in a Crowded Place
A Forgotten Death
As far as Heather was concerned this visit to the library on Wednesday was the last chapter on Al Jordan.
He’d tricked Sam, tried to kill her so that she would be his friend always, and, as far as Heather was concerned, if Sam ever stepped foot back on the third floor it would be too soon.
Sam’s thoughts weren’t so simple, but one thing she knew was that she had to be rid of the book.
She didn’t understand the book, and she didn’t want to. She didn’t even want to touch it. She especially didn’t want to think about seeing it as a crumpled mess in the bell tower, or trying to understand how that was connected to the book on her bedside table.
She tucked it into her pack before school with a feeling of revulsion, like touching a spiderweb. When Heather excused herself to get whatever it was that she wanted to show her, Sam slipped the book onto a library cart of books that needed to be returned to the shelves.
“It took me forever to find this,” Heather said when she joined Sam at one of the main floor tables. She was carrying one of the big books that Sam had seen her reading, and when she opened it Sam saw that it was a collection of old newspapers.
“I just found it yesterday,” Heather said. “I told you I was going to find out more about this.”
Sam was overtaken by a fresh surge of guilt, but she leaned forward with smouldering curiosity.
She could see that the newspapers were from 1995. She did a calculation in her head and was surprised when she counted out the years. She knew what was coming even as Heather flipped through the pages, but she still couldn’t avoid crying out.
It was Al Jordan. In a faded and murky photograph on old yellowed paper, it was Al Jordan.
It looked as if it might have been a school picture—it had that awkward, posed feel to it.
“That’s him, isn’t it?” Heather asked.
Sam nodded, remembering that Heather had never seen Al. “Yeah.”
“This story is from January 1995,” Heather said. “I wanted to check his story, and I figured that there would be some news or something about it if I could just find out when it happened. Listen to this:
“In a tragic ending to the story of the missing Southside 12-year-old, the body of Alan Jordan of 621 Garden Place has been found.
“Police report that the youth had been deceased for some time, probably since his disappearance in late October of last year, but would not comment further on the story. Foul play is not suspected in this further tragedy for the Jordan family.
“Unconfirmed reports are that the body was found in the unused bell tower at Spire Hall Public Library. Searchers noticed an outside door ajar, and upon investigation found the boy who appeared to have fallen through misadventure.
“The bell tower has not been used in some years.
“Further details on this story will be provided as they become available.”
Heather looked up from the page with arched brows. “See?” Then she frowned, shrugged. “I never found any further details.”
Sam’s breath seemed to be stuck. She stared at the page, and the faded Al stared back. Then she said, “October 29, 1994.”
“That’s when he died,” Sam said.
She told Heather about finding Miss Blanket’s date stamp on the day that she figured out that Miss Blanket was a ghost. “She was trying to give me a hint,” Sam said. “I forgot about that.”
Heather shrugged—though a shadow flickered through her eyes at the mention of Miss Blanket. “Well, there you go. I guess this story doesn’t really tell us anything new, I guess, but I wanted to find it.”
Glancing back over the story, Sam said, “I wonder what it means, ‘further tragedy for the Jordan family’?”
Heather cocked her head. “Huh. I never noticed that. I wonder that too.” She frowned. In a low voice to herself, she said, “I wonder…”
“Wonder what?”
“Nothing.” Heather snapped shut the big book on Al’s face and presumably putting an end to any further questions. “That’s that.”
And, as far as Heather was concerned, that did indeed seem to be that. She returned the newspaper book to the front desk of the library and led Sam from the library.
Life, it seemed, would now return to normal as it had been instructed to by Heather.
And at first it seemed to.
Thursday brought rain, wind-swept rain in splattering drops so icy cold that they burned on the cheeks. The autumn leaves were long gone, pounded into colourless mush against the curbs, and the sky was the colour of milk. Every last shred of life and colour seemed to have been stolen from the dreary streets.
There were a few jack-o’-lanterns appearing in rain-blurred windows. Almost all of the little shops along Dunston and Fourth gradually found some way to remember that Hallowe’en was coming—pumpkins in the corner groceries, little displays of scary masks that were hopefully dragged out each October—and Heather got in trouble for helping herself from the bin of little candy bars beside the till at the store.
Sam met Heather outside Li’s Thursday and Friday mornings, and they walked to school with their heads down and their eyes squinted against the driving rain.
On Saturday Sam went to Southside Trading Company and helped as much as she could. She was surprised to find that she knew how to find so many things in the store, and hardly ever had to send a customer to Heather or her mom for harder questions. Of course, most of the really good stuff was already sold.
Sunday they talked on the phone—Heather trying without success to convince Sam to come with her to the Hallowe’en party at the Southside Community Centre. They talked in silences and half-sentences and they never once mentioned Al Jordan or Spire Hall.
Indeed, life seemed to have returned to normal.
But Sam thought about it all. She thought about it a lot.
She thought about ghost sickness, and about the idea of Heather having an evil spirit for a father. She thought about Bridge to Terabithia, and a how wrecked and mouldy book abandoned so long ago had somehow managed to appear in different form.
There were the ideas of Bartholomew Spire mourning and seeking his lost love and family, and Miss Blanket showing up in Southside looking for something she never found, both staying and looking until life slipped away unnoticed.
There were very few thoughts about Al Jordan. Her brain managed to skitter around the edges of that subject. She didn’t spend even a moment reliving the horror of being slowly buried alive inside herself; even when she thought about ghost sickness it was in a very clinical way that had nothing whatever to do with her. Instead she thought circles around that part when she was alone, thought of other things when she was with Heather, and slept untroubled by nightmares of becoming a prisoner in a twilight library and uninterrupted by the tolling of untollable bells.
But when she came home from school on Monday afternoon, dripping wet and shivering, there was another letter for her.

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