A New Wind
The next morning it took me a little longer to get out of bed. I woke up early, feeling like butterflies had overtaken my body and I was lightheaded from lack of sleep. In short, I felt like I was floating about in a parallel universe.
I was so eager to start the day and explore this new life of seeing ghosts and acting Juliet that I wanted to bounce out of bed. At the same time, I felt sleep deprived and petrified. What would a life of seeing ghosts be like? What would acting Juliet be like?
I hid under my duvet, trying to think it all through.
First of all, there was the ghost thing. I was now certain that Josephine had been “real” as Wilda had seen her too. And for some reason, I didn’t think her a magician out to fool me. Seriously. Who would do something like that? Climb into a stranger's home and pretend to be a ghost? A very good-at-playing-jazz kind of ghost.
Maybe I should be thankful for that? The piano playing, I mean. If one were to have a ghost about, it might as well be one that could play the piano. And I liked Josephine. She was entertaining. I’d just been a bit too shocked to realize that the night before.
Once Josephine had left, my aunts had all gathered with me in the kitchen to discuss ghosts and the afterlife. We ended up with more questions than answers. Like how could Josephine take on a physical form? Very weird. And were all the deceased people just floating about in the ether watching us? Or was Josephine special?
Harry finally walked in after we’d debated this and other questions relating to life and death, and declared that 90% of the universe is unseen and humans don’t understand most of it. He is the most scientific in our entire family and he didn’t bat half an eyelid at the idea of ghosts. He just shrugged his shoulders and said that if we live in a world where you can get sick (why is that?) and cured by eating herbs, then anything is possible. I guess he’s right.
Regina suddenly stirred at the foot of my bed and I looked at her lovingly. She’s adorable when she sleeps and thinks she’s chasing rabbits in her dreams.
Regina is our German Shepherd. Or really, she’s uncle Harry’s German Shepherd, but she believes she belongs to all of us. As such she takes turns sleeping in our rooms. She even has a basket in my room, but when she stays with me she always sneaks into my bed once I’m asleep. As I don’t have the heart to chide her for it in the morning, she doesn’t see a reason for stopping her little habit.
“Can you see ghosts too, huh?” I asked her and she moaned in reply. Apparently, she was awakening. “OK girl, come on. Let’s get you out for your morning pee in the garden. I need to get ready for my morning work-out.”
Regina lifted one eyelid and one ear and looked at me sleepily.
“OK, I get it. You want to sleep in, but you will interrupt our morning work-out if I leave you here. And I’m not taking you to the garden in the middle of the work-out, so come on.”
At this warning, Regina opened both eyes and got up to give me my morning kiss.
About two hours later I was sitting next to a shocked Johanna in maths. We’d spent most of the class writing each other notes and whispering, while pretending to care about trigonometry.
“You actually saw a ghost?” Johanna was still in disbelief.
“Yes, and I know for certain because Wilda saw her too.”
“A ghost who plays the piano and wears glitzy dresses.” Johanna shook her head.
“I guess she was a jazz singer in real life.”
“It’s all a bit much to take in. I mean I know your family can predict the weather and discover people’s ailments just by looking at them, but a ghost?”
“It’s uncle Ben who predicts the weather by reading the clouds and measuring the air pressure. And figuring out what’s wrong with people is generally a matter of cold reading. I could teach you both how to read the clouds and do cold readings.”
Cold reading, mentalism, or mind reading — take your pick — is something I was brought up to understand. Basically, you pick up on cues in a person’s behavior, such as the speed of their breathing and their heartbeat, the color of their skin (people tend to blush slightly by anything that agitates, or excites, them), their tone of voice, their body language and their facial expressions.
Johanna was nodding. “I think I should learn cold reading from you. I never really thought about it before, for some reason. Like that was your skill, not mine, but it will come in handy. I’ve always had you around, but once we set off for college I will have to deal with understanding people on my own. Thanks for telling me about Elb yesterday, by the way.”
I’d told Johanna after drama that Elbert is attracted to her. The problem with Elbert is that he’s attracted to any decent looking girl.
“It’s not hard to read people if you only practice a bit. I mean getting as good as some mentalists is hard, I’m not that good. The basics are easy enough to learn, but not the more complicated stuff. But about Josephine…”
At this precise moment, Mr Wood decided to explain a new mathematical problem on the whiteboard and I had to start paying attention. Math problems, as it turned out, were a lot easier to comprehend than ghosts.
A few hours later Johanna and I walked into our culture, philosophy and religion class (a new class for the year that explores religion, philosophy and culture throughout the ages and how they affected, and still affect, society). By one of the desks sat a girl I’d never seen before. She had dark hair that was dyed purple towards the ends, smoldering brown eyes and a cool black outfit. It was hard not to see her. She stood out.
Once the class was seated, Mr Smith addressed us.
“Today I have two exciting announcements. First of all, I want to introduce Raya Eastwind, who is new in town.”
At this Raya looked uncomfortable for about half a second, but she quickly covered it up with a confident looking smile.
We all greeted her and most of us gaped at her like she was a circus attraction: a new kid in a town with 2,000 residents is a sensation. Actually, that’s not entirely true. About 2,000 residents I mean, because in our school we have kids from Lookout Village too — a picturesque village nestled on a mountain about ten kilometers away.
Rocky Creek has Gold Mountain (so named because of the yellow poppies that cover parts of it in summer) and Silver Mountain (so named because of how moonlight always makes it look like it was made out of silver for some peculiar reason) to entertain tourists with hiking and skiing.
Lookout Village doesn’t have a skiing slope to attract tourists, rather, the village is the tourist attraction itself. It was built by some European architect back in the 1800s and it looks like a French fairytale village — complete with narrow alleyways — carved into the Sierra Nevadas. It’s beautiful. It only has about 1,000 residents (in high season) and it can’t be expanded much as it sits on a mountain plateau, with part of it being carved into the actual mountain. I love the place because it….well, it feels magical. Especially when the mist rolls in and slowly rises up the mountain and eventually covers the entire village.
I wondered if Raya lived in Lookout Village, or Rocky Creek? I would eventually find out, no doubt. It’s hard to keep your address a secret in our parts.
Raya looked interesting. Definitively had an attitude. Might go well with Johanna, I mused, as Johanna always liked people who stood out from a crowd.
Then, once Mr Smith felt everyone had had a good look at Raya, he once again beamed at the class.
“The second announcement I have to make, is that we are going to have a competition. As you all know we have a Christmas festival here every year that helps bring out the Christmas spirit. It’s an important event for our little town as it creates social engagement and brings in more money from tourists. Now, this year…”
He looked excitedly around the room, pausing for effect.
“This year there is a competition for coming up with a theme that can somehow be incorporated into the festival. You will be split into groups and then you have two weeks to come up with a theme and activities around it, before presenting it to the class and the town festival committee. All of you will then help the committee to incorporate the winning proposal into the festival. It will look great on your resumes when applying for college.”
It was clear looking at Mr Smith that he thought that working on a town festival was a big honor. I mainly thought of the amount of work it would require. It would be kind of cool though to have your ideas experienced by others. If you won, that is.
Mr Smith then set about dividing us into groups and much to mine and Johanna’s surprise we ended up with Elbert and Jason. I could feel my heart doing summersaults in my chest as I looked at Jason. He looked as lost in thought as always, only briefly looking at us with a smile when Mr Smith announced that we were going to be working together. That one-second smile made my heart do even crazier things than summersaults.
I had no idea what Jason was thinking, but it looked like the universe had finally provided me with an opening for speaking with him. If I could think of anything more intelligent to say than “I like the way your hair curls.” I mean that wouldn’t get me far. Not with one of the brightest kids in town.
As we sat down together in a corner of the room, Samantha glared at myself and Johanna, while Elbert looked at us expectantly — he was clearly filled with excitement for this project.
“This is cool, isn’t it? We could propose a magic show.”
“Or a fashion show,” Johanna said, dreamily.
I was just about to tell them that neither is a theme, but Jason got there before me.
“It’s a theme we are looking for guys. Magic could be a theme, so could fashion, but a show is not a theme. And I somehow think it has to relate to Christmas.”
“How about Christmases past?” I asked, thinking of old Christmas tales.
“How would you incorporate that?” Jason asked, curious.
I was momentarily startled by his curiosity — he has a knack for looking at people when they speak with an intense curiosity for about three seconds before he gets lost in thought again. Those three-seconds have always done weird things to my interiors and it seemed to have gotten worse since school started again this year.
Looking at his face I was thinking about the curve of his eyebrows, the intense brown of his eyes, the slight smile dangling on his lips…
“Uhm, I think…I mean, I don’t know. But you could use fashion and magic.”
I had no idea really, I was thinking of theatre performances when I came up with Christmas tales. Charles Dickens.
“I guess,” I said, after giving it some further thought, “that you could have stands showing off and selling wares that would have been used in Christmases past. Like, you know, how they decorated the trees back then, like selling those kinds of decor items. And selling the kind of treats people would eat back then. Wrapped in old fashioned packaging. And,” I nodded at Johanna, ”you could have the people at the stands dressed in costumes from that period.”
“We could choose a period,” Elbert said, suddenly looking enthused by the idea. “Like the gold rush or something, and the whole town could dress up in period clothes. I could act a street magician from that time.”
“And we could do street performances acting out some tale, or tales, from back then,” I added. I made a mental note to make sure I wouldn’t be acting another lovesick teenager — one Juliet is quite enough!
“We could also gather newspaper clippings with stories from back then and exhibit them,” Jason said.
“I could do a fashion show with clothes from the era,” Johanna nodded. Then: “It might be enough decking the whole town in costumes though. I’m not sure we’d have time to make any more.”
“No, but you could make ones to sell!” I said enthusiastically. “It’s really popular these days to dress up in old garbs. I’ve seen sites for it online when looking for theatre costumes.”
Jason looked thoughtful. “I’d like to do something relating to nature,” he said. “Like how people lived closer to nature back then.”
“We live in the middle of nature,” Johanna said, confused.
“Yes,” Jason replied, “but it’s not like we’re paying attention. People back then could navigate looking at the stars.”
“Predict the weather looking at the clouds,” I added and Jason shot me a surprised look.
“You could do a stand with information and teach classes,” Elbert said. Then he looked at me curiously. “Can you actually predict the weather by looking at the clouds, Louise?”
“My uncle, Ben, does hikes with tourists. He knows it very well. He could teach it. He can navigate using the stars too,” I added, looking at Jason. I couldn’t help but feeling a little bit snug that my family had talents he clearly admired.
Jason beamed at me.
“He could take tourists and maybe even townsfolk on a hike and teach them these things.”
“Survivalism is a big thing these days,” Johanna nodded. “All the conspiracy theorists love survival gear. Living off the grid. No need for the government. I’m sure this would gel well with them. Besides, everyone in California is big on nature in general right now. Back to our roots.”
Jason looked thoughtful.
“We could call it Ghosts of Christmases Past,” he said and I almost choked on something. Johanna gave me a meaningful look and I could feel my cheeks starting to burn.
“Yes,” Johanna said cheerfully. “That’s a great idea.” She was enjoying herself a little too much; looking at me with amusement dancing in her eyes.
“We could even arrange a ghost tour,” Elbert chimed in, looking pleased with himself. “Your father could build something to create illusions of ghosts, I’m sure,” he said, nodding at Jason.
“Yep,” Jason said.
“His father is a magician,” Elbert added, for mine and Johanna’s benefit. “I mean he works as an electrician, but he has been preparing a stage show for one of the hotels. He’s awesome. He has taught me a lot about the science of magic.”
“He’s always lost in his experiments.” Jason shook his head.
Just then Mr Smith called the class to order again and told us to go home and work more on our ideas and then dismissed us, as he had an appointment and has been unable to find a replacement teacher. So we got an extra long break.
As Johanna and I walked out of the classroom, after assuring Elbert and Jason that we’d do some research about the past of Rocky Creek, I heard a voice. At first, I thought I was imagining it, but then the air in front of me started to shimmer as well.
“Louise,” the voice said. “I’m Mr Crinkle. I mean I was Mr Crinkle. I’m the spirit protector of this school. Well, of Rocky Creek as a whole, really, but I used to work here at the school, so I particularly like it.”
I stopped dead in my tracks and Johanna turned to look at me.
“You look pale, anything wrong?”
“I, uh, no, yes… Let’s just go outside for a while. I think I’m sleep deprived. Feeling a bit weird.” Inside my mind, I silently added: “Shut up till we get outside, the last thing I need is talking into the air and being taken for a fool.”
At this Mr Crinkle chuckled and I felt a gust of air blow by my hair as he turned and made his way in front of us, towards the doors leading out.