The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 7

“We’ve been looking in the wrong direction,” Ginger alleged.

            “What do you mean?” I inquired. “His voice is definitely coming from this part of the quad!”

            Ginger clarified, “No, that’s not what I meant. We’ve been searching through all the plants and garbage cans, but he’s not there! We’re actually on top of him!”

            Corvina exclaimed, “Again? … I mean, for the first time…!” We all stared at her in aghast mostly because none of us like to think about our kids engaging in that sort of activity, but she interpreted our glances as more judgmental, so she attempted to smooth everything over with an assertion that may or may not have been a fib, “We were in PE class! It was a coed wrestling match…”

            “Yeah, that idea went downhill fast!” Fletcher recalled. “Me and Coach Huppert had to put a stop to that when-.”

            “Um, guys!” Phoebe imperatively interrupted, “Don’t we have a student buried alive here?”

            We snapped our attention back to the critical mission at hand, and Ginger proclaimed, “We need to dig right here!” She stooped down in order to do exactly that, and an audible crack emanated from her knees. “I’m fine! That’s just something that happens now that I’m in my thirties!”

            Fletcher, Corvina, Aleck, Ellie, Phoebe, and I squeezed in next to her and used our hands to dig him out. I passed by these foliage sectors nearly every day, and not once did I ever get the impression that they were particularly deep, so with how long it took to reach Colin, we obviously had been witnessing the effects of a spell! They couldn’t argue that the accounts that Phoebe and I relayed to them about Damon’s potent existence were groundless! We literally had grounds to prove our argument at this point! Although, a part of me was hoping that we would get proven wrong (like we both suffered from the same hallucination as a result of stress over Blaise and Miriam’s visit) so that this nightmare having to fight against a vampiric ghost wouldn’t’ have had to commence, but clearly, no one believed this scenario played out naturally! “If I knew that this S.O.B. was gonna magick a burial this extensive, I would’ve brought my shovel!” Aleck remarked.

            “If you knew that he was gonna do this, wouldn’t it have made more sense to get our student out of danger instead?” Ellie quizzed him. Aleck shot her a dirty look, but before he could shell out any kind of retort, Ellie yelped, “Oh no! There’s a fingernail in my pile!”

            “That’s mine,” Phoebe let her know. “I lost an acrylic, which is fine ‘cause I’m probably gonna need to have a manicure to clean out all this gunk anyways!”

            Bits of his clothing began to surface, and I grumped, “That better be him and not some trick to make us get a false sense of hope that we’re getting closer!”

            Fortunately, it was Colin! When we unearthed him (literally!), he bolted up with a gasp! “Saint Peter, I can explain!” he cried out. He glanced around and then noted, “Oh, I’m still alive!” He then grew very shaky and pale, and he fretfully inquired, “How did this happen to me?”

            “That’s what we’d like to figure out!” Aleck replied.

            “Isn’t it obvious?” Ismeray walked over to us and put in, “The Future Apprentices of the Underworld Kingdom prophesied that this would happen, and indeed, it has!”

            Ellie instructed her, “Quit talking like we understand that garbage! What are you trying to say?” 

            Corvina rolled her eyes and asserted, “Oh, she’s talking about that dumb page on Classbook that’s trying to get people to buy that some underground kingdom is gonna use magic to raise the dead and take over the world! I thought only idiots would join the FAUK-ers!”

            “Don’t call the F-A-U-K that!” Ismeray took offense to that slight. “It’s a serious organization! They’ve said accurate facts about magic, and their predictions of and undead planet seem highly likely! You need to embrace that future!”

            “The undead was a part of my past, and I have no interest in going back to that again!” Corvina stated with a small shudder. I assumed that most of the bystanders translated that to mean that she had dabbled in sorcery, but only a select few of us knew she was referring to her brief stint of being a vampire and going along with Damon’s deranged plan! I felt a jolt of empathy for her as I imagined how traumatic she would feel if she ever discovered Damon’s presence here once more…

            Phoebe asked Ismeray, “So, this FAUK club is promoting some apocalyptic conspiracy theory? What else are they having you do?”

            Ismeray dignantly answered, “I’m not revealing its secrets to you! And it’s not a theory! Colin didn’t get buried by an ordinary person! That mouse at the festival didn’t chase Peter randomly either! It’s a spell that’s evoking our deepest fears, and it’s working well! In fact, I bet the F-A-U-K would love to see pix of this!” She took out her cellphone and started to nab a bunch of photos of the aftermath from this stunt, and she chirped, “Come on, Roxy! You gotta get a load of this!”

            “No, I’m good here!” Roxy laughed rather nervously as she leaned against a stone water fountain.

            “Yeah, Roxy! Come over here and help your friend take pictures!” I almost chided Ismeray for photographing poor Colin in such a distressed state, but it quickly registered to me that the structure she was bracing herself on hadn’t been present previously…

            Roxy declined our suggestion, “Nah, I’m just… I just… Oh, I got it! There’s too much dirt there, and I don’t wanna get my new clothes smudged…” With the hysteria of this frantic event along with my lack of sleep, it hadn’t dawned on me until she mentioned it- she switched from wearing all black to all white! Evidently, she fully embraced her role as Damon’s governess, but I wondered if it had any correlation to that Classbook group…

            A hall monitor approached the gathered crowd and probed, “So… You all realize that the tardy bell rang, like, ten minutes ago, right?” He spoke into his walkie-talkie and polled, “What’s the maximum capacity for children in detention?”

            This prompted everybody to rapidly disperse! Well, everybody except for Roxy! “You’re late for class, Roxy!” I reminded her.

            “So are you!” she clapped back.

            “Yeah, but we have an important purpose here! We gotta take care of a victim of… Hey, where’d he go?” I scanned the vicinity and observed that he was no longer there. “Please tell me he got up and left on his own! If he’s been buried again, I swear…!”

            The hall monitor addressed Roxy, “Come on, little lady! Lunchtime doesn’t last forever!”

            Roxy bit her lip, but when she saw that she didn’t have much of a choice, she complied, “Okay, fine! But make sure they don’t hurt my water fountain!” She reluctantly headed out, and while the hall monitor noticeably puzzled over her request, he still surveyed us warily. We all wanted to confront this formation that Damon had taken on, but none of us wanted that hall monitor to report us for arguing with an inanimate object! We relented and resigned to returning to our classrooms, and as we lumbered away, we heard Damon snickering delightfully from his post!

            “Why would there be mice in here?” Phoebe barked at Peter, who was timidly standing at the doorway of her class.

            “Maybe he brought some in!” Peter indicated to Aleck, who had been sitting with me, Ellie, and Ginger at the back of the room. “Maybe he has to go feed his snakes after this!”

            Aleck exasperatedly assured him, “My snakes are too small to eat mice! I feed them crickets!”

            One of the girls sitting in the front shrieked, “Crickets? There are crickets in here?” She sprang up and eyeballed the entire proximity in a very alarmed manner.

            “Really? You guys really believe he’d bring snake food to a prom committee meeting?” Ellie grilled them. The two students bashfully sat down, and then Ellie quietly inquired, “You didn’t, did you?”

            “Of course not!” Aleck disdainfully replied. He gazed at his phone and griped, “Ugh! None of these links are helpful! They all recommend just talking to them! I seriously doubt that’ll work!”

            Peter pondered, “Talk to who?”

            Phoebe jumped in, “Oh, um… Florists! He wanted to see if there was a way to get extra discounts on our decorations ‘cause it’s not looking good for our budget! Here are the numbers!”

            “Aleck isn’t wrong,” I whispered. “Damon is hell-bent on getting revenge on this school, so it seems unlikely that we could negotiate with him!”

            “But that’s more money than what we have!” one boy cried out. “What does that mean?”

            In a hushed tone, Ginger recollected, “When Brielle and I moved into our house, my grandma told us we had evil spirits there, so she smudged them to make them go away.”

            Phoebe filled them in, “It means we’re gonna have to make some cuts.”

            “Did it work?” I petitioned Ginger.

            “You mean we gotta cut the flowers ourselves?” the first girl wanted to know.

            Ginger shrugged. “We never saw any evil spirits in the first place, so…”

            Phoebe redressed that girl, “No! It means we have to take some of these things off of the list.”

            “What is smudging?” Aleck asked Ginger.

            “So, we can’t have any real bouquets?” the other boy who had spoken up previously asked.

            Ginger furrowed her brows trying to recall that memory. “She burnt some plant. I can’t remember what…”

            Peter whined, “We gotta give it all up? The roses? The sunflowers? The sage?”

            “Sage!” Ginger excitedly shouted. Everyone turned to face her when she uttered that. Ginger blushed and then ameliorated her sentence, “I mean, you can’t have all of the flowers, but you can buy at least some! I recommend sage!”

            “Well, if can only have one, wouldn’t sunflowers be…” that one girl began to object.

            Ginger ardently insisted, “No! It has to be sage!”

            Phoebe appeared perplexed by her behavior, but she didn’t make her disposition public. “Uh… Okay… Sage it is! Oh, and I would say the crystal chandeliers should get cut too!”

            While the prom committee bickered over their budgetary constraints, I brought up, “Well, the sage might ward off Damon, but we still gotta deal with the fear mongers too! They’re not so hard to kill in their regular form, but they can shapeshift…”

            “So, they morph into whatever their victims fear?” Ellie inferred. “But how did it do that for Colin? He got buried alive in the dirt! Yes, it was deeper than normal, but what did the fear mongers shift into?” She gazed at the soil in her fingernails, and a lightbulb went off in her head. “Oh…!”

            “Ew! I’ve got pieces of a monster in me!” Ginger shrieked. Everyone glimpsed at her peculiarly, so she grumbled, “Oh sure, you hear that, but when I’m explaining what’s gonna be on your next test, you conveniently tune out!”

            Peter queried, “What kind of monster do you have in you?”

            Ginger needled him, “A mouse for Mister Thales’ snakes!”

            After Peter screamed and ran out of the room, Aleck admonished Ginger, “Why’d you have to tell him that? Now he’s gonna be too scared to go into my class!”

            “What was I supposed to tell him that wouldn’t make me sound completely mental?” Ginger contended. “Don’t mind me, I gotta go destroy a plot of soil?”

            “How do we do that anyway?” Ellie posed to us. “Get the custodian to overwater it?”

            Fletcher suddenly showed up beside us and proposed, “I could have Spike use the bathroom there!”

            We all buckled at his abruptness. “Jeez, don’t sneak up on us like that!” I warned him. “And how would Spike’s… droppings… destroy the hole?”

            “When the missus and I moved into our place, our landscaper had to treat our dirt ‘cause the last owner had so many dogs in the yard that their urine destroyed the dirt,” Fletcher briefed us.

            “Oh, duh! We could use ammonium chloride!” He espied our befuddled expressions, and he agitatedly jogged our memories, “Did you forget what happened Friday?”

            Phoebe, who had apparently dismissed the prom committee, half kidded, “I try to!”

            Ginger canvassed me, “How many fear mongers did Damon say he had?”

            I disclosed, “Sixty-eight.” Everyone groaned at the notion of how many instances we would have to go through this. I mused, “There’s gotta be a more efficient way to handle this than tackling each of them one at time! I wish we had someone who’s more knowledgeable about this subject so we could get advice from them!” As soon as the words left my mouth, the resolution I articulated was actually feasible! But it didn’t bring me any joy whatsoever in pursuing it! “Oh no! I know precisely who we have to reach out to…”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 3

“Great, now we can begin!” Aleck declared. “Hand it over to me.” I gave the spoon to Phoebe, who tried to pass it to Fletcher.

            “You expect me to touch that thing?” Fletcher flinched when the object came near him. “I ain’t getting cursed!”

            I denoted, “It was Damon’s key to the Netherworld, why would he put a curse on something he regularly used?”

            Phoebe tacked on to that, “We’ve had it for several months and nothing weird has happened! Since we defeated Damon, everything’s been normal!”

            “Don’t say that!” Ellie warned her. “You’ll jinx our luck!” Too late! Little did we know, at that very moment, the wheels of chaos had already been set in motion!

            “Here, you pass it to him!” I attempted to bestow the spoon over to Ginger.

            Ginger’s nose crinkled at this prospect. “Ugh! No way! I’m not touching the poop key!”

            I objected to that characterization, “I passed it way back in October! If I hadn’t cleaned it, do you really believe I would hold on to it this whole time? Like I want a constant reminder of that ordeal!” I shuddered as the memories of that event came floating back to me, but then I shook it off and went on, “Anyways, since that day, it’s been washed! Not mention burned and drowned in bleach! It’s okay to touch!”

            No one else wanted to lay a finger on it, so Aleck proffered, “Oh, you big babies! I’ll get it myself!” I envisaged that he would walk over to the desk I was sitting at, but instead, he stopped at the halfway point and used some long, metal tongs to grab it!

            As he returned to his station at the head of the class, Ginger inquired, “We’ve used a dozen different methos that should’ve obliterated it, and nothing’s worked; what makes you feel like this stuff is gonna do the trick?”

            “Science!” Aleck replied as he turned on a small venting fan above him and brought out all of the chemicals he needed. “This chemical is often used to remove the oxide coating on metal. If we can remove the protective layer that surrounds it, it should be fairly easy to destroy the rest of it.”

            “That’s assuming its protection comes from an earthly source!” Ellie brought up.

            Aleck didn’t address the possibility of supernatural shielding. The whole vampire concept was hard for a scientific man like him to grasp onto, so I guessed that he didn’t want to entertain a new paranormal possibility right then! He shushed her as if he needed to concentrate on the chemicals in his hand, but I felt certain that he had done experiments like this in numerous instances in the past and could have done this blindfolded if he wanted to! Ellie obviously evidently shared that view, but she couldn’t prove anything, so she resorted to folding her arms as we watched him carefully pour the two substances together. The beaker started to emit smoke, and as it was billowing, Aleck placed the spoon into the vessel. Our anticipation escalated through the roof- maybe this would be it! Maybe we found something that finally worked! The vapor grew stronger and stronger, and I dared to build up my optimism higher and higher on the notion that when everything cleared up, the blasted artifact would, at last, disappear from existence…

            When the smoking effect ceased, we saw a perfectly polished piece of silver resting in a pile of white powder! We all groaned, and I gazed to the skies in frustration, which made me bang my head on the cabinets behind me and prompted Roxy’s “Isaac Newton” project to fall onto my skull! Luckily, everyone was too stung to laugh at my misfortunate, but Aleck couldn’t resist saying, “Oh look, gravity works!”

            The others ignored his quip, still trying to absorb the disappointment of this flop, and Fletcher lamented, “That hogwash didn’t destroy the spoon, the spoon destroyed the hogwash!”

            “Actually, that’s the proper reaction to this mixture. Ammonium Chloride is the compound that makes up industrial salt,” Aleck clearly presumed that we would get enthralled by that educational tidbit, but we were all too discontented to care! Although, if we hadn’t been so freshly wounded, we more than likely would have produced the same outcome for him!

            “Now what?” Phoebe posed to everybody. “I dunno about the rest of you, but I’m out of ideas!”

            We all put our minds together, but nobody could come up with any suggestions. I griped, “So, what, am I supposed to carry this around for the rest of my life?”

            Fletcher proposed, “Drop it off at a thrift store donation site! As far as anyone can tell, it’s just an ordinary spoon!”

            “Um… We’ve discussed that before,” Ellie reminded him. “We can’t risk something like that floating around the area like that! What if somebody figures out what it is and opens that door back up? Damon hurt a lot of our kids when he did it!”

            “And Mister Armand didn’t do too well when he unlocked that realm!” I added.

            Fletcher differed, “It’s been almost six months and not a soul has taken a whack at trying to collect it. I say it’s time to scrap it and be officially done with this garbage!”

            Ginger disagreed, “Look, I don’t like it either, but if we let it continue to exist, then there’ll always be the chance of that portal reemerging! I know, this process is annoying, but battling those vampires was more bothersome than that! I’m not risking having to repeat that nightmare ever again!” Aleck, Ellie, Phoebe and I all vehemently nodded in agreement, and Fletcher reluctantly acquiesced.

            “It seems like all we can do is do a little research in unusual ways to destroy that key,” Phoebe concluded. “We can try scientific as well as less orthodox ways to do it, and I’m sure one of the solutions we conjure up will eventually pan out!”

            “I hope we can do it before the prom,” Ginger commented. “I told Brielle that I was part of the planning committee, and if that day passes, I can’t keep giving my girlfriend that excuse!”

            Ellie put in, “While we’re doing research on that, we really ought to learn more about Damon’s history!”

            We all protested that proposition, and I exasperatedly expressed, “I thought we agreed that now that he’s dead that we weren’t gonna ever waste a second recollecting anything about that asshole!”

            “You brought him up ‘cause of your poop key!” Ellie pointed out.

            “It’s not a poop key!” I barked.

            Fletcher stated, “You don’t know that! If you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it!” None of us concurred with that opinion, but I wish we had! His personal story wouldn’t prove consequential, but if we had become more well-versed in mythical topics, we could have handled the upcoming obstacles in a much more productive fashion!

            Prior to us debating the issue any further, a Hispanic man with a bright sweater-vest, round glasses, and a fatherly smile popped into the room and queried, “Hey! What are you all still doing here?”

            “They were helping me peer review this experiment for a future lab,” Aleck fibbed. “Sorry Manuel, I should have asked to use this space after hours.”

            “I see…” Manuel rubbed his chin contemplatively. It didn’t appear that he bought his explanation, but after a beat, he apparently dismissed it and advised us, “No more work! Go home, enjoy your weekend!”

            Phoebe muttered, “Like that’s gonna happen!” Manuel gave her a quizzical look, so she clarified, “I gotta make some calls for the prom committee… And my mom and stepdad are coming…”

            Manuel repeated his contemplative chin rub. “I see… Well, in any case, it’s the weekend, go home!” We all complied, and he grinned at us before heading out. Once he left, the six of us collected our belongings and despondently exited, none of us looking forward to the extra task we had to tackle. I took back the spoon, and as I stuffed it in my pocket, I crossed my fingers that Ginger would get her wish on the timeline of the completion of this undertaking!

            “No, I need the price of your yellow roses, not posies! I didn’t even know posies came in yellow!” Phoebe did her utmost to remain polite on the phone, but I could sense her vexation heightening more and more as the conversation went on. We were getting closer to our home, and I prayed that she would wrap up this call before then because Miriam and Blaise were due there at any minute and I did not want to encounter them all by myself! “No, I need them for Rosemary King’s prom, I’m not ordering myself a bouquet!”

            “Not yet!” I voiced out loud, which was something I intended to only inwardly muse about!

            Right as I was wondering if she heard that, she asked me, “What did you say?”

            I quickly answered, “Nothing!” While I drove to our place, I began mulling over different methods of proposing to her that were less cheesy (both literally and figuratively) than my first attempt, so marrying her was on my train of thoughts when I heard her touch on buying flowers for herself. I didn’t realize how tired I felt until then, and rather than risk another slip up, I decided to table any ruminations on the subject!

            “That is the group rate?” Phoebe bewailed. “Okay, I’ll get back to you later.” She hung up in a huff.

            “Why don’t they just make them out of paper?” I probed.

            Phoebe grumbled, “The student government wants it to look super Boujee, so they want all of the fanciest decorations there! I’m trying to get an estimate of how much their ideas will cost so I can give them an exact number on the amount they went over the budget! Ugh, I never pictured running into this problem for a country western theme!”

            I puzzled, “They want Boujee and country western?”

            “They’re going off some tv show where rich people go to the Old West and live out their fantasies,” Phoebe explained. “I don’t know why Manuel okayed this- I’m pretty sure they kill a bunch of people on that program!”

            “Apparently he hasn’t seen it either!” I conjectured. “Or, at least I hope he…” I trailed off when I saw some movement across the street from our house! Phoebe and I nearly had heart attacks- we needed a little longer to mentally prepare ourselves for this arrival! Upon closer inspection, I recognized the silhouette that spooked us. Roxy was sitting in front of the decrepit building with wooden panels that appeared as though the wood had flimsy before it caught on fire. Its roof had holes that were plainly created from a mix of damage from the flames and poor upkeep, and its driveway had gotten so covered by pine needles that it was no longer visible. Roxy sat by a mailbox full of rotted newspapers and waved her hands in front of a memorial with various blooms and candles beneath it, and I cringed when I spotted a freshly printed photo of a pale man with black clothing, red irises, and a vintage hairdo that hadn’t been worn since the nineteen-twenties! “Where does she keep getting those things?” I mumbled.

            Roxy turned around to face us in a style that indicated that she had overheard my griping- obviously, I could not muster any subtlety that evening! “Huh?” she glimpsed at us with furrowed brows.

            “Do you need anything, Roxy?” Phoebe covered for my blunder. “A snack maybe? Do you gotta use the bathroom or something?”

            “I’m fine,” Roxy asserted before returning to her strange gestures. I could distinguish that she was striving to manifest some sort of spell, and while I knew nothing about witchcraft, I was fairly certain that she was doing it wrong! I could easily comprehend why Ismeray would want to intervene!

            Phoebe and I went inside and immediately leaned on the walls! We could have fallen asleep right there in the foyer, we were that exhausted! I canvassed Phoebe, “Do you think we have time to take a fast nap?”

            All of a sudden, the sound of a loud, sputtering truck bellowed throughout the neighborhood, and Phoebe relayed to me, “I doubt it!”

            The cacophony of their vehicle increased in volume, and something from their car emitted a sharp squealing too! I couldn’t fathom how that clunker made it across state lines! Phoebe and I faced the entrance and planted fake smiles on our faces when the din disappeared. The patter of footsteps echoed from the pathway, and I found myself beseeching the universe that this stemmed from a couple of solicitors coming to push their ware on us! The front door barged open, and Blaise walked inside with a carriage so superfluous that you’d expect it to have originated from an actor from that show where the student body got its prom theme inspiration from! I aimed to offer him hospitality nonetheless, so I extended my hand and politely greeted him, “Nice to meet you, sir!”

            He disregarded my hand and went straight for a hug! “None of those formalities, we’re family now!” After an awkward squeeze, he boorishly embraced Phoebe and then informed us, “Hold on, I gotta take a bigger leak than a broken outhouse!”

            Phoebe and I partly closed our eyes from disgust from that outburst, but before we were able to articulate our feelings on that ghastly image, we saw Miriam hobbling up to the porch with two large suitcases. “Let me help you with those!”

            Miriam gratefully handed them over to me. “Oh, thank you!” Considering that Miriam was such a frail person, I didn’t expect her luggage to weigh so much! I resorted to pushing them down the hall, and Miriam wanted to know, “Do you need help with those?”

            I meant to ensure her that I didn’t, but then a crash sounded from the end of the hall where the guest bathroom was located, and Jett frightfully fled from it and accidentally tripped me! Fortunately, I caught myself before I tumbled completely down, and I moaned, “Can this get any worse?” Another piece of advice: never tempt fate by asking that question! At this precise instant, the doorbell rang, and believe it or not, all of these harried incidents would bring us to the origin of the ghost that would soon haunt our community…

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 2

“Listen, I’m sorry I invited them over without discussing it with you first! I was insensitive, and I will do what I can to make it up to you, I swear!” I gazed at Phoebe hopefully. I thought that my preemptive strike might ebb her white-hot rage not because I still believed that I had a shot at success for a proposal- I just wanted to avoid sleeping in the doghouse that night!

            “Gosh, I didn’t even think of that!” Phoebe concluded after mulling over my statement. “I should be mad about that too!”

            Drats! It appeared as though I had unwittingly dug myself in a little deeper! I then grew baffled by her vehement reaction. She once accused herself of being too nice to people who may not always deserve it, so her hostile attitude towards her mother and stepfather staying with us for a stretch completely addled me! “Oh, come on, what’s the big deal?”

            Little advice: Never ask an angry woman that question! It incensed her further, and she bellowed, “They ran a cult! Happy?”

            “No!” Initially, I wasn’t sure if a heard her correctly. That seemed like such an outrageous concept that it couldn’t possibly have been accurate! Then again, a few months ago, I encountered a gang of vampires (What is a group of vampires called? I never did look that up!) and a guardian of the Netherworld, so I deemed that I ought to have opened my mind up a bit! “You never mentioned that you came from a…” Phoebe and I got to know each other fairly comprehensively inside and out, so I couldn’t see how she would have failed to disclose that she had to get deprogrammed from a mind-controlling sect!

            “I was never a part of it!” Phoebe asserted before inquiring, “Do you remember how I told you that my mom and I didn’t really talk anymore?”

            I replied, “Yeah, but when you said it was too painful to speak about, I assumed that you two had a fight over an ex or something and just lost contact with each other; you didn’t say anything about a cult!”

            She defended her action, “Well, it’s not an easy thing to admit about your family!”

            “You could have revealed this sooner!” I supportively reassured her. “You stuck by me when I claimed that blood-sucking monsters really existed! I mean, I turned out to be right, but you didn’t know that in the beginning! Did you actually expect me to judge you too harshly after that?”

            “I guess you couldn’t, huh?” she chuckled slightly, which was a relieving sight for me! I was seriously already making plans to either make that leather couch more comfortable to sleep on or fight Jett for her kitty bed, and I now held more optimism of getting welcomed back into our room! She sighed, “I probably owe you an explanation…”

            I kidded her, “Probably? Were you considering leaving the conversation there? You can’t announce that your family ran a cult and then carry on like nothing happened! Like ‘Oh, one of my relatives started their own crazy religion, so… What kind of pizza do you want for dinner?’”

            Phoebe laughed, and then she illuminated me, “When I was in college, my dad cheated on my mom, so she walked out on him. The only problem with that was that she had no money and nowhere to go. She ended up going to different bars to either get men to buy her drinks or take her home or both. So, one day, she’s in this dirty, old pub and met Blaise, and then… then I wished that I had chosen to live off-campus so she could have crashed on my couch instead of feeling forced to join his cult! I could have avoided getting paired with that snobby roommate too! Bleck!”

            “So, what kind of cult does Blaise run?” I wanted to be sympathetic with her, but my curiosity was so peaked that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else!

            “I’m not sure. They’re really secretive, and no one’s ever divulged much about it unless they were trying to recruit them. Even then, they didn’t give them much ‘til they could trust them. People kinda just disappeared onto their compound! They could write letters to their families, but they mainly just proved that they were alive, they didn’t describe their lives much. I quit responding to Mom’s communication ‘cause she kept trying to get me to live with them. I tried doing research on them to help her, but all I could gather was the gossip from the small mountain town nearby their headquarters. Apparently, the word was that they performed strange rituals in there. They heard mysterious chants sometimes, and they would see weird behavior. Like one time, Blaise got arrested for public indecency and smuggling tropical fish in the same day!” She paused and added, “I don’t know what that means, and I don’t wanna find out!”

            I concurred, “I’d rather not know either! People followed him for spiritual guidance?”

            Phoebe exasperatedly shrugged. “A lot of people devoutly held the belief that this guy was some kind of savior! Not the IRS though- they’re seizing all of their assets! And now their glorious leader is coming to live with us!”

            “Ugh! Damn it!” I exclaimed. I inwardly chastised myself for getting myself into this mess, and after uttering a stream of curse words and scaring Jett again, an idea suddenly struck me. “If he tries to organize another cult while he’s with us, we don’t have to feel any guilt for kicking them out, right?”

            “I was gonna let them live in their truck all along!” Phoebe pointed out. “Pepperoni.”

            Very much confused by her last declaration, I queried, “Huh?”

            Phoebe clarified, “You were asking what kind of pizza I wanted.”

            “No, I was pretending to be you,” I corrected her.

            “Oh! Well, I still want pepperoni.” She went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. “I should’ve finished writing that Dickinson quiz over the weekend ‘cause I’m certainly not getting it done tonight! Eh, I’ll show them a video instead! They’ll probably love me forever for that one!”

            I romantically conveyed to her, “I already do!” I briefly considered this interaction and swiftly amended my sentence, “Not ‘cause of the quiz, I just do!”

            She smiled and affirmed, “I do too! I mean, I love you, not me! Yes, I love myself, but not in the same way! Wow, I need more wine!” We both giggled at each other, and as she decompressed from the anticipation of these potentially troublesome guests, I wistfully toyed with the ring in my pocket and crossed my fingers that Mirriam and Blaise’s temporary residency wouldn’t’ interfere with my intentions to try again…

            …. But, as you might have already figured out, they definitely did! So did the ghost! But someone else had equal blame to that pending fiasco… The next day, my sixth period class filed in and began taking out their homework from other teachers’ classes, so I attempted to hide my irritation as I reminded them, “Once again, this class is no longer study hall! Do I look like Mister Dusan?”

            “Yeah, sorta!” one student assessed.

            “Whatever! Just take out your textbooks… from this class!” I instructed them through gritted teeth. “Turn it to page…”

            I trailed off as a student entered the classroom long after the tardy bell, and she seemed completely oblivious to the fact that a bunch of her peers were watching her slowly trek to her seat! She wore a long, dark dress, a black hat with a small, mesh veil over her face, and very gothic makeup. Other than her platinum blonde hair, she had no color on her whatsoever! I couldn’t help but stare incredulously- this girl, while definitely not the brightest, used to have a bubbly personality and donned every asinine trend that teen’s currently coveted, but ever since Damon’s demise, she hardly spoke a word and always dressed like she was attending a funeral! I got used to ignoring her melodramatic demeanor, but since I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, my patient fell short and I snapped, “Still?”

            She halted in her tracks and had to blink herself back into the present upon hearing that. “What’s still?”

            “This whole mourning stunt!” I vented, “How could you still be grieving over a guy that you had one date with? Really, it was more like one half ‘cause he ditched you halfway through!”

            “I’m not explaining myself to you!” she retorted. “Because of you, I couldn’t say goodbye to him before he died! I never saw him again since you got him kicked out of school!”

            I cried out, “He tried to kill me! Don’t you think that’s a pretty darn good reason to have him expelled?” She didn’t articulate another word, she simply pouted and turned her head so that we could no longer make eye contact. I exhaled in aggravation, and then I directed her, “You’re late, Roxy. Go see Principal Palillo.” She posed her nose up in the air in order to emanate reprobate my decision, but as she tried to smoothly march out of the room, she missed the doorway and crashed into the frame! The other students heartily chortled at this, but Roxy didn’t react to them since her veil got stuck in one of the hinges! “Don’t tug on it, you’ll rip it!” I advised her.

            I walked over to lend her a hand, but she managed to free herself prior to my intervention. She gave me a dirty look and then cawed, “I don’t need your assistance! Good day!” She then proceeded to collide into the door! The other children uproariously cracked up at her antics while I opened the door for her to make sure she didn’t hurt herself. Either she didn’t receive any injuries or it didn’t bother her much- she left without further incident after that! I threw up my shoulders and figured that if she sustained too much bodily harm, Manuel could deal with it!

            “We’re not talking about it!” I snapped to the class as they watched in a heightened amusement. Their excitement turned into a crushing disappointment, but I didn’t care- I was too grumpy to calm down a few dozen hyper adolescents!

            “But that witch-!” one of the students objected.

            I grumbled, “Don’t call her names. Take out your textbook and-.”

            A girl in medieval-inspired, purple clothing disputed, “She is a witch though! I’ve seen her practice her spell work! She was doing it completely wrong though! I offered to show her how to do it right, but she-.”

            I interrupted her, “Thank you, Ismeray! Now, if you all don’t open your books to chapter thirteen, I’ll give you all detention!” That certainly got all of their attention, which I felt grateful for since I was totally bluffing about that punishment! I didn’t know if there was a maximum capacity for the detention hall, but I had plans after class, so I had zero interest in enforcing that threat! And, in case you’re wondering, yes, that airheaded witch played a huge role in the ghost conundrum! The smarter witch caused trouble too, but not as much as Roxy! I’ll get to that soon, don’t worry!

            Once the bell rang, I dashed out into the hallway! Or, at least, I meant to do that! My path got blocked by a man with the appearance of an aged football star well past his prime! He may have been a total stud back in the day, but he was merely an arrogant prick in this decade! He gazed at me in a triumphant fashion, so I addressed him, “If there’s anything I can do to help you, Casper, I’m not going to! I’m late for-.”

            “I heard that you had some struggles with getting your lesson started today,” he tauntingly conversed as he took a bit from an apple that he held in one hand while his other hand remained behind his back.

            “Why were you listening to what went on in my classroom?” I challenged him.

            He haughtily assured me, “Connor, I would never try to overhear your boring spiel about maintaining client relations! My kids were taking a test, so I listened for spirits on my horn!” He raised his non-apple hand to showcase a bronzed bull’s horn.

            I sarcastically remarked, “Oh yeah, that’s totally normal!”

            “This school is haunted, you know!” he alleged.

“Sure it is…” Ordinarily, I would have entertained that notion since the town’s rumor of the house across the street from me being haunted turned out to be accurate, but not a single other staff member made that claim about Rosemary King!

Casper insisted, “Trust me, I’m an expert on the paranormal! You see, in addition to governmental studies, I spent my university days closely following the- Hey!” He got insulted as I lost interest in that conversation and began walking away. “Where are you going?”

I mockingly proclaimed, “I’m gonna go hunt for spirits!”

Casper sniffed, “Well, I doubt you’ll ever find any!” In this one instance, I would have loved for his theory to prove to be correct! He didn’t have anything to do with the phantom dilemma we had to deal with later, he was just annoying and made this burden even more cumbersome!

Hurrying, I entered into a room draped with science posters and small aquariums with little snakes inside of them, and everyone had already beaten me there. Phoebe sat next to a middle-aged man in gym shorts and a polo that barely covered his pot belly, and next to him was a woman with vibrant, tawny skin and an outfit that a Barbie doll might wear. She sat beside a plump woman with dark skin, gray hair, and very bold-colored garments on, and at the front of the class was a short man with thinning hair and a wrinkly, unkempt wardrobe on. Seeing this motley mix made me breathe an alleviated sigh! After enduring this exhausting shift, their company eased a lot of my tension! “Sorry I’m late! Sir Pompous Dorkington was hassling me again!” I sat down next to Phoebe, and after a quick peck, I noticed that she appeared equally frazzled. We would definitely have to have a chat about it, but it would have to wait until later- I already put everyone behind, so I didn’t want to delay this any further… except that’s exactly what I did! I caught a glimpse of the paper mâché bust resting over me and commented, “Oh, you still have the Billy Squier project up here, Aleck?”

“Come on, dude! We’ve been over this! It’s Isaac Newton,” Aleck reflected on this and then refined his stance, “It’s supposed to be anyway. Roxy didn’t like how he looked, so she modeled him after Timmothy Chalamet. Ellie thought if I put up reminders of her old personality, it’d pull her out of her funk.”

“I didn’t suggest that,” the older woman refuted. “Ginger did.” The Barbie girl nodded. “I recommended counseling, and Fletcher started going on about installing a uniform system…”

The man in gym clothes dispelled that, “I didn’t bring uniforms up ‘cause of Roxy! My twin girls decided to put on skimpy crap to punish me for not letting them go on that cruise for spring break! They only have a few months ‘til graduation, why can’t they pretend to be saints ‘til they move into their dorms!”

            Phoebe cut this topic short, “Anyways, Connor, did you bring it?”

            I proudly reported, “Of course! I always keep it with me just in case!” I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small, silver spoon. If you haven’t read my last story, you’re probably wondering why I would frequently tote something like that around, and if you did check out the last installment of this saga, you’re probably wondering why I still have it. This may sound unbelievable, but the reason that any of the chaos that later ensued took place at all was due to this object…

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 1

Hey, you’re back! I got another question for you: What does a ghost like most about going to a party? Did you say boo-ze? Well, that’s wrong for several reasons! One, I know the play on words with boos and booze seems cute, but really, a ghost is nothing more than a haunting image of someone’s former self, so how can they drink anything? They’re more likely to enjoy boos at a bash, but how much fun would it be for them to go to a large event and then merely heckle the attendees? And who started the rumor that all they can say is boo? If a version of a deceased person comes back to Earth, why would that be the only phrase they can utter? Was a ghost from early history upset about their demise, booed it, and made the dude witnessing it get the impression that this is what ghosts do? The real answer to that dad joke is their favorite part of festive fetes is disappearing from them! Trust me, ghosts don’t want to hang around anything with high levels of merriment! In the beginning of my last book, I wanted to immediately impress upon you how much I knew about vampires, and today, I’m doing the same for ghosts! I have a ghost story that probably won’t give you chills, but it’s still worth a read!

            Do you remember what happened in the last novel? Well, in case you forgot, the basic summary is that my desperate attempt to win back my ex-wife led me to saving a high school from an inept but completely demented vampire. If you didn’t read The Terra-Belle Vampire, that probably sounded completely insane! It makes more sense if you checked out the last installment, I swear! In fact, I’m going to highly recommend you go read it and then get back to this one! If you’ve already taken a look at it, or you’re too lazy to peruse it for the first time, the drama went down like this… I met a girl in college, and after graduation, I got married to her and to a new sales job. Eventually, she got unhappy and cheated on me (Or she could have been doing it all along, who knows!), and I wanted to prove to her that I could do a career that took up less of my life, so I quit my position as a high-level businessman at a prestigious marketing firm and became a substitute teacher. Surprisingly enough (Well, surprising to me, everyone else probably saw it coming!), it didn’t work! I didn’t get her back, but I did get a vampire problem…

            Apparently, this guy named Damon Karro fell in love with a lady named Martha, but she dumped him when she found out he was a vampire. Totally bitter and scorned about the breakup, he tried to punish her by killing himself in the most dramatic way possible- by going into a haunted house and having the demons that possessed it do him in! What happened instead- they gave him the power to get revenge on Martha by enrolling him in the high school where she taught English literature, allowing him to prey on the students that she loved. I subbed for her while she recovered from the heart attack Damon gave her from this reveal, and I accidentally stumbled across his plot! I bought the house across the street from his spooky headquarters, not believing in the rumors that spread across town, but after witnessing a vampire transformation… Let’s just say I became a hard-core believer! So, my pathetic attempt to win back that tramp morphed into me being the only one who knew about the existence of this monstrous threat! The responsibility fell on my lap to solve the conundrum, and initially, I thought I’d have to do it alone. I mean, if I went up to someone and requested assistance in slaying some mythical beings, they would have thought I lost my mind! Luckily, I found some help at exactly the right juncture, which was a super good thing since I normally fainted at the sight of blood…

            I managed to convince five of my new coworkers to lend a hand! They didn’t buy into the whole blood-sucker concept at the onset of this journey, but they went along with it since they felt compelled to aid authorities in the rapidly growing number of kids vanishing from the school. Once they learned the truth, they stuck around to finish this cumbersome debacle! It wasn’t so easy to do at our age, but somehow, we managed to foil all of his schemes one by one! I made some new best friends (because you can’t go through something like that together and not bond a little!), and they gave me an endorsement for a permanent position in this new business program that Rosemary King High decided to create! So, the vampire gig totally sucked (in many different ways!), but I got some buddies and new occupational calling out of it! Oh, and there was one other perk to this entire ordeal…

            Phoebe Caracy! She’s the woman of my dreams! She teaches American Lit, which was right next to the classroom I was subbing in! The moment I saw her, I became breathless! Literally! It was in front of a child and very embarrassing! It took ages for me to let go of my ex tramp, but the more I got to know her, the more I loved her! She’s smart, funny, a blast to hang out with, and, of course, f’ing gorgeous! And she shares my taste in music! Classic rock is one my passions; I listen to it very frequently, especially when I need to relax, and it amazed me to discover an attractive woman who appreciates this interest! We got together shortly after I defeated Damon, and a couple months later, she moved in with me! Well, she was there practically every day anyways, so all in all, it wasn’t a huge transition! Plus, it saved her a ton of money on rent! Okay, well, sort of… We’ve been putting a lot of our paychecks into repairing the home since my place… correction, our place… needed a ton of fixing! Pretty much everything broke down, and I’m no handyman, so our extra income is basically spent on contractors and mechanics! That’s alright though- five months later and we’re still happy and going strong! You’d imagine that my happily ever after would station itself there, but that saga was only the start to our misadventure…

            Oh, my name is Connor, by the way! Connor Fenmore! Did I forget to mention that? I did! Hmm… There’s not such of a marvelous spot to throw it in during the exposition… Oh well! I’m forty years old, and I live in Terra Belle, Pennsylvania. I’m originally from Philadelphia, and I sued to not have such a favorable opinion of this city. I nicknamed it Terrible, but after half a year here, it’s grown on me, so I stopped using that moniker. A little about me: I have black, clean-cut hair with maybe a fleck of gray here and there. I used to be adamant about dying it to hide those blemishes, but now I imagine it’d be strange to see a school teacher without a hint of silver in their locks! I have a muscular body… mostly! I haven’t had as many opportunities to work out as I used to, unless you count running for my life every now and then! My old job had a gym in the building, and my new one does too, but it’s not built for the teachers’ use! I still have a fairly in-shape appearance, but I might have grown a dad doughy in a few sections after the last book… My green eyes are still equally as pretty nowadays as they were previously! Anyways, enough about me! You’d rather hear about my ghost excursion, which truly got set in motion on a random day in March…

            I came home earlier than Phoebe and cooked a really lavish meal, complete with a diamond ring, and since the kitchen was right next to the front door, I kept an ear out for her arrival. I wanted to set up everything perfectly before she got here! I went the extra mile of plating her food in a way to make it more appetizing as well as keeping my surprise for her hidden until the right moment, and I spent more minutes than I normally would have setting the dishes at the ideal angle on the table. I brought out a tablecloth and candles to make that small space above the living room seem extra enchanting too. Once I lit the wicks, I could hear her car pull up, so I speedily stripped off all of my clothes (all of our most romantic escapades entailed a passionate romp followed by a ravishing repast) and waited for her on the small stoop that separated the two rooms with a rose in my mouth. She took longer than usual to make her entrance, so my out of the ordinary stance drew out the curiosity of my little black cat. As she sniffed my arms, I tried to tell her, “Not now, Jett!” I don’t know if the muffle effect from the flower made me too difficult to understand or if she was ignoring my demands in the most cat-like fashion possible, but she rubbed against my hands, indicating that she wanted to get pet. I attempted to move her, but she refused! I spat the rose out of my mouth and commanded, “Jett, out!” Her feelings got hurt, but she didn’t go far, which stressed me out! I needed this night to be flawless, I couldn’t let anything spoil it!

            The doorknob turned, and my heart pounded wildly! This was it- the big occasion! I already knew I was going to marry her someday, but the definitive determination of this occurrence had finally come to pass! I knocked on wood that she hadn’t realized that she could do better than me and prayed that she would say yes to my proposal! I became more nervous than anything I had ever done in my life! Not even the most high-stake sale topped this! I did use the same techniques to buoy my confidence about the outcome though! Finally, she appeared into the vicinity, and this plus-sized goddess made my pulse skyrocket! Her outfit gloriously displayed her thick but curvaceous body, and her chestnut hair cascaded so elegantly onto her shoulders! Her light-beige skin glowed like an angel, and her golden-brown eyes completely seduced me with the bubbling sensuality that sparkled beneath the surface… Well, at least, I thought it was sensuality! Upon closer inspection, she seemed rather irritated about something, and she wasn’t exactly by herself…

            “This is my new… Oh jeez!” Phoebe swiftly made the camera on her phone face in the other direction, and I fell backwards into the living room when I realized that we had company! Jett got offended by my move, hissed, and scurried off as I scrambled to get my clothing back on, and Phoebe addressed the audience on her video call, “I’ll show you in a second!”

            “Phoebe, what’s going on?” a man with a slight Texas drawl probed. “Why are you showing us your chest?”

            She raised the camera up further and then corrected him, “It was my collarbone!”

            An older woman’s voice opined, “you could really use some better lotion, dear!”

            “Sure, Mom!” Phoebe exasperatedly sighed as I ran up to her my wardrobe back on, and I saw that she was speaking to a couple in the sixties with gaudy but rustic garments that preceded a view of an aged and very worn vehicle. The woman had a rich resemblance to Phoebe, but her male companion did not. He had a wavy, straw-like mane and a sunken-in set of blue eyes, and his general visage reminded me of a creepy scarecrow- definitely not one of Phoebe’s blood-relatives! Phoebe introduced us, “Mom, Blaise, this is my boyfriend, Connor! Connor, this is my mom, Miriam, and her husband, Blaise!”

            “Hi!” I greeted them somewhat breathily.

            Miriam gushed, “Oh Phoebe, he’s really cute!”

            Blaise didn’t partake in those sentiments. “Puppies are cute, Miriam! And he may be handsome, but there are more important qualities that one should consider in a life partner! Tell me, Connor, have you found peace with your creator?”

            “Uh…” It wasn’t clear to me whether he meant my parents or my religion, so I didn’t know how to reply to that!

            “No, we’re not doing that!” Phoebe cut that line of questioning short, which I felt grateful for! “Oh look, Connor made dinner!” She sat down rather speedily, and I couldn’t distinguish if she simply meant to change the subject or if she was hinting around to her parents to end this conversation. She sat at the table but didn’t touch her food, and a part of me wished that Blaise or Miriam would permit her to eat in front of them so that they could witness the grand development…

            Miriam asked her, “So, have you heard from your sister lately?” Phoebe cringed at the prolonged nature of this discussion, and I now grew impatient about this interaction! This was a once in a lifetime experience, and I disliked its delay by idle talk! Plus, Phoebe obviously didn’t dig this happenstance, and I would have preferred for her to be in a pleasant mood for this exciting transaction!

            Phoebe grabbed her fork as she answered, “Yeah, I saw on her page that she got engaged recently. Apparently, this doofus got the brilliant idea of putting the ring in her food!” I began to panic! I didn’t know that my method of proposing wasn’t unique to her world! “Why do people think that’s a smart way to do it? She nearly choked on it, and when they finally got it out of her, it was covered in cheese and stuff! So unromantic!” She almost gathered a bite from the section of her meal that I hid the ring in…

            “Well, this dinner is bad! Let me take care of it!” I grabbed her dish before she could proceed any further!

            “What’s wrong with it?” Phoebe queried.

            I lied, “It’s… burnt!” I inwardly admonished myself for that one! It was pasta, who burns pasta?

            Phoebe noted, “It seemed fine to me…”

            “Trust me, I burned it!” I insisted. She raised her eyebrows at me but then returned to her phone call. I discretely slipped the ring out, and as it laid on the counter, I observed bits of cheese on it, which led me to believe that she had a point about this means of proposal!

            “Listen, I gotta get going,” she told Blaise and Miriam. “I’m gonna have to order a pizza apparently. Let me know when you get a place to live!”

            I had been in the middle of shoveling the entirely fine pasta down the garbage disposal when I caught that last bit, and it made me completely freeze! Her folks didn’t have anywhere to stay? She said that so casually, but it invoked a deep sense of pity from me! “Wait, you’re homeless?”

            Blaise informed me, “Yes, we are! We got kicked out of home a few days ago, and we’re living in the truck ‘til we figure out what we’re gonna do…”

            Phoebe perceived what I was about to do, and she stepped away from the camera’s view in order to heavily gesture to me not to do it. I couldn’t fathom why, especially when Blaise and Miriam stared at me with such sad eyes! I couldn’t help it, I felt compelled to make them an offer, “We have an extra room. You could use it while you sort everything out.”

            “Really?” Miriam chirped as Phoebe’s face fell. “Oh hon, we’ll have a roof over our heads!”

            “Trucks have roofs, Miriam,” Blaise pointed out before gratefully regarding me, “We really appreciate it!”

            Phoebe looked positively livid, so I instantly regretted my choice as I conveyed to them, “Oh, no problem!”

            In a falsely sweet voice, Phoebe stated, “We’ll see you guys soon! ‘Kay, bye!” She hung up and faced me with an obvious rise in fury, and I knew I severely messed up! I didn’t get a fiancée that day, but I got something else… I promise it has something to do with ghosts! You’ll find out why soon…