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Secret of the Sprite Society

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Arden Blake walked up to the stone stairs of Cedar Ridge College with a bounce to her step. Her two closest friends, blonde Simone “Sim” Westover and auburn Theodosia “Terry” Landry, joined her at the bottom of the stairway. Arden pushed a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear a couple of times, but soon gave up as the wind was just as relentless in pushing it back into her face.
She let out a huff before turning blue eyes that sparkled with excitement on her friends. “So, what do you think?”
Terry gave a little queal. “I can’t wait to get started!”
Sim laughed. “I just can’t believe we ended up being roommates!”
“I know, right?” exclaimed Arden. “Come on, let’s go find our room!” The three dashed up the stairs past other students and went to the hall where the rooms were to be found. The three kept checking a piece of paper they had each received with a key against the numbers of the dorm rooms until they found the match. Arden pulled out her key and unlocked the door to room number 513. The three walked in, Arden closing and locking the door behind them.
Terry gasped. “This room is so quaint!” The walls were covered in a pretty, green and white, Victorian wallpaper. A bed was pushed up against each wall, with a wardrobe at the end of each. Next to the top of each bed stood a bedside table with drawers and a clock on top of each. In the middle of the room, three corner desks were pushed up against each other, leaving no gaps. There was also a bookcase on either side of the door. And tucked away between one bed and a bookcase was the door to the bathroom.
“This is actually bigger than I thought it would be,” said Sim with a hint of awe in her voice.
“And so nicely put together!” said Terry. “And here I was loathing to live in an ugly room.” She tutted. “Shouldn't wonder that John was teasing me, and I fell for it!”
“But I thought John wasn't teasing you?” said Sim slowly.
“Didn't he go to a different college?” said Arden. “Maybe there are colleges with ugly rooms, and we picked one of the better ones.”
Terry’s lip went up a bit in a slight grimace. “Yeah, you're right.” She gave a shake of her auburn head. “Anyway, who wants which bed? I'm fine with any one.”
“Hmm,” said Arden as she glanced at each one. Only two had windows, but she went towards one that looked out towards a modern building. “Say, isn't that Sanford Institute over there?”
Terry walked towards her with a bounce in her step and a bob of her head. “Why, I believe so.” She pulled out a map of the campus grounds. “It looks like it is, according to this.” She folded up the map and glanced excitedly at her friends. “You heard about the legend of these two schools, right?”
Sim tilted her head, thinking a bit. “Are you talking about the one that every year, a student from Sanford and a student from Cedar Ridge will fall in love, while another two will hate each other till their dying breath?”
Terry bobbed her head. “Yes, oh yes, that one! It sends shivers up my spine every time! And we shall be here to see four years!”
Sim scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, four years of useless drama.”
“Oh come on, what is college if it's not an extension of high school?”
Arden laughed. “That is such a good point though. Certainly seems like it.”
Sim heaved an exaggerated sigh. “I’ve had enough of high school drama. It's so dumb.”
Arden chuckled. “It certainly makes life interesting, that's for sure.”
Sim scoffed. “I can think of a hundred different ways that can make life more interesting than that.”
Terry shrugged. “To each their own.”
“So true,” said Arden at the same time with a nod of her head. She glanced out the window. “So, back on topic, who wants this bed?”
Terry giggled. “I think you do.”
Arden turned back to her and waved her hand. “Oh come on Terry, it’s a great view! But I don’t want to look out of it all the time.”
Terry laughed. “Oh, alright, but I think you’re going to get stuck with it anyways. Since you two are taking so long, I decided to make a decision.” She went and plopped her backpack on the bed nearest the bathroom.
Sim crossed her arms. “You didn’t care which one you got, huh?”
Terry smirked and shrugged. “Hey, I gave you a chance to choose this one, but you were taking too long.”
Sim rolled her eyes and sighed before glancing at Arden. “So which bed do you want?”
Arden sighed before shaking her head and chuckling softly. She placed her backpack on the bed looking out at Sanford. “I guess I will take this one.”
“Thank you,” said Sim as she went to place her backpack on the third bed.
“So, what do we do now until our luggage gets up here?” asked Terry. She glanced at the clock. “And we’ve still got an hour until orientation.”
Arden sat on her bed and opened up her backpack. She began pulling out a few articles while she shrugged. “Start unpacking your backpack, I guess. Maybe even try to memorize the map of the campus. I wouldn’t want to get lost.”
Sim nodded as she began unpacking her backpack. The first two things out were a snow globe and her bathing suit. She placed the snow globe on the bedside table next to the clock and her bathing suit went into the drawer. “Yeah, I wouldn’t want to get lost either. But I would like to pass by the swimming pool on the way.”
Terry scoffed. “Go figure.” Sim shot her a grin.
Arden chuckled. “I’m sure we can work out something. I mean, we don’t have to unpack our luggage when it gets here, we have all week for that! We just had to be for when the porter showed up.”
“Don’t think it’s an odd tradition?” asked Sim. “You know, having a porter take up your bags to your room.”
“I think it’s sweet,” said Terry. “And we didn’t have to lug everything up here.”
Arden nodded, shooting a glance at Terry. “Especially with how much you brought.” Sim chuckled.
Terry waved her hand. “Oh goodness, I have to bring a whole lot, knowing how you two are.”
Sim burst out laughing. “She’s got us there, Arden.”
Arden chuckled. “Alright, alright, truce! But it is nice not to have to bring up everything, that’s for sure.”
“Oh, definitely,” said Terry, opening up the pamphlet again. “And if I heard the desk clerk right, it’s a tradition from the olden days of Cedar Ridge, back when it was an all girls’ school.”
“An interesting tradition to keep,” said Sim.
“But it’s a nice one, and probably to just have something to connect it to its history,” said Arden.
“They also have an old bell tower with a bell in the courtyard. We can go take a look at that while we pass the pool on our way to orientation.”
Sim grinned. “That sounds like a plan.” A knock was heard at their door. Sim and Terry dashed to open it. A man in his early twenties stood there looking quite dashing in an old fashioned porter suit.
He tipped his hat and gave them a brilliant smile. “Luggage for Arden Blake, Theodosia Landry, and Simone Westover.”
“You’ve come to the right place!” exclaimed Terry, throwing the door open. “And such excellent service!”
The porter grinned and he pushed in the cart with their luggage. “Thank you, we do our best.”
“Do you just work here, or do you also go to school?” asked Terry.
He shrugged as he began unloading. “I just work here.” Sim and Arden jumped in to help get their luggage off.
“What else do you do besides just carting luggage?” asked Terry.
“I work as a groundskeeper the rest of the time,” he said with a soft chuckle. “Today is just one of the days where I’m not.”
“Oh, Ok . . . do you have a degree?”
“Um, Terry, not to be rude or anything, but the guy’s got a job to do,” said Sim.
The porter laughed. “Oh, it’s fine! She’s fine! You’re my last stop anyways, I’ve got some free time after this . . . before the last minute panic rushers barge in, that is.”
Sim scoffed. “I will never understand some people. If you know you need to be somewhere by a certain time, it would be best to give yourself an extra five minutes to get there so you’re not rushing around.”
The porter scoffed. “No kidding. But you just can’t always predict what will happen.”
“Speaking of getting somewhere on time,” said Arden, “do you know how long it will take for us to get to orientation if we pass the bell tower and the pool?”
The porter thought for a moment. “Well, if you're just pausing for a quick moment to look at each of them . . . and if you want to give yourself five minutes just in case . . . about twenty minutes, give or take.”
Arden nodded thoughtfully, glancing at the clock. “Which gives us about twenty minutes from now to unpack a few things before heading out.”
“Or you could leave now and give yourself forty minutes to enjoy the sights and still get there with plenty of time,” he suggested.
Terry wrinkled her nose. “Mmm, well, that is a good idea, but I don’t want to leave that early.”
“How about we leave in ten minutes then?” suggested Arden.
Terry grinned. “Sounds fine by me.” She turned to the porter. “And thank you so much, Mister, um . . .”
The porter held out his hand. “I’m Tom Scott, and it is my job.”
Terry shook his hand. “Well, I still want to thank you for doing a wonderful job. See you around, perhaps?”
“We’ll see. It was nice to meet you three, but I do have other jobs to attend to, so good day.” He tipped his hat.
“Good day, and thanks!” said Arden with a wave.
“Bye!” said Sim. Tom pulled the cart out of the room and walked down the hall, Sim closing the door behind him. She went to her bed and glanced at the clock. “Alright, ten minutes, let’s see how much we can get unpacked.”
Arden grinned. “You’re on.” The three unpacked as much as they could in such a short amount of time, but as soon as that time was up, they were grabbing their purses, making sure they each had their key, just in case, and were locking the door before taking off.
They got to the bell tower firs, as noted in the pamphlet, and gazed upon it with fascination. It was exactly the same as when it was built back in the late 1800’s. The school kept it in regular upkeep since then, even adding two unicorn statues to flank it, the school’s mascot and emblem. Terry read that the rope to the bell had frayed sometime in the early 1900s and that a legend stated that the spirit of a young woman would ring it at odd times. Another legend thought it was sprites looking out for the welfare of the school, the bell having rung a few times to wake people before disaster struck. The three took a quick walk around the tower. It was made of whitewashed wood with a single door. Only one person, or possibly two small people, could fit within the tower. But they each took a turn and saw the frayed rope hanging far over their heads. Then it was on to see the pool.
“What?” exclaimed Sim. Upon reaching the pool, the three came upon locked doors and a sign reading “Closed Until Further Notice - Maintenance”. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Arden bit her lip. This pool was the main reason that convinced Sim to join her and Terry at Cedar Ridge. Now what were they going to do?
“You know, guess we’ll be seeing Tom again soon,” said Terry. “He probably knows what’s going on with the pool and how much longer it’s going to take to get it back up and running again.”
Sim sighed. “I guess so. I just hope it’s not going to be long. I really wanted to get some swimming in before school started.”
Arden patted her back. “Well, maybe we can find another pool for you to use. There’s got to be a public pool around in town, or something. We can check it out after orientation. We do have the rest of the week to explore.”
Sim shrugged. “I guess that would have to do. Though I wonder why Tom didn’t say anything about it.”
“Well we did say we were going to take a look at it, not go into it,” pointed out Terry, “he could have assumed that we already knew.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” muttered Sim. “Well, guess we’ll be really early to orientation, at least.”
“We can find good seats, then,” said Arden. “Come on!” The three dashed to the auditorium. People were already filing in, but most were standing and chatting away. A loud squeal to their right caught their attention.
“Arden, Sim, Terry!” The three were nearly rammed over by a girl their age, her dark hair was braided with various beads to match her colorful dress.
“Ethel!” chorused the three. They hugged their friend. Ethel Anderson grew up with Sim and the two met Arden and Terry in middle-school. They formed a circle and did a quick spin.
“Isn’t this exciting?” asked Ethel, continuing to bounce after they stopped spinning. “You should take a look at some of the girls going into the acting field. Why, I saw one who looked like she was Audrey Hepburn!”
Terry’s mouth dropped. “You’re kidding? Where?”
Ethel pointed to a girl sitting in the front. Her brown hair was pulled up into a perfect bun, not a hair out of place, and had on a lovely green floral tea party dress. “Her,” she whispered in awe.
“Wowee, she not only looks like Audrey Hepburn, she also looks like she stepped right out of an old movie!” whispered Terry. “And boy, do we have some fine boys coming here too.” Sim and Ethel glanced at each other and rolled their eyes before chuckling.
“I want to know how she manages to get her hair all perfect like that,” mumbled Arden, playing with her waves.
Ethel scoffed. “A lot of time, patience, and hair spray.” She flipped a braid over her shoulder. “And she probably has pretty straight hair too, a lot easier to work with than curls some days.”
Arden gave her a tight smile. “Right.”
Terry scoffed. “Hair in general can be such a pain to work with . . . but it can also be so much fun.” She grinned. “Like your braids. They’re awesome!”
Ethel beamed. “Thanks!”
“But there only seems to be her and a couple of other people who dress like that,” pointed out Sim. “Are they the only ones going in for acting, or are they just the only ones going for acting who decided to dress up?”
Ethel shrugged. “Can’t tell you, don’t know who’s going into acting. All I can say is, my roommates aren’t.”
“Oh! Which room are you in? The six of us should hang out!” said Terry.
“Nine of us, once we find Jane,” said Sim, referring to another friend who had also applied to Cedar Ridge. She quickly explained the pool situation and what their plans were for the rest of the week, so far.
“That actually sounds great! Come on, I’ll introduce you to my roommates. Maybe we’ll find Jane along the way.” Ethel led them to where two other girls were standing and introduced them to Mary Todd, who was going in for a degree in literature, and Linda Lewis, who was aiming for music. The six chatted gaily, all while looking for the last friend from home. They finally found her with her roommates, Millie Pratt and Greta Larsen. And just in time to make a wild dash for seats as the orientation was being called together to begin. When everyone was finally seated and the chatting hushed, the president of the college began. Her dark curly hair was pulled up into a smart bun and she was wearing a fine green suit.
“Welcome one and all to Cedar Ridge College!” A cheer went up and died down when the president held up her hands. “And we’re all glad to see you all here! If you don’t know me already, I am the president of Cedar Ridge, Dr. Tilda Anklon, but everyone just calls me Doc Tillie. I’m sure you all have a lot of exploring to do, so let’s get this orientation underway! Oh, real quick, before I forget, the pool was closed down due to some rusty pipes. We hope that it will be back up and running in time for the swim team to begin practicing. You may sign up if you wish, we will let you know if anything changes. Now, without further ado, this darn orientation.” A soft chuckle came in reply. But she got into it, giving all the rules, traditions, and opportunities to be found at Cedar Ridge. She ended it with, “And so, I say again, welcome to Cedar Ridge, where you take the first steps in making your dreams come true!” A standing ovation erupted at her words. Arden glanced at her friends. They all beamed at her. They couldn’t wait for theirs to come true, and it looked like they picked the right place to get started.

Chapter Text

Arden stretched and yawned. She sat up in her bed and peeked out her window. The sun was rising on the other side of the building, but Arden could see the campus bathed in warm pinks and oranges. She smiled and took in a deep breath. The window wasn't open, but she could almost smell the cool morning air. She giggled softly. She was so glad to be alive, to be able to experience this! And with her best friends, no less.
She glanced at the still sleeping forms of Sim and Terry. Terry rolled over and snuggled under her blankets. Arden smiled as she pulled back her covers and tested the floor with her foot. It was cool to the touch, but not too cold, definitely not freezing. She placed both of her feet firmly on the floor, stood up, and stretched. She went to her dresser, selected her outfit, and changed. Turning back to her companions, she debated waking them up so they could eat breakfast early or let them sleep in and they eat later.
It didn’t matter, to be honest, they were only planning on unpacking and doing some more exploring of the area. While the cafeteria did close at ten for breakfast, there were vendors all over the campus that would allow the girls to get something should they decide to sleep in until ten. Arden glanced at the clock. It was only seven o’clock. She glanced at the window again. Maybe a quick run would work for now and she would wake her friends upon her return, if they weren’t already awake at that time. She gave a little nod. Yes, that will work. Give them some more time to sleep and she could shake some of that restlessness out of her veins. She just wanted to move, and move she did. Grabbing her cell, the room key, the campus map, and her I.D., she left the room. She took a quick moment to check the map before taking off through the campus.
She noticed rather quickly that there weren’t many students milling around the campus grounds. It seemed that if anyone else was up, they were either exploring the nearby town of Morrisville or still cozy under their blankets, like Sim and Terry. She pursed her lips, maybe she should be doing that too, what with how crazy things were sure to get once classes started. Her lips curled into a smile as another thought flashed through her mind. She had the rest of the week to do that, today might be the only day for a peaceful, quiet walk around the campus. Taking a deep breath of the fresh air, she continued on.
She took in the sights and smells of the early morning breeze flowing through the last of the flowers and old bricks. The birds were chirping in the treetops as a soft breeze ruffled the branches and Arden’s hair. The campus was in pretty good shape for being as old as it was. She pulled out the map again, there was a bit of info on it, a piece of which was when it was built, back in the 1800s. Way over a hundred years old now, and still standing. She smiled as she walked through the hall on her way to the bell tower, it was lovely. An idea struck her, maybe she could talk to Tom about the pool, if she saw him on her walk. It really was a bummer that it was closed, even though Sim in particular was looking forward to it, Arden thought a nice swim before the fall weather set in would be nice.
“Are you sure you heard it?” The question, asked by a girl standing near the bell, came out of the blue like a thunderclap. Arden paused and blinked. She looked over at the group of girls hovering near the bell tower, glancing at the bell tower and each other in fear.
One of the other girls nodded, her eyes wide. “Yes! I heard it as clearly as I hear you now! That bell rang last night, at midnight!”
The other girls gasped. One girl scoffed, however. “Oh, Sarah, either it was your imagination or there’s a logical explanation for it.”
Sarah placed her hands on her hips, her expression going from fear to anger in an instant. “Does there always have to be a logical explanation with you, Nadine?”
Nadine scoffed. “Just like it’s always a supernatural reason with you?”
Sarah threw up her hands. “Come on, Nadine! Those guys just found out the mermaids existed over the summer! Even the mermaids themselves say that, though they haven’t met every supernatural being out there, that they could exist!”
“That doesn’t necessarily mean this was the work of a supernatural being,” pointed out Nadine, starting to get a little frustrated.
“Then what could it mean, then?” asked Sarah a little harshly.
A soft smirk began to play on Nadine’s lips. “A mystery, and it’s begging to be solved. Want to solve it?”
“Ugh, no thank you,” said Sarah with a groan as she flicked her wrist dismissively. “I don’t want to hear anymore about mysteries.”
“Then I don’t want to hear any more about midnight bells or the supernatural,” returned Nadine with a sly smirk, “because both of those are technically mysteries.”
Sarah opened her mouth to speak, paused, and her eyes widened. Another girl rubbed her chin. “You know Nadine, you’re right.”
“Well of course I am,” said Nadine. “But there is one mystery I would like to solve.” She turned to Sarah. “Whatever were you doing out here at midnight? Was it that you were hoping a vampire would come and sweep you off your feet?”
Sarah's face turned beet red. Arden ducked around the corner so they wouldn't see or hear her snickering. But she was close enough to hear Sarah humph and say, “That is the most absurd thing I have ever heard! Come on, consider this matter closed. But I warn you, Nadine, if more people hear the bell and no one can explain it, you better believe the supernatural is behind it.”
Arden peeked around the corner. Nadine scoffed. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Of course you will,” mumbled Sarah. The group walked away. Arden waited a moment before walking towards the bell tower. She walked around it a couple times, sizing it up, before walking into it. She glanced up, the rope still hung several feet above her, the ends frayed, a testament to its old age. She touched the wall. The stones were cool and a bit moist, like it had been gently kissed by the morning dew, but otherwise, it looked exactly as she and her friends had examined it the day before. Besides, even if someone did ring the bell, why would they ring it?
What began as a murmur of voices grew louder, prompting Arden to come out of the bell tower. It was Tom Scott walking towards the tower, flanked by two women. The first one Arden recognized as the woman who looked similar to Audrey Hepburn, the one whom they had admired at the orientation. The other woman was unknown to Arden, but she looked young enough to be a student at the college. Then again, so was Tom. She also didn’t look too happy that Tom was chatting with the other woman, who looked particularly lovely in a pale pink, vintage-looking suit and matching wedges. The three paused when they saw Arden.
Tom smiled as a look of relief mingled with recognition passed over his face. “Well hello there! Now, which one were you? Sim, Terry or Arden?”
Arden blinked in surprise. “You remember our names?”
“Well of course, I didn’t exactly bring the luggage around to everyone in the college, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to remember!”
The lovely woman in pink laughed. “He told me the same thing he asked me which one I was! Here, I can make this easier for all of us.” She held out her hand. “Hello, I’m Peggy Lane.”
Arden shook her hand, smiling. “Nice to meet you, Peggy, I’m Arden Blake.”
“Ah,” said Tom, “so which one is Terry and which one is Sim?”
“Terry was the one asking all the questions,” said Arden with a chuckle.
“Gotcha,” said Tom with a chuckle, “which means the tall blonde was Sim, right?”
Arden gave a quick bob of her head. “That’s right.”
“So glad you remember their names, Tom,” said the other woman, a hint of ice to her voice.
“Oh, um, Arden, this is Trudy Everett, but everyone calls her Toots.”
Trudy gave Arden a quick nod and a tight smile. “Pleasure to meet you, Miss Blake.”
“A pleasure to meet you too, Toots,” said Arden. “I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything.”
“Oh, I was just showing Peggy here the bell tower. If you couldn’t tell, she has an interest in all things vintage.”
“Yes, I’m afraid I give that away far too easily,” said Peggy with a chuckle.
“And she makes all her clothes herself!” announced Tom.
“Yes, a very accomplished young lady,” said Trudy a little harshly.
Arden glanced at Peggy and gasped. “You do? Why, that’s amazing!”
“Well, thank you. But this suit wasn’t made by me, my grandma gave it to me.”
“Well it certainly looks lovely on you.”
“Thank you!”
“Weren’t you going to tell her about the legend of the bell tower before getting back to work, Tom?” asked Trudy.
“Oh, yes, please do tell! I do enjoy a good ghost story.”
“Eh, I don’t know if this is any good, per say, but, here goes. There are actually two legends about the bell tower. The first one is about the spirit of a woman who rang the bell during a fire in the 1930s, trying to wake everyone up. Thanks to her, everyone else did get out alright. But she, unfortunately, didn’t. So she wanders the halls, making sure the school is safe. She will ring the bell should anything be wrong. The second legend, which is becoming more and more likely after the reveal of mermaids, is that there are sprites who watch over the school due to a long-standing agreement between them and the first board of the school. A secret society was set up to make sure the human side of the bargain has continued to be met over the years, while the sprite would watch over the school at night, the only ones able to ring the bell because they can fly.”
“Those sound like very lovely legends for a school,” said Peggy.
“Did anything wrong happen last night?” The other three glanced at Arden in surprise.
“Uh, no, not that I know of. Why?” said Tom. Arden revealed what she had just overheard. Tom’s eyes widened. “What? Really?”
Arden shrugged. “That’s what I heard.”
“That’s odd, that’s really really odd,” he said.”You said the name of the girl who heard it was Sarah?”
Arden nodded, “Yes.” She gave as detailed of a description as she could of the girls, especially Sarah.
“Thank you, I had better talk to them about this. Excuse me.”
“Oh Tom!” Tom paused and looked at Arden quizzically. “Do you know how long the pool is going to be closed?”
Tom shrugged. “Sorry, no clue, I’m not in charge of that. All I know is that the pipes were rusting and Doc Tillie wanted to replace them all. But if you are looking for a pool to swim in, check out Pixie’s Pub and Pool, there’s a party going on over there every night this week.”
“Tom!”
Tom grinned at Arden and Peggy. “Hope to see you there! Thanks again, Arden!”
“Uh, you’re welcome!” said Arden as Tom dashed off.
Trudy turned to the two with a soft growl. “Oh you just had to ruin everything!”
“Oh but it’s only the beginning of the school year, darling,” said Peggy. “I think you’ll have plenty of time.” Trudy huffed and walked away.
“I wonder if he’s even told her no,” muttered Arden.
Peggy chuckled. “I don’t think he has, poor thing, but he really should, though I really doubt that will do much good. She seems perfectly determined to date him, and he seems perfectly determined not to.” She turned to Arden with a smile. “And he’s such a sweet guy, I think we should do what we can to help him.”
Arden bobbed her head. “I agree, I think we should. Though I think we’ve done enough for today . . . I hope.”
Peggy chuckled. “I hope so too. It was the main reason why I asked him about the legends in the first place. He seemed quite thrilled for the distraction.” She smiled at Arden. “And I am certainly glad to have met you, you seem like a lovely woman.”
“Oh, um, thank you! And you, you look like you’re already a movie star!”
“Oh, thank you, but I’m aiming for the theater, not the movies.”
“Oh, well, you still look like you’d fit in quite well.”
Peggy chuckled. “Thank you.” A chime echoed throughout the campus, startling them. Peggy glanced at her watch. “Oh my goodness, is it already eight? My roommates and I are planning on meeting with some of the other acting majors and head into Morrisville for some shopping.” She turned to Arden and held out her hand. “It really was nice to meet you. Maybe I’ll see you at one of the parties later this week?”
Arden shook her hand, smiling. “Quite possibly, once I tell my friends about it, I’m sure we’ll be going every night.”
Peggy smiled. “Wonderful! Then I’ll see you around! Bye!”
“Bye! It was nice to meet you too!” called out Arden. Peggy waved to her as she dashed away. Arden let out a breath, what a morning. She turned and glanced at the bell tower, and paused. Was it just her imagination, or had the rope been swaying? The breeze blew a strand of hair into her face. She let out a breath. It was just the wind. But if Sarah was right and the bell was rung last night, then, who rang it? But if not who, then what?

Chapter Text

“And no one else heard the bell ringing?” asked Sim. When Arden got back to their room, the two were up and she told them everything that had happened on her walk in as much detail as possible.
Arden shrugged. “Not as far as anyone knew. Tom certainly didn’t know about it.”
“That poor fellow, having to deal with such an annoying girl like that,” said Terry with a shake of her head.
Sim sighed and rolled her eyes, but she was smirking. “I’m sure he thinks a mysterious bell ringing is more important than a girl who can’t take a hint.” She turned to Arden. “But I’m more curious about this pub and pool business.”
Arden laughed. “You two, such one-track minds!”
Terry scoffed as she flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Well how else could you know us so well?”
Arden rolled her eyes and groaned, but she was grinning. “Fine, fine, whatever you say. Want to get brunch in town and check out the pub?”
Sim grinned. “Sounds like a great plan!”
“I'm all for it!” Terry said. “We can explore some of Morrisville too!”
“Which in your book means hitting all the malls,” quipped Arden with a chuckle.
Terry scoffed as she flipped her hair over her other shoulder. “Well of course! What else is there to see? Besides, those are the best places to catch all the gossip!”
Since scoffed. “Looks like the bell tower could be added to that list.”
“Only the mystery gossip, it seems,” said Terry as she grabbed her purse. “And who knows what other ghost stories can be found in town.” Terry wiggled her eyebrows.
Arden shot Sim a grin. “Now that sounds like fun,” admitted Arden.
“Now who's the one with the one-track mind?” Sim teased.
Arden laughed. “Touche. Well then, since Morrisville might have everything we’re interested in, let's go find out!”
“No need to yell, goodness Arden,” said Terry. She was already opening the door. “We're going!” Sim chuckled before following her out, leaving Arden to take up the rear. She quickly checked to see if she still had her keys, wallet, and phone before locking the door and walking out.
The walk to Morrisville was pleasant, birds were singing, the sun was shining, and there was a gentle breeze blowing through the treetops, knocking off some of the slowly changing leaves.
“I can't believe we're going to get some fall here!” said Arden as a few leaves fell next to them. They had stopped at an intersection and were waiting for the light to change.
“It is odd considering how close it is to the sea,” said Terry.
“But it does make sense as we’re not that close to the sea,” remarked Sim. “Do you know what the name of the town that’s near the bay is?”
“I want to say it’s Candleton,” said Arden, “but I’m sure we can find out for certain at the mall.” She shot Terry a knowing grin.
Terry smirked. “Oh definitely.” She glanced at Sim. “And I should have remembered Morrisville wasn’t that close to the sea considering you would be heading over there every day instead of the school’s pool, or this pub’s pool.”
Sim grinned. “Precisely.”
The light changed and Arden began walking across the street. Sim and Terry quickly followed. “Oh that’s for sure, but I would have thought that being as close as we are, there wouldn’t be four seasons.”
“Oh, the autumns and winters are definitely much milder in comparison to Pentville, which is more inland and further north,” remarked Sim matter-of-factly. “But we will get a bit of chilly weather, no doubt about that.”
“Well good, I can go shopping for some cute jackets!” said Terry.
“Now Terry,” began Arden.
“Oh come on, Arden, you know she would simply combust if she doesn’t go shopping at least once,” teased Sim.
Terry scoffed. “But of course, how else would we get to know the town? Besides, you would simply combust if you didn’t get to swim at least once a month.”
Sim snorted. “Alright, touche, touche.”
Arden sighed and shook her head, grinning from ear to ear. “You two.” The three laughed.
They found a local restaurant that sold breakfast items. They ordered and ate in the restaurant. They chatted about their plans for the week, though Terry’s favorite topic proved to be what they each should wear to the parties at Pixie’s Pub and Pool.
When they finally finished eating, they paid their bill, left a generous tip, and rushed over to the pub.
“Closed for maintenance?” exclaimed Sim with a moan.
“Oh, but it does say it will reopen at six, just in time for the party to begin,” said Terry, reading the fine print.
Sim sighed. “Well, fine then. Guess they would want everything nice, clean, and working in time for the party tonight.”
“But the pool could still be closed,” said Arden, “this is a pub after all, and there’s bound to be drinking at a party.”
“That is true, but I’ll come prepared anyways,” said Sim, turning away from the doors.
“That’s the spirit!” said Arden. “And if anything, you can find out when exactly the pool is going to be open tomorrow so you can come and swim.”
“Precisely!” said Terry. “And next up, the mall!”
The three found the mall pretty quickly, and found that their old classmates Ethel and Jane were already there, along with their roommates. The nine hung out in the mall for the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon. They rushed back to the dorms with new clothes for the party and hurriedly changed before heading back out to the pub.
“Come on, hurry it up!” exclaimed Arden, her blue eyes laughing at Terry daintily making her way through some brush. She did not want her clothes or her hair ruined.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” said Terry with a huff. “I can’t believe you two not only took the worst path, but that you can run through it without worrying about your looks and the new clothes!”
Sim rolled her eyes. “You’ve been our friend for what, twelve years, and you still haven’t noticed that we don’t care as much as you do?” Arden let out a laugh.
Terry huffed as she joined them, still picking leaves out of her auburn hair. “I know, I know, but if it weren’t for me, you’d be running all over this campus in naught but your swimsuit.”
Sim grinned. “Oh you’d better believe it.”
“I don’t believe it, I know it,” said Terry with a huff. She ran her fingers through her hair and straightened her skirt. “Alright, I’m ready.”
“Again?” said Sim with a smirk.
Arden laughed. “Oh come on, let’s get going! It’s going to be over by the time we get there!”
“And then we can’t introduce ourselves to cute boys!”
Sim scoffed. “The pool will be closed!”
“Exactly!” said Arden. “So come on!” The three rushed toward Pixie’s Pub and Pool. Sim saw the doors to the pool and began veering towards it. Arden grabbed her arm. “Let's go double check to make sure the pool is open first.” She nodded towards the window. “Looks like there’s quite a crowd already here.”
Sim nodded. “Right.” She followed her two friends into a crowded room. Two bartenders were working at the bar, serving up drinks to everyone, while a handful of waiters and waitresses bustled around, serving platters of food. Arden noticed that the drinks being served weren’t all alcoholic drinks. She saw a couple of waters, a few juices, some soda, and even a glass of milk or two. She let out a sigh, so they could get something here. It was open to people of all ages, and probably rightly so because of the pool. She smirked as she watched Sim march determinedly towards the bar and talk to the bartenders. She looked around for Terry, and rolled her eyes. Terry was already off in one corner talking to a few guys and girls. Arden decided to follow Sim to the bar and help her out, if necessary.
“What can I get for you ladies?” asked one of the bartenders.
“I want to go swimming,” said Sim matter-of-factly.
He shook his head. “I’m sorry, I’m not going to open the pool for just one person. I don’t need anyone who's buzzed drifting into there and drowning. If it was in the morning, sure, but I’ve got people who've already had more than I think they should have.”
Sim blinked. “Oh, oh I see . . . that makes sense . . .”
Arden placed a comforting hand on her shoulder before turning to the bartender. “I can assume you run this place?” She glanced at his name tag. “Mr. Aramon?”
He nodded. “I do, and if you're going to try to change my mind . . .”
“Oh no,” Arden hastened to say, “I’m not going to. But, the only reason why my friend came was because of the pool. Um, there's no other pool around? The campus pool is closed until it can be fixed.”
He sighed and shook his head. “Afraid not, that's part of why this bar is so popular, I run the only other pool besides the ones at the campuses.”
Sim glanced at him in surprise. “Wait, Sanford has a pool too?”
Aramon laughed. “Well of course they do! They're training astronauts, after all.”
“Well, we didn't know that. We didn't really look at Sanford's programs, we were already set on going to Cedar Ridge,” said Arden with a chuckle.
“Oh? And what degrees are you aiming for?”
Arden pointed to herself. “I'm going into Psychology.”
Sim smiled. “I'm going for Education, I like having my summers off.”
Aramon chuckled. “So you can go swimming, huh?”
Sim grinned. “Yup.”
“But why not go swimming professionally?”
Sim shook her head. “I did some competitive swimming in middle school, just wasn't my thing.”
Aramon nodded. “Fair enough.”
“There you two are!” said Terry with a huff. She glanced at Sim. “I thought you would have gone into the pool by now.”
“It's closed,” said Arden and Sim at the same time. Aramon gave his explanation why.
Terry blinked. “Oh, oh! Well that does make sense. You're a very responsible manager.”
“Owner,” said Aramon, “I own it.”
“Oh, that's even better! Well, I hope you don't mind me taking my friends away.”
Aramon shook his head with a smile. “Not at all. You three enjoy the party.” He pointed at Sim. “And I have a feeling I’ll be seeing you tomorrow morning. I open the pool at seven.”
Sim grinned. “Thanks, you will.” The girls said goodbye before following Terry to a group of people. She introduced everyone and in a few minutes, they were chatting away easily. The majority of this group was from Sanford, a couple of their friends were going to Cedar Ridge as well and the girls were promptly introduced to them. Louise Haydock, Sally Wheeler, and Kit Clavering were rooming in number 420 while Jim Valier and Maurice Stetson roomed in number 488. By then, Ethel and Jane had shown up with their roommates and everyone was introduced yet again. But the highlight of the party had to be when they met the Martian Orin McMahan and the Venusian Astro. There was even talk that the group had met a mermaid or two at Sanford, which was equally as exciting.
It was close to midnight when everyone finally left Pixie’s. Louise, Sally, and Kit joined Arden’s group back to the Cedar Ridge dorms. They were chatting away the whole way back.
“And to think we’re just a few rooms apart!” exclaimed Louise.
“Well we’re a floor above you technically,” said Sim, “but yes, we are pretty close!”
Terry turned to Kit. “Though I have to wonder, what was up with your brother and Tom? Tom seems like such a nice fellow!” Arden glanced between the two. Her eyebrows furrowed slightly in thought. She had noticed how Ralph Clavering seemed so relieved when Tom Corbett was chatting with her and would tense up a bit when he included Linda Carlton in a lot of his conversations. Though, in a way, Arden couldn’t blame him, there had been a couple of times that Arden herself wished Linda wasn’t chatting with them. But the more she got to know Linda, the more she liked her and could understand why Tom hung out with her so much. Arden also began to realize that maybe Tom wanted Linda to be around since he seemed a little shy and Linda was more outspoken than he was.
“Oh he is,” said Kit with an enthusiastic nod of her head and a soft blush coming to her cheeks. “He’s really sweet. My brother’s just loyal to a fault and lives in his own perfect world. Simply put, he follows Linda like a little puppy dog and thinks Tom’s out to get her for himself!” She shot a glance at Arden out of the corner of her eye. “But what my brother doesn’t realize is that Linda prefers a man, not a puppy, and that she’s been telling the truth this whole time, she only sees Tom as a brother, nothing else.” Kit pouted. “Then again, it really doesn’t help that my mom has practically controlled much of my brother’s life.”
Jim scoffed. “The mere fact that your brother doesn’t believe Linda when she tells him how she feels should tell him he’s not ready for a relationship with her, or any woman at the rate he’s going.”
“Oh, but Ralph’s sweet too!” said Terry.
“Oh he is, he’s just blind to his faults, that’s all,” said Kit with a shrug. “Once he finally sees the error of his ways and becomes a man in his own right, then he’ll be one of the best men out there. But until then, well, what else can I say? Outside of the fact that he’s as annoying as brothers go.” The others laughed.
“Oh I know it,” said Terry. “Well, I suppose, I don’t know if being twins makes it all that more different.”
“Eh,” said Kit, “not by much. I just think he’s more of my younger brother than anything half the time.”
“Even though he’s said how many times he beat you out by five minutes?” said Murice with a chuckle.
Kit scoffed and waved her hand. “Like that’s ever counted for anything.”
“Say, did you guys hear that?” asked Linda Lewis, coming to a stop. The others stopped and listened.
“I don’t hear …” began Jim, but then everyone went silent and stiffened. A bell could be heard tolling in the distance!

Chapter Text

The group stood stock still for several minutes as the bell tolled yet again before the echoes faded into silence. Arden took off running.
“Arden, wait!” called out Terry. Arden didn’t pay her any mind. She was already figuring that she was too late as it was, but there might still be a chance she could happen upon whoever was ringing the bell.
The whole group made their way towards the belltower, but by the time they arrived, the ringing had stopped. They fanned out to search for the mysterious bell-ringer, but no one could be found on the premises. At least not in the immediate vicinity. They did happen upon two young girls out and about, one pushing the other’s wheelchair. The girl in the wheelchair had reddish-orange hair, a face full of freckles, and laughing amber eyes while her companion had light brown hair and grey-green eyes.
“You heard the bell too?” asked the girl in the wheelchair.
“Hard to miss it,” replied Jim as the others looked through some bushes.
“I don’t know how he, or she, did it, but they’re definitely long gone by now!” said Maurice as they regrouped.
“And you’re sure no one came past you?” Arden asked the two girls.
They nodded firmly and briskly. “Positive,” said the brown-haired girl.
“If anyone came by us, we would have naturally assumed it was the culprit!” said the redhead.
“Though, to be fair, I almost did think the lot of you did the ringing of the bell before you asked us those questions,” said her friend. “Because if you did, then I would have to ask you how you did it!”
Louise laughed. “And if we did, we wouldn't tell you. A wizard never reveals his secrets!”
“Magician,” muttered Ethel. “Magicians and wizards are two different things.”
Sim shushed her. “Does it really matter?”
Arden glanced between the two, but before she could say anything, the redheaded girl spoke up. “What is the difference?”
Ethel glanced at her before shooting a look at Sim. Sim just sighed and shrugged. Ethel turned back to the girl. “Wizard was an old word that meant wise man and is used for people with powers. Magicians are just those guys who use stage magic.”
“Oh, I never knew that there was a difference. Thanks!”
Ethel smiled. “You’re welcome!”
“Oh, we didn’t get your names!” exclaimed Terry. She quickly introduced everyone, and they found out the brunette was Mary Louise Burrows and the redhead was Eileen Macfarlane.
Seeing that there was nothing else they could do to shed some light on the mystery, the group decided it best to head back to the campus with Mary Louise and Eileen.
“So what were you two doing out here, if you don’t mind my asking?” said Arden.
Mary Louise shrugged. “Just a walk. We wanted to see the campus at night.”
“I wanted to see the campus at night and dragged Mary Louise into it,” added Eileen with a laugh. “I just thought it would look a bit more magical in the moonlight and starlight. Didn’t expect to hear the bell ringing.”
“What were you doing out at this hour, if you don’t mind my asking?” said Mary Louise.
“We were at a party!” exclaimed Terry.
“What?” chorused the two friends. Everyone took turns talking about the party at Pixie’s and Louise and her group related about their friend group from Green Falls, the rest of whom were attending Sanford.
“Ooh, and there’s a party every night this week?” asked Eileen.
Terry nodded, grinning. “Oh definitely! There wasn’t a large crowd this time, but I’m sure once the word spreads, everyone will be there!”
“And you said that a few mermaids were going to Sanford, really truly?” asked Eileen, the pitch in her voice rising with every word, the sentence ending on a squeal.
Terry gave a firm nod of her head. “Yes indeed, and they said they would try and get them to come along.”
“Well, that is, if the gang sees them again,” said Louise. “They only saw them at the orientation.”
Eileen gave out a squeak and clapped her hands. “Can you imagine, real live mermaids! Oh, this is going to be so awesome!”
Mary Louise bobbed her head. “Oh quite! We must be sure to tell Josie all about it. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind getting to meet a mermaid herself!”
“Um, may I ask, who’s Josie?” said Sally.
“Oh, a good friend of ours,” replied Mary Louise, “and our roommate. She, unfortunately, didn’t want to see the campus at night, and so didn’t join us.”
“But I’m sure she wouldn’t mind going to the party tomorrow night,” remarked Eileen. “You’re sure everyone from Cedar Ridge and Sanford are invited?”
Terry bobbed her head. “Positive, it’s just the invitations are by word of mouth only, it seems. So now that we’ve told you about it, you’ve been invited.”
Eileen clapped her hands. “Excellent, maybe we can convince Josie to go to that one!”
Mary Louise laughed. “That should be easier than getting her out here tonight! Though I bet if she had known we would be witnesses to the mysterious bell-ringing, she would have come for sure.”
“Oh, does Josie like mysteries?” asked Terry, shooting a glance in Arden’s direction.
Mary Louise bobbed her head. “Oh definitely! She’s working on becoming a detective just like her dad.”
“Oh, how excellent! A detective on the premises! Maybe with her help, we can get to the bottom of this in no time,” said Louise.
Mary Louise wrinkled her nose. “Eh, I don’t know, she prefers a more, shall we say, a more dramatic mystery? Say, a murder or a theft rather than the mysterious ringing of a bell.”
“That is true,” said Eileen with a nod, “but didn’t she also tell us her father wants her to get in as much practice as possible?”
“Hmm, I don’t know …”
“Why don’t we tell Josie what we know and let her decide for herself,” said Eileen.
Mary Louise chuckled softly. “Fair point. We’ll tell her upon our return and see what she says.” She smirked at the group. “You might get to see a detective in action.”
“Now that I would like to see,” said Arden with a half-smirk. Even though, deep down, Arden wanted to solve the mystery herself. But, having someone who had a little bit more experience than she did in solving mysteries could come in handy. She could learn a few tricks of the trade. True, she wasn't going to become a detective like Josie, but she couldn't say no to a mystery. There was just something about a mystery that fascinated her.
Terry chuckled. “And you would. Arden likes mysteries, a lot. Favorite genre in the whole world.”
“But you're not going to become a detective?” asked Mary Louise.
Arden shook her head. “No. I am going to get a degree in Psychology, but that's because I like working with people. But I will always like mystery.”
“I prefer travel and adventure,” remarked Sim.
“I, however, much prefer the romantic genre,” said Terry.
“Oh, romance is so good!” said Louise.
Eileen squealed. “Ah, fellow romance fans! Finally, I can talk to someone about them besides just Mary Louise!”
“You like romance too?” Louise asked Mary Louise.
Mary Louise smiled. “Of course! You can thank Eileen for starting me on it!”
“What’s your favorite mystery?” Eileen asked Arden.
Arden’s eyes sparkled. “Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles. There’s just … something so thrilling about a mysterious ghost hound on the moor.”
“Oooh, and a little romantic!” said Mary Louise.
Louise shivered. “Oooh, that book always gave me shivers. It was too spooky for my taste.”
“Well don’t worry, there’s no moors here,” quipped Jim. “And if there were, I’m sure Maurice wouldn’t mind making sure you stayed safe.”
“Wh-what? I-I m-mean, s-sure!” stammered Maurice, going a little red in the face.
“Aw, aren’t you sweet!” cooed Louise as she grabbed his arm. He chuckled nervously. Jim and Kit shared a glance, grinned, and winked.
The group continued to chat away about their favorite books while Arden drifted to the back of the group. She paused and glanced around the campus grounds before looking in the direction of the bell tower. Who had rung the bell? Was it a human with a special device, or was there a supernatural explanation? Arden’s brows furrowed. Tom Scott had mentioned that there was a secret society that took care of the bargain between the school and the sprites. Was there any information to be found in the school library? Did Tom know anymore about it? Also, why did the bell ring this night? The school didn’t seem to be in any danger. In fact, it seemed that no one else but the group heard the bell, and only because they were nearby. Why was that? Shouldn’t someone else have heard it, or at least half the school by now? Arden figured more research was necessary to find the answers to her questions and as such, a trip to the library was in store.
She took another look around the school grounds before turning and returning to the group. They were getting ready to split up and exchanged numbers, with a promise from Mary Louise to let them know if Josie would work on the mystery.
Finally, the three girls were back in their room.
“Wowee, what a night,” said Sim as she fell back on her bed.
“Right?” said Terry as she began removing her make-up. “We meet such a fabulous group of people, especially those guys from Sanford,” Terry shot Arden a mischievous smirk. Arden thought the room was getting a little warm, but ignored her for the most part. “Then we met Mary Louise and Eileen, and we heard the bell ringing!”
“Odd that it happened after you told us about it this morning,” said Sim, sitting up in her bed and rubbing her chin.
“You mean yesterday morning,” quipped Terry, pointing at the clock. It was almost one a.m.
Sim rolled her eyes. “Ok, yesterday morning. Point is, it’s kind of odd to think that we also heard it.” She paused and thought for a moment. “Were Mary Louise and Eileen with the girl who heard it last night?”
Arden shook her head. “No, definitely not. None of them had light brown hair, and Eileen’s hard to miss.”
“So they definitely were just out to see Cedar Ridge at night,” said Sim.
“Well obviously. What, are you getting as invested in this mystery as Arden now?” asked Terry.
Sim shrugged. “Not really, I suppose, but I do find it very odd that a bell that has no rope to pull on could be ringing in the middle of the night.” She glanced at Arden. “What’s your plan?”
Arden tapped her chin. “I think we should wait until Mary Louise lets us know if Josie wants to solve this, but I definitely want to go to the library tomorrow and do some more research into the bell and the secret society.”
Sim nodded. “Sounds like a good plan. Count me in.”
Arden smiled. “Thanks.” She glanced expectantly at Terry.
“What are you looking at me for?”
“Oh come on Terry, it’s always been the three of us,” pleaded Arden. “I don’t want to do this without you.”
Terry scoffed. “Come on Arden, I can’t keep dropping everything I want to do to do what you want to do. I was thinking I would hit the mall with Louise, Kit, Sally, Jane, Millie, and Greta.”
“How about a compromise? Come with us to the library in the morning, then we’ll go meet the others for lunch and go shopping afterwards.”
Terry thought for a moment. “Well, that does sound like a good compromise …”
“You’ll join us?” asked Arden excitedly.
Terry sighed before letting out a chuckle. “Alright, let’s do this!”
Arden put out her hand. “Let’s, Pentville Pals!”
Sim laughed as she put her hand on top of Arden’s. “We are going to have to come up with a better group name than that.”
Terry quickly placed her hand on top of Sim’s. “Well, it’s the one we’ve got, and it’s the one we’ll use! The Pentville Pals are on the case!”

Chapter Text

Arden browsed the library shelves. Sim had taken a section and Terry took another section. The librarian hadn’t been much help, though Arden wondered if she was trying to make sure the three didn’t find what they were looking for. But she didn’t know that the Pentville Pals were serious and would find what they were looking for. Plus, reinforcements were on their way. Ethel had slept in late, but would be on her way once she had gotten breakfast. Ethel’s roommates, Jane’s roommates, and Jane herself weren’t as interested, but certainly seemed interested enough to promise to keep their ears open for any other strange occurrences.
Mary Louise, Eileen, and Josie were also on their way. While Josie was not going to take charge of solving the mystery, she was more than willing to offer help wherever she could. And Mary Louise and Eileen were definitely intrigued by the whole thing. Louise, Sally, Kit, Maurice, and Jim had already made other plans for the day and couldn’t join them at the library, but offered to help whenever they could.
“Do you think Miss Witherspoon is a member of the secret society?” whispered Terry as they moved from one bookshelf to another. She nodded at the librarian sitting at the front desk, trying to discreetly watch them while attending to her duties.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” whispered Arden. “She seemed pretty adamant about there not being anything on the so-called secret society.”
“Especially in present tense,” remarked Sim softly. “But she’s also not making any moves to stop us from finding out more, so whatever the library has won’t endanger the society, I guess.”
“Though what’s it in danger from, being laughed at?” quipped Terry.
Arden's eyebrows furrowed as she glanced around at the library. “But if there's nothing in here to endanger the society, why wouldn't she tell us anything? That makes it look like there's another reason.”
Sim nodded slowly as she browsed the titles on a shelf. "Right. And if anything, the society might want to keep anyone from finding out that the sprites are real. Mermaids have just recently revealed their presence, that doesn't mean every mythical race wants to be known."
"That might be it," said Arden. "If she pushes us too hard to keep from looking, we could start suspecting that sprites are indeed real." She chuckled softly. "Though the reveal of mermaids did more of that than anything else."
Sim scoffed. "No kidding."
Terry shrugged. "Well, whatever the case may be, she's still not doing herself any favors." She let out a huff. "And where are Mary Louise and Eileen? They said they were going to help. This library isn't the Library of Congress, but it's a bit bigger than I thought."
Arden patted her shoulder. "I'm sure they'll get here soon, just give them a bit more time."
Sim chuckled softly. "Yeah Terry, we've only looked through one bookshelf. They wouldn’t have gotten here that quickly.”
Terry sighed and rolled her eyes. “Alright, alright, but looking through this library is still kind of daunting.”
“If you were looking by yourself, sure, but there’s more of us working on it. We’ll find what we’re looking for, I know it.”
“And you can stop panicking over it, it looks like reinforcements just arrived,” said Sim. She pointed to the front, then waved. Mary Louise and Eileen were making their way towards them.
“Oh good, you’re here,” said Terry.
“See, told you they would,” remarked Arden with a smile. She turned to Mary Louise and Eileen. “Where’s Josie?”
“Josie will be joining us in a bit,” said Mary Louise, “she got a call she couldn’t miss.”
“But we’re here, reporting for duty!” whispered Eileen, giving Arden a salute.
Arden grinned. “And I’m grateful for it. Ethel’s on her way, but in the meantime, maybe you two can take a bookshelf and start looking.” She pointed at the one they just finished. “We’ve already looked through that one.”
Mary Louise and Eileen nodded. “On it.”
At that moment, Ethel came running up, breathless. “So sorry I’m late! I stayed up late, thinking you were going to text me last night!”
Terry put her hands on her hips. “You mean this morning,” she mumbled.
Arden chuckled nervously. “Yeah, sorry about that, I didn’t even think about it and just went to bed.”
“Well, now that Ethel is here, why don’t we split up in groups of two?” suggested Sim. “Ethel and I can take a section of the library, Mary Louise and Eileen can take a section, and you two can take another section.”
“But what about Josie?” asked Eileen.
Arden snapped her fingers. “Actually, that’s perfect!” She turned and pointed towards a part of the library that had study rooms. “We can have Josie hold one of the rooms for us! And as soon as we’ve finished looking, we take whatever books we find and bring them to that room and we’ll look over them.”
“That’s an excellent idea,” said Eileen.
“I’ll go get Josie, she can finish her call in the room, I’m sure,” said Mary Louise.
“Great, and I’ll get started looking,” said Eileen as she pushed her wheelchair towards one of the bookshelves. Mary Louise nodded and took off back through the library.
“Come on Ethel,” said Sim, grabbing a hold of Ethel’s arm and practically dragging her towards a section of the library. Terry cast Arden a worried glance before the two took off to scour the shelves.
"Is it me, or is Sim acting stranger than usual?" Terry whispered.
Arden pursed her lips. It really wasn't any weirder than usual, but Arden knew their friend had a secret, and she had surmised long ago that Ethel was the only one who knew it. "Maybe just a bit more, but I wonder if it's because the pool is out of order and she would have to travel into town for a swim."
Terry rolled her eyes and scoffed. "You know it's more than that, but we'll go ahead and ignore it again.”
“Thanks, Terry. Sim will let us in on her secret when she's ready.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Come on, let's get through these shelves. There's a mall calling my name."
Arden chuckled. "Of course there is." The two quickly went to work looking through the shelves. They only paused when Mary Louise came to tell them which room Josie was holding for them, then they were back at it.
After several minutes of searching, the three groups finally converged in the room. They were promptly introduced to Josie O'Gorman, a young lady with strawberry blonde hair and green eyes.
"And real quick, I would like to invite you to my birthday party. It won't be for a couple of months, but I wanted to let you know in advance so you could plan for it," said Josie while everyone put the books they gathered on the table.
"Oh, that's really sweet of you! But are you sure? We have only just met," said Terry.
Josie grinned. "I'm sure. I've been working with my dad this past year to tell fairly quickly if I can trust someone."
"Wowee, you worked with your dad while finishing up high school? That must have been hard," said Terry.
Josie shook her head. "Oh no, I took a year off specifically to work with him."
"And I'm glad of it because we get to be roommates," said Mary Louise with a smile.
Josie chuckled. "Yes, indeed."
"That's excellent," said Sim. "And I'll go, as long as there's swimming."
Josie laughed. "Duly noted. Seeing as it's an autumn party …"
Sim waved her hands. "Oh no, I meant it as a joke!" She laughed. "I'm sorry, I just wanted to slide that in before Terry had a chance to." The others laughed, but Arden noticed the look Josie gave Sim as she chuckled. That detective's mind was already noting her friend's strange behavior. She felt the need to change the subject. Not only did Arden want to solve that mystery herself, she also wanted Sim to reveal her secret when she felt comfortable to do so. But how to do it without Josie noticing that?
"Well, for once, you did," said Terry.
"Yes, yes, and as a reward, you can go to Pixie's for a swim instead of the mall," said Arden with a smirk.
"Ooh, speaking of the mall," said Terry as she pulled out her phone and glanced at the time. "We should get going on these books and see what we find."
"Good idea," mumbled Ethel. The group dove into the books, anything they could find about the school, sprites, and the bell. After a few minutes of skimming through books, Eileen let out a little squeal. The others crowded around her.
"What is it?" Terry asked.
"What did you find?" asked Sim, perhaps a little too worriedly. Arden glanced at her friend before sneaking a look out of the corner of her eye at Josie. Josie seemed to be paying close attention to Sim. But there was someone else in on Sim's secret who Josie didn't seem to pay too much attention to. Arden took a quick glance at Ethel. She too seemed worried.
"I think I found some more information on the legend of the girl spirit!"
"Really?" the others exclaimed.
"What about it?" Josie asked before glancing back at the book she had been looking through, seemingly not concerned with it.
"Well, I think we can eliminate that as an option," said Eileen with a smirk. "Apparently the legend came about because of Sarah Jane Twomley. She was the courageous young lady who rang the bell until everyone was out."
"So it's true?" said Terry.
Eileen nodded. "It was, but listen to this. 'Sarah Jane was reportedly in love with a young pilot from Sanford named Harold Evans, a romance her family disapproved of. The two would sneak out late at night to see each other, which many think was the reason for Sarah Jane's presence on the grounds that night. She saw and smelled the smoke and rang the bell. But no one saw her leave the grounds.'"
Terry gasped. "She eloped with Harold! She didn't die in the fire!"
Eileen pointed at her and nodded, a smirk playing on her face. "That's what I'm thinking. It says here that Harold married a woman named Sally, but since Sally is a nickname for Sarah …"
"It makes sense that she would disappear so her parents wouldn't know so that they couldn't find them!" said Terry.
Eileen's smirk widened. "Exactly."
Terry gave a romantic sigh. "Oh how romantic."
Arden tapped her chin. "So, then the ghost story, as interesting as it is, is not the reason for the mysterious bell ringing. Anyone find anything about the secret society or the sprites?"
Ethel sighed as she picked up a book. "No, not yet."
Mary Louise gasped. "I have something!" The others crowded around her, except Josie. She was still reading her book.
"What, what did you find?" Sim asked. Josie's head lifted a little to glance at Sim and Mary Louise.
"A senator named John Reeve and his wife Caroline met at Cedar Ridge. They were also part of the secret society!"
Josie blinked and shrugged a little. "Um, ok?"
Mary Louise looked at her with wide eyes. "They buried a treasure at Cedar Ridge, and apparently the sprites know a clue to where it is!"

Chapter Text

"You're kidding!"
"No way!"
"A buried treasure!" Louise and her friends exclaimed before clamoring for more information. Everyone was at Pixie's for the party, and there were more people this time as word had spread, but Louise and her friends, including the group from Sanford, had gathered around the six detectives.
Eileen bobbed her head. "Oh yes, there's buried treasure at Cedar Ridge!"
"Which might explain the motive," interjected Josie thoughtfully, "but it doesn't explain the bell. Why does it need to be rung? And who is ringing it?"
"You didn't find out any more information on the bell tower?" asked Johnny.
The girls shook their heads. "Nothing else on the bell besides what caused the rope to fray, and definitely nothing else about sprites or the secret society." Josie rubbed her chin. "Which is rather odd, to be honest. You would think there would have been more." Her eyebrows furrowed. "I think I shall take another look through the library tomorrow."
"I'll go with you," said Mary Louise.
"Count me in as well!" exclaimed Eileen.
Josie smiled at them. “Thanks.”
Sim glanced at Arden, clearly expecting her to say something. Arden bit her lip. She definitely wanted to get to the bottom of this, and she definitely wanted to see a detective in action, but she kind of wanted to be in charge of this one. She pursed her lips. What should she say?
“I’ll, I’ll join you as well,” Arden finally said.
“So will I,” said Sim.
“Me too!” quickly said Ethel.
Josie glanced from one to the other before nodding slowly. “Sounds good.” She turned to Terry. “Will you be joining us as well?”
Terry shot Arden a look before nodding her head at Josie. “Yeah, I’ll be there.”
“Great, let’s meet at the library at eight o’clock tomorrow.” She glanced at the rest of the group. “Anyone else want to join?”
“I don’t even know if Sanford students are even allowed on Cedar Ridge grounds,” said Mike Mars with a soft chuckle. He waggled his eyebrows. "But I bet we could find out real quick."
“Even if you were, I would think everyone would think it suspicious that so many students are going to the library before classes start,” said Louise. “I know I would think that.”
“Of course you would,” muttered Jim.
"But that's a good point," said Josie, "that would be a very odd sight to see just before classes start." Josie drummed her fingers on the table. “If you do want to help, maybe you could look for clues near the bell tower. We'll join you once we’ve finished at the library.”
Louise nodded slowly. “That could work. Anything in particular we’re looking for?”
Josie shrugged. “Can’t tell you, anything and everything could be a clue.”
“Unless it’s trash,” quipped Eileen. The others laughed.
“Well, I guess we can go to Cedar Ridge, at least for that,” said Ralph.
“But do we really need to? It seems like there’s going to be too many people if you come over and we could get in each other’s way,” said Maurice.
"Besides, we seem to be having our own little adventures," said Martie, shooting a look at Mike.
"Oh yes, tell us all about it!" exclaimed Louise. The Sanford group took turns telling them about the near-hit-and-run they had the previous night.
"I still think Rod's behind it," muttered Martie as she crossed her arms and shot glares at Mike.
Mike rolled his eyes. “Between you and Johnny, I’m never going to hear the end of it. Frankly, I'm surprised we even made it as a team back at the base with the way you two talk about him!"
"That's because he had to be content with being on the top team with you. But now that he's not and the glory of being an astronaut is on the line, he'll do anything to keep you from getting to the top," said Martie.
Johnny scoffed. “Besides, can’t help it if it’s the truth.”
Mike threw up his hands. “Guys, we still have no proof that Rod was behind it, and I won’t believe it until we find absolute proof!”
Johnny and Martie shot each other a glance. “Fine.”
“Thank you.” Mike paused then wagged his finger at them. “And don’t go fabricating any proof.”
“Won’t need to,” quipped Johnny as he crossed his arms. “We just gotta find the proof.”
Mike rolled his eyes and groaned. “Whatever, just drop it already, please!”
“What’s this about somebody behind something?” Everyone jumped at the sound of the newcomer’s voice. Four guys were standing behind Jim and Maurice. The two jumped up with a delighted shout and shook hands with each of them.
“I was wondering when you were going to show up!” said Jim with a hearty laugh. He and Maurice quickly introduced everyone to the newcomers as their roommate and his childhood friends, a group of boys who called themselves the Darewell Chums. Ned Wilding had wild light brown hair and hazel eyes that sparkled with mischief. He was quickly pointed out as the head prankster of the group. Bart Keene had coiled dark brown hair, brown eyes, and was revealed to be the jock of the group. He wanted to be the captain of the Cedar Ridge team, it didn't matter which sport. Fen Masterson was chubby with blonde hair and grey eyes, but quickly became a fan favorite, partially due to the platter of cookies he brought and the generous helping of compliments he dished out. But no one could stop staring at the fourth member of the party, Frank Roscoe. He was definitely considered the most handsome of the four, but there was an air of mystery hanging around that brown head and a sense of secrecy that clouded his otherwise shining emerald eyes. His other oddity was how he dressed, like he stepped out of a 1940s magazine. It wasn’t a full on suit and tie, but it was by no means the jeans and t-shirt that everyone else wore either.
“Isn’t he just so handsome?” Terry whispered to Arden with a soft giggle as other girls began crowding around him.
“Y-yeah, yeah he is,” muttered Arden. She could feel a slight warmth rising in her cheeks. Terry giggled and winked at her before joining the throng of girls surrounding Frank. But while he was handsome and Arden wanted to be with him as much as any of the other girls there, she couldn’t help but think of Peggy Lane. The two would make a great couple. A great-looking couple at that too. Not only that, but that air of mystery that hung over him like a cloud was getting under Arden’s skin. She wanted to solve that, provided he even let her get close to him to solve it. Would a guy like that even want to go out with a girl like her? She pursed her lips. Besides, one look at Miss Peggy Lane would drive all thought of Arden from his mind, she was sure of it. She glanced at the excited throng around him, it would drive every other girl out of his mind as well.
As if on cue, in walked Peggy Lane and what looked like the entire acting class. They were all dressed in very nice clothes and every girl had on the most perfect make-up. They looked like they were ready to put on a play right then and there. But the moment Arden figured would happen did happen, Frank’s and Peggy’s eyes locked. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. Arden blinked. It was like watching a movie where the lead couple first meet and time seems to stop. It was truly an odd sensation, an almost out of body experience. But then Frank blinked, Peggy smiled, and the spell was broken.
“Hey mister! Can we get some dance music going?” shouted one of the guys. Aramon shot him a thumbs up before heading to the back room.
“But we haven’t been introduced yet!” exclaimed Terry.
“We can introduce ourselves while we wait for the music!” announced the fellow. “I’ll start, I’m Phillip Piper, but you can call me Pip!”
“Good, because I’m Phillip Morgan!” Phillip shouted. “And I don’t like being called Pip!” Everyone laughed, that broke the ice and introductions were well under way when the music started up. People coupled up and the dancing commenced. Pip swept one of Louise’s and Linda’s friends Dot off to the dance floor, while Peggy was with a redheaded fellow and Frank asked another girl to dance. Arden pursed her lips. Well, that movie romance might take a while before it fully blossomed, but she figured they would get together eventually. She stood for a bit, watching the dancing, before she joined Josie, Eileen, and Mary Louise at their table.
“It’s alright, Mary Louise, go dance. You don’t have to give it up every time we’re at a party simply because I can’t dance,” said Eileen as she crossed her arms. Arden sat down across from her. Eileen turned to her. “Arden, Josie, tell Mary Louise she should go dance.”
“Well, it would help if a guy asked her to dance,” mumbled Arden.
“She can just as easily ask a guy to dance,” quipped Eileen, “but that’s not it. She just feels guilty about me not being able to join in the fun.”
“Eileen’s right though,” said Josie, “you should go have some fun. Arden and I are here, we’ll keep Eileen company.”
“You both should go dance too,” said Eileen with a huff.
“And what happens if I don’t want to dance?” quipped Josie. Someone cleared their throat. They glanced up. A young fellow from Sanford was looking at Mary Louise.
“May I have this dance?”
“She accepts,” said Eileen, nearly pushing Mary Louise out of her chair. Arden and Josie burst out laughing as Mary Louise shot Eileen a scowl before joining the fellow on the dance floor.
Eileen glanced at them. “One down, two to go.”
“Don’t you mean one up, two to go?” said Josie between snickers.
“Ha ha, quite possibly.”
Someone else cleared their throat. “Um, Arden?” Arden’s eyes widened as she turned in her chair and came face to face with Tom Corbett. “May I, uh, have this dance?”
Arden jumped up. “Yes!” She quickly turned to Eileen and Josie. “And I’d better, or else she’ll throw me out of my chair and roll me over!”
Eileen grinned. “You bet I would!”
Tom chuckled. “Well alright then. We’d better get going then, wouldn’t want you rolled over and flattened like a piece of paper.”
Arden laughed. “I don’t think she could get me that thin, but I’d rather not hang around and find out.” He laughed as he led her to the dance floor. They started dancing, but they didn’t talk until Tom asked about her family. That’s how they found out they both had brothers named Bobby, but while Arden had just one brother, Tom had five younger siblings, two brothers and three sisters. The two continued to dance and chat, oblivious of the smirks and winks Linda and Louise were giving each other.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Arden, Sim, and Terry arrived at the library a few minutes before eight. Josie, Eileen, and Mary Louise were already there. Mary Louise saw them first and waved them over.
“Hello! How are you all doing this fine day?” asked Mary Louise with a bright smile.
“Well, considering I had a good night’s sleep, just fine,” said Terry. “Otherwise, the day’s just started, couldn’t tell you more than that,” she added with a shrug.
Ethel came up at that moment. "Hi girls! How was your night after the party?"
“The bell didn’t ring last night,” muttered Eileen.
The others looked at her. “What do you mean, the bell didn’t ring last night?” asked Arden.
Mary Louise sighed. “We asked Josie to stake out the bell tower last night in the hope that she would get to hear it as well as us possibly finding out who’s behind it. But as Eileen noted, nothing happened.”
“It’s not like I don’t believe you, there were too many witnesses for you to have been pulling my leg,” said Josie with a scoff.
“I still would have liked it if you had heard it as well,” mumbled Eileen as she turned and wheeled herself into the library.
“Plus, I think she wanted to hear the bell again,” muttered Mary Louise. “She likes them.”
Josie sighed. "Yeah, but if this is someone looking for the treasure, then we'll be sure to hear it again. We just have to find out what the connection is, hence our return here. Someone had to have found something that connects the two.”
“Or it’s totally unrelated, and we have two mysteries on our hands,” said Terry as they followed her into the library.
Josie huffed and lowered her voice. “That is a possibility, in which case we would have to split into two groups. Though, I think finding the treasure is of the highest importance so we can make sure it gets into the right hands.”
Arden nodded firmly. “I agree, if it ends up being two mysteries, the bell can wait. It seems like only those in the general area of the bell tower can hear that. Though I am dying with curiosity as to why that is.”
Josie glanced back at her with a grin. “Honestly, so am I. Especially since the two legends deal with a ghost or fairies ringing the bell to get people to safety. Of course, you all were far away enough that whoever did it could get away and you couldn’t find out if someone was actually ringing the bell, or just playing a tape.”
“Or even play a recording on their phone,” said Terry with a shrug.
“You know, I hadn’t thought of that,” said Arden, rubbing her chin.
“I hadn’t thought of that either,” said Sim, a hint of awe in her voice. “It’s certainly something else to be on the lookout for.”
Ethel nodded. “Definitely. It would certainly explain why no one else but us heard it.”
Josie nodded as she opened the door to one of the study rooms. “Exactly. But then that begs the question, why would it need to be rung if no one else was around to hear it? Unless someone was only playing it because there were people around … but that only makes sense if it occurred every night. So far, it’s only happened two nights in a row, and heard by two different groups of people.”
“Well one person and the following night a group of people,” Arden pointed out, “but yeah, if this was to be a joke, then it would be consistent on who heard it.”
Terry chuckled. “Namely Miss Sarah.” She gasped as she snapped her fingers. “Maybe she was nearby that night, but none of us saw her!”
Sim crunched up her forehead. “But, we went looking everywhere for the culprit and didn’t find anyone else besides Mary Louise and Eileen. Besides, based on how Arden described her, she would have joined us, excited to have witnesses to her experience.”
Josie nodded. “Anyone would have been excited to find out they weren’t imagining things.” She smirked. “I would too, to be honest.”
Eileen scoffed, her arms crossed. “No kidding.”
“Unless she was playing a recording of bells?” pondered Terry. “And she didn’t want to be found out?”
“I think there are still too many factors to consider here. And I do think this library might have a few answers for us. How would you like to split up?” asked Josie. A couple of minutes later, three groups split up to search the library again. Ethel and Sim stayed together, while Arden and Mary Louise teamed up, and Josie went with Terry. Eileen wanted to stay in the study room this time for a bit of alone time.
"Does Eileen do this every time she's disappointed?" Arden whispered to Mary Louise as they were going through the shelves.
"The few times she is really disappointed, yes," Mary Louise whispered back. "The majority of the time, she doesn't let it bother her that much. But Josie's right, she just wanted to hear the bell again. I don't blame her, it is a lovely sound we don't get to hear that often."
Arden gave a quick nod. "That is true. Whenever my family and I would go on road trips, my brother would always point out the churches with the bells in them and wonder if he could run in and ring them from time to time.”
“Oh, you have a little brother? What’s having a brother like?”
Arden scoffed. “Annoying, irritating, not a moment’s peace what with him and all of his friends creating such a ruckus …” She paused as a smile spread on her face. “But he is really sweet and really dotes on our grandmother as much as she dotes on him. He’s even begun picking up some of her slang. It’s really funny when he says some old thing like Jiminy Cricket or Jehoshaphat, and says it in the exact same way she does.” She chuckled. “I guess that doesn’t quite sound right, huh? Me complaining about him one moment, the next talking about some of his best qualities.” She let out a soft sigh. “I guess I do miss them.”
Mary Louise patted her shoulder. “I think it wouldn’t sound right to me because I don’t have any siblings, but, the way you described it, I think I can understand a bit of it. You care about him, at least.”
Arden chuckled. “Yes, at least enough to not want to kill him.”
"Oh my, he can get that annoying?" Mary Louise asked. She chuckled softly. "Almost makes me glad to be an only child."
Arden chuckled equally as softly. "Yes, but though siblings can get that annoying, there's no one better to have your back … or to blame should you end up getting in trouble."
"Oh!" Mary Louise clapped a hand over her mouth as she giggled. "I guess that could be a good thing. I hadn't thought of that, to be honest."
Arden snickered. "There's a lot about having a sibling most only children wouldn't think about, seeing as how they've never had the experience. And it's different for different sets of siblings, based mainly on how many there are and the age difference. It's really fascinating."
"Is that why you're going into psychology?"
Arden gave a quick nod as she took a quick glance at a few books. "Yes, it's just one reason, though. I just find people and the way they think quite fascinating. It's one reason why I always liked mysteries and tried to solve as many as I could back home."
Mary Louise’s eyes widened. “Oh, you actually solved mysteries back home?”
Arden bobbed her head. “Yup, solved quite a few.”
“So this is nothing new to you, then.”
Arden chuckled nervously. “Well, I guess not, if you don’t include the prospect of fairies.”
Mary Louise snorted. “That is a good point, that would certainly add something new to any mystery.” She pursed her lips as she pulled out a book. “Though I wonder how those boys did when they found out about mermaids when solving their mystery. Did you hear about that?”
“Who wouldn’t have? It’s been the talk back home for practically the entire summer. Mermaids! And now here we are, looking up information on a sprite society.” Arden glanced between Mary Louise and the books. “Speaking of, have you found anything yet?”
Mary Louise shook her head as she closed the book and placed it back on the shelf. “Nothing so far. They really wanted to make sure this was kept super secret.”
“Hmm,” said Arden as she peered at the book titles.
“What are you thinking?” asked Mary Louise softly.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be looking for anything on the secret society itself or the fairies, as I very highly doubt there would in fact be anything here on the subject. I’m sure Miss Witherspoon would have made absolutely sure of that.”
“Then, what should we look for?”
Arden’s eyes fell on a certain title. She grabbed it and pulled it out to show Mary Louise. “Maybe more on the Senator. It’s his treasure after all. He’s got to have left a clue or two somewhere.”
Mary Louise let out a soft gasp. “You may be on to something!” She turned to the bookshelves. “Alright senator, here we come!”
The two perused the shelves, looking for anything that had to do with senator John Reeves. They found a few more books before calling it quits and heading back to the study room. The others were already there when they got into the room. There were only a few books on the table, mainly about bells.
Josie raised her eyebrow when Mary Louise and Arden put their books on the table. “Did you clean out the whole library on Senator Reeves?”
Arden shrugged as she sat down. “Don’t know, figured there might be a few clues the Senator left behind somewhere, like in passing, or something.”
Josie nodded. “Good idea. I hope that didn’t mean you stopped looking for anything else.”
Arden winced. “I, uh, I did stop looking for everything else but Senator Reeves. Sorry.”
“Well I didn’t,” said Mary Lousie, “but there wasn’t anything we could use.”
“What’s so important about that anyways? This is the second time we’ve been through the library,” pointed out Terry.
Josie chuckled. “You have a point. Well, let’s get started. We might need another go through the library, just in case.”
The others bobbed their heads. “Right.” They each picked up a book and began reading.
Arden had picked up one of the books that she and Mary Louise had found about the Senator and skimmed through it. But during the skimming of one page, two words stuck out at her. She went back to the beginning of the page and reread the words over and over again, just to be sure. But it was true, they were there. This was the clue they needed! At least, based on her experience. “Girls, listen to this!” The others glanced at Arden. “Senator Reeves wrote a few poems!”
“Uh, okay,” said Josie slowly before turning back to her book. Sim and Ethel leaned in a little closer.
“But really, listen to them! ‘Candy, fruit, and sugar sweet/ Come little friends, for we must meet./ Mushrooms, moon, and a little star/ We come from the college Cedar./ Colored jewels and old lace for a key,/ Bells will ring for the land of fairy.’”
“Colored jewels and old lace for a key?” asked Mary Louise.
“Bells will ring?” said Eileen.
“That sounds rather silly,” said Terry.
Josie was looking straight at Arden. “It sounds like it could be a clue.”
Arden’s eyes sparkled as a smile curved on her face. “Wait until you hear the next one. ‘Behind a curtain of green,/ Lies a very special door/ That opens to a garden palace/ with roses carpeting the floor./ Here, in this fairyland,/ We’ll dance away the night/ And our treasure will be revealed/ By a cascade of pale moonlight.’”
“That sounds a little more romantic than the first one,” said Terry.
“But it’s got to be talking about his treasure for sure,” said Sim.
“So the first poem gets us the key, and the second one tells us where the treasure is?” asked Ethel.
“That certainly looks like it,” said Josie. “But while the second one seems easier, it might be a while before we find this secret door. We don’t know where this green curtain is.”
“No, we don’t, but there’s someone who might,” said Arden, sitting back in her chair and crossing her arms.
“Who?”
Arden glanced at Sim and Terry. “It looks like it’s time we had a talk with Tom Scott.”

Chapter Text

Arden was a woman on a mission. As soon as she, Sim, and Terry told the others about Tom Scott's position as a groundskeeper, they all set off in search of him. They kept an eye out for any green curtains while they searched, but Arden was focused on finding Tom Scott more than the green curtains. Not only could he tell them where they were, he could also tell them more about the bell and the sprites. At least, she hoped he would.
After searching high and low for an hour, they finally found him, working with another fellow at weeding out a garden. The other fellow happened to glance up at the approaching crowd and tapped Tom’s shoulder. Tom glanced up and noticed who was at the front of the group and quickly got up, a concerned and questioning look on his face.
“Arden, Sim, Terry? What brings you here?”
Arden crossed her arms. “We should have come to you earlier about this, but we started investigating it right away.”
Tom glanced between them and asked slowly, “Started investigating what?”
“We heard the bell ringing the other night,” announced Sim.
“All of us,” said Terry.
“Except for me,” said Josie with a raise of her hand. “We tried to see if it would ring again last night, but it didn’t.” She crossed her arms. “And now we’re finding out there’s a treasure on the grounds?”
“Senator Reeve’s treasure?” asked the other guy, jumping up from his work. “Why, Pops said that wasn’t much but a legend!”
“And your father is ...?” asked Josie.
“Oh, one of the head caretakers of the school grounds, Jim Blakely. I’m Jake Blakely,” he replied, proceeding to shake hands with the girls who promptly introduced themselves.
“Who’s the other head caretaker?” asked Josie.
“Anson Yaeger, he’s almost as old as my dad and he’s … something else,” said Jake, shooting a glance at Tom out of the corner of his eye. “Tom gets the pleasure of working with him a lot.”
Tom scoffed. “Pleasure indeed.”
“Oh, I take it not many people like him?” asked Josie.
Jake shook his head. “No, and I can’t wait for dad to fire him and hire someone else. He’s gotten even worse.”
“Worse how?” asked Josie, glancing from one guy to the other.
Tom sighed. “I caught him stealing fruit from the school orchard, selling them, and keeping the money for himself. He doesn’t like that I revealed this to Mr. Blakely, but … he hasn’t exactly done anything to me either.”
“Probably because he’s planning something and is waiting for the right moment to strike,” said Jake. “But he has gotten worse, been lazy, handing off all the hard jobs to us, or at least the ones he doesn’t like, and I know he’s been cutting that stupid goat loose and making all those messes for us to clean up!”
“Wait, you have a goat?” asked Terry.
“The school has an orchard?” asked Sim and Ethel at the same time before shooting each other wide-eyed looks.
“The school does have an orchard, but we don’t have a goat,” said Tom with a soft chuckle. “The goat in question is a rambunctious little tyrant from a neighboring farmer. He will eat everything in the orchard and the garden if we let him.”
“And will leave quite the mess to boot,” muttered Jake. "And the farmer refuses to get rid of him!"
"It's his goat, Jake, and he is figuring out other solutions," remarked Tom. "If anything, he serves as a great watch goat."
Jake scoffed. "Now if we could just get him to watch where he's going, that would be great."
"What I want is for you to be watching what you're doing!" barked a voice. Everyone turned towards the source. A man who looked to be in his mid-fifties was walking towards them, a scowl on his face. "What I can't understand is how your dad lets you get away with slacking off but not me!" He glared at Tom. "And you especially!"
Tom returned the glare. "You know exactly why, Anson, now leave us alone. We weren't slacking off. These ladies were just telling us they heard the bell too."
"And they found out about Senator Reeves' treasure," mumbled Jake.
"So what? Everyone knows about the legend. Whether or not they believe it's real is the question." Anson turned his grey eyes on them. "Well, do you believe it's real?"
"That all depends," Josie replied coolly. "Is there a green curtain hiding a secret door?"
Anson tilted his head back and laughed. "There's only ever been one set of green curtains at Cedar Ridge, and they definitely weren't hiding any doors!" He laughed again. "Those poems by John Reeves mean nothing, trust me, Jim and I have already searched. We scoured these grounds until our eyes nearly fell out of their sockets and didn't find a thing! So allow me to be the first to tell you to put the silly nonsense out of your head because you won't be the ones to find it!" He turned back to Tom and Jake, jabbing his finger at them. "Now get back to work!" He turned to the girls. “And don’t you pester them with such silly nonsense ever again!” He glared at them until Tom and Jake got back to work and the girls walked away before he stomped away towards a grove of trees. Tom waited a few minutes before waving the girls back over.
“Well, that was rude,” muttered Terry as she crossed her arms.
“Well, that was Anson Yaeger,” said Tom, “and that’s one of his better moods.”
“If that’s one of his better moods, I’d hate to think what his worst looks like,” said Terry with a scoff.
“To put it simply, you don’t want to,” said Jake.
“Why hasn’t your dad fired him yet?” asked Mary Louise. “He doesn’t seem like he’s doing much more than ordering you around and is a grump to boot!”
Jake sighed. “Because he was good at his job, and my dad doesn’t want to cut him out just yet. The two of them have taken care of Cedar Ridge for years. And though my dad knows that Anson isn’t too thrilled that my dad got the head caretaker position, he hasn’t given my dad any reason to not trust him where it concerns trying to take the position from him or do anything to him. But since Tom’s more of the new guy, there’s a chance Anson will do something to him.”
“The new guy? How new?” asked Josie.
Tom shrugged. “Four years.”
“And before him we had Freddie Cotton working for us, the meanest, vilest criminal to ever step foot on Cedar Ridge property,” said Jake.
“Wait, he was worse than Anson?” asked Eileen.
Jake nodded. “Dad thought that he was the real reason why Anson was going bad himself, Freddie was filling his head with tales of gold and glory.” Jake glanced down and stabbed the ground with his rake. “And, I did too, for a time. Dad was horrified at how bad Anson and I were getting. Thankfully Dad was able to get through to me and as you can tell, I turned myself around. But for some reason, it’s been harder to get through to Anson. But Dad’s not giving up on him, not quite yet.”
“What, like, Senator Reeves’s gold?” asked Arden.
Jake’s eyebrows furrowed. “See, that’s the thing. Like Anson said, he and Dad searched high and low for that treasure multiple times. Tom and I even attempted it a couple of times over the years, but we never found anything.”
“Definitely no secret door behind any green curtain. That was the first thing we looked for,” said Tom.
“But what if it’s not on Cedar Ridge property?” asked Josie. “Are there any buildings in the orchard?”
Jake and Tom shook their heads. “There’s nothing but an old tool shed in the orchard,” replied Tom.
“Maybe Senator Reeves’s house?” suggested Mary Louise.
Jake shrugged. “Maybe, we just figured he only claimed to bury a treasure. Maybe he intended to and never got around to it before he passed away or he was doing it out of spite because there were some major disagreements going on at the time concerning Cedar Ridge. All I know is, no one who has looked for it has ever found it.”
“But he said in the poem with the green curtains there was a garden palace!” said Terry.
“Is there any place on the campus that could seem to be hiding a secret garden of some kind?” asked Josie.
Jake shrugged. “There are a lot of areas that aren’t in use, but we clean all of those, so no. Maybe the greenhouse could have been this garden palace that Senator Reeves spoke of, but it’s certainly not hidden, and definitely wasn’t behind a green curtain.”
Terry sighed. “Well, there goes that. And I was so looking forward to a treasure hunt!”
“You and me both,” said Eileen.
Tom chuckled nervously. “Sorry about that. I mean, if you want, you could still try looking at the Senator’s house, maybe there’s something we missed. You never know.”
Josie nodded slowly. “Yes, yes we could.”
But Arden thought back to the poem. While it was true that it didn’t mention exactly where the treasure was hidden, it made sense that it would be on Cedar Ridge property. They had read more of the life of Senator John Reeves, he had mentioned in an interview that he was planning on leaving Cedar Ridge with some funds in case of emergency. But if four other people had searched for it on the grounds of Cedar Ridge and hadn’t found a hing, then the only logical place would be at the Senator’s house. Or even at one of the Senator’s favorite haunts. Maybe they should try that angle, just to be on the safe side.
“Oh Tom! Tom darling!”
Tom let out a soft groan as Toots Everett came up and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Oh Tom, I’ve missed you!”
Two other girls were with her, one looked particularly worried. Jake waved to them. “Hi Jess, hi Prim.”
“Hi Jake!” said one girl.
“Um, Jake, hi,” said the worried girl.
“Toots, how many times do I have to tell you, I’m not interested!” exclaimed Tom as he wrestled with her hands, trying to get her off of him.
Toots shot Arden a glare. “Is it because you’re interested in her, or that dumb wannabe actress?”
“Hey, Peggy’s a sweet girl!” blurted Arden, giving Toots a glare in kind.
Tom sighed. “I’m not interested in any of them either. Besides, I’m sure a lovely girl like Peggy would get a lot of attention from other guys.”
“Oh that’s so true, but based on what we saw last night, she seems to have narrowed it down to two,” said Terry, shooting Eileen a sly grin.
“Toots, shouldn’t we tell them …?”
“Oh knock it off, Prim, it can wait,” said Toots as she snuggled into Tom’s back. Tom groaned.
“Tell us what?” asked Jake, looking at the worried girl.
Prim let out a huff. “We just saw Freddie Cotton sneaking around the orchard!”
Tom and Jake shot each other a startled glance. “Freddie Cotton!” they exclaimed.
“He’s been banned from setting foot on college property! Come on Tom!” Jake threw his gardening tools to the ground and took off in the same direction Anson had taken towards the grove.
“Sorry girls, but this is important. Let go of me, Toots!” Tom pried Toots’ hands off of him before taking off after Jake.
Toots humphed. “Now why did you have to tell them, Prim? I said not to worry about it!”
“Because we’ve been told that if ever saw Freddie Cotton on school property to find one of them and tell them about it!” exclaimed Prim. “And you just want to see Tom!”
Toots huffed as she flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Come on girls, let’s join them on the walk.” The three walked away.
“Well, ok then, that wasn’t weird at all,” said Eileen with sarcasm.
“But it is weird that this Freddie Cotton would show up,” said Josie as she was rubbing her chin, thinking. “I wonder if he’s planning something. Maybe some kind of revenge?”
Eileen shrugged. “It’s possible, we don’t know much about this guy besides that he’s apparently worse than Anson Yaeger.”
“Maybe it’s nothing at all and we’re reading too much into it,” said Terry.
“I don’t know,” said Sim as she wrapped her arms around herself, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Chapter Text

The girls made their way back to the library slowly, each of them thinking about everything they had learned thus far. They didn't say a word until the door of the study room was shut behind them.
"So, now what?" Terry asked. "Apparently everyone knows about the treasure and believes it's just an urban legend!"
"Two guys who work at Cedar Ridge do not count as everyone, Terry," said Arden. "They just told us what they know. Which just so happens to be that they've already looked and didn't find it."
"All I know is that my head hurts from gathering all this information. I need a swim," said Sim.
Terry rolled her eyes and said with a chuckle, "Of course you do."
"Hmm," said Josie thoughtfully, "we have been going at this for a while. Maybe a break is a good idea."
"We will have to head back to our rooms to get our swimsuits," remarked Terry.
"Glad you noticed, Captain Obvious," returned Sim with a smirk and a scoff.
Terry crossed her arms. “Oh, right, I forgot, you’re always prepared with a swimsuit. You wear it under your clothes all the time.”
Eileen glanced at Sim in surprise. “Wait, you do?” Sim just shrugged.
Terry let out a half sigh, half chuckle. “Yes she does, all the time. And I can guarantee that she’s not a mermaid, she definitely needs her oxygen.”
Arden bobbed her head. “Oh, definitely.” She grinned. “She has been practicing holding her breath underwater for as long as she can. One of the jobs she had considered was being a mermaid at one of those amusement parks, but now that we find out that mermaids are real …”
Sim waved her hand and scoffed. “I can still get that job. Highly doubt there’s a mermaid who has tails like the ones they use.”
Mary Louise laughed. “That is a fair point. They are pretty elaborate.”
Terry, Arden, and Sim turned to her in surprise. “You’ve seen them up close?”
Mary Louise smiled and nodded. “Yes, my grandfather would take me and my mother to a few amusement parks, especially PixieLand.” A wistful, faraway look came over her face. “It was my mother's favorite amusement park, so we went there a lot. The mermaids there were especially spectacular, almost fairy-like.” Mary Louise chuckled softly. “I suppose that it should be like that for an amusement park called PixieLand.”
Eileen chuckled. “That would make the most sense.”
“But the fact that you’ve been to more than one! And more than once!” Terry let out a wistful sigh. “That must have been lovely.”
Mary Louise raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “You mean you’ve never been to one in your life?”
Terry shook her head, pouting. “No, my family could never afford to go. Paying for just one kid would have been too much.”
“If I may ask, how many siblings do you have?” asked Mary Louise.
“I have five siblings,” said Terry, “two brothers and three sisters.”
Mary Louise’s eyes and mouth widened to a perfect o. “Wow! So many siblings! What’s it like having such a large family?” Mary Louise let out a little sigh. “It must be nice having so many siblings.”
Terry scoffed. “It all depends on what you consider nice. Stealing my things, breaking them, teasing me, and some days I can’t even be by myself!”
“Oh!” Mary Louise chuckled. “Well, not having any siblings is no fun either. But since you’ve never been to an amusement park, why don’t Grandfather and I take you to one? Heck, maybe we could take everyone!”
“Really?” Arden, Sim, and Terry chorused as their faces brightened.
Mary Louise glanced between them in shock. “You mean all three of you haven’t gone?”
Ethel chuckled. “Arden and Sim didn’t want to go without Terry.”
Josie turned to Ethel. “What about you?”
Ethel blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
“It seems like all four of you like to hang out, but you only mentioned them, you didn’t include yourself. Why is that?”
“Oh, uh, Ethel always liked to go off on her own. While we do include her as a friend, she, uh, tends to be more of a loner,” Sim quickly said.
“And she doesn’t mind hanging out with us because she’s known Sim since second grade,” remarked Terry.
“Oh I see,” said Josie, but to Arden, it seemed like her eyes said the opposite, and that detective’s brain was racing. Arden and Terry had often wondered the same thing, but always refrained from asking any more about it due to Sim’s insistence that their secret will be revealed when they were ready. Arden and Terry both agreed that pushing them to reveal before they were ready was a bad idea. But what if Josie, someone who didn’t know them, tried to find out behind their backs? Would Arden and Terry be able to stop her?
“So, shall we go get into our swimsuits real quick? Daylight’s fading fast, and I for one would like to have a shower before the party tonight,” Terry said. Arden smiled at her. Good ole Terry.
"That is a good idea," remarked Mary Louise. She glanced at the table. “Do you think we should check out any of the books?”
Josie walked to the table and picked up the book containing the Senator’s poems. “I think we should check this one out for sure. These poems … I definitely think they were written to be clues.”
Arden nodded as she watched Josie open the book and flip the pages. “I think so too. There’s no way the treasure isn’t real with the way those poems were worded.”
“So then, why hasn’t anyone found it yet?” asked Terry.
“Maybe they’re not smart enough,” muttered Ethel.
“I think there might be a piece missing,” whispered Josie. “Or the key, maybe they weren’t able to find the key, or heck, they couldn’t find all the clues that led to the treasure. Sure, the two groundsmen already looked everywhere, but that might be the one guy is back even though he’s been fired, he’s realized they were missing something, and he aims to find it. I think we need to be more careful from here on out, and we should only speak about this among ourselves, and in a secluded area. We never know who could be listening.” As she spoke, she glanced at the door. Sim, being the closest, turned and opened it, peeking out into the hall. She brought her head back in and quickly closed the door.
She turned to the others and shook her head. “No one’s out there, but now I really need to take a swim. Just thinking about someone following us puts me on edge!”
“When you’d rather be on the edge of a pool,” quipped Ethel.
Arden chuckled. “Alright, alright, we get the hint.” She turned to Josie. “Do you think we should check out any of the other books?”
Josie glanced back at the pile and looked at each spine carefully, weighing her thoughts, before turning back and shrugging. “Not sure, besides this one.”
Eileen rolled her wheelchair up to the table and grabbed a book off it, flipping through the pages. “Well, I would like to check this one out.”
“Which one is that?” asked Mary Louise.
Eileen held up the book. “It’s about the legends of the school. Maybe there’s more in there that we’re missing, or that we might need later.”
Josie nodded. “That’s a good idea. Every angle must be covered. We don’t know what it is they’re looking for. Heck, I don’t think they even know.” She paused, her brows furrowed. “And that could mean they might not attack us until we’ve found the treasure.”
“But how would we find something that so many others looked for, and failed?” asked Terry.
“That’s the thing, we could look at this from a different angle,” replied Josie. She glanced at Sim. “And finally heading out to the pool just might help.”
Sim smirked. “I was wondering when someone would say that.” She opened the door. “And I’m leaving before we get sidetracked, again.”
Arden chuckled. “Alright, alright, we’re coming!” The others quickly followed Sim out of the room, and out of the library. They split up to get their swimsuits and met up at Pixie’s Pub and Pool. Sim immediately dove into the pool, followed closely by Ethel. A few minutes later, Terry and Mary Louise eased in and merely floated there. Eileen sat on the edge and let the water lap against her legs. Josie was in her swimsuit, but she had brought the book about Senator Reeves and was reading it. Arden scooted closer to her and peeked over Josie's shoulder. If Josie noticed, she didn't let on that she did or that she minded. Both read the book, Arden trying to figure out what Josie was looking for, what she noticed, and was on the lookout for any clues to pop out at her too.
"Do you think that maybe the Senator meant something else than literal green curtains?" Josie's question nearly made Arden jump out of her skin. But she quickly composed herself and shrugged.
"Not sure, I mean, it's possible, but then, what would green curtains be a metaphor for?"
Josie turned back to the book. "That's what I don't get, I'm not particularly sure myself. Maybe that could be tomorrow's search, the symbolism of green curtains."
"I don't know, based on the way that poem reads, you'd think he meant it literally. Or, at least, maybe not quite literally as there are apparently no green curtains anywhere at Cedar Ridge, but something similar."
Josie rubbed her chin. "But if that is the case, what would fit the description of green curtains?"
"Maybe we have to look all over Cedar Ridge?" Arden knew that would take them a while, but unless another clue came forward to give them a better idea of what to look for, it was their best shot.
Josie’s lips turned down in a frown. “That’s going to take us a while, maybe the whole year, what with classes and homework. And that’s not including anything else we might want to do.”
“We can split it up, get everyone involved. Assign certain parts of Cedar Grove to certain people, and they can search when they can.”
Josie nodded slowly. “That does sound like a good idea. But each time I read this poem, it seems like it should be obvious.”
Arden shrugged. “Well, maybe back in Senator Reeves’ day it was, but things change, and it’s no longer as obvious.”
“That is one way of putting it,” Josie said slowly. “Which then begs the question, is it even still around?”
Arden let out a breath. “Ok, there’s that too. Though, if that is the case, we wouldn’t even be looking for anything related to green curtains of any kind.”
Josie’s eyebrows furrowed. “Or maybe it’s just something green …”
“What do you mean?”
Before Josie could answer, their attention was diverted by a splash which was followed by a scream and Mary Louise crying out, “Eileen!” They glanced over just in time to see a fellow dashing towards the front door.
"You jerk!" Josie shouted before she jumped up and took off after him.
"No wait! Josie!" Arden started after her, but paused and glanced at the pool. Eileen was flailing, trying to keep herself afloat. But Arden noticed the water just beneath Eileen's legs churning. Arden took a quick glance at the others. Mary Louise and Terry were swimming towards her and would be there in a minute or so. Ethel was coming from the other corner and would take longer. But Sim was still, her lips moving, saying something the others couldn't hear. Arden glanced back at Eileen, then reached down and pulled her up. Terry and Mary Louise swam up a moment later and quickly helped. They got her back into her wheelchair.
Mary Louise tended to her friend. "Eileen! Are you alright? Are you hurt?"
Eileen shook her head. "No, I'm fine." She then smiled. "That might be the closest to swimming I've ever been!"
Mary Louise let out a huff, then began chuckling. "You could have died, and you found the silver lining."
"I have gotten quite good at finding them," Eileen said with a smirked.
Mary Louise glanced at the door. "Now I just hope Josie's alright."
Arden looked at each of the girls. "Did any of you get a good look at him?"
"Besides the fact he was wearing something too warm for the weather?" Terry said. "No, he had his jacket pulled up around his mouth and his hat pulled down low."
Arden's eyes widened, then narrowed. "So, we're on to something."
Terry tilted her head. "What do you mean?"
"Josie and I were talking about the green curtains and wondering if we just needed to look for something green, right before Eileen was pushed."
The others gasped and glanced at Eileen. At that moment Josie came storming back in. "That jerk!" Her faced softened at seeing Eileen in her wheelchair. "Eileen! Are you alright?"
Eileen smiled. "As fine as ever! Thanks to Arden." She patted Arden's hand and smiled gratefully at her.
Josie grimaced. "And I just ran past to get that guy."
Eileen patted her hand. "Oh, you're fine! You were trying to stop him from getting away. Thank you, both of you."
Mary Louise grabbed the handlebars of the wheelchair. "Well, I don't know about you, but I think that's enough of the pool today."
Eileen chuckled nervously. "I agree. Let's go, I want to change out of these wet clothes."
"And I want to inquire around to see if anyone has seen that guy," said Josie.
Eileen nodded. "Good idea." She gasped. "Maybe he's the guy who's been ringing the bell!"
"It's a possibility, and maybe we can find out why. Come on." They began walking towards the front. Arden hung back a bit. Sim and Ethel had gotten put of the pool now, and Ethel didn't look too pleased with Sim.
"Do you want us to be found out? The Elders haven't given us permission!"
"I had to do the right thing, Ethel. Eileen's life is more important than our secret," replied Sim.
"Besides, talking about it will only raise suspicions," stated Arden. The two jumped, and Ethel turned a scowl on her. Arden shrugged. "I'm not trying to find out your secret, I'm just telling you how to best keep it a secret. Josie is a detective, and the daughter of one. She's more likely to be ruthless in finding out the truth than Terry is or I am. Just saying."
Sim glanced at Ethel. "She does have a point. We should keep it quiet, the less said the better. And if I make a decision regarding our secret, no more reprimands from you. If they can't figure it out it's me, then it's best to say nothing. Arden's right, your reprimands would do more harm than good."
"But you shouldn't keep using it!"
Sim turned to fully face Ethel. "I won't, it was just this time to protect someone's life. That is the only reason I will use it." She glanced at Arden. "Now come on, we've already said too much as it is." The two turned and walked out. Arden's heart was pounding. Was her best friend able to use magic of some kind? It would explain a lot. She shook her head, and pushed the thought to the back as she walked out. No, she couldn't continue that line of thought, she swore that Sim's secret would be the one mystery she left unsolved. But it looked like she was still getting clues, and the solution was coming ever nearer.