Joined: 30 Dec 2009
Location: quantum meruit
Mandy Wilson lived in a college town called Spectral Falls. It was nestled in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. She had just finished her sophomore year in the liberal arts. Her auburn hair, blue eyes, and hourglass figure set her apart from all the other girls. Mandy’s skin was the color of porcelain, fair and unblemished. She had been in a relationship with Tony Aviles since their senior year of high school.
At six feet four, Tony had a commanding presence wherever he went. His best features included his chocolate brown eyes, perfectly shaped brows, and his straight nose that was neither too short nor too long. He came from a close-knit Argentinean family. Although both of his parents were artists, he decided he wanted to become an engineer.
Tony and Mandy were both nineteen years old and fairly active. In the winter, they skied at a nearby resort called Raleigh Run. During the summer months, they went cycling on the mountain trails and rafting in the Spectral River beside the Falls. Their friends Elianne Curtis and Shayne Mendel would often join them in their adventures. Elianne had been Mandy’s best friend since elementary school, and Shayne was her boyfriend.
The four teenagers rented a cabin at Raleigh Run in the middle of August. Summer was fading away too quickly. It would be fall before they knew it, and time for them to go back to school. All of them had seasonal jobs as tour guides. Their scholarships didn’t cover all their expenses, and none of them had a trust fund. This being the case, they could only spend a weekend in the cabin. Raleigh Run was a luxury resort rented mostly by newlyweds and local celebrities. Everyone else usually went there for the hiking and skiing.
They piled into Tony’s silver Jeep on a Friday afternoon after they were finished their shifts. Collectively they packed enough clothes, food, and cold drinks for three days. They listened to a Vampire Weekend album on their way to the cabin. Raleigh Run was only a half hour drive from Spectral Falls. Not a single cloud could be seen in the azure blue sky. A gentle breeze from the south blew through the mountains.
* * * * *
Fortunately, Tony was able to get a discount when he showed the resort manager his college student ID. The manager gave Tony two access cards after he signed the rental agreement. Tony thanked the man for his courtesy and strolled toward the cabin with his friends. It was seven o’clock when they finally checked into Unit 2A at Raleigh Run. The cabin was a one-story retreat made of logs that were cut in half and painted mahogany.
While Elianne loaded their food into the refrigerator of the small kitchen, Mandy put their drinks in a bucket of ice. Tony and Shayne removed their mountain bikes from the Jeep’s roof rack and locked them in the storage closet beside their cabin. The closet was big enough to shelter a horse or a struggling artist in need of a creative space. There was also a swimming pool behind the resort manager’s office. Thoughts of soaking in the pool with his naked girlfriend ran through Tony’s head.
After Mandy chilled the drinks, she went rummaging through the drawers of the pine coffee table in the living room. In the top drawer, she found a resort guidebook and a Bible. She placed the guidebook on top of the coffee table in case she needed to look up a phone number. The next drawer contained an oval wooden board painted with bold black letters. The board was one inch thick, and its widest portion was twelve inches long. The words “Yes” and “No” appeared in the top corners. “Hello” and “Goodbye” were located at the bottom. In the centre of the board, the letters of the alphabet and the numbers from zero to nine were painted. All the words, letters, and numbers were done in a creepy italic font. Mandy also found a heart-shaped piece of plastic the size of a quarter beside the board.
“Hey, look what I found!” exclaimed Mandy.
“What is it?” asked Elianne.
“It looks like a Ouija board with a little planchette,” replied Mandy.
“Those things are silly,” Shayne said.
“I’ve seen them in those cheesy horror movies, and they’re so dumb,” Tony chimed in.
“I don’t care,” Mandy blurted out. “I wanna see how it works.”
“Me too,” Elianne said. “I’ve never played with a Ouija board before.”
Mandy placed the board on the coffee table in the middle of the living room. Elianne dimmed the light to set the mood. They sat in folding oak chairs around the table. Shayne and Tony joined them out of curiosity, if nothing else. Mandy held the planchette on a blank space in the middle of the board with her delicate index fingers.
“How do we begin?” Mandy wondered.
“You should probably start with a simple Hello,” Shayne suggested.
“Hello there. I’m Mandy. My friends here are Tony, Shayne, and Elianne.”
Suddenly, the planchette left Mandy’s fingers and slid down to the word “Hello.” The four teens gasped at the unexpected result. Tony and Shayne were starting to believe in the power of the board. Their scepticism was slowly beginning to fade.
“Okay, what do I do now?” Mandy inquired.
“You need to ask it a question,” said Elianne.
“About what? I don’t know who or what I’m talking to.”
“Ask it if it’s a ghost,” Shayne said.
“Are you a ghost?” Mandy asked.
As soon as she finished her question, the planchette moved to the top right corner of the board and landed on the word “No.” It glided freely of its own accord. She had no part in its movement.
“So it’s not a ghost,” Mandy said. “Then how do we find out what it is?”
“Just ask, and maybe the paranormal being will spell it out for you,” Elianne surmised.
“If you’re not a ghost, then what are you?” asked Mandy.
The board was still for a minute. Then the four teenagers felt a rush of cold air pass over them. The dim ceiling light shut off by itself, and the resort guidebook fell violently on the hardwood floor. A moment later, the light turned back on. The planchette began to move slowly across the letters on the board. It spelled out D-E-M-O-N. After it stopped on the letter N, Mandy and Elianne screamed at the top of their lungs. They held onto their boyfriends for dear life.
“What do you want from us?” Mandy yelled.
“No, Mandy. We need to stop this,” Tony insisted.
The planchette glided around wildly in circles before it landed one by one on the letters that spelled D-E-A-T-H. The clear plastic heart began to turn bright red. It was the color of blood. The wooden board beneath it rotted quickly until its bold black letters were distorted and barely legible.
“We need to get that thing outta here,” Tony advised them with a stern expression on his face.
“You do it,” said Mandy. “I’m scared to touch it.”
Without further adieu, Tony grabbed the Ouija board with his right hand and marched toward the entrance of the cabin. After he jerked the door open, he ran toward a grove of spruce trees that stood behind the resort manager’s office. The thicket was so dense that an elephant could get lost in it. Tony separated the branches and hurled the board into the greenery. It made no sound when he threw it because it landed on the soft branches. He heard no animal noises, so he assumed the wildlife population was either sleeping or out hunting. The Ouija board felt so evil that he wouldn’t wish its bad luck on a grizzly bear.
* * * * *
The four teens watched an action movie until eleven o’clock. After it ended, they were all tired out. Mandy was still frightened by the disturbance caused by the Ouija board. Tony saw her trembling when he lay down beside her in their north-facing bedroom. He put his right arm around her and stroked her hair with his left hand. Then he kissed her on the lips and neck. His mouth tasted like mint, and he was wearing musky cologne. He placed his light caresses all over her body, which made her moan in excitement. A moment later, he eased up when she started giggling loudly. They tried not to disturb Elianne and Shayne, who were sleeping in the slightly smaller room across the hall from them.
“Does anyone ever call you Antonio?” Mandy wondered.
“Just my parents when they’re mad at me...like the time I told them I didn’t wanna be an artist.”
“Why didn’t you wanna be an artist?”
“I took enough drawing classes to realize I have no artistic talent, but I’m great at math and physics.”
“So that’s why you wanted to become an engineer. It makes sense.”
“Does anyone ever call you Amanda?”
“Not usually. The last time my mom called me Amanda was when I quit piano.”
“That’s because she was a music teacher. It probably broke her heart.”
* * * * *
Mandy and Tony spent the next two days hiking and biking with their friends on the trails at Raleigh Run. They also found time for late-night skinny dipping in the round swimming pool behind the resort manager’s office. Shayne and Elianne did most of the cooking. They made stir fry and tossed salads. To complement their meals, Mandy had packed enough beer and iced tea to satisfy an army. It was anything but a dry weekend.
Tony drove everyone home in his Jeep on Sunday night. They listened to an FM station from the Simenon Valley on their way back to Spectral Falls. The DJ played a lot of Elle King and Beck songs. They had all but forgotten about the demon unleashed by the Ouija board. It wasn’t until the next day that their lives began spiralling out of control.
* * * * *
On Monday morning, Elianne put on a light blue Nike tracksuit and tied her long blonde hair in a ponytail. She went jogging on the pathways beside the Spectral River valley. She always warmed up for five minutes before exercising. After she ran a mile, she sprained her ankle. It was the first time she had ever injured herself while jogging. That was very usual for her. She was an experienced athlete who had won a dozen gold medals when she was on the track and field team at Spectral Falls High.
Meanwhile, her boyfriend Shayne cut himself while removing the sand-colored stubble from his upper lip and chin. His rotary shaver was short-circuiting in the bathroom’s only electrical outlet. Somehow he managed to nick himself half a dozen times. Luckily, they were just pea-sized wounds. He’d been shaving almost daily since his last year of middle school, and he had never cut himself before.
After Elianne returned to her apartment, she called Shayne and asked him to come over. She had phoned in sick for work because of her injury. Shayne phoned in sick as well. He didn’t want any of his co-workers or tourist clients to see his butchered face. Elianne was startled when she opened the door and saw her bleeding boyfriend. She hobbled on her good leg and hugged him tightly.
Elianne and Tony sat on a black velvet couch in Elianne’s living room. They decided to watch The View. One thing led to another. Before they knew it, they were making out on the soft, padded furniture. Halfway through The View, Tony shut off the television. They peeled off their clothes carefully. Then they had wounded sex. Half an hour later, they dressed and lay in each other’s arms. At that moment, a figure in a black hood appeared in the living room window before it quickly disappeared.
“What was that?” asked Elianne.
“I didn’t see anything,” Shayne said.
“There was someone out there by the window.”
“You’re just imagining things.”
“I am not. There really was something out there.”
“I think that whole incident with the Ouija board got you spooked.”
“You’re my boyfriend. You could be a little more supportive.”
“You need to chill out, Elianne. Did you take Tylenol#3 for your ankle?”
“No, I didn’t take anything. I’m not on drugs.”
“It was probably just a crow or one of your loopy neighbors.”
“Okay, if you’re not gonna believe me, then I don’t think I wanna be around you right now.”
“You want me to leave?”
“Maybe we should just break up.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want. I guess I just wasted the past two years of my life.”
“Well, so did I. You should probably go now.”
“Fuck this shit. I’m outta here.”
Shayne buttoned his shirt and grabbed his car keys before he slammed the door on his way out. Elianne sat in the middle of the black velvet couch with her ankle throbbing and tears streaming down her cheeks. She was wearing the light blue Nike tracksuit she injured herself in. Her life was in ruins, and her junior year hadn’t even started.
* * * * *
Tony and Mandy were staying with their parents temporarily over the summer. However, they had reached a point in their relationship where they decided they wanted to live together instead of returning to their dismal dorms at Spectral Falls College in the fall. After their tour guide shifts ended on Monday afternoon, Tony drove Mandy in his silver Jeep to the Home Outfitters store in downtown Spectral Falls. They needed to buy linen, dishes, and appliances for their new apartment.
No other customers were shopping in the store. On top of it, most of the employees were on vacation. There was only one clerk at the front checkout. She was a thin Vietnamese girl named Mai who had long, shiny black hair that cascaded all the way down her back. Mai wore a lot of mascara, false eyelashes, lavender eye shadow, and light pink lipstick. She looked like a living doll.
Most of the items on Mandy’s shopping list were located at the back of the store. Her first stop was the silverware department. Tony decided to check out home appliances, and they agreed to meet up again beside the bath towels. Mandy walked toward the utensils and heard the sound of grinding metal. The noise grew louder as she approached the cutlery section. She stared solemnly at the complete dinnerware sets with lifetime guarantees. At that moment, the flaps of a cardboard box on the middle shelf opened by themselves. Sterling silver knives, forks, and spoons were violently launching themselves at her upper body. She ducked half a dozen times to avoid being stabbed and carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Mandy ran out of the silverware department and ended up in an aisle of steel pots and pans. At first glance, they seemed harmless. A minute later, lids flew off the cookware and hit Mandy in the head. They clashed like cymbals against her ears. She was very close to suffering a concussion. Then she remembered a technique she learned in a karate class she took during her freshman year. She raised her forearms above her head to block the angry steel until she arrived safely in the bath section.
At the same time, Tony was having an ordeal of his own in home appliances. He found an electric can opener. After he plugged in a demo model, he turned it on. The grinding gears caught on his shirt and ripped the grey cotton in two places before Tony pulled himself away. Sensing defeat, the can opener shut off on its own. Tony also discovered an immersion blender with a removable blade that came loose and chopped off clumps of his dark brown hair. The last straw, however, was a steam iron that produced bright orange flames and burned his forearm.
Tony raced out of home appliances and headed toward the bath accessories. It was a maze of mats, cloths, towels, soap, and soap dishes. The department was surrounded on three sides by an emerald green partition. It took Tony a whole minute to walk from one end of the section to the other. When he finally found Mandy, she was being strangled by a navy blue terrycloth towel. Tony acted quickly to save the girl he loved. With one swift motion, he untied the knot around her neck and flung the towel against the green partition. After Tony freed Mandy, they ran like hell out of the store.
There was no lineup at the front counter. Mai stood at the till, looking bored and filing her nails. With a pissed off look on her face, she made a snarky comment as Tony and Mandy rushed past the checkout without making a purchase.
“Hey, I don’t care if you buy anything,” she said curtly, “but if you're gonna have sex or do drugs in the parking lot, then I’m calling the management!”
Tony and Mandy didn’t catch the snide remark. They were too busy running for their lives. After they found Tony’s Jeep, they sped away to the Wilson family home on the outskirts of Spectral Falls. But when they arrived at the two-story country house, Mandy’s mother Ingrid had bad news for them.
“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this,” said Ingrid.
“After the day I’ve had, I don’t think anything can surprise me,” Mandy groaned.
“Is it okay if I stay for a while?” asked Tony. “I think Mandy needs me right now.”
“You’re right,” Ingrid said. “Mandy shouldn’t have to deal with something like this without you.”
“Well, what is it Mom? The suspense is killing me.”
“It’s your father. He was climbing Thunder Mountain today, and he had a terrible accident.”
“I’m sure Felix is gonna be fine,” said Tony. “He’s been climbing for thirty years.”
“His gear failed on him, and he fell a hundred feet. I’m sorry, Mandy.”
“How can that be, Mom? He’s an experienced climber.”
“He WAS an experienced climber.”
“I don’t believe this,” Mandy said with tears welling up in her eyes.
“The funeral is on Saturday,” Ingrid informed them. “I have to start making arrangements.”
Ingrid left Mandy and Tony in the living room. Tony held Mandy in his arms while she cried. They sat in silence for several hours while they looked through an old family photo album. Ingrid brought them herbal tea and shortbread. Mandy took small sips of tea, but had no appetite for cookies or anything else. Tony stayed with her the whole night. Felix Wilson’s funeral was held four days later. It was attended by the Wilson family, Tony Aviles, Shayne Mendel, Elianne Curtis, and fifty of Felix’s friends.
* * * * *
The four teens sat in the Spectral Cafe across the street from their college the day after the funeral. They were mulling over the tragic events of the past week. There had to be a connection. Something was causing all those bad things to happen to them at the same time. Mandy had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t over. She shuddered to think of what was just around the corner. Shayne and Elianne were talking, but not to each other. Technically they were still broken up.
Tony and Mandy set up a meeting with Dr. Derrick Clarke at ten o’clock the next morning. In addition to being their old anthropology professor at Spectral Falls College, Dr. Clarke was also a paranormal expert. He had taught in London for a decade before he moved to Spectral Falls. Although he had been part of the SFC faculty for nine years, his English accent remained discernible. Every word he spoke sounded charming and distinguished. Like most other settlers, he was attracted by the spectacular mountains and the pristine blue water. He had won numerous awards for his research on supernatural beings. If there was a demonic presence causing the violent upheavals in their lives, then Derrick Clarke would surely know how to banish it.
“Hi Dr. Clarke,” Mandy greeted her old professor. “Thanks for seeing us on such short notice. “
“It sounded urgent,” said Derrick, “and you were the best student in all of my classes.”
“I loved your Anthro 301 course. It was a lot more interesting than any of the other shit I was taking that semester.”
The party of five gathered around Derrick’s immense cherrywood desk. Derrick sat in a black vinyl swivel chair, and the others brought in white plastic chairs from the student lounge in the hallway. It was a spacious corner office on the second floor of the Humanities Building with an amazing mountain view.
“How can I help you?” asked Derrick.
“A lot of strange things have been happening to us in the past week,” Tony began.
“I sprained my ankle when I was jogging,” said Elianne, “and I broke up with my boyfriend.”
“I butchered myself with an electric razor,” Shayne chimed in.
“Mandy and I got attacked by appliances and utensils at Home Outfitters,” said Tony.
“And then my father died on Thunder Mountain,” Mandy sobbed. “He was an experienced climber.”
“Sorry for your loss, Mandy,” said Derrick. “Dr. Roth is in the counselling office this week.”
“I think I’m okay, Dr. Clarke. The worst part is behind me now.”
“Sorry to switch gears, but have you kids been up to something out of the ordinary?” Derrick inquired.
“I think I know what it is,” Tony declared. “That dumb Ouija board we found at Raleigh Run.”
“You played with a Ouija board!” Derrick exclaimed. “You shouldn’t have done that. Those things are NASTY. I think you kids have opened up a portal to all kinds of evil.”
“Well, how do we close the stupid portal?” Elianne asked.
“We have to return to the scene of the incident and destroy the board,” Derrick advised them.
Tony drove them to the cabin at Raleigh Run in the afternoon. They rented out Unit 2A again for a day. Fortunately, it wasn’t taken by another guest. It had rained the night before their arrival. This being the case, Tony and Shayne had to dig around in the mud inside the grove of spruce trees where Tony had thrown the Ouija board almost two weeks earlier. They found the mire-coated source of their misery after an hour of searching. At six o’clock, they emerged from the thicket covered in mud from head to toe and showered immediately.
Derrick wiped the Ouija board with a damp paper towel and set it on the pine coffee table in the living room. He placed the heart-shaped planchette in the middle of the board. Being the paranormal expert he was, he had brought bags of salt, a vial of holy water, and a book of incantations with him. He sprinkled salt around the coffee table and parallel to the baseboards that framed the room.
Mandy dimmed the white ceiling light and sat with her four friends around the coffee table. She didn’t have to tell Derrick what to do. He already knew. It seemed as though he’d been in that type of situation before. He held the planchette on the board with his strong, sanguine index fingers.
“Hello, I am Dr. Derrick Clarke,” he began.
The planchette left his grip and glided down to the word “Hello.”
“Who are you, or what are you?” he continued.
Ominously, the plastic heart moved up and spelled out the word D-E-M-O-N.
“If you are a demon, then what is your business?”
Then, as it had done on their first visit to the cabin, the planchette passed over the letters for D-E-A-T-H.
“That’s exactly what it spelled the last time we were here,” said Mandy. “Demon and Death.”
“I am a paranormal expert,” Derrick said in his neutral London accent, “and I command you to leave.”
The board became defiant. After Derrick’s order, the planchette moved to the top right corner until it landed on the word “No.”
“This has to be custom-made,” Derrick concluded. “Most Ouija boards don’t have ‘Hello’ as an option. It’s not something you would find at Walmart or Toys ‘R’ Us.”
“So what are you saying, Dr. Clarke?” Elianne asked.
“This board isn’t a toy; it’s an unequivocal portal to Hell,” Derrick answered.
The old professor picked up his book of incantations. As the light began to blink, he rapidly skimmed through the pages of his supernatural Bible. With no time to lose, Derrick began a spell to exorcise the evil spirit.
“Regna terrae, cantata Deo, psallite Cernunnos. Regna terrae, cantata Dea, psallite Aradia.”
The four teens sat slack-jawed as the professor read the ancient Latin verses. A cloud of black smoke billowed from the centre of the Ouija board. The light was still blinking, and the hardwood floor beneath them was vibrating. A minute later, Derrick uttered the last two phrases of his incantation.
“Benedictus Deus, Gloria Patri. Benedictus Dea, Matri gloria!”
After the spell was finished, the black smoke dissipated. The light turned back on and the floor stopped pulsing. When the four teens looked at the coffee table, the Ouija board was gone. It appeared to have disintegrated during the exorcism.
“You did it, Dr. Clarke!” Elianne cheered.
“That’s right, Elianne,” said Shayne. “He got rid of the demon. Can we please just forget everything that happened?”
“You want us to get back together?”
“Of course I do. When I acted like an asshole, it was the demon talking, not me.”
“I forgive you, Shayne. I know you love me. Sorry I was such a bitch.”
Elianne kissed Shawn on the lips, and he hugged her tightly. It was the first time they’d spoken in just over a week. They made a promise that they would always find a way to work out their differences so they would never break up again. Shayne also found two tickets in his wallet for a concert at the Spectral Falls Centre in the middle of September. He placed them in Derrick’s hands.
“What’s this?” the professor asked him.
“They’re tickets to my brother’s concert. It’s just pop rock. You should be okay.”
“Thanks, Shayne. I know a special female archaeologist who would probably go with me.”
Shawn Mendel was only seventeen, but his videos already had thousands of views on Youtube. He didn’t see his brother Shayne very often anymore, but he always made a point of playing in his hometown at least once every six months.
The teens slept peacefully in the cabin that night. Dr. Clarke dozed on the couch in the living room, which converted into a bed. Tony drove his friends back to Spectral Falls the morning after. He moved into his new apartment with Mandy two weeks later. They started school with Shayne and Elianne in the first week of September. Dr Clarke was later appointed to the President’s office at Spectral Falls College. Everyone lived quite comfortably, and none of them ever touched a Ouija board ever again.
Death warmed over.
Mon Aug 10, 2015 6:26 am
Joined: 30 Dec 2009
Location: quantum meruit
Jelena Kovac was the twenty-one-year-old daughter of Serbian immigrants. She had hazel eyes, long brown hair, and an athletic physique. In her teens, she had been a junior tennis player until a knee injury ended her promising career. After she graduated from Hayley Woods High School, she attended a local college where she met Jesse Stoermer. They were both in General Studies. Jelena planned to go to grad school, and Jesse was interested in medicine. Eventually they moved into a second-floor apartment in the Varsity neighborhood adjacent to their campus. Jelena's best friend Karli lived next door to them with her boyfriend Lukas.
The school year had just begun. Jesse and Jelena were both in their senior year. They came home from school at five o'clock in the second week of September. Jelena made hot dogs while Jesse tossed a Greek salad. They ate dinner outside on the patio. The sky was light blue and cloudless. It was still technically summer, so the weather was hot and muggy.
"You know I'm on a tight budget," Jesse said.
"Yeah I know," Jelena replied.
"But I still want us to make this formal someday."
"We don't need to rush into anything."
"When I'm in med school, it would probably be better if I were in a committed relationship."
"You're worried about your image? I thought you wanted to get married because you love me."
"Of course I love you. I just think it's time to settle down."
"You're starting to sound like my mother."
"I just wanted you to have this."
Jesse dug his right hand into the front pocket of his khaki shorts. He brought out a tiny, blue cardboard box. Inside the box was a gold ring adorned with a large opal surrounded by four small diamonds.
"Wow, that's impressive!" Jelena exclaimed. "What does this mean?"
"Isn't it obvious? Why does any guy give his girl a ring?"
Although the patio deck was made of rock-hard concrete, Jesse got down on one knee and asked the proverbial question.
"Will you marry me, Jelena Stasia Kovac?"
"How could you afford this, Jesse?"
"It's a family heirloom that belonged to my grandmother, Victoria Stoermer."
"Why did your parents give it to you? That seems like a huge responsibility."
"Well, I'm an only child and my parents' lone hope for having any grandchildren."
"I don't know what to say. I wasn't expecting this."
"Say yes, Jelena."
"Okay, sure. Yes, I'll marry you. Maybe not right away, but someday."
Jesse slipped the ring onto the fourth digit of Jelena's left hand. He kissed her on the lips, and they embraced for a long time. It was a memorable way to start their senior year. Jesse didn't mention to Jelena that a mortician had plucked the ring from his dead grandmother's hand while her cold, lifeless body lay on his stainless steel table. Some things were better left unsaid.
Jelena tossed and turned for most of the night. At three in the morning, she had a vivid nightmare. She was getting married in a small, non-denominational church on the outskirts of Hayley Woods. Her cousin and her friend Karli were the bridesmaids. They walked down the aisle first along with Lukas and another one of Jelena's cousins. Jelena walked after them, accompanied by her father. She wore a white mermaid dress with a lace veil and a long train. A middle-aged Irish minister performed the service. When it was time for Jesse and Jelena to exchange vows, a frail old woman in a blood-spattered, cream-colored gown burst into the chapel. She carried a long silver knife which she brandished at the young couple. It was at the moment when Jelena woke up.
"What's wrong, Jelena?" Jesse asked.
"It's nothing. Just a stupid nightmare."
They both went back to sleep. Jesse woke up before Jelena. He made toast and coffee in the kitchen at seven o'clock. They ate together and talked about school. After breakfast, Jelena sat in the living room while Jesse picked out his clothes.
Jelena lounged on the taupe pillowback sofa they had bought at a discount furniture store. She flipped through a brown vinyl photo album that Jesse kept in the middle drawer of the oak coffee table. There were dozens of pictures of Jesse in his crib, in elementary school, and in high school. Toward the end of the album was a photo of Jesse with a middle-aged couple and a frail old woman.
"Hey Jesse," she said. "Come over here."
"What is it?" he asked.
Jesse sat down beside Jelena on the overstuffed sofa. He stared at group photo in the album she was looking through.
"Who's that old lady standing beside your parents?" she asked as she pointed to the picture.
"She's my Grandma Victoria...the only one of my grandparents I ever met."
"That's what I thought."
"Why do you ask?"
"No reason. Just go back to doing whatever you were doing."
"I've got a class at eight in the Science building."
"That early? My lab doesn't start until ten."
"I need to take a shower. I'll meet you in the cafeteria at noon."
"Okay, hun. See you later."
Jesse kissed Jelena on the cheek and went to take a shower. While he was in the washroom, Jelena recalled her wedding nightmare. She remembered the woman in the blood-spattered gown. It was Jesse's grandmother. The woman who previously owned her engagement ring had entered her dreams. Jelena needed find out how the woman died.
After Jesse left for school, Jelena decided to soak in the tub. She plugged in a radio into the bathroom's only electrical outlet. An FM station was playing a song by the Swedish House Mafia. Jelena sprinkled lavender bath salts in the steaming water before she climbed in. She lowered her body into the water slowly. Then she applied a liberal amount of pomegranate shampoo to her hair and dragged her head just below the surface. At that moment, something strong pushed her further down. She struggled in the water for thirty seconds and tried to pull herself out. When she finally rose from the tub, she found herself choking. There was water in her nose and her throat. For several minutes she coughed forcefully to expel the lavender-flavored fluid. She noticed that the opal ring had slipped off her finger in the violent struggle. It briefly occurred to her that this might have saved her.
Jelena put the ring back on and dried her hair in the bedroom. After she put on a pink blouse and a denim skirt, she decided to go to her lab on foot. Her apartment was only a five-minute walk to the college. She ran into Karli in the hallway and they went to school together.
"That's a nice ring," said Karli.
"It belonged to Jesse's grandmother," Jelena told her.
"Wow! It's an heirloom."
"It sure is."
* * * * *
As it turned out, Jelena and Karli were in the same lab. Their first assignment involved the dissection of a slimy green amphibian. The whole room smelled very strongly of formaldehyde. Jelena felt her eyes watering because of the chemicals. She let Karli do most of the poking and slicing. It was a disgusting way to spend two hours. The time passed very slowly. Only the good-looking teaching assistant named Tyler made the experience bearable. When the lab was finally over, Jelena and Karli went to the ladies' room on the main floor of the Science building to wash their hands and fix their makeup, among other things.
Jelena felt queasy when she stepped into the first stall. There was a sharp pain in her abdomen and a migraine starting in her head. She had never felt cramps like that before. Although she knew her time of the month was approaching, it wasn't supposed to happen for another two days. She started hemorrhaging immediately after she pulled down her skirt. Blood pooled around her feet. Karli was in the stall next to hers and noticed the crimson flood right away.
"Are you okay, Jelena?" she asked.
"No, I'm not. I don't know what's happening to me."
The blood came out all at once and flooded the white floor tiles. In just one minute, the red river stretched from one end of the lavatory to the other. After the hemorrhage ended, the blood began to flow through a small drain in one corner of the floor that had been installed as a solution to leaky toilets. However, there was still blood all over Jelena's blouse and skirt. All of the porcelain tiles were stained pink. The caretaker would have a hell of a time cleaning them. They would never be white again.
"I have an extra set of clothes in my gym locker," said Karli. "Sweats and a t-shirt, but who cares?"
"Okay, I'll wait here while you get them. I don't want anyone to see me dressed up as a horror movie."
"Do you want me to take you to the campus clinic?"
"Maybe when you get back. You should find Jesse in the cafeteria. He's waiting for me."
Karli went to the PhysEd building to find her locker. Fortunately, she was the same size as Jelena. When they shared a dorm in their first year, they used to trade clothes. They were like sisters who did everything together until they found boyfriends.
Ten minutes later, Jelena was changing out of her soiled clothes. She threw them in a trash can before she donned the t-shirt and sweatpants. Karli walked with her to the clinic on the other side of the college. Jelena waited for half an hour while Karli looked for Jesse in the cafeteria. At half past noon, Jelena went in to see a female GP named Dr. Evans. She took off her engagement ring and put it in her purse.
"So what seems to be the problem?" asked Dr. Evans.
"I had my period," said Jelena.
"That's perfectly normal for a girl your age."
"I had it all at once. It was over in a minute."
"Really? I've never heard of that before."
"I'm okay now, I think."
The doctor gave Jelena a quick physical exam. She checked her vital signs and asked for a sample to be sent to the lab.
"I could refer you to a gynecologist, if you'd like," said Dr. Evans.
"Sure. I think that would be best."
"I won't have the test results back for another two days, and I can't get you an appointment with Dr. Bell until next week."
"That's fine. I'm not deathly ill."
"Just remember to stop by the desk on your way out."
"Okay, sounds good."
* * * * *
Jelena was sitting in her living room when Jesse came home at four o'clock. She had skipped her afternoon classes. Karli promised to take notes for her. As luck would have it, their schedules were almost identical. Jesse frowned when he saw Jelena on the sofa.
"You took off your ring," he said.
"Yeah, my fingers were getting swollen. It's that time of month."
"Well, as long as it wasn't because you hated the ring."
"Of course not. It's a gorgeous heirloom."
"Are you feeling okay? Karli said you were in the infirmary."
"I'm fine now. I just had a headache."
"You can just sit here while I make dinner."
"Can we have stir fry and scalloped potatoes?"
"Okay, babe. Whatever you want."
Jesse cooked the stir fry and potatoes while Jelena took a nap on the sofa. He woke her up at a quarter to five. They ate dinner in silence. Jelena offered to do the dishes, but Jesse told her to rest. After he washed the dishes, he sat down next to Jelena on the sofa. They watched a horror movie on Netflix. It was about a different kind of ring, but still scary nonetheless.
Jelena slept more peacefully than she did the previous night. Her test results revealed no abnormalities when they came back from the lab two days later. She saw Dr. Bell the next week, but she told Jelena there was nothing wrong with her. Everything seemed to be right as rain. This being the case, Jelena decided to put the mysterious ring back on. Although she had her doubts about the heirloom, she wanted to make Jesse happy. The things people did for love.
* * * * *
At the end of September, the nightmares started happening again. Jelena dreamt about Victoria every single night. The scenario was always the same. Jelena was getting married in the small non-denominational church. She followed her friends and cousins down the aisle, and the ceremony was interrupted by the old woman in her blood-spattered dress. By that time, Jelena began to realize the dreams weren't real while they were happening.
One night, Jelena woke from her usual nightmare and turned on her bedside lamp. She nudged Jesse from the deepest depths of sleep. He was startled awake with his eyes wide open.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Jesse, how did your grandmother die?"
"She tried to beat a train, but the train broadsided her black Oldsmobile."
"So it was a car accident. That explains a lot."
"What does it explain?"
"I didn't tell you this before, but I've been having nightmares about your grandmother. Then there was the incident in the bathtub and the day I had my period. All these things happened when I was wearing Victoria's ring."
"That's impossible. Do you really expect me to believe my grandmother's ring is possessed?"
"No, I don't. That's why I never mentioned any of this before."
"You should go back to sleep, Jelena."
* * * * *
The next day, Jelena and Karli were sitting in the café on the main floor of the campus library. It wasn't a quiet study area, so they started chatting about Jesse and the sinister heirloom.
"I know there's something wrong with this ring, but Jesse won't believe me," Jelena said.
"I believe you. Sometimes I have nightmares about all the blood on those ceramic tiles."
"How do I convince Jesse this ring is evil? I don't wanna wear this creepy thing anymore."
"If something happens when he's home, then he'll eventually come around."
"But that's just the thing. None of this bad stuff ever happens when he's around."
"There has to be a way. We just need to find it."
Karli hugged Jelena and they drank their lattes. After they drank their coffee, they went to the campus gym to run on the treadmill. They watched Dr. Phil on a flat-screen television set as they worked out. In the afternoon, they had psychology and economics in the Arts building. They walked home together at four-thirty. Since Lukas was having a birthday, Karli didn't have much time to chat. She rushed back to her apartment to bake a cake. Meanwhile, Jelena made a quick trip to the supermarket to pick up salad greens and ground beef.
Jelena was making stroganoff when Jesse got home from school. He tossed a garden salad and sliced some carrots while Jelena stirred the
meat into a pot of spiral pasta. Jelena attributed his exhausted look to the fact that he was taking six courses instead of five. What the hell was he thinking? To make matters worse, Jesse came from a family of overachievers. His parents were both research scientists at the Hayley Woods Institute for Public Health.
As Jelena stirred the stroganoff, she whistled a movie soundtrack song by Aerosmith. The noodles began to bubble up to the top of the crock pot until they overflowed and made contact with the element underneath. Smoke billowed from the stove. Orange flames shot up in the air. Jesse reached for the fire extinguisher on the wall beside the stove. He quickly pulled the pin and aimed the nozzle at the blaze. Then he squeezed the handle to release the nitrous fire-squelching agent. The flames died down and left behind nothing but ashes.
"It was the ring," Jelena said. "I told you there was something about the ring."
"Why would the ring set our dinner on fire?"
"Either your grandma is pissed because she died an untimely death, or because another woman is wearing her ring."
"That's nonsense. I think you overfilled the crock pot."
"Maybe we should just order pizza."
"That's a good idea. I'll call Luigi's."
Jesse called Luigi's Pizzeria on the land line. He ordered a shrimp and mushroom pizza. While Jesse spoke with Luigi, Jelena watched the local news. There was another drive-by shooting on the highway. It happened just before midnight. On the same day, a cougar was spotted in the woods. It was a real cougar, not a middle-aged bimbo stalking younger men. The residents of Hayley Woods were very concerned about their safety.
After Jesse hung up the phone, he sat beside Jelena on the sofa. The reception on the television started to become fuzzy. Within five minutes, it was nothing but electronic snow. Jesse got up to pound on the set with his fist. It only made matters worse. Frustrated, he turned off the television and continued to wait for the pizza delivery guy.
It was almost six o'clock when someone buzzed their apartment. A scratchy voice of indeterminate gender informed them their order had arrived. Jesse released the secured door to the lobby to let the delivery person in. A minute later, there was a knock on their apartment door. Jesse opened it and saw a skinny boy who looked only seventeen. He invited the boy into their suite while he went to get his wallet. The boy placed a white cardboard box on the coffee table and stood beside the sofa where Jelena was still sitting.
Then before Jelena knew what was happening, the delivery boy was no longer a boy. He morphed into an old woman in a blood-spattered, cream-colored gown. It was Victoria.
"Why are you here?" asked Jelena. "What do you want from me?"
"You should not be wearing my ring!" Victoria shouted.
"Jesse gave this to me. It's mine now."
"You're a whore! You don't belong in this family!"
"No, I'm not. Don't talk to me that way!"
"You dress like a slut. You look like a hooker."
Jelena quickly looked down at her turquoise halter top and denim mini-skirt. It was what most girls at school were wearing.
"I do not," Jelena told her. "You're just a bitter old woman."
"You're a tart. As long as you wear my ring, I will never let you forget it!"
Jesse entered the room at that moment. He saw his frail grandmother shouting and trying to strangle his fiancée.
"It's the goddamn ring, Jesse. I told you it's the ring."
"I won't let you marry this whore," Victoria insisted.
"She is not a whore, you old hag! Let go of her!"
Jesse lunged at his grandmother, but his hands passed right through her. She cackled like a witch while her grip tightened around Jelena's neck. Sounds like a dying cat came out of Jelena's mouth. It finally occurred to Jesse that the heirloom was evil, after all. He pulled the ring off Jelena's right hand and flung it across the room. After he got rid of the antique, the old woman transformed back into the delivery boy. Victoria was a supernatural spirit who had entered and occupied the teenager's body because she had no physical form of her own.
"So will that be cash or charge?" the boy asked.
"Just cash," said Jesse. "I've already maxed my Visa."
"Okay, sure. That's an extra large, so it's fifteen bucks."
"Here's a twenty," Jesse said. "Keep the change."
"Thanks dude. Have an awesome night."
"Oh, we will. You betcha."
The delivery boy strolled out of their apartment, and Jesse locked the door behind him. Jesse and Jelena finished the whole pizza in an hour while they listened to Mumford & Sons. After they ate, they played a game of Scrabble. Jelena won both games. She was a wordsmith who always got A's in her English classes. Jesse also liked Scrabble, even though he lost every game. They weren't playing for money or anything else. Both of them had homework, but it wasn't due right away. They didn't feel like doing anything challenging after all the commotion caused by the evil ring.
By the time they finished the second game of Scrabble, it was a quarter to nine. Jesse carried Jelena to their bedroom and laid her on their king-sized mattress that was covered with a chenille spread and Egyptian cotton sheets. The air smelled like roses intermingled with vanilla. Jelena had filled a potpourri basket on the nightstand before she left for school that day. They started kissing, and he put his hands on her thighs. He moved his hands upward until they reached her mini-skirt. She put her hands over his and pulled the denim down past her knees. He slid his fingers into the waistband and tugged until the skirt lay at her feet. Then she peeled off her crocheted halter top. She quickly threw it on the floor along with her strapless bra and lace panties.
Jesse quickly removed his clothes and tossed them on a chair in the corner of the bedroom. His white A-shirt and olive-green shorts were wash-and-wear articles that he had found at an army surplus store. They didn't need a lot of care. He was also on a tight budget. Because he was in the pre-med program, he didn't have time to press his clothes. Moreover, he thought Jelena would be insulted if he asked her to do any laundry or ironing for him.
When they were both completely naked, Jesse squeezed Jelena's breasts playfully and sucked her erect nipples until they turned a brighter shade of pink. While he continued the foreplay, she ran her fingers through his wavy, light brown hair. She massaged his back muscles as he moved down to her navel and between her thighs. His warm, moist tongue licked up and down her lady parts. Her genitals were dripping with her sex fluids by the time he finished.
With his hands pressing down on her upper arms, he inserted his cock inside her. His toned body grinded against her rhythmically. Her breasts jiggled sideways after each thrust. The combination of sex and hot weather caused both of them to perspire uncontrollably. Their sheets were thoroughly soaked by the time he released his load. They came together and sighed with utmost satisfaction. Then he withdrew his shaft and rolled onto his back.
Jelena climbed on top of Jesse as he recovered from his ejaculation. With gentle caresses, she stroked his shoulders and biceps. Then she pinched his tiny nipples and kissed his well-developed pecs. Normally she hated fellatio, but that night she was feeling adventurous. She sunk down to his navel and paused briefly before she took his full length in her mouth. Jesse stroked her long brown hair while she was swallowing him. He moaned her name repeatedly as his manhood moved in and out of her mouth. It was almost ten o'clock when she pulled away from him. He spread the sheets over them before they fell asleep in each other's arms.
* * * * *
The next day Jesse and Jelena were having dinner at the end of a long day at school. Although Jelena had no bling, she still felt bound to Jesse. She didn't need a piece of jewelry to symbolize that. No matter how long she had to wait, she decided she wouldn't pressure Jesse into buying her another ring. After they finished eating, they both washed the dishes. It was actually fun to do something together. When the china and utensils were put away, they sat on the sofa and talked.
"I'm sorry I didn't believe you," said Jesse.
"That's okay," Jelena told him. "I didn't believe it either."
"I should've trusted you more."
"No worries. What did you do with your grandma's ring?"
"I gave it back to my mother."
"Thank God. Now we can just put all this behind us."
"There's just one other thing I wanted to show you."
"What is it, Jesse?"
Jesse opened the middle drawer of the coffee table and pulled out a black velvet box. It snapped back delightfully when he opened it. There was a 0.33 carat diamond solitaire ring nestled inside it.
"It looks so expensive," Jelena remarked. "How can you afford this?"
"I sold my coin collection and cashed in a GIC."
"You shouldn't have done all that for me."
"I know, but I did. Can't you just accept it?"
"Okay, but someday I'm gonna buy you another coin set."
Jelena beamed as Jesse slid the ring onto her left hand. The band fit perfectly and didn't need to be resized. It was much more pleasant than wearing an ominous antique that had been salvaged from a corpse. They didn't see Jesse's grandmother anymore, except in the photo album. Jesse's mother locked the opal ring away in the family's vault. No one ever wore it after Jelena's ordeal. Once a jewel is cursed, it can never be put on again.
Death warmed over.
Sun Sep 13, 2015 6:41 pm
Joined: 30 Dec 2009
Location: quantum meruit
Jennifer lived at a military housing complex in Milvain. Her condominium was located two blocks away from the army base where her husband Travis had been stationed. She hadn't heard from him in eighteen months. He went missing in action during a tour of duty in the Middle East. His commanding officer hadn't seen him in more than a year. Jennifer phoned Sergeant Williams and searched his unit's website every week, but the news was always the same. Travis was gone. He was all but dead.
Although Jennifer had gotten used to living without Travis, she refused to believe the worst. She still loved him and thought of him every single day. There was a photo of him wearing his blue service uniform that Jennifer kept in a brass frame next to their wedding pictures above the fireplace in the living room. Whenever someone asked about Travis, she lied and said he was fine. Sometimes she told her friends he would be coming home soon.
On a Tuesday evening after the July long weekend, Jennifer was staring at herself in the full-length mirror that occupied the south corner of the master bedroom. She had just finished teaching a piano lesson to a twelve year old named Jerrika. The girl was a red-haired prodigy who came from a musical family. In four years, Jerrika had already won two local competitions and a scholarship from the Royal Conservatory. Jennifer hated to admit that her student was better than she was, even if it was true.
Jennifer hurriedly began to fix her hair and makeup. Another music hopeful was on his way, and she want to look presentable, if nothing else. He was her only male student, and he was scheduled for lessons on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Jennifer ran a plastic pink comb through her long curly hair, which was somewhere between dark blonde and light brown. Then she wiped her face with a moisturizing makeup removal pad before she applied a fresh layer of foundation. She felt two wires digging into her ribs, so she unhooked her bra and slipped it off through her sleeve. There was no time to put on another one because, at that moment, the doorbell rang. Startled by the sound, Jennifer ran out of the bedroom and raced toward the front door.
The bell ran a second time before Jennifer unlocked the door. She peered through the spyhole and saw a teenage boy in a white t-shirt and denim shorts on the front step. He was over six feet tall and had short, sandy hair. Jennifer noticed a silver Raleigh mountain bike perched on a kickstand several feet behind him. She opened the door and looked up at his pale blue eyes.
"Hi, I'm Sean," the boy said. "I'm here for my first lesson."
"I'm Jennifer," she introduced herself. "Come on in."
Jennifer led Sean into the living room where her shiny black Wurlitzer stood. She caught him staring at her cleavage for a second before he turned his head away and sat on the bench beside the upright piano. His face turned from pink to bright red with embarrassment. But Jennifer wasn't surprised by his reaction. That's what happened when a woman with large breasts wasn't wearing a bra.
She opened the fallboard and showed him the basic keys. He practised his scales for half an hour. Then he learned his first song, which was Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.
"You're really good Sean," said Jennifer. "Have you had piano lessons before?"
"No, but I mess around on my gran's old piano sometimes."
"You're the best new student I've ever had."
"Thanks Jennifer. I play guitar, too. My band is called The Druids. We're a power trio like Muse and Green Day."
"How did you guys get started?"
"We met in high school. That's also how U2 began in Ireland."
"A lot of great things come from small beginnings. Steve Jobs founded Apple in his parents' garage."
"I use my parents' garage, too. My dad soundproofed the walls so the neighbors wouldn't complain about the noise.
Jennifer could tell that it was a real effort for Sean to keep himself focused and to look her in the eyes. Under the circumstances, he was playing quite well. He was a teenage boy with hormones, after all. In hindsight, she realized she should've put on a cardigan or a hoodie over her tight blouse.
"You're already sounding like a pro, Sean. You should play Ode to Joy for your girlfriend."
"I don't have a girlfriend. Well I did, but we broke up."
"I'm sure your parents would love to hear you play."
"How much is it? Twenty bucks is all I can afford. I'm saving for school."
"That's fine. Are you going to Milvain College?"
"Yeah, I'm starting a BFA in Music in September."
"Cool. You certainly have the aptitude for it."
"I should go now. I have band practice."
"Okay, just work on your scales, and leave the money on the coffee table on your way out."
"See you next time, Jennifer."
It was seven o'clock when Sean left. Jennifer was tired and collapsed in her bed shortly after the lesson. She had worked ten hours that day, eight hours at the office and two hours at home. Juggling two jobs was challenging, but there was no other way to make ends meet while Travis was MIA. Because he hadn't been declared dead, she wasn't eligible for a widow's pension. In addition to a lack of closure, she also had dwindling finances.
* * * * *
Two weeks later, Sean asked Jennifer about Travis. She was reluctant to talk about him at first because of the inevitable waterworks that would follow.
"How long as he been gone?" Sean wondered.
"A year and a half," Jennifer told him.
"You must get really lonely being by yourself all the time."
"It's really not that bad. I keep myself busy and I have friends here on the base. Army wives."
Jennifer felt her eyes watering, so she wiped them with a handkerchief that she kept in the top drawer of the coffee table.
"You're too young to be living here like a widow."
"I'm not that young, Sean. I'm ten years older than you."
"Really? You don't look that old. You could pass for a college girl."
"Thanks. I just haven't had any kids, and I don't smoke or tan."
"You should write a book...on how to not look your age," he joked.
"Don't be silly. I can't write. I majored in music, not English."
"Hey, what's that in your hair?"
Sean flicked a tiny dust ball out of Jennifer's hair.
"I was vacuuming under the furniture today," she told him.
"That's okay. I get dirt under my nails whenever I mow my parents' lawn."
He flicked more dust bunnies off her shoulders and her forearms. Before she knew it, he was unintentionally feeling her up. His flicking movements were starting to tickle her, so he stopped removing the fluff from her blouse. He also caught the scent of her perfume. It smelled like a mixture of jasmine, roses, and musk.
"Sorry, I shouldn't have done that," he apologized.
"No worries. We should get back to our lesson."
Jennifer taught him two new chords that evening. Then he learned Amazing Grace and Shenandoah. He was a fast learner who could play songs from memory. Sean noticed Jennifer yawning when he finished the second piece.
"You look so tired," Sean said.
"I have to work tomorrow morning," said Jennifer.
"Do you teach in the daytime?" inquired Sean.
"No, I'm an executive assistant at Heather's Kitchen, the cookbook company. I don't have enough students to teach music full-time."
"I have a job, too. I work part-time at Road Boys. We sell skateboards and surfboards."
"I've heard of Road Boys. One of my other students rides a Susan Storm skateboard to her lessons."
"We need a skateboard park in Milvain. Then kids wouldn't have to ride in parking lots and empty pools."
"You should start an online petition or something."
"I might just do that," Sean decided.
It was the middle of summer. Bright slivers of yellow-orange sunlight pierced through the beige Venetian blinds that covered the living room windows. The condo was exceedingly hot because the air conditioner was off. Jennifer got up to turn it on, but she tripped and landed on her taupe polyester sofa. Sean went to check on her.
"I'm all right," she said. "I just lost my balance."
"You need to take better care of yourself. I think you're working too much."
"Maybe you should take care of me," she joked.
"Now who's being silly?"
"I should get you a glass of water."
Sean went to the kitchen and poured a glass of water from the cooler that stood beside the pantry. Then he brought it to Jennifer, who was sitting up on the sofa. She took a sip before she set it down on the coffee table.
"I'm such a klutz," she said.
"You're really pretty, you know."
"You're flattering me again."
"If you want me to stop, then just say so."
As they sat beside each other on the sofa, he ran his fingers through her long, curly hair. He caressed her shoulders and her upper arms while she sighed beneath him. He released his hands and turned away from her. But before he could get up, she grabbed his forearms and pulled him back onto the sofa. He leaned in until they locked lips. His kisses were long and lingering.
"I don't want you to stop. I haven't been with a man in a really long time."
"Jennifer, I should probably tell you something. I've never done it before."
"You're a virgin. Really?"
"Don't act so surprised. I was saving myself for someone special."
"Am I special?"
"Yes, you are."
Sean closed the blinds carefully to avoid breaking the plastic horizontal slats. Then he removed his shorts and t-shirt. He tossed them on the floor beside the sofa. Jennifer unbuttoned her blouse and unhooked her bra. Sean pulled off her leggings and her panties. He was swiftly losing control of his manhood. It seemed to have a mind of its own. She didn't ask him to use a condom because he'd never been with anyone else, and she was on the pill. He gently climbed on top of her, and they made love.
"Are you sure you're a virgin?" she asked him afterward.
"I wasn't lying to you. It was my first time."
"You're really good for someone who's never done it before."
"Thanks. I guess I'm a natural at most things."
Sean put his arm around Jennifer, and they cuddled on the sofa.
"Can I call you Jenny?"
"I haven't been Jenny since I was ten."
"What did Travis call you?"
"Usually Jen, sometimes Jennifer."
Jennifer lay in Sean's arms for an hour until he told her he had to go home.
* * * * *
The next day was Friday. Sean was practising with his band in his parents' garage. Justin noticed something different about him. Sean was more confident, and his voice sounded more relaxed.
"What's up with you?" Justin asked him.
"Nothing," Sean insisted. "Why do you ask?"
"There's something unusual about you. Hey Alex, doesn't Sean seem different?"
"Yeah, he does. He's not the dork he usually is. His vocal range is wider, too."
"I think I know what it is," Justin said.
"What are you talking about?" Sean demanded to know.
"You nailed that soldier's wife, didn't you?"
Sean didn't say anything, but his face became flushed. Justin and Alex stared at him for a minute while he fiddled with the settings on his amp.
"It's true, isn't it?" Justin asked him again.
"Of course it is," said Alex. "That's why his face is turning beet red."
"Okay you guys," Sean broke his silence. "I slept with Jennifer."
"Congrats Sean," Justin said as he slapped him on the back. "You're a man now."
"Don't tell anyone. Her husband's in the army. Those guys are tough. If Travis ever came back and found out I slept with his wife, then he could literally kill me."
"He's been gone for almost two years," said Alex. "Dude is probably dead."
"Yeah," Justin agreed. "If he were alive, then he would've come back a long time ago."
Justin and Sean tuned their guitars while Alex changed his drum heads. In their year as a band, they had written three original songs called "Werewolf Boys," "Bloody Weekend," and "Vampire Babes." They practised for an hour before they decided to call it a night.
"I still don't know why you're taking piano lessons," said Justin.
"I like music," Sean told him. "We can add keyboards to our tracks so all our songs don't sound the same."
"Hey, that's a great idea," Alex commented.
"I can get us a good deal on recording time at the Crimson Studio," said Justin.
"How come you never told us before about your industry connections?" Alex asked him.
"My sister just started dating the studio manager a week ago. Kristen goes through boyfriends like I go through guitar strings."
* * * * *
A week later, Justin drove Sean and Alex to the Crimson Studio in his parents' brown Dodge minivan. It was large enough to hold their guitars, drums, amps, and microphone stands. He turned on the radio to a classic rock station on the FM dial. A musician was plucking the delicate, magical strings of a mandolin in a melodious fashion.
"Wake up, Maggie. I think I got something to say to you," a raspy male voice sang.
"Who is that?" wondered Alex.
"It's late September, and I really should be back at school," the song continued.
"You seriously don't know who that is?" Sean chided him.
"No, I don't. I'm only eighteen, for Pete's sake."
"That's Rod the Mod," Justin informed him. "Rod Stewart."
"Maggie May was based on a true story," Sean added. "Rod lost his virginity when he was sixteen to an older woman he met at a jazz festival."
"Yeah, the dude was a real womanizer in his prime," said Justin. "He was married three fucking times!"
"Wow!" Alex exclaimed. "I can't even get a date, let alone get married."
"We just finished high school, you dork," Sean teased. "Why would you wanna get married?"
"Yeah, we got our whole lives ahead of us," Justin mused.
The song continued as Justin turned into the parking lot beside the Crimson Studio. He found a spot next to the producer's space. Then he shut off the engine, and the music stopped.
* * * * *
Daniel was the manager of the Crimson Studio who was dating Justin's older sister. He let the boys into the building and showed them around. Then he told them not to break anything before he left. The Druids walked through the studio and set their instruments down on the hardwood floor. Sean tuned his Fender Strat while Justin replaced the strings on his Ibanez bass. Meanwhile, Alex assembled his Tama drum set in the back of the facility. He had drawn the band's homemade logo on the bass drum with a blue felt pen.
"I think we should do a Fleetwood Mac cover," said Sean.
"You want us to play Fleetwood Mac?" Justin cringed.
"They're a legendary band," Alex said. "I saw them with my dad last year."
"You went to a concert with your dad?" Justin teased him.
"Oh shut, up you turd!" Alex shouted.
"Stop fighting, you two," Sean scolded them. "I taught myself to play 'Go Your Own Way' last night. Then I found the bass and drum parts at a music website."
Sean zipped open the side pocket of his guitar case. He pulled out a stack of white sheets and handed them to Justin and Alex. Sean had become the singer of The Druids by default. His low tenor sounded richer and more resonant than the other two. He managed to juggle vocals and guitars quite well. After he played the opening chords of the cover, he sang the first verse.
"Loving you isn't the right thing to do. How can I ever change things that I feel?"
He continued singing while Justin and Alex played the bass and drum parts. In one year of practising, they had become a very tight band. They sang the chorus together, like any other group would.
"You can go your own way. Go your own way. You can call it another lonely day. You can go your own way. Go your own way."
After they recorded the cover, they sat down in the control room. Justin manipulated a recording program on the studio's only computer while Alex and Sean sipped grape-flavored energy drinks that they bought in a vending machine beside Daniel's office.
"Ya know, that's actually a great song," said Justin.
"Lindsey Buckingham wrote it," Sean told him. "He plays his guitar without a pick. His fingers are tough as nails."
"That guy is my hero," Alex announced. "I got his autograph when we saw the band last fall."
They stayed for two more hours and used the time to recorded their three original songs. Justin mixed them himself.
"I gotta get going," said Sean.
"Have you got a date with your Mrs. Robinson?" Justin mocked him.
"Her last name isn't Robinson. It's Smith."
"I was talking about the old lady in that movie The Graduate."
"I've never seen it."
"Well, you should stream it sometime on the net. It's right up your alley."
"Don't listen to him," said Alex. "He's just being an asshole."
"Aren't we all assholes?" Justin remarked.
"No, we're not," Sean disagreed.
"Then you should call up my ex and tell her that," Justin laughed.
It was almost midnight by that time. Justin picked up his bass and left through the front door of the studio. Sean put his guitar in its case while Alex disassembled his drum kit. They tucked their instruments in the back of the minivan. Justin started the Dodge's engine and drove them back to their parent's houses. They didn't talk much on the way home because they were all tired. Their recording session had been productive, but very long.
* * * * *
Sean saw Jennifer twice a week for the rest of the summer. She taught him piano and made love to him in the master bedroom. Sometimes he stayed the night. Sometimes he left early if he had to work at Road Boys the morning after. On the Labor Day weekend, their relationship came to a head. Sean decided he needed to see Jennifer on Saturday night. He didn't want to spend the long weekend without her. With a wide grin on his face, he rode his silver Raleigh to the military housing complex. He parked the mountain bike in front of Jennifer's unit. Then he skipped up the steps that led to her door. Like a kid visiting his grandparents at Christmas, he rang the bell excitedly. But when the door opened, a tall man with a dark brown buzz cut appeared before him. He was dressed in a white tank and black jeans. Sean's wide grin quickly turned into a look of confusion.
"Hi," Sean said. "I'm one of Jennifer's piano students."
"I'm her husband Travis," the man told him.
Travis stared at him with a stern expression on his face. Sean could tell that something was up, but he didn't know what. Did Travis know what was going on between Sean and Jennifer?
"Come in, Sean. I'll let Jen know you're here."
"Thanks Travis. It's nice to finally meet you. Jennifer talks about you all the time."
"Of course she does."
Travis disappeared into the master bedroom and spoke with Jennifer while Sean waited beside the door. Although their voices were muffled, Sean could tell they were having an intense discussion. Five minutes later, Jennifer came out. She was wearing an oversized denim shirt and black leggings.
"Can I talk to you outside?" Sean whispered.
"Okay Sean. Whatever you want."
Jennifer opened the front door and she left the unit with Sean. They went outside and went for a walk around the complex.
"Why didn't you tell me he was back?" Sean asked her.
"He just came home this afternoon. There wasn't time."
"Are you going to tell him about us?"
"I already did."
"Then why hasn't he killed me yet?"
"Travis understands. He was gone for a long time, and everyone thought he was dead."
"Where does this leave us?"
"I can't see you anymore, Sean. You should probably find another piano teacher."
"You don't understand, Jenny. You were my first. I love you."
"Sean, I'm married. And you have your whole life ahead of you."
There were tears forming in Sean's eyes. It was impossible to hold them back.
"How could you do this to me?" he asked her.
"You knew my situation from day one."
"I'm gonna go now. I guess this is goodbye."
"I'm sorry, Sean. I never meant to hurt you."
"It's too late for that now."
Sean left in a hurry before Jennifer could see him crying. He was a man, after all. Men weren't supposed to cry, even when they got dumped. While the tears began to fall, he sped away from the condo complex on his mountain bike. He found himself singing verses from that old Rod Stewart song, but he changed the lyrics to suit his own situation.
"Wake up Jenny. I think I got something to say to you. It's early September, and I really should be back at school."
As the reddish-orange sun began to set, he turned onto Main Street and passed by Milvain College. The gigantic brick building was surrounded by poplar trees and a green courtyard. For the first time, he was anxious to meet new people so he could get the soldier's wife out of his system. He rode straight until he reached the boulevard that led to his parents' house.
"You made a first-class fool out of me, but I'm as blind as a fool can be. You stole my heart, and I hate you so damn much."
* * * * *
~ for Travis S., USMC
Death warmed over.
Sun Sep 20, 2015 6:29 pm
Joined: 30 Dec 2009
Location: quantum meruit
THE HAUNTING IN HAYLEY WOODS
The three of them were sitting in upholstered black swivel chairs in the second-floor boardroom of the Art Building at Hayley Woods College. Ansel Ellis, the Acting President, was in charge of the proceedings. Shaelynn Wood, the Dean of Arts, had brought the evidence into the room in a wooden chest that had briefly travelled in the trunk of her Ford sedan. Sandy Klassen sat across the table from them with crimson cheeks and shaking hands. He was an alumnus who had been teaching art and design at the institution for five years. The hearing closely resembled the Salem trials in the 17th century. It was a witch hunt, after all. Future generations of students would refer to the scandal as "Inflategate."
"You're probably wondering why we called this meeting," said Dr. Ellis.
"Yes, I am," Sandy replied. "I have an excellent record and a good rapport with my students."
Dr. Wood pulled a dozen clear plastic bags out of the wooden trunk. They contained miscellaneous items including a gold watch, a silver pen, and a money order for five thousand dollars. Sandy wondered what these items had to do with him. He had never seen them before. One by one, he opened the bags and discovered gift tags with phrases such as "from your favorite student" and "for my kickass teacher" attached to the objects.
"Dr. Wood found these items on your desk," Dr. Ellis told him. "Care to explain yourself?"
"I've never seen these things before," said Sandy. "I have nothing to explain."
"I think it's obvious what's going on," Dr. Wood asserted. "These gifts are from your students."
At that moment, Dr. Ellis fished a white computer printout out of his brown leather briefcase. He turned the paper around and pushed it across the table for Sandy to examine its contents.
"The numbers speak for themselves," said Dr. Ellis. "Your class averages have been steadily increasing for the past four years."
"In other words," Dr. Wood concluded, "you've been accepting bribes from your students in return for their inflated grades. You breached the College's Code of Ethics."
"I did no such thing!" Sandy exclaimed. "This evidence was planted on my desk."
"We know you want tenure, Sandy," said Dr. Ellis, "but this isn't the way to get it."
"We're terminating you effective today, and we will see that you never teach at another institution in this country," Dr. Wood declared.
"This is an outrage," Sandy complained. "You can't do this to me."
"Sorry Sandy," Dr. Ellis replied, "but we already have."
Shortly after the hearing, Sandy was filling a Kraft file box with the contents of his desk. He stuffed binders and writing implements of all kinds into the cardboard container. Like a cheetah, he moved quickly because he didn't want his office mate, Michael Smith, to see him packing up his personal effects. Five minutes later, Sandy finished cleaning out his workstation. He was on his way out the door when he ran into Michael, who beheld the full box and the empty desk of his colleague.
"Tough break," said Michael. "Hope your week gets better."
"Thanks, but I doubt it," Sandy responded before he marched through the doorway.
Sandy Klassen had no family in Hayley Woods. He had also broken up with his girlfriend Nicole a month before his termination from the college. His career was ruined and his reputation tarnished. The firing also triggered his chronic depression. He paced around his apartment for an hour that evening before he decided to go for a walk in Rochester Park. He traipsed through the woods until he came to a cliff overlooking the falls that emptied into the Bracken River. For an hour, he stared down at the blue-green water while he contemplated his next move. He saw no solution to his problems, so he jumped off the cliff. There was no service for Sandy because his body was never found. Many people believed that he had left the country.
* * * * *
The fourth-year students at Hayley Woods College were working on a production of The Tempest. Their drama teacher conducted the auditions on the stage of the Angelou Auditorium. Jelena Kovac won the part of Ariel, and Jesse Stoermer ended up playing Prospero. Jesse and Jelena had recently become engaged. The role of Miranda went to Karli Krause, and Lukas Bonkowski put on the fins of Caliban. Lukas and Karli had recently moved into an apartment near the college. They lived in the same building as Jesse and Jelena.
Dan Maclean was the drama teacher and play director at Hayley Woods. He had been actor in the Hayley Woods Theatre before he taught at the college. Dan didn't believe in method acting. He simply wanted his students to have fun and explore their creativity. Whenever the actors in The Tempest forgot their lines, Dan whispered a few words in their direction to jog their memories. He didn't push them too hard because he knew they were taking five courses at once, and some of them were working part-time jobs.
The rehearsal ended at ten minutes to six. Jelena and Karli were changing in the girls' dressing room on the other side of the auditorium. They considered going to see a science fiction movie called The Martian with their boyfriends. It was a Tuesday night, after all. After they stowed away their period costumes, they picked up their knapsacks and headed out of the dressing room. The campus radio station CJHW was playing "Right Here" by Staind in the background. Aaron Lewis was wailing about his mistakes, his changes, and being bent till he was broken.
As Jelena and Karli came out of their drama practice, a supernatural being sauntered through the dimly-lit hallway. The caretaker always turned down the lights after five o'clock to save energy. The spirit stopped in front of the two girls. They trembled in its presence. It was the ghost of a sandy-haired man who looked about thirty-one, although he could have been much older. He was dressed in a blue chambray shirt, black jeans, and wing-tip shoes. A white and gold campus ID badge was clipped to the bottom of his shirt. They had to squint to decipher the name in small black print below his photo.
"What do you want from us?" Jelena asked the ghost.
"I used to teach at this college until I was wrongfully dismissed," the ghost replied in a raspy voice.
"Sandy Klassen," Karli read the name on his badge. "How long ago did you teach here?"
"Twenty years ago, in the 1990s."
"Wow!" Jelena exclaimed. "That was a long time ago."
"I was framed," Sandy insisted. "You need to clear my name."
"How do we do that?" Karli inquired.
"Check the archives of The Warden. Ask Levi Nelson."
"Why did you choose us to carry out this mission?" Jelena wondered.
"The man who framed me is still teaching here...and is known to you," Sandy said before he vanished.
Just as the Staind song ended, the girls pulled themselves together. They had never had a paranormal experience before. It was all they could talk about on the drive to the Hayley Woods Cineplex with their boyfriends to see the Matt Damon film. Jesse and Lukas, of course, didn't believe them. There was no such thing as ghosts. Everyone knew that.
* * * * *
After their classes ended on Wednesday, Jelena and Karli took a walk to the office of The Warden, which was the student newspaper at Hayley Woods College. The receptionist had stepped out for a smoke, so the girls just sat in the waiting area until they were greeted by a tall, athletic twenty-year-old man with dark brown hair.
"Hi there," he said. "I'm the editor, Levi Nelson. Can I help you?"
"We just needed to look through the back issues," Jelena told him.
"Yeah, it's for a sociology project," Karli lied.
"Sure, I can show you to our archives room," said Levi.
Jelena and Karli arose from their chairs and followed Levi to the archives room. There was a dusty old microfilm reader in one corner that looked like it hadn't been touched in ten years. In another corner lay a new Dell computer with dual monitors. There was also a wall that contained stacks of yellow newspapers arranged in order by month and year. Levi left them to do their searching and went back to his cubicle in the other room. They spent an hour flipping through the archives from 1994 to 1996 until they discovered a front-page article about Sandy Klassen.
"Look what I found," said Karli. "It says 'Inflategate Scandal Ruined Professor's Reputation.'"
"Sandy Klassen was dismissed from his job as a sessional instructor in the Department of Art last week," Jelena began reading. "It was a unanimous decision by the Board of Governors. For a period of four years, he had been accepting kickbacks from his students in return for higher grades."
They continued reading until they got to the end of the article. It was very enlightening. The scandal hadn't been discussed openly by anyone at the school for ten years. Although the faculty members were aware of it, most of the fourth year students had never heard of Sandy Klassen. His photo had been removed from the picture board of his graduating class on the wall beside the President's Office. It was almost like he never existed.
"Inflategate is the lowest point in the history of Hayley Woods College," read Karli.
"The witch hunt has ended, but not without leaving a permanent scar on the face of the school," Jelena sighed.
Jelena and Karli put away the old issue of The Warden and left the archives room. They thanked Levi for his help. He asked Karli if she wanted to go for coffee, but she told him she already had a boyfriend. Then they headed toward the auditorium to resume rehearsing Act One of The Tempest. At that moment, a CJHW DJ put on a song called "Rest Stop" by Matchbox Twenty. While Rob Thomas was sleeping, his girlfriend was wondering what he was dreaming. Then it came to mind that she didn't care.
* * * * *
Dan Maclean was very pleased with the progress of his actors. They finished Act One with a flourish at five-thirty on Wednesday afternoon. Although some of them were using index cards, Dan was confident that they would have all their lines memorized by the opening night in late November. Jelena and Karli loved acting. They would've tried out for the play even if they weren't getting extra credit from their drama teacher.
After the rehearsal ended, the girls went to their dressing room to change. Just as they were stowing away their costumes, the ghost appeared to them right there. They were startled that Sandy would materialize in what was supposed to be a sacred area for the female drama students at Hayley Woods College.
"Did you have to barge in on us in the girls' dressing room?" Jelena asked.
"You're fully clothed, so what's the problem?" Sandy countered.
"We found the Inflatgate article in The Warden archives," Karli said.
"We know what, but we don't know who," Jelena informed him.
"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Karli wondered.
"I'm innocent. The culprit is still teaching here," Sandy insisted.
"How do we find him?" Jelena asked.
"The same office. We were colleagues," his raspy voice whispered until he disappeared.
When Sandy was gone, the girls left the dressing room and walked through the hallway. CJHW was playing "Right Here" by Staind again. It was strange how the same song was playing that they heard during their first encounter with the ghost. It were as though the spirit and the tune were inextricably linked. They were beginning to think of the song as a portent of evil.
They found their boyfriends in the main quad, and they all walked home together. Their Varsity apartment was just two blocks from the college. Even after Jelena and Karli revealed what they had learned about the scandal, Jesse and Lukas were still skeptical of the whole situation. It was all too weird. If there was a ghost haunting their college for two decades, they wondered why they didn't notice him until their senior year.
"Why does Sandy Klassen's ghost always seem to magically appear whenever CJHW is playing 'Right Here' by Staind?" Jesse wondered.
"Well, it is a very haunting song," said Jelena.
"So true," Karli added. "It's something a lotta people can relate to. It reminds me of my overcritical art professors."
"Or maybe it's because his ghost is RIGHT HERE," Lukas chuckled.
"Don't be silly," Jesse admonished him.
* * * * *
The next afternoon, Jelena and Karli went back the archives room. They dug even deeper into the Inflategate scandal. Jelena found a dog-eared issue of the Warden dated March 11, 1993. There was a group photo of the Fine Arts faculty on the front page. Sandy Klassen was standing beside Dean Shaelynn Wood, President Ansel Ellis, and two other sessional instructors named Michael Smith and Angela Evans. The President and Dean of Arts had both retired since then, but the two sessional instructors were still teaching at the college. Jelena and Karli decided to have a chat with the two who remained.
They found Angela Evans in her office on the fifth floor of the Art building. It was the end of the day, and the middle-aged woman was looking exhausted. She was struggling to keep up with the five drawing courses she was teaching.
"Hi Ms. Evans," said Jelena. "We're glad you could find some time in your schedule to meet with us."
"What was this regarding?" Angela asked them.
"Did you know Sandy Klassen?" Karli inquired.
"Yes, he was a colleague, and that was all."
"Did you ever share an office with him?" Jelena wondered.
"No, we never shared an office. I'm not sure I feel comfortable discussing this."
"Do you have something to hide?" asked Karli.
"Some things are better left alone," said Angela. "I think you two should go now."
"What is it you're not telling us?" Jelena demanded to now.
"I have nothing further to add," Angela insisted. "This meeting is over."
At that moment, Angela Evans got up from her desk and gently pushed the two girls out of her office. The professor's pupils were dilating, and her cheeks were flushed. She locked the door before she stormed out of the building.
"Okay, that didn't go so well," said Jelena.
"Why don't we talk to Michael Smith? His office is beside the grad lounge."
"We should hurry before he goes home."
The girls walked down three flights of stairs until they landed on the second floor. Then they marched through the hallway and stopped at Room 220. Jelena knocked on the door twice before a heavyset man with grey hair answered the door. Michael Smith was their art history professor.
"Professor Smith, can we talk here?" Jelena asked.
"You sound like Joan Rivers," he laughed. "Come on in."
"Thanks, we just need to ask you about something," said Karli.
The three of them sat in plush chairs around Michael's gigantic mahogany desk. An IBM computer rested on top of it, surrounded by art history textbooks and file folders.
"Is this about the first essay?" he asked them.
"No, it's about something else...something about our school," Karli told him.
"Did you know Sandy Klassen?" Jelena asked.
"Sandy who? I've never heard of her."
"It's a him," said Karli. "He used to teach in the Department of Art twenty years ago."
Michael's hands began to shake, and small beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead.
"You told us in the first class that you've been working at HWC for twenty-five years," Jelena said.
"Did you ever share an office with Sandy Klassen?" Karli asked the professor.
"Never heard of him. You know...I really have to get home. The wife is cooking her famous meatloaf."
"I think you DID know him," Jelena remarked. "You're hiding something."
"People come and go here all the time, and if you'll excuse me, I have a life to live."
The girls got up before Michael could push them out of his office. They didn't want a repeat of what happened with Angela Evans. They knew it had to be Michael who framed Sandy Klassen. However, they had no proof. They would need to find something concrete, like a paper trail or a recorded conversation. There had to be something incriminating to prove Michael fabricated the evidence. That being said, Jelena and Karli decided to break into his office on the weekend.
* * * * *
The four of them entered the college at ten o'clock on Saturday evening. Dressed in black, they snuck into the Art Building like a band of ninjas. They moved furtively through the back entrance to avoid being seen by the nighttime security guard. Lukas used a paper clip to open the door to Michael Smith's office. Jelena and Karli searched the shelves and the credenza for half an hour, but they found nothing. Michael's desk drawers were all locked. One by one, Jesse pried them open with a crow bar. He discovered journals from the 1990s and early 2000s that were written when people still kept paper diaries. Twenty years ago, the professor had composed some fascinating entries.
"March 11, 1995: I found the password for the main computer in the office. If I can figure out how to manipulate the grading software, then I can change the marks of everyone in Sandy's classes for the past four years. I can make him look like a pushover, or a guy who's accepting kickbacks."
"April 20, 1995: The term is over, and all the marks are entered. If I sneak into the building on Saturday night, then I can inflate the grades for all of Sandy's students from 1992 to 1995."
"April 27, 1995: I've started gathering the items. Today I picked up a gold watch, a silver pen, and a postal money order. I'm gonna tag them tomorrow. Then next week I'll stick them on Sandy's desk."
"May 2, 1995: I just tipped off the prez and the dean. All hell is about to break loose. Au revoir, Sandy."
The four musketeers rearranged the office to look the same way it had been when they broke into it. Jesse kept the 1995 journal and tucked it in the inside pocket of his jacket. Lukas reset the lock on the door on his way out. After the quartet crept out of the office, they heard the security guard walking through the hallway. He briefly shined a flashlight in their direction. They ducked into a storage closet until the guard took the stairs back down to the main floor. For an hour, they waited in the dark until it was almost midnight. Then they tip-toed out of the building and ran home to their apartments, guided by the fragile light of a crescent moon.
* * * * *
The next day, the four of them met with President Bjorn Affleck and Dean Curtis Hemsworth in the grad lounge on the second floor of the Art Building. They sat in a booth in the back of the establishment and ordered pumpkin spice lattes. A sweet vanilla smell wafted through the lounge. The brew tasted like a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, but no actual pumpkin. Jesse placed Michael Smith's 1995 journal on the table in front of them. Dr. Affleck opened the diary to the bookmarked sections and read the incriminating entries from that fateful year.
"I'm not going to ask how you found this," said Dr. Affleck.
"He's our art history teacher," said Jelena. "We were discussing the first essay when we stumbled upon it."
"I read Michael's personnel file," said Dr. Hemsworth. "He was always an ambitious man hungry for tenure."
"He was also a bitter man who was jealous of Sandy's talent, his looks, and his rapport with his students," Dr. Affleck added.
"So the green-eyed monster was really to blame for all of this," Jesse concluded.
"You could say that," Dr. Hemsworth replied. "It must've been hard for Michael to share an office with a man who was clearly better than he was."
"We can't keep Michael," Dr. Affleck decided. "What he did was criminal behavior that led to another man's death."
"Thank you for bringing this to our attention," Dr. Hemsworth said to the fourth years.
"You're welcome," they said in unison.
* * * * *
Michael Smith was eventually let go from Hayley Woods College. His classes were assumed by two other professors in the Department of Art. Jesse, Jelena, Lukas, and Karli memorized all their lines for their production of The Tempest. Their first performance was held on November 27 under Dan's direction. Theatre majors built the sets, and students from the Textiles department tailored all the costumes.
The opening night in the auditorium was a roaring success. There was not a single hitch in the program. The audience tossed bouquets toward Jelena and Karli. The girls picked up their flowers before the cast linked arms and took a bow. The velvet curtains closed, and they hurried toward the backstage area for the cast party. The actors toasted each other with champagne and ate canapés from a home-based caterer. Jesse gave Jelena a huge hug and a kiss. She was wearing a diamond engagement ring that he had given her two months earlier. Lukas put his arm around Karli while they sat on an old futon beside the girls' dressing room.
Their cast party ended at half past midnight. The four of them changed out of their costumes and left the auditorium. They walked through the hallway with endorphins and alcohol pumping through their veins. The campus radio station CJHW was still playing its usual blend of pop-rock anthems. After a 3 Doors Down track called "Not My Time" ended, the foreboding Staind song "Right Here" began playing. Once again, the ghost of Sandy Klassen appeared before them.
"I just wanted to thank you kids," Sandy said.
"So this is what you look like," remarked Jesse.
"You're younger than I thought," Lukas told him.
"The good die young," Sandy mused. "At least my name is cleared."
"You can rest in peace now," Jelena said. "Not that I want you to be gone or anything."
"I think he knows what you mean," Karli assured her.
"There's an old saying," Sandy whispered. "The good guys always win."
The Staind song continued as Sandy's apparition grew increasingly thinner. The four of them saw a light shining through the window beside the Carson Library. The ghost moved toward the source of the illumination. He laughed for the first time as he soared through the air. His dark blond hair glowed until it looked golden, and his steely blue eyes sparkled. Just before he vanished completely, he gave them the two-finger peace sign.
After Sandy Klassen was exonerated, his photo was returned to the picture board of his graduating class on the wall beside the President's Office. A local artist named Viktor Tankian carved a statue of Sandy out of marble. The life-sized sculpture was placed on display near the circular granite fountain in the main quad. The epitaph "Alexander 'Sandy' Klassen (1964-1995)" was engraved on the plinth in script lettering. A scholarship was also set up in Sandy's name to help artists from disadvantaged backgrounds in the pursuit of their degrees. Twenty years after his wrongful dismissal, Hayley Woods finally let Sandy Klassen rest in peace.
Death warmed over.
Sun Oct 04, 2015 5:48 pm
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