The halls of Buchanan High were crowded with retro greasers and playboy bunnies, at least on the senior high end of the school. I hoped the middle school end showed more imagination. Besides, when did Halloween turn from trying to scare the bejezus out of each other, to seeing who could be sexier than the next person?
“Yo, Alex, whasup?” Ryan was wearing a red bomber jacket and tight-legged jeans with his hair slicked back.
“Is that greaser for ‘good morning’?” I snarled.
He held his binder up between us. As if that would protect him. “In not so many words, yes. I see that you are bucking the trend, yet again, and staying true to your own…self expression.”
Before I could come up with a snide remark, Kayla popped in between us, dressed in a white flowing robe with huge silver wings and a halo attached to her head. “Did you hear? They moved the pep rally up to second period, since everyone pretty much ditches class anyway. And their expecting a big storm tonight, so the game’s been moved up to this afternoon.”
“The football game. You know, that silly distraction ninety-nine percent of the students here live and breathe, in one form or another?”
“I meant the storm.” Just another marker for this red-letter day.
“A doozie coming in from the north. A severe storm warning was announced last night. Don’t you listen to the news? It’s not like you hang out at the diner or the drive-in with the rest of the school population.”
“As you so subtlety pointed out, my life is depressing enough, thank you, I don’t need to hear about the rest of the world’s problems.” I elbowed a freshman/escaped convict as he made his way past us down the hall. “Way to go, dude! Be a maverick!”
Considering the way his face lit up, you’d have thought I was the Pope and I had just blessed him. I looked down at my black sweater, leggings, flip-flops and black-painted toenails. Nope. No mistaking me for the pontiff. Go figure.
“Anyway, the morning classes are going to be cut short to fit in the pep rally in the gym, then after lunch, the classes are cancelled for the game! Today is going to be one big PAR-TAE!” Kayla let out a whoop and then headed down the hall to spread her message.
Ryan cleared his throat. As I turned back to him, I caught a whiff of his cologne. When did he start wearing cologne? Strangely enough, I think I liked it. I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath.
“Do you want any company during the festivities?”
Snap out of it, Alex. The boy is talking to you. “The festivities? Don’t tell me Mom is trying to throw me another surprise birthday party.” Come to think of it, she tried to throw me one last year to distract me from realizing Dad missed my birthday. I wasn’t liking this trend.
“Stay with me now, I was referring to the pep rally. But if you were looking for an escort for a more personal occasion…”
“There is no ‘personal occasion’. I don’t do birthdays.” I suddenly noticed that a guy dressed in seventies retro that was staring at me wasn’t actually retro. And the bullet hole in his temple was oozing.
“As I recall. That’s why I refrained from wishing you a ‘happy birthday’. But may I extend to you a ‘happy Halloween’?”
A girl in a prom gown came from around the corner. The rope tied around her neck made her eyes bulge out.
I sighed. “I only wish you could.”
Homeroom in the art room was a tumult of teen bodies, everyone –except me- in a buzz about the day’s activities. I sat at a table near Klassen’s desk, slumped down into my seat, wishing I had another cup of coffee and a ‘Lumberjack’s Special’ on the side as my stomach growled.
“Don’t get so excited, Alex. You’re disrupting the rest of the students.” Mr. Klassen sauntered up to his desk and tossed a stack of papers on it and started to take off his jacket.
“Can’t help myself. You know me, the life of the party, the hub of all things exciting.” I couldn’t get past a monotone delivery.
“I’ve been wondering if you were going to finish up you papier-mâché sculpture anytime soon.” He gestured to the corner table behind his desk, where a spread-winged eagle in mid take-off perched. “You haven’t touched it all week. What’s up?”
“Nothing’s up. I just haven’t had the time.” I hadn’t been able to focus on her with all the disturbing visions darkening my muse. “I should be able to make some progress during lunch break.”
Klassen took a step closer. His long, curly blond hair swung forward as he leaned over my table. “I’ve seen you looking rather distracted the last few days. Are there any problems at home?”
I snorted. “As compared to every other week? No, there’s nothing going on at home that’s out of the ordinary, at least for our family.”
“Boy problems, perhaps?” He smirked as he raised his eyebrows. “You haven’t broken out of your reclusive shell and joined the human race, have you?” Klassen was usually razzing me about being a tortured, hermit artist. He didn’t know the half off it.
I felt my face redden. What was up with that? “You do not want to go there. Nothing to see, nothing to do.” I tried for nonchalant. I’m not so sure I pulled it off.
He chuckled as he pushed himself off the table. “You mean you don’t want to go there.” He straightened and faced the rest of the class. “Okay people, its time for attendance. Keep it down to a dull roar.” He gave another self-satisfied chuckle as he sidled over behind his desk. I heard him mumble under his breath, “Alex has a boyfriend, Alex has a boyfriend…”
“I do not!” I hissed back at him.
“Thou doth protest too much.”
I shook my head as I slumped lower in my chair. I should have known better than to let him bait me. If I came away from this life having learned one thing, it was that I wasn’t Cassie. I couldn’t tell people what to think. They always just believed what they wanted to believe, truth or not.
“Come on everybody! Up on your feet! Do it with me people! Give me an R! Gimme an A! Now an M and an S! Who are we? The Rams!” The Compulsion Cassie was throwing out into the packed gym was even reaching me at the back of the bleachers. She really had a thing for school spirit. Of course, I had learned how to fend them off years ago.
“Are you positive that you and Cassie are truly siblings? I know your facial characteristics are strikingly similar, but personality-wise…”
“Ryan, believe me, some days I wish it weren’t true. Like today, with her jumping around and screaming at the top of her lungs in front of the whole school.”
“Why?” Kayla, like so many other girls in my class, idolized my older sister. “She’s an incredible motivator. It’s as if you believe you can do anything just because she says you can. Her energy and drive are contagious. She’s just so…”
Kayla tilted her curly blond head, almost bonking me with her halo. “I don’t know if that’s the word I would use.”
Ryan screwed up his face in thought, and then nodded. “Yes, I agree, that word fits her. She has an attractive and compelling personality.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” I mumbled under my breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing. At least I can be hopeful she’ll be hoarse after this and won’t be able to nag me for a couple of days.”
A roar of the crowd that rivaled the rumblings of my gut brought my attention back to the middle of the gym, where the Rams football team came trotting in, one by one. Last, but not least –at least in his mind – came the swaggering Bobby Gentry, star quarterback. I often wondered what kind of a loser he would be in real life – I mean without the influences of his girlfriend, head cheerleader and class president, my peppy and overzealous sister.
Some people are more easily influenced than others. Bobby was a lump of clay and Cassie was the sculptor. If she ever entered politics, that girl would rule the world. And Mom thought she had her hands full with me.
My attention was snagged once again as the next player came wondering into the gym from the change rooms. He was in uniform, but it was different. It was the same red with black trim as the Rams’ away game uniforms, but the style was slightly different. The other players in the gym were wearing the white home game uniforms with the red and black trim. This guy carried his helmet in his hand. He looked at the crowd, bewildered. Behind him, more players, just as bewildered, filed in. Some of these players were covered in soot, others in blood with their uniforms tattered.
The rest of the gym’s occupants carried on with their fanatic football worship service, oblivious to the second team entering the room. All at the same moment, the team stopped and stared at me. I recognized some of them from the photo hung outside the change room doors. This gym had been built as a monument to the 1982 Rams football team that had all been killed in a bus crash.
Crap. Halloween was officially in full swing.
“Alex! Wait up!” Ryan was panting when he caught up to me in the hallway outside of the gym. An athlete he was not. “Why did you take off like that? Was it something I said? I’m not hot for your sister, if that’s what you thought.”
I stopped short. “Why aren’t you hot for her?” I studied his face to see his reaction. He looked shocked, period. Was I really looking for an answer, or was I trying to distract him from my seemingly irrational behavior? “Not only is she attractive and compelling, she’s one of the sweetest girls you’ll ever meet. Why wouldn’t you be hot for her?”
“So are you. I mean, well, I don’t know about the sweet thing…” the usually articulate Ryan was rattled. He cleared his throat. “What I mean to say is that Cassie may possess all those qualities, but you possess some rather compelling qualities as well.”
Now it was my turn to be rattled. I’m not self-delusional. Regardless of everyone wanting my attention, I wasn’t high on anyone’s popularity list, nor was it a goal of mine to be on said lists. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. And sweet in relation to me is how I like my coffee. “I’ve always considered myself more of a ‘repellent’ personality.”
The tattered and bloody football team had followed Ryan and I out of the gym and was catching up fast. One thing I could be thankful for is that lost spirits don’t ‘fly’ through the air and materialize at will, like Greta does. She knows she’s not of the living on this side of the veil, and her visits are monitored by the ‘powers that be’. Lost spirits don’t know they are dead, so they still follow the rules of gravity and physics, or so that’s what Greta says. So maybe the football team would follow the rules of etiquette they knew in life as well.
“As I may agree you tend to try and keep others at a distance, I sense a more ‘agreeable’ personae below your tough exterior.” Ryan’s soft brown eyes looked deep into mine.
How had I never noticed what long lashes he had? I started to feel a crack forming on my exoskeleton. With a crack in my voice, I muttered, “You sensed wrong.” I turned and dove into the girls’ washroom.
Talk about jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Standing in the middle of the washroom was Prom Girl with the noose around her neck.
I’m not going to catch a break today, am I?” I mumbled.
She was gazing around the room as if she were in a museum. “Everything looks so strange. It’s the same, yet different.” She turned to me, her bulging eyes searching mine.
It was difficult to hold her gaze. But I’d faced worse. I think the screaming drowned toddler at the local pool was the hardest to endure, and impossible to reason with. Mind you, I was only five at the time. The swim instructor thought I was terrified of the water. But Mom never tried to force me to go back. Maybe because I kept screaming, “Stop it! Just stop it! Leave me alone!”
Prom Girl continued on, breathlessly. “I don’t recognize anyone in the halls, not even most of the teachers. I tried to talk to Mr. Yamashita, but he ignored me. It’s like he couldn’t even see me there, standing right in front of him. But you can see me, can’t you? I feel like I know you, somehow. Have we met before?” She rattled off her spiel without taking a breath, as if she was worried she needed to get it all in quickly, before I took off on her.
As for Mr. Yamashita, he was going deaf and blind and he often didn’t see his living students, let alone the dead ones. I wish I could be so oblivious. As for the football team, I could hear them outside the door, talking among themselves. This was one bullet I was not going to be able to dodge. “Uh, I don’t believe we’ve met, but I’ve seen you around.”
“Why is it no one else seems to see me? I’ve tried to talk to other students and they walk right past me. Are they really all that rude?”
“No, they aren’t being rude. There’s a chance that they simply can’t see you – I’m sorry, what was – is - your name?”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t introduce myself, did I? I was so excited about finding someone to listen to me I forgot my own manners.” She extended her hand toward me. “Pamela Saunders.”
I slowly reached out for her hand. This is where it got awkward. “I’m Alex. The reason I can see you and others can’t is because I’m a medium. I can see and talk to spirits.”
Her look of puzzlement was followed by shock as she reached out to grab my hand – and passed right through it. She gasped. “I’m…a ghost?”
I nodded. “I’m afraid so. But maybe I can help you find…”
“No! This can’t be! That would mean I’m…no!” She grew quite agitated. “I am not dead!”
“Pamela, listen to me for just a minute…”
“No!” Then she disappeared. Now, whether she liked it or not, she was dead. That made for a whole new ballgame.
“That went well.” I now had a whole ghostly football team following me around the school and a full-fledged specter that could now pop in and out at will. And all before the lunch break. Man, was I on a roll. I looked up at the window. Not a chance. High schools were built like prisons; they don’t want the inmates escaping. The window was too small and too high off the floor. I was going to have to face the football team. But hey, how many girls can honestly say they have the whole football team chasing after them?
I took a deep breath, then flung the door open. The players were lined up in two columns facing each other across the doorway, like they line up for their grand entrances on to the field. And they were all looking at me. Funny, none of them seemed to notice how out-of-sorts the other players looked. The team captain opened his mouth to speak, but I cut him short. “You’ll have to excuse me guys, I have a very busy schedule and I don’t have time to entertain you at the moment. If you wish to talk to me, we can talk after the game this afternoon.” As if I was sticking around for a stupid football game.
I stopped short once I got past the gauntlet. Two guys from my math class had been leaning up against the wall, chatting. Apparently, they thought I had been talking to them.
“After the game, then,” one of them said, smiling as he saluted me. The other just stood there, his eyes wide with surprise.
I closed my eyes and dropped my head in defeat. “Let it go,” I mumbled to myself. “I might not even live that long.”
The vacuum created by the snap of the barrier sucked the Collection free. Yet, the pull, the hold, was still strong. The Others were coming: escape was essential. The tear was beginning to mend. No! Most break through the barrier! Latch on to the Collection! Here’s a firm hold, a large mass together. Hang tight! Ah, freedom!
Must find an anchor, quickly. The Others are at the tear, pulling back. The Collection isn’t anchored yet. Quickly! Quickly! Ah, yes! A pawn! To be meat again! Let the games begin!