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Rumour Has It

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Matt floats through the corridors between classes, listening in on a conversation here, an argument there, joking around between friends all over the place.  Now that he’s dead, he can hang out with the sort of people who would have told him to shove off back when he was alive. Of course, it’s not quite the same, since they can’t see him and all.

They couldn’t see him back then either. Not really. Amazing how people could just stare through you like you didn’t exist, like they didn’t want you to exist, so you just... didn’t.

Being a ghost wasn’t a lot different than being alive for Matt.  Except he was learning a lot more about his classmates than he ever had before. Who was snogging who, who wanted to snog who, who was getting in trouble, who probably would be soon, and who was going to get away with it.

Sometimes he wishes that he could do something with the information.  He can’t tell anyone, well, no one except Christa and Adam, and what would they do with it? He gives a ghostly shrug.  It’s still fun, so he keeps doing it.

He could hang out with his friends every minute – friends, what a great word that was – but that meant going to their classes, and now that Matt didn’t have to take classes, he didn’t feel the need to attend them just for the company.

He’s tried to leave the school grounds a couple of times since his door came and went, to go exploring round the area, but something just doesn’t feel right.  It’s not that he’s tied with some sort of supernatural tether to the school – Adam told him that ghosts don’t have to haunt the place they died, they can leave if they feel like it.  Maybe he just doesn’t feel like it.

When he’s finished making one pass of the corridors, he finally sees Adam, walking toward him.  In an instant, Matt’s beside him. “Hey, mate,” he says.

Adam’s too used to Matt’s popping in and out, and he doesn’t even flinch.  “Hey.” He says it under his breath so only Matt can hear.  If he talks normally, the other kids think Adam’s talking to himself, and they know from experience how that attracts unwanted attention.

“You seen Christa today?” Matt asks.  He’s looked for her in the corridors, even in a few of her classes, and she’s nowhere to be found.

“No,” Adam says.  “Maybe she’s still sick.”

“I guess,” Matt says, frowning.  “D’ya think it’s the change? Maybe she got hurt or something?” The full moon was a couple of days ago.

Adam gives a small shake of his head. “No, she was fine last month. Why should this month be any different?  Probably just a cold.”

“Yeah.” He supposes that not everything has to have a supernatural explanation.

Suddenly he knows he should turn, and there she is, at the other end of the corridor, walking toward them with her head down.  “Christa!” he shouts, knowing that she can hear him even if none of the students between them can.

She looks up, and smiles slightly.  She increases her pace to catch up to them.  

All at once, conversations start up all around them, kids dropping their voices to whispers. But Matt can hear them no matter how quiet they get. “That’s the girl,” Matt hears one of them say.  Another adds, “Yeah, I heard it was over a thousand quid worth.”

Matt realises at that moment – the girl everyone has been talking about the last few days, the one caught for shoplifting, they are talking about Christa.  He never heard any of them mention a name, so he never put two and two together. What happened? Why was she stealing? And why didn’t she tell her friends about it?

When she reaches Adam and Matt, Christa nods a hello. “What you two up to?”

“Nothing, feeling better?” Adam begins, but Matt talks over him.  “We should ask what you’ve been up to!”

Christa’s mouth drops open, confused. “What?” is all she manages.

“Yeah, what?” Adam adds, pulling the Matt aside so that they don’t draw too many stares.

It’s not going to help because everyone in the corridor is talking about them already.  “This girl has been up to no good.  Shoplifting? Really?”

Christa’s confusion turns to shock and she repeats, “What?”

“How could you, Christa?” Adam asks, affronted.  Then he grins.  “And you didn’t invite us along?”

Christa recovers.  “What the hell are you on about? I haven’t been...” she lowers her voice, “...shoplifting.”

Matt believes her immediately, but says, “That’s not what they’re saying.”

“They who?”

He gestures around them at all the students loitering between classes.  “Them.”

Matt and Christa turn to find practically everyone staring at them and whispering.  “Oh my god,” Christa says, covering her face with one hand and slipping into the next available classroom. 

Matt and Adam follow her and shut the door.  Thankfully it’s empty. “Where the hell did anyone get that idea?” Christa rants to the open air.

“Well,” Matt tries, “you have been gone for a couple of days. And no one knew where you were.”

“I was sick!” she shouts, frustrated.  “I must have picked up a bug in the woods when I changed.”

Matt shoots a vindicated look at Adam, who just shrugs. 

“I dunno, did you go shopping or anything?” Adam asks, then adds with a waggle of his eyebrows, Maybe for handcuffs?”

“No,” she growls.  

Adam holds up his hands in surrender and takes a step back.

“I can’t understand why they think you did this,” Matt says, trying to find an explanation. “Was it some other girl?”

“I don’t know, I don’t care.” She pushes past both of them to open the door.  “All I know is I didn’t do anything except cough and eat soup for three whole days. And on top of that, I’ve got work to catch up on. Excuse me.”

Matt pops beside her as she strides down the corridor, people moving aside at the stormy look on her face. He’s worried about her.  She’s taking these rumours harder than he would have expected. “Christa...”

She ignores him and keeps going.

One of the year elevens, Matt thinks his name is Nick, blocks her way.  “How’s it going...thief.” He looks her up and down with distaste.

She stops, and narrows her eyes. “I’m not a thief, no matter what you heard.”

Adam materialises on her other side.  “She was sick, okay?”

A girl, one of the pretty ones who never noticed him when he was alive, steps beside Nick. “Like we should believe you, perv.” She takes a step toward Christa. “I’ve been wondering where my favorite pen went.”

Nick sneers. “I think my iPod went missing, too.”

A crowd begins to gather around the two, and behind the three friends as well, interest crackling in the air. Christa's face gets even darker.  "Don't you have anything better to do than accuse me of things I had nothing to do with?"  

Matt is glad it's a few days after the change rather than before. Who knows what would happen if she was at the height of her strength? She is still much stronger than Nick, stronger than the largest rugby player in the school. He looks at Adam as well, seemingly calm, even harmless in the eyes of these kids, but he could turn into a killing machine at a moment's notice. 

Matt decides to take action. While the argument grows more heated, the crowd more restless, but before any teachers can get involved, he drifts over behind the two. Matt gently unzips his rucksack, her satchel. He finds several pens in the girl's things, and the iPod in one of the guys' inside pockets.  Luckily, the crowd's eyes are on Christa more than anyone else, and no one sees as he shifts the items to the opposite bags.  

Adam sees what he is doing, and raises an eyebrow in a questioning look. Matt just keeps working until both bags are rezipped.  He takes a step back and nods to let Adam know he's done.

Before Matt can whisper in Adam's ear, Adam speaks up.  "I bet that you two are the thieves."

Nick pierces him with a glare.  "What?”

"Yeah," Adam says, taking another step forward, his pupils growing black.  "I think you are."

Matt takes that moment to yank open the satchel and rucksack and throw them to the floor. Everything spills around their feet, and a rumbling of laughter goes through the crowd.

Adam points at the iPod that has tumbled out of the girl’s bag. “What’s that then?”

Nick’s eyes grow and he looks at the girl with shock.  “Why do you have it?”

She’s just as shocked.  “I didn’t take it!” Then she notices the set of pens all around his feet, and gets right up into his face. “Why do you have my pens?”

Matt smirks. He’s really glad only Adam and Christa can see it.  

The two students start shouting at each other – apparently they are dating, or more likely aren’t going to be anymore now that this has happened – more than just the alleged theft is coming out, and it’s way more interesting than the shoplifting rumour.

Just like Matt expected, a couple of teachers are pushing through the crowd to get to the source of the commotion. Time to disappear.  Or time for Adam and Christa to disappear, since he’s already invisible.

But they’re way ahead of him.  They’ve made it to the other side of the corridor and out the doors by the time he sees them.  He pops in front of them. “Whew, that was a close one, wasn’t it?”

Christa rounds on him.  “You didn’t have to do that.  I can take care of myself, you know.”

“Whoa, whoa, sorry! I just thought...”

Adam steps in to defend him. “Would you rather be thrown in detention again, like those two idiots?”

She grimaces. “No.” Then she gives them both a wry smile.  “I definitely don’t want to be stuck in there with you lot again.”

Adam laughs and Matt grins widely.  “Oh, I rather miss those weeks together.  Maybe I should...” He turns to go back inside the school.

Together, Adam and Christa shout, “No!”  Christa clouts him on the arm, and it would actually hurt if he were solid. “Pillock,” she grumbles.