If the grey stone walls of Silver Oak Institute could talk they would tell you about the things that happened there. Fortunately or unfortunately magic walls that talk are the least of its problems. Nestled in the sleepy town of Lakhat, Silver Oaks is the school where rich kids are sent away. It’s a famous place but not without its secrets. The clock tower catches your eye from afar. The grounds are green with geometric pathways, which look a little too perfect. Not a blade of grass out of place. The building itself looms like a grey sleeping monster. The fog that surrounds the grounds even at noon shrouded it in mysteries. With high walls and tall iron gates to protect it, the grounds were surrounded by oaks, elms, and pine trees. There was an air of sombreness around the school. The kids in their black and white uniforms always walked in lines, there was no yelling or fooling around. There were many rumors about Silver Oaks: it was actually aliens, not kids who were taught there, science experiments were being conducted on the kids there, the place was run by a cult of devil worshippers, and every theory possibly imaginable. Each one is more absurd than the last. The students here seemed like tiny adults and added to the rumors that they were not kids but aliens. I hated every last one of them. But everything changed that August.
The Head Master of the school had shown up at my doorstep, unannounced. I had no choice but to invite him in. “Well, it’s a cozy place you have here.”, he had gestured, his eyes lingering on the damp walls and the peeled-off paint in my living room. I remember hastily handing him a cup of tea. “So I hear you are in between jobs?”, he had said setting down the tea. I had nodded, not sure where this was going. “If you are not too particular about jobs there’s one at the institute that might suit you”, he said nursing his teacup. ” What? You want me to work at the institute?” I blurted out. “Lakhat is a small town, you hear things”. “Thanks for thinking of me, but I really don’t think I am the right person.” I stuttered, mustering up some semblance of courage. “Well, do let me know if you change your mind.”, he said eyeing me curiously. He had left as soon as he could, maybe the small dingy house, with pink peeled paint and the musty smell wasn’t his cup of tea. His tea sat on the table untouched.
I was sure I had nipped the whole thing in the bud, I soon realized that was not the case. I was contacted by not less than five prominent members of the society regarding the job. It soon escalated to a level that I couldn’t handle. I don’t want to go to the lengthy meetings or the stuffy speeches I had to listen to. Suffice to say I gave in and accepted the job. I am not the one to believe in silly superstitions, I didn’t think breaking a mirror would bring me seven years of bad luck or opening an umbrella indoors was unlucky, which is why when every one of my friends warned me of the perils that awaited me at the institute I merely shrugged.
On the day I joined the institute, I was greeted at the gates by a strict looking lady. She introduced herself as an art teacher. “It is an immense pleasure to meet you”, she said emotionlessly. Her face was unreadable and her eyes lacked mirth. Nothing about her said ‘art’. Her hair was in a tight bun, not a single loose hair, her eyebrows seemed to have been drawn with a thick toothbrush and her lips so thin that I was sure she had none. I wondered what she taught her kids to draw. Perhaps geometric patterns? “You will find that the institute is not a place for idleness”, her sharp voice made me realize I had been ogling at her. “Come along, now”, she said crisply. The walk through the grounds to the building might have taken 10 minutes, yet it felt a lot longer. I followed her in ominous silence.
“The kitchens and dining rooms are that way”, she gestured to her right and went on, “the dorms are on the ground floor, classrooms are that way ” she paused and looked at me before adding, “the teacher’s rooms are to your left”. “Where’s the Library? ” I asked, mostly because I felt I had to ask something. She turned around and looked at me as if I am a bit dense. Then she spoke slowly, “The Library is here”. I looked at the sign in front of me, of course, we were in front of the Library.
I had the luck of meeting a few other teachers, some of them who seemed normal, after which I was escorted to my ‘room’. They said it was a room, but it seemed like a huge apartment. My whole house would easily fit in here twice. Plus there was a mini-library. Sweet. I was thankful when I realized that no aliens or human experiments were going on in the institute. I was also disappointed in a surprising manner.
I realized I had expected to uncover some dark, dangerous secrets. Now that I was here the institute was not a dark place or even a menacing one. It was just another school. Granted some kids were rich and snotty but this was just a normal place.
I looked around my new residence. It was as old as the institute. Greystone walls, marble floors, large windows with blue curtains that billowed in the wind, and furniture from a gone era. The whole thing looked like a place out of time, a Victorian mansion perhaps? I wouldn’t know, I had never seen one. Before I could explore the small library and the actual bedroom, my friend called to check if I had been eaten by the aliens. His words, not mine. “For the last time, no there are no aliens, no monsters and no experiments are being conducted”, I said jokingly hung up, and walked into the Library with my tea in hand. “I guess no one told you about the ghosts?” said a melancholy voice from behind me. “Haha very funny,” I said turning around expecting a student playing a prank, “You got-” my teacup crashed to the floor. Floating near the bookshelves was a forlorn, pale translucent form of a human being.
“Are those pajamas?”, I said the first thought that came to my mind. “Yes”, sighed the ghost flailing its arms frantically. “You can see me”, it screamed and whooshed away. My heart had not stopped pounding. The pajama ghost had scared the living daylights out of me. I was trying to find a reasonable explanation for the apparition. Maybe it was a prank. Maybe I had imagined the entire thing. Yes, that was it, I always did have an overactive imagination. Mind reeling, I turned around, to my dismay the ghost was floating right behind me looking miserable as ever. I had wanted to scream and screech in horror. I was shaking like a leaf, initially at least, but I really couldn’t take a pajama ghost seriously. I don’t think anyone could. Out of respect, I had asked him what had happened to him. Which was the wrong kind of small talk, he had whooshed around melodramatically looking even more wretched and shameful than before, if it were possible. I am fairly certain I heard the words ‘uncouth plebian’ and ‘cretin’ before he evaporated without a trace.
By the next week, I had gotten accustomed to his customary wailing, the dramatic wind, curtains flying around, doors opening and closing without any reason, capsized furniture, my clothes in heaps on the floor, and anxious, sleepless nights. Any sensible person would have run out for their lives in two days. But like the white person who gets slaughtered first in the horror movies, because they are too dim-witted, I lingered there. Not because I was not terrorized, not because I was audacious, not even because I didn’t believe in ghosts. I really couldn’t go home. Also, I needed the money. Out of all the ghosts that ever existed, I was being haunted by the most bothersome and unreasonably melodramatic, not half bad looking ghost.
Instead of focusing on the students and my first day as a teacher at the institute, I found myself investigating the ghost. After some research and some rude comments from my students that I will end up like the previous teacher, I came to the conclusion that the ghost that haunted me was in fact, their previous English teacher, a handsome 29 y.o fresh out of College. Of course, they don’t know anything about the haunting, otherwise, I’d be kicked out of the school before I could say ‘Ghost’. After all, they wouldn’t want a lunatic to teach kids. I discreetly gathered information about his death. I had seen horror movies too, if the ghost was there it was obviously for revenge or to fulfill some dream. So I tried my best to get something that might help me get rid of the ghost. That’s how I stumbled upon his diary, no I wasn’t snooping, I’d like to call it research. He was an adventurer, he went skiing, para-gliding, para-sailing, deep-sea diving, mountain climbing, you name it he’s done it. He also loved to read. He’s the guy they make movies about. Jupiter. Yes, that’s his name. Maybe his parents hated him, but everyone called him Peter.
How he died was perhaps the most cartoonish of it all. He slipped on a banana peel, fell down the flight of stairs that led to the room, hit his chest hard on the edge of the railing, punctured his lung, stood up without realizing it, insisted he was fine, and ran up the stairs out of breath and dropped dead in front of this very room. In his pajamas, no less. Consequently his comical pajamas. I try not to laugh when I tell this to someone, sounds vaguely disrespectful of the dead.
Once I learned his secret I was not scared of him, I started calling out his annoying behavior. Told him how bad a roommate he was being. We decided to call a truce. Peter being a ghost couldn’t just pick out a book and read any time he wished. Every day for one hour I would read him any book he chose and he would leave me alone for the rest of the day. This was a good deal until he started trash talking Dan Brown. I know a lot of people don’t approve of his writing but to each his own. Peter took sympathy on me and helped me in navigating the politics of the institute. He’d come with me to classrooms and since no one but me could see him, he’d tell me that Ryan was bullying Maria or who was cheating on tests. Within weeks I had garnered a reputation of being formidable. Peter told me the kids thought I had eyes on the back of my head. I found the whole situation horribly funny.
“Are you cleaning up again?”, Peter would jokingly mimic me cleaning up and I would retort, “Someone has to and we both know it’s not you.” Peter thought I was being rigid and didn’t enjoy my life. I enjoyed these discussions with Peter. I would tell him of course that he was wrong, I was merely doing everything well now, saving up, eating healthy food, and just normal stuff so that I don’t have to worry later on in life. On more than one occasion I had asked Peter what he would do if he could be a human again. His answer was always the same: go to an amusement park, eat as many cheeseburgers and ice-creams as he could, and make out with someone at a movie. “Classic”, I’d say. Things were going almost smoothly for me, Peter and I were fast becoming friends. After class, we’d hang out in my room. Peter would tell me how I was wrong, I would tell Peter how he was dead and should shut up. All in all, it was going well until I got hold of “A beginners guide to summoning demons: A user’s manual” on Peter’s shelf. It had a logo which said “The Coven of Theivery”.
“For the last time, I don’t know where that came from”, bellowed Peter. I had been badgering him for a week to know the whereabouts of the book we had found. Peter doesn’t want me to open the book, he thinks it may bring “curses”. Then again with a name like Jupiter you are bound to believe some nonsense. We both agreed that no harm ever came from opening a book. I failed to tell Peter that this was the exact line from the movie “The Mummy” right before they open “The book of the dead”. To be fair, this book seemed like a joke. It told us we could summon demons using some basic ingredients found in the kitchen and if there was no goat blood, we could substitute with ketchup! Really! But what got my attention was section B chapter 7: Living for a day. There was a way we could summon a demon that would let us resurrect any dead person and lets them live for a day. It wasn’t even that hard.
So I ventured out into the supermarket and bought 30 bottles of ketchup and realized I am the guy from the math problem we learn about at school. The cashier looked at me like I had sprouted a violet horn, but I soldiered on. Soon with ketchup, mayo, garlic, and some other objects, we got to work. I am not giving out the entire list, you don’t want to summon a demon, not even by accident. I made and did all the silly stuff mentioned in the book and waited. Peter had floated in to see the immaculate marble floors covered in garlic paste, ketchup, and some other unspeakable things. Peter wailed on about ruining the room and the smell of garlic which ghosts couldn’t stand apparently. I chanted the spell given in the book. Nothing spectacular happened, at first. Then out of thin air, a figure began to materialize, it seemed like someone had put burning coals to make a figure, a terribly misshapen, grotesque figure. I couldn’t look away, I watched it emerge with a sick fascination, it was right there in the middle of our living room amidst all the ketchup and garlic which was meant to keep it in the circle preventing us from being demon food.
“Am I scaring you guys ?”, the thing in our room, had the audacity to ask! “Only a bit”, Peter replied paler than before. Peter was always terrible at lying. “Sorry guys, I am Dave”, said the monster, shrinking before our eyes until he looked like a Dave. He’d pass off as a guy from a mall any day. “Aww you’ve got garlic paste circle and all, you guys are cute”, Dave said in a sing-song voice.
“You want your friend to live for a day?” Dave motions to Peter. Peter looks petrified. If he was any paler I would have mistaken him for water vapors which suspiciously looked like Peter. Dave was looking at me expectantly. I nodded and asked, “And you do this all the time? Nothing goes wrong?”. Dave takes a second before answering, “Well this one time I was summoned accidentally by a kid who made a sandwich. That didn’t go as planned. If you know what I mean”, Dave winked at me. I did not know what that meant and I told him so. “If that’s all I will make this pale ghost, human for a day and be on my way”, Dave off-handedly beckoning Peter. I nodded. Dave started waving his hands theatrically at Peter and Peter vanished in a cloud of smoke. When the dust cleared, I saw Peter coughing up and pinching himself. He was human! Before I could ask anything else Dave vanished in a puff of smoke.
Without wasting a lot of time I smuggled a disguised Peter from the institute to the amusement park that Peter was always going on about. I checked their rides and made a small timetable of sorts, if we followed it we’d be able to get to all the rides in time with enough snack breaks in between for all the cheeseburgers. After the first two rides, I was feeling a little nauseous. But I couldn’t let that distract me so I went with Peter who seemed to be enjoying it all. “You know when we were on top of that ride”, he pointed to the tallest ride in the park “there was a moment when it went up, up and up then it stopped for a millisecond before it went down. At that moment I could feel the beating heart in my chest, the air in my lungs, and this wind on my face. I have never felt so alive, thanks for going to all that trouble for me”, he smiled.
I looked at him, his cheeks were rosy, eyes full of merriment, his brown hair glinted in the Sun and the freckles on his nose seemed to dance. His eyes were hazel, which I hadn’t noticed before. He was so young. I felt my throat constrict painfully and my eyes burning. “Right “, I manage to mumble before turning away and wiping off my tears on the back of my hand.
By the time it was evening, we were almost on schedule and it was time for ice-cream. Peter had been wasting some time here. Now he had ordered Pralines and cream, his favorite ice-cream, before that it was cotton candy his second favorite and before that, it was butterscotch ribbon his third favorite, and so on. I was fast losing my patience, if we didn’t start moving, we may not be able to complete all the rides in time for the movie.
“Whoa!, your ice-cream is melting off”, Peter gestured animatedly. Then he must have caught the look on my face because he asked,” What’s wrong? Why the long face?”. I explained it all to him, to my dismay he was merely smiling. He gestured for me to sit next to him. I took a seat and he studied my face and said, ” It’s okay to not be in control all the time, it’s okay to just have fun and enjoy whatever you are doing. I am not saying you shouldn’t plan ahead, but make sure you are enjoying the ‘now’ rather than just struggling through life until you achieve everything you desire. You will have lived most of your life joylessly. ”
“This isn’t about me!”, I protested vehemently. “This is about you, you have only 24 hours before we can do all the things on your list”, I gushed. Peter smiled at me and said, “So do you, you don’t know what’s gonna happen next, maybe Dave will come back and demand your soul in exchange for this, anything could happen, all anyone has is now this moment. Why not make the most of it?”. I sat back in my chair, Peter was right who knew what awaited me tomorrow. “I’ll have a strawberry-mango twist please!”, I yelled.
As I sat there eating a delicious ice-cream, my fourth favorite, listening to Peter chatter away about the smells and sounds and being able to touch everything I promised myself I’d enjoy life no matter what. When I began this, it may have seemed to be just about me having a paranormal experience. But it’s about everyone. We wait and wait for everything to be perfect to start enjoying, to start being happy, the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect car, or the perfect relationship perhaps. We put our happiness on hold as our time here slowly creeps away and lead boring lives in the hopes of the ‘perfect tomorrow’. But maybe this is our life, we should live while we still can. Who knows what our future holds for us. ‘Now’ is all we have. Enjoy, make the most of it.
Note: Dave was actually a powerful demon, worshipped by a cult who had dubbed themself ‘The coven of thievery’. They discovered I had managed to summon him, so they contacted me and offered me honorary membership which I politely declined. Ever since they have a picture of me kept near the altar as a reminder that humans can summon Dave.
Name : Amalda Christine Wales
Company : Allianz Technology SE, Technopark
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