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"The Mattress Boy of Cameroon" by Kate Jackson

“Please help.” Those words will haunt you by the time you finish this story. That’s because “The Mattress Boy of Cameroon” is a chilling ghost tale, with a bit of a love story mixed in throughout.

Our narrator is an 11 year-old native of Cameroon, and she, along with her friends Ananda and Mykelti, believe wholeheartedly in the tale of the Mattress Boy. Anada and Mykelti have even claimed to have seen him. But neither of them feel the way our narrator does; she has convinced herself she loves the Mattress Boy despite knowing nothing more about him than the stories Mykelti’s uncle tells of how he met the Mattress Boy and his mother and how they later disappeared. (Mykelti’s uncle’s feelings toward the Mattress Boy’s mother serve as a welcome reprieve from the tense tales of the ghost.)

The story’s locale of Cameroon heightens the tension - the country’s turmoil has a direct influence on the events that lead to the Mattress Boy’s disappearance. And the radio tower mentioned again and again becomes an eerie, imposing presence. The airwaves are invisible but undoubtedly there - much like the narrator’s belief of the Mattress Boy’s apparation.

By the story’s end our narrator is in peril, but as ghost tales go, when the haunted and the haunters meet, the result isn’t always what you expect.

Kristin and I selected “The Mattress Boy of Cameroon” as an Honorable Mention in the 2011 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest because we simply couldn’t let the story go unpublished. While it was a finalist and not selected, we felt that the voice was so strong, the rhythm of the story so well-paced and controlled, and the effect so chilling and haunting that we unabashedly admitted we wanted to be the magazine that first published Kate Jackson’s story. It is one of four Honorable Mentions that we published in the 2011 contest.

Read “The Mattress Boy of Cameroon,” our latest Story Spotlight.