Coldhearted
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The first ten chapters of Coldhearted, a chilling ghost story by Melanie Matthews, available at Amazon, Smashwords, and Lulu in ebook formats, as well as paperback at Amazon.

The first ten chapters of Coldhearted, a chilling ghost story by Melanie Matthews, available at Amazon, Smashwords, and Lulu in ebook formats, as well as paperback at Amazon.

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Coldhearted Coldhearted Document Transcript

  • Coldhearted Copyright © 2014 by Melanie Matthews Cover photograph © Melkozyorov/Stock Free Images Coldhearted is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever without written consent from the author. About Coldhearted When Edie St. John entered Lockhart Manor in the cold town of Grimsby, she didn’t expect to be imprisoned by a malevolent ghost. Tristan Lockhart decided to let her go but not before attaching himself to her. Free to haunt Grimsby, Tristan is causing fear wherever Edie goes, hateful of everyone, and jealous of Mason Fenwick, whom Edie loves. Can Edie find a way to rid herself of Tristan and have a normal life with Mason? Or is she doomed to forever suffer from Tristan’s cold, dark heart? About the Author Melanie Matthews has been writing for years, ever since she read The Lord of the Rings and said, “I can do that!” She still has yet to write an epic fantasy, but it’s on her to do list. Coldhearted is her debut novel. She lives in South Carolina. Follow Melanie on Twitter @matthews_author Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10
  • Chapter 1 Edie was lost and freezing cold. Grimsby, the wintry town she’d recently moved to was blanketed in snow, as if it’d been cursed by the White Witch of Narnia. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around her chest. Edie, being a southern girl, wasn’t used to the cold. She was bundled up more than a NASA astronaut out on a spacewalk. And she was still freezing. She’d stopped her car to ask for directions. Now she was standing before an old but fancy-looking mansion named Lockhart Manor from the iron-lettering arranged in a semicircle on a bricked-archway entrance. At first glance, the mansion had seemed abandoned, but then Edie had seen a figure walk past a window, before a light had been turned off. Who could possibly live in such a desolate location? She took in the rest of the grounds. Vast, thick woods surrounded the property. There was no green here, wintertime, when everything was dead. Come springtime, the earth would be revived, full of life. Not Edie’s parents, though. They were dead and gone. And a change of the seasons couldn’t bring them back. To Edie, the leafless, snow-blanketed trees acknowledged this, as they stood there, proud and tall, daring her to challenge them. They scared her with their limbs like skinny arms, reaching out to snatch her up. She was reminded of the scene with Dorothy and the deceptively-inanimate trees on the yellow-bricked road, and wondered if there really was a witch about. Desperate for salvation, Edie forced her mouth open, to call out, but she couldn’t form the words, and only saw her breath escape into a misty white trail; it moved on its own, traveling with speed and purpose toward the front door of the house.
  • Edie wondered if this was a sign. Should she knock? Yes, she decided quickly, and reached up to grab the knocker, when at the same time, she heard someone crying. Her hand froze and she stood still, listening. The crying, no, the wailing, continued. It was coming from the woods. She thought it must be the wind, stirring and whistling through the trees. Yet… there was no wind. No natural phenomena to explain what she was hearing. She lowered her hand. The wailing stopped and silence reigned. She shook her head, thinking she’d just imagined it all. Yeah, that was it. The place looked scary, so her mind had played a trick on her. She lifted her hand and grabbed the knocker. “Don’t,” someone whispered in her ear. The voice sounded like a girl, but when Edie turned to find her, she was nowhere to be found. Scared, Edie knocked and yelled, “Is anyone home?! Please?! Let me in! I’m lost!” Edie knew someone was home. She’d seen someone moving. “Don’t!” the girl whispered again, more urgent than before. Oh, the hell with it! She’d just be late to school. She was dreading going there anyway. Maybe she’d go back to Uncle Landon’s house. No. It was her house, her home. As she was turning to walk away, she heard the front door creak open. She pivoted back around, and curious, she focused her eyes, peering into the darkness. “Hello?” she called out. No one answered. The house was deadly silent. She should’ve fled then, but she didn’t, feeling compelled to move forward by forces she couldn’t understand. So she stepped over the threshold, took off her glove, and felt around for a light switch. Her fingers swept something sticky and she jerked her hand back. Outside, in the morning light, she scrutinized her palm; icky, spider webs covered it. View slide
  • Don’t be afraid. You can do this. Her cheers worked. She wiped her palm against her jeans, and then felt around again for the switch. She found it and flipped it on—nothing. She flipped it back and forth—nothing, again. There was no electricity. But…what about that light she’d seen? It’d been too luminous for a single candle. She moved forward in the dark, in the silence, and then suddenly, she heard a buzzing noise like a hive of bees. She took a step back, ready to flee, thinking she was about to get stung. As soon as she took another step, the buzzing noise stopped. Just as she was about to relax, a loud pop caused her to jump, followed by a bright, yellow flash that almost blinded her. She tossed up her hand to protect what little vision she had left. After a few seconds, she dared to lower her hand. She blinked, regained clarity, and focused her eyes. She realized that she was standing in the foyer of Lockhart Manor, below a glowing chandelier consumed by spider webs, and she assumed, creepy crawlies. So then, I’m not going crazy. The place was lit, once again. Now…what about that person she’d seen? “Hello?” she called out, again. In response, she heard a floorboard creak, and then from the gloom, a deep, smooth voice said, “Come in. I’ll help you find your way.” Her teeth were chattering. She felt colder than she’d ever felt before, and she had a horrible, horrible feeling it had nothing to do with the weather. So when she backed up to leave and turned toward the exit, she wasn’t surprised to discover the front door had closed—on its own—and locked her inside with no mechanism to free herself. She tried her cell phone to call for help, but the black screen was unresponsive, frozen dead. Frightfully, she wondered if she was next. View slide
  • Chapter 2 Edie grasped the pendant resting beside her frantically-beating heart. It’d been a birthday gift, her seventeenth. The chain was gold, as well as the heart-shaped pendant with encrusted rubies that spelled the word Love in cursive script along the surface. She safeguarded it in her hand, as if it were magical; an object of power to set her free from this scary place, and the scary-sounding man in the dark. With her free hand, she tried the door handle again. No use. She was a prisoner. Another floorboard creaked. The man was moving toward her. She let go of her necklace. She couldn’t very well run and hold it at the same time. She knew that the front door wasn’t the only door, so she took off running around the first floor of the house like a madwoman, trying to find another exit, but every door she came to was locked. Out of breath from lack of exercise, she stopped, doubled over, and rested her hands on her knees, panting. She could see her breath escaping. The lights may be on, but not the heat. She didn’t hear anyone moving or talking, so she willed her heart to return to its normal rhythm and took in her surroundings. She was in what appeared to be a sitting room. No television. No computer. There was a phone, but it was an old- timey rotary. She checked for a dial tone; the line was dead. No surprise there. The furniture, although caked in dust, was expensive-looking—mahogany or walnut. Dulled paintings adorned the walls—scenes of wide green fields; cottages; seashores. No portraits. A tapestry of Psalm 23 hung on the wall, as well; it was faded and torn, slowly rotting away. She imagined the house must have been very beautiful once, before time and neglect had worn it down to ugliness.
  • Who were the Lockharts? And why had they abandoned their home? She checked her cell phone again on the chance that maybe it’d decided to be nice and work. Nope. It was still mean and dead. She grasped the heart-shaped pendant again. She’d first worn it three weeks ago on her birthday. And she’d worn it still, when on the next day, she’d been informed her parents had died in a car accident. A careless driver not paying attention had hit them. And so three days ago, she’d arrived in Grimsby to live with her uncle, the famous horror writer, Landon St. John. He’d been only a vague memory of her childhood; the famous, absentee uncle, who had lived far away and wrote scary stories. At the memorial, he’d shown no grief, stone-faced. But he’d taken care of the funerary arrangements beforehand, sparing no expense. After the ceremony, he’d finally approached Edie, saying “You’re going to be living with me now.” His smile had been forced. Uncle Landon was all right, she guessed. He’d given her a car and a cell phone. She had access to his credit card, along with cash money. She didn’t need to worry about food to eat and clothes to wear. But that was as far as his attention went. He didn’t sit with her. He didn’t talk to her. He didn’t try to tell her: “It’ll get better, Edie,” or “They’d want you to be happy, Edie.” He just sat at his computer, conjuring up ghouls and goblins and ghosts, while he fueled his body with coffee and cigarettes. Right now, she wished that she had some coffee to warm her body against this biting cold. She was sure her nose had already fallen off, but she was too rigidly frozen to go look for it. Nearby she heard another floorboard creak. She strained her stiff, glacial muscles to move and ran back to the foyer. The chandelier was still lit and it illuminated much of the area, but there were still shadowy places where the light couldn’t reach, or refused to reach. Determined to be free, she found some courage and used it aggressively. “Whoever you are, you don’t scare me. Now…let me out!”
  • A chuckle came from the shadows, and then a deep, haunting voice said, “What a pathetic, little liar, you are. I’ve never seen someone so scared in all my life, girlie girl.” She grasped her necklace, the metal made of courage, not gold. “Come out, then,” she taunted. “Why are you hiding? Are you ugly? Got warts all over your face or something?” Oh, great, Edie! Taunt the very thing keeping you locked up. She waited for him to growl, to grab her, but he said nothing, did nothing. She guessed what they said about bullies was true: if you were to stand up to them, they’d back down. She’d been smiling at her victory, but then frowned, as a cold presence brushed past her. She saw her breath escape, before she was knocked down by an unseen force, and then fell on the floor. She remained there, curled up like a frightened child, whimpering. She’d shut her eyes and wrapped her arms around her head, not wanting to see the terrible monster who was about to kill her. Shivering, she waited for death, but the monster didn’t slay her. It seemed that Edie was meant to die another day. She finally lowered her arms and opened her eyes. She saw a light, but it wasn’t from the chandelier above her. It was the warm, beautiful sun with its rays extending through a wide, open space. The front door that’d been shut and locked for so long was now…open. Not wasting time on the how and why, she flew out of the house and hurried back to her car. When she was safely inside, she turned over the engine, blasted the heat, and then she looked back. The front door to Lockhart Manor was closed. That was strange; she hadn’t closed it. There were no lights on inside the house. No one was moving around in front of the windows. The house was vacant. She listened for the wail, the warning that she’d heard before entering the house, but all was silent. Had Edie imagined everything? She searched her pocket, found, and withdrew her phone. The screen was lit, fully charged. Alive. She banged her head against the steering wheel and started to cry.
  • I’m going crazy. It was the only logical explanation Edie could think of. No one had spoken to her. No one had tried to hurt her. She’d imagined everything. It was only normal, right? Losing my parents like that…so suddenly…my mind must have snapped. She wasn’t thinking clearly anymore. She felt lost, adrift. She wondered if she’d ever be found. She yelped when her cell phone rang, and then scolded herself for being so jumpy and stupid. She didn’t recognize the caller, but answered anyway. “Hello?” “Edwina St. John?” a pleasant female voice greeted. “It’s Edie,” Edie corrected. “Oh, Edie, this is Principal Jennings. I was calling because I was worried. Your uncle gave me your number. You and I were supposed to meet before first period, go over your schedule, a quick tour, et cetera.” Edie almost cursed, noticing that the time was well after eight. “Sorry,” Edie apologized. “I got lost. Still am, actually.” “Oh, no, don’t apologize. Where are you now? Any landmarks? Signs?” “Um…” Edie looked for a road sign, but couldn’t find one. “I don’t know. I’m in front of Lockhart Manor, if that means anything.” “Oh, that old place?” Principal Jennings let out a chuckle. “That’s way on the other side of town.” Edie shrugged even though the principal couldn’t see. “Like I said, I got lost. I’ll be at school as soon as I can. I’m going to look up the directions on my phone. What’s the address of the school again? Ashbourne Lane or something…?” “Oh, don’t you worry about that!” Principal Jennings said. “You just stay there. I’ll have someone come by in no time and escort you to the school.” “Uh, no, Principal Jen—” “No, no, no! Don’t worry, Edie! I’ll have someone there in a jiffy. Sit tight.” “Uh, okay, thanks.” “Keep warm! See you soon! Bye!” “Bye,” Edie returned, and then ended the call.
  • Great. Now she had to be escorted to the high school because she couldn’t find her way there. How humiliating. Well, she had no choice and settled in, waiting for her rescuer to arrive. She was shivering, despite the furnace that she’d lit inside her car. She wrapped her arms around her chest, and rocked back and forth, trying to forget about what’d happened to her—or what hadn’t happened to her—inside Lockhart Manor. Edie was sure that she was having a psychotic breakdown. Yet, at the same time, she had a very bad feeling that she wasn’t alone, and prayed to God that she was wrong. Chapter 3 Edie was staring at Lockhart Manor, obsessed, when she heard a vehicle approach beside her. She turned and had to look up. The guy in the red pickup had his window rolled down and motioned for her to do the same. “Hi,” he greeted, after she’d lowered her window. “Nice car.” He was very sweet-looking with dimples and thick, brown hair. “Hi,” she greeted back, feeling her cheeks flush, but not from the car’s heat. “My uncle bought it for me,” she informed next, referring to her brand new white BMW with black wheels. “Are you my escort?” she asked. He smiled, showing off his dimples even more. “Yep, I’m your knight-in- shining armor.” Then his smile faded. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that you’re some damsel-in-distress.” Edie shrugged, not taking offense. “No big deal.” He brought back his smile. “Yeah, well, some girls get touchy about that. Think us guys are saying they’re helpless or something and need a man.” He shrugged, unable to decipher the modern female. “Anyway, I’m Mason, Mason
  • Fenwick. You’re Edwina, right?” “Edie,” Edie corrected him. “Edie,” he echoed back. “Welcome to Grimsby.” “Thanks,” she muttered, and shivered at the cold blast of air entering her car. “Not used to the cold, huh?” he observed correctly. “I was born down south. This is like...” She trailed off, waving a hand at her surroundings, and then continued, “Siberia or something.” Mason chuckled at her comparison, finding it silly. “You’ll get used to it,” he assured her with a warm smile. Edie noticed that he wasn’t as bundled up as she was. No hat. No gloves. No scarf. He was wearing a sweater under a coat, and he didn’t even seem to be that cold. No shivering. No teeth chattering. He was very relaxed. She liked Mason and thought Grimsby wasn’t so bad, after all. Suddenly, there was a gurgling sound, as if someone were coughing up blood. Mason started making frantic movements inside his truck, but he wasn’t hurt; he was trying to keep his truck cranked up. It didn’t work. It died, silent. Mason cursed. “Sorry,” he apologized to Edie. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I just had it serviced.” Edie gave Lockhart Manor a wary glance. The ground’s cursed, I know it. “No signal,” Mason said, checking his cell phone. “What about you?” Edie checked hers. The signal was strong. “Do you want me to call someone?” she asked. “A tow truck?” Mason sighed and drummed his fingers against the steering wheel, thinking. “Well…if you don’t mind, you could drive me back to school. I’ll show you the way. Later, I’ll have someone come by and get the truck.” Edie smiled. “So now I’m rescuing you?” Mason chuckled. “It seems that way.” He got out of his truck and shut the door, not bothering to lock it, and then he came toward her car. Edie moved her backpack behind her, so Mason could sit in the passenger’s seat. “Ooh, nice,” he commented, sliding in. “But hot.” He closed the vents in front
  • of him. “Sorry, I’m not used to the cold,” Edie reminded him. Edie adjusted the fire that she’d started, turning down the knob, just a little. She couldn’t drive shivering. They’d never make it to school, but a ditch instead. Mason said, “I bet if you were to stay here long enough, you’d adapt to the cold.” He seemed anxious. “Are you planning on staying in Grimsby for a while?” Edie shrugged. “Well, I’m a senior and I guess I’ll be going off to college after graduation. I don’t know where but probably somewhere down south.” Mason’s face fell, disappointed. “Oh, well, maybe you’ll change your mind.” “Maybe,” she said, not committing either way. At her “maybe,” his face lit up. He smiled. “Yeah, think about it. So why’d you move here if you don’t like the cold?” he asked. Edie hesitated, and then said, “My…my parents died and I came here to live with my uncle. I had nowhere else to go.” Mason was wearing a sympathetic frown. “I’m sorry about your parents.” Then his frown turned up into a smile. “I’m a fan of your uncle,” he said, explaining his abrupt change in mood. “I’ve got all his books: The Demon’s Bride; A Vampire’s Vengeance; Washington’s Werewolf; I, Ghoul; The Ghosts of San Jose...” Edie let Mason go on, not really listening, just staring at his face, so handsome. “Edie?” She blinked. “Huh?” Mason smiled again. “I said: which story of your uncle’s is your favorite?” She bit her lip, and then said, “Well, I’ve never read any of his books. My parents never let me, said they’d give me nightmares.” “Well, you could borrow mine sometime, if you want. I mean, unless your uncle has copies around.” Edie shrugged again. “I’ve never thought to ask, but if I were to go looking for one, I’d probably be buried under a pile of garbage.” She smiled crookedly,
  • embarrassed. “My uncle’s kind of messy.” That was an understatement. Her bedroom had been the only clean room in the house when she’d arrived. Everywhere else had papers, books, unopened mail, empty cigarette packs and spilled coffee stains. So…on her first day in Grimsby, she’d cleaned. Her uncle never said if he’d appreciated it or hated it. They lived on opposite sides of the house. Her side was very bright, welcoming. His side was very dark, oppressive. She guessed that he needed a dark environment to work in. You couldn’t be a successful horror writer if you sat in the sun all day. Mason reached over for Edie’s cell phone. “May I?” “Okay,” Edie said, handing it to him. She leaned over and watched as he entered his name and number in her contacts list. “There,” he said, after he’d finished, and handed the phone back to her. The device was hot in her gloved hand. “What’d you do that for?” Edie asked. Mason let out a chuckle. “A guy has never given you his number before?” Edie blushed. “No.” “Well…I’ll be your first, then. No pressure. Just call if you want to come over, grab a book. Or talk, whatever.” Edie smiled. “Is everyone in Grimsby as welcoming as you?” He smiled back, but then immediately frowned. “Unfortunately, no, but you have your bad apples everywhere, right?” Edie could see in his hazel eyes that he was thinking of someone nasty in particular. She nodded in agreement and didn’t probe about this mystery person. “So…I guess Principal Jennings must’ve really trusted you to come and get me.” Mason smiled. “Yeah, she knows I’ll come back.” “I’m sorry about your truck. If I hadn’t gotten lost—” Mason cut her off with a dismissive wave. “Don’t worry. It’s an old truck, bound to happen. So…” He thumbed at the mansion in the distance. “How’d you end up here?”
  • “Do you know this place?” Edie asked instead, feeling curious, despite her fear. Mason shook his head. “I mean, I knew it was here, but this is an old part of town and no one really travels down this way. It’s just the woods and…nothing.” Edie felt a cold finger travel up her spine and shivered. Mason’s wrong. There was definitely something here. “Do you know anything about the people who used to live here?” Edie asked Mason. “The Lockharts?” “Nope. The house has always been vacant.” “No one’s bought it?” “It’s never been for sale, as far as I know.” He gave Edie a concerned look. “Why? What happened?” Edie shook her head, not wanting to scare away the one good person she’d found in Grimsby. “Nothing. It just…looks creepy, don’t you think?” Mason appraised the house, the grounds, the woods, and then turned back toward her. “Yeah, I guess if you were out here alone. At night,” he added, and she knew from his relaxed tone that he wasn’t as scared as she was. Or maybe I’m just one big scaredy-cat. Edie’s cell phone rang, causing her to jump. Yep, she was definitely one big scaredy-cat. She looked at the display and noticed it was the same number that’d called her before. “Hey, Principal Jennings,” Edie said. “We’re on our way now.” “Oh, good,” she said. “I was starting to get worried. I feel better now. See you soon.” After Edie had said goodbye, she ended the call and turned toward Mason. “Does she treat all new students this way?” Mason shook his head. “I think it’s because you’re famous.” Edie grimaced. “Me? Famous?” “Well, the niece of a famous uncle,” he amended. “Grimsby’s nothing to boast about, but we have an international bestselling author, who’s made this town his home. Puts us on the map, I guess.” “Does…does everyone at school know who I am?” Edie asked nervously.
  • Mason nodded. When Edie groaned, he clasped her hand, and said, “Don’t worry.” He massaged her gloved hand; his was hot to the touch. “Jeez, you’re cold.” He let go of her to open up the vents that he’d closed earlier, and then turned them in her direction. “Thanks,” Edie said. “I can never seem to get warm enough.” “Well, the winter won’t last long. It’ll be over before you know it.” “Thanks,” Edie said, again. He seemed confused. “For what?” Edie blushed and felt a bit warmer. “For being so nice.” Smiling, he reached out to clasp her hand again, but then he jerked his hand back, smile gone. He held his hand in his other, massaging an invisible wound. Edie gasped. “Are you okay?” He seemed embarrassed. “I, uh, I don’t know what happened. It was like… static electricity or something, a shock.” He flexed his fingers. “I’m fine now, but I could’ve sworn…” “Sworn what?” she prodded. He hesitated, and then said, “I could’ve sworn someone struck me. I felt… fingers…grabbing my hand, violent, trying to push me away.” He shook his head, dismissive. “That’s too weird, right? If there’s one thing about Grimsby, nothing weird ever happens here.” Edie opened her mouth to speak, to dispute his belief, but she was speechless, her tongue frozen. You’re wrong. You’re so very wrong, Mason. Chapter 4 Halfway through their journey to Grimsby High School, Edie’s tongue thawed, and she was able to speak again.
  • She tried to get him to admit that yes, in fact, weird things, strange things, unexplainable things do happen. He conceded her point, but shook off any suggestion that fingers, unseen fingers had touched him. “I must’ve imagined it, that’s all,” he said, and flashed his dimpled smile, persuading her to give it a rest. And she did. She didn’t want to push Mason away with her conspiracy theories. Perhaps he was right. He’d imagined being touched, just as she’d imagined being locked inside Lockhart Manor. It seemed as if their imaginations were running wild. Edie just hoped their demented minds were the only wild things in Grimsby. They finally arrived and Edie parked in the student lot. Grimsby High School wasn’t much to boast about: a two-story, charcoal- colored building that looked like it’d been built in the fifties. “It looks better on the inside,” Mason said, reading her face. “Oh, yeah?” She believed him, but need more proof. “Yeah, fresh coat of paint,” he informed. “It used to be white. Now it’s cloud white,” he said dramatically. Edie was confused. “What’s the difference?” Mason chuckled and shook his head. “Nothing. It looks exactly the same. But it probably cost ten times more,” he added. They walked side by side, as they entered the school through the front door. Mason had offered to carry her backpack, and she’d let him, even though it was light as a feather. He handed it back to her when they arrived at the main office. She could still smell the paint fumes, overwhelming her senses. He’d been right. The walls were white, almost snowy-looking, and a bit depressing, but Edie was biased against any representation of cold weather. “Well, this is where I leave you,” he said, focusing her attention back on him. Edie tried not to let her depression show and forced a smile. “Thanks.” He smiled back, genuine. “There you go again, thanking me, and I haven’t done anything.”
  • Edie shrugged. “It’s a southern thing.” Mason smiled again, flashing his dimples. “I like it. I’m glad you’re here, Edie.” He walked away, then stopped, and turned around to face her, waving his cell phone in the air. “Call me.” Edie gave him a promising smile. “I will.” ~~~~~ Principal Jennings had cranked up the heat inside her office, and Edie had been able to remove her gloves, scarf, and cap without dying of frostbite. “Welcome,” she said, again, for the umpteenth time. Edie just smiled back. “So…do you want be a writer like your uncle?” Edie stifled a grimace, finding the occupation dull. “Not really.” Principal Jennings raised a black eyebrow. It was sharp like her bob and didn’t suit her cheerful personality. “Oh? Well, you’re a senior, Edie. College will be here before you know it. Have you given any thought to what you want to do after graduation?” “I want to go to college, but I don’t know what I want to major in.” “What are your interests?” “Well, I like history, I think, and psychology too.” Principal Jennings smiled. “Essentially, a study of people, I love it!” Then she frowned. “But you might want to consider math and computers. That’s where all the jobs are,” she whispered, as if she’d turned traitor and chosen one side of the curriculum over the other. She smiled again and raised her voice to a normal level, continuing, “We’re advancing, Edie, and if we aren’t one step ahead, we’ll fall two steps behind.” “Yes, ma’am.” Edie wasn’t going to argue with her. She hated math as much as the next person. Computers were good for playing games and surfing the web, but Edie didn’t want to know the code that it’d taken to accomplish all that. Edie preferred
  • to be kept in the dark about some things—things she didn’t understand—things like what’d happened to her and Mason back at Lockhart Manor. Edie reckoned that considering neither of them could explain what’d happened, it was just best to forget about the whole thing. And this feeling that she wasn’t alone? Paranoia. Hallucinations, even. She was just going through a lot right now. It was understandable that she’d imagine things. But…what was Mason’s excuse? “Edie?” Edie focused on Principal Jennings. “Huh?” She smiled. “I said: would you like a tour?” Edie glanced at the clock. It was well past ten, and Edie had probably missed two classes already. “No, thanks, ma’am, I’d like to go on to class now. Can I have my schedule?” Principal Jennings slumped into her seat, obviously disappointed that she couldn’t show Edie off to the school. “I understand.” She forced a smile that gradually became sincere. “It’s great knowing that students these days want to go to their classes.” She searched her desk and exclaimed “Ah-ha!” when she found a manila folder with Edie’s name on it. She opened it, retrieved a piece of paper, and then handed it to Edie. “There you go.” Edie scanned it and noticed that she’d only missed math. Yay! This day was starting to turn around. “Thanks, ma’am.” “Do you need a map, Edie?” Edie smiled politely. “I think I can manage. Thanks, anyway.” Edie felt better once she’d left the main office, despite the chill inside the student lobby. Jeez, do they only have heating in the principal’s office? She resisted the urge to bundle up again. She didn’t want the students to think she was weird, walking around in gloves, a scarf, and a wool cap. She didn’t need a tour. Grimsby High wasn’t that big and everything was clearly labeled. She made her way upstairs to second period English and was
  • greeted by Mrs. Featherstone when she opened the door. “Welcome, Edwina!” Everyone turned around in their seats to look at her, wide-eyed, as if she were an alien—and not a welcomed one at that. Edie heard a few girls chuckle, whispering “Edwina?” “It’s Edie,” a familiar voice corrected Mrs. Featherstone. Mason. He was smiling, waving Edie over to sit in a vacant desk in front of him. Edie looked at Mrs. Featherstone for approval, and when the teacher gave her a nod, Edie took her seat. “Hey,” Mason greeted. “Hey,” Edie greeted back, grinning like an idiot. Mrs. Featherstone handed her a heavy textbook. “It’s brand new,” she whispered. “Okay,” Edie whispered back, confused. Then louder, she said, “How’s your uncle, Landon St. John?” The students behind Edie were whispering, recognizing who she was. “Good,” Edie told Mrs. Featherstone. If he weren’t, Edie would’ve said the same thing. She wasn’t going to give anyone dirt on her uncle. Not that she knew any, and as far as what she did know, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes wasn’t illegal—at least not in Grimsby. “That’s great,” Mrs. Featherstone said, beaming. “Maybe he can come by one morning? Talk to the class? Share his wisdom?” Uncle Landon didn’t seem the sharing type, but Edie said, “I’ll ask him.” Her tone implied that she wasn’t making any promises. “That’s great,” Mrs. Featherstone said again, as if it were a done deal. Then she clapped her hands together. “We’re discussing Shakespeare this morning, but you can just sit and relax, if you wish.” Edie shook her head, not wanting any special treatment. “No, I’m fine, really.”
  • A guy next to her with wavy, brown hair raised his hand. “Can I sit and relax too?” Mrs. Featherstone turned toward him, scowling, and put her hands on her hips. “You’ve been sitting and relaxing ever since school’s started, Quinn. Now start paying attention, or it’s no more football for you.” Quinn—who was built like a football player, muscular and broad-shouldered —just grunted and lowered his head over his textbook. It seemed that Edie was the only one receiving the red-carpet treatment, but she just wanted to be treated like everyone else. Edie mentally sighed. Guess that’s never going to happen. ~~~~~ Mrs. Featherstone was talking and Edie was trying to listen and participate. She’d told the teacher that she would, but Edie couldn’t pay attention. She was shivering, but she’d refused to bundle up, not wanting to draw any more attention to herself. Edie’s hand closed around her pendant, as she’d done in Lockhart Manor when she’d wanted to feel safe. She should feel safe, in school, and especially near Mason, but she felt this horrible chill, this recognition of something or someone following her, hiding in the shadows, and she was never alone. She let go of her pendant and rested her hand on the desk. She barely had time to enjoy her rest when she felt cold fingertips, trailing across her palm. She clenched her hand tight, denying whoever was touching her, the chance to do it again. Yet…she knew this presence wouldn’t leave her on its own. It clung to her like a lifeline, and she didn’t know how to cut it loose. Suddenly, a burst of laughter snapped her head up. “Oh, no,” Mason said, sounding worried from behind her. Mrs. Featherstone was wearing a shocked look on her face, as she held a piece of chalk in midair. “I…I…I…” She trailed off, not knowing how to explain what she’d written over and over on the blackboard: Fat Girl.
  • The bell rang and everyone escaped, laughing as they went. Edie and Mason stayed behind—and for some reason, Quinn, the football player. He hesitated, staring among the three of them, and then he finally left. Edie was confused by his behavior, but glad that he hadn’t laughed at Mrs. Featherstone’s trauma. Mason approached her. She was crying and trembling. “Mrs. Featherstone?” His voice was soft and gentle. Encouraged, she took a step forward, and then wobbled, as if she were going to fall, but Mason quickly came to her rescue. Edie joined in and helped Mason gently guide Mrs. Featherstone toward her desk chair, where she sat comfortably against the leather. Edie noticed for the first time that Mrs. Featherstone was thin, frail-looking, even. Mrs. Featherstone grabbed a tissue and dabbed her tears away. “I’m all right,” she said, forcing a smile, and then patted Mason’s strong, but gentle hand on her skinny arm. Edie crouched in front of her. “Mrs. Featherstone? What happened?” She hesitated, and then said, “That’s what they used to call me, in school. I was…overweight. I just kept eating and eating, depressed, and they kept making fun of me.” She dabbed at her tear-filled eyes again. “After graduation, I went on a diet, and it took me awhile, but I lost a lot of weight. I’ve been keeping it off. I’m very strict with what I eat. I…don’t want to be that girl again—that girl who was teased so much.” Edie could see that Mrs. Featherstone was taking her diet too far. She was unhealthily thin, but now was not the time for a lecture. Instead Edie stood up and went to the blackboard. Holding the eraser firmly and with quick strikes, Edie made all those hurtful words disappear. “What’s going on?” a familiar voice inquired. Edie turned to see Principal Jennings, standing at the threshold of the classroom. “Nothing,” Edie said, trying to defend Mrs. Featherstone from any sort of punishment.
  • Edie had erased the evidence from the blackboard. The only other evidence was the eyewitnesses’ accounts of the students. That couldn’t be so easily erased. No doubt, the entire school knew by now what’d happened, and probably, the next county over. Sometimes, technology was a bad thing. And a cell phone in the hands of an attention-seeking, unconscionable teenager was a very bad thing. “I’ve been told something very disturbing,” Principal Jennings said, staring at Mrs. Featherstone, still trembling, being held by Mason. Ah, the information superhighway was assuredly built in emotionless 0s and 1s. “It’s nothing,” Mason said, echoing Edie from earlier. Principal Jennings advanced with a soft look on her face, and then she went to Mrs. Featherstone, who was slouching in her chair, and placed a gentle hand on the trembling teacher’s shoulder. Mason retreated and stood next to Edie. “Mary?” Principal Jennings said softly. “What’s wrong?” Mrs. Featherstone dabbed at her eyes again. “I don’t know what happened, Jackie. I was about to discuss Hamlet, and…” She trailed off, gesturing with her tissue at the blackboard. Principal Jennings scrutinized the clean, black surface. Then her eyes shifted toward Edie. “Why’d you erase it?” She didn’t sound accusatorial, just curious. “I-I didn’t want Mrs. Featherstone to get into trouble,” Edie said. “She…she didn’t mean to write those words.” Principal Jennings looked just as confused as Edie, Mason, and Mrs. Featherstone. Mrs. Featherstone spoke up. “But…if I didn’t mean to write those words, then…why did I?” “Come on, Mary.” Principal Jennings helped Mrs. Featherstone to stand and kept a guiding hand on her back. “I’ll get Russell to watch over your next class.” “Wh-where are we go-going?” Mrs. Featherstone stuttered, worried. She wrapped her arms around her stomach, as if she were sick. And she was shivering, cold.
  • “My office, Mary,” the principal said in a soft voice. “It’s just to talk. Come on now, it’s all right.” As they were leaving, Mrs. Featherstone looked back over her shoulder at Edie and Mason. “Thanks for...” She trailed off, not knowing what to thank them for. Principal Jennings now turned toward them, and said, “Thanks for staying with her until I could arrive, but go on to class now, okay?” It was more of a polite request than an administrative order. But Edie nodded, along with Mason. Edie watched Principal Jennings and Mrs. Featherstone exit into the hallway, and then they disappeared. By now, Mrs. Featherstone’s third period students were arriving, their mouths frowning with disappointment at the blackboard they’d heard so much about, now clean of insults. That was Edie’s cue to exit. Mason followed her out. Gently, he clasped her hand and took her aside, near the lockers. All the girls were staring at her and Mason. Edie ignored them. She had more important things to worry about than silly jealousy. “What in the hell happened back there?” he asked, as if she had all the answers. Edie shook her head, clueless. “I don’t know. She’s never acted weird before, right?” “Never,” he said. “It’s like…it’s like she had no control over herself.” “Do you…do you think she’ll be fired?” Mason sighed. “I doubt it. I mean, she didn’t write anything really offensive.” He stared into Edie’s eyes. “Earlier, when we talked on our way to school, I just said what I said because I didn’t want to argue. But I was wrong, Edie, and you were right. Weird things do happen in Grimsby.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Nothing weird had ever happened until you arrived.” He said it so softly, but it still stung. Edie was fighting back tears. She jerked her hand out of his grasp and ran away. She heard him calling her name, but she ignored him, and dashed into the
  • library. No one was there. She hid in a corner, where two bookshelves met, and sat on the dirty, carpeted floor, finally letting her tears fall. “I’m sorry.” She looked up through two watery pools and saw Mason standing in front of her. Then she lowered her head and using the heels of her hands, dabbed at her wet eyes, trying to clear her vision. “Edie?” a soft voice called out. She looked up again to see Mason sitting beside her. “It’s not my fault,” she told him. “I know and I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “I shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t mean for it to come out that way. I’m glad you’re here.” He gave her a warmhearted smile. “I really am.” He clasped her hand and she squeezed back, welcoming his hot touch. She was starting to feel better when something hard hit her head from above. She thought it must have been an anvil from the skull-splitting impact, but in fact, it was a book. Mason let go of her and she was instantly cold again. “What the...?” Mason shot up and looked around. “Punks,” he muttered, and then resumed his seat next to her. Edie was gently massaging the sore spot on her head, amazed she wasn’t gushing blood. “Who was it?” she asked, sounding coherent. “No one,” Mason said. She stopped massaging and lowered her hand. “Then why’d you say ‘punks?’” Mason shrugged. “I’d just assumed. Who else could it be?” He reached over and laid a gentle, warm hand atop her head. “You okay?” He started massaging her scalp, making her feel drowsy and excited at the same time. “Mmmkay,” she moaned, sounding like a grunting cavewoman. If Mason noticed, he didn’t say anything. After he’d thoroughly massaged her wound, he stopped and picked up the book that’d fallen—The Ghosts of Grimsby: Thirteen Tales to Scare the Sh!t Out of You.
  • He gave her a playfully wicked smile. “Wanna check it out?” Feeling better, she playfully shoved his hand away. “No thanks. Real life is scary enough.” Curious, Mason started flipping the pages, got halfway through, and then jerked his hand back, gasping in pain at the same time. The book fell open on the floor at an illustrated page that showed the figure of Death represented as the Grim Reaper. “What happened?” Edie asked Mason, worried. Mason held out his hand. The tip of his forefinger was bleeding—a lot. The page that he’d sliced it on, along the edge, was stained with his blood. The Grim Reaper seemed to be smiling in demonic delight. “Clumsy,” Mason scolded himself. Then he cursed. “It’s really gushing,” he observed, sounding panicked, as he put pressure on the wound with his other hand. “What’s going on?” snapped an urgent, but hushed voice. They turned to see the librarian with her beaky nose, staring down at them. Before she could insinuate that Mason and Edie had been doing anything other than touching books, Edie showed her Mason’s bloody finger. “Go to the nurse,” she implored, grimacing, as she waved them off. “Shoo, shoo.” Edie wrapped her scarf around Mason’s finger, trying to stem the bleeding. “Mason, you should stay away from me,” she warned. They’d left the library. Now they were making their way to the main office, but he stopped, wide-eyed at her warning. She encouraged him to keep going. He did as the blood threatened to drop on the waxed floor. She stole a glance at his face as they continued their journey. He was wearing a pained expression. She didn’t know if it was from his wounded finger or his wounded heart. “Why?” he finally asked, but stared ahead, as he quickly moved. “I’m bad luck,” she replied, as they made their way across the lobby. Mason stopped again and shook his head. “No, you’re not, Edie.” He was staring into her eyes. “If you hadn’t been there, well, I might have bled to death.”
  • He smiled, joking. Edie smiled back even though she was seriously worried. What had made that book fall? Why had Mason received such a terrible cut from that page? She kept her hand over his, the scarf in between, applying pressure. She could see the dark of his blood staining her already red scarf. “Sorry,” he said, nodding to her ruined scarf. “Don’t worry about it. I have plenty. I bought like a hundred of them, knowing I’d be moving up north. I wanted to be extra prepared.” “All red?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. Edie shook her head. “No, different colors.” She encouraged him to keep walking, fearful of him losing his finger to infection. The worry may have been farfetched, but she wasn’t taking any chances. Finally, they arrived at the main office. Mason halted and turned toward her. “I think you look good in red. It matches your blonde hair.” He reached out with his uninjured hand and ran his fingers through her loose, natural curls. He smiled. “You look like Barbie.” Her cheeks flushed, but she half-joked, “I think you’ve lost a lot of blood.” It had to be the only explanation. I’m not that pretty, she thought self-deprecatingly. “C’mon. Let’s get you patched up,” she encouraged, again. ~~~~~ They’d seen the nurse. She’d cleaned Mason’s wound, determined (to Edie’s relief) that it hadn’t needed stitches, wrapped his finger in white gauze, and then told them to sit and wait, before departing. So, now they were sitting and waiting inside the nurse’s station while paperwork was being filled out. Apparently, everything had to be recorded around here. Edie assumed it had to do with avoiding a lawsuit. Mason and Edie were side by side on an old, leather sofa. She’d already thrown her scarf away into the medical wastebasket. Her neck didn’t feel that
  • cold anymore to need it. Neither did her hands and head. Mason had been right. Edie was getting used to Grimsby. Or maybe it was the fact that she was sitting next to someone with the temperature of the sun. “Are you always this hot?” she asked innocently. He smirked, showing his dimples. “Yes, Edie, yes, I am,” he said in an overly- confident voice, humoring her. She giggled, despite her embarrassment. “Sorry. I didn’t mean…I was just wondering why were so hot…to the touch?” “Oh.” Mason shrugged. “I don’t know.” Then he raised an eyebrow. “So…you don’t think I’m hot-hot?” She panicked, not knowing what to say. She was saved when Mason’s cell phone rang. “Hello?” he answered. “Okay. Really? Huh. That’s weird. Well, if nothing’s wrong with it…yeah…yeah…okay…great…thanks. Bye.” “What was that about?” she asked, after he’d ended the call. Mason pocketed his phone. “That was my dad. I called him earlier, asked if he could go and get my truck, to see if he could get it to start, and well, he said there was no problem with it, cranked right up. He’s bringing it by the school.” “I’m glad your truck’s all right.” “Me too. Don’t know why it conked out like that, but…ah, well, it’s running smooth now.” Mason turned toward Edie and smiled. “Now…getting back to my hotness—” “She’s off her meds,” said a feminine voice from the next room. It effectively cut Mason off, and Edie was relieved, feeling nervous about where their conversation was heading, afraid of what she’d say, which would undoubtedly be embarrassing. “Meds?” That was Principal Jennings’s voice. She sounded concerned. “Mary has been on antidepressants for the past year now,” said the first female voice. There was a slight pause, and then she continued, “Apparently, she hasn’t been taking them for the past couple of weeks.” “And that’s why she wrote ‘fat girl’ all over the blackboard for her class to
  • see?” Principal Jennings asked, sounding skeptical. “What other explanation can there be?” It was a statement, not a question. The unknown woman had a superior tone in her voice, unused to being challenged, but not haughty or rigid. “Mary’s a great teacher,” Principal Jennings praised. “I don’t want to get rid of her over…something minor as this. It’s not like she’s hurt anyone, threatened anyone. Aside from this, she has a spotless record at Grimsby High.” “I agree, Jackie. I’ve talked to Mary. She realizes now how important it is to take her medication and what happens when you don’t take it. She fully understands and assures me it won’t happen again. I see no reason for her to be dismissed or even be put on leave. But you know, Mary, this has to go in her file. It’s the rules.” There was a long pause, and then Principal Jennings said, “I understand. Thank you, Abbie.” Edie could hear their sharp heels click-clacking against the floor, walking away. Yet she wasn’t taking any chances of being overheard. So she leaned over to Mason, and whispered, “Who’s this Abbie? She sounds important.” “She is,” Mason whispered back. “Abigail Winters, the superintendent.” “Does the superintendent usually stay at Grimsby High?” Mason shook his head. “I guess she was already here for some other reason.” Edie thought back over what the two women had discussed. To Mason, still keeping her voice low, she said, “So…Mrs. Featherstone hasn’t been taking her medication. But…would that be the reason for what she’d written, over and over? She seemed really shocked by it all.” Mason shrugged. “I guess it’s a logical explanation.” He kept his voice low too. “I don’t know much about people who are depressed. Well, people who are so depressed, they need to be on medication,” he amended. “Do you think…do you think she still has self-image issues? I mean, she told us that she was made fun of in high school for being overweight. Now she’s so thin, it’s unhealthy.
  • Maybe she’s anorexic. She looks in the mirror, and even though she’s starving herself, she still sees that big girl from a long time ago.” Edie agreed. “If that’s the case, then she doesn’t need to be on depression medication. She needs to be in some sort of support group with others like her, who can encourage her to maintain a healthy lifestyle, an ideal weight, and not starve herself.” “There’s no support group around here,” Mason informed, sounding displeased. “Everyone just deals with their problems on their own.” “That’s sad. Do…do you do that?” Edie gave him a small smile. “Or are you one of those lucky people who don’t have any problems?” He returned Edie’s smile. “No one’s that lucky to not have problems. But as far as major ones, no, I don’t. Well...” He held up his hand with the gauzed finger and bent it at the knuckle, twice. “It was a shock, but my finger still works, so that’s something.” He placed his hand by his side, near Edie. “Did you happen to grab the book?” “That ghost book?” Mason nodded. Edie shook her head and shivered. “No way. That’s like a book from a horror movie, and if you read from the pages, you’ll release some curse or something.” Mason chuckled. “That sounds like a story your uncle would write. Maybe you have a bit of horror in you too. And I mean that in the nicest way possible because there’s nothing horrific about you,” he added with a smile. Edie blushed. “Do I really look like Barbie?” He furrowed his brow. “Did I say that?” “Yeah, before we saw the nurse.” Edie gave him a crooked smile. “You’d lost too much blood. You were obviously hallucinating.” “Well, I don’t remember saying that, but it’s true.” The smile on his face was genuine. “In fact, you’re prettier than Barbie.” Edie lowered her head, embarrassed. “So,” Mason said, “a guy has never given you his number, nor has a guy given you a complement? Is that about right?”
  • Edie nodded, keeping her head down, but then she felt warm fingers under her chin, lifting her head up. Her eyes met his. “Chin up, Barbie.” Mason smiled and removed his hand. “You have to be ready in case Ken comes along, wanting a kiss.” “You’re not Ken?” she dared to ask. He stared into her eyes. “I could be.” He leaned in and gave her a chaste kiss on her cheek. Then he pulled back, but kept a small distance between them, and said, “I’m really glad you’re here, Edie.” Edie found herself leaning forward, toward his lips. Mason was mimicking her movement, but just when they were about to kiss, the nurse reappeared. Mason and Edie scrambled apart, each to the opposite ends of the sofa, hands in their laps, trying to look innocent. The nurse didn’t seem to notice. “You can go now,” she said, indicating the both of them with a wave of her hand. “Your excuses are at the front desk.” Edie glanced at the clock. Time had flown by so fast. It was already near the end of third period. When they picked up their slips of paper, Edie asked Mason, “Where are you going next?” “American government. You?” Edie checked her schedule and fought to suppress a disappointed moan. “History,” she informed. She loved the subject, but she wanted to be with Mason. “Why don’t we meet up at lunch?” he proposed. “Seniors have a pass to leave. Jack’s is nearby. The food will probably kill you but it tastes great.” “You’ll give me directions?” He smiled. “I’ll do one better. I’ll drive you there. My dad should have my truck back in the student lot by now. So…what do you say?” Edie beamed, unable to hide her excitement. “Sure.” He grinned back. “Great.” He gestured at the school’s bulletin board, announcing the upcoming Halloween dance. “Meet me there, okay?” She nodded. “Okay.”
  • He leaned in like he was going to kiss her, but then backed away, deciding against it. He smiled to take the sting away. “I can’t wait, Edie. See you soon.” They waved goodbye and she watched him leave down the hallway. They were taking things slow. That’s okay, I guess. For now. She’d never a boyfriend before, and she couldn’t help imagining her and Mason, holding hands, kissing, talking about movies and music and silly stuff. She felt completely at peace, until a cold finger traced a line up and down her spine, making her shiver. Fear of the unseen overwhelmed her and she bolted, running down the hall. She halted at the end, and then busted through a set of double swinging doors, finding herself inside the library again. She hid in the very spot where Mason had hurt his finger. The book, The Ghosts of Grimsby: Thirteen Tales to Scare the Sh! t Out of You, was still lying open on the carpeted floor with blood soaked on the page, and the grinning Grim Reaper, seemingly alight with maniacal delight at her return. She picked it up and held it very carefully, as if it were alive and about to bite her. Mason’s blood was suddenly too intense, too pungent. She snapped the book shut and placed it angrily back on the shelf. This caused it to dislodge the equilibrium of every book that’d been aligned, tipping them all over like falling dominoes. There was a gap at the end, where the last book wobbled a bit, and then gave up, falling against the shelf. The crash echoed throughout the library. “Edie,” a voice called out, summoning her. Edie panicked, thinking she was in trouble with the librarian, but when she spun around to face her and that beaky nose, the old woman wasn’t there. In fact, there was no one around, except for a lingering chill that Edie thought, eerily, could easily be an unseen, human presence. There was a long stretch of silence, until the voice called out again, saying, “Eeedee,” in a haunting, sing-song tone. She went up and down the aisles, trying to find the culprit, but the library seemed utterly deserted. Until…she found someone.
  • Chapter 5 “Are you playing some sort of game? Because if you are, it’s not funny,” Edie scolded. The girl was sitting on the floor. She looked up at Edie through thick glasses, holding a book in her hands. “What the hell are you talking about?” She was Hispanic with mahogany hair pulled back in a droopy ponytail. Edie thought that she might have passed for pretty if she’d stop wearing that scowl on her face. Then again, Edie did have some blame in that, accusing her of something she hadn’t done. “Sorry,” Edie apologized. “I thought I heard someone calling my name.” The girl looked around, darting her magnified eyes back and forth. “There’s no one else here.” “Yeah, I gathered that,” Edie muttered, frustrated. Suddenly, the girl leapt up, dropping her book. “Wait. You hear voices, don’t you? In your head?” she asked, tapping a forefinger against her temple. Edie took a step back, annoyed. “What’re you? The thought police?” The girl huffed. “Do. You. Hear. Voices?” “No,” Edie immediately lied. “It’s okay,” she said softly, as if Edie needed gentle coaxing. “You’re not alone. Lots of people hear voices, and they think they’re crazy, but they’re not.” “Who are you?” She smiled. “Julianna Desantiago, paranormal investigator, junior, and all- around believer in anything and everything. The truth is out there,” she added in a conspiratorial whisper. She reached into her pocket and withdrew something, handing it to Edie. “Here’s my card.” Her card? Edie refrained from rolling her eyes.
  • Edie took it and read the script: Julianna Desantiago, co-founder of the Grimsby Paranormal Society. We investigate what goes “bump in the night.” Call or email. Below was her cell phone number and email address, along with a black skull, frozen in laughter—or grinning in proud hatred. “You can call me Jules,” she said. “Edie St. John,” Edie introduced herself. Jules gasped. “Oh, you’re Edwina St. John, Landon St. John’s niece! Can I meet him? I’m a huge fan! I’ve got all his books: I, Ghoul; A Vampire’s Vengeance; The Zombie Wars; The Jinni and I...” Edie let her ramble on like Mason had done. Jules was counting off a nonstop list of Edie’s uncle’s works—I’m afraid we’ll be here until midnight—so Edie held up her hand, shushing Jules. “I get it,” Edie said. “Big fan.” Edie waved the card in front of Jules’s face. “I’ll call if my uncle’s up to company, but don’t hold your breath. He’s a very private man.” Jules looked disappointed, but forced a smile. “It’s okay. I’d rather hang out with you.” “Me?” Edie asked, raising an eyebrow. “Yeah. You hear voices.” Jules beamed. “That’s incredible!” Angry, Edie tossed Jules’s card back at her. Jules caught it against her chest, looking bewildered. “I’m not hearing voices!” Edie declared. She stormed out of the library and to her relief, heard no one calling after her, seen or unseen. ~~~~~ Edie had missed third period entirely. It was now time for lunch. While she was waiting for Mason near the front doors, she kept shivering. Seniors were leaving through the front doors, happy, smiling, not knowing that with each push of the door, a blast of wintry air flew back into her face. She
  • wished that she could come to school tomorrow with a ski mask on her face, but she was sure that’d raise alarms. Even though the students were wearing coats and sweaters, they seemed comfortable; they were used to this weather. As Mason had said, she’d get used to it too. With him, it seemed possible, but without him, Edie doubted it. Besides she didn’t plan on sticking around after graduation. Most definitely, she’d attend college down south, where the chance of snowfall was next to nil. Afterwards…well, she’d think about that later. She had plenty of time. Speaking of time…Mason was late. She was worried that she’d been stood up. He didn’t seem like that type of guy, but she’d been having an awful day so far... “Hey.” She turned and saw Jules. Her hair had fallen out of her ponytail and hung down her back. She wiped her classes on her sweater and returned them to her face. “Hey,” Edie returned. “Sorry for being such a…you-know-what back in the library. I’ve just been going through a lot.” Jules smiled and waved Edie’s apology away. “S‘kay. No worries.” Then her smile faded. “I know about your parents. Sorry.” “Thanks,” Edie said, fighting back tears. Jules nodded with her chin at the front doors, where the seniors were leaving. “Are you heading out?” she asked. “Yeah, I’m just waiting for someone.” “You’ve made a new friend?” Edie smiled. “Uh, yeah, a new friend,” she confirmed, yet remained cryptic. Jules winked. “Seems like more than that. You’re blushing.” Edie gave a shrug. “He’s nice, that’s all.” “Who?” Edie hesitated, and then said, “Mason Fenwick.” Jules eyes got even wider behind her glasses. “Oh, every girl in the school
  • has a crush on Mason.” “It’s hard not to,” Edie said, not jealous. “But…why doesn’t he have a girlfriend?” Jules shrugged. “It’s probably because he’s just got off from a bad break.” “Oh?” Jules lowered her voice. “He used to date Rochelle Lafayette.” She shook her head, obviously not a fan. “I don’t know what he ever saw in her, but… anyway, they were together ever since middle school, I think.” Jules resumed her normal tone. “Have you met her yet? She’s a senior.” “I haven’t had the pleasure,” Edie said with cautious anticipation. “So…what’s so bad about her?” Jules sighed. “You’ll know when you meet her. Hope and pray you don’t.” “Hey, Edie!” Edie looked over Jules’s shoulder to see Mason approaching with a smile, exposing his dimples. Edie smiled back, unable to contain her glee. He stopped next to Edie, and then turned toward Jules. “Hey, what’s up?” he greeted Jules. Jules was speechless for obvious reasons. Then she found her voice. “Hey,” she squeaked. Mason turned back toward Edie. “Ready?” “Yep.” “Well, see you guys later,” Jules said, and then turned to walk away. “Hey, wait,” Edie said, halting her. She turned around, facing Edie, smiling. “Yeah?” “Um…can I have your card? With your number? Maybe we can get together some time, talk about…you know…weird stuff.” Jules withdrew another card from her pocket and handed it to Edie. “The GPS is investigating the old Grimsby Sanatorium this Saturday.” She leaned in, whispering, “It used to be a mental hospital.” She pulled back and smiled. “Lots of activity, I’m sure.” Mason furrowed his brow. “What sort of activity?”
  • “The paranormal kind,” Jules replied, and then turned back toward Edie. “No pressure. Call me if you want to go. It’s this Saturday. You’ll meet the others. They’re big fans of your uncle.” “But…” Edie trailed off, hesitating, and then continued, “but what do you think is inside the sanatorium?” “Ghosts,” Jules replied, matter-of-fact. “I mean, a mental hospital’s bound to have crazy activity, right? Scary stuff. But in an awesome way,” she added. Edie didn’t need any more scary right now. But she didn’t want to disappoint Jules... “Sure,” Edie said with a smile. “As long as nothing else comes up, I’ll call you.” Jules beamed. “Great.” She turned toward Mason. “You can come too, if you want.” Mason gave her a small smile. “I’ll, uh, think about it,” he said, sounding polite, but not really gung-ho. Jules didn’t seem to notice, gave a goodbye wave, and then headed off to lunch inside the cafeteria. Mason escorted Edie outside. Light snow was falling, but she minded her steps, hoping not to fall. Mason sensed her timid movements and offered his arm. After she’d wrapped hers around his, he inquired, “GPS?” “Grimsby Paranormal Society,” she translated. “So…Jules is like some…ghost hunter?” Edie shrugged. “I guess. We’ve only just met. She seems nice though.” “Yeah, she is. You’re not really going to that abandoned sanatorium, are you? I mean, it’s probably locked. They’ll be breaking-and-entering.” Huh. I didn’t think of that. “Well, I’ll ask her,” Edie said. “If that’s the case, then no, I won’t go. I don’t want a criminal record. But…I’m sure that’s not the case.” “Still…I don’t want you getting into trouble.” They’d made it to the student parking lot. Now they were standing next to his
  • pickup. But Edie didn’t let go of his arm. “I’m glad you’re concerned for me, but I’m sure it’s okay. I don’t think Jules is willing to risk her future, either, over whether or not there are ghosts in an old, mental hospital.” Mason wobbled his head. “Well, you don’t know Jules. We’ve grown up together. She’s…passionate about the supernatural. Always has been. I had no idea she was one of those thrill-seeking, ghost hunters, though.” He paused, and then continued, “She thinks there are aliens too. She’s obsessed with The X- Files.” Edie chuckled. “Well, it was a good show. She doesn’t sound so bad.” Mason shifted his arm, forcing Edie to let go, but then he caught her hand, holding it gently. “If you do go there, let me know. I’ll go with you.” Edie raised an eyebrow. “Really? But you’re not a believer.” “Neither are you, right?” Edie hesitated, and then said, “Right.” Mason squeezed her hand. “I want to be there with you, just in case there’s trouble, natural, or…dare I say, supernatural,” he said in a dramatic tone. Edie giggled, despite the very real fear that they may encounter a nasty ghost. She felt anchored to Mason, and she knew that as long as she had him in her life, everything would be fine. “C’mon,” he continued with a smile. “I’m starving.” He opened the passenger door and helped Edie up into the cab. She adjusted her seatbelt on, and then watched him walk around the front of the truck to the driver’s side, enjoying the view. But she was forced to look away, distracted by a dark shadow in the distance that seemed to be watching her. Then it detached itself from the school’s bricked wall and vanished around a corner, like a fleeing wraith. Edie let out a yelp when Mason slammed his door shut. She’d forgotten about him, immersed in fear. “Sorry,” he apologized. “I’m not used to having passengers. I didn’t realize how loud I could be.” Edie shook her head. “It’s okay. I just thought…”
  • “What?” he asked, and then turned over the engine. The truck roared to life, sounding strong. No one would’ve ever guessed that hours earlier it’d died for no apparent reason. “Nothing.” She forced a smile. “Let’s eat. I’m hungry too.” “Edie.” Mason clasped her hand. “What’s wrong?” Edie sighed. “I thought I saw…someone…watching me. That’s all.” Mason smiled. Is he making fun of me? “Edie…of course people are going to stare at you. For one, you’re famous, and two, well…you’re bound to have admirers.” He let go of her hand, reached up, and tucked a stray strand of blonde hair behind her ear. His fingers were hot against her skin. Yet…she shivered, watching her breath escape. “Cold?” Without waiting for her reply, Mason turned up the heat. “Thanks,” she said, forcing another smile. He gave her a genuine smile back, oblivious to her deception. They headed out of the parking lot, and then onto the main road, leading away from the school. It wasn’t the frosty weather that’d made Edie shiver. Mason’s touch was hot enough to heat her throughout the winter. No, it was the other touch that she’d felt: the unseen touch. A cold, bony finger had traced a line under her jaw from ear to ear, slitting her throat. Chapter 6 Edie was wearing Mason’s scarf protectively around her neck. He’d had one inside his truck. It smelled like his cologne and Edie loved inhaling every bit of it. Jack’s was crowded with every senior from Grimsby High. A seating attendant directed them to a little table right in the center of the room so
  • everyone could stare. Great. “What do you think?” Mason asked, staring at Edie over his menu. Edie looked around, and then replied, “It’s…nice.” Mason put his menu aside. “You don’t like it?” “No, no, it’s just…well, I feel like everyone’s staring at us.” Edie looked around for that dark shadow from the school, but it hadn’t made itself known…yet. Mason waved a dismissive hand. “Don’t worry about them, and believe me, they’re not staring at us. They’re only thinking about their growling stomachs.” Edie took another look around and realized that he was right. No one was looking at them. It just felt that way. She turned back toward him with a smile. “Thanks for taking me here.” He smiled back. “My pleasure, Edie.” An auburn-haired waitress approached with her hair in a loose bun. “Hey, Mason.” She turned toward Edie. “Ah, new girl?” Edie smiled. “Yes, ma’am.” “Rebecca, this is Edie St. John,” Mason introduced, smiling, proud to show her off. Rebecca gasped. “You’re Landon St. John’s niece? Oh, I heard you were coming to Grimsby.” She paused, and then continued, “I’m sure it’ll be all right, but I’ll ask my manager anyway.” “Ask him what?” Edie asked, nervous. Rebecca waved her hand. “To a free meal, of course,” she said, and then gestured at Mason. “You too, hon.” Edie felt like a celebrity and didn’t like it. “Oh, that’s nice, but—” “No buts,” Rebecca said, cutting Edie off. “Now what will you have?” Rebecca was waiting for Edie’s order, smiling, pen over pad. “Uh...” Edie shrugged, and then looked around at everyone else’s meals. “Burger and fries?” “’Kay,” Rebecca said, writing it down. “And to drink?”
  • “Coffee, please,” Edie said, still feeling cold. This lingering finger on her neck was becoming worrisome. Mason chuckled, oblivious. “Coffee with burger and fries?” he said, as if it were the craziest combination. Yet he was smiling sweetly at her, as if it weren’t a sin. Rebecca gave him a light slap on his arm. “If that’s what she wants, then that’s what she gets. Now do you want your usual? Burger, fries, and a vanilla milkshake?” “Milkshake?!” Edie blurted out, laughing. “It’s freezing outside.” Mason smiled. “As you’ve reminded me, Edie, I’m hot all the time. I don’t feel the cold.” Rebecca bent over, her face close to theirs. Edie could smell cigarette smoke on her uniform. “You two going out?” Rebecca asked, curious, obviously in need of gossip. “No,” Mason and Edie said in unison. Rebecca stood and tapped the pen against the pad, twice. “You could’ve fooled me. Well…I guess if you won’t fess up…I’ll put your orders in, and then come back with your drinks.” When Rebecca left, Mason and Edie started staring at each other, smiling. “What?” Edie asked, still smiling. “Nothing,” he replied, still smiling. Then they laughed at the same time, giddy with each other’s company. Edie felt Mason’s scarf caressing her skin. “Thanks for this,” she said, holding up the tasseled end for him to see. “No problem. I wasn’t using it anyway. You can keep it, you know.” “Oh, no, I—” “Yes, stop. It’s yours.” He smiled. “It looks better on you anyway. It’s not red, but blue looks good on you too.” He lifted his hand to brush his hair back and winced. “Is your finger okay?” Edie asked. Mason appraised the bandage. “It hasn’t started bleeding again, but it’s still
  • kind of sore.” He wiggled his finger. “I didn’t know paper cuts could be so brutal.” He sighed dramatically. “Well, it’s official. I’m never going to pick up a book again,” he declared. Edie chuckled. “What about your school texts?” “I’ll get the audio version,” he deadpanned. Edie chuckled again. “You’re silly, Mason Fenwick. No wonder all the girls have a crush on you.” He furrowed his brow. “Who told you that?” Edie hesitated, biting her lip, and then said, “Jules. She…also said you’ve recently gotten out of a bad relationship.” Mason frowned and took a glance around; perhaps on the lookout for his ex. Satisfied at not finding her, he gave Edie a small smile of relief, but then frowned again. “We dated for years. In the beginning it was…fun, but after awhile, she changed. I changed. I’d thought about ending it sooner, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, and I didn’t want to be alone. Late last year, she ended it, said she wanted to see other people. Little did I know that she’d been cheating on me already.” Edie gasped. “No. That’s awful.” Mason lifted one shoulder into a half shrug. “It’s in the past now. I’m over it. Over her.” He caught Edie’s eyes. “I’m ready to move on,” he said in a determined voice. Edie’s heart was racing like a jackhammer. Suddenly, she was hotter than a lava bed. She loosened Mason’s scarf. “Edie?” Edie looked up into Mason’s expectant eyes. “Yeah?” “Have you made up your mind about going to that sanatorium?” Oh. She wasn’t expecting that question. She was expecting something along the lines of: Will you marry me? Hey, it was possible. “Uh, I don’t know yet,” she replied. “I still have a few days to think about it.” “Remember, Edie, if you do go, I want to be there with you, okay?” Edie nodded and smiled. “Okay.”
  • Mason opened his mouth to say something else, but Rebecca cut him off, arriving with their drinks. “Here you go,” Rebecca said, “and your orders should be ready soon.” “Thanks,” Mason said, taking his milkshake. When Rebecca put the coffee in front of Edie, she was so hot, she couldn’t drink it. “Problem?” Rebecca asked, surprisingly observant. Then again, she was a waitress. “Uh…can I get a milkshake too?” “Of course,” Rebecca said. “Be right back.” Mason slid his over to Edie. “Take mine.” Edie waved his offer away. “It’s okay. I can wait.” “I insist. Or better yet...” With a spoon, Mason dipped out some of his milkshake and stirred it into her large cup of coffee, mixing the two extremes. “This tastes way better. Try it,” he insisted. Edie watched Mason dip a straw into the milkshake/coffee mixture, and then motioned for Edie to do the same. She did, and then took a small sip, not sure, but she was surprised at how good it tasted. “See?” Mason said. “Better, right?” Edie nodded, silent, and continued sucking on her straw. Mason was staring into her eyes, as he did the same. Then he stopped, but continued staring at her. He smiled. “We look like a commercial for Valentine’s Day.” Edie loosened her lips and pulled away. “Huh?” “Yeah, like those commercials about two lovers, sharing a milkshake, or walking hand-in-hand along the beach, then he gets down on one knee, and proposes to her.” Edie’s heart was racing again. “Oh, really?” she asked, sounding blasé, and then went back to her concoction. “Yeah, but obviously that’s not what we’re doing. I mean, I haven’t even picked out a ring yet.”
  • Edie nearly swallowed her straw. “You okay?” he asked, after she’d coughed up her lungs. “Yeah,” she replied in a scratchy voice, keeping her head down, embarrassed. “Sorry for implying I wanted to marry you. I know how ugly I am.” Edie looked up to see his teasing smile. She chuckled. “Yes, you are hideous,” she agreed, playing along. Mason covered his face with his hands. “Don’t look at me. I’m a monster!” Edie was still chuckling when Rebecca came with her milkshake. “Thanks,” Edie told her, and then slid the glass over to Mason. “I’ll finish your witch’s brew.” ~~~~~ When they were done eating, Edie excused herself to go to the restroom. It was on the other side of the restaurant, away from the patrons, and there was a long line waiting to use it. But Edie was content with a smile on her face, thinking about Mason, when suddenly, a dark shadow fell in front of her face. Edie jumped back from the two girls, who were staring at her, as if Edie were their archenemy. “You,” the first girl called out, making it sound like an accusation. The girl with dirty blonde hair clearly had an attitude. The other girl with dark brown hair, dyed blonde, said nothing, but her nose was wrinkled in anger. At me? What’d I do to them? “Yeah?” Edie ventured to ask. All the other girls were staring at them, enthralled at the drama unfolding. Dirty Blonde Girl said, “You going out with Mason?” “We’re just friends,” Edie said, a bit too quickly. It was the truth but Edie wished that she’d let the girl fume a bit before answering. “Don’t look like it,” her friend said in a nasty tone. “Hush, Ravenna!” Dirty Blonde Girl held up her hand, silencing her friend,
  • but she never took her eyes off Edie. “Word of advice, new girl: don’t play if you’re not willing to get dirty.” She stormed off, swinging her wide hips as she went, with Ravenna following behind like a lost puppy. All the girls, except two, went back to staring at their phones while they were waiting in line. The show was over. Undoubtedly, a few had recorded the confrontation and was now uploading it online. Edie hoped that they’d gotten her good side. A girl with curly brown hair, who was standing by Edie’s side, turned and greeted her. “Don’t worry about her. She’s super crazy. I’m Diana, by the way, Diana Christensen.” Diana gestured at another girl with wavy red hair and a face full of freckles, standing beside her. “This is my friend, Madelyn Corrigan.” “Hey,” Madelyn said. “And you’ve just met Mason’s ex, Rochelle Lafayette, and her only friend in the world, Ravenna Gallo.” “I figured as much,” Edie said. “Honestly, Mason and I are just friends.” Diana gave Edie a smile. “That’s not what we’ve seen.” When she studied Edie’s worried face, she quickly added, “Oh, Madelyn and I haven’t been spying on you and Mason or anything. It’s just well…it’s hard not to notice. If you’re just friends now, I can bet you’ll be going out by the end of the week.” “Yeah,” Madelyn said, smiling. “Mason’s crazy about you.” “Not Rochelle Lafayette-kind-of-crazy,” Diana corrected her friend. “The good kind of crazy; the kind involving love and finding your soul mate, you know, romantic. Not demented,” she added. Edie liked Diana and Madelyn. They had a great sincerity about them and seemed like God-sent angels after Edie’s encounter with Rochelle and Ravenna. Edie had no great expectations, but she hoped Diana and Madelyn would be her new friends. They chatted some more, waiting, and discovered they had the next class together. After they’d done their business, they promised to meet up later at school. Edie was beaming when she went back to her table with Mason. But he wasn’t smiling. “You were gone for a long time. I was worried.”
  • Edie’s grin faded into a small smile, knowing that he’d only been concerned at her long absence. “Oh, I’ve just met Diana and Madelyn and we got to talking. Do you know them?” Mason smiled and Edie felt a rush of relief. She didn’t like it when he wasn’t smiling. “Yeah, they’re cool. Besides me, those two are probably the only people I’d recommend you being friends with. I’m worried about Jules with the whole ghost- hunting thing, but…I’m not going to tell you what to do. There are worse people to hang out with.” Edie grimaced. “Yeah, I met Rochelle and Ravenna.” Mason’s jaw clenched. Then he loosened it to speak. “What did Rochelle say to you?” Edie furrowed her brow. “How’d you know?” He sighed, aggravated. “She always has something to say to any girl in the general vicinity of where I am.” He shook his head. “I don’t get it. She was cheating on me. She ended it with me.” He sighed again. “What’d she say to you?” Edie didn’t want to start a fight. “It’s okay. It’s nothing,” she lied. Mason reached across the table and clasped her hand. “Please, Edie, tell me.” Edie bit her lip, and then said, “Something about how I shouldn’t play if I don’t want to get dirty…or something like that. I’m paraphrasing but that’s basically what she said.” He shook his head and groaned, agitated. “That girl’s crazy. I’m sorry she said that to you. Let me know if she does it again.” “What will you do?” “Tell her to shut her mouth,” he said through clenched teeth. Then he started looking around the restaurant. “As a matter of fact…I might just do that right now.” Edie squeezed his hand. “No, Mason, don’t. Just let it go. She didn’t get to
  • me. I’m fine.” He squeezed her hand back. “Are you sure?” “I’m sure.” She gave him a smile. “Thank you.” He smiled back. “There you go again, thanking me. What’d I do this time?” Edie placed her other hand on his, carefully, so as not to further hurt his wounded finger. “I’m thanking you for being you, Mason Fenwick.” Rebecca chose this moment to return with the manager, Jack—who claimed to be Edie’s uncle’s biggest fan—and told them that the meal was on the house. Edie and Mason gave their thanks, and then Mason left a tip for Rebecca. As they were leaving the restaurant, with Edie’s arm wrapped around Mason’s, she heard someone call her a “bitch.” She didn’t turn around. She assumed that it’d been Rochelle, venting. Yet when she sat inside Mason’s truck and adjusted her seatbelt on, she heard the offensive word again. She rubbed her ear, hoping this simple action would make the voice inside her head stop. Yes, she was hearing voices. Jules had been right. But was it paranormal? Or was Edie not normal? Chapter 7 “Well, this is where I leave you,” Mason said. They were standing at the threshold of Edie’s next class. She could see Diana and Madelyn, waving at her to come inside and sit next to them. Edie held up her forefinger, telling them that she’d be there soon. She turned back toward Mason, who surprised her with a quick kiss on her cheek. When he pulled back, he was blushing. “Call me,” he said, and it was almost a plea. Before Edie could assure him that she would, he turned and started walking
  • away. She watched him, feeling sad at his abrupt departure. At the end of the hallway, he halted and turned back toward Edie, giving her a smile and a wave. She returned both and he continued on his journey. If she were to die right now, she’d be happy. ~~~~~ The desks for Mr. Ballantine’s psychology class were arranged into groups of three. Diana and Madelyn had an empty desk with them that’d recently been vacated. Edie was beginning to think that there was such a thing as fate. “Hey,” Diana and Madelyn greeted Edie in unison, smiling. “Hey,” Edie returned with a smile too. Diana pushed a textbook over to Edie. “Mr. B asked us to give this to you.” “Oh, thanks. Wait, Mr. B?” Madelyn explained, “I don’t know how it started, but it’s what we’ve always called him, and he doesn’t seem to mind.” She smiled. “It’s kind of cool, right?” Edie smiled back. “Yeah, it is.” Edie looked over to find the teacher, sitting at his desk in the front of the room. When he caught her stare, he quickly averted his eyes, as if he were afraid to maintain contact. Edie found his actions weird, but didn’t dwell on them, having Diana and Madelyn near her. They gave Edie a comfort that she desperately needed. Mason comforted her too, but his comfort was different than Diana and Madelyn’s. There was a friend’s comfort, and then there was a potential boyfriend’s comfort. Edie knew that she was probably jumping the gun, but she had hope, and besides Mason wasn’t exactly giving her the cold shoulder treatment. His care and concern for Edie was practically exuding from his body like the sun’s rays. In Edie’s book that was more than just being friendly. She wished that he were in her psych class, but having Diana and Madelyn with her was great too. She liked the group desk idea and hoped that Mr. Ballantine wouldn’t break them up.
  • She dared to look at him again. He performed the same action that he’d done earlier, darting his eyes toward a blank space on the wall. Edie leaned toward Diana and Madelyn. “Is Mr. B always so nervous-acting?” Madelyn smiled at Edie. “You’ve noticed that, huh?” “He’s not weird or anything,” Diana said. “He’s just really shy.” “Then why is he a teacher?” Edie asked. Madelyn shrugged. “I think it’s something he doesn’t really want to do, but had no other choice. He’s not a mean teacher,” she added. “Nice.” Diana winked. “And not bad on the eyes, either.” For the third time, Edie appraised Mr. Ballantine, taking in his features. She couldn’t tell if his eyes were bright or dark; he kept looking away from her. Otherwise he was young and hip with shiny, chestnut-colored hair, parted to one side. He was tan, too tan for Grimsby, but Edie figured it was either genetic, or he frequented a tanning salon. He was wearing a white dress shirt, no tie, and when he stood, Edie noticed that he was wearing blue jeans. She guessed that he was in his late twenties, but could pass for eighteen, he looked so youthful. By the way all the girls—there were no boys in the class—were looking at him, they thought that he was dreamy. No wonder he kept looking away from Edie. He didn’t want to be accused of anything indecent. She scanned the classroom and found to her relief that neither Rochelle nor Ravenna were in attendance. “Where’s the terrible twosome?” Edie asked Diana, who was sitting across from her; Madelyn was at Edie’s side. Diana gave Edie a look. “Jennings had to put them in study hall for fourth period. Rochelle tried unsuccessfully to hook Mr. Ballantine. When he went to Jennings about it, she denied it. She had Ravenna lie and say it was him who initiated it.” “Yeah, it was a whole big thing,” Madelyn added. “There were meetings with their parents. The superintendent got involved and all that. Anyway, Jennings relocated them and class has been so much better without them. They’re like…a plague or something.” She shivered, but she didn’t look cold. “It’s like they ruin
  • everything they come into contact with.” To Diana and Madelyn, Edie said, “That explains his behavior.” “What does?” Madelyn asked. “Well, ever since I’ve walked in, he’s refused to look at me, and after what you’ve told me about Rochelle, I think he’s not necessarily shy, he’s scared; scared another girl is going to accuse him of something.” Madelyn considered this, and then said, “Makes sense,” agreeing. “But,” Diana countered. “He was shy on the first day of school.” Edie shrugged. “Maybe he’s shy and cautious.” “Probably,” Madelyn agreed with Edie again. The class fell silent as Mr. Ballantine advanced to stand in front of the blackboard. He gave everyone a small smile that said, “I’m friendly, but not that friendly.” “Afternoon, everyone,” he greeted in a smooth voice. “Afternoon, Mr. B,” the class full of giggling girls chanted in unison. Even Diana and Madelyn were getting in on the ogling, paying him full attention and ignoring Edie. He went to the blackboard and grabbed a piece of chalk. “Now yesterday we discussed personality disorders, and I’d like to continue that today. We had a brief overview of them, but I’d like to devote our short time this period to schizophrenia.” A girl’s hand shot up. “Yes, Candie?” “That’s the one with hallucinations, right?” Mr. Ballantine hesitated, and then said, “Well, hallucinations are just one of the many factors when considering if someone is schizophrenic.” “But I remembered what you said yesterday,” Candie said, obviously looking for approval. Mr. Ballantine humored her with a smile. “Yes, Candie, that’s excellent you remembered.” Candie giggled, ecstatic, and then twirled her pink-dyed hair around her
  • finger, trying to keep Mr. Ballantine’s focus on her. It didn’t work but she kept right on trying, undeterred. Another girl’s hand shot up and she didn’t wait to be called on. “Hallucinations are when you see or hear things that aren’t there, right Mr. B?” Mr. Ballantine answered her, but Edie couldn’t hear his words. She was having a panic attack, wondering where this lecture was going. Hallucinations? Schizophrenia? It seemed more than just a mere coincidence. Was someone trying to tell her something? Was that what was wrong with her? Am I…schizo? Edie grasped the scarf and necklace that was encircled around her neck, needing comfort and courage. She immediately calmed and her heart returned to its normal rhythm. She felt someone nudging her arm. “Hey, are you all right?” It sounded like Diana. Edie looked up to see her and Madelyn, concerned. Then Edie turned and saw that the whole class was looking at her, even Mr. Ballantine. So…he was finally making eye contact. Kudos to him, she thought sarcastically. “Edwina, are you all right?” he asked, concerned. “It’s Edie,” Edie corrected him, when some of the girls started to giggle. He gave her a small smile. “Edie, if you need to get some fresh air or—” “No, I’m fine.” Edie returned his smile. “Really,” she assured, lying. Mr. Ballantine nodded and turned toward the blackboard, beginning his lesson. Edie was forced to tune him out when Madelyn leaned toward her. “Are you really okay?” she whispered. “Yeah, why, what happened?” Edie asked, concerned. Diana furrowed her brow. “You were shaking.” “And mumbling something,” Madelyn added. Edie shook her head. “I don’t remember any of that.” Diana patted Edie’s hand. “It’s okay.” “Yeah,” Madelyn added, patting Edie’s other hand.
  • Edie forced a smile to show them that she was all right. They believed it and turned their attention toward Mr. Ballantine. Edie followed and watched him write the word schizophrenia on the board, then a few more words, and finally hallucinations. She tried to remain calm and copied his lecture into her notebook. When she reached the end of the page, and then looked over what she’d written, she stifled a scream, not wanting to draw any more attention to herself. She hadn’t been writing the teacher’s lecture notes. Disturbingly, she’d written, over and over: You’re going crazy. It was like Mrs. Featherstone all over again with Fat Girl. They had no intention of writing such horrible, damaging self-indictments. Yet…they had. And after, no memory of what they’d written. But Edie did remember one thing: while she’d been writing, her hand had been flowing too smoothly across the page, too fast; she hadn’t any control over her movements. Someone else had written those words. Not her. But…maybe she had written them. Maybe I’m schizophrenic. Or was writing mean, albeit meaningful words, over and over, and not remembering, a symptom of a split personality? Did she have someone else inside her head? Edie looked up to see Mr. Ballantine writing down tonight’s homework assignment. She glanced at the clock; there were only a few more minutes left before class ended. And she hadn’t written down a single word from his lecture. She was too embarrassed to ask Diana and Madelyn for their notes. She closed her notebook, not wanting them to see how crazy she was. She didn’t want to lose their friendship. She’d just met Diana and Madelyn, but they meant so much to her. When the bell rang, Edie gave Diana and Madelyn a smile, as if nothing were wrong.
  • “We’ll walk you to your next class,” Diana offered. “Edie, can you stay a moment?” Mr. Ballantine called out. “Ooh, lucky girl,” Madelyn said, winking. Edie waved goodbye to Diana and Madelyn, and then had to endure the hard stares of the other girls, who were clearly jealous of her “alone time” with the hot teacher. When the classroom was empty, Mr. Ballantine made sure the door was wide open, and then came over to where she was sitting, alone. He stood a few feet back, wary, as if she were going to lunge after him. “What’s wrong?” she asked, staring into his dark, gray eyes. “Oh, nothing, Edie, you’ve done nothing wrong. I just wanted to let you know I’m aware of your recent losses. I’m sorry. Also, if you ever need to talk, my door is always open.” “Are you…a qualified psychiatrist or something?” He smiled, embarrassed. “Uh, no, but I have training. I mean, I’m not going to diagnose you with anything. I can’t prescribe you anything. I’m just offering an ear, if you want to talk, about anything.” “Oh,” Edie said, not sure. He took a tentative step forward, testing the boundaries. “I heard about Mary, I mean Mrs. Featherstone today. I watched over her class until she came back.” “Oh, you’re Russell?” Edie blushed. “Sorry, Mr. B.” He waved a dismissive hand. “It’s all right. We’re not a military school. But… don’t call me Russell in front of the other students. They’ll get…ideas.” Edie nodded, understanding. “So…can you tell me what happened with Mrs. Featherstone?” Russell asked. “I’ve heard rumors, but I don’t know the facts. You and Mason Fenwick stayed with her until Principal Jennings arrived, is that correct?” Edie hesitated, not wanting to betray Mrs. Featherstone, but then she decided Russell was an okay guy. “She wrote ‘fat girl’ over and over on the blackboard during class. The students laughed at her. Mason and I stayed with her. I…erased what she’d written; I didn’t want anyone to see the…evidence. In
  • the nurse’s station, Mason and I overheard…” Edie trailed off, not wanting to admit that she and Mason had eavesdropped. Russell took another step forward. “Heard what, Edie?” Edie shook her head. “Nothing.” He reached out and touched her hand, but then quickly pulled away, realizing his mistake. “It’s okay,” he coaxed. “You won’t get into trouble.” Edie sighed, and then told him what she’d overheard. Russell thought on what she’d said, and then divulged, “Mary has always seemed fine. Thin, but fine. We get along well. I know her family; they’ve been in Grimsby for generations.” He paused, and then continued, “I didn’t realize she’s on antidepressants…or hasn’t been on them, I should say.” “In your expertise could the fact that she wasn’t taking the medication lead her into some sort of trance, writing ‘fat girl,’ over and over, even though those words were a reminder of the pain in her past?” He took another step forward, and then sat in Diana’s desk, across from Edie. He was getting bolder. “Well, I’m not an expert, so I’m at a loss about her behavior. However medication can have side effects. Antidepressants, when suddenly stopped, can do unpredictable things to people. Everyone is different, I think. And considering the fact that she barely eats, well, malnutrition, perhaps dehydration too, and the sudden cessation of brain-altering medications may have led her to pull a painful memory from her past, and put in on display, as she did.” He leaned forward and furrowed his brow. “You said she had no memory of this event?” Edie leaned back, not wanting to arouse anyone’s suspicion. “Yeah, she didn’t remember writing it. Just like...” Edie quickly shut her mouth, about to say, just like me. Russell caught it. “What’s wrong, Edie? Just like what?” Edie shook her head, a bit too fast, and got a head rush. She clamped the heel of her hand against her forehead, as if she were having an ice cream headache, and massaged it.
  • “Nothing, Russell.” She lowered her hand. “I’m just…I need to get to class.” She shot off her seat, which exacerbated the pain inside her head, but she managed to stay on her feet, and turned to leave. Over her shoulder, she said, “Thanks for your concern, but I’m fine, really. See you tomorrow.” “You forgot your notebook,” he reminded her, as he stood up, holding it in his possession. Edie wanted to snatch it from his hand, but she remained calm and retrieved it, placing it inside her backpack for safekeeping. “Thanks.” “Don’t tell anyone but I plan on having a pop quiz tomorrow on today’s lecture notes.” Edie frowned. “Um…Russell?” “Yeah?” “I kind of…well, I may have missed some of your lecture.” Well, really all of it. Russell gave her a smile. “You weren’t paying attention?” he teased. “I can honestly say I don’t have that problem with my students. It’s just the opposite, in fact. They pay too much attention.” He shook his head. “They even notice when I switch colognes, for crying out loud.” Edie giggled. “Yeah, they seem very…attentive.” “Not you, though,” he said, staring into her eyes. “Or are you just very good at hiding it?” Edie furrowed her brow. “Hiding what?” Russell’s face was changing. It was becoming darker, masked in shadow, and then he advanced, pursuing her. His face was no longer his, but of someone who she didn’t recognize, until a switch flipped, and he looked like his former self again. He took a step back, confused, the shadow gone. “What were we talking about?” “Uh…the pop quiz tomorrow.” Edie was surprised that she could even speak after…well…she didn’t know what she’d seen. “I need the lecture notes, if you
  • have them,” she went on, hoping to jog his memory. “Oh, yeah, sure,” he said, remembering. He went to his desk, shuffled through some papers, then came back with a stack, and handed them to Edie. She pushed them into her notebook. “Make sure I get those back,” he said in warning. “I wouldn’t want anyone to think I favor you over the others.” “I understand.” Russell and Edie had a secret. She wondered if they’d have any more. “Well…I think I’ll go now.” “Remember, Edie, if you ever want to talk, I’m here for you.” Edie just gave him a nod and left. Outside in the hall, she hugged a wall, and breathed in and out. Before leaving, she’d been tempted to show Russell the page in her notebook but had chickened out. What would he think of her? Would he call her crazy? Would he notify Principal Jennings, Uncle Landon? What if they hauled her off to some mental hospital? Then again, maybe I belong there. She began to think of Grimsby Sanatorium, where Jules wanted her to go on a ghost hunt. What if she went there and never came out? What if ghostly nurses and doctors strapped her down onto a bed, and then injected her with ghostly needles? She shivered and wrapped her arms around her chest. Despite her fears, she felt like she couldn’t disappoint Jules. And she was mildly curious if there were actual ghosts about. Yet she hadn’t totally made up her mind. Mason didn’t want her to go but it had nothing to do with the paranormal activity that Edie may possibly encounter; it had to do with Edie being arrested for breaking-and-entering; if indeed Jules and her Grimsby Paranormal Society friends were going to commit such a felony. She also couldn’t turn away Russell, who seemed genuinely concerned for her. She wanted to talk about what she’d written, what it meant, and how to stop it. Maybe he’d keep her secret. She knew that Diana and Madelyn would too, but she wouldn’t dare show them her notebook. If Russell wanted to keep a sizable distance that was fine but not Diana and Madelyn. She couldn’t bear the stretch
  • of miles it would inevitably produce from their lost friendships. Mason could never know, either. His loss would be the most damaging of all. She’d be heartbroken. Edie went back into Russell’s classroom, still empty. She assumed this was his planning period. He looked up from his desk and smiled. The look on his face implied he was glad to see her again, so soon. “Yes, Edie?” “I want to talk but not now. And not at school,” she added. She couldn’t take the risk that they wouldn’t be overheard. Russell thought on Edie’s proposal, as he ran his fingers through his hair. Finally, he said, “Well, all right. I’d say ‘somewhere public,’ but that’d raise suspicions too. How about at your house? With your uncle there, of course,” he added. Edie grimaced. “Isn’t that worse than somewhere public?” “Well, I could say I was having a meeting with your uncle to discuss your studies.” Could say? This was a bad idea, yet... Resigned, she wrote down her address and cell number on a slip of paper, and then handed it to him. “Tonight, okay?” He pocketed the paper and smiled. “It’s a date.” He immediately frowned and started waving his hands. “No, no, that’s not what I meant. Sorry.” He stopped waving and put his hands into his pockets. She could see one hand, caressing the slip of paper that she’d just given him. “I’ll, uh, be there. Around six?” Edie nodded, agreeing, and then left the classroom. Oh, boy! What have I gotten myself into? Edie had a horrible feeling that she’d set in motion a series of unfortunate events. Chapter 8
  • It was Edie’s last class of the day, Spanish. She’d been expecting it to sail smoothly—as her previous two classes, economics and American government, had done—but her hopes were crushed when she spotted Rochelle and Ravenna, gossiping in the back of the classroom. The only available desk was right in front of them. Great. “That seat’s taken,” Rochelle snapped. “Yeah, loser,” Ravenna added. Edie ignored them and sat anyway, as she held onto Mason’s scarf, seeking strength and courage. Yet she didn’t feel any better. In fact, she felt cold and sick. A dark shadow seemed to be looming over her, terrorizing her. She dared to look up and realized it was only Rochelle. But she was scary too. She was eyeing Edie’s scarf through two narrow slits. “Take it off,” she ordered. Edie got mad, possessive of Mason and anything he would give her. “No. It’s mine.” Ravenna joined in. “Rochelle said: Take. It. Off!” By now, they were the main attraction. Every student was staring at them, waiting to see who would throw the first punch. Edie kept praying for the teacher to arrive, but she was devastatingly late. Rochelle snapped her fingers at Ravenna, never looking away from Edie. “I can fight my own battles, Rave.” Ravenna fell back against her desk chair like she’d been slapped. Edie’s neck suddenly jerked, and she realized it was Rochelle, trying to pull Mason’s scarf off her. “Hey, stop it!” Edie yelled, tugging the scarf back. “What’s your malfunction?” Rochelle wouldn’t let go of the scarf. “I told you Edwina if you’re going to play, you’d better be prepared to get dirty.” A cold blast of fury seemed to erupt all around Edie, and before she knew it, Mason’s scarf was gone from her neck. Edie thought it’d been Rochelle,
  • victorious, but she’d never touched it. In fact, the scarf was moving on its own toward Rochelle’s neck, where it wound itself tight, choking her. Ravenna shot off her seat, trying to rescue Rochelle. The rest of the students sat paralyzed, watching in horror as Rochelle was being strangled to death. Despite not liking Rochelle, Edie couldn’t sit idly by and watch her struggle, so she leapt up too and helped Ravenna. Edie felt like she was fighting against some unseen contender, trying to save Rochelle’s life. Finally, Ravenna and Edie were able to free Rochelle; Ravenna had been holding her friend, keeping her calm, while Edie had been unwinding the scarf. It was in shreds now and Edie held it in her hands, wondering how it’d magically made it from her neck to Rochelle’s. And why it’d wanted to kill her. “Are you okay?” Edie asked Rochelle. Rochelle was trembling with her hand around her throat, massaging it. Her eyes were wide as she looked at Edie with absolute hate. “You,” she said in a scratchy voice, pointing an accusatory finger at Edie. “You tried to kill me.” Edie shook her head violently. “No, no, I didn’t.” “Yeah, I saw you!” Ravenna lied, expressing her loyalty. “You tried to kill my friend!” She turned toward the class. “You all saw it, didn’t you? That bitch tried to kill Rochelle!” Edie’s mouth was agape, shocked. No one came to her rescue. No one stood up for her. “I didn’t!” Edie yelled. But no one was listening because no one cared. “What’s going on?” a high-pitched voice demanded. Edie turned to see the teacher, Mrs. Bellamy, walk into the room. She’d finally arrived, and she was darting her eyes between Rochelle and Edie. “Edwina tried to kill Rochelle,” Ravenna lied, again. She snatched up the scarf from Edie’s hands. “With this, Mrs. Bellamy,” she added, presenting it as evidence. She waved the scarf at the class. “They all saw it!” And then dramatically, she threw the scarf on the floor. Edie picked it up and held it protectively. Mrs. Bellamy approached Rochelle,
  • scanning her worried face. Yes, Rochelle was upset. Edie could see the look in her eyes; she actually thought Edie had tried to kill her. Even though Rochelle was scared, Edie could see fury in her eyes as well. She’ll have her vengeance, I know it. “Let me see,” Mrs. Bellamy coaxed, gesturing at Rochelle’s neck. Rochelle tilted her head and winced. Mrs. Bellamy gasped. “It’s bruised!” “See?” Ravenna said, gesturing wildly at Edie. “Rochelle was attacked!” Mrs. Bellamy left Rochelle and approached Edie. “Edwina?” Edie was speechless. Clearly, the scarf had moved on its own and wrapped around Rochelle’s neck, trying to squeeze the life from her. Edie was absolutely sure that she hadn’t done it. And she didn’t believe the scarf was magical because it’d been Mason’s, after all. Someone had done it. Yet…who? ~~~~~ Ravenna wailed when Mrs. Bellamy told her that she had to remain behind. After Mrs. Bellamy had gotten another teacher to watch over the class, she motioned for Edie and Rochelle to enter the hallway. They were going to the principal’s office. Walking single file, Edie was in the front, then Mrs. Bellamy, and finally Rochelle, trailing behind, as she played up her wounds. “Edwina attacked me,” she told every passerby. Edie kept walking, suffering the looks of students and teachers alike; all seemed to believe Rochelle, giving Edie a wary eye. When Principal Jennings saw Edie, she beamed, unaware of the crime Edie had apparently committed. She frowned when she saw Rochelle but said nothing. Mrs. Bellamy shut the principal’s office door, and then remained standing between Edie and Rochelle. Principal Jennings had been sitting, but now she stood, concerned. “What
  • happened?” she asked, looking at Rochelle. “Edwina…tried…to…kill…me,” Rochelle said between fake sobs. Principal Jennings gave her a disbelieving look. “No, Rochelle, Edie did not try to kill you. What really happened?” “There’s bruising on her neck,” Mrs. Bellamy informed, but didn’t seem to be accusing Edie of murder just yet. “She tried to strangle me with that scarf!” Rochelle accused. Edie was still holding Mason’s scarf in her hands; the evidence in plain sight. She had it bunched up into a ball. “Edie?” Principal Jennings prompted. Edie shook her head and found her voice. “I didn’t do anything. Rochelle… Rochelle tried to take the scarf from me. She pulled, I pulled back.” Edie shrugged. “Then…well…I don’t know how it happened, but the scarf was around Rochelle’s neck, and it was…” She trailed off, not wanting to sound crazy. “It was what?” Principal Jennings prodded. Edie bit her lip, and then replied, “It was…strangling her.” Principal Jennings looked away, processing, and then she turned back toward Edie. “A scarf, on its own, tried to strangle Rochelle?” “No, she did!” Rochelle hissed. She rushed toward Principal Jennings’s desk. “Look!” She tilted her head for the principal to see the bruises on her neck. Edie had to admit it—they looked bad—and in a familiar pattern. Like bruising made by someone’s hand. Edie could discern four fingers and a thumb. Principal Jennings noticed it too. She put a hand over her mouth and shook her head, shocked. She lowered her hand to speak. “I’m sorry this has happened to you Rochelle. It’s…” She trailed off, confused, worried, and then turned toward Edie. “Edie, what happened?” She gave Edie a small smile. “I know you didn’t do it, but—” “Yes, she did!” Rochelle yelled at the top of her lungs, despite her injuries. “Edwina St. John tried to kill me!” She gestured wildly at her own neck. “There’s your proof! I want her arrested! I want her thrown out of town! I want her out of my life!”
  • Mrs. Bellamy had been keeping silent, listening, all throughout the hearing. Now she spoke up. “I wasn’t there. I didn’t see. Ravenna Gallo, Rochelle’s friend, said it was Edie, but….” Mrs. Bellamy shook her head and gave Edie a sympathetic look. “I don’t think you did it either, Edie.” Rochelle let out a shriek. “Why is everyone taking her side?! You all think she’s some sort of…angel but she’s not! She’s fooled everyone! She’s fooled Mason! I hate her! I hate her! I. Hate. Her!” Rochelle let out another shriek, but then she was cut off, as her hands flew to her throat, holding tight. She was choking herself. Mrs. Bellamy and Principal Jennings rushed and managed to tear her hands away, holding them at her sides. Rochelle was struggling against their hold, spitting curses at Edie. Edie stood away, not wanting to get hit by either her hands or her saliva, which was assuredly acidic. Suddenly, the door flew open. “Russ—Mr. B,” Edie quickly corrected herself. Russell entered, shut the door, and then remained standing near it. Edie could tell in his dark, gray eyes that he wanted to be near her instead. “What’s going on?” he asked anyone in the room who would answer. Rochelle fell limp. The principal and the teacher let her go but stayed close just in case. “Mr. B,” she cooed. “Look what Edwina did to me.” She gestured at her neck, the bruises more pronounced since she’d been trying to strangle herself. Russell shook his head. “No, Edie wouldn’t do that. That’s impossible.” He finally came to stand next to Edie and gently laid an arm around her shoulders. “Are you all right, Edie?” Rochelle growled. “You?!” she accused Russell. “You too?!” Her eyes were wide and suspicious, darting back and forth between Edie and Russell. Russell let Edie go and approached Principal Jennings. “What happened?” Rochelle spoke up instead. “Edie,” she said with malice, “tried to strangle me with that scarf!” Russell’s forearms were tense, veins popping, and his hands were clenched
  • in agitation. “When I came in, you were being forcibly restrained, as if you were trying to hurt yourself. Fess up Rochelle. You did it the first time too.” His arms and hands relaxed. “You did that to yourself”—he made an accusatory gesture at her bruised neck—“to get Edie into trouble.” Rochelle was speechless, stunned. “We know your track record,” Principal Jennings spoke up next. “What you accused Mr. Ballantine of earlier this year.” Rochelle found her voice. “I lied then, but I’m not lying now!” She stamped her foot against the floor. “I didn’t try to kill myself! It was her!” She pointed an accusing finger at Edie. Russell moved to stand protectively in front of Edie, thinking she was about to be attacked. To Principal Jennings, he said, “Edie’s been through so much. May she leave? I’ll be glad to escort her out.” “I bet you would,” Rochelle spat. Mrs. Bellamy laid a cautious hand on Rochelle’s shoulder. “Rochelle, tell the truth.” Yet Rochelle was silent, staring at Edie, then Russell with hateful eyes. Principal Jennings gave her approval for Russell and Edie to leave. Edie didn’t look back, not even when Rochelle called her a “bitch.” She released more obscenities that were muffled when the principal slammed her office door. Russell steered Edie by the elbow into the student lobby, where he guided her toward a sofa, and they sat, side by side. The scene looked mildly scandalous, until it became eye-popping, when he took her free hand in his; her other hand still held onto Mason’s tattered scarf. “Edie, are you okay?” he asked softly, massaging her skin with gentle thumb strokes. Edie didn’t answer him. Instead she pulled her hand away from Russell’s embrace and stuffed the scarf into her coat pocket. Feeling sick, she wrapped her arms around her stomach, rocking back and forth, as she held back the urge to vomit. “She deserved it,” Russell said in a deep voice, almost a growl.
  • Edie stopped rocking and turned toward him. “What’d you say?” Russell shook his head, confused by Edie’s question. “I didn’t say anything.” He took the back of his hand and laid it gently against her forehead, but then quickly removed it, realizing he was playing doctor. “You don’t have a fever,” he confirmed. “Why would you think that?” she asked. “You don’t look well.” He appraised her shivering. “And you always seem so cold. I know Grimsby’s not the Caribbean, but…it’s not Antarctica.” “I’m fine,” she lied. “Edie—” He was cut off when the bell rang. The school day was over but not the whole day. Edie worried what other unexplained events and violent disturbances she’d encounter once she got home. She stood up to leave, and said to Russell, “I’d understand if you don’t want to come over tonight.” He stood up too and was forced to whisper, “Why do you say that?” as practically the whole school surrounded them, rushing out to leave. Edie shrugged. “Because...bad things happen around me.” He reached out in an effort to comfort Edie, but then remembered his place, and let his hand fall by his side. “I’m coming. You can’t push me away. Whatever’s happening, Edie, I’ll do everything I can to help you. Okay?” “Okay,” she agreed. ~~~~~ Edie walked with her head down toward her car, and then stumbled when she collided into someone. Strong arms wrapped around her, keeping her from falling. She looked up to find Mason, wearing a frown. “What’s wrong, Edie?” Edie’s shoulders slumped and Mason let her go. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard yet.”
  • “Heard what?” She retrieved his tattered scarf and told him what’d happened. Mason scratched at the beard forming along his jaw. “So…the scarf just… wrapped itself around Rochelle’s neck and tried to strangle her?” he said in a tone of disbelief. She ignored his closed-mindedness and spoke the truth—or the truth as she believed it. “Well, it succeeded somewhat. I mean, she’s all right, but Mason… there’s bruising on her neck. It looks like a handprint.” She shook her head. “A scarf didn’t strangle her. A person did.” She let out a humorless chuckle. “Now that sounds crazy, I know,” she conceded somewhat, “but I didn’t do it. Even though Rochelle tried to strangle herself inside the principal’s office, she didn’t do it the first time.” “Maybe she did.” “Huh?” “Try to remember, Edie. Did the scarf magically wrap around her neck?” He gave her a look, and then shook his head at the ridiculousness of it. “No, it didn’t. Rochelle’s an actress. She likes to make scenes, cause trouble. I have no doubt she made it look like the scarf was strangling her, when all the while, she was doing it. That’s how she got those bruises. It was her hand.” Mason was making sense, considering what Rochelle had tried to pull inside the principal’s office. Yet…Edie wasn’t totally convinced. “But Mason, Ravenna and I both struggled to remove the scarf from her.” Edie held up the ruins of the garment. “Look.” He took it from her hand, appraising it. “Sorry, by the way,” she said. “I didn’t mean for that to happen.” He gave Edie a hard stare. “It’s not your fault. It’s Rochelle’s.” He cursed. “Why is she so crazy?” He chuckled without humor as she’d done earlier. “No, I was the crazy one for dating her for so long.” He bunched up the scarf even more and threw it over Edie’s head, where it landed directly into the trash can, a sizable distance away. “Good shot,” she praised.
  • He shrugged. “I play basketball.” “For the school?” “Used to. I quit because of Rochelle. She’s a cheerleader. I couldn’t stand looking at her and she threw off my game.” “I can’t imagine her cheering for anything,” Edie said dryly. “Except for herself.” “She does it to be near the guys,” he said with a shake of his head. “She has a thing for jocks. You remember Quinn from our English class?” After Edie had nodded, he continued, “Quinn McDermott is who she cheated on me with. After he was done with her, he dumped her. She was devastated for about two seconds until she latched onto another guy.” “Who’s she seeing now?” He shrugged, and replied, “No one, as far as I know. The guys here want nothing to do with her. Not worth it, you know?” Edie nodded. “But she’s still hung up on you. She wanted my scarf because it was yours.” He shook his head again. “She doesn’t want me. Not in a relationship, anyway. She just can’t stand to see me with another girl.” Briefly his eyes went wide. “I mean, not that I’m with you, like that…it’s just…she’s got it inside her head that she owns me, and whenever she decides she’s bored, she’ll just snap her fingers, and I’ll come crawling back.” He sighed. “I can’t wait until graduation. Then, I’ll never have to see her again.” “What if she stays?” “I hope not. She always talks about moving to New York. That’s still too close. You know that Mars trip people are signing up for?” Edie nodded. “I wish they could go now. I’d personally escort Rochelle inside the spaceship and wave, as she blasted off into space.” He looked up at the sky and waved for effect, grinning. Edie giggled. “I’ll join you.” He relaxed his grin into a small smile. “So…are you going straight home?
  • Because I was thinking we could do something.” Uh-oh. Russell. Edie tried not to panic. “Um…rain check?” she said, keeping her voice deceptively smooth. “It’s just that it’s been such an overwhelming day and I’m still settling in. I’m a bit tired.” It wasn’t a total lie. She was tired. “No problem.” Mason reached out and tucked a stray strand of hair behind Edie’s ear. “I love your hair.” His fingers trailed along her cheek, and then he leaned in, kissing her where he’d touched her. Her face flushed. “I’ll see you tomorrow in English.” “Unless I get lost again and you have to rescue me.” “It would be my pleasure, Miss St. John, but you may have to rescue me again like you did this morning.” Edie smiled. “It would be my pleasure, Mr. Fenwick.” He chuckled. “I love your accent. My little southern belle,” he cooed affectionately. To Edie’s surprise, he didn’t try to take it back; his confidence with her was growing more and more with each passing second. Edie blushed and bit her lip, not knowing what to say. Instead she gave him a hug and tilted her head up, staring into his eyes. It felt wonderful until Mason grimaced in disgust and pushed her away. “What’d I do?” she asked, worried that he’d lost all affection for her. Mason shook his head. “I’m sorry, Edie. I thought for a moment you were… Rochelle.” Edie screwed up her face in disgust. “What?!” “I’m sorry but I don’t know what happened. One second, I was looking at you, Edie, and then…your face changed…and you were Rochelle. I freaked and pushed you away. I’m sorry.” He rubbed at his closed eyes, then opened them, and said, “Maybe I’m just tired or something.” “It’s okay,” she said. “This day has just been crazy, that’s all. I’m sure tomorrow will be better.”
  • She hoped. Mason smiled. “Let’s try this again.” He opened his arms and she embraced him. They stood in the parking lot, holding onto each other, until Mason was the first to pull away. “That’s better,” he said, smiling down at Edie. “You’re like an oven,” Edie said, and then added with less enthusiasm, “and I’m like an icebox.” “Then we complement each other,” he said, looking on the bright side. “Together, we’re neither too cold nor too hot. If you met a cold guy, you’d be frozen solid. If I met a hot girl, I’d melt.” Edie smiled. “That’s silly logic. But sweet. Thank you.” Mason smiled, exposing his dimples. “You know, Edie, one day, I’m actually going to do something worthy of your thanks.” Chapter 9 When Edie entered her house, she heard a growl, followed by a hissing. She went into the kitchen and discovered that the monster she’d been hearing was the coffee machine. Uncle Landon was brewing another pot. Coffee, mixed with the smell of cigarette smoke, drifted from his study down the hall. The door was closed, but she could still hear the constant click-clack of the keyboard under his fingers, along with the occasional curses, grunts, and exclamations of joy. She waited in the kitchen to see if he’d make an appearance, but he didn’t. Edie wasn’t expecting a fascinating conversation, or even a “Hey, how was your day?” She just wanted to let him know that Russell was coming over. Edie’s uncle was a private person. She valued her privacy too, but she felt that she didn’t have it anymore. Someone was watching her, listening in on her, and generally screwing up her life. And it rattled her nerves. She yelped when she felt something vibrating inside her pocket, and then
  • she realized it was her cell phone and mentally cursed herself for acting like an idiot. “Hello?” she answered. “Hey, it’s Russell. I’m at the gates. Can you let me in?” She looked at the clock on the wall. It was only four. “You’re early,” she said. “Is that a problem?” “No, uh, I’ll let you in.” She ended the call and went to the panel next to the front door, pushing a button. From the window, she could see the gates opening. Russell drove through and once he was safely inside, she closed the gates. If anyone wanted to sneak past, they’d have to climb the fifteen foot gate with pointed spades at the top. To her knowledge, no one had ever tried. She opened the door and greeted Russell with a smile. He got out of his car —a later model, canary-colored Camaro—and smiled back. He looked in awe at the house. “Wow,” he said. “You live in a mansion.” He pointed to the left. “And you have a hedge maze. That’s so cool.” He pointed to the right. “Is that a chapel?” She was standing at the threshold, shivering. “Yep.” She let him inspect the mansion and the grounds a little longer, before motioning him forward in a silent plea for him to hurry, fearing that she’d freeze to death. He understood and started walking toward the front door. After she’d stepped aside, he advanced and remained standing in the foyer, scanning beyond. “I was expecting something more…dark.” Edie closed the front door and locked it. “Dark?” she repeated. Russell nodded, looking around. “I thought there’d be skulls and lit black candles or something.” Edie was confused. “It’s not Halloween yet.” “Oh, not that…” He seemed embarrassed. “It’s just that your uncle’s a horror writer and this place is so...”
  • “Cheerful?” she supplied. Russell nodded again. Edie smiled. “I’m sure I can find a skull around here somewhere if you feel cheated by the ambiance.” Russell chuckled. “No, that’s okay. I guess I shouldn’t have made assumptions.” He looked around again, as if he were trying to find someone. “Is your uncle home?” he asked, clarifying his scrutiny. Edie pointed at the darkened part of the house. “He’s in his study, working on his novel. It’s best not to disturb him,” she cautioned. “Have you told him I was coming over?” Edie shook her head. Russell furrowed his brow. “Well, I don’t want him to get the wrong impression when he sees me.” He blushed. “You know…another man in his house…with his niece.” Edie threw a dismissive hand at him. “It’s okay. I mean, it’s not like we’re going into my bedroom or anything.” Russell blinked. “Oh, yeah, right.” He gestured at the living room. “Is there okay?” “Sure.” Edie led Russell into the room. He took off his coat and laid it across the back of the sofa. “Sure is hot in here.” “Sorry,” she apologized. “I can’t take the cold.” She was still wearing the multi-layered clothes that she’d worn at school, sans the outer garments. Still…she was cold. This unseen cold presence never left her side. Russell sniffed. “Coffee?” Edie nodded. “My uncle was brewing a pot, but I’m sure we can have some. What do you take in yours?” “Just sugar,” he replied. “Be right back.” After she’d prepared his cup, as well as one for her, she grabbed her
  • notebook, and brought it to him in the living room. He’d chosen a spot on the sofa, and she sat a few feet over, not wanting to get too close. “Mmm, thanks,” Russell said, after he’d taken a sip, and then set the cup down on the saucer that she’d brought with it. “So...” He tapped her notebook, lying closed on the coffee table. “What’s this?” he asked. Before answering, she drank half her cup of scalding hot courage, and then set it down on the saucer. “It’s my notebook from your class.” “Oh, yeah, I remember. Still got those lecture notes I gave you?” She pulled out the stack of sheets and put them aside, and then she opened up to the page in question. Nervous, yet eager to see his reaction, she slid the notebook toward him. He picked it up and narrowed his eyes at the text. She waited, wringing her hands in her lap. Finally, he set the notebook down and looked at her. “You wrote this?” Edie nodded, stilling her hands. “But I don’t remember doing it,” she defended. “I was paying attention to you, writing down the lecture notes—or thought I was doing that—anyway, after I was done, I studied what I’d written and saw that,” she explained, waving a hand at the repetitive phrase in cursive script: You’re going crazy. “It’s just like with Mrs. Featherstone. She had no memory of writing ‘fat girl’ either. Yet…we wrote what we wrote. It was our handwriting. What happened with Mrs. Featherstone was explained away as a drug withdrawal. She wasn’t taking her antidepressants, but what about me, Russell? What’s my excuse?” She’d slid closer to him in her distress. Now she was looking up into his dark, gray eyes, pleading for help. “Have you ever done something like this before?” he asked, gesturing at the page. She shook her head. “Am I going crazy?” “First, don’t use the word ‘crazy,’ all right? Second, we’ll get through this, okay? We’ll figure this out together.” He clasped her hand. “Have you told anyone else?” “No,” she said, finding her hand glued to his, their fingers intertwined.
  • He was comforting and she didn’t want to let go. With his other hand, he cupped the back of her neck, gently massaging. “Edie, it’s okay. You’re going through a lot right now; the death of your parents, combined with moving to a new place, living with a new person, can take a toll on someone’s mind.” He pulled her closer and she was nestled against him, her head into the crook of his neck. He’d stopped massaging hers, but kept holding her hand. “That makes sense,” she said. “But strange things have been happening to me ever since I arrived in Grimsby.” He shifted so he could look at her. “What strange things, Edie?” She told him about Lockhart Manor and all the events afterward. He didn’t seem to believe her, but he didn’t tell her that she was going crazy, either, which was a positive. “Like I said before, you’re going through a lot,” he said. “The mind is treacherous, Edie. It can betray us, make us think we see things that aren’t there, hear things that aren’t there, feel things that aren’t there.” He let go of her hand and briefly caressed her cheek. “But I wouldn’t recommend you being committed. I think after a few more days of getting acclimated to Grimsby, meeting new people, making friends, all these...fears…will just go away.” “I hope so.” She finished the rest of her coffee and almost spat it out; it was freezing cold. “Yuck,” she said. “Don’t drink yours. It’s cold by now. I’ll make us some fresh cups.” When she stood, Russell stood too. “I’ll help,” he offered. “No, it’s okay.” He smiled. “I insist.” He followed Edie into the kitchen, and when she went to the coffee machine, he said, “I’ll do it. You just sit.” She hesitated but eventually sat atop a stool at the kitchen island and watched him at work. He made hers first. She was surprised that he’d known exactly how much sugar and how much cream to put in it. He made his next, and then grabbed a stool, adjusting it on the other side of the island, so that they facing each other across the short expanse.
  • “How’d you know?” she asked, referring to her perfectly blended coffee. Russell gave her a crooked smile. “I know everything about you, Edie.” She almost dropped her mug, panicking, but she managed to set it down without a spill. “What?” she asked, even though she’d heard him perfectly. Russell’s face darkened, resembling a shadowy mask. She remembered that look all too well. He was staring into her eyes, and the corner of his mouth was raised, as if he were in on some great, big secret. “I lied awhile ago,” he finally said. “You really are crazy, Edie. Certifiably insane. Nuts. Bonkers. A total whacko. Looooneeee,” he sang out the last insult. Her mouth dropped. “Russell?” He took a sip of his coffee, set the mug down, and then came over to stand behind Edie. She was afraid and kept her back to him. He laid an arm on either side of hers atop the island, and then he pressed his chest against her back, trapping her. “Edie,” he said softly in her ear. “Do you know what they do to crazy people?” She swallowed, afraid, unable to speak. He sniffed and moaned like he’d smelled something sensuous. “Oh, Edie, your fear is intoxicating. I’m just”—he placed his lips against her ear—“eating it up.” He moved and she felt some relief, but she was still afraid, as he sat atop the stool next to her. She didn’t turn to face him. “Oh, Edie?” he called out, and then trailed cold-tipped fingers across her arm, causing gooseflesh to rise. “Edie, look at me.” Despite her fear, she managed a slight turn, and looked into his dark, gray eyes. He smiled. “That’s better. Do you know what would happen to you in a mental asylum, Edie? Hmm?” She refused to answer. “Answer me,” he growled. She yelped, and then said, “No,” in a weak voice. “It’s called a lobotomy,” he informed in a normal tone, then lifted his hand, and jabbed the tip of his cold finger into her temple. She winced at the pain, but
  • he ignored her suffering. “They go inside your little brain, and they remove all the craziness from you.” He pulled his finger away, and then with his other, formed a pair of scissors in front of her eyes. “Snip, snip, snip, Edie. That’s what they’ll do. They’ll cut away all that insanity.” He grinned. “And then, you’ll be as right as rain.” He threw his hands up in the air. “Your sanity restored.” He wobbled his hand. “Well, there have been complications…death and such,” he added, matter- of-fact. Edie was shivering and her heart was racing. “Is-is that what you want them to do to me? Do-do you want me…dead?” “No, no, my sweet.” Russell held her face in his cold hands. “I won’t allow anyone to hurt you.” “Really?” she asked meekly. Russell nodded and smiled. “Yes, my sweet, because you see…I want to hurt you. Yes, I want to pick and probe and pierce your brain to my fullest desires. And when you’re broken, so severely broken, then I’ll kill you.” He leaned forward and kissed her lips. His were cold as the dead. “Now…shall we begin?” She found some courageous strength and tore herself away from his grasp. She ended up falling on the floor. “Edie, are you all right?” She looked up to see Russell. He was bent over, staring at her with wide, caring eyes. The shadowy mask was gone. “I…I fell.” She hesitated at his offer of help, but eventually accepted it, finding the horror that she’d been subjected to was gone. Russell’s touch on her skin was pleasantly warm. He held her in his arms, a most unprofessional thing to do. Yet she didn’t care and began to sob. She wrapped her arms around his chest and buried her face against his shirt. He didn’t push her away, instead holding her closer, massaging her back. He said softly, “It’s all right, Edie, it’s all right,” over and over against her hair. “I’m…going…crazy,” she said between sobs. “No, you’re not. Don’t think that. You just need time; time to adjust. I’m here
  • for you.” Gently, she pushed him away, and reluctantly, he let her go. “I am crazy,” she countered. “Earlier, you were saying the most awful and scary things, but I know you’re not like that. You’re sweet and good. I imagined it. My mind isn’t mine own any more, Russell. Like you said, it’s treacherous and it’s betrayed me. I should commit myself, have that lobotomy. Maybe I’ll die. That’d be nice.” Russell pulled her to him, his face masked in worry. “Please, Edie, don’t talk like that. What’s this lobotomy business? Your death? You’re not going to commit yourself to an insane asylum!” He held onto her, but turned his head toward the hallway, and said, “Where’s your uncle? He needs to know what you’re going through.” She panicked and shook Russell, causing him to turn his face back toward her. “No, no, please, don’t! Please don’t tell him or anyone else!” She reached up and kissed his warm lips. She’d never kissed a boy before— much less a man—much less her teacher. Russell was wide-eyed, shocked. He licked his lips. “What’d you do that for?” he asked in a husky tone. She withdrew from his embrace and shrugged. “I panicked. I guess I did it to…entice you…so that you wouldn’t tell anyone.” She cringed. “Oh, I’m sorry. Please don’t tell anyone about that either.” He licked his lips again. “It’s okay.” He gave her a small smile. “It’ll be our secret. And not just the…kiss…well, about everything. I don’t care what you tell me, Edie, I’ll never get you into trouble.” She bit her lip, and then asked, “Are you like this with all your students?” even though she was confident that she knew the answer. Russell shook his head. “No, Edie, I…” He trailed off, raking his fingers through his hair, and then continued, “I feel a connection to you that I can’t explain. I noticed it when you first came into my class.” “Is that why you kept staring at me?” He gave her a shy smile. “Sorry.” His smile faded. “I just…I saw you and…I know what you’re thinking: ‘he’s a pervert,’ but no, that’s not it. I just sensed you
  • were in trouble, needed someone, and I felt this…pull to help.” He raked his fingers through his hair again. “This is going to be…difficult. I’m your teacher. You’re my student. People will talk. I shouldn’t come to your house anymore. We’ll talk but at school with my door open like I’d intended.” He sighed. “I shouldn’t have come here. I should leave now.” She didn’t argue, knowing it was the right decision. She couldn’t take any more accusations, not after what’d happened with Rochelle and the scarf. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said. “Don’t forget, pop quiz,” he said with a smile. “Don’t tell the others.” She smiled back. “It’ll be our secret.” They both frowned at that, realizing something very problematic. Russell said, “I just hope our secrets don’t ruin us.” “Me too,” she agreed. ~~~~~ Her uncle still hadn’t come out of hibernation. She ate a light supper of two pieces of toasted bread, and then retreated to her room. Uncle Landon must have smoked an entire carton of cigarettes by the time Russell had arrived and left. The whole house was how she imagined a bar smelled like, mingled with a 24 hour coffee house, if such a place existed. The cigarette smoke was the most potent. That was why every morning, she doused herself from head-to-toe in perfume, so she wouldn’t smell like a pool hall when she went to school. Of all the things to accuse her of (e.g. murder) she hadn’t been accused of smoking. In her room, she heard her uncle pad to the kitchen. He grumbled something, poured the cold coffee out into the sink, and then prepared a new pot. The machine growled and hissed, and her uncle kept mumbling about people she didn’t know. She assumed that they were the characters in his story. She strained her ears to listen and heard a man possessed with a dark imagination:
  • “Jenny goes up the stairs even though the reader knows you shouldn’t go up the stairs…that’s what makes it all so nerve-wracking…her boyfriend, Khalid, is the prime suspect—he’s been acting weird lately—but he’s just the misdirection for the real killer…someone from Jenny’s past…someone she’d never expect… someone who’s altered his appearance…someone who’s waiting for her…just around the corner...” Jeez, Uncle Landon! Where do you come up with this stuff? She heard her uncle pad back to his room, mumbling still, and then his door closed. A few seconds later, the sound of his fingers flying across the keyboard could be heard. Unfortunately the upstairs part of the house was being renovated, and Edie lived downstairs, as did her uncle. Fortunately she had an iPod, so she plugged in her ear buds and cranked up the music, drowning out her uncle’s nightmarish fiction. She was sitting on her bed, copying Russell’s lecture into her notebook. She’d already removed the-you’re-going-crazy-page and had thrown it into the trash. It was evidence of her insanity and she didn’t want to look at it anymore. She wished that she could throw away the kiss she’d given Russell too. It hadn’t been bad, as kisses go. She thought that Russell’s lips had even moved against hers, kissing her back. Nah, that was ridiculous. He wouldn’t do that. He was her teacher. She was his student. Yet…she remembered his lips on hers; warm, comforting lips. Before, when she’d obviously been hallucinating, his lips had been cold, unfeeling, and threatening. The things he’d said—or what she’d imagined he’d said—were so awful, it was hurting her head just thinking about them. Mental asylum. Lobotomy. Snip, snip, snip. Kill. That hadn’t been Russell, and as far as she knew, Russell wasn’t suffering from a multiple personality disorder. She was the one with the mental illness. Russell had denied that was true, but it seemed to be the only explanation for all the crazy events that’d happened to her. After she’d lost her parents and had moved to new town, her mind must have snapped. She had gone off her rocker,
  • off the deep end, loony, psycho, in la-la land. Now she was adrift, a boat with a paddle, and she didn’t see anyone rescuing her anytime soon. She’d have to manage her insanity on her own, hoping and praying it would go away like a bruise that eventually faded. She sighed and was startled to see her own breath. She looked down at her arm and saw gooseflesh. She’d already finished copying her psychology notes, and she pushed the notebook and papers aside. Shivering, she wrapped another blanket around her. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought that she saw someone. She was afraid to look, but did, and discovered that there was no one in her room. She thought that she saw another movement above her head. She looked up to see the little chandelier swaying like someone had gently pushed it. She removed her blanket and stood up, trying to balance herself on the bed. When she was satisfied that she wouldn’t fall, she reached up and steadied the chandelier. Stung, she jerked her hand back, holding it against her other one, soothing it. The brightly-lit chandelier, despite being on for hours, was ice cold. She collapsed back down on her bed and wrapped the blanket around her, but it didn’t feel like a warm, comforting blanket. It felt like someone’s cold and calculating arms were wrapped around her body. “Edie,” a voice whispered in her ear. “Don’t you want to join your parents?” She leapt off the bed and realized that she still had her ear buds secured. She yanked them out and threw the iPod on the floor…next to her blanket. How…? She looked at her bed and discovered a depression into the mattress, a sunken spot right behind where she’d been sitting, moments ago. Now an invisible person was sitting on her bed. She stifled a scream and closed her eyes, counting ten Mississippis, while clutching her necklace for security. “Eleven Mississippi,” she added for good measure, and then opened her eyes. The depression was gone; her mattress was undisturbed. She was still cold
  • but not freezing like she’d been before. She couldn’t see her breath, as she inhaled, then exhaled, to calm her racing heart. As it slowed to a normal rhythm, she retrieved her blanket and placed it back on the bed, then her iPod. She could hear a song playing and secured one ear bud, listening in. It wasn’t a song; it was a children’s prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take It ended, followed by white noise, then nothing. She closed her eyes and said a prayer of her own. When she was done, she checked the iPod. The pop song that she’d been listening to was still playing, as if it’d never been interrupted. She sat on the bed, and rocked back and forth, praying again, but now it was a plea for her sanity to return. When she still felt the same, she remembered the chapel. That’d be a better venue. She bundled up and went outside. It was night and freezing cold. Light snow was falling, but it seemed like it was purposely dumping itself on her. Flood lights around the house illuminated the front. She realized that the maze connected to the chapel. You couldn’t reach the chapel without going through the maze first. The hedge labyrinth started in the front, and then wound around the back of the house, where if you managed not to give up, took you inside the chapel. She heard a door creak open behind her. “Edie?” She yelped and turned to discover her uncle, standing at the threshold with bare feet. He was only wearing a wrinkled white T-shirt and a pair of faded jeans. He had green eyes, and his hair was black like her dad’s, except Uncle Landon’s was long, secured into a ponytail. Edie had gotten her blonde hair from her mom. One hand was resting on the doorframe, while the other held a newly-lit
  • cigarette between two fingers. “You okay?” he asked. No. “Yes,” she lied. He took a drag, and then exhaled, blowing out a trail of smoke. “What’re you doing out here?” “Why is the maze attached to the chapel?” she asked instead. Uncle Landon took another drag, then exhaled, and joined Edie outside, sinking his bare feet into the snowy ground. “It’s about the journey,” he finally replied, and then flicked ash on the snow, melting it. “The journey of life,” he clarified. “Life isn’t a straight course, Edie. There are twists and turns and obstacles, yeah? You’ll take wrong turns. You’ll make wrong choices, but eventually, if you persevere, if you want it bad enough, you won’t give up, and you’ll make it to the end.” He put the cigarette back in his mouth again. “The chapel’s at the end?” “The chapel represents the prize, Edie,” he said in a muffled voice, the cigarette being an obstacle that he was unwilling to remove. “And what’s the prize?” He took another drag, and then exhaled, withdrawing the cigarette from his mouth. “Why, immortality, of course. What’s the point of living and suffering if there isn’t a reward?” “Have you gone through the maze?” she asked. Instead of immediately answering, he finished his cigarette, and then snuffed it out into the snow; smoke rose from the ground into the form of a stretched finger, pointing up at the starry sky. “No,” he finally replied succinctly. “You mean you haven’t started, or you’ve gotten lost, and had to turn around?” He stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I haven’t started.” “Why?” He let out a small smile. “I’m afraid.”
  • Edie advanced, but still kept some distance between them. After all, they were practically strangers, despite sharing the same blood. “You’re afraid if you can’t reach the chapel, you won’t be granted immortality?” He shook his head, causing his ponytail to sway; his hair was damp from the fallen snow. “No, it’s not like that. Like I said, the maze represents life, or better yet, our mortality on this earth. The chapel represents immortality, admission into Heaven. Even though they’re representations, they’re fully functional. So, if I fail on earth, then Heaven is out of reach, thus a feeling of rejection, of dismissal. I am condemned to an everlasting death, as if I’d never existed at all.” “If you don’t try, you’ll never know,” she pointed out. “That’s just it: I’m afraid to try because I’m certain I’d fail. I’d rather just avoid it than face that reality.” “You mean face the truth?” He nodded and lit another cigarette. “You understand, Edie.” He took a slow drag, enjoying every bit of the tobacco, and then exhaled. “It’s all about truth and being too afraid to know it, to keep yourself in the dark, because in dark places, you can’t see the sins you’ve committed.” He paused, and then continued, “Romans, chapter 3, verse 23: ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’” Edie added, “Romans, chapter 3, verse 24: ‘and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’” Uncle Landon smiled while blowing out a trail of smoke. “Through his sacrifice, yes, we are saved.” His smile faded. “On the cross, when Jesus knew he had to die, so others could live, suffering, he still cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!’ You see, he too was afraid. He was afraid even though he’d never committed a sin. So I ask you Edie: why should I, a sinful man, not be afraid to face the truth?” She didn’t know how to reply, so instead, she asked, “Is that why you write stories because you feel you can control your characters’ fates when you can’t control your own?”
  • Uncle Landon looked at her curiously. “My brother was right: you’re smart as a whip.” “My dad said that?” she asked, on the verge of crying. Uncle Landon nodded. “Loren said you were smart and beautiful and you made him very proud.” The tears fell then. She was wiping them away when she felt an arm around her shoulders. “Let’s go inside,” he encouraged softly. Uncle Landon guided her back into the house while she dried her face. He finished his cigarette and snuffed it out into a nearby ashtray. “Do you miss him?” she asked, considering her uncle had yet to shed a tear. “Every day,” he replied softly. “Then why haven’t you cried?” she asked rather harshly. Uncle Landon hesitated, and then said, “I’ve cried oceans, Edie. I don’t think I can cry anymore.” Edie thought that if her uncle were to cut his hair, he’d look exactly like her dad. But he wasn’t her dad. Her dad was dead, along with her mom. Uncle Landon was all she had now, and even though he wasn’t the most attentive, he was better than being alone. She took a tentative step forward, initiating a hug. He hesitated, and then lightly wrapped his arms around her. They embraced. It was the first time that they’d ever hugged. At the funeral, he’d given her a light pat on her back, afraid to touch her. He still seemed afraid, holding her gently with a space between their bodies. He was the first to let go. It seemed that he couldn’t quite accept the fact that a real person was in his life. “Sweet dreams,” he said, and went back to his sanctuary. ~~~~~ It was midnight. Edie was lying awake in bed, unable to sleep, thus, unable to dream. She
  • thought that she heard a shout, but ignored it, until she heard it again, and then realized it was her uncle. A deep voice cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” She rushed out, looked all around, and then found her uncle, still in his T- shirt and jeans, lying on the sofa in the living room. His eyes were closed, and his teeth were chattering, but he didn’t seem cold. He was actually sweating buckets. She shook him awake. He opened his eyes and bolted up. “Are you okay?” she asked. Uncle Landon was speechless. His eyes were darting back and forth until he found her, and then he opened his mouth, finding his voice. “I was having a nightmare.” He grabbed his head. “But it was so real!” Edie synched the robe around her and sat on the coffee table, facing him. “What happened?” “I…I was being…crucified.” He let out a humorless chuckle. “Guess we shouldn’t talk about such heavy, theological stuff right before bed, yeah?” He was trembling. “Why am I so cold? And sweaty?” he added, feeling his wet face. Edie went to a nearby closet, where she retrieved a blanket, and then brought it back to him. He wrapped it around his body, still shivering. She was cold too, feeling icy fingertips dance along her spine, but right now, she was more concerned with her uncle than herself. “Uncle Landon, maybe you should go to your room,” she suggested. “Lie down in bed.” He shook his head and lit a cigarette. He took a long drag, letting every bit of tobacco enter his lungs, and then he exhaled, slowly. A smile spread across his face. “All better now,” he said, self-diagnosing. “That’s not good for your health, you know,” she lectured mildly. He took another drag, and then exhaled. “Neither are nightmares,” he countered with a wry smile.
  • Chapter 10 Edie did her best to stay awake during math but it was hard. One, she hadn’t gotten any sleep the previous night. Two, she hated math, and it took a fun teacher to keep her awake. Mr. Droll was the very opposite of his name. Severe, with a bad comb-over, and pants hiked too far up his chest, the elderly teacher needed to retire—now. She jumped for joy when the bell rang and went on to English. Mrs. Featherstone looked up and smiled at Edie, but she didn’t move from her desk, didn’t say anything. Edie kept her distance out of respect, figuring Mrs. Featherstone would approach when she was ready. Mason arrived just after Edie, gave a nod to Mrs. Featherstone, and then greeted Edie with a big grin. “Hey, Edie, so how’s your day going so far?” “Good.” She took her seat, and then frowned. “I’m lying, actually. I had math first period with Mr. Droll, and I was actually contemplating suicide.” “Yeah, I know what you mean,” he said, taking his seat behind her. “I took calculus last year and barely passed. If his voice doesn’t put you to sleep, it’s him always repeating everything over and over, or clicking his pen all the time, or that facial tick—and I know it’s not his fault—but it’s really annoying.” She nodded in agreement. “Is there another teacher who I could take for calculus? You know, just switch classes?” Mason shook his head. “Sorry, Edie. You’re doomed.” Her shoulders slumped. “Bummer.” “Hey, Edie,” a deep, sexy voice greeted her. She turned and saw Quinn, the football player. He was tall and handsome with a smug demeanor. Quinn McDermott was who Rochelle had cheated on Mason with, so Edie didn’t like him very much, but she smiled, being a nice person. “Hey,” she greeted back. Quinn gave her a genuine smile back. “So…got a date for the Halloween
  • dance?” She was taken aback, not knowing what to say. Mason helped her out. “Yeah, she’s going with me.” He sounded…territorial. She hadn’t really thought about it, with everything going on, like her losing her mind, but…okay. Quinn’s smile faded, as if he were truly disappointed that Edie already had a date. He gave her one last look, and then turned toward the front. A girl with pink- dyed hair—Candie, Edie remembered from her psych class—was sitting behind Quinn, looking expectant, as if she were waiting for him to turn around and ask her to the dance. Quinn denied her, flipping haphazardly through his textbook. Candie visibly sank into her seat. Mason leaned forward and whispered, “Would you like to go to the dance with me?” Edie smiled. “Yes.” He smiled back. “Great.” “When’s the dance?” she asked. “A few weeks from now, so we’ll have time to figure out what we want to go as.” “Okay, great,” she said, elated that she’d finally been asked to a dance. Her blissful thoughts were interrupted when the intercom in the classroom came to life, and a feminine voice said, “Miss St. John to the principal’s office, please.” Edie’s happy bubble just popped. Most of the class performed a collective “ooh” sound, as if she were in trouble. Am I in trouble? Edie stayed glued to her seat until Mrs. Featherstone laid a gentle hand atop hers. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Go on, now.” Mrs. Featherstone patted Edie’s hand, and then withdrew her own. “You won’t miss anything.” Edie gave Mrs. Featherstone a small smile of gratitude, and then stepped away from her desk. To Mason, Edie smiled crookedly, embarrassed, but he gave her a warm smile back, as if there were nothing to be worried about. It was a
  • sweet gesture on his part, but she still left the classroom with butterflies in her stomach. Even though she’d done nothing wrong, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was in trouble. Her heart was racing as she approached the main office door. A hand shot out and grabbed the knob before she could. “Edie?” a familiar voice called out. She turned, and said, “Russ—I mean, Mr. B. I’ve been called to the principal’s office.” Russell frowned. “Me too.” Uh-oh. They were both in trouble. Edie and Russell started out walking side by side, but as they approached the narrow hallway that led to Principal Jennings’s office, he allowed her to go first, and then followed. Principal Jennings’s door was open and Russell closed it after he and Edie had entered. The principal was seated at her desk. A woman was standing beside her with platinum blonde hair styled into a pixie cut. A girl with dirty blonde hair was seated as well, her back to Edie. Edie recognized her immediately. It was Rochelle Lafayette. She turned around and gave Edie an I’ve-got-you kind of smile. Edie noticed that the bruises on her neck had almost disappeared. Apparently she was feeling much better. “Edie, Russell, please sit,” Principal Jennings said, gesturing at two vacant chairs. Edie did with Russell next to her. “What’s going on?” he asked, not the principal, but the woman who was standing. She didn’t answer him and turned toward Edie instead. “Edie, I’m Abigail Winters, the superintendent. Something disturbing has been brought to our attention.” Principal Jennings leaned forward. “Rochelle has come to us with a very serious matter.” She swiveled her eyes between Edie and Russell as she spoke. “She’s accused you, Edie, and you, Mr. Ballantine, of an inappropriate relationship.”
  • Edie’s heart was racing and she was speechless. “That’s preposterous,” Russell denied, in full use of his vocal cords. He was so calm, but then again, he’d been accused of acting inappropriately before. Rochelle jumped up. “He was at her house. For hours,” she added dramatically. Now Edie jumped up. “What’re you doing, sneaking around my house?” Then Russell jumped up, standing between Edie and Rochelle, his back to Edie, protective. He turned toward the principal and superintendent, while still maintaining a protective stance. “I was at Edie’s house yesterday, but only to discuss the tragedy in her life. Her parents are dead, as you know, and during class yesterday, she was disengaged, upset. I offered to come by her house, talk with her. I admit, it probably wasn’t the best course of action to take, but I can assure you, we weren’t alone. Her uncle was there the entire time.” He was leaving a lot out. He wasn’t exactly lying, but he wasn’t exactly telling the whole truth, either. Superintendent Winters addressed Edie. “Edie, is this true?” Edie nodded, and let out a weak, “Yes.” “They’re lying,” Rochelle accused. “You should’ve seen them yesterday after I’d been nearly strangled to death by Edwina. Mr. B jumped to her defense! He was practically all over her.” She glared at Edie. “I just happened to be driving by your house when I saw Mr. B’s car there.” “And you stayed for hours?” Principal Jennings asked in a disbelieving tone. “Why?” “I…I had car trouble. The engine wouldn’t start.” Liar, liar, pants on fire. Edie mentally shook her head at Rochelle’s audacity. Although Rochelle had yet to present any visual evidence, so maybe her car had died, along with her cell phone. “Really?” Principal Jennings said, sounding skeptical. “Yeah, and so I had to stay there, and that’s how I know Mr. B had been there for hours.” She shot him a cruel smile. “We all know how attentive you are to the
  • girls at this school.” “That’s enough,” Russell snapped, losing his cool. “Yesterday you admitted before the principal you’d lied about me at the beginning of the year. Now admit you’re lying again. I wasn’t at Edie’s for hours.” He turned toward Principal Jennings and gestured at her desk phone. “Call her uncle.” It was a suggestion but sounded more like an order. He was really upset. “We plan to,” Superintendent Winters assured him in a calmer voice. She turned toward Rochelle. “You may go back to class now.” “B-but, I—” “No buts,” Principal Jennings said. “Go, now, and we’ll deal with you later.” “Deal with me?” She sounded scared and angry at the same time. “Go to class, Rochelle.” Rochelle gave Edie and Russell one last vengeful look, then left, slamming the door behind her. Superintendent Winters gestured at Edie and Russell. “Please sit.” They did, and Edie was anxious to look at him, but stifled the urge, not wanting to give something away in her eyes. Edie watched as Principal Jennings called her uncle. She was wringing her hands in her lap during the conversation, hearing only one side. Finally, the principal ended the call. She gestured for Superintendent Winters to bend down and whispered something in her ear. The superintendent stood and gave Edie and Russell a smile. “Well,” she said, looking at Edie, “your uncle confirms Mr. Ballantine’s story. He said he was within eyeshot of you two the entire time, and nothing inappropriate took place at all.” Edie stifled a shout of joy. Russell stood. “I’m glad we’ve resolved this. I have lessons to plan. Oh, Principal Jennings, Superintendent Winters, we should do something about Rochelle Lafayette’s behavior. She’s accused me twice of initiating inappropriate advances, and”—he gestured at Edie—“she’s accused Edie of murder.” He shook his head. “Are we really going to let her continue here at Grimsby High?” “Your concern is noted,” Superintendent Winters said, neither agreeing nor
  • disagreeing with Russell. “Sorry for all of this. You two may leave.” As Edie stood, Superintendent Winters said to her, “Oh, Edie, I came by yesterday to introduce myself, give you a tour of Grimsby High. We’re very glad you’re here, and I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances. I’m sorry for all that you’ve been through, dear.” Edie nodded and said, “Thanks,” wishing she could run out of the office, and never have to come back. When her hand went around the knob, Principal Jennings said, “If you ever need to talk, Edie, my door is always open.” Edie issued another thanks, and then left with Russell following behind her. They traveled in silence down the narrow hall, until it branched out into the main office, where they walked side by side like before. He opened the main door for her, and then once they were in the student lobby, he let out a loud sigh. “I hope they expel her,” he said through clenched teeth. “She’s nothing but a living nightmare.” Edie made sure no one was around. They were alone. “Russell, my uncle lied.” Russell raked his fingers through his hair. “I know. Why’d he do that? I mean, I’m glad, but why?” Edie shook her head. “I’ll have to ask him when I get home.” She stomped her foot against the floor. “I can’t believe Rochelle was lurking outside my house! What’d Mason ever see in her?” Russell furrowed his brow. “Mason?” he repeated, not understanding. “Mason Fenwick,” she clarified, adding his last name. “We’re…uh…he’s...” “Your boyfriend?” Russell supplied. “No, not yet, I mean, I don’t know. I like him and I think he likes me.” She couldn’t help smiling. “We’re going to the Halloween dance together.” “Oh, yeah, that.” Russell gave Edie a small smile. “I’ll be chaperoning, making sure bodies aren’t grinding against each other, and any other inappropriate behavior.” “If Rochelle’s there, you’ll have your work cut out for you,” Edie said dryly,
  • and then let out a humorless chuckle. He returned her chuckle. “That’s an understatement.” He shook his head. “I hope to God she’s not. She needs to be in a reform school. There’s one the next city over. I just hope the principal and superintendent expel her as soon as possible. I don’t think I can take another day here, seeing her face, knowing she’s always plotting, scheming to ruin someone.” He sighed, and then continued, “How are you, Edie, with everything?” “I’m fine,” she lied. “Edie,” he said softly, knowing that she was lying. He reached out to touch her, but she backed away. He realized the fault of his action and quickly lowered his hand. “Sorry,” he apologized. “I just want to comfort you. I know I should stay away from you, but I want to protect you. It’s this feeling I always have like you’re always in danger.” He shook his head. “Crazy, huh?” Edie smiled. “Stranger things have happened. Well, I’d better get back to class. I have those lecture notes for you. I’ll give them to you after lunch.” “Where do you go during lunch? You know the seniors get to leave?” Edie nodded. “Yesterday Mason took me to Jack’s. I guess we’ll go there again today.” Russell gave her a smile. “I’m glad you have someone good in your life. I know Mason Fenwick well. He’s lucky to have you. I hope things work out between you two.” Russell sounded sincere, yet she noticed his voice was sad. “Thanks,” she said. “Well, I’ll, uh, get going now.” “Okay, take care.” “You too,” she returned. They gave each other a departing smile, and then Edie left, heading back to English class. When she opened the door, everyone turned and stared at her with judgmental eyes, except Mason, Mrs. Featherstone, and for some reason, Quinn. As she was about to take her seat, the bell rang for the next class. She hoisted her backpack on, and then turned toward Mason. “Why is everyone
  • giving me the evil eye?” Mason noticed Quinn and Candie were listening in, so he took her arm and led her out into the hallway, then down a narrower corridor where they were alone. “It was Rochelle,” he finally said. “While you were gone, she came to the classroom, swung open the door, and yelled, ‘Edie and Mr. B are having sex,’ then slammed the door, and kept doing the same thing down the hall. That’s how loud she was.” Edie gasped. “I can’t believe it!” “Believe it,” Mason said, “but why you and Mr. B? Is that why you were called to the office?” “Oh, yeah, she was lurking around my house last night, and saw Russ—Mr. B there.” Mason furrowed his brow. “What was he doing at your house? You told me you couldn’t go out because you wanted to stay at home, rest.” Edie’s heart was racing, pumping blood to her brain, so she could make up a lie. It was working overtime. “Um, well, yeah, Mr. B came by to talk to me and my uncle, about my studies, how I was adapting to a new school, dealing with the death of my parents...” Mason’s face relaxed. “Oh, I see, well, that’s understandable, but Edie, maybe you shouldn’t be so close to Mr. B. From what I hear, just about every girl is in love with him, and well, they could get jealous like Rochelle did. I don’t want you to be part of a bunch of malicious lies.” “I already am,” she said, resigned to her fate. Mason cupped her cheek. She noticed that the bandage from his finger was gone but a scar still remained. “I’m sorry for what she’s been putting you through. If the principal didn’t expel her before, I’m sure she will now. Running around like that, yelling, I mean, what more does she have to do to be given the boot? Why can’t she just leave you alone?” He sighed. “But don’t worry. I’ll always be here for you.” Edie wrapped her arms around Mason and held him tight. “I don’t know what
  • I’d do without you, Mason.” His heart was pounding against hers as they embraced. “I feel the same way about you, Edie.” He let her go and kissed her forehead. “We’re still on for lunch at Jack’s today, right?” Edie smiled. “Yes, of course. And I have money today because I don’t think the manager will let us have another meal on the house. He’s got to make a living, right?” “Oh, don’t you worry about that, I’ll pay.” “No, no, it’s okay. My uncle’s rich, remember?” Mason kissed Edie’s forehead again. “Well, you pay for your meal, and I’ll pay for mine.” “No, I can pay for you,” she insisted. “No, I can’t let you do that, Edie. It’s not right.” She stared into his warm, hazel eyes. “You’re wonderful, Mason Fenwick, do you know that?” He embraced her in another hug. “And you’re beautiful, Edwina St. John.” She smiled. “Are you friends with me only because of my looks?” she teased. He playfully grimaced, and then smiled, showing off his cute dimples. “Ah, you got me!” His smile faded, dimples receding, as he looked deeply into her eyes. “You got me, Edie. You know that, right? I’m yours, however you want me.” He leaned down to kiss her, but just when their lips touched, the light above them exploded, sending sparks flying. She yelped and they pulled away from each other. “What the…” Mason trailed off, and then took her aside, away from the fireworks. “That was weird.” There was another explosion of sound, but it was only the warning bell, ringing for students to hurry to their third period class. To Edie’s already rattled state, it sounded like a harpy had shrieked. “We’d better go,” she suggested, not wanting to anger her any further. “I’ll get the janitor,” Mason said, indicating the broken light. He walked Edie out into the hall. Students were scampering to get to class before the tardy bell
  • rang. “Meet me at my truck, at lunch, okay?” “Okay,” she agreed, and waited for him to kiss her, but he didn’t. He just gave her a farewell smile, and then approached the janitor, who was coming down the hall. Edie started the journey to her next class, dismayed she and Mason hadn’t kissed. She looked up at the functioning lights on the ceiling and gave them a threatening fist in the air. The lights grew brighter, calling her bluff. She grumbled and went into Mrs. Crawford’s class for United States history. The tardy bell had already rung, but she smiled and waved Edie inside. Edie saw two more people waving at her and realized it was Diana and Madelyn. She beamed at them and took a seat opposite Madelyn. But they didn’t seem happy to see her, frowning. “We heard what happened,” Diana whispered. “Heard about what?” Edie asked, not wanting to give anything away, until she knew what they knew. Diana was about to tell her, when she was shushed by Mrs. Crawford, who was handing Edie a textbook. Mrs. Crawford then went to the blackboard and started her lecture on the American Revolution. It was ten minutes later when Mrs. Crawford’s back was turned to the class that Madelyn took a chance. She leaned toward Edie, and whispered, “About what Rochelle accused you and Mr. B of.” “Oh, yeah, that,” Edie whispered back, shaking her head in frustration. “We’ve heard she’s been suspended for three days,” Diana added. “Suspended for three days?” Edie nearly shouted. “Um, girls?” Mrs. Crawford called out, having turned back around. “Please pay attention.” Edie was fuming. Suspended for three days?! Rochelle should’ve been run out of the country! There was no justice! Edie was so angry that she couldn’t pay attention, so by the time the bell rang, she’d written nothing on the American Revolution. She didn’t care and cornered Diana and Madelyn before they left the classroom. “Suspended for three days?” she asked, instead of inquiring if she could
  • borrow their notes. “Are you sure?” Diana nodded. “Well, that’s what we’ve heard,” Madelyn said. “But it’s probably true. I mean, not about you and Mr. B, that’s a load of crock, but Rochelle being suspended...” Technically, Edie and Russell weren’t in a relationship but they had kissed. Or at least, she’d kissed him, but she thought that he’d also kissed her back, although rather lightly, unsure. There wasn’t anything romantic going on between them, but there was something going on. “Yeah, what she said is nonsense,” Edie agreed. “But I wish she’d been expelled.” Diana put her arm around Edie’s shoulders. “Join the club, honey.” **TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, DOWNLOAD COLDHEARTED AT AMAZON.COM.**