#1: Ghostcoming!

You will be able to remember what your life was like and the important people who were in it. Enjoy those good memories as often as you can. However, try as you might, you won't ever be able to remember how or why you became a ghost. So it's best not to try! Start your afterlife with a fresh, clean slate!

Rule #1:

 The Limbo Central Rules 

It’s taken me a while to believe it, but the truth of the matter is that I’m dead and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.             

        That’s right, I’m dead.
        A ghost of my former living, breathing self. LITERALLY. It’s not like a woe-is-me thing, I promise. I’m not going to all sappy and start crying about how much I miss my life, mainly because:

        1. I can’t actually produce tears anymore. (I’ve tried, believe me).

        2. According to the first Rule of Limbo, I won’t ever be able to remember what happened to me so why bother getting all worked up.
        And . . .

        3. Because there’s no use in crying over spilled blood.

        Ha, ha, get it? Blood . . . you know, ’cause I’m dead? Sorry, just trying out a little ghostly humor.
        “Have a seat, Lucy. I’ll be right with you,” the Limbo Central guidance counselor, Ms. Keaner says, poking her head out of her office in the administration building of my new middle school.

        “Okay, thanks,” I say, and head over to the waiting area.

        Anyway, I don’t mean to be grim (oops, I did it again), just the opposite, actually. I mean, what’s funnier than finding out you’re a ghost AND that you’re stuck repeating your first day of middle school at the same time? Looks like literally NOTHING will get me out of middle school—not even being dead.

        I plop down in one of the comfy armchairs, but instead of plopping I fall completely THROUGH the chair and crash-land with a big THUD. That’s right, through the chair.

        This day is the worst.

        “Chin up, doll. You’ll get the hang of it sooner or later,” the secretary at the front desk squeaks, looking up from the chart she’s reading. She has curly blond hair, red lips, and cat’s-eye reading glasses with a silver chain that lets the glasses rest around her neck when she’s not wearing them. She looks like she just stepped out of an old movie. “You can’t sit because, well, look at you! Right now, you’re basically a hologram.”

        “Yeah,” I say, looking down and through myself. She’s completely right. I am basically a hologram. A mist in the shape of my old self. What it would look like if the idea of me got up and started walking around. “It’s not as cool as I always thought it would be,” I say. “Being a hologram, I mean.”

        There’s a momentary pause, but she says nothing, so I continue. “So . . . do I just have to stand up for the rest of my life—I mean, death?”

        “Afterlife, dear. It’s less drab.”

        “Okay . . . so, do I just have to stand up for the rest of my afterlife?”

        “You can pretend to sit until you get the hang of it,” she remarks, but it’s clear from her tone that it’s all pretty much just for show. “People find pretending less awkward, you know, in public.”

        “Excellent. Less awkward is definitely what I’m going for. Thank you,” I say, and I situate myself about an inch over the cushion of the chair in a seated position. I look down at the table next to me and see a handful of magazines fanned out. Celebrity Ghosts, HEALTH & SHAPEshifting, Paranormal Style. I notice Medium magazine’s headline—“Limbo’s Top Ten Most Wanted Apparitions”—and reach for it. I want to take my mind off of what is happening right now and pretend for a moment that things are normal, but then I remember that I can reach all I want but I can’t touch.

         I’m distracted by the creaking sound of the main door as two loud girl ghosts walk into the administration office. They are both categorically less invisible than I am, and as they waltz in, the scent of trouble fills the room like a bag of burnt microwave popcorn. They look completely normal and are touching the ground with their feet.

         I’m immediately envious. I lose my concentration and before I know it . . . SPLAT! I fall straight through the chair again.

         “I thought ballerinas were supposed to be graceful,” the prettier girl remarks, looking right at me. She has long black hair with bangs cut straight across her forehead, cherry red lips, and blue eyes. “But she’s even sadder than I expected— tights, tutu, and all!” she continues, laughing to her friend.

         Did I forget to mention that I look like I just broke out of a Russian music box? Yeah. One minute I’m practicing for my ballet recital—that much I remember—and the next thing I know, here I am stuck permanently in a black leotard, pink tights, pointe shoes, and a white tutu.

         “Little miss goodie toe shoes,” the blue-eyed mean girl concludes.

         “I know I can’t sit as well as I used to,” I call out, “but I can still hear just fine.”

         I may be new to Limbo Central and the way of afterlife and everything, but I’m not new to the first day of middle school, and I’m not new to the phenomenon of the Mean Girl. Alive or dead. Well, that’s not entirely true; I am new to dead mean girls. But they’re basically the same thing as live ones, right?

         Give or take a breath.

         All I’m saying is, I had my fair share of mean girls in the land o’ tutus and blisters. I learned how to defend myself after a while.

         “I’m sorry, but did you just say something?” she asks, even though she knows exactly what I said. “I couldn’t hear you over all of that tulle.”

         Just then, Ms. Keaner’s office door opens and someone gorgeous walks out. Mean Girl and I both lose focus.

         And possibly our minds.

         A boy. A ghost. A boy ghost. But mostly a boy (I think, although I’m not sure I’m fully qualified to say which outweighs which yet) appears in the office. A tall, not-at-all-see-through, sandy-haired boy with green eyes and a smile that says, “Hi, my name is Perfect and I tutor orphans and rescue endangered species in my spare time,” comes strolling out, and for a moment I think, How can afterlife possibly get any better?!

         "Come on in, Lucy,” Ms. Keaner says.

         Swell timing, o ye guidance counselor of mine. I float past Mr. Perfect and hope he doesn’t notice my ridiculous outfit. There’s, like, a ten-percent chance he won’t.

         Okay, one percent.
         (Fine, 0.5 percent.)
         “Welcome to Limbo,” Ms. Keaner says as she ushers me
over to the chair beside her desk. I assume I’m supposed to hover over it, pretending to be seated again, so I do. “Our world is also known as the Ghost or Spirit World, but we prefer Limbo. It’s more whimsical, don’t you think?” she adds with a smile.

         “Um, sure,” I remark, trying to stop thinking about the boy ghost. There are way more important matters at hand. “So, Ms. Keaner, where am I going to be living now?”

         “The dormitories. Your dorm is listed right on your welcome letter, but don’t worry about that yet. We’ll have everything set up for you after school,” she replies. “There are a few skills you’ll need to conquer before you can fully function like everyone else, but most ghosts pick them up like that!”

         She finishes her sentence with a snap of her fingers. A real one that makes noise and everything. “Limbo Central Middle School operates just like any other school. We have rules and we expect you to adhere to them. They are all in the Limbo Central Handbook. If you have any problems, you are to come and see me immediately. It will take you a little time to catch up to the rest of your classmates, but we have reviewed your time in the World of the Living and have no doubt that you will catch on quickly.”

         I know there are words coming out of her mouth and I’m fully capable of understanding them, but I can’t stop thinking about Mean Girl and Mr. Perfect Ghost Boy long enough to process what she’s saying. Seeing them in the office made me realize that today is my one and only chance to make a good impression and change the course of my life—I mean afterlife.

         The thing is, I wasn’t exactly popular at my old school. I had my best friend, Felix, and a few girlfriends in some of my classes, but I was a ballet dancer (in case you didn’t pick that up), and ballet dancers don’t have time to do anything that normal people do. Which means we don’t have normal friends—we have dancer friends. Cecily Vanderberg was my closest girlfriend at the studio, but even she was secretly happy when I sprained my ankle and she got to take over my solo in last year’s spring recital.

         “Lucy, you look troubled,” Ms. Keaner says after more moments of silence. “What’s on your mind?”

          As if I can narrow it down to just one thing. I quickly redirect my thoughts toward things that Ms. Keaner can actually help answer—and wow, are there a lot.

         “Well, for starters, am I going to be wearing this ballet costume for the rest of my afterlife?”  I ask. “And why am I more see-through than you and everyone else? How do I get more solid so I can sit and walk and touch things like a normal ghost? Will I ever age, or will I be like this forever?” 

         Ms. Keaner, to her credit, looks unaffected by the clown car of questions that tumbles out of my mouth. No doubt she’s heard all of them hundreds of times before. 

         “Your questions will be answered soon enough, I promise you,” she says calmly. “In no time, you’ll feel completely natural being a ghost. The classes here at Limbo will teach you everything you need to know, and we offer new students special guidance for their first week here, so don’t worry about a thing! Right now, just try to sit back and enjoy your first day at Limbo Central!”

         She gives me another big smile.

         “I can’t sit back,” I point out. “I’ll fall through the chair.”

         “Right, well, it’s a just metaphor, dear.”

         “Ms. Keaner, I am completely and totally unprepared to leave this room!” I cry out with utter honesty.

         “Most young ghosts feel exactly the same way, but nonetheless, you must be strong and brave,” she replies, still calm. “I promise you, this will be no different than the first day you started middle school in the World of the Living.”

         Well, isn’t that a relief?!
         Worst. Pep talk. Ever.
         “But my first day of sixth grade at Parker Reilly Junior
High was the worst day of my life!” I screech. “Felix and I didn’t have any classes together and at lunchtime I got stuck at a table between Pete the paste-eater and Mary-Sue Glenning, the girl with so many allergies that they have to monitor the lunches of the people who sat next to her! Apparently, she had no allergy to paste, but peanut butter was the kiss of death. If only I’d brought peanut butter and jelly that day, but no luck there.” I pause to take a breath. “I mean, if today is anything like that, well . . . well . . . I would normally say ‘kill me now!’ but I guess that doesn’t really apply here, does it?”

         “Hmm,” Ms. Keaner says, looking deep in thought. “I must stop equating the two school experiences from now on, I can see that. But it’s going to be fine, I promise you. As I said, in addition to your regular school classes, you will be assigned a tutor for the next week—an older student who can help you grasp some of the skills you’ll need to get around on your own. Your assigned tutor is waiting outside my office for you right now, so you won’t be alone.”

         Then I have another thought. A horrible, frightfully disturbing, very bad thought. What if my tutor is blue-eyed crazy pants out there?! Please, please, pretty please, Ghost Powers That Be . . .

         We walk back out into the main office and to my relief, the mean girl and her sidekick are nowhere to be seen. I’m so focused on making sure she isn’t around, that I completely overlook the ghost who is.

         “Lucy Chadwick, this is Colin Reed,” Ms. Keaner says, introducing Mr. Perfect Ghost Boy from earlier. “Here is your schedule, and these are your books,” she continues, handing them to Colin.            “He’ll be carrying your things for you until you are strong enough to carry them yourself.”

         “Hey, Lucy,” Colin says, smiling.

         I extend my hand to shake hello, and he slowly extends his, too, cautiously, like he’s confused about my plan.

         This should faze me, but it doesn’t.

         I reach over, and because I am so intent on producing a nice, strong handshake to show how awesomely confident I am, the force of my swing-and-miss throws me shoulder first into Colin’s chest as if I am tackling him at the twenty-yard line.

         Except that I don’t actually tackle him because I CAN’T DO THAT EITHER! So I pass right through his chest and BOOM! I wind up floating flat on my face an inch away from the floor. I literally just threw myself on the ground for no apparent reason.

         “I’m sorry,” I mutter, wishing I had remembered that I can’t perform most of the things I learned to do by the age of six. “That was so stupid of me. Oh, god, I went right through your body didn’t I? Talk about an invasion of privacy . . . I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

         If my face weren’t completely see-through, it would be bright red right about now.

         “Don’t worry about it,” he replies, laughing. “It happens to all of us when we first get here. It took me almost two months to learn how to change my clothes—don’t be so hard on yourself. Come on, let’s go find your first class.”

         Okay . . . so, things could be worse. Having Colin carry my things, show me around school, and teach me the ropes one-on-one doesn’t sound half-bad, right? Then again, it’s only Day 1 of my new life (I mean afterlife), so I could still be wrong.

         Dead wrong.

Chapter One

Mr. Perfect Ghost Boy

Limbo Central Rules, Happily Ever Afterlife

Limbo Central Middle School

         Attention: Lucy Chadwick

         Your Counselor: Ms. Keaner

         Your dormitory is: Jane Austen Cottage, Southampton Hall, Room 312

         Welcome to your afterlife education at Limbo Central Middle School!

         We hope your crossover journey was a pleasant one, and that you're as excited to be here as we are to have you! The first thing you will notice upon your arrival is that you are mostly see-through. Don't fret. After all, you're a ghost! You aren't a living being anymore, but you still have a body made of energy, and the ability to control energy and manipulate it. We're here to show you how! Just follow all of the rules of Limbo, and we can assure you that in no time, you'll be living your very own happily ever afterlife!

         Good luck!

         The Limbo Central Administration