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Once upon a time, in the middle of a dull and slushy November, some random creeper pulled out a knife and stabbed me in my bedroom.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Not nice, not fluffy, and especially not morally correct. But if no one wants to tell it right I might as well relive it for your sake.
I felt the pain. It was as if someone had stuck a lightning rod up my back and hooked it up to the New York City power plant. I had been chilling out on my platform bed; shuffling through some mixed CDs my boyfriend Jake had given me in chemistry. Yes, I had a significant other that was a little lower on the hotness scale than Orlando Bloom, but not as muscular. Jake had seen me through tough times, but I was scared. Lately he had been giving me the cold shoulder until earlier that day. I supposed it had something to do with my hectic tennis schedule that kept me running around like a rodent on an exercise wheel. I was a fit and essentially happy sixteen year-old.
The killer had left me there on my fuzzy shag carpet to bleed to death. I was crying hard and I was screaming, screeching to alert anyone of my desperate situation. But our neighbors had left to see a Broadway Musical and I didn’t know another house in a radius of five miles, which was what I got for living in the boondocks. Suddenly, my eyes closed and I felt the last thump of my heart before it stopped abruptly in my chest.
I awoke to the sound of my watch alarm. I had forgotten where I was and I assumed it was the start of another dreary day in St. Claire. I reached out my arm to slam it off, but I couldn’t reach my elbow around my head. Confused and already annoyed by my bleeping watch, I tried to sit up to see what was going on. But my scalp thumped into something solid. I swore loudly and gasped as a cloud of dirt blew through (yes, literally through) my face and onto the hard bottom surface, collecting in small piles, as if I were-I blanched. A ghost? I had stopped my tongue from spitting out the word, and then I remembered. This couldn’t be Heaven, could it? Not a wooden hole in the ground. My electric blue eyes grew wide with a sick sense of fear. I slowly stretched out my hand until it was sinking beneath what must have been a musty coffin. I couldn’t believe that a few minutes ago I had been worrying about going to Hell, and now I was wasting my time thinking about how much money my cheapskate mother had probably spent on my funeral. I didn’t miss her.
I guess you could say I was a sort of rebellious spirit. I wore bandanas around my forehead, I slid into tight skinny jeans, and my makeup bag consisted of dark eyeliner and midnight blue eye shadow. I didn’t care that counselors were always asking me if I was okay, and I didn’t mind it if no one wanted me to baby-sit even if the only person available was Paris Hilton. I was on a mission to graduate with a decent G.P.A. and maybe to play on a professional court in college. What I didn’t realize was that the undead were actually as free-spirited as me.
When my hand touched (and felt) some mysterious, clammy object, I breathed a quick sigh of relief. Maybe I wasn’t as paranormal as I led myself to believe. But the squishy material turned out to be a corpse like me, minus the worms; I tugged so hard from his grip I thought my shoulder would come lose from its socket. Apparently the guy must have been lifting some dead weights down there (no pun intended) and he pulled me down until I was face to face with him. His eyes were missing and what scared me even more was that he looked like my old biology teacher. I smiled weakly and watched him return the gesture with leery, toothless grin before I zoomed past him with a grace my former life had never known. I liked this newfound ability; I flowed through dozens of coffins (or what was left of some) deep below the cemetery before I started to fall.
I couldn’t see; my blond hair with black streaks whipped in front of my eyes and stung. I tumbled as I felt form coming back to my body. I slammed into the ground with a loud thud.
I couldn’t feel the blow of gravity and I jumped to my feet, angry and filthy. I circled the imprinted area where my rear end had made contact with the cold ground, while wondering why I was here.
I looked up from my bare feet that had failed to produce prints in the dirt, when I spotted a full-length mirror. It was framed in what appeared to be crystals and it shone in the light of a full moon. I stepped in front of it, eager to fix any potential flyaway hairs that had popped out of place, when I felt a deep emptiness. My skin was as pale as porcelain, my lips were a mauve color and I was wearing a long, silky evening gown that trailed over my big toe and onto the ground. I carefully unbuttoned the back and ran a hand over a large scar that was somewhere in the middle of my spine. I shuddered and began to button it again when a muffled voice came from a cluster of rose bushes nearby.
“Who’s there?” I called softly. I left my white back in the open air as I jogged over to the spot.
I felt someone behind me. I turned, as if in a trance, and faced the most beautiful boy I had ever seen. I forgot Jake as I stared into his fiery green eyes. He cocked his head and smiled, his bangs falling over his face, leaving only his lips to see. I knew that was what he wanted me to think; that he was so cool and sexy. I wanted to snap at him with a clever comeback, something to make him gape at me like the idiot he was. But instead I opened my mouth and a dead silence penetrated the air, with me, standing like a stupid mailbox on the side of the road, its lid open and soundless. But I knew I had more dignity than an object of postal service and that I could talk like any other teenage girl. Unfortunately for me, he started to chuckle.
I tried to scrape up what was left of my pride and sputtered, “Why were you watching me?”
The boy faced me and stated, with an air of importance, “It’s my job. I always look out for newbies.”
His voice rolled out of his tongue like butter. I shook my head, trying to stop myself from liking him anymore.
“Newbies?” I asked, as a cloud rolled in front of the moon, shrouding us in darkness.
“Yes. And you are in severe need of some guidance.” This supposed guardian of ghosts gave me a challenging look.
I scowled furiously. “For your information, it’s not everyday I get plucked from my hometown and get sent to the land of the dead, to be greeted by a stuck-up kid without a pulse!” I took a deep breath and was ready to shoot another few choice words at him when he grabbed both my wrists and slammed me into a maple tree that was naked in the moonlight that bathed us once more.
“What is your name?” He barked.
I wriggled and squirmed as he gave me a once-over. I guess I had hit a nerve with him.
“Why should I tell you?”
He stared me down with his beautiful cat eyes and if I had had a heartbeat, it would’ve increased to a dramatic pace.
“Because I told you to.” It looked as though he was fighting back a grin.
I sighed; I couldn’t argue with a zombie that looked like a Greek god.
“Stacy. Stacy Philips.”
He loosened his hold on me ever so slightly.
“Stacy? What’s your business here?”
This guy was seriously starting to piss me off. How was I supposed to know?
“Honestly, I have no idea.” I gave him a sincere look.
He didn’t buy it.
“Let me make this more clear- what is your unfinished business?”
His tone was harsh and demanding; I supposed that I should try to come up with an answer.
“Um, well. . . “ I looked him straight in the eyes.
Suddenly his important stature grew slack and he doubled over in what looked like serious pain.
He tried to gather his strength by lifting his head to glare at my face, veiled with shock and a little vengeance.
“What. . . did. . . you. . .do?” The beautiful boy gasped and tried to snatch at me. A spark of fire lit up his left hand that was pressed to the dirt in anger.
I jumped back in alarm. It wasn’t my fault this freak was anemic- I was wishing at the time that he could just drop dead, but I think that had already been covered.
I was startled as he propelled himself off the ground in a whirlwind of cerulean sparks. His face was glowing with the fires of rage that burned inside and outside of him. He stalked closer, limping slightly, his enticing eyes focused on mine.
Whatever sick, twisted thing he was conjuring up in his brain wasn’t something I wanted to be apart of, especially if it involved maiming any of my delicate body parts.
I sprinted up a low hill nearby, dotted with roses and Baby’s Breath. A shabby cottage lay at the bottom. It was built partway into the grassy barrow and smoke circled upward lazily from a makeshift chimney of clay. A large and surprisingly leafy willow tree protected the home from the gusty winds that had started to pick up. I realized that in no way was I capable of withstanding a storm in my predicament. For all I knew it might start raining decapitated heads. And I was also certain Crazy Zombie Boy was recovering from whatever I had done to him. The chances of me beating him up again without touching a baseball bat were very small.
The hill led right onto the cottage roof, so I slid quietly onto the thatched top and crawled stealthily, making sure to not disturb any loose pieces of straw.
But before I could reach the edge to jump down, a fat, sleek crow flew near my outstretched hands, looking at them curiously as if they were tiny and wriggling pink caterpillars.
I wasn’t about to jump at the chance to lose a digit so I tried to slide my hands toward my chest to conceal them from the crow’s pointy beak.
The crow cocked its head and started cawing and flapping its ebony wings, making the roof quake ever so slightly. I forgot about keeping my supposedly “tasty” fingers safe as I shifted my weight. The beak has a mind of its own and it swooped down upon my index finger, pecking it hard.
I slapped my palm over my mouth to stop any bloodcurdling screams from escaping, while using my other hand to swat at the evil bird.
Low bursts of screeching came from the crow’s beak. It seemed to be laughing at me. I knew my dress was ripped just below my knees and my hair had probably been reduced to looking like a greasy mop, but I didn’t see anything remotely funny about the situation. That was, until the roof caved in.
I felt straw tumbling and scooting towards me. The crow left, leaving me to fend for myself. That’s when the thatch collapsed and surprisingly I landed with no bruises or broken bones. But I started to wish I were in a coma when I heard a scream of anger to the right of me.
A pile of reeds, caked with mud, were shaking and creating dirt clouds in the air. I supposed the reeds had made up the bottom layer of the roof, which I had destroyed in two minutes. I knew that I had to lay off the white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, but honestly, I didn’t think I was that fat.
Then, as I was contemplating whether to hightail it out of that dump or just hide beneath the wreckage, a dumpy, old woman burst out from under the reeds.
“You perpetrator! You think you can sneak across my roof without Nork noticing?” The woman brushed dust off her apron and looked me squarely in the eyes.
I was growing tired of everyone interrogating me. As far as I was concerned, I had done nothing on purpose. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I tried to speak, but all that came out was a squeak.
The old lady narrowed her eyes. They were green and reminded me of olives. Her face was covered in wrinkles and her arms and legs looked like prunes as well. She had on a plain, black shift dress and her hair lay in scraggly, brown waves down her back.
“Why are you staring at me, girl?”
I said nothing. My orbs of blue were busy traveling all over her walls, looking at the bookbindings titled with things like ‘Brewing Made Easy” and ‘1,000 and 1 Ways To Use A Magic Toad and Other Enchanted Reptiles.
“So, you must be fresh from the grave. I’m Scarlett, the unofficial witch doctor of the dead.”
I lifted my gaze from Scarlett’s jumbled bookshelves and plopped into a worn armchair that wasn’t covered with my mess.
“So. . .” I said weakly. “You’re a ghost too?”
Scarlett laughed throatily. “Well, I like to think of myself as a regular person and nothing else, but I’m not. I just happened to die with a vast knowledge of witchcraft. Scarlett began to sweep the remains of the thatch out the door, letting in a draft. I felt no cold whatsoever.
I leaned forward in my chair, intrigued at the talk of the witch’s last seconds. “You were killed by being burned at the stake, right?”
“Something like that. I don’t care that I’m out of the human rat race. Living here, I can be myself without being tortured.” Scarlett smiled, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Coming from a cranky sorceress who could probably turn me into a bat if she wanted to, it meant a lot.
A tarnished cauldron above the still intact fireplace started bubbling over, and Scarlett stirred it carefully. I could tell she wanted more answers.
“Your name is-“ Scarlett began.
“Stacy,” I finished.
“A nice name. How did you find my cozy little house by the hill?”
I remembered the feeling of adrenaline pumping in my legs as I raced over the crown of the hill.
“It’s a long story. Some angry guy started to harass me and I took off, to make it simple.” I sat back and folded my arms, not very willing to recall those memories.
Scarlett chuckled. “You mean Damien? Oh, he must like you if he was that mean to you. But how did you escape?”
I was secretly pleased at the thought of this handsome ghost boy crushing on me, but I had no idea why he had crumpled when I faced him.
“Uh, I just looked at him and he fell. I didn’t even touch him.” I shrugged my shoulders at Scarlett.
“You must have a gift. Most ghosts receive one when they pass through. You may need it later.”
I was thrilled; the only talent I possessed was swinging a racket at flying objects. I wondered if I would be able to control it next time. I guessed Damien’s power was elemental.
“Damien seems different, “ I prodded.
Scarlett gave me another rare smile. It started to rain and she picked up the cauldron and threw the potion into the empty space above our heads. A new roof appeared, sturdier and better woven than the last one. I felt my jaw drop open.
“Yes, he is,” Scarlett continued, as if making objects appear nearly out of thin air was the norm. “He has taken a liking to my crow, Nork. Have you seen him yet?”
I tried to control the disgust that was leaking onto my face.
“Um, yeah, we’ve met. Actually, I don’t think he likes me all that much.”
“Nork doesn’t take well to strangers. Especially alive ones.”
“Excuse me?” I was confused. Wasn’t I already dead?
“You still have a pulse,” Scarlett explained. “It’s very faint. I can tell because your cheeks went red when I yelled at you.”
I knew she was right, because I blushed an even deeper color at that moment.
“I still don’t understand,” I said. “Why is my heart still beating?”
Scarlett settled down into a small leather couch next to me.
“It sounds to me like you want to remain dead,” Scarlett stated matter-of-factly.
“What!” I exclaimed. “I’m just confused. I already thought I was dead!”
“No, Stacy. This gives you a chance to move on from the underworld. Once the next full moon rises, you’re stuck here.”
I was nervous at hearing this.
“Stuck here? How can I get out?”
“By finishing your unfinished business. Damien can help you.”
“Help me? He tried to kill me!” I wasn’t thrilled about asking Crazy Zombie Boy to basically usher me to Heaven.
“But first, “ Scarlett said. “You need to know who killed you.”
Oh, great, I thought. As if this spooky visit needed a flashback.
Scarlett led me to a small pond outside the cottage. The rain had stopped and the willow loomed overhead, with tears dripping off its leafy fronds.
“Now look into the pond, “ Scarlett commanded.
I obediently kneeled so my face was just barely skimming the glassy surface. The wet grass soaked into my dress as I concentrated.
Suddenly, I felt hands shove me into the water. I tumbled in headfirst and the pond was deeper than I could’ve imagined.
I fell into a dream-like state and I floated until I saw something fuzzy glimmering above me. When it came into focus, I watched what I thought was the worst pain of a lifetime. I widened my eyes at the mysterious killer, who stepped closer, like an Indian, while I lay unsuspecting anything unusual on my bed. The climax started and I held my breath as the butcher knife gleamed and the hood he was wearing fell back.
I resurfaced, gasping and clutching my throat. I could recognize those hazel eyes anywhere. Jake had been my murderer. I shuddered on the bank and lay still.