Alice wasn’t sure what was worse—that she’d lied to her parents or that she was going through with something stupid for the sake of approval.
It was a dreary October afternoon. Clouds had been blocking out the sun all day, only allowing a few dim rays of sunshine to seep through their grey gloom. A chilly breeze rustled the last dying leaves in the trees and stirred their fallen brethren as Alice made her way down the sidewalk. Her pale green dress and white duster whipped behind her, and the loose bits of white hair that wouldn’t fit in her blue scrunchie kept lashing at her cheeks and glasses. Her brown loafers padded noisily on the concrete, occasionally crunching a leaf underfoot. She shifted her canvas backpack to adjust the weight, as it was much heavier than she usually kept it. After all, her backpack contained more than her schoolbooks and notepads today. Today, thirteen year old Alice Morse carried with her a book that her mother usually kept stashed away on a shelf that she couldn’t reach without a ladder.
The more she thought about her parents, the guiltier it made Alice feel. The last thing she wanted to think about right now was her parents. Her parents, Phoebe Morse and Ludo Morse, were, in her opinion, the best parents any girl could ask for. Her father was the owner of the trains that ran all throughout her homeland of Tohaku, and as such, it made the Morses quite wealthy. Still, being an important businessman didn’t stop her father from being supportive of his family. He was always setting aside time to spend with her and his wife. Alice loved his stories, and though she’d never say it to his face, his painfully corny jokes. He was goofy, loving, and supportive, made plainly obvious when he would make breakfast for the family (and even set places for their pets) or take them all on exquisite vacations in far off regions. To him, Alice could do no wrong, and sadly to say, she knew she was taking advantage of that.
Her mother, on the other hand, starkly juxtaposed her father. Her mother, or ‘Maty’ as she was often referred to, was hardly goofy or corny. She exuded power and elegance, something Alice had always admired. Her mother always seemed composed and collected, and she wasn’t always one for lighthearted conversation. In fact, Alice found herself intimidated of her mother, and for good reason. Phoebe Morse was a world acclaimed bounty hunter, skilled in swordsmanship and hand-to-hand combat. Though she’d never gotten to see her mother take down any criminals firsthand, she’d witnessed her training in their home, and needless to say, it made her scared for whoever was going up against her. However, that wasn’t to say Alice didn’t love her. Her mother was her go-to for serious advice and questions about the world around her. Alice loved learning from her seemingly all-knowing mother. Of course, Alice knew that her mother wasn’t all-knowing—the whole Morse family had a thirst for knowledge, and they all read and researched constantly. But Alice was baffled by how much her mother knew sometimes. It was her mother that had taught Alice to speak her native tongue of Ukrainian, and often they had discussions about the history of their kind.
That always seemed to be a problem for Alice, however. Though she was intrigued by her kind, the Ghost types, and she had great respect for her parents, the painful truth behind it all was that their kind was feared all over the world. She had read stories about how people used to be so afraid of ghosts that they’d drive themselves to insanity to rid themselves of them—from burning, stabbing, stoning, beheading, to exorcisms, there was no limit to what people would do to drive them away or kill them. Of course, all of those things were in the past. Nobody Alice knew was plotting to kill her or her parents solely because of their type.
But just because they weren’t threatening to kill them didn’t mean that they weren’t afraid of them. Alice didn’t want to blame them because it was so ingrained in other types to fear them, but all the little actions taken against them saddened her. Parents with small children often stayed on the opposite side of the street from her and her parents and it was hard for Alice to make friends in school. She had tried to make herself seem less threatening by letting people go in front of her at lunch or letting people copy her homework (and in some cases, do their homework for them), but nothing seemed to get people to be less scared of her. Some of the kids murmured about how she and her parents ate people who walked into their house by accident or how if she got angry enough, she’d kill everyone in your family and cut out your tongue so you couldn’t tell anybody about it. Her parents tried to comfort her by telling her that they were ignorant and were just repeating the hateful things their parents had said, but it didn’t make her feel much better. She was an outsider, and kids made sure she stayed that way.
That was, until a week ago. Alice was sitting alone at lunch, as she always did, eating the peanut-butter and banana sandwich her father had packed her. She had been startled when a group of three kids slammed their lunch trays on the table and nearly fell out of her seat. The kids snickered a bit at her reaction and whispered something about how, for a ghost, she sure scared easily.
“H-Hello,” Alice had stuttered, trying to regain her composure. She readjusted her round-framed glasses and put on a big smile, just like her father had taught her on the first day of school. “My name is Alice—”
“We know who you are,” a Poochyena boy rudely interrupted. Alice recognized him as Garrett York, whom with she shared an advanced Geometry class. Normally, he was aloof and didn’t care much for studying. His black hair was, as she liked to describe, intentionally messy, much like the rest of him. People liked Garrett because he had a ‘too cool to care’ attitude, and he maintained his scruffy appearance using AXE body spray, wrinkled black clothes, and hair gel. His lips curled into his signature grin, making girls all across the cafeteria swoon. His face was thin and he was pleasant enough to look at, but Alice had never really been interested in Garrett. She thought he wasn’t being genuine about who he was. “You’re Alice Morse. I’m Garrett, we have a Geometry class together,”
“Yeah, I know. You sit behind—”
“Colm Stonewall,” Alice was interrupted again, this time by a Geodude boy. Unlike Garrett, he had a shaved head with a bit of brown fuzz where his hair probably used to be. He wore a dingy white tank top that had dirt smeared onto it. Alice assumed he’d probably tried to wipe it out before, but he hadn’t completely succeeded. His cargo pants and sneakers had the same kind of stains as his shirt, and overall, he looked unkempt. Everyone knew him as the goalie on the local junior soccer league, and he was quite boisterous. Alice hadn’t really gotten to know him well, as she wasn’t much interested in sports. “That’s me,”
This time, Alice didn’t say anything. She waited until the third person, a Petlil girl, spoke up. “And I’m Priscilla Greene,” In comparison to the two boys, Priscilla was tidy. In fact, she looked like Alice a bit. Her pale green hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail, held by a silk bow. Her dress was covered in green bows and white lace, matching her shoes and socks. Alice had a physical education class with her, but Priscilla had always acted coldly towards her. She found it odd that she was choosing to be polite now, of all times.
Alice wasn’t sure what to say to any of them. She was a bit afraid to speak up and find out. Her nervousness was only amplified when her eyes darted away from the three in front of her to see that practically the entire cafeteria was staring at them. Nobody ever sat with her, especially not kids with upstanding reputations like Garrett, Colm, and Priscilla. Alice cleared her throat and smiled again, attempting to be polite.
“So…um, is there something I can help you all with?” she asked, her voice more timid than intended.
“What, can we not sit here?” Garrett asked, the three of them already eating their school lunches. He didn’t look at Alice as he ate. None of them did.
“Well, you can,” she returned, still perplexed. “But…why? Wouldn’t you rather sit somewhere without me?” Priscilla was the first to look up from her lunch.
“No,” she answered, her tone unusually kind considering who she was speaking to. “We want to sit here with you, that’s all,”
“Didn’t anybody tell you not to look a gift horse in the mouth?” Colm interjected, still shoving his face with tater tots smothered in ketchup. Afterwards, he yelped, probably from Garrett pinching him. Though Alice was still bewildered, she decided to take Colm’s advice and eat the rest of her lunch with them. They didn’t talk the rest of the lunch period.
The next day, Alice found herself in the same position. Garrett, Colm, and Priscilla were sitting with her again. Only this time, they weren’t completely silent. They talked about Geometry class with Mr. Harrison and other school related things. Alice was still wary of them, but she was slowly opening up to them. When she’d gone home that day, she’d been lively and told her parents about her new friends. They were happy that she’d finally made some friends and let her talk as long as she wanted about them.
This continued all throughout the week, but as the days went on, her companions began to talk less about school affairs and began asking Alice questions about Ghost type things. They wanted to know if she could float, possess TVs (and people), and all of the preconceived notions they’d had about her. Alice had answered them as best she could, but something in her gut had told her that she shouldn’t be talking to them about things like that, especially not in a crowded cafeteria that had become intrigued with her sudden popularity. She had tried to push this feeling down and ignore it. After all, she finally had people who would talk to her. She couldn’t give that up just because she had a feeling.
On Thursday, they sat with her again. Unlike the previous two days, though, they were noticeably quieter. None of them would look at Alice. Their gazes shifted back and forth to each other, as if they were trying to say something without using any words. Confused, Alice waved her hand a bit and piped up, “Um…guys?”
Finally, the trio of kids broke their ever-shifting gaze with each other and looked to the Litwick girl. Their smiles were synchronized, something that creeped Alice out a bit.
“Hey, Alice,” Priscilla started, using an unusually friendly tone. “We’re all friends, right?”
Alice rose an eyebrow, but she wiped the odd look off of her face and replaced it with a shy smile. “Well, I think so, anyway,” she admitted.
“Friends do stuff together, don’t they?” Colm added, his boisterous tone oddly sweet, like he was trying to persuade her into doing something.
“Um…” Alice was feeling more than uncomfortable now. “Yes, they do…”
“Well, we’re asking because we’re planning to hang out in the old elementary school a few blocks away tomorrow after school,” Garrett told her, locking his red eyes with Alice’s golden ones. She squirmed under his gaze. “Y’know, the one where those kids disappeared?”
Alice knew exactly which elementary school he was talking about. Bennett Elementary school had closed long before any of them had been born because the previous students had all gotten sick from asbestos poisoning. The building had fallen into a state of disrepair. A few years before any of the students in their school had been born, three high school kids entered the abandoned building on a dare from their upperclassmen and never returned. It had been like they’d never existed in the first place. Police had combed the entire building repeatedly, but there was no evidence, no trace of any of the children. The case eventually went cold, but the story of the children never faded away. Students passed on the story and warped it into a sick rumor about three ghosts waiting to possess any living person who passed through the condemned building. Alice’s parents assured her that it was all fantasy made up to ward children away from the danger of asbestos poisoning, but that didn’t mean that the rumor didn’t scare her a little. Alice remained quiet and looked away from his gaze.
“You know about the rumor, don’t you?” Colm asked.
“Of course I do,” Alice retorted, pushing her glasses up on the bridge of her nose. “Why do you want to go there, anyway?”
“’Cause we wanna check it out,” Garrett said. “No problem in checking it out, is there?”
“There is one problem,” Priscilla interjected. “The ghosts of those kids. There’s no way I’m getting possessed by some creepy old ghost,” She shuddered, disgusted by the thought.
“As dumb as it sounds, I’m with Priscilla on this one,” Colm agreed, nodding his head. “I can’t get possessed. I have regional championships next Friday!”
“So, we want you to come with us,” Garrett finished, finally getting to the point.
“You’re a Ghost type. Can’t you ward them off with your presence or something?”
Alice looked surprised at the three of them. They didn’t seem like the type to believe in corny rumors like that. “No, not really,” she admitted sheepishly. “I can’t ward the ‘ghosts’ off. I can only see them clearer than anyone else can,” Priscilla groaned.
“See, I told you guys,” she whined. “She’s not gonna help us. I bet she can’t even do anything to get them away from us!”
“Typical,” Colm scoffed. “I knew she wasn’t all she cracked up to be,”
Alice was starting to feel hurt. These kids were supposed to be her friends. Why were they acting like she owed them anything? As hurt as she felt about it, she didn’t want to be friendless again. She wasn’t sure that she could face that loneliness again.
“Wait!” Alice cried. “I may not be able to scare them off just by being there, but there is something that I can do,”
“Like what?” Garrett asked.
“My mother has a book of spells in our library somewhere,” Alice told them. “I’m not very good at magic, but I know I could perform a simple protection spell to keep them off of you,” The three others seemed intrigued. Their gazes darted to each other, and their smiles grew even wider.
“Okay. Show up at the school at 3:45 tomorrow with that book, and don’t be late,” Garrett said, his voice almost sinister in tone.
Alice went home that day with a bad feeling in her stomach. Even when she was greeted by her loving parents, Alice couldn’t shake the feeling. The whole evening, she’d been dodgy and quiet about the affair at lunch. How could you explain to your parents that you were going to try and cast magic for the sake of her so-called ‘friends’? Her mother would never approve. She didn’t believe that magic needed to be used as something to impress others with. She was secretive in her magic and expected Alice to be the same. Her father just flat out would have forbidden her to speak to her friends again. He was always telling her that if people expected you to do something for them in exchange for their friendship, then they weren’t worth her friendship. But they didn’t understand. It had been forever since they had to worry about making friends. So she was going to have to rebel in order to get what she wanted.
Ever since Alice had set her hands on the spellbook, she felt guilty. It was a rare, ancient text that must have cost a lot of money to get a hold of. But despite the guilt tugging at her conscience, Alice had snuck it into her backpack along with all the other necessary materials she’d need to perform the spell. She’d told her parents that morning that she was going over to the public library to find a new book series to read. The once small guilt grew and grew as the day wore on, and it was eating at her. Several times, she’d questioned if it was really what she’d wanted to do, but she had come too far for her friends to give up now.
Alice turned the corner and, in the short distance, saw the abandoned school. It was no worse for the wear than it usually was. The outside was still fairly intact, though the bricks had been overtaken by ivy vines. A few of the windows had been broken out, presumably by some other kids that came before them. Leaves were stuck into the chainlink fence along with pieces of tissue paper and other garbage. She found it a little sad that garbage was strewn everywhere, but she supposed that came with the whole ‘condemned’ thing. She looked at the fence and noticed that there wasn’t an entrance. How was she supposed to get in? Maybe she could levitate over…
“Alice!” Priscilla shouted. Alice’s gaze drifted upwards to see Priscilla and Colm emerging from the east side of the building. She guessed that they had been hanging out there out of sight so that nobody would get suspicious. Alice waved at her friends and started to levitate off the ground. She wasn’t sure how high she could go before she would drop, but she hoped that she could at least make it over the fence. They stopped halfway across the lawn as they witnessed Alice safely levitate over the fence. From what she could see, they were gawking at her, which quickly made her self-conscious. Had she made the wrong decision?
“Hurry up! We wanna get inside!” Garrett shouted as he finally made his appearance. Priscilla and Colm quickly made their way to his side, and Alice jogged rather pathetically across the lawn. She wasn’t one for jogging, but she finally caught up to her friends in time. Once she caught her breath, the four of them began to make their way around the back of the school. Apparently, Colm had found a door on the school that wasn’t jammed or locked, and they could easily get in. The door they had found led into a classroom. All of the small desks were still there, their designs dated. A chalkboard on the wall was littered with graffiti, all of which was illegible chicken scratch to Alice. Immediately, Alice felt dread pool in her stomach. She wanted to get out of this place. There was something deeply wrong here, even though she couldn’t understand what it was exactly.
“Ugh, this place creeps me out…” Priscilla groaned, crossing her arms firmly over her chest.
“C’mon, don’t be a baby,” Colm huffed. He grinned at Alice. “We’ve got her here to make it safe, right? Why don’t you get on with that?”
Alice, preoccupied with the sense of wrongness, fiddled with the sleeves of her duster.
“Guys, we shouldn’t be here,” she warned. “Something’s wrong here…really, really wrong. We should go hang out someplace else,”
“Don’t tell me you’re chickening out on us!” Colm exclaimed, an angry expression on his face. He crossed his arms over his chest too, but more out of anger than fear. “We thought you were cool, but I guess we were wrong,”
“Dude, forget this,” Colm interrupted, turning his gaze to Garrett. “I told you she was gonna chicken out. She’s not scary at all. I bet she still sleeps with a nightlight on!”
That did it for Alice. It didn’t matter how scared she was now. She had to prove to her friends that she was no chicken. She frowned and slung her backpack off of her shoulders, dropping it on the ground. She knelt to the floor and unzipped it, pulling out six white candles, a piece of charcoal, and the book. The book was the most interesting thing she had, of course. The cover was in bound leather, detailed with a pentagram and magical symbols. The pages were yellow and tattered with age, and a few had ink splattered on them. Colm’s complaints suddenly turned quiet as Alice picked up the charcoal and began drawing a circle with a pentagram in it on the floor, making sure to draw all of the magical symbols as accurately as she could. As soon as it was drawn, she set the candles at each point of the pentagram and lit them with the powers of her Fire-type. Once they were lit, she opened the book and began carefully going through each page, making sure that she didn’t accidentally tear a page out. She had to be careful with a book this old. Once she finally found the page for a protection spell, she set the book down and sat on her knees in front of it. Before she began to read from it, she took a small lock of her hair and burned it off, placing it in the middle of the circle. After all, she couldn’t perform magic if she didn’t offer something in return.
“Benedicat terra Dominum: videte manus meas,” she began, calling upon the earth to aid her in casting the spell. Then, she looked down at the spellbook and began reading from it. “Mala ab intus pone muros. Neve in subductus a malo,” Slowly, the charcoal began to glow a dim blue, and the light of the candles blew away from the inside of the circle.
“What’s going on?!” she wailed, recoiling from the circle like it was death. “What are you doing, you freak?! What language even was that?!” Alice broke her concentration to look up at Priscilla. She knew it was dangerous to do that, but she had to make sure that this spell didn’t backfire.
“Priscilla, calm down,” Alice urged, trying to divide her attention between the spell and her friend. “If you break my concentration, the spell will backfire—”
“I thought everyone was joking!” Colm joined in, almost equally freaked out by what was going on. “You really can do black magic! Oh my God, she’s gonna curse us all!’
Garrett kicked the candles over.
That was when everything went wrong.
The glow of the charcoal immediately disappeared, and the candles went out. The hair in the center of the pentagram caught fire. Unlike the blue fire that it was supposed to give off, this fire was violently red and burned intensely. Where the blue fire would have slowly consumed the lock of hair, so as to acknowledge her offering to the earth, the red fire hungrily devoured the lock of hair, engulfing it all at once. The feeling of dread in Alice’s stomach rose to her throat. The spell had backfired.
“What the hell?!” Garrett yelled. “What were you doing?!”
“The protection spell, just like you asked!” Alice barked back, cramming her book, candles, and piece of charcoal back into her backpack. She stood up and glared intensely at Garrett. “It would have worked if you hadn’t interfered!”
“You’re a freak!” Priscilla screamed, pointing a shaking finger at her. “Freak! You cursed us, didn’t you?!”
“N-No, I didn’t! I was just doing what you asked me to do!” Alice responded in a hurt voice. How could Priscilla call her a freak?
“Garrett, I thought you said you knew she couldn’t do it!” Colm yelled. “I thought we were gonna video her doing some stupid fake spell and post it to Facebook later! I didn’t think it was real!”
“I didn’t believe it,” Garrett gasped in a voice that was a mixture of fear and disbelief. “I thought those were all rumors,”
“Wait,” Alice interjected. “You…you were videoing me?” She looked down at Garrett’s hand, which held his cell phone, still on by the looks of it. “You were just doing this to make fun of me?!” She glared them down, her hair standing on end. Her glare was premature, however, as Colm pushed her down on the ground. She landed on the floor hard, just barely catching herself in a sitting position.
“Get away from us you freak!” he screamed, grabbing Priscilla’s wrist. “Garrett, let’s book it!” Garrett followed his lead and fled the classroom, leaving Alice alone.
Tears welled up in her eyes. Her body jolted in a sob as tears streamed down her face. She removed her glasses in order to wipe her tears on the sleeve of her duster. She felt so stupid for thinking she could make friends. She was just a freak, a lonely freak that would never make any friends. After all she’d gone through to try and be friends with them, and now it was all for naught. Try as she might, the tears wouldn’t stop streaming down her face.
That was, until she heard Priscilla scream again. Alice looked up from where she was on the floor and wiped her tears away again. She put her glasses back on and glared at the door that she’d watched her so-called ‘friends’ flee through. Whatever their problem was, they could deal with it on their own. She pushed herself up off the floor and put her backpack over her shoulders again. She pushed on the door that they’d all entered through, but it felt like she didn’t have the strength to push it open. She tried a few more times, this time pushing her weight on the door, but no matter what she did, the door wouldn’t budge. It was like it was locked or jammed.
“Why are all the doors locked?!” Colm screamed distantly, and Alice heard the rattling of the door he was supposedly trying to open.
“I can’t break the window!” Garrett shouted, his voice even more distant than Colm.
“Help me!” Priscilla screeched. Alice could hear her Mary Janes clicking on the tile as she ran through the hallway. It sounded like she was coming back to the room they’d been in before. Still resentful from being called a freak, Alice refused to look out of the door. It was probably another prank that they were playing on her.
“NO!” Priscilla howled. The sound of fingernails scraping on tile grated against Alice’s ears. She couldn’t bear it any longer. She peeked beyond the creaky door to see Priscilla on her stomach, on the floor. She was desperately clawing at the tile, looking for a grip, but all that came of it was the agonizing sound of her fingernails scraping against the floor. Around her legs were a pair of black hands. These hands weren’t just black—they were like a void, like they sucked all light inside. Alice looked out further and saw that the pair of hands were attached to a shadow figure, slowly pulling Priscilla into the darkness. The darkness made no sense whatsoever. The sun was still up, how could it be pitch black? Priscilla’s eyes locked on Alice, tears streaming down her blotchy red face.
“HELP ME! PLEASE HELP ME!” she wailed. Alice could only watch in horror as she watched the shadow figure pull the screaming Petilil into the darkness beyond.
What had they awoken?