(part 1 of 6)
“There are no such things as ghosts! I am sick and tired of you boys trying to scare us all the time with your stupid stories about ghouls and goblins. You’re especially sickening around Halloween! You’re so-o-o-oh boring.” Natalie was expressing her disdain at her brother and his friends’ constant stories about spooks.
Her younger brother, Jamie, answered angrily, “You’ll be sorry, Natalie. You’re gonna miss out on the chance of a lifetime. I mean it! That new boy at school, you know the one I mean, I heard you and Josie talking about him, he’s...”
Natalie stamped her foot and she screamed, “Mama, Jamie won’t leave me alone and he’s been sneaking around listening to Josie and me again!”
Their Mother entered the bathroom, appearing tired and quite fed up. “Jamie,” she said, “Get out of this room and leave your sister alone and both of you had better get yourselves ready for school. The bus will be here in five minutes and Natalie, speaking of Josie, she’s been waiting for you downstairs for ten minutes. Now come on you two, please stop this infernal bickering!”
Jamie kissed his Mother on the cheek , ran down the stairs toward the front door. He called out to her in passing, “Sorry Mom, I wasn’t trying to start trouble. Love ya! See you after school!” He left before his Mother had a chance to say anything and headed straight for his best friend Daniel’s house, three doors down the street.
His Mom said to the closing door, “Oh Jamie, I love you too.” And to her daughter, “Natalie, hurry up! I have an important appointment this morning and don’t have time to drive you girls to school. You can’t miss the bus today!”
Jamie and Daniel sat in their usual seats in the rear of the bus. From this vantage point they could take their pick of all those who rode the bus and figure out who would be the object of their attention and harassment on any given day. Natalie and Josie were their favorite victims. “Not today!” exclaimed Jamie to Daniel, “Natalie’s in one of her we’re so-o-o-oh boring moods and anyway we have to pay attention and be sure to save a seat back here for Devlin when the bus gets to his stop.”
Daniel’s usual impish smile left his face. “You mean that new kid?” he remarked. “Jeese Jamie, he’s weird and besides that he’s almost ancient! He’s fifteen, same as Natalie and Josie, and you know how strange, I mean mega-mega strange, they are. I guess a ten-year-old kid’s gotta have a role model these days but what ever happened to Spider Man?”
Daniel quieted abruptly as the bus made its final stop on the very edge of the small town. The lone boy at the bus stop seemed to take forever to board the bus. Once on board, he walked, eyes forward, straight to the back of the bus. He was tall and gangly, dressed in dark levis, a black pullover shirt... and.. boots. Natalie and Josie were tittering, boarding on conniption. “Kinda cute,” Natalie voiced in a whispered hiss, “But who wears boots? So-o-o-oh out of it.”
“Uh, hi Devlin,” Daniel mumbled as he moved over, giving the older boy plenty of room in their precious back seat.
Devlin sat down. “Hello Daniel,” he said. “Hi Jamie, what’s your sister’s name? I believe I share a few classes with her.”
His voice was low, kinda with-it, Jamie thought, yeah and at the same time, straight and formal. Maybe Daniel was right, still... He shook his shaggy head and answered Devlin. “Ah, never mind her, she’s just a girl! Now come on, tell Daniel about that old house. He don’t believe me. Tell him about the child ghost!”
Devlin’s face grew dark before their very eyes. He seemed about to fly into a rage but, when he answered, spoke directly to Jamie, almost whispering and looking straight into his eyes. “Jamie, I thought we were friends. I don’t usually talk about what I talked to you about, about... Henry. It is not a mere story and most certainly not some silly prank. I thought I had spoken to you in confidence.” He glanced at Daniel. “I’m sorry, Daniel. I didn’t intend to ignore you but please try to forget whatever Jamie has told you about this. Henry... is gone, forever gone.”
The big yellow bus screeched to a stop. Jamie and Daniel rose from their seats to exit with the rest of the elementary age students. Jamie called out, “See ya tonight, Devlin!” He couldn’t resist a tweak of the short hairs on the back of Natalie’s neck as he made his way down the aisle past her seat. “Tater ho, Natalie!” he giggled, “I got your tater ho!” The driver shook his head and sighed with relief as his orneriest passenger jumped from the bus.
Daniel watched Jamie as the bus pulled away in the direction of the high school. Jamie felt him staring and said, “”Look at that, will you? The best seat on the whole damned bus and he’s got it all to himself. That guy is so cool!”
Daniel grimaced. “Jamie, you’d better quit that cussing. You’ll forget again at home and your Mom will have you cleaning the garage ‘til you’re ninety years old! And you better stay away from that guy. Did you hear his voice when he said Henry? Like the kid was right there on the bus with us! Who the hell’s Henry anyway? Oops! Now ya got me cussing! Come on, we’re gonna be late again. Booga, booga!”
Jamie had never felt a day drag like the remainder of that awful day. How could Devlin behave the way he did on the bus, he wondered. A week ago, when he’d first moved into the neighborhood, Jamie and he had hit off immediately. He’d even taken Devlin to Skip Rock Pond. That’s when they’d noticed the old house. “I lived there once,” Devlin had said. “There is blood in that house. There’s an evil spirit there. I guess normal people would say it is haunted. Not if they knew Henry, poor poor Henry.”
“Jamie White! Jamie Jones White! Come to the front of the room this minute!” Mrs. Snodgrass was livid. “Wake up, Jamie!”
Jamie was disoriented. “Uh... okay Henry, it’s okay... Really, blood... Uh, I’ll get Devlin... Sheesh!” Jamie had never fallen asleep in class before. He felt like he was in the middle of a terrible dream.
Mrs. Snodgrass was standing over him, arms akimbo. “My name is not Henry! What’s that you said about blood? Young man, have you been reading those awful comic books again? I’ll have to talk with your Mother! Sleeping in class... I never!”
Now he’d had it. Jamie was desperate, attempted to recoup. “Sorry, Mrs. Snodlin... Uh.. uh. I mean, Mrs. Sneadgross... Oh boy!”
Jamie was so concerned about facing his Mother that he ignored Daniel on the bus ride home and forgot all about Devlin until the bus stopped and he saw the lone figure get up from the back seat and head for the exit. Jamie watched him standing at the lonely bus stop until the bus went around a corner and he could no longer see the tall dark figure standing, unmoving. Where did he go?
“Got your tater ho!” Natalie had gotten the jump on him and at the same time interrupted his thoughts of Devlin and scared him half out of his wits. He was so out of it he didn’t notice the bus had stopped on the street where he lived.
“Natalie, you nerd!” he yelled. He ran down the aisle, leaped the steps in a single bound, and was gaining on his sister, arms flailing, when he spotted their Mother in the front yard.
She had her arms folded, very bad sign. Looked like her lips were glued together tight. Jamie gave her a smile full of white teeth. “Hi ya, Mom!”
She would not be put off so easily. Her mouth came unglued. “Don’t you hi ya Mom me! You will write one thousand times, I will not sleep or daydream in class. Jamie, you are just too much sometimes!”
“He tater-hoed me, Mother, right in front of God and everyone on the bus. I was so-o-o-oh embarrassed.” Jamie bit his lip. Natalie wasn’t about to miss this chance for a shot at him.
Maybe a change of subject. “Mom, me and Daniel were planning to go to the bike hills today.” Jamie figured he might as well go for broke.
His Mother pointed toward the house. “Jamie, it’s I, Daniel and I, but never mind. You get in there this minute and start writing.”
She glanced at Natalie. “Natalie, we’ll figure out the tater ho later.” Her eyes returned to Jamie, a stern look on her face. “Jamie, no bike riding. Now up to your room with you!”
Jamie gave up and went quietly to his room. Now if he could just find that pen. The ink in it wrote just like carbon paper. If he could get five copies, that’s two hundred instead of a thousand. He was always better at math anyway. Gotta mix the copies up with the original, he thought, and use clean paper, no smudges. If he couldn’t find the pen, he’d have to throw away the originals. Ah, there it was.