Let’s celebrate with not just one more…but TWO more chapters before the release! For you now, Chapters Two and Three!
Aeria didn’t arrive until two in the morning. Her fiery hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, yet still reached the middle of her back when she stood up. As she glanced up to see if I was still asleep, her skin glowed in the low light, revealing the small number of freckles on her nose. Her eyes widened slightly as she nodded before reaching for another box in the hallway.
She tried to be quiet with her boxes, but with Damon helping, it wasn’t working well. Tired of simply watching them, I woke up, back in my body, instead of making Damon translate. I sat up to look at them. “Weren’t you supposed to be here two hours ago?”
She heaved a sigh of guilt, flipping the lights on. My entire body flinched at the bright light. Aeria grinned. “I’m sorry. I left the house later than I wanted to and got stuck in traffic. We’ll try to be quick, so you can go back to wandering.”
I climbed down from the bed and put on some pants while Damon was in the hallway. “Very funny. Are there any more boxes in your car?”
She shook her head. “No, Damon and I got all of them when I first got here. I’m surprised you weren’t watching. Damon said you were nearby.”
Leaning back against my bedframe, I shrugged. “I didn’t want to risk running into Ashley. Even though we still aren’t sure if she is a Dreamer, I don’t want to chance it. Especially if she’s working for the Gatekeepers. For now, I’ll stick close to home until we know more. Damon wouldn’t tell me anything until you got here.”
She placed a heavy box on her desk. “I bet you hate not knowing.”
Damon walked inside, laughing as he handed me a box. “You,” I pointed towards him, “Shut up.” Leaving him to his laughing, I turned my attention back to Aeria, “And yes, I do hate it. It’s driving me insane. Being a spirit used to mean freedom. Now it’s like I’m stuck to my body.”
Aeria, who had been trying to keep her voice down, began laughing. “Oh yes, because that’s just an awful thing! We don’t know what that’s like at all.”
I found the box labeled bedding and pulled out her sheets. “Shush. You know what I mean. It’s just so frustrating.”
Damon threw me Aeria’s mattress pad. “Put this down first. I know it is, but hopefully we’ll know more once school starts. I don’t think she’s a Dreamer, but that’s my opinion. I have a feeling only you are going to be able to tell. Not unless I suddenly see her wandering campus naked.”
He had a point. She might not be a Dreamer, and I could be worried for nothing. “Do you think I should wander around? Carefully?”
Aeria pointed to my bed. “Go to sleep. We’ll finish unpacking quietly, and you can see what’s going on. Just make sure to look around before going through any physical objects. Maybe you’ll find her wandering around, maybe not. Won’t know until you look for her.” She was about to turn to continue unpacking before looking back at me. “Just pray she’s figured out how to create clothes if she is like you.”
The thought made me flinch as I climbed back into bed. “I didn’t need that mental image in my head. If I do find her wandering around naked, I’d need to burn my eyes out.”
“Seeing you naked was enough. Teach her your ways,” Damon chuckled.
Aeria nudged his shoulder but giggled. “Let us know what you find in the morning.”
Already asleep, I nodded before disappearing through the window. “Pray I find nothing interesting.”
Damon jerked his head up to acknowledge my words before continuing to weave his way through Aeria’s stuff. It would probably take them the rest of the night to finish unpacking. The woman was prepared for any emergency with the amount of crap she always brought with her.
As I floated towards the ground, there was no one around. It was almost as if we were still on summer break. Near the center of campus, a few students wandered around, pointing towards the buildings and back down at the paper in their hands.
Probably freshmen. I resented their innocence. To them, this was their fresh start: a place to earn their diploma, meet new friends, and have new experiences. It was how I had wanted to feel when I first came to Nephesburg College a year ago. But their new experiences would be far different from mine. I envied them.
I followed a few of them out of curiosity, but still stayed on alert. For all I knew, Ashley was the one watching me. What an unsettling thought.
“I can’t find the cafeteria!”
“The campus is literally one big circle. What do you mean you can’t find the cafeteria?”
A girl shorter than me with a reddish-brown ponytail groaned. She waved her arms in the air, her oversized hoodie exaggerating the movement. “I can’t help it. I don’t have a sense of direction. You know this.”
Her friend laughed, causing her glasses to slide down just a touch. She wrapped her arm around the girl’s shoulders and kissed her forehead. “True. But I love you anyway.”
The shorter girl giggled at her girlfriend’s words. “I love you, too. Come on, let’s get back. I’m starving and I’m pretty sure it’s closed anyway.”
“It’s two in the morning, of course it’s closed.” Her black hair was pulled into a messy bun, revealing a few piercings lining the edge of both ears. As she reached to tug at one of the rings, her ebony skin reflected the moonlight. Leaving her rings, she encircled her arm around her girlfriend’s waist to guide her back.
Had they walked another few feet, around another dorm building, they would have found their original destination. I was fairly certain the taller girl knew it, too, as she grinned when they turned to go back. They were a cute couple. If they were high school sweethearts, I wondered if they’d last through college. It was hard to have faith in anything anymore, but I hoped they would. This campus couldn’t be all death and sadness.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement on the other side of campus. Without hesitation, I pushed off the ground to find the source of the movement. Only when I was close enough to peer around the business building did I pause. The last thing I wanted was for the source to be Ashley and have her see me in the Fade.
Slowly, I peeked around the corner of the building to see Wilson staring at the quarter moon. His spirit was partially faded, and his eyes were milky as he gazed up. His once blond hair now seemed almost white as it laid across his forehead. Against my better judgement, it made me pity him. “What are you still doing here?”
He turned to face me. His expression didn’t change. “You know, living as a Dreamer was hard enough. But this—this is cruel. Now I’m truly dead and stuck here. In purgatory. And for what? For what purpose am I still here? I always followed orders. Even after death I followed orders. Yet, here we are. Still here. Where is the judgement day I was promised?”
No matter how many times I had faced Wilson, he never seemed to realize I wasn’t dead. At least, not the permanent kind. “Are you sure everything you did in life was good?”
He dropped his gaze to the ground and began to pace back and forth. “Hebrews 9:27: ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement.’”
“You died twice,” I said, completely emotionless.
“I did,” he said, “And yet I used my second life to redeem myself. To redeem my soul after it became that creature—that Dead Dreamer. I served His will despite it all. I was promised my redemption.”
I sat down in the grass as Wilson continued to pace before me, his eyes never lifting from the ground. “You killed someone, Wilson. Isn’t that in the Ten Commandments? Thou shalt not kill? And yet you did it anyway. That has to override whatever edict you were following.” Although I hadn’t been to church in years, I still remembered the basics—enough to hopefully grab his attention.
He froze mid-step, and his eyes met mine. “She isn’t dead. She’s alive. I’ve been following her ever since. I am helping her through this transition. The girl is going to continue where I left off, so her soul can be redeemed. That commandment doesn’t count when your goal isn’t to permanently kill someone. It was only temporary.”
I guess that answered my question. Sighing, I pressed him. “You may be right. Maybe it doesn’t count when it’s not absolute death. So, I’ll ask another question: Who told you your soul would be redeemed if it sealed those doorways? Who told you it would be redeemed if you killed someone before bringing them back?”
Confusion flooded his features. His eyes, which were a milky-white before, were now beginning to clear, but only slightly. “I don’t understand.”
I stood up to face him. “Who wrote the laws saying that doorways must be sealed? Who told you to create another one of you?”
He was silent. For once, he had no answer. He merely stared at me—not blinking or unwavering as his eyes locked on mine. I thought I had him; nowhere in the Bible did it say to interfere with the dead or the other side. In fact, the Scripture scorned it. If I remembered correctly, that would border on witchcraft and necromancy, which was forbidden. So, if Wilson were the type to follow the Bible no matter what, then these questions just pushed his logic out the window. Even if the church said he had to do those things, who was to say they were right? How could they know God’s will better than anyone else?
Finally, he broke his silence with a smug grin. “There are demons on the other side of those doors. When our ancestors discovered what was happening within the Fade, they chose to fight the demons in His name. The only way it could be done was through the work of Dead Dreamers, like myself. The fact that you’re questioning this shows your delusion from being here too long.”
We were entering into a theological discussion I wasn’t ready for. “Wilson, I don’t know what those edicts say, I don’t even know what the demons or fae are here for—or why those doors are in the Fade—but I do know one thing: sealing them away isn’t the answer. They’ve been here longer than any of us, and they’ll continue to be here long after us. You’re messing with things we were never meant to mess with.”
His milky eyes began to darken. “You did this. You caused all of this.”
“What?” My feet involuntarily took me a step backwards, sensing his rage.
“You destroyed my work. You let those demons go. I’m being punished because I let you get away with what you’ve done. You’re the reason why I’m trapped here. I should have had you trapped in that orb the moment I saw you.”
Regaining control over my instincts, I stepped back into his face. “You’re insane. Besides, how could I, a lowly spirit, do that kind of damage? Tell me that.”
He seemed taken aback by my question. “I-I don’t know. But you can be sure I’m going to find out. And I’ll make sure Ashley knows what to do with you.”
Feeling cocky, my lips lifted into a smirk. “Then you’re screwed. Because if you’re relying on Ashley to do things for you, you’re going to be very disappointed.”
The eyes that had been lifeless before now burned red with rage, but not enough to intimidate me. “You’re a demon. I’m going to destroy you,” he hissed.
Looking up at the quarter moon, I noticed the sky was beginning to brighten. “Maybe so. But I won’t be taken down so easily.”
Wilson had no response. He just simply looked at the sky as I had. “One way or another, Ashley will succeed where I failed.”
By this point, we were merely exchanging threats. There was nothing more to be said. Except, “Good luck.”
With one last glare, he disappeared.
I was hoping he would take the questions I had asked and mull them over while on his own, but the chances of that happening were slim. Even in death he was stuck in his extremist beliefs. The fact that our ancestors wrote something down centuries ago didn’t mean they were right—or had been right all this time—but they would never see it that way.
It was times like this when I really missed the old woman from last year. No matter what President Spire did when she was alive, she was always trying to help me work against the Gatekeepers in death—not to mention saving me from myself. But ever since she helped Damon bring me out of my coma, there was no trace of her. It was possible that she had moved on, but it would have been polite to at least have said goodbye.
The sun was beginning to rise when I turned to walk back to the dorm. But for a moment, I paused. Across the parking lot, behind one of the office buildings, was the forest. It was a quarter moon, but I hadn’t seen one fairy. It wasn’t surprising since they always hid from me well enough in the past.
“You leave yourself vulnerable to the creature’s claws,” I mumbled.
In the blink of an eye, I was standing on the edge of the forest, staring into the shadows of the trees. The breeze blew through them, shifting the leaves and branches, waking the birds and animals for the new day. A small black bird was beginning its song on the tree right above me before it was suddenly silenced.
I jerked my head up in the direction the sound had been coming from. The black bird fell to the ground—through me. Had I been awake, the blood would have been all over my head. The body of the bird lay at my feet, while its head dropped an inch farther away. Looking back up, I saw it: a thin creature, with its silvery skin glinting in the sunlight. Its body looked like the fairies from the fairytales in pop culture, but this one had no defining features; none except for the teeth.
There were no eyes, but something told me it was looking at me. The razor wings on its back jerked open as it dropped to hover in front of me. I wasn’t sure how it was possible, but I could smell it. Smell the death that followed it and the blood on its rotten teeth.
It seemed intrigued by my presence. But when the sun lifted over the horizon, my energy suddenly waned, and the creature hissed violently, fleeing from the oncoming light. Before I allowed myself to be pulled back to my body, I reached my ghostly hand towards the bird. But my time was up, and everything went dark.
The room was pitch-black. Next to me was my sleeping body with new blackout curtains in front of me. I was pulled back to safety because of the sun; whether it was of my own power or someone else’s was a question I didn’t want to think about right now. The last thing any of us needed was Maura waking up.
Aeria and Damon were asleep to my left, in her bed. Despite myself, I stood there a moment and cocked my head to the side as I watched them sleep. Damon’s arms were wrapped around Aeria, while she had nestled her head peacefully on his chest. They were so tired, they hadn’t even made it under the covers. Maybe their love would be the second positive thing to make it through college. The idea was so flowery, I could almost feel the vomit rising. Spirit or not.
As my eyes fluttered open, I was careful to be as quiet as possible. Climbing down from the bed, I pulled on my pair of sweatpants and grabbed my bathroom caddy before leaving the room. As the door closed, I could hear them beginning to stir. Turns out I wasn’t as quiet as I thought when I fumbled with the shampoo bottle that fell out of the caddy.
Thankfully, the bathroom was completely empty. Leaning over the sink, I cupped my hands together to collect the icy water and wipe the sleep from my eyes. Dead Dreamer or not, I was still tired whenever I woke up. There wasn’t a day I could remember when I woke up refreshed. Can’t miss what I’ve never known.
Between Maura and myself, my mind would probably never be fully rested. That thought alone made me dread my classes even more. Unlike most, I couldn’t sleep during or in between classes. I couldn’t risk someone from the Gatekeepers—or now, Ashley—seeing me. Lucky bastards didn’t know how good they had it.
I was almost finished brushing my teeth before the bathroom door flew open with a kick. Erica walked in, still half asleep, and to the sink next to me. “Morning.”
Quickly, I spit into my sink. “Morning. You have an early class?”
Before answering, she splashed her face with water. “Unfortunately. These morning classes suck.”
Quickly collecting my things, I was ready to get away. “That’s life for you. See you later.”
When Erica realized I was leaving, she quickly spit out her toothpaste and waved her toothbrush at me. “Wait!”
A sudden burst of energy seemed to hit her in a panic. “Do you want to have lunch today? I’m free between eleven and one.”
I nearly dropped my caddy. My eyes met hers, unblinking, unflinching. That wasn’t a question I was ready for. Ever. “Um…sure. I’m free at eleven, too. You want to meet at the cafeteria?”
She grinned. “Yeah! I’ll see you then.”
The door shut behind me as I left, eyes still wide with shock and confusion by her invitation. Even though Erica had been my roommate for a short time last year, we did not get along. She claimed to never have had a problem with me, but it sure didn’t seem like it. And to be honest, I wasn’t that nice to start with either.
Aeria was sitting up in bed, still in a daze, when I returned to the dorm room. Damon was standing next to her bed in a pair of sweatpants that seemed a little small for him. “Morning.”
“Morning you two. When did y’all fall asleep?”
Aeria just groaned while Damon murmured, “Not too long after you went to bed.”
“Not much unpacking finished then?”
Aeria groaned again while Damon merely chuckled. He made his way past me to leave the room as Aeria slowly slid down to the floor. “I hate mornings. Can’t I just go back to sleep?”
Considering my pajamas were sweatpants and a tank top, getting up and dressed in the morning was fairly easy for me. Trading my sweatpants for a pair of jeans and throwing an off-the-shoulder t-shirt over the tank top made it simple. “Nope. You have class at the same time I do. Time to rise and shine.”
“Whoever thought morning classes were a good thing?” she asked as she began to change. When she was dressed in her green skirt and tank top, she grabbed one of her long silver necklaces before looking at me. Her jaw dropped before lifting into a grin. “I’m so proud of you right now.”
I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. “Why?”
She held her hands together against her chest. “Look at you! Still wearing those stupid Converse shoes, but your top is actually fashionable. Simple with half of the shirt off the shoulder, yet more elegant than any of your damn graphic t-shirts. And your jeans! They’re skinny with some rips along the leg, but not too much. You’re growing up.”
I threw her purple jacket at her. “Shut up. It’s chilly outside. Take that with you.”
She pointed to my black jacket, still on my desk chair. “What about you?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, waving her off.
Rolling my eyes, I held the door open, waiting for her. “Weren’t you the one who suggested morning classes in the first place? So we’d have the afternoon off?”
She didn’t notice I was changing the subject on purpose. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it right now.”
Damon walked up to the open door to stand next to me. “We have the afternoon off?”
Aeria lightly pushed him as she walked past to go to the bathroom. “No, sweetie. Just no.”
He glanced at me with his head tilted to the side in confusion. Shaking my head, I dismissed the subject. He shrugged. “Anything going on today other than classes?”
His question reminded me of that strange encounter in the bathroom. “I ran into Erica in the bathroom. She wants to meet me for lunch.”
He paused while grabbing his shirt and a pair of jeans. Realizing we weren’t leaving yet, I stepped into the room to close the door. Damon noticed. “Unless we want to trade notes, I suggest you turn around.”
Before turning, I flipped him off. “As if I’d ever want to exchange notes with you.”
He chuckled before continuing. “Why would Erica want to meet you for lunch?”
“I don’t know. She caught me completely off guard with that invitation. It was out of nowhere.”
“Holy crap! Damon’s ass!” Aeria exclaimed as she walked back into the room.
“Don’t pretend you don’t love it,” Damon joked.
Aeria held her hand to her chin, pretending to study him. “You’re right. Stay like that for a little while longer”
I threw my arms into the air. “Please! Dead girl in the room does not want to hear or see this exchange.”
Aeria giggled and walked past me. The sound of a slap told me to still not turn around. “All right, all right. We’ll stop.”
“I don’t believe you. I’m leaving for class. I’ll see y’all later.”
“Don’t be like that! I love your ass too!” Aeria exclaimed as I left the room, shaking my head.
Before the door shut, I heard Damon comment, “I think I have a nice ass.”
Being the third wheel was fun most of the time. But there were moments when I regretted my life decisions. There were some things I just did not need to know. Or hear.
One step outside, and I was blinded by the sunlight, causing me to sneeze. Wincing at the brightness, I threw on my aviators and headphones before making my way towards my class. The haunting lyrics of the band 10 Years were a good distraction from the insanity all around me. Students had flooded the campus. Freshmen ran around with class schedules in their hands, while the upper classmen pushed through them. The same as last year, except this time, I knew where I was going.
Brewer Hall was packed as I tried to weave through the throngs of students to get to the classroom. The class was for a general education credit, which meant I had to take it. Economics 101 sounded like a simple introduction class. However, the moment the professor began to write on the whiteboard, I was completely lost. He spoke with such speed and veracity, it was hard to keep up. This was already a subject with which I was unfamiliar. This semester was going to be nothing but a headache.
As the class came to a close, I looked down at my notes. I didn’t understand a single thing I had written. Closing my notebook in frustration, I threw my sunglasses and headphones back on before squeezing my way through students out of the building. The last thing I wanted was to already be in a foul mood for this mysterious lunch with Erica.
Outside, Ashley was sitting on a bench in front of Brewer Hall on her own. She was staring at her phone and smiling. Making a stalker decision, I turned back. The heavy number of students from earlier had dissipated, allowing me to easily make my way to the back doors. I walked behind the building and only stopped when I was almost at Vequetis Hall. Leaning against a tree, I glanced towards Ashley again.
She was completely different from yesterday. She looked like she was back to her old self. Gone were the comfortable clothes, in favor of tight jeans, a formfitting shirt and curled golden hair. Even the air around her seemed more confident. Wilson had all but told me he had turned her into one of us, so it was possible he had gone to see her after we had spoken. It couldn’t have been a long talk, considering the sun had been coming up.
My phone buzzed, causing me to jump. The calendar app was ever so nicely reminding me that my next class was starting in ten minutes. Choosing classes over Ashley, I started to walk. When I was about to pass her, I couldn’t help but glance over again.
She held my attention so much that I almost ran into the lamppost on the sidewalk. Before I could walk right into it, a shrill noise made me freeze mid-step. With the lamppost right in front of me, I looked up to see a raven staring down at me. It cawed one more time before flying off.
The raven reminded me of the black bird from this morning. The memory of it caused a cold chill to run down my back as I wondered if it was still there. The momentary pause didn’t last long. Behind me, someone was chuckling. My face began to redden, but I straightened my back and continued walking.
My pace quickened as I walked towards Dower Hall. This really wasn’t how I wanted to prepare mentally for my lunch with Erica. I almost made it inside, but someone lightly grabbed my arm. I turned to see James.
Meeting mine, his green eyes lit up, and he smirked. His short brown hair didn’t move with the wind that continually blew my hair into my mouth. Considering he was on the soccer team, it didn’t surprise me that he hadn’t gained the supposed freshman fifteen. The fact that someone like him was so interested in the Ghost Hunting Club still surprised me.
“Hey,” I murmured, dropping my gaze back to the ground before beginning to walk again.
His chuckle was familiar. He was the one who had laughed at me almost crashing into the lamppost. “Don’t be embarrassed. You only almost ran into a post. Happens to everyone.”
When he continued to snicker at my embarrassment, my pace increased. The last thing I wanted was for him to realize how red my face had become in embarrassment. I normally wasn’t the type to feel so self-conscious, but at this moment, I wished I could ditch my body.
Realizing my quickened speed, he jogged to catch up. “No. Hey! Wait, come on. I’m sorry, but it was funny. What were you so focused on anyway?”
Probably shouldn’t tell him I was staring at Ashley. Could give the wrong stalker impression. “Nothing, I was just zoning out.”
He shrugged and continued to keep pace with me as we walked up the stairs into Dower. “What class are you headed for?”
Please just go away. “Um, I’m heading to my public relations class.”
He looked down at his schedule. “Hey, I’m in the same class! Sweet. I thought you were interested more in the electronics part of communication?”
We both walked into the classroom where we had our explosive ghost-hunting meeting last year. At the time, Damon and I agreed it would help the club if they could get some proof of a spirit haunting the building. They thought I was President Spire, the first president of Nephesburg College. Now I wondered if it was really a smart move to encourage them.
However, the mental image of them panicking at the sight of random objects moving on their own caused me to snicker. “I am, but I figured I should check out some other areas as well. I should explore before deciding on a major.”
He nodded. “That makes sense,” he said before quickly changing the subject. “I didn’t realize this class was in the same room with the ghost from last year. Hope no chalk goes flying around this time.”
“No promises,” I mumbled with a grin.
I took the seat next to him in the back of the room. “Nothing. I hope so, too, but it would make things interesting.”
He chuckled, but before he could reply, the professor began her lecture. I was grateful to her. Who knew what I would have said if he stayed on the topic of ghosts. I was dropping too many hints thanks to my earlier frustration. My saltiness was causing leaks in my already feeble filter.
The class wasn’t nearly as bad as the last one. Unlike Economics, this focused on class participation and having discussions. It was refreshing to have such an open discussion, rather than a straight lecture. The professor warned us that not all classes would be this free-formed, and to take advantage of it while we could. James was thankfully distracted as other students continually grabbed his attention. I chose to listen more than speak. No one seemed to notice.
Having such an open discussion caused time to fly by, enough so that I didn’t notice that we were already at the end of class and it was time for my lunch with Erica. During the entire class, I hadn’t once thought about what she might want. It frustrated me. I had planned to spend some of the time mentally preparing for whatever it was. Now, I felt vulnerable.
James shoved his notebook into his bag before turning towards me. “You have another class? Or do you want to get some lunch with me?”
Although I had to admit the invitation was a better one, I knew I had to decline. Especially considering how feeble my verbal filter was. Dropping all of those sarcastic comments would probably bite me in the ass if I kept it up. “Sorry, Erica already beat you to the punch. She wants to talk about something during lunch.”
“Okay, no big deal. I’ll see you later then. Jason said he was going to send us an email soon about our first meeting. Try not to fall asleep this time,” he joked as he started to walk out of the room.
A firm line formed where I had attempted a smile as I waved him off. When he was out of sight, my nose twitched in irritation. Considering all I had done for the club, it shouldn’t matter how I behaved at the meetings. But if I was being fair, they knew nothing about it. Fair or not, James’s comment still set my teeth on edge.
Considering how close the cafeteria was to Dower, there was no point in pulling out my headphones for the walk again. I stepped outside, and my feet froze in place as I hesitated. My dorm building was to the right, while the cafeteria was to the left. Veering to the right would be all too easy.
Erica came up next to me from the direction of Vequetis Hall. “How were your classes? Boring like mine?”
I shrugged while keeping in stride with her. “Pretty much. Economics is going to kill me.” Again.
To my surprise, Erica walked to the back of the cafeteria to set her things down. That was usually where Damon, Aeria, and I would sit to get privacy. “We can talk after we grab some food. I skipped breakfast this morning so I’m starving.”
I couldn’t help but eye her suspiciously as I followed behind. Her demeanor seemed normal—or at least normal for her. It was a little odd that she was being so nice, but she was always nicer whenever Aeria wasn’t around. With the deep hatred for each other that the two shared, no one was at peace when their paths crossed.
She made her way through the burger line while I grabbed a slice of pizza with some chips and a Mountain Dew before heading back to the table. There were only a few reasons Erica would want to talk to me outside of a party setting: one, to try and be friends and turn me into an Aeria hater, too, two, she had a school question, or three, she was noticing Ashley’s strange behavior. I hoped it wasn’t the latter.
Before I could go any further into thought, Erica set her tray down in front of me so abruptly that I jumped. “Is that really all you’re going to eat?”
Keeping my lips set in a firm line, I picked up my Mountain Dew bottle I had knocked over. “Yeah. For some reason, I’m not that hungry.” The curiosity was beginning to eat at my stomach, so I changed the subject. “So, what did you want to talk to me about?”
Instantly, her gaze dropped to her burger and fries. She reached towards her food only to begin peeling one of the fries into smaller pieces. “Well, I don’t know if you’d be willing to talk about it.”
When she glanced up at me, the pizza slice was hanging out of my mouth mid bite. Tilting my head forward, I raised my eyebrows. “Talk about what?”
After a moment of silence, she sighed heavily, setting the fry down. Her eyes met mine, this time with determination. “About your coma.”
Harshly, I pulled the pizza away, taking a sizable chunk of it to chew. “Why do you want to talk about that?”
She took another deep breath before continuing. “I wanted to know if you noticed anything strange after you woke up. Or felt any different?”
So, this was about Ashley. Shit. “No. I’m still the same. Why do you ask?”
Erica glanced to the side before back down at her food. She began picking at her food again instead of eating. “Well, ever since Ashley went into the hospital at the end of last year, she’s been different. Really different. And recently, her personality has completely flipped.”
Part of me wished that I could’ve explained things to her. But that would only complicate matters—and possibly make her a target for them…again. “A near-death experience can change anyone, Erica.”
Her eyes widened in disbelief. “Wait, I thought she just had a seizure. What makes you think she almost died?”
How about the fact that we jump-started her heart? “Well, I’ve never seen anyone just seize like that. Hasn’t she spoken to you about it?”
Shock was replaced with disappointment. “No. I mean, when I brought it up, she dismissed me and said she was fine. But at the end of summer, she was depressed and barely got dressed in the morning, or at least that’s what she told me. But this morning she woke up and acted like nothing had ever happened. She was even kind of snobbish, not wanting to talk to me.”
That’s just great. Wilson had spoken to her, and whatever he said had given her confidence. There was still a chance she didn’t know about me. Wilson still believed I was some random spirit on campus. I would probably be in trouble had he described me in detail.
Sighing, I scratched at my eyebrow before reaching for the pizza slice again. That’s just what I needed, another arrogant Dead Dreamer running around. Dealing with myself was enough. “I don’t know. Maybe she just snapped out of her slump. Being depressed all the time can be exhausting.”
Her eyes narrowed as her hands froze. “You were depressed? After the coma?”
I could tell her at least this much. “No. I was depressed after I got into an accident three years ago. Remember all of my scars?”
After a few minutes, something clicked, and her expression brightened. “I can remember seeing all the scars, but I don’t remember how you got them.”
I bit into my pizza, taking a moment to chew before beginning. “Three…well, I guess now it’s four years ago, I got hit by a car when I was crossing the street.”
She gasped but tried to contain her surprise when she noticed my glare. In all fairness, I wasn’t quite sure how much she knew. I never really did confide in her.
“Sorry. Were you okay?”
Shrugging, I nodded. “Yeah. I was in the hospital for a long time, though.”
Erica wasn’t holding back anymore. “Did you almost die too? When you spoke about Ashley, it sounded like you were relating to her.”
“I don’t relate to her,” I said in a sharp tone. “I just think that after going through something traumatic, she might have felt something like that.”
Erica looked at her watch. “It’s almost time for my next class.” She stood up but paused. “Is it all right if I talk to you again about this? If you don’t want to, I understand.”
I nodded. “It’s fine, Erica. If you’re worried about her, it’s okay to talk.”
She walked away with her tray of food that she never ate. Instead of walking to the trash can, she walked back into the food lines. I watched her for a moment, just to see what she was doing. After a couple of nods, the man behind the counter handed her a Styrofoam container.
The last thing I wanted was for Erica to learn about all of this. The darker side of the school, what Ashley and I were, the danger…it was too much for anyone to handle, let alone her. And I did not want to become the person she went to whenever she had a problem, or a question about it. Aeria and Damon with their questions were enough.
I dumped my trash and started walking to my last class of the day back in Dower when a thought occurred to me. If Ashley knew about me, then it would only be a matter of time before the Gatekeepers knew about me, too. The idea of them learning it was I who was disrupting their work worried me more than Maura. Though I wasn’t sure why it would even bother me, it did. An easy theory would be the fear of getting kicked out of school, but my gut told me something more grave could happen. Something other than my mother’s wrath.
For my last class, I chose a seat all the way in the back corner again. After my talk with Erica, I just wanted to lay low. The last thing I wanted was for the professor to ask me a question and have my mouth spit out something sarcastic. The chances were high. My filter was pretty much gone.
The room began to fill with students the closer it got to noon. I didn’t recognize most of them until she walked in. Ashley strutted into the classroom with that air of confidence from earlier. Confidence was probably too mild of a word—arrogance was a better fit. When her eyes met mine, they darkened into a glare. She immediately turned and made her way to the other side of the room. Leaning forward, I weaved my hands through my hair, pulling it back as I sighed. This year would be a pain in my ass. I was getting tired of the universe flipping me off.
The professor spent the majority of the class lecturing us on the use of rhetorical arguments. Although it was interesting, I couldn’t help but glance in Ashley’s direction a few times. At one point, I thought she was asleep. Her head was tilted forward, with her hand supporting it. My eyes narrowed as I tried to see if hers were closed.
The moment I concentrated on her, a small gust of wind entered the classroom from the open doorway. The professor quickly reached for his papers as they flew into the air, laughing at the strange wind. It subsided the moment he shut the door. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ashley suddenly look up and laugh with the rest of the class.
Finally, when class ended, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Without looking at Ashley, I dashed out of the room, with my sight on the dorm. Being paranoid all day could exhaust a person. Opening the door, I was happy to see an empty room. On Aeria’s desk was her class schedule. She had a class at one thirty, so she had probably already left for it. I threw my bookbag at my computer chair and jumped onto my bed.
I laid there, pinching the bridge of my nose, trying to subside the oncoming headache. Never asleep, but with closed eyes, taking deep breaths, running all kinds of scenarios in my head, letting my imagination take flight. I wondered if this was what dreaming was like.
Suddenly, I felt a light breeze enter my room. Considering the window was closed and the air conditioner was off, it wasn’t a good sign. Falling asleep, I left my body to see a naked Ashley standing over my body. Great, now the image is burned into my brain forever.
My eyes never left hers as my clothes manifested on my spiritual body. She tilted her head sideways as she tried to understand what I was doing. As soon as I was finished, she closed her eyes. For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then suddenly, she was able to do it. A white mini skirt and pink tank top appeared to cover her spiritual body.
Proud of herself, she grinned. “That’s a neat trick.”
Bored with my silence, she started to pick up the wind in the room again, causing my blinds to shutter violently. One of my eyebrows lifted. “So, you can control the wind.”
She grinned, pleased that I acknowledged her. “It was a shock at first, but it’s fun to mess with people.”
“You shouldn’t do that. Leave them alone,” I said as I folded my arms.
A disgusted look crossed her face. “Who? The humans? Please. They’re just playthings now.”
My jaw dropped as I felt my left eye twitch in irritation. “Playthings? Ashley, you’re still human! You have a body, just like everyone else.”
She picked up the wind again, knocking some papers off my desk. “We aren’t like them. We’re so much better. You know, I thought that I would die when I had that seizure. I thought it was the worst thing ever.” She pointed towards me. “But ever since you revived me, I have never felt more alive. If you hadn’t come to get me, I’d be dead for real.”
The way she phrased that sentence confused me. “Come to get you?”
“You don’t remember? You came to me when I was in the darkness and guided me back. Not quite sure how it happened, but I don’t care. It’s like you were in two places at once.” She laughed.
Maura must have interfered. If she could do that without the extra energy inside of me, then I wasn’t quite finished with her yet. “What do you want, Ashley?”
She seemed to enjoy my directness. “I’m glad you asked. I’m grateful to you for saving me and all,” she said before she paused. Her expression changed from gratitude to annoyance. “But, I want you to stay away from Professor Kalon and the others.”
What the hell? “What are you talking about?”
As she glared, it was obvious she was trying to intimidate me. It wasn’t working. “They need me. They want me to help them. Wilson told me that a ‘Dead Dreamer’ or whatever, is the most valuable thing to them. If they found out there were two of us, then I wouldn’t be as important anymore. Wilson wants me to tell them about you, but the idiot thinks you’re actually dead. I’d rather you just stay away than have you ruin everything.”
She stirred the wind as if to make her point.
I couldn’t help myself. With a scoff, I smirked before flicking my finger, immediately releasing my power. Taken off guard, she flew through Aeria’s bed. “Don’t threaten me, Ashley. It just so happens I don’t want anything to do with the Gatekeepers. You be their pet. I just want to be left alone. Oh, and you’re welcome for saving your life.”
Although she was angry by my own show of power, she nodded. “Good. Then we won’t have to have this discussion again.”
As if to be dramatic, she stood up, ran through the window and leapt towards the ground before vanishing. Her visit, although infuriating, comforted me. If she wanted to be their pet, I’d let her. To make things better, she wanted to keep me a secret. Without meaning to, she was helping me. I waited a while before returning to my body, just in case she returned to try and make a point.
Aeria walked into the room just as I was waking up. Stretching my arms into the air, I leaned over the edge of the bed to look at her. “How was class?”
She paused at the door to take in the mess. “Good, but could you not practice in here? The room was clean when I left.”
Allowing my feet to drag me, I fell to the floor, and began picking up the papers Ashley had thrown about with her wind. “It wasn’t me. I had a visitor.”
“Another ghost?” She perked up, grabbing her cell phone. Probably to text Damon.
I shook my head. “No. Worse. Ashley. And you are getting way too jazzed whenever we mention ghosts around here.”
Aeria was so shocked, her voice squeaked. “What! Seriously? What made her come here?”
Sitting in my chair, I sorted through the documents. “Wilson told her about me.”
Before I could go into further detail, I felt my phone vibrate. Pulling it out of my pocket, there was an email from Jason explaining that we would have a meeting tonight in Vequetis Hall. If they were expecting a ghost tonight, they just might get one…and it wouldn’t be me. “I’ll have to tell you later. We have a meeting with the Ghost Hunting Club tonight, and I have to get some homework done before then. Besides, it pains me to admit it, but, Damon’s right. Better to wait until everyone is here.”
Aeria’s eyebrows dropped as she opened her mouth to protest. But my expression must have revealed the stress I was feeling because she quickly closed it and nodded. Turning to my computer, I stared at the login screen, leaning against my fist. Last year was enough of a struggle trying to keep up with my schoolwork and the Gatekeepers. Now with Ashley thrown into the mix, things were becoming even more complicated.
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