What Follows

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7.2: Haunted PCs and Notebooks

`Sometimes we outgrow people who aren’t growing.`

Every minute I stay here, in this weird dimension, I learn a thing or two.

Like how, for example, I have no shadow and how I reflect on no surface. You might be like, duh, you’re dead. But I still can’t wrap my head around how I can’t check my appearance anymore, how I might look like shit, with boogers running down my nose, and I can’t see or feel them, and most importantly how I don’t have a hygiene routine at all.

How I don’t stink or sweat. Or how I might be sweating, but can’t feel it. It’s as amusing as terrifying. Because every time, I’m discovering something that makes me less and less of a human.

So instead of trying to awkwardly converse with Tobias, I busy myself with staring at my hands, arms and feet that seem to move like a human, but not quite so, as we make our way to a teachers’ staff room where we’re certain we’ll find a charge port.

I can feel Tobias glance at me from time to time, with conversations he’s hoping to start on the tip of his tongue. And even though he walks silently by me with a panting Benji, I can hear his loud thoughts that are buzzing around his head and begging his lips for freedom.

“That’s why I tell no-one about myself-” He suddenly says and stops in his tracks. I wince and try turning to him with unwavering eyes.

“It’s only awkward if you want it to be-” I reason with him and can’t ignore how differently I see him.

How my brain seems to observe everything about him under a poetic light. How his red hair is no longer a mob, but an angry cascade of lava waves that are dripping over his left eye. How his eyebrows are no longer thick lines of hair, but two passionate people, destined to be apart, yet always trying to reach out for each other in his distress. How his eyes are no longer just honey drops, but two golden galaxies revolving around two black holes.

The vibrancy this add to his features is breathtaking. And I don’t want to tell him that.

Tobias has no idea what I’m thinking about and is nervous. “I wasn’t even that good-” He tries to tell me. “Nothing was or is intimidating about me-” He shakes his head, and I’m confused as to why he’s trying to convince me with something he isn’t.

I found him great at it.

“I’m not intimidated-” I enunciate, gazing in his galaxies. “I don’t know why you think that what you did changes anything between us-”

Tobias draws his eyebrows and shakes his head. “Oh, I might be just slightly anxious about it. I’m afraid it might’ve discomforted you-” He shrugs. “I barely shared this with anyone-”

“Your talent’s a secret?” I stare at him for a while, at his beaten, slightly slouched figure, and all I can see is a body, unemptied of its potential, unemptied of possibly, world-changing words. I look up at his bright face and click my tongue. “If I were you, I’d show off-”

Tobias nods silently with a small smile, catching my eyes and letting out a deep breath as I wonder if those sturdy, big hands of his could’ve wrapped themselves around the universe and tried healing them...if they were still alive.

“Let’s never speak of this again-” He says, and I agree despite how it was almost the best thing that happened here.

“Aight, Shakespeare-” I tease, and he fights a smile.

“Seriously?” He shakes his head and looks down. “Please don’t-”

“Okay, okay-” I say, lifting my hands in surrender. “Let’s -uh- ignore this and find the teachers’ staffroom, right?” I smirk and mutter ‘Shakspeare’ to myself.

After a few beats of silence, Tobias and I find ourselves standing in front of a teachers’ staffroom, with Benji in his arms and the phone and the charger in my hands. We glance at each other, and as soon as our eyes meet, we look away.

“We can’t just open the door-” I tell him, staring at the door. “Some teachers might be in there.”

As soon as those words leave my mouth, the door gets yanked open by a talking, old, blonde teacher in a scarlet skirt and a white, formal blouse. She smells like strong coffee and caramel toffee. Her head’s still in the room as she continues her conversation inside.

I turn to Tobias who’s standing straight by the door. Should I get bothered that I’m bothered by him not looking at me? By the time I’m done deciding that I should just glare at Tobias and scare him into looking at me, the teacher has left the staffroom.

I snap out of my haze to find Tobias holding the door wide open and finally looking at me.

“C’mon-” He urges, his eyes on the things in my hands. “Before someone shuts it-”

I walk straight in and wrinkle my nose at the room’s confusing stench. It’s a mixture of coffee, strong perfume and food. There are only three teachers, two of them are arguing intensely about something, and the other is engrossed in correcting some books. I can’t recognize any of them because they’re probably primary teachers.

The room is quite spacious with small, wooden office desks pushed against the walls that are personally decorated by each teacher sitting in front of it. There are two printers with two personal computers, at either side of the room, and a table of refreshments with a kettle, in the middle of the room.

Tobias is standing close behind me, looking slightly intrigued.

“Hey, Roseline-” He calls me, and I’m surprised that even my name sounds different on his tongue. More poetic. More ′woah’.

I turn to Tobias with a soft ‘huh’, and he cocks his head toward the desktop computers with a smile. And I almost irrelevantly yell at him about how talented he actually is, and how he shouldn’t feel/be awkward about it, but instead, I lift my eyebrows and incredulously ask,

“You want us to unplug a computer they could be working on?”

“Yeah, why not?” He asks, biting on his tongue, and I sigh.

“Why not?” I repeat. “For two reasons really-” I purse my lips. ”One: I don’t even know why we’re doing this. Two: This just reminds me of the days I’d be working on a PC and decide to have a break, only to return to find it unplugged or to find my work lost.”

Tobias looks confused. “Reason two is irrelevant-”

“I just had to say it-”

“Alright, alright-” Tobias approaches me. “You’re doing this because it’s weird that Sierra has two phones, and because she doesn’t like you for some ominous reason-”

“We don’t know that-” I defend Sierra. “We don’t know if she doesn’t like me-”

Tobias makes a face. “You are very confusing, Roseline-” He shakes his head. “You treat me terribly when I’m so nice to you, and you almost worship the very same girl who we watched fake her tears and sadness-”

I narrow my eyes at him. “I knew her for eight years!” I whisper-yell at him for some reason. “Not like...for a week-” Tobias lifts his eyebrows as if offended, and I fluster. “I am nice to you!”

Tobias arches an eyebrow in my direction, and I suck in my cheeks.

“You’re silly-” I say justifiably. “Therefore, I’m gonna charge this phone just to prove you wrong-” I approach the PC, not failing to miss the ridiculous smile that blossoms on his face as he follows me.

I stare at the several wires and follow one with my eyes. Tobias comes next to me and accidentally drops a keyboard onto the floor with a loud clatter. I freeze, widen my eyes and whip my head in the teachers’ directions who have stopped doing whatever they’re doing just to stare at us and the fallen keyboard.

“Remember-” Tobias whispers. “They can’t see us-”

I roll my eyes, and the overweight, dark-skinned teacher who was checking the books turns to the teacher with a high blonde ponytail and obnoxious gum-chewing habits who was arguing a few seconds ago.

“Always happens when you use it, Candace-” The fat teacher says with a displeased face expression. “Your twig arms can’t even keep shit in place-”

“Stay out of it, Michelle-” She hotly replies back, and I look at Tobias with an amused smile.

He winks in response and unplugs the printer as the arguing continues/gets worse.

“Stay out of it?” Michelle apparently replies back. “Who gets scolded when you break shit around, Candace? Who?”

“Excuse me? I don’t break ish around-”

“You broke two mugs last week. Didn’t she do that Dina?”

I suppress a chuckle and look at Tobias who seems to be deeply enjoying the trouble he’s caused. Tobias has already plugged in the charger, and I immediately connect it to the phone. I then press the power button and release it.

“Michelle, I really don’t remember-” I turn to find the quiet-looking, toothpick-thick, elegant teacher talking.

"See?” Candace pops her eyes at Michelle who seems not to be buying her shit.

“You fucking liar, you can’t even admit you have a problem with holding things around-” Michelle cocks her neck.

“Michelle, I am not an effing liar, and I don’t have such problems-” She waves at her colleague. “My hands just shake sometimes-”

“The phone’s waking up-” Tobias announces from next to me.

“You’re just gonna leave them like that?” I tell him with a smirk, and he turns to examine the raging situation. Apparently, Candace has gotten up and emptied her water cup all over Michelle.

Tobias turns to me and shifts his arms around Benji who’s barking loudly at them. Of course, they can’t hear him. “I’m thinking about taking that keyboard with me so that not only did Candace dropped the keyboard, but she whole-spiritedly hid it.”

My mouth turns into a perfect ‘o’ as I chuckle at his idea. “You’re not doing this-”

“Guys stop-” Dina says, pulling a livid Candace toward her. “What if a student walks in on us right now?” She asks. “Or even worse! Ether!”

“Who’s Ether?” Tobias asks, and I sigh dramatically.

“Look, based on stories I’ve heard, Ether is this one teacher who snitches on all the other teachers to the principal-” I say. “She terrifies them all.”

“Michelle looks terrifying-”

I shake my head and suppress a smile. “Ether is scrawny, but with a brain of Michelle’s size-” I then lean close to him. “Her brain is as terrifying as Michelle. Picture that-”

Tobias shrugs noncommittally. “I hope neither of them kills themselves. They’ll make hell even worse-” He jokes darkly, and I snort. “Okay, check the phone-” He then shuffles to stand behind me before peering over my shoulder.

“I’ve never used a BlackBerry-” I confess. “But I suppose if she’s plotting anything against me, I’ll find it in her notes.”

I select the home button, and the apps pop up on the small, bright screen. I find the notes icon and select it. I glance over my shoulder at Tobias who presses a reassuring smile.

I skim through her notes and find nothing, but old grocery lists she had made. I sigh in relief and lock the phone.

“What? Why did you stop?” Tobias asks, and I smile.

“There’s nothing on it-”

“You’ve just checked her notes, Roseline-” He sighs. “I believe, if she had anything against you, it would be pictures or videos. Not notes-”

“Well, rest assured, I’m certain she has lots of embarrassing pictures and videos of me. We were best friends!” I stress.

“Well, yeah, sounds cheerful and all, until she gives herself the right to let’s say-” Tobias trails off. “Lets’ say, to leak them or use them against you-”

I make a face. “She wouldn’t-”

“Well, let’s hope not-” He tells me. “Maybe she has a Notebook account on it-”

“A what?” I ask distractedly as I look for the gallery.

“A Notebook account-” He says like he can’t believe I don’t know what I’m speaking of. ”Everyone has it.”

“I’ve never heard of it-” I say slowly, trying to understand him.

“Blue icon, with an ‘f’ on it-” He says. “I heard my closest cousin ask his crush for it, like ten cycles ago-”

“Oh, a Facebook account-” I correct him with a smirk. “And yes, of course, she has one. And I’m her friend there-”

Tobias shakes his head. “I meant another Facebook account. One where she sends requests to all your school mates and then publish whatever would, you know, get everyone to hate you-”

“Where do you get such dark ideas? And, FYI, no-one ′hates’ me by the way. I just- I intimidate them-” I tell him. “She wouldn’t do that. Besides all we’re doing is looking for a reason as to why she dislikes me-”

"Hates you-”

I momentarily shut my eyes. “Tobias, you’re not helping!” I snap at him, then look down and exhale deeply. “You’re speaking so negatively of someone I loved-” I say, feeling my voice break already. “For years. So I just- I’m afraid, okay?” I look in his eyes. “I’m scared I’ll find something that’ll hurt me-”

“Do you have a choice?” Tobias tells me with a concerned voice and furrowed eyebrows. “You keep trying to run away from the truth, not knowing that it’ll be coming to you one way or another. This is our hell, Roseline. Hell. There are no breaks. There are bitter, painful truths only-” He sighs defeatedly. “I’d hate to hurt you. I know you loved her. I know how it feels, okay?” He subtly shakes his head. “I had a best friend who despised me too-” He whispers this last sentence. “And I still, after all those years, hate to say it out loud.”

I slump my shoulders and look back at the phone. I select the gallery and hold my breath as I start scrolling through it. I don’t even mind Tobias seeing the pictures because I’m dead, and he’s dead, and there’s nothing that really matters. Because everything that matters is very much alive.

There are wild pictures of us hugging, pictures of me with my tongue out, pictures of us dancing and then there’s a series of some dim pictures of me that I can’t clearly see. I frown slightly and keep skipping the pictures that seem to only get brighter and clearer.

I was in a neon green sweatshirt with my hair up in a messy bun. The picture shows my head on a table, tilted to the side so that only my hair is visible. I squint harder, trying to see the purpose of all those repetitive, multi-quality pictures.

“You were sniffing something-?” Tobias asks slowly, and with a heart lurch, I zoom onto the table where I actually find some white powder.

“Is that coke?” I ask myself in disbelief. “When did that even happen?”

“You abused drugs?” Tobias asks in shock, and I immediately shake my head.

“That never happened-” I say, looking at the picture in horror. “Never have I ever- ever-”

“The picture says so-”

“Well, that ain’t me-” I say, feeling my mind spiral. Does memory loss come as a side effect of death? “This isn’t true-” I tell myself despite how my mind is burnt with the memory of that very same neon sweatshirt.

Tobias comes in front of me with a calm Benji in his arms. He obviously doesn’t feel tired of holding him. “What are you scared of?” He asks me slowly. “Did you do drugs?”

“Tobias, I swear to you-” I say desperately. “I don’t even know who took that picture or when-”

“That’s odd-”

“It is-” I say quickly. “My face isn’t showing-” I gulp and click on the button that displayed the next picture. And here, my face faced the camera. I had a wide smile, blood-shot eyes, my thumbs were up, and my left cheek was smudged with white powder.

I stare at the picture, and I’m not sure if I can breathe properly because I have no recollection whatsoever of when the hell was that. Tobias can clearly see the shock on my face because he shuffles closer to me and shakes his head.

“Something’s not right-” I tell him slowly. “I never did that. Sierra used to do that though-” I say, bringing up my memories. “In fact, she’d ask me to have some, and I always refused-”

“Maybe you were so-”

“I wasn’t stoned or high, okay?” I yell at the picture on my phone. “I might’ve been tipsy because I still remember this night-” I look at the table in the background of the picture. “I was napping on that table after hours of dancing-”

“You know how those pictures would look like online?” Tobias asks cautiously.

My lips float around. “I do. But maybe she never posted them-”

Tobias’ lips frown. “I just don’t understand why she’d hate you-” Before he even finished the sentence, a notification from some weird app chimes.

We quickly glance at each other before I select the notification. The screen suddenly turns black and I frown. I press the power button, thinking that maybe it has stopped working, but then the screen turns bright white.

“This is really weird-” I mutter and feel Tobias step even closer to me.

Then three words written in weird handwriting pop up on the screen.

Welcome back, TinaThompson.

The words disappear and the blank, black screen returns. Then ‘DevilsPlay’ appears in white, block letters across the screen, and I wonder if it’s some kinda game. Then in green, ‘Sub-Challenge Completed’ gets displayed on the screen with ‘+$3,500’ below it.

I narrow my eyes at the phone. It’s probably Sierra playing some gambling game.

Then the screen turns all white with ‘Completed | New’ in its centre. I select ‘Completed’ for some reason and wait for a few moments. The screen then gets divided into 20 segments with a number from 1-20 inclusive, each.

“What are those?” I ask, lost at what the hell could this app be. I know I shouldn’t particularly care about it, but I’m way too intrigued to stop.

“I think they’re the number of challenges-” Tobias says softly, his eyes gazing hard at the phone in my dead hands. “Choose number 20, Rosey-”

I do as he says, and immediately, in red, ‘Ruin one of your closest people in seven, progressively worse steps worth $500 more than the previous step each’ blinks back at me.

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