When neither Dex nor I answered, Romy gave a brisk nod. "Exactly. And everyone knows that this place has a ghost: Mary Evans. She was the daughter of Ideal's mayor way back in the early 1900s. She actually went to this school."
"Was it called Mary Evans High then?" Dex asked. "Because that is an astonishing coincidence."
Romy was walking faster now, and both Dex and I sped up, too, Dex still walking backward. "No, back then it was named after some Confederate general. Anyway, Mary fell in love with one of her teachers."
"Gross," Dex and I said at the same time.
Ignoring us, Romy continued. "So they had this big secret romance going on for a while, and then she got knocked up."
"Double super gross," Dex said, turning on his heel so that he wasn't facing us anymore.
"So they were going to run away together," Romy said with a shrug. "Or at least that's what the teacher promised Mary. He was supposed to meet her in a cave right outside of town. It was where they'd been hooking up, apparently."
"But he lied, and then she froze to death waiting for him, and now her ghost haunts the school where she met him," I finished, almost without thinking.
It took me a second to realize that Romy and Dex had stopped walking. I stopped and glanced over my shoulder.
"How did you know that?" Romy asked. "You've lived here, what, a week?"
It had been less than that, but that wasn't how I knew this particular ghost story. There were versions of it all over the place. It didn't mean the story wasn't necessarily true; it was just...kind of boring.
I wasn't sure if I was disappointed or relieved. I'd told Mom this would be an easy case, but I hadn't expected it to be quite this easy. This had to be the ghost we were dealing with.
I realized Dex and Romy were staring at me, waiting for an answer. "Oh, right. The Mary Evans thing. It was, uh, in the brochure they gave my mom about the school."
Dex frowned. "We have a brochure? And it mentions the local ghost story?"
"Do you still have it?" Romy asked. "It would be a good thing to add to my file on Mary Evans."
"I think we threw it out," I said quickly, before trying to change the subject. "So you think that the ghost of Mary Evans is pissed at teachers or-"
Romy chewed her lower lip. "That's what we thought at first. But if the Barbie is a warning for Beth like the frog was a warning for Mr. Snyder, what does that-"
Suddenly, Dex stopped, pressing a hand against his chest. He made a kind of wheezing sound, and at first I thought he was joking. But then Romy grabbed his arm. "Dex?"
He fumbled in his pocket, getting out his inhaler. He took two deep pulls on it, and the wheeze slowly started to fade. One more pull and his breathing sounded normal, if kind of fast. "Sorry," he said. "Wasn't trying to be a drama queen."
"You shouldn't have been running," Romy chastised him, and he rolled his eyes.
"I was just walking quickly. And I'm fine now." He raised his head, and while his face was a little pale, he didn't seem to be in danger of keeling over. "Anyway, why don't you go inform Anderson of this little aha moment? I think he has yearbook this period."
When Romy hesitated, Dex waved her on. "Don't worry. If Coach Lewis decides to grace us with his presence, I'll tell him you went to the ladies' room. That ought to scare him to death."
"You're sick, Dex," Romy told him.
"Which is why you like me. Now go."
Once Romy had dashed off, Dex turned to me. "Alone at last. So how's your second day stacking up against your first?"
"They've both been full of peril, but since today involved less maiming, I'm gonna give it the edge."
Dex laughed, but he still sounded out of breath. "I'm glad you decided to join our little ghost-busting gang."
Shrugging out of his jacket, I handed it back to him and tried to sound casual as I asked, "Yeah, what's with that? You don't strike me as the ghost-busting type."
Dex gave me a little half-smile, taking his coat. "I'm just full of mysteries, Miss Brannick," he said. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to head back to my bleachers and my book. But I'll see you on the bus."
I watched his retreating back, wondering just what Dex's mysteries might be.
I'd hoped to get right to my first meeting of the Paranormal Management Society, but on the way home that afternoon, Romy informed me that for "budgetary reasons," they could only meet every other week, which meant there wouldn't be another meeting until the next Thursday. That gave me nearly ten days to wait, which was a lot longer than I'd wanted-the sooner I got this case over with, the better-but in the end, I was kind of grateful for the time.
For one thing, school was tougher than I'd expected. English was good. We were reading Macbeth, and while I'd never read Shakespeare before, any story that involved witches, ghosts, and a bunch of violence seemed right up my alley. History was also okay, and I was holding my own in chemistry, but geometry was one of the more evil foes I'd ever faced. I hadn't really thought much about balancing ghost busting with math problems, so it was nice to let the case take a backseat for a little bit.
In addition to giving me time to figure out homework, those ten days let me get closer to Romy and Dex. I still hadn't met the mysterious Anderson. He drove to school himself, and since he was a junior, we didn't have any of the same classes. But I sat with Romy and Dex on the bus every day, and by the time the first PMS meeting had rolled around, I felt like I was already one of the group. I wondered if all kids made friends this quickly, or if this was just unique to Dex and Romy.
PMS was holding its meeting in one of the portable classrooms behind the school, and when the last bell rang on Thursday afternoon, Romy and I made our way out there. "The state outlawed these like a million years ago," Romy told me as we walked into what was basically a trailer, "but a few schools keep them around for art classrooms or yearbook offices." She snorted. "You know, classes that don't really matter, according to the fine state of Mississippi."
This particular trailer wasn't being used this year. It smelled like erasers and damp carpet, but it had a big whiteboard and a few desks that weren't covered in scratched obscenities, so it met all of Romy's requirements. "We used to meet in the lunchroom, but the janitors were always rushing us." Romy turned to the whiteboard, picked up a blue dry-erase marker, and scrawled 1st point: Izzy.
"So how long have you been running this thing?" I asked her as she wrote, 2nd point: Gym Weirdness/Beth/Doll.
"I tried to start a chapter back in junior high, but a couple of parents complained. Apparently, investigating the paranormal is the first step on the road to devil worship or something. But when we got to high school I was ready."
Once she'd written 3rd point: Tonight? Romy turned to me with a broad smile. "I explained to Mr. Owens-he's our principal-that it wasn't, like, an occult thing." She raised her thumb, ticking off. "It's science. They study parapsychology at Duke, for heaven's sake. And" -she raised her index finger-"a few years back, Mary Evans High had a forensics club that studied old-timey murders. That is way more twisted than ghost hunting. And last but not least"-a third finger went up-"investigating popular ghost stories from this area increases our knowledge of local folklore and regionalism."
I sat on top of one of the desks, crossing my legs. "Wow. You really wanted to-I mean, to make this club." The door banged open, and a lanky boy, even taller than Dex, loped in. He had blond hair that fell nearly to his shoulders, and while he had a few acne scars and wasn't as handsome as Dex, he was still a pretty good-looking guy. Then his eyes landed on Romy, and his whole face seemed to light up.
"Hey, Rome," he said, his voice surprisingly deep. Then his eyes landed on me. "Oh. Hi."
I gave a little wave. "Hi."
"Anderson, this is Izzy," Romy said, and I noticed her face was kind of glowy, too. "She's gonna be in the club now, but we'll go over that when everyone gets here."
"Sounds good," he said affably, sitting on top of the desk closest to Romy.
"Everyone" turned out to be Dex. He arrived about five minutes later, sliding into the desk next to mine. "So, Izzy," he asked, turning those blue eyes on me, "suitably impressed by our headquarters?"
Romy tossed the dry-erase marker at him. "Okay, now that we're all here, I'm calling this meeting of the Paranormal Management Society to order. First point"-she gestured to the whiteboard-"is to welcome our newest member, Izzy Brannick. Izzy has only been at Mary Evans for about two weeks, but has already proven herself awesome by permanently crippling Ben McCrary."
"Whoa," Anderson said, looking at me with respect even as I said, "I just hit him with a dodgeball."
"I've had dreams about that," Anderson replied. "Could you describe what happened in really precise detail?"
"Later," Romy answered for me. "We have a lot to cover today."
Reaching into her backpack, she pulled out a laptop. "Now, as you know, there have been several odd happenings around here lately. Today, Izzy and I observed something especially weird." Romy perched on the desk opposite from me, balancing the computer on her crossed legs. "Beth Tanner found a Barbie doll, dressed to look like her and seriously jacked up, hanging in her locker."
Anderson leaned forward in his desk. "Like Mr. Snyder and the frog," he said, eyes going wide.
"Possibly," Romy said, turning her computer so that we could all see it. There was a little folder on the desktop titled MARY EVANS, and Romy clicked on it. "Okay, so it's been common knowledge that Mary has haunted this place ever since she died."
"Forever condemned to high school," Dex said with a little shudder. "That would make me homicidal, too."
Romy didn't lift her eyes from the screen, but she frowned. "Why is she homicidal, though? I mean, over a hundred years, and up until a few months ago, the only ghostly activity was an occasional locker door opening, or things disappearing and showing up someplace weird." Clicking on an icon, Romy pulled up a document with EVIDENCE typed in bold letters on the top. Several bullet points were listed below, including things like LOCKERS and CHALK.
When I asked what that meant, Romy closed the document, saying, "About ten years ago, an entire history class saw a piece of chalk float in midair for thirty seconds. But that's it."
Now I frowned. That did seem like quite a leap from floating chalk to dismembering frogs. It was really rare for a ghost to have that kind of control over its surroundings. If this was Mary Evans's doing, the sooner I got rid of her, the better.
Next to me, Anderson tapped a pencil against his braces. "If Mary left that doll for Beth, that kind of blows our whole teacher theory out of the water." He glanced over at me, cheeks reddening slightly. "We figured she went after Mr. Snyder because he was, you know, a teacher, and it was a teacher who, um...who, like-"
Sighing, Dex turned in his seat and propped his feet up on the desk next to him. "Got her in the family way."