False Alarm

Author: Carsan Okamoto

Connor hummed a delightful tune as he placed the trap by the front entrance of the school. It was a stark contrast from the odd, slightly concerning whimpering coming from the boy behind him. He left the trap and turned around to face him. 

“You good? No offense, but you sound like an animal on its deathbed,  Jack-O-Lantern.” 

Jack-O-Lantern, or Jack, as he was more commonly referred to, wasn’t good. He didn’t want to be there. In fact, he would much rather be at his house, eating some leftover quesadillas and watching an episode of his favorite detective show. Jack didn’t say this. Instead, he played the part of a best friend and responded accordingly. 

“All systems good.” He shuddered as he spoke the words. “Ready for action.” 

Something was amiss. Connor stared at Jack for a long minute. “You’re shivering and your speech is slightly slower than average. You’re scared.” 

Jack saw the light of realization come into Connor’s intelligent blue eyes. “Jack!” He blurted out in an emphasized manner with his hands on his hips. “Why didn’t you just say that you didn’t want to come! I wouldn’t have bothered you about it.” 

“I-I know. I just…” Jack trailed off. He was looking for the right word. If it was too laid back, Connor would detect it. If it was too aggressive, it would definitely hurt his friend’s feelings. In the end, Jack just let the word shrivel up and die, leaving his sentence unfinished. 

Connor sighed. “Well, you’re here now, and I’m grateful for that. It would be much harder to catch the ghost without you.” He secured a small flashlight from a hook attached to his backpack. “Now, I’ve got all main exits blocked off with a ghost trap. It’s going to be just us and it. Ready?” He looked Jack right in the eye. “Give an honest answer this time.” 

There really wasn’t an option to back out at this point. “Ready as I’ll ever be.” 

“See? Good answer!” 

With that, Connor unhooked a key from a ring in his hand and placed it inside the lock on the front door. In a simple turning motion, the school was free to explore. Connor smiled, placed the key back, and practically leapt into the hallway. Jack followed behind, a tad bit slower, but still kept his friend in sight. When the door closed behind them, he knew that they were really in the thick of it now. 

As they traversed through the main hallway, Connor started to speak. “So, here’s all I know about the entity. One, it likes to lurk around the school in some places more than others, like the bathrooms. Two, it doesn’t seem too aggressive, according to my interviews with the witnesses, who all say that it was more annoying than harmful.” 

Jack moved a bit faster after Connor, as he actually began to skip through the corridor. “Three, the rumors say that it’s a student ghost. It used to attend here!” he stopped suddenly to turn and face Jack again. “Do you know how cool this is? A fragment of school history, just floating around, causing mischief. It’s a classic ghost tale. It’s like we’re movie characters!” 

He was getting riled up fast. Connor was having the time of his life. Jack still hoped that somehow, by the grace of some god, he would be magically teleported back home. Together, they made quite the odd couple. Surely, any creature they encountered would be confused as to why they stuck together like glue. 

“Anyway,” continued Connor as he resumed his jaunt, “I have the perfect spot for you. I know you don’t have the taste for spookiness, so I’m going to put you in the gymnasium. That’s statistically the least likely place the ghost will appear.” 

“Oh.” Jack felt a sudden warmness in his heart. He felt cared for. “Thanks for that.” 

“You’re welcome, Jack-O-Lantern.” Connor increased his pace. “Meanwhile, I’m heading to the statistically most likely place the ghost will appear. The girl’s bathroom on the first floor. Which, now that I think about it, might indicate that it’s a female ghost.” 

Faster than Jack would’ve liked, the duo caught sight of the gym. Connor approached the now darkened door and pushed it open. The usually loud and occupied room was now silent and empty. Some moonlight was filtering through the high windows on the sides of the room, but it only made the space more gothic. 

Fortunately, Connor found the lights and flicked them all on. “I probably would’ve kept them off, just for the aesthetic, but I know you want the family friendly experience.” 

Once again, Jack was slightly caught off guard at his friend’s sympathy. “You read my mind. What exactly do you need from me?” 

Connor grinned. “Take out your Detector. I just want you to watch out for it. If it gets to the highest level, level five it should read, then I want you to deploy your ghost trap. It’s in your pack. I labelled it. But if it happens to get to three, I want you to contact me. I don’t want you to feel lost.” 

He began to head for the door. “And remember, there’s an extremely low chance of the ghost coming here. I’d say about…ten percent. Bye! Good luck. Contact me on the walkie-talkie if there’s any trouble! Or you just want to talk!” 

Jack watched as his best bet at surviving a supernatural encounter left him alone. He heard Connor walk down the hall, and supposedly head for the girl’s bathroom. A part of him wondered how Connor would handle the situation. Equal parts curious and glad he wasn’t around to witness the showdown. Quietly, he took a seat on the cold floor. 

The place really did look quite sinister at night. During the day, he would be struggling to do a specific exercise, or being harassed by taller, more athletic kids. Now, he was waiting, listening for screams, or perhaps whoops of excitement from Connor. Jack knew that there was a low probability that the ghost would drop by, but his anxiety was through the roof. His ears were on high alert for any noise that sounded out of the ordinary. 

Much to his horror, they did catch something. Footsteps. For a split second, his mind went to Connor returning, having dealt with the ghost. But a few things were wrong with the theory. It was way too quick a return, even for someone of Connor’s expertise. And the steps were coming from the opposite direction. It was someone, or something else. 

In a panic, Jack left his position and hid behind a large piece of equipment. The back gym door burst open. A tall, shadowy figure entered the room. For a moment, they looked upward and tilted their head in what seemed to be confusion. Then Jack remembered that the lights were on. It knew that someone else was in the building. He waited for its reaction. 

Instead of searching for him, the figure revealed a duffel bag and plopped it on the floor. They retrieved a can from the bag and flung their hood back. To Jack’s surprise, it wasn’t a ghost, or demon, or any supernatural figurehead. It was a teenager. And one he recognized. 

Nathan was a bully. The worst of the worst in the school. What was he doing here? Jack sat idly by as the delinquent shook the can and began to spray some paint on the far wall of the gymnasium. He was vandalizing! He didn’t want to intervene, but the bully was committing a minor felony! At least it wasn’t a ghost, he reminded himself. 

As quiet as a mouse, Jack crept up behind Nathan. As the image of a creepy looking cat began to form from the mismatched lines of spray-paint on the wall, Jack laid a single finger on Nathan’s shoulder. 

The bully let out a surprised shout and spun around to identify his interrupter. In response, Jack let out a similar screech, one more of terror, and longer than Nathan’s. The moment Jack’s cry was over, he heard footsteps again. Nathan heard them too, and they both turned towards the front entrance to the gym. The steps were fast, as if whoever was making them was running. And they were heading towards the duo. 

Without any words, the bully and the scaredy-cat both looked at each other with worry in their eyes. It was as if they knew their fates were already predetermined, and the end was closing in. They turned back to the entrance and mentally counted down the seconds until their ghostly demise. Jack started to think of Connor. If he was going to get ghosted, he wanted to perish thinking of someone he liked. 

Suddenly, the door burst open, and a small figure practically flew into the room. “Where is it, Jack!? Are you ok!?” 

It was Connor, wielding a rather long metal bat and a swiss army knife. His eyes had a mix of craziness and a spark of joy in them. Both Nathan and Jack let out huge sighs of relief at the sight of the little ghost hunter. Jack almost cried tears of happiness. But Nathan didn’t stay quite so passive. 

“What are you two doing here?” he asked angrily. 

“I could ask you the same.” Responded Connor without any fear. He turned his head to see the unfinished monstrous cat on the wall. “I like cats and all, but that one looks mean. Why can’t vandals ever spray-paint a cute kitten or something?” 

“It’s my trademark, ghost freak.” Nathan explained. 

Connor turned to Jack instead of engaging Nathan further. “Are you good? I heard shouts and screams, so I ran over. Is it in here? I didn’t detect any signs of it in the girl’s bathroom. Unfortunately.” 

Jack shook his head. “I screamed because Nathan came in and started to put his art on the wall. Haven’t seen any ghost activity.” 

A sudden look of uncomfortableness crossed Nathan’s face. Jack almost missed it, but Connor pointed it out. “Hey, got something to hide? You got the look of someone with a guilty conscience.” 

Nathan frowned. “And how would you know what that looks like?” 

“I watch a lot of crime shows. Also, my mom’s a cop.” He squinted at Nathan. “Now, care to tell the group what’s weighing you down?” 

The look of guilt showed more clearly on the bully’s face now. “Fine!” He paused to take a breath. “There’s no ghost, you dinguses. I made people spread the story around school in order to cover up my nightly visits. You know, my art.” 

Connor suddenly looked pretty miserable. “Wait. There’s no ghost?” He let his arms flop to his sides in defeat. “That’s horribly disappointing. Well, that means we can go home Jack.” 

Jack had never felt so elated in his life. “Oh, thank god. It’s been fun everyone, but I’m getting out of here. I wish you both a good night.” 

With that, Jack jogged out of the room and into the hallways. Connor waved goodbye, even though there was no way Jack would see it. He just thought it was the polite thing to do. Then, he directed his attention to Nathan again. 

“You know, even though I don’t necessarily like your interpretation of cats, it doesn’t mean that others won’t.” He looked the troubled individual in the eye. “You should join the art club! I’m sure they would love to have someone with your talents! Then, you wouldn’t have to illegally do your thing.” 

Nathan groaned. There was annoyance in his manner, but Connor could sense that the bully was considering the proposal. Connor started to walk away, but left one last message for Nathan as he did so. 

“And don’t forget to clean up after yourself.” 

Connor sulked as he headed for the school exit. He was bummed he didn’t get a ghost in the end. 

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