I see dead people.
I know, I know. Ever since that movie with the kid who says those words, people think it’s no big deal. But that’s just because the words are associated with fiction, make believe. Like Snow White and calorie-free chocolate chip cookies and Prince Charming.
But unlike the surprise ending of the movie, I’m 100 percent alive.
Usually, the ghosts are no big deal. I say “go to the light” and poof, away they go. But for three days now, I say the words and nothing. Notta. No presto, magico, there they go. The ghosts just stand there looking at me like I’m supposed to do something about it.
The thing is I SEE them, but I can’t hear them or touch them or anything. So these days I’m walking around with a band of merry ghosts following me everywhere I go. Most days, my special talent wouldn’t be that big of a problem, but, today is different. In ten minutes I’ve got an interview for my very first job ever, and I don’t think I’ll be able to concentrate on what the Taco Blast manager Mr. Willingham asks me if I see Sharlene Gallagher sitting across from me. I guess I should call the police and let them know Sharlene’s dead. People have been wondering for years. Now I’ve got the proof.
Sharlene Gallagher was the most famous person ever from my hometown. She left Primrose, Texas, the night after winning prom princess her junior year and ended up with several supporting roles in Teen Scream Movies. If you’ve seen the movie with the girl on the phone with her boyfriend when the killer in golf pants shows up and starts killing everyone in sight including the girl who works at the ice cream store and pretends to be a virgin but is really doing the whole football team, that’s Sharlene. Not the pretend virgin. The girl on the phone.
Now I know Sharlene’s dead. And she’s looking at me like maybe I can help her. I close my eyes and pray she’ll disappear because I need money to buy the camera kit I want and my parents won’t give me more than my $25 a week allowance to go toward it.
You’d think the fact that they live in separate households would work in my monetary favor, but no. When they liv together, Mom and Dad couldn’t agree on anything, but since they split, they’re great at agreeing about me. When it came to the Canon 7D with lens kit and flash they both said the same thing: if I want it, I have to get a job.
Which is why I’m in my favorite denim skirt, white Polo shirt and pink ballerina flats drinking a Coke Zero the guy behind the counter gave me while I wait for Mr. Willingham to finish with the paper stock delivery.
Sharlene still sits across from me looking, well, dead.
No one working pays attention to me so I risk a quick whispered, “go to the light!”
Sharlene shakes her head and then totally freaks me out by answering. “I can’t.”
Oh. My. God. She did not just talk to me. Did she?
I don’t get a chance to find out because Mr. Willingham walks over and shakes my hand then sits right on top of Sharlene and starts talking as he looks over the application I turned in three weeks ago.
It’s hard to concentrate on what he has to say, though, because Sharlene’s head is there, right under his chin, and her body is meshed with his, so every time he moves, I get a quick glimpse of the requisite white sheet-like dress Sharlene’s wearing. All the ghosts wear them. It’s like they almost got to heaven, but before they walked through the pearly gates, they fell back to earth and then searched for someone who could see them. Someone like me.
“What strengths can you bring to the Taco Blast team?”
I shake my head, trying to focus on Mr. Willingham’s eyes and words. Strengths? Oh God, Oh God, Oh God. I so cannot screw this up. Everyone who applies gets a job at Taco Blast. That’s why I’m here.
“Ummm.” I stall for time and then try, “I’m creative and my teachers say I think outside the box. I love Taco Blast, and people like me all right.” That last might be a bit of a stretch. But, hey, I can’t say dead people like me all right.
The answer must work, though, because Mr. Willingham nods as I speak and writes a couple things down on my application then asks, “What weaknesses do you see in yourself.”
Well, right now, I’d say I have this strange problem with Sharlene’s missing left earlobe suddenly visible as she shakes her overprocessed big red hair and yawns. Oh ick.
I force myself not to flinch and focus totally on Willingham. His forest green apron is pressed and creased just like his light blue cotton shirt, but the white plastic name tag says MANAGE with the R on the end almost completely rubbed away.
Weaknesses. I have plenty. I go with the ones I can share.
“My creativity sometimes makes me see things differently than others, but that should work for me here at Taco Blast. I’ll be a great addition to your staff.”
I follow the You Can Get The Job You Want Internet search engine advice, talking as if the job is already mine. Sharlene Gallagher rolls her eyes and claws her hand puppet style, mocking me. I really wish she’d just go away.
I answer a few more questions and then Mr. Willingham stands, shakes my hand and says he’ll be in touch by Wednesday. My heart plunges at his words. I’m pretty sure I’m the first person ever not to be offered a job immediately.
I say a quick thanks to the boy—cute, tallish, a little Zac Efron looking if Zac Efron ever worked in fast food—who gave me the Coke, then practically run out the door. I hope Sharlene will stay in the Taco Blast forest green vinyl booth, but she doesn’t. She follows me out the door splashed with DISCOUNT COUPONS Inside and Now Hiring signs, and when I slide into the Prius driver’s seat, she glides right into the passenger’s seat and picks up where she left off.
“I thought you’d never get done. Now. Really. I need your help,” Sharlene says, and I change my iPod to the Wicked soundtrack, hoping the songs will drown out her ghostly voice AND maybe convince her she needs to go find some other person who sees and now suddenly hears dead people.
No such luck. Instead she tosses her signature red hair and sits back further in the chair, then looks at me like I’m some sort of space specimen. “And honestly, doll, I think you might need my help, too.”
Dissed by a dead person. My life has reached an all-time low.
“I don’t need your help, and I can’t help you.”
“Doll,” she says looking up and down and zeroing in on my shoes. “You definitely need my help.”
I love these shoes. I decide to ignore her, but she’s not done.
“You’re wearing pink shoes and a jean skirt that hits your ankles. You got a rockin’ bod and you’re totally wasting it on the whole, 40-yr-old librarian look. I can definitely help you. And you’ve got to help me.”
I like librarians just fine. But I don’t look like one. And I’m not talking to her any more. I flip the iPod to the next song and she noiselessly drums her ghost fingers on the center console of my car. Her nails are red instead of the normal light pink most ghosts sport. And she has shiny red high heeled sandals instead of the white flats. It’s like she ran away mid-transformation. Did she? Is she a rogue ghost? A ghost on the run from the powers that be? Will I be hearing the voice of God any minute like when some kid isn’t waiting for his mom outside after school and Mr. Jennings, my principal, calls over the loud speaker, “Drew Larkins, your mother is here for you. Please meet her at the front of the building,” and you feel so sorry for the kid because for the next four years he’ll be that kid, only this will be worse. It’ll be “Sharlene Gallagher, you’ve lost your chance. It’s off to hell with you and your red shoes.”
Sharlene tosses her hair again, this time running her fingers through it and then grimacing, and my stomach drops as I realize she’s touching the place her earlobe should be. Ewwwwww.
She mutters something under her breath that sounds like “damn Peter, I don’t know what he was thinking,” but I’m not quite sure.
“Oh nothing,” she says and then stares out the front window. I guess she doesn’t need a seatbelt.
I really should be fine with her sudden silence, but I have to know. I mean, she’s the first ghost I can actually talk to. I might as well get answers. “So, does it hurt?”
She tilts her head and studies me curiously. “It?”
She shrugs. “Nah. I can’t feel anything except desperation.”
Strange answer. “I guess the whole spirit left behind thing would be kind of tough.”
“It’s a little bigger than that.”
Like that’s possible. “Bigger how?”
Sharlene shows me what’s meant by dramatic pause. Seconds click by filled with “loathing, unadulterated loathing” from the stereo and the woosh, woosh, woosh of the air conditioner hitting the paperback I’d tossed in the passenger seat just in case I got to Taco Blast too early.
“I have to know who did it.”
“Who did it?” I repeat blankly, and then I get it. “You have to know who killed you before you can go to the light?”
“The light, the light, the light. Yeah sure, that’s it. I’ve got to know, and you can help me.”
I don’t think she understands. “I’m 16. I have to clean my room tonight, and I think I have an appointment with the orthodontist tomorrow. Sure, I can see ghosts, but you’re the first one I’ve ever been able to talk to. I don’t know why you think I can help, but I can’t.”
“Look at my clothes, Hon. I just came from the big place upstairs, and they sent me to you. Obviously, there’s more to you than meets the eye. No one wants you to go all Law & Order here. But you’re the key to my final reward. Surely you’re not going to just send me on my way. “
The key. She’s got me, and she knows it. I can tell by the smile on her face. It’s that movie star smile she shared with the world. The one that said you know you love me. Right before someone killed her.
I swear to God—hope I don’t go to hell for that one—this light thing better work. Addison Karchusky must help me figure out the mystery of my demise. Not because of some silly old light. I’ve already seen the light. Hello, white robes.
No. She’s got to help me because her number’s up. Soon, she’s going to die. By the hands of the same person who killed me. Only I can’t tell her about that at all. Something about the future and vortexes and paradoxes. It all sounded very Terminator. Peter gave me this one chance to make things right. It’s my test. There’s another part to the test, but he says that will come with time. Peter’s all about time. And tests.
I’ve never been all that great at tests, but I’m going to ace this one. And along the way I’m going to help this poor girl with her abominable fashion sense. By the time all this is said and done, I’ll be her fairy godmother. Unless, of course, I fail and she dies. Nope, not going to happen. I don’t think.