Excerpt One: Mimi and Drew after her first Gifted Class
My final class was English. Drew was there. He looked terrible, like something had broken him. I couldn’t help but stare and he looked back into my face with those green eyes. I thought about my face smiling and sparkling in the mirror and realised I was actually conscious of how I looked when it came to Drew. That wasn’t like me. Did he have some kind of compulsion towards me, like Gabe had said? Maybe I just had a compulsion towards him.
There was only one seat left, possibly because I had been examining myself in the mirror for too long at break. It was next to Drew. I took the seat with a mixture of delight and dread. He stared at his notebook when he saw me coming his way. Our lesson was on characterisation, and the teacher was explaining archetypes, protagonists and antagonists. I found it hard to concentrate but then suddenly it was time for partner discussions. We were supposed to decide which roles the different types of characters fulfilled in our assigned novel.
I looked at Drew. He was staring down at his file and drawing another of his black ink vortexes on a blank sheet of paper.
“So, err, are we going talk about protagonists?” I asked.
“Are you serious?” he replied without looking up.
I was relieved. “Cool. I didn’t really want to either. But it would look weird to Mr Cambridge if we didn’t talk at all.”
Drew scribbled more furiously. I waited. Eventually the pen stopped and he looked into my face. My heart just about stopped. My mouth went dry.
“What is with you?” he hissed angrily.
I shrank away. So much for a compulsion, Gabe, I thought bitterly, turning my face away as tears threatened to flood my eyes. More like revulsion. I flicked through my textbook blindly, hoping the teacher would figure I was trying to work out his characterisation problem.
But after a few more moments Drew spoke again, his voice devoid of anger and bitterness.
“Sorry, Mimi,” he said. “Just … sorry.”
Ugh, the tear spilled onto my cheek. Lame. I pretended to brush my hair back and swiped past my cheek, removing all evidence.
“What’s your problem?” I said coolly, still flicking through my book.
“You shouldn’t let yourself get sucked in by them,” he said, his voice low and so desperate that I turned back to look into his eyes again, forgetting the fear of showing my tears. “It’s bullshit … all bullshit. None of this gift crap is real. She’s encouraging our delusions.”
Now I got angry. “Screw you,” I said, my voice shaking with the effort to stay quiet. “Do you know how long I’ve believed I am insane? I just found out I’m not and you know what? I’m glad. It’s not fun to think you’re nuts. You can wallow in it all you like, but I just got released from the psycho ward and I can’t wait to get my life back.”
Drew dropped all pretence of being tough, or cool or whatever. He stared at me with his mouth open. I glared for a few moments and then looked away. It was hard to keep gazing angrily at his face without being distracted by the extraordinary beauty there. Even the thick white makeup and black painted lips couldn’t hide it.
“You don’t know anything about it,” he said in my ear after a pause. “You just wait.”
It sounded like a threat. I raised my hand and excused myself. I went straight to my dorm room after making a brief appearance in the nurse’s office to claim a migraine. She took my temperature and peered at me for a moment, but seemed to believe me and told me to go lie down.
I lay on my bed, my mind buzzing. I tried not to think about Drew because I felt bad whenever my mind went there. I had been completely honest with him––I wasn’t crazy, and I was celebrating. I could hardly wait until the next time I could sit in that roomful of gifted kids and find out more. I was okay. I had a gift. These three ghosts who silently joined me as I lay on my bed, one on my swivel chair and two sitting on my floor, were ghosts … not figments of a psychotic imagination. For me, no matter what Drew thought, that could only be good news.
Excerpt Two: Mimi Introduces Herself
“Mimi, would you mind telling us about yourself now?”
I swallowed again. How did she expect me to make a coherent sentence after what I’d just heard? If there was another Mimi, a logical one that could step outside of my own body and look at the situation objectively, she would say: Get a grip, Miette. This is bullshit. These people are either lunatics … or they are playing the cruellest prank in history. But the problem was, logical Mimi had gone AWOL. I believed these kids. Deep in my heart, I knew without a shadow of a doubt they were telling the truth and––whether what they were describing was real or not––they believed in their gifts as fact. Doctor Mayer would have a field day with them.
I heard myself launch into speech and marvelled at how unlike myself I sounded. I heard a Mimi I hadn’t heard in years: excited, happy and relieved. “I’m Mimi Alston. I come from Perry Ridge. I have one brother, who’s much older. He lives in Canada with his wife. I love drawing, especially portraits. I had a nickname at my old school. Mimi-and-her-imaginary-friends.” I couldn’t believe I was telling them this secret … a secret I had been so determined to keep that I’d actually been prepared to fake my whole personality, day in and day out, at this new school.
“It’s because I have company with me, pretty much all the time. Meet my ghosts, Hannah, Albert and Marvin.” I pointed at the chairs beside me and the other kids stared. Even Drew raised his head to look at me in amazement. “Hannah joined me when I was thirteen. She was a kitchen maid. She was nineteen, and she was pregnant with her boss’s child. She died having the baby. Albert joined me when I was fourteen. He was a soldier in World War II. He died on the stretcher after getting a serious shrapnel injury. And Marvin only joined me earlier this year. He was homeless after losing his house because of his gambling debts. He died of hypothermia during a cold snap.”
Patience’s eyes looked like horrified saucers as she stared at the empty chairs beside me. After a moment, Mona let out a shuddering breath and even contemptuous Cassie looked impressed. Gabe sat watching me curiously, as if he didn’t expect quite what he was seeing or hearing.
“You’re a Necromancer,” nodded Ms Deering.
“Necro … doesn’t that mean dead?” asked Mona.
“And mancy is magic, or conjuring,” affirmed Ms Deering. “Mimi calls the dead.”
“I call them?” I couldn’t help exclaiming. “I never called them! I don’t want them around!”
Ms Deering just smiled ruefully. “I don’t think you can help it. I didn’t mean you actively call them––I meant you bring them … attract them. You invite their spirits to make contact.”
“Why?” I asked.
“The million-dollar question,” Mona laughed shortly, dragging her eyes off the empty chairs beside me. “Why do any of us have these gifts?”
“Can you hear them?” Patience asked me, her face still terrified. Great. She was freaked out. Oh, well … at least she didn’t think I was crazy.
“Yes,” I said. “That’s how I know what happened to them.” My mind drifted towards some of the other things they’d said to me and I hastily changed my train of thought. “They used to talk more, but I started trying to ignore them so they stopped being so … chatty.”
Mona cackled at that. I decided I wouldn’t mention the medication I had been taking to help me “ignore” my ghosts. I could feel Drew still watching me, so I looked back at him. I badly wanted to ask him why he looked so stunned. I also wanted to ask him what his gift was. But I couldn’t form a sentence because his face was so painfully beautiful in that moment that I forgot to breathe and just stared.
“Drew,” Ms Deering said in a firm tone. “Please tell us about you.”
Drew snapped out of our little two-way staring contest and cast an angry look at Ms Deering before getting up and shouldering his satchel.
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