|Ghost of a Death
Author: Far Wanderer PM
Only one person saw the body behind the high school, and only one believed her.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Chapters: 12 - Words: 25,820 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 07-16-11 - Published: 04-30-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2911760
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"This girl is not who you all think that she is!" The microphone nearly slipped from my sweaty hand. Nearly the entire student body of my new high school stared at me from the dimly-lit makeshift dance floor of the gym. Kellie Sharp shot dagger-like glares at me from the other end of the stage, but she seemed frozen in place. I expected someone to stop me from continuing, but no one did. "She acts better than you, but she doesn't even have a family! She lives at the orphanage!" I heard the room fill with murmurs as the students digested the news. Kellie shook in place, face turning dark red with anger.
"That's enough, Miss Carter." Leslie Faulk gave me a shove that sent me stumbling off the stage. The microphone dropped with a loud thunk. As I landed on the waxed floor of the gym, I spotted Tyler Dane standing at the back of the crowd. Everyone moved far aside to let me through.
"You look great," I told him when I reached my date, slicked up in black slacks and a purple button-up shirt. Granted, he didn't look as sharp as some of the guys who'd rented tuxedos did, but I didn't mind at all.
"You look great yourself," he answered. I felt his eyes sweeping up and down my dress, and I smiled with pleasure.
"There are some things that you need to know," I said. As briefly as possible, I told him about the connections I'd made in East Syracuse to my mother's murder on homecoming night fifteen years earlier. I told him about Seth's letters and how all the evidence pointed to my father as her murderer. Then I told him that my dad could show up at the dance.
I powered on my camera to show Tyler the letter that I'd written. 'No Data Available,' the start-up screen informed me.
I didn't see how that could be. I slid open the bottom cover of the camera to check the memory card. It wasn't there.
"Is everything okay?" Tyler asked as his eyes roved the room, undoubtedly for my dad.
My heart pounded, but I tried to stay calm. I'd had the camera in my hand, along with the cell phone that Cory had given me, ever since I left the bleachers, except for the time that I'd spent in the school library changing into my dress. Either Flora had taken my memory card or someone else had snuck into the library. I tried to remember if I'd locked the door, but I couldn't. "I just lost my memory card," I told Tyler.
"Well that sucks." His eyes still roamed around the room. "Listen, Angela, you need to be careful. I don't want you getting shot tonight, okay?"
"That's not going to happen," I said in what I hoped came across as a flippant tone. "Mom was hanged. Seth was drowned. I doubt that Dad's going for variety."
I made my own scan around the room. Lyle and Kellie stood with Miss Faulk at the edge of the stage, engaged in an animated conversation with frequent glances in my direction. Flora stood at the refreshment table by herself, cutting a large slice of cake. The police officer that I'd hoped for stood by the door in the form of Frank Gillis. Music started playing over the speakers, and the rest of the crowd blurred together as couples rushed to the center of the floor.
"May I have this dance?" Tyler kissed my hand with overdone courtliness.
"Of course." I dropped the useless camera onto a table and made him pocket the cell phone. Then I let him sweep me to a clear space in the group of moving bodies. I haven't done a lot of dancing in my fifteen years, but I've done enough to hold my own. And Tyler was good, gently leading me and clearing my over-worried mind. I closed my eyes and let the music take over:
You're always there with me.
When I look at the sky
The stars outline your face.
In the day of my demise
You bring me sanity.
You make me feel alive
When I'm too dead to feel.
You're always there with me.
"Now we've danced together, just as I promised," Tyler said as the music ended.
I stood, blinking at him. His words sounded blunt after such a magical moment. "Yes, now we've danced together."
He turned away. "I can't do this, Angela. You're..."
I put my hands on my hips and practically yelled it back at him. "I'm what?"
"You're fifteen. I'm seventeen."
"Yes, and I skipped two grades. I do all the cooking at home, and I practically raised my older brother. What's your point?"
He grabbed me by the shoulders in an attempt to calm me down. "The point is that what you did on that stage was really juvenile. She's got problems, but Kellie is a friend of mine. Even if she wasn't, I don't want a girlfriend who gets joy out of humiliating other girls." He jammed the cell phone into my hand and walked away.
Tears rushed to my eyes. I stood there on the dance floor staring after him like an idiot and wondering how I could have been stupid enough to lose one of the best things that ever happened to me.
The cell phone jingled. I flipped it open and tried to distinguish the text through bleary eyes. It came from Cory. 'MaryAnne back hallway by library!'
"Come on, Angela!" I felt Flora grab me by the hand and pull me with her. Around us, I could see others hurrying off the dance floor.
The back hallway was dimly lit, but the faint light caught the glint of Cory Fuller's eyebrow piercing as he rushed in and out of the door of the library. I saw the mass of wadded newspapers, the East Syracuse Registers from the archive room, that he'd piled on the floor. "I saw her!" he panted as we got near. "She told me that there was no one in this school who did not humiliate her. Only the faithful please her now. She told me that if we do our part now, she will purge this town!"
I could now see the dilation in Cory's bloodshot eyes. He had to be on something. Some of the students running up joined him in carrying out armloads of the old newspapers. Others ran back toward the gym. Flora tried to corner Cory.
Strong arms lifted me effortlessly off my feet. The cell phone dropped from my hand. I tried to scream, but before I could get it out, Dad stuffed a rag into my mouth. He slung me over his shoulder and, a moment later, we were out in the chilly night air.
"I raised you right," he said as he loped into the woods behind the school. "I protected you from your mother's past. For all these years, no one knew for sure that I did her in, not even her best friend. I tried to love you, Angela, but I loved your mother too until she confessed to her past. You thought you were smart forging that note to fool me, but it tipped your hand."
I've got to admit that I majorly freaked out. For all my bragging about being braver than Flora, I needed to be brave on an entirely different scale to handle this. It made it all the more terrifying to know, without a doubt now, that the man that I had loved and known all my life was a monster. He was much bigger than me and much faster. He swerved through the thick woods in the darkness as if he knew it by heart, colliding with nothing more than one of the buckets of murky water that I'd seen before.
In no time at all, we reached the clearing where Cory had held his meeting. I imagined that I could see the blood-stained stump in the darkness. Dad set me down on my feet at the edge of the clearing. "Don't run away, Angela, and I mean it." He drew something from the waistband of his pants, and I guessed that it was the gun that Flora had seen.
Dad pulled a flashlight from his pocket and clicked it on. By its light I could see the noose hanging above me. Soda cans and a candy bar wrapper littered the ground between me and the stump, which gleamed a dull, ghastly red.
"It's time for your second lesson in keeping the family secret a secret," he said.
If the gag hadn't kept me from it, I would have demanded to know what my first lesson was. Then, as I saw an arm reach from behind me to pull down the noose, I realized that he hadn't spoken to me at all.
"I'm ready," the person behind me said. "I hope that Angie's told the whole school that you killed old MaryAnne. I like these lessons."
I didn't dare to struggle as Lyle fixed the noose around my neck. My father had the gun pointed at me with an utterly cold expression on his face. As I watched him, Dad set the flashlight down and moved behind me. I felt the noose snatch tight around my neck as the father and son that did everything together heaved together on the rope to hoist me into the tree.
My mind spun as I felt my feet leave the ground. I clawed at the rope around my neck, but I couldn't loosen it. I managed to yank the rag from my mouth, but I had no breath left to cry out. I had nothing but my last fuzzy thoughts, and they only lasted an instant. I saw my mother's smile. I thought of my new friend and wished that I had had a mother like hers, instead of never knowing mine. As I blacked out, I imagined Tyler coming to my rescue as the football team rushed through the woods on their way to a first down.
"Angela!" I woke with a flashlight shining in my eyes. Just above it, I could see a mess of tangled brown hair and Tyler's blond head vying for space. "Angela, we were afraid that we didn't cut you down in time."
I tried to sit up, but my head started pounding. I gave up and rested it on the ground again. "How?" I wanted to ask how they had found me, but I couldn't get past the first word yet. "How?"
"Simple," Flora answered. "I saw your dad carry you off."
"She got me, and I got the whole football team," Tyler said, "except for the ones that stayed to keep Cory Fuller from burning the school down."
I tried leaning up again. This time, I managed to see two burly guys holding Lyle. Jake didn't need any help holding my father. He had my father's arms twisted behind his back and was pushing him in front of him, handing him off to a somber Sergeant Gillis.
"I want to get out of these woods." I managed to struggle to my feet. By Tyler's attentions, I knew that, despite what he'd said, he hadn't asked me out for the last time.
Flora put my arm around her so that I could lean on her. "You're coming to the hospital right now. Then you're coming home with me and my mom."
I blinked away tears. "That sounds great."