in a Crowded Place
“I don’t know where to start,” Sam said.
They were lying on Sam’s bed. Aunt Stacie had splurged on a box of chocolate chip cookies from the Piekarnia Bakery, and Sam had stolen then.
Even as she struggled to find words to tell Heather about Al, in the back of her mind Sam worried that Aunt Stacie might be angry to find the last few cookies gone. Bakery treats were the only thing that Aunt Stacie was ever possessive about—part of living inside the tantalizing smell of the bakery—but Sam had been trying to put Heather in the best possible state of mind.
“Just start,” Heather demanded. “Look, I know something’s been eating you for weeks. It’s this guy, isn’t it?”
Sam shrugged, her cheeks burning. “Well, yeah. But it’s not like you think.”
She stopped, realizing that what she needed to tell Heather was hopeless. There was no way she’d believe it. Sam didn’t even know why she believed it herself. She violently shook her head. “You won’t believe me,” she said, surprised by tears. “I can’t…”
“Tell me,” Heather said. “You have to tell me.
Sam swiped her fists across her eyes, now angry with herself. Angry enough that she just said it. “Al was there that day we went to the library,” she said. “He was there, but you couldn’t see him.”
Heather made a snorting sound. “What, was he a ghost?”
It was now or never. Sam raised her head and watched Heather with pleading eyes, begging her to believe. She didn’t speak, couldn’t speak. And, after a long, long pause, she saw the truth come to life and grow in Heather’s eyes.
“No way. Oh no, Sam. No.”
Sam nodded vigorously. “Please say you believe me. Please.”
Heather’s expression was horrified. She nodded slowly, but she didn’t say that she believed her.
Sam caught her breath, waiting for those three words, I believe you, but instead Heather said, “I saw you last night.”
Sam thought about that, how it must have looked to see her running through the night as if she were being chased by a pack of wolves. Out in the night when she was never anywhere that Heather didn’t expect her to be.
She took a deep breath and told the whole story, beginning with how she’d stumbled onto Al one day in September and ending with how scared she’d been in the darkness the night before.
“I don’t understand it,” Heather said when Sam finally finished. She helped herself to another cookie. “You’ve been hiding up there on the third floor of the library like forever. Ever since we were old enough to go there alone. Why would he suddenly appear to you now?”
“Al thinks it was the book,” Sam said.
Then, realizing that she hadn’t told Heather about the book she said, “That day I saw him for the first time I found this weird book. I saw it on the shelf and it was like it was calling out to me or something. You know how all the books up there are really old and grungy? Well this one was different. As soon as I touched it gave me this weird tingling feeling and as soon as I started to read it he was there.”
Heather gave her another horrified look, as if her mouthful of cookie had just turned stale and mouldy.
“It was the book he was reading when he died,” Sam said. “Nobody ever found it. Somehow it got from the top of the old bell tower into all those old books on the third floor.”
“That’s so creepy,” Heather said. “I’ve always said it was creepy up there.”
“I just wish that there was something I could do to help him. Al thinks that up in the tower there must be some clue about how he died, but he can’t go there. I wish I could go look myself, but he doesn’t want me to.”
Heather’s eyes widened. “Are you crazy?” Heather seemed to realize that she was still holding a cookie. She popped the rest of it into her mouth and began licking melted chocolate off her fingers and talking between chews. “No way you’re going back there, Sam. No way. You’ve got to promise me you’re not going back there.”
“I have to. He needs me.”
“He’s a dead boy,” Heather said, spitting out the words. “I mean, sorry, Sam, but he’s dead. This is the scariest thing I’ve ever heard. I mean, I believe you, but I don’t want to believe you. He’s dead.”
Sam looked away, unable to answer.
“Look,” Heather said. She stopped, stared up at the ceiling. “I do believe you.” After a long moment she said, “You know, there’s something I’ve never told you. Something I never told anybody.”
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