The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 21

“Sir? Sirrrr?” a nicely dressed man shook my shoulder in an effort to wake me up.

            I didn’t want to stop sleeping! I was so profoundly peaceful, and despite some cheesy pop songs were playing in the background, it was so quiet in there! I hadn’t rested so well in ages, and my body resisted coming out of a such a solid slumber! Ultimately, I knew I had no choice but to snap out of it, so I unwillingly lifted my head and drowsily asked, “Is it time to go?”

            The man replied, “That depends. Are you gonna buy the mattress or not?”

            “Sorry, uh…” I gazed at his badge to get his name. “Barrett! I can’t afford it right now! I spent the last of my savings on removing a tree whose roots were getting into our pipes, so I can’t afford to splurge on anything for… I don’t know how long! As it is, my girlfriend and I gotta teach summer school to pay the bills!”

            “Then why are you here? Why go to the mall at all?” Barrett grumpily challenged me.

            I explained, “I would have thought that the chainsaws would’ve drowned out the noise coming from my future in-laws, but somehow, they were still clear as day! Then my ki- … kid sister… won’t shut up ‘cause she’s scared of the arborists!” I almost let it slip that my cat could talk, so I’m glad that I came up with that “kid sister” line! I don’t have any siblings, and if I did, I probably never would have described them like that in normal circumstances, but he seemed unfazed by it, so whatever, it worked! Actually, I might as well have disclosed that witch jinxed my pet to speak since he wasn’t really listening, he was just waiting for me to shut up, which I didn’t do! I don’t know why I kept rambling on despite his obvious lack of interest, the words just kept flowing out as if I had an obligation to give him my life story! “All that chaos drove me up the wall! And usually, I can get through anything by simply hanging out with my girlfriend, but she’s gonna be busy for the remainder of the week ‘cause she’s on the prom committee, so I came here to get a break from the craziness! I didn’t plan on coming into your store, but the empty space was so inviting after dealing with the crowds from the other stores! I never pictured it being so packed on a random weekday in March!”

            Barrett snidely responded, “Well, it’s prom season! Did you seriously believe it would be calm here?”

            Wow, he was paying attention to my babbling! I could understand why he grew grumpy with me after I conked out on his merchandise for a considerable duration, and then I ceaselessly blabbered to him knowing full well I couldn’t purchase anything in his inventory, but I still found his callousness super rude! I never would have forgotten my manners like that to anyone! As an educator, I couldn’t exit the scene without providing him with an important lesson, so I lectured him, “Listen, as a former leader from Philly’s top marketing firm and a current business teacher, let me offer you some advice: Always be friendly! Even if they don’t buy from you immediately, if they like you, they’ll return when they are ready to buy! When I am in the mood for a new bed, I’ll make sure to give someone else the commission for it!”

            “When you visit again, please tell them Damon sent you!” Another employee shoved his was past his colleague in order to shake my hand and dole out a friendly grin.

            “I absolutely will!” I lied. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but I couldn’t bring myself to associate with another Damon! It wasn’t his fault that he shared a moniker with a moronic, sociopathic vampire turned ghost, but the connotation would have made the experience excruciating! That fib gave him false hope though, so I felt a little bad for doing that to him… until I happened to glance at the price tags I passed! I could have hired two more arborists at the rate that they wanted to charge for their mattresses! As I re-entered into the mall’s main floor, I knocked on wood that this scenario would ever come to pass!

            Soon, I went by the food court, and a girl who donned a work uniform posed to me, “Would you like to try out latest brownie creation?”

            I politely refused, “Sorry, I don’t have any spare cash!”

            “Uh, it’s a free sample…” she pointed out.

            “Oh!” I hadn’t noticed her tray full of bite-sized desserts until after she mentioned it, and trying to cover for my foolish blunder, I kidded, “I suppose I can afford a free item!” She sort of smirked at that as if she wanted to stay cordial but she also sincerely wished that she could roll her eyes upon hearing that joke for the zillionth time, and my shame over my ineptitude only heightened! I didn’t want to convey to her that I got distracted because a mattress store worker reminded me of a petulant phantom that haunted the building that I taught at while I presently got preoccupied with finding someone to help me do magic to destroy a spoon that was really a key that opened up the Netherworld, so I opted to take the treat in silence. I didn’t expect much from a baked good that originated from a fast-food joint, but this morsel was surprisingly delicious! “Mmm! I love it!”

            Following my positive feedback, she recommended, “If you’re interested in more, they’re only eighteen dollars per bouquet!” That revelation startled me! Yes, the title of their restaurant included the word “gourmet,” but it baffled me to discover how steep the cost of their food ran! She espied the incredulous expression I bore and recalled, “Oh, I forgot you told me you were poor! Hey, I hope you come into some money in the future so you can come back!”

            Ouch! Even though she sounded sincere about willing some financial fortune in my direction, it punched me in the gut to get dubbed as penniless! I waved goodbye to her as I moved on, and I attempted to rid my mind of that sting to avoid making a spectacle of myself in front of the mall patrons! Most of them appeared to be adults that I hadn’t previously met, but I would’ve been mortified if one of my students happened to be in the mix of those who witnessed me breaking down like that! I glimpsed around the vicinity to check for any kids I recognized, and it struck me as odd that hardly any young people occupied the area! Did teenagers not hang out at the mall anymore? That was the place to go when I was that age, but I wondered if perhaps the digital era perhaps altered their preferred social spot. Finally, I caught sight of a youthful girl, but then I sort of believed my brain was playing tricks on me! She couldn’t be in this location! It could not conceivably be true…

            “No! Why are you here?” Roxy stole my sentence seconds before I could utter it! She closed a notebook she’d been writing in and gazed at me in aghast. “You’re following me now? How did you even know I was here?”

            “I didn’t follow you here!” I disputed. “Are you kidding? I came here to get a break from everything! Why would I wanna do that to myself?” She held her notebook close to her chest, and all of a sudden, my disposition shifted from agonizing over the reminder of the stresses I strove to escape from to suspicion of her motives. Who goes to the mall to do an activity that requires concentration? “You’re doing homework here out of all places?”

            I expected her to spout some cockamamie excuse for studying in such a bustling environment, but she caught completely off guard when she let me know, “I forgot my key, and Mom has a meeting, so I gotta wait for my dad to get off of work to get in the house. He works at the dentist office here.”

            Her response sounded so genuine, but it was so hard for me to trust her! Lately, her whole life had been devoted to Damon’s insane plot, so it was hard to fathom her engaging in an activity that was so ordinary! And yet, her tone had so much authenticity to it! She didn’t strike me as a very believable actress, in fact, I could almost always distinguish when she was lying! She didn’t display any of the nervous twitchiness that she typically did in this kind of situation, so logically, I wanted to accept her account, but something inside of me kept indicating that mischief was afoot! I questioned my instincts though since there weren’t many of her peers in this locale, and she had no clue that anyone from the Ghost League was even here, which took away the main purpose of Damon unleashing his fear mongers. I decided to forget about this apprehension, and although my nerves were still slightly on edge, I collectedly bade her, “Okay, have fun with that!”

            She didn’t appear optimistic about the task ahead of her. “Yeah… Well, I’ll see you at school tomorrow!” I walked away from her, but prior to my line of sight to her disappearing, I glimpsed back at her a few times. She resumed her scribbling on the paper in her possession, and I didn’t see any signs of that bothersome specter, so I forced myself to table that concept and keep moving on.

            I walked into one of Phoebe’s favorite stores that sold a number of sweet-smelling items, and I purchased a refill for her oil diffuser from the clearance section mostly so it didn’t look so peculiar for me to meander around the premises. I also deemed it necessary due to the aftermath of Blaise’s excessive stints in my bathroom… Anyway, as I strolled further down the voluminous aisleway, I beheld the dentist office that Roxy mentioned. I pondered if her father had the same airheaded tendencies as his daughter, and right as I was musing on whether or not I would risk getting treatment from him, I literally ran into a young woman! “I’m so sorry!” I promptly apologized to her.

            “Mister Fenmore?” the young woman queried.

            “Oh, hey there…” Once I got over the shock of my clumsy action, I was able to recognize her as the girl who was afraid of crickets in the prom committee. I felt a little stupefied that she remembered my name after I only attended one meeting, and I didn’t want to insult her by admitting that I had no inkling on her identity, so I settled on saying, “…you!” It then dawned on me that if she was on the prom committee that Phoebe was currently heading, then that meant… “You skipped today’s session?”

            For the second instance in that hour, I held the assumption that a female attendee of Rosemary King would impart some wild statement to mitigate my skepticism on their trustworthiness, and once again, I got something completely different! Nearly hysterical, she wailed, “Yes, but the perfect dress is almost out of stock, so if I waited ‘til after we met, it might be gone! I can’t show up to the prom without everything being perfect! They put me in student government for a reason, and if I go there looking like trash, there goes my shot at getting elected as freshman class president in college! And if I can’t do that, there goes my career in politics! My entire life depends on this dress! I can’t let anyone else take it, or I-!
            I interrupted her long-windedness, “Okay, okay! I got it! I won’t stop you from getting your perfect dress!” Inwardly, I questioned her judgment on what she considered perfect- this garment fit so tightly that her zipper hadn’t gone to the top! How could that be remotely comfortable? It worried me that she intended to enter into a career field that required adept decision making…

            “That’s what Miss Caracy said too!” she chimed. “Hey, could you help me zip up?”

            I had major reservations about getting into that close of a contact with a juvenile lady, but I could see that the clerk was bogged down by an extremely drawn out and inane conversation with a customer on the phone, so I relented. The zipper wouldn’t budge, and it took all of my concentration not to pinch her skin. As I fruitlessly kept trying, she abruptly screamed and ducked behind a rack! Surging with guilt from the presumption that I hurt her, I sought to make amends, “Please forgive me! It was an accident! I can pay to fix it!” That wasn’t very feasible for me in reality, but if she took me up on that, I would have had to figure that out later!

            From her sanctuary between the lot of clothes, she whimpered, “There’s a big, nasty fly in here!”

            “That’s it?” I remarked. I didn’t mean to diminish her feelings, but I couldn’t comprehend how she could reach that level of anxiety over something as innocuous as that bug! However, coupling her reaction with Roxy’s presence close to this site, I finally understood why my intuition refused to settle down! I assured the girl, “I’ll get it!” I dove for it, but it swiftly evaded me! I zigged and zagged all over the shop, but it was relentless! I could tell passersby were staring at me for such an overzealous effort, but I didn’t allow it phase me! This had to get done! I fell into a cardboard box of veils, and after I emerged, I couldn’t find the critter… until…

            “I got the fly!” the clerk declared after smacking me in the lower pelvis.

            As I writhed in pain, I grunted, “Yup! Both of them!” After it dissipated slightly, I pinpointed the fly’s carcass, and to prevent these two women from seeing it in its true form, I scooped it up and dumped it my bag. “Don’t worry, I’ll throw it away outside!”

            The scared girl poked her head out in relief, and the clerk commended me, “Thank you! And sorry about the… I really needed the commission from this sale!”

            “No problem!” I croaked out.

            “You’re my hero, Mister Fenmore!” the girl gushed. I needed to hurry so that the bag wouldn’t burst and subject these ladies to a hideous monster, so I made my way to the exit as rapidly as I could! I gave her a thumbs up as I waddled with as much haste as my body permitted. While she flattered me, I couldn’t relay that to her because holding my breath was preventing me from screaming! As I ridiculously lumbered towards the closest method of leaving the mall, I beseeched the universe to have tomorrow’s undertaking fare much better than this!

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