Liam said that breaking into the school with him would be enough to get me into his gang. But now I’ve to do this as well. The gang are watching from the other end of Old Dogbreath’s laboratory. Is Liam laughing, or is he coughing from the fumes from all the chemicals the gang have tipped all over the place?
They said I’ll be a coward if I don’t do it. I get ready to run and strike the match.
The flash is far too bright. There’s lots of heat. Liam is screaming. The others run away and me? I’m flying. I pass through the ceiling of the lab and drift up with the smoke.
Wow. I can see the lost footballs on the roof of science block. Some are melting into pools of plastic gloop from the heat of the fire.
Fire! The science block is on fire. I never meant for that to happen.
Blue lights skim across classroom windows. The basketball post is knocked over by a Fire engine that races onto the playground.
And I’m floating higher.
Limping John, the school caretaker is his dressing gown, it flaps about his skinny legs as he runs back and forth with both hands pressed to his face.
I’m slowing down now. Falling through the smoke. The roof of the school rushes up to meet me.
Oh no. Is this going to hurt?
I close my eyes and wait, and wait, and wait…
‘Can no one tell me the answer?’
Miss Khan stands in front of the class. She’s normally nice and speaks so quietly but today she’s really loud.
‘I know that today is particularly upsetting for some of you, but really 7C, this is not good enough.’
Hang on? Why am I standing in the open classroom doorway? Have I been sent outside for copying Liam and messing about again? I don’t remember.
‘Very well. I will read the verse one more time. Please, listen, carefully.’
Poetry. I just don’t get the stuff. I know that some of the teachers think I’m thick. Dogbreath our science teacher is the worst. He had a go at me for nodding off while he was banging on about acids and alkalis. I bet he’d be tired as well if his mum’d had another bad night and he was up and down fetching her water and helping her every time she fell out of bed.
Miss Khan glances at me as she opens her book. I nod to show that I’m sorry for whatever, but she doesn’t ask me to go back to my seat. What did I do that was so bad?
Melanie Chambers, the girl with the best smile in the world and who always makes me feel like an idiot when she looks at me, starts crying. Anne Pardoe, her best friend puts her arm around her. I look at Miss Khan expecting her to be angry, but instead her eyes are all watery.
Why is Mel so upset?
Across the aisle from her, Liam gives his, huh, huh, huh laugh, like he does when he sees a kid fall over and hurt themselves. Funny, he seems bigger now and his face is all red like he’s been in the sun too long. He stretches an elastic band between his fingers and shoots a paper pellet that skims across Mel’s desk and bounces off her wrist. She jerks back as if she’s been stung and I’m marching across the room. I do want to be in his gang but I’m not letting him bully Mel.
‘Stand up you, rabbit-faced lump of dog’s poop,’ I yell but he doesn’t even look at me. He just stares at Mel and smirks. I want to hit him but I’ve never punched anyone in my life. Instead, I swing my hand across his desk to knock his poetry book into his chest. But it feels like my fingers are passing through warm water. The book doesn’t move but the sheet of paper he was writing on flips up and stays in my fingers. It feels slippery like I’m holding a piece of warm ice. Is that possible? Warm ice? Anyway, drawn on the sheet is a stick man with a big grinning face.
‘Ha, look at this,’ I call out and turn the paper to show Mel. ‘He’s twelve and all he can draw are stick people.’ She looks at the paper but it’s like I’m holding up a dead rat or something. Her face goes white. She pushes away from me and into Anne Pardoe who widens her eyes as if she’s going to scream.
Liam squeals like I’ve actually hit him. He topples backwards and his chair falls against the new kid, Daniel Jackson’s desk. The whole class are on their feet. Girls are screaming and everyone is shuffling away from me. Miss Khan’s eyes are even wider than Ann Pardoe’s and she has both fists pressed to her chest as she stares at the paper I’m holding. What’s the matter with everyone?
‘Stop it,’ I shout. But no one answers. I drop the paper. It falls in a swinging arc and lands on Liam’s chest. Liam squeals louder and wriggles under Daniel Jackson’s desk to get away. Dan is the only one who isn’t panicking. His voice is calm and kind-sounding.
‘Geoff? Are you there?’
What? Even the weirdo new kid, whose dad is supposed to be a ghost-hunter or something, is winding me up. I can’t take any more of this.
I dash for the door.
I stop. Spin around but like Miss Khan, Daniel Jackson isn’t even looking at me.
‘Stop being so nasty,’ I shout.
I’ve had enough of this stupid school and the stupid people in it. I don’t care if I get into trouble. I’m going home.
The corridor is bright from the sunlight coming in from outside. So why can’t I see the doors at the end of the corridor that lead to the playground? It’s black, like the entrance to a deep tunnel. It’s horrible. Why is it there? Why am I seeing it? I’ll go the other way, past the entrance to Dogbreath’s lab and out through the side door.
I turn away from the blackness and start down the corridor but something’s going on with the lab door. Well, there is no door, just a light that’s so white it’s hurting my eyes. Someone’s inside the light. I can’t see who it is because they’re just a shape. It’s lifting an arm, waving. There’s a voice, muffled like someone speaking with their hand over their mouth. I can’t hear what it’s saying but I know It wants me to come closer.
I’ll go back into Miss Khan’s class and leave school when all the other kids do.
The classroom door is closed now. I try to open it, but it’s as if the knob is covered in slippery stuff. My fingers can’t grip enough to twist it. I bang on the glass.
‘Miss Khan? Miss Khan!’
Nobody looks at me. Then I realise, I’m not making any sound. My fists hit the window but there’s no thump or bang. What’s happening to me?
I’m alone now. The school is empty and there is just the one security light on in the corridor yet I can still see the darkness. It’s pulling at me, makes me feel like I’m standing on a slope and about to tumble. The single shape in the white light is there, not mumbling any more, just waiting. Waiting for what? For me?
It’s really late now. Mum will be so worried I’m not home but what can I do? There’s a smashing of glass. Someone is breaking into the school.
A figure knocks out the jagged bits of the glass with a stick and then climbs in. It’s Daniel Jackson. What’s he doing here? I hadn’t got him down as the kind who’d be an idiot like me and break into the school.
‘Geoff? Are you here?’
‘Are you trying to be funny, Jackson?’ I yell. He turns around and looks right at me.
‘Geoff? Give me a sign if you’re here.’
‘Pack it in, Jackson, you freak.’ I give him a shove but my hand slides across his chest without actually touching him. I’m instantly weak, like most of my energy has gone from me and into him.
‘Wow. That’s cold,’ Dan says and steps back from me. ‘Thanks for making contact.’
‘Making contact? What’s that supposed to mean?’ I try to shove him again and my hand just scoots away from him. I’m so weak now that I drop to my knees.
‘Easy, Geoff,’ Dan says and rubs his arms like he’s trying to get warm. ‘Listen Geoff, my dad’s more into this stuff than I am, but we’ve found out that I’m the one who is more sensitive than him or any of his ghost-hunting friends.’
‘Sensitive to what? I don’t know what you’re talking about?’
Dan tilts his head to one side like he’s only just hearing me. ‘I’m still learning, Geoff. I’m still being trained but I’m here to help you if I can.’
‘Then look at me. I’m down here. Help me.’
Dan still stares ahead. His voice is soft like before, kind. ‘Geoff, you do know that you’re dead, right?’
‘What?’ I manage to stand up.
‘The laboratory fire was a year ago. That’s when you died, Geoff. Exactly this day last year.’
‘Don’t be stupid. I’m here. Here!’
Dan just carries on talking.
‘Only, sometimes, spirits who hang around the place where they died do that because they don’t realise they’re dead. They see a white light, and that’s where they should go, but they don’t understand.’
I look at the light at the end of the corridor. The shape is still there. It raises an arm and waves.
‘I’m sensing that you’re scared, Geoff.’
I turn to face him. ‘Of course I’m bloody scared,’ I shout.
‘All I can say is, don’t be afraid. If you want to move on-.’
‘I want my mum.’
‘If you want peace-.’
‘I want to go home.’
‘Then go where there is light.’
Crying is for babies but I can’t help it. I’m glad Dan can’t see me because I’m blubbing like a Year 1.’
The voice is deep and reaches right into me. And even though I haven’t heard it for a long, long time, I know who it is. I can’t see his face because of the light, but-.
I turn to the light.
‘It’s okay to come to me, Geoffrey.’
The corridor, the classrooms and even Daniel become sort of misty. But I do see my dad. He lifts up his arms to me.
I’m running down the corridor. Then I remember why it all changed. Dad’s car accident leaving just me and mum. Then mum’s illness and me having to stay at home and look after her instead of playing with my friends. They don’t call for me anymore.
I slow down.
‘It’s okay to leave, Geoffrey.’
I stop walking.
‘I can’t, dad. I have to stay and look after mum.’
Dad lowers his arms. I’m close enough to see his face now and he’s smiling. Someone joins him and he puts an arm around her. At first I don’t recognize who she is because she can stand without being bent over and I don’t think of a bird’s claws when I look at her hands because her fingers are long and straight as she waves to me.
‘Mum’s here with me now, son.’
‘We’ve been waiting for you, darling,’ Mum says.
I’m running as fast as I can. And I’m in the light. And I realise that I never really needed to be in Liam’s gang to feel wanted because I have always been wanted. And I’m being lifted and hugged and it’s great. Just great.