The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 23

A student raised her hand and let me know, “Mister Fenmore, I have a question about the-.”

            “No!” I quickly declined. “We still have a lot to cover before-.” Three xylophone notes chimed on the loudspeaker, and I moaned, “Ugh! Too late!”

            “Good afternoon, boys and girls!” Manuel’s voice permeated from the PA system. “This is your periodic reminder to cleanse yourself from your fears! Everyone breathe in…” The dozen or so students who actually showed up did not participate in the exercise that Manuel was promoting, in fact, they got agitated rather than relaxed from enduring this tidbit once again! I couldn’t blame them- it was the third time they went through it that day! I wished that Manuel had requested our feedback for the effectiveness of this activity, we could have told him at first period that the kids weren’t getting comfort from this endeavor! “… And breathe out! Close your eyes and picture yourself somewhere calm…” A few children turned to me with quizzical expressions, and I wordlessly indicated that they didn’t need to do his prompts. “It could be a spring meadow or a secluded beach. Maybe you’d prefer to imagine yourself at a winter cabin in front of a crackling fireplace. Wherever your safe place is, keep it at the forefront of your mind, and whenever you feel afraid, all you have to do is close your eyes again and repeat this process! Thank you for you for attending school today! Enjoy your lunch!”

            The bell rang, and most of the teens sprang up and raced for the exit, but a few of them remained rooted to their seats, so I addressed them, “Oh, don’t worry about the lesson. We’ll go over it tomorrow instead of the movie I was going to show.”

            One boy grumbled, “Oh, great! We get another day of lectures instead of doing something fun! I’m so glad we have these never-ending cleansing reminders!”

            “Why is Principal Palillo doing this?” a girl asked me. “It’s not like it’ll do us much good if another dragon comes!”

            “Or the zombie apocalypse that the FAUK’ers keep saying will happen!” one of their peers added.

            I responded, “When they say the dead will rise up, they don’t mean zombies! … I don’t think…” I always assumed that the FAUK club depicted a scenario where the earth would become overwhelmed by ghosts or possibly vampires since that organization seemed connected to Damon. I mean, they were assisting him in spreading fear all over campus! Roxy definitely had an association with their scholastic representative, Ismeray, and none of their members fell victim to the fear monger’s attacks, so it only made sense for their intentions to have been congruous with that petulant phantom! But truthfully, I hadn’t actually bothered to listen to everything they spouted out, so they might have had totally different intentions for all I knew! Perhaps zombies did factor into their so-called predictions…. I shook that notion off and inwardly prayed that all of their stupid theories stayed in the realm of fiction! “Look, don’t worry about those bozos say! They’re all acting on some misguided doomsday garbage they read online! How much can you rely on that?”

            The first young man posed to me, “If it’s all garbage, then why is all this weird stuff happening?”

            “Uhh…” I certainly wasn’t about to tell them that a guardian of the Netherworld sent a vengeful spirit to our world because he wanted to open up a spiritual gate and release even more chaos! But what could I reveal to them without completely disturbing them? I supposed that I could have lied and pretended that I didn’t know, but then I realized that it would have been counterproductive to do so! It occurred to me that reporting the reality of the situation, at least some of it, could prove advantageous to our cause! It hadn’t done much when we explained it to Manuel, but maybe if I chose a different tactic… “Well, the common connection is fear. Something is feeding on what scares us the most, so if we stop being afraid, we might be able to force this thing to starve and vanish!”

            “You say that like it’s so easy!” the second guy noted. “It’s not like we can make them go away just like that or we would have done it already!”

            I argued, “Yes, we can’t pretend our fears don’t exist, but we can conquer our fears though! Instead of waiting for it to strike us in the middle of class, we can face them on our own time! For example, someone who’s afraid of heights might go skydiving or someone who’s terrified of clowns might… I dunno… visit the circus? Basically, the more you experience them, the less they can surprise you, so it takes the edge out of whatever intimidates you!”

            The female student related to that, “Oh yeah, that’s true! That’s how I got over my fear of blood!”

            “Hey, I struggled with that one too!” My thoughts instantly jumped to another individual who dealt with vampires like I did, but I had to quickly pull back on that hypothesis. Obviously, she hadn’t gotten over her fear in the same manner as me! Well, as far as I knew I got over it, I hadn’t encountered it in a while, thank goodness! I couldn’t fathom any other scenario where she would see blood frequently, so I stammered as I quizzed her, “How did…? What did you…? You saw a lot of blood then, huh…?” I knocked on wood that I wouldn’t get some kind of serial killer reply…

            “Yeah! Every month when my menstrual cycle returns!” she pointed out to me.

            I could have smacked myself for not producing a simple explanation like that! “Ah, makes sense! Yeah, I didn’t get over my fear of blood in the same way!” The teen got a chuckle out of that, and I didn’t want to break their merry mood by bringing up that a woman doesn’t technically bleed much during that time of the month! I doubted the encyclopedic knowledge on the human body that I inherited from my doctoral father would do much to curtail their phobias! Besides, we had all lost a significant portion of our lunch break, so I saw it best to dismiss them, “Alright, why don’t you find your friends and-?”

            At that moment, Casper appeared in my doorway and asked, “May I cut in?”

            “No!” I sharply answered. After I showed him up with that fear monger in the library, he was avoiding me like the plague! It irritated me that he chose to get his arrogant swagger back right at such an inopportune juncture!

            “Listen, take it from this school’s finest athlete and Terra Belle’s greatest paranormal combatant…” Casper ignored my denial and strolled in with the overblown egotism of a famous diva giving an interview on the red carpet! “Enemies can always detect your innermost apprehensions, so the key to victory is to replace them with positive cogitations! Suppose that one is afraid of dying in a plane crash, all that they would have to do is switch that anxiety with images of how wonderful their flight will go! Simple!”

            It was so tempting to query him about why he had not done that when the cotton balls rained down on him, but I couldn’t stoop so low as to demean him in front of the children that he taught! As excruciating as it was, I opted for the higher road, “What happens if the plane does crash? Wouldn’t it make more sense to prepare yourself for how to survive it instead of pretending everything is gonna be peachy-keen forever?” Casper glared at me, but I ignored him and kindly regarded the kids, “Anyways, why don’t we table that topic for now? Go- enjoy the rest of your lunch!”

            The three youths registered how much of their break they missed and hurried to meet up with their buddies, but they all thanked me as they headed out. Casper indignantly spouted, “You’re welcome! So happy to offer my assistance!”

            “What is your problem?” I blurted out. I hadn’t intended to have a prolonged interaction with this obnoxious blowhard, but the words fell out of my mouth before I could stop them! I forgave myself for that lapse since I already felt stressed to my limit from everything else I had to deal with, and it reassured me that perhaps this would get rid of at least one aggravating factor! Even if it didn’t, it was sort of refreshing to have someone to release my pent-up anger on! “From the beginning, you’ve been a royal pain in the ass, and I didn’t do a damn thing to deserve it! You’re always going out of your way to do this petty shit, and it’s totally unnecessary! If you left me alone, I’d leave you alone! But no, you insist on coming here day after day to try (and I do mean try!) to make me look dumb! I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but whatever it is, it isn’t working! So, why do you keep doing this crap? What do you want?”

            “What do I want? I want my reign back!” Casper irately admitted.

            I shot back with, “Your rain? Do I look like I can control the weather?”

            He quarreled, “No, not rain! Reign, as in sovereignty!” I gave him a peculiar stare, so he defended himself, “No, I’m not crazy! I used to be the king around here! My legacy as an athletic star made me a campus celebrity even to this day! I was the best catch and the authority on the supernatural too! Then you waltzed right in with no real teaching experience, and you stole all of my thunder! Now, everyone comes to you for my area of expertise! Plus, none of my female admirers show any interest in me the minute you showed up! They completely disregard me as you strut down the hall and are all like ‘Ooh! Look at me! See how handsome I am! Forget about old Casper! Everyone pay attention to me!’”

            “Okay, number one, I don’t sound like that!” I countered. He shrugged, and I went on, “Two, I didn’t go into the educational field for any sort of prestige! Who does that?” He pouted, so I sighed and let him know, “Initially, I wanted to prove something to my ex-wife.” He raised his eyebrows at the broach of that subject, but I had no inclination to delight him with the details of that sordid affair, so I continued, “I got to that destination, but not by using the route I imagined! I got a fresh start by making new friends, meeting the love of my life, and having a real impact on the future generation! When I quit living to prove myself to someone else, I got something better than I could have imagined! You can’t keep relying on what you did in the past, man! Find something else you’re good at, and then you’ll get your fame back! Instead of wasting your energy striving to take me down, work on building yourself up instead!”

            “Wow, that’s so obvious that I should have deduced it myself! So, the dilemma has hence become where do I venture moving forward?” Casper contemplated this concept for a moment.

            I politely ushered him out of the classroom, “Venture anywhere but here! I’m gonna salvage what’s left of my meal break!” He waved goodbye but did not wait for me to return the gesture as he left my classroom. I rolled my eyes and rattled my brains around to shake off the tension I had built up. If only he knew how much I did not want this sort of renown! I had no ambition to get other ladies’ appeal- Phoebe was the only woman I had any desire to please! Furthermore, the whole Ghost League business was more of a duty than an honor! Yes, the inciting incident with the vampires brought us together as companions, but I would have been thrilled to have bonded with them in any other circumstance! And seriously, if Damon had stayed in Hell where he belongs, I would have been perfectly content with dropping out of the spotlight! I aimed to decompress from these negative emotions as I locked up my class, and as I hurried towards the teachers’ lounge, I crossed my fingers that no fear mongers would pop up and add fuel to the fire that was my inner turmoil!

            I found Phoebe, Ellie, Ginger, Aleck, and Fletcher all sitting at a table in the quad, and I inquired, “What’s going on?”

            Fletcher filled me in, “All the kids are too chicken to sit out here, so Manuel had us all eat outside to encourage them to come back here. Like hanging out with their teachers are gonna really entice them to do that!”

            “Where have you been?” Ginger queried to me. She leaned in closer and whispered, “Did you take care of one of Damon’s little pets as you came out here?”

            “Nope!” I replied, “I was dealing with another irritating pest. Actually, I was kinda hoping to hear you all took care of one while I was gone so we could be done for the day!”

            Aleck conversed, “Sorry to disappoint you! Although, I guess it is possible we could be done and not even know it! Like, what if one of his victims killed one without them even realizing what it was? Or maybe two oppositional ones arrived simultaneously and snuffed each other out!”

            Ellie disputed that supposition, “That’ll never happen! We’ve had two in the same shift, but never two at the same time! Besides, they all stem from one group, so why would they hurt each other?”

            As if on cue, a girl ran out into the grounds in front of us screaming while a butterfly followed her. She suddenly froze, closed her eyes, and chanted, “I’m in my happy place! I’m in a snowy cabin!” She peeked out at the air around her, and when the butterfly had not vanished, she groaned, “Aah! Why isn’t this working?”

            “I’m in my happy place! I’m in a snowy mountain cabin!” a boy recited with his lids shut in an attempt to elude the bouncy and bubbly golden-retriever that was tailing him. He bumped into the butterfly girl and apologized, “Oops! My bad! I didn’t-!” The dog interrupted him by leaping up and eating the butterfly in one chomp!

            “Ooh, I love your dog!” the girl gushed.

            The boy gazed at the girl with a captivated smile, and then he proposed, “The dog says you should go to the prom with me!”

            She happily accepted, “Yeah, sure! I’d love to!”

            “Ooh! Can we pet your dog?” A number of other students rushed out to greet the playful pooch.

            “No!” I intervened when I saw signs of the butterfly’s fear monger transforming inside of the canine’s stomach! The children all grew aghast as I snatched up cute animal, so I fibbed, “I gotta take him to tinkle! ‘Scuse me!”

            My colleagues in the Ghost League trailed me as I hastily moved to the side of the school, and when the dog’s fear monger mutated into its original form, I dropped it out of appall. After we all saw it keel over, Ellie acknowledged, “Well, Aleck, I guess I was wrong on that one!”

            Damon suddenly apparated into our vicinity, and he complained, “A golden retriever! Out of all of the much scarier mutts it could have chosen, why did they pick something so adorable? I’m sick of bringing these kids joy and love!”

            “Do you expect us to offer you any sympathy?” I probed.

            “No!” Damon pouted. He then amended his sentence, “That is to say, no because you need it more than I do! Just wait ‘til you see what I have in store for you tomorrow!”

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 22

Gazing down at his long, blonde wig and vibrant getup, Fletcher griped, “I’m gonna have nightmares for weeks ‘cause of this! These colors hurt my eyes! And what does this ‘I am the Walrus’ thing even mean? Is it a comment on my weight?”

            Trying to keep my lengthy ‘do out of my face, I assured him, “It’s a Beatles song. I’m pretty sure they meant that as some sort of outsider/anti-society statement. They sang about a lot of issues, but body image wasn’t one of them!” Although, truthfully, with the elongated mustache he now bore, he more or less did bear resemblance to that animal!

            “Personally, I kinda like my hair like this!” Aleck commented as he studied his reflection in an ornate hand mirror that probably belonged to Ginger. “Do you think I should grow it out for real?”

            “You need to be asking the missus that!” Ellie recommended to him. “Do we look like your wife to you?”

            Aleck eyeballed her afro and non, multi-patterned dress, and then he slowly responded, “Uh… No!”

            Ginger took back her mirror (I knew it was it hers!), and as she readjusted her flower headband, she opined, “I don’t mind the outfits, but I do mind the whole ‘free hug’ prospect! Touching all of those strangers seems so unsanitary!”

            “Eh, it’s not that bad!” the lady with the rainbow strands disputed. “My husband is a dentist, and if he can go near all of those mouths every single day, you should be fine giving a few kids a hug!”

            “Oh, that’s funny! One of my students’ father is a dentist too!” I conversed. “I ran into in her at the mall yesterday, and she mentioned it.”

            Rainbow Strands told me, “You must be talking about my Roxy! Her dad’s office is in the mall!”

            My jaw nearly dropped upon that revelation! “You’re Roxy’s mom?” I caught on to how rude I came across, so I amended my sentence, “Sorry! I just assumed you were her sister!” I didn’t see my colleagues’ reaction to that quip, but I could feel their eyes rolling behind me!

            “That’s alright!” she waved off my clumsy reaction. “Most people are surprised to see someone who went through medical school with a free-spirited artist like me!” She must have sensed my curiosity on how their couple-hood ever came about because she swiftly filled me in, “You see, in the bedroom…”

            “Okay, I don’t need to know more!” I interrupted her in an attempt to rid myself of whatever unpleasant image she intended to paint for me!

            A man in a tie-dye shirt came over to our group and spoke to Roxy’s mom, “They’re starting in a minute, Sage!”

            Sage posed to us, “Are you guys ready?”

            “The only thing I’m ready to do is vomit!” Fletcher half kidded while glimpsing at his ensemble in disgust.

            “Oh, please help us out!” Sage pled to him. “My daughter has gone down a very dark road, and I’m afraid she’s taken a lot of other souls with her! I don’t’ wanna lose her, and I don’t want any other parents to suffer either! Don’t give up on them now!”

            Fletcher’s heart softened at her emotional appeal, and his care for the well-being of the children he taught overtook him, so he shifted his posture and proudly declared, “I am the walrus!”

            Sage smiled in appreciation and then scampered off to another position on the quad. As we stood in our stances, Aleck joked, “Well, we have some sage here, so we should be protected from our resident ghost, right?”

            “I doubt Damon would strike here!” Phoebe put in as she showed up by our sides. “This rally is for his people, so why would he interrupt it? If anything, he would target the prom committee! I’d love to see some scary beast face Hazel! All she would have to do is glare once and it would totally keel over!” The other four laughed at her jest, but I couldn’t stop staring at how irresistible she was in her floral dress! It perfectly sculpted her curves, and maybe because Sage recently broached the subject of her sexuality, but I found her boho costume strangely provocative! A funeral march boomed from some nearby speakers, but I paid them no attention as I savored the becoming sight before me- something that Phoebe took notice of! She snapped her fingers in my face and directed me, “Connor! Focus!”

            “Sorry!” I forced myself out of my reverie and gave proper concentration to the teens in shadowy garments slowly making their way to the center of campus. They all held candles, but none of them were lit. There weren’t any sprinklers outside, but I assumed that Manuel didn’t wanna take any risks after the blaze from that mummy caused the system to soak the entire school! All of the FAUK club participants kept their heads bowed, so they couldn’t even see the sizeable crowd who had gathered to view the proceedings! Our cue to act required us to wait until they began speaking, but their introduction was so slow and the music was sort of sleep-provoking, so it took a lot of willpower to resist the temptation to crash their party sooner!

            Finally, my impatience could rest! Ismeray picked up a microphone and addressed the attendees, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have gathered here today to-.”

            From all different sides of the vicinity, the Free Huggers swooped in and chanted, “Free hugs! Free hugs!”

            “We are gathered here to mourn the lost ones…” Ismeray tried to talk over us.

            “Free hugs! Free hugs!” we chanted even louder.

            Ismeray shouted into her receiver, “But they will not be gone from our lives forever! The-.” She took on a surly expression as she watched us hug various members of the spectators. No one really objected to our gesture- I got the impression that they were too confused to emit a strong reaction!

            Sage grabbed Ismeray’s microphone and orated, “Kids, listen! Life isn’t so doom and gloom! There’s so many beautiful-!”

            “The revolution is coming!” Ismeray took back the mic and quickly spouted out as much as she could prior to Sage snatching her instrument again. “We-.”

            “The world can be so wonderful if you just embrace the-!” Sage leaned in and spoke into the resonator in Ismeray’s grip.

            Ismeray plowed on in the same instance, “The dead will be among us shortly!”

            Sage persisted on her point as well, “Love makes life worth living, not worshipping the dead!”

            “The undead will inherit the earth!” Ismeray roared.

            “The future belongs to those who dare to dream!” Sage bellowed.

            One of the youths who witnessed this spectacle pondered, “I don’t get it! Are the dead people dreaming?”

            Aleck commented, “Well, it doesn’t look like anyone’s getting brainwashed at least!”

            “True, but this whole charade is so…” Ginger searched for the right words to describe her opinion. “… Well, it can’t get any weirder than this!”

            “Don’t say that!” Ellie chided her. “You’ll tempt fate!”

            Ginger dismissed that claim, “Oh, please! Nothing is gonna happen!” All of a sudden, a whooshing sound boomed over our heads! Ellie glared at Ginger, who denounced her non-verbal accusation, “Whatever that is, it’s not my fault!”

            With all of the preposterous phobias we had to deal with previous to this juncture, I expected to behold a giant bird or something to that degree- but no! I never would have guessed that something actually scary would show up! A giant, gray-scaled dragon hovered over the school! It lunged towards the ground, and everyone ran towards the closest hallway for cover. As we all cowered in fear, one normally dressed child exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! The prophecy has begun! The undead have come to collect us!”

            “This isn’t the prophecy!” Ismeray refuted as the dragon perched itself in the quad and searched for stragglers who didn’t make it inside. “The prophecy says the dead will rise up, and this thing is very much alive!”

            “Ahh! I always knew this would happen!” another normally dressed girl whimpered. “Ever since the castle town burned down in the last season, I knew one day it would come for me as well!”

            I squelched that proclamation, “Um, you’re not a character on a TV show! Why are so many people so deathly afraid of fictional work? They’re dramas, not documentaries!”

            Phoebe kindly but nervously reminded me, “Uh, babe, can we maybe discuss this later?”

            The dragon found our safe haven, and it kept trying to squeeze its top half under the awning outside of the building. It had yet to find a successful path to do so, but its menacing stare and frequent snapping was pretty intimidating, and no one could guarantee how long this stronghold could offer us security! Aleck inquired, “What do we do?”

            He swiveled his gaze between the six of us in the Ghost League, and Fletcher replied, “Don’t ask me! I have no clue! What do we do, flip through the Yellow Pages and hire a dragon slayer?”

            “What are the Yellow Pages?” one kid probed, which somewhat punched us in the gut as of the adults in the room were forced to sharply recall our old age!

            “They’re like a search engine on paper!” I let that teen know, and then I posed to the entire lot, “How do dragons get killed on that show?”

            One individual recollected, “Oh, one of them got struck with a bolt of lightning!”

            I hated to show that person rudeness, but time was of the essence here, so I couldn’t entertain that notion whatsoever! “Anyone else?”

            “So, this is where it all ends, huh?” Ellie remarked. “Wow, I never thought it would happen like this! Seriously, I couldn’t have predicted by cause of death as eaten by a dragon while dressed like a flower child hiding on the science department floor!”

            “Hey, we are in the science department!” Phoebe unexpectedly got hit with inspiration from that commentary. “Aleck, don’t you have some kind of strange chemical we could feed it to make it croak?”

            Slightly affronted, Aleck informed her, “I don’t know about strange! They’re fairly common elements found throughout the planet! But yes, some of them are poisonous, however, it would take more than what’s in my inventory to make it fatal for a creature that size!”

            I petitioned him, “What about ones that would cause an explosion?” Aleck mulled that concept over for a moment…

            “What’s going on out here?” Manuel poked his torso out of a door on the other side of us, and the dragon turned its trajectory over to him. “Ay Bendito!” Manuel hollered before promptly ducking back into his quarters. The dragon managed to stick one of its claws close to Manuel’s entrance, and it scratched the glass on the door’s pane! We all watched in horror as the integrity of the edifice showed signs of buckling!

            “We’ve gotta help them!” Ginger shrieked. “Why aren’t Aleck and Phoebe back yet?”

            I peeked at my watch and then reassured Ginger, “They should be here any minute! Gimme your mirror!”

            Ginger puzzled, “My mirror? Why would you worry about your appearance during an emergency like this?”

            “Psh! Do these duds give you any indication that I give a damn about my appearance right now?” I indicated to my hippie garments, and she no longer objected to my request. She didn’t seem to fathom why I made that proposition, but she dug into her purse and handed it over anyhow. I stuck my arm out of one of the doors and found the precise angle that made the surface’s reflection radiate the sun’s rays…

            “What are you doing?” a student cried out. “Now it’s gonna come back to us!”

             I asserted, “Yeah, it’s supposed to!” Everyone grew alarmed by that projected predicament, and as the dragon inched nearer and nearer to our direction, the huddled teens became more and more hysterical. “Relax! They’ll arrive in a few seconds! You’ll see!” Nobody relaxed, and a few seconds elapsed with neither of them returning, so I started to grow anxious myself! I didn’t dare admit that to the kids though! “Any second now…!” I stated less confidently.

            Exactly when the dragon resumed snapping at us, Phoebe commanded, “Open the doors!” Fletcher and I heeded her command, and Aleck threw the bust that resembled Timothy Chalamet straight into the dragon’s mouth! Fletcher and I shut the door and took cover right as the dragon bit down on the projectile. An explosion rang out, and once the phenomenon ceased its effect, we craned our necks up and espied that the dragon laid motionless on the pavement!

            “Cool!” one of the youthful boys celebrated.

            “That is not cool! That’s disgusting!” Ismeray disagreed with him. “Ew! They’re collecting pieces of its corpse!”

            As more of these teenagers flocked over to grab bits of its remains, Fletcher asked the Ghost League, “There’s nothing we can do to prevent this, is there?” We all shook our heads. The kids’ mirth came to an abrupt halt as the pieces suddenly left their hands, and they all yelped profusely as those parts came together in the shape of a deceased fear monger! Ordinarily, we would have tried to prevent anyone from witnessing that transformation, but they just saw a freaking a freaking dragon, so why not allow them to watch another supernatural occurrence?

            As we went back outside, Aleck brought up, “You know what I should’ve said when I threw Isaac Newton’s sculpture? ‘Hey dragon! Eat this!’”

            “I still think he looked more like Billy Squier!” I opined. Ismeray’s fixation darted between us and the newly disappeared fear monger, and seemed a bit cross, so I affirmed, “The Free Hug thing was us, that monster was not!”

            “What in the blazes is going on here?” Manuel re-emerged and addressed us all.

            None of us knew what to reveal to him, and not as single person wanted to be the one to have to try and explain any of today’s ordeal! We all silently tried to delegate the task to one another, but then Roxy piped up, “What’s going on here is that they just destroyed my science project!” Manuel gazed at us in utter befuddlement, and we simply shrugged, offering no other explanation for this transpiration!

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Mister Fenmore?” the young woman queried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “No problem!” I croaked out.

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

The Terra-Belle Ghost, Chapter 20

A handsome young man who I recognized as the quarterback from the Rooks’ football team was down on one knee while holding several red balloons, some of which had the word “Go to prom with me?” written on them, and Corvina was in tears, but I got the sense that she wasn’t crying from happiness… “Is that a no?” the young man inquired with a worried expression on his face.

            “I…” Corvina began to reply but then trailed off.

            “Aye means yes!” one girl who was observing the even gushed.

            The young man perked up, “So, you said yes?”

            Corvina disputed that, “No!”

            “So, you’re saying no?” The young man grew dejected again.

            “No, I didn’t say that either! I don’t know what I’m saying!’ Corvina fretted.

            I had a number of other things to do, so I really didn’t want to get involved with this teen drama unfolding in front of me, but I could see a lot of hurt brewing inside of both of them, and it pulled at my heartstrings enough to compel me to do something to fix whatever issue plagued them. I requested, “Hey, Corvina! Come here! Let’s talk for a minute.” We walked to an empty part of the hall, and then I quietly asked her, “You don’t like that guy?”

            Corvina, still watery-eyed, answered me, “No, that’s not it at all! I always thought he was handsome, but Hudd is a true part of the establishment! He’s popular, rich, and just everything I was rebelling against! Now, the rules are different though! We used to run in different circles, but ever since the FAUK club took over, I maintained my individuality by dressing super girly. But since these fake goths are the new norm, I embraced this behavior previously used by the status quo. So, just trying to be unique, I started acting like one of the people I can’t stand! I became one of them! But I always thought after this was over, I’d go back to my old self again. If I got out with him, that won’t happen!”

            “Who says that you can’t be your true self?” I challenged her.

            “If I join the popular girls, when they do become popular again, I can’t return to my gothic roots! I gotta keep up with the Joneses, I can’t be different in any way!” Corvina lamented. “I know, right now, it’s what I want ‘cause we are the counter-culture, but if the FAUKers drop off the face of the planet, as they should, then I’ll be forced to live in a world that I despise!”

            I rationalized to her, “Okay, first of all, this is a prom-posal, not a wedding proposal! It’s just one date! If he isn’t what you want, you can dump him any time you want!  Secondly, if he tries to change who you really are, he isn’t worth keeping around!”

            Corvina probed, “But what if I do like him and everyone else wants me to change myself?”

            “Screw them! You’ll be dating the king of the popular kids, which would make you the queen! And the queen gets to decide the rules!” I said with a wink. She clearly hadn’t considered that point until I brought it up, and she seemed to take it under serious consideration. As for me, I was still a new teacher, and I never had any siblings, so I had no experience giving out advice to kids! Yes, I had a leadership position at the marketing firm I worked at for over a decade, but we never discussed much about our personal lives! It was a little difficult to share stories about your significant other when you’re never around to see them! I wonder if I divulge the details regarding my ex, could I have saved myself from the years I wasted on her? … Anyways, obviously, I didn’t have the best background for doling out pearls of wisdom, and yet I somehow managed to give them out in spades with her! I internally gave myself a pat on the back for the remarkable job I did today when I never imagined that I could pull something like this off!

            “Aww, she’s gonna say no!” Hudd hung his head low. “I knew I wasn’t good enough for her!”

            Corvina spun around real fast when she heard that! She croaked out, “You don’t think you’re good enough for me? What, are you high?”

            Hudd contemplated this notion. “Hmm… I’m not sure! There was this party over the weekend, and I figured since it’s the off season…” He saw the discerning stare I was giving him, so he beseeched me, “Please don’t tell coach Jackson!”

            “Well, he is a friend of mine, so…” While I inwardly debated whether or not I should tell Fletcher about his star players’ allegedly illicit use of his break, Hudd’s eyes enlarged in panic. I would have been shocked if he was still under the effect of whatever he did, and as far as I know, his scholastic reports were still very positive, so I certainly didn’t want to cause Hudd any unnecessary trouble, and Fletcher had enough trouble of his own, so I reconsidered revealing this news to him. “Well, the baseball team is a real hassle right now, so I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that! But, for the love of god, don’t say anything else incriminating in front of me! Actually, you tow should go off campus and talk! It sounds like you two have a lot to discuss!”

            “Thanks, Mister Fenmore!” Corvina smiled gratefully to me as did Hudd. I returned the gesture, but then I ushered them to vacate the premises. Hudd grabbed Corvina’s hand, and they scampered towards the exit.

            I nearly ran into the balloons he utilized, so I called after them, “Hey, you guys forgot something!”

            Hudd told me, “Nah, I shouldn’t take it out of here! I found it after class, and since no one seemed to be using them, I decided to take some to ask Corvina to the prom! I’m shocked they didn’t come looking for them!” The two of them stood there staring at me as if they got the impression I had more to say, but I didn’t, so once again, I gestured for them to scat.

            After they were out of sight, my curiosity peaked about the balloons that Hudd had stumbled across. Nobody was coming to collect them, so did they not want them anymore? I hypothesized that another prom-posal had gone wrong, so the person who had bought these originally abandoned them after their loss. There were a few blank ones, so I got an idea of how to use them for myself! I took some into my classroom, and then I dug out a marker to write “Marry Me Phoebe” on the surface! I was supposed to meet up with her as well as the others shortly, so it seemed like the best audience to do this in front of! I grinned as I savored how I pictured she would react to this stunt, and then I stored the balloons there so I could dash off to run another errand prior to the onset of our meeting.

            When I entered into the shop room, Fletcher was in the process of feeding something into a strange machine while Phoebe, Ellie, Ginger, Aleck, and the teacher who occupied this class stood by and watched. A lot of sparks were flying, so no one noticed me standing there with a bouquet of balloons and a giant, old book in my arms! The sparks emitted from that contraption prompted the shop teacher to persuade Fletcher to stop, and the others instinctively backed away in a swift manner! When Fletcher finally caught on to the scenario, he pushed the power off button and inquired, “Am I doing it wrong?”

            “Have you ever seen any tools that work correctly emit sparks like that?” the shop teacher replied. Fletcher had to mull over that question for a beat.

            “Did it do anything to the key? I mean spoon!” Ellie posed to the shop teacher.

            The shop teacher held the spoon up so everyone could see it. “I don’t understand it! It should’ve been severely damaged, but there’s not even a scratch on it! As a matter of fact, it appears a little cleaner somehow!’

            Aleck, who ended up close to the doorway that I was standing in, espied my gimmick, and I fully expected him to bring it to the others’ attention so I could go through with the ritual. My heart raced as I anticipated the long-awaited moment, but my hopes came to a screeching halt when Aleck darted to the door and started to shove me outside! “Connor’s here! He needs to talk to me about something!” he relayed to the others.

            “No I don’t!” I protested. I couldn’t comprehend why he didn’t want this proposal to occur! We had all gotten along like family, and everyone supported my relationship with Phoebe, so why wouldn’t he want us to get married?”

            “Yes, you do!” Aleck insisted. I wanted to object some more, but then I recognized that I trusted him like he was one of my relatives (Really, I trusted him more than some of them if counted Blaise!), so if he was preventing this occasion from commencing, then he more than likely had sound logic for taking this action! I relented to his wishes and decided to hear him out because, even if he was going by an incorrect conclusion, he still meant well, and I became very interested in what he so vitally needed to discuss with me…

            As soon as we exited the area, I hissed, “Why did you do that?”

            I braced myself for whatever emotionally devastating tidbit he intended to reveal to me, but to my astonishment, he enquired, “Where did you get those balloons?”

            “Some kid used it for a prom-posal.” I didn’t’ want to argue with him, but I failed to see why this topic held any urgent significance! “I took it ‘cause he didn’t want it anymore. He was concerned about the person he nicked it from coming back to find them.” A thought then struck me. “Wait, did you run into the student who lost them? I’d be happy to give it back later! Well, I guess they couldn’t get the marker off. I’ll pay them back for it, I swear!”

            “No, no, no! Listen, those balloons didn’t come from a student…” Aleck informed me.

            Now I felt completely confused. “Were they a teacher’s then?”

            Out of nowhere, Damon’s ghostly form manifested next to us, and he bitterly admitted, “They’re mine! Well, sort of…”

            “You mean… these are…?” Somehow, I couldn’t’ get myself to utter that full sentence, but I knew the truth. Disgust filled my veins as it set in, and once it fully saturated within me, I exclaimed, “Ugh! I don’t wanna use these anymore!”

            “Good! Then I’ll take them back!” Damon attempted to seize the bouquet, but his phantasmal fingers floated right through them! “Dammit! Why’d that witchy girl have to get a ride from Roxy? She might’ve made herself useful for once!”

            Aleck read what I had written on the balloons, and he gasped, “You were gonna propose to her?” I nodded. It was kind of strange to acknowledge this with another individual! As often as I preoccupied myself with this ambition, I hadn’t actually voiced it out loud to anyone until this instance! My nerves threatened to rumble as I prepared for Aleck’s opinion on this concept, and I knocked on wood that he wouldn’t disapprove of my objective… To my relief, he cracked a huge smile and celebrated, “Dude!” He excitedly slapped my hand as he shook it, and then enthusiastically regarded me, “Congratulations!”

            I was so thrilled that he acclaimed the premise of our union, but his fervor caused a shard of disappointment to hit me as well. “Thanks! But don’t revel in joy too soon! I still gotta ask her…”

            “Oh man! I’m so sorry!” Aleck sympathized with me as he eyeballed the fear monger balloons. “Did you wanna…?”

            “No, no! If Phoebe found out that I used a monster’s hide to get engaged, I doubt she’d be so on board!” I truly did not want to destroy this romantic plot I cooked up, but I felt sure that I would shorten my odds of persuading that woman to agree to be my wife if I went through with it in this manner, so I didn’t see any alternative other than to decimate the balloons immediately!

            Damon strove to convince me otherwise, “What’s the big deal? That boy got a date to the dance with them, so why not use them to seek her hand in marriage?”

            Aleck glimpsed at me to gauge my opinion, and I gave him a curt nod to indicate my agreement on carrying on with the destruction of these unholy novelties. Ignoring Damon’s cries of opposition, Aleck took a pen out of his pocket and popped them one by one! It totally hurt my ears, I did not think that one through enough! We peered at the remains as they fused together and reverted to their original form, but before we could behold its disappearance…

            “What’s going on over here?” The hall monitor rounded the corner and gazed at us suspiciously.

            “Nothing!” I lied as Aleck and I jumped in front of the fear monger’s corpse to obscure it from the hall monitor’s viewpoint. “We were just…” I struggled to unearth an excuse for the pair of us to be hanging out in the hallway in such an unusual fashion.

            The hall monitor didn’t seem to believe me, but thankfully, he didn’t appear upset about it. He leaned in close and whispered, “Did you get rid of the…?”

            Aleck assured him, “Yup! All ninety-nine of them!”

            “There were ninety-nine red balloons?” I surmised with a discernable amount of amusement.

            “Don’t even mention that song to me!” the hall monitor snapped. He shuddered and added, “It doesn’t help that the creepy clown used them before murdering his victims!” I almost brought up the truism of his phobia stemming from a fictional character, but I bit my lip since he showed signs of vacating the vicinity. “Thanks, guys!”

            We both shouted, “No problem!” as he walked away. We gazed at each other animatedly and hollered, “Dude!”

            Talking in unison entertained the both of us, but the rest of the Ghost League joined us with less gleefully expressions on their faces. Ginger irritably addressed Aleck and me, “Dudes! What are you so pumped up about? This method of getting rid of the key fizzled out miserably, and we have no other clues on how to do it!”

            “That’s not true!” I disagreed as I showcased the large tome in my hands.

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!