Owen Steinbeck against the world
Owen awoke to the sound of Darth Vader's rhythmic heavy breathing. A very cool birthday gift, or so she’d thought at the time. It had easily taken her half of the night to fall asleep, and it felt like only five minutes had elapsed since she’d managed to tune out the droning voices in her head and closed her eyes. No, no, no…I don’t want to get up. Owen misjudged her swing for the snooze button, and yanked on the cord. Darth landed right on her face, and it hurt like hell. She covered her eye and walked over to take a look at the damage in the mirror. That was going to leave a mark. When your morning starts with a black eye from Darth Vader, you just know the Sith is going to hit the fan. This day was going to suck.
Owen scooted down to the kitchen, snagging a bag of frozen peas from the freezer as she passed by. She sat down at the kitchen table, holding the bag of frozen peas on her eye. Her mother breezed past her, obviously running late again. Here she was, mortally wounded by the Dark Lord Vader, and her mother had missed it completely. It was a little bit funny. Owen began to eat the luke warm, blueberry pancakes, that were already sitting in front of her and did acknowledge the fact that her mother had made an attempt to do something sweet. Blueberry pancakes were her favorite.
She smelled Sulphur and scrunched up her nose. Come on, just give me five bloody minutes to eat my breakfast in peace. A hollow-eyed stranger, covered in what appeared to be blood, and probably fecal matter was sitting across the table. She fought the comical urge to offer her dead guest a pancake.
Her mom hollered, “See you after school,” and she slammed the front door behind her.
Owen contemplated the idea of staying home. Who'd even know? To get away with it, all she’d have to do was be there to intercept the automated call that would come at six o'clock that night. She’d already done it ten times this year. Her mother was usually too exhausted to notice. She worked more than one job. That’s how she’d managed to keep a roof over their heads after her father left. Owen appreciated her mother’s hard work, but at the same time she resented it. A part of her wanted her mother to catch her doing these things. Owen stood up, without acknowledging her undead stalker, and wandered into the bathroom. She stood in front of the mirror, and removed the bag of frozen peas from her swollen eye. Wonderful, this is frigging fabulous. It looked like someone had given her a serious beating. In her reflection there were now two of them standing right behind her. She’d been seeing the deceased her whole life. It really wasn’t a big deal. It was more annoying than anything else. They did their best to been seen while she did her best to be invisible. Owen’s preference was to blend into the background. Maybe, nobody would notice? She put her hoodie on over her messy hair, she rarely took the time to brush it. Why wouldn’t she bother? She didn't brush her hair because five seconds after she strolled through the front door of the school each day, the same mouth-breathing Neanderthal of a douche, gave her a frigging birdie. She slid her glasses up over her nose, and grimaced at her reflection. Her mom was super-hot. They say the apple does not fall far from the tree, but she got no apples. None...not a one of them had fallen within a fifty-mile radius of her. Owen Steinbeck, was a thirteen-year-old girl. She had a nasty black eye, messy brown hair, and a boy's name. She was a girl with absolutely no apples to speak of. She scowled as she looked at her own chest. It was pathetic; she practically indented. Owen wandered towards the front door, moderately prepared to face the prepubescent firing squad, otherwise known as her peers. She heard muffled voices, coming from the living room. It was only the T.V. Owen was far too busy feeling sorry for herself to pay attention to the bulletin, flashing across the screen. She listened to the monotone voice for only a second before turning it off. Those poor kids stuck on the couch having a sick day. They’d have the sanctity of their Scooby Doo defiled by that tedious monotone voice. She’d never understand why they always seemed to have the one person that could put someone to sleep, giving the speeches. They should have someone flamboyant, and entertaining.
Owen stopped to lock the front door, and then she wandered across the street towards her school, with a comical train of the dead following her. Nobody could see them, but her. She understood this, and she also knew that she needed to pretend she couldn’t see them. Owen climbed the stairs towards the main entrance. She bowed her head, hoping her glasses would disguise the black eye, a touch. Why was she bothering? Nobody ever looked her in the eyes. While lost in thought, the biggest douche bag on the planet attacked her. Derek gave Owen her daily wild birdie before she’d even made an attempt to walk down eyeball alley. He ran away, laughing maniacally. Once he got to the end of the long hall with benches full of students on either side, he yelled at the top of his lungs, “Owen’s butts a Growen.”
All eyes turned to her. Wonderful, she despised being the center of attention. The bell rang. She had to sprint to her first class, and when she snuck through the door, someone had moved her desk. Those jerks. She heard snickers coming from the back of the room.
The teacher noticed her standing there and she said, “Owen, go find a seat, and take your hood off. No hats, and no hoods. I like to see my student’s faces.”
She heard a catty voice hiss, “I bet she doesn’t even own a brush.”
The teacher began to speak, “I need you to turn in your reports by the end of the day, put them in the bin on my desk. I’m going to mark them this weekend.” She paused in front of Owen’s desk, knelt down and whispered, “What happened to your eye dear?”
Owen heard the same catty voice travel from the back of the room, “She fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.”
That was so lame. There was only one thing Owen despised more than being insulted, and that was being insulted by someone that couldn’t articulate a sentence.
The teacher scolded, “Well, Janice will be joining me for a detention after school. Is there anybody else that’s feeling the urge to spend their afternoon with me?” The teachers question was met my silence.
The teacher turned her attention back to her, she leaned over and whispered, “Did someone do this to you?”
Owen replied, “No, it was an accident.”
Miss Conner directed her attention to the one person that needed to be in her good books and said, “Janice, since you obviously have so much to say this morning. Do you happen to know what happened to Owen?”
Janice smiled sweetly, and offered up a human sacrifice, “Derek waits for her every day in eyeball alley, and he gives her a birdie.”
The teacher made an attempt at clarification, “Every single day, this week?”
Janice, was all too happy to toss someone else under the bus in an effort to divvy up Miss. Conner’s wrath. She replied, "Try every single day, this year"
Miss Conner said, “Derek, do you have anything to say in your defense. I’m sure you’re aware that bullying is not tolerated in this school.”
Derek didn’t say anything. He just stared at the book in front of him.
Miss Conner said, “Derek will also be joining me afterschool.”
Derek scowled at her, giving her the dirtiest look in his repertoire. She hadn’t been the one to turn him in.
The constant back noise of voices were set on this creepy reverb. Some were rather aggressively trying to capture her attention. If she didn’t allow them to, they couldn’t secure their vocal connection. Owen scanned the classroom. It wasn’t always easy to tell the live teens, from the dead. This was one of the reasons why she didn’t talk to anyone. The dead were always trying to trick her. Every seat in the classroom was full. Her dead frenemies stared at her with their hollow, lifeless eyes, beckoning her to acknowledge their presence, but she wouldn’t. She looked back down at her book, wishing she could wear ear plugs. There was no way to block the muffled hum of the voices out. They were always whispering, “We can help you. Let us help you. They all hate you. You could be so much more.”
The teacher directed a question at her, “Why haven't you said anything Owen?"
Owen gave no response. She shook her head and opened her text book. She liked this teacher, but she needed the questions to stop. Miss Conner squatted down in front of her desk and said, “Owen...how did you get that black eye?”
Owen glanced at her, grinned and answered honestly, “Darth Vader did it.”
She whispered, “I’m trying to help you, Owen” She placed a pink slip down on her desk and said, “Report back here as soon as the last bell rings. We’re going to sort this out, even if it takes all afternoon.”
Why hadn’t she just stayed home? She’d seen this crappy day coming. The Owen’s butts a Growen chant had gone viral by lunch. People had been taking pictures of her butt all morning, with their cells. One may wonder why she allowed herself to be stomped on by anyone, and everyone. She could tell you, but then her dead frenemies would probably kill you. It had been at least six months, since she’d been involved in a murder. To clarify, she’d never purposely killed anyone, but if she wished for someone's demise, it just seemed to happen. By seemed to happen, she meant, her merry band of dead followers did it. They were always trying to earn her favor. She couldn’t even go to the bathroom without an audience. Owen could only handle so much of their constant visual trickery and the demanding echo of their voices before she began to answer back. Responding to the spirit world always lead to blurred lines between her world and theirs. It would appear to the normal people that she’d snapped again.
During her last stint in the hospital, she’d met a psychic. The lady had given her a name for what she could do. She told her it was a glorious gift, and she also explained that even the darkest of abilities could be used for good. After a few months of stellar behavior, along with an Oscar winning performance or ten. She convinced them that she couldn’t see dead people anymore, and she was allowed to go home. The first thing Owen did was online research, and there was tons of information on what the lady had called her. She’d called her a necromancer.
Necromancy: A method of divination through alleged communication with the dead. Magic in general, practiced by a witch or sorcerer; sorcery; witchcraft; conjuration
Basically, she could make the dead do her bidding. This was unsettling to say the least. It was in that moment that she realized, she’d caused the accidents that had claimed lives. She hadn’t meant to though…
Owen walked into her detention, and every desk was full. She knew there were only four live people in the room, including the teacher. The uninvited guests were dark, damaged looking beings. Her teacher is practically glowing, quite obviously still with the land of the living. Then there was Satan, otherwise known as the diabolically evil Janice. Sitting beside her was the scowling Derek, the bane of her existence. Beside Derek was an extremely questionable looking student. He was almost passable for a live one. Some of the deceased could blend almost seamlessly with the living. Those were the ones that got her in trouble. The dead that choose to stick around, to seek some form of retribution, are not dealing with a full deck of cards. It made easier for her visually if they had blood on them or glassy lifeless eyes. It made it easier to separate her reality from everyone else's. When Owen was younger, she didn't understand that everybody didn't see these things. That’s where she began to look crazy. She was always talking to someone that nobody else could see. The delicate elastic band of her sanity began to stretch until it snapped back and landed her in a hospital bed, drowning in a sea of sedatives. She finally understood what society wanted from her, after her lovely relaxing summer vacation in the home for the not so mentally sound.
Her parents got a divorce over her mental instability. She was apparently so embarrassing that her father had to move clean across the country to get away from the stigma of her. She’d learned of her father’s change of address while otherwise occupied by a straight jacket. She had to pretend that she could no longer see the things that went bump in the night. It was her only way out of that place. That’s how she became the weird, insane scraggly haired punk of a girl we all know and openly mock today. She sounded bitter, well, maybe just a little. She used to have friends, and a social life. Now, she spent all of her time alone, afraid she’d slip up, and speak to someone that wasn’t really there. Her teacher was speaking, but the sound of her voice had been completely drowned out by the chatter of her followers. One of the dead shot a paper airplane across the room. Those ones were the dangerous ones.
The teacher grabbed it in mid-air. Clutching it in her hand she says, "Which one of you made this?"
Owen smiled, because the dead person that had thrown it raised their hand.
She said, “What are you smiling at Owen?”
Owen turned around and replied, “Nothing.” Her teacher looked concerned. This is why she didn’t speak. This is why she couldn’t react to what went on around her. It always got her in trouble.
After giving us an excruciatingly long-winded speech about bullying. Miss Conner excused herself, saying she had to go to the bathroom. She left Owen alone to be browbeaten by dumb and dumber. She folded her arms, and laid her head down on the table. She needed to pretend she couldn’t hear them ridiculing her. If she didn’t react then, none of the dead people would feel the need to rescue her. She knew she’d be blamed if these two idiots were savagely beaten by rulers before the teacher returned.
Janice leaned over and whispered, “Why are you so messed up? It's like you're a mute. Also, there's this thing called bathing. You should try it sometime. Did they do shock therapy to you in the hospital?”
Owen said nothing in response, of course. If she threatened her, one of the entities would undoubtedly take it upon themselves to help her, exact her revenge. She knew the drill. She wanted to say, I had a bath last night you ignorant witch, but didn’t. In Owen’s imagination, she took a ruler, and smoked Janine in the head with it.
Her eye lids felt heavy. She was so exhausted. What was she so tired? Owen allowed her eyes to close, but only for a second. Ignore them, ignore them. Their opinions are not important. They don't matter.
Janice started tapping her on the shoulder, “Hey Psycho. Wake up. The teacher didn't come back. She locked us in here. She locked the windows.”
Owen raised her head ominously, and said, “You're touching me.” Janice moved away. She stood up. The room is pitch black. What in the hell is going on? Derek, the brain surgeon, was grunting while making a testosterone filled rather comical attempt at yanking open the door of the classroom. Owen couldn’t find the ability to speak. His stupidity was stifling her whole thought process. It only took a few seconds to click, the school was on lockdown. How had this happened? Why? Owen felt her way through the darkness towards the window, and raised one of her hands to touch the cold metal that covered them. When did the metal shutters slide over these windows? Why hadn’t she heard it?
“Was there a siren or something?"
"We were all asleep," Janice replied.
The story didn't make sense? How could we have fallen asleep at the same time? She wandered across the room in the darkness, feeling her way to the door and put her ear against it. Owen heard running and screaming, the sounds of chaos.
She questioned, "Do either of you have your cell phones?"
Derek answered, "It was in my backpack, and it’s not under my desk anymore, it’s gone."
Owen made her way, using only her memory through the darkness from the door of the classroom to her desk and she began to rifle around for her backpack. Her bag was also gone. She stammered, "Is this some kind of prank?"
Janice sarcastically replied, "Yes... We arranged a lock down with the teacher and gave her all of our bags."
She had to be nice. She couldn’t say what she was thinking. Had her deceased frenemies taken her bag? She couldn’t ask them ask them. They'd know, she knew they were still there. How were we all randomly asleep? How is that even possible? Who falls asleep, in a group, during a short detention?
Derek joked, "It's the apocalypse. I bet the place is crawling with dead people."
Owen looked away and grinned. She’d rock a zombie apocalypse. She wasn’t afraid of dead people. She was only afraid of what she was capable of making them do. Her whole world was always crawling with dead people.
Owen replied, “We’re safe from whatever is going on out there, but completely screwed because we're trapped in here until someone lets us out. So, future archaeologists will probably find our bodies." Something large ran at the classroom door. They startled and shrieked.
Derek said his first intelligent thing ever, "We should be quiet. We're safe from whatever is going on out there, as long as we’re in this room…right? We should sit down, relax and be grateful that we've been spared from whatever is going on out there. It doesn't sound like a good time. Let’s put our heads together and try to think of a way to get out of this room. Small things first. Maybe there's a way to turn on the lights?"
None of them moved a muscle to help themselves, they just sat in the dark, listening to the screams. In the darkness, without the gift of sight Owen feel their fear. She could get them out of this, but she’d have to admit the truth. She’d sound completely insane and she’d been working hard to hide it, for a long time. Owen knew she was more than clairvoyant. She both spoke to the dead, and controlled them. Her ghostly frienemies won't let anything happen to her. They needed her.
The voices of the recently and not so recently deceased whispered to her, echoing in the absence of light, “We can help you. We know what's going on. We can turn the lights back on. We can get to the office and open the windows. Admit that you hear us. We will make this all go away. We can save you.” Owen was so tired of ignoring what she was...who she was. This false version of her, was only who she pretended to be in order to fit in. She’d been living life as a snuffed out candle, capable of burning the world alive, yet only puffing smoke into the air. She needed to accept her true self. Shouldn't she allow herself the opportunity to survive, if this was in fact, an apocalypse, and they were all going to die? Why shouldn’t she use her gift, or curse, or whatever the hell it was to her benefit? For as long as she could remember, the deceased had always been standing there bleeding, pleading their cases, a plague on her every waking moment.
Owen whispered, “If you’re going to help us, then just do it. If you all speak at the same time, I can’t understand what you’re saying. One at a time. There’s too many voices.”
"Oh, for the love of everything that is holy. Do not start talking to yourself in the dark. You psychotic loser, I'll have a mental breakdown." Janice stammered under her breath.
Derek stayed silent for a moment, then said the unexpected, "Can you really see dead people?"
Janice hissed, "Shut up you jerk. Nobody sees dead people except a demon. She is an evil demon...a damned soul. I go to church. I know exactly what she is. God will save us if we are meant to be saved."
Janice had just said the words that tapped into her deepest insecurities. She could remember it quite clearly… One night as a child her father had called upon the church for help. A priest had spent the night praying by her bedside. They didn't even go to that church. She’d been confused but not fazed by it. The priest had said things like, ‘evil spirit... be gone. Child... be saved from damnation.’ She’d felt sick to her stomach. Her father thought she was something evil. She was only a little girl. She played with toys, and believed in God. It just so happened that she played with toys and dead people. Her imaginary friend was not a giraffe or a purple dinosaur. Her imaginary playmate was also a child. A five year old boy named Peter. Peter had glassy eyes and a slit throat, but children aren’t choosy. She’d drawn a picture of them playing one day. It was a hideous picture of Peter in the sandbox with her house and ten other bleeding people standing in the background, watching them play. Needless to say, the picture hadn’t been a hit with her teacher and parents. This madness was ordinary to her. She hadn’t known everyone else didn't see these things. The gift became a little too real as people who annoyed her began to have random accidents. She was just a kid with spectre backup. Was she damned? Was she some kind of putrid demon destined to burn alive in the flames of hell? She sure in the hell hoped that wouldn’t be the case.
Derek spat back, "What qualifies you to be anyone's judge and jury? How can you condemn someone and claim to be religious? How do you know she wasn't sent here to save everyone? Science can back up psychic anomalies. She's just using a larger portion of her brain. I read about it online, they say what she can do is evolution."
There was a deafening silence in the room for a minute or two. The boy who had been the bane of her existence had come to her defense. She wasn’t a psychic, but she wasn’t going to argue over terminology. He may have even redeemed himself in the eyes of the dead. Owen could see both sides. She had only felt evil when her undead friends had begun to sort out her openly verbalized issues with people. Owen hadn't felt evil while her father had attempted to exercise her demons. She hadn't screamed or cried out when the priest had thrown holy water on her. The cross he'd laid on her forehead, hadn't burned her skin. Her father had judged her, and then he had left her. Owen felt her tears trickle slowly down her cheeks. She could feel the moisture curving as a tiny stream towards her chin. She lifted her finger and touched it. She tasted her salty tear as it trickled over her lip in the darkness. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d allowed herself to cry.
They heard another loud crash against the door, and leapt out of their seats. There were more muffled blood-curdling screams. Derek clutched her hand in the darkness. They heard the sound of the doors frame; it was beginning to give.
Owen whispered, "We need to hide. I’ll try to find out what’s happening, once we're hidden. It’s hard to understand what they’re saying. The voices echo when they all speak at the same time. What about those sliding cupboards in the back of the room? We can just toss everything out.” Derek released her hand as she stood up.
Derek announced, "Janice, if we can't see you. The silent treatment is obviously not going to work. Whatever is outside the door is coming in. You need to hide."
The group began to feel their way along the row of desks till the last one. Owen held her hands out in front of her until she felt her fingers touch the rough wood of the long narrow cupboard that spanned the back of the room. She knelt down, slid it open with both hands, and frantically tossed everything out onto the floor. She could hear Derek. He was right beside her rifling things out of the one beside her. She breathed a sigh of relief as she heard the ruckus from further across the room. Janice may not be speaking to them, but she could hear her clearing out a cupboard. They each climbed inside, and the sound of three cabinet doors sliding shut followed.
Derek whispered through the thin particle board that separated the two cupboards, "If there’s anything that you can do to help us, now would be the time."
The door cracked loudly again as someone or something tried to bust through. The amped up voices echoed and she couldn’t understand what they were trying to tell her.
Owen whispered, "If you speak at the same time. I can’t understand you, your voices are echoing. I know you want me to hear you. Only one of you speak, and tell me what’s happening out there." Owen was answered by the sound of the spirits whispering among themselves.
"What did they say," Derek whispered.
Owen whispered back, “I can’t understand them, there’s an echo, maybe it’s because I can’t see. I can’t focus in on only one of their voices." The sound of something running at the door again crackled through the room.
If she couldn’t understand them she was going to have to just tell them what she wanted and know that her words would not be able to be unheard by her classmates.
She ordered, “Destroy everything that tries to hurt me, and save the others." When she heard nothing in response, she decided to try a different approach.
Owen whispered. "You know why I had to ignore you. If I was caught speaking to someone that wasn't there, they would have put me back in the hospital.”
One echo free voice whispered, "We have always been on your side Owen. We will always do what's best for you. Do you trust us to do what's best for you now?"
Derek whispered, "What are they saying?"
Owen didn't answer Derek back. She wanted the twenty or so poltergeist that had filled the other desks in the classroom to know they had her complete attention. "Yes, I trust you to do what's best for me. Do whatever you need to do."
Owen heard the cupboard door in front of her slide open. She tried to hold it closed, but a large sliver of the wood from the door lodged in the palm of her hand. She didn't have time to react before she felt hands clutching her throat. She clawed at the phantom that was cutting off her oxygen supply. She couldn’t do anything but try to squirm away. There was nowhere for her to go. She clawed at her neck, gasping for breath. Her eyes were burning, and her brain was on fire and then ...nothing.
The first thing she felt as her senses began to return to her was a slow pulsating headache. She tried to sit up and smoked her head. She was still inside the cupboard. She felt her neck it was sore. Someone had been choking her. That was the last thing she remembered. Owen knocked on the particle board, "Derek ...Derek are you still in there? Only silence was as her answer. She slid open the barrier between her and the unknown danger that waited. She struggled to get out she was all cramped from being in there. She could barely stand. How long had she been in that cupboard?
It was only once she was able to regain her equilibrium that she noticed that the lights were on in the classroom. The windows were wide open. She moved towards the window slowly while she prepared herself for her first look at the apocalypse outside. It appeared to be an ordinary day. No hoards of zombies as they'd imagined. Owen looked up at the clock. There was a round faded circle above the teacher's desk. Marking the absence of the clock. She took in the spotlessly clean classroom. Owen walked across the room and slid open the cupboard where Derek had been, and it was full of perfectly sorted papers and supplies. She walked across the room and pushed open the other one where Janice had been hiding. It was full of bins and stacks of paper. The floors were wet and smelled of orange scented cleaner. She opened the completely intact classroom door. The hallway was clean and vacant. What in the hell was going on?
Owen walked down the hallway to her locker and opened the lock. Her bag was sitting inside. She threw it over her shoulder and began to walk towards the main entrance. She wasn't sure what alternate universe she was in, but she was going the hell home. She heard voices in the hallway, so she dove into the bathroom. She ran into a stall and locked the door. What time is it? What happened? Owen dug in her bag and pulled out her cell phone. It was almost dead. There was a ton of messages from her mother. She only had time to see the clock clearly before the battery died. It said it was seven o'clock in the morning...The next day.
She sat there for a moment and stared at the blank screen. While she was looking at the cell phone, she looked down at her hand. She had blood under her fingernails. She left her bag in the stall and bolted towards the mirror. She had recently washed her hair. It was still damp. Her face had been scrubbed clean. She wasn't wearing the clothes that she'd worn to school yesterday. She was wearing clothing that looked like they had been salvaged from the lost and found. She thoroughly washed her hands, running them under the hot water until her fingernails looked clean. She dried her hair under the hand dryer and messed it up a bit. Owen went back to her bag, rifling around until she found her black eyeliner; she applied it.
Owen stared at herself in the mirror until one of her regular visitors appeared behind her. "What did I do," she whispered.
The vacant looking man behind her whispered, "Don't worry we cleaned it up for you. Nobody will ever know."
"I'll know," Owen whispered at the spectre behind her in the mirror.
The image answered, "You forget every time. You will forget." Her mind grew hazy. Her line of site wavered, and her body crumpled to the floor.
Owen awoke on the bathroom tile, with a teacher shaking her, and a voice saying, "Owen, are you okay?"
She touched her throat. It was sore, but covered by material. She had no idea what happened to her...She wanted to remember something, but she knew the drill.
She said the usual things, "If you want to call my mom that's fine. I didn't eat breakfast. I've had a nasty flu. I should go home, eat something and maybe try to get some sleep. I live across the street." She'd lost a day or two, many times before. She didn't panic anymore.
The teacher said, "Have your mother write you a note, remember to bring it to the office tomorrow."
She signed out in the office and walked out of the school into the feeling of freedom. She couldn't help, but know it's a strange reaction to simply leaving the school. Owen walked across the street. She unlocked the front door to her house, and opened the door, closing it quickly behind her. Her living room was full of the dead.
She stood in the center of the room, knowing it was time to stop fighting the inevitable.
Owen met their eyes and said, "What do you want me to do?"