7. The Lost Channel

2.3K 259 152

We listened to The Number of The Beast, Iron Maiden's best album according to Ash and second best according to Nip, right behind Powerslave. They sang along with all the words, even the ones I couldn't make out, and tossed around the neck-length hair neither of them had. The speakers above poured sound down from every angle, thudding drums and screaming guitars and vocals part angel and part demon. When all the tracks finished playing through, twice, Judas Priest hit the stage with You've Got Another Thing Comin' and Breakin' The Law and Turbo Lover, and oh man, that last one, that was a driving song if there ever was one. From there we moved on to Metallica, Ash stomping her way back and forth across the loft, Nip shredding at the all but muted electric guitar. What a sight they were, skinny and pale and sweating, one hundred percent energy and zero percent restraint. Wolves beneath a moon. Junkies on a high. After Metallica came Black Sabbath and after Black Sabbath came more Black Sabbath. Ash kept yelling something at me. "The founders!" Or, "The fathers!" My ears were ringing, and I couldn't tell, didn't care much anyway. I sat underneath the window, completely still, this feeling like I had finally found the volume dial on the world. Or in myself.

Sometime after six her parents banged on the ceiling for quiet. Ash shut off the stereo and climbed downstairs. She returned with a large plate of pastrami sandwiches, which lasted all of a minute. Nip went down to get his book from his bag, and for a while we all lay around in silence, only it wasn't silence, not really. Anyone who's ever been to a good concert knows the music doesn't stop when the band packs up their instruments. It lingers in you, like the buzz after a few beers.

I was riding that buzz back down into the loft, stretched out in the carpet, when I caught myself staring at Ash. When she caught me staring at her.

"What?" she said.

"Nothing."

I looked away. I looked back again. Her arms were crossed, same as the boy's in the picture downstairs. I thought of the first time I had heard her voice, and how I hadn't been able to find her in the back of the class. How she had been invisible to me. "Ghost Girl."

Ash dropped her eyes from the ceiling.

"That kid in English," I said. "He called you Ghost Girl."

"Yeah."

I didn't need to ask. But I asked anyway. "Why?"

"Because ghosts are real."

I blinked. "Oh."

"They are."

"Okay."

Ash rose from the beanbag. "I'll prove it."

Outside the loft, the sun dunked into a pool of blood. That sunset was a strange occurrence for these parts, and I would know. I had spent most of my summer in a bed by a window and had never seen one so colorful, so raw. Looking back on it now I can't help but wonder if fate—or something else—was gazing upon Honaw that night. Marking the town with a wounded eye. Marking us all.

The stereo stood bathed in red, and so did Ash, her thin body silhouetted darkly against its face. "You'll see," she said. "Just wait."

Nip gave me a look that said, Now you've done it, and went back to reading his novel.

I pushed myself upright with a wince, the ache already returning to my legs. Ash turned the volume back down from the stratosphere before hitting the stereo's power button and switching it to radio. The speakers overhead woke up to a report on the mine, and that was no surprise. Every news station in Northern California was talking about the mine.". . . still unclear exactly what led to the detonation, but certainly tragic in either case. Nor is it known what caused the fire that sprang up outside the mine during the confusion, though sources report several men smoking near a patch of dry brush at the time of the blast. What we have been told—all we have been told—with any real certainty is that the two thought to be dead from Blackstone are in fact alive, although in critical condition, while three more have been taken to the hospital with injuries ranging from moderate to severe. Their names, along with the name of the one man still missing, have yet to be released. The . . ."

Poor Things (Wattys2018 Winner)Read this story for FREE!