To say I worked at the farm for years would be an understatement. For almost my entire life, I helped the farmer move heavy loads and plough fields, and even when the farmer worried I was getting too old, I made sure to let him know I wanted to continue my work. I couldn’t speak to him, but he knew when Old Agnes was ready when I nudged my head towards the sacks or the field.
This old girl sadly couldn’t last forever, but even after I died, I still tried to help out around the farm. Sadly, I was invisible, so the farmer could no longer see me nudge my head towards work I wanted to aid in, and I couldn’t pick up the sacks or ploughing equipment myself, given that I had no hands.
I don’t know how long it was I attempted to get the farmer, his wife and his customers to notice me before I realised I could make myself visible, just by concentrating hard enough. Though he looked for all the world like he was going to scream and run away, he thought of another use for me.
The farm was advertised as “the haunted farm”, so not only did it sell eggs and flour, people came to see the ghost donkey. They would stand and watch the transparent animal or a levitating sack of corn. Children too would ride on my back or pretend to levitate.
This helped the farm to profit, yet I couldn’t help but silently seethe at the fact I had been turned into a sideshow. Still I kept on doing it; the more sacks I levitated, the more sacks I sold.
The farmer died himself, and I expected his ghost to haunt the farm as well, but I never saw his spirit. Instead, his son inherited the place, and used me the same way his father did. Farmer after farmer came and went, and soon enough, my novelty wore off. People began to think I was merely wires and mirrors, and of course, there were newer, better ways to move goods and plough fields, so I walked the roads invisible.
Where to? I had no idea where. Another farm, perhaps, I thought, though I would either be reduced to be a novelty there or rejected. I passed a funfair and considered joining their ghost train, but then, I thought, being a fairground prop for people to stare at was what I was trying to avoid. Days passed, and I kept on hoping I could pass on, a light would appear, and I’d be teleported to a special afterlife for donkeys, one with endless carrots and sunny green fields.
Then I wondered, why was I even on Earth at all? To help the humans? The same humans who did nothing but stare at me? Why should I care about them?
Well, I said to myself, they gave me a home. They gave me food.
But, came another voice in my head, they just wanted you to live longer so they could get more use out of you.
But they gave me a name. Old Agnes they called me. Never “that donkey”, always Agnes, I was. Like I was one of the family.
The voices in my head were silenced by a yowl.
I was invisible. I chose to be. In the days since I had left the farm, no humans had seen or sensed me. Even when I was alive, I heard stories of animals sensing ghosts that humans couldn’t, so I expected something like this to happen.
What I didn’t expect was a skeletal cat wrapped in bandages.
‘You can sense me,’ was the first thing I said to the cat.
‘Of course I can,’ replied the mummified cat, ‘I’ve been among ghosts for centuries.’
‘I joined my master in the afterlife,’ the cat said, ‘it was a wondrous place, but too many times I sharpened my claws, knocked over things, bit people…oh, they really don’t like when I bite them. So they kicked me out. I just got out of the museum.’
‘The afterlife,’ I said, ‘how do you get there?’
‘I tell you I’ve been kicked out,’ sighed the cat, ‘and the first thing you ask me is how you get in? Self, self, self.’
‘Sorry,’ I replied.
‘Don’t be,’ said the cat, ‘we both seem to be in the same boat here. You know when I came back to Earth, they all thought it was part of the tour. The museum had installed some animatronics. I tried to ask them how I could get back to the afterlife, but I don’t think they understood me.’
‘Well, I’ve been dead for quite a while without going to the afterlife,’ I said to the cat, ‘but I’m sure I’ll reach it sometime. Maybe I’ll find a way to get you back there.’
‘Thank you,’ said the cat, ‘Hey, can I travel with you? We’re both undead, we have no idea where we’re going, so why can’t we be that together?’
How could I refuse?
‘Thank you,’ he said again, ‘by the way, my name’s Sobek. It’s my fangs that got me the name.’
So the next couple of days I spent walking with Sobek, mostly sticking to fields and places humans rarely went. I may have been invisible, but Sobek wasn’t, and we both feared people from the museum would be trying to reclaim him. Both of us thus looked for the deepest, darkest woods possible, the type creatures like us are said to live in. We thought we had found one such forest, but in a little deeper we went and we saw a tent. We couldn’t take any chances.
We found our forest though. A forest where nothing lived except bats. Fellow animals, fellow monsters.
There we spent a whole day, just sitting, discussing what to do and where we were going. When night fell, Sobek described the afterlife, a place of beauty where only the truly worthy go. When humans went down there, their heart was weighed against a feather and if their heart was lighter, only then would they be allowed entry. There was no need to do that with cats, however.
‘Though with the way they talked about me,’ said Sobek, ‘I wonder if they may reconsider the rules a bit.’
‘And how would you describe the afterlife?’
‘Well, I…the only way I can describe it is it’s like life only better.’
Hearing that made me think of my life, and my lack of it at that moment. So many years I had been a ghost, so many years without food or water or feeling the sun against my back. I closed my eyes and tried to remember what it was like to be of flesh and blood, the sound of my heart, the taste of carrots…
Then we heard a thump.
‘What was that?’ Sobek asked, before hiding behind a tree.
Out from the bushes sprung a sheepdog, looking in my direction.
‘Relax,’ she said to me, ‘I’m like you…sort of.’ Sobek peeked from around the tree. I bent down to get a closer look at her, and that was when I noticed the red stains on her fur. ‘My name’s Sophie,’ she continued, ‘and…I could really use a friend who isn’t alive right now.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
She opened her mouth and gestured towards her fangs, longer and thinner than what you’d expect a dog to have. As if that wasn’t enough to convince us what she was, she stood on her hind legs and shook her forelegs until they transformed into a pair of giant bat wings. Another shake and they reverted to forelegs, before she covered her face with one of those forelegs.
‘So,’ said Sobek, still peeking from behind the tree, ‘you’re a…’
‘Yes,’ replied Sophie, ‘yes…you know, when I was at my farm, everything was great…I rounded up the sheep, and the sheep and I got along…Sean and Neil and Lucy and all…’ She bit her lip as she looked up, watching as a bat fluttered from a branch. ‘One of those came to the farm. One of those but bigger. It bit me and then when I was with the sheep…’ She gestured towards the red on her fur, looking as if she were about to burst into tears.
‘There, there,’ I said to her, ‘it’s…’ I couldn’t finish the sentence. After what she had done, after what she couldn’t control, how could I say it was going to be alright?
‘Hey,’ said Sobek as he walked out from behind his tree, ‘we’ll help you.’
‘Of course! We’ve been undead a lot longer than you have. Old Agnes here has been a ghost for decades, and I’ve spent centuries in the afterlife. There, I learnt a lot about the world and how it’s changed over the years. I’m immortal and I know a lot; I’m sort of like Santa Claus.’
I inwardly snarled at Sobek; though I knew his intentions were good, I wanted to bring up that neither of us had to deal with uncontrollable bloodlust.
‘I suppose that’s comforting,’ Sophie replied, ‘so you won’t mind if I stay with you?’
‘Of course not. Also, Sobek here,’ I said, ‘has escaped from a museum and he thinks the people from it are trying to reclaim him. I don’t know if you want to fly up and look for them.’
‘Well, okay,’ she said with a shrug, ‘I mean, what are friends for?’
‘Yeah,’ I replied, ‘we’ll be your friends.’
Sophie stood on her hind legs and again let the toes from her forelegs elongate with webs springing between them. In seconds, she shrunk and from where she stood, a bat flapped upwards, over the tree tops. After a few minutes, the bat dove down and became Sophie again.
‘I see no museum people,’ she said, cringing, ‘but…’
‘I saw another farm not too far from here.’
After Sophie pointed to where she saw the farm, we all agreed to walk in the opposite direction. Not only for Sophie’s sake, but because even living animals could sense supernatural creatures better than humans and we felt we should stay discreet for the time being.
‘Also,’ I said, ‘a farm is the last place I want to go.’ Then I told Sophie why.
‘You didn’t like being entertainment?’ Sophie asked, ‘Come on, I love entertaining people. Me and the…’ She scrunched up her eyes before she resumed talking. ‘I’ve always wanted to go into music. I heard that there’s a lot of CDs where songs are sung by dogs, and I sing a lot…to keep my mind off…we should be a band!’
‘I don’t know,’ replied Sobek, ‘I wouldn’t call myself musical.’
‘You have all eternity to learn,’ laughed Sophie, ‘we all do.’
‘But,’ I said to her, ‘I don’t really…’
‘Well, you know, if we entertain people with music, and not levitation and things,’ Sophie said, ‘maybe we…they’ll forget we’re monsters. They won’t see “ghost donkey” or “mummy cat” but us as singers.’
‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ I sang the first song that came to my head – one I had overheard a child sing about the judge and his wife.
‘Not that kind of song,’ Sophie chuckled, ‘I was thinking more of…’ She sang that lullaby. You know the one, everyone’s heard it. Halfway through singing the song, she burst into tears, and I heard her say, ‘If you don’t feel like counting yourselves…’ Sobek and I weren’t the first ones she sang that lullaby to, I realised.
‘That was very good,’ I said.
‘Yeah,’ said Sobek, ‘We can all sing that!’
‘What’s it called?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know,’ replied Sophie as she dried her eyes.
‘I think it’s called “Bremen’s Lullaby”,’ said Sobek, ‘Let’s make it our signature song. We’ll be the Musicians of Bremen!’
After a “one, two, three” from Sophie, we all joined in in singing Bremen’s Lullaby, and for a minute, I felt alive, more solid than I usually felt. As I sang, I felt a prang of pain – a good pain – in my non-existent throat, and I swear I heard a heartbeat.
As soon as we stopped singing, another shadow emerged from the bushes. Sophie leapt backwards as a rooster approached us. ‘It’s alive!’ she cried.
‘You know,’ said the rooster, ‘that’s exactly what he said when he made me.’
I took a closer look at the rooster and saw the stitches all over his body. Stitches along his wings, one bigger than the other, stitches along his neck, stitches along his forehead.
‘I heard you singing,’ he said, ‘it was beautiful. Teach me how to sing, please. Maybe the master will take me back.’
‘Master?’ asked Sobek.
‘In the farm where I’m from,’ explained the rooster, ‘the farmer is a strict, cruel man, especially to the roosters who fail to wake him up at the proper time. If he sleeps in just once, kapow!’
‘Well,’ I asked the rooster, ‘why would you want him to take you back?’
‘He’s not my master, his son is. His son, Percy, hated that so many roosters had failed to wake up his father, so he wanted to make a rooster that could. He collected the corpses of all the roosters, took them apart, put the best parts together, and I was the result.’
Just then, he opened his beak and let loose a sound that shook the forest and stung even my spectral ears. Both Sobek and Sophie squirmed.
‘It worked too well,’ the rooster continued, ‘I awoke the farmer, but he yelled about the ringing in his ears, and demanded my master dispose of me.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Sobek said, approaching the bird, ‘you’re safe with us.’
‘Am I?’ The rooster looked us over. ‘I know what you cats are like.’
‘I’m dead, I don’t need to eat anymore.’
‘What about her?’ He turned to Sophie, her forelegs over her mouth, humming Bremen’s Lullaby to herself.
‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘I’ll make sure no-one eats you. We all will. We’ve all been through what you have.’
‘Thanks,’ sighed the rooster.
‘Do you have a name?’ I asked him.
‘Well, the farmer did say “Get that thing out of my farm”, so I guess I’m That Thing.’
Sophie turned to look at That Thing, her eye twitching. ‘I don’t think you deserve that name…I think we should call you Percy.’
‘But that’s the name of my master.’
‘Yeah, you’re the first of your kind, created by Percy, so you’re a Percy.’ Again she bit her lip.
‘I like it,’ said Percy, for that was his name now, ‘It sounds better than That Thing.’
We then continued walking away from that farm, that farm where Percy came from. We all felt it was for the best that Percy should avoid it, at least until we could do something about his crowing. All three of us told him our stories, and he paid rapt attention, especially to Sobek’s descriptions of the afterlife.
‘I don’t remember going to an afterlife,’ said Percy, ‘and I think I should, given that I’m made up of so many dead roosters.’
‘Maybe the souls of the roosters you’re made up of are in the afterlife,’ said Sobek, ‘and when your master created you, he created a new soul.’
‘You know, Sophie,’ I said, ‘Sobek and I are proof there’s life after death, and Percy is the dead brought to life…maybe your sheep friends are happy in the afterlife. Maybe they’ve forgiven you.’
‘Maybe…’ was all Sophie said in response.
After that, we told him about Bremen’s Lullaby, and we tried to teach him how to sing. He was a better singer than he was a crower, though he did almost let loose that horrible crow from time to time. ‘With a bit of practice,’ Sobek said to Percy, ‘you’ll be a Musician of Bremen yet!’
‘Hey, look!’ Percy fluttered up slightly as we came towards a house. An old, rotten house, with barely any windows and moss growing on the walls. The type of house monsters like us were supposed to live in. In fact, Percy said, ‘We could use a roof over our heads.’
‘He’s got a point,’ said Sobek, ‘it could rain at any minute.’
‘Agnes,’ said Sophie, ‘you’re invisible. Could you just double-check there isn’t anyone there?’
‘Doesn’t look it.’
‘We can’t take chances!’ snapped Sophie, ‘We thought we were alone when Percy came in!’ Percy shuddered, covering his face with his wings. ‘I…I didn’t mean anything by that!’
I walked up to the house, and as I got closer, I could more clearly see a light. A candle was lit, and as I poked my head through a broken window, I saw two men sitting at a table, looking through money they kept in briefcases sitting next to balaclavas. I listened to their conversation, and from what they say, I could tell their money was ill-gotten.
‘Robbers!’ I cried as I ran to the others.
‘Living ones?’ hissed Sophie.
‘That’s the first thing you think of?’ snarled Sobek.
‘Let’s get out of here!’ cried Percy.
‘No!’ cried Sobek as he leapt up, ‘Don’t you see? This is our big chance! This is how we get what we want!’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘We’re monsters! Monsters scare people! So we scare the robbers so badly they turn themselves in! Agnes, you’ll be a hero, not a novelty! Sophie, you’ll have redeemed yourself! Percy’s master will take him back if he finds out he stopped those criminals and maybe they’ll let me back in the afterlife!’
We all took a moment to contemplate Sobek’s idea and we accepted, with him planning our scare. I went in first, trotting through the front door, making sure my invisible hooves were as loud as possible. Sure enough, the two criminals stood up, pulling on their balaclavas, and looking around the room. Then I made a sound I hadn’t made in decades: ‘Wooooooooo! Wooooooooo!’
‘Hey look, Fred, some donkey wondered in.’
‘Isn’t she cute, Gary?’
They didn’t even seem to notice I was transparent.
‘Wooooooooo!’ I repeated, adding, ‘Tonight you will be haunted by three monsters!’ I wasn’t sure if they understood that last part, but Sobek told me I had to say it.
Sure enough, as soon as I said that part, Sobek leapt through the window, raising his forelegs.
‘Look, Fred, we got a little mummy!’ Gary, instead of running away in terror, stroked Sobek. ‘Nice kitty, nice kitty!’ When Percy walked in, holding his wings in front of him and moaning, Fred’s response was to say, ‘Aw, reminds me of my little conure!’
‘And look, Fred, they’ve got a sheepdog with them!’ Sophie stood in the doorway, with her forelegs become giant wings. ‘Since we got so many animals here already, Fred, think we’ll see any sheep? Baa baa!’
When he said that, Sophie’s wings folded away and she cowered to the floor. ‘Sophie!’ I cried, ‘Let’s get out of here!’
‘Hey, come on,’ said Sobek, still being petted by Gary, ‘it’s been ages since someone’s done this to me!’
‘What?’ barked Percy, ‘This was your idea!’
‘Well, yeah, but…’
‘That does it!’ Again Percy let out the sound that got him banished, the sound that seemed to shake the very foundations of the house; I was almost certain it would collapse on top of us. Sobek shook and covered his ears, as did Sophie and Fred and Gary and I would have covered my ears if I had hands.
And he did it again. And again.
He hopped around, shrieking and squawking, even hopping out of the house. When he did that, Sophie sprouted her wings again, grabbed him by the comb with her teeth and flew as high as she could.
‘What the hell was that?’ asked Fred.
‘Dunno,’ replied Gary, ‘but I don’t find these animals cute anymore.’
With that, Sobek leapt onto Gary’s face, his claws digging deep into his skin and Gary letting loose a howl almost as ear-splitting as Percy’s. As soon as Fred tried to help his friend, I did something my species was famous for, and kicked him backwards with my hind legs into a pile of dust-covered boxes.
I did the same to Gary, and then I sang Bremen’s Lullaby again, in hopes that it’d soothe the savage beast, or at least soothe my own nerves.
‘Listen, Fred, she’s singing.’
‘Not that bad either.’
Soon enough, Percy and Sophie dove in through a window, and they were followed by the police, looking for the source of the terrible noise they just heard. They found that, and two criminals who had until then slipped through their fingers.
Sobek, Sophie, Percy and me. We all teamed up to look for a place in this world, and we found it with the police. My invisibility allowed me to sneak in on perps and eavesdrop, and my hind legs proved useful too. Sobek used the knowledge he gained from the afterlife to help piece together clues. Sophie surveyed areas with her flight skills and was the most effective police dog on the force; thanks to the steaks they fed her, there was little chance of a sheep massacre happening again. Percy was the best method of riot control and their best replacement siren.
And it gave us all an opportunity to work in tandem; nothing helped soothe the others in stressful moments like our rendition of Bremen’s Lullaby…actually they told us it was Brahm’s Lullaby and Bremen is a German town. In fact, Bremen sounds nice; maybe my friends and I will visit sometime.