The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 19

Trying to maintain my peppy tone, I reminded him, “You don’t need to answer in the form of a question, but if you want to earn a point, you do have to say an answer! You don’t score just for being the first one to get your hand in the air!” The student defeatedly lowered his arm back down to his desk, and inwardly, I gritted my teeth. When I designed this review session game, I thought the rules were pretty straightforward, but I had to repeat that guideline several times in each class that day, and it was sixth period! At least some of my pupils seemed to be enjoying themselves! Those children wore bright colors and all flocked to one side of the room while the other half dressed like rejected new characters from The Adams Family, and the latter usually refused to participate in the merriment I offered the class. If they did reply to an inquiry, their responses were typically very depressing- even when the topic was fun like my bonus category featuring my worst dad jokes (apparently, I missed a whole bunch that should have been on there according to my class attendees!), which only added to the non-FAUKers’ distress after their eerie mannerisms spooked them! It was hard enough to trying to keep those who wanted to have a ball’s spirits up with the somberness that some of their peers presented, but coupling that with the lack of adherence that a few had for the rules made this whole day aggravating! I did my best to make their lesson entertaining so that no one else would feel motivated to drop out, but unfortunately, I doubted that I had done much to prevent more of these teens from following in the footsteps of the rapidly growing number of those leaving Rosemary King permanently! “Anyone else know? What are the go-to subjects to bring up with your clients in order to get to know them?” One of the shadowy youths indicated that she had the solution. “This isn’t going to be another dreary statement, is it?” She shrugged, but because no one else seemed to have a guess, so I permitted her, “Go ahead, Yurei.”

            Yurei opined, “I would discuss the underworld takeover by wondering if they would be excited to reunite with people in their family who have long been deceased.”

            The room go uncomfortably quiet at the picture she painted, and once I had overcome the hurdles of digesting that bleak image myself, I attempted to smooth things over with a chuckle, “Ah, yeah. Relatives is one of them, so I’ll give you a half point for that, which brings the total for Team A to four and Team to one half. Okay, I believe we can squeeze in one more…” The bell rang, and I didn’t sound very convincing when I commiserated, “Oh darn, the game is over! Team A gets the bonus points on tomorrow’s test!” Nobody looked pleased or disappointed by the results- everyone concentrated on grabbing their belongings and scrambling out of there! I can’t say I blamed them, but it frustrated me that my gesture didn’t have the effect that I aimed to generate! Prior to Ismeray being able to zip off of the campus, I stopped her, “Ismeray, I need to have a chat with you!”

            “Ooh, somebody’s busted!” one child taunted her.

            “Somebody else will be too if they keep harassing their classmates!” I retorted. His face fell, and he trudged into the hallway dejectedly. I could not have allowed him to continue with that misbehavior, but I felt bad for taking the wind out of his sails! I crossed my fingers that I hadn’t been the final straw for him an ambition to exit the educational system!

            Roxy remained glued to her seat, and I instantly got filled with dread! Normally, when she hung out at a random location, it signified that Damon was close by and a fear monger attack was eminent, so her presence right then was unsettling! I glanced around the room to see if there was any suspicious objects, and when it looked like the coast was clear, I told Roxy, “Uh, I need to speak to Ismeray privately…”

            With wide, panicky eyes, Roxy objected, “But…! I gotta…!” I gave her a stern stare, so she relented, “Alright, fine! I’ll wait outside.”

            “She’s my ride home,” Ismeray notified me as Roxy marched out of our earshot.

            “Ohhh!” I breathed a sigh of relief. We didn’t have any strange incidents at any juncture in the school day, so it really felt inevitable to deal with one when I assumed that Roxy behavior signaled Damon’s proximity to the area! It struck me as odd that my colleagues in the Ghost League and I went an entire shift without battling any sort of paranormal nuisances! Damon ordinarily didn’t take breaks from his vengeful plots, so I wondered what his motivations for this pause could have been! I didn’t buy for a second that he meant to convenience us in any fashion, so his absence could not have portended anything beneficial for us! Something else about the tidbit that Ismeray conveyed to me bothered me as well… “Roxy has a car?” The notion of a person with so many airheaded tendencies getting behind the wheel terrified me! It made me speculate whether or not a fear monger had chosen me as its victim…

            Ismeray clarified, “Well, technically, her mom is giving me a lift, but I can’t exactly show up at her van without Roxy!”

            I exhaled in alleviation, and then I acknowledged, “That makes sense!”

            “She does have her drivers license though,” Ismeray brought up.

            “Listen, I didn’t call this meeting to gab about your buddy!” I let her know mainly because I grew alarmed by this fact and didn’t wish to learn anything else about her in case it disturbed me even further. I did have an important matter to hash out with Ismeray, but I didn’t anticipate it being a pleasant interaction, so if she had gathered any inclination to converse about anything but that, I probably would have let her carry on to put her more at ease. It was really too bad that I had to take away that opportunity and dive right into the main objective of this one-on-one, and I beseeched the universe that cutting straight to the chase wouldn’t mar my odds for a victory! “Tell me about this FAUK’ing rally you’re hosting.”

            Ismeray bristled at my use of the phrase FAUK, but I got the impression that it was popular enough amongst her fellow juveniles that she had given up on individuals uttering it in that manner. She folded her arms and refused my request, “I’m not saying anything to a non-believer! You’ll just use what I say to shut down our plans!”

            Drats! She caught on to my ploy way too fast! This process would have been so much easier if Roxy had organized this event! Still, I used to win over very stubborn sales targets who acted a lot like her, so I felt confident that I could draw out something useful from Ismeray! I boldly assured her, “It’s fine! You don’t have to say a word. I already know what’s on your agenda!”

            “You’re lying!” Ismeray vehemently declared. “Nobody outside of the F-A-U-K knows what we have in store for that rally! How did you find out?”

            “That doesn’t matter!” I sat down in a casual way in hopes of establishing a more relaxed atmosphere for this conference. “It doesn’t matter why or how I know, I just do! And hey, I’m not trying to get you to cancel it either! No, seriously! All I wanna know is why you have to make the ceremony so grim!”

            She gazed at me in perplexedly. “We deal with elements of the dead and the undead! What are we supposed to do? Wear cute pastel shades and gush about how adorable the afterlife is?”

            I countered, “Well, I wouldn’t say it’s adorable! But the afterlife isn’t a terrible place! The souls who go there sustain an eternity of peace, do they not?”

            “Well, yeah…” Ismeray admitted. “But-.”

            “So, if a person is set to revel in infinite years of serenity, why would the afterlife be so doom and gloom?”

            To my delight, I could see Ismeray contemplating my argument! “Maybe… But if the afterlife was so amazing, why would our leader tell us to respect the fallen with funeral attire?”

            We were starting to broach on a substance of interest now! I had to persuade her to divulge more details on whoever this leader may have been in order to put a halt to the crooked FAUK’ing scheme! “Why do you think this leader would require you to spend the rest of your life in perpetual mourning?”

            “They don’t want us to constantly cry over the departed!” Ismeray debated me. “They’re preparing us for what’s to come so we can embrace this change instead of running from it! They want us to feel peaceful too!”

            “And what makes you so sure of this?” I contested. “What makes you so sure that this change will even come?”

            With a slight aghast, she protested, “Well… they have a deep set of knowledge about this realm! There’s been a lot of strange occurrences happening lately, which only makes their prediction of the uprising have that much more merit!”

            I brought up, “Predictions are merely guesses though! You can’t guarantee anything from that! What if you go through all this trouble and the uprising never happens?”

            For a minute, I reckoned that I had her sold, but then she shook her head and gathered her belongings in agitation. “You’re trying to confuse me now! The leader said doubters would do that kind of thing to bring down our glorious empire!”

            “Hold on!” I directed her before she could rush out the door. She desisted her steps, but she didn’t turn back around to face me. I appealed to her, “Just promise me that you won’t let anyone get hurt!”

            “Huh?” She puzzled and glimpsed over her shoulders to give me a quizzical look. “Why would anyone be harmed?”

            I explained, “All of this glorification of those who’ve passed on. I don’t want any kids believing that joining that crowd would make them cool or anything!”

            Her eyes grew wide at the possibility of this concept. “I highly doubt that our leader would have us go that far!”

            “But if they did, promise me you won’t go through with it!” I urged her.

            “Well…” she ruminated on this proposition, which completely disconcerted me! The essence of her not immediately agreeing to not cause true damage to any living being was horrifying, but I blamed whoever this leader was for this disposition! What could they have possibly done to convince their devotees for this unwavering loyalty, and exactly how far would they manipulate these youngsters to go? Imsmeray eventually concluded, “Well, if there were any serious injuries, Principal Palillo probably wouldn’t let us hold another rally, so fine, I promise that everyone will stay safe!”

            Her motives for doing the right action were questionable, but it alleviated my jangled nerves that no innocent bystanders would unjustly fall into peril! I therefore took this as a small win and remarked, “Smart choice! It’s like I mentioned in a recent lesson- security is vital for business! If your customers feel protected, they’re more likely to maintain faith in your establishment, but if you can’t prove that you have their backs, you’ll lose people in a heartbeat!”

            Ismeray laughed, “You’re talking about the afterlife like it’s some kind of business! Can you imagine showing up to the underworld and having to fill out forms with their secretary or something?” She almost doubled over in a fit of giggles at this scenario.

            “Umm, those skills are universal! Any enterprise will use them to achieve success! Would Hell have any demons if they weren’t good at recruitment?” I kidded. She chortled even more heartily, and then she made her way towards the exit again. Before she vanished off of the premises, I asked her, “Hang on! One more thing before you go… I need your advice on something…”

            “You need my advice?” Ismeray answered in astonishment.

            With as much indifference as I could possibly muster, I conveyed to her, “Yeah. Let’s say someone enacted a spell that made an animal speak, how would one go about reversing that? It’s for a play I’m writing!” That last part was a fib, but I didn’t want her to give gossip to Roxy regarding how effective her magic had been! I inwardly prayed that her witchy bestie didn’t already brag about what she had done!

            Thankfully, Ismeray furrowed her brows at this “hypothetical,” which could only have meant that she hadn’t heard it previously! She posed to me, “What kind of weirdo would wanna do that?”

            “That’s an excellent question!” I had to stifle my smirk at her reaction. “I’m still working that one out!”

            “I see…” Ismeray tapped her noggin as she chewed this over. “Hmm… Well, it sounds like that castor altered something in the animal’s brain to give it that ability. It’s a complex jinx, so you would need to do complicated hex to undo it. I recommend getting a spell-book to give your character realistic dialogue for something like that. You could look online, but you gotta be ‘cause there’s a lot of crap on the internet!”

            Envisaging this social media group that evolved into the mass movement known as the FAUK club, I concurred, “Tell me about it!” She grinned and swiveled back towards the hall to leave. I was preparing myself to depart as well until I heard a flurry of screams in the building! My pulse began to race- Damon must have decided to strike after all! I ran down to where I heard the cacophony of shrieks expecting to encounter the worst… What I didn’t expect to cross paths with was…

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 18

Before I could have a chat with a certain someone, I had someone else that I needed to talk to. As I headed to the front office, I initially thought that a hippie protest had camped out on Rosemary King’s property, but as I got closer to my destination, a young-looking lady with multicolored hair and a tie-dye shirt ran up to me and extravagantly offered, “Free hug!”

            Before she could touch me, I politely declined, “No thanks! I’m good!” That wasn’t exactly true; I spent all of my Sunday physically and mentally exhausted, and after hours of research, we didn’t learn anything new about our adversary or new methods of destroying that key to the Netherworld. We did get quite the education on different types of phobias, but that sort of felt like a waste of time too because apparently, people can become deathly afraid of anything- numbers, mirrors, fresh air, you name it, there’s individuals out there scared of it! And whether a student had a unique trepidation or a typical one, there was absolutely no way to know who would get chosen as a victim of the fear mongers! We had a list of possibilities of what may come when Damon releases his monsters, but they were all so different that it would have been impossible to prepare for all of them! Like seriously, how would we protect against a fear of numbers? Cover up all of the class labels and make math teachers like Ginger take the day off? It didn’t help matters to have Blaise get the sniffles! You would think that him being ill would have made him quieter, but no! He disrupted the whole household as he turned into the world’s whiniest baby, and as he made constant demands for his care, it was infinitely difficult to concentrate on anything! Monday mornings were never easy, but coming from a rough weekend and a hard week previously, it was especially excruciating! So no, I wasn’t good, but a random stranger touching me would not make me feel more at ease!

            “If you’re really as good as you claim, then why wouldn’t you accept a little extra love in your life?” the girl challenged me as she followed me down the walkway.

            “Why are you so desperate to hug me?” I shot back. “Why can’t you just cut your losses and move on to the next poor sap who passes by?”

            In a nearly ethereal tone, she reasoned, “Because there’s a drastic lack of compassion in this community, and when I see a soul in need, it bothers me if I can’t do something to make their world a little brighter! When they leave my sight, who knows what dark forces will plague them without another altruistic being to give them a hand!”

            The dark forces bit almost resonated with me, and if I believed that she had any ability to combat Damon and his fear mongers, I might have stuck around to have a discussion with her. Just before I entered the office, I relayed to her, “Trust me, you can’t do anything to fix my problem! If that changes, I’ll let you know!” She opened her mouth as if she was going to debate the point even further, but I closed the door before she got the chance! I felt somewhat bad for my rudeness, but I didn’t have a minute to spare for this conversation! Besides, what could she have done to assist me other than give me a supportive embrace after battling a particularly nasty fiend?

            It surprised me to see that Phoebe had arrived there before me! “How did you do that?” I pondered.

            “I told you the back entrance would be faster!” Phoebe grinned triumphantly. “Yes, I had to do more walking, but I didn’t get pinned down by those flower children, which made me move much quicker!”

            “One of those dudes grabbed me when I was in the middle of a thought! I freaked out ‘cause it seemed like I was getting mugged!” Aleck conversed. “I mean, I guess they did make me feel better when I realized they weren’t gonna rob me…”

            Hazel gave the bohemian bunch a disapproving stare and grumbled, “None of them applied for visitor passes! But Manuel okayed this demonstration despite that! Just because that freak with the rainbow hair is the mother of one of our pupils doesn’t mean they’re above the rules!”

            I blurted out, “Wait, she’s old enough to be the mom of a teenager? I could’ve sworn she was half our age! Jeez, she must be doing something right to have such a youthful face!”

            “Don’t tell me you’re contemplating a beatnik lifestyle?” Aleck kidded.

            “Not unless that would get Mister and Missus Scarecrow out of the house faster!” I joked, but in all seriousness, if I had any indication that mimicking their moves would motivate Blaise and Miriam to move out more expediently, I would have utilized some psychedelic moves in a heartbeat! I didn’t mind Miriam so much, but she and Blaise came as a package deal, so they both had to go!

            Hazel gave me a peculiar look, so Phoebe clarified to her, “He’s talking about my mom and her husband.” Hazel appeared startled that Phoebe hadn’t gotten offended by my slight about them, so Phoebe added, “I didn’t want them in our home at all!” Hazel grew absolutely perplexed by Phoebe’s cavalier attitude, so Phoebe advised her, “Don’t ask!”

            I have no idea if Hazel wanted to delve into this cryptic subject any further, but if she had any desire to do so, it got squashed as Fletcher unceremoniously burst into the room. “Get back! Get back!” he roared as he shut the door. He then huffed, “Free hugs! What does that even mean? Is there somewhere to go where you pay for hugs?”

            “Oh sure!” Ginger responded to him as she and Ellie arrived through the back door. “My uncle got in trouble for that when he picked up a woman on the side of the freeway who charged for that sort of thing! Actually, she turned out to be an undercover cop! It was pretty funny! Well, not for my aunt…”

            “Excuse me, can you tell them your sordid family affairs on your own time?” Hazel snapped. Ginger pouted slightly, but she did not object. I knew that it was early in the day and no one was happy to be there so early, but considering that we promised to give her dirt on a previous attendee who she vehemently disliked, I would have hoped that she would have acted more kindly to her guests! Hazel plopped a dusty box onto the counter and notified us, “Here’s the records for the early nineteen hundreds! I don’t see what this has to do with Mister Karro though!”

            The Ghost League gazed at each other knowingly. Hazel certainly had suspicions about Damon when he disguised himself as a juvenile and infiltrated the classrooms here, but as far as she knew, he was merely a homeless teen from Philadelphia. She figured out that he was a criminal up to no good on this campus, but she had no clue regarding his vampiric nature! The six of us all agreed not to give out information on this supernatural realm unless someone had direct contact with it, but in this case, we would have to reveal the details to someone who had no inkling that this paranormal existence had any basis in reality! We couldn’t find any details about Damon outside of his public records though, so we had to comb through the files that Hazel retained! There could be some sort of hint in his past that would bring about his downfall in the present, so it was imperative that we accessed the secrets that they held! We had to go against our own guidelines in order to move forward! But the question remained- would she still allow us to remain in her favorable graces when she heard our rationale for this expedition?

            I got the impression that we all were banking on somebody else taking the lead on this endeavor, but since everyone seemed reluctant to initiate this bout of uncomfortableness, I exasperatedly exhaled and addressed Hazel, “Damon… isn’t who he claimed to be. You see, well… We found this birth certificate from eighteen ninety…”

            “You mean… Damon is a…?” Hazel gasped. We all expected her to register that Damon was a vampire or a ghost or both, and we mentally prepared ourselves to witness her shock at this discovery, but we were caught off guard when she finished that sentence with, “… fraud? He stole someone’s identity, didn’t he?”

            “Huh?” Somehow, the whole vampire turned ghost concept made more sense to me than such an ordinary notion as that in that instance! Once I contemplated it more, her assumption was the easy explanation, and I berated myself for all of the stress over a bewildering reveal when this simple solution was at our disposal! “Yes! We wanna compare the real Damon with what this con artist has presented to everyone who’s crossed his path! If he somehow got access to records that are supposed to be confidential, then he could get charged with even more crimes!” I was rather proud of myself for rooting out a plausible explanation for why we needed old school chronicles. I knew her next query would have revolved around why we couldn’t get him incarcerated with what we already had, but now we had a logical argument to sell her on this premise!

            Sure enough, Hazel had become fully on board with this project, and she could not get that box open fast enough! “I’d love to give you more ammo against that snot-nosed brat! I was always certain that there was something fishy about that kid! I’m so glad that there’s proof on my hunch!” I recalled that she had quite the aversion to Damon, but I had forgotten how it felt to view the contempt she harbored for someone who was supposed to be a child pour out! While Damon was a nasty piece of work, it kind of frightened me how much animosity she built up for an individual who, as far as she knew, was still so young, and I tried not to fixate on the potentiality of her having similar ire for any other students who attended this high school… She thumbed through the files and finally produced an object of interest! “Ah-ha! Here we are!”

            With a disappointment that only threatened to grow as the seconds trickled onward, Ellie remarked, “That’s it?” It appeared as though we all concurred with her sentiment- Damon was such a troublemaker in the modern era, so how could he not have been the same devil in high school?

            “Well, of course! These are the real Damon Karro’s records, not that conniving, self-serving, little cretin’s history!” Hazel pointed out.

            “Oh, yeah, true!” Ellie pretended to agree with that statement in order to keep up with the guise we used to obtain this intelligence.

            Hazel eagerly poured into the file and summarized it for us, “Damon Karro attended Rosemary King from nineteen o’ four to nineteen o’ eight. He got good grades and was an all-star athlete. What a model student!”

            I hid my snickers over the fact that she had unknowingly complimented a person that she sincerely detested! I could see a slight smirk form on Phoebe’s visage too, but she tucked it away as she inquired, “Do you mind if we study it? You know, for evidence…”

            “Oh please, go right ahead!” Hazel obliged. She handed us the thin set of paperwork, and we all peered over Phoebe’s shoulders as she took pictures of the sheets one by one. Nothing we read sparked much interest for us- he appeared squeaky clean in terms of his behavior back then, and he had a practically perfect attendance too. Nothing about the boy Damon used to be foreshadowed the sociopathic villain we would come to meet! It made me wonder when everything went so very wrong in his life…

            “Hey! He was on the prom committee his senior year!” Ginger avidly observed. She mulled it over for a flash, and then she reconsidered, “Oh, I thought I was on to something there. Never mind!”

            Fletcher chuckled, “They called it a promenade tea back then! Sounds real frou-frou!”

            In an olden accent, Ellie educated him, “Fletcher, this was the early twentieth century- all of the keenest bucks adored the opportunity to gussy up and wear their best glad rags to shimmy at the swellest soirees! It was the best way to showboat to the wisenheimers and impress the dreamiest dolls! If you were a fella back then, you’d consider going to this shindig the bee’s knees!”

            “Thank the heavens I was born in the modern period!” Fletcher blinked rapidly at Ellie’s imitation and crinkled his nose at the picture she painted.

            “On the plus side, your little goyls would be required to keep themselves covered up!” Aleck brought up, which made Fletcher rub his chin contemplatively.

            Ellie corrected Aleck, “They didn’t pronounce the word girl like that ‘til the fifties.”

            Prior to Aleck piping up about this tidbit, I cut in, “We’re not here for a historical lecture, but your students will be pretty soon! Actually, we should all probably go get ready for that! Besides, we got everything we need from here.”

            “We did?” Ginger queried.

            “Well, not really,” I admitted. “But we got all we’re gonna get!”

            Hazel evidently sensed my ebbed optimism for this avenue’s success since she asked me, “This wasn’t enough to make that louse pay extra for his crimes?”

            I grinned at the sheer humor of trying to take a ghost through the judicial system, but obviously, I couldn’t share this musing with Hazel! We no longer had the obligation to illuminate her about the occult’s presence in our society, so I had no inclination to divulge anymore of what we learned about him to her! And frankly, while I would have preferred to have gained valuable insight from this incident, I was pretty relieved I could avoid interacting with her for a while! I appreciated her willingness to assist us, but she still pretty much creeped me out! So, instead of releasing my honest answer, I wryly commented, “No! No matter what we do, that jerk always seems to get away with everything!”

            “Hmpf! That’s true, but I’ll still be praying for a fair ruling anyhow!” Hazel dourly stated. “Good luck on your investigation!”

            “Thanks!” We weren’t engrossed with the cause she was envisioning, but we could definitely have used better fortune in this venture, so I accepted her well-wishes heartily! It was disappointing to have reached yet another dead end, but I didn’t want my friends to start their shifts with a sorrowful demeanor, so I attempted to buoy them up by suggesting, “Our morning may not have gone as planned, but we still have several hours left in our shift to make it better! You’re all so great at what you do, so remember that you have the talent to convince our kids to stay in school! Let’s make our lessons extra fun today so no one wants to drop out before that FAUK’ing rally or…!” As we headed out the back door, I stopped in my tracks! The avoidance of the Free Hug crowd along with the mention of the FAUK club gave me a stroke of inspiration on how to mitigate the influence of those dreary devotees! I ran to that groovily-clad congregation, and I let them know, “I need your help!” They all tried to hug me, so I graciously refused, “No, no! Not with that! It’s about something else…”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 17

“Attention!” Jett ordered as she nudged my arm, which I had cradled under my pillow.

            “Not now!” I groaned as I tried to push her away. I knew that she could probably sense that I was still awake, but I still had hope that by keeping my eyes closed I could relax enough to fall asleep. I hadn’t been successful so far, but if I pet my cat and increased my activity, I probably would have struggled to slumber for even longer! “If you keep bugging me, you’re getting kicked out of the room for the night!” She may have had the ability to speak, but it didn’t seem like she had the capacity to negotiate. I gave it a shot anyhow and crossed my fingers for the best.

            If she did have the potential to understand the words I conveyed to her, she ignored my message as she insisted, “Attention!”

            I ordered her, “Out!”

            “Rude!” she responded while not making a move in the directive I gave her.

            “That’s it!” I picked her up and begrudgingly rose out of my bed to bring her into the hallway.

            With her lids remaining unopened, Phoebe reminded me, “Mom and Blaise will let her back in when they use the bathroom.”

            I knew she was right, but I refused to change my intentions now that they were already set in motion! “Yeah, well, a few minutes of sleep is better than nothing!”

            After I set Jett down on the carpet, I expected her to call me rude again and walk away in a huff, but instead, she stayed rooted to the spot and requested, “Inside!”

            “No!” I subduedly declined her. I glanced over at the guest bedroom, and I could hear Blaise’s snores had a lower volume in this instance. I worried that without his raucous roar that he may not snooze so soundly, and I didn’t want to do anything that may abruptly rouse him! Not that anyone extended that same courtesy to us, but I certainly wanted to avoid being disrespectful if at all possible! Besides, Blaise was pretty grouchy under normal circumstances, and I dreaded to see what he might act like without a full eight hours!

            “Inside!” Jett repeated.

            In a hushed tone, I commanded, “Be quiet! You’re gonna wake everyone up!” Blaise then proceeded to mumble something inaudible, but I breathed a sigh of relief when I got the impression that he was still conked out. I knocked on wood that Jett would lose interest and leave!

            Jett again echoed, “Inside!”

            “Nooooo!” Blaise moaned in the same manner that he did previously. I became filled with dread at the worry that he had gained consciousness after all, but then I felt sure he was dreaming when he added, “No, Master! Don’t do it!” I found his sentence choice odd, but I was glad he was in the midst of a nightly vision and that I did not have to interact with him in a mood more foul than usual!

            “Jett, go lay down!” I whispered to her. I nearly shut the door to cement her punishment, but then I froze in my tracks when I heard…

            Blaise more distinctly pled, “No, Master! Don’t hurt them! … Let me do it!” The fact that he had uttered that phrasing subconsciously didn’t really comfort me in that moment! It seemed very revealing to me that he was willing to harm another soul to spare the trouble from someone who sounded like an evil mastermind, and if his dream-self had the readiness to do such a horrible atrocity, would his actual self have the same disposition? It truly startled me, and I almost locked the bedroom door out of fear of this potential! I mean, if he did end up having to use the bathroom, he could go outside and use a bush for all I cared! But I recalled that Miriam would get screwed if I did that, so I refrained from that temptation. I didn’t like how vulnerable it made Phoebe and me as we dozed off (or at least tried to) in our bed, and I contemplated having us spend the rest of the evening securely sealed in my car…

            Interrupting my trance, Jett unexpectedly stated, “Bad man!” before scampering off! She may have expressed that as a resentment of my chastisement, but I remembered that she had the good sense to steal the key from Damon at the onset of this journey, so maybe her instincts pulled her in a similar direction for him. I opted not to shut the door in case she needed to come back in to give me some sort of warning.

            As I crawled back into my bed, Phoebe suggested, “We should look up a way to reverse that spell!”

            “Yeah, totally!” I concurred. I knew that there was no chance of me catching forty winks that night, and after a couple of minutes where I just laid there restlessly staring at the ceiling, I decided to do something more productive. I took out the spoon from beneath my pillow and strove to break it with my bare hands. It wouldn’t budge, so I changed my goal to bending it in a fashion that would render it useless, but even though I used all of my strength, it wouldn’t twist an inch!

            “Babe, if you’re gonna do that, go into the bathroom in case somebody walks in,” Phoebe recommended obviously misinterpreting my cause for grunting as something salacious.

            I assured her, “I’m not doing that! I was trying to break the spoon! If we could just destroy this damn key, we would have one last thing to worry about! We might even get a bit of rest! I’m so tired of having this hanging over our hands!”

            Phoebe turned towards me and conversed, “It’s too bad Richard wasn’t home when we went to his house today!” She caught sight of my alarm clock and corrected herself, “Well, technically, it happened yesterday now!”

            “What if he’s just another dead end?” I pondered. “What if this shit never ends for us?”

            “It will!” Phoebe ensured me. “We’ll figure something out eventually! We always do! Don’t get all doom and gloom on me!”

            Her encouragement was definitely what I needed to hear at this juncture! She was completely right- I had lost my competitive edge, and I shouldn’t have entertained my doubts for so long! I glowed with appreciation for her, and I stroked her side appreciatively. This gesture stirred up some other emotions in me too… “I won’t get my doom and gloom on you, but can I get something else on you?”

            A mischievous smile dawned on her face, which made me swell with an auspicious desire, but before I could even kiss her, she pointed out, “We can’t do it now! What if Mom or Blaise walked in?”

            I had temporarily forgotten about Blaise, and a part of me felt tempted to spend the night in the car again! The seclusion that my vehicle offered was very alluring, but so was Phoebe, and the connection between the two concepts provided me with another idea. “You know, we have a perfectly private spot to use parked in our driveway…”

            “Well, that would help us avoid getting caught by our houseguests, but then we might get seen by our neighbors…” Phoebe brought up.

            “What neighbors would see us?” I argued. “Rowan doesn’t get up ‘til he can do his sunrise yoga, and obviously Richard isn’t home. No one would be out there but us!”

            She contemplated this consideration for a beat, and then she slyly acquiesced, “Okay! Let’s do it!”

            As soon as she consented, I surged with a titillating zest that I hadn’t experienced since my college days! With the energy of a much younger man, I grabbed her hand and sprinted to the front door! Blaise and Miriam had resided with us for a mere week, but since Phoebe moved in months ago, I got spoiled with regular loving sessions. Going without was a fairly typical standard with my ex-wife, but now that I could have intimacy on a routine basis, this stretch with none was harder than any length of abstinence I endured previously! It was absolutely thrilling to break that chain of withdrawal, and I thanked the heavens for this bout of good luck!

            I had no clue that I’d have to shortly rescind that gratitude! Initially, I had a one-track mindset, and I couldn’t get that car door open fast enough! Phoebe hopped in immediately, and the instant I stepped into the vehicle, I saw some eyes on the windshield! Not literally, as I later worked out, but they were creepy enough that I had actually forgotten where I was for a flash! Phoebe laid in the backseat with a confused expression, so I apologized to her, “Sorry! I gotta get that flyer! It’s distracting!”

            “What the hell!” Phoebe exclaimed as she espied what I had referred to. “Do they think that’ll sell their product? It’s not Halloween!”

            “You know, with all the research we’ve been doing on ghosts and magic, I forgot it wasn’t that time of year for a sec!” I admitted as I circled to the hood. I lifted up the wiper blade the advertisement got pinned under, and I began to get nervous! What if this wasn’t just a promo for some local business? What if it was something more sinister? Oh sure, Babelsama’s ghostly minion and that witchy governess who associated with him dabbled with the dark arts, but they really hadn’t issued a bona fide threat to our safety yet! Well, when Damon was still a vampire, he did attempt to have me killed, but as a phantom, he hadn’t given off any lethal vibes! Did that suddenly change? My anxiety heightened further as I flipped the page over to inspect it more closely… And the reality of this scenario made me roll my eyes and gripe, “Oh, for Pete’s sake!”

            Phoebe inquired, “What is it?”

            I handed it to her and explained, “It’s the FAUK club! Apparently, they’re having a rally on Wednesday at Rosemary King! Wait, Manuel seriously authorized this crap?”

            “Wow! This is disturbing!” Phoebe remarked. “They’re having an appreciation for the underworld and the undead! I can’t believe how much this has taken over our school!”

            “Between these FAUK-ers and the fear mongers that’ll inevitably plague our school before then, who knows how many more kids will drop out this week!” I lamentably commented. “Man, this is so depressing!”

            Phoebe sagely concluded, “We’ve gotta discover a solution to prevent this from happening!” I nodded in agreement, and we both dejectedly pictured all of the children who already threw their futures away as well as the exuberant amount that could potentially get scared out of making it to graduation! After this grim possibility haunted our faculties profusely for a spell, Phoebe posed to me, “Do you still wanna have sex?”

            I sighed, “It seems a little wrong now. And not the sexy kind of wrong either! Ugh! Let’s go back inside and-.” As I dispiritedly swiveled around towards the porch to surrender to the fate of a maddeningly sleepless evening, Jett bounded into my pathway! “Jeez-us! Jett, don’t do that!” I assumed she would rebut that with some sassy, one or two word retort, but clammed up instead! “Why couldn’t you be this tight-lipped in the hall?”

            “We could put a bell on her so she won’t sneak up on you again!” Phoebe propositioned. “I doubt a small one would interfere with her collar for that kitty door sensor thingy!”

            “Maybe! Wait, what are you doing, cat?” I watched her swiftly commence in wildly digging into the soil near the plants that I would frequently forget to water, and I noted, “Since when do you dig before you go potty?” She plopped something shiny into the hole that she created, and I rapidly recognized the rationale behind her behavior. I snatched up the spoon and queried, “So, you’re back to burying the key again, huh?”

            Jett gazed at me with wide eyes and asserted, “Bad thing!”

            In my frenzy to act out my passionate whims, I neglected my duty to protect that object! I hadn’t deserted it for an expansive stint, but if I had carried out my original plan with Phoebe, I may have kept it in a compromised position for a lofty duration! Other than Babelsama’s portrait in the guest bathroom, there hadn’t been any indications that our adversaries could obtain access to our abode, but I didn’t like to take any risks when it came to something this important! I gratefully pat Jett and commended her, “Good kitty!”

            “What’s going on out there?” Miriam poked her visage out of the mudroom and stared at us in concern. “I went to the bathroom, and I saw that your bed was empty! Is everything alright?”

            “No, not at all! But nobody’s life is in peril, so I’m gonna go start the coffee,” I quipped to her. As we trudged back into our dwelling, I was alleviated that Phoebe and I ultimately elected not to have a romp in my car- we spared her mother from the pangs of having to see her daughter in an obscene condition! As I set my car keys and that leaflet on the small table at the end of the entryway, I caught a glimpse of a familiar name listed as the host, and I muttered, “Oh great! Now I’m gonna have to have a chat with her!”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 16

The young announcer lazily spoke into his microphone, “The Rooks are up to bat…” A teen boy trembled as he readied himself to swing. Half of the crowd stared at the field with such profound disinterest that they almost literally seemed to feel pain from watching the ennui of the game. The opposing team’s pitcher hurled the ball towards the catcher as Phoebe and I found our seats by Aleck, Ginger, and Ellie, and the announcer narrated, “The Barn Owls threw a sinker, and the batter… ran away crying again!” The spectators groaned, and Fletcher stood in the dugout turning red from all of the obscenities he censored himself from voicing out loud.

            After I sat down, I asked my colleagues in the Ghost League, “What’s going on?”

            “We’re losing,” Ellie answered bluntly.

            “I can see that! But Fletcher said he thinks there’s a fear monger here…” I scanned the people in the stands, and I couldn’t see anything that might cause fright in anyone, but I did see a few individuals with very nervous expressions etched on their faces. Some of the players on both teams appeared on edge too! “Okay. I guess we can rule out Fletcher making excuses for our guys losing! Something definitely spooked these folks!”

            Ginger reported, “At first, I thought somebody just feared the Rooks losing by a landslide, but the Barn Owls are obviously terrified too! The only reason they scored is our pitcher kept closing his eyes and hitting their batters with balls!”

            Phoebe inquired, “And none of you can figure out what the fear monger might be?”

            “Not yet,” Aleck replied while gazing into a set of binoculars.

            “Why is our mascot out?” I probed as I spotted a person in a giant, blackbird costume hanging out by the home-team’s locker room entrance next to third base.

            Ellie responded, “I think Manuel was desperate to cheer people up, but that idea failed miserably ‘cause the mascot got freaked out too!” The mascot did, indeed, look as though they were cradling themselves in order to buoy their spirits back up.

            Ginger remarked, “I don’t know why Manuel thought that would work at all! Our mascot is creepy! Why did they pick a type of crow to represent our school?”

            “Did you know that a group of crows is called a murder?” Aleck randomly relayed to us as he continued to visually search the area with his binoculars.

            “Thanks for that, Aleck!” I grumbled with a grimace. “That’s really helping the tense situation!”

            Phoebe squinted her eyes towards the oppositions bleachers and queried, “Is that Roxy over there?”

            Aleck swiveled his focus in the direction that she indicated to, and he confirmed, “Yup, that’s her! It doesn’t look like she’s alone either!”

            “Who is she with?” I posed to him with great interest.

            “I can’t tell,” Aleck tried several different angles to get a better perspective on her exhibition, but he couldn’t seem to decipher anything. “The person in front of her is blocking them. But she’s definitely holding hands with somebody!” This perplexed each of us! Roxy had such an intense devotion to Damon that we couldn’t imagine her having any desire to get close to anyone else besides him! And there was no way Damon could have materialized enough for her to clasp on to him, so who could she have come to the game with?

            The announcer addressed us, “And Avira’s attempt to hide behind the bat didn’t shield him and didn’t hit the ball, so we’ve finally made it to the sixth inning! Maybe the last three will pass by fast!” The unamused crowd clearly did not believe him, and actually, neither did the announcer himself! Further evidence of that got shown as he went on, “Speaking of passing fast, Alma sure refused to go to the prom with me real quick!”

            “Hugh!” Manuel chided him. “Stick to the game!” The pitcher for our team curled up on the mound in a fetal position, so Manuel changed his tune, “Never mind, you may as well continue.”

            “She doesn’t even have a date!” Hugh ranted. “She got mad ‘cause I waited ‘til the last minute to ask! But we still have a week ‘til prom happens, so if she wants to go, anyone who asks her will have to… Oh, it appears as though the game is resuming!” Fletcher physically picked the pitcher up, and he reluctantly agreed to participate again. “And here comes the pitch… And it didn’t quite make it to home!” The congregation from both sides booed, and Hugh advised them, “Be nice! He’s not our regular pitcher! Ginette is… Let’s just say he’s injured…” George was in the dugout breathing into a brown paper bag.

            Ellie grumped, “Why don’t they call the game off already?”

            Ginger concurred with her statement, “They really should! Maybe we should go convince Manuel before the fear monger strikes again!”

            “Nice throw, buddy!” Hugh sincerely complimented the pitcher, who surprised himself with a fantastic form! The batter gave it a good smack, and then Hugh exclaimed, “Woah! It’s going into the bleachers!” A few enthusiasts ran to the ledge in hopes of catching it. Roxy glanced down at whoever was next to her, and she nodded in approval. Finally, her companion would come out into the open, and we were rapt in curiosity on the identity of her cohort! I assumed it was a member of the FAUK club, who would have approved of the mayhem she caused, but out of all of the speculations I made, I could never have predicted who it turned out to be…

            “No! She’s back!” Geroge shrieked. Several members of the masses screamed as an extremely pale little girl positioned herself in the front row! She had dark, shadowy eyes, and her visage contorted in a sinister fashion as she witnessed the hysteria from her arrival, and while she had a fairly haunting appearance, I couldn’t understand why so many subjects grew that frenzied about her image!

            Phoebe quizzically wondered, “That’s the fear monger? I don’t’ get it! What am I missing here?”

            Aleck explained, “That’s the villain from this horror movie where a kid summons evil spirits to kill people with the most twisted methods possible. My boy snuck into a showing of it once, and he had nightmares for days! Glad I decided not to bring him here!”

            The ghoulish girl caught the ball and offered it to some of the multitude who had gathered in that sector, and everyone got too petrified to accept it. I furrowed my brows and pondered, “I have a hard time believing that so many people are afraid of a fictional character!”

            “It’s based on a legend, so there’s a few out there who treat her story like fact,” Ellie informed me.

            “She’s raising her hands now!” Phoebe observed. “Does that mean the fear monger is going to murder someone like that child does in that film?”

            I declared, “We can’t sit back and find out the hard way! Let’s get rid of it so our guys can lose with dignity! … Or win…”

            The field was in such disarray that I felt no reservations about hopping over the barriers that separated the players from the audience! I could feel a lot of eyes on me as I ran across the grass, and Hugh let everyone know, “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s some dude in the outfield! What is he doing?” I expected some of the clusters to stare, but I hadn’t counted on the whole world watching my every move! I planned on the majority of the gathered to fixate their attention elsewhere in order for me to slip out and deal with the fear monger privately! It irritated me slightly, but I decided to let it go. If everyone got the impression that she was some sort of demon influencer, then perhaps they wouldn’t object to me taking her down! Roxy raced to the fear monger as well, but she didn’t reach her before me! I grabbed the fear monger and prepared myself to drag her to the ground when…

            “That man is gonna abuse that child!” a lady in the throng yelled.

            “No, no, no!” I freed up my hands and denied that allegation.

            The troupe unaffected by the frightful flick all heckled me, and another woman shouted, “You monster! She’s just a kid!”

            One nervous fellow warned me, “Careful! You saw what happened to the detective who tried to interfere with her scheme, right?”

            “Listen, I didn’t do that to hurt her!” I lied. I heard a lot of skepticism, but I detected an exuberant amount of fear too. The mascot resorted to hugging its knees and rocking, which surprisingly enough gave me a stroke of inspiration! “Now that I’ve got your attention, quit getting distracted by this clumsy stunt! Come on, we got a ball game here! We gotta pump our team up! Everyone repeat after me- we will, we will… Rook you!” I felt rather proud of coming up with such a clever ditty, but evidently, I was alone in that opinion! No one uttered my chant! I refused to give up on it though, and I repeated myself, “We will, we will… Rook you!”

            “We will, we will… Rook you!” Phoebe stepped onto the field and joined me, which made me love her even more! Ginger and Aleck allied with her, and Ellie faced the bleachers and conducted them like they were in an orchestra. We added some rhythmic clapping, and the congeries found it catchy enough to engage! I turned towards the players and beckoned them to return to the field, and as they did, they seemed mesmerized by the support that surged throughout the vicinity! I could tell Roxy was striving to persuade them to cease this merriment, and I smirked knowing that she found no success in gaining anymore traction for their deviousness! Now I could only hope that no one beheld the fear monger’s transformation…

            Phoebe dug into my pocket, and for a second, the excitement from this activity shifted my sentiments into more frisky ones! When I recalled where I was situated, I shook those notions off rapidly! I could see her running into the opposition’s locker room, and Roxy darted right after her dragging the fear monger alongside her. It irked me slightly that no one accused her of child abuse, but my inquisitiveness over this transpiration compelled me to forget it and follow their movements.

            I could see that they hurried to the outside, and Phoebe taunted Roxy with the key! I got so worked up about Phoebe’s proximity to me that I hadn’t considered that she had taken anything, but now that I could espy it in plain view, I realized that the spoon had been missing from my left pocket! Man, was I glad I hadn’t hid the diamond ring in the same place and spoiled the surprise at such an inopportune juncture! Ginger, Aleck, and Ellie popped in shortly, and Roxy demanded, “Give it to me!”

            “Absolutely not!” Phoebe declined. “I only did that to get you and that thing out of there!” I glanced to my side and saw that the fear monger was still in its little girl form. I couldn’t fathom why- the baseball patrons garnered far too much zeal for Damon to stick around them!

            “Toss it here!” I instructed her since Roxy’s relentlessness didn’t look like it would ebb enough to leave Phoebe with a window to exit the scene. As she aimed for me, Roxy bounced around her intended trajectory ready to intercept it. I could not summon the stamina to mimic her, so Phoebe tried to simply walk towards the parking lot. Roxy resumed hovering around her, so Phoebe attempted to fling it to me again. Roxy renewed her avid blockade in my path, but she had an unobstructed shot at Aleck. She pelted it towards him, and Aleck nearly received it, but Roxy dove and nearly seized it!

            I hollered, “Oh no you don’t!” I rushed over and pushed her out of the key’s route, and luckily, Aleck caught it!

            Roxy, who was very visibly in shock, sullenly whimpered, “You pushed a student!”

            “Not the first time I did that!” I have no clue why I blurted that out except that it reminded me of when I had to push Peter out of harm’s way! Also, I got very little sleep lately, how could anyone expect my filter to be fully functional?

            “What?” she reacted in astonishment.

            I fibbed, “What? That never occurred! I figured I’d try some humor outside of my dad joke genre- I’ve been told they’re not very popular!”

            Aleck assured me, “They’re growing to my liking! Anyways, I should probably get this to your car…”

            “Ew! You’re touching the poo key!” Ginger recoiled.

            “You’re not afraid of getting cursed?” Ellie surveyed him.

            Aleck paused his gait and sardonically retorted, “Yeah, I’m so worried about getting cursed ‘cause everything’s going swimmingly right now!” As he was talking, the ghoulish girl snatched the key from him! She hurried over to Roxy, and I was ready to panic until…

            A baseball zoomed right into the ghoulish girl’s head! She fell down and morphed into a fear monger for a brief instance, then it disappeared! From the locker room, Fletcher smugly commented, “I still got it!” We peered at him a bit startled, and he rather vexedly added, “I wasn’t always like this! I used to be a star athlete!”

            “Me too!” Damon unexpectedly manifested close to us! “That’s why I stuck around her!” As I scooped up the spoon, he glared at us and scornfully bade, “Enjoy your weekend!”

            “Don’t go!” Roxy desperately requested as he disappeared. “What’s happening this weekend? Why did she call it a poo key?”

            Once she got out of earshot, Ellie glowed with triumph, and Ginger cut her off right as she opened her mouth to crow, “Don’t even say it! We know you were right about researching his history!”

            Ellie asked, “Well, now that you all realize how important it is, will you all look up info on him with me?”

            I answered, “No. Not yet. We have another lead to check out…”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 15

As I rushed home, I saw Roxy across the street from my house doing some strange dance in front of that abandoned abode. I was in a sunny mood, so I merrily waved to her and chirped, “Working on a spell, Roxy? I know you can do it! Don’t give up!”

            “Vengeance will be ours!” Roxy exclaimed while continuing her odd ritual.

            “Of course it will!” I responded in an unconcerned tone. After I parked in the driveway, I hurried to grab some necessary supplies out of my trunk. While I unloaded, a slender and pale man next door who frequently sported his medium-length hair in a bun peeked over my fence with a face full of concern. I took an educated guess on what caused his unease and assured him, “She’s harmless, Rowan. I swear!”

            He glanced back at her leerily, and while he still seemed a little reticent about trusting Roxy, whose movements grew more erratic by the second, he accepted my position. “Okay… Well, when you get a chance, can you persuade her not to hang out there anymore? She’s really freaking out my kids!”

            I certainly didn’t like the idea of more children getting scared by anyone associated with that petulant phantom, and I definitely did not want her ghostly charge to discover the breadth of his mayhem, so I agreed to do it, “Yeah, I’ll have a chat with her soon.” He could see my arms full of stuff, so he seemed satisfied with my promise of doing that task at a later time, which was a great relief for me! Phoebe would be home from her meeting more expediently than I would have liked for that night, so I had no spare minute for anymore delays! I had to do this tonight while we had no interruptions! Our Netherworld menace threatened to strike at any given moment, so I had to get this done in this rare instance of quiet!

            The cement patio in our backyard was covered in rose petals- real ones, thank you very much! I wanted this momentous event to be perfect, so I spared no expense! The sun began to set, so I lit the candles that I lined in a circle that I stood in. From this vantage point, I could still hear Blaise and Miriam bickering, but I had a love ballad queued to play, so when she came out here, all the background noise would get drowned out! I gazed at my handiwork adoringly, and I thought that it was the sort of setting you might see in a professional magazine spread! Do they have magazines for engagements? I know they have them for weddings… I heard her pull up, and my heart raced! This was it! I was going to sweep her off her feet and officially make her my future wife! I cracked open the sliding glass door, and right when she walked in, I requested, “Phoebe! Can you come out here for a sec?” My pulse skyrocketed as I anticipated her arrival…

            Contrary to my vision, she very seriously beckoned me, “No, I need you to come here, please!”

            “Can’t it wait?” I frowned. I hadn’t counted on her having any tasks to be done after work, and whatever she had in mind, I hoped that she would table it since this arrangement had taken so much effort to plan!

            “No, it can’t!” she shrieked. “Get in here, quick!” She sounded extremely urgent, and I knew that level of fright meant she had real trouble on her hands! I hesitated to leave my romantic setup behind, but I knew she would never fake an emergency, so I didn’t falter in coming to her aid!

            When I stepped into the living room, I espied a colorful puff of smoke swirling in a small ball on that step going into the dining room! Phoebe howled, “That’s Jett! She did something to Jett!” Roxy, who stood staring into my place through the screen door in the mud room, cackled maniacally!

            My insides froze! When she blustered about getting revenge for constantly thwarting Damon’s plots, I always figured that she would aim to harm me or possibly my home! I never would have fathomed that she would target an innocent animal like that! I darted towards my cat and furiously shouted at Roxy, “You monster! How could you harm a sweet-?”

            “Your kitty isn’t hurt!” Roxy indignantly asserted as the haze started to clear. “Really? You think I would stoop that low?”

            “Well…” Truthfully, I never considered how far she would go with this witchcraft business! Actually, I hadn’t ever expected her to achieve any sort of success with her magic! But, in all honesty, she had an intense devotion to a sociopath who had no qualms about spilling blood, so it wouldn’t have surprised me if she had inflicted serious damage on somebody- not someone’s pet who hadn’t hurt anyone in any way! Yes, fine, she did steal the key from Damon in the first place, but I didn’t get the impression that he figured that out! Even if he did, it still seemed like a barbaric level even for him to sink to! The instant I could see Jett, I snatched her up and examined her entire body. If I saw a smidgen of pain or injury, I would have… I don’t know… Rushed her to the vet and then sue her parents? But if it wasn’t something natural, then I’m not sure what I would have done except maybe feel tempted to strike a child for the first time in my entire life! Well, I thoroughly checked her over and spotted nothing out of the ordinary! “She looks alright! Did that magic really do anything, or did you just create that show to give me a heart attack?”

            I would have predicted her to give me an explanation full of insane reasoning for her opting to choose this path, but instead, to my utter bewilderment, Jett opened her mouth and spoke, “Down!”

            The jolt of shock I received from that made me drop her in a flash! I peered at her curiously, and I inwardly reckoned that I may have misinterpreted the incident. “Did you really say something, or was that simply a weird meow?”

            “Hungry!” Jett expressed while licking her chops. I could see Phoebe’s eyes grow as wide as dinner plates, and I was sure mine had gotten equally as large. Previously to this occurrence, I had seen vampires, a window into another realm, and a lot of other spooky stuff, but somehow, this had taken the cake! It was the most surreal spectacle I had ever witnessed! A feline was articulating words to me! “Hungry!” she repeated.

            “That’s all that jinx does?” Phoebe inquired. “That doesn’t seem so bad!”

            Roxy didn’t appear at all deterred by what we initially determined was a total bust for her, and she proudly replied, “Oh, you won’t feel that way for long!” She devilishly snickered once more.

            I went up to the front door and addressed her, “Sure we will! Well, as your heard the cat state, it’s Jett’s dinnertime, so if you’ll excuse us…” I slammed the door on her before turning to Phoebe and propositioning, “Come out to the backyard real fast!”

            “Hungry!” Jett echoed.

            “Can you wait five minutes?” I probed.

            Once again, Jett uttered, “Hungry!”

            Whenever I watched movies with talking animals, I always saw these verbose creatures carrying on full-blown, intellectual conversations with themselves or others. It never occurred to me until right then that perhaps their tiny brains didn’t have the capacity to have complex thoughts or discussions! I sighed and acquiesced, “Fine! I’ll get your food! Babe, don’t go anywhere! I really wanna go outside with you afterwards!”

            I poured Jett her food, and when I set it down, she sniffed it and griped, “Ew!”

            “What? You always eat this kind!” I countered.

            “Ew!” she reiterated.

            As I grumbled about her stubbornness, Phoebe peeked out the glass door and observed, “Hey, babe! I think Roxy may have been trying to do a spell in our yard! There’s a circle of candles back there!” I sped over to that spot only to discover that the wind had picked up, so the rose petals had blown away and the wicks had extinguished! I let out an exasperated exhale as I recognized that I would have to come up with another method of proposing to her!

            The next day, Phoebe and I did research in the living room while Blaise and Miriam argued in the guest bedroom. Blaise hollered, “Why would you even show this to me if it’s not in our price range!”

            “It’s been on the market for a long time!” Miriam argued. “Maybe they’ll budge on the price!”

            “Maybe! Or maybe we’ll waste precious time investigating this one while our ideal home gets snatched from beneath our feet!”

            I picked up the remote that controls the stereo and turned on some classic rock. The booming tune that currently played drowned out Blaise and Miriam’s cacophony, and I really liked the song that happened to be airing, so I swiftly felt at ease! That sentiment only got enhanced by sitting next to this gorgeous goddess’s side! As she poured over data on her computer, she swayed to the beat, and I joined her as I clasped her hand! After a minute of this mini dance session, we paused and I blissfully remarked, “Ah! This is nice! So peaceful!” Phoebe gave me a look as though she was going to correct me in a smart-alecky fashion, so I amended my sentence, “Well, the music’s volume is high, but it’s a pleasant sound! It’s so relieving to not listen to any nuisances!”

            Right after I conveyed that thought, Jett walked in, sat before me, and demanded, “Play!”

            “No, we’re busy!” I denied her. “Oh, Ellie found something!”

            “Wow! That’s awesome! What is it?” Phoebe took her eyes off of her laptop and turned her attention to the content on my phone.

            Jett again demanded, “Play!”

            I annoyedly regarded her, “No!” I then scanned Ellie’s information and read it out loud, “Damon comes from an old family here in Terra-Belle. His father a textile factory, and their wealth kept them afloat in the Depression. Damon’s older brother would eventually take over the family business, and his younger sister married the owner of a feed store in the downtown area. Damon lived off of his trust fund ‘til the forties when any record of him just disappeared.”

            “Play!” Jett demanded for the third time.

            “Well, that’s interesting!” Phoebe commented. Jett got a look of hope on her face, so Phoebe gently let her know, “I didn’t mean you, sweetie!” Jett then commenced in a repetitive series of that word, but Phoebe ignored her as she conversed, “So, he was a middle child! That’s fitting!”

            I opined, “He must have become a vampire I the forties then. Huh! I always pegged his style as something from the nineteen-twenties! He-.” I couldn’t concentrate anymore, and I lost my temper at Jett, “Go play by yourself!”

            She held herself up distinctively, and with an air of artful discontent, she walked away and muttered, “Rude!”

            I gritted my teeth, but I tried not to let it get to me because I did not want to admit to Roxy that her scheme had any significant effect on me! I set my irritation aside and then asked Phoebe, “That tidbit on his childhood is somewhat fascinating, but I don’t see how it’s gonna help us take Damon down! What are we supposed to do that? Taunt him about his family’s factory shutting down? I’m assuming it did eventually…”

            “So, Babelsama for sure helped him doctor those records to get him into Rosemary King,” Phoebe deduced. “How did he access the school’s record system from the Netherworld?”

            “I don’t think he could do it normally,” I conjectured. “He could reach out into our world without leaving his when that portal was open. That’s probably why he misses it so much!”

            Phoebe mused, “He must have been tickled pink when Mister Armand discovered it! Wait, did he discover it or create it?”

            That concept hadn’t crossed my mind until she mentioned it! “Well, we created the window, so I suppose Mister Armand could have created the door! Or someone who lived there before him. Obviously, Babelsama couldn’t have done it or he would have just made another one instead of hassling me for the key to the old one! Hey! How come their spell made a way to open and close it? How come we can’t do the same for that portrait in the bathroom?”

            “If someone knew how to make the key…” Phoebe inferred, “then maybe…”

            “Maybe they know how to destroy it!” I finished her deliberation. “Maybe they’re still around! We could locate them and find out! It’s worth a shot!”

            Phoebe posed to me, “Didn’t you say Rowan knew the Armands?”

            I nodded. “Yeah! But Richard’s lived in this neighborhood for longer than Rowan! He’s been living next to that abandoned house for ages, he might have known the original homeowners!”

            “Let’s go ask him about it!” Phoebe excitedly suggested.

            “Okay!” I bolted out of my chair in a flurry! At last, it finally felt as though we had a viable lead in solving this cumbersome conundrum! I nearly sprinted out the door, but I heard an alert on my phone prior to me being able to make a move. I glanced at it thinking it would be something we could dismiss quickly and then rapidly jump back into our investigation, but when I saw that it wasn’t a negligible transpiration, my spirits plummeted completely! “Babe, we can’t visit Richard today! We got work to do…”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 14

I rushed into my class as the bell rang! I didn’t even remember why I couldn’t get there on time, but it was the second instance this week my students had beaten me to the classroom! Last Tuesday wasn’t my fault though- I had to destroy the fear monger that threatened those kids! The tardiness of today had to have been my fault; if it wasn’t, I was sure I would have remembered it! I would have to investigate that later though, my primary concern was getting to my first period lesson before the children there walked out! When I arrived, the hall monitor shook his head at me disapprovingly, and I’m positive if he could have issued citations to the staff, he would have penalized me for this! I ignored him though- I was only slightly behind, so I intended to hasten the delivery of my lecture to make up for the minutes I lost. As soon as I walked in, I recited, “Today, we’re going over the importance of maintaining client relations. Now, who can…?”

            The state of the students caught me so off guard that I froze mid-sentence! All thirty of my pupils had morphed into snakes! Ordinarily, I would have assumed that I was dreaming, but with Damon’s ghost doing the bidding of a guardian of the Netherworld, I knew anything was possible! I would never have listed snakes as my greatest fear, but I certainly didn’t like them much! Plus, with their grand height as well as numerous quantity, they would have intimidated anybody! I considered quietly stepping out of the room until a pink snake spoke with Corvina’s voice, “Is something wrong, Mister Fenmore?”

            “No, of course not!” I fibbed. If the students weren’t aware of the issue, I definitely wasn’t going to bring it to their attention! I supposed that I would have to carry on as though everything nothing out of the average had been taking place, but I knew that would prove to be difficult with all of those creepy eyes staring at me! “As I was saying, we’re discussing the importance of maintaining client relations. Raise your hand if-.” I realized that none of them had any limbs anymore, and requesting for the teens to use their extremities would only bring about unwarranted awareness of this dilemma! I needed to find out how Damon had disguised himself as soon as possible! “Blurt it out loud if you know why companies need to care about their customers’ feelings and experiences!”

            “We’re not gonna do that!” Corvina hissed- literally and figuratively! She slithered towards me and coldly stated, “We have something else we would like to go over!”

            Great Scott! They were just playing dumb about the whole turning into a reptile thing! “You don’t say?” I tried to maintain an even-headed tone as I slowly backed in the direction of the door.

            Corvina affirmed, “Yes!” Two snaky students blocked my exit! I was trapped with Corvina hovering over me, her eyes filled with venomous malice! She circled me and demanded, “We would like to learn why you didn’t give Babelsama his key!”

            “How… How did you know about that?” I stammered as she commenced to wrapping herself around me.

            “You trapped us here!” Corvina hollered. “Give us the key now or you shall suffer the consequences!”

            Not that I had any desire to be cheeky with someone who was threatening to kill me, but I couldn’t come up with any other way to respond to that! “How exactly am I supposed to do that when none of you have any hands?”

            A symphony of angry hissing resounded at my reply. “You fate is now sealed!” Corvina had adopted a demonic tone as she doled out this grave pronouncement.

            This scary cadence frightened me tremendously, but what was worse, after a while, it registered to me that she had pinned down my arms, so I couldn’t’ even defend myself! I still had the ability to talk, so I had to make a feeble attempt to negotiate my way out of this confinement! Freeing myself would have meant having to harm an innocent child though! Okay, yes, she was trying to murder me, but it wasn’t her fault! I faced this conundrum once before when she was a vampire, but I forgave her after I slayed Damon and liberated his victims from that curse. I never believed such a stunt could get repeated, but it appeared as though he had found an avenue that would basically recreate that horrific event! Was that my greatest fear? I took the long shot and offered, “Don’t hurt me! If you spare my life, I’ll give you an A on your final exam regardless of how you do, I swear!” What a foolish choice I made! I admonished myself for not using something more lucrative, and I wracked my brain to produce a better alternative! Very rapidly, I could see that I was too late! As her long, pointy fangs came barreling towards me, I let out a scream…

            I bolted up from my sleeping position with a start! Alright, so I was dreaming after all! Phew! It took me a moment to verify that I was actually in my bed at my home and not continuing that nightmare. Phoebe was by my side blissfully snoring into the night, and I gently touched her side to verify my consciousness. She felt soothingly warm, so I confirmed that I had, indeed, waken up! And, for the record, I view her snores as adorable! They definitely weren’t as loud as Blaise’s! It was hard to tell if he was belting out some loud ones himself because of the thunder sounds playing on Phoebe’s sleep sound machine. I took a deep breath and wanted to return to slumbering, but I was too agitated from that spooky rumination to relax again! I decided to go use the bathroom before striving to snooze once more, but when I flipped onto my back, I espied something in the dark that completely startled me!

            Blaise was standing at the foot of my bed giving me a strange look! I gasped, “Holy shit! You scared the crap out of me! What the hell are you doing?” I didn’t believe that he could have had a non-creepy explanation for this action, and as my loud volume made Phoebe begin to stir, I wondered if I had a valid reason to worry about him…

            “You’ll see in a second!” He had delivered that phrase in such a calm, as-a-matter-of-fact manner that I got the impression he was demented that the horrors he inflicted on others had no effect on him!

            “What do you mean, I’ll see…?” An instant later, I knew exactly why he had given me that creepy remark! An odor so foul that I nearly gagged wafted into my nostrils! As Phoebe hacked from the stench, I shouted, “Oh, jeez! Did you break our last remaining toilet?”

            Blaise assured me, “No, no! This a frequent occurrence, I just wanted to make sure y’all were awake before we began working on it! Hey, Miriam! It happened again!” As Miriam lumbered in with a plunger, Phoebe and I prepared ourselves for another long night of restlessness! Miriam and Blaise bickered while the commode got repaired, and I inwardly prayed that the rest of our Friday would go by much more smoothly!

            The next morning, Phoebe and I felt so sleep deprived and mentally exhausted that we hardly had the energy to move at all, which slowed down our routine quite considerably! We managed to make it out the door at a time that would still allow us to get to work on time. We were about halfway there when my tire suddenly went flat! I had no clue how that could have happened- I take good care of my baby! I had a vague idea on how to change a tire, but I was so wiped out that not even an online video tutorial could have saved me! I was extremely tempted to call Manuel and tell him that we weren’t coming in because the two of us needed to go to an emergency therapy session, but then a stroke of luck finally crossed our path! A mechanic just happened to be passing our location when he spotted us, and he put the spare on in, like, ten seconds! He didn’t even charge us, although I had to promise to come see him when I needed my muffler fixed! It felt gratifying to actually have the universe take pity on us and throw us a bone, but we still had the stress of making it to our classrooms before our students! I did not want to invite the possibility of my awful vision coming to life!

            I had to sprint to get to my room before the bell rang! As I rushed down the hall, I passed by the hall monitor, who shook his head at me disapprovingly- exactly how he did it in my dream! I convinced myself it was a mere coincidence, but as I stood outside my door, I hesitated to open it! It was difficult enough to experience it once! I didn’t want to meet that same fate for round two! Yes, I would have used what I learned from the mistakes I made in my dream and hopefully opt for tactics that would deal out more favorable outcomes, but still, who wants to battle against an army of snakes in a tiny space? I chewed over the details of that scenario, and eventually, it clicked for me that during that nightmare, I walked in without taking a glance at my students first! So, I made the decision to crack the door slightly and scope the scene prior to entering. If they were all snakes, I would slam the door shut and… I don’t know! Call an exterminator? How does one handle a situation like that? I inhaled deeply and then I took a peek…

            “Um, is everything okay, Mister Fenmore?” a towering, athletic boy stood behind me and stared at me peculiarly. I saw a few stragglers were waiting to go inside as well. The children at their desks stared at the door in confusion, and my alleviation over their human form washed away and swiftly morphed into a slight ego bruise!

            “Of course, I’m fine, George!” I lied as I picked myself up and entered with the bravado of someone who had done that antic intentionally. “I was actually demonstrating a point from today’s lesson on maintaining client relations!” Another lie, and clearly not a convincing one! I elaborated further, “Humor and lightheartedness are essential in strengthening business ties! Who wants to liaise with a stick in the mud?”

            One girl observed, “Oh, that’s why you were being weird! Ordinarily, you just make corny dad jokes!”

            Wow, does no one like my dad jokes? I tabled that notion temporarily as I addressed the class, “There are several different types of comedy that you can use in a professional setting, and physical gags like my weird entrance are among them We’ll explore all of them today! So, who’s ready to laugh?”

            I pictured everyone getting excited over a prospect like that, but no one got enthused at all! Half the kids were now dressed in all black attire, and I guessed the FAUK club wasn’t very high-spirited! I didn’t comprehend why the rest of them seemed so glum until Corvina spoke up (in a non-demonic voice, thank heavens!), “Sorry, Mister Fenmore! I’m a little bummed ‘cause my friend Steven dropped out! He was in a cool band, he was so talented, and we were supposed to go to the same college to make his music famous! Now that can’t happen!”

            A few others seemed to have a similar experience and concurred with her sentiments. I could see a few empty chairs, and I pondered if they were simply absent or if they had quit too. It crushed me to think that apprehension over the fear mongers were impeding so many people’s futures, and I refused to stand for it! I had to renew my efforts in fighting back against Damon’s evil plot! I recalled how miserable he got when the children in the parking lot reveled in the rain of cotton balls, which made Casper panic but everybody else happy, and it occurred to me that if we increased the level of glee on campus, it would become more difficult for him to unleash his attacks! I turned to the class and informed them, “They can always return! Let’s give them a reason to miss it here and have some fun! You can win clients and classmates back in the same way! So, riddle me this: Why are ghosts terrible liars? … ‘Cause you can see right through them!” A couple of people tittered, and then I invited them all, “Come on! Who else has one?”

            “My uncle likes to tell this one: Did you hear about the scarecrow who won the Nobel Prize?” George chimed in. “He was outstanding in his field!” To my delight, their degree of giggling increased a little!

            “Well, my mom shared this one once,” Corvina piped up, which thrilled me since she was so downcast previously! “Where would you find a cow who’s having a really bad day? At McDonald’s!”

            The whole class chortled, and while I was glad that my vegan neighbor wasn’t around to hear that one, I was overjoyed to witness my plan working! Soon, my ruddy morning became a great one because we spent the whole session laughing! I didn’t stick to my planned lecture, but I elevated their moods, and that was a higher priority right then! They left for second period with smiles on their faces, and I couldn’t wait to repeat this approach with the next bunch! As the kids emptied the room, a pencil on the floor unexpectedly turned into Damon! He glared at me fiercely before drifting off! As the early birds trickled in, I knew I had to focus on getting them equally as elated as the others, so I hurried to process what just went on! I couldn’t believe that my dream almost came to pass for real! He didn’t make them into snakes, so what did he have in store for me? I vowed to create a positive atmosphere around me so I would never have to ascertain the answer!

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 13

A tall, thin young man walked away from three of his peers in a huff. “What? You’re crazy!”

            “No, I mean it!” the short, scraggly girl in the middle insisted as a shadowy trio followed him. “You’re so lucky you got to meet the undead!” Ellie, Fletcher, Ginger, Aleck, Phoebe, and I set our books down on the table in front of us and tuned in to this nearby conversation.

            “He tried to kill my girlfriend, I’d hardly call that lucky!” The young man picked a book up off of the shelf and feigned interest in perusing it with the hopes of convincing the odd bunch to retreat.

            The hefty boy who wore his black hood up argued, “No, he would have made her undead, which is way better! You could literally be together forever!”

            Shaking his head, the young man countered, “I’d rather live her, not die! Or undie! Whatever! Same thing!”

            “No, it’s not!” the lanky, pot-marked guy debated. “That’s gonna be life from now on! The sooner you embrace it, the happier you’ll be in the long run!”

            “Will you leave me alone?” The young man frowned as he gazed at the content of the literature he had chosen, tossed it on the table closest to him, and marched away from the darkly clothed threesome.

            After the young man passed our table, I stood up and blocked the ghoulish gang’s path, and then I addressed them, “How many different ways does he have to say no to you before you’ll get the hint?”

            The scraggly girl protested, “But Jeffrey needs to be saved!”

            I retorted, “Listen, I hate to break it to you… That’s not true, I thoroughly enjoy it… The world isn’t coming to an end anytime soon! And I’m not giving you an extension on your project, so none of the weird rituals you have set for tonight will excuse you from turning it in on time!” The shady set glared at me and walked away muttering words that would probably have landed them in detention if class was in session!

            Feeling rather proud of myself for successfully barring them from harassing Jeffrey, I rejoined the Ghost League and remarked, “That FAUK club is getting way too powerful!”

            “Indeed,” Aleck concurred. “I’ve seen a sudden spike in dropouts too! But we can talk about that later! Right now, Sir Pompous Dorkington is talking to your boy!”

            “No!” I bolted out of my chair to search for them.

            A couple of rows away, I found that Casper had pulled Jeffrey to a small clearing by a small, open window and very gallantly offered him advice, “Layer on the eyeliner! Don’t worry, no one can tell you’re wearing it, and it’ll help ward off the evil spirits who cross your path!”

            I cracked a smile as I casually leaned against a shelf and quipped, “Did you forget to wear it during your cotton ball attack?”

            “Well… You know, nothing is ever a hundred percent!” Casper stammered.

            “I don’t wanna ward off evil spirits or join them!” Jeffrey moaned. “Maybe I should just drop out and stay home ‘til this is all over!”

            This was absolutely unacceptable to me! I put a hand on his shoulder and affirmed, “Don’t do that! No evil spirit is gonna harm you! Not while I’m around!”

            Casper sniffed disapprovingly and scoffed, “You think you can take care of evil spirits?”

            Before I could make a snappy comeback implying how I already had done that in several instances, Jeffrey espied something out the window that made him gasp. I turned around and saw a pale man in a black cape floating in the air! Casper dug through his pockets and declared, “I have just the thing for this situation! Where is it?”

            I rolled my eyes, and as the vampire floated towards us, I took a tome off of a shelf and shoved it into the vampire’s mouth! He had sunk his teeth into it and couldn’t get his fangs out, so he began to suffocate! When he finally succumbed to his fate, he barreled out the window and plummeted to the earth! I folded my arms and smugly told Casper, “To answer your question, yes, I think I can take care of evil spirits!”

            “You choked him! That’s not proper vampire-fighting technique!” Casper whined while flailing some necklace with a hand and an eyeball on it.

            “Well, it worked, so…” I smirked at Casper’s irate expression and then faced Jeffrey again. “You’re only a few months from graduation, don’t give up! You can survive ‘til then! You already faced your greatest fear, so what’s the worst they can do to you now?”

            Jeffrey inquired, “So, I don’t have to wear eyeliner?”

            I chuckled, and then I replied, “Have to? No. But if you choose to, I can ask Ms. Caracy if she has an extra one!” He smiled gratefully to me and then took off. I beamed as the warm satisfaction of inspiring a kid to stay in school settled in.

            Momentarily, I had forgotten about Casper’s presence until he agitatedly stated, “You know, I invited Phoebe to go on a date with me prior to your arrival. She refused and said that staff members weren’t allowed to mingle like that!”

            It startled me to hear that he had taken that sort of interest in my girlfriend, but I got comforted by the fact that she had the foresight to say no to this blowhard! I responded to him, “What do you want me to tell you? Something other than she didn’t like you?”

            Casper fumed, “Yes!”

            He stomped away in the most tantrum-like manner possible, and I shook my head judgmentally. It was thrilling to have both defeated a fear monger and show him up simultaneously, but I didn’t want to have to deal with either again in the near future, so I decided to head back. As I headed in that direction, I spotted a book on alchemy. The spoon/key was silver, but I thought perhaps that it could have been merely silver plated. Perhaps this publication could have been helpful to our cause! But more importantly, it gave me an idea on how to shift from calling Phoebe my girlfriend to my fiancée! I took an index sheet by a card catalog computer with the intentions of proposing on the paper, hiding it in the manual, and letting Phoebe find it! I got as far as “Will you…” when something occurred to me… If I got adjacent to a fear monger, then that meant something else was around the corner…

            “We already tried that!” Ginger pointed out to Fletcher.

            “Um, excuse me, I think I would have remembered if we hurled the key into the belly of a whale!” Fletcher differed.

            Ginger corrected him, “No, I mean swallowing it. Connor gulped it down to keep Babelsama from getting it int the first place!” Ginger recognized my appearance reassured me, “Not that you’re anything like a whale…”

            My angst over my urgent message to them had been in the forefront of my mind, so I hadn’t jumped to that conclusion at all… Although, now that she mentioned it, I did grow a little self-conscious! Before I could take advantage of this reference to myself to break the news to them, Aleck piped up, “Well, they are both mammals! But not all whales have traditional teeth, so we couldn’t throw the key into just any whale! For instance, if we came across a blue-.”

            “We’re not using a whale!” Phoebe cut him off. “And we don’t even need to completely destroy it; if we ruin even a part of the key, it wouldn’t fit into the hole properly and the portal couldn’t reopen!”

            “How do we damage it though?” Ellie wondered. “None of the stuff we did to try and obliterate it even left a scratch on it! Fire didn’t work! Neither did bleach or that weird crap Aleck tried.”

            Aleck took exception to that, “It’s not weird! It’s a very common industrial-!”

            Finally losing my patience, I interrupted, “None of this matters right now!”

            “Yes, it does!” Aleck refuted. “We gotta use process of elimination in order to-.”

            “Listen!” I snapped. “I wasn’t talking to Jeffrey the whole time I was back there! I slayed another vampire, so-.”

            Ginger commented, “That’s not funny, Connor! Why are you making a joke like that? Trying to give us all horrible flashbacks?”

            I sarcastically remarked, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do! That’s totally my type of humor!”

            “I hadn’t considered that before!” Ginger admitted ponderously. “Your comedy is usually some lame dad jokes!”

            “Lame?” I repeated while feeling slightly stung. I was about to brush that slander off when some very familiar snickering sounded from a table behind us! Everyone’s eyes widened with horror, and I let them know, “That’s what I was trying to tell you! I guess after Lisa’s attack, vampires became Jeffrey’s greatest fear!”

            Everybody’s attention shifted from studying to unearthing what disguise Damon was currently using. After a long moment of not garnering any clues, Ellie griped, “How are we gonna figure out what’s new here? He’s probably some book, and how would we know if they got any fresh inventory?”

            As we all contemplated this dilemma, I caught sight of a hand stretching out from beneath the table where Jeffrey had thrown that book! “Hey guys!” I whispered and used my noggin to subtly gesture towards this activity. When everyone got on the same page (of the scenario, not any of the novels we had out), we all quietly stood up and tiptoed over to that area. The hand was still groping for that text when we shoed up, and not surprisingly, the culprit was revealed to be none other than Roxy! She didn’t seem to have any sort of awareness to the audience she now had, so I decided to announce our proximity to her by jesting, “Is this part of another spell?”

            Roxy immediately jerked her hand back towards her as if we hadn’t seen her pawing at the table seconds ago, and then she lied, “Uh, yeah! I’m on the floor to… curse the library… for some reason!”

            “That’s interesting! We came here to check out some books! Hey, this looks like a fantastic one!” I could see the apprehension overflowing on her visage as I picked up that hardcover, which confirmed our theory of its true nature. I went on with my ruse to gauge whether or not she would feed us anymore information, “Yeah, I’ve always wanted to read about… You’ve gotta be kidding me!” I assumed that Jeffrey had discarded this print due to his frustration over the FAUK-ers who were hassling him, but I realized that he may have had an alternate motive for doing that! “He did this just to piss me off!”

            “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Phoebe read the title over my shoulder. “He misspelled Shakespeare again! Uh, I mean, the author…” Phoebe gazed to Roxy to verify that her fib had been accepted by her.

            Roxy had the demeanor of a deer in headlights, but otherwise, she hadn’t divulged any other tidbits, so I determined that I needed to step it up a notch. “Maybe we can fix some of the errors when we return it. We could replace the material with the accurate version. Like this page, it’s got all kinds of wrong!” I held the tome towards the ceiling and pretended as though I meant to rip it…

            A stern, rather bird-like woman snatched if from me and scolded, “Shame on you for disrespecting one of my books like that!”

            “He was gonna take it apart before he brought it back!” Roxy stood up and tattled. It irked me that she opted to use that juncture to use her wits for once!

            “He was joking!” Ginger defended me against that accusation. “He’s got a great sense of humor, we were all just saying that!” I pondered if Roxy overheard that conversation, but since she hadn’t redressed that claim, I concluded that she hadn’t and breathed a sigh of relief.

            Aleck requested, “Can we still check it out?”

            The librarian shrilly denied him, “Absolutely not! Not until your buffoonery is more respectful of the wonderful works in my-!” She glanced at the cover, and her expression contorted into disgust. “I don’t remember authorizing this publication!” She thumbed through it, and her scowl became even more pronounced. “Oh dear! This one will have to get incinerated!” As she darted in the direction of the front desk, Roxy trailed her and made vain attempts to persuade her to spare that novel. The six of us in the Ghost League inwardly laughed as we imagined Damon’s recoil as she unknowingly dragged him to an inopportune fate!

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 12

“Do you hear that?” Phoebe asked me after we came through the front door.

            “I don’t hear anything!” I answered rather grumpily. After several days of losing sleep and fighting supernatural entities, I really didn’t care what was happening in the house anymore! If Miriam and Blaise were doing something strange or if another appliance broke, I didn’t care! All I wanted to do was lay down somewhere and let my misery run its course! I wouldn’t have even stuck around to listen to Phoebe’s observance if I didn’t fear that yet another one of Damon’s ghostly attacks might be imminent! If I had to deal with that nuisance for a third time that day, I legitimately believed that I would have lost my mind!

            Phoebe pleasantly reported, “Exactly! There’s no noise in here whatsoever! I think we have the house to ourselves!”

            I dashed to the window to confirm this theory, and when I didn’t see that hideous, old truck haunting my view, I nearly had an aneurysm! “We are alone! You know what that means?” The more practical thing to have done would have been to work on destroying the key without any prying eyes to question our actions so we could end this nightmare, but Phoebe and I hadn’t had any privacy in ages… Okay, so it was only, like, a few days, but considering that we were used to being intimate frequently, that felt like forever to us! I gazed at her with desire, and my heart began to beat rapidly as I anticipated this coveted moment…

            …Uh, yeah… Both of us clocked out as soon as our heads hit the sheets! Oh well! We both needed the rest, and at long last, we got the opportunity to catch up some much-needed sleep! It was a blissful ten minutes… We had barely gotten to snooze when, all of a sudden, we heard a small explosion in the kitchen! “You’ve gotta be kidding!” I bellowed. “Why doesn’t the universe want me to sleep?”

            “Um, shouldn’t we check to see what happened?” Phoebe suggested.

            “Yeah, I just…” I rubbed my eyes and mentally prepared myself for what drudgery awaited us.

            Before we got close to where the blast took place, we could feel moisture beneath our feet! Phoebe groaned, “Please let this be water!”

            I reacted quizzically, “What else would it be?” I recalled that we had both a petulant phantom and a spiteful witch who might possibly procure several sinister substances, and while Damon mainly seemed to strike at Rosemary King and Roxy had yet to produce a spell, it was definitely viable for either of them to break their pattern! “Never mind, I don’t wanna know! It’s gonna be a natural occurrence! Yup, nothing else spooky is happening today…!”

            Despite the confidence that I projected, I still sort of expected to walk in and behold an unearthly spectacle as the cause of the disruption! It was unexpectedly astonishing to see a mere broken pipe! I breathed a sigh of relief, but then I realized I shouldn’t have been celebrating our kitchen sink gushing like a geyser! Actually, this development may not have been the alleviation that I once thought it was… “How does a pipe burst in warm, spring weather?”

            “You don’t think it could have been…?” Phoebe trailed off as if she didn’t want to complete that sentence and make the impression we got a reality. Neither of us wanted to entertain the possibility, but neither of us had the chance to…

            “My key doesn’t fit!” Blaise barked from the front porch. “What did you do? Change the locks? You trying to kick me out of-?”

            Miriam told him, “Your key doesn’t fit ‘cause this isn’t our old commune! And I’m pretty sure that door is unlocked…”

            The two of them lumbered into the mudroom, and it was obvious that Blaise was under the influence of something! As Miriam attempted to drag him in, Blaise noticed the busted pipe and remarked, “Hey! That’s not supposed to do that!”

            “Yeah, thanks genius!” I muttered as I took out my cellphone to make a call.

            “Connor, if you’re about to tell me some crap that Damon did, I swear, I-!” Ellie grouched.

            I assured her, “No, nothing too weird happened this time!”

            As Miriam lugged an unusually bubbly Blaise down the hall, Blaise delightfully observed, “Oh look! I ‘m wearing shoes!”

            “I promise that didn’t come from a demon or anything!” I affirmed. “Can I talk to Victor? We have a slight plumbing problem…”

            “You said this was slight!” a husky, older man with white hair and russet skin commented when he espied the damage.

            I let him know, “With everything I’ve had to deal with lately, this is nothing!” Howling sounded from our guest bedroom, so I added, “Also that!”

            Victor inquired, “Do you guys have a dog?”

            “That depends on how you define dog,” Phoebe replied with a grimace.

            “Uh-huh… Well, just so you know, I’m gonna have to charge you for this fix.” Clearly, Victor didn’t want to decipher Phoebe’s enigmatic statement, which was fine with us! Neither Phoebe nor I knew how, or wanted to explain, Blaise! I could kind of understand why Phoebe hadn’t disclosed the details of her stepdad’s story initially! Heck, it took me a few chapters to even scratch the surface!

            Victor’s old, stubby legs took him a minute to bend down, but once he had done so, he reached under the sink and fiddled with something underneath the sink. A few seconds later, the fountain effect disappeared! “Wow! That was fast!” Phoebe amazedly expressed.

            Blaise shouted, “Ugh! I am so tired of you saying that!”

            Miriam hollered, “I didn’t say it! For once!”

            Phoebe shuddered at the image that this produced, and Victor ignored that dialogue as he informed us, “It’s not fixed. I just used the shut off valve to stop the flow.”

            “So, how do you fix it?” I asked him.

            “I can’t say ‘til I see what the problem is,” Victor answered as he dug through his toolbox.

            He pulled out a large, hose-like device, and as he set it up by the drain, I remarked, “That looks like a colonoscope!”

            Victor filled me in, “It’s the same idea- going up some pipes to see if there’s any obstruction or damage!”

            As he snaked the gadget down the sink, I could see Phoebe’s eyes brim with apprehension. Neither of us had to communicate our concerns out loud- we both dreaded what he might find in there! We still couldn’t rule out the paranormal factor, and we were terrified that he would discover our association with that realm! His wife accepted this as reality (eventually!), but I figured not everyone would have been so kind! If he judged us for our involvement with the Netherworld, he probably wouldn’t have wanted to associate with us anymore, which would have saddened me since he was a nice guy and a lot of help, but more importantly, we had tremendous anxiety that he would have convinced Ellie to not hang around us anymore! She was instrumental in our mission, so her loss would have been devastating! Phoebe and I held each other in support as he explored further and further, and we inwardly prayed that he would find something run-of-the-mill!

            “Oh, there’s the cause of the issue!” Victor announced. Phoebe and I braced ourselves for the worst… “You’ve got tree roots growing into your system!”

            “That’s it?” Phoebe reacted incredulously.

            Victor questioningly regarded her, “What do you mean that’s it? That’s gonna be a huge hassle!”

            I petitioned him, “Does that mean it won’t be an easy fix?” Considering everything else I had to contend with, I hadn’t counted on dealing with a major repair, especially one that may have forced us to sleep in a motel! Sharing a house with Miriam and Blaise was aggravating enough, so if we had to share a room with them too, I felt positive I would go ballistic!

            Right when I was contemplating negotiating for Blaise and Miriam to sleep in their truck again, Victor conveyed to us, “I can trim the roots out, but if you don’t get rid of the tree that did it, it’ll happen again! You’re gonna have to hire an arborist!”

            “Great!” I mumbled as he employed another machine to oust the meddlesome roots. That sounded expensive, and I couldn’t fathom when we could spare a few hours to care of that venture! I was relieved that stressful specter or his airheaded sidekick hadn’t done anything otherworldly, but I got no joy from this outcome either!

            “What do you mean I can’t get my food?” Blaise yelled. “I’m hungry! What, you want me to starve to death?”

            Miriam retorted, “Would you?”

            Blaise marched down the hallway and boldly declared, “I am a man, and I’ll eat when I damn please!” He saw the three of us occupying the small space that made up the kitchen, and he seemed to comprehend why Miriam had given him the message that she had. A decent person would have apologized, but Blaise could never have fit into that category! He scratched his head and queried, “Is the sink not working?”

            “Seriously?” I shrieked. “You don’t remember walking into an explosion of water? What are you on?”

            “I engaged in a spiritual ritual to give me guidance!” He held his arms out as though he was prepared to fly.

            That reply didn’t suffice- it actually perplexed me further! “What is that supposed to mean?” I mulled it over for a second and ameliorated my sentence prior to him getting an opening to elaborate, “Forget it! Keep it to yourself!”

            Victor abruptly proclaimed, “It’s over!”

            “He is correct! I am almost out of it now!” Blaise grinned broadly.

            “That was not what I was talking about, straw man!” Victor corrected him. “I got your roots out! Now, for that payment…”

            Phoebe reached for her purse. “How much do we owe you?”

            Victor refused her offer, “No, no, no! Put your wallet away! You gotta pay the friends’ price- one beer!”

            We both chortled at this conclusion, and I very willingly went into the refrigerator to oblige! When I investigated the contents of our fridge, I frowned. “Shoot! It appears that we drank every drop of liquor we owned last night! Can I give you something to eat instead? We have some leftover pizza, Chinese food, or some steak…”

            “I’ll take a steak,” Victor accepted. I pulled out the plate with the four steaks we had made over the weekend so we could reheat it at dinnertime during our busy work week, and as Phoebe held out a resealable bag, I hesitated slightly. If we went down to three, then one of us would be missing out, which would have most likely started another bothersome fight…

            “Give one to Ellie too,” Phoebe propositioned. I appreciated her brilliance at this juncture! We could halve the remaining ones and everyone would be happy! Well, not Miriam, she always seemed so miserable! Plus, Phoebe and I weren’t feeling very spectacular lately either. So, basically, it would temporarily make Blaise slightly less insufferable! As I put the second one in the bag…

            I hollered, “Dammit!” I missed my target somehow, and the steak fell onto the floor! Typically, I wouldn’t have fretted over some spilled food, but I was already in a foul mood, so every predicament that crossed my path vexed me more than under ordinary circumstances! Additionally, our meager salaries didn’t allow us to treat ourselves to lavish meals very often, so it disappointed me when something went to waste!

            Victor reassured me, “That’s alright! I only need one! Well, I’m heading out! Let me know if you see any other faulty plumbing!”

            “You’re a plumber?” Miriam had apparently come out of the guest bedroom and stared at our visitor curiously. “Can you unclog the toilet too?”

            “No!” Phoebe and I yelled in unison. Victor glimpsed at us peculiarly, so I tried to smooth out our odd outburst, “You’ve done enough for us! You should go home and rest!”

            Victor picked up his toolbox and stated, “Nah, it’s fine. I can take a look real quick. Which bathroom is it?”

            I nervously croaked out, “The one at the end of the hall.” I was completely convinced that Babelsama would pipe up and ruin everything! What were we going to do? How could we explain away the talking portrait or anything he might say to him? Phoebe and I readied ourselves for a tumultuous upset… until…

            “Nope!” Victor had barely set foot into that room before he turned around and left. “I ain’t going in there! There’s some weird energy coming from that place! Before you hire an arborist, hire a priest!”

            “Thanks, Victor!” I chirped as he exited out abode. He imparted a friendly wave to us as he stepped out onto the porch and aimed to amble to his vehicle.

            As Phoebe and I exhaled and released our tension, I permitted myself to get optimistic that perhaps this rotten day could still get salvaged after all! Then, when we turned around, we saw Blaise pick up that steak off of the floor and commence to munching on it merrily! When he caught sight of our disgusted faces, he probed, “I’m sorry! Were y’all gonna eat this?” I sighed and decided to simply let it go. Blaise drove me to my wit’s end, but something he did gave me inspiration on how we might solve our dilemma with the key…

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 11

“What’s that smell?” the one person in this school who most resembled a witch but wasn’t one sniffed us peculiarly as the entire faculty trickled into the cafeteria/auditorium.

            “I don’t smell anything…” I swiftly checked the soles of my shoes hoping I didn’t step in anything on the way here. Or at least I assumed that such a thing would have occurred while traversing across campus because I would have been stumped as to why no one else mentioned it that day!

            She took another whiff and iterated her point, “Yeah, it’s definitely there! It’s got a minty odor…”

            Phoebe informed her, “Oh, that’s sage!” The woman’s shrewd eyes flickered between the six of us captiously, so Phoebe added, “We’re using it for the prom!”

            “Gotcha!” Comprehension dawned on her face, and then she more genially offered, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help with that!”

            “Thanks, Hazel!” Phoebe smiled as Hazel walked away, and once she was out of earshot, Phoebe quietly told us, “I didn’t technically lie, I just didn’t tell her that’s not the reason why we have it in our pockets!”

            Fletcher responded to Phoebe, “Who cares? You can lie to the school secretary, we’re not on the clock!” He noticed purple buds sticking out of his shorts’ pocket, and after agitatedly stuffing it back out of view, he grumbled, “I hate carrying around these flowers! I feel like a damn hippie! What proof do we have that this crap even works?”

            All of a sudden, Damon’s ghostly form appeared before us! “Hello!” His nose crinkled profusely, and he swiftly disappeared into a nearby craft table with a few vending machine items up for grabs.

            I handed my bouquet to Phoebe and went over to Damon’s hiding spot as casually as possible so as not to alarm anyone who may have witnessed my behavior. People were edgy enough, so I didn’t want to give them any more cause to stress out! A couple of teachers were glancing around that surface, so I waited until they vacated the area before I confronted Damon. They finally took a couple of chip bags, and one of them complained, “Why did they set up a punch bowl without cups?”

            As soon as the coast was clear, I leaned in and whispered, “What are you doing here? School’s dismissed, so you don’t have anymore kids to scare! Besides, you already did an attack once today!”

            “So what? I’m not limited to only doing it once a day!” Damon squabbled. “Besides, I don’t purely prey on students! Don’t you remember? I got that one teacher earlier!”

            “Oh yeah!” I snickered as I relished the memory of Casper sniveling in a cowardly manner at the sight of cotton balls! As humorous as I found that episode, it began to confuse me in that moment. “Why did you do that? He only teaches seniors, you never had his class! What did he ever do to you?” It felt almost sickening to side with that pompous a-hole, but I had to protect everyone, including the individuals I didn’t particularly care for, from the demonic forces of the Netherworld no matter how stupid they were!

            Damon cackled, “I did that as warning to you all that I’m not above targeting your colleagues in this operation! I did think that a man of his stature would have a more impressive fear than that… Anyways, I’m especially interested in going after one person specifically…”

            I turned around and visually scanned the area, and sure enough, I spotted Martha in the distance! (I talked about her in Chapter One, she was the one who dumped him in case you forgot!) I swiveled back to Damon and warned him, “Listen, you better leave her alone! She already had one heart attack ‘cause of you, don’t kill her over…!” A few staff members had approached the table and stared at me like I was crazy, which I totally understood! It must have been strange to see a grown man arguing with a punch bowl! There was no way to convince them that I had a logical basis for doing so, and if I revealed the truth of the punch bowl’s actual identity as a ghost in disguise, I was certain that they would have had me committed! I stepped away from the table and apologized, “Sorry, it’s been a long day!”

            This ameliorated their anxiety, and they all expressed empathy for my condition. As they raided the edible offerings, I dashed off in order to take some quick precautions to protect Martha. I grabbed my sage from Phoebe, and then I weaved my way through the crowd to get to her. The meeting was about to start, so I had to act immediately! I handed her the blooms and relayed, “These are for you!”

            “Really? What’s the occasion?” she queried.

            “I just wanted to thank you for hiring a sub in October,” I fibbed. “I’m so happy that I got hired here permanently, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it weren’t for you! Thanks a bunch!”

            She frowned slightly and humbly stated, “I appreciate that, but I didn’t have much of a choice- I had major surgery, so…”

            I admonished myself for forgetting that occurrence! In my defense, I didn’t have a lot of time to come up with an excuse to give her the sage! I attempted to come up with something to ease the awkwardness, but all I produced was a lot of stuttering! If I had been able to have more time, I probably could have come up with something, but Manuel entered onto the stage, and the quiet that his employees doled him rendered me unable to speak with her further. She put the bouquet into her purse, which was a relief! I may not have achieved a victory in the smoothest manner, but I prevented Damon from personally tormenting her that evening! I knew that he would, most likely, victimize her for his fear monger campaign, and as Manuel went up to the microphone, I wondered what her greatest fear might have been and hoped it was as simple to take care of as the cotton balls!

            “Hello everybody!” Manuel addressed the assembled group. “Thank you all for coming!”

            “Like we had a choice! You said that attendance was mandatory!” one of the educators loudly muttered.

            Manuel nervously chuckled, “Ah, yes… I appreciate the participation anyhow! Some recent events came to my attention, and we have to take some steps to mitigate this problem in the future…”

            One of my coworkers piped up, “Oh, so you know how to stop all of this freaky stuff from happening?”

            “Unfortunately, no…” Manuel regrettably returned.

            “You figured out a method to prevent our children from getting victimized?” another staff member guessed.

            Manuel shook his head. “Sorry! I wish!”

            That hall monitor we ran into the other day asked, “Do you know who’s behind it all so we can make this weird voodoo come to an end?”

            “Not yet,” Manuel remorsefully answered. “Believe me though, when we do learn who caused all this trouble, they’ll be expelled from here instantly!”

            “Ha!” I inadvertently guffawed out loud at the irony of his claim. Obviously, once he discovered that a ghost was the source of all this pandemonium, he would know how implausible this feat would be, but moreover, he already did expel Damon once! The entire room gazed at me questioningly for this outburst, so I rapidly made it seem as though I had emitted a loud cough. Manuel cleared his throat and then assured the personnel, “The culprit will get caught and punished, don’t worry!”

            Somebody else shouted, “Don’t worry? There’s no way to guarantee when the spooky stuff will quit, how are we not supposed to worry? Also, if there’s nothing we can do to avoid it, then why are we here?”

            Manuel explained, “I requested your presence to go over safety protocols for any hazards that our unwelcomed visitors may present. We don’t know what this enemy is capable of, so it’s prudent for us to cover all of our bases. Now, on the occasion that a fire-wielding entity goes into your classroom, remember to evacuate your students in a single file line and recall where your nearest fire extinguisher is located…”

            I drifted off a little as he rambled on, and then, to keep myself awake, I surveyed the space for any signs of fear mongers. I glimpsed out of the window and espied Roxy trying to subtly watch the scene that she anticipated would unfold, and I pondered if Manuel might expel her for the role she played in this ordeal. She hadn’t really assisted Damon in an impactful fashion, and her only successful bout with magic had been a pure accident, so I didn’t feel he would have much grounds to kick her out. I assumed that she would have gotten bored by this banality, I certainly was, but when I took another peek, she proved the contrary! She appeared very interested in the status of this assembly, which filled me with dread! I knew that Damon had threatened to go after Martha, but I didn’t have any indications as to when that would take place! He could have been bluffing too! I had hope for that possibility up until now! Did she have some sort of clue for the timing of this supernatural invasion? A part of me craved an interruption to this tedium, which could have been an email, but I definitely was in no mood to deal with anything dangerous…

            Suddenly, the doors closest to the stage that led outside began shaking slightly! Manuel purposely ignored it as though he got the impression that the source of the disruption stemmed from a tardy employee, but this sight made my pulse race! This was it- whatever Martha’s greatest fear was, it had arrived! The shaking became louder and more noticeable, and I could tell that it was something big! Was it a sasquatch? A dinosaur? A cyclops? It drove me crazy to have no inkling what was set to pass because I didn’t know what to prepare myself for!

            Out of all of the things to burst through that door, this one wasn’t even on my radar! It turned out to be a collection of good-looking and trim young men who sprinted around us all! Everyone’s expressions grew shocked, but a few people got over it quickly and began hooting and hollering at this spectacle! Manuel ordered, “Grab them!”

            “How would that do any good? … Oh!” One of my female colleagues apparently got confused by his direction. Some of the bystanders, including Fletcher, that the streakers passed tried to pin them down, but they were covered in some kind of oily substance that made them practically impossible to capture! I found the whole situation rather ludicrous! Surely, this ridiculous display was too silly to fill Martha with any terror…

            “I’ve gotta get out of here!” Martha wailed. She truly bore the markings of authentic distress, which totally baffled me! I mean, a lot of women her age were prudish about nudity, but not that long ago, she had cheated on her husband with Damon, so how could the woman who had two lovers at once fear naked men? I almost chalked this oddity as a sheer coincidence, but once Martha scurried out the exit, the streakers soon followed her!

            Many of the meeting attendees flocked to the windows to admire the men’s forms and/or get a hearty laugh, and Manuel implored everyone to refocus on the original topic at hand, “Come on, people! You’ve all seen naked men before! What are you gonna do if the school experiences an earthquake or…?”

            Ginger, who was tall enough to tower over the other onlookers, reported, “They’ve got poor Martha cornered!”

            “Have her make them turn around!” Phoebe kidded as she scoped them out from the entryway.

            “Excuse me! You’re a taken woman now!” Ginger joshed her.

            Phoebe retorted, “Well, it’s not like I’ve got a ring on my finger!” Ouch! I knew she had said that in jest, but it still stung slightly! She couldn’t possibly have fathomed how much I wanted to propose to her lately! I played around with the diamond in my pocket, and I came to the conclusion that she wouldn’t have made the quip if she wasn’t hankering to get hitched, so I needed to pop the question right away! Of course, I wasn’t going to do it with these exposed dudes still lurking about, but I knew I couldn’t delay this action for much longer!

            Aleck, who also secured a position by the door, announced, “The police showed up!”

            Manuel huffed, “Good! They’re going to jail, so we can all go back to…”

            No one got tempted away from witnessing this showdown! I couldn’t see what went on, but the people who did described how much the officers struggled- they had to taze the dudes! As they were cuffed and put into squad cars, the six of us in the Ghost League ruminated how Bill and Arnold (the policemen) would react when their captives transformed into a fear monger!

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 10

I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and I heard Corvina’s voice politely address me, “Uh, Mister Fenmore… You need to wake up!”

            “How did you know I fell asleep?” I sat a large textbook upright on my desk to shield my face so no one could see me as I rested my eyes, so it shocked me that she had been able to decipher my cognitive status! I hadn’t intended to nod off, but since I learned that I had indeed begun to slumber, I couldn’t comprehend how she would have found that out!

            “Um… We could hear you snoring!” Corvina sheepishly let me know. I heard her peers snickering behind her, and my splitting headache grew even deeper! Once they simmered down, my anguish lessened slightly, and I felt tempted to conk out again! I resisted the temptation, and if I hadn’t been so overcome with achiness, I would have laughed out loud from the realization that a room packed with teenagers was somehow quieter than my house with four adults! Well, five if you count Babelsama’s haunted portrait, but still! I lifted my heavy head up, and I beheld a girl in an outfit that looked as though it had been pilfered from Ginger’s wardrobe! The bubble-gum pink dress had a quaint, old-fashioned charm to it, and she had her hair pulled back with a matching bow. I didn’t remember ever making her acquaintance, and it embarrassed me to think that a new student’s first impression of me had been formed from such an ineloquent pose! I collected myself the best that I could, and I courteously questioned her, “Hi! Is this your first day here?”

            She corrected my misconception, “Mister Fenmore, it’s me, Corvina!”

            Her classmates all chortled at that bout of obliviousness, and I had to get a second glance at the appearance of the young lady standing before me! Corvina typically wore dark makeup and gothic clothes, so to see her in lightly shaded cosmetics and brightly colored garments made her practically disguised as a totally new person! “I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you in that… Why are you dressed like that? I mean, you have every right to wear what you please, but… why…?”

            “My clothing was meant to be a statement of counter-culture, and since that standard has started to change, so have mine!” Corvina gestured to the kids seated at their desks, and it bewildered me to see so many of them wearing all black!

            “Did someone die?” I inquired. I sincerely hoped for an alternative explanation to my guess, and while the truth was less daunting, I definitely didn’t like the response I received…

            One of the bleakly dressed students filled me in, “We are preparing ourselves for the Underworld takeover! The undead will return, and we’re ready to pay our respects!”

            I groaned, “Oh jeez! Not this FAUK club again!”

            “It’s not FAUK!” one of the girls chided me. “It’s the F-A-U-K! And it’s a serious institution! Colin didn’t bury himself! And the people who saw that mummy swore it looked real! And it smelled real too!”

            ‘Yeah, and some people swore the same thing about the Loch Ness monster…!” I pointed out. She wasn’t wrong, but I didn’t want her to know that! I felt certain that this FAUK club had something to do with Damon’s presence, and the less credibility he got, the less likely he was to have a real impact on this high school!

            A boy piped up, “Hey! My uncle’s seen that one! Back in the eighties, he went to Scotland and-.”

            I cut him off, “Alright, alright! We’ve had enough of a delay! It’s time for your lesson! Actually, we’re doing a pop quiz today!”

            “What? You didn’t mention anything about having a quiz today!” a student objected.

            “That’s why it’s called pop quiz! In this case, pop means surprise, you know, like a balloon! It just shows up in front of you, and then suddenly, it pops!” Upon hearing my description of this term, I didn’t feel as though I had made any sense! Evidently, the kids couldn’t make heads or tails of it either because they all stared at me with blank expressions! I realized that my hangover was having quite the effect on my abilities, so I shook it off as much as possible in order to speak to them, “Listen, it doesn’t matter! You’re doing a quiz today, okay?”

            One of the teens whined, “No! It’s not okay!”

            I snapped, “Too bad! Get your pencils out!” After passing the material out to the class, I went back to my desk and resumed hiding behind the book. I made sure not to snooze in this instance, but I wanted to endure my agony without drawing their concern. I had a sneaking suspicion that Corvina’s eyes flickered towards my direction a couple of times, but thankfully, she didn’t comment on my faltering health! I was super grateful that I had this quiz handy because if I had to do a bunch of talking that day, I would have had to call in sick! And I wouldn’t have gotten any rest at home! As I covertly languished on my desk, I inwardly prayed that our obnoxious ghost pal would stay quiet during this shift!

            Phoebe and I barely paid attention to what we were noshing on- we were only eating this snack to avoid tossing our cookies when we took the medicine that currently fizzed in our cups! Fletcher appeared at our table and remarked, “You two look terrible!”

            “Thanks! We feel terrible!” Phoebe retorted.

            “You’re lucky I brought a couple of these!” Aleck placed two bottles of a sports drink in front of us, and since we seemed perplexed over his motivation for doing that, Aleck rationalized, “The electrolytes will help ease your symptoms. My kid has karate practice right after school, but we can always grab more on the way home.”

            After Phoebe and I took a few sips, I noticed it did seem to alleviate my symptoms a bit! I probably should have displayed some gratitude to him, but prior to articulating this sentiment, I pondered, “How did you know?”

            Ginger jumped in, “It’s kinda obvious! Besides, we figured you were drunk when you sent this text!”

            She showed her phone to me, and apparently, I had messaged the group that urinating (which was spelled wrong!) on the key doesn’t destroy it, and I bemoaned my clumsy action! “I didn’t piss on my pants- I forgot to let Jett out, so she peed on them!”

            “Why were your pants off?” Ellie probed. She quickly followed that with, “Never mind, I don’t wanna know!”

            “Ahem! We may have been a little tipsy last night, but we were right about our next move!” Phoebe asserted. “The sooner we destroy the key, the sooner we get rid of Damon! Babelsama wouldn’t have any motivation to keep him around if the key no longer existed!”

            A nearby teacher that I hadn’t been introduced to yet asked, “Why would destroying a key get this Babelsama person to go away?”

            We all froze when it registered to us that our conversation was no longer private! Knowing that he had overheard something as embarrassing as my trousers get soaked (which, for the record, I took off to put on my pajamas!) was bad enough, but if anyone outside of our group listened to the whole Netherworld phantom thing, we would have to pack our bags straight away! Trying to sort this out with prospective new employers would have proven to be cumbersome, but more seriously, if we left Rosemary King at such a critical juncture, a lot of innocent students would get harmed! We knew we would need to exercise more caution going forward, but what were we going to do about the information that already got exposed? Yes, some strange occurrences had taken place here, but most of the staff had logical justifications for what went on, and I could only have imagined what outcome would have resulted if the faculty had a sincere grasp of the supernatural reality of this scenario! My ill disposition rendered me struggling to contemplate anything, but someone needed to come up with something soon in order to avoid a shrewd watchfulness of our behavior! No one else volunteered, but all I could produce was, “We can’t tell you.”

            “Why not?” our coworker puzzled.

            “We’re writing a play,” Aleck fibbed. “We can’t give out any spoilers!”

            I had no clue how Aleck was able to concoct that story so fast, but I felt so relieved that he did because now we could discuss the issue freely under the guise of composing a theatrical experience! The man bought that claim and happily returned to his meal, and then Ellie took the reigns on our previous discourse, “Right… So, our heroes can’t just focus on destroying the key! There are monsters actively attacking their community, so they need to focus on how to deal with them first! And we need to show more about the villain’s history too!”

            No one relished the prospect of additional work, and after some mild moans, Fletcher spoke up, “Who cares what he did in the past? He’s ben an asshole his whole life, how’s that gonna help us? I mean, the heroes…”

            “The more they learn about the villain, the easier it’ll be for them to take him down,” Ellie argued. “They can keep fighting off his attacks, or they can find out why he’s attacking the town at all! Then they can use that to stop him!”

            “How many protagonists do you have?” another teacher inquired.

            Phoebe replied, “Six.”

            That same teacher opined, “Oh, that’s too many! You’ll only complicate the plot that way!”

            “It’ll be fine,” Ginger brushed her off before circling back to our chat, “But we know why he’s doing it- his girlfriend dumped him! Well, that and his demon boss is making him do it…”

            “Oh, this play is gonna be amazing! Don’t you agree?” another teacher gushed to her colleagues.

            Ginger completed her original thought, “What else do we need to know?”

            Ellie stated, “That’s exactly it! We don’t know what we don’t know! If we don’t investigate it, we might miss something important!” We all bore skeptical expressions, so she persisted, “Hey, we don’t’ have any ideas on how to destroy the key anyways, so maybe this’ll help us find our… their… ticket out of this mess! How are we gonna find the answer if we don’t search through every corner possible? It’s not like the solution is just gonna fall out of the sky!”

            As if on cue, we heard a chorus of screaming immediately following her speech! We all grumbled, especially Phoebe and me, and I muttered, “This better not be important!”

            “Don’t you mean it better be important?” one of the educators in the room attempted to gain clarification on my phrasing.

            “Nope!” I disputed, “I wanna learn it’s meaningless crap and go back to my lunch! I do not wanna deal with another emergency right now!”

            When we ran out to the hallway that bordered the parking lot, I anticipated an encounter with something sinister coupled with some traumatized youths, but instead, we saw a scourge of merriment! Cotton balls were pouring out of the sky like raindrops, and the children who changed upon this area played in it as if it was snowing. They threw it at each other, made angels on the ground, and even created some artwork out of it! Everyone was having a ball with the cotton (See what I did there?), well… almost everyone…

            Casper hid behind a set of trash cans whimpering pathetically! I couldn’t resist, I had to pounce on this opportunity! “Casper! Your greatest fear is freaking cotton balls!?!”

            “You don’t have to rub it in!” Casper wailed.

            “Oh, I disagree!” I flouted.

            I wanted to continue to capitalize on the fortuity of stumbling upon this jerk in such a deservingly miserable position, but we heard someone else suffering from this development… Roxy pat a nearby bush comfortingly and soothingly bolstered it, “It’s alright, my love! You did great! You see how scared you made Mister Von Dutchman?”

            Damon barked, “No! Too many idiots are getting joy out of this! It’s unbearable!”

            “You know, a bear would have had the same effect on him without causing anyone else any joy!” I leaned on lamppost next to Roxy and this bush. “So, Roxy, having a biblical moment, are you?”

            “Um, the bush from there was burning…” Roxy riposted.

            I took that lighter I used on the mummy on the previous day (which I only had with me so I could bestow it back to the kid I borrowed it from. Technically, they weren’t allowed to bring these on campus, but I didn’t feel right keeping it, so I planned on secretly sliding it over to him… Anyways…), and I chirped, “Here, I can remedy that!”

            Damon morphed back into a ghost and flew out of sight before anyone else detected his presence! Roxy chased after him and beckoned him to abandon his retreat, and everyone else wen on with their cotton ball festivities until… All of the cotton balls unexpectedly zipped to one spot and combined themselves to form a single entity- a fear monger! Fletcher snatched my lighter (Well, it wasn’t mine, but it was in my possession) and swiftly ignited the creature, who happened to surface in the planter where Damon had just been. The students were befuddled as to why their source of amusement had vanished, and Fletcher’s clandestine endeavor only enhanced that feeling even further! They could see the smoke, but they didn’t catch sight of the fear monger, so I don’t blame them for any head scratching they did! Fortunately for us, Ginger and Ellie put out the flames with the dirt already there and the bell rang before anyone could deliberate on these incidents! Aleck called out, “You’re gonna be late! Let’s go!”

            As we headed to our classrooms, Casper joined us and cracked, “I knew all along that a spectral spirit was the cause of the commotion! It’s lucky for you that I got involved- you all are terrible at handling this sort of business!”

            I glared at him, but before I could manifest a snappy comeback, Phoebe reached into her purse and handed a mysterious object to me. “Here you go, babe!”

            It was a cotton ball! I waved it in front of Casper, who immediately let out a high-pitched scream and bolted out of our vicinity! Once we all had a hearty laugh, we took to our cellphones to discretely communicate with each other. We would never admit it to him, but Casper did assist us in gaining a new tool to use against Damon! How we would implement it was our next challenge…