The Gray Ghost Visits France

by Rowena Eureka

Nicky Campbell clutched the blue onionskin paper of Sophie’s letter and hid from the four German men staring at her family’s car. Their brand new 1976 silver Buick station wagon sat in the Hohenzollern parking lot, shadowed by the castle, with its fairy tale spires above. She needed to think of a response to Sophie’s letter, and had no time for people staring at their car like it was Cinderella’s carriage dropped from the sky.

Nicky had wanted to find a mystery at the cool medieval castle, but her sisters had followed her around like she was an East German spy, so she volunteered to come back to the car with her mom and tired little brother. Now her dad and sisters were walking towards the four staring men, and Nicky still hadn’t thought up a good mystery.

When they lived in Washington, D.C., she and Sophie loved to write stories together. Now that Nicky’s family had moved to Stuttgart, Germany, for her dad’s job as a civilian army worker, she tried to match Sophie’s stories. She had never had a friend as fun as Sophie and wanted to make sure her best friend felt the same way—a tricky task to pull off in just a few sheets of flimsy paper. This month Sophie had written a hilarious mystery about a missing hamster at her school.

Maybe the mystery of their car’s appeal was the story Nicky should write back. No, she needed a better one. In the meantime her dad approached the men, his smile spreading from behind his beard up to his glasses.

In D.C., the Campbell’s station wagon was an ordinary car, but in the few months since they’d lived in Germany, people often huddled around it in parking lots or waved as her family rode down cobblestone streets in tiny towns. It wasn’t really a mystery, though, because compared to their station wagon cars here were the size of toys. The Campbells’ car also had a green American license plate and a white circle sticker on the back of the car that said, “USA”. Her dad said people liked Americans because the U.S. had helped end World War Two. That war seemed like ancient times to Nicky—thirty years ago, almost before her parents were born.

 “Grüss Gott!” Her dad said, using one of the few German phrases he’d knew.

The men all said “Grüss Gott” back, which only encouraged him.

“Do you want to see the engine?” he asked.

Her dad’s enthusiasm for talking to strangers was another mystery, but that didn’t seem right either since Sophie knew Mr. Campbell well.

“I see the Gray Ghost has a fan club at castles, too,” her older sister Ellen said, as she scrambled into the middle seat with Nicky’s younger sister, Heather.

Their mom had started calling their car the “Gray Ghost,” a name that confused Nicky. Their car was silver and seemed nothing like a ghost. Her mom probably hoped that calling it a ghost would make their car become invisible.

Nicky’s mom and little brother were shy about people, just like Nicky. So Danny wound his fingers in a strand of her mom’s dark hair and cuddled close to her in the front seat.

Her dad opened the driver’s seat door, poked his head in the car, and pulled the hood release.

“They want to see the engine,” he said, “I’ll just be a few minutes.”

He closed the door and practically danced to the front of the car to pull up the hood.

The men leaned in and stared at the very ordinary engine, asking many questions in English, which her dad answered as if he was an engine expert, even though his knowledge of cars amounted to knowing how to pump his own gas.

Her mom groaned and muttered, “Yes, it’s big. We know.”

“I could look up how to say, ‘We know our car is big’ in German and French,” Ellen said. “Then we could put the sign in the window of our car.”

Ellen had been on a language kick ever since Sophie’s family had moved to D.C. from France and become friends with the Campbells.

      Nicky groaned. “Mom, please don’t let her do that!” Ellen’s “French” sounded nothing like Sophie’s.

“That might bring us more attention. But thank you, hon.”

The hood of our car banged shut, and the men walked away smiling and waving.

Mr. Campbell slid into the driver’s seat. “Everyone ready to go?”

The smell of strawberry wafted across the back seat.

“Yep,” Heather blew a bubble, popped it, and scooped the gum back into her mouth again.

“Can I have a piece?” Nicky asked.

Heather shook her head. “This is my last one. Bought it from a kid at school. It’s special French bubble gum from the French commissary in Baden-Baden. She sells it for a quarter each!” At eight years old Heather was the Monopoly champion of the family and very into money.

Germany had excellent chocolate bars, but they didn’t have bubble gum. The commissary on base (the military way of saying grocery store) had a limited selection of gum. So everyone at her American school was always on the lookout for good bubble gum.

“There’s a French commissary in Baden-Baden?” Ellen asked. Nicky could see the “French” stars lighting up in Ellen’s eyes.

Mr. Campbell pulled out of the parking spot and waved goodbye to the Gray Ghost fan club.

“That’s right. After the war Germany was divided up into sectors,” he said. He loved talking about history. “The French oversee the west part near France.”

“Oooh!” Ellen said, bouncy up and down, “Could we go to there?”

“Sure!” Mr. Campbell said. “It’s less than a two-hour drive. Let’s go tomorrow.”

Nicky would have protested, but perhaps she’d find a good story for Sophie at the French commissary.


At the French base in Baden Baden, there was a guardhouse at the gate to check military IDs and the same beige buildings in a row, just like the American base where Nicky went to school. Here, though, the signs were in French and German instead of English and German, and the smell of freshly baking bread wafted through the French commissary.

“Should we buy baguettes for a picnic lunch?” Mr. Campbell asked.

“Good idea.” Mrs. Campbell sat Danny in a shopping cart.

“We should get cheese to go with our baguettes,” Ellen said.

“How do we pay?” Nicky asked. “We don’t have French money.”

“They’re called French Francs.” Ellen drew herself up tall, like a teacher.

Nicky ignored her.

“We can also pay with German Marks here,” Mr. Campbell said.

“Where’s the bubble gum?” Heather looked around. “We came here to get bubble gum to sell it at school. Remember?”

Mr. Campbell laughed. “Why don’t you girls look around on your own and meet back at the front in a few minutes with what you want to buy?”

“But only one or two bags of bubble gum, please,” Mrs. Campbell said.

Heather rushed towards the candy aisle, while Ellen and Nicky went to the cheese stand, where you could choose from more cheeses than Nicky had ever seen. There were tangy cheeses with blue bits, hard yellow cheeses, and round cheeses that looked like dusty white cakes on the outside but were super creamy on the inside.

Ellen used her “French” to ask the cheese lady for several different types of cheese, while pointing to them, too, so the lady understood.

Having no luck finding a story with Ellen, Nicky searched for Heather and found her in the candy aisle holding what looked like twelve bags of gum in her arms.

“They have regular, strawberry and mint!” Heather said. “How many bags of each do you think I should get?”

“Mom said we could only get one or two bags,” Nicky said.

“She didn’t know there would be three flavors,” Heather hugged the bags tightly to her chest. “People pay more for mint.

“So, get mint and strawberry,” Nicky said. “I wouldn’t mind a piece or two of those flavors.” Sophie absolutely loved bubble gum. Perhaps Nicky’s letter could be a review of the different flavors.

“You have to pay me 25 cents for the strawberry and 50 cents for the mint.”

“No way. I can just get my own,” Nicky looked at the shelf to grab another mint bag but didn’t see any.

“There’s only one bag of mint.” Heather clutched the bags tight. “And it’s mine.”

“Mom will make you share.”

“Not if I pay for it with my allowance money,” Heather said. “We can get a bag of the regular and a bag of strawberry to share.”

Nicky probably could have convinced her mom to let her use her allowance to buy her own bag of gum, but she was saving her money for a beautiful leather pencil case at the stationery store in their German town, so she had to save every pfennig. Besides, sending Sophie a gum review wasn’t as good as a mystery.

“I’ll help convince Mom to let you buy the bag of mint if you give me two pieces of mint for free,” Nicky said.

“One piece and it’s a deal.”

Thankfully, when they got back to the Gray Ghost there was no fan club greeting them, but Nicky still didn’t have a mystery to write to Sophie.

“That was so much fun asking for the cheese in French,” Ellen said. “When do you think we’ll be able to take a trip to the actual country of France?”

“You know,” their dad said, his voice getting that familiar far-off tone like he was living in his own fairytale. “France is only about 25 minutes away. We could have our picnic at a park in France.”

Ellen bounced up and down. “Really? Can we?”

“Sure!” their dad said. Then he looked at Nicky’s mom and Danny and asked, “Is that alright with you, Grace?”

“A picnic along the river would be nice, but then we need to get back for Danny’s nap.”

Her mom, in charge their passports, had figured they might need them for the French commissary, which also worked perfectly for the German-French border. It was like her mom had travelled with her dad before. No mystery there.

They picnicked on a large flat rock on the side of the Rheine River near the city of Strasbourg. Her dad spread a scratchy wool army blanket over the rock, and her mom got out the plastic cups that they kept in the car for outings. She tore up the brown paper grocery bag to make plates, broke off pieces of baguette with her hands, and used a plastic spoon they found in the car to spread the creamy cheese.

The sun shone on the river while Nicky drank her orange soda and watched sailboats glide along, wondering if the mystery she searched for was in France.

After the picnic, Heather opened her bags of bubble gum and counted each piece on the middle seat of the car. She divided the regular and strawberry bags into three piles and gave Nicky and Ellen ten pieces each. Then she opened the mint bag and counted her treasure.

“Here Nicky and Ellen, you can each have one piece of mint bubble gum,” Heather announced like she was giving them a precious jewel.

“Why can’t we have two?” Nicky asked.

“I already have only 27 pieces left to sell. At 50 cents a piece that will be $13.50, minus the $3.50 I had to pay Mom, which equals just $10 in profit.” Heather said, stashing her precious bag of gum under her seat in the Gray Ghost. “If I give you another piece I’ll earn even less. Sorry!” She smiled her cute expression that worked on grow-ups.

“Stingy!” Nicky muttered.

She took a piece of strawberry bubble gum, unwrapped it, and breathed that sugary-strawberry scent, before plopping it in her mouth. Delicious!

They set off to “see the sites of Strasbourg”.

There was a huge gothic cathedral in the middle of the city. Otherwise, Strasbourg looked like cities in Germany, besides all the signs being in French. There were the same tiny old buildings pressed together between regular modern office buildings, and the same winding cobblestone streets that turned onto large modern roadways. No mystery in sight.

“Let’s stop at the cathedral to use the bathroom,” Mrs. Campbell said. “Who else needs to go?”

Heather did. Their dad let Heather and Mrs. Campbell out while Nicky reread Sophie’s letter for inspiration, and Ellen and Danny played peek-a-boo in the middle seat. There was no parking to be found, so Mr. Campbell drove around the block, the Gray Ghost maneuvering around tiny dark French cars like a whale in an ocean of minnows until they circled back to the cathedral.

Ellen opened the middle door for her mom and Heather and said, “Next stop, Germany!”

Nicky’s mom got in the front seat while Heather scrambled in the middle seat to count her treasure.

“There are only 25 pieces,” she said. “ Nicky, did you steal my gum?”

“I didn’t take your stupid gum,” Nicky said. “Why didn’t you blame Ellen?”

“I was playing with Danny,” Ellen said.

“I counted them right before we got out of the car!” Heather shouted. “I know you took it, Nicky!”

 “ENOUGH!” Mr. Campbell roared. “There’s lots of traffic here, and I need to get us back to the highway. Let’s everyone be quiet for the next twenty minutes and then we can look for Heather’s gum.”

They heard the tick, tick, tick of the turn signal as Mr. Campbell pulled onto the highway.

“Hmmm…” he said. “I didn’t realize we were so low on gas. The gauge says empty.”

Nicky turned around and looked over her seat. “We’re going to run out of gas and be stranded in France?”

“Can’t we buy some at a gas station?” Heather asked.

“We don’t have any French francs,” said Ellen.

“Oh Bill!” Mrs. Campbell said. “Why didn’t you look before you drove all over Strasbourg?”

Mr. Campbell patted her arm. “Don’t worry, Grace. I’m sure we’ll make it to the border.”

At least Nicky would have mystery to write about if they were stranded in France. Even though it was obvious that Ellen took the gum, Nicky supposed she could still turn Heather’s accusation into a story. They drove the next twenty minutes crossing their fingers and holding their breath while the American Armed Forces Network radio crooned out songs until they made it to the first German gas station.

“Hooray!” They cheered when they pulled up to the pump.

Danny crawled into Nicky’s lap and put his arms around her. That’s when she noticed he had minty breath.


I’m washing carrots in the school’s kitchen sink when Jasper Chen and Milo Alvarez walk in holding hands. The minute they see me their fingers fly apart.

“Hi, Clementine,” Milo says, ever polite.

I nod, letting the cool water splash over my hands, pretending I’m not watching Jasper.

He picks up a crate of onions, and I try to ignore the way my skin hums while I watch his biceps flex.

The wet carrots glimmer with a deep orange as I set them on the cutting board at the vegetable station. The delicate green fringe is tangled together. I take a chef’s knife and whack the tops of the carrots, freeing them from their tangled mess. If only I could do the same to my feelings for Jasper Chen.

The carrot tops smell like fresh cut grass, and my lips tingle as I remember Jasper and I kissing, kissing, kissing last month in carrot patch. I want to take that memory, tie it up in a big plastic bag, and throw it out. But here at Wild Garden High School we compost.

Milo and Jasper chop onions at the station next to me. Jasper’s eyes tear up like the morning he told me about Milo, while we were weeding the garden.

“It just happened, Clem.” He yanked out a weed and put it in our compost bucket. “I know it’s not fair to you, but I love him.”

Slash, slash, slash. My knife hacks through the thick orange carrots over and over until there are dozens of tiny pieces.

Milo and I were part of the initial first grade class here. My parents were excited for me to go to a public school where we learned to garden and cook along with reading, writing, and arithmetic.

In first grade, I was the kind of girl who colored the radish in my garden journal such a deep shade of red that I broke the crayon in half. Milo was the kind of boy who took both halves, sharpened each, and said it was lucky that I had made twice as many red crayons for our table. So I understand how Milo’s presence is like sunshine at the golden hour, even if my own heart feels like unwanted vegetable waste.

Jasper wipes his eyes as he chops. Did he sign up for onions as penance for falling in love with someone who isn’t me?

I scoop up the peels from their table into a bucket with my carrot greens.

“Thanks,” Jasper says. “Hey, have you signed up as a mentor yet? There’s this kid in my apartment building named Ellie who needs someone as cool as you.”

Jasper didn’t start here at Wild Garden until seventh grade, four years ago. During our weekly nature days, he and I would race each other up to the big branch of the oak tree. He was surprisingly good at climbing, considering he had gone to one of those old-fashioned elementary schools that didn’t have nature days. I loved to sit on that high branch and look out at rooftop solar panels on the apartment buildings in the distance.

At the big gray compost bin near the kitchen door, I dump the onion skins and carrot greens on top of the other organic waste— potato peels, eggshells, and coffee grounds. The smell is rich and earthy.

Above the kitchen compost bin a white board hangs with names of the kids in this year’s first grade class. High schoolers sign up as garden mentors.

The first time I planted radishes, I was so excited I smashed all the seeds together. My mentor, Indigo, gently took my hand and used their finger to push one seed by itself. Then they licked their finger to pick up the seed, like they were a magical fairy, and showed me how to tuck it in a secret hide out in the soil. I planted all my radish seeds as carefully as Indigo after that.

I scan the list of this year’s first graders until I see Ellie’s name. I watched her chasing kids around the blacktop at recess the other day. Her clothes were stained in blue paint, her long hair tangled as if she never combed it. I write my name next to hers.

In a few weeks, these carrot tops and onion skins will turn into rich new soil, just in time for radish planting with Ellie.


by Rowena Eureka

In the fall, she wore black leather gloves and took on an Emo-Goth-Punk look. She had mint green lambswool gloves to wear inside in the winter. In the spring, she wore red spandex gloves to add a “pop of color” – as her older sister Kailey would say. In summer, her purple satin gloves stretched up to her elbows, framing her gauzy maxi skirts with an elegant retro-flowerchild look.

One June day, when the air felt like bath water, Sasha sat on the grass outside the cafeteria writing a French skit with Evan Martin, wondering what would happen if she went gloveless.

Sasha and Evan both liked to use movie scenes in their skits. When Madame Rétat first paired them together, they pretended they were about to be crushed by the Death Star trash compactor while they shouted out commands in French, getting pushed closer and closer together until they remembered the French word for stop, and were saved at the last moment. Sasha still remembered how her red spandex glove pressed against Evan’s bare wrist.

 When Sasha was little she thought that touch empaths were just a story she and Mama made up. But the older she got, the more confusing it was to touch people. Whenever she and Kailey fought over anything, all it took was a handshake before her sister’s feelings leaked into Sasha’s head and she had trouble prioritizing her own wants — even her own needs — over Kailey’s.

Ironically, Kailey was the one who got Sasha the gloves for her thirteenth birthday. They were supposed to be a “fun fashion accessory.” Mama had only sent Sasha to Paris that summer to visit Grand-mère, where she drank big bowls of café au lait, while learning the family secret.

Her older Kailey clearly did NOT get the empath gene. She had no idea she had given Sasha armor.

“You used to be so sweet,” Kailey said, “then you became a teenager.”

Sasha was never letting a relationship be that one-sided again.

As she and Evan sat in the grass, the humidity frizzing her hair, Sasha listened to Evan discuss his summer plans. He was taking a SAT prep class and had chosen Star Wars as his new monthly movie theme, because Sasha said she liked the newer Star Wars movies. 

“The SAT class will get me for just three hours,” Evan said. “Afternoons are for skateboarding, evenings for movies.” He had seen older movies Sasha had never heard of, like all those Ingrid Bergman films from his last month’s theme.

Sasha thumbed at the edge of her glove, daring herself to take it off.

Today was the last full day of classes. 

If it went badly, she wouldn’t see Evan all summer. They didn’t hang out in the same friend circles.

But Sasha wanted to see Evan this summer.

Now was her only chance.

“Cool purple gloves,” Evan said as he leaned back on his elbows, spreading his toned legs out across the grass.

“Thanks,” Sasha said. “It was time to break out the summer gloves.”

She was fifteen and had still never touched a boy.

“Do you ever get hot wearing gloves?” Evan asked.

It was her opening.

He didn’t know what he was asking, but he had asked.

“Yeah, sometimes,” Sasha said.

“Is it like a religious thing?”

They had been skit partners for four weeks and Evan had never asked her why she wore gloves. He seemed to get that she didn’t want to talk about them before. She had never tried to explain touch empaths to anyone. It would make her sound like a freak.

“No, I…I just always wear them.”

Evan nodded. “I get it. It’s who you are.”

His long fingers were just inches away.

Sasha decided to be daring.

“I’m just not big on touching people,” she said.

“Really?” Evan asked.

Sasha nodded. God, she couldn’t believe she just blurted that out.

“So, you never touch anyone?”

She shrugged. “I like my privacy. Sometimes people are…too much, ya know?”

 It was like the humidity was truth serum.

 “I get it.” Evan said. “That’s why I skateboard. I just need to cruise down a hill and let everything fade away.”

“Yeah,” Sasha said.

 Was she missing out by not feeling Evan’s feelings?

Evan plucked a blade of grass and wound it around his finger. “So…what about kissing?”

“Kissing?” Sasha asked.

“Yeah, you know, what Ingrid Bergman called the secret you tell to someone’s mouth instead of their ear. Is that out too?”

Sasha had never thought of kissing as two-way communication.

Would Evan know her feelings, too?

That was scary.

 “So I’d be telling you my secrets?”

Evan grinned. “I bet you have good ones.”

Sasha looked over by the building where the rest of the class sat. Everyone, including Madam Rétat, was on their phones. The last days of school had their own rules.

“You know,” Sasha said, her heart beating so fast she could feel the blood pulsing in her ears. “If you wanted to kiss me, that would be totally fine.”

Evan’s full lips quivered, the left side rising just a little.

“Every day since you did that original Star Wars movie skit with me,” he said.

He leaned in and touched his lips to hers.

Evan liked her. He really liked her.

 Sasha stilled her lips. Maybe this was too much.

Evan paused.

He was worried. He wondered if she was okay, if he had done something wrong.

Sasha pressed her lips into Evan’s, sending her own feelings back. She really liked him, too.

Ingrid Bergman was right. Evan had heard her secrets.