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My friend Scott posts a daily writing prompt for his creative friends on Facebook. Today’s subject was “The oddest item left in a lost-and-found box.” I usually only respond with a haiku or a quick paragraph, just to participate or to get the creative juices flowing before I start writing comics or working on freelance stuff. Today, I wrote this:

The Bottle

I told the security guard at the _______ that I lost my umbrella and could I please see if someone turned it in at the lost and found.

He looked up from his newspaper, half-shrugged, and pointed down the adjacent hall. “Box’s in the closet. Second door on the left.”

I walked down the hall, looking behind me to check if the guy could still see me from the security desk. Not from back behind the sports section, he couldn’t.

I opened the door, spotted the box on the floor, and started digging.

There were a few dogeared paperbacks, a workout DVD, a busted disc man, some janky-ass knotted up headphones, two country and one gospel music CDs, three action figures, a raggedy doll, a baseball, an old shoe, a cell phone, car keys, a camera, an umbrella – That’s why you always tell the guard you lost your umbrella. Every lost and found box has at least one. – one envelope containing photographs taken at a party and another holding twelve dollars and sixty-three cents.

All labeled with the date they went into the box.

Tip Number 1: If you’re just out for the thrill of the hunt, look for the labels with the oldest date. Nobody’s coming back for those. Tip Number 2: You have to be careful if you take more recent deposits, especially electronics and things of value. Sometimes the guards do actually do they’re jobs make you sign in or, at the very least, will remember a face. Tip Number 3: Don’t hit the same place twice in one week and, if you do, at least wait until a different guard is on post.

I pick up the cell phone, the camera, both envelopes and stuff them in my pants pocket – I can maybe get some money for the gadgets and the party pics might be worth a laugh. – and take the umbrella, so the guard doesn’t notice how long I was back there and start to suspect what else I may have taken.

I shift the leftover items a bit, so it doesn’t look too obvious, and, just before I stand up and close the closet door, I spot it.

Down at the bottom of the box, hidden underneath a couple of books and loose sheets of what look like someone’s chemistry notes, is a small roundish greenish bottle. It looks almost like a snow globe, except there isn’t a miniature city scene proving you visited Niagara Falls or Disneyland or wherever inside and the glitter doesn’t settle at the bottom. It just keeps swirling. And GLOWING.

Written in small letters on a bronze plate are the words THE GHOST OF JEBEDIAH HOLLINGSWORTH.

I pick it up by the red ribbon wrapped around the neck and, for a second, consider removing the cork to see what’s inside.

I stifle the urge and stuff the bottle in pocket of my hoodie. It will make for a cool conversation piece on my coffee table or mantle. The ghost I stole.

“Found it!” I sang, gleefully waving the umbrella as I marched past the security desk and out the door. The guard acknowledged with a grunt, although, I’m not entirely sure if he even looked up from his paper.

Now there’s something you should probably know about me. I’m not exactly the superstitious type. I don’t believe in ghosts or the boogeyman, magic, witchcraft, voodoo, hoodoo, or Yoo-Hoo.

But none of my problems started until I took that damned bottle…

My Aunt — my mother’s sister, who has lived with them for the two and a half years since my grandfather passed — has been sick for the past week or so and was just diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.

I mentioned that I was angry at a woman who said some pretty counter-productive things to my Aunt at the hospital yesterday. Then, a friend of mine on Facebook — I won’t name who. It doesn’t really matter. — mentioned that I wasn’t really mad at this woman; I was mad at God for taking my Aunt too soon. Just to get this out of the way, once and for all, this was my response:

I’m an atheist so, no, I’m not mad at “God” for “taking my Aunt way too soon.” I’m mad that cancer is such a fucking douchebag of a disease. I’m mad at the fact that there’s nothing that can be done except “making her comfortable.” I’m mad at the people who write off cancer as “God’s Will” when they have no idea what else to say, because any GOD who WILLS such a horrible fucking disease on a person who so devoutly worships him has got to be kind of an asshole. I’m mad at this woman who came to see my Aunt and told her how LUCKY she was and how much she ENVIED my Aunt that she would get to “meet Jesus soon.” I’m mad that my Aunt will do anything a complete stranger asks because they say “Jesus loves you,” but ignores and fights me when I say “I love you.” I’m mad at my Aunt for believing that because she has cancer she’s going to die tomorrow when she could still live and enjoy life for several more months or years if she fought for it. I’m mad at the fact that I can’t get her to eat or drink anything, even though she’s weak and dehydrated because she HASN’T been eating or drinking, and fights me at every spoonful because she’s basically given up. I’m mad at the fact that I go in there every day, from nine o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock at night, to try and take care of her, feed her, talk to her, read to her, that I am strong for ten to twelve hours a day because she needs me to be strong, neglecting my own health and well-being, and then I go home every night so weary and frustrated and there’s no one to care for me when I fall apart. I’m mad at the fact that I have to hide all of my emotions while I’m there to take care of everyone else and have nowhere to direct any of that stress and anger and sadness when I get home. I’m mad that I’m generally pretty private about my atheism but the one time I say that I’m sick of hearing about “God’s Will” and “Jesus’s love,” people want to cram “God’s Will” and “Jesus’s love” down my throat. I’m sure there a few other things that I’m mad at that I just can’t think of at the moment. But, no, I’m not mad at “God.”