Reaper Academy; Semester One – Jasmine Walt, Emily Goodwin

I hate to say it, Addy, but if you keep drawing demons instead of buildings, you’re going to fail your architecture class.” I jerk my head up to glare at my best friend, Cassandra, who is currently sitting across from me, her chin propped up in one hand. Her thick, dirty-blonde hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail that bobs when she moves her head. She’s wearing a vintage circle dress with a red polka dot pattern, and she’s holding a paperback copy of The Fellowship of the Ring in her free hand. Nobody seems to notice she’s perched on the top of the wooden chair’s back, or that she’s balancing on it perfectly even though her feet are dangling freely in the air. “I am not drawing demons—” I begin, then glance down at my sketchbook. Shit. A horrific creature stares back at me—long ram horns curl back from a skull with two stripes running down each side of its face, attached to a thick neck and a huge, muscular body that’s completely naked from the waist up. Thick, matted fur covers both its crotch and its muscular legs that bend backward at the knee, ending in cloven hooves. “Told you.” Cassandra toes my sketchbook with her penny-loafer-clad foot. “Wonder when we’re gonna run into it,” she says curiously. “I’ve never seen a demon before.” “How do you even know it’s a demon?” I argue. Before Cassandra could answer, a shadow falls over me.

“Well, well,” a nasty female voice says. “If it isn’t creepy little Addy Blake. How are you? Still talking to your imaginary friends?” I lift my head and meet the eyes of the one and only Becca Stevens. Tall, blonde, and blue-eyed, with her busty figure and her almost-too-short skirts, she’d been the most popular student at Lake Forest Academy, the private school we’d both gone to. Since I was the only scholarship kid there, Becca had looked down on me from the start, and when my…abilities…had begun to manifest, it wasn’t long before she’d managed to alienate the entire school against me. “Hi, Becca,” I say, leaning back in my chair and looking up at her with a cavalier smirk. There’s no need for her to know that my stomach has turned into a ball of lead. “You’re looking good these days. Daddy still paying for those Botox injections, or have you finally gotten yourself a real job?” The two barbie dolls flanking Becca gasp. “How dare you,” Becca fumes, her hot-pink manicured nails flying to cover her too-plump lips.

“These are all natural.” “Right. Just like your tits.” I drop my gaze to the double D’s straining the buttons of her ivory blouse. “That must have been an odd strain of the flu you caught—you know, the one that kept you out of school for two weeks. Maybe I should skip my flu shot this year and see if my boobs swell to twice their size, too.” Becca tosses her head, her hair shimmering behind her like a L’Oréal commercial. I have nothing against plastic surgery. It’s your body, and if you have the money for it, go for it. I just can’t fucking stand Becca Stevens.

“At least my daddy can afford to buy me new boobs,” she says, raking her ice-blue eyes over me. From the way her upper lip curls as she takes in my combat boots, ripped jeans, and oversized Disney villains T-shirt, I can tell she’s not impressed with my wardrobe. “What can yours afford? Oh right, I forgot—he’s dead, isn’t he?” The girls standing next to Becca give her shocked looks—they must be somewhat decent, as even they seem to recognize she’s gone too far. “Leave me alone,” I say, my icy tone belying the white-hot fury flashing through me. We’re not in grade school anymore—I refuse to take this shit from her. “That bitch,” Cassandra growls, hopping off the back of the chair to land soundlessly on the floor. “Just give me the word, Addy, and I’ll mess her up for you.” “Don’t,” I mutter out of the corner of my mouth, hoping Becca doesn’t notice. “It’s not worth it—” But Becca does notice, and she flashes a triumphant smirk at her friends. “See?” she crows.

“She’s totally off her rocker. What are you doodling there, anyway?” she asks, reaching for my open sketchbook. “Another one of your ghost friends, I bet—” “Oh no you don’t.” Cassandra darts behind Becca, grabs her by the collar, and yanks her back before she can touch my sketchbook. Becca stumbles back, tripping into the empty table behind her, and she screams as the hot coffee in her hand spills all over the front of her blouse. “Becca!” The two girls rush to her side, one helping her to her feet while the other dabs at the growing stain on her blouse with a fistful of napkins. “Are you okay?” “Get off,” Becca says in a trembling voice as she backs away from me, heading for the door. “Stay away from me, you freak!” she cries, her eyes blazing with hatred and fear. Her friends rush out behind her as she dashes out onto the sidewalk, leaving her half-full cup of coffee behind on the table she’d run into. “Good riddance.

” Huffing, Cassandra sits back down in her chair, properly this time. I take a sip of my butterbeer Frappuccino, trying to ignore the fact that the coffee shop has gone deathly silent, every eye in the room trained on me. “I wish you hadn’t done that,” I mutter from behind the cup. “Why not?” Cassandra says indignantly, her cheeks flushing. “She deserved it!” “Because we’re about to get kicked out.” “Excuse me, Miss.” As if on cue, the manager appears, a thin man with a hipster beard and square glasses. He gives me a nervous smile, showing off clear braces. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask—” “Yeah, yeah, I know.” Standing up, I sweep my sketchbook and my textbooks into my messenger bag, then sling it over my shoulder.

“You don’t have to tell me twice.” I grab my frappuccino and walk out with my head held high, ignoring the tears of humiliation stinging at my eyes. This isn’t the first time I’ve been kicked out of an establishment for “causing a scene,” and I refuse to let Becca Stevens make me cry, even if she isn’t around to see the tears fall. “This is ridiculous,” Cassandra fumes as she follows me outside, slamming the door behind her hard enough to rattle the windows. “You didn’t do anything wrong—why are they making you leave?” “Because as far as they’re concerned, Becca Stevens was having a friendly conversation with me when the next thing she knows, she’s been thrown back into a table and assaulted with hot coffee.” I shake my head in exasperation. “They’re probably terrified that she’ll come back and try to sue them, and them letting me stay in the shop would only give her more ammunition.” “Ugh.” Cassandra rolls her eyes. “Sometimes I really hate this new generation.

Back in my day, people didn’t file lawsuits every time they stubbed their toe on the sidewalk. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned responsibility?” “Beats me.” I shrug as we head home. My apartment is two miles away from campus— prissy Becca Stevens would never walk all that way, but since I don’t have a car, I don’t have much choice. Not that I mind—I enjoy the exercise, and on days like today, it helps me burn off any lingering frustration. “Looks like rain,” Cassandra says as she floats along beside me. Overhead, storm clouds are slowly gathering, and the unseasonably warm spring afternoon begins to turn chilly. A gust of wind blows through my light jacket, and I shiver. There’s something odd about this wind, something that raises the hairs on my arms and hollows out the pit of my stomach. Wish you’d brought an umbrella.

” “What do you care?” I glance over at her. “You’re a ghost. You don’t feel the rain.” Cassandra rolls her eyes. “Of course I don’t, but you do.” She bumps my shoulder playfully, or tries to, but her shoulder passes right through my flesh. A shiver runs through me, as it always does whenever a ghost makes contact with me. It’s a bit like being plunged into a bucket of ice water, and the feeling doesn’t get any less shocking no matter how many times it happens to me. “You’re my best friend—the first real, fleshand-blood friend I’ve had in over fifty years. I can’t let you catch cold and die.

” “How do you know I won’t end up right back here, next to you?” I tease as we approach the candy shop at the corner. “Maybe we’ll spend the rest of our lives haunting my apartment and terrorizing everyone who tries to move in.” I expect Cassandra to laugh, but she shakes her head, looking uncharacteristically serious. “Nah, you’re not the type to cling,” she says. “Even if you died a gruesome death, I know you’d end up moving on.” A somber mood falls over us, and thunder rumbles overhead as we stop to wait for the light. A prickle of awareness washes over me, and I’m about to mention it to Cassandra when a little boy wearing pinstriped overalls floats through the glass storefront, a giant rainbow-swirled lollipop clutched in his pudgy fist. “Hello, Miss,” he says in his high, childlike voice. “Would you like any candy today? Black taffy is on sale for only two pennies a piece.” “Sure, Sammy.

” I smile as I dig a dime out of my pocket. “I’ll take five.” His face lights up, and we make the trade. The ghostly taffies fall through my hand, sending another icy shiver through me, and the dime falls through his, landing on the cement with a ping. He doesn’t seem to notice though, just thanks me and disappears back into the candy shop. The light turns green, and I cross the street. “I don’t know why you never pick up the dime,” Cassandra says with a frown as we reach the other side. “It’s not like he would notice, and you didn’t actually get any candy, anyway.” I shrug. “It still seems like cheating, somehow, to take it back.

And besides, I’m sure someone else could use it more than me.” Cassandra gives me a dubious look. “Seventy cents a week adds up, though,” she says. “When I was alive, that was enough to buy a week’s worth of deli meat.” She glances at my skinny frame. “And the lord knows you don’t eat enough as it is.” I resist the urge to roll my eyes, knowing better than to argue with her. I don’t blame Cass for being clingy. She was murdered by her boyfriend in 1952, in the very apartment that I’m renting now, and it took so long for the case to be closed that by the time the murder was solved, she’d become too attached to the place and couldn’t move on. Every single inhabitant she’d tried to make friends with had run screaming, until I’d showed up, lured by the proximity of the location to campus and the cheap rent.

We’ve been living peacefully together for a year now, so peacefully, in fact, that the landlord had tried to raise the rent on me. I’d informed him that the place was still very much haunted, and Cass had been delighted to give him a demonstration, pelting throw pillows at his head and tossing the contents of my dresser drawers about the room. She’d made a bit of a mess in her enthusiasm, but it had been worth it—the landlord had given me a wide berth since then, and I had a feeling he wasn’t going to try to raise the rent for a very long time. As Cass and I walk home, I stop to say hello to the ghosts on our usual route. There is Kitty, the flower peddler who mans a cart outside Delilah’s Bar, trying to sell bouquets and boxes of chocolates to the drunk husbands stumbling out who need to save face with their wives. I have no doubt she’d be doing a brisk business if they could sue her. Then there is Mrs. O’Leary, the cat lady in the fuzzy pink overcoat who sits at the park bench by the playground. There are always at least two or three cats keeping her company at all times, confirming my long-held suspicion that cats can indeed see ghosts. One ghost is missing from our usual route—Mr.

Nitti. He is a good old boy from the 1930s, gunned down by a rival mob gang while he was having lunch with his mistress at a little French café three blocks from my apartment. His mistress has moved on without a backward glance, but he stuck around, puffing on his cigar and regaling anyone who has the capacity to listen about his mobster days. “Still no sign of him,” Cassandra grumps as we tromp up the stairs of my apartment building. “You’d think he would have said goodbye to us if he was planning to move on to the afterlife, wouldn’t you?” “Maybe he’s just traveling for a bit,” I suggest as I unlock the door to my studio. A oneroom apartment with a kitchenette, a double bed, a closet-sized bathroom, and a folding table that serves as both my desk and my dining table, it isn’t much, but it’s home. My decor is rather minimal, not having the funds to justify going all Pinterest-crazy with framed photos and styled bookshelves. A hand-painted picture of Cinderella’s castle hangs above my couch, and various Disney figurines clutter my TV stand. Some might call my decor childish, but I agree with Walt in saying that imagination has no age limits. The bright colors and familiar characters make me happy, and remind me of the annual trips to Disney World I used to take with Dad.

As an ER doctor at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, he was busy more times than not. Our trips were something we both looked forward to all year, and those ten days at the most magical place in the human realm really felt like magic. Dad would go all out, booking fireworks shows and character dinners. We’d stay at the same resort every time, and knowing I’ll never walk into the grand lobby with Dad again tugs at my heart. “Where would he go?” Cass asks. “It’s not like we can do much.” “Maybe he just wanted to get away from the tourists.” The story of his death is a little notorious, and a popular ghost hunting group with their own TV show came by last Halloween in search of him. Mr. Nitti scared the crap out of those wannabe ghost hunters, that’s for sure.

“I don’t know,” Cassandra says as I set my bag on the chair. “He’s been gone for a week. That doesn’t seem like him.” I bite my lip as I try to think of a comforting response. I understand why Cassandra is upset—he is the only ghost on our route who is capable of real conversations. Everyone else is stuck in a time loop, repeating the exact same words and motions day in, day out. It got a little tiresome after a while, especially when compared to Mr. Nitti’s fascinating tales. He’s also handsome, and Cassandra has a huge crush on him, which isn’t surprising —considering the way her life ended, I suspect she doesn’t have very good judgment when it comes to men. Before I’d moved into the neighborhood, Nitti and Cassandra had been stuck to their respective death day locations.

For some reason, interacting with me allows independent ghosts to free themselves from their anchors. Sometimes they choose to pass on, but others, like Cass and Nitti, take advantage to move about the city freely, visiting old haunts or, in Cass’s case, following their favorite person around. “I’m sure he’ll be back tomorrow,” I finally say as I grab a cup of instant ramen from the cupboard. “Nitti wouldn’t have willingly gone to the afterlife—you know he’s afraid he’ll end up in hell.” Cassandra shakes her head. “I’m going to go and wait for him at the café,” she informs me, then vanishes with a pop before I can protest. Shaking my head, I heat up my ramen, then change into a pair of fuzzy red-and-black plaid pajamas and a pair of thick socks. Night has fallen, and rain patters on the rooftops. It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to curl up on the sofa with a glass of wine and a good book, but I settle for sitting at the table with my cup of noodles and my textbooks instead. I open up my sketchbook, intent on ripping out my demonic doodle and starting over again.

But the sight of the grinning skull draws me in, and I find myself staring at it, wondering what it can mean. Usually when I draw an image repeatedly like this, it’s a prelude to a ghostly encounter. But even though I’ve run across some pretty grislylooking apparitions, they’ve all looked human. This thing…could it really be a demon? “Don’t be silly,” I say to myself. I rip the page out of my sketchbook, open up my textbook, and begin sketching the outline of the building I’m supposed to be drawing a schematic for. I should be graduating from Columbia University with an architecture degree this semester, but I had to take some time off to pull as much overtime at work as possible to be able to afford rent. While Dad did set up a college fund for me, most of the life insurance I’d gotten went to settle debts and medical bills, leaving very little for me to live off. I’ve been able to see ghosts since I was twelve years old, and Dad always believed me. Demons, however…I think he’d tell me exactly what I’m thinking. I’m nineteen now, and if I haven’t run across a demon in a whole decade, chances are they don’t exist.

At least not on this plane, anyway. Maybe this portent just wasn’t meant to be taken literally. An hour passes, then another, as I steadily work through my homework assignments. To my relief, my drawings behave themselves, and before I know it, I’m nearly done. I’m just finishing up the last question on my statistics homework when lightning flashes outside my window, and the power abruptly shuts off. “Dammit.” I grab my phone and turn on the flashlight. The little light is enough to illuminate the paper, and I quickly jot down the rest of the answer, then rise from my chair. I open the door and peer down the hall, seeing the lights are out. The power must be out in the whole building.

“Cass,” I call to the empty room as I put my books away and prepare to settle down for the night. I know she’s not here, but I’m positive my voice carries through the ether somehow, as she often comes when I call her. “Can you come back, please? I’m about to head to bed.” There’s no answer, and Cass doesn’t materialize. I want to shrug it off and go brush my teeth—as a ghost, the storm can’t hurt her, so there’s no need to worry. But the foreboding feeling from earlier this afternoon is back, an itch between my shoulders I can’t scratch. My stomach starts to grow leaden again, and I know that if I go to bed like this, I’ll toss and turn all night, unable to sleep. “Fine,” I grumble to myself as I shrug a raincoat on over my pajamas. It’s dark outside and the streets are empty—there’s no need to change into real clothes. I shove my fuzzy socks into a pair of rainboots, grab my taser, then head downstairs.

The moment I step outside, another bolt of lightning arcs across the sky. Thunder crashes overhead as I hurry up the street, clutching my weapon inside my pocket as the rain pelts my face. Why does Cass have to be so stubborn? Why couldn’t she just pop back home for a second to reassure me she was all right? I make it to the end of the first block when I hear something that stops me in my tracks— a blood-curdling scream. The scream is followed by a loud roar that freezes my blood, and my galoshes root themselves to the spot, refusing to carry me any further. Turn back, a voice whispers in my head. Turn back now, before it’s too late!

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