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Spring-Heeled Jack: Chapter 1 Excerpt (Part 2)

Amongst these students is Atticus Whaelord, a brilliantly minded third year student studying criminal justice in hopes of becoming one of Zebulon’s personal private investigators. The joke on campus was that Atticus was the school’s very own Sherlock Holmes. Whenever there was a mystery, Atticus was the guy to solve all your problems.

It was October 17th when everything was set into motion. The gears of fate began to turn, and Atticus’ life would never be the same. It all started completely normal for Atticus: Wake up and go through the daily cleaning ritual. Brush teeth, wash face, check for blemishes, wash face again just to be sure; and lastly, scan for anything that didn’t look quite right. Scruffy blonde hair? Check. Blue eyes? Check. Dorky crooked smile? Check. Everything seemed to be in place.

After that, head to the cafeteria for breakfast. Atticus was never hungry in the morning, but if he didn’t shovel down something, he knew he’d regret it later. After breakfast, head to class: Geometrics, Criminal Science, Gym, English Literature, and Chemistry.

Then, each and every day ended with U.S. History with Professor Henry Varnum, the new history teacher on campus. The professor came to Fortuna Prep after the previous history teacher, Mrs. Alice schaufelberger retired after her forty-year career. He pranced around like he was the best teacher that ever existed, claiming to have dozens of teaching awards and some very prestigious former teaching jobs, but that is hard to believe. The man is a stingy, cold, and all around mean man. At times, it seems like he doesn’t like his job, nor if he even knows what he’s doing. But, Fortuna Prep needs three history professors, and if he fits the bill then there is nothing to be done.

 

Professor Varnum was finishing up his daily lecture; Atticus, as well as many other students, were having a hard time keeping their eyes open. Every single history class dragged on like an eternity. Finally, the school bell rang throughout the campus, alerting teachers and students alike that the day was over. The final bell was the always the most liberating sound in Varnum’s classes. No longer would the students be forced to listen to a dry old man spew out mundane history lessons.

As the students were packing up and getting ready to leave, the professor raised his hands for one last announcement:

“Do not forget,” he said, “that your history midterm is tomorrow. Everything we’ve learned up to this point will be on the exam. It will be worth thirty-five percent of your final grade, so missing it is not an option. Understand?”

The students all mumbled with understanding as they quickly made their way out of the classroom. As Atticus made his way out the classroom, he was caught by his best friend and roommate: Brock Mackenzie, a fellow third year and psychology student.

Atticus had always gotten along well with Brock. The two met their freshman years when their original roommates got transferred to a different program. The two became the most interesting pair of friends: Brock loved to crack jokes and hang out with others, but Atticus was always fond of just staying in his dorm by himself. The joke on campus was that the two were living scientific proof that opposites attract.

As Atticus reached the doorway, Brock called out. “Hey, Atticus, do you want to study tonight?”

“For the exam,” Atticus said. “I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. No amount of extra cramming will do me any good.”

“Well, hey what about me? I need all the help I can get.”

Atticus laughed. “You’re telling me.”

The two exchanged laughs and made their way down the hallway, laughing and joking until reaching the campus courtyard.

“By the way,” Brock chimed, “I noticed that your buddy Mike wasn’t in class.”

Apart from Brock, Mike Nelson was Atticus’ only real friend at Fortuna Prep. He was another introverted antisocial kind of guy. He and Atticus first became friends when the two had a battle of wits, trying to stump one another with riddles and puzzles to see who’d flub up first. The two went at it for hours and eventually their riddles were just whatever made up babble they could think of. The progression went something like this:

“What has a head, a tail, is brown, and has no legs?”

“A penny! What gets harder to see the more of it you have?”

“Darkness! What’s black when you buy it, red when you use it, and white when you’re done with it?”

“Charcoal! If a green marble bounces up and down, who stops it?”

“An elephant! If an airship crashes into the ocean and everybody on board dies before hand, who makes the pancakes?”

“Professional baseball!”

And so the battle went on, neither one ever admitted defeat.

Atticus had noticed that Mike wasn’t in class that day. He’d assumed he was sick or he’d just decided to skip class for the day, though that kind of behavior wasn’t like him. Atticus agreed to study with Brock later that night, but he first wanted to check up on Mike and see what was up.

 

As Atticus made his way across the school courtyard, he could overhear the mumblings and gossip of his fellow students. None of it really interested him, just business that most teenagers dealt with: boyfriends, girlfriends, dating, dances, and so on. None of which applied to Atticus. He wasn’t exactly what one would call a ladies’ man, that was more Brock’s thing. Atticus was far too bumbling and bashful; he wouldn’t know what to do if a girl he liked said something to him. God forbid she like him back.

When Atticus arrived at Mike’s dorm room, he knocked to the rhythm of “Shave and a Haircut.” Usually, Mike would always respond with the appropriate “Two Bits,” but something was off today. Mike didn’t respond at all, he just opened the door all slow and glum.

“Hey pal,” Atticus said. “What’s up? You weren’t in class today.”

Mike looked dreadfully sick. His green eyes were dark and sunken behind his glasses, as if he hadn’t slept in days. Not only that, but his slick and normally well-groomed black hair was mangled and greasy.

“Mike you look awful. Are you feeling okay?”

Mike shook his head. “I’ve been really under the weather today.”

“Do you need to see the nurse?”

“No, I don’t feel sick, just down.”

“You just need a good laugh,” Atticus said. “When set loose, I fly away. Never so cursed as when I go astray. What am I?”

Mike sighed for a brief moment and then found himself lost in thought only for a moment. A smile cracked across his face when he thought of an answer.

“Really,” he said. “A fart?”

Atticus gave him a thumbs up. “Even when you’re ‘under the weather’ you always have an answer.”

Mike smiled and said, “Thanks Atticus. That did help a bit.”

“Brock and I are gonna be having a study session for the big history midterm tomorrow. Would you want to join?”

Mike shook his head. “Sorry, but I just can’t.”

Atticus knew not to pry any further. Despite wanting to help, Atticus always wanted to respect his friends’ desires, even if he felt they were wrong.

Just as he was getting ready to head out, Mike had to stop him for one moment.

“Hey, Atticus,” he said. “Do you believe in ghosts?”

“Ghosts?” Atticus looked at him confused.

“I know it sounds silly, but I feel like I’m being ‘haunted’ for lack of a better term.”

Atticus shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never met a ghost before. But if one is haunting you, tell it to come haunt me. I’d love to meet him.”

Mike smiled and said a final goodbye to Atticus before closing the door.

 

Atticus returned back to his dorm where Brock was waiting for him. The night went on with the two exchanging questions about what they thought would be on the history exam. Atticus aced every question Brock threw at him, yet Brock could only manage to get about seventy percent of his correct. Atticus tried to convince him that seventy percent was still a passing grade, but Brock knew he’d be in for major trouble during the exam.

As the hours passed, snacks devoured, and questions thrown at one another; Atticus finally cashed in for the night while Brock did some late night studying by his lonesome. Atticus tried to convince him that cramming would only make it worse, but Brock threw some psychological mumbo-jumbo that eventually lulled Atticus right to sleep.

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