A student raised her hand and let me know, “Mister Fenmore, I have a question about the-.”
“No!” I quickly declined. “We still have a lot to cover before-.” Three xylophone notes chimed on the loudspeaker, and I moaned, “Ugh! Too late!”
“Good afternoon, boys and girls!” Manuel’s voice permeated from the PA system. “This is your periodic reminder to cleanse yourself from your fears! Everyone breathe in…” The dozen or so students who actually showed up did not participate in the exercise that Manuel was promoting, in fact, they got agitated rather than relaxed from enduring this tidbit once again! I couldn’t blame them- it was the third time they went through it that day! I wished that Manuel had requested our feedback for the effectiveness of this activity, we could have told him at first period that the kids weren’t getting comfort from this endeavor! “… And breathe out! Close your eyes and picture yourself somewhere calm…” A few children turned to me with quizzical expressions, and I wordlessly indicated that they didn’t need to do his prompts. “It could be a spring meadow or a secluded beach. Maybe you’d prefer to imagine yourself at a winter cabin in front of a crackling fireplace. Wherever your safe place is, keep it at the forefront of your mind, and whenever you feel afraid, all you have to do is close your eyes again and repeat this process! Thank you for you for attending school today! Enjoy your lunch!”
The bell rang, and most of the teens sprang up and raced for the exit, but a few of them remained rooted to their seats, so I addressed them, “Oh, don’t worry about the lesson. We’ll go over it tomorrow instead of the movie I was going to show.”
One boy grumbled, “Oh, great! We get another day of lectures instead of doing something fun! I’m so glad we have these never-ending cleansing reminders!”
“Why is Principal Palillo doing this?” a girl asked me. “It’s not like it’ll do us much good if another dragon comes!”
“Or the zombie apocalypse that the FAUK’ers keep saying will happen!” one of their peers added.
I responded, “When they say the dead will rise up, they don’t mean zombies! … I don’t think…” I always assumed that the FAUK club depicted a scenario where the earth would become overwhelmed by ghosts or possibly vampires since that organization seemed connected to Damon. I mean, they were assisting him in spreading fear all over campus! Roxy definitely had an association with their scholastic representative, Ismeray, and none of their members fell victim to the fear monger’s attacks, so it only made sense for their intentions to have been congruous with that petulant phantom! But truthfully, I hadn’t actually bothered to listen to everything they spouted out, so they might have had totally different intentions for all I knew! Perhaps zombies did factor into their so-called predictions…. I shook that notion off and inwardly prayed that all of their stupid theories stayed in the realm of fiction! “Look, don’t worry about those bozos say! They’re all acting on some misguided doomsday garbage they read online! How much can you rely on that?”
The first young man posed to me, “If it’s all garbage, then why is all this weird stuff happening?”
“Uhh…” I certainly wasn’t about to tell them that a guardian of the Netherworld sent a vengeful spirit to our world because he wanted to open up a spiritual gate and release even more chaos! But what could I reveal to them without completely disturbing them? I supposed that I could have lied and pretended that I didn’t know, but then I realized that it would have been counterproductive to do so! It occurred to me that reporting the reality of the situation, at least some of it, could prove advantageous to our cause! It hadn’t done much when we explained it to Manuel, but maybe if I chose a different tactic… “Well, the common connection is fear. Something is feeding on what scares us the most, so if we stop being afraid, we might be able to force this thing to starve and vanish!”
“You say that like it’s so easy!” the second guy noted. “It’s not like we can make them go away just like that or we would have done it already!”
I argued, “Yes, we can’t pretend our fears don’t exist, but we can conquer our fears though! Instead of waiting for it to strike us in the middle of class, we can face them on our own time! For example, someone who’s afraid of heights might go skydiving or someone who’s terrified of clowns might… I dunno… visit the circus? Basically, the more you experience them, the less they can surprise you, so it takes the edge out of whatever intimidates you!”
The female student related to that, “Oh yeah, that’s true! That’s how I got over my fear of blood!”
“Hey, I struggled with that one too!” My thoughts instantly jumped to another individual who dealt with vampires like I did, but I had to quickly pull back on that hypothesis. Obviously, she hadn’t gotten over her fear in the same manner as me! Well, as far as I knew I got over it, I hadn’t encountered it in a while, thank goodness! I couldn’t fathom any other scenario where she would see blood frequently, so I stammered as I quizzed her, “How did…? What did you…? You saw a lot of blood then, huh…?” I knocked on wood that I wouldn’t get some kind of serial killer reply…
“Yeah! Every month when my menstrual cycle returns!” she pointed out to me.
I could have smacked myself for not producing a simple explanation like that! “Ah, makes sense! Yeah, I didn’t get over my fear of blood in the same way!” The teen got a chuckle out of that, and I didn’t want to break their merry mood by bringing up that a woman doesn’t technically bleed much during that time of the month! I doubted the encyclopedic knowledge on the human body that I inherited from my doctoral father would do much to curtail their phobias! Besides, we had all lost a significant portion of our lunch break, so I saw it best to dismiss them, “Alright, why don’t you find your friends and-?”
At that moment, Casper appeared in my doorway and asked, “May I cut in?”
“No!” I sharply answered. After I showed him up with that fear monger in the library, he was avoiding me like the plague! It irritated me that he chose to get his arrogant swagger back right at such an inopportune juncture!
“Listen, take it from this school’s finest athlete and Terra Belle’s greatest paranormal combatant…” Casper ignored my denial and strolled in with the overblown egotism of a famous diva giving an interview on the red carpet! “Enemies can always detect your innermost apprehensions, so the key to victory is to replace them with positive cogitations! Suppose that one is afraid of dying in a plane crash, all that they would have to do is switch that anxiety with images of how wonderful their flight will go! Simple!”
It was so tempting to query him about why he had not done that when the cotton balls rained down on him, but I couldn’t stoop so low as to demean him in front of the children that he taught! As excruciating as it was, I opted for the higher road, “What happens if the plane does crash? Wouldn’t it make more sense to prepare yourself for how to survive it instead of pretending everything is gonna be peachy-keen forever?” Casper glared at me, but I ignored him and kindly regarded the kids, “Anyways, why don’t we table that topic for now? Go- enjoy the rest of your lunch!”
The three youths registered how much of their break they missed and hurried to meet up with their buddies, but they all thanked me as they headed out. Casper indignantly spouted, “You’re welcome! So happy to offer my assistance!”
“What is your problem?” I blurted out. I hadn’t intended to have a prolonged interaction with this obnoxious blowhard, but the words fell out of my mouth before I could stop them! I forgave myself for that lapse since I already felt stressed to my limit from everything else I had to deal with, and it reassured me that perhaps this would get rid of at least one aggravating factor! Even if it didn’t, it was sort of refreshing to have someone to release my pent-up anger on! “From the beginning, you’ve been a royal pain in the ass, and I didn’t do a damn thing to deserve it! You’re always going out of your way to do this petty shit, and it’s totally unnecessary! If you left me alone, I’d leave you alone! But no, you insist on coming here day after day to try (and I do mean try!) to make me look dumb! I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but whatever it is, it isn’t working! So, why do you keep doing this crap? What do you want?”
“What do I want? I want my reign back!” Casper irately admitted.
I shot back with, “Your rain? Do I look like I can control the weather?”
He quarreled, “No, not rain! Reign, as in sovereignty!” I gave him a peculiar stare, so he defended himself, “No, I’m not crazy! I used to be the king around here! My legacy as an athletic star made me a campus celebrity even to this day! I was the best catch and the authority on the supernatural too! Then you waltzed right in with no real teaching experience, and you stole all of my thunder! Now, everyone comes to you for my area of expertise! Plus, none of my female admirers show any interest in me the minute you showed up! They completely disregard me as you strut down the hall and are all like ‘Ooh! Look at me! See how handsome I am! Forget about old Casper! Everyone pay attention to me!’”
“Okay, number one, I don’t sound like that!” I countered. He shrugged, and I went on, “Two, I didn’t go into the educational field for any sort of prestige! Who does that?” He pouted, so I sighed and let him know, “Initially, I wanted to prove something to my ex-wife.” He raised his eyebrows at the broach of that subject, but I had no inclination to delight him with the details of that sordid affair, so I continued, “I got to that destination, but not by using the route I imagined! I got a fresh start by making new friends, meeting the love of my life, and having a real impact on the future generation! When I quit living to prove myself to someone else, I got something better than I could have imagined! You can’t keep relying on what you did in the past, man! Find something else you’re good at, and then you’ll get your fame back! Instead of wasting your energy striving to take me down, work on building yourself up instead!”
“Wow, that’s so obvious that I should have deduced it myself! So, the dilemma has hence become where do I venture moving forward?” Casper contemplated this concept for a moment.
I politely ushered him out of the classroom, “Venture anywhere but here! I’m gonna salvage what’s left of my meal break!” He waved goodbye but did not wait for me to return the gesture as he left my classroom. I rolled my eyes and rattled my brains around to shake off the tension I had built up. If only he knew how much I did not want this sort of renown! I had no ambition to get other ladies’ appeal- Phoebe was the only woman I had any desire to please! Furthermore, the whole Ghost League business was more of a duty than an honor! Yes, the inciting incident with the vampires brought us together as companions, but I would have been thrilled to have bonded with them in any other circumstance! And seriously, if Damon had stayed in Hell where he belongs, I would have been perfectly content with dropping out of the spotlight! I aimed to decompress from these negative emotions as I locked up my class, and as I hurried towards the teachers’ lounge, I crossed my fingers that no fear mongers would pop up and add fuel to the fire that was my inner turmoil!
I found Phoebe, Ellie, Ginger, Aleck, and Fletcher all sitting at a table in the quad, and I inquired, “What’s going on?”
Fletcher filled me in, “All the kids are too chicken to sit out here, so Manuel had us all eat outside to encourage them to come back here. Like hanging out with their teachers are gonna really entice them to do that!”
“Where have you been?” Ginger queried to me. She leaned in closer and whispered, “Did you take care of one of Damon’s little pets as you came out here?”
“Nope!” I replied, “I was dealing with another irritating pest. Actually, I was kinda hoping to hear you all took care of one while I was gone so we could be done for the day!”
Aleck conversed, “Sorry to disappoint you! Although, I guess it is possible we could be done and not even know it! Like, what if one of his victims killed one without them even realizing what it was? Or maybe two oppositional ones arrived simultaneously and snuffed each other out!”
Ellie disputed that supposition, “That’ll never happen! We’ve had two in the same shift, but never two at the same time! Besides, they all stem from one group, so why would they hurt each other?”
As if on cue, a girl ran out into the grounds in front of us screaming while a butterfly followed her. She suddenly froze, closed her eyes, and chanted, “I’m in my happy place! I’m in a snowy cabin!” She peeked out at the air around her, and when the butterfly had not vanished, she groaned, “Aah! Why isn’t this working?”
“I’m in my happy place! I’m in a snowy mountain cabin!” a boy recited with his lids shut in an attempt to elude the bouncy and bubbly golden-retriever that was tailing him. He bumped into the butterfly girl and apologized, “Oops! My bad! I didn’t-!” The dog interrupted him by leaping up and eating the butterfly in one chomp!
“Ooh, I love your dog!” the girl gushed.
The boy gazed at the girl with a captivated smile, and then he proposed, “The dog says you should go to the prom with me!”
She happily accepted, “Yeah, sure! I’d love to!”
“Ooh! Can we pet your dog?” A number of other students rushed out to greet the playful pooch.
“No!” I intervened when I saw signs of the butterfly’s fear monger transforming inside of the canine’s stomach! The children all grew aghast as I snatched up cute animal, so I fibbed, “I gotta take him to tinkle! ‘Scuse me!”
My colleagues in the Ghost League trailed me as I hastily moved to the side of the school, and when the dog’s fear monger mutated into its original form, I dropped it out of appall. After we all saw it keel over, Ellie acknowledged, “Well, Aleck, I guess I was wrong on that one!”
Damon suddenly apparated into our vicinity, and he complained, “A golden retriever! Out of all of the much scarier mutts it could have chosen, why did they pick something so adorable? I’m sick of bringing these kids joy and love!”
“Do you expect us to offer you any sympathy?” I probed.
“No!” Damon pouted. He then amended his sentence, “That is to say, no because you need it more than I do! Just wait ‘til you see what I have in store for you tomorrow!”