Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2022 finalist Mylan Gardner. Mylan finished 7th grade this past school year and wrote a story called “Little Spirit, Little Soul.” One judge remarked that “there is a very intriguing start to the story and a strong and touching ending as well.” Enjoy!


by Mylan Gardner

I cannot stay here. I won’t let them tell me who I can be and when. I won’t wait hundreds of years for my turn to exist. I won’t accept it. I’ll make my own choices, thank you very much.

I stood watching the witch, her dark shadow towering above me. Smoke from the bubbling and steaming cauldron before her floated up, curling around her face, blending in with her shadowy silhouette. 

She spoke to me in a harsh, raspy voice: “Are you ready, little spirit, little soul?” she asked, her words echoing off the cave walls.

I took a deep breath, imagining what life might be like as a human. With a body. With a life.

Perhaps you are wondering what I am if not human. Well, my dear reader, I am a spirit, a soul yet unborn. But that is soon to change. See, I’d spent so many years scouring the Spiritworld for a witch rumored to have the ability to put spirits in human bodies. And now I’d found her – at last.

“I am ready.” My voice came out as a whisper, and I worried that the witch could not hear me.

She waved impatiently. “Well, then, let’s get started now, shall we? I’ll need a memory as payment.”

“Why do you need a memory?”

“Are you sure you want to know?” the witch asked mysteriously, and then held out more of the dusts she had put into the cauldron.

“Are those -”

“Memories. Used to be, anyway.” She grinned at my hesitation, and then glanced at the cauldron.

Are you ready for this change? If this doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, what will you do then? Go back to the Spiritworld and wander the world for thousands of years? Wait in the barren fields for millennia until it is your turn to be born?

Casting dusts and liquids into the cauldron, the witch cried out, “Come closer, little spirit, little soul.”

I paused. The cauldron was hot, its smoke and steam growing thicker, dancing up between us so I couldn’t see the witch’s face. And the liquid… a thick, dark green bubbling mass of goop, a color you would never see among the grays of the Spiritworld.

“Into the cauldron, now!” The witch stuck a hand through the wall of smoke, beckoning me closer with a single finger.

I floated closer, cautiously. What if this is a trick? Is it worth the memory I just paid her? Don’t be silly. Memories of endless gray hills are nothing compared to the chance of life.

“We don’t have much time!” she hissed. “Now, or never.”

I floated inside, expecting to feel the pain I’d always imagined when dreaming of being born. But there was no pain. Not in my ethereal body, at least. But then I felt it, seeping in – a hot, searing feeling that made me want to cry out, to scream, to get out of this cauldron.

But no. If I could just power through the pain, I’d be one step closer than I ever had to being human. One step closer to my dream.

“I shall see you when you join the Spiritworld again, little spirit, little soul.” The witch’s harsh voice faded into nothing. And all turned to black.

Is this it? Life? Dark and full of nothingness? Where is the promised emotion and feeling and people? Had they all lied, the spirits I’d bumped into, the spirits who’d told me about life and Earth and humans? Is this new form actually worse than the Spiritworld?

Just then I felt a jolt, as if I’d landed from a fall. And suddenly I felt. Opening my eyes, I saw light. Moving, I felt softness wrapped around me. Listening, I heard soft cries. Thinking, I realized it was me. I was human.


“Happy birthday, Asme. Have fun at school,” my mom called as I locked the door behind me.

“Bye, mom,” I replied, hurrying to catch up to the bus, squeezing inside just before the doors closed.

“Asme!” someone called, and I spotted my best friend, Kimberly, her strawberry-blonde hair falling over her shoulders as she waved me over.

Kim was the ultimate popular girl – except she was always sweet. Not the type of sassy, ungrateful brat most of us think of when popular girls are mentioned.

Kim was kind. She took me under her wing when nobody else would.

Kim was pretty. She always looked gorgeous, wearing the latest fashions from New York.

Kim was strong. She was unbeatable in basketball.

Kim was brave. She never backed down from anything.

Kim was smart. The teachers loved her.

And out of everyone to be close friends with, she had chosen me.

“Hey, Kim.” I made my way through the mass of screaming children to her.

“Happy birthday!” She pulled me into the seat beside her, grinning. “What’s it like, being fourteen?”

“Same as thirteen. Nothing new,” I said, but I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. Fourteen years. I couldn’t believe it’d been that long. Fourteen years since the spirit in me made a deal with the witch, since I’d gotten my chance to be human. 

“Yeah right.” Kim laughed, shaking her head. “Lucky you, Ms. Fourteen-Years-Is-Nothing-Special.”

I shrugged. “You’ll get there soon enough.” 

“Five months is not soon enough,” she grumbled.

I sighed as the bus pulled up to the school and everyone filed off.

“See you at lunch.” I waved to Kim as she headed toward her classes and I went to mine.


“Okay, so I have to tell you all something,” Kim said as I sat down at our completely full lunch table, barely holding back a smile. Girls constantly tried to sit with Kim, to get to know the special basketball star. But one table could only fit so many people. Those who did make it were considered lucky, special, honored. Because Kim chose only the best. 

So why’d she choose you? a voice inside me asked.

No. Hush. I will not think about that. I will not think about how I don’t belong with all of these pretty, smart, strong, popular girls. Or how none of them know my name except Kim herself. Or how I hardly know any of theirs. I will not think about how they wonder why Kim chose me to be among them.

“What is it?” I grinned, leaning forward. I’d never seen Kim so excited.

“I’m moving to New York.”

I froze. I felt trapped and couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. I’d lived my whole life with Kim. She was my first friend. The first and only person I had trusted with my secrets. I’d gone to my first day of school with her. Had my first playdate and sleepover with her. Went on my first rollercoaster ride with her.

And now, I was being ripped away from her. Or she was being ripped away from me.

New York was hundreds of miles away.

A chorus of congratulations rang around the table, but I stayed silent.

“So? What do you think?” Kim asked, looking at me.

I pulled myself together and tried to smile. “Well, what do you think?”

“I’m excited,” she threw up her hands ecstatically. “It’ll be amazing! I can’t wait, honestly.”

“That’s… great,” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic for her sake. I’d known she wanted more than this small school, this small town. I’d known she dreamed about living in a big 

city, and that her family was working so hard to make it out of this place, to move to New York City. She’d be happy in a new place, with a new life, with new friends. But as for me… I’d be left alone, miserable, and friendless. I’d imagined it before, what it might feel like to lose Kim. The loneliness, the pain, the despair. But I’d never thought she’d be so excited to leave me.

Her face fell. “You’re not happy for me, are you?”

Should I lie to please her? Or should I tell the truth?

“Be honest, Asme.”

Suddenly nobody else in the room mattered. It was just the two of us. I took a deep breath and blurted, “No. I’m not happy for you. What am I supposed to do when you’re gone?”

“Oh my God, Asme! Will you stop being so selfish for once and think about what I want? All I’ve ever done is stood up for you, been happy for you even if I didn’t like it, been your friend! And you can’t even do the same?”

“You’re talking about our friendship like it’s some chore.” I raised my voice, standing up. “Like you don’t want to be my friend. We’ve been friends for fourteen years, Kim. Fourteen years! You’re all I’ve ever known. I know you’re excited to move. I’m glad you’re finally getting what you want. But can’t you see how hard it is for me? I don’t want to let go of you if I can help it.”

“Again, all about you! That’s all you ever think about, isn’t it? You. You’ve probably only stayed friends with me for my popularity. I don’t even know why I bother!”

I flinched as if she’d struck me. “You can’t think that…”

“I can and do! Any time something happens that I like, are you ever happy for me? Never!”

“That is not true! If you feel this way, why do you even put up with me?”

No. Don’t answer, Kim. Please, please, please don’t answer. 

“Because out of all the people here, you seemed like you could maybe understand me. But obviously not!” Kim shouted, glaring. “Or maybe because I knew you wouldn’t survive a day without me. You’re so attached to me – I’m practically your mother. God, the sooner I get away from this place, the better.”

I took a step back, trembling. I suddenly remembered we weren’t alone. The whole room was staring at us. Only when I reached up to wipe my eyes did I realize I was crying.

“Now, my friends and I are going to sit somewhere else. And when I say ‘friends,’ that doesn’t include you.”

I searched Kim’s eyes, trying to find a trace of kindness or sympathy. A trace of my best friend. But her eyes were cold, gray, silent. 

I sat back down and put my head in my hands, ignoring the food in front of me. Something inside me broke in despair and anger. How could Kim feel that way? How could she leave me? How could this happen? What did I do to deserve this?

Suddenly I felt like I couldn’t care. Like Kim had taken a piece of me away with her.

And then I heard the gasps.

“Asme?” Kim whispered, a tinge of fear in her voice.

What’d I do now? I wondered, and then I opened my eyes. 

Looked down. 

And I saw myself. 

Or my body, at least. But my body wasn’t what everyone was looking at. 

They saw me. My spirit. Seeping out . . .

No. The magic was broken.

I could only imagine what Kim was seeing – me sitting there with my head in my hands, shaking. Then going rigid and still. My spirit floated upward, a gray smoky figure released into the air. My earthbound body slumped and I felt myself being pulled away, felt my grasp of reality fade. 

The feelings and colors and smells and sounds… gone.

“No! No, no, no, no, no!” I cried as I was sucked back into a familiar gray wasteland. The Spiritworld.

I can’t be back

After everything I’d sacrificed fourteen years ago, all of that had led … here again? It was my birthday. Fourteen years since I’d gotten to Earth in the first place. Birthdays were supposed to be special, perfect. Birthdays weren’t supposed to be your worst nightmare.

“You!” a voice shouted, loud and furious. I spun around to find a huge, intimidating spirit pointing at me, and I slowly backed away. “You,” it continued, “weren’t supposed to join Earth for another three hundred years!”

An official? Why me? Why now?

Terror flooded me. “I – I’m sorry!”

“How did you take a body?” the spirit demanded.

“I – I don’t think I’m s-supposed to tell you.” I glanced around, looking for an escape.

“Answer me!” it thundered.

“A witch!” I exclaimed, and then added, “um… I mean… I’m a witch.” There was no way I’d give the witch’s secret away. Not when she had helped me. Not when she could help me again.

The official seemed skeptical. “No, you’re not. You don’t have the looks of one.” 

“How would you know?” I countered, feeling unexpectedly brave after my fight with Kim… Kim! What was she doing now? What was happening to my body? I need to get back.

“Well, I suppose I don’t. Maybe you are a witch, or maybe you aren’t. I’ll be keeping an eye on you, spirit.”

“My name,” I hissed, “is Asme.”

I am my own spirit. I make my own choices. I have my own memories. My own name.

“But you’re a spirit,” the official said, confused. “You don’t have a name.”

“My name is Asme,” I repeated.

I could not stay here. I would not accept it.

With that, I turned and hurried in a random direction, desperate to get away from the other spirits and the questions, the wrongness of it all. I wasn’t supposed to come back. Not for another fifty years, at least. Not this way. 

Stop complaining and fix the situation, Asme.

How did I get back here again? I must have come up through one of the portals… But how did they work? I’d never gotten to learn about them, much less see them. Those areas were crawling with officials. But now that I was beyond the guards, maybe I could use the portal I came out of to return to Earth. I glided swiftly back in the direction I’d come from.

I peeked out from over a gray hill, watching spirits appear in the valley below. As each one appeared, I could see the silvery outline of a portal of some sort. But more than that, I could see inside. I could see Earth.

Yet, as each spirit came through and moved on, the portal disappeared. Gone. So I would have to time everything perfectly to make it through once again. Stealthily I glided down the hill, and every time a new spirit appeared, I tried to hurtle through the portal. 

I was always too late. 

I sighed. There was no way I could go back on my own. I’d have to trek all the way to the witch’s cave. How long would that take? Did I have enough time for that? 

The more time you spend contemplating it, the more time you’re wasting.

Off I went, gliding as fast as I could. I knew the way to the witch by heart. Or… by soul?

She lived at the Southernmost border, among the countless rolling hills. All those years ago, when I’d first heard of the witch, I knew she must be in one of two places – the mountains to the North or the hills to the South. Both places were almost impossible to find. Few spirits journeyed to the borders, and if anyone had ever gone past them, it was unheard of. It was said that monsters from our ancient history lurked beyond the borders. It was also said that witches were descended from monsters, so wouldn’t it make sense if witches lived closer to them?

I spent what must have been days traveling South when the tall hills began to look familiar. I was nearing the witch’s cave.

I closed my eyes, imagining Earth again. Imagining Kim. My parents. My own body.

A familiar harsh voice startled me. “What are you doing back here, little spirit, little soul?”

I spun around. I was face to face with the witch. 

She looked just the same as before, though I couldn’t tell what set her apart from any other spirit or how I knew her appearance was the same. I just knew.

I started to speak, “I–”

Tsk. Has your human body died already?” the witch interrupted. “Didn’t take very good care of it, did you?”

“No, that’s not it,” I replied. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I just got kicked out of me. The body, I mean.”

Her tone turned bored. “Big emotions, eh?” she asked as if she’d seen all this before. “Same story, every time.”

I frowned. Or, I frowned as well as I could in this form. 

Big emotions” was one way to put it. How often has this happened to others before me? Why am I only learning about this now? 

“Well, come, if you must. I’ll put you back on Earth, little spirit, little soul.”

Relief filled me, and happiness bloomed inside of me for the first time in the Spiritworld. “Thank you so much!”

“But not without a price, that is,” she added solemnly.

My smile melted away like ice cream on a hot summer day. “But I don’t have anything for payment. I have nothing in the Spiritworld!”

“You could give me a memory?” 

No. My memories of Earth were far too precious.

“Your firstborn child?” The witch smiled, showing filthy, rotted teeth. 

No way would I give her my first child in the future. Who was this witch, Rumplestiltskin?

The witch glanced behind me and her face shifted.

“How about a promise?” she asked quickly.

I paused. “A promise to what?”

“A promise to not lead the officials here again — and to help drive them away.”

“What?” I asked. “What do you mean, ‘again’?”

“You weren’t careful!” the witch shrieked. “Now you’ve led them to me!”

“I was careful,” I cried, backing away.

“The witch is right,” a voice thundered.

I spun around to see the biggest, most serious-looking spirit ever, carrying the biggest, most deadly-looking ax ever.

It wasn’t just any ax. It was an ax from the beginning of time, from millions of years ago, that our ancestors had used to eradicate the monsters that once roamed the Spiritworld. But the ax could also kill spirits.

“I told you to put a stop to your mischief,” the spirit said, its booming voice echoing over the valley and rolling over the hills.

“And I told you to stop bothering me!” screamed the witch.

“Your practice is against the law,” the official said.

“There is no law here.”

“Putting a spirit on Earth before its time causes confusion and destruction. You cannot be allowed to continue.” 

I could see my future crumbling before my eyes. If the witch died, I’d never be able to go back to Earth, never be able to find Kim again. If the witch died, there would not only be no chance for me, but no chance for anyone. No chance for all the other spirits like me who wanted a chance for a better future. 

You may wonder how a spirit dies, or if it can die at all. When a human dies on Earth, it is said that the spirit goes up to the Spiritworld. But when spirits die in the Spiritworld, which can only be caused by a select few ancient weapons, the spirits cease to exist. For us, there’s no heaven, no other plane to go to. Just poof – and you’re gone.

If the witch were to die now, that would be the end of all hope. I had to do something. I couldn’t just let the official take the witch. I may never get back to Kim, but I could at least give some other restless spirit the same opportunity once given to me.

I turned to the witch. “Go.”

She nodded once before darting away.

I turned back to the spirit, its humongous ink-black form towering above all else.

This is a mistake. I shouldn’t do this. What difference can I possibly make? What if the witch gets captured anyway?

No. Stand your ground. Fight for what you believe. Come on, Asme. Do it for you. Do it for Kim. Do it for the other spirits.

“If you want to get to the witch,” I said in a brave voice, “you have to get through me first.”

The spirit laughed. “Then I shall.”

It brought its ax toward me, and for a moment, everything seemed to slow down. I could see the sharp blade so clearly. I could hear the soft whoosh as it fell through the air. 

This is it. The last moments of life, if you can even call this life.

A wave of panic erupted over me, and I stood frozen. The ax came down, down, down. And all I could do was gaze up at it.

A memory sprung forth, one of Kim. We must have been ten or eleven at the time…

I frowned up at the rollercoaster. It was so… big. And fast. I glanced back at our moms, who were chatting and eating ice cream on a bench nearby. 

“I don’t think I want to go on this ride, Kim.”

“It’ll be fun!” She slowed down to match my pace.

“I don’t know.”

“You scared?” Kim turned to face me. Her smile seemed to be as bright as the hot summer sun.

“Kind of,” I admitted.

“There’s nothing to be scared of,” Kim said gently, wrapping a sunburned arm around my shoulders.

“It just seems really fast and dangerous and – well, I’m just not sure about it.”

“It’ll be okay. I’ll be there with you.” Kim squeezed me reassuringly.


“Promise. I’ll be there–always.”

And we stepped forward into the roller coaster cart.

I watched the ax come down.

“I’ll be there–always.”

I felt the searing pain as it slammed into me.

I can bear it. For Kim. For the other spirits.

“I’ll be there–always.”

And all faded to black.

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