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Story Most Recently Updated: Me, Alex, and the Donut Wagon
Me, Alex, and the Donut Wagon
An Introduction to My Summer Plans
“Earth to Kayla! Earth to Kayla!”
Someone is waving his hands in my face. What an unwelcome intrusion.
“Jeezuz Nate what do you want?” I pull my earbuds out.
“Mom says we gotta go now. We need to check out by eleven if we wanna get to Breckenridge in time.”
“Alright, here take this bag.” I heave a lavender duffel bag into his arms.
I stuff the earbuds into my purse and grab my stuffed suitcase by the handle. Nate and I walk out the door together. We may be twins but he’s a foot taller than me and his feet are long and thin and they splay all over, whereas mine are small and take solid strides.
“How much do you know about this kid anyway?” Nate asks as I close the door to the motel room.
“Your summer lover.”
“You mean the person working in the donut wagon with me.”
“I’m very fuzzy on the details. You know I can’t even hear Aunt May on the phone most of the time. She’s always muttering.”
“He could be an ax murderer,” Nate says, his long brown hands on his face in feigned fright.
“He’s the grandson of some church lady Aunt May knows. Aunt May isn’t even trying to set me up with someone like normal. She only put me down for this because she wants me to make some money and get to be more of a people person.”
“But you’re already sooo sociable already seeing as you skipped all the school dances last year,” Nate remarks, flashing his world-class Nate Baker smile.
“You’re one to talk.” But of course, he isn’t. Nate has a ton of friends.
I can hear mom honking the horn from the other side of the parking lot just as I’m about to say something about me not needing people after all. Nate starts to jog even though he could just walk across the parking lot and still get there in a reasonable amount of time. He never stops running. He runs at school, he runs at home. Nate barely sits down for anything. He doesn’t like to stop and I think it’s because he can’t handle things when he really stops and thinks about them and he’s afraid he’ll get depressed like Bella did. But anyway I’m no Freud and it’s kinda none of my business.
Nate opens the trunk a few yards ahead of me and throws my bag in somewhat carelessly. I snap the handle down on my red suitcase and tuck it in behind a grey-upholstered car seat. Aunt May bought me the suitcase. She knows my favorite color is purple but I expect her to ignore all of my preferences and she never fails to do so. I can’t help but think that the guy in the donut truck will be as much of a disappointment as the suitcase is.
The Bakers Hit the Road
My mother is, predictably, barreling down the interstate.
“What’s even in Breckenridge?” Nate asks, struggling once again to find a place for his giant legs.
“Skiing,” says mom.
“White people,” says dad.
“And why does Kay even have to go there since Aunt May lives in Denver? Aren’t there weird baked good carts in Denver?”
“All I know,” says mom, her fingers going outward from the wheel like they do when she talks or listens to music, “is that Aunt May knows a lady who has a grandson about Kayla’s age who got a summer job in Breckenridge and they need two people to run the donut shop…cart…wagon…so Bella volunteered Kay.”
“Without consulting anyone else…” dad grumbles.
“She’s your sister, you deal with her. I think this is a good thing.”
“And I don’t think our Kayla needs to be locked in a steamy pastry wagon all day with a perfect stranger,” dad says.
“Fight! Fight! Fight!” Nate contributes.
“Well what does Kayla think?” mom asks.
“I mean it’s too late now for my opinion,” I say, “but I think it could be…a little fun.”
“What’s that?” mom prods.
“I said it might turn out to be fun?”
“Fun. I said fun, mom.”
“Kayla’s doing something fun you guys!” Nate hoots with laughter.
“I’m glad you know what a good time is,” dad remarks sleepily with a chuckle.
“I think plenty of things are fun,” I say in my defense. I have a bit of a reputation around the house as a wet blanket or whatever. I don’t really care but I don’t think it’s true either.
Colorado is a very empty sort of place in some parts. Emptier than California anyway. Which I guess is nice but it’s also kind of difficult because there’s a lot more silence and even if I’m a fairly silent person I need noise all around me. Not because I’m afraid of thinking, like Nate. I’ve just already done all of my thinking and if I’m surrounded by quiet I get bored and think the same thoughts over again sometimes.
Mom and Nate are arguing quietly about something and I’m looking out the windshield, my earbuds in.
The music eventually puts me to sleep and when I wake up the landscape outside the car windows has changed drastically and my playlist has returned to the beginning. The car is winding through shrub-covered rocky hillsides that turn into mountains in the distance. None of the windows are open but I have a feeling it’s cool outside.
Dad and Nate are totally asleep and mom is listening to very quiet music on the car radio. Her hands are doing the thing again. Her fingers go out, in, out, in together like she’s conducting a symphony with both of her whole hands. Her fingernails are perfectly shiny as usual, clear pearls on her dark brown hands.
“Hey how long to Breckenridge?” I don’t like the name of the town. It feels pokey and preppy on my tongue.
“An hour or so,” mom returns, “your father better wake up by the time I pull into the next rest stop. I’m tired.”
“I could drive,” I offer, half-joking. I just got my license. Nate can drive too though my parents took his license from him for a little while after what happened with Bella . He wouldn’t show how bad it tore him up and they thought he might run himself into something. He was really angry for a time. It’s been almost a year and a half now.
“Mmh…no, girl. Not in another state with all of us half-asleep behind you.”
I glance at my luggage in the trunk. I brought a lot of stuff, but for good reason. I’m going to be staying at a youth hostel in Breckenridge for a month. I can do laundry but I packed pretty much all my wardrobe anyway. Which isn’t much because I don’t care to go shopping a lot. And if I do go shopping it’s someplace small so salespeople don’t bother me and the changing rooms aren’t full. Plus, most of my friends (well, most of my black friends) have been falsely accused of shoplifting at least once at major outlets and I don’t care to deal with that racist bullshit.
Mom pulls into a gas station and reaches across to the passenger side to shake Dad awake. Of course he does his weird high-pitched yawn that sounds like a cat being tortured and Nate wakes up and soon we’re all in the convenience store next to the gas station grabbing some chips and looking terrible and exhausted.
A ten year old in a camo t-shirt is stacking some microwavable noodles while his mom scans our items.
“Where are you folks headed to?” the cashier asks.
“Dropping this one off at a summer job in Breckenridge and heading to Denver to visit family,” my mom says, fixing the collar on her shirt and taking a long swig of her paper-cup coffee.
“Oh, we get people from Breckenridge passing through all the time,” the woman says, bagging our items and tying her blond-grey hair back. “I’ve never been. A little too fancy for our taste, if I’m honest. Hope you have a good time,” she says, nodding at me. I smile back and walk back out to the car. The sky is grey and the fluorescent lights of the gas station complement it badly.
“Can I have some of your chips?” says Nate.
It’s Always Fifty Five Degrees Here
Breckenridge is a very navigable town. I understand why mom and dad are not worried about me. It’s also quite tame. All the stores here are boutiques or art galleries or cafes and families of pastel sweaters are walking around licking ice cream even though it’s not even close to hot.
After we drag my stuff out of the car and talk to the receptionist at Breckenridge Youth Hostel I am shown to a simple rectangular room with a sink, bathroom, and several bunkbeds.
“You can’t expect too many roommates right now,” Audrey, the woman showing us around, says. She wears a navy collared shirt and her name tag is somewhat obscured by her long black hair. “It’s still early in the summer and we don’t have many reservations yet. Oh, and there’s a guy by the front desk who wanted to talk to you all. Says he owns a donut wagon?”
“Oh, Aunt May’s friend’s son. His nephew is the one working with you, Kay,” mom says. “I guess he wants to show you the ins and outs of the wagon.”
“It’s just a donut-selling box on wheels,” dad remarks, “how complicated can it be?”
“Kayla is going to learn entrepreneurship,” Mom says, following Audrey back down the hall to the main office. A thin, pretty responsible-looking bald man the color of a peach is waiting at the front desk and greets us with a frighteningly large grin and a firm handshake. He introduces himself as Mr. Murphy.
“So you’re my summer employee,” he says to me, simply radiating excitement. “Maybe you can show Alex a thing or two. He’s been working in the wagon for two weeks now and I’ve been trying to get him to be more personable. You look like you might have some pep!”
Ha ha. This guy doesn’t know the first thing about me.
“Well if you’ve got your stuff dropped off, come see us at the Daily Donut. We’re parked outside Lazy Susan’s Boutique on M Street and Dodson. This is going to be just swell!”
“Sounds just fine!” says my mom. My dad nods silently, his way of contributing to many conversations.
Just swell, Nate mouths to me. I stifle a laugh.
My parents park on M Street and obtain a map and other information from a tourist information kiosk.
“We can spend the rest of the day with you here if you wan’t,” mom says, “if you don’t want us to go yet.”
“Honestly mom, it’s fine,” I reply, “I have a map, I know how to walk to the hostel, I can ask Audrey or whoever there if I need anything. And I have everything I need back in my room. Did you already pay the hostel fee?”
“We’re splitting that fifty-fifty at the end, remember?” mom says, “your share comes out of your donut salary. And the hostel serves all meals but if you want to eat out here’s fifty bucks to start with.” She spots Smiley Murphy and everyone gives me a hug.
“Be safe,” says dad.
“Bring home some weed chocolates,” says Nate. “It’s Colorado after all.”
“Call us if you need anything,” says mom.
“We’ll come back and get you if those people are weird,” contributes dad.
I wave them goodbye as they pull away in the car and turn to look at the donut wagon, which is parked on the end of the street.
It’s blue with brown wheels and there is some movement inside. I approach Smiley Murphy, who waves me over to the entrance to the wagon, a set of folding stairs that come out of its side. Standing underneath the awning over the entrance is a mild-looking small kid with a thin face and dark olive skin who is sporting baggy cargo pants and a black v-neck. There’s a navy bandana loosely tied around his forehead and different varieties of woven bracelets up his arms.
“Alex?” I ask at no one in particular. Smiley chuckles. “No, no, this is Nandy.”
“Nandy,” he says gently, extending a hand, “short for Ferdinand. Ferdinand Silva, friend of Alex, unfortunately.” I shake. His hands are very small and very soft.
Smiley Murphy points to the figure inside the wagon, a tall muscular guy with a mess of tattoos down his right arm. His forearm touches some kind of hot metal equipment.
“Shit!” he yells.
“That’s Alex,” says Smiley. “Watch your language Alex!”
Alex turns to give an unsettling and brief glare to Smiley.
“Ha…heh, his, um, he’s a little rough around the edges,” Smiley Murphy says.
“Like a cliff made of sandpaper,” Nandy adds flatly.
“Alex,” Smiley calls, “we’re coming in there to do a demonstration for your coworker. Do you have any orders right now?” Alex holds up two fingers.
“Alright, we’ll let him finish those. So, do you like to be called Makayla or Kayla or Kay-Kay or something like that?” Smiley asks.
“Kayla is fine,” I simply beam.
“I’ve met your Aunt May and her kids.” Smiley remarks as Alex’s arm is seen to be shaking powdered sugar over donuts in a paper container—like the kind they serve fries in. “What a soulful lady. And she’s always kind to everyone. She told me you have her good qualities and she just wanted to make sure you had a productive summer with all these friendly people in Breckenridge, Alex especially of course.”
“Seven dollars,” we hear Alex remark to the customers outside the window of the wagon with no particular pep in his voice.
“And of course you’ll turn out a nice salary at the end of the summer,” Smiley assures me, “at the least you’d take home fifteen hundred dollars in total.”
“Well I look forward to it,” I say in the most wow am I ready to serve customers voice I can muster. If I stay on Smiley’s good side (read: don’t threaten him or appear upset) I could buy myself some new styluses, software, maybe even a new tablet. And a nice set of colored pencils or pens too.
Alex hands someone their order with that classic white-guy smile where they don’t show you their teeth and their mouth looks like a ruler, except it’s even more apparent on him because he seems to be unhappy rather than afraid.
“Alright, we’re coming in to show Kayla around,” says Smiley. “I mean, Nandy you don’t have to come.”
“Yeah,” says Nandy, “I don’t have an interest in baked goods unless I’m eating them.”
“Haha…classic Nandy,” Smiley says, waving me into the donut wagon after him. Alex wipes sweat off his brow with his tattooed arm and exits out a small door in the back of the wagon.
“Alex you could stick around to show Kayla the ropes,” Smiley says.
“Nope,” Alex replies, heading out the door. “I’m going to go get a shot somewhere. Be back in fifteen.”
“The drinking age is twenty-one!” Smiley calls after him, smiling nervously. “He’s joking,” Smiley assures me.
“Not joking,” Alex calls back over his shoulder. “Jake will serve me anything; I filled in on drums for his band one time!”
Nandy raises exactly one perfectly manicured eyebrow at me from the doorway as if to say why did you sign up for this?
To our left there is the sliding glass rectangular window that opens to allow customers to order and to its right is a counter where dough, Smiley explains, is mixed and then put into a machine back to our right that forms the dough into Os and dumps them into a hot vat of oil. They’re fried and cooled a bit and then we (Alex and I) are supposed to top them with powdered sugar, caramel, fudge, nuts, or vanilla glaze and sprinkles depending on the order. Then we throw them in a paper bag and hand them through the window. Four bucks for six mini donuts and seven for ten.
After I’m given the lay of the land Smiley suggests that I observe Alex making the donuts today and only work at the bagging station while he fries them. Our shift will end at midnight, when the donut wagon closes and will resume at 11 am the next morning. We’ll work every day except Wednesdays and Sundays and we can change off during the dinner hours. Today is Saturday and it’s six o’clock in the evening.
Twenty-five minutes later, when Alex returns, there is a line of customers starting to accumulate again.
“Alex,” Smiley says sternly, turning a little more pink, “let’s get to work now. Kayla will be bagging and sprinkling, you’re showing her how to take orders and make the donuts.”
Alex grunts and slides open the plastic window.
“Whatcha like?” he sleepily asks the first customer, a blond lady with two small kids.
“Ten, chocolate fudge,” the woman says as Alex writes this order and the number “1” on a sticky note and smacks it on the counter next to the tip jar. Then he turns around and begins frying dough like it comes naturally.
“Should I take more orders?” I ask Alex. He mumbles something in response.
“You heard what I said.” Why the attitude?
“No, sir, I did not. What did you say?”
“Three more. Whasyername?”
“Okay and it’s Kayla.”
Alex silently hands me a cooled tray of donuts and demonstrates where the toppings are (in plastic containers with holes or a nozzle in the top, depending on the form of the flavorings). If it’s possible to be incompetent at something as simple as drizzling chocolate on top of small donuts, Alex is the man to prove it. The fact that he seems slightly hungover may not help his case.
“Can’t handle your alcohol, huh?” I quip as I pass him the tray and he rubs his temples and flips some dough into the vat. I rarely accost people I’ve just met or anyone at all, but I know how to hit a guy where it hurts. The alcohol capacity.
Alex Murphy is clearly not an artist of any kind, as he has no sense of presentation and I have to take the bottle of fudge sauce from him for the sake of aesthetic. I take pride in the consistency of my drizzles before I bag the donuts and soon I’m filling more orders. More slowly, maybe, than the customers would like, but I do it with more taste and charm than Alex seems able to and that’s saying something. I may not like people a great deal, but I can take pride in creating something. I don’t know what Alex takes pride in, but I hope it doesn’t include coming to work trashed every day.
When it’s seven-fifteen Smiley returns and explains that Alex will be happy to cover the dinner shift while I get something to eat and then he’ll eat after, at eight-fifteen. Alex is not actually happy about this, but Smiley says something about “remember the lake house” and Alex reluctantly trudges back to work while I am let off for an hour.
Being new to Breckenridge, I don’t know what’s within my budget or what’s good. Nandy soon swoops in to save the evening. He spots me reading menus outside bars near the donut wagon and passes by on a skateboard, majestically handing me a container of Chinese take-out.
“Come,” he says simply, gesturing to a nearby bench. We sit down and eat our noodles.
“Thanks,” I say, “to be honest I didn’t really feel like eating alone.”
“I know,” Nandy says, speaking with a very slight accent. “When my family first moved to Breckenridge I had no friends and I was nervous as hell. That’s when I discovered the Chinese takeout place on Fifteenth and Aspen. Lifesavers.”
“Your parents work in Breckenridge?”
“We live in a town fifteen miles that way,” Nandy says, pointing West, “but in the summer my dad moves his t-shirt company here and my mom can always find work as a hotel receptionist.”
“And you know Alex how?”
“Ha!” Nandy exclaims, “know Alex! I practically raised him. He’d probably be lying in a gutter somewhere if it wasn’t for Fernando Silva. He’s some garbage, Alex Murphy is. But he’s my garbage. He’s here because his uncle has investments here and he likes to slum around with April and the band. There’s a punk scene here. Pretty sick if you know what’s good.”
“You have a whole friend group already…” If there’s anything I hate more than small talk, it’s breaking into friend groups.
“I wouldn’t say friend group,” Nandy says, stroking his nonexistent beard, “I’d say mess. Everything falling apart all the time. Alex lives in the Slope Village apartments with three other guys in the same flat. All the same wanna-be rocker types with frat-boy hair.”
“I guess you have a good read on people,” I tell him, slurping up a noodle, “I better stick around you.”
“Oh yeah,” Nandy says, “I call myself the King of Breckenridge. The Silvas are descended somehow from a long line of Portuguese monarchs and it didn’t skip this generation, baby.” He laughs, a charming chuckle appropriate for his small, loose-limbed frame.
“I’m staying at the youth hostel,” I inform Nandy.
“Oh yeah,” Nandy remarks. “Good for you. Stay out of trouble. If you need me ever, just show up at any hour of the day or night at Silva’s Shirts. It’s two blocks that way,” Nandy points left down the street. “I wish I had more time to myself but mostly I’m at the cash register at the shirt shop or dragging Alex out of some alleyway.”
“Smil—I mean, Mr. Murphy said something to Alex about a ‘lake house’ to get him to shut up. What’s that about?”
“Ah,” Nandy says, chopsticks expertly clutching a piece of chicken, “Alex is sort of indebted to his uncle because he trashed his lakefront property a year ago while throwing a massive rager. Hence the job at the wagon.”
“Has he graduated high school?”
“Yeah, Alex is nineteen. He is ‘taking a break’ before going to a liberal arts college I’ve forgotten the name of. You?”
“Senior next year.”
“You look like a good student,” Nandy remarks.
“How can you tell?”
“Your parent’s car has a bumper sticker— ‘My Kids Are Sunrise Ridge High School Honor Students’ or something.”
“Yeah…I’m impressed you caught that.”
Nandy taps his head and simply says “noggin.”
“What about you?” I ask him, “going back to somewhere after the summer ends?”
“Rocky Mountain Art and Design School. Logos and stuff. After being in the t-shirt business I have a talent for it.”
Stay tuned for more!
The Souljumper Chronicles
CHAPTER 1: Bailey Goldman
This whole thing started the day I turned thirteen. This whole mess that has fascinated me and taken over my life, if it is even really my life anymore. I don’t know if it is really a gift like Ash says it is or some kind of cruel curse. The first couple times it happened, I didn’t know what was going on. I would be talking to someone, and if I concentrated on them really hard, looked deep into their eyes, this warm breeze would suddenly wash over me, and everything became blurry, the other person’s speech would start to fade, and then all of a sudden, everything became normal again. This happened at least two times a day, and I had no explanation. I never told my parents about it, which turned out to be a good thing.
By it, I mean souljumping. Well, not complete souljumping, just the beginning, feeble bits of what my power entailed. Souljumping is an ancient practice that can be done only by very few. Souljumping allows us to transport or “jump” into another person’s soul. We become them, while still retaining our original consciences, the souls we were born in. We are in their bodies, seeing their thoughts, controlling their actions and guiding their souls with ours. Our original bodies are inhabited by temporary or “fleeting” souls. Fleeting souls are spirits of the dead that temporarily take the place of our souls while we are in another’s body. It is the dream of every dead soul to become a fleeting soul and get to live again for a short while.
Ash told me there is a secret society of all the world’s souljumpers, called the Immortal Order. There are only ten people in the world who have the power to souljump. Me, Ash, and eight other people who I have yet to meet. Ash has met them, though. He said he’d take me sometime to see them. After I finish my training, of course. I talk too much, don’t I? Oh well. It is my nature.
I am fourteen and a half now, but I have not really souljumped before. Ash is my mentor, though he’s only a few months older than me. In fact, right now I’m going to meet him for another lesson in Central Park, because there are so many different kinds of souls there: troubled souls, enlightened souls, and even some quirky ones. It is a breezy summer day, and the sky is baby blue. Sunlight seeps through my thin lavender v-neck t-shirt and skinny jeans. I search the park until I spot him.
Ash. He is wearing the same faded blue t-shirt and almost-black blue denim jeans he generally does. His dark auburn bangs are swept back under his trademark black fedora. He has also donned his adorable big dorky glasses, which he wears most days. He waves over to me, and I run toward him. I instantly know it is him because of his purple eyes, a tell-tale quality of all soul jumpers. My eyes are a light purple with a hint of blue. Ash’s are dark purple— they look black from far away. We walk side-by-side down a stone path in the park. He is at least a foot taller than me, a thin, lanky fifteen year old. I breathe in his familiar soft smell, the smell of the air after rain. Ash is a man of few words. He doesn’t talk a lot independent from the conversations I prompt, but when he does he chooses his words carefully and I am sure to listen. I know he means everything he says. Ash is the sort of person you trust fully. There is something I see in his eyes sometimes, a sort of thoughtful, melancholy nostalgia. As if he is an ancient soul peering out into the threshold of the modern world, and it scares me.
He is also playing his black harmonica, which he carries with him everywhere.
Oh yeah, I haven’t told you about Ash’s harmonica obsession. Ash is a harmonica enthusiast. He collects them. His personal harmonica is a black antique—top of the line—and he had to save five years worth of birthday, allowance, and Christmas money to buy it. It’s just one of his many quirks.
Although he is my mentor, we are more like equals, since he really isn’t a whole lot more experienced than I am. He just happens to be one of the two other souljumpers living in the U.S., and so the Immortal Order gave me two options. It was either him or old, cranky Myra Sterkyl, so my decision was easy since I had been corresponding with Ash for a while at that point and we seemed to be compatible. Ash originally reached out to me via a secure email server to check the legitimacy of my powers on instructions from the Order.
Near us, I see a middle-aged man playing guitar on a park bench and panhandling. The man wears a grey newsboy cap and has salt-and-pepper hair. Ash notices me looking at the guitar man, grabs my arm, and points to him.
“Bailey, you are going to souljump today,” he says, after putting his harmonica back in his pocket, which he rarely ever does.
“Wait, I’m gonna souljump into that guy?”
“That guy,” he says in a whisper.
“Are you sure?” I ask. I do not want to souljump into those soiled overalls the man is wearing.
“Go,” Ash says, “This one’s the perfect soul. You could learn something from him.”
I walk up to the man with caution as he strums and hums on the guitar. I get butterflies in my stomach as I lift my eyes to meet his. Eyes are a window into the soul. I stare straight at him with such concentration that he stops playing, surprised. His eyes are an empty blue-grey and easy to pass into. The warm breeze hits my face. My vision becomes foggy. I close my eyes…and sit up with a jolt as I feel the soiled overalls against my knees, and the scratchy stubble on my chin. I search the man’s soul for his name, sifting through his thoughts. Anthony. Anthony Grubbs. I have entered someone else’s soul.
CHAPTER 2: Anthony Grubbs
I pick up my guitar and look out to see a girl, blond with hair down to her elbows, bangs, and these remarkable purple eyes. Oh, wait, that is me. I stand up, suddenly coming to terms with my new height. It is incredible being a totally different person. Ash approaches me, smiling.
“How is it?” he whispers.
“Weird…but cool. What will happen to my body?” I shock myself with my new deep, rumbling voice. Then, as if it is reading my mind, my body begins to walk around.
“A fleeting soul is inhabiting it until you return. The dead soul could be anyone. An old man, a young girl, anyone that has died.”
Bailey, or at least my body, comes up to me. She looks me/Anthony over. I look her/me over. I am pretty good-looking. Or at least I think so.
“What are you lookin’ at, punk?” Bailey suddenly says, startling me.
“I…um…you are…just…” obviously this fleeting soul is not a little girl or an old man.
Ash laughs. A soft, deep laugh.
“I’m gonna go get me a sandwich,” Bailey, says, and wanders off.
“What if she hurts herself?” I ask Ash.
“You’ll be fine. You just have to trust that the fleeting soul won’t harm your body. When you leave…uh—”
“When you leave Anthony’s soul, you will rejoin your body and the fleeting soul will go back to the underworld.”
“Ash, I’ve never really asked you, why do we souljump? Obviously not for fun,” I say, not at all liking my newly acquired musty smell.
“We souljump to gather knowledge, solve problems, solve little injustices, and guide souls. You can learn something from every soul. You can literally take a walk in someone else’s shoes.”
“But isn’t it sort of unfair that we’re jumping into another person without their consent? Our decisions in that one person could change history.”
“Yes, and that, Bailey, is why some who have this power consider it a curse. There is so much that can go wrong, and if a souljumper get’s greedy, they can souljump for their own purposes and use the souls as pawns.”
“And that’s why I’m being trained.”
“Yes. You’re learning from the best of the best,” Ash says with a smirk.
“So…how do I like, guide his soul or whatever?” I ask.
“Well, first of all, we need to know the soul,” Ash begins, “how are you feeling? What kind of soul does he have? What are you perceiving?”
Ash had taught me how to perceive earlier that year. Perceiving is like dredging the soul for information.
“The soul is tough. Not cold or mean, but hardworking. He has…” I concentrate on perceiving, “he has…suffered.”
“Good,” Ash says in his calm, patient voice, “go on.” I can see him resisting the urge to pull out the harmonica again. I think playing it helps him think.
“Anthony, I mean…I, live in Brooklyn, in a run-down apartment. I am unemployed…” the words sounded odd in my mouth, “I struggle to pay the bills.”
“Okay, now for the harder questions,” Ash says, “how did you end up where you are?”
Long-past memories are hard to perceive, and I know I’ll have to look back aways to find out how Anthony ended up like this.
I try to concentrate.
“I…my mother, Anthony’s mother, died two years ago. He still doesn’t know how she died. He became depressed, went broke from gambling, drinking, and smoking. Lost his job, because he stopped coming to work sober.” As I am perceiving, I hear sounds inside Anthony’s head— a police siren, crying, glass shattering, a man yelling, a thud. I see the flash of the police lights, I see an amber liquid spill from broken glass bottles, a tear-stained face — Anthony’s face.
Ash’s eyes become darker, and suddenly a sad look seems to manifest itself.
“How is he now?” Ash asks, “perceive the present needs and wants.”
I search his soul for the answers I need.
“I find my only comfort in music,” I say, motioning at the guitar.
Ash pulls out the harmonica and strokes it gently, “Good, become the person. Become he soul. This is your story now, know it well.”
“I still smoke and drink, but not as much as I used to.” It is then that I notice a pack of cigarettes that had been next to me on the bench. I assume they are mine, “I haven’t been able to find work because of my smoking and drinking habit.”
“Well, you landed a hard soul on your first try,” Ash remarks, “this one’s gonna be tough to guide.”
“Do you think I can handle it?” I ask.
“Bailey, this is you we’re talking about.”
I smile. I do like a challenge. Maybe Anthony could teach me something.
My thoughts are diverted by a pang of hunger. I start to realize how hard this might be. I have to find food. I perceive that I am virtually broke, except for a few wadded up dollars thrown into the guitar case I have laid on the ground. I count my money. Seven dollars. Enough for a sandwich. I spot a deli across the street. I tell Ash where I am going, and, as a precaution, he agrees to walk behind me, so I can practice guiding this soul, but with some help.
I stand up, guitar in hand, and then kneel down to lay it in its case. I’m surprised people aren’t staring at my awkward movements as I adjust to this new body. I’ve seen Ash souljump before, into a little boy on a playground. As an observer, I didn’t seem anything unusual. I couldn’t tell what was happening as Ash jumped into the little boy. It was mostly an example for me, but the little kid was about to stumble off the edge of a metal climbing bar, and Ash has a soft-spot for little kids.
He’s been my mentor for nearly a year now, and yet I don’t know very much about him. All he’s really told me about himself is that he is fifteen, a couple months older than me, and that he’s been studying Souljumping since he found out about his power. He hasn’t told me how long ago that was, he often avoids answering questions about his past or his family. Ash is reserved, never revealing anything. I, on the other hand, when I am in my original body as Bailey, where I feel most at home, am perky, curious and bubbly. Ash likes to say that I keep him on his toes.
With Ash in tow, I reach the edge of the park. There is a street to cross, and I press the crosswalk button, stumbling over my long, gangly legs. I know that not only will my awkward movements draw attention, but also Anthony’s new purple eyes. Every soul a souljumper inhabits also temporarily takes on the purple eyes of the souljumper that inhabits them. Then, when the souljumper returns to their usual body, the eyes turn back to their original color. Soon the walk-sign appears, and a flood of people crosses our way, while Ash and I make our way over to the other side. His hair looks dark red in the direct sunlight.
As the crowd passes, I find myself looking at each individual person with a new interest, wondering what it would be like to jump into them. Among them is a pregnant woman, and an old African-American man with wrinkles lining his face. Ash sees me looking at them.
“A piece of advice,” Ash begins out of the blue, “never souljump into a pregnant woman.”
“What?” I say, perplexed.
“I made the mistake of souljumping into a pregnant woman once. I wondered what it would be like to be pregnant, and I got my wish.”
I laugh aloud. Anthony’s rough, scratchy laugh.
“Unfortunately, I stayed a little to long. She was due to give birth a week later, so I was going to leave the soul right before then, but I got held up by some communication issues with the Immortal Order, and so I ended up giving birth. It sucked.”
There is a short silence, and then we both burst out laughing.
We finish crossing, and a group of Japanese tourists passes us on the sidewalk, chattering swiftly in their own language. I ask Ash if I would be able to speak Japanese if I was to souljump into them.
“Yes,” he answers, “but you would have to perceive it first, and an entire language would be difficult to perceive all at once.”
“And when I left the body, would I still be able to speak it?”
“Fragments,” he said, “now, speaking of perceiving, see if you can tell me this: what are your cultural origins?”
This is a hard one. I shuffle through Anthony’s memories, like looking through a file cabinet. I especially look for memories of family, of his mother’s mother and his father’s father.
“My mother’s side of the family has…oh…let’s see…Irish background. And an uncle who’s Italian.” The uncle was difficult to dig up. “Father’s side is mainly German. Poor immigrants who came to New York in the 1930s.”
Ash nodded approvingly, “Well done. You’ve earned your sandwich,” he says as I open the door to the deli and hear the jingle of a bell on the door as I come in. The little restaurant is empty except for a forlorn-looking man sitting at a small checkerboard-patterned table and looking out the window. He doesn’t turn his head until after I buy my sandwich, a veggie wrap, for $5.
Suddenly the man leaps up.
“Anthony!” he says, “my friend! Where have you been?”
He comes up and pats me on the back. I can see that he is missing several teeth.
“Playing guitar in the park,” I say holding up my guitar. I am totally unprepared for this. I try to perceive the man’s name. We’re obviously friends.
“Anthony, you okay, man?” the other man says, looking concerned, “your eyes look a little foggy.”
I must be concentrating really hard.
“Billy!” I shout, suddenly realizing the man’s name.
He laughs. “That’s me, pal. Say, sit down and have a drink. You’re looking dazed.”
I start to say yes, and then remember about my drinking habit.
“I don’t drink.”
Billy laughs, “Tony, you were downing beers like it was nobody’s business yesterday. What’s the problem?”
“I…I…need to get a job. They’ll fire me right off the bat if I ever show up drunk,” I try my hardest to get out a logical sentence. I’m balancing many memories and thoughts at once.
“Come on, Tony, one beer. One drink won’t hurt, will it?”
Again I struggle to form words, “I’m sorry, Bill. I…can’t. I need to keep myself together.”
Bill shook his head. “Have it your way, then,” he grumbled, and walked out the door, passing Ash, who is standing against the brick wall outside the shop, on the way out. I sit down by myself at the table, sandwich in hand, and begin to eat eagerly. Ash looks in one of the windows, harmonica in hand. He gives me a tentative thumbs up and raises his eyebrows. I smile back, nod to Ash, and finish my sandwich. After I come out of the deli, Ash turns to me.
“Way to handle that. Oh, by the way, I was just messaged —,” Ash holds up his phone, “by the Immortal Order.”
“You mean by their leader?”
“Yeah, the Captain— Nicola Scott — just messaged me through the Order’s secret network — “The Zipline,” as they call it.
“What did she say?” I asked. My new voice was difficult to adjust to.
“She wants us to come to a meeting of the Immortal Order Immediately.”
I almost squeal. Ash has mentioned the other souljumpers in passing and I can’t wait to meet them!
“Where’s the meeting?” I ask.
“In the Immortal Order’s HQ.”
“And where’s that?”
“The 13th floor of the Empire State Building. You might want to change into Bailey since I’m assuming that’s the body you prefer.”
“Definitely,” I say, and I begin to make the change. My body grows warm and I can feel my conscience being disconnected from Anthony. I can no longer perceive anything about him. Then, wham! I look down and see that my body has rejoined me. Oh, it feels good to be Bailey again.
CHAPTER 3: Bailey Goldman
Ash nods his approval. “You’ve made the switch perfectly,” he says, “look, there’s Anthony. His own person again. He’ll remember eating the sandwich and talking to Bill, but he won’t know anything about you souljumping into him.”
Anthony looks around and then walks off with his guitar towards the bench where his tip jar is. He’s humming, “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel. I watch him with a smile. I hope he can quit drinking. He’d make his mother proud.
It feels good to be back in my body again. Cleaner, but somehow I feel more petty, frivolous, and whimsical compared to the real struggles of Anthony’s grimy, hardened life. I can feel the change in souls. His is callused, wrapping around a layer of vulnerability, and I feel vulnerable, but there is a callus in me somewhere, a part as tough as rock that I suppose I just haven’t had the opportunity to use yet.
“So, Empire State Building, huh?”
“Yes,” replied Ash, “I don’t need any directions, though. I know the way by heart.”
Ash adeptly walks through alleyways, through parks, and across streets with a sense of purpose, playing the harmonica all the way. He blows out a long, beautiful, sad song. His lanky legs take long strides. I struggle to keep up. Ash is silent—he’s not the sort of person who fancies small talk.
“You’re not cold in that t-shirt?” I ask.
“I’m strangely immune to the cold it seems,” he replies. Then, after a while, “are you cold?”
“Nope,” I reply, “the adrenaline’s keeping me warm. You don’t even know how excited I am. The Immortal Order! I’ve wanted to meet these guys for months.”
“Well, Nicola never calls me unless there’s trouble afoot,” Ash says, “so I wouldn’t expect it to be all sunshine and daisies.”
“Ash, Ash. Ever the pessimist,” I quip.
“I’d say I’m more of a cautious realist.”
I roll my eyes.
Before I know it, Ash and I are standing at the foot of the Empire State Building.
Ash walks in and waves to the guy at the desk. Desk guy nods back and Ash walks ahead to the elevator.
“Do you know him?” I ask, motioning towards desk guy.
“Oh, you mean Steven? Yeah. In fact, he’s my second best friend.”
“Desk guy is your second best friend?”
“How long have you known him?” I ask as Ash presses the elevator button “13”.
“A week. He just got the job.”
“He’s your second best friend and you’ve known him for a week?”
“Yeah. Is that a problem?”
“I guess not. Who’s your first best friend?”
“You are, of course.”
“Me? Don’t you have any school friends?”
“Bailey, if you haven’t noticed, I’m sort of a practically immortal being with an ancient mythical power. It’s hard to make friends. I mean, they ask about the eyes a lot.” He gestures to his dark purple eyes.
“Don’t people like the eyes?” I ask, “weird colored eyes are hot now apparently.”
“Do people like my eyes?”
He chuckles, “if you must know, they do like my eyes.”
The elevator dings, the doors slide open, and our banter is interrupted by the unamused face of Nicola Scott.
“Took you long enough to get here, Ashton,” she says, impatiently tapping her foot, “who’s the girl?”
“This is Bailey. Bailey Goldman. Tenth souljumper to join The Order.”
“Ah, yes. Of course, of course. I did send you to retriever her after all. Welcome to the order, Ms. Goldman. Let me show you around The Order’s headquarters,” she says with a humorless smile, “I designed it myself.”
Nicola Scott is a woman of about fifty-five. Her eyes are a light purple-grey. Her hair is short and white, and she is dressed in a simple gray turtle-neck and wrinkle-less black pants. She walks gracefully with her hands folded neatly behind her back as she leads us out of the elevator and into the first room, her patent leather moccasins tapping lightly on the wooden floor.
The thirteenth floor is massive.
The first room opens into a huge living room, with a flat screen TV, wraparound couch, large circular table with ten seats, a couple chairs, and a few large bookcases and shelves. The area is sleek, simple, and modern. Stainless steel, white fabrics.
To my left, there’s a door. “That’s the rec room, ping pong and treadmills,” says Nicola. To the right of the rec room is the kitchen.
I turn back to the living room. There’s something odd about it’s design. It’s shaped like an isosceles triangle. The wall behind me is one of the isosceles sides—the bottom of a ninety degree angle. The longest side of the triangle room is a wall made out of glass—through it you can see another large triangular room. Together the two rooms form a square.
The second room is filled with computers on desks. At the head of the room is a large white screen.
“That’s where the Order’s business is conducted,” Nicola says, pointing towards the computer room, “that’s Tech Center.”
At the far end of the Tech Center is a wall with five doors in it.
“What do the five doors lead to?” I ask.
“Those are the doors to five of the bedrooms. All ten of us have our own rooms,” Ash replies.
“Oh, yeah, I’ve been wondering—where is everyone else?”
“The other seven are on their way here. As Ash probably told you, we have some emergency business to conduct, assuming you can stay a few days.”
“My schedule’s clear,” I reply, “no school. I got off from school a week ago. Sweet summertime!”
“About that,” began Nicola, “how are you keeping your parents from getting involved in this business?”
“I had to fib a little.”
“A little— meaning…?”
“Ash introduced himself as a great 2nd cousin on my dad’s side and Myra Sterkyl told them she’s his grandmother. They had the documents to prove it, too.” I turn to Ash, “I’ve been meaning to ask you…how did you guys get pictures of my mom’s sisters, anyway?”
“I did some internet digging.”
“Well. Anyway, Ash and Myra told my parents that they had a mountain chateau that’s been in the Goldman family for years. So now I’m technically supposed to be on vacation in a mountain chateau in upstate New York.”
“And they bought it?” asks Nicola.
“They were a little skeptical, but Ash somehow found some family stories and he and mom were swapping memories like pals in no time. It was really the weirdest thing.”
“I found the stories online,” Ash adds, “Bailey’s great uncle has a blog.”
“Ah,” says Nicola, “is your coming in any way related to a strange box that arrived here a day ago?”
“That would be my clothes and a few other things,” I say, “Ash sent it here because he didn’t want me walking around Central Park with a giant bag or box of stuff.”
“It would draw attention to us,” Ash chimes in, “and the purple eyes already provide attention enough, especially for me.”
“Everyone likes the eyes,” I add.
Nicola sighs, “well, now that I’ve gotten the information-all of it, Bailey should go get her things. They’re next to the bookcase on the far right.”
Sure enough, a large cardboard box is sitting, opened, next to a sleek white bookcase.
“You opened it!” I say, somewhat suspicious. I don’t completely trust Nicola. After all, we only just met.
“I had to check for bombs,” says Nicola dismissively.
“There are people who want to bomb you?”
“You never know. We’re supposed to be a secret organization, but I’m sure some of us in the Order have left some clever enemies in our wake.”
I rifle through through my belongings, all of which are still there. I suppose I didn’t have a reason to be suspicious of Nicola. I mean, who would want to take anything of mine, anyway. All that’s in the box is an assortment of clothes, my toothbrush and toothpaste, a hairbrush, a photo of my cat, Becky, and eighty dollars. I grabbed only what I needed, as it was sort of short notice.
When Ash and Myra came to get me, Ash and I had been emailing back and forth for a while, but I wasn’t expecting the visit. At first, I though he was some sort of crazy cyberstalker, but everything he wrote in his emails made sense. The rushes of warm air, the blurred vision. Even the strange lavender eyes that no one else in my family possessed. He could explain it all, and that’s what I wanted. For someone to tell me what was happening to me. After a while, the emails weren’t all business anymore. Ash and I would talk about normal things. He has a cat too, Boromir. What kind of name is that?
We swapped cat stories and he told me about school. It was like our own secret email society of souljumpers . Two teens with crazy abilities and cats. I know that sounds stupid, but it’s true.
“You can put that in your room, Bailey,” Nicola says, “Ashton, help her, please. Her room will be the last on the left. The one with the window.”
Ash helps me lift the box and shows me through a pair of glass doors that goes from the living area into Tech Center. We cross the large, official-looking room and Ash points to the leftmost door. I open it and he follows with the box.
Window, my eye. The “window” is an entire wall. One of the four walls of my room is entirely glass. It shows the bustling city below.
“I am in the Empire State Building!” I suddenly exclaim.
“You’re good at stating the obvious, aren’t you?” Ash says from behind me.
“But, I mean, I really am! I’m living in the Empire State Building. How cool is that?”
Ash sets down the box. “Sure.”
“You’re boring,” I say with a smile.
“Boring is a word immature people use to describe mature people.”
“And immature is a word boring people use to describe fun people. How long until everyone else gets here?”
Nicola is sitting at one of the computers in Tech Center. I open my door and pop my head in.
“How long until the other seven get here?” I ask.
“Two more days at the least.”
“So we have some free time until we have to buckle down for this official Order business.”
“What to do, what to do?” I ask aloud.
“Museums!” exclaims Ash.
“Shopping!” I shout.
“Work!” Nicola suggests.
This discussion ultimately turns into a debate between Ash and I at the round table in the living area.
“I’ve always wanted to go shopping in New York. My parents always make me wear hand-me-downs from the cousins.”
“There are lots of brilliant museums in New York. The educational opportunities…”
Eventually we make a deal: museums tomorrow morning, shopping in the afternoon.
“So we don’t have to carry bags around the museums,” Ash explains.
“You’re smart,” I observe.
“You just noticed?”
“You’re also full of yourself.”
“Is that so?”
“Are you hungry? I can cook stuff.”
“You can cook?”
“Uh…yes. I’m not just a pair of pretty eyes, you know,” Ash says.
I laugh. “Fine. I’ll come check out the kitchen.”
Like the rest of the floor, the kitchen is modern and spotless.
Ash systematically searches through cabinets and drawers. He pokes his head into the large refrigerator and pulls out a bag of cheese, tomato sauce, butter, and milk.
“Make your own pizza!” he announces
“More like you make my pizza,” I say, “I’ve got a room to organize. A room in the Empire State Building!”
“Come on,” Ash persists, “it’ll be fun.” He tosses me an apron. “It’s a purple apron,” he says, “I chose you a purple apron because I know it’s your favorite color.”
I look at him skeptically, “Or could it be that that apron was just the first one in the drawer?”
“Meh,” he says, “both.”
“Hmph. Fine, I’ll make pizza with you.”
An hour later, we are covered in flour and laughing as we wait for the pizza to bake.
“So, what’s school like for the boy with the pretty eyes?”
“School is meh.”
“Life is meh.”
“Only if you let it be meh.”
“Sure. Don’t you go to public school?”
“Well, I went to public school. My mom let me leave school so I can work with the other souljumpers .”
“Your mom knows about The Immortal Order?”
“Bailey, my mom is Nicola Scott.”
CHAPTER 4: Bailey Goldman
“Your mom is Nicola Scott? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought it might freak you out a little,” says Ash, “I didn’t want you to think you were just gonna be living with me and my mom. Also, you can call her Nikki if you want. It really annoys her.”
I laugh. “And your dad?” I ask.
Ash hesitates, as if he’s having a hard time remembering something.
“He’s…I actually don’t know. I haven’t seen him since I was little, but Nicola—I mean, mom—doesn’t talk about him at all.”
“That’s too bad,” I say. There’s a small silence and then I pick up the conversation, knowing Ash won’t. “So, about tomorrow. What museums are we going to?”
“First stop…,” Ash begins as he pulls out a small black notebook, “the National Harmonica Museum.”
“You’re kidding me,” I say, “there is such a thing?”
“Yeah, I helped fund it,” Ash says, “I’m a contributing member of SPAH.”
“What. The. Heck. is SPAH?”
“Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica.”
“That’s not real.”
“Oh, it is. And you’re going to come with me to the NHM and we are going to see all the world’s finest harmonicas.”
“Has it ever occurred to you that I don’t care about the world’s finest harmonicas?”
“Has it ever occurred to you that I don’t care that you don’t care about the world’s finest harmonicas?” Ash retorts.
“After the NHM, we’re going to…,” he checks the notebook again, “…the Typewriter Museum.”
“And then…shopping!” I add. Ash lets out a long groan. “Oh, cooome ooon, Ash. You’ll like it more than you think. I swear. Besides, we need to work on your wardrobe.”
“We? My wardrobe ?”
“You would look better in plaid. I’m thinking more of a bohemian style for you. Do you even have any other clothes besides what you’re wearing?”
“Of course!” Ash says, “here, I’ll show you.”
A minute later, I am standing in Ash’s room, which is across the hall from mine, in front of his closet, which is filled with fifteen pairs of the exact same jeans and faded navy t-shirt that he is wearing.
“Ash, Ash, Ash,” I shake my head, “you have got to be kidding me.”
“The way I see it,” Ash says, “I should wear what I like, and I liked this shirt and jeans. So I got more.”
“But what about variety?”
“To heck with variety,” Ash says, flopping down on his small bed, “I can’t possibly see how I can find anything as perfect as my t-shirt and jeans.”
“And I can’t see how I will take any interest in typewriters and harmonicas,” I remark.
“Oh just wait until you see the NHM…stunning collection.”
“Just wait until you see Urban Outfitters.”
“We’ll see…but first…pizza!” he says, and runs back to the kitchen to pull open the oven door, oven mitt on hand. Ash pulls out a baking sheet with two pizzas, one somewhat less gourmet (mine) than the other (his).
We eat our pizzas at the circular table in the living area. I get sauce all over my face, while Ash uses a napkin.
“You don’t use a knife and fork with pizza,” I instruct Ash, who is chopping his into pieces.
“It’s a lifestyle choice,” Ash says, deadpan.
I roll my eyes, “I pefer peesa tackos,” I mumble, mouth mostly full with a pizza slice folded taco-style.
“You’re weird,” Ash says.
“You’re one to talk,” I retort.
“Pizza-tacos are unnatural.”
“Pizza-tacos are culture fusion.”
“Is this dinner?”
“Life is one big meal, Ash. It doesn’t matter.”
Ash looks out one of the large glass window-walls at the color of the sky, “I’d say it’s about seven thirty.”
Nicola Scott walks in from the Tech Center.
“Hello, Bailey. Ashton, be sure to clean up the kitchen.”
“Yes, mother,” Ash replies politely. He stands up to go clean. I get up to follow him, but he motions for me to sit down, “I’ll do it,” he says, “you finish eating. Then I want you to meet Boromir. Nicola makes me keep him in the utility closet most of the time, because one of the souljumpers that drops by often is allergic to cats.”
“Thanks,” I reply, “I’m psyched to meet Boromir.”
Ash tilts his head in question at the word “psyched”.
“It means excited.”
“Thanks. I don’t get a lot of this slang.”
“I’ll have to introduce you to Urban Dictionary sometime.”
He leaves to clean up the sauce and flour on the previously pristine kitchen floor while I peer around the living area. I notice that each of these chairs has a small golden inscription on the back. The chair that I was sitting in has “Beatrice Donahue” written on it. These names must be those of the seven other souljumpers besides Ash, Me, and Nicola—the people I will meet in two days.
I stand up and walk around the table, reading each name and trying to find my own. The names I find are: Beatrice Donahue, Ashton Scott, Nicola Scott, Myra Sterkyl, Mithra Iyer, Dmitri Mondelov, Mary Erikkson, Dominic Chirico, and Evan Holliday.
However, I do not see my own name. There is one blank chair.
“I have yet to have your name put on it,” says Nicola from behind me. She was so silent in walking, I did not even hear her coming, and I jump at the sound of her cold, dismissive voice.
“I have to change all of the inscriptions frequently,” Nicola says, wiping dust off one of the chairs with her index finger, “the souljumpers often change bodies once their old ones become sickly or unfit for them. Every time they switch bodies their names change.”
“Why replace the names every time?” I ask, “isn’t that a lot of work?”
She shrugs lightly, “We like to keep things orderly around here.” By we, I’m sure she means herself.
I hear a clattering in the kitchen and Ash comes out rubbing his head.
“I cleaned up,” he says, “and also…don’t open the second cabinet to the right of the refrigerator. Some things might fall out.”
I pick up my pizza plate and go into the kitchen to set it by the sink. After I’ve set it down, Ash beckons me over to the glass doors leading from the living area into the Tech Center.
“The utility closet is over there,” Ash says, pointing to a corner of the Tech center nearest the bathroom, “Boromir makes his humble abode in there.”
We cross the Tech Center’s floor and Ash opens the door to a large closet. Two yellow-green eyes stare at me in the dark and what I assume is Boromir the cat lets out a hiss.
Ash switches on the light and reaches down to pick up a yowling ball of jet-black fur in his arms.
“Boromir’s a little moody in the evenings,” Ash coos, stroking the cat’s head.
“How’d you come up with the name Boromir?” I ask.
“The Lord of the Rings,” Ash replies, “Boromir was a lordly warrior who gets killed by orcs in the end. Anyway, Boromir sounds better than Gandalf or Frodo.”
I tentatively pat Boromir’s head. He hisses.
“He doesn’t seem lordly,” I murmur.
Ash sets Boromir down, goes back to the kitchen, distributes a bag of donut holes between the two of us, and announces that he’s hitting the sack.
“We have got an education-filled day tomorrow,” he beams, “I want to be well-rested.”
“M’kay,” I reply, licking the powdered sugar off my fingers, “plaid. You’re gonna love it.”
“Not as much as you’re gonna love harmonicas,” Ash says as he pushes open a small glass door next to the utility closet, which leads down a hallway to the guys’ rooms.
I yawn and follow him down the hallway, at the end of which he goes into his room on the right and I into mine on the left. I throw on some pajama pants and lie down on the clean, white-sheeted bed. All that is in my room besides the bed is a small night stand and a closet.
The window-wall to my right shows me a vast view of the city. The skyscrapers are alive with a warm glow in a few windows, giving each the appearance of a light-up checkerboard.
Below, the taxi cabs honk their familiar song, the lullaby of the noisy city. From across the hallway comes the muffled sound of Ash’s harmonica playing an unfamiliar melancholy melody.
It’s time for sleep.
I feel the warm sunlight seeping into my eyes early the next morning. I hear voices outside and swing open my door. Ash is standing outside my door, decked out in yet another jean and navy t-shirt combo with a camera around his neck and a leather messenger back on his shoulder, talking to Nicola.
“Yes, I’ll call you when we’re heading back here,” Ash says to her and then turns to me.
“Hey! Bailey! Get your stuff on and let’s hit the city sidewalk! Breakfast on the road!” Ash says with a peppiness unusual for him.
“Umph,” I murmur from groggy lips. I close the door, return to my room, sleepily put on an “I Love NY” t-shirt, skinny jeans, and moccasins and grab my cross-body purse.
“I’m reaaaady,” I mumble as I open the door again to Ash’s expectant face.
“Stop looking so awake,” I mutter, “you’re making me feel more tired.”
“Keep looking tired,” he replies, “you’re making me feel more awake.”
“I seem to have that effect on people.”
I follow him to the elevator and he presses the Ground Floor button.
“I never have really liked elevators,” Ash remarks absentmindedly as the elevator dings with each floor.
“Or roller coasters.”
“I love roller coasters. And, by the way, the messenger bag’s good for your look.”
“I have a look now, too. How newfangled.”
“You talk like my grandpa.”
“I’ll just go ahead and take that as a complement.”
The elevator comes to a stop and I look out on the marble walls and floor of the Empire State Building lobby. People are coming and going too fast to notice the violet- eyed boy and lavender-eyed girl chatting as they go out the door in search of breakfast.
“So, breakfast,” I say, feeling more awake now that there’s food involved, “what would you say to danishes?”
“Danishes are fine,” Ash replies, “I’m thinking more of a quiche.”
“Quiche. Yuck. It sounds like an extinct bird.”
“It’s like an egg tart.”
“Whatever. We’ll just have to find a place that serves danishes and quiches. Then we can eat quickly and head to the NHM.”
We find a cute little café called The Broken Record and Ash gets a decaf green tea and a quiche, which still appears unappealing to me. I get a danish and a mocha frappé and we head right back out. Ash strolls down the sidewalk, a spring in his step and a light in his eyes. I suppose this is pure, unadulterated happiness; Ash-style.
“I swear to God you are my grandpa in a 15 year old’s body,” I tell him, sipping the frappé, “I mean, green tea?”
“Green tea is calming to the soul,” Ash remarks absently, “unlike your caffeinated sugar-bucket.” I roll my eyes.
“So,” I say as we walk in the direction of the NHM, “Nicola said there’s emergency business. It all sounds very mysterious. What do you know about it?”
“Not much more than you do,” Ash replies, “but from what I’ve gotten on The Zipline, there’s dissent in the ranks. It seems someone in The Order has new ideas on how to use our souljumping abilities and Nicola seems to think it’s too dangerous. Oh, and remind me at some point to hook your phone up to The Zipline.”
He pulls out the harmonica and begins to play away, signaling to me that he doesn’t want to be pestered with more questions right now. After a few more turns down busy streets we come into a more obscure, less crowded part of New York City. Ash comes to a stop in front of a small, quaint, out-of-place, simple wooden building with a portico in front of the thin, dusty-looking door.
Ash beams as he opens the door and yells inside, “Hello, Mr. Porter! It’s Ash Scott!”
Ash turns to me, “Mr. Porter is the curator of the NHM.”
There is a commotion in what sounds like it’s the last room of the museum and a graying man comes bumbling out, waving vivaciously.
“Ash!” he exclaims, giving Ash a hearty slap on the back, “it’s good to see you back, my boy! And who’s the lady friend?”
Ash blushes ever so slightly, but quickly regains his calm demeanor.
“This is Bailey, Mr. Porter.”
“We’re just friends,” I add, shaking hands with Mr. Porter.
“That’s what they all say,” Mr. Porter mutters, a grin crossing his face.
CHAPTER 5: Bailey Goldman
Ash enthusiastically introduces me to the many collection rooms of the NHM, Mr. Porter in tow.
“There are more than 800 harmonicas in the museum,” Ash says with an air of sanctimonious awe. He gestures to an array of glass cases, “These are all antique German M. Hohner harmonicas—gorgeous design. The detail!” Ash points to a red harmonica with silver details, “This is from the 1850s!”
Dotting the walls are vintage advertisements for harmonicas—some fading, some in other languages. Ash waves his arms excitedly. I’ve never seen him this emotional about anything. I may not be a harmonica enthusiast myself, but I can appreciate Ash’s unfailing passion for this. I feel the same way about acting. In fact, if I can somehow work around my annoying tendency to be sucked into other people’s bodies, that would be my idea career.
Ash and I spend a little less than an hour roaming the rooms of the NHM, looking at harmonica posters, memorabilia, and models.
“So you helped fund this?”
“Yeah, as a member of SPAH, I used all of my funds…”
“You mean your allowance?”
“And work money. Anyway, I helped SPAH raise the money to buy the lot and build this pretty little museum. And gift shop. I stop by at least once a month.”
“I can’t imagine this place gets many visitors.”
“No, but we’re expanding our fan base.”
“Gift shop, you said?”
“Uh huh. Enough harmonica ephemera to satisfy your materialistic mindset for ages.”
I wander off to the gift shop and puzzle over what ephemera means.
I peer around the gift shop, looking for anything for interest. I do see a cute pair of harmonica earrings, but not much else draws my eye.
Ash says he’s had his fill of harmonicas for the day and he’s ready to head out. I use the bathroom while he looks around the gift shop. When I come back out, Ash is taking a last look at the Honhers and as we leave the NHM after saying farewell to Mr. Porter, I notice a small bag in Ash’s hand.
“From the gift shop?” I ask, pointing at the bag.
“What’d you get?”
“Stuff.” Okay, Mr. Vague. “Admit it,” Ash says with a sliver of a smile, “you thought the harmonicas were cool.”
“I thought the harmonicas were cool.”
“Say it louder.”
“I thought the harmonicas were cool!” I shout.
“One more time. Please, I’m practically deaf.”
“And blind, too, right? That’s why you need the glasses.”
“No, actually. I can see perfectly. The glasses are fake. The glasses act as a small barrier for my eyes. They make it more difficult for people to souljump into me.”
“Souljumpers can souljump into each other?”
“They can,” Ash explains, “but as soon as a souljumper is jumped into, both the person who attempted to souljump into them and the person who was jumped into cease to exist. They just blink out of existence.”
“Why would anyone jump into you, then?”
“I suppose if they think that I’m so dangerous that they’re willing to give their life to stop me from existing they would.”
Ash? Dangerous? I feel the urge to scoff but then I remember the look I see in his eyes sometimes—that ancient, arcane look of sadness, of danger and betrayal. It happens only sometimes, but I have seen it; Ash’s eyes will seem to pull back into his skull, they’ll appear to blacken and gloss over, and he will stare ahead, not speaking.
Then, after a few seconds he’ll turn back to me as if nothing has happened and say, “I’m sorry. I must have blanked out. What were you saying?”
“Do you think this “emergency” that Nicola was talking about will come to that?” I ask, “will everyone just jump into each other and commit pointless suicide?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve met these guys, and they’re all so different—I don’t think they could ever come to an agreement without conflict. Then again, some of them may have changed bodies since I saw them last. Their personalities are always shifting based on the personalities that they’re perceiving while they’re in a body.”
“So…do they change bodies whenever they get bored of the one they’re in?”
“Some do. Others just stick with a body until it is close to death. Then they go about looking for a body that will suit them next. When their current body is near death, they’ll jump into the person they’ve selected. Then the dying body will be taken over again by it’s own soul, and then it will die. Most souljumpers try to jump as close to their body’s death as possible and as near to the dying body’s loved ones as possible, so the body’s original soul doesn’t have to suffer long.”
“So they stalk these people until it’s time to jump?”
“Basically.” Ash says frankly.
“How old are most of these souljumpers ?”
“Some are only decades old. Others have lived for centuries, millennia even. My mom must be about 150. She’s on her third body. Mary Erikkson was born in the 1950s. Dominic Chirico was one of the first people to discover Florida. One of them said they used to inhabit Elizabeth Taylor.”
“Thaaat’s why her eyes looked purple.”
“Uh huh. You’re the youngest souljumper, by the way.”
“How…how old are you? What body are you on? I mean, if you feel okay answering that. It’s kind of a personal question.”
“Oh, this is my first body,” Ash says quickly, “I was born Ash Scott, just like you have always been Bailey Goldman.”
I nod. “Typewriter museum next?”
“You betcha,” Ash says, and he resumes his usual contented silence, followed by his pulling the black harmonica out of his pocket and playing something oddly harrowing, that secret sadness of his coming out through the music. He plays loudly, ignoring the bemused looks of passing strangers and the honking of taxi cabs. It seems he knows his way to the Typewriter Museum as well.
“It’s called the Redbrick Road Typewriter Archive,” Ash says at length, pocketing the harmonica.
“I didn’t ask,” I remark.
“You didn’t have to,” he replies simply. Ash then proceeds to give me a complete history of the typewriter. “So,” he concludes, “it really revolutionized communication.”
I nod. “Alright. Interesting, I’ll give you that. I suppose vintage stuff is ‘in’ now anyway.”
“Oh, ‘in’ and ‘out’, ‘cool’ and ‘not cool’,” Ash remarks absently, “why should I bother to be cool? I only need to please myself. I’m the only person I’ll ever need to impress.”
I consider this. It is an interesting thought.
“You, my friend,” Ash begins, “worry too much about appearances. You’re fine the way you are naturally.”
“Fine?” I ask, giving Ash a sarcastically snarky glance.
“You’re simply gooorgeeeeous, dahling,” Ash says in a very bad British accent that sends me doubling over in laughter.
“Don’t ever do that again,” I laugh, “you scare me, Ash Scott.”
“Oh, I do seem to do that to people.”
Ash suddenly stops in front of a brick building with dusty windows that is squeezed between a couple of vintage clothing stores. Surprisingly, there are a few people—maybe five, milling about inside of the museum. Perhaps because it’s located in a more noticeable spot than the harmonica museum.
Ash opens the red door, and a bell on the door announces our entrance. Ash immediately heads into the back to chat with the manager, but I hang around near the front. The front room of the museum is filled with two display cases and a lot of typewriting paraphernalia. A few people are purchasing typewriter ink. They’re probably enthusiasts like Ash that take old stuff and make it seem new to themselves. A bald man in a green scarf is at the cash register. Propped up by the counter next to him is a bamboo walking stick, probably his own.
You meet the weirdest people in these sorts of places.
The people in line behind the register include a woman with a mohawk who’s toting a knitting bag, and a man who has a turtle tattooed on his neck, near his right ear. I can’t help but stare, but I can’t meet their eyes, at least not for more than fifteen seconds, or I might end up in their bodies. The fact that I can’t keep eye contact causes me to appear nervous during conversations, though in truth, I’m very sociable.
I have a look around, my spirit of inquiry leading me to peer into the typewriter cases. The older ones look like small pianos and have elaborate flowery designs on their sides. Some typewriters from the ‘60s come in pastel colors and have plastic keys. These complex, wooden and plastic machines have a strange, antique beauty about them. Sort of like Ash when he gets that look in his eyes. The old, sad, otherworldly look. Maybe that’s why he likes typewriters so much. Maybe they remind him of himself.
Ash come back to the front of the museum and finds me looking at an especially ancient-looking typewriter. A key or two is missing from it.
“Admiring it, are we?” Ash asks, bending to my level to look at it.
I am woken from my thoughts by his words.
“Yeah, it’s cool. Beautiful in a weird way.”
“It’s almost noon,” Ash notes, glancing at a black watch he must have put on this morning without my noticing, “do you feel like an early lunch before this…grievous shopping expedition you’re so going to enjoy dragging me through?”
“Sure. I’ll be done in ten minutes.”
“Well,well. She begs to continue looking at the typewriters. An interesting development.”
“Shuddup,” I wave him away.
“I’ll be on the left side of the counter when your highness is done gazing upon the typewriters.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I look at a few more typewriters in the back of the museum and meet Ash at the counter. We’re about to leave when something catches my eye. Hanging on a jewelry display is a necklace with a “B” typewriter key on it. I fall in love with it instantly and I buy it before Ash and I head out the door. The necklace will be a memento of this day and the start of my integration into The Immortal Order. Ash complements me on my purchase.
“Well, if you like it, then you have good taste, too,” I reply, “you’re going to be a natural at shopping.”
Ash grimaces. Telling him he’ll be good at shopping is like telling a vegetarian that they’ll be a good hunter.
Ash and I take to the streets of New York in search of lunch. We sit down at a table in a small cafe with two bowls of soup and chat over the steaming bowls.
“So, tell me more about The Immortal Order. How do you guys do things?”
“If by ‘do things’ you mean meet to discuss Order business, we gather in the Tech Center, recite the Souljumper’s Oath, and Nicola pulls up slides explaining what new developments have been made in the science of souljumping.” Ash lowers his voice. “Contrary to the impression I have led you to be under so far,” Ash says with formality, “there are people beside the IO who know about the Souljumpers . Mithra Iyer, one of the IO members, has been working, under the utmost secrecy, with a small group of doctors and scientists to figure out how souljumping works and what causes us to have the abilities. Each time we meet Nicola discusses Mithra’s findings.”
“Wow. I am the subject of scientific studies,” I say, raising my eyebrows dramatically like the actress I am.
“You are indeed. Besides the research, we also discuss our latest bodies and our good-doing adventures as souljumpers . But you’re here just in time for whatever this secret business is.”
“Oh, this is going to be so exciting! Secret business! Scandal! Dissent! There will be arguments! Knives pounded into tables!”
Ash shushes me as the people sitting at the table to our left look over concernedly. “Your picture of the meeting is rather melodramatic, Bailey, but there will probably be a heated discussion or two. Nicola is not quick to get angry, though. As the leader of the IO, she doesn’t want to appear flustered. It may make her seem as if she’s losing control. And she doesn’t want that.”
“And Nicola’s your mom, so you have a pretty sweet position here. If someone in the Order disagrees with her, which seems to be true according to The Zipline information, you can give them information about her weaknesses, and she’ll pay to keep you quiet.”
“You’re really over-playing this, you know,” Ash says from across the table, “I’m not selling any dissidents information about my mother’s shortcomings. Let’s just try to enjoy our days off, kapeesh? After today, we only have one more day before the rest of the IO drop their bags at our doorstep. They’re crazy and I can only take small doses of them.”
“You mean you can only take small doses of people in general.”
“Yes. Things are more sane and kind inside of my head than they are in the world of ‘normal’ people. You?”
“The opposite. My head’s crazy and the world is boring.”
Ash raises one of his dark-auburn eyebrows.
I chuckle and look out the window next to our table. The people of New York are busying themselves with the business of the day. It’s a remarkable city, because it seems that here everyone is always going somewhere important. Life is happening here, and you can see it on the street. On the sidewalks. Through shop windows.
I turn back to Ash. “Come on,” I say, “let’s hit the shopping district!”
Ash holds up a wallet full of bills. “And Nicola’s supplied me with money. She’s actually very wealthy. She won’t tell me what she does for a job, though. Must pay well.”
We return our empty soup bowls and head out the door. Ash follows, reluctant but yielding, as I follow maps to take us to department stores.
As Ash’s critical eye browses the mens clothing section, many revelations are made.
Ash thinks plaid is alright and he throws a plaid shirt over his shoulder as a way of carrying it.
However, Ash finds something he likes more than plaid. Crocs.
“Bailey! Watch!” he exclaims, traipsing around a shoe-store in a pair of men’s navy crocs.
“Ash, you’re dorkifying this whole experience.”
“They’ve got holes in them! Since when has anyone purposefully made holes in footwear? What a concept! Soon we could be wearing shoes completely made out of holes!”
“Ash…that would mean we wouldn’t be wearing shoes at all.”
“Exactly! The new dawn of the old age!” he whispers to himself while I watch in perplexity. He continues to walk in circles, the Crocs making squeaking sounds as he goes.
“Aaallrriiight, then. You keep doing what you’re doing. I’m gonna go blow my eighty bucks on a couple of much-deserved outfits. I’ll meet you by the front door-where we came in on Fulton Street in two and a half hours.”
Ash gives a small salute in agreement and I begin to walk away. I turn my head as I’m walking and see Ash sticking his long fingers in the croc holes as if he’s examining the craftsmanship.
After two and a half hours of real New York shopping, I am walking toward the doors of the department store, bags in hand. Up ahead I spot Ash, who is being himself. More specifically, he’s standing in a corner next to the doors, wearing his Crocs (his beat up sneakers are in his messenger bag) and listening to classical music through his earbuds. His eyes are closed and he is waving his hands up and down. Oh yes. He’s conducting again. He does this. It’s rather embarrassing to all who are standing near him. After about five minutes, the sonata ends and Ash opens his eyes and pulls out the earbuds.
“Oh, hello Bailey!” he says, “how long have you been here? Is it time to go?”
“Yeah, and you know how to get back to the Empire State, so lead the way, maestro.”
“What are you going to do when we get back to headquarters?” I ask Ash.
“Read with Boromir. He likes to sit on my bed while I polish off series after series. Oh yeah, I need to call Nicola. I told her that I’d let her know when I was coming back.” Ash whips out a small flip phone and punches in a number with his thin fingers.
“Hi, this is Ash. Bailey and I are coming back to headquarters. Yeah. Bye.” He hangs up and drops the phone back into the messenger bag along with his sneakers and plaid shirt.
“If you don’t mind my asking, you don’t seem too affectionate toward Nicola. Why?”
“I try not to get too close to people. Souljumpers especially. They’re always switching bodies, and you can’t get too attached to each version.”
“But she’s…your mom.”
Ash hesitates for a moment and then replies, “I think of her more as the leader of the IO than as my mother. I just do.”
I shrug. Ash is Ash. I don’t question his statement.
CHAPTER 6: Bailey Goldman
I spend the rest of the day unpacking my stuff and putting it in my closet in a mildly organized manner. I set the photo of Becky on my night stand and go out to a little CVS on the corner of our block to get extra toiletries. I guess I should start making myself at home here.
When I get back into my room, I can hear “Piano Man” by Billy Joel playing in Ash’s room as he’s reading. The crack of his door is open, and I spot Boromir slipping in and out of Ash’s room to get food from the utility closet. This has obviously been Ash’s home for a long time, so everything here must seem normal to him.
I spend a time staring out the window and up at the white ceiling. However, I become bored quickly. I can imagine Ash in my position. He would probably count all the bumps on the ceiling and connect the dots in his head or something. Maybe he’d fold the pillowcases into swans or draw a life-sized figure of Gandalf on the back of the door. I, however, see the ceiling as a ceiling, the door as a door, and the pillowcases as boring.
I walk into Ash’s room and ask him if Nicola keeps any sort of games or cards anywhere. To my surprise, Ash laughs loudly.
“Bailey—Nicola playing board games?”
“But, she played some sort of board or card games with you when you were little, right?”
Ash looks like he’s trying to remember something.
“Uh,” he falters strangely for a moment. “Nope, she probably burned all the games.” He laughs at his own joke to cover up the strange pause.
“What do you do for fun?”
Ash turns the Billy Joel up, pets Boromir on the head, and holds a copy of The Great Gatsby up to my eyes.
“This. Is. Fun.”
“Well, it’s Ash-fun. Ash-fun is different from Bailey-fun.”
“Whatever does Bailey-fun entail?”
Over the next two hours, I give Ash a college course in Bailey-fun. We bake cookies, we perform monologues (well, I perform. Ash watches but insists that he has a severe case of stage fright), we prank Nicola, we paint (I paint Becky, Ash paints himself accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature).
We have dinner with Nicola (she orders Chinese) at the round table in the living room. When I’m done eating, Nicola puts Ash and I to work tidying up the rooms of the other seven souljumpers . There aren’t names on the doors of the rooms or any way to identify who sleeps where, but I am told that everyone knows where their room is.
“So, basically, the names on the chairs around the living room table are just which bodies you believe everyone to be in?”
“Yes,” answers Nicola, “and hopefully they haven’t changed since I talked to everyone last.”
According to Nicola and Ash’s memory, Myra’s room is to the right of mine, then to the right of Myra is Nicola, Mary, and Beatrice. Across the hall from me is Mithra, then to her right is Evan, Dominic, Ash, and Dmitri. All the rooms are white and plain. The only signs that would make you think a person had ever lived in any of them are a few lost earrings in the corners of Mary’s closet, a postcard from Moscow underneath Dmitri’s bed, and an Irish flag that was never taken down from the back of Beatrice’s door. Ash and I just dust. Some rooms are covered in dust (Dmitri and Myra haven’t visited in a while), and some look like they’ve been occupied fairly recently (Mithra and Dominic dropped in a few weeks ago).
Soon it’s time to go to bed once again in my cold, white sheets. The room is rather impersonal, but it’s functional. I can faintly hear the soft, sad hum of Ash’s harmonica coming from his room.
I spend forever staring out of my window and into the living city. I wonder if I’ll live in NYC forever. I’d love to travel once in a while, though if I decide to pursue acting, this is the place for me. These are the thoughts that sizzle in my head as my eyelids grow heavy and finally close.
The next day begins slowly. I sleep in until 10 AM (Ash gets up at 5:30 for some reason) and can’t find anything to do until Ash tells me he’s going to the local library and I agree to join him. I pursue the shelves for a realistic fiction that looks good while Ash scans every shelf left to right until he finds something interesting.
“You see, I like a variety of reading selections,” Ash says, “here. Take this one. It looks like your kind of book.”
He hands me a thick book titled Walrus Hunting for the Beginner.
“Oh, wrong one,” Ash mutters. He takes Walrus Hunting for the Beginner back and hands me another book—A History of American Thespians. “Because you like theatre-y things.”
“Why, thank you! That’s very considerate of you, Ash.”
Ash beams and smiles bashfully before quickly composing himself, putting his hands back at his sides, and saying, “you’re welcome.”
The rest of our day is blissfully slow. I’m practically sick with anticipation for the arrival of the other souljumpers. Nicola says that Dominic Chirico will be getting in late tonight. Early tomorrow morning Mary Erikkson, Mithra Iyer, and Evan Holiday will arrive. No one else has updated Nicola on what time they should be expected.
“Beatrice hasn’t mentioned when she’ll get here?” Ash asks Nicola with dread in his voice.
“Typical. Mother, Bailey, if you need me anytime tomorrow, I will be hiding in the utility closet with Boromir. Knock three times so I know it’s you.”
“Why? Are you scared of this Beatrice person?”
Ash shudders, “The short answer is yes. No need to explain to you why. I’m sure you’ll see in time.”
We eat an awkward dinner while Ash makes jokes that trail off and his mother asks me stiff questions about my family and high school. I’m really not psyched to be talking about school. I’d rather forget about it until September rolls around, but once I start elaborating on something, it’s not easy to get me to shut up. Nicola nods politely while I talk, but not in the way that people nod when they’re genuinely caring and interested. She studies me like an interviewer and I get the sense that I shouldn’t feel so secure in my place in the order.
After we clear our dishes, Nicola turns to Ash and asks, “does she know about the code?”
“Oh…no. I didn’t really cover that,” he replies.
“Well that’s exceedingly important, Ashton.”
“Come, Bailey,” Nicola says to me as she walks to the Tech Center, her leather moccasins gliding effortlessly across the floor, almost as if they are pulling her. She is graceful and poised, but clearly could do with some more human contact.
I follow behind and stop next to her when she comes to a halt in front of one of the glass panels lining a wall of the Tech Center. I notice for the first time that there are words etched into the glass in fine print.
“This,” Nicola says, gesturing to the letters, “is the Immortal Order’s Code of Conduct. Being a souljumper doesn’t exactly come without rules. If you break any one of these directives, the penalty is severe. Your soul will be forced back into your original body under threat of a painful death inflicted on your current body.”
“Yikes,” I whisper under my breath. I’m in deep.
My eyes trail down the Code of Conduct:
Immortal Order Code of Conduct
As long as you wish to remain in the order…
- You may not souljump into a person for the purpose of harming them or to negatively disrupt their life.
- You may not forcefully seize and restrain a person in order to souljump into them.
- You may not disclose the details of our abilities or our identities to those outside the Order.
Nicola won’t let me wait up to meet Dominic when he arrives around midnight. She tells me I’ll see him, Evan, Mithra, and Mary at breakfast tomorrow morning. I’m disappointed but I’m not about to argue with her. Nicola possesses an aura of unspoken power and she’s somewhat callous and guarded for reasons I don’t dare imagine. Her relationship with Ash seems like a tightrope walk and I don’t expect any more from my relationship with her.
Reluctantly, I head back to my room for a fitful night of sleep. Ash and I part ways at our doors and I amble into my room, which is already a wreck though I’ve only occupied it for three days. Nicola watches us from the end of the hallway. I can tell she doesn’t want Ash too close to me. Why, I’m not sure, though as the mother of a teenage boy she has every right to be wary of me. After all, I am basically a wily seductress.
As I begin to fall asleep, Ash’s mention of an issue that’s dividing the souljumpers tiptoes around in the back of my mind but it is quickly drowned out by the excitement of meeting the seven souljumpers I’ve only heard about from Ash. It feels so incredible to finally meet other people like me. People who know what I’m going through. People who will listen and understand. People I can learn from.
As it turns out, I meet them sooner than I think.
CHAPTER 7: Bailey Goldman
At around four-thirty or five in the morning I shoot up in my bed when a loud noise scares me awake. A tremendous shuffling can be heard from outside of my room and my spine arches against the backboard of my bed as I try to interpret the sounds. My eyes widen as I can hear someone beginning to fidget with my door knob. The knob turns and the bland white door flies open.
I look up, started, to see a dark figure come crashing through my door. And I mean crashing. Someone holding more bags than they can carry pushes the door back with their sheer weight and falls over onto my floor, spluttering and breathing heavily. It’s not quite light out yet and all I can see is the heaving outline of a person struggling to get up off of my floor. I would run to the light switch but I’m afraid I’ll trip on their bags and maybe their arms, which are still flailing and attempting to free themselves from the straps of the many pieces of luggage they are toting.
“Hello?” I inquire into the half-darkness.
~More to come~
CHAPTER 1: Michael “Mooch” Martinez
I remember standing in front of the doors of Iviot (pronounced “eh-vie-ohh”) High School, never knowing that on that day, something remarkable was going to happen to me, plain Mooch Martinez. Some kid scratched out the “v” and wrote in a “d” with spray paint a long time ago, but no one ever fixed it, so now it is Idiot High School, and I suppose I am an idiot now, whether I like it or not. The building is big and made of cold brick. Sometimes I wonder if the bricks can feel, and whether they like their lives so far. If I was a brick I suppose I would feel proud. Life would be boring as a brick, but I would have purpose, and that’s what I’ve been looking for. That’s what the school counselor said I needed to feel.
Overall, I suppose I would rather be a brick than me. But I am me. I am Mooch Martinez, ultra weirdo, swirly survivor, and jock armrest. My real name’s Michael, but my dad called me ‘Mooch’, and it stuck. That is me. Now I am Mooch Martinez of Idiot High. I think it sounds rather regal, don’t you? The high school looks like a factory where kids go in and get spit out as adults. I personally made a mental note to myself that when everyone else ran out the front doors on the last day of school, I would walk out the back, just because. Because I don’t want to be like everyone else.
I dreaded walking into the school. I was two weeks late—family issues delayed the start of ninth grade for me. The floor was dull and shiny, and the people I passed didn’t said anything, but I could tell they were staring. I was the new ‘weirdo’ of Iviot High because everyone in Cameron, Delaware had heard about the court cases that my father had been involved in. The Martinez family was notorious around here. The other kids looked at each other and exchanged glances when I passed by. I had been told ninth grade was no party, and I looked straight ahead as I walked down the hall to Room 9B without stopping to acknowledge the sly grin on Mitch Connelli’s face. Mitch looked like someone had just handed him a piece of cake on a platter. He was obviously cooking up something in his squarish, blond head. He didn’t say anything, but he gave me a smirk. The corners of his mouth twisted into a sick smile and Mitch’s dark, bottomless brown eyes narrowed.
“Hey, you probably need help finding your locker, Moochas Gracias,” he said, “let me give you a hand.”
Mitch grabbed my schedule out of my hands. I lunged forward instinctively but then stepped back, not wanting to pick a fight. Play it safe, I told myself.
“Hmm, hmm, locker 1313. Right over here,” He hauled me up to a locker near the boy’s bathroom and put in a combination. The locker door swung open and he shoved me right in. My skin hit the cold hard metal, and Mitch closed the door in my face. It was cramped and dark, there were only a few slivers of light coming in. I was skinny, so I fit nicely.
“Look at that, finding your locker wasn’t so hard after all, was it, Mooch?” Mitch said sarcastically, rousing a laugh from the nearby crowd that had gathered to see the show.
From the dark, cold locker I heard the shuffle of footsteps as everyone moved to first period. I sighed and banged on the locker, relying on a passing administrator or janitor to sympathize with the newbie. But it wasn’t a janitor who got me out of that locker. I heard someone pick up the paper with my combination on it. Someone was dialing it in! Yes! The locker opened and I freed myself. I found myself staring up at a girl. I could tell right off the bat that she was different from everyone else. Her hair was a strait and almost-white blond, and it reached her kneecaps. One large strand in the front was dyed with seven colors, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. It was a little rainbow in her hair. Her eyes were a vivid blue and she was very pretty, even though she obviously wasn’t wearing makeup.
“Hello,” she said.
“Thank you,” I replied.
“No prob. What’s your name?”
She nodded without laughing or squinting or asking me if that was my real name. She just said, in a bright, peppy voice, but not so peppy that it was obnoxious, “I’m Rainbow Girl.”
“Oh,” I said.
“We’re going to be best friends.”
“I like you, Mooch. You’re cute. I think I’ll keep you.”
She was peculiar, to say the least. Each of her nails were painted a different color, and she was wearing skinny jeans, a bright pink tank top, and canvas sneakers that she appeared to have colored all over with silver sharpie.
Rainbow Girl was at least half a foot taller than me and very boisterous.
She stared at me for a second, squinting and putting her hands on her hips.
“Hmm. Mooch Martinez?”
“I’ve heard about you.”
“Bad things or good things?” I asked, keeping my distance.
“All sorts of things. Come with me. We’re going to first period. Hurry up, we’ll be late.”
“My first period is science,” I said loudly as she dragged me through the narrow hallways. People around us stopped and stared, but Rainbow Girl kept dragging.
“Good. My first period is math.”
“You can keep me company. I have to sit next to Freddy Braeger, but he’s absent today—got into a rather nasty incident with his uncle’s lawnmower—so you can sit in his seat,” she turned right and dragged me into a large room filled with desks and awful dark green-colored chairs.
“Ms. Ferguson,” she said, walking up to the math teacher. “This is Mooch Martinez. He’s a troubled youth delinquent. Can he sit next to me?”
“I suppose so,” Ms. Ferguson said, not really paying much attention to Rainbow Girl. She was tired looking and her glasses had slid down to the end of her nose.
“What?” I said, confounded.
“You’re my new friend, like I told you,” she said, “your science teacher won’t mind.”
Rainbow started up a whole new conversation with the girl sitting next to her, leaving me sitting there like an idiot. All the other kids were staring at me at that point, because my family is…err…interesting. My older brother robbed a department store a couple months ago and still hasn’t gotten out of jail. To make matters worse, my father sells expensive jewelry on the black market. So I was considered a potential threat at that point. Rainbow, on the other hand, seemed to be chatting away with this other girl, Mia Shorebringer. I found this odd, because Rainbow seemed like an outcast, but yet she wasn’t made fun of, and appeared to have a circle of friends. After math class, she dragged me along to her next period, which (whew!) happened to be my actual third period.
“Hello, everybody!” she practically yelled, “this is Mooch Martinez, my new bestie. He is a youth delinquent, so I expect everyone to treat him nicely. Yes, this applies to you, George Orman.” She glared at this one terrified looking guy sharpening his pencil. I recognized him as one of Mitch’s cronies. Mitch lived across the street from me, so I saw him and his gang patrolling the neighborhood— Patrica Weiss, George Orman, Beatrice Evans, Manny King. The works.
Rainbow then took her seat in the front of the room and propped her feet up on the desk. The teacher, Mr. Faunze, was too busy grading papers to notice. The bell hadn’t rung yet, and high-schoolers scrambled through the halls, laughing and jostling each other. I made out parts of conversations as Rainbow tilted her head back and sighed deeply:
“But then she…”
“Ha! You would think…”
“But they’re so easily broken…”
“Everyone has them now, I can’t even…”
“Omigosh, you really did?”
“Is he nice?”
“Page one fifty-seven. It’s really hard but the questions…”
“English. How about you?”
“I don’t know, something about…”
“This weekend? Gosh, Cara…”
A few expletives could be heard in the fray as well, filling the halls with a nice, warm feeling of fellowship.
Rainbow Girl reached down and pulled something out of the gold messenger bag she had been carrying. She held up two cups and got up to fill them from the water fountain across the hall. Then she came back, dumped a bag of ice cubes in and poured a packet of cool-aid powder into the glasses. She then stuck two small umbrellas in, you know, the kind they use in cocktails, and handed me one. Rainbow leaned back and sipped from her drink, enjoying the sun that came in through the window next to her desk. She turned to me and toasted her cup to mine.
“To Mooch Martinez, may he prosper in high school!”
Mr. Faunze slowly raised his head.
“Rainbow, dear, you should put those away unless you’ve brought enough to share.” He seemed pretty nice.
Rainbow held up her hand as if to said , “Wait a sec,” and reached back into her bag. She pulled out twenty-seven other cups and twenty-seven packets of cool-aid packets, and served the whole class. Everyone cheered. George Orman looked confused.
Mr. Faunze looked amused, but not shocked. Things like this probably happened a lot when Rainbow was around, even before I came to Iviot.
“Ahem,” began Mr. Faunze, “class, this is Michael Martinez. I believe he prefers to be called Mooch. He is new here. I’m sure Rainbow can introduce you further.”
I took out the limp string backpack that I’d been carrying around and pulled out an empty plastic binder.
“Mr. Martinez,” Mr. Faunze said, coming up to my desk, “I trust you have brought a binder for my class?”
“Yeah, this one,” I said, holding up the binder to meet Mr. Faunze’s grey eyes. He was stern looking at first glance, his features sharp and defined, but then he smiled approvingly and his face softened.
“Good, you can get your notes from Rainbow.”
Rainbow smiled at me and got out her notes. Every word was written in a different color of pen and she had coated many sections in bright highlighter, but she did cover the poetry unit quite sufficiently. I copied down what I can, but my scrawly handwriting didn’t look nearly as neat.
“I like your handwriting,” she said, watching me.
“No, really,” she said as she began to try to imitate it, “it’s very original.” I knew from her tone she wasn’t mocking me.
I shrugged and went about my business. Rainbow watched me intently, as if she was new to planet Earth and wanted to observe the human race closely. After I halfheartedly copied down what I thought was important, I gave her her notes back.
Mr. Faunze was quite enthusiastic about poetry. He waved his hands wildly and read all the example poems in different accents: Indian, Scottish, English, then Russian and German. All the kids laughed, exempt George Orman, who I remember as looking very bored. He was practically drooling on his textbook.
When we finally exited third period, Rainbow told me she had the first lunch and that she was going to abandon me temporarily.
“Good-bye, Mooch,” she said forlornly, “I suppose it’s time you brave the world on your own for a while.” She then disappeared with a wistful wave. I figured that if I wanted to make any other friends, I was going to have to work at it, but everyone had known each other for two months by the time I arrived, and they didn’t bother to notice me. The only kid who seemed to want to befriend me was this short, pudgy freckled kid named Mark, who took to following me around, poking me, and looking hopefully at me, obviously believing that because we’re fellow outsiders, we’re automatically best buds.
Mark was also in my next period, gym, and he had a hard time pulling his shirt off in the locker room, so he couldn’t change into his gym clothes. His head got stuck, and I, taking pity on him, spent the rest of the time until the tardy bell rang pulling on the shirt while Mark swayed on his heels and grunted.
The gym uniform was baggy on my small, skinny frame, but at least it’s wasn’t skintight. I had, and still have, no muscles to speak of, so nothing to show off. I fudged my way through most of the fitness stations, trying to avoid Mark, who has third-degree acne that looks like it could be contagious. I mean, I didn’t mean to judge him, but…yeah, no, I did not want to go anywhere near that acne. And of course I avoided at all costs Manni King, a Mitch fanboy. He was all brawn and no brains. His face was covered by long, brown bangs that covered his eyes. He looked like he could smash through walls, but he’d probably run into them first. Mani did Mitch’s dirty work. Any kid that didn’t acknowledge Mitch’s position as the ringleader of Iviot High was undoubtably destined to fall prey to Mani before the end of the week.
After fitness stations, we did track, where I did ten laps before collapsing into a little heap on the bleachers. Coach Lauderdale barked inspiration at us from the sidelines:
“Just because we set limits doesn’t mean you can achieve them.”
“Another one, Patterson. You’re not dead yet!”
“You there, put yer shoes back on.”
“King, no cheatin’. I saw you cut across the field. Fifty ground-kisses. Now. Taste the asphalt.”
He came up to me and snorted, “You’re the Martinez boy, aren’t ya?”
I managed a feeble, “Yessir.”
“Hmmph, how many laps did you run?” he asks.
“Ten, sir,” I said, begging him with my eyes not to make me go back out.
“Is this the best you can do?” he asked.
I made the mistake of hesitating.
“Get back out there.”
I trotted out onto the track. My heart dropped when I felt Mitch Connelli’s hot breath on my neck.
“Hey, you a bench-warmer, Martinez?” he said, smirking so wide his face seemed to stretch.
“No,” I muttered under my breath.
“Ten laps, tsk, tsk.”
I knew for a fact he did nine himself.
Suddenly feeling my cheeks glow, I spat out, “Like you could do better!”
“Oooh, feelin’ like a challenge, huh?” George Orman piped up from behind Mitch.
“I’ll take you on, Smooch,” said Mitch, his eyes glinting, “race ya round the track.”
“Five…I mean three…two…” Manni King started counting.
But I was already off before he even hit three. All of me was on fire, my eyes held back hot tears, my side was cramping, my feet burned as they hit the track hard and fast with each stride, and my cheeks were aglow. I couldn’t even see where I’m going, my eyes were blurred. But when I got to the end of the track, I knew I have won.
CHAPTER 2: Michael “Mooch” Martinez
As soon as I walked off the track, I turned around to see Mitch, not even halfway around it yet. Even from far away I could tell he was glaring at me. Some of the other kids stopped and stared, some whispered among themselves. Either I looked like a freak or a hero racing around the track like that and beating Mitch by miles.
On the walk back to the locker room, I was surprised to see Mark come up to me and give me a thumbs up. His checks puffed up and he grinned and wiggled a little bit, as if his happiness and pride towards me couldn’t be contained. Nonetheless, I found it kind of weird.
After getting back to the locker room and changing out of my gym clothes, I met Rainbow Girl outside of the gym. She was skipping and landed with a bounce next to me. I saw a notebook she was carrying.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“My notebook of everything,” she answered.
On the cover, she had written, “Notebook of Everything, property of Rainbow.” Underneath this, she had neatly written a couple of paragraphs of some kind of verse.
She saw me reading it and told me, “Those are the lyrics to my favorite song,” she explained,”it’s called The Rainbow Connection.”
I read the first couple lyrics aloud:
Why are there so many songs about rainbows
and what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.
“Now,” she said, “one more one-hour block.” I sighed. “Do you not like school?” she asked.
“Follow my lead, Mooch. Let’s go make use of this educational facility. It’s so weird how people hand out free information and you reject it. Skip, Mooch, come on.”
She started skipping and grabbed my hand. I turned red as a beet as everyone stopped to stare as she and I skipped down the hallways, but soon Mark trotted up behind us and joined in this uncommon ritual. His red hair fell into his eyes as he jiggled his chubby middle section and lifted his feet in unison with ours. Soon we all skipped into our own classrooms, looking like idiots but feeling oddly confident.
My history teacher gave me an odd look and shook her head like she thought the school was going down the tubes. I reluctantly sat down between two very concerned kids, and the bell went off, announcing the start of the last period of the day.
Mrs. Clayton, the history teacher, who had long brown hair and large glasses, and seemed to be in her fifties, came down the aisles of desks tapping a ruler against her hand.
She ambled over to my desk, “Mr…Martinez…I believe you require a set of dead trees.”
I tried to say something, but I found that no words came out.
“Your packet of notes, kid,” she said.
“Oh, uh, yes. I don’t have any.”
“Gimme a second, child. I will find some for you.”
She rummaged through an unbelievably messy desk and pulled out a packet haphazardly stapled together.
“Read,” she said simply, slapping down on my desk.
When the bell rang for dismissal, no sooner was I out of the door when Rainbow skipped by and slapped me on the back heartily in greeting.
“Which bus do you ride?” she inquired, her bright sky-blue eyes twinkling.
“Seventeen,” I sighed. I didn’t like school buses. Never have, never will.
“Me too!” she exclaimed, “It’s a Monday, and most of the kids are staying after school for clubs. It’ll just be you, me, Molly, and Aidan.”
She enthusiastically dragged me out to the buses and pointed out bus number seventeen. The engine was running and it was humming away. The bus driver was reading US Weekly, her feet propped up on the dashboard.
“Hey, Linda,” Rainbow said as we stepped onto the bus.
Linda the bus driver snorted and said hello, lowering the magazine down just a bit to inspect me, then grunted in approval, looking up and down my mousy, small figure. My curly, dark brown hair, big mahogany-brown eyes, and faded gray t-shirt and jeans.
Rainbow nodded to Linda, and pointed what was now “our seat” out to me, number seven. We took a seat and I set down my string backpack.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked her, confused as to why she just plucked me out of obscurity and chose me, no, forced me, to be her friend.
“I honestly don’t know,” she said rather bluntly, “but when I opened that locker door I knew I was looking at something noteworthy.”
“You mean I’m special?” I queried.
“No, no, no, Mooch honey,” she said, “You are not special. I said you were noteworthy. No one’s special. And we’re all gonna die anyway, so best not to label things.”
I nodded as if I understood.
“You are my new project.”
“I’m going to work on you,” she proclaimed, “First off, your grades are opprobrious.”
“Opprobrious, abhorrent, horrid, bad.”
“How do you know…”
Rainbow held up a paper that I recognized instantly. It was a record of my grades from my last school—Fillmore Middle School. I had failed all of my classes.
“How did you get that?”
“I have my sources,” she said mysteriously.
I shook my head in disbelief.
“Let’s just say I’m friends with the office ladies.”
“Mooch Martinez, by the time I am done with you, you will graduate valedictorian.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Meet me at my house on Friday for a lesson in all subjects. Do you have an email?”
“Yeah, firstname.lastname@example.org,” I said.
She wrote it in her Notebook of Everything.
She suddenly looked up and pointed to a girl sitting a few seats back from us.
“That’s Molly,” she said, kind-of whispering.
Molly wore heavy black makeup and her fingernails were painted all black. Her earrings were black crystals. She also sported a lopsided black hat that simply said WHATEVER. She looked up at us briefly and then went back to staring at something in her lap. She seemed to be writing or drawing something.
“Hey, Mol!” Rainbow said, waving a little.
A flicker of a smile crossed Molly’s face.
“Molly is an amazing artist,” Rainbow said, “she draws fairies.”
Molly swatted her hand as if to said , “Oh, stop. You’re flattering me.”
“Anyway, Molly, meet Mooch.”
“Greetings,” Molly said, looking up at me.
“Uh…right…greetings,” I said back.
“And then, of course, Aidan!” she waves to a boy who is just now coming on to the bus.
Aidan flashed us a smile and gave a little wave. He has dark skin and little tufts of black hair all over his head. His teeth are bright white and straight. He sits down in the seat next to ours as the bus starts moving.
“Yo,” he said .
“Yo,” I reply.
“What’s crackalackin?” Aidan asks.
“B Ace,” Rainbow said , “this is M Dawg.”
“He a busta?”
“He ain’t no busta, Ace. M Dawg is chill. He got flava. Wussup with you, jack?”
“I know you, sister. You all deep.”
“Hustler, you gonna hang?”
“With M Dawg? He got da pull?”
“He’s kickin fine.”
“Looks like a newjack, this shorty. What hood this wangsta from?”
“He a good 730 from…said , M Dawg, where ya from?” Rainbow asks.
I guess she means me.
“Where do I live?”
“I live in a townhouse on Golden Rain Court.”
“Dang, boy, you ain’t half-steppin, na mean? Da kid got bank.” Aidan remarks.
“You got dat right, brotha,” Rainbow responds.
I am very, very lost in this conversation. This must be slang. It has a kind of casual, honest rhythm to it. I like the sound of the words, though they sound odd coming from the mouth of a tall, blond girl.
Aidan held out his fist. I bumped it.
“Any bro of Rain is aight in my hood. She speak my language, dontcha, sista?”
“You bet. Your bros got beef with the gang? What’s yo 411?” Rainbow asks Aidan.
“Naw man, you know I’m not hangin’ with those cold thugs and their ballin’ crew. I’m a breed of my own, sista. Na mean? I’m bustin’ outta da hood.”
“You gonna be def, bro. I won’t dis ya fo that,” Rainbow said .
“My hood is trouble, sista Rain. With everybody goin’ off. Fasho.”
“You think you all that. Just make sure you stay outta trouble, Ace.”
“I ain’t nothing to those hard rock crews.”
The school bus screeched to a stop.
“This ma hood,” Aidan announced, “I gotsta bail.”
I nodded as if I understood.
“One love to you, money brotha. Watch yo back,” Rainbow said to Aidan.
“Peace out,” he replied, and stood up. The bus doors opened, and he hopped out onto the cracked pavement and began walking towards an apartment complex. He turns back to us and thumps his fist on his heart, then holds up a peace sign. Rainbow does the same.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I picked up the language of the hood.”
“You’ve got friends everywhere,” I remarked.
“If you can connect to people it’s easy,” she replied, “learn to speak their language, and they trust you.”
I shrugged, “But you know my family, they’re the bad eggs of this perfect little town. We’re thought to be crazy. One of our nosy neighbors, old Mrs. Hensfeld, called my mother a witch once.”
“This town will break you open and scope you out. And when they do, they will see you are a good egg in a bad shell.”
“I don’t want to be broken open.”
“Come out of your shell, then. Improve your grades. Improve your reputation. Improve your shot at a life, Mooch.”
“I have a life.”
“Trust me Mooch, you haven’t lived.”
“I’m quite alive.”
“You aren’t alive. You’re just not dead.”
“And how would you know?”
“Let’s just said I’ve seen more than you think. I’ve been everywhere. Seen everything. Done everything.”
“But how? By plane? Train? Car?”
“No, by a different type of transportation all together, Mooch Martinez.”
“You’ll see when the time comes, my friend,” she said mysteriously as the school bus lurched to a stop. “I get off here,” she added.
“Have a glorious eventide.”
“Yeah, sure whatever.”
“Don’t you “sure whatever” me, Mr. Martinez.”
“I will most definitely see you tomorrow. If I don’t, it means I’m dead or maybe sick.”
And with that, she got off the bus, and walked toward what I presumed was her house. It was a large, white, sterile-looking two-story colonial. She was greeted at the door by a woman, I’m guessing her mother, who looked happy to see her. Rainbow curtsied to the woman and stepped inside. The bus pulled away.
I stared out the window at the blurred passing trees, and tried to wrap my head around what had just happened. I wasn’t sure what, but something was changing. Something was going to change for me. For some reason, on that day, all of a sudden, I felt like trying.
CHAPTER 3: Mrs. Jessica Greene
First off, you should know that my husband and I are utterly normal Americans. Before we met Rainbow, we were living our quiet lives in the small town of Cameron, Delaware. I suppose finding her was a good thing for us. We hadn’t had a brush with the extraordinary since when we were young. It all started this one rainy summer Sunday afternoon when I was in the kitchen making a brussel sprout smoothie. The sky was clouded over and misty, and the rain was still drizzling down the windowpane when the first weird things started happening.
The rainclouds, which were a dull gray and were supposed to stay that color, started becoming a shade of gray-pink, and then gradually became redder, until they were the purest shade of red I had ever seen. Then they faded into orange, and then yellow, and then green, blue, purple, and then into red again. It was the strangest thing I had ever seen. I thought maybe it was an odd weather occurrence, so I called for my husband, Phil, who was upstairs on his laptop doing who knows what.
“Phil! Phil!” I yelled, “The sky is changing colors!”
Of course, he came running downstairs like the reliable man he is.
“Honey, can it wait? I’m about to start a conference call,” he yelled from the middle of the staircase.
“No!” I shouted rather shrilly, “Phil, come look at the clouds.”
He ran over to the window in awe and said something I cannot repeat on this page because of the age of you readers.
Anyways, the rain was letting up, and the clouds were fading, and we could just see the meadow beyond our house. After a couple of minutes, the sky was completely clear. We peered out of the window into the meadow. In the middle of the green grass was a lone figure.
I could barely see her, but I could tell it was a girl. She looked young, and peculiar. Her hair was down to her kneecaps. She began to walk in a straight line towards the house Phil and I decided to go outside and ask if she was lost or if she needed directions somewhere.
We walked outside, Phil still in a t-shirt and sweatpants, the clothes he had woken up in, and I in my jogging clothes and jacket.
The girl walked right up to us and said simply, “Your names are Phillip and Jessica Greene. Phil, you are an economy professor at the local community college. Jessica, you are a real estate agent. You live in Cameron, Delaware. Your lives are quiet, boring and empty. But now I am here. Things are about to get weird. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Rainbow. I am here to fix your problems. Might I have some lodgings for the night?”
Well, Phil and I were speechless. What were we to do? This was by far the strangest person we’d ever met. She had light blond hair with one colorful rainbow streak in the front. She was wearing a clean pink tank top and a pair of jeans accompanied by sneakers that had been written all over with silver marker.
“Uh…well…Rainbow, I’m sorry…where are your parents?” Phil said, not totally sure where to start.
“Parents?” Rainbow asked, cocking her head to the left slightly, “define the term, please. I seem to have forgotten what it means. ”
“Parents,” I began, “are people who take care of children. Mothers and fathers.”
“Oh,” said Rainbow, “I’ve had parents sometimes.”
Phil and I looked at each other.
“Look, kid,” Phil said, “are you feeling alright? Are you lost?”
“I’m feeling quite well,” Rainbow replied, “And I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
“Do you know anyone around here?” I asked.
“Not yet,” she replied, “I am sent where I am needed. People like me are in high demand, you see.”
“Who exactly are you?” I asked her.
“I am a child of the rainbow. Here to leave this town better than I found it. And I need a place to stay the night.” She pointed to our house. “Is this your dwelling?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Phil.
“May I rest here for a while?”
“How long are you in town?”
“As long as it takes.”
“To do what?”
“Make everything better than it was before I got here.”
“Excuse us a second,” I said to Rainbow, “we’ll be right back.” I turned to Phil and gestured to towards the door. We walked up to it and stopped on the last step.
“Phil,” I said, “do you think this is some sort of hoax? The neighborhood kids are a bunch of rascals.”
“I don’t know,” he said, “should we report this to the police?”
“Maybe. What if we just let her sleep here tonight. Maybe she’s just sort of worn out and dehydrated. I suspect she’s walked a long way. I’ve never seen her around town. Perhaps after she gets some sleep she’ll come to her senses and tell us how to contact her parents. She seems like a nice girl, just a little stressed and delusional, that’s all.”
Phil nodded, “Alright,” he said.
I turned back to Rainbow. “If you would like to stay the night, you can.”
“My most gracious thanksgiving to you, sir and madam.”
I gave her a friendly smile and showed her inside.
Rainbow spent the night and was up first thing the next morning earlier than Phil or me. She had gone outside and somehow managed to climb the huge oak tree outside our bedroom window. So we were much alarmed when we woke up that morning, looked out our window, and saw Rainbow sitting on a tree branch and humming. I almost fell out of bed when I saw her start swinging back and forth on the branch above her. I shook Phil awake and ran to the window. I opened the window just as Rainbow nimbly jumped from branch to branch. I nearly had a heart attack.
“Ah ah ahhhh be careful! Rainbow…uh you need to get down from there. Now. It is not safe to go climbing around in trees like that.”
“No fear should come to you. I am unscathed,” Rainbow replied upon leaping to the ground gracefully.
“Dear God,” I muttered, turning to Phil, who was snoring again, “do you think she’s some sort of vagrant? Could we be arrested for harboring a fugitive?”
“If the police come calling, tell them I’m too tired to be arrested,” Phil murmured from under the bedsheets. He obviously wasn’t going to be of any help.
So, I got dressed and went downstairs to find Rainbow. She was laying outside in the lawn, silent accept for a loud “whooooooop!” every five minutes. When I asked her about the “whoooop”s, she said she was just discharging energy from her flight. I told her to please quiet down. She didn’t.
I stood and watched her for a while. After a couple minutes, I went back inside and called up Joe Afferson at the Cameron Division of the Delaware Police Department. He asked if I could bring Rainbow to the station to sort things out. I told him that this was a highly unusual case and I didn’t know how Rainbow might react to being taken to the station. Joe agreed to come over at 11:00.
Meanwhile, Phil was in the kitchen making scrambled eggs. I called Rainbow in for breakfast.
“What’s being served?” she asked with a poise unusual for anyone in Cameron, Delaware.
“Scrambled eggs,” I answered.
“Unborn dead bird offspring!” she exclaimed, “how appetizing.”
She voraciously devoured the scrambled eggs. I did not. I had lost my appetite after her rather blunt comment.
Seeing that she was still hungry, Phil made some toast. She found the toast incredible as well.
“Do you even know how much work was put into this one slice of bread?” she asked, rubbing the bread delicately.
“No, I don’t,” Phil replied.
So Rainbow began to explain the bread-making process. That was when I left to get some yard work done. When I came back in, Phil and Rainbow were discussing the U.S. economy and what’s its impact was on foreign markets.
I left to finish a sweater I was knitting. When I came back into the kitchen, Rainbow was eating a stack of pancakes and she and Phil were still talking about who knows what.
“A mustache?” Phil was asking, “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. A mustache would be so you.”
“Yeah, it would give you more of a ‘professor-y’ look.”
“Oh, so you’re said ing I don’t already look professor-y enough?”
“Meh,” Rainbow said.
Just then someone knocked on the door.
“That would be Officer Afferson,” I said, “come in!” I yelled at the door.
Joe Afferson bumbled through the door. He was one of the better police officers in Cameron and he seemed to have a way with the youth, even if he was a little forgetful.
“Well, hello there, Angela!”
“It’s Jessica actually,” I corrected him gently.
“Phil. Anyway, Officer Afferson—.”
“Call me Joe, Bessica.”
I didn’t correct him this time. I figured it wouldn’t be of any use.
“Joe, this is Rainbow.” I lowered my voice so only he can hear, “she just showed up on our doorstep yesterday. I really don’t know where she came from, but we certainly can’t let her stay. I guess this is your jurisdiction.”
“I got this, Chessica,” he said, slapping me on the back hardily.
He sat down at the kitchen table across from Rainbow and next to Phil.
“So, Rainbow. Do your parents know where you are?”
“That’s a funny question,” she replied, “I guess I didn’t really tell the last ones where I was going.”
“The…the last ones?”
“Everywhere I go I have new parents. That’s the funny thing about the human species. They always want to take you in.”
Joe laughed, “Now, I don’t know what you’re playing at here, but you talk like you ain’t one of us.”
“Human? Oh, no. I’m far from it.”
“Oh really? What are you then, honey?”
“Some call me a Rainbow Child, or a Mist Traveler. I move between the water prisms in a rainbow and condense into a solid form.”
Joe looked at her and then at us, mouth half open on one side, eyebrows raised, eyes perplexed.
“My duty is to leave any place I go better than I found it. It is the sole purpose of our existence as Rainbow Children.”
“There are…more of you?”
“Why of course, my brothers and sisters are all around this planet and others. Any planet than has a sun and rainfall. You know you have found one of us by this,” she holds up the rainbow colored strand of hair.
“Tessica, she’s a strange child, but since no one’s filed a Missing report for her yet,” Joe said to me, “I can take her down to the station or she can stay with you and I’ll keep in touch.”
I look at Phil. He shrugged.
“Well, we’ll think about it, but don’t take her to the station just yet,” I said.
“Alright,” said Joe, “I’ll see y’all later.”
“Bye!” I said.
“Thanks, Joe,” Phil said.
“Have a glorious eventide!” Rainbow added.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” Phil said to Rainbow, “why do you talk like that? You know, all that antiquated speech.”
“Well, you see, I stayed quite a while in Massachusetts in 1801,” Rainbow remarked nonchalantly. I almost spilled my coffee down the front of my shirt.
“The sanitary system there was rather horrific,” Rainbow added.
“And on a different subject,” I began, “Rainbow, I don’t know if what you said earlier about the Rainbow Children was real, but if you don’t have any real family, we should talk about admitting you to the foster family system.”
Phil shrugs, “I don’t see why we can’t take her in,” he said, “With Will and Carrie gone, we’ve been a little lonely.” Will and Carrie are our grown children. Carrie is a senior in college and Will is a sophomore.
“Well…” I began, “Phil, this a big decision.”
“Yes,” he said, “and I think it’s one that will require some thought, but we can do it.”
“I am a really good child,” Rainbow pleads.
“She is,” Phil adds.
“But that means we’ll have to set her up with the school system and everything,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” Phil said, putting a hand on my shoulder, “I’ll take care of all that.”
So, one month and eight days later, Phil and I waved Rainbow off to her first day at Iviot High School (it’s pronounced Eh-vee-oh). Three months later she would meet that Martinez boy. And one day, she would disappear forever.
CHAPTER 4: Michael “Mooch” Martinez
Hello again. I suppose you want to know what happened after that day when I first met Rainbow. Well, let me tell you—things just got stranger from there.
The day after the day I met Rainbow, I woke up at 6:30 AM to the sound of rain on my roof and the alarm going off. I rolled out of my musty green quilt onto the floor and batted at the “Off” button on my alarm clock. My parents weren’t usually aren’t up that early, so I relied on myself for breakfast.
As I was getting up, I had a sudden heartening thought. I will see Rainbow again this morning. Maybe my life isn’t a major suck-fest after all.
After I threw on a pair of jeans and a faded green t-shirt, I clunked down the falling-apart stairs on my awkward, lanky legs. It’s weird—I’m short but my legs are long, so I feel like a pair of legs and a head.
Sitting on our old, gross couch in our living room was my six-year-old brother, Eddie. We call him Ed for short. He calls me Moo because he can’t said Mooch.
“Moo,” he cooed, “bwekfust.”
“Yes,” I said, “breakfast, Ed.” I poured what was left of the cereal and milk into a bowl and gobbled it up. I didn’t have much time before the bus came. I am a resourceful person, though, and my getting ready routine was short and uncomplicated—eat breakfast. Stuff my binders into the string backpack. Run out the door. Try to make it to the bus door in time.
“Why you smile, Moo?”
“Because today is gonna be good. Or at least better than usual.”
“Because Rainbow, Moo.”
“Wainbow is in da skyyyyy.”
“She’s also on my bus, Ed.”
“Yes, Ed, Rainbow is a she.”
“Yeah, in my dreams, Eddie,” I said, ruffling his mousy brown hair.
“I hadda dweam,” Ed remarked listlessly.
I glance at the clock. “Well,” I said, “Ed, you’re gonna have to tell me about it when I get home. I gotta dash.”
“Dash!” Ed yelled, clapping his hands.
I was out the door in no time at all, and I was just in time. I saw the bus’ flashing lights down the road. Three other kids were already at my stop, and four others trickled out of their front doors as the bus pulled up. As I waited in line for other kids to board, someone rolled down the window of seat number seven. A graceful hand, and then a thin, dangly arm stuck out of the window. Rainbow.
“Helloooo, Martinez!” she yelled, “salutations. Salutations, Martinez! Ha! Alliteration. Another fabulous creation of the human species.”
The kid in front of me looked at Rainbow, and then at me.
“Do you know that weirdo?” he asked.
“Uh…no, no.” I reply, “never seen her before in my—.”
“He’s my best friend!” Rainbow yelled from the window, pointing at me conspicuously. I could feel my cheeks turning red with embarrassment.
“Your blushing brings out your eyes, Martinez,” Rainbow informed me once I had boarded the bus and sat down, “your eyes are like endless whirlpools of chocolate flowing down into the eternity of the afterlife. Whoop! I ate sugar packets for breakfast by the way.”
“I can tell.”
“I am a morning person; and lots of other things too! How about you?”
“I’m a mid-mid-afternoon person.”
“That must not be very convenient. A very small time frame. And, you know what? I think I’m more of an all-day person.”
I yawned and looked out the window as the bus lurched to a start. As soon as the bus started to pick up its usual speed, Rainbow put her hands in the air and started yelling. You know, like people do when they’re on a roller coaster. The bus driver chose to ignore her.
“Mooch!” she shook my shoulders. “Wake up! We’re moving!”
“Do you do this every morning?” I asked her.
“Absolutely, unless I want to just talk. Don’t humans do this on any moving vehicle?”
“No. No, not really.”
“Oh. Well, I’m a trendsetter.” She continued yelling and looked around for encouragement at the other kids on the bus. They just put their earbuds in.
“Are those ear-wax sucking machines?” she whispered to me, pointing at the earbuds of the kid in front of us, Spuddy Daniels. I don’t know how he got the nickname.
“Rainbow, you can’t be serious. You’ve been on this planet for what, fifteen years or so? You know that they’re earbuds.”
“Earbuds? Is it short for Ear Bud Light?”
“Mm…no. That’s a beer.”
“That’s not even a thing. You’re just pulling my leg, right?”
She held her hands in the air. “I’m not touching your leg, Mooch. What a vulgar thing to think.”
“I mean, you do know what earbuds really are, right?”
She looked at me quizzically. Does she really not know what they are? I thought to myself.
“They’re little sound machines,” I explained, “have you not seen them before?”
“No, this is the first time I’ve been in any time period after 1979.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, you don’t know how I got here.”
“What do you mean? You were…born, right? You know, like all people?”
“Oh, I’m not a person, Mooch.”
“Of course you are. Look at you. You’re a girl.”
She bit her lip. “I’m going to try to explain. I’m not a human at all, Mooch.”
I assumed she was joking.
“Great. Then what are you, a martian?”
“I’m a Rainbow Child.”
“What’s that? Like a hippie or something?”
She took a deep breath. “ I move between the water prisms in a rainbow and condense into a solid form,” she explained. “Sometimes I’m called a Mist Traveller.”
I was not sure how to reply to this. Maybe she’s crazy, I thought. Maybe she’s joking. However, Rainbow’s blue eyes looked honest and serious.
“I hope the fact that I’m not human doesn’t affect our friendship in any way.”
“Well…you’re like, water particles?” I touched Rainbow’s hand to make sure my fingers wouldn’t go right through her.
“No, no. I utilize the water particles as—.”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re the first real friend I’ve had in a while, so I don’t care what you are.”
“Aww, that’s the nicest thing anyone in this particular decade’s said to me.”
“So, you can time travel?”
“Only to the past. Whenever a rainbow appears, I can go back in time to the last rainbow that occurred in that spot.”
“How long have you been alive? Are you like, immortal? Have you been alive forever? Did the aliens build the pyramids?” I had never asked so many questions.
“I’ve been around as long as the rainbows have.”
“So you could tell me what dinosaurs look like?”
“Well, you won’t believe it! They’re actually pink!”
“Yes! Big and furry and pink!”
“You’re…pulling my leg here, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and having a most joyous time doing so.” A smug smile made itself comfortable on her face. I was still having a tough time buying this whole thing about the “Rainbow Children”, but I had no solid argument against it. So I decided to roll with it. I was grateful to have a friend.
CHAPTER 5: Mr. Charles Faunze
Rainbow Greene? Well, she was a very bright girl. Somewhat unorthodox, but she never hurt anyone. Very studious. I daresaid she could have taught the class!
It’s a shame about her recent disappearance. I understand Mrs. Greene and Michael Martinez have been telling you about her as well. Michael was a good friend of Rainbow’s, I believe.
Rainbow was very unique. Her silver sneakers and the rainbow hair stripe made her stand out. She was nearly always happy, I suppose you could say, though if you disappointed her, her eyebrows would droop and her expression would make you feel awful. She treated everyone as if she couldn’t see their flaws. George Orman, another one of my students, called her a “freak” in class and she said thank you and brought him cupcakes the next day.
I think she taught me a lot more than I taught her. Wherever she is now, I hope she’s getting along okay.
CHAPTER 6: Rainbow Greene*
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrong, wait and see
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me
*these remarks were submitted by Michael Martinez on Rainbow’s behalf after she went missing.
CHAPTER 7: Michael “Mooch” Martinez
I haven’t mentioned Rainbow’s disappearance yet, but you’ve probably heard something about it from the others. I don’t want to talk about that, though. Not right now. Right now I just want to relive the good times.
Hmm, what else happened during that first week with Rainbow? Let’s see, she beat Mitch in a karate spar. And there was that incident with the turtles. Plus the blender prank.
The unfortunate fact of the matter was that I was beginning to fall madly in love with her. This was, of course, before it came to my attention that Rainbow Children don’t feel that way toward anyone. They don’t need to reproduce, so they don’t develop romantic attachments. It wasn’t really Rainbow that I was falling in love with though, it was more like the idea of her. I was in love with the idea that a person (or Rainbow Child or whatever) could just not care about what was thought about them. Everything and everyone was beautiful and new to her and she had fun without worrying about the consequences or her reputation. I wanted to live like that. However, I couldn’t ignore the fact that Rainbow was not here to stay. She was simply here to fix my town and thus complete the mission that every Rainbow Child must. She was here to leave her destination in better shape than it was in when she arrived.
One breezy November day while we were studying, Rainbow showed me her plan for doing just that. She had written it neatly in steps in her Notebook of Everything:
THE BETTERING OF CAMERON, DELAWARE
1. Improve the lives of Phil and Jessica Greene
2. Make people here understand each other
3. Cameron mailmen
4. Mitch Connelli
“What’s wrong with our mailmen?” I asked her incredulously.
“Why, nothing’s wrong with them, they just ought to be treated better,” Rainbow explained. “They work tirelessly and no one even gives them so much as a thankful glance!”
“All right, but why is Mitch last? Why can’t we get rid of the terror of the school first?”
“Because, Mooch, people are difficult. Plus, I haven’t finished my research.”
“Research on what? Mitch?”
“Yes. If you want to understand someone’s actions, you have to understand them first.”
“I really can’t take any more of him.”
“Chances are he can’t take any more of himself. Just give me time,” she said, “and I’ll figure out how to address him.”