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Sasha sat in the living room, blankets pulled just below her eyes so that she could quickly hide at the scary parts and watch again when they had passed. It was past her bedtime, but her dad said she could stay up to finish the movie. It was a strange mixture of exhilarating and terrifying watching her first scary movie. He chuckled at her response as the mummy stalked closer to its prey.
“You know it’s just a movie,” he reminded gently. She nodded mutely, eyes glued to the screen.
Surprisingly, she had no nightmares on the ensuing nights, something that helped him relax. Sasha seemed to be captivated by the story, asking questions about mummies at the dinner table. Her mother simply rolled her eyes.
“But what do they look like under all those rags?” she asked inquisitively.
“They just look like a dead person. Like you or me but, uh, more shriveled.”
“This is fantastic dinner conversation, guys,” laughed her mother. “Think we can maybe leave the discussion of dead people for another time?”
“More shriveled? So like Uncle Dave?”
Her father laughed sharply, then regained control. “No, not like Uncle Dave. Like those flowers you pressed in your journal? How they got dry and dull? Kind of like that.”
“So you make mummies by pressing them?”
He looked shocked at her question, dropping his head to hide his broad smile. “Not quite. Listen, mommy asked you to talk about something else…”
Of course, for each question answered, there were a dozen more. It became, as things are wont to do with young children, almost an obsession. He drew the line when she and a friend used three rolls of toilet paper trying to make themselves into mummies.
Like everything, that fascination eventually faded, replaced instead with a sudden curiosity about their kindly next-door neighbor.
Mr. Nickerson had been their neighbor for three years, long enough for Sasha to grow attached. He was an older man, stooped and wrinkled. If the weather was nice, he would certainly be out in his garden, tending away to the flowers and vegetables that flourished under his tender care. Sasha enjoyed spending time with him in the dirt, learning about the different kinds of flowers.
“Mr. Nickerson says you have to water the plants,” she’d dutifully report to her parents at the end of the day.
“Flowers need a lot of sunshine.”
“You have to feed your plants, too.”
“Fertilizer is key.”
She also brought home more than just wisdom, occasionally showing up muddied and bearing a tomato or bouquet of flowers. It was an unconventional friendship, but one that blossomed. Mr. Nickerson was patient with her, even when her own parents would have been at the ends of their ropes.
This particular day, the growing season was nearing an end. Spring had long passed with its new growth, and summer had led to an acceptable harvest from the tiny garden. Now it was all about preparing for winter and harvesting the last few vegetable that could bear the fall.
“Plants need good dirt,” he told her sternly as he picked up a handful of soil and ran it between his fingers. She nodded and copied his behavior, unsure of what she was supposed to realize by touching the dirt. “So in the fall,” he continued, “we feed it with whatever it needs to grow.”
“What does the dirt need?” she asked. The dirt looked awful dirty to her, so she was not sure what it should be like instead.
“Dirt needs vitamins and minerals, just like you. That’s why I always put my leftovers in the ground,” he said with a smile. He chuckled softly at a private joke, then shook his head to dismiss it. “So we have to get rid of all the dead plants, bury them too if we want. Dead things help keep the dirt healthy, too.”
The lesson over, the two set to work pulling up plants that had withered and died, or those that Mr. Nickerson assured her would not grow anymore. He handed her a shovel and showed her how to turn over the soil, taking what had become packed ground and making it soft again.
Sasha went home that night with a whole new conversation about dirt, one she recited at dinner whenever anyone gave her the space to speak. And afterwards, she gathered up the plates and all the scraps, dumping them into a pile of vegetable, meat, and napkins.
“Where are you going?” asked her mother, catching her with the dinner plate on her way to the door.
“I’ve got to feed the dirt, mom,” she said, as if obvious. “Mr. Nickerson says you should put your leftovers in the dirt.”
“You can feed the dirt in the morning, then. It’s time for bed.”
There was a struggle, as there often is, but Sasha lost. As she often did. The refuse was set aside in a special container, her mother rolling her eyes as she sacrificed one of the remaining Tupperware bowls with a matching lid.
The next day, Mr. Nickerson was away. That did not stop Sasha from knocking on his door and looking around his house for her friend. He was not on the porch or in the kitchen. She checked the garage, but saw no one. And even peeking in through the bottom of his living room window yielded no results. She glumly paced over to the garden and set down her container, looking at the brown plot of ground. It looked like Mr. Nickerson had dug a lot of it last night, since so much of the dirt was fresh and wet. She couldn’t see any of his leftovers, but surely they were in there. It wouldn’t hurt to just—
She tipped her bowl onto the surface, then realize her error. It had to be mixed up. He had been clear about that. Which meant she needed her shovel. Only she was not sure where that would be. Mr. Nickerson was always good enough to have all her tools ready when she got there.
Sasha looked around the yard, eyes finally resting on the little shed tucked back in the corner. Her shovel was probably in there. She tried to peek in the windows, but someone had put wood over them. Taking a deep breath, she tugged open the door to the shed and stepped inside. It was hot in there, covered with spider webs. The smell also startled her. It was bad, like the time her dad had to call the plumber to fix the bathroom. She wondered if Mr. Nickerson needed a plumber in his shed, even though she could not see a toilet anywhere.
She stepped forward cautiously, trying her best to avoid running into any spiders or other bugs. Dirt she loved, but bugs scared her. The shovel was not immediately present, and so she pressed on. Which is where she found what she thought was the most wonderful find of her young life.
Sasha found a real life mummy. It, of course, was not moving, but it was there. Wrinkled, just like her dad said. Dull, like the flowers. It looked like a man with brown hair, but his hair was mostly gone. Of course, he wasn’t a perfect mummy. Instead of bandages, he was wrapped in a few layers of sheet, his head poking through the top. Just like the mummy in the movie, his mouth hung open. She could just imagine him groaning as he walked out of the shed and along the sidewalk.
What a treat!
“Daddy, guess what?” she asked that night, feet swinging freely from her seat at the dinner table.
He gave a curious grunt with his mouth full of pasta.
“Mr. Nickerson has a mummy. His very own mummy!”
“Sweetie, you know we aren’t supposed to tell fibs,” scolded her mother gently.
“It’s not a fib. I saw it, honest. He has a mummy in his shed!”
There was a look passed across the table that Sasha could not read. ‘This is your fault,’ said her mother’s eyes. ‘It’s no big deal,’ said her father’s.
“Do you think he’d teach me about mummies when we’re done with the garden?” she asked breathlessly. No one answered.
Just an overactive imagination, they thought, because any other answer was just too bizarre to even consider. Everyone knew mummies were real, but weren’t anything like in the movies. And they were real millennia ago, not in the modern day. Like most parents of children prone to flights of fancy, they did not give it a second thought.
Until, of course, Mr. Nickerson vanished in the back of a police cruiser shortly after.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.