“Well, it’s fairly safe to say that we’ll be going up there,” Rebecca said. “Can you tell me—us – about—what we could expect?”
Kelly rubbed her hands up and down her arms as if she were cold. “I think I should keep showing you around.” She walked out of the room as Dex came around to me and held out the ball.
“Touch it,” he said.
I grimaced, pushing his arm away. “No. That’s a dead kid’s toy.”
“But you’re so good with balls.”
He put the ball on top of the first bed and we hurried after the two of them. Kelly led us back the way we came and down toward the classrooms. Almost all the doors were closed so we just read the signs on them as we walked past. Mrs. Collins. Mrs. Keats. Mr. Murphy. Ms. Ross. There were about fifteen rooms in total and the last ones we’d come across as we went further into the west wing were all the artistic electives.
“We’re an arts school,” Kelly explained, “but we still believe in having a proper, well-rounded education. Most of the teachers here just teach the basics for each grade—math, English, science, history. But two hours of every day the kids get to take art classes, and that’s where the teaching becomes more specialized. Like Brenna, here.”
We came to a stop outside an open door and peered inside. The room was covered in paintings with paint splattered stools and stacks of easels in the corner. At a large desk was a woman asleep, dark brown hair pooled all around her.
Kelly cleared her throat. “Like Brenna here,” she said a bit louder, but even then her voice was quiet as a mouse.
“Brenna!” Dex yelled.
I smacked him on the chest as the woman jumped up from her sleep, her hair all in her face. “What? What?”
“You’re a jerk,” I told him.
He shrugged. “Got the job done, didn’t I? Don’t say I’m not a man of results.”
Kelly waved at Brenna who was trying to clear her messy desk and appear like someone who hadn’t just fallen asleep on the job. “Hey, Brenna, sorry to wake you. The ghost hunters are here.”
Brenna got out of her chair and smiled at us. “Hi,” she said exuberantly. For some reason I was expecting Brenna to look like a meek and put-upon person but that wasn’t the case. She was young-looking, maybe just a few years older than me, with wavy brown hair and an apple-cheeked glow about her. “I’m Brenna McIntosh.”
“I’ll leave you guys with her now,” Kelly said politely before walking off down the hall like a wisp of a person.
“Can I tell you how happy I am to meet you?” Brenna said as she came around the desk. Dressed in boot-cut jeans and a black tunic, she seemed even more personable. She stopped in front of me and pulled me into a hug. “Sorry, I’m a hugger,” she said to my back while I was brought forward into a cloud of strawberry perfume.
“That’s okay,” I told her, getting my bearings as soon as she released me. “I guess you watch the show?”
“All the time,” she said proudly. She looked over at Dex. “And you, I loved you in the Sasquatch episode, well at least the parts of it that you were allowed to air. But poor Twatwaffle.”
He stuck out his lower lip in mock sympathy then sighed. “Yes. Thank god all good llamas go to heaven.”
She didn’t seem to catch on—or she didn’t mind—his sarcasm because she went onto Rebecca next. “And you must be the new manager. You’re doing a great job.”
I could have sworn Rebecca blushed at that. “Thank you.”
“Brenna,” Dex began, “do you mind if we talk to you on camera? Is this a good time?”
“No problem,” she said. “I’ve been preparing for this. It’s too bad I fell asleep, I probably ruined my Hollywood face.” She burst into a flurry of giggles.
“You look great,” I reassured her as Dex touched my shoulder and let me know he was running out to the car.
“So are you sure you’re okay with us filming right here today?” Rebecca prodded, ever mindful of a lawsuit. When Brenna nodded she went on, “Even with the kids and everything?”
“Oh,” she said, “well I guess you shouldn’t really film the kids. I mean, interview them and such. I think we would need permission for that. On camera, of course. Off camera I think it’s fine.”
“But doesn’t the school care if the school—or their kids—are being featured in a ghost hunting show? That’s bound to scare a lot of the parents, isn’t it?” I asked. I know I’d be concerned.
She leaned forward, her hair swinging in her face. “Davenport doesn’t care. She’s been wanting to build a brand new school since the other one burnt down. As far as she’s concerned, she doesn’t care if parents get scared. It will only make them want a better school, the one she thinks we deserve.”
“And what do you think?” Rebecca asked.
Brenna’s eyes darted around the room. “I’d have to agree. I need this job though and I can’t chance getting hired elsewhere. If we could move, I would be a lot happier.”
At least it explained why they were so willing to go on camera. Still, with that amount of determination and attention, a part of me wondered if the whole thing wasn’t exaggerated a little. Perhaps the little boy and his bouncing ball were a fake, perhaps we’d already been lied to. Perhaps there were no ghosts, just a faculty who really wanted a new school.
I looked quickly at Rebecca and I could see from the skeptical raise to her forehead that she was thinking the same thing. It was better to start treating this episode with a side of caution.
It wasn’t long before Dex came trotting back into the room with his camera in hand. His eyes were dancing, his body buzzing with adrenaline. “Get this,” he said, raising his camera up and flipping the viewfinder around for us to see. He pressed play, and as our four heads all converged around the screen, we watched as he filmed the ground, a paper plane lying at his feet. He picked it up and then aimed the camera up to the roof of the building. Within seconds, another paper plane came sailing down, barely visible against the foggy sky before it drifted lazily on an air current.
“There were only two planes,” he said, placing the camera down and pulling one of the paper planes out of his pocket, rubbing it between his fingers. “But still, I think that’s got to count for something.” He looked at Brenna. “Does anyone have access to the roof?”
She didn’t look shocked. “Just the custodian. I can get the keys. It’s locked for safety reasons.”
“So then it had to be a ghost,” he said.
“Unless the custodian’s taken up a new hobby,” Rebecca said, though I knew what she was thinking. Davenport herself or even Kelly could be up on the roof, tossing paper planes over the side, knowing they’d provide a pretty good show. “Brenna was just telling us that Ms. Davenport doesn’t mind if the school is featured on the show because they’re hoping the parents will want to move their kids into a newer school.” She stared hard at Dex, trying to pass on the message without saying anything more.
“Oh,” he said. He looked at Brenna. “Tell me, sweetcheeks, you wouldn’t happen to be pulling our leg about the whole ghost shit in order to get a new school, now would ya?” Leave it to Dex to be so direct. I knew for a fact that his bullshitting tolerance was pretty damn low.
Brenna’s mouth turned down, her eyes becoming rounder. “No. No, not at all. This is all real. And it’s only happening to me. No one else. They all feel it, they all believe me, but they don’t see it like I do. In fact, it’s gotten worse since I got here, at least that’s what some of the assholes here say, like it’s my fucking—sorry—my damn, fault. But I’m still the only one who gets haunted here. Me and a few students.”
“Jody,” Dex said slowly.
She nodded fervently. “Yes, Jody. They love her. Kyle too.” She stopped and looked at me. “You have to believe me, this is happening. I want to leave. I want to go to the new school. And if you guys can’t make the haunting stop, then at least the show will push the parents to make the move happen.”
“You do realize that we aren’t ghost whisperers,” Dex said sternly. “Perry and I, we just see them. Our job isn’t to fix anything, it’s just to record it, report it.”
“Like batshit journalists,” I filled in. “Hacks. But we don’t banish anyone or anything.”
Except for that one time, I thought back to The Benson. I had to say that felt pretty good.
“I know that,” she said, and for once her expression wasn’t so jovial. “I’m just getting tired of this. And desperate. Please, you have to believe me.”
Rebecca walked over to a chair and pulled it out. “Here, love. Why don’t you sit down and we’ll start getting to the bottom of this.”
Brenna smiled gratefully and took a seat. “Okay. We have about an hour until my next class, but I should be able to wrap it up by then. If I start wasting footage, just let me know.”
Dex quickly got the camera set up and I pulled up a chair next to Brenna, feeling like a chump in my hoodie. Rebecca put wireless mics on the two of us and we got started.
I asked Brenna to go back to the beginning, from when she first started at the school. She’d only been hired at the start of the semester. The last teacher quit and no one really knows why. One day she had a nervous breakdown and resigned. According to her student Jody, it was someone called Shawna that made the teacher leave. Brenna said she eventually found out who Shawna was, along with Elliot. Both of them Jody described as her imaginary friends. When teaching first graders, imaginary friends weren’t normal but they weren’t that uncommon, either.
“At first,” she said, “the only odd things that happened were just Jody talking about Elliot and Shawna as if they were real people. Often children with imaginary friends still know that they are imaginary. But Jody acted like they were as real as her other classmates. Only…” she trailed off, her brow furrowing. “Only Shawna wasn’t someone that Jody liked…Jody feared her. That was another thing I found odd – I’d never heard of an imaginary enemy before.”
“Not unless the kid is batshit crazy,” Dex commented. I shot him a dirty look to which he shrugged.
She nodded. “I know. But Jody seemed well-rounded. And then when her classmate Kyle started talking about Elliot, I knew something was happening. They weren’t messing with me, either. I’m pretty quick to see through children’s games.” She paused to look us each in the eye, playing with the timing of the story like a good teacher would do. “Then, I saw Elliot for myself.”
I sucked in my breath as she continued.
“It was back in February, a month after I started. A huge snowstorm had set in on the coast, which was unusual. We get a lot of bad storms here throughout the year, but snow was rare. And so the power went out at the school and the kids were all sent home around noon before the snow really got going. We have a generator here but Davenport was worried about the roads becoming impassible.”
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