January 2022’s short story of the month
“When Bobby tells a joke, you’re always wondering if he’s going to take it just a little bit too far. He’s got this image of himself as outrageous and controversial, when in reality he…,” Shelley stopped talking mid-sentence.
Mary was staring at the boy who just walked into the cafeteria.
“Are you even listening to me, Mary?” Shelley asked.
“What?” Mary stuttered out. “What did you say?” She looked at Shelley and knew she was in trouble once again with her best friend. “I didn’t hear what you were saying.”
“No kidding,” said Shelley. “What are you staring at so intently?” She swiveled around on her cafeteria chair. She saw the boy standing in the doorway and shrugged before she turned back to her friend and her sad cafeteria lunch of spaghetti and a tiny salad of lettuce and three pieces of shredded cheese.
“Sorry,” said Mary focusing on her friend. She kept peaking around Shelley to sneak glances at the new boy, but she tried not to make it obvious. Something was off about him. She could sense it from where she was sitting. What was it though? She shook her head. Ever since she was little, she could read people’s auras and get a sense of who they were from just being near them.
She wasn’t near him though. He was all the way across the cafeteria, and yet, she could tell you things about him that she had no way of knowing. He was an only child. He’d just moved to town to live with his uncle. And then the thing that was bothering Mary about him finally hit her. She knew why something was off about him.
Death was following him. She didn’t know how to explain it to Shelley. Shelley, though her best friend since kindergarten, didn’t really believe that Mary had magical powers. She just thought Mary was really intuitive.
Mary’s aunts knew differently though. They came from a long line of witches and seers. The powers manifested differently in each person. Her aunts called her a soul reader.
And what she was reading right now from across a crowded high school cafeteria filled with egos and hormones, was a boy, close to her age, who’s soul was friends with death.
That was the only way she could explain what she was reading. She needed to talk to her aunts. She’d never encountered something like this before.
“I’m not feeling well,” she said, interrupting Shelley. “I’m going to the nurse’s office.”
“Right now?” asked Shelley. “At least wait until English, then at least you’ll get out of the most boring class in the entire universe.”
Mary smirked. Shelley’s disdain for their English teacher grew with each passing year. In a small town, you usually had the same teacher for each subject all years of high school. Their English teacher also happened to be Shelley’s dad. She spent the entire class rolling her eyes as her dad made nerdy puns and tried to make learning about poetry interesting to teens.
“I can’t wait,” said Mary. She placed her hand on her stomach. “Must have been something I ate.”
Shelley looked at her own barely touched food and pushed it away from her. “Probably.” She sighed. “Fine. Leave me here all alone.”
“I’ve never felt anything like it,” whispered Mary into the receiver. “What does it mean?”
“I don’t know, dear. We should probably look in our books. We can talk about this after school. Just stay away from him.”
Mary could practically hear her Aunt Carol wringing her hands through the phone. “Okay. I’ll see you later.”
Mary hung up, not feeling any better. When she’d tried to describe the sensation to her aunt, the only words that came to mind were dark and foggy.
She made it to class just in time to see everyone filing out of the room. Shelley came bounding toward her and looped her arm through her’s.
“Library day,” Shelley said as she skipped, pulling Mary along towards the library.
Library days were enjoyed by both teachers and students alike. The students liked them because they got to leave the confines of their normal classrooms and roam about in the book stacks out of the view of teachers. The teachers liked them because they escorted the students to the library, dropped them off, and then returned to their classroom for a blissful forty-five minutes of silence. On library days, they were someone else’s responsibilities.
After the librarian took role, they were released to “select books for personal reading.” Most students found a spot in the book stacks to use their phones or sat at the long library tables and wasted the time. As long as nothing caught on fire, and no one left bleeding, the librarian left them to it.
Mary and Shelley wound their way through the stacks on the balcony level of the library—the non-fiction section. They liked to camp out right in front of the encyclopedias (ancient tomes of information that no one even opened anymore. Thank you, Google!)
“Well, I take it you’re feeling better.”
Mary shrugged. “I guess.”
They sat on the floor next to each other for a few moments, but sitting there left Mary feeling restless.
“I’m going to wander a bit. Be right back.”
She circled around the shelf to the other side and took a deep breath. No matter what she did, she felt like the air was too thick since she’d seen him.
She walked further along the shelf, noting the dust was espically thick on this row of books. She stopped to look at the titles that were just at her eye level. It was more encycolopedias. These ones were in burgundy covers and had gold lettering that was practically worn away. As she was trying to figure out what the book in front of her covered, she felt like she was being watched.
A wave of oppressive air swirled around her. She tried to breath but felt like she might hyperventilate. She grabbed the shelf in front of her and closed her eyes to try and steady herself. After a moment, she felt better.
When she opened her eyes, she saw across the shelf and into the next row of books. There were two large green eyes looking back at her.
She didn’t jump. She’d never been one to startle easily.
“Are you okay?” the voice that she assumed belonged to the eyes asked.
“Fine. Why are you staring at me?”
“You looked like you might faint.”
“And you just stood there watching?” Mary asked, not hiding the annoyed tone from her question.
“My name’s Victor,” he said.
“Mary,” she answered.
As he stepped back from the shelf, she could see now that it was the boy from the cafeteria.
“Are you in my English class?” she asked.
Just then, Shelley popped up. “There you are. Come on. You are not going to believe what Bobby did now.” Shelley grabbed her and pulled her away. Not for the first time, Mary was glad Shelley was oblivious to other people’s lives.