The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 33

“Welcome to the Other Side!” a friendly man in all white merrily greeted us as he sat behind a pearly desk. The marble floors and walls shimmered from a warmly-toned light source, and the glistening, gilded seats wrapped around a carpet so plush that they nearly resembled clouds! As the receptionist checked something on his clipboard, I turned to Phoebe, Ellie, and Ginger in confusion. They, too, seemed bewildered, but how could they not be? We had no clue what to expect when we entered into the Netherworld, but it certainly wasn’t this! I had prepared myself to contend with little, red sprites or perhaps even a large, vicious creature that guarded Babelsama’s domain, but not this! If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn that we stumbled into an office with so much prestige that it put my old marketing firm to shame! Would this gatekeeper even allow access to the fire we needed to destroy the key? Prior to me querying this gentleman about this, he announced, “I don’t see anyone on the schedule for this time slot! Can I get your name, please?”

            “Uh, I’m Connor. Connor Fenmore,” I relayed to him. As I studied the area further, I didn’t see anything that mirrored the brimstone and darkness in the portrait in my guest bathroom, which made me wonder whether or not we had gone to the right location! I don’t know where else we could have gone, but still! Then again, I distinctly recalled communicating with Babelsama directly through that passageway! He had conducted potent magic from this realm to our planet, and he desperately wanted this portal to remain open- how would that have been remotely advantageous to him? I couldn’t picture a faint sneeze let alone a deadly spell interrupting the tranquil ambiance of this room! I speculated that maybe our adversary was trying to trick us until…

            Phoebe exclaimed, “We died, didn’t we?” I hadn’t considered that possibility until right then! Did that vortex instantly kill us? I started to panic at all of the grim ramifications of this notion…

            Ellie ardently disputed that concept, “Oh, no! No way would I die and get sent to the same place as this creep!” She indicated to Blaise, who stood behind us with his head down low. She had a point, and while I felt alleviated, I couldn’t help but ponder… if we didn’t perish, where did we end up?

            “Oh, you’re livings!” the receptionist figured out. He gazed at us with great interest as he inquired, “What brings you here today?”

            “He did,” Ginger replied referring to me.

            The receptionist genially spoke to us, “Did you guys stumble into an entryway by accident? Don’t worry, it happens all the time! If you go out the way you came in, you’ll be back on Earth in a jiffy, no problem!”

            Blaise darted toward the exit, but Ginger and Ellie grabbed him by the arms and barred him from running from our reach as I addressed the receptionist, “Um, actually, we’re looking for the Netherworld…”

            “Sorry, we’re no longer allowing interdimensional visits,” the receptionist informed us. “You’ll have to wait until you’re deceased to reunite with any lost loved ones.”

            “We didn’t come here to… Wait, you used to let people do that?” I puzzled.

            He filled us in, “Yeah, but it got a little complicated, and our organization has no interest in creating chaos for any residents within our care! We strongly believe in ensuring that those who’ve passed on can rest here in peace! Unless they get sent back to Earth, but what happens on the surface isn’t our responsibility! They sign a waiver and know exactly what they’re getting themselves into!”

            Phoebe’s brows furrowed as she observed, “You make the Netherworld sound like a vacation resort!”

            “Well, the undead perform an essential function for us, and they go through enough torment on Earth, so we make sure their return is as stress-free as can be… unless they break the rules, then they get sent downstairs, if you know what I mean…” he expressed with a wink.

            “If they’re so miserable in our world, then why do they even bother to go to it?” Ginger queried.

            The receptionist simply stated, “It’s their job!” We stared at him in bafflement, so he clarified, “They’re recruited to create the pandemonium that keeps the natural order of things in check! You see, good wouldn’t exist without bad, so we provide a necessary service!”

            Ellie, who appeared somewhat miffed, posted to him, “So, evil-doers don’t get an eternity in Hell? They can return to our land and keep doing what they do?”

            “Certainly not! Only the souls who’ve sought forgiveness and seek to make amends for their crimes!” the receptionist educated us. “The souls who delight in wickedness are forbidden to come back up!”

            “Yeah, ‘cause only the ones who don’t want to cause trouble are allowed to do it!” I sarcastically muttered.

            The receptionist chirped, “Yes! Now you’re getting it!”

            I differed, “Not really! I’m stumped.”

            “Think of it as tough love,” the receptionist instructed.

            “No, I’m not gonna do that!” I responded bluntly. “We had a Netherworld guardian who definitely enjoyed the mayhem he caused us! One of his employees said he has a bunch of vengeful plans against us, and we didn’t even do anything wrong! Tell him, Blaise!”

            Blaise hissed, “Shh! Leave me out of this!”

            The receptionist craned his neck to get a second look at the person hiding behind us. “Blaise? As in Blaise Casimir?” We stepped aside to allow him to see Blaise in full view, and Blaise meekly waved at him. “Wow! I never would’ve pegged you as one to apologize for your actions!”

            “Oh, surely, I repented! I’m, like, totally sorry for what I’ve done! It was not completely worth it like I told you when I first arrived!” Blaise nervously chuckled as he eyeballed the receptionist’s reaction to his claim.

            “Hmm…” The receptionist stared at Blaise suspiciously, and for a minute, it seemed as thought he was about to get sent back to his torture chambers, but then the receptionist shrugged and amiably regarded us, “I’ll have to update your files then, I guess! In the meantime, if he’s inviting guests to his quarters, I suppose we can make an exception for your presence! Have fun, but please note, if you cause any disturbances, you’ll face some severe consequences!”

            A piece of the wall on the right rapidly opened up into a doorway, and while I wanted to correct his misconceptions on our journey, I didn’t want to risk losing our access to the innermost part of the Netherworld, so before the entryway closed, we rushed in! I felt kind of bad for it since I didn’t disclose the truth, and I fretted that I may have slightly tarnished my odds of going upstairs when my time came, but I reasoned that it wasn’t as though I intentionally deceived anyone! I reassured myself that the outcome would benefit society as a whole, so they were bound to forgive me later! As long as we were successful anyways! If we messed this up and doomed civilization… I crossed my fingers that they wouldn’t discover our plan until the proper moment as we, once again, trekked into the unknown!

            We stepped into a foyer area with sleek, black-lacquered walls and two hallways with trace of any movement and an expanse that seemed to stretch ceaselessly. As we soaked in our surroundings, Blaise bargained with me, “I won’t tell your secret if you don’t reveal mine!”

            I got annoyed that I had to cover up for this jerk who caused our conundrum to commence in the first place, but my ire ebbed a bit when it occurred to me that he could provide a valuable service for our efforts to bring this predicament to a finish! He had navigated this territory previously, so I decided to give him a chance to redeem himself by asking for directions, “Which way do we turn?”

            “I dunno.” Blaise shrugged. “Babelsama sent me out through a tunnel, so I never roamed this terrain!”

            “It’s alright, there’s a map!” Phoebe showed me a small podium underneath the corporate logo that was scrawled across the surface to avoid my eruption over his ineptness. “This’ll clear everything up!” The five of us glimpsed at the directory, and then Phoebe reversed her position, “Oh, never mind!”

            I couldn’t fathom how the designers of this structure thought this chart would provide any kind of relief to a lost individual! It had so many different zig-zagging lines tangled all over each other that even heir color coating didn’t make the details any less murky! Ellie read out loud, “You are here… Where is here? That can’t be right, there are too many aisles leading off of this spot! I think they mislabeled it!”

            Blaise let us know, “Most of those are tunnels. People around here use magic to make hidden channels to the outside since most folks in these stomping grounds prefer to keep to themselves.”

            I pondered, “Doesn’t that get lonely?”

            “Not really. If you’d seen the characters who lodge in these dwellings, you’d know why!” It was slightly tempting to interrogate him for examples of his claim, but I realized that I didn’t want to think about what lurked within the barriers as we went past them!

            “This heavy black line seems to represent the main artery of the complex,” Ginger deduced. “And each color corresponds with different inhabitants! But don’t worry, there’s public access to each of their domains!”

            Phoebe canvassed Ginger, “Which one is Babelsama’s room?”

            Ginger reported, “It doesn’t say! It just says Guardian One, Guardian Two, and Guardian Three.”

            Everyone turned to me for suggestions, but I couldn’t come up with anything other than, “We’ll have to knock on each one and pray that the occupant is friendly!” No one seemed confident about this idea, but nobody else furnished any alternatives, so we reluctantly headed to the right and hoped for the best.

            We traversed an array of solid, wooden doors, but instead of the usual office babble that most people would expect to hear in an environment like this, we heard odd noises emanating from nearly every chamber! One sounded like a fish tank, and another emitted the din of rocks rolling throughout their enclosure! The suite that radiated a melody of swamp clamor opened up, and an entity that appeared to have been comprised entirely of slime came out briefly. “Oh, you’re not the housekeepers!” it recognized as it retreated back into its sector. As hard as it was for us to forget it, we had to cast that image out of our brains so we concentrate and move on!

            At Guardian One’s entrance, I propositioned, “Let’s do this two at a time so if there’s any sort of trap, we all won’t get stuck at once!” The others agreed, and we all backed away in order to allow the others to go forward. When nobody did, I exhaled exasperatedly and went to the door. Phoebe joined me, and as much as that bolstered my spirits, I still trembled as I tapped the door…

            “What do you want?” a male with the body of a man and the head of a jackal bellowed at us.

            “I forgot!” I croaked as my thoughts went blank from terror.

            The jackal-man laughed, “I’m just messing with you! Would you like to come in? We’ve got a wile game of hand ball going on!”

            I politely declined, “We’ll get back to you on that! We’re… trying to say hello to everyone, so we gotta…”

            “Say no more! We’ll raincheck that! Hey, no cheating!” the jackal-man scurried towards his colleagues, and as the door closed, we gave each other a shrug and resumed our quest.

            “Ooh, is this my lunch?” A vampire who travelled in the opposite direction ogled us voraciously, but when he beheld the stern expressions we bore, he concluded, “Apparently not! Sorry!”

            Phoebe whispered, “Ugh! I am so sick of vampires!” We all nodded as we kept going.

            After we rounded another corner, Ginger and Ellie gave the door of Guardian Two a knock. It opened up to a luxurious lagoon, and an angry mermaid addressed us, “This better be important!”

            Ellie admitted, “It’s not!” The mermaid growled and slammed the door in their faces. Ellie then asserted, “They make them seems so sweet in those children’s movies!”

            We turned down a third corner, and a walking bush gave us a courteous nod as it bypassed us. This prompted me to comment, “The population here seems pretty friendly in general; maybe our interaction with Babelsama won’t be so bad!”

            “That’s right, my man! Ignore all that stuff I said about him plotting vengeance, he’s a great guy!” Blaise peered at me to see if I bought that bunk. I shook my head, but I proceeded as if I believed in the favorable outcome that he advertised.

“Here we go!” I proclaimed right before Phoebe and I knocked on door three, and we all watched with our anticipation rising high! We inwardly predicted a contentious confrontation, but instead, nothing at all transpired. “He could be busy? Should we leave a message or something?” I enquired to the others. They didn’t have a reply, and I frowned as I mulled it over. “I suppose he thought we would slip him the key under the mat! That coward! He doesn’t have the guts to face us!”

            Immediately following that statement, the floor beneath all of us vanished! “Oh, this ain’t good!” Blaise unhelpfully declared as we plummeted through the shadows…

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 32

As Ginger, Aleck, Ellie, Fletcher, Phoebe, and I stood beneath the hazy streetlight, I posed to everyone, “You guys ready?”

            “I’m ready for a nap!” Fletcher asserted. “Ready to go into a haunted house? Not so much!”

            “The only reason I’m feeling good about this crazy idea is I’m still relishing in the glow of victory!” Ellie proudly declared.

            Ginger grumbled, “Okay, okay! We get it! You were right about researching Damon’s history! You don’t have to gloat!”

            Ellie differed, “I’m not bragging about it! I’m just reminding everybody that we wouldn’t be at this juncture at all if we hadn’t done the homework! So, next time this happens-.”

            “Woah, woah, woah! Next time?” Aleck quibbled. “No, no! We’re only travelling to another dimension once! The only reason I got away with sneaking out of the house at the crack of dawn is that I was sleeping on couch since I left for groceries at ten a.m. and came home at two in in the morning with no food! If I have to go on anymore crazy adventures, my wife’ll probably have the locks changed by the time I get back!”

            “It’s gonna be okay, guys!” Phoebe attempted to buoy our spirits. “We’ll stop in real quick, destroy the key, and get to work early enough to get some coffee in the teachers’ lounge! Yup, we’re gonna fight some demons and then carry on with our jobs like nothing weird occurred! It’ll be fine…”

            I espied the dismal expressions my colleagues bore, and I knew that we would already have a disadvantage against our adversaries if we entered into their territory with this attitude, so I avidly addressed them all, “Listen, I know this is a strange experience to go through, but the sooner we get it done and over with, the sooner our lives can go back to normal! We’ll seal the portal, and then Damon will go back to Hell where he belongs! No more ghosts! No more monsters! Our biggest worry will be wondering how to deal with Roxy’s melodrama once she realizes her paranormal paramour isn’t coming back!”

            Fletcher tried to cut in, “Uh, Connor…”

            “I’m not done!” I assumed that he would aim to raise some sort of objection to our venture, and I wasn’t going to allow anymore doubts into our aura! “If we let this go another day, a bunch of innocent children will get subjected to this torment, and do you really want to-?” Since I had been ignoring Fletcher’s attempts to get my attention, he grabbed me by the head and craned my neck in the direction of what he was trying to allude to. I grew horrified to see Rowan behind us! He was in his yoga outfit and held a bag over his recycling bin, so clearly he was in the middle of a very typical routine when he overheard the not-so-typical nature of our conversation! He stared at us incredulously, and I grinned at him in a chagrined manner. “Oh hey, neighbor!”

            “Do I wanna know what’s going on…?” he somewhat nervously inquired.

            I replied, “Probably not.”

            Rowan accepted my response. “Alright, I’m gonna go inside and pretend I didn’t see anything! Good luck with… whatever you’re doing!”

            After he returned to his home, Phoebe commented, “That was awkward!”

            I suggested, “Let’s finish this before anyone else in the area comes out! All that confidence-building stuff is still true, ‘kay? Let’s get going!”

            Using the flashlights on our cellphones, we walked across the cul-de-sac and marched straight up to the driveway! As the plethora of pine needles that blanketed the yard crunched beneath our feet, Ginger asked me, “So, you’ve been in here before, right? What’s it like?”

            “It’s nothing special ‘til you get to the garage,” I answered with a shrug. “Even then, it’s pretty boring unless that door is open! Honestly, Ferneus’s mansion was creepier, and it didn’t have any mystical gateways in it! I don’t think… Nah, I doubt his ‘turtledove’ would stick around for that crap!”

            “Well, what I really wanna know is did I make a mistake wearing a skirt and high heels?” Ginger queried. The entire group gazed at her clothing, and she defended herself, “I was in a hurry and grabbed the first things I could find!”

            I got the sense that a few people had some strong opinions on her choice, but it got tabled as we all reached the threshold this abandoned abode! We all paused to steel ourselves up for what awaited us beyond these walls. Aleck took a deep breath, and then he muttered, “I am a man of science! There’s nothing in here that hasn’t’ been seen before! Except for the demons… But this is a chance to study some new elements! Yeah, I can do this! I can go on a field trip and learn some new facts! All I gotta do is-!”

            Ellie pushed past him and commanded, “Quit overthinking it! Let’s get this done and over with!” And with that, we all trickled inside of this building….

            As we traversed through the deserted hallway, we gazed at the peeling wallpaper and the slightly singed portraits with trepidation, and Fletcher pressed me, “Are you sure this joint isn’t possessed by any evil ghouls?”

            “Other than my ex’s clutches in the realty company that owns this property, nothing sinister has a presence here!” I assured him. Suddenly, a low, pitiful groan echoed throughout the space! The others all turned to me questioningly, and although it spooked me at first, I consoled them (and myself!), “Richard lives next door- maybe that was him getting lucky!” With much more frustration and hopelessness, another groan sounded, and a gnawing sensation formed at the pit of my stomach! Were we too late? Did Babelsama get the Netherworld entryway open without the key that I currently grasped in my pocket?

            “If that’s Richard, then I can guarantee you he ain’t getting any welcomed action right now!” Fletcher opined.

            I argued, “You don’t know that! Maybe he’s into really freaky stuff… I shuddered at the image that brought to my imagination, and then I directed our assemblage, “It doesn’t matter what’s causing that noise! We gotta deal with whatever’s there! Come on!”

            The groaning grew more an more voluminous the closer we got to the garage, and as much as I told myself that it was nothing threatening, I became more and more prepared to engage in an epic battle! As we set foot into the room of our destinated path, my adrenaline kicked into high gear, and I jumped into that territory with the full bravado of a warrior in combat! I didn’t know what sort of beast or entity we would encounter, but the last thing I expected was…

            “What in the blazes…?” Ellie exclaimed without realizing the irony of her statement.

            “Did someone say my name?” Blaise’s voice rang out throughout the vicinity.

            We all peered in disbelief as we beheld a pair of legs dangling out of a portion of the wall sectioned off by a door frame! To the untrained eye, the door currently ajar previously led to the outside and got sealed off with cement, and even though we knew what truly laid beyond that veil, it was still unnerving to see a person stuck in such a solid surface! Once I had gotten over my initial shock, I crept up to the struggling limbs and gasped, “Blaise?”

            Blaise grumped, “Didn’t we already establish that?”

            “What are you doing here?” I pondered in profound perplexed fashion. Out of all of the places on this planet for him to have resurfaced, I never would have predicted it would have been there! And definitely not in that position!

            “At the moment, not a whole lot!” Blaise shot back as he strove to wriggle free from his confinement.

            I was still too startled to offer him any assistance, but I got annoyed at his caginess, so I rephrased my enquiry, “Why are you here? I mean, one minute, you’re going outside to get your lighter, and the next thing I know, you’re trapped in… Why did you go into this hovel at all?”

            Blaise haggled, “I’ll explain everything, but could you pull me out first?”

            I sighed and relented to his request. I grabbed his shins and gave them a yank, but they wouldn’t budge! Fletcher and Ellie joined in, and we started to make headway. Everyone else lent a hand, and slowly, we got more and more of him out! AT last, his entire self popped out, but when I saw how singed his top half had become, I blurted, “How in the hell are you still alive?”

            “Actually, I’m not,” Blaise admitted. We gawked at him incomprehensively, so he forced himself to explain, “A few years ago, I was performing a complex ritual in order to raise the dead, but instead of using salt, I accidentally poured rat poison into my potion! You know how that’s easy to do…”

            “Not really!” Aleck responded as he eyeballed him peculiarly.

            Blaise ignored Aleck’s slight and continued, “Well, I got sent to Hell on account of all the ‘evil’ I committed in my lifetime, but then I got recruited by some dude in the Netherworld. He gave me two options: spend an eternity getting tortured or return to Earth to spread some mayhem, and after I thunk on it-.”

            Phoebe raised her eyebrows at that. “You had to think about it?”

            “After I realized that they weren’t gonna inflict the kinky kinda torture, the decision wasn’t so difficult,” Blaise stated. Phoebe winced at the vile picture he painted, and Blaise went on, “Initially, he had me return to the compound and keep growing my religious base, but then he tasked me with the effort to reopen this portal, so I purposely let the ranch go into foreclosure so my dear family in Terra Belle would take us in…”

            “You’re lucky that Connor was around when I took my mom’s call! I would’ve left you on the streets!” Phoebe spat.

            I canvassed him, “How did you know we lived across the street from the portal?”

            He filled me in, “I didn’t! My boss saw that I had a connection to the town where his gateway existed, so he sent me there to find you and get his key. It was a stroke of good fortune that only did I run into the keyholder immediately, I moved in right by my boss’s domain!”

            “Wait, this Babelsama guy is your boss?” Ginger deduced.

            “Yup!” Blaise confirmed. “He was tickled pink when my window revealed your close proximity! He figured you just followed Damon into this building before! Once he got the truth, he spazzed out! He has all sorts of plans for you when the gate is unlocked!”

            I sardonically articulated to him, “Gee, too bad you never got a hold of the key and opened it for him!”

            He didn’t detect the sarcasm in that sentence and concurred, “I know, right? I tried to get it open without it, but then, well, you seen what happened! I nearly got the key once when you were drunk and took your pants off, but then that damn cat peed on it! That’s the only substance that can make me sick!”

            “Aw! And I yelled at Jett for doing that!” I lamented.

            “So, you’re like a vampire or something?” Fletcher interrogated Blaise.

            Blaise enlightened him, “Nope! I’m simply undead!”

            I denoted, “Wow, I guess the FAUK club wasn’t far off with their zombie concept!”

            “Um, the term ‘zombie’ is offensive to my kind!” Blaise took offense to my depiction. “You see, we-!”

            “He’s gonna have to come with us,” I instructed the others. “If we let him stay behind, he’ll go to that portrait and warn Baelsama about our presence in his realm!”

            Ellie brought up, “What if Damon works out what’s going on and tips him off?”

            I mulled the matter over briefly. “Hmm… Maybe a couple of us should keep guard in here in case he tries to interfere.” Aleck, Fletcher, Ellie, and Ginger all vigorously volunteered, and after I gave the issue some consideration, I decreed, “Aleck and Fletcher should remain here.” Ellie and Ginger objected, so I reasoned, “They’re already in hot water with their wives- if they quit answering their messages, they’ll lose their relationships! We can’t have that! Unless there’s a cell tower down there…” I glimpsed at Blaise for clues, and he indicated that he had no inkling about that.

            “So, I’m hanging out with these guys while you’re down there?” Blaise gazed at me with substantial hope glimmering in his eyes.

            “Absolutely not! If it makes you that happy, it’s probably not a wise plan,” I ruled. He grew sullen, but I paid him no mind. I quizzed my other three companions, “You ready?”

            Ellie barked, “Will you drop that phrase from your vocabulary? We’re never gonna be ready, but we’re not gonna let that bar us from moving forward! Let’s do this!”

            I shut the old wooden door and drew out the spoon. I took a vigorous inhale, and after the exhale, I fitted the handle into the keyhole. I unlatched it, and once I reopened the doorway, an immense, rapidly moving vortex swirled before us! I gulped and debated whether or not I had the courage to seriously set foot in that terrifying whirl, but then Phoebe took my arm, and it reminded me of what I was doing this for! Ellie and Ginger braced each other behind us, and then we stepped into the abyss!

I anticipated that we would float around in a vast nothingness for a stretch, but to my bewilderment, we set foot on solid ground! Although we were spared from that ordeal, we weren’t out of the woods yet! What lurked beyond the void nearly made me faint! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the land of the departed would contain this…

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 31

“Yes, it’s me!” Her light-blue eyes glared at me with so much venom that if looks could kill, she would have poisoned me immediately! She flipped her blonde hair in a very nonchalant manner and rested her hand on one of her curvy hips in an attempt to convey indifference, but she clearly harbored too much bitterness over our history to pull that off! “What are you doing here, Connor?”

            “What am I doing here?” I echoed back to her. My mind was still in such a shock that I couldn’t even drum up something sarcastic to throw in her face! The possibility of running into her again never crossed my thoughts- I really believed that this chapter of my life had been closed, so my brain had to reprogram itself right then! It was like seeing a ghost! Uh, that is to say the sentiments that currently overtook my senses felt like how a normal person would feel upon seeing a specter- it was not what I went through each instance that Damon popped into the vicinity! “Last I heard, you were with that Lucas guy in Canada! Why are you here? Did he kick you out?”
            With a full force of fury aimed in my direction, she revealed, “No! Canada did! And it’s all your fault!”

            Her claim caught me slightly off-guard from its outrageous nature, but I quickly collected myself and queried, “How is that my fault? Oh, ‘cause I refused to take you back?”

            “Yes!” she roared. “When I drove back home, Lucas confronted me on why I had been gone so long, and when he figured out that I was with other guys, he-.”

            “Guys? As in multiple men?” I questioned her.

            She grew somewhat flustered at what she let slip out, and then she felt compelled to admit, “Well, when you rejected me, I got too upset to go home, so I went to this really classy bar to drink, and… Is it a crime to get wined and dined by a lonely billionaire?” I rolled my eyes, and she let out an angry exhale before continuing with her saga, “Anyways, Lucas tried to tell me who I could and couldn’t be friends with, so I stormed out. My new friend, and yes, we were just friends, let me stay with him for a while, but since I refused to return to Lucas, he reported me to immigration! I never filled out a visitor’s visa, so they deported me!”

            I started snickering at her misfortune, so she stared at me reproachfully. My first instinct was to apologize, “Sorry! I…” I contemplated this notion for a flash, and then I reversed courses, “No, that’s not true! After all you put me through, I deserve to laugh at how karma made you suffer the consequences of your actions!”

            “What I put you through?” she bellowed. “You’re responsible for all of this!  If you hadn’t neglected me at your old job-!”

            “The job you begged me to go back to ‘cause you wouldn’t accept me in my teaching position” I shot back.

            Aleck hesitantly jumped into the conversation, “So, this would be the ex-wife, Lilith?”

            Lilith confirmed that for him, “Uh-huh, that’s right! I see he’s been talking about me! Anything good?”

            “Uh…” Aleck trailed off. I imagined that if we had been in any other circumstance, he would have given her an honest response, but since we needed something important from the other occupant of this household, he tried not to hurt her feelings. Too late- his reluctance to speak on the subject gave her the reality of the situation, which prompted her to pout.

            “Listen, we didn’t drive all day to hear you gripe about your romantic drama!” Fletcher curtly addressed her. “We’ve come to see… Ferny something-or-other…”

            I picked up where he left off, “We need to speak to Ferneus G. Adramnelech. Does he still live here?”

            Lilith fibbed, “No, he doesn’t!”

            “Did someone say my name?” an elderly fellow’s voice rang out from another room.

            “No! Now sign those papers I gave you!” Lilith barked at him. When she caught on to the astonished expressions we all bore, she sheepishly relayed to us, “He’s my boss. I work for his realty company. He… needs a lot of assistance…”

            Her behavior struck me as suspicious, so I inquired, “You’re an admin now? Isn’t that kind of a pay cut for you?”

            The old gentleman piped up again, “Do we have visitors? I want to see them!”

            “They don’t wanna talk to you! Stay in the living room, lambkin!” Lilith ordered. Prior to anyone interrogating her on this outrageous display, she justified herself, “Okay, he’s here, but he isn’t really. He’s a hundred and seven years old and a smidgen senile, he needs a firm hand to keep him in line… You know, for his own safety…”

            “Well, lucid or not, we have an urgent matter to discuss with him,” I informed her. “Please act like a civilized human being and-.”

            Lilith refused, “Absolutely not! You have no business with our firm! He’s a helpless centenarian, what could you possibly need from him? How dare you try and take advantage of an innocent soul like that!”

            At that moment, the most ancient-appearing person I had ever seen shuffled over to the foyer. His purple, velvet robe didn’t have a blemish on it, and the few gray hairs that remained on his head seemed perfectly groomed. If I hadn’t known Lilith so well, I would’ve commended her for the level of caretaking she relinquished to him! However, I recollected that she didn’t have an ounce of domestic skills in her and would flinch at the slightest hint of dirt, so either he had other individuals tending to him or he handled his well-being by himself. Simultaneous to me wondering if we would legally need a nurse or something with us for this discourse, Ferneus stated, “I don’t understand those forms you gave me! Who are you giving me power of attorney over?”

            We all gawked at Lilith for her sheer audacity, and she hung her head low to hide her blushing cheeks. Ferneus took notice of the three men in his doorway, and he merrily greeted us, “Oh, we do have some callers! Welcome to our home! Won’t you please come in and have a seat?” Lilith looked horrified at the prospect, but she couldn’t stop what Ferneus had set in motion, so we brushed past her as we followed him inside.

            His living room looked like something staged for a museum exhibit! The couch and chairs seemed like furniture pieces that my grandparents would have said was too antique for their tastes! The only thing that didn’t convince me that they weren’t squatting in a vacant property was how dust and cobweb free the walls and fixtures were! I might have been persuaded that we had stepped backwards in time if it wasn’t for the mountain of paperwork with recent dates on them as well as Lilith’s cellphone charging in one of the outlets! Ferneus invited us, “Sit down, my hep guests!” the amenities appeared rather delicate, so we all hesitated, especially Fletcher, but in order to proceed, we knew we had to comply. Once we had carefully situated ourselves, we got surprised by the strength of our perches! Ferneus sat on the sofa across from us and posed, “How can I be of service to you chaps? Would you be the local draymen?”

            “Um, I’m not really sure what that is,” I responded honestly. During the lengthy car ride to this joint, I planned out a whole line of questions for this dude, but with Lilith in the perimeter, it all went out the window! Not that it would have mattered if her opinion of me got lowered, but I certainly didn’t want to endure any of her smugness from any sort of presentation of unsoundness on my part! Plus, if she had valuable insight on our recent endeavor, she could get put in danger by Damon and his allies, and even though I had an intense dislike of her nowadays, I couldn’t put her in peril! It wouldn’t have been right, but also, it would have been tortuous to rescue that tramp and have her owe a life debt to me… in addition to the financial ones that were significantly overdue! Despite my misgivings on the concept, I couldn’t allow my discomfort to affect our odds of success in this mission- countless lives were at stake! So, I gritted my teeth and accepted that she would have to be privy to our venture, at least some of it! “Actually, we were hoping to talk to you about one of your properties…”

            “Oh, splendid! Are you fixing to buy? You fellas seem like quite the darb! I’ll sell you whatever you like!” He began pilfering through the various forms on the coffee table.

            His avid willingness to unload one of his properties to us startled everyone! I don’t think any of us in the Ghost League ever anticipated this as a potentiality! Owning that abandoned abode could have been advantageous to us; once we destroyed the key to that Netherworld portal, we could have the structure destroyed and ensure that no other soul tried to open it ever again! I had no clue if anyone in our trio would have the money or credit score for that sort of purchase, but how much could that burnt down hovel have been worth? I briefed him, “We’re talking about a house on Dusk Lily Lane…”

            Ferneus’s mood swiftly soured, and he stopped rifling through his documents upon hearing that. “Anything but that one! It’s too… important to give away!”

            “Dusk Lily Lane?” Lilith puzzled. “Wait, that’s where you live!” She indicated to me, and then she addressed Ferneus, “Uh, lambkin, do you own that lot with the wrecked estate on it?”

            “It’s not completely mutilated, turtledove!” Ferneus disagreed with her. “It still has crucial elements remaining inside…”

            Fletcher, Aleck, and I all knew exactly what he was referring to, but Lilith got completely taken aback by his remark! She unwillingly sided with me, “I don’t blame you for wanting that eyesore gone! It’s totally bringing down your property value! I’ll try and convince him to-.”

            Ferneus insisted, “Turtledove, I can’t sell that one! Not to them! Not ever! It’s… special…”

            “It’s a dump!” she argued. “Don’t tell me you have sentimental ties to that disaster zone!”

            “Can you tell us about who used to live there?” Fletcher asked him before Lilith could prolong their bickering.

            Ferneus jogged his memory, “Hmm… First there was the sexton, then the milliners, then the steward…”

            Aleck groaned, “Ugh, I wish Ellie were here to translate this!”

            “Then the Widow Karro…” Ferneus rambled on entirely unaware that the surname he had just mentioned piqued our interest…

            “The Widow Karro? Was she related to anyone named Damon?” I inquired. I recalled that he had a sister, but we never found any marriage certificates in his records… unless he was lying to everyone about the status of one of his mistresses…

            Ferneus mulled that over for a minute. “Possibly. I knew she had a husband who died from diarrhea…”

            Lilith challenged that assertion, “Diarrhea? He died from diarrhea?”

            “It does happen,” I verified. “If you have too much of it, it can kill you! Dad’s had to operate on patients whose only symptoms were frequent diarrhea.” She obviously didn’t believe me and fold her arms as Ferneus resumed his account.

            “She relied on her brother for companionship,” Ferneus chronicled for us. “Then, one day, he disappeared, and no one ever knew what happened to the lad. Some say she went a little crazy after that! Apparently, she was even boasting that she had reached out to the beyond to locate him…”

            We all gazed at him in awe! My jaw hung wide as it sunk in that, during that very juncture, we had learned the origin of that portal! I had no inkling that it had any sort of connection beyond it serving as a source for his revenge against Martha! This realization was so bewildering that it took several seconds for us to absorb it! Once I did, I started to consider how to gingerly broach the topic of destroying that key, but then Lilith, who had grown quite miffed at how grossly we drank in his words, hollered, “Why are you engaging him with this crap? He’s clearly lost his marbles, you’re all making it worse!”

            Ferneus disputed, “What are you yammering about? I’m as on-the-level as I’ve ever been!” I pulled the spoon out of my pocket, and his eyes became as large as dinner plates! “You found the key?”

            “Oh my god! He’s totally bonkers!” Lilith exclaimed.

            “No, it genuinely does open a door!” I refuted her. I then faced Ferneus and probed, “To guarantee no one else can open that door, how do we permanently erase it from this earth?”

            Ferneus uttered, “If it could get eradicated from this earth, don’t you think I would have done it already?”

            He raised a possibility that I hadn’t envisaged until right then! “So, what you’re saying is we would have to go down to-?”

            Ferneus nodded as an ornate landline rang. Lilith picked up the receiver and politely regarded the individual on the other line, “FGA Realty!” After they gave her a reply, she reported to Ferneus, “It’s your accountant.”

            I got up and quickly commented to Ferneus, “We’ll see ourselves out. Thank you very much for your time, sir!” As Aleck and Fletcher tailed me to the exit, Lilith watched us leave with a rising wariness of our conduct.

            During our return to the truck, Fletcher pondered, “What should we do about the…?”

            “Don’t worry! While we were still inside, I already messaged a social worker about Lilith’s hideous scheme!” Aleck assured us.

            “Uh, I’m pretty sure he meant the new dilemma with the key,” I corrected him.

            His face fell at that acknowledgement. “Oh, right! Gosh! What do we do now?”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 30

“Is this really necessary?” I queried Fletcher as his truck pulled up in front of my house.

            “Listen, we need answers, and this old geezer doesn’t have an email!” Fletcher insisted. “He’s not returning our calls either, so if we wanna find out what this Forny Gramil Lock-.”

            I corrected him, “It’s Forneus G. Adrannelech. I memorized the first time I saw it- it was the most old-sounding name I’d ever heard!”

            Fletcher had no interest in attempting to spit out that unusual label again. “Yeah, whatever! If we wanna learn what this ancient codger is hiding, we’ve gotta go talk to him ourselves! Now, come on! It’s an eight hour drive to this rinky-dink town in New York, so we need to hit the road asap!”

            As I got into the passenger side, Aleck peered over from the backseat and inquired, “How did he get all of that to fit on an axe handle?”

            I buckled up and replied, “Large axe, small letters. The question is who in their right mind would put an inscription on a-?” I hadn’t realized that someone outside of the Ghost League was in the vehicle! A preteen boy who greatly resembled Aleck sat behind Fletcher playing a game on his cellphone, which completely flabbergasted me! Not the obsessional use of a device, I had seen a number of kids at Rosemary King High with that issue- so much so that I wondered if a fear monger could have released its mayhem simply by snatching away all of their electronics! No, what surprised me was the fact that Aleck brought a family member to go along on this potentially dangerous journey! If Damon had discovered that we unearthed a valuable lead, he may have created some perilous obstacles for us to overcome before we ever arrived in Summerland!

            “The missus made me take him.” Aleck must’ve surmised my thoughts based on my reaction to this presence! “I lied and said we were all going to get groceries together, and apparently, he only agreed to eat healthier snacks if he got to pick them out himself. So, we’re gonna have to stop at the store on the way back!” A brief stint of silence followed his statement, so he added, “She wouldn’t have let me come if I told her the truth!”

            “My wife told me to have a chat with our girls about some of their… shall we say… risqué behavior, and I told her I’d do it as soon as I got my phone out of the truck…” Fletcher shared with us.

            I canvassed him, “You left your phone in here? Then how have you been replying to our texts?”

            Fletcher mumbled, “I didn’t, I just wanted to avoid that… uncomfortableness!” I noticed several missed messages on his cellphone, so he asserted, “When we get Aleck’s groceries, I’ll pick her up some flowers!”

            After a couple of hours on the freeway, we ran out of subjects to discuss that didn’t involve that petulant phantom or his sinister plot. I mean, we probably could have gotten away with it since his boy hadn’t lifted his head up from his intense gaze on that screen once, but we didn’t take any chances in case he overheard some of the more pertinent details. I found it kind of a shame that we didn’t have the opportunity to go over the recent developments of our supernatural dilemma because we had a plethora of stuff to sort out, and with this latest setback, we wouldn’t get a window to do so until the middle of the night when we returned home! While I was lamenting the concept of not being able to sleep so quickly after getting our room to ourselves again, my cellphone pinged, and when I read what was on display, I groaned. Aleck immediately probed, “What’s wrong? Did Phoebe anything at the… you know where?”

            “Did Ellie report some bad news?” Fletcher guessed.

            “No, none of that. Our cat got sick on our bed,” I revealed to them in a very anti-climatic manner. “Hopefully there’s no trouble while she’s washing the sheets! Well, if there was, Ellie is still monitoring the situation! And Ginger… Hang on, why didn’t she wanna go with us?”

            Aleck let me know, “She didn’t wanna be cramped in a small space with a bunch of smelly men for such a long road trip.” I nearly took offense to that, but then I contemplated the length of our stint on the streets, and I couldn’t argue with her objection!

            At the mention of the phrase “road trip,” Aleck’s son finally craned his neck upward! He glanced around at our surroundings in confusion, and he posed to his father, “We’re not at the supermarket yet?”

            “Well, we’re going to a special one near Lake Erie…” Aleck somewhat nervously fibbed.

            “Oh! Okay!” He evidently bought that explanation and returned to his previous activity.

            Silence ensued once more, and if we didn’t so something more intellectually stimulating, I fretted that I’d end up hitting the hay! I stared at the picture of Phoebe that I used as the background for my home screen, and I smiled at the memory it brought back of us jamming out to our favorite musical genre. She didn’t particularly like the photo since she didn’t view it as very flattering, but I adored it due to the feeling I had when I took it. We were having a ball, and I remembered thinking that I could spend the rest of my life like this! This made me long to be at home dreaming up a new tactic of proposing to her! Suddenly, I got a stroke of inspiration for the bind currently on our hands… “Say, how did you guys propose to your wives?”

            “I went into the gas station she worked at and bought a bunch of things, then when she rang it all up, she found the ring I hid in the mix! I got on one knee and popped the question,” Fletcher happily reminisced. “I thought it was romantic ‘cause that’s where we first met. She loved it, but the people behind me were kinda ticked off… I didn’t mean to put them behind on their tight schedule!”

            “Mine was pretty cliché I suppose. I did it in a restaurant,” Aleck relayed to me.

            I asked him, “Did you have the chef put it in the food?”

            Aleck answered me, “What? No! She could’ve choked on it! What sort of idiot would do that?” I grew pretty embarrassed about his response to my original plan, which he didn’t know about since I never disclosed it to anyone after it flopped so furiously! I felt fairly foolish on my judgment now, but I was glad that I never revealed that story to them so I could play it cool with the guys right then… “Oh, was that something you were gonna do?” Aleck clearly caught on to my abashed mood and became overwrought with guilt from his previous criticism. “Dude, I’m sorry! I-!”

            “It was one of many ways I unsuccessfully tried to make her my wife!” I admitted. “I had no clue it’d be this difficult to get it done!”

            “It can be tough,” Aleck related. “I couldn’t fathom what to say in that moment, but then I found out that the place had lounge singers, so I convinced them to do a romantic song, and all I had to do was belt out one sentence when they were done!”

            Fletcher petitioned me, “Weren’t you married once?”

            I narrated, “Well, yeah, but I never actually proposed to her! After college, we were out spending our graduation money, and when we passed by this jewelry store, she led me inside. She picked out this huge diamond, and before I knew it, she was planning out a wedding! I went along with it ‘cause it seemed like that was the path we were heading down anyways. Thank god she didn’t require an elaborate show of it- that gold-digger wouldn’t’ have settled for anything cheap!”

            “How are you gonna do it now?” Fletcher pondered.

            “I dunno, my brain’s completely blank! Do you two have any suggestions?” I surveyed Fletcher and Aleck. “I know Phoebe wouldn’t expect anything too extravagant, but she’s important to me, so I want it to be special!”

            Aleck and Fletcher mulled it over for a minute, and then Aleck opined, “I would tell you to have her students help you do it, but who know when another one of Damon’s attacks will-.” He worriedly glanced over to his son, but he appeared to not be paying attention, so he breathed a sigh of relief.

            After a fruitless beat, Fletcher assured me, “If we can conjure up something, we’ll let you know!”

            “Thanks!” I gratefully regarded them. With that topic temporarily settled, the vehicle got silent again. I let a few seconds elapse, and then I propositioned, “How about some music?” Fletcher flicked on the radio, and some country crooner blasted throughout the vicinity! “Could we listen to something more… lively? Like classic rock?”

            “Oh no! After such a stressful week, we need to listen to something soothing like instrumental scores!”

            Without looking up from his device, Aleck’s son piped in, “Wow, Dad! I knew you were old, but I didn’t realize you’ve been around since Beethoven’s era! Play some pop!”

            I recommended, “What if we compromise and hear some eighties’ hits?”

            Aleck contented, “You’re compromising with my child but not with me?”

            Fletcher switched his stereo off and decreed, “No one’s listening to anything!” Quiet resumed once more.

            We ended up staying awake by initiating some vintage road trip games. We began with “I Spy,” but Aleck’s son kept cheating by searching for random items on the internet. We opted on “Sign Alphabet” and “License Plate Bingo,” both of which forced the kid to stare at something other than his phone! When we started seeing posts about Summerland, I lost even more interest than I already had in these inane time-killers! I never wanted to repeat this process at any point in the future, so I grew more and more anxious to gather information from that Forneus dude! I beseeched the universe that he held valuable material to render all of this effort as worth it!

            “This should be it!” I announced as the GPS indicated our arrival at the destination we programmed into it.

            “Are we sure we got the correct location” Fletcher checked with us as he parked.

            As he gazed at the building in front of us, Aleck verified for him, “Oh yeah! How could it not be?”

            When Fletcher beheld it for himself, he removed all of his skepticism! We stood before a structure that could only be described as what most people would imagine if they were to close their eyes and picture a haunted house! It was a large, three-story Victorian with dark paint and sharp towers on the roof! The entire joint was surrounded by a rusty, rod-iron fence, and the yard had decaying refuse strewed all over it! The sole reason we didn’t declare it as vacant and run back to Terra Belle was the decrepit wooden sign that read: FGA Realty!

            “Can I wait in the car?” Aleck’s son requisitioned as he frightfully eyeballed this strange abode.

            “Yeah,” Aleck obliged with a slight twinge of jealousy. “Keep the doors locked, and honk if anyone tries to murder you!”

            The kid responded to that, “Murderers like whatever’s possessing that mansion? Dad, are ghosts real?”

            The three of us gazed at each other quizzically- no one knew how to reply to that! Do we lie to him and keep his trepidation at bay, or do we startle him with the truth in case Damon did decide to crash our party? I had no inkling on how to act in this case, and neither did Aleck, but Fletcher eventually gave him an adamant affirmation, “There ain’t any spooks in my truck! That’s for damn sure!”

            After we saw that Aleck’s kid was placated, we turned and faced our newest predicament- Do we dare to enter onto such a creepy premises? Yes, I braved much worse conditions at that abandoned home across the street from me, but young lives were at stake from a villainous vampire! That specter was certainly annoying, but was it worth the risk of jeopardy just to collect a bit of data? I ultimately concluded, “Come on, boys! He has an actual, fully licensed business- they don’t give that to you unless you’re alive!” They didn’t seem so convinced, but they still followed me up the stone pathway anyhow.

            We expected a monstrous adversary to ambush us at every instance we took another step! It didn’t alleviate our nerves that the wind emitted a spooky howl! However, despite our apprehension, we made it to the porch without incident! We rang the antiquated doorbell, which echoed throughout the halls inside, and after a brief period of no discernable movement, we all felt tempted to flee. I stayed put through my determination to learn the truth and put a halt to our persistent nightmare, so I rang the doorbell again. At long last, the knob slowly turned! Anticipation flooded my veins, and as I ardently went over the issues we had to discuss, a person from the interior appeared in the doorway…

            I nearly had a heart attack when I realized that I recognized this individual! I bellowed, “You!”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 29

Without even a second wasted on consideration of the matter, Phoebe and I marched across the street! This ordeal had now lasted two weeks, which, on the grand scheme of things, isn’t that long, but it feels like a lifetime when you’re suffering! After a slew of sleepless nights and reams of restless days, we were more than ready for this nightmare to end, and up until right then, we hadn’t gotten any new leads on how to make that happen! For the first time in what seemed like forever, a warm wave of hope ensnared my senses, and I strode over there with a fierce determination in order to end this chaos that evening! I wasn’t about to face another day of Damon’s moronic yet maniacal plot- we were going to put a stop to that immediately!

            As we passed his antique vehicle in the driveway, I was too focused on the storm brewing within me to take note of anything else until Phoebe mentioned, “Gosh, I don’t know how he can stand to live beside such a creepy place!”

            I shook myself out of my torpor. “Huh?” I gazed over to the edifice she had indicated to, and although darkness shrouded most of the structure, the dilapidated and fire-damaged wood was still very much visible! It spooked most of the residents who occupied this region, and they merely traveled past this locale! I highly doubted Richard had actually gone inside, as far as I could tell, I was the only human who had done that, but I couldn’t imagine living this near that abandoned house based off of the rumors alone! And, while the portal was opened, so many strange incidents occurred there, so it mystified me as to how he resisted the temptation to move as far away as possible! “I could see why my realtor got so surprised when I bought property so close to that creepy crap!” Phoebe and I took a moment to contemplate this concept, and then I recalled our mission and brushed that off. “We better keep going!” I advised, and we renewed our efforts to get to the bottom of a mystery that haunted us for too long!

            I knocked on the door and waited patiently for him to reply to our call. I didn’t feel nervous about this interaction whatsoever, on the contrary, I felt energized by the prospect of what was to come! My palpitating anticipation didn’t leave me with as much patience as I initially felt, so I knocked again. I increased the volume to ensure that he heard it properly, and I inwardly thought that I wouldn’t take no for an answer! If he hadn’t responded, I was prepared to shout to get his attention! “Richard! We know you’re in there! Come on out!” Oops! I meant to keep that to myself! Phoebe gave me a reproachful look, and I shrugged. It was too late to take it back!

            “What?” an elderly fellow cracked the door enough for him to peek out onto his stoop. He didn’t appear particularly pleased with our presence, but I could’ve cared less! We finally reached the critical juncture I had been praying for!

            “We need to know who the original homeowners were for that hovel next door to you!”

            Richard’s eyes grew wide, and he coldly stated, “I can’t do that!”

            My curiosity peaked at his outlandish reaction. He previously spoke with such conviction against the evil that dwelt within those walls, so it never crossed my mind that he wouldn’t want to cooperate with us! He never struck me as someone with ulterior motives, but since he displayed this opposition, I wondered what on earth he could have been hiding! “Why not?” I probed.

            “It’s close to midnight for crying out loud!” he snapped. “I just returned from a lengthy trip, and I’m ready to go to bed!”

            “Oh!” I hadn’t spotted it until he alluded to the hour, but he was wearing his pajamas! I suddenly felt very foolish for tackling a venture like this at a nocturnal period, and I hoped he hadn’t spotted my cheeks turning red under his porch light! “We’re so sorry! We haven’t gotten much sleep recently and lost our concept of a normal schedule!”

            Pheobe requested, “Can we come by tomorrow to get the information?”

            Richard barked, “Fine!” before slamming the door. Quite embarrassed by this faux pas, Phoebe and I swiftly walked away!

            “Hey, there’s Blaise’s lighter!” Phoebe announced when we went past his truck. “I guess he didn’t resurface yet or he miraculously quit smoking wherever he ended up at!”

            “Let’s bring it inside,” I suggested. “Since he’s been gone for a while, he may need to light some more candles in our bathroom! Besides, I’d like to give it to him personally ‘cause that prick owes us an explanation!” As we inched forward toward our abode, I shocked myself by knocking on wood that we’d find him inside! I didn’t get the details we needed about the origins of that door to the Netherworld, but perhaps we could discover why Blaise played a part in trying to reopen it!

            It sounded kind of funny to us, but we were actually hoping to encounter Blaise arguing with Miriam when we entered into the foyer, and the silence that typically would have been extremely welcomed after an arduous day sincerely disappointed us! As we shuffled off towards our bedroom, Miriam unexpectedly hopped out in front of us and excitedly proclaimed, “I’ve got good news!”

            Phoebe conjectured, “Blaise was found dead and you’re inheriting a bunch of money?”

            “Psh! I wish!” Miriam grew somewhat sullen upon this subject. “I was gonna let him vanish as long as he wanted to, but then I figured if I didn’t work out whether or not he’s alive, I’d have trouble accessing his funds, so I forced myself to call all the hospitals and see if he was there. When they all said no, I contacted the police to file a missing person report, but apparently, you gotta wait seventy-two hours! Leave it to him to make this process as tedious as possible! Anyways, that’s not what I was gonna say! Follow me to the bathroom!”

            “Did you get rid of that portrait?” My optimism renewed itself once more! My dismay of not getting ahead with Richard or Blaine definitely added to the wounds (both physical and emotional) I already sustained during this stint with that petulant phantom, but maybe his calamity would, at last, reach a more ideal turning point for everyone involved in the Ghost League!

            She opened the guest bathroom and let us know, “No. That spell book didn’t have a chapter on how to reverse a potion that opened up a window to the afterlife ‘cause no one with an ounce of sanity would do that! But I did find a way to make this curse more tolerable!”

            Great! I cynically cogitated. That’s all I needed- a method of adapting to my struggles rather than getting rid of some! I didn’t voice that griping out loud so as not to offend her, but I had no interest in getting comfortable with the troubles that we were plaguing us! I gazed inside and beheld that instead of viewing Babelsama’s snarky picture, a small set of curtains now hung in its spot! “Yes! I have an audience! Good! We need to talk! Just move the drapes and we can properly have a discussion! Go on! Let’s show some decorum and do this face-to-face! Oh, come on!”

            “Hmm… I like that it bothers him so much! That helps a little!” I conveyed to Miriam. It still disappointed me that none of my problems exactly got solved, but it was a nice gesture, and I appreciated the consideration! I didn’t see how she could have dubbed this as a noteworthy development for either of us, but I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I stayed tight-lipped.

            “No, I didn’t do that for your amusement!” she surmised what I had been contemplating regardless of me censoring my communication to her. “Although, it is pretty fun to mess with him! But I did it for privacy! He can’t see who uses the toilet, so I don’t mind using it now! You can have your room to yourself tonight!”

            A wave of relief cascaded over Phoebe and me! One of our dilemmas had gotten placated that day after all! If we got nothing else done, at least we could get a good night’s rest! Phoebe gratefully regarded her, “Thanks, Mom!”

            They gave each other a hug, which clearly had some significance for them since until a couple of weeks ago, they hadn’t spoken to each other at all! It was a cute interaction, but it got interrupted pretty quickly when Miriam’s phone went off in her pocket. “If that’s Blaise, I swear, I’m gonna…!” She glanced at the screen, and we crossed our fingers that it was Blaise so we could get the confession we needed out of him! She frowned and reported, “Oh, it was just a notification for some real estate app that I downloaded. Huh, I could’ve sworn that I turned alerts off for that one! Oh well!”

            “Well, let us know if you learn anything important,” I requisitioned as we headed into our room to prepare for our slumber. It would have been swell if we had gotten closure on that issue, but it comforted me to get some secludedness with Phoebe!

            “Hold on! Let me get a picture of you in your prom clothes before you take them off!” Miriam beseeched us. We both groaned, but we still agreed to do it. Luckily, it didn’t take her ages to get a shot that she approved of! “So adorable! Look!” I grimaced at how sallow our skin was and how pronounced the circles around our eyes appeared, but I felt too exhausted to demand a more flattering photo! “Good night you two!” She waved as she strolled into her quarters.

            We returned her sentiments before turning in ourselves. At the onset, I envisioned eight or more hours of uninterrupted snoozing, but it then occurred to me that Phoebe and I could freely get frisky under these circumstances! Phoebe obviously got under the same mindset because she silkily asked me, “Hey, do you wanna…?”

            I readily acquiesced, “Oh yeah!” We kissed each other passionately, fell onto our mattress, and then…

            The bright morning sun and the merrily chirping birds compelled me to open my eyes and survey the scene. I observed that Phoebe and I had fallen asleep with our formal attire still on, so it didn’t insinuate that we had gotten very far with each other! I shrugged- a blissful dormancy was also sorely needed in our lives in that instance! It sort of alleviated me that we hadn’t become intimate- apparently, we had forgotten to shut the blinds! As Phoebe began to stir, I slyly went over to the window with the intentions of closing it in order to persuade her to do a morning romp, but prior to me initiating anything, I abruptly woke her up when I saw something outside that made me audibly gasp! “What happened?” Phoebe urgently inquired.

            “Richard’s on our porch… And he has an axe!” I revealed. Phoebe dashed over to espy this horrifying abnormality for herself, and it bewildered her as well! The doorbell rang, and we became filled with dread! I quietly told Phoebe, “We started questioning him about that abandoned house, and now he’s here with a weapon! He must have something to do with the secret of-!” He gazed over in our direction, so we ducked out of his line of sight.

            “This is a marvelous example of why we shouldn’t answer the door every time we have a visitor!” Phoebe softly pointed out.

            I muttered, “Is it really necessary to do a victory lap right now?”

            Before Phoebe could offer a retort, Miriam loudly broadcasted, “I’ll get it!”

            “No!” Phoebe and I called out in unison. We followed her to the door and prepared ourselves to snatch her out of harm’s way…

            “Oh, hello!” Richard pleasantly addressed Miriam. “I apologize if I woke you up, young lady!”

            I whispered to Phoebe, “This guy’s a psychopath! He’s a little too chipper at the beginning of a killing spree!”

            Richard posed to Miriam, “Is Connor or Phoebe available?”

            “Yeah, they’re-.” Miriam swiveled around and stared at our positions in confusion. “Um.. It’s for you…”

            “Oh, hi!” Phoebe and I sprung into a more ordinary stance, but we kept a wide breadth as we contacted him, “What brings you here so early?”

            Richard caught on to what we were eyeballing so nervously, so he assured us, “Sorry if this old thing frightened you! Though I’m not that sorry since you gave me quite the heebie-jeebies last night! Anyways, when I got up, I recalled that you wanted to know about the original owners of that abandoned place. Then I got reminded that I purchased some of the goods he was getting rid of ahead of his move, and I found his inscription on this old axe! Take a gander…”

            We slowly crept up to the object in his outstretched hands, and there was, indeed, a name etched onto it! Though I felt stoked to finally possess a vital piece of this bothersome puzzle, my jaw dropped when I glimpsed at this moniker…

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 28

I asked Phoebe, “Which one of us in going in first?”

            She mulled it over for a moment, and then she answered, “Let’s do it together!”

            “Really?” Normally, I would have immediately seized an opportunity to get intimate with her, and a part of me wanted to impulsively go for it, but my more rational self overrode that temptation and abashedly responded, “But there’s a monster in there! And Corvina said it was pretty gross…” She gave me an admonishing look, and it then registered to me as to what she meant. “Just kidding!” I chuckled to make my claim more believable, but obviously she didn’t buy it, so I gave up on that and then instructed her, “Alright, let’s kick the door down on the count of three! One, two…” I hesitated somewhat when it occurred to me that a fear monger would be standing on the other side of this entryway, and we had no idea what lurked within these chambers! How could we contend with a force that we didn’t have any clues about? Other than it appearing to have been male, we got no description from Hudd or Corvina regarding what they saw in there! I started kicking myself for not gathering more info from the pair prior to reaching this stage of our supernatural quest…

            “Three!” Phoebe exclaimed. I felt compelled to raise my legs when she did, and the door swung open! It also began to swiftly return to its place of origination, so we had to scurry to keep it ajar! After we settled that matter, we slowly raised our line of sight to behold what we were facing…

            While I couldn’t fathom what to expect, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that we would run into nothing! We scanned over everything- the three urinals, the four sinks, the two stalls, and we saw no sign of anyone or anything that might have attacked those kids! It did make me question the design layout for this space though- if a boy occupied each station all at once, one of them would have to wait to wash his hands…

            Phoebe interrupted my train of thought, “Do you think he got out?”

            “If anything scary infiltrated the gym, I’m pretty sure we would notice!” I told her. “I mean, I suppose he could’ve wriggled out of that small window, but if he left the area, our work would be done!  I doubt we’d get off so easily! So, all we can do is set foot inside and see what we’re dealing with…” As we took a deep breath, I sort of wished that one of the others would get here quicker so that someone else could do this undertaking! Once we exhaled, we gingerly set out toes inside. Nothing happened, so we set another foot forward. Nothing again. Once we were deep enough in that the door closed…

            “Ai-yah!” Someone jumped from the ceiling and punched me in the forehead! I nearly fell backwards, but Phoebe caught me before I hit the ground! I didn’t catch a glimpse of who ambushed me, but my instant reaction was to pummel whatever prick did that! “Ee-ei!” he shouted, and when we espied a black-clothed heel flying in our direction, we managed to roll out of the way in time to avoid his collision!

            When we gazed back up, we didn’t see anyone standing there until Fletcher and Aleck opened the door, and as Fletcher turned on the lights (something I regretted not doing from the beginning!), a limber man wrapped in a charcoal-colored outfit hopped down from his lofty position and threw some metal stars at their locality! Thankfully, they closed the entryway seconds in advance of damage! As his equipment hit the surface, I could see that Phoebe was making movements towards striking him, and not wanting to watch her get hurt, I stepped near his vicinity and calmly regarded him, “Please, sir! We don’t want any trouble!”

            He somersaulted into the air, and preceding me voicing out loud as to where he disappeared to, he came barreling back to me! As I slid out of the way, I socked him in his masked mouth! “Ow!” he yelped as he vanished once more.

            “Please, sir! We can work out our differences in a more civilized manner!” I entreated him. He jumped down with a set wooden nunchucks swinging, but Phoebe caught them with a cardboard package of toilet seat covers! He retreated, and I took another stab at peace pact, “This doesn’t benefit either of us, so-!”

            He grabbed Phoebe by her sides and strove to topple her, but she utilized the nunchucks on him. Once she got a good hit, he withdrew again. “Why are you even bothering to negotiate with him?”

            I defended my action, “Well, how else are we supposed to defeat a ninja? He’s too-!” He snuck up behind me and lunged for my neck, so I elbowed him in the nose and vexedly yelled, “Will you stop doing that?”

            All of a sudden, the door cracked open, and once the ninja vamoosed, a large, cloth cowboy doll got thrusted into this territory. The ninja clearly mistook its swift motion and stature as another person entering into this arena, so he pounced on it! Phoebe and I rapidly took advantage of his distraction and grabbed him by the arms! He swung his legs around to shake off our grip, and it became difficult to keep holding on to him. Ginger and Ellie dove in and held on to his other limbs, and he could no longer gain any momentum to flee from our grasp! We solved the issue of him fighting us, but we had a new problem at hand…

            When Fletcher and Aleck re-entered, I informed them, “One of you is gonna have to destroy him!”

            Both of their eyes grew wide at that prospect! Fletcher remarked, “Listen, I know when I’m at my angriest, I acted like I could kill a man, but really, I don’t have it in me to do something like that!”

            “You slayed some vampires a few months ago!” Ginger reminded him.

            “Yeah, when I knew they’d dissolve into dust!” Fletcher argued. “If this guy bleeds…”

            Ellie countered, “Then Connor will throw up and faint, but we’ll be done with this! Hurry up! My knees are aching!”

            Peter walked into the bathroom, and when he got a load of this strange scene, he bore an alarmed expression and commented, “I can hold it!” as he bowed out. So much for Corvina and Hudd guarding the joint!

            “Will you just do it already?” Phoebe urged him. “Don’t wimp out! I’m ready to be done with this!”

            “Why am I getting horrible flashbacks to my wedding night?” Aleck puzzled.

            I riposted, “I don’t know and I don’t wanna know! Can you please do something before he breaks free and injures somebody!”

            Both of them still seemed reluctant, so Ellie brought up, “Oh come on! He’s not a real man!”

            Ginger, whose stance forced her to hover dangerously close to the man’s lower pelvis, disagreed, “He definitely resembles one! But remember, he’s a fear monger designed to assault our students! Don’t give him that chance!”

            “When I get out of here, you’ll all suffer from the ancient skills passed on to me through a sacred dojo!” the ninja threatened.

            “You don’t have a dojo! A monster created you minutes ago!” Aleck got an irate visage, and then he stated, ‘Okay, he seems really irritating! How do we off him? We don’t have any weapons!”

            The ninja did a very lengthy maniacal laugh (his mask didn’t muffle him much at all), so Fletcher used his palms to silence him. I suddenly got struck with inspiration on how to end this conundrum! “Fletcher, hold his jaw open! Aleck, stuff as many vegetables into him as you can!”

            Aleck griped, “Aw, man! I was hoping not to have to do grocery shopping tomorrow! We need more snacks!” After Fletcher forced his mouth to remain stretched wide, one by one, Aleck placed pieces of produce into his throat. When enough was in there to restrict his airways, we let go as we watched him collapse and move less and less. Soon, he morphed back into a menacing, little creature and disappeared, and Aleck opined, “Maybe I should pay more attention to what my son’s karate instructor is advising everyone…”

            Before any further discussion of this incident circulated, Roxy burst in and announced, “I’m here to save you!” She eyeballed the entire premises, and when she could not unearth what she was hunting for, she pondered, “You did say the choking ninja was in the men’s room, right?”

            “Ugh! We’re too late!” Damon bemoaned. “That’s not fair! He didn’t even get to scare his intended victim! Oh well! Perhaps the next one won’t haunt the region so temporarily!” The six of us in the Ghost League groaned at the concept of having to battle against more tedious adversaries, which prompted Damon to snidely addressed us, “What? Did you seriously assume that I would allow this happy occasion to carry on? I will ensure that this night finishes in absolute terror! And don’t forget, this is all your fault! You didn’t give Babelsama the key, so your beloved pupils must suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives! And don’t tell me that this is merely one evening and that they’ll get over eventually! It’s not so easy to let go of an event that held such promises of enchantment and then turned into a complete nightmare, trust me!”

            “Trust you? Why the hell would we do that?” I retorted. My mind fixated on how oddly determined he acted in ruining the prom for everyone- Yes, he was consistent in unleashing horror on this campus in order to get revenge on us, but he behaved as though he had a high degree of venom against children having fun at a dance! It almost appeared personal, which would have been bizarre when I took into account a certain fact I recalled gleaning from his scholastic records! This propelled me to challenge him, “Hey, why do you resent this celebration so much? Didn’t you have fun at your ‘promenade tea?’”

            For the first time since we witnessed him getting fired from a gig he took as a vampire, we saw his face fall from humiliation! We all stared at him in anticipation of hearing the details of a traumatic story from his past, we could hardly wait for him to spill a secret that we might have been able to use to defeat him! Unfortunately, his demeanor shifted to an intense disdain, and through his pronounced grimace, he retaliated, “Like I’d every disclose that to you! Not that anything heinous went on…” He observed the disbelief in our body language, and he cringed as though he still had a physical form and could feel pain! “Yuck! I can’t take the level of enjoyment this is bringing you! I’m leaving, but mark my words, I’ll be back before you know it!”

            He dissipated into the air, and Roxy called out to him, “Hold on, Damon baby! You can’t go! We gotta spread more mayhem!” When he didn’t return, she folded her arms and pouted, “Oh, great! What do I do now?”

            “You could join your classmates on the dance floor,” Phoebe proposed. “You know, do ordinary teen things…”

            “What? You figure I can head back out there like everything’s fine? Like he didn’t just ditch me at a school dance for the second time this year/” Roxy dramatically stormed out, and I almost felt sorry for her! Almost- I would’ve pitied her if the object of her desires wasn’t a sociopathic specter!

            We all received a jolt of shock when Manuel entered into the room! He peered at us curiously and then inquired, “Is everything okay in here?”

            We all clammed up! Clearly, we couldn’t divulge the true nature of our business in this establishment, but we had no inkling on a rational rationale for our presence there! To our relief, Corvina and Hudd showed up beside him, and Corvina reported, “They were breaking up a fight.” I admonished myself for not coming up with that one myself- it wasn’t even technically a lie!

            Manuel looked somewhat skeptical initially, but then he spotted the cloth cowboy doll in disarray, and he seemed to accept that explanation. He picked it up and clicked his tongue in disappointment. “That’s too bad, this was one of the main focal points of the western decorations! I doubt we’re getting our deposit back on this! I hope it wasn’t expensive!”

            Phoebe later shared that it was pretty pricey, but that was the least of our concerns! We knew that Damon promised to revisit Rosemary King High, but we couldn’t guarantee that he would delay that manifestation until the next workday! For the rest of the prom’s duration, we fretted he would emerge once more! He never did though, and the remainder of our shift stayed relatively incident-free! Despite the harmonious front, we never let our guard down- not even on the car ride home! Phoebe and I went up our driveway with caution, and I could have sworn something would jump out of the shadows at any given moment! And then something did! When a cricket jumped out of the bushes, we both screamed! I then mused, “Maybe that’s why Cricket’s afraid of her namesake!”

            “We can’t keep doing this!” Phoebe whimpered. “We gotta find a way to…” Headlights beamed behind us, and she prayed, “Oh, please don’t be someone bringing Blaise home!”

            “It’s not,” I denoted as it parked across the street, “but maybe we have a pathway out of this dilemma after all…”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 27

“We’re all gonna die!” Peter hollered from the ground as we all had to link arms to brace ourselves during the quake. Before I could dispute the negative connotation of his assertion, the tremor stopped as fast as it came, and Peter altered his opinion, “Oh, maybe not!”

            Lisa asked, “What the F just happened?”

            Brielle answered her, “It was an earthquake, which is kinda odd! Pennsylvania usually doesn’t get strong seismic activity! That’s one of the reasons I moved here from California!”

            “Was that it?” I wondered. Ellie gave me a sharp stare, so I added, “I mean, it was scary and disruptive, but there weren’t any toppled buildings or cracked floors or anything! So, was that really the big plan to terrorize the prom?”

            “Daddy!” Two blonde girls in scantily clad dresses ran up to Fletcher with wide eyes full of apprehension. One of them attempted to report something to him, “We were just outside and-!”

            Fletcher puzzled, “What were you doing outside? And where are the gowns you left the house wearing?”

            The other twin responded, “That’s not important! We-!”

            “The heck it’s not! I spent a lot of money on those suckers!” Fletcher grumbled.

            “Everyone, into the locker rooms!” Manuel stood at the doorway and commanded. “There’s a tornado coming!”

            The twins gave Fletcher a reproachful look, clearly miffed since they were trying to relay that information to their father moments ago! Fletcher’s expression grew sheepish, and he barked, “We’ll talk about this later! We gotta move!”

            Since there were two different locker rooms on either side of the gym, the crowd split into two as everyone ran for cover. Peter nearly followed us into the closest facility to our area, but he then objected, “I can’t go in there! That’s the girls’ locker room!”

            “Get in there!” I physically ushered him into the closest safeguard. “This is for protection! No one’s taking off their clothes!”

            “My dress!” Cricket bemoaned as she held her garment in a fashion that shielded her nudity. “The zipper snapped off!”

            A bunch of male students whipped their heads around to check out this development, so Ellie snapped, “Is a naked lady really worth getting killed in a twister?” A couple of them heartily signaled that it was, so she yelled, “Don’t be stupid! Get in there!”

            As we all huddled together in the showers, Peter opined, “I don’t think there’s really a tornado out there! It sounds more like a train!”

            “It’s not a windstorm at all!” Ismeray declared in an ethereal tone. “The day of reckoning has come exactly as our dear leader foretold!”

            “Your dear leader is a fraud!” I bellowed. Perhaps I hadn’t chosen the most tactful manner to break this news to her, but I certainly couldn’t permit her to make an already frightening situation even more terrifying for anyone who might believe her! Or annoying for those of us who didn’t! “He lied to you in order to trick you into joining a cult!”

            Ismeray took exception to that accusation. “We’re not a cult! We’re simply a group that was brought together to worship unconventional ideals!” She heard the words coming out of her mouth and swiftly changed her tune, “Oh my god! We are a cult!”

            The FAUK club members in the vicinity grew troubled at this realization, but no one else could discuss it further because the deafening sounds emitted by the cyclone reached its peak! We all ducked as low as we could with our hands covering the back of our heads, bracing ourselves for the worst, but a minute later, the atmosphere became completely quiet! “Is it over?” Cricket posed to all of the adults within earshot. “If it is, I’d like to go find some more clothing to put on!”

            “We can loan you one of our dresses!” one of Fletcher’s twins volunteered, and they both winced as they espied their dad glaring at them.

            “Everyone wait here! We’re gonna scope the building out to make sure the coast is clear,” Phoebe instructed. Most of the dance attendees assumed that she meant checking on damage from that abnormal weather pattern, but the six of us in the Ghost League knew that she really meant for us to study the periphery so we could discern what fear monger we would be facing next!”

            When Phoebe, Fletcher, Aleck, Ginger, Ellie, and I re-entered the gymnasium, we were stunned to see everything was still completely intact! We sort of expected Damon to have had that gale destroy a section of the structure so that the festivities would come to a halt, but we didn’t see one iota of destruction in the joint! Not even a scratch! We also felt one hundred percent confident that some sort of monster or sinister obstacle would have been in there standing by to cause the next wave of chaos, but there weren’t any signs of anything out of the ordinary! The six of us gazed at each other in confusion until we heard a very audible gasp! We immediately craned our necks in that direction, but to our astonishment, the deejay held up some cash in the air and joyfully announced, “I found a twenty!”

            Aleck inquired hushed enough so that only the Ghost League would hear, “This is some type of trap, isn’t it?”

            “Seems like a lot of wasted effort!” Ginger remarked. “Like seriously, what was the point of that? To fool a selection of teenagers into holding hands with their teachers?”

            “Hold on, we left dozens of people alone in an enclosed space…” Phoebe brought up. We all became alarmed and instantly ran back to the girls’ showers!

            When we returned to the faction that we left behind, I truly anticipated discovering a menacing figure taking advantage of the opportune circumstances we inadvertently provided for them, but to my shock, there was nothing there but a myriad of bored juveniles! “Oh good, you’re all fine!” I breathed a sigh of relief.

            Corvina addressed my comment, “Of course we are! Why wouldn’t we be?”

            I couldn’t come up with a sufficient reply to her, but fortunately for me, cheery music blasted through the speakers, and Manuel got on a microphone and merrily invited everyone, “All is well, boys and girls! Come back out! Dance a few dances, laugh a few laughs! There’s even some free snacks at the refreshment table! Not a lot of vegetables left though! Wow, I had no idea that those would be so popular!”

            Other than Aleck guiltily shuffling, no one made a move! I imagined that, much like the six of us in the Ghost League felt, they were leery about all being well when the scene was so catastrophic mere minutes ago! I hesitated to endorse Manuel’s suggestion initially because I had this sneaking suspicion that as soon as everyone set foot back into the gym that ruckus would ensure once more, but then I realized that I couldn’t make everyone stay in the locker room shower all night! That would have been insane! So, I reluctantly concluded, “You heard what he said! Go have fun!” Slowly, all of the prom attendees got up and warily returned to the dance floor, and as I watched them go, I crossed my fingers that we weren’t making a giant mistake!

            Everyone but Phoebe and I stationed themselves in various parts of the region to keep an eye out for hints on Damon’s next step, and since my girlfriend and I were the only ones who didn’t have dates outside of our inner circle to entertain, we walked around the perimeter to investigate Damon’s whereabouts. We couldn’t navigate at the speed my anxiety would have preferred since we certainly didn’t want to encourage any child’s apprehension to flourish, nor did we relish trying to explain how something within this complex caused the natural oddities that we all previously experienced! None of us could work out what corner Damon hid himself in, but we had no doubts he lurked in there somewhere since Roxy still seemed pleased as punch. Everyone who knew about him sort of wished that he would get it over with- the prospect of a pending ambush was almost worse than the incidents themselves! Almost- the incidents were supremely awful!

            “Maybe he ran out of fear mongers with that one,” Phoebe conversed softly enough so only I would detect what she told me. “Can one of those little monsters really create a whole freaking tornado?”

            “It just took one of them to make that enormous dragon,” I pointed out. “I’m glad that these two went away on their own ‘cause I have no clue how we would have destroyed an earthquake!”

            Right after I finished speaking, Ismeray tugged on my sleeve. “Mister Fenmore?”

            Her abrupt appearance made me jump! Once it registered that she wasn’t a fear monger, I fretted that she may have overheard what we had been going over, and I couldn’t fathom what rational excuse I could have conjured for desiring to obliterate an earthly occurrence like that! I tentatively inquired, “What do you need, Ismeray?”

            “Well, I’ve been wondering…” she anxiously replied to me, “Um, are all cults bad?”

            “Hmm…” I was filled with alleviation that she started questioning the FAUK club’s purpose, and a part of me wanted to tell her that all cults had evil motives, but I couldn’t prove that! That is to say, I couldn’t come up with an example of a good one, but I was positive that there had be some. And if Corvina unearthed them, she might have accused me of lying and gone straight back to Blaise’s sham! Instead of conveying that to her, I spelled out to Ismeray, “I found out who the head FAUK-er is, and he’s a moronic, loudmouth boor who consistently eats a lethal amount of sugar and then clogs up the plumbing of wherever he completes the digestive cycle! Do you really wanna trust the judgment of a man like that?”

            Ismeray gave that logic significant consideration, but before we could chat about it further, Phoebe nudged me and let me know, “It looks like we have a problem…”

            My adrenaline immediately spiked upon hearing that pronouncement! I swiftly swiveled my line of sight to the locale she was referring to, ready to confront that petulant phantom or whatever asinine stunt he orchestrated, but then I beheld Corvina tiptoeing out of the men’s restroom! It seemed sort of funny that with a supernatural battle at hand, we still had to deal with ordinary youthful escapades! As Phoebe and I strolled over to that site, Hudd also emerged from that restroom, and both of them had messy hair and disheveled outfits! When we neared them, they both seemed very agitated, so clearly, they comprehended that they were busted! I wasn’t in the mood to severely punish anyone, especially since I wanted to hop right back into our paranormal search, and while I wouldn’t dare say this to Fletcher, but his twins’ behavior demonstrated that these two hadn’t been the only individuals up to indecent acts! It seemed unfair to reprimand this couple but not Fletcher’s girls or their partners, so I decided to gently rib them instead, “Listen, if you commit a crime in the future, could you at least pretend you’re innocent and do a better job of getting rid of the evidence?”

            “Mister Fenmore, you don’t understand…” Hudd started to object.

            “No, trust me, I do!” I sympathized with them. “It’s not like I haven’t been there! Well, not there! I wouldn’t do it in there, it’s filthy!”

            Corvina concurred, “Yeah, it was kinda gross… Not that we did anything nasty ourselves…” Phoebe and I gazed at her skeptically, so she hastily included, “We weren’t alone in there!” Our faces instantly contorted into disturbed expressions at the assumption of these young ones partaking in kinky antics, so she clarified, “No! None of our classmates were in there! Someone we don’t recognize is in there, and he tried to hurt us!”

            Her revelation hit us with a wave of shock, but then I acknowledged that I really shouldn’t have been so surprised- we already bargained for another spooky episode being in the cards! Phoebe gingerly queried, “When you say someone, you do mean a human, right? Not some kind of ghost or beast or whatever?”

            “Of course! Why would a ghost or a beast be in the bathroom?” Hudd pondered, but after hearing his sentence out loud, he amended his stance, “Then again, why would a strange dude in all black be in there?”

            “We’ll get to the bottom of it! Just do us a favor and make sure nobody but the other teachers go in there! But for the love of all things holy, do not say why!” They readily complied, so I turned to Phoebe and declared, “Let’s give the others a call! It’s go time!”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 26

“Can I see your ticket, please?” Peter politely requested as he stood at the front door of the gymnasium as pop music blared in the background.

            “Peter, I’m a teacher here!” I objected to his gatekeeping. I never really delved into the rules, but as far as I could tell, the staff didn’t have to pay for their entry! “My girlfriend is in charge of the prom committee, I’m here to chaperone!”

            He adamantly maintained his position, “Sorry! I’m under strict orders not to let anyone in without a ticket! Next in line, please!”

            I uttered a noise of annoyance as I stepped aside so that the young couple standing behind me could go inside, and then, with much irritation, I drew out my cellphone to call Phoebe. As if this day hadn’t already been bothersome enough, now I had another hurdle to jump over! It wasn’t as though I was anxious to watch over this dance in the first place, so having to fight for my admittance into it really boiled my blood! If it had been an ordinary soiree, I would have delighted in this excuse to skip it, but I couldn’t skip this one- not with that petulant phantom threatening to cause massive mayhem there!

            “Uh, Peter… Members of our faculty don’t have to purchase a ticket in order to do work here!” Manuel had apparently overheard our conversation and immediately intervened before I blew my top! He beckoned me to come in, “Welcome!”

            “Happy to be here!” I lied. Why did I do that? I could have simply said thank you, I didn’t need to act like this gig was a privilege to experience!

            Manuel cordially smiled at me, and I returned the gesture until he could no longer see my expression. I hadn’t gotten any urgent messages during my drive over to Rosemary King, so I could only assume that Damon had not struck yet. I surveyed the room to really gauge the situation at hand. Half the students there wore bright, vibrant colors, and the other half dressed like they were attending a wake! I would have thought, in light of the jubilant spirit of this festivity that they wouldn’t have had the gall to don their dark wardrobe and promote that insane but grim theory of the undead coming to take over the world, but apparently, they were unwilling to give up their gloomy conquest! I wondered if Blaise had given them some sort of instructions for this evening despite the fact that he had not returned to retrieve his phone…

I spotted Fletcher dancing with a woman who proudly displayed a style that she probably wore to her prom in the eighties, so I approached them and asked, “How’s it going?”

Fletcher miserably answered, “Awful! Do I look like I’m having a good time?”

“Uh… Kinda!” I didn’t get any negative impressions until I saw the tortured frown he was bearing as he stiffly shimmied! “You know, nobody is forcing you to move ‘til a student misbehaves!”

            “That’s not true!” Fletcher disputed. “She did!”

            His wife defended herself, “Well, what am I supposed to do? Just stand there while you correct someone?”

            Based on Fletcher’s reaction to that, I inferred that was what he had in mind for this occasion! I could sense an argument brewing, so I bailed out of this conversation, “I’m gonna go find Phoebe!”

            I saw Ginger and her partner, Brielle, both merrily swaying to the beat, but prior to me being able to reach them, the girl whose worst fear was bugs found me and dragged her date over to meet me, “Hi, Mister Fenmore! I’m wearing the dress! You know, the one I was trying on when you ran into me at the mall! Remember?”

            “I try not to!” I reacted honestly, but because I didn’t want to prolong this interaction, I added, “It looks fantastic!”

            “I know! I told you it was worth all the extra trouble!” She spun around and modeled it for me. I gave her a thumbs up to show support, but in actuality, I still couldn’t grasp what prompted her to go out of her way for that garment! It surprised me that she had gotten the zipper up, although it emitted signs of struggling to continue its hold…

            Her date’s patience waned, and he urged her, “Hey, why don’t we show off your gown on the dance floor, Cricket?”

            I accidentally blurted out loud, “Cricket?” The irony of a person with a phobia bearing a name of an insect flabbergasted me! My slip up caused her to turn around and gaze at me inquisitively, so I had to quickly concoct an excuse for calling to her that didn’t involve me revealing my musing to her, which more than likely would have insulted her- especially since I had never bothered to learn what she went by until right then! I sputtered out, “Have fun tonight!” I rated that cover up as lame, and while she seemed a little confused as to why I stopped her to say that (understandably!), she mimicked my thumbs up gesture and resumed dashing to the dance floor. I breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.

            When I got into Ginger and Brielle’s proximity, they didn’t acknowledge my presence until I tapped Ginger’s shoulder. She sort of jumped from shock, and then she strove to present herself as unruffled, “Oh hello, Connor! Is everything alright?”

            “I dunno, I just got here… I was gonna ask you that!” I informed her. “You two wouldn’t be forgetting the main reason we showed up here, would you…?” I made sure my tone was playful to keep the mood light, but I was sincerely a little concerned that Ginger had gotten too absorbed in the revelry! If Damon knew that she had become distracted, he could have used her lack of alertness to get away with initiating his sinister plot!

            “Don’t worry!” Brielle assured me as Ginger hesitated. “All of the chaperones have their cellphones on them, and everyone agreed to send out a page if they need backup! And as for the kids in front of that we’re supposed to be supervising… Um, well, we’re definitely paying attention to them and not each other!” She nervously chuckled and glimpsed at me in hopes of me buying her claim. I didn’t, but since I had the reassurance of members of the Ghost League having the ability to communicate with each other, I tittered and walked away.

            I came across a woman whom I recognized as Aleck’s wife standing alone at the refreshing table, and for a minute, I fretted that Aleck had taken off to deal with a precarious incident, but my worries subsided when she whispered, “What if you get caught with all those baggies full of snacks?”

            Aleck brushed off her concerns, “It’s not like our principal checks the teachers’ pockets! Besides, it’s not like the children are even touching the vegetable tray! What are they gonna do, complain that there are no baby carrots or celery sticks at their prom?”

            “They might gripe that their biology teacher smells like produce!” I joshed him. My unexpected appearance made him shudder a little, but then he laughed at my remark. If I didn’t have a more pressing matter at hand, I would have interrogated him as to why he brought plastic baggies to a function like this, but I decided to save it for another day. “Did I miss anything unusual?”

            “Define unusual!” Aleck indicated to George and some of his jock buddies doing an odd jig to the modern tunes currently blasting through the speakers.

            Their goofiness made me grin, but then I witnessed Ismeray and some of her peers from the FAUK club intervening. All of a sudden, the athletes’ fun dissipated, which Aleck and I found unacceptable. I ensured Aleck, “I’ll go talk to them! … And by the way, you may as well pilfer all of the tomatoes- I doubt any teens are aching to eat those!”

            He approved of both items that I relayed to him, so I headed over to that troublesome group. When Ismeray caught on to my trajectory, she commanded to her cronies to scatter! Disappointment surged throughout me- I had something important to reveal about their organization’s dear leader! Evidently, I wasn’t alone in that sentiment! Ellie materialized by me, and she lamentably commented, “It’s like she knew we were about to crush her little dreams! Ooh, that sounds really bad out of context!”

            “She’s the one with the crush on the dead guy?” Victor wanted to gain some clarification on the scope of everything.

            “No, that girl’s dressed like a Victorian ghost!” Ellie corrected her husband. “Ugh! Why did Manuel have the chaperones bring dates?”

            The subject of Roxy very much piqued my interest. “You’ve seen Roxy? Does it seem like she’s got anything up her sleeves?”

            Ellie specified to a section on her right. “See for yourself!”

            When I beheld the quarter she alluded to, my suspicions got roused! She stood at the sidelines just staring off at the ceiling as if she were immersed in deep reflection. I studied the rooftop extensively, and I didn’t see any hints of that vexing ghoul’s occupancy in this gym, but her behavior still signaled a major red flag to me! I determined that his peculiarity needed to get investigated, so I went over to her so I could get to the bottom of the deviousness that they had in store for tonight! When I got within her bubble, she glimpsed at me as if I had not seen her abnormal action, and with her visage radiating the satisfaction of anticipating a highly favorable occurrence due to turn up at any moment, she cordially addressed me, “Salutations, Mister Fenmore!”

            “Salutations? I haven’t heard that phrase since I watched this ancient movie at my grandmother’s house!” I stared at her in confusion, and she continued to gawk at me unblemished. I attempted to press her, “So, you came here only to hang out all by yourself, huh?”

            “I’m not by myself! I’m never by myself!” She had expressed that creepy statement so as-a-matter-of-factly that it unnerved me! It threw me off for a second, and I wracked my brains as to how to proceed after hearing something cryptic and crazy like that!

            Before I could unearth a fitting retort to her strange statement, I heard Phoebe’s voice in my ear, “You’ll never get anything out of her that way! Even she’s not dumb enough to fall for that ploy!”

            I rapidly realized that she was absolutely accurate- Clearly, Damon had coached her on how to handle our imposition on any activity relating to their unseemly agenda, so attempting to engage with Damon’s dotty counterpart would have probably wasted my time! I therefore concluded, “Well, have fun I guess…” She did not articulate a reply other than to persist with that vacant ogling, and I swiveled away from her view. I couldn’t comprehend what, if anything, was going through her noggin, and it gave me a headache trying to figure it out! I conveyed to Phoebe, “I got something to discuss with you.”

            “Let’s go where we can get some privacy!” Phoebe suggested. I trailed after her, and as I did so, I thoroughly enjoyed watching her from this vantage point! Her light pink dress sculpted her silhouette quite nicely, and with the fantasies it inspired within me, I momentarily forgot what I meant to share with her! I snapped out of my torpor when she queried, “Did Blaise ever drag his idiotic butt back to our house?”

            “Uh…” I hadn’t seen the final result of Phoebe’s image for this affair until that very juncture, and she almost literally took my breath away! Her hair and makeup were done so flawlessly, and her elegant clothing gave her an angelic aura! She was the vision of ultimate beauty to me, and I could hardly fathom my fortune in standing in her shadow! She peered at me quizzically, and it registered to me that I probably appeared pretty foolish gaping at her in such a clumsy manner, so I apologized, “Sorry! You look so gorgeous that I got tongue-tied like a teenager!”

            She giggled, and then she inquired, “What did you need to tell me?”

            I asserted, “It can wait! I’ll be right back!” I ran over to the deejay, and I quietly gave him a request. He agreed to play it soon, and I beamed as I instantly returned to Phoebe’s side. “Shall we?” I invited her to the dance floor, and I could ascertain that she knew I was up to something. I supposed that I had been a little bit obvious, but I couldn’t help myself! She looked as breathtaking as a bride, so I took it as a nudge from the universe that I needed to propose to her as soon as possible! Prior to whatever mischief Damon had going on, I was going to make Phoebe my fiancée!

            Usually, I didn’t care much for any modern tracks, but that evening, it was rather enjoyable! Phoebe and I danced and had a good time as though were kids again! A few tunes later, my request came! The same ballad that played at the instance during Homecoming where Phoebe and I basically revealed our romantic emotions for one another filled the atmosphere, and Phoebe simpered, “Oh, it’s our song!”

            “Phoebe, I…” I started to bend my knee, but I felt myself shaking! And then everyone else trembled as well… The deejay cut off his sounds, and Corvina frightenedly shouted, “Oh no! We’re under attack!”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 25

“Oh, thank the heavens, we’re home!” I exclaimed as I walked in the doorway. As if dealing with half a dozen fear mongers spread across campus hadn’t been exhausting enough, we had to stay extra to deal with the paperwork about the damage caused during the mayhem too! Luckily for me, Manuel had the difficult undertaking of phrasing some of the details so that the school’s insurance would cover our claims, and I was impressed that he was able to explain how a robot ripped off Phoebe’s door and a net sprouted from Ginger’s ceiling without making us sound like we fell off the deep end! I decided to forgo putting too much contemplation into that subject or anything else connected to Damon’s devious scheme- it was Friday night, and I felt certain that supervising prom tomorrow was bound to be a disaster of epic proportions thanks to our petulant phantom, so tonight was the only opportunity we had to relax! Or at least I thought relaxation was in the cards…

            Blaise hollered at Miriam, “What did you do with my lighter?”

            Miriam shouted back to him, “I didn’t do anything with it! It’s around here somewhere!”

            “Oh, it’s somewhere! That’s helpful!” Blaise yelled.

            “It’s a little hard to find something when you got someone screaming at you!” Miriam vociferated.

            I half kidded to Phoebe, “Let’s go back to work!” With all of the pandemonium at Rosemary King, I had forgotten that my house was no longer a place of refuge! So much for taking it easy before the upcoming dance!

            Phoebe suggested to Blaise, “Maybe you left it outside since you’re not allowed to smoke inside.”

            “But I used it in your bathroom recently!” Blaise saw our unpleasantly surprised faces, so he clarified, “I lit some candles ‘cause you were all out of the spray!”

            “It doesn’t smell like you lit any candles recently!” I caught wind of the odor after he mentioned it, and as I plugged my nose, I bitterly noted that most people could use the facilities without causing that much of their scent permeating throughout an entire building! “Well, we don’t need to worry about dinner since I’ve now lost my appetite!”

            Phoebe disagreed with me, “No, we need to go to the store and grab some food! Then we can get some more deodorizer too!” She stared at me with wide eyes, and I got the hint that she wanted an excuse to get out of this scene for a while. Normally, I’d dread a shopping trip after such an exhaustive day, but even having a few minutes of quiet during the car ride there sounded like a better option than the disarray happening here, so I consented. However, prior to us even reaching the knob leading to our exit, the doorbell rang! “Don’t answer it!” Phoebe beseeched me.

            I questioned her request, “Uh, don’t we kinda have to?”

            “No, we don’t!” she disputed. “We don’t need anymore visitors! Regardless of what they’re asking for, it’ll force us to add to the crap we’ve already had to deal with, and I’m in no mood to tackle anything else other than a stiff drink!”

            “What if it’s a police officer or somebody else with emergency information?” I countered her as the doorbell rang again. I peeked through the peephole, and I got a vigorous shock when I beheld who had come calling! “Oh no!”

            Phoebe emphatically emphasized to me, “See? I told you we don’t wanna answer it!”

            I dismally responded, “Yes, but I’m afraid in this case, we have to!” I opened the door and revealed my parents standing in the mudroom!

            “Is this a bad time?” my mother inquired.

            “I lit the candles recently, but I couldn’t cover up the stench when I went a few minutes ago ‘cause I couldn’t find my dang lighter!” Blaise barked at Phoebe and me.

            I cringed, and then I replied to my mom, “What gave you that impression?” I invited them to enter, and they hesitantly accepted.

            Blaise finally caught on that we had guests, so he introduced himself, “Hi! I’m Phoebe’s stepdaddy!”

            “For the record, he married my mom when I was twenty-one, so he played no part in my upbringing,” Phoebe informed my folks.

            “Is that your mom or your younger sister?” my dad playfully joked as he spotted Miriam joining us.

            Miriam cracked a bit of a smile, which I reckoned was the first time she had done so since she arrived in Terra Belle, and she amiably reacted, “Hmm, now I see where Connor gets his sense of humor!” Everyone but Blaise chuckled, and for a brief instance, I actually enjoyed our little family reunion! I wished that it would remain this way during the entire duration, but I knew it wasn’t fated to last!

            My mother held up some food storage bins and posed to the group, “Well, we brought dinner! Who’s hungry?”

            Blaise patted his stomach and let her know, “Yeah, I recently cleared some room for some grub!”

            Phoebe and I winced at his remark, and my parents politely grinned, but it was obvious that they were rather put off by his crudeness. My mother readily volunteered to microwave the meal, and my father reluctantly sate at our small table. I felt awful that we were situated in a manner that forced either him or my mom to sit next to Blaise, and apparently my dad begrudgingly opted to bite the bullet and spare his wife from that displeasure. Blaise gazed at him peculiarly, but my father chose to ignore that and courteously regarded him and Miriam, “I’m William, incidentally. And that lovely lady in the kitchen is Katherine.” My mom gave a cordial nod as she prepared the repast.

            “Well, hello Mister and Missus Incidentally!” Blaise addressed them. “As I said before, I’m Blaise. Blaise Casimer. And this is my little woman, Miriam.” Miriam meekly waved at them, and then Blaise conversed, “So, do y’all live close to this neck of the woods?”

            “Actually, we drove here from Philly,” my dad reported, and I almost got lulled into a false sense of security over this situation, but then my father made an enquiry that filled Phoebe and me with dread… “Where did you guys come from?”

            I grabbed Phoebe’s hand, and we both braced ourselves for the chaos that was sure to erupt as Blaise commenced in detailing the odd goings-on which occurred in his cult, but to our astonishment, Blaise didn’t advert to their commune! “Well, we were living on a ranch in North Carolina, but now we’re looking to settle our roots somewhere else next.”

            Phoebe and I exchanged puzzled expressions. Yes, we were relieved that he didn’t embarrass us with his unusual history, but it struck as bizarre that he didn’t seize the opening to present facts about his religion. This brought something else to my attention: Blaise hadn’t discussed his zealous beliefs with anyone lately! Why had he stopped trying to convert everyone he stumbled across? I couldn’t focus on that topic for too much of a stretch though since my mom served our entrées. “Mmm! It smells so-.” I took a whiff of the air, and then I couldn’t praise how yummy it smelled because I detected Blaise’s foul aroma again! Phoebe suddenly brought up, “Hey Blaise, maybe you left your lighter in the truck.”

            “I’ll be right back!” Blaise announced as he got off of his seat and headed outside.

            “So, he seems… colorful!” my mother conferred when he was well out of earshot.

            Miriam shrugged in a fairly morose fashion. “I was never any good at picking out men. I’m glad I didn’t pass that trait on to my daughter! It looks like she did pretty well!” She shot me a timidly friendly glance, and I felt flattered! With how often their presence caused me distress, I never paused to consider whether or not I met their approval! Even though Miriam hadn’t had a strong relationship with Phoebe throughout her adult life, it was nice to have the reassurance that someone in her family favored our union! Not that her father and stepmother didn’t delight in us being together, it’s just always gratifying to hear each instance of individuals in her lineage who are fond of our couple-hood!

            My mom merrily chimed, “We’d like to think so too!” Both of my folks beamed at us, and it was hard to not feel a little flustered by their acclaim! At least until my mother followed that with, “So, when are you two gonna give us some grandkids?”

            “Uh…” Phoebe failed to come up with a response as I chocked on the bite in my mouth! Don’t worry, I recovered quickly! Physically anyways… I was struggling to successfully propose to my girlfriend, so the concept of having a baby hadn’t even crossed my mind! Of course, I wanted to eventually, but the huge leap from trying to get married to raising children overwhelmed me quite a bit!

            “Oh, they haven’t had a chance to conceive any while we’ve been around! We gotta use the toilet in their bedroom ‘cause the guest one is… out of order, so it ain’t happening ‘til we finally get the heck out of their hair!” Miriam relayed to them, thank goodness! She really came to our rescue right there! Especially on my behalf since I didn’t know how I would reply to her without giving away my romantic intentions! It wouldn’t have been so terrible to pop the question in front of the parental units, but I didn’t’ want to do it in such an inelegant approach! And our discomfort would only get enhanced upon Blaise’s return! At that moment, it registered to me that he had yet to come back into the house, which I found a little strange but not unusual enough for me to want to know what he was doing out there!

            After a small bout of silence, I broke the ice by pondering, “So, Dad, how are your golf skills coming along?” That move kept the conversation going in full swing! My father prattled on and on about his stories from the greens, and even though my mother didn’t appreciate this content much (she heard all of his tales a million times before this evening!), I was relieved that our dining experience had not flopped as I fretted it would! A huge reason for that was due to Blaise’s absence. Naturally, we all identified that he never rejoined us, but no one appeared particularly alarmed by this development. Blaise’s eccentricity made him very unpredictable, so we did not grow anxious over his disappearance until we realized that we went the entire supper without him resurfacing…

            Phoebe complimented my parents, “That was a delicious dish, Doctor and Missus Fenmore!”

            “If you like it, I’ll give you the recipe!” My mom pulled out her phone and began searching through it. “Hang on! I know the restaurant we bought it from has a copycat version somewhere…”

            “No, Jett!” I corrected my cat as she jumped onto Blaise’s chair with her snout close to his portion of the cuisine.

            Miriam dissented on my verdict, “Oh, please! If he’s still hungry when he gets in, it wouldn’t bother him at all to share a plate with an animal! It’s not like it would be the first occasion he did that!”

            As my dad brought the dinnerware into the kitchen, he peeked out the front window and observed, “Well, that fellow doesn’t appear to be outside at all!”

            “Is his ugly, old truck still there?” I asked him. Privately, I relished the notion of him taking off without a goodbye! It would have been delightful to never have him darken our doorstep anymore!

            ‘That’s his vehicle? I assumed it belonged to that abandoned property across the street!” My mom gazed out the window and disclosed, “Yeah, it’s still there!”

            It sort of annoyed me to contemplate that perhaps his well-being was at risk right then! I expected to, at long last, decompress after we ate, but now we had to put in the extra effort of locating him! I sincerely hoped that he hadn’t faked an urgent dilemma only to garner some attention! I wouldn’t have put it past him! I petitioned my folks, “Mom and dad, can you check the area on your way back to your car?”

            They agreed to it, and then Phoebe spotted an object of interest on the end table by the hall. “He left his cellphone here. I’m gonna see if he left any clues there!”

            I advised Miriam, “We should go see if he gave us any hints in your room.”

            As Miriam trailed me there, she anxiously stated, “He’s not gonna like us invading his privacy!”

            “Too bad! Then he should’ve returned sooner!” I retorted. He had all of his various belongings strewed throughout the space, so I rifled through it all one by one. Most of it looked like garbage to me- old bottles, rocks, random spices and herbs… I was about to cut my losses until I ran into an aged piece of paper… Curious, I read it, and when I discovered its contents, I roared, “Damn it, Blaise! Ugh, Miriam, if your husband isn’t dead, I’m gonna kill him!”

            “Okay!” Miriam reacted with total indifference.

            Phoebe showed up in the doorway, so angrily revealed to her, “Blaise did the spell that opened up the window to the Netherworld! He’s the cause all of this shit with Damon is happening!’ I turned to Miriam and queried, “Why? Why would he do this?”

            Miriam confessed, “He’s always dabbled in magic. That’s one of the reasons I stayed with him- I wanted to watch over the other people in the cult. You’d be shocked by how dangerous some of these hexes can be! Well, maybe you wouldn’t…”

            Before I could rage further about this revelation, Phoebe articulated, “If he poses a threat to his devotees, then the students of the FAUK club are in mortal peril! I just figured out who their mysterious leader is…”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 24

I ran from the kitchen to the end of the hall chasing my cat and shouting, “No, no, no!” I finally caught her, but to my dismay, it was too late! As I had her at eye level, I queried, “Why do you eat plastic? You know it always makes you throw up, right?” When she opened her mouth, I expected her to give some asinine response about liking the taste of wrappers or not caring if she happened to hurl, but to my astonishment, she let out a very normal kitty noise! “I’m sorry, did you actually meow?” Jett let out another mew, and I grew very puzzled! Did that spell give them the option to switch off from speaking like a feline or a human?

            Miriam popped out of the guest bedroom with an armful of laundry and informed me, “Oh, she kept yelling curse words at the birds outside, and I didn’t think you’d want me to let her leave the house doing that, so I used your spell book to make her shut up!”

            “You used my… what?” I understood what she said perfectly- I had simply become too stunned to register the reality of what she just relayed to me! She used sorcery successfully- that’s not something that a person is used to hearing announced like that! With the struggles we were enduring with that petulant phantom and his cumbersome monsters, I hadn’t given much contemplation to the existence of spells that seriously worked, so it threw me off completely to listen to her converse about it! And so casually too! It was as though she notified me that she had brought our trash to the curb because it was garbage day and I forgot (which did occur a couple of days ago!), so it left me wondering- how often did she deal with jinxes?

            “Oh, was that book sacred? Sorry, I assumed that it was for anyone’s use considering that it came from your school’s library!” Miriam reasoned as she opened the folding door in the hallway and began washing her clothes.

            I waved that revelation off, “Oh, it’s nothing forbidden or anything! I was…” I paused and phrased my concern as delicately as I could, “I didn’t know that you practiced witchcraft…”

            Miriam contended, “Oh please! All I wanted to do was get rid of that talking animal effect! Anyone could’ve read through that and did the reversal ritual, it’s not that hard! They break it down step by step and make it real easy. Only an idiot would struggle to produce a hex after scanning through a guide like that!”

            “You know, that’s probably true!” I acknowledged as I reminisced about Roxy’s numerous failed attempts. Honestly, I hadn’t remembered my idea on using an enchantment to destroy the key until right then since no one else in the Ghost League seemed willing to participate in matters of the occult! Her action got me thinking though- Miriam obviously had no qualms about doing it, so perhaps I should have requested her assistance to obliterate that everlasting object…

            “No, Jett!” Phoebe came out of our bedroom and scolded her for scratching at the guest bathroom door. The hallway was a bit crowded, so Miriam leaned against the washing machine and I sucked in my gut as much as I could to give her room to maneuver. After she brushed against me, my libido sent flights of fancy to the forefront of my mind until…

            From behind the bathroom door, Babelsama’s voice leered, “Having fun out there?”

            I sardonically remarked to him, “Nope! We’re so miserable that we’re gonna come down to the Netherworld and give you the key back!”

            “Really?” Babelsama reacted hopefully.

            “No!” I spat.

            Babelsama uttered a noise of annoyance, and then he ranted, “You know, it’s stuff like that trickery that motivates me to spread chaos in your world even more! Mark my word, when I can reopen the void in your community, I swear, I’ll-!”

            Phoebe reminded me, “We should get going! We’re gonna be late!” I knew she was completely right, but a part of me ached to call in sick so Miriam could help us make that key vanish permanently in order for us to get rid of this headache once and for all, but I couldn’t let my colleagues remain alone to battle against whatever grand plan Damon had in store for today! Plus, there was no guarantee that anything in that tome would be effective, which would have made my absence a sincere waste of effort! I wanted to save all of my time-off for my honeymoon- assuming that these tedious obstacles would allow me to prevail in proposing to her eventually! I reluctantly relented, but as we took off, I privately worried that we had walked away from our only shot to use her services!

            “And the ten principles of proper record keeping dictate that- Aah!” I gasped when someone dropped their pencil onto their desk.

            “Mister Fenmore, are you feeling alright?” Corvina inquired.

            Drats! I always strove to avoid having my students detect my less-than-stellar moods, but apparently, I didn’t accomplish that feat in this instance! I did my best to stay neutral for them, but Damon promised to wreak more havoc than usual on this date, and here it was sixth period and nothing came to fruition! One guy yelped, but then it turned out he was checking on some basketball scores! I gave him a pass on using his phone in class because I did not want to give him detention and create more opportunities for Damon to cause mischief! Yes, I recognized that he may have been bluffing, but I also knew that he had, like, fifty-ish (I lost count of how many of the sixty nine fear mongers he had gone through!) monsters at his disposal, so he had the potential to inflict a lot of mayhem on this campus if he wanted to! And he did show signs of wanting to! His scheme had prompted a bunch of kids to drop out, but he had yet to motivate me to return the key! I wouldn’t have been surprised if Babelsama put more pressure on him to achieve some worthwhile results! Yesterday, he sounded authentic in his warning of giving us more grief than normal, and he already proved that he could release more than one fear monger at once… Okay, so that experiment was a flop, but maybe the next one wouldn’t fizzle out so much! The more that the hours inched on, the more I fretted that something enormous was heading our way, so every little piece of unexpectedness put me on edge! Roxy’s smug expression only enhanced my anxiety! Sure, she could have been savoring my apprehension without any other cause other than her satisfaction of watching me suffer after foiling so many of their schemes, but what if she adopted this cocky attitude due to her knowledge of what was yet to come? I still didn’t want the children to be privy to my paranoia, so I very nonchalantly replied to Corvina, “What makes you believe something’s wrong?”

            A student accidentally made their textbook plummet to the ground, and I inadvertently let out a small yelp as I jumped in fright! I cringed and wracked my brains for an alternative explanation for my behavior other than apprehensiveness, but I couldn’t unearth anything fast enough to stop my pupil’s awareness of my mindset! Corvina probed, “What’s going on? Should we be worried?”

            “No!” I adamantly refused. I upbraided myself for nearly causing them to panic for no real valid reason! I resolved to shake these ill feelings off and carry on with the final stretch of my lesson with more enthusiasm, but the sensation of pending doom just would not wear off! I glanced at the clock, and then I got struck with inspiration on how to handle this situation! “You know what, it’s only a few minutes before prom weekend, why don’t you take off early?”

            “Are you serious?” Roxy seemed slightly startled by my abrupt dismissal. “Is this a trick?”

            I made sure to hide my smirk from her as I assured the class, “It’s no joke! What, you think the hall monitor is gonna give all of you detention for leaving campus a smidgen before the bell? Go on, get out of here!” As the students all happily bolted up to head out, I started to breathe a sigh of relief. Roxy’s displeasure at this notion led me to believe that I was on the right track and spoiled whatever she and Damon cooked up for us, but then, right as I started to gather my belongings…

            The boy who reached the hallway first let out a voluminous scream, and my heart stopped! Damon hadn’t lapsed in his affinity for consistently terrorizing Rosemary King after all! My veins coursed with dread as I peeked out of the doorway to behold what horror had been unleashed, and to my shock, I saw that the boy was running from a chicken! I had never seen such a sight, and I nearly busted out laughing with all of the kid’s peers, but then I realized that silly or not, that bird was his greatest fear, so I had a monster that needed to get slayed! “Hold on, Ray! I’m coming to help!” I couldn’t see the children’s peculiar stares, but I could sure feel them as I hastily followed the odd pair down the stairs at the other end of the building!

            I caught up with them after the downward trek, and I lunged after the feathered creature as soon as I could! I missed, but then it backed itself into a corner! “Nice try, buddy!” I briefly recoiled as I imagined how foolish I must have appeared for harboring so much venom for a barn animal, but I had to dismiss that concept while I took care of this fear monger and finished this aggravating work week! As it cowered from my grasp, I denoted how incredibly simple this dilemma had been to conquer… Almost too simple…

            “Connor!” Ellie stepped out into the hallway and alerted me. If she hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have espied the fox crouching low and creeping towards my direction! It pounced, and I rolled out of the way to escape its attack! Evidently, that move was unnecessary since the fox aimed for the chicken! The bird, no longer cornered, fled for its safety, and the fox quickly pursued it. I was ready to let the problem sort itself out, but then when they both rounded the corner, they instantly zoomed back to their point of origin! I debated whether I should resume my hunt of the fear mongers or check out what spooked them so badly, but when I heard a shriek that I registered as Phoebe’s, I didn’t entertain any other possibilities- I raced to come to her aid!

            “What in the world?” Ellie exclaimed as we saw a giant, very square robot tearing off the door to Phoebe’s room! I had no clue how to defeat an automaton, especially one with so much brute strength, but I certainly wasn’t going to permit anything to harm the woman I loved! Fortunately, I didn’t have to concern myself with the difficult battle that I envisioned- Phoebe poured some liquid onto it, and it short-circuited and collapsed! Prior to me congratulating her for her cleverness, Ellie sniffed the air and pondered, “Is that tequila?”

            A teen from her class bellowed, “For real, I didn’t know it was alcohol! I grabbed my sister’s water bottle from her backpack ‘cause I always get thirsty after PE!”

            I posed to Ellie, “Where’d the fox and chicken go?”

            “Aah!” a girl screamed from the quad.

            “There!” Ellie responded to my question.

            Instead of saying something sarcastic about how obvious my answer had become, I decided to ignore it as the three of us dashed into the courtyard. We spotted the fox running into the STEM section of the school, but when we entered the facility, we saw no hint of either creature’s whereabouts! “How do we figure out…?” Phoebe sought to canvass us, but then…

            Ginger bellowed, “What the hell?” Her kids gasped at her use of an obscenity, and she admonished them, “Oh, don’t’ act like you don’t say worse than that to each other during passing period!”

            When the three of us joined her, we saw that the fox had gotten ensnared inside of a mesh enclosure that hung from the ceiling! A young lady was quivering as she witnessed this spectacle, and I kidded with her, “Ah, don’t be afraid! The fox is just… hanging out!”

            Ellie and Ginger groaned at my jest, but the girl nervously let me know, “I’m not scared of that! It’s always been a nightmare of mine to get trapped in a net like that! You see, when I was in the second grade…”

            “Where’s the chicken?” Ellie petitioned us. We heard a flurry of giggles coming from upstairs after the bell rang, so we zipped over to investigate.

            “Mister Thales caught a chicken!” one youthful man chortled as he passed by us while we recovered our respiration from that fast climb. He and his friends puzzled at our poses, but it did not deter them from their mirth. Whatever, the more joy that spread throughout the school, the easier it would become to defeat Damon!

            When we entered into Aleck’s quarters, we saw that he had managed to nab it with an empty, plastic bin, and as he pinned it down with a large geode, I quipped, “Gee, Aleck! I didn’t realize you were so fowl!”

            Ginger and Ellie shook their heads at my cheesiness, but Aleck chuckled, “Good one!” Ellie and Ginger gazed at him in a reproachful manner to discourage him from encouraging my antics, but it didn’t phase him much!

            “We still gotta take care of the net and the fox,” Ellie jogged our memories.

            “Why don’t you and Ginger take care of the net and the fox?” I suggested as I glimpsed at my phone. “Fletcher needs a hand too…”

            We hurried to the gym only to see several boys and girls hiding between the bleachers and behind various equipment as a hooded figure with a scythe glided across the floor! Fletcher told us, “It hasn’t taken any souls, but it keeps finding different kids and beckoning them to go somewhere!”

            Phoebe surveyed us, “How do we defeat death?”

            After mulling it over for a beat, I concluded, “We’re not fighting death! We’re fighting a fear monger!” I located a box full of props earmarked for the prom, and I seized a few of them. I came face to face with the hooded figure, and it gestured for me to follow it. I yelled, “No way, José!” and put a cowboy hat on it, and the children tittered. I then put a rope in its hands and commented, “I have a chicken you can lasso!” The students guffawed, and their merriment only got enhanced the more the three of us placed on it. Finally, it couldn’t bear their amusement anymore and darted out!

            Phoebe and I watched it transform into a fear monger, and it disappeared as soon as Fletcher’s class came out. One boy amazedly stated, “Wow! I never knew death’s real name was José!”

            Aleck raised an eyebrow at that as the six of convened, and then he reported, “The hall monitor caught the fox after it chewed out of the net! I’m not sure why he can handle a wild animal but not balloons!”

            “Hopefully he doesn’t see it transform on the way to the wildlife shelter!” Phoebe conversed as she studied the scenery around us. “Okay, it seems like we’re finally done with these fear mongers! At least for today! What are the odds Damon won’t pull something at the dance tomorrow?”