Photo Credit: Jonathan Weiskopf.





“Bootleg” is a story in a larger collection of ghost stories called Meringue, all of which are in some way connected to this small town where people leave dessert out to feed their ghosts. I’ve been writing stories about people connected to the town for almost ten years, and I keep going back because I’m trying to figure out how to talk about the omni-presence of grief without making stories that only focus on death. Ghosts are an obviously place to go when thinking about what parts of grief linger long after a funeral, but I also like to think of them as carriers who can transmit a loss to a person who wasn’t there to experience it personally. The ghost of a stranger is only scary insofar as you can’t know what it wants from you. Willy is a character I’ve written about extensively, and she seeks out situations where ghosts might come up. Nate is drawn to her because of it. His family is wary of the dead (his mother bakes the ghosts pies but does not talk about them), and he admires Willy for acting like the graveyard is the same kind of place as her own yard. I like thinking about what kind of kids end up spending time together simply because they aren’t interested in typical high school rituals, and if those kids actually understand each other or if there’s still some barrier between them. If you move through your last years of childhood with very few friends, the ones you do have count for double. Nate and Willy aren’t the same kind of person, but they find each other interesting. The kiss is an experiment, as many kisses are. There’s something about small risks that feels nourishing, especially when you’re their age. I was trying hard to sit with that heady, accidental satisfaction.


Emily O’Neill is a writer, artist, and proud Jersey girl. Her debut collection, Pelican, is the inaugural winner of YesYes Books’ Pamet River Prize for women and non-binary writers. She is the author of three chapbooks: Celeris (Fog Machine), You Can’t Pick Your Genre (Jellyfish Highway), and Make a Fist & Tongue the Knuckles (Nostrovia! Press). She teaches writing and tends bar in Boston, MA.