You’ll have to excuse Jan. Grandpa’s been haunting Dad again. At Dad’s birthday Grandpa flipped on the air compressor in the garage. Last year he made the lights flicker in the kitchen and the drink coasters disappear. Dad has a lung disease and tells Jan Your Grandpa’s being really funny. Grandpa’s depressed. He runs the walls wet with his tears. It looks as if someone squeezed a sponge on the wall, blotchy with trailing trickles down to the baseboards. He’s crying because he got split in two urns. The urns have been a sore subject for a while and Grandpa won’t let up. Dad tells Jan he’s doing his best. Connecting Grandpa with Grandpa has become his mission. For Dad’s birthday Jan says let’s put him back together and drives Dad in his car to the cemetery and helps him pull Grandpa from the wall. Dad uses Grandpa’s hunting knife to scrape the metal box out while Jan smokes four cigarettes, lighting one with the other, believing the juju is F’d. He keeps Grandpa in his coat while they shuffle arm in arm like lovers back to the car. He doesn’t pull it out of his coat and Jan doesn’t say anything and the Eagles’ Peaceful Easy Feeling plays on the radio.

It’s really terrible what happened, or how it happened. It was days before his 65th birthday, a week out of retirement. He was waiting in line to get his picture snapped at the DMV. He’d just shaved that mustache, was open to new beginnings. Ready for a winter when he wouldn’t have to work the night shift and start people’s cars, confuse the parking lot lights for the moon.

Even when the Pastor met with Jan and Dad to go over the order of operation for the funeral. How’d it happen? And she told him. But how’d he die?


The DMV killed him. That’s how Dad wanted Grandpa’s story told. Everyone called him Bill or Billy at the store. It read William on the on the plaque next to the urn. A strong name and a life worth remembering, you know?

Then they were back in the garage and the tires were low on the car, but Grandpa was whole again. Self with self. His wholy spirit. No question about it.

After Dad dies, this is what will happen because it already happened years later and Jan can see it now. After he died Jan cleaned out his house in one bender dash of a weekend and stuffed it all in a U-Haul except the Grandfather clock—she’d been avoiding that the whole time—but when she moved it, around three in the afternoon on that windy November day, a full moon too, she tipped it from side to side so it shuffled forward and slowly scooched it down the hallway with the inside chiming, the glass threatening to shatter, and Grandpa’s spirit aching to get at her before she could walk it out the front door.




  1. Kevin Sterne

    Hey everyone, this weekend has been fun. So many excellent, supremely talented writers in here. such detailed, super constructive feedback. Everyone is so supportive. I would love to keep sending future work back and forth. I’m on twitter @kevinsterne or email kevinsternewrites@gmail

    • Bud Smith

      Thanks Kevin, I’m really glad you had a good time and got some great feedback. Thanks for posting such cool work, as always.

  2. Bud Smith

    I’m a sucker for a good ghost story because in the dead we can project so much of the things that we wished our lives could be and the dead can get full revenge for the things that we in our weak flesh cannot. Grandpa in this story only has so much power in life and as is usually the case, a man with not too much oomph is a spirit that cannot cause us much harm in death. He was a person killed absurdly and without full understanding by the DMV. He turns on the air compressor and he hides some coasters. Sometimes a small person who is wronged in life can become huge in death and act out a crushing maelstrom of vengeance — here the walls sweat a little and he gets trapped in a grandfather clock. That’s so fucking funny. They try to consolidate grandpa into one larger urn? is that what happens here so that he is made whole in spirit form or can move on, but instead of moving he just moves into the grandfather clock? I like all that. As is usually the case with some wild writing and premise, a little bit of clarity would help. And then the father dies. I was a little unclear what significance the father dying would have to do with the spirit of the grandfather–are they together in the house now or has the father figured out a way to move on? Hmmm

    • Bud Smith

      I know we are at the end of the class here but feel free to shout my way any time if you would ever like to talk more about this story!

  3. David O'Connor

    He’s crying because he got split in two urns–I’m nominating this for the best line all weekend!? Another goodie–confuse the parking lot lights for the moon. The last line is a dinger too. Perhaps for a title, The DMV killed him? I think with a shave and a haircut this is ready to be sent out to party. Well done.

  4. Lisa Moore

    Hey Kevin,

    This was really touching. There are so many perfectly-used details in here ( “He’d just shaved that mustache, was open to new beginnings” says so much about retirement and ageing in a few words) and the tone and rhythm suit the subject. The final paragraph with the grandfather clock killed me!! So good.

    I only have one comment: I found this sentence confusing: “After Dad dies, this is what will happen because it already happened years later and Jan can see it now”. Could you maybe start the final section off: “After Dad dies, Jan cleans out his in one bender dash of a weekend”?

    This was rad. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Hi Kevin, The haunting because of two urns is a great conception. I love how you work it. I agree with Lisa about the confusing sentence, and her conception. It’s moment that reading comes to a full stop, not for long, but breaks at a moment just before the great take with the Grandfather clock. The clock should star. “Grandfather’s spirit aching to get at her” ran chills down my spine, as trite as that sounds, really, did. Thanks.

  6. Janelle Greco

    I love the ghost of Grandpa. I love that he used to confuse the parking lot lights for the moon. What a beautiful image. The only suggestion I would make is that the first line “You’ll have to excuse Jan” implies that Jan is acting strangely. I’m kind of wondering as a reader what that looks like. What is Jan doing that we have to excuse? That aside, I was really immersed in this one and appreciate you sharing it. If you ever want to exchange more writing I’m at or @janellesellsseashells on Instagram. Thanks for all your pieces. Truly great stuff.

  7. Amy Barnes

    Agree on the “split into two urns” line but also the Ghostbuster-esque drippy tear wall. The word “blotchy” is its own deal and feels perfect here. I love the opening lines — my tired eyes got a little tripped up with “Jan.” like it was a January abbreviation. There is something very sensory in the entire story that guides the pacing and helps us feel what is happening: the air compressor flipped on, flickering lights, no coasters, wet walls, the sound of crying, smoking, parking lot “moon” lights, Eagles music playing, a stuffed U-Haul, windy November day, scooching down the hallway, the chiming clock. You give us the perfect combination of normal setting and interesting very specific ones, making every word count.

    Combined with your character development, this world-building through sensory details not only tell this story — they also guide the reader into thinking about their own grief, remainders of their loved ones, paranormal activity. Great use of a small space to convey so much!

  8. Neil Clark

    You had me at the flickering lights and the coasters disappearing, Kevin. And the the two urns thing is brilliant – a ghost split in two.

    Same as Lisa, the sentence “After Dad dies, this is what will happen because it already happened years later and Jan can see it now.” did jar and confuse me a bit.

    Once that’s smoothed out, though, I think this will be good to go. Really enjoyed this!

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