Chapter 1-Ghost Stories

"They say that every night at midnight, when not a soul is around, a door appears in the side of the school on the west wall across from the tennis courts. It will look like a normal door, but if you open it, if you go inside..." the girl paused ominously, glancing around at her enraptured audience. "You will never leave."

It was a sunny day at St. Madeleine high school. The sunlight fell in great droves in Mrs. Tooler's homeroom class, cutting across a typical morning scene. It was just now nine a 'clock, and Mrs. Tooler had yet to arrive. As usual, the classroom was not the picture of order, with the students talking, lounging, and generally sciving off. Most of the attention that morning was fixed on Amanda Wheeler and her ghost story. Ghost stories were generally viewed with some contempt, but Amanda was very pretty and worked for the school newspaper. Amanda, a freshman with long, curly hair, uttered her last statement with particular finesse. A few girls giggled nervously, but the general reaction was one of amusement.

"oooh... how spooky!" a tall girl said, laughing. Amanda smiled mysteriously, waggling her eyebrows. There was some punching of arms and making of scary faces-someone hummed the twilight zone theme- but interest was quickly lost. The group dissolved into to chatter.

Sitting at her desk in the corner, May Evan rubbed her forehead, sighing. She had a splitting headache. She really wished it wasn't so loud. May was the type who would usually go unnoticed. She had brown hair, in a constent state of dishevelment, serious brown eyes. Unlike most of her classmates, she wore her school uniform completely unadorned. No ribbons and jewelry for her. In fact, the uniform almost looked to big for her frame, the sleeves bunched around her hands.

All she had wanted to do that morning was get some extra work done, but with her headache and Amanda's story, it had been practically impossible. Stupid, childish story, she thought. She wondered why people bought into that stuff.

"May!" a plump arm obscured May's vision. Yet another reason May hadn't gotten her work done.

"mm?"May sighed, and turned to look at the girl. Talusa Beth was May's friend. Talusa rolled her eyes.

"could you close the shades a bit?" Talusa asked, "it's shining right in my eyes."

May blinked. She felt bad for half a second, bad that she had suspected Talusa of interrupting her for a trivial reason again. She knew she should have more faith in her friends. But then, she reminded herself, I don't have much reason to.

May stood, navigating around the one desk between her and the window. She was just skirting the edge of the desk when something came up, blocking her legs. May fell, just breaking her fall on her hands and knees.

She did not need to look up to know what had happened. Her stomach seemed to boil. As soon as everyone else realized what had happened, giggles spread out across the room, jumping from person to person like wildfire. May clenched her teeth, reined her anger in. She stood up abruptly. The boy who had tripped her leaned back in his chair. Carl Monaghan, an ugly boy, inside and out, May thought. Carl grinned, showing white teeth.

"Got a problem?" his tone was contemptuous. May knew he was just trying to get a rise out of her, so she stayed silent. She tried to move to the window, only to be blocked by a gangly arm. She shoot what she hoped was a freezing look at Carl, who seemed to be trying to keep his face pleasant.

"You wanna answer me, gloomy little bitch?"

The rest of the class fell silent now, watching the scene with much curiosity. May thought, a little wryly, that the only thing that could make the scene more perfect was if each bystander was holding a bag of popcorn.

Talusa stood at her desk, but unlike the rest of them, she could not seem to watch at all. Her gaze was fixed purposely and pointedly on the floor.

"Well? You want to tell everybody how your mother couldn't keep her fucking mouth shut?"

It was quite fortunate that at this moment, the door of the classroom swung open, and in walked Mrs. Tooler. There was a collective intake of breath, and Carl, snorting contemptuously, slumped back in his chair. Smiling a little now, May pulled the shades down and then sat back down in her chair. Talusa still wouldn't look at May. Her face bright red, she muttered,

"Thanks."

, still completely unaware of the tension gripping the room, took up her usual place at the front and class began, quite as usual.

Mrs. Tooler smiled her pink smile around the room.

"How was everybody's weekend?"

May ate lunch in the old library building next to the church. It smelled of ancient books, of paper gone to die, yet it was quiet and cool, and most importantly, empty of people like Carl Monaghan.

Talusa had offered to eat with her, likely out of guilt for the morning, but May had refused. Talusa would much rather sit with her church group, and besides, May found that she liked being alone.

It all started a year ago, all this eating alone in the library, people treating her like gunk under their shoes. May had never been exactly popular before that, had always preferred her own company to that of others, but it was only this year that she had had to deal with Carl Monaghan.

May's mother, Caitlin, wrote for the city newspaper. It wasn't a prestigious position, the newspaper was a small one- as Cliffton was of no considerable size- but Caitlin had found her break. Long story short, Ian Monaghan- a well known lawyer- was found out to be not quite as honest as he claimed, and it had been Caitlin Monaghan who had discovered this.

May didn't blame Carl. His father gave a lot of money to St. Madeleine. He was respected, liked. And so Carl was respected and liked too. Pride was what he thrived on. Of course he was going to go after her, even to the point of arranging a senario that would make the whole school hate her. No, she couldn't blame him. It was not that she would have done the same thing. Quite the contrary- that was why she could admit to herself that she admired him.

"I've heard that no one has heard her voice since the summer."

It was late evening and the autumn breeze tossed the crumpled yellow leaves about the twisting lane that led from St. Madeleine catholic high school.

It is funny, the sound of two girls laughing together. So inviting and warm, yet so cold and sharp when you cannot join in.

Amanda, the tall girl of the ghost story, leaned into her friends side, whispered something into her ear. More giggles were tossed about in the wind.

May pressed herself against the stone wall beside the road. There was a rock in her shoe, bitting her ankle like a snake. She reached down, shook out the standard school-issue brown loafer, watching Amanda and her friend disappear around the bend.

What was the point of it, May wondered, talking about someone behind their back when they were right there. She wasn't mute and deaf.

Oh, well. A quick glance at her watch told her she best get going if she wanted to make it to Ed's Bakery for her shift.

She made an unusual sight as she walked up the lane, a girl who had grown up too fast one way for everything to catch up, drowning in a too large blazer. Yet beneath the uneven, mousy hair, glinted brown eyes, catching the light like a pool of water, all darkness and lightness come together.

A soft, wet little sound caught her ear, the faintest mewling plea. It came from a dark place on the side of the lane, a hidden spot between a trash can and the side of an old shed.

May bent to investigate.

Bright green eyes winked at her from the darkness, and again came the soft mewling cry. May moved a corrugated piece of cardboard aside, letting the soft autumn light spill across the small creature curled on the ground. May had to look twice at the peculiar thing, as she could have sworn that she glimpsed a long, feathered tail where the soft tail of a cat should be. Yes, it was a cat, now that she got a good, hard look at it.

It was also a truly beautiful cat, though it was covered in street grime that mottled its white fur with sulfurous gray. The full, tangled coat was shot through with silvery stripes, and from the tips of its ears grew long silver tufts, like a lynx.

The cat stirred, blinking in the sudden light, and looked up at May with wide green eyes. It seemed to consider her for a moment. Seemingly satisfied, it got slowly to its paws.

May knelt down in front of it, holding out her hand.

"Here, kitty, kitty," she said softly.

The green eyes flashed in greeting, and the white cat extended its elegant head to meet her hand. It was amazingly soft. Poor pretty little thing.

"What are you doing out on the streets?" she voiced aloud.

The cat just rubbed against May's side, as if to say, I don't know.

Scratching the cat absently on the head, May reached for her bag. Digging inside, she found her lunch bag and the remains of a sandwich within. This she withdrew and proffered to the cat.

The great green eyes widened and in one quick movement the cat snatched up the sandwich and began to eat as if it had not in weeks. May chuckled at this and the first real smile of the day spread across her face, hesitant but warm.

"Nice kitty, now isn't that better?"

May was sad that she did not have more to offer than half of a limp cheese sandwich, but the cat didn't seem to mind. Her spirits had been so lifted by the encounter that she gave the cat a name, Orpheus-she had determined it was a boy-because it was a grand, mysterious name for a fitting subject.

Orpheus purred and rubbed against her legs as she stood up. May was just reaching down to scratch his head when she glimpsed her watch.

"Crap!"

she withdrew the hand with a snap. She was late! Gathering up her bag, she gave Orpheus a last, regretful look. Though she hated to see any animal hungry and with no home, she felt as though Orpheus was-well, it was hard even to define the feeling herself.

She ran the rest of the way down the lane, unsettled by the cat with human eyes.