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…

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