“Be aggressive! Be, be aggressive!” could be heard throughout the gymnasium at Ravenwood High School as the cheerleading squad shouted the chant in front of hundreds of spectators towards the basketball players, clapping their hands in rhythm. The black shells of the cheerleader uniforms were blazoned with RHS in purple outlined in white, and a stylized version of a crow, the rather unoriginal yet recent replacement mascot of Ravenwood High. Furthermore, the girls wore purple spankies with crows on their asses, which I suppose is better than the original face of Chief Ravenwood, the Native American leader for which the town was named, to which some girls would joke about an old man riding up their ass all day. The male cheerleaders didn’t have to be bothered with such indignities, except for the fact that they were male cheerleaders. However, most of the male cheerleader mockery came from opposing teams, as Ravenwood’s cheerleading squad was consistently in the top five during regional competitions, making them a source of school pride.
“That’s my boyfriend!” Jennifer Hoang shouted excitedly from her seat in the front row of the bleachers to her friends Sheree Hollins and Sky Hawkins, pointing toward a cute blond guy with a perfectly white toothy grin and remarkably clear blue eyes that sparkled like the midday sun on the sea.
“I know, Jen! You’ve been going out for months!” Sheree shouted back as she pulled her strawberry blond hair behind her ears, and showing off her freshly manicured nails at the same time, making Jennifer twinge with jealousy. “Well, except for that week during winter break that you decided to break up with him.”
Jennifer didn’t seem to hear that last remark. Or it didn’t bother her.
Sky, while only a few feet from the other two found it difficult to hear them so she had been leaning to one side of her wheelchair, shouted back, “He’s hot, Jennifer! Can I have him when you’re done?” She was only half joking.
Jennifer gave her a perplexed look. “You do know he’s gay, right?”
“What?!” Sky screamed in something that could only be described as in the pitch of a banshee. “Then why are you dating him?”
“Because he’s an amazing kisser!” Jennifer said, positively glowing as she continued to stare at her boyfriend and imagining the make-out session they’d be having after the game.
Sheree leaned over towards Sky and said, “Don’t try to think about it too long, you’ll give yourself an aneurism.”
Sky simply flashed a confirmatory grin in acknowledgment. Making herself as comfortable as she could, she continued to watch the game, which, quite honestly, was more fun than she was expecting it to be. Of course, she knew a big part of that was her new friends, her only friends so far at Ravenwood High, who were so easy to get along with and didn’t make her feel like a freak for having wheels instead of working legs.
The score was already twenty-one to sixteen at only four minutes into the first quarter, with Chancellor in the lead. Chancellor; the school Sky had to transfer from after the accident that took away her ability to walk and her boyfriend’s life, who would be on the opposing team had he not been killed; the school she spent her freshman year and one short month into her sophomore before ending up in a hospital; the school she thought she would graduate from. But all that is part of her past, and now she’s a Crow. She recognized all of the Chancellor players and knew many of the people in the bleachers supporting them, however she felt uncomfortable even attempting a hello, let alone a conversation, all thanks to her recent mobility issues.
“Hey, Sky! I think that guy is trying to get your attention,” Sheree said, touching her shoulder.
The words broke her out of the trance she had found herself in while reminiscing about her past and contemplating the challenges of her future. Looking in the direction Sheree was pointing, she saw Tom, her late boyfriend’s best friend waving at her, and gave him a half-hearted smile and matching wave back.
Don’t start crying, damn it! Don’t do it!
Noticing Sky’s eyes start to water, Sheree suggested, “Let’s go get something to eat at the snack bar!”
Sky nodded her approval before asking, “Want us to bring you back anything, Jennifer?”
As if she was thinking long and hard, with overly exaggerated expressions on her slightly round yet petite Vietnamese face, Jennifer responded with, “Yeah, I want a hot dog real bad!”
“I wonder why?” Sheree said playfully, pointing toward the male cheerleader eye candy only a few yards away, making Sky chuckle.
Jennifer’s face was full of resentment. “Not everything I say has sexual innuendo, you know? Granted, a disproportionate amount is, but not everything!”
As Sky wheeled out of the gym with Sheree by her side, she said, “Thanks. I don’t know why, but seeing Tom again just brought out the emotional basket case in me.”
Assuming Tom was the guy waving at Sky, Sheree responded, “After my boyfriend Jeff died, I was a zombie for weeks. Of course, it didn’t help that I’d stare at the graveyard he’s buried at every day from my bedroom window.”
“Oh, that’s healthy!” Sky said with a bizarre laugh, making Sheree cringe slightly as it reminded her of another person’s laugh who had caused her so much grief and pain and agony… her twin sister, Kayla.
Kayla, who was taken so young, yet allowed to wander aimlessly as a ghost, haunting her in such nightmarish ways. What would she have done if the roles were reversed, if she had been killed instead? Would she haunt? Would she torment? Would she kill?
“I know we need a hot dog,” Sky said, causing Sheree to come back to reality. “I think I will have nachos with extra jalapeños. What do you want?”
“Um, uh…” Sheree fumbled around for words, but seemed to be having difficulty getting anything out until from somewhere deep inside her, buried and clawing its way out, she said, “Your soul!” with a gravelly voice she knew was not hers.
“Huh?” Sky didn’t know if she heard right, but played along anyway. “I don’t know if they serve souls here. How about some French fries instead?”
Embarrassed and shocked at what came out of her mouth, Sheree covered it with her hand, her face turning scarlet. “I’m sorry! I have no idea where that came from!”
The volunteer basketball mother behind the counter looked like she was getting annoyed, along with the few people in line behind them. “Is that it, or do you want anything else?” she snapped.
“Yeah, French fries and three Cokes, please!” Sheree said quickly.
Sky turned to Sheree and said quietly, “I drink diet.”
“Urrgkuh!” Sheree gagged loud enough for everyone around them to hear. “Not tonight!”
After paying for the snacks, Sheree grabbed a Coke and the nachos and handed them to Sky before picking up the remaining two drinks, hot dog and fries to take back to the gymnasium. When they returned, the crowd was cheering raucously and it didn’t take long to realize why after looking at the scoreboard. Ravenwood was ahead by twelve points. When they got to their seats, Sheree asked Jennifer as she handed her a drink and the hot dog she hadn’t realized was naked, “What the hell did we miss?”
“The most amazing two minutes of play I’ve ever seen!” Jennifer said, squealing with delight. “Oh, thank Buddha you didn’t put anything on my hot dog! I almost forgot to tell you plain.” Jennifer sat back down, put her Coke next to her, reached into her purse and pulled out a full-size bottle of Sriracha. “I never leave home without it!” she said, grinning goofily at an imaginary camera before squirting the hot sauce onto her hot dog.
It was all too much for Sheree, who just could not let the metaphor continue to go unspoken. “Really? You’re putting cock sauce on your hot dog?”
Nearly choking out a laugh with the hot dog firmly lodged into her mouth, Jennifer accidentally spit some of the chili sauce onto Sheree’s shirt, cheek, and her left eye. Her own eyes were full of apology as she stared at the red stained one of her friend, and couldn’t say anything with the giant bite of hot dog she’d just taken still rather unchewed and definitely not ready for swallowing.
“It burns!” Sheree screamed, dropping her fries into Sky’s lap.
Sky quickly grabbed the drink cup from her hand before that also had a chance to spill on her, placed it on the bleacher, opened up a packet of mayonnaise Sheree had grabbed for the fries (Yes, mayonnaise. Don’t judge.), and held it up to Sheree to place in her left eye to ease the burning, to which Jennifer told her to open a packet of ketchup instead, so Sky did as she said and handed the opened packet to Jennifer, who carefully squeezed its contents onto her friend’s left eye.
Sheree could feel the fiery stares of a dozen kids around them and shouted, “Seriously, this is more interesting than the game?” as ketchup oozed off her eye, down her cheek, and onto her heather grey zip-up hooded sweatshirt splattered with red.
“Well, in their defense, you did just get shot in the eye with cock sauce at a high school basketball game. It’s not like this sort of thing happens everyday,” Jennifer pointed out before bursting into hysterical laughter, which caused Sheree and Sky to do the same.
Taking a napkin from one of the pockets in her hoodie, Sheree wiped off the remaining ketchup from her face and shirt before sitting down, grabbing the French fries which had landed so elegantly into Sky’s lap that only one had escaped the confines of the food tray. Sky handed her the packets of mayo and ketchup, including the opened mayo, and Sheree squeezed every last bit from all of them on the fries before taking three at a time and shoveling them into her mouth.
As Sheree was busy stuffing her face, she felt a tingling sensation dancing across her tongue. At first she attributed it to possibly getting some of the Sriracha sauce in her mouth, but this wasn’t hot, but more like less intensive Pop-Rocks. Brushing it off as just a figment of her imagination, she reached for another handful of fries, but before she could eat them Jennifer grabbed her hand. “What the hell, Jen?”
“Sheree, you need to drop the fries now,” Jennifer said quietly, trying to keep calm but showing the fear in her eyes.
Looking at her hand, she saw why.
Lots of spiders.
Little. Black. Spiders.
She dropped the container onto the floor of the gymnasium and saw that they had not only invaded her French fry tray, but were surrounding her feet. Moving about like soldiers marching, Sheree could swear they looked like they were starting to form words. Behind the spiders, the cheerleading squad was forming a Wolf Wall during a timeout, but she and Jennifer couldn’t take their eyes off the arachnids, no matter how impressive the stunt was. The audience was in an uproar, many of them getting to their feet to cheer on the cheerleaders, when the double doors leading outside burst open, letting in a ferocious whistling wind that seemed filled with what sounded like faint laughter.
Two loud THUNKS! echoed off the walls almost simultaneously. It took a few moments for everyone to realize just what had happened. But after a horrified scream shot out, all eyes were on the cheerleaders. Specifically two cheerleaders, who were on the floor in twisted, mangled, unnatural positions.
Lots of blood.
Growing puddles of thick, red blood.
But all Sheree and Jennifer could focus on were the spiders, which were now making their escape through the open doors out into the frigid night. Sky on the other hand, couldn’t take her eyes off the broken girls on the floor. Part of her was filled with a great sense of satisfaction, something that surprised her until she thought about it. Those two girls had been so merciless in their bullying, so mean spirited and hateful towards her that she felt no sadness for the awful accident they’d had. Instead, she was thankful for karma.
Suddenly, and with a violent force, Sheree vomited all over the floor, adding partially chewed fries to the mess in front of her. She felt another tickle in her throat, but instinctively swallowed before she could stop herself. She knew that it was one of the spiders, but at this point, her focus was on the two cheerleaders lying on the floor. They looked so awkward, so out of place, so broken, that she had to hold herself back from getting up to put them back together. Like Humpty Dumpty, they’d fallen off the wall. And like Humpty Dumpty, nobody was going to be able to put them back together again.
“They’re dead!” Courtney, one of the girls on the squad yelled, collapsing onto the wood floor and causing the chatter all around them to silence.
Sheree turned to her left to find Jennifer hugging Chad, tears streaming down his cheek as he cried in disbelief, “How could this happen?”
Then she turned to her right to find Sky, staring at the dead girls surrounded by pools of blood and their saddened and shocked teammates and parents, with a smile on her face. An evil, pleased smile. It was almost enough to make her throw up again.
How could she be happy two people are dead?
Sky’s eyes locked onto Sheree’s as she said coldly, “Isn’t it a tragedy?” She was still smiling. “They never got to finish the routine… and now they never will.”
The room began to spin.
Noises began to slur together.
The lights got brighter and brighter and brighter until suddenly everything went black.
“Sheree, can you hear me?” she heard. The voice sounded so far away. Her head and right elbow were throbbing with pain. Slowly, she opened her eyes and was flooded with such harsh light she immediately closed them again, hoping that the nightmare that had happened in the gymnasium was just that, a nightmare.
"You only wish it were a nightmare, but I guarantee that I am the only nightmare you should fear!"
Her eyes shot open, filled with horror as she thought, She’s back!
I know, another voice said in her head.
And with that, she knew that the psychic connection she had with Jennifer was back; the one that was only made possible by the presence of pure evil. After taking a mere month hiatus off, Kayla was back to haunt them, and she obviously had more power than ever.
Sheree thought her life would return back to normal after Christmas. She thought she would finally be able to live a normal life after all the death and pain and suffering she had been through. After the ghost that had been tormenting her was finally allowed to rest in peace. But she was wrong.
What if something evil stayed behind?
What if that evil was closer than ever?
What if that evil was now inside her?