began gathering up their tools. “I can’t believe a whole season’s worth of work was wiped out in one week. I don’t know how we’ll ever get the farm back on track.”

The Cataclysm had sucked away both magic and moisture, leaving the land parched and dry. Though weather patterns had since returned to normal, it was going to take time for the land to heal. 

“It’s a scary new world,” Clove agreed. She had hoped that the situation would improve as she travelled west, but so far it was the same story everywhere.

A door opened behind them. She turned to see Jie’s wife, Amina, exiting the house. Moose darted out behind her and barrelled toward Clove.

“Hey buddy,” she said, bending down to scratch behind his ears. “Have you been good for Amina?”

“He slept the whole day,” Amina assured her. “Dinner’s ready when you two are.”

“Thanks, darling.” Jie leaned in to kiss her cheek.

“It looks great out here. Normally I would help him myself, but.” Amina shrugged and gestured to her belly. She was eight months pregnant and not up to farm work. 

“I’m glad to help,” Clove said. “I wish I could do more.” 

If her magic still worked, she could use a spell to speed the growing of the freshly-planted seeds out of their shells, or to enrich the soil with the water and nutrients it needed. But that was no longer an option.

“Let’s just hope I can get something to sprout. I’ve only been running the farm for a few years and I’ve never been so aware of how much I don’t know. I always relied on the net for information but now…” Jie shrugged helplessly. Since the Cataclysm had knocked out the communications networks, everyone was cut off from the information they previously relied on.

“Why don’t you ask grandma?” Amina suggested. “She was always a wonderful gardener. Remember her flower beds at the old house? She lived through some hard times in her day; she might have some good advice.”

“That’s a great idea,” Jie said. “Let’s go talk to her tomorrow.”

They invited Clove to accompany them to visit Amina’s grandmother the next day. She didn’t want to intrude on a family visit, but she was interested in what wisdom the woman might have about growing things. 

They walked together through the hazy morning. Moose was in his harness with his rope tied to Clove’s pack. She felt better when she knew he couldn’t run off.

They arrived in town after a ten minute walk. Clove expected Jie and Amina to lead her to one of the brightly coloured houses that lined the streets, but they turned away from the main road and cut through a small park. 

As they passed through the gate in the wrought iron fence, she realized it wasn’t a park at all, but a cemetery. The neat rows of gravestones near the front were older but well-maintained. 

Just beyond the first few rows was a familiar orange glow. Clove’s heart dropped.

“Don’t go any farther,” she said, coming to a stop and holding Moose’s rope to keep him close. “It’s dangerous.”

“What?” Amina looked around. “It’s just a cemetery. Unless you're afraid of ghosts.”

She and Jie both laughed at that.

“That orange spot is corrupted magic,” Clove explained as she reached into her pocket for her crystal. “I’ve seen them before and they can hurt people. I can stop it, though.”

“It’s fine. This one’s not dangerous,” Jie said, and walked forward into the swirl of magic. 

“Stop!” she yelled, but the couple continued forward. Clove hovered at the edge of the magic, not daring to follow them.

“It’s okay, look!” Amina crossed to one of the gravestones near the centre of the magical field and placed her hand on it. “Grandma, it’s Mina. Do you want to come out and talk?”

A little old lady appeared in front of her. She looked harmless as could be, aside from being translucent and floating a foot above the ground.

“Hello, dear,” the old lady said, her face crinkling into a smile as she turned to Amina. “Did you bring that nice boy with you, too?”

“Here, grandma,” Jie said, stepping forward. 

They were both acting like this was perfectly normal. Clove’s heart was pounding and her palms were slick with sweat. She was so anxious that she didn’t even hear what Amina’s grandmother told them about the planting. All of her instincts were screaming at her to clear the corrupted magic, but she was afraid of hurting Jie and Amina while they were within the circle. She paced at the edge of the magical pool and waited for them to finish.

Jie glanced over his shoulder at her and touched Amina’s sleeve. She looked back too and nodded at Jie. A minute later, they ended their conversation and walked back toward Clove. The old woman faded away behind them.

“See?” Amina said. “It took us a while to get used to it too. But we have grandma back, and everyone else in this part of the cemetery. It’s wonderful”

“No,” Clove insisted. “I’m telling you, I’ve seen this before.” She explained to them about the other pools of corrupted magic she’d found and how they warped the world around them. 

“We believe you,” Jie said, “but that’s not what this one’s doing. It’s a gift. See?”

He gestured behind him. A few rows away, a young girl was all smiles as she spoke to the ghost of a woman who looked so similar she had to be the kid’s mother.

Clove understood. Of course she did. What wouldn’t she give to speak to Arthur one last time? To tell him how sorry she was, how much she missed him, how much she loved him? 

But she couldn’t let this stay. “It’s going to keep spreading. They always do. It will grow and grow and wake the dead everywhere it touches. Not just the ones buried in neat rows in a cemetery, but all the resting places we don’t know about. And not everyone is going to be happy to come back.”

“Isn’t there anything else you can do?” Amina asked. “Let us keep this, but stop it from spreading?”

Clove had never considered the possibility. Until now, she’d never come across a corrupted spot that anyone would want to keep. She thought about her spell and how she might modify it.

“It’s possible,” she said after thinking it over, “but I’ve never done it before. I can try, but if it doesn’t work I’ll have to close it up.”

Amina and Jie exchanged a look, then nodded. 

“Try it,” Jie said. “Please.”

Clove unclipped Moose’s rope and handed it to Amina. She crouched beside the pool of corruption and extended her crystal. If this went according to plan, she wouldn’t need it to store the magic, but it would act as a tool to let her interact with the magic. She chanted the words of her modified spell, watching for any sign it was working. It took a few long minutes and several repetitions of the spell, but slowly the colour of the magic started to change. Orange turned to brown and then to green. She continued chanting until all of the magic had transformed to a bright cheerful green, with no hint of the orange remaining.

She rocked back on her heels and stood up, her thighs burning from the prolonged squat. “I think it worked.”

She took Moose back from Amina. Across the field, the little girl and her mother were still there. They both smiled and waved, the ghost looking as happy as the girl. The magic was still working, then. It remained to be seen whether it had stopped the spread.

“I’ll stick around until we can tell for sure.” Clove needed to see this through. If her new spell had worked, it would expand her options for dealing with the magic. And if it hadn’t worked, then she would have to come back and remove the magic before it could spread any farther.

“You’re welcome to stay with us for as long as you want,” Jie said. “Moose too, of course.”

“You hear that, buddy?” Clove scooped the cat into her arms and nuzzled her face into his fur. “You get to hang out with your new friends for a little longer.”

Moose purred happily to show his approval of this plan, but Clove still felt unsettled. She looked back at the cemetery one last time as they walked away. If she’d brought some keepsake of Arthur–a lock of hair, a fingernail clipping–would that have been enough to summon him here?

It didn’t matter. She didn’t have anything with her. It wasn’t worth thinking about. 

Still, a blanket of sorrow settled over her as they walked back to the farm. Even the softest of bellies and the loudest of purrs couldn’t chase all her troubles away.

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Katie Conrad is a speculative fiction writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can find her on twitterinstagram, and tumblr.