Chapter 2: Jessica

Just as the second the bell rang signaling the students' dismissal, Jessica Skye was out the door and down the road leading away from Jeyasia Academy. She took one glance over her shoulder and increased her pace. She was going to face enough badgering from Monique later, so she was trying to get out of there as fast as she could to get some time to herself.

"Hey, Jess!" Monique shouted as she pushed her way through the crowd leaking from the school's doors, "Wait up!"

'You just can't escape Monique,' Jessica thought with an inward groan. She slowed her pace.

"What?" Jessica asked once Monique Rustle was in speaking distance.

"Don't you think you're getting away from me, girl," Monique answered, "We have to go over today's fundraising plans, and don't you even tell me you don't have a date for the dance next Saturday."

"Okay. One, I got the plans right here," Jessica held up her folded copy of the town map which had been previously stashed in her backpack, slung over one shoulder, "And two, I'm not going to that dance! I have better things to do."

"Like what?" Monique asked.

'Like sort my sock drawer… How pathetic,' she sighed dejectedly, but didn't answer aloud. Monique's question hung in the air for a moment like an over-ripe fruit that Jessica dared not pick. They approached downtown.

"Oh, look!" Jessica exclaimed suddenly, "McDonalds!" She began sprinting towards the restaurant, filled with mock excitement.

"Wait!" Monique yelled, "You didn't answer…" Her question fell to the ground with an inaudible splat. She sighed and sprinted after Jessica.

Monique, Jessica, and the rest of the girls met up in the relatively short McDonalds line. They'd managed to beat the after school crowd.

"So, what do you think I should get?" Jessica asked Monique.

"You should get a major round of butt whoopin' after running like that," Monique grumbled.

"I mean from the menu," Jessica snickered.

"Butt whoopin' isn't on the menu?"

"No."

"In that case, I personally think you should get a chocolate milkshake." Her long black curls bounced as she spoke. Jessica made a face.

"No, too fattening," she said.

"Aw, but you deserve it girl! You can walk off all those calories anyway. You'll still look good enough to go to the dance."

"Ha, ha." Jessica smiled, "But you have to get one, too."

"Fine with me." The group ordered their food and took a booth, trading the latest gossip. Between sips of milkshake, Jessica looked up and noticed a boy a few tables away with dark brown, unruly hair and deep blue eyes, staring at her. She blinked. His eyes were now just a warm brown color. The boy looked away, his cheeks flushed, and began talking to his tall, blonde-haired friend. Jessica nudged Monique with her elbow.

"Does that boy over there look strange to you?" Jessica asked her. Monique looked over to him.

"No," she gave Jessica a sly look, "Should he?"

"Um, no. Never mind." Jessica shut up.

"He was lookin' at you, wasn't he?" Monique's joy was infectious, spreading to all the other girls, who were now looking at her, "He's cute. You should ask him to the dance."

"No! I mean… Lets just go over the plans." Jessica grumbled.

'I'm, not going over there. Not now, not ever,' She tried to shove the topic from here mind, but it stubbornly remained their, continually calling for her attention.

Jessica cleared her throat and began, spreading the map in front of her, "Emily and Lisa, you two are going to hit Union, Springer, and Maple."

"Okay," Emily smiled, here voice distorted slightly by her retainer. They arose from the table and were off.

"Maggie and Hanna, you guys take 1st, 2nd, and Main Street." Jessica looked from the map ensure they were listening. A smile spread on Maggie's face, much like the new ketchup stain, Jessica noticed, sprouting on the corner of the map.

"Yay! Main Street!" Maggie rejoiced as she and Hanna left. Her latest boyfriend lived on Main Street.

"Oh, brother," Monique rolled her eyes.

She swiftly folded the map and, hopefully, the unsavory thoughts that had been bombarding her of late. She got up, dumping the remains of her milkshake into the trash on her way to the door. Monique trailed after her.

"Come on!" Monique whispered, a whine brushing her words, "You can at least go over there, and introduce yourself!"

"No," Jessica replied firmly, taking a sidelong glance at the boy.

'She won't leave me alone! Why does she have to keep talking about him? I wish she'd just shut-up!' She marched out of the restaurant before Monique tried to steer her to him. Monique soon caught up to her.

"You can't even say hi?" Monique huffed.

"No. I already told you how I feel and I'm standing by that!" Jessica said.

"Fine, be that way," Monique said, pretending to sulk. They walked down the sidewalk to the street Jessica assigned them to enact their dreaded fund-raising duties. The road began at Main Street and stretched several blocks, ending with the driveway of the "Grimwald Place." They paused at the street's beginning.

"So," Monique started, wearing a serious expression "We get the longest street in town, Butterfield Lane."

"Yep," Jessica replied.

"The street with endless blocks of houses and that creepy Grimwald Place at the end." Monique retained a straight face.

"Yep…" Jessica couldn't stand it any more. She couldn't maintain her sour mood with Monique looking so insanely serious. She burst into a fit of giggles, in which Monique promptly joined in.

"Okay, okay," Jessica gasped, "Lets go, or we won't reach the Grimwald place 'till nightfall." Armed with catalogues and order forms, they marched up to the door of the first house.

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They gazed upon the imposing structure that was the Grimwald Place, made ominous by the shadows cast by the setting sun.

"Come on," Monique said, "We both know no one lives here. We don't have to knock."

"Might as well," Jessica said, "Just to make sure." Monique took a step back.

"Oh, Monique! You don't seriously think this house is haunted, do you?" Jessica placed her hands on her hips.

"Um… maybe?"

"Well, maybe the ghosts will order Belgian chocolates," Jessica answered cheekily, "Lets go you scaredy cat." Jessica marched down the sidewalk, dragging Monique behind her.

"You don't know this town's history! You don't know the stories about this place!" Monique protested.

"Quit whining, Monique." They trudged up the steps (Monique far more reluctantly then Jessica) and rang the doorbell. The deep clang of the bells resonated through the entire house, becoming deeper and more distant as they faded.

'If there were bells to call ghost from their graves…' Jessica thought, with a growing, irrational fear.

She turned around and said, "Maybe we should go…" but just then, the door ominously creaked open. Jessica slowly turned back to the doorway but instead of a malicious ghoul; saw a smiling little old lady.

"Why, hello children!" she greeted, "I wasn't expecting company!" The friendly greeting caught Jessica completely off guard, and the salutation that she and Monique had rehearsed to themselves now only came to her through difficulty.

"W-well," Jessica stuttered, "Good evening Mrs. Grimwald! Uh, we're selling items to support our school!" Her voice rose higher with each word she spoke.

"Yeah!" Monique added, equally nervous, "And Belgian chocolates!"

The old woman wore a gentle, motherly smile. "You have nothing to fear," She said, "Please, come in." Jessica was ushered into the house by Mrs. Grimwald while Monique huddled behind her, using her as a living shield against the malignant ghosts that supposedly inhabited the house. The richly carved antique wood, and the fine furniture dusted with a heavy layer of dust and dressed in cobweb lace. Dust bunnies hugged the girls' shoes.

"It was once all quite beautiful, but an old woman such as myself is unable to keep up with the maintenance required of this house." The woman gently closed the door.

"It looks like she doesn't keep up with any of it," Monique said, her words lacking their usual sardonic spin so that they remained an eerie skeleton of the intended words. The comment earned her a feeble jab in the side, courtesy of Jessica.

Mrs. Grimwald proceeded to give the girls a grand tour of the home, complete with all the mundane details sure to lull them into a relaxed state of boredom that would put all thoughts of evil apparitions from their minds. Finally, just as they were about to enter the sitting room next to the entrance area from which they started, they paused in front of a shelf on which a single golden box was perched, that was obviously cared for better than the rest of the house.

"And this," Mrs. Grimwald said tenderly, removing the box from its shelf, "Is my most prized position." She opened the box, revealing the glimmering crimson marble it contained. Jessica found herself reaching for it but stopped.

'What is that?' she thought.

"You may touch it," Mrs. Grimwald whispered, "It is meant to be touched." Jessica cautiously brushed it with her fingers. A small smile played on the elderly woman's features.

"What the heck are you doing, Jess?" Monique hissed. Jessica's fingers tingled briefly, and she quickly pulled them away, clenching he hands around the order forms. She wasn't so sure about sticking around. Why was this woman acting so strangely? Why was there an almost perverse smile of pleasure glued to her face as she replaced the box on its shelf? She was about to bolt, but Mrs. Grimwald invited them to sit down. For some reason, she couldn't refuse this offer. Despite the fact that the woman seemed to have an ulterior motive for her actions, her kind face, and her olive, motherly eyes convinced her to swallow her panic and calmly spread the catalogues on the excessively dusty coffee table. She calmly sat next to Monique on the ancient couch, which moaned and puffed dust in protest.

Mrs. Grimwald sat in a cracked leather chair opposite of the girls and began to leaf through the first catalogue. Although it seemed to take forever, she never paused but politely flipped the pages to a silent rhythm. At long last, the rhythm was cut short in the pages of the final catalogue, a jewelry one.

Leaning over the coffee table as much as her frail bones would allow, she pointed to a bracelet strung with crimson crystals and silver feather charms, saying, "I think I will have this one, dear." Jessica elbowed Monique, who had drifted to sleep from the house's stuffy surroundings.

"Wha… what? Did she order anything yet?" Monique mumbled as she awoke.

"Just that?" Jessica asked Mrs. Grimwald, hoping she might order more.

"Yes. This cute little bracelet is enough." Jessica's smile slipped a notch.

'Cute?' Jessica thought, 'Since when does a little old lady call anything besides her grandchildren and small animals cute?' Jessica replaced her mock grin and jotted down the order, dismissing the thought as folly.

"Well, we'll be going now. Thank you for supporting Jeyasia Academy!" Jessica stood and pulled the lethargic Monique to her feet. She then stooped briefly, gathered the catalogues, and slipped them into her book bag

"Well," Mrs. Grimwald rose, "Thank you for coming! I don't usually get many visitors."

"Gee, I wonder why?" Monique responded dreamily. Another poke in the side, brought Monique back to full consciousness. Mrs. Grimwald hobbled to the duo and escorted them out the door. Before she shut the door behind them, though, she stuffed a crumpled bill into Jessica's hand. The door then slammed shut with a bizarre sense of finality.

"Wait, Mrs. Grimwald!" Jessica yelled pounding on the door, then pushing the now inoperable doorbell, "Mrs. Grimwald! You're not supposed to pay yet!" After a few moments, it became clear Mrs. Grimwald wasn't going to answer. Jessica took a step back and turned to Monique.

"Uh… I guess we should be going," Jessica rolled the crumpled bill around her palm and realized something hard was inside. Monique agreed to Jessica's statement with a yawn and began trudging down the rickety steps. Jessica followed, moving into the moonlight. Something red winked at her from the bill's folds and she unwrapped it to reveal Mrs. Grimwald's treasured marble glowing warmly in her palm.

"Hey, Jess. You comin'?" Monique turned and saw the marble and the money in Jessica's hand. "Where'd you get that?"

"Mrs. Grimwald gave it to me," Jessica held the marble up to the moonlight for a better look, mesmerized. A sudden gust of wind blew the money from her hand but she took no notice.

"Jess! The…" Monique gave up on warning Jessica and went after the bill herself. Once she had returned, Jessica had slipped the marble into her skirt pocket and was staring curiously at Monique. "Don't give me that look!" she said, "You maybe filthy rich and can throw money around like that, but some of us aren't as fortunate!" Jessica looked confused for a moment, and then it dawned on her.

"Oh, you're talking about the money."

"Yeah!" Monique replied, "What'd you think I was talking about?" Jessica looked away, distracted.

"Nothing." Jessica toyed with the marble in her pocket, when a tingling sensation swept up her arm and was gone an instant later, as was the marble. "It's gone…" she murmured.

"Well you can stand there if you want," Monique started, derailing Jessica's train of thought, "But I'm going back to the dorms." She marched past Jessica, back up the street.

"Uh, yeah," Jessica looked up, "Wait for me!" She ran after Monique.

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I awoke with a start. It seemed I had been asleep for only a moment, but the darkness and deathly silence told me otherwise.

"What time is it?" I murmured, instinctively glancing to the place where my clock had previously sat, then realized it still laid in pieces on the floor. My watch beeped, reminding me of its existence.

'Oh yeah,' I thought, consulting the watch. It read midnight. That's when hunger hit me full force. After only a steak finger and half a Big Mac, I was famished (I haven't eaten that little since I had the flu in second grade!). I slipped my shirt back on (I undress in my sleep. There's actually a funny story behind that. Uh, never mind.) and tiptoed around the guts of the digital corpse that lay strewn about the floor, determined not to make the same mistake twice.

I was three-quarters of the way through the macaroni salad when a seemingly innocent creak caused me to freeze in mid-chew. Slowly turning my head, I saw the once closed basement door was now cracked open. A cool breeze tickled the nape of my neck, and I swallowed.

'Who left the basement windows open?' I thought. Abandoning my makeshift meal, I gingerly stepped down the wooden basement stairs, barefoot, and examined every window. They were all shut tight, yet I still felt a breeze. A flash of light caught my eye. I turned. Smack-dab in the middle of one of the concrete walls, shined a point of light. I moved toward it. The breeze seemed to be coming from this direction.

"What the…" I breathed. The edges of the light sublimed into white smoke that drifted into nothingness, leaving no trace of its previous existence. On impulse, I placed my right palm over the point. Light gushed from beneath my hand and flooded the entire basement with light and wind. Once my temporary blindness from the super-bright light had gone away, I could see the light had grown into the size of a doorway, emanating more disappearing white smoke. The gentle breeze still brushed my face. The light's surface rippled like water as I tore my hand away.

"What is this?" I whispered. Rippling shafts of light cast shadows about the basement, which didn't seemed to have gotten any messier from the wind.

"This must've woke someone up…" I looked to the ceiling but heard not a sound. Looking back to the light-thing, I could make out images just beneath its surface, but they changed so rapidly, I couldn't retain any of the images in my mind. I flicked the surface and it splashed like water. The light died down enough for me to see it resembled more of an inverted pool. I bent closer, trying to make heads or tails of it, but only succeeded in making myself dizzy the closer I got. It might've been from the ever-changing whirl of images, but it might've also been due to the fact that I was hyperventilating. After taking a few deep breaths, the tip of my nose touched the pool's cool, liquid surface. It instantly cleared so that I could see a crystalline tunnel beyond. The liquid sucked at my nose, then pulled the rest of me in.