Chapter 8: Ghost in the Machine
In my restless dreams, I saw that college – Mount Saint Mary. The Dean had a giant bullhorn affixed to the top on an old Pinto, a car that’s a nightmare in its own right, and he was driving around announcing to everyone on campus that I was an evil spirit whom no one should trust. Crazy Soup Girl was running after him at breakneck speed, handing out what appeared to be newspapers to everyone who stepped outside to see what was going on. I was trying to catch up to them, but my shoes were filled with tapioca pudding and I couldn’t run very fast at all. And tapioca, while a delicious snack time treat, isn’t so tasty when used as a foot lubricant.
I was screaming and running in slow motion, and The Dean and Crazy Soup Girl were nothing more than sonic blurs, speeding off campus and into the heart of the surrounding city. I managed to get a hold of one of the newspapers that Crazy Soup Girl had dropped. The front page read: “Abomination of Nature Matt Stalks and Kills at Random, Eating Victims’ Flesh; See What the Stars are Wearing to the Emmy Awards.”
The Dean’s Pinto and Crazy Soup Girl reappeared instantly and I dropped the paper in dismay. They started laughing like madmen. The Dean, the Pinto, and Crazy Soup Girl began expanding at an alarming rate until they were 300 ft. tall. Rocket powered engines appeared on the car and then on Crazy Soup Girl, shooting brimstone and hellfire. The heat set my precious hair ablaze and I screamed and screamed. The Heimlich Maneuver did nothing to put out the flames that danced upon my scalp, until I realized that I should have stopped, dropped, and rolled. But it was too late for that, as Crazy Soup Girl got behind the Pinto and started pushing, and they started soaring through the skies, taking over America with their wickedness and lies.
And that’s when I wet myself in front of the whole school.
Then, crazed clowns came out and started ripping off my clothes, revealing my stark white, genderless body. But that’s the part of my dream that my psychiatrist wants me not to talk about.
I woke up to a cold plastic nose nudging me. My eyelids slammed against my eyebrows and I was ready to battle giant deans and horrible white clowns, white, white horrible clowns, with bright, red noses, but then I realized what had awoken me. Or rather, who: The first thing that I saw when I opened my eyes was Rolley’s cottony face.
He sat atop my chest and was staring at me. “Go to sleep Rolley,” I muttered, tucking myself back in. I closed my eyes and attempted to go back to sleep, but I could feel those plastic eyes staring through me.
When I opened my eyes for the second time, I was nose to nose with Rolley. I knew what he wanted. “All right!” I yelled, getting out of bed. “I’ll take you for a walk!”
Inside Kara’s closet, I found a big black coat that wrapped around me and covered most of my legs. It also had a hood that concealed almost all of my face, giving me a mysterious, spy movie-like appearance. Most importantly, no one could tell who I was. It was essential that no one recognize me, or my cover would be blown. It was only an hour until Kara came home – and God knows where Shannon had gone; I assumed that the tattoo parlor was just taking their time – so I needed to lay low until she and her wondrous plan came back to save me. Kara and Shannon both said that I should stay inside, but what could possibly go wrong if I just took Rolley on an innocent 15-minute walk?
After finding and attaching Rolley’s chain to his collar, we were off. I slowly crept outside of Kara’s dorm, sneaking past a group of security guards as stealthily as possible by saying “hello.” Ha! Those fools had no idea that they had just let a ghost escape with the most prized stuffed animal on campus, and that I really wasn’t a ghost anyway, so it didn’t matter in the first place. Fools, I tell you!
I felt the frigid air whisper around my face, penetrating my toasty hood and chilling my lips. It was good to be outside without people constantly yelling and running away from me. Rolley and I managed to get all the way around campus without a hitch. People just kept walking by us and going about their daily activities, some even waving to the strange passerby in the long black coat. I couldn’t believe that people who had run away from me in terror to hide in their bathtubs just an hour or two ago were now greeting me. I was also surprised at how bold they were. With a malicious ghost on campus ready to tear out people’s throats and use them like crazy straws, people sure were acting like nothing was wrong. Well, I guess that life goes on, even if there is a crazed spirit on the loose. People have got to eat and people have to go take tests. Otherwise, there was a tremendous lack of passersby, and it wasn’t just from some having gone home already.
By the time I had made it back to Kara’s dorm, Rolley and I had been gone for about 20 minutes. Looking to the top floor of Kara’s dorm, I checked the window hole for any signs of activity. Kara wasn’t due back for another half hour or so, and judging by the lack of both lights on in the room and a tarp to cover up the broken window, Shannon hadn’t returned yet either.
But when I walked up to the dorm door and attempted to enter it with my car keys, I deduced that there were some things that the keys to my Taurus simply can’t open. Ironically, the window I had climbed in that morning had been shut by Shannon no less.
I really, really taught her well.
So it seemed like I’d have to wait for Kara or Shannon to come home, or for a stray meteor to come rocketing towards the United States, fizzle out to almost nothing, and then smash into the door, knocking it over and allowing me (and any stray, daylight vampires) entrance. But since the only meteor that day was scheduled to hit the dorm next to Kara’s, I decided to sit on a nearby bench with Rolley and wait. Besides, where else could I go? Anywhere else and I’d miss Kara’s return – and my salvation. I huddled on the bench with Rolley. After all, he had only his cotton to keep him warm, and I had Kara’s comically large coat.
All of a sudden, a voice echoed from the artic winds. “Pretty cold today, isn’t it?”
I stared at Rolley in amazement. “Rolley! You can talk?” He looked back up at me from my lap and was silent. His voice was much deeper than I would have expected. “That was amazing! C’mon, say something else, Rolley.”
“Look behind you,” the voice commanded. I quickly spun around, expecting to see a dirty vampire. With his first few sentences, Rolley had already saved my life. I’d have to thank him if I made it out alive.
Yet, when I spun around, I didn’t see a vampire. Instead, standing there behind me was Joe Shurize, president of the Mount Saint Mary Video Club.
Now, I wouldn’t say that I panicked, per se. But my inner child started screaming and running through a field full of bear traps just to get to Mommy. I know Joe, because I’m the Video Club vice president, and he knows me. I figured that he’d recognize me upon sight, or at least the second he heard me speak. It was all over, and only minutes before Kara would come back and save me with her miracle plan. I’d have cried right then and there, had my tear ducts not frozen over about four minutes ago. I tried to conceal a terrified whimper.
“Yep, it’s really chilly,” continued Joe, fishing for a response. Joe would speak to anyone who would listen and didn’t give up until he got the conversation he craved or the other person ran screaming to their dorm. A few times I caught him speaking to garbage cans when he thought no one was looking, hoping that some tiny elves might have taken residence in the receptacles so that he might speak to them about the ups and downs of being enchanted creatures.
There was no chance I could have escaped with a simple head or hand gesture. I tried to disguise my voice as best I could, taking on a deep, guttural tone. “Yep. It’s freezing.”
“I tried to start my car today, but the fuel line had frozen over!” mused Joe, empowered by having found another victim. “So I started trying to thaw it out by hitting it with warm water, but after filling my biggest water gun with water I’d been boiling for the past few hours, it froze before I even got back to the car!”
“I see. Then what did you-”
“Then I filled up my water gun with crude oil and lit the stream on fire as I shot it into the underside of my car. Well, who’d have guessed it, but the whole car became a fireball! It was like I had created the world’s biggest Molotov cocktail!” Sure enough, I could see the smoke bellowing high above the trees in the distance. The sunlight trickled through the holes in the smoke screen and the resulting scene looked like something one would find on a religious greeting card. “If I got out my video camera, I bet I could record it and made a show called American Firebomb.”
If there’s a way to excrete fear as a smell, I definitely wreaked of it. And I think I was more afraid of having to cut that show together than Joe finding out that he was really talking to a “ghost.”
“Nice talking to you Joe, but I really have to go and drown myself in the snow at this point,” I said, and began to stand up.
Joe put his hand on my shoulder and pushed me back down onto the bench, all the while keeping a friendly smile plastered on his mug. “American Firebomb! What will I think of next! …Oh, hey! Did you hear about the Ying-Yang Gang’s latest jewel heist? The cops are never going to find those guys!”
“Well, I heard that-”
“You want a breath mint?” asked Joe, whipping out a box of Tick Tacks. I figured that my throat would need some soothing after speaking like a heavily-smoking waitress for the past few minutes. I accepted, and seconds later, my throat was coated with delicious mint. At least I could continue my façade a little longer now.
Amazingly, Joe didn’t ask about the stuffed Dalmatian sitting on my lap the entire time. I was a little disappointed, because I had already concocted a cover story about my short, hairy cousin, Rolliferd. But just when I was about to give myself away and take my chances with the Ghostbusters, I spied Shannon stepping up to the dorm door and yanking out her key. There was a long, clear tarp in her right hand, catching the wind and almost blowing away more than once.
Shannon was my only chance. If I didn’t get in that dorm, Joe would figure out who I was, and then I’d have to go into seclusion or join the nearest circus as the Great Ghost Boy! (“Don’t get too close, or he may try to bite your finger off, kiddies! Now give me a quarter and you can feed him some grain.”)
Ignoring Joe’s story about the time he set up his computer to display on 37 separate monitors at the same time, I called out to Shannon.
“Shannon! Shannon! The window was closed!” I exclaimed. My long black coat fluttered in the wind like Dracula’s cape as I waved my hand violently to catch Shannon’s attention.
But as I was yelling, the breath mint that I had been sucking on became lodged in my throat. Ironically, for the first time all day, my life really was in danger.
I guess that when I tried to cough up the breath mint, it must have sounded like a vampire’s hissing. Now that I think about it, had I not been choking myself at the time, I’d have thought the same and assumed my anti-vampire combat stance.
As I hissed and my coat blew out like a cape, Shannon began quaking with fear, but her eyes were sparked with confidence. “Leave me alone you crazy vampire!” She tried to get the door open even faster.
I had trained her too well.
I didn’t have much of a choice, so I punched myself in the stomach as hard as I could. As if by the hand of God Himself, the mint came sailing out of my mouth and I regained my composure. “Wait, Shannon! It’s me!” I removed my hood to show her who I really was, but it was too late for Shannon to notice. She had already escaped into the building and slammed the door.
“It’s you!” Joe shouted.
I knew what had happened.
Joe turned and vomited at the sight of me. Then he stared at me, paralyzed with fear. I could tell that, even with the extreme stress he was suddenly under, he was already formulating a show about the ghosts of Mount Saint Mary for Video Club TV, called American Ghosthunters.
Joe hastily recuperated, most likely from the tantalizing prospect of putting something new and exciting on TV. “I’ve got to get this up on the station! Everyone needs to know about this!” he yelled. “I’ll make a TV news program called American Reporter!” With that, he raced towards the building we set up the station in. “And I’ll only play true stories! Because if it’s on the news, it must be true!”
I watched helplessly as Joe became a speck on the horizon.
A few moments later, after I had finally convinced Shannon that I wasn’t a vampire, I found myself sitting on the floor of Kara’s dorm, watching Shannon nail the tarp to the wall because the staples hadn’t worked very well. That’s when Kara walked back in.
“What happened while I was gone?” she asked.
“It… got worse,” I somberly reported.
Kara blinked a few times and dropped her book bag to the floor. “You went outside, didn’t you?”