Author’s Note: This is a fun chapter, hope you enjoy as we near the end of Volume 2!
Volume 2 – Chapter 6
Nearly a month after our second incident with a ghost, things had pretty much gone back to normal, at least in how we acted around each other. Of course, some things had changed–Asher was reading and searching the internet a lot more often, looking for information on ghosts and the supernatural, and Ayame had suddenly become much more interested in our trip to Italy and the brush with the ghost there–but overall, we were the same as we’d always been.
Meaning, at the moment, I was having fun.
While Asher sat in his desk, shoulders hunched, flipping through a book older than my great-grandparents he got from one of our old teachers, I passed the time in a more reasonable fashion–playing paper football with Miller.
“And it’s number 28, the flaming foot, coming up for the kick,” I said, deepening my voice as much as possible. Miller, about three feet away, held his index fingers up, touching his thumbs below them, and I lined up my finger to get the perfect shot. “Can she do it? Can the mighty Catriona cement her place in history as the greatest kicker of all time?”
As that final, pivotal question left my lips, I flicked my pointer finger forward in an outward explosion of power, striking the folded piece of paper directly in the center, sending it flying through the air in a straight line. Tiny pieces of the frayed edge of the paper it was created from falling to the ground like snow, it soared through the sky, before sailing straight through Miller’s outstretched fingers and striking his chest, clattering to the ground and securing my victory.
Had my life been a movie, a chorus of angels would definitely have accompanied the momentous feat. Unfortunately, my life wasn’t a movie, but I think my roar of victory was a close second.
While I sung my praises, thanking my fans, my parents, my coaches and teammates, Miller let his arms drop to the floor, picking up the symbol of his defeat and twirling it between his fingers.
“I can’t even beat you in fake sports, I guess,” he sighed. “I couldn’t even get one point .”
I laughed a little, flexing my wrist and working out the kinks of an intense game. “It’s all in the wrist and forearm, Miller. If you want to beat me, I’d start off with a few wrist curls. You’ve also gotta work on the power of your flick. You’ve got good technique, but that’s no help when you can’t even get it to the other person’s goal.”
“That sounds like a great training regimen,” he said, nodding thoughtfully. “That is, if I were weird enough to spend any amount of time training to be a better paper football player.”
“You’ll never make it to the big leagues with that attitude,” I teased, snatching the triangle from his hands before tossing it up and catching it in the center of my palm. He simply shrugged, and I decided to turn my attention to another opponent. “Ayame, do you want to be my next opponent?”
She, like Asher, was reading a book, flipping from one page to the next with one hand and resting her head in the other. At first she didn’t realize I was talking to her, but when I repeated my question she turned, and pushed some loose strands of her dark hair behind her ear.
“Sorry, Cat, I’m not very good at paper football,” she explained with an apologetic smile. “Besides, there’s no way I could stack up against a world champion kicker.”
I was about to explain to her that, while I was a world champion, that didn’t say anything about her own ability as an opponent, but before I could the normal buzz of the other students in the classroom died down suddenly, and I turned to see what the commotion was about.
Standing in the doorway, a clipboard held at his side and a pen sticking out from behind his ear, was our gym teacher, a man I had almost never seen outside of the immediate areas of either the school gym or the multiple fields around the school building.
He walked forward, making eye contact with each of us individually as he did so. As he looked at the students in the front row, I noticed him adjust the hem of his canary yellow collared shirt, pulling it away from his stomach before letting it drop and cling back onto the rounded area once again.
By the time he made it to the middle of the room, his eyes had finally reached mine, and I gave him a slight smile, which he decided to dismiss without so much as a second thought (love you too, Mr. Matsuo!). Returning his attention to the center of the mass of students he was addressing, he pushed his hair, a swirling combination of dirty white and light gray, over the top of his head.
“Hello, kids,” he said, keeping his language as informal as it was in the gymnasium. “I’ve got a quick announcement for all of you, so listen up.”
His eyes rested on Asher, still scanning the pages of his ancient ghost book, as he called for attention. Thinking on my feet, I let loose my foot from under my desk, making direct contact with his shin in a (kind of) discreet manner and snapping him to attention. With his fingers still on the last page he’d read, he stared back at Mr. Matsuo and, although it seemed like a half-baked attempt to me, our teacher seemed to decide it was good enough.
“If any of you remember, we ran some announcements about the upcoming “Fitness day” to be held at the school,” he said, the tempo of his words matching the speed at which his eyes scanned the paper on his clipboard. “A reminder was posted both on the bulletin board and read on the morning announcements yesterday, and I’m here to give you the details of the mandatory events planned for today….”
For a while, he rattled off a list of events, from running to shotput, that we would all be participating in, but I didn’t pay too much attention. Whatever we did, I knew I’d be fine–it was Asher and Miller I was worried about.
Glancing at the two of them, I could tell they were just as worried as I was. Asher, previously sneaking glances at his book whenever possible, was staring forward, mouth open slightly and eyes wide, while Miller simply covered his eyes with his hand.
Hmph. I thought. I guess they forgot about it.
After Mr. Matsuo finished reading his list, he took his leave quickly, telling us to do our best before heading off to another classroom to read them the same canned speech. Class started almost immediately afterwards, but not before Miller and Asher were able to fire off a few disapproving comments.
“Trying to make up for a year’s worth of student inactivity in one day….” Asher muttered, staring at his desk.
Miller, his hands in his hair, followed it up. “As if gym wasn’t bad enough, they’re going to force us to do even more? When will the forced fitness end?”
“Buck up, you two?” I said, pulling out my books for the shortened class. “It’s better than math, right? I think this’ll be fun!”
After finishing our classes for the day and changing into our gym clothes, the entire student body migrated outside of the school, gathering into groups based on class and getting ready to begin the planned activities by stretching.
As Ayame and I helped each other to stretch out, making sure to get as much out of the time we were given as we could, Miller and Asher sat off to the side, stretching their arms and legs but otherwise relaxing, waiting for the dreaded announcement to begin.
“Don’t you guys think you should stretch a little more?” I asked, reaching towards my foot as Ayame pressed down lightly on my back. “It’s good for you.”
“We already stretched some,” Miller said, picking at the grass around his knees. “We’ll be good.”
“Cat’s right, you two,” Ayame said as she switched places with me. “Stretching before you exercise is important to avoid injuring yourselves.”
Asher, laying on his back and looking at the clouds, gave us a lopsided thumbs up. “I appreciate the thought, but trust me, we’re not going to be participating near enough to risk any injury.”
With a glance at Ayame and a shrug of my shoulders, I continued to stretch and prepare up until the static of a microphone sliced into the murmur of hundreds of teenagers in a concentrated area, and the voice of Mr. Matsuo took over the field.
“Alright,” he boomed, followed by a quick pause. ”Prep time is up, so get into your groups and follow your homeroom teacher’s instructions. Fitness day starts now, so make sure to have fun out there!”
His voice cut off suddenly and with that, we were off, following our homeroom teacher from station to station, participating in the activities that waited for us there before moving onto the next.
At first, I tried to help Asher and Miller out, giving them advice from the sidelines and shouting encouragement their way, but after a while it just got difficult to watch their disinterested attempts at performing the tasks expected of them, and I decided to leave them to do what they wanted. From there on out, I just let myself have fun.
I was in my element, throwing javelins and shot-put, running relays and races, jumping hurdles and climbing ropes, even shooting archery, and all in alI was having a great time. A lot of the time, I did pretty well at the activities–a couple of times, I think I even broke some old school records–but otherwise I fell on the average or even below-average scale. Really, though, the results didn’t matter that much to me, since I was just glad to get out of the school building for a day and run around.
After a while, as I was sticking the landing on a standing broad jump, our homeroom teacher called a quick break before cracking open a box of bottled water and handing them out to all of us, which I accepted gratefully. Taking big gulps of the cool liquid, I searched around, and found my friends a little ways away, sitting on the grass to the side of the track.
When I got there, I found Asher and Miller in even worse shape than I could have imagined.
They were laying on the ground next to Ayame, silent all except for the ragged breaths that escaped their lung every half-second. Miller was laying on his side, clutching his stomach and trying to regulate his breathing, while Asher lay on his stomach, burying his face in the damp grass while opening and closing his fingers slowly.
Then they began to whisper.
I glanced at Ayame, looking for an answer, but she simply shrugged–I guess she had just got there, too. Sitting down next to her, I nudged each of them with my foot in turn, drawing out a groan from them both.
“You know,” I said, taking another sip of my water, “it hasn’t even been an hour.”
“This is pointless.” Miller flopped onto his back and stared at the cloudless sky, wincing.
“Completely,” Asher agreed in a huff. He kept his eyes buried in the ground.
We all remained quiet for some time, and I finished my water, crushing it in my palm and running it to a garbage can. When I got back, Ayame had moved closer to the two and begun sprinkling pieces of grass on their heads..
“Not that this helps much,” she said, letting the green flecks drop into Asher’s hair, where they stood out like little Christmas trees, “but you probably wouldn’t be in such bad shape if you had stretched more.”
“Now’s not the time, Ayame,” Miller said, blowing the grass into the air.
She laughed, and I joined in in sprinkling grass on the pair. By the time our break was up and our homeroom teacher told us to gather up for a jog around the grounds, their entire upper bodies were covered, although I’m not sure if they even noticed.
Our teacher called for our class again and, as neither of them gave any indication of standing up, Ayame and I ended up having to do the heavy lifting, pulling them to their feet unceremoniously and sending uneven clumps of green falling to the ground.
“Thanks,” they both muttered, although I could see in their eyes that they would have preferred the comfort of the ground to the cold, harsh reality of jogging. To lighten them up, I gave them both a reassuring slap on the back.
“Let’s go, you two. This’ll be easy.”
With a nod, the four of us set off at a jog, following the other members of our class for a while before falling behind. Ayame and I had agreed, silently, to hang back with Asher and Miller, since the jog was simply meant to warm us up. Besides, the way their day was going, they could probably use the companionship.
We jogged on slowly, silent aside from the rhythmic breaths escaping our mouths, and we crossed across the track, moving in line with the trees and approaching a group of old storage sheds.
Since we were on a straightaway, I began to pull ahead despite myself, feeling the familiar pressure build up in my legs as I pumped my arms, hitting the soles of my shoes on the ground as I flew over the grass, breathing in the sweet mid-morning air. I turned to see how my friends were doing and, although Asher and Miller were slacking as usual, it looked like Ayame had them under control, giving what I imagined to be words of encouragement and leading them on.
Good, I thought to myself. Then I can go full speed.
Facing forward, i prepared to rocket forward, taking a deep breath and psyching myself up. I passed the sheds, and upped my speed.
Then, I heard the chirp.