Tim looked at Mike and gave his head a quick shake. “Oh, nothing. We were just getting ready to perform the counterspell. How are you feeling?”
“This is fantastic,” answered Joey. “I can go through walls. I can be invisible. This is going to be the most amazing prank ever. We’re going to make the jocks look like total idiots.”
“Maybe we should just do the second spell right now,” suggested Mike. “We can just call this a trial run and stick it to those guys some other time.”
“No way,” said Joey. To Mike and Tim, his voice sounded strange. It was as if he were talking to them from a different room or under water. “Who knows when there’s going to be another party held in this old abandoned house. This is the perfect place to scare the heck out of Tony and his crew. We owe them for all the times they’ve picked on us.”
Mike shrugged. “Okay, but let’s do it quickly. We don’t know how long it’s going to take to cast the reversal.”
“I’ve got something else to do first.” Joey began to sink into the floor. “I noticed Sarah and Teri having a private conversation. I’m going to go eavesdrop. Maybe they are talking about me.”
“You’re dreaming,” said Mike. “Sarah does not like you. She’s like every other girl in this school and worships the ground Tony walks on.”
“Well, she did invite us to this party,” added Tim.
“No. She invited me,” said Joey. “She just agreed that you guys could come too.” He pulled the hood of his black robe over his head and began sinking into the floor. All three boys had been relieved when Joey’s ghostly image had appeared wearing the black cloak and mask he had donned as part of their scheme to get even with the bullies who tormented them daily. Had the spell caused him to appear naked they would never have been able to continue with the plan.
Both Mike and Tim tried to object but before they could state their opinion, their friend was gone.
Mike leaned over to examine Joey’s remains. Tim took another look at the ancient manuscript they had found while investigating the house’s attic earlier that day. There had been dozens of parties in the old abandoned building through the years and lots of kids had searched the place, looking for antiques or some sort of proof that the stories about the place being haunted were true. Joey, Tim, and Mike had been the first to find the secret door and the strange collection of tomes and scrolls within. All those years of playing Dungeons and Dragons had finally paid off.
Finally, Mike spoke, “I suppose we could carry the body down to the cellar. It’s cooler down there.”
Tim didn’t reply. He simply sat there staring at the yellowed piece of paper in his hands.
“What’s up?” asked Mike. “Did you hear what I said?”
“I heard you. I’m just looking at the spell to return Joey to his body. We should have looked at it closer.”
“One of the ingredients is a heart that has just stopped beating.”
Mike stared; his mouth wide open. “What?”
“I think the only way we can get Joey back in his body is to add somebody’s heart to the mixture of ingredients while we say the incantation. And not just any heart, a heart that stopped beating within a minute.”
“How are we going to get that?”
“I have no idea.” After putting the scroll and the other ingredients the spell required into his backpack, Tim began to lift Joey’s body. “Let’s get him to the cellar while we try and think of something.”
Mike stuck his flashlight in his pocket and helped Tim. They each wrapped one of Joey’s arms around their shoulders and began dragging him down the stairs.
They were on the first-floor landing, getting ready to head to the basement, when they heard a voice calling to them. “Well, well, well. What do we have here?”
Tony Baldozi, football star, lady’s man, and all-around jerk, was walking towards them, his phone serving as a flashlight. Most of the main floor of the old house was lit with candles and filled with laughter and music. This corner, however, was dark and quiet.
Even in the dim light, Mike and Tim could make out that Tony was wearing his number 5, varsity football jersey. Only Tony would be stupid or arrogant enough to wear his uniform to an illegal high school drinking party.
“What’s wrong with Joey?” asked Tony.
“Ahhh . . .” stammered Mike. “He . . .”
“The dude can’t handle his alcohol, huh?” finished Tony. “What’d he have? My guess is half a bottle of beer?” Tony chuckled at his own joke.
Before Mike or Tim could respond, Tony shined his light in their faces and pointed at them. “You three stay right there. I’m going to go get some of my buddies. We’re going to have a little photoshoot with your passed-out friend. If you’re not here when I get back, you’ll be sorry.” He turned and headed back toward the heart of the party.
Tim started moving toward the cellar stairs.
“What are you doing?” asked Mike. “He said we were supposed to stay here.”
“Do you really want him to find Joey’s dead body? We have to get to the basement and hide.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Mike joined Tim in dragging Joey to the basement stairs. “You know what?” he announced. “We just Weekend at Bernie’s-ed him.”
Joey knew what he was doing was a little creepy. It was wrong to listen to the girls’ conversation. Still, nobody was going to be hurt by it. They couldn’t see him as long as he remained invisible. He hovered behind Teri, admiring Sarah’s beautiful blue eyes and golden hair.
“So, how’d you do on the Chemistry test?” asked Teri.
“I think I passed,” answered Sarah. “I got Joey Marquardt’s notes to study from. He takes very good notes.”
Joey smiled. It might not have been the compliment he was hoping to hear, but it was something.
“Is that why you asked him to come to this party?”
Sarah shook her perfectly proportioned head. “No. Tony made me ask him and his friends. Something about having a big surprise for them.”
“Oh, is Tony going to do something mean again?”
“I’m sure it will just be a harmless prank.”
Joey stared at the girls. Could it be true? Had Sarah only invited him here so Tony could make fun of him?
“Hey, Sarah,” called Tony from the doorway. “Can you help me find Richie and Bud? I just found Marquardt’s buddies dragging him down the stairs. He’s completely passed out. We’re going to take some embarrassing pictures of him to post on the internet. This is even better than what we had planned. I’m going to . . .”
Tony stopped in midsentence. His gaze focused behind the girls where a black clad apparition had materialized. A deep hood covered the specter’s face, but its very being resonated with anger.
Disappointment, disgust, and hatred boiled within Joey’s gut. Soon, the emotions exploded and he screamed. With no physical body to hold it in, Joey’s rage erupted like a shock wave, reverberating through the entire first floor. Kids staggered back, hit by the unseen force. Tables and chairs tipped, sending snacks, drinks, and candles flying.
Most of the party-goers turned and ran, knocking even more candles to the floor. A few added their own screams to the blood-curdling yell coming from the ghost. Tony just stood there; his mouth wide open, unable to move. A puddle of urine slowly formed by his high-priced sneakers.
Tim knelt on the cold dirt floor of the basement. A bowl, filled with assorted items taken from the secret chamber in the attic, sat in front of him. He flipped through the pages of a worn and yellowed tome.
“Well?” said Mike who was standing off to one side.
“I don’t know what to do. There doesn’t seem to be anything in here about substituting something for the heart. It’s hard to tell though. Some of this writing is hard to read. I think parts of it are in Latin or Elvish.”
“We’ve got to do something. We don’t have to kill anybody, do we?”
Tim looked up and rolled his eyes. “Of course, not. But if we don’t figure out what to do, Joey might never get back into his body. We should have never let him talk us into using these spells. We should have just had him jump out from a closet like we planned. The costume would have scared Tony good enough.”
Mike nodded. “Yeah, but you know Joey. Once he gets an idea in his head, you can’t talk him out of it. Remember when we were doing the Frost Giants of Ice Mountain campaign and he used all of his arrows just trying to kill that one rat. He must have rolled the twenty-sided fifty times.”
Tim jumped to his feet. “That gives me an idea,” he said. He walked over to a broken table in the corner and picked up one of the wooden legs. “You need to go get Joey right now. I’ve got to look for something.” He took a sweatshirt out of his backpack and held it in one hand while the other gripped the table leg like a club.
Mike had just started toward the stairs when the sound of screaming poured down from above. “Now what?”
“I don’t know,” said Tim, “but you better hurry.”
“Fire!” shouted someone. The candles had ignited the dried-out wood of the old house.
“Get out!” called another person and soon almost everyone was rushing for the front door.
Tony remained frozen, gripped tight by fear. Sarah and Teri rushed past him. They called for him to follow but he did not.
Finally, someone grabbed Tony by the arm and pulled him toward the door. By the time his rescuer pushed him out of the building, the flames had engulfed almost half of the living room.
“Joey,” yelled Mike, returning from the front door. “You have to get down to the cellar right now.”
Joey still floated where he had materialized. He glared straight ahead, oblivious to the smoke that hovered next to him.
“Please, Joey! You have to go now.” Mike broke into a fit of heavy coughing. He dropped to his knees to get away from the smoke.
His friend’s distress snapped Joey out of his trance. “Mikey. What’s going on?”
“We have to get out of here! Meet me in the cellar,” called Mike as he crawled to the stairway. “Tim’s got a plan.”
Joey was already in the basement by the time Mike got there. Tim was, once again, kneeling in front of the bowl of spell ingredients, his hands wrapped tightly around his sweater.
“Mike, come hold the spellbook and my flashlight. I need to read the incantation right after I kill the mouse.”
“Where’d you get a mouse?” asked Mike as he held up the book and aimed the light.
“I got lucky. I was looking all over for one but couldn’t find any. Once the fire started, a bunch of them scurried out from the wall and started running for the door.”
“What do you need a mouse for?” asked Joey.
“We need it for the spell to return you to your body.”
“Why do . . .” began Joey but Tim cut him off.
“We don’t have time. Just go stand by your body.”
There was a distinct thud when Tim slammed the table leg against the poor creature inside his sweatshirt. He gave the shirt a second whack and then shook its contents into the bowl.
“Ewww,” said Mike.
Tim ignored him and began reading the incantation. “Othort Nemba . . .”
“I thought you were smarter than that,” said Joey’s dad, his voice loud but not quite a yell. “You know better than to go to a drinking party.”
“You kids are so lucky that everyone got out of that old house. Someone could have been killed,” added his mom.
His dad continued the rant. “You’re grounded for a month. I’m sure you’re also going to be suspended from the math team. I hear half the football team is being punished too. It sounds like the quarterback is the one who supplied the alcohol and he’s been kicked off the team.”
Joey looked at the floor. Bowing his head served the dual purpose of making him look contrite while at the same time hiding his smug smile.”