Summary: Fern’s sophomore year at Rosewood Academy isn’t going as planned. She feels her entire world is crumbling, and in a moment of weakness, she commits suicide. When she returns as a ghost, will she be able to work through the problems that caused her to end her life or will she be stuck in a state of depression forever? My NaNoWriMo2014 piece. Rated T for dark themes.
Can also be found here.
Fern woke up to see her alarm clock flashing. Fern groaned and slid it towards her to examine the electronic. The battery fell from the bottom and the clock went dead. Fern sighed and tried to turn on her bedside lamp, but the power was gone. She stumbled out of bed and downstairs. Her mother was at the kitchen table surrounded by candles and paperwork, paperwork that she quickly tried to pile into containers again, blowing out candles to dim the lighting.
“Mom, what’s going on? Why don’t we have power?” Fern asked. Her mother shook her head, tossing the boxes under the table. “It’s Saturday, right?” Fern questioned. Her mother nodded and moved into the kitchen. She went back to the table to grab a candle before searching the cupboards and pulling out a rusty kettle. “Mom, seriously? We’ll be fine.”
“Some people need coffee, Fern,” her mother snapped. Fern sighed and sat at the table, her toes gently tickling the edge of the box. “Don’t kick that! Those are important and–”
“I know, I know! I’m going back to bed!” Fern screamed, storming up the stairs. As she entered her room, she stubbed her toe against the door frame, but she refused to cry out and give her mother that satisfaction. Instead she jumped into bed and sobbed into her pillow because of the pain. It faded after a few minutes, but the strange sight downstairs was on her mind. That wasn’t the first time she’d seen her mother looking through paperwork, and Fern wondered if this “power outage” was limited to just their house. She tiptoed gingerly to the window and peeked out her curtains. Sure enough, every other house on the street had power.
Fern sighed heavily and sat down at her desk. Her computer had given her problems for months, so she found an old typewriter at a thrift store and started using that. She remembered Mr. Hopkins looking fondly at her first story that she turned in using the device. The way the typeface looked reminded him of an era Fern didn’t know, an era Fern wouldn’t even think about if she didn’t have so many problems with technology. She sighed again as she remembered her phone. It was in too many pieces to pick up, so she’d left it in the rain. The janitors probably got rid of the mess by now, she thought, looking up as her mother entered with a small candle.
“I shouldn’t have snapped at you, Fernie, but…well, we’re experiencing some financial difficulties. The power had to go so we could have food, but now I’m regretting my decision. I’m going to see about some coffee from a restaurant, and then we’ll talk about this,” her mother said, a hint of guilt in her voice. Fern nodded meekly. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say. “Do you want anything while I’m out, anything cheap?” her mother asked, blushing at the word “cheap.”
Fern shook her head, but she did follow her mother downstairs. The living room had enough light from the streetlamps, so Fern sat and thought about things. Her father left when Fern was ten years old. She was devastated, especially when she found out he left because of an affair. He was married to the woman now, but Fern and her mother kept their distance from him. He meant nothing to her now but a paycheck, and lately, her child support checks had kept her uniforms in pristine condition and her afternoon activities funded. But Fern could tell her mother was suffering, and she wondered what she could possibly do about it.
A few minutes later, her mother arrived without a cup of coffee. The street lamps flickered off as the sun rose outside, but the living room was still quite dark. The women moved candles from the dining room and onto the coffee table in the front room. They settled into their favorite spots and stared at each other in an awkward silence.
Finally, Fern’s mother sighed heavily, “The real estate market hasn’t exactly recovered as quickly as they keep saying. They let me go a few months ago, but I have managed to sell a few homes privately using connections. Those connections are dry now, and honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I…put in an application at the grocery store to be an inspection manager in the back room, but they said my references for that sort of work are too old and I’d have to start at the bottom. Since your old friends go there, I figured you didn’t want your mom working there.”
“What would my old friends have to do with anything?” Fern asked. Her mother sighed heavily and shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Dr. Hopkins must’ve said something to you. What did he say?” Fern added, her voice rising along with her level of concern.
“Calm down, Fern, this was a few weeks ago. He suggested I help you find some interesting stories because of some younger competition, but I turned him down. Journalism is your subject, not mine, and I thought you could handle the workload the academy set out for you. You were aware of the importance of good stories when we enrolled you there, so I thought you hadn’t forgotten. But if this younger competition really is a problem–”
“It’s not,” Fern said quickly. “He just rejected my latest story and our last meeting didn’t go well is all. I thought he’d cut me because I didn’t have something immediately to send him last night. Everyone uses computers now, and mine is broken–”
“We lost the internet before we lost the power,” her mother added with a weak smile. “I’ll get through this, but I need to know my baby girl is okay. Are you struggling with anything? Your latest math report card wasn’t that great…,” she hinted, but Fern remained quiet. “Fine, fine. I’ll work on getting a job out of the public’s eye, but I can’t afford gas all the time for job searches, so I might have to find something close. Are you okay with that?”
“Whatever makes you happy,” Fern smiled. Her mother nodded. She stood and walked over to Fern, kissing her forehead gently. Fern usually felt a little tingle of her mother’s love when she did this, but today, she felt nothing. A few minutes later, Fern went upstairs to her room and stared at her typewriter. She tried to think of a good story, journalism or otherwise, but no ideas came. She got dressed a few minutes later and walked to the store to take a peek at the local news. On the second page was a story from a “new young author,” so Fern used her change to buy a copy. Inside was a story from her young competitor, a similar story to her councilman story but from a different perspective.
Fern read the story and sank onto a park bench. The final quote of the councilman? “Those rumors that this term will be my last are far from the truth. I wish to continue serving my home community, and I will not stop until I can no longer do so.”
Fern gulped and tossed the paper in the trash. She was trying to hold back tears until she felt something wet touch her hand as she brushed it past her jeans. She’d sat in a large wad of bird poo, and the stress made her break into rocking sobs. She couldn’t believe what her weekend was becoming, and she wondered if she should alter her promise to match.
Sue Ellen looked to Fern with a weak smile before stepping into the house. Fern’s father had come through with extra money to pay the bill, money that would keep coming until his ex-wife could come up with a job, so Fern was happy to let Sue Ellen upstairs into her room. Sue Ellen sat on the bed and pulled a binder out of her bag.
“I thought we could study together,” Sue Ellen said, picking up her binder so she could move her bag to the floor. When she did, a copy of the local paper fell out. Fern scowled at Sue Ellen as she sank into her desk chair. “Okay, I’m sorry. I wanted to talk to you about this too, so I lied a little. Can we talk about this?”
“What do you want to talk about?” Fern asked defiantly. Sue Ellen sighed, “You’re upset. Look, I was stressed that day. I’m sorry about what I said about you not being a great listener. You’re a wonderful listener, and I think I should listen to you more often. I want you to explain to me what happened here,” Sue Ellen said, pointing to the paper. Fern shrugged. “You don’t even know? Look, she’s a scholarship student like you, but Dr. Hopkins endorsed this–”
“I know!” Fern exclaimed. She sighed heavily, “I don’t know what the problem is, Sue Ellen, but he’s calling me a has-been. I think he wants me gone so this girl can replace me. Who is she anyway? Margaret Barber…Barber?” Fern said, thinking out loud. She looked at the paper and her mouth fell open, “Barber is the family name of the previous headmaster. I wonder if they’re related.”
“Could be,” Sue Ellen nodded, pulling out her smart phone. It easily searched for information regarding the school’s last headmaster, Mitchell Barber. Sue Ellen found the necessary information and read it out loud, “’He has two sons and a daughter, as well as one granddaughter, Margie Barber.’ I bet she picked the more standard name to throw people off her trail! Could you write about that?”
“Sue Ellen, I can’t slander the name of a former headmaster’s only granddaughter!” Fern cried, sinking onto the bed. “I can’t compete with her. She shouldn’t even be there, but who am I to say anything? I’m just a pathetic scholarship student with nothing left to write anymore because she took it! Look at my story. She got a few different quotes and worded things differently, but—oh, what’s the use?” Fern sighed, beginning to hand Sue Ellen the story but pulling the folder away at the last second.
“Fern, I want to help you,” Sue Ellen smiled sympathetically, holding her hand out for the file. Fern paused for a moment, but she finally gave in, blushing as she waited for Sue Ellen to read through her story. “Yours was more accurate and detailed than hers, even if her style was more engaging. I thought journalism was about getting to the point, not fluffing it up for readers.”
“I know! See, we’re on the same page, but there’s nothing I can do. I guess I should just…get ready to go to Elwood City High,” Fern sighed. She felt tears coming, so she put her head in her hands. Sue Ellen rushed to her side to cheer her up. Fern raised her head and their eyes met. On instinct, Fern leaned forward. She was aiming for Sue Ellen’s lips, her mind wondering if they felt as soft as they did in her dreams.
But Sue Ellen pulled her into a hug instead. When Fern let go, Sue Ellen was blushing a vivid red. Fern blushed and moved to her desk. The tension was thick and the silence was awkward. Sue Ellen gathered her things.
“I…um…don’t go that way,” Sue Ellen whispered. “I’m sorry you’re having such a horrible time. You’ll get through this. I’ll see if my dad will let you have an interview before he goes on his European Union tour. Okay?” Sue Ellen asked. Fern remained silent as she faced the wall. “Fern?” Sue Ellen called.
“Please, just go. I’ll find someone else,” Fern whispered. She didn’t turn around, and Sue Ellen waited. Usually Fern walked her out, but after the strange events, Fern remained seated, her heart pounding so hard it hurt. She could barely hear when Sue Ellen closed her bedroom door and moved downstairs.
A few minutes later, Fern got an idea. She pulled out a piece of paper and slid it into her typewriter. She thought about it for a moment before starting to type. The letters flowed through her fingers as words formed on the page. Fern barely remembered to slide the bar in time, making her rows uneven as she typed, but Fern didn’t care about looks. She typed until she was done, her face pale as if all emotions were now on the page rather than inside her.
Fern tucked the writing under her pillow. She then gathered her things and told her mother she was going for a walk. Her mother didn’t mind; Fern normally did that sort of thing on nice, Sunday afternoons. She watched as Fern turned towards town, her mind focused solely on cleaning the kitchen and dancing to the songs on the radio.
An hour later, the songs stopped as breaking news bulletins poured through the radio. Miss Edmonds sat on the couch reading the Sunday paper, only realizing the radio was on when she heard constant talking. She stood to turn it off, but a phone call stopped her. She answered it…and a moment later, the phone was on the floor. Fern’s mother shook as she dropped to her knees, her eyes staring forward as she felt for the phone.
“Fern?” she whispered.
“She’s gone, Ma’am. We’ll send an officer–”
Fern’s mother dropped the phone again and broke into heavy sobs before laying across the floor. Her beloved daughter was dead.